Authors: Aaron Allston
Tags: #Star Wars, #X Wing, #Wraith Squadron series, #6.5-13 ABY
Naval Lieutenant Jart Eyan looked rested and cheerful. The fact that he had only twelve minutes to live would have changed his disposition, but he did not possess that knowledge.
He descended the shuttle ramp to stand in the bay of the cruiser
and look around for a moment. When last he’d seen this part of the ship, many of the shuttles and utility vehicles within had borne the grime and combat scoring that were inevitable in any lengthy campaign. Now they were largely restored to shipshape state. The time
had spent in the repair yards of Coruscant had obviously been valuable.
Eyan was a Twi’lek, member of a humanoid species best known for the two fleshy appendages, called
, that hung from their heads where a human would have hair. Many humans forgot that
, more commonly referred to as brain tails, were sensory bundles, and often gave Twi’leks an edge in assessing their circumstances and possible threats being posed.
Eyan shivered. Ryloth, the Twi’lek home, was a hot world. On
, a ship engineered for a bridge crew of Mon Calamari, an aquatic species, the ambient temperature tended to be low enough to inconvenience him. The New Republic
officer’s uniform he wore was never quite sufficient to overcome this discomfort.
Still, he smiled, revealing a broad stretch of carnivore’s teeth. It was good to be back.
An aide, a human female, approached him and saluted. “Welcome back, sir. I hope you enjoyed your leave.”
“Oh, certainly.” Eyan frowned for a moment, trying to remember just what he’d been up to on his leave, but the moment passed. His gesture took in the vehicle bay and indicated the vessel as a whole. “What sort of shape is she in?”
“One hundred percent, sir. All the admiral has to do is point, and we’ll be on our way.”
“I wanted to let you know, you had a communication from your wife come in a few minutes ago. It was flagged as urgent.”
“Is the captain on duty?”
“Not now, sir.”
“Good. I can see to this message before I’m officially on duty again.” Eyan nodded thanks to the aide and headed for his quarters.
What could be the trouble? He’d barely left her—as with many New Republic officers, he’d moved his family to Coruscant after being assigned to the former Imperial throneworld.
Barely left her after spending his entire leave with her, too. But he frowned, trying to recall just how they’d spent their time together. The memory wasn’t coming in too clearly. He had the nagging feeling that something important was slipping by him.
At his quarters, he brought up his personal terminal and opened his mail. In addition to numerous messages related to his duties, there was the priority-flagged message from his wife. He brought it up.
There she sat, in the tacky red high-backed chair that sat before their terminal at home, and she looked distinctly unhappy, her greenish skin a little more pallid than it should have been. She glanced over to the side as though consulting with someone outside recording range. “Jart,” she said, “those Wookiees are dancing in the parlor again.”
Eyan switched off the message, not bothering to hear it in its entirety, and erased it. His fingers typed commands into the terminal keyboard. He watched the process, momentarily interested in how he could be so swift, so sure, and yet have no idea what he was doing.
, he thought.
How unpleasant. Those blasted Wookiees are dancing in the parlor again
. He retrieved his personal sidearm, a small but powerful blaster pistol, and checked it to make sure it was fully charged. He tucked it away in his pocket and departed, certain in what he needed to do to get rid of those dancing Wookiees.
“In terms of pure strategy, there was nothing of particular interest between the capital ships in the
Mon Remonda/Iron Fist
fight.” The speaker was a Gamorrean, one of the pig-snouted humanoids known for their warlike dispositions, but almost nothing but his appearance characterized him as a member of that species.
He was speaking Basic, which was beyond the capabilities of other Gamorreans. And his voice was not a natural one; his words emerged twice, once in a throaty babble that sounded like gibberish to most people, and once in a mechanical tone from an implant in his throat. Too, he was the only Gamorrean known to wear a New Republic Fleet Command uniform.
On the shoulder of his orange pilot’s uniform he wore a unit patch that was much cleaner, much newer than the rest of the uniform. The main element of the design was a white circle, over which, in light gray, appeared the central symbol of the New Republic, a design like a stylized bird with upswept wings. Over that were twelve X-wing silhouettes, as if viewed from above, in black; one, in the lower left portion of the circle, was large, and the eleven arrayed around it were a third its size. All were oriented the same direction, from lower left to upper right, as though flying in tight, precise formation. Around the white circle was a broad blue ring bordered by two narrow gold rings. It was a brand-new unit patch for a nearly brand-new force, Wraith Squadron.
The being the Gamorrean addressed across the holotable was also unusual, though his kind was certainly well represented
in the ranks of the New Republic military. Admiral Ackbar was a member of the Mon Calamari species, humanoids with fishlike features and rubbery skin. Though there were many Mon Calamari serving the New Republic, few had naval combat maneuvers named for him or had designed fighter craft as Ackbar had.
“Essentially,” the Gamorrean continued, “we gave Zsinj only one course of action to take if he were to preserve the
.” He gestured at the replay of the deep-space naval battle being projected above the holotable. “You see his maneuvers to keep
between us and
. You see him slow his escape pace to stay with the crippled ship. All by the numbers, numbers our force dictated.”
Admiral Ackbar’s voice was low, gravelly, slightly more imposing than the standard for his species. “So you find nothing of interest in the engagement.”
“If you will forgive me, I did not say that, sir.” The Gamorrean manipulated the table controls to zoom the holoprojection view very close to the second of the two Super Star Destroyers. At this near distance, he and Ackbar could see that the mighty vessel was burning at innumerable points on the hull. They could also see swarms of starfighters, New Republic and Imperial, fighting above its surface.
“Mathematically speaking,” the Gamorrean continued, “there is much of interest in the behavior of the One Eighty-first. In addition to the fact that a demonstrably loyal Imperial elite squadron should not be working hand in hand with a rogue warlord like Zsinj, there is something odd in the way they fight.”
Ackbar’s face suggested curiosity. “We detected no oddity in our analysis of the recordings. But, of course, you were there.”
“If I may correct you, I actually was not. I was trapped on the hull of the
for most of that fight, trying to persuade my starfighter to start up. No, it was after you showed me these recordings that I noticed it. Individual fighter pairs tend to respond with an interesting sameness to specific attack patterns. See here—” The Gamorrean pointed to a pair of TIE interceptors characterized by horizontal red stripes on their solar
wing arrays. As a pair of X-wings approached from their rear, the TIEs broke off in a tight sweep to port and relative down, moving at an angle the X-wings couldn’t match.
The Gamorrean stopped the holoprojection, scrolled the viewpoint over to the
, and settled it on another pair of 181st interceptors. He advanced the recording as the interceptors cruised toward a pocket of combat, then set it to play at a normal rate. “Here, two A-wings from Polearm Squadron approach from the rear on the same vector. You see the interceptors break exactly the same way, the lead interceptor taking the higher position and the slightly shallower angle, the wingman going lower and taking a harder turn.”
“No. The angle of attack dictates the way they break. Only with the One Eighty-first, however. I’m not sure what it means.”
Ackbar leaned forward, his posture suggesting sudden interest. “Show me more.”
Lieutenant Eyan marched into the admiral’s outer office with his broad, meat-eating smile fixed on his face.
The admiral’s aide, seated at a desk outside the door to Ackbar’s office, returned the smile. He was a human male who looked as though he thrived on naval food and could stand to thrive a little less. He stood and saluted. “Welcome back, sir. You look as though your leave suited you.”
Eyan drew the blaster pistol from his pocket, thrust it into the man’s stomach, and pulled the trigger. The blast slammed the man back into his chair but was not as loud as it could have been, muffled by contact with the victim’s flesh. “It did,” he said.
Eyan reached past the still-twitching corpse to press a button on the underside of the desk. The door into Ackbar’s office opened.
The admiral looked up as the naval officer entered. “Ah, Lieutenant Eyan. Allow me to present Flight Officer Voort saBinring,
also called Piggy. He is a pilot of Wraith Squadron and a mathematical prodigy. SaBinring, this is Lieutenant Jart Eyan, security detail.”
Piggy rose to salute the naval office. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
Eyan returned the salute. “Likewise.” Then he pulled his blaster from behind his back, pressed it into Piggy’s stomach, and pressed the trigger.
It is remarkable
, Piggy thought,
the suddenness of it. One moment, perfect health. The next moment, perfect agony
. He could not see, the pain in his gut was so great, like a bonfire lit upon his stomach and eating its way through him, and he could barely hear. He knew he lay upon his back but couldn’t remember getting there.
I think I have only moments to live. Interesting
But the science that had altered him, giving him control over his emotions, giving him the mathematical acuity that had brought him to Admiral Ackbar’s attention, had not done away with all of the biological imperatives that came with being Gamorrean. Another voice rose within him, growing louder:
Live, die, doesn’t matter—kill him! Strike him until his bones are paste, rest your tusks upon the warm flesh of his throat, and tear it free! KILL HIM!
Piggy’s eyes snapped open. The assassin stood a couple of meters away, his weapon aimed at Ackbar, words forming in his mouth, words Piggy could not hear.
They didn’t matter. The Twi’lek hadn’t fired on Ackbar yet. Piggy reached beneath his left sleeve, and with a trembling hand drew forth a vibroblade like the ones most members of his squadron carried there. He thumbed its power on. Then he roared, a noise he knew humans to find intimidating, and threw the blade.
His target jerked at the sudden noise and spun to aim at Piggy. The vibroblade, instead of catching him in the chest, hit the blaster instead, shearing into the metal where barrel met trigger guard. There was a bright flash from the weapon and the assassin flung it away.
Piggy tried to stand but found that his shaky limbs were not making it an easy task. He saw Ackbar slam into the assassin from the side, the webbed hands of the Mon Calamari closing around the Twi’lek’s throat … but Lieutenant Eyan effortlessly wrenched Ackbar’s hands free and threw the admiral against the wall. Then, as deliberately as a diner sitting down to a meal, Eyan straddled Ackbar and closed his own hands over the admiral’s throat.
Piggy forced himself to his feet.
Time left … estimated ten or twelve seconds. Kill him kill him kill him. Hard to see. Tunnel vision. A side effect of shock. Tear one arm free and beat him until he shrieks for death. He’s strong, unnaturally strong
He walked, his feet unsteady, to Ackbar’s desk, and got his shoulder under the center portion. He heaved and it came up off the floor, though it nearly unbalanced him.
Good. I still have my strength. Hit him so hard members of his family light-years away cry out in pain and dread
He lurched into motion toward the assassin, lowering the edge of the desk as he built up speed, and was rewarded with his victim’s sudden perception of him, a look of surprise on the Twi’lek’s face.
Then he hit.
On the other side of the joining wall, the ensign leaning against the wall of the lounge, a human female, was suddenly flung forward. She slammed onto the floor, her cup of caf splashing as far as the boots of the ensign halfway across the lounge, and she lay there unmoving.
The others in the lounge looked at the bowed-in portion of metal plate that had once been smooth wall. One knelt beside the injured woman. The rest scrambled for the door.
Piggy dropped the desk so that it would not fall upon Admiral Ackbar. The motion was more languid than he liked. He didn’t seem to have any energy left.
He regarded his handiwork. The Twi’lek’s head was a quarter the width it should have been, a smashed mess that
pleased one of the voices in Piggy’s head even as it appalled the other.
Admiral Ackbar was struggling to rise. He was speaking. But suddenly Piggy couldn’t understand the words.
The Gamorrean fell over backwards as the heat and pain in his gut spread out to overwhelm him.
The two TIE interceptors banked, maneuvering in a wide circle as they scanned for enemies, and the lunar surface sped by beneath them.
To someone seeing them for the first time, these starfighters might have seemed comical. Their cockpits were unaerodynamic-looking spheres taller than a human. Projecting from either side of the cockpits were thick posts, the wing pylons, each about the length of the cockpit’s circumference. At the end of either pylon was a solar wing array, a curved, roughly oval wing with a deep notch cut out of the leading edge. Where normal TIE fighters were nicknamed eyeballs, for their spherical cockpits, in New Republic fighter slang, interceptors, with their narrower sight profiles, were called squints.