Ru Murleen found her CO in Home One’s Officers cafeteria, nursing a fizzy drink. Sliding into a seat behind him she said, “I thought you didn’t drink.”
“I don’t. Alcohol makes me sick not drunk. Besides I can be perfectly conemplative on my own.”
“You’re not getting pre-battle jitters on us Captain?” she grinned. Aidan managed a grin of his own.
“It’s not that. It’s just…I remember how many good pilots we lost to the last Death Star. How many we’ve lost since. And I get to thinking, how many are we going to lose this time? Will it be Commander Simms? You? Me?”
He shifted in his chair so that he could look her in the eyes.
“I’ve watched dozens of pilots die around me. I keep having this thought in the back of my head that, maybe it’ll be my turn soon. I mean besides dying I could end up crippled for life. Ours is not a profession that lends itself to health or long life. Sometimes I step back from all this and ask myself, what am I doing here? I begin to question my dedication to the Alliance. You know that my home world is on the edge of known space. Neither the Old Republic nor the Empire have ever been particularly interested in Avalon. I got here because I stowed away on one of the few ships that came to our planet. I was so bright eyed and eager when I began my training as a pilot. I mean I had seen the holos that the Alliance had put out about the Empire. But even back then I had some doubts, especially after the Tatooine mission.”
Ru frowned, remembering that mission that Blue Squadron had undertaken just prior to the Battle of Yavin. They’d responded to a distress call from Anchorhead base on Tatooine, which was being assaulted by a Star Destroyer. Blue Squadron had been forced to engage the Destroyer and it had cost them six good pilots, three more of which died at Yavin.
“What are you saying?” she asked, concern laced within her voice as she leaned closer to him.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve never been more committed than I am now. When we flew at Yavin and I saw the Death Star up close, saw the lengths the Empire was willing to go to keep control, something inside me just gave way. I believe now more than ever before that any so-called Empire that could even conceive of a weapon like the Death Star doesn’t deserve to be in charge of the galaxy. The mere fact that they would rebuild the Death Star is just one more nail in their collective coffin”
Ru smiled, a smile that lit up her whole face.
“I’m glad you think that.”
“Yeah. I mean, who knows, if we don’t destroy this Death Star it might show up at Avalon one day.”
“And that’s why we are fighting the Empire now.”
Ru grinned slyly at Aidan. “Where you looking for someone to talk to or were you just hoping that I would come by?”
“Not really. But I do seem to be able to talk to you easier than anyone, uh, else, umm.” Just then a new voice broke into their conversation. Aidan wasn’t entirely disappointed; Ru’s face had been getting a little too close for comfort.
“Are we interrupting something?” said Lieutenant Wes Janson who, along with Wedge Antilles, Hobbie Klivian, and Tycho Celchu, had just strolled into the tapcaf. Aidan frowned at Janson.
“Go away Janson, it’s too early in the evening to have to deal with you. And that goes for the rest of you as well,” he said nodding at his former Rogue Squadron comrades.
“I hope that doesn’t include me as well,” came a new voice from the direction of the door. The others turned around and saw Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Chewbacca walking towards them.
“Of course not Luke,” said Aidan, “I was referring to Janson and his merry band of reprobates.”
Tycho grimaced. “Any band or squadron under Wes’ leadership would suffer chronic mutiny.”
Janson mimed having been shot in the heart. Aidan and the others just shook their heads.
After drinks were ordered and the group of Rebel heroes was seated around a table the conversations resumed.
“Our mission is leaving soon,” explained Han, “We just thought we’d come into the mess and grab a bite to eat before we go. As you can see, Chewie here’ll probably die of hunger ‘cause all we’ve got to eat will be mission rations and local fare.”
Chewbacca let out a roar of what sounded like indignation as everyone else chuckled.
“Wedge did I hear right that that they won’t be having the Rogues flying with the fleet?” asked Aidan.
“In a sense they will be. We’ve just been split up into different squadrons. Hobbie, Janson, myself and others are still in Rogue Squadron although its been renamed in honor of Red Squadron for this attack. I’m Red Leader, Hobbie is Red Four, and Janson is Red Five.”
“I’ll be flying an A-Wing in Green Squadron as Green Three,” said Tycho.
“Figures. X-Wings are just too slow for us speed demons eh Celchu?” said Ru with a knowing grin that Tycho returned along with guffaws from Janson.
“Hey, you all just be careful out there okay?” said Han, “We want to see you down on Endor to celebrate.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Aidan as he lifted up his glass.
“And too victory over the Death Star and the Empire,” chimed in Leia.
They raised their glasses and brought them together and then drank deeply, savoring the taste of impending victory.
Only a couple of hours later, the shuttle Tydirium departed Home One carrying the Heroes of Yavin and the commandoes. If all went according to plan, when the Rebel fleet came out of hyperspace a couple of days from now, they would find a defenseless Death Star. An atmosphere of tension and anticipation fell over the fleet, from the Alliance leadership right down to the noncom techs.
Strolling into Knight Squadron’s quarters, Duo found Kellis seated before a holorecorder.
“Hopefully this letter will never have to be sent to you and the girls, but if it is… well I’ve already said what I wanted to say. Take care and keep safe. I love you…dad.”
“Recording a message to home?” asked Duo.
“Yes I am. Whether anyone will be able to get onto Coruscant, let alone to the desk of my father has yet to be seen,” replied Kellis turning away from the recorder.
“I thought you and your father were uh, divided about the war?” asked Duo, raking an awkward hand through his long hair.
“We are. But you don’t think I’m so bitter that I would deny my family a last message? I have eight sisters living back home as well you know.”
“So how come you and your father fell apart? Is he a patriot or something?”
“No, he knows that Palpatine is a dictator, he just doesn’t know the full story. We lived on Coruscant and not a lot of the truth of what the Empire does filters down to Imperial Center. I did something that father never did. I dug deeper and found out what really goes on in the galaxy. When I showed what I found to my father he sympathized with my feelings but he told me that joining up with the Rebel Alliance wasn’t the solution. He said that violence doesn’t solve anything!”
Duo snorted loudly at that.
“I’d be dead and buried if that’s the excuse I tried to use on Stormtroopers back on Ord Mantell.”
“Right. Father’s a fool but a naïve fool. I don’t think that he wants to acknowledge what the Empire’s really done because that would mean that the family company has helped the Empire by supplying it. But even though we parted on bad terms doesn’t mean I’ve severed all ties with my family.”
“Well I wouldn’t know anything about family ties, never had a real family that I can remember, ‘cept you guys,” said Duo grinning, “So you make sure that you don’t get killed out there wingman ‘cause I want you to one day introduce me to those hot sisters of yours. And that cousin who lives on Corellia! What was her name? Iella?”
“Sure I’d introduce you to Iella. Then I’d let Diric and Corran punch your lights out.”
“Her husband and her CorSec partner respectively.”
“Married? Dammit, what about your sisters?”
Kellis chucked a stylus at Duo.
“I wouldn’t let you near them with a ten meter nerf prod.”
The hour had at last arrived. The general call to action stations had gone out and the starfighter pilots of the Home One flooded into the locker rooms to put on their pilot suits. Imperial pilots often made fun of the usually eye hurting shades of colors the rebels dressed in. On the other hand TIEs possessed no ejection capability usually and when a Rebel pilot ejects, he or she wishes to be seen before they can freeze to death.
Sitting on a bench in the locker room, reclined in an attitude akin to prayer, Aidan tried to absorb as much calm as he could before the coming battle. He felt a hand rest on his shoulder and looked up into the face of his wingman Ru Murleen.
“Time to go,” she said. He nodded and picked up the last items he needed to put on, his life support control box and his helmet. He regarded the helmet briefly. He had worn it since before Yavin and had always like its design, plain white with two plain, green Rebel crests on the forehead. Perhaps after this battle he would change the design a bit.
Aidan expertly slipped the control box on and connected it to his suit. By then he and Ru had joined the throng of pilots, techs and soldiers headed for the hangar bays. As they entered the hangar bay, Aidan heard and felt the familiar environment around him, almost as familiar as home. Hangars on big ships tended to be cold places, as the magcon fields that kept precious atmosphere inside didn’t do a very good job of keeping in heat. This particular hangar was home to five squadrons of fighters, 2 X-Wing, 1 Y-Wing, 1 A-Wing, and 1 B-Wing squadron respectively. Jogging over to his fighter he spotted Wedge and Janson climbing aboard their X-Wings.
“Hey Wedge! Last one to kill a bad guy buys the drinks when we get back!” he shouted.
“Sounds good to me! You better make sure you do come back then!”
“Same to you!”
It was a rejoinder they’d all shared countless times before battle, a way of emotionally reassuring their comrades.
Aidan and Ru split up as they reached their own fighters. One of the things Aidan had learned during his time as a pilot, first in Blue Squadron, the Rogue, was that should always try give your fighter a once over. After walking around the X-Wing, he briefly ran his hand along one of the stripes on the side of the fuselage. His X-Wing was still painted in the style he had chose when Knight Squadron had become official, dark green with black stripes and trim. The green color had been a nod to the fact that as a training squadron, the Knights had been designated Green Squadron.
Satisfied with his walk around he jumped up the ladder that was mounted to the left side of the cockpit, stopping on the edge to regard his green, silver and white astromech R2-X2.
“You ready for this Ecks? This is gonna be a rough one.” The astromech tootled back a triumphant sounding message.
“Good,” said Aidan slipping down into the cockpit.
A few fighters over Ru and Commander Simms saluted each other as they climbed into their X-Wings. Halin Doran and Triton Doran shook hands as was their custom before they boarded their fighters.
“Hey Grimbo! How about you touch up the paint on my X-Wing when I get back?” Duo yelled to the Knights’ head mechanic Arn Grimbo, “It’s starting to look kinda shabby!” Duo’s X-Wing’s all black paint job was an unusual point of pride for the pilot.
“If I had my way, those fighters would never leave the blasted hangar after all the wear and tear you put them through!” Grimbo shouted back. He sounded angry but his face was split into a wide grin.
Kellis Wessiri paused for a moment in his power up checklist to look at the small flimsiplast photograph of his family. After staring at for several seconds he quietly stuck to the top right edge of his control console as he had always done.
In his cockpit, Chang sat with his head bowed in an attitude of prayer. A tech that was finishing preparations on Chang’s X-Wing reached over and tapped him lightly on the shoulder.
“Sir, are you alright?”
“It is the custom of my people to always offer a prayer before entering battle,” he said with his eyes still closed. The tech nodded respectively.
“May the Force be with you Lieutenant,” said the tech as he slid back down the ladder. Chang smirked.
“We shall see.”
After Aidan had put his helmet on, he began his X-Wing’s power up procedure. All around other pilots were doing the same and Aidan had grown so accustomed to the different sounds that each of the fighters made that he could tell them apart without looking. As his cockpit canopy closed around him he could see the techs jogging back through the doors of the hangar, not wanting to be present when the fighters started up their main engines. Aidan flicked on his repulsorlifts and eased back on the stick gently, raising his fighter a meter off the deck. He then punched the button that would retract his landing struts. When given the go ahead, he flicked the switches which ignited his craft’s powerful Incom 4L4 fusial thrust engines. The powerful drives sent a familiar vibration through Aidan’s pilot couch. He punched a button on his comm. console and announced, “Knight Leader has four good starts and is ready to fly.” Aidan had divided the comm. channel buttons on his board for five different channels. The first was for One Flight, the second was the squadron channel, the third was Red Group’s channel, the fourth was the starfighter fleet channel, and the fifth was the fleet channel.
One by one, the pilots checked in until the starfighter controller announced that all fighters were ready for launch. The Millennium Falcon, its sublight drives glowing blue-white, lead the formation of fighters out of the hangar bay.
“All right Knights, let’s show ‘em how to do this,” said Aidan as he positioned his fighter for launch. With the X-Wing pointing towards space, Aidan ratcheted the throttle up to 1/4, cut out his repulsorlifts and shot out into space.
Starfighters boiled up and out from the sides of the cruisers like a cloud of insects, flying in long, sinuous lines of threes and fours until they merged above the center of the fleet, forming into larger, thicker line divided by group. With the Millennium Falcon in the lead, the long line of starfighters, 360 strong, spiraled to the rear of the fleet and then began to fly through it, passing the various MonCal cruisers, frigates and corvettes in an impressive display of piloting. The Knights were easily one of the more recognizable squadrons due to their multi-colored X-Wings. As they flew ahead of the fleet, the massive fighter group reformed into a larger arrowhead-shaped formation with each fighter wing forming its own arrowhead with all the wings forming the large arrow.
Aboard the Falcon General Lando Calrissian opened a channel to Admiral Ackbar on Home One.
“Admiral, we’re in position. All fighters accounted for.”
One Home One’s bridge, Ackbar adjust his command chair so that he could look out the large bridge viewport.
“Proceed with the countdown. All groups assume attack coordinates.”
On the Falcon, Lando’s copilot, the Sullustan Nien Nunb, chattered a question to him in his native language.
“Don’t worry,” Lando responded, “My friend’s down there. He’ll have that shield down on time.” Turning back to the controls Lando couldn’t help but mutter, “Or this’ll be the shortest offensive of all time.”
“All craft, prepare to jump into hyperspace on my mark,” came the Admiral’s voice over the comm.
“All right. Standby,” replied Lando, “starfighters, hyper jump in three, two one…jump!” said Lando as he pulled back on the Falcon’s hyperdrive motivator actuator. The stars elongated into thousands of streaks of light and then snapped into a swirling tunnel. From an outside observer’s point of view, the starfighter’s engines flashed and then they leapt forward with a burst of acceleration, disappearing into the black of space. A few seconds later, the big ships activated their own hyperdrives and vanished into the swirling void as well.