"Pull up, Six!" The shrill female voice filled his ears and Hobbie snapped back into reality just in time to pull up on the TIE's controls and avoid crashing into his fellow cadet.
"Thanks, Lead." Hobbie shook his head. He wasn't sure what he was thinking, but it sure wasn't flying. For the last few weeks, his flying has been down, his concentration rather weak. Most of the time, he would catch himself thinking about his new group leader. Just a month back, student assessments were done by the teachers, and shockingly, the only female student in the entire Academy had been promoted to Cadet Captain. Now she was in command of a newly thrown together group of six pilots. Most of them were second and third year cadets and bitter that they were forced to follow a female, but that fact was easy to forget when they met her.
They only knew her as D'Andrea, L; the name sewn on her flight suit and engraved on all her nametags, but in casual company, she was called Rogue. She was just tall enough to fit the qualifications for pilot's height, and she possessed a sort of sweet and charming face. At a distance, she seemed to be surrounded by an almost regal air, her posture straight and perfect in every way. But up close, face-to-face, her brown-green eyes shone a calmness and silent power that drew the respect of those around her. To Hobbie's knowledge, in all four years that she had been at the Academy, she still hadn't made any close friends. Yes, she was well known, but short of hacking the school's database, no one knew her first name or her homeworld. No one even knew how she'd gotten to be the first female student ever admitted into the Academy.
The rumors were that she was some wealthy senator's daughter and had bought her admission or that she had slept with someone on the admissions board. Tradition was a hard habit to break, and so the rumors spread like wildfire, but it was all so hard for Hobbie to swallow when he first saw her fly. She flew like the TIE was a natural extension of her body. The way she could pull the ship through twists and turns normally not thought possible almost led students and teachers alike to believe that she had been born in the cockpit.
"Form up, our run is over." Along with the five other pilots, Hobbie formed up behind his group leader, locking himself in the triangular formation that was heading back towards Carida's surface. He stared at the back end of Rogue's TIE, trying to piece something together about her, anything at all.
Back in one of the Academy's hangers, the group landed softly, each in turn, Hobbie last, and shut down their ship's systems. Each day, they made their practice runs an hour and a half before dinner was called, the run itself only lasting 30 minutes, leaving the six pilots an hour to clean up and change uniforms.
Hobbie was the last to climb out of his TIE and drop to the floor, pulling his bug-eyed helmet off and tucking it under his arm. He was running a hand through his hair when he turned around and was stopped by Rogue's angry, glittering eyes bearing down on him. She stood a few inches from him, her mouth set in a thin line until Hobbie snapped to attention.
Rogue tilted her head back very slightly and took a slow breath. "Your performance today, Cadet Klivian, was disgraceful. I've never seen anyone in the history of the Academy fly so badly. You obviously weren't in your cockpit, so I'd like to know where you were." The anger in her voice was genuine, but kept under tight control with practiced ease.
Hobbie stared straight through her, tightness in his throat building up and he swallowed to loosen it. "Where I was."
"Yes, that seems to be the question. Are you going to answer it, or just repeat everything that I say?" She stepped an inch closer to him, staring up at him, her nostrils starting to flare with each breath she took.
Hobbie blinked and swallowed again. "I'm not sure where I was, ma'am."
She stared at him for a minute longer, a minute that seemed to purposefully spite Hobbie by ticking away as slowly as possible. "You were lucky this time, Klivian. You didn't crash into your wing mate."
Hobbie clenched his teeth together and interrupted her before she got her next thought out, "I'll do better next time."
Rogue nodded and turned sharply on her heel, her short, thick, chocolate braid swinging off her shoulder and out behind her. She had gotten about three meters away when she looked over her shoulder and called back to him, "Thank the Force that there will be a next time. Dismissed." She disappeared behind another TIE and was out of the hanger.
Hobbie slumped his shoulders and bent over a little, popping his back. Intellectually, he knew that she was right. He was extremely lucky that there would be a next time. He could have either crashed into his wing mate and killed them both, or she could have taken him off the flight roster indefinitely. Hobbie sighed heavily and slumped back to his room to get ready for dinner.
His roommate, Tyanu Zerutal, and his wing mate, Biggs Darklighter, both jumped up when Hobbie opened the door to his room. Hobbie looked more sullen then usual and he just fell onto his bed, ignoring the questioning stares of his friends. He put the hollow of his helmet over his face and crossed his arms over his chest.
Tyanu, nicknamed Ty, took a seat on the edge of Hobbie's bed and grabbed the helmet, tossing it quickly to Biggs. Hobbie opened his eyes and glared at his roommate. "What?"
"Come on, Hobbie! What did she say to you? Are you being taken off the active roster?" Both Ty and Bigg’s faces were eager to hear what happened after they left. They normally stayed and waited for each other, but Captain D'Andrea had ordered everyone out of the hanger.
Hobbie slid up to a more upright position and swung his legs against Ty's back, pushing him off the bed. Hobbie stood back up and started to peel off his flight suit, prying his boots off with his toes. "She told me I was lucky. Damn lucky."
"So you're still flying then?" Biggs was occupying Hobbie's desk chair, his own booted feet propped up on the desktop.
"Yes, I'm still flying." Hobbie looked into the eyes of his friends then turned from them to his closet, grabbing his robe and a bar of soap. "I'll be taking a shower," he mumbled to them and left the room, weaving through the corridor to the showers.
Steamy water poured over his skin, slicking his hair back,and made every inch of him glisten in the dim light. Hobbie forced his breathing to be deep and even, calming his tense nerves. Because of his confrontation with Rogue in the hanger, all the other cadets had already taken their showers and were dressing in their rooms, leaving the entire room to Hobbie.
He lathered slowly, rubbing the slick bar over his skin, musing to himself. "She was right. I'm very lucky that I didn't crash into Biggs. What was I thinking?" He shook his head, sending drops of water flying around the room. His soapy hands ran through his hair and down the back of his neck. He massaged some tension from his neck and stuck his head back under the water flow.
"What I'd like to know is why you're letting her get to you so easily, and why you're talking to yourself." The voice was jovial and friendly.
Hobbie's head snapped back up and he glared at Biggs. "Do you like watching me shower?"
Hobbie turned his naked backside to Biggs as he spoke. "Oh absolutely. I just get the chills at the thought of you naked and dripping wet."
Hobbie peered at Biggs under his thick eyebrows over his shoulder. "What do you want?"
"Just to talk to you. I've never seen you so out of it and phased before. What's wrong?"
Hobbie shrugged and stuck his head back under the comforting flow of hot water. Biggs crossed his arms and frowned. Hobbie glanced at Biggs from under the water and sighed heavily. "I've just been a little distracted is all."
"Uh huh. What kind of distracted? Worried about finals distracted, or got a crush on a fellow cadet, distracted?" Biggs leaned against a dry spot on the wall and waited with an open look on his face.
"I don't know, Biggs. I'm not worried about any finals because I know all the stuff. And there isn't anyone here that particularly strikes my fancy, so take your pick or think of a third option." He tried to smile jokingly, but the shadow and water on his face vaped the effort with one shot.
"Third option. Hmm. That's a tough one." Biggs faked thinking about it for a moment while Hobbie finished up his shower. Biggs took a few steps closer to Hobbie as he dried off and dropped his tone to a hoarse whisper. "How about, you're not sure the Empire was the way to go, and you'd like to run off for the Rebellion."
Hobbie, now with a towel around his waist, stared gape-mouthed at Biggs. "You can't be serious! We'd get caught for sure! There's no way!" He slipped his robe on and tightened it around his waist. "Let me rephrase. How're you thinking of doing something like that?"
Biggs chuckled softly and leaned his back against the wall. "We're not sure how we'd pull it off, but there are 3 of us involved already. You'd make it an even four."
Hobbie's voice sounded unsure, but eager at the prospect of other students thinking the same as he had all year long. "What makes you think I'll join you and not report you?"
Biggs raised his left brow and gave Hobbie a sardonic look. "We know you better then that, Klivian. You're a Rebel just like the rest of us."
"Who all is involved? Besides you, there are two others."
Biggs smiled, knowing that Hobbie neither accepted or rejected his offer. "Ty and a guy from another group, Jek Porkins."
Hobbie nodded as he thought them over and stating his opinion in a neutral tone, "Both good pilots."
"And so are you. That's why we need you."
Hobbie thought about it for a long moment before looking back up to Biggs. "Give me a day or two to think it over."
Biggs pushed off from the wall and clapped Hobbie on the shoulder. "You got it." Biggs smiled warmly and turned to leave the showers. Just before he was out of the room, he turned back to Hobbie, "Just don't let the Captain of anyone else find out, ok?"
Hobbie nodded and picked up his flight suit and boots, heading back to his room to dress for dinner.
Continued in Part Two