Wedge Antilles climbed into his X-Wing in high spirits. He had arrived back on Coruscant a few weeks prior and had taken care of everything necessary to turn the Lusankya over to Fleet Command. It was as if the weight of Kessel had been lifted from his shoulders. He was no longer a Fleet Officer nor a diplomat, two positions that fit him like a hutt's over coat; badly.
Wedge had also received a message from Admiral Ackbar instructing him to rendezvous with Home One in the Hoth system as soon as he was able. Unfortunately, that message did not clear up any of the mystery surrounding the nature of his assignment. However, it did lighten his heart to know he was going to where Tycho, Hobbie and Wes had met Rogue Squadron.
He finished strapping himself into his X-Wing and began his preflight checklist. Gate chirped happily behind him. Wedge could tell his R5 was just as happy to be reuniting with Rogue Squadron as he was. Wedge smiled over his shoulder at Gate, "Ok, ok. I'm anxious to get back too."
Wedge keyed his mic, "Lusankya Control, Red One. One X-Wing to depart launch bay one."
"Red One cleared to depart," a voice came back to him through his head set.
Wedge brought his fighter to a hover smoothly with it's repulsor lifts. He floated towards the magcon seal that separated the hanger bay from space and brought power to his thrusters. The X-Wing shot out into the space above Coruscant. He brought the X-Wing over the top of the Lusankya and wagged his wings at the bridge as he flashed by.
He turned to his outbound vector and accelerated away from the city planet and her satellites. The stars elongated as he pulled down the handle to engage the hyperdrive.
Wedge guided his X-Wing towards the Mon Calamari cruiser Home One. After a long series of jumps, he had arrived in the Hoth system. As he passed over Hoth enroute to the hanger, he looked down at the frozen planet and shivered.
"I hope we don't have to go down there." Wedge shuddered as he thought of the nights of Tauntaun meat dinners, freezing cold temperatures and equipment failures. He brushed the thoughts away as he passed the magcon field of the hanger bay and brought his X-Wing down in a smooth landing.
Looking out as he shut down the starfighter's systems, Wedge pleased to see a small crowd gathered around the hanger. He pulled off his helmet and gloves, placing them aside, and climbed down the ladder.
All the members of Rogue and Wraith Squadrons had gathered to welcome their friend and former commander. A hail of back slaps, handshakes and enthusiastic greetings awaited him. Wedge took his time to greet everyone individually. Just as he was finishing, Admiral Ackbar entered the hanger.
"Bay, fall in!" Corran shouted.
The gathered pilots smirked knowingly and peeled off their flight suits to reveal dress uniforms hidden beneath. They fell into a parade formation organized by squadron.
Wedge smirked and shook his head. He had been blind-sided, again.
Admiral Ackbar approached Wedge and turned towards the gathered pilots. His face was totally devoid of emotion as he came to a halt silently about a foot away from Wedge. Wedge came to attention and waited for the Admiral to begin to speak.
"Fellow officers, it is my pleasure to announce today the formation of a new, all X-Wing, task force. This force will be at half-wing strength and will consist of Rogue and Wraith Squadrons. And, as I am sure you can guess, General Wedge Antilles will lead the task force." Wedge couldn't suppress a smile as he heard the Admiral's news.
Wedge stood tall and turned to address the assembled pilots. "Well, this is as much a surprise to me as it is to you. I am very happy that we will again be working together again as a team." Wedge had too many emotions coursing through him at the moment. He would have said more, but did not want to turn as giddy as a schoolboy in front of his pilots. He would wait for that until he told Iella the story.
Wedge looked out over the smiling faces of the pilots and gathered himself before continuing. "I am sure that Admiral Ackbar will be meeting with me for the next couple hours. So, I will be announcing a time for my first briefing as task force commander later this evening."
Admiral Ackbar dismissed the group of pilots and motioned for Wedge to follow him. The Admiral and General made their way past the grinning pilots, through the corridor and to the lift that lead to the bridge.
Aquatic scenes flashed past the windows, as the lift sped through its tube as. As the doors slid open, he saw the bridge was busy with efficiently moving personnel going about their assigned duties. The two walked past everyone to the Admiral's ready room.
The two entered and Wedge looked at the familiar surroundings of the Admiral's office. He had there on numerous occasions and he noticed that not much had changed.
Wedge waited for Admiral Ackbar to seat himself, then took the seat in front of his desk. The Admiral straightened himself and began to speak. "General Antilles, your job as Task Force Commander is two fold. First, you will commence the testing phase for the new Incom T- 65XF X-Wing Space Superiority Fighter. Second, if all goes well in the testing phases, you will then lead the new fighters in a combat mission against a military target in Imperial space."
Wedge sat in shock. A new fighter?I hadn't even heard they were developing one, let alone built two squadrons worth for field testing.
Wedge breathed deeply to settle his thoughts and nodded. "I understand, Sir. Have the new fighters arrived?"
"Not as of yet. We are expecting delivery in six weeks. In that time you are to continue normal training, evaluation, patrols and other administrative duties," Ackbar ordered. "You will also discretely arrange some precision flying and testing curriculum into your training." Wedge smiled in acknowledgment, knowing that such things might tip off his pilots as to their task. He was unsure if that was the Admiral's goal or not.
"Due to the need for increased security on this mission, we have excluded some of the newer members of both Rogue and Wraith squadrons. Each squadron will be flying slightly light." When Wedge attempted to interrupt, the Admiral cut him off with the wave of his hand. "And yes, General, I can understand that this is not preferable to you, but it is necessary," Ackbar informed Wedge.
"Your two squadrons have been running a simulator mission for the past few weeks. The simulation, Sierra-Six-Three-Delta, is the expected Imperial response to their discovery of your task force and the response time of our support forces when they strike."
"Your pilots have done well, all things considered. The simulation is quite challenging. Home One has been destroyed in all the simulations and the average loss rate of the Rogues and Wraiths has been ninety percent," the Admiral concluded.
"Ninety percent?!" Wedge exclaimed. "How?"
"I would advise you take a run at it and find out for yourself. I am sure you need the sim time after your stint as a fleet officer." Admiral Ackbar clicked in what Wedge knew was a Mon Calamari chuckle. "Plus, it will be good for both you and your pilots to start flying together as soon as possible."
"In addition, we have just received enough simulators to make runs involving both squadrons, simultaneously. I would suggest you do a full squadron exercise soon." The Admiral stood.
"I am sure you wish to get settled in and see your people again." Ackbar motioned Wedge to the door. "A time will be set for your full briefing. It should be early next week. Save your questions until then. Work with your squadrons. The time to prepare is now."
Wedge exited the ready room not knowing what to think. Only time will tell I guess… he thought as he entered the lift and began the journey to his quarters and the pilot billet. At least I'm not standing around a capital ship, pretending to be a Fleet Officer. Or worse yet, a diplomat, he smirked to himself.
Cheriss Ke Handi was jolted awake, still exhausted. A klaxon was going off above her head. It took her a moment to realize what was going on. For the last several days she had been undergoing 'Sleep Deprivation Training and Evaluation.' During this time she was not permitted to fly. She had been kept awake for extended periods of time. She was given only mundane tasks to perform then allowed short, erratic periods of sleep.
Just as the klaxon ended, the door tone rang signaling a visitor.
"Come," she said as the door slid open and one of the instructor pilots entered.
"Flight Cadet Ke Handi, report to simulator one-thirteen-A." He handed her a data pad and exited her quarters so she could dress and get to her sim.
Cheriss knew she was being evaluated even now. She placed the data pad on her desk and began to change. It appears that the data pad was a mock-up of the forms a pilot needed to fill out for a real flight. She began to enter the information she could and would get the rest from her crew chief. She also noted that she would be 'Green One' for the simulation. "Flight Leader," she gasped, "Yes!"
She would be leading a flight of four X-Wings for this simulation. She wondered who the other students would be, and if they were in any better shape than she was. She also hoped that she would have a competent student assigned to fly her wing. Sometimes your wingman was the difference between a good score and a bad one.
As Cheriss dressed, she looked in the mirror and barely recognized the face that stared back at her. She was very pale, much paler than usual. Her violet eyes were bloodshot and her cheeks were sunken. She was exhausted and her appearance betrayed her physical and emotional state.
"I need a night out to play dress up. I wouldn't have been caught dead looking like this at home," she complained to the face staring back at her from the mirror.
Cheriss quickly allowed herself the luxury of remembering a dress ball at the palace. The food…dancing… She then shook the memories from her head and quickly dressed. She pulled her long black hair into a tight ponytail and walked over to the corner.
"Wake up, Sabre," she said as she disconnected the charger from her R5 astromech droid. The little black and purple droid wobbled and beeped as he came back on-line. She grabbed her flight gear and took off in a trot to the simulator area with Sabre tooting nosily behind her.
Cheriss entered the large hanger area where the simulators were. She looked for the one she had been assigned and located it quickly. One of the crew chiefs stood there and greeted her as she approached. The two went over all of the information that would be needed for a real flight and entered the information into her data pad. She handed the data pad to the crew chief and made her way into the simulator.
"Good luck," the crew chief said as he saluted, took the data pad and helped Cheriss into the pilot couch.
She responded with a weary smile as she strapped in. She watched as the canopy closed and the crew chief began loading Sabre into his position directly behind her.
Her head swam as she tried to shake the cobwebs out. She hit the necessary switches to bring the simulator to life. Just as she was ready to start the engines, Sabre sent a message across her screen saying he was in position and ready.
Cheriss started the engines and her radio crackled to life. "Green flight, scramble. Scramble. Force approaching. Size unknown. Depart in pairs. Thirty second intervals."
Cheriss keyed her transmitter as she ran through the preflight check. "Green Flight, check."
"Green Two, Green and good to go." She heard an unfamiliar voice say. Even through the distortion the comm unit created, she could tell the voice belonged to a young man. However, the voice was also confident and commanding. She could not match it up to any student or instructor she knew.
"Green Three, Ready." She recognized the voice of one of her instructors.
"Green Four, I am having severe stabilizer problems. I'm scrubbed," she heard. The voice was that of her crew chief.
"This simulation must deal with improvising," she mumbled softly to herself.
Cheriss turned her attention back to the simulator and the task at hand. "Flight Control, Green One. We are one short, Green Four has a mechanical failure. Departing now. Please send reinforcements when able," she spoke into her helmet mic.
"Roger, will send help when able. Cleared for departure," the controller responded.
Cheriss engaged her repulsor lifts and began to exit the hanger. She looked over her shoulder and saw Green Three following not too far behind her. Just as she broke the magcon field, there was a huge explosion.
The star field spiraled around her as Cheriss was thrown violently about within the cockpit. She fought to regain control of her fighter. She looked down to see her shields were down to fifty percent and there were four imperial fighters inbound.
"Green Flight, damage report," she spoke as she brought her fighter around and looked in horror at the view before her.
The Victory class star destroyer she had just exited was burning in space. From her quick visual inspection, she concluded a large explosion had occurred somewhere in the drive section before ripping through most of the rest of the ship.
She keyed the mic again, "Any New Republic forces, this is Green One, come in." She heard only static.
She turned towards the approaching fighters and switched to proton torpedoes. The targeting box went quickly from green to yellow to red. Sabre howled a solid lock tone and she depressed the trigger. A blue torpedo streaked away towards the oncoming TIE Interceptor.
She quickly switched targets to the second element leader and got a solid lock tone almost immediately. She fired again.
Green laser bolts began to splash off her forward shield as she broke hard to port and down away from the squints. With the depleted shields, some of the energy came through and scorched the paint from her nose. The damage appeared to be superficial.
Just as she entered the turn she had the strangest feeling that she was being watched. She knew that she was being recorded by the cockpit cam, but that wasn't it…she couldn't quite get a grasp on it. Then the feeling was gone.
Cheriss shook her head and continued the turn watching over her shoulder as one of the squints slid into a position behind her. The squint was coming up quick. Cheriss started a slow turn to the left then quickly wheeled back to the right and pulled hard.
The squint tried to follow through the maneuver but was going too fast. It shot past her and she rolled back left and pulled down to roll in behind the interceptor. She squeezed the trigger and quad lasers shot towards the TIE and missed. She fired twice more and missed. She shook her head in frustration.
She swapped the lasers over to single fire and squeezed the trigger. She filled the space around it with lasers just as the squint turned hard to port, straight into her barrage. She stitched the fighter across the ball and saw the atmosphere vent. The TIE arch lazily away and exploded as it slammed into the hull of the burning Star Destroyer.
She felt her fighter struck hard in the stern. She cursed as she realized she had become so fixated on her target that she had forgotten about the other TIE Interceptor. She glanced down at her sensors and confirmed that her torpedoes had found their targets. They had. There was only one interceptor left.
The stick felt sluggish in her hands as she brought her fighter into a loop. The squint followed her through the maneuver and began to fire again. She rolled the fighter and headed for the burning hulk of the disabled Star Destroyer. She neared the ship, jinking harshly as she went. She maneuvered as close to the deck as she dared.
As she streaked across the burning superstructure, instinct took over. She didn't so much think of where she was going but which way felt right. She slid into a narrow gap between a fallen tower and the bridge. She heard metal scrape as she flew through. The TIE Interceptor realized too late it would not make it and tried to pull up. It failed, striking the fallen tower and exploding in a brilliant cloud of plasma.
She pulled up and away from the Star Destroyer. She was shaking and covered in sweat. Her head throbbed and her body ached. She took a few soothing breaths and turned the fighter towards where she last saw Green Three.
She saw the fighter sitting in space about a klick from the Star Destroyer. It showed no noticeable damage and appeared to have power. She flew closer and keyed her mic, "Green Three, come in. If your comm is down, flash your landing or running lights."
She got no response from the comm or the apparently disabled X-wing. As she neared she found out why.
Cheriss flew close enough to see a ten-foot long metal pole sticking through the canopy. She drew the obvious conclusion. During the explosion the rod had lanced the canopy and killed the pilot. She also saw that the pole had hit the astromech as well. A small fire burned in his shattered dome. Sabre saw that and howled mournfully. "Its ok, Sabre. It's just a simulation."
Cheriss shivered. "What an awful way to die." she murmured looking at the shattered transparasteel of the canopy. Then she reminded herself, just as she had reminded Sabre, that it was just a simulation. And since it was a simulation she was getting graded on, she better get back on track.
"Sabre, it obvious that The Allegiance is toast. Pull the star chart and let's find some place to go," she said to her R5.
Words scrolled across the screen in front of her. Memory core damaged. No star charts available.
Cheriss sighed. "It must have been that hit to the tail. I should have been paying closer attention." She slammed her fist off the console in front of her. "Sorry, little guy," she growled, feeling bad. She slammed her fist against the console three more times, then stopped.
She leaned back and took a deep breath. "This isn't going to get me anywhere."
"Sabre, can you get a rough location based on the stars?" She asked her R5.
Visual sensor damaged. Internal memory damaged. Visual sensor range diminished to 100 meters. She watched with frustration as the words scrolled across her console.
For the next few minutes, she tried to contact the ship or any other New Republic vessel. She sat back, about ready to give up, when an idea came to her. Cheriss sat up and smiled. She looked over the hull of the burning Star Destroyer and picked a good place to start looking.
Cheriss slammed the throttle forward and the X-Wing shot back towards the ruined Star Destroyer. She approached the ship and engaged her repulsor lifts. She glided slowly across the hull of the ship. Finally she found what she was searching for, a diagnostic data port.
"Sabre, are your visual sensors still good enough to see a diagnostic port on the hull of The Allegiance?" She asked, quickly receiving an affirmative beep.
"Good, I am going to reapproach the ship inverted. I will then match speed and direction with the ship while you connect to the port and pull any information you can from the computer. Ok?" She asked over her shoulder.
A happy tooting and beeping answered her. Something about how smart his new pilot is.
Cheriss headed out away from the ship and approached it slowly. She got just near the port and took off her gloves to get a better feel of the stick. It still felt sloppy in her hand. The damage to her ship might have been worse than she thought. This maneuver would have been tricky enough without a damaged fighter, it might be impossible with one.
She looked up to see the ship looming very near her head. She pulled up so she was only about a foot from the hull. Sabre extended an arm from the top of his domed head to insert into the diagnostic port. Cheriss tried her best to keep the X-Wing steady. Just as Sabre was about to hook-up, the X-Wing bounced and slammed Sabre's head against the hull of the ship. There was a loud bang and a screech from Sabre.
"Sabre, are you ok?" Cheriss shouted.
A loud groan and irritated blatting sound answered her. She didn't try to get it word for word, she knew what he meant.
Again. Without hitting me this time. Scrolled across her monitor.
She pulled up close to the ship again and this time held it steady while her astromech droid made the connection. After about thirty long seconds, Sabre confirmed he had the proper information.
"Great!" she exclaimed. "Plot a course to the nearest New Republic base."
Just as she finished speaking, she felt like she was being watched again. The feeling was still there when Sabre told her the course was plotted.
She turned to the appropriate heading and flew that course for about three minutes. When Cheriss arrived at her jump point, she pulled the handle to enter hyperspace. The screen around her went dark and the canopy of the simulator began to rise.
She sat back and relaxed taking a deep breath and rubbing her eyes. She felt as if her head would explode. She slowly pulled herself out of her seat and climbed out of the simulator's pilot chair.
As her eyes readjusted to the light of the room, she saw a man standing there with her instructor. He had short, sandy blonde hair. He was average height with a fairly muscular build. He had a boyish face and a friendly smile. He wore a plain black flight suit with a blaster and a silver cylinder hanging off the belt. He looked familiar but Cheriss couldn't place him.
Her instructor spoke, "Flight Cadet Cheriss Ke Handi, I would like you to meet General Luke Skywalker, former commander of Rogue Squadron and Jedi Master."
Luke extended his hand and smiled, "Very nice to meet you, Cheriss."
A look of total shock came across her face as she extended her hand. She tried to speak, but the words wouldn't come.
Cheriss had quickly spoken to her instructor and Luke Skywalker. She learned that Jedi Skywalker had been working with the Starfighter Training Command to understand the effects of fatigue and sleep depravation upon pilots.
She also learned that Luke had been monitoring students using The Force. This would make his insights especially accurate and valid on a very individual basis. She was informed that her debriefing with Luke Skywalker would be the following morning and that she was off duty until then.
Cheriss was relieved and looked forward to getting some sleep. She excused herself quickly, but politely and headed to her room for some much-deserved rest.
The next morning Cheriss awoke after a long and restful sleep. She jumped out of bed feeling better than she had in weeks. Since she had awoken early, she decided to put some effort into her appearance. She walked into the refresher and turned the water on. She stood there letting the blissfully hot water run over her as steam began to fill the room.
After basking for a few minutes, she began to clean up. She took the time to wash her hair well and put a conditioning agent in it. She took her time washing her body as well. Unlike her rushed showers before running off to class or the simulator, this was actually a pleasant and enjoyable experience.
She emerged from the refresher and stood before the mirror. She ran a brush through her long black hair taking the time to brush it out well. She styled her bangs leaving them loose and pulled the rest into a comfortable ponytail. She then carefully applied some light make-up to accent her features.
She walked over to where Sabre sat and tapped him lightly on his domed head. "Wake up, Sabre," she coaxed. A moment later the R5 unit came to life with a series of beeps.
"I would like you to gather a good general outline of the Jedi Knights, past and present, and a bio of Luke Skywalker specifically," she instructed Sabre. "And try to get it done before I return in an hour or two." Even though she had heard a fair amount about the Jedi she figured after her conversation with Luke she would want more.
Cheriss pulled out a clean and freshly pressed flight suit from her drawer. She put it on and pulled on her boots. She grabbed her belt with her blaster attached to it and looked up over her desk to where her blastsword hung. She looked at it for a moment and pulled it down, attaching it to her belt.
"Maybe Master Skywalker would be interested in this. He is a duelist of sorts," she mumbled to herself.
She looked in the mirror on the way out. She stood there, a beautiful young woman. She was made up nicely with her blastsword hanging at her side. Now this was the young lady she remembered from home, a dashing figure in a jumpsuit with a smug smile, the air of nobility and an arsenal of weapons.
She gripped the hilt of her blastsword and tossed the image in the mirror a cocky salute and smile before walking out of her quarters. She strode down the hall to the area of rooms usually used for classes and briefings. She entered the assigned room and saw the man she had been introduced to the day before.
Luke Skywalker sat in a chair at the front of the room. He was dressed nearly identically to the way he had been the day before. He stood as Cheriss entered, smiling warmly as he motioned for her to take the seat adjacent to his.
"You look well rested," he grinned boyishly as she approached.
She looked at him for a moment. She took in his features more thoroughly now that she wasn't falling asleep on her feet. He's kinda cute, she thought. In that innocent, little boy, sort of way. She shook her head clearing away those thoughts so she could get to the task at hand. Plus, she didn't want Luke to able to sense such potentially embarrassing thoughts.
He gave her no sign that he did as she took her seat. "It's amazing how good sleep feels after you haven't had any for a while," she said. "I feel great today, like I am ready for just about anything."
"Glad to hear it," Luke said. "My first plan was to go over your performance in the simulation, both the good and the not so good."
Cheriss nodded as Luke continued, "First the positive. You were at the top of the student list for ingenuity and clear thought processes considering how sleep deprived you were. You also had surprisingly good hand-eye coordination and motor control. You received the highest grade for any human student in the program."
Cheriss smiled. "Thank you Master Skywalker."
"In some ways the test wasn't very fair. Some of the other species aboard require far less sleep than humans. In fact, one student doesn't sleep at all. I think the evaluation was a bit wasted on him," he chuckled shaking his head.
Cheriss chuckled politely. When she was finished, Luke leaned forward and his features softened. "Now for the not so good," Luke said. "The only negative thing I saw was that you were easily agitated and you flew off the handle."
Luke sat back a bit and thought for a moment before continuing, "When the pressure is on and things are tough, it is hard not to lose your composure or control. However, with this exercise you now know that it is easy to fall into that trap. Knowing that, you have something to watch out for if you are in a similar state in the future."
Luke leaned forward again, his brow knitted with a serious look. "Emotions such as those you felt are only negative. Anger leads to the Dark Side. It is important to note that even those who are not Jedi can fall to those feelings."
Cheriss nodded and looked down as her cheeks flushed. I can't believe I acted like such a child and threw a temper tantrum, she scolded herself with her thoughts. Cheriss straightened and looked up to address Luke. "Noted, sir. I must say it was hard not to get frustrated with how cloudy my mind was. It is something I should definitely be aware of though."
The two spent the next half an hour going over the specifics of the mission, covering everything in great detail including her emotions during each phase. Luke even gave her a few flying tips. They finished the evaluation and filled out the necessary paperwork.
Luke smiled. "In conclusion, I have good news for you. Your training squadron has been given three days off. Unfortunately, the only place that the ship will be going to is a space station to refuel and take on other supplies. Then the final tests will be held and graduation held for those who make it."
"At least it's a little chance to rest before the final tests," Cheriss said.
"I am sure you will do fine. In fact, right now, you are the top ranked student in your training squadron. I am sure that you will go on to be a great asset to the New Republic."
There was a brief moment of silence when neither of them spoke. Cheriss hesitated, "May I ask you a personal question, sir?"
Luke nodded, smiling. "Sure, Cheriss. I am not your superior. You may ask me anything at anytime."
Cheriss stood and pulled her blastsword from its scabbard and handed it to Luke. Luke stood and took the weapon in his hand. "This is a blastsword. It is a dueling weapon from my home world. It is my understanding that you are the best duelist in the galaxy," Cheriss said.
Luke shifted uncomfortably and his humble nature came out. "I have the Force as my ally. With that ally, I am a fair duelist."
Cheriss gave him a look of disbelief. "Well, I believe we could learn a lot from each other. If you would like, we could meet in the training area and spar."
Luke responded happily, "Sure, that would be fun. My only concern is that blastswords are inherently deadly, aren't they?"
Cheriss nodded. "Yes. However, I have altered a pair of swords to emit only a very mild blast when they make contact. It would be, at worst, like a little sunburn in the area around the impact point. I have been secretly hoping to get someone interested in the art. However, the students, myself included, have had our time fully occupied with our studies. I am sure I am horribly out of practice."
"I am sure you will still be able to best me quite easily," Luke said.
Cheriss smirked in response, "Why do I doubt that, Master Skywalker?"
Luke shrugged. "Well, never the less, the idea sounds fun to me. Would you like to meet tonight after dinner?" Luke inquired.
"Sure, I will make sure that the swords are ready. I'll see you then." Cheriss rose to leave.
"See you then," Luke said as Cheriss exited the room. He sat back and sighed. Something is different about that girl, he thought. I just can't put my finger on it.
Luke shrugged and sat up straight in his chair as he heard the door chime. The next student was there for his debriefing. "Back to work…" Luke mumbled.
General Wedge Antilles sat in the cramped cockpit of the X-Wing simulator. Sweat poured from his face. Dark stains on the chest and underarms of his flight suit showed the signs of his exertion.
It had taken Wedge a few days to get all his administrative affairs in order. He had held a few briefings to go over some pretty mundane subjects and scheduled the first dual squadron run at simulation Sierra-Six-Three-Delta. Now that it was over, the results were not as he had hoped.
Wraith Squadron had taken one hundred percent casualties. The only Rogue Squadron member to survive was Wes Janson, only because he sustained serious damage on the second pass of the fight and was ordered to return to Home One.
Wedge shook his head as he exited the simulator cockpit. What does Ackbar expect of us?! Rogue squadron is used to doing the impossible, but this is ridiculous, Wedge thought.
Wedge looked over towards the center of the bay. The pilots standing there seemed to be in pretty good spirits considering the pounding they had just received. They were motioning with their hands, talking and laughing. Obviously, they were telling war stories about the simulator run when Wedge walked over.
Tycho turned to Wedge. "I told you it was pretty rough."
Wes Janson smirked. "Who was it again that survived until the bitter end this time? A dashing, young, handsome, incredibly skilled starfighter pilot and I'd mention, quite a ladies man as well."
The group of pilots groaned, as Wes continued his barrage of compliments directed at himself. Wedge chuckled, "Ok…ok…we get the point."
"I had to go back early, if not it would have been too easy for us," Wes beamed.
Corran smiled. "So, let me get this straight. You needed to get almost blown into subatomic particles to give us a fighting chance?"
Wes tried to recover and stammered for a moment before he slumped his shoulders. "That didn't come out quite right."
The gathered pilots hooted and howled directing their laughter at Janson. He took his medicine and just shrugged. The laughter died down as the group began to break up and head out of the hanger.
Wedge's comlink beeped as he was walking out. He took it from his belt and keyed it. "Antilles, here." Wedge listened to the instructions coming through. The pilots stopped, assuming a new order would come after the call. "Yes, sir," Wedge responded and put is comlink back on his belt.
"Ok people, listen up!" Wedge shouted, stopping the rest of the pilots who were departing. "I want everyone to get dinner. The rest of the time is yours until tonight's briefing, which is scheduled for 2100. Any questions?"
When no one responded, Wedge dismissed the group. He watched the rest of pilots leave then pulled Tycho aside, "Tycho, let's get the data for this disaster from the main computer and grab some dinner. I want to see what the hell happened out there."
Tycho shrugged. "Fine with me, but Wedge, we already know what happened. We got creamed."
For the next couple of hours Tycho and Wedge poured over the data from the simulation. The Rogues and Wraiths had done extremely well. However, they still had sustained tremendous casualties. The rescuing fleet of ships had made it into the system again, but the already battered Rogues and Wraiths still couldn't survive the TIE Defenders. They closed their meeting on a high point, Home One had survived the attack for the first time since they started running the simulation. Frustrated, the two pilots departed for their quarters to change and hit the refresher before the briefing.
When Wedge arrived in the briefing room the pilots were beginning to filter in. They all took their seats and pulled out data pads, preparing to take notes. Just as everyone had gotten settled Admiral Ackbar entered the room.
All the pilots stood as Admiral Ackbar entered and made his way to the podium at the front of the room.
"Be seated everyone," Admiral Ackbar said as he picked up the control to the holoprojector. "Greetings. I have called this briefing to give you the next phase of your assignment." Ackbar keyed the switch and a hologram of three Imperial Ships appeared; an Imperial Star Destroyer II, a Victory Class Star Destroyer and an Interdictor Cruiser. Below the three ships appeared twenty-four TIE Defenders and twenty-four TIE Bombers.
"This is the force, minus two squadrons of TIE Defenders, that you have been up against in the simulation you have been running. Utilizing these assets, you will plan an attack on Home One and the Mon Ramonda. You will finish planning and execute the plan in the simulator in one week," Ackbar explained. "For those of you who are not familiar with the TIE Defender, General Antilles will set up check-outs for you."
Ackbar looked around at the shocked faces of the gathered pilots and began to walk out of the briefing room. "Good Luck. General Antilles, you are to report to the simulators one week from now at 1200 to run the simulation. You may prepare as you like in the mean time."
Admiral Ackbar exited the briefing room, leaving the shocked pilots in his wake.
Cheriss had hurriedly eaten and went back to her quarters. She quickly changed into a form fitting dueling outfit. She undid her carefully styled hair and retied it in a tight ponytail. Once she was dressed, she gathered her two modified blastswords and set them on the desk to examine them a last time. She wanted to make sure that they were going to be the less deadly weapons she had promised Master Skywalker.
Satisfied that the weapons would do no permanent damage, Cheriss headed to the gymnasium and exercise area. She made it there in record time. Her heart was racing and she was excited. It had been quite some time since she had been able to duel. Even though this duel was just for practice, she felt her chest tighten and her heart race in anticipation. She blushed when she thought that her nervousness might, in part, be the anticipation of again meeting with the youthful and cute Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master.
She quickly cleared the thoughts from her head knowing that she couldn't hide them from Luke once she got there. She entered the gym to see Luke standing the center of an open, matted area. He was dressed in simple, functional black clothes and boots. He stood in a ready stance with his lightsaber humming in his hands. He had two floating balls near him. The globes bobbed and weaved firing low powered lasers at him.
Luke quickly brought the blade of his lightsaber into the paths of the oncoming bolts and deflected them away from his body. He noticed Cheriss standing there and shut down his lightsaber and disengaged the drones.
"Hi Cheriss, I see you are ready to start," Luke said as he clipped the lightsaber to his belt. A friendly smiled played across his lips.
Cheriss nodded and handed Luke one of the blastswords and showed him how to turn it on. Luke flipped the switch on the hilt of the sword and the tip glowed an angry red. Cheriss followed suit and her tip came alive with a purple glow.
Cheriss explained to him that to score a hit on his opponent that he would need to have the tip come into direct contact with a surface. Luke nodded and listened as she gave him a few pointers on dueling style and tactics.
"Let's try a few thrusts and parries to get you up to speed," Cheriss suggested. The two worked through a series of slow thrusts, counters and parries. Then it was time to begin.
Luke noticed a change in Cheriss as soon as she took a ready stance. Her eyes sharpened and her features became hard. She slowly transformed into a predator before his eyes. She quickly lunged at Luke.
Luke brought the blade of his sword down to block the lunge to the outside. He slid his blade down until it hit the hilt of Cheriss' sword and he lunged forward. Cheriss ducked left and Luke felt her through the Force. He could sense her attack going for his right shoulder.
Luke brought his blade up to block where he thought her blade would strike and was taken aback when he did not contact the sword. He looked at Cheriss and saw her blade heading towards his left knee. He jumped back, aided by the Force and her strike barely missed him as he did a back flip and landed softly a few feet back.
Cheriss offered Luke no quarter and quickly engaged again. Luke was more wary this time and took nothing for granted. He stretched out with the Force and watched her as she struck out at his left leg again. Luke parried the shot high and it almost contacted his left shoulder.
Luke felt Cheriss' presence as she slid between his open stance. Luke tried to spin, but as he did he felt a sharp pain in back of his right knee, then another on his left knee. Luke yelped.
Luke started to fall forward as he felt a blow sting the center of his back. Luke fell to the ground but quickly recovered. He got up to see Cheriss standing with her right ankle crossed over the left, her left hand on her hip with her right hand on the hilt of her sword with the point on the ground. She had a smug look on her face.
Luke didn't understand it. How could Cheriss have fooled his senses? Then it occurred to him. He had an idea about what had been bothering him about her.
"Cheriss, I have a suspicion about something. Would you object to a little experiment?" Luke inquired.
Cheriss shrugged a bit taken aback. "Sure. What is this about?"
"Could be nothing…but I would tend to doubt it," Luke said as he straightened his clothes and ushered Cheriss to follow him out of the gym.
Luke led Cheriss through the labyrinth of corridors to the section of the ship where his quarters were. Cheriss looked around the room as she entered and noticed how spartan it was. Luke had only a few personal possessions and the room was with out much decoration or even furniture.
Luke stood in the center of the room and motioned Cheriss over to him. Cheriss blushed as she walked over. She allowed herself a brief thought of what might be coming, alone in Luke's room with him. She came over and stood facing him, about a foot away.
Luke smiled. "There is a way to tell if someone is sensitive to the Force or not. It takes a simple meditation. I would enter your mind and reach towards the center of your being. If you are Force sensitive your mind will expel me with a strong push. How hard your mind will push me out, will depend on your potential."
Cheriss look apprehensive and blushed a bit deeper. "So, you'd be able to tell what I was thinking?"
Luke looked a bit offended by the question but he slowly answered. "If I were to try to look I would be able to, but I would never do that without your permission. Examining your thoughts and feelings is not a necessary part of the test."
Cheriss, even though she looked nervous, agreed. Luke came closer to her and closed his eyes. Luke took a deep breath and cleared his mind. He told Cheriss to do the same. Luke reached out with the Force and began to enter her mind. He probed deep into her subconscious and reached towards the area he knew would test her ability to touch the Force.
Luke reached the area and pushed against it. As he did, he felt her mind push back. Luke left his feet and sailed the few feet to the back wall of his small quarters. He cried out in pain as his elbow struck the wall first. His head then impacted slightly before the rest of his body. He slowly slid down the wall to the floor.
Cheriss gasped in surprise and ran over to Luke who was slowly recovering. "Are you ok? I'm so sorry…I didn't mean to do that."
Luke struggled to his feet holding his elbow. "That's ok," he groaned. "You did nothing wrong. You just responded more strongly than I expected."
Luke examined his elbow and winced as he touched it. "Well, I'll take care of my elbow. Then we need to have a discussion about your future."
Cheriss, still shocked over what happened, could only manage a nod.
Continued in Part Three