The Tatooine Redemption
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionOnce again, her emotions had escaped her control and forced an outburst she desperately wished to recall. Jordan internally berated herself for her lapse as she mechanically went through the motions of using the 'fresher.
However, her inner voice lacked much of its usual ferocity. Instead of ignoring her, instead of brushing off her questions, instead of forcing a change of topic to more professional matters, he had answered. "I made wrong decisions, Jordan," he had said.
In truth, his honest response had caught her off-guard. On top of that, his use of her first name had completely thrown off any balance she had hoped to retain after her own sudden query. The expression he wore when he glanced back at her had been almost as transparent as when–
Jordan shook her head violently. She knew Tra– Captain Dunn regretted his response. She had not missed the note of relief in his statement after receiving the notification about the meeting with General Tull.
And part of her felt the same way.
Frustrated by her two-faced emotions, Jordan slammed her fist into the wall of the 'fresher before turning off the stream of moisture. It had been a mere three minutes since she had entered the stall, but Jordan had never been one to linger in a shower, and on a desert wasteland like Tatooine, water conservation became an even higher priority.
As she toweled her hair dry, her comlink beeped. "Captain Lane here," she replied.
"Good morning, Captain," a cheerful voice sounded. It was Rardin. Jordan smiled faintly, somehow pleased at his more relaxed manner of address. She admitted to herself that it was a nice change from the stiffness she encountered at every meeting with Captain Dunn. "A delegation is arriving from the Nightbringer on the main landing platform at 1030 hours. Admiral von Aath himself is coming. General Tull wants us to be present when they get here."
She would have liked to have learned of this visit much earlier; before her run would have been perfect. Her mind quickly glossed over the fact that the highest-ranked officer would be visiting. "That does not leave much time for my morning duties," Jordan remarked, realizing only too late how much irritation had leaked into her words.
"I checked in with the Banisher while you were on your run, Captain," Rardin replied. "I got the latest simulation results for you."
She smiled. "Thank you, Commander. Your forethought is appreciated. I will see you on the landing platform."
"Yes, sir," he answered before ending the call.
Jordan sat down on her bunk with a sigh, idly rubbing her temples. She hated being stuck on the surface for so long with no immediate mission goal. Her inspection of the base's air capabilities had yet to go to plan, and she wondered how much longer she would be required to remain here. Perhaps the arrival of this delegation could answer some of her questions. If not, she could at least hope for a more concrete goal for the near future.
Jordan met her XO in the corridor on their way to the landing platform with ten minutes left before the designated arrival time. It would not do to be late, after all. Once they stepped out, Jordan barely concealed her surprise at the gathering of military personnel. Her XO's shock showed plainly on his face for a second before he regained composure. "Sandbat Squadron should be over here," Rardin said after a brief pause, guiding her to one side of the platform. Steeling her features, Jordan assumed her crisp military posture and fell into place beside Captain Dunn. Her outward expression blank, inside she was torn over her assigned location.
Thankfully the appearance of a shuttle prevented any need for small talk; the admiral was slightly early, a fact that impressed the female captain. She did not know much about the man, but she was curious about the type of officer he was.
The level of attention to which the gathered troops stood was remarkable, particularly given the type of planet on which it was located. Once the vehicle landed, Admiral von Aath stepped onto the shuttle ramp first, followed by a man and a woman. Jordan had no idea who the other two people were, but she was not expecting to see another female Imperial officer. She wondered what position the woman held.
She was too distracted by these thoughts to catch General Tull's introduction of the admiral and the admiral's own remarks until he had concluded speaking. As the ground troops filed out first, he approached her position, the other two Imperial officers in step behind him. "Captain Dunn, Captain Lane, I presume?"
They both saluted sharply, their XOs following suit.
He made eye contact with each captain as he spoke. "I would like to meet with you both over lunch. Please come to Meeting Room Beta on the sixth level at 1130 hours."
"Y-Yes, sir," Jordan replied awkwardly.
He nodded to them both before moving on to speak with a trio of ground officers.
Jordan's eyes briefly met Captain Dunn's, and an instantaneous flash of understanding conveyed his own lack of expectation of the Admiral's invitation. She nodded to him before excusing herself, Rardin following closely behind her.
She turned to face him once they were back in the relatively quiet corridor. "Lieutenant, send a message to the Banisher. I want to know how many squadrons came with Admiral von Aath's fleet. Get that information to me before the meeting, if you can."
He nodded crisply. "Captain, why does the admiral want to meet with you?"
She offered only a slight shrug. "I do not know, but I am in charge of the Banisher's fighters, even though it is but a single squadron. There is also the matter of our evaluation of Sandbat Squadron. Get me that squadron information, and I will have a better idea of how Onyx can fit into potential strategies."
Rardin looked pleased with her explanation, or perhaps he simply enjoyed receiving a reason for his orders rather than the order alone. "Yes, sir."
While Rardin carried out his task, Jordan pored over the little information she had on the admiral's fleet. Admiral von Aath had arrived with five capital ships, significantly improving the strength of the Empire's forces in Tatooine's orbit. She wondered if he had intelligence regarding an impending enemy attack. If he did, perhaps it would shed light on that small New Republic force Sandbat Squadron had sacrificed so much to contain.
A chime sounded on her datapad. With fifteen minutes to go, Rardin had sent her the information she had requested. How she had managed to obtain such a good XO for her first squadron leader assignment, she had no idea.
A few minutes before the arranged time, Jordan entered the meeting room with some trepidation, unsure how to carry herself. She saluted when she made eye contact with Admiral von Aath. "Sir."
"At ease, Captain Lane. And welcome," the admiral, already seated at the smaller of the two tables, replied with a relaxed expression. He indicated the empty chair across from him. "Please, have a seat. Lunch will arrive shortly."
She nodded, pleased yet concerned by his apparent lack of issue with her gender. Before she could worry about finding something to say, Captain Dunn arrived, a pair of droids laden with servingware just behind him.
The admiral greeted him cordially as well. Again, he could take issue with the manner in which the other captain had been transferred to Tatooine, but again, Admiral von Aath did not seem to care. Not outwardly, at least.
Once they each had a plate of food in front of them, the admiral sighed quietly. "For whatever reason, the Empire seems to want its commanding officers to get fat and stay that way."
Jordan blinked in shock, and Captain Dunn looked no less surprised. The admiral glanced at each of them. "I would expect you both to need to worry about that someday."
He expects me to continue rising in rank? Jordan thought in wonder.
Admiral von Aath began speaking again after swallowing a bite of his meal. "You both will be an integral part of our space forces, so I'm going to discuss our strategy with you now. This is why I called you here." The admiral gazed directly at Captain Dunn, whose raised eyebrows were the only betrayal of his surprise. "I understand your transfer here occurred under less than ideal circumstances, Captain Dunn, but I believe you are someone who puts the Empire first. I expect the best from you in the coming engagement."
"Thank you, sir," Dunn replied, his face back under its professional mask, but Jordan could not help her belief that he felt relieved by Admiral von Aath's remark.
The admiral then looked at Jordan. She hid her own astonishment at the fact that he easily made eye contact with her. "I've seen your record, Captain Lane. I'm impressed with your accomplishments with Onyx Squadron. I believe your work with them will show in this battle."
"You honor me, sir," she replied after the briefest of pauses.
He nodded. "As we believe we will soon face an attack from the New Republic here, we have multiple capital ships in orbit around Tatooine. Though we don't know what exactly they were investigating, the group of enemy ships defeated by Sandbat Squadron revealed their interest in this world." The admiral went on to describe some of the details of his fleet.
As she had already learned about the squadrons he brought, her mind wandered, and movement outside the transparisteel caught the female captain's attention for a moment. It was difficult to see clearly, but she could have sworn that an AT-AA vehicle was crossing over the sands.
"The trap I have planned means that your pilots will need to be able to perform under very difficult circumstances. I was pleased to see Sandbat Squadron training in a region where their sensor equipment couldn't be relied upon, because we're going to use that against the New Republic forces when they arrive."
This day certainly was full of surprises. Jordan began mentally planning simulation scenarios for Onyx Squadron even as she re-evaluated her opinion of the admiral. She definitely had a positive impression of his tactical skills now.
Captain Dunn set down his utensils, his expression serious. "Starting today, I will focus Sandbat Squadron's exercises on high interference scenarios."
She should have known he would instantly have the same idea. "I will do the same for Onyx," Jordan added.
The admiral nodded. As they had finished their meals, he stood, and the two captains quickly did the same. "I look forward to the results of your efforts, Captains." He evaluated their stiff postures and ended the meeting with the order they waited to hear. "Dismissed."
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionAria stood in the semi lit corridor with her back against the wall. She was waiting for the Captains to finish their lunch. She wished that she was in that room as well, to observe. What she saw earlier on the platform when she arrived disturbed her. A plan was forming in her head and she had to see the two Captains again to confirm her suspicions.
There was also the Admiral she had to deal with. Aria wasn’t used to having limits and clearly limits were being set. She would have to tread carefully when dealing with him.
How long do I have to wait?
She adjusted her white uniform and her long hair covered her rank. Aria did that on purpose. The only ones who knew her exact rank were the Admiral and ISB Colonel Betruger. Along with a few other high ranking officers. It was always kept a secret. That made Aria’s job easier.
It was the whole mess with Captain Dunn that got Aria’s attention in the first place. Not only was he accused of being a traitor but he had contact with a man that Aria had been looking for. She’d been looking for Matheron Thayer for years. It seemed that Aria could never catch up with Mr. Thayer. She was always one step behind.
Finally there was movement in the hallway. The Captains had finished their lunch with the Admiral. They had stopped outside the doors and were looking at each other.
Damn….too far away to hear what they’re saying.
Captain Dunn turned away first. Aria could not read his expression. As Captain Lane turned and walked closer there was something in her eyes. Aria wasn’t sure though what it was but again it perked up her instincts. Anyone else would probably miss it. But as an agent, Aria picked up on it.
Aria stood up and moved to the middle of the corridor. She stood in Captain Lane’s way and saluted.
The Captain’s expression changed ever so slightly as she saluted.
“I do not believe we have officially met, Agent…?”
“Drake. Enjoy your lunch with the Admiral?”
There was a change again in Captain Lane’s expression. Around her eyes.
“It was an informative meeting. Were you waiting to speak with him?”
“Yes I was. We all have our orders Captain.”
Take the bait….please.
“Indeed we do, Agent, and I should return to fulfilling mine.”
Damn how disappointing.
“Of course, Captain. I would hate to keep you.”
Captain Lane’s eyes widened slightly. “If you would excuse me then.”
Her salute was more casual than it should be; Aria had the sense that she’d rattled the Captain. And she found she couldn’t help herself. “Give my regards to Captain Dunn.”
That stopped Captain Lane in her tracks. The Captain turned to face Aria, her eyes wide. Aria smiled. She noticed how at the mention of Captain Dunn’s name there was a change Captain Lane’s breathing, like she was holding her breath. For just a second, Aria thought the Captain might just take a swing at her.
“I will remember that, Agent Drake.”
Something is there. Enough to pursue?
Aria could not keep the smile off of her face as she watched the other woman retreat down the corridor. Yes, she decided that there was. And somehow she couldn't wait to start playing this game.
Now for the Admiral.
“What do you mean he had other business to attend to?”
Aria could not hide her agitation. It was necessary that they meet and discuss his parameters. The meeting was after all his idea. The Admiral did not trust her that was now evident. Colonel Betruger was smiling at her; it was infuriating.
“I can give you a tour of the facilities, if you like.” His tone was condescending.
A tour? What the hell is wrong with everyone?
“I wonder Colonel, if either one of you care that if your precious Captain Dunn isn’t a traitor that there is someone out in the fleet who is and they have obviously have taken the time to set him up,” Aria’s eyes narrowed. “Does that not concern you?”
The Colonel frowned. “No interrogations until the Admiral speaks with you.”
Betruger escorted Aria out of the room and left her standing in the hallway. Well now what? Has everyone in the Imperial fleet lost their frakking minds? Aria stood clenching her fists, anger coursing though her. But along with that anger, she felt uneasy. Something just didn’t feel right.
With nothing else better to do, Aria ventured into Mos Eisely. There was a bar she’d been to many times before during her last few visits to Tatooine. It was early enough that she hoped the bar would be empty. She took a big sigh of relief when she entered.
“Agent Drake?” The bartender, Fritz, was surprised to see her.
Aria nodded and spoke in Huttese. “Nice to see you Fritz. You have a bottle for me?”
He reached down under the bar and produced a bottle of Chandrilan brandy and a glass.
“Thanks Fritz, I’ll be at my usual table.”
In the far corner of the bar, facing the door there was a small table, just big enough for two. Aria sat facing the door, propped her feet up and poured herself a glass.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionWillem knew and understood exactly why the General had his complaints, but for now, Willem didn't really care.
There's a reason that the Moff was in absolute control at the moment; his plan hinged on everything, and if the General wanted to have a complaint about it, then let him. Willem wasn't in the mood. If this damn agent is constantly napping at his heels, if what Colonel Betruger said, then it only made his day a little bit worse.
He looked down at the desk he was sitting at in the Imperial command building on Tatooine, wondering to himself how everything got here, from how he was once the overall commander of Coruscant's Home Fleet to now trying to put an ad-hoc defense of a world that Willem thought was worth its weight in bantha poodoo.
“Admiral.” A holofield shimmered into view, allowing Willem von Aath to look upon the complete vistage of Line Captain Zaafrian, his grizzled face taking up most of the display, allowing Willem to pull himself up a little bit and look him in the eye.
“The gas is now fully inhibiting our ability to properly use sensors and COMSCAN. Plan worked. We'll continue to pump some more of this stuff into the lower rings of the system too until we run out. By the time the New Republic fleet gets here, they'll be in a superb sensor storm.” The Outer Rim accented man chuckled, his eyes looking back at Willem's.
Well, there was some good news at least. The man was still a tad bit worried about the possibility of a large fleet heading to Tatooine, and he remembered the impromtu briefing he had with the flight commanders earlier that day, first with Dunn and Lane, and then with the flight commanders of the space fleet above. Everyone was on edge or tense; with the flight of X-Wings earlier, dropping off who knows what, then what else could be out there in the dunes?
“Thank you, Captain. Is that all?”
“Yes, sir.” The man spoke, before the blue shimmering field disappeared in a flash, leaving the officer alone in his office in the headquarters. Willem debated on having some whiskey, feeling the itch at his palms subtly suggesting him to drink it, but he ignored it for right now. When he was off duty he'd more than relish the chance, but right now he still had some stuff to finish for the day.
Including that meeting with Agent Drake. Aria Drake, if his memory served correctly.
It had been roughly an hour, and he had given the call to Agent Drake that he wanted to speak to her more than fifteen, twenty minutes ago. Willem didn't rightly remember the exact time as he sat back down, his eyes closed as he breathed in.
It had been a day or so since the anniversary of the Star Destroyer ripping through the cityline of Coruscant, roughly ten or so years since Willem's life had shattered. This time of the year, men and women who knew of him had the better idea to avoid Willem and give him a wide berth, but he didn't have that luxury right now. All he had was a meeting with an agent of the ISB that he really didn't want to have, but since Betruger couldn't disengage her, he had to have it.
So when she walked in, she found him sitting down behind his desk, slumped forward a little bit, putting a hologram of his wife back into the desk, the only thing that marked this room as his due to the spartan-quality of the furniture. If Aria had any opinion on it, she didn't give Willem a notion of it as he looked up from the desk, his elbows digging into the plastic of the top in reflex at seeing the ISB agent.
He knew better to think that he could outwit an ISB Agent, but he had no choice right now but to placate, perhaps see what she truly wanted. "Agent Drake. I understand you wanted to speak to me?"
"Yes Admiral, I do." Clearly still annoyed from her conversation with Colonel Betruger, she spoke further. "Why are you keeping me from interrogating Captain Dunn?"
"Interview?" He asked, raising an eyebrow. "I didn't know interrogation was synomous with interviewing…he's crucial at the moment to the defense of Tatooine, and with the New Republic fleet due at any moment, I need all the help I can get, and that includes Captain Dunn." The Admiral leveied his eyes at the woman.
"He is accused of being a traitor. At the very least he needs to be questioned" Her anger evident. "That was not done prior to his arrival here. He is one pilot. Surely he can spend an hour answering questions about his behavior on Bakura."
"In his defense, Agent.-" The way he spoke the word 'Agent' was rather curt and full of spite. "- He was debriefed and tried on Bakura, and I think the ruling was more than fair. If you truly do wish to speak to him, and if he survives the attack from the New Republic, you can do so AFTER the defense of this world." He leveled again, folding his fingers into his palms, looking at the woman.
"With all do respect Admiral, his trial was a frakking joke and you know it. He was found guilty and he should be dead for that. Not here defending those he is accused of betraying." Her hands, fists, and her knuckles were turning white.
"I'm glad to see some cavets of the New Order still linger around." He nearly spat, but otherwise did nothing that showed he was going to budge. "Traven Dunn was tried by a court of officers that follow and had been noted as loyal officers of the Imperial Navy. If that isn't enough for you, Agent Drake, then feel free to make an official complaint with HIgh Command.
"I've already spoken with High Command," she moved her hair to show her rank of Colonel, the same as Betruger. Willem suppressed a sigh; maybe she could pull rank after all, but now…"They wanted me here, Admiral. And my orders come straight from them, I need Captain Dunn in an interrogation room."
"Oh good," Willem started, a sad smile forming at his lips. "A higher ranked officer. I assumed you to be a simple low-level agent, now I have no qualms about saying this." Willem stood up to his full height from his chair, fingers pressing against the desk. "If you attempt to pull Traven Dunn into an interrogation room, I will invoke Operating Rule Two Twelve, which gives me the right to suspend any and all interrogation programs until such time the defense of this world can be safe-guarded completely, and if you try to go over my head again, I'll have your ass on a platter. Am I understood?" His voice was barely controlled, his eyes locked.
Aria stood and met the Admiral's eyes, her hands also pressing in his desk.
"Understood," her tone acid, "Admiral." She straightened and saluted.
Willem nodded, sitting back down and pulling out a datapad, the current readout of the operational status of the fleet. "If there is anything else, Agent Drake?" He didn't even glance back up at her, focusing on the padd.
She nodded to the Admiral and left the room, leaving Willem to his thoughts. He had only thought for a moment or so before he reached out to his communicator.
"This is Admiral Aath. I'd like to speak to Captain Dunn as soon as he is able."
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe Imperial enlistment office, interrogation cell was a better word, was the typical Imperial gray, dull and lifeless with the only color being the most horrid propaganda posters Cadell had ever seen, honestly who wrote this trite drivel?
But that wasn’t quite as important or annoying as the lieutenant sitting across from her with the most pathetic excuse for racist sneer that she’d ever seen. Honestly, he might have looked scarier if he wasn’t so kriffing tiny, he was shorter than her for the Force’s sake and she was only 5’9. What was she even doing here again?
“So, ‘you’ want to join the Empire as a….ship mechanic?” the lieutenant asked and she didn’t miss the way he emphasized you.
Admittedly she didn’t look at all imposing wearing only a pair of trousers, a white shirt with a vest over it, she had various tools attached to the vest and trousers to give the authentic feel of mechanic professional and honestly even she had to admit she looked downright goofy.
“Yes sir, I do need a job and I have a lot of experience fixing ships, I figure you might need an extra hand?” She gave just the tiniest Force enhanced suggestion to convince him on how reasonable she sounded.
The lieutenant nodded his head, marking something down on a datapad before returning to glaring at her, trying his best to be intimidating.
"So, tell me again Miss….Ruvin, you came from Yaga Minor right, our record show you worked as a mechanic for the shipyard repair team there before you quit a few years back, decided to wander the galaxy eh?” he sneered and again the urge to hurt him was palpable.
Honestly, she had no reason to even be here besides the fact that her pathetic excuse of a contact hadn’t shown up at the cantina, apparently he’d gotten himself arrested for smuggling or some such nonsense and was in this very garrison awaiting trial.
And since she wasn’t stupid enough to believe she could launch a full-frontal assault on the garrison (infiltration would eventually turn into a battle anyways), and make it back out with a Star Destroyer in orbit, enlisting and getting to him from the inside would be the only way.
Unfortunately her already limited patience was running out with this utter tool of a lieutenant, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t have some fun with it. Oh yes, the Force was good for unsuspecting pranks and with that thought in mind Cadell reached out subtly just enough to give the lieutenant a little ‘touch’.
Almost immediately the lieutenant’s posture changed into that of someone who had just become rather uncomfortable, she resisted the urge to grin as he squirmed slightly in his seat. Honestly she had no idea what her prank would do to him when she did it but at the moment she was greatly enjoying herself.
She had to fight to keep from giving it all away.
“Yes sir, I went out to travel, doing freelance transporting jobs, all legal I assure you.” She said innocently, doing her best impression of a spacer chick.
“I know, you have an impeccable record, Miss Ruvin.” The lieutenant replied, his twitching was becoming more pronounced as it seemingly became physically harder to hide it.
“In any case, once they finish searching your possessions for any contraband, I think we can finish this up.” He said, looking anxiously at the door.
Ah yes, she’d been searched by a rather pretty woman during the physical, all her clothing and equipment given a thorough search for contraband and illegal goods. She’d prepared for this ahead of time by dismantling her Lightsaber and hiding the pieces in various tools where she could easily explain them away if asked. The focusing crystal had been explained as a family heirloom and it had all gotten past the inspection. Once she was in it would take under half a minute to reconstruct the lightsaber and hide it.
She didn’t like the idea of spending an unknown amount of time among Imperials, especially if they were all as racist as this lieutenant but if the females were as pretty as the one she’d encountered then it might be worth it.
Good looking privates indeed.
Finally after what seemed like hours her application was approved and she was quickly given a standardized mechanics uniform and several packets of datapads with regulations she’d need to learn, schematics for the fighters she’d be fixing and a bunk number.
Apparently she was assigned to Sandbat Squadron? Whoever named that squadron needed some originality. It was a job though and one she had to do if she wanted to get the information her contact had.
She didn’t get a good look but by the way that lieutenant was moving and covering the front of his shorts, she couldn’t help but feel smug, that would teach him for messing with her.
In any case she changed into her new uniform, they thankfully allowed her to keep her blindfold, and packed her meager belongings into a speeder and was quickly taken to the garrison.
The minute she arrived, she knew she would hate the place, guards everywhere, patrolling and drilling in the yard. There were defense turrets mounted. Everywhere and the inside was even worse.
How in the world was she supposed to get her contact out of this place? Why did everything have to be so frakking complicated! It was like she couldn’t do anything without disproportionate odds being put in front of her.
She missed Truvo, the rodian was her best friend and a crack shot, maybe if it was the both of them this would be easier, their teamwork was second to none and with Ava around to patch them up afterwards.
Just thinking about Ava caused a jolt of pain in her heart, despite it being years ago she still loved the Twi’lek doctor more than anything and since she died protecting her it made the pain so much worse.
She should have been faster, should have never let that Inquisitor get near her, let alone within stabbing range. But she had to put it behind her, the old Empire was gone and the Inquisitors with them, she had a mission at hand.
With renewed resolve she followed the sergeant up and into the garrison, first a meeting with the head mechanic for Sandbat, then off to her bunk to stow her gear.
What could go wrong?
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionJordan walked briskly toward her quarters after a strenuous evening run. She had intended the exercise to work off the excess energy incited by her brief interaction with Agent Drake. Indeed, it had accomplished its set purpose and more. Weary from overexertion, Jordan allowed herself a brief shower to wash off sweat and dust as well as improve her alertness level. After stepping out of the 'fresher and toweling herself dry, she slipped a plain black short-sleeved top over her still-damp hair and dug out a clean pair of grey running pants from her duffel bag. She frowned at the state of her laundry and realized she would need to get her clothing cleaned soon. It was another reminder her time served planetside had stretched out longer than she had expected.
But she had more urgent matters to attend to. Jordan picked up her datapad and left her room for the mess, hoping a cup of caf would give her the required energy to get through the reports she needed to read and write before she slept.
The mess was empty, which did not surprise the captain given the late hour. The second of Tatooine's suns had just dipped below the horizon when she returned to the base, and Jordan had been trying to ignore the brief surge of fear that sight had given her. It was another reason she wished to dive into her work this evening.
She had been seated at a small, circular table with her work and her caf for only two minutes when the sound of footsteps reached her ears. She glanced up to receive a casual salute from her XO, who was also out of uniform. "Do you ever take a break, Captain?" Rardin asked over his shoulder as he poured himself a mug of the caffeinated beverage.
"I do sleep," she replied.
"That's not a break, sir. That's a requirement."
"What brings you here tonight?" Jordan asked, both out of curiosity and to change the subject.
He pulled back an empty chair at Jordan's table and sat down, and she realized he also carried a datapad. "Work."
Jordan could not resist her next question. "And you asked me about taking a break?"
Rardin grinned at her. "I took a break earlier to chat with some of the youngest Sandbat pilots, Captain. They had a lot of questions about us, about Onyx in general, about other battles we've seen."
She frowned. "I hope you maintained discipline with them, Commander."
"They're kids, sir. I made sure they didn't forget they were in the presence of a superior officer, but I also didn't reprimand them for asking their questions." He gave her a sober look. "They also lost comrades recently."
Jordan's expression softened. "It is good they spoke to you rather than me, then. You seem to know how to speak with fresh pilots."
"Permission to speak frankly, sir?"
The corner of Jordan's mouth twitched as she barely repressed a smile. I thought he was speaking rather frankly already. "Permission granted, Commander."
"You shaped up Green Squadron into the group of pilots it is today. You also managed to help some of these rookie pilots relax at the cantina last night. I think you would have done just fine if they had talked to you instead of me, Captain."
She blinked. "I do not intimidate them?"
"Well, of course you intimidate them, sir, but I think they've begun to realize you're a human being as well as a good pilot and captain. They're starting to see you as a leader they can respect, just as we Onyx pilots have."
Jordan shivered before she could stop herself. She did not like the idea of male Imperials seeing her as anything but a model example of what an Imperial officer should be. She could not appear too human to them. Yet, at the same time, she could not help but feel pleased that even these young farmboys could look up to her with respect for who she was, for the knowledge and skills she carried, as well as for her position. The knowledge that Onyx Squadron respected her, as well, brought a tiny warm glow to the heart she pretended she did not have.
More steps echoed nearby. What a popular place this is tonight, Jordan thought, amused, as she spotted her friend walking in. Unlike them, Byron wore his uniform, and Jordan realized his shore leave must have officially ended. "Good evening, Captain, Commander," Byron greeted both of them.
Both seated pilots nodded in return. "You're in need of caf, too, Commander?" Rardin asked.
"Always," Byron replied easily. "Especially now that the admiral has arrived with his fleet. There's a lot of new information to absorb."
Rardin looked surprised that the other commander had so casually offered his thoughts, and Jordan was suddenly struck by the idea that her XO might share a few things in common with her best friend. "We need to go over those reports, too," she said aloud, forcing herself to speak less formally. "Why don't you join us?"
Rardin did not hesitate as he nodded in agreement. "You're well versed in starfighter tactics, right, Commander? Your insight could help."
It was Byron's turn to look surprised. "Thanks for the invitation, Captain." He nodded to Rardin. "I'd be happy to offer whatever I can, Commander."
Jordan was growing weary of them addressing each other by rank. Her voice hardened. "This is a casual conversation, Commanders, even though it's related to our work. At ease. You have permission to address each other, and myself, by name."
Both men glanced at her, and Jordan suddenly doubted the wisdom of her statement. "We're in the officers' mess, it's just for this discussion, and this is an order," she emphasized.
Byron nodded before his attention turned to Rardin, who still did not look comfortable with the situation. "We can use callsigns rather than names if that would make you feel better."
Jordan looked sharply at her friend. What is he thinking?
Rardin blinked. "Callsigns? Like the ones you mentioned in the cantina?"
Byron nodded. "Do you have one?"
He grimaced. "What is it?" Jordan queried, her curiosity piqued.
Jordan tried not to smile, and Byron laughed outright. "Is it because you tend to look out for the rookies?" she asked before her friend could tease her XO about it.
She smiled then. "It really doesn't suit your appearance, so you're going to keep it unless we think of a new one."
"Captain!" he protested.
"Ice," she reminded him.
"You're not technically supposed to like your callsign," Byron added.
"That's true, Crusty," Rardin responded with a grin.
"It's Slick, now."
The grin did not fade. "I know."
Jordan chuckled before composing herself. "Back to business, Shepherd, Slick." As the trio's heads bent over their datapads and their discussion began, Jordan was pleasantly reminded of study sessions on Carida. Perhaps her prolonged posting on Tatooine was not so bad, after all.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe instructions of the Admiral had been clear. The captains didn’t make much small talk in the hallway outside Meeting Room Beta. They just agreed to arrange a joint training of their squadrons within the next day before heading along the grey corridor into different directions.
Traven hadn’t been surprised by the news the Admiral had given them. From the moment the first X-Wing appeared in front of his TIE Interceptor he had known that this would be the presage of an upcoming conflict. Tatooine was a worthless rock, but the New Republic wouldn’t let the Empire occupy <i>one of their</i> worlds. Especially not the one, that was the home planet of their Jedi hero Skywalker. Not that the two factions needed a true reason after all to be in a battle.
The pilots of Sandbat Squadron were gathering already in the simulator room, hanging on Aganox’s lips, who instructed them for the upcoming training. They stood at attention immediately as their commanding officer walked into the windowless room, which air was filled with the humming of the different holosimulators.
“At ease.” Traven said to them. “I apologise for my delay. The meeting with the Admiral was more time-consuming than I expected. Please continue, Mr. Aganox.” His hands on his back he listened to his second-in-command explaining the scenario and dividing the pilots into two opposing groups. Traven waited until the Lieutenant finished before stepping in front of the pilots.
“We got the news that we will face soon an attack of the New Republic.” He announced. “Some of you will have expected that already.” Traven showed a slim smile towards Aganox. “That means that our training has to be more intense even than before, because we have not the luxury of time anymore.”
The Captain noticed the questioning faces of the young pilots. “That other words: Two more hours training starting from today. Also we’ll have to focus on high interference scenarios. Now man the simulators.”
Bellarius Aganox waited until the rookies sat out of earshot in the holosimulators, before addressing Traven. “It’s that bad, Sir?” Traven nodded, not surprised that Aganox had been reading between the lines. “Maybe even worse. The Admiral expects that we are part of the line of defence. The kids show talent, but we can train them as much as possible, they will not be as battle-tested as the pilots the Republic will send. So all we can do is to make them as combat-ready as doable.”
“Will Captain Lane and Onyx Squadron help? She’s an experienced commander and…” Aganox asked, just to be interrupted almost brusque by Dunn. There was something uncertain in the Captain’s eyes as Lane’s name had been mentioned. “Yes, I will arrange a combined training. I talked to her earlier.” With that Traven grabbed his helmet for the simulator. “Now show me what your pilots are able to do, Group Besh Leader.”
As they finished the training the young pilots were exhausted yet excited by the adrenaline running through their body, yet it had been just an only simulated space battle. Even Traven had to smile as he took off his helmet, running a hand through his hair. He felt refreshed by the training and the accomplishment of his squadron.
“Sir?” One of the young pilots, Harrigan, addressed him. “Lieutenant Aganox told us that you had a Shockball team with your old squadron. We would like to ask, if you want to join our training at the gym this evening?” Traven could tell how nervous the younger man was. He wondered if Harrigan had drawn the short straw, so he had to ask. Against his will Traven felt touched by the request. Of course he hid it well, but it had been a while since he had been feeling part of a group. These kids, his squadron, managed it.
Traven nodded. “I feel honoured, Mr. Harrigan. Of course I’ll join the training.” His comlink beeped, noticing him about the message of the Admiral.
“I need to go to another meeting. Mr. Aganox, you have the command.”
As Traven entered the Admiral’s room, the old man sat at a table, a thermojug and cups in front of him. Traven hoped it wouldn’t be another invitation for dinner this time. He was still full from the lunch. Von Aath pointed to a chair.
“Take a seat, Captain.” The Admiral looked serious. The face of a man, who carried the burden to plan a war. Traven sat down, wondering what the topic would be. All had been said at the earlier meeting. Or so he had thought.
“Tea, Captain?” Von Aath offered. Traven nodded, waiting patiently for the Admiral to start talking while the other man poured their cups. It seemed to be more a polite gesture than an actual invitation to tea. Especially because the older man started to talk without further ado.
“You are hiding it well, but I can tell, that you are wondering why you’re here, Captain. I will not tantalise you.” The older man sighed. “I just have one question for you. Did you betray the Empire?”
Traven’s jaw almost dropped, but his answer came immediately: “No, Sir.” He fought the urge to jump up and stand at attention. “Do you think I would serve on this planet, if I would be a traitor? Sir, I am loyal to the Empire.”
Von Aath seemed relieved. “I expected nothing else from you. According to your file and what Dodonna told about you, your skills seem almost wasted in the Outer Rim. But in the actual situation it is useful for us that you are here, fighting for our cause. But not all think like that.”
Traven frowned. “Sir, is General Tull not contended by the way I train the pilots?” The Admiral shook his head. “He isn’t your problem. Right after you left our meeting earlier, I got a visitor from ISB. Agent Drake, an ambitious young lady. Maybe a little too ambitious. You may have noticed her in my entourage as I arrived.”
The Captain remembered her. Not only because a woman in Imperial uniform was still unusual and not only because she was attractive enough to catch the attention of the attending men, but because there had been no visible rank badge. He had been wondering about her position in the Admiral’s staff.
“This Agent disagrees about the result of your trial and thinks she would learn more about the events on Bakura, if she interrogates you again. This time in the efficient way of the ISB. I have to warn you, Captain. I am afraid her hunger for success outweighs her scruples.” The Admiral took a small sip from his tea.
Traven needed a small moment to stomach the full extent of the situation. He took a deep breath before speaking. “Thank you, Sir. I appreciate your forthrightness and promise that I will not disappoint you.” He stared at the cup in front of him, the tea cooling down slowly.
“Of course you won’t disappoint me. As a fellow graduate of Carida, I know what you are capable of, Captain. And I know the code of honour you are following. ” The Admiral smiled honestly.
Traven allowed himself a small smirk. “We had to learn the tactics and manoeuvres of your Borleias pirate campaign at the Academy, Sir.” Admiral von Aath chuckled. “I have to apologise for that. I didn’t mean to torture future generations with that.”
Both men relaxed a little, sipping their tea. The Admiral leant back in his chair.
“How are your parents doing, Captain? It has been a while since Corellia…”
The conversation with the Admiral had been surprisingly pleasant. Traven began to like the old man. And obviously von Aath liked himself in the role of a mentor. With the ISB around, it was useful to have the commanding officer as a kind of protector. Even when Traven held that he could handle one agent alone.
Traven checked his chrono. He wanted to be punctual for the shockball training. But he had enough time for a detour to the messhall to get a bottle of water to take with him to the gym.
He heard them before he even saw them. Jordan, with her two <i>companions</i> Duval and Rardin. Laughing, smiling, obviously being close. Traven couldn’t describe nor explain the mix of different emotions he was feeling at that sight. Jealousy, anger, loss. He knew that it was stupid of him to bother at all. He had squandered his chances. Twice.
But then there had been that brief moment in the morning today, outside the garrison, as she had asked him why he was here. He had seen the look in her eyes. Concern, maybe something more. Or he had imagined it only because he wanted that there was something more again.
Traven tried not to glance at her table. He didn’t want that she noticed any of his internal fight. She had found her place. A career, friends, maybe even a lover. Who was he to wish that she would come back to him?
But as he left the messhall again, the bottle of water in his hand, Traven was sure that her eyes had been following him.
Traven’s emotions were mostly under control again, as he stepped out of the locker room into the gym. His squadron was waiting already. All of them, even Lieutenant Aganox, wore sport dresses which did not comply with the Imperial standard. Their shirts had the lettering of the squadron’s name as well as something that Traven recognised as a stylised form of a sandbat.
“How do you like our new shockball uniform, Sir?” Aganox greeted him. Traven raised an eye-brow as his XO handed one shirt to him too.
“Well, that is something… unusual.” Traven replied, wondering how they found out his shirt size. “Cadet Nasic has some talent and so he designed this for us. We need a team uniform if we want to challenge the grunts.” Aganox grinned, looking almost expectant.
Traven hesitated, but then he took off his shirt, putting on the new one. “We need more than a shirt, Mr. Aganox. We need to train to beat them.”
As they walked to the shockball area of the gym, Traven noticed a woman, handling a punching ball. She was subtle, but Traven knew the true reason why she was here. So he nodded a greeting to her.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionShe had spent what seemed like forever in the gym beating the punching ball. Trying not to pretend it was someone's face was difficult. Her anger was getting the better of her especially after what she was told by high command. Aria was going to have to "play nice" with Admiral Von Aath and she was not thrilled. She really wasn't looking to stay on this frakking planet.
Well then you shouldn't have pissed off the Admiral.
Aria dismissed her "voice". Yes of course it was right but it was to late now. She was just going to have to think of a more subtle way to get what she was after. And apologize to the Admiral…frak. She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't notice that there were pilots going in and out of the locker room. And you could always tell who the pilots were, there was a certain arrogance about them.
It wasn't until Captain Dunn acknowledged her that she realized they were there. She made an effort to stare straight ahead, concentrate on the punching ball. Her first thought was that she should have gone back to the bar but a split second later she thought opportunity. An idea was beginning to form in her head.
Turning to what appeared the whole Sandbat Squadron, she smiled, getting the attention of the younger pilots. They all stopped. Again she made no effort to look in the Captain's direction.
"Would one of you gentleman help a lady out?" She held up her gloved hands. Thankfully at that moment there was no one else around.
"I can help you," one of the young pilots stepped in front of her and grabbed her hand.
"Thank you," she smiled directly at him. "Nice shirts."
He smiled back at her. "I designed them."
Next to her Captain Dunn cleared his throat. Aria rolled her eyes and winked at the pilot front of her. Behind him, one of the 'Bats chuckled.
"You did? You're so talented."
"Mr. Nasic," Captain Dunn's ever so controlled voice interrupted. "You are here to train."
The young pilot frowned a little as he handed Aria's boxing gloves to her. She pretended to pout. "It seems I got you in trouble. I'm sorry."
Before he could respond she turned to Captain Dunn, whose eyes were narrowed just a fraction. For some reason it made Aria want to laugh but she stopped herself. She looked right in his eyes and smiled as sweetly as she could. Traitor flashed through her mind.
"Mind holding these?" She asked, handing him her boxing gloves.
Breeding and manners always win out over everything else.
He held out his hand and sighed, a long exasperated sigh. His eyes were still slightly narrowed.
"Thank you Captain."
Aria turned on her heel, her back to the group of men and headed for the locker room. She glanced over her shoulder, all of them including Captain Dunn, were still looking at her so she raised her shirt over her head. Making sure that they were watching her bare back retreat to the locker room.
A short time later Aria perched on a bench outside the gym. The game had already started. Mr. Nasic had noticed her arrival but she wasn't sure about his Captain. Though why she was concerned about that, she had no idea.
From where she sat her view was unobstructed. So observing the Captain was easy and she could focus her attention. Grabbing her data pad, she began to make notes on what she saw.
Shock ball….observations on Traven Dunn…
Aware of surroundings….(me watching perhaps.)
Hard to read expressions.
Could he be capable of betraying the Empire?
Not so sure…but could be hiding intentions.
Possibility exists. In my opinion.
Find out by some other means….
Traitors are not tolerated.
Why does he have me thinking of…..
She stopped with her last entry. Why would he remind her of someone from her past? So far, her interaction with him wasn't pleasant.
Well, you are an agent…you are not here to win his trust or be his friend. You are here to find out if he is a traitor….if not, then why is that word being thrown around so casually?
Of course that's what she should be focusing on. But…..if she closed her eyes and listened to the game she could easily be transported back to her past. Back to Hanna City, back to the academy.
Aria opened her eyes. Mr. Nasic had been rendered unconscious.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionBeep…beep…beep….
Marina opened her eyes to the sounding alert. Ahead of her she could still see the starlight tunnel, dimmed, through the shaded cockpit glass. She discovered herself dozed off, sitting there, waiting for the hyperdrive countdown alarm, to alert her when the ship was coming close to dropping out.
Glancing at the crono displayed, it was more like she had fallen asleep for hours, rather than just a few minutes of shut eye. Just as well, for coming closer to the last hours of the jump, she couldn't relax. Marina had about 4 hours left before reaching her destination and had taken up waiting for it in the cockpit, as everything else that had whittled down the 2 day jump she had already exhausted.
Nevertheless, to her surprise she had fallen asleep at the controls. Well, now at least this 2 day haul was reaching its drop-off.
Giving a good stretch, she prepared for auto-drive shutdown in minus 9m-37s to final drop out. Destination; the Brentaal, Core World Systems.
Her ship had come out of hyperspace at a good distance from the system, as it wasn't Brentaal IV she were set on approaching, but the orbiting Zel Zon Station.
Her orders were to deliver her cargo to JSMD Enterprise, a small company that mostly dealt with small system commerce. Their main hub was located on the station.
Marina's ship manifest indicated the cargo had been already prepaid and just needed her to deliver it to JSMD for distribution.
"What do you mean, you're out of business?!" Marina stood there with her ship's manifesto on her holo-pad, with what now appeared to be the receptionist of JSMD clearing out her desk.
OUT OF BUSSINESS… It appeared that JSMD in as short as two days, (since Marina jumped) had sustained too many lost profits for it to continue operations and was bankrupt.
"But what am I to do with the cargo?. Its already paid for?!" Marina was pointlessly arguing, as the receptionist, with last crate in hand, just shook her shoulders and bade her good luck with it, as she headed off into the main avenue strip of the station.
Marina could do nothing but walk inside herself to see if there was somebody else that could help her. The ensuing offices within seemed they had all been quickly vacated.
"…son of a bitch.." She uttered in helpless frustration.
The walk to the related transfer hub, the company's warehouse docks, also levied all essential stock and equip had been recently removed. Other than discarded palettes and worthless support transfer equip, nothing was left of JSMD.
"Miss?…" Came an echo, that for a moment eluded her in finding its source.
"Can I help you with anything?…" A man she then made, approaching her from the stacked palettes.
"I don't know…can you?" she replied, looking him over. The logo on his shirt was from the company.
Waving her holo-pad for him to look at, she gave him a moment to go over the manifest.
"I don't know what to tell you, but there's no one left here to take your shipment. The company just went belly up yesterday and…" he handed her back the pad, shrugging his shoulders, " …that's it. There's no one left that can take delivery here."
"Well, how about you? You work for JSMD!" She pointed out the obvious.
"No…sorry, not anymore. I'm just getting my personals together and I'm out of here, next shuttle out.
Seriously….I can't help you…sorry…"
Come on, please, you're the only one left here that maybe can do something about this.
Look, this cargo's registered. There's got to be some link that still exists as to who owns it!"She couldn't just unload it, or even take it back to the place of origin, as it had also been a JSMD facility. She was just transporting a prepaid shipment from one hub to the next, as a subcontractor. Now she had a prepaid cargo and no drop off point.
The ex-employee seemed at a loss too, as he too could see her dilemma.
"Yea, I do see what you mean. It's prepaid and certainly under official registry…but that registry is only JMSD's code for NR registry. Its some company anti-hack loop that assures the rightful owner's claim to it.
If it's not delivered, it'll be considered either lost or stolen. And you're the last one that held the cargo." He now seemed to understand and became somewhat more sympathetic.
"Hmm…" he scratched his head.
"Marina, I don't even know if JSMD's database is still up and functioning, let alone still having access to it." He seemed to be figuring something out.
"I could maybe see if at the very least, I could pinpoint where JSMD had this shipment destined next to be distributed to. But really, I don't think any of the company's data base is still up. I mean… well, they paid me yesterday…in full hard credits… not electronically."
"Look, please…Marek…" She pleaded, looking at his nametag.
"Any information or destination you can dig up will help me out. I've no means of storing this load and then wait till someone claims it through insurance or reports it's stolen." She explained.
"Ok, ok…it's along shot, Marina, and like I said; I'm not sure I still can log on…but what the heck. Come on, and let's see if my log in still works…" he motioned her to follow him to one of the abandoned data hubs that still looked like it could be powered up.
And power up it did. That is, after looking for a missing power connector.
"Eh, look at that. I 'm still in." Marek was pretty impressed with the fact.
"Ok….lets see…lets see…" he got laid up on a few dead connections at first, but finally found the registry files.
"Ok…yea, I think this is it. You have the manifest number?"
Marina had it on her holo-pad and Marek put it through. Again, the shipment were to go to another closed JSMD transfer hub station in the Inner Rim, near the Denon system, as it then would have taken the Correllian Way trade route to-…
"Ah, here it is…Tatooine!. " Marek was so proud of himself for finally finding it.
"Yep…looks like your cargo is some farming equipment.
Like what the heck could they grow in the desert, laughing out loud…" He then said chuckling, as if it were some kind of joke.
But to Marina it were no joke.
"Tattoine?!" She exclaimed, pulling a bit away from the console in disbelief.
"Yea…looks like that's the cargo's final destination, Marina."
"Tatooine." He nodded, confused as to why she looked so estranged. Wasn't that what she wanted to know? The owners of the cargo she had?
" Gershal Lansdrat, of Ware's and Supplies is the owner." He pointed to the registry.
"….Tatooine…" Marina shook her head. She wasn't too thrilled. Not one bit, as the color in her features faded.
"Yep…Tatooine" he shrugged his shoulder, confirming it again. Hopefully this time it would sink in the poor girl.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionByron woke early the next morning. He used the 'fresher for a scant handful of minutes before putting on his uniform, running a comb through his hair, and heading for the mess. No one else was around, which didn't really surprise him. He knew if Jordan was already up, she was working out.
He didn't have time for that today.
The commander wolfed down a simple breakfast and then headed for the nearest terminal. A few minutes later, he connected with Captain Vars on board the Banisher once the communications officer routed the call to the captain's office rather than his chair on the bridge. "Good morning, sir," Byron greeted his superior officer with a crisp salute.
Vars offered a more casual salute in return. "Good morning, Commander. At ease. I've looked over your report. Your request has been approved. I've sent orders to the bay crew and Lieutenant Drake. He'll report to you and Captain Lane regarding Onyx's status and ETA."
Byron blinked in surprise. "That was fast, sir."
"We'll need the Sandbats in top form for the upcoming battle. Onyx looks to be in the best position to make that happen. It was an easy decision, Commander."
"Thank you, sir."
"Onyx's departure from the Banisher means you have to remain on the surface until they return. In that time, I want a full assessment from you on Sandbat's abilities, Commander. Captain Lane will give me the inside perspective; you need to provide the observer's." Vars frowned and leaned closer to the holocamera. "Keep an eye on Captain Dunn. Admiral von Aath must have some confidence in him, but that doesn't mean I do. I need to know he's trustworthy. The lives of my pilots may depend on it."
Now Byron understood why his CO had directed the call to his office. The statement from Captain Vars made the commander feel less paranoid regarding his own reservations about Dunn, but he was well aware they'd been tainted by what his best friend had told him about the man. What hurt Jordan hurt him, too, regardless of where the fault lay. "Of course, sir. Is there something specific you're worried about?"
"I'm not going to bias your opinion, Commander. Just let me know personally if you notice anything out of the ordinary. If he turns out to be a model officer, so much the better."
Byron nodded gravely. "I understand, sir."
"Good." Captain Vars glanced away from him for a few seconds before looking back. "Lieutenant Kermey is on standby to speak with you, Commander Duval. And see if you and Captain Lane can challenge Onyx as well as Sandbat. I expect positive reports from the upcoming exercises."
Byron saluted again. "Yes, sir!"
The image of Vars flickered and vanished and was shortly replaced by Kermey's. Byron spent the next few moments speaking with him about Onyx Squadron, taking mental notes he hoped would help Jordan plan their upcoming training sessions. Byron wouldn't go too far, though; he knew Onyx was under his friend's command, and he still had to remain objective enough to provide a fair assessment of both squadrons.
The junior officer finished his account with one unexpected note. "Sir, I've also taken the liberty of processing battle data from Sandbat Squadron's recent skirmish. It's ready to be used in simulation runs."
Byron's eyes widened slightly. "Good work, Lieutenant. Send that data to Captain Lane immediately. I'm sure she'll appreciate your efforts."
The man smiled. "Just glad to help, sir." An alert echoed faintly over the transmission. "The last of Onyx Squadron has reported to the hangar, Commander. They'll soon be on their way."
"Excellent, Lieutenant." He offered one final salute. "Dismissed."
Lieutenant Kermey saluted sharply in return before his image vanished. Byron leaned back from the terminal and stretched. Yes, he'd been in one position for a while, but that wasn't the main cause of the sudden tension in his shoulders. I'm happy to stay on the surface for a while longer. It'd be nice to catch up with Bellarius before I return to the Banisher, too. But I don't like spying on Jordan's ex… if I can even call Dunn that. And it's bad enough that Onyx is "evaluating" Sandbat. Now I'm joining the mix. I can't imagine that making Dunn happy. Orders are orders, but–
"Then maybe he shouldn't have frakked up to get sent here in the first place," a little voice said in the back of his mind.
Byron shook his head. That had to be stress talking. He picked up his datapad and headed back into the mess, grabbing a spot at the first open table he found. He'd been seated and lost in thought for an unknown amount of time when a most welcome voice broke in. "It's pretty early for you to be this busy, Commander," Jordan noted.
Byron looked up to spot his friend, also in uniform, leaning against the wall. She looked relaxed despite her crossed arms. "Good morning, Captain," he replied. "How long have you been there?"
"Less than a minute, I believe."
"I didn't know you'd come in."
"See, I'm not the only one who can get lost in work," she replied with a faint grin. "Though I hadn't expected you to be that focused."
"Is that why you were watching me?"
"It did remind me of times studying on Carida," she admitted.
He noticed her hair was still damp. "Did you get your run in already?"
"You'll have to let me know ahead of time for your next one. I'd love to join you." Byron pointed his thumb at the food dispensers. "But for now, why don't you get something to eat and help me out here?"
"You need my help for something?"
"Onyx should be heading to the surface any moment now."
Jordan paused halfway across the mess. "What? Captain Vars already approved the request?"
"Hell, he'd approved it before I even talked to him this morning." Byron frowned. "You should have been notified."
Tucked under her arm, Jordan's datapad chimed, then chimed again. "I think I just was." She began portioning some food onto a plate. "Did he say anything else?"
The commander nodded. "He wants us to help Sandbat in whatever ways we can for what lies ahead." Byron hesitated. I'll keep the captain's concerns about Dunn to myself. For now.
She glanced over her shoulder, one eyebrow arched. "Us? Are you going to fly, Slick?"
"Maybe in the simulators. I'll definitely be watching, but I'll only offer pointers if it doesn't cause any problems."
Jordan picked up her meal and sat down across from him before speaking again. "Problems? What do you mean?"
Byron inwardly cursed himself for saying that. "You and your XO came here to evaluate Sandbat. Now I'm doing the same thing, though it's specifically for the fight we see coming, and I'm not even a pilot. Wouldn't that bother you if you were in Captain Dunn's place?"
Jordan stiffened. "I… suppose it would."
He had to change the subject, fast. "Before we worry about that, we should go over what Kermey wrote up for Onyx. You haven't looked over his latest reports yet, right?"
"No. I was going to do that over breakfast."
He smiled. "Perfect. He pointed out a few things when I talked to him earlier." Byron proceeded to share his notes with his friend, and they then used that as a springboard to plan a few exercises, some in simulators and two in the squadron's TIEs. They ignored the slow activity happening around them in the mess, and their focused atmosphere prevented them from getting interrupted.
Commander Rardin took a seat about halfway through their brainstorming session; as Jordan's XO, that was to be expected. Byron honestly liked the guy, and his piloting skills were impressive, especially for a former Green Squadron member. It helped that Rardin took over control of the skirmish simulation design, too.
A little while later Byron noticed Bellarius exiting the line for food carrying a full tray. "Good morning, Lieutenant," he called out, getting his companions' attention in the process.
"Good morning, Commander," Bellarius replied, almost but not quite smiling.
"Grab a seat," Jordan offered.
"I'm not interrupting?" the lieutenant queried, still on his feet.
"I could actually use your help," Rardin added. "One of our bridge officers sent down data from Sandbat's first battle. I'm trying to develop simulations with it for them. And Onyx."
"Did you get the message about Onyx coming down for training?" Byron asked.
Bellarius nodded. "Working over breakfast. Sounds like Carida." And he finally sat down. The four of them worked for a good half hour before Jordan's comlink chirped. "Captain Lane?"
"Onyx is preparing to land at the base."
"Acknowledged," Jordan replied before clicking off the device.
Byron closed the files on his datapad. "Come on. Let's show Onyx some friendly faces before they're thrown into the fire."
Rardin chuckled. "The base might look familiar, but it's still on Tatooine."
Jordan nodded her agreement. She glanced at Bellarius. "It'd be good for them to meet you, too, if you'd like to join us."
He looked at her, then Byron. "You did say 'friendly' faces just now. I don't think mine counts."
"Let's start you off with Onyx on the right foot, Echo," Byron replied easily. "Unless you're declining our invitation?"
"When you put it like that, Slick, how can I say no?"
They put away their eating utensils before making their way to the hangar temporarily reserved for Onyx's use. "Whatever happened to that pilot who got knocked out last night, Aganox?" Rardin asked a moment later.
"What? How did that happen?" Jordan interjected, surprised by the news.
"We had a practice shockball match last night," Bellarius responded, his shoulders twitching in a light shrug. "The Sandbats played pretty hard, and Nasic got knocked flat on his ass. He should be fine, though."
"The Sandbats played against each other?" Jordan asked.
"Yeah. Do any of the Onyx pilots have shockball experience?"
Rardin nodded. "Our youngest members are pretty new to the game, but I'm pretty sure everyone's played at least once."
"Good to know." Bellarius glanced over his shoulder. "What about you, Commander?"
Byron bit back a sigh. "It's been a long time. I'm pretty rusty."
"We can always use replacements," Bellarius replied easily.
Jordan hid a smile. "If your CO is fine with the idea, and if we have time, we'll set up a match. First, we have some flight training to do."
Aside from the ground crew, the four officers were the only spectators present as ten TIEs – eight standard fighters spearheaded by two Interceptors – landed one by one. Jordan and her XO stepped forward to greet the first pilot, Lieutenant Drake, who saluted sharply after removing his helmet.
The other two observed as the captain and commander interacted with their squadron members. Byron mentally ticked off the list of Onyx pilots in number order as he spotted each one. Zirak. Chansey. Drake. Sharpe. Gastrel. Alonski. Falmar. Wardell. Blevins. Malast. Good, they're all here. If Bellarius was taken aback by Onyx Twelve's gender, he didn't show it.
Meanwhile, they lined up in front of Jordan and Rardin once they'd all disembarked from their fighters, standing at crisp attention. After another set of salutes were exchanged, Jordan addressed her squadron. "Finish your postflight checks, and then Commander Rardin will show you to your temporary quarters. Freshen up, grab some food if necessary, and meet me in the briefing room in an hour to discuss today's training." The female captain allowed herself to show a small smile. "Keep in mind that we are training together, but we will also show Sandbat what we are capable of. Welcome to Tatooine, Onyx. Dismissed."
Byron and Bellarius hung back as Rardin guided the new arrivals out of the hangar. "I'm looking forward to training with them, Ice," Bellarius noted quietly.
"I hope it'll be beneficial to both squadrons." Jordan's expression turned serious. "We need all the experience we can get."
The other two Carida graduates nodded soberly. "Come on. We've got work to do," Byron said, and they too left the hangar.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe Nightbringer kept its orbit tightly against the desert planet, screened by one of the Tartan Patrol Cruisers that bore the markings of Willem’s original fleet. The actual ship that took formation with it in the faraway sky was obscured, but the window that Willem could look out of still gave him the impression that it was a Tartan Patrol Cruiser, and that certaintly narrowed it down, but he couldn't remember off the top of his head if it was the Bastion or the Muunilinst, but right now, that thought was irrelevant. The only thought he really had was the one that he was stuck here, on this desolate planet, with a small fleet that was probably going to get smashed, with several green fighter squadrons, led by someone who might be a traitor and who might not be.
So it was no surprise that he was eyeing the lower half of the desk, knowing the bottle of whiskey was sitting right behind it. He didn’t really care for whiskey; by Feth, he actually wasn’t a fan of it at all. But whiskey was great for making your throat burn, make your heart beat a little faster. Sure as feth made Willem feel a little more alive sometimes, especially in a situation like this, but it wasn’t even the FUBAR situation he was in; it was the month and the year.
He thumbed the small square holochip that he carried in his pocket since Muunilinst, like a small lucky charm that he could never give away. He knew the picture well enough to remember almost all of the details that it showed; two women and a man, standing next to the open sea. Sea birds flew around them, the sun was soft and warm, and the look of bliss was on the man’s face. That was the family vacation a few months after Willem had married Riika, before Elina had changed her last name from Belkos to von Aath, a good time for the man.
He sighed and put it back in his pocket.
“Admiral.” A voice picked up from the intercom. He recognized the voice; Petty Officer II…Landon? Lankon. Something like that.
“What is it, Petty Officer?” The older officer replied curtly as his finger snapped against the toggle that allowed the man to speak to the aide outside of his office.
“ISB Agent Drake is requesting permission to speak to you.”
Great. Now that bottle of whiskey was getting really appealing.
“Of course she is.” Wiillem spoke, sotto voce.
“Nothing. Allow her in.” Willem replied curtly before snapping off the intercom system, his eyes trailing down to the assortment of pads in front of his desk. He had to do some awful amount of 'paperwork', and it would take him the better part of the day to actually get it done. Just his luck, he thought, before the door opened up in front of him and showed the figure of Agent Aria Drake. He forgot her actual rank but it wasn't important; ISB is ISB, and they had authority even when they shouldn't.
Aria saluted, snapping into attention and saluting in a way that would had made his old drill instructor at Carida very proud. "Admiral? A moment of your time?” She asked him in the position. Willem knew he could have a bit of fun here and let her stay in that position, but he ignored that feeling. Don't frak around with the ISB, Willem thought as he leaned forward.
"Agent Drake. Of course. Please, sit." Willem gestured to the chair in front of his desk, his eyes looking her over quickly. No spot of dirt, no single hint of lint on her body either. Woman took care of her uniform, and that, like the first time he actually met her, gave him a lot of insight into her character, just as much as he assumed she was doing the same to him.
"Thank you." Aria smoothed her uniform out as she sat down, relaxing from the position of attention, but Willem still could see she was not treating this informally; her posture told him that much.
"I wanted to apologize to you for my behavior last time we spoke. It was inappropriate.”
Willem's sigh was more audible than he would have liked, but that was already a moment behind. "More so on the eve of a supposed major fleet engagement as well," The Admiral tacked that onto his sigh quickly, blinking as he thought more. "I take it you're still going to attempt to interrogate Captain Dunn?" He had his doubts, but he needed to know if that was how this conversation was going to turn.
Aria, to Willem's immediate relief, shook her head in the negative. "Not without your permission Sir. I will observe only and not interfere. I would, however, like to be apart of base operations in the meantime."
A reasonable request if Willem ever heard one. And she was being quite polite to him in the first place; the first time he had to deal with ISB was when his first command was interrupted by ISB business and operations were literally halted. He knew she had authority to do anything she wanted, really, even if Willem posturized…and she asked.
"As if your right by your station providing by the laws of ISB. I don't see a reason beyond regulations for you -not- to be a part of base operations." He said politically, but practically; unless she tried to actually command the fleet battle, Willem wouldn't really do anything to impede her.
"I did not deem it appropriate to just step in, Sir. Especially after our last conversation," She cleared her throat, looking the older Admiral in the eyes, not backing down. "As this is your command, I am awaiting your orders."
Willem stared back, feeling as if he was being challenged, but he breathed out and rubbed his eyes; he was beginning to doubt she was before he spoke, his voice tired. "Agent Drake, you can do whatever you please as long as it doesn't interfere with day-to-day operations. Otherwise, use your ISB authority and do what you feel ISB needs done, sans Captain Dunn's interrogation."
Aria nodded. "I will leave him alone but I will come back to ask your permission after we take care of the Rebels."
"After the New Republic attack, you'll have free reign to interrogate anyone in the chain of command." Willem added, leaning back slightly as he thought about that. He'd need to look back into the Imperial Military Law holobooks he carried under his desk. There had to be something he could do for Traven in the meantime.
"I just need Dunn. My orders from High Command are very specific to him." She leans forward, making Willem think for a moment; was she reading his mind? "I just need to question him, nothing else. He will be left in one piece."
"Right.” Willem said, not believing her at all. “Well, regardless, that's moot until the end of the battle." Willem curled his hands over his chest, a pose most officers of his station often make. "Is there anything else I can do, Agent Drake?"
"No Sir." Aria stood up in front of him and gave him another crisp salute.
"Dismissed." He said, giving her a small salute in return, nowhere near as crisp, before returning to the datapads in front of him. He was searching around as he heard her leave and close the door behind him, leaving him to sigh and lean forward, pushing his head against the table. This was probably the most human emotion he's expressed since he came to Tatooine, and that thought lingered in his head before he pulled his face back up.
“Sir, you have another visitor.”
Frak off, he thought to say, but he resisted the urge and looked up at the door.
“Who is it?”
“Colonel Betruger, sir.”
Great, this has to be important, Willem thought. “Send him in.”
When the door opened, Willem had a case of deja vu all over again. White, shiny, clean uniform, another ISB agent. But the great thing about Malcilom Betruger was that he was in Willem's pocket, one of the agents he possessed in his fleet that operated against the New Order. He had only three or four of them, with Betruger and Kara Amon chief about them, but he had no idea where Kara was on the planet, and he didn't really care for the moment when Betruger's face caught Willem's eye. That look on Betruger's face as he walked in made Willem's smile drop.
“No easy way, sir. Your daughter was attacked six hours ago, on Bakura. We just got the tight-beam transmission.”
Willem's hands gripped the wood tightly, his knuckles white with fury as he breathed in. His next words were rapid and responsive.
“Is she okay?”
“She wasn't killed, but it was a potential assassination. My counterpart there didn't confirm if she was wounded.”
Willem let his mind move at ten thousand miles per hour, thinking and thinking and worrying and feeling his heart clench with terror. The last bit of Elina he had left, the daughter he adored and adopted, could have been killed in Bakura, a place he suggested, almost pushed her, to go.
His words were quick, to the point. “How fast can you get there?”
“A week or so by shuttle.”
Willem looked up at Betruger, keeping down the emotions in his heart and his body. Betruger didn't even to ask again as the two men made contact.
“I'll leave immediately.”
The words left Willem as quickly as they arrived as he stared at the desk, his fingers tracing the hologram of his family again. No longer, in that moment, was he the Commanding Officer of the Tatooine Sector, a position needed to be held by someone with discipline in his heart.
In that moment, he was just a wounded father, needing his daughter.
Re: The Tatooine Redemption“Thank you, Commander.” Traven took the data disc with the sim programme, Duval was offering him. “I appreciate that.” His voice sounded obliging, but it was the opposite Traven felt. His internal anger made him want to crush the disc in his bare hand. Wasn’t one invigilator from the ISB enough? Did they need another watch dog necessary to supervise him? Not to mention Jordan and her squadron taking over the whole training.
Traven was aware that his pilots were watching every motion of him, so he was totally controlled as he walked through the room, handing the disc to the tech officer, who was in charge of the simulators.
“By courtesy of Commander Duval we will be able to relive our dog fight with the rebels.” Traven saw the gloomy faces of the young men, who remembered very well what had happened. “We know what went wrong last time. We learnt from our mistakes and now we will do it better. Not even Captain Lane shall find something to criticise this time.” He glanced at Jordan, who stood with her own pilots a little apart from the Sandbats.
“Now man the sims.” Traven grabbed his own helmet, now turning to Jordan. “Or do you want to add something, Captain?”
Jordan faced Sandbat Squadron and tried to make eye contact with each pilot as she spoke to show her respect. "You entered the fight against the surprise enemy force as rookies. Now you fight them as veterans. You outlasted them. You have now outlived them. Show me that strength in the simulation today." She took a step backward and nodded to Captain Dunn to indicate that she had finished speaking.
Traven stared at her for a moment. She was good, really good. Not that he hadn’t known this before, but seeing her as a commanding officer was different. He saw the motivation on the faces of the pilots. Maybe their superior officers had been right in putting her into charge. But he wasn’t someone, who was satisfied with the second place. He would get his position back.
Putting on his helmet, Traven was hiding his face before emotions would take over. As he climbed into his simulator, he switched on his comlink, waiting for the pilots to report in.
Hours later and innumerable times of flying the mission again and again they finished the training finally. His hair stuck at his head as Traven took off his helmet. He felt almost as exhausted as the more inexperienced pilots, but also content. Each run of the simulation had been better than the one before. The boys were showing that they were true pilot material.
“Well done, Bats.” Traven allowed himself an honest smile as he addressed them. “And thank you for the support, Onyx.” He bowed his head slightly towards Jordan and her pilots to show his respect. “I think you all deserve an one hour break before the debriefing. Except the officers Aganox, Lane, Rardin and Duval, who will meet me in 30 minutes at my ready room for the analysis of the sim data. Dismissed.”
Of course all of them were punctual. Traven expected nothing less as the other officers entered the Captain’s personal office. He offered caf to them, as they took seats. Traven knew that the four were friends, so he was the odd man out. But there was no reason to be impolite, despite his own feelings about that. After all they were all part of the Imperial Navy.
Traven switched on the holo projector, so that the sim battle appeared on the middle of his desk.. “As you can see, all of the Bats have improved their skills. Some of them even demonstrate above-average skills. Even the weaker ones like Euan and Xanthe show promising development.”
Aganox nodded, the cup of caf in his hands. “I kept an eye on them, Sir, just like you suggested before the sim. Looks like they lack a little of pilot ego still, so they seem more cautious than their squadron mates. But they often use their brain more than the others. As you can see at 2:26:13.” He pointed to the holo in front of them.
“Yes, they use more strategic moves than the others. Not simply shooting, but also watching and waiting to get a good line of fire. They shoot less but with a higher percentage of hits.” Traven agreed. He turned to Jordan, their eyes meeting for a split second. Quickly he looked at the holo battle again, hoping none of the others would have noticed.
“I would like to hear you opinion, Captain Lane.” He refilled his cup of caf, sipping carefully from it as he waited for her answer.
If Jordan had noticed his look, she hid her emotions as well. Hitting a button on the desk she rewound the holo recording, repeating a certain scene of the battle.
“Indeed the Bats progressed immensely since the real battle. But while some need a little more ego, as you noted yourself, some need a little less. They need to learn to keep an eye on their wingmen.”
Traven was about to add something to her observation as the sound of his comunit interrupted.
“Excuse me,” Traven apologised as he changed to the incoming call. The projection of the battle transformed into the blue holographic image of General Tull. Even as his miniature version the General seemed to fill the room as he spoke.
“Captain Dunn, I expect you at my office in ten minutes.” Like always his voice sounded like a snarling. Traven wondered if the General gargled with sand a few times a day, but of course he kept the thought private.
“I will be there, Sir.” Traven got up from his chair immediately, wondering what accusation he would have to face this time. He took a deep breath as the General’s holo disappeared again.
“In case that I’ll not be back right in time you will have to do the debriefing, Lieutenant Aganox.”
Traven had to race with his speeder to reach the old garrison right in time. Jogging along the hallways, he was just slightly out of breath, thanks to his daily training. General Tull looked at his chrono, disapproval written all over his face.
“Twelve minutes, Captain. I said ten.” Traven suppressed the urge to hit the General hard into the face as he stood at attention. Being a soldier half of his life he was used of harassment of superior officers, compensating for their inadequacy.
“I apologize, Sir.” He answered instead, appearing calm. The General narrowed his eyes. For a moment Traven expected another chicanery, but instead the commanding officer of the garrison leant back in his chair, obviously disappointed about the lack of visible anger in the other man.
“I have new orders for you, Captain” Tull said without further ado. “The sandpeople are a nuisance since years. One of their settlements is too close to Mos Eisley. We can’t endorse that. Take your squadron and wipe it out.”
Traven blinked. The order seemed senseless to him. They were preparing for war against the New Republic and the General seemed to lead his own little campaign here. It wasn’t his place to scrutinise the command. Maybe the display of strength and military clout would make the Imperial supporters among citizens feel safe, while the opponents would learn fear.
“Yes, Sir. We’ll start ASAP.”
The double suns of Tatooine burnt down mercilessly on the Jundland wastes as the Sandbat Squadron flat-hatted through one of the canyons. Before their take-off there had been just a short moment of time to talk to his XO about the order. Aganox had been also confused about the sudden mission. Both of them agreed that it had to be seen as training for the young pilots to learn to follow orders even when they made no direct sense.
Following the co-ordinates the General had given him, Traven saw the gathering of tents and banthas at the horizon as soon as they left the canyon. It was more of a camp than a true settlement. He wasn’t sure how many Tusken they would actually hit, but it was just demonstration of firepower.
“This is Bat leader. 10 klicks in front of us is our target. Mission goal: Wipe them out.” Traven announced through the squadrons com channel. It had been his decision to not tell them before they arrive. A good chance to observe the reactions of the new pilots. There was silence first.
“But there are women and children in that village. They…” One of them finally spoke, just to be interrupted by Lieutenant Aganox. “Stop the chatter, Bat 9. You heard the Captain. You know your orders.” They would have to talk about that pilot later.
To make it easier for the rookies Dunn and Aganox fired first. Their volleys disintegrated two of the tents almost completely. They saw the Tusken ran around in panic, trying to flee towards their banthas. But the squadron turned around, flying another attack. This time all of them shot.
The air was saturated with smoke as they accomplished their mission. In the normally clear sky of the planet the columns were visible for many kilometres. The pilots were quiet as they returned to base.
There weren’t many places in the garrison to go to while off-duty time. The mess-hall was one of them. So it wasn’t surprising, that the room was already crowed as Traven stepped in at dinner time. Almost all seats were taken. Traven looked around, the tray with food in his hand. He saw his pilots gathered around one of the table, obviously discussing the events of the day. At another one sat Jordan with her entourage of Rardin, Duval and Aganox. Traven wondered if it was possible to meet one of the quartet ever alone. He knew that they would make space for him so he could join them at their table. But their bond made him jealous of their friendship. Traven was sure that he couldn’t bear it today to spend time with them.
Before they noticed him, he chose the lesser evil. Traven walked to the only free chair nearby. It was just occupied by a pair of small feet in uniform boots. Feet that belonged to Agent Drake. The Captain hesitated a moment, rethinking his decision. But it was too late for a retreat as the agent looked up from the datapad she was reading.
“May I?” Traven asked, pointing to the chair. She looked at him teasingly for a moment, before removing her feet off the seat. “Be my guest, Captain.”
Traven sat down, placing the tray in front of him. Taking his own datapad out of his pocket, he started to read, while eating Exodeenian pasta that strangely enough was mixed with Antarian peas. Not questioning the talent of the cook, Traven concentrated more on his reading than the weird taste of the food.
“You still have my gloves.” A voice suddenly said. Traven looked up confused.
“My gloves. You still have them.” The agent repeated, a smile on her lips.
“Oh, of course.” Traven didn’t return the smile. “I’ll send them to your quarters later. But if you need them now to hit the cooking crew, I’ll get them for you immediately.”
Agent Drake stared at him, then she laughed. “Who would suspect that you have humour?”
“Isn’t it in your dossier about me?” Traven retorted, regretting his answer instantly.
The tiredness after the events of the day had made him incautious. The Admiral had warned him.
Re: The Tatooine Redemption“Isn’t it in your dossier about me?”
Aria's eyes narrowed just a bit and drew her smile into a smirk. So the Admiral has warned him. Tread carefully. She picked up her datapad, opened it up and looked directly in Captain Dunn's eyes.
"Let’s see shall we?" She was careful to keep a teasing tone in her voice. "Hmmm…personal history, the academy on Carida, military record," she paused. "No sorry Captain. It says nothing here about personality or a sense of humor. Disappointed?"
"Why should I be disappointed? That gives me the advantage of surprise."
He still did not smile.
She supposed that it should be expected, he was warned by the Admiral. He couldn't be to thrilled that she was here in the first place. Still, he hadn't tried to convince her he was innocent. He was quiet, even now.
Aria concentrated on her datapad. She did not understand why his lack of attention bothered her so much. Her idea of being friendly and seducing him to get to the truth didn't seem like it was going to work either. She rose from the table.
"Why don't you just meet me in the gym tomorrow," she leaned toward him and touched his arm. "Let’s say after dinner, if you're not to tired. You can return my gloves then."
He looked at her hand, then her face and nodded.
"You really should get some sleep Captain." She patted his arm and walked out of the mess.
She stopped a Trooper just outside the mess. A secure channel was needed there was a certain Captain Vars she needed to speak with. She had noticed Onyx squadron in mess with Captain Lane. If being nice wasn't going to work, she might as well get down to business as usual.
A short time later, Aria sat in Colonel Bertrand's office. The Admiral has sent him on a mission and she decided to take it over. She'd sent a Trooper and a message to a Commander Byron Duval. Like the Onyx squadron, he had also come from the Banisher and was under the command of Captain Vars. Well that was about to change. It did not take long for the Commander to enter her office.
Well that was fast. She suppressed a smile.
"Have a seat Commander Duval." He saluted and sat in the closest chair, looking uncomfortable. Aria couldn't blame him, though. Just mention ISB and everyone looks uncomfortable.
"Your summons was unexpected Colonel Drake."
He'd spotted her rank cylinders. This time she did not bother to hide them. Since she decided she wasn't going to play nice, she wasn't going to hide her rank. And she did not bother returning his salute.
"I am ISB, my summons are never expected, Commander."
"What can I do for the ISB, Colonel?"
"You're orders have changed. From now on, you'll report to me about the Sandbats and Captain Dunn. As well as Onyx."
"I am to report only to you, Colonel?" He frowned just enough for her to notice.
"Yes, only me. Anything I deem important to pass on to your Captain, I will give him personally."
"Understood, Colonel. Will my reports on their progress suffice, or is there something specific I should focus on?"
"I will need additional information on Captain Dunn. If you see anything out of the ordinary, something not fitting with an Imperial captain, you need to tell me immediately."
"I have seen nothing abnormal thus far, but if that changes, you will know." Again Commander Duval frowned and he narrowed his eyes.
"Immediately, Commander. Understood?"
"Good, you are dismissed." She stood up and this time gave him a salute.
Commander Duval was to his feet immediately, his salute crisp and he did not relax his stance until she did. He exited as quickly as he entered.
Aria spent the next few hours in her "stolen" office. She was going over and over Traven's military record and his family history. The time frame between accusations was also a concern of hers. It would seem that everything that happened on Bakura was a fluke, an accident. She was wasting time looking for something that wasn't there.
Annoyed, she went to the gym. She needed a workout to clear her head. All she needed was one conversation with Captain Dunn and then she'd decide whether or not to end this useless investigation.
Now if I could only get him to talk to me.
As luck would have it, Aria saw an excellent opportunity. As she entered the locker room she noticed Captain Lane, who was not paying attention, exiting the locker room. The two women almost run into each other.
"Captain Lane," Aria smiled. "Pleasure to see you again."
Jordan paused mid step, just inside the locker room. She does not return Aria's smile.
"Agent Drake. What brings you here this evening?"
"Working out a little," Aria paused for a moment. "aggression." She looked Jordan over. "I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time."
Jordan blinked but otherwise hid her surprise. "Exercise is good for that." She tilted her head slightly to one side. "I have nothing on my schedule right now."
"Excellent." Aria smiled wider. "If you'll follow me." She motioned for Jordan to follow her into the locker room. "I won't take long. I only have a few questions about Captain Dunn."
Jordan's left hand twitched, thankfully unseen by the agent as she turned away to lead her inside.
"Lock the door behind you. We wouldn't want to be disturbed." Aria sat on a bench between the lockers. "Join me." It was not a request, it was an order. Jordan locked the door, and sat as far away from Aria as the bench allowed. She could tell Captain Lane was nervous and hid another smile. Finally Jordan looked up making eye contact and waited for the woman's questions.
Aria cleared her throat. "How well do you know Captain Dunn?" She closely observed Jordan's face as she answered.
"As you know, I served as his executive officer in the Black Paladins. We worked closely together during that time. I suppose you could say I know him well."
Aria watched her maintain control. Easy question number two. "How would you describe him as a Captain?"
Jordan's response is almost instantaneous. "He was a very capable, effective leader. He assigned challenging tasks to his pilots, but they were intended for growth rather than given out of malicious intent. And he repeatedly showed the skills in the cockpit that granted him the Group Captain position." She then stopped herself from saying more.
Hmmm, that was a bit enthusiastic. She smiled at Jordan. "You have a lot of respect for him." And that's not all. Her eyes narrowed. "You never noticed anything strange in his behavior?"
"No, I did not notice any strange behavior. Only that befitting an Imperial Captain."
Either he's good or she's lying. "Nothing that would suggest he is a traitor?" Aria frowned at the woman sitting next to her. "You realize that the timing of your exit looks suspicious." Of course ISB can spin what they want, how they want and Aria got the response she wanted.
"Captain Dunn, a traitor?" she blurted out before she can stop herself. Aria watched as Jordan willed composure back into her entire body. "My transfer was part of a deal with Bastion."
"Yes. And this isn't the first time he's been accused." Aria smiled sweetly at the other woman. "I suggest that you watch how you conduct yourself, Captain Lane. I will be watching you as well." Aria stood, waving her hand dismissively "I will look into your transfer. You're free to go."
"Watch away, Agent Drake," Jordan replied. She finally stood and offered a casual salute. "You will simply see a captain's loyalty to the Empire."
"Be sure to give my regards to Commander Duval." She replied to the Captain's retreating back.
Jordan's back stiffened but she refused to turn around look at the woman as she unlocked the door. Aria's smile faded. She reached into her bag, pulled out her datapad and began typing a message.
Re: The Tatooine Redemption"…copy that, control.
Mariner IV leaving Zel Zon station." Marina reported to traffic control.
Approaches and take offs had to be coordinated, unlike landing on a system with much leeway. The station orbiting Brental IV was massive, but with so many crafts coming and going, it needed traffic control to assure that no two crafts came to occupy the same space; crash.
She still couldn't believe a shipping company like JSMD Enterprises could just belly up like that and not see it coming? There were some bad business ethics at work here, that much was certain. Why would a company subcontract a shipment to another carrier and not know they were going out of business a few days later?
So many things just didn't add up.
Now she was left holding the shipment and being the one responsible in getting it to its's final destination; Tatooine of all places.
Marek from JSMD…or rather the former employee had managed to get the tracking orders on her shipment. The next JSMD distribution hub was near the Denon system…another station.
Marina's jump calculations required her to drop out of hyperspace near Denon to re-angle for the final jump to Tatooine.
Maybe there was a small chance that the other JSMD hub was still operational and willing to take hold of her cargo, saving her the ordeal of nerving up to land on Imperial occupied Tatooine. Oh, how she loathed the Empire, much less having to deal with them in her business.
But business was business and many times already she had to dredge through their formalities on a few deliveries to systems under their jurisdiction. Or at least what they claimed it to be. But it was more like forced occupation. Still, commerce always seemed to flow to systems even under their iron rule, including Tatooine. After all, if there was no commerce, then what would the Empire levy their tax on?
The Mariner IV banked, following the station's departure coordinates and was soon facing free space. Marina maneuvered her ship to the calculated jump angle point and then punched it. The Mariner jumped into hyperspace and left Brental IV system in the blink of an eye.
The jump time to Denon system by way of Hydan Way was two days. It would take marina from the Core systems to the Inner Rim systems.
Checking all her post jump system components in the green, she left her cock-pit and headed back toward the galley. She hadn't bothered to take a moment on Zel Zon Station to grab a bite, as she had been too pre-occupied getting her shipment in order. Well, that didn't happen. But at least she had the cargo's final destination and the other JSMD hub that it was supposed to get shipped to, after she made the drop on Zel Zon Station.
Half into the jump, a day later, Marina had managed to get a hold of her grandfather. The Setril Transport Division, was part of Setril Enterprises. It had been an Alderaanean off world family owned business of the DeVoes. Marina was registered as one of the carriers of Setril Transport, although she has heir to the company. But that was kept low key, as it was safer to do in these continuing dark times. Besides, working for the company was just temporary. She needed some time to explore the galaxy, before she settled on practicing law, as she had a doctorate degree in political science and Galactic Law. She was just taking time off between graduation and diving neck deep in the political arena.
Ok, so she was still doing deliveries three years following graduation. But it was difficult to give up exploring the galaxy, jump after jump. It had gotten in her blood and she just couldn't put it down.
Well OK, this one Tatooine shipment and those like it (Imperial entanglements) at times made her rethink her career again. But she was no quitter, not by far. Even if this were to be her last before handing over the ship's codes to pursue a Law career; she'd get this one done.
"No, grandma…. It would still require someone else to deliver it. I don't feel right in passing this over to someone else, if I could do it myself." Marina replied to her grandmother on Duro.
The family estate after the destruction of her home world was on the system Duro. But what remained of the DeVoes after the Empire committed mass genocide of her people were just Marina and her two grandparents. They had been on an off world trip when that ill fated event shook the entire galaxy…the destruction of Alderaan.
"I'll be coming out of my present jump near Denon system. There is another JSMD distribution hub located there. Maybe its still open, despite nio one picking up on their business line.
I figure I've got to re-angle to take the Corellian Run, if I'm to go all the way to Tatooine.
Might as well check out the station near Devon to see if someone's left from JSMD to take the shipment…otherwise…
Yea, Tatooine." Marina sighed.
Her grandmother had wanted Marina's grand-dad to get on the line, but Marina insisted for her not too.
She knew he wouldn't want his granddaughter any where near those murderous swine. But her grandmother understood her better than her grandfather. After all, Marina was as spunky as her mother had been. Smart, intelligent….full of life and adventure. Only that marina's mother.. father.. siblings…relatives.. friends and subjects, had all perished that infamous day under the Death Star's massive laser weapon.
"I'll be careful, grandma. I'll figure it out…promise.
Love you. And please don't mention it to grandpa. Just tell him I called to say hello and wish him my love.
Marina out." With that she terminated the holo transmission. It had been of barely even poor quality as it was difficult to maintain a strong connection while transversing through hyperspace. But the link had been sufficient enough to relay all that had transpired and Marina's intentions.
Marina then checked her ETA. 18 more hours before she would drop out of hyperspace and on to the Denon system.
She rubbed her neck from fatigue. It had been hard to get some shut eye knowing that most likely she'd have to go the distance on her own. Tatooine wasn't a place she would have ever wanted to visit, regardless if it had even been under Republic jurisdiction, much less Imperial occupation.
But she was hauling equipment detrimental to the system's farmers; evaporative condensing equipment and such. And Heaven knew that these poor farmers couldn't scratch much of a living without evaporative condensers on such an arid system.
Marina got up and this time headed to her berth. She was feeling too exhausted staying awake for so long. Maybe she figured she'd sleep most of the jump…maybe.
* * *
'…beep…beep… beep… Beep…' The sound of the alarm plucked her from a good dream…a damn good dream too!
"Aww, shoot…" Marina reached over and silenced it.
It was the proximity alarm she had set for Denon system.
An hour to go, and counting down to final emergence.
Laying there getting her bounds together, she realized she had nearly slept well over 12 hours. But wow was she still tired. Too tired, to get up at the moment. But there was much to do before she'd come out of the jump…and a good shower was on the primary list.
The nav-comp had counted down to the end of it's drive cycle and the Mariner IV suddenly dropped out of hyperspace, near the Denon system.
Marina had been at the cockpit controls readying to switch to her sub-light drives.
The immediate sector data mapping was already on line and filling in all moving objects within her ship's envelope. This took but a few seconds and from that, marina was able to plot her way over to the space station which supposedly had another JSMD distribution hub. Her aim was to see about relieving her ship of the cargo and responsibility, as her contract had called for her to deliver the cargo to Zel Zon Station in the Bretal system. But the JSMD facility there had closed up. Right now, marina was hopping that the one near Denon was still in operation.
It didn't take but an hour to reach the station. Her inquiry as to JSMD resulted in disappointment. That hub was also closed.
With permission to dock at the station, Marina made her approach and settled the Mariner in one of the docks.
If anything, she'd now need an official permission pass to even think of going to Tatooine.
Marina secured her ship once docked at the station and headed toward the station master's office. Since this and pretty much all space stations were registered provinces of a given system or sector, the station master could well apply and secure her a pass to systems requiring permission to enter…Tatooine being one in particular.
"…yes, that would be fine. But I need to be present." Marina replied to the station master.
As it turned out, there was a middleman right at the station that by proxy license could give Marina such a pass. But her cargo had to be inspected for him to notarize the pass.
She had no choice but to agree. That or get stuck with the cargo, as no pass, no Tatooine landing… much less escape getting netted by an SD, as Tatooine was under Imperial marshal Law and a blockage was in affect.
The entire holo-registration and inspection took a few hours. Mostly waiting for approval by transmission from the Imperials. But her cargo seemed to satisfy the requirements necessary to attain permission to approach Tatooine.
But it didn't give her the rights to just drop out and make an approach on the system. There were some criteria and procedures to follow once she reached Tatooine system.
Needless to say; Marina did attain the pass, but it would only assure that her ship would not be fired upon.
The Imperials there would most certainly require her to be boarded and re-inspect her cargo.
With nothing to hide and with farming evap condensers as her cargo…sure, why not? Last she heard, the Empire wasn't taking over condensation farming. And besides, for them to allow such basic essential farming equipment through, was good PR relations…or propaganda, depending on the point of view.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionJordan needed time to think, to digest recent events. She had to compose a report regarding the performance of Onyx and Sandbat today. The simulation session had been a success, though the beginning of it had gone less than seamlessly. And then there had been that odd summons for Captain Dunn from General Tull and the Sandbats' subsequent raid on a Tusken village. When she had not been paying attention to Onyx, Jordan had overheard a bit of the young Sandbats' discussion in the mess over the evening meal. Victory chatter, to be sure, but some… remorse, for lack of a better word, had been mixed in.
These thoughts consumed her attention when Agent Drake had entered the locker room. It was bad enough that she was ISB. Jordan's distraction simply worsened the situation.
The questioning concluded, she found herself back in the corridor, her intention to work out long forgotten. Her head leaned back against the cool wall.
"Nothing that would suggest he is a traitor?" Drake's words echoed through her mind. They left a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. It explained a great deal regarding Captain Dunn's presence on Tatooine, but at the same time, it spawned so many more questions.
She had asked, once. She had not received an answer. Not then, not since then. A light exhale of breath escaped her lips. She would no longer wait for answers from him.
To complicate the issue, the agent had not restricted her dialogue to the matter of Captain Dunn. Why the frak did she mention Byron?
Footfalls echoed. Jordan stepped away from the wall and squared her shoulders, as it would not do for someone to discover her in such an unbalanced state. She decided to visit the gym after all. She had changed into suitable attire before Agent Drake's interruption, and she could use the time to straighten her mind.
"Great minds think alike, eh, Ice?" Byron's voice broke through her internal deliberations.
Her head jerked up, betraying her surprise. "What?"
"You are going to the gym, right?"
Jordan realized her friend had also changed into workout clothing. "Yes. I take it you are as well?"
"Hey, it's me. You can relax."
She tilted her head from side to side until a series of crackles sounded. "You're right." Jordan resumed her pace toward the exercise area, and Byron fell into step beside her. "Did you have something in mind? Treadmills, boxing, core exercises?"
"Well, I was just going to lift some weights, but if you're game, I'd love to have a sparring match with you." He glanced around. "Gravity here is a little bit higher than on the Banisher. Might as well take advantage of it while I can."
The captain nodded. "Good idea."
When they arrived, they found it empty. "Good, there won't be anyone around to see me beat you," Byron teased.
Jordan had to chuckle. "You're that confident you'll be able to win this?"
"My leg may not be in top shape, but I can still take you down."
"Give me a fighting chance and let me stretch first," she retorted, rolling her eyes. During this warmup period, Jordan idly wondered where the agent was. She had been on her way to the gym, hadn't she? Or had she finished her workout? The fact that she had not noted this detail, that she had been too distracted to pay attention to it, bothered the pilot more than she would like.
As she finished, Byron moved past her, stepped onto the mat, and adopted a preparatory stance, his arms raised in front of him, his knees slightly bent. She mirrored his positioning. They warily watched each other, taking occasional steps but neither making the first move.
"Feels like Carida," Jordan admitted.
Byron laughed. "Except this time I'm not going to knock the breath out of your lungs."
"Like I'd let you," she grinned. And she threw the first punch.
Their fists and arms knocked together in repeated blocks and blows. He swept his good leg in an attempt to loosen her footing; she clenched her muscles and kept her balance before taking a step and nearly knocking him over with her responding kick as he still had not recovered his stance.
The pair fell into a rhythm. Minutes ticked by, sweat beaded on both of their foreheads, and soon Jordan had to admit her body felt the strain. But she was not about to give in. Not with the look of competition, of exhilaration, in her best friend's blue eyes.
Yet her mind managed to wander. She considered the importance of Byron's friendship. She marveled at the support he provided and wondered if she could ever repay him for it. She remembered Agent Drake's parting comment. What did she mean by–
The world spun around her as Byron's latest attempt to knock her down met with success. She managed to prepare herself for contact with the mat, but that left her open to his finishing move. Arms locked over hers, Byron firmly pinned her to the ground. "You should have blocked that," he accused.
Jordan quickly pieced together her mistake. "You're right. I should have."
His eyes narrowed. "Why didn't you?"
"There's… a lot on my mind."
Jordan took shallow breaths; not only did she belatedly realize she had been panting, but Byron's weight prevented her from fully filling her lungs with air. "It'd be easier… to talk without you… on top of me."
Byron gazed at her for a moment, his face centimeters from hers, searching for something, though Jordan did not know what. Then he nodded and rolled to a sitting position, resting his right elbow on that bent knee and reaching for a towel with his left hand.
Jordan sat up, grabbed her own towel, and mopped her forehead. Byron watched her expectantly.
She bit back a sigh. "Agent Drake questioned me in the locker room not long before you showed up."
He nodded his understanding. "Can you talk about it?"
"I don't know. I probably shouldn't." Jordan tilted her head and looked at him in silence for a few seconds. "Can you?"
"No. Orders are orders."
Jordan almost smiled. He had said so little, yet he had given her enough to read between the lines. She knew there was no way to read his mind, nor he hers, yet sometimes it felt that such a thing were possible.
"Anything else bothering you, Ice?"
She impulsively barked a laugh. More mind-reading. "On this dustball, what isn't?"
"The Sandbats did quite well today, you know. I'm glad you said something to them before the first simulation run. I think it helped."
Jordan blinked. She did not believe she had said anything worthy of mention. It had been a spur of the moment decision, but the expressions on those young faces had prompted it. "I didn't really do–"
"Captain Jordan Lane, leader of Onyx Squadron, model Imperial officer and talented pilot, took the time to point out the accomplishments of a group of young rookies. Young veterans, now. Don't underestimate yourself, Ice."
"You've always had a knack for building up my ego," she replied with a smile.
He offered a lopsided grin. "Oh, so you do have an ego?"
"I'm a pilot. Of course."
The grin intensified, and Byron leaned slightly closer. "I like hearing that from you. It's a nice change. Looks like getting your own squadron's been good for you. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I'm proud of you, Captain Ice."
"As I am of you, Commander Slick," Jordan responded, still smiling. Their eyes locked for a few seconds.
Muffled voices drifted toward them as a trio of officers approached the gym. Slick got to his feet and extended a hand to his best friend. He helped Ice up, and his thumb briefly brushed over her knuckles before he released his grip.
After the briefest of pauses, Jordan asked, "Up for a rematch, Commander?"
Byron shook his head lightly and threw his towel around his neck. "I've still got reports to finish, Captain. How about tomorrow?"
She nodded. "All right."
He gave her a casual salute and then turned away and walked out of the gym. Jordan moved to one corner and began a stretching and cooldown routine. Once, her left hand drifted to her right, fingertips lightly touching the back of her hand.
- - - - -
Pilot Officer Sera Malast hated Tatooine already. The dry air, the smell of sand, the farmboys… it was so different from her home planet of Bastion. She wanted to bathe in lotion already. And those rookies hadn't stopped staring at her. Sera wouldn't consider herself a prime example of a female human, but her appearance wasn't half bad, and she was pretty much the only female thing to look at on this ball of sand.
Well, there was Captain Lane and whispers of an ISB agent, but her captain didn't count, and Sera hadn't seen the agent for herself to know one way or another. Even farmboys wouldn't be stupid enough to ogle someone from the ISB, right?
Sera knew she was lucky to have such upstanding squadmates. She was the new kid on the block, the fresh-out-of-the-academy pilot who had shown up not long before Green had been renamed Onyx and assigned to the Banisher. Yet they looked out for her, pushed her to keep up, and saw her as a pilot, not an object, not a female.
A little voice deep down said she had Captain Lane to thank for that attitude.
Sera felt irritable anyway, though. Her routine had been all messed up since leaving the ISD earlier that day. As ordered, she'd spent hours in the sims with the farmboys – Sandbats – and was pretty proud of herself for managing to show up a few of them. One-on-one, she was confident her skills matched or even outstripped theirs, but in a squadron-based simulation, it was a lot harder to showcase her talents, and she was glad she'd done that more than once. All of Onyx had been happy to fly together again under the leadership of Captain Lane and Commander Rardin, too.
It didn't hurt to get more time around that Commander Duval, either. Too bad not every Imperial officer was as easy on the eyes as he was. Well, him and the hot captain of the Sandbats, though Sera got a chill a handful of times from Captain Dunn. "Tight-ass" was too nice a word for him. Then again, he seemed like he was at least as good as Captain Lane, yet he was in charge of a bunch of rookies on this god-awful planet.
I'd have a stick up my ass if I were him, Sera admitted to herself. She returned her thoughts to the topic of good-looking men. His XO, Aganox, had another stare-worthy face along with some damn good flying skills. Horrible planet, amazingly handsome and talented officers. At least there was something good about being here.
Sera sighed heavily. She'd figured out where four things were located so far: the hangar, the sims, the locker room, and the mess. She needed to add where the hell she was sleeping to that list.
"Fresh!" a familiar voice called out behind her. "You lost?"
She half-smiled at the sight of Flight Officer Grant Sharpe. "Learning my way around is different from being lost, Blunt," she retorted.
"You're lost," he confirmed.
She sighed again. "Know where we're bunking?"
"I was headed there now to grab my workout gear. Come on." He led her to a wing of sparsely furnished rooms that pretty much only contained bunks and lockers. Each of them had six beds.
Sera groaned at the sight of one almost-full room and another partially so. "Most of the bunks have been claimed already, haven't they."
"Most of us didn't get lost."
She gritted her teeth and absolutely refused to respond to his teasing. "Any top bunks left?"
"There's the one across from mine," Grant pointed out.
"Dammit, Blunt, you talk in your sleep."
"Hey, at least Fish is in the other room," he replied.
She blinked. "Really? Okay, here is fine."
"You said you were getting your workout stuff… are you going to the gym?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Feeling antsy after sitting on my ass in the sims for most of the day. Didn't get my usual weights in."
"Same here. I'll go with you."
They arrived at the gym a little while later, passing Commander Duval in the corridor on their way and saluting. He offered them a light smile and a return salute before continuing on his way.
"Busy guy," Grant observed. "It's weird to see so many of us from the Banisher down here."
Sera shrugged. "I'm not complaining." They spotted their captain inside the gym stretching and approached her, saluting her as well.
Captain Lane smiled at them, and they both hesitated in lowering their hands at the sight. "What exercises do you have planned?" she asked.
Sera recovered her voice first. "Uh, well, we were going to do some weights and stretches and stuff." Okay, so she'd only partially recovered it.
"It's a good idea to work out in planetary gravity while you can. I'll spot you," Captain Lane replied.
"Thank you, sir!" they answered together. Sera liked watching her captain interact with them… well, whenever she wasn't panicking over her own performance. Other officers, men stationed to the base itself, were in the gym, too, and she wanted to make Onyx look good.
To make her captain look good.
As they went through a stretching routine and then moved from one weight machine to another, Captain Lane asked them about their impressions of Tatooine, their thoughts on the Sandbats, their evaluations of one or two specific aspects of the earlier simulations, all in a casual manner. It might have felt like a debrief in a formal setting, but here in the gym, it was more like a conversation.
Sera couldn't wait to brag to her squadmates about this later.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe jump from the Inner rim to the Outer had seemingly gone by faster than Marina would have preferred. But as far as real time, it had been a 4 day jump. Just that knowing she was to encounter the Empire at the end of her journey was quite trying for her.
But she was Alderranean… a survivor. To bow down to these conquistadors would be no different than to give into the plague. One had to have the will to endure. And she was no exception.
Marina had taken the Hydian Way route from Brental IV to the Denon system. From Denon’s cross-routes, she acquired the proper proxy Imperial code permits from the sector’s space station; she then jumped on the Corellian Run route, and was now just coming up nearing the Tatooine system.
She had done much homework on Tatooine and the current crisis afflicting it. It was now more apparent that it was a strategic occupation and not one of levying taxation for the purpose of keeping its war machine turning.
This did change a few aspects of what she originally had based her delivery run on.
For certain she would most likely be boarded…maybe even have her cargo confiscated right there in orbit.
Well, this would still morally relieve her of her obligation to have her cargo delivered, as she did provide a good faith effort in trying to deliver it to the rightful owners. Even in a confiscation, the Empire kept records. This too Marina could put down in her ship’s log as the reason for her delivery falling short.
But handing it freely to the Empire was not her first choice by far. It was the worst case scenario…
~ ~ ~
The Mariner IV dropped out of hyperspace distant enough from Tatooine for the Empire to not think her ship was trying to make a run for the blockade.
She dropped out while still on the Corellian Run route and using sub-light engines headed toward the Tatooine system. She was in plain sight of any scanners monitoring the sector.
“Mariner IV to Imperial border patrol…” Marina started to send out a hail call.
Her transmission receiver crackled, letting her know she had been connected. But for the moment, it did not immediately respond. Her distant to Tatooine was about 600 billion miles and at her current sub-light speed of .9+ she was approximately an hour away. This she had well calculated in her safety factor. No way a New Republic or smuggler craft would give that amount of lead time to an Imperial blockade, if their intentions were to infiltrate the system.
Marina was approaching Tatooine from a far enough distance and hailing the Imperials so as to give them plenty of time to evaluate and confirm who she was and her intentions.
“Mariner IV to Imperial border patrol… this is a private carrier transport on a delivery run to Tatooine.
My Imperial proxy registration permit is now being transmitted… (**************************************)
Please respond, as I am maintaining present course and approach…” Marina again transmitted; this time copying and putting to cycle as a repeater.
The code transmission contained all that she had registered with at the station near Denon system to attain An Imperial permit by proxy, to approach Tatooine system.
This repeated over several times before she received a reply.
They recognized the code as one recently validated and instructed her to angle her current approach to coincide with an ISD that was to inspect her cargo.
Marina rolled her eyes, drumming her fingers on her console a few seconds before replying.
“Will do. Changing course angle to ISD coordinates. ETA in 34 minutes.” She finally replied.
‘Damn it… damn it… damn it’… she cursed to herself. But she knew the probability of just transmitting those validated codes and allow her to be on her merry way had been a long shot.
Still, she had hoped in not having to come face to face with any of these bastards. But they were a reality here in most parts of the galaxy. To avoid them was like avoiding a trip to the refresher. It was something unavoidably to do, but best do it in a sanitary manner just the same.
And for the most part, it was the way Marina felt when dealing with any of them. She did her best to deal with them without getting their stench get to her.
The ISD was at a good distant, yet it could easily be seen as it were one of a few crafts of that size, as she decreased her sub-lights to .005. This of course had been relayed to her, as per the approach procedures the Imperials transmitted from the ISD, as she got to within sight of it.
Without any warning whatsoever; two tie interceptors suddenly appeared from either behind, above or below her…surprisingly enough, her scanners had failed to pick them up. She didn’t know where the hell they had come from…but they were there now, and getting closer to her ship.
‘Oh..shit me…’ she said to herself, getting caught off guard as they had suddenly appeared on both port and starboard…
A quick aft monitor check, had another at her tail and closing in fast.
“Uhm…Mariner IV to…uhm… Imperial border patrol!… what’s going on?” she then asked as the interceptors tightened up on her.
The response was for her to release control of the ship and allow herself to be towed near the ISD.
Pilot controls released. Opened link up for remote navigation control” Marina complied.
What choice did she have now?
Did they say tow her near the ISD?
Well, this was of some relief, as maybe she wouldn’t be swallowed up in the belly of the beast.
Her ship shuddered for a moment as the link up took effect. The escort fighters were taking her ship closer to the orbiting ISD. As she got nearer, she started to not only see, but also pick up other ISDs orbiting the system. They were spaced far enough apart to be in visual of each other due to their mass and forming a sort of shield…the blockade of Tatooine.
The Mariner IV slowed by way of remote and came to about 50km of the ISD before she seemed to stop. There marina waited as the escort then departed, melding in with other small formations of ties going in and out of the ISD.
Most of marina’s monitors went static; likely some sensor jamming frequencies the ISD was emmiting to her ship. This, marina expected, as whatever communications at any coded levels, her ship’s system would not be able to record and descramble later.
It was no sense even asking what next, as her communication console was displaying an order for her to stand by.
So Marina, stood by and waited…quite nervously.
Perhaps it was 10, maybe 30 nerve racking minutes passing, before she visually picked up a smaller patrol ship. One almost the size of her own, making an approach to dock with her.
The com console then changed its message and the order was now for her to open up her airlock after the patrol ship docked. She was being boarded.
‘…just wonderful…' She muttered as she prepared to do just that.
The light shudder and the docking light confirmed the marriage. Marina released the locks on her airlock.
Her leg was jittering a mile a second.
Oh what a time to suddenly have a need to pee…
She knew enough to stay put in her chair as the sound of storm boots resonated inside her ship.
'Identify yourself..' came an amplified voice from one of the storm troopers.
“Ahem… Marina DeVoe, captain of the Mariner IV. Commerce registration; Setril Transport, primary 2-ST2314 Duro system.” She replied with her company’s ship registry as filed on Duro, its current company location, as calm as she could.
‘The whereabouts of any crewmember or passengers’ The trooper more demanded than asked.
“No, no crew or passengers…just me.” Marina replied, now seeing the other troopers behind the one asking her, moving about. They had some sort of hand held scanners, most likely checking for other life signs, or stored energy packs. The former a good indication of weapons. But Marina never carried any energy weapons, as she disliked them. The scanners nevertheless honed in on many wireless instruments, emergency ship power and lighting…but no weapons cache.
It was impossible to know if these troopers were disappointed in not finding anything of what they were scanning for, as they hid their faces behind their masks.
For humans, they were the lowest form in her eyes. Reminded her of the colonies of swarming insects she had studied in biology. The similarities were uncanny….drones, most all of them… with a high matriarch at its center…and soldiers and workers spreading across the galaxy like a plague, like swarms of insects devouring everything. This was the Empire in her eyes.
“Huh?..wha?…” Marina in her dark thoughts had slipped out for a moment.
The trooper at her cockpit door repeated what he had said. They wanted to check on her cargo and wanted marina to present to him her ship’s manifesto…the bill of lading of all she was transporting.
“Oh…er…yea, here it is…” She popped the small disk from her console, then got up to hand it to him.
Gloved white armored extremities…like that of an insect.
How detached this human was inside his shell from her…
Even its voice which now commanded her to unlock the ship’s inner cargo bay door for the boarding party was modified through an amplifier. The words were basic, but the tone was electronic making one sound like the others…
Marina punched in her code and the cargo door opened. Instructed to stand aside outside, the other troopers entered the bay to examine her cargo.
The one trooper that had spoken with her remained outside with her. It was obvious that Marina couldn’t maintain a neutral poise. Her dislike of him, the others in her ship showed in her eyes…they never once looked into any of their polarized lenses.
“Gasp!…” Marina froze in her boots.
The trooper knew she was Alderaanean.
“Ha…how do you know that?” She asked; her back against the hull was more for comfort than support.
The trooper didn’t respond. Rather he continued to face her without even moving. It made Marina feel small…vulnerable…
The group of troopers that had gone inside her cargo bay were now filing out.
Again not a word from any of them. But at least they were taking their stomping boots off her ship and through the linked airlock. The one trooper that still stood there finally stirred and informed her to stand by for further instructions, before he himself took leave.
Marina couldn’t close the airlock fast enough.
“..frak me..” She said, bending at her waist and using her hand on her knee for support. Lord she needed to sit.
She still had to pee like real bad.
But she had to get back to the cockpit, as the Imperial ship detatched itself from the Mariner IV.
Well, one thing was for certain, she was either going to get permission to land on Tatooine…or sent back on her way. Seemed the Empire wasn’t at all interested in farming equipment.
But God, she hoped they would say so either way in a hurry, as she needed to visit the refresher….
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThis was never going to end.
Barth Marsson stared up and down at the walls of durasteel crates that filled the one of the many freight warehouses in the Mos Espa space port. He wasn’t a young man any more. Almost 20 years he had been doing this. Most of his hair had fallen out, and the ones he had left were shorn close to the scalp. Yet somehow he had been hard at it since dawn, unloading crates from freighters, moving the crates to their designated inspection areas, opening and sorting through the crate’s contents as per Imperial specifications, logging what supplies had been received (75-90% Imperial supplies), closing the crates, informing the customers that their shipment had arrived and then repeating the process over again.
He waved his arms at the crane operator, directing him as to where this particular crate should be placed. Barth spied the serial number painted on the side “ES-187", making his heart skip a beat. This is the one he was looking for. The crane operator carefully moved the crate to the last inspection space on the left, as far away from the prying Imperial eyes as he would get. With a loud thump and a wave of dust, the crate landed on the permacrete floor and the front wall lowered quietly to the ground, revealing the cargo. The crate was large enough for a man of Barth’s size to easily walk in and move about freely. The larger cargo was located in the front, with the smaller packages and boxes in the back held in nets suspended along the walls. Barth was the first inside and used his glowrod to inspect the crates inside.
“See it yet?” his coworker, Erdric, said behind him.
“Not yet” Barth moved away from the larger cargo inside and moved toward the nets holding the smaller packages. Other dock workers moved into the crate as well, starting to remove the larger cargo. Barth moved the glowrod from box to box, looking for a specific word but had yet to find it.
“Barth! Let’s go man!”
Barth was about to give up when the word finally met his eye: scrawled in tiny letters in the corner of a two by two box was the word EDAWN, just below the boxes large stenciled serial number. He held the box in his hands a moment, turning it from side to side. It didn’t weight much, maybe 5 pounds at the most. The box was nice enough as well, whoever had packed it had taken extra special care. He unceremoniously set the box on the floor and stomped on it, caving in one of the corners. Picking it up, he cracked open the lid and nodded at Erdric. Erdric dug into his pockets and extracted a handful of nuts and bolts, dropping them in the box.
“Cover me” Barth said
With the lopsided box in hand, he moved out of the crate and whistled loudly. The Imperial officer serving as the supervisor of this warehouse looked up from the other side of the room. Barth held the box above his head.
“This one got smashed! Totally busted! Supply number 29944” The box made a noticeable rattling sound as he vigorously shook it back and forth. The Imp officer strolled over and scrolled through his datapad, making note of the box’s serial number.
“It’s only miscellaneous mess hall supplies. They can do without. Dispose of it.” the officer said, waving his hand dismissively.
Barth nodded and turned away, leaving the warehouse and walked toward the carts designated for the disposal facility. Instead of tossing it inside, he placed it in the small space behind it, trying to hide the smile induced by successfully smuggling something right in front of Imperial eyes. Barth walked up to the communication terminal a few feet away and punched in a number. A few moments later, an answer.
“I got it, kid. See you in a few”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
On the Northern Dune Sea just outside the city lay the Mos Espa Grand Arena, the crown jewel of the galaxy’s podracing circuits. Once a year it hosted the Boonta Eve Classic, a race made famous by Anakin Skywalker years ago. The Hutts had named the race in observation of their holiday Boonta Eve, and although the Hutts were no longer the race’s promoters, the name and legacy of the race remained. The arena, in comparison to the circuit itself, was relatively small in size. But it was still large enough to house over 100,000 fans on race day, as well as a hangar that served as storage for the pods, luxury boxes, concession stands, restaurants, a fan gear shop, even condominiums. The arena itself was carved into a rock face and curved in a perfect elbow, the stands providing a perfect panoramic view of the start-finish line. Huge vid screens showed the entirety of the race from angles most spectators couldn’t see in their wildest dreams. Millions upon millions of credits were bet upon the race, both legally and not, even the purse for the race itself reached close to a seven digit payday. Enough money to disappear for a while. Or at least buy a brand spanking new hyperdrive.
Olivia Garvin’s worn boots kicked up dust as she scooted along the floor of the pod storage hanger. It felt good to get out of the sun. That fifteen minutes in the twin suns felt ten times that long, she thought. She blew a strand of sandy blonde hair from her eyes that had escaped from underneath the pair of welding goggles perched upon the crown of her head and readjusted the package she cradled with both arms. The SE-14C blaster pistol holstered in her oversized belt bounced off her leg as she walked. To call her a tomboy would be something of an understatement, granted she cleaned up well when she wanted to. But dressing in gowns and dousing herself in perfume was nothing compared to the smell of burning power couplings and the feel of grease smeared on her cheeks. She was the Emerald Dawn’s mechanic and co-pilot. She was well faceted in navigation, engineering and was even learning to slice and getting pretty good at it. The mature, stubborn demeanor in which she carried herself was not something you’d expect from a 15 year old human. Except the occasional sarcasm. You definitely expected that.
She had known Garrick since she was a little girl, some of her earliest memories were watching Garrick and her father, Rett, loading and unloading fright onto the Emerald Dawn. They would be gone for extended periods of time, returning only to load more cargo and go again. Until one day, Garrick came back without her father. He had been arrested on Coruscant and was apparently going to be there for a very long time. Garrick had vowed to get him out somehow. But he never did. And Garrick had never come back.
No more than a month ago, Rett Garvin had passed away. Six months before that, her mother had passed as well. As soon as news of Rett’s passing reached him, Garrick finally returned, not only to give his condolences, but with the sabacc chip that represented ownership of the Emerald Dawn. Rett had given it to Garrick, and now he was giving it to her. She owned the ship, he was the captain, that was the deal. At 15 years old, she left Dantooine in her ship to find herself, her purpose, among the stars. And up until this point, it had been slow going. A group of passengers looking for a charter here, a small freight there. Up until this point it had seemed like the only glimmer of hope they had of striking it rich was winning The Galaxy’s Got Talent. Until the last merchant who needed a ride to Coruscant. He couldn’t pay with credits, so instead he made a trade: a Pod, nearly brand new. He had bought it for his son, who had eventually become bored with it after only using it a handful of times. And now it was here, in Mos Espa, modified by Olivia herself, built to win the Boonta Eve Classic.
Activity crackled all around her as she made her way through the hangar with the smuggled box; welding droids put the finishing touches on several of the pods, painting droids added fresh coats of paint. Racers fiddled with the equipment in their cockpits and some gave impromptu interviews to local media members. Crew members played pick up games of sabacc, hooting and hollering, laughing and drinking mysterious liquids from labelless bottles. Olivia rolled her eyes. They should be working on the pods, making any last minute adjustments, anything that their racers requested. Doing whatever they could to give their pod the best advantage possible (while remaining within the boundaries of the rules, of course). She had done everything possible to the newly christened Tioga V in order to give them the best chance of winning as possible. And just in case that wasn’t enough, she had taken the proper precautions to make sure of it.
Around another large tool box and Olivia found herself in stall #14. The Tioga sat quietly, the matte green paint finally dried, the pilot sitting motionless in the cockpit.
Olivia cleared space on a nearby table and set the box down before walking to the pod and knocking softly on the side. She peeked into it and smiled. Garrick was sleeping, his face scruffy from two weeks of refusing to shave.
He kept his eyes closed, “Shouldn’t you be on the Dawn? Fixing something…or something?”
“The only thing left to fix on it is the hyperdrive and we can’t afford one until we win this race.”
“What are you talking about?” This made Garrick open his eyes, “There’s plenty of stuff to fix. What about the trash compactor?”
“Why bother? Even when it was fixed, you still threw everything on the floor,”
“Well then why don’t you pick it up?”
“I’m your co-pilot not your maid!”
“Read the ship’s charter, the co-pilot is also the maid,”
“There is no charter,”
“You don’t know that….”
“My father told me,” Olivia stood on her tiptoes and leaned over the side of the pod, “There is no charter,”
Garrick stared at her coldly “Touche,”
“Clean up can wait ‘til later!” She said, slapping him on the forehead and hopping down onto the floor. “Take a look at what I got for you,”
Garrick sighed loudly, like she knew he would, and clambered out of his precious pod. Olivia opened the special package and dropped the lid on the floor. Garrick peered inside.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he shook his head, smiling. With both hands he lifted out a helmet, it looked like unpainted durasteel but was extremely light. There were no eye holes, instead two slight indentations where they should be. It was a racing helmet known as a Death Mask, made by the Damorian Manufacturing Corporation. Normally these were plain, or had some intricate etchings or designs. This one had a faded elongated skull painted on the front. “Another one? How much did you spend on this one? Not including what you had to pay Barth.”
“This one isn’t like the others! It’s refurbished but the second newest model. The last ones were the first series. This one is way more durable than the others,” Olivia said.
Garrick gave her a stern look, “How much?”
“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” she said, giving a little shrug.
“If you stopped spending money on these things, we could actually afford the hyperdrive,” Garrick said, turning the helmet in his hands. “This skull looks awfully familar…”
“It’s based on a general from the old Trade Federation. The guy who sold it to me said it was one of his most popular designs,”
“If you say so,” Garrick looked at the skull again, “I think it looks kinda…tacky,”
“If by tacky you mean intimidating!” Olivia made a playful growling sound and clawed at Garrick. He gave her a confused look and she smiled. “Oh! Check this out! This model does something the other ones didn’t. Besides a few new upgrades to help with the race, it also does this,” she touched something under the rim of the helmet and the front split open with a pleasant cracking sound. It was a collapsible helmet. The front broke into three panels, two swinging to the outside, one going up. She touched the button again and the panels returned to the closed position, the strange looking skull staring Garrick in the face again.
“Okay, now that is cool,”
“It’s got a bunch of new features I can show you once I upload the program into my datapad. I can feed you every bit of information you need during the race. No more going off of what the leaderboards and race officials are saying. Real time information before the flag even drops,”
Garrick thought for a moment, “That’ll be a nice change of pace,”
“Yes it will. And it’ll lead you right to victory lane,” she said with a smile.
Garrick shot her a look, “Sounds like you really want to win this thing,”
“Gare, winning this race would give us enough credits to pay off most of our debt, fix the ship. We could actually start over,”
“I like the way you think,” Garrick opened the helmet again and slid it over the back of his head. He looked down at Olivia as the helmet’s panels closed over his face, “How do I look?” he said, his voice slightly muffled.
“Like a winner,”
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionShe splashed some cold water on her face. God, it had been so un-nerving with them trampling about.
Even now, all around her, were Imperials. Well, actually all around her ship, the Mariner IV. And if that wasn’t enough, they had just given her clearance a few moments before, to land. Only, she had to take care of something urgent first, before committing to the descent.
Now with water running and Marinna just getting over the ordeal of having them so close, she wasn't yet ready to get going…not just yet.
To think; they were just here in her ship like rodents scourging about. In Marina's mind, the Imperials who had just boarded her, were no worse than having a mynok infestation. Both were as bad, and each were no better than the other…
And she had gotten through it. Took most of her willpower and determination to get here…but she fought her demons and now just needed another moment…or two, to get over the ordeal. And the cold water on her face was certainly helping.
But that annoying beeping coming from her cockpit drew her out of the refresher, reminding her that she had best be on her way, lest they decided otherwise.
Finally patting her face and hands dry, she then headed back up to her ship’s controls. There, awaiting her were like three curt messages… all from the ISD that loomed ominously just above her tiny ship, in comparison. They had given her clearance, to proceed, yet she had not moved.
“Affirmative, received first time. No, there is no problem….I had to-
You know, boot up my nav comp…” She responded to their inquiry as to why she was not firing up.
“Yes, doing that now…enabling drives on command …”
Of course her comp had never gone off line, but there had been quite a few minutes delay from them giving her authorization to proceed toward landing on Tatooine, and the Mariner IV now just firing up her sub-light drives again…
“Proceeding to Tatooine, as per instructions. System destination vector approach; Mos Espa Space Port…” Marina repeated the coordinates and flight pattern which they had transmitted over to her with the authorization.
Her ship hit the dark side of Tatooine’s atmosphere under power, slowing the Mariner IV so as not to scorch the paint on her ship. Not the quickest descent, but then again she never did like to come down in a blaze of particle ionization that resulted from the friction of a high velocity space craft, hitting an atmosphere from space.
Such a descent was best performed by the pilot, giving her total control of the descent.
There were no clouds to break through, so the surface of the planet just came up on her graphic monitor in progressive detail. Mos Espa’s lights below slowly took on more and more feature and characteristic as she got closer.
All the while, she sent out her ship’s transmission to the space port control. There were several in operation, but all linked together, giving the first responder preference if their channel were not already handling another approaching space craft. But the Mariner IV happened to be coming in during Tatooine’s night, and not many crafts usually dropped in legitimately during the night. At least not announcing their arrival like Marina did. But she was a legitimate registered transporter and that meant business. Business, in a sense of new commerce in this system out here in the Outer Rim.
Marina’s monitors had all come back on line when she was released from Imperial block control and had gotten a bit away from the fleet. During her boarding and inspection, the Imps had jammed her ship’s sensors, so as for her not to take count as to the extent of Imperial ships and of the military presence in the system.
Now, her monitors were cycling through many free port invite ads. But she wasn’t going to pick one from random; Marina had a destination…a titleholder to the cargo she carried. That proprietor according to her records was Gershal Lansdrat, of Ware's and Supplies (GLOWS). This company, she had also been hailing once all her ship’s communications (which had also been scrambled while awaiting Imp permission) resumed back to normal operation.
It didn’t take long for her to get a response from them.
“Negative, this is not a JSMD carrier, but a subcontractor, Mariner IV of Sentril Transport Division. I’m currently in control of your shipment; MC 7897.
Can you transmit your PO confirmation code for the cargo I’m carrying, please?..” Marina relayed her half of the info.
They responded with the correct PO codes, matching up with her cargo.
“Confirmed that. Where would you wish for me to put down…over?” She then asked.
GLOWS then transmitted the port number they were currently contracting with. At the moment it came through to Marina, the port itself confirmed they were readying for her to land in bay 3.
Marina then linked up her navigation comp with that of the port, guiding her ship in.
‘…geez…finally something’s going right…
In and out, Marina…unload, collect, and skedaddle it out…’ She said to herself as she piloted her ship toward the designated port bay 3.
Her nav comp guiding her through the twilight of the system’s late evening. She had reached Mos Espa just after the settings of Tatooine’s two suns.
She eased the Mariner IV down gently into a recessed bay, just below ground level, then powered down her sub-light drive, cycling them through their cool down stage.
It wasn’t at all much of a wait to talk about, as the company reps of GLOWS seemed to almost arrive just as Marina was coming down her ship’s ramp with the manifest.
The below ground bay 3 was lit much like it would appear during the day…only that Tatooine’s desert night air was now cool. Marina took to wearing a short waist level open jacket to take the chill out.
The two men whom greeted her were both human and came prepared with their holo-pad and a handful of workers…some not so human to speed things up.
With no difficulties in confirming that all the codes and PO’s were in order, Marina gave them the go-ahead in unloading and inspecting the cargo.
Again, every crate unloaded from her cargo bay went without a hitch. Seemed this trip, however the amount of twists and turns it took for her to get here, was finally coming to a rightful conclusion.
Even the porters handling the cargo seemed to handle it as labeled… HANDLE WITH CARE; THIS SIDE UP IN GRAVITY
“I deliver…what more can I say.” Marina replied, as to taking the initiative to deliver what the general contractor couldn’t.
“Besides, it’s credits on delivery…C.O.D.
I had to stake my own credits on it for insured delivery. JSMD was to take it from me and compensate for the cargo and my delivery charge to its facility way back in the Core Systems. My luck, they had gone belly up a day before I got there to cash in on the delivery.
Took some effort, but managed to track the final destination to the cargo…you.
It’s all calculated here…see. Part of the delivery contract that was to be JSMD has now become mine…ours now, actually, according to the initial contract order.” She pointed out.
The man nodded, in agreement. All was in order, following good business ethics, which clearly indicated she should rightfully and legally be compensated.
“Druggats?!" It wasn't what she was expecting….
"I’m sorry, but no! I can’t take druggats….I’ve no use for them. Not outside this system. And I don’t at all deal with Huttese in these sectors. Truthfully, I tend to avoid such systems..including those that are Imperial infested. I made this delivery because of humanitarian reasons; Farming equipment… Moisture evaporative condensers?…badly needed here?..get me.” She tried making it quite clear, as to the why in her effort in getting here.
That’s what I was personally contracted by JSMD for, to deliver the cargo to Zeldon Station on Brentaal IV.” Marina now seemed to come to a tiny snag in the deal again.
The rep pointed out that it was not what they themselves had contracted out with JSMD, as the main contractor had agreed to take druggats on the COD.
“Right. But according to your company’s authorization order, it does state that delivery conditions can change accordingly and fairly compensated for. States so here… in section 4; unconditional delivery to be guaranteed by insurer/carrier…that’s me, and I delivered. “ She started to read the contract.
“… and in turn, the carrier is to be reasonably compensated accordingly.
This latter portion then falls under subpart c; fair currency exchange should final destination be sub-contracted to guarantee delivery.
Your company wanted guaranteed delivery and insurance of the cargo…and that portion has been fulfilled by me.” Marina flawlessly read through the contract with the rep.
“Fair currency exchange means, Republic credits in my case.”
There was no denying she had done her part and now the compensation in all fairness fell on GLOWS. Should they default on their deal with a registered Republic carrier such as Setril Transport, they could well lose future business with Inner Core Systems.
“The accrued delivery charge from Brentaal IV to Tatooine…here… is fully documented in the bill of lading…” Marina patiently took the rep through the invoice and the multiple jumps in the delivery route.
It was all laid out clearly and according to the contract. Without an argument, she had the right to proper compensation… and again, that meant Republic credits.
The rep conceded. But at this time, it was not feasible for him, nor his company, to access any republic credits; not until sometime the next legitimate business day. And tomorrow happened to be the start of the Banta eve Classics…a local festivity. This meant that all banking were on credit hold, as there was to be a pod-race coming up. This meant that all credits were essentially on credit and all hard money were on hold, locked, so as to prevent any losers from withdrawing their credits and taking off. The upcoming pod race was heavily waged on and that all bank or otherwise large credit holders held them locked until the end result of the race. This now meant that Marina had to wait for Republic credits and even druggats for that matter, until the end of the Bonta Eve Classics to get paid.
“Say what?!” exclaimed a surprised Marina.
The rep pointed her toward the posters scattered about, pasted all around the bay. She took to looking a few over. Many were from individual contestants advertising their stats, pods and promise of winning. They were promoting, enticing the readers to bet on them. And of course the general ads for the race and festivities themselves by the local proprietors…
“Sigh… I see…” She replied, shaking her head.
And she had thought this was it..the final leg of this ordeal.
Nope, she would have to wait till after the festivities, after the Bonta Eve Classics were over to get her money…
“So, when will that be?…you know, getting me the Republic credits, exactly?”The credits were not so difficult in acquiring, as per the rep. It was just that the means of acquiring them after the race was over. They would be able to get Marina the full amount as per her invoice then…not before.
The man did seem sincere and she quite understood that not much large legal credit exchange was done before the race Just her luck again, in landing on Tatooine during the Classics.
But what choice did she have now? She most certainly didn’t want to reload that cargo back on her ship. Besides, they were badly needed farming equipment. Marina didn’t let in on the fact that she’d just as well throw in the towel, as the credits weren’t the real issue. Her grandparents had been set on taking the loss rather than have her deliver the cargo to Tatooine. But coming here to the end of the line, had been her idea. But business ethics in play, she had to see this through. After all, she wasn’t in this game to give up when she ran into snags. She had wanted to experience the galaxy first hand, and working for her grandparent’s company as a transporter certainly was a way to do it.
Besides, all this were going to be experiences she would draw from when she finally pursued what she had her doctorate degrees on…and that would be the legal system and politics.
But since her graduation, Marina had been on a sort of space trip; to see, experience, the galaxy, in all its diversity; including, when it couldn’t be avoided, that of Imperial occupied systems such as this one. All these experiences would later help, guide, even direct her career in providing a real means of understanding the different cultures and common laws governing the galaxy, when she finally entered into law. She was after all destined to be a Republic Representative, like that of her father and of her family history (on former Alderaan).
It was late evening and all of the cargo had been unloaded and inspected…and quite chilly too, as it normally is at night even in the hottest of deserts.
“Fine…” She finally sighed.
“…I’ll expect full payment in Republic credits after the festivities.” She succeeded.
“Now if you don’t mind… I’ll be getting back into my ship, lock it down and call it a night.
I’ll see you guys whenever…” She disappointedly waved her hand, turning toward her ship’s ramp.
The Mariner IV welcomed her with her warm interior. It felt warm, although it was set to a normal occupancy. But coming out of the cold Tatooine night air, her ship certainly felt like a warm adobe.
Tomorrow when the twin suns of this desert world took to rising would be another story…
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionThe days on Tatooine started to become a routine for Captain Traven Dunn. Getting up early, a run at sunrise when the temperatures were still bearable, shower, breakfast, training with his squadron, lunch, more flight training, gym with the squadron, dinner, some gym time alone before falling into his bunk again.
The morning had been uneventful. The pilot’s progresses were as expected after the intense training of the last days. They were in midst of the debriefing shortly before lunch as Traven’s comlink buzzed. Traven excused himself, stepping aside to answer the call, while Lieutenant Aganox continued the analysis. Traven recognised the voice immediately. General Tull again. Traven suppressed a sigh as the General ordered him to meet him again in 15 minutes.
Traven dismissed his pilots, finally taking a deep breath as he was alone with his XO.
“I wonder what he wants this time. More sandpeople settlements to destroy?”
Aganox frowned slightly about that. “Maybe he just wants to talk to you about the improvement of the squadron over dinner. I’m sure it’s better than the mess hall.”
Traven almost chuckled. “Don’t get jealous about that.”
Aganox had been right. The General was having lunch. His table was full of local delicacies like Bantha steak, Squill liver salad, Tatooine flatbread and Zucca fruit pastry. But Traven also recognised off-world gourmet food like Lipana berries and roasted Elix. While the General was eating, Traven had to stand at parade rest in front of the table, waiting. He hoped his stomach wouldn’t start to growl.
Finally after a felt eternity Tull stopped eating, dabbing his mouth with a serviette. “At ease, Captain.”
Traven relaxed a little as he changed his position. Again the General did let him wait for a moment, sipping his beverage.
“You may wonder why I called for you.” Tull said with a smug look on his face. “I have, of course, another mission for you, Captain.”
Traven nodded, without showing curiosity. “Of course, Sir.”
Tull leant back into his chair. “There will be some celebrations in Mos Espa this evening.”
<i>And you want that we bombard the civilians.</i> Traven thought sarcastically, but loud he asked: “Celebrations, Sir?”
“Yes, something the natives call Boonta Eve. Some parties around a pod race.” The General again took a sip from his expensive wine. “I am invited to attend the party of the local governor. But I don’t intend to spend the day outside my air-conditioned splendid apartment here. So I decided that you will represent the garrison as well as the Imperial government.”
Traven raised an eyebrow. “Sir, I feel honoured, but I am just a Captain. Wouldn’t that be a disesteem of the governor?”
Tull laughed humourless. “The so-called governor is just a puppet of ours. He does what I want. And so will you, Captain. I don’t care what’s on your agenda for today. Your XO or that capable Captain Lane can take over. I’ve heard that you have been Dodonna’s poster boy. So now you are mine. I don’t care about the entries in your file. Traitor or not, you look like the model of the Imperial Navy Captain. Now act like that. Even when I demand that you wear civilian clothes for this event. We want to show them not to believe the propaganda of the New Republic. So use your upper-class manners.”
Traven controlled his anger. “Yes… Sir.”
Aganox couldn’t remember that he ever had seen his commanding officer that grumpy, as Traven told him about the changed schedule of the day. Of course it would be no problem for him to take over the training. After all that was part of his job. He didn’t mind at all to work with Captain Lane and Commander Rardin. As he told that to his Captain, Dunn gave him a glare. Aganox wasn’t sure what he had done to deserve that kind of look. But somehow he was glad that the Captain left him alone with the pilots soon after that.
As Traven walked over the platform where the Lamdba-class shuttle was waiting, he wore an expensive grey suit in Coruscanti style. Even without uniform and rank badges, he looked every inch an Imperial officer. So he didn’t show any emotion, except a nodded greeting, as he saw Agent Drake and Commander Duval waiting at the vessel as well.
Like him both were dressed in civilian clothes. The agent’s lavender-coloured dress was high-necked at the front, but was revealing enough of her back. Duval’s outfit, composed out of some jacket, button-down shirt and pants, looked more casual but also a lot more comfortable than Traven’s own suit.
One of the ground crew techs saluted to them at the gangway, addressing Traven. “Sir, the pre-flight check is done. All systems are working according to their parameters. The General said you’ll be flying the shuttle?”
“Yes, Crewman, that is my intention.” Traven replied. At least he would be busy while they travelled the 300 kilometres till Mos Espa. He was just glad that the General didn’t demand that they would have to take a speeder. Maybe that man had a hint of humanity in himself.
Sitting down in the pilot’s seat, it surprised Traven that Duval took over the co-pilot’s seat as if it would be the most natural thing to assist while the flight. The agent on the other hand took place in the passenger’s area. Maybe she was glad to have some time alone.
The crewman had told them that they had done the pre-flight check, but since the Bakura incident there was a paranoia growing in Traven. He started to check the ship’s system again. Duval glanced at him.
“You don’t trust Sienar ships, Captain?” He asked, a smile playing on his lips as he hinted to Dunn Industries’ opponent.
Traven cleared his throat. “I just thought that with you and the Agent as precious freight on board, it would be my responsibility to check the systems again.”
Duval was surprised that Dunn made a joke, even when he seemed to look serious. “"You outrank me, Captain. So you're even more precious." Byron’s smile widened as he replied.
Traven gave him a glare as he started the engine, but the corners of his mouth twitched slightly.
Flying sublight they made the 300 kilometres in half an hour. Traven was amazed that he had been feeling almost comfortable next to Commander Duval, who had engaged him into a conversation about ship’s engines.
The heat hit them as they left the shuttle, which they had landed near the Grand Arena. They followed a servant, sent by the Governor, through the crowd. Traven noticed the curious and sometimes not very nice stares of the surrounding Humans and Aliens. Almost automatically he offered his arm to Agent Drake. He was sure that she could protect herself, after all he had heard enough stories about the ISB, but somehow his old education won.
To his surprise she took his arm with a smile. “Thank you, Captain. Good to know that there are gentlemen on this rock.”
As they entered the location of the Governor’s pre-race party, all three of them took a deep breath as they noticed the air-conditioned air.
“Hooray for civilised comfort.” Byron said dryly as they took glasses with green champagne from a tray, offered by a service droid.
Traven nodded in agreement, Agent Drake still at his arm.
“Well, let us find our host.”
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionIt was almost strange to meet her squadron for training without Slick observing nearby. However, that feeling passed quickly. Jordan was glad he had a chance to do something different on this sandball, and she looked forward to the opportunity to work alone with her pilots. She would use the time to avoid considering the potential consequences of her best friend working closely with that ISB agent.
The training would distract her thoughts from her other friend's troubles as well. Jordan knew Bellarius would snap back, like he always did. Yet she did not know what it was like to lose a parent, not to death, and she hoped she would know what to say, or not to say, the next time she spoke to him. Her earlier words just did not feel like enough. Time in the cockpit is best for now.
Her footfalls echoed as she entered the hangar, followed by four more pairs; the rest of her squadron had arrived ahead of her. She hid a smile. I am damn proud of this group. "You know the plan. Check your fighters and prepare for takeoff."
They saluted and dispersed to their assigned craft. A small part of the captain's mind noted that both Malast and Wardell had improved the crispness of their stances by a few percentage points. She observed her pilots for a few minutes before examining her own Interceptor. She had looked the fighter over the night before, as had become her habit, but the techs may have touched something in the meantime, and a good pilot always checked everything before flight.
Discovering no changes, Jordan finally climbed into her cockpit and almost lovingly stroked her fingertips across the harness before shaking her head at herself. She situated herself in the seat, fastened her restraints, and performed her preflight checks in a relatively automated fashion. Then the captain began warming up her fighter's engines.
Soon reports of their craft status crackled across Jordan's comm. "Onyx Two, in the green." "Onyx Three, board is clear." "Onyx Four, lookin' good." "Onyx Five, all clear." "Onyx Six, just like our old squad name." "Onyx Seven, all good." "Onyx Eight, nice and snug." "Onyx Nine, clear." "Onyx Ten, I'm good to go." "Onyx Eleven, squeaky clean."
"Onyx Twelve is green!" Sera "Fresh" Malast finished. Everyone could hear the excitement in her statement.
"Yes, yes you are," Alonski, also known as Onyx Eight or Stretch, agreed teasingly.
"Leader to Onyx. Cut the chatter," Jordan interjected, though the smile she could not suppress bled into her voice.
"Onyx Squadron, this is Ground Control. You are clear for takeoff," a bored voice intoned.
Jordan nudged her thrusters and led a relatively orderly line of TIE fighters toward the launch chutes. Rather than departing one fighter at a time, they would use two chutes at once, and Jordan intended to observe how well a wingmate pair could operate in tandem right from the beginning. She and her XO, Commander Davis Rardin, deftly maneuvered their TIEs into place.
"Good to go, Ice," Rardin said over their private frequency.
"Not gonna give me a break, eh, Captain?"
"No Onyx pilot will," she retorted. She flipped back to the squadron channel and checked the status of her connection with the launch tube. Good to go. "Onyx Leader and Two launching in three… two… one… mark!"
Right on cue the chutes activated, and the glorious sound of ion engines screamed through the Tatooine sky as two sleek instruments of both exhilaration and death emerged into the atmosphere. "One… two… three… four… break!" Shepherd counted crisply, and the instant he said the final word both fighters slowed rapidly and spun, descending onto their repulsors to about twenty meters altitude in a cloud of displaced sand. There they would await the launch of the rest of the squadron and evaluate their performance.
The exercise also served as an opportunity for the ground base to test the launch systems. They needed to confirm how quickly each tube could accept and send out one fighter after another and ensure that the equipment worked properly.
"Smiles is in place," Onyx Three announced.
"Chance is ready to go," Four declared a second later. "Launching in three… two… o– shavit!" he exclaimed as he accidentally launched himself a heartbeat early. Smiles almost instantly reacted and left the chute a fraction of a second behind his wingmate.
"Shepherd, did they switch lead responsibilities?" Jordan asked her wingmate.
"Chance wanted the chance to prove himself. No pun intended. Looks like he tensed up and made a mistake, though. It's just an exercise."
Jordan's eyes never left the sky in front of her. Despite the shaky start, the two pilots reached their assigned coordinates almost simultaneously and performed a reasonable 180-degree turn in approximate unison. His nerves may have produced an error in the launch, but he was able to recover well, she noted to herself.
They fell into place at a similar distance above the dunes to the aft of both Ice and Shepherd, and the leader and XO returned their attention to the next pair. She would let her pilots sweat over their results until all of them had left the base.
Moments later, during the respite for the maintenance crew to confirm the chutes' status after Onyx Five and Six launched, Jordan grinned. Whatever sequence of events had brought her here, whatever thoughts or regrets she harbored regarding earlier behavior, whatever misery she experienced on this ball of sand, one thing was true: she had discovered some things about the core of her self, her being, her identity.
Jordan Lane loved being a pilot, a captain, a leader of a group of still-growing yet promising pilots. She loved teaching them, watching their skills develop, learning from them, and flying with them. If she had never made the mixed bag of decisions that led to where she sat today, she might still be searching for an answer without even realizing what it was she sought.
The female captain called for a two-minute break once each pilot had reported his or her fuel status at eighty percent remaining. Thanks to half of the exercise thus far focusing on repulsor-related maneuvers, they were not devouring their fuel as quickly as usual given the strong atmospheric resistance near the planet's surface. However, the pilots had also been forced to operate in reduced visibility due to sand she and Rardin had intentionally sprayed skyward multiple times, and their initial reactions could have been more fuel-conscious. This planet reported frequent sandstorm events, and she did not want Onyx to be caught in one unprepared.
Jordan made a mental note to add a series of sandstorm simulations to the next day's training regimen. She moved her hand toward the comm to–
"Onyx Leader, this is Ground Control, relaying orders from General Tull."
In general, Captain Jordan Lane never exhibited any reaction, external or internal, to orders beyond acquiescence. This time, however, she felt a jab of irritation; she did not enjoy the thought of an interruption in her planned training for the day. Such irritation was becoming relatively common on this backsand world, in large part due to the exact author of the current new orders. "Go ahead, Ground Control." Of course, those feelings did not leak into her vocal response.
"Onyx Squadron is to halt its current exercises and execute a flyover of the pod race arena. The exact maneuvers are up to your discretion, but the general expects you to demonstrate your aerial prowess."
Jordan's own thought shocked even her: I doubt he came up with such fancy terminology on his own. She forced herself to remember that she considered a general here. "Onyx Leader acknowledges, Ground Control."
"Show 'em what you've got, Captain," the voice added before the line disconnected.
Jordan blinked. Perhaps I am not alone in my feelings regarding this location assignment. She switched to her squadron's frequency and decided to behave in a more colloquial fashion. "Change of plans, Onyx. We're showing the locals what it means to fly in an Imperial TIE squadron. If you have a preference for the formation examples we provide, speak now."
"Did you see the sim we did the day after you came down to the surface, Lead? The one that overflew a shallow river canyon?" Pilot Officer Chansey piped up excitedly.
"The only one you placed first in, Chance?" Lieutenant Drake teased.
"Yeah… that one," Chansey replied in a subdued tone.
Jordan had to smile. "Your maneuvers less than one hundred meters above the surface were impressive, Four," she replied. As the other two pilots were speaking, she had called up a map of the region. By coincidence, their training maneuvers had obliquely positioned them between the base and the pod race course. "Two, make sure Ground Control empties the sky. We will enter that airspace in Banisher launch formation." She sent a marked map to her pilots. "Break into flights at 120 degree angles at Location Alpha. Enter maneuver delta-two-seven the instant you reach your flight's Location Beta. Flight One will execute a version of Chance's stunt two hundred meters above the spectator stands." She could not help but grin. "Five, Nine, surprise me."
Commander Rardin laughed outright. "Think they'll like the taste of our ion dust?"
"Can't be any worse than the sand-blasted air they breathe every day," Flight Officer Sharpe retorted, also laughing.
"Look forward to it, Captain!" Lieutenant Falmar, Onyx Nine and the lead of Flight Three, declared.
"I'll see what I can do, Lead," Lieutenant Drake, Onyx Five and Flight Two's leader, commented far more dryly.
"This is still training, Onyx. On my mark, get into formation. Three, two, one, break." At Jordan's final word the twelve craft blasted upward. Her TIE settled next to Rardin's as they formed the nose of the arrow that would point toward their destination. Chansey fell into place on Jordan's port side, and Zirak crisply maneuvered starboard of Rardin.
Flights Two and Three paired off and positioned themselves as the arrow's shaft, the distance between their fighters' solar panels reduced by thirty percent in comparison to that between Jordan and her XO. As soon as Malast had found her spot, Jordan clicked twice over the comm, and the squadron launched toward the pod race course at half-throttle.
"The airspace is ours, Ice," Shepherd confirmed over their private frequency.
"Good. Let's use it," she replied to her XO, adrenaline and excitement coursing through her veins. Jordan could not remember the last time she looked forward to a showcase of talent this much.
Eventually their ion engines screamed over the outdoor stands of the Grand Arena. Jordan could not see the spectators, but she doubted any of them did not look upward to observe their arrival. Location Alpha corresponded with the rock formation that overlooked the pod racing facility, and just as they passed over it the arrow of fighters dissolved into three groups of four and blasted along their assigned directions. Later analysis would confirm the accuracy of the break to within a single degree of the 120 Jordan had ordered.
The captain focused on her flight as they screamed toward Location Beta. When she remained silent, Rardin issued orders over the comm. "Three, Four, confirm understanding of maneuver delta-two-seven."
"Four here. We point our sixes to the ground, move at three-quarter throttle for one klick, and then head right back toward our target," Chansey spoke up. Jordan assumed he hoped to make up for his earlier mistake coming out of the chute by responding first.
"Exactly, Chance. You copy that, Smiles?" Rardin asked.
"Confirmed," Flight Officer Zirak acknowledged. Rardin then used a precious minute to confirm their maneuver with the rest of Flight One.
The distance counter rapidly shrank as they approached the designated coordinates. "On my mark, Flight One," Jordan barked. "Three, two, one, mark!"
Four TIEs snapped upward in near-perfect formation. They were not a performance unit, though Jordan noted that more work on coordination would not be a bad thing. She spared a second of her concentration to confirm the locations of the remaining eight Onyx pilots. The average velocity of the other two flights were not a perfect match to the plan, but the timing should not be adversely affected by a few standard seconds' difference. She trusted Tater and Fish to bring their flights into proper position. Jordan had to smile as she belatedly realized even her inner deliberations used the pilots' callsigns rather than numbers or ranks.
Her attention returned to its proper location as the four TIEs made a sharp ninety degree turn and entered the return leg toward the Arena. Shortly before they arrived at their target coordinates, the pilots dropped throttle and descended relatively rapidly, corkscrewing together as they lost altitude. Almost simultaneously, just before 200 meters, they kicked the throttle back up and blasted outward in the four cardinal directions, spinning and looping upward.
It was not quite identical to Chance's earlier maneuver, but it worked out well enough. As the four of them slowly came back together well out of viewing range from the stands, Jordan monitored what her other pilots decided to perform. Flight Two chose the four-staggered formation, waggling their solar panels in unison as they blew over the spectators.
Much to Jordan's surprise, Lieutenant Falmar contacted her privately as Flight Three made their approach. "We're going to need a little extra time for two passes, Captain."
"Acknowledged," she replied.
A shaky diamond flew past the rock formation before each wingmate pair broke off in opposite directions.
"Ice, are they doing what I think they're doing?" Shepherd asked privately.
"Most likely," she answered tersely. Sure enough, after vanishing from sight, four dots rapidly grew and blasted past each other directly over the finish line with barely meters to spare. Jordan only realized she had held her breath when she released it.
"Hot damn! It worked! It worked!" Malast shrieked over the comm.
"Breathe, Fresh!" Jordan snapped.
"Sorry, Captain! But it was fun!" she replied instantly, prompting a burst of laughter from all the Onyx pilots.
"That is true… All right, Onyx, this show is over. Double spearhead formation, then back to base," Jordan announced.
Seven and Eight broke off from Flight Two and settled into the rear of Flight Three. Meanwhile, Five and Six sped up to join Flight One. Jordan took point, Rardin and Zirak moved next to and behind her, and Chansey, Drake, and Blunt filled in the final row of three. All fighters were within ten meters of each other, give or take a meter or so.
The other six pilots fell into the same setup a hundred meters aft. Though slighly shakier in the setup, they too remained within twelve meters of one another once finished, and the squadron flew over the pod race course once more before heading toward their temporary home.
"Good work out there today, Onyx," Jordan complimented them with complete honesty as the Arena faded behind them. "Your efforts on the Banisher have certainly paid off."
Her words were greeted with cheers, and in that moment Jordan could not imagine a better place to be.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionI had much cause to let myself surrender to the emotions of dogfighting, but I held back. If I didn't hold back, I'd kill these bastards.
"Aggressors, reform and regroup and try again. Harrtigan, show some skill here; this isn't a dance."
"Yes, sir." The man responded curtly. I could hear the man sweating and, more importantly after the voice communication link was severed, I could also imagine the pilot swearing a bit. I know I used to do that all the time when I was a scrapling at the Academy, or when I was the silent "youngblood" on my first assignment.
"Sandbats 3, 5, 7, and 8, form up and prepare. I will come in. Whoever tags me wins." I spoke with a clear distinction as I climbed up past the ceiling level for this training exercise. I always found that while simulators kept people constantly trained, it never gave pilots the danger of real life piloting, the skills necessary to survive. Unless it was scripted, craft never suffered accidental failure or tumbled down to the ground when clipped. Real life training, I found through the years, kept men alert and tentative to instruction. It's the reason why I was still alive after all these years, why I still had sharpened senses, and why I could say I was an ace.
These nuggets weren't so lucky, yet. But with me cracking the whip, and with Captain Lane's squadron taking up the simulators for their own training exercises, maybe I can do something while the Captain played the governor's games.
I cut back as I said "Begin,", effectively starting the exercise as the rest of the squadron flew in a wide circle pattern, watching the trainees and learning from successes and failures. I had to say, it was great to distract my mind as I let the hands unlock themselves from the set paths I had to follow, let my instincts take over and guide me to 'destiny', as some pilot-poets would say. Rubbish, all of that; I know I was all about it when the first X-Wing pilots came by, but, you learn from death. I wanted more blood to be sated. I wanted to let it run down the hills. But, these weren't the enemy; they were, for the most part, my own children. Dunn's, to be more specific and I was glad he had more responsibility in the matter, but I was the mother, the XO. The guy who had to whip them into shape and be the foil to Dunn; simple as can be. Luck of the draw, sadly. Couldn't have had a better commanding officer, though; respect goes a long ways to facilitate a working relationship.
I pushed the throttle to full, effectively dive-bombing them from the higher height. The comms were alive with shouts of "Here he comes!" and "Jink!". I was smiling; I was trying hard to crack the whip on calling out targets and yelling to your wing-mates what you were going to do. I pushed the Interceptor right through the middle of the formation, barely missing Sandbat 8's craft as I pulled down and then up. No sense in trying to be the mystic pilots, I thought as I pulled back up as I skimmed over the dunes, pulling back as they tried to reform and regroup.
I had another reason to be distracted, I reflected, as I came up on them very quick again, beginning the four on one dogfight…
Jordan had caught me in the middle of the hallway, told her I wanted to talk to her for a second.
I hated that she was back around. I thought I had put away the drama of the Academy behind me, and with the last note I got from Bastion, I wasn't doing that great. And with her back here, it really did feel like I was back on Carida. But the fact she was probably the closest thing I ever had to a best friend, that annoyance always passed in…I don't know, minutes? It went away, that was the more important part as I smiled at her.
"Just for a second. Need someone to listen."
She spoke a few words to that…well…I wouldn't call him exactly handsome but he was definitely very easy on the eyes, XO of her's before she nodded at me. I gestured to the nearby meeting room that, thank the Emperor's bones, was empty and devoid of people.
"What's going on, Belliarus?" She asked me, using my first name. She probably saw right through that smile of mine, and I don't blame her for doing it; she was always more perceptive of things than I was.
"Remember my father being rather ill the last time we spoke, about a few days ago?"
She nodded in the affirmative.
Jordan gave me that look of confusion before it dawned on her, and it only took her maybe a few moments, three seconds at most, to realize I didn't mean retire or honorable or dishonorable dischage. But dead.
"The illness spread to his lungs. He just…coughed up a lot of blood, died. Didn't get a chance to read his letter he sent yesterday, but…kind of afraid to now, you know?" I admit, I was very nervous. My father had been the kind of man who breathed down my neck and my life for literally all of my existance; even when I was at the Academy, I found out he was keeping close eyes on me and who I hung out with. But he was there for me when I needed him to be, even after he drove me into the ground. He never said no, just asked 'why'.
I respected the old bastard.
"I'm sorry…" She said, giving him a look of concern.
"I am too…I'll let myself get emotional when the battle is over, if it ever happens." I chuckled. She chuckled as well, shaking her head left to right.
"You're going to be alright?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I will. Just felt like I needed to talk to someone about it before Dunn gets back. You should have seen the glare he gave me."
She laughed. "Keep your eyes up, alright, Aganox?" She asked, giving me a punch in the shoulder before I nodded, breathing out. She knew how I operated. Bottle everything up, breathe, deal with it later.
She made a motion to get out of the room before I chuckled and spoke up. "You know, I'll feel a lot better if you keep Rardin around."
"Hey." She said, giving me a look as she closed the door behind her, shaking her finger in a no motion before the door closed. My smile dropped and I leaned up against the table, folding my arms over my chest and fought down the emotions at my chest, breathing out, bottling them up.
"He's. Right. ON. ME!" Sandbat 3 screamed out as he tried his hardest to use the tactics the books and the trainers taught him to get out of the way. This is where I knew I'd find what kind of pilot he was. What I could tell Dunn, that kind of thing. And Sandbat 3 wasn't so useless as I thought he was when I first saw him; he reacted like how I would, albiet sluggishly and without speed, but it wasn't stupid and it wasn't too slow.
"Come back around. Shot down 5 and 7 but not us!" 8 exclaimed with a tone in his voice that I recognized after a moment, ducking through 8's crosshairs, the pilot trying to get on my tail. He was excited, he wasn't thinking about the things around him. Cold deadly efficiency, I found after some years in the Navy, is a lot more effective than passion "in the stick".
And because he was excited, he was quick, not thinking right.
With the rest of the flight circling us, the two pilots tried to work out a plan of attack. I could hear the static feedback as they switched channels, leaving me to wonder before I dived into it. My snubfighter screamed as I broke up the two pilots into separate flights, my craft concentrated just on 3. Out of the two, he was the easiest, and if I could make 8 even more unfocused, it would be an easy thin—
Beep! Beep! Beep!
"Smoked, sir!" I heard 8's voice excitedly say over the communication link. Bastard certainly fooled me with that split-off, I thought, as I sighed and pulled my craft off of the chase. 3's craft followed suit, and in turn the entire flight rearranged itself back into formation, the Tatooine sky framing my craft and the rest of the squadron.
"Why did you shoot me down, 8?"
Only a few moments of silence greeted me, no doubt he was thinking about the question before he answered. "Too focused on the kill?"
"The moment you lose sight of the actual battle, you falter. There was a reason why I was able to pick you apart, you have to be constantly aware of your wingmates and everyone else around you. The moment you let yourself lose yourself in the stick, you die. Or, worse, you get someone else killed. Everyone understand?" I asked, fully aware I needed to follow that advice myself. A series of "yes, sir"s and clicks answered me back, and with a nod to myself I arched my Interceptor into the air.
"Engagement over, let's perform simple manuevers and tests until we RTB." I said, with a bit of a quiet tone. I haven't been shot down by someone in a long, long time…