Star Wars - X-Wing 02 - Wedge's GambleMichael A. Stackpole
Michael A. Stackpole
.lit compiled 10/04 by DrB
DEATH AMONG THE STARS
The Y-wing let a proton torpedo go at point-blank range, but it shot past the eyeball and would have hit the X-wing had Corran not rolled fast. "Break outside, Champions!"
The Y-wing pilots complied with Corran's order, but did so slowly. The TIE spun in on Champion Five, pouring verdant laser bolts into its shields. The Y-wing pilot continued his roll and dive, and the TIE corrected to follow him, allowing himself to fly a level arc as he pursued his quarry.
You're mine, now. Corran eased back on his stick, millimeter by millimeter centering the Imperial fighter on his targeting crosshairs.
Whistler shrilled a warning.
Behind me? Who? He glanced at his sensors and saw the other TIE closing in on him and he wanted to break away. Can't, Five is history if I do.
Corran hit his trigger and prepared for nothingness.
The author would like to thank the following people for their various contributions to this book:
Janna Silverstein, Tom Dupree, and Ricia Mainhardt for getting me into this mess;
Sue Rostoni and Lucy Autrey Wilson for letting me get away with all they have in this universe;
Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, Kathy Tyers, Bill Smith, Bill Slavicsek, Peter Schweighofer, Michael Kogge, and Dave Wolverton for the material they created and the advice they offered;
Lawrence Holland 8c Edward Kilham for the X-Wing and TIE Fighter computer games;
Chris Taylor for pointing out to me which ship Tycho was flying in Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi and Gail Mihara for pointing out controversies I might want to avoid;
My parents, my sister Kerin, my brother Patrick and his wife Joy for their encouragement (and endless efforts to face my other books out on bookstore shelves);
Dennis L. McKiernan, Jennifer Roberson, and especially Elizabeth T. Danforth for listening to bits of this story as it was being written and enduring such abuse with smiles and a supportive manner.
Commander Wedge Antilles (human male from Corellia)
Captain Tycho Celchu (human male from Alderaan)
Captain Aril Nunb (Sullustan female from Sullust)
Lieutenant Corran Horn (human male from Corellia)
Lieutenant Pash Cracken (human male from Contruum)
Ooryl Qrygg (Gand male from Gand)
Nawara Ven (Twi'lek male from Ryloth)
Rhysati Ynr (human female from Bespin)
Erisi Dlarit (human female from Thyferra)
Gavin Darklighter (human male from Tatooine)
Riv Shiel (Shistavanen male from Uvena III)
Zraii (Verpine male from Roche G42)
M-3PO (Emtrey; protocol and regulations droid)
Whistler (Corran's R2 astromech)
Mynock (Wedge's R5 astromech)
Admiral Ackbar (Mon Calamari male from Mon Calamari)
General Airen Cracken (human male from Contruum)
Iella Wessiri (human female from Corellia)
Winter (human female from Alderaan)
Citizens on Coruscant
Asyr Sei'lar (Bothan female from Bothawui)
Inyri Forge (human female from Kessel)
Fliry Vorru (human male from Corellia)
Zekka Thyne (human/alien male from Corellia)
Crew of the Pulsar Skate
Mirax Terrik (human female from Corellia)
Liat Tsayv (Sullustan male from Sullust)
Ysanne Isard, director of imperial intelligence (human female from Coruscant) Kirtan Loor, Intelligence Agent (human male from Churba)
General Evir Derricote (human male from Kalla)
Even before his X-wing's sensors had time to scan and identify the new ship, Corran Horn knew it was trouble. That knowledge was not based on the ship's unscheduled, unannounced reversion to realspace in the Pyria system. In the month since the Rebel Alliance took the planet Borleias from the Empire, more ships than Corran cared to remember had popped in for a quick survey of the place. Some were on diplomatic missions from worlds that had already joined the New Republic coming to inspect the latest conquest of their forces. Other ships had been sent by the rulers of planets who wanted to separate fact from propaganda before they decided if they wanted to shift allegiances in the galactic civil war.
Still others had been Imperial vessels on reconnaissance missions, and a goodly proportion of the rest were Alliance ships with legitimate business in the system. All of them had to be checked out, and the hostiles discouraged, but the patrols had produced no serious incidents or fatalities. This spawned a complacency among the pilots that was not conducive to long life, but even Corran had found it hard to keep his edge when no serious threats presented themselves.
The new ship's arrival slashed away his peace of mind like a vibroblade. The sensors reported a modified freight cruiser that had started life as a Rendili Star Drive ship— not in the Neutron Star-class of bulk cruiser, but something roughly a quarter that size. That in no way made it remarkable or unusual—dozens of ships built on the same design had been through the system since its conquest. The name, Vengeance Derra IV, followed the naming convention common among New Republic ships of recalling some event in the course of the civil war. It had even entered the system on the course and at the speed the Rebels had dictated for freighter traffic.
Still, something is not right here. During his brief career with the Corellian Security Force, hunting down smugglers and other criminals, he'd learned to trust his gut feelings about things. His father, Hal, and even his grandfather—both CorSec officers themselves—had encouraged him to follow his instincts in dangerous situations. The sensation frustrated him with its elusiveness, as if it were no more tangible than the faint scent of a flower teasing his nose and defying identification.
It's enough that I know something is odd. Exactly what isn't important at this point. Corran keyed his comm unit. "Rogue Nine to Champion Five, you handle the challenge. Wait here with Six. I'm going to go out and do a flyby."
"I copy, Nine, but we are supposed to expedite all shipping in this area. They aren't in the challenge zone yet."
"Humor me, Five."
"As ordered, Nine."
The system patrols had been broken up to cover four zones around the planet of Borleias. The plane of the ecliptic split the system up and down, with sun side and out splitting it core and rim. Corran and two Y-wing pilots from General Salm's Defender Wing had up-and-out, which was by far the busiest sector because the planet's moon had moved out of it and sunward two days previously.
"Whistler, see what you can do about boosting our sensors to pick up any anomalous readings from that freighter."
The green and white R2 astromech blatted harshly at him.
"Yes, fine, there's likely to be lots of things wrong with that freighter." Corran frowned as he nudged his throttle forward and the X-wing started off toward the freighter. "I was thinking about inappropriate weapons or other odd things."
As Corran's fighter came in closer he began to get a visual feed on the ship. All of 150 meters long, it had the gentle curves of smaller ships, or the larger Mon Calamari warships. The bridge was a bulge on the top of the bow that tapered back and down into a slender midship. Two thirds of the way back toward the stern the ship's body flared out again to accommodate the star drives. A communications array sat right behind the
bridge, and quad laser turrets bristled off the bow and in a ring around the middle of the ship.
Whistler splashed a report on the ship onto Corran's primary monitor. It was a Rendili Star Drive's design, from the Dwarf Star-class of freighter. It shipped roughly fifteen hundred metric tons of equipment, ran with a crew of four hundred, and had nine quad lasers as well as one tractor beam that could be used to pull salvage into the belly storage area. The guns and carrying capacity made it a favorite for short-haul traders who were willing to work in areas of the galaxy where authority had broken down, or Imperial entanglements could be a problem.
"Champion Five here, Rogue Nine."
"Go ahead, Five."
"I challenged the Vengeance and it answered with a code that is good."
That surprised Corran because he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong with the ship. "Did they get it on the first try?"
Five's comm unit didn't filter the surprise out of his voice. "No, second pass. Why?"
"I'll tell you later. Stay where you are, but get someone to lift from Borleias in an assault shuttle. You and Six be ready for trouble."
"As ordered, Nine."
Whistler chirped an inquiry at Corran.
"Yes, I think it's exactly like the doubletaker case." Back on Corellia he and his partner, Iella Wessiri, had investigated a series of burglaries where things had been stolen from houses, but there were no signs of forced entry. All of the security systems were manufactured by different companies, and installed and monitored by different agencies. The key to cracking the case was that the ROMs used in the security systems all came from the same manufacturer. An employee had sliced the code that got burned into the chips so when a particular password was used on the locks, the system would spit out the correct password. On the second try the thief would enter the correct code, get in, and rob the place.
The Y-wing fighters the Alliance used were old, but still vital, and most of them were a patchwork of new and old systems. Spare parts were not easy to come by, and whatever were available were used quickly to keep the fighters in service. It was conceivable that a sensor/ comm unit integrator had been fitted with odd chips that gave away codes when checking them. Arranging for such things would not be beyond the Empire's Director of Intelligence, Ysanne Isard, especially if it would help prevent the Rebel Alliance from taking Coruscant away from her.
Corran punched his comm unit over to the frequency the freighter was using. " Vengeance Derra IV, this is Lieutenant Corran Horn of Rogue Squadron. Stop now. Stand by for boarding."
The freighter did not even slow, much less stop. "Is there a problem, Lieutenant?"
Corran shifted the targeting crosshairs of his heads-up display over to lead the freighter, then sent a quad burst of red laser fire across the ship's bow. "Vengeance, stand by
for boarding. There will only be a problem if you make
The freighter began to roll to port, exposing its top toward Corran's ship. Not good. "Five and Six, prepare proton torpedoes. Link fire and lock on the freighter."
"Nine, they've done nothing."
"Yet, Five, yet."
Swinging up and around from the belly of Vengeance, four TIE starfighters raced in toward Corran's X-wing. Without waiting for them to start shooting, he slapped the stick to the right and brought the fighter up onto its starboard S-foil. The TIEs started their own turns to port and began to dive, anticipating his escape maneuver. Corran punched his left foot on the etheric rudder pedal, skidding the stern of his ship to starboard, then shot off straight in the opposite direction from his pursuit.
"Nine, we have two TIE bombers deployed."
"Five, fire on the Vengeance, then take the dupes. I've got the eyeballs. Let Borleias base know we have trouble." He knew the Y-wings would have little trouble out-flying the dupes—pilot slang for the double-hulled bombers. If he could keep the TIEs occupied, they wouldn't be in any position to harass the Y-wings. If the missiles the Y-wings launched at Vengeance were enough to take down the forward shields, the freighter's captain would have to think about running, which would distract the TIE pilots, since without him, they were stuck in the Pyria system.
Lots of ifs there. Time to make some of them certainties. He used a snap-roll to bring the fighter up on the starboard stabilizer again, then dove into a long loop that took him down to where Vengeance's bulk hid him from the TIEs. Rolling his ship and applying some rudder, he arrowed straight in at the freighter. This put him in position to watch as the quartet of proton torpedoes launched by the Y-wings nailed the ship's bow. Each missile exploded against the shields like a star going nova.
The astromech droid whistled up a requiem for Vengeance's bow shield.
Corran tightened on the trigger and sent a quad burst of fire toward the ship's bridge. Without waiting to see if it hit or did damage, he barrel-rolled to port, moving toward the middle of the freighter, and pulled back on the stick to bring the fighter's nose up. His targeting crosshairs hung just above the horizon of the freighter's hull.
A TIE starfighter, shying from the series of explosions against the forward shield, streaked over the freighter's edge and right into his sights. Corran triggered a quad shot that caught the eyeball on the port side quadanium steel armored solar panel, slicing the hexagon into a dozen or more pieces. A secondary explosion suggested a failure in one of the ion engines that the fighter's subsequent careening off through space confirmed.
Corran rolled up on the left stabilizer foil and drifted to port for a heartbeat before snapping over onto the starboard S-foil and hauling back on the stick. The maneuver allowed him to evade the fire coming in from Vengeance's lasers. It also put him on the vector the TIE had used coming in over the freighter's hull. Adding a bit more to the starboard roll and pulling back on stick again took him out past the ship's damaged bow and let him swoop in on the tail of another TIE.
The eyeball broke back left, but Corran rolled his ship through a corkscrew that kept him on target. He fired twice. The first quad shot missed, but the second tagged the ball cockpit full on. The lasers blew through the engine, then an explosion ripped the fighter apart. Corran dove into and flew through the expanding ball of incandescent gas, then rolled and dove again.
"One dupe dead, one sleeping."
Corran laughed aloud. "Nice shooting, Five. Good thinking." The Y-wing pilots had shown the presence of mind to engage one of the bombers while using their ion cannons. The weapons were inferior in power to lasers,
but they had the advantage of knocking out a ship's electronics by overloading the electrical system. The ion cannons could render a ship inoperable, allowing the pilot to be picked up later.
Chances are, though, this Imp pilot will kill himself to avoid capture. Still, the ship might teach us something.
"Nine, the freighter is turning to run. Do you want help with the eyeballs?"
Whistler scolded him with a harsh blatty sound.
"It's not that I think I'm that good, Whistler, it's that I know they aren't." Refusing assistance to deal with enemies that outnumber you was usually ascribed to unending egotism or terminal stupidity, but Corran had a third reason in mind. The Y-wing pilots, while enthusiastic and decently trained, were insufficiently experienced in dog-fighting to be much help to him. If they entered the fight, he'd have to worry about hitting them. Without their intervention, his only possible targets were Imperial ships, and that fact gave him some freedom.
"Nine, we'll take Vengeance."
"Negative, Five, definitely negative." If they go in on the freighter it will pick them apart. "Hang off there and try for torp locks on the TIEs."
Glancing at his sensor displays, he marked the positions of the Y-wings, then rolled his ship and dove. Angry green laser bolts slashed through the blackness in front of him, but neither of the TIEs' shots hit. The sen
sors reported the last two eyeballs had just pulled through a crisscross maneuver and were looping up and around to make another pass on him. That told him the last two pilots were good enough to have survived more than one fight in their ships.
They rolled through their double-helix maneuver and Corran shot through the center of their spiral. Rolling out to the right he cut in front of one, inviting a hastily snapped shot. The TIE pilot took it, splashing lasers against the X-wing's aft shield. Ignoring Whistler's shrill
shriek, Corran reinforced the rear shield, then rolled and began a dive.
The eyeball rolled and started after him. Corran chopped his throttle back, then rolled and dove sharply. He remained in the dive for a couple of seconds, then rolled again and climbed. Rolling back out onto his original course, he popped in behind the TIE that had previously been on his tail and took a shot of his own.
The eyeball juked at the last second, so the four laser bolts only clipped the top of one of the solar panels. The TIE starfighter began to whirl away, but it never exploded. Damaged as the ship was, it would be an easy target to follow and finish, but the last TIE sprayed laser fire against the X-wing's shields, giving Corran a more immediate threat to deal with.
Because it was coming in from the left, Corran rolled right, then cruised down through a diving turn that aimed him back along its inbound course. The TIE looped up, then rolled and came down through an inverse loop to cut across Corran's tail. Corran let the X-wing sideslip right, but not before the eyeball had taken a shot at him. Whistler screamed, then a bank of lights started flashing on the fighter's command console.
Sithspawn! My shields are down. Corran stomped on the right rudder pedal, swinging the X-wing's nose in that direction, then rolled up on the port stabilizer and pulled back on the stick. As the ship started to climb, another snap-roll to the left broke it off at right angles to the climb and away from pursuit. "Whistler, get the shields back up, fast."
A counter appeared on his main screen and began counting down from one and a half minutes.