Rebel Squadrons

(44:7:28) Unification

By BGN Gavin Starseeker
Unit: The Rebel Squadrons
Narrative, Aug 30, 2008
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[A massive thank you to Kirghy, Seeks, Heavy and Sarriah for writing this narrative. I apologise the lateness, but if you need to blame someone for the delay, don't blame them. :) --- Cdre. Vaughan]

-= High orbit of Tarsonis, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:22:20:40 =-

In flashes of light, the warships of the Subterrel Strike Force returned to the Greeop Sector, victorious over the Rogue and Loyalist Imperial factions abroad. For four long months the men and women of Admiral Raven's task group had fought, bled and died to deny Imperial consolidation of power in the Subterrel Sector.

Much like soldiers of any era, the warships of the Subterrel Strike Force bore the scars of war; scorched hull plates, twisted metal, nonfunctional and damaged systems. The crews and commanders of the warships also bore such scars, both physical and mental.

Even in this age of modern space warfare, where entire worlds could be razed from the eerie silence of a warship's bridge, the war was personal for everyone involved in the campaign on the front lines who had seen or known friends injured or killed, or bore witness or heard rumours of atrocities committed by all sides in the conflict.

Even though Admiral Raven's forces had spent seventeen days scanning the Subterrel Sector for any trace of the fleeing Imperials before beginning the return journey home, it would be many months or years before the scars of those involved in the conflict faded. And in many cases, they never would.

But for now, the soldiers, pilots and crews could celebrate in peace on the tropical world of Tarsonis. Fireworks would soon light up the skies of the planet, as the loyal New Republic citizenry rejoiced in the victory and the return of those who valiantly defended their way of life.

To some, the bursts of light and sound would be uncomfortable reminders of the past four months, tarnishing the enjoyment that should rightfully be theirs, such as their joining of the revelry and their own feelings of victory. Some revelled in the celebrations, and others simply took the opportunity to rest and reunite with friends and loved ones. No matter what, every person in the Subterrel Strike Force returned to civilised space would be celebrating in some way.

But for those common soldiers and the commanders, there would be no lasting rest or peace for long, as throughout the Greeop Sector and surrounding territories of Task Froce Republic Shield, many hostile groups of militants had cropped up, from rogues to pirates and brigands: those who wished for wider political or social change, those in the pay of others, or simply the opportunistic and the greedy.

Especially the types of beings who had no qualms with attacking innocents in their pursuits. And only once these groups were quelled, driven out or destroyed could the New Republic forces stationed in the Greeop Sector have some chance at rest . . . and even then, the hostile Imperial forced based in the Aurora Sector still had to be dealt with eventually.

Even though the Imperial tide had been fought back for the moment, it would merely be a matter of time before Task Force Republic Shield had to deal with the remnants of the Empire in a more permanent way. With news of an Imperial Grand Admiral driving the main galactic Imperial starfleet into a major campaign, the Galactic Civil War did not appear to be ending any time soon.

Some doubted that it ever would.

-= Planetary Governor's Mansion, New Morea City, Tarsonis, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:24:14:47 (0247 local time) =-

A very disheveled President of the Combined Colonies of Tarsonis, Voss Aluin, paced in the private study of her personal quarters. Normally the stately Alderaanian woman's appearance was immaculate. Now, however, her robe was closed with a sash that was threatening to come untied for about the hundredth time since two offending flimsis had arrived for her earlier in the evening. It was now early the following morning and she had been awake all night. It was still dark outside, a tea cup sat with tea that had long ago gone cold sat on the edge of her desk.

Currently a piece of flimsiplast resided in each hand, her head ping-ponging between the two, punctuated by either a grunt of dissatisfaction or a groan of fear. Such openness of raw emotion was a rarity for the politician, who had to maintain the proper façade of equanimity in public life. Only behind closed doors could she really be herself and express her fears and concerns without fear of consequences.

The groans signified a growing sense of dread about the threat posed by this Grand Admiral Thrawn and the distressing reports she had been receiving. Running manicured fingers through her hair, she further managed to destroy any semblance of the calm and dignity she was usually required to display at all times.

Her pacing paused as she reached a wall, her slippered foot tapping impatiently several times as she shifted her gaze to the other sheet of flimsi. A grunt of displeasure followed, as she nearly balled the flimsi up and threw it across the room. This one contained the news that Admiral Astoris had transferred his command from the Greeop Sector to the Sluis Sector. His replacement was an Admiral Kaz Falcion. She had seen the man at a few functions, and from what she had seen he did not seem approachable in the least.

Speaking to the air, she started her tirade, "Admiral Astoris . . . Dave . . . Ill never forgive you for leaving me in the lurch at a time like this!" Her small fist shook threateningly in the air. The impotence of the gesture made her feel foolish, and she resented the political position she found herself in.

Suddenly she slammed her fist on the desk, aiming for the comm unit. She was totally unmindful that it was the middle of the night. If she wasn't sleeping, then her aide need not be either. They might as well get some work done.

-= Primary Conference Room, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Redemption, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:24:16:52 =-

The five officers sat in classic round table style in the Star Destroyer Redemption's unnecessarily cavernous meeting room. General Eric Reagan, Patriot Starfighter Group Commanding Officer, along with his Executive Officer, Anton Nels, sat at one side of the circular table, with Kaz Falcion, the newly appointed Fleet Commander and his XO, Joshua Hawkins opposite.

Completing the circle was Admiral Michael Raven, acting as representative of the Prometheus, the other Star Destroyer under Republic Shield control. With the arrival of the Subterrel Strike Force triumphant, the reintegration of the battle-weary forces into the greater task force was expected to take days of preparation and organisation.

"So it's agreed; we'll be keeping up our current modus operandi against these rogue militias and pirate groups. Apart from the debacle that was our last operation, the Greeop Defence Force has been enjoying some success against the hostiles. With the Subterrel Strike Force and us combined, we should be able to put an end to this scum in double-time," General Reagan summed up.

He still felt slightly disappointed at the news that the SSF was being put on light duties after the Subterrel campaign, though he had to admit it was hardly a surprise, after all they had apparently been through.

Admiral Kaz Falcion was adamant. "Much as I'd like to, the Ess Ess Eff needs time to rebuild and repair after the ass-kicking we gave the Imps over there. That's why we've got them on light duties, so they don't develop any rust from excessive shore-leave. Besides, considering the state that a lot of those ships are in, they won't be much good to us at the moment. One of the sad realities of the moment."

"Understood," Reagan nodded, "As long as these militants don't bring any bombs onboard our ImpStars, we're not in any real danger. The extra backup would have been good, though."

"As you say, but what of Commodore Vaughan?" General Nels interjected. "He's a knowledgeable guy and all, but let's face it, command isn't his forte."

"Vaughan has been transferred away from that position," Kaz stated flatly. "And he's not complaining about it. In fact, he specifically requested it himself almost as soon as I took office. Admiral Raven here will be your new commander, freshly scarred by the Subterrel Sector."

"Congratulations, Admiral," Reagan said as he saluted, a little more stiff than he hoped. "No peace for the wicked, eh?"

Raven grinned, almost evilly. "Not for our enemies, that's for sure. The Prometheus and I will be attacking another militant base in our next operation, which will be executed shortly. I should be able to demonstrate to them the errors of their ways."

Reagan nodded in acknowledgement. "I look forward to it. I won't be truly happy until the Greeop Sector is safe once again. All this pointless unrest is distracting us from the real war that needs to be fought."

Kaz nodded in agreement. "The Imperial forces have been pushed back to the Aurora Sector for the moment, and once we stabilise the region we'll go hunt them down. But for now we know our objectives. That just about covers everything. One last thing: how did your pilots respond to the disbanding of the remnants of Retribution Wing?"

"Nothing much beyond nostalgia, sir, nothing to be too concerned about. Most of our pilots like flying shielded ships rather than unshielded Imperial boxes. A few pilots want to keep some TIEs for joyriding and for covert missions, but to be honest, I'm all in favour of using them for target practice," Anton cut in, before Reagan slid a datapad over to Kaz across the table.

"This datapad has the schedule for transferring all our remaining TIEs and equipment into Admiral Hawkins's local Intel department. The maintenance crews will be reassigned shortly. It's just not worth it to keep these Imperial fighters active in normal duties, given the lack of pilot interest in the craft, and the losses we keep taking with every op. The last mission, if it could be called that, was pretty much the last straw."

"Very well, General. I doubt the rest of High Command will be too saddened to see them go, given the losses your division has taken with them. They'll probably come in handy for undercover ops, though," he quickly scanned the datapad before pocketing it in a single smooth motion. "Anything else, gents, before Raven gets to work on these militants?"

Raven couldn't help but grin again as the meeting was adjourned. No peace for the wicked, indeed.

-= Office of the Admiral, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Prometheus, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:25:10:14 =-

Admiral Raven settled easily into the chair at his desk as he glanced around the room. Before relocating from the Redemption, he had told himself that it wouldn't be any different to that ship. After all, this was Imperial engineering. Right down to the last nut and plasma conduit, the Prometheus was built exactly the same as any other Imperial-class Star Destroyer with cold, brutal and exacting efficiency.

Raven guessed that the years in New Republic hands, with the different underlying philosophies had altered the warship in subtle ways beyond apparent notice. He reached down to adjust the chair for the third time. He had sworn it was fine only hours ago.

Grumbling about malfunctioning cleaning droids, he readjusted the chair as the door chime sounded. "Enter," he grunted while adjusting the chair. He just managed to put it right as the door slid open to reveal Captain Vedik, the man responsible for keeping Raven's new vessel running smoothly. The aging man stepped through the doorway before giving a crisp military salute.

"At ease, Captain, before you strain something. Is there anything I can do for you?" Raven said, a little too formally as he straightened and returned Vedik's salute.

"Nothing at all, Admiral, just wanted to welcome you on board personally. There wasn't really much of an opportunity beyond exchanging salutes when you first arrived. I just want to state my belief that with you in command, I don't think these militants, or whatever they call themselves these days, stand much of a chance," Vedik said easily, before taking a seat opposite the Admiral at his desk.

"Why is that? You mean they had a chance before I came along?" Raven enquired in a measured tone.

"Well, I mean no offence to Commodore Vaughan in any way. He's young and intelligent, as bright as you would expect someone of his rank. It's just that he's not really a leader of men as such. The last operation, with the Peril and Admiral Trebonius-Astoris, was a disaster. Those militants should never have escaped as they did. To be perfectly frank, sir, I don't think Vaughan ever really wanted any sort of command," Vedik finished. It was a calculated risk, politely explaining the flaws of a new commander's predecessor.

"Thank for your honesty, Captain, it can be a rare commodity when in command. But you haven't really answered my question; why do you think I'm the one to end this little war?"

Vedik looked thoughtful for a few moments. "Well, sir, it's because you are a leader. You've earned your stripes fighting and doing what it takes. Not just to survive but to be victorious. Someone who knows what war is all about, not just the talking and arguing that goes on beforehand to try to make it less painful. A warrior, in short. Your victory in the Subterrel being the most obvious example."

"That's my job, Captain, making sure that we win. Your vote of confidence is well received, albeit unnecessary," he reached over the desk and shook Vedik's hand before they stood up. "Of course, there must be some planning and arguing before we can go on to defeat these militants. Round up the squadron commanders and get them to meet me in the briefing room. It's time to pay a visit to another militant base," he gave a grin which Vedik found oddly refreshing yet chilling, in equal measures. He filed that fact away as they both moved from the Admiral's office.

It felt good to have a proper commander in charge once again.

-= Primary Conference Room, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Redemption, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:26:16:56 =-

"So, just to sum up your report, General," Admiral Falcion clarified as he looked at the three men on the other side of his desk. "Vigilance Group isn't in much of a condition to participate in major operations even after the leave they've had since the return of the Subterrel Strike Force."

Brigadier General Kirghy Lommax, the Vigilance Starfighter Group's Commanding Officer, and his XO, Colonel Galic Mars, nodded at Kaz's to-the-point analysis before replying, "That's correct, sir. After four months of constant battle readiness, most of my pilots' edge is gone. If they don't get at least a little time to unwind, they're just going to be a danger to themselves and others and make stupid mistakes that may get them or their wingmen killed or, hell, maybe even compromise operations."

Kaz pondered Kirghy's words for few moments. Why he had agreed to this job was anyone's guess, but he had already grown sick of all of the trappings that went along with this level of command. It was so much easier captaining the Redemption and let Dave, Raven, or anyone else for that matter, take care of the red-tape. But this was where Vice Admiral Joshua Hawkins, task force XO and chief of the unofficial Republic Shield Intelligence department came into play.

"Well, we can't take them off of active duty," said Josh as he looked at the Vigilance commander. "Maybe something low-risk, like training missions or some standard patrols of the capital to keep them in shape and restore their edge? I think Patriot can probably hold out without reinforcements for that long."

"Not to mention that having a few more fighters in orbit while some of our heavies are under repair might better deter militants from attempting to attack them while they're still in dock," Kaz observed thoughtfully and allowed his sliver eyes to focus on Kirghy and Galic. "Will it work?"

"I don't see why it wouldn't," said Galic, looking to Kirghy. "Just knowing that there's not an enemy ImpStar waiting at the end of a hyperlane should be enough to defray nerves on its own."

Kirghy nodded in agreement with his XO. "Agreed. Perhaps one of the Golans in orbit could use a little extra support. And if trouble does come, at least we're in a heavily fortified position where reinforcements are fresh and readily accessible. Which should be a welcome change."

"Ok then, that settles it. Josh, contact the Tarsonis defensive grid and get it set up. In the meantime, dismissed." Rising, the two VSG officers offered a salute, which Kaz almost didn't return in his haste to get to another report. The officers turned on their heels and exited Kaz's office, leaving their Fleet Commander to once again wonder why he had accepted the position.

-= Office of the Fleet Commander, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Redemption, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:26:18:55 =-

"Tell me again, Josh, why did I let you persuade me to see her? I still don't see the purpose of this other than her trying to drink tea with me."

Admiral Joshua Hawkins sighed, and once again tried to reason with his commanding officer. "Because we need to keep good relations with them. Without the support of the Tarsonis planetary government, we have no base. Without their trust, how long do you think they'll keep supporting us unquestioningly? Remember that most of their population are Alderaanians and Mon Calamari — not exactly the most warlike of species. We need to convince them that we're here for their benefit, and not warmongers."

"And keeping those kriffing pirates out of their skies isn't enough?" Kaz bit back in annoyance at having to deal with civilians. And what was worse: politicians at that.

"Apparently not," Josh opened his hands. "They need to see that we're people. People who aren't Imperials. People who aren't fighting simply just to fight."

Kaz shook his head. "Well then she's looking to talk to the wrong person, if that's the case. Give me a brandy, give me a blaster, and I'll be happy for a day."

"I know," Josh frowned in frustration at having to play mediator. "Which means that you need to not be you for a short time, if you can handle that."

"Pssht," Kaz waved dismissively. "She's gonna get who she's looking for. I'm not gonna parade around like some pansy just so that a double-talking politician likes me."

This is not going to be good, Josh thought to himself quietly. I can see this as being both the first and last time that she meets with Kaz . . . actually, not meeting with Kaz again would probably be the best thing for government–military relations.

The comm on Kaz's desk buzzed. He slapped his hand down on the open channel button and barked. "What?"

"The President is here to see you, sir. Shall I have her escorted up?"

"Sure, but do me a favor and take the long way," and with that Kaz opened up a drawer, pulled out a bottle and poured himself a generous portion of Corellian Brandy. Waving the bottle at Josh, he asked. "Want some?"

Josh frowned, a habit that was increasingly becoming a standard response to the new Fleet Commander's shenanigans. "No, and neither should you."

Kaz shrugged, "More for me then."

A buzz at the closed door indicated the arrival of the visitors from Tarsonis, the Governor and her aide without whom she was rarely seen.

Kaz returned the freshly emptied glass into his desk along with the bottle, then pressed the door comm button. "Yes?"

"President of the Combined Colonies of Tarsonis, Voss Aluin, and her aide, for Admiral Kaz Falcion."

Kaz sighed in resignation. He was not looking forward to this. He keyed the comm again, "Of course, come on in."

The door to the Fleet Commander's office slid open swiftly to admit the pair of civilians.

The president swept into the room, her male Human aide in tow. The stately woman was immaculate in her official politician's garb, not a single strand of her hair appeared to be out of place, and her make-up pristine.

Walking gracefully to the new Fleet Commander, she extended a small hand towards him. "Admiral Falcion, I'm Governor Aluin."

Kaz eyed the proffered hand for a brief moment, looking up with no intent of taking it. "Yes, believe it or not I know who you are. All the holos and your chattering band of lackeys make it a bit hard not to."

He sat back in his seat and stared up at her, looking for the inevitable signs of annoyance. "I'm a fairly straighforward man, Governor. I don't go much for all of that tea sipping diplomatic nonsense Dave was such a fan of. I've got a long day ahead of me, so what exactly is it that you wanted?"

President Aluin withdrew her hand, somehow managing to look as though she hadn't been snubbed, and therefore avoiding any acknowledgement that protocol had been broken.

"I think you know what I want, Admiral. I need assurances that your forces will continue to protect my citizens," not offered a seat, she remained standing in front of the Admiral's desk, as if it was her chosen position. "And I want a personal update on this situation with Grand Admiral Thrawn."

Kaz's silver eyes regarded the woman warily. "There are no guarantees in this business Govenor, as you should well know. That said, my primary job and the job of my people is ensuring the safety of you and your . . . citizens," he seemed to stumble over the word for some reason. "Tarsonis is a critical location for our long term goals in this region, and as such you can expect to continue to receive the most adequate level of protection we can provide."

The president narrowed her eyes slightly. She was not liking this Admiral in the least. She hadn't even been afforded the common courtesy of a seat. She kept a small smile on her face, though, ever the ambassador. Her eyes were the only external indicators of her irritation.

Kaz, apparently not noticing her displeasure, continued. "As for this Thrawn character, I'm sure you are aware that Admiral Astoris has moved off to help with the more front lines of our happy little war with the Grand Admiral's forces. With respect to us, this situation for the most part will merely put a damper on any resources we would be receiving from the Core, since most of it will be diverted to dealing with the new threat. Other than that it's business as usual for the RS as far as I'm concerned."

He then apparently noticed the planetary ruler had not yet taken a seat. "And unless you were told otherwise on the way in, these chairs are not just for decoration."

Aluin gracefully seated herself, waving a hand for her aide to take the other free seat, nodding at the two Admirals. "I would like some assurances that my world's continued support for your forces are worth the political resistance I am facing in parliament. As you are no doubt aware, my citizens are a peace-loving people. And if I can maintain regular contact with you, it might allay the concerns some on my world have of the military disregarding their existence."

Kaz eyed the leader with an inscrutable expression. "I'm a busy man, Madame President, with a lot of work to do, so I'm not going to promise you high tea and fireside chats like you had with my predecessor. But rest assured if you leave a message with my office I will try to fit future meetings in with my schedule. But to put your mind at ease," he kept speaking without pause to forestall the correct observation that he was essentially palming off future audiences with her, "we need your world as a base, and if this sector is rife with anarchy and disruptions, we can't operate here. We want to continue operating here, so you can bet your pretty little ass we'll keep defending it and putting down these hostile elements to the best of our abilities.

The politician felt off-kilter, slightly, at the Admiral's on and off vulgarisms. "And what about the Empire? Of this Grand Admiral Thrawn?" she managed to put forward to cover her momentary awkwardness.

"I and my staff have plans in place to continue to wage our war against the Aurora forces, but you have my personal assurance that if this Grand Admiral Thrawn is stupid enough to strike at us here, he's in for one hell of a fight. The fact that the frequency of fighter patrols above your world have grown, and the increased number of our captial ships in orbit should serve to let you and your colleagues rest their pretty little minds at ease."

President Aluin could tell the Admiral was rapidly tiring of this conversation, and while she didn't have the answers she was particularly looking for, she was experienced enough to know she wasn't going to get them in this sitting.

"Very well, Admiral, then we have nothing further to discuss for the moment. I will take my leave now. Thank you once more for allowing this audience," she diplomatically intoned, before standing.

The Admiral remained seated and merely grunted something in way of reply. She turned and left with a practised ease, her aide in tow. This did not bode well for future relations. Not at all. If she had arrived with intentions of having her mind set at ease, the very opposite had been achieved.

Kaz visibly sagged after the planetary leader had left his office, and the door sealed shut. "I think if I have to do that again, Zealot will find themselves on an assassination mission," he commented before turning to his datapad. Commanding a starship was so much simpler, compared to all this ridiculous posturing and politics.

Josh could only squirm as he replayed the events that just occurred. The President seemed very nice, he thought to himself. But it was obvious she had no idea who she was trying to deal with.

"That might have gone better if you'd picked a more accessible time for the meeting. It's just after midnight down there, you know."

"Yeah, but you have to admit it was funny," Kaz grinned slightly, before seemingly sobering up with a frown. "Besides, I wanted her to be just as uncomfortable as I knew I was going to be. Maybe that will dissuade her from any more of these . . . meetings."

Josh just sighed inwardly at Kaz, deciding not to remind him that they needed the Tarsonisians happy and co-operative for the Command Fortress and Academy that were still undergoing construction planet-side.

As Fleet Commander he already knew it.

Josh sagged inwards. He just hoped President Aluin knew better than to try to speak with Kaz again anytime soon.

He really did hate being the diplomatic one.

-= Deck 14, Sector A, Golan III Space Defence Station Stalwart, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:27:09:04 =-

Commander Richo sighed as he passed a large viewport aboard the Stalwart, one of the defence stations orbiting Tarsonis. Patrol and cargo-scanning weren't the most stimulating tasks that Richo could think of doing when flying an X-wing, especially not after the battles recently fought in the Subterrel Sector.

Still, it was better than getting rusty planet-side, even though he knew plenty of the pilots would still rather be doing that. He stopped for a moment to look out the viewport. The Eagle's Nest shipyards could be seen protected by the formation of Golan III's in orbit, with various warships docked, undergoing repairs. Most of the warships of the Subterrel Strike Force had been hit pretty hard in the fighting.

He knew the Victory Star Destroyer Resurrection II had seen better days, as he saw the multitudes of repair drones and workmen swarming around it, as the shipyard personnel worked overtime restoring the vessel to full operational status. Only the most rudimentary repairs had been enacted in the wake of the Battle of the Ragyss Nebula, as there were no surviving shipyards in the Subterrel Sector to get it patched up completely.

He left the viewport and continued down the corridor, reaching the briefing room in seconds. Already, his fellow pilots were assembled for the briefing. He quickly took a seat, though not quick enough to avoid Commander Niles Yari's severe look. He settled for avoiding direct eye contact instead. The station-bound pilots were not present; they were all either flying patrols, debriefing after landing, or resting in preparation for their next patrols.

"Now that you're all here at last," the dark-haired station commander said, with no small emphasis on 'at last', "we can begin. It's not the most glamourous of jobs, but still, it'll keep you sharp, especially if something unexpected happens."

There were a few muffled groans and rolling eyes as Yari finished, to which the station commander was unmoved. Richo mentally guessed at how many times he had given this briefing before. He thought it impressive how the man was completely expressionless, and noted the commander wore some form of eye glasses.

"Today we have several convoys coming in from other parts of the sector and also outbound convoys from the planet. You will be undertaking these operations for the foreseeable future, until General Lommax orders otherwise. At any rate, for specific details of today's patrol operations, Commander Parsi will take over," Yari concluded, with no hint that he had heard their grumbling. The man had some kind of accent Richo couldn't identify.

A blonde man, obviously Commander Trax Parsi, stepped forward to the podium. "Thank you, Commander. As the commander said, your job will be to identify all inbound and outbound civilian ships during the shift. According to communication logs, we have several groups of bulk freighters incoming, modular conveyors and medium transports. There are also some passenger liners incoming, bringing tourists. It is your task to identify every ship for illegal or dangerous cargoes," Parsi briefed smoothly with an obvious Corellian accent.

"You will assist our normal patrol groups scanning ships inbound to Tarsonis. Support will be available for disabling suspect ships from our own squadrons as well as general patrol duties. I trust that you have reviewed standard procedures when identifying cargo; I won't bore you with a refresher of specifics, but make sure you brush up on your patrol operational codes. 'Customs Red' as dangerous or illegal cargo and so on. It's as simple as that," Parsi seemed to have more life and enthusiasm to him than the dull station commander who preceded him.

"We've just come back from fighting the Empire; I say let the militant scum liven things up," a cocky voice from the assembled pilots echoed through the room. There were some scattered chuckles from the pilots, as Yari and Parsi stood above it all.

"Perhaps," the dull Commander Yari responded darkly, "but it would be suicide for anything short of an invasion fleet to attempt anything here, with our Golans in orbit and the patrolling warships and fighters. Even so, stay sharp; otherwise your wish may just come true, pilot."

Richo didn't believe in omens as such, but even as the pilots headed out to get suited up, he couldn't completely shake the bad feeling he got as he followed his comrades out the door. Still, it was good to be flying once again. And not in a war zone, which would be a nice change.

-= Mess hall, GR-45 medium transport Zapata IV, edge of the Galistra system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:27:21:57 =-

Crewman Del sighed heavily as he gazed out of the viewport aboard the medium transport Zapata IV at the inky blackness of star-speckled space as it trawled by with the speed of moss growing on the seaside. This would be his eighth trip on this particular ship.

He was experienced and the job paid well enough, but that didn't make it any more interesting; the hours' long briefings on the flight plan, departure and arrival times, ship's regulations, emergency drills . . . those recruitment posters had a lot to answer for, Del thought as he turned away from the viewport and started back to his bunk in the midship.

Visit new places, decent pay, but of course it involved having to get to those places, while ensuring that whatever you were hauling made it in one piece for whatever purpose the buyers had in mind. Del was well-known for his cynicism, in equal measure to his long years of experience in crewing freighters, bulk carriers and other industrials.

Despite his boredom, Del was not stupid, having been through his share of pirate raids and just plain opportunism by unscrupulous crew members trying to steal from the cargo or smuggle illegal stuff. He knew what to do in a crisis and was often a rallying point to the less experienced crewers he met on the long journeys throughout the void.

Such was the case here, when young crewman Wellsy came bounding up, excitable as always. He was the perfect embodiment of the 'space adventurer'; always looking to the skies without thinking about the immediate environment first. Behind him was a fellow veteran, Larens, who was about old and world-weary as Del felt at the moment, though with a touch of humour. A kindred spirit, in a way, Del thought.

"Hey Del, you think we'll see action on this trip? A battle perhaps, with pirates?" Wellsy said, as though it was something to look forward to. Larens rolled his eyes, where Wellsy couldn't see him. "I highly doubt that, Wellsy, even as we pass by these debris fields. Perfect place for an ambush, but with Republic Shield ships escorting us, pirates would be suicidal to try to attack us," Del said calmly.

"I'm half expecting it, myself, Del," Larens intoned gravely as he moved around Wellsy. "That frigate we're cruising with would have to be insane to attack anybody lurking in that debris. It would be shredded to tiny bits before a single ship got fried by its turbolasers. Same goes for any similar sized ships that pirates would try to attack with. No, any attack would be made with fighters and small patrol craft, in my view. Take out those X-wings and you're laughing," Larens said, a little too cheerfully than Del thought was necessary.

"Not only that, my young friend," Del decided to join Larens in toying with the youngster, "if pirates were to board us, we'd probably be sold off as slaves or killed as they made for our cargo. Best case scenario, you understand, given what depraved thoughts that run through some being's minds, at one stage or another. A healthy lad like yourself ought to fetch a good price at a local crime boss's hideout," he finished with an almost evil grin.

The normally irrepressible Wellsy had been shocked into silence as the two older crew members chuckled good-naturedly. He knew he shouldn't rattle the younger, greener recruits, but his years of experience told him that he was entitled too. They would learn, sooner or later. After all, it was still a good hour or so before the convoy cleared the debris fields before they could jump back into hyperspace. Relieves the boredom, Del thought.

Larens opened his mouth, perhaps to suggest yet more unpleasantries about being a freighter crewer, but he was interrupted by the ship's intercom system.

"Attention all crew! Our combat status is updated to Conflict-Red. Repeat, combat status updated to Conflict-Red. Brace yourselves and prepare for possible boarding parties. We have incoming hostiles! Repeat, all crew, this is not a drill! Brace yourselves and be ready to defend yourselves!" the tinny voice of the captain permeated the vessel as the ship accelerated.

Del checked his small sidearm, to reassure himself, as he made for his station, ordering Larens and Wellsy to do the same. On the way down the corridor, he glanced out the viewport. There were indeed pirate fighters and some larger IPV patrol craft, firing on their escorts as they accelerated to engage. He caught a glimpse of an Interceptor IV frigate just behind the enemy attackers. Brave of them, if a little foolish, Del thought as he double-timed away from the viewport.

'Predictable' sprang to mind too, but he wasn't cynical enough to wish the fate they had joked about to Wellsy. A nearby explosion rocked the ship as the combat began.

-= Office of the Fleet Commander, Imperial-class Star Destroyer Redemption, Tarsonis orbit, Greeop system, Greeop Sector, 44:7:28:00:42 =-

It was something Kaz had fast grown tired of ever since he'd been elected Fleet Commander by the task force High Command: endless meetings about assignments, strategy, tactics, command . . . his thoughts drifted from Josh's briefing on the Greeop situation back to his days commanding this ship, when it was a true warship, rather than a glorified movable office. A massive, destructive movable office, but it just wasn't the same. Commanding a ship seemed so much simpler.

". . . essentially, these militant and pirate groups that have been harassing us and the civilian populations in the sector are pretty persistent. They're willing to fight to the death and take on anything, as the attack on the medical frigate Vespia amply demonstrated. The kind of the enemy that you hate to fight; the type that don't back off," Josh was saying as Kaz reminisced.

Kaz snapped out of his reverie. "The type that still die when you shoot them and blow up their outposts. I'm not too worried about this pirate scum; our numbers and superior firepower will take them out soon enough. It'd happen even quicker if our warships could be repaired faster."

Josh turned in his chair to look out the viewport window. The Eagle's Nest shipyards could be seen with a prominent warship of the Subterrel Strike Force undergoing repairs. Even from this distance, the brightness of sparks could be seen occasionally. "Latest reports say that the Resurrection II should be by done the Thirty-Second of this month. They don't want to rush things to get the ship at one hundred percent repairs."

Kaz sighed as Josh turned to face him again. "We can still manage without it, but I'd be happier if the ship were ready sooner. What about the Caelum situation?"

Josh hit a few buttons on his datapad to retrieve the relevant information. "Not much change there. The planet is still sorting out its governmental problems internally, while the planetary defence force is pretty much cracking down on nonessential shipping from reaching the planet. Lots of checkpoints and inspections, probably more than ours, they're that paranoid. They're not really much of a threat to us, militarily, but ideologically they're actively demonstrating the dangerous precedent that it's okay to reject the New Republic with life carrying on as normal."

Kaz considered his words briefly before speaking. "They will be dealt with in time; at least they're not trying to mix it up with us directly. They can rot in their corner of the Cadrel Expanse until then. The militants are the biggest priority."

"Agreed, sir. They're not a big threat in the region compared to the other groups," Josh said as he worked the datapad.

"All right, that's settled then. Call Admiral Qel-Droma in; Zealot's got some work to do," Kaz said, with a slight hint of a smile.

Josh raised his comlink as Kaz considered. He had spoken with Raven after ascending to office, and they had a special mission planned for the black ops unit, which he intended to execute personally.

A very black op indeed.

He grinned evilly to himself. Zealot Unit was going to have plenty of work to do.


BGN Eric Reagan - Sat Aug 30 2008, 11:11am
I just want to say that this was written and put together very well. Thanks to Vaughan for editing this. But especially to those that wrote their respective parts :). Excellent job guys!
FA Danny "David Lee Japan" Qatar - Mon Sep 01 2008, 2:45am
Good stuff as always....nice to see me mentioned too :-P
ADM Kirghy Lommax - Fri Sep 05 2008, 12:03am
We aim to please. ;)
MGN jcmcgoo - Sun Sep 21 2008, 8:10pm
Very Nice guys