Rebel Squadrons

PSG Ta112: An Old Flame

By GEN Damon Lightwind
Unit: The Rebel Squadrons
Narrative, May 07, 2011
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Begin Log: B2M4 - Curiosities

Tacomah “P2” Pawling Purdys Somers: Flight 6.1.

After reboarding the Aragorn, Tacomah had watched Dave take the mine field, mine by mine. He couldn’t imagine why the mines didn’t even seem to notice the heavy starfighter. The way they were just firing all in the same direction, and all at the same time. That’s jes weird. What in Ka’y’Ral’s name izzup with that! Why would they have a messed up mine field like that? All ya gotta do is stay low an’ it woun’t touch ya.
As Dave swerved in for the next row of mines, Tacomah jumped for his comlink.
“Katie! I gotta talk to Control! Quick!”
“What’s up, P2?” Castor answered back over the link.
“Sir!” Tacomah was practically breathless trying to get his words out clearly. “You gotta tell Dave to keep low in that field! He’s gotta stay on the same plane as those mines!”
Castor, on his end of the link, pointed at the Tactical Team Control Op. Jila Cosa, who had overheard the exchange. She ran her hand through her hair to get her bangs out of her eyes, while immediately relaying the order. “Okay, Tacomah, that’s done,” Castor said quietly. “What have you got?”
“It ain’t mines, Sir! They gotta be hidin’ somethin’!”
Castor answered. “Talk to me.”
“Well, Sir, it’s jes weird. It’s like they don’t want nobody in that section. If we believe in the mines, then we won’t go near it, ‘cause that’s a way honkin’ field. But Dave’s in the middle of it, an’ they’re like they don’t even know he’s there.” Tacomah took a breath. “So those mines gotta be not real. I think they gotta be projectors, or somethin’, an’ there’s somethin’ there that Dave can’t see. If he stays level with the mines he prolly won’t hit nothin’. But anythin’ on either top or bottom might be hiding somethin’ real heavy.”
“Agreed.” Castor said quietly into the com. “Continuing that thought, it’s not likely a warship, because they would have come out by now. So, it has to be something that can’t necessarily defend itself, unless is a passive defense. Like cloaked asteroids.” Castor spoke to the tactical team as much as he did the boy. “A base?”
“A supply dump?” Tacomah suggested.
“Or a weapons cache,” Castor countered, “if we’re extremely lucky.”
They all watched as the mines fell one by one.
And finally Tacomah was proven right, and the holoprojection system crashed.
“Well done, P2,” Castor said quietly over the com. “Very well done indeed.”


“Nest high my Greys,” Castor had said.
Tacomah checked his datapad as did the rest. He had the lone working Squint this time.
YES! I can do this!!
The boy was practically breathless when he reached the ready room. He checked his gear, and drew a new comfort from the stack. He snapped it in, locked it down to his suit, and took his flight helmet from his locker. The other pilots flying this mission walked with him as he left the room. The group of them received wishes of good luck as they made their way to their assigned fighters.
Tacomah climbed the gantry, and dropped into the Interceptor. He spoke with the hand outside the craft as they called off the preflight checks and read the numbers. When they were satisfied, the hatch was closed and latched, at which point Tacomah put on his flight helmet and locked it down. He checked his life support, and touched the comm switch.
Control, Flight One. We’re green.
Control, Four. We got two up, two hot, and we are TOO hot for you!
Yah. Okay, Four. Got that. Save it for some one that cares. Jila apparently wasn’t having any of the poodoo. And Tacomah laughed. He’d met Jila in Tess’s Place. Kinda tall, but a little shy.
“Control, Flight Six. I am stocked, locked and ready to rock.”
Control, Seven. Good to go!
Good luck, Thorns. Launch is go.
Double clicks sounded. Tacomah added his own to the mix. He dialed up the power to the repulsors and his Interceptor lifted easily off it’s cradle. The fighter rocked once as the in-bay tractors took hold of it. He slid his throttle forward slightly, and took his place in the launch line. The launch tractor spit him out of the bay, and he maxed his throttle.
“Control, Six. On my way.”
Roger that Six.
Nothin’ fancy, Tacomah thought to himself. Just do the deed.
Saguaro, this is Thistle. We’ve got a bad feeling about this. Sending Thistledown to board you.
Castor answered that one. Understood, Thistle. Thistledown, come straight in.
Roger that, Saguaro.
Tacomah thought about that last exchange as shot toward the containers. He locked onto the first of the three little ones.
Thorn group. Small change of plans. Thistledown will be missile reload.
Roger that Control.
He had the sequence, and so he just flipped through the targets, identifying each as he passed them. He pulled his stick back and to the right, performing a smooth loop and coming to bear on the single flat one in the middle of the group. He checked his sensors and turned to bear on the pair of big containers.
Six. One of those first three containers has unlawfuls. Destroy it as you can.
“Roger that, Control.” Tacomah scanned the remaining two containers and swung back toward the three. He flipped through the targeting sequence, and found his bad boy. Glit-junk! No problem there. This one’s not seein’ anything but vaccuum. He flipped his lasers to quad, and dropped his throttle to two percent. It didn’t take many shots to breach the container’s shields. After they went down, the container blew quickly. One down. Let’s see what else we got.
Thorns, Control. Stay on station. Guard the reminder of the operation.
Roger that, Control.
Alrighty, Tacomah thought. The best place to be when your just a little chick and you don’t have shields is right next to that big ol’ mother hen. The Thistledown had launched as was sitting off the side of the Aragorn. And that’s pretty much where I want to be. Tacomah thought to himself.
He’d barely stationed his fighter when the Modified Frigate zipped in. Tacomah throttled up immediately, throwing all of his laser energy to his engines.
Can’t touch this!
Thorn Group. Suggest disable if possible! We could use any information they have if we can get it. Use missiles.
Disable. Sheesh! Thank Ka’y’Ral that someone brought out the Thistledown!
Tacomah dropped all six of his advanced missiles at the Frigate, scanning it as he blew by on his looping pattern away. His missiles didn’t really accomplish a lot, but they did allow the other Greys to make at least one attack run each as the Frigate concentrated its fire on his Interceptor. He flew hard back to the Thistledown, and dropped his throttle to zero, timing the place of his stop to be very close to the little shuttle. It didn’t have far to go to dock with him when he finished his turn back toward the enemy ship.
“Thistledown, Six. I’m going to try something. Keep dropping those missiles in, but keep your fingers clear.”
Can do! Roger that, Six!
Tacomah linked his missiles. The Eyeballs weren’t up to the job of taking on that kind of a warship. Neither was the T-Wing. Ra had patched it up, and Tacomah thought what he really did was close to magic, but it wasn’t going to hold for long. He watched his counter. The numbers went to two pair. He had a red lock on the Frigate, so he pressed the button and held it. The numbers flashed between one and two alternately. Every time a pair dropped in, a previous pair shot out.
The shields of the Frigate dropped steadily. When they finally were almost depleted, Tacomah quit firing and allowed the Thistledown to finish. As it raised itself from the docking, the boy throttled up hard. He’d flashed through the targets and found Interceptors had launched, targeting the containers Dave had discovered. With a shifting of power, equalizing his lasers so they wouldn’t run down en route, Tacomah made his way to the enemy fighters. Dave, in the Y-wing again, was busy dodging Squints, and Alta, in the T-wing, was flying distraction for the frigate. That left Flights One and Seven to protect the containers and the Old Admiral. Too many targets, and not enough cavalry.
Between himself and Lief, Zsinj, Corran and Ace, in the four Eyeballs, they managed to drop the waves of enemy Interceptors before they could do much damage. The Frigate just kept spitting them out, which had allowed it to reach it’s jump point intact. The container he’d identified as “control” wouldn’t have lasted another run.
By now, though, that Corellian Freighter, the Sapphire, had shown up again. Tacomah went to inspect it, as ordered. It didn’t attempt to fire at him. It didn’t even target him.
There’s somethin’ really weird about that boat, Tacomah thought to himself. He squinted while he was looking at them. He followed the freighter to it’s jump point, and headed back to the Aragorn when it was gone.
All there was now was to hang around while the Brier... Lessa’s only a little bigger than I am. She’s so cool! ...made runs to all the tanks. Nothing else happened, other than that the Thistledown made a run to recover Lief, and everyone was ordered in.


Damon Lightwind

-= CRS: Aragorn, Damon Lightwind’s Quarters =-

Damon finally returned to his quarters after having spent much of his down time working on fighters with Ra. It was time to get some rest, not that he wanted to, or felt he could since learning of the loss of Commander Garant. It didn’t take long for Castor to get word that he’d not gotten any sleep yet since he left the gathering in the B&G. Castor personally tracked him down and ordered him to get some rack time, knowing all too well he’d only burn himself out. Damon tried to argue, but Castor threatened to ground him without access to any tools.
…Damon gave in.
But since he had no choice, he needed to find a way to clear his mind so sleep might actually become an option. His mind raced on, and as much he didn’t want to sleep, however, he knew Castor was right. So he decided to focus on what the Admiral had said to him to push everything else to the side in his mind.
“You know I appreciate you’re efforts greatly. But you’re no good to anyone if you make a mistake because you can’t tell the difference between a glass of beer and the comfort coupling. I know Garant hit you hard, but she saved Drefclu in the process.
“I need you to be sharp as possible at all times; no matter if you’re in the cockpit or in Ra’s pit. So… go get some sleep, or I’ll have Iagin ambush you again.”
“…again…?” Damon’s head turned sharply to look at Castor’s face.
Castor lifted an eye brow.
Come to think of it… there was that one time after he’d gotten into the repairs he’d been helping Ra with… and he never did figure out how he’d gotten into his bunk.
“Only I’ll have her check you into MedOps for an extended visit this time. …without your datapad.”
The idea of being sent to MedOps made him shudder. He’d spent more than his share there in the past. …and the lab rat feeling he got more often than not because of his rare healing relationship with Bata. He felt as though he was an open case study each time he went there.
As Castor’s words echoed in his head he tossed and turned, determined to follow his instructions. His restless mind was putting up a heck of a fight. It took a little time, but finally his fatigue caught up with him. He drifted off to sleep as he listened to himself snore, but only vaguely wondered what the noise could be.


Damon had managed to stay asleep for just over four and a half hours before he’d snored himself awake. Nature’s Call was strong, so he grumbled and stumbled along to the ‘fresher. He grabbed a glass of water, had some, and returned to his bed, trying to follow Castor’s orders adequately. But his effort was cut short abruptly as the call came through the comm: ...GREY SQUADRON TO THE FLIGHT DECK... ...GREY SQUADRON REPORT TO THE FLIGHT DECK...
“What the…” Damon wasn’t exactly sure why he was hit by the floor, but was awake enough …barely… to be sure that it was, in fact, the floor. “Ouch! THAT’s going to leave a mark!” The line played in Ray’s voice inside his head. He muttered, “Be GONE Demon!” to the image of her voice, knowing she wasn’t really inside his head, but also knowing she’d enjoy hearing about it when he told her, as he picked himself up. He scrambled to get ready, and raced out in to the corridor to join the quick migration which was his fellow pilots.
Still weary, but better rested than he had been, he was, surprisingly enough, one of the first to arrive. Castor was quick to notice as he, himself, raced on to the flight deck.

-= CRS: Aragorn, Main Hanger =-

Damon watched on as the last of the Greys joined them on the flight deck. Some were looking a little cautious, but Castor was quick to have them stand down on this one, but be ready. He also looked in Damon’s general direction, and appeared to ponder for a moment but then went right into what was going on.
Castor started off by explaining what Dave and Tacomah had discovered about the mine field. It turned out that the mine field was nothing more the a series of holoprojectors hiding the now revealed containers. Dave got his share of cheers and some jeers from his fellow pilots. He just seam to take it all in stride and just smiled and waved. Ray was loudest razzing Tacomah.
Next came the run down of the ships that were available for this recovery operation. The goal was to ID and recover anything useable as quickly as possible. Both the Brier and Thistledown would be on hand for that.
Damon was not sure if he’d be in on this one, but he hoped he would be; it seemed simple enough. He was eager to get back out there, and knew this would help him deal with things a little better. So far, Castor had not made an indication one way or the other, though Damon was certain he was thinking about it based on the look Castor had given him earlier. All he could do is wait.
And the briefing continued with the explanation which ships would make up the flight groups, due to the losses and injuries they’d incurred during the previous operations. Castor mentioned the new ships weren’t going to be ready for a bit and that some sim time would be highly suggested. It seemed the new Squints were heavier than the one they had. Castor explained they were also tight on fight space, which meant the spare fighters would need to be moved soon – and that Ra hadn’t yet figured out what the weight differential was, only because he couldn’t yet get into the section that carried the bulk of the difference. The Dawn’s Hope would have to take them, if Ra couldn’t figure it out. …or they’d have to be dumped somewhere. …a total waste of good starfighters.
Castor looked past the pilots, nodded shortly, and pulled out his data pad as he continued. Soon the briefing was over, and the pilots got their marching orders.
Castor caught Damon’s eye and waved him over. Castor looked intently at the data pad he was holding as he spoke to Damon, “I know you’d rather be out there with the others, but it seems you’re needed here.” Castor paused for a second. “This is a first, and a rare – and quite surprising, I might add – one at that,” he said criptically.
“Not sure what you mean sir.” Damon was confused. Justifiably so.
Castor smiled and said, “It seems you’ve made an impression on Ra, and he asked for you personally to help with the new fighters. …which is why I held you back from this mission, and because I’d like you to get some more rest.”
Damon was stunned, and really didn’t know want to say. It was known Ra was very protective of his ‘babies’, and never asked anyone to help out especially from a pilot.
“Am I to take your silence as consent…?”
Damon stuttered, “Ummm…ye…yeah. I’m more than okay with it. I’m just a little surprised, is all. I’ll go get some more rest and report to Ra in a few hours.”
Castor smiled. “I’ll let him know.”
Damon saluted, and headed off to his quarters.


End log: B2M4
Battle 2 Mission 5: An Old Flame

The recovery operation had gone better than expected – only one Eyeball had been lost, and Lief had been recovered having sustained only minimal damage. He wouldn’t even need to take a bacta bath. Although he probably would be a little sore for a few hours. Dave had flown hard and had been able to keep the Y-Wing intact. Major Drefclu and his team had gone over the Control container’s computer core without a problem. And there had even been a small functional repair shop left inside the container that had served the site as a hangar - even better because it had held a set of shielding components lacked by the Squints we had recently captured. Ra, with Damon’s help, and found a way into the locked out section, and they both knew what the compartment had been for, as soon as they saw the connectors. …that and the fact that it was labeled on the inside of the hatch. Typical Imperial waste of time, space and effort – any fool that was likely to get into that compartment would know what it was.
And they’d even found another Gunboat! It would need some work, but Ra had done far more, working with much less.
But even more importantly… one of the new Interceptors would now have shields!
Castor strode down the corridor toward the briefing room. He was scrolling the information on his datapad, reviewing both what had been learned and his info on the upcoming leg of their task. As he turned the corner entering the last corridor before reaching the briefing room doors he muttered into his com-link, instructing the bridge to put out the call for the Grey pilots. In scant seconds the call came over the general ship com.


Stopping only long enough to slap the button to open the doors to the briefing room, and only barely long enough to actually allow those doors to open, Castor entered the room and strode heavily down the ramp, intent on the information on his datapad. As he reached the bottom of the ramp, however, he brought his head up sharply and spun around.
Every single one of the members of Grey, even the off duty ones, were already seated in the rows of benches looking relaxed and comfortable, some with their feet up, but all eyes were on Castor, and all the pilots were alert.
Counting the number of knowing smirks as opposed to the other various and sundry looks of more minimal guilt, Castor noted who were the most likely culprits in this surprise. Jack being the most notable. And Ray. He counted about five other prospects and, raising one eyebrow, committed the list to memory. Once Ace had started to chuckle, though, the laughter couldn’t be held back. ANY ONE, including Castor.
“Okay,” Castor chuckled. “You got me. Just keep in mind what they say about ‘payback’.”
“In any event,” he continued more seriously, “since you’re all here, this is what we’ve got going.” Castor punched up a list of computer coding which displayed in the holoprojection area in the center of the briefing room. “The control computer supplied a number of very useful tidbits, such as the encryption base to the enemy transponder codes. Comm/Comp has worked up the decryption program, and it’s already been installed in all the independent processors throughout our task force.
“We also have what seems to be the location of a ’retreat and regroup’ safe area. This area sounds, from the information we were able to recover, like it’s a remote repair yard for most of our unknown’s. Speaking of which, since we’ve been able to apply the decryption coding to some of our historical recordings, we’ve identified some of the craft we’ve met. Most of our unknown’s seem to belong to a group called Mynock. While the TacTeam feels these Mynocks are not a necessarily small group, they are, by no stretch of the imagination, the true enemy here. There is still a secondary level of encryption that we’ve discovered, which will not allow us to identify some of the larger ships we’ve encountered. Carried farther down the logic chain, but not very far, this implies that the Mynocks are the subordinate group.
“Now. The Mynocks, being the subordinate group means that there probably isn’t an over abundance of them. It also means that they are likely considered expendable by their overseers. While the Mynocks are not our main goal, they have, in all likelihood, committed acts of piracy for which they would be easily convicted. And while our H.I.E.R. philosophy dictates that we should capture as many as possible for the purposes of formal jurisprudence, the presence of the Mynock’s overseers does not allow for that as an option which can be carried out within the confines of Reasonable Risk.
“Therefore... All Mynock craft from this point on, unless specifically noted otherwise, are considered nonessential and inhibitive to our mission parameters.
A few of the pilots sat a little straighter at this point. Castor was saying that the Mynock craft were to be attacked when encountered and destroyed if possible, convenient, and within mission parameters. This was clearly free rein to destroy craft and people off-handedly. Definitely not H.I.E.R. And definitely not something Castor would authorize lightly. The senior Greys understood. Even though the Alliance held reign over Coruscant, we were still involved in a very serious war. To uphold the interests of the Republic, the safety of the Grey pilots, along with that of the Aragorn, must come first for as long as Grey is alive. Allowing the Mynock pirates the same rights as normal citizens – to face their accusers, and be tried in a court of law – couldn’t apply.
Not reasonably.
Not safely.
Not if Grey had any hopes of surviving this task it was beginning to become deeply involved with. The Mynocks had just been sacrificed for the greater good – the good of Grey, the Rebel Squadrons, the Alliance and the Republic – assuming that Grey Squadron had any influence whatsoever on the future survival of the Rebel Squadrons, the Alliance or the Republic. It seemed, however, that the powers that be, all the way up through the chain of command, felt that Grey would, in all likelihood, have a very significant influence on that future. Or they wouldn’t have authorized its reactivation.
Castor also made note of the faces that expressed excess and unwarranted approval and eagerness to carry out his last order. But he chose not to say anything at this time about it.
“We are about to hyper out to the coordinates of their repair yard. We expect that since this is a ‘safe-house’ type of area that there might not be an excess of defensive craft, but there is a high probability that we’ll find a number of craft that we have dealt with previously – if this area is what we believe it to be. It is possible, however, that they may have a heavy guardian-type craft to stand watch over the area assuming that most of the craft retreating to that area have been partially damaged, or may be followed.
“The good news is that Captain Ra has signed off on all three of the new gunboats, and they have been loaded up with torpedoes. The bad news is that we’re going to hold the eyeballs and squints in reserve. While we’re in transit, I’m going to require that you all head over to SimOps and get rated for the guns. You’ll get your craft assignments just before we leave as I want all the hyper-capable starfighters active. We’ll be going in hot.
“That’s it for now. I’ll be waiting for your gun scores.”
Castor turned and walked up the ramp out of the briefing room. The Greys followed him out, and all turned down the corridor in the direction of SimOps.


In his office, Castor sat deep in thought, leaning on his elbows with his thumb knuckles on either side of the bridge of his nose, pressed into the bone at the top of his eye sockets, holding most of the weight of his head. Katie and Arnie stood together off to the side at their respective consoles tending to their own assigned tasks. After hearing a sigh from the general direction of Castor’s desk, Katie turned slightly so as to look at the Admiral obliquely. He looked tired, but well, so she turned back to her console, continuing her task. It was only a second or two before her curious and concerned gaze was drawn back to Castor. As she divided her attention between her console and Castor, Arnie rotated his top sensor section so as to look at Castor once briefly, but then turned back to his own readout screen which had suddenly shifted patterns, which would have seemed to be a short conversation had any other being been looking at that particular screen.
“Is there anything I can do for you, sir?” Katie finally said, her concern expressed clearly in her vocal modulation as she trundled around to face him.
“Thank you, Katie. No,” Castor replied as he raised his head shaking it slightly. But Katie continued to stand in front of him waiting for something else, motionless.
When Castor neglected to expound on his thoughts, the droid finally broke the silence. “Might I then suggest that a little bit of time off would be in order. With all due respect, Admiral, you look as if you could stand following the same orders as you gave Master Lightwind.” Irony wasn’t beyond her. But Katie’s head bobbed as she spoke, intending to make her words seem less presumptuous, because Castor shouldn’t be overworked at this point - so far, very little had happened during their reactivation period. But he had been working on this particular project far longer than anyone else, too.
“Thank you, Katie. I’ll be fine,” Castor replied unconvincingly. “Have all the Greys finished in the Simulator?”
“I have all but three scores, and the current simulation will not likely qualify. The remaining two pilots have been doing well, but the chances of either being signed off on the Gunboats at this time averages approximately eleven to one.” Katie turned back to her console. “I’m transferring the scores and statistical information to your datapad now, Admiral.”
As Castor scanned the information Katie had given him, a knock came at the office door. He tapped the button which would allow the door to open and waited for whomever his guest was to enter. Jack Stewart came in, followed closely by Tesserak. He carried a translucent bag of purple liquid which very much resembled a myneyrsh caffeine brandy which was fairly rare off Psadan, mostly because the myneyrsh considered it an illegal off-world export. Tesserak, however, normally kept the Aragorn’s Bar and Grill stocked with items and quantities which would require near magical abilities to acquire. Castor’s eyebrows raised, but considering the fact that the Republic tended to respect planetary local legalities, he felt it politic not to ask.
“It’s my birthday!” Jack said enthusiastically, grinning. “Not quite sure how he found out about it, but Tess, here, was kind enough to donate a special little item to the cause,” he said raising the bag and shaking it slightly. “However, the conditions of the donation were that he would be allowed to tag along and help with the disposal of it; him being an expert in this sort of demanding endeavor. And that we share it with you. Naturally, I would rather have taken care of it myself, but he was rather insistent.”
“I have been told that’s not one of my more endearing qualities,” the gotal interjected. And at a glance from Stewart said, “And quite recently, I might add.”
“So,” Jack continued, “whether either you or I like the current circumstances or not, we’re here, and we’ve got this stuff to get rid of, and you’re going to help. If you refuse, I’m going to have Major Ototh up here in about two point seven five seconds flat and have her declare you unfit for command. I will take over the Aragorn, myself, for the duration of the tour or this bottle, which ever comes first.”
Castor gave Jack a one eyebrowed you-can-leave-now look.
“Make your choice. Brandy or Brig?” Jack tapped his foot impatiently, and began humming the background tune to a popular quiz show which was regularly broadcast over the holonet back home.
Castor blinked a few times, and without answering Jack, he looked at his droids. “Why do I get the feeling that the word ‘conspiracy’ is going to play a very major role in my immediate future?” Castor shook his head and said resignedly. “Sit down, and make yourselves t’home,” indicating the chairs in front of his desk. Katie spent a few seconds vacillating glances between Castor and Arnie. Castor looked pointedly at Arnie who turned his eye-lens back to his console and began to whistle an absent minded tune. …far too innocently.
“Maybe ‘cause you look like hell, and there’s no way that Grey should have been able to surprise you the way they did.” The gotal spoke directly in his deep gravelly voice as the two took their places in the empty chairs, pulling them right up to the edge of Castor’s desk. Three short glasses appeared suddenly. “You’re distracted and worried, and you need to get this out in the open. In addition, this is Master Stewart’s fortieth birthday, and you’re going to help us celebrate it. So, out with it, or I’ll have to use something more unpleasant than this marginally illegal – but-you-didn’t-hear-that – brew.”
Castor punched a few buttons on his datapad, and scrolled down through the information there. “Just as I suspected. You’re still not listed as ship’s counselor.” He turned his attention back to Tesserak. “I didn’t think I remembered authorizing that, yet.”
“Never the less,” Tesserak practically growled, but his smile and his dark eyes spoke of concern. “Give.”
Castor sat for a moment looking at both Tesserak and Jack alternately while they waited with expectant expressions before he spoke. “I get the distinct impression that we are about to be inescapably drawn into circumstances that will be far beyond our control,” he admitted. “Not just that we’re going to be put at risk. Risk is what we’re here for, and we all knew we might not make it home alive when we signed on. I feel like we’re going to be played like a finely tuned codru-ji crystalline orchestrata. Lots of people are going to die because of a massive game we’re going to be pulled into, and no one is going to tell us the rules.” Castor paused ominously.
“Yah. Well,” Jack interjected. “That was right out of a bad holodrama, and the script personnel should be beaten until they can come up with something better. This is supposed to be a birthday party – thank you very much for raining on my parade.” But he grinned unexpectedly. “And where are my presents, by the way?” He inquired.
Castor chuckled and shook his head slightly. “Actually, Jack, I do have a present for you.” Castor stood up, leaned over the top of his desk, and handed Jack a datapad. “You qualified to fly one of the gunboats in the upcoming mission. Congratulations!” Castor slapped Jack lightly on the shoulder as his Grey Exec continued to stare at the datapad as if it had just grown living appendages, not yet having retrieved either the pad or his arm from it’s outstretched position.
Jack scowled. “I think you’re just still mad just because we all beat you to the briefing room, and you’re taking it out on me. I demand a recount! It’s not fair!”
“Never the less,” Castor said in an impressive impersonation of the gotal.


A short while after the myneyrsh brandy was finished, the high level of caffeine overshadowing the effects of the mild depressant content, Castor was at the real-time strategy panel, and Jack was in one of the Gunboats approaching their hyperjump point. Tesserak had made his way back to the Bar and Grill, and was securing his stock for jump transition, after having shared a quick second bag of the Psadan brandy with the rest of the Grey pilots in celebration of Jack’s birthday. …in Jack’s absence. The pilots indulged Tesserak only after he had assured them that Castor wouldn’t complain, having had an entire third of a bag himself only a few minutes ago, and the gotal had just come from there.
Tesserak told the pilots a very animated and enthusiastic story about of the last part of the conversation in Castor’s office, just before the gotal had slipped out, in which Jack had demanded justice, along with blood, and had complained that the gunboat simulation scores must have been rigged. Jack had decided that the culprit was most likely one of the SimTechs who had, according to Jack, an overly active imagination and an immense attitude problem concerning the alleged abuse of some of the simulation equipment.
“The moron”, Tesserak had emphatically spat in a close approximation of Jack’s voice; apparently, the SimTech in question had taken exception to the fact that Jack had kicked one of the simchambers a few days ago when one of the training missions had gone very badly for him. That he had kicked it in it’s maintenance access panel, and hard enough to cause a small shower of sparks, was beside the point. …and his foot had gone numb! …for two hours! He should bring all the SimTechs up on charges so that they’d fix the defective panel, and check every single one of the others so that something like this couldn’t happen again. The gotal had explained that Castor had not seemed overly sympathetic to Jack’s plight, and that they should probably avoid Jack in the upcoming mission if at all possible.
Tesserak decided that it would be an exercise of good judgement not to let Jack know that his squadron mates were decidedly more amused at Jack’s distress than sympathetic, as well.
“And you, Miss Cosa,” he said to the woman still sitting at the bar as he finished securing his wares.
“And me,” she replied.
“How goes the Flight Control position you’ve acquired?”
She dragged her hand through her dark brown curls. “Well, Tess,” she sighed, “It goes.” She shook her head a little and the curls began their migration back into her face. “I’m pretty good at the job, but I get a little flustered sometimes. I’m REAL glad I’m not the one making the tactical decisions.”
Tess nodded his understanding.
“The Admiral is usually there when we’re going into an unknown situation. There’s something about the name Efrata-Landis that seems to be vaguely familiar. Like I should know it somehow. But it’s lost somewhere in the back of my brain.”
“A deja-vu thing,” the gotal added.
“Yah,” she agreed. “I’ll dredge it up sometime, and it’ll probably just blurt out of my mouth. I hope I’m not on the comm with Grey when it finally connects.” She pushed her hair out of her face again. “Anyway. He’s the big picture person. He stands there watching everything, and doesn’t normally speak at all. He’ll say something like: that container or we need that ship, and the Tac Team puts it together for him. And then I tell the Greys what they need to know. They talk about chances and acceptable losses. But I feel like I’m the one responsible if one of the Greys die. I’m the one that told them to do what they were doing.”
“A grave responsibility.” Tess nodded. “Have you met any of the pilots?”
“I’ve seen some of them occasionally.”
“Personally. Socially.” Tess qualified his question.
“Uh. No.” She said matter-of-factly. “They get a little too over the edge for me. I don’t know I to do or say when they started doing that hey, I fly starfighters and kill people and property, do you think I’m cool or hot thing.”
“Hmm...,” the gotal made a low rumbling sound. “As obnoxious as that sometimes may be, it’s really a defense mechanism for them.”
Jila lifted an eyebrow.
“They know that every time they launch one of those starfighters, it might be their last time. They have to believe that there will be a next launch. And since they’re all, sooner or later, going to run out of luck and find that one person who’s just a little better and quicker than they are, they have to believe that they are each the most top ace pilot in existence and the most desirable person anyone could want to meet. Otherwise their universe comes crashing down around their ears, and the enormous weight of all that they do and all they are responsible for will prevent them from doing their jobs. In which case, we’re all dead.”
“Ah.” Jila nodded and dragged her hair out of her face again.
“The best thing that you could do, is to match them attitude for attitude. When they shoot their egos up in the air, you slap them out of the air and show them where the ground is. As long as your doing it like it’s a game, they’ll be very comfortable. They play this game with each other, all the time, and they respect themselves.
“You should also meet them socially.” The barkeep suggested. “When they get to know you, and you play their game, then they’ll trust you even more. And none of them will blame you if a mission goes bad. Not that they would have anyway. But they’ll know that you’re not just some voice over the comm that considers them as just a game piece to be play and possibly lose.”
She looked at Tess doubtfully. “I’ll try,” she said.



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