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Star Wars - X-Wing - Rogue Squadron, Page 2

Michael A. Stackpole

  the nose of the bomber up in a steep climb, then rolling out in the direction of

  the turn, Jace managed to stay inside die arc of the X-wing's turn. As the

  bomber leveled off. it closed very quickly with the X-wingtoo quickly for a

  missile lock, but not a laser shot.

  The TIE bomber shrieked in at the X-wing. Col-ision warning klaxons wailed.

  Corran could feel Jace's excitement as the X-wing loomed larger. He knew the

  other pilot would snap off a quick shot, then come around again, angry at having

  overshot the X-wing, but happy to smoke Corran before tak-ing the Korolev.

  The X-wing pilot hit a switch and shifted all shield power to the aft shields.

  The deflector shield materialized as a demisphere approximately twenty meters

  behind the X-wing. Designed to dissipate both energy and kinetic weapons, it

  had no trouble protecting the fighter from the bomber's twin laser blasts. Had

  the bomber used missiles, the shields could even have handled all the damage

  they could do, though that would have been enough to destroy the shields


  The TIE bomber, which massed far more than the missiles it carried, should have

  punched through die shields and might even have destroyed the fighter, but it

  hit at an angle and glanced off. The collision did blast away half the power of

  the aft shield and bounced the X-wing around, but other-wise left the

  snubfighter undamaged.

  The same could not be said of the unshielded bomber. The impact with the shield

  was roughly equivalent to a vehicle hitting a ferrocrete wall at

  sixty kilometers per hour. While that might not do a land vehicle much damage,

  land vehicles are decidedly less delicate than starfighters. The starboard wing

  crumpled inward, wrapping itself around the bomber's cockpit. Both pods of the

  ship twisted out of alignment so the engines shot it off into an uncontrolled

  tumble through the simulator's dataspace.

  "Green Three, did you copy that?"

  Corran got no response. "Whistler, what happened to Three?"

  The R2 unit gave him a mournful tone.

  Sithspawn. Corran flipped the shield control to equalize things fore and aft.

  "Where is he?"

  The image of a lone TIE fighter making a strafing run on the Korolev appeared

  on Corran's monitor. The clumsy little craft skittered along over the

  corvette's surface, easily dodging its weak return fire. That's seriously gutsy

  for a TIE fighter. Corran smiled. Or arrogant, and time to make him pay for that


  The Corellian brought his proton torpedo targeting program up and locked on to

  the TIE. It tried to break the lock, but turbolaser fire from the Korolev boxed

  it in. Corran's HUD went red and he triggered the torpedo. "Scratch one


  The missile shot straight in at the fighter, but the pilot broke hard to port

  and away, causing the missile to overshoot the target. Nice flying! Corran

  brought his X-wing over and started down to loop in behind the TIE, but as he

  did so, the TIE vanished from his forward screen and reappeared in his aft arc.

  Yanking the stick hard to the right and pulling it back, Corran wrestled the

  X-wing up and to starboard, then inverted and rolled out to the left.

  A laser shot jolted a tremor through the simulator's couch. Lucky thing I had

  all shields aft! Corran reinforced them with energy from his lasers, then

  evened them out fore and aft. Jinking the tighter right and left, he avoided

  laser shots coming in from behind, but they all came in f ar closer than he


  He knew Jace had been in the bomber, and Jace was the only pilot in the unit who

  could have stayed with him. Except for our leader. Corran smiled broadly. Coming

  to see how good I really am, Commander Antilles? Let me give you a clinic.

  "Make sure you're in there solid, Whistler, because we're going for a little


  Corran refused to let the R2's moan slow him down. A snap-roll brought the

  X-wing up on its port wing. Pulling back on the stick yanked the fighter's nose

  up away from the original line of flight. The TIE stayed with him, then

  tightened up on the arc to close distance. Corran then rolled another ninety

  degrees and continued the turn into a dive. Throttling back, Corran hung in the

  dive for three seconds, then hauled back hard on the stick and cruised up into

  the TIE fighter's aft.

  The X-wing's laser fire missed wide to the right as the TIE cut to the left.

  Corran kicked his speed up to full and broke with the TIE. He let the X-wing

  rise above the plane of the break, then put the fighter through a twisting roll

  that ate up enough time to bring him again into the TIE's rear. The TIE snapped

  to the right and Corran looped out left.

  He watched the tracking display as the distance between them grew to be a

  kilometer and a half, then slowed. Fine, you want to go nose to nose? I've got

  shields and you don't. If Commander Antilles wanted to commit virtual suicide,

  Corran was happy to oblige him. He tugged the stick back to his sternum and

  rolled out in an inversion loop. Coming at you!

  The two starfighters closed swiftly. Corran centered his foe in the crosshairs

  and waited for a dead

  shot. Without shields the TIE fighter would die with one burst, and Corran

  wanted the kill to be clean. His HUD flicked green as the TIE juked in and out

  of the center, then locked green as they closed.

  The TIE started firing at maximum range and scored hits. At that distance the

  lasers did no real damage against the shields, prompting Corran to wonder why

  Wedge was wasting the energy. Then, as the HUD's green color started to flicker,

  realization dawned. The bright bursts on the shields are a distraction to my

  targeting! I better kill him now!

  Corran tightened down on the trigger button, sending red laser needles stabbing

  out at the closing TIE fighter. He couldn't tell if he had hit anything. Lights

  flashed in the cockpit and Whistler started screeching furiously. Corran's main

  monitor went black, his shields were down, and his weapons controls were dead.

  The pilot looked left and right. "Where is he, Whistler?"

  The monitor in front of him flickered to life and a diagnostic report began to

  scroll by. Bloodred bordered the damage reports. "Scanners, out; lasers, out;

  shields, out; engine, out! I'm a wallowing Hutt just hanging here in space."

  With the X-wing's scanners being dead, the R2 droid couldn't locate the TIE

  fighter if it was outside the droid's scanner range. Whistler informed Corran of

  this with an anxious bleat.

  "Easy, Whistler, get me my shields back first. Hurry." Corran continued to look

  around for the TIE fighter. Letting me stew, are you, sir? You'll finish the

  Korolev then come for me. The pilot frowned and felt a cold chill run down his

  spine. You're right, I'm no Luke Skywalker. I'm glad you think I'm not bad, but

  I want to be the best!

  Suddenly the starfield went black and the simu-

  lator pod hissed as it cracked open. The canopy lifted up and the sound of

  laughter filled the cockpit. Corran almost flicked the blast shield down on his

  helmet to prevent his three friends from seeing his embarrassed blush. No

  might as well take my punishment. He stood and doffed his helmet, then shook his

  head. "At least it's over."

  The Twi'lek, Nawara Ven, clapped his hands. "Such modesty, Corran."


  The blond woman next to the Twi'lek beamed up at him. "You won the Redemption



  The grey-green Gand nodded his head and placed his helmet on the nose of

  Corran's simulator. "You had nine kills. Jace is not pleased."

  "Thanks for the good news, Ooryl, but I still got killed in there." Corran

  hopped out of the simulator. "The pilot who got you threeCommander Antilleshe

  got me, too."

  The Twi'lek shrugged. "He's been at this a bit longer than I have, so it is not

  a surprise he got me."

  Rhysati shook her head, letting her golden hair drape down over her shoulders.

  "The surprise was that he took so long to get us, really. Are you certain he

  killed you?"

  Corran frowned. "I don't think I got a mission end message."

  "Clearly you have too little experience of dying in these simulators because

  you'd know if you did." Rhysati laughed lightly. "He may have hit you, Corran,

  but he didn't kill you. You survived and won."

  Corran blinked, then smiled. "And I got Bror before he got the Korolev. I'll

  take that."

  "As well you should." A brown-haired with crystal blue eyes shouldered his way

  Ooryl and Nawara. "You're an exceptionally good pilot."

  "Thank you, sir."

  The man offered Corran his hand. "Thought I had you, but when you shot out my

  engines, your missile caught up with me. Nice job."

  Corran shook the man's hand hesitantly. The man wore a black flight suit with no

  name or rank insignia on it, though it did have Hoth, Endor, and Bakura battle

  tabs sewn on the left sleeve. "You know, you're one hot hand in a TIE."

  "Nice of you to say, Mr. HornI'm a bit rusty, but I really enjoyed this run."

  He released Corran's hand. "Next time I'll give you more of a fight."

  A woman wearing a Lieutenant's uniform touched the TIE pilot on the arm.

  "Admiral Ackbar is ready to see you now, sir. If you will follow me."

  The TIE pilot nodded to the four X-wing pilots. "Good flying, all of you.

  Congratulations on winning the scenario."

  Corran stared at the man's retreating back. "I thought Commander Antilles was in

  that TIE. I mean it had to be someone as good as him to get you three."

  The ends of Nawara Yen's head tails twitched. "Apparently he is that good."

  Rhysati nodded. "He flew circles around me."

  "At least you saw him." The Gand drummed his trio of fingers against the hull of

  Corran's simulator. "He caught Ooryl as Ooryl fixed on his wingman. Ooryl is

  free hydrogen in simspace. That man is very good."

  "Sure, but who is he?" Corran frowned. "He's not Luke Skywalker, obviously, but

  he was with Rogue Squadron at Bakura and survived Endor."

  The Twi'lek's red eyes sparked. "The Endor tab

  had a black dot in the middlehe survived the Death Star run."

  Rhysati looped her right arm around Corran's neck and brought her fist up gently

  under his chin. "What difference does it make who he is?"

  "Rhys, he shot up three of our best pilots, had me dead in space, and says he's

  a bit rusty! I want to know who he is because he's decidedly dangerous."

  "He is that, but today he's not the most dangerous pilot. That's you." She

  linked her other arm through Nawara's right elbow. "So, Corran, you forget you

  were a Security officer and, Nawara, you forget you were a lawyer and let this

  thing drop. Today we're all pilots, we're all on the same side"she smiled

  sweetly"and the man who beat the Redemption scenario is about to make good on

  all those dinner and drink promises he made to talk his wingmates into helping

  him win."


  Wedge Antilles saluted Admiral Ackbar and held the salute until the Mon Calamari

  returned it. "Thank you for seeing me, sir."

  "It is always my pleasure to see you, Commander Antilles." Without moving his

  head, Ackbar glanced with one eye toward the other man standing in his office.

  "General Salm and I were just discussing the impact of having Rogue Squadron

  back in the fleet. He feels you are all but ready to go. The unit roster is


  The brown-haired fighter pilot nodded. "Yes, sir. I wanted to speak to you about

  the roster, if I could, sir." Wedge saw Salm's face close up. "There have been

  changes made to the roster without my consultation."

  Salm turned away from the floating blue globe hanging in the corner and clasped

  his hands behind his back. "There are circumstances beyond your control that

  made those changes necessary, Commander Antilles."

  "I'm aware of that, sir. Lieutenants Hobbie Klivan and Wes Janson will do well

  bringing new

  training squadrons along." / didn't want to lose them, but that was a battle I

  lost a long time ago. "And I understand why half the slots in my squadron are

  going to political appointees ..."

  Ackbar's head came up. "But you do not approve?"

  Wedge bit back a sharp comment. "Admiral, I've spent a good deal of the two and

  a half years since the Emperor died touring worlds new to the Alliance because

  someone decided our new allies needed to see we had heroesthat we weren't all

  the bandits the Empire made us out to be. I gave speeches, I kissed babies, I

  had holograms taken with more world leaders than I ever knew existed. I was

  there as our propaganda machine built Rogue Squadron up into the needle that

  exploded the Emperor's Death Star balloons."

  The human General in command of the Rebellion's starfighter training center at

  Folor smiled coolly. "Then you do understand why it is important that our

  allies have representatives within our most celebrated squadron."

  "Yes, but / know the difference between a real fighter squadron and the monster

  you've made Rogue Squadron out to be. The Empire isn't going to lie down and die

  just because they see a dozen ships jump into a system."

  "Of course not."

  "But, General, that's what our diplomatic corps is suggesting. The Bothans want

  a pilot in Rogue Squadron because they found the second Death Star and we killed

  it. And I understand why having two Thyferrans is importantwe have to appease

  the two conglomerates that control bacta production ..."

  Ackbar held u p a webbed hand. "Commander, a question to the point is this Are

  the pilots selected inferior to other candidates?"

  No, sir, but . ..


  Wedge took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Luke would be telling me that

  anger isn't good. He's right, because anger won't get me any closer to what I

  want. "Admiral, I'm commanding a fighter squadron. We're an elite squadron and

  the only thing I want to change about it is our survival rate. You've let me

  have the pick of the new pilots coming over to us, and I've got a fine group of

  them. With some more training I think I can make them into the sort of unit that

  will strike terror into Imperial hearts. And," he added, nodding at General

  Salm, "I concur with the selection of all the pilots listed on the roster you

  have, except for twoRogue Fiv
e and my Executive Officer."

  "Lieutenant Deegan is an excellent pilot."

  "Agreed, General, but he's from Corellia, the same as me and Corran Horn. It

  strikes me that having Corellia overrepresented in Rogue Squadron is not

  politically wise."

  One of Ackbar's eyes shifted slightly. "You have someone in mind to replace


  Wedge nodded. "I'd like to use Gavin Dark-lighter."

  Salm shook his head adamantly. "He's just a Tatooine farm boy who thinks the

  ability to shoot womp rats from a speeder can make him a hero."

  "Begging your pardon, sir, but Luke Skywalker was just a Tatooine farm boy whose

  ability to shoot womp rats from a speeder did make him a hero."

  The General snarled at Wedge's riposte. "You can't mean to suggest this

  Darklighter has Commander Skywalker's control of the Force."

  "I don't know about that, sir, but I do know Gavin has every bit as much heart

  as Luke does." Wedge turned toward the Mon Calamari. "Gavin

  had a cousin, Biggs, who was with Luke and me in the trench at Yavin. He stayed

  with Luke when I was ordered to pull out. Biggs died there. Gavin came to me and

  asked to join my squadron."

  "What Commander Antilles is not telling you, Admiral, is that Gavin Darklighter

  is only sixteen years old. He's a child."

  "You couldn't tell it by looking at him."

  Ackbar's barbels quivered. "Forgive me, gentlemen, but determining a human's

  age by visual clues is a skill that has long since eluded me. General Salm's

  point is well taken, however. This Darklighter is rather young."

  "Is the Admiral suggesting that someone, somewhere within the Alliance, won't

  take Gavin in when we need to put someone in an X-wing cockpit? I don't think

  Commander Varth would balk at bringing Gavin on board."

  "That may be true, Commander Antilles, but then Commander Varth is far more

  successful at keeping his pilots alive than you are." Ackbar's even tone kept

  the remark away from being a stinging rebuke, but not by much. "And, yes, I

  know Commander Varth has never had to face a Death Star."

  Rogue Squadron's leader frowned. "Sir, Gavin came to me because Biggs and I were

  friends. I feel an obligation to him. Even General Salm will agree that Gavin's

  test scores are very goodhe'll do his Redemption scenario in three days and I