note: I want to thank my friend DSC Arachnoid
Shadows of War
[Deep space, two B-Wings in formation]
"Hey, Shok'wave, you haven't said a word in two hours, is something wrong?" Flight Officer Saakje "Cybercat" Bastmeijer asked. She was flying close to the right flank of Shok'wave's B-Wing, but it was impossible to guess her boss's expression under the helmet and the glasses.
Commander Sherry "Shok'wave" Krenzel delayed her reply almost half a minute. "It's just that I can't stay calm when we are about to leave 300 people to die without doing anything to avoid it."
That was exactly what Cybercat had expected. Psycho, the veteran Rebel pilot who had obtained information from mysterious Imperial contacts had managed to send a last report. Lord Vader did his best to prevent the Rebels from obtaining any valuable data about the latest Imperial technologies. He had ordered the destruction of the entire planetoid where the new TIEs were being developed and manufactured. The facilities had been almost completely destroyed during the combined attack launched by Blue and Praying Mantis Squadrons, but that was not enough for Vader. He wanted the entire planetoid converted into tiny bits and pieces. But there was a small colony there, no more than 300 people who had been forced to work in the Imperial facilities, and Lord Vader had no intentions of evacuating them. That was the way the Empire did everything, and Vader's evilness was only surpassed by the Emperor's... As White Squadron's Commander, Shok'wave had tried to obtain the High Command's permission for a rescue attempt, but it had been denied. The planetoid would be surrounded by Imperial Capital ships, and it would be a suicidal operation to undertake any effort to get through. It was true, but even so Shok'wave had not had much sleep in the last two nights. She had been ordered to bring the recently captured Frigate and the new White Squadron to Alliance territory, but she was delaying their retreat to find a solution.
"I know how you must feel." Cybercat said.
"No, you don't." Shok'wave answered a bit too harshly. "You will be following my orders and those deaths won't be your responsibility. And you don't have to live with that responsibility for the rest of your life."
"I'm sorry, Sherry, but you will be following orders too." Cybercat tried to ignore her friend's tone. "There is nothing you can do."
"Yes, I can send all my orders directly to hell and try to do what I can to save those people." Shok'wave remained silent for some seconds. "But then it would be the deaths of some of us that I would be responsible for. And probably for nothing, because High Command is right. To go there again would be suicide."
Cybercat didn't reply. She didn't know what to say. The young pilot didn't want to return to that planetoid for all the gold in universe, but she would do so if Shok'wave ordered it. But to die - even in such a glorious way - was not a nice perspective. She was supposed to be a member of the new White Squadron's Training Wing, but they were so short on pilots that the trainees were drafted to fly combat missions if the need arose. Actually that flight was part of her training, but it was a real reconnaissance mission too. A signal from her computer interrupted her thoughts.
"Uh, oh... Sherry, I have Imperial contacts at long range."
"Yes, I've got them too. Three, six..., nine Gunboats and one Corvette."
"What do you think? We have no torpedoes..." The last battle had depleted all their reserves. Granite and Moose were working back in the Frigate, trying to modify the Imperial torpedoes in order to use them with the B-Wings, but that job would still take some time. Their fighters had only the energy weapons available and that meant fighting "looking the enemy directly into the eyes"
"If they follow their current route, they will come across the Frigate in a matter of minutes. Lock S-Foils and put all you can into the engines."
Cybercat swallowed. End of the training...
Shok'wave used a different channel and made a short call.
"Foxfire, this is Shok'wave. Cybercat and I are going to meet some friends, a lot of them. It would be nice if you could join the party!" She had no time to wait for acknowledgement. Shok'wave sent the co-ordinates and returned to the combat channel.
"This will be a tough one." Shok'wave said.
You don't need to tell me, Cybercat thought, but she didn't say it. "When the Guns attack us shoot against the ones approaching to starboard, and I'll take ones to port. Try not to get hit that often in the first pass and continue towards the Corvette as if you had the devil on your tail. The Corvette will be our main objective." The Corellian ship had powerful long range scanners and there was a high probability that it would detect the Frigate's presence sooner or later. More than likely sooner.
"Copy that, Shok'wave." The evil on my tail. Very expressive...
"Eight klicks. They have detected us. Good luck, my friend!"
"Same to you!"
Shok'wave felt the adrenaline invading her body. She tightened her fingers around the stick and concentrated on the six incoming Gunboats. The remaining three stayed with the Corvette. Five klicks to the closest target.
Cybercat took a look at her shields display. Primary and secondary shields were at a hundred percent. She was going to need them. Two klicks.
At the same time the two women noticed that their threat displays started to blink yellow. The Imperial pilots were trying to obtain a lock on them.
"Don't try to evade, there are too many." Shok'wave ordered. "When the missiles are close enough, fire your lasers and pray!"
"Roger..." Cybercat saw how the display turned red and immediately her computer whined, announcing multiple missile launches. She targeted her closest attacker and watched the targeting display to pay close attention to the quickly decreasing distance. With a fast move she flipped a switch on her console and reset her shields to full forward deflection.
The Rebel pilots shot when the missiles were in their final approach and had almost reached them. The explosions illuminated the space for a second, but they were still hit by two missiles each. The shields absorbed the impacts, only to be further weakened by the first impacting laser bolts from the Gunboats. Shok'wave clenched her teeth with force without ceasing to fire at one of the enemy fighters. She maintained her trajectory while the Imperial pilot broke to avoid the collision. Shok'wave grinned maliciously. Coward.
Cybercat passed between two gunboats and resisted the temptation to close her eyes. She had managed to cause serious damage to one of them, but the Rebel pilot didn't take the time to admire her handiwork. She compensated the shields as good as she could and raced on towards the Corvette. Five klicks separated her from the Imperial ship. She followed Shok'wave's fighter, which had gained some lead.
The Gunboats were now hunting the two B-Wings. Those fighters that had remained with the Corvette were now heading out to intercept the Rebel ships and the Imperial hammer was rapidly coming down onto the anvil.
[Onboard the captured Frigate]
Lieutenant Commander Avery "Foxfire" Schroeder and Captain Jane "Shadow" Nagatomi ran towards their A-Wings. They had been closest to the Frigate's bay when Shok'wave's message had been received on the bridge.
"Hurry, Shadow!" Foxfire screamed. "If Shok'wave said a lot of them, then you can bet there are just too many of them!"
Shadow closed her canopy and powered up all the systems without a previous check up. There was simply no time to play this by the book.
The two small fighters took off and raced into space, accelerating with all the power that their engines were able to produce. The rest of the pilots arrived in the bay just in time to see how a damaged Imperial shuttle was being towed towards the other side of the bay. The technician who was driving the tow vehicle had to jump from his vehicle to avoid being burned by the thrusters of the departing fighters. A look of surprise etched on his face as he watched the two A-Wings departing from the floor.
"Why nobody has warned me that there was a take-off scheduled?" He shouted indignantly. Then he noticed that all the pilots were looking at something past him. "What are you...? Oh, no..." He turned his head just in time to see how his now unsteered tow vehicle was plowed into a parked B-Wing which was undergoing repairs. The resulting crash was not very severe, but by now the crippled shuttle was exactly in the worst possible place, just in the middle of the bay and effectively blocking each and any incoming or departing traffic. No other ship could take-off or land while the shuttle was in this unfortunate position.
"We have to get that shuttle out of there!!" Captain Michael "Vyper" Stauber shouted.
[In the middle of the battle]
The three Gunboats in front of them started to shoot. The two Rebel pilots were now surrounded by two hostile formations of fighters, but that could turn into an advantage...
"Don't break yet, Cybercat!" Shok'wave ordered.
"Yes, I see what you're up to!" If the Gunboats in front shot, their pursuers would have to break to avoid being hit by their own comrades. Cybercat glanced at her shield display again and decided that she didn't like that red colour. She waited for a couple of seconds until she pushed her stick forward to dive down and pass underneath the approaching Gunboats. In front of her Shok'wave again used her head-on approach and effectively forced the Imperials to break their close formation.
But this time the Imperial pilot she was taking on was not such a coward, or maybe he didn't have such good reflexes. The B-Wing's lower ion cannon disappeared and with it a part of the Gunboat's left wing. The Imperial fighters behind the leading pilot manoeuvred hard to avoid a possible collision, but one of them couldn't do anything to evade the damaged Gunboat of his wing leader, which spun just into his path. The two ships disintegrated in a ball of fire. The shields of two more Gunboats almost collapsed under the force of the nearby explosion, but they didn't fail entirely.
"Are you well?" Cybercat asked without looking back. The Imperial Corvette was now in range and she opened fire.
"Yes, I'm doing fine!" Shok'wave lied and cursed in silence. She had lost her advantage and was now far behind Cybercat, fighting to recover control of her fighter. Usually a B-Wing was not easy to pilot, even when it wasn't missing important structural elements, but in conditions like this only an exceedingly good pilot could keep it afloat. But Shok'wave was that kind of pilot. She targeted the Corvette's upper laser turret and opened fire.
When Cybercat finished her attack run against the Corvette and just started to pull out in the wake of it's engines she felt a massive impact on her rear shields.
"Bad news, Shok'wave, it's a modified Corvette!" She warned. The modified Corvette had a stronger hull, better shields, better weapons and no blind spot in the rear quarters ...
"Fantastic..." Shok'wave said. Their uncoordinated first pass had lowered the Corvette's shields by only fifteen percent. And there were still seven Gunboats chasing them around. "It seems that we have to do something with those Guns before we can take care of this Corvette!" She said. Maybe it had been a mistake to attack the Corvette after all, but now it was too late to worry about that.
"Roger, here I go!" Cybercat replied. She targeted the closest fighter and shot, while she did her best to evade the response fire. When Cybercat broke away Shok'wave launched an attack against the same fighter. By doing so she had to fly straight and level for a few seconds. She knew that it was a risk, even before several impacts penetrated her rear shields, but she saw the Gunboat explode and that made it one hostile target less.
Cybercat noticed an enemy fighter with very low shields. It was one of the ships that had suffered from the wake of the explosion of the first formation. She switched to ion cannon and did her best to make her shots count. It was very difficult to hit moving targets with the B-Wing's ion cannon because those guns were mounted far off-centre, but the Rebel pilot managed to land some direct hits that disabled the Gunboat. The Imperial pilot was trapped in the dead ship, while Cybercat switched back to lasers and continued her fight.
Foxfire and Shadow had redirected all their energy to the engines. The two fighters were racing in a desperate attempt to reach the battle zone in time.
"I have something on my scanner, Foxfire." Shadow said. "Two Rebels and seven Imperial contacts..."
"We'll be there in three minutes. At a distance of 2 klicks start to recharge your lasers." Foxfire ordered. "How many concussion missiles do you have?"
"I've got three. Attack the closest Gunboat when you get a solid lock."
[Onboard the captured Frigate]
Vyper impatiently patted the controls of his A-Wing, while his friends fought to move the stricken shuttle out of his departure path. His engines were already up and running and nervously he checked his chronometer. Foxfire and Shadow had left four minutes ago. The shuttle was moving slowly. Way too slowly for his taste.
"OK, I've had enough! Move away from there!" Vyper screamed and closed his canopy. "I'm going to take off NOW!"
Everybody close to the shuttle ran for cover as Vyper elevated his fighter using the gentle push of the repulsors, pointing the A-Wing's nose directly at the shuttle's upper wing. Then he opened fire and the searing hot shots of his cannons streaked through the hangar. The bothersome wing disintegrated and Vyper's fighter roared towards open space before the first bits and pieces impacted on the floor.
"I could have done that, too." Flight Officer Owen "Granite" Stone said.
[Back at the battle]
Shok'wave tried her luck with another pass on the Corvette. This time she had a slightly better control over her stricken fighter and as a result her aim improved a lot. The Imperial ship was manoeuvring hard, constantly turning and spinning to avoid the attacks and to provide its gunners with the best possible position to fire most of the defensive armament at the Rebel fighters. In no way was this Corvette behaving like the sitting ducks they used to be in the simulations. But when Shok'wave pulled out from her attack run the upper turret was effectively taken out and locked into it's current position, while the Corvette's shields were down to seventy percent and less. Her B-Wing was shaking under the impacts of a constant stream of fire from two Gunboats. A direct hit from the Corvette washed away whatever shield strength had remained and her torpedo counter exploded, filling the cockpit with smoke. She didn't need that display because she had no torpedoes to launch, but it was a clear sign that her ship had received more than it could take.
Cybercat inflicted heavy damage on one of the Gunboats and the Imperial pilot abandoned the fight to recharge his shields. That give her the chance for another attack on the Corvette. She noticed the upper turret's damage and approached the ship from above. She saw her threat display blinking, but ignored it and pursued her attack while sweat burned in her eyes and clouded her vision. Cybercat banked hard to the right when she was about to collide with the Corvette and with satisfaction noticed that the Imperial ship's shields were now down to under forty percent. The woman looked at her threat display again, just in time to notice that it turned into a solid red.
Her computer adquired a lock on a Gunboat and Shadow fired her two missiles. On her left wing Foxfire did the same with another target. They recharged their lasers as good as they could and still had barely any shields at all. But there was no time to waste, nor time to worry about that.
[In the battle]
Shok'wave broke hard in a desperate attempt to shoot down the Gunboat that was chasing Cybercat, before it could exploit it's chances and launch its missiles against her wing mate. She shot blast after blast and did her best to ignore the Gunboat that was on her own tail. Her target abandoned Cybercat's trail just as her computer informed Shok'wave of an approaching missile. Shok'wave stretched out to reach the ejection lever and prepared herself for the worst.
The Gunboat attacked by Shadow managed to avoid one of the missiles. The other one launched two of it's own missiles against one of the B-Wings, before Foxfire's warheads blew it up.
"Sherry, nooooooooo....!" Foxfire screamed, identifying her friend's ship barely an instant before it exploded as well.
"Did you see her ejecting???!!!" Shadow asked anxiously.
"No, I didn't..." She launched a series of curses that only the nomads she had been living with could understand. Anger flared through her body as she targeted one of the remaining Gunboat's and pushed the fire button.
Cybercat saw her threat indicator go off and couldn't understand why the pilot had not opened fire. Suddenly she heard Foxfire's scream on the intercom and her computer spat out a new report: "White Leader has been destroyed." Her limbs turned numb and her head began to spin as the young pilot demanded a damage report from her computer. She decided that her B-Wing could probably make another pass on the Corvette. Someone was going to pay.
A Gunboat exploded under the merciless fire of Shadow's cannons. Only three remained - no, just two. Foxfire had managed to shoot down another one. She kept firing at the fragments until she felt an impact in the rear and had to evade her victim's wingman. But things were starting to look ugly for the Imperials. Cybercat attacked the Corvette like a crazy demon and was forced to break off with her fighter about to disintegrate, while the Imperial ship's shields had fallen under her ferocious attack. Shadow received that information from her computer and launched her A-Wing against the Corvette firing unceasingly. The Imperial Captain probably decided that it was time to retreat and the ship manoeuvred to initiate it's jump to safety.
"Foxfire, help us with the Corvette before she manages to escape!" Shadow demanded.
Foxfire didn't reply with words. Instead she launched her remaining missile into the Corvette's engines and used her lasers to pound the already weakened area. Cybercat and Shadow followed her example and the shots of the three Rebel fighters merged in the same spot. The ship's rear side erupted in explosions and instantly several engines died. This Corvette was not going anywhere anytime soon!
One of the Gunboat's pilots noticed the bad condition of Cybercat's fighter and was going to exploit it. He finished his turn and pulled out hard on her six opening fire. But after only two successful hits he noticed a lot of impacts on his own ship and was forced to break his attack manoeuvring to avoid the incoming threat. It was Vyper's A-Wing, coming in with gun's blazing. The Imperial pilot ejected just before his ship disappeared in a ball of expanding gases. His only surviving partner pushed his hyperspace motivators and his Gunboat started to accelerate, while Shadow and Foxfire kept firing at him from behind, shot after shot. The Imperial fighter never reached its jump point.
The only Imperial ships left in the area were the mortally damaged Corvette and the disabled Gunboat. Cybercat disabled the Corvette too with a few shots from her ion cannon, while Shadow and Foxfire used their scanners to detect any signal from Shok'wave's ejection-seat. If she had managed to eject, then they could locate her using the return signal of that beacon.
"I got her!" Shadow said with relief in her voice. She was the first one to get to the wounded pilot, followed closely by Foxfire and Vyper.
"She isn't moving..." Cybercat said to herself as she approached the badly damaged cockpit, which was all that had remained of the B-Wing. In it was the unmoving body of her friend.
"This is White Two." Foxfire called. "We need a shuttle here immediately, Shok'wave is seriously injured!
[On the other side]
Shok'wave couldn't see anything at all. Everything was black around her. Not a light, not a sound, nothing that she could sense. She tried to extend her arms in front of her, trying to touch anything, but she couldn't even feel her own arms. That scared her beyond belief, worse than anything she had ever experienced in her entire life. She made an effort to control herself and tried with all her strength to remember what had happened to her. The memories were there, but she found that she was almost unable to bring up a single image. There was something about a battle, she was piloting her B-Wing and Avery was shouting something...
Something about a missile, yes. A missile. She tried to remember it with more clarity, but she couldn't. A missile she thought again. Maybe I'm dead after all. The idea was frightening, but somehow she was starting to feel a increasingly calm, as if everything was well. How can I be so calm when and if I'm dead? She wondered. Maybe that's the reason... She answered herself. Shok'wave tried again to move her arms, her legs, her head, something at all ... But it seemed that she had not body to move around. I have no body, so it's true, I must be dead, and this is how you feel when you are dead. She thought that she should be terrified, but there was no fear. Only peace. And a new sensation, as if...
As if I'm not alone! She tried to say that with her voice, too, but she had no voice. Yet the thought was powerful and she didn't hear an answer. She felt it.
No, you are not alone. There was no sound she could hear, but she was sure that the new thought came from the outside, whatever "outside" meant in her situation.
Don't worry, Sherry the thought said. You are not dead.
But where I am? Who are you?
reply. Everything was happening so fast she had no time to think. Suddenly,
she was able to see again, and she felt a body around her, but she was
not the one who moved it. That other thought started to merge with her
own thoughts, and Shok'wave was not herself for any longer ...
"Joan, time to go home!" It was her father's voice.
"I'm on my way!" She replied. Joan was sitting in her most favourite place, under the wonderful tree at the top of the hill. She could see her home town from here, while Gerillia's sun painted the sky orange before to disappear behind the horizon. She used to come to this place since her childhood days. When she was sure that nobody was watching, she had fun moving small stones and little branches with her mind, constructing paths and bridges for the insects, sometimes helping them and sometimes putting obstacles in their way, although she never disturbed them for too long. There were days when she closed her eyes and concentrated on a particular bird. After some time, she was able to see what the bird was looking at, feeling the wind on her face, the sun on her back. On other days she didn't have that privacy up here. Some of the village's children sat in front of her and listened with mouths wide open while she told her Jedi Knight stories. All of them adored her, and she loved each one in return. It was so lovely to see their faces when they demanded a new story and when they stayed with her to listen how those stories turned out ... But this particular evening she had come up here alone. She needed to clear up her thoughts after what she had seen this morning.
"Joan, didn't you hear me?" Her father asked again.
"Yes, I'm coming!"
She joined her father while thinking about the holo-reports they both had seen. Usually she didn't pay much attention to them, but today it had been different. There was a war. The Republic had been in peace for at least the last 2000 years, but now it seemed that times were about to change. She had seen the destroyed ships and the rescue transports recovering nothing but dead bodies. Then she had started to hear what the reporter was saying. Everything had begun a couple of months ago, with some disputes over commercial routes and the ownership of a certain space station, which was strategically located close to one of the main transit routes. But the Bretalians had decided to use brute force to obtain what they thought belonged to them, and others had made it too easy for them to get away with it. They were amongst the latest systems to join the Republic - only fifty years ago - and while there had been some problems in the past, nothing as serious as this had ever taken place before. Most of the Republic's worlds had forgotten what war was and now they found themselves more than vulnerable against the Bretalians' form of "dialogue". The aggressors were expanding their area of dominance almost without fighting, but even the few battles that had taken place had forced the death of many. And the Bretalians' ships were now approaching Alderaan, just two light years away from Gerillia ...
"A penny for your thoughts!" Dalian Vincenne said smilingly and looked at his daughter. He was the most gentle man in Universe, at least in the eyes of his only daughter. He tried to sound casual, but he had seen the horror in Joan's eyes earlier in the morning and he knew all too well what caused such pain in her face.
"Dad, what are we going to do when the Bretalians come?"
Dalian took some moments before answering. He had been wondering the same, but he didn't want to increase his daughter's worry. He looked at her and bit his lip when he saw a tear rolling down her lovely face. She's only seventeen years old! What is going to happen with her? He laid a hand on her blonde hair and she looked up with her incredibly blue eyes to look at him directly. He couldn't withhold the truth when looking into those eyes and so he spoke.
"I don't know, Joan." He sighed. "I really don't know."
Joan had never heard that tone in his father's voice, which was usually full of confidence. When he was so close by there was nothing to worry about. Her father was able to solve any problem without abandoning his smile. But now she detected the doubt and for the first time in her life she was really scared.
"But where are the Jedi Knights, dad?" she asked. "Why don't they come to stop the Bretalians?"
Dalian knew how much her daughter admired the Jedi and he had enjoyed listening when she told her stories. Some of them were the same stories he had told her when she had been a little child. Others she had come across by reading books and the rest she invented as she went along and when she spoke to the enthralled children. These last ones were the best ones of all, at least in his opinion. But now he had no answers for her. Yes, where are the Jedi Knights now?
"I don't know that either. Maybe they don't want to take sides and start a war. Maybe they are just waiting, like us."
"Waiting for what?" There was anger in Joan's voice, and that frightened Dalian more than the holo-reports, and more than the rumours he had been hearing the last months. He looked in worried silence as his daughter showed all her desperation: "They can't start a war because the war has already been started!", she almost shouted.
Dalian couldn't answer. He just took his daughter by the shoulders and silently they walked back to their home. Joan didn't say anything as they walked, but her trembling told him that she was silently crying.
"Joan, are you going to bed without having anything for dinner?" Her mother asked. Marillia looked at her husband and knew that it was not a normal evening like all the evenings before. She sat with Dalian and they both watched the news together. He put the volume as low as he could, so that Joan couldn't hear them from her room, but she was not sleeping and she had always had good hearing.
That night she had strange dreams. From as far back as she could remember it had been possible for her to move small objects just by the power of her will. Many times she knew what people were thinking or feeling, but she had kept that a secret. From time to time she believed that she heard voices that nobody else could. She had thought a lot about becoming a Jedi Lady herself some day, but that was her most secret desire and she had not talked about it with anybody - not even with her parents. This time she had a light sabre in her hands, a light sabre! But it was not a happy dream. There were burning ships exploding into millions of pieces, laser bolts filling the space with deadly lights, screams, people crying, cities in flames, explosions and destruction everywhere, while she was in the middle of it all. Joan woke up in tears, but she knew what she was going to do.
"Senator Carless has issued a call to arms to defend the Republic against the Bretalians." The news reader was saying. "Each and any Republic's citizen that doesn't want to allow the Bretalians to impose their will on the rest of the Galaxy is welcome to join the Republic's military forces. As we speak the Bretalian fleet is orbiting Alderaan and the population can't hold out much longer without your support!"
"I'm going to Alderaan" Joan said seriously, staring at the holo-player.
"What are you talking about?" Her mother asked with clear panic reflected on her face. Dalian said nothing. He looked at his daughter and understood that this young woman was not his child any more. Her sweet features were full of determination, her eyes as cold as ice. He decided immediately that they couldn't fight against her daughter's desires. All they could do was help.
"You can use our ship." Dalian tried to keep a firm tone of voice, but he felt how his heart was breaking forever. "It's not a great thing, but it can fly, and you know how to pilot it."
Marillia looked at her husband in horror. She hadn't even known that Dalian had taught Joan how to pilot the small ship. It had been their little secret - something completely innocent - but now it seemed almost like treason in the woman's eyes.
"What? She knows how to pilot the ship? How can you just stand there and...?" But she couldn't finish her sentence - her tears didn't allow her. Dalian embraced his wife and fought hard not to cry, too. This was the only moment of doubt that Joan ever had, but something inside her was pushing her forward and forced her not to look back.
"I love you both" She said, and left the house. When the desperate Marillia tried to follow her daughter, she couldn't find her. She wanted to shout, to unleash all her pain at her husband for not forcing, for not demanding, for not ordering Joan to stay, but she had seen the same as he had in Joan's eyes. She let Dalian embrace her again and continued crying.
Onboard the small
shuttle Joan could hear her mother's laments in her mind. The young girl
was also crying when she turned the engines on and took off.
[Onboard White Squadron's Frigate]
Shok'wave's body lay on a bed in the medical facilities of the Frigate. After fifteen hours in the bacta tank her most severe injuries were being cured. But the monitor that usually indicated the patient's brain's activity was quiet. The 2-1B Imperial droid was checking the device once again, upon Foxfire's request. Fortunately, this specific droid had received precisely the medical programming which was needed for his work and could be used without any modifications or improvisations. The rest of non-medical droids of onboard the Frigate had been temporarily deactivated.
"The brain scanner is operating within normal parameters." The droid informed with his monotone voice. "There is no detectable brain activity at all."
"Don't say stupidities, you pile of junk!" Foxfire exclaimed. Joker, Shadow, Angelrose, Cybercat and herself were close to Shok'wave's bed. The new male squadron members were looking at them from further away.
"Ok, Sherry, you have played this game long enough!" Foxfire said moving her friend's arm slightly. She took care to avoid touching the tubes that were connected to her. Shok'wave was breathing smoothly through the mask that the 2-1B droid had placed over her face. It was the only noticeable sign of life.
"You just can't do this to me." Foxfire continued. "I don't want to be in Command and of course you don't want me in Command either! So wake up and take the reigns, damn it!" The beautiful pilot's face was completely pale. She couldn't believe that one of the best friends she had ever had in her entire life could end like this. Shadow was holding Joker's hand in her own. Joker had not said a word at all, while Cybercat was staring through one of the bull-eyes into the open space. She knew that when she again had to look at Shok'wave's dead-like face she would start to cry.
"Avery." Vyper said almost whispering. "High Command just sent another request that we leave this position immediately. We must decide what we are going to do ..."
"We are not pulling out till Shok'wave orders it!" Foxfire exploded.
"Take it easy, Avery" Shadow said. "Michael is as worried as we are." Vyper thanked Shadow with his glance.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry." Foxfire said, closing her eyes in pain. "It's just that I can't stand being here without being able to do anything..."
"None of us can. But we must let her rest and maybe we can be more useful if we continue transforming this ship into an Alliance vessel."
"You are right, Shadow. Let's go. Iceman and Zeppelin will escort the Frigate, flying A-Wings. Moose and Granite, let's keep working with those torpedoes. Joker, stay with her and call me if you notice any change, no matter how small!"
"Don't worry, Avery." Joker replied, trying to smile. "I'll let you know."
"The rest of you should try to get some rest. You're dismissed."
[On the other side]
Joan's shuttle didn't have hyperspace capabilities, so her only chance was to board one of the Cruisers orbiting Gerillia before all of them left to join with Senator Carless's Fleet. She decided to try her luck with the biggest one.
"Civilian shuttle to Republic's Cruiser asking for permission to land." Joan called.
"This is Republic Cruiser Dragon." The answer came back. "Identify yourself, please."
Joan thought for a couple of seconds. She didn't want to use her real name. If something went wrong, then it would be best to avoid any consequence for her parents. She remembered the Jedi Knight she had invented, the hero in most of her stories: Etienne d'Arc.
"My name is Joan d'Arc and I want to join the Republic's Fleet."
"Very well, Joan d'Arc. We'll need all the help we can get. Follow the light indications toward hangar 6D."
"Thank you, Dragon." Joan sighed. That was the most difficult part.
She noticed that there was a lot of activity in the hangar, as she opened the shuttle's door, watching people running from one place to another, everybody evidently very busy. Five minutes had passed before a technician noticed her presence and came over to her.
"What are you doing here?" The young man asked a bit annoyed. Joan was the only person who wasn't doing anything.
"Well, I've just landed and I have been waiting for someone who could tell me where I'm supposed to go", Joan replied, feeling somewhat silly as the man stared at her without expression. "I'm joining the Republic's Fleet!" She added with more energy than was necessary, but at least that changed the technician's attitude. He smiled and signalled to an elevator in the wall farthest away in the hangar.
"Take that elevator, two levels up, and repeat the part about joining the Fleet to the first officer you see."
"Thank you very much, Mr..."
"Sergeant Santer" The technician said without losing his smile. "But for now you can just call me Sir."
"Oh, of course, yes, sir!" Joan answered, but Santer had already moved on. She saw him some feet away, inspecting the landing gear of one of the multitude of ships that crowded the hangar. She grabbed her bag and walked towards the indicated elevator.
When she got out, the sight was not all that different from the one that she had seen in the hangar. People raced to wherever they had to go, everybody talking at once and working on dozens of different monitors. A box-shaped droid collided with her, but when she was about to apologize the droid was already moving away from her. She went towards a tall man who was inspecting something on a data screen and touched him gently on the shoulder.
"I'm sorry, could you help me, please?" The man turned and looked at her for a second, without really seeing her. He then decided that she could wait and returned to the monitor. Joan interrupted him again.
"Please, could you help me? My name is Joan d'Arc and I'm joining the Republic's Fleet."
"That's fine to me, but the recruiting centre is on the next floor." Once again the man turned to look at the monitor, pushing some keys on the way, when Joan grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to look at her.
"I need to talk to Senator Carless", she said. Joan didn't know why she had said that first of all. It seemed to her as if the words had escaped her mouth and as if the voices in her mind were doing the talking for her. "He is going to need me because the Force is with me."
That caught the man's attention. He completely forgot the monitor and looked at her from head to feet. "Can you repeat your name?"
"Joan d'Arc, sir" She said.
"Well, I'm Commander Bandric, and I'm the Captain of this ship." The man said. It was obvious that he was stunned. "Of all the things I've been told for an introduction, yours has been the most original."
"I know how difficult it must be to believe me." Joan searched for confidence inside of her - and found it. Her next words were pronounced without any hint of her previous nervousness. "But you must trust me. I can feel the Force and I'm here to defend the Republic."
"So you want to fight against the Bretalians?"
"Yes, sir, I do. And I must speak with Senator Carless. He will give me what I need to accomplish my mission."
There was something strange about hearing a seventeen years old girl talking like that. Commander Bandric didn't know whether to order someone to take her back to her parents or to give her a fighter and see what the Force would enable her to do. But it was very hard to think while looking into those blue eyes.
"All right, you win. We are about to jump to the meeting point, and Senator Carless will be there. But I don't believe that he is going to receive you. He is very busy trying to avoid the Bretalians from conquering the Galaxy."
"I insist, sir."
Commander Bandric felt that this was not entirely his own will, but he was unable to find any objection. He couldn't see anything else in the room but the girl's eyes.
"I'll do what I can. I promise."
Five hours later, the Dragon was stationed in front of an even larger Cruiser, the Republic Fleet's Flagship Harmony. A military shuttle left the Dragon and headed for the huge vessel, carrying Joan and Commander Bandric, who piloted the shuttle himself. Aboard the Dragon she had enlisted as Joan d'Arc, and nobody never doubted that it was her real name.
The meeting room was full of the Republic Fleet's highest Commanders, surrounding Senator Carless and his military advisor, Admiral Rickermoon. Senator Carless was very young for the standards set among the Senators - no more than thirty years old. He seemed overwhelmed by responsibility's weight and it was clearly visible, even for Joan.
"Then there is nothing we can do to save Alderaan?" He asked, addressing nobody in particular.
"There are just too many Bretalian ships orbiting the planet." General Talon replied. "We would be outnumbered one to four and we are the only force that stands between the Bretalians and the defeat for the Republic."
"The Bretalians' ultimatum will expire in 20 hours." Admiral Rickermoon reminded them. "After that time and if Alderaan has not deactivated its surface weapons, the Bretalians will begin the orbital bombardment. Of course the Alderaanian's will give up before that happens and there won't be another chance for us to return them their freedom." He saw the effect that his words were causing and tried his best to raise spirits after what he had just said: "We have been promised some reinforcements from the Corellian worlds. If they arrive in time..."
"Then the only thing we can do is to wait for those reinforcements." Senator Carless said sadly.
"We must attack immediately!"
Everybody turned to see who the owner of that voice was. Senator Carless and the militaries were clearly annoyed. They saw a blonde girl with the sweetest face they had ever seen, escorted by a very embarrassed looking man in a Commander's uniform.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen." Commander Bandric said. "I didn't mean to interrupt, but I didn't know how to deal with this ..." He was starting to wonder what had convinced him to bring this girl to this meeting, but he just couldn't find a logical answer.
"My name is Joan d'Arc, Senator Carless." Joan said, raising her chin and saying what the voice in her head told her to. "I've come to fight on your side and against the Bretalians."
"She says that the Force is with her." Commander Bandric explained in a very low voice, regretting it immediately. Everybody was looking at the young woman not knowing quite what to say.
"Are you a Jedi?" Senator Carless said at last.
"No, I am not. But I can feel the Force and I know that I can help in this crisis." Her voice was surprisingly full of confidence.
She must be crazy. Senator Carless thought. But he was tempted to believe her against each and any reasoning his mind was trying to come up with.
"I'll be honest with you." He said. "The Jedi's have denied their help. They say that this is an internal conflict and that they can't participate. It would be wonderful if what you say is true, but I can't risk the lives of the Fleet's crews when all I have are the words of a teenager. Please, don't take any offence in this."
"I don't." Joan said calmly. The voices in her mind were stronger than ever before. And now she was able to understand what they were saying. "I can prove that I speak the truth. Not far from here, on the planet Eyna. I can show you where Master Jonderiis's light-sabre is."
This caused more than one tongue to slip and the the room was filled with sudden outbursts of surprised and stunned shouts. Master Jonderiis had been one of the most admired Jedi Masters and he was considered as one of the founders of the Republic. During his last years he had retired from public life and nobody knew where or when he had died. His light-sabre had become a mythical object, and it had been sought out for thousands of years by archaeologists, historians - and the Order of Jedi of course - but it seemed to have disappeared forever. And now this girl was saying that she knew where to find it.
"If this is true I'll give you the command of an elite fighter squadron."
Some of those present laughed, taking Senator's words as a joke.
"Thank you, Senator Carless." Joan replied without hesitation. "If you could provide me with a shuttle and an excavation team, I'll lead them to the exact point."
"Admiral Rickermoon, could you give the orders for that, please?"
Generals and Admirals looked at each other. Senator Carless could not be serious on this.
"At once, Senator Carless." Admiral Rickermoon replied staring at the young girl. This caused even more surprise. The veteran military was probably the most respected among the Republic Armed Forces, a man whose opinions were always highly valued. Nobody could guess what he was thinking of in that moment, although many of the presents wondered. He never gave an explanation.
Three hours later Joan was watching the place where her instincts had taken them to. The site had been some kind of a temple in the past, but now all that remained were ruins. It must have been a place for meditation. The peace could be felt between the tall trees that surrounded them. Vegetation had invaded walls and columns and it seemed that the ruins of this old buildings were alive in some way.
"There is nothing here, milady." The excavation team's chief said. The scanners had not shown anything at all, but they had been ordered to do what the girl said and they dug where she had indicated. Forty feet and still nothing.
"You must dig deeper. Another ten feet." There was no hint of a doubt in her voice. The man shrugged it off and ordered the team to continue.
"Sir, we have got something here!" One of the workers said after five long minutes. He carefully extracted a small box from the ground. His chief cleaned it's surface to discover a rich decoration on it.
"Open it, please." Joan said.
The man obeyed. There was no lock. When he opened the box they could see a red cloth covering something. He removed it with two fingers and everybody saw a metallic cylinder with a hole at one of the ends and a single control button on its surface. There was a complicated symbol engraved on it. Nobody said anything until Joan finally took the cylinder and looked at it for a moment, before she pointed the open end to the sky and pressed the button. The workers let an exclamation leave from their lips when the blue light ray appeared.
"It was true!" One of the men said at last. That broke the silence and his stunned comrades grinned at each others.
Thank you Master Jonderiis. Joan thought. Thank you very much!
Upon their return to the Harmony, the light sabre was immediately sent to the ship's labs. Joan had to wait for the expert's verdict with Senator Carless and his staff, whose conversation suddenly was cut off when the chief science officer entered in the briefing room.
"It's authentic." The man said. "The analysis of the sabre and the comparisons with the old registers have proved that it is Master Jonderiis's light-sabre. It still works after more than 4000 years."
All those present were unable to say a word. Senator Carless took the sabre and gave it to Joan.
"It's yours." He said. "And you will have that fighter squadron, too."
"But she doesn't know how to pilot a fighter!" One of the Generals protested. "Do you?" He asked staring at the young girl.
"Do you have flight simulators onboard?" She asked.
"Yes, of course."
"Allow me to try, please." Joan said.
Admiral Rickermoon gave some orders using a transmitter and all the group headed for the Harmony's training facilities. Joan noticed a known face amongst the small group of technicians surrounding the simulator's cabin.
"Nice to meet you again." Sergeant Santer said.
"Nice to meet you, sir!" Joan replied surprised as she climbed into the simulator's cockpit.
"I was transferred to the Harmony just today." He explained in a low voice while helping her to adjust the seat belts. "I've been heard a lot of things about you and one is that if you are able to pilot a fighter, then you are going to command an entire squadron ..."
"Yes, it's true." She said smiling.
"If you get it, I'll be the chief technician in that squadron." He grinned cheerfully. He had taken a liking for the girl since the first instant he had laid his eyes on her. "And now it would be better if I gave you a few short instructions ..."
When the canopy closed Sergeant Santer climbed down the ladder and went to the control console. At least a dozen Generals and Admirals were behind him with Senator Carless.
"All right, Joan, let's go."
She started the initial procedures trying not to forget anything of what she had been told. A part of the old Joan felt panic, but the new woman she had become took command. She closed her eyes for a second and breathed deeply, allowing the Force to flow through her. Joan opened her eyes again and targeted the first enemy fighter.
An hour later Sergeant Santer opened a channel to speak with Joan and told her that the simulation was over. Everybody stood in silence behind him, until somebody broke the uneasy peace that had conquered the room.
"Incredible." Admiral Rickermoon said. "She made some rookie mistakes along the way and once or twice she didn't know which button to push, but I have never seen a pilot fighting like that."
Joan descended from the simulator's cockpit and walked towards the crowd.
"So when are we going to attack?"
After many discussions it was decided that the initial attack would be light and would not consist of many forces. The Bretalians' superiority was too obvious and most of the Generals agreed that it was better to wait for the reinforcements. Joan insisted on attacking and she got the responsibility of being in Command of a small force if she was able to find enough volunteers. The news about what Joan had done had sped through the Fleet like the wind. When her request for volunteers was made public, she found that almost every starfighter pilot was eager to follow her. Joan was allowed to take only twenty three and so she got the squadron that she had been promised. They would attempt a surprise attack against one of the smallest formations of the enemy Fleet and if Joan's squadron managed to break the blockade at that point, a bigger force could exploit that weakness immediately thereafter.
Only twenty hours remained until the end of the Bretalians' ultimatum when she entered the main bay dressed in a flight suit. She was the only woman in the entire area. The pilots noticed the light sabre attached to her belt and that confirmed all the rumours they had heard: They were going to be commanded by a Jedi Lady. Everybody accepted her without the slightest doubt. A young pilot approached Joan and saluted militarily. She saluted back in return, feeling a bit strange by doing so.
"I'm Lieutenant Trillian, ma'am. I'm going to be your wingman"
"Nice to meet you, Lieutenant. It will be a honour." Joan looked at the closest fighter and noticed the winged horse painted on its hull, just under the cockpit. "What is this?" She asked.
"Well, when we were told that we were going to join a new squadron commanded by you, and what precisely our first mission was about, somebody proposed to call it Miracle Squadron. Oh, the horse has been the chief technician's idea. He programmed four droids to paint his original picture on every ship of the Squadron."
"It's wonderful!" She said surprised. "Miracle Squadron. I love it. And where is that chief technician you just told me about?"
"He's over there, waiting for you beside your fighter." Trillian said, pointing at one of the ships. "He is Sergeant Santer."
Joan walked towards the fighter feeling the pilots' glances on her. Santer made a small sign with his head and she understood what they were waiting for.
"To your fighters, gentlemen!" She shouted. A chorus of "at once, ma'am" replied her while all the pilots boarded their ships.
Joan raced up the ladder toward her own ship and Sander was there to help her to strap in.
"Be careful, girl." He said. "Maybe you are a Jedi, but you will need more than that to survive."
"Thank you, sir." She replied with a smile.
"No, no more sir. Call me Tobb. I'll be calling you Commander when you return."
"Call me Joan. And thank you very much for the horses!" She said with a smile.
"May the Force be with you!" He said saluting before descending the stairs.
Joan held back a tear. It was the first time that somebody had said that to her. She closed the canopy and turned on the engines.