Authors: Aaron Allston
Tags: #Star Wars, #X Wing, #Wraith Squadron series, #6.5-13 ABY
But no one seeing them maneuver or fight would continue to think them amusing. Agile and fast, armed with four lasers each capable of punching through starfighter armor, they were among the deadliest tools in the arsenal of the Empire.
Not that Imperial pilots flew these two.
“Rogue Two, this is Leader. Comm check.”
“I read you.”
“Two unknowns now showing on my sensor screen at two-eight-five. Follow me in.”
“I’m your wing.”
The lead interceptor veered toward the distant blip, the second following hard, their maneuvers tight and sure. Within moments, the enemy—two tiny bright spots near the horizon—came into view.
“Two, the computer gives a tentative ID as one interceptor, one X-wing.”
“I read it that way. The X-wing is leading. Shall we get some separation, make them split up to cover us both?”
“Ehhh … not yet. Stay with standard Imperial protocols at first to make this a proper test.”
As the range meter numbers scrolled down to firing range, the oncoming starfighters opened fire. Curiously, the enemy TIE interceptor held in close behind the X-wing, dropping just beneath to fire, rising above to fire again.
The two interceptors bobbed and juked, ducking fire as they returned laser blasts. Their return shots slammed into the X-wing’s forward shields, dissipating meters short of the X-wing fuselage.
“Hey, I get it,” Two said. “You use the—”
Red laser fire from the X-wing hit him low on the circular transparisteel viewport. Two exploded in a bright flash, and Leader’s interceptor rocked, hit by gases swelling from the detonation. The enemy interceptor and X-wing sped by.
Despite his demise, Two kept talking, his voice floating into his leader’s comm unit like transmissions from a land of the dead. “Whoops, sorry, Wedge.”
“No problem, Tycho.” Wedge Antilles heeled hard to port, coming up behind the two attackers.
Instead of splitting up, with the faster interceptor trying to come up behind Wedge, the attackers had remained together, though they’d changed their formation: the X-wing was now in the rear, with the interceptor bobbing around just in front of it. It was tight, economical flying, and Wedge nodded. On their approach, the enemy interceptor had used the X-wing as a barricade, staying behind its shields except for the bare seconds necessary to line up a shot. The X-wing must have had most or all of its shield energy forward on the approach. Now, as they retreated, the interceptor was still enjoying the X-wing’s protection, and that starfighter’s shield energy would all be concentrated to the rear.
Wedge accelerated toward the pair, rising until he was slightly above their plane of flight. They knew he wouldn’t overfly them; he’d tuck in behind and fire at their comparatively unprotected rears until they were destroyed. So their tactic had to be to break at some point. The X-wing wouldn’t be able to outmaneuver him, so it would be the interceptor trying
to get in behind him. That meant they’d wait until he was engaged with the X-wing before breaking.
The computer graphic representing the X-wing jittered within his sensor screen, announcing a laser lock. He ignored it and began a shallow dive, dipping down beneath the X-wing’s flight plane as if to try a snap shot at the interceptor. But halfway into the maneuver he drew back on the yoke, sending him into a sudden climb.
And the enemy interceptor, rising past the X-wing’s nose in an effort to keep the X-wing between itself and Wedge, suddenly jittered in the same sensor screen. Wedge fired and saw the green flashes of three of his lasers connect with the interceptor’s engines. The squint blew out of the sky and Wedge jerked hard to port to avoid flying through the thickest part of the debris cloud.
The X-wing took advantage of his sudden dodge by peeling off to starboard, a hard turn—an obvious attempt to set up for another head-to-head pass. But Wedge switched his comm unit over to a general broadcast frequency and said, “Exercise terminated.”
The voice of Garik “Face” Loran, onetime boy actor for the Empire and now New Republic flyer, came back. “But I’m not dead yet.”
“Not exactly. Just curious.”
The vista of the lunar surface and the maneuvering X-wing faded abruptly to blackness. Wedge reached back to open the access hatch, situated where the twin ion engines were in a real TIE interceptor, and climbed out into overhead light.
The room was a large one, crowded with tables, chairs, and simulator units. Most were narrower units, the better to conform to the cockpit interiors of the X-wing, Y-wing, and A-wing starfighters used by the New Republic, but a few were spherical, such as the one Wedge had just vacated. The room was heavily trafficked by pilots, many of them in the New Republic’s orange pilots’s jumpsuits, and technicians in more somber colors. Most of the pilots were clustered around the various simulator units, monitoring the practicing pilots’ efforts on overhead holo displays.
Across an aisle busy with human traffic, Face Loran dropped nimbly to the floor and looked curiously toward Wedge. Wedge saw a female pilot trainee glance at him, do a double take, then flutter her hand over her heart as she whispered into the ear of a confidant. Face, with his strikingly handsome features, intent green eyes, and somehow artfully mussed black hair, often had that effect on women. Wedge waved him over.
They were joined a moment later by two other pilots. Flight Officer Lara Notsil, a lightly built woman with downy blond hair, was possessed of a delicate beauty that belied her intensity and skill in starfighter combat. Captain Tycho Celchu, a fair-haired man with features that suggested he’d weathered a lot of turmoil in his life, spoke first. “Why’d you kill the sim, Commander?”
“We were here to test the youngsters’s new combined-unit tactic,” Wedge said. “As soon as you and Lara went out, it became just another X-wing versus TIE exercise. There’s plenty of value in those, of course, but that’s not what we came here for.” He fixed his attention on Face. “What was your opinion of the effectiveness of your tactic?”
Face shrugged; he didn’t look happy. “Nowhere near as effective as I’d hoped.”
“You were presuming that experienced enemies would be so thrown off by the novelty of what you were doing that they’d be easy kills?”
“Presuming? No, sir. Just hoping.”
“Lara, your thoughts?”
“Well, one exercise isn’t statistically significant,” she said. “So anything I had to say would be premature. Irrelevant. But I think the tactic worked as it was supposed to. I received a lot of protection from Face’s shields on both the incoming and outbound legs of the run, in spite of the fact that you flushed me out pretty easily. I’d say it was effective.”
Tycho nodded. “I’d agree. But I think it’s a one-shot tactic. Usable only in paired head-to-head runs or when you have an X-wing/TIE pair going after a single target. It would be best used at the start of any engagement, then abandoned.”
“I’d say it’s worth further practice and analysis,” Wedge said. “Face, Lara, work up some automated exercises to give
all the Wraiths the opportunity to play around with this.” He checked the chrono strapped to his wrist. “Though not now. We have about ten minutes to get to our briefing. Dismissed.”
The two younger pilots saluted and headed off into the stream of traffic.
Wedge called, “Hey.”
The two turned, Face curious, Lara looking guilty, as if wondering if she’d forgotten to salute before leaving.
Wedge said, “Developing just this kind of tactic is one of the things I put Wraith Squadron together for. Good work. Keep at it.”
They smiled and continued toward the room’s main exit.
Most of the members of Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron were in their seats in the semicircular briefing amphitheater when Wedge and Tycho entered.
Wedge turned at the sound of Wes Janson’s voice. The eternally youthful pilot, executive officer of Wraith Squadron, was on his feet, aiming a datapad as though it were a blaster pistol, thumbing the transmit button with manic intensity. Wedge sighed and brought out his own datapad to receive the transmitted file. But Janson’s antics were a good sign. They suggested that the news Wedge was waiting for had arrived—and was good. En route to the main dais, he glanced at the Rogue Squadron executive officer, Nawara Ven, a distinguished-looking Twi’lek with brain tails arrayed artfully over his shoulders, and Wedge received a datafile from him as well. He glanced over the two officers’s transmissions as he stepped up behind the lectern, then looked up at the pilots before him.
Two squadrons, nearly at full fighting strength, the best pilots he could assemble and train. He felt a rush of pride at what he’d managed to accomplish with these two units, at the level at which they’d managed to perform, but he kept it from his face. “I have mostly good news to bring to you today. First and foremost, Piggy saBinring is responding well to bacta treatment, he has regained consciousness, and all indications are that he’ll enjoy a full recovery.” That brought applause and exclamations
of relief from the assembly. “Unfortunately, we still have no information about the assassin’s motive in attacking Ackbar. When the admiral asked him why he was doing this, the assassin said he, Ackbar, knew why. You know the assassin died in the attempt. His wife and children are missing, and the investigation is continuing.
is within a day of leaving repair dock. By this time tomorrow, we’ll be back in space and taking the fight back to Warlord Zsinj.”
That brought more applause.
, the mighty Mon Calamari cruiser that was the flagship of the fleet commanded by Han Solo, had taken significant damage in its recent duel with the warlord Zsinj’s own flagship, the Super Star Destroyer
. But Zsinj’s forces had suffered far more.
“Third, and directly as a result of this, you all have one last leave coming to you. Report to the shuttle bay at fifteen hundred tomorrow, with your bags packed and all your affairs settled; until then, you’re on your own. Enjoy yourselves.
“However, we can’t forget that the last time we had leave here on Coruscant, a covert unit probably belonging to Zsinj came close to assassinating the Wraiths. So we’ll follow these protocols. Civilian dress only. I know you Wraiths have just gotten your unit patches, but you’ll have to stow them during this leave. The more recognizable of you—you know who you are—should make some effort to conceal your features. Stay out of the bars pilots tend to frequent.
“Fourth, I have some changes to announce. The Wraiths have a new pilot for their roster—Targon, please stand.”
At the back of the amphitheater, a pilot stood, and the Rogues and Wraiths twisted to see him.
The new pilot was a Devaronian—grayish-skinned, with diabolic horns protruding from his forehead and fanglike teeth that would only cause appreciation in the heart of a carnivorous predator. His voice, when he spoke, was surprisingly deep and resonant considering his apparent youth. “Flight Officer Elassar Targon reporting for duty, sir.”
“Targon comes to us fresh from Fleet Command Academy; in addition to being a competent pilot, he’s a medical corps-man. Once again we’ll have a unit medic who can do more
than put on pressure patches and make squealy noises. And unlike the rest of you, he hasn’t yet had time to ruin his career or his mind.”
“Then he won’t do.” That was Janson. “Send him home. Get us another lunatic.”
“Excuse me!” The Devaronian pilot hopped up to stand in his seat, took a wide stance with one foot in the adjacent chair; he threw his arms back and chest out, posing like some superhuman hero from the most ridiculous of Face Loran’s holodramas. “Elassar Targon, master of the universe, reporting for duty!”
Wedge cocked an eyebrow at him. Interesting that a very junior officer would be willing to perform that sort of display in his first few moments with his new unit. Either the reputation of Wraith Squadron had convinced him that it was appropriate … or he was another complete maniac, and Fleet Command had found another mental case for his command. Despite the laughter erupting from the assembled pilots, Wedge clearly heard Janson speak again, “I withdraw my objection.”
Wedge returned his attention to the pilots. “Targon, sit. Pipe down, everyone. Fifth, and last, there’s going to be a little reorganizing to do within my squadrons.
“Until and unless we persuade Starfighter Command that we need to participate in another prolonged field mission, we’ll be with
on active duty. I’ve been put in command of the ship’s four fighter squadrons. I’m also transferring back to and assuming direct command of Rogue Squadron, effective immediately. I’ll still fly with the Wraiths, as well as Nova and Polearm, when circumstances and opportunities warrant, but I’m relinquishing day-to-day command.” He saw the Rogues’s good cheer continue, but the Wraiths sobered with the realization that their very best pilot was leaving them. Wedge continued, “Lieutenant Loran, attention.”
Face stood. Wedge saw a flicker of suspicion cross his face, but it disappeared quickly as the actor regained control of himself.
Wedge said, “This isn’t a permanent promotion—yet—so we’re not going to do anything to you that will leave permanent marks. However, it is my pleasure to confer upon you the
rank of brevet captain, which entitles you to command a unit such as Wraith Squadron. Congratulations, Face.” From a pocket he dug a semitransparent envelope, and this he tossed to the pilot. “Your new rank insignia.”
As the other pilots applauded, Wedge glanced among the other ranking pilots of Wraith Squadron, gauging reactions.
Wes Janson, who was the senior lieutenant in the squadron, was applauding and smiling easily. No surprise, as he had no real interest in command or, ultimately, in remaining with the Wraiths; he preferred to be just one of the gang back in Rogue Squadron, so this promotion of Face over his head was not threatening to him.
Kell Tainer, the biggest human in Wraith Squadron and, after Face, the most hologenic, also looked as though he were comfortable with the choice. Perhaps he had ultimately realized that, though he was a brilliant flyer and very capable technician, he didn’t have the temperament for or real interest in command.