Finally, something explodes.
Leaving the Corellian System turned out to be vastly easier than arriving; all it really needed was the act of will to accept just how much was going to have to be left behind.
Little of that was hardware, the old birds of the fighter wing were relinquished into the care of an officer from Sector Group Corellia who would be quite surprised to find that he had actually signed for them. The ground force hadn't had time to re- equip, the original plan to go from ten walker and six repulsor batallions to ten repulsor and six walker had simply not had time to happen- the repulsortanks were physically smaller, more of them could be crammed in, and while a repulsorlift batallion actually took up slightly more pad factors than a walker batallion, it had a lot more guns. The gear could be got, it was the cross- training and retraining that was the hard part.
The people on leave, who had wandered off to various bits of the galaxy, were mostly back, a fair few with tales of crime and malfeasance to tell; the most dubious was Shandon Rythanor's.
He had spent most of the refit away from the ship, possibly because he was afraid of being landed with the executive officer's job, but also because his own couldn't really be done in isolation; it wasn't particularly easy for him to keep even as current as he did, with the ship spending so much time out in the black.
There were some parts of his job, some of the tricks of fleet electronic warfare, in which he was a seriously lagging Old Corvid indeed; others, especially the collection of moves they had evolved with their administratively borrowed hyperspace scanner, in which he was well ahead of the flock. He had much to take in and pass on.
After the actual holiday (which he had mostly spent playing computer games, truth be told), there was a brisk round of conferences and seminars and working parties, mostly professional, mostly free of politics, and actually quite a lot of fun. it was only after he was back on board and they were getting ready to leave that the alarm bells started ringing.
He had come back practically walking on air, but got progressively more worried looking, gloomier, disappeared for a few hours in the middle of the working day- then went to see the Captain.
'Um, Skipper, I think I might have screwed up a bit.' Considering that he wasn't exactly starting on a good foot, Lennart didn't pressure him, let it flow. They were on the bridge, and there were a lot of people busy there; this was going to get troublesome, so Lennart led them over to one of the function pods- semi-open the Engineering liaison post.
'There was, well I think I got vamped. Oversector fleet staff, and the way she filled out her uniform- that was only half the hook, she was smart, brilliant, started out playing it frosty, but we ended up arguing a lot, and bouncing ideas off each other, and working groups, and things- if we'd been in the same seminar group for another day I think I'd have proposed. I fell for her, hard, and I think I told her nearly everything.'
Cost him a lot to admit that, Lennart realised, and asked 'You've checked to see if she actually exists?' then corrected himself- 'Of course you have, you wouldn't be worried if there was nothing wrong.'
'The cross references just aren't there, skipper. It's too good a fake not to be fake, but if you look back from the other things that are supposed to have happened around her, it shows.'
'An image?' Lennart activated the local terminal, Rythanor pinged a picture off his datapad, and it was run against the data they weren't supposed to have. Found a correlation. 'Well, she's been exempted from the Dangerous Cults Act in order to practise the dark side, so yes, I think you can assume the worst is true. No first name given- Inquisitor Drayneen.'
Odd thing was, there was a distinct resemblance there- must remember to take this down to Severian, Lennart thought, her genetic material had to come from somewhere and I think Shandon might have met one of her mothers.
'That's her.' Rythanor confirmed, miserably. 'Lystra.'
'Presumed aligned with Cronal's faction, master of the soft interrogation- an expert at sliding into somebody's mind and soul and turning them inside out. If you were played for a fool, at least it was by the best.' Lennart said.
'I know, but I don't know, how could anybody, how can you fake falling in, in? How can you just say things like they were words?' Rythanor trickled to a halt.
'How often have you had one of your rankers or junior officers in front of you with at least something like the same story?' Lennart asked the rhetorical question- easier and safer than answering his. Resisting the Force's temptation to take charge of him- and/or to twist the knife in the wound.
'That's the part that adds insult to injury.' Rythanor admitted, but without much humour in his tone. 'Most of us are geeks, we know that, I always tell the lads to leave the wild ones to Gunnery and the hairy, scaly, flabby ones to Engineering, but she was one of us, com/scan officer with specialties in sigint/comint, she fooled everyone- too good to be true, I should have known.'
'What she got from you won't be transmitted-' there was a possible joke in there, Lennart noticed, but it really won't improve his morale- 'delivered by hand only, a personal report; any possibility of a physical intercept?' Easier to stay on that now.
Rythanor opened his mouth to protest that he didn't know where she was going and she could be anywhere, but finding out that was no-one else's job but his own. More of a surprise that the Skipper still seemed willing to let him do it than anything else. 'I'll find out.'
There was a long pause; then Lennart said 'Strictly speaking you probably did endanger the boat and your shipmates, but I'm not sure I can do anything worse to you than she already has- although this is a subject on which I really do not want to have to get creative. Don't get caught again.'
Perversely, Rythanor felt better for having been yelled at, which was why Lennart had done it. 'Aye aye, Sir.'
Certainly not the best thing that could have happened to the ship, the man or the refit- as head of Com/Scan, he would be doing a lot of the work of rebuilding and redrafting the ship's computer systems; which made him a natural target to be compromised. She had slid through security as if it was mist; a pro.
Cronal, though, he was down as one of the mad ones; was he even still stable enough to make effective use of what she could bring him? That might be their best defence.
Anyway, it was actually engineering's turn to take it relatively easy for a while, but it wasn't happening- engineering/command's view was that playtime was over and they had to stop having fun with nuclear explosions, and knuckle down to the fiddly bits of mechatronics and metrology, control and systems management software.
The physical and the informational had overlapped to a degree, which was why they could mostly fly the ship, but there had been too much matter to be shoved around to do more than the minimum- couldn't fight the ship yet.
Not for want of Gunnery wanting to play with toys, anyway; they had been able to do much of their working up on simulators and were just waiting, and doing what was within their own abilities, to get the hardware to match up to that.
Black Prince slightly outgunned a Tector- class now; different mix- more lighter weapons than the standard Tector-I, for the most part. Three single heavies in the dorsal axial battery, 320s, perversely better suited to shooting at slightly smaller craft- light destroyers and heavy frigates, maybe mediums at a pinch, where the heavy bolt stood some chance of overpenetrating shielding and doing real damage from the first; not so effective at larger targets which would have to be eroded down or smaller targets which needed a denser cone of fire to hit. All in the details.
Port, starboard and new bow batteries, mixed up a little for variety; six of their own turrets had survived the battle of Ord Corban, and they had re- used four of them, each of the tiered and echeloned beam batteries mounting one octuple 32, one Corellian quad long- barrel 70 and one Imperator-I style heavy twin 170, and one octuple heavy ion cannon, more or less a 32 equivalent. The bow battery had the same mix, except an octuple standard heavy turbolaser mount instead of the ion cannon.
Two banks of five heavy torpedo tubes down each flank- too many for complete safety, they were supposed to not flare off when they got hit but Lennart had seen too many Victory-I's occupying large and expanding volumes of space to believe wholly in that; but barely enough to stand a chance, even with the latest, smartest and most agile warheads, of actually getting hits on a defended target. They added an option, though, and even if the line defining "too much" was actually on the near side of "not enough", they needed all the options possible.
The four Corellian grav projectors offered options, all right; they were very impressively multifunctional in theory, and in practise promised to be frustratingly difficult to persuade to do any one function cleanly and well. Managing the synergies as they interacted with each other was proving to be a juggling act- they had gone very far back in terms of technology, they weren't pure gravity generators, actually amplifiers around a cluster of resonating point masses.
Some of the team who had sort-of-voulnteered-ish for the duty thought they were a practical joke by Corellian Engineering. Doing it old school looked good on paper- for one thing they could set up interference patterns with themselves, making tractor and repulsor zones possible, could even function as a light interdictor or an actual gravitic weapon- if they could be made to do the same thing for three seconds running.
Point defence had expanded to seventeen clusters of six dual purpose guns, four Corellian six-by-six and two equivalent throughput ion cannon; four groups on the after edges of the main hull able to fire into the usually blind rear arc over the engines, and one specifically on and to cover the upper rear of the superstructure, a fix too few ships had.
The same number of groups of fighter- class weapons mostly co- located, and most of them recycled from the old fit some of them new- each group a Corellian quad laser, a triple autoblaster turret, two twin lasers, a quad light ion cannon, and a missile launcher stripped off one of the retiring TIE bombers.
Not too shabby, Lennart thought. The only thing we didn't manage to fit was the spinal superlaser, and we weren't really serious about that anyway. We don't really need a fleet tender for anything but fuel and an excuse; we need the excuse to buy time to do the software engineering ourselves, and to get used to the new feel of the ship, make her feel a bit more properly scruffy and lived in. Then we can go and see what tries to bite us. Hm.
On a hunch, Lennart opened up the personnel movements file- or as much of it as the ship's computers were alert enough to let him get at. The tides of politics had been running high, and there had been relatively few inward drafts unlike normal procedure, where a refit was usually the occasion for large scale crew turnover; they were dangerous to know at the moment, though.
Some shuffling within 851, a small number of outsiders- and on the same hunch Lennart ran the incoming files too against the secret database they weren't supposed to have.
Ping. Match. Not Drayneen- that would have been far too convenient- but a new and relatively unknown name, someone born in the opening days of the Clone Wars when the jedi organisation for detecting force sensitive infants had broken down, and the Empire's had not yet grown into place- ideal timing for slipping through the cracks.
An officer, of course- one First Lieutenant Misha Vekkian of the Stormtrooper Corps. Stress had brought out the force potential in her, and she had grown into the Dark Side; commanded the marine detachment of a Bayonet- class light cruiser with apparent great success, boarding and searching civilian craft and seizing pirates, couple of combat drops on illegal outposts- action on the scale that you could expect from an outrider cruiser, but highly successful.
That was where the creditable part of her record came to a juddering halt, though. Her own disciplinary record wasn't exactly spotless, but it was explainable enough- her awakening in the dark side should have caused most of the clashes with her superiors, and were a good way to end up in command of a distant detachment.
The grim part was what she had done to her subordinates as she had grown into her power; she had been careful not to press too many formal charges, but her reinforced platoon had lost many more to their own hand than to the enemy- they had what must be among the worst desertion, suicide and self- mutilation rates in the Corps. It took a lot to break through the hardening and make stormtroopers' lives that much of a misery that they wanted to end it all.
Trying to call MARDET HQ, internal comms were apparently down- which was odd, as they had been up earlier to coordinate the refit work. Being the captain did have advantages; if all else failed, he could order a relay of mouse droids into position to act as com repeater towers.
All else did fail, and the High Colonel commanding the battle group was tapped on the foot by a small grey droid holding out a com unit. 'What is it- Captain?'
'Yes, it's me, I think we're in the middle of transiting to a new internal com system, at least we had better be- one of the few transfers in went to you, a 1LT Vekkian. You haven't put her in charge of anything sentient, have you?'
'I know the one you mean- I was about to give her a company in the boarding batallion, but then I looked closely at her record. Personnel management skills worse than zero, utterly untrustworthy as a leader and mentor. The worrying thing is she's done very little that's actually officially wrong. She's like the Anti-Aldrem.'
'Do not,' Lennart cautioned, 'tell either of them that. Three options that I can see- detached duty, assign her to say the security of the TIEs we separated out, and juggle the wording so that when they get taken up she goes with them.
Two, try to break her in and bring her round, demand of her that she adapt to our methods and standards; oppress her when she fails to do the same; but do you have a convenient bunch of oddballs and hard cases who can soak up that much abuse? Three...as wolves are, out of hand. Not good, I know. What have you got for ideas?'
'It used to be that "omega company" was basically a slang term for an unofficial penal unit, a dumping ground for sad sacks, misfits, oddballs and hard cases. How it went from there to spec ops units organically attached to the line like the legion HQ- actually, considering some of our lot I can see the translation. Red-1 and Black-2 could do with much tighter discipline, by the book they deserve her- ah. Maybe not.' The high colonel spotted the flaw in his plan.
'Assigning a heavy demolitions team to someone who may be a plant for the conspirators who would like us all dead? I think your second take on that idea was an improvement.' Lennart agreed.
'OPFOR, black flag duty?'
Lennart thought about it for a second. 'Branding her the official enemy within? Doable as a temporary solution, as long as she doesn't enjoy it. Other matter- we should be expecting boarding actions soon. First is probably going to be to clear and safe the fleet tender. Be ready.'
'Right. And- we were all watching the conference, skipper. Most of the legion think you're dangerously insane, but we're with you.'
If you only think that then you obviously didn't hear what was being said between the lines, Lennart thought, but said 'Thanks- I wouldn't have taken that stand unless I thought you and the crew had my back, but it's good to hear. Bridge out.'
Most of what had to be left behind was unfinished business, at the core of it; for instance Nat Themerhahn had put in for a transfer to the Imperial fleet, but even if she got it the chances of ending up in an active service role were thin enough, on destroyers thinner still, from sector to regional forces another impossible leap, 851 in particular another sigma or two outward.
We may be maniacs, Lennart thought, but- no, because we justify that with supremely high standards when we put our minds to it. Kidnapping, that was what it was to all intents and purposes, had worked for Pel Aldrem, but that was the only way anyone from outside their own closed circle was getting in.
Galactic spirit, family. Not many of them left, now, in the biological sense. Father and mother on the run- as far as what of the ship's computer net was still up and running could confirm. Sister and her husband in the hands of Imperial- what? Which specific branch had them? Not one that he had any influence over. There was an unpleasant surprise due from that angle, or he was a stuffed garbage squid.
Brother dissociating himself from a family in the process of implosion, as fast as he could; changing to solely using his wife's name now. Cousins scattering in all directions. Severian recovering well, although she would probably try to rip his head off for delivering that without her being there to spin it for him- that notwithstanding, probably a plus overall.
Raffaella. Well, he thought, I'm about to take her, and her useless boyfriend (it would probably be morally wrong to get him- no, to have him killed, but Force it was tempting) to war. She's probably not going to enjoy it.
Well, we have a plan, so let's go to it. They weren't going to jump to the rendesvous point- not that daft. The plan was to make the first long jump to within, say, a hundred light years of the supposed position of the again supposed fleet tender, and lead in with the fighter wing. A lack of ambush would be a pleasant surprise.
Fuel was less of an issue than might be supposed- a little semi- covert hose work had drained off quite a lot of Fist and Admonisher's fuel bunkers, too. Then again, total load was well up, one point seven billion tons energy equivalent in irrational mass.
Hyperdrive performance, especially with some of the idea Mirannon and Caldor had come up with between them, could be interesting.
They had already made one microjump, which wasn't enough for a full up test, and Lennart had watched the nav department- on standalone devices- calculate the course for the fringes of Anoat sector with some interest and no little disbelief. For once his instincts were saying something other than 'go with it'- that this thing, this particular thing, was finally over the line into too much too soon.
Nothing hideous happened at first, but ten minutes of waiting for it were enough. The mouse droids went out again. 'Gethrim? I'm up here looking at the starsnow, and the performance and configuration numbers, and they look good, they're even self- consistent, but my gut is going to take a bit more convincing about why how they got that way actually constitutes a step forward.'
'We did go over this at the time, skipper- don't you remember?'
'I remember agreeing on the basis of the projections, but now I wonder if they were detailed enough to be accurate. The, for want of a better term, ride quality- the timelike/spacelike interface is the key component I think- is odd, it's overcompensating if anything, and I'm not sure it isn't reacting to wobblies. It feels like being on a trampoline on the back of a juggernaut, and the physical possibilities of overcompensation include some ugly options. I thought this was supposed to be the sensible version.' Lennart said.
'It is, this is the field configuration that isn't set up for tempobatics- no more than are necessarily involved in faster than light. I was thinking more in terms of travel to the past anyway really, but that seems to be only possible if we can find a part of the universe inherently running backwards to take advantage of- anyway, everything is on the normal monitor loops, nothing obviously wrong. running a deep diagnostic now- ah. Tell your gut it's not as daft as it sounds, hold on while I deal with this.' Well, there was reassuring for you.
'Comscan, mirror that up here- if you can.'
'File not found error cat 104 specific 952? Kriff.' Com/scan couldn't.
They knew roughly where they were, and could find their way home. If it wasn't left too late. 'Brenn, set for hyperdrive abort, sound alarm, collapse the field in five, four-'
'Wait, I've got it.' Mirannon shouted over the com. 'We're back in rigid mode, field globes locked, rate of temporal precession is negative one point all detectable zeroes. we're good.'
'Makes no sense.' Brenn said, looking at his feedback data. 'Net effect is near nil, beacons confirm and for that matter we're not all grey, dead or babies, but at peak depth of separation the interaction field was behaving more like an electrozapped hydra. That could be feedback malfunction, a sensor wobbly or a genuine timekriff, and any of them have some danger involved.'
'Before you panic,' Mirannon said, a little late, 'it was only the immaterial component that happened to; there was some passage of accelerated time, but it happened to things with half- lives around ten to the forty-fifth, so meh. No human or mechanical issue. Yes, it was a bug not a feature, there's a lot still to do-' he stopped there, knowing he was going to be interrupted.
He was. 'At a less crucial time, with the rest of the ship not in knots. I want a lot more calculated out, simmed, signed off on by second and third parties and I do not mean your department heads, and test models flown before we go for a full scale trial again.' Lennart said; Brenn and the rest of navigation were nodding vigorously.
'You were in favour of the idea when I brought it up.' Mirannon pointed out.
'I know I approved it, but I wonder if that was despite or because of the bits of description you left out. I know the numbers are good and we can do it in theory, it's the obvious Next Big Thing in hyperdrive, but it has been for most of the last five thousand years. How much input did Caldor have in this?'
There was a long silence which told the story. None of them needed to have what had been tried and why it hadn't worked explained to them; the fact being that 'hyperdrive field' was a misnomer and a simplification. There were three parts to it, on purpose anyway, the energy envelope that rode the curvatures of space and essentially was responsible for the course the ship steered, the hypersymmetric fields that took and kept the ship across the light barrier, and the stasis fields that protected the ship and the field projection machinery against the relativistic/causal implications of tachyonic travel. Some of the manuals called them the Interaction, Action and Inaction fields, outside to in.
In practise the Interaction Field had to be preconfigured, the spacetime and energy gradients it would have to ride and the desired reaction being set on entry to hyperspace; it was impossible to affect from within the inaction field without breaking stasis lock, and possibly accidentally becoming several million years older in the process- or reappearing several million years in the future. Manoeuvre was possible in hyperspace, but only prearranged manoeuvre.
Actually being able to steer, being able to fly, to pilot a ship instead of merely navigate- it was an obvious thing to want, and to strive for, and design and build for. Nobody had got it to work yet- nobody human, at any rate.
The Rakata, with nonlocally Force based technology, might have been able to do it; but they were a force of horror and shrouded in evil, which was a moral problem for the Republic if not the Empire, and rather more practically they were extinct. The Gree, perhaps, but they were no longer in the mass production business, if they ever had been.
Which left various increasingly techno- arcane combinations of brute force and cunning, entangling and interweaving and loosening and shaping, running leaps at the dangerously improbable, and the occasional complicated chronobatic disaster. Black Prince had just tried something that turned out not to work, and hopefully caught the problem before it had time to build to consequences.
'All right, back to the drawing board.' Mirannon admitted. 'Although the recovery itself, that gives me an idea-'
'No.' Lennart said, and meant it. 'Incidentally, we have another problem- a minor dark side force user transferred in, a stormtrooper 1LT, Vekkian.'
'Ah. I wondered what she was doing hanging by one ankle over a vat of liquid helium. Dark side, hm- explains a lot.'
Brenn laughed; Lennart snorted as if his cup of caf had gone down the wrong way. 'Hazing and abusing her juniors is the main strike against her, we are supposed to be better than that. How did this come to be?'
'Not absolutely sure, but I think it was an assistance detail from the Legion.' Carefully not naming specific names- it had been DA12, Second Platoon First Company, First Batallion Fourth Regiment, tank men not easy to intimidate. 'She barged in while they were trying to put a thermal switching unit back together and told them it wasn't part of their duties, it was a dissipation of focus on the mission, all sorts of ridiculous boot camp nonsense.
The hoverheads tell her to shove it and keep working, she tells them that they take orders from their own officers and those only, they said that if she was their officer they'd frag her, things degenerated from there.'
'For someone who wasn't absolutely sure, you're very sure. All inductive guesswork, really?' Lennart asked. 'Actually, a bit of inductive guesswork of my own- somebody, probably the platoon sargeant, quipped that she needed to hang around; and/or that she should cool off. Am I not right?'
'Could be.' Mirannon admitted.
'First thing- for excessive cheese, for using lines from crappy old action holos, that's an offence punishable by extra duty; I want them to strip the platoon's tanks down to bare metal, reapply the thermoelectric coatings and recamouflage them. Stringing the lieutenant up under those circumstances I'm prepared to consider as self defence, but bad quotes cannot go unpunished.
Lieutenant Vekkian- hanging in the column of cold air over a helium tank can't be good for her health, and I doubt her head was in great shape to begin with. Bundle her up, in riot foam if necessary, dump her in medical on the tender and tell them we don't want her back.
How much longer do we have until breakout,' Lennart added, 'or is that now a question with a variable answer?'
'Three hours, two minutes twenty seconds at...mark.' Brenn said. 'Probably.'
'Warning order to the fighter wing, then- they'll be expecting it but might as well make it official. No requirement for the dropships. Space transports, load heavy antiship ordnance and medium- run boarding teams. Fighter wing, load concussions. Bomber wing medium antiship torps, multirole light torps.
General plan is all launch on emergence, dispersed element spiral search with bomb wing as main and fighter wing as cover force, transport and multirole wings cover the flag and react to circumstances as directed.
Oh, and if you have any spare capacity between that and watching the hyperfield, warm up a couple of hundred VS- series probe droids. Just in case the chief did get it wrong and we're going to need to figure out what century we're in.'
Emergence, and a damned bumpy one; 'Launch fighters- do we need the probes? How bad was the exit transient?'
'We probably lit up half the quadrant.' Brenn stated. 'Residual field state was- inverted? The inner layer of the interaction field seems to have been enthalpising on the advanced wave, and...I think we might accidentally have invented another superweapon.'
'Last stang thing the Empire needs.' Lennart grumbled. 'Instead of bleeding off, it picked up energy through hyperspace, vented that on emergence instead of the usual residuals? Hence, kaboom? That's going to make it difficult to sneak up on anybody- if it was big enough it's going to make it fairly difficult to rendesvous with anybody. Where and when are we?'
'Exactly where we meant to be, worryingly enough, and subspace radio, what there is in this wasteland, says we're an hour early. Now I'm going to have to figure out why that didn't throw us off course.' Brenn's turn to grumble about something.
'Do that- Gethrim?' Relays of mouse droids, again. 'When I said no earlier, I meant no, needs a lot more done before we try again. Consider that now upgraded to no, disconnect and scrap the hardware, there's a lethal operations mode.'
'I know, we monitored the feedback. Dreck. Back to square zero.' Mirannon said; the thought did occur to him that if they could kill people with it, it might not be that bad an idea, but on the other hand it did look to be a phenomenally unselective way of making that happen, and it would make having friends quite tricky. And no mention of the software. Hm.
'Any progress on getting the internal comnet back up and running? We're going to start burning out mouse droids at this rate.'
'Some- should happen before guns and shields are ready, anyway. External's in better shape.'
It needed to be; the subcraft wing was already leaving its' bays, thirty- two transports and a hundred and forty- four fighters, ninety-six of which were already scattering to jump out on their planned search patterns. Starwing fighter- bombers and Avenger fighters, should be a match for most of what there was to find.
Probably. Anoat sector was full of nothing very much, anything that was moving especially off the trade lanes should be an easy spot- which included them of course. For someone with the sensors to see, the pattern of jumps of the search was hard to miss.
Two things happened within the first quarter of an hour, one of them actually quite funny.
Two of Theta squadron's Starwings were running the fringes of an asteroid field, giving it the eyeball, when something did emerge; a Skipray patrol gunboat at full panic throttle followed by a long uncoiling grey thing trying to grab it.
Metal trumped flesh, even if it was silicate based, and the skipray had only just escaped the lifeform's grasp when a different set of alarms in the cockpit went off as the Starwings pinged it.
The result was a strangled scream of "Identify! Who are you? Are you in league with the tentacle monsters?" That one went down in the line book, and would eventually be remixed into a rather catchy tune. Turned out the Skipray was a recon flight from the destroyer Tyrant, combing for subsidiary rebel bases. Contact with Death Squadron, of a sort.
The other contact occurred when someone else sent a recon fighter to investigate the hyperspace exit transient. The recon fighter itself could be seen coming, of course, and emerged what they thought was a safe distance from the event.
It was a rebel alliance Y- wing. It materialised in the centre of a rough globe of forty- eight Imperial Hunter fighters. One on one wouldn't have been a fair fight- four squadrons to one was just sadistic.
One transmission was monitored; it was the rebel pilot breaking down and crying for his mother, the astromech in the background beeping at him and telling him to pull himself together. Then the volley of ion fire hit.
The Y- wing would be tractored in for intel info- by one of the transports, to save relying on the ship's- and the fighter stripped for intel info, the pilot stripped and given fresh underwear.
One thing they did search out, of course, was where the fleet tender was expected to be. Beta lead got that one, but the search pattern was drawn up so everyone else was close by- close enough to react if need be. And they were early. That turned out to matter a lot.
What they found were three Interceptor frigates, rebuilt merchantmen armed and powered as blockade runners, but in this case they had small boats out, and they were unloading.
Focused scan on one of the small round objects the ship's boats were setting out, in grid pattern, got the expected result. Mines. Hammering one with active EW got a better result- they were pirates after all, using light cheap kit. The mine was spoofed into detonating.
A couple of sympathetic detonations- the boat went up with it's payload of unlaid mines; the flash lighting up the Black Sun emblems on the three frigates.
"I beseech thee, In the bowels of God, think it possible that you might be wrong."
-Oliver Cromwell to Parliament, 1647
"It is good to keep an open mind; but not so open that your brains fall out." Attributed to James Oberg
Not part of the board consensus; here for mainly science- fictional reasons