Rebel Squadrons

(44:F3:5) GDF106: Driven to Peril

By COM David Vaughan
Unit: The Rebel Squadrons
Narrative, Jun 01, 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.))

-= Near Ariexa V, Ariexa system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:28:08:58 =-

Squadrons of Imperial-class starfighters with New Republic markings swarmed about the vacuum, firing green bolts of destruction at the militant piratical forces moving illicit cargo through the Ariexa system.

Imperial-class and pirate-class fighters flashed through the void, blasting at each other, puncturing shields and hull. But while the New Republic TIEs were shieldless, they were more than a match for the pirate forces, as was proven by the regularity which the R41 Starchasers and rickety old Y-wings exploded in the combat zone.

Two wedge-shaped warships with New Republic markings, a Star Destroyer and an Interdictor Cruiser, crawled into the combat zone from the opposite direction of the nearby planet Ariexa V. The space around them was lit up by the bright green turbolaser and anti-fighter cannon-fire as they struggled to target the nimbler starfighter targets.

Huddled in the midst of the chaotic confusion, two diamond formations of boxy BFF-1 bulk freighters drifted together, an illusion of calm in the centre of the firefight storm. Four of the freighters, with militant markings, floated uncontrollably through the void, their electrical systems already disabled by ion weaponry, while their New Republic-marked counterparts manoeuvred atop them.

If one could ignore the buzzing action of R-41s and TIE fighters through the combat zone, the formation of freighters looked for all the Galaxy like a mating ritual seen on nature Holodocumentaries. But as the docking collars sealed, New Republic marines prepared for the upcoming fight onboard the enemy freighters.

"Control, this is Helios I, copy?" a male voice commed.

"Helios I, this is Control, we copy. What's your status?" a female voice replied across the void.

"We have successfully initiated boarding operations. Team One reports expected resistence levels; pacifying the freighter now. We're a bit worried about those inbound birds, though. Any chance of doing something about them?"

"Understood, Helios. Blue and Fireclaw are moving to intercept; you get those cargoes safely onboard and we'll take care of the rest."

"Roger that, Control. Helios I out."

From afar, the dull glinting of starlight could be seen of the quadanium steel-armoured titanium hulls of the New Republic Assault Gunboats and TIE Interceptors moved to intercept another series of pirate fighters bearing in from the direction of the nearby rocky planet Ariexa V.

-= Bridge, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Prometheus, near Ariexa V, Ariexa system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:28:09:16 =-

Commodore Vaughan paced back and forth across the bridge uncomfortably. He hated command, absolutely abhorred it. He gave up his squadron command role happily when the call to Logistics work was great enough; as much as he missed the pilots in his old squadron, he didn't miss the responsibility that came with commanding a starfighter unit.

He ignored the look of annoyance he felt emanating from Captain Vedik, commander of the Prometheus. The old barve probably thought he was good at hiding his disdain for the Logistics Officer cum Commodore, but Vaughan saw it clearly enough. He didn't want to be in command any more than Vedik wanted him to be, but the Admiral had placed him in charge, and he was determined to do the job as well as he could. It just didn't mean he had to like it. And he didn't.

"Sir!" the raven-haired Communication officer called out, "We just received confirm from Helios III; they've completed their boarding operation."

Vaughan stopped pacing, and walked over to the female lieutenant, "Excellent. That's all of them now, right?"

"Affirmative, sir," the young, male sensor officer confirmed from his station across the bridge, "All four freighters are heading to their hyperpoints,"

"Comms, I want Blue and Red Squadrons covering their withdrawals, tell Captain Tabanne to disengage her interdiction field . . . and tell Fireclaw they are clear to blow the sleeping targets."

"Yessir," the dark-haired woman confirmed before speaking into her headset.

Vaughan walked back across the bridge to stare out the prow viewscreen at what was left of the confrontation; the hostile forces had been scattered and defeated, but they were unable to flee effectively while the Interdictor Chains of Justice had its gravity well generators online. That would change once Captain Tabanne turned them off; he expected the pirates would flee when there was no chance to recover their cargo and personnel, even though there was the distinct possibility the idiots would fight until their deaths.

He shook his head. Dying for a cause, he could understand; everyone in the room with him knew the risks of being in the New Republic Defence Force and accepted them when they signed up. But these militants? They weren't fighting for a cause, ideology, or anything worthwhile. They were fighting and dying pointlessly, for mere credits they wouldn't see anyway since Vaughan's forces had intercepted the illegal cargo transfer. Vaughan paced some more and tried to ignore the critical looks he could sense the grizzly old captain of the vessel was giving him from his station.

"Commodore," the Communication officer called out unexpectedly. Vaughan turned back to the woman and raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

She smiled uncertainly for a moment, "General Pantoja was insistent that I pass on his thanks and satisfaction with the orders."

Vaughan gave a wry smile in way of reply. He liked giving people orders they enjoyed, and that was one thing he did remember from his flying days — pilots loved authorisation to blow things up.

He moved behind the sensor officer and watched over the young lieutenant's shoulder as a series of green friendly blips swarmed about the holographic icons representing the militant freighters. The freighter blips vanished one by one from the screen as the group of Assault Gunboats turned their cargo-empty hulls into nothingness with series of carefully aimed laser bursts.

They didn't have time to properly comb the freighters for all possible booby traps, then properly secure and repair them. It was a quick snatch and grab, followed by denying continued use of the ships to hostile forces. It was a waste of four perfectly good freighters, to be sure, but it was deemed an acceptable waste as they had to get back to their normal patrol duties as soon as possible if they wanted to keep the militant forces in the sector scared away from trafficked hyperlanes.

"Sir," the sensor officer began, then jumped when he noticed the Commodore standing behind him.

"Report," Vaughan ordered, bemused at the young man's surprise.

"Uh, yessir. All friendly freighters have entered hyperspace. And . . . the hostile forces appear to be breaking off, sir; numerous exit vectors."

Commodore Vaughan exchanged a glance with Captain Vedik; they had successfully completed another operation, despite Vaughan's inexperience or perceived lack of competence, depending on who you asked.

"Thank-you, lieutenant. Comms, recall our fighters," he paused for a second, trying to remember what it was like to be a pilot in one of those TIE Interceptors like Blue Squadron were. He found the memory was hazy and indistinct, despite not being that long ago. "And tell them they did an excellent job today," he finished awkwardly. No doubt about it, he hated command, and it wasn't for him.

"Once they're onboard, update combat status Conflict-Yellow and begin hyperspace prep, then set a course for the Greeop system. Have Captain Tabanne do the same with the Chains. Captain Vedik," Vaughan looked to the aged veteran, who had been mostly silent for the last few minutes; maybe an attempt at respectful silence while Vaughan was giving orders. "You have the bridge."

"As you command, Commodore," Vedik inclined his head respectfully with an impervious tone. As soon as Vaughan walked through the blast doors from the bridge, Vedik reverted to his prime element, professionally calling out orders with seasoned precision. He demonstrated more skill and experience as a starship commander than the departed Commodore could ever hope to possess . . . not that Vaughan particularly wanted to posses them anyway — he was more comfortable behind a desk any day.

-= Officers' Lounge, MC80 Star Cruiser Windstorm, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:28:22:06 =-

Three pilots and commanders sat in the officers' lounge of the Calamari Cruiser Windstorm as it was moored in orbit above what had become in the past months the home world of Task Force Republic Shield.

Colonel Gavin Starseeker sat with Generals Jairo Pantoja and Anton Nels, throwing back drinks and relaxing after having flown combat missions earlier in the day. They were exchanging stories of the day's engagements — Jairo had the satisfaction of success with Commodore Vaughan's forces in the Ariexa system, but Seeks and Anton had been less fortunate with their convoy escort duties near Rutilia VII.

"Was it really that bad?" General Pantoja, the Fireclaw Squadron commander enquired grimly.

"Worse," Colonel Starseeker, the leader of Gold Squadron, replied bitterly, "we did as much as we could — seriously, the pilots flew phenomenally out there today — but there were just too many of them to take out before they did damage . . ."

The Colonel nursed his drink morosely before elaborating. "You'd think with the McGrath and Shadowblen nearby, the bastards would steer clear, but no. It's like their stupidity and greed outweighs their will to live. No matter how many of them we burn down, there always seems to be dozens more ready to take their place. It's like there's a bloody factory pumping these morons out."

"Yeah, but we'll be there to keep burning them down," the Patriot Starfighter Group second in command, General Nels, attempted to lift his comrade's spirits.

"Maybe," Seeks conceded, "but how many good people have to die in the process? We lost two freighters this time; brave crews who'll never go home or see their families again . . ." he stared into his drink thoughtfully. "I mean, the cargoes are replaceable — we can always buy more blasters and ordnance — but lives aren't. And to die hauling cargoes, being killed by frakking pirates . . . what a waste. At least when we're fighting the Empire, now that's a cause worth dying for. But because of some glit-biting pirate scum . . ."

He ran out of words and shook his head silently.

"It might not be as glorious as fighting the Empire, but someone has to protect the innocent civvies from the riffraff," Anton reproved gently. "And we are making a difference here, even if it doesn't feel like it today. Every credit-hungry pirate we blow to bits is one less that can prey on civilians or hurt out people."

"I'm not denying that, honestly I'm not," the Colonel defended, "it's just so frustrating and pointless. They can't win, but they just keep fighting anyway, and more civilians and friends die before we put them all down. I just wish I could line them all up and gun them down once and for all, get it over with instead of dishing it out bit by bit."

"To blowing up pirate scum," General Nels toasted, holding up his drink. The three pilots downed the rest of their drinks, and called for more.

Jairo ordered the droid to refill the glasses with the fine and old blue whisky. "Seeks, have another one; this blue liquor always help rise the spirit, be sure we will take our revenge for your losses . . . just let them be our target."

Seeks nodded at Jairo and sighed, desperate for a change from the subject that had him in so dark a mood, "So how were things at the big op that just went down with Vaughan?"

Jairo nodded in reply. "Thankfully, much better than yourselves. We managed to get away with all the cargoes, vape plenty of militants, and even scored a few prisoners."

Anton nodded a thanks to the serving droid that wheeled over to them with the next round of drinks. "I heard from a buddy of mine on the Prometheus that they liberated some bacta."

"Wouldn't surprise me," Seeks shook his head before taking a swig of his beverage, then continuing, "These kriffers get their hands on the most expensive stuff. I just can't get used to intentionally firing on X-wings . . . I mean, hell, X-wings are expensive! I have no idea where they're getting this stuff, unless Incom's missing a few dozens of product shipments or doing some dodgy dealings on the side . . ."

"Well, thankfully we didn't have to face any X-wings today. A few Y-wings, though." Jairo made a face. Most pilots in the New Republic Armed Forces tended to look down upon the old, cumbersome bombers, but it was still unnerving to fire upon a ship type you had associated with as 'friendly'. It was hard not think of the various Y-wing pilots he knew, and imagining that he was firing upon them. Not fun. "Mostly it was just the usual pirate fare: Starchasers and T-wings."

The fact that lowlife pirates had access to New Republic military grade technology was troubling. Very much so. Anton swirled his drink contemplatively in the lull in conversation that followed. "Hopefully Raven and his forces will finish up their fight on the front lines, and we'll have more bodies available to drive out the pirate scum."

"Yeah," Seeks seconded, "we can definitely use more pilots. I can't wait for Vigilance Group to get back here and help us out. There's plenty of pirate killing to go around."

The three commanders nodded soberly at the thought. Despite their efforts in taming the Greeop Sector and surrounding territories, New Republic territory once considered safe and law-abiding, it seemed as though there was a long way to go yet.

Reminded of the long road ahead, Anton checked his wrist-chrono and groaned at the time. "Well, I'm off guys; reports to write, work to do; you know the drill."

The other two commanders groaned in reply. There was a long way to go before the home territories of the Republic Shield were to be put right, and they all had a lot of datapadding to do before the night was out.

-= New Morea City, Tarsonis, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:6:35:19:20 (13:20 local time) =-

Sheila Orionia hustled about her shop in New Morea City. Alderaanian transplants to the system, she and her husband owned a shop in the heart of the city and a couple of smaller kiosks within and around the various spaceports on the planet. It was the highlight of the businesswoman's existence tomorrow: the beginning of the annual week-long Festival of Stars.

At 13:20, the sky was alight with the beautiful sunsets she'd become accustomed to on her adoptive world. Tarsonisian days only lasted for eighteen standard hours, which was something that was less easily adapted to than the beauty of the sunsets. It couldn't compare to her much-mourned Alderaan, but she was happy to find beauty wherever she could. In four and a half hours it would be midnight, and the local New Morean clocks would synchronize with Galactic Standard — in other words, Coruscant time — as they did every three Standard Days (every four Tarsonisian days), and then would begin the week-long festivities.

A Galactic Standard Week was five days long, but as days on Tarsonis were only eighteen hours in duration. It effectively meant that the festival week covered a period of seven Tarsonisian days in a row — which gave local markets a major boost for the planetary economy that was unmatched for the rest of the year.

Though she herself could not afford to miss out on the business that travelers brought to the system this year, she always looked forward to the next year. Her husband had their child minding duties this year and would be traveling with their children to tour the Shards of Alderaan to remember the dead, and then off to nearby Delaya to visit the relatives and have a good time.

She had to stay behind and mind the shop this year, and rake in the credits that millions of people would spend for the festival in this part of the galaxy. The Festival of Stars was the third festival week to be held each year, and it was a celebration of space travel, and near compulsion to travel in luxury at that. She hoped the uncertainty in the galaxy caused by the ongoing Galactic Civil War would not wreak havoc on the business at her adoptive home.

The surface of the nearby planet Blerthmore had been devastated mere months ago — the fact that it was a poisonous, uninhabitable rock notwithstanding — and everyone on Tarsonis knew how hard the New Republic military were constantly fighting to stop not only the vast evil of the Empire, but also the myriad forms of lawlessness that had blossomed in the post-Blerthmore period.

Despite the troubles so close to her adoptive home, she was convinced that the New Republic troops would fight ardently for shore leave, especially now and with this festival week at hand. Her credit estimates were that she would make the equivalent of her entire last year's credit haul in a single week this year. She certainly hoped it would come true, as she needed the money to expand her business beyond its current modest size.

For all the many traders and businesspeople throughout the galaxy, not only on Tarsonis, the same belief was true — this was the time of year when galactic citizens traveled the galaxy in style, the war curbing enthusiasm for the holiday only slightly. It would also, unfortunately for people traveling to the Greeop Sector and surrounding territories in the Outer Rim, be a veritable gold mine for less savory types who tended to prey on travelers passing through their domains . . .

-= SoroSuub Personal Luxury Yacht 3000 Curzon, High orbit above Etrucia, Anshife system, Cadrel Expanse, 44:F3:3:22:25 =-

Moric Draque was a happy pirate.

His ship was in good order and undergoing repairs and refueling, his crew was decently paid and not liable to mutiny on him, and had a decent haul already.

Draque and his crew, part of the larger organization called the Barkacks, had picked off the early hawk-bats of the festival season from the trade routes into the Greeop Sector and Cadrel Expanse. The New Republic patrols were increasingly problematic, but the sheer volume of civilian traffic moving during the Festival of Stars was far too much for the military patrols to cover all at once. This gave pirates like Draque the opportunity they needed to capitalize on their chosen 'career'.

Though their fueling depots were in the various nebulae in and around the Greeop Sector — the loss of Blazer's Rest four weeks ago was still a major blow — they'd managed to hit targets as far out as the Oberon system in the Cadrel Expanse, a plump and rich region just begging to be preyed on.

Draque sat back in his ornate chair and thought about the stupid star tourists and their feeble attempts to beg his men not to rob them: "Oh, I'm too young to be robbed," "Take her fat purse, not my bulging suitcase," or, Moric's favorite line, "I'm too rich to be robbed."

He and the others had also abducted several gorgeous women of various humanoid species to be their "entertainment" during the oftentimes boring stretches between the dangerous excitement that summed up their more busy days in piracy. Draque and his crew had profited greatly from vast movements of people throughout the galaxy for the holiday period. It was a pure five days of easy credits that came around but once a year.

He rarely killed anyone anymore, a fact that bothered him only slightly. He didn't really mind, truth be told; it was one less thing on his conscience. He considered this fact as he sat forward to take in his ridiculously elaborate meal (fresh from the galley of a luxury liner that he and several other ships robbed two days ago), with the best Emerald Wine (from a yacht he and his crew held up about ten days ago) served by a scantily-clad cutie (a former reporter from a major news organization on Coruscant), who would also serve him a glass of Whyren's Reserve (from a Corellian trader who had been raided three weeks ago) and get high with him on glitterstim ("liberated" from a Hutt cartel about two months ago).

He could not afford to write himself off too much, though, as there were still prime pickings to be had — the festival week was only halfway through, and there were two more full days left yet. He would set out tomorrow to continue the festival week hunt; now, however, to enjoy his spoils . . .

-= Guard station outside Weapons Locker 1235D, MC80 Star Cruiser Ad Astra, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:F3:4:12:32 =-

Sergeant Chris Cser sat at his security station, bored as some of the wood planks that made up the hotel he stayed in on Kashyyyk in his previous Festival of Stars trip last year. He hadn't really traveled beyond the sectors his ship had been posted to since then, due to the maneuvers and craziness that had befallen Task Force Republic Shield's sphere of influence in the Outer Rim.

It was boring duty sitting at a station outside the small-arms locker, but someone had to do it. Sergeant Cser had volunteered for the duty for the first four days of the festival week, in order to receive authorization for even a single day of the much-coveted shore leave during the Festival of Stars. He just had to finish off this last shift, then he'd be free to partake in the travels that were in vogue this time of year.

He wouldn't go far, though; not that he really could in a one day time frame. He knew enough about Tarsonis that he wanted to go there for his leave. Catching a shuttle down to the planet below would remove any uncertainty regarding whether some idiot would try to wreck his vacation. He'd heard of scattered reports about piracy from some group called the Barkacks, among others, increasing in frequency lately.

Well, all the better that he just stick close to his station — some of the things survivors of the attacks had reported sent shivers down his spine. At least they weren't too aggressive into being slavers, though their taste for attractive women would probably dampen the amount of fun he could have on leave.

-= Lambda-class T-4a shuttle Jaded Hilt, in hyperspace on the Trition Trade Route, Greeop Sector, 44:F3:5:03:41 =-

Roma Jonson was headed on a long and much deserved holiday. The daughter and heir-apparent to her father's fortune was also a wealthy actress, a model of her own accord and design, and owner of her own clothing and fashion company. The gossip papers and other members of the media had labeled her a spoiled brat, but an extremely attractive one.

With all the stress that came from doing her job, though she rarely did anything except look beautiful, she had snapped one day and had done something that she regretted immensely. She was briefly incarcerated, but then released. Claiming she had completely amended her ways, which the media lampooned to no end, she decided that she needed to get out of the spotlight and go on a quiet vacation during the festival.

It was traditional to spend the five-day week traveling the galaxy, but she was a fashion law unto herself, so she would start her vacation at the end of festival, and travel in style when all the common folk of the galaxy had gone back to work.

Her first destination was the remote Greeop Nebula in the barbaric Outer Rim to admire the beauty and possibly use some of the color combinations in her new line of clothing. Then it was off to Tarsonis, headed for a luxury hotel and their penthouse suite. After that she'd probably return Coreward, and back to what she considered civilized space.

Upon reversion from hyperspace near the nebula, however, the shuttle was rocked with what looked like intense blue light. The pilot called out on the intercom, saying something about pirates!

As soon as the pilot finished the alert, strange sounds against the hull of the ship could be heard. Roma covered her dainty ears in shock and outrage. How dare someone damage her property?!

Within moments the hull was breached, and the first intruder established himself in the shuttle. Six in all boarded the shuttle; the pilot was pulled out of the cockpit and thrown on the floor in front of her.

That was before the pilot tried to resist and was blasted into smoking oblivion. Roma stood in silent shock as the pilot practically melted before her. One of the pirates, the leader from the looks of him, gave her a pat-down and spent a little too much time in some areas.

Thinking she could get herself out of this situation, she gave the only response she could figure: "I'm too rich and beautiful to be robbed."

She demanded the statement imperiously, with her nose raised in the air defiantly.

The pirates, as if in one voice, laughed. The leader flipped a switch on his blaster and replied, "Okay, hot stuff. You'll be a prize and a gem for me for the foreseeable future. Until you wear out your worth, then I'll probably ransom you away."

Roma wanted to say that she could pay them extremely large sums of credits if they would just let her go, but the leader promptly shot her with a blue energy beam, and sent her to a world of blackness and torturous dreams of what lay ahead.

-= Main Conference Room, Victory-class Star Destroyer Peril, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:F3:5:08:33 =-

"With the help of Admiral Hawkins, we have established dozens of key commercial choke points that we want to cover." Brigadier General Eric Reagan was delivering a briefing before the top brass of the Greeop Defense Force, and trying not to feel nervous. Around the conference table sat Fleet Admiral Dave Trebonious-Astoris, Vice Admiral Joshua Hawkins, and Admiral Rahj Tharen. Holographic projections of Commodore David Vaughan and Admiral Tyrell "Spokes" Borran were present at the center of the table.

"Starfighters from the PSG will be rotating coverage on each choke point and maintaining scans on each ship that moves through them to ensure that nothing is smuggled in or out of our space that could benefit the militants," Eric continued.

"Flight leaders will be authorized, per the Fleet Admiral's instructions, to disable or destroy questionable merchant craft which do not promptly follow the orders of customs officials. The details of these orders, as well as the schedule for the squadron rotations on inspection duty, have been transferred to your datapads. Thank you." Eric bobbed his head slightly in a gesture of respect and then sat back down at his own seat around the table.

Dave nodded appreciatively at the younger officer. "Thank you, General, for that briefing."

Turning his attention toward the group as a whole, Dave continued. "These system patrols will continue for the indefinite future and so it is important that we are aware of the details and schedule. The more immediate op, however, which you need to be aware of, is a new hunting mission. Josh?"

Vice Admiral Joshua Hawkins took up his datapad. "We were able to ferret out another pirate base, of a similar size to that of Old Scar's. The pirates are reasonably well armed, and from what we have determined, have a genuine escape plan in the case of attack. Our aggression is beginning to be noted by the undesirable community." Josh smiled a bit at the thought.

Dave nodded. "Commodore Vaughan will take the Prometheus directly into the midst of the compound in a surprise attack. His force will destroy everything that moves, but since it seems likely that somebody is going to be getting away, I will bring the Peril to the nearest hyperspace corridor on the edge of the system, and we will destroy any foes that get past Vaughan."

"Logistically," Vaughan's projection offered, "I appreciate the redundancy, but I’d like to think we won't let anybody through, Admiral."

Dave rubbed his hands together. "I hope you let a great many through, Commodore. I am just itching to use the Peril's big guns."

-= Main Bridge, Victory-class Star Destroyer Peril, in hyperspace to the outskirts of the Tathron system, Greeop Sector, 44:F3:5:21:19 =-

Dave paced up and down the command walkway of his bridge, as he often did before combat. The command walkway was one of the design aspects of the Victory that Rendili StarDrive had definitely got right, Dave decided. Having a patch of real estate solely devoted to his own pacing made that habit much easier.

Dave looked up to the viewport just in time to see the blazing swirl of blue and white light that denoted hyperspace travel disappear. Stars exploded into view, all the brighter because of the deep black of surrounding space. From this far out, the dim star in the center of the Tathron system was barely noticeable. The Peril had arrived.

Commander Cyril Octavius, Dave's executive officer aboard the Peril, piped up. "Admiral, we have arrived at the interdiction point you specified."

Dave nodded. "Good. All ships fleeing the stricken pirate base will have to come through here to make a course correction before they can continue their flight."

"Yes sir," Cyril replied. "Shall I contact Commodore Vaughan aboard the Prometheus and instruct him to begin his attack?"

Dave shook his head. "The Commodore and I worked out this schedule to the minute so that we would not have to break communications silence. We will not give away our position for any reason. The Prometheus will begin its attack in approximately ten minutes. I have every reason to believe we are still on schedule."

Dave turned toward Lieutenant Rebekah Gosling. "Lieutenant, please have the fighters launch in pairs and begin their patrol patterns. They know what to do."

"Fighters launching now, Admiral," she replied.

Dave raised his voice a little to ensure that the entire bridge crew would hear him. "Alright, people, to battle stations, please. Upgrade the code to Conflict-Red. I want everybody to be operating at one hundred and ten percent for this operation. None of the enemy must be allowed through our interdiction, or it will come back to haunt us another day."

Dave walked over to Gosling and lowered his voice. "Open a channel to the pilots for me, please."

She nodded at him.

"Pilots of the Patriot Starfighter Group, of the Greeop Defense force, of . . ." Dave smiled to himself. "Of the 'Rebel Squadrons'. Very soon your compatriots will be fighting tooth and nail to destroy our enemies. Very soon you will also be faced with that task. Remember that what you are doing today is helping to ensure that you, your family and your friends will be safe tomorrow. Fly fast and shoot straight. Astoris out."

Dave smiled again as he looked out the viewport. He knew that they were all ready for whatever was to come.


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