Rebel Squadrons

(44:6:18) GDF104: The Old Scar

By COM David Vaughan
Unit: The Rebel Squadrons
Narrative, Feb 20, 2008
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-=Auxiliary hangar bay, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Prometheus, Trition Trade Route near the Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:11,22:21=-

The landing gear had barely hit the deck when suddenly red lights in the hangar started flashing.

Inside the Lambda-class shuttle Mediator, General Vaughan was starting to shut down his vessel after a long trip from the Mid Rim to the Outer Rim when he noticed the change in the tactical situation.

After a few moments' hesitation, he quickly powered down the shuttle and unstrapped himself from his flight seat and stumbled out of the vessel and down the landing ramp.

Not even stopping to seal the hatch behind him, the General almost ran full-tilt into a startled-looking officer who was standing nervously at the bottom of the ramp.

After waving off the subordinate's sputtering apologies, Vaughan quickly got the officer back to something resembling normalcy.

"Ensign, report. Walk with me."

The General started off at a brisk walk toward the general direction of the bridge, the spluttering ensign struggling to keep up and talk at the same time.

"The captain . . . sends his apologies and . . . begs the General's pardon—"

"Yes, yes, get to the point." Vaughan spared a moment mid-stride to throw a glare at the junior officer who was not talking fast enough for his liking.

"Captain Vedik sent me to fetch you . . . conflict-red status, emergency distress call—"

"Conflict-red? What's the emergency?"

"Uh, not sure, sir. I . . . think a ship of ours is trapped in the middle of nowhere and under attack . . ."

That wasn't particularly helpful or informative, but Vaughan quickly put together a possible scenario in his head. Probably another convoy being raided. He'd been away from the Greeop Sector for only three days, but it seemed things hadn't really changed.

He'd taken a three-day leave of absence at Admiral Raven's request, immediately after returning from his brief visit to the front lines of the Subterrel Sector. The Admiral had orders for him to return to his homeworld of Dicacia and do some genealogical research on an Imperial prisoner of war in Raven's captivity, who might have been related to Vaughan. His results had been inconclusive, but he needed to report back to the Admiral immediately.

Or, as soon as an emergency situation would allow.

Vaughan and his escort finally reached his destination and strode purposely onto the bridge of the Star Destroyer Prometheus. The stations were a buzz of activity, preparation for battle it seemed.

"What's the sitrep, Captain?"

The veteran Star Destroyer captain gave Vaughan an appraising look, but answered nonetheless.

"Medical frigate's in trouble. Dead in space and looking to stay that way if we're not quick."

"The Vespia?" Vaughan inquired, concerned.

"You know of any other medical frigate in these parts?" Vedik bit back grumpily, not even bothering to adhere to decorum in the presence of this upstart superior officer in an emergency situation.

"One minute to reversion!" the Helmsman, Lieutenant Kask called out from his station.

Vaughan stared into the weird, amorphous patterns of hyperspace through the viewscreen.

"Twenty seconds. Ten."

The time was counted down.

And then they had arrived, the shimmering lightshow ending . . . and being replaced by the lightshow of a wounded New Republic vessel being pummelled by hostiles.

"Launch fighters!" Captain Vedik called out. "Helm, bring us about to bearing three eight mark two one. Sensors, tell me what I'm seeing."

As the Star Destroyer heaved about on its new bearing, the officer at the sensor station reported in, "I read the frigate disabled, numerous hull breaches. Over half a dozen X-wings in defence, formations of Y-wings, assault gunboats and transports engaging them. I'm also reading a high number of escape pods; they're clearly abandoning ship. There are groups of ships further afield, but they're not posing any immediate threats as yet."

Vedik nodded, gruffly. "Launch our repair crews; have them form up behind the fighter screen."

Out in the combat zone, the X-wings from Gold Squadron engaged the Y-wings and transports performing bombing runs on the listless frigate, while dodging the searing blasts and explosive missiles hurled at them in turn by the gunboats.

The pilots of Red and Green Squadrons rocketed into the engagement in their TIE Interceptors and TIE Fighters, respectively.

The melee furball became more entangled, with the odds shifting in favour of the New Republic warriors. In the middle of the confusion, the reports came in that the repair crews had landed on the beleaguered medical frigate and were beginning their initial assessments. If the ship could be repaired enough to make an escape, it would aid their cause greatly. If not . . . they could at least get started on repairs early.

"The transport Scylla reports they've successfully docked and their repair teams are unloading now . . . shuttle group Charybdis report the same, but they report there's not much left of the hangar to land in. They're preparing to cut through the bulkheads when they achieve a solid seal."

It was then that Vaughan noticed the distant groupings on the sensor screen weren't completely dormant as initially reported. "Sensors, what are those blips in grids Isk-Aurek and Six-Five?"

The sensor officer tapped at his console momentarily before answering, "I read two groups, a full squadron of Y-wings, and six transports, all bearing on the Vespia." the sensor officer suddenly looked alarm. "They'll be in torpedo range in moments, sir."

"Sithspit! Helm, roll us so that we can direct as many long-range weapons as possible along those co-ordinates . . . Weapons . . . fire ranging shots at those incoming formations — I don't care if you hit anything, it might make them shy off."

He felt rather than saw Vedik's expression change to one of dread. "Radiological?"

The sensor crew looked at him hopelessly. "Positive for Nergon-based weaponry."

The aging captain looked at the young general. "How did we miss that?"

"No time." Vaughan waved dismissively, as he stepped in closer to a sensor screen. They were going to have to rely on their fighters for this, and it was going to be close; the fighters were tied up enough as it is.

"Okay . . . okay . . ." General Vaughan closed his eyes, certain he was sending some pilots to their deaths. "Issue the following orders for our squadrons . . . have . . . Colonel Starseeker take his X-wings out to intercept those inbound Y-wings , and . . . General Long take his Interceptors to take out the inbound transports . . . Green Squadron to remain behind and burn down anything that tries to stop the other two squadrons."

On the sensor screen Vaughan could see the Republic Shield formations change shape, complying with the orders. Green coloured friendly blips winked out of existence sporadically, as the concussion missiles of the gunboats impacted with the outbound X-wings and TIE Interceptors . . . if only Green Squadron could keep them occupied long enough, Gold and Red should get to them first . . .

The reports of numerous warhead launches caused his gut to lurch. The inbound Y-wings and transports had unloaded their launches at the frigate. Vaughan realised it was going to be a close one. "Have the pilots shoot down any incoming torpedoes. We can't let any get through."

The Prometheus crawled closer to the Vespia in an attempt to offer some protection, but with the attack coming on two fronts it would not be possible to eclipse the disabled frigate completely.

The sensor screen showed torpedoes after torpedoes vanish — each Gold and Red pilot taking out handfuls of them along the way — but two clouds of warheads had made it through and continuing tracking toward their target.

There was no way for the fighters to block them all. The Prometheus's guns opened up in the vectors the proton torpedoes were travelling along, a few lucky shots detonating a few prematurely.

But the twin series of torpedoes soared on largely unabated, bearing down on the shieldless, compromised hull of the medical frigate . . .

And with a sickening sight that Vaughan forced himself to watch, the hail of Nergon-tipped warheads sank through the skin of the Vespia, detonating within . . . by the time the second series of warheads had hit home, the entire superstructure of the once-proud medical vessel of the task force was shattered beyond recognition in flaming red and yellow fireballs that quickly died out in the vacuum of space.

On the Prometheus's bridge, silence reigned as testament to the passing of something.

General Vaughan broke the silence, speaking softly. "Comms, give me a direct line to all forces."

The communication officer indicated it was done.

"All New Republic forces, this is General Vaughan. You are hereby ordered to terminate all militant targets. Show no mercy, don't let any get away. Just kill them all now!" he bellowed. "Vaughan out."

Of the normally placid face of the bearded General, the writhing twitching of muscles could be seen. His green eyes blazed murderously. Another ship, another crew. Gone for no good reason. Killed by dishonourable scum.

As for the crews and pilots, who had seen their medical vessel destroyed by callous criminals with no regard for honour . . . they carried out their General's orders with fiery abandon.

By hour's end, no militant directly involved in the fall of the Vespia remained alive. They were hunted down like the dogs they were without mercy.

-=Office of the Fleet Commander, Victory-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:12:01:05=-

Dave Trebonious-Astoris, Fleet Commander of the Rebel Squadrons was distinctly aware of an unpleasant sense of déjà vu. Here he was, alone with General David Vaughan, asking the general to elaborate on his report. A report about the destruction of the medical frigate Vespia mere hours ago. The last time Dave had to ask the general to elaborate on a report in this setting had been following the loss of the Strike-class cruiser Halberd. Although the situation was different now, and the Greeop Defense Force considerably stronger, the déjà vu uncomfortably reminded Dave of the dark day of the Halberd's loss.

"So, General Vaughan, you and your people have confirmed that the Vespia itself is a total loss, I take it?" Dave asked.

Vaughan nodded solemnly. "As far as we can determine, the Vespia took some pretty severe damage from the detonation of a supposed medivac transport. We believe it was droid flown, with remote sensors for the bomb. At least that's what the technicians think, because it's easier to program a droid to fly to a destination and have a bomb blow itself up separately, rather than have the droid deliberately cause harm. Or something like that. Don't ask me how assassin droids work into that theory, though. Anyway . . . the Vespia's hangar bay was pretty much wiped out from the initial blast, and bombing runs from militant Y-wings and transports reduced the hull to rubble. Ultimately, a massed volley of proton torpedoes hit simultaneously, and, well . . ." the skin around Vaughan's eyes tightened, and he looked pained, "it just blew the whole superstructure apart. That's not based on forensics, I saw that myself." He paused, taking a moment, before continuing. "I made sure we collected what debris was left at the scene; maybe we'll be able to salvage some equipment, but I strongly doubt it. All that's left of the ship is now in storage on the Prometheus."

Dave sighed. "That is a heavy blow. We do not have any other dedicated medical ships."

Vaughan rubbed his face and beard, his green eyes looked a bit stressed at the prospect of the logistics involved in recovering from the setback. "I know. We'll need to come up with some other rapid-response medical facility, but I have no idea how we're going to do that. We could probably set up temporary medical wards on the Prometheus, Force knows it's big enough, but I doubt we'd want to throw a Star Destroyer around for medical runs."

Dave frowned thoughtfully at that, before starting on a new track: "What is the final count on personnel lost in the attack?"

Vaughan's eyes seemed to harden in anger at remembering the details. More deaths that had occurred on his watch. More honourable people killed for no good reason by scum. "Four hundred and seventy-seven." He didn't refer to a datapad or flimsi, these facts were burnt into his mind. "Four hundred and seventy-seven lives lost. Just under half the ship's complement. The number of wounded is high, too, which is kind of bad since ordinarily we'd just ship them off to the Vespia . . . Some good news, though: the entire group of medical personnel made it off the ship. And as I said, pretty much all of the equipment and facilities onboard were lost. Only a few of the smaller medical droids made it off the ship intact. Captain Montfort and most of his bridge crew managed to escape. He is extremely apologetic." Vaughan sighed. "He followed protocol. I can see that many peacetime commanders would have made the same mistake. Especially since the Vespia was a medical ship, not a true combat vessel. I think his thoughts of helping the weak and injured overcame his sense as commander of a warship. I don't think he should be punished too severely; I think losing his command and five hundred of his people has hurt him enough. But that's just my opinion; ultimately it's up to you."

Dave's face soured. "Captain Montfort unfortunately proved himself less than competent. Unthinking adherence to protocol is just as bad as willful insubordination to protocol. Still, he is not to be drummed out of the service. We can find some less stressful work for him for the time being."

"Yes, sir," Vaughan appeared resigned and not yet convinced about Montfort's face. "Maybe putting him in charge of the reconstruction of our medical facilities would be penance enough." he mumbled almost to himself.

"Perhaps. I will have to think about it."

The sudden silence brought Vaughan out of his temporary reverie, noticing Dave watching him intently. "Was there anything else?"

Dave nodded. "Actually, there is. I am promoting you, David." Dave tossed a datapad across the table at the younger officer, who caught it and looked at it blankly. "Congratulations, you just made Commodore."

The surprise on Vaughan's face was palpable. "May I ask . . . why I'm worthy of such an honour? My understanding was that commodores led formations of ships . . ." Plus, I just lost you the Vespia . . .

Dave waved away the surprise as though it were unwarranted. "You have performed admirably in your current position. The GDF, despite chronic shortages, has never really felt a supply pinch. That speaks to excellent organizational skills on your part. More importantly, I need another regional commander, and Josh both does not want it and is busy enough anyway being my intelligence head. As for a station befitting your new rank . . . I am assigning you to the Prometheus. You will use the vessel to spearhead convoy and trade safety in the Greeop Sector. The presence of the Prometheus will inspire confidence and also a certain degree of terror in the locals, and will serve to inform them that the RS is back in force. This is the beginning of the end as far as the solidification of our power and control after a period of weakness."

Vaughan stared at the table while he processed the words. Captain Vedik will love this . . .. The Star Destroyer's commander didn't seem to think very highly of Vaughan, if his reading of the aging captain's reactions were anything to go by.

"I see. Thank you very much for this honour." Vaughan had never really led warships in battle before, only fighters when he was a squadron commander, which seemed to have been lifetimes ago but was really only half a year past. Abruptly Vaughan's gaze and posture visibly sharpened, and he looked at the Admiral intently. "How much latitude will I have?"

Dave frowned, unsure as to what Vaughan was getting at. "Well, as long as you are a visible force safeguarding the region, I imagine whatever you decide to see fit to ensure those ends will be acceptable. What do you have in mind?"

Commodore Vaughan smiled grimly. "I think my first order of business will be to load up on medical personnel and head out to the Cadrel Expanse. Take care of the medical emergency in the Oberon system first, then resume shipping protection. Does that sound visible enough?"

Dave nodded, then rose to his feet, Vaughan following suit. Dave shook hands with his latest flag officer. "That sounds like an excellent idea. Send Governor Klint my regards. Best of luck in your mission."

Vaughan saluted smartly, and Dave returned it. "Thank-you, Admiral. I will make the arrangements immediately. There's much to be done."

As Commodore Vaughan left the room, the door hissed shut. The loss of the Vespia was one that displeased Dave greatly. It seemed no matter how prepared they were, militant scum still managed to hit them. Dave resolved to not allow anything like it to happen again.

-=Pirate staging area, Ixtiatal Graveyard, Minos Cluster, 44:6:13:20:54=-

It was a scene of death. Not only recent, but old, older and ancient. This particular asteroid cluster in the Minos Cluster was an infamous black-spot for shipping accidents, and all sensible spacers avoided the region like the deathtrap it was. To fly here was to die here, or so the locals all said about the Graveyard . . . and today was proving them right.

The Graveyard's 'Fly & Die' reputation was obviously why groups of pirates used it as a staging area.

The bright blue and yellow flares of prismatic sublight drives burst through the area, pursued by flashes of blue and red laser cannon and turbolaser blasts.

The ancient New Republic Dreadnaught, the End of Days, lumbered through the hazardous combat zone ominously, its six hundred metre length unleashing terajoules of energy from multiple turbolaser turrets.

But blasting away as it might, the dreadnaught could not kill all of them. The more nimble pirate craft, older style fighters like Z-95 headhunters and pinooks, along with all manner of heavily modified freighters swarmed about the asteroid cluster. For every pirate ship hit by a lethal blast, another three slipped by its slow-moving guns.

The X-wings of Grey Squadron drove through the engagement zone, dodging asteroids and other debris while taking out targets with far more accuracy than the lumbering warship. Despite their best efforts, it looked as though the mission objectives were not going to be completed as satisfactorily as the New Republic commander had wished.

In a stand up fight against these odds, the End of Days and Grey Squadron would win this battle. Unfortunately, the pirates had no interest in fighting, much less in winning ­ --- they were running like bats out of hell. Their only goal for the day was trying to reach their numerous and varied navigational points to jump into the safety of hyperspace and avoid the massacre the New Republic forces were unleashing on them. More than a few had already fled the Graveyard.

"Blast it!" Admiral Tyrell Borran, more commonly known as 'Spokes', cursed above the background hum of status announcements on the bridge of the dreadnaught as another freighter made its jump. "There's too many of them! They cowards are running too damned fast."

Captain Palaeologus finishing barking out an order to the bridge crew, then conceded in reply. "I concur, Admiral. I think we seriously underestimated the sheer numbers we'd be dealing with here."

"Aye. Too many." The Admiral glared angrily at the viewscreen, as if concentrating his will enough would cause the fleeing craft to all just die.

"Comms, I want an update on the Array's ETA." Palaeologus called out abruptly.

"Same as before, Captain. Current estimates put them at three minutes out."

Spokes hissed under his breath. "That's not enough time. These bastards will be long gone in three minutes. Gunnery, full broadside blast at three seven mark two four, now!"

A series of heavy blasts ripped from the dreadnaught to a formation of fleeing freighters who had unwisely clung together in a group. They were quickly caught by the waves of cannon-fire, and exploded spectacularly.

But still the multitudes tore past the New Republic forces, not even bothering to fire back, so desperate was their plight. The last of the proximal pirate forces broke past the body of the warship, and headed for clearer space away from the 'graveyard', the fleet X-wings in hot pursuit.

"Sir!" the sensor officer broke through the bridge cacophony. "Incoming contact!"

Admiral Borran and Captain Palaeologus exchanged glances. The Idiot's Array was ahead of schedule, it seemed, although only the next few minutes would tell if its arrival would be able to prevent the escape of all the fleeing pirate forces.

"What the . . ." Spokes rolled toward the viewport in surprise as the new arrival was clearly not the Array. "Sensors, confirm that new contact."

"It's an Interdictor, sir. The Fleet Commander's sent the Chains of Justice to reinforce us! They're powering up gravity wells, sir."

Admiral Borran's eyes narrowed as he concentrated on the viewscreen zoom-in of the new Interdictor cruiser.

"That's not the Chains." he announced. "It looks like the—" his musings were cut off by the communication officer.

"Sir, we're being hailed!"

"Main speakers now." Spokes commanded.

A crackle was audible at first, followed by a voice from the past. "End of Days, this is Commodore Sconn here. Looks like you've got yourself into a bit of a mess. Mind if I help out?"

"Sconn, this is Spokes . . . welcome to the party. We are expecting the Idiot's Array here at any moment, if you can keep these bastards trapped in realspace, we'll be able to wipe them all out."

"Spokes! Good to know you're still alive. Let's finish up here and you can bring me up to speed on what's been happening out here."

"Copy that. End of Days out."

Captain Palaeologus exchanged a look with Admiral Borran, a look of newfound joy at the prospect of victory. "It's been a while."

"It certainly has. Helm, bring us about, let's push those fleeing vermin toward the Raging Dragon. Comms, co-ordinate with Helm on the Array's estimated entry point. Let's drive them into that region so the frigate jumps in right on top of them." A feral grin overcame Spokes's features momentarily. "They're not going anywhere, now."

As the fleeing mismatched fleet of the assorted pirate bands fled from the Dreadnaught and pursuing X-wings, they manoeuvred away from the Interdictor bearing down on them, interdiction field preventing them from jumping to hyperspace and safety.

Like cattle to the slaughter they were, for a minute later the sharp lines of the Strike Frigate Idiot's Array burst out of hyperspace, trapping the pirates in the middle of the New Republic triangular formation.

The massacre of militants was complete within ten minutes from that point, and the Ixtiatal Graveyard had yet more wreckage to claim for its namesake.

-=Main Bridge, Strike-class medium cruiser Apostate, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:14:18:56=-

"Admiral," Captain Constantius Julian shouted, "they are coming in for another run!"

Fleet Admiral Dave Trebonious-Astoris smiled. He looked . . . hungry. "Very good, Captain, transfer all power to the shields protecting our port side and prepare to return fire when they are in range."

"I hope you have a plan, sir," Julian responded bitterly, "because we can't take much more of this. We're taking better than we're giving."

"Patience, Captain, patience. There is a plan." Dave smiled again.

Dave was currently aboard the Strike-class medium cruiser Apostate, Captain Julian's ship. He had commandeered the vessel for a simulated battle exercise. The Apostate's opponent today was the Strike Cruiser Hammer of Justice, currently under the "borrowed" command of Admiral Rahj Tharen. The two cruisers were making use of powered down weapons and simulator sensors to track fictional damage. The Peril, fully and properly armed, stood guard at the outside of the system in case it were needed.

Contrary to everyone's expectations, Dave and the Apostate were having the worst of the simulated battle so far. Dave had fought unimaginatively, and Rahj had took advantage of it to inflict heavy fictional damage on the Apostate. Dave could tell that it was irritating Julian.

"Admiral," Julian's communication officer began, "we're getting a strange transmission. I'm not sure what the source is. Text only. It reads 'Your surprise is ready, Admiral.'"

"Excellent," Dave replied. "Just excellent. Bring us about on a perpendicular course, and hopefully the Hammer of Justice will follow."


Aboard the Hammer of Justice, Rahj frowned as he saw the Apostate make its turn. "He can't possibly escape from us with such a feeble maneuver, can he? Weapons, open fire as soon as we are in range."

As the Hammer of Justice began to fire its fictional turbolasers on its sister ship, the pensive silence of the bridge was interrupted by the sensor officer. "Admiral Tharen, we're detecting a new ship in the area! Only one point five kilometers off the port bow! It reads as an Interdictor cruiser. It's powering up its gravity wells, sir."

Rahj's face soured. "Affiliation? Imperial? Ours?"

"Unknown, sir. They are masking their identification. It doesn't look like the Chains, sir."

"Drop us out of simulation mode, bring up the real shields and bring the real weapons online. Contact Admiral Astoris on the Apostate," Rahj decided.

Before the orders could be acknowledged, the officer in charge of the simulation equipment spoke up. "Sir, we've just been hit by massive turbolaser broadsides from both the Apostate and the unknown new Interdictor. We're fictively dead in space, Admiral Tharen."

"Blast!" Rahj growled.

As the simulation ended, the viewport resolved into the open communication line that had been kept open with the Apostate. Dave was smiling from the command chair on the other Strike Cruiser. "Well, Admiral, do you like our newest acquisition? You might recognize the ship. Allow me to reintroduce Commodore Sienn Sconn and his flagship, the Raging Dragon."

Rahj looked grumpy. "A dramatic entrance, to be sure, but you cheated in our little game."

Dave grinned. "Cheer up. I said neither of us could use the Peril, I did not outlaw the use of long-absent Interdictor cruisers. Anyway, we will do this again later. For now, we have things to discuss. Let's reconvene on the Peril in an hour."

-=Main Conference Room, Victory-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:14:20:08=-

"Despite Commodore Sconn's rather dramatic return to us," Dave was saying, "he is actually not here to stay for long."

Dave was speaking to the typical gathering of senior officers of the Greeop Defense Force, with the addition of Commodore Sienn Sconn. The Commodore and his Interdictor had been reassigned from the task force an entire year ago by Admiral Ackbar for a special assignment with the Second Battle Group of the New Republic Defence Fleet when Sconn was a general, and now he and his ship had been returned, more experienced and with an increase in rank. Sconn was nodding to Dave's speech, he had already been briefed by Dave prior to the meeting, however the tense air between them seemed to speak of less than cordial discussions between them. Although the rest of the collected officers didn't know it, Sconn and Dave's private discussion over the previous hour had developed into a heated exchange at parts, particularly when it came to the topic of the reformation and redistribution of task group assignments in the post-Blerthmore period. The two were putting up a somewhat cordial façade for the time being, but that was largely because the two officers would not have to put up with each other's dramatically opposing views for much longer.

"Frankly, our forces in the Subterrel Sector need the Raging Dragon far more than we do right now. We have the Chains, but Admiral Raven has no interdicting capability at the moment. The Dragon will give him that."

"Good riddance," Rahj grumped.

"I love you too, Rahj," Sconn replied flatly.

"He is still grumpy about losing the battle sim," Dave interjected. "Do not mind him."

Dave was trying to keep the atmosphere light, although not entirely successfully. Rahj's loss in the sim wasn't the whole of it, but while the pretence of friendly relations were being upheld, no-one spoke up to contradict the pleasant fiction.

"Next," Dave continued, "Commodore Vaughan has fully briefed me on the loss of the Vespia. He and I both agree that this is a serious loss and that we will need to find some way of making it good."

"I am working on it as we speak," the thirty centimetre tall holographic projection of Vaughan replied, signal interference crackling through the transmission intermittently, "but my new duties are taking up some time. We're currently mid-way through relief efforts here in the Oberon system. Governor Klint seems most appreciative of our assistance . . . although I'm not sure his sentiments are genuinely compassionate . . . I get the sense he's just happy we're removing a problem that would otherwise impact on his credit flow." Vaughan's image frowned disapprovingly at the callousness of the head politician in the Oberon system.

Dave smiled at Vaughan's reaction to the politician. Dave did appreciate officers who didn't fall for the veneer of sincerity many politicians projected. "Vaughan has been placed aboard the Prometheus and will be responsible for trade and convoy security in the Greeop Sector, but at the moment he is alleviating the medical crisis in the Cadrel Expanse."

Heads nodded around the table. The move was apparently not surprising.

Dave pointed to Admiral Joshua Hawkins. "Josh."

Josh stood up from the conference table, and as he fiddled with his datapad various star charts filled the space above the table.

"Admiral, honored guests. Our recent reconnaissance operations were successful. Credit goes to Colonel Muzor of Blue Squadron, who successfully gathered information on an important militant base in the Yoric system. We should soon be ready to begin hunting down and eliminating specific individuals that seem to be the glue holding the various militant groups together."

Dave steepled his fingers together. "Excellent. I believe we should concentrate our efforts initially upon Old Scar. I think if we take him down we will end the career of one of the few major organizers in the area."

Rahj grunted. "What about the Red Hand?"

Dave's eyes flashed, and Josh looked tired. "They remain elusive," Josh offered. "Admiral Astoris attempted to interrogate our prisoner, but apparently just succeeded in making the man commit suicide to avoid further questioning."

"Yes, he clearly did not want me finding anything out. Forensics evidence, however, proved more fruitful than anything he said," Dave continued, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

Josh nodded. "We have a sector, at least. The autopsy revealed some curious dirt underneath his fingernails, which he apparently received from one of the planets of the Tarla Sector. I'm afraid this doesn't narrow things down much, though. There was other forensics material collected, too, but their point of origin is inconclusive."

Dave shook his head. "We will continue to follow all leads. In the meantime, let's begin to plan the take-down of Old Scar. And Commodore Sconn, you will receive flight path information from Commodore Vaughan on the route you are to take to Subterrel. Vaughan has been there just recently. Dismissed."

As everyone filed out of the room, Dave couldn't help but feel they had been doing this for years. In reality, it had only been four months since the Battle of Blerthmore.

-=Main Briefing Amphitheatre, MC80 Star Cruiser Windstorm, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:17:20:24=-

General Eric Reagan smiled at the conglomeration of pilots that filled the seats of the amphitheatre. There was something about seeing them all collected together and the buzz of anticipation that marked the pre-briefing time period that took him back to a simpler time, before the burdens of rank had placed him behind the podium during the briefing rather than in the seats with the other pilots. Somebody, however, had to command the starfighter group and take responsibility. He was proud that the somebody was him.

The buzz in the room quieted to a bare murmur as the pilots expected the briefing to begin. The anticipation in the air was palpable.

Eric cleared his throat and then began. "Pilots, the reconnaissance operations of the previous mission were an outstanding success. The information gleaned, in the hands of Admiral Hawkins and his intelligence teams, has yielded a target for us."

As Eric spoke, the holographic emitter in the center of the stage whirred, and star charts of the Greeop Sector flashed as the map focused.

"We have learned that the pirate captain known as 'Old Scar' resides at a certain Blazer's Rest outpost in the Setome system of this sector. We will be conducting a raid on the outpost. The secondary goal is the destruction of the outpost. Of greatest concern, however, is killing Old Scar." Eric continued solemnly.

"We're being ordered to conduct a 'hit?'" Eric couldn't identify who had asked the question. One of the prerogatives of pilots in these briefings was near anonymity when asking such quick and often pointed questions about the mission.

Eric appeared unphased by the question. "Essentially. The removal of Old Scar is of paramount importance, as he is believed to be one of the primary coordinators of hostile and pirate forces in this sector. Most importantly, Intelligence believes he was behind the destruction of our Medical Frigate, the Vespia."

The tone of the room changed quickly from generic interest to hostility, and Eric knew his point had been made.

"You all can then understand the importance of ensuring that Old Scar is not allowed to escape the Setome system. Kill him, destroy Blazer's Rest, and we will be one step closer to making this sector safe. We believe he bases himself from a Corellian Corvette known as the Nyax, which probably won't be far away, so if you see that ship in the area, the Admiral will personally reward anyone who can take it down. We launch in four hours, so normal pre-mission intelligence quarantine measures are in effect. Be on the hangar deck no later than twenty-three forty. Dismissed."

As the pilots filed out of the room, Eric had to admit that some briefings were more fun to give than others.

-=Pilot Ready Room, Strike-class medium cruiser Hammer of Justice, edge of the Uniska system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:18:04:32=-

"This has got to be one of the worst stations in the fleet," Lieutenant Carlton Ruze bemoaned loudly.

"That hardly seems like an objective analysis of the situation," Lieutenant Voort Cain responded matter-of-factly. "In fact, there are many smaller ships in the fleet."

The two TIE pilots were stationed with their squadron and TIE Fighters aboard the Strike Cruiser Hammer of Justice, which was in fact not the smallest ship in the Greeop Defense Force.

"That carry TIE Fighters?" Ruze asked doubtfully.

Cain wasn't sure, but he decided he would try something to shut Ruze up for a few minutes. "I hear the Fleet Commander sometimes hangs TIEs on that corvette that always follows the Peril around, for example."

"Maybe," Ruze harumphed.

But then, at least, he was quiet. Cain was grateful. The man's tendency to complain could get irritating quickly. Cain actually knew that Ruze was probably right in this instance. If their squadron were posted on the Windstorm, or the Prometheus, well, that would be much more prestigious. Hell, they'd probably be seeing some of the action he heard was shaping up at some militant scum base. The chance to kill some of the bastards who'd taken out the Vespia would be something he'd almost kill for. Still, the Hammer wasn't a bad ship, and they had the benefit of not usually being the point ship in an attack.

"Of course, you know . . . the Halberd was the same ship class as this . . ." Ruze interjected thoughtfully.

Cain didn't dignify the comment with a response, as the example seemed to be in poor taste. The flight lieutenant fiddled with his helmet as the two waited in the ready room in awkward silence. Point ship or not, a minimum of two pilots were always supposed to be ready to launch with less than a minute notice. The ready room was just above the ship's hangar, and if necessary the two could pull on their helmets and be in their fighters very quickly.

These thoughts, which started as lazy day dreams, suddenly became a lot more relevant as the alarm in the ready room went off. An obnoxious blaring noise played out of the alarm and it flashed blue, indicating that the ship was about to enter hyperspace. Within moments, Captain Caedo's voice cut into the bray of the alarm. "Pilots, we have received a distress call from a supply depot. We will be the first ones on scene. Our combat status has been upgraded to conflict-red. Be prepared to launch as soon as we revert to real space! That's an order! This is not a drill!"

Cain looked at Ruze as the two pulled their helmets on and headed toward their fighters. Cain couldn't resist. Just before he sealed his helmet, he announced "Definitely one of the worst stations in the fleet!"

Then the two ran to their fighters.


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