The Tatooine Redemption
It had been many months since Traven had seen the twin suns of Tatooine. Many months with even more events. As he had left the planet, he had been an Imperial hero. Conquering the world for the Empire, keeping the citizens under control, recruiting new pilots and soldiers. Shortly after that mission Admiral Dodonna had given him the rank of Group Captain, telling him that he saw a leader in him.
Today Dodonna saw him not as a traitor like the other high-ranking officers did, but as untrustworthy. Not longer belonging to the inner circle, Traven still had his rank, but the Admiral had acted from necessity with allowing him to keep it. Dodonna knew that Traven would be more useful with one, when being send to train the pilots in their newest garrison.
At least Traven was lucky that in the meantime they used their old garrison base again, that had been built directly in Mos Eisley in the early years of the Empire, as well a one of the prefabricated ones, now located in the outskirts, constractedt after their last invasion. Before that the Imperial soldiers had been stationed in the former palace of the deceased crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Maybe one of the few good deeds the rebels had done with getting rid of that scum. But still after the many years since the Hutt’s death the location had smelt of the squalidness of its former residents. No place Traven wanted to stay for longer than needed.
Neither was the settlement that appeared now on the screens of the shuttle. Traven refused to call Mos Eisley a town, despite its estimated population of around 60,000. But nevertheless this motley combination of buildings made of duracrete and stone was now his new <i>home</i>. Once he had sworn an oath to serve wherever the Empire needed him. Traven didn’t plan to break it now. It was more the opposite of that. He planned to show Dodonna and all others that he was the perfect Imperial officer. He wanted his squadron back. He wanted to prove Bal’ak’s betrayal.
“Here we are, Sir.” The shuttle pilot brought him back to the here and now, as they touched down on the landing platform of the old base. Traven shouldered his bags as he deboarded. The merciless heat hit him immediately as he left the climate controlled inner of the ship. Squinting Traven tried to adjust his eyes to the glimmering brightness as he walked over the airfield.
The briefing with General Liran Tull, the commanding officer in charge for the Tatooine system, was short. Traven hadn’t expected a warm welcome. Of course the General was well informed about the incident on Bakura. While the first minutes of their meeting he made clear that he wouldn’t tolerate such behaviour under his command. Standing at attention Traven just nodded as answer to the directives given by the General.
As Traven drove with a Imperial patrol landspeeder to the new garrison in the outskirts, where the TIE squadron were stationed, he noticed the citizens were busy regardless of the burning suns, which started to redden Traven’s face already. The shops were arranged like bazaars. Traven was surprised about the diversity of the merchandise. Maybe he had to rethink his opinion about the settlement. And hopefully one of them would sell some sunscreen.
The eight levels of the garrison towered over the lower buildings of Mos Eisley either like a threat or a dark guardian, depending on the point of view. As the turbolift reached Level 6, where all quarters and command rooms were located, Traven walked along the grey hallway, almost feeling at home already. Easily he found the ready room where he should meet his new executive officer. But he stopped in the door as he heard different voices inside the room, who hadn’t noticed his entry.
“I heard that he had an affair with the mistress of Dodonna. That’s why he’s send here.” said the first one. “No, it’s because he sold weapons to the enemy.” Another one contradicted. “Whatever. I heard from my cousin who flew with him in the past that he’s more machine than man. Never showing any emotions.” The first replied. “I wonder if…”
“You wonder…” Traven asked in a low voice. “…how to act in attendance of a commanding officer?” With a shock in their eyes both men turned around, saluting immediately.
“That’s better.” Traven glared at them. “Now tell me where I can find Lieutenant Len Talles.” One of the officers in front of him, a blond lanky man in his mid-Twenties, looked sheepishly.
“That would be me, Sir.”
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionMeanwhile, on Bastion
Jordan Lane looked up from her datapad. There had not been a knock on her door prior to the man verbally announcing his presence, though it was possible she had simply missed it due to her level of concentration. She frowned after noticing the fresh academy graduate's lack of salute. "I am Captain Lane."
Her sharp tone and harsh expression elicited a more proper stance and respectful gesture from the young man. "Pilot Officer Evon Wardell reporting for duty in Green Squadron, ma'am."
"You will address me as 'sir', Officer Wardell."
He blinked in hesitation before nodding. "Yes, sir."
"I have looked over your record, Officer Wardell. I am pleased you did well in your training. However, I will need to personally assess your skills."
"I thought my record spoke for itself."
"Numbers are one thing. Showcasing your skills in combat, even simulated combat, is another."
"You want me to fly in a sim right now?"
"I am ordering you to fly in a sim right now. Follow me."
As they made their way toward the simulation center, Wardell did not offer further comments. Jordan had been concerned that the green pilot would try to converse with her given his earlier freedom of speech, so she was relieved by his respectful, or perhaps surprised, silence.
Then a thought occurred to her. Green. Jordan inwardly mocked herself for using the term like that. She commanded Green Squadron, after all.
The deal that had allowed her to transfer to Bastion had placed her in charge of a squadron of rookie pilots. Yes, she was now Captain Jordan Lane, leader of Green Squadron, but that squad lived up to its name. It was like a joke, though she did not believe the Empire capable of such a thing. Either those in command had wished to break her, to force a reason for a demotion or transfer, or they did not want her in their more elite squadrons. She had been the executive officer of the Paladins, after all, and they must have wished to avoid downplaying the Paladin name. They had given her a higher rank, and her own squadron, but it just had to be Green.
She had decided to step up to the challenge she had been given and defy the name of her squadron. Ice cold, harsh to the point of nearly breaking her pilots, Jordan nevertheless drove them toward becoming the best pilots they could be. Well, one pilot had broken under the strain, but she did not dwell on that fact.
A few minutes later they arrived at the sims. Green Squadron's XO, Lieutenant Davis Rardin, had already begun prepping three units for their use. Jordan almost smiled, enjoying the level of responsibility her XO and wingmate carried. It was a relief to have such a strong XO in a squadron like hers.
After she introduced them, Rardin laid out the flight plan for the new recruit. Rardin would act as Wardell's wingmate in a small dogfight over a not-so-abandoned mining colony, while Jordan would observe from the side. Jordan preferred to evaluate her pilots from within the same simulation as opposed to observing on exterior monitors. It also gave her the freedom to join the battle at any time if she wished to do so.
A few minutes into the simulation, Jordan knew intervention would not be necessary. The pilot officer did live up to his record, and even Rardin appeared to be enjoying the battle. Deciding to test her XO by having him complete Wardell's evaluation, Jordan exited the simulation.
Another Green pilot stood outside her unit. He saluted, but it lacked crispness. "I would like to transfer to the Banisher as a non-pilot officer," Azek said, holding out a datapad.
Jordan was not surprised by the man's request. He had poorly handled the regimen she imposed on Green Squadron, especially for the last few days, and he would become the second pilot to ask for transfer to a non-flying position. There was a third potential dropout on the horizon, but Jordan still hoped that pilot would pull through.
Jordan spent a moment looking over the documents Azek had compiled. "I see you have already contacted the Banisher's commander concerning this. Permission to transfer granted. Clear skies, Ensign."
Azek saluted, relief flooding into his face, before he left the room.
Jordan allowed herself a small sigh as she pulled her own datapad back out to request yet another pilot to fill out Green Squadron's ranks. Wardell would have completed the Greens, yet with Azek's departure they had once again returned to eleven.
Jordan's harsh training regimen had two downsides. One manifested as pilots abandoning their mission, their training, to fly for the Empire in favor of non-pilot career paths. The other came as transfers to other, better squadrons. They were promotions for her pilots, as she did her best to bring out their full potential, but they again left gaps in Green Squadron's ranks. Two pilots had already "transferred up," as the rumors put it. Jordan was grateful her XO had not yet been granted that privilege. She did not want to have to deal with that on top of all else.
Jordan's mind drifted back to a time when she did not have to be concerned with frequent roster changes, rookie pilots, or standard TIE fighters. She was a captain now, but she did not feel like she compared to him. She was grateful she had been his XO, for that position had given her knowledge she used on an everyday basis as Green's captain. The position had also–
No. Her transfer had been for the best. That was all.
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Jordan decided to use the four minutes remaining before the simulation exercise ended to finalize her pilot request. She hoped there may yet be another graduate from Wardell's training group who was still unassigned.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe early morning light from two suns seeped through the window of the jail and spread like a blanket across the floor. Renn Haythorn stirred in his bunk and dragged himself from the depths of stunblast induced unconsciousness. He opened his eyes, squinting against the brightness. His head pounded like a Gamorrean had been using it as a trampoline.
Still, he was alive. When that imperial trooper had raised his blaster Renn hadn’t been sure how things would go. A headache he could most definitely live with.
His vision was beginning to adjust to the light. He sat up and glanced about him. His accommodation consisted of a small rectangular box roughly eight feet by six. Renn sat on the edge of a solid durasteel bunk built into one of the rooms long sides. To his right he caught a glimpse of white clouds in a bright blue sky through the small high mounted viewport. To his left was a solid, reinforced security door. Mos Eisley jail, Renn had been here before but never as an inmate. He ran his hand through his long unkempt hair. It was greasy and badly in need of a wash. He let out a mournful sigh and tilted his head back to rest against the cool metallic wall.
‘Another fine mess you’ve got yourself into Haythorn’.
It had all started with the debacle on the ghost ship. As a result of that little mis-adventure Renn had lost his ship and barely escaped with his life. With few credits and one of the galaxies most ruthless crimelords after him Renn had hitched a ride on a freighter bound for Tatooine. He had done business on the desert planet before and had thought he might find work. The barve he had hitched with was a Rodian by the name of Koolu. A mealy mouthed smuggler wannabe he was known to be weird maybe even insane. After two days on the ship with him Renn felt like he was losing his own grip on sanity. When they arrived in the Tattoo system on the third day they were instantly ambushed by an Imperial combat space patrol of TIE Fighters. Renn had been out of the loop for quite some time, away chasing ghosts and he was unaware of the Imperial presence on Tatooine. Still it shouldn’t have been a problem. If they had played it cool and done as instructed everything would have been fine. They didn’t have anything to hide. Except they did.
Unknown to Renn the Rodian was carrying a sizable haul of Glitterstim in hidden compartments throughout the ship. Koolu had spent 10 years in an imperial prison and he wasn’t going to be taken alive. He tried to detonate a proton bomb in the engine bay. Renn and the crazed alien were fighting over the detonator when the imperial troops stormed aboard and opened fire.
Renn was still mulling over his present situation and admiring the collection of graffiti on the opposite wall when the cell door hissed open. An Imperial army officer motioned him out with a blaster pistol.
“Come with us.”
Renn didn’t complain or protest or ask questions of any kind. He didn’t even look up. He waited for a four count then slowly got to his feet, stretching the aching muscles in his back as he did so. He turned and glanced at the officer for the first time, meeting the standard issue Imperial sneer with his best Sabacc face. They would be taking him to a senior officer, and he would save his complaints for him. What they had done was completely illegal. He was an Imperial citizen and former naval officer. But he had been captured on a ship full of illegal narcotics and that mean serious charges. They had him over a barrel and just how heavy the punishment would be would depend on the grade of sadistic petty bureaucrat he was taken before. Renn didn’t for an instant entertain any fantasies of them believing the truth. He was in trouble. He felt a knot of fear and anguish forming in the pit of his stomach and he fought hard to keep his face neutral. There was nothing for it but to wait and see what developed.
The officer stepped back to let him out of the cell. He was short and fat and very young. Renn wasn’t even sure whether the guy had reached puberty yet and he was wearing a Lt’s rank on his chest. Either this guy was some kind of child prodigy or the Imperial armed forces were getting desperate for recruits. A glance at the squad of army troopers waiting in the corridor and Renn knew which it was. Some of them looked like they might be wearing diapers under their armor. He smirked to himself as one of them stepped forward and fumblingly snapped a pair of stuncuffs onto his wrists.
They moved off down a corridor, the officer staying close his pistol in hand and the kindergarten commandos fore and aft. They passed through several security gates then out the main entrance into the baking desert heat. The familiar smells of Mos Eisley instantly assailed his nostrils. Once smelt never forgotten, it was a peculiar mix of starship exhaust and spicy cooking from the open air market mixed with an underlying and constant scent of rotting garbage.
The portly officer jabbed him in the ribs with his blaster and they headed off down one of the town’s main thoroughfares. The street was not nearly as busy as Renn remembered it from his last brief visit. Clearly while he had not heard about the Imperial presence plenty of others had and had taken their undoubtedly illicit business elsewhere. Many of the market stalls lining the sides of the road were closed down and vacant.
Renn’s boot caught a stone and he stumbled on the rough dusty road and nearly fell. The effects of the stun blast had not yet fully worn off and he was weak and hungry. The officer stood over him a smug satisfied grin on his face, he motioned Renn forward. With an effort the young freighter pilot straightened and carried on walking. He wasn’t going to give that sithspit the satisfaction of watching him fall.
The civilian population might have dwindled but the imperials were clearly here in force. Up ahead at a crossroads an AT-AT Walker stood motionless, towering over the intersection and Renn had seen several squads of young but mean looking imperial troops patrolling the streets. Whatever the imperials reasons for being here, they were clearly here to stay.
Renn had known where they were taking him from the start or at least he had suspected. As they rounded another corner his suspicions were confirmed. There up ahead on the outskirts of town stood a looming durasteel monolith. The prefabricated garrison base was eight storeys high and towered over the surrounding buildings. Topped by TIE Fighter launch bays, bristling with turbolasers and surrounded by a ten metre high electrified fence it was an impressive display of Imperial power and a costly one. Following the fall of the Empire prefabricated bases weren’t exactly growing on trees. It's presence was yet another indication of just how seriously the Imperials took their occupation of Tatooine.
Just then a piercing howl cut through the still air. Renn glanced up shielding his eyes with a hand just in time to see a pair of TIE fighters roar into view across the clear blue sky and disappear into one of the bases launch bays. Renn and his escort had arrived at the perimeter access point in the outer fence. They waited for the guards inside to open the gates. The knot in Renn’s stomach tightened. He had no idea of the fate that awaited him inside.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe ship was busy, as it often is, with people coming back and forth as I sat in the ready room. Admiral Aath was too busy coordinating the coming battle to give us a personal briefing, so it was done by Captain Zaafrian. Heh, this guy always makes me smile. He's one of those old war dogs who talked the talk but walked the walk. I always respected him, and I always did what he told me, and he never got int my face.
Good guy, I guess.
“Theta Team will be our main combat group. That's twenty four Interceptors and fifteen TIE Fighters, from the Nightbringer. When we initiate the trap, Theta Team will pull back. Sensors will be gone, and the main flight will pull back. Red Group, that's the Sovereign's and the Stryker's TIE compliment of fighters, will engage the fighter's forces. All forces, save for Red Group, including us will be blinded by the trap for at least fifteen minutes. When Red Group engages, Yellow Group will attack. That's two Defender squadrons from the Nightbringer, and the bombers from the Stryk—”
“But sir, won't they be blinded too?” Ensign Donnim Harinck…his name grats on my mind…spoke up in the pilot's briefing, my temporary flight XO. Green as the back of grass. He even smelt like rookie. I could smell deoderant, very strong deoderant. Like he never knew how a smell like that could grate in a cockpit for fourteen hours. Like I said…err, thought: green as the back of grass. But I hooked my smile as Zaafrian squinted.
“Excuse me, Ensign, but do you think I would even voice my support for a plan from the Admiral himself that involved the Yellow Group to be disabled by the pulse? You sit your tongue down and you ask your questions at the end of the briefing so I can finish my frakking briefing, do you understand pilot!?”
“Sir, yes sir!” Harinck's voice quivered, which made me smile openly. Anything to put that green bastard in his place. The other flight leads smiled too, and their executive officer's chuckles could be heard. Zaafrian stared for a second before he looked back to the briefing holo.
“…then after Yellow Group waits outside of the plasma vent's explosive pulse area…” Zaafrian hissed, looking at Harinck with sharp eyes before looking back at the holo. “…all battle groups will eliminate fighter opposition and escort Yellow Group's attack on the flagship. We think it's one of the new Nebula -class Star Destroyers, but S4 cannot give us a clear picture. We're planning for the worst.” Zaafrian said, flicking a switch. The holo closed, the blue color shimmering to nothing as the lights came up. The Line Captain…well, Captain really, he looked over at me and then at the rest of the pilots before he coughed.
“Any questions? Anymore from you, Harinck?” Zaafrian said, and the rest of the pilots chuckled. He shook his head yes.
“Yes, sir. This plan…why is it so un-standard?”
Un-standard? Whatever his word choice, the Captain looked neutral. To be truthful, it was an honest question, and it wasn't asked out of turned.
“We're outnumbered almost three to one in terms of manpower. What we have on our side is time and Moff Aath. This is what he and I came up with, and so far this is the only thing to force them to either disengage or fight blindly, and you can bet no one wants to waste their missiles if they can't track.”
Harinck nodded, satifisied and glad that he wasn't picked on again.
“Okay, briefing's over. Black Group leader, see me right now. Rest of you, dismissed.” The Captain said, and the other pilots left, save for Harinck, who was waiting for me near the door, leaning against the wall. I stood in front of the Captain, a little bit of laxity in my pose. Why not? I know the Captain doesn't respect rigid posture.
“Aganox, Black Group is being downsized. I'm pulling the seven other pilots and I'm leaving you with Harinck and the green rookie.” It was a slap to the face for a moment. “…don't give me that look, Aganox. There's a reason. You and the two are being re-assigned planetside. The Admiral wants a strong presence on the ground. You're to land on the planet and report to…” He looked at the orders again. “Captain Dunn, Sand-Bat Squadron.” He said, before he handed the datapad to me, a shocked look on my face.
I mean, he's reassigned, and then I'm reassigned to his planet, and now to his squadron? Serendipity or the hand of someone above me, I don't know…and I don't care. Dunn was a good officer for as long as I was with him, and if I have to be under someone, it might as well be him and not the guy I'm under right now. Laid-back, easygoing…not an Imperial at all.
“Understood, sir.” I said, and then I saluted. He saluted back, and then I left, with Harinck in tow. We had to leave soon. Good. I hate waiting.
The fleet was abuzz. Admiral…or Moff…or Moff-Admiral Aath was preparing the fleet for action, but I was glad enough to be going to the surface. Underground hangers are much more defendable and safe than a starship hanger. Looking to the instrument panel to my left, I could see the S-DAR readout. Ensign Harinck was flying a little too close to me for my comfort. Frakking kid.
“Black Two, this is Black One. Adjust heading by two degrees.” I ordered to him, my hands moving across the controls with a speed I liked to think to myself that only true aces had. To my horror, I could see the rookie begin to adjust even more to me. The more he got closer the more I began to fear if he would clip my wing and we would both die. I hate rookies.
“Black Two, adjust to other side!”
“Oh…sorry, Lieutenant!” I hear from him, his voice in my helmet as he spoke with that stupid, high pitched voice that angered me. He just sounded young.
“Black Two, if you do that again, I'll shoot you down myself.” I replied back, and I heard him stayed silent. Perfect. He needed to know not to frak with me.
“Black Group, this is Titan Actual. Proceed with descent.” I could hear the sound of the Imperial Star Destroyer II Nightbringer's Combat Control officer speaking to me.
“Titan Actual, this is Black Lead. Understood.” I replied, moving my Interceptor away from him even further. I listened to the voice of Black Three say something, but it wasn't needed or important; just random chatter to Black Two. I flick on the communicator.
“Keep all radio silence. We're on BARCAP until we land. That means radio silence!” I say, and then immediately I get three clicks. Heh, they're too scared to even reply back. Good. They follow my Interceptor's movements as the TIE dipped low, heading straight for the RV point on the planet's surface. The sooner we landed and got underground, the quicker I could meet Dunn, and the safer these two rookies could be.
Underground. Safe and sound.
Now I was out of my flight uniform and dressed in my actual uniform, showered and smelling like very faint mint, very faint. Harinck, before I left him, still smelt strong, but I think he was getting the idea that the more he smelled, the more he hated it. He and the other rookie pilot, Glenn or whatever his name was, were settling into their bunks getting their personals out. I thought it was silly they even brought anything with them beyond a poster. That's all I had besides uniforms.
Walking along the hallways, I could hear Dunn's voice around the corner, asking for a Lieutenant Len Talles or some other. Not even breaking a sweat, after I hear the Lieutenant reply, I come up to him. I didn't really see his face, I only took out the orders I was given on the datapad, and then I handed it to him, then looking at him as I spoke. “Flight Lieutenant Bellarius Aganox, reporting for duty, sir.” I said, before I hooked a small smile. It was good to see him anyway, rumors be damned.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionIt was one of the very rare moments in which people could see true surprise in Traven’s eyes, but he regained his countenance quickly again. Nevertheless the Captain allowed himself a little smile as he took the offered datapad, scrolling over the orders.
“You seem to know some short cuts, that you arrived that fast, Lieutenant.” Traven switched off the pad, handing it back to Aganox. “I am assured that you are aware of your new orders. Welcome to Tatooine.” He wasn’t sure if the pilot was here out of his own free will or if he was demoted because of disciplinary reasons. Whatever the causes, which he would learn soon enough, were, Traven was glad to have a competent executive officer by his side.
“I was about to ask Mr. Talles to show me my new squadron. You arrived at the right time, Mr. Aganox. Join me please.” Traven turned around, facing the younger officer again, who had been waiting quietly, glad that he had been out of Dunn’s focus. For a moment at least. Now as the attention returned to him, Talles felt nervous again, but managed to look calm as the two other men looked at him. After his unfortunate first encounter with the Captain, he wanted to give a better impression.
“The men are at the mess hall, Sir.” Talles explained, standing at parade rest. “Then lead the way, Lieutenant.” Traven ordered almost patiently. Of course he had been in prefabricated garrisons more than enough to know their floor plans by rote. But Admiral Tull had appointed the young soldier as Traven’s adjutant, so he planned to teach Talles to be a good one.
Like he would create an excellent squadron. Traven didn’t plan to give in into his defeat. Even on the backsand world of Tatooine with a squadron named “Sandbat”. He already hated the name. It was the most un-Imperial name he had heard during his career. It sounded of moisture farmers and province. Also the information that the pilots lingered in the mess hall, annoyed him. It wasn’t even lunch time, too early for off duty. They should be training, learning more about their ships or being at the gym at least.
“There will be a lot of work to do for us, Mr. Aganox.” Traven suppressed a sigh as they entered the mess hall, where the young pilots sprawled around. Some were preoccupied in a game of Sabacc, while the others gathered around the table of a computer assisted pool game. Aganox followed his look, appraising the farm boys. “I’m afraid, you’re right, Sir. Since the Academy that I never saw so many rookies at the same place.” He frowned slightly. “Just nine pilots, Sir?”
“Captain on deck!” Lieutenant Talles shouted all of a sudden, causing the pilots jumping up. <i>At least they are trying to stand at attention.</i> Traven thought as he watched the bunch. But Aganox was right. That was no complete squadron, not even with the two of them.
“I am Group Captain Traven Dunn, your new commanding officer.” His hands on his back Traven inspected the pilots. He felt old as he saw that most of them were still teenagers. <i>Have I ever been that young?</i> the Captain thought for a moment, just to answer it immediately. <i>Yes, I have been. On Carida. These kids wouldn’t survive a day there. But we will change that.</i>
“Lieutenant Aganox..” Traven introduced his second-in-command. “…is my executive officer. His first official act will be that he will inspect your quarters and uniforms at 1100. “ Very aware that it was in half an hour already, he wanted the pilots to sweat. Soon their sloppiness would be changed into discipline. Aganox and he would drum it into them. Like their instructors before them.
“But I see that we are one pilot short.” With a questioning look Captain Dunn turned to Lieutenant Talles. The young men squared his shoulders before he answered. “Yes, Sir, Cadet Carrmin has been diagnosed with Crazed Bantha Fever. According to the medic he’ll be unavailable for at least three weeks.”
Traven changed a look with Aganox. <i>Crazed Bantha Fever</i>. This planet sounded more and more <i>friendly</i>. “It’s not contagious, Sir.” Talles added. Traven glared at him. “Very comforting, Lieutenant. Nevertheless we do not have time to wait that long. Where can I get another pilot?”
Quickly Talles pulled out his own datapad. “Just before you arrived, we received the list of the new recruits. Maybe some of them fit the required profile?” With a slight smirk Traven took the pad, starting to read. One file caught his attention.
“What do you think of this one, Lieutenant?” He asked, allowing Aganox to take a look at the opened dossier. “Not really trustworthy, but at least he seems to have experience. Worth a look, Sir.” Aganox agreed.
“I want to see this Renn Haythorn in my ready room at 1200.” Traven pointed at the datapad, but looked at Talles. “But get him a haircut before.”
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe day before
Garrison outside of Ravelin
Jordan stepped out of the simulator. Eleven other pilots quickly followed suit. She made brief eye contact with each member of Green Squadron before speaking. "Good work, pilots. I am quite pleased with this simulation run. However," Jordan added, glancing at the four pilots of Flight Three, "Flight Three's teamwork is still lacking. The four of you have until 1800 to get food, freshen up, or whatever you wish to do before you return to these simulators for more practice with me."
Flight Three saluted. None of them wanted the extra work, but they also knew their captain would be working with them. Jordan never assigned work she was not willing to do herself. After she saluted in return, they left the room as a group. At least that showed they were capable of unified movement.
Jordan's eyes lingered on the newest member of the squadron, Pilot Officer Sera Malast, before she disappeared from view. That pilot, that woman, also from the freshest group of pilot trainees, had entered Green Squadron to replace Azek. Malast had not been Jordan's top choice, but she had never received her top choice of pilot when searching for replacements for her squadron. They were the Greens, so it was not a surprise.
"Will you need me to attend the supplementary training, Captain?" Rardin asked.
Jordan shook her head. "The rest of you are finished for the day. Meet in Briefing Room Gamma at 0800 tomorrow. We are on rotation for patrol duty, so you will all have the opportunity to showcase your skills in the real world."
Patrol duty was not the most exciting task to perform in a TIE fighter, but with the Greens generally relegated to simulations, her pilots actually cheered at the news.
She smiled ever so faintly. "Dismissed."
Rardin led the other six pilots out of the simulator room, chatting them up along the way. In this squadron, Jordan was the harsh, demanding, yet fair leader, and Rardin was the more easygoing, relaxed second-in-command who would lighten up situations without easing up on the importance of simulations or the improvement of their skills. It worked, in its own way.
Still seated on the outside of her simulator, Jordan's datapad buzzed. She walked over it and opened the message that had arrived. a message that called her to Rear Admiral Verde's office. The reason was not given, but she was told to arrive as soon as possible.
Jordan quickly traversed the halls and reached the door to his office in what felt like record time. She took a moment to compose herself and catch her breath before knocking.
Jordan stepped inside and quickly snapped to attention. "Captain Lane reporting, sir."
"At ease, Captain Lane. I'm glad you arrived quickly. I have heard of your work with Green Squadron, and I commend you for the way you have transformed that group of pilots."
A compliment? Jordan was not saluting, but she had retained her rigid posture, and it well hid her shock. "Thank you, sir."
"They will not be called 'Green Squadron' any longer. Congratulations on commanding Onyx Squadron, Captain Lane."
Jordan showed surprise this time, blinking at his words. "The Greens are being renamed, sir?"
"Yes, Captain. Do you have a problem with that?"
"No, sir! It is an honor," she replied quickly.
A slight smile touched the corners of the admiral's mouth at the captain's reaction. He had doubted the woman's talents when she had arrived, despite her record, but her actions and her work ethic had confirmed her abilities. "More than the name comes with it, however. We will soon commence inspections of the more remote garrisons across the Empire's controlled systems, and one of our ships lacks a complement of TIE fighters. Onyx Squadron is hereby assigned to the Banisher, effective immediately. Based on your performance, and the performance of three of your pilots, you and the rest of Flight One will receive TIE Interceptor craft. The rest will be assigned standard TIE fighters."
An Interceptor! Jordan's eyes brightened. "Thank you, sir!" she said, sincerity evident in her voice.
"You've earned it, Captain. Your squadron's fighters are already on board the Banisher, a Gladiator-class Star Destroyer that recently arrived from Lianna. Report to Bay Seven by 0700 tomorrow to board a shuttle that will take you to the ship."
"Excuse me, sir, but what of the patrol duty that my squadron was to perform?"
"It has already been reassigned, Captain. You are dismissed."
Jordan saluted again before departing the admiral's office. She swiftly contacted her pilots, ordering all of them to meet her in their usual briefing room at 1800. She expected grumbling from those who had not been assigned extra training duty, but she would forgive that in light of the news she would bring.
The next day
Hangar on the Banisher
Jordan was proud of Onyx Squadron. As expected, all of them had been rather excited about their new assignment when she had briefed them the night before. None had slept much, and even though all had taken the time to pack, the entire squadron had arrived in Bay Seven by 0630. Their shuttle had brought them to the Banisher ahead of schedule, and each pilot now stood at attention next to his or her newly assigned fighter as the ship's commander, Captain Jakob Vars, spent a few minutes inspecting them. Jordan had been surprised that Captain Vars had come down in person, and she was even more surprised when he greeted her with a handshake after concluding his inspection. "I have heard good things about Onyx Squadron, Captain. I expect to see your abilities for myself on this inspection tour."
"Yes, sir!" Jordan declared crisply, the pilots behind her saluting. She might also be a captain, but she led only eleven pilots, while Captain Vars commanded a Star Destroyer. She was quite happy to be in her current position, however. A small voice in the back of her mind tried to remind her of something, but she ignored it.
Captain Vars nodded to them. "At ease, pilots. This ship is operating at half capacity, so you will find many areas empty, or at least less crowded, than you would on a fully staffed Star Destroyer. Bear in mind that we may pick up troops along our route, so these conditions may not persist beyond our initial flight. Our first stop is Tatooine, and we will arrive there in ten days. In that time, I and my bridge crew would appreciate a demonstration of your skills in a simulated battle."
Jordan nodded. "We would be pleased to provide that to you, sir."
"Good. I look forward to it." He saluted, received salutes in return, and headed back to the bridge.
Jordan turned to face her squadron. "I appreciate all the hard work you have done to earn us a new squadron title and this assignment. You have presented yourselves well. Please use the rest of today as you see fit. We will meet in the simulators at 0800 tomorrow morning."
A flurry of responses greeted her statement. "Thanks, Captain!" "We're really Onyx now!" "Hey, who's up for a game of sabacc?" "I've never been on a Star Destroyer before. Where do we sleep?"
Jordan tried to hide a chuckle, but Rardin actually laughed out loud. "Come on, Onyx. I'll show you where to stow your gear," he said. Jordan nodded to him, and they all fell in line behind Rardin, who had served on this type of Star Destroyer before.
A few hours later, Jordan wandered back into the hangar bay. The rest of Onyx Squadron was either exploring the ship or finding some way to relax. She allowed herself a small smile. They really had done well. Her attention was then stolen by her sleek TIE Interceptor. It was not a new craft, but it had been restored to near-perfect condition by the technicians on Lianna. She began running her fingers along the edge of a solar panel, her heart leaping at the thought of flying it soon.
"I'd heard a Captain Lane was commanding our new squad of TIE pilots. I couldn't help but hope it might be you, Ice."
Jordan had not heard that voice since she left for her first assignment after graduating from Carida. She spun around and found herself not two meters away from Byron Duval, her partner as a cadet and her best friend. "Slick!" she exclaimed, unconsciously using his cadet nickname as her usual stiff expression softened at the sight of him. "Wait, I should call you Commander Duval, correct?" Jordan added after noticing his rank insignia, a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth.
"Yes, technically, but I'll beat you up if you do that all the time," Byron replied, grinning. He then caught her in a hug.
Jordan stiffened before reminding herself that this was Byron. She returned the hug before stepping away from him. "You look good without the Carida-style haircut."
"Captain Vars is a bit more lax about these things. You should let your hair grow out, too."
Jordan shook her head. "You well know why I keep it short." She decided to change the subject. "So what the hell are you doing here? I thought we were the only squadron on board this ship."
"I'm serving here as one of the bridge officers."
"Wait, you're not a pilot?" Jordan did not realize she had relaxed her manner of speaking.
"No." Byron patted his left leg. "I crashed on Ord Mantell during the Thrawn campaign. Obviously, I survived, but it took a long time for them to find me. By then it was too late for anything to fix my leg, so I had to quit pilot duty. There was a ship that needed a bridge officer who specialized in starfighter warfare, though, so I transferred. I've been doing this ever since."
She reached for his hand and squeezed it. "Byron, I'm so sorry. You were such a good pilot, too." A slight pang hit her as she realized she had never felt comfortable enough to make such a gesture toward a certain other man despite her feelings.
Byron responded in kind before letting go, the slight pressure bringing Jordan's mind back to the present. "It's okay. I mean, I miss it, but I've started to like directing tactics from the bridge, too." He gave her a lopsided grin, sitting down on the floor of the hangar and patting the spot next to him. "So, Captain Ice, they finally gave you a squadron, huh?"
She accepted his offer and sat down. "Yeah. We used to be called Green Squadron, but Rear Admiral Verde changed our name to Onyx before assigning us to the Banisher."
He blinked. "You commanded the Greens? Wait, the pilots of Onyx were the Greens?"
"You've heard of them?"
"Yeah. They were the laughingstock of Bastion's fleet."
"Hey, you obviously worked a pretty big change in the squadron to get a new name and a non-patrol assignment! Be proud of yourself." Byron smiled. "I'm certainly glad to see you here."
She gave him a genuine smile in response. "Thanks, Byron. It's good to see you too."
They spent the next hour sharing tales of what they had been doing since Carida, Jordan relaxing more than she had in some time. Byron was particularly intrigued by her participation in the battle on Termina. Eventually their reminiscing was interrupted by Rardin's return to the hangar. "There you are, Captain." A small line creased the lieutenant's forehead. "Oh, I don't believe I've met your friend."
Jordan stood, then glanced back at Byron with a faint smile. "Commander Duval, this is Lieutenant Rardin, my XO."
Byron got up and shook Rardin's hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise." Rardin glanced back and forth between the other two officers. "Do you two know each other from somewhere?"
"We trained on Carida together," Jordan said, making a mental note of Rardin's less formal behavior. "What has brought you back to the hangar?"
"We were going to check out the mess and wondered if you would join us."
Jordan suddenly realized how hungry she was. "That sounds like a good idea. Will you join us, Commander?"
"Certainly, Captain. That is, if the lieutenant and the rest of your squadron don't mind."
"The more the merrier," Rardin replied casually. They made small talk as they traveled through the corridors of the Banisher, arriving in the mess after a few minutes. The rest of Onyx Squadron was already there, along with a handful of other officers, and introductions were made all around.
After they had picked up food, the rather large group settled around a few tables and began swapping stories.
"Hey, Captain Lane, you served with the Black Paladins, right?" one of the Banisher's officers called out when they were about halfway through their meals.
"I did. Why do you ask?"
"They're an elite group of pilots, right?" He jabbed his fork in the air. "But I heard that their captain crashed on Bakura!"
One of the other officers reprimanded the man for being so forthright, but Jordan did not notice. Her mind had frozen. Traven… crashed?
Byron made a mental note of Jordan's reaction. "Where'd you hear about that?" he replied to cover up her silence.
"That rumor's been flying around for days," the first officer declared.
"No, it hasn't. You just heard about it this morning, anyway!" another contradicted.
"Well? Was that all you heard?" Jordan asked, having regained her voice. Her hands were clenched so hard her knuckles were turning white, however.
"Some say he went down from enemy fire, but others say that there weren't any enemy fighters around."
"Did he survive?"
The officers looked at each other before shrugging. "We don't know."
"Why do you ask?" Rardin wondered.
"If the captain you speak of is Captain Dunn, I served under him while I was stationed on the Ravisher. It is only natural to ask if he lived." Jordan glanced around the room. "Don't we all wish to live to fly another day even if we are shot down?"
She saw nods from her pilots. Since no one else had anything to add, the room eventually regained its original conversation volume. Jordan finished her meal in relative silence, though it was torture for her to force the food past the lump in her throat.
"You up for some exercise, Captain?" Byron asked her once she had finished, hoping to get a chance to ask about the Paladins.
"It may be too early for that since I just finished eating. However, I would appreciate you showing me where the gym is located on this vessel."
Byron did not miss the strain in her voice. They excused themselves from the mess and began walking down the nearby corridor.
"So, Ice, tell me about him."
"This Captain Dunn."
She stiffened. "There is nothing to tell."
"You're lying." He glanced over at her to see unshed moisture shining in her eyes. "Frak, Jordan, tell me what's going on. Please."
Jordan angrily blinked the moisture away, cursing her lapse of self-control. "I… I served as his XO in the Paladins. I have known him since before the Academy."
"Wait, you…" Byron shook his head, cutting himself off. "Okay, let's go back a bit. Why did you leave the Paladins in the first place? Did they transfer you out to head up the Greens?"
"No. I asked for the transfer."
Her friend stopped in his tracks. "You were serving in one of our best squadrons, but you left voluntarily? What the hell is wrong with you?"
"I had to!" she exclaimed.
He looked taken aback by her outburst. "Whoa, Ice… You fell for–"
"Not so loud!" Jordan hissed.
"Sorry. But… damn. I didn't think that you'd ever–"
"Of course. Neither did I."
"So why did you–"
"He was my commanding officer. He was Group Captain of the fleet. There were some who suspected there was… something… between us. I could not allow myself to get in the way of his position. I should not have allowed it to happen in the first place." Her voice fell to a whisper. "Then I would not have to deal with this strange pain."
"Jordan…" Byron reached out to touch her shoulder, but she flinched away. "No wonder you didn't want to talk about the Paladins in the hangar earlier," he murmured. He did not speak further but resumed his earlier pace, and Jordan fell in behind him after a moment's hesitation. Soon they found the gym, but Jordan was in no mood for exercise, not even sparring. The food sat heavily in her stomach, and her heart felt no better. The experience of closeness with her friend, a closeness that had never truly manifested while she served with the Paladins, only made her feel worse in her present circumstances.
"I am going to my quarters," she said after they had stared at the gym in silence for too long.
"If you need anything, you let me know."
She merely nodded.
Byron grabbed her arm, and she did not dodge him this time. "I'm serious, Ice. Don't hold it in. As long as it doesn't interfere with my duties, if you need to spar, I'll spar with you. if you need to run, I'll run with you. If you need to–"
"Thank you, Slick. Maybe later. Not now, I beg you."
He nodded and left her side. Jordan shivered, hugging herself, before heading to her quarters. She would not sleep well that night.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionI didn’t even get a moment to get to my bunk. I just had time to get a small cookie and eat it quickly for food. Maybe I could get something after the inspection, but right now, I had to hurry. But not before checking myself out in the mirror.
Just seeing how the black coat fit my body made me just want to flex, tilting my head just to see if I had left any spots on my chin with the electro-razor. Smiling in triumph at the lack of facial hair on my chin and lips I walked, hurrying a bit with my step as I left the Mess Hall. My floor-shined boots caught the light on the ceiling in the hallway as I dug my heel into each step. The other officers and workers who were walking down that hallway glanced or openly stared at me. I’m naturally intimidating, so I ate all of that attention up hungrily; my father had always told me that it was better to be intimidating than to be intimidated.
“Sir.” One of the crew men spoke to me as I walked past him. He even accompanied it with a sharp salute. Even better. Dropping my smile, I crisply saluted him back, but didn’t say anything else as I walked past him. I ignored everyone else as I walked, looking at my datapad in my other hand. I was looking for the nearest lift, touching my hair for a moment before I sighed. Found it. The lift was a short little distance away, too. He saw the door open, and a cute little communication’s officer left it, giving me a quick smile and a ‘sir’. I gave her a quick nod before I entered the lift. Quickly pressing the button for Barracks B, I relaxed and waited for the lift to reach its destination. Suddenly, it slowed down.
Dammit. Someone always has to try to get on the damned lift when I need to go somewhere.
As the doors opened, I watched as another pilot entered from a different floor. I could tell he was a pilot just by the way he stood, by that little edge in his eyes as he looked at me and gave me a polite ‘sir’.
But he looked familiar…He was at the mess hall. He was one of our pilots.
“What’s your name, Ensign?”
“Harrigan, sir. Povar Harrigan.”
One of the pilots assigned to the squadron. Serendipitous. Handsome guy, too.
Icing on the cake for me.
“Oh, sorry, sir. I didn’t recognize immediately.” The pilot said, immediately snapping to attention.
I waved him down. “No, no. None of that until we get to the barracks. Understood? I don’t need to see you act like a soldier when we’re one-on-one.” I said, trying to calm him down. He was a rookie, all of them were basically, compared to Dunn. Frell, compared to me even. It was still a little funny to see the pilot deflate a little when I said that, a grateful smile on his face.
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
The lift came to a stop, and I exited the lift with Harrigan in tow. For his part, he was quiet, but he was a little lax in his step. Probably because I told him to calm down earlier, but he didn’t need to do that in the bulkheads.
“Walk a little straighter.”
“Yes, sir.” I hear, and watching him straighten his back and look forward was a little funny too.
“This way, when people see you walking around, they’re going to think you’re busy.” I make a small little, not funny joke. He smiled back, but he didn’t laugh.
I already like this guy.
“Almost to Barracks B, sir.” He said, as we walked through Barracks A, passing personnel who worked on the electronics-side of the base, and other non-essential base soldiers. I nod at him.
After a small walk, we arrived. I turn my head to him and quickly say “Get outside your door.” He moved quickly as I shouted. “Sandbat Squadron, prepare for inspection!” The other pilots practically ran out of their rooms, most likely still cleaning them as I stood there, at the position of attention with my datapad in my hand. They fixed their positions outside of their doors, horrible drill, but they’re rookies; I was there, once.
“Have you all had room inspections before?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” They all shouted in unison. I waited for about five seconds after they said that, pretending to look through my datapad, as I waited for someone to say no, they haven’t. I don’t want to go through the procedure if I have to.
No one. Good! I looked up and nodded. “Good. Now…Len Talles and Grosvenor
Lenric, your room is first…”
Two pilots had illicit…dirty holos hidden underneath their cot, but otherwise, they had clean rooms that met the standards of the drill code for cleanliness. I stood in front of the two pilots and held their holos in my hands and made eye contact with each of them, making sure my voice was clear. Serendipity is kind of funny; the only people I had a problem with were the last group to be inspected, and I could fix this without having them be marked down on the inspection.
“No more of this. I don't want to ever see something like this again. If I even suspect a rumor about you two with this stuff, I’ll make sure the Captain hears about it…and trust me, you would much rather deal with me than him. Understood?” I said in a clear, understanding tone as they stood at the position of attention at their bunks. They quickly nodded. Looking at them, I took out the holo-chip out of the holo programs and broke them, before throwing them into the nearby plastic trashcan they kept in their room. It was practically empty in the first place.
I walked out of the room.
“Good work, Sandbat Squadron. All of you passed the inspection.” I looked at my datapad. “However, I want to answer some questions before I leave. One, yes, you are allowed one poster per person. Uniformity is desired, and I fully believe in that, but even I have a poster of Baron Soontir Fel in my bedroom…uh…No refrigerating machines in your rooms, but thank you for asking and not assuming, Ensign.” I said, looking right at Barrigan. “…uh, that’s all the questions you had. Any more?”
“Good. Sandbat Squadron, dismissed.”
The squadron dispersed, almost all of them going back to the rooms. I looked at the first one I could see.
“Tell the rest of them that we might have a inspection from Dunn himself.”
Damn, I’m thirsty.
I walked away without saying another word, rubbing my neck as I headed back to the chow hall. Maybe I could finally grab a meal to eat. As I walked back towards the lift, I began to think about how I handle that situation. If it was one of the squadrons on the Nightbringer, I would of screamed, no doubt. But these guys are the equivalent of children. Children I wouldn't exactly trust even with a potato cannon, but they have TIE fighters.
Maybe Dunn and I can fix these kids into Imperial Pilots that even the Emperor would have been proud of.
Heh, yeah. Maybe I could make Admiral in the next five minutes, too.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe interview with Mr. Haythorn went as Traven expected. It was always the same with drafted soldiers. The dumb ones would end as cannon fodder, the less dumb as Grunts and the smart ones recognised a good opportunity if it was offered to them. Haythorn belonged to the latter. Standing in front of the Group Captain’s desk, the young man hesitated for maybe one minute before agreeing to the choice given to him.
After sending his new recruit to the usual medical examinations, Traven was joined by his executive officer. “Mr. Aganox, take a seat. Tea?” He gestued towards the thermo can on the desk. Showing no sign if the hospitality was surprising him, the Lieutenant sat down on the only other chair in the office, that was even more austere than the one Dunn had gotten on the <i>Ravisher</i>. No holos or other decorations were seen. Just plain grey Imperial design. No distractions.
“Thank you, Sir.” Aganox took an offered cup. Now it was obvious that the polite behaviour of his commanding officer irritated him. But he was hiding it quickly enough, that Traven was reminded of himself almost. With a slight smirk he took the datapad, Aganox was handing to him.
“So the inspection has been without objections?” After finishing reading the report, Traven took a sip of his H’kak bean tea. The intense orange colour of the local beverage was something to getting used to, but nevertheless the brew was stimulating. “That is a good start, isn’t it, Lieutenant?” Aganox nodded, still ignoring his tea. “Yes, Sir, I also explained to them what is expected from an Imperial quarter. They are young, but obviously adaptive.”
“Excellent.” Traven gave the datapad back to his XO, then switching on the holo screen of his own workstation. “While you were inspecting, I was setting up the roster for our squadron. I paired them according to their simulator results.” He gave Aganox a moment to read the list, before continuing. “For today I want that they learn theory from the <i>The Imperial Pilot's Handbook</i> . Make sure that all of them will have read it until tomorrow, when I’ll start the training. That will be all for today, Mr. Aganox.”
With a salute the executive officer left Traven’s office. There wasn’t much left to do for him on his first day here. Emptying his cup of tea Traven stared at the walls of his ready room. On the <i>Ravisher</i> he had been busy with working on flight plans for the different squadrons, training the pilots or the shockball team. But here in his exile, with only one squadron, the day seemed to drag along. Traven checked his chrono. It was in the middle on the afternoon. He decided it was time for his own personal training routine. Before paying a surprise visit to his squadron, already prompting their new knowledge from the manual.
Like in every Imperial garrison the gym on his squadron’s level met the standard Traven was used. After completing his weight training as well as the running on the treadmill, he felt in need of a shower. There was a tiny refresher in his quarters, but the common shower area was closer, right next to the locker room.
Grabbing a towel, Traven stepped into the tiled room as something stopped him. Some very clear words written in red over the light grey wall: <b>Save water. Shower with a friend.</b> With almost an growl, Traven returned to the locker room, switching on his comlink. “This is Group Captain Dunn. All pilots of the Sandbat Squadron report to me at the gym on level 6. Now!”
Traven had to wait for five minutes before all pilots arrived. Every minute made him more angry. “Attention!” He snapped at them, ignoring any confused looks about his training outfit as well as the reason of them being here. “There has been a breach against article 22 section 3. Damage of Imperial property. Follow me.” He led them into the common showers, where the evidence was emblazoned at the wall. Some of the pilots chuckled, but were silenced immediately by a glare of their commanding officer.
“So you think this is amusing?” Traven asked, very calmly. They stayed quiet, none of them dared to look at him. “Will the delinquent step forward now?” Nobody moved. Traven changed a look with Lieutenant Aganox. “You know what that means, Lieutenant?” Traven asked,but answered it himself. “Either the wrongdoer is too coward to take the responsibility for his action or their have enough team spirit already, that they stand collected.”
Aganox swallowed. “Yes, Sir. I am not sure if I like both possibilities.” Traven nodded slowly. “Neither do I, Lieutenant, because it limits my alternatives.” He paced along the lines of pilot. “In half an hour I will see all of you at the ground level in flight suit with full field pack. Do not forget the sunscreen, because it will be still one hour till dusk. After that you can thank your comrade for that run around Mos Eisley. Dismissed.”
The young pilots looked pale as they left to prepare for the run, but nobody said a word. Aganox stepped closer to Traven. “Do you want a speeder or some bikes for us, so we can escort them, Sir?” Traven looked blank at his executive officer. “If they run, we run too, Lieutenant. I never expect something from my pilots, that I wouldn’t be able to do myself.” Aganox didn’t pale as much as the younger pilots. “Yes, Sir.”
Exactly the answer Traven expected from his XO. No discussions about direct orders. “But make sure that we take enough weapons with us.” He added. “Who knows what is crawling around in the outskirts? I will see you in 25 minutes.”
Traven had been trained almost his whole life, but the last six hours had been the toughest since he had left Carida. First the suns had been glowing merciless from the sky, the heat of the sand almost burning through the sole of their boots. Then after sunset there was a sudden cold. Just their permanent movement prevented that they were freezing.
As they finally arrived at the garrison again, the pilots could hardly stand on their feet, but all of them had made it. He would never say it aloud but Traven felt proud of them. “Well done.” He commented only before sending them to their quarters.
Slowly he walked towards his own room as one of the Garrison’s command personnel called his name. “Captain Dunn, I have a message from General Tull for you.” With a nod Traven took the datapad, reading the message.
<i>Tomorrow at 0730 Captain Lane and Lieutenant Rardin from Onyx Squadron, stationed on the Banisher, will arriving for inspection and training.</i>
Traven paused as he read the Captain’s name. Memories of a certain Commander with the same last name appeared in his mind. Memories which were unwanted and inappropriate. Switching off the datapad, Traven tried to banish those thoughts.
How big would be probability that this Captain would be related to Jordan?
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe same day
On board the Banisher
After she completed the day's training with her squadron, Jordan forced herself to track down Byron. She had avoided him for most of the voyage, but their impending arrival in Tatooine space would separate them again, and she did not wish to part from her best friend on a sour note.
They met at the base of the lift leading to the bridge. "Well, this is rare," Byron observed by way of greeting, only half-smiling. "I can't remember the last time you tracked me down instead of the other way around."
Jordan appeared slightly bashful. That set off alarms in the other pilot's mind. "What's up?" he asked.
"I'm not good at this sort of thing." She refused to make eye contact, her voice barely audible. "I'm… I'm sorry. About before. I shouldn't have been so abrupt with you, especially since you were trying to help."
Byron blinked. Black Ice was apologizing to him? He began walking away from the lift to keep up appearances, beckoning Jordan to follow with a curt gesture of his head. He kept his own voice quiet. "Hey, you'd heard bad news. I'm not going to blame you for closing up."
She fell into step beside him. "Still, I want to make it up to you. If you want me to talk about it, I will." Her eyes darted around cautiously. "Just not here."
"Okay…" Byron allowed the other pilot to lead the way. "So where are we going?" he asked after a moment.
"The only place I feel like I can express myself. The simulators."
Byron glanced at her in surprise. "The simulators? Really?"
"It's hard to explain." Jordan's eyes flicked over to him, a hint of nervousness in their brown depths. "You can still fly, right?"
"In a simulator, yes. I just can't pull crazy maneuvers like I used to."
She looked relieved before slipping a bland expression back onto her face. Byron shook his head in disbelief. This was the equivalent of an emotional outburst from a normal woman. Eventually they got themselves situated in two units, and Jordan brought up a scenario on both screens.
"An asteroid field? Ice, what are you–"
"Bear with me."
He sighed in resignation. "You're the captain."
Jordan allowed herself a brief smile at his response as she finalized the settings and activated the simulation. They were instantly transported to a sea of twinkling stars against the blackness of space. A red dwarf sat off in the distance, and a giant cluster of asteroids sat in front of them, debris from an imaginary planet recently destroyed.
"This scenario has no enemy craft. It's all about navigating those asteroids. Do whatever you'd like, Slick, but I'm going to fly right through them."
Byron shrugged. "Whatever you say, Ice."
Instantly Jordan increased the throttle on her TIE Interceptor and shot forward into the asteroid field. She expertly threaded a hole bored through a giant rock that left scant meters between the walls and her solar panels before turning ninety degrees to point upward relative to her previous vector. Spinning, she dodged two lazily spinning asteroids that collided seconds after she passed between them. And she just kept going from there.
Byron could only watch in amazement. He did not see Jordan's actions as a pilot running through a training simulation. It was far more like a dance. Yes, the nearly ice cold female captain, veteran of three years on Carida and ten more in the Empire's service as a pilot, survivor of rejection from both Carida and her own parents, let herself free amidst this space and these rocks built of ones and zeroes. Perhaps the anticipation of this simulation helped prompt her earlier candor.
The commander heard laughter echo over his headset, and he had to smile. He wanted to join in, but it had been a long time since he had attempted such intricate maneuvers in a starfighter, and he did not believe he could keep up with his former partner.
"I'm heading for a more open part of the field about ten klicks from here. Join me if you think you can handle it."
Byron grinned. "When was the last time I didn't step up to your challenge?"
"I'll keep it that way." He edged up the throttle of his Interceptor and headed for the coordinates Jordan sent him. Byron took a few extra minutes to regain confidence in his dormant skills, and Jordan watched from a respectful distance. Then he slipped into position just aft of her port side less than twenty meters away. "So what do you have in store for me?"
"Fly with me, Slick."
"You expecting to talk at the same time? I'm not sure I can do both."
Jordan chuckled. "Then fly now, talk later. Come on!" And she flew away from him in a tight corkscrew, daring him to copy her maneuver.
Of course, he did. They spent the next ten minutes flying through the asteroids, trying to stick to each other's wing despite the obstacles, and Byron relished this return to the cockpit. It eventually devolved into a game of tag, each trying to paint the other with their respective TIE's firing recticle.
"Relaxed yet, Ice?" Byron asked after she had targeted him for the third time.
"Oh frak yes," she breathed, her tone filled with honest relief.
He dropped his fighter close to hers as they traveled along the outer edge of the asteroid field. "Can I ask what's up now?"
"Yeah." She quickly checked the simulation settings to ensure no audio recording or transmission occurred before continuing. Jordan had used those settings from the beginning, but it did not hurt to confirm. "It's a long story…" And she spent the next few moments summarizing the first time she had met one Traven Dunn, continuing on to their reunion as captain and executive officer on board the Ravisher, and finally ending with her decision to leave for the good of his career.
Byron shook his head, and Jordan heard a faint sigh. "Damn. You get a shot at romance, and it spirals into a tragedy."
The female pilot remained silent. She had just relived those memories, and the ache brought on by the news of Traven's crash had returned in full force. "Do you understand my reaction a little better now?"
"Of course I do." He hesitated briefly. "Can we end this sim now? I'd like to talk to you face to face."
Jordan did not respond aloud but simply killed the simulation and stepped out of her unit. Byron did likewise. They were still alone in the room, so Jordan ventured a question on a matter that had been bothering her. "Hey, before you say anything more, I didn't push you too hard out there, right? I mean, with your leg and all…"
He placed a hand on her shoulder in reassurance. "Don't worry about me like that, Ice. I'm fine. I'm more worried about you right now, anyway."
She nodded before changing the subject. "Maybe we'll hear something once we get to Tatooine." Despite her words, there was little hope in Jordan's voice.
"I'm sure we'll find a way to get the full story after we revert to real space," Byron said confidently. "I'm happy for you, Ice. You actually opened up to someone else."
Regret suffused her face. "I never really did, though." Her chuckle was self-deprecating. "Hell, I can talk, even behave, more openly with you than I ever could with him."
Byron pulled her into a hug. "The situation on the Ravisher was awkward. Perhaps if you could meet him now, captain to captain, it wouldn't be so bad."
Her voice came out muffled by his shoulder. "Maybe." She glanced up at him. "You've always had a big mouth, but sometimes you can say something good, even if it is overly optimistic."
He laughed. "I try." He released her but maintained eye contact. "You're okay now?"
"As 'okay' as I can be."
"Need anything else from me?" The statement sounded innocent, but the way he grinned at her made it anything but that.
Jordan had to laugh. "Nice try, monkey-lizard. Ask me again in a week, if you dare."
Byron reached out and mussed her hair. "Careful, I just might do that."
Jordan was about to respond when a rumbling from her stomach interrupted. She glanced up at Byron in surprise. "It's later than I expected. Are you hungry?"
"Hungry enough. Let's go find something to eat."
Just before they entered the mess, Jordan paused to reinstate her formal mindset. "Thanks again for the practice, Commander."
He easily caught her change in address. "Any time, Captain."
Jordan gave him a brief, reserved smile. She then changed their topic of conversation to training and tactics for the course of their meal, and some of the other officers present joined in. Jordan finished first, stating a need to prepare for a meeting with Captain Vars. She knew it could be bad for the ship's gossipmongers to notice her spending a lot of time with Byron, and she likely had spent too much time alone with him today. Past moments she did not need to recall just then were resurfacing.
An hour later, Jordan met with the captain over mugs of tea, a gesture that pleasantly surprised her. Captain Vars quickly outlined the plan she would share with her pilots. "It should be simple enough. Commander Duval and I will keep an eye on the rest of Onyx Squadron for you," Vars said in conclusion as he stood.
Jordan also stood and saluted. "Thank you, sir." After she left the meeting, she quickly sent a message to her pilots with an outline of the details and orders to meet in their flightsuits in the hangar the next morning at 0600. Now she just had to find ways to utilize the time she had left until then. Perhaps some exercise and a good night's rest would be what she needed.
The next day
Hangar on board the Banisher
Jordan entered the hangar a few minutes early and was pleased to discover that Rardin and Drake had arrived ahead of her. Onyx Squadron had made vast improvements in punctuality compared with her first day leading the Greens.
Soon her entire squadron had assembled, and Byron arrived in proper uniform to address them. Jordan forced back the smile that threatened to appear at the sight of him in such formal posture. She had not seen him like that in years, and she forced down the memories that thought conjured. With a hand, he indicated the Lambda-class shuttle behind him in the hangar. "A shuttle of ground troops and officers will head to the Tatooine garrison located near Mos Eisley. Captain Lane and Lieutenant Rardin will escort the shuttle to the surface. The rest of Onyx will perform practice maneuvers near the ship before returning to the Banisher."
Jordan saluted before turning to address her squadron. It never hurt to reiterate their plans in a formal briefing like this. "Despite our different orders, we will leave the hangar as a squadron. Inspect your fighters and prepare for launch. The rest of you are to pay attention to Lieutenant Drake and Flight Officer Falmar as well as any commands issued from the bridge. I expect positive reports on your performance. Is that understood?"
"Good. To your ships." Before heading for her own, Jordan could not resist turning her head to search for her friend. Byron met her eyes within seconds. He gave her a slight smile and nod, and she returned the gestures. It somehow made her feel better about the mission ahead.
A short while later, once the shuttle had received its occupants, Onyx Squadron launched, four Interceptors acting as the spearhead with eight standard fighters following behind. The expansive hangar bay of the Banisher was perfect for such a maneuver. After exiting the hangar, Jordan gave herself a brief moment to enjoy the feeling of returning to space in a TIE Interceptor with only the craft and stars around her.
"Onyx Lead, it's good to be back in a real bird," Rardin's voice crackled over her comm.
She checked the frequency to ensure it was only between herself and her XO before responding. "Cut the chatter, Two. But I agree." Jordan then returned her attention to their duty. It did not merit her full concentration, but Jordan refused to act as a poor example in front of her pilots. She grimaced as they hit atmosphere, wishing for a second that she could remain in space with the rest of Onyx Squadron. Ever since Termina, flying a TIE in atmosphere always reminded her of that battle. It had been fun to fly a Defender at that time, though.
It was not long before they arrived at the base. Jordan was glad the prefabricated garrison base was built to properly handle TIE fighters, as she wished to avoid stepping out into the hostile atmosphere of Tatooine for as long as possible.
She exited her Interceptor, and her XO quickly followed suit. Jordan took a breath of the recycled air after removing her helmet and noted it still held a whiff of sun-blasted sand. She was about to address Rardin when two figures approaching them caught her eye.
Jordan assumed a rigid posture and slipped her cold mask back over her face. If she had not mentally prepared herself for a meeting with a potentially hostile officer, she might have completely lost her composure once she could make out the two men walking toward her. She recognized one of the pair as Bellarius Aganox, another pilot – even a friend – she had met and trained with during her tenure at Carida and had not seen since; this assignment was shaping up to be a Carida reunion tour. But the other…
"Welcome to Tatooine, Captain Lane," Traven Dunn said grimly.
Devoting half of her awareness to maintaining a blank expression, Jordan offered him a salute more casual than she had ever used as his XO. She was a captain as well, after all. "Thank you, Captain Dunn."
Rardin appeared to note both the name and Jordan's knowledge of the other captain's identity. Thankfully he said nothing on the matter. Jordan then nodded to him. "This is Lieutenant Rardin, the executive officer of Onyx Squadron."
"And this is my XO, Lieutenant Aganox," Captain Dunn said.
Jordan hoped considering him in a formal manner would help keep her emotions in check. The female captain allowed herself a faint smile as she met Echo's gaze. "It is good to see you again, Lieutenant."
He nodded. "And you, Captain."
Dunn's expression barely flickered. "Have you worked with Captain Lane before, Lieutenant?"
"We attended Carida at the same time, sir," he replied evenly.
"I see." Dunn looked back at the two Onyx pilots. "Allow us to give you a tour of this base before we address the nature of your mission here."
"That would be most appreciated, Captain," Jordan replied. She forced herself to walk next to him, her expression blank, as the two executive officers fell into step behind them. She burned with questions for her former captain. Yes, she was glad he was alive and well. Of course she wanted to ask about the crash. But, most importantly… I sacrificed my career with the Paladins and a chance for a relationship with him so that he could keep his position as Group Captain in Admiral Dodonna's fleet. So why the frak is he here on this backsand world instead?!
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionWillem von Aath was a busy man, to say the least. Coordinating a massive defense fleet with not only the pilots and fleet personnel on the bottom, but the thousands of men and women who were being sent to the ground below to assist in its defense was a whole thing to go with it. The Captain of his flagship, the Nightbringer, saw this even more in him as the admiral in charge paced around in his quarters, holding a datapad in his hand and brushing his teeth in the other with a standard brush.
“…no, sir. I don't think it's that wise to break up the defense fleet into that many sections. Three is enough right now, and with the small amount of ships compared to what we think will arrive, we don't need to overreach ourselves.” Captain of the Line Octavian Zaafrian said, leaning against his wall with his hands over his chest. Zaafrian was a career man, someone who had put years into the Imperial Navy and who had come above the rest. He was the best, in Willem's eyes, in terms of dedicated loyalty. Zaafrian made mistakes all the time, Willem could easily reticfy those in later briefings or on-the-spot, but he had an unshakable grasp of loyalty that Willem so desperately loved in his men. Cut hair, strong shoulders and arms, but the look of education in the way he walked. Definitely not the way he talked.
Not to mention he was a very well in placed member of the Patriots, something that Willem himself found much more appealing than a brilliant but typical Imperial Fleet officer.
“I agree.” He said simply, his hands putting the pad on the table. He felt that Zaafrian was going to say that anyways, and that was something he wouldn't make a mistake about. He had taken care of it an hour ago.
“…no offense, Admiral…I'd follow you to the Void and back if you asked me to, but this assignment sounds like a gungan hamburger. Stupid and impossible.” The flag officer said, blinking, his face not holding a smile or anything like that in regard. He seemed to be on edge, his feet tapping the floor to a beat or song only Zaafrian knew.
It never bodes well if a junior officer feels the same as his senior officer.
“I know that, and I agree. Defender-class Star Destroyers are a new breed of ships that look like they can tear our ships apart. But that's why my plan will work, Zaafrian. It will do all sorts of damage to the group of New Republic ships.” He said, and in a tone that sounded as if he was trying hard to convince the Captain that he was right, even if he did not think so.
Zaafrian wanted to believe in him, he really did. But gundark droppings were gundark droppings, no matter how much candy and whipped cream you pour on it.
“Using excess plasma vents to simulate a disrupted core is new, yes, but wholy —”
“Appropiate. It lures them in, it blinds their sensors and then —”
“It's not sound, Admiral, I —”
“Will know my place!” Willem said suddenly, slamming his fist on his desk. That shocked the Line Captain into shutting his lips together in fear as he looked at the Admiral, his eyes looking at the fist before looking at the Admiral. His eyes were locked, and he felt inferior for a moment. IN that moment, he forced his body to snap to the position of attention.
“Dismissed. Now.” He said, before he turned his back on the Captain. Zaafrian took that as the sign to immediately leave the area, the man turned around as he performed a loosely done about-face and left his quarters.
The Captain of the Line sighed as he took his cover and put on his head, disgruntled. He had only seen Willem act like tha—
He realized exactly then, as he began to walk to the bridge, that today was the anniversary of his wife and son's death. That made sense to him as well as the stress and the lack of caffa on the ship at the moment.
Zaafrian ran into no one else until he walked on the bridge of the vessel, seeing the ISB Colonel himself standing near the bridge, his white uniform immaculately clean and his face staring off into space, as if he was posing for a painting or something like that, Zaafrian thought. Malcilom Betruger was a man who bled for the Empire, but bled for Willem as well.
Loyalty, Zaafrian thought, came in spades on this ship.
“You could of warned me about today.” Zaafrian said first.
The ISB Colonel chuckled before he turned around, his hands still behind his back.
“I thought you would of known, Captain. You've known him longer than I these past years.” His voice was mysterious as always. He felt as if he was set up, but, he's used to that. Betruger was a prankster, and he had no trouble believing the ISB Colonel did that to have a little fun.
Or was it much more serious? Zaafrian didn't know.
“Do you have anything specific to do here on the bridge, Colonel?” Zaafrian asked with his voice curt-tailing the last word in his sentence, his eyes locking with the loyal Patriot. Zaafrian and Betruger were two people of a very well-worn coin. Zaafrian was to the point and a man who was an enlisted petty officer first before arising to command. Betruger came from old money, and bought his commission. But they both worked hard.
Willem wasn't one to recruit lazy people.
“No. Not at the present. I just wanted to give you additional intel before I head to the planet's surface.” He said, handing the Captain of the Line a dataslate.
Zaafrian didn't look at it.
“Good fortunes, Captain.” The Security Bureau Colonel spoke, before quickly marching his way off of the bridge.
Zaafrian took a long look at the footfalls of Betruger, waiting until he was gone, before he finally allowed himself to look at the dataslate given to him…
“Lieutenant Aganox, request your permission to the flight deck..” The comlink. Damn that infernal machine. I was actually hoping to talk with the new Captain, who I was not at all surprised that the only person who I could really call my friend outranked me.
Good for her. Woman in a man's world, blah blah blah. I don't care if her parts are inside or outside; she's someone I can trust with my back, and I can count how many people I trust like that on the back of my index finger.
I know, that's not funny.
“Excuse me, Captains.” I said as meekly and submissive as I could before I turned around, about facing .and quickly leaving. It was getting to feel a little awkward anyway, between the Captain and the Captain…Dunn and Lane seemed to have history; maybe that was the female pilot that Dunn was implicating from the Black Paladins?
Entering the elevator, I quickly pressed the buttons to activate the lift to take it to the flight deck. I tapped my foot against the floor of the lift, humming a tune from memory. I think it was Calan's Gaze? Or his Boot, I can never remember. Something about erratic movement. It was a polka. Very catchy.
Almost too catchy, sometimes, but what can you do?
The flight deck opened up to me as the doors spread apart, revealing the TIE Fighters and Interceptors and mechanics and workmen going about their business. Hopefully I don't get stopped as I try to find the command duty officer on station. If there's one thing that I hate more than being interrupted when I speak, it's being stopped when I'm focused.
The guy I was looking for was a typical Imperial officer. I didn't even know his name, only his rank. Lieutenant. Same as me, good. What made this even better was that he was handsome, in a strong and Imperial way. Not exactly my choice of tea but you can take what you get to look at, especially on a planet like this, where I'd likely find a rug of hair more than I'd find a tall, strong looking person.
“Lieutenant, I have a slight problem that I can't solve that you can.” The man said.
Frak. That's not good.
“What's the problem?” I asked him with a bit of an raised eyebrow. I'm not used being called down to the hanger on such a random notice.
“You have priority mail from Imperial Command.” The command duty officer said, leaning over to the left for a moment to grab a small holodisk.
Priority mail. That's never really a good sign. That's the kind of mail that you get that distributes new orders, letters from high command officials like admirals…or notices of death. That made me a little nervous as I picked up the holo from the man and nodded.
“Good luck.” He said, frowning, as he looked at me before a mechanic with a hose in his hands walked up to him and began to speak. I took that as my time to leave his presence as I walked away, holding the holo in my hands.
I moved a finger across its surface to activate it, and then pressing my thumb against the smooth surface of the holodisc. The small device activated in my palm, and the black surface began to display data for a moment before it jumbled together into actual words and sentences. Frakking things are always so slow. You'd think they'd make them fast…
My thoughts stopped immediately when I began to let my eyes wander across the surface of the letter.
My…my father is sick. Deathly sick.
With a sigh, I lean against the wall. Frak.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe face Traven looked at in the mirror as he was shaving in the early morning of the next day seemed different than the man he used to be. Not much was left of the enthusiastic young cadet who went to war almost twenty years ago nor of the ambitious officer he became.
The tan, caused by the twin suns already, had displaced the paleness typical for pilots who lived on board of an Imperial Star Destroyer most time of the year. His hair was slightly longer than he was wearing it usually. The strands falling into his face softened his chiselled features. Traven glared almost at himself. What had he become? Just a short time on this planet and he started to look like a moisture farmer.
Annoyed, Traven slicked his hair back. It was better, but he still considered getting a haircut as soon as his agenda allowed it. He sighed, knowing that it wasn’t his appearance alone that gave him a bad mood. The day before had been difficult. Spending the whole day with Captain Jordan Lane didn’t make it easier being exiled to this sand heap. He felt almost outranked by her as she and her XO inspected his work. Together with Lieutenant Aganox he had presented their squadron of rookies. The pilots tried their best to impress the female Captain with their simulator flights. It was like a mating dance almost. Traven had suppressed his urge to let them run that evening again. He hated that his emotions tried to take over, so he ordered himself a long run in his off-duty time to get rid of his frustration.
This morning, his mood wasn’t much better. There was an early briefing with General Tull. Of course, Traven was punctual to get his orders of the day.
One hour later, Traven finally arrived at the mess hall. Bellarius Aganox was sitting at the officer’s table already. Traven carried his tray with the Imperial standard breakfast to the place opposite his XO, sitting down.
“Good morning, Sir.” Aganox just greeted, more laconic than usually.
“Good morning, Lieutenant.” Traven’s reply was short-spoken as well. After listening to the egomaniac talk of the General for almost the whole time of the meeting, Traven enjoyed that there was no need for small talk between him and his executive officer. Eating a forkful of the food, he was reminded in texture of scrambled eggs, but the colour was more a greenish nuance. There was also a slight aftertaste that Traven couldn’t assign. He wondered what kind of animal on Tatooine produced eggs. Somehow he didn’t want to know and hoped the food was artificial instead of being the result of a desert critter’s clutch.
Before Traven could eat a second bite of the proteinaceous meal, he saw Captain Jordan Lane and her own XO Lieutenant Rardin walking into the mess hall. Protocol stated that the Captain, who is stationed at the garrison, invited a visiting Captain to his table. But hopefully Jordan would simply <i>overlook</i> him. Traven tried not to stare at her and concentrated on his mug of caf. But as he looked up again, their eyes met for a split second as Jordan carried her tray from the food counter. Aganox noticed the slight change in his Captain’s expression. Following Traven’s line of sight, he peeked over his shoulder, recognising Lane and Rardin.
“Good morning, Captain… Lieutenant…” Mr. Aganox knew the protocol as well as he greeted the fellow officers, so Traven had not much of a choice. He greeted politely as well, adding: “Would you like to join us?”
Captain Lane hesitated for a moment, but then she nodded. “Thank you, Captain.”
She took the free seat next to Bellarius, while Rardin had to take the one next to Traven. They ate in silence. Both Captains focused on their breakfast. The Lieutenants, aware of the tension at the table, were smart enough to hold their tongues.
Finally Traven broke the awkward quietness. “General Tull gave me the order to patrol the Jundland wastes.” Not that there was much to patrol. Just some rocks and dust. But Traven’s face was controlled, no sign of frustration about this beginner’s mission. “I am planning to rehearse different scenarios my pilots learned in the simulators. It would be an honour if you join us, Captain Lane.”
Of course Jordan Lane accepted the offer. It was more following the order of the General to inspect Dunn’s work with the squadron. As she and Rardin entered the hangar, she saw Traven talking to one of the engineers.
Traven cleared his throat as he saw the other Captain. He was very aware about the contrast of Lane and Rodin’s almost brand-new TIE Interceptors and the ones his squadron and himself had to use. His father would be ashamed to see that his own son had to use a museum piece of the Interceptor’s first generation. On the other side Traven was sure that Tyrell Dunn would be proud, that the fighters were still fully functional after all the years. Their hull looked like a sandstorm had polished it. Probably because that was the case.
“Your Interceptors are ready for take-off.” Traven avoided any personal overtone. “The rookies are anxious already.”
The Sandbat Squadron flew through one of the numerous canyons the Jundland Wastes were known for. There had been not many life signs. Some scattered banthas here and there.
Traven switched on his comlink channel to his pilots. “I think all of us have had enough of the sightseeing now. The squadron will split into group One and Two. One under my command, Two under Mr. Aganox’s. Captain Jordan, Lieutenant Rardin, please choose a group. This will be the <i>much-loved</i> simple-yet-so-complicated dog fight scenario. Switch your weapons to training. Now follow me.”
Traven pulled his Interceptor out of the canyon. The sensor of his TIE flickered for a moment as he reached the ridge. The engineer at the garrison had warned him about the magnetic deposits causing some trouble, so Traven wasn’t surprised about it. But what widened his eyes behind the visor of his helmet was the XS stock light freighter that appeared in front of his viewport. <i>Smugglers.</i> The thought run his mind immediately. But then he saw the six X-Wings escorting the bigger ship, their hulls decorated with the red symbol of the New Republic.
“Weapons back to full power. A rebel vanguard!” Traven shouted to his squadron as he already dodged the first volley of laser bolts.
Re: The Tatooine Redemption(PM me if there's any indiscrepencies.. Or if there isn't anyone left in the base to reply?)
Cell 1-B. Rapist and Murderer screaming at each other, hands going to neck and strangling. An electric charge puts them both into convulsions and instantly the pair are detained safely. Cell 2-B, a disgruntled human whom looked almost four men too heavy, carving away at a small idol wooden toy with a blunt instrument, tattoos covering his entire upper frame. Cell 3-B? A small girl with her head down in her arms, knees up as she gets some shut-eye, the sound-proof walls at least giving her some piece.
You might wonder why such a young blue creature was inprisoned for the last hour; marks in chalk on the wall make it look like shes been there for all her life, but tell the truth she's been scribbling monsters and other pictures on the walls too, kept her quiet. No doubt she'd have to clean the walls or the next person to use this room would be quite dissatisfied with her childish depictions..
Slowly she peeked up from her forearms, the clothes as grubby as the rest of her smooth rubbery blue-hued face and hands. Striking blue eyes gazed onwards at the blue energy shield that kept the fourth wall as an optional doorway, an excessive use of power but not the only method of incarceration the girl had noticed - it looked like the energy being used could be directed to something else and physical barriers dropped from the ceiling. She was a bit of an engineering buff but by no means knew everything.
From the bunk she lifted her back from her forward lurched position and straightened up before her arms shifted behind her to support her weight, T'chun-T'chin falling back with gravity to pool somewhat on the mattress - as abormally large as they were for her age, they weren't likely to get bigger, which was a relief for her neck.
"Bored!" She mouthed at the guard, before he strolled off and she gave a groan and flopped over from her position to a chest-down one, arms rising for her face to once again to be consumed in darkness it offered as she 'barriered' off her vision and the light that kept a constant squint. It was always so bright and white..
The light-grey cell was small but not tiny, complete with a bed and a toilet, not to mention enough floorspace for her things to already been strewn about. Broken chalk the main thing, while games were scrawled into the floor such as boxes with numbers (only enough space to get to three! Abysmal!) for jumping about and even in the short time she'd been imprisoned, she had constructed a crude… Something or other out of the spare junk in her bagpack. Whatever it does, it does something! It beeps afterall.
She was promised freedom! Amnesty! She even apologised for bumping into that guard and his accidental-release of that guy he was arresting she resulted in freeing. Some kind of bounty hunter or mercenary, they said.. Though it wasn't uncommon for her kind to be on this world, her particular set of circumstances had lead to this point. Being bought (without being for sale?) by a young but influencial (according to him) hutt, whom demanded her time in his entertainment in his various games, while doing errands and chores. She was beat and this was the closest she had to rest. Her skills were far too wasted on keeping the plump little kid happy!
Maybe she could sweet-talk some of the imperials around here into keeping her around like some kind of mascot.. She could lighten everyones spirits and keep their… Scooters.. Working? They used Scooters, right? Those hover-bikes? She was certain that was what they were called.
Of course, it didn't help her guilt that she was told to accidentally free that guy for whatever reason the bossy slug had.. More likely than not he did it as a dare and not for any greater agenda. What was worse, was she actually had to sneak inside the base to do so and while she succeeded (up until that point), they were no more impressed at her pointing out their soft spots as they were at just how awesome she was at being a super-spy!
Lost in her thoughts, she missed the sound of the barrier being dropped - though it was hard to miss the commanding voice that caught her attention, causing the near-teen to lift her head and twist her neck to 'snap' onto the person reffering to her..
Imperials liked aliens.. Right?
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThat had been awkward.
Jordan, pleased to discover her friend in the officers' mess that morning, hoped she might use that chance to converse with him. (Captain Dunn's invitation had not been completely unwelcome at the time, either.) However, that hope had been rapidly extinguished after they sat down to eat. Between stiff posture and manners from Captain Dunn - stiff even by his standards - and the nagging sense that not all was well with Bellarius, Jordan found no way to converse with the other pilots. Thankfully, Rardin made no effort to upset the delicate balance by speaking.
The tense atmosphere had also caused breakfast to feel eternal. She could not wait for it to end. Even the other captain's invitation to join a training mission, which she accepted, did little to change the mood of silence at the table.
Jordan excused herself once the first opportunity arose. Brief eye contact with Bellarius encouraged her that he might be willing to talk, given the right circumstances. Her XO dutifully followed his captain.
"Are you feeling all right, Captain?" Rardin queried carefully after they exited the mess.
Jordan blinked. It occurred to her that she had not briefed her XO regarding her past service with Captain Dunn since their arrival on Tatooine. Rardin was aware she had once been a member of Dunn's squadron due to that unfortunate incident in the Banisher's mess, but aside from rumors, Jordan could only assume that was all he knew.
She trusted her wingmate with her life, and he did the same with his own. They would soon join a non-simulated training mission with rookie pilots, and Rardin deserved all the intelligence she could share with him on the matter. "I am well, Lieutenant. I did not expect to meet Captain Dunn here on Tatooine," she replied, her expression blank.
"Sir, you were Captain Dunn's XO in the Paladins, right?"
She gave him a curt nod. "I do not know all the details of what transpired since my transfer, but I admit I did not expect him here."
Rardin was no idiot. Despite his placement in the one-time Green Squadron, he had earned his lieutenant rank and XO position. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you were promoted to captain upon your arrival at Bastion, weren't you?"
She nodded again, wondering where his thoughts traveled.
"May I speak plainly, sir?"
"You're a captain, equal in rank when you weren't before, and now you've been sent to inspect his new squadron. He expected you as much as you expected him. The tension is understandable, sir."
Jordan's features softened ever so slightly. A small part of her admitted she liked and even admired her XO. "I appreciate your candor, Lieutenant. I hope you will be equally frank in your assessment of the skills of Sandbat Squadron. I will welcome your insight when we debrief after this mission."
Rardin blinked in surprise. Captain Lane's trust did not come easily, and aside from his initial shock upon her arrival at Bastion, her gender rarely gave him pause. "Yes, sir!"
- - - - -
Before the mission began, Jordan contacted the Banisher regarding orders for Onyx Squadron. She refused to allow the rest of her pilots to relax if she and her XO were to be participating in an exercise. She felt only slight disappointment when Lieutenant Kermey, rather than Byron, appeared to receive her instructions for her pilots. She knew that Byron was the main, but not the only, officer responsible for coordinating starfighter tactics from the bridge, but his previous experience as a pilot, plus her own confidence in the man, meant that she felt more comfortable when he was in charge.
It would have to do. Jordan knew that the lieutenant could use the experience of directing Onyx Squadron, and she doubted anything would come up that would require Byron's expertise.
Jordan met her XO, both already in pilot gear, before entering the hangar. It gave them time to discuss a few details, and under the circumstances she would rather not walk alone.
She spotted Dunn conversing with an engineer when his attention turned in her direction. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, she and Rardin nevertheless approached them as they nearly stood between them and their Interceptors. She had not noticed how sleek their craft appeared until compared with the TIEs used by Sandbat Squadron. It was difficult to believe how far Captain Dunn had fallen, and she still did not know why.
"Your Interceptors are ready for take-off," he informed them, his tone remaining even. "The rookies are anxious already."
"Thank you, Captain," Jordan replied before making her way to her fighter. Despite Captain Dunn's assurance, she looked it over and completed the preflight checks herself, pleased to spot Rardin doing the same. One could never be too careful.
It was not long before the group of fourteen TIEs departed for the Jundland Wastes. She would not admit it to anyone save perhaps Byron and Bellarius, but Jordan looked forward to testing her mettle against the complex terrain of Tatooine's surface. She knew she would have to observe the newly trained pilots, but she could also demonstrate her own skills.
She also needed more flight hours in atmosphere.
Her comm crackled, and Captain Dunn issued mission instructions. As supposed enemy groups of fighters, each side had its own frequency reserved for their use. Intending to observe his coordination of his newly trained pilots as well as the pilots themselves, Jordan chose Beta, the group placed under the command of Lieutenant Aganox, while her XO joined Alpha.
Jordan switched to Bellarius's frequency. "Sandbat Two, I hope you don't mind my presence in Beta Group," she stated, smiling a little with the hope he might hear it in her voice.
"That's an affirmative, Onyx Lead." He then addressed all of Beta. "Pilots, keep an eye on Onyx Lead; the captain'll show you how it's done."
She had to smile. It would be good to fly with a friend again.
The mission commenced. Flickers in her sensors reminded Jordan of the highly magnetic deposits nearby. It added a level of complexity to the exercise, a level she appreciated. In her mind, Imperial pilots must be prepared for any circumstance.
None were quite prepared for the appearance of a freighter accompanied by six X-Wings. Adrenaline surged through Jordan's veins as her mindset shifted from training to battle mode. Fourteen unshielded fighters against six shielded ones, plus the possibly modified freighter–
"Weapons back to full power. A rebel vanguard!" Captain Dunn snapped almost instantly over the entire group's frequency.
Jordan did not trust the rookies to swiftly grasp the situation, so she crisply added, "This is no longer a training mission. Prevent the enemy from entering hyperspace."
"Jink hard and stick to your wingmate! Do not engage on your own!" Bellarius barked.
"Beta, remain in your group. We will attack from both sides," Captain Dunn ordered before disconnecting.
Jordan had no time to react to that before the two forces engaged. Laserfire flashed through the dry Tatooine sky, mostly missing their intended targets. Jordan saw her own attacks splash against the damn New Republic shields as she weaved to avoid return fire. The enemy shields could only last so long, but it was a distinct advantage against older, unshielded TIEs piloted by rookies. The rookies themselves were less accurate than seasoned pilots, granting another advantage to the enemy.
An explosion added unwelcome gravity to her thoughts as the first casualty of the day, Sandbat Twelve, met his untimely end. Jordan dropped into position next to the lost pilot's wingman. "Eleven, this is Onyx Lead. I will serve as your wingmate until the end of battle," she assured the young man. His babbling response did not lend confidence to any trust she might place in a wingmate. Then again, it may have been his first time seeing a comrade die.
It certainly was not Jordan's first time.
More static sounded over her comm, and Jordan realized they had moved closer to the magnetic deposits even as they gained altitude in pursuit of the enemy. The New Republic ships were trying to leave in a hurry.
"Banisher, this is Onyx Leader. Please come in." Jordan could only hope the message arrived properly.
"Onyx L…this…Banisher. Go ahead," a most welcome voice responded with minimal delay. Perhaps it was significant that she could recognize Byron so quickly despite the static, or perhaps not.
"The training mission for Sandbat Squadron was interrupted by a contingent of New Republic ships: one modified light freighter and six X-Wings." A concussion wave shook her ship; Jordan glanced up to discover X-Wing debris spreading through the sky. A grim smile slipped onto her face. "Make that five X-Wings. We have engaged the enemy forces. Have Onyx Squadron approach the edge of the atmosphere to intercept."
"Inter…difficult…x Lead…your squadron…there."
Jordan hoped she accurately pieced together his message. "Roger. Onyx Lead out." She switched to a broader frequency. "Sandbat Squadron, this is Onyx Lead. Onyx Squadron is standing by in low orbit to engage the enemy. Force them to these coordinates to prevent escape." Jordan then transmitted the information to the other pilots.
Clicks responded. Captain Dunn had trained them well. The clicks also had a better chance of arrival amidst the heavy interference. She had no idea how well her own words had traveled, however.
Her attention shifted to Alpha Group. She counted only six ships; another winked out of existence. It was supposed to be a frakking training mission! These rookies weren't ready for this! Jordan punched in the frequency she shared with her XO, the motions harder than necessary. "Onyx Two, report."
The response sounded strained. His movements indicated he had been the now vanquished pilot's wingmate. "The rookies…struggling…ielded X-Wings, Lead…interference isn't helping…ter has heavier weap…I'd expect…ship of its class…"
"Onyx is lying in wait at the atmosphere's edge. Do what you can for the rookies until then."
"Roger." Jordan spotted Rardin juking to avoid incoming fire. "Two out."
The captain returned her own concentration to Beta Group. She would try to observe their skills in this situation, but most of her efforts would go toward keeping the rookies alive. There would be no point in reprimands or commendations otherwise.
And she had to start with her incredibly fresh wingmate. Yes, the TIEs had destroyed two X-Wings so far and severely weakened the freighter's shields, but with their advantage in numbers, the odds should have improved more quickly. The damn X-Wings were dancing around them, firing at those who came too close to the freighter but never breaking off in full pursuit. The enemy knew what it was doing.
Torpedoes alone had claimed the lives of two rookies.
"Beta…ick with your wing…one give cov…ther attack…enemy. Do not…separated," Bellarius ordered.
"Onyx Squadron is en route to assist," she reminded them. As they fought - the rookies to stay alive, Jordan to keep them that way - she noted her old partner dash after an enemy fighter, leaving his own wingmate in the dust. He expertly weaved through attacks from the freighter, single-mindedly pursuing his target.
A few ragged cheers echoed over Beta's frequency when Bellarius destroyed the other fighter, bringing a faint smile to her face. She would reprimand them later.
With three X-Wings left and a now-wounded freighter, the battle finally turned in the rookies' favor. The enemy had used only laser weaponry for the last few minutes, implying they had run out of torpedoes.
However, their reduced numbers made the New Republic forces desperate, and they swiftly changed to aggressive tactics. Jordan used most of her skill set protecting herself and Eleven from harm as the freighter filled the nearby sky with deadly light. "Don't get too close!" she snapped at him as only her attacks prevented the cannons from focusing on the other pilot.
"We have to destroy it!" he replied, sounding panicked, even angry. Perhaps he had been friends with the pilot she had replaced. A fraction of Jordan's mind noted the interference had weakened.
"Reinforcements are coming. Keep its shields down. Others can destroy it."
"It doesn't matter who gets the kill, Eleven. It matters that the kill is made. Do your best to contribute to victory." Under normal circumstances, Jordan refused to chat over comms during battle. These were not normal circumstances.
"Roger, sir," came the reply. It sounded stronger and more controlled. To match, Eleven pulled away from his dangerously close position and instead concentrated his fire on the ship from a distance.
Jordan smiled a little, then winced as she suddenly noticed pain from stressed muscles in her upper back up to the base of her skull. Dodging and protecting others from laserfire had made her pull rather sharp maneuvers in atmosphere, and she had needed to juke around a rookie's ship more than once. Crash webbing could only do so much.
A rain of green fire poured down from above, taking decisive advantage of the freighter's lost shields and soon destroying the ship itself. Ten TIEs ripped through the expanding debris cloud in hot pursuit of the remaining X-Wings.
They did not last long. Onyx annihilated one fighter and assisted in the destruction of another as Alpha pilots pursued and then dispatched the final enemy. Her display revealed Captain Dunn himself achieved that kill.
She took a deep breath and punched in his frequency, aware it would be best to contact him directly. "Sandbat Lead, this is Onyx Lead. What is Alpha Group's status?"
"Two killed, three damaged, all low on fuel."
Jordan blamed the rush she felt at hearing his voice on adrenaline. "Thank you, Sandbat Lead. I will ask the Banisher for permission to come aboard rather than immediately returning to the surface."
"Thank you, Onyx Lead. Sandbat Lead out."
She changed frequency again. "Banisher, this is Onyx Lead. The enemy has been vanquished, but we are low on fuel, and multiple fighters sustained damage. I request permission for Onyx and Sandbat Squadrons to land in your hangar for refueling and minimal repairs before we return to the surface."
"Permission granted, Onyx Lead. Well done."
"Thank you. Onyx Lead out." Jordan then ordered her squadron to fall into formation behind the Sandbat pilots, who had received far more damage and deserved to land first. It gave her a moment to think. Jordan had not expected to return to the Banisher so soon, and certainly not under these conditions. Perhaps the confines of the ship would let her speak to Bellarius - Byron, as well - or perhaps it would make things that much more awkward with her former commanding officer.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionDancing among the angels of the sky is a fun, fun thing to do. To hold a lofty ace's hand and dance with them the fatal twirls and spins of the Dance of Death is an exhilierating, fun dance that either has you come to be the victor, or the loser. My father was the kind of man who took flying as something like writing a poem or painting on a canvas; anyone can draw or write, but only true artists can make cherished legends on paper or beautiful pictures on canvas.
I fully believe that flying, especially dogfight, is not so much a skill as much as it is an art. Space shows prove my point; twirls and dives can go from simple dogfight manuevers to look like paint strokes on a canvas. But killing someone in a dogfight is the same principle. You can't just rush in like a barbarian with a cudgel and expect to be victorious just because you have the biggest stick. Accuracy, intelligence and a cool head make dogfighting go from a simple part of the battle to perhaps being one of the most beautiful.
Bloodletting is just the bonus that comes with it, I'd suppose.
I pulled back, my Interceptor forcing one of the X-Wings to follow me into the clouds, forcing it to break off from the pack.
"Harrigan, stay with Captain Lane!" I ordered, and I watched on my sensor screen that he pulled back, letting me kite this X-Wing into a different direction, hopefully to let me get it away from the freighter.
I ignored the communicator. Nearly all of the communications I was receiving were either garbled or blocked to the point where I have no idea what they were really saying. My primary concern was the X-Wing on my tail.
I have no idea why I thought this was a good idea, because in truth it really wasn't a good idea at all, but I knew for a fact that one less X-Wing in the actual fight would be one less X-Wing that could kill these damn rookies. No damn Imperial deserves to die on this rock.
Seeing the X-Wing try to lock on me, I forced the TIE to twirl back down, looping tightly before I could clearly see what exactly was going on. I couldn't. The damn clouds were everywhere, and this bastard on my backside was really starting to piss me off. Maybe thoughts of my father were clouding my judgment, but there was a point where I wish we were fighting on the ground, so I could rip this…
…Thoughs of my father were definitely creeping in. I steeled myself, whispering a prayer of battle that warriors of old used to whisper before charging gaping maws, and forced my TIE to engage the shielded X-Wing in obscured cover.
With luck, maybe I could outmanuever him. X-Wings are good fighters, made for the kind of dogfights that TIEs couldn't handle. But with my thoughts cooled, and the clouds giving me a short time to think clearly, I knew that this pilot was not smart enough to engage me with his wingmate. He was overzealous and he wanted me dead. He was quick, but not on turns.
A sharp pilot is not a dead pilot, or so the proverb goes.
With one twist on my control, I forced my ship to bank left, hard. My TIE, on my sensors, almost slapped into him from the side, and he banked under me to avoid. I smiled. One thing about combat pilots is that when a combative foe makes a mistake, you take it. Snapping my control back, I re-angled myself, trying to follow. The pilot tried to bank the other way, as if he was trying to chase me, and he flew across my bow.
Right into my crosshairs.
Shields on a X-Wing are strong, but when you have their engines and their backside, and you can follow them for more than a few stray shots, they're dead to rights, even to a TIE. I blasted him apart quicker than a gundark can tear open a hutt that tries to 'run' away. His wreckage bloomed after the explosion of durasteel and fire in the Tatooine sky, and I pushed forward, trying to catch up back to the fight, my eyes opening to fully see what was going on.
That frakking freighter was doing all of the damage. The lasers coming off of that thing, as well as the torpedo salvos, was what killed the two rooks so far. They were tearing everything apart, and the X-Wing pilots, save for that very overzealous pilot and another pilot that got unlucky, the X-Wings were just forcing them to back off.
"Beta Group, stick with your wingmate! Someone give cover for me for another attack on the enemy. Do not get seperated!" I ordered out on the comms, before I received a few clicks in reply. I saw Sandbat Four, Pavor Harrigan, pull out of the four man squadron he and Sandbats Five through Seven formed near Captain Lane, where I ordered him to stay near as the fighting got thick. My TIE screamed towards the freighter, as I watched him bait a single X-Wing. As it turned to meet him, that's when my TIE was in range of the Freighter.
It was the greatest feeling in the Galaxy to dip below another X-Wing that tried to meet me as I ran through this gauntlet of fire and lasers that met me. It was as if the gods of Space were trying to stop me as I banked across the bow of the ship, where the X-Wing was climbing to meet Pavor's challenge.
One and a half seconds of squeezing the trigger was all I needed to destroy the X-Wing.
I flew through his wreckage, a very dumb idea, and banked hard as I heard the sound of targeting indictators all around me. An X-Wing was on my backside, but I saw on my sensors that a TIE, Onyx 3, it seemed, took it out. I smiled.
"Good kill!" I said, and banked again, rejoining Pavor on my side as we came behind Captain Lane. It was akin to a strafing run, the four of us strafing across the bow from a distance before we pulled away.
When it exploded, I could hear minor cheering. No reprimands from me. They killed rookies who had no right getting into a dogfight with seasoned X-Wing pilots. I'd say a little cheering is in order.
The rest of the chase-down was for them. I pulled back a little and made sure they didn't try to pull back any further, but Onyx and Captain Dunn made sure that was the case; the retreating X-Wings couldn't break gravity to use their hyperdrive, and they died like dogs.
I'd say a job well done, even with two deaths on our end, but death should never be celebrated, a voice in my head cautioned. I ignored it, and heard Captain Lane request us to land and refuel and repair on the Banisher, which was quite fine by me.
Seeing the Landing Bay made me focus and concentrate, as one by one the rookies landed their craft. I opt'd to be one of the last, and Dunn was going to be the last anyways, that's just how protocol worked. I saw Harrigan land his TIE into the hanger bay with a little fear in me; he needs to work on his landing, that I can help a little bit. But now, it's my turn.
Art is fun and all, but sometimes, practicality is much more important. No fancy turns, no cute little spins, I just moved forward, banked a little to angle my TIE, secured the landing thrusters, and then landed perfectly. Textbook.
I hate landings. Too mechanical, too precise. I'd prefer to crash, if I had the choice.
When I climbed out, I could see him, Pavor Harrigan, sitting on a box that looked like it carried fuel cells, his helmet between his knees and staring at the ground. I knew he and Flight Officer Varel were close, pretty good friends it seemed like, and he was probably taking his death a little hard.
Maybe it was because I was a little attracted to him, maybe I was going soft, maybe my father had to do it or maybe I was really maturing up to my position, but I walked over to him, my helmet in one hand and my canteen in the other, filled with water.
"Drink. Trust me." I said, as neutrally as I could, giving him the canteen by forcing it into his hand. He reacted with a look, before he sighed and nodded, and took it and drank it down, calming himself. He was like I; sweat patted my forehead, my breathing just a little panting but still nominal.
"…Good flying, Lieutenant." He said to me after a moment, bringing a forced smile to his lips.
"I'm sorry. But you know how I cope?" I ignored what he said, it was flattery and he was trying to not think about it, and I knew how dangerous bottling up emotions could be. Flight Officer Pavor Harrigan was about to say something before I cut him off. I'm trying to help the damn man and he was trying to talk over me. I'm going to have none of that.
"When we get back to base, go to the cantina when you got free time, get two glasses, and drink to his honor. Don't make his death meaningless by forgetting but don't let it consume you. Go relax, let the stress and anxiety of dogfighting just melt away right now. Drink some water. That's an order." I said, and then I let a smile crease my lips. I quoted almost word-from-word what my first commanding officer said to me. He turned out to be a rebel sympathizer and I blasted him in oblivion when he tried to defect, but that was good advice, I'd have to admit.
Pavor seemed to agree. He'd mourn later, but I could tell he wasn't going to let it get the best of him right now. He nodded, taking another gulp of water from his own canteen before he stood up.
I nodded, and he walked to join some of his own friends. I sat down where he was siting, and leaned back, thinking about my father.
Dancing with the angels…I smiled. My father couldn't die. The invinicible pilot always won his dogfights. Take risks when it's not stupid, and destroy your opponents, I could hear his voice telling me the advice he told me before I left for Carida, the advice I took to heart.
I'm never going to let you down, I thought to myself, and closed my eyes, smiling.
And then I frowned. Debriefing's next. I hate debriefings.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionIt wasn’t hard for Traven to orient himself on board of the <i>Banisher</i>. It was smaller vessel than the <i>Ravisher</i>, but every capital ship of the Empire followed the same layout, making it easier for crew members when being moved to a new assignment. The briefing room looked like dozens of others Traven had been before. But with that the familiar feeling ended.
It wasn’t him standing in front of the pilots, debriefing them. Instead Captain Lane was about to analyse the battle. She and the pilots of Onyx Squadron wore their uniforms, visually bringing it out even more that they were experienced soldiers. Opposite to the Sandbats. Like his own pilots Traven was wearing a simple grey jumpsuit, provided by the uniform store of the <i>Banisher</i> because of their lack of own clothes on board.
Wearing the simple overall without insignias, Traven felt almost degraded, but he didn’t show it as he sat down next to Aganox, giving him a grim nod. His XO managed as well as Traven himself to hide his true thoughts. Traven glanced at their pilots. The kids looked even more like the farm boys they had been just some weeks ago. The emotions caused by their first dog fight had left marks on their faces. A mix of excitement, exhaustion and grief for their fallen comrades. Traven tried to remember his own first battle, almost seventeen years ago, realising that some of his pilots even hadn’t been born back then.
Jordan Lane’s voice distracted him from his thoughts about his own age, as she started the debriefing with a tactical report. His faces darkened as Lane pointed out the mistakes of the Sandbats while the aerial combat.
<i>Frak, it was their first time in a real cockpit.</i> Traven thought, but he knew very well that he had done exactly the same while his time as group captain on the <i>Ravisher</i>. No personal feelings, no excuses, just the facts. Ironically that he was on the other side now. As if some higher power wanted to teach him humbleness. Just that Traven didn’t believe in anything like that. It was his own fault that he was in this situation.
While Aganox glanced at their pilots and their reactions to the dissection of their skills, Traven’s eyes didn’t leave Captain Lane. He was filled with different emotions as he watched her. There was a feeling of loss. Regrets about the things, that didn’t work out between them. About untold feelings as she had left. But there was also a powerful anger that she had made a fool out of him. That she seemed to be more successful than him now. That she flew circles around his squadron.
Why of all planets did she have to come to Tatooine?
Traven took a deep breath as Jordan ended the debriefing. Bellarius Aganox cleared his throat, leaning just slightly closer as he whispered.
“Captain, may I suggest that we grant some down time to the pilots as soon as we’re on the planet.” He and Traven got up from their seats. “It would be good for them to have the possibility to share their… thoughts about the battle.”
Traven nodded, agreeing with him. “I will talk to them.” He turned around, addressing Jordan first. “Captain, may you allow that I use your briefing room to speak to my pilots?”
This time she didn’t avoid his look, even when she wasn’t talkative as she answered. “Of course, Captain.”
Traven strode to the place in front of the planet, subtly forcing Jordan to retreat with his movement.
“Sandbats, you have heard the analysis of Captain Lane. Yes, she was right about what she said. I agree with her about pinpointing what has gone wrong.”
He saw Aganox frowning about his words, while the pilots looked as if they wished to be invisible. Dunn smirked as he continued.
“But that all of you are here, shows that you have the right spirit. The skills and the tactics is something a fighter pilot has to learn. That comes fast with more experience. But the fighting spirit, the feeling of having a connection with the TIE… that is something you have to have from the beginning. And today I saw that in all of you.”
The pilots looked surprised; some of them even straighten up in their seats.
“But that doesn’t mean that Stev Adram and Jerrol Morin didn’t have it. We lost them today not because all of you were better than them. No, we lost them because there was someone out there, who was better than them. So in their death they still serve us as reminder to be alerted always when we are in the cockpit. Also we shouldn’t forget them, because they were our comrades. We fought at the same side, had the same enemies.”
Traven glanced at his XO.
“Mr. Aganox reminded me of an old pilot tradition. And as graduates of Carida Academy he and I like to maintain traditions. After we will have returned to the planet, there will be obsequies for Mr. Adram and Mr. Morin. I am sure that Mr. Aganox will find an adequate place for some pilots to get an alcoholic beverage. Dismissed, Gentlemen.”
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionToo much idle time had passed since the end of the battle debriefing. Jordan needed something to keep her mind occupied, so she took her datapad and a bottle of water to the officers' lounge on the Tatooine base's sixth level. The captain then began working on her written report regarding the battle and subsequent events.
A frown appeared as Jordan described the dogfight and the Imperial deaths it had caused. A tight smile revealed itself when she concluded with Echo's efforts and the arrival of Onyx Squadron, making sure she included a note acknowledging the assistance of Byron and his subordinate, Lieutenant Kermey, on board the Banisher. Another amused expression flickered across her face when she entered the details regarding the promotions of the newly minted Commander Rardin, senior grade Lieutenant Drake, and junior grade Lieutenant Falmar. She could not deny the flush of pleasure she had experienced at their reactions.
They certainly deserved their new ranks and positions within her squadron.
Jordan neglected to mention the Onyx pilots' less-than-positive reactions to the news that she and Rardin would be returning to the surface as their mission was not yet complete. They had surprised her. Certainly Byron and his lieutenant were doing a fine job guiding Onyx in her absence; their reports had confirmed it.
The captain refused to believe it was because they liked having her and Rardin around. She was female, yet she was their leader. Rardin showed no sign of resenting that, and now that she thought about it, neither did the rest of Onyx.
No, it had to be a simple matter of lacking the leadership to which they had become accustomed. Rardin was a personable executive officer, after all.
She also left out the cantina invitation Bellarius had extended to herself and her XO. That would be a pilot-only affair.
Back on the Banisher, all of Onyx had watched as she and Rardin had departed. The surviving Sandbat pilots would be a few hours behind, ordered to return once their fighters passed maintenance checks. Well, all but two. Their TIEs were too badly damaged for immediate departure, so they would board a Lambda-class shuttle for their return.
A small sigh escaped. Jordan had not enjoyed seeing the Sandbat pilots' subdued spirits at the debrief. She felt a small pang from the thought that she may have contributed to it during her discussion of the battle. She had merely pointed out the facts according to protocol, but the facts may still have been too painful for them to hear right away.
Their captain had done a good job rectifying that.
Irritated that she had allowed her mind to wander back to the exact event that had been bothering her, Jordan shook her head and refocused on her report.
She did not know how much time had passed between that point and the next interruption. "You look pensive, Captain. Is something on your mind?"
Jordan, startled out of her thoughts by a familiar voice, looked up at her friend. "Commander!" Her eyes quickly scanned their surroundings; no other officers were in view. "What are you doing on the surface?"
Byron faked an injured expression. "Are you trying to say that I don't deserve shore leave?"
"Of course not." One eyebrow arched. "But Tatooine?"
"I've been on the Banisher for months. I'll take what I can get." He grinned. "At least the company won't be too bad."
She smiled back. "Like I'll have time to hang out with you."
"But you're coming to the cantina tonight, right?"
Jordan's expression lost all traces of humor. "I am."
Byron frowned. "Glad to hear that, but you'd think you weren't planning on having any fun by the look on your face."
She forced her visage to soften. "Sorry. You're right. I should try to enjoy myself."
"What's bothering you?"
She glared at him, fully aware he was not clueless. Slick likely wanted to hear the words from her mouth. And she would probably give in… eventually. "You were there. I'm sure you know."
"Hey, put yourself in his boots. Would you have acted any different?"
"I don't know enough about life in those boots to know the answer to that question," Jordan snapped.
He shook his head. "You two still haven't talked."
"I don't know if we ever really had a conversation." She sighed. "I'm sorry, Slick. I shouldn't be taking this out on you. Can we change the subject?"
"Sure. What do you want to talk about?"
"How'd you get on the invite list for the cantina, anyway?"
"What, I can't invite myself after overhearing it would happen? I'm kidding. Aganox asked me if I wanted to come."
"Ah, that makes sense." Some things never change, she thought silently, amused.
"You want to grab something decent to eat first? We're supposed to meet there in an hour."
"It's that late already? Yes, I should do that."
"Getting so absorbed in your work you forget to eat a meal. Yeah, that's the Jordan I remember."
She grinned at him as she picked up her things. The pair met Rardin in the officers' mess and exchanged a fairly casual conversation. Once the meal concluded and they had changed into more casual attire, they made their way toward the ground level of the base, where transportation awaited. The captain had felt relief when none of the Sandbat officers appeared to partake in the evening meal at the same time. The cantina would be difficult enough.
The Sandbat pilots had already taken seats by the time Jordan and her companions arrived. Damn, it is loud in here, she thought silently. The captain nodded greetings as she passed them by, managing to soften her expression despite Captain Dunn's presence. It was supposed to be a casual affair, and she needed to uphold that. She noticed Echo at a booth with only one other pilot, one she might have seen him conversing with after the battle. Stifling a smile, she seated herself next to her friend, and Byron placed himself on her other side. Rardin slipped in next to the commander, and their group now nearly filled the booth.
"Hope you don't mind if we join you, Lieutenant," Jordan queried lightly, hoping her smile did not appear as stiff as it felt.
"The more, the merrier," he replied. The other pilot – Harrigan, if Jordan recalled correctly – looked rather wide-eyed at the sudden influx of officers in his company. Their lack of uniform appeared to do little to ease his discomfort.
"So you decided to come dirtside, Commander?" Bellarius asked Byron, his manner casual.
"More like 'sandside.' But it's nice to feel real gravity again," Byron replied, smiling easily. He noticed Harrigan's stiff posture. "Let's take it easy for once. Have you ordered drinks?"
Bellarius shook his head. "I was just trying to convince Harrigan here to let me buy his first drink. To honor his first battle."
Rardin nodded. "That's tradition."
"It is?" Harrigan asked, finally speaking.
"Of course," Jordan replied, her features relaxing. "You made it. We need to celebrate that."
"We also honor the fallen," Bellarius reminded him.
The flight officer finally acquiesced. "Okay."
The drinks arrived in short order, and Jordan urged herself to remain involved in the conversation. They made small talk until the youngest pilot at the table felt at ease.
"What… What was it like for you? Your first battle, I mean," Harrigan asked hesitantly during a lull in the conversation.
Byron glanced at Bellarius and Jordan as he replied first. "Well, they forced us through some battles that felt pretty real during our third year at Carida. There was this series of tests where, if a cadet died in battle, they were lost to our squadron for the rest of the week. It made battles a hell of a lot harder when we lost someone. That prepared us for how it changed the behavior of a squadron, but it still didn't feel like a true loss when you saw that person walking around fine afterward. Even the best training can't prepare you for the real thing."
"There's nothing like first bloodshed," Jordan agreed, finding her chance to contribute. All eyes turned to her, but she held her nervousness at bay and continued speaking casually. She told herself to behave as if only Slick and Echo were seated there. "I'd been with my first squadron for only a few weeks before we had a skirmish with some Rebel forces. My wingmate and I survived, but the other two members of our flight didn't." The bitter memory brought heat into her voice. "Mathieu got blasted by a frakking proton torpedo and exploded almost on top of me. I could feel the shockwave from it, even though we were in space. His wingmate died trying to destroy the X-Wing that had killed him."
"Did you get the bastard?" Harrigan asked, eyes shining.
Jordan was instantly reminded of the the flight officer's youth, yet she too had been swept into the story. "Frak yes. Elanth's efforts had taken down its shields, so my wingmate and I finished the job. It was too late to save him, though."
Harrigan's expression sobered as he recalled his own recent experience with death.
"To lost comrades," Rardin said, raising his glass.
The others followed suit. "To lost comrades," they echoed in unison before each finished off his or her drink. The liquid burned as it slid down Jordan's throat, but, somehow, it was a good feeling.
After more drinks arrived, Byron deftly changed the subject to their academy days, and they regaled the young pilot with tales of life on Carida, a vastly different experience from Harrigan's training. Even Rardin listened in fascination, as he had graduated from the academy on Corulag rather than Carida.
They only told the good parts, of course.
She could blame it on the alcohol, the remembrances of some of the few positive times in her life, the company, or a combination thereof, but Jordan actually managed to feel comfortable in this strange cantina on a frontier world that barely sustained life.
Eventually, their storytelling attracted the attention of other Sandbat pilots, but the core group hardly noticed the increasing attention. "You actually got away with pranks there?" Rardin interrupted one of Bellarius's stories, startled. "Carida was supposed to be so strict!"
"If you didn't attract the attention of the warden, you could get away with a lot in the barracks," he replied casually. "Cadets in the same room would often do things to each other, or entire rooms would have feuds with other rooms."
"Well, he says that, the lieutenant here was one of the lucky ones with his own room. We got stuck with a bunch of roommates," Byron said, grinning at Jordan.
"Yes, yes we did. Some of them were barely tolerable. Gods, the noises one of them could make at night! How did Reaper describe it?" Jordan looked pointedly at Byron. "Like a droid tearing through metal, I think it was."
"Reaper?" Harrigan queried.
Byron nodded, glad for a change of subject. He certainly did not need this bunch of pilots to be able to make fun of his snoring. "We made up callsigns for each other. Last names were boring and often harder to remember."
"Yes, callsigns could be far more entertaining. Right, Crusty?" Jordan smiled wickedly at her friend.
Byron stared at her in shock. "Frak! It's been over a decade! You should've forgotten that one by now." Or not have brought it up, at least!
"That one? They changed?" Rardin asked.
The commander shrugged, regaining his composure. "Sometimes. Usually took something big to do it."
"What did yours change to?" Harrigan dared to ask.
Byron hesitated, but the calls from their now-sizable audience prevented him from backing down. "Slick."
"Where'd that come from?" someone cried out from the back.
"You want to hear that story?" Jordan replied. Byron ground his teeth, telling himself he would get his friend back later.
Of course, she ended up sharing it. Perhaps it would result in more work to bring them back under proper Imperial discipline later, but for now, the evening needed as much levity as any of them could provide. Byron retaliated with Jordan's own "Black Ice" nickname and explaining that she got it after taking down a larger cadet in hand-to-hand combat, though he declined to describe the true reasons that fight took place.
Jordan definitely appreciated that gesture despite feeling slight irritation over his little piece of revenge. She had deserved his retaliation.
Movement caught by the corner of her eye revealed Captain Dunn's presence, and Jordan inwardly froze. She had somehow forgotten he was also in the cantina, and a brief review of her earlier behavior flooded her stomach with shame. How could she ever explain herself?
And a thought brought her up short. Why should I explain myself? I am enjoying time with my friends and fellow pilots. I am taking hold of a tiny piece of happiness, something that has eluded me for far too long. And I feel shame for it? Something is wrong with me!
Against the Imperial discipline ingrained into her soul for most of her life, Jordan continued to participate in the group's lighthearted discussions. And she liked it.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionIn the space above the planet of Tatooine, the Star Destroyer Nightbringer held a tight orbit around the planet's equator, a geosynchronous orbit that allowed the massive vessel that broke the blackness of space with its large, bright gray color to easily access and acquire supplies directly to and from the base's operational spaceport.
And for Line Captain Zaafrian, that was a very good thing. That meant less time between troop deployments and it allowed the flagship, arguably the strongest vessel in the fleet to be the last vessel in the line for the incoming New Republic forces to breach. The inclusion of the Banisher into the fleet had been a very, very good thing for Zaafrian's commanding officer, Willem von Aath; another Star Destroyer was good enough to bolster not only the armaments and fighters of the fleet but the morale as well.
“The time is now 2330” The electronic voice sounded off, after the twenty three bell chimes. Onboard the bridge of the vessel, Zaafrian tapped his foot against the smooth black plating of the floor, his polished boot in beat with a song he heard from the holonet a few days ago that he couldn't get out of his head. The lyrics and the hymn, he couldn't remember, only the beat. It was annoying him as he stared at the battle map of the solar system that Tatooine inhabited, the green triangles and shapes representing the Imperial fleet that clustered near the planet.
“Captain, third watch reporting all well. We're taking pot shots at any incoming small asteroids, to keep our gunners trained and ready.” Commander Qaim reported behind Zaafrian. He could just feel the Commander's voice, young and proud and yet so incredibly bored and trying to hold back his sigh. He understood Commander Qaim's reaction very well; waiting for this enemy fleet to arrive was very taxing.
“What about the engagement with Onyx and Sandbat Squadrons?” He asked, turning his head to look at Qaim. Compared to Zaafrian, a lot of officers were boys, but Qaim always struck him as a little too young to hold the rank of Commander, but he was the brand new commander in charge of Sensor Group, and he was the chief COMSCAN operator, so age wasn't exactly an issue when it came to sensor sweeping and understanding the logisitics of it. In fact, Zaafrian would argue that it would be better because of the age difference. But since he was the highest ranking officer during the third watch on the bridge, he was the command duty officer, and as such was Zaafrian's executive officer for the third watch. He wasn't exactly thrilled with that prospect…
But still, Zaafrian couldn't really complain. It came with the job.
“There were some losses, but light compared to usual projections with 'rookie' squadrons against shielded X-Wing pilots.” He started, switching the datapad's contents to show the results. “Most of the fighters are under repair…actually, sir, most are completed in repairs. Only a few need to be fixed now, and projections show that they'll be done by fifteen hundred, sir.”
“Excellent. Anything else to report?” He asked, his eyes making rough contact with his, the blue eyes of Zaafrian's matching with the green of the Commander.
“Except for low morale reports, that's it. People on board don't have the confidence you do in Admiral Aath's plans. In fact, most of us think he's too close to this assignment right now to be effective, sir…” He spoke, his voice trying to maintain an air of neutrality but Zaafrian was all aware of what the officer was doing; some of the best political officers he had met would of tore into Qaim's badly concealed insult. He spent a fair amount of time on Coruscant before the occupation and 'liberation' by the Rebel Alliance, so he fully understood when someone said one thing but meant another.
“You weren't on this bridge during the attack on Coruscant, were you?”
“No sir, I was on the Tannhauser. near the Mid Rim borders.”
“And you weren't here during the Muunilinst engagements and the subsequent Muunilinst defense tour, right?”
“That's correct, sir.”
“Then take this advice then, Commander Qaim. You're dealing with an Admiral who is neck deep into Imperial and Galactic politics, who is doing everything in his power to make sure he can secure a victory with the least amount of lives lost. Von Aath has been for this crew, this fleet and the Empire all his military career, when he could of easily defected or retired.” Zaafrian's voice was neutral, again, like what Qaim intended his thinly-veiled insult to be.
But Zaafrian's voice took a dangerous and dark tone as he folded his arms over his chest and leaned a little forward; “So make sure you understand every word I'm about to say. If you ever make another comment like that to me, about me or your commanding officer again, I will not only strip you of your rank but I'll send you back home with a recommendation for a dishonourable discharge, do you understand me?”
“Sir, yes sir!” Qaim's body went straight, his strikingly blond hair catching the light from his newly rigid pose.
“Do another scan, double-check it, and then signal the end of the third watch.” Zaafrian ordered, handing back the datapad to Qaim before he turned around. No drill step, no flair, just a simple turn with his feet. Qaim, however, drilled with an about-face before he walked to the duty station with his new orders.
Qaim's insult, however mean and unbecoming of a bridge officer, was a little true, Zaafrian mused as he felt his shaven chin. The fleet was confused about this; why were they waiting? Why didn't they just make an attack immediately somewhere to draw attention? There was a whole book on galactic-scale tactics and what to do, and Willem was completely ignoring it.
Maybe he is playing this too close. Maybe he really is losing it… He thought to himself as he stared at the planet from the main viewing glass, his eyes scanning the cloudless regions of Tatooine with a pensive gaze.
He took his hand and stratched the back of his neck, ignoring that feeling in his gut before he turned back around. Time for him to do his bridge rounds anyway before he got a bite to eat.
Thirty minutes later…
Admiral Willem von Aath read the report carefully before he leaned back.
“I have to say, this is better than I really expected.” Willem's eyes looked up from the datapad back to Octavian Zaafrian. The Captain's Quarters on the Nightbringer was sparsely decorated; Zaafrian knew of fleet officers, who were lower on the command scale, who made their personal quarters look and feel like a home. Wood desk, private refrigerator, all sorts of things. Willem just kept a small holopicture of his family on his desk and a few knick-knacks. His cover, his dress clothes in the nearby closet…otherwise his room on the ship was completely spartan. It was the little things like that in which made Zaafrian respect Willem.
“Onyx and Sandbat Squadron did their job admirably.”
“They both have decorated commanders.” Willem added after ISB Colonel Malcilom Betruger spoke from the nearby corner of the room, in Willem's extra seating arrangements. The Admiral had at least that for more than one officer who had to report to the Admiral. Zaafrian looked out of Willem's viewport at the open starfield, chewing on a piece of bubblegum.
“Well, one of them, at least.” Zaafrian replied as he took the nearby seat and tried to relax. He had a rough shift with Qaim; he was happy to be out of it and talk to his friend, but Betruger made things worse. Once the squadron got back, he had to interview a few of the pilots from both squadrons, and he still stayed on the ship to talk to Willem after he was done.
Zaafrian thought of him as a necessary evil.
“The Empire's changing, Zaafrian. You can't look at someone's gender and discard them on that basis anymore. I never have, and you shouldn't either.” Willem replied, leveling his eyes at the flag officer.
“Not Captain Lane. She's been nothing but the absolute model of a combat command officer. I'm really tempted to beg for her to be re-assigned to the Nightbringer's permanent flight rotation, her and her squadron.” Zaafrian replied, folding one leg up onto his thigh. This got Willem's attention, leaning back as he looked to Betruger.
Betruger nodded. “Her file is lock-solid. Better than our Line Captain's personal CSV.”
“…So it's Dunn then?”
Zaafrian nodded. “I don't trust anyone who's been sent here like he was. Suspicion of treason? With more than credible evidence?” Zaafrian started, leaning forward. “I don't mis-trust your judgment, Admiral, but how come we're tolerating this?”
Willem tapped his plastic desk, the white not matching the gun-metal gray of the room around him. He looked as if he understood what Zaafrian was saying before he breathed in, a gentle and easy breath from his lungs before he spoke.
“I looked him in the eye, Captain. I shook his hand, I met his family, I even had dinner with him. This man would rather eviscerate himself from head to stern before he betrayed the Empire.” Willem replied. “I've seen men who have been at the wrong place and at the wrong time, and right now Traven Dunn is one of those men. You were accused of forging a crime scene back on Corellia, during the initial occupation, and yet you asked me to trust you with every ounce of my spirit during the attack on Coruscant. Do you recall that, Zaaf?”
“I want you to trust Dunn to do his job. I'm not asking you to put your heart out for him, or to play poker with him or become his best friend. He is an experienced starfighter pilot, a damn good commander and someone I know who will not use his position to better his personal gains. I can trust him to be all of that. You need to trust me when I say to trust him.”
Zaafrian's doubts over Willem's mental state shortened completely. He knew Willem was a man who looked at every tangent, every angle. Lately he had been so stressed and focused on this campaign that he literally screamed at Zaafrian; he remembered this very clearly. To hear him put trust in an officer who Zaafrian would of thrown away…and reminded that Willem did the same for Zaafrian, that calmed him.
“I apologize for—-”
“Don't you do it, Zaaf. I trust you to speak your mind. That's why you're my ship captain, and that's why you wear that rank.” Willem gestured to the small rank symbol on Zaafrian's chest, and that made him smile, if slightly.
Willem returned the smile, but when he turned his head to face Betruger it disappeared.
“Betruger, you're heading back down at 0830?”
“Yes, sir.” The ISB officer replied.
“Send a message to Dunn and Lane when you land. Give them my congratulations on their stellar performance in the dogfight and if they need anything from the Nightbringer's fleet, inform me immediately.”
Willem nodded, looking at the time on the nearby chrono on the wall. 0004.
“It's about time I get more involved in the ground defense. I'll have a talk with General Tull tomorrow. In the meantime, you two need to get some sleep.” Willem gestured to the door. The two officers stood up and nodded, and left the fleet commander alone after they said their goodnights.
It didn't take Willem long to get into bed and drift to sleep.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionWhiskey was beginning to have less of an impact on my liver. No longer did I feel the cool sting of the alcohol in my tongue as much as I used to. It was like my body was finally adapting to it, the cool drink not satisfying anymore. The slip of the mixture of whiskey and soft drink was smooth but, it lacked the normal texture, the normal flavor.
That was a horrifying problem, because you have to drink something in a bar or cantina like this, and on Tatooine, you can only really trust the whiskey. The vodka, the stouts, the…everything, you couldn't trust it if actually was brewed and distilled on Tatooine. Captain Tully, one of my first commanding officers, told me that anything other than the whiskey could give you the most horrifying runs, and although Tully was a traitor to the Empire, he still knew more than I ever will about alcohol and where it came from.
Allegory was silly, I thought to myself as I took a drink of the last bit of the whiskey mixture in my glass. I thought perhaps all of this lacking of taste with alcohol was related to all of the killing I've done in my life…and that thought only lasted a few moments before I laughed.
There is something undefinable about killing someone else in a dogfight. I can't put my finger exactly on the right word (maybe that was the alcohol's help), but I enjoyed what I do. But these thoughts drifted; I let myself go when I fly, but now I need to just relax and enjoy my drinks.
Try to enjoy, at least.
It had to be my father. I haven't heard any new updates since the original communique from Bastion, and the feeling that he might be dead was not exactly the best feeling to have when drinking. I probably appeared a little forlorn as I looked down at the last little bit of soda and whiskey, which was probably just a little bit of spittle and backwash by now. Letting it sit there, I sighed before I leaned back into my booth.
Some of the other pilots had made their way into the little cantina, the rest of Sandbat Squadron at least. I saw Pavor walking in first, looking awkward with a few of his pilot buddies. I've been getting to know more of the squadron but the best I could do was remember faces, not names. Not even callsigns yet, but in a few days, I think I'll know most of them.
Pavor, at least, was someone I knew. He looked over at me and smiled and waved; one of those small little hand raises and that little awkward face he made when he saw someone. Mouth half opened, surprised looking eyes…I think Ensign Varel called it “Classic Pavor”.
Pavor Harrigan said a few words to his buddies before he made his way to me. He sat down in the same booth, drink in hand and nodded at me.
“Lieutenant, I wanted to say a th-”
I cut him off. “It's alright, Harrigan. We're pilots. It's what we do.” I spoke, trying to let my smile look natural and easy as I let my finger purse the lip of my glass. I saw that Harrigan was drinking some sort of beer or stout from a bottle. He'd learn the hard way what I've learned the easy way.
“…Thanks, LT.” He said, with a small but growing smile. Maybe it was because I saw myself in this pilot, but maybe if I worked hard enough, he'd be less awkward and more assertive.
Maybe the sky can turn purple too.
“Can I ask you a question?” Pavor asked, looking from his bottle to my face after a silent moment. Deciding to see what was ticking in his head, I nodded in the affirmative.
“Is it true, back on the Vindication?” He asked me, his face a little pale. That peaked my interest. How exactly could a group of rookies know about that? Warning bells began to sound alarm in my brain as I looked to the bartender and tapped my drink twice. After a moment, the human nodded and poured for myself another round of whiskey and soft drink.
“I don't know how you know about that, Pavor…but it's one hundred percent true. The moment they turned traitor I turned around and engaged them.”
“But weren't any of those pilots your friends?”
“No. I don't make friends easy, Harrigan, and those pilots willingly gave up the Empire for their own reasons. Traitors die traitor's deaths, Flight Officer.” I noticed my voice was cold, dark even, and that gave me pause before I sighed. “…I killed them, yes.” I started, before I saw the hostess, or waitress, or whatever you call a server in a cantina, make her way over to me with a glass in hand. She placed it in front of me before she walked away, presumably to the other pilots, I don't know. I didn't bother looking.
“…What was it like?”
This was crucial. I could go either way with Harrigan; show him I have a softer side or prove to him that I'm a heartless asshole. That was actually pretty accurate, I thought to myself quickly as I looked at him.
“…There is nothing quite like hunting a former friend. To twirl with them in space before you zero in on them with your sights, and then a few squeezes of the trigger…it's a different feeling because you know them enough to know their mistakes. It's like knowing the test scores before the teacher brings out the exam. It's a life-changing thing, Harrigan, and it will change you too if you're unlucky like I was. I hope you never have to feel that rush of happiness when I kill someone.”
The look in his face was a little…neutral, actually. Derived of feeling. It surprised me by how Harrigan looked at the table, like he understood my words.
“…I hope I never have to come to that.” He said, taking a long drink from his stout in a bottle before I smiled. Hopefully he'd be a little more responsive later…maybe he'd do even better by the next engagement. Maybe that was wishful thinking on my part. No matter what, maybe Harrigan learned something today.
That's all I could hope for. Situations like these prove to me that I'd make a horrible teacher.
“Hope you don't mind if we join you, Lieutenant.” I heard a woman's voice speak, turning my head to see Captain Jordan Lane sit down next to me. Nothing can beat that good feeling, having one of my only friends back on the planet with me. Looking at her, in the light, I could see everything about her face. The slight smirk that took years for her to develop (It reminded me when she said I kissed like a brother), the way she looked at me with her eyes and not with that throwaway look I got the first time we met…it was nice.
She had come a long way from the cadet I met on Carida. She was a warrior-woman now, a defender of the Empire and trusted enough within the ranks of the politically conservative Imperial officers to have command of an actual combat squadron. Seeing her now, it was like looking at a changed woman. If I couldn't have my command, I was glad she did.
“The more, the merrier.” I said, scooting a little further into the booth so she didn't have to sit too far into the open aisle. I watched with a little smile as Harrigan didn't look all too comfortable at the prospect at sitting with a command officer and a command duty officer, giving a nice smile to Commander Byron Duval as he sat down as well. The look on my face was complete amusement in contrast to Harrigan's worried look. I remember having to have dinner with an ISB agent, my father and a Fleet Admiral a few weeks after my graduation, as a fresh Flight Officer…this is much easier, I smiled.
Much, much better company than a bunch of suits.
And then the night drove on, with story after story. I shared but a few to accompany Jordan and Byron…oh, Byron. What a tease. The features of his face and his hair and voice, and if it wasn't for Jordan I would of made my move back in the Academy. The memory of her giving me that look when I asked Byron what kind of conditioning he did and if he wanted private tips. The image of her face and her reaction in my memory made me chuckle, and luckily for me my laughter caught up with the end of Jordan's story.
I wondered about those two for a long time. They were close enough for me to be a little bit suspicious of their time together, but with all honesty I couldn't really judge them if they did.. The thought made my smile stick before it dropped as I looked to my right. Captain Dunn walked in, constantly standing and walking as if he was always in charge. To force your body to have an aura of command, that took a lot of skill and self-respect.
I was jealous. It takes a lot of something that I didn't have to do that. I either don't care enough or I care too much. Dunn had 'just enough' in spades. The gift of command graced very few people, and I'm glad I was smart enough to stick around with the man who had it. Especially one with a strong jaw, and damn good eyes.
This was a bad night to even think of that kind of thing, the thought crossed my mind, and my smile dropped a little as I remembered the holomail, the news about my father, and the lack of it since I read. This wasn't good, not good at all. I took the last sip of my whiskey and soft drink before I looked over to Jordan.
“Hey, mind if I slip out of here?” I asked. She gave me back a nod.
“Leaving?” Byron asked me as I stood up. Damn that handsome devil.
“Yes. I'm not feeling too well, hoping I can sleep that off before tomorrow.” I said, looking back down at her once she took back the edge of the booth's seat. I rose my empty glass.
“To old, and to new, friends.” I said, a smirk on my lips before I chang'd it and then said a little goodnight to the three of them. I had my back to them; I didn't know if Jordan was getting ready to leave now too or what. But, on my way out, I saw Dunn again, who was standing near the pilots. I thin he was talking to another pilot but I wasn't so sure; the look on the pilot's face wasn't so happy or scared so I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not that I interrupted Dunn for a moment.
“Captain, I'm heading back to base. I'm going to get started on our report about the engagement.” I kind of threw that out of my ass but I quickly added more. “I also have an early morning calisthentics program and I want to sleep off much of this alcohol before then.” That wasn't a lie, maybe a half truth since I really didn't drink that much, but hopefully Dunn took the bait.
“I understand. Good luck sleeping it off, Lieutenant.” He said, giving me a smirk and a nod. I returned it with a thank you and then I walked out of the cantina through the front doors.
Taking a shuttle-speeder from the cantina was easy, as well as entering the base and getting back to my quarters. But once I sat down on the bed, not even out of my relaxing clothes, I breathed in and I felt the urge to cry. By the space gods or goddesses or whatever the frak they'd call themselves, I never felt the urge to cry in a long, long time.
My father is the last surviving member of my family. No real relatives that have the Aganox name, no one I really cared about…just him. And he's sick. So sick he's in critical condition. It made me horribly sick, on the verge of tears.
Realizing that I was safe here, that I could be Bellarius and not Lieutenant Aganox, I cried a little. Not too long, maybe half an hour before I really felt drained, and then I forced myself to get into the bed.
The tears stopped when I entered the realm of dreams.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionTatooine was not a nice place; it did not make an appearance of being a nice place like Balmorra did. Memories of that encounter still haunted her, down with Colicoids! In any case, Tatooine was not on her top choices of places to visit.
But, she had a reason to be here and the very purpose was more than enough to look past her discomfort with this place. Cadell Ruvin was here for the man who had murdered her parents. Every lead she’d ever found had pointed to Tatooine and Mos Eisley.
But still, that blinding sun and scorching heat was down-right miserable. She’d ditched her cloak back on her ship and she was still sweating profusely.
‘Calm down Cadell, heat won’t stop you from your mission’
The Force was her ally though and she took a deep breath, letting the Force flow within her. The music soared within her and she almost instantly felt relief. The Force was alive in her just like any Jedi Knight.
She stepped into the cantina and the music soared again, though this time it was the cantina music. She couldn’t help the smile on her face, the music was lively and the band talented. She could see patrons everywhere engaged in conversation, dozens of species. There were humans, Twilek, Kubaz, Rodian, Houk, Abyssal, Quarren, and Gamorrean.
She was just another face in the crowd and that was perfectly fine with her. So with that thought in mind she headed for the bar. His contact was here somewhere and had left specific instruction to head to Mos Eisley’s cantina so that was what she did.
He didn’t say she couldn’t grab a few drinks and flirt with a pretty girl or two, did he? As she walked to the bar she had to move quickly to avoid bumping into someone on their way out. While that would have normally been filed under ‘who cares’, the fact that the person had an imperial uniform made her freeze.
She had completely forgotten that Tatooine was under Imp control, well frak.
A quick look around the cantina revealed what looked to be a group of Imperials at one of the tables. Oh man this was so terrifying. She was a Jedi on a planet controlled by Imperials. Almost instantly she grabbed the lightsaber at her belt and stuffed it into her tunic in a probably futile effort to hide it.
She’d just grab a drink and head as far away as possible to wait for her contact. One corellian ale later she was sitting at a table in a sort-of secluded alcove where she could watch the Imperials from across the room.
After using the Force to enhance her hearing, it wasn’t hard to figure out that they were pilots.
Well at least if it came down to a fight she could fight her way past them with little difficulty right?
She took a drink and looked around for her contact. Force it was amazing how good a cold drink going down your throat felt after getting away from the blistering heat.
Idly she probed the Imperials, just an idle check to make sure none of them were taking any notice of her. The music around them was jovial and spirited, troops on leave with their comrades.
‘Good is a matter of perspective isn’t it?’
A Twilek server girl ambled by in a modest outfit and Cadell gave her a smile and found herself quite pleased at the smile she got in return. She missed Ava terribly, but the doctor wouldn't want her to avoid happiness because of her.
Another glance at the Imperials, though with the blindfold and the fact that she 'saw' through the Force it still looked like she was following the Twilek server.
Did they ever think about what they represented? Did they ever wonder if they were the good guys or if the Empire's past actions followed them. Could a change of regime change the policy as easily as shedding a garment?
It was a philosophical/moral question that most of the Imperials didn't look old enough to answer.
'I wonder if they would still be upset over the stormtroopers and Inquisitors I killed during the Civil War?'
She didn’t really want to know the answer to that question. It would probably be bad for her health.
And once again she had to admit that the ale was good, this cantina had the good stuff, not the cheap ale that most bars she went to did. One good drink deserved another, and maybe she was a little hungry too?
With that thought in mind she reached out and tapped the Twilek on the shoulder as she passed, letting her arm linger just a little longer than it really needed to. The Twilek smiled at her, warm and inviting.
“How may I help you maam?” she asked and Cadell smiled in response.
“Another ale and something light to eat please, stew perhaps?” the Twilek nodded and left, giving another lingering smile as she did.
Yes, even with the Imperials today was turning out to be a good day.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionTraven didn’t mind as Aganox interrupted him. And he was sure that the pilots, he had been talking to, didn’t neither. Traven wasn’t bad at small talk. Being born and raised in the upper class of Imperial Center implicated that. But even wearing civilian clothes didn’t change the fact that he was their superior officer. It was a little like being a chaperone at a school’s party. Awkward for both sides.
He had never been a very jovial person, not even to his peers. There had been a feeling of envy as he had seen his executive officer with his friends, talking about old times. But Traven didn’t want to join their table. His former encounters with Jordan over the last two days had been uncomfortable enough. She looked relaxed now, enjoying her company. There was no need to change it. Especially if there was the possibility, that the alcohol loosened their tongues.
Mr. Aganox’s parting words had been reasonable. The beverages in this establishment were potent. Traven stared at the empty glass in his hand. It had been just his second drink, but he began to feel the influence. He was wondering, what the bartender, a grim-looking human whose face told his harsh past, mixed into it. So Traven decided that it was just one more before he would return to the base as well.
<i>Let the night belong to the kids. </i> He thought as he sipped his third whiskey. His eyes followed the Twi’lek girl who had served the drink. She stopped by at a table, where a Miraluka sat. The Imperial Captain frowned. A rare species. But what did he know about this melting pot? He was sure that Mos Eisley had even weirder inhabitants.
It was very early in the morning as Traven started his daily routine with his usual running along the outskirts of the town. As much as he despised this planet, Traven had learnt to enjoy this early time of the day as the twin suns were just peaking over the horizon. Soon their remorseless beams would heat up the air again. But right now the temperature was pleasant. The coldness of night mixed with the warmth of the previous day still emitted by the lithic walls of the buildings.
Traven needed just a few metres to find his running rhythm on the gritty streets. The sand was lying higher in the periphery than in the inner city, making it harder to get going. Obviously there had been a minor storm raging over night, creating new dunes. Traven sank deeper into the dust as he crossed the sand field it. He cursed as the grains filled his running shoes.
Leaving the area finally behind, Traven stopped, trying to get the sand out of his footwear. A weird sound did let him hesitate. A kind of shout, an almost animalistic series of growls and grunts. Traven didn’t understand the meaning, but he was certain that it had been the primitive language of the sand people. He frowned as he remembered reading in the dossier about Tatooine that these barbarians rarely came close to Mos Eisley. Maybe the storm had forced them to use another travel route. Or they were up for something. Even when Traven couldn’t believe that they would attack the city, it was better to inform the base. He saw no tactical advantage in a pre-emptive strike against the nomadic tribes. They were too many hidden in the vastness of the desert. Also it would just provoke counter charges of them. The sufferers would be the moisture farmers and smaller settlements. Nevertheless it seemed important that General Tull would learn about this.
His hand on his blaster Traven stared into the crepuscule of the desert, trying to spot some banthas as a sign for Tusken. A sound behind him, made him turn around fast, his weapon now drawn.
If Captain Jordan Lane was startled by his sudden move, she hid it well. There was just a slight precariousness in her eyes. But that could have different reasons than his motion.
“A good morning to you too.” She said coolly and Traven realised that he was still pointing his blaster towards her. Clearing his throat he put away his gun, managing to greet her as well. Jordan wore an outfit similar to his, the standard Navy training suit, just that her shirt carried the emblem of her squadron in addition to the Imperial crest. It was good to see that she had found her place in the fleet, but also reminded him of his own loss of identification. His squadron deserved own shirts as well. Frak, he deserved one.
“You better not use this route, Captain.” His voice was firm as he pushed away his emotions. It was not the time to show any weaknesses. If there ever was a right time for that at all.
Jordan frowned at his words. “Any problems?” Traven pointed with a thumb over his shoulder to the dune. “It is not a good running terrain. Especially as it seems that there are non-Human visitors nearby.” She hesitated a moment. Traven could almost see that she considered the pro and contra of risking an encounter with the desert dweller or of running the rest of the way next to him. Finally she nodded.
“I see your point.” She looked back into the direction she had come from. “Do you mind if I join you on your way back to the base?”
Traven made a welcoming motion with his hand. “Be my guest.” He replied with a little smile, not sure where that one came from. Maybe he was just glad that she wasn’t in company of this Commander Duval, who followed her usually like a small pet.
As they ran next to each other, the both Captains fell into the same rhythm. It was almost like back on the <i>Ravisher</i> when they had met at the treadmills of the gym. Quiet and concentrated they just ran. None of them spoke, but it was just a hundred meters to the garrison as Jordan finally gathered her courage.
“Traven, what the hell are you doing here? Why are you on this dust ball?” Her voice sounded concerned so he just stared at her, his jaw dropped by surprise. Finally he took a deep breath.
“I made wrong decisions, Jordan.” His professional mask slipped, at least for a moment, and she could see some emotions in his eyes. Frustration, maybe even regrets. “Maybe I…” But his explanation, his confession, was disturbed by the buzzing of his comlink.
“Dunn here.” He answered the call. They could hear Aganox’s voice. “Captain, I apologise to interrupt your morning run, but General Tull demands your attendance at a meeting. I’ll pick you up with a speeder. Where are…” They saw the garrison’s gate open, while he was speaking as a landspeeder left the secured area. “Ah, I can see you.”
Traven raised a hand as a kind of casual greeting. “I think I’ll make the rest of the way by foot still. Just tell the General that I need 15 minutes.” That would be enough for a shower and dressing properly.
The speeder turned around before reaching them, returning to the garrison. “I need to hurry.” Traven said apologetically, but also with some relief in his voice. He began to jog again. Jordan hid her disappointment as she followed him, quietly.
Fifteen minutes later Traven, accompanied by his executive officer, entered General Tull’s office just to arrive the orders to marshal their squadron on the main landing platform as part of the reception committee for an arriving dignitary. Traven knew that it was the General’s version of harassment to let him stand at attention while receiving a command instead of simply telling it via comlink. But it didn’t bother the Captain. While his military career he had met enough officers who balanced their own low self-esteem and bitterness with such methods.
With the help of Lieutenant Aganox’s drill the Sandbat squadron appeared complete on the landing platform. Traven nodded pleased as he inspected their appearance. They were hiding their hangovers from last night very well.
“Looks like we will make real pilots out of them, Mr. Aganox.” Traven smirked vaguely as he addressed the other officer, who was standing next to him. They looked over the platform that was crowded with all military personnel, the garrison had to offer. The deployment of soldiers was an impressive sight, but it seemed a little exaggerated by the fact that they weren’t expecting the Emperor, but only an Admiral. But Willem van Aath was currently the biggest power player in the Empire. So General Tull obviously just followed the protocol with this display of military strength.
They all stood at attention like a collective, controlled by one mind, as the shuttle landed and the Admiral and his adjutant emerged on the ramp.