5 Weeks before the Battle of Ithor
Lieutenant Jaina Solo made her way from the hanger to the galley. She and her wingmate, Anni, had just returned from a routine patrol mission. During the weeks that followed Anni receiving the news of Casey Leitz's death, the young woman had made gradual but steady progress towards recovery of her emotional well-being. She was sad but seemed to have accepted what had happened and was getting on with her life.
Almost everyone who came into contact with Anni Capstan believed that. However, Jaina Solo could not be fully counted among their number. She saw Anni portraying herself as strong and resigned. There's just something that's not right, Jaina thought as she walked, reflecting on the last week.
As she dwelled on it, Jaina realized her thoughts had often turned to the romance that had existed between Anni and Casey. It wasn't that she saw anything wrong with it. Throughout her life she had been taught to be accepting of the diversity of others. Her training in the Force taught her that there was much in life that meant more than the arbitrary difference of gender. Still, she couldn't keep her mind from pondering the relationship between the two women.
Time and again, Jaina had seen the heroes of the Rebellion marry and go on to live happily ever after. Han Solo and Leia Organa. Winter and Tycho Celchu. Corran Horn and Mirax Terrick. But, why was it that all these storybook romances were a man with a woman? Why hadn't it been Winter and Mirax or Corran and Tycho?
Her rhetorical questions remained unanswered but, at the back of her mind, she had to wonder why the concept kept creeping into her thoughts. It was almost as if the question was significant for her to a degree that exceeded wanting to understand her friend's pain in order to help her through it.
The comlink in her pocket buzzed, shaking Jaina from her thoughts. Taking it from her pocket, she raised it to her lips and keyed the transmitter. "Solo."
"Lieutenant Solo, report to my office," she heard Colonel Darklighter's voice order.
"Yes, Sir." Jaina changed direction and quickly made her way to her commander's office. She pressed her thumb against the key on the pad that rang the door buzzer. The door slid open and she moved in to stand at attention in front of the Colonel's desk. "Lieutenant Solo reporting as ordered, Sir."
Gavin Darklighter looked up at the young pilot. "Be seated," he said, motioning to a chair. He let her settle for a moment before he spoke again. "How is your wingmate doing, Jaina?"
Her heart skipped a beat in her chest. Up until this point, Gavin had allowed the squadron to deal with the issue themselves. It took a moment for Jaina to respond. "Fine, Sir."
Gavin looked at her skeptically. He folded his hands on his desk and leaned forward. "Jaina, I've been doing this a long time. Why don't you tell me what you honestly think and not worry about what you think I want to hear?"
Jaina sighed. She didn't want to betray her friend, and no matter how illogical, she felt that was what she was about to do. "There are a lot of people in the squadron who understand that she was upset by her friend's death, but feel that she has come to accept it and is back to normal. At least as normal as could realistically be expected after only a month."
"Most people? But not you?"
Stang, Jaina thought. No use trying to get around it. "No, Sir," she admitted. "I think she has shut herself off from what happened. She is functioning fine for now. But, who knows when what she has walled up will come bursting through."
Gavin nodded. "Very well." He handed Jaina a datapad. "I have a mission for the two of you."
A mission? Didn't he just ask me about Anni and how she was doing? Why does he think she is fit for a mission? Jaina thought, before taking the datapad.
"General Antilles has gotten in touch with a few old contacts. He's arranged for a very large cache of proton torpedoes and concussion missiles to be delivered to us," Gavin explained. "If things are going to be as bad as we expect with the Vong, it won't hurt to have a healthy stockpile of munitions."
Jaina's eyebrows went up. "No, Sir. I imagine that it wouldn't."
"The mission itself will be a little tricky, but there is little chance of any danger. Once you get planet-side, you and Anni will have a three-day pass while the freighters you will be escorting are loaded and made ready for the trip back." Gavin pondered for a moment, before adding, "You will escort the convoy back to the Ralroost and should be back in time for the arrival of the New Republic and Imperial Remnant dignitaries. While there are no specific plans yet, I think it would be best for you to be around."
"Seems easy enough," Jaina replied. She considered addressing the point about the politicians, but thought better of it.
"As I said, there will be a couple complexities. For example, you will need to make the initial contact with Wedge's friends. But, after that, you will be free to spend your time as you wish until it is time to return."
Pausing for a moment, Gavin put his hand on his chin and leaned forward. "There may be a few professional obligations that get sprinkled into your free time as well, but they should be few and far between. I know I don't need to tell you how important these kinds of things are for public relations. However, if they get carried away, feel free to politely decline and we'll deal with it later." Looking at Jaina, Gavin waited to see if she had any comment or question, but she only nodded firmly.
Motioning to the datapad, Gavin added, "It's all outlined on the pad. But, if you come up with any questions, feel free to stop back by before you leave."
Jaina nodded and sensing her commander was done, she stood. Gavin raised a hand to stop her. "One more thing, Jaina. You need to make sure the Anni takes the opportunity to deal with her loss. When you return, you are going to need to tell me whether she's ready to return to combat operations or not. The upcoming battle isn't going to be an easy one and everyone is going to need to be at one hundred percent."
"I'll do my best, Sir," Jaina answered and moved towards the door. Just before reaching it, she stopped and turned back around.
Looking a little surprised, Gavin smiled at the young pilot. "Something else?"
"May I ask you a personal question, Colonel?"
Obviously intrigued, his smile broadened further. "That depends if it is something that could be used against me later."
"Not you, Sir," Jaina answered.
"Someone else then?" he chuckled. "All right. Fire at will, Lieutenant."
"There is a story that surrounds Wedge and an Ewok named Kettch," Jaina informed him.
Gavin's smile didn't fade. "I've heard that one myself."
"I was wondering if there was any truth to it."
A hearty laugh escaped him. "Well, how to answer that." Jaina watched him intently while he rubbed his chin in contemplation of the question. Offering an exaggerated nod, he said, "Let me put it to you this way. To quote another famous Rogue…Yub, yub, Lieutenant."
Jaina keyed the door open. "Thank you," she said softly as she exited. Jaina went back to her quarters, looking at the information on the datapad as she walked. When she arrived back in her quarters, she found Anni at the desk working at the terminal with Kettch sitting in her lap.
Anni looked up as Jaina entered. "Hi there. You look like a woman on a mission."
Offering a warm smile, Jaina replied, "That's because I am one. And so are you."
Anni looked at her questioningly. "Am I now?" She seemed to seriously ponder Jaina's statement for a moment. Anni cocked her head to one side as she met Jaina's gaze. "I wasn't aware of that."
"Well, you are now. We're escorting a convoy that will picking up and returning with a cache of proton torpedoes and concussion missiles," Jaina informed her.
Intrigued, Anni stood and moved to stand behind Jaina and peered over her shoulder at the datapad containing their orders. As they read, they discovered their mission was a simple one. They would escort three bulk freighters to a system on the inner ridge of Wild Space, away from the Yuuzhan Vong invasion corridor. After landing, the two Rogues would meet up with their contact and make arrangements for delivery.
With all that done on the first day, the two pilots would have three days to enjoy the sights and relax before returning to the Ralroost the following day. "It looks like a blue-milk run," Anni commented, using pilot's slang for an easy mission. "And on top of it, a three day pass." The smile on her face widened. "The boss must be happy with us."
Jaina nodded, not wanting to change Anni's assumption.
"Well, we should pack up and get ready to go," Anni said, turning to pull a large duffel bag from her footlocker. "The only strange thing is, I don't think I've ever heard of that planet before."
Somehow, Jaina had missed exactly where it was they were going. She
scrolled back through the information on her datapad looking for the
name. She shrugged, not recognizing the planet either, and read the
name aloud. "Adumar."
Continued in Part Four