Raiven awoke with a start, sitting upright in the narrow bunk, the cry dying on his lips. He looked across to the chrono resting on his bedside table. The red digits stared balefully back at him. 02:12. Damn, he thought, Third night in a row.
Climbing out of bed, he visited the refresher and climbed into a shipboard jumpsuit, one of the flightsuit-style ones often worn by the off-duty pilots of the squadron. Michael "Raiven" Rovardi walked to the door, opened it and slipped quietly outside. He made his way along the corridors to the Strike Carrier Wolf's Lair's main hangar.
Pausing at the door, Raiven scanned the hangar deck for signs of life. The squadron's A- and B- Wing fighters were stored there, packed tightly and neatly into the limited hangar floorspace. One of the A Wings was being worked on by Drake's R2 droid, Ledner. Looking around, Ledner warbled a greeting to Raiven, who simply waved back. Crossing to the far corner of the hangar, Raiven looked up at the fighter hanging from the overhead racks. Partially hidden in the shadows of the ceiling, the TIE Advanced hung, battle scarred but intact. Ledner wheeled up behind Raiven and warbled once more, this time with an interrogative tone.
"I couldn't sleep", said Raiven, guessing at the meaning of the droid's question. Ledner warbled again.
"Sorry, shortie, I don't understand. We never used to fly with Astromechs, so I never learned to figure out what you guys talk about."
This time Raiven understood Ledner - a kind of electronic sigh - as he trundled back across the hangar bay towards one of the doors. A short time later, Raiven also left the hangar, heading forwards.
He walked into the Bomb Shelter - the Wolf's Lair's private - in fact, secret - bar, frequented by the squadron's pilots - expecting to find it deserted. Instead, he found two of his fellow pilots, Ibero and Drake, drinking at one of the tables.
"Hey, Raiven, come and join us", said Ibero, before Raiven could turn around and leave.
"I didn't expect anyone to be here at this time" replied Raiven, an unspoken question in his eyes.
"Well, the walls between cabins are pretty thin here, so when I heard Drake was still awake I offered to join him for a late drink", said Ibero without a hint of defensiveness. "What about you? Couldn't sleep?"
Raiven walked to the bar and helped himself to a glass of iced water.
"No Blue Stuff?" asked Drake, indicating the tall glasses from which he and Ibero were drinking.
Raiven smiled briefly. "Ever since I saw that stuff for the first time, I've been trying to figure out what it reminds me of. I worked it out yesterday. The hyperdrive on the Assault Gunboat used to run hot if it wasn't calibrated exactly, so we used to have to top up the coolant from time to time. The coolant looked just like that stuff you're drinking."
"In fact, I think it was ethanol based, too," he added mischievously.
Ibero and Drake looked at each other, then slowly pushed away their glasses. Ibero leaned forward.
"Nice try. Come on, you didn't answer my question."
Raiven made a face and drank some of his water.
"It's nothing, just a nightmare," he finally answered.
"The same one you've been having for the past three nights?" asked Drake.
Raiven stared at him. "How did you know about that?" he demanded.
Drake shrugged. "Ledner's seen you wandering about at all hours for the past couple of nights. I asked him to come and tell me if he saw you again. He mentioned seeing you in the hangar just now. I think he's actually quite worried about you"
"Damn mobile rubbish bin" muttered Raiven under his breath, but his heart wasn't in it. He looked across at Ibero. "And Ledner's beeping woke you up, right?"
"Sort of" replied Ibero "Are you going to tell us about it? Or are you going to just keep it bottled up inside?"
It had been a long three days without much sleep.
Raiven sighed. "OK, but for now, it goes no further, understood?"
Ibero and Drake nodded.
"You were both there when the Commander introduced me to the squadron last week, so you know the basics. That I was an Imperial pilot. That I defected to the Alliance. And that I helped out Solo last year."
Again, the other pilots nodded, wordlessly.
"I attended the Fighter Training College on Ogive IV, a subsidiary campus of the Imperial Academy itself, where I learned to fly most of the Imperial starfighters. I was there when Skywalker dropped a couple of Proton Torpedoes on the first Death Star at Yavin. Of course, as flight cadets, we weren't told that.
"Upon graduation, I was assigned to the ISD Dominator, where I served firstly as a Fighter pilot, then progressed my way through the ranks and the ships as the attrition thinned us out. Not just from contact with the Rebel Alliance, either. The Sepan civil war, the Zaarin and Harkov Incidents as part of the fleet under Thrawn. They all took their tolls. I flew all of the Imperial starfighters in service, plus a few you may or may not have heard of. My superiors obviously thought I showed promise, since I progressed quickly to command a flight, normally of TIE Advanceds.
"My flight - The Dark Stars, as we were known, - performed special ops, fighter cover for commando raids, etc., where our hyperdrive capability was useful. It was while we on such a mission that it happened."
Raiven got up and walked to the bar for a refill. This time, he selected and poured a small amount of Mannansk Vod'kar into his tumbler along with fresh ice cubes.
Ibero and Drake looked at each other, then Drake spoke up. "What happened?"
"It started innocuously enough. We were assigned a flight of Gunboats and ordered to make a recon pass at Nar Shadaa. The mission objectives were to ID and confirm the position of a convoy forming there. Strictly speaking, the system was neutral so we were going in simply to fly the flag. We were totally outgunned if the criminals and smugglers there decided to press the issue, but previous flights had shown no signs of trouble. After hooking up with the corvette group Flashfire, we went in, imitating a standard system patrol. The natives knew we wouldn't fire upon them first, but they also knew that to start a fight would be to invite a heavy Imperial presence in the system in the near future. This lead to a tradition of insults, close passes and games of chicken between the Imperials and the various criminal elements there.
"We dropped in fairly close to the convoy, centred around an old Bulk Cruiser, the Hired Gun, and an old Corvette, the Quick Cred - obviously mercenary ships. The rest of the convoy consisted of a couple of bulk freighters, an old StarSeer Passenger Liner, some Modular Conveyors, and various Lambda class shuttles, light freighters and transports. The Hired Gun carried a squadron or two of R41 Starchasers and Z95 Headhunters, which scrambled to meet us and make sure we didn't interfere with the convoy. We probably could have taken them easily enough, but our orders were to not fire unless fired upon, and besides, we didn't need to get too close to complete our mission. After a couple of runs at each other, sending taunts and insults and pulling away at the last possible second, both sides backed off and we left the system to rendezvous with the Star Destroyer. We were joined there by the Interdictor Restrainer. Apparently we had fulfilled the mission objectives successfully, and we were ordered to take a couple of hours rest and prepare to fly again.
"Eight hours later we were ordered to our TIE Advanceds as the Dominator jumped through hyperspace. The mission was to interdict the convoy once it was safely out of the Nar Shadaa system, inspect it for contraband and capture any fugitives and materiel going to the Rebellion, without interference from the natives of Nar Shadaa.
"We arrived literally in the middle of nowhere, interstellar space with no systems or even comets nearby. Two squadrons of TIE fighters, Alpha and Beta, and one of Interceptors, Iota, were launched to provide fighter coverage for the mission, while Gunboat Group Rho were to disable any ships attempting to flee or resist. Transports Omega would deliver commandos to capture the ships. Our mission was to make fine scans of all craft using our enhanced sensors. The Restrainer powered up its grav field and the trap was set.
"Our intelligence was pretty good, as we were kept waiting for only a few minutes when the first convoy craft arrived. The Hired Gun was part of the second wave, just a few seconds later. They deployed their fighters, a squadron each of Z95 Headhunters and R41 Starchasers. We left the fighter sweep to Alpha, Beta and Iota and set about our own mission. As flight leader, my craft was set to receive the data from the entire flight, and relay it back to the Star Destroyer. We split up and started IDing and inspecting ships. Most of the transports and shuttles had 2 or 3 blasters on board, standard for crew sidearms. The freighters and conveyors were carrying food, medical supplies and some construction equipment and shelters. One was carrying some kind of refined mineral. The passengers were mixed, men, women, children, and a few aliens. No contraband, illegal weapons caches or anything like that was found.
"By the time we had IDed most of the ships, with the exception of the Bulk Cruiser and the Corvette, the fighter squadrons had been eliminated, and the rest of the convoy had either halted and dropped their shields or been disabled. I set up for a high speed pass on the Hired Gun while DS3 made a pass on the Quick Cred. I made an inspection pass at 1.5m along the spine of the cruiser, evading the turbolaser fire with just a couple of hits. Then DS3 finished his pass and my computer signalled that an item had been discovered aboard the corvette: 'matching preset parameters LS', it said. A few seconds later, we were joined insystem by two new ships: the SSD Executor and the ISD Avenger. Vader himself had come. Although I didn't realise it at the time, the object discovered by my wingman was a lightsaber - I pulled the data from my ship's log afterwards to confirm it. Jedi. No wonder Vader was interested. The Dominator and the Restrainer were ordered to recover their fighters and commandos and leave the area immediately, the Executor would take charge of the operation from now. Even before the order was finished, the Executor and the Avenger opened fire on all the remaining operational but surrendered ships of the convoy with ion cannon, quickly disabling them all. The two warships, the Hired Gun and the Quick Cred , lasted a little longer but soon they were also disabled. Meanwhile, the Dominator's bays were busy trying to receive over 20 starfighters (apparently the convoy's fighter escort had taken a few Imperials with them) and 6 stormtrooper transports, so the TIE Advanceds and Assault Gunboats were ordered to jump under their own power back to the rendezvous point.
I was suspicious as to what was about to happen, so I ordered my wingmen to jump first while I stayed around to confirm their jumps had succeeded before leaving myself. The Gunboats went first, followed by the Dark Stars and then the Restrainer. Instead of following them, I set the computer to microjump about 20 light minutes along the route back to the rendezvous point. The Dominator must have followed me out. I arrived at my observation point, powered down most of my systems and waited. 21 minutes after initiating my microjump, my EM sensors started to receive data. An assault transport from the Executor docked with the Quick Cred, and then left a few minutes later. The old Corvette had been captured, and made it's into the Executor's bay."
Raiven looked down at the glass in his hand. Empty again. He refilled it and continued the story.