CHAPTER 1 Long ago in an galaxy far, far, away... Planet Sullust, Sullust System, The Outer Rim Territories The volcanic planet of Sullust, like many worlds recently have been freed from the oppressive Empire, yet newfound liberation has its own share of risks... Such is the case today, when an Imperial task force(one Imperial 1-class destroyer and four Arquitens-class light cruisers) entered the system without warning. Their purpose, to conduct an orbital bombardment upon on the inhabitants for supporting the rebels. The threat was grave indeed, since Imperial agents sabotaged the planetary shields just prior. This was to serve as a message to other seditious worlds, that the Empire was far from dead and more than capable of delivering retaliation. Standing on the bridge, looking out from the view-point, Captain Oren Tadian couldn't help but sneered in contempt at the welcoming committee in front of the planet. The New Repulbic naval defenses, stood between Sullust and Imperial judgment. As an old navy hand that served with pride since his academy, Tadian held great disdain toward the rebel scum for both professional and personal reasons. Arms crossed behind his back, Captain Tadian turned to his subordinate on the left and said. "Once in range direct all forward batteries to open on the enemy frigate to the right on my command. The cruisers are to maintain position to protect our flanks. We don't need the scum outmaneuvering us. Deploy all fighters and bombers and have them form defensive rings on the front as well." "Understood captain." Commander Jader replied in a crisp manner yet with a hint of eagerness in her voice while relaying the order. Oren couldn't blame the XO, ever since the disaster at Endor, they needed a victory however small. As the battle preparations took shape the captain noticed out of the corner of his eye a young ensign with a dark uniform standing near the defense on the left side, opposite of the walkway. To most the seem to be doing his task, checking on the readings on the datapad that he held, Oren didn't buy it. With a careful examination, he noted the sweat coming down the neck and the twitching fingers, sights that told a completely different story. Immediately the captain knew what it was really going on having seen that same look on many before. He walked up toward the section with no pomp behind him. The junior officer turned around and saw the captain appprorching now afraid that he was in trouble. Instead, Oren stopped in front of him, nodding with sympathy before continuing. "Son I know you're scared, this is your first battle, but we must perform our duties as men of the navy. Focus on the task at hand nothing more, nothing less. Or else I will have you relieved. Understood?" Shamed, the eighteen year old ensign gulped down his throat and nodded vigorously. Patting the young man's shoulder Captain Tadian returned to the command walkway and Jader followed. "Everything is proceeding as instructed sir. Hostiles are advancing." Looking out at the central viewpoint, Oren watch the rebel ships splitting into two groups. Each one was lead in the center by a Nebulon frigate and screened by one or two corvettes. The very sight of them disgusted the old officer all the more. "Fire at will." The destroyer's frontal guns came alive with salvos of emerald energy. Within a moment the frigate was struck in the center mass, pounding away at the shields. In reaction it's corvette escort engaged thrusters, firing their own shots at the steer of the Imeprial flagship, not so much to damage but to divert attention. "Shields holding, sir." "Stay on target commander. Our cruisers and TIEs will handle these smaller pests." Seventy-two TIE fighters and bombers poured out from the Destroyer's main loading bay like an angry hive of inspects, strengthening protection for their mother ship. Captain took a few moments of notice of the starcraft, engaging their rebel counterparts in front of his ship. He watched on as the fighters clashed in the far distance, only able to make out specks flashing with blaster cannons at one another in a dance of death. In all things considered, Captain Tadian was a traditionalist when it came to naval doctrine, battleships will always carry the day. In his mind Endor was an exception, a disastrous one to be sure but an exception, nonetheless. He fully intended on crushing the opposition before him to avenge the honor of the Imperial navy. An hour later... Oren Tadian frowned, torn between a mixture of satisfaction and frustration at the view he was witnessing. What remained of one Nebulon frigate and two corvettes floated aimlessly as noting more than chunks of debris on the right. However intermingled with the destroyed rebel ships were pieces of what had been two of his cruisers. Noting only that more than half of the TIEs were gone with the accursed rebels still with fighter support. Worse of all for the proud naval man was the last hostile frigate heavily damaged but still firing back. Screening it was the elusive Coreillian corvette and the surviving starcraft that flew from one side to the other. Their effort will be in vain he concluded but even it had cost him dearly. The sight of what once was two Imperial light cruisers, rendered nothing but wreckage reminded him so bitterly along with the remnant of the TIEs. Captain Tadian sighed then ordered out loud. "Full speed ahead and fire everything." "Captain they're crippled, we can let the remaining Arquitens and bombers handle them and proceed with our objective." Twisting around the senior officer gave a stone cold stare back toward his subordinate. "We can accomplish both tasks with this destroyer. Now do I as command, full speed ahead and have the batteries ready." Jader with great reluctance written over her expression, silently nodded in acknowledgment and repeated the order to the crew. The star destroyer increased its speed, advancing toward the battered rebel picket line, with its remaining escort. Tadian rubbed gloved hands in anticipation for the coming destruction that would be wrought upon these insurgents and then their Sullustan collaborators on the surface. The captain closed his eyes, the memories of what he lost flooded in, before looking up back at the enemy defenders with utter hatred. I had sooner have myself devoured by a rancor than to spare these terrorists from the justice they all deserve. The Imperial vessels and their collection of bombers and fighters began the final push to wipe out their struggling foes. Before they opened a new salvo a voice spoke up, it was the sailor at the scanner console. "Captain, ships coming out of hyperspace at our rear. Three of them!" Alarmed Oren looked back once from the walkway and watched Commander Jader, who shared a concerned expression approached the scanner console with a more worried sailor siting there. The second in command narrowed her eyes in examination before she called back to the captain. "Sir...its the rebels." ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Meanwhile the said Republic reinforcements in the form of a MC80 star cruiser, the Saber flanked by two old venator-class destroyers, one on each side flew toward the battle. They had been on patrol in a nearby system when alerted of the situation from an earlier message. Inside an ever active docking bay of the Saber was a certain X-Wing, piloted by a blue skinned and red eyed alien. His name was Forim Viridux from the Core World of Duro. He wore the typical orange flight suit and with a more unique black helmet, while sitting in the cockpit of his fighter waiting to hear the order to deploy. Outside a group of technicians made their last-minute preparations on his fighter, as it was being done to the other craft throughout the bay. Forim sat there in silence, mentally preparing himself for what is to come. He stared at the front of the cockpit like aimlessly, his right gloved hand shaking uncontrollably. The twenty-one-year-old pilot had fought in a multiple of engagements so far, mostly light scale raids and skirmishes. It was however more than enough of a harrowing experience to help him wise up as a fighter pilot...and give him repeated nightmares. The young Duros tighten the struggling hand into a fist and then took a deep breath before releasing. Get a grip, your squadron needs you. With that thought in mind Forim decided to keep himself busy by rechecking the controls, a useful diversion. Soon enough, Captain Darda Sen spoke through the intercom to the crew. "All hands prepare for battle stations and launch all fighters." Pal, his emerald painted astromech, in the fighter's back seat commented in binary [This is it.] Smiling, but pretending annoyance, Forim replied, "Don't remind me buddy." Soon the X-Wing lifted up from the ground and the landing gear closed. Forim directed the starfighter forward then turned, following the rest together like a flock of birds out of the bay on the right. They detected the massive dogfight between their fellow rebels and the hated Imps in close space to the star destroyer and its remaining cruiser protection. "Lock S-foils in attack position." The Duros pilot ordered his squadron who quickly complied. His X-Wing spread its foils open, giving his fighter its trademark X mark shape and widening the range of its laser cannons. Leading Able squadron in front of a loose triangle formation, Forim charged into the dogfight. The Duros pilot twisted his ship in a loop, diving toward a TIE interceptor, whose pilot seemed too distracted from the incoming peril. Viridux squeezed down the trigger, rapid fire burst forth upon the Imp's cockpit from above. In an instant, the enemy was gone in a cloud of derbies. Forim's first kill of this engagement and yet he did not celebrate for both feeling hallow about it and an urgent need to stay on task. Moments later his shields were downed, dodging and twisting to stay alive. The leading cruiser Saber made its way at high speed just as Forim Viridux flew up within range of its outer edges. Soon he witnesses from the side of his cockpit's viewpoint, the rebel cruiser and the Imperial destroyer exchanging volleys of turolasers at one another. Red and emerald tracers shot back and forth, igniting explosive bursts in the hull of each vessel. The scene was breathtaking, needless to say, until he remembered that people are dying from the broadside duel. Then Captain Sen called in once more. "Saber to flight leaders, Able and Bravo get your squadrons back in formation and escort us in, we're starting our attack run toward the Destroyer. Marking nav point theta." Complying, Forim lurched out of the massive dogfight and made his way in an escort formation for the Saber on its right starboard. Following him was ten X-Wings out of the original twelve in Able Squadron. "Ables, when we engage again stay close proximity to your wingman as much possible. Able Two you're with me. Our objective is to protect the Saber from bomber attacks as it intercepts the enemy destroyer." "Copy Able leader, following you now." When finished, Forim watched the main vessels of rebel task force open up on the destroyer's left board-side to save the corvette under assaulted by it. Soon the remaining enemy fighters and bombers swarmed in for a counter-offensive toward the Saber. Just as that happened Able and Bravo squadrons dived toward the hostiles, Forim couldn't help but think. Here we go again. Forim lost visibility of Able Two but it couldn't be helped, this second round of the dogfight was even more intense than the first. His fighter shook violently on impact from enemy fire, decreasing the shields. Viridux had no time to shoot back, instead spun down and quickly went left, then right to shake off the pursing fighter. Suddenly the hunter became prey when one of Forim's squad mates Bol Icab aka Able Four swoop in overhead. Letting loose a barrage Bol disintegrated the chasing enemy into noting but metal pieces. "Thanks Bol I owe ya." Forim said, his face beaming with gratitude. "No problem Viridux but we still got a fight to win here." "Acknowledge...form up on me." Bol complied and together they flew together out of the main fighting before making an attack run on a stray enemy bomber. Once locked on target, Forim blasted shot after shot till the Imp's rear was filled with gray smoke. The hostile pilot attempted to dodge out of his line of fire only to be destroyed by a proton missile, courtesy of Bol. All was left but an explosive cloud and wreckage in its wake. This reminded Forim that no matter how skilled or talented one flyer is, the teamwork of two or more similar pilots was far better. "Saber to Able squadron, we have a flight of Y-Wings, their target, the destroyer's bridge. They need fighter support. Uploading their positions to your HuD, nav point Delta." "Understood, Captain, over and out. Alright Able, ya heard him we got babysitting duty, regroup for the directed coordinates in wingman pairs." Once acknowledged, Forim and Bol complied with the new guideline on their HuD and were soon accompanied by the rest of their unit. The X-Wings flew in pairs and then formed into an arrow formation. With his fighter leading, Viridux looked toward the sensors to check how many pilots were left in the squadron. Eight...lost another one, Zio Rosen, a human smuggler from Garel who only been with them for about two months now. Forim squeezed his knuckles tightly, remembering the other night when they shared drinks and swapped stories together. Another pilot dead under his command, Forim grew more determined in that moment to do his best to keep the others alive. Able Squadron soon linked up with the allied bombers at the nav point... ______________________________________________________________________________________________________ From an inevitable victory to an outright disaster. Captain Tadian lowered his head for a moment, knowing he was accountable for this debacle. He could only stand there, seemly motionless viewing out the widow. Sparks ignited across the now damaged bridge and the whole ship shuddered with each enemy salvo bombarding the hull, yet the elderly captain kept his footing. All around he can hear the staff updating the situation in tones filled with dismay and suppressed panic. "Most of our turrets are gone." "Bridge deflector shield is shot up to hell." "Sir hull breaches in sectors five, nine, three, and twelve." "Engines failing!" Tadian bowed his head again, ashamed of the massive blunder he had wrought. There was noting to salvage the mess, but to go fighting to the bitter end. Hopefully we take more of them with us by then. Subsequently, the captain spotted the junior officer he rebuked eariler, putting up a bolder front than before, watching through the viewpoint with growing despair. Just looking at the frightened young man cut at the veteran's heart. It reminded him painfully of Serin, his fallen son who was killed years ago by the rebels. Walking toward him, Captain Oren Tadian then whispered. "You don't need to die today ensign. Go, head for the escape pods, no one will stop you." Stunned the ensign tried to protest but Tadian stopped him. "That is an order." Gulping down nervousness down his throat, the junior officer finally complied and saluted the captain who returned the gesture proudly. Tadian observed the boy go, moving briskly through the walkway and then turned a corner. Satisfied he may have spared at least one life from this slaughter Captain Tadian focus back on the battle outside. Footsteps were heard behind him followed by a familiar voice. "Well done sir, you have given him a chance." Commander Jader’s compliment, caused Tadian to sigh. "Forgive this foolish old man Jader. As an commanding officer I had failed you all in my arrogance." "With all due respect Captain, you're only human. I understand why you did it, but we can't alter that course now. We'll see this through to the end whatever the outcome, just like you taught me." Tadian sadly smiled at the last comment, remembering when Jader was first assigned to this ship. Glancing over his shoulder to Jader, he then confessed. "You and the others are the best crew that a captain can ever hope to have." "It's been a privilege sir." Commander Jader answered back, beaming with sadden pride. That expression grew into alarm however, when she looked at what's coming toward the bridge. Turning back the captain bore witness to a flight of Y-wings, flanked on both sides by X-Wings in escort formation speeding right for them. Some of the remaining turoslasers attempted to blast the attacking craft, but the rebels were too fast, evading the green themed barrage with ease. All of the bombers then unleashed their payload of proton torpedoes in the last few seconds. Captain Tadian had only a moment to shut his eyes, accepting the fate now before him and whispered. "I will embrace you again my son..." ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The enemy bridge exploded in massive fury as the bombers and their escorts scattered as a school of fish. Giving out a wild cheer at the sight, Forim and the other pilots increased thrusters' speed and reentered the dogfight nearby. The destroyer began to sink with several escape pods blasting away from it. Unhindered, the Saber and it's two escort cruisers concentrated their firepower on the headless battleship. Forim glanced to the side, as one cruiser advanced on the left and the other below on the right and the Saber in front above the drifting enemy vessel. Without hesitation the trio punched through the Imperial hull with concentrated firepower in three directions. Within minutes the Imperial flagship's center mass erupted with furious fire, tearing it into two. Such a view stunned Forim so much that he failed to realize how dangerously his X-Wing was a moment later. As if a mighty hand swapped him, Forim's fighter lurched back by the sheer force of the capital ship's destruction. Spinning violently out of control the blue skinned pilot tighten hands on the flight stick in a vain effort to regain balance with Pal beeping frantic calls. Grimacing in both pain and fear then the alien ace shouted back. "I know, I know Pal just hang on!" Tumbling and spinning nonstop, Forim's vision blurred, helpless within the confined space of his cockpit. Soon his consciousness began fading to the mounting pressure of the g-force. No stay awake, stay awake. In spite of his defiant spirt, the will of the body was absolute and Forim slumped over, passing out. Three hours later... Slowly but surely Forim began to wake, opening his red eyes and moaning from a newfound headache then the familiar sound of Pal erupted close by, real close. "Huh?" Viridux blurted out and stood up. Much to his surprise the ace found himself in bed aligned with similar cots. Several were occupied by other Republic personal in various states of wounds in a large white room. He twisted his head to the left and saw little round green plated Pal chirping with palpable excitement. So I lived. Thank the force. Breathing a sigh of relief, Forim then shushed at the droid. "Me too buddy but please tone down it. My head hurts." In reaction the atstromech clicked and squeaked with a sound clearly sarcastic in nature. Rolling his red eyes Forim replied. "Only you would remind me of that business on Rodia." "You both can keep it down. There are other patients in here after all." Looking up the squadron leader Viridux saw a yellow Twi'lek female aged around forty years in an doctor's uniform with a polite rebuke written over her face. Embarrassed Forim shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. "My apologies Doc. Ya recall how we are when together." "I'm intimately aware of the fact Mr. Vidirix. All the same be little more quiet." Doctor Tiliah Kiba retorted in an exotic accent that clearly marked her origins from Ryloth. Nodding in acknowledgment, questions popped up in his mind and looked at the medic she spoke up first. "Before you ask Mr. Viridux, yes your squadron is okay, Bol Icab is keeping them occupied for the time being. Also your injuries, it is nothing major, you will rest here for the time being doctor's orders. By the way Carla, the mechanic has a few choice words for you given the state of your fighter." Uttering a short chuckle Forim looked down the floor and commented. "Go figure. So what happen after the destroyer blew up? I imagine we won." A weary sigh escaped Doctor Kiba in reply. "We did save Sullust but the remaining Imperial vessels refused to surrender or retreat. They keep on fighting until wiped out, not before inflicting further casualties us. Me and the staff will be busy for a few rotations..." Upon that those last words the Twi'lek medic fell silent with both Forim and Pal joining her. Then Kiba gave a slight nod to the both of them, and went back to work. The young Duros had mixed feelings about what they suffered in spite of having only few of the details. At least we spared Sullust further misery. It must count for something. Thinking that young flight leader just hoped all these madness would end. He didn't want to keep losing friends like Zio. From the widow on the far left, the squadron leader could clearly observe the drifting pieces of vessels Alliance and Imperial alike, floating in the dark vacuum of space. "One day, one fight at a time." He reminded himself and laid his head back on the soft pillow and tried to get some sleep.