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Part I

    It was the best of times but it would become their greatest nightmare ...  The business of exploration entered a boom period and the galaxy had been at peace for almost 10 years.  Thepeople of the Republic had put the horrors of the Clone Wars behind them and were well on their way to rebuilding what had been lost.  Two years into their exploration voyage, the crew of the Mon Calamari cruiser Argo discovered another promising solar system deep in a nebula.  Located near the borders of the ‘Unknown Regions’, it consisted of two small stars each orbited by 3 and 2 planets respectively.

Note:  The Explorations Unlimited Mon Calamari cruisers are in the original, pre-Rebel Alliance configuration.  They are not the same as the versions that have been upgraded, up-gunned, and modified with military-grade hardware and additional hangar bays for the Rebel Alliance.  "The Mon Cal cruisers were originally civilian ships designed for pleasure cruises and colonization efforts…After forcing the Empire from Calamari, the Mon Cals converted their ships to military duty by adding thick hull plating and numerous weapon emplacements."  (Essential Guide)  It is not a stretch to say that they were also quite popular as exploration ships.

    One of the newest ships in the fleet of Explorations Unlimited, the Argo had already garnered a reputation as a nearly indestructible ship.  Its banks of shield generators allowed it to easily shrug offion storms that often left victory star destroyers crippled.  In fact, once they had rescued one such ship.  The Argo’s primary purpose was not search and rescue however.  It was built for one purpose: exploration of space.

[Newly discovered system.  Designation Unspecified. Argo’s Hangar Bay.]

    The atmosphere was jubilant as the sleek exploratory vessel slid into orbit around the planetdesignated "Little Brother" and the sensor technicians and cartography teams went to work.  One year had passed since the Argo had left the Company headquarters in Corellia on another exploratory foray into the unknown regions of space.  As was common in exploratory missions, months flew by without encountering a planet suitable for colonization or terra forming. In fact, simply finding a new solar system
was cause for celebration.  In the year since they departed, the Argo had not had any luck at all andeveryone was understandably eager for a change of pace.  After determining that the atmosphere was
not toxic and mapping the surface thoroughly, the eager science teams were finally allowed to disembark and begin their study one week after orbital insertion.

    With a wild cheer, various personnel began to rush into landing craft laden with various equipmentand supplies needed for the duration of their stay on Little Brother.  On the other side of the cavernoushanger bay, there was an equally enthusiastic rush towards a small rank of escort fighters.  Ensconced in the fighter staging area were a squadron of shiny, new Z-95 Headhunters, a squadron of Albatross sensor platforms, and a half squadron of prototype interceptors.  As the mechanics watched, a four-ship
escort slid from their service bays and into the take off pattern.  Followed closely by the landing shipsand one more escort group, they slipped out into space through the atmospheric curtain surrounding the
hanger door.  After the fighters and landing ships left, a few maintenance bees followed them out to do a little repair work on the outer hull.

[Headhunter Ghost 1.]

    In the lead Headhunter, Lieutenant j.g.. John "Wildman" Samuels reveled in the sensation of flight after a two-week turn on the bridge as flight coordinator.  A quick look at his scanners revealed the ungainly landing ships strung out in a neat line closely shepherded by the two flights of Headhunters.  He stifled a laugh as he watched his wingman break out into a barrel roll.  6 months without flying save for simulators could drive anyone off the wall.  His flight of four consisted of two elements, himself, ‘Bird one’, and Flight Officer John "Bird" Collins his wingman, ‘Bird two’; and Lieutenant Dan "Big ‘Olet"(A story for another time.) Mazza and Flight Officer Stephen "Ace" Chiu, Bird three and four respectively.

    As they began to enter the atmosphere, Wildman turned his attention to the planet below.  About the size of Corellia, Wildman’s home planet, Little Brother was half covered in water.  The 5 continentsseemed heavily wooded and he could spot a few mountain ranges in the distance.

    This could be a nice place to spend the rest of my life, he thought to himself absentmindedly. Toobad it’s so far away from everything.  Maybe in a few years, he mused, I could come back here and get a colony started.

    He led the Headhunters on a flyby of the landing zone and then ordered the squadron to make aperimeter sweep before landing.  As they began their sweep, Wildman could see the security personnel and armored vehicles pour out of the drop ships.  A rudimentary defensive position was formed almost before the scientist’s ships touched down.  By the time Ghost squadron had finished their perimeter sweep and landed at the temporary landing site, the prefabricated structures were already going up and
the pilots threw themselves into the work with gusto.


[Worker Bee on repair detail along the Argo’s hull.]

    Worker bee 215B was drifting slowly along the dorsal side of one of the large engine pods when itssensors begin to squawk at the pilot, Jonathan Swift.  "Wha?!"  Jon was startled out of his cheerfulcontemplation of his newest novel.  "Foreign object off the starboard bow, 230 meters?  Aw… great. Not mynocks again?!"

    Several weeks ago the Argo unsuspectingly passed too close to an asteroid belt while charting anewly discovered solar system.  The resident horde of mynocks had literally blocked out the sun.  They had had to flee the system ignobly with mynocks nipping after them the entire way to the nearest jumppoint.

    Grumbling deprecations about the ancestry of the engineers who consistently ignore reports aboutinsufficient shielding, Jon powered up the small blaster that had become standard worker bee issue after the first couple deep space missions.  As he approached the spot however, his floodlights failed to reveal the expected warped frame of a mynock.  Instead, Jon’s heart leaped into his throat andenergetically tried to jump out and hid under his seat.

    A midnight-black droid about the size of his ship popped out of the shadows and began sprayingblaster bolts at him.  With a terrified howl, Jon flung his throttle past the 100% mark and tried to pull hisflight stick out of the floor.  As his worker bee sluggishly pulled away, he opened a link to C & C andtried to update them on the situation.  Before C & C replied, the speakers emitted a loud squeal, characteristic of an extremely high-powered Omega signal and a big explosion sent his worker bee
tumbling end over end.

"I think it blew up on purpose!  No it wasn’t one of their designs.  I don’t know!  I didn’t exactly have time to sightsee."

"Very well.  Return to the hangar bay immediately for debriefing, C and C out."

[Explorations Unlimited Camp on the planet temporarily named "Little Brother".]

"So when do you think we’re gonna be movin’ out boss?" asked Big ‘Olet later that night.  Wildman waited until his plate had been filled before answering his friend of six years.

"Well, one science team just left for the North Pole yesterday and there’s another leaving for one of the southern continents tomorrow.  I’d give it another two months or so before we’ve gathered all the data we need."  They moved through the crowded mess hall and sat down at one of the tables outside of the plastic, prefabricated structure.

"Then it’s back to months in space looking at the scanners and telescopes again, huh" Big ‘Olet mumbled to himself.  "I wonder how things are going with Stephen and his new lady love in the pathfinder’s squad.  Scuttlebutt says they’re gettin--" ‘Olet’s comment was forgotten as their COM links began beeping simultaneously.

    They reacted with the seasoned reflexes of combat veterans and were running for their fighters even before the Mon Calamari communications officer began to speak.  The gurgling distortion that was oneof the trademarks of the Mon Calamari was unable to hide his nervousness when he spoke.  "An unidentified vessel has exited hyper space on the far side of the planet.  It is not broadcasting an ID.  I’m putting on the flight coordinator."  Wildman’s hackles rose as he heard that.  "Come on!  Move your
asses!" ‘Olet was screaming at his squadron mates.  "We’ve got trouble headed our way."

    "Commander!  The Ghost squadron fighters remaining onboard will be providing cover for the Argo.The ship has not answered our hails and is powering up weapons-- Incoming fighters!" barked the flightcoordinator of the shift.  Pirates, he thought viciously as he strapped on his helmet and life supportsystems.  As he lowered the canopy and triggered his engines, he could see Ace and Bird alreadytaking off on repulsor lifts.

[Bridge of the Argo.  Far side of "Little Brother".]

    Since all-out combat with heavily armed space pirates was not part of the itinerary, the Argo was only lightly armed with 10 turbo lasers and a quad-concussion missile launcher.  Thankfully its shields were more than strong enough to kept the ship in one piece long enough for them to evade pirate attacks.Capt. Hans Tokagawa was taking no chances though and ordered a withdrawal to the other planet while the squadron took care of business.  "Scramble the 4 Ghost squadron fighters remaining on board to
provide cover for Argo."

    Even as he gave the order his face showed how much he hated to leave the squadron outnumbered 8 to 12 without support.  But there were civilians on his ship to consider and a pirate squadron if armedwith an ample supply of proton torpedoes could with some work disable or destroy his ship especially considering his scant fighter support.

"Do you have an ID on those fighters yet, Sensors?"

"Not yet Captain, just a little longer…Y-Wings!! What the devil?"

"Sensors, this isn’t the time or place to fool around.  Y-wings!  Come on.  They’re the newest fighters on the market.  Double check your readings."

"They still say Y-wings, sir."

"Oh brother, pirates with Y-wings.  The Republic is going to Hell in a hand basket."

    The bridge of the Argo was tense as the communications officer tried to hail the unknown ship and it’s fighters:  "Unidentified ships, this is the Republic ship Argo.  Please identify yourself."  After repeated attempts to establish communications failed, the unknowns were designated hostile.  "Activate shields and weapons.  Bring Argo to general quarters!"  Capt. Tokagawa barked.  The bridge crew leapt into action.

    Good luck my friend and may the Force be with you. Capt. Tokagawa watched helplessly asWildman’s squadron formed up above the Company’s camp and sped towards the intruders glowing red on the scope.

[100 km South of the Company camp.  3000 ft.]

    Wildman fidgeted as he watched his shields and weapons levels climb.  5 km … 4 … 3 … 2 … He bit out orders even as the pirates came into visual range:  "Y’all know the drill.  Stay with your wingman and don’t let any of them get through to the base.  Now get down in there and wrassel ‘em around some!"  A chorus of affirmatives was heard as the pirates came into view throwing spears of light at the squadron. Drawing on skills honed by 20 years of service with the Republican Navy, he ducked below their fire and then brought his fighter’s nose back to bear on the enemy.  Concentrated return fire from the massed
Headhunters blew away two of the attackers with the help of a judicious, last minute concussion missile
barrage on the first pass.  "Big!  Heads up.  I want you to take number 2.  I’ve got leader."

    As they flew past each other, Wildman was amazed to see that the pirates were flying battle-scarredY-wings rather than the more common Uglies, a hodgepodge mixture of different fighter parts that the builder happened to have on hand.  He realized what was going on when he saw that none of the Y-wings carried R2 units and spied hastily painted over unit patches. Later, he spotted one whose ioncannon turret was still partially disassembled.  Probably recently stolen from a repair depot along the
Outer Rim.  The Koensayr BTL-S3 Y-wing had only been unveiled last year.  Some poor S.O.B. of a
Republic officer is getting his ass chewed off for first getting a squadron of the Republic’s newest advanced star fighters torn up and loosing them. "I’m hit!  I’m hit!  Ejecting!" Unfortunately for us, they must have been repaired before being stolen since they seem to be in prime working condition he thought angrily as he saw his wingman take multiple hits and break up.  Thankfully he caught sight of the
canopy blowing off and the blur of an ejection seat before the Headhunter exploded.

"Sax, break right!  Break right!  Harder!"

"Got the bastard!"

"Eat this sucker!  Haha!"

    The Y-wing squadron would have been more than evenly matched against his Headhunters save forthat fact that Ghost squadron pilots were all combat veterans and that these particular Headhunters were block AF4 Z-95s. It also helped that Capt. Tokagawa had sent his CAP to assist after he saw the pirates would not be getting anywhere close to the cruiser. Even Ace, their ewest pilot, had several fighter kills under his belt from his time with a planetary space force.  Wildman saw Ace and ‘Olet execute a complicated weave pattern that resulted in a collision between two over-eager pirates and the destruction of another.

"Scratch three bogies."

"Ace, vertical scissors on my mark."

"Wildman, you’ve got one on your ass!  Move it."

"I see it but I can’t shake him."

"Not to worry big boy, I’m on ‘em.""Yee-haaa!"

    An Y-wing pulled into a steep climb directly into the path of a headhunter.  The headhunter twisted and slid between the Y-wing’s two engine pods but then was caught by four dual laser blasts simultaneously.Another Y-wing broke left into his wingman causing a large explosion that engulfed half of a headhunter’s wing leaving it singed and half slagged.

20 incredibly tense minutes later, it was all over.  The pirate squadron shattered, the pirate ship fled intohyperspace after recovering the tattered remnants of its squadron.  Three pilots downed.  Not badconsidering we were up against 12 Y-wings,  Wildman thought. He opened a channel to Argo and confirmed the S & R shuttle’s ETA as well as an assault transport to pick up the pirates.  After the pilots were picked up, he contacted his squadron, "Ghosts, let’s get back to the Argo.  I’ve got a date."  With a bed, he failed to add as a few tired catcalls came over the comlink.

    They later found out from the captured pirates that the unlucky thieves had been tracking the Argoin hopes of an easy capture. They were not aware of the quality of Argo’s fighter squadrons until it wastoo late.

     Two months later and with surveys completed on all of the planets, the Argo left the orbit of Dantooine and entered hyperspace bound for Corellia.  Once at Explorations Unlimitedheadquarters, Wildman retired and was succeeded by Lieutenant Dan "Big ‘Olet" Mazza.  Lieutenant Stephen "Ace" Chiu and Lieutenant Heather Chung in the pathfinder’s squad were married.  By the
time they left on the next survey mission 2 years later one child, Hank, had been born.  These eventscoincided with the takeover of the Galactic Republic by a previously little known Senator Palpatine
and the establishment of the Galactic Empire.

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