Authors comments about the story.
Foxfire, still wearing her orange flight suit, stepped into the turbolift that would take her to the deck where the Captain’s quarters were located. At this precise moment she would kill for a shower and a good nap, but the summons – that also included the other four pilots occupying command positions in her fighter squadron – indicated that this was urgent. As usual, when the Captain calls. Foxfire sighed, and waited, resigned, for the turbolift to stop. When the door opened she found her partners there. Moose, the Operations Officer, winked at her, and part of the tension she felt softened.
"Let’s go see what we’ve broken this time," she joked.
"Besides my fighter, you mean." Torpedo, the Tactical Officer said.
"Yes, besides that," she said making a face, and causing everybody to laugh. That made her feel good. Foxfire had gotten to consider Vyper, Ibero and Torpedo as close friends, and Moose was more, much more. They had been flying together for years, contributing with their effort to force the Empire to withdraw a bit more everyday. They had shared unnumbered dangers battle after battle, the wild joy of the victories, the grief, impotence and dispair of the defeats, the tears for the fallen friends, the laughs in those precious moments of comradeship they had enjoyed... All that created perdurable bonds that seemed unbreakable. With work, courage and sacrifice, Foxfire had climbed positions until being in command of the squadron, and she ambitioned no more. It was a privilege to be commanding these people. It was a pleasure to live among them. Here and now she felt complete. There was nowhere else where she wanted to be, nothing else she would like to be doing instead.
Foxfire loved being Wolfshead Squadron Commander.
She was going to lose it all in the next thirty minutes.
A Navy soldier had opened the door for them, and closed it as soon as they entered. Colonel Gen'yaa, captain of the New Republic Strike Carrier Wolf's Lair, stood at the centre of the room, between her desk and the conference table, where several officials of her own staff waited. She narrowed her grey eyes, composing the expression her subordinates had learned to associate with extreme annoyance. Everybody considered it highly recommendable not to be in the same room with her, if you could find a legitimate reason to be somewhere else, when she was wearing that expression. Foxfire was bothered, terribly bothered, by the fact that she was not immune to the Captain’s killer glance. She knew that if she tried to look Gen’yaa back in her eyes, she would inevitably be defeated in that contest of gazes, no matter she could not find any rational reason to explain it – besides being subordinate in rank. Instead, she stood looking forwards in her best martial stance. Foxfire didn’t need to look around to be certain that all those who had been summoned with her to the Captain’s quarters were adopting similar attitudes, waiting for the Captain to explain what was this all about. She also didn’t need Jedi powers to anticipate that they were not here to receive praise or hear good news.
Foxfire noticed that the Captain looked more unmistakably Bothan than ever before. She had allowed her eyebrows to grow thicker these last months, stretching over her temples before merging with her abundant pale blonde hair. This change, obviously deliberate, made it harder to mistake her as a human. Today, human and Bothan species were considered genetically incompatible, but that was not entirely true a generation ago, as Vyper, the squadron second in command, had explained to Foxfire when they first meet Colonel Gen’yaa – more accurately, he had explained it right after meeting her for the very first time. There was a time, forty years before, more or less the age they attributed to Gen’yaa, when the high class Bothan families had paid generously for the services of the best Imperial genetic engineers to make that combination possible. With Emperor Palpatine's intense xenophobic policy, this was the only way for Bothans to make sure their offspring would climb to the power and privileges they had been accustomed to for generations. Paradoxically, this was also what, less than a year before, had allowed the Bothan spies – always chosen among those with the most human features – to betray the Emperor and participate actively in the events that led to his destruction. Now things had changed drastically in Bothawui and its colonies, and being a pure Bothan was a very good thing if you were looking for a fast and profitable career in the military or in politics. Foxfire realized that the ship Intelligence officer, Lieutenant Commander Mesch Dey'jeaa, with his short height, black fur and long hair, flat nose and sharp ears, was surely a constant reminder of this for Colonel Gen'yaa. Foxfire wondered morosely for a second if the Captain would ever admit, not even to herself, how much she was worried about how Bothan she looked.
Gen’yaa indicated to all of them with a vague gesture to take a seat around the conference table, staring absently at the parabolic focus of the holoprojector installed at the center. She pressed a key on the small panel placed at her section of the table, bringing the projector to life. It showed a frozen image of a shuttle flying against a starfield, and a red and blue icon on a corner. On Foxfire’s left, Ibero, the squadron Intelligence Officer, murmured "Give us ten minutes, and we’ll give you the galaxy."
"This was transmitted by the Coronet City Holocast News half an hour ago. For those of you who may not have seen it, this is the most popular current events programme of the Corellian media." Foxfire realized that Ibero’s previous comment meant that he had recognized the floating icon. Maybe I should watch holovision a little more. Gen’yaa continued. "Don’t doubt that, even now, Imperial News services will be giving as broad a coverage as they can to this, not to mention what the Seibergians will be doing with it." Gen’yaa kept silent for some moments, to let the significance of all this to reach everybody, even before seeing the holo. The New Republic depended almost entirely on the image of justice and democracy they were trying to create for themselves, in order to attract pacifically new planetary systems, which would otherwise remain true to the Empire. The attacks against that image were constant in the Imperial media, and even in non-aligned sectors like Corellia. They were bad enough when they were constructed on top of lies, that the New Republic had to work hard to prove false. Were it to be revealed that there was a kernel of truth behind one of these campaigns, though, the damage could be disastrous and maybe irreversible. Foxfire felt a sense of urgency, fearing what they were about to see. Gen’yaa continued. "It has been ten minutes since Admiral Ackbar sent this recording to me, with orders to call him back as soon as I had taken a look at it and started an investigation." The emphasis she gave to the words Admiral Ackbar was a key that none of her reduced audience could ignore. If the Mon Calamari admiral in command of the New Republic fleet personally contacted one of his captains, the matter could only be one of the highest importance. Taking that into account, the word investigation, which Gen’yaa had almost spat, was even more serious.
"An invest-...?" Foxfire started to say. She knew better than to ask Colonel Gen'yaa anything before being invited by her to do so. But something in her tone, her even-more-than-usual stern attitude, or the damned five degrees colder that this room seemed to be in comparison with the rest of the ship, pulled Foxfire to talk on an impulse. Colonel Gen'yaa interrupted her with an impatient look while she activated the hologram.
"I’m the one who has questions to be answered, Lieutenant Colonel. But first this will illustrate you about the kind of mess you and your men may have put all of us into."
Foxfire took a puzzled look at Vyper, seated across the table, but he just shrugged, indicating he had as little idea about what was going on as her.
"These images had been sent to us by our special reporters covering the conflict in the system of Seibergia," a news reader started saying, "and show what Corellian search and rescue teams found in the area of the most recent catastrophe." Wolfshead Squadron, along with several other New Republic fighter units, had been operating in the Viayak cluster, and particularly in the Seibergia system, for nearly three months now. Foxfire studied the pattern of stars on the background of the image, where it could be clearly distinguished the presence of Seibergia, the only inhabitable planet of the system and equally named. She realized that this could actually be the region of space where their last mission had taken place. She stiffened as an alarm was triggered deep in her mind.
"As we have been reporting for the last three weeks," the reader’s voice continued, "the Rebel Alliance has maintained one more day its campaign of terror in the space of Seibergia system, under the excuse of protecting the Balanish population of the planet from their Seibergian neighbours." Moose snorted when he heard this. The Corellians were not happy at all about their loss of influence over the Viayak cluster when the Empire had withdrawn from this sector, two months ago, but this version of the present situation was contemptible, to say the least. Foxfire squeezed his hand under the table in sympathy. She suspected the worst was still to come. "This masquerade has been conclusively exposed today when Rebel fighters attacked those whom they pretend to defend. We warn our viewers that the images we are about to show are not pleasant to see." All right, now nobody will move from his seat, Foxfire thought, forgetting for a moment that this had been transmitted several hours before. The holo-camera stopped following the shuttle and the view expanded as the ship slowed down at its destination, the darkened remnants of what had been a bulk freighter. Smaller pieces of debris floated around the twisted hull while the shuttle matched speed and rotation with it, and its rear hatch opened. Several people in space suits emerged, using propulsion units to manoeuvre between the pieces, bright orange lights marking every one’s position.
The image changed to a closer view, surely taken by a camera mounted on one of the rescuers’ space suits. Some of the pieces of debris took more defined shapes, some of them corresponding to human bodies, in different states of destruction. Foxfire struggled to not show her disgust. What they were expecting to find? This was a war, and people die in wars. Those transports – Foxfire didn’t doubt anymore this had to be the Seibergian military convoy they had intercepted that same day – were carrying deadly weapons, and not only they had ignored the orders to low their shields and stop their engines, but they had opened fire against Wolfshead Squadron’s ships. Hell, Torpedo, seated besides Vyper, could consider himself lucky being here now. Had he be piloting something less sturdy than a B-Wing, they would be mourning him now.
Foxfire forgot it all when she saw something that shouldn’t have been there.
"This was a civilian ship, coincidentally of Corellian manufacture, occupied by Balanish citizens, many of them children." Two gloved hands, belonging to the rescuer carrying the camera, carefully recovered a little body, trapped between two fragments of hull. It could still be recognized as that of a girl, no more than five years old, although the explosion of the ship, then the decompression, and finally the hours exposed to vacuum and cold had largely destroyed any beauty she once surely had possessed. Foxfire heard a stifled gasp, and could see with the corner of her eye that Ibero had paled. He was father of a girl, too, only six months old. It was easy to understand the effect this was having on him. And the effect it would have on every sensible being who could see this holo, and not necessarily only those who had children of their own.
Colonel Gen’yaa stopped the holo and turned the projector off. Suddenly the space over the table was very empty. "It only gets worse," she said. "By the way, at the end of the report they were speculating with the possibility of the pilot actually being a Corellian." Nobody ignored the fact that the Corellian Diktat was looking for a reason to take a more active part in the conflict, and this might be it. "The fact is that if we are able to prove that the Seibergian were carrying civilians on a military convoy, specially if they were Balanish, we’ll find a way to turn this against them." Some of those present nodded. "Otherwise, we’ll be in deep trouble. So, what I want to know now is whether there could have been a civilian transport out there, one that coincidentally or not was at the worst place and the worst moment, and you shot it down." Gen’yaa stared at the five pilots, and this time none of them could avoid the visual contact. "I don’t need to recall you of the fact that you were ordered to scan any ship’s contents before opening fire against it, do I?"
Foxfire felt cold, very cold. On her right, Moose had his eyes wide open, the same sudden realization reaching his mind. The time seemed to stop while everybody’s looks fell on them. Gen’yaa insisted, her voice an octave too high-pitched because the anger she was starting to feel: "Might you have destroyed a civilian transport, Lieutenant Colonel?"
Ma’am," Foxfire answered very slowly, "I think we might."