[Rebel Fleet arriving to Endor's orbit]
The frightened voice could be heard on board all the Rebel ships.
"TIE Fighters! Hundreds of them!"
In less than a second the space was full of enemy fighters. Lieutenant Rolan Kazanna was as scared as the rest of the pilots watching the incredible wall of fire expand in front of them. No matter how many hours of training one could have behind, how many battles against the same foes survived, the fear was so far the strongest feeling in that moment. The only thought, shared by every sentient on board the Alliance ships, was I'm dead. Even before the TIEs could reach the Rebel fleet, the order in the formation was broken, each pilot trying to evade and engage the enemy at the same time. Rolan maneuvered by pure instinct, his X-Wing just barely escaping from colliding into a TIE interceptor and his own wingman by mere meters. The intercom was full of exclamations, making it almost impossible to understand the orders from the squadron leaders.
"There's too many of them!" An Y-Wing pilot cried out.
"Draw their fire away from the cruisers!" the order came from General Calrissian, on board the Millennium Falcon, an YT-1300 modified transport looking strange between the rest of the fighters.
That's easier said than done! Rolan thought while shooting over a TIE flying rapidly out of his sight, and failing. "Damn!"
There was no time to find his wingman, only to hope he was not too far. Several bright red dots on his right display showed that the same number of TIEs were on his tail. He looped his X-Wing desperately, trying to situate some of them where he could get a good aim. Three shots managed to connect with his rear deflectors before he was even able to evade them. The only good thing about fighting against so many adversaries was that they were always in risk of shooting down one of his own ships, and that was preventing the Imperial pilots from making full use of their superior fire power. Rolan inverted the turn he had started, and with the corner of his eye caught one of the TIEs maneuvering to get out of his comrades line of fire. The Imperial entered instead into Rolan's sight enough to be reached by the four lasers of the X-Wing.
"Eat this!" Rolan exclaimed while elevating his ship over the exploding TIE and its dangerous debris. The adrenaline load triggered out by the first wave of fear was invading his organism turning the desperation into a wild desire of killing before being killed. One of the remaining TIEs had flown directly into the dispersing rests of his wingman's ship, suffering serious damage from the collision with one of the pylons still attached to a section of solar panel, but Rolan never saw it. He broke his previous trajectory forcing the X-Wing into a hard dive, looking at his right display while compensating the punished rear shields with energy from his lasers.
During a short interval, the Rebel pilot could see the unfinished Death Star over his head, seeming vulnerable with her opened side, but untouchable while the deflector shield kept working. They had been told that the shield generator would be destroyed by the commandos there on Endor's Moon before they started their attack, but obviously they had failed. Rolan had seen two X-Wings disappear against the invisible wall, and a moment later the hell had begun. The Rebel fleet never finished their evasive maneuver. In front of them , the space was covered with what appeared to be the whole Imperial Fleet, although Rolan knew that was only one of their battle squadrons. The Rebel fleet was composed by four Calamarian Cruisers, lead by Admiral Ackbar's flagship Home One, some Nebulon-B frigates, a handful of Corellian corvettes, and every available transport with a laser battery installed. The fighter force had been organized in five groups, each one composed by three or four squadrons, taken from wherever the Alliance had been able to find one. Actually, the fleet that Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar had summoned on Sullust for this attack was more than a half of all the ships, crews and pilots the Rebellion had. The rest were now orbiting Mon Calamari, in an attempt to protect this world if the attack against the Death Star failed. Everybody knew that Mon Calamari would be the battle station's first target as soon as it was completed. The Emperor was decided to punish the Calamarians for their support to the Alliance, providing them with their best battle ships. Everybody also knew that if they failed, the forces left at Mon Calamari wouldn't have a chance against the Death Star.
Rolan paled and cursed when the first identifications started to appear on the main screen, as his R2 unit was checking their readings against the fighter's database. It was not any squadron, but the most known and dreaded of all them, the Death Squadron commanded by Darth Vader. The first name was that of his flagship, the Super Star Destroyer Executor, but it was soon followed by other not less famous names. The Tyrant, the Chimaera, the Stalker, the Adjudicator, the Avenger, the Judicator, the Accuser, the Relentless ...
Death Squadron was supposed to be chasing renegade Admiral Zaarin, under the temporary command of Grand Admiral Thrawn, but the Bothan spies had failed this time, or at least the information they had offered was old when they were able to reach their Alliance contacts. The Imperials didn't even need an Interdictor Cruiser to prevent the Rebel ships from abandoning the area. The gravity well created by Endor, which they had used to be taken out from hyperspace exactly over the Death Star, would be now a deadly trap for them. They only would reach a possible jump point cutting their way through the Imperial capital ships, now closing on them. The Death Star on one side, and Death Squadron on the other, they were surrounded by Death.
That is, dead, we are already dead.
After the first two minutes of confusion, the space was now a bit clearer and he was wondering why those big Star Destroyers were not participating in the battle. Just as he was deep into thought, a huge detonation impacted against his fighter, consuming almost all the shields power and throwing him spinning wildly. When he was able to recover the ship's control, Rolan realized that the Calamari Cruiser Liberty was not where she had been a moment ago.
"The Death Star is working!" was the shout in the intercom. Rolan had not been in the battle of Yavin. Although he was told that the first Death Star had destroyed the entire planet of Alderaan with a single shot, it was still hard to believe. A controller, the voice that of a Calamarian, kept calling the Liberty, hoping beyond any hope that there was an explanation for the cruiser's disappearance from the screens, as the terrible deflagration thousands of eyes had seen was less real than a mark on his console. Someone made him be quiet. Rolan discovered that he had been waiting for an answer to that call. A Calamari Cruiser MC80, 1200 meters long with its impressive weaponry, a crew of thousands of people and nothing remained of any of all that! The sweat ran cold from head to toe and only the instinct gave him the reflexes to continue evading the fire from the TIEs that were after him.
"For all the dead suns, look at that Corvette!"
It was almost impossible for the mind to conceive the Liberty's sudden destruction, but the Corellian Blockade Runner in front of him gave him a hint. The Corvette Tannia was one of the closest ships to the Liberty a second ago. Although it had not been directly hit, it had no chance to escape from the terrible explosion. The most of its hammerhead bridge had literally disappeared, leaving a black hole and some twisted rests from the lowest deck in its place. The still working engines were making the ship drift towards their flagship, the Home One.
"They will have to shoot at them..." Rolan muttered between his teeth, unable to move his eyes out of the doomed ship. None of the escape pods had been ejected, but if the safety mechanism had worked, the bulkheads would be sealed and part of the crew could still be alive.
"Tannia," he called. "This is Gray 21, can you copy me?" Imperial fighters kept shooting at him, taking more and more from his shields, but Rolan only could think of the people on board the Corvette. The Liberty's crew could not know what was about to happen to them, but those inside the Tannia did, and nobody was going to be able to help them.
"Twenty-One, this is Twenty-Two, resist a bit more, I'm coming!"
"Den?" That had been his wingman's voice. "The Tannia, they are heading towards Home One..."
"Forget the Tannia, you've got three squints on you tail and that's all you should worry about!"
"I know." Rolan had not ceased jinking erratically to evade the laser bolts constantly looking for his ship, but his eyes always returned to the Blockade Runner after every turn. They were barely at five hundred meters from the Home One, approaching obliquely its port side. At any moment now the big cruiser's gunners would be forced to open fire before the Corellian ship impacted against them.
"Rolan, break right now!" Rolan's wingman's voice screamed in his headphones.
This time the edge of desperation in Den's warning took him out of his trance. Without hesitation, Rolan did what he had been told. An explosion illuminated briefly his cockpit while his R2 unit beeped frantically. The translation scrolling on the screen informed that one of the TIE interceptors had been destroyed. He looked over his shoulder in time to see how one of the other two was hit by another ship, while the remaining one interrupted his attack menaced as he was by Den's X-Wing. He looked confounded at the source of that second shot. It had come from the Tannia. The deadly injured Corvette was moving away from Home One, two of her six laser batteries coming to life. Someone had been able to recover the control of the ship at the very last moment from the secondary bridge, although they didn't answer to the calls. They had probably lost the comms, but miraculously they had enough systems left for them to return to the fight. Rolan sighed in relief.
"Thanks a lot, Den!" He said seeing now in his display a green dot between the crowd of reds. "I just didn't know if you were near!"
"Yes, I'm here, but I don't think I can resist too much more. I'm seriously damaged here!"
His astromech was confirming that. Den's X-Wing had hull damage, and her shields were under fifteen percent. Rolan felt angry with himself. All this time Den had been doing his job, trying to keep Rolan's tail clean of enemies, but there was nobody to do the same for him. He had almost been killed, and that could happen soon, as new Imperial fighters were now trying to put him in their sights. The fear disappeared and a great determination took its place.
"Put your ship at my twelve o'clock and take the lead. Now I'll be your shadow while you recover some of your shields!"
"I wont even
say no!" was Den's answer as he passed under Rolan's ship while sending
all the weapons energy to the battered shields.
"Attack the Star Destroyers! We are going to engage them at close range."
He had heard perfectly the first time. To be at close range of a Star Destroyer seemed suicidal, but at the same time it was the only chance to evade the Death Star, because it couldn't shoot without risk for the Imperial capital ships. In the same way, the Star Destroyers' gunners would need to be extremely careful when shooting against the Rebel forces without damaging their own fighters or at least that was what Rolan believed. When the nearest Star Destroyer opened fire against Den and himself it destroyed one of the TIEs that was hunting them instead.
"Whoaaa, be careful, Den, those guys shoot first and ask questions later!"
There was no answer. The next laser bolt made Den's X-Wing explode in a million fragments.
"Noooooooooo.......!" Rolan cried out. If Den had been behind him like he was moments ago, that ball of fire would had been his own ship. Den had saved him one more time, the last one.
Once again, there was no time to regret. Without even stopping to jink to evade the TIEs and the Star Destroyer's guns Rolan saw one X-Wing launching missiles against one of the towers containing the Destroyer's shield generators. He pulled the stick furiously, directing his fighter towards the other dome and selecting dual missiles. Only being very close to the target they would have a chance to hit it. Otherwise, the powerful particle shields would deviate the warheads with easy. He waited until the tower was already filling all his front view, squeezed the fire button and maneuvered just in time to avoid crashing just after his missiles did. That tower surely had suffered some previous damages because it exploded immediately. The expansive way trapped two TIE Fighters and caused the loss of the rear shields of Rolan's X-Wing.
The Rebel pilot didn't even look back. He tried to compensate his rear shields with the front ones, but that was not much help at all. The good news was that he was momentarily free from any pursuing TIEs and he used those precious seconds to recharge his shields a bit. While doing so, he crossed with two B-Wings and an Y-Wing from Blue Group that were attacking the now unshielded Star Destroyer with all their torpedoes. The happy beeps from the R2 unit said what Rolan wanted to hear: one less Star Destroyer to worry about!
The Rebels' situation was more than desperate, but at least, they now had the initiative. Unable to do anything against the Death Star, the only possible objective were the Imperial capital ships. The Rebel cruisers were trying to put the Star Destroyers between them and the Death Star. The tactic was obtaining some success, because the shots from the huge station were now rare. However, the losses had been very severe and the superiority of the Imperial fleet was painfully clear.
But after a few minutes, a new hope came from Admiral Ackbar's voice.
"The shield is down! Commence attack on the Death Star's main reactor." Three hurrahs for the commandos! Rolan thought.
"We're on our way." this came from General Calrissian, Gold leader. "Red Group, Gold Group, all fighters follow me!"
That left Green, Blue and Gray Groups to protect the remaining Cruisers and Frigates; and to avoid that most of the Imperial fighters would follow Red and Gold inside the Death Star. Rolan had lost contact with his squadron during the fight, as many other pilots. Green Leader, a commander called Arvel Crynyd who piloted an A-Wing, had taken the lead of the remaining fighters, barely a half of the initial force, hounding Death Squadron's Star Destroyers. Blue Leader had died in the first moments of the fight, and Gray Leader had fallen while helping to protect the medical Frigate, the Redemption. Rolan looked at his shields panel and felt better finding that he had recovered his primaries. Following Green Leader's instructions, he launched his X-Wing along with some other pilots against a significant group of TIEs that were leaving the battle to go after the Millennium Falcon and its escorts.
It was evident that the Imperials had not expected that the Death Star's protective shield could fail and the confusion was dominating their actions. While targeting a TIE Interceptor, Rolan thought that probably the orders had been given from the Death Star and whoever was at command, -maybe it was true after all that the Emperor was there!- now had a few things to think about with those ships penetrating in the heart of the battle station. The Rebel pilot concentrated on his job and shot down the Interceptor with several laser blasts. The squint smashed against the Death Star's surface, over which they were fighting now recklessly close. The unfinished structures, coming from inside the station through the wide areas where the hull plates had not been installed yet, were causing as many casualties as the laser shots from both sides. Rolan targeted another Interceptor and forced its pilot to miss the exhaustion port where the Millennium Falcon had penetrated half a minute ago. His R2 unit warned him that several ships, mostly shuttles and transports, were abandoning the Death Star.
"Hey, you guys!" A Rebel pilot said cheerfully, "It seems that they are evacuating!"
A wave of hope inundated the Rebels. They were now fighting with more intensity, if that was even possible.
"We've got to give those fighters more time!" Again the Admiral Ackbar's voice. "Concentrate all fire on the Super Star Destroyer."
Rolan had not seen a Super Star Destroyer until now. "A Death Star and a Super Star Destroyer the same day," the X-Wing pilot said to himself. "If I survive today, I'll have something to tell my grandchildren!" Some of the TIEs he was pursuing were changing their routes and running away. "It seems that nobody wants to be near the Death Star," Rolan heard someone to say. He turned his X-Wing to face the Executor, but a new threat made him change his mind. Four TIEs Advanced coming from the Death Star were joining the battle. They had to be part of the elite squadrons assigned to the battle station, or maybe they were the Emperor's personal escort. The fact was they were engaging the Rebel fighters that were heading to the colossal Super Star Destroyer.
"This is Gray 21..." Rolan said into the intercom, "I have four TIE Advanced incoming... No, there are four more! Can someone help?"
"This is Gray 15," a female voice answered. "I'm with you."
"Ok, take the four that are just arriving and I'll do my best with the rest." Rolan replied
"Sure!" Gray 15 said, with a tone of confidence that would sound strange in someone who was engaging four TIEs Advanced alone, but the feeling was common in that moment in all the Rebel pilots, forgetting the fear and desperation of just some minutes ago.
Rolan didn't bother to target a TIE in particular, he shot repeatedly against all the group, buying more speed with some of the shields energy. He didn't shoot down any of the TIEs, but he got his first objective, to force them to break their attack against the B-Wings that were pounding the Super Star Destroyer. An A-Wing appeared from somewhere and managed to destroy one of the touched TIEs. R2 identified the A-Wing as Green Leader.
"Good job, Twenty One!" Commander Arvel Crynyd said. "I've lost most of my group. Help me to keep these bandits away from our Bombers and perhaps we'll be able to call it a day."
"Roger, Leader. R2, target the one with the lower shields!" Rolan ordered to his astromech. He moved against the fighter selected by the droid, trying not to worry about the one who was now at his tail. He saw briefly the white and red A-Wing continuing the chase of the one who was attacking the B-Wings. And almost out of his vision field he caught a glimpse of new ships closing on the courageous pilot.
"Be careful, Green Leader!" Rolan warned. "You've got three more after your tail!"