Rebel Squadrons

(44:6:28) GDF105: House Cleaning

By COM David Vaughan
Unit: The Rebel Squadrons
Narrative, Apr 08, 2008
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((Please note that for fictional purposes, the results of the recent FC election will not be reflected in this narrative. Story-wise Dave is still in command of Greeop forces, and Raven is still in command of Subterrel forces until further notice.))

-=Main docking port, CR90 corvette Nyax, docked at Blazer's Rest outpost, Setome system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:18:00:38=-

". . . and so then, right, I hooked up her power coupling, if ya know what I mean."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it."

"Charged up her loading ramp, you could say."

"Yeah, right. I get the holo," the second man swore, "Brix it, man, you're durned obnoxious."

The two crewmen were lazing about in the primary docking collar of the pirate Corellian Corvette Nyax, waiting for their captain to finish negotiations with the like-minded law-dodging sentients at the cobbled collection of space containers in the Setome system. The haphazard outpost was known to smugglers, pirates and criminal elements alike in the Greeop Sector as Blazer's Rest.

It was one of the few remaining pockets of criminality that sat in open space in the region, not hidden away in asteroid fields or nebula. The nearby unimportant blue gas planet's magnetic interference prevented unwanted scans of the system from afar, which had kept the base hidden in plain view, as it was.

"Yeah, yeah, just because your equipment isn't up to spec, doesn't mean the rest of us can't get any."

"Kark it, glitbiter, or I'll make some permanent mods."

The first man looked at the vibroblade his companion had swiftly pulled out dumbly for a moment, then laughed.

"Burnin' frag, kriffer. Go crink yourself."

Pointless standoffs like this were fairly common for the pirate crew of the Nyax, especially when their leader wasn't around to keep them all in line with his awe-inspiring presence.

Suddenly a musical chime followed by hydraulic hissing caught their attention, and then two men quickly scrambled to their feet and sheathed their weapons, standing proud as the hatch opened and in strode their fearless leader.

The aging Human was disfigured by extensive scarring, but he strode with a virile presence that inspired confidence in the underlings on his ship without any sign of weakness. His unbelievably attractive, pair of youthful Twi'lek bodyguards followed after him silently, and keyed the hatch shut, their scantily clad feminine forms enough to drive most of the crew, or any male humanoid for that matter, to distraction. Which was partly their purpose, of course — anyone gunning for Old Scar would have to try and ignore his painfully attractive companions, who the uninitiated assumed were mere playthings, and not the highly-trained, lethal killers they actually were.

Old Scar strode purposely up to the two men who had sworn their services to him, and gave them measuring looks. "Any trouble while I was gone, boys?"

The two exchanged a quick glance. "None, cap'n; we just want to keep movin' as soon as possible. The New Republic patrols are gettin' more aggressive lately, 'specially after we took out their medical ship."

"Very true," Old Scar nodded sagely. The recent successful strike against the Vespia was a point of pride among his forces, even though the Nyax didn't directly fire the shots that brought the New Republic vessel down. He had, however, directly financed and planned the successful operation. "I'm sure by now they've traced the attack back to me, so we will have to start moving around quicker than we have been. But it also makes negotiations like this much more crucial, because we can't do this alone."

"How did the negotiations go?" one of the captain's two lieutenants asked as they fell into step with the aging pirate commander. They were naturally bound for the bridge, in order to get out of the Setome system as quickly as possible, so they could get back to their frustratingly successful hit-and-fade harassment of New Republic shipping in the Greeop Sector. It was a profitable time to be a pirate in this part of the Outer Rim, despite the increase of New Republic patrols, which made the game all the more dicier.

While the New Republic forces in the Greeop Sector had sent most of their forces away to fight the Empire on distant front lines, all manner of piratical and criminal forces had filled the vacuum. But New Republic reinforcements had returned a month ago and were trying to restore order to the region by curbing piracy. This kind of thing successful pirates like Old Scar and his associates did not want to see happen. While there was a war on, they intended to profit from the confusion as much as possible.

"Hm," the scarred pirate captain considered as they strode along the matte-black hallways of the Corellian vessel, passing various crewers who stopped what they were doing to stand at attention respectfully. "Very well, I think. Of course, we'll see just how many of them are actually true to their word, but I think I greased the servos enough to bring most of the glitbiters around."

The old pirate had spent a great deal of credits at his own personal expense to ensure the loose alliance of the Greeop Sector's fringe elements worked together to harass the New Republic military, and by extension prolong the piratical golden age of the region for as long as would be possible.

The crew of the Nyax didn't know the total extent of Old Scar's plans, but they were well-paid enough by him that they trusted him implicitly to lead them right. Promises of profit beyond their imagination were readily believed, as the pirate captain was a very charismatic man who had a way of getting things done, and the results in the Greeop Sector up until now were encouraging enough for the entire crew to put their faith in him without reservations.

Old Scar was going to lead them to bountiful profits; he was cunning enough to outwit the local New Republic patrols, even though there had been a fairly close call at the fallen Blue Heaven base at the start of the month, which had cost them four stolen TIE Interceptors and their skilled pilots. While the risks of being killed were high, the potential pay-offs made it worth all worthwhile to the crew of the Nyax.

The bridge was a hive of activity as Old Scar and his entourage strode into the nerve centre of the corvette. "What's going on?" his booming voice projected to his second in command, a fierce Devaronian who looked redder than usual.

"Bad news, captain," his prime lieutenant's basso voice rumbled. "A large group of ships just entered the system, and they do not appear friendly," the Devaronian's pointed teeth and horns glinted in the light of the various bridge stations.

"Carbon flush," Old Scar cursed darkly. "I want numbers and types, now, dammit."

The sensor officer spoke up, "We gots about twenty birds, cap . . . one Fishhead cruiser, and two squads of fighters . . . look like Crosses and Slims."

"I'll be Kesseled," Old Scar hissed. The New Republic had sent in a Calamari Cruiser with accompanying fighters already launched and prepped. This wasn't a random patrol; New Republic intel had discovered the existence of Blazer's Rest, and had come prepared to not only raze it, but wipe out or capture anyone moored at it. Immediately he knew what to do and bellowed orders, "Raise ship, punch up a jump! We need to get the hell out of here right now or we're farkled. What're our friends at Blazer's doing?"

The pirate at the sensor station consulted his scopes, "Er, they're sitting mynocks just like us."

Old Scar stalked over to him angrily. "What's their defences doing, you durned fragger?"

The sensor operator cringed only slightly. "Hold onto your cargo hold, captain, still getting the feed . . . okay, their eyeballs are flying out to die. They might buy us a few minutes' distraction."

Walking over to the navigator's station quickly, Old Scar pressed his crew. "What's happening with that jump course?"

"Plotted, sir! Only three klicks to go."

With a pointed glance at the Helm station, Old Scar moved to the back of the bridge to think. He looked troubled, and twitched slightly. Surely his plans wouldn't be undone so easily by a chance attack from these New Republic bastards. He had too much at stake to be undone so simply. Surely he couldn't be thwarted like this?

But he knew he could be. He just had to get out of the system, and they could lose themselves in the Greeop Nebula for a time if need be, until the New Republic patrols gave up on them for a bit.

"Credit for your thoughts, captain?" a deep voice rumbled from his side.

The pirate captain looked at his devilish second in command grimly. "This isn't a fight we can win. Against the Slims alone, maybe, but they've got hardcore bombers, and that Fishhead cruiser. Our best bet's to get out of here while the Republic forces take out the base. Make the call."

His Devaronian lieutenant nodded, then keyed in a ship-wide comm. The deep, booming voice echoed throughout the vessel. "Battle stations! Look alive people, man your stations and prepare for battle."

Old Scar himself moved to the comm station and keyed a direct line to the gunners sitting in the dual turbolaser turrets. "We're making a run out of here, but whoever guns down the most birds gets a thousand credits. Make me proud."

With that he cut the line and stared out through the viewport at the large blue gas giant that dominated the star-speckled vista. All he could do was trust his men to do their jobs, and hope to all the gods that were that his ship lived true to the moniker 'Blockade Runner'.

No doubt about it, it was going to be close. His reputation as an invincible pirate lord would be cemented beyond doubt or completely vaporised this day.

-=Calamari Cruiser McGrath's attack force, near Blazer's Rest, Setome system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:18:00:52=-

The two dozen New Republic fighters cut through the swathe of militant defenders mercilessly. Revenge for the loss of the medical frigate Vespia was at hand, and it was precise and methodical and bloody.

Onboard the lead B-wing in the formation, Colonel Gavin Starseeker, known as 'Seeks' or Gold Leader to his fellow pilots, squeezed the trigger, sending another series of torpedoes into the falling shields of the distant collection of space containers known as the militant Blazer's Rest outpost. Not even waiting to see the resultant explosions, he rolled the cumbersome Mon Calamari-designed ship through a series of manoeuvres to avoid the flashes of laser blasts sent his way by the newly arrived Y-wing and X-wing defenders.

"Is it just me, or are these bastards getting better equipped?" one of the Gold pilots externalised their thoughts through the squadron comm channel.

Frowning as he lit up a militant TIE with a linked laser and ion barrage, Seeks dodged the resulting explosion. "Enough chatter, people, let's get this job done."

Thumbing the comm frequency to wing-wide, he contacted the A-wing leader.

"Hey Jairo, how about some cover here? We're gonna make a run on that corvette; can you spare any wings?"

A crackle. "Roger that, Gold Leader. Okay, Fireclaws, change of plans, let's cover the B-wings while they torpedo the corvette."

Satisfied that General Pantoja's A-wing pilots would do their job, he reorganised his own formation.

"Okay Gold, stop what you're doing and form up on me. We're gonna take down that pirate corvette before it escapes from the combat zone."

One by one the acknowledgements came through, and the formation of Gold Squadron B-wings soared in towards the corvette Nyax.

Personally, Seeks preferred to fly the swift, agile A-wing interceptors, but he definitely appreciated the sheer firepower and durability of the B-wing bomber. And he was about to demonstrate the awesome destructiveness of his B-wing squadron.

Through the combat zone they flew, acquiring warhead locks. The Calamari Cruiser McGrath sat back in the distance, its powerful turbolasers swiping through the combat zone vaping militant craft not expecting the larger ship to be as much of a threat as it was.

While his targeting computers acquired a lock on the fleeing Corellian corvette, militant fighters blasted away at the B-wing formation, causing some Gold pilots to dodge, swerve or even break off under the sustained attacks, but onward the majority of the B-wings flew, their A-wing comrades diving through the formation and tearing through the oncoming militant fighters and shuttles.

A solid tone sounded through Seeks's cockpit, and he gave the command: "FIRE!"

Streams of linked proton torpedoes soared from their B-wing launchers and bore down upon the engines of the fleeing corvette.

-=Bridge, CR90 corvette Nyax, near Blazer's Rest, Setome system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:18:00:55=-

Onboard the Nyax, chaos reigned.

Despite the efforts of the corvette's gunners, torpedoes had slipped through and overloaded the shield arrays, causing massive hull breaches all along the once-proud pirate vessel.

The pirate legend known as Old Scar stood very still and considered his options, which were fairly few. He cursed the New Republic forces for their success. His dreams of a true pirate's paradise in this region of the Trition Trade Route were dashed forever.

The magnetic field of the blue gas giant in the Setome system had proven to be his downfall, as much as it had kept Blazer's Rest location a secret. Long-range scanners couldn't see in, but as had been sufficiently proven they had effectively blinkered anyone stationed here when the New Republic forces had found them. There was no forewarning of the attack; the New Republic ambush had succeeded.

A major groan sounded throughout the hull of the ship as the corvette's superstructure warped. A major explosion had punctured the engines, and sent the once-mighty vessel into a slow spin as the main drives misfired and died.

Old Scar knew a loss when he saw one. He'd fought in the Clone Wars for the Republic long ago, and he'd seen his share of true warfare before becoming a pirate with the formation of the Empire.

The current situation would have been classified as a 'Triage code X' back in those days, if the ship were a soldier. It was too badly damaged to escape this battle; hulled and going up in flames. The Nyax would not survive this encounter. There was only one thing left to do.

Old Scar limped through the pandemonium of his bridge, as crewers scurried about trying their best to save the ship. He keyed in a ship-wide comm message and paused only slightly before giving the order.

"This is the captain speaking. You've all made me proud, but I have one last order for you all. Abandon ship. All hands, abandon ship. Live to fight another day! I repeat, get your asses off this ship now. This is my last order to you. Now go!"

His bridge crew looked at him in abject silence.

"That applies to all of you. Get out of here, there's nothing more that can be done."

The crew were uncertain. They'd never been defeated under Old Scar's command. Surely he wasn't serious.

"We can do this, captain, we just have to—"

"DAMN YOU, people, cut the phobium. It's over. Get your asses off my ship now or you'll find my boot up your exhaust ports!"

Still the crew remained at their stations, their fears for survival quelled by surprise at the evacuation order for the moment.

Old Scar drew his sidearm and pointed it at his red-horned second in command. "Abandon ship now, or I'll shoot you myself! GO!"

Suddenly, the crew hurried into action to comply with their esteemed leader's orders. His Devaronian second in command walked up to him briefly, and saluted him. Old Scar returned the salute, and held it until the Devaronian turned and fled from the bridge.

The only people left with him as more explosions sounded through the ship were his Twi'lek bodyguards, who looked quietly confident and ready to follow him to whatever end.

"Thank-you for your services," he handed them both a datapad from his pocket. "I release you from my employ; you will find more than adequate compensation at those bank accounts."

Looking uncertain for a moment, the lithe bodyguards both bowed deeply and left the bridge at a run, heading for the nearest escape pod.

The ship was rocked again by a heavy blast, probably from the Mon Calamari cruiser. Catching himself on a nearby station, the pirate commander stood proudly.

Old Scar would not be captured alive. Being defeated would permanently ruin his reputation and image anyway. The aura of invincibility he had woven about himself had been permanently broken. The best he could wish for now was a good death.

He stood defiantly in the empty bridge of his hulled warship as the series of escape pods jettisoned from the listing warship. Some of his people would escape New Republic captivity, he was sure, and those who were captured might survive the New Republic justice system.

But for Old Scar, his time of glory was over. He stood proudly before the prow viewport and watched the blue fires of incoming torpedoes head toward him, and prepared for his Final Jump.

Sith happens, he thought bitterly, as the torpedoes sped inward to meet him.

-=Victory-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:19:20:31=-

The commanding and executive officers of the Patriot Starfighter Group, Generals Eric Reagan and Anton Nels, respectively, walked with purpose through the corridors of the Victory Star Destroyer Peril, flagship of the task force, and of Fleet Admiral Dave Trebonious-Astoris himself.

They had arrived by shuttle mere minutes ago, and were going over the recent combat performance of their pilots as they walked.

". . . performance reports were pretty poor group-wide in the past week or so," General Reagan was flicking through a datapad, reviewing reports from the Setome and Etheria engagements.

"Yeah, mostly got the job done, but not as well as could be hoped," General Nels grumped. He'd flown at Setome, and was annoyed that some of the militants had escaped.

Reagan raised an eyebrow at some of the data. "Still, neutralising Old Scar, taking out the corvette and razing the outpost are noteworthy."

Anton frowned. "Yeah, but we let their supply freighters slip through. Who knows what they had onboard? Could have been hoards of weapons they'll use against us for reprisal raids, or they'll sell on the black market. The corvette took the most work to take down, but we focussed on it to the detriment of our other objectives."

Reagan sighed. "True, but I think that's forgivable considering how fiercely the militants reportedly fought."

"Well . . . yes, they fought tooth, nail and claw. They even had transports and shuttles shooting at us," Anton shook his head at the tenacity of the criminals.

Reagan tapped the screen as they walked. "What bothers me most is the amount of equipment damage . . . eighty-three percent of the fighters used in the operation are out of commission."

"Yeah, we're lucky most of the hit pilots managed to eject . . . or get their ruined wrecks back to the McGrath."

"Ugh, enough of that one," Reagan wanted to put it out of his mind, but he knew that wouldn't be possible. He'd have to report directly to Dave about the losses, and wasn't expecting the Admiral to be pleased. "What are your thoughts on the Etheria defence?"

Anton snorted, after accessing the relevant data mid-stride. "Again, got the job done, but pretty poorly at that. Supply platform survived, but most of the cargo was voided. And ship losses were ridiculously high there, too, weren't they?"

Reagan shook his head. "Seventy-one percent."

"By the Force . . . we need to get the pilots into sims more."

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. We can't afford to keep operating with these kinds of losses. Even when we don't lose the pilots themselves, starfighters don't come cheap."

Anton nodded at Reagan's point and they slowed, having reached their destination. "Anyway, we'll go over this more thoroughly later," the PSG CO finished, "after you."

The two officers entered the conference room.

-=Main Conference Room, Victory-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:19:20:41=-

The atmosphere in the room was tense. The people in the Peril's conference room were the members and support staff of the Republic Shield's High Command. Brigadier General Eric Reagan and Major General Anton Nels, representing the Patriot Starfighter Group, as well as a couple others, were there in the flesh, but the bulk of the figures in the room were actually holographic. Admiral Raven, Brigadier General Max Cal, Captain Adhemar Voltin, Brigadier General Kirghy Lommax, and Colonel Galic Mars were all present in holographic form, projecting from far away in the Subterrel Sector. Other officers were also holographically present; although they were within the Greeop Sector, they had been unable to return to Tarsonis swiftly enough to attend the emergency meeting in person.

The PSG officers were exchanging words with the holographic officers as they waited for the arrival of Fleet Commander Dave Trebonious-Astoris, who had called this rare meeting of the High Command. The last time they had all been together for a meeting was in the aftermath of the disastrous Battle of Blerthmore four months before. That the meeting was unusual spoke volumes of the Fleet Commander's leadership style. His supporters labeled the style independent and self-confident - his detractors charged him with being autocratic. Whatever the faults of Dave's leadership style, it required very little input from High Command, which was the traditional advisory body of the Fleet Commander. The members of High Command had grown accustomed to not needing to meet regularly, and so this surprise emergency meeting caused both anxiety and, surprisingly, a certain amount of resentment.

The murmur of voices in the room continued to build as the minutes passed. It was not like Dave to be late, and everybody had their own business to attend to and wanted to dispense with this meeting as quickly as possible. However just before anybody could verbalize discontent at the meeting's tardiness, the doors to the conference room swept open and Dave entered, surrounded by a small entourage. His deputy in command of the Greeop Defense Force, Admiral Rahj Tharen, walked at his right, and his Chief of Intelligence, Rear Admiral Joshua Hawkins, at his left. The murmur in the room hushed as Dave took his seat at the head of the conference table. His countenance was impenetrable, as though his face were chiseled out of stone. No emotions escaped as he called the meeting to order.

"This emergency session of High Command is called to order. Friends, I have asked for you to be present in person to receive important news that could change the face of the entire Galactic Civil War."

The words settled upon the room like a dense fog.

"I have received confirmation that earlier today there was a massive strike on the shipyards at Sluis Van by the Imperial Remnant," Dave related solemnly. "This was no mere hit and fade attack. The Imperials brought five ImpStars and more than two dozen support capital-class ships into the system. They also apparently brought a certain number of mining craft, which were under orders to burrow into our own capital ships and deliver a contingent of troopers who would capture the vessel for the Imperials."

One of the holographic figures cursed. Dave couldn't tell which one it was, but he knew at least it wasn't Admiral Raven, since the curse was too mild to have come from him.

Dave continued. "Fortunately for us, General Solo was able to disable the miners and stop the capture operation. Unfortunately, this action crippled some forty of our capital ships, causing billions of credits worth of damage and severely weakening the mobile defenses of Sluis Van. The Imperial task force has retired from the area."

Dave paused to allow this to all sink in. "Thoughts?"

Raven had looked bored before the meeting started, then interested as the news unfolded, but now was back to looking resigned. "Of course you in your wisdom have already thought of this, Admiral," the Subterrel Strike Force commander's voice was flat enough that Dave couldn't tell if he was sincere or sarcastic, "but the Imps must have a fancy new leader to be using such an intricate battle plan."

"They certainly made the Sector Admiral in Sluis look stupid," Kirghy muttered.

"Good thing Solo was there," Eric replied.

Dave nodded. "I am certain that the rumors of the Imperials being organized under the command of somebody very clever indeed are beyond doubt now. I will need to decide how the Republic Shield will respond to this attack. You all are aware that Sluis is less than five sectors away. I believe we may be expected to provide some sort of material aid. That can wait for now. I unfortunately have one more piece of bad news to report."

Dave was unable to prevent himself from looking pained as he continued speaking. "Shortly before the attack on Sluis Van, Admiral Ackbar was outmaneuvered by his political enemies on the Council and was arrested. Although I believe this to be a primarily political act, he has been stripped of his command of the New Republic military."

More curses.

"This pains us not only because Ackbar was commander-in-chief, but because he is the primary patron of the Republic Shield. He championed our creation and has been a consistent supporter of our near-autonomous status to defend this region of the Outer Rim. We owe him much," Dave concluded bitterly.

"Is there anything we can do about it?" Max asked.

"I will be registering a protest with the Council," Dave replied. "Mostly what we need to do as leaders in this fleet is speak positively for the troops under our command and avoid negative remarks that could prompt disorderly shows of support in favor of Admiral Ackbar."

Heads nodded around the room, but Dave could tell that people were not pleased. Dave was not pleased himself. He had been outraged by the news, but that outrage also contained a seed of fear: what if the Council turned on Ackbar's friends next? Dave highly prized the Republic Shield's autonomous status and would jealously guard it. The thought of the New Republic High Council interfering with RS operations was enough to drive him to distraction.

"Now," he continued, "I will open up the floor for suggestions on how to respond to the Sluis Van attack or to Ackbar's arrest. Speak as you are interested. I remind you the meeting is being recorded for my own review later as I make decisions."

And with that, the floodgates were opened...

-=Personal Quarters of the Commodore, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Prometheus, edge of the Rutilia system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:23:03:41=-

Commodore David Vaughan, Logistics Officer of Task Force Republic Shield, now also leader of the Star Destroyer Prometheus by special assignment of the Fleet Commander, felt the sensation of someone enter his room.

He hadn't heard the hissing of Imperial hydraulics that nominally indicated it, and he wasn't sure how they'd got past the guards posted outside his quarters, but somehow they'd made it in.

He lay still in his bunk, hoping they wouldn't notice him. The lights were down low, being in the middle of his sleeping cycle, and it was possible they'd not see him lying here.

That thought was proven incontrovertibly wrong when the interloper stabbed down into Vaughan's abdomen.

He didn't cry out, didn't even move. Surprisingly there was no pain as he felt the vibroblade slice through his flesh. With a detached sadness he felt the skin rip as the knifeman slashed up through his chest.

Finally Vaughan moved all at once, wrestling with the hilt of the vibrating blade, which hummed ominously near his ears. He could feel no pain, only the sickening sensation of fluid running onto his chest.

Struggling with the knifeman, Vaughan realised he'd frakked up beyond belief. Through his own inaction he'd let himself die, and as he slackened and felt the strength sap from him he knew it would be the legacy he'd leave behind . . . that his own passiveness had cost him his life . . .

-=Personal Quarters of the Commodore, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Prometheus, edge of the Rutilia system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:23:04:24=-

Captain Dor Vedik, commander of the Star Destroyer Prometheus rushed to the Commodore's quarters. He'd been summoned from his post on the bridge with some urgency, and rushed to Vaughan's quarters as quickly as was possible.

He nodded at the marine guards, who waved him in through the door which whooshed open quickly.

He stopped short upon seeing Vaughan in the room, and stood at attention.

"You summoned me, Commodore?"

Commodore Vaughan stood at his work desk stirring milk into a frothy cup of caf. To put it mildly, he looked like hell. Dark circles underlined his eyes, which made for a menacing image when combined with the trimmed dark beard he wore.

"Yes, Captain, thank you for coming at this unholy hour," Vaughan saluted briefly then waved him in listlessly.

Vedik entered the room fully and looked around. The bunk in the far corner looked as though there had been a struggle, but other than that everything appeared in good order. "Is everything alright?"

Vaughan looked over at him appraisingly, then rubbed at his eyes tiredly. "Yes, well, no. Frakking dreams. I'm still not used to sleeping here," he looked over at Vedik suddenly. "Not that the accommodations aren't to my liking," he interjected before the grizzled starship captain could take offence. "I'm just used to a more . . . er . . . familiar surrounding."

Vedik frowned. Vaughan was a strange one, alright. When he'd visited the Prometheus on previous occasions he'd always insisted on working from, and sleeping in, his Lambda shuttle, rather than the opulent quarters prepared by Vedik's crew. He thought it highly irregular, and really quite strange. The VIP accommodations on his ship were immensely superior to the quality that could be found onboard something as tiny and utilitarian as a personnel shuttle. He had expecting the younger officer to realise this since he had moved into the expansive quarters.

It had been eleven days ago the young Commodore had been assigned to the ship, and it seemed he hadn't really settled in to his new post yet. Personally, Vedik couldn't wait to have the young upstart off his ship, but he did have to admit the ladder-climber had acquitted himself fairly well so far, as they had reinforced the Etheria supply depot successfully five days ago, and even performed well at Uniska seven days before that, even though it had ultimately resulted in the loss of the Vespia.

Despite the fact he didn't particularly like the younger ranking officer, and didn't think he was really worthy of the rank bestowed upon him, he had the unmistakable impression that the inexperienced flag officer blamed himself for the Vespia's loss . . . which wasn't true, because while Vaughan had assumed command of the engagement, Dor himself hadn't even noticed the threat posed by the far-off transports and Y-wings until it was too late . . .

Still, that was an issue the Commodore was going to have to work out himself. Vedik wasn't a psychiatrist, and he certainly wasn't going to coddle someone on his ship, especially someone of higher rank, who should by rights be made of sterner stuff than that.

Vaughan had been staring into the distance tiredly, before he brought himself back to the present and shook his head, as if willing the fatigue away with the action.

"What is your opinion of our operations the past two weeks?"

Vedik considered the question for a few moments. "That we have carried out the Admiral's orders, vague as they are. We have certainly made the Prometheus the most visible ship in the GDF's arsenal. We've passed through more systems in the past week alone than I can recall us having done even when campaigning on the front lines."

Vaughan nodded tiredly. "And apart from the excitement at Etheria, we haven't really done anything to curtain militant activities, have we?"

The aging captain frowned. "We've certainly made them stay away from the populated systems we've been making appearance appearances. And the amount you've had us moving around will surely keep them on their toes; I doubt any militant crew, no matter how foolhardy, will willingly take on a Star Destroyer."

"Yes, that is true . . ." Vaughan seemed to space out, in thought or not Vedik couldn't rightly tell. "But I think we need some more tangible results, and soon."

"What do you have in mind?"

Vaughan looked over at him seriously. "We need to pro-actively hunt down and wipe out some militants, for our morale, and for the civilian newsnets to report on. While I know Dave says we're not pandering to civilian expectations, we really have to show the people of the Greeop Sector we are capable or hunting down and wiping out criminals wherever they might be hiding in this sector. The boost in morale, both for our forces and for the local civilian populations after the pirate chief was taken out at Setome . . . I think we should try and emulate that."

Vedik shook his head at the ignorance of his commanding officer. They had been trying to find militant holdings since he'd been onboard. They weren't just flag-waving, they were also actively performing aggressive patrols in their efforts to root out hostile forces. "That all sounds good in theory, sir, but how do you propose we find the militants? We've been trying to find them for weeks now."

Vaughan nodded. "Yes, I know. But I think we need help," he ignored what he was sure would be Vedik's look of insult. "I need to talk to Josh, see if he's uncovered anything since we spoke last. And I want to speak with Dave, too . . . we're going to need an Interdictor for what I have in mind."

Vedik suppressed a sigh at the naïveté of this youngling.

"Captain," Vaughan commanded, looking less tired having settled on a course of action he was happy with. "set a course for the Greeop system."

-=Main Hangar Bay, Victory-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:26:00:41=-

In the back recesses of the Peril's hangar, Dave ran his hand along the port wing of his personal TIE Avenger, admiring the starfighter's clean lines and impeccable paint job. His fighter was relegated to the rear of the hangar because it was so rarely used. The admiral's place, after all, was on the bridge. But Dave did get to fly every now and then, and when it had been some time since he had flown, he liked to come to the hangar and spend some time near the fighter, to remind himself that he could fly. The hangar crews knew to leave him alone in times like this.

Which is why he should have been surprised to hear footsteps approaching him. Somehow, though, he knew. He turned in time to see Lieutenant Rebekah Gosling step around another TIE and into full view. She was dressed in her normal off-duty attire: a skintight black jumpsuit and sneakers with her hair pulled back into a casual and messy bun. She smiled at him, and it seemed to brighten up the whole hangar just as the rising sun brightened the horizon.

"I thought I'd find you here, Dave," she said, still smiling.

Dave couldn't help grinning like a fool. "You know me too well, Gosling. I am glad you found me."

As she reached him, she casually linked her arm with his and gazed at his Avenger. "You know, sometimes I think that you come here to visit your fighter more often than you come to my quarters to visit me," she teased.

"That, madam, is a gross exaggeration!" Dave retorted in mock indignation.

They both chuckled, enjoying the moment. After a few seconds, Dave turned from his fighter and began walking, tugging Gosling until she walked along with him. "Walk with me," he said simply.

The two began to slowly walk around the perimeter of the hangar. Nobody really stared, despite the fact that they walked arm-in-arm. Shipwide intelligence was better than any governmental agency, and the gossip chain had spread rumors of them long before. Dave, in somewhat typically autocratic fashion, had explained himself to nobody and was unconcerned if he was giving offense. Technically it might have been noted that the relationship was highly irregular, but the people of the Peril had a deep respect for their captain and were not prone to note such a thing.

These thoughts were actually far from Dave's mind. He was lost in thought, thinking about his Imperial past.

"Gosling, what do you think of the Imperial Grand Admiralty?"

Dave's question was open and sincere. Gosling sensed that this was more than just an intellectual question.

"I'm not sure," she began. "I haven't read extensively on the subject. The Grand Admirals, as far as I know, were somewhat of a mixed bag, with some being excellent strategists, and some not. Grand Admiral, in fact, was a political appointment as much as a military one, if I remember right. The New Republic took their threat seriously enough to exterminate them, though, right?"

Dave nodded solemnly. "The Grand Admirals were supposed to all be accounted for by now."

"Supposed to be? Meaning they aren't?" Gosling's eyes narrowed.

Dave sighed. "New Republic Intelligence has a rumor floating around that a Grand Admiral has resurfaced and is currently leading the Imperial Remnant."

"Is that the explanation for the attack on Sluis, then?" Gosling was not a strategist or tactician of any sort herself and probably tired of hearing Dave's military and government related babbling. She was, however, quite perceptive, which was highly desirable in a conversationalist and confidant.

"Apparently," Dave replied. "I have to admit, the concept of another Grand Admiral makes me uneasy. There were few people in the Imperial military who could have merited promotion to that rank before Palpatine died." Of course, Dave, being a mere Captain during his Imperial service, was not privy to the inner councils of the old Galactic Empire and did not know everyone in the upper echelons of the Imperial military personally. Still, for reasons he could not quite pinpoint, he was immensely uneasy.

"A Grand Admiral would make a serious foe," Dave continued, trying to verbalize his discomfort. "He would provide an incomparable rallying point and would give the Imperial Remnant the unity it needed to make a substantial stand against the New Republic. All this is true regardless of his strategic capabilities. And if on top of all that he happens to be a brilliant strategist..." Dave trailed off.

Gosling nodded again. "I am beginning to understand your unease."

The two continued walking in silence. Although Dave was comforted by Gosling's presence, the latent feeling of unease did not go away.

-=Main Briefing Amphitheatre, Calamari Cruiser McGrath, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:28:06:27=-

Colonel Gavin "Seeks" Starseeker sighed as he hauled on the last part of his uniform, before turning and heading out of the change room and down the corridor to the briefing amphitheatre. Normally he relished giving briefings, but this one was different. An escort mission for a convoy, he thought, shaking his head before calming himself as the door opened. A quick glance at the assembled throng of pilots showed that they wouldn't be too happy either.

Starseeker cleared his throat as he reached the podium. "Okay, boys, let's get down to it. First of all, as has already been said, good work on vaping Old Scar and those militant scum in the last mission; hope no one enjoyed themselves too much afterwards," There were a few scattered laughs throughout the chamber. "Seriously though, he's gone, but these blasted militants don't seem to have taken the hint. They're getting pretty cocky and they keep attacking civilian convoys indiscriminately."

Starseeker brought up a holomap before continuing. "At the moment, Command has got all our capital ships on escort duty so that we can keep the convoys alive. We'll be heading out to the Rutilia system, on the Greeop/Minos border to protect such a convoy. The Shadowblen will be joining us as we escort the convoy; we'll be flying X-wings for this one, relieving Grey Squadron and the Idiot's Array."

He was not entirely surprised when some people groaned. One pilot spoke up: "Shouldn't we be taking the fight to the enemy instead of baby-sitting some civvie convoy?"

Starseeker focused on the speaker. "I know it sucks, guys, but remember, we're not here to take personal revenge against every single two-bit thug that happens to wave a fist at us. We're here to protect innocents that have just as much a right to exist as we do, even if they're not the ones flying the ships and holding the blasters."

He glanced around the room, making as much eye contact as he could.

"Simply put, this mission should be pretty easy for pilots like us. If nothing else, be thankful you're flying at all."

There was another dissenter: "Bet Grey Squadron enjoyed flying nursemaid for a while; now it's own turn."

Starseeker directed a hard look at the man. "Just for that, I'll tell Spokes what you said," There were nervous laughs at this as the outspoken pilot was silenced. "Okay, pilots, that's all from me. Get out there and bring us home a convoy. If it makes you feel better, you can bring a book with you into the cockpit."

There was another round of chuckles as Starseeker strode away from the platform. Escort duty wasn't the most glamourous or exciting of duties, but someone had to do it.

-=Main Briefing Amphitheatre, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Prometheus, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:28:07:42=-

Dave whisked into the room and marched purposefully up to the podium. Although he usually liked to make grand entrances, this time he was alone. He wanted to show a sense of solidarity with the pilots, not overawe them with a lot of rank badges surrounding him. He stood before the podium and looked out at the amphitheatre, filled with the brave pilots of the Patriot Starfighter Group. The murmur of voices in the room had increased noticeably when he entered the room. After all, it was an unusual thing for the Fleet Commander to address a pilots' briefing. General Reagan had consented to letting the Admiral brief the pilots personally. As Dave reached the podium and stood silently there the voices quickly petered out and silence descended on the room.

Dave swept the room with his eyes. The assembled pilots had varied expressions: some were uncertain, some angry, some concerned, others indifferent. Dave tried to project a look of confidence and seriousness.

"Good morning, pilots. The op for today is a capture mission. The Greeop Defense Force will be invading a hostile staging zone. The Prometheus will head up the operation, and if the commitment of our Star Destroyer does not convince you of the importance of this mission, there's also this: the Chains of Justice will come along to ensure that no hostile escapes you."

Dave was being deliberately curt and forceful in his briefing. It was his way of reminding the pilots that despite what was happening elsewhere, they were part of an elite military task force and should be preparing mentally for an operation.

"You all will launch from the Prometheus when it arrives at the target zone. Some of you will be in Y-wings and Gunboats and will be responsible for disabling key targets of value. Others will be in TIE Interceptors and will destroy everything that fights back. Assuming everything goes as planned, troop transports will capture the disabled targets. You provide protection for the capture operations, and then the whole strike force will withdraw."

Dave paused for a moment, trying to look as many pilots in the eye as possible. "This is an incredibly important op. For mission secrecy, you will not be informed about the target system nor about which craft should be disabled until just prior to launch. You will see your squadron commanders for information on which ships you will be piloting. Are there any questions about this mission?"

Nobody raised their hand. The room remained silent.

Dave shifted his weight to the other leg, looked down briefly, and then resumed his gaze at the pilots.

"You all are aware by now of the recent Imperial attack on Sluis Van. You are also no doubt aware of the political arrest of Admiral Ackbar. I am not here to tell you that everything is going to turn out for the better. I am not here to coddle you. You all are soldiers and you have a mission to do. There may come a time when you can do something about the news you have heard, but that time is not now. What you can do now is complete this operation and help to make our own turf secure. We cannot help anybody else until our own house is in order."

Dave's eyes glinted as his expression hardened. "Go put our house in order. Dismissed."


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