"Feet First Into Hell" by Alexander Thorne

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Date: 50:1 (15 years after the Battle of Yavin)

New Republic Military Headquarters, Coruscant

Thorne flipped a small vibroblade over and over in his fingers. The day was wet and depressing. He was grounded for the moment, after his last assignment resulted in his ship being badly damaged. It was still being repaired.

"What's the matter, Thorne? You seem down," came the voice of Firlo Antilles. Firlo was the commander of Alex's squad.

They were the 237th attack squad, currently operating primarily in the Outer Rim, cleaning up the Imperial Remnant. Firlo was known throughout the New Republic Military as an experienced and almost heroic commander. Alex was the team's pilot and made sure they got in and out safely. Firlo despised titles; he would allow certain freedom from them. Unlike other officials, calling Firlo by his first name wouldn't gain you a week cleaning the refreshers.

"I'm a little worried about the Demon's Tooth," Alex answered, putting down the vibroblade. The Demon's Tooth was a YT-1930 that was owned personally by Firlo. He had painstakingly petitioned to have it used by his squad and after several years managed to get it approved. It was heavily but legally modified to operate as a military transport. Alex was its pilot and was constantly afraid of damaging it and losing Firlo's respect. So far, that hadn't happened.

"Don't worry, mate. It's survived worse and it's not your fault. You did get us all out of there! That was an accomplishment. Not many pilots can get a freighter like that away from a Star Destroyer!" Firlo said, approaching Alex and patting him on the back, like a father would to a favourite son.

"Are you kidding? A monkey-lizard could have piloted that brilliant machine away from an entire Imperial fleet, the way you've modified it," Alex said shortly, as he began fiddling with the vibroblade again.

"Well, consider yourself equal to a monkey-lizard," said Darick Marlo as he entered the room. Darick was the squad's demolitions expert and had a habit of acting rather unprofessionally.

"Easy Darick, you don't need to get your ass beaten on the simulator again do you?" Alex asked as Firlo began laughing at the two.

"Quit fighting, you're like a pair of Gamorreans. I think it's time for some food," said Firlo, as he stood up and moved towards the door. "That's an order," he said looking back at Alex and Darick, who hadn't moved.

With a few grumbles and a reluctant "yes, sir", the three of them headed to the mess hall.

Rec Room, twenty minutes later

Alex walked into the room with Darick close at his side. It was empty, which meant most soldiers were probably sleeping.

"Grab yourself a console, Thorne. We've got some time to waste," said Darick as he swiped his ID card through a gaming console on one side of the room.

"Alright, but this time you're going down," Alex said, choosing an A-wing as his starfighter. A-wings interested him immensely. He preferred speed rather than fighting capability. This was why he was with the army instead of the starfighter corps. This way he wasn't required to hang around.

These consoles were much like the simulators used by starfighter pilots, although they were much less realistic and were controlled by basic joysticks and buttons rather than a simulated cockpit. They could also be bought privately, while professional simulators were usually reserved for official training.

The screen flashed to life, displaying a starry background. A metallic voice started to speak.

"Welcome. Please choose destination."

"Corellia," he said clearly, as he made himself familiar with the location of all the various buttons.

"Loading now," said the voice, as Alex's home planet appeared in front of his ship. The sim room had disappeared completely now and he could see a system that resembled Corellia.

"Welcome aboard Thorney," said Darick. "How did I know you'd choose Corellia?"

"Well, I figured our home system would be interesting," Alex answered. Darick remained silent and Alex grinned. His starfighter started moving and he gripped the controls.

"Where is that pile of bantha poodoo?" he asked nobody in particular.

He sped up and flew at high speed, searching desperately with his eyes and his scanners, for any sign of the B-wing he was so desperate to destroy.

"There you are," he said, as his scanners started to flash. No doubt he had already been spotted. Hopefully, however, the B-wing wouldn't be fast enough. He could now see Darick's fighter approaching as a small polygon. He quickly started to move evasively. A few good shots at his cockpit and his A-wing would be gone.

The B-wing started firing at him rapidly. Alex tried to dodge the blasts, but two or three hit the side of him.

"This will be easier than usual!" said Darick. Alex could imagine the smile on his face. He quickly sped away, trying to regain some form. He didn't want to lose again, or Darick would never let him forget it.

The B-wing had disappeared from his sensors.

"Where the heck are you?" Alex said to himself. He slowed down to a crawl. His eyes probed every corner of the black abyss.

Suddenly, a small flash appeared, heading towards him. With a gasp, Alex sped up and narrowly avoided the proton torpedo.

"Honey, I'm home!" cried Darick, as he began to fire rapidly.

Alex spun up and twirled down repeatedly. So far he had managed to avoid every single bolt the B-wing had fired at him. "Watch where you're firing! We're on the same team!" he yelled into the comm.

"What the heck are you talking about, this is a simulation!" Darick exclaimed, a hint of confusion in his voice. He stopped firing.

That was all Alex needed.

Alex stopped twirling and sped directly at the B-wing. He lit up his blaster cannons and watched as the B-wing burst into flames.

The computer voice was heard once more: "Simulation terminated. Winner: Player Two."

As Alex quickly slipped out of the room, he could still hear Darick yelling behind him.

237th Attack Squad Barracks, two hours later

"That's why I think the army is more useful than the navy!" Darick finished, with a proud tone, apparently still upset about his previous loss to a starfighter.

"You're full of it," said He'ath, the squad's medic and only member who wasn't human. He'ath was a Sullustan and really knew his stuff. He had patched Alex up after multiple blaster wounds and had him in a good enough condition to fly them back to a New Republic medical station.

The remaining squad members were also in the room. Along with Darick and He`ath, there were Progg, Rean, Saem and Tias. These were the squad's rifleman, sniper, heavy weapons and slicer respectively. Thorne was the youngest of all of them and the least experienced.

"Anyway, how much longer are we going to be here? Coruscant is so boring. Especially since we aren't allowed to leave the military compound," complained Rean for the twentieth time since he woke up.

"We don't know, we're still waiting for the Demon's Tooth to be patched up," Alex answered from the top bunk.

"Oh, didn't realize you were in here, Thorne. Thought you'd be sticking up for the navy," said Darick as he shot Alex a dirty look.

"You know I'm an army pilot," Thorne said bluntly.

"Sure I do," Darick sneered.

"Hey, leave Thorne alone, it was because of him we got out of that last one alive. Those damn Imps came outta nowhere," Progg said, defending Alex.

"Alright, alright. I was just having a bit of fun."

Alex stopped listening to Darick as he started going on about the squad having no sense of humour. Frankly, Alex couldn't wait until they were back in the Outer Rim. The squad stopped squabbling when their lives were at risk. For some reason, a dramatic change always occurred while away from New Republic space. Each squad member became much harder and less like the real them.

It was true all right, war changed people. All people except for Alexander Thorne, however. It was usually him being yelled at for trying to be funny during tense situations.

The door slid open with the familiar sound, but Alex didn't notice it. He was lost in thought, as he usually was.

"Good news men!" started Firlo, who had just entered. He`ath cleared his throat loudly. "…and Sullustans," Firlo finished.

Everyone in the room turned towards Firlo and Alex stopped daydreaming.

"The Demon's Tooth is ready to fly!" he said, a large grin now finding its way onto his face.

There was a cheer from the squad, Alex smiled and jumped off his bunk.

"It's time to get out of here! I expect to see you all on the Tooth with all your equipment in exactly four hours. Alex, I want her ready to go by then," he said, as he saluted and exited the room.

"About damn time." "I thought we'd be here forever." "We're finally leaving!" said various squad members at the same time. Alex, however, had grabbed his pack and headed for the ship.

It was finally time to leave.

Demon's Tooth, four hours later

Alex felt the hum of the engines as he started the Demon's Tooth. He loved that sound. Firlo joined him in the co-pilot's seat.

"We're all ready to go. I figure it's time to head off," he said, without looking at Alex.

Alex fiddled with the controls and the ship lifted off. He effortlessly navigated it through the hangar and headed towards the atmosphere.

Coruscant really was a marvel of galactic technology. An entire city planet was a rare thing indeed. There were only a few in the entire galaxy. Alex watched with wonder, as he always did, as the ship exited the fascinating planet and joined the traffic in orbit.

"Where to now, sir?" he asked, feeling at home for the first time in days.

"We're heading to Dosuun and get ready for a fight," Firlo answered. "I'm going to give the briefing soon, so once we're in hyperspace, come join us."

Firlo left with that and Alex keyed in the coordinates. As the computer confirmed, the ship lurched. The stars streaked past and that old familiar swirling tunnel materialized outside the transparisteel.

Thorne stood up, gazed at the small display, which read "ETA: 8 Days, 3 Hours", and headed to the passenger quarters. He entered and joined the squad at their seats. Firlo was standing in front of them.

"We all good, Thorne?" asked Tias.

"ETA 8D3H," Thorne said, answering the question Tias had not yet asked.

"Excellent," added Firlo. "This next one is a doozy boys."

He pointed to a hologram that had just appeared in the centre of the room. It was of a planet. "This is Dosuun. Around six months ago, a Jedi was sent there for 'Jedi business'," Firlo said, echoing the old phrase used by Jedi whenever the military asked questions. "Apparently, they found a small Imperial garrison, which has taken over the local populace and is controlling the planet," he said, as the hologram zoomed in to reveal satellite images of a facility.

"Our mission is simple. We land, we check it out, we get back home and tell command if they need to send an entire invasion force," Firlo said, noticing some worried faces appearing among the squad.

"Shouldn't be too hard," said Progg, apparently trying to reassure himself more than anyone else.

"Not for us," said Darick. He was beginning to turn back into the demolitions expert, rather than the jerk.

"Alex, we'll need you to stay in orbit, in case we need a quick exit," Firlo said, turning his attention to Alex for the first time.

"Affirmative," Alex answered with a nod.

"Each of you will get private briefings, with the exception of Alex, as usual," he said, shutting off the hologram. "Get ready. We'll be there in two days."

Crew Quarters, Demon's Tooth, one day later

Alex gazed at his HoloNet screen. It was small and handheld, and never got any reception while they were in hyperspace. Alex hadn't stopped trying to get it working though.

"Oh, will you put that down, Thorne. You won't get it!" said Progg, as he returned from the makeshift gym.

"I can't stop trying. I'm bored out of my mind. I hate hyperspace."

"At least you aren't crammed into a starfighter though. They'd be murder in hyper," Progg said with a grin. It was a running joke in the army to label the starfighter corps as worse off.

"Maybe I'll go back to the cockpit, check to see if the ETA is still going down instead of up," Thorne said as he exited the room. It was one thing to be inside a cramped room alone, it was a completely different thing to be inside a cramped room with a person that smelled of hard work.

He made his way past Tias and Saem playing a game on the table that Firlo had installed and went straight to the cockpit. It was empty, as usual.

"You there, Stic?" he said as he entered.

"Of course," said the computer's AI. "Where else would I be?"

"Just making sure they didn't remove you when they fixed the Tooth," Alex answered. "It's not standard procedure to have an AI aboard a military ship."

"I have a few hiding places left," said Stic, in his emotionless voice.

Stic was named for a galactic sector, as were all the AI's designed when he was. Stic was acquired by Firlo during a game of sabaac, before Firlo joined the army. Probably during the Galactic Civil War, but Firlo had never told anyone.

"Can't you speed this bucket of bolts up?" Alex asked, sitting down in the pilot's seat and playing with his fingers.

"You've asked that twice today. The answer is still no."

Alex sighed and brought out his vibroblade. It calmed him to play with it. "Yeah, I thought it might be."

"You appear to be unhappy," Stic said, his voice remaining unchanged.

"Just a bit nervous. As always."

"Why would you be feeling nervous?" Stic asked, with absolutely no interest detectable in his voice.

"Just a feeling," Alex said, putting down his vibroblade and gazing into the blue tunnel. "I don't think I'll be coming back."

Dosuun, Outer Rim

Alex's stomach lurched. He was still nervous. It was times like these that his piloting skills went far above normal army pilots. However, he couldn't function at this level without that stress, so had never received any acknowledgment from command.

At this rate, he felt like he would be a private forever.

He stopped the ship in orbit of the planet, as was standard procedure. He flicked a switch and a video screen showed the squad members near the boarding ramp. They were all suited up and were cramming new power packs into their weapons.

Firlo noticed that the screen was on and looked into Alex's eyes. His gaze seemed to pierce Alex completely. It filled him with courage. It was a skill of his.

"We're ready when you are, Thorne. Just set us down and get back up here. Stay on our comm channel, so you know where we are," he said, as he did before every mission.

"Yes, sir," Alex answered.

"Keep your eyes open. I've got a weird feeling about this place," Firlo said quietly, so only Alex could hear him.

"I know what you mean," Alex answered while his fingers, somewhat automatically, moved to make sure his vibroblade and blaster were on his belt.

Alex moved the ship down to the planet. He noticed the facility and touched down nearby. The ship likely would have been seen by their scanners, it was now Alex's job to speed away and draw their major defences with him.

"Boarding ramp open!" Alex said into the video screen.

"Go, go, go!" he heard Firlo yell, as all the squad members disappeared down the ramp.

Alex waited. It was standard procedure to wait a minute or so before leaving, just in case there were a large number of hostiles outside.

"There we go, that's long enough. I'm taking off," he said into the comlink.

Static answered him.

"Firlo? I'm taking off," he repeated. Still nothing but static. He looked at the view screen. Now, all he saw was static. "That's not right. Stic, check the vid-feed," he ordered, as he started to check controls.

There was no response. It was like the whole ship had just died.

Alex swallowed hard. He drew his blaster and headed to the corridor. The ship was silent. Nothing moved. Alex felt a bead of sweat drip from his forehead.

"This is Alexander Thorne, New Republic Army. Please respond," he whispered into his wrist comlink.

No response came. Alex felt fear grip him. He was alone on a hostile world.

He poked his head around a corner and saw what he feared: a stormtrooper, carefully and silently searching through the ship for any beings that were still inside. Alex brought up his blaster silently and squeezed the trigger. The stormtrooper fell with a short yelp. He was dead.

"You aren't so tough," he said, with a cocky smile.

"Neither are you," responded a gruff voice. Alex turned around to see blue circles speed from a gun.

When they hit him, everything went black.

* * * * *

Alex woke up and was immediately met by the stench of decay. He opened his eyes, it took a few seconds to focus properly. His head hurt.

He was in a small cell. There was little light. The cell seemed to have a red laser shield on the roof, which was apparently the only way out. The walls were stained with aged blood, which had taken on a brownish colour. He checked his belt. He had nothing left but the clothes on his back.

It was deadly silent. Nothing was moving. It felt quite possible that he was the only thing alive in the entire facility.

He pressed his wrist comlink again. "This is Alexander Thorne, requesting assistance. Any beings receiving this message, please respond."

Static answered him yet again.

"Ah, you're awake," said the same gruff voice he had heard shortly before passing out. "I was wondering how long it would take you," he said with a short laugh.

"Where am I?" Alex asked, attempting to stand up but failing.

"You're on Dosuun, don't you remember? Your little squad landed here."

"Where are they?" Alex asked, as if he was the one with the power.

"Oh, they are still alive… Well, most of them are," said the voice. The speaker now appeared at the entrance to the cell. He looked down with a nasty smile at Alex.

"Let me out of here!" Alex yelled, finally managing to find his feet.

"Oh, of course we will. It's part of a little game our late master used to play," the figure said, as he started to laugh. "Basically, we give you the chance to flee. However, if you get caught, we bring you back to this cell and you rot for the rest of time," he said, overjoyed with another being to play with.

"Where is my squad?" Alex asked, as the gravity of the situation began to sink in.

"Well, they were given the same opportunity as you are being given now," he said, trying to contain his laughter. "Unfortunately, three of them have already been captured… and killed," said the figure, now laughing maniacally.

"Killed?!" Alex asked, fear creeping into his voice.

"Well, let's just say, they didn't appreciate being put back into their cells. So we needed to teach them some respect." With that, the figure withdrew and disappeared into the shadows. The only remaining sound was his laughter, slowly drowning away.

Alex felt his stomach twist. He was petrified. These were the exact moments being a pilot was meant to avoid.

"Get a grip on yourself Thorney. You can do this," he said, as he took several deep breaths.

A quiet hissing began. Alex spun around to discover the source of the sound. Yellow fumes had begun filling his cell. He gasped, unwillingly drawing the fumes into his lungs. He blinked a few times and then collapsed.

* * * * *

Alex opened his eyes. He was still inside the tiny cell. He hoped it had been a nightmare. If only. He looked up to where the shadowy figure was standing before. The red laser shield was gone. This was his chance.

It was dark, but his hands found their way to the rusty ladder rungs fused to the wall. He grabbed on to them and pulled himself out of the hole.

Once he reached the top, he was met by a further stench of decay. There were a number of other red laser shields, from what he assumed were cells dug into the ground. He headed over to one of them and saw a human skeleton. That was enough for him.

"I've got to get out of this place," he whispered.

He spun around and noticed what he expected was the only way out. He walked silently up to the door, which opened automatically when he got close enough. The room he was in overlooked all of the cells and there were video displays inside all of them.

He scouted around the room and found a blaster placed on the desk. It was obvious he was meant to use this to escape. He walked up to it and carefully checked it for any bugs or tracking devices. It looked clean. He grabbed it and headed for the second door. It opened as the first did, onto a large metallic corridor. It was dark and consumed Alex with fear.

Alex kept the blaster in front of him the entire way down the corridor. He couldn't help but wonder where his squad was, who had survived and would he?

Frankly, he could have cried.

He reached the end of the corridor without trouble and opened the next door into what appeared to be a deserted barracks. Bunk beds lined the walls. Stormtrooper helmets were frequent, though no armoured suits were visible. He searched the equipment and found multiple blaster power packs, but no powerful weapons. Obviously this was set up for him to find.

He kept his eyes open, believing that at any moment, a stormtrooper would jump out and kill him. The fear that had gripped him in the cell was increasing.

He placed the power packs on his belt and made sure the one inside his blaster was fresh.

"I suppose this is where the fun begins," he said to himself, his voice shaking with terror. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. His heart was beating at a rapid rate.

"This would be a lot easier to cope with if I were a Jedi… or even a soldier," he said, as if to reassure himself that he wasn't meant to be here. Almost as if he hoped they would release him for being a pilot.

Alex made his way to the next door. It opened and revealed a lush garden. Judging by the fresh air stinging his nostrils, he was outside.

His heart leapt with joy. He had made it back outside! Soon he would be back in his ship and on the way home. He started to run for the light, but then realized the obvious.

"This is too easy," he said, his joy immediately disappearing.

He dived behind the closest bush and peered out through the leaves. There were three stormtroopers, all waiting for him to come out of the door. Alex was lucky that they hadn't seen him come out. He pulled the blaster out and aimed carefully.

With three short blasts, each stormtrooper was dead.

Alex started to grin. He had never been very accurate with a blaster and he had just nailed three stormtroopers with three blasts. This might have been his lucky day.

He moved out from behind the bush and started to run along the pathway. His previous joy was short-lived, as he realized he was in courtyard and it was impossible to reach the outside. At the end of the path, there was another entrance, which led back into the giant metal fortress.

"I might make it. I've got to try," he muttered to himself. Another stormtrooper was guarding the door, but Alex disposed of him with two quick blasts.

He moved through the door and saw what he feared more than anything.

Tias, the squad's slicer, was lying dead on the ground. He had several burn marks, obviously from blaster fire, and the being that had killed him had broken his neck to make sure he was dead.

Alex covered his nose. The smell of decay brought tears to his eyes. It was obvious that Tias had been here for quite some time.

He checked the body for anything useful, closed Tias' eyes and stood back.

"Rest well, soldier. You will be avenged," Alex whispered, wiping the tear from his eye.

He was cut short, however, as the turbolift nearby made a noise indicating that it had just arrived on this floor. Alex ducked into a shadowy corner. He pulled out the blaster to see what it was. Two stormtroopers wandered out carelessly, chatting amongst themselves.

"Apparently they've taken down two humans and a Sullustan, not counting our little friend here," said one of them, kicking Tias' body. Alex felt his stomach sink. There were only three of his squad left. Including himself.

"Anyway, most exits have been sealed off. The only one still open is the one on level three. Leads directly to their ship too. Apparently a platoon of stormtroopers is waiting there though," said the other stormtrooper.

Alex took his chance when they both looked down at Tias. He jumped out and shot one, then rammed the butt of his blaster into the other stormtroopers head. The stormtrooper stumbled from the force of the attack and Alex shot him before he had a chance to respond.

"Level three. Too easy," he said, collecting their weapons.

He entered the turbolift that the stormtroopers had just left, with a gleam of hope beginning to surface in his stomach. He gazed at the floor selection panel. The turbolift only went from levels five to twenty.

"Darn it!" he yelled. After several curses, he decided on going to level five. The turbolift sped downwards at an incredible speed.

"This isn't so hard," he said, cockiness entering his voice. He moved into the room adjacent to the turbolift on level five, which appeared to be some sort of control room.

He looked through the camera and saw the Demon's Tooth outside. The stormtrooper was right; it was on the third floor, heavily guarded.

He began to turn away, when he noticed a small red flash on the camera. The stormtroopers had begun attacking something, something that was fighting back. Ten of the stormtroopers were already dead.

It was Firlo.

He destroyed the stormtroopers like they were fish in a barrel. Alex regained that familiar burst of courage. He ran out of the room and down the corridor, shooting any stormtrooper he met along the way. He was now determined to meet Firlo at the ship and get the heck out of here.

He screamed with rage as he turned the corner, startling the group of stormtroopers there. He mowed them down with the Imperial rifle he had stolen.

"This is why being a ground pounder is so much fun!" he cried.

He quickly found exactly what he was looking for: the turbolift labelled 'Levels 1-5'. He grinned, taking out another stormtrooper who was using it. Alex keyed the number three and felt the sensation of falling as the turbolift headed down to the desired floor.

He exited the turbolift still screaming with rage. He shot an entire squad of stormtroopers and then his rifle ran out of power.

Suddenly, all his courage melted away. He was defenceless and they now knew where he was.

"Great. I really should have picked up some extra power packs back there," he muttered to himself. He checked the stormtrooper squad that he had just neutralized. They each only had a single power pack, which were half used.

"Well, I suppose it's better than nothing," he said, removing them from the stormtrooper's weapons.

Alex walked down the long corridor. The Demon's Tooth was off one of these doorways, but if he took the wrong one, he could attract unwanted attention.

His breathing was short. He tried to stay as silent as possible. Alex found himself checking his rifle every few seconds, as if it would lose power while inactive.

"Hello paranoia," he whispered to himself.

Before long, he found exactly what he was looking for: 'Facility Exit – Docking Bay' hung above the door. He slipped through the door silently and was facing the Demon's Tooth.

"I did it!" he cried. He started sprinting towards the ship, when he felt a short, sharp burn in his leg. His face soon found the ground.

"Foolish, but you have managed to get this far," said that familiar gruff voice that he had heard multiple times today. "We'll have this one last challenge shall we? If you can kill me and my stormtrooper escort, then I will let you go."

Alex pulled himself to his feet and was met by a small man with crazy eyes and wild hair. He was wearing an incredibly tattered Imperial officer's uniform. He was accompanied by a guard of stormtroopers, about twenty of them.

Alex was sure he wouldn't be getting out of this one.

"Alright, I'll do it," he said, drawing his blaster from its holster and holding the rifle in his other hand.

"Wonderful, let the games begin," the crazy officer said, seemingly trying to hold back laughter. As soon as the sentence finished, Alex crouched and rolled behind a nearby cargo canister. He heard the familiar sound of laser bolt hitting metal.

"Kill him! He mustn't escape!" cried the officer.

Alex peered over the canister and squeezed both triggers. Three stormtroopers fell to the ground.

"Nice shot boy. Let's see you do it again," the officer taunted.

Alex attempted it again, foolishly. The officer managed to shoot the blaster out of his hand.
The rifle was also dry. Alex cursed loudly.

"Run Thorney!" came a familiar yell. Alex peered above the canister to see Progg jump into the group of stormtroopers and explode.

"Progg!" he yelled, at the top of his lungs. He grabbed the blaster and ran over to the site of the explosion. Everyone was dead. "That's the last squad member, counting… Firlo!" Alex cried, as he remembered his CO. He ran up the boarding ramp and his question was answered before he even had a chance to ask it.

There was Captain Firlo, lying dead with his hand still on the communications console.

Alex pulled Firlo into the lounge and laid him on the couch. He closed Firlo's eyes. For some reason, however, no tears dropped from Alex's eyes. His fear had subsided.

"Welcome back. I've been waiting for you," said the familiar voice of Stic.

"Stic?! I thought you were deactivated!" Alex said, a hint of joy detectable in his voice.

"No. It's in my programming to remain silent if boarded, so they don't check for me," he answered, as the engines hummed.

"Let's get out of here," Alex said. "It's been a terrible day for all of us."

The YT-1930 leapt from the planet and headed directly for Dosuun's orbit, its cargo considerably lighter than when it arrived.

* * * * *

As they approached orbit, Alex started to feel the impact of the losses he experienced on Dosuun. He had nothing left.

Then came his worst nightmare.

"Sir, TIE Fighters incoming," said Stic calmly.

"Oh right, I forgot about those Imps," he said, jumping to his feet. "How many?"

"Three squadrons," Stic answered.

"Three squadrons?!" Alex asked, almost as if the AI had been joking.

"Yes, sir. Three squadrons of twelve TIE Fighters."

Alex sank back in his seat. "It's been an honour serving with you, Stic."

"Sir, I wouldn't be resigning all hope yet," said Stic, in that same annoyingly calm voice.

"Why is that?" Alex asked, almost rhetorically.

"Two X-wing squadrons and two A-wing squadrons approaching."

"What?!" Alex asked, shocked.

"YT-1930, This is Lieutenant Opus of the Mon Calamari Cruiser Freedom, we have received your distress call," buzzed the comlink.

"Freedom, this is Private Alexander Thorne of the New Republic Army. My entire squad is dead, the planet is home to a heavy Imperial installation," Alex replied.

"We read you Private Thorne. Please dock with us and we will ensure your safe return to Coruscant," responded Lieutenant Opus.

"Affirmative," Thorne said, moving the YT-1930 closer to the Mon Calamari Cruiser.

"We made it," he said with a smile.

New Republic Military Headquarters, Coruscant

"Welcome back Private Thorne. Your survival was great news to the New Republic military," came the voice of General Tarin, a special operations commander, after searching through a few files.

"Thank you, sir. Just doing my job," Alex said, feeling proud.

"Of course you were. As such, you will be reassigned to a squad as soon as we can find one," Tarin finished, packing up his papers.

"With all due respect sir, I'm not sure if I want to go back to squad work," said Alex, rather bluntly.

"You are strong, Thorne, you'll survive. Report back to your quarters, you should have another squad by next week." With that, Tarin rose.

"No, sir. I'm serious. I don't think I'm cut out for army work," Alex said again, an element of fear present in his voice.

"Hey, if you can get another defence group to accept you, you go for it. Otherwise, head back to your quarters soldier," Tarin finished. He exited the room before Alex had a chance to say anything else.

"Poodoo," he said, a little too loudly.

"Excuse me, Private," came the voice of a young man in an officer's uniform, who had entered without Alex noticing.

"Can I help you, sir?" Alex asked, clearing his throat and hoping desperately he didn't look weak.

"We've heard of your latest assignment and I've got a proposition for you. One coming directly from Admiral Nick Fel."

Alex raised an eyebrow and leant forward. His eyes followed the man's hand, as it placed a folder on the table. Alex looked at the insignia on the front cover.

It displayed two words: Rogue Squadron.