10 Weeks before the Battle of Ithor
Jaina Solo slowly strode out of the galley aboard the Ralroost, the Bothan Attack Cruiser she was stationed on as a member of Rogue Squadron. She had just finished catching up with her twin, Jacen. They had begun their chat in the meditation cabin at the far aft of the ship and had concluded it over many cups of caf in one of the ship's galleys along with Corran Horn, a fellow Jedi.
"I really hope I got through to Jacen," Jaina mumbled as she walked through the corridors toward her squadron's berth. The twins' discussion had centered on Jacen's need to concentrate on the present and not on what path might lay ahead of him enroute to a far distant destiny. She knew that her brother would need every ounce of his attention focused on his upcoming mission to Garqi led by Colonel Corran Horn and involving Jedi Knight Ganner Rhysode and a squad of Noghri.
Infiltrating a Vong-held planet with two other Jedi and a half-dozen Noghri might not be the safest thing to do, but I can't think of anyone I'd rather be with if I needed to do anything of the sort, Jaina continued in her mind as she pondered Jacen's mission and how she would feel in his shoes. She kept up her internal monologue, oblivious to her surroundings, until she found she had passed the quarters she shared with her wingmate and was back in the area of the meditation chamber she had left only hours before.
"The Force works in mysterious ways," she chuckled to herself after she had moved the short distance to the chamber and opened the door before entering the small room. She deemed her wandering back to the chamber as a message from the Force that it would be better to meditate on what troubled her instead of just mulling it over in her mind again and again. Looking about the room, she mused aloud, "What better place to meditate than a mediation chamber?"
The room itself was located far aft on the topside of the cruiser. It was a small room that was basically a bubble of transparisteel that extended above the ship's hull and gave a nearly unobstructed view of the swirling tunnel of light that accompanied a journey through hyperspace. It also provided a great place to observe worlds and deep space when the ship was not traveling faster than light. The room itself had a plush carpet of dark blue as well as a couple of chairs and a couch of the same color.
Moving to sit in the center of the room, she guided herself down to the floor and crossed her legs in front of her in a commonly used mediation position. Taking a few deep breaths, Jaina released her last conscious thoughts and opened herself to the Force. The Jedi Apprentice let the power of the Force flow through her, bringing with it the power of all life.
Through the Force, things you will see… Other places. The future. The past. Old friends, long gone. She heard the voice of her Uncle Luke in her mind as he impersonated the voice of his Master, Yoda. Deep and gravely, the voice had always made her giggle as a child. So even though she would have likely heard the quote numerous times, with how much she had enjoyed her Uncle's impression, she heard it far more.
While images and impressions flashed past, none stayed in her mind's eye for more than an instant. Any vision of substance that might have been offered eluded Jaina.
Based on her own perceptions there was really no way for Jaina to tell whether her journey had lasted for a minute or an hour, when she felt a presence just outside the door. Reducing her access to the Force, she slowly weaned herself from its gentle embrace as the door slid open. A moment later, a very happy looking Anni Capstan stepped in.
The young pilot from Corellia stood a couple inches shorter than Jaina Solo. Her hair was a deep red that reminded Jaina of the moment just before dark as the sun set over Coruscant. Anni often wore her hair in a loose ponytail that was easy to tuck into her helmet and frequently complained of how straight and boring it was. Anni was not as waifish or lithe as Jaina. She had more defined curves that better filled out the orange flightsuit she wore. With her soft blue eyes, she looked more like "a proper young lady" in contrast to the more outspoken young woman Jaina had come to know.
"Oh!" Anni gasped as she saw Jaina seated on the floor. "Didn't know anyone was in here, Sticks."
Jaina smiled at the use of her nickname. When she had first joined the squadron that was the callsign gifted her by her fellow pilots. It was a double reference to her lightsaber and the fact she was a rather hot-hand on the stick of a starfighter.
Jaina shrugged playfully. "Not to worry, my favorite Wingmate. I was just sitting here meditating. But, company is just fine too."
"I thought you were meeting up with your brother?"
"I already did. He has a few last minute preparations to make for his mission with Colonel Horn. So, he went off to take care of them, then hit the rack early," Jaina informed her. "But, it was nice to spend a little time with him. I haven't had much time to spend with either of my brothers since I came to the squadron."
Making her way over to sit in one of the comfortable chairs near Jaina, Anni glanced at her chrono as she commented, "That, Lieutenant Solo, sounds like a regret."
"No, not at all," Jaina was quick to answer. "But, I'm sure that you miss your friends and family sometimes."
A mildly pained expression came to the young woman's face but was quickly dispelled. "I don't think about it all that much. I'm here, they're home and there isn't much that can be done about that for the time being thanks to the Vong." She paused for a moment before smiling at Jaina. "Plus, now my friends are the ones I made on supply runs or ones I have made since joining Starfighter Command," Anni said, referring to her work as a freighter pilot before joining Rogue Squadron. She had joined about the same time as Jaina, when Rogue Squadron had arrived at Dubrillion, needing to recruit new members to replace their loses after a few very bloody battles with the Yuuzhan Vong.
Jaina seemed ready to offer an apology but Anni cut her off. "Hey, it's all right. I like my life just fine. No regrets." Jaina smiled and nodded. In the brief pause Anni again glanced down at her chrono. Raising an eyebrow at her wingmate's behavior, Jaina awaited an explanation. Seeing that she had been caught, Anni looked at the floor. "Sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry about, but do you have something you need to get to?" Jaina asked nodding at Anni's chrono. "I didn't mean to hold you up."
Anni shook her head. "It's not that. It's just that I am meeting someone here. An old friend."
Jaina caught a hint of the mischievous joy and nervousness she had felt herself with her few crushes when she was in her very early teens. The feelings she caught from Anni instantly brought an image of Zekk to her mind that she just as quickly banished. That was a long time ago and that should be left in the past.
"Oh really? Anyone I know?" Jaina asked coyly. "Is he cute?"
"She," Anni replied simply.
"Oh," Jaina said, unable to hide her surprise. "Just the way you said it, I thought it was a lost love or something like that." She blushed a bit at the mention of such a thing. While Jaina had experience with the crushes of early adolescence, she had no experience with the kinds of relationships Anni recounted in the dark of their quarters before they drifted off to sleep.
Anni gave Jaina an amused grin but let her comment hang in the air for a few long moments. "Don't worry about it," Anni finally remarked. "I guess even a Jedi can be off the mark once in a while."
"More often than I would ever care to admit," Jaina quipped bringing laughter forth from both of them. They turned their attention to the door as the sound of hissing air signaled the portal was opening. Taking two hurried steps into the room was a woman also clad in the orange flightsuit of a New Republic fighter pilot.
She was probably four or five years older than Anni Capstan, if Jaina guessed correctly, which would make her about twenty five years old. She had soft, round facial features that seemed to better fit a nanny than a pilot. Her strawberry blonde hair was cut all one length just above her ears so it still had a feminine flair to it but wouldn't fall into her eyes from beneath her flight helmet. She gave Anni a wide, even impish smile that was accented by her freckled cheeks.
Anni returned the grin before nodding to Jaina. "Lieutenant Jaina Solo." She then gestured to the newly arrived woman. "Major Casey Leitz of High Flight Squadron." Jaina began to stand as she was now in the presence of a superior officer. But, before she could even shift her weight to stand, the Captain waved her hand.
"Please, stay seated." Casey said taking a few steps towards Jaina and extending her hand. The two pilots shook hands. "It's very nice to meet you. Anni's told me a lot about you." Casey leaned closer and smirked. "Anni might not tell you, but she is quite proud to have you as her wingmate."
A surprised smile came to Jaina's lips as she looked over at Anni. With a chuckle and a wave of her hand, the redhead laughed. "Don't let it go to your head, Sticks." She turned back to Casey. "And what exactly do you think you're doing? That's all we need - a Jedi with a swelled head." To emphasize her point, she swatted Casey playfully on the shoulder.
For the next few minutes the three pilots discussed a number of things, mostly concerning their chosen profession. Jaina learned that High Flight Squadron had been escorting refugee and supply convoys. They had seen a fair number of small conflicts with the Yuuzhan Vong but had yet to participate in any large actions against them. During their latest escort duty, Casey had received a Holonet message from Anni and decided to pull a few strings so that she could come by for a short visit since their assigned route brought them very close to that of the Ralroost.
Jaina also learned that Casey and Anni had been close friends for quite some time. They had met aboard the training frigate Redemption when Anni was delivering supplies there a couple of years before and Casey had been stationed there as an instructor. The two friends got together as often as possible to catch up and simply enjoy each other's company.
After a little more than half an hour of chatting, Jaina was beginning to get the distinct impression that Anni and Casey wanted to be alone. At first, she was a little insulted and maybe even offended. But the more she thought about it, she realized that she had old friends that she would like time alone with if they were to visit and she shouldn't hold it against Anni for feeling the same way.
"Well, I think I should be getting back to my quarters. Long day tomorrow," Jaina said as she stood and stretched her arms above her head. She turned to Casey. "It was very nice to meet you. Hopefully you'll be able to visit again soon."
Casey cast a sidewards glance to Anni before responding with a huge grin, "I'll do my best to be back as soon and as often as possible."
Jaina smiled and nodded. "I'll see you later," the young Jedi said to Anni before walking over to the door. "And if you happen to come back after I am asleep, I would recommend you not wake me up," she called over her shoulder while patting the hilt of her lightsaber. The three women laughed as Jaina left the mediation cabin and the door slid shut behind her.
Jaina stood outside the door for a few minutes. She was glad Anni had such a close friend. I wonder why she never mentioned her before? she mused. Jaina was just about to make her way back to her quarters when she felt a surge of joy through the Force. The lock on the door engaged with a metallic thud and an accompanying beep from the door panel.
Calling the Force to her, Jaina was about to reach into the room with her feelings but quickly stopped herself. Whatever caused their happiness is their own business. Especially after I excused myself. Invading their privacy just wouldn't be right.
A genuine smile came to Jaina's lips as she contemplated how happy Anni was. While her friendship with Casey seemed very genuine, there seemed to be a lingering thought at the back of Jaina's mind that searched for more to their relationship. Though any ideas about what that might be never made it to her conscious thoughts before she arrived at her quarters and crawled into her bunk to sleep.
8 Weeks before the Battle of Ithor
Jaina returned to her quarters after meeting with Jacen following his return from the mission to Garqi. They had spent several hours reviewing the events of the mission. The main topic of discussion was Ganner's drastic personality change. She had seen him in the hanger with the angry red scar that now dominated his face. She hadn't asked Ganner himself but soon learned the circumstances surrounding his injury.
The twins also had a good natured, if somewhat heated, discussion about the unexpected aid offered by Admiral Pellaeon on behalf of the Imperial Remnant. The two Solos mulled it over but couldn't really figure out why the Remnant had offered help in the first place. The topic came to an end with them both agreeing that any help they could get would save lives. Even though they really had no idea what the Imperial's motives were, they both hoped it was nothing sinister. The New Republic could hardly afford to fight a war on two fronts.
Everything she had learned about the mission and its participants weighed heavily on her mind as she entered the room. She climbed into the top bunk, her spot since she had lost the coin toss to Anni for the bottom bunk when they had been assigned the quarters the first day aboard the 'roost. She hadn't even bothered to take off her boots or flightsuit. She knew that their quick departure for Ithor meant it was quite likely that she could be summoned to an alert at any moment.
With a casual flick of her wrist, she called the Force to move the light switch to off. Her Master, Mara Jade Skywalker, would have disapproved of such a casual and frivolous use of her gifts but, at the moment, Jaina felt vindicated that her little excess made her upcoming rest just that much more satisfying.
She had just snuggled into her blankets and closed her eyes when the door to her quarters slid open to admit what sounded to her like a herd of rancors. The light came back on and Jaina squinted open one eye to see Anni standing at the foot of their bunks wearing an excited grin.
"Sithspit, Anni," Jaina grumbled. "I was trying to catch at least a little sleep."
"You can sleep when you're dead," she quipped with an irreverence for death only a starfighter pilot could muster. Anni tapped Jaina's feet with her hand to urge her to move them. When Jaina curled her legs up closer to her body, Anni climbed up to sit on Jaina's bunk. She looked at Jaina expectantly as her feet dangled off the bed. "Well?"
"Well, what?" Jaina groaned, knowing exactly what Anni wanted but not intending to make it easy for her.
"Aren't you going to ask what has me so excited?" Anni asked, bouncing a bit on the bed to emphasize her words.
Jaina groaned and covered her head with her blanket. "If I do, will you let me get back to sleep?"
"Maybe," Anni responded playfully.
With a loud sigh, Jaina asked, "Why Anni - why are you in such a good mood?" Her tone belayed only weariness and grudging acceptance of Anni's ultimatum. The muffling of her voice by the blankets covering her head only added to her disinterested tone.
Jaina could feel Anni shift excitedly on the bunk again. "Casey is coming to visit again."
Flipping back the blanket, Jaina smiled genuinely. "That's great. I bet neither of you expected to be able to see each other again so soon."
"Nope, couldn't have imagined. But, with staging for the defense of Ithor, the Vic that High Flight Squadron is assigned to will be part of one of the task forces," Anni explained referring to the Victory Class Star Destroyer Casey's Squadron was berthed in. "So, they should meet us there in the late afternoon tomorrow."
A suspicious expression came over Jaina's features. "And just how exactly are you privy to the make up of fleet deployments?"
A look of mock indignation was Anni's first response. "Lieutenant Solo, are you implying that I found out about these matters in some back channel or inappropriate manner?"
Anni gasped but then quickly abandoned her ruse. "I can't fool you, Sticks."
"Nope, not in a million years," she drawled, beaming Anni an amused smile.
Anni leaned a little closer to Jaina and grinned impishly. "You know Fleet Ensign Hale?"
Jaina thought for a moment. "The Intel Officer? The cute blonde one with the dimples?" Jaina blushed slightly at the mention of his physical attractiveness.
"One in the same," Anni answered with a nod. "Well, as you can imagine, he tends to overhear a thing or two while on his bridge shift. All it takes is a little good will and he passes along any mention of High Flight Squadron to me. Or any other of my friends' units, for that matter."
Jaina's brow furrowed. "Good will?"
Anni's grin only grew more mischievous. "Well, the young Ensign is rather taken with me. So, a little flirting here, a kind word there and he passes on the info I want." She patted Jaina's blanketed knee. "He is a boy, after all. You need to encourage proper behavior, so when he gives me something really good I let him sneak a few kisses in the dark booth in the tapcafe."
"Anni!" Jaina gasped.
She held up her hands. "Hey, he's cute and fun to be around. So, what harm is there?"
Jaina just shook her head in astonishment. After a moment, she just grinned at her wingmate. "Anni Capstan, you are incorrigible."
"I know." She patted Jaina on the leg once more before jumping down and moving over to shut off the light. After she had slipped into her bunk, Jaina heard Anni shifting in the bed below hers, trying to get comfortable.
"Good night, Anni," Jaina called to her as she snuggled into her blankets again.
"Good night, Sticks."
Continued in Part Two