Date: 35 (The year of the Battle of Yavin)
Part One: Defection
"This is Alpha Leader to Predator, we're going in." Colonel Nick Fel, commanding officer of the 256th Imperial Starfighter Wing, banked his TIE Fighter starboard towards the rebel X-wing group defending a small transport. The transport itself was busy raiding an innocent Imperial freighter.
"Copy Alpha Leader," a harsh voice replied from the bridge of the Star Destroyer. "Make sure none of them escape."
"Yes, sir!" Fel flicked a switch on his left, changing comm channel to address his entire wing. "This is Alpha Leader. You know the score—full squadron of pointers defending a hijacking operation. Alpha and Beta, we're taking the snubs. Gamma, take out the transport and watch for more ships entering from hyperspace."
"Beta One, acknowledged."
"Gamma One, acknowledged."
"Long live the Empire." Fel flicked his comm unit onto a third channel, this time addressing only Alpha Group. "Okay, folks, let's make this a class act. We want the rebel scum to get a shock if they every recover these black boxes."
A wave of anti-rebellion and pro-Imperial comments flowed into his ears from the speakers installed in his headset, and he briefly smiled at the enthusiasm of his men. "Cut the chatter. Form up on your flight leaders. Two, you're my wing."
Fel tapped a button on his targeting computer to select the nearest enemy and increased speed to close in on the X-wing. His targeting reticle turned green to indicate a solid lock and Fel increased power to his cannons and pulled the trigger on his flight yoke, sending green bolts of searing energy from weapons mounted below his cockpit, striking the rebel's shields.
His targeting display showed the fighter's shield strength count down from 100 to 0, followed by a second number indicating hull strength. The second hit zero, the display vanished, and the X-wing exploded, sending its quad S-Foils careening in four different directions.
"Two, match my target and take the lead."
"Aye, sir!" Two throttled up ahead of Fel, closing in on the previous X-wing's wingman. His two cannons were set to linked fire, both going off at once, blasting away a large chunk of the snub's shielding with every blast. Fel added his own cannons and the rebel ship disintegrated.
"Good shooting, Two."
"Thanks, Leader, I..." The comm went dead for a moment. "Someone's got a lock on me!"
"Go evasive, Two. I'll get him."
"Copy, Lead." Two jinked his craft from side to side to avoid slicing red lasers from the X-wing behind him. While TIE Fighters were fast, powerful and accurate, they had no shields and it would take only a couple of shots from the enemy's cannons before Two was breathing vacuum.
Fel dialled down his speed and let both fighters rocket past him before speeding back up and pumping energy into the X-wing's aft shields. It tried to veer off, but wasn't fast enough.
"Good work, team." Fel had switched back to his wing channel. "That's all of them. The transport has been destroyed and the freighter is heading into hyperspace. Return to Predator for debriefing."
Star Destroyer Predator, en route to Border Station 2LC/Blue, two hours later
Fel slumped back into the conform lounger in his quarters and rubbed his face. If there was one thing he hated about being an Imperial pilot, it was that TIEs had no atmosphere and jocks had to wear face-hugging helmets. He picked up a copy of Erwithat's The Fall of the Sun and opened it at his marker. The door chime interrupted him.
Lieutenant Mike Burn—Alpha Two—spilled into his quarters the moment the door opened, totally ignoring protocol for entering a superior officer's private rooms. "Sir, have you heard?" Burn was a young officer, fresh out of the academy—but he was a skilled pilot. His reddish hair was still cropped in the academy style. Fel, on the other hand, took the privilege given to officers and grew his dark blond hair slightly longer, neatly combing it over. His sideburns grew down the side of his face, as was fashionable in the officers' ranks.
"Heard what, Lieutenant?"
Fel suddenly felt an icy chill crawling up his gut and stabbing into his heart. Alderaan. His home planet. "What about Alderaan?"
"It's...it's been destroyed, sir."
"What are you talking about?" Fel snapped. The icy chill had found its way up his spine. "How can it have been destroyed?"
"The new battle station they've been talking about... the whole planet's been reduced to rubble!"
The chill exploded into his brain. His home. His family. His friends. His life. All gone. Destroyed by the same Empire he was sworn to serve and protect.
Darpa Sector, one week later
"Okay Two Fifty-Sixth—split into wing pairs and protect the bombers!"
The mission was simple: TIE Bombers would attack and destroy a rebel frigate caught in the middle of a re-supply operation with an independent freighter, while Fel and his men would protect them from rebel starfighters. The colonel didn't normally like this sort of mission—bomber jocks would always blame their escort if something went wrong, so Nick would have to put their survival ahead of his own men—but today he wasn't even thinking about the mission.
As soon as Predator dropped out of hyperspace and released its fighters, the Nebulon-B Frigate Free Spirit gave up its operation and started to move away from the freighter and planetoid below to a safe hyperspace jump point. The orders were to travel at the same speed as the bombers until they met resistance. Travelling at the speed of bombers they would catch the frigate in around six minutes time. If he throttled up to full, he would reach it in half that time.
"Alpha Leader, this is Predator. Return to the flight group," a voice crackled over Fel's comm. He ignored it.
"This is Alpha Two, Predator. I'll catch him." Behind him, Burn started to distance himself from the rest of the group.
"That's a negative, Alpha Two..."
"Sorry Predator, losing signal."
"Mike," Fel said on a private channel, "don't do this, you won't catch me. I'm running at one-twenty percent of normal engine efficiency."
"I don't need to catch you."
"You won't even get into weapons range."
"I'm not going to shoot you down, Fel," Burn laughed. "I'm going with you."
"Mike, you can still turn back. It wasn't your planet they murdered." The frigate was less than a minute away. Predator was still shouting for both of them to return.
"It was still wrong, boss," Burn said. "Besides, after that close encounter with an X-wing, I'm looking forward to having shields."
"Free Spirit, this is Colonel Nick Fel of the 256th Imperial Starfighter Wing," Fel announced on a comm transmission out on all channels. There was no chance the other TIEs could catch them now. "My wingman and I wish to defect to the Alliance."
"This is Commander Moore of Free Spirit. Power down your weapons systems and enter the main hangar bay, Colonel."
The other TIEs suddenly increased speed in a vain attempt to catch the defectors, but it was already too late. The Free Spirit escaped that day, losing many of its starfighters in the process. They did, however, gain two TIE Fighters for research and undercover operations and two Imperial pilots, with all the knowledge they carried.
Part Two: Rebellion
Echo Base, Hoth, three years later
"The first transport is away." Standing in the freezing cold hangar of Echo Base, Major Nick Fel let out a loud cheer along with the rest of the rebel cell. They needed so much for this to be a victory, or at least, not a horrific loss.
He wanted to be out on the ice plains in a snowspeeder, but they still didn't have enough of them working for all the pilots to be out there. He'd sure love a shot at those AT-ATs.
"K-one-zero, all troops disengage."
"Our transport's next out, Mike!" Nick called across to his wingman as he zipped up his orange flight suit and pulled on the open helmet—red Alliance symbol on its side. X-wings may be slow compared to TIEs but the atmosphere in the cockpit was something he enjoyed a lot. The quad lasers were a lot better than the TIE's two and as for proton torpedoes—he didn't think he could live without them now.
The X-wing lifted up on its repulsor coils and floated steadily out into the stark whiteness of the Hoth terrain. Nick could see the terrifying sight of lumbering AT-AT walkers crawling towards Echo Base. Not so long ago they had been on his side and he would be flying aerial support for them, knocking out the snowspeeders that harassed them and strafing the ground troops. Now he was running from them.
His assigned transport slowly lifted from the ground and Nick followed it up, staying close behind it, slightly to the left. "Okay, Two, stay tight."
The escort passed without incident. The Star Destroyer in their path had been totally disabled by the ion cannon, effectively dead in the water for several hours at least. Inside, repair crews would be dashing around trying to get as many essential systems back online as possible. Weapons would probably come first.
They flew by so close Nick could almost see the officers moving around the bridge. The temptation to break off and fire a torp through the transparisteel screen was almost overwhelming.
"This is Lieutenant Karrde on transport Yavin Victory. We're ready to enter hyperspace."
"Copy, Lieutenant," Nick said, his thoughts suddenly disrupted by the female voice on his comm. He switched over to a different frequency. "Close S-Foils and prepare for hyperspace on my mark, Two."
Burn wasn't listening. "Amaya, what are you doing here?"
"What do you think, Wonderboy?" Karrde said coolly. "Once you defected, the Imps impounded my freighter and took my crew prisoner on Ord Mantell hoping I'd know where you were. Had to escape underground with the Alliance."
"I'm sorry... I didn't think they knew where to—"
"No time for that now, making the jump to hyperspace."
Now what was that all about? Nick thought, as he stared out at the purple vortex of hyperspace.
Medical Frigate Redemption, in orbit over Sullust, one year later
Commander Nick Fel stepped into the medical bay assigned to pilots, looked around and shuddered. He had once spent several hours in a bacta tank—the cure for everything from flu to limb loss—and the memories weren't pleasant. He could taste the sickly fluid in the back of his throat, the air here was so thick with it.
He spotted Mike—made a Captain after Hoth—slumped on a recovery bed. He'd been pulled out of bacta therapy fifteen minutes ago and Amaya, now the captain of a Corellian Corvette, was by his side.
"Four years without a single EV and you go critical flying patrol around a friendly fleet?" Nick grinned at him.
"Aww, give me a break," Mike moaned. "There's so much industrial wreckage and other crap orbiting Sullust… can you blame me for letting one little piece puncture my hull?"
"I can if it means I fly without my wingman tomorrow."
"We leave for Endor in six hours. We'll have to wait and see if you're up to it."
Mike groaned and Amaya patted his shoulder. "Miss the first Death Star because you're an Imp... miss the Second Death Star because you hit a rock... maybe they'll let you have a shot at the third."
"May the Force forbid," Nick muttered, looking around for a medic. "Doc!"
The fiery-haired woman he'd seen wearing a white lab-coat stopped and looked round at him. "Can I help you?"
"I need to know how long till Captain Burn here can leave."
"I'm a doctor of archaeology, not medicine."
"Then why are you on a medical frigate?"
The doctor sighed and picked up Mike's medical report. "Anyone with even marginal medical skills has been drafted onboard. They're expecting heavy losses, whatever the outcome of this battle."
"Naturally. This is the biggest thing we've ever done."
"He's slated for fourteen hours in recovery." She dropped his report and turned to leave.
"The briefing is in four hours, I need him there," Nick said. "Please?"
She picked the report up again, pulled out a stylo and made some slight alteration. "I'm sorry, it looks like there was an error, that first digit should have been in the box before—IQ. He'll be out in four."
"Thank you. What's your name, doctor?"
"Craig. Cat Craig."
"I owe you one, Cat."
"I'll remember that, Commander." Without another word, Cat turned and moved on to the next patient.
Endor System, the following day
This was it, Nick realised as his X-wing hurtled through hyperspace. The Alliance had learned that Emperor Palpatine himself was onboard the second Death Star as it was constructed over the forest moon of Endor. Nobody here wanted to see the Death Star completed, especially not him. He had a score to settle with this technology. He owed it to Alderaan to make sure a Death Star never again threatened innocent lives.
While it was being built, the Death Star was defenceless, except for a strong force-field being projected from the moon. A strike force was down there now—in theory the shield should be gone already.
The timer hit zero and Nick pulled the hyperspace lever back, sending his ship crashing back into realspace.
"All wings report in." General Lando Calrissian, onboard Han Solo's Millennium Falcon, was in command of this mission. The fleet would form a defensive perimeter around the Death Star while General Calrissian led a group of starfighters into the super-structure to destroy the power generator.
"Red Leader, standing by," said Wedge Antilles, one of the only starfighter pilots in the Alliance better than Nick. Luke Skywalker was one of the other few.
"Grey Leader, standing by."
"Green Leader, standing by."
"Lock S-foils in attack positions," Wedge called to his fighters. Nick flicked the switch that opened up the S-foils the X-wing was named after.
"May the Force be with us," preyed Admiral Ackbar, commanding the assault from the Mon Calamari Cruiser Home One.
The starfighters cruised towards the Death Star, gaining kilometres every second. Nick wasn't getting a reading on the shield, it must have been destroyed. Thank the Force. He almost hit his helmet on the X-wing's canopy when Lando shouted down the comm at the pilots: "Break of the attack! The shield is still up!"
"I get no reading. Are you sure?" Wedge asked.
"Pull up! All craft pull up!" Lando shouted. They were almost at the shield—where the shield would be and apparently was—before Nick pulled back on his flight stick and twisted round, back towards the Alliance fleet.
"Take evasive action!" Ackbar called through the comm system. "It's a trap!"
Nick's stomach lurched. Star Destroyers—and lots of them—had just dropped into the system. It was a trap.
"Fighters coming in!" Lando warned. True enough, a cloud of TIEs had appeared. Not the fighters Nick had flown, but the new, faster, deadlier TIE Interceptors.
"Accelerate to attack speed! Draw their fire away from the cruisers!"
"You heard him, Six," Nick spoke to his wingman through his comm.
"Copy, Five." They burst through the swarm of Imperial fighters, laser cannons spitting energised particles at the unshielded enemies, shredding their fragile space-frames.
"TIE group heading towards the medical frigate, let's take them down," Nick said. Despite all the military programming, your personal feelings always managed to sneak in during combat. He knew that he wasn't really defending the frigate in particular because the people onboard were wounded. He was defending because he knew someone onboard. That was the same reason that both Nick and Burn's R2 units would warn them if Amaya's corvette came under fire. "You're my wing."
He set his cannons for quad-fire and pumped several bursts into the nearest of the four TIEs. Its port solar panel separated from the cockpit, sending the remainder spinning out of control. His three wingmen split different ways and Nick hit one with a quick shot. "Split up, I'll take the leader."
Nick followed the lead Interceptor starboard, switching over to single fire and chasing him with a steady steam of laser blasts. This pilot was good, and his TIE's manoeuvrability and speed made him even better. The Commander knew he could take him, though.
Suddenly, an Alliance cruiser exploded. Nick hesitated to see what had caused the explosion—there were no TIEs attacking it and the Star Destroyers were still staying back.
"That blast came from the Death Star!" Lando's stressed voice came through his comm. "That thing's operational!"
"All craft prepare to retreat!" Ackbar barked the order. No one had imagined the Death Star could be fully operational—the super laser could devour the Alliance fleet in minutes.
As they sped away from the battle station, another ship exploded behind them. But they couldn't flee, not with the wall of Star Destroyers between them and a safe hyperspace route.
"Yes, I said closer," Lando repeated an earlier order. "Move as close as you can and engage those Star Destroyers at point blank range!"
Nick knew that they stood little chance against the Star Destroyers, but if they could take out a few, it might let some of the fleet escape. In the end, that's all he was here for. That's why he'd joined the Alliance, not for himself, but to defend others.
"Mike, are you getting an IFF Signal from the Star Destroyer at oh-seven-three-seven?"
"Like we need an IFF, it's a Star Dest... Predator!"
"I don't know about you, but I never liked that captain. Go for the bridge deflector shield generators."
"Copy!" Mike twisted his starfighter around the face one of the twin globes positioned on top of the command tower. A pair of proton torpedoes destroyed the first, another volley took the second.
"Good shot!" Nick paired up his own torpedoes and made a run for the bridge. Through the view-screen he could see the frightened figures of the bridge crew, and while turbolasers and ion cannons spewed their deadly fire all around him, he avoided them all. His R2 unit whistled for a solid lock on the bridge and he squeezed the trigger and pulled away, not waiting to see his accomplishment.
Behind him, two torpedoes exploded, vaporising the bridge and everyone in it. Explosions continued down the command tower and soon enough, Predator was dead in space.
"The shield is down! Commence attack on the Death Star!" Ackbar's rough voice said what everyone wanted to hear. The Alliance could win this battle yet.
"Red Group, Gold Group—all fighters follow me!" Lando launched his offensive into the Death Star's depths.
"We're not going in, Five?" Mike asked.
"We're covering the fleet, there are still a lot of TIEs out here," Nick said. His R2 flashed something across his screen. "Look's like Amaya's in trouble."
"TIE group... her shields are down to thirty percent."
"Boltz," Nick addressed his R2 droid, "I need to pump all available energy into the engines."
Boltz bleeped an affirmative and the X-wing shot off in a sudden bust of acceleration. As the corvette Saki loomed closer, they could see a trio of TIE Interceptors harassing her, slowly wearing down the small starship's shields.
Nick got a quick lock and fired off his last torpedo at the nearest Interceptor before they had a chance to react. The others broke off their strafing runs and turned to challenge the X-wings. Saki's gunners managed to vaporise one of them with their turbolasers.
"Two X-wings against an Interceptor? Hardly seems fair, sir," Mike said.
"You complaining, Six?"
"Then cut the chatter and vape him!" Nick opened up with lasers and the TIE was gone.
"We've got to give those fighters more time!" Ackbar commanded. "Concentrate all fire on that Super Star Destroyer!"
Nick turned his craft in time to see the Imperial flagship Executor's bridge deflector shields explode, leaving the command tower open for fire. The massive ship's turbolasers grazed an A-wing and the tiny, fragile starfighter corkscrewed out of control.
The pilot struggled to pull his ship back on course and only half succeeded. His ship plunged into the bridge of the Super Star Destroyer and exploded.
Now Executor was out of control, still at full thrust and heading towards the Death Star. "It's going to ram it!" Mike shouted amid the cheers of celebrating pilots.
This is it, Nick thought, we've got them!
"Move the fleet away from the Death Star!" Ackbar called, as Wedge, Lando and a handful of starfighters blasted from the side of the battle-station.
"Yeeeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaa!" Lando whooped as the Millennium Falcon accelerated away from the doomed Death Star.
Mere moments later, it exploded, lighting up the sky below like fireworks marking the death of the Empire.
Part Three: Encounter
New Republic Research Station M345, Wild Space, six years later
Colonel Nick Fel eased his X-wing fighter out of the New Republic Star Destroyer Hunter's fighter bay, followed closely by the rest of Shadow Squadron, heading towards the small nameless planet below them.
They were responding to a distress call sent out from the research station on the planet below, who were apparently under heavy attack from unknown forces. There were a lot of unknown forces here in Wild Space, on the very edge of the Unknown Regions. A few parsecs from here and no one in the Republic knew what they would find.
The New Republic, the legitimate government formed from the Alliance after the death of the Emperor, had just won another war against the remnants of the Empire, this time led by the tactical genius Grand Admiral Thrawn. But they were beaten back badly now, and this couldn't be the Empire attacking. Or could it? Rumours placed Thrawn in the Unknown Regions between Endor and his appearance last year, so maybe he had hidden forces here. They'd soon find out.
The war against Thrawn had spread the New Republic Military thin, and as a result only one Star Destroyer—the ship formally known as Predator, captured at Endor—and a single starfighter wing had been dispatched to Wild Space. With only sketchy reports about the attackers, nobody knew quite what they were up against.
"Send back sensor data as soon as you have it, Shadow Lead," said Colonel Anton Moore. The captain that had welcomed two defecting Imperial pilots aboard his vessel a decade ago was now a military tactician, leading the force. On the bridge with him, Nick knew, was the starship's captain, Mike Burn.
"Acknowledged, Hunter." Nick led his well-trained squadron out towards the anonymous sensor blips. They weren't transmitting any sort of identification they could recognise. Could it be an entirely new culture?
"Sithspawn! What in the Force is that?" one of his pilots exclaimed.
"Can it, Seven," Nick snapped. "Are you getting these visuals, Moore?"
"Yeah." Moore sounded worried. That wasn't something you heard often from the battle-hardened warrior. "No recognisable power source, we're seeing something that looks like weapon emplacements, but they're not turbolasers or ion cannons."
"Have you ever seen this design before?" Nick asked.
"Never. It looks more like the Imperial Palace than a starship." Moore paused, no doubt once more studying the images of the pyramid-like ship. "There seem to be small fighters around it, engage them carefully. Let's see what they're capable of."
"Hostile forces," Moore broadcasted over all frequencies, "withdraw your fighters and troops from the surface and move away from the planet at once."
Almost immediately, a powerful, echoing voice responded in the same fashion. "Tal'mac kel'tree. Korush'na! Hassac, swaic?"
"I don't know what he said, but I didn't like his tone of voice," Moore told Nick. "Engage the fighters."
"Okay Shadows, break into wing pairs and engage at will." Nick flicked to his wingman's frequency. "Target the pair at oh-six-two-three, on my wing."
Nick closed in on one of the fighters. They didn't look entirely unlike A-9 Vigilance Interceptors or the holos he'd seen of the Hapan Miy'til Fighters, with low curving wings.
He ran at the first one head-on. A gamble, since he didn't know how well they would be shielded or how powerful their weapons were. A few golden blasts of some sort bounced off his shields, making no more damage than a normal laser-cannon would. Nick fired his own cannons a few times and the glider-like fighter disintegrated.
"Moore, if they've got shields, they don't stop lasers. This is like taking on TIEs."
"TIEs have killed a lot of our pilots, Fel. Don't get over-confident."
"Roger, Colonel." Nick targeted the second fighter. "I'm your wing, Two."
"Yessir!" Two zealously vaped the fighter and they moved onto the next nearest. Around them, the rest of Shadow Squadron was doing the same, moving mercilessly through the swarms of virtually defenceless craft.
Hunter started to move towards the strange starship, which had opened fire on Shadow Squadron with more powerful golden energy bolts. Dozens of turbolasers and ion cannons opened up on the enemy ship, pounding its shielding and melting its armour.
Moments later, it limped away into hyperspace.
"Well done, Fel," Moore said, amid cheering in the background, "Head down to the surface. There are bombers, ground troops and more of those TIE analogues moving in on the base."
"You heard him, Shadows," Nick said. "Prepare for atmospheric flight."
Over Research Station M345
M345, known only by its Imperial catalogue number, was in no way the kind of dead, lifeless world one stereotypically expected to find so far from the Core Worlds and so near to the Unknown Regions. It was, in fact, covered in beautiful green plains, with occasional large lakes and forested areas. Nick was told this world was of archaeological interest, and every-so-often they would fly over a dig site. All this was contained on one small continent, and the rest of the planet was covered in one massive, warm ocean with tiny islands and archipelago dotted around the globe.
"Fighters and bombers dead ahead," Five, primary sensor officer for the unit, told them.
"Take the bombers first. They're the primary threat to the base. Engage the fighters only if they pose a direct threat to one of us."
"Copy, Lead," Five acknowledged, and Nine followed suit.
While the fighters proved to be much like your standard TIE Fighter, the bombers proved to be totally unlike the slow TIE Bombers. These were more assault transports than fighters, larger, more manoeuvrable and heavily armed.
Their armour proved tough enough to handle two proton torpedoes before they could be finished off with lasers—fortunately there were only three. Shadow Squadron took two losses, Two and Eight, who bailed out and drifted to the ground on tiny repulsorlifts.
"Okay Shadows, strafe the ground troops!"
The X-wings dived close to the surface, close enough to eyeball the battle between these invaders and the limited New Republic forces on the ground. The attackers seemed to be human, or at least humanoid, wearing metal armour and carrying staffs that seemed to be smaller versions of the fighters' weapons. Under fire from laser cannons and a few well-placed proton torpedoes, they didn't last long.
Shadow Squadron left behind cheering, waving troops as they headed back up to Hunter.
Research Station M345, several hours later
The Lambda-class shuttle's ramp descended and Colonels Fel and Moore stepped down into the remote research facility that owed them its life.
"Well, Commander Fel, we meet again." The fiery-haired woman that met them grinned. "I guess you've just repaid your debt."
"It's Colonel Fel now, Cat," Nick grinned back, "and I was only doing my job. I think you still get one favour."
"You must be Colonel Moore?" Cat asked.
"That's right, I led the mission," Moore said, nodding his head. He had sharp eyes set into his battle-worn features and short, dark hair. He wore brown a New Republic Military uniform, while Nick wore one of the plain flight suits worn by pilots who weren't flying.
"Thank you, both." Cat gestured towards the main building. "If you'll follow me, I'll show you around and maybe shed some light on the attackers."
Cat led them through the pre-fabricated corridors of the base, which had been dropped onto the planet from orbit in segments, then secured and locked together later. The Empire often did the same thing with garrisons on rebellious worlds.
The majority of the station seemed to be made up of storage space. "Are all these warehouses for supplies?" Nick asked as they walked past a hangar-sized area filled with crates.
"No, artefacts," Cat explained. "There's a lot of pieces left over from a civilisation that seemed to inhabit this world centuries ago."
"What kind of artefacts?" Moore asked. "Pots, vases, shoe soles, the usual?"
"No, something very unusual. I'll show you." Cat led them into a sealed lab, with artefacts laid out on long tables. A few scientists and technicians wandered around with datapads, making entries into something. She picked up a long dangling piece of metal and slipped it onto her hand.
"Nice jewellery," Nick commented, a little sarcastically. The piece fitted around her lower arm and hand, a metal claw fitting over each finger. Something that looked disturbingly like a focusing device rested on her palm.
"Maybe. Maybe not." Cat moved along and picked up a piece that was folded up in a tight Z, like a snake. She triggered something and it opened up into a gun-shaped device. Turning to face the wall, she squeezed the device and fired a bolt of blue-white energy into the thin durasteel sides.
"What the hell is that?" Moore gasped. "Some kind of blaster?"
"Why haven't you informed the New Republic of these finds?" Nick demanded. "This looks like the work of an advanced civilisation."
"Maybe one that we should be cautious of," Moore added. "These could come from your friends we just sent home."
"These are new finds," Cat explained testily. "We were about to report when our 'friends' dropped by."
"Anything else you've found?" Nick asked.
"Oh, yes." Cat nodded. "We've got analogues for datapads, comlinks all sorts."
"What's that?" Moore pointed to a large, vaguely man-shaped box up against the wall. "A coffin?"
"Bacta tank, we think." Cat placed the gun back on the table. "Without any bacta."
"Yeah, now let me show you something else. Follow me." She took them towards the centre of the base where, Nick presumed, the command centre would be located.
True enough, they stopped in a large, roughly circular room full of communication and scanning hardware. It reminded Nick of the command centre on Hoth—much of the equipment was the same age.
"Ash, open up the Gate Room, please."
"Sure." A young woman operating a comm unit turned to the central ops console and tapped in a security clearance.
"Now this is really amazing," Cat told them, leading them out the other side of the command centre. Nick turned back to look at Ash, she smiled at him and he winked back. He turned back towards Cat and found himself face-to-face with her. "I realise a pilot of your grandeur has a lot of ego to feed, but this isn't pilot country, so don't flirt with my people in my command centre, okay, Colonel?"
"Yes ma'am!" Nick fell silent. Moore just grinned and chuckled as Cat took them into the largest storage room yet. She tapped in an access code and entered the room, Nick and Anton followed.
"What is it?" Moore asked, looking at awe at the massive gun-metal grey circle that stood in the middle of the room. The multiple rings that made up the device were covered in glyphs that reminded him of constellations, but none he recognised.
"We're not entirely sure." Cat said, moving to a smaller device in front of the ring. "The glyphs on this device correspond to those on the ring. They look like buttons, but pushing them does nothing. It may be out of power."
"Some kind of comm unit?" Nick asked. "The glyphs could be digits to tune the frequency. Or it might be some kind of holoprojector."
"The glyphs match constellations as seen from the sky of this world," Cat said, running her fingers over the runes. "We think transportation."
"But how would it work?" Nick asked.
"We have no idea."
"Speaking of power," Moore started slowly, "none of those ships seemed to have any power source we could read."
"I can explain that." Cat led them into another sealed storage room, entered her access codes into a magnetically sealed safe and pulled out a transparent container filled with what looked like dirt.
"Are you trying to tell us those ships are powered by soil?" Nick asked sceptically.
"This element is found in trace amounts in the soil here," Cat explained. "The power source in the gun you saw has the same atomic make-up as this. We think it's a refined version."
"I want a sample of this fuel to take to command, plus holos and any available schematics for the other devices," Moore ordered.
Nick nodded in agreement. "I have a bad feeling about this."
Part Four: Creation
Coruscant, one year later
General Nick Fel sat behind his wide, expensive-looking desk working on a datapad. Behind him, a transparisteel window looked out on Coruscant, centre of the known universe.
Captured by Wedge Antilles and his squadron five years ago, Coruscant quickly became the capital of the New Republic. Grand Admiral Thrawn had failed to capture it from them, although only days after Thrawn's defeat at Bilbringi and their encounter in Wild Space, the clone of Emperor Palpatine had launched his forces and captured the planet, which was subsequently left in ruins by bickering Imperial Warlords. The New Republic had fled to a secret base on Da Soocha IV, where they had launched attacks against the new Emperor. Last month, Coruscant once again fell to the New Republic. Although battle damage was extensive and portions of the city were in ruins, life on the city-planet was slowly returning to normal.
"General." A gravely voice interrupted Nick from his work. He looked up to see a salmon-coloured Mon Calamari in a white uniform.
"Admiral Ackbar, sir." Nick stood, saluted.
"At ease, General," Ackbar wheezed, taking a seat in front of Nick's desk, who moved around his desk to take a seat opposite the fish-like Admiral. He never felt right seated behind his desk in the presence of the High Commander of the New Republic Military.
"How can I help you, sir?"
"You will remember the incident in Wild Space last year, General?"
"Of course, sir."
"A small portion of our forces are currently engaged with the race you encountered there," Ackbar told him. "We have made contact with a small, relatively primitive planet called Earth."
"No hyperdrive, limited sub-light travel… they use a lot of projectile weapons, nuclear technology, fossil fuels," Ackbar explained. "They have told us a little about our foe, the Goa'uld.
"The Goa'uld themselves are parasites which take on human hosts and control them by attaching themselves to the host's spine. They then use their advanced technology to pose as Gods for primitive races such as the Earthlings. Most Goa'uld are subordinate to one of a handful of System Lords. Their soldiers and pilots are mostly Ja'ffa, a species bred to incubate young Goa'uld larvae. Humans and other species are used as slaves."
"And they don't even mind being slaves because they worship these aliens."
"What's all this got to do with me, sir?"
"Well, General, we have formed an alliance with the Stargate Command on Earth..."
"Ah yes...the circular device you saw at the Research Facility," Ackbar explained, gesturing with his webbed hands. "It can create wormholes linking the device with any other device. Each one has a six-glyph code which pinpoints the location, followed by a seventh glyph to determine the point of origin. The smaller device is used to dial up the gate."
"Thanks for that."
"You're welcome, General." Ackbar opened his mouth in the Mon Calamari approximation of laughter. "As I was saying: We have formed an alliance with the Stargate Command, and we are forming a unit that will be posted on Earth permanently."
"And you want me to be in this unit?"
"No," Ackbar shook his heavy head, "we want you to command it."
Nick looked up abruptly. "Pardon?"
"I think you've commanded starfighter squadrons for long enough, General." Ackbar opened his mouth in his Mon Calamari grin again. "Gather your command team, General Fel."
"I'm honoured, sir." Nick stood and followed Ackbar to the door.
"Have your list ready for tomorrow, General," Ackbar said and he walked swiftly across the outer office and out into the military command building.
Ash looked up from the computer terminal at her desk in the outer officer and raised her eyebrows. "What was that all about?"
"Take the rest of the day off," Nick smiled at her, "and have someone clear out our apartment."
"We're going back to Wild Space." He grinned and turned back into his office.
Senate Assembly Chamber, Coruscant, the following day
"As my executive officer, I'd like Doctor Craig from the Wild Space Research Station first attacked by the Goa'uld." Nick stood before the inner circle of senators that represented the hundred of worlds in the New Republic.
Mon Mothma headed the assembly from the central dais. The small, fragile-looking woman had formed and commanded the Alliance, and was now the New Republic Chief of State. People might call Luke Skywalker or Han Solo heroes, but she was a true heroine of the Alliance. Leia Organa Solo, sister of Skywalker and wife of Solo and another hero of the rebellion sat next to her.
Around them sat the Alliance High Command, many of whom Nick had the distinction of having served under. General Jan Dodonna, who designed and led the attack on the first Death Star. General Carlist Reeikan, commander of Echo Base and fellow Alderaanian. General Crix Madine, instrumental in planning the assault on the Second Death Star. Senator Garm Bel Iblis, another founder of the Rebellion and a powerful warrior. Ackbar, of course, also held a position on the council.
"She has valuable knowledge of ancient civilisations and experience with command situations.
"As my tactical director, Colonel Anton Moore. Like me, he has experience with the Goa'uld and is a celebrated tactician.
"I'd like Captain Mike Burn of the Imperial Star Destroyer Hunter as captain of our Mon Calamari Star Cruiser. I've known him since my days with the Empire and we work well together. Commander Amaya Karrde as first officer, she's another fleet officer I've had the pleasure of working with."
"I'd also like to take Major Ash Morgan as my Systems and Administrative Officer as well as Security Chief and Personal Assistant."
Mon Mothma turned towards Ackbar, who was checking personnel files at his data terminal. "I believe that can be arranged."
"Very well." Mon Mothma turned back to Nick. "Do you have any other requests?"
"Then you are dismissed, General."
Part Five: Transit
Shuttle Renegade, Wild Space, three weeks later
The shuttle carrying Nick and Ash back to Research Station M345 dropped out of hyperspace in an empty region of Wild Space near a small white-dwarf star to make one last course adjustment. Nick sat in the pilot's seat handling the craft, while Ash sat next to him working the nav-comp that would churn out the co-ordinates for their next and final jump.
"Hard to believe there's this much unexplored space," Ash said. "Who knows what could be out there."
"A lot more would've been explored by now if the Old Republic hadn't fallen." Nick guided the craft swiftly towards their next hyperspace vector. "The Empire curtailed most exploration, although there were rumours that Grand Admiral Thrawn was out here doing a lot of charting."
"Knowing our luck, he'll have the Goa'uld allied with the Empire."
"A scary thought." Nick set the shuttle gliding in a direct line towards their waypoint, stretched out in the chair and grinned. "So much seclusion out here, it's almost romantic."
Ash smiled at him. "Yeah, I bet a couple could really..." A sharp, repeated bleeping from the sensor system interrupted her. "Another ship just dropped out of hyperspace in the area."
"Sensors don't recognise it." Nick pulled the ship out of autopilot and twisted round for a visual. "Sithspit." The ship framed in the forward view-screen was roughly pyramid-shaped, with a band of weapons platforms and engines ringing the base.
"The nav-comp needs more time to work out a safe hyperspace path," Ash told him.
"We're too close to the star to risk a blind jump. They're launching Death Gliders... I'm going evasive." Nick kicked up the engines and tried to put distance between them and the incoming Death Gliders. "Arm the cannons. How's your targeting?"
"I don't know, it's been a long time since I've handled shuttle cannons. Like, never."
"Let's find out shall we?" Nick said, indicating the weapons control panel.
He pulled the shuttle—large and sluggish compared to the fighters he was used to flying—in a tight loop and came out on the side of the nearest Death Glider. Ash pulled the trigger and sent crimson laser bolts striking into the fighter. There was little to be said for the shuttle as a combat craft, but it did have powerful cannons. A single shot pierced the glider and detonated it. "Good shot!"
"We've got two on our tail!" Ash called, glancing at the sensors and then the nav-comp.
"I see them." Nick started twisting the craft in random directions, trying to shake the Gliders. Both opened fire with their naquadah weapons and the shuttle's shields dropped down to seventy-percent of full strength. "I can't shake them!"
"We have a hyperspace vector!"
"Punch it!" Nick shouted, putting one hand on the hyperspace lever as Ash entered the vector.
"Done!" Ash shouted, as Nick pulled back the lever, sending them streaking towards the Research Station.
"Now that was close..."
Research Station M345, five hours later
Nick stepped into the same storage room he'd seen over a year ago, little had changed. The Stargate was still stood in the middle of the room, the Dial Home Device or DHD a safe distance away from it. Nick was told that the Gate discharged a stream of energy that vaporised anything in its path. General Dodonna was already demanding research into how they might create a similar effect for use as a weapon.
One new addition was the naquadah reactor borrowed from Earth and used to power up the gate. The internal power source of the DHD was ruined, but this generator could re-power it. This 'naquadah' was apparently the mysterious element that powered Goa'uld ships and weapons. Dodonna wanted teams looking into uses for that, too.
The most recent addition to the room—added only several minutes ago—was his new team. Cat, Anton, Mike, Amaya and Ash were already waiting for him.
"Well speak of the Sith," Cat said. She, like Nick and the rest, was wearing the dark blue uniforms of the United States Air Force. They would be leaving behind New Republic uniforms in order to better blend in at the SGC. They would, however, keep their New Republic ranks. "Guess you finally paid me back, eh General?"
"That I have, Doctor." He grinned. "You'll be studying your not-so-ancient civilisation first-hand now."
For the time being, only the six of them would be operating from the SGC base under Cheyenne Mountain. The rest of Ashleigh's crew and their starfighter pilots would be stationed on the ship, which would stay in position over the dark side of Earth's only moon. This, along with the Star Cruiser's sensor-fooling technology, would easily hide them from Earth's low-tech satellites and RADARs.
In time, they would find their own base of operations in the Unknown Region, gaining the New Republic a foothold in the region, and a strong offensive position against the Goa'uld.
"Well, let's activate the Stargate and go meet our new hosts." Nick said, turning to the DHD, "So it's this curved thing, then this little sperm thing..."
"Auriga and Cetus," Cat corrected.
"Very good," Nick said, dialling each of the seven glyphs in order and placing his hand on the orange orb in the centre to activate the gate. There was a rough grinding noise before the Gate activated, sending a flare of blue energy out into the air around it, before settling into a gently rippling pool.
Nick stepped into it and tried to peer through, but all he could see was the slightly distorted wall of the room. "Okay people... I'll see you on the other side."
They stepped into the Stargate.
Cheyenne Mountain Facility, Earth, Unknown Regions, several seconds later
"Wow," Nick gasped as he stepped out of the other side, into a totally different set of surroundings.
"So that's what it'd be like to walk into hyperspace," Mike said, shaking condensation from his face. "Intense!"
"Welcome, General Fel." General Hammond, a short, heavy-set human and the commander of this facility stood at the base of the ramp, smiling. Nick understood that on matters of base security, he was subordinate to Hammond. On any other matters, he was free to do as he pleased, though he should take Hammond's advice very seriously.
"Thank you, General," Nick said, shaking the shorter man's hand. "This is Doctor Craig, Colonel Moore, Captain Burn, Commander Karrde and Major Morgan."
"What do you call your unit?" asked Hammond.
"Well..." Nick hadn't even considered a name. "We'll call it Rogue Squadron."