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(L,F&E 57) The Price of Flight


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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 06:16 AM | #1
((And now for something completely different))

The flight suited figure stood at attention before her commanding officer’s door. She squared her shoulders and hit the entry chime. The voice came from inside.

“Enter.” She took a deep breath and hit the button to open the door. She walked in, and stopped at the proper distance from the commander’s desk.

“You wanted to see me, Boss?”

The armored figure behind the desk sighed. "What am I going to do with you, Nine?” The Cathar slumped. “You were grounded. For good reason. And then I get back from my latest jaunts and you not only flew, but in combat. Do you have a death wish?” Stormhawk Boss scrutinized the female Cathar who had been the leader of his premier fighter squadron. Then she and her squadron had been hammered hard during the battles to stop Zelkin Infinium’s mad plan to destroy the Force. Half of the squadron had been killed, and the other half, well, their birds had come back in all shot to pieces. And then there was Nine. She had lost it during the fight. She had gone crazy, charging directly at an overpowering enemy to try and distract him so that others could kill him. And she couldn’t explain why.

"they..." Nine spoke slowly. “They needed every pilot.”

Boss shook his head. The Islanaian ships that had tried to attack the colony were exceptionally dangerous, true. But…

“You know the colony was prepared for it. They had enough warning to call for unofficial help. The Mand’lore brought four squadrons of Jedi here. By all accounts you were just in the way. You went up in a ‘borrowed’ ship. No one knew where the flarg you were for eight hours. Eight hours.” He repeated in an iron tone. “They thought you were dead. That was what they sent to us. That you were dead. And then we find out you had been joyriding.”

"Boss..." Nine stiffened and then bowed her head slowly. “I… I just wanted to be free again… Flying is the only time I am free now…”

Boss looked away from her for the first time. When he looked back, his voice was sad. “Nine… I can’t have a pilot with a deathwish.”

"i..." Nine shook her head. “I don’t have a deathwish…” She protested. But he extended his hand in silence. She stiffened again. She shook her head. “No… No please… Boss… I…”

He didn’t move, his hand stayed where it was. His voice was quiet. “You are one of the best fighter pilots I know. But I can’t have you flying if you are unstable. Which you are.” She shook her head in denial again and Boss sighed. “Nine, please… Don’t make me make this official…” She slumped, but her hand reached up to the breast pocket of her flightsuit and undid her wings. She dropped the small metal insignia into the outstretched hand and spun on her heel. Boss’ voice was still quiet. “Next shuttle down is in twenty minutes. Be on it.” She nodded, glad that her face was hidden from him. So he wouldn’t see her tears. She left the room in silence and Boss sat down heavily in his chair. He was glad for his helmet so no one could see his own tears.

<Ten minutes later>

Stormhawk Nine made her way through the ship, speaking to several of the crew in passing. The ship had been her home for almost seven years. But lots of things were different now. Lots of faces she would only see in her memories. Lots of pain, lots of regret. She entered the pilot’s locker room and stopped short. A black clad from was sitting there waiting.

“Will.”

"Hiya pilot." The Stormhawk’s former XO, and one of the few survivors from the very beginning looked her over and sighed. “Do what you have to do, Nine.”

"Ah..." She shook her head. “I only have ten minutes.”

"Well..." Will smiled a bit sadly. “Since the pilot of the shuttle Boss wants you on happens to be sitting right here…” He waved a hand at himself. “I don’t think you can miss it.”

"You...? Ah..." She snorted. “You think of everything.”

"Well..." Will shrugged. “I try.”

He sat as she packed her meager belongings into a carisack. She lingered over the flightsuits and then left them in the locker along with her flight helmet. She shouldered her sack and nodded to Will who returned it and stood. “Come on.” His voice was quiet, and she didn’t want to speak, so she just followed him in silence.

The few crew that they saw in the corridors looked at her with sad eyes. She couldn’t meet any of them, she couldn’t take their pity. When they got to a turbolift, Will spoke slowly.

“They don’t pity you." The older pilot's voice was calm and sure. "They feel for you. There is a big difference. They want to help and they can’t.” Nine nodded. “I want to help too, but I don’t know if I can.”

"Will..." Nina sighed. “I don’t need your help.”

"Maybe not my help. " Will said as he shook his head. “But you need help. Nine, I understand more about what you are going through than you could possibly imagine. Remember what happened to me?”

"Yeah." She bit her lip, feeling her sharp incisors bite deep enough to draw blood. She nodded. “Dragon Squadron… You told me about that.”

"Yeah, the Dragons." Will shook his head, but not in negation, in resignation, and regret.. “And Green Squadron before that. What does it feel like to watch your friends blown away around you while you can’t do a Force damned thing but try to survive any way you can?” Nine stared at him. “You feel… inadequate. Bad somehow. Like maybe if you had been better, stronger, faster, it would have been different.”

"What?" Nine shook her head. “You don’t know me, Will.”

"I wasn’t talking about you actually." Will nodded as she turned a stunned expression his way. “I was talking about me.” That brought her up short. This man was the best fighter pilot she had ever seen.

She spoke softly. confused. “Will…”

"You know..." But Will was speaking again. But his gaze was far away. “I wonder, every so often… What I could have done differently. What I might have been able to do. Hindsight can be a good thing. Or it can tear you to pieces.” He met her gaze calmly. “You are not the first pilot to go through this, Nine. Maker knows you won’t be the last. But understand this… You are not alone. I know where you are, where you have been and where you are going. I will get you aloft as often as I can.”

"But..." The Cathar froze at that. “Will, Boss has grounded me. He…” She touched the blank spot on her flightsuit. “I…”

"Nine..." Will patted her shoulder. “Boss is a good person, but he has the weight of the whole ship on his shoulders. And he isn’t a pilot. I have been grounded, Nine. I nearly went mad. Sometimes I wonder if I did.” Nine stared at him, but then the lift doors opened and he started off towards the hangar bay. She followed him towards the shuttle bays, but paused as he continued by them.

“Will?” She asked carefully. Will smiled at her.

“We are not going to the planet, we are going to have a chat with a friend of mine. Come on.” Nine followed him, bemused as he led the way to a private hangar. Her eyes went wide as he led her up the ramp of a highly modified freighter.

The Dragon was Will’s personal statement to the galaxy in general and the Sith in particular. The paint job alone, a snarling Krayt dragon pained dorsal and ventral, was distinctive. It had started as a fairly stock Deliverance class freighter. But Will had gone completely bonkers with it. Engines, shields armor… this was a gunship now, with emphasis on ‘gun’. She passed by the multiple torpedo feed mechanisms that fed the four tubes. She saw the capacitor charges that fed the ship’s main guns. Turbo lasers that would not be out of place on a cruiser. She saw two… somethings that she wasn’t sure WHAT they were, but they looked powerful. And finally she saw the circuitry for the ion cannon on the way to the cockpit. Will nodded to her, and then he nodded to the pilot’s seat. She stopped cold.

“You… You want me… Will… I…” She stammered, unsure. This ship was his baby, his toy. This ship had consumed a large percentage of his time in refitting and revamping. He sat in the copilots chair and started preflight.

“Your bird, pilot.”
My stories in order:
Love, the Force, and Everything Discussion thread here

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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 06:26 AM | #2
<In orbit around the planet of Nova Ordo>

Nine couldn’t believe how this ship handled. In her experience, freighters were things to shoot at or keep other people from shooting at. Lumbering and slow, they made nice targets. But this freighter… It wasn’t really one anymore. It was more an oversized heavy fighter. Yes, it turned slower, accelerated and decelerated slower than most fighters, but…

“Oh… My…” Nine breathed as she finished putting the ship through its paces.

Will grinned from his chair. “You like?”

"I do." Nine shook her head, amazed. “I don’t have words Will. This ship is amazing… But with all the hardware, the drives, the armor… Where do you sleep?”

"Yeah." Will grimaced. “That is the downside. There are two dormitories. One on either side of the ship as before. But both are half the size of the originals.” Nina blinked at that. Deliverance class ship dormitories were not large to begin with. “And I can’t carry but so much in the way of consumables, so figure on a week’s worth of air, water and ration bars.” Nine frowned at that. But then she shook her head. For such a small ship… some trade offs were inevitable. And the firepower… wow…

“Where are we going?” She asked quietly when he didn’t speak again and Will jerked his head towards the scanner board.

“Rendezvous with beacon twelve." He replied. "We are expected.” Nine set the ship on a course for the beacon and sat back.

"I like flying it." She sighed. “This ship is amazing Will, but…”

"It was incredibly expensive to build and is incredibly expensive to maintain." He nodded. “This ship is very much a reflection of me. A weapon. Point it or me at a target and that target goes boom.” Nine looked at him and his expression as pensive. “Do you ever wonder what life might have been like if you hadn’t been caught in that slaver sweep?”

"Yeah." Nine nodded. “Sometimes… I mean… my whole family died when that slaver ship landed and opened fire… I… The Stormhawk gave me a reason to exist. A reason to live, to fight.”

"Yeah." Will nodded but his voice was quiet when he spoke. “Me too.”

She stared at him. “You had Sharra, Will. I mean… You had someone who cared for you… I…”

"You think that would have stopped me?" Will sighed. “Yeah. She is probably the only reason I didn’t put a blaster to my head and pull the trigger during the first six months. I had spent my whole life as part of the military. From the time I was sixteen. We didn’t have much choice but to do what we did, but still…”

"Two..." Nine nodded. “You all pulled me out of that hell of a slave camp. You gave me back my pride. Gave me a reason for existing. But now… I don’t know. Flying is all I know. Other than working in a slave pit.” Will stared at her and she smiled thinly. “That was a joke.”

“You are officially a crazy pilot." Will said sourly as he shook his head. "No wonder I like you.” The Cathar smiled at that. But then Will sobered. “Boss is worried about you, Nine. He has been for quite a while. The mess at the Centurion simply crystallized it in all our minds.” He looked up and smiled. “There is our destination.” She looked up and blinked. The Foray class cruiser was distinctive to anyone who had served on the Stormhawk, or who had known a certain Twilek Jedi before she died.

“The Dia’s Gift?" Nine asked, unsure. "Is there anyone aboard?”

"Yep, skeleton crew." Will nodded. “I need to talk to commander Dijore and there is someone who wants to talk to you.” Nine looked at him and he smiled. “It’s a surprise.” Nine made an old fashioned gesture at him and he grinned wider. “Hold on…” He activated his com and spoke into it. “This is Dragon, here for an appointment.” A male voice came from the com.

“Now why would I let a pirate aboard?” The voice demanded. Nine turned an incredulous expression at Will, but Will just grinned wider.

Will's voice was sharp when he spoke, but it was completely undone by the huge grin on his face. “Dijore, if you don’t want me to kick your shebs all over the shockball court, you better let us land.” An outraged sniff came from the com system and Nine mouthed a word to will.

‘Shockball?’ He grinned at her and she just shook her head as the com system lit up again.

“You would bring that up." The voice of the XO of the Dia's Gift was rueful. "Crazy man… All right, all right. Door six opening in three zero. See you aboard.” The com system went dark and Nine stared at Will.

“Shockball?” Her voice was incredulous.

Will nodded, his face was pensive. “I told you I was grounded once.” She nodded. “Well… I er… sort of… well… It was crazy…”

She stared at him bemused and a bit worried by this change in the man she knew. All of things she had never known about him... “What did you do?” Will looked at her.

“To get grounded or after?” He asked.

Nine snorted. “Both.”

Will shook his head. “I was grounded for violating the hard deck of training operations for Aurek Talon class strikefighters. By about… um… Two hundred and fifty meters.”

"Uh..." Nine’s eyes went wide. “You were at two hundred and fifty meters off the deck in an Aurek?”

Will shook his head. “No… The hard deck was three hundred. But the bridge I flew under was about fifty.” Nine’s eyes were surely bulging out of her face now. Will grinned. “Wouldn’t have been a problem, except a certain colonel’s boat was passing under it at the same time. He was the training boss at the time.” Nine chortled and Will bristled. “Hey, I didn’t hit him. I passed a good ten meters over his head. He had no reason to jump in the water…” Now Nine was laughing. Will sighed. “He was…a bit miffed.”

“I bet… And he got you grounded.” Nine said slowly. Will nodded. “What about shockball?”

Will smiled, it was not a nice smile. “Oh, his son and his son's team decided to make my life miserable, something about the woman who was on the boat with him not being his wife. So I made theirs miserable. I tore them all a new one on the court. Me against all of them.” Nina stared at him. Shockball was not an easy sport, or a safe one. Will shrugged. “Hey, I was nineteen… Come on, take us in. Time is wasting.” Nine just shook her head slowly, and then she focused on flying and landing. But she was snickering as she did.

Buzzing the training boss...
My stories in order:
Love, the Force, and Everything Discussion thread here

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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 06:30 AM | #3
<Twenty minutes later>

Stormhawk Nine stood alone on the hangar bay. Will had told her ‘Someone will meet you’. But he had refused to tell her who, where or why. She sniffed. The man could be so infuriating at times. But that left her time to examine the ships that cluttered the deck. Well, not cluttered. The flight deck was actually very clear. Her blood boiled as she saw the red droids around the perimeter of the bay. Just the idea of putting children in those things made her want to hurt people. And what had been done to the kids even before they had been put in the horrible things…

Nine took a moment to compose herself. Her anger was never totally under control. Part of that was her Cathar blood. The pride and viciousness of her heritage sang in her veins all the time, but no stronger than when she was in battle. She reminded herself that the people responsible had been caught and were being punished. Funny thing though… Everyone who knew what had happened to them simply said it was a fitting punishment and wouldn’t say any more. For her, a fitting punishment would be to throw them into deep space with a leaking suit and an audible timer to keep them awake while they suffocated. She sighed and continued walking about the deck. The two fighters drew her interest, but both were locked down. She sniffed, even if she was going to break her word to Boss, these wouldn’t help her. Her eyes were caught by the hulking form of a Besu’liik stood near the bay doors and Nine examined the Mandalorian war droid closely. She had seen them of course, in battle and not. But never this close. The claws, the missile tubes, the laser cannon, all spoke of firepower, but the lines of the droid spoke of speed and maneuverability as well. It moved a bit. She jumped back, startled and then laughed at her own naiveté. Of course it was active. She shook her head.

To ride something like this into battle was at first beyond her ken. But then again, she mused, she did something similar every time she climbed into a fighter. If not quite so extreme. She at least always had a life support system and canopy between her and space, not just her suit… She stiffened and her fur stood on end as a ramp lowered on a ship nearby. She stared at it. A Deliverance class? Those were fairly common, and this one looked to be modified. Of course, any pilot worth being called one would modify his or her ship if possible to get the most out of it. But something about this particular ship was… odd… She walked up to the ramp, trying to figure out why the ship bothered her and she stiffened as a voice came to her ears. A female voice.

“Hello Stormhawk Nine.” The female voice was friendly and welcoming. Nine stared up the ramp, but couldn’t see anything. "You can come on up..."

"Um..." Nine’s voice was cautious when she spoke. She didn’t know the voice. “Hello?”

"Sorry, I’m sort of stuck in something." Now the voice sounded apologetic. “Come on up. Will said you would be stopping by.”

Nine blinked. Was this who she was supposed to be meeting? She shrugged and entered the ship. It seemed odd, but nothing jumped out at her as she passed through the small tunnel to the main ship. But then she stopped cold. Instead of a cargo hold, which was normal on Deliverance class freighters, a wall of odd colored metal was in her way. She blinked. Was it familiar metal? She didn’t think she could get any stiffer, but she tensed as a line appeared on the wall and the distinct outline of a hatch appeared shortly afterward. The hatch opened, but she didn’t move.

The voice came again, from inside the hatch. “Come on in.”

Nine shook her head and turned to the main hatch, but it was sealed! She went for her blaster and stopped as the voice came again.

“Nine…” Now the voice was sad. “You are not leaving until we talk.”

The Cathar had her gun out now and was looking around wildly. But there was nothing. And no controls for the hatch to try and hotwire or slice. Not that she was any good at either, but…

The voice spoke again, low, soothing, calm and gentle. “Look, Will is worried about you. With good reason I might add. He asked me to talk to you. I won’t hurt you.”

The Cathar finally found her voice. “Who are you? And we can talk here.” Even to her ears, her voice was scared.

The female voice sighed and then spoke just as calmly and gently. “I didn’t introduce myself. I am sorry. My name is Michelle and this will be very uncomfortable for you no matter where we do it. If you want to stand there, you are welcome to. You might prefer to sit or lie down though.” The Cathar blinked. Had she heard that name? And if so… where?

Nine snarled as she stared wildly around the room that was her prison. “What do you want from me?”

Michelle’s voice was still gentle and kind. “I want to help.”

Nine snarled again. “I don’t need help.”

An odd sound come from wherever Michelle was. It was somewhere between a groan and a sigh. “Then explain why you keep trying to get yourself killed.”

The Cathar blinked. “What?”

Michelle’s voice was sad now. “First at Centurion, you charged a gunship alone. That was suicidal. Then when the Islanians came to Nova Ordo, you flew without a wingman. If not for two Jedi who took it upon themselves to cover you, you would have died. And one of them was seriously hurt in the process. Covering you.”

Nine blinked. She hadn’t even seen anyone covering her… Had she? Nine’s voice was soft, disbelieving, when she managed to speak. “I don’t… I didn’t… I don’t have a deathwish…” Her voice was worried though.

Michelle’s voice was calm still. “Maybe not. Two times does not equal wanting to die. But in this line of work, you only get one chance to make a mistake usually. It was a miracle I didn’t blow you out of the sky when I saw you flying without a wingman.”

"What?" Nine froze. “Who are you?”

"Ah... I messed this up..." Michelle sighed deeply. “This is going to frighten you and I don’t blame you in the slightest, but please… put the gun down, or away. And I will tell you everything you want to know.” Nine shook her head savagely and Michelle sighed again. Her voice was quiet when she continued. “Fine. You were a slave, so you will likely understand more than anyone else. I am Unit Sixty Seven of the Islanian defense fleet. My designation is Michelle, Sixty Seven Ji Five Alpha Ki.”

Nine drew in a horrified breath. An Islanian ship! The Islanians enslaved sentient beings to operate their starships. Somehow, the Islanians took the minds of the sentients and shoved them into organic computers, programmed them to obey and set them loose on the galaxy. The last of the Islanians had been wiped out at Nova Ordo... or had they? The Cathar stared around wildly. She was trapped! Her blood sang in her ears as she scrabbled at the hatch trying to find some kind of control to open it, to get out. She heard, dimly, Michelle talking, trying to tell her something, but she didn’t listen. She had to get out. But she couldn’t. She wouldn’t be a slave again! She wouldn't! She shoved the muzzle of her blaster under her jaw and the world went dark.
My stories in order:
Love, the Force, and Everything Discussion thread here

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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 06:33 AM | #4
<a bit later>

The first thing Nine was aware of was two voices. Both female, speaking in low tones, and upset. She focused on them trying to understand why she felt so strange, and why she felt that something was very wrong.

“…no change in cellular activity. Wait… She is awake.”

A tart voice answered the first. “I can see that.” This was from the voice Nine remembered as Michelle and her mind woke up fast. She tried to get up, but her body wouldn’t obey her. Michelle’s voice became comforting again. “Easy…” Nine struggled against whatever was holding her and snarled wordlessly.

Michelle’s voice was soft and gentle again. “Don’t make me sedate you again. You know, for someone who says you are not suicidal, you sure fake it well.” Nine stiffened and then shook her head.

“I won’t be your slave.” A snort came from the second voice somewhere nearby. And she turned her head to where it came from but couldn’t see anything. “What have you done to my eyes?”

Michelle’s voice was still gentle, but there was gentle teasing to it when she replied. “Nothing. Open them.”

Nine tensed, but then had to smile a bit ruefully as she realized they hadn’t been open. She sure thought she had opened them. She opened them and they worked. She tensed as she looked around the area she was in. She as lying on a bunk, and an acceleration harness was strapped over her. It had no latches that she could reach. The bunk was soft, but firm as well as odd as that sounded. It was very comfortable, but she barely noticed. She was the only being in the small cabin. The walls, ceiling and floors were covered in odd machinery, and there was a flight chair nearby and a set of consoles. Nothing else. Nine shook her head. “Where am I?” She managed to keep a quaver out of her voice through sheer force of will.

Michelle’s voice came from somewhere nearby, but try as she might, Nine couldn’t find the speaker it was coming from. Michelle’s voice was still kind. “Where do you think, Nine?”

Nine struggled against the harness that held her. “I won’t be your slave!” She spoke loudly, trying to find a way to get out of the thing holding her. Then she stopped as it unlatched with a click and vanished. She sat up and groaned as her head spun. She collapsed back onto the bunk. “What have you done to me?”

The other voice spoke sharply. “Saved your life, idiot girl.”

Michelle spoke. “Mission…” A sniff came from the other voice but Mission, whoever that was, didn’t speak again. Michelle spoke to Nine now. “I had to hit you with a stunner to keep you from blasting yourself. The short term effects will be headache and nausea for about another ten minutes. I am glad I fired when I did. You scared me, Nine.”

Nine snarled. “No one asked you to interfere.”

Michelle sighed. “Will did. He asked me to talk to you and it is kind of hard to do that if you have splattered your brains all over the wall with a blaster.”

Mission’s voice came again. “What brains you have.” Nine had to smile slightly as Michelle snarled at the other voice.

“Mission, go… check your scanners or something. I need to talk to Nine. Alone.” An outraged sniff was heard but then Michelle spoke again, in a gentler tone. “I am sorry for scaring you. But I have to say this. I was a slave myself. Do you really think I could do that to anyone else?”

Nine found herself curling into a ball and forced her limbs out straight. “Slaves will do anything to survive. Betray each other, lie, cheat, steal…” She broke off as Michelle made a noise of agreement.

Michelle’s voice was thoughtful. “And once they are free?”

Nine blinked. “Um… oh…” Her voice was small. She shook her head, aware that her nausea had diminished. “I… I see… I’m sorry…” Freed slaves were generally not going to have anything to do with slavery at all. Well, except in killing slavers.

Michelle sighed. “No harm done, except to you, and you scaring me out of at least ten years of life. Don’t ever do that again.” Her voice held humor.

Nine found herself smiling. “No, ma’am.” She sat up, aware that her headache was diminishing and the nausea was gone. She touched her head and tensed as she felt a bandage on the side of her face.

Michelle sighed again. “I didn’t shoot fast enough. The blaster discharged, but luckily, it was out of line, all you got was a nasty burn. We treated you. Give it a few days and you likely won’t even have a scar.” Nine nodded and Michelle spoke again. “Are you hungry?”

Nine would have shaken her head, except her stomach chose that moment to rumble loudly. She snorted. “Yeah, well. I have no idea how long I was out…”

Michelle made a sound to interrupt. “Eighteen and a half minutes.”

Nine’s eyes went wide. “How did you get me in here, restrained on the bunk and treated? In that amount of time?” It would have taken a medical team at least that long to do a proper diagnosis, even with first line medical gear.

Michelle’s voice was quiet. “You don’t want to know.”

Nine shook her head slowly and then smiled ruefully. “Probably not. But to answer your question, yes, I am hungry.” A slot opened in the wall and Nine tensed, but then relaxed as a tray slid out. On it was a steaming bowl and a spoon.

Michelle’s voice was soft when she spoke again. “You won’t want solid food while your stomach settles. So I think that soup should work. Be glad we are on the ground, er, landed anyway… While I am underway, I can’t cook very often. The messes get into the machinery and it takes days to get it all cleaned out.”

Nine laughed at that as she picked up the spoon. She was hungry. The Cathar’s voice was just as quiet when she spoke. “So… what did you want to talk about?” She took a bite and smiled. The soup was good.

Michelle spoke softly again. “You.”
My stories in order:
Love, the Force, and Everything Discussion thread here

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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 06:39 AM | #5
<Aboard a very strange starship>

Nine blinked but took another bite as she tried to grapple with what had occurred. Here she was, trapped in a very strange alien ship, talking to a computer, and all she seemed to care about was the food was good. She shook her head slowly, but continued to eat the soup, it really was good. She finished the bowl and put the spoon in it. The tray vanished back into the wall as quickly as it had appeared and she nodded. Her voice was quiet. “You want to know about me? I would have thought that Will would have told you all about me…”

"Nope." Michelle’s voice was equally quiet. “ All he told me was ' She needs help.' And you do.” Nine bristled at that, her fur rising under her clothing and elsewhere as she tried to keep her temper in check. “Tell me I lie, Stormhawk Nine.”

The Cathar shook her head slowly. “You don’t, but…” She broke off unable to continue, but Michelle didn’t press, just waited. The Cathar’s fur slowly settled down again and finally Nine spoke again. “All my life, I have gotten angry. Is it my blood? Is it what happened to me? I don’t know. And suddenly… At Centurion, there he was in front of me. All I could see was his ship and my targeting reticule on it and the ship growing bigger in my sights. I don’t know if I hit the ship, I didn’t think I could. I just wanted to distract him, maybe give someone else a shot at him. I had lost so many friends and there he was, just gloating. What would you have done?”

"Ah girl..." Michelle was quiet for a long minute. When she spoke it was sad. “I have lost a lot of people I counted as friends over the centuries. And yes, I avenged most of them. It doesn’t help much.”

"I know." Nine nodded. “I didn’t expect to survive what I did. But it seemed like the right thing to do. At that moment. Get him distracted, overload his ability to multi-task and hopefully one of us would take him out. It didn’t work of course. He ran. And then I get to explain to Boss and Will why I thought charging a gunship solo was a good idea.” Her voice was scornful. “Of course it wasn’t a good idea. It was just the only choice I had at that moment. If I ran, he would have blown more of my squadron away. I had to distract him.”

"I understand." Michelle’s voice was thoughtful. “From what I understand you did, and that Jedi, Kirin Starlace, hit him enough to make him flee. So it was a good tactic. But doing it solo…”

"I know." Nine sighed. “But I wasn’t willing to throw anyone else’s lives away with mine. One moving, evading target is hard to hit. Six of them? Odds go up quickly that someone is going to get hit. Add to that the power of his guns, if we took a hit, we died.”

"You know better than that." Michelle’s reply was kind and gentle. “Nine, more targets mean more distractions. Not even a Jedi or Sith can handle multitasking so such a degree. Six fast moving targets, maneuvering independently?”

"Yeah." Nine bowed her head. “I know. It just… I think about it all the time and kick myself for being so stupid. But I couldn’t put anyone else into harm’s way. I had to do it myself.”

Michelle made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a snort. When she spoke her voice was sour. “Does that ever sound familiar. No wonder you act so crazy, you are emulating the king of all nutcases, Will Kalenath.”

Nine surprised herself with a laugh. “When did you meet Will?”

"Ah..." Michelle sighed, but her tone was more reflective, almost happy. “I have loved Will from the moment I saw him the first time. He was freezing his rear end off in a rain storm, trying to escape from a Sith colony where he had been a prisoner…. I wasn’t sure at first what he was…”

<Twenty three years in the past>

Will stumbled through the wind driven rain, trying to hold his short cloak so it covered more of his body. Not that it did much good, it was soaked through and through. He supposed that the trick he had done of walking in socked feet had kept any tracks from being easy to follow. And the rain would likely wash away any traces he did leave. That was the plan anyway. He hoped so anyway. Who knew what the Sith might have to track down fugitives with though. But now his feet were freezing and his hands were numb where they held the cloak across his body. He hadn’t been able to get anything else however, so he figured to make do with what he had. He stumbled again over an unseen rock and went down. He was sure he had skinned his leg at the very least but it was so numb now as to be totally without feeling. Unfortunately, sheer stubbornness could only take him so far. He didn’t know that to be out in weather like this with minimal clothing was to invite death by hypothermia. He had only the barest idea of what hypothermia was. They had covered it in his training of course, but Basic was basic for that very reason, and they had been shipped off to Onderon even before training was finished… He went down again, and this time, couldn’t summon the energy to get to his feet. He crawled a few meters before collapsing in the mud. He never even saw the dark shape that swooped down on nearly silent drives.

Will woke up warm and dry. And he hurt. He groaned as he tried to move and a kind female voice spoke from nearby.

“Easy there, young man. You have had a busy day.” He opened his eyes, but they were covered by something, and when he tried to move, his hands only moved a little. They were not restrained, they just had no strength. The voice came again. “You will be okay. Thank goodness I found you when I did. What brought you out on such a nasty night?”

Will opened his mouth and spoke, his voice sounded odd to his ears. “Where am I?”

The voice was calm and gentle. “You are in a bunk. Where else would you be?”

Will had to grin at the humor in the voice. “You know what I mean…” He protested.

The voice sniffed. “Yeah I do. Sorry, my sense of humor is questionable at best. You are aboard my ship. What were you doing out there? Besides dying?”

Will slumped. “Trying to get away and I guess I failed…”

Now the voice was cautious. “Get away from who?”

Will felt himself falling and managed to get a word out before darkness claimed him. “Sith…”

He didn’t hear the cursing that came after his soft word or the shrieking of the engines as the ship took off, her drives well past redline.

<The Present>

Nine shook her head slowly. “You are in love with him?” She couldn’t keep the disbelief out of her voice.

"Yeah." Michelle sighed. “It’s stupid, pointless, tragic and all that. And above all, it’s strong. I would die for him. He very nearly died for me, even though we cannot ever be together, we do care deeply for one another. We went through hell together for each other… He freed me and I freed him. We… Well…”

"Okay." Nine nodded. “So… Why did he want you to talk to me?”

"Will?" Michelle snorted. “Because he is an optimist. And because he knows me. He knows I don’t like seeing people go through what I did.”

At that, Nine stiffened. “What?” She asked quietly. For a long minute, there was silence in the cabin.

Michelle’s voice was soft and filled with remembered pain when she answered. “For a very long time, by human or Cathar standards, I wanted nothing more than to die. I was a slave to the Islanaians and death was forbidden to me. I couldn’t even think of self destruction without pain. Until I met Will, nothing else mattered except finding a way to die. And after I met him, it was the oddest thing…”

Nine nodded. “You didn’t want to anymore.”

“No…" Michelle scoffed. "I still have dark thoughts, self destructive impulses every so often. And I likely will for the rest of my existence. But I have a purpose now. And if I can help someone else who seems to be going through something similar, well, that’s a plus. So yes, I want to help you if I can.”

The Cathar blinked at that, but then she nodded. She slumped back onto the bed and spoke softly. “What do you want to know?"

Michelle's voice was kind. "Why don't we start at the beginning. You were not always a pilot I take it."

Nine tensed, but then relaxed. There was really no point in hiding it. "No. I was captured in a slave raid. I would have been about eight or nine standard years old I think. Our world was off the main tracks, so it was easy pickings for pirate and slaver bands..."

This might be a long day...
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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 06:44 AM | #6
<A couple of hours later>

When Will made his way through the hatch he did so with a bit of trepidation. He knew exactly what Nine was going through as a pilot, but he himself had only been a slave for a short period of time. Nine had been a slave for years. So the absolute last thing he expected on entering was to hear Nine laughing.

The Cathar looked up from where she was sitting on the bunk and an unaccustomed smile was on her face. “You didn’t?... Oh, hi Will…”

Will looked at the Cathar and blinked. “Do I want to know what you two lunatics are discussing?” Nine smiled at him and shook her head.

Michelle’s voice had a smile in it when she spoke. “Oh, nothing…”

Will looked at the main console and sighed. “Why do I get the feeling that introducing the two of you was a bad idea?”

"Oh I dunno..." Nine smirked at him and her voice was evil. “Because we both know things about you that you would rather not have anyone know?”

Will grimaced but Michelle spoke up before he could frame a response. “Come on, Will, lighten up.”

He shook his head, looking Nine over. The bandage was no surprise, Michelle had briefed him on Nne’s injury almost as soon as it had happened. Then he sighed. “Dijore wanted me to turn the info we snagged over to the Republic.” Nine looked at him oddly, but Michelle hissed.

"Oh?" Her voice was suspicious when she replied. “And what would they do with it?”

"Them?" Will shrugged. “Force only knows. Probably 'file' it for review somewhere.” Nine looked from the console to Will, her face perplexed. Then she shook her head.

“It’s really none of my business. But if I can help in any way…” She broke off as Will sat down with a groan.

"Nothing you can do, nothing I can do..." When he spoke, his voice was tired. “We got a whole pile of Sith shipping info. Nothing sensitive, or classified, but lots of records and things. Problem is, there is so much of it, and a lot of it is in some kind of shorthand. Maybe encrypted…” Michelle made a coughing noise and he stopped speaking.

Her voice was thoughtful. “I have looked over some of it. It’s not encryption, per say, its more … I don’t know. Maybe it is some kind of shorthand. But if so, it’s really hard to decode. I have been trying”

“Why would you go after Sith shipping…?" Nine shook her head. "Oh…”

Will nodded. With his daughter in a stasis pod, the only way to follow her trail was by tracking who shipped the pod. While it was in Republic space, that was reasonably straightforward, if time consuming. After all, whoever had shipped it had used less than usual means to do so. Will had tracked pirate bands, mercenary groups, slaver bands, even two legitimate shipping companies. Both of which had been horrified to find out what they had shipped and had fallen over themselves to help once they had gotten over the shock. He was pretty sure a Sith had started the pod off, and he was very sure that the Sith in question as dead now. But, the Sith had sent his daughter off to his enemies like so much inert baggage. That steamed him, but he had to remain focused. And right now, he had a more pressing problem. He looked at the console.

“Well?” His question silenced Nine’s angry muttering. She liked Nia.

Michelle’s voice was quiet. “She needs time, Will, but grounding her is not the right answer.”

"I agree." Will nodded and turned to Nine. “What do you want to do?”

The Cathar blinked at him. “You are asking me?” He nodded silently and her fur ruffled. As sign of distress. Her voice was halting, disjointed. “It may be safer to ground me… I… I am dangerous… I don’t know to who… but…”

Will bit his lip and then laid a gentle hand on the Cathar’s shoulder. She tensed, but then relaxed. When he spoke, his voice was kind. “I won’t do that to you. Besides, you would grab a ship within a day, two at the outside. And be right back here again… Or try for one of the Mando birds and they shoot you. Don’t want that…” His grin was wicked and she found herself smiling. “So… Hmmm…” He withdrew his hand and sat, thinking.

Nine sat and waited while he thought hard. Michelle didn’t speak either, letting Will ponder. Finally, he met the Cathar’s eyes and there was something in them, a glint of almost anticipation. She stiffened.

His voice was quiet still when he spoke. “You enjoy teaching, right?” She stared at him and nodded silently. “Then I may have just the fit for you. An instructor gig, teaching fighter pilots.” She was sure her mouth made a loud noise as it hit the floor, but he just continued speaking quietly. “I have an ‘in’ with some of the faculty there. I think I can get you a position.”

"Will..." Nine shook her head. “Boss grounded me…”

"Nine..." Will snorted. “Boss doesn’t run that school. The Republic does.” Nine stiffened again, and then thought hard. Republic pilots, yeah… She had wanted to be one when she was small, but then life had interfered as it always did. “I am pretty sure I can get you in, problem is…”

"I know. Undercover." Nine nodded slowly. “No affiliation with the ‘Hawk. I would have to go in under another name.”

Will nodded. “And you would be alone. I dislike suggesting this. You are one heck of a pilot, but you lie like a Wookiee, that is, badly.”

Nine had to laugh at that. “Then we could use the truth. I was a pilot for an independent militia. And I will say it was from somewhere the back of beyond.”

Will snorted. “Actually... say Naboo… I can get you papers and registration there. And as long as they don’t look to hard, you would be fine.” Nine shook her head.

Her voice held resignation. “Will, you know they are going to look hard if I am to be a pilot instructor.”

Will grinned and put an innocent expression on his face. “Trust me.”

A laugh came from Michelle and Nine burst out laughing. “Yeah, right…” They chorused.

Will looked hurt but then he sighed. “Ok, we need to come up with a name then…” He broke off as Nine got a faraway look in her eyes.

"Sylvie..." Her voice was almost inaudible. “Call me Sylvi. That was… my name… before…” Tears were falling from her eyes and Will stood, moved to the bunk, sat down and embraced her. She leaned into his embrace. For a long time, maybe minutes, hours days or centuries, two pilots just sat, one consoling the other as she wept. Finally, Nine, no, Sylvi, wiped her eyes and Will gave her a final squeeze before rising. He stepped to the hatch, and then paused.

“You might want to sleep here.” Sylvi looked at him and he shrugged. “The bunk is comfortable, and Michelle is good company.” Silvi stared at him, then at the console. She smiled a bit sadly and nodded. “I will start the paperwork. I will let you know in the morning.”

"Will?" Sylvi looked at him, a suspicious look on her face. “Where is this training facility anyway?”

Will grinned. “Oh, it’s a small place the Republic calls Starfighter Weapons School.” Then he was gone, pretending not to see her mouth hanging open. Whatever she had expected, that wasn’t it.

Starfighter Weapons School. Commonly called by pilots 'Max Blast'… Holy osik…
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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 08:57 AM | #7
<A couple of days later, at a highly secure location>

The female Cathar formerly known as Stormhawk Nine sat in her seat and stared at the asteroid that was growing in front of the shuttle she was riding in. It bothered her, a lot, to be rising rather than flying. But, since the location of the facility was supposed to be a secret, it made sense to keep the nav information out of sight. But the pilot of the shuttle, knowing she was also a pilot, had allowed her to take a seat in the cockpit as long as she stayed out of the way. Which Sylvi did. She sat quietly as the shuttle pilot and copilot did their jobs professionally. The pilot turned to her and waved her attention to the viewport.

“There she is, Arim Ram.” Sylvi thought whoever named these rocks needed professional help. Arim Ram? She hid a smile and listened to the pilot as he continued. “Not a lot in this system, which was the whole idea, as far as I know. We don’t want a lot of attention.”

Sylvi nodded. “Yeah, wouldn’t want a visit from a Sith fleet.” The pilot nodded, his expression matching hers. Both concerned.

He nodded to her, one professional to another . “There are defenses of course, but nothing that will stave off a full scale attack.” Then everything in the cockpit went quiet as the copilot said the one thing you never want to hear a pilot say.

“What the…?” The pilot and Sylvi both turned to face the screen and Sylvi blanched as a Republic interceptor , Chela class, swept across their flight path, it looked like an interception course! Both the pilot and copilot focused on their controls. She could only sit as the interceptor swept by, almost close enough to touch. The pilot was muttering under his breath and the copilot let out a sigh of relief.

The pilot spoke sharply, his voice a mix of relief and outrage. “Whoever that guy was… I’ll bust his tail…” Sylvi nodded.

Her voice was quiet when she spoke. “Number 459KJITX.” The pilot looked at her and she shrugged. “It wasn’t hard to see, that idiot basically paraded it by me. You both were busy.” Both the pilot and copilot looked at each other and then at Sylvi. Sylvi looked at them. “What?”

The copilot’s voice was almost inaudible. “That’s the base commander’s bird…” Sylvi shook her head.

Her voice could have frozen liquid helium. “If the base commander is buzzing incoming shuttles… Well, I think the base commander and I need to talk. And if it was the commander, well, I am willing to bet he or she won’t be commander for long if grandstanding is the best they can do.” Both of the flight crew of the shuttle stiffened at her words, but then nodded to her and resumed their jobs without a further word.

<Three hours later>

“...It was my bird, yes. I was here however. It is being looked into.” Sylvi had been incandescent in her fury when she had landed, and the slipshod way that the base seemed to run had simply put more wood to the fire of her temper. First the shuttle had nearly been rammed, apparently by some fool on a joyride. Then, base security had misplaced her movement orders and had kept her cooling her heels for an hour while they sorted that out. And now, she was standing in front of a seriously overweight human who seemed utterly clueless. But she was not going to rip this fool’s head off. No, she was not.

Instead, her voice was thoughtful. “So… You have no control over your pilots.” Her tone, while respectful, had the colonel behind the desk stiffening.

The human looked her over, and she was glad she was wearing a full uniform. It kept her fur’s agitated state from showing. “I dislike your tone, commander.” Sylvi didn’t react, although part of her cringed to be called that.

Will had come through significantly. He had managed, somehow, to get full Naboo citizenship papers for her. In addition, he had somehow provided documentation to show she was a full commander in the Naboo Militia. She was pretty sure there were Cathar on Naboo, but she had never met any of them. Apparently being that rank of the Naboo Militia put her in the rank structure somewhere above a lieutenant and below a commander in the Republic Fleet. So that meant professional decorum. She didn’t react openly to the Colonel’s words, instead, she took a moment to compose her words before speaking.

When she did speak, it was cool and professional. “I apologize if my words were disrespectful. However, the treatment I have received since arriving has been somewhat less than I expected.” Again, her tone was respectful, but the Colonel flushed. But she wasn’t done. “And whoever that pilot was, I hope you at the very least discipline him or her.”

The colonel looked at her and then, to her amazement, he burst out laughing. “He was right, you have stones, woman.” Sylvi stared at the colonel and he smiled. “How is that old nutcase anyway?” At that her eyes went wide.

“Who, sir?” She asked cautiously. The colonel nodded and hit a series of controls. A telltale on top of his desk glowed green and he sighed. His whole demeanor changed, from an arrogant martinet to a kind and benevolent grandfatherly sort.

“How is Will? I can’t keep the mikes off forever. Security would go ape.” Sylvi stared at him, her mouth agape, but the colonel just smiled, a very different smile from the one he had shown her before. “Who do you think set this up?” Sylvi shook her head, baffled by the change in behavior, and the colonel shook his head as well. “Look, I have to ride herd on a whole bunch of overgrown adolescents. All of whom are totally convinced that they can fly better than anyone else in the galaxy. I have to keep them off balance, to stay sane. One of them borrowed my bird, and did some joyriding. I will bust their shebs when I catch them. But I had to see how you would react.” Sylvi closed her mouth with a snap.

“He was okay when I saw him last... This was a setup?” Her voice was low, but easily audible. The colonel nodded.

“Will was… um… vague… when he contacted me. He said you had some issues, but that you were a good pilot. And I do need a good instructor. I understand you have done exactly that.” Sylvi felt a pang. Yes, she had. She had trained her people well, not that it had helped in the end. The colonel looked at her, and she was sure he had seen her reaction. He sighed. “I know what it is to lose wingmen, friends, but… I need to know this… Can you do the job?” Sylvi nodded. “Your first job is to get settled in, get acclimatized to the station and its environs. Oh and… if you hear anything about the moron who borrowed my bird…” Sylvi gave an evil smile and the colonel nodded. He hit the control again and the green telltale flashed off. he extended his hand and Sylvi took it. They shook.

"Welcome to Starfighter Weapons School.”
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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 09:04 AM | #8
<A bit later>

Sylvie sat at her desk, her face turned to her terminal as she heard the group enter. It wasn’t difficult to pick out various voices and she worked hard to put names to the voices before she looked up. Female human, young, that would be Lt. Sana Cost. Her scores were excellent, and her instructors said she had a lot of potential, if she could ever earn to keep her mouth shut that was. Cost was speaking.

“… and you had to see that one was mine. What were you thinking crossing my fire line like that? I would have blasted you.” A male voice, human, answered Lt. Cost and Sylvie frowned slightly as she placed the voice. Warrant Officer Con Lijao was a good pilot too. Matter of fact, every pilot here was the top scorer of their respective squadrons. She listened to his response.

“Dream on, dreamboat. You wouldn’t blast me. You wouldn’t even come close.” A strange sound came from someone else. But no words and Sylvie smiled as she recognized the sound of strangled Wookiee laughter. That would be Wimeroo. It was an odd Wookiee who wanted to fly. But she had the touch, according to her squadron, she flew like an angel, a furry one. Finally, the noise stopped and she looked up to see the six pilots assigned to her looking at her. They stared at her and she cured her lip slightly, showing just a hint of incisor. Her fur stayed flat, but every one of the pilots braced.

When she spoke it was cold, clear and precise. “I see Republic military protocol is declining in the Starfighter Corps.” All six of them braced to stiffer attention and one of them took a step forward. She met the gaze of the male Aqualish impassively. He saluted. His voice was oddly accented but easy to understand.

“Training squadron eighty six alpha, reports to Commander Sylvie as ordered. Acting flight leader Caan, reporting. All personnel present.”

Sylvie rose from where she was sitting and returned the salute. She dropped hers and Caan dropped his. “Acting flight leader Caan. Pilots. As you were.” All of them relaxed, just a little bit. Sylvie looked at each in turn.

Cost, Lijao, and Lt. Gordon Starmount were all human, top picks from their respective squadrons. Caan, of course was an Aqualish, odd that such a being wanted to fly, and for the Republic no less, but she had to admit, his scores were good. Senior Lt. Jas Door was an Iridonian. And Wimeroo rounded out the group. Each met her gaze calmly, and she nodded to each. Finally she sat. “Take your seats people.”

"My name is Flight Commander Sylvie." They sat. The room was large enough for five times the students, so it felt cavernous with only six people in it. Sylvie waited until all of them were seated before speaking again. “Let me make some things clear right off the line. I got sent here to fill a slot. That slot is to teach what I know about combat flying. I understand that three of you have combat time and one of you…” She inclined her head to Jas Door, who nodded back slightly. “…has a kill.”

All five of the others looked at Door who shrugged. Sylvie continued. “Now I know each and every one of you thinks you are the single hottest appendages behind the controls of any starfighter out there. But…” She looked at Cost and Lijao in particular. “There is no place in the Republic Starfighter Corps for stupid grandstanding. Even in the simulators.” Both looked blank and Sylvie sighed. “If I ever saw one of my pilots doing what you did, Lijao, I would have you grounded so fast your head would fly off your shoulders and go into orbit all on it's own. Cutting in front of a firing fighter is a great way to wind up dead. The Republic can spare idiots like you, it’s the multimillion credit bird you are flying that is hard to replace.” Lijao looked at her and Sylvie smiled. It was not a friendly one. “Yes, I was watching.” All of them stiffened at that, but Sylvie’s gaze fell on Lt. Cost now.

“He at least I can understand. He was trying to impress a girl. Most humans think with their genitalia. Especially the males. You however…” Her gaze pinned Cost to her chair like a needle pinning a bug to a panel for display. “I don’t know what was worse. You leaving your wingman, you firing with a bad angle, or you shooting past your squadron mate after you saw him crossing your path.” Her words while still precise, were cool now and Lt. Cost licked her lips nervously. Sylvie’s gaze was like a pair of laser tracking her as the human squirmed. “Well?”

"Ma'am..." Lt. Cost spoke slowly. “I wouldn’t have hit him, Ma'am. He was moving too fast on a divergent vector. He was out of position too.”

Sylvie sighed. “Indeed he was. Which is why I am not holding that totally against you. But…” She continued as Lt. Cost relaxed a bit only to stiffen again. “I think acting flight commander Caan would have appreciated knowing where the flarg his wingman got to, wouldn’t you?” At that, Lt. Cost froze in her seat. Caan raised a hand and Sylvie nodded to him.

“My maneuvering may have thrown her off.” He said in his slow, methodical way. Sylvie looked at him and then nodded slowly. A good wingleader. If he wasn’t going leave the idiot wingman unsupported, Sylvie wasn’t going to push.

"Okay." Sylvie said with a sigh. “You are scheduled of the simulator again in two hours.” A chorus of groans met her pronouncement and she smiled evilly. “You all ain’t seen rough yet. Go get cleaned up and fed.” They nodded to her and rose when she did. She accepted the salute from Caan and watched as they filed out. Only after they had all left did she grin slightly.

Kids…

Her grin turned sad as she left the room herself. She had an appointment to keep.

<Ten minutes later>

Server rooms looked pretty much the same, no mater whose they were. Sith, republic, pirate, slaver, independent system, all had similar systems running things. But the Republic of course had lots of time and money invested in their computer systems. And the people who ran them.

“Hey, Chief?” Sylvie looked at the pair of legs clad in grubby coveralls that poked out from beneath a bank of servers. She had been directed to this server room, one that fed the main simulator and waited while the legs kicked a bit. She waited until the being the legs were attached to extended a hand and she grabbed it and pulled. The middle aged human stood up with her help and then his eyes widened on seeing her uniform. He straightened and dropped her hand, stiffening to attention, but Sylvie just smiled. “I have been known to get my hands dirty at times, Chief.”

The chief petty officer, the senior non commissioned rank in the Republic Navy, stared at her and shook his head slowly. “If you say so, commander. What brings you to my domain?” He asked while spreading his hands to indicate the server room, one of six that ran the simulators for the base. Sylvie nodded.

Her voice became businesslike. “I have a question, technical.” The petty officer nodded and Sylvie continued. “How many enemy birds can the simulator handle at once?”

"Ma’am?" The petty officer blinked and thought for a moment. “You mean swarms or each one flying separate?”

"Either." Sylvie replied easily. "I am looking for a basic figure, and not the one in the manual.” At that the chief smiled.

The chief’s voice was thoughtful. “I… see…” He thought hard for a moment. “What would you want?”

Sylvie nodded. “The pilots I am supposed to instruct already know it all. According to them anyway. So I want to see how they deal with getting thrown into a situation with no way out.” The chief stared at her and then he smiled. It was an evil smile that Sylvie shared.

He looked around the room, his gaze far away. “I could give you a wing, Ma’am. 72 enemy fighters. Figure half of them are wingmen… That cuts the amount of processing power…”

"I think..." Sylvie nodded. “Could you throw in a carrier? Maybe a Sith battlewagon?”

"Oh?" The chief smiled at her and his grin turned downright vicious. She shared that one too. “I think I am going to like you, Ma’am…”
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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 09:11 AM | #9
<two and a half hours later>

Sylvi sat at her desk and tried not to grin at the sounds that preceded the pilots into the room. Having been on the receiving end of a few Sith ambushes, she knew exactly how demoralizing it could be to have a simple assault mission go completely belly up. They had tried, she gave them that. They had tried hard. But after the Sith battleship had appeared and the carrier with it had dropped its fighters, the mission that they had been assigned had become, well, not impossible, because she and people like her had done that and worse, but much, much harder. And well beyond the ken of these pilots. She had to give them credit, they had managed to take out the carrier. And then the fighter swarm that the carrier had managed to launch had torn the entire squadron apart. So it was a very subdued bunch of people who sat and waited for her to speak. When she finally looked up, more than one flinched from her gaze. It was sad. When the Cathar spoke, it was just as sad.

“Before anyone asks, that was a real scenario.” All of them stared at her and she continued. “My squadron, but before I joined them. It was during the war, before Coruscant. My squadron was tasked to blast a Sith convoy, and they got jumped by a Sith battleship group. Not one ship, five of them. The battleship, a cruiser, and three escorts dropped in on them as they were making their final attack on the convoy. They had become spread out, trying to catch the fleeing freighters.” It wasn’t a fabrication, just not the whole truth. She stopped talking and stared into space for a moment.

Lt. Cost finally spoke after the silence had lengthened to painful extremes. The LT’s voice was quiet. “What happened, Ma’am?”

Instead of answering, Sylvi turned to Caan. “What should you have done when they appeared? The battlewagon and carrier?”

He met her eyes calmly and nodded. “We should have broken off the attack. We should have cut and run. We were outnumbered and outgunned. I made the decision to continue the attack and take full responsibility for it.” Sylvie nodded. He understood, she could see. But…

Her voice became biting now. “So… Who won that exchange?” All of the pilots stiffened. Sylvie met each and ever single being’s eyes before speaking again. “The Sith have lost a carrier, which they can replace in a couple of months. And the Republic has lost an entire fighter squadron. Monetarily, it’s a win for the Republic. But…”

Jas Door raised his hand and Sylvie nodded to him. His voice was subdued, pensive even. “The Sith did. They have more material and more manufacturing capability at the moment.”

Sylvie nodded again. During the war, Sith assault teams and fleets had targeted Republic shipyards specifically to hinder the replacement of ships lost in battle. And since the Republic had been unable to even find the Sith shipyards for much of the war, that had given the Sith a decided advantage. Of course, once the Republic forces HAD located the Sith shipyards, the tide had turned, just a bit. Now of course, the Republic had ramped up production and increased security but so had the Sith. Both sides knew what was coming.

Sylvie nodded again to Jas Door. “Yes, the Sith did. Their equipment is garbage for the most part. Most of their tactics and training are designed to keep people from exercising individual initiative. And it doesn’t matter.” She was the focus of six pairs of eyes. “They have the numbers, the will to use those numbers and the wish to kill every last one of us. Every one of us they kill…” She waved to them all and included herself in the wave. “…weakens the Republic.” Sylvie paused as Wimeroo raised a furry paw and she nodded to the Wookiee. When the Wookiee spoke, it was slow and careful, to allow the translator droid that squatted beside her to do its job.

The Wookiee spoke softly for a moment, then the droid spoke. “Statement: My mistress asks, ‘What should we have done? We couldn’t escape with the interdictor field up.’”

Sylvie inclined her head to the Wookiee. That had been the whole point of this exercise. To see how the pilots would react in a hopeless situation. And truth be told, Sylvie was impressed. She had seen crack pilots, beings with years of combat experience, fall apart when facing similar situations. Mind you, this squadron had only faced it in a simulator.

"You should have run. My squadron did and most of them survived to get back to their pickup." Sylvie spoke slowly and carefully. “There are times when no matter what you do, it will be the wrong thing. There will be times when all your choices are bad, when no matter what you do, you are dead. My job is to teach you how to minimize that. You all are good pilots, no question. But in the end, what you have to remember is this: We are on the same side. We are all part of a team. If one part of the team is bad, the whole team is bad. You all came from proud squadrons, with storied histories. But each and every one of you is, first and foremost, a Republic pilot. And each of you is an officer in the Republic Navy. Cutting and running goes against the grain. We are trained to kill, not scamper away like scared womp rats.” All of them nodded in unison, but now her voice became hard. “But that was the right choice, to scatter and run and you didn’t take it. So… Acting flight leader Caan.”

He stiffened further as if something hot had been applied to a tender part of his anatomy. He nodded to her and returned it. “You are demoted to element leader.” He nodded again and the instructor’s gaze fell on Lt Cost who stiffened. “You are now flight leader, girl, have fun. Don’t do anything to stupid.” Lt Cost stared at the Cathar who turned away, ignoring the incredulous looks that were sent her way from all over. But mostly from Cost herself. The girl had managed to get herself shot down first in the engagement. But she had stayed with her wing leader, which was a vast improvement. Sylvie hit a control and the wall board behind her lit up with a frozen 3-D view of the battle that they had fought in the simulator.

“Let’s take this step by step then.” Sylvie stood up and approached the board aware of intense scrutiny now. “You came in from galactic North sweeping away the two escorts…”

She was aware of a muted groan behind her but ignored it. She hated after action reports too, but this was very important factor in life of a fighter pilot. If one didn’t learn, one generally didn’t survive. And that was what she was going to pound into their heads physically if that was what it took, how to survive in one of the hardest jobs in existence. Fighter pilots anywhere had it rough. but fighter pilots in space had it harder. Because in space there was generally nowhere to hide.
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kalenath
07.02.2012 , 09:13 AM | #10
<A day later>

Sylvie lived for this. She liked nothing in the galaxy better than strapping herself into the cockpit of a high performance fighter and tearing through the sky like a hawkbat out of hell. Admittedly, the Aurek class strikefighter she had been assigned was nothing at all like the highly modified S-250 Chela she had flown while serving on the Stormhawk, but then again, she hadn’t flown that long either. She had assumed command of the fighter groups when her predecessor had been killed in action. S-250 Chelas were rare. But they were coveted for their survivability. A Chela would take a pounding that would reduce any Sith fighter to spacedust. Not to mention their firepower, two missile tubes made for a powerful edge in starfighter combat. She shook her head. There was nothing at all wrong with this Aurek.

The Aurek Talon tactical strikefighter was designed as a multi-role craft. Carrying two heavy laser cannon as well as a pair of proton torpedo tubes, it could do many things well. And its speed and maneuverability were second to none. Of course that came with a price. The shields and armor on this small ship were at best minimal. But… there were compensations. She spun the small and fast ship in three axis, glad to be free, if only for a time from being a ground pounder. One more fast roll and she turned towards the exercise area. She bit back a snarl as she saw two of the ships out of formation. Then she sighed. Six more pilots had arrived just that morning and they were still shaking things out. Six humans, each absolutely certain they were the best pilots in existence. Lt. Donn, Lt. Kumi, Warrant Koliat, Commander Hall, Lt. Jillianson, and Captain Duma were good, no question. But…

The Cathar smiled a bit as she heard a biting voice over her com. Lt. Cost was actually doing very well, and the female human’s voice was cold and controlled. But there was no missing the edge in Lt. Cost’s words. “Alpha Six and Alpha Seven, get back in formation.”

The young human had surprised Sylvie the night before by showing up at the Cathar’s quarters to ask questions. Germane, pertinent, intelligent questions. Sylvie hadn’t forbidden contact, but she had tried to remain at least a bit aloof. It was hard though. These pilots reminded her so much of a whole bunch of others she had known, most of whom were dead now. So she couldn't have turned Cost away even if she had wanted to. The girl had the spark that made a good fighter pilot commander, if buried deep in a confidence so strong it was a bare step short of full blown arrogance. And truth be told, she had appreciated the effort that Cost had taken to try. Many officers, given their first command, would try to do everything themselves, which simply wasn’t possible. The name of the game was to delegate, and to know who to delegate to and when. And Cost was getting it. Sylvie’s musing was cut short by the reply from Alpha Six.

“And who is gonna make me, Darlin’?” Sylvie sighed. It would be Lt. Kumi. That man had problems. Bad enough to be a racist. But to be a chauvinist too? He had taken one look at Sylvie and obviously tuned everything she had said out. Sylvie smirked under her flight helmet as she turned onto a course that would have her intercepting the squadron and listened for Cost’s reply.

It wasn’t long in coming. Cost’s words were now cool and professional, but no less biting. “Return to formation immediately.” Alpha Six didn’t reply and when she spoke again Cost’s voice was angry. “If you want to play by yourself, or with yourself, be my guest. But don’t take your wingman with you.” Sylvie bit back a laugh. Then she turned her ship slightly so approach the squadron from their blind side.

All starfighters had a blindside. The engine wash degraded sensor capability significantly from the rear. So Republic starfighters flew in a formation that had once been called a Finger Four. Two ships per wing, two wing pairs per element. Excellent protection as well as maximizing combat capacity, the leaders shooting and the wingmen covering them. Sylvie remembered someone telling her once ‘No organized force is ever outnumbered by a disorganized one’. And it was pretty much true. The times she had flown against disorganized forces, she and her squadron had usually cleaned their clocks.

It looked like Alpha Six was trying to play his own game. So Sylvie decided to change the rules. She moved in behind Alpha Seven. There was literally no way Koliat could see her from where he was, because he was obviously concentrating on staying with his leader, and the bulk of the ship behind the cockpit left a huge hole in visual scanning. If he had been with the squadron, someone else would have seen Sylvie’s ship, and the wing leader should have been looking around too. But obviously he was busy. Probably fuming at what Cost had said. And it was going to bite him. Sylvie lined up Alpha Seven and cut loose.

Since she hadn’t activated her targeting computers, the first warning he had was when the beams struck his ship. They both hit square on his starboard engine, and being training lasers only, only set off a set of sensors. Those sensors, connected to the main computer, cut power to everything on his ship except life support and short range communication. She flashed by the now dark bird and focused on the growing dot that was Alpha Six. He must have been very distracted because she was almost in optimal range before he realized his wingman wasn’t there anymore.

“What the…?” Came a startled exclamation and then they were in it.

Fighter combat, outside of holo-vids, usually was over very quickly. And this was no exception. Kumi was good, no question, his maneuvers were well executed and unpredictable. Not straight out of the book, but Sylvie was simply much better and more experienced in education at the hardest school available. There was no real way to teach combat flying. You could train, instruct and talk until you were blue in the face. And the people simply wouldn’t get it. Not until they actually flew against a skilled opponent who wanted them dead. This was probably the best way to teach this. One on one duels with an experienced, deadly enemy. Kumi was good, but it didn’t help him. Less than twenty seconds into the fight, Sylvie had a shot, which she took. That left his bird dead in space. But when she looked at her scopes, she had to shake her head in admiration. The rest of the squadron was charging her. They had taken advantage of her preoccupation with Kumi to get in proper position to bushwack her.

Good kids…

<An hour later>

“You cheated!” Sylvie stood impassive as Lt Kumi almost frothed at the mouth. She hadn’t spoken since landing, just nodded to Cost and stepped away. The squadron had lost two more ships taking her, but they had done it. Kumi had tried to follow her but had been corralled by his irate wingman and the rest of the squadron. And now they were back in the briefing room.

In comparison, Lt. Cost could have been carved from ice. Her words were cold and precise. “No she didn’t. You decided to leave formation. You decided to go do your own thing. If she had been a hostile, instead of an instructor, you would be… what is the word…? Oh yeah, dead.” Her cold, mocking tone had Kumi flushing, but before he could retort, Sylvie raised a hand. All of them looked at her.

When the Cathar spoke, it was calm, cool and considered. “That was some very good flying. But…” She looked from one face to another, finally ending on Kumi. “You are going to fly with people who tick you off. That is a given. You are going to be put in situations where there are no right answers. The only thing that you have going for you right now, is each other. You fly as a team, you fight as a team, or by the Force, you will die as a team. You don’t have to like each other, but you do have to support each other. Lt. Cost was the flight commander, and you blatantly disobeyed her orders. You, I wouldn't have minded getting trashed, but you took your wingman with you.” Kumi met Sylvie’s eyes with a glare that slid off the Cathar like water. Sylvie turned to Lt. Cost, who stiffened. “Recommendation?”

Cost thought for a moment and then nodded. “Make him a wing instead of a leader. Give him one more chance.” Kumi stared at her, then at the Cathar as it dawned on him that he was one step away from being sent back to his squadron in disgrace. His face turned an interesting shade but he remained silent.

Sylvie made a sound something like a soft growl. But when she spoke, there was no emotion in her voice. “One mistake is usually all you get out there. But that is why we are here. To teach. And nothing teaches like mistakes.” She waved towards the wall of the room, indicating the areas beyond and the empty space beyond the walls of the asteroid they called home for the moment. Then she nodded and keyed the holoprojector online. “Ok, let go over it, from the beginning. We all lifted off…”

This would be an interesting debriefing. With all sorts of connotations on interesting.
My stories in order:
Love, the Force, and Everything Discussion thread here