Read an Excerpt
You're good, Corran, but you're no Luke Skywalker. Corran Horn's cheek still burned at the memory of Commander Antilles's evaluation of his last simulator exercise. The line had been a simple comment, not meant to be cruel nor delivered that way, but it cut deep into Corran. I've never tried to suggest I'm that good of a pilot.
He shook his head. No, you just wanted it to be self-evident and easily recognized by everyone around you. Reaching out he flicked the starter switches for the X-wing simulator's engines. "Green One has four starts and is go." All around him in the cockpit various switches, buttons, and monitors flashed to life. "Primary and secondary power is at full."
Ooryl Qrygg, his Gand wingman, reported similar start-up success in a high-pitched voice. "Green Two is operational."
Green Three and Four checked in, then the external screens came alive projecting an empty starfield. "Whistler, have you finished the navigation calculations?"
The green and white R2 unit seated behind Corran hooted, then the navdata spilled out over. Corran's main monitor He punched a button sending the same coordinates out to the other pilots in Green Flight. "Go to light speed and rendezvous on the Redemption."
As Corran engaged the X-wing's hyperdrive, the stars elongated themselves into white cylinders, then snapped back into pinpoints and began to revolve slowly, transforming themselves into a tunnel of white light. Corran fought the urge to use the stick to compensate for the roll. In space, and especially hyperspace, up and down were relative. How his ship moved through hyperspace didn't really matteras long as it remained on the course Whistler had calculated and had attained sufficient velocity before entering hyperspace, he'd arrive intact.
Flying into a black hole would actually make this run easier. Every pilot dreaded the Redemption run. The scenario was based on an Imperial attack on evacuation ships back before the first Death Star had been destroyed. While the Redemption waited for three Medevac shuttles and the corvette Korolev to dock and off-load wounded, the Imperial frigate Warspite danced around the system and dumped TIE fighters and bombers out to do as much damage as they could.
The bombers, with a full load of missiles, could do a lot of damage. All the pilots called the Redemption scenario by another name: the Requiem scenario. The Warspite would only deploy four starfighters and a half-dozen bombersknown in pilot slang as "eyeballs" and "dupes" respectively but it would do so in a pattern that made it all but impossible for the pilots to save the Korolev. The corvette was just one big target, and the TIE bombers had no trouble unloading all their missiles into it.
Stellar pinpoints elongated again as the fighter came out of hyperspace. Off to the port side Corran saw the Redemption. Moments later Whistler reported that the other fighters and all three Medevac shuttles had arrived. The fighters checked in and the first shuttle began its docking maneuver with the Redemption.
"Green One, this is Green Four."
"Go ahead, Four"
"By the book, or are we doing something fancy? "
Corran hesitated before answering. By book, Nawara Ven had referred to the general wisdom about the scenario. It stated that one pilot should play fleethund and race out to engage the first TIE flight while the other three fighters remained in close as backup. As long as three fighters stayed at home, it appeared, the Warspite dropped ships off at a considerable distance from the Korolev. When they didn't, it got bolder and the whole scenario became very bloody.
The problem with going by the book was that it wasn't a very good strategy. It meant one pilot had to deal with five TIEstwo eyeballs and three dupesall by himself, then turn around and engage five more. Even with them coming in waves, the chances of being able to succeed against those odds were slim.
Doing it any other way was disastrous. Besides, what loyal son of Corellia ever had any use for odds?
"By the book. Keep the home fires burning and pick up after me."
"Done. Good luck."
"Thanks." Corran reached up with his right hand and pressed it against the lucky charm he wore on a chain around his neck. Though he could barely feel the coin through his gloves and the thick material of his flight suit, the familiar sensation of the metal resting against his breastbone brought a smile to his face. It worked for you a lot, Dad, let's hope all its luck hasn't run out yet.
Isle openly acknowledged that he'd been depending quite a bit on luck to see him through the difficulties of settling in with the Alliance forces. Learning the slang took some work moving from calling TIE starfighters "eyeballs" to calling Interceptors "squints" made a certain amount of sense, but many other terms had been born of logic that escaped him. Everything about the Rebellion seemed odd in comparison to his previous life and fitting in had not been easy.
Nor will be winning this scenario.
The Korolev materialized and moved toward the Redemption, prompting Corran to begin his final check. He'd mulled the scenario over in his mind time and time again. In previous runs, when he served as a home guard to someone else's fleethund, he'd had Whistler record traces on the TIE timing patterns, flight styles, and attack vectors. While different cadets flew the TIE half of the simulations, the craft dictated their performance and a lot of their initial run sequence had been preprogrammed.
A sharp squawk from Whistler alerted Corran to the Warspite's arrival. "Great, eleven kicks aft." Pulling the stick around to the right, Corran brought the X-wing into a wide turn. At the end of it he punched the throttle up to full power. Hitting another switch up to the right, he locked the S-foils into attack position. "Green One engaging."
Rhysati's voice came cool and strong through the radio. "Be all over them like drool on a Hutt."
"I'll do my best, Green Three." Corran smiled and waggled the X-wing as he flew back through the Alliance formation and out toward the Warspite. Whistler announced the appearance of three TIE bombers with a low tone, then brought the sound up as two TIE fighters joined them.
"Whistler, tag the bombers as targets one, two, and three." As the R2 unit complied with that order, Corran pushed shield power full to front and brought his laser targeting program up on the main monitor. With his left hand he adjusted the sighting calibration knob on the stick and got the two fighters. Good, looks like three klicks between the eyeballs and the bombers.
Corran's right hand again brushed the coin beneath his flight suit. He took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, then settled his hand on the stick and let his thumb hover over the firing button. At two klicks the heads-up display painted a yellow box around the lead TIE fighter. The box went green as the fighter's image locked into the HUD's targeting cross and Whistler's shrill bleat filled the cockpit. Corran's thumb hit the button, sending three bursts of laser bolts at the lead fighter.
The first set missed but the second and third blasted through the spherical cockpit. The hexagonal solar panels snapped off and spun forward through space while the ion engines exploded into an expanding ball of incandescent gas.
Corran kicked the X-wing up in a ninety-degree snap-roll and sliced through the center of the explosion. Laser fire from the second fighter lit up his forward shields, making it impossible for him to get a good visual line on the TIE. Whistler yowled, complaining about being a target. Corran hurried a shot and knew he hit, but the TIE flashed past and continued on in at the Korolev.
Time to write a new chapter for the book on the Requiem scenario. Corran throttled hack almost all the way to zero and let the X-wing decelerate. "Whistler, bring up target one."
The image of the first TIE bomber filled his monitor. Corran switched over to proton torpedo target control. The HUD changed to a larger box and Whistler began beeping as he worked supplying data to the targeting computer for a missile lock.
"Green One, your velocity is down to one percent. Do you need help?"
"Negative, Green Two."
"Corran, what are you doing?"
"Making the book a short story." I hope.
The HUD went red and Whistler's tone became constant. Corran punched the button and launched the first missile. "Acquire target two." The HUD flashed yellow, then red, and the pilot launched the second missile.
Numbers scrolled away to zero as the missiles streaked in at their targets. Two kilometers away the first missile hit, shredding the first TIE bomber. Seconds later the second missile hit its target. A novalike explosion lit the simulator's cockpit, then melted into the blackness of space.
"Acquire target three."
Even as he gave the order he knew the rate of closure between the bomber and his ship would make the last missile shot all but impossible. "Cancel three." Corran throttled up again as the third bomber sailed past and brought his ship around. He switched back to laser targeting and climbed right up on the bomber's stern
The dupe's pilot tried to evade him. He juked the double-hulled ship to the left, then started a long turn to the right, but Corran was of no mind to lose him. He cut his speed, which kept the bomber in front of him, then followed it in its turn. As he leveled out again on its tail, he triggered two laser bursts and the targeting computer reported hull damage.
The bomber's right wing came up in a roll and Corran did the same thing. Had he continued to fly level, the X-wing's lasers would have passed on either side of the bomber's fuselage, giving the bomber a few seconds more of life. Keeping the bomber centered in his crosshairs, Corran hit twice more and the bulky craft disintegrated before him.
Pushing his throttle to full, Corran scanned for the fighter he'd missed. He found it two klicks out and going in toward the Korolev. He also found five more TlEs coming in from the other side of the corvette, eighteen kilometers away. Damn, tile bomber took more time than I had to give it.
He brought the torpedo targeting program back up and locked on to the remaining fighter. The HUD seemed to take forever before it went red and acquired a lock. Corran fired a missile and watched it blast through the fighter, then turned his attention to the new TlEs.
"Green One, do you want us to engage?"
Corran shook his head. "Negative, Two. Warspite is still here and could dump another flight." He sighed. "Move to intercept the fighters, but don't go beyond a klick from the Korolev."
Good, they can tie the fighters up while I dust these devils. Corran studied the navigational data Whistler was giving him. The Korolev, the bombers, and his X-wing formed a shrinking triangle. If he flew directly at the bombers he would end up flying in an arc, which would take more time than he had and let them get close enough to launch their mis siles at the corvette. That would be less than useless as far as he was concerned.
"Whistler, plot me an intercept point six klicks out from the Korolev."
The R2 whistled blithely, as if that calculation was so simple even Corran should have been able to do it in his head. Steering toward it, Corran saw he'd have just over a minute to deal with the bombers before they were in firing range on the Korolev. Not enough time.
Flicking two switches, Corran redirected generator energy from recharging his shields and lasers into the engines. It took the acceleration compensator a second to cycle up, so the ship's burst of speed pushed Corran back into the padding of his command seat. Taxis better work.
"Green One, the Warspite has hyped. Are we released to engage fighters?"
"Affirmative, Three. Go get them." Corran frowned for a second, knowing his fellow pilots would make short work of the TIE fighters. They would deny him a clean sweep, but he'd willingly trade two TlEs for the corvette. Commander Antilles might have gotten them all himself, but then he's got two Death Stars painted on the side of his X-wing.
"Whistler, mark each of the bombers four, five, and six." Range to intercept was three Licks and he had added thirty seconds to his fighting time. "Acquire foun"
The targeting computer showed him to be coming in at a forty-five-degree angle to the flight path of his target, which meant he was way off target. He quickly punched the generator back into recharging lasers and his shields, then pulled even more energy from his quartet of Incom 4L4 fusial thrust engines and shunted it into recharging his weapons and
The resource redirection brought his speed down. Corran pulled back on the stick, easing the X-wing into a turn that brought him head-on into the bombers. Tapping the stick to the left, he centered the targeting box on the first of the dupes.
The HUD started yellow, then quickly went red. Corran fired a missile. "Acquire five." The HUD started red and Whistler's keen echoed through the cockpit. The Corellian fired a second missile. "Acquire six."
Corran looked down at his display. Scrolling up the screen, sandwiched between the reports of mlssile hits on the three bombers, he saw a notation about Green Two. "Green Two, report."
"He's gone, One."
"A fighter got him?"
"No time to chat..." The radio call from the Twi'lek in Green Four ended in a hiss of static.
"Got one, Corran, but this last one is good."
"I'll do my best."
"Whistler, acquire six."
The R2 unit hissed. The last bomber had already shot past the intercept point and was bearing in on the Korolev. The pilot had the widebodied craft slowly spinning, making it a difficult target for a missile lock. The Korolev, being as big as it was, would present large enough of a target that even a rolling ship could get a lock on it.
And once he has that lock, the Korolev is so much space junk. Corran switched back to lasers and pushed his X-wing forward. Even though two Licks separated them, he triggered a couple of laser blasts. He knew his chances of hitting were not good at that range, but the light from the bolts wou shoot past the TIE and give the pilot something to think about. And I want him thinking about me, not that nerf-vette grazing there.
Corran redirected all power back into the engines and shot forward. Two more laser blasts caused the TIE bomber to shy a bit, but it had pushed into target-acquisition range. The ship's roll began to slow as the pilot fixated on his target, then as Corran brought his lasers to bear, the bomber jinked and cut away to port.
The Corellian's eyes narrowed. Bror Jace has got to