Read Solo Command Online

Authors: Aaron Allston

Tags: #Star Wars, #X Wing, #Wraith Squadron series, #6.5-13 ABY

Solo Command (6 page)

BOOK: Solo Command
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“Ignore it,” Solo said. “I’ll bet you a hundred Corellian credits he hates that. No, wait.” He stood. “Chewie, get in here.”

The Wookiee squeezed in through the bridge door, looking quizzical.

“Here, take my chair.” Han helped his friend into the seat, which was far too small for him. “All right, put that message through.”

The comm unit on the command chair lit up. Even from his angle off to the side, Solo could make out Zsinj’s florid features, bald head, and exaggerated handlebar mustache. “General Solo,” Zsinj said, “I’m calling to offer you an honorable—what is this?”

Chewbacca reached down and tilted the screen up so its built-in holocam would broadcast his face instead of just his chest. He grumbled something at the screen.

“It’s, ah, Chewbacca, isn’t it? Please put your owner on.”

Chewbacca offered him an extended speech, nearly subsonic, bone-rattling. Solo smiled. It was an eloquent discourse on the ingredients that made up Zsinj, and not one of the ingredients was the sort that should be mentioned in polite company or during any meal.

“Wookiee is not among my many languages, you extruded fur thing. Where is Solo?”

Chewbacca returned to his discourse and Solo moved to stand beside Captain Onoma, taking in the officer’s sensor readings, his mind once again fully engaged by the battle.

“This is Leader. Break by squadrons.”

“Wraith One acknowledges,” Face said. “Good luck, Rogues.” He began a long curve relative up and to starboard,
taking him and the Wraiths toward one of the two
Carrack-
class cruisers in Zsinj’s group.

The Carracks were 350 meters long, looking like stubby metal bars with swells at bow and stern. Face knew them to be formidable opponents for capital ships; their batteries of ion cannons made it possible for them to disable much larger vessels. But the comparatively light number of turbolasers they carried gave the starfighters a chance at them.

The Wraiths approached their target from the stern. At Face’s command, they split into two units, Wraiths One through Six going to starboard, Seven through Eleven going to port. Stern turbolasers opened up on them even before they were within range.

“Fire at will,” Face said, “but make ’em count.”

Runt and Donos were the first of his half squad to fire, the blue streaks of proton torpedoes drawing an instantaneous line from the X-wings to the flanks of the cruiser. Face watched their explosions balloon against the cruiser’s side. He ignored the pure tone of his own target lock, twitched his pilot’s yoke over so his targeting brackets fell within the center of one of the torpedo detonation clouds, and fired his own remaining torpedoes. Then he looped away from the cruiser’s side, Lara tucked in behind him and to port. “Report,” he said.

“One, this is Seven.” It was Dia’s voice, barely recognizable through the usual comm distortion. “We have port-side penetration.”

“Ten is hit! Ten is hit!”

Face felt his gut go cold, and a quick check of his sensor screen showed that Janson, Wraith Ten, was no longer present. “Calm down, Eleven. Detail damage to Wraith Ten.”

“He’s not destroyed, One. An ion cannon hit him. He’s got no power, he’s ballistic.”

Face sagged in relief. “Ballistic toward or away from the cruiser?”

“Away, One.”

“Keep clear of him, Eleven. You’re active, you’ll draw fire toward him. Squad, continue report.”

“One, Five.” That was Kell; the sensor board showed him lurking closer to the cruiser than the rest of the squad. Face
supposed that Kell, maneuvering in a captured TIE interceptor, considered himself harder to hit than the X-wings … and he was right. Too, the TIEs had no proton torpedoes, so Kell had probably chosen the role of close observer in order to contribute to this battle. “Starboard impacts damaged the hull but did not, repeat, did not penetrate.”

“All Wraith X-wings,” Face said, “form up for a run on the starboard. TIEs, strafe the port side to keep their shields divided. Keep them honest.” He toggled his comm unit to the fleet frequency. “
Mon Remonda
, Wraith One. Please dispatch a shuttle with a tractor for pickup of disabled snubfighter.”

Face brought his X-wing around slowly, allowing the other pilots with functional X-wings to form up on him. Kell, Shalla, and Elassar, in their interceptors, were already beginning their strafing run against the port side. “Once more into the gauntlet, Wraiths,” he said, and nudged his yoke forward.

They dove toward the cruiser in loose formation, X-wings spread far enough apart that their evasive juking didn’t bring them in danger of collision. Streams of turbolasers and concussion missiles sought them, and Face heard a cry of surprise or pain from someone on his squadron channel.

Their proton torpedoes spent, at a half kilometer they opened fire with quad-linked lasers and continued firing and diving until the cruiser’s flank was almost all of the sky. Face hauled up on his yoke, felt the high-performance turn drag him deeper into his chair despite the best efforts of the acceleration compensator to protect him from the consequences of his maneuver. He saw the cruiser’s hull flash beneath him, saw columns of laser fire on either side—then he was clear and headed out to space again.

He spared a look at his sensor board. Ten Wraiths were still on the board. He breathed a sigh of relief—no additional losses. “Wraith One to squadron. Report damage. Ours and theirs.”

“One, Five. Starboard side also breached. I think we’ve gotten both power generators and I think some of the reserve cells. Parts of the ship are going dark. They’re not maneuvering.”

“Thanks, Five. Now get your rear end away from that
hulk before some gunner with a little power left decides to make fireworks out of you.”

“Acknowledged, One.”

“One, this is Four.” Tyria’s voice, level and calm. “I took a turbolaser hit, I think at maximum range. I have some wing damage.”

Face checked her position on the sensor board, then maneuvered to sideslip past her. She was correct; her port S-foils both showed laser scoring on their trailing edges. “Any system failures, Four?”

“Not so far, chief.”

“Keep me updated.” He toggled over to fleet frequency. “Wraith One to Rogue Leader. Target secure.”

Wedge’s voice came back instantly. “Good work, Wraiths. Rogue target destroyed.
Iron Fist
showing difficulty maneuvering. Stand by.”

“Acknowledged.” He switched back to squadron frequency. “Wraiths, form up on me. We’ll stay near Ten for the time being.”

On the bridge of
Iron Fist
, the Warlord Zsinj stood on the command walkway above the crew pit. He did not stare out the forward viewports, which showed only starfield along his enemy’s exit vector, but down into the screens of his bridge crew.

He was not a tall man, nor was he physically impressive. He was as round as any merchant gourmand, and his exaggerated bandit-style mustachios suggested that his self-image was quite different from the image he projected. The white grand admiral’s uniform he wore suggested a rank he’d never earned in service to the Empire, and those who knew that fact could not help but attribute to him the sins of pride and self-deception.

Only he knew how many of these attributes were affectations. False clues to persuade his enemies—and superiors, and subordinates—to come to incorrect conclusions about him. To underestimate him. Sometimes to overestimate him—that could, on occasion, be as useful.

Beside him stood the man in charge of his ground troops
and starfighter support, General Melvar. Zsinj was lucky to have found a kindred spirit in Melvar, a man who painted on the face of a dedicated sadist when confronting the outer world and then removed it, revealing features extraordinary only in their blandness, in the warlord’s company. Melvar could blend with any crowd on any world with his natural features, and probably had many more alternative identities tucked away than the score or so Zsinj knew about.


Mon Remonda
and the rest of his fleet are still coming on at full speed,” Melvar said. “But even with the two
Carrack
cruisers out and our maneuverability impaired, we should be able to give her a sustained broadside. If we concentrate on her power and engines, we’ll trap her here. She’ll never get far enough away from Levian Two to make hyperspace.”

Zsinj nodded absently. “Time until
Mon Remonda
is under our guns?”

A crewman shouted up, “Ships appearing ahead, a drop out of hyperspace. Three vessels, sir—a Mon Calamari cruiser, an
Imperial
-class Star Destroyer, and a
Quasar
Fire-class bulk cruiser.”

Zsinj sighed, vexed. He looked forward through the viewports, but couldn’t make out the new enemies. “I didn’t realize Solo had more of his fleet within range. Not that it matters. Enhance the view.”

A hologram appeared before a portion of the main viewport. On it were the three vessels his crewman had described. All three were turning to Zsinj’s port, exposing their sides, ready to fire on the oncoming Super Star Destroyer.

“They’re angling toward the escape vector
Mon Remonda
will take,” Zsinj said. “Toward our weak flank, where the
Carrack
-class cruisers have been knocked out. They’re going to line up so that we’ll walk into the worst of their damage if we adjust to continue our prosecution of
Mon Remonda
. But we’re not going to play their game.”

Melvar smiled. “I somehow doubted we were.”

Zsinj called down to his communications officer, “Send
Red Gauntlet, Serpent’s Smile
and
Reprisal
on ahead. Punch a hole in the defensive screen they’re throwing up. Bring the starfighters back to
Iron Fist
to act as our own screen.” He
turned to his weapons specialist. “Ready all guns. Tell them to fire on
Mon Remonda
as they bear.”

“Yes, sir.”

Zsinj straightened, smiling. “Solo really should have taken my call. He might even have survived for a while.”

Face saw the shuttle towing Janson’s X-wing disappear into one of
Mon Remonda’
s bays. The Wraiths’s three TIE interceptor pilots followed him in. He knew from comm traffic that the group’s A-wings were already aboard.

Then the leading edge of
Mon Remonda
came within gunnery range of
Iron Fist
. Turbolaser flashes by the hundreds lit space between the two capital ships. Far ahead, similar flashes illuminated the void between Solo’s Group 2 and Zsinj’s advance force.

Like a younger sea mammal sidling up beneath its mother,
Mon Karren
moved up below
Mon Remonda
, moving into the sea of turbolaser fire with her sister ship, her back to the larger vessel’s belly.

Zsinj felt his shoulders sag as he witnessed
Mon Karren’
s maneuver. “We’ve lost
Mon Remonda
,” he said.

Melvar offered one of his rare frowns. “They’ve just barely moved into our range.”

“Correct. But they’re collaborating to absorb our battery assaults, dividing the damage between them. And since I was foolish enough to bring back our starfighters to protect our engines—”

“They can concentrate their shields against us. We have nothing to batter their topsides with to keep them honest.”

“Correct.” Zsinj shook his head. “This isn’t going to go down in the history annals as a loss for me, Melvar, but it is a loss. One little mistake and Solo slips through my fingers.”

“Still, you haven’t lost anything but the ammunition and power you’ve expended.”

“True.” He leaned down to face his weapons officer. “Continue with the barrage until they make the jump to hyperspace. Not your fault, Major. Mine.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Still pensive, Zsinj turned away and headed out of the bridge. The rest of this battle was going to be mop-up; his subordinates could handle that. He needed to rest and prepare for the next engagement.

Solo’s fleet dropped out of hyperspace mere light-years from the Levian system and stayed in realspace just long enough to pick up the hyperspace-equipped starfighters and coordinate their next jump. Then they fled back into the comparative safety of faster-than-light speeds.

3

Tired but all present and accounted for—a rarity in full-scale space-navy engagements—the pilots of Wedge’s command gradually collected in the pilot’s lounge of
Mon Remonda
.

It was a large chamber with rounded corners, all the walls in antiseptic glossy white, all the furniture in white or blue or green. A fully stocked bar dominated one wall of the chamber, but its cabinets were, while the ship remained on alert status, all locked down, with only nonalcoholic drinks available to the pilots. The air was drier here than in the rest of the ship; none of the pilots of
Mon Remonda’
s four fighter squadrons was a Mon Calamari or Quarren, so they tended to adjust the environment to be more comfortable to land dwellers.

Donos took a comfortable chair in one of the curves that served the lounge as corners and watched the other pilots with interest. The Wraith Squadron pilots were jubilant, especially with the scare involving Wes Janson, but those of the other squadrons exhibited less cheer.

One of the Rogues—a woman with long brown hair, a trim build, and an intense manner—sat in one of what the pilots called egg-chairs. These seats were shaped like white eggs a meter and a half tall, with one side scooped away so someone could sit within, mounted on a post next to a terminal niche in
the wall so the pilot could turn his back to the room and do terminal work. Donos took a moment to recall her name: Inyri Forge.

The woman cupped her chin in her hand. Her brown eyes were glum. “He’s changed the rules on us,” she said. “We should have expected it.”

Tyria said, “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Forge gave her a look of evaluation, as though deciding whether to offer sarcasm or simple information, and settled on the latter course. “While you Wraiths were running around in disguise or doing your ground missions, we’ve been following Zsinj all over space. Into regions he controls, into New Republic regions he’s assaulting, wherever we can find signs of his passage. We find little hints we can’t afford to investigate, because many of them are false clues he’s leaving to lead us into a trap or waste our time and resources. We also find the remains of full-scale assaults, where we always arrive too late—he’s in and out before we can mount a response.

BOOK: Solo Command
3.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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