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Amongst Stars: Torrid Squadron


Caernos's Avatar


Caernos
10.09.2013 , 06:53 PM | #11
I was hoping since they announced Galactic Starfighter that this would continue. I know they're not connected (probably) but I'm glad to see this is continuing. Do love a good starfighter squadron story.
Cynfor Cinderheart and the Cinderheart Legacy: The Ebon Hawk
The FanFic Works of Caernos:
Red Invitation, Parents,
Beskar Bonds and Cinder Hearts

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
10.09.2013 , 09:53 PM | #12
Quote: Originally Posted by Caernos View Post
I was hoping since they announced Galactic Starfighter that this would continue. I know they're not connected (probably) but I'm glad to see this is continuing. Do love a good starfighter squadron story.
Actually, this story (and pretty much every one that doesn't involve acolytes and the ascension thereof) was put on hold whilst I focused on one story at a time, but seeing the space expansion did inspire me to pick this one up sooner rather than later. That and the fact that I feel like I stagnate if I keep my attention focused on only one thing for too long.

But always happy to see someone appreciate a story, especially an experimental one that doesn't revolve around the game's traditional classes. Here's hoping this manages to qualify as a 'good starfighter squadron story'.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
10.19.2013 , 11:59 PM | #13
Chapter Two

Phase two of recruitment had begun. Following a day of reducing candidates from the scores of qualified pilots, only ten applicants returned for the next stage. Ten men and women with scores high enough to earn the commander’s approval. Within the same nondescript, metallic chamber, twelve simulators lined three of the walls. After a long night of recalibrations, the machines had been set to run a single simulation, the twelve systems linked to form a single, cohesive squadron.

Ten applicants stood across from the commander and executive officer of Torrid Squadron, heads held high. The gathered figures represented a snapshot of the diversity the Republic prided itself on. People of all shapes, sizes, and species mentally prepared themselves for the challenges to come, each eager to earn a spot amongst the illustrious pilots of Torrid Squadron.

“Pilots,” Rem began, adopting a calm yet authoritative tone. “You have each proven yourself prior to even stepping into this chamber. You’ve served the navy and the Republic with dedication and sacrifice. All of you have earned the rank of lieutenant. All of you possess enough confirmed kills to qualify as aces. Even if you do not earn a spot on Torrid Squadron today, I’ve no doubt that each and every one of you will continue to fly with distinction. As you know, there are six spots. Six openings to be filled. Which means that four of you will eventually be rejected. But by making it this far, you all have earned our attention, and our respect. Lieutenant Gregard?”

“I am Lieutenant Gregard, executive officer of Torrid Squadron under Commander Altess,” Haron formally declared. “The purpose of today’s test is not to reduce the number of considered applicants. In fact, the chances that any of you will not make it to the next phase of testing is very slim. Instead, we will be making preliminary notes moving forward, and making sure you are each fit to physically pilot a Gallant fighter in the next phase.”

The gathered pilots struggled to maintain their rigid decorum, trying to surreptitiously look to one another as well as they could.

“That’s correct,” Rem took over. “Phase three of testing will put you into the cockpit of one of the Republic’s most advanced starfighters. But for now, you will utilize the simulators. You will be embarking on a series of tests. Not recreations of Torrid Squadron’s previous operations, but an original trials of my own devising. This ensures that it will be your skills that are tested, not your memories or knowledge of our exploits.”

“Since there are ten of you, two of Torrid Squad’s own will join you in the simulation, taking leadership roles,” Haron explained. “Commander Altess and myself will remain observers, which means two others will be flying with you.”

The gathered pilots immediately focused their attention toward the chamber’s entrance. As the heavy doors parted, two figures walked in, garbed in trademark red and white flightsuits. One’s face was covered by a antiox mask. From the other’s head sprouted two devilish horns. Rol Dunn, the Kel Dor. Marvus Verandii, the Devaronian.

The tall Nautolan standing amongst the other applicants excitedly inhaled as his widened eyes fell on the entering pilots. “That’s Lieutenant Verandii,” Zal enthusiastically whispered, digging his elbow into the arm of the man beside him.

“You don’t say?” the Human haughtily offered alongside a roll of his eyes, his head barely reaching the Nautolan’s shoulders. The man possessed a series of visible cybernetic implants, metallic strips lining his right brow and cheekbone.

Dunn and Marvus stood beside their fellows, scanning the lineup across from them. The Kel Dor proved almost impossible to read, but the Devaronian possessed a confident grin.

“Lieutenant Dunn will act as Torrid Leader, with Lieutenant Verandii acting as his second in command,” Haron detailed. “Odd units will belong to Group One. Even units will belong to Group Two. Any questions?”

“Are we assigned to certain units or do we get to pick?” Zal inquired.

“You’re free to choose from units three and up,” Rem explained. “One and two are reserved for Lieutenants Dunn and Verandii respectively.”

“Dibs on unit four!” Zal proclaimed, securing his spot in Group Two.

“It seems you have a fan,” Dunn quietly rasped beneath his mask.

“Well, he wouldn’t be the first,” Marvus confessed, playfully stroking his chin. A low sigh slipped past the Kel Dor’s antiox mask as he turned toward his assigned unit.

“If there are no questions or concerns, please proceed to one of the open simulators,” Rem instructed. The line of applicants quickly broke rank and rushed to the electronic units, some more hastily than others. One by one the twelve simulators received and enclosed the pilots. “Alright. Let’s get things started.”

Without a word, Haron went to work tapping away at his datapad. The screens above the units came to life and various lights lining the simulators signaled the internal systems coming online. Beneath them, subtle mechanisms that provided kinetic feedback fired up, carefully raising the chassis slightly off the ground.

Within the cockpits, various instruments and displays matching the interior of a true Gallant starfighter lit up, speakers filling the sealed units with the simulated sounds of the military vessel. Lastly, the black screens ahead of the pilots came to life as a progress bar appeared along the bottom edge.

“Loading Phase Two-Stage One,” an electronic female voice informed the twelve pilots.

“Stage one will test your familiarity with the Gallant’s systems as we navigate a terrestrial environment,” Dunn explained, almost matching the droid’s monotonous tone. As the Kel Dor’s voice filled their cockpits, the other applicants rushed to check every possible console and dial in front of them. “When you are prompted to relay information, do so. Failure to do so or relaying incorrect information will result in a point loss. While navigating the course, you will be given directions by your group leader. Failure to follow said directions or making physical contact with the terrain will result in a point loss. Points will be aggregated and judged only upon the completion of the entire phase of testing.”

“Also, don’t crash. Crashing will result in a major point loss,” Marvus relayed, almost mimicking his comrade’s dulled tone.

The progress bar on the displays filled completely before fading away. In its place, a series of words splashed across the interior screens. ‘Simulation about to begin. Place hands on controls.’ Soon after, a countdown appeared. 3. 2. 1.

The cockpit interiors grew bright as the screens displayed an expansive stretch of unpopulated land. The simulation had begun with the twelve vessels midflight over jagged, rocky terrain. Each of the pilots took careful control, making sure their craft flew straight and steady. The twelve starfighters sailed high above the planet’s surface, brown crags spreading out in all directions beneath them, and a beautiful open sky hanging overhead.

“Torrid Squadron, report in,” Dunn called out over the comm channel.

“Torrid Two, standing by,” Marvus quickly called in as he always had, albeit with a new designation. One by one the applicants reported in order of the units they occupied. The haughty Human from before led things off, followed by the boisterous Nautolan. Then a diverse assortment of men and women of various species. Each held a firm grasp of Basic, but accents were present in a few pilot’s tones. Selkath, Cathar, Rodian, Duros, Corellian.

“Alright,” Dunn calmly began. “Remain in formation and follow my lead.”

The squadron leader’s starfighter began to dip as he descended, leading his fellow pilots ever closer to the planet’s surface. The applicants followed, trying their best to maintain their relative positions as they lowered their altitude. Dunn and the other pilots evened out, less than a half a kilometer separating them from the jagged terrain.

“Torrid Three, what’s our altitude?” Dunn inquired.

“We’re averaging around 400 meters above ground level,” the Human read off his instruments.

“Very good,” Dunn commented. “We’re approaching a series of splintered mountain ranges. We’ll be navigating two ravines, one for each group. Follow your group leader and do not exit the canyon until you’ve reached its end. Exiting the course will result in a point loss. Understood?”

The ten applicants supplied a series of confident ayes.

“Group One, you’re with me,” Dunn stoically called out.

“Group Two, try and keep up,” Marvus heartily teased.

The two group leaders began to diverge their paths as they fast approached the towering, jagged mountains ahead. Stretching kilometers into the air, the ranges sprouted in sharp ridges with numerous breaks and ravines separating them. The two leaders had their sights set on two particular canyons, narrow and treacherous in their design, vast in their length. Digitally constructed to push the starfighters to their limits.

As the ground below began to incline, the vessels maintained a steady course, inching ever closer to the rocky terrain. Two groups, six pilots strong, separated and made their ways toward their prescribed courses. Soon, Dunn and Marvus passed the threshold of their assigned canyons, finding themselves flanked by walls of passing stone. One by one, the twelve pilots disappeared into the trenches, their piloting skills about to be put to the test.

“Tessa, engage Bifurcation,” Dunn commanded.

The astromech droids plugged into the back of the simulators went to work, separating the twelve fighters into two groups, creating and prioritizing comm channels for each team of six. The applicants watched as the squadron’s mechanical assistant altered their displays and systems, but their attention remained focused on the treacherously encroaching rock around them. The two groups navigated the jagged, yet straight channels, single file behind their group leader.

In the eastern canyon, Marvus followed the path with calm, relaxed eyes. “Well, now that we have our own comm channel, we can chat without Lieutenant Dunn offering any objections.”

“Is that wise, sir?” a somewhat trepidatious male commented over Group Two’s comm. “Shouldn’t we be focused on navigating?”

“Of course!” Marvus boisterously replied. “But to be a member of Torrid Squadron, you have to be able to multitask.”

“So conversing is a part of our test?” the male pilot inquired.

“Yes,” Marvus answered.

“Is it?” Haron asked of his commander, turning his head from his datapad. Outside the simulators, the overseers received constant data from the individuals units, including communications.

“No,” Rem plainly answered, still eyeing the various screens above the simulators.

The commander and her executive officer watched and listened to the pilots navigate the simple beginnings of the course, both groups showing ample progress despite the second one’s penchant for unorthodoxy. But as easy as things were for the pilots in that moment, things were about to change.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Lialu's Avatar


Lialu
12.12.2013 , 02:02 PM | #14
I waited to post until after I read all your stories. The best thing i can come up with to say is Thank You for some great writing. I have enjoyed all of them and think you have a real talent. Please continue writing and i would like to know if you have other stories out there somewhere that i could read.

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
12.12.2013 , 09:03 PM | #15
Quote: Originally Posted by Lialu View Post
I waited to post until after I read all your stories. The best thing i can come up with to say is Thank You for some great writing. I have enjoyed all of them and think you have a real talent. Please continue writing and i would like to know if you have other stories out there somewhere that i could read.
And the best I can come up with to say is thank you for reading. I like to think I've written something of a variety of stories here, so to hear you've enjoyed them all is all the more motivating.

Sad to say though, this is pretty much everything I've written. Anything more you want to read from me means having to put up with my shoddy update schedule for these stories.
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

ShadowMudkip's Avatar


ShadowMudkip
12.15.2013 , 09:02 PM | #16
I completely forgot what this and Guiding Lights were about. Going to have to reread
JediCovenant
The Veir Legacy
Mairick-Assassin Mylius-Sorcerer
Kaidin-Mercenary

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
12.21.2013 , 03:06 PM | #17
Chapter Three

As the simulation progressed, the path ahead of the vessels grew ever more treacherous. The encroaching walls of the jagged mountains threatened to punish any uncalculated maneuver, any misstep. And eventually, it did. As the starfighters snaked through the canyons and ravines, one of the vessels of group two brushed against the sides of the stony trench.

The simulator unit violently shook, providing its user kinetic feedback as he tightened his grip around the controls, releasing a series of hushed expletives beneath his breath. The sound of scratching metal and crumbling rock filled the simulator as the group leader’s voice left the unit’s speakers.

“That’s a bit of a point reduction, Torrid Eight,” Marvus casually detailed. “Don’t worry. Keep your wits about you and recover. It’s nothing you can’t come back from.”

The Devaronian pilot continued to lead his group through the trench run, the five men and women trailing him doing their best to mimic his movements.

In the western canyon, Dunn led his group with silent efficiency, the comm channel rarely opening except to relay directions and test the applicants’ knowledge.

“We’re coming up on a winding path,” Dunn emotionlessly detailed. “Base maneuverability will not be sufficient. Suggested action, Torrid Five?”

“Divert power to engines,” the pilot quickly answered, her voice coarse and direct. It belonged to Chanta the Selkath.

“Correct, but from where?” Dunn further inquired.

“Weapons systems,” Chanta replied. “Shields need to be at full strength in case of physical contact within the trench.”

“Correct,” Dunn commented. The lead vessel neared the narrowing mouth of the winding path. “Tessa, configure for close-quarters maneuvers.”

One by one the pilots repeated the direction to their own droids, and Tessa went to work boosting the vessels’ engines. Though the TS-AA was technically a single shared intelligence, the bifurcation process separated and isolated it into the twelve physical units plugged into the vessels. Each pilot was responsible for the ‘Tessa’ attached to their starfighter, giving directions and receiving information unique to their own ship.

Dunn was the first to pass the threshold of the tightening ravine. The five other vessels followed soon after, flying in a single-file line, maintaining their speeds through the winding path. As the walls of stone crept ever closer, the pilots’ skills were pushed to the limit. Through the treacherous trench, the open skies remained ever present above the pilots. They promised safety, freedom from the encroaching mountains, but they also promised failure. Ironically, to touch the sky was to forfeit their spot on the squadron. Crashing in pursuit of their goal was preferable to fleeing, especially in the simulation. No sense of mortality and no risk of wrecking millions of credits worth of military hardware meant they could go all out.

In the eastern canyon, group two approached a similar winding path. Similar, but not identical. The other pilots made similar preparations. Similar, but not identical. Marvus warned of the danger ahead and advised the pilots in his group, rather than quizzing them on their next move. The group leader readied his vessel for the snaking trench, and the others did the same. But though Marvus did not question his pilots, he could not go without offering them a good challenge.

“Since we’re nearing the final stretch of the course, who wants to see if we can beat the other group to the finish?” Marvus wondered across his team’s comm. There was silence as none of the applicants offered an immediate answer. But the quiet wouldn’t last.

“Alright, let’s do it!” Zal exclaimed with boisterous vigor.

“Should we really rush things?” another male sounded out, significantly more cautious than the Nautolan.

“If we win, do we receive more points?” a female inquired. She spoke bluntly, her voice carrying the heavy accent of a Rodian speaking Basic.

“It’s a display of skill, is it not?” Marvus warmly replied. “If we make it out first, I might be able to overlook any accidental collisions along the way.”

Though hesitant, none of the pilots would object to the Devaronian’s challenge. They aimed to impress and while not a direct order, they knew opposing their group leader’s suggestion would earn them no favors. And sitting in a simulator tended to tip the scales of behavior toward the reckless.

With the two groups now traversing the twisting corridors of rock and stone, Rem and Haron passed their gazes over the viewscreens above the twelve simulator units, the executive officer occasionally focusing on the datapad within his hands.

“I suppose we should have expected this from Marvus,” Haron commented, a hint of defeat in his otherwise stoic voice.

“He’s not yet broken any rules,” Rem calmly replied. “The test is to gauge the applicants as teammates and subordinates. While not as direct, Marvus is still issuing commands, providing directions, which his group members are following to the best of their ability. Besides, might as well push them to their limit before putting them in the cockpit of a real Gallant fighter.”

“It’s hard to evaluate two groups on completely different merits,” Haron admitted. “But I suppose this phase was never about eliminating applicants, barring catastrophic failure.”

“Makes you think though, these two could have been the new Torrid Leader had you decided it,” Rem stated.

“Marvus was toward the bottom of my list, but I suppose I hadn’t eliminated him entirely from consideration,” Haron declared. “Dunn… Dunn was a contender.”

“But you chose me,” Rem said, taking her eyes off the viewscreens that populated the chamber. “Over Dunn. Over yourself.”

“Whereas Marvus would have been too loose, I fear Dunn would have been too strict,” Haron reasoned, still staring at his datapad.

“Every military outfit needs its measure of discipline,” Rem countered.

“A firm hand is needed, but a tightened fist helps no one. I learned that much during my time with the Empire,” Haron grimly muttered.

“And is that time why you recused yourself from consideration?” Rem inquired.

“I knew Admiral Trevel wouldn’t object, but I couldn’t say the same of the senate,” Haron admitted. “The oversight committee wouldn’t like an ex-Imperial at the head of its shining symbol of Republic valiance. But that wasn’t the only reason. I had become accustomed to my duties as an XO. Maybe I was afraid to give those up, or let someone else take over for me. Maybe I was just afraid of taking Nolante’s place.”

“If you thought yourself incapable, I can assure you, you’re not,” Rem appeased.

“I know,” Haron confessed. “I knew you and the others would have no trouble following me. What I didn’t know, was what path I might lead you down. Like I said when I picked you, it’s more than just being a good pilot or tactician. A squadron is like a machine that needs all its parts working and in the right place to properly function.”

“So you picked the person who’s better with droids than people,” Rem offered alongside a soft chuckle.

“Considering you treat your droid better than most Imperial officers treat their subordinates…”

The commander and her executive officer were cut off by a brief warning that splashed across one of the viewscreens above the simulator. Rem focused her gaze whilst Haron poured over his datapad.

“Torrid Ten brushed against the trench wall,” Haron stated.

“Surprised it took this long,” Rem reasoned. “How bad was it?”

“Superficial damage. Shields absorbed most of it. A few thousand credits worth of repairs,” Haron detailed.

Watching the tenth unit’s screen, the commander was impressed by how the pilot immediately recovered, keeping their wing clear of any further contact. “I must say, group two is performing remarkably well considering their speeds.”

“Considering Marvus has never run this simulation before, it’s impressive that even he’s managed to go unscathed,” Haron admitted. “Torrid Four seems to be mimicking his movements perfectly. Torrid Six is doing great considering he has no direct line of sight on Marvus. And whatever mistakes the others make, they manage to avoid overcorrecting rather well.”

“And how is group one progressing?” Rem wondered.

“Slower, but not by much,” Haron detailed. “Dunn has them following a much tighter line, and none of them have made any major mistakes.”

“It seems we’ve a talented pool to choose from,” Rem stated. “Finding four to eliminate might be difficult.”

“They’re skilled, to be sure. But you need more than trench runs to measure a pilot’s ability,” Haron declared.

“I think the second stage of the simulation will be an adequate test of their skills,” Rem confidently stated.

Cutting off the observers’ conversation were the exuberant cheers that emanated from group two’s comm channel. Marvus had emerged from the trench into an open canyon, the five members of his group following closely behind him. Exiting into the point where the eastern and western paths converged, there was no sight of group one. Only after a few long seconds did Dunn and the rest of his team emerge from their trench. The tails of the other six vessels in his sights, the Kel Dor maintained his silence, paying little mind to his squadron mate’s haste.

“It would seem they all made it out,” Haron commented.

“It would seem so,” Rem warmly repeated, an approving curl upon her lips. “Load stage two.”

The executive officer provided a quick nod, punching a few commands into his datapad. Inside the simulators, the screens went dark, to the confusion of the ten applicants. They watched as the screen flickered, a progress bar showing up as new data flowed in. As Tessa readied the next simulation, the pilots were left to wait in their artificial cockpits.

“I guess we’re not getting a break, huh?” Marvus commented over the comm, the units once more sharing a single channel.

“Why, do you need one?” Dunn prodded, completely deadpan. The Devaronian offered a quick chortle in return.

“How ‘bout you all? Anyone need a break?” Marvus inquired. A steady stream of ‘No, sir’s filled the channel, much to the inquirer’s delight.

“Loading Phase Two-Stage Two,” an electronic female voice informed the twelve pilots.

“Stage Two will test your familiarity with the Gallant’s systems as we carry out a combat scenario,” Dunn explained, matching his previous monotonous tone. “Same as stage one, failure to follow a command or relay information will result in a point deduction. Points will be aggregated and judged only upon the completion of the entire phase of testing.”

The pilots withheld their questions and comments as the progress bar along their cockpits’ screen filled. The artificial viewports remains dark, but were now dotted with an array of distant stars upon the celestial canvas. The applicants immediately knew the test would not be a terrestrial one. But other than that, they were going in blind. No objective. No briefing. No preparations.

The twelve starfighters were arranged in a wedge formation above a stationary Republic cruiser. As the pilots looked over their consoles and absorbed the information presented, two Imperial dreadnoughts dropped out of hyperspace to the squadron’s left and right. Harrower-class, the two massive vessels floated just outside firing range.

As the applicants struggled to process the immediate threat, they eagerly awaited their leader’s command. Finally, a single notice flashed across the pilots’ consoles.

‘Objective: Protect the transport’
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Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
12.25.2013 , 08:59 PM | #18
Chapter Four

Phase two was over. Gone were artificial cockpits and simulations. Gone was the tucked away chamber nestled deep within a military complex. The ten applicants had been tested. And they had been found worthy.

Under the light of day and above of the vast terrain of one of the Republic’s many ordinance worlds, the Den floated motionless, ‘anchored’ by the carrier’s powerful repulsor engines. Within the vessel’s vast hangar, it was a picture of alignment. Twelve Gallant-class starfighters rest comfortably in their row, tended by the occasional technician and service droid. Standing beside the vessel docked nearest to the hangar’s edge were the six pilots of Torrid Squadron, across from whom stood the ten applicants.

The ten men and women seeking to fill the empty spots on the team all stood at attention, resolute and dutiful under the watchful eye of the studious Commander Altess.

Rem and Haron remained clothed in officer’s garb, lending an overbearing sense of formality to the proceedings. Their teammates were content with more casual attire aboard their home. Work clothes, fatigues, relaxed flightsuits, and the like covered the four pilots’ bodies. The applicants, however, had to be in top shape and ready to step into the cockpit at a moment’s notice.

The ten pilots remained rigid as the commander’s eyes passed over them one by one. And as much as she studied them, they studied her right back. After all, this was the person who was to oversee their lives for the foreseeable future, assuming they earned a spot on the squadron.

The commander was an enigmatic figure to the applicants. She seemed to defy as many expectations as she fulfilled. Her face was soft, speaking to her relative youth, but possessed a calm, commanding countenance. Her brown hair was cut short, rather than restrained in a bun, and her uniform was in immaculate condition. But despite the strict way in which she presented herself, there was a warm, welcoming air about her. Though this might have been because of the man standing by her side.

Haron Gregard’s entire presence seemed soaked in propriety. His dark blonde hair was kept trimmed and perfectly parted. Not a single cuff or fiber of his uniform was out of line. His blue eyes were beyond piercing, accentuated by the ever present stoicism upon his pristine face. Every pilot possessed an appearance that spoke to their natures, but whether it spoke in truths or lies the applicants did not know. For all they knew, the pair could be putting on a show for them. They could have possessed facades for each and every type of person they dealt with in their daily tasks. Fellow pilots, commanders, senators, civilians. Or perhaps that which the applicants saw was born of their own perceptions and precedents.

Each and every one of them knew of Torrid Squadron and their pilots. There were few in the Republic with access to the Holonet that didn’t. But the group they knew of had been dealt a deadly blow months prior. Whether the same men and women stood before them that day, they did not know. But nothing about them deemed them worthy of disrespect. Ever the motley group of pilots, despite all their intricacies and differences, none stood out from his or her fellows. None did not belong. None would rather be elsewhere.

Marvus Verandii, the Devaronian, stood arms crossed, civilian garb covering his body. A simple set of dark trousers and matching shirt contrasted with the flightsuited image they had seen prior. The ever present, casual face of Torrid Squadron bared a hooked smile upon his horned head. He had no intention of flying that day, but every intention of watching the applicants take flight. But whereas the smirk might have spoken of hubris, or the desire to see the fledglings crash and burn, it instead detailed a desire to see just what the applicants were capable of. Beside the devilish pilot was another who exuded a similar, vibrant warmth.

Ono Seraak, the Togruta, was visibly loud and audibly quiet. His red skin outshined even the Devaronian’s, and was accented with white stripes and spots up and down his hanging headtails. His easygoing nature was evidenced throughout the pilot’s presentation. Through his expression, through his stance, through his loose civilian garb that had more in common with robes than an urbanized outfit. He carried a comforting aura about him, one that welcomed and invited the applicants.

The Devaronian and the Togruta were the most expressive, the easiest to read for the ten applicants. The remaining two pilots of Torrid Squadron had little to give, and less to tell, which was giving and telling in its own right.

Rol Dunn, the Kel Dor, stood rigid and unmoving, complimenting the unnerving stare beneath his antiox mask. The cold metallic fixture covered most of the pilot’s face, practically making it his new one. A smooth plate encased his mouth and cheeks, with black goggles protecting his eye sockets, both surrounded by rough, leathery orange skin. He wore a set of work clothes, something the hangar technicians would have been comfortable in. Heavy boots, thick trousers and shirt, the garb of a decidedly hands-on person. But despite that, everything about the man seemed distant. His arms neatly folded behind his back. His body stood upright, but compressed, limbs sticking close to his body. A coldness to contrast with the others’ warmth. Beside him was a pilot who possessed more similarities than contrasts.

Fen Kayda, the Mon Calamari, stood the furthest from the applicants, and closest to the Gallant fighter. She wore a relaxed flightsuit, the top half hanging around her waist as her torso went garbed in only a light undershirt. An expert in mechanics and hardware rather than people, she possessed an internal calm that even the Kel Dor nor the Togruta could hope to match. Her slick, reddish-brown skin was smooth, and free of excess spotting or marks, even atop her fish-like head. Her appearance and demeanor told little about her, but that was because she had the least to say. She wasn’t interested in welcoming or rejecting the applicants. They had a purpose to serve, and they would serve it with or without her. Only when she was called upon, would she offer her unique brand of expertise.

Standing before these figures, the applicants wanted nothing more than to join their ranks. This was the first time they had stood in their collected presence, and they knew that they possessed the chance to stand amongst them as equals. All they needed to do was prove themselves.

“Pilots,” Rem spoke up, loud enough to make sure every applicant’s attention was sufficiently drawn. “You’ve done well to make it this far. Each and every one of you has proven yourself a skilled and capable pilot. But only six of you will earn a spot on Torrid Squadron. The four of you that don’t make the cut, you can leave knowing that you did not fail. Every pilot has something to contribute, regardless of their rank and posting. Joining Torrid Squadron is not about being the best, it’s about doing the best with what you’re given. It’s about all the right pieces being in all the right places.”

The commander paused to pass her gaze over the line of applicants, who shot back eager, confident nods.

“I know that each and every one of you has some idea of what Torrid Squadron is or how it operates,” Rem continued. “But the truth is, we’re not what our public image contends. We are not the best of the best. We are not the top 1%. We are not invincible. We are simply… unique. We operate unlike other squadrons. We utilize tools others do not have access to. We are made up of pilots who can thrive in the environment we have fostered. You may have noticed that none of the applicants around you are over thirty years of age. We’ve been testing those who are not only skilled, but fresh. Pilots whose muscle memory hasn’t endeared them to any particular craft. Pilots who have yet to develop trends or prejudices. Pilots yet to be molded, able to be melded. Pilots who are… unique. Pilots who cannot be tested in simulators alone. Lieutenant Kayda?”

The commander looked to her squadron mate, who slowly made her way front and center. The Mon Calamari who had since been content to blend into the background now stood at attention, not a single part of her shying away from the dozens of eyes that now lay upon her. The other pilots of Torrid Squadron separated, leaving only Fen Kayda between the applicants and the Gallant starfighter behind her.

“The Gallant-class starfighter,” Fen detailed, just loud enough for the pilots to hear her. She was calm, methodical, almost mechanical in her delivery. Each word carefully chosen and executed. “Experimental redesign of your standard Liberator fighter. 3 meters tall. 14 meters long. 14 meters wide with the wings extended. 7 with them collapsed. Twin engined and hyperdrive enabled. Variable armament and shielding capabilities. Limited navicomputer with advanced astromech integration. Long and short range sensors with advanced targeting software. Secure short range comms, long range achieved by linking with larger crafts’ communication grids. Worth far more than anything our pay grade has any business handling. So don’t crash.”

The applicants stared at the pilot and the craft to her rear in admiration. The pilot herself seemed to speak almost in reverence as she detailed the technical specifications. The ten men and women before her were eager to finally step inside and wrap their hands around the controls of one of the Republic most advance single-pilot vessels.

“The Den has a team of dedicated technicians and mechanics on staff to tend to your assigned craft should you earn a spot on the squadron. But you too will still be responsible for its upkeep and maintenance,” Fen continued. “Your ship will belong to you and you alone. If it’s out of commission, you’re out of commission. If something’s wrong, it’s your responsibility to fix it. If you can’t fix it, bring it to one of the techs. If they’re busy, bring it to me. I’ve yet to meet a piece of hardware I couldn’t get in working order. Just know that you’ll owe me.”

The applicants weren’t sure whether to be endeared or frightened. Every word the Mon Calamari spoke was utterly devoid of emotion, neither warm nor cold, neither friendly nor hostile. She spoke to such a plain degree that it was almost unsettling even to the most hardened amongst them. Meanwhile, her teammates stood to the sides of the craft, comfortable and unfazed by the Mon Calamari’s personality.

“For this phase of testing, you’ll be in the cockpit of this particular craft,” Fen detailed, jutting a thumb toward the adjacent vessel. “Only one of you is going out at a time. The rest of you will wait your turn here in the hangar. Once in the air, you’ll be running a course programmed into your nav. The commander and the XO will oversee the test. Tessa will record your performance. Any questions? No? Good.”

With that, she was finished. The applicants watched as she drifted off toward the other vessels docked further into the hangar. Before any of them could speak, Haron Gregard took her place, datapad firmly in hand.

“We’ll going in alphabetical order,” Haron revealed. “Lieutenant Chanta. You’re first.” The Selkath perked up the moment her name was called. With a dutiful nod, she stepped from the lineup and carefully approached Torrid Squadron’s executive officer. The stoic Human looked up from his datapad to survey the applicant one last time. “Are you ready?”

“Yes sir!” Chanta quickly replied alongside another eager, confident nod.

Haron directed the Selkath onto the Gallant’s wing, where the cockpit’s open hatch welcomed her. As the first applicant inserted herself into the vessel, the others began to clear the surrounding area. The others were left standing around, looking to one another for what to do next, when the beckoning wave of Marvus Verandii guided them toward a large table that had been set up in the distance. With enough chairs to accommodate both groups of pilots, it provided them a chance to converse and familiarize themselves with one another.

A quick siren sounded off within the hangar, informing its occupants of the upcoming departure. Whilst their fellows guided the waiting applicants deeper into the hangar, the commander and her executive officer slowly made their way to the hangar’s edge stopping just short of the magnetic barrier that separated them from the outside world. The light blue sky shimmered as it filtered through the barrier, but its image was maintained enough to evoke a sense of openness and freedom.

Carefully, the Gallant starfighter lifted itself from its landing struts, which tucked themselves into the vessel's belly. Utilizing onboard repulsors rather than engaging its engines proper, the craft slowly maneuvered through the hangar, opening its wingspan as it neared the chamber’s threshold. Sliding past the hangar’s barrier, the starfighter engines glowed a bright red before the craft surged forward.

Rem watched as the Gallant fighter traversed the sky, its pilot in full control. “Phase Three… begin."
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
12.29.2013 , 11:55 PM | #19
Chapter Five

Soaring over the rolling hills of the planet’s surface, Chanta maintained a firm grip on the starfighter’s controls. Keeping a watchful eye between her viewport and the ship’s console, the Selkath followed a series of commands and directions given by Tessa. A series of waypoints would be set, urging the pilot in a multitude of directions, all the while logging her movements and timing. The applicant’s physical and mental reflexes were tested as different visual cues would pop into view, each requiring an immediate response. But despite the hectic trial, the pilot remained determined.

The Gallant starfighter rolled and turned as it flew toward the numerous waypoints and pings Tessa called out. The marvel of technological innovation and development was delivering a capable showing in the hands of its capable pilot. Sublight drives running smoothly. Inertial dampers protecting the vessel’s occupant from excessive g-forces. If not for the prize on the line, it would have been just another day for the Selkath pilot.

Within the hangar of the Den, the other applicants had pooled around the resting members of Torrid Squadron. The makeshift conference table that had been erected was sufficiently occupied, the array of folding chairs filled with those waiting for their turn to go up into the air. Some were eager. Some hesitant. It was a test after all. And a test meant the possibility of failure. Possibly losing out on the opportunity they so passionately desired.

Looking to put the waiting applicants at ease, Marvus broke the crowded silence.

“Time’s gonna slow to a crawl if all we do is sit around doing nothing,” Marvus chatted. “Why not get to know each other?”

The applicants looked to one another, surreptitiously as they could. Even though they weren’t in the air, they somehow felt this was still a part of the test. Which meant every action, every word ought to be calculated, lest they ruin themselves.

“Oh, come on,” Marvus assuaged. “If you’re worried about saying something stupid, you obviously don’t know much about us.”

“Rather, they don’t know much about you, specifically,” Seraak jokingly added. The Togruta and Devaronian shared a quick laugh as the applicants seemed to be slowly loosening up.

“You may know us, and we may know you, but if you’re going to be flying together, you better know each other too,” Marvus detailed.

“Alright. The name’s Zal Tobek,” one applicant began with a firm jut of his thumb toward his self. Zal Tobek, Nautolan male, age 28. The applicant possessed a bulky, muscular frame, one that stood at least a head taller than any of the other pilots. His skin was a pale green and his large eyes were black as night. Fourteen fleshy tendrils flowed from his head like hair, falling and resting upon his shoulders. Within the applicant’s large build rest an even larger personality. One comprised of boisterousness and an almost childlike wonder regarding his craft.

Marvus supplied an appreciative nod before looking toward the others, urging them to follow the Nautolan’s lead.

“Erin Hayes,” another spoke up, less enthused than the previous applicant. Erin Hayes, Human male, age 28. The applicant was a cyborg, and while most of his modifications were sub-dermal, there were two visible metallic strips lining his right brow and cheekbone. Soft faced, aside from the obviously rigid cybernetic implant. Hair trimmed and shaped to regal, rather than military, propriety. Seeped in an air of haughty pomposity, backed up by a genuine skill in the cockpit.

“Aiden Olenzo,” the third warmly revealed. Aiden Olenzo, Human male, age 27. Corellian, born and raised. The applicant was scruffy and puckish, his earliest memories involving a starship. Fair skinned with a head of shaggy brown hair, a thin layer of unshaven fibers covered his chin. A dashing facade. A man of looseness and simple desires. Leaning back in his chair, he wore a beaming smirk upon his lips, using whatever willpower he possessed to force himself not to put his boots on the table.

“Loona Loodatah,” said the next in a stern manner. Loona Loodatah, Rodian female, age 28. The applicant possessed green skin and dazzling blue orbs for eyes. Her head was topped with a pair of stumpy antennae, as well as a ridge of soft spines in place of hair. Her face ended in a long, rounded snout, one that made reading her particular difficult for those more versed in Human facial expression. Her reserved nature didn’t help matters. A fighter, through and through, and the first of her clan to do so in the name of the Republic.

“Rev Saldor,” another coarsely added. Rev Saldor, Duros male, age 29. The applicant possessed the trademark blue skin and piercing red eyes of his species, but there was a softness beneath the sharp image, beneath the gravelly voice. His rounded head was held at a slight dip, possessing none of the hubris or self-indulgence of the other pilots. He grew up in and around starships, but as the sole soldier in a family of merchants, he was the only one skilled in piloting those with heavy armament. And skilled he was, despite his unwillingness to make a show of it.

“Varah,” the next applicant quickly followed, her voice quick and direct. Varah, Cathar female, age 26. The applicant’s body was covered heat to toe with a coat of light-brown fur. The hair atop her head was a few shades darker, trimmed and worn in a single strip than ran toward the back of her neck. Her features as sharp as her claws, she possessed a fierce image despite her lean, dexterous frame. Possessing a fiery heart and a physical passion, she was as skilled inside a starfighter as outside of one.

“Gorman Freeden,” another stated, almost with a hushed whisper. Gorman Freeden, Human male, age 28. The applicant was beyond soft-spoken, and possessed a similarly contained visage. Brown hair kept tidy, full beard kept neatly trimmed. A man of duty and obligation, self-realized as well as thrust upon him. The latest in a familial line of navy pilots, he served without fuss nor ounce of hesitation. Though practically forced into the occupation, the man’s true calling would always rest within the cockpit of a starfighter.

“Leia Dardan,” said the final applicant at the table. Leia Dardan, Human female, age 27. The applicant was a picture of decorum and class, her long black hair braided and restrained a tightly wound bun. Behind her sharp eyes rest a keen mind, one that excelled in the Naval Academy. A great pilot, and an even greater officer. Hailing from Ord Mantell, she was a patriot amongst few back on her homeworld. Calm and collected when faced with a challenge, she effortlessly maintained her poise amongst her fellows.

As the last applicant offered her name, the Devaronian coyly scratched his chin. “Hmm. That’s eight. With one pilot running the course, we’re still missing another.”

Leaning in his seat, Marvus looked beyond the seated applicants, spotting a lone figure leaning against the nearby hangar wall, isolated from the rest of the group. Wearing a standard issue orange flightsuit, the tenth applicant looked to be a Human wearing a set of heavy goggles. The heavy duty eyewear featured darkened lenses and heavy straps, placing its origin with a world beset by harsh winds.

“Care to join us Lieutenant Wardon?” Marvus warmly invited.

The lone pilot maintained his stance, one leg straight, one leg bent. His head dipped and his arms crossed, the tenth applicant had closed himself off through other means besides distance. Only after a short pause did he acknowledge the Devaronian’s inquiry.

“No thanks,” he plainly stated. “I’m fine over here.”

The pilot’s tone carried no animosity. As a matter of fact, he almost seemed apologetic, his unwillingness to upset the Devaronian on par with his unwillingness to move.

“Come on. You’re at the bottom of the list, so you’re going to be standing around for a while,” Marvus explained. The applicant’s continued rigidity spelled out his contentment with that fact. “Might as well use this time to familiarize yourself with the team.”

“Besides,” Seraak added. “Mental and personality screening was taken care of in Phase Zero. A friendly conversation between pilots won’t hurt.”

“Won’t help either,” Dunn bluntly stated.

“It might,” Marvus playfully prodded.

“Stop trying to change the parameters of the test,” Dunn declared.

“Who’s changing anything? And even if it won’t help with the testing, it’ll help for the future. We ought to know more than each other’s names if we’re going to be a proper squadron.”

“If he wishes to be judged by his skills alone, that is his right,” Dunn plainly stated.

“Very well,” Marvus conceded. “I guess there’s always room for another quiet one on the team. It’s a shame though. I was hoping we could talk about the previous phase of testing.”

“Yeah, wasn’t he like, the only one who went through stage three unscathed?” Leia recalled.

A brief scoff passed through Aiden’s smirking lips. “Big deal. It’s easy to avoid getting hit if you play things safe. But nothing gets done that way.”

“Scored more kills than you, didn’t he?” Gorman teased. The scruffy Human dipped in his chair a moment before recomposing himself, to the amusement of the surrounding applicants.

“A lucky run, is all,” Aiden defended.

“Aren’t loyalty and luck like a Corellian’s religion?” Gorman continued.

“Loyalty, yes. Luck, less so,” Aiden replied.

“Too bad, you could have used some,” Erin stated, his playful prod containing a hint of smugness.

“Says the man who left with a clipped wing,” Aiden retorted.

“Missing a laser cannon, and still I managed to score the greatest kill count,” Erin boasted.

“They never gave us the official record,” Leia declared. “We can only guess at the actual numbers.”

The cyborg raised his hand and slightly tapped at his temple with his index finger. “Don’t need the official record. Got a perfect account locked away in here.”

“What? Memory implant?” Rev wondered.

“Nope. Natural eidetic memory,” Erin revealed with a knowing grin.

“So what’s with the hardware?” Gorman inquired.

“Tissue and nerve damage. Accident back at the academy,” Erin recalled, dropping his usual haughty candor. “Couldn’t fly without them.”

“One would think a perfect memory and physical trauma wouldn’t go well together,” Gorman supposed.

“One would think,” Erin repeated, almost muttering.

Cutting off the conversation was the siren that began to sound off throughout the hangar, signaling an approaching vessel. Turning toward the chamber’s edge, they saw the Gallant fighter carefully maneuver past the hangar’s magnetic barrier. Folding its wings inward, the starfighter carefully maneuvered toward its docking area, landing gears unfurling from beneath its belly.

The pilots and applicants watched as the vessel touched down with a soft groan as its repulsors shut down, letting the landing struts support the entirety of the craft’s weight. The cockpit hatch slid forward and the ship’s pilot carefully climbed out, walking across the folded wing before hopping onto the hangar floor with a bounce in her step.

The Selkath walked toward the commander and her executive officer with a confident gait, visibly content with her performance despite having little to weigh it against. The trio near the craft shared a quick word before exchanging even quicker salutes. Now approaching the large table at which they all sat, the applicants watched their fellow come closer, wearing what appeared to be a smile upon her face.

“They say a Lieutenant Dardan’s up next,” Chanta called out along her way to the table. The Human raised herself from her seat the moment she heard her name. Steeling herself, the Mantellian offered a gentle wave to her fellows before journeying toward the awaiting craft.

“Here, take a seat,” Marvus warmly invited. The Selkath offered a dutiful nod and took the newly vacated chair. “We were getting to know each other. Why don’t you introduce yourself?”

“I’m Chanta,” she said, gathering herself before speaking. Chanta, Selkath female, age 27. The applicant’s blue skin possessed an almost aquatic sheen. Her wide, elongated head possessed fishlike features, including two tendrils than hung from her upper lip, two longer ones falling from the back of her head. Even as she attempted to calm herself, she could not fully hide the passion that rest within her heart. Rejecting the culture of neutrality typically associated with her people, the Selkath wanted nothing more than to serve the Republic, except maybe a spot on Torrid Squadron.

“We we’re just discussing the previous phase of testing,” Marvus detailed.

“Forget that. Now we can talk about the current one,” Erin jokingly declared. “Go on, tell us all about your flight.”

“No way,” Chanta quickly replied. Her voice was naturally coarse in tone, but not in spirit. “I’m not about to give you guys any advantage.”

“Come on. It’s a teambuilding exercise,” Aiden added.

“Alright, then we can compare notes,” Chanta offered. “After you go up, of course.”

“There’s not much to tell,” Seraak detailed. “Fairly standard guidance course, testing physical and mental reflexes. Right Chanta?”

“That’s about it,” Chanta confirmed.

“Well, I guess we could use a break after the last phase,” Aiden declared, leaning back in his chair, arms behind his head.

“What? Couldn’t handle two dreadnoughts being thrown at you?” Varah enthusiastically prodded.

“Who could?” Gorman plainly offered.

“They could,” Erin bluntly stated, nodding his head toward the three Torrid Squadron pilots that sat amongst them. “The simulation was based on their last mission.”

“I thought you said the simulations weren’t based on any particular mission,” Zal quizzically offered the Devaronian across from him.

“They weren’t,” Marvus admitted, lacking his usual jovial tone. “However, they were… inspired by certain events. In the actual scenario, the dreadnoughts were far closer to the transport. And we ended up losing half our squadron.”

The applicants shared a brief silence as they looked to the pilot with a sense of wonder and worry.

“It’s not easy reliving the past,” Marvus softly declared. “But sometimes, we have to if we are to prevent the same from happening again. And the fact that all twelve of us managed to get through the simulation without a single loss… that gives me hope. It means we can rebuild. Come back stronger than ever.”

“We’ll do our best, sir!” Zal emphatically proclaimed.

A smile returned to the Devaronian’s face. “Damn straight you will.”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
12.31.2013 , 11:41 PM | #20
Chapter Six


The phase of testing was progressing on schedule. Leia Darden completed her run. As did Gorman Freeden. And as the soft-spoken pilot exited the craft, his spot would soon be replaced by the ever confident cyborg. Before his name could even be called, Erin began moving toward the parked vessel, knowing he was next in line. He greeted the commander and her executive officer and wasted no time in climbing atop the Gallant’s wing. Slipping into the cockpit, the hatch slid back into its sealed position and the pilot took hold of the starfighter’s controls.

It began with the same routine as before, a siren through the hangar, the ship slowly lifting itself and moving toward the chamber’s edge, opening its wings as it passed through to the open skies. But the lieutenant was not content with routine.

“Alright, Tessa,” Erin self-assuredly spoke to the ship’s astromech. “Let’s push things to the limit. Reduce inertial dampers to 94%. Configure for maximum maneuverability.”

“I’m afraid the test requires you to utilize the vessel’s standard configuration and settings,” Tessa shot back with her usual polite, but monotonous tone.

“Come on,” Erin prodded. “I’m looking to get the best score. The absolute best score.”

“Then you will have to do so with what you’ve been given,” Tessa explained completely deadpan, almost unintentionally oozing with sass.

The pilot released a quick chuckle. “Alright, that shouldn’t be too hard.”

Back within the hangar, Rem and Haron monitored the applicant’s progress near the chamber’s edge.

“Well, I suppose a passion to win is passion nonetheless,” Haron commented as he focused his datapad, which in addition to logistical readouts, provided a playback of what occurred within the Gallant’s cockpit.

“Erin Hayes. He scored the highest amongst group one in the previous test, correct?” Rem inquired.

“Correct,” Haron quickly answered. “And compared with group two, he’s up there with Lieutenant Wardon.”

“So he’s practically confirmed his spot on the squadron,” Rem mused.

“He’s a great pilot… but could still use some lessons in teamwork,” Haron softly declared.

“You can never fully grasp a pilot’s true nature through tests and simulations,” Rem reasoned. “He’ll straighten out on a real mission.”

“He’d better,” Haron stated. “I’ll not have him put himself or the others at risk”

“We all had the same doubts about Marvus back in the day, didn’t we?” Rem offered with a gentle smile, relaxing her otherwise stoic demeanor.

“I suppose ,” Haron conceded.

Studying the influx of data in his hands, the executive officer could find nary a fault with the applicant’s performance as he followed Tessa’s order to the letter, though with an added flourish. Passing through markers and waypoints, the Gallant would turn and contort with an impressive flair, neither helping nor hampering his speed as he carried his momentum through to the next objective.

Back at the conference table, the other applicants and the pilots of Torrid Squadron continued to engage in light conversation. Regaling in tales of past missions, of antics aboard the Den, of memories of the six members they had lost. Marvus lead the course of the conversations, Seraak lending his voice, and Dunn only occasionally offering his own sardonic, yet endearing contribution. As time progressed, the facade of the great and powerful pilots of Torrid Squadron slowly crumbled to the applicants’ delight. No longer did they sit amongst unreachable titans. They were just people. People worthy of respect. But still just people.

“And that’s when Haron came down with something fierce,” Marvus reminisced. “I mean he was so sick he couldn’t even think about flying. But this was back when people still just thought of him as the ex-Imperial. I mean, we knew better, but the people around us? The others aboard the Den? All they knew was that cold efficiency, that dead stare. Only now, his eyes are puffy, he’s sniffling all over the place. His hair’s messy. He’s doing his XO duties in a bathrobe. It was the first time any of them had seen him vulnerable, you know?”

“What about the commander? What’s she really like?” Chanta wondered.

“Rem? I suppose she’s been putting the ‘command’ in ‘commander’ lately hasn’t she?” Marvus chuckled as he scratched his chin. “She’s just like this for the recruitment. She’s really great when you get to know her. Not too hard. Not too soft. Gives us the leeway to be who we are, reigns us in when need be. She’s really stepped up since being put in charge.”

“What about Lieutenant Kayda?” Chanta added. “Was that also just for the recruitment?”

The Devaronian offered a noncommittal wave of his hand. “She’s not the most… emotive. Comes off as a bit cold from time to time, but that’s just how she expresses herself. Her and Rem are the most technically inclined of the squadron. The commander’s expertise lies with software, Fen’s with hardware. It’s why she’s almost always tinkering with her ship.”

Looking across the hangar, the Selkath could see the Mon Calamari ducking beneath one of the Gallant fighters docked further down, the same area she had been in since she stepped away from the others.

“I’m guessing she’s not much for conversation?” Chanta asked.

“Depends on the topic,” Marvus detailed. “Though I suspect the early briskness was on account of a bunch of strangers about to get their hands on one of the Gallants.”

“We’re not… using one of yours, right?” Zal wondered, the Nautolan expressing a slight hesitance.

“Nah, y’all are flying one of the replacements for the six we lost in our last mission,” Marvus informed. “Still, Fen has an attachment to these things. Even ones that aren’t hers. Even ones that don’t have an owner period.”

Scooting her chair away from the table, the Selkath raised herself from her seat.

“Need something?” Marvus wondered.

“Just need to stretch my legs. Been doing a lot of sitting lately,” Chanta politely answered.

“Don’t wander too far,” Marvus warmly advised. The Selkath gave a dutiful nod before turning away, taking her first steps deeper into the carrier’s hangar.

“Looks like she’s heading toward Fen,” Seraak quietly pointed out.

“Looks like it,” Marvus coyly repeated.

As the conversations and storytelling continued amongst those seated around the conference table, Chanta made her way toward the starfighter parked further into the hangar, the one belonging to and currently being tended by Fen Kayda. The Selkath approached slowly, keeping a firm hold on her pace and gait. As she neared the unpowered ship, she could see the Mon Calamari taking a knee beneath the vessel’s left wing, a lone astromech standing at her side. The droid did not stand out from those typically used by naval pilots. Cylindrical body. Conical head with a flat top. Three blocky legs. Two forward, one back.

Only a few meters away, Chanta paused, halting her advance, stilled in silence. Thinking of what to say, she immediately went rigid as she watched the Mon Calamari turn her head, setting her bulbous eyes upon the applicant.

“Can I help you?” Fen calmly asked, not an ounce of emotion to her voice.

“I… I wanted to know more about the Gallant,” Chanta managed to say. Fen maintained her cold gaze, not offering an immediate response. “I already completed my test, so it’s not like I’m trying to get an advantage. I just think it’s a fascinating piece of technology.”

“I suppose I can understand that,” Fen admitted. “What do you want to know?”

“Well, when I was flying it, I noticed there was a bit of lag that wasn’t there in the simulations.”

“Likely due to the dampers,” Fen quickly replied. “They’re actually overclocked in the base configuration. Most pilots tone them down to suit their abilities. Usually at around 98 to 95 percent.”

“The level of variance is amazing,” Chanta declared. “Never had that in the old squadron.”

“What’d you fly before? Scout? Don’t think we fielded bomber pilots.”

Liberator,” Chanta informed. “Though I spent most of my time overseeing and managing flight groups rather than actually piloting.”

“I suppose the navy doesn’t want their fresh lieutenants getting scrapped their first year out of the academy,” Fen reasoned.

“You’re a lieutenant too, right?” Chanta inquired.

“Everyone in Torrid Squadron is,” Fen declared. “Well, except for Torrid Leader. She was made a Captain like her predecessor.”

“I notice no one seems to use her rank,” Chanta stated. “Everyone seems to call her commander.”

“When you join Torrid Squadron, rank becomes practically meaningless. It’s only there when we’re working alongside other squadrons. When we’re by ourselves, we’re just pilots,” Fen revealed. “You don’t join Torrid Squadron to rise through the ranks. You join because you want to be in a cockpit rather than a command center. If you truly want to be a part of this team, you better put aside any aspirations of becoming admiral or retiring peacefully. We fly until we die. That’s the bottom line.”

“The stories make it out to be much more glamorous,” Chanta commented.

“That’s why they’re stories. Sorry if I shattered any dreams,” Fen stated, still as stoic as ever.

“No, I understand completely,” Chanta confidently replied.

“Good,” Fen offered, turning her attention back to her vessel’s wing. “Tessa, the weapons coupler seems a little loose. Did you pick up anything last diagnostic?”

“Power distribution was symmetrical with only a 0.1% margin of difference,” the nearby astromech answered, the same voice Chanta had become accustomed to over the course of testing. “If there is a structural fault, it has not hampered energy flow.”

“So… this is Tessa,” Chanta commented, kneeling beside the waist-high astromech droid. “Never seen one not plugged into anything. Does this one have a number?”

“Nope. Tessa is Tessa,” Fen quickly replied.

“Then, how do you distinguish your droids?”

“We don’t. There’s only one, it just happens to inhabit twelve physical units,” Fen revealed.

“How does that work?” Chanta wondered.

“You’ll have to ask the commander for the specifics,” Fen reasoned. “But basically, there’s a single intelligence known as Tessa, the Torrid Squadron Astromechanical Assistant, spread out amongst several shells. They’re all linked and share the same data. In combat, Tessa can bifurcate, isolating the units from each other to let them focus on a single target each. Afterwards, they link back together. Data collected during the bifurcation process is gathered and absorbed when she consolidates.”

“Wow,” Chanta muttered, genuinely amazed. “Wait. ‘She’?”

“What? You don’t think she looks like a she?” Fen replied, her emotionless tone making it difficult to tell if she was teasing or not.

As the Selkath looked to the astromech, the droid slowly pivoted its conical head, directing its single black, ocular sensor toward the applicant.

Meanwhile, amidst the open skies of the Republic world, Erin Hayes’ test had come to an end. Practically perfect at every juncture, the applicant celebrated with a quick corkscrew as he soared above the rolling hills.

“Very good, Lieutenant Hayes,” Haron’s voice sounded out in the cockpit. “Please return to the hangar.”

“You got it,” Erin replied with a smirk the recipient could not see. “Though I could have done even better if I didn’t have this droid holding me back. Didn’t even need it really. A navcomp could have done its job without chewing me out for making a few much needed alterations. Then again, I would-”

The applicant went silent when he noticed one of the screens on his console go dark. Then another. Then another. Until every instrument, every display was completely blank. Then, the persistent hum of the vessel’s engines slowly began to fade.

“Oh no,” Haron softly muttered, not an ounce of concern in his voice.

“What’s the matter?” Rem inquired.

“Tessa shut off all the systems,” Haron calmly detailed.

“Wow, he really is a lot like Marvus,” Rem candidly responded, also not concerned with the turn of events.

In the cockpit of the now gliding Gallant fighter, Erin Hayes watched as the nose of his vessel slowly dipped toward the planet’s surface. Muttering a harsh curse beneath his breath, the applicant began tapping away at his console, attempting to manually reboot the systems. As his fingers glided across the various inputs and displays, he showed no progress to getting his ship back online. Just as he had dropped to a near perilous altitude, every system instantly kicked back online and the engines roared to life. Before the pilot could even pull back on the controls, the Gallant fighter raised its nose, ascending of its own accord. The Human struggled to control his breathing, his once pristine countenance suitably flustered.

The click of the vessel’s comm rang out in the applicant’s ears, followed by the casual words of the squadron’s executive officer. “I would advise you to not insult whomever is responsible for keeping your ship online, Lieutenant Hayes.”

The pilot was silent, carefully keeping his hands wrapped around the ship’s controls, occasionally darting his gaze between his peripheries.

The siren of an approaching vessel sounded out once more as the Gallant passed through the magnetic barrier, folding in its wings as it carefully guided itself inward. The starfighter touched down with the same grace as it had before, resting its weight on its landing struts. As the hatch slid forward, the applicant removed himself from the cockpit noticeably quicker than those previously tested. Hopping off the wing, the Human found Rem and Haron waiting for him.

“Lieutenant Hayes,” Rem began, firm in her tone. “If you intend to join this squadron, you need to know that you will stand as an equal. You are not better nor more important than anyone in this group, including Tessa. You will treat her, as well as your fellow pilots, with the respect they deserve. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Erin quickly replied, the usual smugness that permeated his character having been sapped.

“Good. Other than that, fine work,” Rem politely praised. The applicant arched his brow as he forced a half-smile, unsure of how to properly react to the commander. He thought it best to remain silent, especially as Haron continued to burn a hole through his with his enduring stare. “Tell Lieutenant Loodatah that she’s up next.”
-------------------- The Fan Fiction Index --------------------