The snow beat against the men, it obscured everything. There was a base out there somewhere; they'd all seen it. It was a huge mottled grey bug on the hill. The Vong and the Peace Brigade had dug in here and created what passed for a relay station and arms dump.
"So what are our orders Sir? Our last attack just got men killed!" The major spoke, a little too loudly Andy thought.
"We have new orders. We're pulling out of the sector." He replied.
"Yes sir!" The major replied the insolence coming through his snowtrooper's loudspeaker. Andy still couldn't get used to commanding imperial troops, it didn't seem so long ago that he was an airman fighting them from his trusty X-Wing.
"The transports will be here in an hour, you and I are taking the shuttle into orbit, we have a report to make."
"Sir with us gone, who will co-ordinate the withdrawal? We're the only officers left."
"How did you make it to Major without learning that Sergeants run things, officers just tell them to do it., not because of them?" Andy resisted the urge to smirk.
* * * * *
Andy nodded at the GA pilot; he knew what to do and what was about to happen.
"Now we're airborne I'll tell you about my other orders Major." Andy became serious and radiated cold.
"Other orders?" The Major acted confused.
"I'm here to destroy that base and the traitor that killed everyone sent against it."
"Traitor? I thought it was poor intelligence, If I had been given command I could of taken it." The man postured as his hand slowly moved towards his sidearm.
"Stop the posturing, we both know it was you. You gave false coordinates and misleading information to command, you led superiors and subordinates to their deaths. And now you get to see your work undone."
The major went for his pistol, but it was too late. Andy had hit a switch detonating explosives in the enemy base and in the Major's pistol.
The man fell to the deck, a large chunk of his leg missing. He looked up at the commander.
"A few honest men and I raided the base yesterday, placed explosives and I decided your fate. You remember the 3rd Stormtrooper legion you sent into the cold, the ones we found frozen in the snow?" Andy paused and looked him in the eyes, "I can see from your expression that you do, well I'm going to let you fall to the ground and if you survive you'll know how they felt!"
* * * * *
A few minutes later the shuttle was in orbit. Andy opened the long-range comms signal.
"I take it they haven't fixed it yet?" He asked the pilot.
The pilot shook his head.
"Oh well." Andy switched to the Intelligence frequency. "Commander Andy Novak to Control. Control do you read?"
A blurry image appeared before him. "Barely Commander!" The Admiral's voice came through.
"I take it you have dealt with the situation on PK-985?" she asked.
"The base and the traitor will give us no more trouble!" He replied.
"I have some good news and some bad news Commander. First the good, you're getting your Captain's rank back. Bad news is I need you to go back to Farpoint and retrieve something." She paused.
"How many ships are you sending? What am I retrieving?" Andy asked.
"We can only spare one ship Captain, this is a covert entry. I'm giving you Hunter. She's seen better days, but she's a good ship."
"You got her back from the Peace brigade then?"
"Yeah, time to give her some redemption Andy. Our intelligence indicates that the Vong have breached the lower levels. I thought we'd sealed them off for centuries. You know what's down there, you were the last duty officer when we evacuated. Retrieve the device or destroy it."
"Understood! Where is Hunter?" Andy asked.
"She'll be with you in thirty minutes, there are two other Intel on there. You'll know who."
Andy sat in his quarters waiting for whomever the Admiral had sent; this was what the Squadron had been reduced to in the war. Without Farpoint and without Fel the command had broken down. Few of them had survived the evacuation when the Vong came and now their missions were so clandestine that Andy doubted the remains of the Senate knew of them.
"Security code R seven." Andy spoke, activating the pad in front of him.
Two people entered the room, a human and squib. This was how they operated now, never more than three in one place.
"Security code B eight." Casie spoke into the air.
"Security code C one." Cooper finished the strange introductions.
The pad leapt to life projecting the admiral's face. Andy looked at his old comrade; she had hardly changed in all these years. Corry would always be that TAG commander stuck in her lab working on things nobody could understand or even identify. Now she was the one in charge, the one who would send them into hell.
"I'm sorry I can't send you in with a fleet. The Vong have reached the lower levels of Farpoint, we estimate they'll breach the last barrier within days. Your mission is to stop them by any means necessary. They can't be allowed to get to the lab, the weapon we recovered from P3X-797 is capable of cracking open stars."
The dadapad went dark and began smoulder slowly.
"Well commanders, we have one ship and one target. We need ideas!" Andy offered them seats.
"If I can get to the lower levels I can destroy or steal the device. But with Hunter's rings in the condition they're in I'm not sure how the three of us can fight our way down there."
"Can they be brought back online?" Andy asked "As far as I know the Peace Brigade didn't do much with them when they had her."
"Given time a team could put them back together, yes." She replied.
"Do we have time for that?" Cooper asked. "Even if we sneak in pretending this ship was never caught, we wont have long."
"Shouldn't be difficult getting in, Hunter was captured less than a week ago. The crew surrendered without sending distress signals, and her crew haven't been released from custody." Andy replied.
In the old days Andy would have shared a drink with his friends on the eve of battle, but not now. They had all grown weary of battle and endless death. The circle always got smaller, now the empty chairs outnumbered the full ones, the lost cried out in the night and none of them could see an end to this fight.
"To the lost." Andy raised a toast to the empty room.
"To the lost." The darkness replied in Cooper's voice. "You didn't look good old friend, I thought you'd need some company."
"You thought right." Andy spoke quietly.
"Is it only two years since we evacuated?" He asked.
"Feels like a lifetime. We lost too many that day. Xylem and the station, all the people in the lower decks. All the battles since, we're nearly all that's left Coop. How the hell did it come to this?" Andy slumped back into his seat.
"Yeah, I've lost three squadrons in this war. You get to the point where you don't know why you're the one who survives." Cooper too slumped back.
"CAPTAIN TO THE BRIDGE!" Andy's comm went off.
"On my way!" He turned to Cooper. "Get the fighter wing ready. If they don't buy this you'll be our only hope."
* * * * *
The brown uniform of the Peace Brigade wasn't designed for a squib, Casie thought as she pulled at it for what felt like the hundredth time that day. The repairs on the rings were going slowly, she looked around and all she could see were kids. This war had taken so much and now it seemed that only the children were left. She was feeling so old.
"Ring room to bridge, we're online. They shouldn't pick us up." She spoke into her comms.
"Good, get ready. You and I will go down and see what havoc we can give them." Andy's voice came back.
"No Cooper?" She asked.
"No he's got another job and I need someone up here who can handle a Star Destroyer." He replied.
* * * * *
Cooper sat in his X-Wing and looked over the Fleet in orbit. Frigates and Freighters mainly, there was nothing that could take on Hunter alone but combined even she would be taken down. He and his four fighter squadrons had spent the last four hours going from ship to ship quietly painting targets for Hunter's main batteries so they could all get out in one piece.
"Commander, we have a message about our package. It has arrived!" The comms officer reported.
"Acknowledged control" He replied.
His friends were down there, two of the last, they had lost so many here and perhaps this was where he was supposed to die. He had flown as Talon leader here while Andy had controlled the evac. He could remember the calls for help as the space station had hit the upper atmosphere and burned up and the screams and his squadron had died one by one.
"I'm home old friends, we're here for one last stand against the night." He whispered into the void.
* * * * *
They stood in the shattered remains of Corry's lab; neither of them could say anything. Nobody had cleaned anything; the computers had been destroyed when the Squadron had left.
"They could have cleared them away." Andy rasped, anger in every vowel.
"This war seems to have taken everyone's compassion." Casie spoke putting her hand on Andy's shoulder. She felt him shaking, out of rage or sorrow she couldn't tell.
"Yes it has. I wish we could bury them all, remember them properly but we can't. We're going to Plan B Casie. Farpoint and everyone in it gets their revenge." Andy put his hand on hers and bit back the tears "We have to activate the auto-destruct."
"Plan B it is." She spoke quietly.
The lower levels of Farpoint were either abandoned or now inaccessible, Andy remembered giving the order to seal them off knowing he'd kill so many people.
They had been caught by surprise by the Vong, their starfighter squadrons had been overwhelmed, Andy could still here Xylem scream as the station had fallen out of orbit and the fate of Nautica was still unknown two years on. When the warriors had landed the perimeter defenses had held them off for a little while, long enough for Andy and Corry to get some people out, but not enough.
Now he and Casie were standing in the rubble of the lower levels approaching the auto-destruct that he couldn't use two years ago to kill the invaders and save this place from being used as a staging ground for traitors.
"You have the codes?" Casie asked, trying to ignore the bodies around her.
"Yeah, standard 20 minutes to get out." He replied.
"So we'll be running then?" She tried to smirk, but couldn't quite.
"Yeah." Andy replied.
They entered the secondary control centre at the lowest level of the base using Admiral Fel's old passcodes and looked around. This room was spotless.. The controls were dark, Cassie got an old naqahdah generator from her pack and begun to fix leads to various panels.
"This may take a while." She spoke.
"Yeah I'll set off my little surprise then." Andy spoke as he took out a detonator control. Earlier in the day they had been to see how near the base archives the Vong and their allies had got, Casie had guessed a matter of hours. Andy had decided there and then that a cave in would hamper their efforts. So he now caused one.
"There, I'd say they'll work out it was us in twenty minutes." He grinned.
Andy put his comms to his lips and spoke "Captain Novak to Hunter, prepare for Plan B. And get everyone into Galactic Alliance uniform. We stand or fall in our colours not as traitors."
There was no reply, there was not meant to be one. Andy knew right now his friend would be preparing for war, everyone on that ship would be getting ready to fight, kill and die at his command. He still wasn't used to that power and hoped he never would be.
Casie sat and did her job; she solved the problem one step at a time and tried not to think what the black thing at the centre of the room would do. She was glad there were no bodies here; she had been in command of the demolition teams in the evacuation. Andy had given the order, but she had pressed the button and killed them all. She could still hear the screams in the dark, she hoped what she was doing today would help their souls rest.
"Ready?" Andy asked holding drawing his pistol.
"Ready!" She replied.
The console next to Andy blinked to life and he entered a 12 digit code and a small insignificant timer at the top of the screen began to count down.
"Can they stop it?" Andy asked.
"No, once that door is sealed they'd have to cut through it and they wont have time. Besides they'll be too busy with the perimeter defense grid. I reactivated it." A cold expression came over Casie's face as she spoke.
"Lets get moving." Andy answered.
The two left the room quietly; Andy shooting the door control to fuse the lock to its closed setting.
They arrived in the ring room to find it occupied by a single figure, a Yuuzhan Vong Warrior.
Andy looked at him, he doubted he could beat this man in combat or that his blaster would even dent the armour, but he'd have to try as it was clear that he knew Casie and Andy weren't on his side.
"Oh what the hell!" Andy raised his blasted and emptied the clip at the warrior.
The warrior didn't look injured so much as surprised, he drew some creature from a holster and pointed it at Andy. Andy crouched and rolled as some kind of bug flew at him. He landed next to Casie in the centre of the Rings. Casie smiled and activated them.
"You just wanted to show you were still vibrant and fit didn't you?" She chuckled.
"Something like that!" He replied.
* * * * *
Andy walked onto the bridge dressed in his GA Captain's uniform. He looked around him; everyone was working and preparing for battle.
"Are we ready?" Andy asked.
"Yes sir, Commander Brain reports fighter wing is ready for launch." The tactical officer reported.
"Tell him to launch now." Andy looked at his chronometer; Farpoint would explode in two minutes.
"Sir the Commodore wants to know what we're doing?" The comms officer reported.
"Forward batteries, fighter wing!" Andy paused as the chronometer reached zero. "Fire!"
"80% targets hit. Most crippled. One frigate undamaged and two in fighting shape. Farpoint is gone sir." The tactical officer reported.
"Hail the remaining ships." Andy ordered. "This is Captain Novak of the Galactic Alliance Star Destroyer Hunter. You are ordered to surrender your vessels and return with us to GA space."
"Sir enemy ships locking on." Tactical spoke.
"Tell Commander Brain to engage at his discretion. Ion batteries target the port frigate, torpedoes the starboard, main turbolasers the lead. All other batteries fire as targets come to bear." Andy spoke, every order coming fluidly without a thought.
"Tell Casie we'll need extra speed." Andy turned in his chair. "Helm flank speed, take us between the lead frigate and the port vessel."
Andy watched as the two enemies moved apart to fire on him from either side, just as he wanted them to.
"Ion batteries concentrate fire on the port ships engines. Starboard batteries wipe them out." Andy watched his display as they passed.
"Port Frigate loosing power, she's caught in the gravity well. She's breaking up." A gunner reported.
"Commodore's vessel is leaking atmosphere and is trying to run. Third vessel is nearly clear of the planetary gravity well." The sensor officer reported.
"What about the freighters and fighters in system?" Andy asked.
"Already running sir!" Tactical officer reported.
"Tell Cooper to come home!" Andy sat back and sighed. "Prepare the ship to return to GA space."
* * * * *
The three sat around a table in the mess. Nobody else was there, not that it would have mattered to them. They were happier now, the ghosts seemed to be at rest and it felt like they could finally live again.
"So do you think they'll let us keep her?" Casie asked "I've got rather attached to her again."
"I hope so." Andy replied.
"You two are far too sentimental."
"Probably. But I'm not taking a lecture on sentimentality by a man who names droids and X-Wings." Andy grinned.
"Sir we have a distress signal from a refugee ship, they're under attack by Vong forces." Andy's comm came to life.
The three had finished their drinks and started walking to the door before Andy replied.
"Red Alert all hands to battle stations, lay in an intercept course."