Rebel Squadrons

(44:5:29) GDF101: Return of the Patriots

By FA Joshua Hawkins
Unit: The Rebel Squadrons
Narrative, Oct 22, 2007
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-=Main Lounge, MC80a Star Cruiser Windstorm, border of the Minos and Ynia Clusters, 44:5:15, 22:37=-

Space. The lonely void home to countless worlds and countless more souls. The souls on board this vessel were no different. They lived, worked, and fought for their survival on a daily basis. Their enemy was both those souls in machinery and their own minds. Technicians and maintenance personnel went about their days fixing machinery. Their souls held true that those who used this machinery would be safe. To the soldiers that lived on this ship, their enemy was their own conscience. They fight the souls of others and themselves. To some this was a meaningless battle over an empty void. Others saw this battle as as an extension of protecting their homes. Both of these types of soldiers have one thing in common: that they can only justify their existence in battle. Their souls are complete when engaged in the dance of life and death, ships and weapons displaying their glory in space. The intricate maneuvers of space flight are a dance like no other, and only the strong willed could achieve this mastery. Others find their peace on the bridge of a vessel, giving the orders and relaying information. To them, the universe slows down while they are the masters of the board, moving the pieces as needed to achieve victory.

What of the others? What of those who have lost the will to fight, and seek to find themselves by staring into the void of space? Here sits Joshua Hawkins, commander of the Minos Investigation Group, staring out into space wondering just what he has left to offer. The original mission was to clear out the Minos Cluster of pirates so the primary shipping channel to the Greeop Sector was clear. A mission that was complicated by the presence of an Impreial battle group, as well as the attack on Blerthmore three months ago. The enemy forces in Minos blocked the way home for the MIG to help and drove Josh into a careless and drunken rage. A rage that cost the lives of many people. Those thoughts weighed heavily on Josh's heart and soul now. The actions of his peers and the skill of the pilots prevailed and saved his group many times. From the spies found, to the saboteurs, the actions of everyone involved kept everything running. Now, after the battles are over we can return home. What awaits us when we get there, however? Will space continue to reject those that do not have the heart, or will we continue to fight meaningless battles?

Without heart, and the will to protect something or someone you love, battles are meaningless. This is what happened in Minos Cluster as far as Josh could see: a meaningless battle. We were unable to protect our home, our family. We were not able to protect them, and so we've waged this battle so we can leave and join those that are fighting for our families and loved ones. Our sense of justice has been satisfied here in Minos, and now it's time to head back to our home and join the fight to protect it.

As if on cue, Josh's reverie was broken by a signal from the bridge. With a sigh and reluctance he moved towards the wall panel and activated the communicator. "Josh here."

"Sir, the Ynian government send their thanks for our help and have provided us with supplies to head back home. We're ready to leave on your command."

"Understood. Convey my gratitude to the Ynians and get me the Fleet Commander at your convenience. I'm not sure if we have a home to return to yet. Josh out."

An interesting thought. Blerthmore was attacked, and by all reports the RS command infrastructure destroyed and abandoned. "So do we head to Tarsonis, or Mercurius?"

"I would guess Tarsonis would be the first stop." The voice of Eric Reagan, Josh's friend and second officer on the Windstorm spoke from behind him. "Max tells me there's some repairs left to do, but nothing that can't wait until we're home. Everyone is working hard for that glorious moment."

Josh turned around and nodded, "Aye, it will be good to head home. These folks all deserve it."

"What of our leader? The battle has been won, the spies are arrested and awaiting trials. The day is ours. Yet here you look like a bantha ran over your cat."

Josh motioned Eric to join him and walked back over to sit by the viewport to stare out at space again. "I have just been thinking about what we've been through, and what we're going to go through when we get home. I've lost sight of our purpose while out here. I've sent folks to their deaths, and injured countless more in a rage that should never have happened, in a battle that was just as meaningless."

Eric sat and stared out the viewport himself. "It wasn't meaningless. Battles like this keep folks safe, and just think, now we can get fresh supplies from the core through Minos. What we've done is help the Greeop Sector grow again."

"I guess." Josh smiled and let out a chuckle, "This is why I keep you around. One of these days you're going to have my job, and you're going to hate me every step of the way."

"Nah, if you can do it, any trained monkey can." Eric smiled and stood up, "I'm heading back to the bridge. I'll send the Commander's call down here."

"Change of plans; tell him we're coming home and stopping at Tarsonis. He can give us further orders there." Josh looked up at his second officer. "Hey Eric? Thanks. For everything."

Eric nodded solemly in reply. "No problem, someone's got to keep your butt out of trouble."

With that Eric saluted and walked off towards the bridge. Josh returned the salute and watched him go, amazed at how much they had all changed since coming to this place. Was it worth it? Were all the battles really worth it? Is Greeop and our home safer for our loved ones now? Did what happened here really make a difference?

The only answer coming was the quiet hum of the ventilation systems and twinkling of stars out in the viewport. Time was the only answer.

-=Main Bridge of the MC80a Star Cruiser Windstorm, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, 44:5:21, 20:37=-

"Sir, the Fleet Commander welcomes us home and will issue orders soon. For now we are to enjoy a couple days' leave on Tarsonis." A cheerful message from a cheerful communications officer.

Josh smiled and nodded, "Patch me through to group wide please."

"Communications open, sir."

"Now hear this! By order of the Fleet Commander, you are hereby ordered to Tarsonis for shore leave. You are required to enjoy your stay and not cause any problems for the local government. It is ordered that you have fun, and relax knowing what we have done over the past months made our homes safer. Thank you all!"

With a nod to the communications officer the link was severed. Cheers could be heard throughout portions of the ship, and one could only imagine that there was widespread celebration on every vessel in the Minos Investigation Group. After all, these folks deserved it.

"Contact the Tarsonis government and thank them for their hospitality. Should they need anything I shall be at their disposal."

"Understood sir, they respond with their good will and thanks."

"Well, park the group in standard orbit around Tarsonis and lock her down. Then head out of here yourselves with my thanks."

As one, the bridge crew did their jobs with perfection and ease. After the battles they had experienced, parking these ships in standard orbit was simple. Skeleton sized relief crews were shipping over from other ships in the Greeop Defence Force to maximise the ability of the battle-worn crews to get some leave. One by one everyone eventually left the bridge with a salute and cheer until the Commanding Officer of the Minos Investigation Group remained alone. He had a different destination.

-=Main Hangar, Victory II-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, 44:5:21, 21:27=-

Fleet Commander Dave Trebonious-Astoris stood on the deck of the Peril, surrounded by his most important staff. Admiral Rahj Tharen stood at his right, General David Vaughan at his left and Admiral Castor Efrata-Landis just behind Vaughan. The group was flanked on either side by a line of soldiers in parade honor guard formation. All eyes were on the war-worn Lambda-class shuttle settling onto the hangar deck in front of them.

As the shuttle landed, the party moved forward. The soldiers lined up on either side of the main hatch, and Dave and his staff approached the gangplank as it descended.

Without ceremony, a weary-looking Admiral Joshua Hawkins descended the gangplank and approached the welcome party. He stood before Dave and saluted. "Admiral Hawkins requesting permission to come aboard, sir!"

"Permission granted," Dave replied, returning the salute. He broke into a small smile. "Welcome back, Josh. We are glad to have you back." He extended his hand and enfolded Josh's hand in a firm grip.

"Yes, you and about half a dozen other people, it appears," Josh smirked.

"Oh, more than that," Dave offered. He nodded off to his right, and floodlights sprang on all around the hangar. It quickly became evident that the welcome party was not alone. Hundreds of crewmen, pilots and civilians were assembled in a semicircle around the welcome party. As the lights came on, they erupted into thunderous applause.

Josh took a step back, taking in the sight. He bowed humbly in response to the adulation. He hardly felt that he deserved it, but he had to admit that it felt good.

Dave smiled, stepped forward, and placed his hand on Josh's shoulder. He steered him toward the hangar entrance, the staff trailing behind him. As they walked forward, the crowd cleared a path for them, many reaching out to pat Josh on the back or slap his shoulder in congratulations.

Josh turned to Dave, "I hope you planned a suitable welcome back celebration for my people as well."

Dave nodded. "As their shuttles descend to the surface, they will see fireworks in celebration of their achievement spread through the stratosphere of Tarsonis. There is also a large crowd at the major starports in New Morea City that will cheer them to the echo as they land."

Josh heaved a sigh of relief. It was good to be back.

-=Office of the Fleet Commander, Victory II-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, 44:5:21, 21:42=-

Dave looked across his desk at Josh. He examined his appearance thoughtfully. Josh looked weary, but then again, anybody returning from a long campaign would. Especially somebody who had been burdened with command.

Truth be told, command was the topic on Dave's mind at the moment. Although this meeting was technically a debriefing of the Minos Investigation Group's campaign in the Minos Cluster, the issue of what to do with the Minos Investigation Group now that it had returned to Greeop loomed large.

Just two days ago, when Dave had been at an emotional nadir, he might have offered to abdicate in favor of Josh to rid himself of the situation. But Gosling's challenge had changed all that and restored him in more ways than one. Dave was more eager than ever to command, and he was expecting to assimilate the Minos Investigation Group into the Greeop Defense Force. There was no question of Josh retaining a separate command over the mini-fleet of capital vessels that had formerly made up his task group. He would return to cockpit command of the Patriot Starfighter Group, if he wanted to retain command.

But Dave was apprehensive about broaching this subject with Josh. He didn't want to offend him. He was genuinely glad to see Josh back, and was looking forward to working with him closely again. But what if Josh didn't want to give up the command he had held? Josh was an officer of the New Republic Armed Forces, and would follow whatever orders Dave saw fit to issue him . . . in theory. But the MIG had been out of Dave's direct command for months now, and he knew how tight-knit and loyal groups of people could get during campaigns. Dave didn't really want to think about the possibility that Josh would insist upon wresting command of the task force. He decided to start the conversation gingerly.

"Josh, I am really happy to have you back. I am also thrilled to have your ships back. To be honest, the situation here in the Greeop Sector is getting grim. We need all the help we can get."

Josh nodded tiredly, "We were afraid that might be the case. We were not expecting to return from a campaign to a war zone."

"I wish it were otherwise," Dave replied. "But there are forces in these sectors that wish us ill. Your ships will be invaluable in securing the situation, once the crews have had a chance to rest a bit."

"That's the second time you've used the phrase 'your ships,' Dave," Josh observed. "They're not mine. I don't want responsibility for them anymore. This campaign exhausted me. I can't lead those ships effectively. I was assuming they would be transferred to your direct authority under the umbrella of the Greeop Defense Force."

Dave felt a wave of relief flow over him, but managed to avoid looking jubilant.

"Yes, that is what I had planned. I had assumed, however, that you would continue to lead the Patriot Starfighter Group."

Josh shook his head. "I can't. No more command positions, please. I'm burnt out. I can't take that kind of responsibility right now. When I say I'm handing it over to you, I'm handing it all over to you."

Dave looked somewhat taken aback. "Oh... I see."

Josh continued. "I am hoping that you will accept my second officer, Eric Reagan, as the new leader of the Patriot group. He knows the pilots and is a good leader."

Dave nodded absently. "Yes, yes. Josh, I was not expecting to receive your resignation."

Josh looked uncomfortable. "I wasn't expecting to give it. But this campaign has just.. taken too much out of me."

"Can I offer you another job? I was looking forward to making use of your talents and working with you again," Dave inquired.

"I don't know," Josh replied, "what other talents do I have to offer?"

Dave sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers as he thought.

"You did not only lead your forces in the Minos Cluster," he finally said. "You also fought a fairly extensive counter-espionage campaign."

Josh nodded.

" I could use an Intelligence head. Separate from NRI, just answering directly to me and the task force High Command," Dave said. "You could fill that gap for me. Would you be willing to take a position on my staff and to help us sort out what is going on in this tangled web we called the Greeop Sector?"

Josh looked uncertain. "I don't know, I don't want to step on anyone's toes..."

"Nonsense," Dave retorted. "Vaughan and Rahj have been the only individuals even close to that job description, and they are up to their eyeballs in other duties. And Coruscant is too damned busy to even remember a backwater region like this, even though we are covering their asses from Rimward Imperial assault. It really is a hole that needs to be filled. With local officers I can trust, rather than some apathetic datapadder on Coruscant."

"In that case," Josh replied, "I would be happy to take it." He was smiling now. It seemed the offer had been well-received. Josh would have a crucially important job doing something that he was good at without the burden of direct command and responsibility that had weighed so heavily upon him in the Minos Cluster.

"Wonderful," Dave exclaimed. "I am glad. We have much to discuss, particularly how the recently returned ships will fit into operations here in Greeop. In particular I need the Prometheus fairly soon for a special assignment. But that can all wait. You look like hell. Go get some rest. That's an order. We will convene again in ten hours to discuss the situation."

Josh nodded. As excited as he was about his new job, he was even more excited about the thought of ten uninterrupted hours of sleep...

-=Outskirts of New Morea City, Tarsonis, Greeop system, 44:5:26, 20:33=-

A few bright stars shone overhead of the cool Tarsonis evening. The vast multitude of stars were washed away by the lights of the capital city of the temperate world that a coalition of colonists of multiple species made home.

Further from the city, the spaceport loomed like an ugly blemish on the graceful curves of the Tarsonis colonists' usual architectural styles. While most of the buildings on the world suited the elegant aesthetics of the Alderaanian, Mon Calamarian and Quarren colonists, the spaceport was a thing of pure industry: stained greys and angular construction all.

Inside a restricted section of the spaceport, a lone Lambda-class shuttle sat. The ship itself was mostly powered down, with only a few signs that the ship was occupied. This was the Mediator: quarters, office and transport of General Vaughan, Logistics Officer of Task Force Republic Shield.

Within the shuttle, Vaughan sat at his workdesk, staring into his datapad tiredly. It had been a long week, and tomorrow would only continue to throw more challenges at him. But he was tired, and yearned for sleep. The urge to just shut off his datapad and head aft to his bunk was overwhelming, but somehow he fought it.

He had some information to finish sorting, and it had to be done now, tonight. Because tomorrow was going to be one hell of a day. It was going to be a full-blown media circus, with a morale-boosting ceremony onboard the Peril in orbit in the morning, followed by various planet-based civilian media events all through the day.

And Dave had bloody-well made certain Vaughan was going to be there at his side as one of his personal staff for the entire day. The thought of all the publicity made him groan inwardly. He didn't particularly like being part of any kind of public spotlight at the best of times, but this was going to be an all-day event that he was unable to manoeuvre his way out of, no matter how hard he had tried.

He did understand part of the reason for his presence --- it was true, he was one of the most knowledgeable officers in the RS when it came to the details of what was to be announced tomorrow, which meant that any unforseen questions would be directed to him. But he just hated fanfare; hated being part of public events if he could at all avoid it, and quite simply . . . well, he had much better things to do. Like the information he was trying to sort out now, that he could be getting done tomorrow if he wasn't required to be part of the morale-boosting rigamarole.

Tapping away at his datapad, he continued to work. Despite his personal misgivings about the media spectacle of tomorrow, he had a good feeling about what the announcement entailed. It was a sign of change, yes, and of working with the civilian population of the Greeop Sector more than the RS had previously. But it seemed like the right thing to do, the facts backed it up, the FC had made the call . . . and Vaughan felt that it was a good decision.

Tomorrow morning, in the main hangar of the Victory Star Destroyer Peril, Fleet Commander Dave Trebonious-Astoris was going to officially announce the formal relocation of the task force capital from the ruined world of Blerthmore to the lush, temperate world of Tarsonis.

For four years, the life-span of the task force, the RS had been based on Blerthmore. It was initially chosen for a number of sound reasons. Partly due to its proximity to the population centre of Tarsonis within the star system, as the Greeop system was a port of call on the Trition Trade Route, but mostly because despite this proximity it was still distant enough from the civilian populations to minimise potential collateral damage.

The Republic Shield was intended to hassle and weather the assaults of Imperial forces in the Outer Rim to prevent them from advancing towards the Core, which meant that the RS needed to minimise danger to civilian populations. The planet Blerthmore was a useless rock with poisonous atmosphere, which made it the perfect location for an impenetrable fortress.

The world was so uninviting that any unannounced presence on the planet was a giveaway of potentially hostile forces, and the terrain and atmosphere were a great deterrent to the uninvited --- the barren rocky world boasted large canyons to impede invading ground forces and cause issues with direct orbital bombardment, and most sentient beings would be unable to survive in the planet's almost nonexistent atmosphere without cumbersome breathing equipment.

And for four years the forbidding ball of rock had served the RS well. A heavily-defended domed command complex was erected which housed the higher-level operational staff of the task force. But that all went to pieces when Imperial forces blockaded the capital world and started crash-landing capital ships and space stations onto the planet's surface. Though the battle was technically an RS victory, the level of damage to the command complex was extensive, and much too costly for the New Republic to afford to repair.

In the three months since the debacle at Blerthmore, task force command had mostly relocated to the Peril, Admiral Trebonious-Astoris's flagship. But finally negotiations with the Tarsonis colonial government had yielded a far more satisfactory and permanent solution than having high-level officials dragged through combat zones in a Victory-class Star Destroyer.

The RS were already constructing a new academy on Tarsonis to replace the loss of the Golan Station Castor which plummeted to its doom in the Blerthmore engagement. It was only a few steps further from that point to the establishment of a proper command fortress on the world. For their part, the colonial government were surprisingly encouraging of the idea.

The reasons for this were both economical and military --- making their world the prime target of Imperial forces in the region was their trade in for having extra defences protecting their world, as well as the influx of New Republic personnel who would pour credits into the planet's economy. Tarsonis was already used as the prime shore leave destination. Now the planet would have a constant RS presence, with fulltime personnel more likely to spend their credits in the planet's many and various establishments.

Plans were already in development for the construction of a new command fortress and academy, along with relocating the remaining orbital defences and shipyards from Blerthmore to the new capital. The Tarsonis government, or at least President Aluin and her supporters, had also agreed to subsidise the start-up costs of establishing a permanent RS presence on their world. All in all, it was actually going to work out more cost-effective to set up shop on Tarsonis than it would be to attempt to rebuild the ruined command dome on Blerthmore.

With a final click, Vaughan was satisfied that he was finished for the evening. The items he was working on were finalised for the night. Rubbing his temples, he shut down the terminal and cracked his neck. Vertebrae and tendons popped at his movements, and he slowly got to his feet. It was time to get to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a long one. And to make it even worse: full dress uniform was mandatory.

-=Main Conference Room, Victory II-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, 44:5:29, 07:32=-

"The situation, obviously, is not good."

With these generic yet ominous words, Dave began the first meeting of the command staff of the enlarged Greeop Defense Force two days after the official relocation of the task force capital to Tarsonis. The absorption of the Minos Investigation Group gave the GDF seven additional capital warships, including an Interdictor cruiser, and an entire Starfighter Group. Both of which would come in incredibly useful in the current crisis affecting the region. The GDF was now substantially larger, up to a total of thirteen warships, and the enlarged size of the command staff reflected this. Around the conference table were familiar faces: Admirals Rahj Tharen, Rensal "Bigfoot" Darklighter, Castor Efrata-Landis, General David Vaughan and Lieutenant Rebekah Gosling. Admiral Tyrell "Spokes" Borran was present in the form of a small holographic emission as he transmitted from Mercurius in the Cadrel Expanse. In addition to these, Admiral Joshua Hawkins and recently promoted Colonel Eric Reagan occupied a prominent place.

Dave looked around the table, being sure to catch the eye of every person present. Some looked tired, some looked determined. Gosling simply looked great. There was a twinkle in her eye that Dave somehow felt everybody must be noticing, even though it was directed toward him. He refocused on the issue at hand.

"There is a lot of work to be done in our territories, and unfortunately the Greeop Sector itself is not even an exception," Dave continued. "Nevertheless, now is not the time for despair. I am supremely confident in our ultimate victory, in fact."

Some eyebrows were raised around the table.

Dave grinned broadly. "We have already welcomed back the former Minos Investigation Group. Our strength is now over twice as strong than before, and much more flexible. Now is when we begin to turn the tide. The going will be slow at first, and it will take us time to get full utilization out of our new ships and pilots, but things will start happening. I promise."

A few tentative nods.

"The biggest addition to our forces is not however the capital warships that have returned, but the starfighters. With the arrival of the Patriot Starfighter Group, we now have enough starfighters to expand aggressive reconnaissance. Broadly speaking, we will find our enemies, learn about them, and destroy them."

"Divide and conquer?" Darklighter asked.

Rahj snorted contemptuously. "They're already divided, we just need to accomplish the conquer part."

Dave nodded. "Indeed. We do not face any single, overwhelming enemy. The Imperial Remnant in the Aurora Sector is only a distant concern at the moment. Admiral Raven seems to be keeping the most significant Imperial threat busy in the Subterrel Sector. We instead face a number of independent, shadowy opponents. Identifying them will be just as important as destroying them. Admiral Hawkins, recently commander of the MIG, will lead the way with this work. He has accepted a position as my Intelligence Officer."

"Thank you, Admiral," Josh replied. "I am assembling intel reports on what exactly we know right now, and from there we will move on to what we can hope to find out."

Dave then nodded to Eric, who sat beside Josh. "Eric Reagan has been appointed to take command of the Patriot Starfighter Group. He will take command essentially of all starfighter resources in the Greeop Sector."

Eric tilted his head, but did not speak.

Dave settled back in his chair and as he continued, his eyes glowed brightly with excitement.

"We will make use of the Patriot Starfighter Group immediately. I am ordering a wide-net reconnaissance operation to try to locate pirate nests and bases nearby. I will leave the make-up of the recon to Reagan, who will decide the units and starfighters to be used. At the same time, the PSG will also send a contingent of fighters aboard the Angelfire to escort a supply convoy into the sector. I have reassigned Grey Squadron to cover the Trition Trade Route from the Minos Cluster, but anything beyond there and into our territory proper will be under Patriot group's area of responsibility. Reagan will brief the pilots and they will launch when ready. It is imperative that we maintain security for cargo shipments from the Core. In the meantime, we will prepare for larger action, once our reconnaissance turns something up. Questions?"

There were none. Everybody was ready to get to business.

"In that case, I wish us all the best. The time for taking back control of our own territory starts now."

-=Cockpit of the Gamma-class ATR-6 assault transport Vanguard, Trition Trade Route, border of the Minos Cluster and Greeop Sector, 44:5:29, 19:22=-

Lieutenant Junior Grade Rell Kafron kept his eyes glued to the sensor readout in front of him. The Human youth's rapt attention spoke of his inexperience. In truth, he had only recently finished basic flight instruction before being transferred to convoy escort duties onboard the Gamma-class ATR-6 assault transport Vanguard. It was not a combat situation, and the burden of responsibility for the young officer was incredibly low --- he was merely co-pilot onboard the assault transport as it cruised along in formation with a convoy of supply vessels bound for Tarsonis.

To Lieutenant Kafron's left, a blue-skinned Twi'lek shook his head, lekku swinging slightly, as he noted his co-pilot's nervousness while trying not to draw undue attention to it.

"Just relax," Lieutenant First Class Mari Kala smiled at his subordinate in what he intended as a reassuring manner, the gesture coming across far more predatory than intended, due to the rows of sharp teeth the Twi'lek boasted. "Only a few more minutes until our new escorts arrive, then we'll be back in hyperspace before you know it."

The young Human nodded jerkily in confirmation, but his eyes did not stray from the sensor screen, just in case enemy contacts appeared that no-one else in the convoy detected.

The Twi'lek pilot shook his head and rubbed at his right forehead protrusion in slight exasperation at his co-pilot's continuing concern. As far as missions in the New Republic Armed Forces went, convoy escort was something of a laid-back and relatively hazard-free exercise, as far as Lieutenant Kala was concerned. Of course, the primary reason for his feelings of security was the elite squadron of X-wings cruising alongside, interspersed through the convoy.

Grey Squadron had been assigned by the Fleet Commander to patrol the Trition Trade Route and escort all scheduled New Republic, as well as some civilian, shipping through the Minos Cluster up to the Greeop Sector border. The convoy was currently in one of the few exposed sections of the journey not occurring in hyperspace. But again, with the level of starfighter defenses currently guarding them, the Twi'lek lieutenant felt no threat of danger at all.

The stopover in realspace was to be brief, too, only long enough for reinforcements from the Greeop Defence Force to arrive at the rendezvous and relieve Grey Squadron, before jumping further into the sector.

Suddenly the comm board buzzed. "Vanguard, this is Grey Leader, do you copy?"

The Twi'lek pilot leaned forward to operate the comm board. "Roger that Grey Leader, Vanguard reads you loud and clear. Go ahead."

Grey Leader's voice was distorted by normal New Republic comm distortion, but he sounded grave. "We're picking up a possible distress from a nearby colony. How long until the Angelfire arrives?"

Lieutenant Kala ignored his Human companion who stiffened in the flightseat next to him, throttling his paranoid nervousness up a few notches. Checking the ship's chronometer he reviewed the mission parameters in his mind. "Estimated time of arrival is seven minutes and counting, assuming they're on time."

"Hm." the X-wing pilot was silent for a few moments. "We should be able to get away with leaving the convoy for that short amount of time."

The Twi'lek's lekku twitched abruptly, and he was annoyed that his co-pilot's nervousness was fast becoming contagious. Nevertheless, he was not going to betray any nervousness of being left unescorted to those X-wing jockeys, and certainly not to his jittery co-pilot. “We'll hold the fort until the cavalry arrives, Grey Leader. Just make sure it's not a hoax."

“Roger that, Vanguard. I've had my comm specialist trace the transmissions, and it seems legit. The Portaca colony is under attack, and we're moving out to reinforce them. Keep your eyes open, and give the Angelfire our regards. Grey Leader out."

“I copy, Grey Leader. Good hunting at Portaca. Vanguard out." The lieutenant swallowed around a lump he suddenly felt in his throat. He was no coward, but convoy escort operations were only a cakewalk when there was an actual protective detail escorting them. His lone assault transport was not going to be able to hold off any hostile force of significance, like a pirate band or Imperial force, for very long.

For possibly the first time during the sublight phases of the operation the transport captain noticed his co-pilot not looking at the sensor board. Instead, he had turned to Lieutenant Kala with a shocked, disbelieving expression on his face as the dozen friendly blips vanished from the screen as the fighter force dematerialized into hyperspace.

Despite his own misgivings, Mari was sickened by this Human's lack of propriety. This burst of anger allowed him to project a confidence he did not feel. “Resume your duties, lieutenant. They are doing their jobs to protect some defenseless civilians who are under attack. Hold yourself together for a few minutes until our reinforcements arrive. We are officers of the New Republic Military. Act like it."

The Human shut his mouth and mumbled an affirmative as he turned his attention back to the sensor board. His underling suitably chastened for the time being, the Twi'lek lieutenant sagged in his flightseat and fidgeted with his lekku unconsciously as he watched the seconds count down on the chrono. It was only a few minutes until their escorts arrived. Only a few minutes.

But a few minutes was all it took for disaster to bloom on the horizon, as Lieutenant Kala soon realized when Lieutenant Junior Grade Kafron exclaimed. “Incoming contacts, sir! Three, six, no, eight . . ." his voice trailed off and Mari glared, alarmed, at his co-pilot.

“What? How many? Type and bearing? Out with it!"

The previously panicking Human sounded resigned as he tapped away at his console and related the information that poured across his screen. “One squadron of starfighter-class vessels. Not responding to hails; aggressive posture."

“Alert the convoy!" With a flick of a switch Lieutenant Kala engulfed the vessel in protective shielding, then started charging the turbolaser turrets up. They had no gunners onboard, so they were going to have to make do with the turrets autofiring and hope for the best. Beside him Lieutenant Kafron finished alerting the convoy.

“All ships report shields up and defensive weapons ready." Rell reported professionally, before adding in a more subdued tone, “Those that have them, that is."

The Twi'lek pilot nodded as he maneuvered their vessel around to bear at the oncoming enemy craft. “Very good, lieutenant. Prepare to engage enemy targets."

“Aye, sir."

Lieutenant Junior Grade Rell Kafron kept his eyes glued to the sensor readout in front of him, ready to report updates on the tactical situation to his pilot. The Human youth's rapt attention now at last speaking of the quality of his training and his resolve to do his duty.

Throughout the convoy the various cargo-carrying ships maneuvered about, the vessels with defensive weaponry moving to bracket and protect those who lacked them in the center of the formation.

It was going to be a close call. Could the crew of the assault transport Vanguard hold off the attackers until the Angelfire's forces arrived?

They were going to find out the answer, whatever it would be, in less than three minutes.


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