Date: 46:2:13 (11 years after the Battle of Yavin)
Part One: Departures
Cheyenne Mountain Facility, Earth, Unknown Regions
"No, the Queen of Air and Darkness is worth negative two!" General Nick Fel said, pointing to one of the rectangular playing cards on the table. "And the Mistress is worth thirteen."
"Negative thirteen?" Colonel Jack O'Neill said, looking thoroughly confused.
"No, just thirteen." Nick, on the other hand, was looking exasperated. "Keep your fingers out of the stasis field!"
"My cards just changed!" Jack cried indignantly, showing his hand to Nick. It was worth a pitiful four points, while before he had twenty-two—only one away from the ideal score of twenty-three.
"That's the randomiser..."
"Random what?" Jack threw his cards down. "Look, can't we play Poker instead?"
"Sabacc has been played throughout the galaxy for thousands of years. It dates back to the early days of the Old Republic!"
"Well it's stupid." Jack frowned. "Whoever heard of a playing card with a negative value?"
"General?" Major Ash Morgan repeated louder.
"What?" Nick snapped harshly, then looked up to see his slim administration and security officer frowning at him and suddenly felt about the size of an ant. She was dressed in a United States Air Force uniform, just like everyone else on base, with the addition of New Republic rank insignia and Rogue Squadron unit patch. Nick wore the same—it made them blend in at the base, but also made them a little different. He liked it that way. "Sorry, didn't know it was you."
She smiled. "We're ready to depart. The crew's waiting for you."
Nick glanced at his chrono. "Whoops, sorry Jack." He stood up, gathered the Sabacc deck and grinned. "We can pick this up later."
He ignored Jack's retort and followed Ash into Rogue Squadron's headquarters, a section of the SGC base that contained everything the team staying on the base would need.
Nick followed her into the ring terminal, into the middle of a large red circle marked on the floor.
"I really..." Goa'uld transport rings dropped around them and beamed their de-materialised bodies up into space.
Shuttle Renegade, over Earth
"...hate this thing." Nick shuddered involuntarily as the rings dropped back down around them. The shuttle was fitted with a system they'd stolen from the Goa'uld. With their Mon Calamari Star Cruiser Ashleigh orbiting above the dark side of Earth's moon to avoid detection, getting to and from it was tricky, so the shuttle would fly in a low orbit above Cheyenne Mountain and pick them up.
"Earth Inner-System Spaceways welcomes you aboard," the ship-wide comm system crackled with the pilot's voice. "We hope you enjoy your flight, the hostess is available to provide you with drinks and theatrical winks for a sky-high fee..."
Nick shook his head and laughed. It looked like Captain Mike Burn of Ashleigh, long-time friend of Nick's, had come to shuttle them in personally. He must be bored, Nick thought, making his way to the cockpit. Mike looked round and grinned at him. He was back in New Republic uniform now that he wasn't on Earth, and Nick guessed he'd better change too, once he got onboard.
They set off at full speed to the waiting cruiser.
Bridge, Cruiser Ashleigh
Back in his brown New Republic uniform, proudly displaying his red five-dot rank insignia, Nick stepped onto the bridge and looked around at the crew.
They all worked busily, prepping the cruiser for its flight. Nick walked by them and ascended to the bridge's higher-tier on a small, open elevator. The command deck was at the front of the bridge, surrounded by an arc of viewports at one side and open to the rest of the bridge on the other.
Mike had taken the command seat already and was issuing commands over the comm system, amplifying his voice over the entire bridge. Commander Amaya Karrde, his first officer and wife of seven years sat beside him, her long dark hair clasped behind her back, tall frame seated in an egg-shaped Mon Calamari chair. She was talking to the tiny holographic form of somebody elsewhere on the ship. The husband-and-wife team fitted in naturally on the bridge, as if they belonged there.
Colonel Anton Moore, Doctor Cat Craig and Ash were seated around a tactical holoprojector, but he couldn't quite tell what the projection was. As he walked closer he realised they had managed to pick up Earth flat-screen entertainment broadcasts and pump them out as a hologram.
Cat was Rogue Squadron's executive officer, a fiery-haired archaeologist that had first encountered the Goa'uld when they attacked her research station in Wild Space over a year ago. Moore, tactical director for the unit, had led the defence there, along with Nick and Mike. Now they had been sent to Earth, a small planet in the Unknown Regions, who were willing to help them fight their war against the false Gods. Using the Stargate, they could travel from world to world in the blink of an eye, but today they needed more than the team of soldiers a Gate wormhole could handle.
"Everyone ready?" Nick asked.
"We've been ready for an hour," Amaya complained. "You've kept us waiting."
Nick sat down with the rest of the team and kept quiet. This was the first time he'd been onboard the cruiser in several weeks and it felt good to have nothing but vacuum beneath him. A pilot could only stay planet-side for so long before he started to crave the freedom of space. A former Imperial pilot who defected to the Alliance after the destruction of his homeworld Alderaan by the Death Star, commanding a unit was giving him less and less time in a cockpit.
It wasn't likely he'd be flying today, but at least he was in space. The mission was pretty simple: Ashleigh was to distribute a series of spy satellites across Goa'uld space that would relay vital intelligence on their enemies. It was a routine enough operation taking several weeks to complete, but tradition dictated that the command staff came along for the first run.
"Navigation, take us out," Mike said.
"Aye, Captain," the helmsman said.
"Maximum sublight speed until we clear the system's gravity mass shadow," he continued. "Prepare for hyperspace..."
Part Two: Arrivals
Bridge, Cruiser Ashleigh, close to P2F-582
"Satellite away," Amaya announced, watching the tiny speck of light generated by the sat's thrusters trace across the starscape. When it reached its designated orbit, the ovoid pod would split open and the satellite itself would unfold, then begin transmitting.
"How many more of these do we have to watch?" Cat asked, leaning over towards Nick. "You can't even get Showtime out here."
"Four," Nick said absently as he shuffled the Sabacc deck that he was still carrying from playing Jack. He put it down on the table and turned over a card—the Master of Coins. "Lower," he said, taking a guess at the next card's value, then flipped it over, revealing the Ace of Flasks. "Sithspit."
Moore chuckled as Nick slipped the cards back into his pocket. Through the viewports, there was a quick flash as detonite charges blew the satellite pod open. "This mission is quite possibly the most boring..."
A repeating triple-bleep cut him off mid-sentence and he flicked the holoprojector on to a tactical map. "Uh-oh."
"Captain," the ship's tactical officer spoke into the comlink at his station below, "two Cheops-class warships have just moved from around the other side of the planet. They're on an intercept course."
Cheops-class were the most powerful known Goa'uld warship, golden pyramids surrounded by a network of weapons and propulsion systems. Two of these had attacked Earth several years earlier and had been destroyed by SG-1.
"Much bigger than the Ha'tak-class—that's what we beat up over M345," Moore told Nick, Cat and Ash, bringing up schematics on the projector. "One Imperial-class Star Destroyer could handle one of those easily."
"So how are we going to fare against two of those?" Ash asked. Moore had no answer.
"Deploy starfighters," Mike ordered.
Commander Lana Tridon eased her X-wing into a combat zone for the first time in months and it felt good. Behind her, the other eleven members of the X-wing group named Wraith Squadron left Ashleigh's hangar and formed up. Ahead of her, two positively alien starships hung like pyramids in the vacuum of space.
"Wraith Leader here," she said over the squadron comm frequency, "you know the drill. Nova Squadron will be bombing the capitals and we keep the fighters off them." Nova Squadron was the second starfighter squadron onboard Ashleigh, made up of the bombers called B-wings. The third and final was Ace Squadron, piloting small, wedge-shaped A-wing interceptors.
Lana flicked a switch and opened the fighter's S-foils into their X-shaped combat configuration and accelerated towards the Goa'uld ships. Already they were unleashing hoards of Death Gliders—fast two-man fighters with low, curving wings, but no shielding. She'd seen holos of the masses of TIEs that rushed towards the Alliance forces at Endor and it made the sight before her uncomfortably familiar.
Working with the X-wing's principal advantage of shielding, she flew head on into the swarm, furiously firing her wingtip laser cannons and detonating three or four Gliders with little difficulty. She switched her comlink to a different frequency, addressing only Wraith Two, her wingman. "Break to starboard."
"Gotcha, Lead," he said, twisting his fighter to the right. The pair circled around behind all the Gliders and sewed the helpless craft with laser blasts, melting fragile hulls and igniting fuel cells. "Flock moving in at oh-seven-five."
"I'm on it, Two." Lana rolled her X-wing around to face a group of six Gliders flying in formation towards Nova Squadron.
Before she could start to fire, her wingman called her again. "What the... there's something big behind me, Lead."
"Looks like a heavy bomber, Two, watch out!" The large bomber's energy cannons opened fire. The first golden blast flashed and dispersed against his shields, the next overloaded the shield generators and left him defenceless. He tried to evade the next blast which, rather than a direct hit, streaked across the top of his craft, frying his R2 unit. The next shot hit his power generator. "Stang!"
Calmly, Lana switched her weapons system to proton torpedoes and centred the large fighter in her sights. She squeezed the trigger and let two fiery-blue torpedoes home in on her target. Both struck, exploding against the bomber and causing its engines to explode.
Happy she had avenged Wraith Two's death, she once again targeted the flight of Death Gliders.
Bridge, Cruiser Ashleigh
Moore frowned, glaring at the tactical map. "We're loosing fighters faster than I'd hoped," he told Nick.
"Mike," Nick asked slowly, "are our X-wings still onboard?"
"You're not thinking of..." Ash started to say, before Nick swiftly left the bridge.
Five minutes later Nick was, for the first time in way too long, suited up in the orange flight suit of the New Republic, pulling on his decorated white helmet. His X-wing was one of only two left in the hangar, still wearing Shadow Squadron colours from his old unit. The other had been disused for even longer—it hadn't seen combat since the fall of Coruscant several years earlier.
Leaving Amaya in command of the cruiser, Mike was climbing into his cockpit as Nick's fighter lifted off on repulsors. At that same moment, Ashleigh shuddered as a Goa'uld bomber dropped its payload against the cruiser's shields. "Target that thing."
He sped out of the hangar as his computer managed to target the unfamiliar craft. "Watch yourself, Lead," Mike cautioned. "No idea what defences that thing has."
"Don't worry, Two." Nick swept in behind the bomber and let his lasers fly against its rear shields, flashing brilliantly against the void of space, but the shields showed no sign of budging. Regardless, the bomber pulled up from its assault, back towards the dogfight above. Needing something that would punch through the deflectors, Nick armed one of his six proton torpedoes and let it loose on the bomber, allowing himself a satisfied smile when the shields momentarily flickered and the larger ship lurched. He fired one more torpedo, which shredded through the last of the deflectors and detonated against the golden-grey surface, sending the bomber into a lazy roll. He switched back to lasers and started pounding energy into the hull, ripping through armour and fusing vital components.
"Take note, Two," Nick grinned. "Two torpedoes and a quick laser barrage for the bombers."
Two X-wings sped past the twisting wreckage of a Goa'uld bomber and hurtled towards the battle ahead.
* * * * *
"Still the best fighter jock this side of Kessel," Moore declared as the golden sensor blip ahead of Nick's green marker vanished along with the concussions that had been rippling through the cruiser.
Amaya spun around in her command seat to quickly consult the tactical map, before turning back to her bridge crew. "All turbolaser batteries, target the nearest warship. Helm, bring us up over them so we've got a clean shot through all the fighters."
"Ion cannons, try and target those heavy bombers." The ship shuddered under a heavy barrage of energy blasts. "Power to the forward shields!"
"Can we seriously win this?" Cat asked, staring down at their outnumbered forces on the map.
"That all depends on the B-wings," Anton told her.
Flight Lieutenant Kell Rhyder drove his B-wing towards the golden surface of the Goa'uld warship, gaining speed for his bombing run. Around him, Goa'uld energy cannons lanced outwards, trying desperately to kill him. Behind him, Death Gliders swooped in to try and strafe him. Around the warship, a swarm of various starfighters blasted across the vastness of space. Ahead, Nova Five—his flight leader and wingman—lead the assault.
So much for the boring mission, he thought, arming his proton torpedoes. His targeting computer highlighted a section of the ship ahead, indicating the weapons placements he was to bomb. Hopefully, with them gone and the X- and A-wings clearing out the fighter screen, the warships would be left defenceless. Hopefully.
His targeting reticle locked a solid red against the split-pod cannon. Flying this close to the warship, inside its shields, there was nothing to get in his way. He fired a single torpedo at the weapon. It detonated, turning the battery into blackened slag. "No time for celebrations," he said to himself as the next target popped up on his screen, thanks to his computer.
They swiftly reached one of the corners of the ship, where they had to twist around onto the next side of the pyramid. Leading the group, Five twisted his tall fighter tightly around the edge—and disappeared in a short-lived yet spectacular fireball.
"Pull up!" Kell shouted, driving his bomber away from the surface and looping slowly round the corner. What could be round there? Had he flown into the path of an energy cannon? Some kind of force-field?
The answer the much simpler. Five had ploughed straight into some kind of hidden communications array, destroying both. Absently, Kell wondered what effect that might have on the Goa'uld communication. He dismissed the thought as the next cannon came into view.
* * * * *
Mike banked his X-wing around to face the group of Death Gliders that had just launched from the further of the two Goa'uld ships—the nearest seemed to have disgorged all of its fighters by now.
He saw the spectacular explosion blossom from the corner of one warship, recognised the way a B-wing's quad-engines detonated. Farewell. I hope you did some damage on the way out. Mike turned his attention back to the flight of Gliders and received a sudden shock—the previously organised formation had crumbled, and the Gliders seemed to be in confusion.
"This is Colonel Moore to all units," his comlink came alive, "we seem to have knocked out a communications link on one warship, we're seeing a sudden loss of radio messages between ships. Take advantage of the confusion!"
Mike didn't need to be told twice. His lasers were already sweeping across the Gliders, exploding one which—due to the formation collapsing inwards—took out another two with it. The confusion didn't last long, as the remaining ships gathered themselves and started launching individual attacks.
"Look at her go..." he spoke down the comm to no one in particular, as Ashleigh opened fire on the nearest, now almost crippled, warship. Its shields collapsed, hull-plates boiled off into space and condensed into twisted blobs of metal. The B-wings bombing it twisted away and the other fighters also tried to get as far from the ship as possible—with good reason. Moments later its core breached and the entire ship disappeared in a nuclear explosion bright enough to temporarily opaque Mike's viewscreen.
The second warship turned to flee, abandoning its Death Gliders and vanishing into hyperspace. A triumphant cheer erupted over the comlink, followed by Nick's voice. "Well done troops," he said. "Head back the Ashleigh so we can finish this and go home."
Cheyenne Mountain Facility, Earth
"So when were you going to tell us?" Nick, Cat and Amaya cornered Mike in the Rogue Squadron lounge, trying to sneak out with the comm package he'd just received from Coruscant. All four were in dress uniform—in ten minutes they were heading up to Ashleigh for the funerals of the five pilots and two turbolaser technicians who died in the battle a week before.
"Well I felt like a change and..." he started.
Ash stood up from her seat across the room and walked over. "What's going on?"
"The good captain here decided he wanted another transfer," Nick said. Mike had already once transferred from Starfighter Command to Fleet Command, becoming a Star Destroyer captain and later the commander of Ashleigh. "This time to Intelligence."
"Isn't that a contradiction of terms?" Amaya laughed. "Mike? Intelligence?"
"Wait a second," Cat interrupted Mike's defensive retort, "does that mean you're leaving us?"
"Not quite," Nick interrupted, holding out a datapad he'd been working on moments earlier. "Now that we've got an Intel network, we're going to need an Intel Director. Mike?"
He scooped up the datapad and added his thumbprint confirmation to his new orders. "Reporting for duty, sir." He grinned like a maniac.
"So who gets Ashleigh?" Moore made them all jump out of their shined boots as he stepped up behind them, silently entering the room.
Recovering quickly, Nick pulled out a different datapad. "I think Amaya proved that she was a capable captain, don't you?"
Amaya was shocked, she'd been expecting to serve under a new captain. She hesitated for all of two seconds before grabbing the pad and confirming it. "Thank you, sir!" She too, was now grinning like a maniac.
"Also, you are both receiving promotions." Nick watched their grins widen. "Mike to Commodore and Amaya to Captain. Congratulations both of you."
The pair were still grinning when Goa'uld transport rings dropped down around them and lifted their dematerialised bodies up into space.