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smallpoxchampion

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smallpoxchampion

okay, so i've finished two chapters of a story i started when i was around twelve(!) (i'm eighteen now) and have been touching up whenever the mood strikes or when i want to see how my writing skills have improved over the years. so, constructive criticism/suggestions are welcomed, and i also want to make sure that the stuff i made up doesn't clash with things that have already been established within the generally-accepted continuity.

P.S.- i don't remember where i got that "18 minutes" thing in chapter 2. perhaps someone could give me a more accurate chronological measurement for what i'm talking about?

EDIT:

i forgot an important part of this introduction. the story takes place 5 ABY, probably about two or three months after the conclusion of the X-Wing Rogue Squadron comic series.

Edited by smallpoxchampion

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CHAPTER 1

Admiral Alex Gyara glowered out of the main observation port of the Imperator-II Star Destroyer Mutilator, stroking his clean-shaven face thoughtfully. Ever the consummate specimen of an Imperial authoritarian, he was a tall man of imposing stature, with close-cropped black hair and wide shoulders. His eyes smoldered in deep black sockets, and they looked as if he were always searching for something upon which to unleash his full wrath. As he walked, the sound of his boots made a loud, metallic sound against the cold steel deck, in the regular, driving cadence of a death march. The officers and technicians in the crew pit of his ship would suddenly become very interested in their instrument panel, or perhaps a blank piece of flimsiplast sitting on their worktable, as he walked by: so was the fear that he inspired in his men. Fortunately for him, most often fear bred loyalty among subordinates in the Galactic Empire.

?Sir, five contacts at point 11-38. Our Interdictor Cruiser reported pulling them out of hyperspace while running a test of its gravity-well generators,? a sensor officer piped up nervously from the crew pit. The man flinched slightly as Alex pivoted around to face him. His blaster pistol swung in its holster as he whirled.

?Our lucky day I suppose,? he said, his aristocratic Imperial accent viciously biting off the end of each syllable as if he intended to snuff the life out of it. ?Details, if you may.?

?Rebel ships,? the young officer said, trying his best to keep his voice from betraying fear. ?Two Nebulon-B Frigates, a Corellian Corvette, a Corellian Gunship, and an MC-80 Mon Calamari Cruiser.? Alex nodded.

?We can handle them,? he said after half a second of thought. In terms of brute firepower, he was right. Along with the Mutilator, he had an Immobilizer-418 Interdictor Cruiser, two Carrack Cruisers, a Venator Star Destroyer, and a Lancer Frigate, a capital ship specially designed to combat starfighters.

?Here they come!? the sensor officer blurted as the New Republic ships came around the asteroid that had hidden them from view until now.

Alex turned to the communications officer. ?Patch me through to the other ships,? he ordered.

?Yessir, right away, sir,? the man said quickly.

Picking up the comlink, Admiral Gyara waited a moment, then said, ?Open fire and scramble all fighters? as though he were passively greeting someone he met in the hall. Someone of equal?or perhaps slightly lesser?rank, whom he regarded with a slight air of disdain.

A volley of green turbolaser bolts lanced out at the Rebel group, which was met by a volley of red ones from the Mon Cal and the frigates. The Venator Star Destroyer accelerated towards one of the frigates and sent a shower of turbolaser bolts into the thin middle part of the ship that connected its forward command pod to the engine pod. Caught with its shields not yet fully deployed, the frigate stood up to the continuous turbolaser barrage like a Podracer would stand up to high-speed impact with a large rock, spilling crew members and equipment into the black starry vacuum known as space.

One of the Imperial Carrack Cruisers pulled back into a group of unmoving asteroids, taking its five TIE Fighters with it.

* * *

As his X-Wing roared out of the Mon Cal?s fighter bay, Commander Scottie ?Improv? Kilskar, Gauntlet Leader, looked for an Imp target to attack. He was a blond-haired man of 27, sporting a well-trimmed mustache and goatee. He was fitted with a cybernetic temple and right arm, souvenirs of an Imperial bombardment on his home planet of Corellia four-and-a-half years ago.

A voice keyed in on the comm. ?What do we blow up first, Lead?? That was Gauntlet Five, Improv?s friend and second-in-command, Lieutenant Commander Cabed?b Kantaaros.

Improv looked around. ?How ?bout that Carrack Cruiser that pulled back out into the asteroids??

?Shooting things that shoot back is so pass?, Commander. There?s some nice rocks floating around here that we could blow up,? Lieutenant Link Maccor, Gauntlet Two, replied cheekily.

?Oh, shush, Link. Your sarcasm becomes you not.? Improv said, smiling, despite himself. He boosted his X-Wing toward a spot about a fourth of a klick starboard and down of the Imperial Star Destroyer. Once he was past, he realigned himself and flew past a large asteroid toward the Carrack Cruiser. The rest of the squadron followed suit. He looked at his diagnostics board, and on his roster, Gauntlets Eleven and Twelve suddenly winked out of existence. A puzzled look came over his face. He looked at his sensor screen, and saw, directly behind the squadron, coming up at full speed, guns blazing, a Lancer Frigate. Sithspit! It must?ve been hiding behind that asteroid! he thought. ?Break formation!! Get away from that Lancer!!? he yelled into the comm. All the green-and-white striped X-Wings peeled out of formation and got away as quickly as they could from the Lancer Frigate.

Which led them straight to the Carrack Cruiser.

The Lancer had broken chase, as the Republic?s Corellian Corvette Manticore had realized the X-Wings? plight and was now racing to their rescue, blasting the frigate with its turbolaser cannons as the doomed Imperial ship was trying desperately to get away, pelting the corvette with laser blasts from its comparatively weak quad laser cannons.

A large explosion behind them told the X-Wing pilots that its efforts had been in vain.

The Carrack?s five TIE Fighters, perhaps displaying more courage than common sense, flew into the attacking X-Wings.

?Eyeballs at Twelve o? clock, Lead,? Gauntlet Nine said over the comm.

?Got it, Nine. We can frag them. Break by pairs,? Improv replied. They outnumbered the TIEs on a two-to-one ratio. One of the rare times the odds are in our favor, Improv thought to himself.

The eyeballs triggered off short bursts of laserfire at the X-Wings, then peeled off in opposite directions. Improv broke his X-Wing to starboard, going after the lead eyeball. He sidled into position behind it and the TIE started to juke around, trying to shake the snubfighter on his tail. Improv waited, then fired. His laser volley tore through the pylons of the TIE craft, and the TIE went one way as its port solar panel went the other, slamming into another TIE Fighter coming around from behind Improv on his port side. The second eyeball careened off into space with a hexagonal solar panel wedged in the front of its cockpit sphere.

?Hey, you took my kill!? Link said over the comm, indignantly.

Improv grinned. ?No, no. You?ve got it all wrong, Link. When your Squad Leader makes a kill, you congratulate him on his fine shooting.?

?But you didn?t shoot that one.?

?I?? a squeal of Imperial laserfire interrupted Improv?s response. ?All right, Link, less arguing, more watching our backs,? Improv said, twisting his fighter around to try and get a bead on his pursuer. Link?s comm unit double-clicked in agreement.

Improv finally got a visual on his adversary, only to find him and the one other remaining TIE on the scene heading back to the relative protection of their carrier. Well, why don?t we just pull the rug out from under them?, he thought. Improv keyed his comm, ?Everyone form up on me. We?re going after that Carrack.? Switching his frequency over to the command channel, he said, ?Manticore, this is Gauntlet Leader. We?re going after the Carrack Cruiser. Care to join??

A gravelly voice, possibly Mon Calamari, came back. ?With pleasure, Gauntlet Leader. You make the initial strike, and we?ll pick off what?s left of them.?

?Sounds like a plan, Manticore. Over and out.?

Like a team of heavily-armed synchronized swimmers, the X-Wings of Gauntlet Squadron moved gracefully towards their target. Almost immediately swaths of green turbolaser fire came pouring out at them.

?All right, team,? Improv said. ?Avoid their fire as best you can, but be careful not to run into each other. The load of paperwork on my desk is bad as it is.? As the fighters drew closer, each cockpit gradually began to sound the single, sustained tone of a torpedo lock. Once Improv was reasonably sure all ten cockpits were brimming with the telltale monotone, he shouted, ?Fire at will!? Improv let loose two torpedoes and pulled up until he had pulled a complete 180-degree loop, then sailed upside-down over the back of the Manticore. The other nine fighters followed similar trajectories.

The twenty torpedoes closing in on the Carrack proved to be too much. Although the ship?s defensive laser cannons were able to peg a few before impact, most of the leading edge of the torpedo volley slammed into the Carrack?s shields, which went opaque and then collapsed. The rest of the torpedoes ravaged the ship, blowing out armor panels and crippling the ship?s weapons system. The Manticore floated in like a shark to an injured porpoise, its turbolasers reducing the Carrack to rubble as its quad-laser turrets made short work of the TIEs, who had apparently resorted to trying to ram the corvette out of sheer desperation.

?All right, now where do we go?? Link asked. Improv looked around. Most of their escape routes were blocked by the back ends of the four remaining Imp Capital Ships, who had spread out in order to better engage the Republic cruisers. He watched the Manticore, its grisly task completed, try to slip in underneath the Imperial Star Destroyer, only to get blasted into large glowing fragments by the giant ship?s belly-side heavy turbolasers. Improv winced. ?Well, looks like we can?t go out that way,? Link mused.

The Venator Star Destroyer turned its port side toward the X-Wings, to display its shields on one side of the ship, and making more of the Star Destroyer?s turbolasers available to shoot at the Republic ships with.

Improv keyed his comm. ?Shunt power to your shields and engines, kids, cuz we?re gonna skim over that Venstar!?

Link?s panicked voice quickly responded. ?Low flying over a Venstar? Improv, have you gone dust-happy?!??

?That?s Commander Improv to you, Lieutenant,? he replied gleefully. ?And I?m not dust-happy, I?m just crazy.?

?What a relief,? Link said sarcastically.

?Form up on your Flight Leaders, people, and keep a sharp eye out for any TIEs,? Improv said, ignoring Link?s comment.

The X-Wings moved into position behind each other so that there were two four-pronged X-Wing diamond formations arranged side-by-side. Three Flight only had two abreast, due to the recent losses of Eleven and Twelve. The starfighters moved choreographically toward the Venator Star Destroyer. Green laser bolts lanced out at them. As they skimmed across the superstructure of the 284 meter-wide ship, Improv thought that maybe this battle wouldn?t be so bad. But a split-second later, as he reached the far edge of the Star Destroyer and the two squadrons of TIE Interceptors shot straight up right in front of him in deadly formation, he came to the realization that he was horribly, horribly wrong, and that he and the New Republic were about to lose a lot of good people in the minutes to come.

* * *

Lieutenant Celes Carlotti rushed down the hallway leading to the launch bay of the Mutilator. She came around the corner and saw the ship she piloted, the ARC-170 heavy fighter-bomber Vader?s Hand Three, clad in a standard Imperial grey with black trim. Although technically decommisionned after the Clone Wars, the ARC-170 was a sturdy enough design that several individual ships had survived through the Galactic Civil War as heavy assault fighters for pilots who had graduated from the Academy with exceptionally high marks.

Her shipmates, copilot/gunner Flight Officer Taalor Kenko, a slightly built lad from Garos IV no more than sixteen years old, and tail gunner Lieutenant Cent Tryllin, whose muscles threatened to tear his flight suit if he moved the wrong way and whose nickname around the Imperial Gunboat Corps was ?Big Guy?, were running diagnostics checks on the ship.

Cent looked up at her when she got there. ?Y?know, kiddo, if ya wanna be a ship pilot, you have to be on time. Half of the ARCs have already launched.? She looked around and saw that Cent was right: all but one other ARC-170 from Vader?s Hand Flight were already gone.

?I will next time, Big Guy. I?ll go in and start up the ship,? Celes said.

?Already did it,? Taalor remarked from his crouching position, not even looking up from his datapad.

Celes regarded him for a moment, feeling rather stupid for not already noticing the soft humming sound that was emanating from the ship, then quickly recovered from her momentary aloofness and nodded. ?The sooner we get out there, the better. Thanks, Taalor.? With that said, she went up the entry hatch to the cockpit. She set her matte black flight helmet on top of the instrument panel and flipped the switches that changed the low thrumming sound into a muffled roar as the engines powered up, then a steady, low-pitched whine as they were running. Taalor climbed into the bubble cockpit behind hers as she was putting her flight helmet on.

?First combat mission, you know,? Taalor remarked to Celes over the ship?s personal communications system as he strapped himself in.

?Okay, I?ll try and make sure that I don?t make any piloting decisions that get you killed,? Celes said behind a grin. ?You all strapped in, Big Guy??

?Yeah,? Big Guy said from the tailgunner?s cockpit, completely invisible to both Celes and Taalor from where they were sitting. Celes fired up the repulsor drive, lifting the ship off the stainless steel floor. She then retracted the landing gear and locked the ship?s s-foils into their combat positions. She jammed the throttle control forward with her left hand and launched out of the bay.

* * *

General Crix Madine watched the unfolding battle from his command chair on the bridge of the Mon Cal Cruiser. I really hate getting pulled out of hyperspace by Imperial battlegroups, he thought. Just a few minutes ago, he had been sleeping in his bunk, but now he was slugging it out with a squad of Imp ships that were now equal to his group in number, but not in power.

A Mon Cal Cruiser, although the largest ship in the Republic fleet, was only about two-thirds the size of an Imperial Star Destroyer, which also affected its firepower. And while the Corellian Corvettes and Nebulon-B Frigates did what they could, it was a rather futile gesture against an ImpStar.

Madine scanned the Imperial battlegroup, his eyes falling on the Interdictor. In his tiredness, he had neglected to do the obvious: destroy the Interdictor crusier. ?Great,? he mused. ?The captain of that Star Destroyer must think I?m an idiot. Not that that?s necessarily a bad thing in this kind of situation.?

Madine turned to one of the Mon Calamari pilots. ?Turn us toward that Interdictor Cruiser and concentrate all fire on it.? He then gestured toward the communications officer. ?Put in a transmission to all the other ships telling them to do the same.? He then looked back at the viewport. ?Let?s show these Imperial scumsuckers what a cornered New Republic battlegroup can do.?

* * *

Celes Carlotti watched the three remaining Rebel capital ships.

?Looks like they?re turning to engage the Interdictor. I?m surprised they didn?t do that in the first place,? Taalor said, watching his sensor screen. Celes glanced at her own and saw the little red dots on the map representing Rebel Y-Wings and B-Wings begin to swarm around the larger green icon representing the Interdictor.

Celes looked around. ?We?ll just have to distract them a little, then, won?t we? There,? she said. ?Taalor, target that Nebulon-B Frigate. Big Guy, keep their fighters off our back.?

?As ordered,? both replied.

?OK, Taalor, we?ll focus on the connector in the middle.?

The assault fighter dived at the Frigate, guns and missiles blazing, explosions indicating where their weapons had hit. Two other fighters from the group joined in the assault, dodging retaliatory turbolaser blasts from the frigate. The shields on their immediate area of attack went opaque, then collapsed. Escaping atmosphere took crew, equipment, and cargo with it, and molten metal froze into perfect silver globules in the freezing cold of space. Celes Carlotti smiled.

* * *

?This is Nine. I?m hit! I?m not going to make i-?

?Four has two on him. Think ya can help me out??

?This is Seven, coming to your rescue, Four.?

?Ten has two on him! I can?t sh-AAAAHHHH!?

?Four here; thanks for the assist, Seven.?

?Six here. Where are all these squints comin? from??

Commander Scottie Kilskar couldn?t stand the assault of voices hitting his ears. Just focus on the

squints. He took a deep breath, and cleared his mind. He focused on a TIE Interceptor that had just shot out from under him. He increased his speed to full throttle and went after it as it spun and dove madly to get away from him. He matched the maneuvers, although not quite as quickly. He squeezed the trigger, sending out a flurry of red laser bolts. One grazed the starboard solar panel, but the others went wide.

All of a sudden, a Green-and-White striped X-Wing flashed in above and to the left of Scottie?s X-Wing. The new arrival sent a volley of laser bolts at the squint, punching holes all over the small fighter and sending it careening off, leaking atmosphere, fuel, coolant, and any other chemicals it carried on-board.

?Just payin? ya back for stealin? my kill earlier,? Link?s smug voice came over the comm.

?Fine, whatever, we?re even,? Improv replied, somewhat distractedly.

The shockwaves of an apparently large explosion jostled Improv?s fighter noticeably. He looked over to see the Interdictor Cruiser, a gigantic gap where its rear starboard section should have been, succumb to the gravitational pull of a large nearby asteroid. ?Hah! We aced the Drag-ship!?

?Are you sure it was us? Maybe the captain?s ego exploded or something,? Link quipped.

A voice came through all the fighter channels. ?This is General Madine. Recall all fighters. We?re retreating.?

Improv kicked up the throttle and headed for the hangar bay. ?Drop into formation, Gauntlets. We?re going home.?

?That?s it?? Link asked. ?But we can finish them off!?

?Well, you?re welcome to try if you want to, Lieutenant,? Improv replied, amused.

?I could take ?em.?

?Shut up, Link.?

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CHAPTER 2

Qryll Manfestinn sat at a table in the corner of an Abregado-Rae cantina drinking a perofruit shake, one of the bartender’s specialties. He was of average height, about 1.8m, and had dirtyish blond hair that sat on top of his head shaggily and constantly had to be brushed out of his thoughtful green eyes. A few days’ worth of stubble adorned his face, and he sat cloaked in a brown robe over his rather drab utilitarian attire, meant to render him rather indistinguishable from the thousands of other galactic travelers that passed through Gado Spaceport. A magnetically-sealed scabbard obviously holding some sort of staff leaned against the wall to the right of his chair.

He watched the people come and go, humans and aliens going to the bar or wherever else was worth heading to on this dusty planet, when a particular pair walked in that piqued his interest. One was a four-armed Codru-Ji with long black hair and piercing eyes. He was about six feet tall and wore a four-armed charcoal grey flight suit with black and red-trimmed Mandalorian armor, minus the helmet. Mandalorian armor? This guy’s serious. Two complete sets of arm plates, too, Qryll thought to himself.

To complete his ensemble, the Codru-Ji had a black silk cape that flowed behind him like a shadow and seemed almost artfully tattered along the edges. Four sawed-off DC-15B rifle carbines sat in holsters on either side of his belt, each jury-rigged with a gracefully crafted yet savage-looking bayonet.

The other, a skinny bluish-green Rodian, was wearing much simpler attire: a black flight suit garnished with two red stripes running down the sleeves. He had on a loose-hanging belt that held a DL-44 Blaster Pistol with a silver luster to it. The two went over and sat in a booth, not talking to each other.

Just as Qryll took his eyes off the pair and focused once again on the doorway, Wuurenbrallch and Quarto Jeevin, his friends and crewmates, ducked into the cantina’s entrance. Qryll waved briefly, catching their attention; they headed toward his table.

Wuurenbrallch was a Wookiee who owed a life debt to Qryll. He was covered in silver fur with black streaks. The only clothing he wore were a dark green utility vest, a holster slung about his shoulders to hold his blaster rifle, and a belt that held ammo batteries and his bowcaster. Like any Wookiee, he really didn’t need clothes, because his shaggy fur was more than sufficient to cover anything that might be considered improper to galactic society. On either side of his chin were braids of fur decorated with ceremonial beads. The irises of Wuurenbrallch’s eyes were orange, a rather rare eye color for Wookiees. His front teeth were sharp and predatory, indicating his carnivorous evolutionary ancestry. He had a slight overbite that caused his fangs to extrude past his bottom lip whenever he closed his mouth.

Quarto, whose nickname was “Jeeve”, was Qryll’s cousin and about three months older. He was somewhat heavyset, with a shaved head and a black goatee on his chin. He wore a red short-sleeved and black loose-fitting pants. He wore a black banthahide belt with two modified E-11 blaster rifles hanging from the holsters.

“So, Jeeve, we pick up any damage from that TIE Interceptor run-in we had?” Qryll asked as they sat down.

“Nothin’, other than those blown-out power couplings. Wuur was able to replace ‘em with the extra ones we had lyin’ around in the cargo bay,” Jeeve replied.

“We don’t need to buy new ones, then?” Qryll asked, taking another sip of his drink.

“Nope,” Jeeve replied. Wuurenbrallch growled an affirmative.

Qryll nodded. “Where’s Kiryk?”

“Where do you think?” Jeeve snorted. “Sleepin’.”

Qryll smiled. Their absent crewmate’s odd sleeping habits were well-known amongst the group.

“Say, Jeeve, you know anything about those two over there?” Qryll asked, nodding his head in the direction of the Rodian and the Codru-Ji, who now had their drinks and were in conversation about something.

Jeeve turned around, and peered at the pair for a second. “Oh, I know who the Codru-Ji is. Bounty hunter. Goes by the name of Muraaki Makarr.”

Qryll thoughtfully stroked his chin for a moment, then said, “Muraaki Makarr... wasn’t that the name of that rogue Mandalorian warlord 5,000 years ago?”

“Slaughtered a bunch a’ civilians just to ensure the death of one of his rivals? Yeah, that’s the guy. This Muraaki is a pretty good Bounty Hunter. Hasn’t been in the business nearly as long as, say, Bossk or Dengar, but in a one-on-one fight, he could probably give one of those guys a pretty good run for his money. He probably coulda taken on Jango Fett if he were around in his day.”

Qryll nodded. “Know anything about the Rodian?”

“No idea, man.”

Qryll was just about to take another drink when an excited growl from Wuurenbrallch made him jump. “What is it, Wuur?” he asked. His eyes followed the Wookiee’s excited gesticulations towards the door.

There, standing in the doorway, was a white-bearded man in his mid-fifties. His face was weathered, and his clear blue eyes had a wisdom about them that seemed to say that he knew every trick in the book. In appearance, he looked unassuming enough, wearing a reddish-brown trenchcoat and a tattered-looking fedora. The only thing that would tip anyone off to the fact that this man was somehow important were his two large Tunroth bodyguards, each with a powerful-looking blaster rifle slung over his back.

Qryll got up and went over to the man, grinning all the way. “Klyne Nastanad, you old pirate.”

“Qryll! How are ya, my boy?” Klyne said as he drew the younger man into a fatherly embrace. “What are ya doin’ here?”

“Ah, we stopped in to get some repairs on our ship. What are you doing here?” Qryll said as they parted.

The older man looked around cautiously, then leaned in close and answered quietly, “Picking up a bit of precious cargo for a friend.” He pulled away, winking as he did so, and Qryll caught a mischeivous twinkle in his eye that apparently hadn’t dulled one bit in all his time in this galaxy.

Before Qryll could get Klyne to specify what he meant, Jeeve and Wuurenbrallch walked up to the pair. “Hey, Klyne,” Jeeve said cheerfully.

“Hullo, boys!” Klyne replied with equal mirth, catching first Jeeve and then Wuur in firm handshakes.

As Klyne casually surveyed the cantina, he spotted the Codru-Ji bounty hunter in the booth. Klyne’s eyes narrowed, and when he spoke again, his voice was thick with something mysterious. “I know that guy.”

* * *

The Corellian whiskey had just burned its way down Muraaki Makarr’s throat when he heard a gruff voice from above his head demand, “Bounty-hunting scum. We don’t need you here. Get out of my cantina!”

Muraaki put on his meanest glare, thought up a quick retort, and looked up, only to see a white-bearded man in a brown trenchcoat and hat smiling down at him.

A sly grin started to spread across Muraaki’s face. “Klyne Nastanad, you old nerfherder.”

The older man, without missing a beat, said, “Muraaki Makarr, you disrespectful little punk.” Klyne’s smile grew into a toothy grin. “How are ya, Muraaki?”

He shrugged. “Can’t complain. Another capture or kill, another few thousand credits.”

A younger blond-haired man behind Klyne asked, “Wait... you guys are friends?”

“Ah, yes,” Klyne said, gesturing toward the young man. “Muraaki Makarr, this is Qryll Manfestinn. Qryll Manfestinn, Muraaki Makarr. I known Muraaki since he was a young adult Codru-Ji looking for work at a Nal Hutta spaceport.”

Muraaki took Qryll’s hand and shook it firmly. “Charmed, I’m sure,” he said, grinning friendily, albeit showing a pair of sharp fangs that spoke volumes about what would happen to anyone who thought to cross him.

“So who’s the Rodian?” Klyne asked.

“My name is Naato Katoorni. I’m working with Muraaki on this job,” the Rodian replied coolly.

“Who are ya workin’ for? And why the sudden change of heart? I thought you worked alone, Muraaki.” Klyne asked with genuine interest.

“Gardulla the Hutt. Naato here is one of his bounty hunters. Gardulla sent him along with me, Can’t imagine why, though.” the Codru-Ji answered him.

“Perhaps it’s because on your last job, you decided to ‘forget’ that Gardulla wanted the target alive, let alone in pieces larger than your fist,” the Rodian retorted, narrowing his shiny black eyes.

Muraaki shrugged nonchalantly. “It was an honest mistake, and I took a dock in pay for it. I don’t see why I have to be baby-sat.”

“Gardulla the Hutt? Is that old slimeball still alive?” Klyne laughed.

Muraaki smiled. “Oh, yes, very. He’s pretty much chained to a hoverpod, now, though.”

“Who’s your target?” Klyne asked.

“Imperial Admiral Alex Gyara. Apparently, his Mutilator strike force took out a spice-smuggling station near Geonosis that Gardulla was running. Apparently, it’s the most convenient—i.e., lucrative—location for a checkpoint along the little-known Kazzik hyperspace lane, so now the old slug wants ‘im dead.”

“An Imperial Admiral, eh? That could land you two and Gardulla’s Court in big trouble if you get caught,” Klyne mused, stroking his chin.

Muraaki offered a sly grin up at Klyne. “I never get caught.”

“Where did you say that station was?” Qryll asked.

“Right near Geonosis. Why?” Muraaki replied, frowning.

“Well, my ship just happened to be there a while ago, right when Gyara attacked. We were picking up a shipment of small arms and supplies for Republic troops on Fest. A flight of TIE Interceptors came after us, we had a short firefight, but then we blew out a few power couplings in our shield generator, so we had to jump to hyperspace for here once Gyara’s Interdictor cruiser had shut off its gravity-well projectors to let them recharge.”

“I thought the New Republic was cutting back on its dependence on smuggling,” Muraaki said as he leaned back in his booth.

“That’s the official stance. However, as much as they try to sell themselves as a legitimate governmental organization, the truth is the Empire still holds a substantial amount of the galaxy. Republic convoys haven’t been very successful in getting through Imperial screens to the troops they’ve got embedded on Imperial planets. So they’re using smugglers, because we’re much more non-descript.”

“All right,” Muraaki nodded. “But why would they be using a Hutt spice station?”

“I’ll field that one,” Klyne interjected. “I helped out as a moderator for this deal a while back. The Rebel Alliance bought part of the station from Gardulla to use as a shipping center.”

Muraaki looked quizically at Klyne. “But why would Gardulla let them keep it, after what Princess Leia did to Jabba the Hutt?”

Klyne smiled. “I doubt he ever heard about it. Gardulla’s becoming old and senile, and last I heard, he’s fallen out of favor with the Hutt heirarchy, so none of them really associate with him anymore. I’m not so sure he would care even if he did know. He and Jabba were rivals in the worst way possible.”

Muraaki raised his eyebrows. “So I’m at the beck-and-call of a senile old coot. Wonderful.” He looked over at Naato. “You’ve been awfully quiet. Don’t you have any objections about what we’ve been saying about your boss?”

The Rodian, who now sat slumped dejectedly in his side of the booth, grumbled discontentedly. “No, it’s all pretty much true. But he’s your boss, too.”

Muraaki smiled wryly. “Only sometimes.”

Just then, a group of Imperial stormtroopers shuffled in through the entrance. Two took up a position by the doorway and kept a wary watch on the patrons. The other twelve sat a large table and ordered drinks, one of them having a captain’s rank insignia adhered onto his chest armor.

Klyne snorted in disgust. “Imperial troops.”

“Yeah, I hate these guys.” Then, without warning, Muraaki pulled out one of his blasters and shot the captain in the head.

* * *

Improv vaulted over the side of his X-Wing’s cockpit and landed on his feet, dropping into a crouching position to absorb the impact. The stars outside the hangar door streaked and then morphed into a solid milky blue light as the ship jumped into hyperspace. He reached into one of his flight pockets and pulled out a collapsable pair of eyeglasses and put them on, instantly clearing his vision.

He spotted Link and Cabed’b coming toward him. Link was younger than Improv, about 20, and still had a rather babyfaced look about him. Link took off his helmet, letting his floppy black bangs spill out, and he had to tuck them behind his ear to keep them from covering his bright green eyes. They sparkled with the enthusiasm and eagerness that came so easily with youth. He grinned amiably as he walked up to Improv.

Cabed’b was nearly Link’s opposite. He was 38 and had led a tough life on Al-Arlitneen, a planet ruled by gang warfare. His girlfriend had been captured by a bounty hunter and taken off-planet. The only memory he had of this mysterious bounty hunter was a large, charred blast mark on the side of his ship. He was tall, about six feet, and had close-cut dark brown hair. His hazel eyes burned with a smoldering fire. On the left side of his face, snaking past his eye and onto his left cheek, was an L-shaped scar, a souvenir from a run-in with the notorious bounty hunter IG-88 while smuggling contraband for the Rebel Alliance.

“Well, that was invigorating, I say,” Link remarked as they reached Improv. “How ‘bout you, Cabbers?”

“I’ve had better,” Cabed’b replied dryly. “And don’t call me Cabbers.”

“Okay, Cabbers.”

Improv cut in quickly before Link’s somewhat obnoxious sense of humor got him in trouble again. “How many did we lose?”

“Five,” Cabed’b said, rubbing his tired eyes.

“Who were they?” Link asked, suddenly concerned.

“Giles, Hennard, Vnoer, Krell, and Gebel. Gebel died um-- rather, uniquely...” Cabed’b’s voice trailed

off.

“How did Gebel die?” Improv asked.

“Well um, he was hit, he pulled the ejection lever but... er... the canopy didn’t come off like it was supposed to, and he basically broke every bone in his body and probably ruptured most of his organs. His wingman, one of the new kids just out of the Redemption training facility, saw the whole thing, he was staying with him so close, and he’s pretty shook up about it.” Improv glanced over at a new Gran pilot who was still

sitting in his X-Wing and staring off into space.

Link and Improv both winced. Cabed’b could be a bit morbid at times. “Did you really have to know?” Link asked Improv quietly. An awkward pause followed.

“Um, ah, hey, about my R4 droid,” Link said, to break the silence. “Could you get me an R2 unit instead? I mean, that thing’s flowerpot head gives me a sensor signal bigger than two AT-ATs humping. It’s like I have big picket sign sticking out my ship that says, ‘Shoot me!’ in big red letters!”

Improv laughed and even Cabed’b chuckled, despite himself, albeit more at the mental image of Imperial walkers going at it than Link’s actual comment.

“I’ll see what I can do, Link,” Improv finally said, grateful for someone who could lighten the mood so adeptly.

Just then, Lieutenant Tooz Skatamm, Gauntlet Four, came over to the group. He had dark skin, close-cropped black hair, and alert, expressive eyes. “General Madine wants to see you guys,” he said as he reached the group. “Are you going to swing by the pilots’ lounge afterward?”

“Yeah, sure,” Improv replied. “Thanks for the message, Lieutenant.” Tooz saluted and walked off. Improv looked at Link and Cabed’b, shrugged, and headed for General Madine’s office.

* * *

Rask Kejaa sat down on one of the packing crates that the crew was loading into the ship in the open-air docking bay. He took out a hip flask and took a drink from it, and a bit of Pantolominian brandy rolled through his jet-black beard. He wiped it away as he got up and stretched.

It was a hot day in Abregado-Rae’s Gado Spaceport, and the fact that Rask was wearing his favorite navy-and-black long-sleeved flight suit wasn’t helping much. He yawned and looked up at the ship called the

Rabid Basilisk.

It was a modified Old Republic Consular-class Corvette, the kind that was used to ferry ambassadors around and such. But Rask and Klyne had turned it into a warship. Two medium turbolasers decorated the top and bottom midship, four quad laser cannons were stationed near the communications array and deflector shield generator, and a thud missile launcher, which launched extremely heavy—and powerful—armor-piercing concussion missiles, had been installed in the column below the bridge.

The bridge itself had been gutted and enlarged in order to support communications officers, sensor officers, and anyone else who might be needed. The viewport had been enlarged in size to provide a better view of wherever they happened to be, the armored salon pod below the bridge had been converted into Klyne and Rask’s personal quarters, and the middle of the ship was reserved for crew barracks, cargo holds, and control stations for the medium turbos.

The ship was painted in a brick red-and-black color scheme, with the Velker’s Claw, the emblem that Klyne had designed for his mercenary group, the Blood Eagles.

Just then, the comlink at his belt twittered. Rask pulled the silver cylinder out of his belt and hit the activation switch. “First Mate Kejaa here. What’s up?”

The comlink’s speaker suddenly exploded with the sounds of blasterfire and he could hardly hear Klyne’s voice coming through.

“We’re pinned down here by Imperial troops,” Klyne said. “Think you boys can give us some backup?”

“Sure thing,” Rask replied. “Nothin’ better to do. Where are you guys?”

“Cando-Lannik Cantina,” Klyne replied.

“Got it,” Rask said. “We’ll be right there.”

With that, he shut off the comlink and put it back on his belt. He walked briskly over to Voomk, a lanky Duros who was overseeing the loading process. “Hey, Voomk,” he said as he came over. “How many more boxes still need to be loaded?”

“Twelve, I believe,” the gray-blue alien said, not looking up from his datapad. “Why?”

Rask took a deep breath. “Klyne’s stuck in a tight spot and we need to pull him out. How many people can you spare?”

“Again?” Voomk turned toward Rask, his brow furrowed in a Duros expression of exasperation. “I can spare maybe forty guys,” he said after a moment. “You can fit them in that,” he said, gesturing towards an old XA-40 flatbed cargo speeder sitting in the corner.

Rask quickly rounded up forty guys he knew he could trust in a firefight and got them all in the large repulsorcraft, hightailing it for the cantina.

As they raced down the street, Tengo Irme, a scraggly, unshaven human, pointed ahead of them. “Imperial checkpoint”, he said in a hoarse voice. Rask looked up. Indeed, a group of stormtroopers standing by the lowered arm of a road barricade were in their path.

“What do we do now?,” asked Drav Mellik, a Pho Ph’eahian who was crouched right behind Rask. One of the stormtroopers was now standing in front of the barricade, motioning for them to stop.

“Keep moving, of course,” Rask replied, slowly inching up the throttle lever on the repulsorcraft. The stormtroopers, seeing this, began to draw their guns and take cover. Blaster bolts leaped out from both the Imperial troops and the cargo transport-turned-assault vehicle.

The stormtrooper who was in front of the barrier fumbled at getting his blaster out and was clipped violently in the head by the leading edge of the fast-moving transport. As the transport crashed through the flimsily-constructed arm and zoomed off, two troopers rushed over to their unfortunate comrade, twitching involuntarily as he was, while the others pulled out their comlinks and called for all stormtrooper units in the area to be on alert.

* * *

Admiral Gyara stared out into space on board the Mutilator. He had been in front of the viewport for a long time, and his bridge crew was getting nervous. When Gyara was in a bad mood, everybody else on the ship was a potential emotional—and sometimes physical—punching bag.

Suddenly, he spun around to face his second-in-command, Colonel Derkan. “How many capital ships did we lose?,” he asked, emphasizing his crisp, military accent.

Derkan swallowed hard and replied, “We lost three capital ships, sir.” He paused as Admiral Gyara reflected on the concept of losing half his attack force, then continued. “We lost our Immobilizer-418, Spider’s Web; our Lancer Frigate, Predator; and one of our Carrack Cruisers, Demonsquid.” He looked up at Admiral Gyara, nervously.

Admiral Gyara, keeping his cool, asked, “Are there any other patrol groups in this area with which we could combine?”

Colonel Derkan looked down at his datapad again. “Er... Commander Tressel’s battle group is in the Pwarang system, about twelve lightyears from here.”

The Admiral took a deep breath. “Two questions,” he said, almost boredly. “What is the composition of his group, and how long will it take us to make the jump there?”

Derkan looked at his datapad again. “He has Snare, an Immobilizer-418; Sand Panther, a Lancer Frigate; and two Dreadnaughts: Avatar and Harbinger. And the jump would take approximately eighteen minutes.”

“Did you manage to get an ID on the Mon Calamari cruiser we went up against?” Gyara asked, annoyance at being caught off-guard by the Rebels’ sudden attack on his Interdictor Crusier bubbling up inside him.

Colonel Derkan scrolled through his datapad for a moment, then said, “Yes. Our identification system flagged it as the Colonel, currently under the command of General Crix Madine.” Derkan looked up just in time to see the left side of Gyara’s top lip curl up in a sneer at the mention of the Imperial traitor’s name.

Admiral Gyara turned back to the viewport. “Plot a course to the Pwarang system and transmit it to the other ships. When we get there, initiate communications with Commander Tressel’s force, ordering him to join forces with ours. Those rebels will pay.”

“Yes sir, Admiral Gyara,” he said, then spun around and relayed the Admiral’s orders to the navigation and communications officers on the bridge.

* * *

Qryll and everyone else in the cantina had either ducked behind overturned tables or gotten out. Qryll, Jeeve, Wuur, Klyne, Muraaki, Naato, and Klyne’s Tunroth bodyguards were all ducked behind tables, firing at the Imperial stormtroopers positioned near the doorway. Another group of cantina patrons, all of them ranging in sobriety from slightly inebriated to slap-the-ground-right-out drunk, were also ducked behind a table and shooting at the stormtroopers as well as various other objects in the room.

“A fine fix you’ve gotten us in!” Naato yelled at Muraaki. “You are the biggest moron I’ve ever worked with!”

“Y’know,” Muraaki snapped back, “I could shoot you right here and tell your boss that the stormtroopers got you.”

“You could, but there’s a glaring flaw in that plan,” Naato replied.

“And that is?”

“Stormtroopers never hit anybody.”

Muraaki looked pensively for a moment at a burning piece of shrapnel sitting on the floor beside him, then back at Naato. “Good point.”

Firing with his hold-out blaster, Qryll looked at Klyne, pumping blaster bolts out of his own heavy blaster pistol. “So, are your guys coming soon?” he asked.

“Hopefully,” Klyne replied. “Rask better not run into any trouble on the way here.”

As if in reply to Klyne’s statement, a volley of blasterfire poured into the cantina and dropped a good number of the stormtroopers inside.

* * *

Rask Kejaa’s cargo transport pulled up in front of the Cando-Lannik Cantina, and his men began to jump out. He powered it down and rushed toward the entrance, drawing his S-5 Security Blaster as he ran. He fired as soon as he spotted a stormtrooper through the doorway, and the rest of the men did likewise.

Finally, the last line in the group fell, all of them dropped by blaster bolts from behind. Rask spun around to see another, larger group of Imperial troopers running at them. “Sithspit,” he swore.

Rask turned to his group. “Clear us a path through that group behind us, people!” he yelled. Just then, Klyne and company emerged from the rubble that was formerly the interior decor of the cantina.

“Thanks for the save, Rask,” Qryll said as they emerged.

“I don’t think this counts as a ‘save’ yet, Qryll. Get some cover,” Rask replied, then ducked behind a discarded 9000 Z001 landspeeder, firing at the stormtroopers outside the building. The stormtroopers formed a semicircle around them, forcing all of Rask and Klyne’s group into a corner.

“Sithspawn!” Rask shouted. “If anyone’s got any ideas, spit ‘em out!” he addressed the crowd behind him.

Qryll stepped up. “Commencing spitting.” With that, he reached back and pulled his staff out of the magnetically-sealed scabbard slung about his shoulder. He hit a switch on it with his thumb, and each of the pikes on either end began to crackle with a bluish electrical energy. Most of the stormtroopers, although still engaged in the firefight, eyed Qryll warily, trying to anticipate his next move

Qryll breathed in deeply, gripping his electrostaff firmly in both hands. Then, a familiar feeling creeped into Qryll. He felt the ghostly presence of his father’s hands on his, directing the electrostaff to where it should go as the stormtroopers opened fire. Take it, Dad, he thought as the spirit began to move his entire body.

With a sudden rush, he charged at the Imperial line, the spiritual guide within him using the staff’s electrified tips to deflect the troopers’ red blasts of energy. He crashed into the line at full speed, tearing into the group with his staff, dropping troopers with brutal laceration wounds and severe neurological damage. Once Qryll had cleared enough breathing room around him, he altered his approach. He turned to face the nearest Imperial trooper and lightly tapped him on the side with an electrically-charged pike. As the electricity sent most of the trooper’s upper body into involuntary muscle spasms, Qryll reached into a utility bag slung across his shoulder and hidden underneath his cloak and procured an adhesive plasma grenade. Qryll swung his staff away from the man, granting him a reprieve from the spasms but not the severe cramping they had caused, and stuck the grenade to the man’s chest. Spinning the man around, Qryll then kicked him into the closest line of Imperial troops, causing some of them to lose their balance and fall into the group behind them.

Qryll leapt into an adept backwards handspring and then retreated hastily, yelling for his comrades to get out of the way and take cover. As those Imperial troopers who had figured out what was going on scrambled in an attempt to get away from their friend the human time bomb, the ragtag group retreated towards the waiting cargo speeder. An explosion ripped through the Imperial lines, and when the smoke cleared, their ranks were considerably thinner.

Rask got in the cargo speeder just in time to see a group of three Gian-4 Security Speeders rushing down the road toward them, driven by local security troops. These newer-model speeders were different than the ones used by the Royal Security Forces on Naboo nearly forty years ago, with upgraded equipment and a major design modification. The heavy laser cannon had been mounted on the ridge above and behind the cockpit on a 360? swivel mount, giving the speeder a freer range of fire than its older counterparts.

Muraaki saw them, too. Looking up at the now-packed cargo speeder, he knew he would never get in. He looked around and saw Naato taking cover behind a moth-eaten booth that had been removed from the cantina but not yet properly disposed of, also looking at the fast-approaching speeders. Crouching, he snuck over to him. “Looks like Spaceport Security’s decided to join our little tea party,” he said.

Naato grunted. “And here we are, stuck on the ground, with only a truckload of smugglers and traders to defend us against them” –he gestured toward the speeders—“And them.” He gestured toward the stormtroopers behind them.

“Not if I can help it,” Muraaki replied. “I have an idea.”

As the speeders pulled up, the cargo speeder zoomed off, prompting two of the speeders to chase it down.

Muraaki and Naato walked up to the lead speeder as the remaining stormtroopers started cleaning up dead bodies from both sides. He cleared his throat. “Oh, thank you for responding so quickly, officers. You see, my friend and I here were simply enjoying our time here at the cantina and we just so happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The speeder pilot looked at Muraaki, visibly amused. “So you expect us to believe that two guys dressed like you had no involvement whatsoever in the fighting here?” He laughed, and so did the gunner.

“No, I don’t, actually,” was Muraaki’s reply as he lifted up the pilot by the throat and snapped his neck before dropping him on the ground. Naato shot the gunner in the throat and hopped in his seat, kicking the dying security officer over the edge of the speeder. Muraaki gunned the throttle and drove off, Naato swiveling the heavy laser cannon so that it faced whatever would be behind them. He fired as it completed its arc, dropping some of the stormtroopers, who had begun to take notice of the commotion.

As they entered a narrow corridor, a pair of security speeders raced in behind them. Naato pumped a steady stream of fire towards the first one, eventually hitting it in the right engine turbine. As the smoking speeder swerved, the other one smashed into it, sending the pilot and gunner through their windshield and bouncing over the top of the other speeder. One more burst of laserfire from Naato triggered a mutual explosion between the two repulsorcraft.

As they reached the launch bay section of the spaceport, Muraaki gestured toward a hangar about half-a-kilometer away. “There’s our stop. Get ready to jump.”

Naato looked at Muraaki. “Jump?? Why jump?”

Muraaki matter-of-factly stated, “Well, this alley continues in a straight line for several kilometers, so if we jump and the speeder keeps going, they’ll most likely be looking for the speeder, buying us some time to start up the ship and such.”

As they reached the hangar bay, Naato looked at his partner, said, “You’re a madman, Muraaki”, and jumped.

* * *

Having lost their speeder pursuit due to one of Klyne’s men having the foresight to bring along a Merr-Sonn PLX-2M Personal Missile System, Qryll, Jeeve, and Wuurenbrallch got off the cargo speeder as it reached their stop, although not quite at the speed that Muraaki and Naato had exited their ride. They entered the hangar and found their ship, a heavily-modified YT-2400 freighter they called the Midnight Blade. Qryll, Jeeve, and Wuur had done much to ensure that their ship could do more than its fair share in battle and still have enough components still working to get them home safely. All formerly exposed parts, such as wiring and weapons control systems, had been covered with heavy armor plates. The relatively weak dual laser cannon turrets had been replaced by a pair of Dymek quad laser cannon turrets, and a part of what had previously been cargo space was devoted to a missile launcher loaded with armor-piercing shells.

Qryll hit the keypad combination near the loading ramp on the ship, and the ramp came down softly. As the group walked in, a small, silvery floating ovoid with green eyes and two utility arms, designation SK-T3, zipped toward them. “Back so soon, Master Qryll?” it asked in a fidgety voice.

“Yes, we are, Skit,” Qryll replied. “We got into a little skirmish with Imperial troops back at the cantina.”

“Imperial troops?” Skit cried in alarm. “You guys are frugging idiots!” The droid zipped down the corridor to the cockpit and started the preflight operations.

“Y’know,” Jeeve said, “We really should remember to wipe that droid’s memory every once in a while.”

* * *

As they exited Abregado-Rae’s atmosphere, Qryll quickly located the Rabid Basilisk, along with another ship that Qryll assumed to be Muraaki’s. It was a modified Sentinel-Class Imperial Landing Craft, painted completely blood-red. As far as Qryll could tell, it seemed much more maneuverable and slightly faster than a stock Sentinel, and several modifications seemed to have been made to the weaponry, as well.

A lanky figure appeared in the cockpit doorway behind them. “What’s all the commotion about?”

“Ah, Kiryk. Decided once again to join the land of the living, I see,” Qryll replied.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to stay long,” Kiryk replied as he sat down in the chair behind Qryll. “I have to see a Mon Calamari princess over the matter of the purchase of a magic kloo horn, and then I have to beat

Darth Vader at a dance contest.”

“What?”

“I dunno, dreams are stupid.”

Kiryk Delfos was a Ryn hailing from the Vergesso Asteroids. He was slightly built and had a slender face. His feathery hair was close cropped, save for a long mohawk running down the middle that, combined with his chitinous, beak-like nose, made him somewhat resemble a cockatoo. His face was framed in a pair of healthy muttonchops. He was wearing a bright yellow casual short-sleeved shirt and black pants, which had a specially-cut hole to accommodate his prehensile tail, at the moment sweeping back and forth aimlessly as he sat behind Qryll. Although he slept a lot and had a somewhat quirky sense of humor, Kiryk was a crack shot and a trustworthy friend.

The scene was interrupted suddenly by Klyne’s voice coming in over the communications array. “Boys, we ain’t out of this yet. Two System Patrol Craft and a flight of TIE Fighters, comin’ our way. I’m afraid the Basilisk won’t be able to outrun ‘em.”

Qryll keyed in. “Don’t worry, Klyne. We’ll stick around and hold ‘em off of ya.”

Muraaki’s voice floated in over the comm array as well. “I’m bringing the Blood Oath back around, too.”

As Qryll brought the Midnight Blade around to face off with the SPCs bearing down on them, Kiryk and Jeeve headed midship to man the laser turrets. Coming into a head-to-head course with the freighter-sized ships, Qryll spoke into his communications headset, “Muraaki, I’ll take the one on the left, you take the one on the right.” There was no response, but a quick glance at his sensor board showed Qryll that the Blood Oath was jockeying into the proper position.

As the faster TIE Fighters overtook them, Kiryk, in the top turret, sent a volley of laser bolts across their noses as they sailed overhead. Qryll clicked his fire control over to the missile launcher. “Wuur, get me a diagnostic reading on that ship,” Qryll said, and the Wookiee growled in compliance. He hit a few keystrokes, and Qryll’s targeting computer lit up with a rundown of the ship’s various systems. Everything was in the green. “All right, Wuur, see if the ID computer can get me some info on this thing.” Wuur tapped in another key sequence, and soon the advanced computer that the Midnight Blade crew had “borrowed” from a Corporate Sector Authority tech center came up with full schematics for the SPC. “All right, good. Wuur, see if you can locate the weapons control system and the main fuel converter on that thing, and then patch that information through to the targeting computer.” Wuur typed furiously for a few seconds, and then two little red crosshairs splashed onto the SPC diagram on the targeting computer’s display. A steady beep told Qryll that the computer was busy acquiring a missile lock, and he flipped the firing mode over to dual-fire. He watched as the SPC closed in on him. Its range apparently being slightly longer than the Midnight Blade’s, a shower of angry green laser bolts came lancing out at Qryll’s ship. With Kiryk and Jeeve currently occupied with the TIE Fighters, there was nothing he could do but wait for the solid tone that would alert him to the missile lock.

Finally, a flat monotone sounded in Qryll’s earpiece and he squeezed the trigger. Two comet-like orange trails leapt out from underneath his ship, smashing into the SPC in the desired areas. The shells pierced the ship’s hull and sat for a second, as the ship slightly decelerated and rolled a bit. As the Midnight Blade pulled up and around in front of the SPC, the missiles exploded, opening two large craters in the ship’s hull. Dead in space, it floated as its lights flickered off, then on briefly, and then off again.

As Qryll completed his arc, he spotted the Blood Oath strafing its prey with a rapid-fire pulse cannon that had been patched into the ship’s hull with more technical ingenuity than aesthetic flair. Qryll clicked his headset. “All right, looks like we just have to dust off these TIE Fighters and then we’re home free.”

Kiryk interjected. “Spoke too soon, Qryll. We have guests.”

Qryll turned the ship back on to its original trajectory. Sitting there was an Enforcer-class patrol frigate, as well as two armed Consular corvettes. “Sithspawn! Where did they come from?”

“They were probably just lurking outside the system and caught a distress signal from either the planet or the SPCs,” Klyne answered.

“All right, so what do we do now?” Muraaki interjected. “We’re too close to the planet to go into hyperspace, and they’re sitting right in the middle of the passage to the only hyperspace lane out of here.”

“Don’t worry, ol’ Klyne’s still got an ace or two up his sleeve. We just have to hold them off for a few minutes.”

Wuur growled an announcement.

“What was that?” Muraaki asked.

“He says the Enforcer just launched a squadron of TIEs,” Qryll answered.

“Fantastic.”

The flight of TIEs from before buzzed into the trio of outlaw ships, peppering them with hails of green laserfire as Kiryk and the quad gunners on the Rabid Basilisk returned the favor. Kiryk’s volley caught one of the fighters dead-on, sending it careening off in flames.

“This is ridiculous,” Kiryk said. “Once those other TIEs reach us, there’s no way we’re gonna be able to hold them all off.”

“Whoever that was is right,” Muraaki replied. “My ship isn’t going to be able to keep up with fifteen TIEs swarming around it. I may be oozing cockiness out of my ass, but I know my limitations.”

As if in reply, the squadron of TIEs from the Enforcer frigate tore into the trio’s formation, spouting off bursts of green laserfire at them. Kiryk caught two fighters with his guns, and Jeeve popped the canopy cover off of one with a burst of laserfire, sending it flying off into the distance without a living pilot.

Qryll and Muraaki piloted their ships as hard as they could, trying to keep themselves out of the TIEs’ line of fire for as long as they could possibly manage. “Klyne!” Qryll yelled, straining. “If you’ve got an ace, now would be a good time to bring it into play!”

Klyne’s voice came back, calmer than ever. “Ask, and ye shall receive, my boy.”

With that, two capital ships dropped into realspace just behind the Enforcer frigate and its corvettes. A Dreadnaught and an Alliance Assault Frigate, both bearing New Republic markings, immediately began firing upon the Enforcer. The Dreadnaught launched a mixed squadron consisting of two flights of Y-Wings and a flight of X-Wings, the latter of which immediately went after the TIEs terrorizing the trio of vessels.

Qryll, astounded, asked “Klyne! How did you...?”

Even through the comm distortion, everyone hearing it could tell that Klyne was smiling. “Let’s just say I’m owed some favors.”

One of the Imperial Consular corvettes sailed in to engage the Republic Dreadnaught and was quickly laid to waste by the larger ship’s superior firepower. As the doomed corvette spun aimlessly away, small explosions ravaging its insides, Klyne Nastanad saw a clear field to attack the other corvette. “Full speed ahead!” he roared to his crew. “Concentrate all fire on that Consular ship!” As Klyne’s pride and joy bore down menacingly on its less formidable cousin, the Imperial ship fought back feebly with its much less powerful turbolaser cannons. The Rabid Basilisk’s steady bombardment quickly bore results, as the port and middle engines of the Imperial ship blew out dramatically. With only the starboard engine left, the ship’s stability was compromised and it swung violently to port, smashing into the bridge of the Enforcer frigate. The Enforcer’s shields, already weakened by the unrelenting onslaught of the Assault Frigate and the two flights of Y-Wings, collapsed completely, and the unfortunate Consular corvette wedged itself firmly into the bridge tower of the Enforcer frigate.

* * *

As the two entangled starships began to succumb to Abregado-Rae’s gravitational pull, The Blood Oath flew in and ravaged the Enforcer’s communications array with its pulse cannon. As Muraaki pulled the ship away, Naato, in the copilot’s seat, asked, “Muraaki, what was that for?”

“Eh. Just to be a dick, I guess.”

Naato stared at his partner with his glassy black eyes, not sure whether to be awed or appalled.

* * *

A voice spoke over the comm system, definitely Basic, but with a distinct Sullustan accent. “Good thing we arrived when we did, eh?”

Klyne answered, “Indeed, captain. Your squadron was instrumental in wiping out those TIEs for us.”

The voice came back. “Ah, my flight and two flight just took potshots at the Enforcer. It’s my three flight you should be thanking.”

Another voice chimed in, unmistakable as a young human male. “Ah, it was nothin’. Target practice. Don’t mention it.”

A third voice, another human male, popped into the conversation. “Haha. Target practice. If Imp pilots had transponders that told them the names of the pilots they were chasing, that’s the thought that would cross their minds whenever they saw your name come up.”

“Wow. Even by your standards, that one wasn’t very funny,” the second voice came back.

“I am funny in ways you cannot even begin to comprehend.”

It took Qryll a second to realize that the voices were the fighter pilots of the Y-Wing/X-Wing squadron, who had now dropped their fighters into formation alongside the Midnight Blade, the Blood Oath, and the Rabid Basilisk.

The Sullustan voice came back into the conversation, this time speaking in rapid-fire Sullustan.

After a few seconds of the Sullustan’s jabbering, Klyne replied, “A proposal, eh? From how high up?” After another hail of Sullustan, Klyne came back with, “Hm. How badly do you need this?” Another Sullustan volley was cut off by Kline saying, “Okay, okay. Can I come on board so we can discuss this on the ship?” The Sullustan jabbered an affirmative, followed by what sounded like a query. “Sure,” Klyne replied. “Hold on. Qryll!”

Qryll keyed his comm unit. “Yeah, Klyne?”

“They’re inviting us on board the Albatross I. Do you want to come, or are you heading out now?”

“Uh... which one’s the Albatross I?”

“The Dreadnaught. The Assault Frigate’s the Albatross II. So, you game?”

Qryll looked over at Wuur. “Feel like you could use a break, Wuur?” The Wookiee growled an affirmative, his hands cupped behind his head as he leaned back in his chair.

Qryll looked at his furry friend. “Of course. What am I saying? You always feel like you could use a break.”

The Wookiee voiced an indignant protest. Qryll ignored it and keyed the comm. “Yeah, Klyne, we’re comin’ up. Where are the docking tubes?”

“Right in front of the main hangar bay. Muraaki!”

“What is it, Klyne?” the bounty hunter’s voice came back, somewhat exasperated.

Klyne either didn’t notice the tone or chose to ignore it. “Can you dock with my ship, pick me and Rask up, and take us to the Albatross I?”

Muraaki’s voice came back. “I suppose I do owe you one...”

“More like you owe me a few, kid.”

“Look, Klyne, the simple fact of the matter is that I don’t have any time to waste. I have an extremely difficult bounty to catch.”

“Muraaki, this will be worth your while, I promise you. This might in fact help you to get to your bounty even faster.”

After a short pause, Muraaki’s voice came back, audibly intrigued. “Go on.”

“You’ll have to come up here and get me.”

Muraaki let out an annoyed sigh. “You’re an insufferable old windbag, you know that?”

“Oh, can it, Muraaki, you sound like my first wife.”

As Qryll pulled the Midnight Blade up to the docking tube after the fighters had all landed safely in their hangar, the Sullustan’s voice came back, proudly proclaiming, “Welcome, visitor, to the offices of the New Republic Second Starfighter Academy.”

Qryll looked over at Wuur, shrugged, and left the cockpit.

Edited by smallpoxchampion

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Andy

Yikes thats long. I'll read it later lol, I'm short on time at the moment.

And welcome to GB! :D

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Sticks

NOOB!!! *snickers*

Where's that stick thingie we used to beat noobies sensless with?

Hehe...just kiddin...welcome to GB

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