Hull no. 721 - a fanfic

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Eleventh Century Remnant
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Hull no. 721 - a fanfic

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2006-11-20 02:06pm

Table of Contents

This is slightly-impure Star Wars so far, set basically between Yavin and Hoth, with some continuity deviations, mainly to do with starfighter availability and just how much an Imperial Starfleet Captain can get away with. I found it lurking in a backup folder and decided to update it with some of the things I've found out from SDN- here beginneth Chapter 1.

Ghorn system, Vineland sector, a minor offshoot of the Perlemian run.

As fitted a system so close to one of the major arteries of galactic trade, there was a fleet presence.

Around a dim, red-orange star near the end of its life, planets; two gas giants, with their horde of moons and asteroids clustering and flustering around them, three smaller worlds huddling close to their dying sun. It had been burning itself down for longer than there had been star-traveling life, and the living creatures on the little lumps of rock were in no danger just yet. Except from each other.

A large slice of that danger, made actuality in durasteel, hung in latticework repair bays over the small blue-green haven of Ghorn II. It hovered protected by the guns of the planet’s north polar defence station, a fleet tender standing by the much- scarred ship, shuttles and tugs and work platforms roaming over it.

Imperator I-refit-II Star Destroyer Black Prince did not look much like the pride of anyone’s navy, least of all that of her crew.

A grotesque patchwork of faded parchment yellow, gleaming white replacement hull, bare silvery metal, a few slabs and patches that were the colour of her name, angry heat- red emergency field repair and dots of fused blue- black scoring all across the much abused hull.
She would never feature on any recruitment poster, was lucky not to have been condemned as beyond economic repair, but she was one of the Twenty-Five Thousand, and far from the least, except in numerical precedence.

Beneath the registry number, 721, were a line of non- random black dots- silhouettes of ships. They were the boast, and the gun crews’ skill the living proof, that for all the damage abundantly visible she had given out far more than she had taken.

The tender Sahallare’s job was field repair; in theory this was nothing out of the ordinary. In practice, most of them were spending as much time boggling at the ship as working on her. How was she still in one piece?

‘What in stang happened to her?’ One of them said to his workmate.

‘Lots of things, lots of times.’ The second technician said. ‘You ever seen anything this badly beat up and still flying?’

‘Yeah, a YT- series, but that was on a wanted poster.’ He was looking up at the kill markings beneath the starboard- side row of heavy turbolaser turrets, in particular the bulged oval that represented the Mon Calamari cruiser Irrepressible. The Rebellion had not forgiven nor forgotten.

A pressure shelter had been hung over the section of dorsal hull they were working on- deep-annealing a fusing line between two replacement hull plates.
They could work faster, and with a lower accident rate, that way than by wielding the clumsy jackhammer- looking heat projectors in spacesuits.

It also meant they could be kept under observation more effectively, and the work shed erected on the outer skin of the destroyer had a stormtrooper detail watching them.

The first workman was getting increasingly jumpy, glancing at the stormtroopers, glancing up at the kill score. There was a lot of blood on this ship’s hands, and some friends of friends of his would be interested to know that she was here.

Concentrate, he told himself, just do the job, don’t draw attention to yourself, keep your head down.

Finish the shift, get out, and then he could go to the com center on the Sahallare, use his allowed call home, to which he would add certain phrases and emphases, which would be passed on to a man codenamed Starshine, and from there find their way to Third Mid-Rim Theatre Command.

Taking an Imperial Starfleet tender would be a shining achievement and a real practical gain for the Alliance; probably not going to happen, but they would settle for a chance at a beached Star Destroyer.

The rebel spy kept working, quietly, trying to avoid drawing attention to himself, hoping not to feel stormtrooper eyes on his back.

The destroyer’s own crew were working on their ship from the inside out, dealing with the softer tissue inside the heavy armoured shell. Most of the problem was with control systems.
The actual damage had not been at all severe, this time- not by this ship’s standards- mainly ionization. Half the consoles in the main bridge pit were still dark, clusters of operators round others.

One of the turbolifts opened, and a very junior officer bounced in followed by two engineering ratings carrying a large box.

‘I’ve got it!’ the probationer lieutenant said. ‘El Fuzz says that it’s the-‘ He had expected his classmate to be the only one there of importance; he had failed to notice the tall, thin vulturelike figure of the executive officer at the back of the bridge. He realized he was in trouble when everyone else turned to look at the exec.

‘Carry on.’ The exec told everyone else, pointed at the lieutenant, pointed at the deck in front of himself. The probationer gulped, slunk over.

‘Who sent you up to the bridge?’ the exec asked, coldly.

‘Uhm, er,’ the probie tried to wriggle out of it, ‘I was told you were on board the tender, Sir, I really wouldn’t-‘
‘Is this really a line of defence you want to pursue?’ the exec loomed. ‘That you would not have expressed extreme disrespect of a senior officer, if you had realised that you might get caught?’

The poor, raw lieutenant was visibly squirming. ‘Sir, I meant no-‘

‘The proper response under the circumstances,’; the exec advised him, ‘is- repeat after me- “I am guilty of gross insubordination, I apologise, I will accept the mandated punishment, and I won’t do it again.” Say it. And do try not to make it worse for yourself.’

The lieutenant looked left and right; apart from the rest of the repair party, the only other people on the bridge were a four- being stormtrooper detail. One of them was wobbling slightly, trying and failing not to laugh.

The poor probationer gabbled through the words, and then broke orders again by asking ‘But Sir, how did you know I meant-‘

‘Who else would be sending you here, to say that it’s the-? Context, probationer, context. What does the chief say the trouble is?’ The exec would come back to attempting to entrap a senior officer later.

‘The secondary nav system, Sir. When it was ionized it went into full reset, and the only uncorrupt backup was the initial dockyard settings. It, ah, isn’t accepting that the ship’s been modified, and is trying to override the primary nav system, which it thinks is obviously still damaged.’ He parroted.

‘A hardware patch?’ Not normal procedure.

‘Um, I think so, Sir.’

‘Do you actually understand any of what you’ve just told me?’

‘I, I think so, Sir.’

‘Hmmm. Let us review the charges.’ The exec began pacing up and down in front of the main viewports. ‘Disrespect of a senior officer. Compounding the offence by asking me to refer to said officer in the same terms. Disobeying an order- not to make it worse for yourself, which you did. That is a technicality, however- where are you from?’

‘Pomolthooine, Sir.’

‘ ‘-tooine’ means ‘Barren wasteland’ in some language or other, I swear. Your only authority there would have been your family, which you disobeyed in any case to go to the academy.’ The exec did not know this, and was making it up as he went- accurately, it seemed, from the probationer’s reactions.

‘Poorly brought up, crammed through an abbreviated training program. Insufficiently prepared.’ The exec paused for thought, pacing up and down.
‘The daily bread of a starship is training and exercise. For all elements. Practise prepares us for the reality of working the Emperor’s will on the reluctant to obey.’
That much at least was doctrine; what came after less so. ‘Our onboard stormtrooper group has a deep probe interrogation team attached. They, too, need training and practice.’

The exec dropped his voice to a whisper. ‘If I had any reason to think that you weren’t simply a loose- tongued fool, I’d hand you over to them to use as a torture dummy.’

‘Sir, please don’t sir it was just a slip of the tongue, I genuinely meant no disconscious resp, I mean no conscious disrespect-‘

‘My duty,’ the exec stated, ‘is to make competent starmen out of people like you. At the moment, you’re alive because I’m assuming you’re an idiot. That is not a long term survival strategy.
A punishment that fits the crime- I think I’ll make you use your brain. I want a full rundown on the ship’s hyperdrive systems. How and why they work, evolution of hyperdrive, navigation systems, how they integrate with ship sensors and electronics, new experiments in hyperwave theory- I want you to prove, not to me, to the Chief Engineer, that you’re worth more to the Empire alive. Report back to engineering- Dismiss.’

The poor probationer, almost in shock, stumbled off the bridge.

The exec walked over to the port sub-gallery, the ship’s com centre, out of earshot of all but the sensors in the stormtrooper helmets; and released his own repressed burst of laughter. El Fuzz, indeed. He shook his head, went to the intraship terminal. ‘Engineering? Get me Commander Mirannon.’

A few moments later, an extremely hairy man in dirty overalls came to the other end of the terminal. When he had time to perform personal grooming, at best in other words, Engineer-Commander Mirannon looked like a wookie disguised as a human. When he had other priorities, like now, he looked more like a human disguised as a wookie.

‘Ah, Commander Dordd. What is it?’

‘Do I look like a waste disposal unit to you?’ the exec said.

‘I rebuild ships, not men- talk to Medical.’ The bulky, grease and dust stained engineer said.

‘You seem to think I am; you keep trying to dispose of unwanted junior officers by feeding them to me.’

‘Oh, you mean the work crew.’ Mirannon’s expression was not easy to read behind the beard.

‘Why are you using a hardware patch for a software solution?’

‘It’s temporary, it deadends the interference from the secondary nav computer. I have all the processing power I can get my hands on running finite element analysis for the ion drive calibration, hyperdrive’s a straightforward derivation of the same analysis. Eight more hours to work the balance out and twelve to set it up.’

‘So the engines are sound, then?’ Dordd asked.

‘It’s the firing controls that aren’t. We can make full acceleration, if you don’t mind a line of thrust, and relative inertial field, around eighty milliradians off the centerline of the ship. Probably not in the same direction, either.’ He sounded as if he didn’t expect Dordd to know the difference between a milliradian and a microchloridian.

‘Primary nav is functional, it’s sublight drive that isn’t.’ Dordd stated what he thought the position was. He was about to go on when the bridge PA called him.

‘Commander Dordd, report to the Captain’s day cabin. Repeat-‘ and he was moving already.

The day cabin was basically a cubbyhole just off the bridge for a cot and a desk, where the ship’s commander could get datawork done, catch a catnap, and still be within thirty seconds of the bridge.
Very few Star Destroyer’s captains let it remain that basic. It was a common joke that, as the ship’s offices were in the command tower, if the rebels did blow it off you might be better not restoring emergency control, just go down with the ship.
Otherwise, you would only spend the rest of your life paperchasing through the navy bureaucracy trying to rebuild the lost records, medical files, requisition and stores reports, status sheets, personnel records- it was the bane of the navy’s life, and more than one captain wished he could do his filing by turbolaser.

On the other hand, it meant there was lots of room to expand more important facilities into- just squeeze the offices up a little tighter. Preferably with the staff still in them.

Many Imperial warships spent more time fighting the bureaucracy than they did the enemy. Between a tremendous stroke of luck at the beginning to build on, and a combination of interest, brown-nosing, judgement and blackmail, ISD-721 had won victories roughly comparable to a certain infamous proton torpedo entering a certain poorly shielded exhaust port.

The Black Prince’s commander’s day cabin had expanded into a full scale penthouse suite including small swimming pool under a previous captain, but it was under new management now.
The entryway had been converted back into something resembling the original purpose- desk, computer terminal, flanking datawalls and holodisplays.

An abstract, multi- belabelled image of the ship was being spun from one holoprojector; ship status display. It hiccupped occasionally, as if refusing to believe the image it was showing.

The captain had one foot up on the desk, and was frowning at the image. He was a man of above middle height- not the stick-figure of his XO, not far off either- and leanly built, dark hair turning grey at the temples, chiseled face, dark, dark eyes.
Appallingly badly dressed- looking more like a sea- surface fisherman than a captain of a major warship, uniform tunic (faded) flapping open over a jersey of some palaeolithic material and grey- green uncertain colour.

‘You sent for me, Sir?’ Dordd asked. The captain nodded, waved him to the other chair.

‘Yes…where would you be now, do you think, if no-one had shown you mercy as a loose- tongued probationer?’ the Captain asked, tone well at odds with the words, speculative rather than punitive.

‘About the same place I’d be if no-one had pointed out to me in time that there are limits to mercy.’ Dordd said, still standing, not even bothering to wonder about how the captain had managed to overhear.

The captain nodded. ‘Narrow line, is it not? Encouraging them in some directions, stopping them in others, shaping young mynocklets like that into the officers the fleet needs- especially when they arrive thinking they know it all.
It was easy for us; the short sharp shock is less painful in the long run…someone thinks you’re doing something right.’ Captain Lennart handed his soon to be ex- executive officer a hardcopy of a recently received file.

Dordd read the first couple of lines, then his mind went blank. The Captain swung his foot off the desk, stood up, grabbed Dordd by the hand and shook it. ‘Congratulations.’

The exec was still boggling. ‘Thank you, Captain, I had thought-‘

‘Sit down.’ Dordd collapsed into the chair. ‘I did recommend you; it’s not been an easy cruise, she can be a demanding old bitch, and you did well enough.’

The Captain’s steward arrived then, as well timed as usual, with an iridescent metal tray, a crystal decanter and two glasses on it. Lennart poured the cobalt- blue liquid out himself, two full shots, and the two officers gulped them down.

‘What’s in that?’ Dordd asked, reeling. It felt like a river of molten ice being poured through his head.

‘Alien biochemistry’s a wondrous thing- not a clue.’ Lennart said, deadpan, and lying. Dordd’s eyes went wide before he realised it was a wind-up. Lennart went on;

‘I read it, of course,’ meaning the hardcopy, ‘Dynamic’s one of the Arrogant- class. Not a new ship, which might be just as well.’ Both of them knew exactly what he meant. The sort of people who were getting priority over new construction, neither of them felt comfortable around.
‘Weird little ships, seventy- five percent our- well, a standard Imperator’s, anyway- length, thirty- six percent the volume and forty- five percent the mass. Supposed to be derived from the old Venator class- the pure combat version without the fighter bays. Half way through they realized they were doing it backwards, KDY turned the design study into a separate project and Rendili built the Victory class round the old reactor plant.
Dynamic’s a fast fleet hunter-outrider- once again, congratulations, Captain-designate Dordd.’

Delvran Dordd, very recently promoted Captain in His Imperial (and sith) Majesty’s Navy, started to think about his new job. What was the size- for that matter, who were- the crew of the Dynamic? Where was she?

‘Normally,’ Captain Jorian Lennart told him, ‘I’d do a fast flyby of her last reported position and drop you off, but supposedly she’s been on boundary patrol on the outer Rim edge for the last year, and you’ll remember how trigger happy we got on that detail. Especially right now with our drives in this state, best thing to do is for you to take a shuttle- no, better an assault transport. One’s prepping now. You’ll probably miss that.’

‘Fighter support?’

‘Everything it implies. A million worlds in the galaxy. Capital ‘W’ worlds, anyway.
Another fifty million colonies. Four hundred billion stars- and tomorrow Black Prince could be on her way to any one of them. Engineering permitting.
Even moving from exec to captain, you don’t realize what that means until it hits you- like one of them, a small planet in the face. You don’t have to be ready for anything, you have to be ready for everything.
Arrogants don’t have the multirole capacity to be sent any-and-everywhere, so it should be easier for you. You’ll just be chasing ghosts all along the outer rim.’

‘Does it say anything about fleet, oversector group, assigned op-area? Or crew?’ Dordd asked, mind still reeling.

‘Eleven thousand, seven hundred and twenty- four, leaner manned than an Imperator.’ Jorian poured another set of drinks, drank one of them. He was talking about the crew.

‘So many, and probably the same unlikely blend of heroes and halfwits, starry-eyed idealists and black hearted thugs, overgrown children and dead- spirited cynics, blunderers, chancers, wasters, risk- takers, egomanicacs and lost souls, fools and rogues, murderers and paladins, and Bodgit and Scarper doing business as usual, changing face of the galaxy be damned.’

Dordd was worried. The captain was getting unusually maudlin; this wasn’t like him. Most of the time, anyway. ‘Are you sure this is safe for human consumption?’ he said looking at the shot glass.

‘I’m pretty sure it isn’t. Maybe I am getting sentimental about my crew; but- what’s devotion to duty, if not a sentiment? What’s loyalty, if not a sentiment? Numbers are one thing, but you look out of the window down past the turrets and tell me we fought for the empire, and achieved that for the empire, on the basis of nothing more than reactor rated output.’

‘Captain, I believe, but I don’t understand. I’m not sure what I can do with what you’re trying to tell me.’

‘Well, on one level, you don’t have a choice- no stormtrooper detail. I’m telling you that in addition to the worlds outside the ship, you’ve got another twelve thousand on the inside to worry about, one- or more- inside each crewman’s head.
They might actually be the most important. The universe is too big to cope with on your own.’ Jorian Lennart shook his head. ‘I must be far gone- more narcotic than drink in this.’ Which was his excuse, anyway.

‘Still, better a blinding glimpse of the obvious than a blinding flash of turbolaser fire. You need your crew.’ He had one foot back up on the desk.

‘You need them to work for you, you need them to think for you, you need them to believe for you. The best built fighting ship in the universe is pointless if the people running it are half trained and scared out of their wits. The worst- and the tender crew seem to think we come pretty close- is invaluable if it’s properly used, and those twelve, or thirty- seven, thousand are as much the weapon as the ship is. You’re probably going to make a better captain than you did an executive officer.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ Dordd asked, slightly stung.

‘As exec, you have an answer for your problems. You have your part of the picture to look after and keep in order, you know what you ought to be doing. As Captain, you finally get to see all of the picture; and you realize that it’s a puzzle. I am generally prepared to put up with far more, from this crew, than you are. Did you never wonder why?’

‘It’s deliberate, that much I got, but I never understood why you think it’s a good idea.’

‘If I was being appropriately cynical, I would call it the illusion of freedom. I need their belief, their pride and commitment in the ship and in the cause. As a captain, you depend on your crew- only fractionally less than they depend on you.
One thing; your last official duty as executive officer of the Black Prince. Who do you recommend I promote to replace you?’

For a brief moment, Dordd was tempted to recommend Mirannon, if only for a taste of his own medicine. ‘Lieutenant-commander Mirhak-ghulej.’ The Chief Divisional Officer, midships starboard section.

‘Interesting. Your logic?’

‘He’s done well in a difficult situation, keeping the most diverse part of the ship in good order, displaying what I think are the necessary qualities for the job.’ Dordd answered.

‘The crew loathe him. A man doesn’t get ves daubed over the inside of all his uniforms for nothing. At first glance, I would have opted for Brenn. However, exactly because he would have been my personal choice, that could mean he’s wrong for the job. Recommendation accepted.’

Dordd was still standing there trying to work that one out when the captain’s steward came in again with a datapad and two antidote pills. Lennart read it, thought about it, handed it to Dordd.

‘On the other hand, you may not want to miss this. It’s from your favourite stormtrooper.’

‘I don’t have a-‘ Dordd started to protest, then got involved in what the message said. It was a report from one of the security troopers, concerning one of the tender’s work teams. ‘She doesn’t even have a name.’

‘Her being named Omega-17-Blue-Aleph-3 might make whispering sweet nothings a bit more difficult, true - question is, is her judgement trustworthy?’

Omega company was special attachments to legion HQ; things like seismic demolition teams, deep probe units, propaganda and destabilization, ugly, dirty, messy jobs. 17 was the team number, blue the specialization - Scout, officially, but clearly not exactly so - Aleph 3 was a personal number.

‘Dockworker with high stress levels, trying not to draw attention to himself and getting it wrong, looking up repeatedly at the splotch for that damn’ rebel cruiser - that doesn’t make a spy.’

‘I’m inclined to take it seriously.’ Jorian turned to one of the subconsoles on his desk. ‘Engineering? Mirannon.’

The huge man covered in red-brown hair and grey- blue grease came to the terminal, grumbling. ‘Flarding interruptions, can’t I get - oh, it’s you, skipper.’

‘How many decimal places are you running this analysis to?’ Jorian asked him.

‘As many as I can. Tender’s got the tools and parts for me to fix a couple of long standing gripes, and synergy effects are going to take an unpredictable time to sort out - so many ifs and buts in the estimate, it’d make no sense. Sir.’

The Chief Engineer had a ship model on his seldom-used desk, which looked something like a cross between a normal star destroyer and a swan - wide, sweeping curves, streamlined, graceful.
The rest of the engineering crew said that was what he was trying to turn the Black Prince into, one major refit at a time. And he knew perfectly well how long it was going to take.

‘If you were Rebel Theatre Command, and you found out about an unescorted imperial fleet tender patching up a disabled star destroyer, what would you do?’

‘Kriff.’ Mirannon swore.

‘Don’t think of it as losing time in calibration; think of it as saving time spent in damage control. How soon can you give me manoeuvring thrust?’

‘We can thrust, with a moderate to high chance of becoming pate in the process, and we definitely can’t steer. It’s not the only problem - I’m doing that the long way because there are other jobs needing done in the mean time. Power distribution forward of the hangar bay is shot, we’re using DC’ - in this case, Damage Control - ‘portaconduits that won’t take long duration at full power. They need a proper rebuild. Overlapping shields burning each other out. It’s all do-able, but it’ll take time. Can’t we just call for support?’

It was possible that by arresting the rebel agent, they could avoid contact entirely. Lennart hadn’t even seriously considered it. It wasn’t their job to avoid combat, and he was still in fighting temper after the clash that had landed his ship in a repair bay.

Capability was the only question. ‘We’ll notify fleet. How much notice they’ll take I don’t know, we’re strangers here. We’re not far off being able to do the job ourselves. I know perfectly well, chief, we’re not going to be a hundred percent in less than twenty days. I’m thinking ambush. How soon?’

‘I can knock a couple of hundred decimal places off the calibration and patchwork it- six hours, and the compensators will be redlining. Don’t push it. Another twelve past that to be able to hyper, well below full speed though- stable at point two five, best rough estimate. If I can borrow half the legion to do the donkey work with my people directing, shields in eight hours.’ Mirannon groaned inwardly, but stated the facts.

He was not an unhappy man in his job, usually. Imperial Starfleet engineers fell into one of two categories; peacetime, or at least civilian university, trained with general and comprehensive background knowledge- in other words, overqualified; or military academy trained and thus barely qualified- too narrow, too specific, skipping too much of the groundwork and basics to get to the workaday details.

Gethrim Mirannon fell very firmly into the former category, and it would have been difficult to prevent him reassembling the ship to suit himself, if in fact Lennart had wanted to stop him. For all that they snarled at each other occasionally, they were in effect partners in crime.

‘No support from the tender?’

‘The equipment I can use. The people-no. They’re why we’ve got the interaction problem.’

‘OK, chief, that sounds good enough. Get on with it.’ He dropped the link to engineering, and typed in an access code. ‘OB173, this is Black Prince Actual.’

‘You’re not supposed to be on this network.’ A female voice came back out of the speakers- deep, contralto, amused rather than offended.

‘Tell me more about this rebel of yours,’ Captain Lennart asked.

‘Probability that he has something to hide; unity. Probability that it is Rebellion related; 0.92. Do you want me to take him in?’ she asked, phrasing it purely as a question.

Lennart looked at Dordd. Dordd wanted to. Lennart decided against it.

‘Negative, OB173, he hasn’t had time to get the word out. Take him now and we’ll have nothing to trap. Your team has the ball on this one. Monitor him, let him communicate, then grab him and brainburn him.’

‘Yes, Sir.’ She said, clearly looking forward to it.

Captain Lennart backed out of the stormtrooper comnet, turned to Dordd. ‘Don’t know what you see in her. Personally I’d be more inclined to run away you want to leave for the Dynamic, or do you want your old job back- in an acting capacity- to see this one through?’

Dordd stood there, thinking. Technically he shouldn’t even have been given the choice, but he had. On one hand, his own ship; on the other hand, combat against the rebellion- and he would just as soon put off the chaos of taking command for another day or so, to get his head straightened out.

‘You might need the assault transport.’

Lennart smiled. ‘Good.’

There was a lot that was not as it had been originally specified about the Black Prince. As part of an experimental program, she had her main hangar bay compressed. A quarter of the pads expanded out to full maintenance bays, and the rest reduced to virtual wingtip to wingtip storage. Ceilings lowered, floors added, waste space eliminated.

The Oversector Fleet command she had been operating with at the time had been obsessed- more like traumatized- by rebel starfighters, and Black Prince had been in for major refit after taking a kamikaze rebel gunship-corvette in the flight bay. A bay that had been suspiciously empty of personnel at the time.

Strings had been pulled and reputations traded on, and the end result was that the veteran destroyer had the support for a double normal strength fighter wing.

There was actually an Imperator- conversion that did this anyway, and it had proved easier, administratively, to get one of their heavy fighter wings assigned, but that variant lost too much capability as a warship for Lennart’s taste, and this way he had the best of both worlds.

The pilots were not busy at the moment. This was officially safe space, and the space they had come from had been decidedly unsafe.
They had taken losses, and needed time to draw breath, reorganize, and have the ground crews assemble replacement fighters from parts storage.

Most of Epsilon squadron had passed through the mourning stage, and got just about as far as ‘Thank the force it wasn’t me.’

Their unit bay held, on the lower level, their actual fighters, launch racks, maintenance pads, stores and spares, on the upper level- separated by a comfortingly thick armoured deck- the squadron ops room, office, ready room, rec- usually pronounced ‘wreck’- room, mess- which it was, ground crew barracks, pilots’ cabins.

The squadron leader’s cabin had black bunting around the door; half of it had been torn off and was now draped over the shoulders of Epsilon-3, he had a drink in one hand and with the other he was playing a kazoo. After their fashion, it was a wake.

In the squadron office, the only pilot not participating was sitting behind the desk, one hand holding a soother-pad over her forehead, stylus in the other, looking at three datapads and wishing her head would stop throbbing, or Three would stop playing that thing.

She had lost her own element leader, and been lucky not to have her own head ripped off when a lump of engine from a detonating rebel fighter had caved her cockpit viewscreen in. The senior flight commander of Epsilon squadron was therefore in a black mood, and wondering if anyone had ever in fact been beaten to death with a kazoo. Surely it had been tried.

She knew that if she did stand up and go to get some quiet out of them, she would probably end up doing some of the rebellion’s work for it.

‘Flight lieutenant Rahandravell?’ the door opened, and a misshapen figure said.

‘If you don’t shut that door, I’ll start blasting on the count of three.’

The lopsided man came in and closed and sealed the door; he had the same rank insignia she did, although rather less of a body to pin it on. The squadron adjutant was a grounded pilot; he had been on an atmospheric strafing run when a minor hit had caused his laser power cells to split.

That had cooked the blaster gas off, which had burnt off too many nerve endings for regeneration therapy to do much good.

‘How do you do this, Yrd? How do you stop yourself accidentally telling the truth to the poor silly bastards?’ Rahandravell poked at the datapads with the stylus. They were three letters to next of kin.

‘Lady Lyria Tellick; dear lady, your son died when a rebel heavy fighter blew the front of his cockpit off. I saw him drifting there in space with no legs, and I don’t know whether loss of blood or loss of air managed to kill him first, because I could still hear him screaming and thrashing round, so I know that shock didn’t.

Malomik Inturii, rust farmer; dear sir, your brother gave his life for the empire. Actually, he threw it away because he couldn’t stand it any longer, he ejected and was caught on the tail of his fighter, I should have given him a clean death there and then myself but I didn’t, the impact broke every bone in his body below the ribcage, they tractored him in before he could decompress but he killed himself in the med bay because he couldn’t take the pain any more. How do I not say that? How do I make them think it didn’t happen?’ she was crying.

Yrd was afraid to comfort her; he didn’t know her all that well. She was a highly competent pilot and an excellent shot, but had a reputation as an ice maiden; she kept whatever drove her sealed up deep inside. Now that was cracking wide open, and it made him squirm.

He didn’t know how to cope with it either. He started by rambling.

‘When I got shot up, I could have invalided out. Maybe should have, but home, for me, is Kuat. What would be the point? Every time I looked up, I’d see a sky full of star destroyers. I wouldn’t be leaving anything behind.

That and I couldn’t stand the thought of being back among the normals. They wouldn’t understand if-‘ the first thought that came into the adjutant’s head was ‘if you beat them to death with the squadron leader’s blown off legs.’ He knew better than to say things like that. Shock wasn’t going to work.

He was saved by the link terminal. It was no less a personage than the Captain.

Lennart had not simply been venting steam when he talked about believing in his crew; it was impossible to know thirty- seven thousand individuals, but he could keep track of section leaders, the senior enlisted rates- and the handful who screwed up badly enough to merit his attention- and at least the top layer of the ship’s fighter and ground combat attachments.

‘Flight lieutenants.’ Lennart began. His attention had been drawn by an incomplete item of paperwork- notifications to next of kin still to be sent off. He took one look at the state of the two officers on the other end of the terminal and decided there might be a problem.

‘The ship we were sent to rescue survived.’ He cut straight to the chase. Given the strike cruiser’s ineptitude in managing to need to be rescued, it was probably only postponing the inevitable.
‘The Rebel ambush failed. This ship survived. That doesn’t make it any easier to bear when it’s your friends and colleagues that didn’t. Talk to me.’

She stumbled through it again.

‘Your private griefs are your own, and no-one can, or should, help you with that.’ He knew perfectly well that she had been sharing a bed with the squadron leader.
‘When we come up against competent, determined opposition, some of our people will get killed. That much is certain, and I have two hundred and fourteen of those to send myself. My consolation is that I have twenty- two hundred not to.’ The crew of the strike cruiser.

‘Necessity determines whether we take the risk or not, chance determines who pays the price- insofar as anybody can be responsible for such a self- willed, contrary creature as a fighter pilot, I was responsible for him, and for you. I asked him, and you, to take that risk, and he did not die to no cause nor, considering the mauling we gave that rebel bastard, unavenged. What’s important now is to do our best to avoid having to write any more. As Franjia Rahandravell, you mourn- as Epsilon Five, your squadron mates and the ship need you. It is that simple.’

She sniffled a little more, wiped her eyes dry- still bloodshot red, though.

‘Two other things. Tellick‘s mother- I met her. I reckon she has a certain secret sympathy for the Rebellion. Tell it as you please- I don’t think she deserves the truth- but make sure she knows who killed her son.’ Franjia nodded.

‘Other thing- do you need stormtrooper support to deal with that kazoo?’ Lennart asked, deliberately changing tone.

‘Captain.’ She said, reproachfully- he was trying to lift her mood, she didn’t immediately realize that.

‘It’s been so long since they got to do anything, they’re getting stir crazy. I have manhunter teams pulling rank to demand jobs even as mindnumbing as walking security; if I sent a detachment down there to keep order, I’d have difficulty stopping them trying to use an AT-AT.’ He paused for a couple of seconds. ‘Seriously- you’re going to be all right.’

‘Yes, Sir. What was it you wanted?’

‘Already taken care of, flight lieutenant. Carry on.’ He broke the link.

If he had been stupid enough to accept Lyria’s invitation, and if Ezirrn Tellick had thought he had a future, she could easily have been his daughter in law.
She probably was good enough to move up a rank, he thought, but not now, not until her heart resumed normal operations, and not in her present squadron. Replace Tellick directly, and give her the next or next-but-one available squadron leader’s billet.

Depending on what happened- time for their spy to contact the alliance, time for them to analyse the information and make a decision, time for them to get a capable unit here- that billet could be open in twenty to thirty hours.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-08 10:36am, edited 2 times in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2006-11-24 09:14am

Chapter 2

The shuttle meandered its way through hyperspace, with most of the crew asleep.

The course was plotted and the nav computer was looking after it, so there was nothing to do but doze, amuse yourself in the privacy of your own quarters, or someone else’s if you were lucky, or sit on the flight- deck and watch the streaks of stars go by.

The seven-man crew had done this times beyond count, and although they were carrying a relatively valuable cargo- heavy servos for the secondary turrets, blaster gas for everything that went ‘zap’, and a replacement squadron commander- just let the ship get on with it, even this near breakout.

The replacement was on the fight deck, along with the co-pilot, who had drawn the short straw. Both were looking out of the radically-sloped main viewscreen.

‘Are you sure you should be doing that? It starts to play weird tricks with your head after a while.’ The shuttle officer said, lazily. Best to make it sound as unofficial as possible; his passenger outranked him.

Privately, the passenger agreed. Somewhere past the screaming blue-white nodes racing at them, there was a capital ship waiting with a squadron of hyperspace capable fighters. He would probably be seeing far more than enough of this view, and without room to so much as turn over.

‘I mean’, said the shuttle pilot, struck by an idea of his own, ‘are they really stars?’

‘What are you on about?’ Peremptory enough, and it would have been worse if half his attention wasn’t on the future.

Lieutenant-Commander Aron Jandras, proceed to Ghorn system Vineland sector, take command of Epsilon squadron, composed of Starwing fighter-bombers, of Strike Wing (Provisional) 721 based on board ISD Black Prince, and for doing so this shall be your warrant, to fail at your own risk...although the last part was really superfluous.

‘All the streaks. Could be anything- could be dust, meteors, interstellar gas, some kind of leakage from the hyperwave. If they are stars, we must be covering a lot of space. Could have gone half-way round the galaxy without really noticing. Wouldn’t that be something, to have seen the universe without ever realising it.’

No real point in jumping on him, Aron thought. Don’t have to make an impression; he’s not directly under me. Although if this is a fair example, they must be a pretty loose outfit.

He had a point; the nav computer did it all. You told it to go from point A to point B, it came up with possibilities, and you picked one. It was the act of an expert to go through the advanced options like short- cuts and mapping to realspace.

‘Then it happens to everybody. You can still know enough to get to where you’re going.’
True enough, but not really worth further comment.

The ten- minute warning sounded, and the rest of the crew appeared. Neat enough, and they went through the drill with no appearance of incompetence; manning the piloting and all the gunnery stations, standing by to make a sensor sweep and raise shields.

‘How bad is this sector?’

‘Huh?’ the copilot answered.

‘You’re preparing to make a combat drop, into the middle of a subsector HQ and major naval base.’

‘Pretty bad, but that’s not it. Captain would roast us if we didn’t.’

‘Just how literally do you mean that?’

‘Well, he has been known to use lazy or stupid crewmen as jury rigged heat exchangers.’

Although they probably would try to put the wind up him, there was every chance that it was literally true. Star Destroyer captains were judge, jury and executioner on board their own ship, and the megalomaniac count was very high indeed. Not much fun to be on the receiving end of, but the alternative was...impossible. No-one less than superhuman could keep track of and motivate thirty- seven thousand men by any other means. At least, so ran the doctrine.

The shuttle dropped out of hyperspace. Ghorn was a more than usually red- orange star, dim and well through it’s life off in the distance on the port bow, and the planet in front of them was far more than usually built- up for this far out in the mid-rim.
Orbital platforms and manufactory modules littered the nearby space, and there were three blobs hanging above one of the poles of the planet.

‘There she is.’ he said, once he had found the destroyer, and waved Aron over to the station. The co- pilot could still be heard going through identification and traffic control procedures in the background while he examined what the sensors were telling him.
1A2-class Star Destroyer. Built early, rearmed with the new gun fit. Veteran. At first, he swept the narrow- arc optical finder right across it, not quite believing when the direction pointers told him otherwise.

As he zeroed in on it, clear from very slightly above it’s beam, he realised that was because he hadn’t instantly recognised it as an Imperial fighting ship.

He had half- expected it to be black. What parts of her original hull remained were faded yellow, mostly, and marred in many places by blaster scars; large parts had not remained.

The forward four hundred metres of the ship was brilliant, regulation reflective/conductive white- with an unpleasant series of irregular hummocks just behind the unpainted area that probably marked the ends of major structural members, as if the entire forward quarter of the length of the ship had been torn off and a new one mounted.

There was also a huge unpainted patch low on the starboard midside, with charred edges, where the kamikaze damage had been repaired but never cosmetically aligned.

A deep shredded carbon- marked segment above the starboard vertex marked an attempt to chew it off by turbolaser. There was a tangled heap of molten metal where one of the main scanner domes had been, and a new one mounted on the forward edge of the superstructure, as well as a direct replacement just inboard of the molten lump.

The main superstructure was less impressive than usual, shot up and rebuilt in SSD-black durelium rather than standard durasteel; it also looked off centre, as if the bridge module had been moved- closer inspection revealed that it was the port side of the ship, a mix of bare and some strange red metal, that had been extended outwards, leaving the destroyer lopsided.

There was also a jagged scar at the base of the bridge module, as if someone had tried to blow it off and only just not succeeded.

‘Galactic Spirit...’ battle damaged wasn’t the term, he decided. At a rough estimate, if the ship had taken all of that damage at once- there were numerous blaster scars- she would have been blown apart three times over. Battle fucked was nearer the mark.

‘Look under the superstructure.’

There were scars and craters there too. The ship’s name and registry number-hull 721. And a series of black blobs that resolved themselves into silhouettes. He looked, and kept looking.

An Old Republic Procurator class battlecruiser. Two Hapan battle dragons. Three alien craft he did not recognise. Two Victory-class Star Destroyers. A Rebel MC-80 Starcruiser. An Imperator-class Star Destroyer with a phoenix mark. More than a dozen lighter capital combatants.

‘How did that- that flying junkyard manage to take out a kriffing republic battlewagon?’

‘Dumb overconfidence on their part, very smart shooting, and a lot of luck with the terrain.’

‘A fair kill tally for a ship that looks as if it crawled out of a junkyard.’ he said, impressed but refusing to show it. If they were all directly claimed, the Black Prince had seen a massive amount of combat, even for a ship her age.

‘You’ve got no idea how much work it takes to keep her that way.’ he said, enigmatically.

‘Yes, Sir.’ the pilot could be heard responding to someone on the com link, and he leaned forward to push all the throttles past their safety stops.

Turret 4-Port;

‘I get this not.’ Pellor Aldrem announced, from the gun pointer’s console. He was a fair haired man dressed in a quasi- regulation armoured spacesuit that had been customised to take a gunner’s helmet; if their turret did get hit, chances were they were toast, but flukes did happen and he wanted to be ready to take advantage of them.
Technically, he was a Senior Chief Petty Officer; in practise, he was the best shot with a turbolaser on the ship, and held rank as a turret commander accordingly.

‘I really wish I just didn’t. That slimy jizzbucket Lomarel, he’s left half a rationpak smeared over the power monitor. At least I hope it’s a rationpak.’ The next most senior member of the gun crew, ‘Fussy’ Fendon, grumbled.

‘Yeah, well, he is the guy his own turretmates bought an inflatable nerf for.’ Aldrem made an effort to be tolerant. Lomarel had been a member of his own gun crew before being punted up and out, and the chubby, smelly freak sort of grew on you. Then again, so did fungus.

‘And a sound damper field. I don’t care if he makes a dianoga’s nest out of his own turret, if he does we might be rid of him and it would probably do a better job, but why’s he allowed to make a mess out of our turret, hey?’

‘That’s what I don’t get. We’re in dock, right? Caution, maybe, keeping us busy, maybe, but it’s the after turret in each battery that’s kept manned. The one with the best all round field of fire.’

Two quad- barreled heavy turbolasers, thermal shroud around each tapering down, adding to the perspective and making them look like a clutch of lances to stab the stars with.
Each of the quads elevated independently, traverse of about three or four degrees on it’s own sub- platform, against a barbette and back- plate hardened to withstand planet- shaking shocks, anchored in suspension- film neutronium.

Wondrous stuff; it’s hyperdense fluid nature made it the most perfect shock absorber in the universe, the only material substance that could take the recoil a heavy turbolaser battery kicked out.

Aldrem ran a hand over the pointing grip; with this, he could make countries disappear…it was fortunate for the planet underneath them that he was a stable individual. Whatever his file said.

It had happened, hadn’t it? Star destroyer in the inner rim, permanent defence orbit around the sector capital. One of the gunners had fallen in love with a local, he had two-timed her, some said stood her up at the altar. She had waited, seemed over it, divisional officer hadn’t caught it in time, she had simply climbed into the turret one day, pointed it down and made the cheat’s home city into a green fireball.

Some of the newer ships had monitors installed to prevent someone in an unbalanced state of mind getting into the turret; apart from the fact that most people tended to be in an abnormal state of mind when shot at anyway, Black Prince had never received that particular upgrade.

Just as well, Aldrem thought, thinking about the team he was in charge of. Fendon’s nitpicking precision had saved them from malfunction and flashback more than once, at the gun status monitor board, but he wasn’t a man you could go and paint the town purple with.
Wasn’t he a member of some obscure mid rim cult? Still busy vehemently denying the existence of things everyone else had forgotten about.

Number three was Areath Suluur, a dark- haired, warm brown- skinned man of indeterminable age- always armed, always coldly, fluidly precise on the job, and his service record was a pack of lies.

Whatever he had really been and whatever he had done he, on the other hand, was a good mate off the job, even if he did occasionally look longingly at stormtrooper armour, and react strangely to a few things. He was comms and sensors op.

When things went well, that was all the turret needed to serve it’s guns. Unsurprisingly, it often didn’t run that smoothly.

The other twelve turret crew were there to deal with problems as they came up, and were supposed to be capable of any running repair up to and including replacing a shocked- loose barrel in it’s recoil cradle. Also capable of replacing the alpha team if they were the ones that got hit.

‘Yeugh. This- it’s almost whole.’ Fendon held something up for inspection.

‘Look, that console’s sealed and hardened to stand vacuum and light flashback. You won’t break it if you hose it down.’

Just then, the sky started to move around them. There was a small ball indicator, a space globe that showed two highlighted sections- their target- finder’s current slice of sky, and their potential arc of fire. The ship pitched upwards.

‘Manoeuvre jets function, and we have objects in arc.’ Suluur said, looking past Aldrem at the globe. ‘Control?’

‘You call them- Fendon, don’t do anything yet, but stand by to spin her up.’ Aldrem told the power-tech.

‘Fire Direction Control, this is Papa Four.’ Suluur com’d to them. ‘We have a line of fire to the station and the tender, IFF is still green, weapons are secure.’

‘Papa Four- FDC. Weapons safe, repeat, weapons safe.’

‘Zarri, what’s going on?’ Aldrem asked his friend in fire direction.

‘We’re pitching round to cover them, don’t ask me why. Probably just Mirannon blowing off plasma.’

‘Probably just getting ready to cover the tender if we are jumped, you mean.’ Aldrem stated grimly.

‘You could be right, Pel. I’ll let you know if we get any real news.’

‘Feel free to give us fake news, it passes the time. Papa Four out.’ Suluur said, breaking link.

‘So we are expecting trouble.’ He said to the rest of the team.

‘Stang, yes. Rebels think we’re weak enough to jump, they’ll send something to have a go at us.’

‘Not surprising.’ Fendon stated. ‘The ship looks ready to come apart.’

‘The guns are in perfect working order.’ Aldrem stated. He was right, too. In the ambush that had landed them in dock, both sides had been heavily ionized, and after the initial clash the rebel cruiser had been shifting power and rerouting data to keep one system in working order - her hyperdrive. Black Prince had been doing the same- to protect her main battery.

‘Maybe, but we look more like something that belongs to the rebel alliance.’ Fendon declared.

‘You joined after that, didn’t you? That operation was a lot more fun to look back on than it was to go through, believe me.’ Aldrem reminisced.

‘Go on.’ Suluur said, grinning.

‘New Eguria sector, about, what, eight years back now? The sector group commander, it was Admiral
Demorak I think, went rogue, refused an order and defected to the Rebellion. Well, what of it already existed by then.

He was Republic navy from way back- real stuffed shirt. We pretended to join him. You’re right, we do look like something out of the alliance fleet- we weren’t as bad, then, but they still welcomed us with open arms. Poor suckers. Talk about a target rich environment.’ Aldrem chuckled.

‘I wonder how fast people die, or quit, in the rebellion. I wonder how far back their memories go.’ Suluur pondered.

‘You wonder if we could get away with it again, you mean.’ Aldrem said. ‘That’s the main reason we can look like this; command knows we’re loyal. We get the edgy, dangerous jobs, places the rebellion’s won itself an advantage, situations another ship might not come back from, we get the job. We don’t always bring all of this ship back.’

‘You and Captain Lennart.’ Fendon said.

‘I’ve met him, which is more than I can say about the skippers of some of the ships I’ve been on.’ Aldrem said, glossing over quite a lot of the details.

‘So what happened to the rebels?’ Fendon asked.

‘They were still using a lot of old Clone Wars kit, we picked up two Recusant and a Victory kill, but so much of the superstructure got blown away, it was as easy to refit to Imperator- II as it was to fix up as was.’

‘Most of the rebels are just a gang of pirates anyway, aren’t they?’ Fendon pointed out. ‘Their big ships are rare- we see a lot more of them than we ought to. I mean, the initials of their proper name are A-R-R. What does that say about them?’ He said contemptuously.

‘Don’t read too much into that. I mean, what would it make us, ninja?’ Aldrem said.

Suluur laughed quietly and said nothing.

Lennart had requested the presence of the tender captain and the defence station commander. Both of them came, largely out of curiosity to see what sort of madhouse this mongrel ship was.

Their Lambda shuttles arrived at the same time as Jandras’. Because he was riding one of Black Prince’s own, they gave him priority.

What he wanted to do was look around the pad, inspect the strange arrangements here. He had served with a Star Destroyer’s fighter wing, and competently otherwise he wouldn’t have been up for promotion, but not with an outfit like this.

He picked up his baggage, wandered out down the ramp, realized who his shuttle had been given priority over and decided to run away and hide before his career was irreparably damaged.

He should have known better; nothing on this ship was ever thrown away as irreparably damaged.

Two people came up to him; one male, mid height, solidly built and wearing a tool belt, the other female, neatly and precisely dressed- he didn’t recognize either of the insignia, but he guessed he was enlisted, she was an officer.

Franjia had taken the captain’s advice, and joined in the wake; she had a fair amount to drink, grief turned to anger, she had verbally savaged half the squadron, and the rest of her felt much better for it- her skull was still complaining.
She didn’t remember if she had hit anybody or not, but her head felt bad enough to have spent most of the night headbutting stormtroopers; what Aron took for a ramrod up the spine was in this case her trying not to fall over.

‘Welcome aboard, sir.’ She said, extending a hand. He took it. He was short and broad shouldered, round faced and dark haired, she was taller than he was, hair so fair it was nearly white, oval faced, pale green eyes, looked like an icicle in a uniform. Physically fit, endurance rather than strength.

‘Epsilon squadron?’ He asked.

‘Yes, sir- I’m Flight Lieutenant Rahandravell, Epsilon Five, this is Squadron Technical Master Sargeant Oregal.’
‘Run that one by me again. Flight Lieutenant?’

‘Sargeant Oregal, as this explanation is technical, you should deliver it.’ Franjia smiled, as the squadron ground crew chief got to make the only form of attack he was officially allowed; unleashing a steaming mound of bullshit.

‘As a carrier based strike wing operating off a non- carrier, we are technically Starfighter Force rather than navy.
Most of our personnel are in fact navy crossbadged to starfighter force, some of them are actually army hat jumpers but if this ship were ever to be officially classified as a carrier the naval personnel of the wing would revert to their permanent ranks whereas the army personnel would have to resign their permanent and have ratified their temporary commissions in the starfighter force in order to be allowed to serve with the navy.
The upshot of this is- congratulations, you’ve been demoted. Although nominally O-equal the administrative responsibilities consequent on the rank mean that a squadron leader acquires effective juniority under a naval lieutenant commander. Do you know where that falls in the starfighter force rank system, sir?’

He’s starting to look like I feel, Franjia thought. She would have snapped and told the sergeant to shut up before he got to ‘technically’. Either he has an unusually and exploitably high gibberish tolerance, he is very patient and forgiving- also exploitable- or his brain is so fried that all of this is rolling right off him.

Oregal continued. ‘We’re a wing, therefore we’re commanded by a group captain, who has multiple wing commanders under him to command the tactical groups. A group captain is considered equal in rank to a colonel but junior to a naval captain, which is anomalous because naval captain and colonel are considered nominally equal, it comes from the fact that the army recognizes the equivalence of the senior lieutenant’s rank and the starfighter force doesn’t, which should put a group captain higher on the pay spine but you know how the navy are.
A squadron leader- you- commands a squadron except when such squadron is composed of heavy or multicrew craft in which case he commands a flight, normally the job of a flight lieutenant, and the squadron is commanded by a wing commander. Do you understand all that, sir?’ he said, totally deadpan.

Aron had been letting it roll over him, but his brain wasn’t that far gone yet. ‘I don’t need to, I have junior officers to do that for me.’ Franjia and Oregal shared a look. Perhaps he wasn’t totally hopeless.
‘Tell me about something I care about. Over normal strength, over normal weight, right? So what have we got in the wing, group, whatever?’

‘Two squadrons of TIE Avenger, except Alpha-squadron lead flight is an experimental group- commanded by an actual group captain, just this once.’ Franjia told him, pointing across the bay.

‘Triple wings, each wing splits again? Preproduction models, except GpCp Olleyri- Alpha One- liked them so much he refused to give them back. They’re supposed to receive a D-codename, Devastator, Dominator, some such.’

‘The Commander Air Group- don’t you start-‘ that directed at Oregal- ‘leads from the front? Good- but I don’t recognize a lot of these things. They can’t all be experimental.’ Aron said.

‘We do get a lot of flight testing work.’ Oregal told him. ‘Some of them are regional specialties we liked and picked up, the rest- I’m the senior crew chief, by the way. I don’t fly them, I just fix them- are odds.’

‘The rest?’

‘Two Bomber and three Interceptor squadrons, one of the interceptor squadrons is Xt- light shield units. One other Starwing squadron- Delta, we’re junior- Hunters, Gamma squadron, are a regional specialty, folding winged. Fighters- more or less. Mu and Nu squadrons are experimental, and the other side of the credchip. The D- birds are a winner; those- aren’t.’ Franjia told him.

‘The Ravagers are escort fighters. See how all the wing hangs down below the body, and it looks like two eyeballs welded together? That’s because they are. Everyone in the wing who can hold a hydrospanner has had a shot at trying to keep those flying, and we reckon it isn’t worth the effort.’ Oregal said. Franjia confirmed.

‘Turret fighters. They do not work, and if our report has anything to do with it, they will not enter general service.’

‘Those flying wing looking things?’ Aron asked. They looked beautiful, sleek and chromic, almsot to god to be true in fact.

‘Designed to fit a new, maybe rediscovered old, weapon; weapon works, spaceframe’s junk.’ Oregal confirmed.

‘I know I’m here as a replacement.’ Aron said, looking at Franjia’s face freezing over again. She had thawed out a little talking shop, now she was back to icicle. ‘What happened?’

‘The people we lost,’ she said slowly, ‘make it feel much worse than the numbers say. Squadron Leader Ezirrn Tellick, Flight Officer Garm Inturii.’

‘Flight Lieutenant, I transferred in from an Interceptor squadron. There were only two people in the unit whose name it was safe to let myself get to know, and one of them was me.’ Aron said, brutally. It was usually safer than the alternative.

‘Are you suggesting we should let ourselves get killed more often, just to stay in practise?’ she was ready to savage him.

‘Clearly, I’ve pushed one of your buttons.’ Best way to cope with it, Jandras thought, just plough on regardless. ‘Those numbers. What do they say about the other side?’

‘Two rebel half squadrons, X escorting Y wings, we destroyed four X and a Y, the rest ran, four damaged enough to claim.’

‘Not bad- we seem to have got off on the wrong foot, Flight Lieutenant.’ He started to say.

‘The rebel bombers ripple- fired their antiship torpedo loads at us to give themselves time to flee to hyperspeed. That’s how we lost Squadron Leader Tellick. We miss him, and I mean to avenge him. I know all about the two graves business, and I don’t greatly care. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the squadron.’ Franjia stated.

‘One thing. Oregal.’ Aron turned to the sergeant.

‘Yes, sir?’

‘How do you remember all of that bureaucro-crap?’

‘I’m studying to put myself through law school, Sir. Know your enemy and all that.’

‘Kitrich? Help.’ The young probationary engineer appealed to his room-mate. Mirannon had most of his senior officers and artificers, and himself, working non- stop; and had let the rest know that whether or not they ever got to be senior depended a lot on how hard they drove themselves now.
Junior officers he wasn’t worrying about, considering them unlikely to pull their weight in the purely technical work underway.

‘What is it?’

‘Have you stopped laughing about me getting into trouble yet?’

‘What’s the problem?’

‘I got told to write a report on the ship’s hyperdrive- and I’m lost. I mean, this makes no sense.’ He had three large datapad- textbooks sitting open on their shared desk.

‘Right now, all I know is that I don’t want to go near one ever, ever again.’

‘A hyperdrive or the exec?’

‘Both. I mean…this is crazy. It doesn’t work. It can’t work. It can’t work. According to this, the light barrier is impossible to cross.’ He pointed to one of the textbooks. ‘This calls it a…hypersymmetric transposition? As if we somehow change places with something on the other side of the light barrier? Which this,’ pointing at one of the other datapads, ‘calls a dead theory, proven nonsense- but this, the actual handbook-‘ he banged his head off the desk.

‘Hyperdrive motivator, what does that mean? It motivates hyperspace, like makes it do circuit training until it gets tired and agrees to let us in? Time and energy running backwards, causality normalisation fields- when there is no normal referential frame anyway, and we depend on abnormal causality to get there?’ He wailed, from the forehead-on-desk position. ‘I give up. It’s a black box with a ‘go’ button on it.’

‘If it didn’t make your head hurt, it wouldn’t be worth working out.’ Kitrich said, heartlessly, then he recovered a slight shred of mercy. ‘Are you really baffled?’


‘Look…start with something you understand. Work with that, and work outwards from it.’

‘I thought I understood power converters. Converter controls electron standing wave that intercepts and is energised by electromagnetic activity, converts low energy radiation like heat to usable power by draining back energy from activated electrons- regenerative heating, the energy gets dumped back in the reactor. It’s the ship’s heat sink system.’ He opened a workbook.
‘T-E series, and most of a hypermatter reaction’s product interacts weakly or not at all, and the core runs off five stage T-N series, process to control a process to control a process to control…how does the other side do it? How does a bunch of failed politicians and art school dropouts run ships dangerous enough that we have to be here trying to stop them?’

‘They treat their tech as black boxes with ‘go’ buttons on.’

The tender and station commanders were escorted to the ready room beneath the bridge. The ship’s scarred appearance was only skin deep; there were work crews everywhere- including a group of stormtroopers levering something into place under the direction of a small team of engineering enlisted.

The tender commander understood more of what was going on, and he was grudgingly impressed- still intended to shout at the captain for removing the tender’s people and keeping their tools.

All but one of Black Prince’s command team were there and waiting; Lennart, Dordd, gunnery officer, sensors and systems officer, navigator- the missing man was Mirannon, who was far too busy.

The bulk of the ready room was taken up with the main display table and the ring of seats around it- an arrangement the Rebels had apparently copied for their own starships. At the moment it was showing a display of the surrounding space.

‘Junior Captain, Port Commander.’ Lennart greeted them, emphasizing the fact that he ranked them and commanded a combat unit. Otherwise, they might not have believed that he was an Imperial naval officer.

‘Two things; one of more interest to my people than to our guests. With effect from 1200 Coruscant Time today, Commander Delvran Dordd is promoted to Captain and appointed to command Arrogant- class Star Destroyer Dynamic.’

They cheered him, grouped around him, slapped him on the back, congratulated him. It was never an executive officer’s job to be popular, and indeed he was not, but he was professional.

‘Thank you.’ He told them all, even the two visitors who had congratulated him with icy politeness. ‘I’m remaining in my old job in an acting capacity for the moment, because we have another problem I want to see through.’

If it’s getting this rustbucket to look like a proper warship, Dynamic’s going to be waiting a long time, the station commander thought. It was depressing- worse, it was demoralising having this thing broken down and hanging in space near his people. What had happened to the Navy’s standards?

‘Junior Captain- Fokatha, isn’t it? I never knew life on board a tender could be so interesting. Rebel spies and everything.’ Lennart hand- signalled to one of the stormtrooper escort, who called their chief witness for the persecution. Omega-17-Blue-Aleph 3 walked into the ready room.

Perhaps one in ten of the stormtroopers in the 721st Legion was either a more recent clone or an actual veteran of the Grand Army of the Republic. Somewhere around one in thirty was female.

OB173 was both, and she had been designed for perfection. Dordd tried not to stare, and gave up. It wasn’t just the way she walked, the obviously powerfully athletic frame, yet lithe and fluidly elegant; she could have stepped onto any catwalk in the Core, stormtrooper armour and all, and brought the house down.

She had her helmet hooked on her belt, showing off a long flowing crown of red- gold hair, a hawk face and bright, sharp star- blue eyes. Every male eye in the room locked on to her- except the captain’s. He was watching her hands and her weapons.

Dordd was entranced. She’s magnificent, he was thinking, a divine being, a snow-clad angel of death.

‘Dockside security became suspicious of this man.’ She said- glorious, glorious voice- slotting a datachip into the display. It was a split image of the worker, his personnel record. ‘He was abducted from your ship, Junior Captain, and questioned.’

‘Impossible! My security-‘

‘Is porous. They suspected nothing, before, during or after. He confessed to being a rebel operative. I have the details of that also, if you require them to convince you.’ She was definite, thoroughly in control of herself, unquestionable. Which was exactly the effect she wanted to have, of course.

‘Did you do the interrogation?’ the station commander asked. He sounded ready to volunteer for one himself.

‘I’m qualified.’ She stated, simply. ‘Others are more so, and it would have been unjust to deprive them of the chance to put their talents to use. He broke thoroughly, we have confidence in our conclusions.’

‘Those conclusions being that the Alliance knows we’re here. Thank you, trooper, you can go.’ Before my acting exec drowns in a puddle of his own drool, Lennart didn’t add. She saluted and glided out. Most of them watched her go.

‘Gentlemen; tactical planning time.’ Captain Lennart had to flare the holoimage- a maximum intensity pulse of light- to get their attention. ‘What, if anything, will the rebels try to do to us, and how do we defend and counterattack?’

‘Do you have any more like her?’ the tender captain, mind still not with them, asked.

‘It, people; a Grand Army clone template, limited edition, liaison communications and public relations. The effect she had on you, she was supposed to have on early imperial journalists. Can you concentrate on something other than thinking about seducing one of my stormtroopers?’

‘Usual worst case scenario, Captain?’ Commandwe Wathavrah- "guns"- asked. He had a peculiar mottled look about face and hands, could have been near-human, in fact had been sprayed with cryogen from a damaged laser cannon early in his career.

‘Yes, no point worrying about that. Most probable case?’

‘What’s the worst case?’ the defence station commander asked.

‘The rebels put two and two together, realise it’s us, decide to wipe out a lot of scores and send a battle group with enough collective firepower to make even the Executor nervous.’ The navigator, Commander Brenn, fielded the question. He would have been the captain’s first choice to replace Dordd as exec.

‘We know exactly what to do about it; we run. Most probable, now…that depends a lot on the competence of the rebels.’

‘Hmph.’ The gunnery officer expressed contempt for the rebels’ intelligence. ‘Even disabled, a destroyer still takes a lot of putting down, they’ll have to send something hefty.’

‘Have to risk it? I don’t think so.’ Brenn stated. ‘The only time they’ve ever been able to capture a Star Destroyer is when the legion aren’t aboard, ideally none of the crew either. Not a serious objective. Nicking the Sahallare, though, that would appeal. Neutralise the Golan, demolish us, capture the tender.
Dreadnaught- class cruisers; the last I heard, the rebels were starting to automate them and use the crew space for assault troops.’

‘One of those old junkers against a StarGun? Even the Rebellion isn’t usually that stupid.’ Dordd replied.

‘Starfighter support. Everything they have with an ion cannon, disable the station and the tender, probably those fancy ion pulse warheads as well. Dreadnought jumps in, finishes the station, fighters land and rearm with heavy demolition warheads, bombs and rockets, finish off the crippled star destroyer while the dread boards and captures the tender.
Three phase strike, true, but all they really risk is an old junker and a few thousand meatheads.’ Brenn replied.

‘What’s the system defence force going to be doing? Standing by and cheering?’ the gunnery officer queried. ‘Ghorn II under us has a pair of V-150s, there’s a Lancer and a detachment of IPV’s, and the garrison TIE wings.’

‘So the rebels put commando teams in, covert insertion by tramp freighter ahead of the main op, seize the V-150s and use them against us, the rebel heavy fighters slaughter the garrison TIEs, and Lancers are dead meat against anything bigger than a starfighter. System defence isn’t going to be much more than a speed bump to a competent rebel group.’

‘Well, thank you very much.’ The defence platform commander objected.

‘Your platform is the only system asset the rebels need fear.’ Lennart took control of the discussion. ‘Brenn, your plan has them using fighters, spec ops teams, an expendable old ship and troops. I’m not convinced they have that much disposable fighter strength- but the V-150 idea is a nasty one. Guns?’

‘Same old rebel idea; harder they hit us, further they knock us off balance, more chance they have of getting back whatever they commit. Victory or Mon Cal, fighter first wave then a combat drop, with us between them and the planet, use us as an ion shield. They’ll try to blow the tender if they can’t capture it.’
‘Point. Delvran?’

‘Insystem spies. The rebels probably do have someone on the planet, it’s a fleet transfer point after all. They’ll see the preparations we make. Otherwise- send down stormtroopers to secure the ion cannon, half our fighters are hyper capable- use them as a reaction force, have them jump out now, jump in on signal to counterstrike the rebels.’

‘So far. I don’t see the rebels risking a major force unit- there’ll be one, but it’ll be distant support, outsystem waiting to hyper in. Our fighters clear the rebel fighters, Sahallare moves to shelter behind the Golan, we fight a conventional engagement in high orbital space with ion support to cripple and take the rebel strike ship.’ Lennart decided.

‘Captain!’ the platform commander protested. ‘Your ship’s in no fit state-‘

‘It looks that way.’ Captain Lennart smiled. ‘We have full firepower, fighter and ground ops, we’re six hours away from shield function, ten from basic ion drive and fifteen from hyper. The rebels can’t plan and organise faster than we can come back on line, not with enough to be a serious threat. A half planned scratch group could be here now, but-‘

There was a loud beep. ‘Captain, this is sensor watch. Hyperstate bow shocks, multiple small craft. Incoming rebel fighters.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-08 11:31am, edited 2 times in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2006-11-29 06:19pm

Chapter 3

‘Count?’ Lennart asked the duty sensor chief.

‘Thirty plus, low intensity- possibly X, likely smaller.’

‘Flight bay, Olleyri.’ He told the com terminal; it’s droid brain routed his words accordingly.

‘Groupie? Inbound. Two minute readiness all, scramble Beta, Gamma, Epsilon- they need shaken down- Nu on close and point defence, Theta. Threat’s two to three squadrons, rebel area command probably.’

‘Sir?’ It was abrupt, but the group captain overcame his shock. ‘Acknowledged, moving.’

‘All hands,’ Lennart told the com terminal- it gave him ship wide broadcast- ‘general quarters, incoming fighters. Engineering- Mirannon, what can you give me?’

‘Roll and pitch, no main thrust yet unless you want a lot of pizza.’ The chief engineer was not at all surprised to be interrupted this time. He was busy trying to tell one of the zone relative inertial field generators what it’s sector of the ship was shaped like, and stop it arguing with the tensor fields and shield systems that were already there.
If he had left it to its own devices, it would have taken the unit too long, five hours as opposed to ninety minutes, to bed itself in- and the field overlap would have been lethal. Inertial compensation was one case where two rights very definitely made a wrong. He did not stop to talk.

‘Full weapons, the bridge, main battery and hangar bay emitters are in good enough shape to take power, I can give you shields there. Skipper, we’ve got no ion wake. We’re wide open around the engines.’

‘Better than I expected on the shields- the engines, depends on their tactical objective. I’ll have it watched.’ He turned to his guests.
‘Station Commander, Junior Captain, do you want to return to your respective commands- Commander, you should, Captain, you’re probably safer here.’

The command team were already moving, the gunnery officer to the fire direction station buried in the base of the superstructure, Dordd to primary damage control, Brenn and the sensor officer to the bridge.

Aron Jandras, still getting used to the idea of being a squadron leader, had said very little to the pilots of Epsilon squadron; he had just surveyed the wreckage left by the wake, made a formal acknowledgement of taking over, and gone to what was now his cabin. It had been stripped and cleaned to within an inch of its life. The cot and several panels in the walls were new. The previous occupant had been effectively erased.

His previous ship had been an Imperator-I; the original barrack rooms had been remodelled into four- person dorms, which considering they fought in flights of three had been either perfectly useless or, the common theory went, an ISB trick to prevent pilots conspiring when off duty. Before that, a Nebulon-B which barely had room for fighters, and still did have a barrack room. He hadn’t dared to joke about hammocks, in case anybody took it as meant seriously.

On the other hand, this time he had been assigned to a ship that looked as if it could be taken apart with a feather duster. For all the relative comfort of the quarters, he didn’t intend to get comfortable- he might have to leave in a hurry.

He was still in uniform rather than flight gear, and he was reading through his copy of Technical Order 2-30SW-1. The Technical Order was as close as a starfighter came to having a manual- not as good as flight experience, but a lot better than climbing into a cockpit cold.

This evening, he would formally meet his immediate superior, the bomb wing commander, and the commander air group; he had scheduled two hours in the ship’s simulator bank before then as the best way to get to know his squadron in the only way that actually mattered, and was reading up, not in expectation of imminent combat, but because he didn’t want to look a fool in the sims.

The manual claimed the Starwing had the same rate of roll as an Interceptor, and he was in the middle of saying ‘Bull-‘ when the GQ alarm sounded. More proof that censorship has gone too far, he thought as he began to move.

One of the things he had noticed was that the Starwing was supposed to have a pressurised cockpit. He wasn’t prepared to place much faith in that, either. Flight gear was kept in the ready room, the flight suit was supposed to go on over the uniform, another idea that didn’t work as well as it was supposed to.

He dropped the datapad Technical Order, sprinted for the ready room, collided with one of the other pilots on the way and stuck an elbow into his kidneys, wriggled into the ready room.

He had been expecting a mad scramble, locker room fire drill, not enough room for twelve pilots to clamber into flight suits at the same time, fend for yourself and devil take the hindmost; instead, odd numbers went in and got suited up first, with enough room to do it neatly and efficiently, then even numbers- wingmen.

Nobody explained the drill; it must have been in standing orders- the previous squadron leader’s. He was left looking like a fool and an odd man out, and was that a sneaky look on Epsilon Five’s face? Probably.

Normal pad arrangement on an Imperator was the two hangars in the forward wall opening into the main bay space, craft on ceiling racks launching through the hangars. Black Prince’s complete rerarrangement had a much shallower main bay, and the extra six squadrons were accommodated in the ‘loft space’ on sloped racks releasing down through the deckhead of the bay.
The lead six had a small docking and maintenance hangar, but they launched on racks that moved out through apertures in the otherwise sealed off forward wall. Instantly Aron hated it.

The frames for the racks were powered- if something failed, which he expected it might, what was he supposed to do, sit there and wait for the ship to come apart around him?

Standing there looking at it, he suddenly couldn’t wait to get out into space.

The pilots around him all had their helmets on, as he did, the hamster-look that had it shown up on a living being would have been sent for reconstructive surgery instantly. Every time he saw one, he wanted to put a beanie hat on it.

The racks had already lowered the big, heavy- finned, shovel nosed craft to pad level, ground crew supervising and doing the pre flight checks. Oregal- Aron didn’t even bother trying to remember his rank- was standing by his.

‘Shields and weapons are charged and inactive, Sir, warhead load is standard torpedoes.’ No sign of help. Which made sense, because if Aron didn’t know what he was doing now, it was too late. ‘Activate in the bay, Group’ll tell you where to go from there, sir.’

Aron nodded; three steps up to the cockpit, slide in- much easier than a TIE Eyeball which had space exactly where it wasn’t wanted- link the flight suit into the cockpit instrumentation and life support.

The cockpit was exactly as the manual had described it- sensor and comms panel on the left, ship combat systems in front, flight technicals on the right. Most of that was done in helmet in a TIE, there was a second of double vision as the helmet and the cockpit decided which was to be the prime information source, and the cockpit won.

It couldn’t tell him what to do, though. He waited as the racks swung out, waited in part for the inevitable ‘clunk’, and marvelled when it failed to come. The fighter fell free; the gravity in the bay was set to fractional ‘g’ down and out, enough time to power up and swim out under manoeuvring ion power.

He was a second behind the rest in starting engines, a whole three seconds in remembering he had combat shields, and he could feel the squadron knocked out of synch by him. By now the ship’s sensors had pinned down the rebels’ vector of approach, and flightcom began the battle-play.

‘Pilots, this is Olleyri.’ When he wasn’t tasked to fly himself, the group captain outright usurped the role of chief air controller, reckoning it was still his job to look after his pilots.

‘We have two to three squadrons of rebel fighters incoming, and- now additional traces of small craft possibly armed freighters. Local area squadrons, they’ll be using mostly older fighters, competence unpredictable- don’t take them lightly even if they are flying poodoo. They may be good enough to be a threat. Beta leads the intercept, Theta flank cover. Nu squadron disperse for ship close defence. Gamma and Epsilon are reaction element. Out.’

So far, so standard, Aron thought, five against three, the full fighter complement would simply get in each other’s way- although they were being held at short standby in case a threat developed that they would be needed for.
Beta’s Avengers- the best thing about this entire tour seemed to be that he now had some very impressive friends- would hit the rebels fast and head on, with Theta covering them. Personally, he had time to think.

Epsilon had simply taken station on him, in the same pretty much Rebel standard finger four formation, not the Imperial three- fighter V. It was how Cygnus recommended the gunboat be used, and he noticed it was how the Avengers were deploying.

Also, the sensors had given them enough warning that they were fully deployed before the first rebel hit realspace. Eight short strings of emergence flashes- deploying by flights; two waves, first wave a flight of X- wings, flight of Z-95s, two flights of local fighters he didn’t recognise- big-finned taper nosed cylinders.

The second wave, a flight of Shobquix Gauntlets, a flight of those local fighters with bulgy pods on the fins- missile racks?- a flight of CloakShapes, a flight of Y-wings.

‘Not often the zoo comes to visit us.’ Someone- Beta One- said on the group channel. ‘Second line looks like their bomb element, reaction element pass under the fighters, all units watch out for friendly fire from the Golan.’

Too confident, Aron thought, he’s overeager. Committing us too soon.

On the bridge Lennart was watching the sensor picture develop. His ship’s departments could do their jobs without micromanagement; the most useful thing he could do was comprehend and anticipate. Jammers were up, the rebels would have to get close for a detailed status scan, but they were heading this way. His ship was the main target, not the station.
What was their plan? They were faced by four squadrons of the empire’s best- and one of it’s worst- and weren’t planning to break off? What were they expecting to happen- or what else?

‘Flight Ops, Lennart. Beta and Theta to press to close quarters now. Send Gamma in, pull Epsilon back, launch Mu to join close defence.’

Olleyri knew better than to delay; he transmitted the order- then asked what it was about. ‘Aye aye, Captain- what’s the plan?’

‘We’re disabled, as far as they know. Our main defence is our fighters. Alliance best practise is for them to use the local area force to draw out and chew up the wing, and the light freighters on their way are their best weapon for that. This is a space superiority op, not an antiship strike- a furball suits us, because-‘ emergence flares.

‘Oh kriff.’ Olleyri said.


Aron had watched the strange looking Hunters soar past over his head; ball and back block, longer, thinner folding thermal wings- hadn’t Incom originally offered the X-wing to the Empire and been turned down for its price tag? If Sienar had tried to reinvent it afterwards with TIE technology, that was probably what it would look like.
Their sprint thrust was far higher than a Starwing’s; Aron didn’t know any of them well enough to ask them to leave some for the bombers.

Then plan A came apart in red fire. A handful of larger rebel- red blips in the sensor scope, telescoping themselves down to combat speed, the instruction to Gamma to make full speed and Epsilon to break off, and a hailstorm of quad and light turbo- laser fire pouring into Beta, Theta and Gamma squadrons’ path.

Two YT- series, a Ghtroc light freighter, and a larger ship- Customs corvette.

Aron’s target sensor went off, he shouted ‘break break break’ into the com, and firewalled the engines twisting the Starfury up and to the right in the start of a tallon roll.

A salvo of light turbolaser fire screamed past behind him; the manual was right about the beast’s agility.

He was supposed to be keeping these people alive, not just himself; glance at the scope- a couple of fuzzy green blips, hit but taken on the shielding, before the rebs had changed target to the closer Hunters.

‘Epsilons, form up again on me, make room to weave, keep it loose…’ he ordered. ‘Five- a customs ship?’

‘Long range light turbolasers. Designed to overmatch the average pirate- the rebels turn it into their version of our Lancer. Advice; that’s our target. Who else can deal with it, if not us?’

Gamma’s Hunters were fleeing the beaten zone, most trying to escape forward into the furball where the rebels would fear friendly fire, exactly what Lennart’s plan had been in pushing them on. Two had been lucky enough just to lose shields, but three had gone. Two ejections.

The destroyer behind us, Aron thought. ‘I’m not up to speed on Starwing doctrine yet. Five, you lead in.’

‘Epsilon squadron, accelerate to attack speed.’ She acknowledged by taking charge.

Lennart turned to the navigator. ‘Brenn, opinion. We sneeze at that corvette and it goes away. The rebs then know we have more function than they thought, and fail to follow up or hit us much harder. We don’t, we lose a lot of fighters. Hmmm?’

‘Protect the wing.’ The navigator said instantly. What Lennart had intended to do anyway.

Turret 4-Port;
‘Oh, come on. Suluur, any actual reason why we aren’t weapons free yet?’ Aldrem complained.

‘We’re playing dead so that bigger targets come along.’

‘We’re not going to have a fighter wing left to do it with unless we give them some support fire.’ Aldrem was exaggerating, but the armed freighters with their military- grade turrets were doing a lot of damage.

‘Port-4, this is FireCon. Do you have a bearing on the corvette?’ fire direction called, at last.

‘Bearing, firing track and death wish all lined up, FireCon, say the word.’ Suluur reported.

‘Blow it’s shields out, the skipper wants prisoners.’

‘A greatsword to do a scalpel’s job-acknowledge.’ Aldrem said. He could bitch and track a target at the same time.

‘Shield rating on that thing?’

‘Twenty-eight- it’s been reinforced.’

‘Fendon, step sub one down to output thirty. LTL yield, why one of them can’t do it-‘ snatching seconds out of the fire routine.

‘Fighters have still got to go in after the bastard thing and ionise it, I know we’re supposed to be more accurate but not that far below standard, has anybody told them to keep clear yet, if we’re not supposed to be able to do this then our jammers had better stop them getting the word out, ready- firing now.’

He depressed the trigger switch. The result depressed the rebels. A single ripple salvo from the quad turbolaser, thirty thousand terajoules a shot- trivial by it’s design potential, but enough, aimed in a shallow tracking diagonal across the line of flight of the customs corvette.

One hit. There was a thin, soap-bubble-breaking flare around the corvette as it’s shield generator overloaded and collapsed.

Firing into the melee around the three transports was much more risky. He activated Sub Two and took one full power shot at the least encumbered of the three freighters.

It was effectively a snapshot. No warning from the fire control, just the instant continental hammerblow shattering it into glowing gas. The tracer may be below the speed of light, the bolt was well beyond the speed of comprehension.

‘Useful.’ Franjia’s comment. ‘Squadron fire order- objective Corvette.’ It flared up on Aron’s targeting panel, she was designating it for them.

‘Weapon torpedoes, subcomponent target; turrets. Fan salvo. Director identifying.’ The way she set it up, each of the six twin turrets had four torps, from four different fighters, homing on it. Must be a preset. He had used missile systems before- on an Interceptor, they were a rare aftermarket modification, poorly integrated.

On the Starwing, his targeters cut through the rebel’s jamming in less than a second, and- first time in coherence with the rest of the squadron- launched his first pair of torpedoes, one, switch, two.

‘One, standard procedure on an attack run is if a fighter loses shields, it breaks off and circles to recharge for another pass- procedure also says we provide our own top cover, the circling element covering for the rest. You’re the interceptor pilot.’

‘I’ll take the cover party. Epsilon two, three, four, conform to me.’ Aron acknowledged, and led his flight in a wide decelerating sweep, eyes in the cockpit, letting his wingman cover him while he looked at his sensor display.

Ship for ship, the Imperials were superior this time; the corvette had ignored the Avengers, though, it and the freighters had concentrated on shooting up Hunters and Interceptors. Beta One had ordered his squadron to chase down the X- wings and Gauntlets; the Gauntlets were proving tougher targets.

Turret fighters, pretty nimble and no blind spot, they needed to be hit from two directions at once, and the rest of the rebels were running interference trying to prevent that happening. Com traffic tagged the corvette as the rebel flagship, it was the one directing the rest. Probably they would move to protect it- preventing that would be his problem.

The local cylinder- fighters were fast but clumsy; they made a run, broke off and tried again- but they had a huge gun battery, eight light autoblasters or something like, spraying out huge geysers of orange- red light that splattered off an Avenger’s shields, wore down a Hunter’s but sheared an Interceptor to fragments. The Hunters had one torpedo tube each, so they were trying to hit the rebel freighters. Both sides’ plans had come apart, and actually his squadron was the largest formed unit on either side.

He looked for a shot; three of the cylinders had just finished a run on a pair of Avengers- one of the Avengers was wallowing- and they were turning for another go.

‘Two, with me.’ Aron went for them in turn.

Lock and launch a torpedo- targeters and jammers made too neat a pair, it usually took long enough to get a lock that the situation had changed by then, but the bomber electronics on the Starwing made it easy. Follow it in- the cylinder saw it coming, tried to turn away, but its drift carried into the torpedo’s flightpath. The proton warhead left it hot gas, and Aron charged in behind his missile aiming for the right hand cylinder.

They managed to slide round to bear, flying tail first. ‘Two swap targets- I go low.’

The firestreams leapt out of the cylinders too little too late; he slid under and his wingman slid over, stray red-orange sparks splashed off both their shields, there was the muted thunder-crackle of heavy laser fire as Aron snapped out four twin bolts. Green impact flash, yellow-white fireball.

Two wasn’t as good a shot; he crippled his cylinder, cut thrust and was pivoting to have another go when an Avenger came after it and stole his kill; one of the Gauntlets lobbed a torpedo at the Avenger, that dipped and Aron took a long range shot at the Gauntlet, which neatly sidestepped out of the way and fired another at him.

Power output, rapid fire - no time. He lined up on the torpedo and started shooting at it, one managed to connect and the torpedo blew, the sensors behind him showed the Avenger double shields aft, seem to take the hit - damaged but not destroyed, then the engine block sparked and the fighter shook, the Avenger pilot punched out. He lost the Gauntlet in the furball.

He accelerated after Three, Four and the rest of the squadron; watched as one of the Gauntlets came in in a rapid crossing tangent across the front of the formation, hammering at them with both it’s guns; Five and Six dipped to match it’s vector, yawed to bear and sprayed fire at it. Five switched to Ion, hit and paralysed it, kept her finger on the trigger switching to Laser- set up her own sitting duck. Nice; he’d have to remember that trick.

Two of the cylinder bombers were attacking the port edge of the squadron attack line- he found the right button and pressed it, marking the lead of the pair as his target.

The Ghtroc was moving towards the corvette, but Hunters were harassing it, preventing it using its guns on the Starwings. He’d deal with that later.

Two followed him, Three and Four were lined up on the other bomber, both the rebel cylinders started lobbing unguided light missiles- Aron laid his guns ahead of his target, started ripple firing, Two, Three and Four did the same, aiming for the missiles first and tracking back to the bombers. Ten, Eleven and Twelve broke to evade, Nine throttled back to cover them, one of the bombers ceased fire and turned to break- his target. The other, Three and Four coned and blew apart.

Aron banked after the retreating bomber, switched to ion cannon, hosed sequential fire around it, it started tumbling out of control-

‘Break lead break.’ Two called, Aron slammed the fighter into a diving twist, red quad laser shot screamed past flaring off his after shields, he yo-yo’d up to see an X-wing zooming high being chased by Two.

The X- Wing half-rolled into a head on pass with an Interceptor, neither imperial could fire, the X-wing missed and hurdled the Interceptor, but the Interceptor pilot nearly rammed Aron- the Starwing sideslipped out of the way on pure reflex before he consciously realised he had to dodge.

I’d forgotten how much fun furballs aren’t, he thought, looking for the bomber and lobbing a torp at it before anyone could steal it, then turning back to the squadron.

The torpedo spread had hit the corvette, and there were six glowing lumps of wreckage where twin light turbolaser mounts had been. Some of them had been stopped, but not enough.

Now it was ion time. Makes sense, Aron thought, they surprised us this time, we want to grab someone who knows what other tricks they might have ready and introduce him to Mr. Painful- that didn’t make it easy.

The Ghtroc was angling it’s shields to keep the Hunters busy while it turned guns to cover it’s command ship - that was their opportunity.

‘Lead flight, ions, from the front, that Ghtroc.’ Two for the price of one.

They flew the same scything attack pattern, build a vector then ride it, strafing across its nose - a fast three seconds of close enough contact for reliable shooting, they twisted and weaved to throw its aim off, it shot back at them - Four’s shields collapsed entirely, and he had two glowing holes in his fighter’s wing radiators; Aron took two hits, soaked- the Ghtroc took four long columns of blue bolts, it reeled, lightning crackling across it. The Hunters could finish the job.

‘Formation change, Four takes lead, we cover.’ That was so they could cover the now vulnerable Epsilon Four’s rear; he dumped what weapon energy into shields he could, Aron did the same with the ion power bank, switching back to lasers.

‘Head for the rest of the squadron.’ Bearing marked on the sensor globes.

They had swirled round the corvette, ionising it and then some. Aron didn’t envy the boarding party.

That done, Epsilon were watching each other’s backs, scanning for threats and opportunities. There were more green blips than red, now.

The rebels were losing, their tactic had failed, and they seemed to realise that fact. They started to look for ways out of the furball, avenues to clear space.

‘Five? Bomber tactics query here. How do I say “blow the stang out of that freighter”?’ He spotlighted the remaining YT- series, which was running for hyperspace. It glowed on his scope, and his headphones beeped. Like that, then. He lined up on it, switched to torpedoes, triggered a shot with the rest of the squadron.

The freighter saw them coming - somewhere over on the left, in front of third flight, an overeager Interceptor pilot got himself crisped by blundering into one of their torpedoes - one score against.

Not their fault. The freighter spat laserfire at the torps, doubled shields aft, twisted and tried to roll out of the way. Six connected.

A YT-series was perfectly capable of being souped up to carry turbolaser- resistant shields. Some had been. Not this one; its shields flared and collapsed, it limped into hyperspace. Damage, not a kill.

What wasn’t dead already, the Avengers were finishing off.

Rescue and boarding ships were a long time launching; apparently when the main guns had fired, the lighting in the forward hangar bay had had a seizure, and the station’s and the tender commander’s shuttles had managed to collide. No injuries, much wreckage.

Epsilon squadron got to stand sentry over the disabled and wait to cover the boarding and rescue transports.

‘Delvran, your eyes have glazed over. You’re thinking about her again, aren’t you.’

‘Captain Lennart, I-’ Dordd began.

‘Many hats. I have to be a part-time everything, so will you, and that includes relationship counselor. The counsel I’m giving you about this relationship is; don’t.’ He was prepared to joke about it, as long as it wasn’t too serious.

‘And why should I not?’ Dordd said, drawing himself up to his full height. Which was a lot.

‘Delvran, you’re basically an organisation man. You relate to your superiors, you relate to your equals in rank, you relate to your juniors, competently, normally- you fit in. Command of your own’s your chance to grow out of that mould- live up to the ship’s name.’

Lennart smiled; HIMS Dynamic. ‘She isn’t; white armour or not, I recognise a lone wolf when I see one. I should know; I’m in a relationship with one myself.’ He waved an arm at the structure around him, meaning the Black Prince. ‘She’ll eat you.’

‘Assuming there isn’t going to be a rebel comeback, the earliest I can leave is once the chaos on the pad gets sorted out. That gives me two hours.’

He spent ten minutes of them packing, twenty pacing up and down, stomach in knots, before deciding to take the risk. He invited a stormtrooper to dinner.

She probably had a clearer idea of what was going on in his head than he did. She decided to play with him a little.

His actual quarters were close to his duty station - damage control central, above the main reactor bulb, and not far from stormtrooper barracks.

She turned up at his door dressed in her environmental body glove. Slick, black, figure hugging - he nearly collapsed on the spot from sheer excitement.

Pull yourself together, he thought, before realising there were at least two very wrong words in that statement.

‘You requested my presence, captain.’ She said, voice rolling over him like liquid honey.

‘Yes, yes, come in, sit down.’

She flowed through the space around her like black mercury; he could not tear his eyes off her hips, her thighs, her belly. It was too late to avoid looking like a lust-struck fool.

‘Captain Dordd,’ she said, changing mood and tone drastically - bitter and defiant, putting one foot up on a chair, ‘you far outrank me. If your only purpose in requesting my attendance on you was to satisfy your lust, you can order it so, and I must lie back and think of Coruscant. From a separate chain of command, I have nothing to gain by pleasing you, and you may remember my ranking as a field interrogator. Shall we drain a cup of misery together, or may I go?’

‘Why does it have to be one or the other? Can’t I simply talk to you?’ he said, baffled, confused, disappointed and hurt.

‘Is this normal enough to be simple? Are you trying to tell me that you want to get to know me as a person?’ She could have made that much more barbed than the words suggested.

‘Sithspawn, woman, why are you using my rank against me?’

‘Do you command me to explain?’ that did reach into open mockery. ‘I’m sorry. As a person, that went too far. But I am assigned as part of a hunter-killer squad. Do you think I don’t notice eyes following me?’

‘I’m sorry too - I admit to the lust. At least give me credit for realising that that alone isn’t enough.’ He was almost pleading. ‘Stay and eat with me.’

Somewhere in the small part of her head she used for passing for a civilian whenever duty required it, a simulated personality was rolling on the floor laughing. She bowed to him and sat down in the chair. Dordd’s steward had barely believed what was being asked of him, and had made a very scratch job of cooking for two. CHON synthesis or not, arranging the stuff was still best done by hand; although this time done very badly.

‘Ah.’ She said, taking a deep sniff of it’s scent. ‘Roast Bothan. My favourite.’

The unidentifiable brownish lump with the purplish sauce could have been nearly anything.

He met her eyes, and she noticed he was nearly ready to burst into tears or chuckles, or both. ‘This was crazy. I don’t know why I thought it made sense.’

‘I knew it didn’t. Somehow, I ended up here anyway.’ She smiled.

‘What do I call you? OB173 just doesn’t capture you.’

‘For any of the real veterans, names are equipment, issued as needed, and the name I like best is the one that has served me best: Aleph-3. You have the same problem, former commander Dordd, your name is changing, and that’s going to change the person under it more than any of mine ever changed me.’

‘Tell me about yourself.’ He asked the nightblack-clad woman of his dreams.

‘You do realise that I’m a clone?’

‘I can’t believe there’s more than one of you. The universe would have noticed. Jorian said so, but-’

‘How he knows is a topic in it’s own right. I was designed as part of a limited production run, to fill certain support functions; liaison with civilian authority, army spokeswoman, internal communications - I was to be a finger of the velvet glove covering the iron fist. Or a glittery flash of distraction, covering the approach of the blade…normal training as well of course, but by the time I reached a useful maturity - Hail Palpatine.’

She was been sitting leaning forward with her elbows on the table, fingers steepled together, watching him react. She straightened, sat upright in the hair, suddenly less intimate.
‘The glove torn off and thrown away, my clone sisters and I had to find a new purpose for ourselves. Not easy; some of us failed to rise any higher than what I expected you wanted me for.’

He wanted to reach forward and touch her, but he wanted to do that for so many other reasons as well, he was afraid she might tear his arm off. Vulnerable, she was not; she had faced that fear and beaten it. ‘Others entered various branches of the service, became aides and adjutants, analysts and supply officers; I found a more special task.’

‘When you were talking about the rebel spy, you said something about injustice.’

‘Sometimes…when we are doing our proper jobs, I am the face and voice of the hunter team. I ask, "what do you know? what have you seen?" I smell out lies, find trails, follow leads - the best justice we can hope for, I think, is simply that; being given a fair chance to make use of your talents. Some of the talents I have, I was given, even the ones that nearly condemned me and I would perhaps preferred not to have; the most I have really done with face and figure is preserve them - the talents I have worked for and earned, those I am proud of.’

She paused for a moment, pulled her mind’s eye out of her own past. ‘Yourself, Captain Dordd? What gifts has fortune given you, and what traps has the pitiless bitch arranged? I succeeded in clawing my way out of a pit; you’re about to enter the top trillionth of the most powerful people in the galaxy.’

‘I think one of those traps is sitting across from me now.’ He smiled at her. ‘I did well enough at the academy, no second M’thh’raw’nurundo though - few are. I think I must look better connected than I am.’ She resisted the impulse to tell him that the way he looked at her made him seem entirely disconnected.

‘I was lucky, right place, right time, and at least enough of the right man not to drop the ball. I worked my way up through the deck division, navigator on an Ecliptic and exec of a Venator before being sent to the Black Prince, five years ago now- as a safe pair of hands and a counterbalance for Captain Lennart, I think. I always got things done neatly, cleanly, on time and within norms - this, sitting here with you, may be the first really off the bulkhead thing I’ve done since the academy.’

‘It took the captain this long to corrupt you?’

Gradually, she got him talking about himself, explaining and trying to justify. She was a good listener, he was under a lot of stress, he opened up to her completely. It was, in its own way, a triumph of the interrogator’s art. He was besotted with her.

The steward came in to clear the hardly-touched plates, and also to pass on a message; the pad was clear, wreckage removed. Time for him to go.

He looked at her, dewy-eyed, and opened his mouth. Quickly she reached across the table and placed a finger on his lips.

‘Don’t say it.’

He looked desperately disappointed. Heartbroken.

‘Delvran…’ she said, slowly, ‘what would we do, when I am alone and unmasked, with nothing to do except work through you? Whatever my good qualities are, I assure you I have badness to spare. I think we would come to loathe each other, in time. Yoked together, on the edge of the deep dark, probing and twisting and manipulating - and I would have to stow away to go with you, don’t forget - what would happen in our first lovers’ quarrel?
Go and take charge of your ship, and accept all my good wishes to go with you, because I cannot.’

She stood, walked out, leaving an image of herself burnt on his minds’ eye.

From the bridge, Jorian Lennart watched the transport go.

‘Omega- 17- Blue- aleph 3.’ He tapped in the access code he wasn’t supposed to know, and called the cloned woman he hoped was still aboard his ship.

‘Yes, Captain Lennart.’

‘Delvran escaped with his life, then.’

‘There would have been little challenge in it; the other main factor was that you said you would have me shot.’

‘I owed him that much covering fire, at least. That and I don’t think you would have enjoyed being Pirate Queen of the Outer Rim.’ Lennart said, dryly.

‘Captain Dordd’s dark lady, the power behind the command chair - you don’t think I wasn’t tempted? Perhaps it was this ship that would be sent after us to bring us to heel.’ She said silkily.

‘Another reason to stop you - Imperator against Arrogant would be no challenge at all.’

‘There are two men on this ship I would joyously accept a command to bed from…’

‘And both of them have far too much sense to issue it, OB173. Be about your duties.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-08 04:57pm, edited 2 times in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2006-12-05 07:39pm

Chapter 4

The probationer cowered at the far end of the corridor, looking at the snarling, crackling mess.

A junction in the power web had overloaded, partially melted, and the work team was standing a safe distance away looking at it, working out what to do.
He was the only officer, it was his responsibility - he didn’t have the experience to point a petty officer at the problem. They were looking at him; he had to do something, he needed something nonconductive, he started to take his jumpsuit off-

‘Freeze, spacer,’ a large voice said from behind him. The eight strong work crew turned round to spot their hairy boss.

‘Ah, sir?’

‘You were about to try to do something heroic, weren’t you? At risk to your own life and limb, etcetera, did it for the ship, etcetera, and hoping to distract me from that your taskbooks are drekh.’

‘Commander, I was trying to shut the node down.’

‘The power distribution node has melted, probationer. Two other nodes failed when the compensators came back on line, and this one got too much load too fast to break circuit cleanly. The thin layer of contaminated carbon you were about to smear all over it wouldn’t have helped.’

As he talked, Mirannon was assessing the situation. The intermittent blue-white glare did very strange things to the look of his beard.

‘Where’s it arcing to?’ he asked the raw young lieutenant. There was something familiar about him, Mirannon knew he ought to recognise the young officer, how had he made himself noticeable? Eleven thousand in the engineering department. He couldn’t keep track of everybody.

‘Um, nearest main structural member?’

‘Correct, closing a circuit to the main reactor bulb, as you would have known rather than guessed if you were up to date.’

Mirannon turned to the leading member of the work team. ‘Tiffy, you are supposed to tell him when he’s being an idiot. When were you planning to stop him killing himself?’

‘Sorry, Commander,’ the leading mechanical engineering artificer said. ‘Didn’t realise anybody would do something that dumb. I’d have stopped him before he got to it.’

‘Procedure; you look, here,’ Mirannon pointed to a panel set on the wall and labelled with what the probationer thought were hieroglyphs, ‘for directions to the nearest routing station, go there and shut down the node. The routing station’s droid brain should be smart enough to bypass around it, but you may have to do it manually if the network has been, say, recently ionized. Someone forgot about that, which is why this one has acquired a new function as a probie-zapper.’

‘Aye aye Sir, at once Sir-‘ the probationer turned to go.

‘Then,’ Mirannon fixed him to the spot with a shout, he wasn’t getting out of it that easily, ‘you go to the nearest DC bunker, draw a replacement, come back here and fit it, taking what’s left of that down to Main Machinery sub-2 for reconditioning. No, you’re not allowed to get electrocuted in the process.’

‘Chief, the tender commander’s here looking for you.’ One of his assistants called him.

Then send him to the sick bay for ointment, Mirannon briefly thought of saying but didn’t. He had just gone to the Damage Control bunker himself, pushing his way past a heap of newly returned portaconduits, to look for the next outstanding problem that merited his attention. There were supposed to be limiters that kept the team that normally occupied the bunker focused on their area of duty; his access code overrode them and he called up a full ship status display.

‘Send him to DC starboard-45.’ Shield unit which had lost synch, blocking fire outgoing as well as incoming. That would be the next problem worth seeing to.

‘As well, chief, three stormtrooper squads called.’ The assistant was new, and didn’t believe the message he had been asked to pass on. ‘They said you must be bored, would you mind if they hunted you down and shot you?’

‘Business before pleasure,’ Mirannon replied.

Starboard-45 was, as the name suggested, on the starboard side of the ship at Primary Hull Frame 45; what was primary was the frame, not the hull.

The system counted from forward aft, which meant that if Mirannon had his way they would need negative numbers. Secondary hull frames filled in the space between the primary frames, which were set one every ten metres, and the DC bunkers- a smaller ship would have had lockers- also performed the routinely useful function of zonal maintenance centres.

Ventral-40 was the main maintenance complex for the shuttle and dropship launch bays, Spinal-10 was oriented towards the light turbolaser and point defence laser turrets clustered thickly in the prow of the ship. Dorsal-130 was ion drive accelerator routine servicing, Spinal-120 was a standing joke as it would actually have been inside the reactor bulb.

All of them were also hardened to act as disaster shelters if the ship broke up. Starboard-45 had no specific, only the general function.

The Sahallare’s commanding officer found Mirannon looking through a rack of storage cabinets, searching for parts. He had narrowed it down to one of two possibilities, the shield unit wasn’t responding to the fire window requests or it simply wasn’t receiving them, in both cases it was a control problem.

‘Engineer-Commander, um, Mirannon?’

‘Me.’ They were equal in rank.

‘What are you doing with my men? You sent them back and kept their equipment.’

‘We needed the hardware, not the wetware,’ Mirannon snapped back, before deciding to explain. ‘This ship’s been seriously damaged and undergone major repair six times. Every time, she moves further away from spec. Which in some respects is no bad thing.’ The Sahallare’s commander looked poleaxed.

‘Outer rim, nine years ago, one of those marginal species the republic knew about but could never be bothered bringing civilisation to. Nasty little battle, we lost most of our mid and after shielding. The FleetTechServ unit we linked up with were too scared to hang around; they replaced or improv- mounted where they could, spent the minimum time on the job and ran for safe space. We managed to repair and recondition some of the wreckage they left us with - six of twelve. Spare generators, spare mounts - we remounted them, shifted the panel layout, and your work crew didn’t know that. They had our shield units treating each other as incoming fire.’

‘Your ship looks like a wreck; naturally, my people assumed they knew best.’ The Sahallare’s commander stated, less arrogantly than he might after seeing some of the Black Prince’s engineering team in action.

‘The skipper has this idea about ships having identities and personalities. The computers, we prevent that, but the actual structure of the ship has enough complexity in it to show emergent behaviours. That and fuzzy thinking.’ The chief engineer shook his hairy head.

‘He reckons the ship’s a berserker, a warrior proud of her scars. I make sure they’re no more than skin deep- how much do you know about the design of the Imperator class?’

‘What are you going to tell me that I don’t know?’

‘Quite a lot, I suspect.’ Mirannon moved to the bunker’s compnode, called up the ship status display. ‘Main structure of an early model Imperator-I, hull number below, say, twenty-two hundred. What do you see?’

‘A tuning fork.’

‘We’ve got two separate sets of main ribs. One radiating forward from the ion drives, one radiating outward from the main reactor. Characteristic of a capital ship.’ The double keel arrangement was what made the ‘tuning fork’.

‘There up to sixty-five hundred, double destroyer-weight ribs, sixty-five to thirteen thousand eight hundred, single heavy tetra structure with the reactor in central suspension. Thirteen nine hundred upwards, light tetra structure.’ Smaller ship models appeared in the air next to the main model, the three named below, two more above; an original-spec Imperator, and a heavy destroyer-leader.

‘Tensor field generators.’ They appeared highlighted on the display. ‘Multiple, distributed, redundant. Relative inertial fields- same again. Power network - parallel redundant, barring operator brainfarts, anyway. I don’t know what the fuss about the Executor was; by any reasonable standard, the I-boats were already super-destroyers. We forget just how much of a new breed the Imperators were at the time.
'Not pack ships like the V-boats, both kinds, not near-cruiser flotilla leaders, but heavy independents. The half-written tac manual did strange things to the technology, like a virtual pocket battleship hull frame. Sloppy design; they’re overbuilt, the Imperator-II’s are more elegant, more closely matched to the job - but every time we have a reason, I try to have Black Prince rebuilt closer to what the power systems and the hull frames can bear.’

‘The port side of the ship?’

‘Is as I want it; the problem is that I haven’t had the chance to rebuild the starboard side to match. We were in company with the Notitior, a Vic-II, chasing a fleeing Rebel MC-40. The reb skimmed close to a neutron star trying to shake us, Notitior cut the corner too close, didn’t have the vee to get past. There was too much shear for a tractor to be any use, we had to get under her and physically ram her to push her out of danger, with enough momentum to carry us clear if we did tear off an engine. We were badly but not essentially damaged, I took the opportunity for a major reconstruction; you noticed the portside turret line?’

‘You’ve moved them.’

‘Echeloned them outwards so they can all bear directly ahead. Why the Imperator wasn’t built like that to begin with I don’t know. Heavier brim trench weaponry, some of it our own recycled and some of it removed from the enemy. All of it stable enough and well enough served in use that it should have been set up that way. The ruined look serves efficiently as camouflage.’

‘One other thing I wondered about. In the MCR, I overheard one of your juniors saying the stormtroopers wanted to hunt you down and shoot you?’

‘Inside joke. Five thousand of my people and the legion were involved in boarding a Procurator battlecruiser, and the crew and the legion have covered each others’ backs since. That’s just their way of telling me they think I’m pushing myself too hard, that my judgement’s going to start to suffer unless I get some rest. They might be right, I’m not doing anything a competent PO Artificer wouldn’t. I have more than enough deputies to do it all.’
Which meant he wouldn’t stop for another four hours or so. ‘That was fun, that day. Did you know a Jedi lightsabre is based on the same technology as a cutting torch?’

‘No…can’t say that I did.’

‘High density plasma held in a stasis field…One half trained idiot and two quarter trained idiots, attacking me, an Imperial Starfleet engineer, in a starship engine complex, with glorified cutting torches. I think their plan was to get me to laugh so hard my brain would seize up. Didn’t work. Ultimately, I think,’ the display of the destroyer-leader, a V-sterned outline with a mid- mounted bridge tower, expanded, ‘I can bring this ship close to the functionality of a Proelium destroyer squadron flagship.’

‘That’s ambitious. Very ambitious,’ the tender’s commander said, impressed.

‘Of course, if you spread this story around, it will sound like the sleep-deprived ravings of a man who runs a ship that looks as if it tried to run away to the circus.’

The captain’s ready room, Lennart at the head of the table, Brenn and LCdr Mirhak-Ghulej in attendance. Mirhak-Ghulej was a near-human, skin quite literally the colour of the metal bronze, not exactly standard imperial officer material. That only made him all the more zealous.

‘At ease. Captain Dordd got out alive,’ Lennart said, not entirely seriously, ‘and now I need a new executive officer. Sector Fleet has failed to specify their own candidate for the job, which means it’s in house. Mirhak-Ghulej, you’re the outstanding officer in the deck division, Brenn you have seniority. The other factors I have to bear in mind made the choice.’ He paused for a moment, watching them react. Brenn was suspicious of Mirhak-Ghulej.

‘We are not the most average ship in the Star Fleet. We do our best for the Empire, and that best sometimes turns out to be more and stranger than the Empire expects. One unofficial position in the chain of command is what you could loosely call the ‘Ambassador of normality’; someone whose job is daily routine and established norms, who can remind the rest of us how much, or how little, the fleet expects. Ielamathrum Brenn, do you think that you could fit that description?’ Lennart’s tone made it clear he didn’t think so.

‘If you don’t think I’m up to the job-‘

‘Executive officer, you could do; straight man, no. Barring accident, your next posting- I will try and find a spot for you in local sector fleet, as commander of a strike cruiser or frigate-class starship.’ That looked like a mixed blessing to Brenn.

‘Lieutenant-Commander Mirhak-Ghulej, you achieve your efficiency record at a price; you’re the most hated man on this ship. There have been a long string of practical jokes played on you, some of them rough enough to justify an assault charge. I will back up one of my officers, but there is a lot you could do to reduce your status as a target.’

‘Sir, I am not going to hide. I want things done the right way, the Imperial way, and if some of them can’t hack that, they don’t belong in His Majesty’s service.’ Mirhak-Ghulej could have temporised, but that wasn’t his style.

‘Let me rephrase that. When I said “barring accident”, I meant “if you get fragged”. It has happened to unpopular officers before. Seldom on this ship, mainly because I also discourage my officers from offering the crew that much provocation.’ Hazing was routine, but generally not above Lieutenant’s rank.

‘Then may I respectfully inquire of my commanding officer why I have been selected for a job that he has no intention of allowing me to perform, Sir!’ Mirhak-Ghulej replied - forcing the issue, trying to win himself a free hand.

‘Because, first, you were the previous incumbent’s recommendation, and second, if I move Brenn up, than I have to find a new navigator in addition.’ Lennart was only half in jest. ‘You have to recognise, and punish, infractions of discipline; you also have to recognise, and reward, competence and dedication. If you can only do one of those things, then you’re right; you shouldn’t be allowed to perform the job. I think you can do better, and you’re trying to snow me.’

‘Captain, I admit to being orthodox. I admit to following the regulations, to the letter.’ He obviously intended to go on.

‘Follow them to their spirit instead; you’ll have a better life,’ Lennart said, apparently mildly.

‘Discipline has to be maintained. That means enforcement.’ Which was the party line.

‘What do you want from a career in the Navy?’ Lennart asked the metal-faced, impassive lieutenant-commander.


‘Some of us are in this to see the galaxy, some of us because our homeworlds are pestilential hellholes, some of us for the excitement and some for the money, some for the skills they intend to pick up to carry them into civilian life. I joined the Republic fleet to defend justice and right - and when Palpatine proclaimed the empire, I took one look at the ship’s turbolaser batteries and three milliseconds to decide which side of them I wanted to stay on. How about you?’

‘I don’t understand. I would need a reason to not serve the Empire.’ The near-human said. ‘Every loyal, good and true citizen should look for a way to put their talents-‘

‘You sound like a COMPNOR recruitment poster,’ Lennart said, grumpily. ‘I’ve read your file, read your reports, examined your defaulters, and there is only one hint of an actual individual I’ve found under it all; you must really, really want to be here, to submerge whatever you are so thoroughly under the official position.’

‘I just want to be part of something greater than myself, to stamp out the forces of evil and chaos, sir.’ He said, utterly, impossibly deadpan; nobody could come that close to the official line, he had to be a rebel agent, Brenn was thinking.

‘Good for you,’ Lennart said dryly. ‘Let me remind you of something; upwards of eighty percent of Imperial defectors to the Alliance were under threat of disciplinary action at the moment of their defection.’ Lennart wasn’t making that statistic up.

‘All that proves, Captain, is that the system works. We weed out those unfit to help maintain peace and order.’

‘Or create them. Treat a man as a criminal, he might as well become one in earnest. You can manufacture rebellion.’ Lennart paused for a moment.

‘We’re both over-reacting. If you were that tactless, you wouldn’t be up for promotion. This crew scores well above average on most benchmark inspections, they need to be led rather than driven. You have to inspire affection, not for yourself, but for what you represent - at the very least, don’t piss them off.’

‘Sir.’ Mirhak-Ghulej’s face was expressionless.

‘Test case for you; Group Captain Olleyri. O-equivalent higher in rank, beneath you in chain of command. He takes over fighter direction when he’s not flying himself. We have controllers for that. Concerned about his pilots, yes, but isn’t that concern more efficiently served by letting those whose job it is get on with it?’

‘I see, Captain. I’ll take it up with him at once.’

‘When you’ve done that, tell him to come and see me. Second test case; Turret-master Aldrem. Exceeding his orders, this time.’ The second shot on the YT.

‘He exceeded; he succeeded. What’s to punish?’

Lennart nodded. He was wrong about that. ‘Leave ship operations to me.’

Three quarters of an hour later, Olleyri turned up in the ready room.

‘Ah, good, come in. The new XO talked to you?’

‘If he ever tries to take this ship away from you on account of your disregard for uniform regulations, don’t be surprised.’ Olleyri wore a uniform that was almost as wrecked as Lennart’s; less inherently out of place, but it had been rumpled, crunched up and sweated into many, many times.

The starfighter force commander was in his late thirties, average height but painfully thin, as if nervous tension had shaken all of the fat off him. His hair was going grey from forward back, and his cap should have been shot for dereliction of duty.

‘We need someone like him.’ Lennart declared.

‘That far up the chain of command?’ the pilot shook his head. ‘What’s the problem?’

‘Generally, what we expect to happen next. I’ll hold another round table on that one. Specifically, your squadrons’ antiship work, and Epsilon squadron. They only had two flights of even average quality fighters; the small ships did the majority of the work for the rebels, Gamma tried to counter but they were improvising. The Hunters could function as light strike fighters, if the pilots knew attack doctrine.
Epsilon’s the other problem, and they may be able to solve each other.’

‘They did well.’ Olleyri said.

‘Because they had an experienced attack pilot in charge. How much did you have to tell them to do?’

‘Virtually nothing. Rahandravell led that one, not the new man- the command situation there could become a problem.’ The group captain said, thinking about open billets elsewhere in the wing.

‘I checked; Jandras is an Interceptor pilot, used to light, fast fighters. He would be perfect for Gamma, except that he’s no attack pilot. Franjia could do either, but giving her Gamma would leave a prime fighter-bomber squadron in the hands of an effective rookie.
The best long term solution would be to keep him in Starwings long enough to learn the trade, and then give him the Hunters and let Franjia take over Epsilon. If they can work together.’

‘I’ll fold Gamma and Theta together in the meantime, break out the reserve Hunters and rebuild Theta when we have a chance. I’ll talk to both of them.’ Olleyri decided.

‘Good. And Ol? Do as many sim exercises as you like as a controller, just not when there’s live shot in the air.’ Both of them knew that he was old for a pilot, his reflexes were slowing, and his next posting was likely to be as a senior controller on a carrier or battlewagon.

‘Yee-hah.’ Aron shouted, vaulting out of the cockpit of the landed Starwing.

‘We were lucky.’ Franjia called across to him.

‘How do you mean that?’ he had the sense to ask.

‘We exploited chaos; coming with a formed unit, still able to manoeuvre, into the middle of a furball. Someone else on our side, Gamma and Theta squadrons, paid a high price to create that chaos.’ She reminded him.

‘Yeah.’ Aron realised. ‘Beta lost two fighters, one pilot, Gamma lost five fighters, three pilots, Theta…they got raped.’

‘Seven fighters, five pilots. We’re claiming twenty-five out of thirty-two Rebels, all pilots casualties - sixteen dead, nine prisoner. A freighter and a customs corvette. My personal score is two, yours three. Beta claim the majority of the kills.’

He looked across at the panel below her cockpit. That would take her personal score to thirty-one; and his to twenty- four.

‘We’re part of the Bomb Group; on an anti-ship strike, we are the ones who make the mess to give the TIE Twin-Tubs their chance.’ She meant TIE Bombers. ‘Today was a good day. Other days are not so good.’ She was back in ice maiden mode.

Yrd was waiting for them on the pad. ‘Squadron Leader, Franjia.’ Did he mean that the way it sounded? Aron glared at him. ‘The group captain wants to see you both. Alpha squadron ready room.’

‘Immediately?’ she asked.

‘That was the impression I got, yes.’

‘All right-‘ she began.

‘Flight Lieutenants.’ Aron called them both to order. ‘Adjutant, lead us to Alpha’s ready room.’

Yrd looked at her, she nodded, he led them along the flight bay, up, through Epsilon’s bay, and through a monochrome maze of storage, access, blast-trap and function chambers. It was, in fact, a shortcut. Aron thought it was a runaround.

Grey, black, white walls - once the surrealistic sight of a stormtrooper standing against a white bulkhead, all that was visible a pair of eyes, a few black patches of bodyglove and a blaster.

Alpha’s bay was laid out the same way; the decoration was different, a full holovid wall in the rec room - half a dozen pilots using it as a shooting gallery - more flash, more chrome. Their adjutant, who flew as Alpha Two, waved them into the ready room.

‘You did well out there.’ Olleyri told them. ‘Both of you.’

‘Sir?’ Aron stalled.

‘I was in flight ops, and I can practically hear the air between you crackling now. You wouldn’t be fighter pilots if you didn’t have more ego than was good for you.
Jandras, you did well to give the main responsibility to the person best fitted to discharge it. Rahandravell; you picked that responsibility up so fast it needed relative-inertials.’

‘Sir, I saw what had to be done, and asked for permission to do it.’ Franjia replied, stonefaced.

‘Indeed.’ Skeptically. ‘Can’t have a squadron with two squadron leaders.’

‘What do you want, have us strap into a pair of Starwings and fight it out?’ Aron asked, aggressively.

‘That would be one solution. The winner gets the cost of the loser’s fighter stopped out of their pay.’ Olleyri suggested. Both of them stopped to think just how much a Starwing cost.

‘Why are you assuming there’s a problem, Sir?’ Franjia said, sounding utterly disingenuous.

‘There will be. You led the squadron, not Jandras.’

‘I know why the Captain didn’t want to promote me after Ezirrn got killed, and with all due respect, he’s wrong. I may be a little unstable off duty, in the cockpit is the one place where everything becomes clear again.’ She said, humbly, sincerely.

‘You haven’t been appointed to run the squadron. I have.’ Aron told her.

‘Peace, the pair of you. This is the plan; Gamma squadron needs a new boss as well. They tried to fly as light strike fighters and got hammered for it. Jandras, you’re going to move from Epsilon to Gamma as soon as you know enough about the bomb trade to lead them as a fighter/attack unit. Rahandravell, you move into Epsilon command slot when that happens.’

‘Easier said than done.’ She said.

‘You mean I’m to understudy one of my own flight commanders?’ Aron shouted, at the same time.

‘Yes and yes.’ Olleyri outshouted both of them.

Several tense but uneventful hours later; the command team, including Mirannon this time, gathered in the ready room beneath the bridge. Mirhak- Ghulej looked as if he wanted to have a team of cleaners following the chief around and sanitising everything he touched, if not the man himself.

‘I tempted fate last time,’ Lennart began, ‘by saying there was no way the Alliance could get a force large enough to be a threat to us together faster than we could be ready to meet them. They tried anyway. Gethrim, what shape are we in- and how much rest have you had?’

‘A couple of hours. A Stormtrooper spec-ops team found me and threatened to stun me to sleep unless I hit the sack. They said you authorised it.’ It was impossible to tell if he was grinning or not.

‘I authorised no such thing.’ Lennart said, wondering whose idea that had been.

‘They’re getting sneakier every day.’

‘Counter-terrorism ops.’ Lennart said. ‘Ask them to think sneakily enough to outguess Rebel saboteurs, you end up with a lot of clean, shiny white helmets with warped, twisted minds inside - be happy they work for us.’

‘If I hadn’t been so tired, I would have called their bluff. Which proves that they had a point.’ The engineer admitted.

‘If this ship was an orgophone, she would have twenty-five keys out of tune. Engines are fine, compensators - we’re now clear up to two thousand ‘g’, the RIF fields start interrupting each other after that.’

‘We can maneuver, but we can’t chase.’ Lennart stated.

‘Tensor fields are fine. Stasis generators are twitchy. I’m not even going to try to explain what happened to the number five hyperdrive motivator.’ A lightbulb went on in Mirannon’s head; that was where he had come across the probationer before.

‘We can microjump with ten minutes warning, not less time, no more distance. Shields, weapons, interactions between, ninety- six percent confidence. Stores and parts, seventy- four percent.’

‘The other four percent?’ Lennart meant the interactions.

‘Bow and bow- ventral shields are still up to 70ms slow to accept fire window requests. Two more hours to find and fix.’

‘Guns, work round that if you have to.’ Lennart ordered. ‘The rebel survivors have been interrogated; they were supposed to be part of a combined strike. From the lack of laser fire in the area, I can only assume they’ve gone back to the drawing board.’

‘Details?’ Brenn asked. Wanting to show he was still part of the ship.

‘They actually screwed it up. The fighters were supposed to hit in time to draw the local defence wing and system reaction squadrons out, with the freighters and corvette appearing five minutes later. Instead it was barely forty seconds. They cut their timing and positioning too close, we got more warning from the bow shock, and had more formed units outside the melee and able to react, than we should have. They planned to bomb, not seize, the V-150s, that would open the way for assault ships that would proceed as we expected.’

‘What went wrong?’

‘Com procedure. Whoever was in charge of the regional command units set it up so that a failure to communicate would be taken as an abort signal. We have the local force base, fallback points, regional command’s rendezvous- that’ll be changed by now. Sector Fleet have been informed, and they intend to deploy a Demolisher frigate; they’ve asked us for heavy fighter support.
'The only reason not to - gut feeling. The primary threat hasn’t gone away. It was a well planned strike at a valuable objective; I think they’ll have at least one more try before they write it off. As usual, decision is mine, I want your input towards it.’

‘Are we still looking at a light to medium warship strike?’ Guns asked.

‘No indication that any of the strategic reserve MC-80s are involved. Almost a shame.’ Lennart grinned fiendishly. ‘Bulk carrier and various Republic leftovers and defectors. They never shot at our shields, the rebel survivors know that we have jammers and one main turret operative,’

‘Reminds me - Aldrem’s in sickbay.’ Guns said. Reproachfully.

‘Sleep deprivation and hallucinations, yes?’ Lennart assumed, correctly. ‘He did a lot to frighten the rebels off. It was a damn’ good shot, damn badly timed. Drilling him until he dropped was a suitable punishment.’ Lennart stated, for the benefit of Mirhak-Ghulej.

‘On the other hand, several of the rebels had a bounty on their heads. He’ll get the taker’s share of that. Deployment- either operation could be a non-event. Worst case; both go live simultaneously.’

‘Demolisher’s mainly a light carrier type.’ Brenn said. ‘Any help going, they need it more than we do.’

‘Squadron of Bombers, half squadron of Interceptors, two and a half of ln.’ Olleyri reported. ‘Decent troop complement, more than enough to cover that side. Send two of ours - Alpha and Epsilon. We can call Beta, Gamma, Delta and Nu if we need reinforcements. How much of that bounty goes to my pilots?’

‘Usual split.’ One quarter to the personnel directly involved, one quarter split between the indirectly, one quarter to command- primarily Lennart and Olleyri in this case - and one quarter to the ship. ‘How’s the slush fund doing?’ he asked Brenn. It was nominally the paymaster’s job to manage and the XO’s to oversee, but Brenn was best up to date.

‘Pretty healthy.’ It was used for, amongst other things, bailing out sailors caught short of the law on shore leave. ‘We have enough to, for instance, pick up three squadrons of Rebel-type fighters on the black market.’

‘What an extraordinarily sneaky idea.’ Lennart liked the sound of it, but could see the problem. ‘Is there such a thing as a trustworthy Hutt? If you ever find one, we could triple the slush fund by selling the story.’

‘We can welsh on a deal with more gigatonnage than they can.’ Brenn stated.

‘Leave extreme infiltration aside for the moment- make that very far aside. What more do we need from the Sahallare?’

‘Motivator five. I’m leaving it to last because of the stasis generators, and so I can get the maximum amount of use out of the test rigs I borrowed from them,’ Mirannon said.

‘We can jump missing as many as three motivators, we have that redundancy.’ Brenn, who should know, said. ‘How safe is this indescribable failure, if that’s what’s stopping us?’

‘The long version.’ Mirannon pulled a datapad covered in scrawled equations out of a pocket and threw it to Brenn.

‘Short version - the thing partially activated when we powered it back up. No tensor and stasis fields to anchor it to the rest of the ship, it went acausal, wobbled across the light barrier, and wrapped itself around its own world line. Damn thing turned itself into a closed timelike curve.
Useless - totally self referential - and an anchor is exactly how it’s behaving. We can’t hyper cleanly with it on board. Straightforward replacement job, totally unrepairable with the available tools and time, only dangerous to itself so far.’

‘I love that ‘so far’. Get rid of it,’ Lennart ordered. ‘I want the tender ready to leave in a hurry if she has to. Ready Epsilon and Alpha squadrons. From 0445C on, we go on alert stations.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-08 05:33pm, edited 2 times in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2006-12-13 08:40pm

Ch 5

Most of the gantries were still, to the naked eye and the casual scan, in place; from the outside, Black Prince still looked like a ship under major repair.

From the inside, fine tuning, trials, adjustment and compensation still to do, but the rough work was done and she was spoiling for trouble. Some of her people were, anyway.

Two fighter squadrons floated out of the bay, formed up, confirmed their hyperdrive coordinates. They would rendezvous with the sector force warship at their target. Olleyri’s idea; look like part of the sector reserve, preserve surprise. Which he had a vested interest in, because he was leading the formation.

He had taken his most awkward problem with him: Epsilon squadron. It was Delta’s turn, but Epsilon needed it more, and Olleyri would be happier to have them covering his tail anyway. Delta were more by the book, Epsilon, under Tellick’s command, had treated the book as a launch pad rather than an objective.

That was what was wrong with too many Imperial pilots, according to the Group Captain; they weren’t crazy enough. Too many flight colleges, and the one attached to Carida was the worst, turned out calm, thoughtful, disciplined, obedient servants of the Empire.

In the cockpit, a servant- of anything- was dead meat. Olleyri wanted predators.

That was one of the reasons the rebels depended so heavily on fighters- their propaganda appealed more to, and they got more of, the sort of people that made good fighter pilots.
Command thought it was a materiel problem. Olleyri had no problem with them thinking that, as long as it kept the factories trying to one-up the Alliance by turning out things like his Defender.

Navigation on the Black Prince was plotting their jump for them, and as they did, the Group Captain kept an ear open for crosschattter between fighters- especially, between Epsilon One and Five.

He had told them the truth largely so they would think there was something else behind it; they would clash, and drive each other on.

He had more hopes of Rahandravell, actually. If, from the death of her lover, she picked up the right dose of cold fury in her heart, she could easily reach as high as Wing command, perhaps succeed him when he moved on to a carrier group. Treating Jandras as a problem might do the same for him.

Far off in the inner system, there was a hyperdrive- entry swirl; light hours away, they were seeing effects relayed by Black Prince’s main domes.

‘Group Captain, that’s the Demolisher Raduvej away; your course mark is ten seconds from…mark.’ Flight control announced.

‘Alpha and Epsilon, you heard Flight; lock in, and activate in four…three…two…one.’ Twenty- four fighters went to hyperspeed.

On board, the crew were now standing rotating one in three watches. Some features of a Star Destroyer’s internal layout were immovable.
Others were not, and one of Lennart’s and Mirannon’s reconstructs had been about breaking up the quarters block in the superstructure and moving the crew closer to their duty stations.

It meant that the forward turbolaser crews no longer got asked to do the three minute mile; that was the most extreme example, but it had improved readiness and response times. The fifteen crew of Port-4 shared a bunk room immediately beside their turret assembly.

‘That’s better. The walls are grey again.’ Aldrem was sitting on the edge of his bunk, blanket draped over his shoulders, steaming mug of dwarf dice-melon juice in his hands. He had stopped twitching.

‘We had them repainted green.’ Suluur said, in just the right comforting-a-sick-friend tones. Aldrem took one hand off the mug, held it up in front of him, squinted past it, and gave Suluur a very black look.

‘How do you two do it?’ Aldrem asked. ‘Stay up.’

‘Simple.’ Suluur said. ‘You were the one that got the blame, so the drill was tailored to hit you hardest.’

‘Changing power output at least one shot in three?’ Fendon objected to that.

‘I don’t get it. Punishment and reward. Reward without punishment, stang yes, but not likely. Punishment without reward, I could at least get my head around. Neither means they’ve lost the file again. But both?’ he shook his head, a bad move. ‘Urgh. At least the space spiders have stopped crawling across the inside of my eyeballs.’

‘No, they were alien bioships. That was part of the sim. You nearly melted sub-2 shooting at them, remember?’

‘One windup is enough.’ Aldrem told them. Suluur put the holoprojector remote down. ‘How much does a good therapist cost?’

‘By the day or by the hour? We’re on wartime running, fat chance of getting anywhere near one.’ Suluur was using a very loose definition of the term ‘therapist’.

Brenn had wanted to see Motivator Five for himself; Mirannon took him there. The motivator unit was shielded, within it’s own armoured sphere; it covered two decks, the casing was bolted directly to one of the main ribs of the hull frame, and there was what looked like the mother of all scanning units bolted to the sphere.

‘Look at it with the naked eye, all you’ll get is a migraine.’ Mirannon advised him. ‘Use the scanner.’

‘How did we get this exotic an accident?’ Brenn asked, looking at the scanner, trying to work out how to make it go.

‘Because the built in factors of safety, and the active and passive safety systems, prevent all the simple ones.’ Mirannon pointed out.

‘Millions of things could go wrong, if we were daft enough to let them. This should have been preventable. My headache is going to be working out how this one managed to slip through.’

‘You call one of the motivators turning itself into a solipsistic time machine simple and preventable?’ Brenn said, not believing it. ‘I’d hate to see your version of a complex problem.’

‘Trying to fix it.’ Mirannon said, darkly.

‘Is there any use to it as it is? Anything we can do with it?’

‘It’s causality’s a knot; I’m still trying to work out what can be safely done to it. The only think I can think of is to cut it loose, crate it up, leave it drifting and laugh at the Rebels as they try to pick it up and run with it.’

Brenn looked up. ‘That has potential. Captain wanted rid of it, so-‘

‘Most of the through-deck hard patches are already open. Two minutes to jettison, thirty to fit and calibrate a new motivator to usability, ninety more to finish sorting the stasis fields, three days of juggling calibrations to get a rating above point three nine. Then another ten days of systems integration. Joy.’ Mirannon grumbled.

He was protesting more than he otherwise would have precisely because so many of the systems that were giving him trouble were his own adaptations. ‘The threat?’

‘Not yet but soon, I think. There are other Starfleet ships in the system, nothing bigger than a frigate though, most of them out around Ghorn-IV and V. You’re sure we can turn this into a glorified mine?’ Brenn asked.

‘Sure. DMR looked at something like it.’ He motioned Brenn back, out of the way of the work crews that were disconnecting the scanner, unbonding the sphere from the hull spar.

‘What do you have to do with the Department of Military Research?’ Brenn asked, intrigued.

‘The top twenty of my academy conversion class were offered the option.’ Mirannon revealed. ‘We were shown a few things, allowed to guess a few more, got to talk to some people.

Then we were addressed by one of its’ section heads, and that put almost all of us off the idea. You might have heard of him, he’s famous now. A guy called Lemelisk.’

‘You met the chief designer of the Death Star?’ Brenn could barely believe it. He blurted it out.

‘Yes, and I’m surprised anybody thought it was necessary. His nervous twitch alone could have cracked the crust of most planets… Only two of us thought they could cope with that much pressure. They stopped him giving conferences after that, and neither of the two from my class have been heard of since.’

‘Navigator, Gunnery Officer, report to the bridge.’ The PA blared out.

‘That sounds like things starting to happen.’ Brenn advised Mirannon. ‘You don’t have a superlaser of your own hidden somewhere around here, do you-‘ he noticed a twinkle in the hairy engineer’s eye. ‘If you do, I don’t want to know.’

‘I’ll release this and close up the hard patches.’ Mirannon gestured to the sphere, now held in a tractor- clamp. ‘Tell me if we’ve got time to fit the replacement.’

‘Right.’ Brenn said, running for the access corridor and the electrobuggy he had used to get here.

Lennart was in the starboard gallery; he waved Brenn and Guns across to the console he was standing over.
‘Does this smell as fishy to you as it does to me?’ he called up a received message. It was a datadump, made through moderate haze.

‘HIMS Syirdraev to Black Prince, we are reconnaissance conversion Strike Cruiser, being pursued by a rebel hunter. Intruder is larger, we are unable to engage, respectfully suggest we lead him past your position. Is your status sufficient to engage?’

‘Syirdraev, that’s a hunting lizard, isn’t it? They must be reusing names, that should be KDY class 1000?’ Guns theorised.

‘That’s a Syurdraev, with an ‘I’ it’s a type of solar prominence, makes her a Nebulon-B.’ Brenn stated. Even with all the galaxy’s languages to draw on, there were barely enough words to name an entire navy. ‘What’s the rebel?’

Lennart called up the sensor footage. ‘Fishy as a Hutt’s rotting grandmother.’ Brenn realised.

The image was a computer reconstruction of what was going on- the ships were too far away for tactical sensors. The Imperial- or the one with the green blip, anyway- was a heavily modified- looking Strike Cruiser.

Such things happened to ships converted to recon, and it was a logical choice, take advantage of the Loronar design’s modularity; there were supposed to be a handful.

The professed Rebel was an old Starfleet Fulgur- class Star Frigate; five hundred and sixty metres, as near to an egg shape as it was a wedge, and engine bells almost the size of an Imperator’s. The Fulgurs lived up to their name; they had an oversized reactor, too, and not enough weaponry to take advantage of it, nor enough shielding, but speed they had and to spare.

‘Do they really think we’re that stupid?’ Brenn said, scornfully.

‘You see something in this I don’t.’ Guns said.

‘Naturally; you’re interested in how ships shoot, he’s interested in how they move. A Strike Cruiser doesn’t have the power to outrun a Fulgur, however heavily modified it is. They only adjust so far. That is a pair of Rebel warships running a fairly interesting bluff.’ Lennart decided. ‘I think we pretend to take the bait.’

‘They don’t leave us many options, we couldn’t catch either even in full condition.’ Brenn said. ‘Fifteen minutes and a massive overrunning vector, unless they start stunting.’

‘They have to do something to us when they get here; they will. Tell Mirannon to get the replacement motivator in and the hardpatches sealed up as soon as may be.’

External com channel; ‘Black Prince Actual to Syirdraev; We are well below optimum condition, but an undergunned fast frigate we can cope with. Herd her in. Black Prince out.’

‘You’re sure you’re not overdoing that?’ Brenn asked.

‘Fairly sure, they are theatre command types. If they compared notes with the Mon Evarra, they’ll know we’re lying, but if they had I’d expect them to bring something bigger.

Right now we only have logic to go on, System Defence Command isn’t necessarily going to respond well to that so send them an advisory, but warn the Sahallare and the Golan.’ He told the comtech. ‘Sound General Quarters.’

The coordinates the fighter group had been given for the Rebel local force base were a huge chunk of snow and ice far out in the cometary halo of a system called Thebune. It was the next stop over on the civilian nav maps, which described the mainworld as a flourishing residential planet, ecologically managed, pleasant scenery, rich and diverse culture. Instinctively Aron was suspicious of it.

Alpha and Epsilon squadrons emerged from hyperspace in loose combat formation, close enough for mutual support, far enough apart for sensor parallax, not too close to the target= enough room and time to react if there was anything waiting for them. The frigate- carrier Raduvej was far ahead. Well within the jaws of the trap.

‘One, Five.’ Franjia called him; infuriatingly professional. ‘Capital ship targets. One large, two medium signatures.’ Expecting him to pass it up the chain of command, becoming her messenger in effect.

The Starwing’s sensor suite was more complex than a TIE’s; there was a lot he couldn’t do with it, and he resolved that he would master it if it killed him. Or her.

‘Classify them. Alpha One, we have hostile capital ships.’

‘I see them.’ The iceballs were very large and very, very far apart; the nearest was a cosmic hairsbreadth at a hundred thousand kilometres, that and this slowly revolving round a common centre. The far comet had a ship half- hidden behind it, reactive scramblers returning nonsense to any active search.

Passive slowly pieced it together- ‘Lead, main rebel target is Neutron Star class. Auxilliary carrier.’

The Neutron Star class were- once shorn of the sales blurb- basically protected cargo ships.

Armed and defended to resist piracy, the empire had retired them from fleet support, and was compulsory-purchasing and breaking up all the civilian examples it could- because when they were taken, the Alliance turned them into their equivalent of the Demolisher.

Everything about them was improvised; it was impossible to predict what any given example was capable of.

Scanning resolved two squadrons of T-wings, one squadron of X, one squadron of old V-wings. Interception heavy.

‘They haven’t brought enough bombers. Those medium signatures, probe for them, they’ll be the ship killers.’ Olleyri said. He led the formation towards the Raduvej to support her, at Starwing speeds.

‘Forty-eight kills waiting to happen.’ Alpha Two said.

‘That would be pleasure, this is business. Rebs wouldn’t be here in force unless they thought they could take us.’

Smenge, Aron thought. A rebel ambush on his second day on the job. All of his pilots sounded insultingly calm, and he was probably getting paranoid.

Olleyri seemed to be deliberately putting him and Epsilon Five against each other; he’d have to talk to her about that. If they survived.

‘Got it.’ Franjia said. ‘Nebulon-B, and one unknown. Fighters moving to escort- Whoah.’

This Neutron Star, for instance, in addition to it’s fighters had an extremely powerful main jammer unit. It snapped on and flooded a cone of space centred on the Raduvej with howling distortion, paralysing comms and navigation, crippling sensors.

‘That’s one of ours. Heavyweight Imperial EW equipment.’ Rahandravell reported.

‘If we could stop the rebs raiding our dustbins, this war would be over in a month.’ Olleyri grumbled, thinking and bitching at the same time. What were they doing that blindness could serve?

Making it look like they were covering a retreat- while they were aiming for an Imperial scalp to hang on their wall.

Raduvej would press on, doctrine said so. She would send her fighter wing after the jamming, and they were outclassed.

Somewhere in the haze, the frigate-carrier’s fighters were tangling with whatever the Rebels had put up; they could hear bursts of com chatter, rebel and Imperial, and it sounded as if the Rebels were winning.

Undisciplined babble, first names, nicknames, kill claims. Then a pair of X-wings cut across the formation’s nose.

Epsilon had no shot; Aron broke into a climbing turn, Franjia into a dive, banking to catch the Rebs as they went by- if Alpha left anything of them.

The rebels reacted fast; one of them turned along the formation, firewalled his engines, and raced into the haze with a cone of green light snapping at his heels.

The other tried to sideslip and twist under, Olleyri caught him and crippled him with a snapshot quad, rolled onto his tail and finished him. Alpha Two ordered third flight to chase the fleeing rebel scout; they went to full throttle and peeled off after the X-wing.

Ten seconds later two proton torpedoes came out of the scrambling, followed by a flare that showed through. Epsilon scattered to avoid the torps; the rebel had deadfired them back down his line of flight, trying to catch one of the Avengers, missed. They got him.

‘Hexagon formation, Alpha, Epsilon, we’re going in. They’ve got a cruiser sector jammer.’

‘And he wants to make me ask you for an explanation.’ Aron said to Franjia.

‘It covers a small slice of sky. We don’t need to get close, we need to surround it, but the easiest way to do that is-‘

‘Get close.’ Aron finished her sentence.

‘First pass, target the jammer. Alpha strafe, Epsilon torps.’ Olleyri ordered.

Epsilon’s three flights were supposed to spread out into a triangle, one towards and two away from the enemy; Alpha would do the same in reverse, the two Avenger flights forward and flanking, the Defenders above and behind, ready to react.

The Rebel jamming seemed to be affecting their own systems; both sides got an unpleasant surprise. For the rebel, two squadrons of Imperial heavy fighters appearing at point blank. For the Imperials, the carrier’s close escort. It was the Nebulon- B frigate.

The Avengers broke and evaded, twisting and dancing across the sky; the Starwings couldn’t be that drastic. They needed to keep sensor spots on it to get a torpedo lock. They could pitch and yaw, but not much more.

‘With me, on my target.’ Olleyri ordered, the Defenders peeled off, dived under Aron’s flight and raced ahead, the Avengers followed him.

He was aiming for the main sensor array; when the frigate got it’s act together, it would start group- firing, directing all it’s guns against one target at a time, swamping them in fire- two seconds a fighter, if that. Knocking out central sensors would at least paralyse central fire control.

The Starwings were bucketing through streamers of red light; if there was one thing Aron knew about the Starwing, it was how to throw it around.

He spiralled right- Two went the other way- faked reversing the roll, the rebel predictors shot well ahead of him, he twisted inside one line of fire, rolling and pulling up; had to slam the stick forward to get out of the way of Epsilon Four who had swung wide.

Epsilon were all doing the same; jinking and weaving- there were hits; one of the turbolasers put a bolt into Eleven, their shields were good but not quite that good. He fireballed.

Three took one of the defence lasers and lost shields, Six got tingled- then the Rebels realised they should be worrying more about Alpha squadron.

Olleyri went in suicidally close, trusting to his fighter’s agility to avoid being shot- and the shields to take the blast of his own weapons. He and the rest of Lead flight were carrying torpedoes; he ripple- fired them all, as fast as his launchers could kick them out, and the others took his example.

Against a large target, it wouldn’t have been enough. The continuous ripple of scarlet fireballs that kicked the frigate to one side and blasted a hole in her shields wouldn’t have worried a Carrack, even, but Nebulons were lighter than that. Fighter pilots on every side loathed the things; and payback was sweet.

The four Defenders skid turned, soaring through the rolling blast wave, shields scintillating, and lanced streams of green and blue laser and ion fire through the local flaw in the Nebulon’s shields. The shell of the sensor unit pockmarked, eroded, came apart; the soft tissue inside blazed.

The Avengers followed, swarming around the base of the Nebulon’s fin, strobing ripples of laser fire into it, looking for the shield generator to turn a temporary breach into a permanent one.

The rebels were shooting at random now, defence turrets on local control; they were good at that, broke the shields on two Avengers, maimed a third, but the turbolasers were missing, scattering wild.

Not enough, not fast enough, not accurate enough. The Defenders were blunting vector, coming back for another run. Green blazes marched up the fin, smothering the turrets, reaching in, finding and smashing the generator.

Olleyri switched to ions, ordered his flight to do the same. Killing a capship was never simple. Disrupt it, strafe off the turrets, then try and smash engines and hyperdrive, stop it getting away.

Blasting a warship apart with fighter lasers was long, slow work, usually long enough for relief to arrive for one side or the other.

The frigate knew this as well as they did. It called for fighter support.

Epsilon- less one- were lining up for their own torpedo run. If anything, the huge sector jammer made it easier to lock on to the merchant carrier, its normal defences were compromised to fit it.

Aron- everybody- were constantly weaving, trying to avoid setting up a pattern; it’s guns were sparking, medium antiship pieces as well.

‘Four on, then break off for another pass.’ Franjia advised.

The rebels were shooting like novice wegsphere players; all chasing the ball. Whatever seemed the easiest target, they would dogpile on- and that fighter went from partial to full evasive.

It was good tactics, by accident, but shoddy shooting. Either their predictors weren’t working or their gunners weren’t listening.

The Starwings showed them how it was supposed to be done. Lock on to the ship, twitch the pointer on to the subsystem, squeeze off a torp- break off as the gunners decided to play with you.

Burn back to get more time, accelerate in again-throw them off. Another torpedo.

Blast of laserfire to catch their eye, sucker them into going for you rather than someone more vulnerable- then curse your own stupidity as half your shields vanished in a haze of defence lasers and the stars blurred by as you frantically tried to dodge anything bigger.

Snapshoot the last two torpedoes, and accelerate to safety beyond effective gun range.

Aron broke off, shunted his shields to face the freighter, most of his flight followed.

Epsilon Four was in trouble. Three was floating backwards, trying to cover him, spraying laser fire at the rebel turrets- Four’s engines were shredded, a laser hit had blown one out entirely and sent shrapnel through the other. He was jinking and twisting as best he could, but the rebels scented blood.

Four ejected, manually and, by the book, too soon; in fact, barely in time. The fighter took a turbolaser hit and evaporated, the pilot was out and floating, for what good it would do. They needed to win to get rescue sleds to the area.

Forty-four torpedoes turned out to be enough. The dorsal shield around the jammer blew out, lightning arcs crackling between the fragments of debris, the jammer took a direct hit; the distortions stopped, and they got a good look at the entire battlefield.

Raduvej was closing on the iceball with the rebel base; two flights of TIE bombers were orbiting it, there were a couple of individual, scattered TIE fighters, and that was it.

Four or five of the V-wings were gone, about the same in T-wings, but most of the red- blipped fighters were still there. Not good.

The base was empty; no jammers, no power source, no defence turrets, no anything. At best, the mission was a bust. The missing third rebel capital ship was about to do it’s best to turn it into a disaster.

It was a freak; probably a one off. The engine bank looked freighter- based and running very, very hot; the outline of the ship- light plating, barely enough to carry a shield and mostly there for the look of the thing- was based on the Alliance phoenix symbol.

The only thing that stopped Epsilon laughing was the radiation it was putting out. Missile targeters- twenty of them.

Alpha one, Epsilon one. What do we do- support the carrier?’ Aron called to Olleyri, urgent.

Raduvej was rolling to bring her guns to bear, activating her own jammers; good idea in principle- kill the rebel before it could get it’s shots off.

Alpha could chase down the missiles, they were closer to the Rebels than they were to the Imperial light carrier.

Doctrine said losing unit for unit with the Rebels was good business for the many-times larger Imperial fleet. Ignore it and stay on target, trade the Neutron Star for the Demolisher.

‘Black Prince, Black Prince this is Alpha One, we need support, send Beta, Gamma, Delta urgent.’ Olleyri spun round to face the rebel strikeship and firewalled his engines.

Twisting and rolling to clear the Nebulon’s zone of fire as they went, he invented his excuse on the way. This was a first time; if the rebels got away with it, they would try it again.

That flying abomination- they must have got the missiles from the same place they got the jammer, from an imperial navy scrapyard. They looked stripped off a Victory-I, and that was an awful lot of firepower in a small, cheap package. Perfect terrorist-mobile.

‘With me.’ Olleyri called Epsilon; they couldn’t arrive in time to do anything about the missiles, but they could kill the strikeship.

‘Five, situation;’ Aron called her, tone dripping in sarcasm. ‘We have two damaged but still shooting rebel warships behind us, one assassin ahead of us, and around three squadrons of rebel fighters on an intercept course.’ Said while lining up and accelerating towards the strikeship.

‘What does bomber doctrine suggest we do now?’

She laughed, briefly. ‘This falls into the part of the manual titled “…or die trying.” Seriously, missile engagement. Torpedoes you aren’t going to get far enough to use if the rebel fighters jump you- may as well use them on the fighters. I suggest the T-wings, they’ll be the most trouble once they get close.’

The turbolasers would carry far further than they could be aimed on small, fast targets; the rebel ships were still firing at them, blind grid patterns.

Franjia banked her flight round to a direct line between the Nebulon and the rebel T-wings; Aron realised, and followed her round. Long, shallow banks worked best to take them out of the patterns, one group of shot flew past them and crashed into two T-wings.

Which was good, but the last salvo put one bolt into Epsilon Eight. The shield unit held this one back for a fraction of a second- long enough to eject. Three fighters down. Krutz. The Nebulon and the Neutron Star lumbered round after them. It would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.

The X-wings had torpedoes to shoot back at them. Acceptable risk.

Twelve rounds each, four gone. Aron picked one of the T-wings, squadron leader by the look of it- his private game- and lobbed a torpedo; switched target to his wingman and fired another. Stop them covering each other.

Most of his pilots did the same; the nine remaining X-wings probably meant to lob a torpedo at each of them, but in practise they pointed and pulled the trigger. Aron got three; Franjia got two.

Switch to lasers, power to forward shields, set lasers to arghohmygodskeepitaway- low power maximum rate.

‘Squadron defence order, and try not to hit our own torpedoes.’ Aron ordered, lining up on one of the incoming and spitting a green hose of fire at it.

Those who weren’t looking at hot proton death shot at the torps of those who were. Carefully; trying not to sideswipe each other.

Aron was actually a very good shot, when his heart rate- currently somewhere around the low two hundreds- didn’t make his hand shake on the stick. Franjia was an excellent shot. She nailed her pair comfortably.

Aron didn’t. He got the first easily and at long range, but sprayed shot all over the sky trying to pin down the second. By the time he did connect, the third was too close.

Couldn’t out- turn it, not normally- he hammered it with a maximum intensity active sensor pulse and shoved the flightstick hard right at the last possible moment; blinded, it lost touch, went for where it guessed he was, and slid under his fighter’s belly, tail flare close enough to tickle the shields.

On the other side of the balance, one torp hit wouldn’t kill a Starwing with shields doubled forward- Six proved that, it happened to him- but it would slag a T-wing.

They shot at their torpedoes; single heavy guns with poor rate of fire. Dodged; agile as they were, not enough to out-turn a torpedo. Jammed; cheap light fighters pitting their electronics against top line Imperial strike bombers.

They could have done better, should have, but Epsilon weren’t complaining. Eight hits. Eight less T-wings to worry about, and the rest scattered badly enough to buy time. Aron gave the target order.

‘Five, take your flight after the X-wings. Nine, the V-wings, then whatever’s spare. Good hunting, and we must be mad.’

Olleyri picked his moment; ‘C flight, double back and deal with those T- wings.’ Let the rebels be, just long enough to get them looking the other way.

The rebel was letting the Raduvej turn on it; because that exposed their hangar bay. Fire solution.

Twenty heavy bombardment missiles streaked out of their launch cradles and accelerated towards the frigate. Olleyri’s defenders shot past the strikeship, trying to match speed and thrust with the missiles.

Raduvej spurted green light, antiship weapons on the strikeship- Olleyri’s fighters had to dance out of the way.

It was maneuvering and returning fire from two turbolasers, dorsal and ventral turrets, slow and heavy- bigger than it really had the power to use, but it was shooting better than the frigate, scoring hits that weren’t intended to kill but to weaken the shields. That would be enough.

The missiles had enough wit to realise they were being targeted. They began to jink, weaving sharp, drastic evasive patterns- even with four Defenders on their tail, not easy kills.

They only had to point on and the heavy missiles would dart away like touched salmon. It was real dogfighting work. Olleyri and Alpha Three got two each, but it took them three quarters the distance to do it- follow the missiles in too far, and the Defenders would join them impacting on the frigate.

Kriff, Olleyri thought, half of them are still going to hit- ‘Break off, nothing more we can do.’

Last ditch defence salvos caught another two- eight impacted. The forward shields shimmered, bubbled, blew out, and the last two missiles hit bare metal, one of them detonated inside the hangar bay.

It wasn’t a kill, but it was easily within turbolasing distance of one. The forward prongs were glowing white- hot and the main body of the ship had dimmed to orange- red after the fireball cleared, it was not likely anyone forward of main engineering had survived.

More than half the crew were cremated, and the forward defences and weapons were down.

The T-wings tried to accelerate past the Starwings to come round after them; Aron had picked a T-wing, lined up on it, lobbed a couple of ion bolts at it- then gone into a full power side drift and caught the wingman. Cyclic, all four cannon.

Ion and lasers hammered at the light fighter, turned it into a crackling fireball. There was another blast as Three made a kill on the approach, and then the T-wings were strafing past them and they were swinging round into the furball.

Two banked, Aron delayed a second, one of the T-wings lined up on him, he sideslipped on full throttle, started to tumble. Two shot at the T- wing and missed, Aron recovered.

Two shot past him with a T-wing lining up on his Starwing’s tail, Aron rolled round after it, dipped to clear two from the line of fire, started to shoot, had a red spark smash into his shields.

Flip of the fire switch to grouped guns, a single shot that crippled the T-wing- Two could finish him- and break before the rebel could bring his fire back on target.

The rebel rolled with him, trying to turn inside each other. Aron had an unfair advantage; the T- wing was fast and agile, he was slow and agile. It overshot and desperately tried to dive and loop on to his tail, he took a snapshot, missed, and let it go. No time.

One more green blip was missing. Six; he had lost shields to a torpedo, and fuselage to an X-wing’s lasers. That left two Starwings against seven X.

Out and drifting; the Starwing’s ejection system worked, most of the time. The V-wings were outclassed and scattering, back to the cover of the frigate- then the Avengers hit.

A flight of X turned to face them, streams of red and green laser fire crossed, one of the Avengers and three of the X- wings went tumbling away blasted, the X- wings scattered.

‘Raduvej, are you still under command? Crowd the bastard, block his way to hyper so we can torpedo him.’ Olleyri called the carrier, leading his flight back into the fighter melee.

‘Alpha, do what you can to cover the Starwings. Epsilon, we need your torpedoes. Stop playing with the rebs and get back to work.’ Second and Third flights needed no further encouragement.

Two Starwings against four X-wings was almost a fair fight. Five killed one, the Avengers got the other three.

One of the T-wings made a suicide run on Aron; spitting fire at him, collision course.

Aron twisted, the Rebel pursued- last moment he slammed on full retros and the T-wing sliced past his nose, Aron pitched up after it and caught it in mid turn, finished it with another quad shot.

He was sliding round after another when a Defender danced in in front of him, rattled a long stream of fire into it exploding it. Aron was about to shout at it when he realised it was the group captain.

Suddenly there were a lot less Rebels around. Eight surviving Starwings- no, seven. Locking on to the phoenix- shaped rebel strikeboat was almost trivially easy.

It was shooting into the Raduvej, all it was achieving was making the wreckage twitch; even Aron managed to target it easily, and all seven rippled off their remaining torpedoes.

The Rebel was too eager for the kill; hung around too long. It’s shields were thin, it’s structure thinner- the barrage of torpedoes cut into it, blasted the defences down, ripped the hull apart. The engines exploded. No missiles.

‘It’s got no onboard magazines, it must have used cradle launchers, that’s why it was working with a carrier.’ Franjia suggested.

‘So if we hit the Neutron Star really hard, it should go boom? What a time to be out of torpedoes.’

Three long lines of flashes; hyperspace emergences. Beta, Gamma, Delta squadrons.

‘And what a time to be reinforced.’ Aron said, wanting to do the job himself but knowing it was impossible. He sagged with relief. Imperial pilot’s flight suits were very good at soaking up sweat.

‘You’d be willing to charge two rebel cap ships with half a squadron of mostly shield depleted fighters? I suppose it looks good on the record.’ Franjia replied, sounding scornful but not meaning it.

Counting odds- a carrier, an escort and a handful of fighters against two battered and three fresh Imperial fighter squadrons- it wasn’t a winning fight for the Rebels any more.

Neither of them were badly enough damaged to be held from running away, and Epsilon were not sorry to see them go.

‘Tell me the truth.’ Aron called to Franjia. ‘The real dirty secret of the bomber trade is just how often the plan goes to blazes and it turns into an incoherent, demented scramble, isn’t it?’

‘You worked it out; perhaps there’s hope for you yet.’ Franjia said, just as flippant. More seriously- ‘Was this a victory or not?’

‘Well,’ Aron said, thinking about it, ‘we did a lot of damage. For the squadron- probably. For the Empire- doubt it.’

‘What kept you?’ Olleyri asked Beta One.

‘We have a situation back at the ship as well. Captain wasn’t sure it was safe to let us go.’

‘Wonderful. Now we get to sit here and watch that cool-‘ the Raduvej- ‘and hope we have a mothership to go back to.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-09 04:37pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2006-12-19 06:10am

Ch 6

The Quarters alarm sounded, surprising some.

‘Urrrgh.’ Aldrem staggered to his feet.

‘Are you sure you can do this?’ Suluur asked him.

‘No, but I’m zorched if I’m going to let someone else make a mess of my turret.’

Fendon and Suluur held him up as they went up the companionway to the command compartment. ‘If he wants to make a fool of himself, least we can do is help.’ Suluur decided.

They practically poured him into the gunlayer’s chair, blanket still draped around his shoulders. Dizzy as he was, he went through the drill of activating the turret perfectly, the hand holding a chillpak to his forehead didn’t slow him down at all.

‘OK, what have we got?’

‘All hands, this is the Captain. We have one of our strike cruisers, a recon-line conversion, being pursued by a Rebel fast frigate. Apparently. I suspect both ships are in rebel hands, they are attempting to bluff their way to close quarters and use either heavy ion cannon or mag pulse mines on us, disable and hijack the tender. Both of them are flying evasive, and the Strike Cruiser is showing Imperial ID codes. Override that. Our margin, to hit them before they hit us, is thin.
We will be manoeuvring as radically as we can manage- last second evade and counterfire. I’ll give the fire call.’

‘Captain, the Lancer is moving this way. It says it wants to offer support.’ That was Lieutenant-Commander Rythanor, chief sensor officer.

‘Shandon, has it been out of sight of either us or the system defence for any length of time?’

‘No, but give me a moment…’ he moved to one of the consoles in the pit, looked up the confidential reports. ‘Sector fleet has a low estimate of their reliability.’

‘This used to be a peaceful sector, things well under control. I think sector fleet got complacent, just about the same time as the rebs realised they were losing and threw in more forces to try to hold on to it. Bad combination.’ Lennart shook his head.

‘Either the captain’s about to change sides, or he’s dumb enough to bring a clutch of fighter-class weapons to a capital duel. Either way, it bears watching.’

‘Or you could be overanalysing again.’ Brenn suggested.

‘You’re right.’ Lennart admitted. ‘I’m starting to come down with Master Plan Syndrome. I wonder who is on the other side, though. Certainly Republic if not Imperial Starfleet trained.’

‘Not much chance of taking him alive to ask.’ Commander Wathavrah- Guns- gave his opinion. ‘Fulgur and most of the recon conversions we’ve seen have been too volatile for their own good.’ The gunnery officer would go down to fire direction control when trouble started.
‘The only Ion weapons we have available belong to the fighter wing.’ he added.

‘Which makes the Lancer’s involvement interesting. How do we put her to the proof? Shandon?’

‘No ID code that they don’t have. I’ll have one of the duty stations monitor her.’ The sensor officer said. He was medium height and had a share of jerboa in his makeup, quiverish, darting, suddenly looking at things, always listening; it was one of the occupational hazards. Some devoted so much of their brain to the job that they had virtually no common sense outside it; like him, like the ship’s chief medical officer.

‘Flight Control? Get the wing in their racks, but hold them back until I give the word. Get the Legion’s transports ready to fly, as well. Most of them are ion capable, if we can strip the shielding off that ought to work.’

The ship was at full combat readiness in two minutes; jamming suite up and in dampener mode - hide the fact that the Black Prince was as ready as she was.

Aldrem was leaning back in the fire control chair, eyes closed, listening to the hum of the turret around him; Fendon was watching him, worried.

‘Do you know anything about the Fulgurs?’ Suluur asked him, for effect.

‘Not apart from the captain’s instructions.’

‘They were pirate-hunters in the old Republic navy; as fast as most of our fighters, they could easily take a Corvette or an armed merchant apart - but they went out of fashion in the Clone Wars, no good against their own size.

There are still a few of them doing recon. They’re about right for the Rebellion - I’d expect them to try harder to get more of them.’

‘Strafing a star destroyer? Are they cracked, or is it us?’ Aldrem said, slowly, eyes still closed.

‘Good. I thought we’d have to fire on central.’ Suluur said. ‘Seriously, Pel, get Gendrik or Hruthhal in here, post your brain as an Op-Def.’ They were the chiefs of the sub-assembly crews.

‘I can’t, it’s not Ulthsday morning.’ Usually the morning after the night before. ‘This is actually about all I feel fit to do.’ Still without looking, ‘Do we start tracking yet?’

‘No.’ The turret had a quasi-autoaim system, which could be run locally or from Central Fire Direction; the target’s course was programmed into it, and it automatically tracked to follow. Setting that up and anticipating the target’s movements was all the gunlayer had to do, and it was a very big ‘all’.

There were sparks of turbolaser fire; the Strike Cruiser was sliding on the rim of the Fulgur’s accurate firing range; just out of reach, occasionally getting stung by a light turbolaser bolt. It’s shields were still in suspiciously good condition.

The Lancer edged closer; suspiciously unshot-at. Stunting, weaving- the strike cruiser, nearly overrun, flipped end for end, burned back past the Fulgur, crossed its wake; the Fulgur was round on it in a flash, raked it as it went by.

‘Good thing about this is, we’re getting a thorough picture of both ships. No hidden angles.’ Rythanor said.

‘Except the inside. If you could prove to me that the SC is in rebel hands, I’d be much happier about shooting her.’ Lennart stated.

‘I think I can.’ Rythanor replied, suppressing the impulse to ask; suppose I told you I couldn’t? ‘Engine temperature. The rebels run hotter than we do, and although strike cruisers vary anyway, that-‘ selecting the best image- ‘is at the upper end of the spectrum.’

‘That fits the tactics.’ He would have done it anyway, on his estimate of how it was being flown.

‘Timing and bearing?’ Wathavrah asked.

Brenn replied. ‘They’re shedding a lot of V, they’ll overfly us at seven hundred KPS near as I can estimate. Drop the mines, retro-burn, move in and launch boarding teams, ten minute op if they’re lucky.’

‘When will they be in predictor range?’ Wathavrah asked him; he had a rough guess of his own but the nav computers should be accurate to more than five seconds. They had been in gun range from the moment of emergence. Hyperspace sensors could detect a ship at transluminal speed, but it would be grid pattern fire; practical aimed fire range would be when they were close enough for lightspeed delay to be a minor problem.
That had been one of the main reasons for the switch to the Imperator-II’s gun fit; with more and faster- cycling heavy guns, it could lay down a barrage at more than twice the effective range of the Imperator-I.

‘Doesn’t matter. We open fire at three thousand.’ Lennart stated.

‘Kriffing near flash hazard.’ Wathavrah pointed out; the big guns had a minimum range of two thousand, flare distance from a detonating HTL bolt.

‘How many shots do you expect to need? We kill one, blow the shields off the other for the transports to deal with, then stand by to turn on the Lancer if our suspicions are well founded.’ Lennart decided.

‘Turning to bear?’ Wathavrah asked; Lennart nodded.

‘One simultaneous salvo into the prime target, ripple from the LTL’s into the secondary.’ Guns decided.

‘Set your fire plan up accordingly.’

Wathavrah left the bridge to go down to Fire Direction; Lennart went to the bridge gunnery monitoring station, leaned over the operator’s shoulder.

‘Right, we have the data.’ Suluur told his turretmates. ‘Stang. Have you ever rammed a blaster’s muzzle into someone’s gut, stood so close you could feel their breath, then pulled the trigger?’

‘What have I told you about getting into bar room fights?’ Aldrem said, shaking himself awake. ‘Point blank?’

‘Full power, three thousand.’ Dangerous; it was only blow-through that had saved Aldrem from baking most of the fighter wing with the shock from shooting the YT. If had been solid enough for the entire bolt to burst on, he would have scored about fifty fighter kills and a spot on the executioner’s ‘to do’ list.

‘I see what you mean, when do we start tracking?’

‘At eight thousand, roll to bear, line up, simultaneous salvo.’ Suluur said. Worried about Aldrem’s manic grin.

‘Bow shocks. Incoming rebel starfighters.’

‘Damn them and their timing.’ Lennart grumbled. ‘Point defence batteries hold, track passive, open fire with the main salvo- if they know we’re shamming, they’re playing it very cool.’

‘Eleven thousand.’ Both Rebel ships were making their final approach on the port quarter of the Black Prince, slightly above mid- level, and far enough apart. The Golan was splashing fire in the direction of the Fulgur- it was sidestepping it almost contemptuously.

Revealingly, both their shuttle bays were open.

‘Evasion burn, bring Alpha to bear, attack as planned.’ Lennart demanded.

Two thousand ‘g’ was all Black Prince could manage at the moment. It was more than enough. The gantries shattered and were brushed aside.

The Rebels were not expecting that; nor for the huge, off-coloured, asymmetric wedge to roll and yaw round to leave them staring down the throats of sixty-four heavy turbolasers. The alpha arc of the ship; the zone of sky into which all her weapons could fire. Main and secondary targeters flooded them with light.

The Strike Cruiser reacted slightly faster than the Fulgur, breaking right, trying to escape behind the Destroyer; she was the primary target.

Fire Direction actually pulled the trigger. All the guns were pointed on, charged and ready, local control had handed over to central; sixty light turbolasers added their fire to the main battery.

It was instant, it was unexpected, it was devastating. For a moment the Strike Cruiser burned bright enough to outshine the sun. Glare dampers protected the gun crews. Aldrem looked down instead, at the hull blazing in reflected turbolaser light.

There were a few hundred thousand people on Ghorn III who would need replacement eyes, and a few more who would need replacement homes- what of the shockwave reached the upper atmosphere would kick off tremendous weather effects.

That firepower was endurable, over time; at once, it would cleave through the shielding of far larger craft than a mere Strike Cruiser- a frigate by the old scale in any case, and now a nothing, a veil of hot gas that would create spectacular auroral displays when it hit the planet. It just tickled the Destroyer’s shields.

‘Heavies hold fire, Light turbolasers pursue the Fulgur, launch fighters and transports.’ Lennart ordered, ignoring the shout of ‘Yippee-ki-yay-yahoo’ from somewhere behind him in the sensor pit, and trying to control his own hungry grin.

The Fulgur dropped its bomb, and missed wide thanks to its own last second power slide; the blast from the mag pulse bomb was a mere tickle, the surge dampers overrode it at once. ‘The Lancer?’

‘Starting to bear away.’

‘Order it to close with and support the fighter wing, Fighter Direction- warn the pilots that it’s loyalty is questionable. Guns, have that thing tracked by the main turrets.’

‘What? Follow but don’t shoot - is it on our side or not?’ Aldrem was thoroughly confused.

Suluur glared at Fendon, looked at his board. He was trying to signal with his eyebrows. It would have worked on one of his brothers. Fendon took a while to get it. He powered down the guns, just in case the gunlayer’s finger twitched.

‘Give me a moment…fire direction says, maybe. The way it’s flying, it’s captain must be a hero, an idiot or a traitor.’ Suluur said.

‘Two out of three says shoot it.’

‘I’ll remind you of that next time we’re on Defaulters.’

The Fulgur needed to get to random shot range so it could initiate its hyperdrive; the clear run it required would be suicide if it was still inside accurate prediction. They couldn’t miss it if it flew dumb. That meant it had to stunt like mad to get clear, and meant the fighters had a chance to catch it. It also meant the Fulgur would do everything it could to drag them through the line of fire.
The Interceptors and Bombers had gone after it, one squadron of each racing ahead, wide of the green stream - the Fulgur maneuvered to cross their path. Doctrine was clear; the fighters scattered.

The experimentals were back protecting the Black Prince; one squadron each of Bombers and Interceptors was with and escorting the twelve transports.

The Rebel fighters were a heavy hit squad; squadron of B-wings, squadron of X- wings. They dropped out of hyper expecting to find an ionised Imperator and Golan; to have to paralyse the fleet tender then have the two ships drop troops on it while they chewed the destroyer and platform up with heavy rockets. Half that plan might still work.

The Sahallare had agreed to hold still as bait; that job was over, and it turned and began to run for hyperspace.

The Rebel fighters hesitated, picking their target; their flagship was in full evasion, chased by an Imperator. That simplified their choices. They ignored the tender, outran the Golan, closed on the Black Prince and her two squadrons of escort fighters.

The Lancer moved to intercept them. It carried an impressive array of fast-tracking, fast-firing anti fighter weapons; its shields had been optimised for rapid recharge, saved the power needed for that by being thin to start with. Dangerously lethal, dangerously vulnerable; the X-wings went for her.

‘Hero and idiot, then.’ Brenn decided.

‘Two objectives safely met…She won’t take rocket fire well, not well at all. What support do you think we can offer, consistent with the success of the objective?’ Lennart knew the official answer.

Brenn failed to improve on it. ‘Officially, none, this is exactly what Lancers are for, nearly their ideal deployment. We could pull Eta back, but vector, timing, I wouldn’t expect them to be there in time to matter. Mu, Nu?’

‘Against a squadron of B wings? We need the Lancer to cover them, not the other way around.’

The twelve X-wings swirled around the Lancer; it’s guns slashing green lines of light out at them, their quads sending pulses of crimson in.
They were stunting for all they were worth; they could afford to be drastic, it was a much bigger, easier target. They were throwing their fighters around like hummingbirds, darting in every direction, snapshooting at the Lancer whenever it swam across their gunsights. They weren’t aiming to kill, not yet, but to paralyse and tie up; stop it shooting at the B-wings. Any actual damage was a bonus.

The two squadrons of Imperial oddities peeled off to confront the Rebel bomb element; hard to say whether they or the Rebs were more nervous.

‘Central, the rebel fighters are being dumb. Let us shoot them.’ Aldrem commed fire direction central. No reply. Wisely. Suluur discreetly blocked the com channel.

The Ravagers didn’t need to fly evasively; they had a full-blown quad laser cannon in a second eyeball module piggybacked on the first. The kick from a grouped shot sent them nearly out of control anyway. They and the B-wings hit head on, the Ravagers jouncing across the sky, the B-wings in their trademark slow, controlled arcs; no B-wing casualties, two Ravagers splattered.

Fire direction was nominating one target, firing the LTL’s that could be spared and all the point defence turrets that could reach at it, and them moving on to the next; flooding a cone of the sky with laser fire that no pilot living could dodge, or for that matter remain living in. It was a lousy, time-squandering way to shoot fighters, certain but very slow. B-wings were so few, it was justified- and the wing knew, when the defence grid looked at something and said ‘mine’, to get out of the way.

The rebel fighters were scrambling to hide behind the imperial fighters; the sort of furball that gave their technical deficients at least half a chance.

The Marauders were entering the fight now; their guns had been copied from a wreck dug up in a basement on Coruscant. The theory was that it had augured in, and afterwards they had just plated over the hole and put up a new towerblock. They carried four of what were officially called Variable Choke Space Combat Arc Saturation Blasters, but which everyone spoke of as laser shotguns. A real dogfighter’s weapon, short ranged but accurate and, with a narrow focus, highly lethal. They were a great idea for point defence, and would go far, if the lumps of dreck they were strapped to didn’t sink the project first.

They would take losses, but that situation was under control. Forward, the light turbolasers in the trench were standing down for want of a mission - the Fulgur’s shielding was shredded. She had outrun her fighter cover, and what weapons she could bring to bear were shooting at the transports.

‘Send the Interceptors- both units- in to strafe the turrets.’ Lennart ordered, terse.

It achieved little, but it bought time; time for a long searching blue cone of ion fire, the collective output of twelve transports, to thrash around the sky, wash over the Fulgur twice before it actually hit and settled. Fighter ion cannon took a lot of time and shot to paralyse a ship; they managed it, just.

Six Stormtrooper Transports, six Assault Transports; they dispersed to points about the ship, maintenance and access airlocks, hardpatches. One STR went for the Fulgur’s shuttle bay; one went for the softest available spot - the lifepods below the bridge in the small, early-KDY tower.

It opened the iris hatch to the boarding lock, thirty metres clear; six heavy rifles spat strings of burgundy-red blaster bolts into the lifepod cover, chewed through it, blasted the lifepod apart, shredded a usable gap in the inner retaining hatch.

Pressure curtains, locally and independently powered, came back on; but their way into the ship was open.
Team Omega-17-Blue ditched the anti-materiel rifles; no use for sniper weapons inside a ship. They would be the second squad in. The Transport tractored itself in, locked on. Go.
Speed was essential; there would be a minimal security detail on the bridge, most of them would be around the shuttle bay - where they expected to board from, not be boarded. Get in, secure it.

Team FD26 was first - shooting themselves in, blasting likely cover points, paving their way with clouds of fragments shot off the walls. Into the main corridor below the bridge, computer centre, ready and conference rooms. Fire element Omega-17-Blue-Gimel went to secure the computer centre; Beth reinforced FD25 setting up a perimeter, preparing to defend their gains against ship’s security. Aleph led FD24 and 26 towards the bridge.

The emergency stairwell was defended by a handful of bridge crew, mostly with pistols, and four proper rebel soldiers; FD26 ran in to the base of the stairwell, shot at as they deployed, spraying fire back on the move, fragments off a wall knocked one down, a direct hit in the head dropped another; two of the rebels leaped up, screaming, one more collapsed forward, shredded by splinters from the bulkhead.

Aleph picked their moment; under cover of the line team’s fire, single aimed shots. Each of the four rebel soldiers. Stun for the important-looking one, probably the ground force commander, on the bridge to coordinate; stun for his aide; the other two - fried.

Grenade; FD268 threw himself on it, Aleph-2 and 3 lobbed grenades of their own up the stairwell on to the bridge. Some units had almost a cult of versatility going on; any job, a blaster is the answer. The 276th (provisional 721st) legion took whatever advantages they could get.

Screams and a loud ‘glorp’, brilliant, eye- bruising flash; a ‘slacker’ - sound, light, and confusion - what an earlier age knew as a flashbang - and an expanding-foam capture grenade.

Team-26 held position, 24 raced up the stairwell behind Aleph, in the direction of the ominous ‘vommm’ sound, bursting through and shooting down what was left in the stairwell.

The bridge was a double crescent layout of consoles facing the main window panel, the grenades had landed between the rows of consoles; only four people were both free of the glop and not in shock. One of them was holding an emerald- green lightsabre.

24 raised their blasters - a combined volley would surely do - Aleph waved them back. He was their meat.
The other three took cover and shot at 24, who laid covering fire and moved forward through the consoles; all, really, bystanders.

Aleph moved forwards around the Jedi, Aleph 2 announced; ‘my turn’. Technically, he was right, Aleph-3 grumbled.

The young, grey-robed force user looked at them in astonishment, even more so when Aleph-2 dropped his carbine, drew a vibro-rapier and a stick.

Hand to hand with-? Ah. Materials technology scores again. The blunt rod gleamed, revealing itself to be of sabre-resistant matter. A phrik stick.

The Jedi tried a cheap kill, to start with; twisting lunge in on the rapier side - instantly pulled back, sabre caught and flicked away with the rod, step in and rapid up-and-under gutting shot for a riposte; lightsabre flashed down after the rapier, it had inertia and the sabre didn’t - Aleph-2 jumped back, the rebel lunged in again, downward and outward parry- the lightsabre a centimetre clear of white armour.

High diagonal-downward stab, the Jedi had to twist awkwardly to get his sabre round- Aleph-2 drew the rapier back and reached forward cracking the Jedi on the wrist with the stick. Nearly enough to make him drop the lightsabre, not quite; enough to put him off balance - the Jedi leapt back, force assisted, too fast for anything more than a raking, grazing touch. Grey cloth fluttered to the ground, but no kill.

‘Yes,’ one of the spectating stormtroopers said - a woman’s voice? - ‘we are playing with you. We’ve been hunting your kind for twenty years. Your tools, your techniques, your training, your tricks - an open Holocron.’

Aleph-2 leapt up on to the next console to the Jedi; a green ampersand in the air, flashing blade blocked once, twice, thrice. A dextrous probe with the rapier, curling round the lightsabre, a block in the wrong direction; their very weightlessness could be used against them.

The rapier darted in, the lightsabre slashed out at it a fraction too slow, the rod seemed to make the same move; reaction, counter-reaction - the Jedi pushed the rod aside, and the rapier flickered in to slash at his forearm, laying it open.

‘Your calm serenity is going to kill you.’ Aleph-3 taunted him. ‘Do you have the time to seal your wound? Do you have the skill to do that, and not take another?’ The lightsabre hand drooped; the Jedi tried to transfer it from right to left, the stick lashed out at it, just too slow, the Jedi twisted the sabre down and out, slashing at Aleph-2; he leapt back - but managed to split the Jedi’s foot open, with the tip of the rapier’s blade.

‘You need to kill us.’ Aleph 3 said, calmly, poised. ‘Your only way out is to wade in blood - you can’t do that with a still heart.’ The Jedi lashed out, telekinetically, at her; she slammed into one of the monitors, it came off worse, she pulled herself out of the tangle and brushed shards of duraplast off.

Now Aleph 2 was just playing with him; darting in, rapier behaving more like a blade of light than sabre - any well balanced blade can move too fast for the human eye to follow, any competent swordsman exploit a gap in his opponent’s defence faster than the human muscle reacts. The Force was a powerful advantage - but not more powerful than years of training and bloody experience with weapons ancient and modern, practical and absurd.

‘Hate. Hate is your only chance. Take the strength you need from it. Balance cannot triumph. Two, a minor organ this time.’ The rapier came up to guard position, the sabre sliced out at it, the rapier tipped up out of the way, fell, darted into the Jedi’s left shoulder.

The Jedi half-turned and lashed out wildly; Two ducked under the blade, stepped inside his guard, headbutted the Jedi breaking his nose. Aleph 3 shook her head in disapproval; Two improved on that by dropping down low and lunging for the Jedi’s guts.

Under, the lightsabre dropped to block, flicker back and over. Straight to the liver.

The Jedi folded, writhing on the ground. ‘See what good the Light Side has done you?’ Aleph-3 walked over to him. ‘Last chance; surrender, and we gift-wrap you and send you to Darth Sidious as a present.’

The poor fool started reciting the Jedi Code, in trembling voice; Two let him get as far as ‘there is no death-‘ before slashing his throat open with the rapier.

‘Another one for the trophy cabinet.’ He said, picking up the lightsabre.

‘Where does the alliance find these - these fools, these children?’ Aleph-3 said, looking at the dead Jedi. He was no more than twenty years old. ‘Don’t they know how long it takes to make a warrior? Don’t they train?’

‘It’s a big galaxy; it has room for a great many fools.’ Aleph-1 stated the obvious, to them, and on command net; ‘Bridge secure.’

FD241 asked Aleph-3; ‘Why didn’t you just blast him?’

‘Too easy.’ She shook her head. The fighting was basically over; command net reported the ship taken, a third of the crew dead and the rest prisoner, no major internal damage, ready to scrub the phoenix off and rejoin the Imperial Starfleet.

‘Sometimes, if we play with them, we can drive them mad.’ Aleph-3 continued. ‘Less often, lately; he was one of the new breed, all guts, no brains. Six months’ training, if that.’

FD241 looked shocked; that far on in stormtrooper training, you were still being taught to dig latrines. ‘Still, if we wish for worthwhile opposition, we might get more than we bargain for.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-09 04:54pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2006-12-25 04:29pm

Chapter 7

When all the to-ing and fro-ing was done, there were four ships hanging in space next to the Sahallare: a destroyer and two frigates.

The Raduvej and the Fulgur fast frigate, named Caderath in Old Republic service and now provisionally renamed Grey Princess, hung beside the destroyer. The Lancer, fore-structure ravaged by rocket fire, was next to the tender. The destroyer herself was rolled inverted, facing the planet.

There had been traffic: a Star Galleon under Strike Cruiser escort, to drop off the parts and fittings the tender needed to recondition the Raduvej, and collect the prisoners. The escort cruiser had not been at all happy about their newest kill splash - as usual, the crew drew lots to see who got the priviledge of painting it on.

The Galleon had also carried fighter replacements, enough to rebuild the existing units to strength and replace the squadrons they had given up on.

The two flight test squadrons had been badly mauled by the B-wings. That was hardly believable. There were some ‘junior aeronaut’ type fighters so light and so cheap they could be purchased mail order - for instance, the Zerflade Dart that made an embarrassingly large portion of Aron’s score. Even they could usually beat B-wings. It was the group captain’s decision, but the Captain’s ultimate responsibility; Olleyri met with Lennart to discuss it.

‘The numbers, I already know,’ Lennart told him, straight away. ‘Reasons and alternatives, I want.’

‘They’re not standard, and there’s a good reason for that. They’re fungus. I like having the experimentals around; they give us room to improvise, a doctrinal flexibility that matters more than having a crap fighter squadron. We need to keep some of them.’

Lennart agreed, broadly. Starfighter Force had a different set of mynocks in its helmet anyway. ‘Which do we do without?’

‘You mean, save the pilots from?’ Olleyri pointed out. ‘The Marauders are less worthless, but that’s just the gun. A fashion designer built those things, not a flight engineer, kriffing flying wings. The Ravagers might just be the worst kitbash I’ve ever seen.’ He thought about it.
‘On balance, we lose the Marauders. Call the gun a success, the spaceframe a joke, test complete. The Ravagers could work, with a gun that didn’t take up half the total mass of the TIE, and they might make something of themselves in antiship.’

That was how elements of the fighter wing found themselves lined up on the main landing dock, mostly with sidearms. ‘Testing to destruction’ the notification had called it. Mirannon had been asked very nicely, and had agreed to raise the bay shields for the occasion. Epsilon were invited.

‘Are we really about to do what I think we are?’ Aron asked Franjia. He still resented having to look up to her, but that was daft. Prejudice usually was, especially reverse prejudice. Off duty, she kept herself to herself, coldly formal and more than a little distant; in a cockpit, even a simulated one, they worked well together.

‘We took losses to numerically superior fighter opposition, an antifighter escort and a light carrier- and gave better than we got.’ His score was now twenty-seven, hers thirty-four.

Five of the fighters had gone, but only two of the pilots. ‘They were taken down by B-wings; it doesn’t get more embarrassing.’ There was already joking, shoving - one pilot nearly had his face pushed through the pressure screen. Everyone there had at least their regulation sidearm; some had two, a carbine or a rifle. There was a company or so of stormtroopers watching; they already looked amused.

The leader of the rout was a man in his undershirt and purple silk shorts, spiky hair, an expression that had given up grip on sanity, and a heavy blaster pistol in one hand, a stein in the other. He looked up at the ceiling and shouted ‘Pull!’

Somebody called back ‘Which end?’ - but the ceiling drop chutes released a Marauder. At least, the stripped down remains of one. Most of its jets gone, it was remote flown in a slow spiral down the bay, and Nu squadron’s survivors and ground crew opened up on it, whooping and blasting for all they were worth.

‘They must really hate those things,’ Franjia said, joining in - so did everybody else.

Aron shot at it as well, but he wasn’t as good, couldn’t pick out his shots from the hail of fire going in to it. ‘Why are they so bad?’ he asked her.

‘Because those are so good.’ She pointed - and had to shout over the crackle of massed blaster fire - at the Defenders, screened from this behind their layers of shelding. ‘They’re beautiful, but they’re the end of the line. Sienar know they’ll never be able to top that, so they’re reaching; scrambling around for some way, any way, to take the TIE series forward. They’ve come up with a lot of bad ideas trying - count yourself lucky you missed the Intruder fiasco.’ She winced, thinking about it. External missile racks, instant firepower but prone to cook off for as near nothing as made no difference. Even the solar wind could touch them off, the survivors had said.
‘Our test flight are due to return to Sienar for redesign to get the cost down; another test with a new model in two, three years perhaps. Until then, and maybe ever, that’s the largest unit of Defenders you’ll see in one place at one time.’

‘How much?’ Aron asked, prepared for an absurdly big number.

‘Three hundred and eighty thou?’


'Worth it, though. The Marauders, we’re actually adding value to by reducing them to scrap.’

Both of them turned back to fire on the second hull being dropped down the chute. The shooting was wild, wild; from pilots, on their own two feet, what could you expect? The stormtroops- there to keep order if the flyboys started blasting each other, deliberately or more likely by accident - were now expressing as much contempt as silent, fixed masks could.

‘You think you could do better, eh?’ the purple shorts - Nu One - turned and shouted at the stormtroopers - still waving his blaster. The rest of Nu quickly dogpiled on him, before the stormtroopers could shoot him. He was in no real danger; most of them had done civil support duty, they could recognise a drunken idiot when they saw one.

An order was passed over the comnet; one of the squads formed up, marched to the edge of the bay, took aim and began controlled, timed fire - placed shots as rapidly as they could be aimed.

Flight control made it harder for them, spinning and twisting the Marauder hull, but it didn’t help. There were maybe seventy, eighty pilots there, hitting as often as the eight-troopers-plus-sargeant.

A further order came down, from ship command this time; play up to it, make a bit of a show.

‘If they could move like that without being stripped down, we wouldn’t need to junk them.’ Nu One - a bit the worse for wear after having what was left of his squadron sit on him - said.

‘Are you all right?’ Aron asked him.

‘Ah, the glory boy. The hero of the hour.’ Someone sensible had taken his gun away, but he was still holding the beer.


‘You wander in, straight to command a cracked squadron, while the rest of us slog our guts out in junk like that?’ He reeled, glaring at Aron. ‘Big interceptor bomber pilot.’ He was balancing on the balls of his feet, spoiling for trouble.

‘Garram, you’re drunk.’ Franjia stepped between them, trying to calm them down. He pushed her out of the way to get at Aron; Franjia stumbled back. Most pilots were arrogant enough to believe themselves great fighters in any environment, air, space, land, or pub, she was well aware she wasn’t. Basic and passable, no more.

One of the stormtroopers saw it; stepped over to intervene. Three blindingly fast, white-handed touches to pressure points, and Nu One collapsed. The trooper hoisted the limp, pissed squadron commander over- her?- shoulder. The bulged chestplate was a glaring giveaway. Franjia had never taken notice of that before.

‘Follow me.’ Franjia told the trooper, headed for one of the maintenance storage bays on the side of the hangar.

OB173 dropped the drunk squadron leader at one of the benches, propped him up, Franjia planted two beers in front of him.
‘Not many women in the Emperor’s service.’ The Flight Lieutenant said to Aleph-3.

‘I don’t count; I was born to it.’ Aleph-3 said. ‘You surprise me, though.’

‘Oh, the Empire recruits women.’ Franjia sat down at the bench herself, took one of the beers. ‘For the donkey work. Seventy-thirty on some worlds, you know that? Out on the Rim. Then the pyramid gets pretty sharp, pretty fast. O-3, there are maybe one in twenty left. O-6, is it closer to one in a hundred or one in a thousand? At some point in there, as you struggle through the incomprehension, malice, blatant sexism, being treated as a sex object, you realise that these people do not want you to fight for them. Or for yourself.’

‘At least,’ Aleph-3 said, ‘you are not simply an object.’

‘A standard flight suit’s almost as anonymous - and half the time, I don’t think they know what they expect of us.’ Most of the time, the stormtrooper thought, she doesn’t know what she expects of herself, which won’t be helping.

‘It should be ‘we’. Even under arms for the Emperor, we’re still a separate entity, they think of as ‘other’. Lust, fear, jealousy, hate, confusion - and the most infuriating are the ones who nearly understand.’ Aleph 3 said, with one specific individual in mind.

‘I’m used to that for other reasons, but there’s nothing else I could, or would, do. However awkward it is, I’m here.’

‘However awkward…do you know what our adjutant told me? He lost a lot of peripheral nerve function, he’s grounded - he said we were both physically unfit for higher command.’ She had wanted to strangle Yrd, at the time.

Aleph 3 decided to go out on a limb. ‘From what I’ve seen of the Empire’s high command, that could have been a compliment.’

‘Is there a red flag flying?’ Franjia asked.

‘No, why?’

‘An old pilot tradition - back before repulsors, even. Atrisian Starfighter Corps, I think - not every day, but some, the red flag would be hoisted in the mess hall. It meant it was free speech time; you could say whatever you liked, even - especially - about the government, the people in charge. Blow off pressure, bitch to your heart’s content.’

‘Stormtrooper loyalty is - rightly - taken for granted; we are the trustees of the Empire, we keep the faith. We do not have to like or respect the people we’re keeping it for. This ship is far better than most; I’ve served a good many idiots in my time.’ Aleph-3 said.

‘I know. I should save it for an assignment I really hate. But there are times…just when you think you’ve found a hole in the system, some way, some one, you can be woman and soldier both with, reality comes and takes it away from you.’

Aleph 3 wanted to keep talking, but she sensed something coming. ‘Trouble.’

‘What,’ there was an enraged bellow, ‘is going on here?’ The bronze-faced exec, Anode Head to the engineering team, was shouting at the pilots; the stormtroopers snapped to attention, the pilots made some approximate pretense of it.

‘Conduct unbecoming; unauthorised discharge of weapons; drunk and disorderly; unlawful assembly; destruction of Imperial property.’ His voice rose almost to a scream at that point. ‘Whose idea was this? Stormtroopers - arrest these -‘

‘Belay that.’ A loud voice cut across the exec- Engineer-Commander Mirannon. He was more cleanly shaved than usual, and what of his face was visible was annoyed.

The pilots and troopers, and every spacer who was within earshot, listened. This was going to be fun.

‘Chief Engineer.’ Mirhak-Ghulej acknowledged him. ‘Do you have something to do with this?’

‘Somebody with a few grams of sense had better. Do you realise how absurdly serious a charge that is, to arrest half the wing on?’

‘It is the charge that fits.’ They were almost nose to nose, Mirannon more than half again Mirhak-Ghulej’s bodyweight. ‘It is the charge they lay themselves open to by their conduct.’

‘Bantha poodoo.’

‘I stand above you in the chain of command, Chief Engineer; you have no authority to talk to me like that.’

‘You’re junior in time-in-grade, and also apparently a halfwit. Maybe forty percent at best. Your writ doesn’t stretch this far.’

‘My responsibility is the internal discipline and economy of this ship. This is undisciplined, uneconomical, and clearly my duty to stop and punish.’ The exec said, sounding as if he was quoting.

‘I’d be more confident in that if it wasn’t also your only apparent pleasure.’ Mirannon snapped back at him. ‘Are you so totally devoid of judgement that you don’t understand why this is happening?’

‘Meaningless.’ Mirhak-Ghulej dismissed the stress, the tension, the fear of combat in one word. ‘No reason for violating regulations is good enough, attempting to rationalise it an offence in itself.’

‘Apart from the fact that you’re wrong, DIP is a Category One offence, with a severe penalty.’ Mirannon reminded him.

‘The Empire has the right to execute those it feels has displeased it.’ Mirhak-Ghulej said.

‘Who here feels less comfortable about serving the Empire now than they did before our exec opened his mouth? Show of hands.’ Mirannon asked the crowd.

Most of the pilots put their hands up; almost all the crew; Aleph 3 glared at them, and even half the Stormtroopers had their hand up - the one they weren’t holding their blaster carbine with.

‘There, congratulations, you’ve just won yourself a spot on your own death list as a - hypothetical - Alliance agent-provocateur. If you’d bothered to do your paperwork before coming down to flex your warped ego, you would have known that this is unconventional - but fully authorised. By myself, by Group Captain Olleyri, and by Captain Lennart. Those things are no longer Imperial property - they’re imperial junk, being disposed of destructively in accordance with security regulations as befits their, former, classified status.’

Mirannon did a little looming of his own. ‘The only person here, Exec, still staring down the maw of justice, is you. It would be wise for you to go away, before I have to start taking you seriously.’

‘Are you interfering with the enforcement of the laws of the empire?’ the frozen-faced exec tried to reassert himself.

‘Angling for a confession to a cat 2 offence? I don’t think so. What I am doing is protecting the law by preventing it being enforced frivolously and incompetently. I’d invite you to stay to the roast we’re about to have, but I don’t think you’d be welcome, and frankly, keep pushing it and you’re more likely to be on the menu.’

‘What about all the other charges?’ Mirhak-Ghulej snarled.

‘I don’t support them. The disciplinary system on this ship is your responsibility; but all the others belong to me.’ Mirannon growled back at him. ‘I haven’t had the chance to do any really creative plumbing in months - so go on. Annoy me.’

Aleph-3 knew exactly what he meant by ‘creative plumbing’; she had been standing next to him when he had reduced a company of Alliance marines and a force user to loose carbon with a relative-inertial field.

Manipulating it to compensate for a non-existent acceleration had left them hurtling through the air at twenty-four hundred ‘g’, all a Procurator was capable of, and between that and air resistance - she had never seen an indoor meteor shower before, and profoundly hoped never to do so again.

The exec stalked out, furious - but also wary. The beer continued to flow and the remains of the Marauders were swept up by tractor beam, compressed into a bundle which, still glowing hot from blaster fire, was dumped on the hangar bay floor. Sparks scattered off it, the pilots jumped back, there was a brief fire extinguisher fight - the pilots complaining they couldn’t tell when the foam hit a stormtrooper, the troopers treating that with the doubt it deserved - and the lumps of meat on sticks were passed round, to heat over the molten wreckage. It took some time for the mood to reassert itself, though.

Lennart was stuck in his office, sifting through personnel files. Intermittently he was looking up at, and cursing, the Fulgur.

‘You sent for me, skipper?’ Brenn.

‘Come in, come in.’ Lennart waved him to a chair. ‘You heard about the incident in the flight bay?’

‘I heard. I think the entire ship did. Halfwit.’

‘He tried to exert his authority, and blew it. Spectacularly. When I told him he was in danger from the crew, I didn’t think it was going to be Mirannon.’ Lennart rubbed a hand over his forehead. ‘That’s problem number one. This is problem number two.’
He called up the sector map, first level; the twenty-seven worlds of the sector that were worthy of the notice of the galaxy, and the standard routes between them.

‘So far so normal, two indigenous alien species, one of doubtful loyalty, usual scatter of industrials. Give me a clue.’ Brenn said; apart from the usual half-awake Republic surveys, there didn’t seem to be much wrong, standard web pattern.

‘Not fair, I suppose - upper right middle.’ Lennart brought up the second level map, the worlds that featured in the sector’s head count but were unlikely to impinge on the galaxy at large, the other two hundred and fifty-four. One of them had a very interesting name: Ord Corban.

Brenn got it straight away. ‘How in the name of the force does an Old Republic fleet depot system, with enough vintage military equipment to equip an Alliance theatre group - and it probably has - get classified as a minor world?’

‘That would be problem number three.’ Lennart said. ‘I had Chief Cormall do some digging. One of Shandon’s signal-interpreters, and a pretty capable slicer. I have his report, but you would be better meeting him - so you know who to blame if half the ship’s ready fund goes missing.’

The office door opened, and a prematurely grey-haired, round faced man, apparently impeccably uniformed, came in.

‘Frevath, some people are built to wear a uniform, and some aren’t. Lose the jacket.’ Lennart, who belonged in the first category but insisted on dressing as if he didn’t, said.

The shocked-looking chief petty officer did, searched around for a place to put it, giving Brenn a good view of the ‘Boba Fett and the Assassin Droids - On Tour Deaf or Alive’ T-shirt he was wearing under his uniform.

‘There.’ Lennart said. ‘That looks more like a man with the illegal skills to crack into a high security datafortress.’

‘Sir, don’t tell my divisional officer, he’ll - what am I saying? You’re the Captain.’

‘Not that you would guess it from appearances.’ Brenn said. Lennart nodded to him to carry on, ignoring Frevath Cormall’s suppressed chuckle. ‘Where did you look, and what did you find?’

‘Well, sir…how likely are you to be able to successfully negotiate an asteroid field?’

‘Don’t be daft,’ the experienced navigator said, ‘there’s no way you can predict - oh. Actuarial data.’

‘Spot on, Sir. I thought, well, if we do suspect tampering with the facts, we need to establish a baseline, work out what’s actually going on so we can tell who’s spinning what lies to whom. The sector insurers are usually a pretty good place to start for firm info.’

‘And?’ Brenn asked.

'Um- Sir, am I going to get into trouble over this?’ Cormall asked Lennart.

‘If you do, the rest of the ship won’t be far behind you. Tell it all.’ Lennart forced himself to say, suddenly worried.

‘Sir, this sector’s a much more dangerous place than Sector Group is admitting it is. With the records of losses and hijackings I’ve been able to put together, they’ve been under-representing Alliance, smuggler, pirate, all sorts of criminal activity by upwards of a hundred and fifteen percent, probably close to a hundred and sixty.’ Cormall said.

‘So we have at least one big lie from the hierarchy. The reason we’re rolled this way is so our main guns can cover the planetary ion cannon.’ Lennart revealed. ‘Just in case they know that we’ve worked it out. Carry on.’

‘Ord Corban got downgraded actually during the clone wars. The fleet based out of it did something crazy, something scandalous that the Republic hushed up and buried under very heavy security.’

‘Would that be the hundred and eighteenth fleet, at all?’ Lennart spoke from sudden intuition, with a shiver down his spine, speaking slowly and coldly.

They noticed. Cormall hardly had to say yes.

‘Um, Captain, you’re scaring me now-‘

‘Small bloody wonder, if what I think happened actually did. I begin to understand how the scam could work. Say on.’

‘Well, I looked at some of the trade records, and there’s a lot more top quality military hardware floating around the sector than local manufacture or known import accounts for.’

Brenn was not in the mood for an economics lecture, and Cormall noticed. ‘So - to cut a long story short, the local bosses started selling bits off very early, and kept the business up under cover of the Republic security blanket. People - regimes - have come and gone, the families behind the scheme have stayed the same.’

‘Actual collusion with the Rebels?’ Brenn asked.

‘Ah, now there the trail gets vague. What I reckon, Sir, is no; but the Alliance have done a lot of false trail work to make it look more like treason than graft and corruption.’ Cormall said.

‘Which is what, by now-‘ Lennart stopped himself. ‘Chief Petty Officer, just how deeply do you want to be involved in this?’

‘How deep does it get, Sir?’ the slicer said, mainly to give himself time to think.

‘Depends how far out into the murk you want to wade. They don’t know, or at least if they do they are the boldest bunch of bandits I have ever even heard of. For that matter, neither do I, really, and I’m far from certain I want to.’ Lennart said.

‘So what’s the worst case scenario?’ Brenn, expecting something pretty horrific, asked.

‘We find ourselves on the same hit list as the rebel “Heroes” of Yavin, at first estimate. If it goes back to the Hundred and Eighteenth Republic Fleet, even if it wasn’t involved directly, that could involve digging into just how the Republic managed to turn into the Empire.

Not a subject a sane man with healthy survival instincts wants to learn too much about.’ Lennart said, grimly, imagining telekinetic fingers digging into his throat.

‘Captain, I think we want to keep a very healthy separation between problems two and three.’ Brenn suggested.

‘Still leaves us standing on a lava dome and throwing thermal detonators at each other. The scam-artists in the sector government must have some idea, but the Rebels can’t know, otherwise they would be following it up, they’d realise there’s far more political treasure on that planet than there is materiel.’

‘All right, Sir, count me in.’ Cormall decided, not sure why.

‘Good. Wait here.’ He went out to the com gallery off the bridge, sent a ship-wide alert; ‘Commander Mirannon to the Captain’s office.’

There were two reasons he could be summoned to the captain’s office, and the big engineer had a case for either, or both; this was clearly another problem entirely. He realised as soon as he arrived.

‘Good, you’re here, I’ll scream at you about the flight deck business later, I think we’ve just blundered into a world of hurt.’

‘Typical.’ Mirannon declared. ‘Not content with my services, you go out and find more trouble for yourself - what is it, skipper?’

‘We were tracking down how the rebels get hold of their ships, and we found it was from the fallout of an old scandal it would be unsafe verging on suicidal to inquire into.’

‘Suggestion; don’t inquire into it. Chase the ships, not the original screwup.’ Mirannon had a very good idea what the problem was, Brenn could tell, and didn’t want a better one.

‘That’s the consensus?’ Lennart asked.

‘You command an Imperator- class destroyer and you’re asking for consensus? That’s just how abnormal this business is?’ Brenn asked, almost amazed.

‘Yes.’ Captain Lennart answered.

‘I think I’d like to find out. I’d like to know. But if you’re serious about the hit list as well...’

‘At this point, believe me, I desperately want not to know. We deal with the problem at hand, Rebellion and Empire, right? Digging up the wars of the past - even if we were actually in them - is a step too far.’

‘What do I do?’ Cormall asked.

‘Follow the trail forward, not back.’ Lennart ordered. ‘Gather data on anything and everything except the Republic security clampdown. True details for loss locations, cargoes taken, firms and worlds hit harder than others - find out, for first, if they have a line into Iushnevan Port Authority.’ That was the sector capital.

Cormall saluted, picked up his uniform jacket and left, head buzzing with questions. He probably would have the sense not to chase too many of them.

‘I’ll call the rest of the command team, talk through the practicalities of the situation. First things first - Nav.’ He called up the image of the Fulgur again. ‘Life has no sense of timing.’

‘No.’ Brenn said, straight away.

‘Thank you. Why?’

‘If you make the offer and I turn it down, it’s a major black mark on my record. If I accept, well, I’m probably not literally indispensable, but-‘

‘Close enough, especially at a time like this.’ Lennart admitted.

‘It’s possible the rebs are blackmailing the Sector governor.’ Mirannon pointed out. ‘If this big dark secret gets out on his watch, what the Empire would do to him would be vastly worse than anything the rebellion could. Neither of them need know exactly what all the trouble is about.’

‘So we have a rebel supply base, field manufacturing facilities and all, effectively protected by the Imperial Starfleet. Can you get Motivator Five back? I’d like to return to yesterday and do today over again, completely differently,’ Brenn suggested.

‘Rank has its privileges - me first.’ Lennart said. Out to the com systems gallery again, to arrange for a general meeting of the command team.

They gathered in the ready room; Lennart, Mirannon, Brenn were there first, generating a little field of desperate seriousness and gloom. Wathavrah and Rythanor, Guns and Sensors, next in, followed by Olleyri and, unusually, High Colonel QAG-111. The commander of the ship’s Stormtrooper legion looked less frozen-faced and metallic than the Exec, who sat at the foot of the table, as far away from Mirannon as he could.

‘Gentlemen, all of our minor problems have just been reduced in size. We now have a major problem to deal with.’ Lennart began, and motioned to Brenn to continue.

‘Data from other arms of the Imperial service indicates that this sector is barely under Imperial control. The sector group’s figures for Rebel activity are so wide of the mark as to be unbelievable, verging on mendacious.’

‘Ah, I thought so.’ Shandon Rythanor said. ‘First line warships in first rate condition. Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve had more than we suspect - wait. You’re saying Sector Group are lying?’

‘Open, bare-faced lies.’ Lennart confirmed.

‘Then what are we waiting for? We have some hyper capability, right? Straight to the capital, bombard them before they realise that we know, and present the evidence afterward.’ Wathavrah suggested.

‘Right, I’ll go paint phoenix symbols on the side of the bridge tower, then.’ Mirannon said, scornfully. ‘It gets worse.’

‘The reason they have been able to get away with it, is that the rebs are operating within the, metaphorical, blast radius of a political unexploded bomb.’ Brenn said.

‘Translate, for whose of us who aren’t trying to learn doubletalk?’ Wathavrah asked.

‘The Dubbel people could probably sue you for defamation…’ Lennart suggested, deadpan. ‘There’s a political threat to the Empire. The rebels don’t understand anything about it, except that it exists. They are using it to blackmail the Sector Group into permitting them to present a military threat. It’s working because the Sector Group expect to find themselves on Darth Vader’s appointments list if it gets out.’

‘The Alliance are using a political weapon, which they don’t understand but Imperial Security does, to attack the Sector Group with?’ Wathavrah tried to put it together. ‘If they don’t know what the big secret is - how?’

‘Because they expect to be able to rely on mugs like us to do their investigative dirty work for them.’ Rythanor suggested. ‘Stop me if I’m wrong, Captain, but you’ve been very vague - is that why?’

‘Yes. Whatever it is - we don’t need to know. If we investigated, even with absolute integrity and discretion, there would still be enough fallout from it to give aid and comfort to the enemy. It’s a secret the empire wants kept. Question is, how do we deal with the military problem, without exposing the political?’

‘What is the military problem?’ Olleyri asked. He was still slightly hung over.

The image of Ord Corban came up.

‘I hate to say this,’ Rythanor said, ‘but I agree with Guns for once. Alpha strike.’

‘Might not be the worst option - but what do we do about the turncoats inside Sector Group command?’ Mirannon asked.

‘Commander Mirhak-Ghulej.’ The first time he had been spoken to. ‘What does the book say you are supposed to do, if you catch your superior officer or officers in the act of betraying the Empire?’

The exec’s response was entirely mechanical. ‘Report them to their superiors.’ Lennart wondered what he would find in his in-box about the flight deck incident.

‘That will constitute plan A, we’ll do it in any case. I want operation plans prepared for; a BDZ-level strike on Ord Corban, with and without fighting our way through a defending fleet; a drop assault on Ord Corban, objective personnel; a drop assault with bombardment support on Sector Group headquarters. Mirhak-Ghulej, wait outside, QAG111, wait here, the rest of you, dismissed.’

They left, in varying degrees of bafflement; Lennart faced round to the helmeted High Colonel.
‘Whatever it is, Captain Lennart?’ The trooper’s voice was ice cold.

‘I can guess. In fact, I could put together a very convincing theory. You probably could too.’ He had to be a veteran. ‘I trust my officers’ discretion and loyalty enough to at least tell them that there is a problem; they won’t go looking for evidence, nor will you, nor will I.’

‘So what do you need me for?’ The senior stormtrooper asked.

‘First of all - general point of procedure. The overwhelming majority of local Imperials involved in this are overwhelmingly likely to be dupes rather than traitors. When I do send you in, and I don’t know where or when, shoot to stun and disable. Then identify the punishably guilty, and shoot them without interrogation.’ Lennart ordered.

‘You don’t want to know. Acknowledged. Second?’

‘Soothe my conscience. I do have a theory - if it’s right, I want to be at least reasonably certain that the reason of state behind it was at least approximately just. Think of it as a helping hand to one less strong in faith than yourself.’

‘I know considerably less than you do.’ It was impossible to tell if the stormtrooper High Colonel was sincere, or if he was playing along, giving the Captain enough rope to hang himself.

‘Some of your people know more - I need to talk to one of your hunter-killer teams, Omega-17-Blue. I believe they are fairly well informed about subjects like the Jedi, and the Force.’

Long silence. The High Colonel sat there like a statue; undoubtedly involved in internal comms. Lennart wished he could overhear. ‘Agreed.’

Lennart sighed with relief. ‘Tell them, whenever they’re ready. Dismissed - and on your way, send Commander Mirhak-Ghulej in. It’ll be a refreshing change of pace to deal with a nice, normal problem like two of my officers threatening to murder each other.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-09 05:12pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2006-12-30 05:50pm

Chapter 8

Lennart sat in the ready room, brooding. He knew what was going on, and wasn’t sure how he knew. The whole plan had just popped into his head, like a flashbulb memory. Something had been done - a secret he well understood why the Empire wanted to keep. So did he, but he couldn’t keep it on his own.

The Exec’s re-entering the room was a welcome distraction.

‘Sit down, Commander.’ Lennart hadn’t quite yet reasoned out how to play this; aggressively, he decided.

‘Chief Engineer Mirannon is a responsible officer. He understood what you were trying to do, and I’m sure he regretted slapping you down almost as much as you regret having it happen to you.’

‘So you will support your officers - up to a point.’ Mirkak-Ghulej said, bitterly.

‘You owe him more than you know.’ Lennart said, voice hardening. ‘He saved you from me.’ Two long steps, and Lennart was at the exec’s chair, pulled it away from the table, grabbed him by the lapels, hauled him to the standing position.

Mirhak-Ghulej looked utterly shocked. He had, in fact, been less than respectful of the Captain; considering Lennart soft, un-Imperial, unprofessional even. He was on first name terms with some of his petty officers; how much more undignified could the man get? Being physically manhandled was less disturbing than realising the Captain had some durasteel in his backbone after all. Not literally, of course.

‘The very least I would have done, and don’t think it isn’t still an option, would be to have you committed to psychiatric care. On the other hand, Gethrim’s theory has some merit. What went through your head?’ Lennart dumped him back in his seat.

‘Somebody has to…’ he mumbled. Lennart looked at his face, interested. Then he pulled himself together, and it was like a mask slipping back on.

‘That was what they were doing, that was the charge that presented itself. How could I ignore that?’

Lennart instantly thought of half a dozen other heresies that would warp the exec’s mind even further; but what would be the point? ‘You intended the new-broom trick. Do something spectacular, get taken seriously. I did it myself, when I had your job - but there’s spectacular and then there’s more than you can cope with. What persuaded you that you could get away with putting half the fighter group on charges?’

‘How was I supposed to ignore them? There they were, and the pilots are the worst. Always daring each other, always hazing. They disrupt a ship’s routine, and tradition is not law.’

‘No, but for maintaining order, it can be just as useful. The power went to your head, didn’t it? Eight divisional officers, hundreds of section officers - and you jump to the head of the queue, at the same time as fortune hands you a problem you can’t ignore. Life, indeed, has a lousy sense of timing.’

‘They could have been released. It would have been necessary to impress discipline upon them, one or two would have served as examples for the rest.’ Mirhak-Ghulej protested.

‘Have you ever been an example?’ Lennart asked him; Mirhak-Ghulej’s face fell. He knew what was coming.

‘No, Sir.’

‘Would you like to be?’

‘Captain, I was only trying to do my job-‘

‘Exec, your doing your job would have severely impaired the fighting efficiency of this ship. That is where the credit stops, that is the be-all and end-all; that is the point of the order and the discipline, of all the daily grind. Understand that and I might not have to have you transferred to a colonial tender hauling farm products along the outer rim.’

‘Sir, the procedure-‘ Mirhak-Ghulej protested. He realised that the Captain held his career in the palm of his hand.

‘You want procedure, I’ll give you procedure. One; you are to familiarise yourself with the personnel profiles of every individual under your authority. Every. All forty-six thousand of the rank of Lieutenant-Commander or below. And I want a report and recommendation on each and every one.’

Mirhak-Ghulej was only near human; his data-processing speed was more or less standard. Assuming half an hour per file, worst case estimate, and every waking moment, that would be over fourteen hundred days’ work.

‘One point one; For as long as it takes you to do this,’ and Lennart knew perfectly well how long, ‘you will deputise your duties to the divisional officers, on a day by day rotating basis. And you’d better hope that I don’t find anyone who can do the job better than you can. Or that I need to get to points two, three or four. Dismissed.’

Coldly, shock gradually changing to fury, Mirhak-Ghulej stood up to go, saluted - perfectly, marched out.

Sod, Lennart thought. What a time to make an enemy. Almost all the damage he can do to me - or for that matter, I can do to myself - is informational; I’ll have him monitored. A wasted asset, too. The reason I wanted him in the job- I still need someone for that. Mirhak-Ghulej should find some shortcut round that; some elegant solution to the problem. Lennart could think of at least three, including the way he intended to process the recomendations. If he’s daft enough to do it the hard way, he deserves it.

Unpleasant but straightforward. What was next on his list promised to be anything but.

Some of the crew were luckier than others. Ghorn III was a fairly nice planet, most of the time. When it wasn’t suffering from massive solar storms, anyway.

Part of the ship’s stormtrooper and engineering complements had been dropped to organise disaster relief, and do what they could to minimise the effects.

Watching AT-ATs break up storm cells by detonating flak blaster bolts was fun for a while - especially seeing how often they got it wrong, their guns were pared down to get as much firepower into as small a package as possible and were no good at the off-modes, but to gunners used to multi-teraton weaponry it got old fairly fast.

Nobody on the planet seemed to know or care to add up that no more men and equipment had gone surfaceside than one lift from the Black Prince’s shuttles and transports could retrieve.

Port-4 turret team were on leave, heading for a warren of a pub, old stonework looking like a monastery with six floors too many all set at odd angles to each other, not far from a small aerospace-port in the north temperate zone somewhere. Not all of them were entirely happy with the décor.

‘What billennium is this planet living in?’ Fendon grumbled as they opened the main doors. Actual, real wood.

‘Fourth oldest profession, brewing.’ Suluur pointed out. ‘Time honoured, it is.’

‘That’s what worries me - more they try to sell it, worse it’s likely to be.’ Aldrem said, sceptically. ‘still, could be OK.’

‘You recommended this place.’ Suluur said.

‘One of the lads from the Golan told me about it.’ Aldrem said.

‘If this is what they were on at the time, it must be good. Cross-eyed nerfs.’ Assistant Gunlayer (CPO) Eddaru Gendrik, leader of sub-assembly team one, grumbled.

‘There’s more to life than gunnery and beer.’ Aldrem said; the other fourteen turned round to stare at him, but he didn’t care, he had just caught sight of the woman behind the bar.

All the gunnery team were more or less in uniform, but none of them were without the identifying shoulder patch; a human, in black armour that came from the same cultural era as the style of the pub, closed visor, usually a raised lance with black pennant, the ship’s name and hull number, and the ship’s motto - “In our hearts, wrath, in our hands the stars”.

The gunners’ badges had the knight carrying a turbolaser barrel instead of a lance.

They came in obviously as a group, and the locals turned to look at them. A mixture of shuttle pilots, airtaxi drivers, freight barge tenders, farmers and tourists, mostly human; the free traders would be potential trouble. Suluur scanned the place, with tactical potential in mind. Fairly solid furniture, primitive showpiece weapons and farm implements hung on the walls, half-floors and alcoves everywhere.

‘What do you reckon? Fight then drink, or drink then fight?’ He asked Aldrem.

‘Yes,’ he said offhanded, not paying attention, dreamily walking up to the bar.

The theme of the pub was pioneer days, there were half a dozen staff all dressed to fit; the one Aldrem had locked on to actually seemed to be the duty manager.

The bar was a spiral in the middle of the building, flat counter space at each alcove, and the duty manager was moving from one landing to another; she spotted the potential trouble coming, decided to deal with it herself, realised one of them was staring at her.

Aldrem spent most of his working life sitting down; he was a shade over middle height, fairly solidly built, handsome but strained, something zealot-like about his face, which had a strange light on it now, and eyes like - she had seen eyes like that before, on a bounty hunter; and his target. Drawing crosshairs on everything that passed across them.

She was dressed in a brass-ornamented low-cut leather bustier and matching bracers, rich, glossy dark tan colour complementing auburn hair, over a white silk shirt, black neck-cloth, floor-length white skirt; nearly the same height he was, reddish-brown eyes, oval face, she looked worried, lots on her mind. That only made her more beautiful to him. She was prepared for most things, from the usual rocket jockey chat up lines to assault (shock stick under the bar, two stun- set blaster pistols in the folds of her skirt); what she got was total dumbfoundedness. As their eyes locked, Aldrem’s bravado completely deserted him.

He just stood there, looking moonstruck at her for five seconds before Krivin Hruthhal - subassembly 2 - saved the day.

He pointed at the taps. ‘We’ll have five of those, please, five of those, five of those…five of those, five of those and five of those.’

‘The navy isn’t overwhelmingly popular around here.’ She warned them, apparently sincerely. ‘Will you be staying long?’

Her staff were already pouring. Suluur waved a hand at them. ‘Oh, this is just us deciding what we want to drink.’

‘Come and sit with us.’ Aldrem said to her, uncharacteristically softly.

‘I’ll stun her, you grab him and carry him to safety.’ Suluur muttered to Hruthhal.

‘No, stun him, and carry her to safety.’

She heard, showed no sign of being offended; ‘Find yourselves a table.’

The gun team found a corner, with lots of interesting implements on the walls, and a clear line of retreat to the door; dragged three small tables together.

They clustered round, Aldrem glared at Fendon who planted himself next to the senior chief; he wanted a space left beside him. Fendon shuffled round.

The duty manager came over to the table herself, followed by two repulsorlift trays stacked with beers and ales. The gunners started sorting through them, Aldrem looked at her, puppyishly. She looked him over; senior noncom, could be worse. She sat beside him.

‘Tell me about yourself?’ Aldrem said, looking into her eyes from a range of two feet. Well within flash, or for that matter every, sort of hazard. ‘How does someone born for wide open space come to be here?’

‘My parents worked a tramp freighter.’ She admitted.

‘I knew there was something of the stars about you…’ he introduced himself. ‘Pellor Aldrem. My friends call me Pel.’

‘Skipper calls him a trigger happy idiot.’ Suluur added.

‘Jhareylia Hathren. Trigger happy idiot?’ she asked, amused.

‘Complicated incident.’ Aldrem admitted. ‘We’re gunners on the destroyer in orbit, Black Prince.’

‘Oh.’ She said. He was too busy looking at her to see her, see how she reacted to that. Not much showed; inwardly, she responded like any well trained Rebel field agent would. Scenting opportunity. Technically, she was a dispatcher; arranging passage for wanted fugitives in and out of the system. Her job gave her a lot of leeway for that. Now this - all right, fairly handsome - Imperial Starfleet gunner wandered into her life.
‘I hated the smallness of it, and the constant chasing in circles to make ends meet. As soon as I could, I found somewhere more solid, somewhere with roots.’ She told him.

‘All you really need is a bigger ship. On a destroyer, you roam the universe, you’re not overshadowed, you can look any - almost - any star in the galaxy in the face and tell it where to go - a part, not a pebble.’ Incoherent, but she knew what she meant.

As they talked, she listened with half an ear to the crosstalk between the gunners. Their captain had raked their exec over the coals? He was new to the job, and they missed the old one who had been a nasty piece of work but at least knew what he was doing.

The fighter wing had used wreckage to hold a barbecue on the flight deck? A junior engineer was in the sick bay with third- degree burns to the face after looking down a power conduit? The variable-gee toilets had backed up again? Domestic gossip interspersed with genuinely useful intelligence. They seemed...endearingly corruptible.

Endearing? Was she starting to take this man seriously? He was like an overgrown puppy; but if his and his crew’s boasts were even half way right - they were - they were devastatingly good at what they did. She liked him. Was that so hard to say?

On his third drink, Aldrem went green. She draped his arm over her shoulders, supported him. He muttered an apology, had to close his mouth. She got him outside and to the gutter just in time.
‘Thanks.’ He spluttered, after it was over. ‘Not many prepared to go that far on the first date.’

She smiled at him. ‘I’m used to looking after rummies. You didn’t have enough for that, though. Is there something wrong?’

‘Stress, hallucinations. Working too hard, training too hard, worrying too hard.’

‘Some of the shuttles working out of this port are helping with the relief effort. Transporting refugees out, supporting work crews trying to set things to rights.’ She said, reproachfully.

‘That’s…that’s crazy. That’s negligent. It was only flash, anything - system defence knew there was going to be trouble. They knew we were in low enough orbit there was a risk. Lowest-power planetary shields would have bounced that. If the rebels had taken the opportunity to wreck a few local industries you would have far worse on your hands.’ He retched again; she knelt by him.

‘Before you chew on me, ask - with half an hour’s warning for a five minute job, why didn’t the planetary defence do their part? Why didn’t they protect you?’ He actually sounded angry - on her behalf.

‘Before I chewed you, I’d want to hose you down first.’ She helped him back into the pub; he didn’t need it, but accepted her touch anyway.

Maybe an hour of talk later, there was a descending rumble, hissing, clanks; the sound of a tramp freighter landing at the port. Aldrem glanced at it, then looked back.

‘That freighter.’ He said, looking at the battered YT-series. ‘That’s the one that got away.’

‘Are you sure?’ Gendrik asked his turret commander.

‘I never forget a target.’ He said, menacingly. ‘Jhareylia - do you have an E-web?’

‘I think this is still reacting with your stress medication.’ She took the tumbler out of his hand.

‘Something with a tripod. A bipod, at least?’

‘Don’t mind him, he’s a gunner. Lost without a rangefinder to look through…you serious, Pel? Thinking of doing something about this ship?’ Suluur soothed her and asked him.

‘Suppose you do. Then an angry crowd of atmo jockeys comes pouring out after us and takes it back.’ Krivin objected.

‘I can fly one of those things.’ Aldrem said. They just glared at him. ‘Well, I can remote-fly a target drone. It can’t be that much harder. It just looks bigger, that’s all.’

‘You’re probably going to need my help.’ She sighed. How else was she supposed to get on board one of those things? Besides which, she sort of found him cute.

Attacking the freighter was simplicity itself. The duty manager escorted a crowd of rowdy Imperial spacers out of the pub, across the concrete pad with the docking bays around it, apparently looking for a hire passage to take them back to their ship; past the freighter they recognised.

The crew came out to see what the problem was - and went down to a blizzard of stun bolts, which decorated the ship, the back wall of the bay, the ground, the sky, you name it.

Charge on board the freighter, light up the powerplant and engines, head for orbit- and get intercepted by one of Black Prince's assault transports.

They explained it, and it sounded insane. The sight of cold space brought it home to them, just how far off the norm they were. The ATR didn’t believe them, so they said it again. It made even less sense, but this time it was accepted as crazy enough to be true.

‘Shame.’ The assault transport pilot told them. ‘It’d go easier on you if you were rebels. Then you just get to die. Spin this one to the captain and he’ll come up with something worse.’

'Why, SCPO Aldrem, is it always you?’ All fifteen of them, sixteen counting the civilian, were on the carpet. Physically, they were in the ready room, in front of an irate Captain and a squad of stormtroopers. ‘You have a gift for trouble that not even responsibility seems able to check.’

‘We did capture a rebel transport, Sir.’ Aldrem said woodenly.

‘No, you captured an ex-rebel transport. They had disposed of it as too hot, yesterday. The crew you seized it from - most of them will recover - had only owned it for fifteen hours.’

‘We didn’t know that! Honestly, Sir, we thought we were doing the right thing.’ Aldrem protested.

‘You’re gunners. You control one of eight main turrets, twelve percent of the ship’s total firepower. You are not in that rank and that position in order to play Junior Stormtrooper. You are not allowed to throw yourself away that cheaply and that stupidly. The civil police have quite a charge sheet against you; grand theft starship, attempted murder, actual bodily harm, kidnapping-‘

‘I volunteered to help.’ Jhareylia failed to interrupt Captain Lennart’s flow.

‘I could throw you to them and it would be only fair. All right, it was fairly dedicated. It was also mentally deficient. I’m not sure whether to promote you, demote you, transfer you or keelhaul you. If I do transfer you, it’ll probably be to the Rebel Alliance.’ Was it his imagination or did the civilian react to that?

‘It was hot.’ Lennart said, more calmly. ‘The crew will be charged with receiving stolen property. What I will do with you - actually, I think that would suit you perfectly. Junior stormtroopers.’

‘Oh, space, he’s going to put us through basic again - Sir, can’t you just demote us instead?’ Aldrem pleaded.

‘You insist in getting involved in a ground brawl, at least you ought to know how to come out of it in one piece. Stand watches as normal, but for the rest of the time, until they pass you as either fit or not likely to do it again, you belong to the Legion. Dismiss.’

All but two of the squad escorted them away; Jhareylia tried to sneak away with them, bu t- easy enough - he spotted her.

‘As for you, congratulations, you’ve just volunteered for the Imperial Starfleet.’

She started to protest. ‘No, it’s not optional - if I let you go, the fleet would never live this down. Aldrem’s not this loose normally; he would have thought about it, but not done it - unless he was trying to impress you.’

She flushed with embarrassment; remarkably well acted, Lennart thought.

‘You were a shift manager at a pub, yes? Good. I’m going to make you the exec’s steward. He could do with having a looser perspective around him. First one of you to drive the other mad wins.’ To the other two stormtroopers; ‘Take her away and have her sworn in.’

A knock on his office door; ‘Enter.’ He said, keeping his voice level.

Four stormtroopers, but the armour they were in was far from standard. Iridescent blue to red, shifting with the angle, smoother, sloped, overlapped and streamlined; how much rarer, more effective and more the badge of an elite, Lennart could only guess.

‘Omega-17-Blue-Aleph, I presume?’

Aleph One nodded. ‘More of us would be unnecessary.’ Especially in full rig.

‘I presume you know what the issue is.’ Lennart said, sitting at the head of the table. It made no difference, being in a vulnerable position or not; if he stepped beyond bounds, and they thought they needed to, they could drop him easily.

‘Enlighten us.’ Aleph-3 said. She was looking at him through helmet sensors, in all the detail they could give.

‘The major local rebel base used to be the fortress-factory system of the hundred and eighteenth republic fleet. You should know from your own High Colonel that the rebels are using the TS-Cosmic clearance of that business as cover to snipe at the Empire from.’

‘Continue.’ Aleph-2 said, trying to put him off balance.

‘No, wait.’ Aleph-3 said. ‘The Captain is right, not to want to know more and say more than he has to.’ Was she actually sympathetic? Lennart wondered. So did she.

‘I’ve told the command team that it’s something we don’t need to know.’ Lennart said. ‘Something to work around. The problem is that I think I already know it.’

‘How?’ Aleph One barked.

‘Putting the pieces together. You’re all veterans of the Grand Army, yes?’ Lennart was on very dangerous ground. ‘You remember what the internal situation was like, mid-to-end phase, say three quarters of the way through the war.’ Mentioning it brought a lot of memories flooding back for him. For them too? What was it like to have a mind filled with things you didn’t dare or didn’t know how to think about, embedded ideas and conditions? Would you realise that it wasn’t normal? For that matter, did he?

‘In what respect?’ Aleph-3 asked him. There were other ways than the force to read someone’s mind. She was watching his eyes, his worry lines, his body language. He didn’t want them to tell him that he was right.

‘The political war was in full swing. Natural born humans were flocking to the Republic’s banner. By proportion, though, we weren’t doing nearly as much of the fighting. Holding and clearing operations, patrol and defence- there were more prewar Republic admirals and captains dying of heartburn than Separatist attack.’ He was exaggerating, but only in spirit; the numbers bore him out, that for their respective strengths the clones bore a vastly higher share of the war.

‘There were mixed ships, mixed fleets; clone pilots, womb-born ground crew; clone gunners, womb-born maintenance and engineering teams, but only at the end of the war and in the early Imperial fleet. The hundred and eighteenth was an early experiment - one that went catastrophically wrong. Rumours ranged from plague through fratricide to outright defection. It bred mistrust and division in the fleet, it kept your kin exposed at the sharp end.’

‘You expect us to object to that?’ Aleph One said. Lennart was right; they knew where he was going.

‘No, I don’t. But wasn’t it convenient, that the Jedi-commanded spearhead fleets were full of incorruptibly loyal clones, ready to stop them when they turned against the Republic?’ Lennart asked.

‘You believe-‘ Aleph One began.

‘The Hundred and Eighteenth Fleet debacle was an act of political engineering, not of war. It prevented mixed fleets, forestalled mixed loyalties, made sure Palpatine was in a position to use you to wipe the Jedi out with a word when he chose.’

The stormtroopers conferred among themselves briefly, nodded. ‘Take the next logical step.’ Aleph-3 told him.

‘It was a setup - because it needed to be set up. The vast majority of the Jedi had no intention of turning on the republic; it was the republic that turned on them.’

‘Essentially correct.’ Aleph-3 told him. The universe failed to move, and he felt disappointed in it.

‘Would it be dumb of me to ask why?’ Lennart said.

‘No, it would be dangerous, but you’ve already accepted that. We are the worst people in the universe to ask - was it right, was it necessary. Let me ask you - how did you work it out?’

‘What does it matter? Logic. Intuition. A leap of bad faith. All of the above.’

Subvocal, helmet com to helmet com; Do we inform him? Induct him?

Is there time?

‘What effect,’ Aleph One asked, ‘do you think this knowledge would have?’

‘On the Rebels - little to none, they believe something like it anyway. On the rest of the galaxy?’ Lennart pondered it.

‘Realising that they have been manipulated and lied to - even that they can be, on such a scale; realising that about one very large thing at least, the rebels are right; I think there would be many more worlds, under the circumstances, that would cross the line from thinking Empire something to be endured, to thinking it - us - something to be opposed.’

‘We were never made,’ Aleph-3 said, ‘to be arbiters of destiny. We were never made to ask such questions.’
She was evading, and with that, Lennart felt the balance of power shift.

‘You know this answer at least. Why was it necessary? Why do you, veterans, Jedi hunters, do what you do - and it’s not because you were bred to it. There’s too much intelligence and too much creativity in it, you are fit to answer whether you want to be or not. Why was it necessary? Why is it?’

‘Why do you care?’ Aleph-3 tried to derail him; and nearly succeeded.

‘About the truth, or about your opinion?’ Lennart said. ‘Surely the answer is obvious - you talk about being an arbiter of destiny. What do you think the captain of an Imperator has to be?’ He shouted at them.

‘Especially us, as much time as we spend on independent and detached duty - that is my responsibility.’ He decided to push it. ‘And you are mine, to ask questions of.’

No time, Aleph-3 com’d Aleph One.

Is there another way? Can you do this?

I think I can, she replied.

She stood up, took her helmet off, glared at him.

‘Do you know who rose in the ranks of the Grand Army? The misfits. The malforms. The fractionally imperfect. The process threw the youngling out with the lavage; eliminate the ability to ask questions and you come dangerously close to eliminating the ability to learn from experience.
Those of us who survived this long are the ones who learnt to question- and to hide the fact that they could. We did indeed come to our own conclusions; our own, perhaps, justifications.’

‘You’re accusing me, of asking you to tell me only what I want to hear.’ Lennart said. ‘Tell me what you want to tell me.’

‘When I hear one of our victims talk for his life, I always wonder; they bring conscience up so often. What do they imagine it is, that it can be so different from the sense of duty we feel, like a waterfall in our heads? I am certain, certain beyond any doubt reasonable or unreasonable, that it was right.’

‘I want to share your certainty. Convince me. Stand by what your conscience tells you.’

She took a deep breath - a lot rested on this - before beginning; ‘The Jedi Order earned their extinction a thousand times over. Not for the damage they did, but for the damage they failed to prevent. The republic was set to drown in its own pus; how did it sink so low, with the Jedi watching over it?’

‘You probably saw more of them in your youth than I did.’ Lennart remembered. He was, like so many people who came to galactic attention, Corellian; it was a system with a lot that needed sorting out by some force of justice and order - and the Corellian Security Force were one of the things that needed sorting out.

‘Exactly. Where were they, when you needed them?’


‘Precisely.’ Aleph-3 said, meaning it as a conclusion. ‘Not for action, but for their inactions, in allowing the republic to sink so far that the Clone War was even possible. Any civilian court would convict them of malfeasance in office, and have them imprisoned; any military tribunal - you - would find them guilty of dereliction of duty and have them shot.’

‘That, then, is exactly what you do.’ He suggested; she replied with a nod.

‘They had the power of the Force, they had the authority of the Republic; how did they fail so thoroughly to use it? Simply because they were trained to fail. Their withdrawn-ness, their detachment, their flat out refusal to relate to other’s pain - I do not understand how someone can turn their back like that, and then dare to call another evil.' she had to pause for breath.

'They were like doctors who had sworn only to treat the symptoms of disease, and never the cause. I can’t say I anticipated Order 66; you would have, if you had been there. But, Galactic Spirit, how I welcomed it.’

‘Taken as children, divorced from ordinary life so totally as they were - you almost make it sound as if they need to be pitied.’

Lennart suggested, guessing at what Order 66 was; she was - not the words, the actions. Her flashing-bright eyes, above all else. Persuasive - contagious, even, in her certainty. Somewhere in his head, an alarm was sounding; reminding him that to Dordd, she had - claimed or admitted? - that she had been originally a public spokeswoman, sliver tongued and fluent with lies.

‘I shouldn’t be, personally, angry with them. We should thank them for being such fools as to call us into existence, to have failed so badly that it became our time, not theirs.’ She said.

‘Our? Clones, or-‘

‘Who protects the peace and security of the galaxy now?’ She waved an iridescent arm, gesturing at the walls around her, meaning the ship as a whole. ‘Rather more purposeful than a mere lightsabre, wouldn’t you say?’

‘Why not do justice upon them publicly, then? Simply because they were at their most useful, and most popular, precisely during the war?’ Lennart theorised.

‘That would be within your competence, not mine; I would accept your word as security for that.’ She bowed to him.

‘For someone who was not made to answer such questions, you handle them well. Still leaves me with one major problem, though; how do I prevent the echoes of that, righteous shoot or not - and many would say not - harming the innocent, or at any rate the loyal, now?’ he asked them.

‘It is not our place to say.’

‘If you want a better job done, allow me to use some of the tools they failed to. One of those tools is surely realising that you don’t know it all, and other people can provide valuable input to a problem. Hmmm?’

‘Perhaps that was vague, I’ll say it more clearly; we don’t know. Unless - false crime?’

‘You know more than you realise. Thank you.’ Clearly, the interview was over. Try - no, the order he had already given, present as a reason for their condemnation - those responsible for something else.

Falsifying returns to regional command would probably do; something that would justify security, at least.

Whoever had come up with the incident, those twenty-three years ago, had probably thought exactly the same, Lennart realised. He wasn’t sure whether to be comforted or depressed by that.

The troopers left, Aleph-3 putting her helmet back on.

He needs to know, she com’d. Someday.

He only listened to you because you batted your eyelids at him, Aleph One said contemptuously.

It worked, she said defensively. Besides, it’s not forbidden. Not for what we want to turn him into.
At a time when there is time. No sense presenting a half-trained man, Aleph One cautioned her.

She was more sure of him than the team leader was, and for a moment her hand rested on a pouch containing the present she had hoped to give him. A lightsabre; one with a crimson blade.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-10 07:04pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-01-05 05:52am

Ch 9

Enough of the wreckage had been retrieved that the ground crews were able to put two of the B-wings back together. There was a long waiting list for them; most of the bomb wing wanted a shot. Just to see what the other side was up to. ‘Intelligence evaluation flights’ was the usual description in the logbook.
Most pilots admitted it was a joyride. In terms of priorities, the bomb wing - Delta, Epsilon, Iota, Kappa - got first crack, and senior ranks got priority within that.

Aron was third on the list, right behind Olleyri and the Bomb Wing Commander; he had invited his senior flight commander to take the second bird out with him.

Actually, going out with her was what he had been trying to avoid saying. He made a purely professional invitation, and she accepted in a purely professional spirit.

Tech Sargeant Oregal and his team were waiting on the pad with them. B-wings were not known for reliability, and he wasn’t going to send two of his pilots out in craft he hadn’t looked over himself.

‘Don’t know why you want to bother, Sirs.’ He said, as the two captured fighters - splashed with imperial logos on every available flat surface - were tractored in to the bay.

‘It’s something different, Sergeant. After all, one can become spoiled by too much good flying.’ Franjia said, putting on a mockingly exaggerated upper class Coruscanti accent. ‘A change of pace from time to time reminds us of just how much we have.’

‘Why didn’t we borrow a couple of Alpha Lead while the Group Captain was looking the other way?’ Aron said, looking without much hope at the two big, spindly bombers jockeying for space on the pad.

‘Missing the speed?’ Franjia asked him.

‘Because the Group Captain would personally take the others out after you, ionise you, drag you back, beat the living shit out of you and have you painting ship for the rest of your life, Sir. Very protective of them, he is.’ Oregal pointed out.

‘Why couldn’t you have made that much sense when we met?’ Aron asked him, knowing perfectly well why not. ‘And yes. Apart from the fact that I get shot at by bigger guns than ever before, the thing I really miss from the Interceptor is the ability to pick my fights. In a squint you can outrun or outmaneuver almost everything; in the Starwing you have to take what comes.’

‘So it’s just as well that we can, then.’ Franjia bounced back.

The two B-wings were now down, and Olleyri and the wingco vaulted out of the cockpits- the old man showing he could still do it- and started to walk off, muttering to each other. They weren’t paying much attention to their surroundings; Aron asked ‘Good flight, Sir?’ and got a ‘Mmm.’ in return.

Oregal was already walking round them, looking for pitting, loose connections, wear, checking engine temps and erosion, fuel levels, downloading from the onboard flight computer, the usual starfighter pre-flight.

‘Well, Sirs, that’s one thing you’re not going to get out of a B-wing. Slow as glaciation. Nothing any more wrong with them than ever was, they’re ready to go - and sirs; if anything goes wrong, just get out, don’t bother trying to bring them back.’

‘Cockpit systems?’ Franjia asked.

‘Good thought - they aren’t designed to work with Imperial helmet displays. Turn the aids off and eyeball it, Sirs.’

Aron was actually relieved; he climbed into the nearest B-wing, sat down in the cockpit. Big, open active window display; flightstick and throttle; notes attached to most of the controls by the ground team that had put them back together.

Start it up - different engine note, higher pitched, closer to TIE scream than Starwing growl. Rebel fighters were designed to fly out under their own power rather than be racked and tractored; he started to work the repulsor controls, reacting off the ship’s AG, and it pivoted - slowly. Franjia’s was behind him, she was waiting for him to finish the maneuver; it moved like a sick bantha. He hoped it was just the repulsors. Out over the edge of the bay, the ‘ground’ dropping out from under him, roll, foils out, and throttle up.

Glance at the throttle, at the instruments; maybe he was doing something wrong. Apparently not. Glance back at the ship; by most standards, they were moving. By fighter pilot, second best is next to dead, standards - bricks. Hopeless.

Franjia was just behind him. ‘Look, there’s the Golan. We can outrun that, if we try really hard.’

‘Not with the orbital speed it’s making…do these things even do two thousand?’

She tried to put her B-wing through a barrel roll. It was more of a blubber wallow. ‘Maybe we should write to the Rebellion, telling them how wonderful we think their new bomber is.’ She suggested, sarcastic.

‘Too much like baby seal clubbing for me.’ Aron said, trying and slushing out of a yo-yo. ‘Cheap kills are one thing, but this couldn’t outfight mynocks - and I don’t have their address.’

‘Oh, dreck. Maybe you do - open up the com panel.’ She said, suddenly serious.

‘I left my spanner behind - hey. Rebel freqs, rebel crypto and com security active. What’s that about?’

‘Perhaps,’ she said carefully, ‘the Group Captain and the Bomb Wing Commander wanted to have a private conversation that no-one, well no-one we know,’ apart from the inevitable Imperial Intelligence, ‘could intercept.’ She pinged out - checking if there was anyone else listening on the channel. No-one who they could detect, anyway.

Aron hauled the B-wing into a long swooping bank, one with a turn radius about three times that of his old Interceptor. The ship swam across his sights- red, enemy coloured box around it. No-one had bothered to reprogram the IFF. ‘What do you think it was about, Flight Lieutenant?’ he asked her, formally.

‘What have we been doing in the exercise tanks? Let us have our fun, then sweat it out of us to bring us back up to readiness, skipper works that way, but I didn’t think you would be too far gone to notice what we were up against.’ She said.

‘Antiship work, against unknown attackers, and in support of heavy ship to ship. We were beyond visual range and in heavy jamming, launching on sensor dots.’ Which he had found annoying, but not suspicious.

‘It helps, if you’re a bomber pilot, to know something about the ships you may have to bomb, yes?’ she said, trying not to sound superior. ‘Sensor dots that moved, took punishment and fired back just like Imperator-I destroyers.’

‘You mean we’re in training to attack-‘

‘The local sector group? I think so. The question is, have they gone rogue or have we?’ Franjia wondered, feeling her spine go cold.

‘You know the Black Prince better than I do.’ Aron said. ‘I’m the new guy.’ Turning parallel to the destroyer, then rolling away to avoid the Golan and Lancer beyond it. Slowly.

‘Either option scares me. It wasn’t just an exercise. Captain Lennart was taking it far too seriously.’

‘Well, we lost.’ Aron said. ‘The last one, against two attackers, we got mauled.’

‘Because the captain and the bridge team were commanding the attacking pair. The hull team, the command crew stationed below the bridge tower, were primary. Simulating the tower getting shot off.’ Franjia told him - she had found out, quite simply, by asking the com-scan crews who set up the exercise environment.

‘Should I be glad, or scared silly, that I’m on a ship where they prepare for that?’ Aron asked.

‘Depends which side you think we’re going to be on.’ She replied.

‘Speaking of getting shot-‘ he said.

She tried to answer her own question. ‘Ezirrn Tellick and I were more than just friends, and Ezirrn’s mother threw herself at him. I know him better than most.’ meaning Captain Lennart, ‘You name the breach of protocol and uniform regs, he’s probably guilty of it, but he’s loyal.’ She hoped.

‘Which means the sector group aren’t.’ Aron said, slowly. He decided to leave the confession that she had been sleeping with her previous CO well aside. ‘Why do I suddenly feel better about being in a Rebel fighter?’

‘A piece of dreck like this?’ she laughed, needing some excuse to and glad to move off topic. ‘They’re available in the sim tanks; they’re pathetic. I wanted to see how accurate the simulators were. Nice guns, but the only possible use would be to saw off the thrusters, glue the entire thing to the Fulgur, and call it a point defence turret.’

‘Would you describe me as paranoid?’ Aron asked.

‘What, just because you check your chair for land mines? No more than average.’ She replied. It had been a water balloon, anyway.

‘If we are about to pick a fight with, say, Imperial defectors in place, these things would be great for covert assassination.’ Aron suggested. The attack force would even be self- eliminating.

‘Good point. Let’s go home and land, quickly, before we start to look competent with them.’

In terms of rank and seniority, the general rule ran; invariably a Captain, usually a Captain of the Line, for a cruiser or larger. Usually a Captain for a destroyer. Frigates were usually a Commander’s ship, and corvettes a Lieutenant-Commander’s. It might vary to a grade above or below, independent destroyer a Captain of the Line - a rank Lennart had been avoiding for years - small ship like a Victory maybe a Commander.

Companies gave their ships names that made no sense - like the Rendili Dreadnaught heavy cruiser, named after two classes neither of which it was. In practical terms, a medium frigate, between ships like the Acclamator above and Interdictor below.

The one sure way to tell which class a ship ‘properly’ belonged to was to see which rank held which job, and the disparity in size meant that the same job was done by different ranks on different ships, the main difference being in the numbers, not the nature.

The wave of envy coming off the eight hundred plus officers of equal or greater rank on an Imperator when something like a CR90 Corvette sailed by, and the sheer volumes of hatred directed at it’s commanding Senior Lieutenant, probably counted as a disturbance in the force.

Commander Ielamathrum Brenn had more seniority than most of the local officials, but a sufficiently median job not to attract too much attention; accordingly, he hopped a Skipray out to local base, Ghorn IV.

Black Prince was over the relatively pastoral Ghorn III to avoid getting in the way of the traffic around the main port; that was the system’s main inhabitable, but two of the moons of Ghorn IV had been terraformed and that was where the main naval and military presence was. What mining and manufacture there was existed around the other small gas giant, V.

A couple of empty orbits and a lot of empty kilometres between them; he could have micro-jumped it easily, but that would have made him look too competent. So run the thrust up, cruise it at high sublight, and take the time to think.

The absolute record for the Kessel Run still stood at twelve parsecs, by a light freighter pilot who had a price of two hundred thousand creds on his head now - for reasons other than criminal incompetence. The man had to be either a genius or an idiot, or both. To choose, and use, a near direct line through the maze - basically playing pinball with your ship, in the fierce and variable environment of a stellar morgue - it was more of a negative test, a proof of lack of judgment.

Using a ship with as much power to frontage as that could almost count as cheating; there was also envy involved. Brenn had conned a Venator through the Kessel run, in hot pursuit of a rebel probe-ship, in fifteen point one. Then again, he had also been chasing their own flotilla leader, whose nav had taken an Allegiance class heavy through in fourteen point six. That man was fleet navigation coordinator on the Executor now, which made Brenn almost thankful he hadn’t done any better.

The Rebel had hit a plasma jet and never come out, so it was certainly possible to do worse.

He had nothing like as much confidence in his abilities to chart a political course, but the only alternatives were the Captain, or Gethrim Mirannon, so him it was. His mission was to discuss options, in theory - confer with the sector group’s staff on how to use the intel data that had been recovered from the Fulgur and its prisoners.

It was sensible, and utterly meaningless. His actual objective was very different; find out how far down the rot goes. Find out how badly they think they’re doing. Find out if there’s anyone we can trust. No point accelerating to a speed that would stress the Skipray’s shielding too badly. Boost up to a third lightspeed, drift, decelerate. Hour and a half. Almost enough time to think of something.

Oh, yes; don’t get caught. By rebel, or imperial, intelligence. Optimist.

Ghorn IV-a, Quorpall, looked like it had a giant antenna sticking out of it; it had been supposed to have a beanstalk, for some reason known only to the Republic Terraforming Agency. Somebody sensible on the staff had realised, half way through the project, that there was nothing whatsoever on the planet worth shunting up and down the gravity well on that scale. It was just another late-republic boondoggle, another interest group getting its share of the public purse. They had finished the shaft, anchored it properly, but there were no elevators, no transfer station, just another monument to the good engineering and bad politics of the late Republic.

There was a small defence complex on the counterweight asteroid, but most facilities were groundside. The only unit of any real weight in orbit was a Meridian-class frigate.

First, there had been the old Ecliptics, decent heavy- multirole ships, space, air, land; the Acclamators had been an evolution from them. The troop and fighter stripped, space combat version of that was the Meridian, the third generation of a distinguished family. Hefty pieces of work; a well handled Meridian could take a badly handled Victory. Against an Imperator - it might last long enough to be interesting. Her captain could be an important man to talk to. That would follow.

Re-enter and put the skipray down on the shuttle pad next to subsector HQ, virtually in the shadow of the beanstalk. Simple; in his capacity as crack navigator, he could make things easy for himself, which in his capacity as very mediocre pilot, he needed.

Quorpall had the slightly tingly, too bright feeling of a world whose ecology didn’t really belong there. Land, shut down, get out.

He was met by an orderly, a young junior lieutenant who led him over to a repulsorjeep. Through the complex, up to the low dome command centre.

Inside, it was almost arrogantly structurally unsound; heavy galleries of office and admin space suspended from the ceiling, repulsor-braced platforms, cool, serene and very neat. He was shown to the conference room, floating in air; it bobbed slightly as he got in.

Eight people there, two Commanders - one with the rank cylinder of a command officer, one seemingly logistics. Two Lieutenant-Commanders, both staff, one sensor and one planning directorate. Four Lieutenants, at least one of whom would be security. Four stormtroopers.

He plugged his comp into the room’s displays; once the introductions were over, he began. ‘We were lucky. Up to the last moments of the chase, the rebel frigate believed it had a chance of escape, so they delayed purge procedures until it was too late. We recovered a good deal of data.’

Three of them winced slightly; one of each rank. Dreck, Brenn thought, I’m outnumbered.

‘We have locations for fleet rendezvous- pointless except for what they tell us about procedure; much closer to traveled space than normal. Very arrogant of them.’

He watched how they reacted; the Meridian’s captain looked embarrassed, at least, but the worried looking lieutenant, probably an ISB plant, was not impressed at all.

‘We have locations of several more base stations,’ Brenn continued, ‘most of which will be evacuated by now, but there’s a chance, if we move fast enough-‘

The logistics Commander objected. ‘A chance of further Rebel ambushes?’

‘We can’t do it all on our own.’ Brenn said, coming on too harsh.

He brought up the sector map. Not time to take the big risk yet, leave Ord Corban strictly alone.

‘We chose this sector to repair and refit after our clash with the Rebel cruiser Mon Evarra because it was the quietest within reach. Either we were wrong, or the rebels have moved back in, in force. In that case, it’s imperative we kick them back out again before they become too deeply embedded.’

The security lieutenant relaxed a little.

‘The rebel coding system is penetrable, but their shorthand less so. What is a Neiman-class base facility, for instance? The most interesting aspect is the glimpses this ship offers of something approaching an actual Rebel fleet structure.’

‘They have a structure.’ The planning lieutenant-commander said. ‘Mostly based on the old republic navy.’

‘Their equipment certainly seems to be.’ Brenn dropped in.

‘What do you mean by that?’ one of the lieutenants said.

‘The local force - local, mark you - flagship seems to be a Venator class destroyer. Very heavy metal, for terrorists.’

‘We have no such data.’ The sensor officer stated.

‘Acquire some, unless you want us to beat you to the mark.’ Brenn said. ‘I presume the sector group is interested in that big a trophy? We have our hunting license.’

‘Your ship isn’t fit for combat.’ The logistic commander stated. ‘You can’t wander around our sector at random looking for trouble.’

‘If we did, how much would we find? Your official estimate of rebel presence in the sector has one Dreadnaught frigate,’ calling up the map, adding the suspected base stations, ‘which seems to be lurking in the barren stars around here.’

He highlighted a patch of space that included Ord Corban. The planning officer and the security lieutenant’s eyes flickered in that direction. Ah.

‘It doesn’t include any of the formations - hunter groups, striker groups, warden groups, support groups - that turn up in the Fulgur’s computer systems. Something needs to be done.’

The discussion dissolved in detail after that, the logistics officer and planner getting increasingly anti - no real proof, could have been disinformation, need to retain forces to cope with other threats, serviceability issues, alien presence in the sector. Brenn knew better than to get annoyed with them; he let the locals do that for him. The local force was understrength; it was a small sector, so it got a small sector group - less than half nominal.

It sounded as if the rebels were being relatively careful not to give the game away; rumours, rumblings, a long string of minor and distant losses, relatively little done against the Imperial starfleet itself. One of his worst habits, more or less an occupational disease, was playing with maps. Tied in to the base computers, he started plugging search routes, standard patrol patterns, effective sensor reach of bases into the map. The sensor-systems officer was looking at the map too.

‘Gaps in the system?’

‘I see a lot of relatively intense sweeps of near space, a lot of ships held as reaction force.’ Brenn said. ‘What are they being held back for?’ He wanted to see what sort of answer he would get. ‘Officially, the sector’s quiet. The theory is that the only rebel activity we’re likely to see is some form of last desperate objective strike, so we’re basically on defence and showing the flag.’

An argument broke out at the table. A fair and frank exchange of views, the minutes would call it. The planning officer was yelling at the ship captain, who was yelling back.

‘You always select the same handful for the plum jobs, and they always come back empty. Rotation is doctrine, and it’s our turn.’

‘You will get the job you’re given.’ The planner shouted at the Meridian’s skipper.

Brenn moved to intervene, but the lieutenant buttonholed him. ‘Commander, we need to talk.’

The stormtroopers followed him out; the lieutenant led him up to the peak of the dome, to a suspended pod with a holonet unit. It activated, and a being Brenn did not recognise, not in uniform, appeared.

Falleen, slightly flabby around the eyesockets, rich, suave. That was strange in itself; they were superb manipulators, but generally not staunch supporters of the Empire. Having a dent put in your planet did that. So who was being held hostage for this one’s good behaviour, or was he just a traitor to his own people? As for the being, personally - unctuous, Brenn would have said at first. Once he began speaking, the navigator would have preferred ‘pompous prat.’

‘This is the man, Sir.’ The lieutenant addressed the image.

‘I am Moff Xeale. You have blundered into my sector, and into my plans.’

Hello to you too, Brenn thought, trying not to look disgusted.

‘Sir, we’re theatre reserve. So far, we’ve encountered three times as many rebel medium warships as your people even think exist, so there’s a good case to be made for the theatre reserve becoming involved.’

‘Seven levels of rank below me, and you dare to suggest anything at all? Lieutenant, you,’ pointing at the security man, ‘leave the room.’ The lieutenant smiled viciously, at Brenn, patted his holstered blaster, left.

Calm, Brenn thought. Don’t give anything away. Don’t get into trouble.

‘I am not impressed by your patchwork, vagrant ship. How does that reflect on the might of the empire?’ the Moff said, sarcasm dripping off his voice. ‘How will my systems react to that mockery of Imperial glory?’ So that was how he was going to defend it. Politics first.

‘We’re a working ship. We are behind in our cosmetic repairs, Sir - other systems came first.’

‘No wonder you are a reserve vessel; no reputable sector would have you. You will do no work here.’

‘Sir, with all due respect-‘ the Falleen changed colour slightly, becoming angrier red - ‘you aren’t directly in our chain of command. We operate logistically to directorate III, Sindavathar region command, administratively to Hundred and Forty-Ninth Fleet, operationally to Destroyer Squadron 851.’ Half a galaxy away, no longer existent, and provisional respectively.

‘Are you refusing an order?’ the Falleen’s eyes glowed.

‘Of course not, Sir; but as is established protocol, we will inform our own chain of command. A bare order to allow the rebels to go unintercepted-‘

‘Is an order, and must be obeyed as such.’ The Moff leaned back in his chair, gave every appearance of thinking about it.

‘There are…plans, you see. We allow them to believe they have a safe haven, until - they are visible, and the moment is ripe. Then, and only then, we will sweep them from the heavens.’ Said with clenched fist. For a moment, it was so typically megalomaniacal, Brenn actually believed it.

Brenn’s being away left the captain with only one person to really talk to; the chief engineer.

‘This had better be good, I’m supposed to be delivering a lecture on advanced damage control. What is it?’ Mirannon asked, mainly for form’s sake.

‘Political damage control. I’ve just gone and planted a suspected rebel spy on the exec.’ Lennart admitted.

‘Well, if you want them to get a false idea of what’s going on, you couldn’t do better. What has this got to do with me?’

‘Traditionally,’ Lennart said, smiling, ‘it’s supposed to be a five year old child. I figure that for pure unadulterated logic, an engineer is the next best thing.’

‘Something,’ Mirannon bounced back at him, ‘I assume you weren’t guilty of at the time.’

‘Oh, when an incident that absurd presents itself - I tried writing it up to report to regional command, but it looked so kriffing ridiculous on paper.’

Mirannon pulled a datapad out of his pocket, started sketching.

‘Hmm?’ Lennart made a questioning noise.

‘Setting the problem up as a venn diagram. Whose areas of knowledge and social connection overlap.’ Some of it macro’d in, most of it was rapidly scribbled. Mirannon kept up a running commentary. ‘-two orders away from Sn(2), inadvertence, pr.5 of deliberate infochanting with Sn(4) via op F-sub-E2-‘

‘You’re doing this deliberately, aren’t you?’ Lennart asked.

‘Yes, and you’re right. It does look ridiculous on paper.’

Mirannon plugged the datapad into the desk’s holoprojector, displayed the nested bubbles in all their bafflement. ‘Much better. Now you can draw conclusions that don’t depend on instinct.’

‘Assuming I can make sense of it at all.’ Lennart grumbled good- naturedly.

‘You did interrupt me on the way to give a lecture. You know how one of these is supposed to work.’

‘Ah, I think I see. The exec, for instance, is in three fields - no, five.’

‘I did have to simplify a lot. And yes, fields within fields. He knows most of what there is to know of basic-knowledge-of-the-Empire, but a lot less of basic-knowledge-about-the-Alliance.

Long, narrow ellipse? He has a social overlap now with someone who - depth of colour is degree of certainty - has access to a subset of secret-knowledge-of-the-Alliance, and-‘

‘Assuming this has any relationship to reality at all.’ Lennart said, sceptically.

‘Abstracted but relevant, trust me - threatened versus exploitable knowledge space, and - I was right first time. It was a dumb move.’

‘Assuming active manipulation by the participants?’

‘Plug in the factors for that, and - still dumb. No matter how finely balanced it comes out, assuming she has tendencies to talk that the exec simply doesn’t, it’s a risk that didn’t need to be taken.’ Mirannon said it like a certainty.

‘You needed a diagram to work that out? Assume that I had a reason, not yet obvious from this. What would it be?’

‘Disinformation flow. Do you need help coming up with any useful lies?’

‘It would come in handy.’ Lennart admitted. ‘The basic plan was to make them think we’re not trusted. That whatever we realise, and whatever we attempt, is going to be marginalized by sector group and dismissed entirely or not supported.’

‘First make sure that it actually is a lie.’ Mirannon said.

‘Brenn’s on that at the moment. The other reason is that, socially, I think it’ll be good for him.’

‘Something has malfunctioned in your head.’ Mirannon said, flatly.

‘What do you suggest I do with him, then? We need him, so how do I bring him, metaphorically, on board? Left to myself, I would run too loose a ship. It could cripple his career, to promote him one day and break him the next. At the time, I thought he deserved it.’ Lennart said.

‘Throwing him a rebel to play mind games with could do more than just cripple his career. You do realise that you’ve gone from worrying about his prospects to, I think the vidshow phrase is ‘used as an unwitting pawn’, in one breath?’

‘I know. Getting the crappy end of the stick- I want him to have more sense of how that feels. Yes, I know, I’m probably going to make him worse, and no, I’m not going to let him take it out on the crew.’ Lennart decided.

‘Trying to teach humility to a desk officer - twenty thousand years of history are against you.’ Mirannon pointed out.

‘Maybe so. Have you been talking to the ground complement lately?’

‘They have been helpful.’ Mirannon said. ‘I know they’re incorruptible, but it would be useful if they were, fractionally, so we could actually do something for them to say thank you.’

They were not technically adept, most of them, but they were diligent, sharp-eyed, and unwavering. Once you told them what the right thing to do was, they got on with it.

‘I had to interview some of the veterans and specialists, about the old days, the republic and the Force.’

‘Hmph.’ The engineer snorted. ‘Whatever advantages there may be to it, I already have the strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetic and gravitic forces to occupy my time. I don’t need psionics on top.’

‘I’d be more certain of that myself, if it wasn’t the fashionable view.’ Lennart said.

‘That’s what twenty years of indoctrination does for you.’

‘Gethrim, you had better hope you never get transferred away from this ship, because describing official policy in terms of open indoctrination - you could be shot for that.’ Lennart said, half amused, half worried.

‘Some physics models apply very closely to politics. Ideological influence, to put it politely - I’d call it propaganda - expands to fill the available space. You think the people responsible for it don’t think technically about it?’ The chief engineer said.

‘Maybe they do, but that wasn’t what I was interested in. The Force. Facts.’

‘Takes us straight back to propaganda, and what the Jedi wanted us to think about the Force. They colonised the mind-space around it; raise and maintain their authority, thought control over their own- and at some point, they went from knowing how much spin they were using to actually believing their own take on it.’ Mirannon stated.

‘This is part of your operational responsibilities how, exactly?’ Lennart asked him.

‘We’re in a physical, not a social vacuum. Believe it or not, we have to worry about people, even if not designing for them we have to design around them. Or, if you want it that way, idiot proofing.’

Lennart shook his head. ‘One of these days…so they lied to their own students, who grew up believing the lie and passing it on as truth. That much makes sense. I wonder to what extent we do the same?’

‘More than we want to acknowledge. Anyway, simple logic; if the Force flows from every living thing, then every living thing has the Force. Irrelevant to minor in most, if there ever was data to make good estimates on, it’s not accessible now.

Major powers - there has to be more potential out there than they ever succeeded in tapping. Minor abilities, that could be mistaken for high fitness, good judgement or dumb luck; probably trillions use the Force without being consciously aware of it.’

‘I was afraid of that.’ Lennart admitted.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-10 07:22pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-01-09 10:06am

Ch 10-A

‘Today’s topic: how to abuse a tensor field.’ The chief began.

That raised a few eyebrows. The audience were a mixture of junior officers who needed to know, senior officers in for a refresher and members of other departments who wanted to know what Engineering was up to.

A hand went up; gunnery, port battery commander.
‘Abuse, commander?’

‘Nine tenths of the technology we use- 91.2% to be exact-‘ only the engineers realised it was a joke- ‘is described by the function it performs, or by the manufacturer’s advertising department.
Don’t get me started on the subject of durasteel; and we have ‘power converters’, that in the forces they convert, from and to, are entirely separate technologies from each other. It’s as loose and woolly a term as “flying machine”.’

The ‘lecture hall’ was actually one of the bays of Main Machinery, subsection 2; sub-1 was the MCR, the master control centre for the ship’s engineering functions, sub-2 was central repair and reconstruction. Most of the audience was sitting or leaning against disabled component parts; the chief engineer’s lectern was an auxiliary power unit from one of the main turrets, and there were about eight hundred manufacturing droids stored on the gantry behind him.

‘The specifications come from the same sources. Abuse is a loose term; properly, use to it’s limits.’ Holodisplay; Force field architecture of an Imperator- class destroyer.
Secondary display; force field architecture of a Venator- class destroyer.
‘Basic observation, people. What changed from one generation to the next?’

‘Modularity?’ one of the main drive technical officers- Lieutenant Marnart- asked.

‘Correct. A good decision, made for the wrong reasons.’ The displays showed coloured dots, red tensor, blue stasis, green relative inertial, turquoise hyperdrive, orange atmospheric, yellow particle and violet ray shielding generators, haze around them showing areas of effect.
‘The Venator is wartime construction. Of the ship rather than combat functions, one of each plus secondary/backup. To improve, it is necessary, and I mean it this time, to abuse it or replace it, frequently necessary after abusing it in any event.’

‘Why wasn’t she designed to the limits of the technology to begin with?’ damage control Lieutenant Sprenger.

‘Cost, safety and diminishing returns. Cost; two hyperdrive cores are more expensive than one plus the support machinery to expand the hyperfield to the same area.
Safety; our multiples have to be integrated with each other. This places a burden on the skills and computing resources of the ship that is non-trivial.
Diminishing returns; take a hypothetical. With a 100kps2 relative inertial field, this ship becomes a danger to her crew. Power hungry, inefficient, causes unnecessary strain, and you now stand a good chance of being slammed to your death against the fore rather than aft bulkheads.’

Slight ripple of laughter at that. The chief engineer carried on. ‘The Imperator is post war construction. This changes the design objectives. The Venator is more efficient in the short term, but their service life is two centuries at best, and the single large generator format makes them expensive and difficult to refit.

The Imperator class- one of whose design objectives was to deal with the refuse left over by the clone wars- is more efficient in the long term. The redundant multiple medium generator format makes us more damage tolerant- with proper system management- easier to repair by replacing damaged elements of the network, easier to upgrade if the investment becomes materially or politically possible. Also, the convolutions of baffling and mirroring necessary to get an even field intensity out of generators which obey the inverse square law become more manageable.’

‘If I ever allow any of you to slack off long enough to read it,’ Mirannon said, looking at the engineering personnel, ‘I have a file of the considered-and-rejected design proposals for the Imperator that rewards study. Particularly as, given KDY’s other commitments and the politically driven haste the Imperator design was finalised with, the yards license- building them filled in the blanks largely to their own ideas. Frequently with elements rejected for the official design.

Sienar- built ships, recognisable by their more centralised hyperdrive arrangements, have the worst maintenance and serviceability records in the fleet; carelessness caused by corporate envy.
Even KDY/Fondor versions are different from KDY/Kuat- more heavily armoured and fractionally slower, sub-control centres separately armoured, fire control and sensors more sensitive but less jam resistant, their most serious flaw is an old school ring-main power system.’

‘This ship?’ one of Brenn’s plotters asked.

‘Correllian built, which is good. Not luck- determinism, we wouldn’t have survived this long unless she had been. The 695 to 782 batch were assembled to very stringent specifications because Correllian Engineering were aiming for a larger share of the construction tenders. They actually tried to win a contract by producing a superior product, instead of resorting to bribery and corruption as usual. Show of hands- who thinks it worked?’

Roughly a third of the personnel present.

‘I wish. They do a lot of refit business, though. KDY/Kuat’s build quality started high but declined with growing complacency, Fondor’s began as mediocre and improved, Loronar’s are distinctively more fragile, lighter and faster, and Rendili stuck their own bridge tower design on the 11280 to 11431 batch as well as replacing between ten to thirty of the LTL’s with medium turbolaser clusters and missile tubes. Those are the ones that made it into production.’

‘Sir, I know we’re supposed to be here to learn about structural reinforcement fields, but could you tell us more about the rejected elements of the design?’ Sprenger asked.

‘You’re going to go away knowing what I want you to know. The only variable is how much time you sidetrack me into wasting on other matters first… The most interesting is a massively parallel multiple micro generator design. That would have broken the ship up into fifteen thousand separate zones, each with it’s own fighter class or better hyper, stasis, tensor and relative inertial nodes.

It failed primarily because of the massive overload it would have placed on the human component. Also because the individual nodes, as a consequence of their size, had limited capability.
There were two further developments; one which ventured into utter lunacy, by encapsulating each zone. The ship would have resembled fifteen thousand light freighters glued together. Combined and separate combat modes for a ship like that would have been interesting verging on bizarre.
Not everything possible is good to do- there are very good reasons that one stayed on the drawing board.’

‘Massive overload on the human component? Sir, is that a euphemism for “splat”?’ one of the fighter wing ground crew, a tech sergeant.

‘No, it means that by the time you’d finished learning how to look after them properly you would have been eight years dead.
Actually, frequently it is a euphemism for splat. The splinter version would have had a malfunction and accident rate well beyond any sustainable or acceptable limit. Believe it or not, the engineering department does respect human limitations. Occasionally. Most of the time, we just bitch about them.’

He drank from his glass of water- there had been a spate of practical jokes a couple of months back; something in the water, and half the ship had been peeing emerald green. The joker responsible had never been caught; the chief suspects were the medics. And himself.

He went on; ‘Maintenance and upgradeability is my hobby-bantha, not the topic at hand, and I will ramble on it at the end of the lecture, not the beginning. Tensor fields; what are they?’ He looked for a non- engineer to get an answer from.

‘They, ah, reduce tension on the ship’s hull by exporting part of her mass into subspace…?’ one of the galley staff asked.

‘Droids, lynch that man.’ Mirannon turned to them; they were inhibited from anything of the sort, but most of them had acquired enough personality to act it. They activated, turned glowing eyes on him, started to clank forward-

‘I’m sorry I didn’t mean it-‘ he gabbled.
Mirannon turned to the droids. ‘Stand down.’

‘Although,’ he continued to the cook, ‘you probably do deserve it. No. And relative inertial fields don’t rely on subspace, either, something else described by function rather than mechanics.
N+5th generation relative inertials are multiple supporting mechanism; entanglement momentum transfer, field couplings from drive to hull frame, a mesh of compartment- localised gravitic nodes, and how many lectures do you expect me to give at once? Tensors.’

Another holodiagram. ‘If you go far enough back, you find stress fields- the ancestors of our tensor field, and another backwards description. The tensor field counteracts stresses in the members of the ship.
Stress fields did this literally, creating opposing and cancelling pressures- converting to more easily withstood forms- which did relatively little for the service lives of the ships they were fitted to.
A tensor field generates a binding and stabilising force within the hull material on the order of the binding energy of an atomic nucleus; this is very easy for it, because that’s exactly what it is.’

‘So how do we abuse it?’ the propulsion engineer, Marnart, asked.

‘A strong nuclear force field deploys, and anyone who is surprised by this will have their brain remedially overclocked, nuclear levels of energy. If we lose power trunking, the tensor field can be tapped from the nearest local generator as a capacitor bank and input to the local grid.
This is less efficient than doing it properly, but provides a valuable interim measure until we can rig proper DC cable. This has further synergistic benefits; it means we need fewer APUs, which gives us a better mass distribution, improving agility, therefore evasion, reducing the need for them.

Secondly, it can be used to fill in jobs that no structural member could do. Members which may or are required to deform- Durasteel doesn’t flex well. In context. There are as many different compositions of durasteel as there are of steel- a detail we will go into later.
Most of the elasticity of the hull comes from the tensor field. The hull frame attachments points are minimal material, mostly field.
The tensor field also serves as the retaining wall for most of the rest of the force fields. It would be possible to project a tensor field without a material carrier, and have it perform most of the functions of a ship- and if any of you are crazy enough to volunteer to test the idea, then you’re too stupid to live anyway and I might let you.’

‘No, thank you, sir- but why do we have a two meter thick armoured hull, if the force field is tougher than the hull anyway? Why all that material, why not simple plating?’ Sprenger, again, asked.

‘Short version- we need a framework to bolt the other force field generators to. If properly designed, the fields are mutually supportive. The relative inertials reduce stress on the hull which reduces the load on the tensors, lowering power requirement out of or increasing margin of safety in combat.
There are some interesting things you can do with a stasis field, thermal conductivity and incoming turbolaser fire, too.’

‘So if the hull’s just a metrology aid-‘

‘The stresses imposed on it by the force field architecture are substantial; orders of magnitude better than bare metal, but still demanding. The hull is also our fail safe.
It has to possess sufficient strength to function without the force fields. If properly put together- and dockyard workmanship plays at least as large a part in this as basic design- should be able to support and withstand a failing force field complex long enough for us to remedy or execute controlled shutdown.

Lastly it must be a material or composite of materials that can benefit from tensor and relative inertial fields. Iron, at the lowest point of the binding energy curve, is too stable for this.
Depleted-electron-shell materials are advantageous, nuclei closer together and we turn a disadvantage into an advantage by using the opportunity to apply active electromagnetic binding and stabilisation also.
Neutronium would be perfect, if we had drives of literally infinite power. Stealth is nearly irrelevant, because when we are emitting stellar power levels from the ion drive, we’re approximately as visible as if we did.

Until that happy day, we will employ as much as we have the mass budget for. Those of you who have no head for numbers may wish to leave now. Now consider a material structure of composition…’

Two supposedly secret transmissions. One of which crossed the signal intercept team’s desk, the other did not.

Embedded in a message, supposedly to her sister;

Vineland sector, oversight group eleven.
Hathren, J. System cell Ghorn, network Lobat-4, reporting.

Situation complicated. I have been conscripted into the Imperial Navy as the result of an incident- refer to the news. I am on board the ship currently at the top of our watch list, and in a position of some access.

Frankly, it’s far too good to be true. I hope this harmonic coding is as secure as it’s supposed to be.
I have been employed- they haven’t even tried particularly hard to indoctrinate me yet, and yes, I know how dubious that sounds, it’s far from the only worrying thing about this situation- as a personal servant, they call them stewards, to look after an officer in disgrace.

It’s possible that they want me to do them a favour by abducting him. From what I have been able to see of life on board this ship, something as basically abnormal as that seems to be a daily occurrence.

When I said I wanted to do something different, this wasn’t what I had in mind. To achieve as much as we know they have, the crew of this ship must be sharper than they seem. Common sense eaten up completely by their jobs? It would fit.

This ship is in much better condition on the inside than the outside. I have some access to the ship’s personnel files- one of the people I was involved with is possibly the top ranking gunner in the sector, never mind the ship, and he could pass for fifteen. Away from the trigger.

I can’t funnel bulk data through a covert channel like this; I’ll have to cherrypick. The ship is theatre reserve, not local; she has wider access. It seems odd to call a ship named ‘Black Prince’ she, but they refer to her that way.

Anyway, it will take time for me to get into a position to extract and exfiltrate. I’ll trickle what I can, and should have valuable data when- let’s not tempt fate; if- I do.

Defection prospects? Unlikely. With so much blood on their hands, they would be unwelcome in the Alliance, and besides, they would probably make us look bad.

Candidate/Watcher 22173, reporting.

Interim observation, candidate Lennart, J.A.

Status; unpromising. Candidate has genuine talent, intuitive/precognitive, sense related, but is under only moderate pressure to develop it. Candidate is a man of significant status and other talents, but little outward ambition.

Recommendation; push rather than pull. To force development of his abilities, a threat to what he already has is indicated. Perhaps this ship would make a fitting flagship for one of your protégées.

Secondary subject, Mirannon, G.K.Q.

Status; contraindicated. Subject has displayed a number of task- related abilities apparently without broader grounding, but is only subliminally aware of them if at all. Subject is also openly contemptuous of such talents.

Recommendation; playing on this one’s pride and ambition could work, but given his attitude and approach, it would be difficult to make use of him.

Security warning; prime prospect intuited his way to a nearly complete understanding of the Ord Corban operation. Subject is loyal, but from pragmatic reasons. Rebel exploitation of this cannot be delayed much longer- see candidate recommendation.

One lecture, two messages, three captains.

In Lennart’s day cabin, Commander Aythellar Barth-Elstrand, whose Meridian was orbiting nearby, and Senior Lieutenant Ertlin Kondracke, whose Lancer was under repair just adjacent.

‘Gentlemen, thank you both for coming to see me.’ He was a senior captain, in charge of a fleet destroyer; there was no way they wouldn’t. His politeness warned them something was up, though.

‘I wish this was simple ship visiting; instead, I have a problem and a possible solution to put to you.’ Lennart was, rarely, properly and impeccably uniformed; his typical state of half undress wouldn’t do, not for this. He had to look as thoroughly, officially imperial as possible.

Kondracke looked barely old enough for his command, something made worse by the sling on his arm. He looked like a child who had fallen out of a tree. Elstrand was fair- haired and red faced, looked more like a prosperous bantha rancher than a fleet officer.

‘What is it, Captain?’

‘You were very quick to come to support us.’ Lennart said. ‘I’m guessing you don’t get too many opportunities to use your guns in anger?’ the young man’s face opened up.

‘Captain, the local rebels are driving me mad. We hear snatches of comm, catch bursts of drive light, chase broken holonet threads, they’re there. They have to be. We never get within gun range of them. Well, until now.’

‘Same situation. We have the sense that we’re being played with.’ Elstrand added. ‘Your ship’s seen more action in two weeks than the sector fleet has in two years.’

Lennart nodded. ‘They have come gunning for us, and as a result of that we have taken down and brainripped enough of them that we now have more to go on than the sector fleet. Enough, I think.’

‘So where do we fit in?’ Elstrand asked. He realised a second later that he hadn’t called his superior officer ‘Sir’; significant breach of discipline. Two seconds after that it sank in that Lennart hadn’t called him on it.

‘The information from the captured frigate strongly indicates the rebels have a very strong presence in the sector, protecting a hidden facility.’ Hidden in plain sight, behind the Ubiqtorate.

There was another double-play going on there, especially with an alien Moff, Lennart could almost taste the edges of it. ‘Sector command doesn’t want us to go after it.’

‘What?’ Kondracke shouted. ‘They’re- they’re allowing this?’

‘I hoped you’d react like that.’

‘Allow me to second my junior colleague’s outrage, Sir.’ Elstrand said.

‘It wouldn’t be the first do not engage order in the navy’s history, or the least well thought out- your Moff told my Navigator that he was leading the rebels into a trap. Lulling them into a false sense of security.’ Lennart’s tone indicated what he thought of that.
‘We have more than enough real work to do in this sector without political bullsh- er, interference, Sir.’ This sector had a lot of money spent on it by the Republic Terraforming Agency, and relatively little of it wisely.

Four running ecological catastrophes, one imminent nova, two alien species, one economically expansionist and one too widespread to be anything like as peaceful as they seemed.

‘I know. Which is why I intend to use the standing orders of the Imperial Starfleet on supporting other ships to get around that,’ Lennart informed them, watching their enthusiasm grow, ‘and set up a very public, very noticeable meeting engagement. Are you with me?’ He hardly had to ask; they were.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-11 11:25am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-01-18 07:49pm

Ch 10-B

‘Do you know what the most annoying thing about being a part- time white hat is?’ Aldrem asked the rest of his team, rolling out of the line of fire behind a prickly shrub, one of many in the artificial jungle.

‘Not being allowed to shoot each other.’ Gendrik snarled back, annoyed. For people whose jobs revolved around shooting and being shot at, an alarming number of Stormtroopers seemed to enjoy it as a hobby as well. ‘Playing with fresh meat’ also came pretty high on the list.

It was a triple function facility; backup life support and food production, recreation, training ground. It could have passed for a botanical garden, if it wasn’t for the stun blaster bolts going back and forward. Surprisingly, the plants didn’t react badly to being stunned; some of them even thrived under it. Just as well, considering.

The troopers had reacted fairly predictably to having a turret crew team dumped on them; they had done their duty, coldly and professionally. When no one who might be disturbed was looking, they laughed their asses off. The fifteen gunners had been thrown in at the deep end. Fitness training, weapons training - Suluur had dented their smugness a little by outshooting all of the instructors with a heavy rifle - survival training, and exercises like this.

They called it ‘tactical awareness’; the list to volunteer as opposing force was long. A chance to shoot navy - why not?

The control chamber had a dozen troopers in it, ten more than necessary.

‘Preliminary evaluation - wash them out. Transfer them to the Starfleet.’ The staff sergeant in the master control seat said.

‘That would be inappropriate, Sergeant. They’re not here to learn to be stormtroopers, they’re here to learn to leave the close assault business to the professionals.’ One of the spectators - Omega-blue-17-Aleph One - said.

‘Three of them are enjoying it, Sir. Com/Scan Tech Suluur, PO Hruthhal, Weapon Mechanic (Leading) Tarshkavik - they could do well with proper training. In fact Suluur may be too good for a rookie. He’s done this before.’

‘They all have, at least once.’

‘They could be useful, Sir. The senior chief’s the best shot with an emplacement weapon I’ve ever seen. Although I do not understand how he achieved his rank.’ The sargeant’s scorn - and envy - was evident in his voice.

‘In the army he would be a Specialist-9, but the star fleet has no efficient way of dealing with men of high skill and low fitness for responsibility - short of making them junior lieutenants.’

Fifteen minutes, it was supposed to take, to set up an E-Web.

Those fifteen minutes included leveling the tripod, building up an earth and ablative foamcrete berm to protect it, digging in the generator, making contact with neighbouring units, setting up aim point and fire arc markers in the enhanced sight system, and getting the rest of the squad in place to provide defensive crossfire and keep any approaching grenadiers’ heads down.

‘Crash Action’- plonk the damned thing down any way it went and hose the target- took ten seconds, if that.

Aldrem had taken to the E-web instantly, and had been overheard wondering whether he could get one assigned to himself, personally, and how he could probably fit it on a repulsorsled, and wouldn’t planet leave be much safer with their own organic fire support?

Even most of his own team thought he was nuts. They knew he was kidding, but they still didn’t trust him.

‘Areath, go right, round that funky thing with the blue flowers and tendrils. If it tries to eat you, vape it.’

‘With an exercise blaster hardwired to stun. Right.’

‘Then kriffing well beat it to death.’ Aldrem said, popping up and firing a long burst at a low, spreading, vaguely animate looking food plant.

Three stormtroopers, well out of the line of fire, shot back at him, he dived for cover, one of them connected and he went down twitching like a rattlesnake; Suluur shot back, rapidly dropping two of them. The old reflexes were coming back now, which was probably bad for him. He dropped behind a set of trays, looked around to see who was still on his feet.

Stang, he thought, that looked far too competent. He stuck his head up, looking for a way to get shot that didn’t seem too suspicious.

‘Advisory, Sir.’ The training staff sergeant, KF-5614, asked Aleph One. ‘Are there any other considerations we should be aware of?’

‘In other words, why am I interested?’

‘I never before appreciated how large the difference is between ‘unflinching’ and ‘too dumb to duck’, Sir.’ KF-5614 said.

‘You think we’re beating a set of learned reflexes into them that will make them less efficient in their primary job?’

‘I believe that may be the case. This is the basic training the Starfleet gets them to unlearn when it goes about turning them into efficient gunners, Sir.’

‘Don’t worry. These are some of the ship’s problem children. They’ll do something absurd and be put on an intensive gunnery refresher course sooner or later.’

‘I see, Sir.’ The training sergeant wanted to know more, but was too disciplined to ask.

Captain broadcasting to the crew;
‘All hands, this is Captain Lennart. As most of you know, we’ve been busy lately. Unfortunately, it turns out that there’s a reason for this. This sector is quiet not because there are no rebels, but because it seems they have an interest in not drawing attention. They have strong base facilities they do not want to have exposed, so when we blundered in, they tried twice for a relatively cheap kill, which only got me…interested.

'If they have any sense, they’ll now be keeping their heads down and waiting for us to go away. Unfortunately, events indicate they do in fact have some sense. What I think happened is an Alliance internal communications SNAFU; regional command sent units to assault us and the tender, local command threw a fit when they found out. They have too much of a logistic base here to hazard it. We’re more or less operational now, and I would be pleasantly surprised if they decided to try again.

'Coincidentally, and I know some rumours have been emanating from the fighter wing, the sector Moff has asked us to go away too. He says he has things in hand. This is a Moff who let things get this bad in the first place, so colour me skeptical.

'We are going to be following a course of action that may seem…dubious, verging on outright disloyalty.

'There won’t be time for detailed explanations, not until afterwards, but we are acting in the best interests of the Empire- under cover of a thick screen of bluff and poodoo.

'Some of you who have been with this ship longest will remember similar operations. You know what a high WTF factor they usually have. Our objective is to lure Alliance forces into a straight fight; but it is going to be a twisty, windy path getting them there.

'Internal operations will continue as normal, and if external events confuse you, spare a thought for the command team who actually have to manage it all. Black Prince Actual out.’

Around the ship, various people took the news in their own way.

Hathren, J., rebel spy in residence, was dumbfounded. There were still a lot of her people in the cells, she daren’t do anything about helping them without blowing her cover. Yet. She had a half-formed escape plan, and it would be easier and safer if it was a mass escape. But how much more would there be to find out?

Most Rebel captains - certainly the very formal Mon Cal - would tell their crews far less than this, never mind Imperial Starfleet.

This was professional opportunity beyond her wildest dreams. She knew perfectly well she was probably going to stay too long, to draw too much attention and give herself away - the lure was very strong.

Not the only one. The man she had been assigned to, Mirhak-Ghulej, spent most of his time sitting on the edge of his bunk, looking lost. He twitched, he ranted, he sat in black depression.

She was used to handling awkward customers; she needed all that experience. His world had just turned round and bit him.

The other people she had to work with - they were, in a word, different. Whatever popular support the Rebellion had, the overwhelming majority of those at the sharp end were there for a reason. Some ideology, some incident, some Imperial brutality. This bunch was - the word she was looking for, she finally decided, was normal.

For the given circumstances, of course. They were mostly male, surrounded by high technology, with duties, responsibilities and enough firepower to depopulate a world down to the algae, but given that, basically stable.
For a given, bored, grumpy, practical joke ridden value of stable, anyway. He took no notice of her, until much later that day; she came back to his cabin, after fetching a snack from the galley, and found someone had pumped helium into his quarters’ air-system.

‘Someone’, internal arrangements varied; on most ships, life support belonged to Logistics and Supply branch, on the Black Prince the lifesystem belonged to Engineering. Lennart had long since given up trying to hold back their colonial tendencies. Their version of the shoulder patch had the knight holding a hydrospanner, as often as not.

He started to bawl her out, stiff faced, harsh and typically Imperial, but it came out in such a high-pitched whine, she started to chuckle. He shouted at her more, which only made her worse, until she doubled over in - the helium was wafting out of the room - squeaky laughter. As she did, she noticed the glint of a lens poking round the corridor corner.

The Exec’s quarters were the largest and best appointed unit in a quarters block directly adjacent to damage control central; in combat, the captain ran things from the bridge, the chief engineer from the MCR, the Assistant Chiefs oversaw their components of the ship, one of the two Deputy Chiefs went to the bridge, one to DC central.
The way it was supposed to work was that the exec made decisions from the operational point of view, prioritising what they needed fixed, and the deputy chief assigned assets to do it. It looked as if he had decided that what needed to be done was embarrass the exec, live on camera.

He was still shouting, grabbed her and tried to get her to stand up straight, managed it - she was too busy laughing - tried to slap her. She moved instinctively to block, caught herself just as she was about to slam the edge of her hand into his throat.

He looked as surprised as she was. She stepped back along the corridor, breathed deeply to get any helium out of her lungs, and said, ‘If you really, truly cannot see the funny side of this, then I reckon you deserve everything the captain did to you.’

That boggled him. He couldn’t. She took his arm, guided him back into his chambers as she would a half-cut idiot out of the door of the inn.

She sat him down, controlled her own laughter well enough to talk, squeakily.

‘I looked at your file, as well.’ She admitted, knowing how much trouble it could get her into. ‘You’re Mr. Clean, aren’t you? Never been on the receiving end…not even violations of uniform codes, never had so much as a civil parking ticket. What I think this is about is, well, showing you the crappy end of the stick. Showing you - from the victim’s point of view - what the punishments its your job to hand out mean.’

At least he was looking up at her now.
‘How would you react to someone who took a disciplining this badly?’ she decided on a harder approach. It sounded absurd under the helium, but what wouldn’t?

‘I’d…they would be obviously unfit, so I would keep riding them until they were broke or resigned from the service.’ He said, thinly.

‘So now you’re punishing yourself as well. Great Space, how did you ever get this far? What you have to do now is to prove that you are fit, to yourself and to him. Those recommendations should take almost as long to read as they will to write; how does he expect to do that? What shortcut is Captain Lennart planning to use? Work it out, exploit it yourself.’

His face brightened; he should have thought of that himself, but it was still a good idea. The air was starting to clear; evidently they had given up on the helium.

‘The other thing is to work out what to say on those recommendations, to prove you deserve your job back.’
He was already moving towards his desk and the stack of datapads with the files.

Franjia Rahandravell and Aron Jandras didn’t dare say what they were thinking, because they were being detailed for the craziest mission either of them had ever heard of. It would only have been a long string of swear words, anyway.

‘They call it a destabilisation operation, I believe.’ Olleyri had them in the ready room of Alpha squadron.

‘They can call it anything they like, I think it’s crazy.’ Aron was standing, leaning over the desk, trying not to shout at the commander air group, and getting close to ceasing to care.

‘That’s exactly why you’re the man for the job.’

‘What,’ Franjia asked, ‘because he has no faith in this, that makes him appropriate? And what about me?’

‘You’re right. It is fundamentally insane. The situation that makes it necessary is demented. So it fits perfectly.’ Olleyri told them.

‘I’m not that good an actress.’

‘We’re not going to get them to break cover for anything less. Think about it. To get the Rebs to come out to play, we need to give them an objective they can’t ignore, and a situation they can realistically do something about. We hand our captives over to the locals and appear to sail off, they organise a public, judicial murder of our prisoners - doesn’t that disgust you? Even a little?’

‘Would it shock you,’ Franjia asked him - both of them, really - ‘if I said no?’

‘Not much, no.’ Olleyri replied. ‘The reason its you - rebel frequencies?’

‘Why,’ Aron rounded on her, ‘did you have to work it out?’

‘As well hung for a bantha as a nerf. What’s really going on?’ she asked Olleyri.

Olleyri didn’t know. He tried to bluff it out. ‘If you know, who else do you think might find out?’

‘This should be a purely volunteer job.’ Aron said. ‘Kriffing espionage detail - I didn’t join up for this, I’m not trained for it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be any good at it.’

‘Nonsense. Command is at least half acting, you ought to know that, and most of the rest is paperwork. The practical rebels will be overjoyed to have two experienced pilots, the idealistic side - it’s just the sort of fairytale they love to lap up. And you are going to lead them into such a trap, any Imperial officer would have been proud to set it up.’

‘I get shivers,’ Aron said, ‘when anyone starts talking about me in the past tense.’

‘Kriff, I didn’t mean that; you are supposed to come back.’ Admittedly, he had no idea how. ‘But you are definitely supposed to go.’ He handed each of them a datapad. ‘Read, memorise, destroy. Report to me when you’re ready, dismissed.’

They saluted, turned to leave.

In the corridor outside Alpha’s bay,
‘Franjia-‘ Aron began. He hardly ever called her that, and especially not outside the cockpit.

She turned and looked down at him. ‘Yes, Squadron Leader?’

‘We’re supposed to be striking out on our own, rediscovering our consciences and our individuality.’ He was standing very close; she put a hand on his chest, gently pushed him back.

‘No.’ He looked hurt, shrivelled. ‘I shared a bed for almost a year with Ezirrn Tellick.’ She confirmed what he knew. She would have added that she didn’t come as a perk of the job, didn’t think she needed to go that far.

‘I know, Franjia,’ he said, sounding pleading, ‘it’s too soon - but dammit, by the time you feel, you’re ready, you know what I mean, we’ll be “just friends” ‘- or dead- ‘and it’ll be too late.’

‘It’s too soon for you, too.’ She said. ‘There’s a mess in your head, of anger at being in this, envy, jealousy, a little lust and all the usual madnesses of the fighter pilot- I don’t want you to pour that over me. Or expose you to mine.’

She turned on her heel, heading for the simulators; she wanted to put in some B-wing time. Just in case.

‘Captain, request permission to volunteer in place of Flight Lieutenant Rahandravell.’ OB173 barged straight into Lennart’s office and asked him, point blank. Actually, those were words he didn’t want to think about.

‘Why do you want to do that?’ he asked, brain temporarily in boggle mode.

‘I’m simply the most appropriate person for the job.’ She said, knowing he would guess that it wasn’t that simple, and trying to come up with a cover story.

'How do you know,’ Lennart recovered and asked her, slowly, ‘what the job is?’

‘Guesswork. Politics. Intuition. That and I asked her.’

‘If she was fool enough to tell you, then anyone would be better for the job.’ Lennart agreed. ‘She came away unharmed?’

‘The most efficient interrogation device ever issued; the human tongue.’ Only so because the troopers usually came with one, costing the army nothing.

‘Can you fly a B-wing?’

‘ “You don’t fly a B-wing; you just sit in the cockpit while it plods along.” ’ She quoted Franjia. ‘To that standard, yes.’

‘So tell me about your cover story.’ Lennart asked, professionally.

I’m a talent scout for a dark force adept, good enough to step straight into the ranks of the Sovereign Protectors, and the only reason I haven’t risen higher to become an adept in my own right is - I lack the hard edge of moral courage, the guts to take responsibility for the pain and misery I inflict.

I prefer to be told what to do. Show me the path, be it never so black, and I will walk it - but do not ask me to choose it for myself. To that extent, at least, I am the prisoner of my clone heritage.

And I want to be somewhere else, while the situation I have - I hope - set up for you starts to bite. Largely because, I have told myself, I can appear to be on your side, and manipulate you appropriately.

She might be able to say that to him, eventually. In the meantime she settled for ‘I’d need naval cover, a divisional officer or someone in Supply branch with part responsibility for the prisoners-‘

‘If that’s the best you can do, forget it.’ Lennart said. ‘You haven’t had any contact with them, any leak there - and there may be, accidental or deliberate - means your head on the block and, worse, a blown operation.’ He was deliberately brutal about that.

‘I don’t think you can pass for anything other than a trained killer. Start with a feasible motive, then sort out who could be credibly found holding it.’

‘Professional jealousy.’ She said, straight away. ‘Responsibility for them was taken away from me - I don’t have to pose to pass as an interrogator - and I got stroppy about it. I’m a talker; I cajole them, trick them into giving up their secrets. The new man was more the racks and pincers type, typical bloodthirsty blundering Imperial, half sadist and half moron.’ She smiled at that one; a lot of the Rebels did think in stereotypes, but the smarter ones - for instance, intelligence officers - didn’t.

‘I reacted badly to that - crisis of conscience, to the extent of breaking him with his own tools. Then I had nothing else to do but run for it, and where else but to the Alliance?’

‘Very nice.’ Lennart said. ‘lots of small problems that can be plugged, and one insoluble one. The rebels have undoubtedly been guessing, they may even have got it right. The chief reason they haven’t tried to employ their political weapon is that they are smart enough to know that, even if they say the truth, without backing it with evidence - in practical terms it’s just a conspiracy theory. You can tell them entirely too much about what to think, where to look. That makes it an unjustifiable risk. You would be better for the job - if it wasn’t for that. Request denied, dismissed.’

She looked worried as she left, probably for herself. That was backwards; his instincts twitched a little. He would think about that later, there was another piece of the puzzle to move.

This time it was just him on his own; Aldrem wondered if that was a good or a bad thing.

‘Sit down, Senior Chief.’ The captain told him. Oh crap, he was really in for it.

‘Least things first; from your, ah, top end heavy perspective, an E-web may seem little different from a common blaster pistol - but I assure you; no.’

The captain was being flippant. He had probably decided to keelhaul him after all.

‘Your team is returned to normal duty, I’m going to need you to do some trick shooting for me. In about four or five hours, our rebuilt pair of B-wings will be checked out, and they will be beyond accurate LTL range before anyone realises they’re not coming back. You are going to try to shoot them down, and miss. Very narrowly.’

‘It’s a setup, Sir?’ Aldrem asked.

‘Yes. Do not actually hit them. Two other things- your local control op.’

‘Areath Suluur? He’s an essential part of the team, Sir.’ Aldrem stood up for his man.

‘He’s almost certainly a deserter from the Republic navy, part of one of the clone gun teams on an early Venator; he spent ten years AWOL at the end of the Clone Wars, before joining the Imperial Starfleet under a false ID.’

The senior chief looked horrified. ‘Sir, if that’s true-‘

‘If I had actually bothered to check up on it, I’m fairly sure I would be certain. I haven’t bothered. Just tell him to be slightly less effective in man to man combat, because if I can work it out, I’m sure the Legion’s veterans can.’

Aldrem was puzzled, but not unhappy. ‘Thank you, Sir.’

‘I’m not going to throw away a good gun team. Last thing, have you bumped into your girlfriend recently?’

‘If this is about the fraternisation regs, it’s not an issue, I mean yes, but the rank thing-‘

‘She’s already done one major service for the ship, by stopping the exec looking more than mildly foolish, and as I had hoped, injecting him with a dose of classic Rebel sticktoitiveness. Under her influence he should do well.’

‘That’s good-‘ then Aldrem’s brain caught up with his ears. ‘Rebel?’

‘Afraid so.’ The captain handed him the message pad; the only thing he had done was blank out the part about Aldrem passing for fifteen. ‘It raises a couple of interesting questions.’

‘But she doesn’t, she isn’t, she can’t-‘ Aldrem was trying not to believe his own eyes.

‘Does, is and can, but I do have some leeway in this. What I want is for her to defect to us and turn states’ evidence, what happens then - she shouldn’t be killed, but it could still be fairly unpleasant. If she can help us reel the rebel force we’re after in, if you can turn her all the way, and I think you may be able to, I’ll give the bride away at your wedding myself.’

‘Sir, I mean, I see it, but I don’t believe it. I just can’t get it into my gut that she’s a Reb.’

‘That doesn’t make it wrong for you to like her, or unbelievable for her to like you; it just makes it very awkward. Go and put it right.’ Lennart ordered him, confident-sounding.

‘Sir, can I-‘

‘By all means, talk to your team about it, but no further. After all, as willful as she obviously is, she belongs on this ship.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-11 11:33am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-02-06 10:36am

Chapter 11

The final briefing was delivered by Commander Brenn himself. Normally it would have been a relatively junior officer’s job, but there was nothing normal about this situation. The two fighter pilots opposite him certainly didn’t think so.

‘In theory,’ he began, ‘you’re going to pretend to defect and feed them false information. In practise, we’re sending you to take those pieces of dreck back and trade them in for a pair of X- wings.’

It was a fairly crude attempt to lighten the mood; even Aron thought so. It didn’t stop him laughing, briefly.

‘You have read the briefs?’

‘Of course.’ Franjia said. ‘Someone worked very hard, polishing that plan to the point where it almost makes sense.’

Brenn glared at her. Parts of it had been his idea.

‘Just getting into practise, Sir. After all, we are supposed to be joining the ranks of anarchy.’

‘Don’t believe it. The rebels run their armed services on the old Republic model - the higher command levels may be fractionated and disorganised enough, but they are strong on the minor discipline.’ Brenn reminded them.

‘Military police; the common enemy?’ Aron suggested.

‘Not that far from the truth. You will be interrogated, we expect the urgency of what you have to tell them to push them into a rush job. Some will be suspicious-‘

‘Rightly.’ Franjia pointed out. ‘I would be very suspicious of a Rebel defector to us.’

‘Maybe.’ Brenn knew, more or less, what Captain Lennart was planning. ‘On the other hand, some of them will want to believe you.’

‘So what you’re saying is divide and conquer, but take care not to look like it.’ Aron said. ‘Have I got time to go on a refresher course for escape and evasion?’

‘Getting you out is less than predictable. No preset plan for that would be enough.’

‘Who did we annoy to get this job?’ Franjia asked.

‘Who else would you send? The Alliance is so fighter-centric, you’re the obvious choice. None of our people are from Alderaan, good riddance to it, or anywhere else the Empire’s sat on heavily recently. If there are any experienced ISB or Ubiqtorate watchers on board, they’re so experienced that we don’t know who they are to ask them. Our organic intel consists of subsections of Navigation and Com-Scan who know too much to be allowed to go, or stormtroopers who simply wouldn’t be believable. You were unlucky enough to stand out.’

‘I promise, Commander, that if we get back alive, I will never, ever distinguish myself ever again.’ Aron snarled at him.

Franjia managed not to say what came into her mind- that shoving a laser cannon up the chief navigator’s arse and pulling the trigger would be a distinction of a sort. ‘Sir, we hate this plan.’ Was what she actually said. ‘Why doesn’t that rule us out?’

‘Because you can make it work. All you’re doing is bombing them with payloads of lies instead of proton torps. Has anyone told you to shut up and soldier yet?’ Brenn replied.

They got the hint.

‘Officially, this meeting has been about my giving you a flight test program to conduct with the reconstructed fighters. A tactical evaluation exercise. Unofficially, it has too.’ Brenn said.

‘As you are going to be masquerading as Rebels, I suppose I should wish you - what is it they say, “may the Force be with you?” ‘

‘Try “Farce”, Sir.’ Aron stood, saluted, Franjia did the same, they turned to go.

In the corridor outside Commander Brenn’s office, he started to say ‘Flight Lieutenant Rahandravell-‘

‘We make a good combat team.’ She cut him short - then changed her mind about what she intended. ‘Do you think we could pretend to an, ah, sufficiently tortured relationship to catch their attention, serve as motive and distraction?’

‘Sufficiently tortured would be the right term for it.’ He said, wondering what she meant. Did she mean it literally, was she teasing him, or for whatever reason torturing herself - probably a combination of the first two. Which was, in itself, warped. If he was right, she was asking him to prove that he could fake it, lie to her with believable passion, as a pass to get to the real thing, which - suddenly amateur spying seemed relatively straightforward.

Which was probably exactly how she wanted him to feel, and now his head was starting to hurt. ‘I’m probably going to regret this, but yes. I think.’ He decided.

‘Well, we’re definitely going to regret having anything to do with B-wings,’ she covered her relief with flippancy, ‘so let’s get on with it.’

Port-4 main turret, bunk spaces; most of the team were catching up on their rest. They had been officially notified that they were to stop their ‘liaison’ mission. Wonderful what you can cover up with a single well chosen word, isn’t it, Suluur had thought. They had celebrated with a round of pillows, and only himself and Aldrem were awake.

‘What is it, Pel?’ The turret chief obviously wanted to ask him something. Probably going to be bad.

‘The skipper himself spoke to me about- a couple of things. Was it me, or did I see a few of the white-hats pacing it out afterwards, trying to work out what we had done and how fast?’

‘What did Captain Lennart say?’ Suluur asked, instantly alert.

‘Um.’ Aldrem said. This could be touchy. ‘He said that he didn’t care much whether or not you were what it looked like you were,’

‘Which is?’ Suluur said cautiously, after mentally decoding the gibberish. No security presence, so he was in no real danger- even if he could bring himself to hurt the crew chief.

Aldrem looked round carefully - as if he could spot listening devices - and said, in a whisper, ‘A deserter from the Republic Navy.’

‘Very nice of him not to care. Covering something like that up could get him in a world of dreck.’ Suluur said, sounding much calmer than he felt.

‘Is it true?’ Aldrem asked.

‘Did he tell you to ask?’

‘No. No, he didn’t, and he said he wasn’t going to. Also said you needed to get shot more often because if he could work it out-‘

‘Yes. Yes, it’s true.’ Suluur admitted. It was a long complicated story, one he more than half wanted to tell.

‘Then I’m going to need your help.’ Aldrem moved straight into that, careful not to ask why or how. Not yet.

‘What? You’re not planning to run, are you? Are you really that sold on that woman that you’d take the chance?’ Suluur didn’t believe it- Aldrem could be that crazed, but not this time.

‘No, look-’ he did, glancing around again, all still asleep. ‘I need to get her to desert to us.’

Suluur started to ask who from, got it, then decided to ask anyway. ‘I’d look like a kriffing idiot if I assumed I knew what you meant, went ahead and acted on it, and turned out to be wrong, so you had better tell me who from.’

‘And convince you I haven’t gone from hallucinations to outright paranoia- who else? Them. The enemy.’

‘Big R?’ he was referring to the Alliance to Restore the Republic.

‘She’s some kind of spy for them, she’s been sending messages.’

‘You’re taking this very calmly.’ Suluur told the senior chief. As for whether it was true or not - possible.

‘Well, I couldn’t start breaking down and gibbering in front of the Captain, could I? After that, the time never seemed right.’

‘There is a right time, when what you see, and especially what you know is going to happen next, gets to be too much to bear.’ Suluur said, slowly and reflectively. ‘A decent commander, a competent commander, gives you confidence and hope, postpones the day. An incompetent rat-bastard-‘

Aldrem was just sensitive enough to try not to let his own urgency show. ‘Areath, if you need to talk about this.’ What he wanted to do was scream at Suluur to help him with his problem.

‘Some time.’ Suluur, on the other hand, was sensitive enough to pick up on it. ‘Are you sure you want to help her change sides, rather than just... run?’

Aron and Franjia, suited and helmeted, checked out the rebuilt Rebel bombers as planned. Neither of them trusted their own acting abilities enough to go through it barefaced. Fooling their colleagues, people who knew them, would be harder than foxing strangers, wouldn’t it? It had better.

The filed flight plan had them following a spiral outward to distance, then a series of standard flight manoeuvres, then a return to base.

For a moment both of them were tempted to just fly the set plan, land, and see if Brenn could come up with any charge even remotely public to do them on.

The captain certainly could. And after all, the objective was right.

The initial tests went perfectly to script- it was as bad as they thought.

‘I want to see what the actual peak performance is - I’m shutting everything down except the engines.’

Franjia advised, as they were both nearing the point in the other plan laid down as breakaway.

‘Tensors and compensators, too?’ Aron asked, drymouthed. Go-code received and accepted.

‘Congratulations, you remembered something mechanical - we’ll make a Starwing pilot out of you yet.’

‘Anything other than a kriffing B-wing.’ He said, turning the brickish fighter to follow her.

Actually, they weren’t that bad. Short, low power thruster bells were their main curse - the power systems put out watts on par with the Starwing, if not a shade better, but they had to butcher the engines to actually fit torp launchers in.

As planned, Black Prince called them - on main intership, not the fighter control bands. That was supposed to look like a simple mistake, that would ‘accidentally’ allow them to be overheard.

‘Epsilon Test, that is an unauthorised manoeuvre. Return to the flight plan at once.’ Olleyri, in flight control, ordered.

No response. As planned. Any rebel agents on the planet - which there apparently were - would have noticed nothing more than two speeding B-wings, which was still enough of a contradiction to attract interest.

‘Scramble Beta squadron.’ The order, open mike, was heard by all.

Aron and Franjia kept building vector, one eye on the monitors - engine temps rising - one eye on what passed for a nav unit.

Beta cleared the bay. ‘Epsilon Test, are you in trouble? Do you require assistance?’

‘Beta One, Epsilon Test - emergency. Engines overheating, throttle locked, ejection systems disabled. Get a rescue shuttle out here.’ Aron replied, sounding genuine. The thought of being in that situation helped.

‘Epsilon Test lead, burn towards us, I think we can shoot the canopy off.’ Beta One decided.

Franjia and Aron both boggled at that. Somebody had far too much faith in their skills.

‘Command, negative, negative, clear the line of fire.’ Flight control announced, on the proper bands this time.

Port-4’s alarms went off, cutting Suluur’s and Aldrem’s conversation short. The collection of sleepy gunners jerked awake, blasted back to consciousness. The drill was well established. The emergency action bell meant drop everything and get to your duty station, from wherever you were and whatever you were doing. It took the lead pair thirty seconds to get to main gun control, and they both stood down a step- Suluur working Fendon’s board until he got there, Aldrem tapping into comms.

‘Control, what’s going on?’ he said, genuinely startled; he had forgotten about the set up.

‘Our test flight’s gone rogue- attempting defection. Shoot them.’

The guns came up to power, just as Fendon arrived. ‘Oh.’ He said, looking disappointed; they took their proper seats.

‘Control,’ Aldrem asked, remembering, ‘are you sure?’

‘Acting Exec’s orders. Do it.’

‘You’re convinced it’s not just a malfunction? You know I need confirmation.’

The blips that overlay the two fighters changed colour. Rebel red. ‘There’s your confirmation.’
Aldrem settled in, rotated the turret to bear, set the gross motion tracker; ‘They’re over dex; 3hk out, this is going to be barrage fire.’

3hk; h-hundred, k-thousand. Faster than spelling it out. They were flying straight courses, slight tangent though; the cruciform shape of the B-wing was tempting.

For a second he wondered if it would be possible to bracket it perfectly, one bolt each side of the cockpit, one bolt each side of the fin - at better than three seconds round trip delay, against a target that would start stunting when it got locked on to, probably not. And he was supposed to miss.

‘Fendon, set sub-2 up for flak bursts, one hundred thousand and rct, set sub-1 for stutter, give me fifteen thousand.’

One hundred thousand terawatts on the flak bursts, rangefinder controlled timed detonation, fifteen thousand terawatt shots cycling as fast as sub-1 could put them out. A tiny fraction of capacity, but more than enough for the target.

He played with the shot dispersal a little; pointed on to the fleeing B-wings, made the deflection, held his finger on the trigger and moved the grip in a small circle around the aimpoint.

Four screaming streaks of green, one burst low, right and behind the B-wings, one left and a shade low, one almost directly above and ahead, one right, above and ahead.

‘That’s a warning shot?’ Aron screamed at Franjia. Their fighters kicked on the fringes of the blast waves- dumb luck or very, very good shooting to narrowly let them live.

‘Nav laid in, get out of here.’ She shouted back, shoving the B-wing into a wild half- bank, half- roll. The first handful of stutter shot screamed by close to her- she knew this was daft. The more she manoeuvred, the more likely she was to simply fly into a shot.

The second seemed to assume she was going to break low and right. A tactical memory - steering for the fall of shot - came back to her, and she turned to follow them. Sure enough, the next volley of flak bursts would have been right down her mean line of vector.

Aron pulled the red lever - activated hyperdrive, and a sequence of shot followed him, across the track of the ship lunging for conversion threshold; Franjia followed, before the guns could turn back on her. Safely away.

The Lancer, partially repaired, turned to lumber after them. This was part of the plan; so was the argument Lennart and Kondracke - skipper of the Lancer - had on open com channel.

It started with Kondracke saying how usual it was to have to pull the destroyer’s fat out of the fire, passed rapidly through accusations of blind incompetence on both sides and peaked in his accusing Black Prince of being a nest of traitors.

To most of the watchers, it probably seemed as if the Lancer was escaping from the destroyer as much as leaving in pursuit.

‘Fire direction, they got away. Like trying to pick up a grain of sand with a piledriver.’ Aldrem announced.
‘Port-4, that doesn’t make sense.’

‘You noticed?’ Aldrem tried not to be that sarcastic, and failed. ‘Are we clear to stand down?’

‘Checking- yes. Release to normal watch pattern.’

‘Right.’ Aldrem looked round at Suluur. ‘Can you give me turret internal, and isolate us from the rest of the ship?’

‘Done.’ Suluur set it up. ‘I know what this is about, yes?’

‘Afraid so. Team, I don’t know about assigned, but we’ve definitely been detailed to something that I reckon is out and out espionage work. It’s also a painful subject for me personally, something I expect you’ll enjoy ragging me about later.’

‘Gun crew, storm trooper training, now intel? What’s next, reassigned to fill two vacancies in the starfighter wing?’ Hruthhal asked.

‘Remind me to put in for qualification bonuses on the strength of that.’ Aldrem postponed it, hoping one of them would work it out.

‘Hold on.’ Tarshkavik- gun maintenanceman, looking silly in his balloon- bulging, perfectly mirrored, magnetic shielded suit.

Ground combat exposed him to less energy than his everyday job, one reason he had taken to it so well; the handling suit he wore was attached by a ten centimetre thick umbilical to the turret’s heat and static dispersion systems, otherwise he would have taken it with him.

‘This is about that woman, isn’t it? So the espionage connection- ah.’

‘So it wasn’t just your dashing charm, then?’ the other subsection leader, Gendrik, asked.

‘Considering she was still talking to me after I nearly threw up on her, I should have known it was too good to be true.’ Aldrem said, suspecting that if he didn’t say it they would.

‘She snuck on board to spy on us?’ Hruthhal wanted Aldrem to confirm.

‘That’s the theory, yes.’ Aldrem admitted.

‘So,’ Suluur backed him up, ‘if we promised to buy you an E-web for your name day, on condition you shot her with it, what would you do?’ It got a chuckle, and it let Aldrem handle it as seriously, or not, as he wanted.

‘I need to talk to her, and I want you there for moral support when I do. Not fire support.’

Fendon shut down the turret, it took ten minutes for everyone to get out of protective gear and into day uniforms.

Aldrem checked; as a steward, she had no fixed schedule any more than the officer she looked after did, and he didn’t like the thought of knocking on the exec’s door looking for her. Only thing for it, though.

He did, his fourteen men behind him; it was the exec who answered. Looking past him, Aldrem could see rank after rank of protocol droids. What was going on?

‘Commander, Sir, I’m looking for Steward Jhareylia Hathren. This isn’t a private visit, Sir, I wish it was.’ He went on, before Mirhak-Ghulej could lose his temper with him. ‘Check with the Captain, Sir.’

The exec thought hard about it. ‘If you turn out to be lying, I’ll have you used for reactor shelding.’

‘That might be a less painful alternative, Sir.’ Aldrem said, sincerely.

Mirhak-ghulej looked closely at the senior chief. His file had come up, and the exec’s memory was good; maybe too good, on occasion. It kept him brooding over the past.

Aldrem had risen rapidly to his present rank on the strength of his specialist skills, and then stuck there, failing the academy entrance exam twice - both times on leadership issues. Attitude problem, the file had said. Utterly incapable of providing ideological and doctrinal support and guidance.

Some of his irresponsibility came from that root cause, Mirhak-Ghulej thought; knowing that he was never going to be asked to be responsible, and had no more to gain by trying to be.

‘You wish to see your girlfriend, on ship business.’ Sarcasm dripping off his voice. ‘What?’

‘Can I speak freely, Sir?’ the chief sounded desperate.

‘If you are fool enough to think you won’t be handing your career to me on a plate, you might be fool enough to make this entertaining. Speak.’

‘Sir, the captain’s got it in for me as well, and this is my dreck job to do. The only thing you could do would be to make it worse.’ Aldrem took a chance on saying.

‘Why shouldn’t I do that?’ the temporarily disemployed exec asked, thinking that perhaps if he did, it would make him feel better.

‘Because he actually needs this job to get done.’

Just as well the exec’s face was pretty impassive at the best of times; it meant Aldrem didn’t realise how much trouble he was in.

Jhareylia was busy supervising the protocol droids; they were doing the datawork. She heard the tail end of the conversation, recognised Aldrem’s voice; came to the door, saw the entire turret crew behind him.

‘Pellor, really, when you come to court, you’re not supposed to bring your own jury.’

He turned round to them and said ‘See why I wanted you here?’ and to Mirhak-Ghulej, ‘Sir, you can screw this up, or not.’

‘I want a full report.’ He snapped. Jhareylia ducked under his arm and out into the corridor with him.

He looks terrible, she thought. Half-slept and stressed out. I wonder how he scrubs up? ‘Where are we going?’

‘Well, my first thought was a nice stroll in the training garden, but this lot might mutiny.’ The growl from behind them served to prove that. ‘We could go down to engineering, find an inspection port and watch the ion drives glow?’

‘Considering what I’ve heard about them, that might be just as dangerous.’

‘I knew it wouldn’t take you long to find your way around this ship.’ He bounced back at her.

Actually, she changed her mind, he looks about how I feel. Like something terrible is about to happen.

‘There’s always the water tanks; we use them as a swimming pool, but the white-hats use them as an exercise tank too. A hint; if you hear that strange coloured clouds have been seen in the exercise tanks, don’t shower for a while. The filters are supposed to take it out, but I don’t trust them myself.’ He rambled.

She turned a corner at random; he followed her, she went down three more twists and turns. ‘Where are we going?’ he asked.

‘Somewhere where we aren’t expected. Somewhere we can sit and talk without anyone knowing we’re there.’ She said.

Kriff, he thought. If she’s going where I think she’s going with this, we have a crisis. We did anyway.
Counting tags on the bulkhead, they were on the lower starboard side of the ship; quarters blocks, storage spaces, the forward end of the engineering workshop space, a few point defence turrets.

He pushed open a door into a storage room; realised it was a bad idea. ‘We must be right against the outer hull, that’s a blowout panel. I think this might be the wrong place.’ Automating security had been tried and failed. Too easily cracked; human recognition worked better. This was still on the old system, the code locked door had opened for the transponder in his rank cylinder. Gunnery branch.

The room looked like a mesh of steel stalagmites, with a corresponding pattern of them hanging from the ceiling; three meter wide cones, marked with a handful of glyphs, access, handling points. Large enough, they loomed larger in the eye of an expert.

‘I shouldn’t think anyone comes down here if they can avoid it.’

‘What are they? Some form of abstract sculpture?’ she asked, looking innocent.

‘Only if you consider ‘kaboom’ to be art…which personally I do, but I thought it was just me.’ Aldrem said, quietly, trying not to breathe too hard.

‘Chief?’ Hruthhal asked. ‘What are we doing with this lot? We don’t have the launchers for them.’

‘This is Commander Mirannon we’re talking about here. Give him a couple of months.’ Tarshkavik said.

‘We can sit and talk here,’ Aldrem turned to her, ‘provided you don’t mind my skin crawling so bad it tries to escape independently.’

‘If you’re scared, then I am too- but do you think anyone would come in here?’

‘No-one in their right mind would be within ten kilometres of this lot.’ Suluur stated.

She mentally compared that with the length of a star destroyer, took a deep breath, and sat down with her back against one of the antiship proton torpedoes. She couldn’t actually touch the metal; the magazine safety systems wrapped a shield over it.

Aldrem sat down opposite her.

‘Jhareylia, you know I’m not very…well informed outside my profession. It takes up most of my common sense.’ He said, nervously looking at the torpedo and wishing it would take the rest; she couldn’t help smiling.
‘The thing is…I’m supposed to tell you that, ah-‘

‘It’s all right, Pellor, I know what you mean.’ She said, hoping they were talking about the same thing.

‘Then you will?’ he said, face brightening.

‘Um - perhaps I don’t know what you mean.’ She was confused now.

‘Oh. Right. I wish anyone else but me had been sent to do this. Anyone. The captain thinks you’re a rebel spy.’

‘What do you think?’ she asked him. This was the nightmare she had been half hoping wouldn’t happen, half wanting to get it over with.

‘I think I’d prefer it if it wasn’t true.’ He said, slow, sad and sincere.

‘Does he have...evidence?’ she asked, nervously.

‘He thinks he has. Tell me it isn’t so.’

‘I could, but…’ she could get angry with him, shout at him for taking the system’s word over hers; demand that he trust her. That was why he had brought his friends. She couldn’t fight her way out; too many of them for that, either. ‘Would you hate me for it?’

‘Eventually. Maybe. Look - we get away with a lot on this ship that we shouldn’t be able to, because there was a monumental paperwork snafu when she was commissioned and we’ve been in no permanent command, with nobody’s particular job to keep us orthodox, ever since. In fact, we’re ahead of the game, because we’re a theatre reserve unit, it’s our job to keep others in line, so our loyalty is taken for granted as part of the system and we don’t get watched as much as most ships. I’m not saying the rest of the Empire’s like us. But are we that bad, really?’

‘Yes, you are. Your commanding officer makes you do dreck jobs like arresting your girlfriend yourself.’ She flashed back at him. ‘You admit yourself that you’re the exception that proves the rule.’

‘Pel, it’s not going to work.’ Suluur said.

‘Yes, it is, it has to. What do you think they - the regulatory branch and the organic intel and the legion’s interrogators - would do to you, if they had an excuse? I don’t want that to happen.’

‘Listen to yourself!’ she shouted at him. ‘You admit you’re afraid of what the Empire does to people, what it would do to you -or me - if it caught us - Pel, you’re not a bad man at heart,’ she blushed slightly, ‘you can’t approve. You can’t want that to happen.’

‘No but - I don’t know what your parents told you, but I was an inner city kid. The closest we got to justice or any of that abstract crud was the idea that you stand by your friends, and try to hurt your enemies. Maybe there is some ideal concept, some big idea out there, but it’s amazing just how straightforward galactic politics starts to look when you boil it down to gang kid logic.’ All fourteen of the team behind him were nodding.

‘It’s not like that.’ she said, passionately. ‘This is about-‘

‘I do read, sometimes. The empire is average, it’s us, it’s Dexter and Aldric and Elan and Garvoth from down the road, it’s - the Empire inherited the galaxy. Whatever that is, the Empire is - despite what those New Order nutcases tell you, the bulk of the Starfleet, even, is ordinary stiffs like us.’

‘You’ve already said enough to get yourself into trouble.’ Jhareylia said, almost demanding that it was so. ‘I could walk out of here, steal a shuttle and escape to the alliance, and take all of you with me.’

‘My career may be a dead end, but I’m not that crazy. Why - actually, what made you become a Rebel?’

‘I told you, my parents had a light freighter.’

‘What happened to it?’ Aldrem asked her, softly.

‘We were - just doing business as usual; it was a typical run, out of Correllia to Brentaal, and we were stopped by an Imperial interdictor. It boarded us, and murdered them.
They hid me in one of the cargo pods; I heard the argument, and the shots, and the sound of my mother and father being dragged away and thrown out of the airlock. Don’t try and tell me ordinary people would do that.’

He looked away, and from the eye she couldn’t see gave Gendrik the wink. He felt rotten.
‘What was the name of that ship?’ Gendrik asked her.

‘HIMS Antorevan.’ She said it like it was burned on her memory.

‘Suluur,’ Genrik asked him, ‘we did shoot at an Interdictor once, didn’t we? Do you remember her name?’

‘Fantastic bloody coincidence, if it was.’ Suluur said. ‘Stranger things happen, though - to the turret.’

They were all happy to leave the vault.

‘Typical.’ Tarshkavik said. ‘Blunder into a sealed, out of the way compartment on any other star destroyer, what would you find? A still, a spice farm, a sabacc pit maybe. On this ship, we find an illicit stash of proton torpedoes.’

‘I’m sure we’ve got all those things as well.’ Aldrem said.

Jhareylia leaned on him on the way. Another day, it would have had him bouncing off the ceiling. Now he was scared, more than anything else. Both of them were preoccupied, she too much so to notice Suluur and Hruthhal disappear, sprinting back to Port-4 for the fastest slicing job of their lives.

She should have been taking notes; it wasn’t so often the Alliance got a good look inside imperial HTL turrets. She was in no state to. She did notice, irrelevantly, that it smelt like them. Aldrem sat her down in the com/scan chair. She wasn’t sure what to believe was happening. Would they fake it - was it even possible? Did he have the sheer twistedness to manipulate her like that? She didn’t think so.

‘Rebels and minor powers are one thing, but you’d be amazed; we spend the vast majority of our time chasing down rogue units of the Imperial fleet, and hauling them back into line. Usually it’s fairly easy; all we have to do is roll slightly, show them our kill scores.’ Suluur said, as he was digging in the action logs.

‘Speaking of which…’ Aldrem said, using his own range taker to look down at the hull. ‘I thought so. Two Interdictors.’

‘I’m sure I’ve heard that name somewhere.’ Suluur said, fingers dancing on the keypad. ‘I don’t think it’s us, though, ours were the Ildomir and the Yelduro-Vartha. Where else would - I knew it.’

The data came flooding up on the main holodisplay in front of all of them.

‘It was in a squadron tactical circular. Tector-class Indomitable intercepted the Antorevan, ordered her to stand down and receive auditors and inspectors from sector group command.’ Aldrem read out, and interpreted. ‘She must have been under suspicion already, especially if she was shaking down the convoys she was supposed to be escorting.’
He didn’t add, at least not out loud, ‘and not giving his squadron commander his cut.’

‘Antorevan refused, Indomitable opened fire, shooting to disable - one heavy turbolaser shot hit a grav well projector, dead centre, imploding it and overpenetrating to the reactor which, well, this calls it ‘regrettable accident’, I’d call it ‘small supernova.’

Quietly, Jhareylia watched the ship which had been responsible for her parents’ death rack and twist, then expand in a turbolaser-greenish tinted flare of white light as the energised implosion wrapped itself round the reactor, and rebounded.

‘The Indomitable’s one of ours - also part of 851 Squadron, that’s why we heard about it. A crime was committed, detected, and punished. The Empire can look after its own, and the Alliance is so thinly spread, running as fast as it can to stand still, it can’t. It wasn’t the Rebellion who avenged your parents’ murder. Remind me why you’re with them again?’ he said, feeling thoroughly rotten, and weirdly relieved at the same time.

It was enough of a shock, it robbed her of the presence of mind necessary to suspect a lie.

‘Shall we go and talk to Commander Brenn, then? He’s the navigator, this sort of thing defaults to him in the absence of anybody else. Let’s go talk to him.’

Head reeling, she was in no position to say no. Her brain would pull itself together before long, and he intended to be there when it happened. For now - get it on paper, make it too late for her to turn back. Square it with his own conscience, which was about to have an almighty falling out with his libido anyway, later.

He did spare a second on the way, as she was being helped down the accessway, to talk to the com/scan tech.
‘So that’s one outrageous lie told in the interests of truth and justice.’ Suluur said.

‘Sod truth and justice; in the interests of not handing her over to the pointy stick boys in Interrogation.’ Aldrem replied. ‘What did you actually do? That looked a bit too good to be that instant a creation.’

‘Changed the name on the ship it happened to.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-11 01:38pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-02-14 06:24am

Ch 12

The pair of B-wings emerged at the end of their first programmed jump. Both of them turned to kill velocity, scanning each other to see that they were in one piece, then searching out. This was supposed to be one of the rendezvous points, and their fighter comms were on rebel bands - helmet comms still on Imperial, so they could talk to each other out of character.

‘Galactic Spirit, what a barrage. Are you sure they were shooting to miss?’ Aron asked.

‘I think so, just very, very well.’ She replied. ‘Time to start the spiel.’
She took her helmet off, turned the B-wing’s com unit to broadcast, began to call ‘Any alliance forces, please respond, this is B-wing Test Flight Epsilon, help.’

The rendezvous point they had arrived at must have been a main fallback position. It was a more or less permanent problem for the Rebellion, and far worse for a junkheap like the B-wing whose nav systems were so limited; hit and run tactics required somewhere to run to. That meant staging areas, covered retreats, ambush points to deter pursuit, and, when they were lucky -no, she told herself, think opposite, when the rebels were very unlucky - confused, sprawling running battles that gave hyper capable fighters lots to do.

Long range sensors revealed small craft in the area, the outsystem of a barren star; a tramp freighter, apparently prospecting, and two mercenary fighter escorts. Supposedly. It was a fairly good cover, in the intelligence sense. Somewhere nearby with a precalculated route in would be cover, in the military sense.

One of the mercenary fighters broke off to investigate; they headed towards it, reactivating shields - just in case.

‘Identify yourselves.’ It said. Z-95; fractionally more agile than a B-wing, which wasn’t hard. In common use the galaxy over, by innumerable local governments - hefty and robust, it had never done well in fleet service but had been a standard garrison fighter of the late Republic. Common enough in rebel hands.

‘We’re Imperial, we want to defect to the Alliance.’ Aron said, quickly, before the first part made him do anything stupid.

‘In B-wings?’ the pilot didn’t believe them.

‘Captured, rebuilt, we were assigned to test them, we decided to see if they knew the way home.’ Franjia said.

‘We’ve said enough to doom us, you’ve said nothing. Are you Alliance or not?’ Aron challenged him - powering up the B-wing’s weapons.

‘Easy, hotshot. This is a holding area. You wait here while we check you out. Where did you leave from?’

‘Imperator-class, Black Prince.’ Aron told him. ‘Snap it up, they’ve probably got hunting parties out.’

The other fighter and the tramp - CorelliSpace, rounded triangular prism main body, bridge module on a stalk out ahead of it - turned towards them and moved to intercept.

‘What do you reckon the drill is?’ Franjia asked him, on the rebel channel.

‘Well, they probably use that freighter as a shuttle.’ He thought about how he would do it. ‘I don’t see them trusting anyone with nav coordinates straight off.’

‘So you think we abandon ship, board the freighter, get blindfolded or something similarly melodramatic, and ferried to somewhere safe - hopefully - but wouldn’t a litter of drifting ships be a dead giveaway?’ she wondered.

‘I suppose even fleet recon couldn’t miss that.’ Aron said. ‘Whatever sort of checks you’re making, freighter man, want to speed it up? We left with a flight group of Avengers chasing us.’

The freighter’s crew heard all of this; they were intended to. The team on board consisted of four guards, an intelligence officer and the two crew, and they were arguing it out between them.

Mainly, there was an urgent call out to a watcher unit on Ghorn IV; their response was just coming in now- unanalysed, unfiltered crackly com intercept and fuzzy point-camera-at-sky home holovid footage. They heard the call to clear the line of fire; heard the intership between the Lancer and Black Prince, saw the unmistakable flares, visible even in broad planetary daylight, of turbolaser flak bursts.

What they were meant to hear. They also had, in a separate, self-erasing communication, an intelligence report from the ship in question.

‘Identify yourselves.’ The voice from the freighter - the pilot - said.

‘We’ve already told you, we’re on the run, and we’d like to do some more of that before they kriffing come after us - get us out of here, you can shoot us later.’ Aron snapped at them.

‘They mean personally.’ Franjia told him. ‘Flight Lieutenant Franjia Rahandravell, Starfighter Corps, Strike Wing attached ISD-721.’

‘Oh. My previous comment still stands - get the hfredium out. Squadron Leader Aron Jandras, Imperial Starfleet attached Starfighter Corps, Strike Wing nominal 721.’

‘Legitimate defectors or not, they’d be valuable captures.’ The intelligence officer decided. ‘Send for the frigate.’

‘Clear on sensors?’ the pilot asked his flight engineer, who checked - and they were not.

‘Negative, negative, incoming, small capital - light or medium corvette, fast, ten, fifteen seconds.’
That was only enough time to prepare themselves, raise shields and activate weapons; one triple laser turret. Nothing spectacular.

Stretched and slightly off-centre white flare; a poor hyper exit from a ship in a hurry, it was the Lancer-class Dubhei Targe, Kondracke’s command. It swept the area on active scan.

‘Renegades! Stand down - and we’ll only disintegrate you once.’ Kondracke sounded as if he was enjoying himself; he was certainly hamming it for all he was worth.

‘Each?’ Franjia called back, acidly, shunting energy to her own weapons. This had been one of the contingencies in the script.

Depending on how you looked at it, the Lancer’s shape served it very well, or very badly. It pretty much enforced all round fire - the other side of the coin was that it couldn’t concentrate on any one target. And it looked stupid.

‘I suppose I can finally admit,’ Franjia said, ‘just how much those things remind me of a sex toy.’

‘Considering what it’s supposed to do to us, that’s not an image I wanted.’ Aron replied, turning and heading for it. Franjia followed.

The two Z-95 followed them in. Not the rebellion’s best, not its worst, they were tour-expired main line pilots; in theory, this was their spell of soft duty, away from a front line attack unit to rest and recover before being thrown back into the thick of it.

Attacking an antifighter frigate was not their idea of fun. Doing anything involving combat in a B-wing wasn’t exactly Aron’s and Franjia’s.

‘Think TIE fighter.’ She told him. ‘The firepower that thing puts out, you can’t afford to get hit. Jink, stunt, don’t be afraid to break off and run for it.’

‘Is that what you did when you were back in TIEs?’ he couldn’t resist asking her. Both the Alliance pilots noticed that, banter aside, the two B-wings were coming in moderately far apart, close enough for mutual support, far enough not to crowd each other, jammers active, sensors picking out point targets, in slow, deceptive weave.

‘Stang yes. I survived. The really clever part is managing to make it not look like you’re running away…95’s, are you loaded?’

‘Affirmative, flight lieutenant.’ One of them said, in a senior officer sounding voice.

‘Good,’ Aron said, blandly ignoring the tone, ‘one of you follow each of us in - that ship did get fairly well shot up. Do you suppose it still has any blind spots?’

‘Mirannon didn’t get to it, so probably. We’re not going to take it down.’ Franjia said, and spectacularly optimistically at that. ‘Our best option is to pick off it’s com antenna, so at least it can’t report which way we run.’

‘Right.’ Aron acknowledged. ‘I’ll lead in.’

So slow, so inexorably slow; Aron wanted to get out and walk, it would be faster. ‘Headhunters, start lobbing your concussions at the turrets.’ At least it would force the Lancer to waste time shooting them down.

‘You refuse the order of the Empire? Then DIE!’ Kondracke shouted, all the Lancer’s guns that could bear opened fire on Aron. If we ever get back, Aron thought I’m going to recommend him for psych-eval.

What’s even worse is that the rebels don’t seem to get it. I mean, he’s shooting at me, and I can see the silly side. Humourless bastards.

Aron surged the B-wing into a diving right - hand spiral, aiming under the Lancer. He was hoping that even if he couldn’t dodge the fire control systems, at least he could fake out the gunners. Zigzagging, twisting and weaving to draw their fire away from Franjia’s attack run, and hopefully not get killed himself - he was, when it came down to it, a better pilot than she was, and she was a better shot. That meant she got the easy job.

B-wings didn’t dodge. Not well, anyway. The quad-lasers spat green fire at them, and reflexively he twisted in his seat, trying to make himself a smaller target. The cockpit was well away from the centre of mass, so the ejectors probably would have time to function. That was pretty much the only comfort.

The Lancer seemed to be having trouble with it’s fire control systems. Twenty quads, eight could reach Aron, three of them were empty sockets; for a second he wondered why he wasn’t dead, a glance aft - they were tracking him, theoretically perfect, but it was pure ballistic prediction.

None of the advanced modes, like calculating and coordinating to flood his manoeuvre envelope; Kondracke’s gone and left them unmanned, hasn’t he? Aron thought. They weren’t even trying to predict what he would do next. They could still kill him if he was dumb enough to let them.

The rebels seemed to be flinching, hanging shy of the stream of green light pouring out of the Lancer; small wonder. One of them shot off a missile, the turret flicked round on to it. Franjia rolled to bear on the turret and sent a stream of autoblaster fire though the shield gap; the missile warhead detonated, Aron used the cover of the flash to reverse course and head for the dorsal mounted antenna, the ship rocked as the turret blew up.

Not before the last of it’s stream of shot had followed on to the evading Z-95. Shields blown out, shunted aft, blown out again, engines crippled; the pilot ejected before the fighter shook itself to pieces.

It didn’t save him; one of the other turrets caught him and turned him into a luminous smear.

So much for plan A, Aron realised; fly the B-wing into the com antenna, eject before impact. Ouch, Franjia thought; that would be a public-display atrocity, then. To make this look right, he has to be prepared to do the same to us.

Vicious but dumb was what the script called for, and he delivered on the second half of that; the guns spurted bolts - what some of the bomber crews called ‘hard rain’ - at her, two glancing shield hits, then switched back to following Aron.

Her target-warning was howling, but no actual incoming, she ignored it; doubled shields forward, set the guns for simultaneous fire.

The surviving ’95 had backed off, locked on from relatively long range and rippled all its missiles, one at each available turret; they switched into self-protection mode long enough for her to get a good, steady shot.

The heavy laser, twin autoblasters, triple ion cannon pounded into the shields around the com antenna; it had been shot off in the initial Rebel rocket attack, the dorsal aft generator crippled, and it was now covered by stretching the main dorsal midships shield emitter’s field over the area. It was no easier to knock down - probably beyond fighter energy cannon anyway- but it was possible to get a local burn through.

The shield flared, crackled, became patchy. The Lancer’s cannon, still pulsing out their bolts, swung off him on to her, she held steady on target as the streams converged on her. Front shields fraying, split second to weigh the odds, break away- she shut down weapon charge, dumped it into stabilising the shielding, twisted away in an asymmetric corkscrew.

They turned back to track Aron as he swung in to finish the job, started shooting- and she curved back in again, shifted from shields to weapons, hammered it again; that was enough. The shield gapped and blistered long enough for a stream of blaster shot to leak through, the com antenna shattered, the guns turned back to her and she ran for it, all shields aft, dancing and twisting. Aron pulled away to join her.

‘I’ve changed my mind.’ She said, on private com. ‘Let’s go back to the Empire.’

‘Just when we were having fun?’ he said, sardonically.

‘It’s the worst job in the book, defence suppression. Turning out to be good at it is write-your-will time- the tour survival rate’s only about ten percent. I sure as sunspots don’t want to do it for the Alliance-‘

‘Galactic Spirit. I should have realised I was tempting fate.’ She said, as the slightly larger, slightly more ridiculous shape of a Nebulon-B wearing an Alliance transponder emerged from brilliant white flare.

‘It’s going to tear the Lancer apart.’ Aron realised what she meant. ‘Unless there’s a friendly fire hazard in the way?’

‘You lead, I’ll cover.’ Stabilise shields and weapons, and back in again. This time, they were simply trying not to be hit. Very close, high aspect, lots of twisting, unpredictable moves.

If there had been men in those turrets, gunners to second guess them and take the processing burden of judgement away from the computers, they would have been toasted on the first attack run.

For a moment Aron thought of flying in front of the bridge and making rude gestures at Kondracke, try to make sure he took the hint; a sure way to get a laser bolt in the face. He settled for hosing down the ship’s shields with ion and blaster fire, and weaving to avoid being hit. Franjia did the same- pressed in to close range and swarmed all over it. It seemed to be working; the rebel frigate was holding its fire. Neither of them were sure if Kondracke actually deserved that much luck.

Dubhei Targe rolled to bring fresh guns to bear, sent a stream of fire after the freighter; emerald sparks flew off it, it accelerated out of the way and moved to hide behind the Nebulon.

The lancer turned to accelerate away; that left Franjia and Aron with the choice of thrusting after it to keep up - predictably - or breaking off. Hoping Kondracke had the sense to hyper out, they turned away, opening a gap between them with the total acceleration of forty-seven hundred g. Almost enough to feel safe.

The Nebulon sent a relative handful of LTL shots after the Lancer; too late.

‘You may win this one, traitor scum, but we’ll find you.’ Kondracke was still ranting, some quirk in the signal processing software caused his words to Doppler shift as the frigate made for light speed, trailing off in basso-profundo.

‘Nebulon frigate,’ Aron called to it, sounding and feeling tired as the adrenalin started to drain away, ‘permission to land?’

‘Test flight Epsilon, this is Chandrillia Rose Actual; the suggestion has been made that we should turn you down, your brand of madness may be contagious.’

‘All right, plan C, where’s the nearest Hutt arms dealer?’ Franjia said, over open channel, to Aron; they intercepted it.

‘We can use maniacs like you.’ The Chandrillia Rose’s captain responded. ‘You are number one on approach.’

As they cancelled vector and moved towards the Nebulon, Aron private-channelled across, ‘So that much of the plan worked, at least.’

‘Yes, and that was supposed to be the easy part.’ Franjia replied. ‘Scramble your helmet com, they’ll inspect it.’

‘Doing it now.’ He did; they were on official channels until they touched down.

The B-wing landed on it’s side; crazy way of doing things, they both thought. The side fins folded in and the cockpit rotated. Aron’s fins worked, the cockpit didn’t.

He hated Nebulons on principle, chiefly that they were damned difficult to land on. There had been so little manoeuvring room, even when he had been riding a TIE off one, that he had started taking a gas gun with him - hand held EVA thruster.

The principle was, it gave him the option of ejecting and space-walking home. He wished he had it now. It was very tempting.

‘Tractor beaming you in now.’ The ship com’d to him.

‘Negative, I’ll bring this junker in myself.’

That would have been disastrous. The compensators would have reacted to the tractor beam as if it was being brought in sideways, would have tried to rotate into an upright position. At the least, it would give him a headache - slam the cockpit off the hangar ceiling. At worst, boom.

There was virtually no room within the hangar bay; two half- squadrons, X’s and Y’s, sat parked there. Coming in damaged, effectively - he came in dead slow, rolled to line up, coming in on the fighter’s side, crossed his toes, hit the edge of the frigate’s relative- inertials and the B-wing nearly kicked itself out of his hands.

He had to wrestle it down on to the flight deck, steering jets flaring, threatening to twist itself out of control; there was a bang and a molten- insulation smell from behind him.

No room for this, he thought - more of a glandular scream - he bounced the B-wing off the deck, it skidded and came up trapped against the nose of a pair of X-wings.

The cockpit opened, he tumbled out on to the deck, landing on his shoulder. He got up, rubbing it, took his helmet off with the other hand, threw it at the B-wing, then started kicking the grounded fighter.

‘Useless piece of crap.’ Kick. ‘Slow, unreliable, worthless junk.’ Kick.

There was a squad of Rebel infantry, civilian blaster rifles and Alderaanian- pattern uniforms standing there looking at him; there were a couple of pilots too, one of them looking annoyed. It must have been his X-wing Aron had landed on.

Franjia’s B-wing arrived with fewer problems. She touched down, vaulted out.

‘You could treat it with a bit more respect. They got us here, after all.’ She advised him. ‘At the most, spit on it.’

The infantry were glaring at them, one of the pilots was laughing at the other one.

One of the infantry came forwards; a rank insignia neither of them recognised. He seemed to be an officer, from the attitude; sandy hair, pockmarked face like grit had been blasted into it, and it probably had.

‘Your sidearms.’ He held out a hand. The troopers behind him looked menacing. They were surprisingly good at it. They weren’t heavy, not physically impressive, but they looked as if they held life very cheap indeed.

‘What for?’ Aron asked.

‘So you can’t shoot him, I expect.’ Franjia said, unclipping the holster from her vac suit.

‘That’s daft. If I wanted to do something like that I’d have strafed the hangar bay. Scrap these-‘ he waved an arm at the fighters, ‘their power cells and ordnance cooking off could be enough to break a Nebulon’s back.’

‘As twistedly useful an idea as that is, we should probably hand over your gun and start with “hello.”’ She gave him her gun, took off her helmet. One of the rebel pilots wolf-whistled.

‘I think I might just go and do that.’ she said turning back towards the B-wing.

‘Come with me.’ The rebel infantryman ordered.

They were led out of the bay, past a workshop - the air smelt of metal filings; did they have to hand-craft their own replacement parts? Interesting.

Nebulon-B’s actually did have an inside, although it often looked otherwise, as small as they were. Down three levels, left two corridors, a couple of heads poked out of doorways to look at them in passing.

Eventually, they were led into a chamber that seemed to be some kind of ready room; it reminded Aron of a doctor’s waiting room.

‘What is this?’ Aron asked the one man already there. The squad of troops and the two pilots, as well as a ship’s officer, filed into the room behind them.

‘Debriefing.’ The man already there, in basically civilian clothes - from somewhere deeply unfashionable on the outer rim - said, in a grey, nondescript voice. Instantly both the pilots’ hackles went up.

‘What the smenge? You don’t trust us?’ Aron snapped.

‘Aron,’ Franjia said to him, ‘we’ve put our lives in these people’s hands. There probably will be a time to start screaming at them, but I doubt if this is it.’

‘We have very little on you.’ The grey-voiced man said, as if nothing had been said.

‘Small wonder; if you tried to assemble a file on everyone in the Starfleet, you’d need more data pushers than you have infantry.’ Franjia pointed out, looking at them, trying to decide who the head man was. Probably one of the pilots, by the vibe.

‘And they might do you more good.’ Aron added. ‘Look; we came to join the Alliance. Join. So why are you treating us more like prisoners of war?’

‘We do have a file on the ship you claim to come from.’ The greyish interrogator said. ‘The same ship that eliminated a frigate division and a local force fighter wing.’

‘What’s your score?’ Franjia turned round to what looked like the senior of the two Rebel pilots.

‘Fourteen.’ The man said. He was shortish - meter seventy - dark haired, pale skinned.

‘Thirty-four. Fifteen rebel and nineteen renegade Imperial. We’re a-‘ she realised where she was going with that, ‘we’re from a theatre fleet unit, we see more of the Empire than most.
'The so-called loyal opposition, the local powers with grudges, the power-crazed within our own ranks, the criminals and shysters and arrogant upper-class shits that the New Order hasn’t got around to purging yet- or got bought off by…turning your back on that, how much comes down to reason and how much to revulsion?’ she asked, angrily, rhetorically.

‘We quit,’ Aron said, ‘because of what was going to happen. We were elsewhere at the time, but I know the Black Prince took that fast frigate more or less intact, with something around two thousand prisoners.’

‘How?’ the Rebel naval officer asked.

‘Burnt her shielding off with LTL fire, kept her evading long enough for a transport wing to ionise and board. The crew were turned over to the locals, who plan a mass public execution. The Captain ranted about it in the alpha wardroom, the senior officers told the juniors - and so on down to the disposables like us.’ Franjia smiled a ghoulish smile.

‘Mass public execution?’ The pilots, the naval and the intelligence officer looked at each other, assessing, giving their opinions by expression. The pilots believed it instantly. The intelligence officer was more sceptical.

‘One of the reasons Captain Lennart never rose any higher is because he has a bad habit of telling the truth, especially when he’s annoyed. In furor veritas.’ Franjia continued. It was actually more or less true.

‘He viewed it…for complicated reasons, he viewed it as a deliberate attempt to marginalise the ship, and have the sector fleet do things their own way. He had plans for comprehensive brainripping and follow up strikes; we had already been briefed on some of them. Then Sector threw us - sorry, him - out, seized your people, and basically plan to put them through blenders.’

She was being deliberately, brutally flippant, and it had the desired effect. The intel type was still uncertain, but the naval officer and the pilots thought otherwise.

One of them did remember his duty well enough to say ‘You don’t seem very- anti.’

‘The Empire, I don’t regret leaving behind- but Black Prince, maybe. She was basically a happy ship, and there are few of those on any side.’ Aron decided to say.

‘The other side of that - the easier it actually is to get away from, the less you need to. Usually. That was just sick, though. A fair chance is one thing. Well, for a certain value of fair anyway.’

‘A fair chance? You call what the Empire does fair?’ the naval officer snarled.

‘For a given, sneak up on them and shoot them in the back before they see you coming, value of ‘fair’ - where does your Captain Lennart come from?’ the more senior of the two Rebel pilots asked. Perception was part of the game, too.

‘He’s old Republic fleet, joined a few years after Naboo I think.’ Aron said. ‘Look - I’m a hunter, not a butcher. It is relative, I can stomach one but not the other, and aren’t you going to do anything about it?’

The senior pilot and the ship’s officer left; the interrogator, the junior pilot with the bent-nosed X-wing, and the troopers, and the two Imperials still in TIE flight suits. Routine interrogation, names, dates, places, technicalities.

Aron’s service career was fairly straightforward; young swoop ganger from Coruscant, enlisted one step ahead of the planetary police, did well enough at the Academy to go to fleet rather than garrison duty. A convoy-escort Nebulon-B, then an assault ship, then flight command, then shifted to an Imperator-I, moved up to Interceptors, then transferred to the Black Prince as a squadron commander. Most of Aron’s score was pirates and local government rogues.

Franji’s was slightly more tortured. Policewoman, air branch, Chazwa- Aron nearly jumped out of his suit at that. Hovers and skimmers mainly, observation and rescue work. Compulsorily transferred to the militia during a period of piracy, she had been among the group that had intercepted a major pirate attack - and been drafted into the Starfleet fighter corps for her pains. Fighters, then TIE bombers off a Venator, then the frankly strange Int/Xt- and at that point she was questioned primarily by Aron.

‘The Xt has a weird reputation. Do they live up to it?’

‘What’s an Xt?’ the rebel pilot - Comran M’lanth - asked.

‘Squint Special.’ Franjia replied. ‘It must have seemed like a good idea at the time- maximum possible firepower; it retains the chin guns the standard Interceptor loses; and adds two more laser cannon in each wing hub.’

The Rebel pilot’s jaw dropped. ‘It does what?’

‘Flies very, very badly. There was a reason they drafted bomber pilots to them. Ten guns sounds wonderful - the idea was to hit hard enough to knock out things like YT’s, shuttles and transports quickly and neatly. Six extra guns draining the power banks- or carrying their own capacitors, in addition to the weight of the weapon, and six more guns’ worth of waste heat, on a fighter with too small a wing radiator area to begin with.’

‘It didn’t work?’ Aron asked.

‘Like skis on an AT-AT. By the time they stripped the guns and capacitors down to save weight, you only had eight, maybe nine shots before the capacitors ran dry or the barrels melted, take your pick. It was the wrong spaceframe for the job; a version based on the Starwing hull would be more effective.’

Basically, it dissolved into three pilots talking shop. The little grey man took notes on both sides.

‘OK, but if I get anything - any fighte r- in the killing position, above, behind and close, one or two shots and its dead anyway and your shields don’t do you any good. They might count for something against high tangent snapshots when you can’t get a consistent sequence of hits, or against light PD, but the whole idea is not to get shot.’ Aron was ranting.

‘Without the protection of a decent layer of shields, the chances of getting killed before you learn not to get shot-‘ Comran said.

‘I don’t understand how you expect to win a war on the basis of on the job training.’ Franjia interrupted him.

‘What about getting your shot in first? Past about Interceptor, and I reckon the A-wing goes too far, you are better off with shields to hold the thing together, because something that agile is too twitchy to be a good gun platform.’

‘Which side are you on, anyway?’ Aron asked her, mostly in jest.

'The side of superior firepower, of course.’

‘On many things you seem to be, in fact, broadly in agreement.’ The little grey man said; impossible to tell if he approved or disapproved.

‘Well, it is supposed to be a civil war. You expect the sides to have nothing in common?’ Aron said, still too flippant.

The squad leader clenched his fist and stepped forward, about to punch Aron; Comran stopped him.

‘There’s no call for that, Lieutenant.’

‘Perhaps there is.’ Greyface said. ‘Loyalties. I need to know more about your loyalties.’

‘Well,’ Franjia said, openly sneering at him, ‘you qualify as an outright mirror image.’

‘I have not had you tortured.’

‘The most efficient seldom do.’ Franjia said. ‘They erode their way to the truth, that way they find it in fewer pieces when they get there. All right; I admit it. I’m human, sometimes conscience and pragmatism trip over each other, and loyalty is a stranger beast than most people like to think.’

‘We believe that the cause of the Alliance is just. A search for justice is not as powerful a motive as we would want.’ The interrogator said.

‘Forces within the empire; old guard and new men, radicals and moderates - some leave the Imperial armed forces and some are ejected. Centrifugal forces.’

‘No, no, linear forces, I’m a third dan master of the Cult of Thrust.’ Aron pushed his wit a shade too far, and then turned serious. ‘Why is it so bloody hard for you to accept that you might be right? There weren’t exactly an abundance of Rebel recruitment offices on Coruscant. Now I find myself on a ship loose enough to make a getaway from, with a hyperspace capable fighter that probably knows the way, and a messy atrocity in progress to turn my back on. Why don’t you think that adds up?’

‘Have you ever considered defecting to the Empire?’ Franjia asked him. Eyebrows shot up around the room.

‘As an academic possibility.’ The interrogator replied.

‘Why didn’t it add up for you?’ she said, innocent sounding.

‘You plan to stand my reasoning on its head?’

‘Basically. Why don’t you think that your reasons to belong to the Alliance and not to the Empire are enough?’

‘Because I have yet to be convinced that they are also your reasons.’ The grey man said. ‘You put up with the Empire and served it loyally this far, did you not?’

‘Actually, as a regional fleet unit, and an ex-cop, cynicism is part of the territory.’ Franjia answered. ‘You get to be familiar with the brutalities that local forces perpetrate. In fact, you recognise them as exactly the same sort of bloody-minded stupidity that tore the Republic apart.’ The rebels looked unfriendly upon her.

‘I thought being part of the loyal opposition was enough; that things were no worse than they would be otherwise, and perhaps a little better. Then you come face to face with a genuine, full-blooded psychotic, and the shock of realising that they believe that you, in fact, are on their side. That they expect you to hear and obey, as if nothing was wrong.
That their sense of what is and isn’t right is so far out of touch that they don’t understand why people are shocked by them any more - you expect to find that huddled in the gutter, not in power.’

The Alliance naval lieutenant re-entered the room. ‘Would you care to prove your loyalty to the Alliance?’ he asked, bluntly. The grey faced spy glared at him; the first sign of real emotion he had displayed.

‘Depends whether our propaganda people are right about your initiation rites.’ Aron replied.

‘Aron, think about it. We refuse, at best we get to spend the rest of our lives as prisoners of war.’ Franjia said.

Comran couldn’t help it. ‘And at worst?’

‘Spend the rest of our lives in ‘debriefing’. I don’t know who you, personally, would be prepared to kill to avoid that fate, but-‘

‘So what’s the mission?’ Aron asked. ‘Let me guess. Recon run?’


With suitable destruct charges bolted under the ejector seat, Franjia guessed. ‘Provided you don’t make us fly it in B-wings.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-11 04:08pm, edited 2 times in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-03-10 06:17am

Ch 13

Nearly thirty-seven thousand crew, that worked out at a shade over four thousand midshipmen or better, ten thousand petty and warrant officers. Four thousand officers needed a lot of wardroom space. There was enough internal space and to spare on a Star Destroyer, but traditions died hard.

A wardroom was combination living room, dining room, lounge and library space, dating back to when ships were too small to give the officers any private space beyond a cot and a footlocker. The Republic fleet had been more expansive about these things, but making officers associate socially with each other had struck the Starfleet as good sense.

Four decks down and two compartments aft, the main bridge officers’ wardroom was busy. Dinner, and much talking of shop.

‘As far as I’m concerned, the sector fleet are part of the problem.’ Brenn was pausing between mouthfuls. ‘Not Rebel, I wouldn’t go that far, but definitely independent. Or at least - not trying very hard.’

‘Their cryptographic security isn’t very good either.’ Rythanor said. ‘Traffic flow patterns are- strange. A lot of silent substations, too much coming and going from central command. That has advantages; they’re overworked, they get sloppy. We’re good, but we’re not that good. If we can break in, the Alliance can- and the Ubiqtorate could blow in and out like a summer breeze. Probably even the ISB might manage to achieve something.’

The Starfleet always had a closer relationship with the substantially more competent Imperial Intelligence than it had with the enthusiastic amateurs of the Imperial Security Bureau; closer, but nobody, possibly not even themselves, had a comfortable relationship with the Men In Visible.

Black Prince, like all Imperator-class, was simply too obvious for intelligence work. Following up on information revealed and handing over prisoners taken was about it, and they would have welcomed a little professional advice now.

‘Winter typhoon, more like.’ One of the pit officers, com watch team supervisor Lieutenant Ondrath Ntevi, said. ‘I couldn’t tell you which way they’re going to jump.

One thing, they have been interested in us. Forty, fifty requests for information to regional command, theatre fleet, Central Command, you name it.’

‘That should keep them usefully baffled for a couple of years.’ Brenn said. If there was a place for glib facetiousness on an Imperial warship, the wardroom was it.

‘Well, it’s kept us baffled for the best part of two decades.’ Rythanor said.

‘Sir, is there any particular reason we’ve sometimes had to break through fleet security to get our own mail?’ Ntevi asked.

‘That’s right, you don’t know the story, do you?’

‘Story? I thought we were trailing a multiplex of gibberish. If there’s a core of sense in there, I’d like to hear it too.’ Rythanor asked.

‘Boiled down to the bare essentials,’ Brenn grinned, ‘Black Prince commissioned late. And early, technically. She was held up in construction, region command misestimated the actual completion date, and…there was no formation for us to fit in to. We were assigned to an old Operational Fleet, 149, which had already ceased to exist when it was folded into Qiilura Sector Fleet- the original commission, already filled by another temporary assignment. We were posted to a formation that didn’t exist yet- Shiwal Sector Fleet- when we completed working up earlier than the second due date. At this point we veer into, well, I trust I’m among friends here…outright fraud.’

‘Organisational screwups are one thing- taking deliberate advantage of them, how?’ Ntevi asked, smiling in bafflement.

‘The Exec of the plankowner crew. He appealed to a third command, the Tingel Approaches subCommand that eventually turned into Azure Hammer, a long, deceptively straightforward set of requests, which kept getting continually amended and clarified, as per procedure. Which- and remember we’re still part of 149, and chain of command procedure meant we could effectively use their letterhead- two other commands got dragged into the mess, arguing over us. What’s it called, Pseudo? Jublo? The art of using an opponent’s strength against them- it works on paperwork too.
'Basically, we managed to start a faction fight over us, get them wrestling with each other while this ship sort of…slipped between the cracks, acting and drawing pay, fuel, spares and stores on one or other- or several- temporary authorisations. At one point we were drawing pay and spares for a Shockwave with the same name- In Standard, not Basic- which was, well, interestingly inappropriate.

'We had to bank the excess as capital and draw interest, horse trade the bits that were too dangerous to sell off back to the Starfleet- beginning a long tradition of improvising, modifying, making do. No-one with the specific oversight to stop us.
‘We were the lead ship against, and claimed the kill credit for, the CSS Moderniser- a separatist remnant battlewagon. The captain was old Republic navy - this was two years after Second Coruscant; pretty much everyone senior was - and not a natural Imperial.
'He resigned his commission and retired to the Rim, he’s probably a Rebel now. That was what triggered the investigation, in the end, but to all practical purposes the exec was running the ship, and we were moving from zone to zone pretty much at will - looking for more war.

'Distinction, glory, advancement. We were a crack ship; worth arguing over.

‘It came to an end when Captain Dodonna resigned and three alternative captains turned up over the next month. Live by the improv, die by the improv. Three separate commands claiming the right to assign and promote- or demote. It ended up at a full scale court of inquiry.
'Now, I was a raw junior lieutenant at the time, just too late to defend the Republic, still so wet behind the ears my helmet kept sliding off; I only worked out the details much later.
'The papers still exist, somewhere. The last I heard, the court records were a standard training document for the ISB’s fraud squads.

‘The Starfleet dealt with the ship by assigning us to a higher echelon force on a permanent basis- the only way to tidy up all the counter-claims, and exactly what we wanted in the first place.’

Brenn gestured at the squadron shield on the wardroom wall; the winged mace of 851 Destroyer Squadron.

‘One City - Urbanus - class cruiser, two Allegiance and two Shockwave heavies, three Tector, six Imperator including us, three old Venator. The squadron has two distinctions; we have never deployed all in one place at one time, and we have never sent a man to any of the strategic pursuit squadrons. Three, if you include never submitting a dishonest fitness report.’

‘Sir, why is that so much of a distinction?’ Ntevi asked. ‘Surely-‘

‘Everyone screws up. Gets sloppy, takes shortcuts, fails in courtesy to a brother officer-‘

Someone muttered ‘Mirannon’.

‘Precisely.’ Brenn said. ‘Engineer-Commander Mirannon is a perfect - no, spectacular- example. Professionally, he’s a very competent officer. Personally, he’s rude, abrupt, abrasive, pushy, ungentlemanlike and a chronic practical joker and encourager of same. I’m not saying that just because I like the man.’

‘According to our store returns,’ Wathavrah said, ‘he has been stockpiling torpedoes. Either he’s planning to go into the blasting business for himself, or he has one spectacular trick planned.’

‘Don’t worry, the authorisations actually exist.’ Brenn said. ‘First Principle of Bureaucratic Warfare; do it right, somewhere. Then lie about it all you want, once you’ve established the ability to prove it’s the other guy’s fault. In theory we have them to replenish other ships. Next time we lose a turret,’ the navigator said it as if it was inevitable, ‘his plan is to emergency fit torpedo tubes in place of the flank LTL’s, and double them up- to preserve the ship’s effective firepower.
'Of course, when we get the turret replaced, the tubes won’t go away. Net result, we acquire a large addition to our long range and bombardment firepower. As an academic exercise, for all of you, picture the charge sheet.’

‘I knew he wasn’t mad enough to do something like that without covering himself, but he comes damnably close.’ Wathavrah said. ‘When was he planning to inform the relevant department of this?’

‘Before or after you unload- three Category One, two Category Two and four Category Three offences?- on him?’ Rythanor asked.

‘None of which will happen.’ Brenn explained. ‘He will be reprimanded, which will balance out against the commendation for putting the ship back together after being damaged. Punishment will be administrative and internal. His fitrep will say things like “brilliant but unstable” and “achieves results at the expense of proper procedure.” Meaning we hold on to him.’

‘You can break a man’s career with an honest fitrep. The slight screwups, the mistakes you make while learning to do the job, the routine stress of sitting on a stellar power level reactor and waiting for it to burp, the enemy trying to kill you and command trying to get you killed - what’s perfection?
'So - overstating it is part of the game. Expectations shift. We exaggerate, regional command knows we exaggerate, both sides know what they really mean. “Outstanding” translates to “Can find his own ass better than 50% of the time, but only if allowed to use both hands.” We like to tell as much of the truth as the individuals involved can stand.’

‘In the interest of keeping them still standing.’ Wathavrah said. ‘If I punished all my people for uniform and conduct infractions, as severely as the book says - we’d end up parking the ship on Kessel, and could the last one out turn the lights off? What good would that do anyone? There has to be some discretion.’

‘Shandon, the last all up drill, how did your gun crews do?’ Brenn asked.

‘We benchmarked out at six point eight.’ The gunnery officer reported. ‘In accordance with standing orders.’

‘Without the minor hiccups, how would you have done?’

‘Eight point nine five.’ Rythanor admitted.

‘Which is in violation of squadron standing orders, because we are supposed to pick up on the minor details like non-standard uniform, holoposters in the turret- to keep the benchmark below seven. The screening threshold.’ Brenn said.

‘I don’t understand.’ Ntevi said.

‘Above that benchmark, you become eligible for transfer to strategic forces, like the Death Squadron, like the Death Star- picture a situation where you have to live up to the pack of lies on your fitness report.’ Brenn said, smiling like a wolf.

‘Ouch…’ Ntevi realised.

‘Their real performance is nowhere near as good as the fleet likes to think. They’re all far too busy simulating performance to have any time for the real thing. The only way they can keep their jobs, or their lives with the Dark Lord involved, is to do it exactly by the book. No initiative. No ability to deviate from the plan, react to the unpredictable. If you want to turn into a hollow shell of your former self, running scared of your own command structure every nanosecond of the day, join the waiting list for the Executor. If you actually want to fight for the Empire, stay put.’

All of them made the appropriate deduction for squadron pride and personal envy.

‘The loose end. The first exec. Executed?’ Ntevi asked.

‘No; it was hard to prove that a ship with over forty merchant captures and ten warship kills including a medium cruiser was acting against the interests of the Empire. At least, it was hard then; I dare say it could be managed now. The court busted him back to Lieutenant, and a staff job. Took him eight years to work his way back to a destroyer command.’

‘So what happens next?’ Wathavrah asked. ‘Now that we have a plant in the alliance.‘

‘Who told you that?’ Brenn shouted at him.

‘Two fighter pilots go missing, and their rooms aren’t torn apart for evidence, their comrades aren’t interrogated to within an inch of their lives, their places aren’t filled - no internal security investigation worth dreck, in fact. That smells of their being sent.’

‘You may be on to something. Don’t compromise them. Now,’ Brenn said, ‘we wait for the Rebs to take the bait.’

It was a slightly augmented fighter squadron that left the Chandrillia Rose.

The apparently junior Rebel pilot who had watched them undergo debriefing turned out to be more senior than he looked, and not too bad an actor. Squadron Leader M’Lanth’s X-wing leading, and both Y-wing flight leaders had traded up to the B-wings. In Aron and Franjia’s opinion, only very slightly augmented.

They flew a formation that made no sense, except under the circumstances. The rebel bomb half-squadron had all moved up a place; the flight leaders taking B-wings, their wingmen taking their fighters- and the last pair of Y-wings were left for their ‘new comrades’.

Physically, they were leading, where the rebels could watch them.

Just before takeoff, one of the flight leaders- what was it with these people? She hadn’t seen a single one who would have looked out of place in an Imperial uniform. Same names, same manners, same jokes, those of them that had any sense of humour at all. Their personnel breakdown was virtually the same as the racist, sexist Imperial fleet. That worried her, to an extent.

‘So how do these things fly, then?’ the flight leader- Wordell Grannic- had asked Aron.

‘It’s one of yours, you don’t know?’

‘Central command squadrons get ships like that, maybe. One or two squadrons in a subzonal command, ten or twenty in a sector maybe; we wouldn’t even see one in a green star.’

‘Don’t you at least have sim time to go on?’ Aron asked.

‘On a frigate? We don’t have the facilities for that.’ Wordell said, baffled.

Both the imperial pilots kept a straight face only with effort. ‘Well, electronic cockpit time isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.’ Aron said.

‘It’s a bomber.’ Franjia said. ‘Slow, well armed and good fire control. Fly like you expect people to get out of your way.’

‘You sure as stang can’t.’ Aron muttered.

Well, they were in the air now, and both of them meandering loose around the sky on their way to the programmed jump point. M’Lanth was fairly competent; he had the wit to realise that four of his pilots were new to their craft, and give them a little time to get used to them. And their astromechs. RO2-ZB1 was riding behind Aron, RF2K-RL3 with Franjia; ten other droids in the unit, the odds that at least one of them was downloading to Imperial Intelligence- whether it knew it or not- better than forty percent.

Both of the astromechs had probably been briefed to prevent any re-defection attempt. Triple agents.

The Imperial pilots were, nonetheless, enjoying themselves. The rebels were short of sims, short of fuel and parts to allow their fighters to accumulate real wear and tear; fifty, sixty flight hours was normal.

Between patrol and hunter operations, Aron and Franjia both had well over two thousand. They reacted more quickly, flew more precisely and took their craft much closer to the edge, and shot a lot straighter. Mock combat, rolling round each other, Aron got killing positions on all of his flight, one after the other, pop, pop, pop. Franjia preferred distance, long range, high aspect fire; just not quite where they were expecting, just out of the crosshairs, ducking past every time.

Comran knew his business; he might be able to take on one of them, but not both. ‘If you can keep that up, I’m glad you’re on our side. What do you normally fly?’ he asked them.

‘Starwings. And how I wish I’d brought mine with me.’ Franjia said; her astromech beeped indignantly. ‘No, Raf-Tookie, you don’t make up for the five hundred ‘g’ this clunker’s short of.’

‘You don’t rate the Y-wing?’ Grannic said.

‘Is this really the time and place for a discussion of Imperial methodology?’

‘Before a fight, dodgy - but a lot better than during or after.’ Aron said.

‘The TIE Bomber goes back to the clone wars. It was designed for close quarters brawls; massive casualties inevitable, from friendly and random as much as targeted fire. The only way to minimise your losses is to degrade the enemy faster than he does you. The design shows that- heavy payload, good electronics, medium manoeuvrability and poor straight line thrust and damage tolerance.
'The Y-wing’s a completely different type- a fighter-bomber, designed for open, running combat, faster, more agile- but not by much. It’s a step in the right direction, for the Alliance. Only a short one, but better than nothing.’ Franjia gave her opinion.

‘Intel doesn’t trust you.’ M’Lanth said.

‘Not surprised. I wouldn’t like us, if I were him.’ Aron said.

‘If he wasn’t suspicious, he wouldn’t be doing his job.’ Franjia said. ‘He’ll learn.’ Inwardly, she was calculating her probable lifespan as an Alliance pilot. It was not a comfortable line of thought.

Lady Lyria Tellick had been a senatorial aide at one point; she knew politics, and she loathed Palpatine and his empire.

Azirrn, she had never really dared to seriously believe in a future for them together; there were no broken dreams grinding against each other, at least it had been a clean amputation.

Was she really a rebel? Lyria Tellick, Alliance agent in place? Probably. That could have carried her here by stranger, although possibly more honest, routes.

M’Lanth announced the hypershift; the fourteen leapt into hyperspace, ran their way down through the energies and up through the velocities, heading for Ghorn III. Franjia felt no reluctance about shooting at the sector forces - apart from the practicalities of doing it in a Y-wing. They might easily have ended up doing that anyway. Aron was feeling grumpy enough to attack pretty much anybody. Suicide missions had never agreed with him.

The exit was planned very close to the planet; close enough that the defences could get a bow shock and warning off them, so close that they would be deploying inside any likely screen. Hopefully, close enough that they could be in and out without having to engage.

Aron doubted it. He had only been introduced to the fine art of operational planning, but all his instincts were against this.

The actual plan was for four pairs, Y’s and B’s, flying a low, fast patrol route, down on the deck using the planet as cover, two flights of X keeping the TIE’s off their backs. Sensible as far as it went, but he didn’t agree with making it a squadron operation at all. Too much to sneak in, too little to blast their way. Better, if they needs must use what they had to hand, to send a smaller force- a flight of Y’s, fake transponders as some local force defence unit, go by bluff.

That was only part of the problem. It wasn’t that he had never questioned his own loyalties; just that he loved flying, and had allowed himself to become hardened to the price of the job. Fast fighters tended to have guns strapped to them.

Basically, he was on the imperial side because he had been born there. Something about the Rebel cause did appeal; independence, freedom, being on the wrong side of the law. Only a badly damaged society would cling to values like Order, Stability, Conformity. Then again, it was starting to look as if the Alliance had more than a few problems of it’s own.

I’m using myself as a test case, he thought. If this lot are anything to go by, I could go far as a freedom fighter - if they can convince me, or seduce me with a command of my own, we’ll just have to see, won’t we?

Emergence; and a quick passive scan revealed a merciful absence of destroyers. The Golan was still there; with them between it and the planet, all it could do was scramble the alert flight. Heavy warships around Ghorn IV, nothing nearby.

Imperial doctrine - and what an aid to the rebels it was - called for an aggressive response; instead of doing something sensible, like raising planetary shields on low power and sending for a hunter group to chase the rebels away, they would scramble the garrison fighters.

M’lanth’s lead triad of X-wings peeled off to deal with the alert flight; the four pairs of bombers dived into the atmosphere.

Their shields soaked up the heat of re-entry and deceleration, leaving them plunging ballistically through the upper air, S-turning to bring them down to a practical repulsor flight speed and heading for the treetops. It was their most vulnerable phase; they were lucky the garrison didn’t react in time.

Grannic’s flight were headed straight for trouble, skimming the planetary capital; prisons, public spaces. The flight Franjia was part of was going wider, three provincial starports to scan.

At top practical speed- running on painfully weak gravitic engines- the B-wings’ speed gave the Y’s fifty kph in hand; and meant the planetary garrison TIEs could catch them easily.

Grannic was running with his sensors active as they came up on the outskirts, scanning forward; the other pair of Y’s were focusing on one building after another.

Aron slammed his repulsors into reverse, they lanced ahead of him, he accelerated forward in chase and hammered all three of them with sensor and fire control pulses, one after the other.

‘You’re going to fight your way past at least a flight of garrison TIEs- you want it to be this easy for them? Concentrate on the target once you get to the target.’

Franjia’s flight had three provincial city starports to scan, suborbital ion hops between them; each port had a defence flight, to pursue fleeing criminals as much as anything else.

The first had two TIEs on ready racks out in the open; they were the first target. They should have been airborne already- perhaps the controller had been reprimanded for a premature launch before; however it happened, they were too late. The flight leader hosed one down- missing wild at first, unfamiliar gun layout, hammering the ground spewing loose and fused earth everywhere. The second was starting to lift when Franjia took a single aimed shot that hit it in the right wing hub.

It fireballed, the pilot’s ejector seat took him clear to seven hundred metres and his gravchute started to drift him down.

Franjia started a tight evasive weave, looking for the defence flight hangar and turrets; she was relieved she hadn’t killed him - in theory she was prepared for that, in practise she was happy to postpone the moment. Relief turned to horror when she saw one of the X-wings curve after the falling black figure. She rolled out and climbed after him on a brief flash of ion drive.

Normally that was a dumb move in air - the dumping of ekawatts of energy into thick lower atmosphere made a pretty good explosion substitute. The astromech screamed in protest, lightning bolts crackled to earth off the ion trail, and the shockwave the miserable aerodynamics of the Y-wing trailed behind it slammed into the X-wing and sent it tumbling.

Franjia rolled out at the top of the zoom. ‘How dare you!’ she shouted over the com. ‘You call yourselves the side of good and you shoot at ejected pilots?’

M’Lanth had been manoeuvring to line up on her; the tumbling X-wing said ‘Hey, all I wanted was a gun camera shot.’

‘Of a man in a mask?’ Franjia spat back.

‘Iyran, both of you, calm down and get back in formation.’

Not before time- the relative handful of defence turrets around the port were shooting at them now. Green, red, orange, blue - a low-rent garrison like this, they got the tail end of every gas shipment.

It made for an interesting light show, but not when it was happening to you. Most of the bolts were converging on the high, cover flight. Franjia rolled and dived using the column of shredded air as cover; one of the high X-wings got coned, trapped between converging streams of fire. The B-wing went for one of the turrets, covering him; all three Y’s did the same. Too late- the X-wing tried to turn on one of them, flew too straight for too long, the converging fire hit and splashed it.

The rest dived for cover, the defence turrets looked for a fresh target; they found the B-wing, and it’s shields started to come apart; Franjia came up off the deck in a half-roll, line of fire trailing her across the sky, sent a stream of laser and ion fire into the defence tower next to the port control tower.

The fire control wasn’t as good, but more than enough for a stationary target. It’s shields blew in and the quad laser fireballed.

She had no problems at all with that kind of target. Point defence weapons were no pilot’s friend - and they were Imperial Army anyway. The rest of the defensive flight - that would be the hangar; empty. Withdrawn, or - on instinct she broke hard right, skimming less than three metres off the ground, shields sparkling with the flare of bursting blaster bolts and shrapnel.

Two TIEs, two old Z-95; one of the TIEs went after the B-wing, which wallowed - the TIE overshot, blasting chunks out of the landing apron, the B-wing couldn’t catch it as it swung clear for another pass. The ’95 which went after her flew by and banked, almost a pylon turn. It was relying on aerodynamics; she went for brute force- spun on the repulsors, laid up a high deflection shot as it tried to line her up- hit it and sent it tumbling, the second shot was a kill.

One of the Y’s exploded under a stream of laser fire, the TIE- sensibly- flew from there to the city, to hide behind the buildings and wait to be reinforced- or for a chance at a shot in the back. The second ’95 did the same after spraying fire over two Y-wings, denting their shields- but the old blasters needed a long, steady stream of fire on target. The X’s pursued, the remaining bombers went after the turrets; Franjia broke off the chase to deal with the mission, scanning the warehouses and bays of the starport.

It was small by galactic standards; total volume of trade less than a million tons a day. Zig-zagging and rooftop hopping, it was a matter of moments for her astromech to find life signs. Masses of them; the Y-wing’s computer tried to distinguish them through the jamming and lost count. ‘I have either a herd of nerf, or a jail.’

Calculated risk time; whereabouts in the building - there. It was a large square block with an undulating roof, some mad bout of architecture. She picked the far edge of the building and blew one of the roof ridges off. Blast carried the debris clear; the shock disrupted the jammers and security screens long enough to get a good look.

‘It’s a jail. They’re in there, two thousand plus, mostly human, don’t seem to have been too badly mistreated yet.’

The planetary capital was naturally more heavily defended. The first thing Aron did as his Y-wing brought the city down over the horizon was look for the garrison ase- looming, slab-sided, tower-topped - and lob a proton torpedo at it.

‘You’re crazy! They’ll-‘ one of the Rebels shouted.

‘They’re reacting anyway - suppress them. Slow fire, make them shoot torps, not us, keep the TIEs in their hangars for fear of blast. Kriffing well fire.’

One of the Y’s lobbed a torpedo after Aron’s; he was thinking, city. Maze. Repulsors gave off nothing like an ion signature. How do I spot a defending fighter in a maze of mirrors; and on the other side, how do they find me?

By coming and looking. Already over the suburbs, less than thirty seconds from the city centre and the public buildings, when his sensors identified two four- strong flights of TIE fighters, one high, one low.

The X-wings raced ahead, the high TIEs slowed to meet them and the low flight curved up underneath; Aron accelerated up to meet them- locking on to one which began to weave, faking it out by switching his targeting computer off and spraying shot at it’s wingman; unguided, unheralded- he missed low with the lasers but the ion bolts hit the eyeball dead centre.

Not exactly aerodynamic, the pilot could have tried to fight it down to a dead stick landing- but he did the sensible thing instead and punched out, the fighter tumbling down to hit and explode in someone’s swimming pool.

The chemical-looking flare of rupturing capacitors flashed the water into a rising pillar of steam. A dogfight in fog. Fun.

The other six- against X’s, in atmosphere, at two to one- the X’s sprayed fire over the formations and broke.

One of the TIEs got clipped, half a wing broken off, it spiralled down still under power, with the pilot aiming for a controlled crash; an X-wing got hit in the upper port engine, the S-foil tore away and it spun out of control. Two of the TIE’s dived after it, the B-wing, relatively better off in atmosphere, moved to cover- the lone TIE went after it.

The new bomber shot at the TIE, brilliant crimson heavy laser and red-orange autoblasters, the TIE- wearing flight commander’s stripes- rolled high and right out of the streams and put two twin laser bolts into the B-wing. Its shields flickered and crashed, Aron nailed the TIE a split second before it could finish the job.

Two for me, Aron thought, too late to stop the crippled X-wing being finished off. The pilot punched out.

Before anything else, Aron lobbed another torpedo at the garrison base. His astromech watched the sensors, the TIEs were actually giving the remaining pair of X a relatively easy time, herding them and holding them in check; most of them were going after the bombers.

One TIE dipped down towards Aron; he swung towards it aiming about twenty degrees off-rolling round some sort of district facility, a fire tower he thought - the TIE pilot tried to be fancy, aim with the gun offset.

It was a good design idea badly executed; there were simpler ways to do it. Sienar made a big - and clumsy - deal of it because the big gun on a small frame of the TIE needed the engines specifically reset to soak up the recoil; they ramped up the ergonomic difficulties to match the practical difficulties.

Cygnus, with the heavier Starwing, had been playing with the idea of an eyeball sight - servo equipped weapon mounts linked to an aiming reticule that fit over the pilot’s eye.

Aron’s Y-wing had a turret. Only ion cannon, but the little side-stick controlled them a lot more easily; high deflection, he hosed the ion stream on to the TIE- aiming down, one of his shots hit a house and blacked it out, another started an electrical fire, then he connected.

The TIE fell out of the sky, too low for reaction time, it hit the ground and tumbled like a jack until it broke up.

Two more of the TIEs were down, one of the Y-wings had an engine pod in flames; and the garrison base was launching another flight.

One of them was a /gt; Aron realised when it tried to get out of the way of his last torpedo and failed. The point defence guns caught it; not a clean hit, the torp had a split millisecond to detonate in, and did. The blast caught the /gt, and the load of proton bombs on board detonated. The flare shredded two of the fighters and sent the others tumbling, left the face of the garrison base blackened and sintered.

That- literally- cleared the air, but from the total of forty, that was less than twelve dealt with, and the strike force would run out of fighters first. There would be smaller elements scattered around the planet, too, ‘95s as well as TIEs.

Aron dived to roof height and redlined his repulsors, astromech unit complaining and barely managing to hold them together. Time to think objective - get it done, get out.

The prisoners themselves weren’t the problem. It was the other end of the ‘humiliating and painful death’ process Aron was searching for. Something public - probably not the governor’s palace, possibly the garrison but he hoped not; and he had a city centre to play with.

Never mind womp rats. As a young capitoline thug, zooming through crowded skyways at absurd speeds was routine for him; the last time he had done this, he was being chased by the police.

How many of the gang would have been prepared to join the Rebellion…actually, probably most of them; and the best thing he could do for the Empire might be to go back and encourage them. They’d have the Rebel Alliance’s reputation in tatters within the week.

He’d never gone wallsurfing in anything as solid as a Y-wing before; the droid was a drawback- if it was possible for an astromech to have an apoplectic fit, his was - but the thing was a lot tougher than any swoop. Which gave him an idea.

Right now, defence coordination had the opposite problem; they would be getting swamped. People calling and com’ing from all over the city, to report, to complain, just to panic. There had been some damage to the city, but the/gt had been an airburst, not really damaging anything except windows and vid reception. Unless the garrison did something outrageously stupid - like trying to shoot through buildings to get him, not impossible that they would be that dumb - it was just standard monstrously illegal city flying.

People shooting at him was nothing unusual, but repulsortanks- that was less fun.

Ground forces had been activated, and one of them picked up on him - a technically obsolete Sabre-class tank. He had to swerve down a side loop to avoid it - it came after him.

He had four hundred and eighty km/h in hand, but couldn’t use all of them in a cityscape, and it could fly through buildings a lot more efficiently than he could.

The city wasn’t laid out on a grid; it was organised around linked loops of ring skyways, which made for fast flying- past hordes of shoppers and commuters and delivery vans.

Was it right to hose them with ion fire to create an obstruction? Probably not. It might be fun, but it wouldn’t necessarily work, either.

Flash right, a flicker of office windows to his left, someone threw a computer out of a window at him; bit of repressed frustration coming through there.

Zig-zag, trying to lose the tank - it knew the city better and got ahead, curved out of an intersection after him, but not firing; public building ahead. Fire coming at him from the rooftop - streams of blaster bolts. That made it a non-trivial problem.

An Imperial Security Bureau office, apparently; right, Aron thought, as Imperial or Rebel, I hate them either way.

They were using E-Webs on him; a strange gun, for something that size it threw a surprisingly light bolt - but the rate of fire was very high and the recoil was virtually nonexistent. Held steady, pounding bolt-streams into the same aim point, it could chew through warship grade durasteel in seconds.

The Sabre had the sense to stop shooting at him, but the CompForce fools on the roof were dumb enough to keep firing past him and catch it in the cone of fire; the rain of blaster bolts gnawed at the hull, blew off the stabiliser fins, killed the secondary light cannon, demolished sensors and fire control, took out the vision devices.

Flying blind and paralysed, the tank tried to ground - on the roof. Three of the power generators ruptured and detonated, the tank rolled over and the crew crawled out.

Aron couldn’t resist it; the damage to the armoured roof made it a tempting target.

He pulled the Y-wing up in a hammerhead turn, attracting TIE attention. It took very little mental effort to think of those things coming at him as the enemy; they were designed to frighten and intimidate.

Only the elite got to personalise their fighters; the wing commander on his previous destroyer had “You lookin’ at me?” painted on the side of his Interceptor. Like thousands of others, probably, but it summed up perfectly. The rebs were right to call them ‘eyeballs’; They were looking at you.

From them at least, looks could kill. Do the deed and run.

Aron dived on the building, put a couple of shots into the underbelly of the tank. Its reactor vessel ruptured, sending a gush of eye-blasting light out. His viewscreen went dark, he switched to proton torps, as vision started to return he shot a pair off at the hole, untargeted through the sepia haze; hurdled the far edge of the roof, doubled shields aft.

The TIEs had the sense to stay clear and give them room to detonate. They were semi-directed antiship warheads, they slammed through the roof and blew up. Most of the blast went downwards into the body of the vaguely pyramidal, fifty- storey building, enough spread to gush out of the roof and the windows like an erupting volcano.

Aron rode part of the concussion wave away, astromech screaming something like ‘I resign’ as the building burnt and collapsed in on itself. Later on, he would get the shakes. Right then, all he thought was - crispy fried cop. I could probably get a commendation from both sides.

He had gained distance there; he wanted enough clear space to, at least, break for orbit - he rolled right, dived down a ring-way underpass. It turned out to be a bad move. He hurdled a jack-knifed cargo train, went the wrong way round a split, avoided a subsurface residential complex, made surface again and climbed to break for orbit; but he had been predictable, and there were a flight of TIEs waiting for him.

He tried to bank round on to one, and found the entire fighter following him; damn aircraft - like repulsors - he had to twist away as the TIEs opened fire. They were, in contrast, probably overtrained; they were having difficulty keeping out of each other’s way, and they were all chasing the same fire solution - he didn’t have to worry about dodging a cone of fire, just a stream.

He shot past them out into the open air, looking for room to fight in; they followed him up, and two cone-shaped glows flashed past him on the way down. He had missed the announcement; they had found it, the stadium was being prepped. Franjia’s comment about blenders wasn’t that far from the truth.

Most of the rebel fighters were breaking for orbit; she had counted them and missed him. A fast suborbital hop on ion thrust to the capital, and two altitude fused proton torps fired into the formation; on repulsor, they couldn’t break away fast enough.

The blast broke one TIE - its wings folded up, the pilot dived out of the shattered viewport - and detonated another, sent the outer pair tumbling away on the shockwave; she lined up on the one that looked to be recovering control fastest, and sent single shots after him.

The pilot threw the controls away, deliberately losing control to avoid being hit; it worked until he flew into an office tower. Aron tried for the last with turret ion fire, but she got to it first, ripping the top of the eyeball open.

Both of them wasted no time - pointed the nose up, lit off ion engines on all the power the shields could sustain and rocketed out of the atmosphere to a safe jump distance.

‘How did you do?’ she asked him. Her astromech was twittering away on a side band, trying to calm his down.

‘Five, a tank and an ISB office. You?’

‘Six and a handful of defence turrets - nice work on the office.’ She said.

‘You’re not - I mean, they were…’

The ISB are thugs, not police.’ She said scornfully. ‘No concept of law, even less of justice. Good riddance.’

‘Speaking of the law-incoming corvette.’ Aron noticed.

‘Hit it.’ Barely into full vacuum, a Lancer bearing down on them, they and the surviving rebels bolted for hyperspace.

Nine fighters arrived at the rendezvous, one of those, a Y-wing, so badly shot up the pilot and droid ejected as soon as they re-entered a bradyonic state, one of the B-wings with large pieces missing.

Chandrillia Rose was accompanied by a positive battle group - by rebel rather than Imperial standards. Three Corvettes, two MC30s and a Quasar Fire, another Nebulon, a Neutron Star and what appeared to be the flagship MC40 light cruiser- frigate, by Imperial standards.

It was a fairly impressive force. Well above Sector’s estimates - well below Lennart’s hopes.

‘Aron, does that Neutron Star look familiar to you?’

‘Well, the charred spot on it’s dorsal mid surface is a bit of a giveaway. Do you think we should admit it?’ He asked her.

‘Considering that they’ve just monitored us saying it anyway, we might as well.’

The squadron - what was left of it - was ordered to divert to the cruiser-carrier, and land there. At least it was easier than touching down on a Nebulon-B.

Large bays, amazingly full - they must have been resupplied; there was a squadron of the strange local fighters, cylinders with cruciform weapon pods, a squadron of Gauntlets, squadron of T-wings, squadron of Y-wings. The locals left to make room for them - exchanging with the Rose.

There was a crowd around the battered fighters as they floated on to dispersal pads and shut down, pilots, navy and ground forces; Aron’s astromech was shaking as it was lowered to the deck, a robopsychologist led it away, pestered by a flight and two naval officers wanting the data.

Good and bad, Franjia thought. They seem to be taking the bait; but we have a whole new set of people to explain ourselves to. Eight corvettes and two frigates. Fourteen squadrons, maybe.

M’Lanth came over to them. ‘Between them, my lads scored seven, I lost five with three ejected. You two alone racked up eleven.’

The flight controller waiting to debrief him was horrified. ‘Five. Five fighters and five good men.’

Franjia and Aron both thought what any Imperial pilot would under the circumstances; the definition of ‘good’ was that you didn’t get shot down.

‘For eighteen.’ She said, calmly. ‘And success.’

‘The security building,’ Aron said, ‘is mine.’

‘It might be all for nothing.’ The junior lieutenant flight controller said. ‘We sent a preliminary report, and…sector are considering doing nothing.’

‘What?’ Aron exploded in anger. Actually, that was a bad metaphor for someone who had access to proton torpedoes. He looked like he would like to make someone explode.

Franjia’s mind raced; a loyalty test? Simulating cold anger bought her a second to work out what she ought to say.

‘If this is some kind of loyalty test, it’s sick. Conspiracy theories be damned, are you really going to stand aside and let your comrades be inventively and grotesquely abused to death in front of an audience of trillions? If you’re thinking about the martyrs-‘ she said; people were starting to listen.

‘The Empire kills lots of people.’ The controller said, looking at the deck and muttering.

‘You’re supposed to be trying to stop them.’ Aron grabbed the controller and shook him. ‘They’re trying to make it look like you can’t look after your own.’

‘It’s not a finished decision.’ The controller protested. ‘There are a lot of us prepared to argue against it - but they’re going to want to talk to you. Your information could be crucial.’

They went along with the process that far; after a basic - and paralysingly sloppy - debrief that seemed to have more to do with telling war stories than objective analysis, there was a full scale flotilla conference.

I was right about joining the ranks of anarchy, Franjia thought; there were half a dozen arguments going back and forth in the auditorium, and the senior officer was the Mon Cal cruiser-frigate- captain; he was formal and dignified, and not a natural Basic speaker.

It took him four attempts to call the council of war to order. What a time for an ambush, Aron thought.

The recon squadron were in the spotlight. Two Imperial defectors were a point of interest; when Aron corrected the intel officer - they were from a regional force unit, not the sector fleet - attention centred on them.

Game on, Aron thought; this - spreading confusion and lies - was what they were here for.

‘So,’ the Mon Cal Captain burbled slowly at them, permanently in a state of thinking of the next word, ‘what does the regional support group think of this? What are their intentions?’

Keyed up - Aron’s mind suddenly went blank. ‘We’re just fighter jockeys. I can’t be sure, but-’

‘For three days before we left,’ Franjia said, ‘we were exercising twelve hours a day - against other Imperial ships.’

‘Really?’ one of the human officers asked. ‘Attacking or defending?’

‘Both.’ Franjia said. ‘If our ship was anything to go by, Region now considers Sector to be slack to the point of encouraging rebellion. Captain Lennart wouldn’t object to attacking either side.’

The argument revolved around that for a while - the possibility of getting Imperial forces shooting at each other and sneaking a rescue in in the confusion; both the Imperials listened carefully.

‘Perhaps,’ one of the Intel people said slyly, ‘the regional forces could be persuaded to attack Sector?’ He was looking at Aron and Franjia. If they were stupid spies, they would agree, want to be sent back - and get stunshot and arrested immediately.

‘Possible,’ Franjia said, ‘but the pretext? Assume, for the sake of argument, that it happens - what then? The Moff’s going to be replaced by someone who knows he’s liable to have higher authority sit on him at any moment - and that he has to be more fanatic than thou to keep his job.’

‘A straight up smash and grab rescue,’ Aron said, ‘that could be written off as business as usual - standard issue local force laziness and incompetence. It’d make a splash, but not one big enough to drown in.’

The intel officer looked disappointed.

The argument rumbled on; polarising the force. It boiled down to the Mon Cal’s fear of traps; they seemed to be the main force behind the idea of doing nothing. Aron glared at him. I don’t think of myself as particularly xenophobic, he was thinking; but…

‘Galactic Spirit,’ he shouted at them, ‘you’re outnumbered fifty to one. How do you expect to survive, how do you expect to rally people to the cause, if you go around being afraid? If all you have are long shots, that’s what you have to take.’

Franjia supported him, yelling over the rising noise, ‘It could be better for you if it was a trap. The sector force is criminally incompetent; if you can save your comrades and humiliate the defence force, that’s two victories for the price of one.’

Most of the human rebels were, broadly, in agreement.

‘Were you involved in the capture of the Caderath?’ the Mon Cal burbled, using the name the Fulgur had served the republic under.

‘No - we were busy putting dents in this ship at the time.’ Aron admitted.

‘Remember what you said about spending the rest of our lives in debriefing?’ Franjia muttered to him.

Unexpectedly, the Neutron Star’s commander backed them. ‘You’re right. We’ve been eroding away here, compromising and working around, playing it safe. Trap, or not - that’s a matter of tactics; politically, strategically, we have no choice - we have to put up or shut up.’

‘Thank you.’ Franjia said to him.

‘You owe me a sector jammer.’ He replied. ‘He’s right,’ meaning the Mon Cal Captain, ‘it probably is a trap, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you had something to do with it; but would the Empire abandon its people like that?’

‘If it would cause more losses getting them back, then by the book, yes.’ Aron admitted.

‘You see, no choice.’ He said; left his seat, moved to talk to the Mon Cal quietly.

‘You trust them?’ the Mon Cal said, surprised.

‘I respect their competence.’ The human said. ‘Face it; we always knew it was going to be a trap. The Empire offers us the choice of losing ships and men, or losing face. Too obvious.’

‘Then why,’ burble, ‘do you wish to attack?’

‘If we commit up front, we can get in, make the pickup, and get out before the jaws of the trap close. Move fast, and I reckon we can beat this one. And they’re right;’ meaning Aron and Franjia, ‘if we don’t at least take the chance, what do we look like?’

‘All my instincts say, cut our losses.’ The Calamari captain said.

‘Sometimes, there is truth in platitude. The boldest measure may, indeed, be the safest.’ The human urged.
‘I do not like situations where the enemy dictates our spectrum of choice.’

The Mon Cal took a second to compose himself, and pointed to the two Imperial pilots. ‘Whether or not they are spies sent to mislead us, or genuine fighters for freedom, I believe they are destined to lead us to disaster.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-11 04:28pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-04-03 04:37pm

Ch 14

Autokrator-class Star Destroyers were not the largest ships in the Star Fleet, but they were some of the fastest.

The first ship of the class had been HIMS Arrogant, and that was how they were usually known by the Basic- speaking majority of the galaxy; this one, Dynamic, was on exercise - her new captain working her up to something he considered efficiency.

Captain Delvran Dordd was not particularly enjoying it so far.

I’ve been spoiled, he thought. I should have thought to poach about ten LTL crews from Black Prince. They were conducting a fire-and-motion exercise, target drones hiding in an asteroid field, a fast flyby-vector parallel to the edge of the field, two thousand klicks per second at one hundred thousand out.

Dynamic’s gun crews had missed every one of the TIE-sized target drones so far. Compared to an Imperator, its turret arrangement was back to front, and more sensible for it.

She carried medium turbolasers by the smaller superstructure, heavy turrets in the axial defence position, stepped enough to fire past each other directly forward. Their huge fire arc was what made the Arrogant-class effective flankers and pursuit ships, provided the gun crews could shoot straight.

They were dry-firing, firing local control active sensor pulses instead of shot. In theory, the target drones would light off their beacons when hit and manoeuvre out of the asteroid field for recovery. It was still only a theory.

It wasn’t impossible that they were missing on purpose, just to spite him. He had started by putting the ship through its paces: terrible.

They took eight full minutes to get to general quarters from a standing start. They passed training norms by the oldest dodge in the book - take a turret; each crew was supposed to pass the tests independently.

All the training time and resources went to the handful that showed some sign of talent, and they remote controlled the turret for the rest who sat there and pretended.

Maintenance and engineering - the same. On all the standard evolutions, the overall impression was of a crew who were barely keeping their heads above water. All of which was made worse by his knowing if not exactly all the tricks, then at least more of them than they did.

Dordd turned to his chief gunnery officer, present on the bridge for the exercise, and thought about what he wanted to say. Anger warred with prudence - on one hand, they were genuinely very poor verging on abysmal. Bawling them out would at least relive some of his tension. On the other hand, anger might be a luxury he couldn’t afford. He had never appreciated before how comfortable stormtroopers were to have around.

Was it even possible to push this crew hard enough that they broke under the strain? They felt more like a sponge - damp, gooey, structureless, prone to flop around and lie there.

Looking on the bright side, at least they were capable of most of the standard evolutions. At a pace that suggested most of the officers were reading out of their ops manuals as they went along, true, and benchmarking out as barely good enough to be in the Starfleet, never mind on a fleet destroyer. Some of it was natural confusion and nerves following the change of command, but more of it was simple unreadiness.

The previous captain had been promoted, if that was the word, to command one of the search lines of a patrol squadron; the job was essentially a dead end, a cemetery for the living. The only way to restart a career from there was to actually find some trouble and do well dealing with it - chance would be a fine thing.

Dordd, on the other hand - they were walking very wary around him so far. He had come from a crack ship; cracked, most would have said, but Black Prince’s gun crews would have dropped all twelve drones in less than a minute.

‘Gentlemen,’ he addressed the bridge crew, all of whom were at least male if not necessarily noble of spirit, ‘this ship is supposed to be a destroyer. A unit of significance to the fleet. While it is all well and good to be able to intimidate with size and strength, you may find it hard to deliver on that promise if the gun crews can’t hit the broad side of a nebula.’

‘Sir,’ the exec stood up for his ship, defending the indefensible, ‘this is frontier space; minor colonies and outposts, we’re the largest thing for thirty parsecs in any direction.’

‘How many moments do you think that would take to change?’ Dordd snapped.

‘Alliance local forces spend a lot of their time hiding from the Empire; they tend to be around trainee, or complacent garrison, levels. Alliance strike, regional and central command units tend to get committed to combat more often than any except our strategic pursuit forces, and be that much more experienced and battle-hardened.’

One of the pit crew muttered something about the Tarkin Doctrine.

‘Ah, yes, rule through the fear of force rather than force itself. Efficient.’ Dordd said, watching their faces to see who twitched, who looked like a security service plant.
‘Unfortunately, that doctrine made the Starfleet thoroughly hated throughout the mid-rim and outwards, and cost the empire at least one obnoxiously self-righteous but basically wealthy and tax-paying planet.
'That, and one barely-used battle station splattered across the void by a rebel strategic strike team, with contents including more of the cream of the Starfleet than we could afford to lose, and Wilhuff Tarkin. I’m interested in the facts of force.’

The exec - Dordd was having difficulty remembering all their names; Ilarchu Rondat - no, Ridatt. He kept trying.

‘Captain, we train to meet the sector standing doctrine, which says close range, closely grouped fire - we’re prohibited from engaging at all beyond five thousand kilometres, strongly advised to close to point blank, under two hundred, before opening fire. We’ve seen precisely one rebel ship, ever.’

Not that far away from Imperial standard practise; the theory being that you needed high hit rates to get the power transfer to pound down an enemy ship’s shielding, which was true enough, but that you needed to close to almost ‘can’t miss’ range to do it was less certain.

Even in fleets and with ships that could do better - the Executor-class being the prime example - most stayed fairly close to the doctrine of decisive action at close range.

Necessity often dictated otherwise, and the physical performance of turbolasers was more than up to it, but the gunners frequently weren’t. Lennart’s and his gun crews’ willingness to fire at distant, manoeuvring targets was extraordinary by most standards, verging on freakish.

Dordd was almost surprised to realise how corrupted he had become. For a second or two he thought about it; stick to the established doctrine, they couldn’t blame him for that, or do something different. No contest.

‘I know. It’s suicidal against a larger ship, counterproductive against a smaller - likely to burn more fuel chasing it down than simply hosing it from long range would.
'You came up against one ion-scarred corvette whose hyperdrive failed on reversion, and it took you forty-seven minutes to catch it and kill it. If it had taken you that many seconds, it would have been over average. It’s not good enough.’

He looked at the main tactical holo. They were clear of the exercise track, drifting away along the edge of the zone. ‘Helm, bring us around, reciprocal, same separation, eighteen-fifty KPS relative.’

Star Destroyer manoeuvrability was a debateable issue; there were at least four different ways to turn a ship.

Throttling back one outer main engine and firewalling the other could spin an Imperator end for end faster than it took to throw the switches, but the shock that inflicted on the ship’s stabilisers and compensators made it a once or twice in a lifetime manoeuvre.

Off-centre thrust from the auxiliary engines was the doctrine prescribed emergency turn procedure, the thrust deflectors were usual and in the event of complete thruster failure, recoil from the guns could do.

None of them worked if you didn’t have the energy. Or the competence.

‘Captain, I have to warn you,’ the navigator told him, ‘we’re approaching our allowable exercise limit.’

‘Already?’ Penny-pinching was an at least partial explanation, but this was ridiculous. ‘Give me the data.’ Dordd said, holding out a hand for the datapad.

‘Sir, I don’t have the figures to hand, but-‘

‘Then get them. I’ll stand in for you while you compile.’

Dordd gave the helm orders himself; instead of simply rotating and retrofiring, he spun the ship in a combat curve, a long u-shape that cost energy but preserved velocity, and hopefully kept the ship from being hit. As often, anyway. He finished the end loop, on plan, and had the datapad handed to him.

His first instinct was to throw it away - his second to find the idiot responsible, sheath the datapad in ablat foam and drop it on him, her or it from orbit.

‘This is ridiculous. This is hardly enough to warm the engines up, never mind real training. The sector budget only allows fifty minutes a month at full power?’

‘Sir, that’s still billions of-‘ the navigator began.

‘Agreeing with an economist is like agreeing with a prosecution attorney. No good ever comes of it. Have you been using even that?’

‘We have been fulfilling fleet training norms.’ Ridatt stated.

‘Only on paper- and are you really content to fight a war on paper? With the fleet bureaucracy? This-‘ he threw the datapad away, hitting the disposal chute- ‘is farcical. Not enough to do any real training on. I’m surprised some of the turrets haven’t frozen solid. In fact,’ looking at gunnery’s fire distribution chart, ‘I think some of the PD weapons have. We don’t have the fuel allowance even to recover our drones?’

‘Officially, no, Captain.’

‘Hmph.’ Dordd grunted, walked down into the pit, to one of the drone control consoles; the operator’s eyes bulged out at the sequence of commands he keyed in. Most of the drones started to drift back towards the Dynamic; two headed deeper into the asteroid belt.

‘Interrogate them.’ Dordd commanded; an active sensor pulse sparkled off them, both of their identifier blips changed colour in the main display. Enemy - specifically, Alliance - red.

‘Those things have enough processing power to be treacherous, don’t they? They must have decided they were tired of getting shot at. They’re defecting. This is no longer an exercise.’ Dodd said, decisive-sounding. ‘Live fire, engage and destroy.’

The bridge crew boggled at him. He shouted at them. ‘Move.’

The turrets were slow to react, half of them called fire direction control to query, several kept firing scan pulses, but one of the main turrets took it too far and fired a full power HTL bolt. The ship rocked back and an asteroid near the centre of the belt got turned into a plasma doughnut - the bolt overpenetrating, the head flashing it into vapour and the tail of the bolt smearing the cloud out along the line of fire.

‘Just as well. We’d never have been able to get away with that on the exercise budget…’ Dordd managed to keep a perfectly straight face as he said it. ‘Guns, did you instruct them to do that? Fire a teraton-level shot?’

‘No, Sir, I instructed them to engage as per standing orders.’

‘Really?’ Dordd looked, studying, the overweight, jowly Lieutenant-Commander. ‘I heard your fire order. Precise and disciplined - it was not. Loose words and panic are understandable when, for instance, you are drifting at high speed towards a division of Alliance cruisers - they are never permissible.’

The gunnery officer briefly closed his eyes and waited to be sacked; not quite yet, Delvran Dordd thought, not until someone demonstrates sufficient competence to do the job instead. He pointed at the drone images in the display.

‘I notice they’re not dead yet.’

Guns looked at him blankly for a second, before realising what was being asked of him. Hesitantly, trying to remember how it was done in the manual, he gave a phased, grouped fire order, too slow to be useful in combat; a more or less coordinated volley of shot blasted out.

One of the drones got a close enough near miss to activate its hardwired routines, it shut engines down and signalled a hit.

‘It’s playing pittin, finish it off.’

This time, against a stationary target - they missed again. Nearly got it with blast waves and fragments, but not quite.

‘This ship does have torpedo tubes, doesn’t it?’ Dordd knew perfectly well it did; for one thing, the drones had been launched from them.

‘Yes, Sir - shall I fire them, Sir?’

‘I think you had better.’ Dordd said, looking down at him.

Two tubes fired; torps catapulted out, energising themselves- violet-tinged red teardrop- shaped electromagnetic sheaths forming around the warhead cones. Although less effective at normal combat range, they were at least more interesting to watch than a TL bolt. They twisted and weaved through the asteroids, caught and detonated on both drones.

‘Secure and stand down.’ Dordd ordered. ‘On the evidence, I would be better off dismantling some of our torpedo stock, removing the guidance computers and replacing most of the gunners with them.’

‘Sir,’ the exec said, ‘that’s not really fair, after all it was only a pair of drones-‘

‘You think their performance would be improved if the targets were shooting back? Perhaps we should go further - invite the Rebellion to come and attack us. Yes, definitely. They might think it was an ambush and avoid us, that could be this ship’s best chance of survival.’

He looked round the frightened bridge officers.

‘There will be no more live firing unless needs must - for one thing, they may be a danger to themselves, we seem to have an electrical fire in no. 17 LTL mount. Exec, go and sort that out, will you?’

Ridatt hurried off the bridge, to the little electric cart waiting there. They raced those things up and down the corridors...have to put a stop to that. Eventually. No sense beginning with the trivial.

‘Simulations.’ he continued, ‘We will simulate until the crew’s eyes go square. Clearly they need it.’ He stalked off the bridge to his day cabin, to begin drafting an exercise programme.

To be fair to them, it wasn’t really their fault. In the growth surges, first from the Republic Starfleet, neglected, demoralised and understrength, to the cauldron of the Clone Wars, then from there to the dominating presence they needed to secure the peace of the Empire - the fleet had long since outrun any available reserve of trained personnel.

The early clone crews had, arguably, been misused; it would have made more sense if the pattern had been clone officers and petty officers in charge of womb-born ordinary spacers, rather than the other way around.

There weren’t really enough veterans available to serve as instructors for the rest, never mind cadre or full crews, and the womb-born parts of the Republic Starfleet had learned a frightening amount of their business through on the job trial and error - much the same way the Rebels were attempting to do now.

Fine, if it had stopped there, but it hadn’t. The fleet kept growing, drawing in more and more raw meat, and the only people whose competence was keeping up with demand were the yard workers; real talent and experience just kept getting spread thinner and thinner.

Combat hardened crews, but, perversely, the Imperial Starfleet’s very size worked against it there too; there were seldom enough enemies to go round. It also left parent units faced with the choice of keeping together a successful crew and depriving the rest of the fleet of a useful cadre, or breaking up a winning team. Like himself; he was fairly sure now that he had been transferred out of a crack squadron, which had managed to establish consistently very high standards, to pull this ship into acceptable shape.

Imperial discipline was generally ferocious, and doctrine so precisely descriptive, because the alternative seemed to be shambolic, fratricidal chaos. Privately, Dordd doubted this crew had that much energy.

An hour later, the com/scan chief officer entered, looking sheepish. A lot of the burden would fall on him; what was this about?

‘Captain, we have an incoming message - holo, encrypted, Captain’s Eyes Only.’

‘Route it through.’

Dordd had to type in the access codes from his rank cylinder personally; he didn’t understand what extra level of security that might confer, but it was enough. The message unfolded.

A robed, yellow-eyed figure; Dordd started to go down on one knee, then realised from the shape of the head, the breadth of the shoulders, it wasn’t actually His Imperial Majesty, just someone who favoured the same tailor. Pre-recorded; no need to reply.

‘I am Kor Alric Adannan,’ the hooded figure identified himself, ‘Private secretary to Privy Councillor Gwellib ap-Lewff.’

Double-plus ungood, Brenn thought. What could a being with high connections, and a voice that sounded like a death threat, want with him? Couldn’t be anything to do with him himself, or this ship.

‘Captain Dordd, I am empowered to exercise the oversight authority of the Council.’

Which was terrifying enough, but something else niggled - the background noise. Asteroid effects from Adannan’s ship’s environment - awareness system.

Dordd left the message playing, bolted out on to the bridge, grabbed the PA,

‘All hands, prepare to receive VIP visitors, I need a Regulatory Branch honour guard at the docking bay.’
Only just in time. They were already on docking approach.

Adannan’s ship was clearly a custom job, light freighter weight class but military spec; black, an X-shaped arrowhead, an array of folding radiator fins that made the wicked little dart vastly overpowered for its size.

It also only barely fit in the ‘bayless’ destroyer’s very limited docking space.

That’s going to make resupply awkward, Dordd thought, irrelevantly. As if that deserved to rate as a serious problem, when Destiny is about to land on us with a distinctly sickening thud.

The regulatory branch - nearly absent from most ships where the stormtroopers took over the duty, basically the police of the navy - managed to scrape together enough bodies to make a decent show of it, all clutching obsolescent A280 rifles, shined and polished as best as may be in ten minutes’ notice.

A ramp extended, the “private secretary” - and what was he really, if one was to dare to put a name to it? Enforcer, executioner? That was how Adannan carried himself. He stalked down it, to the deck; shorter than Dordd, but - how did someone with a shrouded face manage to have any kind of expression at all? He looked perfectly prepared to melt through Dordd with a glance until the head and shoulders of the tall, thin man dropped down to his eyeline.

Which, by then, would be pointless, but Adannan didn’t look the sort to let that get in the way of personal expression through violence.

Almost amazing in its way, Dordd thought of his bridge team; with all the galaxy and its statistically inevitable leaven of bloodthirsty madmen to draw on, how few of them were actually in it for the joy of hurting people. Adannan looked to be the exception that proved the rule.

‘Captain Dordd.’ Adannan recalled him to his duty. And what did duty have to do with creatures like this? ‘You may introduce your officers to me.’

Dordd had been close to wishing some of them dead, or at least dismissed the service; at least now he knew he didn’t mean it literally. He began with the exec; Ridatt looked at Adannan like a mouse faced with a dianoga. He shakily extended a hand that Adannan glared at, the exec retracted it sheepishly. Dordd introduced the rest of his senior team, with one eye on Adannan’s followers filing out of the transport.

His entourage was as bad or worse, some of them victims rather than perpetrators. One compu-mod carrying servant, black and yellow livery, looked scrubbed to within an inch of his life, and two likewise liveried twi’lek wearing electrocollars who looked whipped there instead, one male and one female.

One man who looked the sort who gets sacked from the ISB for excessive brutality, an insignia-less uniform with weapon-like bulges under both arms and at both hips- what did a man need with four pistols?

A scaly, spiky-faced alien in a half-tunic, half-robe that almost certainly also held more than a few devices of death.

Another alien, a Givin - their natural talent for juggling numbers in their head made them instinctive navigators, this one wore a breath mask and eye shields.

Another human male, in a robe similar to his leader’s, but covering a lot more bone and muscle. Put him next to Mirannon, and there would only be a haircut in it. He was certainly armed as well - there was more of him to hide it on - but he looked more as if he preferred bare hands and brute force.

The last two were both female, a robed one and a - the species was impossible to tell. Humanoid, bright-metal hands, neck and head, maybe more than that but hidden by a naval pilot’s uniform, moving as machine-like as the cybermask and limbs suggested, and being supported by the other.

Going through the motions, Adannan was introducing the com/scan officer when the other woman pushed her hood back. Dordd’s heart stood still for a moment. How had she got there?

The living double - clone sister, must be - of his own (he wished) Aleph-3, what was she, her clone, doing amid this damaged, deranged crew? As swift on the uptake as her sister, she noticed his attention; so did Adannan. His expression was unreadable, but Dordd knew he had just landed himself in it.

Captain Dordd had barely moved in, still hadn’t finished unpacking. It was no great personal misery to offer Adannan his main suite in the terraces of the superstructure, and move in to the day cabin on a permanent basis.

Apart from the symbolism of it. As expected, Adannan invited him to join him in what were now the Private Secretary’s Chambers.

It was almost more worrying not to see the collection of freaks waiting for him. The honour guard from his own crew looked severely scared, but the only people immediately visible were the robed three, the huge thug, her, and Adannan himself.

She looked good in a black robe - would in anything. Is she the second prong of the trident? Here to distract and threaten, flank and pounce? Concentrate, he told himself Adannan is the main threat, isn’t he?

‘Kor Adannan, I would like to say that I’m flattered by the Privy Council’s attention, but the simple fact is, I don’t understand it. This is my first command; we haven’t had time to distinguish ourselves.’ Or disgrace ourselves, he thought privately.

‘Precisely.’ Adannan said, like a scalpel. ‘It is with ISD Black Prince that the privy council is concerned.’

‘Then-‘ The thug glared at him. Dordd ignored it, but paused anyway. He had been about to say ‘why the indirect approach’ when his brain caught up with his mouth.

‘Good.’ Adannan said. His people understood, the naval captain didn’t. That meant that he appreciated a subordinate who thought slowly enough to be no threat, but quickly enough to be at least useful.

Dordd thought very fast nonetheless, of what it would be safe and unsafe to say. What in sanity’s name had Lennart gone and done, that the Privy Council itself sent a hatchet-man to take care of him?
What looked very much like one of Vader’s followers, at that - a licensed force wielder, exempt from the anti-Jedi legislation. And a whole raft of other things. My best bet, he thought, is probably to play it straight, as if I know nothing. Space, I don’t.

‘If you don’t mind me asking, Kor Adannan, what brought Captain Lennart to the notice of the Privy Council?’

‘He displayed potential.’ The heavyweight said, his master’s mouthpiece.

‘He has come across a dangerous and complex situation we feel he needs…support and reassurance in his handling of.’ Adannan himself said. ‘As his right hand man for five years, you should know him well.’

‘Left hand man.’ Dordd said. ‘Chief Mirannon is his right arm.’ Dordd tried to disclaim involvement.

‘That fact was not known to the Privy Council.’ Adannan lied. ‘I am fascinated by the achievements of the ship, and how they reflect on the individuals involved. It is the people, and their ability to rise - or fall - that matters to us.’

‘Jorian Lennart,’ the clone sister said, tormenting him with the name of his rival, ‘is an enigma. His service record makes no sense. He should have been promoted long ago, for his abilities, or dismissed long ago, for his irregularities.’

‘The squadron Black Prince is part of has one of the lowest personnel turnovers in the Starfleet.’ Dordd wondered how to explain it in acceptable political jargon. ‘They display to an exceptional degree the virtues of solidarity, adaptability-‘

‘Indeed.’ Adannan said. ‘I am intrigued,’ in a tone that suggested “intrigued” was a euphemism for “am about to schedule for dissection”, ‘with the statistically absurd fortune that has attended Black Prince. She was not named for Lord Vader, was she?’

‘No, it’s a traditional warship name in the Tion Cluster.’ Named for a historical, or this far downstream on the river of time largely legendary, figure, similarly renowned for a near-uncontrollable temper. Dordd had the sense not to add that part.

‘She has received extraordinarily little attention for a ship of her combat record. There are only three line destroyers in the entire galactic fleet who have a majority claim to a capital ship kill. The Swiftsure is now assigned to the Royal Guard, the Leviathan so badly damaged her number was retired and the hulk replaced Carida’s missing mascot moon. Lennart’s ship is the third.’ The special assistant to the privy councillor thought he had to tell the career naval officer that?

‘If all that was at stake was the recognition that deserves, you wouldn’t need to be here, would you?’ Dordd replied.

‘Correct. There is a purpose, which he would suit. Captain Lennart is, however…unpredictable. Eccentric, even.’ Adannan stated, with a certainty he couldn’t possibly be obtuse enough to believe. ‘Central authority must be upheld; If I approached him directly, it is possible he would do something rash.’

‘You expect he would be less likely to do something crazy in the face of a Starfleet ship commanded by a former member of his own command team, fine - but what would make him want to do that? How terrible is this purpose?’ Dordd asked.

‘How terrible can it be,’ the clone sister said, ‘if an arm of the Privy Council is carrying it through?’ Which was not much of an answer, but to challenge it was probably more than he could get away with.

‘Tell me more about the incident.’ Adannan said. There was only one he could mean.

‘It was just before my time, but I heard all about it, and we flew it again in sim - trying to work out how Black Prince had got away with it.’ Dordd said, and proceeded to tell the tale.

Two Procurator-class battlecruisers, the Faber and the Palmus Viridis; the Viridis had spent most of her life laid up, she was over eleven hundred years old, part of Kuat’s defence force.

Come the Clone Wars, she had been recommissioned with a cursory survey, and the first major refit she had come due for post-war had found the hull frames and reactor vessel severely cracked and corroded. It was deemed uneconomic to repair her, and Viridis was scheduled to be broken up and components recycled to refit the hundred and twenty year old Faber.

Black Prince was there both as part of the guard force for the deepdock and to lend support from the engineering team.

They were not alone - the Alliance had decided to stick their oar in; relatively new formed, but already picking up the pieces of older revolts and running discontents.

A distress signal from a supply convoy on route to the dock; Lennart had treated it with the dubiety he alone had thought it deserved, pretended to answer it, made some distance towards it - then sprinted flat out back to the dock complex.

He had arrived in time to catch the Rebel strikeforce as it was deploying; an old Recusant, two Corellian frigates - a 9600 and a Mushroom - a pair of Dreadnoughts, and transports containing two full Corps’ worth of renegade PDF soldiers from a world that had decided to cast its lot against the Empire.

Now that was shipjacking in style.

Black Prince managed to nail two of the transports before being swarmed over by the Rebels; she had to turn to beat off the strike escort before dealing with the situation at the dock.

Dordd’s predecessor had died when the mushroom rammed the destroyer in the forward superstructure; it had been gutted by HTL fire, it was only the wreck that hit; that was enough.

The Recusant was crippled and brushed aside with no time to finish it off, one of the Dreadnoughts and the 9600 obliterated, the other Dread limping away with the Recusant.

By then, the remaining six divisional transports were docked and their troops running riot through the deepdock and the battlecruisers.

Lennart blew one of the transports out of the way, docked on the Faber and released the legion; most of the engineering detail ashore - six thousand including Mirannon - had retreated into the Faber’s engineering spaces and were holding out there.

Black Prince’s stormtrooper complement had been the 276th Armoured Legion during the Clone Wars; renumbered when assigned to the Starfleet, they had managed to keep most of the heavy equipment.

There were few spaces inside a Procurator where it was worth trying to fly a repulsortank, but dismounted secondary cannon and repeating blasters, there was more than enough need for.

Veterans, a high proportion of clones, with heavy weapons and a team of crack engineers rigging the battleground in their favour; three to one odds became almost manageable, especially with Mirannon’s irradiating, squashing and accelerating to death the three self-proclaimed ‘Jedi’ leading the attack.

They had just linked up and were starting to turn the tide when the rest of the rebels managed to release the Viridis from the dock. Two corps-level boarding actions and an escaping, hijacked battlecruiser; it was certainly an interesting life in the Imperial Starfleet.

Lennart started juggling plates at this point, leaving most of the transports and dropships by the Faber, and pursuing the Viridis with the Black Prince and the fighter wing.

Palmus Viridis’ fighter complement had been removed and reassigned, so the strike wing had free range.

Most of the rebel soldiers had limited verging on no cross-training as ship crew, and the real turning point of the action was probably when a short-interval ripple salvo from the port side HTL turrets blasted through the back of the Viridis’ bridge module. That killed off most of the rebel officers who actually were capable of handling a ship the size of a battlecruiser.

The fighters exploited that, taking precision potshots, racing the rebels to disable shields, engines and weapons before they could be brought fully on line from the emergency positions lower in the hull; Black Prince continued a distant fire, blasting pieces off the battlecruiser’s engines, but also firing mainly LTL into the Faber, hitting the rebel controlled spaces, lending fire support to the legion.

Once they had started to win - and the legion’s veterans were simply faster thinking, faster reacting, as well as better armed; they couldn’t use any of the available biologicals and chemicals, too many unsuited engineers on their side, but everything else was fair game.

Once the tide had turned, Lennart withdrew a strike team.

Unskilled but enthusiastic, the rebels on board the Palmus Viridis did have enough wit to return fire, and a ship the size of a Procurator - four and a half times the length, eighty times the mass of a mere destroyer - was not short of guns to do that with.

Taking out the bridge had bought time, but the secondary control positions were too deeply buried; the chances of being able to pound the giant battlecruiser into submission before the hijackers managed to jump away were minimal.

A full scale boarding action - also out of the question. Even if they had the time to transfer over, they couldn’t do six to one against. Three, maybe, but not both ships and the dock.

A sabotage team, then; a handful of engineers and stormtroopers to disrupt it, hack into local control and do enough damage, cause enough chaos to slow the ship down, buy enough time for Black Prince to find and exploit a real weakness.

Black Prince was firing more slowly, taking aimed shots at the edges of shield panels, hosing the Viridis’ gun turrets with LTL fire so that when they opened a shield window to shoot out, hopefully there would be a bolt coming in. Raw firepower was never going to be enough, but a scalpel might.

Port battery scored again; from aft forward, aiming at the superstructure beneath the ruined bridge, a ripple salvo, one gun after the other, twentieth of a second apart. If they couldn’t find a weakness, they would make one.

Pounding on the same two meter wide square of shield, extraordinary shooting - Lennart had to hold the Black Prince rock steady, she picked up scars from that, nearly losing her own command module - it fluctuated, flared; local burn through.

Bolt after bolt burned into the Viridis’ cortex, splashing hull aside, shearing deep wounds- not mortal, but enough for a landing party to exploit.
Viridis banked to hide the wound, slowly; Lennart was guessing, accurately as it turned out, that whoever was in charge after the bridge had been shredded was a junior or staff officer, head full of the naval history most academies stuffed their students with. No reflexes - they could work out what the right thing to do was, but they took an age thinking of it.

The sabotage team knew they probably weren’t coming back; they went anyway. An assault shuttle - more likely to survive what would be essentially a controlled crash - sprinting through the defensive fire, crunching into the wreckage, disembarking the volunteers for death.
They were at least semi-prepared - they chemical-bombed and bioshot their way to the main damage control centre enthusiastically enough there was a good chance the ship would be too contaminated to retrieve anyway.

Heavy casualties - under the circumstances, acceptable. Only half a dozen made it - that was enough.

The survivors managed to hack in - central overrides to stop them were vapourised with the bridge module - and shut down the Palmus Viridis’ tensor field.

No-one would ever know the full story; some panicky idiot in the Alliance ranks tried to blast them out with a thermal detonator - killed them, took out the control linkage.

Any authorised terminal could undo the damage, if there was a sufficiently skilled slicer to hand with enough presence of mind to do it. There wasn’t.

After that, all there was to do was fly an S-curve, swaying back and forward across the battlecruiser’s stern, firing ripples from each main battery alternately.

Overtaxing and crushing shield generators without the elasticity of their mounts to rely on, leaving guns unable to shoot back without their turrets being smashed by their own no-longer-buffered recoil, hits sending showers of shrapnel through the ship killing the people needed to put it back together. Each failure straining the systems, making it ripe for more - then, once the aft quarter was thoroughly shredded, coherent full salvoes, burning huge killing chasms deep in the hull.

Com chaos; thousands of signals, pleas for mercy, spurious surrenders, defiance, incoherent babble - on the fourth full salvo, the battlecruiser’s reactor ruptured.

Sector fleet had thought they were doing well to catch and kill a crippled Recusant and Dreadnaught; they simply could not believe it when they arrived to pick up the pieces, and found an expanding cloud that had formerly been a capital ship and a limping, battered destroyer claiming the kill.

There was some doubt, some disbelief - far from being praised, Lennart only narrowly avoided being court-martialled on a variety of crimes, basically failing to be in two places at once, and worse, embarrassing the sector group. After all the fuss, he decided not to file an official claim for recapturing the Faber as well.

Dordd finished the tale; the three hooded figures looked as if they barely believed it.

‘He’s the man.’ The bulky, robed human said; Dordd was still surprised that he actually knew how to talk.

‘Against an old ship and a scratch crew? Circumstances were in his favour.’ She said.

‘In achieving the seemingly impossible, that often turns out to have been the case.’ Adannan cautioned. ‘The opening phase. How did he come to disregard a warning that by all the rules and regulations he was bound to heed? The supply convoy was a safer and more practical target for the rebels, there was no reason to disregard it.’

‘I’ve seen him do so on other occasions- tactics, experience, partly, I think, intuition.’ All three of the robed figures noticed that.

‘Partly, also, I think he enjoys risk to a degree, sometimes he follows chances that are simply too thin for comfort - he’s not infallible. His hit rate is well above average, but occasionally we do draw blanks, spend months combing barren void.’

They had tuned him out and were trading significant looks among themselves. They seemed to reach consensus.

‘You will take this ship to Vineland sector, to rendezvous with the Black Prince.’ Adannan said.

‘Of course, Private Secretary - and after that?’ Dordd asked.

Adannan considered his options. Dordd’s co-operation might make this business run more smoothly. He could always be disposed of, or treated as an example, later.

‘The Privy Council’, he lied, ‘has a use for the only destroyer captain still below Admiral’s rank with a capital ship kill claim to his credit. The council also has uses for a man who knows how to defy standing orders, work the system, and act on his own initiative. The fact that those two happen to be one and the same makes it all the more anomalous that he has escaped attention thus far. We intend to praise him, not bury him.’

Dordd was nowhere near as oblivious as Adannan was giving him credit for. Every instinct he possessed, for man-management and navy politics, was screaming at him that something was, very seriously, wrong.

He was desperately trying not to think about it too hard. ‘I see.’ He said, innocuously.

‘I hope you do, Captain. Best speed to Vineland sector.’ Adannan looked at the door, clearly meaning the captain was dismissed.

Dordd was grateful to get out.

Adannan sat motionless for a few moments. His team knew that meant he was thinking.

‘He seemed very taken with you.’ He said to his female aide and acolyte.

‘Thinking of turning an accident into an opportunity, my lord?’ she smiled back, hiding her nervousness. Adannan was not a galaxy-bestriding titan, like their ultimate master, but that was in some ways worse; he aspired, and imitated.

His entourage consisted of an uneasy, damaged blend of favourite victims and co-conspirators, and it was frighteningly easy to make the downward change. For the moment, she was one of the priviledged.

‘…Yes.’ the sith acolyte decided. ‘Torment him a little. Then, just to see how he reacts to it, tell him the truth.’

‘By your will, my lord.’ She gave the formal reply, then ‘How much of the truth?’

‘Use your own judgement.’ He said, cruelly.

Dordd, walking away, was kicking himself for staring at her - but what was Aleph-3, or one of her clone sisters, doing there? Among the Empire’s dirty work squad?

Mainly, he was thinking of what in space they were supposed to do. Did he have time to train his men, even? The curse of hyperdrive - short journey times that left little chance for any meaningful maintenance, damage control or training along the way.

Prioritise. At best, they were going to be acting in support of a fleet destroyer - at worst, depending on how unusual things got, conceivably, against.

That would be - suicidal. Even on the same side, the best use Black Prince would have for this ship would be as bait, or spare parts.

In general, combat; fine, but what? The Arrogant-class were actually less agile than the Imperators - faster in a straight line, but less good at the footwork.

Survivability first, then, see what difference practise made to that, and no reason why the gun crews couldn’t be busy at the same time, if not at long then at least medium range. He was still on his way to the bridge when he heard footsteps behind him.

It was her; his mouth went dry, he started to ask what she was doing following him.

‘I, ah…’ she said, mock-shyly, ‘you looked at me there as if you knew me.’

‘I thought I did.’ Dordd said, looking at the robes. ‘Or at least your identical twin.’ Yet now he was face to face with her, he noticed differences; this one, whatever her name was, was rounder faced, fuller figured, fleshier. Stop it, he thought, not listening to himself.

‘A twin? What was her name?’ she teased him.

Dordd couldn’t think of a snappy comeback in time. ‘Aleph-3.’

‘Ah, the white sheep of the family.’ The aide said. ‘Was she older? Younger?’ It was nice to have a toy of her own to play with; start with simple embarrassment and work up to misery and torment.

‘The same age, surely? She explained to me about your, um, birth.’

‘Oh, we were a very late series. The Geonosians learned a lot since the original J-model, in particular not to go too heavy on the stabilisers, especially for a line which was supposed to be, shall we say inventive? We’re more like milluplets.’ She said. It was more or less true - they had been given room to develop. Some in the most surprising directions.

‘Is that what you do for Kor Adannan, then? Public relations?’ Dordd asked.

‘Do you think that’s what he needs?’ she said, scornfully. ‘Someone to stand up and lie for him?’

‘He’s political, isn’t he? I’m sure he does from time to time.’ Dordd said, surprising himself with where he was going. He didn’t want to be hostile to her, for more than one reason.

She changed the subject, so drastically it spoke of an underlying agenda asserting itself, even to him.

‘Is that what my sister does for Jorian Lennart? Tell me more about her.’

‘She is…leaner than you. Possibly the only person in the galaxy who can make stormtrooper armour look sexy.’
‘She’s still doing that, then?’ the woman in front of him felt offended - by his failure to flatter her, and by his attentions to her sister. Either way, he couldn’t win. ‘Never moved on, never followed her star?’

‘You don’t think being an elite trooper is enough?’ Dordd asked.

‘No, I don’t. She is either refusing to rise, or thinks she had found another way.’

‘Rise to what?’

‘Power, of course.’ The robed woman said, as if she was speaking to an idiot.

‘I don’t think that’s Aleph-3’s main motivation - and before you say “more fool her” -‘ the clone sister in front of him had indeed been about to - ‘think, and tell me what price you bought your status at.’

‘Something of Captain Lennart has rubbed off on you after all.’ She snapped back.

‘Any decent person would say the same.’ Dordd said, guts churning and wondering what his idiot mouth was up to. ‘I know there’s a growing trend that Imperial officers aren’t supposed to be decent people these days, but your lord has at least two actual slaves in his entourage. Does he really think he can ignore the law, or is that a silly question- and is that your definition of power?’

‘Are you actually trying to challenge the authority of an officer of the privy council? Do you have that much of a death wish?’

‘If you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said no. Where does he get this untouchability from?’ Dordd asked, meaning - why does the privy council trust him?

‘He’s an adept. The rules change for him.’ She admitted.

‘To what? Get away with anything, except failure?’ Dordd replied.

‘Essentially. And you, fire this through your own head; for his tricks and outright defiance of procedure, Captain Jorian Lennart is, by rights, a dead man. He badly needs a ‘get out of dreck free’ card.’

‘That’s why Adannan was making such a big deal about his instincts…’ Dordd made the mental connection.

‘Latent, untrained force ability. Something that is simply not allowed to survive in the wild. I believe the standard text runs, “join us or die.” ‘ she stated.

'Hold on. Even assuming you're right, that you aren't simply starting at shadows, a crew with a strong, close-kint loyalty and a major warship kill - what exactly do you need them for?'

Dordd demonstrated how far common, unaided intuition could stretch. He continued 'Or should that be who? How loyal is Adannan? Who's above him, that he might want a way to step into the shoes of?'

'Very good, Captain.' She said, smiling. 'You had best take care; we might decide you have a spark of the Force as well.'
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-11 04:47pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-04-15 09:09am

Ch 15

Neutron Star class auxiliary carrier Great Murzim Stem was, on the inside, fairly well looked after. Surprisingly so for such an inherently worthless hull. They were not fast enough to escape Imperial hunters and, unless radically refitted, didn’t have the shields and weapons for a stand up fight with a proper warship.

Like most big civilian ships, their main power trunking went direct from reactor to hyperdrive and ion engines, and their associated systems, stasis, tensor and relative-inertial fields, closely integrated with them. They needed a whole new secondary power system to make any worthwhile percentage of the reactor output usable for combat-credible shields and weapons. Imperial Starfleet protected transports usually relied on local generators; this ship had made an unusually complete job of refit.

Well, it had an entire Clone War era military depot to draw on, so that made sense. Two quad medium turrets, looked taken from an Acclamator, quad light turbolasers on reinforced point defence mounts, cargo space converted to hangar bay, troop space and magazines.

As for the people onboard, there had been a combination celebration and wake, in a borrowed ready room, snatched out of what little time they had.

The clock was running, the plan already under way; the featherweight Quasar Fire would serve as rendezvous and retrieval carrier, the Great Murzim Stem would jump in as assault party leader, most fighters already deployed and what few non-hyper units there were working off this ship.

Now they were just waiting, for the plan to reach a definite shape, for their targets to be chosen and to be briefed on them.

Aron had surprised himself - unpleasantly - by his own jealousy. None of them were indulging in substances, of any form, to any great degree - they would be flying before long; but simple talk was head-bending enough.

There were five raw replacements in the ready room with them, and squadrons did not come in fourteens. Who were the ghosts at the feast?

Grannic was rambling about something, some obscure memory of pioneer life - when one of them asked Aron and Franjia, ‘Why? I don’t mean why the Rebellion; why did you ever side with the Empire?’

‘Fifty-odd million planets, and you try to call them ‘the?’’ Aron said. ‘It isn’t all bad everywhere.’

‘Get real, Aron, that’s like saying a man with cancer’s all right apart from the lumpy bits.’ Franjia said, aiming for contentiousness, and then appearing to change her mind. ‘Then again - maybe you’re half right; the people you’re trying to free from the Empire, are the people of the Empire.
'Where do you draw the line between the people and the system? Is it acceptable to shoot janitors? File clerks? Traffic wardens? Teachers?’

‘Yes.’ one of them - a Y-wing pilot - said. ‘Not acceptable - but necessary. ‘

‘Most people find it acceptable to shoot traffic wardens. Now did you see-’ M’Lanth tried to head the discussion off.

‘So anyone who finds themselves working for the Empire, even picking gum off the street, is under sentence of death, as soon as you can get around to it?’ Franjia asked him.

‘They want all of us dead, why shouldn’t we do the same to them?’ he said, looking at Aron and Franjia.

Franjia was about to snap back at him when Grannic looked at him cold-eyed and said ‘Because, Neridon, we are supposed to be the good guys.’

‘Most of the Imperial Starfleet would say the same thing.’ Aron said. ‘The thing you forget about Imperial propaganda is that it works. Unless something that screwed up happens right in front of you, you just don’t get hit by the clue bat. The pirates and dope-runners I used to chase were genuine scum the galaxy was better off without so, yes, I reckoned I was on the side of right.’

‘How? The Empire’s murdered and robbed it’s way across the galaxy, killed billions-‘

‘I feel,’ M’Lanth looked at Aron and Franjia, ‘like going for a walk. Care to join me?’

The argument - if that was what it was; they seemed to be violently agreeing with each other - rumbled on behind them.

So Aron and Franjia went wandering through the ship, ‘escorted’ by some of their new comrades and a fairly hefty security detail, both to stop them doing anything crazy, and any of the ship’s crew going for them.
After the flight facilities, next stop the magazine.

‘We never did decide who got the kill credit for that thing, did we?’ Franjia asked Aron, on the way.

‘Which thing?’ M’Lanth asked.

‘A crescent-winged missile attack ship, operating with this as its tender in our, ah, last meeting.’ Franjia admitted.

‘Squadron attack, team effort.’ Aron said, oblivious to the tension, or just ignoring it.

As they got to the magazine hatch, Franjia was just deciding to play with it. ‘That is- rather a lot of missile power.’ She said, looking in at the ordnance racks. They seemed to have been put together by someone who had seen a lot of war movies, but had more actual experience with builder’s scaffolding. Half empty, which still left, at rough count, over two hundred capital concussion rounds.

‘At a guess, they lack isolated, dedicated shields and baffles…you know, if I was a double, secretly a real Imperial fanatic,’ she said, smiling evilly, ‘one or two pistol shots at the ready rack, and they would probably cook off.’ She made a little explosion gesture.

The security detail clustered around her, just in case she did do anything that stupid or dangerous.

Aron glared at her. ‘Are you trying to get us into trouble?’

‘I can’t help it, I’m a bomber pilot.’ She said. ‘Show me a target this good, with a possibility of that satisfying an explosion, I do tend to start frothing.’ She said deadpan, as cool and poised as ever.

‘You have a point,’ M’Lanth admitted, ‘but it only worries people when you admit it.’

‘The extra internal shielding is keyed to the combat shields.’ One of the techies told them. ‘When they activate, these do.’

‘Dubious.’ Franjia said. ‘The Alliance doesn’t have the intellectual property rights for ambush.’

‘By the looks of it, you’re short of smaller ordnance.’ Aron said, looking further down the cargo racks. ‘Have you ever tried slinging one of those-‘ the heavy missiles- ‘under a Y-wing?’

‘We get by.’ M’Lanth said, sounding determined not to worry. ‘Come with me a second.’ He led them round two corners and up a level, out of earshot of the ordies.

‘I suppose it probably used to annoy you,’ he said, ‘when you were back there, how all ‘Imperials’ got lumped together.’

‘No,’ Aron said. ‘It always cheered me up. If they’re that dumb, they’re probably easy meat.’

‘Argh. What am I going to do with you?’ M’Lanth said. ‘Look; big galaxy, right? What makes you think that the Alliance is any more one solid block than the Empire is?’

‘And some of the separate strands that make up the Alliance do not tend to look on the bright side.’ Franjia guessed, rightly.

‘Yes. Three wings; the political wing - call it the Chandrillian wing for convenience. Former senators, leadership types.’

‘Three wings? What, you mean we joined the wrong rebellion? Stang. We’re going to have to go back to the empire, defect all over again until we join the right one.’ Franjia decided to test his. He ignored it.

‘Fallout from power struggles within the Empire.’ Aron stated.

‘Well, maybe.’ M’Lanth said. What else were you supposed to call an ex-Senator, come to think of it? ‘But- anyway; then there’s the ideological wing, call it the Corellian and Colonial, the guys with some big idea reason why the empire is evil. Corrupt, bureaucratic, restricting individual freedoms, yadda.’ He said, smiling to show he didn’t mean it.
‘Some of the rimmers have a verbal diarrhoea problem- talk ideological theory till the wampas come home.
'Then there’s the vengefuls, call it the Alderaanian wing. Personally hurt by the Empire and ready to set the galaxy on fire to get back at them. The nonhumans, you can sort out for yourself. The point I’m getting at is that a lot of the people here don’t have much of a sense of humour left, if they had it at all to start with.’

‘Right. I can understand that, a lot of what the Empire does simply…isn’t funny. It must make revolution a pretty miserable business, though.’ Aron stated.

‘It has its informative side. If, say, Captain Rinpael starts telling blue stories in the wardroom, I know we’re in for a rough one. Silliness,’ M’Lanth quoted, ‘is the last refuge of the doomed, after all.’

‘So as long as the command staff are grumbling, bitching, and walking around po-faced, you reckon you’re doing not too badly? It had better not work both ways, because on those terms, I don’t see how the Empire’s supposed to lose.’ Aron theorised.

‘Once you take the maniacal cackling into account…’ Franjia corrected him.

‘I’d forgotten about that.’ Aron said, then asked M’Lanth, ‘Seriously- for the moment- what are you going to do with us? I was a squadron leader, Franjia was already tabbed for the next squadron leader’s billet. Now I know we’re in no position to make demands, but - what are we going to get to fly, and when?’

‘Between us - Galactic Spirit, we’ve got better than a Wing’s worth of kills. Intel, maybe, but if all I wanted was to get out of the firing line and spend all my life answering stupid questions, I wouldn’t have bothered running, I’d have put in for a desk job.’ Franjia said.

‘There are procedures for these things, here. You’re probably be going to be passed up the line for further interrogation and investigation. Before or after the fight, I don’t know.’ M’Lanth said.

‘Surely the Alliance’s best chance is to take in as many Imperial renegades as it possibly can?’ Aron asked, wondering where the Rebel squadron commander hailed from.

‘Best chance of- remember those aliens?’ he said, almost hissing the last part.

‘Congratulations.’ Franjia said. ‘You’re almost as bigoted as the average TIE pilot.’ Aron glared at her. If she was acting it, simulating coming out of her shell, being freer and more flippant, well and good- but if it was the stress talking, the situation starting to get to her, that could be a real problem.

‘Bad blood’s still bad blood, whatever colour it is. The Mon Cal in particular are security fanatics. Cautious, conservative, no…aggression. No killer instinct. Always looking over their shoulder - well, they can, with those eyes. Always looking for a safe, low-risk option.
'It doesn’t kriffing work that way, does it? You take the risks, you suffer the losses, you hope you hurt the other guy worse, and come up swinging next time.’ M’Lanth let that go, bitterly.

‘Five men down.’ Aron said. ‘Three of them retrievable, if we get this right - if we,’ meaning himself and Franjia, ‘are even allowed to take part. I think this is one time the Imperial method has some advantage to it.’

Franjia agreed. ‘Backwards, isn’t it? The Imperial doctrine, indoctrination, is designed to harden squadrons to endure continuous combat, heartbreakingly heavy losses - and the proportion of units that go through that kind of punishment is tiny.
'The Rebellion’s supposed to be a band of brothers, and yet you’re sent into the fire so often that being able to stand it at all starts to look like a triumph in its own right.’

‘I think you’ve started believing our propaganda.’ M’Lanth tried to pass it off, nobody believing it.

‘How did you come to be here?’ Aron asked him.

‘Oh, it’s crazy. I’m from Antigivaun- you’ll never have heard of it. Frontier planet, starting to solidify; twenty-five years ago, we threw in our lot with the Separatists. Fought for them, using a hideous jumble of captured Republican and kitbashed Separatist bits and pieces; good practise for the rebellion.
'You know those over-and-under darts with the middle ball turret, Nantexes aren’t they, the ones they said were too difficult for humans to fly? My dad spent two years trying to prove them wrong. Came out of it thirty percent cyber and three quarters mad.’

‘I’ve sim’d against those.’ Franjia said.

‘You need to get out more.’ Aron bounced back at her.

‘You don’t think this counts?’ she said, plucking at one of the pocket flaps of the Rebel flightsuit. ‘Sorry, carry on.’

‘The battle line shifted as combat groups chased each other around the Rim, but when it got to us - the Separatist high command hung Antigivaun out to dry. Used us, and abandoned us. No mobile unit reinforcements at all.
'Not many people from our world have much time for nonhumans. Not after that day. We dropped the planetary shield and made a fight of it, and we lost. Dad survived, just, and after I was spawned-‘

‘Spawned?’ Franjia asked, unbelieving.

‘Don’t ask. Well, the old man turned into a total anarchist. He took against all forms of being told what to do, actually ran for office on a Don’t Listen To The Bastards platform. Most embarrassing day in his life was when they voted him in as mayor…the only way I could rebel against him was to follow in his ion trail.’ M’Lanth said.

Franjia looked meaningfully at Aron, trying to convey- I like him. Is he worth breaking cover for?
Aron shook his head. Things were going to get messy enough, without help.

The sound of clumping feet; a little grey man came round the corner, attended by a squad of Alliance infantry. Tired, drained, grim men. Where does he fit in, Franjia thought. Interrogator on the personal staff of a rogue Imperial official? True believer, willing to sacrifice himself to the cause and erase his own personality? Outer personality, all the wrinkles of character that made a man, burnt off by some personal tragedy, leaving only a job to be got on with?

‘Take them.’ He said, gesturing at Franjia and Aron. The infantry moved out into a firing crescent, the two outermost came forward with binders.

‘Wait. What’s your authority? Who sanctioned this?’ M’Lanth shouted at them.

‘Captain Ibtilamte. Strike group leader.’ The little grey man said.

‘They’re Starfighter Group’s problem.’

‘As you would know if you understood these things,’ the grey-faced interrogator said, ‘they have not yet been accepted into the Alliance. They are to be taken for further investigation.’

Franjia and Aron were wondering whether to make a run for it. The troops looked more than willing to shoot them.

‘You little grey shit, you cannot do this. Secret police, are you now - that’s against everything the Alliance stands for.’ M’Lanth ranted at him. The squad pointed their guns at him too.

‘The Alliance chiefly stands for not being ground down by the Empire. Precautions are essential. Stand aside.’

‘No.’ M’Lanth opened his mouth to shout for help; they shot him. Stun, but still - Aron and Franjia looked at him, unbelieving.

‘You’re an ISB plant, aren’t you? Here to stop the Rebellion getting anything useful out of Imperial defectors.’ Aron guessed.

‘Hold your hands out in front of you.’ The grey man said, unimpressed. In fact, he was seriously offended that anyone should think he belonged to that bunch of amateur clowns, when he actually took his orders from Infiltration branch of the Bureau of Operations. Naturally, he didn’t show it. ‘Three seconds.’

Both the pilots decided they had a better chance of getting out of this if they weren’t comatose; waited two and a half seconds, just for face’s sake, held their hands out, had them bound. They were taken to a docking port.

Tramp freighters were, in some ways, the perfect weapon for the Alliance; fast, much larger than a fighter and that much tougher in proportion, power output to match so they could stand heavier weapons and shields, not needing much in the way of resources to customise, and ‘cargo’ translated frighteningly easily to ‘troop capacity’ - or ordnance, for that matter.

Usually considered capable of unescorted flight, this one was the courier, carrying information - like the attack plan - back to higher authority, whatever could not be trusted to long distance transmissions. And them. Three guards boarded the freighter with them - no sight from the airlock, on the inside it seemed YT.

‘Any bright ideas about how to get out of this?’ Aron asked Franjia.

‘Short of my seducing the pilot, or your suddenly manifesting force powers, no.’

‘Shut up.’ The guard opposite them said. He looked barely sixteen, apart from the eyes.

‘How many fights have you been in, kid?’ Aron - early twenties - asked him.

‘Not enough to die. Yet.’ Which made a sort of sense, at least.

The freighter detached, banked away, accelerated, jumped to hyperspace. The guards were intending to take shifts - that probably meant a long, slow trip, through poorly mapped space with low-confidence routes and maps.

And low-confidence engineering. If there had been anything seriously wrong with the ship, it wouldn’t have flown at all, but it was amazing how many minor gripes they could keep going with.

Aron and Franjia were busy annoying the guard with an extended commentary on each and every little creak, shudder, twing, clunk and pinking noise - it was working - when there was a shuddering thud, scraping off a cliff judders and noise.

The lights and life support flickered, the ship jerked straight ‘down’ then pitched as if a space elephant had sat on its starboard quarter.

Aron and Franjia managed to hang on to the seat, the young guard got it wrong - tried to hold on to his gun - and briefly ended up on the ceiling, before crashing to the deck as the AG came back into alignment, with at least one bone broken.

‘We weren’t that rude, were we?’ Franjia asked. ‘Crash transition?’


Both of them headed for the cockpit - stopped by a pair of stun bolts blasting close over their heads. They looked at each other.

‘Why didn’t you steal his gun?’ Aron asked Franjia.

‘I thought you were the natural thief. Shh.’

The cockpit door was open, and they could hear incoming com traffic; ‘-Alliance Starfighter Corps. You’re holding two of ours. Release them at once.’

‘Popularity. Joy.’ Aron grumbled. Both of them ducked as another shot seared the padding on the bulkhead above them; she went back for the disabled guard’s blaster.

The guard protecting the cockpit started down the short, angled corridor towards Aron; Aron dived forwards and tackled him, both of them tumbling to the ground before he could get a shot off. Aron was faster getting up, springing to his feet and kicking the rebel soldier in the head. Not the best move - his helmet took most of it, the pilot yelped as he broke a toe, the guard rolled over, dazed, and knocked Aron off the one foot he had on the ground. They went down in another tangled heap, and the freighter’s flight engineer came back out of the cockpit, pistol in hand, took no chances and stun-shot them both.

Franjia had seized the other guard’s rifle, came back to see that and put a stun bolt into the flight engineer’s throat. He collapsed, choking, larynx scorched and fighting for breath. The cockpit door started to hiss shut - her second shot went into the door control panel, jamming it.

The pilot started to stand up to turn on her, the com system said, again, ‘Heave to, this is the Alliance Starfighter Corps. Cease acceleration, release our people, or-‘

That was as far as Comran got. Franjia could see part of the cockpit window, and what she saw out of it was a bright flash then a big, fast blur, red and parchment - yellow and white and chrome, all with freckles of carbon.

‘I think you’ll find,’ Captain Lennart’s voice cut across the Rebel TBS, ‘that they’re our people. Run or die, your choice.’

The rebel squadron panicked briefly; a Star Destroyer suddenly appearing in their midst was usually a bowel-loosening sight. ‘Shuttle, get the kriff out. With me, hit the scanner domes.’ M’Lanth ordered - bold and utterly dumb. Against a Lancer, it had been a viable strategy - against an Imperator, less sensible.

‘Don’t just stand there, do some pilot stuff.’ Franjia snapped at the transport pilot. ‘Get us out of here.’ She was using her command voice, and it worked; he turned his back on her.

A momentary hesitation - right, which side am I on? She asked herself.

She didn’t want Comran M’Lanth to get killed. Was that wrong? Un-Imperial? Fair fight maybe, but twelve to one, with him only sticking his neck out on her account - no. She was probably a better pilot than the Rebel shuttle jockey; either way - she shot him in the back of the head.

Stun bolts were non-lethal, and that was about the best that could be said for them. A stunshot to the head could seem like - or in some species, including some human variants, induce - an epileptic fit.

She stepped over the twitching body, into the pilot’s seat. Right, multi-engined, not a theoretical problem; effectively doing this one handed, worse. She throttled up and started to bring the freighter round in a sweeping curve, clumsily-throttles and yoke, fine, but only one at a time.

Looking out - at least Alpha, Gamma and Delta were airborne, the attack on the destroyer was already a failure - the Rebels were starbursting, scattering to avoid the swarm of defending fighters. Two were well out of it, a pair of Y’s just drifting there - that had been the rescue plan. Droid piloted, ready for them to step into. Another two were down already, a Y and an X, both ejected, she saw with relief. What she should be doing was heading for Black Prince’s hangar bay; going home.

Instead - she held the freighter to a loose evasive weave and watched, fascinated, as she identified M’Lanth’s X-wing being challenged directly by Group Captain Olleyri. The Defender came in on the X-wing’s port bow high; M’Lanth started to turn towards it, the Defender rolled outwards -

M’Lanth reversed roll, expecting Olleyri to turn in on his tail - instead Olleyri retro-burned hard, pitched the other way, outguessed M’Lanth and ended up behind him - the rebel immediately reversed turn and pitched up, curving to his left breaking across the gunsights of the Defender.

Olleyri was having too much fun to put a quad burst into the X-wing and end it there and then. Single fire, he bracketed the X-wing, ahead, behind, left, right - M’Lanth faked reversing the turn then pulled up sharply, still in the same tight powered skidding spiral.

Olleyri pirouetted the big, expensive fighter outwards to buy distance and scorched the X-wing again, neat quad bracket, at long range.

M’Lanth’s wingman tried to interfere, rolling out and heading after Olleyri - it would be down to the atomic clocks which of Lead, Alpha, got to him first. No help there.

The rebel recognised that fighter for fighter, he was outclassed; as pilot versus pilot, probably there too.

The only edge he had was his opponent’s age - skill and guile, true, but also slower reflexes, and that much deeper dyed in arrogance. A knife fight would suit - rolling round each other at point blank range, if Olleyri would give that to him.

The big Defender was fishtailing to kill velocity; it suited the Group Captain’s sense of drama too.

M’Lanth’s X-wing broke out of its bank and rolled to present, drifting away from the Imperial fighter; Olleyri accelerated towards him, M’Lanth tried to draw a bead with a torp,

Olleyri danced out of the lock once, let the rebel nearly succeed again, nearing optimum firing range - M’Lanth firewalled his engines, launched the torp on a weak contact, and rolled out to strafe past Olleyri’s fighter then J-turn and match velocities.

Good timing in principle, but it lacked surprise. Olleyri nailed the torpedo at medium range, accelerated and curved into M’Lanth’s line of flight, crossing his sights too fast, twisting like an eel out of the rebel’s snatched-trigger stream of fire.

Chopping into a reversing roll and vectoring round, then it was the rebel’s turn to dance as the Group Captain lobbed a deliberate stream of single shot after him.

One connected between the wings, smashing into the shielding, dropping it and kicking the X-wing aside; M’lanth rode into the tumble, exaggerating it and turning it into a radical evasive roll.

Olleyri waited for him to pull out of it into an offensive move; which he did, dumping weapon energy to shields and accelerating towards the group captain, cancelling lateral velocity into a long, slashing spiral, rolling round Olleyri’s gunsight.

A Defender had more energy to use than an X-wing, and the Group Captain saw no reason not to have fun with it, he kept up a slow fire.

M’Lanth rode his curve, pulling it in, widening it out as need be to dodge.

Distance and judgement; M’Lanth shot off a rapid eight round volley to force Olleyri to evade, not with any realistic expectation of a hit but to buy time for the close, swirling terminal approach the Rebel wanted. He called the turn short, would have flashed across the Defender’s nose in perfect killing position, but he had guessed right.

Olleyri overanalysed, began to react too cerebrally and too soon, rolling wide, yo-yo’ing after a rebel that simply wasn’t there.

When he realised he had been tricked the Defender flashed round like a conjuring trick, pivoting on the thrust deflectors, and both took full salvos, point blank.

The Rebel’s shields dropped completely and one of the bolts connected in the fuselage; nothing fell off, at least not yet. Olleyri’s fighter retained some shielding, but the Rebel refused to break off, spun low and left, nose coming up, flying almost backwards tracking the Defender; it rolled out and extended past him, and spun, spraying a hose of fire back along its line of flight which forced M’lanth in turn to break radically, and bought time for Olleyri to retrieve and plan.

The rest of the action had more or less come to a pause, both sides’ people flying with one eye on their own business and one eye on the duel.

Franjia barely registered Delta squadron lining up on her, but when she did threw the tramp freighter into a Tallon roll out of sheer reflex, throwing most of them off and cursing herself half way through — it was the perfect excuse.

She decided to extend out and let them try to ‘get’ her, if they could - partly because she had no intention of giving in, even to her own side, easily.

Then the third guard, the one they had forgotten about, pushed the muzzle of his blaster pistol against her ear. Sithspawn, she thought. I never did think much of Delta’s gunnery.

Olleyri and M’Lanth were still fencing with each other. The rest of the rebels were either ejected, ionised, or dead - and no surprise with two squadrons of Avengers chasing them down.

He must have known the engagement was pure loss, the end came surprisingly swiftly - he shut down lasers and dumped the power into shielding, fired a pair of torps at point blank on an incomplete lock.

The Group Captain was slowing, but not there yet; he snapshot at the torpedoes and hit one of them, the explosion cooked off the other, the Defender went tumbling away flare-scorched, the blast caught the X-wing and it started to break up - M’Lanth and his droid ejected. One of the ATRs moved in to pick him up.

Delta had finally coned and paralysed the YT; Franjia could have avoided any one of them, maybe any three, but not the full pack on a coordinated fire order.

One of the search and rescue ATRs moved in on it, attached itself to the starboard lock; for once, Omega-17-Blue had lost the draw and one of the line platoons had got the job instead.

It opened - the single remaining guard was there, using Franjia as a human shield, blaster pistol to her head.
‘Let me go - or I’ll splatter this treacherous cow’s brains all over the airlock.’

It had taken years for Lennart to get it through their Mandalorian-influenced skulls that bluff was an acceptable weapon of war. He was astonished when the stormtroopers stopped coming at him; pretty much anything they said would have got an ‘eh?’

‘So what will you do then?’ The sergeant asked. ‘Assuming we care about taking either of you alive. You’re not a flier. If we do let you go, how do you intend to get away?’

Unobtrusively, the trooper at the rear of the squad activated a flash-bang, rolled it forward along the deck while the sergeant held the rebel’s attention.

He boggled, decided ‘I’ll take her with me as a hostage.’ Then the blinding flash and the deafening crunch, almost too loud to hear.

Franjia dropped, more out of the grenade’s effect than tactics, faster than he did; the sargeant and the two lead troopers put eight blaster bolts into his chest before - after eight bolts, what was left of him - hit the ground.

It was as routine as paperwork in the Imperial fleet; after the battle, the inquisition.

Aron and Franjia were given the once over by Medical - fusing the bone in his toe and removing several items of biofragmentation from her - uncuffed, allowed to change into Starfighter Corps uniform. That sent a wave of rumours scattering throughout the ship from Epsilon flight bay.

Then they were hauled up before the ‘intelligence committee’ - Brenn, Olleyri still in his flight suit, someone neither of them recognised in a ranker’s uniform and steward’s insignia, Pellor Aldrem hanging on to Jhareylia as if her sanity depended on it, and the Captain.

Lennart began. ‘I think we can infer,’ he said, ‘from the Alliance Starfighter Command trying to rescue you from their own intelligence services, that your mission was not an unqualified success?’

‘Sir,’ Aron said, ‘as far as it was necessary at all, we did our part. They were thinking along those lines already, all we really did was encourage them.’

‘Assuming this hasn’t blown it wide open.’ Franjia added.

‘None escaped, no transmissions got past our jamming. Are you saying you regret being rescued?’ Brenn said, harshly.

‘Relax, Iel.’ Lennart said. ‘Time is with us on this one. They’re committed, they can’t afford to abort; even the loss of their recon squadron is one of those last minute screw-ups that has to be borne.
'We do know about the escape, and the preliminary strike- taking out the ISB building should cripple the security preparations nicely; the forewarning relatively unimportant, the practical damage more than makes up for it - who was responsible for that?’

‘Me, Sir.’ Aron admitted. ‘It just…sort of happened.’

Lennart had to work at not laughing. ‘This is completely informal, in case you were wondering. It has to be, because that ‘happening’ put a hundred thousand credit bounty on your head. As soon as we work out a good way of disguising the situation as a hypothetical, I intend to inform the fleet legal department, just to see what kind of fit they throw.’ He nodded to Olleyri.

‘We know all about the operation you took part in. What else have they got, and how good are they?’ Olleyri asked.

‘We never really got much further than general initiation and indoctrination. They - they’re almost entirely like us.’ Franjia said.

‘As people or as pilots?’ the Group Captain asked.

‘Mediocre, sir.’ Franjia answered. ‘Line unit level on average, with a large proportion of novices and a few crack pilots.’

‘Mostly crazed.’ Aron filled in. ‘Pretty grim bunch, the bulk of them. Thirteen squadrons, Y-wings, T-wings, not many X or better, only two frigates, a –40 and a Neutron Star.’

‘That X-jockey was pretty good. As long as that isn’t their average standard.’

‘Is Squadron Leader M’Lanth going to live?’ Franjia asked.

‘Not once we execute him, no.’ Lennart deadpanned.

‘But - he came after us, tried to rescue us from their Intel - is that worth killing him over?’ she pleaded.
‘You have it backwards. Is it enough to buy him mercy? You were with them for a short but intense period; long enough to make ‘them’ start to seem like ‘us’.’ Lennart said.

Brenn was not that much of a hard-liner, but circumstances left him playing the part. ‘We sent two officers of the Starfighter Corps undercover, to acquire intelligence and spread disinformation. You are now back where you belong. Anything that happened in between was the demands, and stresses, of the job. Nothing more.’

‘ “What was done, has been done for the good of the State…” ‘ Lennart quoted. ‘Hathren?’

‘I received an - urgent, imperative - signal to exfiltrate, act as guide and local liaison for an assault team, target to be the planetdef V-150’s. Take what I could from here and run, consider myself blown.’ The ex-rebel agent said.

‘Did you get the impression that they would be prepared to go in without you?’

She paused for a second, trying to think it through and sum it up simply, and settled on ‘Yes.’ Dead-voiced. Aldrem squeezed her arm, he worried about her.

‘Very well, then. Rebel assets?’

‘Sir, we were under suspicion by everyone but the squadron from the moment we got there. Neither ourselves or the squadron were briefed on the final attack plan, so I can only tell you what we saw.’ Aron said, and detailed what he had seen.

Franjia and Captain Lennart both picked up on the attempt to spare the rebel pilots interrogation, at least; Lennart decided not to pursue that, yet.

‘Your opinion?’ The Captain asked Jhareylia.

‘This would have bypassed me completely. I didn’t do volume discounts.’ She tried to make a joke of it, chiefly to lighten her own mood- and failed to convince. ‘They’re committed, now.’

‘And their standard procedure would be?’ Lennart pressed.

‘With an escape this size, subtlety fails. I’d expect it to be done as a military rescue, cram them into a warship fast enough to outrun Imperial pursuers and try to cross enough organisational boundaries that the chase flounders in paperwork, reach a safe base then screen them and reintegrate them.’

Ignoring paperwork was one of this ship’s chief assets; even assuming that the rebels got that far.

‘This,’ Lennart said, firing up the holodisplay, ‘is what I expect to happen.’ They weren’t really here to participate, they were here to be used as a sounding board and error checker.
‘The object of the exercise is to draw out enough of the Alliance fleet to make a proper fight of it. System defence has been noticeably slack about long range scans before; I think they would take the risk-‘

‘The force commander’s Mon Cal.’ Aron interrupted. ‘They’re not good at risk.’

‘Some destroyer captains would have your lips sewn together for interrupting like that.’ Lennart said, calmly.

‘Sorry, Sir, what I meant was that the bold move might be beyond them.’

‘I believe so too; but is that a safe basis to plan on?’ he asked, rhetorically, implying it was the quality rather than the fact of the interruption that mattered.

‘So, expectations; the Neutron Star, the fighters and the rest of the human-crewed ships will make a direct entry in low orbit, which triggers whatever spec-ops plans they have; they will need to take the planetary and the capital’s theatre shields.
'I don’t expect them to be activated anything like promptly, but I don’t expect the rebels to count on that either. No, demolish; they don’t have the assets, and I presume aren’t stupid enough to assume they’ll have the time, to actually steal the generators. Seize the V-150s, bombard or have demolition teams take out the shields, fighter and LTL fire on the prison to kill the defences and guards, then whatever surface to orbit assets they have for retrieval, and as much as possible done at once.
'I do expect the Mon Cal to be reluctant to make a combat drop; they’ll time their exit too soon, end up in high orbit at best, and whether they officially mean to or not act as initial covering party.
'Does anyone have any objections to the planetary defence force and the Imperial Army receiving a thorough pasting?’ Lennart asked.

‘No.’ Jhareylia said at once.

‘What about the Golan?’ Aldrem asked.

‘I expect them to buy time and raise the alarm to the rest of the sector group, maybe inflict some casualties - better off killing the small craft and slowing down the surface to orbit cycle than just denting the shields of the larger craft.
'Sector will react, slowly. The Lancer-class Dubhei Targe will be present - in atmosphere, over the prison. The Rebs will, at least should, be hesitant to use heavy weapons on her, for fear of misses - or heat dump off the shielding - roasting the prisoners.

'Kondracke will be able to inflict losses and buy time. When they do nail him, she’ll be grounding in a relatively friendly environment with good survival probabilities for her crew. By then, Elstrand’s Comarre Meridian should be ready to enter the engagement. The rebels will have already done the majority of the work they need to succeed, and would be far beyond the point of no return.
'Personally, I hope they do get away with the prisoners; once we recapture them, we can deal with them according to something resembling Imperial law rather than the whim of some mad torturer.’ Lennart said.

Franjia had the sense to say nothing; it was Jhareylia who asked ‘What does that involve?’ She had been about to ask what the difference was when Pel Aldrem stood on her foot.

‘Recognising it would take a major legal miracle for any of them to be found actually innocent?’ Lennart said. ‘Standard drumhead tribunal. Short to medium sentences for the ordinary rank and file and the support personnel, medium to long for the non-coms and officers, long term hard labour to execution for the spiritual-ideological leaders and military planners. All martyr complexes accommodated as usual.

‘Ol, this is where you come in. At this point we need rid of the ion cannon ourselves, Elstrand’s fighter complement should be going for it, but even taking into account the local defence force, Kondracke and the Golan, they’ll be outnumbered at least two, probably three to one.’ Lennart explained.

‘Captain?’ Aldrem spoke up. ‘Sir, the Golan’s under-crewed for something that size, and as near as makes no odds undefended from boarding. Seize it and they’ve pretty much got control of local space.’

‘I considered that and discounted it. It would take too long for them to clear out, too long to evacuate from; seizing it early in the engagement - it would be a far-sighted man or Mon Cal who saw the need, especially as they intend a smash and grab. The time and troops they’d need, they need more badly elsewhere. Take it late on in the fight and all they’ll be doing is leaving more hostages behind. They’re going to have enough trouble evacuating the V-150 crews as it is. Hathren- suicidals?’

‘Unlikely but not impossible.’ She said. ‘More likely to be men willing to gamble on a thin chance of survival, or intending to lie low after the op and escape through the underground railroad.’

‘We’ll know anyway, if they leave any kind of escape ship with the ion cannon, won’t we?’ Aron asked.

‘Yes. Phase three; escalation.’ The holodisplay showed a planet with near orbit criss-crossed by dozens of trails and dots, little sparks of fire. Lennart continued, ‘Our purely tactical goal is to inflict damage on the Rebellion, and rack up more of a score for Black Prince.
'The political goal is to capture information or individuals capable of testifying just how thoroughly embedded the Alliance is in this sector.’ Short term goal, anyway, Lennart thought to himself. The long term goal was to keep an old, ugly secret hidden.

‘Now, we have parts of the picture,’ he looked at Aron, Jhareylia, Franjia, ‘and we may be morally certain; but basically, we’re trying to indict a Sector Governor for incompetence, and that requires a higher standard of proof than the hunches of war. I would run with what the Fulgor’s compcore gave us if I had to, but it would be a long shot. The Fulgor was regional command anyway; what I hope to do is draw in the distant covering party. That could present an interesting challenge. You heard nothing?’

‘No, sir.’ Aron said.

‘Captain Lennart-‘ Jhareylia began. She was still afraid of Lennart- for his casualness, more than anything else. He should look as if his responsibilities sat on him more heavily; he was frighteningly unaffected.

‘As far as I know, we have a lot of movement out-sector, we, well, we sell ships to the rest of the Alliance. Part of what we get back is preferment - a lot of people from Vineland sector have gone on to rise pretty high. There’s a lot of support they can call on, but I don’t know about the timing.’

‘My working assumption is probably one, possibly two destroyers. That should be enough of a fight to raise attention.’ Lennart said, then paused, looked up at the ceiling, cocked his head as if he was listening for something.

‘Captain, this is Com-Scan.’ Ntevi; the duty watch officer. ‘The Ghorn II defence platform is reporting hyperspace bow shocks. Several medium, many small.’

‘And so it begins.’ Lennart said, reaching for the com panel. ‘Bridge, sound General Quarters. Aldrem, Jandras, Rahandravell- wait here.’ Brenn and Olleyri left; he had to glare at Jhareylia Hathren.

He waited until she had left, then turned to Aldrem. ‘I know about the white lie you told her. I passed the information up the chain of command, and HIMS Antorevan was intercepted and boarded by Minotaur at 0200 Coruscant Time.’ HIMS Minotaur was a Shockwave-class heavy destroyer, one of their squadronmates in 851. ‘Eighty-seven officers and men were brought to trial and found guilty of piracy, robbery, murder, and misuse of Imperial resources.’

‘I see, sir. Thank you.’ Aldrem saluted, and left. Jhareylia was waiting outside, having no definite combat assignment; he caught her by the shoulders and pulled her to him, hugged the breath out of her before she could ask, let her go, kissed her forehead and sprinted for turret Port-4.

‘Aron, Franjia.’

‘Yes, sir?’ they both said, nervously.

‘I thought that you, of all people,’ he said looking at Franjia, ‘could be counted on to maintain a healthy hate of the Rebellion. Have you forgotten Tellick and Inturii so soon?’ stinging her deliberately.

No, sir.’ She said, angrily. ‘But, as we said to them, it’s a civil war. You expect the opposite sides to have nothing in common? Some of them were, really, frighteningly like us.’

‘With similar griefs, and sense of loss…what difference do you think that should be allowed to make?’ Lennart asked her, inviting her to commit career suicide.

Aron saved her. ‘We were sent to do a job we didn’t understand, and be sneaky, treacherous, devious, underhand and manipulative about it; Captain, I think you should have been more worried if we came back normal.’

‘You don’t know the half of it.’ Lennart said, shooting from the lip. ‘We’ll be deploying in thirty minutes. Epsilon squadron will be depending on you to lead them, in the name of the Galactic Empire.’

‘We won’t let them down, sir.’ Aron assured him.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-11 08:32pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-04-22 05:57am

Ch 16

The executions were scheduled to start at dawn. So it was the nightside of Ghorn II that lit up with nearly two hundred brief new stars.

The Alliance had burnt a lot of capital, sacrificed most of its sleeper cells and intelligence units, and called in a lot of favours to make this happen. The ground side was not exactly being handled by a crack commando team - and probably the better for it.

Punch a hole in the planetary shield generator network, and take out the theatre shield that could fill the gap; rather than send in a bunch of jittery enthusiasts playing Hero of the Republic with equipment patterns - and tactical ideas - going back to the Ruusan Reformation, they sent a small bunch of fixers, fudgers, and improvisers. They had bothered to think about the problem; the garrison wasn’t officially on alert, but the men - more sensible than their officers - were so keyed up they might as well have been. So sneaky was out.

The central node of the planetary shield web was in a fenced and guarded enclosure in the middle of a major public park; the clear space around served as killing ground for the guards and safety distance and accident management space for the shield unit.

The easiest way around the problem was to hijack a heavy cargo skiff, and have it flown by a kamikaze droid - which power dived it into the planetary shield generator. Inactive, not under the stress of carrying its own energy, the resilience that required made the shield a hard target; the plummeting hauler damaged it only, beyond immediate usability but not beyond repair - for the time being, that was enough.

The theatre shield was in the outer courtyard of the garrison base, and was dealt with similarly; a light freighter in transit saw the flash, banked drastically to clear the area, across normally protected airspace - and jettisoned a pallet of fuel pods over the generator. Cluster bombing with hypermatter fuel cells was nowhere near as efficient as doing it with proton or thermal bombs, but it surely was effective.

Normally very safe, they had had their seals weakened to make them more likely to rupture. Most of them still failed to detonate, but enough managed to split open for a ripple of pressure waves that tore the generator apart, cracked the courtyard walls, caved in the face of the garrison building.

Above the atmosphere, the rebel formation started to sort itself out into task groups; the Mon Cal ships were late and high, as Lennart had expected - the -40, a –30b light carrier, a –30c torpedo boat; the human-manned vessels in lower orbit.

The fighters started to stream towards their targets; two thirds of the fighters and a third of the bombers headed for the surface to take out the planetary defence forces and start softening up the prison.

The bulk of the bombers and the last third of the fighters made for the Golan. The platform commander had not been happy about Lennart’s plan, but being immobile, the only alternative he had was either to bail out almost immediately, which would not look good. That or rat out to the sector group. Squealing did have theoretical advantages - provided the sector group actually bothered to do anything, which was not a given.

The Great Murzim Stem no longer had its heavy jammer, the Golan was screaming for help and the Neutron Star putting out what static it could- it was also rolling to bring it’s main turrets to bear.

As intended, the StarGun began to fire on the fighters - its guns were not made for the job of tracking targets that fast and small, so it was firing predicted grid salvos, trying to get them before they got to close quarters. It wasn’t an efficient or economical way of doing it, but the crew of the battle station weren’t convinced they were going to be around long enough to worry about that. It was working, too; the short-barrel turbolasers were more than enough to melt rebel bombers. They were only designed to contest near-planetary space, really just to prevent bombardment and landings.

The Alliance’s best option would have been to stand off beyond the Golan’s effective range and hose it with MTL fire, but they needed things to happen faster than that. So send the fighters in, and take the losses and the time they bought.

The turbolaser salvos the Great Murzim Stem and the MC-40 did send scintillating towards the Golan forced them to focus their shields against them, opened up soft spots for the fighters to exploit.

The platform had no actual point defence worth mentioning, because it had been designed with the clone wars and the hordes upon hordes of droid fighters in mind.

It had seemed so near impossible to get rid of them by shooting at them, the designers had settled on an alternative solution entirely - beef up the shields to soak up fighter weapons fire, so ignoring them, and carry an exclusively big gun fit to shoot at the motherships. It had almost made sense.

Their best chance was when the Alliance bombers stopped manoeuvring and settled to line up torpedo shots. As they pointed on, the Golan lashed waves of green at them, blowing five of the first Y-wing squadron apart. The Alliance fighters tried to weave their way through the storm, started to fail, some broke off and ran, then one of them had the bright idea of throwing the book away. An immobile target with limited point defence didn’t really need a hard contact, did it?

Eleven pilots too late to work that out, but perhaps not too late for the mission. They began to touch and loose, firing on partial locks, shoot then keep moving, roll round the target, swarm it, hit flanks and underside. Somehow, through overdriven shielding, the deterrent effect of waves of green shot pouring out of the platform, and sheer dumb luck, the Golan survived the first coordinated strike and the streams of torpedoes hammering at its shields.

The Golan’s own fighter complement had been held back until the rebel formation had been broken up and they had a fighting chance; now was the time.

On the surface, at Ion Cannon mount North Temperate A, the gun crew were boggled - so many alarms going off, so many separate alerts they missed the one for ground intrusion.
Most of them had been asleep; they raced to their stations, undressed and half-dressed, the night duty party already had it on-line when the main gun team arrived and brought the V-150 into action.

They got one burst of fire off - three shots, tracking on to and the last splashing over a Corellian Corvette manoeuvring for atmospheric entry. It was the evacuation transport. It flared out spectacularly, lightning arcs crackling down to the upper air and the ship’s lights and engines spasming, and started to tumble end for end down to the planet.

The hull might survive re-entry, but one flaw in the seals would let enough hot gas through to roast the crew alive - which if it did happen would only pre-empt the inevitable, slamming into solid ground without working tensors or relative-inertials. At least it was the usual choice; buried or cremated.

One of the ion crew started their victory chant; ‘ “Ion Cannon don’t kill people-“ ‘

‘ “Uncontrolled re-entry kills people.” Set me up on the next.’ They were settling down and looking for the next target when the control bunker door blew in, and the team of Alliance volunteer commandos came in shooting.

The surface attack fighter stream had one target - the planetary capital. It was the only logical place of execution, it was where everything was going to happen. They played it the same way, dropping below the horizon and terrain-hopping, the single X-wing squadron in the lead doing final tactical recon and wild weasel.

The truest yardstick of the Alliance’s real success was the proportion of people who, when they hit a place, came out onto the rooftops to cheer, as against how many came out to shoot at them. There was a lot of light random ground fire.

Not much of it mattered, they were after the real stuff. The garrison base received a phased squadron volley of proton torpedoes; they hadn’t finished clearing the blast marks off the walls from Aron’s go at it, never mind the new set.

It ceased to be a problem after it ran out of walls. The phased volley hit the scan towers, crippled the effectiveness of the point defence; hit the defence mounts just to be sure; dipped down the fighter launch and vehicle garage bays, blasted open the heart of the ferrocrete ziggurat.

A handful of scout troopers and stormtroopers made it out, but so much heat was dumped into the structure, it melted and slumped in on itself, liquefying.

The Golan’s two squadrons of TIE/ln took losses from stray shots as they left the hangar bays, but not enough to stop them as they broke up into their flight hunting groups and scythed into the loose, scattered rebels.

The rebels had already lost the equivalent of a squadron, mostly bombers, in the approach run; the faster T-wings extended out of the formation, accelerating clear to reform and bounce the TIEs in their turn, the slower R-41s and Z-95s tried to stay with and cover the Y- and local bombers.

The typical cynical Imperial pilot’s definition of the usual rebel bag of odds and sods was ‘if it’s got torpedoes, it’s a bomber. If it’s got concussions, it’s strike or intercept. If it’s got blaster gas, somebody down in Supply’s on the take again.’

Two squadrons of Y-wings - the survivors of two and a half - made up the bulk of the rebel strike force; not completely hopeless as dogfighters, they were close enough to make it seem that way. They used what advantages they had - their size and toughness, their turrets and torpedoes, weaving to cover each other against the speeding, laser-spitting TIEs. In open space it would have meant that the rebel ships had to slow their rate of fire and take aimed shots at the platform to avoid hitting their own fighters in the furball; against the background of the planet, they were doing that anyway.

The Imperial platform did have to shift fire away from the rebel fighters, but it had more than enough other targets.

The loss of the evacuation transport would damage the rebel plan, but not yet wreck it; they had a handful of proper dropships including a stolen AT-AT landing barge, a larger assortment of superannuated Clone Wars craft from both sides, and the inevitable small gaggle of tramp freighters.

They led the attack, making awkward, brute force re-entries - dodging and twisting in the fire from the Golan, one –9979 lost control and skimmed off. The Golan blew it away as an afterthought; a Republic lander never made it that far.

Through that, they were starting to think the rest was going to be easy when Kondracke’s Lancer rose out of its hide like a pantomime monster. He had been in the stadium complex’s main arena; came up on repulsors, smashing through the weather dome - for no reason other than sheer drama - and into view of the Rebel fighters.

The antifighter frigate was still not in full functioning condition, but at least this time its guns were fully manned. Quick, accurate Correllian quads, but for all that he and his crew were frustrated and in need of satisfying explosions, they reluctantly agreed with Lennart’s insistence on minimising collateral damage.

They rose up and over the stadium rim and hovered just above the speeder park, loosing maniacal cones of fire freely above the horizon, taking aimed shots at the terrain-hugging rebel fighters.

No starship captain wanted to commit to battle in the middle of a city. It was not exactly one of the normal engagement modes; but it was as strange to the rebels as it was to the imperials, and both sides could at least attempt to exploit that.

No two squadrons the same; X’s, Gauntlets, T’s, Y’s, R-41s and Z-95s, the X-wing squadron commander was senior, and ordered the T-wings to move out, be ready to intercept smaller groups of imperial fighters coming from around the planet, the Y’s, R’s and Z’s to stand by, and led his own squadron and the Gauntlets in.

The Gauntlets were weird little beasts; slow, solid, deep serrations in the leading edge, they were a contemporary and rival to the Y-wing. Their main point of uniqueness was their turreted proton torp launchers. The weight penalty of that made them brutally slow - no worse than the TIE bomber really - but it did mean they could evade and attack at the same time, manoeuvre radically to avoid defensive fire and still get their shots in. They were the bulk of what the Lancer could actually see. They held its attention, stunting for all they were worth, and the X-wings played hide and seek along the horizon, popping up over the rooftops to fire grouped shot and torpedoes.

Both sides were having trouble with the environment. The Lancer’s sensors drowned in background clutter and false positives; the rebels were horrified by just how much damage dumping so much energy into the air did. The heat, magnetic pulse, and straightforward concussion wave that rolled out of each proton torpedo detonation tore at the city; if there were any windows left after the previous proton bombings, they were gone now. Pretty soon, ‘flammable’ was going to become a problem too.

The city centre was not deserted; night shifts, partiers, firms and local offices who dealt with other planets and whose business never stopped for something as mundane as local dark - there were more than enough people around. In that environment, ‘people’ became ‘casualties’ frighteningly easily.

No civil attack alarm had been sounded; it didn’t need to, as the superheated dry air around the Lancer swelled out and rose up, drawing air and windborne debris in from the rest of the city into its own, artificial lightning-lit storm cell. The fortunate and the sensible took cover anyway.

There were no fires yet - nothing other than the trees in the park - but the alliance fighters being battered around like leaves in a typhoon would fire wild and start hitting structures soon, if the Lancer’s gun crews didn’t get overexcited and do it for them.

In orbit the fight spiralled around the Golan, TIEs and Y’s, the bombers frantically trying to claw off the atmosphere and the TIEs using their superior thrust to spiral around them, braking harder and later.

One Imperial fighter got hit at the bottom of its swing down the gravity well, splashed by a blaster bolt in the wing hub; the pilot ejected, and found himself doing the hundred mile freefall - racing two rebel pilots and an astromech to the ground. Well, their dust would, anyway.

The ‘95s and ‘41’s were almost as easy prey as the Y-wings; nearly fighters and might have beens, but there were so many of them. Outnumbered by a factor of three, depending on how the fight below went - the thermal bloom torturing the weather cycle of the planet was not merely visible from orbit, it was rapidly becoming dominant.

By doctrine, the fighters were now a “mission element” - which most pilots translated as "expendable". On a broad interpretation, they were right. It meant that this part of the plan simply had to get done, to the best of their ability and endurance, for the sake of the overall objective. They were the acceptable price to pay.
There was no plausible good end to their part of it, and all there was to do was to go out fighting and do as much damage on the way as possible. Fortunately, most of the pilots who resented that chose to take it out on those actually shooting at them.

One wide-spaced trio of TIEs swung in on the tail of a pair of the cruciform local bombers; the single TIE above and behind, playing wingman, twisted out of the way as an R-41 shot at him and missed.

The rebel element leader had been hoping to slide into the clear space and gun down the two lead TIE - he was already moving towards it anyway, not registering the TIE’s survival; it backflipped and accelerated away out of the blind spot, rolled round its Z-axis and put two twin laser bolts into the Rebel.

The R-41 shredded itself in a carrot-shaped explosion; the wingman who had missed the first time took a snapshot at one of the lead Imperial fighters - hitting and overpenetrating low on the port wing, blasting out the lower radiator panels - then tried to sideswipe the trailing TIE.

The intact lead TIE took one chance at its bomber target - wrecking an engine mount, mission kill. The rebel strike craft tried to limp back to the carrier, but a shot from the Golan vapourised it on the way. Then it tried to turn to cover the rest of the flight, but the R-41 slid into the trailing TIE before it could lock and fire; the trailer was slow rolling clear, was crushed against the shields of the Starchaser, and exploded, damaging and stunning the Rebel, lining it up for the leader.

He sprayed a rapid chain of laser bolts at it - detonating it, and being hit in turn by the bomber he had been chasing, which pumped a spray of autoblaster fire into the eyeball.

It was turning for clear space to draw breath and plan a next move when the half-winged TIE, the only survivor of the flight, managed to regain control and blasted a stream of laser pulses at it, zeroing in as it receded; the hit split open the weapon power cells and splashed a red-orange fireball in the sky.

And so it went. Imperial fighters, against the odds, managing to give better than they got but ultimately ground down by locally superior enemy numbers.

The orbital battle ended when the Great Murzim Stem dipped down into an atmosphere-grazing orbit, beneath the StarGun platform and thrusting to hold itself in place, trying to get it over with fast by firing full volleys into the belly of the platform.

The Golan-series were huge sprawling things, but they had relatively little to show for it. A lot of heat dispersal, but the two quad mediums on the Neutron Star could pound it hard enough for local overload, bringing down shield segments and ravaging the structure underneath with the LTLs fired a fraction of a second later, and lashing out around it with what point defence turrets it retained.

That should have been the Mon Cal’s task, their light cruiser - realistically, frigate - was better built for the job, but the –40 was still leisurely descending the gravity well.

It was fortunate for the cause of the Alliance that Captains Ibtilamte and Vallander were not face to face, and could do no worse than swear at each other.

The Golan shot back, a clear target at close range, but its guns were only at the heavier end of light turbolaser, and it was taking in more punishment than it was giving out.

Brute force made the end inevitable; the shields billowed and flared out, parts of the structure melted and slumped in on itself, and the slablike station started to spew escape pods.

Only four TIEs broke out of the melee, and moved to re-enter and link up with a local defence unit; between them and the station they had killed better than three squadrons of Rebel fighters, and they had bought time.

The lancer Dubhei Targe was still hovering in front of the gates of the jail, preventing any close approach, with the rebels becoming increasingly reluctant to put the city to the torch by firing any more warheads at her.

It would do no short term good to cook the men they were trying to rescue - was doing no good to riddle with blast-driven fragments the citizens they claimed to want to set free from the Empire. But in that case, what to do? Sit and get shot? For one Gauntlet crew, frustration got the better of reluctance, and they curved up from behind the office tower they were using as shelter and fired three hastily-locked torpedoes.

Two were accurately aimed, one too low. The turrets spat laser shot at the Gauntlet - two connecting, draining its shields and shooting half the forward fins away - and at the two torpedoes showing no aspect change; the Lancer hit one, was hit by and rode out the blast from the second, but ignored the third which hit the car park underneath her, and penetrated thirty metres before detonating - an accidental camouflet.

The blast was bigger than that, but it left a crater in the ground - big enough for the Lancer to drop into. The Dubhei Targe’s navigator had carelessly mis-set the repulsors; programmed hover a fixed distance from the planetary surface, not the centre of mass. The surface wasn’t there any more, and the Lancer’s own engines hauled it downwards - through the superhot vapour and the ejecta - and embedded it in the crater, tilted half-in, half out, with too many heat dispersers and guns masked or driven into foundation pilings.

Kondracke screamed at his navigator. The shields battered at the earth and rock they were embedded in and drained themselves out, and the Alliance saw their chance.

The dropship pilot had dreamed of opportunities like this; pre-celebrated in cartoons all over the galaxy.

There was a certain glorious inevitability about it. He warned the troops in back to get on to the upper gantries and strap in, cut the braking thrusters, and accelerated downwards, at the Lancer. With an AT-AT barge.

Kondracke looked at the large and growing blip on the abstract tactical display; he had just time to make the mental transition from the commander of a ship, thinking about vectors, arcs of fire, radiator temperatures, to a man on the bridge of a ship thinking, dreck - I’m going to get squished here.

He had been a leading member of the dramatic society at his naval academy; he ran for the accessway, realised he wasn’t going to make it, and his last thought as the collision alarm sounded was that it wasn’t enough they were going to kill him - someone else was going to get star billing for it.

The drop barge fell on the Lancer’s bridge module like a hundred kiloton hammer. The compensators on the barge took it in fairly good condition - it was only 3000 ‘g’ of acceleration, imposing severe but not excess strain.

The Lancer’s systems were still in failure-analysis mode over the grounding, the electronic equivalent of ‘oops’, and the crew had been too badly stunned to over-ride them. It took the impact badly. The ramming, in effect, crushed the bridge tower to twisted fragments and drove the jumble down into the hull.

The loss of the bridge took out the active control point. Imperial security provisions, legalities, verifications - with the captain dead, the next authorised in line of command had to certify that, and that he was taking over. It was supposed to help prevent unauthorised access and mutiny, but it imposed a sometimes critical delay in regaining control of a crippled ship.

There were at least three other places that had the information systems to exercise command from: Com-Scan, main engineering and gunnery control, if anyone had the wit to; it was not impossible that the Dubhei Targe might be able to survive.

What was likely to make it impossible was the battalion of Alliance assault troops deploying quite literally on top of them, with lots of convenient hull breaches to work with.

The rest of the drop ships touched down around the crater, now that it was safe to do so, and sent their men out into the searing heat.

That was actually being dealt with; the regional weather control system was starting to conduct damage control, nudge the bloom of hot air inland, away from the city, to - relatively - barren areas where the cyclone could be left to blow itself out.

Some of the rebel pilots, from primitive worlds without such things, thought the air-heating and cooling lasers were attacking them and moved to strafe; they hit a couple before they were reined in, the propaganda damage was greater than the physical. The weather control crews - who would later be portrayed as heroically standing by their duty in the face of psychopathic terrorist attack; it was closer to the truth than usual - managed to prevent the full scale firestorm that was building, and started shuffling in masses of cool, wet air.

The closing stages of the fight had tipped a lot of places over combustion point, and there were several streets’ worth of normal sized fires to be put out.

The stadium had caught light, of course, the structure damage less important than that the seating was burning. Not actually comparable in lethality to a chemical weapon attack, at least not in the short term, the toxic fumes pouring out of the duraplast choked and confused both sides.

Some of the Rebel troops had respirators. The prisoners certainly wouldn’t.

Inside the giant two hundred thousand seater stadium, the central space was variable, could be swapped out easily from one purpose to another. There were many levels of basement holding the environment trays and the stadium furniture, and presumably - tacscans had failed to find them anywhere else - the rebel prisoners.

The dropship had luck it did not deserve when it hit the Lancer dead on; without the Imperial frigate to catch its fall, the groundquake would have collapsed most of them and killed everyone they came to save - as well as doing the city no good at all.

The troops guarding the rebels were mainly CompForce, the military arm of the Imperial Security Bureau. They had been given the task precisely because their head office had been torpedoed by ‘Rebel murdering bastard druggie fringer scum’, alias Squadron Leader Aron Jandras of the Imperial Starfighter Corps, and they had already beaten twenty of the prisoners to death to relieve their feelings, even before the shooting started.

There were two companies of them, and between the vessels of the attack group the Alliance could scrape up the equivalent of a regiment. In their favour, they had hostages and a closed structure with clear, well defined ways in.

Until one of the circling light freighters decided that the most obvious way in was probably the worst, and set out to blow a hole in the stadium floor. Firing blind through the reddish-brown choking smoke, it set up a series of proximity flak bursts that fused shallow craters in the module surface and cracks around them.

Some of the first rebel troops in got hit by the flash, the rest took cover until it was over, then used hand weapons to blast the rest of the way through the metre thick ferrocrete slab; some covering the holes and some dropping through, they broke into the basement levels and started hunting the security force.

At this, the rebels did have a decisive advantage. More of them had seen action than the CompForcers, and the ISB troops’ doctrine was aggressive to the point of stupidity.

The more politically correct of the company commanders won the what-to-do argument, with the most politically correct course of action - counterattack and drive the rebels out.

By that point the Alliance lead elements had gone looking for the blocking parties covering the entrances they were expected to use, and blindsided them.

In the shelter of one of the burning buildings, the handful of Stormtroopers that made it out of the garrison base were monitoring, necessarily expressionless - but disgusted at the stupidity of the ISB. There were only a shade over two platoons; against a regiment, they were certainly going to die. That was unfortunate, but it wasn’t the problem. What was worrying them was how to do enough damage to the enemy to make it worthwhile.

They were watching and waiting, looking for somewhere in the rebel plan to stick a large, white spanner. If they had known the ion mount was in rebel hands, they would have gone for that instead, but all they could deal with was what was in front of them. Then they saw it.

Outrageous luck had served the Alliance well to this point, there was no reason it shouldn’t prove to be a two-edged sword; Dubhei Targe’s bow was sticking up out of the crater.

The troopers opened fire with a rapid volley at the rebels still dismounting from their dropships and the control tower of the drop barge at the other end of the crater, dropping many and forcing the rest to cover.

As a matter of procedure, the heavy-rifle snipers and the repeatermen had aimed for the antipersonnel weapons on the dropships, degrading their ability to cover the rebel squaddies.

The senior survivor, the staff sargeant with most time in grade, made a decision; at this point it should be fire and manoeuvre, bounding forward section by section, but soon the rebels would realise how few of them there were and get their act together. Then they would be pinned down and prevented from moving at all.

So exploit the initial shock and run for it now, firing from the hip - wild but with some suppressive use - as they went. It wasn’t as if they were going to last long enough to need to conserve ammo, after all.

All the stormtroopers, then, broke cover, scrambling forwards, spraying blaster bolts wherever they had a clear line of fire past their own comrades, hitting more rebels with splinters than shot.

One of the YTs opened up on them with its belly turret, spraying low power laser shot, secondary blast vapourised ‘crete knocking troopers down, picking up others and throwing them - only two direct hits, but the disruption of the blast gave some of the rebel infantry time to organise themselves and shoot back. The small formation lost a quarter of its strength killed, stunned, or pinned down and unable to take part in the battle for the Lancer.

On the lip of the crater, the stormtroopers established a firing line, some keeping the rebels they had just cut through suppressed, most of them shooting at the rebs in and on the Lancer. They picked one hull breach, fired a platoon volley at it, triple tapping in two shot burst mode - then one squad charged down over the broken surface of the crater to take and exploit, and the rest switched target to the next hole.

It was procedure, shooting each other in to the target in sequence, but the senior sergeant looked up and spotted the YT coming round for another pass, with a flight of fighters in support.

If they were stupid enough to use torps again, the blast would fry enough rebels that it would be justified to sit here and let them shoot; but they wouldn’t be that dumb twice in quick succession. He ordered his men to move now, all forward fast, get in among the rebs and do some damage.

It was actually too late; most of the Dubhei Targe’s crew had already been taken prisoner or killed, or frightened into panicked incoherence. It would have been practically impossible to sort through who was left and regain control.

They tried anyway, advancing behind a carpet of blaster fire and bulkhead splinters, trying to punch through to the still Imperial controlled areas of the ship and take out as much as possible of the rebel command structure on the way.

Against the rest of the rebel mixed bag it might have worked, but there were two formed battalions, based off the frigates, and this crew were the Great Murzim Stem’s assault strength.

They had been trained together, under the control of someone who was more or less competent, and their doctrine said, in this sort of mutual close quarters fighting, to lay maximum fire down on the contact - including grenades, it wasn’t their ship after all - and fall back, regrouping as they went until they reached local superiority then surround and outnumber the attackers.

The stormtroopers surpassed the rebels in tactical dexterity - used that to push them locally on to the back foot, shoot some of them then find another line of advance, avoid being sucked into rebel fire pockets - but there was only so much ship to play with, and too many Alliance infantry.

The platoon sergeant died countercharging a rebel ambush party; one of them had a thermal detonator. The stormtrooper cannoned into him, broke his jaw and knocked him down, shot two of his mates, then felt something ding off his helmet.

Two feet was not the recommended range for demolition/breacher grenade use. It was almost funny. Then, boom.

There wasn’t really anyone else to stop the rebels; city of about five million people, basically peaceful and loyal, a regiment of stormtroopers, a regiment of CompForce - also dead, now - and about twenty thousand civil police.

The cops were not armed or trained for full scale war; they were forming a cordon, hoping to keep the rebels in and stop any have-a-go heroes from getting themselves killed, and protect the fire and paramedic teams. They were actually in relatively little danger - no more than the usual demands of the job - because the infantry were busy and after the weather control laser debacle, the Rebel fighter commander was keeping his squadrons on a very short leash. Some of them were forming their own cordon around the city, prevent any garrisons from the rest of the planet moving to intervene; only the X-wings were given a strike target, the governor’s palace, and he was three miles underground by the time they melted it.

CompForce had died like the fools they were, but they had shot another thirty of the prisoners to prevent them being recaptured first, and another hundred had died and many were suffering from fume inhalation.

Instructions from the strike commander: get them out and into the dropships as fast as possible, leave a small fighter element to protect them. The dropships were to shelter under the atmosphere until called for, but the rest of the fighters were wanted in space now. Something about an incoming Imperial heavy frigate, Acclamator or Meridian class.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-11 09:03pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-04-30 02:16pm

Ch 17

The rebels reoriented themselves to meet the threat; the less capable combat vessels, the light carrier MC-30b and ‘saddleback’ Corellian Corvette conversion, remained to cover and retrieve the dropships, the MC-40 turned to meet it in high orbit accompanied by the torpedo MC-30c and the gun-armed corvette, Great Murzim Stem and the two Nebulons following as a second division out on the flank, for crossfire.

The Meridian class- Kuat called them Acclamator-II - were shorter and more compact than their ancestors. The original Ecliptics had been designed first to replace, then after the Republic Senate refused to cough up the cash revised to serve as flagships for squadrons of, the old Dreadnaught-class. They had a typical flagship’s generous bay space for emergencies and contingencies, and intervention assets - troops and fighters.

When one had been required, it had actually been an obvious and logical move to base the design of the fleet’s new standard planetary assault ship on a heavy, efficient, and by now proven reliable hull. Hyperdrive and cooling systems had been moved aft - on a few nightmare examples rebuilt half way through construction it had been a problem, purpose built hulls from then on - and the interior rearranged. True, it had left the Acclamator vastly over-rated for the mere transport side of her duties, but most people thought that had been a budget dodge anyway.

In the Imperial Starfleet, they now served as assault spearheads; sent to break through the final line of planetary defences and take an area by seizing it or simply blasting it clean, big enough to bring the non-combatant division and corps-level transports safely down on.

The Meridians brought main engineering back inside the armoured primary hull, converted most of the bay space that was left into fuel tank, kept six of the Acclamator’s quad mediums and replaced the other six with single heavy turbolasers.

To fill a tactical gap - or, cynics said, to justify Kuat’s selling them to the Imperial Starfleet - they were designed to complement the high-power, medium-short endurance destroyers, by going for the long-haul deep patrol role. Slower, but with twenty-five years’ worth of hotel load.

While fleet destroyers specialised in hunter and deterrence operations - that is, deterring imperials from joining the rebels as much as deterring the rebels from attacking - the Ecliptics and Meridians got the slow jobs. Distant escort for merchant convoys, protecting army and military stores transports, occasionally something actually interesting like enforcement group command and recon in force.

As far as Commander Barth-Elstrand on the Comarre Meridian was concerned, this was almost too good to be true. Large numbers of soft targets at close range, no going and looking for them required. No hide-and-seek, nothing but hijacked planetary defences to worry about.

The heavy frigate was zig-zagging, to avoid defensive fire. Also to try to get the rebels against the backdrop of open space. It was only one little planet, true. It probably was basically expendable, and it probably wouldn’t land him any worse than a reprimand if he put a dent in it - especially considering any damage would likely be blamed on the Rebels anyway.

Also, he was supposed to be that ruthless, if duty called for it.

How many people ever do put, ‘Today I shall become a mass murderer’, on their to-do lists? Elstrand hadn’t. He had been watching the fight unfold from long distance sensors - what news footage there had been was too incoherent to show much of the tactics - and the collateral damage had been impressive. Most of it accidental, true - lob that many torpedoes at buildings directly and the city would be a cratered, blazing ruin.

That was enough to be getting on with. Execution, maybe, but not random butchery. He would try and avoid using Ghorn II as a backstop.

As far as it using him as a target was concerned, thank fortune - or the Force, although you weren’t supposed to do that any more - for budget cuts.

There were supposed to be eight ion cannon sites, both poles, three one hundred and twenty degrees apart round the north temperate zone, three equally spaced in an offset ring in the south temperate zone, something like the corners of a cube, and six superheavy turbolaser mounts, at the centre of the faces of the cube. The economists had butchered that plan - said the planet’s status as a target didn’t justify it, not with a naval base in the same system capable of sending defending forces. They only had the two ion cannon, the other was still in Imperial hands, and on the other side of the planet.

Time to see if their plan made sense. Or for that matter if the rebels’ did. Eight squadrons’ worth of Alliance fighters - they had started with around a hundred and sixty, their shuttles were doing search and rescue, they had maybe a hundred and ten left and ninety of them were heading his way. The rebel plan seemed to be to intercept him and fight a distant engagement, fighter strike with the ships in support. The MC-40 behaved as if it believed it, anyway.

He could almost hit it from here…it had shields and weapons ready, but it was flying a slow, straight course, manoeuvring short. Gutless frogspawn, Elstrand thought, watching its vector shift.

Perhaps it was inevitable. As the Imperial Starfleet managed to catch and kill the defector and leftover-Republic assets of the bolder elements of the Alliance, most of what they had left would be the more cautious, later arriving alien elements, the balance of power within the Rebel Alliance would shift, and it would start to look like the Confederation, mark II. Most of their heavy metal was nonhuman, chiefly Mon Cal, in origin even now, wasn’t it? That would leave the Alliance increasingly politically screwed, push them from being an armed mass movement, which at least gave the Starfleet something interesting to shoot at, into underground criminals and terrorists.

The idea of an interstellar underground was slightly dissonant, but a few headaches would be the least of the price of victory.

For the moment, of his ship’s own three squadrons, the Bombers were carrying concussion and flying close escort, a trick he had heard of from the Briefcase Brigade - the parade of contractors, consultants and think-tank teams that plagued a beached warship. Supposedly, an Imperial admiral - a nonhuman, one of the very few - named Thrawn had trialled the idea of using missile armed bombers as close escort interceptors. Elstrand had his four stormtrooper transports out and doing the same. Neither of them could accelerate fast enough to get past the rebel fighter swarm, so they would play close escort, while the TIE/ln, which did have the thrust, would go and attempt to accomplish their strike mission, without warheads. Sometimes you just got the feeling it wasn’t supposed to make sense.

For the moment, the Comarre was fencing with them, trying to lure them away and open up clean lines of fire.

Commander Elstrand had been studying fleet tactics for years, and had increasingly despaired of any chance to put any of it into practise; his chief thought on watching the rebels manoeuvre to counter him was kriff, it actually works. He had been impressed by Black Prince’s use of flak burst fire, and had tried to get his gun crews to do the same; only one of the HTL and one MTL crew had been able to do it consistently in simulation, so they got to try it for real now. The process involved half-choking the bolt in the barrel, sending the lead part out fractionally slower than the main body, so the turbolaser bolt overtook, tangled with and burst on itself. Ideally at a predictable distance downrange.

Not every captain thought it was worth the wear and tear on the gun barrels, and in most cases with a turbolaser heavy enough to produce a decent splash, the cost of the hypermatter fuel to power the shot was probably greater than the cost of the fighters you could reasonably expect to bring down. That was all right. His real target was their battle plan.

There were so many rebel fighters, they had got in each other’s way down on the planet, but now they had a proper swarm-sized target they intended to make the most of it.

If you went by command equivalence- assuming the ship a Commander’s seniority justified, a medium or heavy frigate, was equivalent to the fighter unit led by an officer of the same grade - he was outgunned.

The light turbolasers opened up on the fighter group with a clear line behind them, the rebels broke into a loose pack formation and started jinking, twitching out of the way whenever they had a lock on them. Some of the gunners tried passive targeting, but the rebel jamming produced too many false reads, and they hadn’t had time to develop the subtlety under pressure or the sixth sense to tell the real from the artefactual.

Flak bursts didn’t care. The four medium and the heavy detonated in the rebel fighter stream; they scattered as they recognised the unstably-rippling green tracer, but not far enough. The local force craft had the thinnest shielding and were hit the worst, especially by secondary detonations.

It wasn’t an inherent problem with the torpedo design; in fact, the torps the rebels were using, often stolen and reconditioned surplus, were usually beyond shelf life and more likely to fail to detonate when they were supposed to than the other way around. Most of the pilots chose to set their torpedoes to detonate if they were intercepted, run with unusually large flank and rear distance settings on the proximity fuses. They preferred a low-order boom to no boom at all, volatility by choice. Sometimes that turned a near miss or a point defence interception into an effective hit, and sometimes they paid for it.

The TIE Bombers followed the chaos up, shooting missiles at the damaged and tumbling rebels, launch then turn away, better a chancy shot and live to take another than press in and get killed. It worked at first, the flak bursts killed five local bombers and four Y-wings and set up another two local and three Y for the TIEs, but the rebel interceptors broke formation to chase them down.

There were still better than twenty T-wings flying; the Bombers shot more missiles at them and broke up into pairs, started to weave in preparation for the fight.

The Imperial frigate blasted light turbolaser volleys at the T-wings as they lanced in, only hitting two - crisping them instantly - but the evasions of the rest gave the bombers a better chance as they entered close quarters.

The four transports were still in the missile phase, firing past the dogfight at the concussion-armed rebel fighter-bombers, who returned the favour. The transports were bigger, easier targets, but they had better sensor gear to lock and guide missiles in with, so hit scores would be high on both sides.

Concussions were multimode; capable of accepting assistance from firing or friendly vessels if it was available, doing without if it wasn’t. They could be fired and forgotten, were more likely to score if they were guided in.

The Imperial transports were doing that and preparing to rely on defensive fire; the rebels were jinking.

The first splash killed two R-41, maimed a third; hits drew down the shields of all the transports but only cracked one, bursting on the side of the absurdly minvan-looking stormtrooper transport and opening the empty troop compartment to space.

The X-wings, Gauntlets and surviving Y-wings began to loose torpedoes at Comarre; in a fleet melee one could get away with fire and forget, but in single ship operations they had to be steered - ridden in, most pilots said - to stand any real chance of not being decoyed into missing or stymied into becoming sitters for the point defence.

That was especially frustrating for the X-wings, stuck in the bomber role simply because they could and did carry proton torps, and their electronics were two generations more advanced - not technically, but tactically - than the Y’s. They could also sidestep LTL fire more effectively. Three Y-wings failed to do so; one broke up - the pilot amazingly not dead - the other two fireballed.

The Gauntlets could do more than just sidestep; instead of locking on and flying more or less steady with the turret traversing freely to protect themselves, they could lock the turret on and manoeuvre the main hull freely. They broke out of the rebel attack stream and some of them went hunting, one killed a TIE Bomber and one finished off the damaged transport.

They would take some killing. Mass sequential, fire everything at one after another, might do. In the meantime, there were easier targets to hit to draw down the rebel fighter strength and the number of torpedoes they could fire at him.

The first volley was on terminal, red-lining their thrusters to sprint through the point defence envelope. Almost seventy incoming. Comarre moved into her own terminal-approach routine, jamming and evading as radically as she could, as unpredictable as a ship which answered the helm so slowly could reasonably be.

Fifty hits. Fifty tiny, brilliant fireballs sparkled off the Meridian’s shields, enough to kill a small or bring down the shields of a medium warship, against a large ship - by Alliance standards, anyway - it was degradation, more heat to be bled off. Another three or four like that would break down the shielding entirely.

The planetary ion cannon took a shot at the Meridian; electronic warning well in advance, and the slow-moving, relatively quickly dispersing ion bolts achieved nothing by the time they reached the Imperial frigate, probably more of a danger to their own ships in orbit. Not an immediate danger, but if he closed in after the Rebel warships, and the ion cannon got him -
the fighters could pick my ship to pieces, Elstrand thought.

He felt like flipping a coin, knew if he did it would only be a shabby attempt to find someone else to blame. And it wouldn’t work. He was supposed to know. Captain’s prerogative.

Deploy the /ln now, defensively? Doctrine stated - maintenance of the aim.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-12 06:26am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-05-14 01:48pm

Ch 17b

What was the aim? The goal, the hope? To…this was technically an illegal operation anyway, wasn’t it? Doctrine be damned.

‘Change of plan. Release the TIEs into the melee. Inform their task is now close defence anti-fighter.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir,’ the increasingly nervous flight controller replied.

Rebel training was showing its usual uneven quality. A handful of veterans and naturals, who were capable of doing serious damage, a slightly larger total who had at least been well trained, and all too many amateur enthusiasts. Five TIE bombers and two Transports were down, for two T-wings and eight R-41.

The Starchaser was supposed to be tougher than the TIE Bomber, and combat shielded, but the difference in innate agility was less than the difference in the pilots’ training, and the Bombers’ heavy lasers, designed to strafe capital craft, punched through fighter shields and armour easily.

Numbers, though, numbers; if he committed now, as he had, what was he supposed to do about the planetary ion cannon? Bombard that bridge when he came to it.

The Gauntlets were continuing to fight backwards, turrets locked on and spaceframes moving freely, and they were chasing down the remaining transports.

The T-wings were trying to hunt down the Bombers, and the R-41s trying to escape from the melee to join the Y-wings and add concussion to proton fire. As good a moment as any for a scramble.

The TIEs screamed out of the flight bays - at least one of the rebel pilots had been counting, and expecting it. The T- and X-wings swung in to intercept them, in organised manoeuvre this time, and Elstrand picked his moment.

As the rebel bombers swung away to give the fighters striking room the Comarre’s engines fired, ramped up rapidly to maximum thrust.

There had been an original mistake, that turned into a happy accident: the original heavy frigates had been supposed to be much heavier than they had turned out to be. When the design was revised, they had kept the engines, and the results were two very and one outrageously fast classes of ship. Meridians couldn’t outrun torpedoes, but they could outpace most of the craft that carried them.

The X- and T-wings could keep up, but it left them with virtually no thrust in hand; the X- especially, with their more dangerous torpedoes, only had about 200 ‘g’ on a Meridian. They had to manoeuvre very predictably to chase Comarre, and that left them fairly easy meat for the 900 ‘g’ faster TIE/ln.

That changed things. The rebels, looking for a silver lining, were about to celebrate driving Comarre from the frying pan into the fire, when the ion cannon mount reported that it was under attack.

The Imperial garrison fighters, under remote direction, had formed into an attack stream spearheaded by the Golan’s survivors, a mix of TIEs and Z-95’s. The TIE/ln could strafe the armoured shell of the V-150 until the ground around it started to boil without doing it any serious harm. They lanced in first, going for point defence turrets, sensor arrays, outlying units - three getaway skiffs were found and destroyed, four point defence turrets it cost two TIEs to eliminate, then the missile armed Z-95s swept in.

They were obsolescent, inferior in every respect except this; with defences suppressed, rebel fighters near the planet still guarding the dropships and evac transports, they could afford to make a proper job of it. They fired from close range, launching at the visible tip of the ion gun, at the line where the ball of the turret sat in the socket of the mounting; unguided, with a large, stationary target - the missiles crashed into the huge globe, jamming it in place and smashing the final aiming tunnel.

The Great Murzim Stem and the Rebel frigate appeared to be trying to change places, the Mon Cal frigate trying to get out of the way of the charging Imperial and the fragile, already shield-depleted and scarred armed merchant manoeuvring to intercept.

In terms of hardware, the neat, compact little aquaslab was the more dangerous, but her captain was, at best, a reluctant warrior. Probably capable enough if backed into a corner - which he had to have done to him to make him scream for help.

The Rebels were doing their best to fight their way out. The torpedo frigate, MC-30c, launched two full salvos at long range. Someone over there might be paying too much attention to the manual.

The ship torpedoes were much more dangerous than their relatively tiny fighter equivalents, still being sporadically fired from the frigate’s aft; Comarre shifted all the guns that could bear forward, launched LTL and low-power MTL streams of shot at the torpedoes, and her main guns crashed out their first coherent salvo at the MC-30.

A cigar of a ship, her captain chose to take a chance and attempt to remain in the fight, turning bows on to minimise his target area. It almost worked. One of the HTL bolts hit her as she straightened out on the new heading, a glancing blow, but enough to dump heat into the shields.

The MC-30 looked something like a baby Recusant that hadn’t been properly fed, but had nowhere near the shielding, not even in proportion - the single heavy shot was enough to burn more than half the shielding off and bleed enough heat through to leave a huge molten weal in the casing.

Both the rebel frigates began to return fire, the Great Murzim Stem a slower, more deliberate fire than the MC-40, both of them at least competently trained. Target selection - on the back foot here, Elstrand realised. Firing defensively, failing to dominate the battle.

Doctrine? Take out the most valuable target first, the one which reduces the enemy fleet’s effectiveness by the greatest amount in the shortest time. Kill the force multipliers, the carriers and fighter control ships, the command and EW units, in preference, so - the torpedo frigate first.

The torpedoes themselves were unusually intelligent; it was straightforward economics - protect the investment already made in the warhead; easily wise enough to realise that they had been targeted and evade, they were not dying fast enough.

Elstrand pulled the MTL’s off them, ordered the guns up to full power and lashed out a coherent salvo at the torpedo corvette.

It bet on its target profile; any manoeuvre would have exposed its flank as a target. Bet and lost. Two MTL bolts hit it on the bow, cost it its perfect profile as they kicked it aside. One HTL bolt splashed into the exposed flank. Thin, depleted shields not enough, the shot burned the little ship almost in half, and the manoeuvring stresses took it the rest of the way. It ripped itself apart.

The engine mount separated - both parts drifting under the influence of the impact, but no starship was completely neutralised until it wasn’t generating power. If any auxilliary generators survived in the forward hull, they might still be able to power a torpedo launch.

Elstrand ordered two MTL turrets to stay on it until it was gone, and the rest to switch target.

The Neutron Star would be an easier kill, but it would also be less likely to scream for help. The Mon Cal frigate was more potentially useful for that.

The four quad and six heavy turrets began a slow measured fire, staying on it as the light turbolasers, light ion cannon and actual point defence weapons duelled the incoming torpedoes. They were fractionally easier targets now.

The first salvo had four shot, three jammed, five impacted. They splashed blast waves over the Comarre, briefly engulfing her; she sailed out of the fireball with more than half her shielding pounded down. If the second salvo did as well, the rebels might be in with a chance.

The single HTL that could manage it launched a flak burst at the incoming swarm; they got their timing wrong, it missed - exploded behind them and scored the barrel badly enough that the safety systems shut the gun down.

Not all bad - it did make a clear background, the smear of tracer compound scattered with the burst lasting longer than a nuclear flashbulb, good to shoot missiles against.

Six intercepted, four ballistic, two hit - one local burnthrough right on the bow that left a triangular section of hull glowing white hot. Nothing important underneath, spares and life support tankage space.

The MC-40 would be grateful to get off that lightly. The rebel gunners were better; in a close range, high aspect change engagement, they would score more often - maybe enough to be decisive. They had to live long enough to get that close.

Neither ship was manoeuvring radically now, and the Imperial was pumping out enough electronic noise to eliminate the fine edge, make brute force the order of the day.

Both ships were built to deal with MTL fire, absorb the heat from it and wave it away, but the Imperial ship’s heavies scored twice in the first three salvos. That mattered.

The Mon Cal traditional heavy shielding and their focusing of it was all that held it together, the shielding flared out as the rebel frigate was kicked by the heavy shot and almost tumbled end for end.

Captain Vallander of the Great Murzim Stem was a loyal and dedicated warrior of the Alliance - enough so to contemplate the insane. His ship was not under fire, and was using that freedom to make good shooting practise, but the converted merchant simply didn’t have the throw-weight to kill an Imperial heavy frigate.

Keep it off long enough to run away, she had done that; or batter a light frigate like an Interdictor until it broke and ran, she had done that too. Not the other way around.

He took a cold look at the situation. Imperial heavy frigate, moving too fast to stop. Rebel medium and light frigate defending a fixed, defenceless objective. The light frigate had the Imperial within its manoeuvre cone - and two hundred heavy concussion missiles in its ordnance bay.

It was depressingly obvious. The Great Murzim Stem turned to cross the path of the still-accelerating Comarre.

Elstrand was starting to wonder, was the trap going to work, or was this it? The MC-30 had been disposed of, the light fire from the two Nebulons and the Corellian was somewhere between an irrelevance and an augmentation to his own point defence, it was only the two rebel frigates in it.

He began to lay LTL fire on the evacuation ships, not aiming for kills, just to stop them flying straight enough to plot a hyperspace route and make sure they needed to fight their way out.

The rebel MC-40 was behaving as he would have hoped, maximum evasion now, stunting, trying to avoid being hit and compromising it’s own fire accuracy in the process, and Com-Scan reported a high-power broadcast burst that sounded very much like ‘help’. Good - but they also brought his attention to some very strange behaviour on the part of the armed merchant.

‘What the stang is he doing? Does he think he has a better chance at point blank?’

Speed, distance, the sheer size of space - Vallander was counting, absolutely, on the willingness of Elstrand to lay him close aboard and finish him.

Comarre had enough thrust in hand to avoid it if she wanted, but Elstrand didn’t know about the strikeship business, or the missiles still in the Great Murzim Stem’s holds.

The two quads that had been dismembering the-30c were finished, they switched targets to the armed merchant. Streams of green began pounding into her thin forward shielding; the forward turret got hit early on.

‘Right, people, listen up, this is Captain Vallander. We have nothing that can kill that Imp frigate, we’re not scoring and the Mon Cal aren’t either. So I’m going to ram the nerfson. Switch all systems to autocontrol and get to the escape pods.’

The ship kicked again, hit hard; some of them weren’t going to take much persuading, some weren’t going to live that long.

‘When our magazine goes up, it is going to be a kriffing big bang. I’ll kick you out at the last safe moment so they don’t work it out too soon. May the Force be with you.’

The Imperial frigate had enough of a head start on the fighter swarm that she should start to shed velocity now, decelerate to make a slower pass by the dropships. Elstrand was practically bouncing off the ceiling. This was his first real chance, first opportunity for main line fire combat and it was working, he was winning, it was good. He - and many of his crew - were not in full brain mode. He did not recognise and categorise the threat until it was pointed out to him.

‘By the fire rings of fornax!’ the com-scan officer said. He was the son of outer rim disaster relief volunteers, as primly and properly brought up as it was possible for a man to be; his increasingly elaborate exclamations were a running wardroom joke. ‘I think he’s going to ram!’

‘What’s she supposed to gain by that except suicide?’ Elstrand said, scornfully.

At that point - if not a long way sooner - Lennart would have realised something was wrong, and had it closely scanned, had the fighter wing shoot up its engines to buy more time, concentrated fire on it, or banked drastically out of the way, likely all four. Elstrand might mature into a competent commander, but he wasn’t there yet.

The forward part of the armed merchant was being hammered into a molten jumble, but collapsing in on itself as it was it served as ablative shielding for the engines and magazine. One of the secondary generators ruptured in a brief flare of light.

Then a shower of escape pods burst loose from the Rebel frigate, and Elstrand finally understood the significance of the suicidal approach.

‘Gunnery, cancel fire plan, cancel all tactical instructions, switch all guns to bridge target central direction, kill it-‘ Elstrand ordered, elation changing to panic.

All the functioning turbolasers paused, twisted to bear, cracked out a volley at the Great Murzim Stem; it was enough to burn through the wreckage, but it was very late, very close - they were less than ten kilometres apart when the two hundred concussion warheads blew.

Imperial Intelligence had a fascinating little gadget called a Hyperspace Orbiting Scanner. In theory, it could read off the contents of a computer - detect the movement of the electrons, the bions, the non-ons, the quantum vortices and the hairs off the back of Schrodinger’s Cat.

From a tachyonic perspective. In practise, it was nowhere near that sensitive.

The Com-Scan team of Black Prince knew this because they had stolen one, and had fun playing with it. It was listed as damaged beyond repair while being recaptured from a Rebel attempt to obtain one for study. The Ubiqtorate probably knew the truth, but Lennart had done enough for them over the years, handing over prisoners taken and following up leads, they were not pursuing it actively.

The scan team’s working theory was that it was a double bluff; its literally miraculous capabilities had been invented as an excuse and cover story for many, many slicers, penetration agents, interception stations, and similar lower-tech but far more widespread and practical forms of sigint. It could detect big, spectacular events easily enough, though, and it was. The command team of the Star Destroyer were watching the battle unfold via it, and commenting.

‘Kriff. He nearly had them in the bag, and to then go and do something that dumb-‘ Rythanor said.

‘Arguably, we were partly to blame for not informing them that it was a possibility.’ Brenn pointed out.

‘They had the information to put it together. They knew about the previous actions.’ Lennart decided. ‘They failed to think it through. We may have to move earlier than I expected, simply to rescue what’s left of Comarre Meridian. Nav- drop points?’

As far as Lennart was concerned, there was one thing severely wrong with the design of an Imperator’s bridge: the basic design concept. They were a ported-in relic of the Clone Wars, designed on the working assumption of highly specialised clone crews, literally bred for the job, and amateur gentleman-volunteer officers. Too much of the routine information flow of the ship was routed away from command level, on the probably accurate assumption they wouldn’t know what to do with it, and only command decisions left to them - which, inevitably, they often were not well enough informed to make.

No physical fix was possible - the bridge was the one place every VIP visitor was sure to come, which meant they had to keep it at least apparently fairly close to spec; but the place had more holoprojectors than any three studios. The ship also had more than enough people in Navigation to maintain a continually-updated selection of pre-calculated hyperdrive courses, which Lennart used to give himself tactical options.

He looked at the map of the system, at the symbol and status sheet of the crippled and half-molten Comarre, weighed the factors in his head. One was missing. ‘Scan- ah, Cormall.’ It was indeed him in charge of the gadget. ‘With that thing’s sensitivity, I would think you would be able to find better music to listen to...’

The team laughed, partly because it was a captain’s joke, partly because he did use it to surf faint signals for good hard rock music anyway. ‘What, precisely, would those be?’

The chief looked guilty; caught with a strange blip on his hands. He had been about to report them, had been trying to classify them, had the signal, or signals, isolated and was processing. Lennart recognised that, decided not to fall on him too hard.

‘Sir, precisely I don’t know yet. It’s probably a bow shock, but it sharpens, fades, twists- I can’t classify it.’

‘And like a typical slicer, you decided to keep worrying away at the problem by yourself. Tacscan’s a more communal business- you are allowed to ask for help. Give me playback.’

Cormall reran the few seconds of sensor log, Lennart and Rythanor looking at the holo-projection of the display.

‘I see. Or rather I don’t.’ Rythanor said, fascinated by the apparent paradox. ‘It looks like bow shock, but it doesn’t smell like one. Interestingly weird. Could be a couple of things-a radically-reconfigurable, polymorphic hull could throw that off, extragalactic aliens; or maybe even a tachyon-bypass distortion-manifold cloaking device-‘

He was, of course, speaking in mockery, mouth making noises to keep busy while his brain ran. Lennart pretended not to get it.

‘I hate the sound of technobabble. There’s a much simpler explanation.’

‘Radical evasion.’ Rythanor agreed. ‘But of what?’

‘Something with enough engine power to steer a highly erratic course. Our targets.’

‘They’re not manoeuvring consistently, so they’re not giving a consistent signal. Most scanners would pick up nothing, It’s only because we have this that we’re detecting anything. Chief - combine and overlay.’ Rythanor ordered.

Cormall compressed the sensor data into one image, the two senior officers tried to make sense of it.

‘MC-80?’ the sensor officer suggested.

‘Power profile’s wrong.’ Lennart decided. ‘Two smaller ships.’

He had a pair of laser pointers in one hand, he used them like a pair of chopsticks, converging them to cross the beams at a point, picking out one of the preselected drop points; ‘There, and fast.’

‘Captain.’ Aleph-3’s voice from behind him. ‘Urgent.’ She was wearing the iridiscent red-blue armour, helmet off. Full dress outfit.

‘You’re not supposed to be on the bridge at battle stations. Is there a reason?’ he asked, hackles rising.

‘Higher authority’s response.’ She handed him a datapad.

Message form, the authenticators checked out, there were some interesting bits in the routing he would have to think about later, but it claimed to be from an officer of the privy council. Not good news.

Situation under review, agent dispatched to take oversight, take no further action - withdraw to a rendezvous point. A do-not-engage order.

Lennart took the actual text in at a glance, noted the name - Kor Alric Adannan; made his decision.

‘Nav, run her up to point four seven eight, I want to be there before they are. Engage hyperdrive.’

‘Captain, the orders, you-‘ Aleph-3 began, before her brain caught up and she realised that he could and had. ‘May I speak with you? Personally?’ She said, in a frantic whisper. She looked disturbed - face calm and impassive, but somehow seeming as if the mask was coming loose over whatever was underneath.

Behind her the main viewscreen blurred into a blue-white blizzard.

‘As opposed to?’ Lennart asked, calmly. There were actually answers to that.

‘Captain, please. Understand me. I have a lot to explain, and I’m going to find this difficult enough already.’ She said, controlling herself with difficulty. She gestured vaguely to the accessway off the bridge; he motioned to her to lead on.

Some ship’s business to sort out first.

‘Guns, I’m expecting a couple of old friends for a party. I think at least one of the inbounds is a Recusant.’

‘Aye, Aye, Sir. Any special instructions?’ Wathavrah answered.

‘If you take out the rest of it with the bow heavies intact, you can keep them to play with.’ Lennart informed him over the comlink, and turned to Rythanor, still studying the developing image. ‘Deduct that, and I think we’re left with a light destroyer.’

‘Too sharp to be a Bulwark- renegade Imperial type? That why we’re rushing to get there first?’ Rythanor guessed, accurately.

‘Planning for the worst case. I have no intention of emerging from hyperspace into the kill zone of a Vic-I.’

Aleph-3 was looking pointedly at him from the bridge accessway; he took a deep breath, walked off the bridge, the blast door slid shut behind him.

‘From the very fact you think you have something to explain to me, I can guess much of it, I think.’ Lennart said to her.

‘I-‘ she took a deep breath. ‘A high proportion of my - brood - found their way into positions like this, jobs…tangential to the Force, because we do tend to display a certain - sensitivity. Woman’s intuition, the male Kaminoans called it until we were old enough to threaten to rip their testes off.’

‘Are you trying to tell me that you, a clonetrooper, have the Force?’ Lennart said, not seriously - postponing the real problem.

‘How I wish I could!’ her eyes flashed. ‘I’m trying to tell you that you do. I have a tiny, tiny spark of talent - more theoretical knowledge of the Force than almost any Jedi Master, and far more target’s-eye experience than most live through; but I have just enough danger sense and instinct to make me doubt my own judgement, just enough contact with others to make me hear faint whispers that half-convince me I am going mad, enough control over my own metabolism that the medics need half a spoonful less in the bacta tank each time, and I can telekinetically lift a hundred credit chit, any higher denomination and the weight of the electrons would be too much. I think part of the reason I am a skilled hunter of Jedi is sheer envy.’

Lennart took that in his stride. He was more concerned about something else. ‘So it was you who mistook simple tactical dexterity for ancient sorcerer's ways.’ Even at a moment like this, of revelation and betrayal, he couldn’t keep his tongue entirely out of his cheek. That attitude was one of the things that had helped there be so few of them; but it looked as if that strategy had just imploded.

‘No mistake. Every test proves it - you are a powerful but untrained sensitive and precognitive. Do you know why you have escaped notice for so long?’

‘I take it that by this stage, protestations of innocence are completely useless?’

‘Galactic Spirit rot you, Jorian Lennart, why the kriff can’t you get angry with me?’ she yelled at him. ‘I betrayed you, I sold you, and you stand there - quipping, as if nothing was wrong.’

‘Clearly by your own standards, nothing is.’

‘Not mine. The council’s. The acolyte’s and adept’s. The “I”ness that this unit was forbidden.’

‘Do I have nothing useful to say on the subject? He asked, again driving her nearly insane with his undemonstrativeness. ‘Shouldn’t I have been hearing these voices, seeing these visions in the mind’s eye?’

‘I have no idea what goes on in your head.’ She snapped at him. ‘Twenty years - you avoided being identified as a sensitive simply because you seemed far too firmly embedded between the oblivious and the disdainful, of the searingly obvious and politically sound, to have any kind of foresight - or any sense - at all.’

‘That is probably the most worrying thing you’ve managed to say so far. That this ship’s record matters less than my inability to kiss wrinkled buttock - obscene.’

She moved her hands forward as if to strangle him. ‘Aleph, us, we were the first to really consider that you were crazy like a pittin instead of just crazy. If you put the energy into going with the flow that you do now dodging it, you could have been a sector admiral by now.’

‘You’re half right; I do hate politics.’ Lennart said, dryly.

‘No, you don’t. No man works the system as effectively as you do without being a very competent political technician. ’

‘In my youth, I was a student radical.’ He admitted. ‘One of the masked nutters behind the security barriers, throwing flour bombs and rocks at Senators.
'After Naboo, when we realised what was going to happen, I made a deliberate choice to fight for the Republic I knew, and despised, in hope that the Republic I believed in would emerge, purified, from the fire. Yes, I was that stupid about war then. We all were.
'And it worked, for me, but not for the Republic; the more the system changed, the more it seemed to stay the same. You once described the republic to me as drowning in its own pus.’

‘I did, and I did not know that I was preaching to the converted. Why did you hide that from me?’ she asked him.

‘From the eyes and voice of the system? An enthusiastic voice, too.’

‘But I- we- are the change. We are the proof that it is not the same, that the new order-‘

‘Perhaps I have simply matured into the same sort of elegant cynic I used to throw bricks at.’ Lennart said, world-wearily, and acting.

‘You?’ she said, looking at his crumpled, stained jersey and battered cap. ‘Elegant? Or are you going to claim to have become indifferent to appearances as well?’

‘Inversely; a point of principle. I always intended to be followed and obeyed for who I was, not my costume jewellery.’ In fact, he had his captain’s bars on upside down, she noticed, appalled.

‘That is not the way things are supposed to work - that is outright disrespect and defiance of the system. You cannot, you just can’t demand the right to spout treason as the system’s price to accommodate you.’

‘It’s worked well enough so far.’ He said, flippantly. ‘Have we reversed positions on this, or have you simply lost track?’

She took a deep breath and started from the beginning. ‘You were identified as a force user and recruitment potential. Kor Adannan has been sent to examine and possibly induct you.’ He looked disappointedly at her. He was waiting for her to spell it out explicitly. She did. ‘As a dark side adept.’

‘What in the void possessed you to think that I might possibly make a good - no, appropriately bad - Sith?’

‘Because it was the only thing I could think.’ She shouted at him again. ‘The only other option was to kill you. Independent use of the Force is - you were there, it was forbidden. The Emperor cannot permit anyone to be seduced and used as a conduit by the so-called Light. Once we knew, it is the one way out, the only way to live.’

‘How nice of Adannan, therefore, to begin by offering me a no-win solution.’ Lennart said, like a political technician, matter of fact.
‘The choice between practical failure and jeopardising the situation, or disobeying an order - I assume he believes he has oversight authority. Would I be wrong to expect that this recruitment involves some sort of battle of wills?’

‘Crushing and rebuilding.’ She said. ‘Normally. You? I don’t know. The aged and corrupt, the young and greedy - they’re easily taken. A man already in a position of authority, with some ideals left and what seems a very sideways take on life - the real question is not whether, but how much of yourself you emerge with.’

‘You’ll understand,’ Lennart said, ‘if I have my own ideas on the subject.’

‘I don’t know what you expect to change. You already behave as if you had that kind of authority.’ She said, part admiring, part disapproval. Stormtroopers inherited, or had pounded into them, a military sense of neatness along with all the rest.

‘So it doesn’t seem as if I actually have much to gain by this, does it? Which side are you going to be on?’

Did he realise how important a question that was to her? Possibly.

‘I- don’t know. It would help if I understood what your side stood for.’

‘I think it should be obvious.’ He said, deliberately facetious. It came so naturally to her to do the opposite - she was still only starting to comprehend what he hid under that. ‘Disappointed-optimist cynicism, political technocracy, a sideways take on life, and half-bricks in the night.
'I understand that promotion, within the order of the dark side, is on a dead-men’s-shoes basis?’

‘Good.’ She said, without conviction. ‘If you-‘ then realised how cynically he meant it.

‘If this truly is inevitable, and I remain unconvinced, then I have no intention of being an easily taken apprentice. Especially not if, as seems to be the case,’ Lennart waved the datapad, ‘the man is a political fool who knows the Force, mind games and nothing but…you’ll excuse me, I have a ship to run.’

‘Would you really be prepared to do that?’ She said, as he was turning to leave. ‘not simply kill in the line of duty, but murder for your own ends?’

‘What, you mean just like the stories say a proper Sith is supposed to?’ he said with one eyebrow raised, then walked back into the bridge.

There were other people on board with problems of their own. Not as severe as being shanghaied into an order of ancient evil - just a modern one. Of the eleven active squadrons - Nu was awaiting reformation - only five were hyper capable. All of them were being held on board for the short sprint through hyperspace, on thirty-second standby.
In practise, the fighters were ready; the pilots weren’t.

In Epsilon flight bay, they were all standing around, suited but two without helmets. The rest were boggling at Aron and Franjia, trying to work out what to say.
Aron had made a deliberate effort to avoid learning their names; now he realised he was going to have to. This was inherently bloody absurd; meeting them now, after two messy, bloody operations, as people rather than numbers. Particularly his wingman and the second element leader of his flight. And it did come down to him; he noticed Franjia looking at him expectantly.

‘Well, fellow interchangeable components of the system…’ he paused, uncertain of how to proceed; decided to be bold. ‘Take those kriffing stupid looking hamster helmets off. We’re on two minute standby, they take five seconds to put on, no sense wasting life support time.’

Uncertainly, most of them did.

‘The senior flight lieutenant and I,’ he explained, ‘were sent as mock defectors, to pretend to join the Alliance and feed them a load of dreck. It did not go entirely according to plan,’ understatement of the year, ‘and right now we should be being ultra-cautious, ultra-careful to spout party-line crap at every chance. Kriff it. Let’s see any of the securipricks do as much for the empire.
'Speaking of which, we’re strike element. We expect Rebel heavy warships, big targets with big guns to shoot back at us with. So move and shoot, move and shoot. I want explosions. So, in the name of peace, justice and galactic order, let us go cause chaos and blow things up.’

‘That would make justice optional, then?’ Epsilon Nine- F/Lt Ardrith Yatrock, athletic and poster boy handsome, caught the mood and managed to say. He looked much more like most people’s idea of a fighter pilot than the short, stocky Aron. Far too much like it to really be any good, cynics said, but he was competent and a shade ambitious.

‘You’re in the Starfleet. There ain’t no justice.’ Aron replied, glancing at the far wall of the bay - still showing the blizzard of blue-white streaks.

‘So, what are they like?’ Epsilon Two, Zhered Gavrylsk, Aron’s wingman, asked. He was an endomorphic yellow man - literally; a near human, his skin was the colour of a ripe lemon. It looked very odd above a flight suit.

‘Cynics and believers, fools and heroes, murderers and madmen - just like us, but more obvious about it.’ Franjia said.

‘What about me?’ Epsilon Three, Paludo Kramaner, asked.

‘All seven.’ Franjia told him, knowing he wouldn’t keep count. ‘But they fight for their side, and we fight for ours - just as well for the rest of the galaxy. If we weren’t in the military, we’d probably all be out robbing banks.’

The rest of the squadron started arguing among themselves at that.

‘Nah, security’s too tight, everyone expects banks to be robbed. You want to go for small businesses, hit them and get the money before it makes it behind too many walls.’

‘Why do I have the feeling that you’re speaking from experience?’ Franjia asked him.

‘Too small, too risky. Fraud is the way to go. Hardly ever prosecuted, and usually a fairly civilised business when they do.’ One of the newer replacements, Epsilon Eleven, spoke up. Tall, thin, long-nosed.

‘All right. Show of hands. Is there anyone in the squadron who spent their childhood on the right side of the law?’ Aron asked. Most of them raised their hands - ‘Including the things you never got caught for.’ All but three went back down again.

‘Let me guess. You took up music late in life.’ Franjia asked Paludo, who was claiming to be innocent. ‘Otherwise there would be Assault with a Deadly Weapon, at least. By or on, one or the other.’

‘What about you, or was that just a pack of poodoo you spun the interrogators?’ Aron asked her.

‘When I was very young, I spent some time in the, ah, rapid transit sector of the economy. Moving on to air patrol from that was as good a way as any of cleansing the record.’ She admitted.

Aron’s gut started to twist- ‘Tin up, to your fighters.’

It was a magnum launch, everything out except the dropships; the shuttles would form a close defence unit, effectively additional point defence. The stormtrooper and assault transports would join the bomb wing. In that role they operated without their troops - it was too easy a way to squander an infantry platoon. Especially on the older stormtrooper transports, which had had their budget dismembered during construction. They had neither the heavy energy weapons that would have made their attacking role easier or turreted weapons to defend themselves. Minimalist-brutalism, a design intended for mass production.

A Star Destroyer’s outfit was supposed to be fifteen of them, two of the far better defended assault transports, and assault shuttles, with short barrel fleet-melee turbolasers, only by appointment. Black Prince ran six, six and two.

Now all any of them really needed was a target. Like their missiles, the fighters could accept help if offered, work alone if need be. They were ‘plugged into’ Black Prince’s sensor picture.

There was some chaos around the planet, Imperial garrison fighters harassing the rebel evacuation transports and fighting a running battle on the fringes of the atmosphere with the rebel fighter screen; there was a strange melee in interplanetary space, looked like a mass antiship strike without a ship in the middle. Two major and a handful of light warships, a half- molten Imperial and a badly chewed Rebel frigate, both of them tumbling out of control, and a couple of Nebulons, one with recent repairs around its lower fin, one identifying out as Chandrilia Rose.

Aron surveyed the battle zone, the afterglow of the many-teraton blast, the litter of fighters and escape pods, and said ‘So far, so normal. Where’s the fight we were promised?’

‘Scan-incoming?’ Lennart asked.

‘Twin engines, good speed, medium-poor agility.’ Rythanor said, referring to the unknown. ‘Not Vic-I, unlikely Vic-II, could be Karu or Vic-III, by upper limit it could be an even less agile type - Harrow possibly, give me a moment to sort this out and I’ll give you a probability breakdown, but is it possible they could have got hold of a Venator?’

‘I do hope so.’ The captain grinned. ‘Tell the legion to ready the lilypads for ship to ship.’

The nicknamed and unofficial class of dropship had been, officially, retrieved from the outer rim. In actual fact they were a homebrew design, one of Mirannon’s pet ideas - virtually nothing but a heatshield, a few engines, a central control pod and the largest shield generators he could find. Ultra-minimalist, they were very vulnerable to interception, a known weakness, but they meant Black Prince could drop a full armoured legion from geosynch orbit in under twenty minutes, hours faster than most.

Loading for antiship meant piling on infantry and light vehicles- speeder bikes, AT-RT and AT-PT walkers - and going for the boarding action. That would be last of all. First things first.

If it was a Venator, best not to send the fighters after it. Thirty-five squadrons would take some beating, and the best way to do it was kill them before they got into the air - hit the ship’s flight bays with heavy turbolaser fire.

‘Iota, Kappa, finish that –40, Mu cover.’ Lennart ordered. ‘Flight control - watch that furball. If the rebels break out, detach fighter elements to contain. Tell the rest of the group to clear our alpha arc and await orders.’

They obeyed promptly - small wonder. Black Prince had been at battle stations long since, now all they were waiting for was the enemy. Then -

‘Emergence, ten seconds.’ The sensors highlighted the emergence point, Lennart gave a final helm order; space began to bend slightly, the flash of re-entry. The enemy was with them.

The Rebel Alliance light star destroyer Kestrel had actually started life as two Recusants, and bits and pieces from a third, the remains of one of thousands of barely recorded outer rim and expansion regions clashes, another note from the constant background rumble of the clone wars. Real military victory was dangerous and expensive, scoring propaganda points was worth the risk, but the most efficient use of the Alliance’s fleet assets was to attempt to obtain more fleet assets.

On their most recent outer rim tour Black Prince had netted a healthy score of Rebel grave-robbers, pillaging the wreckage left over from the galaxy’s last major war.

It was Fleet Technical Services’ job to police up things like that, but they had enough trouble dealing with the ships the Starfleet actually had without worrying about the ones they and their enemies used to have. So much of the flotsam and jetsam remained, unmarked by anyone except the local patrol squadrons - which were themselves, witness the pair of Nebulons, in an easy enough position to be jumped by or defect to the rebels to form another fertile source of fleet assets.

‘Main battery, one ripple volley, I want shield depletion. Fighter wing, that’s your target. Hit power trunking, hit control nodes.’ Lennart highlighted them on the sensor image as he spoke. He knew Recusants very well indeed.

Kestrel had emerged on alert, her fighters out of their faired-on bays but inside the open casing of the long, lean destroyer, shields and jammers up, her two huge bow cannon primed and ready.

Black Prince’s gunners beat her to the draw. Some of the turrets fired together, some quad by quad, Port-4 fired rapid sequential barrel by barrel, each shot aimed at the ripples and fluctuations the last raised, forcing it to burn energy stabilising itself, draining out - Kestrel lost ninety percent of her shield energy in the first salvo.

The return fire, a splatter of smaller heavy and medium turbolasers, splashed all over the ship, mostly accurate - the two superheavies spat bright scarlet tracer, one hitting forward of the superstructure, one on the shields of the bridge tower. She was going for the cheap kill, aiming for the command centre.

For the thousand-and-oddth time Lennart wondered if he could get away with sawing the bridge tower off entirely and moving command to somewhere better armoured and less obvious a target, and where to put the ship’s offices if he did.

‘LTLs, hit the secondaries; main guns check fire, be ready to retarget on the second. Obral, the plan is to let the wing pick this one apart, coordinate your LTL fire with flight ops accordingly. Your next major target is due…’

The second heavy support ship of the distant escort, Penthesilea, had a captain whose sixth sense was in full working order; either that or her com systems were far more advanced than the Imperials expected. Understandable - those ships had been the pride of the republic fleet once.

She delayed her exit, overrunning the intended drop point and flashing back into bradyonic space close to the planet; an old and much patched Venator, painted mainly blue and white. Immediately she began to turn hard to bear, exposing her upper surface and main battery to the Imperator.

‘Good. I might actually have something to do.’ Lennart said.

Most of the bridge crew knew what he meant. Ntevi asked. ‘Captain? What about the frigates?’

‘Marginalia. EW, eighty-five offensive, sixty-‘ designating the Venator as prime target, ‘twenty-five.’ On the Kestrel. Lennart was speaking in percentages of antenna and antenna-analogue resources and processing power. It was a very aggressive split.

‘Gunnery, main battery, port-4.’ Lennart said, informing the respective layers of gunnery command that he was giving an order directly to a subcomponent. ‘Aldrem; I want a flak burst straddle around Penthesilea. She’s close to the planet, I don’t trust anyone else to cut it that finely.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir.’ Aldrem said, signalling for it to be set up- handwaving and pointing at Fendon’s board, and failing to think of any banter.

‘One, then return to normal operations.’

Penthesilea opened with a slightly staggered torpedo volley - at Comarre. Surprising, but sensible under the circumstances. If that ship had anything like its complement, then any Imperial fighter threat would be so heavily outnumbered as to be a non-event.

The attack on Kestrel would be beaten back - was really almost a breathing space. Kill the smaller Imperial ship, and it reduced to a two-body tactical problem, how to keep Black Prince busy while the rest made their escape.

Sensible, logical, decisive, and quickly thought out. Lennart approved. Of course, it depended on a Venator being able to stand up to an Imperator for a tactically useful period of time.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-12 06:44am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-06-03 10:33am

Ch 18

Kestrel began to loose her fighter complement; the base Recusant never had such a thing, but the endo-and-exo-skeletal structure made them easily refittable.

There had been something of a cornered-rat effect after the official end of the war as the Confederation Remnants threw away the standard unified template and started modifying. Perhaps, somewhere back in the initial design, that had been the idea; once the confederation had won its independence, a series of plug-in modules under the outer shell to enhance and vary their abilities, fit them for the many duties that came the way of a galactic warship.

That hadn’t happened, and the confederation remnants had done everything possible to fight a delaying action, try to make themselves expensive enough for the new Empire to conquer that some kind of peace deal became possible. It seldom had.

Many and various things had been done to Recusant hulls in that strange war after the war, and the Rebellion had inherited the ideas as it had inherited some of the pieces.

Kestrel, amongst her other modifications, carried eight fighter squadrons. One of R-22 Spearheads, said to be a botched mass-market clone of the Aethersprite and also the base development model for the newer, faster rebel A-wing.
Two squadrons of X-wings and three squadrons of Y, so far so predictable, and two of Clone Wars relics, ARC-170s and more Gauntlets.

‘Dreck.’ Aron said. ‘We hit the turret fighters in pairs, two on one, one after the other.’

‘Can we hit one of them with ion cannon? I’d like to take a Gauntlet home to play with.’ Franjia said, half serious.

‘Kriff, no. No more rebel fighters, no more flight testing, bloody ever.’

‘Optimist…Alpha One, Epsilon Five. Reb warhead pointers swinging towards you.’

Olleyri stifled a ‘No shit’ as his own threat receivers started howling at him. How egotistical was an officer of his rank entitled to be? ‘Alpha Lead, we’ll draw fire for the rest of the group.’ I must have lost it at last, he thought. ‘Everyone else, cover us. Don’t waste time shooting torps, hit their concussions, then break and attack.’

The four Defenders fired torpedoes blind at the rebel fighter swarm, extreme sensitivity dialled into their fusing - Olleyri wanted them to detonate as they passed the wave of rebel missiles that would surely come their way, and make holes big enough for a Defender to slip through. Hopefully.

The Spearheads actually carried concussions, the rest torpedoes; they and the Y-wings fired at Alpha Lead flight.

Six concussions and eighteen torpedoes each; somebody really didn’t like them. Either that or they had lost the plot.

Olleyri spared half a second for sober analysis - the rebs had just pretty much guaranteed that they would lose the opening moves of the fighter battle, by overconcentrating on one element of the formation; good. It happened to be him; bad.

The fighter wing commander was next in line - the bomb and attack/multirole wing commanders flew desks. ‘Beta One, you have tactical control until we shake this lot.’ He backflipped the Defender and his flight followed, racing away from the torpedoes - they could outrun proton torps, although only by a hair, they couldn’t beat a concussion. Until? If.

The rest of the Alliance fighters held their fire, for whatever reason - wanting to save the heads for a ship target, somebody had been too good at warning them against shooting off expensive ordnance - well, that was unlikely in view of their resort to overkill. More likely, they simply didn’t believe it was necessary. The Alliance had its arrogances, too - chiefly that of their fighter pilots.

Especially after Yavin, the Alliance Starfighter Corps was very much the tail that wagged the dewback. They believed themselves easily capable of taking on four, five to one odds - and against garrison units, it might have been possible.
They probably picked on the Defenders because they were the most dangerous; knock off the elite, and the rest would be murder as usual. That seemed to be the theory.

The Alliance formation shook out into a spearhead; backwards, slower Y-wings leading, X-wings and R-22s behind and on the flanks, Gauntlets and –170s at the rear, covering. The Imperial formation changed shape to meet them, reaching out to engulf; the unshielded fighters going wide, Interceptors and Ravagers, the Avengers and Starwings and Hunters fanning out into a loose bowl formation to meet and flank the rebel lead element. In the rear of the formation, STRs sheltered behind the ATRs and assault shuttles.

The Alliance fighter leader realised he had misestimated his opponent just too late to do anything about it. It was difficult to give any fire order to most rebel squadrons other than fire-at-will; sure, they went on about how Yavin had been won with dedication and discipline and Republican military virtue, but those were central command forces, close enough under authority’s eye to actually be disciplined. Most rebel line and defence squadrons were guerrillas at heart.

They opened fire raggedly, and early.

The Imperial fighter force went on to individual routines; the break-and-attack order meant that at this stage they would keep rough formation, open out for individual jinking room, and each pilot pick their target and open fire when they thought they had a shot.

Little sense dodging on that frontage; there was so much fire coming in, most of it semi-aimed, almost as likely to fly into a shot as away from one. You manoeuvred to avoid a persistent lock, but the most effective means of self-protection was to shoot back, make them evade, throw their targeting off.

A wall of green and a wall of red light seemed to hit head on and detonate; in fact, that was the torpedo explosions in the middle. Some of them got hit in passing, most flew on chasing Alpha Lead.

The Rebels lost more heavily in the first pass; Avengers against Y-wings, what else was to be expected? It was more than just heads taken, it was position gained - the ability to outmanoeuvre the enemy, force them to begin in evading position, make them flee from you.

So multiple layers, one ready to reinforce the next.

In theory, the X-wings would have swung in on the tails of the Avengers - but the Avengers just left chaos in their wake and ploughed into the second wave, leaving the Y-wings to the Starwing squadrons and calling the fast flanking Interceptors down on the Rebel turret and flexible-gun fighters.

Aron was operating under orders; he would personally have preferred a more compact formation than the loose Starwing pack - he lead A flight through to line up on one of the squadrons of Y-wings, sent C flight wide to hit them from the flank, and Franjia’s second flight looped back to cover the rest from the flight of Spearheads she saw peeling off in their direction.

The Spearheads were moving towards lead flight; she headed them off and caught their attention with a long burst that she tracked into one - and was amazed to see it start to come apart. She had thought they were tougher than that.

The three survivors shifted vector towards her - sidestepping in pale imitation of the supreme agility the Aethersprite was famous for. Not nearly as good.

The bigger Starwings actually covered more distance, both sides were squeezing off shot, one looked almost determined to kamikaze on Franjia - rolling in tight little circles round her gunsight. She lined up on him, just off line herself - a shallow curve forcing him to adjust to meet her - expecting a point blank missile shot, she surged power into her jammers, rolled left and over him, and her own launchers coughed out a single torpedo. Overkill.

Epsilon Seven had faked his out, broke across it and let it overshoot, got killing position and lasered it. Six’s shields had been chewed but he had nailed his bird too.

They weren’t a patch on dear old Dad, she thought irrelevantly as she pivoted her Starwing on its deflectors, the flight conforming, and scanned to see if there were any Y-wings left.

Aron had started by hosing one pair with massed fire - they would share those - but the other six Y-wings roughly opposite them broke formation, accelerated outwards to get lateral distance and ideally be able to crossfire the Starwings. C flight matched their manoeuvre and Aron led lead flight right through the middle. There was method to the madness. He hoped. If Yatrock managed to blindside them - it was all a matter of timing.

He skidded through in a wild, sweeping bank, taking a pair of laser hits, returning fire on one Y-wing, forcing it to break off and burning its shielding out; glance at the scanner, it was just a blizzard. Red and green dots everywhere. The two formations were thoroughly mixed, and his mental horizon had narrowed to a very small space around himself. No time to think about the big picture. This was what the Alliance called the manoeuvring phase, what he called the Mad Scramble.

Epsilon Four had had his shields stripped clean, but only an Ion bolt had gone through; his fighter was limping, one engine misfiring. At least that made him a slightly harder target.

One of the Y-wings was down, Two - Gavryls k- and Three, Kramaner, had taken hits, but not penetrating, and then C flight hit them. Two more of the Y-wings got streamed, long lines of fire chasing them, catching them up and splashing them in flowers of energy. The rest scattered; he looked for and saw engine vents, passed up three closer targets for a good position on one further, Kramaner banked round after the closest, him and Four switching position in the element.

Ahead of him, Aron saw X-wings starbursting out of the way of Interceptors, and rolling dogfights start to form. Beyond them, laser and blaster fire crossed as Franjia and her flight took long shots at the approaching Gauntlets.

They were, tactically speaking, screwed. The ARC-170s had very long barreled guns on pivot mounts, with a crew member who could devote their whole attention to that; it would have suited them best to hang back and on the flanks, use their superior weapon control to snipe and interdict.

Now they were going to have to play it backwards, be the element the scattered rest of the Alliance fighters formed up on. That would make them relatively easy targets.

They didn’t intend to make it easy; the shieldless Four was locked on to, forced to evade radically, the streams of blaster fire caught up to him - safe ejection, though. Insofar as anyone could be safe in this maelstrom.

B flight were trading lines of fire with the Gauntlets; with their lighter weapons, the numbers worked that a Starwing would kill a Gauntlet before the Gauntlet could burn through the heavier fighter’s shields - if both could get a stable shot.

It was the minor footwork, the slight shifting of position of jousting knights. Franjia’s flight were accelerating into the attack, the Gauntlets would have held back if they could, but they needed to accelerate to meet them.

Alpha B and C flights were heading for them also; part of Franjia’s motivation was to get them before the Avengers did.

She stabilized on one, dazzled it with active scan, then sideslipped on to its wingmate, level at first then a shallow curve, pivoting around it while her wingman made electronic noise to cover her. It started to roll out of the way as its shields frayed; called for help.

She stayed on target as long as safe, rode the kill down then hauled the Starwing’s nose round in a climbing bank, letting the rebel’s friends try and avenge him, drawing fire away from the rest of the squadron.

Jerking, spasming quad laser fire came from the follow-up unit of Ravagers, so Aron scattershot at the fleeing Y-wing, rode out the poorly-aimed scatter of ion fire and landed a three round burst that tore the Y-wing’s starboard engine off, left the Ys to the Ravagers and ATRs and ordered the rest of the squadron to follow him in support of B flight.

Further afield, the space around the Rebel light star destroyer Penthesilea exploded in green fire. For all his sometimes irregularity, Pellor Aldrem managed his turbolasers with the same clear headed precision the physicists of old devoted to their research accelerators.

He set up four close, hard bursts on the planetward side, tight, brilliant green blooms; four looser billows of flame to voidward - that was how the tracer looked. He watched closely as the Venator’s shields reacted.

‘Captain, Port-4. I think that if that thing opens its bay doors, I can drill the shielding with a point salvo, get a local burnthrough in seven rounds and detonate a flak burst from the eighth inside their hangar bay.’

‘Not yet.’ Lennart decided. ‘I’ll give the word if I want that.’ Reminding him not to shoot without authorisation, this time at least.

How were things going to play out now? The initial rebel plan had been for the heavy escort to emerge in open space and sweep in towards the planet. The Recusant had done that and been depleted. One or two more main gun salvoes would finish her off; they only had about eight percent of the power output of an Imperator at baseline. Kestrel looked to have been uprated, but not that far. The main reason he hadn’t fried her was to keep the rebels in play, he wanted both of them, captured if possible or destroyed if not.

In the Rebels’ shoes, he would back off to medium range, stabilize and recharge as far as possible and use his ship’s guns to support the fighter wing in a strike on the Imperial star destroyer. That was what they were trying to do- but it wasn’t working. The Rebel fighters had overcommitted, staked everything on a quick victory, lost the bet, and red blips were falling off the scan picture a lot faster than green blips. Four to one, it seemed.

The furball, the original strike on Comarre- the rebel fighters from that would move to support Kestrel’s fighters, or intercept the bombers Lennart had dispatched to finish the MC-40, as soon as they cleared away the last of Comarre’s TIEs.

Which, they were probably just now starting to realize, would be Aldrem’s cue to flak-burst them.

Similarly, the nearly six wings on the Penthesilea might be better off not launching at all. By prolonging the engagement with a fighter battle, they increased the time Black Prince had available to pound their mothership into splinters. The best thing she could do would be to recover the dropships and evacuation transports as fast as she could and get out. The only circumstance it would make sense to sortie in would be if the Rebels couldn’t make it out in time, and needed to fight their way clear.

The mothership would have to go onto radical evasion, scattering her fighters along her path, trying to avoid fire and get them clear - a running fight the heavy defence envelope stood a good chance against anyway.

Politically speaking, mission accomplished. He had drawn the rebels out and proved that Sector was hopelessly wrong in their estimates, ascribing one frigate to a force that possessed at least two light destroyers. Now the mission was simply to take heads.

‘Guns, Kestrel; she’ll remain here as long as the Rebel fighters look as if they have a chance. When she starts to run-‘ and two superheavy turbolaser bolts splashed into the bridge module’s shields; the viewscreen glowed red for a second - ‘burn through and take her engines out. And mark my target.’

The Recusant-class simply could not power their weapons to anything like the same rate of fire as an Imperator. They depended on the on mount capacitor banks for any kind of burst fire; Lennart had found that the best tactic was to engage at medium range, burn through the target’s shielding as rapidly as possible on the strength of the stored power, but feed the superheavies nothing at all from the main reactor- follow up with the secondaries, the smaller heavies and the mediums, and pick off shields and gun mounts from there.

Lennart would have liked to shoot the capacitors off, but there was too much risk; a volley of HTL shot tended to make a nonsense of most failsafes, and if they ruptured and released, that would break the bow off. Which was plan B.

Lennart put the pointer on power feed and targeting control.

Penthesilea was manoeuvring slowly. She had no choice but to accept boarding from the dropships which had lost their parent craft, which meant she would have to open a bay. Some of them had lost sublight engine capability too. She had to actually make retrieval - which meant stopping Black Prince shooting at her long enough for that. As long as that was going to have to happen anyway, she might as well let the fighters out to play.

Black Prince was keeping up a contemptuously slow fire, lazily posting one turbolaser shot after another into the Venator’s shielding, knocking down the walls. The smaller, lower bay opened, the one hidden from fire.

‘LTL, gun cluster three, some fire on the dropships please. Make them think we actually are trying to stop them getting away.’ Not, Lennart noticed, grinning, that it would actually be necessary.

There was a container left drifting in the middle of that lot, one with their own failed hyperdrive core; there was a rebel tug on route to it. That should prove interesting.

Penthesilea was returning fire as best she could - scared but coping with it, Lennart thought, watching their fire pattern nearly come apart and be recollected. Splashing shot off the Black Prince, which was coping easily with her shields semi-focused on the two attackers.

‘Enemy intentions.’ Lennart said, chiefly to Brenn and Rythanor. ‘How do they expect to get out of this?’

‘Splatter fire all over us, get us to start feeling overconfident-‘ Brenn began.

‘Which it certainly looks like we are.’ Lennart confirmed.

‘Then switch targets, go for converged sheaf component shots, take out above all else the turret that’s firing flak bursts, then make a proper battle of it, not just an escape. Try to bury us under five hundred or so fighters.’

‘When do you expect that to happen?’ Lennart asked the navigator.

‘Sir, I’d rather not be specific. I don’t trust the universe’s sense of timing.’

‘Neither do I…’ Lennart replied. ‘Gunnery, turn Port-3 and -4 over to central control and instruct the crews to move behind bulkhead DF 140, enforce it if necessary. Shields, stand by to reorient - maximum depth over port battery and tower on my mark.’

Aldrem would, of course, bitch about it, which was fine as long as he didn’t do it loudly enough to count as disobeying an order. This would be as good a time as any to suddenly sprout proton torpedo tubes, but ideally not at the price of a prime gun team.

Kestrel was stabilizing out and reinforcing her shield envelope, but the LTL barrage had destroyed all four mediums that could bear on Black Prince, and burnt out many of her lighter gun mounts.

Her light-gun focus of fire danced backwards and forwards over Black Prince, shifting aimpoint- now here, playing over the bow to port; jumping to forward of the bridge tower; aft flank, just to search for bare metal; each point of firefall blocked, shield energy following the incoming, fencing almost, slash and parry with multi-megaton rapiers.

And riposte. Black Prince carried her weaponry spread out over a wider area than Kestrel; more room and options to fire back from.

While Kestrel’s lighter weapons were splashing power over one place, all the rest were aiming in return, looking for the hole in the shielding, the fire window to lob a bolt down. They were finding it too often for the lighter ship.

Penthesilea had suffered loss of most of her shielding, too; which was what it was for, but in a prolonged duel at close quarters, she would burn out and be pounded to bits long before the Imperator.

She had to perform pickup on the last of the dropships; the time was ripe. Lennart gave the order. ‘Shields, reorientation, execute. Gunnery, ripple salvo, as the Venator decelerates, execute.’

The Venator’s DBY-827s were actually more powerful than the Imperator-II standard cannon; sixteen of them - combined with the two superheavy turbolasers on the Recusant - lashed out in a time on target salvo.

Which would have been a good idea, maybe even worked, if it had actually hit.

Imperator class destroyers were popularly supposed to be clumsy and collision prone; which was true, to a point. More important was that doctrine stated that in a low-energy collision like a sideswipe, it was better to take the hit rather than turn away and possibly unload thousands of petawatts from the ion drive into the other ship. When their lives depended on it they could move.

Black Prince dipped - autotrack compensating for the ships motion, keeping her own guns on target- and rolled, angling between the two Rebel destroyers, turning it into a full evasive corkscrew.

That was pure showing off. It was the ship control team’s boast that it was only fuel cost that stopped them outmanoeuvring most of their own fighters; exaggeration on their part, mostly. They could outrun many things in a straight line, but they were average dogfighters. Perhaps a little better than that, but being a stable gun platform had been more important.

Black Prince rolled and twisted through the sky-burning blasts, took three hits from the closer Kestrel, burnt into but not through the shielding, four from the faster-firing Penthesilea; insignificant.

Then she rolled out into level flight, slowed to a steady thousand gravities, weaving gently, and returned fire in earnest.

The Rebel Venator’s captain must have realized that Black Prince was simply shaping the battlefield, firing well below her maximum potential. He must have been prepared for heavy return fire; his ship dipped and accelerated, making herself a crossing target, rolling to present the battery to bear as she ran up to hyperspace insertion.

There was probably a fair bit of praying, religious or not, to Destiny, Karma, the Galactic Spirit, the Force, whichever, that their shields would last. Lennart thought they would - up to a point.

The heavy turbolaser bolts from Black Prince cleaved into and pounded the smaller destroyer.

‘Gunnery, send Port- 3 and 4 crews back to station, return the turrets to local control.’ Lennart remembered to order.

Penthesilea was emptying her power banks and redlining her reactor, reinforcing her shielding and overdriving the heat dissipators to survive the lash. The rebel captain probably had been intending to conduct a mass fighter strike on the Imperial ship, if possible.

Only if the objective strike had been able to take out their flak-firing main turret, which it hadn’t.

Now, they would be thinking, the battered Imperial had left it too late - an old, tired ship with an old, tired captain. Counterattack and a clear flight out would not now be possible, but a mad scramble could still succeed.

Most of the Rebel fighters were hyper capable. They could safely be left to make their own way out. Kestrel was turning to flee, too.

Gunnery remembered the orders they had been given. Lennart had his mouth open to say ‘execute’ when they did it for him anyway. The four starboard turrets paused, twisted, reoriented on the Kestrel.

Disable her engines, he had said. Being themselves, Gunnery had opted to translate that as ‘obliterate’. Better to make a clean, sharp break than leave a half- done job.

Starboard battery bore; medium-power calculated fire to burn clear the shielding, followed rapidly by higher powered shot to blast through the hull.

The engine bells were one of the toughest parts of the ship; gun barrels, engines, reactor casing. Logic suggested the most resistant material for the most demanding job; and so it was. Armour gave some structural strength, but for its main purpose would be needed rarely - if the vessel happened to be unlucky, once. A ship had to be protected from her own energy processes every moment of her life. To disable a ship, oblique shots at the ion engine venturii were actually a pretty good option.

The spaced single shots arced in, smashing thrusters off their mountings, cleaving away fins, tearing apart the aft structure through transmitted shock. Kestrel ceased to accelerate. She was trapped.

Penthesilea survived the attentions of Black Prince’s gunners long enough to make the entry to hyperspace. Mirannon, in Main Machinery-1, had one of his holobenches replaying the same main tactical sensor picture Lennart was looking at. He watched with interest, ordered the hyperdrive cores raised a priority level on the power allocation board; they might have to go in chase - this was going to be embarrassing if it didn’t go to plan.

Not that it hadn’t been done with skill; just that Mirannon was an improviser. He wasn’t really happy unless he was doing something far enough out, risky and edgy enough that there was a real chance it wouldn’t work.

The hyperspace mine he had improvised from their own failed motivator did not let him down.

The Rebel destroyer appeared as a brief blur on long range scan; that seemed to invert itself, twist, distend - just as he thought it was going to break up completely, and what a very interesting explosion it would make, it flashed again and thudded back into realspace, twisted-looking.

‘Captain, take that ship in-‘ quick glance at the sensor picture, ‘-no more pieces than it is already, and make their chief engineer a job offer. They did well managing that.’

‘Unlikely, considering what I want now is to disable their power grid. Where’s the aimpoint for that?’ Lennart replied.

‘The distribution complex is just aft of the main reactor - there.’ He marked it on the target-image of the Venator. ‘If you’re thinking disable and capture, a better target - more easily repaired afterwards - is the computer core.’

Lennart shook his head. Mirannon couldn’t see it, but the tone was enough. ‘Intel reasons.’

The Imperators had a central memory core and processing complex that were powerful, but not the be-all and end-all; enough to override a rogue or damaged local system or processing node, but the ship could function without them, once the security measures were satisfied. The Venator class were more centralized than that. The ship could be paralysed by a few hits to the bridge tower but workarounds could be made, local control systems existed. A brain-shot Venator could function, uncoordinatedly; she would lose datalinking between sensors, ESM/ECM and fire control, most importantly, making her an easy kill- but local PD would still probably be enough to prevent capture.

‘Gunnery,’ Lennart ordered, ‘component strike.’ Handing over the target image with Mirannon’s power system highlights. Black Prince rolled to present - gunnery making the formal request to Helm - and the guns lashed out.

Bolts drilling through the depleted shielding and crunching their way into Penthesilea’s belly, breaking structures aside until main power distribution was exposed, hammered; it fused and melted, the engines went out, most of the ship’s lights did the same.

‘Gunnery, Main Battery, Port-4; do you realize why I ordered you out of your turret?’ Lennart asked his scalpel team.

‘Yes, Sir - but half of us would have preferred to take our chances; the other half were hoping it would get blown up, we still haven’t got it fully clean after Port-2 crew’s standing watches - what’s the job?’ Aldrem asked quickly, before the captain could take offence at wasted time.

‘Remind me never to transfer you to ship maintenance. Do you think you can hit Penthesilea’s bay doors precisely enough to jam or melt them shut, rather than blow them open?’ The Captain asked them.

‘Yes, Captain, I can.’ Aldrem said, almost managing to sound confident. As if flak bursts weren’t bad enough. ‘Provided you’re prepared to sign off for the damage we do to the gun barrels.’

Fendon was already setting it up - not believing it, but doing it anyway. A turbolaser fired a particle beam, in much the same way that a transatmospheric shuttle was descended from a man’s dream of flying like the birds. Twenty-five thousand years of evolving countermeasures, the race between defence and attack, had changed and complicated them immensely.

Aldrem wanted a continuous beam, a superlaser effect from a single barrel; continuous containment and the feedback loops it would generate had been known to melt gun tubes from the inside out before this.

At least they had a clear target, albeit tumbling slightly.

Listening carefully to the monitor system, he squeezed the trigger slowly, allowing the beam to build up, looking for the sweet spot - and tracking the beam towards the Venator’s bay doors.

On board Penthesilea, they would be frantic, crossconnecting every capacitor bank they could think of to try to get enough power together to get the fighter complement out. It was their last chance of putting up a fight.

The beam seemed to undulate into the joint. Intensity spikes - sudden flares in the beam; blotches of tracer compound; a stitched line of molten hull wandering across the joint line of the bay doors.

Aldrem could smell burning metal. Pure synaesthesia, but - ‘Shut down and purge A-1, give me A-2 and prep A-3.’ It seemed to be working. If they didn’t manage to melt their own turret in the process.

‘Captain?’ Rythanor - Gun s- com’d to the bridge. ‘What would you do if you didn’t have a crew prepared to attempt the impossible?’

‘Oh, we’d just have to resort to the merely possible, and blow them both to bits.’ Lennart said, flippantly. ‘Speaking of which, I expect to need long range anti-fighter fire in a moment.’

He made a general survey of the battle scene; time to start earning my pay, he thought. By the planet - still some combat as the garrison fighters came up after the initial rebel city strike’s survivors, pinning them and preventing them covering Penthesilea. Good, one less worry for the dropships.

The surviving Rebel frigate was no longer doing such a good job of surviving. Two squadrons of TIE bombers had rippled long-range proton fire at it; it was essentially dead, main mass half-molten and tumbling in a cloud of blown off fragments.

The strike was returning to Black Prince, pursued by elements of the fighter swarm that had attacked Comarre Meridian; the rest still busy chasing Comarre’s fighters.

Comarre herself had been hit by three of Penthesilea’s torpedoes, and was in little better state - not far off destroyed.

Right, Lennart thought. Area clearance. Neither of those rebel ships is going anywhere. Kill the Rebel fighters - and the smaller rebel ships, although one of the Nebulons had already run for it, and what’s that?

‘That’ was a Defender. Alpha Lead flight had managed to outrun the torpedoes, turned to jam and shoot at the concussions, and left one ejected, one crippled and limping back to the fight bay, and one, with a massive vector and only one objective vaguely close to it, charging head on at sixty Rebel fighters.

Lennart cut in the flight control channels; at least one controller was screaming at the berserk fighter, but the only response was a wild yell of ‘Banmotherfuckenzai!!’ Strange; Alpha-2’s blip, sounded like Olleyri’s voice.

He would have to deal with that later.

The bulk of the Strike Wing was now in the happy situation of chasing a beaten enemy. Epsilon had beaten Delta to it, got in amongst and started culling the ARC-170s; the Gauntlets had been left to the following force of Assault Transports and Shuttles.

Four twin guns on twelve times the power output - or four light turbolasers on fifty times - outclassed twin medium lasers easily.

Eleven had punched out; he had caught and held the attention of three –170s, they coned him- Franjia and Aron got one each, but the third finished him. Blasters had chewed his fighter apart slowly enough that he had a chance to get out. Maybe. The rest of the Alliance fighters scattered, fighting individual duels or being chased down.

Flight control asked him to report status.

‘Ten flying, I need two SAR; good condition, ninety percent ordnance. Where do you want us?’

‘Defence suppression strikes on Penthesilea, then dropship escort.’ Flight Command replied.

‘The fleet’s getting its money’s worth out of us today.’ Nine, Yatrock, commented.

‘You mean you wouldn’t pay to be allowed to do this?’ Aron bounced back.

‘Defence suppression, I’d gladly pay to be allowed not to do. Not an option, is it? Gamma and Delta are forming up on us.’ Franjia said.

‘You wanted a rebel fighter to take home? That thing has berth space for thirty-five squadrons of Alliance odds and sods.’ Aron pointed out. They were all shaking out into formation, proceeding as ordered. Alpha and Beta were hunting the scattered rebels.

‘I know some crack units have kept up a twelve to one ratio- but not all at once.’ Kramaner said. He was not a centimeter out of position on Aron’s right wing.

‘They probably won’t be able to get that many into the air.’ Franjia said, watching the thin, splotched green line scribbling in the hull of the Venator. ‘Probably.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-12 07:14am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-06-27 10:55am

Ch 19

‘Almost a shame.’ Lennart said, looking at the crippled and drifting Kestrel. ‘I have fond memories of those things; I’d have liked to bring her in in one piece. LTLs, switch target to Penthesilea, target the hatches.’

‘Aye, aye, sir - fond memories? How long did you spend shooting at them?’ Wathavrah said in return.

‘My last job before I came back to this ship was at the Raithal Academy; I was part of the Black Flag OPFOR, two years in charge of a Recusant teaching humility to snot-nosed cadets.
'I wouldn’t mind keeping one as a personal yacht - there’s enough waste space. We could collapse one down far enough to fit in the hangar bay.’

‘You want us to start trimming it to size?’ Wathavrah asked, joking.

‘No, this one’s a fluke; normally you wait ages for a Recusant and then four come along at once…’ Then, tone of voice changing to indicate it was an actual order, ‘put starboard battery on sky sweep in case there are any other surprises. LTLs, support Port-4, then stand by to assist defence suppression, all that can bear on Penthesilea, the rest on Kestrel.’

The other two squadrons of the Bomb Wing were in open order and weaving; the rebels were a wide selection of types, and they were tired. Attacking the Bombers would be their third clash of the day.

Some were fighting mad, some were too tired to think clearly about running away, and most were simply trying to do their duty.

Zeta squadron, riding the rare batch-IIa shielded version of the Interceptor, were covering as best they could; even a thousand ‘g’ advantage - which they had over some of the slower-accelerating Rebels - wouldn’t allow them to be in two places at once.
Being in one place after another very quickly, that they could do. It wasn’t enough. Then a maniacal black thunderbolt plunged into the middle of them.

Olleyri and his wingman had both survived the few of the missile swarm that managed to catch them, but the Group Captain’s bird had taken four hits, two of which had been meant for his adjutant. One of which he had intended to. His fighter wasn’t destroyed, but it was too badly damaged to take into a fight. Quattiera’s was perfectly viable, though, and the TIE flightsuit was EVA capable with a little help from blaster recoil, and the adj owed him, so…

It was Alpha 2’s fighter, but it was a middle aged, mid-life crisis suffering pilot in the cockpit. By the usual standards, Antar Olleyri was close to passing from ‘venerable’ into ‘senile old fart’ territory. Part of him was furious that they had tried a cheap trick like burying him under a barrage of missiles, part of him blazing mad at missing out on a fight.

He had shot four missiles, ridden two out, realized he had shield energy left and moved into the path of one intended for Quattiera - and been blindsided by the fourth. It was a miracle the engines hadn’t come apart, and a tiny bit was terrified at his own mistake. Basically, he was getting too old for this. So, if he was going to hang up his hamster helmet, retire alive or retire dead he was going to go out with a bang.

The rebels switched target from the bombers to him; he danced and twisted through the fire they sent his way until it looked as if his Defender was unrolling a red carpet behind it. He had not lost his common sense; he had thrown it away, but his tactical judgement was unimpaired.

He flew a wild, jagged, zig-zagging path towards the gaggle of Alliance fighters, and took three of them out before as much as firing a shot. One Z-95 wandered across a Y-wing’s focus of fire and was shredded; a Gauntlet and a T-wing sideswiped each other - smashing the Gauntlet’s cockpit open and ripping two thruster pods off the T-wing. His first touch of the trigger was on the Y-wing whose pilot was still half in shock, seeing a friendly fighter explode under his guns. Olleyri’s first salvo hit together and incinerated him.

He dropped into a less radical weave, held down his finger on the trigger and used the deflection controls to hose the focus of fire across the rebel swarm, barely aimed - enough to make some of them flinch.

Closest approach, and he plunged straight through the rebel formation, rolling round a –95 that tried to ram him, catching an X-wing in the tail flare of his thrusters and he got a brief glimpse of the R2 unit melting - there was no method at all to the madness, just taking it as far as it went.

This is the sort of thing that young fighter pilots dream of being able to do, the three brain cells not directly committed thought. The sort of stunt that appears - and belongs - firmly on holovid. The sort of thing most of the Rebels actually thought was possible to get away with.

He had too much speed to dogfight; all he could do was to strafe his way through them - giving and taking hits as he went; the local force craft, what were left of them, threw out enough blaster fire to catch something moving even as fast as he was, so they were his main targets in return.

Yaw, drift sideways, force himself to wait for the target pointer to light up, full six-gun blast-detonation. Got it. Out of short range leaving a shattered formation in his wake, turn, spray fire at them and thrust back towards them for a second pass over the scattering cloud of Alliance fighters.

The Interceptors followed in his wake, turning to counterattack; the TIE Bombers accelerated away under their cover to join the rest of the bomb wing moving in on Penthesilea.

Gamma, Delta and Epsilon squadrons were approaching in a compact stream; doctrine. Finger-fours or TIE-v formations at long range, for combat against intercepting fighters, then break to surround and englobe, for a surface and harassment profile. All of them nervously waiting for a swarm of Alliance fighters to boil out of the battered hull, delayed only by probably the longest-distance welding job in galactic history.

‘Lead,’ Franja said, formally, ‘in that position, what would you do?’

‘Curse whoever was stupid enough to come up with that in the first place.’ Aron replied. ‘Blow the “cat flap” open, I suppose.’ The smaller flap set within the main bay doors.

‘Ten seconds?’ She asked.

‘Fifteen.’ He said, and waited. ‘The backflash if it doesn’t work-‘

There was a thermal bloom on the surface of the smaller set of doors. Torpedo hits. Two - no, three centrepoints, and the door remained closed - glowing slightly, though.

‘Somebody just made themselves an ace in the Imperial Starfighter Corps.’ Epsilon 3 commented.

‘Jealous?’ Franjia said.

‘Kriff yes. How many people have over four hundred kills?’

‘A handful from the Clone Wars, not many more recent - when you’re fighting against numbers that large, someone’s bound to be lucky enough to rack up that kind of score before the odds catch up with her.’ Franjia said.

There was a strange click on the comnet; she guessed Aron had been about to call her on that, then decided he might be tempting fate.

He waited a second and said ‘If they had any sense setting that up, most of them would have been in the bays. They would be shielded well enough to take that.’

‘So it’s probably only the trigger-man who got a face full of proton torpedo.’ Franjia said.

He had, but was not alone. The hangar was still littered with the scooped-up dropships, many of them now broken and burning; bay shields had been lost on some of the squadron launch slots - some had had their independent-backup power systems drained to try to power the motors to open the door, and the fighters there were broken too.

The survivors started to filter out into the main central chamber, and line up on the hatch to finish the job with lasers. Magnetic shielding had been deactivated - had been shot out, more than anything else - there were no more ricochets.

Gamma, Delta and Epsilon waited for them to emerge, flying lazy, wriggling patterns to keep energy and waste time, drawing off what little energy the turrets had in their capacitor banks and take out the turrets that showed any effective resistance. Watched the gap develop - then turn in towards it.

The lead Rebel fighter element knew it was going to be ambushed. A forlorn hope was the best description; they planned to move out of the narrow, deadly space fast enough to get some through and starburst from there, keep the Imperial fighters occupied and buy time for the rest to exit after them.

The squadron that came burning out of the shredded hatch were Eta-2s. They had been the backbone of the Republic’s defence against the hordes of droid fighters - but kilo for kilo and credit for credit, they were less effective than their descendant the TIE Fighter.

As they started to show the three Imperial squadrons rounded on them, hosed the hatch area with fire.

Three Actis blew apart; another crumbled, and the fighter behind it flew into the wreckage; two wasted time stunting and twisting instead of covering distance and the Imperial fire converged on them, one extended in too straight a line and made an easy target - four survived to engage.

Too few for head to head, they meant to break past and strafe round, get into a position where they could score easy kills on the Imperials if they didn’t turn to do something about it, break up the imperial formation.

B-flight Gamma broke off to deal with them - the rest remained on mission, splattering shot at the slowly spinning Venator, waiting for more Rebels to emerge.

Gamma’s Hunters were interestingly odd; the dominant theory was that they were the result of business warfare, an attempt to regain Sienar’s lost monopoly by fulfilling the same need as the Starwing.

The fact that Cygnus was part owned by Sienar didn’t necessarily invalidate that; there had been near civil war between arms of the same company before. In fact, they didn’t fill the need. The Hunter suffered from the usual poor TIE ergonomics - originally designed for Jedi and Clones, neither of which were very susceptible to physical discomfort or inclined to complain, and in the final analysis expendable anyway, small wonder that comfort had been sacrificed for performance. That made them unsuitable for the long duration patrol role, even if their navigation systems or their sensors
had been up to it.

Their warhead load was only a half in the later marks, a quarter in the earlier, of the Starwing’s; fighter, bomber, recon - one out of three wasn’t enough. Some sector fleets used them, most did not.

Black Prince tended to deploy them as close-in escort for the bombers, the role they were fulfilling now.

In armament and agility, they were a pretty close match for the Actis. One of the Rebel fighters died quickly; shocked by the losses they had taken, he hesitated for a moment too long. One of them tracked a rapid burst of light laser fire across a Hunter which made the mistake of going long to evade - the Actis caught it and burnt the shields off, exploded the Hunter. The rebel was still looking for a new target when Franjia pulled a barrel roll, yawed out of it at the top of the roll and splashed the lightly built Actis. Couldn’t let the lights have all the fun.

The rebels had enough sense to realize they were entering a shooting gallery; the next unit to run the gauntlet were X-wings. They sprayed fire out of the hole in the hatch before thrusting their way out, scattering fast. Seven of them made it out, and C flights of Delta and Epsilon peeled off after them.

It broke down into open order after that, and a herd of Actis, Nimbus, Spearhead and A-wing interceptors tried to push out. There were three collisions - and that was it, because the bay had rolled round to face Black Prince again.

The flak burst was superbly judged. Lancing through the melee, tracer element showing how the bolt was near to tumbling, splintering on itself and exploding; the rebels saw it coming, couldn’t move out fast enough. The bolt cleaved through an A-wing, passed into the hangar cavity - and burst.

The unsealed points in the main doors gapped, the lower hatch burst open, a cone of green fire shone out of the secondary bay doors - tainted with volatilization flares as Rebel fighters burnt up and were carried away as contamination in the plume. The only craft left to launch from Penthesilea were escape pods. She couldn’t send power to the guns. Her on-mount power systems were drained. There was no fighter screen left to deploy; as a ship to ship battle, it was over.

‘Epsilon, this is Flight Control. Disable, repeat disable, Penthesilea’s torpedo launchers.’ The last way they had to inflict harm on the Empire - let themselves be boarded and blow up the ship, take as many of the Legion as possible with them. Or simply lob torpedoes at the dropships. The stormtrooper complement was deploying now, under the protection of what of Black Prince’s fighter complement could be detached to escort.

Mirannon’s lilypads quite literally flatpacked away, control towers mating through unfolding shield/descent platform discs to thruster modules to form the flight article, dismantling for storage - the destroyer could drop an entire armoured regiment in one lift, the complete Legion in four, with far more and heavier close air support thanks to the elimination of the waste space normal dropships would have taken up. They had left the heavy armour behind; each disc carried a mere four platoons of infantry, well below their normal weight-lifting capability, so they moved uncharacteristically quickly.

The easiest way to disable the launchers without setting any of the ordnance off was to burn out the control station. By the time the Alliance fighters realized what was afoot, it was too late.

Penthesilea was close to the standard Venator configuration - no unpleasant surprises like moving the tubes ten metres aft.

Aron looked round; Ten was in trouble - X-wing close on his tail, both of them twisting wildly, rolling round each other; Yatrock was lining up on another X-wing. Ten had moved in to brush the second X off his element leader, and it had gone for him instead.

Some pilots would have broken off to go to help their squadronmate; Aron was lining up his shot. He hammered the Rebel with active sensor pulses, enough to half-blind him and alert anyone with no target of their own.

Gavrylsk curved away after the X-wing; he was converging on the same target as his flight - and squadron - leader anyway.

This sort of melee was either a paradise or a nightmare, and which it was varied sometimes from one second to the next. Nobody had time to think or focus; one could be blindsided from anywhere by anyone, or on the other side of the scales find targets that easily.

Epsilon Three snapshot at the threatening X-wing, blowing an engine off, sending it tumbling away into the void. He knew better than to try to ride a kill down in this maelstrom; break off, go into radical dodge on general principles, look for someone who was stupid enough to do that.

Aron was lined up on one set of control chambers, Franjia on the other; a high power rapid ripple to do any damage to capital ship armour - actually, with the tensors failing, on emergency power at best, spalling and concussion would probably wipe out the crew and wreck the electronics without needing a clean burnthrough.

They had to hit opposite sides of the ship’s bow, had to keep enough vector on to avoid being too easy a target; it would take more than one pass - so they overflew the ship and swapped targets, pivoting end for end, drifting backwards and firing at a receding target.

Aron was good at it, Franjia slightly better - but they had started on each other’s targets. Franjia caught a glimpse of Epsilon-Six chasing a Spearhead off her tail, drifted over to cover him - deflectors tracking the bolt stream on target; the spearhead broke away, and she wished for an extra hand to work the gun deflector-targeters with.

Close scan; the ship’s jammers were silent and the hull broken down far enough that the Starwing’s scanners could get a good look inside. They showed ruptured power cells, a sort of fog of splinters, powdered circuitry and red mist in the chamber. Score one for secondary damage effects. Further aft, the pods started to jettison. Most of them would steer for the planet. Flight control ordered them ionized, if possible - they would be easier to scoop up if they could be grabbed before they made re-entry and the occupants had a chance to run.

Franjia was curving away to do that when one of the rebels caught her attention. It was an X-wing, one of the original surface attack group - and he was bearing direct for the Venator’s torpedo tubes. Either he was acting on orders they hadn’t managed to intercept or he had simply lost it. Her ESM picked up the reflections of the X-wing’s active lock on the torpedo bay. She snapped the Starwing round towards him; he broke outside her and slewed round to hold his target - she didn’t think the rebels were ruthless enough for that kind of asset denial, blow one of their own ships. At least not yet, not that soon, but that was what this one was trying to do.

She spun round after him; ended up almost on his wing. He had ceased acceleration, drifting, launchers tracking continuously now, about to volley his remaining torpedo load. She yawed and snapshot - hit forward in the long thin nose, and the view from her cockpit turned entirely red; then an irregular black shape came out of the fireball.

The last thing she remembered was her cockpit transparisteel starting to fracture.

‘That’s it. We have to win.’ Lennart said, looking at the tumbling pieces of the MC-40 and comparing them with the human crewed ships.

‘Can you imagine what the future would be like with them in government? Everything endlessly debated, if done at all done in the cheapest possible way, with ‘can’t do this’ and ‘mustn’t do that’ and ‘too dangerous’ bleated at every turn - we might as well start painting the stars grey.’

‘Sir, wouldn’t the paint just boil off? I mean…’ Ntevi began. Lennart glared at him.

‘You were intending to report something meaningful before you got sidetracked, weren’t you?’

‘Is the captain the only one allowed to ramble nonsense on the bridge?’ Brenn asked Lennart, not seriously.

‘Of course. Privilege of rank. Well?’

‘Hyperspace is almost clear, Sir. No high energy contacts, enemy or friendly, civil traffic only. There is one medium-small trace just orbiting - unidentifiable, but estimate is a rebel observer.’ Ntevi reported.

‘Nav, do you think Commander Mirannon’s got around to inventing a way of actually shooting down a ship in hyperspace yet?’ Lennart said, only half jokingly.

‘Sir,’ Brenn replied, ‘would it be wrong of me to start praying that he hasn’t?’

‘Not really, no...Ntevi, keep monitoring that.’ Not unexpected, he thought. The rebels now know that this was a trap on a larger scale than they were expecting, and sending, say, a flight of Starwings to wait ‘under’ it and catch it as it emerged would neither give away or achieve anything.

‘Yes, Sir - Captain, cancel that, distant bow shock. Petty Officer Cormall?’

Cormall reoriented the hyperspace scanner, followed onto the faint glimmer the ship’s sensors had picked up. ‘Yes, sir…evaluation; medium-large, probable light destroyer class, on direct line, running very hot. Flank speed or close to. Too far to be classifiable, estimated arrival - nineteen minutes.’

'We’re not expecting further reinforcements, are we, Captain?’ Rythanor asked him.

‘If we are, I don’t want them.’ Lennart said. ‘Get me a type on that ship as soon as you can.’

Lennart turned away to look at the holoimage of the rebel Venator, and monitor the progress of how rapidly it was turning back into an imperial warship. The stormtroopers were doing well; no reason for them not to, what ground troops the rebels had on that thing would have been billeted near the drop bays.

‘Captain, I have an ID. It’s the Dynamic.’

Lennart retrieved the message pad Aleph-3 had handed him - only, what, under an hour ago? It felt longer, always did. Checked the message routing. Hmmm.

The fighter battle - battles, really - were going well; what handful of survivors there were from Comarre - it seemed very long ago - were winning, now. The single Defender was flying as if possessed, scattering rebels before it, herding them, choosing and swooping on one of them after another, driving them into confusion and chaos.

Penthesilea was suppressed and the dropships were about to dock on. That promised to be straightforward enough; boarding from one of the lilypads was not simple, but it was fast. The rebel escape pods - some of them had been ionized and caught, some of them would require a surface sweep.

Lennart had not yet made up his own mind about whether the accusation against him was true. That was what it felt like, a criminal charge. These days it so often was. It might be, he had to concede that much; well, this would clarify the issue.

Wathavrah counted down to expected emergence; dead on zero, his former exec’s ship, carrying an agent of the privy council, emerged back into realspace.

Lennart awaited the inevitable storm of temper that should result from open defiance of orders. Mysteriously, it failed to arrive. All that did was a call from Dynamic Actual.

‘That looks like quite a fight. I’m sorry we got here too late for it.’ Was that a message of support? Probably.

‘If we’d have known you were coming, we’d have saved you a little one.’ Lennart said, dryly. ‘You have a VIP?’

‘We have an operative of the privy council on board.’ Dordd said it with as much inflection as he could reasonably add. Stress on the ‘operative’. ‘He’s interested in you. Personally.’

‘Hmm. Recognition in high places.’ Lennart said, skeptically. ‘You’re just serving as transport?’

Dordd’s image looked around the bridge, as if checking to see that it was clear. ‘Special Assistant Adannan has not confided his plans to me, or to any of my command crew.’ Managing to make it clear what he thought of that. And Adannan.

‘Put your people on alert, but - how good are your gunners?’

‘Benchmark three point two.’ Dordd admitted, with a straight face - but how that must have hurt.

‘Then tell them to hold their fire, weapons free for point defence only. Especially on anything they don’t recognise, like my drop ships. And relax; you’re too new in command to be realistically blamed.’ Then again, both of them thought, what was there to guarantee that whoever was doing the blaming had any sense of the realistically possible?

Right now, he was responsible for them but not squarely culpable, and wouldn’t be unless they failed to improve. In three months’ time, whatever was still wrong would be Dordd’s fault; that was fair enough.

If Adannan gave them anything like that kind of time. ‘Where is the Special Assistant to the Privy Council now?’

‘On his way over to you. He has a custom small ship, and likes to arrive unannounced.’

For a brief moment, Lennart seriously thought of a case of ‘mistaken identity’; take the opportunity to blow the thing into tiny little bits and solve most of his problems in one zap. Only most. Much as he sensed - no, expected trouble, none of that Jedi gibberish, there would be far too much time for that later - his ship had managed not to perpetrate any blue on blues so far, politics notwithstanding. It was a clear record he intended to maintain, and starting with a senior official of his own government was probably bad business from any angle.

That would be something that even he would find hard to explain away afterward. Perhaps if he understood the situation better, knew who Adannan’s supporters and enemies were, he could make a sensible decision as to whether it was worth the risk. Given that he didn’t, the only reasonable course seemed to be to play it straight - as far as that remained an option.

The Legion was far understrength, as regarded leg infantry - only eighty platoons, and all but two of them were deploying to board, sixty-four on the dropships, fourteen on the dedicated space to space transports and shuttles. Overstrength, as far as being able to stomp on people’s heads with big metal feet was concerned. The reception party would consist largely of vehicle crew. The official reception party, anyway.

‘Brenn,’ Lennart turned to his navigator, ‘the chief threat is no longer the rebels; it is now senior officials on our own side. I’m going to go and deal with that. You have the conn.’

Well, this was the proverbial ‘it’. Lennart watched the peculiar dart-shaped transport heading towards the bay with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. OB-173 never could tell when he was serious and when he was whistling in the dark.

If Adannan simply was above the law, it would have been easy. He wasn’t; he wielded the power of the law, could use it to gloss over his misdeeds and land hard on everyone else for theirs. Now it was himself under the spotlight.

Why do I hate the idea? He asked himself. It’s not as if I didn’t know how bad things can get. The Empire may be less corrupt and more energetic than the Republic - there’s that - but at some levels, like this Adannan, all that means is energetic corruption.

I didn’t join to be above the law, I joined up to stand by the law, Lennart thought; and that sounds too damn much like electioneering for decency.
I was there, kriff it. I know what the Force does to a man, I met far too many Jedi indistinguishable from zombies, who had sacrificed their personalities on the altar of Detachment. The Force is a curse, not a gift; it sets them apart and corrodes their ties to the rest of lifekind - that far, at least, Palpatine was right. But is it really only one extreme or the other; demented by rage or demented by indifference? Is there no middle ground, where it is possible to be a man, and sane and healthy?

Assuming that’s what I actually am at the moment, he remembered to add to himself.

Adannan’s transport was on final approach now, preferring to land by repulsors reacting off the ship’s own artificial gravity; the honour guard of stormtroopers came to attention as it settled in the bay. And Mirannon standing by the environmental control systems just in case it came to that.

The vicious little ship landed, powered down, dropped its ramp; the crew and officers who had turned out to meet the Privy Council’s agent included some of his inner circle, people Lennart might need later, so he wanted them to get a good look at what he was up against.

The first down the landing ramp was a human male in severely-cut civilian clothes, with at least four guns - Lennart would have expected at least two more, more thoroughly hidden. Just behind him was a woman in a dull black robe, hood pushed back - she looked the exact double of Aleph-3, and flaunted it. Clearly she was there to draw a reaction; Lennart controlled his expression carefully, looked closer. Although obviously a clone, not quite an exact double; they had the differences their experiences had made, and those worried him.

Aleph-3 was a soldier, she had stress lines, worry lines, one or two well healed scars - but they tended to disappear, at least fade into the background, when her face was at rest. A troubled mind and a relatively clear conscience. Her duplicate was a courtier; she had an over-polished look, and an underlying sly sleekness. Just a hint of something fouler under the mask, perhaps - a touch of rage and desperation. Why did he send her out first? Lennart wondered. Reconnaissance by fire? She looked at him, evaluating - he refused to take the bait.

The others of Adannan’s retinue followed, Lennart looked them over, evaluated them and decided to ignore them for the most part. They were beings, alive and complex, possibly dangerous, probably devious, but important only as mirrors of their master. In at least two and maybe five cases, that would be their literal master, their owner.

Why would Adannan want to be identified as someone who could not only do that, but flaunt it? Intend to begin by making a bad impression? Get over yourself, Lennart thought, this isn’t all about me - they’re the ones in chains.

Then the man himself emerged. Six centimeters shorter than the Imperial Starfleet officer, and arrogant. Not pompous, he was too malevolent for that, and there was nothing understated about it either. He expected those before him to bow down and worship, and do exactly as they were told. It would be so much easier if they did; it would save him the effort of coercion.

Despite himself, Lennart was frightened of him. So much for theory, he thought. Time to display some of that political talent Aleph-3, currently vibrosabring her way through bulkheads on the Venator, claimed he had.

‘Special Assistant Adannan.’ Lennart greeted him, not saluting. ‘What brings you to Ghorn?’

There were a number of different ways that the dark Jedi could play it. He could be sleekly menacing - looking at him, Lennart would have expected him to enjoy that. He could be openly aggressive - and Lennart’s contingency plan for that occasion involved a precise application of thirty-five hundred simulated ‘g’, if things looked bad enough that the subsequent consequences could go hang.

He had forfeited any opportunity to be deceptively innocuous, walking around in black robes. Instead, he chose to ruin Lennart’s plan by doing something completely unexpected. He smiled. There would be a time for threats later; this was politics. ‘Well done, Captain. You took exactly the action I was expecting of you.’

Lennart took only half a second to work that out. ‘The doctrine is known to history - and most naval academies - as the Greater Order, I believe; when objectives and instructions conflict, go back to first principles.’

‘The first principle of the Imperial Starfleet is obedience to orders.’ Adannan said, and officially he was right.

‘The first order is to fight the enemy.’ Lennart said - virtually proclaimed. ‘Doing nothing would have resulted in an Alliance propaganda victory- and losses and casualties on our side. Proceeding with the ambush as planned was so obviously the only positive thing to do that even a civilian political advisor managed to realise it.’

Serve and volley; now it was Adannan’s turn to think fast about what exactly Lennart meant. Calling the dark Force user a mere political advisor was a calculated insult, a bait it would be dangerous to rise to - had Lennart really intended to be that aggressive as an opening move? Adannan doubted it - but what he was reading from the Captain was something along the lines of ‘Go on. Admit that you operate outside the law - and give me all the reason I need to blow you away like the rabid dog you are.’

Alric Adannan was used to being hated - being able to inspire that in others gave him a warm glow. It was the proof that he was doing his job properly. Being loathed was just about par for the course, too. He did not take well to being despised.

‘You seem to misunderstand.’ Adannan said coldly. ‘I am here with the full authority of the council, to bring this matter-‘ no need to go into too much detail about exactly which matter- ‘to a safe and expedient conclusion. The eye of the Empire is on you.’

‘I never was much good at amateur dramatics.’ Lennart said, changing tone to genial and absurd - largely to cover the engineer officer who muttered something about cataract surgery. ‘Centre stage doesn’t suit…’ he turned that into meaning that the flight bay was not the place for a detailed discussion.

Adannan’s first attempt at that line of argument had failed, but it was still worth pursuing. Force choke him, push him to the ground, humble him, make him grovel in front of his crew - that was what he wanted to do, but Lennart was not humble. He would have to be seduced to the dark side, a direct attack would turn into a brawl.

On his own ship, as the appointed champion of forty-six thousand lesser entities to draw strength from, Lennart might prove to be a formidable opponent. That could simply make it more fun - and there was no sense relying on an incompetent acolyte.

There is the distinct possibility that I could lose, Adannan thought. One does not become strong in the dark side by refusing to confront problems; one does not live long enough to become strong without learning to take every possible advantage.

Perhaps I can use his strategy against him. Rely upon the masks of officialdom, while I learn him, compromise his associates, explore his weak points and ripen him for his fall.

‘We still have two boarding actions and the tail end of a fighter battle to deal with.’ Lennart said.

‘I have summoned the system governor, I will convene a command conference in one hour on board this ship.’ Adannan stated.

‘It would be rather unfortunate for him if there were any fighters left, and a stray X-wing managed to put a proton torp into his shuttle.’ Lennart pointed out. ‘Is that not a factor?’

‘I do have some knowledge of the situation. A little exposure to risk will do him good.’ Adannan stated, a subject they could almost agree on. ‘I and my retinue will be occupying the imperial suite.’

Another good reason to get the bridge tower blown off one of these days, Lennart thought. The throne room was sealed, and should be in good condition - and there was no real way to keep his minions out of the computer systems.

It was stunningly arrogant that he thought he had a right to; stopping him would - first, it would offend him badly enough to precipitate the crisis they both had been skirting the edge of. Lennart had no real desire to stop him committing lese-majeste, at least not unless he actually meant it, and it was too early to be sure.

An honour guard was arranged - three repulsortank crews. A maintenance detail was also arranged - hand signals to the delegation from the engineering department present - to get there before they did and accomplish any necessary last minute tidying. Adannan’s transport was moved off the flight lines to a transport maintenance pad and the parade dispersed. Lennart had one more thing to arrange before returning to the bridge.

M’lanth cautiously opened his eyes. He suspected he wasn’t going to like what he saw - and he was right.
There were peculiar grooves in the ceiling, and faint blue shimmers; a ward, of some kind, with isolation fields active and bulkheads ready to drop. Air smelt stiflingly odourless, scrubbed out of all character.

What - the last thing that had happened to him had been his fighter starting to break up around him. From there to a hospital bed, and unless he had been spectacularly lucky, or someone else had on his behalf... He raised his head, looked around some things both had in common - but the medical officer’s uniforms, the hovering droid nurses, and the stormtrooper guards were a giveaway. Kriff.

‘You must be M’Lanth.’ Someone said. He looked round and saw a handsome auburn-haired woman, in the uniform of an Imperial Starfleet steward.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I didn’t know putting up a fight qualified me for personal service.’ Then he took in how sharply she was examining him - which was baffling? Why would an intelligence officer disguise herself as enlisted?

‘You’re half right.’ She said lightly. ‘After today, you’re small fry - possibly not even worth the trouble of asking questions of. I used to be on your side.’

‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

He had been caught in the collapsing compensator fields of his fighter as he ejected; he had blacked out almost immediately, and the damage done to him had mostly been put right. He was stiff and sleepy, but that was a lot better than having no spine. His brain was waking up quickly now.

‘What it sounds like; I was a former intelligence officer of the Rebel Alliance.’

‘Former?’ he said, not quite believing it. Not understanding it, either.

‘Complicated story.’ She said, wondering how closely monitored they were. She was as much being tested here as he was.

‘You’re a fighter pilot; stunts and tricks, maybe, but lies aren’t really part of your war, are they?’

‘We listen to subcomm Imperial propaganda from time to time when we’re bored and want something to laugh at - we…’ he trailed off.

‘Eight of them survived. They were lucky. How much of a martyr complex do you have?’ She asked him.

‘Who?’ M’Lanth asked. She handed him a datapad. He read it, briefly.

‘They were your people all along, weren’t they. Plants.’ He meant Aron and Franjia.

Jhareylia nodded. ‘Chosen, ordered out and not very good at it, true - how heavily do you hold that against them? Would you refuse, for instance, a gift from them?’

‘What sort of gift? Lend me an escape shuttle?’ He said, sarcastically.

‘Almost. Why do you think I’m not dead?’ she asked him.

A few highly insulting things occurred to him to say, and he started to open his mouth - then realized where that would go. He didn’t have all that much of a martyr complex, when it came down to it - but perhaps it would be better that way, thinking about what else they could do to him.

‘Because you opened your legs?’ he said, trying for a quick death.

She flushed in anger, especially because it was almost true. She was about to hit him with something when she realized what he was trying to do; the fact that he looked slightly embarrassed saved him.

‘You’re not going to get away that easily. I hated the empire, because of - something - it had done; so I threw myself into the fight against it - so much so that I almost didn’t notice what the Rebellion was doing for me, or wasn’t. Maybe it is no better on the Imperial side of the divide, but the Alliance used me. Paid me a credit a day and got far more than their money’s worth - the satisfaction of fighting the good fight was supposed to be enough.’

He knew he was supposed to reply at this point; he decided not to, let her continue.

She did. ‘I wanted revenge; blood for blood…and the Alliance never came even close to it. Eventually, what - what wasn’t there any more…faded away to a sort of mental amputation.
'I managed a stable doughnut of a life, around a family shaped hole in the center, and I never really stopped to think, until the Empire did for me what the Alliance couldn’t. From their point of view, they enforced the law. From mine, long overdue retribution.
'I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to hate any more, other things happened - and here I am.’ That was far from the whole truth, but it was as much as he needed to know.

‘I was raised an anarchist. As far as that makes any sense at all. I would never side with the empire; could never, on the empire’s terms.’ M’Lanth said, determinedly.

‘Doesn’t that very much depend on the Empire? Captain Lennart is not a vindictive man; it is his duty to deal with you as an enemy, but there’s no bile to it, I think he would almost welcome an excuse not to.’

‘Anybody who sides with the forces of evil-‘

‘The Starfleet outnumbers the Alliance fleet - is it fifty or a hundred to one? We, well you, are the odd ones out - so either most of the galaxy is ‘evil’, or it’s the Alliance that needs to explain its extremism to the rest-‘ her comlink beeped. ‘Excuse me.’

The medical instrumentation in the ship’s hospital complex was hardened to survive much worse electronic disruption than a mere comlink. Enough room to hold six thousand and treat six hundred; in the early days of the Empire there had been a few hearts and minds tours around the expansion regions and mid-rim, dispensing medical aid and establishing infrastructure. Some of the older members of the gun crews had fond memories of open cast mining by turbolaser, but mainly it was deploying solar power and communication satellites, mineral surveys and mapping. They always had a heavy emphasis on propaganda value, there were very few of them ordered these days and usually only for that.

There were a few ill and injured, but mostly it was empty and being prepared to receive prisoners and wounded stormtroopers. Jhareylia found an empty side ward to answer in. It was the Captain.

‘We have a problem.’ He began, with no preliminaries. ‘I have a particular need for the services of an amateur commando team.’ He was trusting that she was managing to keep this private, but also that she was up for whatever it was in the first place.

‘And this problem would be?’ she asked.

In for a millo, in for a megacredit. ‘We’ve been boarded by a very senior imperial official who makes my skin crawl.’ Lennart admitted.

‘Most of the bad things you used to believe about the Empire, look at him and you can see them walking and talking. His entourage - high grade thugs mostly, at least two of them don’t want to be there. Slaves.
'Kidnap them, unchain them, get them talking. I need all the information you can manage to find for me. I’ve no time to give you much in the way of background, I know that doesn’t make your situation any easier, but who else am I going to get to make this happen?’

‘Technically, I’m a spacewoman-recruit-‘ she began.

‘You think this is remotely legitimate? I know it’s a team job; borrow Port-4. If they don’t know what’s going on already via the ship’s grapevine, things are even worse than I thought.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-12 08:32pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-07-04 01:59pm

Ch 20

Brenn had little to do except watch the situation develop and hope that Dynamic did nothing silly. Captain Dordd had started to move his ship into line abreast, ceased acceleration half way through the manoeuvre, thought about it, and was moving instead to a support position - behind, ‘beneath’ and inverted with respect to Black Prince. Sensible and appropriate, but her helm team were manoeuvring the Dynamic as if she was made of eggshells. Her captain might have known what he was doing, but the crew - never mind, Brenn thought, associate with us long enough and something’s bound to rub off. Just as long as it isn’t literally.

He called Engineering. ‘Chief? What’s going on down on the flight bay?’

‘You can stand down the bucket and sponge party.’ Mirannon replied. ‘No entrails, at least not yet. Skipper pushed his luck about as far as it would go, got away with it for the time being - but there’s going to be a round two.’

Brenn thought about that for a moment. ‘How much trouble would you say we were in?’

‘It was a nice, civilised mutual exchange of death threats. I think it’s time to add weapons and combat programming to the maintenance droids, and start running classes in Spanner-Fu again.’

‘Run that one by me again? This is an officer of the privy council we’re speaking of, yes? For right or wrong, he has oversight authority - he is supposed to be on our side. He might not know tactics, but-‘

‘He’s a Force user.’ Mirannon said it as if it was a synonym for “scum.” ‘Above the law, and beyond rational argument. I know it’s repeatable but that still doesn’t go far enough to make it respectable. Captain threatened to meet him head on. We’re stuck with him now, until something unforeseen happens.’

Mirannon had all sorts of biologically incompatible things in mind, but the same problem occurred to him as it had to Lennart: explaining it afterward. He was still thinking about deniability.

‘We’re equipped to act as a squadron flagship, true, but what does he want?’

‘Look at the logcorder when you have time. Nothing good for us. As long as he follows the regulations, we will too, but “if you forget my rank, Sire, I will forget yours”.’ Mirannon quoted. ‘That still gives him effective control.’

‘We were overdue something like this.’ Brenn admitted. ‘I still prefer to pay Fortune off on the installment plan, not in lump sums - oh, yes, the hyperspace mine. I didn’t realise it was capable of doing real damage.’ He changed the subject to something that he thought might be less worrying.

‘Don’t admit this. Deny all knowledge if asked - but the idea was originally looked at as a security-driven failure mode, for hyperdrive motivators on Imperial warships.’ Mirannon told him.

‘What, you mean a boobytrap?’

‘Intended to be remotely triggered to disable fleeing defectors, keep the Starfleet in line. It was never practical; preparing a motivator to switch into that state already reduces the ship’s hyper performance, in addition to being glaringly obvious. The only ships that could effectively carry the burden were the ones large enough to have batallion-plus stormtrooper complements anyway.’

‘Yes, thinking about them - you work more closely with them; how are they likely to behave under the circumstances?’ Brenn asked.

‘Their loyalty conditioning defaults to the highest ranking being accessible within the chain of command. That would be Adannan. Don’t ask me to do anything about that - robots I can fix, not biorobots.’

That was probably unfair to the stormtroopers, but there was historic truth in it. A junior officer - even one fairly senior on the absolute scale, like, say, a Jedi General - had control over them only as long as a more senior officer, for instance the Supreme Chancellor, chose to step in, and at that point he could order them to do anything, up to and including designating their former commander as one of the enemy.
Brenn had always wondered about that. Didn’t it make their heads hurt? A normal human, even an Imperial Army or Naval trooper, would - all right, could - argue back, try to reach a higher authority yet, stall, fudge, even ignore orders.

Black Prince’s wardroom was not exactly political, but Lennart insisted that they at least keep current with what was happening in the galaxy. None of them were entirely blinkered, and at least two department commanders made a hobby of dissecting Imperial propaganda. There had actually been an order to the contrary, forbidding Imperial officers to listen to or quote from certain sources; Brenn wasn’t certain whether it was Empire-wide, or merely some sector governor throwing his weight around, because Lennart had shot the message pad and thrown the bits away.

It was more damning than anything our enemies could say, that we dare not listen to the truth because it might destroy our loyalties. Lennart believed, or at least had nailed his colours to the mast by publicly stating that he believed, that it was perfectly possible for an intelligent, well-informed being to wholeheartedly support the Empire.

It had been rather difficult for even a Vice-Admiral to openly oppose that point of view. In private cynicism reigned, as usual - but not for press consumption. Anyway, how many dirty secrets could even a galaxy-spanning Empire have? Enough to impose other, similar orders further down the line, anyway.

All right, the depth of stormtrooper conditioning was probably one of them. Navigation picked up all sorts of little odd jobs related to the ship as a ship rather than a fighting machine, and all sorts of little odd facts came with that.

Brenn was probably better informed than anybody except the captain, and he still considered himself basically loyal; but that state of total, and totally transferable, loyalty escaped him. He simply couldn’t comprehend the sort of mental gymnastics they must have to go through for that to happen.

And, like wondering just how many secrets the empire had, a part of him hoped he never got an answer to those questions.

‘Brenn, are you all right? You zoned out for a second there.’ Mirannon called.

‘Sorry, just - thinking.’

‘I have the general scan, and we’re cycling down to condition-2 here.’ Battle alert, not actively engaged. ‘If you want to send me an inspection scan of Penthesilea and Kestrel, I can start working out detailed repair estimates.’

‘Right, I’ll arrange that; can you give me a rough number now?’ Brenn wondered if they were going to be here - or alive - long enough for it to matter. Which depended on what Adannan wanted with them.

‘Standard sector fleet deepdock, nearest round number; four months on the Recusant, six on the Venator. Should be less for both, but I don’t expect any modern Starfleet repair team to know their way around either of them, so that’s mallet in one hand, manual in the other.’ Mirannon stated.

‘We’ve still got three of those things.’ Brenn pointed out - the ‘scouting element’ of Fleet Destroyer Squadron 851 consisted of Vandal, Venabulum and Varangian, and their fighter screens. Four hundred and twenty fighters each, many of them clone war and third party relics not retained in Imperial service for any other purpose.

Enough of them were independently hyper capable, and it was a practised manoeuvre; jump in to a system, long range scan for navigational purposes, dispatch a swarm of fighters that covered the system in eyes. Very little could hide from a comprehensive blanket like that, and most sector groups that still retained them used them similarly, for ‘hot’ recon jobs when there was a very good reason to believe there was something there.

One of them could come in handy - that was assuming they weren’t going to be the ones doing the hiding.

Loyalties were also worrying Jhareylia. She was far from certain where she stood in the hierarchy of the ship, but they hadn’t trusted her with a weapon yet. Which was not that much of a problem considering the people she was on her way to see had lots of them. Unfortunately, ‘had’ in both the sense of possessing, and in the past tense. She found all of them temporarily stood down and in Subassembly A’s bay, examining status monitors, opening tool boxes.

‘Hallo, Jhareylia.’ Aldrem ducked under an armature, grabbed her and hugged her. ‘What’s up?’

‘Politics, chaos and treachery.’ She said. ‘How was your day?’

‘We…think we might have melted some of the gun tubes.’ Aldrem admitted.

‘ “We?” Nice line in collective responsibility you’ve got there.’ Eddaru Gendrik grumbled, not pausing to look up from a monitor screen - it appeared to be relay data from some kind of RPV actually crawling down one of the barrels. The fact that they had lost enough of the on mount instrumentation to need it indicated that yes, they were going to find a problem.

‘Yes, as it happens. We share the credit, we share the blame.’ Suluur pointed out.

‘Fine, you can take my share of the kills for my share of the 72-hour exercise, or whatever we get landed with this time - umph. Is there a metallurgist in the gun house?’ Gendrik said, frowning at the image.

‘Deputy Assistant Acting No-one Else Wants the Job.’ Tarshkavik waddled over to the monitor, taking control. ‘It hasn’t just separated out, what’s it doing in the gamma - now there’s excitation for you. Anyone around here still want children?’

‘What have we got?’ Aldrem, who as of a week ago had decided he did, looked over and asked.

‘Broken nuclei, back pressure from the containment field. Congratulations, gang, we’ve achieved transmutation. To crap, probably.’

‘Then get the RPV out before it fuses to the tube wall and makes our lives even harder.’ Gendrik ordered.

‘Harder as in hard rads?’ Tarshkavik said, moving the little, heavily shielded, drone out of the barrel. ‘We can kill that problem, stabilise it using the binding energy tensors to lock them down, but we’re talking dismount, replace and send to Tech Services.’

‘Right, start that and-‘ Aldrem began.

‘We’ve got a slightly more urgent problem.’ Jhareylia told him.

‘The glacis and shields are enough to keep the radiation out.’ Aldrem said, hoping that would be an answer, realising it wasn’t. ‘What sort of urgent problem?’

‘You did notice the other destroyer, and the small black ship?’ she said.

‘Of course. Gunnery control sounded really sceptical when they told us not to shoot it.’ Suluur said.

‘VIP visitor. A dark acolyte of the Sith, I think.’ Jhareylia told them.

‘No bloody wonder fire direction weren’t too sure.’ Aldrem said. ‘Never known one of them to be the bearer of good news - do I want to know what this has to do with us, or should I guess the worst?’

‘Before we do something this crazy and stupid,’ Hruthhal, the subassembly chief whose gun mount hadn’t melted, said, ‘can we think about it? Whichever way this goes, he is Authority. At least Captain Lennart prefers to make us suffer rather than blowing us away outright, but annoying a dark Force user can cause huge mounds of possibly terminal crap to fall on us from a very great height.’

‘Why are you so sure we’re about to do something crazy and stupid?’ Aldrem asked him.

‘Track record? Basically, if we do something to this dark lord, we’re backing our own ship against the might of the Empire.’ He didn’t add what he was thinking, which was ‘on the say-so of a very recently ex-Rebel, yet.’

‘I thought we were supposed to be the might of the Empire.’ Gendrik said. ‘What exactly do you want to do?’ he asked Jhareylia.

‘Not me; the Captain. And his exact words were, I need all the information you can get for me, who else am I going to get to make this happen?’

‘Anybody? We did a week of basic training. All right, they were twenty hour days, that doesn’t make us commandos. We’re certainly not up to the job of assassinating Mini-Vader. Especially not through the stormtroopers he can’t trust anymore. Even if we should. Do it openly and we’re renegades, and staging an ‘accident’ with blaster fire doesn’t convince like it used to.’ Suluur said. He at least probably was credible as a commando, and knew how far they fell short.

‘Team, we’re probably over-reacting.’ Aldrem said, hoping he was right. ‘What exactly does the skipper want?’

‘This Force user, his name is Adannan, I checked on the way up, has an entourage. At least two of them are outright slaves. Captain Lennart wants them rescued and pumped for all the information they can give us about their master.’ Jhareylia told them.

‘There are enough pilots daft enough for that sort of job, surely? Don’t the flight group have a pool of spares just waiting for someone else to die? Some of them must be stir crazy enough, and their reflexes are probably better.’ Hruthhal pointed out.

‘Kriff.’ Aldrem said. ‘I just thought of a perfect excuse for us to be there.’

‘You don’t want to do this?’ Jhareylia asked him, wondering why she was so surprised. On the face of it, it was a dangerously lunatic idea which any sensible person would want nothing to do with. So why had she instinctively assumed he would go with it?

‘Do I want to offend a dangerous maniac - dark Force user, pretty much a given really - who’s quite likely to consider something like that an act of rebellion? No. Do I think we need to - maybe.’

‘We’ve spent a lot of time, and a lot of watts, on people who thought they knew better than the official chain of command. It might be secret from you,’ Gendrik said to Jhareylia, ‘but the biggest single threat to the peace of the galaxy isn’t the Alliance. It’s rogue elements of the Starfleet. We’ve found ourselves putting down brushfire wars based on hatreds that go back to the dawn of the Republic - and break out again now because we’ve armed them as part of a Sector Group. Never mind small time Party thugs who should never have been given power in the first place, governors with rushes of blood to the head, would-be successors - we’ve taken them all on. I don’t want to find ourselves on that target list.’

‘The question is,’ Tarshkavik asked, ‘who’s off reservation, him or us?’

‘What do you mean, maybe?’ Fendon asked Aldrem.

‘Depends what he intends to do to us. I take it he and the captain didn’t get on?’ Suluur replied instead.

‘Captain Lennart said not.’ Jhareylia pointed out. ‘If you can access the monitors?’

‘Fairly easy. Only difficulty is deciding which fake code to use, who to blame.’ Suluur said.

From main turret control, he proceeded to do that - typing it in extra-fast so that Jhareylia wouldn’t recognise it was the executive officer’s code he used. They watched the security footage.

‘Looks like a nasty piece of work.’ Hruthhal admitted. ‘Still don’t want to cross him, though.’

‘What’s that about obedience to orders?’ Fendon inquired.

‘Never mind the words, they’re both being diplomatic. Look at the body language.’ Jhareylia hadn’t seen it before either.

‘He comes in ready to trample over people, skipper stands up to him, they lock horns once then both back down - why do I suddenly feel between a rock and a hard place? There’s going to be more to this, I know it.’ Gendrik said.

‘Slavery is actually illegal, isn’t it?’ Fendon asked.

‘Yes, but you can try a citizens’ arrest on a dark lord if you like, just don’t expect us to back you up - I count three in robes, two gunmen, one of them alien, one noncombatant - slicer type? - and two twi’lek slaves.’ Aldrem assessed. Three to one odds in their favour. Theoretically.

‘He’s going to miss anyone we walk off with, what about bagging the slicer?’ Gendrik said. ‘Theoretically. Much as I’d hate to get caught, I’d hate it even more for a low value target.’

‘I think Captain Lennart wants this to look like a deniable escape rather than an obvious kidnapping.’ Jhareylia said.

‘Team. In all seriousness, now.’ Aldrem called them to order - or, depending on what happened, possibly to chaos. ‘Do we take the risk and go and do this, or not?’

‘Does it really need all of us?’ Fendon asked.

‘Considering we’d all be complicit, I’d hate to get left behind and be blamed in absentia, so-‘ Tarshkavik decided.

‘Good. Someone’s going to have to unleash the poor twi’lek, and I’d have to have to do it all by myself.’ Jhareylia said.

‘Well, I’m going.’ Aldrem said, and Jhareylia smiled at him.

‘This had better be a kriffing good plan.’ Hruthhal said, admitting he was in.

The boarding action was almost trivially easy, compared to what the Legion were expecting. In Alliance service, such large warships usually operated below establishment on crew, and well below on ground troops. They didn’t have so many that they could afford to leave them lying around.

In accordance with established doctrine, it was a multicentric attack - with sufficient superiority of numbers, inflict chaos by attacking from all sides at once, push in on an easier line of approach and make the defender need to counterattack you, tactically defend and inflict losses while the other attack groups moved forward in their turn.

Operational-offensive, tactical-defensive; they had the time to do it properly, now the ship was no longer likely to detonate.

Immediately behind the line infantry were sapper-slicers to seize control of the ship’s systems and prevent them being used against the boarders, and disarm any boobytraps; light repeaters up front for bursting through barricades, heavy repeaters bringing up the rear to hold territory taken.

Scout teams raced ahead, through air vents, cable runs and machinery spaces, lift shafts and crawlways to hit the nerve centres of the ship; the main targets were the bridge and computer core.

Hunter Team Omega-17-Blue were not alone in doubting the wisdom of that. Not that they were not viable targets, but that at this stage in the larger operation - which was variously nicknamed Peek-a-Boo, Blue Meanie, Teacup Storm - there might be a distinct advantage in not being too well informed. They were reserve and support for this one; the last main phase of clearance, they had hacked and blasted their way into the base of the Venator’s bridge tower, and were waiting to reinforce either of the primary attack groups.

Each of the main assault parties consisted of a boarding platoon led by a specialist team - Omega- 09-Blue, whose normal duties were planetary search and rescue, and Omega-03-Indigo, who tended to do the kind of job that even stormtroopers didn’t talk much about. Political assassination and the tactical application of blame. Destabilisation operations.

Lennart gave the Indigos relatively little to do, and they were in quite a bloodthirsty mood - they had more flame projectors, explosive flechette launchers and gas grenades than was strictly establishment. They were going after the ship command bridge module; with luck, they might leave a prisoner alive.

09-Blue would seize the core then divert to the fighter control bridge. It was giving those there time to prepare, time to destroy what information they held - which could be an under-the-table objective, not to find out too much.

It would perhaps have made more sense if 17-Blue and platoon AC11 had gone straight for the fighter control bridge, but apart from anything else, this was a central point that it was logical to take and hold.
Two platoons of the naval battalion - not navy troopers, Stormtroopers who specialised in ship to ship boarding action - would move in to hold the area if they had to move out to support 09-Blue or 03-Indigo.

In the meantime, they had set up and were guarding an aid station in one of the conference rooms, and the medical officer, who had no-one to treat yet, was passing the time by talking to 17-Blue.

‘It must be terrible.’ Aleph-3 said. ‘Actually wanting to have nothing to do.’

‘The Army functions with conscripted civilians, or pays their way through medical school on condition of a term of service; but we couldn’t have that in the Corps. It has to be organic; within the Family, you might say.’

‘Then - how did you get to be a medical officer?’

‘I volunteered for the Stormtrooper Corps, and I was half-way through training as a rifleman when someone in planning took a look at my aptitude scores, decided they needed a surgeon and I would do.’ The medical officer said wryly.

‘You’re not cloned? It must be nice to have parents.’ Aleph-3 said, not entirely sure whether she meant it.

‘At least a third of the first generation of recruits to the Corps were running away from their families in some way. I think a good many of them thought how nice it must be to be a clone with a billion brothers.’ He understated.

‘In some ways it’s our job to understand, and all of us can pass for normal, but that is acting, it’s putting on a mask and conning the average citizens into seeing what they want to see. We’ve never been able to not stop doing it, we don’t know what it’s like to have to be that way - you must deal with average people more than most.’ Aleph-3 didn’t quite manage to say what she meant, but he knew.

‘Training was interesting; there are enough of us now to keep it all in house, but I was one of the first generation. I went to a regular medical school, with thousands of junior doctors who knew that our group - twenty - were going to be combat surgeons. They hardly knew how to deal with us; at first, they settled on fear.’

‘I would have thought there would be a lot of curiosity in the mix?’ Aleph-3 asked, not really surprised.

‘There was, but in a lot of ways we were seeing them at their worst. Very high standards were required of them, and they were all in competition with each other; we saw them at their most ridiculous and childish, as they played silly student games to escape from the pressure - and at their most ruthlessly backstabbing, as they tried to eliminate their rivals. We were all young troopers, proud of our status, too raw to hide our contempt for their behaviour. We had a lot of growing up to do, too.’

‘So how did the situation develop from there?’ Aleph-3 asked, trying to picture it.

‘Awkwardly.’ The surgeon said. ‘We were trained to keep going, to be merciless to the enemy but even more so to ourselves, never rest, never count the cost, never turn aside until the job is done. It turned out to be the best preparation we could have had.
'Part of being womb-born is to almost never be certain. We have the fog of war, they operate under the fog of life; never sure what’s going to happen to them next, always conditional, always dodging; they have very few simplicities, and most of those are when something has gone catastrophically wrong.

'There’s another side to that, but we gradually began to pass them by. We were less intelligent, and probably less temperamentally suited, but sheer relentlessness served us well.
'As we moved up the class ranks, some of them resented us, tried to pull us down, trap us into making mistakes. Others overcame their fear, started coming to us for help and advice. It was fascinating - we were doing our best to behave properly, not letting our opinions interfere with our duty, but we hardly needed to. They projected it onto us anyway. Did you get the same tactical training we did?’

‘No.’ Aleph-3 answered. ‘Basic self defence, staff-officer and special role specific. Advanced close combat and sniper-scout later.’

‘So you did get the Second Law of Armed Combat drilled into you.’

‘Act on the basis of what you deduce from what you see, not on the basis of what you want and expect to see? Of course.’

‘No-one’s yet been honest enough to write down a full version of the Laws of Social Combat, but I expect that one of them is going to be that you win by imposing your own version of the laws. In all the chaos of life, they want answers to the unanswerable. Given that there aren’t any, they win by getting everyone else to agree they’ve won by subscribing to the same outlook - overcoming others’ skewed, incomplete view of the world with their own.
'You’d be amazed how easy it is to be somebody completely different, just by having someone different look at you; it’s fascinating how much people can read into a rigid-faced helmet. If I was issued a zoo, I could fill it with what they thought we were.’ The surgeon-lieutenant said.

All right, she thought, turnabout is fair enough. Now she was the converted being preached to. Admittedly, she had rarely put it as efficiently. They were outsiders, beings with clear purpose, straight lines in a world of scribbled confusion. Which begged the question; why was she trying so hard to turn into one of the scribbles? Because it mattered, who got to tell who else what to do? Because she was half way there already?

She strongly suspected that the donor for her own clone line had been an undiagnosed force-sensitive. As permissive as the shaping and filtering process had been, perhaps a shred of that had leaked through?

‘What do you know about- aging?’ She asked.

‘Planned Obsolescence, you mean? I was involved in that, I was a latecomer to the program. There were no complaints, at the time. The war was over, the Army of One Man had served its purpose and it was time to fade away. At least, that was the theory.
'When the confederate remnants refused to lie down and die, and the peace of the Empire turned out to be more difficult to establish than the estimates expected, we realised we would be needing them as cadre for a long time yet. We experimented, trying to slow down and normalise the process. With- not complete success. There have been a couple of embarrassing incidents where the Corps did not do as well as expected; the Reslian and Erhynradd incidents for one. Largely because the troopers involved had a biological age in their fifties.

'The best are usually the worst, refusing to give up however creaky they get; add in the effects of stress, strain and injury and there are some of Vader’s Fist more fit to ride a zimmer frame than a dropship. The alternative clone lines stabilise more easily than the core template, if that’s what you were worried about.’

‘Selfish of me,’ she admitted, ‘but I was. Is it wrong, to want to live?’

‘Better than wanting to die.’ The surgeon said. ‘I presume the standard arguments have worn thin?’

‘We are special operations troops.’ Aleph-3 said. ‘Our arguments come in for more wear and tear than most.’

He was about to reply when there were shuffling and dragging sounds from the corridor ahead. ‘Ah, something to do. I think that’s your cue, as well.’ Eight stormtroopers - two of them wounded and being held up by another two, four of them carrying wounded rebel prisoners.

‘Team, Platoon, make ready.’ Aleph-One ordered. They did.

‘Make sure you disarm all the rebels before sending them back. Holding my own intestines in with one hand and resealing the patient’s with the other is not an experience I want to repeat.’

Damage control bunker dorsal-140 was much larger than it needed to be to fulfill its stated duties, which were nominally maintenance and repair of the main sensor, bridge and gunnery control data systems. That was due to its secondary role as a survival shelter in the most populous part of the ship. Lots of electronics, lots of spare space, enough subdivision to be getting on with; it was the perfect place to mount a surveillance operation from.

It was on Lennart’s way back to the bridge, so he met the chief there.

‘Gethrim, I hope whatever you’re doing isn’t potentially incriminating.’ He said, after the chief had waved him into the bunker.

‘Yes, that was one idea I had to sit on. It’s exactly the sort of thing he would check for, bugging the Imperial suite means the consequences of getting caught acquire an extra layer of unpleasant, and I think I can manage to be just a little bit subtler than that.’

The chief led the captain back into the bowels of the chamber, through a locked door to a small data station.

Lennart looked at the on screen image, and got it at once. ‘That is elegant. Does it work?’

‘So far, yes.’ Mirannon said. ‘Resolution - sky’s the limit. Given tuning time, we should be able to pick up individual brain cells firing. Assuming in his case that they do.’

‘Through all that background hash? I’m impressed.’

The Chief Engineer’s plan was simplicity itself. He regretted that he had an audience who knew most of it already, and who he wouldn’t be able to show off explaining to. With so many energy processes, never mind multiple overlapping force fields, starships were electronically noisy places. It was one of the reasons the main sensor units were in domes at the top of the ship, so they could be placed on insulated mountings.

Other noise reduction measures were also taken; chiefly waveguides to channel away - and as far as possible recycle - waste energy, and recording and filtering out stray electromagnetic waves. As sensitive as the main sensor system had to be for clarity over distance, if a source of interference was not baffled, but instead actively searched for, it was childishly easy to isolate and identify.

The best part was that Black Prince’s sensor system was non-standard. A relic of having a sensor dome shot off eight years ago; it had been replaced with a dome mount forward of the bridge module. Then the wreckage had been cleared, and the dome replaced properly, but the field expedient had never been removed. There were enough custom solutions and workarounds in the control software for the triple array to make the tap inordinately difficult to spot, impossible to assign blame over. The result was possibly the most expensive microphone in the galaxy.

‘You realise this verges on negligence. Failing to carry out proper noise reduction and compensation.’ Lennart chuckled slightly. ‘How much difference will this actually make to our scan radius?’

‘Oh, we should lose…roughly two kilometres off our standard benchmark against an absolute magnitude fifteen target.’ The benchmark was in the thousands of light years. Large enough that even in space background clutter became an issue, large enough to pull in signals to make a mockery of any kind of news restriction. ‘Do we have any idea what he wants yet?’

‘Amongst other things, apparently an apprentice.’ Lennart admitted.

‘All right,’ Mirannon said after a second’s thought, ‘this is the plan; we fake your death in some embarrassing and ridiculous way-‘

‘Does it have to be embarrassing? I always wanted to be a hero.’ Lennart said, part appalled, part amused.

‘Trust me; there has to be an element of farce in this for it to work. You croak in some sort of hideous noodle incident that doesn’t just spoil, positively throws a yellow snowball in the face of, your reputation for foresight and luck. That discredits you as a potential Force user, we literally laugh that off. Has to be messy enough to be a closed casket funeral, though. All right, we’ve got enough people with sick enough senses of humour to run with that.
'What’s left for Adannan to do? He wanders off pursuing whatever demented objective he has in mind, if he really does think you have some kind of collective influence power-‘

‘I do.’ Lennart said quietly. ‘It’s called being the captain. Go on.’

‘Losing that means we can credibly slip far enough below our usual standards to make it make sense for him to go and bother someone else. You’re discovered in the bilges, not quite dead and with no memory of the incident, a couple of months later; problem solved.’

‘You’re not entirely serious, are you?’ Lennart asked, not seriously.

‘On one thing only; I’d rather get this sorted out with a splatter of custard than a splatter of blood. Playing it straight, at the very, very least, we have to prove that he’s lost the plot, and waste him. He’s properly trained, he won’t make silly mistakes, that’d take some doing. Then hope we get believed afterwards. None of which is sure, certain or painless.
'At the worst, we get Nar-Shaddaa’d along on some mad-eyed quest to assassinate and replace Darth killed-more-Imperial-officers-than-the-Rebellion-has Vader, or the Emperor himself, while a real security problem, Ord Corban, goes unattended.’ Mirannon ranted.

‘Are you sure you’re not the one with the foresight?’ Lennart said.

The medical bay was filling up rapidly. The returning lilypad dropships and transports carried a few of the more seriously wounded stormtroopers - minor wounds dealt with in house - and most of the prisoners needed some form of medical attention. That, and a few ejected pilots.

Most of the bomb wing was recalled to rest and re-arm; that included Epsilon. From the purely military viewpoint, it had been a good day - three fighters down, minor dents on a few more, for at least fifteen kills.

No more than Olleyri was claiming on his own, mind you. Aron shut his engines down, popped the cockpit release and vaulted out in one continuous motion, and sprinted for the med bay.

He had seen Franjia’s fighter take a debris hit - six proton torps detonating less than half a kilometre away, with an X-wing to use for shrapnel, small wonder. Her starwing had seemed to come out of it intact, but then he had realised it wasn’t under control.

After a moment of pure panic, he had recovered his composure, called in the search-and-rescue, and desperately tried not to think too hard about it as he stayed on mission, hunting down the rest of the Alliance remnants.

It was over now, Alpha and Gamma were flying CAP, Beta were on deep patrol scouting along the rebel line of approach - in this case, the mean line of approach, considering the evasion - and he had nothing to do other than go and see.

They were not happy to see him; casualties of all kinds coming in thick and fast, human and droid doctors working triage as fast as they could. The med bay was above and between the two landing bays, below and forward of the superstructure.

Casualties were shuttled up to it on a cycling lift - Aron rode up with one batch of fifteen rebels, one half-choked from capture foam inhalation, two with sub-lethal gas exposure, most of the rest with broken bones from rifle butts, or blaster wounds.

The two guards assessed him and said nothing; when he got out of the elevator, a medical droid zoomed up to him and shoved a scanner in his face. ‘Come on, come on, where does it hurt, snap it up, lots to do, others waiting.’

‘Your bedside manner stinks. I’m looking for someone, just admitted-‘

‘There’s nothing wrong with you. Why are you wasting my time?’ the droid beeped indignantly.

Aron grabbed its probe arm. ‘Who waved this at who else? A droid’s more likely to remember; fighter pilot, female, flight lieutenant’s rank, one metre eighty-seven, blonde-‘

‘Too busy. People to see to, let me go-‘

‘How much help are you going to be to them if you make me rip your arm off and beat your braincase in with it?’ Aron snarled.

‘My arms have been reinforced to deal with injured Wookie prisoners.’ The droid said, with a slight trace of smug.

‘You think that’s going to stop me trying? Where is Franjia?’

‘Let me think.’ The droid beeped a little. ‘Accessing- theatre nine.’

Aron let it go and ran - hurdling two stretchers and sidestepping another - into the medical complex.

Immediately left and right, ramps and lift shafts, up to high dependency, down to the main wards. Further in on the left, outpatients, on the right, security and medical monitoring. Straight on to the operating theatres.

Two stormtrooper guards stopped him, politely but firmly; he thought of trying to barge past them, realised they would just stun him or punch him out.

The walls weren’t transparisteel, some close cousin with controllable opacity - he could almost see in, could make out fuzzy shapes through the sepia tint. A junior doctor - sterilisable plastic medical gown with lieutenant’s insignia pinned on - came out, took his mask off, leaned against the wall. He was very pale.

Aron grabbed him by the arms. ‘How is she?’

‘Not good.’ He said, shaking his head. ‘You are?’

‘Her squadron commander...and her friend. What do you mean, not good? Can I see her?’

‘Exactly what happened to her?’ the young doctor was already tired and strained.

‘Hit an X-wing at point blank, its warhead load went up.’

‘Yes, that fits. It would be- safer if you don’t go in. You’re not sterile. That fits. It was essentially a debris injury; the blast dropped the shielding and a bit of the wreckage hit her cockpit. Part of the gun module.’

Aron suddenly thought of their squadron adjutant. Combusting blaster gas had been responsible for his wounds, hadn’t it? ‘How bad?’

‘The helmet stopped her face melting, and she did exactly the right thing - vented the cockpit to vacuum for ten seconds, blew away the hot gas and cooled the debris, then restored pressure. Third degree burns across most of her chest, most of her ribs broken and one lung, we may need to replace that, but it could have been a lot worse.’

‘Galactic spirit…’ he said, not sure if it was a curse or a prayer. ‘Will she fly again?’

‘She’s had a severe trauma, and she’s in no state to be rushed.’ The doctor said, sternly.

‘Doc, when it comes to trauma - she lost somebody recently, somebody personally close. Flying helps her focus, helps her maintain. She- needs to be able to do that. The last thing that would be good for her is sick berth time to do nothing but brood. Maybe it is selfish to want her out there covering my back, but you need to fix her. She needs to be able to do that.’ Aron said.

The doctor was about to protest, realised how little effect it would have. ‘We’ll do what we can.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-12 08:49pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-07-12 12:50pm

Ch 21

‘So, what is this amazing infallible master plan?’ Tarshkavik, in ordinary uniform instead of his clumping survival suit, asked.

‘Oh, good, no pressure.’ Aldrem replied.

‘Does it have anything to do with these boxes? We’re not going to crate them up and carry them off, are we?’ Gendrik asked; he was lugging a heavy plasteel crate, portable in the military sense - it had a handle.

‘Is that how you would do it?’ The turret commander asked.

‘Um, Pel?’ Jhareylia asked. ‘This plan does exist, doesn’t it?’

‘Ish. Basically, we have a high level VIP on board, so we are going to survey the tower, with these crates of scanning gear, for places where we can afford to mount additional point defence turrets. We are going to be wandering all over the place, lurking from time to time, and making loud, strange electronic noises.’ Aldrem revealed.

‘Sounds like an average night out on the town.’ Suluur said.

‘Sounds like a very useful cover; I like it.’ Jhareylia said.

‘You’d like it less if you had to carry the scanner.’ Gendrik grumbled.

‘Switch the kriffing thing into travel mode.’ Tarshkavik advised.

‘Ah.’ Gendrik managed to find and activate the repulsor unit. ‘I didn’t know it had one of those.’

‘The stormtrooper teams that usually use these enjoy lifting heavy weights. They also have armour, so it doesn’t hurt as much when they drop it on their toes.’ Suluur pointed out, with slight sarcasm.

‘Why does a scanning unit, a highly sensitive item of equipment, have to be so heavy?’ Fendon wondered.

‘It isn’t; what’s heavy is the armoured shell and the shock absorbers, which are there to protect the sensitive parts from the abuse it wouldn’t get as much of if it was easier to handle.’ Aldrem pointed out.

‘Speaking of easy to handle; these twi’lek. We don’t know the first thing about them, do we?’ Hruthhal said. ‘They could leap into our arms, they might be psychonditioned to die before they let anyone set them free.’

‘True.’ Aldrem agreed. ‘The only way we’re going to find out is to try it and see.’ Now that he was committed, he felt strangely light-headed, free from worry; all that was left was to make it happen.

‘That’s why you’re carrying the light repeater?’ Tarshkavik asked, referring to the gun Aldrem was cradling.

‘No, I’m carrying it because it makes me feel better. I can use the sight unit to estimate fields of fire, if anyone asks - and I’m fairly sure it can be set for stun.’ Aldrem said.

‘No, it can’t.’ Suluur pointed at the fire selector.

‘Oh.’ Aldrem shrugged. ‘Flesh wounds?’

They reached the turbolift cluster at the base of the bridge tower; with the line infantry deployed, internal security was short of bodies. In this situation, they tended to become external security-protecting points where the ship could be boarded from, and choke points. There was a squad at the lift shafts. Aldrem presented his rank cylinder; the stormtroopers, if they queried it at all, would have been told by Gunnery Control that it was legitimate. Jhareylia tried hard not to strangle him.

‘The obvious places to begin,’ Aldrem said on their way up in the turbolift, ‘are the outer surfaces of the tower. We may as well start at the top.’

‘There might well be such a thing as beginner’s luck, even in this, but there’s an obvious logical flaw in a covert op where you have to begin by handing over ID.’ Jhareylia said, skeptically.

‘You might not believe it from looking at the outside, but we are fairly competent.’ Aldrem said. ‘Covert was always a pipe dream. Spacewalking - through active shields, into the main sensor picture, looking like a stray boarder - even worse. A credible reason for being there, and officially busy doing something else, is the best we’re going to get, really.’

The Imperial suite, as built into every line destroyer or better, was usually a ten thousand cubic metre boondoggle. Palpatine seldom travelled, and when he did was equally likely to play the saviour of the galaxy, trusting in his popularity with his people on board a luxury liner, or ride the biggest, heaviest-gunned battlewagon available in Oversector Imperial Centre.

That, or he did so invisibly. There had been rumours about cloaking devices for decades; in the old Republic fleet, they would have been pointless - the authorities didn’t need them and the criminals usually couldn’t afford them. In the Clone Wars, the Confederation were mostly too cheap to bother and the Republic…well. The rumours had to come from somewhere, after all.

Generally, some high level official or agent would use the suite, if anyone did. Thousands of destroyers had it installed, locked it down and might as well have thrown away the key. This was the first time anyone had ridden in Black Prince’s since she had been built. The maintenance team who got there with maybe five minutes in hand cracked the door seals, gagged on the stale air, looked around and issued a collective chorus of ‘Oh stang.’ No penetrating damage; but sheer neglect and twenty years’ abuse to the ship around it had left it verging on uninhabitable. The independent life support appeared to have failed, that was the first thing that would need putting right.

Twelve men, a standard damage control party under a junior lieutenant, with a cross-section of skills. One man hour to exercise them in. Not nearly enough. The sound of matching feet interrupted them before they had got more than cracking the APU and life support units, testing the wiring and detaching the filters for inspection. The lieutenant called them to attention, thinking, we’re in trouble; there was a brief pause, then Adannan himself leapt into the room, lightsaber flourishing and glaring crimson, the huge thug on his right, carbine in one hand and vibro-axe in the other, the thin thug on his left with two disintegrator pistols drawn and ready.

They were expecting assassins, a secret Rebel cell, a rival agent. What they got was a dozen spacemen in dusty overalls, loosely drawn up at attention; who panicked. One fainted, another cowered in a crouch with his arms over his head, two screamed, most took a step back, the lieutenant started quivering uncontrollably.

They deserve to be dismembered anyway for being such cowards, Adannan thought, recognising what he was, or wasn’t, up against.

‘My lord,’ his female aide said from behind him, where she was covering his back, ‘They’re worthless. If you want to be judged by the quality of your enemies, this would not be good for your reputation.’

In the time he squandered paying attention to her, he could have - actually, that was an idea. ‘Say that again, and I will test how many of these interlopers I can hack down in the time I wasted listening to you.’

The tech crew were huddling together; Adannan noticed one of them gripping a hydrospanner. At least one of them wasn’t completely useless. ‘Sir, we’re-‘ their officer began, stuttering too badly to speak clearly.

‘Lord Adannan,’ a voice he didn’t recognise said, ‘that would be - counterproductive.’

Adannan turned round; it was one of the stormtrooper detail, a sargeant-commander by the insignia.

‘I didn’t ask for your opinion.’ Adannan snapped at him.

‘I know, Sir, but I can recognise a broken life support unit when I see one.’ The sargeant-commander said. ‘The tech crew also haven’t had time to code the door to you yet, Sir.’

Adannan took a deep breath. Let the red mist clear.

‘Why is that important, Sargeant?’ his aide asked, before Adannan could vent his irritation.

‘I thought you might be interested in breathing, ma’am.’

‘Explain.’ Adannan ordered.

‘The module internal life support is down; disassembled for repair. The connections to main life support are also inoperable. The security systems don’t know that you specifically are supposed to be here. When the blast door closes, you will be in a sealed chamber with no air and no exit, Sir.’ There was just a tiny part of the sargeant-commander wondering if he should have kept his mouth shut.

Adannan hefted his lightsaber, looking sceptical.

‘Sir,’ the sargeant said, ‘exactly who do you think that door was meant to keep out?’

The dark Jedi thought about it for a second, then roared with laughter. Of course security on one of Palpatine’s boltholes would be intended to resist his own nosy apprentices.

‘You. Lieutenant. Come here.’ Adannan decided to settle that first. The young junior lieutenant obeyed - after one of his team whispered in his ear ‘Might as well get it over with, sir, hanging back’ll only make it worse.’

He took a step forwards - Adannan’s lightsabre lashed out, slicing through his lower jaw. He fell to the ground, burbling wildly and trying to hold it on.

‘Ahhh.’ Adannan sighed. ‘I always feel vaguely disappointed when I have to do that. Maiming and mutilation should be a hobby and relaxation in themselves; it feels like cheating when I actually make it serve a useful purpose.

Next time,’ he addressed the writhing junior lieutenant, ‘report quickly and clearly; then when I do gut you, it will be for a genuine error rather than a failure to communicate.’

Obviously, he wasn’t going to get an acknowledgement.

‘You, Sargeant-‘ he turned to the leader of his escort detail.

‘DM343, Lord Adannan.’ The sargeant-commander replied.

‘You seem unusually well informed.’

‘I’m a tanker, Sir, I work with independent closed-environment systems. We were also briefed on security for the Imperial suite.’ The sargeant realised he had said too much when Adannan’s eyes lit up and the lightsaber tip pointed towards him.

‘When?’ Adannan growled.

‘In the turbolift on the way up, Sir, it was downloaded to us.’ The sargeant said very quickly.

Not foresight at all, then, just good staff work. There was something else, perhaps even further wrong; the stormtrooper’s reactions on being threatened. They were far too…normal. Line One, Mod One stormtroopers had been near-mindless, until their experiences had individuated them. Tremendously active subconscious of course, perception and reflex, but they had to think before they could remember how to talk at times. This one, and he seemed to be typical of the rest, had been given entirely too much leeway to think about his tasks. It said a lot for Lennart’s influence, even untutored, that he could even begin to break down that depth of conditioning. Either that or his personality cult, which if he had done this without benefit of the Force - or with unwitting benefit - made him a major security threat. He could sense the sargeant thinking “how do I get out of this without getting him mad at me, too?”

‘Sargeant, this place is clearly a mess. Where were you expecting to give us?’ The aide asked.

‘This ship has limited flag accommodations; there or the captain’s suite, ma’am. Permission to proceed about our duties, Sir?’

‘No.’ Adannan said. Even his own retinue looked surprised.

‘The rest of you, snap to it. And someone take that snivelling thing away.’ He pointed with the lightsabre at the lieutenant, still whimpering. ‘You, sargeant, have been allowed to think. That is not an approved activity for beings of your kind; it can land you in all sorts of trouble.’

‘My lord,’ the aide put one hand on his shoulder - of the arm not holding the lightsabre, she wasn’t that crazy. ‘All sargeant DM343 did was to protect you from-‘ your own impetuosity, she realised, the saying of which would almost certainly get him, and possibly herself, killed; ‘-difficulties.’ She finished, lamely, knowing Adannan could fill in the blank for himself.

‘Then you-no,’ he turned to his other robed follower, still with the drawn vibroaxe, ‘you, Banaar, talk to the sargeant about his bad habits. Ren,’ she hated that shortening of her name, ‘find Watcher 22173. Get the whole story.’

The aide, Aleph-3’s twin, had no legal name; she simply preferred the archaic Galactic Standard personal name of Laurentia. Naturally, her master declined to call her by it most of the time.

She nodded, realised the suite’s data systems were equally unlikely to be functioning, left the suite in search of a working computer node that would understand her priviledged access codes.

The Force works in many ways, from the extremely blatant to the imperceptibly subtle. One of those subtle effects was in play; the choice of personnel to carry the maimed Lieutenant away couldn’t have been better, from a certain point of view. The two twi’lek slaves, used to doing ugly, messy jobs, assumed that they would be ordered to do it. They picked up the young officer, one under each arm, helped him hold his jaw on with a lekku, carried him out and set off for the medical complex.

Adannan himself left the rest of his party to settle themselves in, the menials to do the menial labour, and headed to the ready room, where he planned to begin asserting his authority.

Captain Lennart was there already, apparently reliving, in fact reviewing the battle. He was behaving with slightly more decorum; he had his feet propped up on the next chair rather than the table.

‘I was impressed that the Imperial suite had remained untouched. Other men in your position, with your record, might have started having delusions of grandeur. Begun to think that they deserved to be rewarded more highly for what they had done - and resolved to take it rather than wait for it to be given them. Did that never cross your mind, Captain?’ Adannan probed.

‘Call me an old softie if you like,’ Lennart began, ‘but I do hold to something vaguely recognisable as a variation on the Tarkin Doctrine. Sometimes, less really is more.’

‘I find that difficult to believe.’ Adannan said, realising he had to tiptoe around criticism of the doctrine that had caught the Emperor’s imagination. Assuming that he hadn’t given Tarkin the idea in the first place.

‘You have done more damage to the Empire’s enemies than many men of greater rank and reputation. And after all, what is the ability to inspire fear but a form of reputation?’

‘I had a bet with the senior wardroom,’ Lennart said, ‘on the subject of the Death Star’s lifespan. The question was, how long would it be before one of those who fell under its shadow - the planetary and sector governors, the moffs and the admirals - managed to sneak an inside man on board to sabotage the thing? Fear can be a very blunt instrument; friendly fire prone, too.’

Adannan barely heard the last part; his mind was too busy boggling. The sheer level of cheek and sideways thinking that involved - analytical and unbelievably frivolous at the same time - how in the name of the Force did such a creature survive in an Imperial uniform? Perhaps he himself was the answer to that.

There was also the uncomfortable fact that Lennart had a point. Famously, the rebel ‘princess’ Leia Organa had claimed Tarkin was there to hold Vader’s leash - that much of the incident had leaked out. Typical Alliance inaccuracy, the truth was closer to being the other way around. The Dark Lord had been there to stop Tarkin if he had started thinking that he, Tarkin, might look good himself in an Emperor’s robe and cowl, and Coruscant might look good in the Death Star’s gunsights.
Under other circumstances, it might have been the elder rather than the younger Skywalker firing a torpedo down an exhaust port.

Then again, if any of the rebels - other than a few special ops maniacs - actually understood the inner workings of the Empire, they might start being able to exploit them effectively.

‘I am beginning to understand,’ Adannan brought himself under control and said, ‘how it is you managed to remain in your present rank for ten years.’

‘Which part, the not being promoted or the not being court-martialled?’ Lennart asked him, not meaning it. ‘Besides, I know at least four sector groups used an attack on the Death Star as their major exercise problem last year.’

‘That shows a disturbing lack of faith. Which sector groups?’ Adannan asked.

‘How about a disturbing lack of forethought? All four eventually resorted to mass fighter attack on pinpoint targets. Mainly the command bridge and the superlaser emitters, nobody actually found the exhaust port, but the principle was there.
'Why was there no communication between the special projects office of the DMR and the Starfleet? Why did no-one tell them that the actual working navy considered such an attack overwhelmingly probable, or did they simply not listen? How much faith do you think it is wise or safe to have, in people who are too proud to do their jobs properly?’

‘Is that a formal accusation?’ Adannan asked.

Lennart reacted initially as Adannan had expected - backing off from the brink. Then he changed his mind. ‘You were looking for someone’s head to put on a forcepike a moment ago, perhaps the only way to protect them - which you expected me to do by backing down, didn’t you? - would be to take the problem head on, and prove a charge of incompetence against the Department of Military Research. Do you think you would be rewarded for opening that can of worms?’

‘I do not imagine anyone concerned with it would.’ Adannan said, glaring at Lennart.

All right, Lennart thought, I probably can goad him badly enough that he snaps and does something psychotic. That might not, however, be a positive development.

‘There’s another slight technical problem. The governor will not be able to attend; his palace was bombarded to slag, and his elevators don’t work through molten rock. Now we could re-invent some dead technology and cobble together a teleporter, or we could go down to the planet and dig him out.’

That was pure coat-trailing, Lennart’s trying to find out just how technically ignorant Adannan really was.

The dark Jedi dodged the question, by imposing one of his own. ‘He failed in his duty; he doesn’t deserve to be rescued. You had dealings with the sector governor and the subsector fleet command previously, did you not?’

Lennart managed to stop himself before thinking ‘you callous bastard’ too loudly. Instead he said, ‘Now you’re just trying to impress me with your ruthless determination, aren’t you? Whatever you think ought to be done to the man himself - and if being an idiot was punishable by death we’d need to import extragalactic aliens to conduct all the funerals, there’d be few of us left - there’s a command and control facility buried down there with him.’

‘Good. Then he can attend by hologram.’

Lennart decided to float another test barge. ‘In theory, he can also order what’s left of the planetary defence forces to come and dig him out; considering it was us that landed him in that mess, though-‘

‘You don’t feel guilty, do you?’ Adannan growled, as if he was accusing Lennart of some hideous crime. ‘How many years have you served in the Starfleet, and you try to tell me you still feel the slightest shred of remorse?’

‘Of course not.’ Lennart replied. ‘Although it lulls some into a false sense of security when we pretend.’ He pretended. Now provided he doesn’t call my bluff and ask me to burn the poor sod out, Lennart thought- apparently quietly enough to escape notice.

Instead, Adannan was grinning. It was not a cheerful sight.

‘That is the first real sign you have given me that you might be fit for the greater purpose.’ Adannan said.

‘Apart from accounting for more than a hundred times our own tonnage?’ Lennart replied. ‘Planetary governor, subsector naval command, sector Moff, we have established links to all of them-‘ and to some parts of their staff and data setups they don’t know about- ‘ready to make formal contact.’

At that point, Lennart’s command team, less Brenn who was minding the ship - and listening in anyway - began to arrive.

‘I did not give permission for them to be here!’ Adannan raged.

‘Well, this particular ‘them’ doesn’t need or want your permission. Standing orders.’ Mirannon said, sitting down - forcing Lennart to move his feet, fast.

Adannan’s hand moved towards his sabre. That was a deliberate challenge - but from the strength of his danger sense, one it might not be wise to take up.

‘You would be Gethrim Kander Quintus Mirannon? Chief Engineer of this ship?’

‘And you would be the troubleshooter from the Privy Council.’ Mirannon stood up, made a civil bow - then sat down again.

The alternative prospect, Adannan recognised. Large, heavy - the Force was telling him that Lennart was a fencer, perhaps a plotter, a more subtle threat; Mirannon was the one likely to rage and try to tear him apart. It could be entertaining to provoke the huge engineer, but on the ground of his choosing. On the other hand, there was face to be thought of.

‘Are you attempting to demean my authority? Do you not realise what I have the power to do to you?’

‘Many things, I’m sure.’ The big, bearded man leaned forward. ‘And if you have the sense that ought to go with your rank, you’ll realise we have a practical job to be getting on with.’

‘Mirannon?’ Lennart said, tone cautioning- with overtones of mockery. ‘That was barely civil.’

He couldn’t resist it. ‘I’m sorry, Sir, I’ll try and do better next time.’

‘Look, you mad prankster,’ Commander Wathavrah - Guns - said to Mirannon, ‘this man speaks with the authority of the Privy Council, next only to His Imperial Majesty. Would you be as casual in the Presence?’

‘Well,’ Mirannon began, ‘I’d like to think I could keep my cool well enough to-‘

‘But the reality is, probably not. You’d turn into a gibbering wreck like most of us.’ Lennart said. Adannan saw another trap.

‘You have been introduced to His Majesty?’ he asked- instead of ‘then why aren’t you sufficiently afraid of me?’

‘Part of a batch. Representative officers from the fleet after Second Coruscant.’ Lennart confirmed. ‘Not counting childhood scrapes, that was only the second time I ever had to fight for my life, man to droid rather than ship to ship - we were boarded. I was still half in shock, and the Chancellor looked pretty shaken as well. All formality, no connection.’

Adannan was analysing that fact when first one, then two more holoprojectors came to life. The first was the planetary governor, still in some sort of nightgown, sweating badly.

One was a richly dressed Falleen, looking distinctly annoyed to be disturbed - although he reacted when he saw Adannan, eyes glowing wildly, slight change in skin tone, involuntary puff of pheromones so violent you could almost see the mist around him.

The third was the subsector naval commander, a Vice-Admiral; no-one Lennart recognised, early middle aged, slightly jowly, dark hair. From Elstrand’s spilling the beans, Lennart knew that the man was a political appointee, but one who did take some care over his responsibilities. Could be worse.

‘I am Kor Alric Adannan, and I am the living word of the Emperor.’ Adannan began, glaring at all three of them. The planetary governor wilted almost immediately, and was glad he was under three miles of rock.

The Admiral’s holographic image tried to meet Adannan’s eyes, lasted a whole two seconds before looking away.

‘You have an abscess in the heart of this sector, and I have chosen to give you one last chance to deal with it as you should before I cut them out for you.’

This was the man in full flood, Lennart could feel the satisfaction radiating off him. No-one was stupid enough to answer him. Even the falleen Moff chose not to say anything that might be taken as a challenge.

‘The Alliance to Restore the Republic is strong here, how can that be? A blind eye? Mistaken and misbegotten “false sense of security” tactics? Collusion?’ the last said with so much venom, the governor blurred out of focus as he jumped away from the projector.

The admiral opened his mouth; Lennart guessed he was about to rat on the Moff, shook his head very slightly. Adannan saw it anyway.

‘You were about to say, Admiral?’

‘Lord Adannan, that’s more than enough, one good chance is all we need.’

Reflexive bootlicking as a survival instinct; and a predator adapted to it. Instantly Adannan thought of a dozen awkward and painful ways he could make the subsector commander regret his words, Lennart could see him do it and winced slightly.

‘You had years to make your own chances, and failed to do so. I expect absolute dedication, and absolute success as a result. Only that will entitle you to retain your position.’ He paused for effect. ‘And life.’

‘Governor.’ Adannan turned to the nightgown-dressed man. ‘Full marks for creative vengeance, minus enough to put your head on the block - also - for total failures of security.’

‘Kor Alric.’ Lennart said. ‘We counted on the planetary governor’s creative vengeance and failures of security, as part of the bait for the trap that caught a major Rebel fleet asset.’

‘How much respect do you expect me to grant a worm on a hook?’ Adannan said. ‘Governor, you are dismissed your rank and position. When I can be bothered, I will work my way down your staff until I find someone capable. You are now a civilian trespasser on Imperial property, and any of the men whom your incompetence entombed with you is legally entitled to shoot you.’

The governor started to plead, screamed, ducked and disappeared from the holoviewer, the cameras panned out to the com centre; they saw him try to dodge a blaster bolt and fail. The camera cut out.

‘Three seconds? A spineless lot.’ Adannan said, coolly. He turned to Lennart. ‘You, Captain. The outsider. The battle-hungry madman who refused two orders to disengage, from officers of the Empire far your superior in grade. One of them mine. The man who took it upon himself to expose this nest of rebels and fools.’

‘Oh, no. We found the enemy and fought them; but we have not yet even begun to expose and deal with the real mess.’ Lennart said, looking away from Adannan to the sector Moff. Trying to gauge just what he knew. Adannan did the same.

The fallen kept his face absolutely impassive, this time; and whatever Adannan sensed in the Force he kept to himself.

‘We will discuss your tendency to adhere to the greater order another time. For the moment, I will use this vessel as my flagship. Captain of the Line Lennart, you will assemble a hunting pack. Draw on the local forces, use your judgement as to what is necessary.’

As Lennart and his command team looked at each other and tried to work out what they were going to do next, Adannan turned to the image of the Moff.

‘You hold a high rank. Undoubtedly you ascended to it by running roughshod over the bodies of your colleagues and rivals. Trampling on many lesser beings and careers. Equally inevitably, there are many below you who would like to do the same.’

‘Undoubtedly. As a member of the college of Moffs, I am entitled to privileges and rights.’

‘You really think so?’ Adannan smiled a very evil smile. ‘You have guards there? Of course. Troopers!’

There was an off camera chorus of ‘Yes, Sir?’

‘Condign punishment, authority of the privy council. Burn your Moff’s legs off up to the knee. Slowly.’

The troopers acknowledged. The Falleen went absolutely white. ‘You can’t- ’

‘I can. Do you know why? Because I’m bored. In the midst of all this trouble, I need some light relief, and I think I will find it most entertaining to merely maim you, and then watch you try to plot against me. Carry out your orders.’ He added to the moff’s guard, and there was a hum of blasters just before he dropped the connection.

Adannan turned to go. ‘Make your plans and present them to me.’ He said to Lennart. ‘And, Captain-‘
‘Yes, Kor Adannan?’ Lennart said, neutrally.

‘I give what I choose to give, and take away what, and when, I choose to take away. And I dislike being predicted.’

The medics were used to patching up injured pilots by now; things like putting members of the same squadron in the same ward were now written into standing orders. Epsilon Four, Five and Eleven were together in one four-bed bay; the remaining bed had half a dozen pilots sitting on it, Aron was pacing up and down. He was waiting for Franjia to recover consciousness; she was wired up to frighteningly many medical monitors, breath mask over her face. She had come out of surgery two hours ago, now.

‘That was the simple part.’ The surgeon had said. ‘Take a tyre pump to the lung, bung in a set of titanium ribs and smother them in artiflesh- trivial. But-‘

‘She happens to be my friend. Show some respect.’ Aron snarled at him.

‘I know. I’m sorry. We get stressed occasionally, too. Seriously, it is far easier to rebuild bodies than rebalance the mind’s grasp of them. The very speed of it often makes it worse. Shock, confusion - all I can really give you is an educated guess about recovery time, and whether she’ll ever fly again. I’d say so, but it’s only ever a sure thing after it’s happened.’

So here they were, waiting, talking. Four had made a clean eject; the compensators had functioned properly, a sharp but not a crippling gradient on his way out. Eleven had shrapnel wounds - he had managed to seal his suit in time, but one leg was badly slashed. Four was just under observation, basically fine. Eleven was slightly brain-fried from painkillers.

The main topic was a hardcopy printout from the ‘defence’ section of Galactic News Services - more of a joke than anything else to those actually in the service - which had been torn up, and each of them had a sheet.

“Consortium of manufacturers unveil new procurement proposal” the headline ran.

‘So who’s in this?’ Aron asked. ‘It mentions Joraan, Hydrotii, Arakyd, Tagge, Koensayr, Corellian Engineering, Incom, pretty much everyone except Sienar. Procurement of what? Where’s the rest of the story?’

‘Here.’ Gavrylsk handed him a flimsy. ‘See if you can read this and manage to believe it.’

Aron tried. ‘All right, it’s our business, fighters, but this is nuts. Basically, everyone who doesn’t make TIEs has hired a consultant, a retired Clone Wars general - and Rebel agent by the sounds of it - to come up with an alternative doctrine for the Starfighter Corps, and they’re trying to sell it, along with the fighters they need to make it work.’

‘Hello, new toys to play with.’ Yatrock said, with tempered enthusiasm.

‘What’s the scheme?’ Kramaner asked.

‘Start with Alliance Starfighter Command’s wet dreams and work outwards from there…this consultant, headcase by the name of Arikakon Baraka - bloody fish, no wonder - suggests four layers, separate zones of engagement, and separate designs of fighter built for each.’ Aron said, believing what he read only because it was so dumb, no-one could have made it up.

‘How many separate types do we fly off this ship?’ Gavrylsk made it a rhetorical question. ‘Ten? Years of working up to that and the tech teams still complain. Dump a menagerie like that on the decks of a ordinary destroyer - total breakdown. Crazy.’

‘Oh, it gets worse.’ Aron read on. ‘ “The outer zone consists of operations by detached elements of the fighter wing, manoeuvring in distant support of their carrier vessel.” And if that doesn’t translate as ass-in-the-breeze, what does?
'Oh. He’s not really talking fighters at all, multi-crew craft, multi-day missions, the likes of Skiprays and customs frigates.
Forward control platform with parasite high-speed recon fighters, bomber type with multiple turrets, and possible capital missiles on cradle launchers - nice work if you can get it - and a space superiority type, at least they have the grace not to call it a fighter, armed with something like a customs corvette’s weapon layout.’

‘I see what you mean about rebel fighter-wank. Anything in there that makes sense?’ Yatrock asked.

‘Maybe. “To avoid excessive loss of capability in the currently dominant zone of combat…” Anyone else feel like beating this armchair aviator on the head with a proton torp?
'Anyway, the idea is slave-linked drones. Not droids, non-independent, sort of automated wingmen; about the size of a TIE globe without the radiator panels. One manned fighter with maybe four or six drones; they’d do the wolfpack attack missions the TIEs get now.
'That might be worth seeing. But not if the price is accepting the rest of this. Long range heavies, short hyper range, long duration sublight, all…has this fish-head ever heard the words “Oh kriff where did they come from” spoken in anger? The ships might be good, the scheme is fragile as all Hel.’

‘So’s the TIE fighter.’ Yatrock pointed out.

‘Which we have, what, six billion of?’ Kramaner said. ‘How much would it cost to replace them all?’

‘Credits be buggered, it’s time something that radical would cost in. Building time, retraining time, for ground crews as well as us-‘

Aron stopped in mid-rant. There had been a groan from Franjia’s bed.

‘I will never…’ an electronic voice said faintly, ‘be rude about the hamster helmet…ever again.’ She was on a respirator system; a vocoder was talking for her. Aron didn’t care. He had to think to stop himself hugging her. Not good on a patient with a shiny new ribcage.

‘You’re conscious. How does it-‘

‘You say that like…you weren’t sure.’ She said, looking at him - thanks, relief, something more? ‘What…happened?’

‘You don’t remember?’ Thank the Galactic Spirit, she doesn’t remember. ‘The last X-wing you hit must have had his torps on hair triggers. They all went up together.’

‘Don’t remember… going after him. I remember thinking the fight was…nearly over. Then blur. How bad?’

Maybe, Aron thought hopefully, she’s badly enough concussed that she won’t realise it when I try to avoid telling her-

‘You lost most of your ribcage.’ Yatrock said.

‘I was trying to avoid saying that, bantha brain.’ Aron snapped at him.

One hand, trailing IV tubes, felt for her chest. Yatrock opened his mouth, Aron glared at him- suspecting him of being about to say ‘don’t do that, they’re not set yet.’

‘Don’t feel anything.’ She said.

‘You’re still under anaesthetic. Which-‘

‘You don’t want to lie, but the truth is too…ugly to tell.’ She said, accurately.

‘Is that your brain working, or your fears? Don’t give in to them. What you have to do now-‘ dreck, Aron thought, I’m supposed to be a bloody leader, a man of responsibility. I decided to engage with my pilots as human beings and then this bloody happens. ‘What you need to do is get better as fast as possible. It sounds passive, it isn’t, there are things you can do, stands you can take-‘

‘I know. Given that speech myself. I hope you…never have to hear what it sounds like from this end.’

‘You’re going to get better.’ He told her, slightly too desperately. ‘You’ll be fine.’

‘Functional.’ She disagreed. ‘hands, eyes, all right. Bit in the middle…’

‘You’ll just have to start wearing thicker jerseys.’ Aron managed to come up with a shred of humour.

‘Or get wired into…the flight suit permanently.’ She suggested.

‘Are you trying to get me into trouble? You know it would be unprofessional for me to compliment you on your breasts.’ Aron said, and suddenly they were looking into each other’s eyes and it wasn’t a joke.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-12 09:03pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-07-25 06:00pm

Ch 22

‘For some of us, that could have gone better.’ Lennart said, calmly. ‘Vice-Admiral-‘

‘Gerlen. Domenic Gerlen. This is not a good day for the Starfleet, Captain.’ The vice-admiral said. He was roughly Lennart’s own age- which made him young for his rank, but that was only just starting to show a normal curve.

In the chaos of promotion, demotion, political manoeuvring and growth pains that had accompanied the change from Republic to Empire, it had been not unusual to find sixty-year old lieutenants and thirty-year old rear-admirals. The situation was only really settling out a generation later.

There was also the important question of the admiral’s own trustworthiness.

‘Let me see…one large and one small light destroyer captured, one medium and one light rebel frigate, four corvettes, upwards of five hundred fighters destroyed. The price, a Golan platform, one light corvette and a badly damaged heavy frigate, and fifty fighters - there are thousands of units on the receiving end of hit and run raids who wish they had such days, Admiral.’ Lennart said.

‘On the absolute scale, for the galaxy, it may have been a victory, but for this sector group it was a disaster.’ Admiral Gerlen said, worried and fearful of his future.

‘Perhaps a wake up call. Admiral, I know you’re not in my direct line of command, but- have you considered the full implications of what Adannan did to your sector governor?’

‘He ordered him mutilated and humiliated; how much more full do you want?’ Admiral Gerlen asked. Lennart could see his brain begin to function again, but decided to spell it out.

‘By making what looks like a classic mistake - he strikes at a prince to wound, rather than kill - he does two things; he begins to build a reputation as a bloodthirsty madman, which he enjoys in itself for the excuses it gives him, and it lays the foundation of a vendetta.’

Half a dozen knee-jerk silly questions passed briefly across Admiral Gerlen’s face, and he suppressed them. ‘Moff Edro Vlantir Xeale is not a being I would pick for an enemy. If there’s a logic behind this that you can see, explain it.’

‘Cover. Anything that happens, almost anything, can be conveniently buried behind this mutual hatred Adannan has just invented. Links to organised crime? Evidence planted by one or the other- or the twists and turns of a desperate, hate-driven man. Active ties with the Alliance? A powerful being embarrassed and humiliated by his own side can stoop very low indeed. Deliberate exposure of old, buried scandal? Fabrication and conspiracy theory.’ Lennart explained.

‘So by simply fiddling the dates, he can cloak all sorts of things with a simple inhuman sacrifice. That is what it’ll come to, isn’t it?’ the admiral asked.

‘I would expect anyone who rises to that rank to be competent at such things himself; Moff-Xeale?- shouldn’t be an easy target. Adannan intended to humiliate him and infuriate him just enough to make him offer himself as a target at all. Events will show who gets their way out of this, Admiral. Meanwhile, stuck in the crossfire…’ Lennart said.

‘How long have you known Kor Adannan?’

‘Roughly twenty minutes longer than you have, Admiral.’ Lennart said, cautiously.

‘He murders one man - judicially - humiliates a senior officer of the Empire, offers death threats to another - me! - and positively praises you. Why?’ Gerlen asked, suspiciously.

‘Because he thinks that I have the potential to become exactly like him.’ Lennart decided to admit.

‘Stars around. Well, if that sort of rank isn’t enough to protect a man, who is safe? If a Moff, a Moff for Sith’s sake, can’t call his feet his own, what’s left? If loyalty is no protection-’

‘Admiral,’ Lennart cautioned, ‘This is politics played for keeps, and I would advise you to wait until all the evidence is in before using the words ‘Moff Xeale’ and ‘Loyal’ in the same sentence.
'Especially, don’t fall into the same trap. You, personally, were threatened. Respond to that by functioning professionally and allowing him no excuse, not by letting him unbalance you to the point where you become a political sacrifice as well.’

‘Of course, man. I know that. Do you think I can’t cope, or something? Ridiculous.’

Perhaps he could, Lennart thought. Badly shocked, he was starting to return- hopefully not to normal.

‘This hunting group he requisitioned- I’ll give you a regulation battle squadron as escort.’ Gerlen decided.

‘Not really enough to do the job. As I understand it, Admiral, what Kor Alric Adannan wants is a force at his personal and immediate disposal, large enough to do dirty work without communicating with, or calling for help from, the rest of the fleet. That’s a Superiority Systems Force sized task normally, but as a regional support group unit, we have available some slightly different force structures. In particular this, which is what I think would be appropriate to the task.’

Lennart brought up the holoimage of an Objective Pursuit Squadron order of battle.
It was the regional force equivalent of ‘volunteers- you, you and you.’ It consisted of four lines, a sweep line heavily laden down with carrier-types, two probe lines capable of recon in force - led by heavy frigates or light destroyers - and a main strike line consisting of an Imperator, two other warships usually heavy frigates, and a picket line and pursuit element.

‘That’d gut Third Superiority Fleet, it’d eat the middle out, we couldn’t put that together-‘ Gerlen objected.

‘Interesting idea. Are you explicitly betting that if I have to go back to Adannan with this, tell him about your official view that this is undoable, that he’d land more heavily on me than he would on you?’ Lennart suggested.

Gerlen weighed the odds, thought of Xeale’s feet. He made one more objection.
‘It should be down to the local force to recover lost opportunities. I don’t see the sense of demanding that that is our part, and simultaneously that we release enough forces to him to do it all himself.’

‘Then act in competition, Admiral.’ Lennart said, wondering just how dishonest and self-serving he could get away with being. ‘He came across as a mad dog, but I think he knows better than that. His license to spill blood is the same as, for instance, Lord Vader’s; the greater good of the Empire.
'Failures, he has no bag limit on, but his own head stands to roll if he takes down too many competent men. So give him that, and then go and prove him wrong by finding and killing yourself some Rebels.’

Gerlen nodded. Lennart continued ‘Sir, no doubt you have a lot of thinking to do. If we can get the details sorted out with your staff-‘

‘Yes, yes. Wait a moment.’ The connection shifted to a holding screen, the sector group logo. Lennart muted the pickup.

‘What do we want?’ Lennart said, leaning back, putting his feet on the desk. ‘In particular- the Dynamic. Yes or no?’

‘They have a lot to learn, but that leaves them less to unlearn. In theory.’ Brenn suggested. ‘Have her assigned as one of our seconds in the strike line, where we can keep an eye on her.’

'Dig out the sector and subsector orders of battle.’ Lennart asked him. ‘See what else we can poach.’

‘Skipper,’ Mirannon said, ‘we have a moderately serviceable Venator that only needs-‘ he looked down at his notes- ‘four point six million man hours of work.’

‘About the same as it would take to forge a working relationship between you and Adannan, then.’ Lennart said, sounding annoyed. ‘I know, you’re a mechanical engineer, not a social engineer, but did you really have to taunt him like that? Come damn close, and I can’t work out why he didn’t, to giving him an excuse to lash out at you?’

‘The fact that it worked doesn’t make me particularly happy either.’ Mirannon admitted. ‘I pushed it for the same reason you did; testing out just what we could get away with. Why did we?’

‘I think we can assume it was a conscious decision, for a deliberate reason. He needs us for- something.’ The rest of the command team would be told about the side feed from the main domes, but not here.

‘Wait for the situation to develop as to what. That, and those unarmed combat classes the engineering department was running, reinstate them.’

‘If by "unarmed" you mean "every hand tool known to man and a few others we invented for the fun of it", already done.’ Mirannon said.

‘Good. I wonder what the Admiral’s telling his staff?’ Lennart said- it was taking too long.

‘Captain of the Line, Exalted Sir, I have the breakdown on the sector OB now.’ Brenn com’d from the bridge.

‘Is that so? Well, you just make sure that the accounting office knows too. If I’m going to play junior flag officer then, by the Five Sisters, I am not going to miss out on the going rate for the job.’ Lennart said. ‘What have we got?’

Vineland was a small sector with a lot of through trade, and the Sector Group had been ‘astrographically corrected’ to take that into account. Lesser in size overall- with many understrength commands rather than fewer full strength units, a case of jobs for the boys? Heavily balanced towards light-medium ships, a lot of older heavy corvette types, only a dozen Imperators- Lennart still used the older term. Gerlen was right; that wouldn’t leave much of third fleet.

The holodisplay changed to a view of a conference table; six staff officers with the same order of battle. One Captain, five Commanders or Lieutenant-Commanders.

‘Captain Lennart,’ the most senior of them began, ‘we have been informed of your intentions. We-‘

‘Four destroyers, and we have two of them already. You have a Venator-class operating as a training carrier, do you not? An exchange. Assign her to us, you can have Penthesilea. Damaged, but not beyond repair.’

‘I protest.’ One of the lieutenant-commanders said, the one Lennart had nicknamed Grumpy. ‘That would disrupt our training cycle-‘

‘Your casualty rate is very low- a shaved percentage point above expected accident rates. If you need a full training carrier to replace the trickle of pilots you’re losing, then there’s something more deeply wrong than shortage of assets. Would you like me to investigate that for you? No? Good.
'That leaves us a Sweep Line led by a Venator- and a strike line composed of ourselves and an Arrogant. For balance’s sake- you do have a handful of Victory-III there, do you not? Let me see, their service records- the Perseverance, repeatedly reprimanded for being off station, low personnel turnover- we’ll take her.’

Stunned, blank looks on the faces of some of them, two opened their mouths, thought about what their line of argument was supposed to be, and gave up.

'As for the rest- two Meridian, I think, to lead the probe lines.’

‘Repair estimate on Comarre is two point two million hours, Captain.’ Mirannon stated. ‘Eleven and a half days if we do it ourselves.’

Three of the staff officers’ eyes bugged out at that. The standard reckoning was that a fleet tender could provide twelve thousand man-hours a day, a Deepdock eighty thousand per bay assigned. Mirannon was counting on most of the Engineering department and half of the Legion putting in twelve hour days.

‘Yes, on balance.’ Lennart decided. ‘We’re going to need working up time- probably much more than that, but for a beginning it’ll do.
'I’ll expect you,’ he addressed the staff officers, ‘to provide parts and materials accordingly. Other ships I want assigned; Tarazed Meridian, Demolisher-class Tythallin, Guillemot- and there’s a name to conjure with, what’s the Obdurate doing in a backwater like this? Definitely.
'Strike cruisers Havoc, Kuruma, Darxani, Blackwood-‘ He ran off a sequence of names as the staff officers looked more and more depressed. If their reactions were anything to go by, his judgement was right and he was creaming off the best.

‘Well,’ Lennart turned to his command team after the conference was over and the link had been dropped, ‘we have an operational squadron. Now we need an operation to deploy it on.’

‘We are working on the assumption that Adannan is up to something dangerous, sinister and dubious?’ Rythanor asked.

‘Technically, no. We are making that assumption, but we’re not working on it. We need to gather evidence for that, in the meantime we play it straight- as, worryingly, he is. Don’t even think loudly about manufacturing it.’

‘Right. Now you put the box down, turn off the repulsor unit- work out for yourself which comes first- and take out the sensor wands.’ Suluur advised.

‘Never done this before, have you?’ Gendrik said, managing not to break his toes when he shut the repulsor unit off.

‘Now remember, look technical.’ Aldrem said. They were in one of the transverse corridors near the base of the tower; staff space. Pure bureaucracy acting as an ablative layer around sensor-interpretation, comms and signals, computing, navigational plot and ecm/eccm control complexes. Hard against the outer skin of the ship, obviously- no-one but a complete fruitbat would design a ship with internal PD turrets, although there were rumours about some of the early Sienar designs- one team would make electronic noise simulating a point defence battery in place, the others would listen and see how it penetrated into the hull.

All of them thought, in their separate ways, this is crazy. Nobody actually said so, in so many words.

As the control team were listening, they saw a half-familiar figure coming down the corridor. Long black robe and gown, hood up with a hint of red hair protruding out, figure just hidden enough to get the imagination drooling.

Laurentia saw them standing there, looking like some avant-garde corps de ballet waving scanning rods in odd positions, balancing on tiptoe to reach deckheads, sweeping them following cable runs. A contact and some information. Why not?

She approached the man who seemed to be their leader, who was holding, for some strange reason, a light repeating blaster. His insignia called him a senior chief petty officer.

‘Senior Chief, I wonder if you can help me? I’m on the staff of the Special Assistant-‘

One of them said nothing but his eyebrows rolled back behind his head; one, a female, looked at her- enviously.

Laurentia gave her a small, mocking smile, and moved on. One of them was familiar- in the mass if not in the individual. Line Four, Mod Eleven Mark Nine, one of the later clone lines, one frame in a rapidly evolving sequence- limited production, supposed to be highly optimised, mounted recon/scout trooper. Only fractionally more of them than there were of her own breed, only a couple of million. He looked back at her calmly, utterly unruffled.

The leader was thinking hard; he had very sharp eyes, she noticed. Not very pleased to see her. ‘How can we do that, Ma’am?’ he said, evenly and officially.

‘I need a computer terminal with level-5 access. Would you know where one of those is?’

All four of them looked at each other. They were trying to look honestly baffled, but only partially succeeding.

‘I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re not cleared that highly ourselves. Comms and Signals is eight decks down, two transverse corridors forward, Central Computing is three decks up and six forward.’ Aldrem said, calm and helpful, but looking at her like he was seeing crosshairs.

‘Oh.’ She said, reluctant to go to any of the heavily staffed, highly monitored main facilities. They noticed. To change the subject she said ‘If you don’t mind me asking, why are you carrying a T-21?’

‘Health and safety reasons, ma’am.’ Aldrem replied, sizing up if he could get the weapon aimed and levelled before she could quick draw. Probably; but there was no good reason to bet his life on it yet. She looked unconvinced, as well she might.

‘We’re surveying for mounting points for additional point defence. The sighting system on this will give us a good idea of fields of fire, and how much baffling the gun mount’s going to need.’

‘Really?’ she said, mildly interested. ‘How does an infantry support weapon scale to a destroyer CIWS?’

The other three tried to think of ways of shutting him up, then groaned as they realised it was too late.

‘In terms of physical scale, frighteningly well, but that’s not the main determinant of bolt power, it’s the material construction of the weapon. You can almost get away with locally smelted and hardened basesteel in these, but the more power the weapon develops the higher grade of durasteel and quadanium-reinforce it requires.
'It’s an indirect linkage, the material strength of the barrel projects and backs the containment field; but that’s basically why starfighter lasers are so compact and put out so much energy, the weight of them would severely unbalance say an AT-AT, but the field drivers that redundantly swing the turret respond more precisely to a small, dense, sharply-defined mass, which-‘ her eyes started to glaze over, not that it would stop him.

He seemed to ramble on, getting as far as-‘and feedback from the pressurised, or to be more correct ambiently laden, containment field, in composition LTM-291 durasteel gives a stress-strain curve roughly like this.’

Hooking the light repeating blaster up into one armpit - braced on his arm, finger by the trigger guard - and waving one of the sensor wands in the air with the other to describe the graph.

Two twitches, she thought, and that thing is shining right in my eyes and his gun is resting on my bellybutton - even clones have bellybuttons, and she would miss hers if it went away. Especially if it took the lower half of her body with it.

These people are obviously up to something. She decided to file that one for investigation and analysis. One drawback of Imperial uniformity; no nametags. Interchangeability, one rank-and-file was supposed to be very much like another.

Calling them on it would result in- at least one death, perhaps three. Hers, and up to two of theirs. This was one of those times to smile, walk away - and set up an ambush around the corner.

‘Really, Senior Chief-‘ she flashed her eyes at him, hoping he would be that dumb; he refused to give his name. ‘I do have a job to do, and I won’t keep you from yours. Good day.’ She swept off- wishing she could stop to listen, but there wasn’t time.

‘You were looking at her hips.’ Jhareylia nagged Aldrem.

‘I was looking at her holsters. A disintegrator pistol- short ranged and extremely powerful, and a blaster autopistol. Nasty combination. I wonder why they don’t make disintegrator cannon?’ Aldrem tried to deflect the oncoming explosion.

‘Because the barrel life would be so short, you’d barely be aiming on before they burnt out.’ Fendon said. ‘Who was she?’

‘Trouble. You do realise we are more thoroughly blown than an Oseon tumbleweed?’ Jhareylia ranted.

‘There are many, many much less delicate similes you could have used there.’ Suluur said, irrelevantly.

‘Blown like one of the many things you wanted her to do to you?’ she snapped, then regretted it. ‘I knew this was going to be awkward, but this is verging on the ridiculous. First you show your ID for Force’s sake, then you have a long technical diatribe with someone who works closely with the people we are supposed to be kidnapping. How much less covert can this get?’

‘Normally for me, subtle involves stepping down to megaton range blasts. What did you expect from a bunch of gunners?’ Aldrem snarled back, disappointed by her jealousy. ‘Maybe we can manage to hide in plain sight - be so spectacularly obvious, no-one would believe it was us.’

‘When’s your commission due?’ Suluur asked, joking. ‘You’re far too crazy to be a PO.’

‘Chief?’ Gendrik’s voice over com unit. ‘Targets.’

‘Good. I think. Problems?’

‘Yes - they’re carrying one of the damage control crew, who seems to have got in the way of a lightsabre.’

‘Kriff. This just gets better. Herd them in this direction-‘ he glanced at the bulkhead, reeled off the reference number. ‘Then follow on behind them. I think we can still make this work.’

The two twi’lek were hopelessly lost by the time they ‘came across’ a party of crewmen apparently trying to find insects stuck between the layers of plating.

‘We’re getting interference from somewhere, mobile, slow, could be external, do the rebels have spacetroopers?’ Aldrem improv’d.

‘I’ve heard of space bikers, but I don’t think even they’re that stupid.’ Gendrik said, from around the corner.
The twi’lek stopped, lost and confused. Aldrem - still holding the light repeater - shuffled up to the male, ran his scanner up the length of him, up to the collar. Helpfully, the scanner beeped.

‘You’re radiating.’ Aldrem told the bemused twi’lek. Looking closely in his eyes. Slightly glassy. No expert on altered states of mind - only a gifted amateur - he tried to gauge the slave’s state of down-troddenness. If that was even a word.

‘We can’t have that. We’ll have to escort you out of the area.’ Aldrem tried not to smile at how easy it was, and the reaction he got from them helped.

The two of them looked- abused, that was the word. Which was worrying. If Adannan had them genuinely and thoroughly broken, that meant they might not know much, and the idea of their escaping of their own accord wouldn’t hold water.

‘Right, follow us, we’ll take you down to the med bay.’ Aldrem tried to sound authoritative. It was a pale imitation of the snap of command in Adannan’s voice, but it seemed to work.

They followed Aldrem, Suluur, Jhareylia and Fendon, with the other twelve bringing up the rear and hemming them in.

‘Pel, I’m sorry I shouted at you.’ Jhareylia said.

‘Oh, don’t apologise now, you’re probably going to do it all over again in five minutes. I have no idea,’ he muttered trying to avoid their overhearing him, ‘how we’re going to get down from the bridge tower without walking right past another patrol section.’

‘Is there no back alley route? No maintenance accessway?’

‘Without alerting them that something’s not right? No.’ Aldrem replied.

‘Then alert them and take the risk.’ Jhareylia decided.

‘That leaves us carrying two crates full of noisy captive and a junior officer in shock down the inside of a turbolift. Amateur acrobatics? I’d pay a lot to see that. I’d pay even more to be allowed not to do it.’ Aldrem stated.

‘What about the garbage chute?’ Jhareylia suggested.

‘On this ship, with Mirannon in charge? Whenever we get something blown off, he melts it down and slabs it on again as armour - or engine bell reinforcements so we can run hot enough to still move.
'He even tries to recycle waste heat with thermocouples, and you just do not want to know about some of the things that they do in life support. The chute was sealed up years ago.’

‘So short of having someone walk up to them, point and say ’oh, look, a distraction’, and hope they fall for it, no chance.’ Gendrik com’d.

‘Actually, maybe, I think we could make that work.’ Suluur said. ‘An EM distraction.’

‘Simulate a, what, a problem they have to deal with directly instead of yelling for a damage control crew? That would have to be an internal security problem. Ideas?’

‘Yes, actually. I think this might work…’

The squad on duty at the turbolift cluster, CJ54, were moderately alert; there was always the chance of some stray last-ditch madness by Rebel boarders that they would have to deal with, either directly in their area or somewhere nearby that another unit would respond to, and they would have to shift to cover their area.

Platoon CJ5 were artillerymen; the tactical team was formed from the crews of a Bryn & Gweith Leveller-1 and its ammo wagon. They would be well trained and exercised in infantry work, but seldom have had to do it for real.

On the other hand, they knew their explosions, so this had to be convincing.

There was a reflected electromagnetic scream of forcefields colliding as the matter they were anchored to was torn apart; breaching charge, CJ54 decided, several corridors away, the flash ducted by the blast doors.

Rebel boarders. The last ditch madness they had been half expecting. First response; the team moved out, half directly for the point, half flank and reserve.

It was not a confirmed alert - there was little activity after the flare - but they sent out a precautionary warning.

Soon, Aldrem knew, that would be examined by main sensor control, they would realise there had been no external event to cause it, and an internal search would begin. All nineteen of them moved for the lift shaft.

Gendrik and Hruthhal were bringing up the rear. They noticed the twi’lek’s antennae twitch; regulations prohibited any form of secret communication between crewmembers, officially. Not being xenologists, that was the only reason they knew about twitch-talk, because it was mentioned in the regs.

The two large parts/cargo lifts could each hold all of them; they piled into one and headed down to the level of the medical bay.

The two twi’lek both looked at Aldrem; Suluur turned round, realised they looked stiff-limbed, glassy, twitching slightly- he bet that whatever anti-theft conditioning they had was about to kick in.

‘Kriff! Pel-‘

The two twi’lek both dropped into martial arts stances, lights on their slave collars glowing, eyes hypnosis-blank; the female lashed out with clawed fingers to try to rip Jhareylia’s throat open, the male dived for Aldrem.

Senior Chief and Master Gunner Pel Aldrem had half a second to use, and he put his trust in his trigger finger.

He fired a two shot burst, tracking upwards, at the female; the first shot hit on the side of her neck - whether blowing the collar off caused a greater mental or physical shock, immaterial, either would have been enough to put her down. The second shot blew off one of her lekku, as she crumpled to the ground.

The male never made it, as Suluur intercepted him, crashing into him in mid air, as both of them hit the ground Suluur spiked an elbow into the base of the twi’lek’s spinal cord. He thrashed, twitched, tried to get up and Hruthhal hit him over the head with the severed lekku. Repeatedly.

‘Well,’ Aldrem said, after it was done, ‘I wouldn’t exactly call this a bloodless action.’ Most of them were splattered. Cauterisation, yes, but the male had been hit hard enough that most of the clots in the head-tentacle had burst. ‘Are you all right, Lieutenant?’

The young officer would have looked utterly gobsmacked, if his jaw hadn’t already fallen off. Clearly not. Tarshkavik was busy defusing and removing the male twi’lek’s collar; Suluur was checking to see the female was still breathing.

‘Areath? Can you judge these things-‘ Aldrem said quietly, waving with the gun muzzle, safety now back on and his finger of the trigger, at the sensor units- ‘precisely enough to wipe out the lieutenant’s short term memory with an EM surge?’

‘No. Not reliably. Don’t covert operations usually involve a bit less mess than this?’ he asked Jhareylia.

‘A successful operation is one that the other side don’t realise ever happened, usually.’ Jhareylia admitted. ‘Nearly there.’

Aldrem reached out and selected a new level - below the medical centre, down in the body of the ship. Near the armoury, but not in it. He did not want to lock two unbalanced, brainwashed-aggressive beings in a room full of heavy warheads.

‘We go there, we all get out, we set the lift to stop at the medical complex on the way back up. Listen, Lieutenant; this didn’t happen, we weren’t here. If you really want to know, talk to your department commander.’

Laurentia found her way to a facility that should have a high level tie in to the main computer; Damage Control Dorsal-140.

This ship was confusing her badly; she knew her way around the base template of Star Destroyer, but this ship had been modified - or more accurately rebuilt after refit. The first thing she used her access for was to call up a map.

The second was to look through the ship’s transmission logs for the message that had alerted Adannan in the first place, and backtrack from that to find out who sent it. Agents could be anyone, anywhere- ah. Stormtrooper Corps. Hardly usual, but still.

So, the flight bay. Again severely modified; what had happened to the goal of uniformity? She quietly mocked it whenever she had the chance, but now she was face to face with the lack of it and suddenly realising how much it mattered to her after all. So many, many idiosyncrasies.

She found a corner to wait quietly in- no-one asked her for ID, they recognised her from their arrival, that and the word of what they had done to the tank sargeant had got round.

It was absurd, but she almost felt resentment from them. That wasn’t right at all. They were disposable, they weren’t supposed to have feelings.

The dropship she was waiting for returned- yet again an abnormality; why don’t these people just admit they have secret rebel sympathies and have done with it?

A slightly curved dish shape, no superstructure at all. Carried to war in a bowl. It had been a long time since she had ridden in a drop assault, and looking at the ‘lilypad’ she had absolutely no desire to do so again.

It landed, the edges drooped, the troopers on board dismounted - a company, herding about that many again of rebel prisoners.

One squad in - oh, this was infuriating. They might as well have been holding signs saying ‘hello, we are a special purpose unit’. Iridescent blue-red armour, vaguely reminiscent of the Sovereign Protectors. How could anyone do covert observation and draw that much attention to themselves? Caution, she warned herself, you’re getting snarky. Just because they’re strange, don’t underestimate them.

They were looking at her. Ten of them - she didn’t know how many there were supposed to be. Two wounded, in fact. They marched in her direction; she waited for them. As they got within comfortable speaking distance on the noisy deck she asked ‘Which of you is Watcher 22173?’

One of them took off- disbelieving glance at the breastplate, her? helmet, Ren suddenly felt dizzy, already knowing what she was going to see, one of her own sisters looking back at her. Aleph-3 knew the statistics, in a general way. She and her sisters had been supposed initially to be issued at mobile - divisional level - at the time, that had been a million or so.

Then the estimates had skyrocketed, to account for the units being pulled from planetary defence forces and incorporated into the Grand Armies - then contracted drastically again, as the dawn of the Empire had put an end to any requirement the Stormtrooper Corps might have had to explain to anyone what they were doing.

Only the initial batch had been completed to maturity; most of those planned in the brief surge had been flushed. Fishfood for the ocean lifeforms of Kamino. There had been vengeance for that, eventually.

Some of the remainder had died, some had shown personality instabilities and been discharged, some had found their way into other roles. This was obviously one of them.

Both of them looked at each other, expecting to feel the instant understanding of the identical twin, divine instantly and easily what was on the other’s mind; both of them were horrified when it didn’t happen.

‘We need to talk.’ Laurentia said, decisively.

They found a chamber off the flight bays, a parts storeroom full of racks of disassembled TIE wings. All ten of them came in with her.

‘They all know.’ Aleph-3 said. ‘You’re on Lord Adannan’s staff?’

‘His media analyst.’ Ren replied. Reading between the lines to work out the truth behind the reports. ‘You’re the hunter that spotted untapped potential in a man who has been in Imperial service for twenty years. What did you see that no-one else did?’

For a long horrible moment, Aleph-3 weighed the situation and realised she absolutely did not want to tell her sister the truth. She barely wanted to admit to herself what it was.

‘We re-interpreted the data to produce an alternative explanation. The more we tested that alternative against the facts, the better an explanation it seemed.’

Aleph-3 began, actually hoping she had drifted far enough away from her sister that she couldn’t read her. ‘Captain Lennart has a reputation as a fighting fool. A frothing madman, capable of victory against appalling odds, but unsuitable for any higher responsibility. The longer we spent on board, the more of a chance we got to look at those victories, and realised that most of them were won with a dexterity and finesse that simply did not square up with his reputation.
'Now, false reports of success from officers covering their vulnerabilities are far from unknown; there are entire divisions of the Ubiqtorate tasked with catching out officers and officials who lie like that. So we were sceptical, but as we got to know him better, we realised that the situation was in favour of the reputation being the falsehood. How do you feel about your Lord Alric?’

‘I…’ Laurentia began, mental gears clashing. ‘I don’t. It’s irrelevant.’

‘So it doesn’t matter to you whether he succeeds or fails, rises or falls? Really?’ Aleph-3 said, unbelieving.

‘Of course it matters to me. He’s my assigned task.’

‘With all due respect, dear sister- bollocks.’ Aleph-3 said, bluntly. ‘It’s a common flaw in our line; overidentification with the principal. A convenience to the cloners, a sublimation of something that might otherwise cause problems.’

‘Captain Lennart is your principal; you want him to succeed. So you made him out to be a Force user?’ Laurentia said, cattishly.

‘You think I’m indulging in inclarity and wish-fulfillment? Just because it would be good if it was true doesn’t mean that it’s automatically false. Look at the way he holds this ship together without most of the standard tools of Imperial discipline.’

‘Fools and lunatics for the most part-‘ Laurentia began, then realised it was exactly what her odd sister, whom she could not read, meant. ‘What have you been doing for the last twenty years?’

‘Does time make strangers of us all, or does it just make us increasingly strange?’ Aleph-3 quipped. ‘Legion planning and intel, until the HQ group got bounced by several million droids and I found out I was rather good with a DC-15. Platoon sharpshooter, sniper scout, forward observer and then special operations from there.’ On her own at the hairy end of the business, in other words. ‘Yourself?’

‘I was detached on consultancy duties early on, then rose through the system in human resources. A headhunter-‘ Laurentia looked at her sister’s E-11- ‘although not in the same literal way.’

‘So you tell Kor Alric what he should be looking for? Look at the pattern. Tell me Jorian Lennart hasn’t been avoiding promotion for the last eight years at least. Tell me he can hold this ship together, work the system, and fight his battles the way he does, without the Force - or some powerful influence - being on his side.’ Aleph-3 tried not to sound passionate, and failed.

‘You are making him sound increasingly unsuitable.’ Laurentia said. ‘If he has a power he does not want to use, is capable of authority he does not want to have - why is he a candidate for the Dark Side?’

‘Good question.’ Aleph-3 added. ‘He served through the Clone Wars; became familiar with the detached perspective of the Jedi.’
‘He fears the limitations of the Force.’ Aleph-3 continued, sign-language thanking her commander for the assist. ‘He has no desire to enter the mental boxes the Jedi trapped themselves in. Unless you are much luckier than I, you do not have the first hand experience that could convince him otherwise.’

That was pure fishing, and Laurentia took a second to realise it- her first reaction was one of relief that her sister was not significantly more gifted than she was. Then she realised that was what Aleph-3 had been trying to find out.

‘No, I don’t. Do you?’

If there was a question in Aleph-3’s head that wish fulfilment was the answer to, that was it. She had been telling the truth to Jorian Lennart; she had a tenuous, fingertip connection to the Force. Too little to do anything except worry herself sick with.

‘No, but your principal does.’ She said, picking her words. ‘If your man can convince-‘ fractional pause there while she avoided saying ‘mine’- ‘Captain Lennart that he doesn’t have to gain the Force at the cost of his wits, then it can work.’

‘Why do you want that, personally? You’re not even supposed to have personal wants.’ Laurentia said.

‘Supposed by whom, Sister? You were born to the Legion too.’ Aleph-3 said.

‘I outgrew that.’ Laurentia said, and knew she was lying. Aleph-3 didn’t need to say so. If her defence was crumbling, it was time to return to the attack. ‘Are you involved with him? Emotionally attached?’

Aleph-3 kept her face straight, but only just. Yes, although space knows why, was the truthful answer. He with me? No. Young loves and brief affairs since, Lady Lyria, may she find a convenient sarlacc to rot in, amongst others- but his first and truest tie is to the ship. The only chance, she knew, was to find or create some circumstance where he actually needed her, had to depend on her for some purpose. Such as being his guide and support as he came to terms with the Force.

Some part of her felt like a filthy pervert for even daring to think of such things, contrary to her duty and the traditions of the Corps. Another part, the part she used for pretending to be a normal person, had been counting days and years, and chances taken, and feeling a life sliding away. Which was on the face of it ridiculous, heretical, absurd.

Then again, she remembered being told in training that the main driver of true sentience was the ability to deceive. Lifeform versus environment was only the beginning; true pressure to develop was when there was competition between members of the same dominant species. The human race, and all the other races, only truly learned to think when they began to need to out-think one another. She and her sisters had been bred as the deceitful arm of the Corps, supposed to lie to gain advantage for their hopelessly straightforward brothers in white. Perhaps it was inevitable that she should become a little strange?

Inevitable and forgivable? No, or perhaps only if it works.

Her sister realised it. How could she not?

‘I will report to my lord that this may be a wild mynock chase. That your judgement is compromised.’ Laurentia said- not because she believed it was, what she had seen and heard so far indicated he was a good prospect if wild and contrary; but mainly to score points off Aleph-3.

Perhaps, if he was that interesting, Laurentia would see what she could do with him herself.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 09:30am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2007-08-05 12:18pm

Ch 23a

‘Squadron Leader, would you like a moment alone?’ Yatrock asked him. Franjia was, if it was possible under the oxygen mask, blushing. Aron was trying to think of a comeback when there was the sound of feet landing on the deck behind him as most of the squadron jumped to attention. Group Captain Olleyri.

‘At ease.’ The fighter group commander more-or-less ordered. He surveyed the situation and decided to proceed as if on the automatic assumption that everything was going to be alright. Cheerfully breeze by the difficulties.

‘I’ve got more than half a mind to hang up my hamster hat, now. Doubt I’ll ever be able to top that.’

‘All you need is shoddy enough opposition, Sir.’ Aron said, joking.

‘And changes to the accounting procedure- d’you know, back in the Clone Wars-‘

‘You did your first tour on Aethersprites…didn’t you Sir?’ Franjia said from the bed. She thought she was poking fun; in fact, it was true.

‘Actually, I did, but it was just as they were going out. Anyway, used to be that if yours was the killing shot on a carrier, you got credited with the fighters that went down with it.
'Not any more, kriff the bureaucrats. I’m going to need at least two, could be four new squadron commanders. So are we going to have to wire all that junk into the cockpit with you?’ he said to Franjia.

‘What- me? Now?’ she asked, wanting it but not quite daring to believe.

‘Yes, you. Gamma One’s mostly in a bed over there-‘ he waved an arm in the general direction, far too many partitions in the way to see- ‘with bits of him in half a dozen buckets. They mentioned something about epoxying him back together. Recovery time in years.
'Kappa’s CO, Murqilzen, got zorched outright. If I go desk-piloting, Alpha needs a new leader. Jandras, you’re ex-Interceptors; you can get Gamma. The Hunter’s pretty close to fighter performance, and that was the plan anyway. Rahandravell, as soon as they unplug you, you move up to Epsilon One.’

‘Sir, I-‘ Franjia began.

‘Group Captain, I didn’t think I was going to say this, but I’ve got attached to the Starwings. Can I-‘

‘Hunter’s only a hair slower than the TIE/ln. You’d never be able to keep up in a Starwing, you’d be six-fifty ‘g’ short. What I really want to do is find something to replace the Bombers with, but it’ll never happen.’ Olleyri said.

Despite repeated attempts, nobody had managed to come up with a bomber that carried more payload, with greater accuracy, for less expense of credits and maintenance time than the TIE/sa. The Starwing could do the same job and fight it’s way through a defensive screen besides, but the time, space and money they took to look after was more than the cost of replacement TIE bombers.

‘Have you seen this, Sir?’ Aron handed him the article, a handful of crumply sheets of hardcopy.

‘When do you think they would make a press release like this?’ Olleyri said, not bothering to take it.

‘Way in advance, to raise money?’ Yatrock suggested. He was about to move up to being the senior flight commander; he was happy.

‘They’ll be looking for a ta-daah! moment- raise interest…just before they offer them as an option.’ Franjia suggested.

‘How long were you awake?’ Aron asked her.

‘While…couldn’t get my throat to work.’ She said.

‘We’ve known about this for ages- had feelers out for months, trying to make sure some of the service test items came our way. Then we got a first look at some of the spec sheets and tried even harder to get out of it. There may be a few interesting bits, but we have enough problems, right now especially. We-‘

There was a sound of boots hitting decks, again. ‘At ease.’ Captain Lennart; he found their bay.

‘Ah, Antar. First, your flying career’s over. You’re a dangerous maniac.
'Second, I find myself compelled to let you set a bad example for the rest of the force. We’re being reinforced up to Objective Pursuit Squadron, which means I need an air commodore.’

‘So- first ground me, then promote me? Does that make sense?’ Olleyri asked.

‘No. On paper, you’re being promoted to a non-flying position- but face it, that was a kriffing bad example to set. There’s a reason you usually fly in formation. Speaking of which; we should have between the ships of the group a hundred and two squadrons. Mostly /ln, but a high proportion of others. Get as much practise as you can in as a controller.’ Lennart said.

Olleyri looked closely at his commanding officer- who he now technically outranked, as far as he knew. Lennart hadn’t put his new set of squares up yet. Normally almost treasonously casual, he was being unusually snappy, and trying not to fidget. ‘Skipper, are you OK? You’re jumpy as a regallian sand flea.’

‘Very possibly not.’ Lennart said. ‘You might as well get it done while you’re here. Everyone on board is going to be put through a midichlorian count. I am not looking forward to the results.’

‘Midichlorians? For…Force sensitivity?’ Franjia asked.

‘Yes, you don’t know. We have a senior official with us, an adept of the Force. He’s recruiting- and with special reference to you, actually, Antar, you might want to abandon any plans you have for Rahandravell for the time being.’

Olleyri took a deep breath, gave up on two lines of argument, and said ‘The reason, sir?’

‘The dark adept’s personal pilot was a female cyborg. Senses and reflexes heavily enhanced. He decided she had let him down - by failing to sneak up on two starfleet destroyers - and took away her antirejection meds.’ He knew this because of the first results from the sensors.

All those present grimaced. That would be a particularly nasty way to go. Then Franjia realised what he was getting at and went white.

‘No, he’s not going to pick you as a replacement, not if I can help it.’ Lennart said, bitterly.

‘You were happy to send us undercover to spy…on the rebels.’ She said.

‘That is going to require some nifty retroactive filing to avoid having attention drawn your way, too. I knew there was a reason we kept the ship’s offices around, instead of converting them to something meaningful like a bantha farm. We’re outrunning our own planning here; making clumsy, instinctive responses, not looking far enough ahead at all, not at all.
'I’ll do what I can. And yes, as far as I’m concerned, Adannan probably does count as the greater threat. At least the rebels would only have had you shot.’ He nodded to them, they saluted, he left.

‘Don’t worry.’ Aron said to Franjia. ‘I’ll break the rest of your bones if it comes to that.’ It didn’t come out right, but she knew what he meant- that he would fake, or make, the evidence as necessary to preserve her from that.

‘What have we come to,’ she said, ‘when that starts to sound like…a good idea?’

Lennart’s next port of call was something he had been putting off for far too long. His executive officer. As he headed for the lifts, one of the big cargo turbolifts slid open, and in it was one man, uniformed, huddled on the floor. One of his junior engineers.

‘You, Surgeon-lieutenant.’ Lennart pointed at the medic he meant, then at the injured man. ‘See to him.’ Coldly holding his temper in.
What you know in the head but have to live in the heart before it sinks in, he thought. How easy it is for Adannan, in his turn, to provoke me by striking out at members of my crew.

What was it I told Dordd, when he was made up to Captain? You need your crew to think for you? Never truer than now- and I hope they have. I hope they can come up with something.
There was no place for the exec to be except in his cabin; he was not under arrest or anything like it, but he had a task to complete before he got his job back, so he would be there, doing that.

For a moment Lennart wondered what would happen if he wasn’t, if Mirhak-Ghulej had cracked under the strain, gone walkabout, and he was forced to launch a ship-wide search for his own exec; that would not look good. Sod’s Law made him actually expect it for a moment, but no. It was the bronze-faced man, in a bathrobe, who opened the door.


‘Exec.’ Lennart walked in; the room was full of droids sitting at computer terminals. Ah. Plan C, then.

‘So. Have you learned anything about the men and women theoretically under your authority?’ Lennart asked him, pointing at the terminals, looking at one of the screens. ‘Did you give them a set of instructions to follow? How often do you check their work?’

‘Sir, they are running to a set of algorithms derived from Imperial Fleet Manuals 18-A through C, 22-D revision 5, 34Q, 56, and 71 through 77.’ Mirkak-Ghulej said, coldly.

Have I dented that mask at all? Lennart wondered. Made any real impression on him? The publications he was citing did not make a happy list - Dress, Discipline and Deportment, Permitted and Forbidden Relationships, the Manual of Conduct, Dealing with Civilians, and the long unhappy series of Crimes, Defaults and Transgressions. Those last especially made grim reading, so much so that Lennart often had them used as a punishment in themselves- minor offenders were forced to read them, full of pain and misery and deadly threat ready to be handed out for anything except walking the straight and narrow path of official good behaviour.

Generally, once they curled up into a ball and started whimpering, they were allowed to stop. Some of the time.

‘So let me see a representative sample of your conclusions.’ Lennart said. Dordd handed him a datapad. It was the master index; long list of names, colour-highlighted in yellow, orange, red.

Lennart checked to see what they meant; caution, formal reprimand, disciplinary action. There were few unhighlighted, no action, and even fewer green, commendation. ‘Tell me this is a jest. Please tell me that you have not been this imperceptive and unresponsive.’

Mirhak-Ghulej paused, thinking about it, while Lennart fiddled with the menu options, hoping to bring up the one that said ‘ha ha, fooled you’ and revealed the genuine set of reports. It didn’t seem to be there.

‘Captain, like any good Imperial officer, I did what was asked of me.’

‘Did you?’ Lennart said, coldly. ‘The first- no, second- instruction is a very simple general rule; succeed. What effect do you think the demotion, degradation, imprisonment and execution of so many would have on the effectiveness of the ship?’

‘Negative in the short term, of course, but in the long term-‘

‘In the long term, this ship would be finished as a fighting unit. If-‘ the lightbulb went on in his head. ‘Very cleverly done. Do you really think it wise to go quite so far in making an enemy of your commanding officer?’

Protesting that he didn’t understand would be futile. Mirhak-Ghulej knew exactly what Lennart meant. The captain continued ‘You know, the worst punishment for your trying to end-run me like this might be to let you do it. Of course you know about the special assistant to the privy council; what part of that do you imagine means he plays by the rules?’

‘He is a senior official of the Empire. How could he not? Order is Empire, Empire is Order.’

‘Do you know, you’re actually beginning to scare me? I do my best to make the Empire sound like a good idea to the people we come across - as per manual 56 - but your total absorption of the party line, it's as if you had it…tattooed on your hindbrain…where’s your file?’

Lennart pushed one of the robots out of the way, sat down at the terminal, called up his executive officer’s personnel file. Cracked open the parts only he was technically allowed to see, including the medical files. No, apparently.

‘I’m not sure whether I’m more worried by the fact that you appear not to have had radical neurosurgery inflicted on you, or that you behave in a way that made me expect that you had.’ Lennart said;

Mirhak-Ghulej made no reply. The captain was skimming the background section of the exec’s file. Ah. That sort of made sense.

‘I think I understand now. You come from a very hostile, low-population planet, yes? Constant care required. Your skin was a deliberate - and insufficient - attempt to adapt.
'Your people lived on a knife edge, weather conditions not far short of a permanent extinction event, superheated winds, defences requiring constant vigilance. Somehow you found yourselves on the side of the Confederation.’

Mirhak-Ghulej sat down on one of the desks. Lennart carried on, watching his exec carefully. ‘Like most such colonies, the need for absolute diligence, absolute discipline, is hammered in from the moment you’re born. Then the war, and the assault, and the catastrophes- the breaching of the domes, and the terrible slow deaths, your adaptations just long enough to prolong the agony. In the name of galactic Order. How could that be?’

‘It was a mistake! A misunderstanding! If you follow the rules, everything will be all right!’ The mask cracked.

‘No, you won’t- there’s an entire galaxy to prove you wrong. The Republic followed the rules, after all.’ Lennart pointed out.

‘And it died and was replaced by the Empire. You see? Order is all.’

‘Order saved you, brought you to maturity, then violated everything you ever knew, and opened up a whole new galaxy of possibilities at the same time- small wonder that you cleave to it as though the concept was the only thing in your world. I’m not surprised that you hold to it when reason, sense and circumstance dictate otherwise.
'This ship doesn’t work that way. We are supposed to be supremely orderly so we can function as a bulwark against chaos. Large parts of the Imperial Starfleet are; I find it far more effective to simply dive in.

'You forget, I was there when the Empire was born. Many of us were, and saw the codes and regulations being drawn up.
Those manuals have a hundred battles and a generation of tradition behind them now; not much, but more than the Republic had in the random scuffles before the Clone Wars.
'As the Naval Orders and Instructions appeared, they were dissected in every wardroom in the Fleet. The whys and wherefores taken apart with an untensioning plane.

‘Reason trumps mere order, and the reason behind the severity of all this lot-‘ gesturing at the computers- ‘is because the natural-born crews of the old republic were a shambling mess, and the clones were organised and efficient.
‘Imperial military discipline is basically an attempt to force the rank and file into the mould set by Line One, Mod One. The politicised high command thought it was essential. I don’t. Never have. Ordinary men and women can rise to the challenge. It takes brutality and iron will to beat them into shape, to null their minds until they can be as immobile in rest, responsive to your will rather than their own at need, as the many Fetts. But-‘

‘Exactly!’ the exec interrupted. ‘An iron will, utter total dedication, beyond self. Overcoming the merely human to become the fist of the Empire.’

‘Personally, I’ve always wondered which lucky sod got the job of Imperial tickle stick…’Lennart replied. ‘I come from what even I have to admit was a permanent rolling cockup of a fleet, we were overjoyed to have competent clone crews to work with, and beating the new men into the same pattern- for some individuals, that actually is what you have to do.

'Given the manoeuvring room, I far prefer to begin with and build on what shreds of willingness to serve they arrive with. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in spending such a long time in command of the same ship, and having a chance to mould them to my own standards. You’re the sixth being to serve as my exec during that time.’

‘What happened to the other five?’ Mirhak-Ghulej asked.

‘One moved on to command his own destroyer, one to command system defence network Owainne. One died in action. One to a training command, one transferred to sector group staff and planning. I haven’t transferred anyone to the psych ward. Yet.’

‘Captain, are you implying that you consider me mentally unstable?’ Mirhak-ghulej stood up.

Lennart took a deep breath. He was going to have to do this the hard way. ‘No. Exactly the opposite, in fact; you’re too stable. Why are these people different from you? Why is their view of their duty so very unlike yours?’

‘I don’t know.’ Mirhak-Ghulej said, then rallied. ‘In any case, it’s their problem, not mine. I am senior, they have to conform to me. Order, conformity. Correct Thought. Pillars of the Empire.’

‘There is a major flaw in your case.’ Lennart pointed out. ‘You’re my exec. You have to conform to me.’

‘Not when you are out of step with the greater good. The empire is greater than any individual within it.’ He took a short, jerky step towards Lennart.

‘Don’t touch me. First, I would have to beat you unconscious with your own liver, then I would have to have you committed to psychiatric care- where you would be asked the same questions over and over, every day, until you really did go mad…It wouldn’t solve your problems but it might solve mine.’

Neither of them had recent close combat experience, but Lennart was prepared to bet that he could fight a lot dirtier than Mirhak-Ghulej.

'This is an order, Lieutenant-Commander. Wipe all this.’ Sudden flare of anger in the exec’s eyes, especially as he had been referred to by permanent rather than acting rank.

‘Pick one hundred crewmen at random. Select one incident in the career of each of them, and write it up in full detail- including what they thought they were doing at the time.’

Lennart’s comlink beeped. Brenn.

‘Captain, hyper-trace incoming. Mass shadow, probable light destroyer, awaiting ID.’

‘On my way.’ Lennart left the exec to his new task, and headed for the bridge. Thinking, in the turbolift; this is bizarre. This is microcosm. I’m having the same problems with my own immediate junior as Adannan is with me. Both of us with fundamentally different interpretations of what it means to serve the Empire. I have to fight my viewpoint as if it was the only possible answer, and hope that the truth shakes itself out somewhere further down the line.

I almost hope this is a rebel; it’ll be a relief to get back to simple, uncomplicated ship to ship combat.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 09:43am, edited 1 time in total.

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