The emergency sirens went off at the Republic Raider base on Endor. The Z and V-wing pilots ran to their fighter ships, dressed in the new metallic-silver, life-supporting space suits, while grabbing the black helmets before climbing into their personal ships.
“All Raiders to their ships!” The male voice boomed over the intercom. “All Raiders to their ships immediately! Incoming enemy ship reaching orbit! Repeat . . .”
The workers in the ship bay filed out as one by one the fighter crafts readied for take-off.
“Admiral,” a female’s voice spoke through the intercom, “all Raiders are in place. Z and V-wings are ready for take-off. Awaiting your call.”
“Standby, Commander Tentle,” the admiral answered. After a short pause, the admiral continued, “Raid Leader, you are clear to proceed.”
“Affirmative,” the commander responded, then turned her focus on her fellow pilots sitting comfortably in their snug fighter ships. “Raiders, prepare engines for take-off.”
The large bay room shook with the low rumbling of all ten ships firing their engines. Joined by another lower rumble, the large ceiling bay doors slid open to allow the bright light of Endor’s sun streak through. The Raid leader glanced up at the sky for a second, letting the warm sun soak into her ivory skin. A small smile crept onto her mouth. It was a good day, she thought. Then she focused again on her task.
“Admiral, prepare bay for lift-off,” she spoke, her voice still booming loudly over the intercom.
“Bay is clear,” the admiral responded.
“All Raiders in check?” the commander continued with her analysis.
“Affirmative. All Raiders in check,” the admiral spoke instead of her fellow pilots, not the response she was expecting.
The commander winced, realizing her mistake. “Thank you, Admiral,” she answered with a touch of sarcasm, then winced again at her second mistake. She was hesitating, going too slow, she knew. Then she couldn’t resist her sarcastic response to the admiral, and, boy, was she going to get it. The commander quickly tried to save the moment. “All ships, follow my lead.”
Then they were off. All ten ships flew up and out of the bay and into the warm sunlight. But the ships remained in Endor’s atmosphere, never breaking space. With the commander’s Z-wing in lead, they looped and circled and practiced a few evasive maneuvers for about an hour until the admiral called them back in from their daily drill.
The fighter ships landed inside of the ship bay and the low rumble of the engines softened until the only sound left was the echoing hustle and bustle of pilots emerging from their cockpits and engineers returning to their duties.
“Drill, drill, drill,” grumbled one of the shorter pilots named Vorn, “man, that’s all we ever do now. When’s the real thing gonna happen.”
“Yeah, I didn’ sign up wit’ sha Raida’s for shis,” spoke a seven-foot tall green-headed man named Tongree who had a speech impediment.
“Hey, would you rather be fighting Vongs or doing drills,” another human pilot said beside the duo. He was about normal size with black hair and ice-blue eyes, and rather handsome considered by human standards.
“Sure,” Vorn spoke up defensively, then began his dramatic complaint, “anything to end this day-by-day torturing, boring, tedious . . . stoic—you like that word?—stoic . . . torturing—“
”You already said that one,” the handsome pilot interrupted Vorn’s tirade.
“Whatever—crazy-ass, damnable drills!” Vorn’s dramatic tirade broke into loud echoing calls of “sorrow”, grabbing the other pilots around him and falling to his knees for effect. “Oh! Why the drills?! Please, someone end the pain and suffering!!”
“Get off the floor, Baby, or I’ll give you something to really cry about,” the female Raid leader spoke from behind. Smacking Vorn on the back of his head, she walked around him and the other pilots in annoyance.
“Ow,” Vorn exaggerated, then got up off the floor and the three pilots followed the tall woman.
“Gee, who threw you into the trash compactor,” Vorn, or Baby as the Raid leader had called him, said.
“Go sell yourself to a holotheater, since you have so obviously expressed that’s where you belong.” The woman turned around, allowing her annoyance turn into thick sarcasm.
“Ooh,” the two awkward looking humans responded in equal sarcasm, smiles creeping up on their faces. The third human stood their in silence with his arms crossed and eyeing the woman carefully.
“That hurt,” Vorn embellished the moment, “look I’m dying. I’m dying. Crystal Queen has stabbed me with her sarcastic tongue. Help . . . help . . . cough . . .” Once again, Vorn had dramatically ended up on the floor, his free hand gripping the handsome pilot’s arm.
The woman placed her hands on her hips and no matter how hard she tried, a smile sneaked up on her lips. “Oh, poor Baby. Jenar, you think you could revive him?” The woman flashed a wry smile towards the handsome pilot.
“I don’t know, Lilliya, it looks fatal,” Jenar responded back with another wry smile.
Vorn immediately got up from his fallen position on the floor and brushed himself off. Tongree patted him on the back then all three of the men walked over to the amused woman. It was obvious that these four humans were close, even through their sarcastic insults. They were closer to each other than to any other Raider pilot, growing up together from their early teens to adulthood. The young woman named Lilliya was the one who introduced the trio to the Raiders: a small and secret group of old and new pilots from across the galaxy that her father had collected to create the Raider base on the fourth moon of Endor. For five years they had been stationed on the moon to guard the galaxy from any unknown entity. The Galactic Alliance funded them for only a little while until it seemed as though the government had forgotten about them.
Which was fine according to the small group of fighters. They worked hard on the base and enjoyed the privacy Endor provided them, with the exception of a few Ewok encounters. The little beings soon became allied with the Raiders, which was a good thing, since the group of pilots were uncultured in the wilds of Endor. A few attacks by large, unknown beasts on the small compound soon proved just how important the Ewoks were.
Unfortunately—according to Vorn—the strange beasts were the only so-called “action” the Raiders ever had to defend against. They never encountered any strange ships from outside the Galactic Alliance, resulting in drill after drill after drill . . .
“I wonder if you’ll ever grow up, Baby,” Lilliya smirked.
“You’re just pissed off ‘cause you messed up the drill today,” Vorn sneered.
“Yeah, well one screw up over a hundred doesn’t seem like a big deal to me,” Lilliya countered, raising her right eyebrow.
“Shen why you piss’ off, Lil?” Tongree mock-smiled.
“Commander Tentle, report to the Admiral’s office immediately,” a male’s voice boomed over the intercom, almost as in answer to the green-headed man’s question.
The woman tensed, pumping her fists in frustration. “That’s why,” she muttered. Spinning around, she marched to the admiral’s office, imagining Vorn and Tongree smiling and teasing her from behind. Of course, Jenar would be smacking them upside the head in defense for her. Ah, how she loved those boys.
Lilliya stood at attention inside the admiral’s office, as the tall, grey-bearded man paced back and forth in front of her. It seemed to take an eternity for the admiral to spill out his scoldings. It didn’t help much on her behalf: she, standing there nearly shaking out of her body with intense frustration at the constant silence.
Finally the admiral ceased his pacing and stood at attention in front of her. A deep frown creased his wrinkly face, as if he was trying too hard to figure out what she was thinking, reading nothing from her carefully controlled blank face.
“Too long,” he finally said, his voice low and gruff.
“And you’re getting lazy.” He moved away from her and sat behind his desk.
Now a frown creased her forehead.
But she said nothing.
“Yes, lazy,” the admiral said, as if reading her mind. “Too long and too lazy. You need to watch that.”
“Yes, sir,” Lilliya nodded, trying her best to hide her frustration.
“And it doesn’t make a difference how many times we have done this drill—perfect every time. No excuses. I want perfect drills, perfect performances, and if you can’t give me that, Commander, then I’m afraid I might have to find another Raid Leader.” The admiral stared at her underneath his bushy grey eyebrows, then scratched at his goatee involuntarily.
Lilliya cleared her throat, aching to say something in her defense.
The older man’s eyebrows raised in response, and waited for her to flinch. When it seemed as if she wouldn’t budge, he then allowed her to speak.
“Do you have something to say, Commander?”
“Yes, Admiral,” she said, pushing back the nagging sarcasm she’d grown so accustomed to, “I apologize for my mistake in taking too much precaution. In the future, I will be more quick to take-off. But I must say something in my defense: I do not think I was being at all lazy.”
“You don’t, do you?” The admiral sat up straight. He was eager to hear her excuse.
Without fidgeting and without blinking, she continued without hesitation, “No, Admiral. I believe I was very much at attention. I listen very intently when I am in that cockpit. I even listen to the sound of all ten engines to make sure nothing sounds out of the ordinary. I listen to every order you make, and I listen to every muffled comment my men make. I am very cautious about jumping into space for a battle. You don’t want us to go up there, readying for a fight, if something wrong were to happen to a ship or pilot, or if I didn’t follow through all the precautions necessary—“
”Yes, yes,” the admiral interrupted, “I understand your concern, but this time you were too cautious, almost hesitant. And that’s not like you.”
Now she was confused. Standing out of attention, she made her way closer to the admiral’s desk.
“Too cautious? I’ve always been cautious. The drill today was no different than all those other drills I had performed.”
“No, you were slower. And I know you know you were slower. But in real combat situations, if an unknown battle ship was readying to attack us, there wouldn’t be time for all those precautions you seem to take your time with. I apologize that I didn’t catch it quick enough. I just assumed you were perfect.” Now the admiral stood up from his chair to stand directly in front of her. They were almost the same height, he noticed without thinking.
“Hm, and who’s fault is that?” Lilliya dropped her military persona and allowed her sarcasm to continue with the topic. She glared straight into his eyes, and he matched it.
“You have just crossed the line with your admiral,” he said, then stepped away and turned his back on her to look out the small window at the green forest beyond.
Lilliya let out all of her hot air, along with her professionalism, and stood with hands on hips, glaring at his back. “Well, you just crossed the line with your daughter,” she said huffily. Then she shook her head in exhaustion, “Why do you have to be so damn hard on me?”
“I am your admiral,” he said to the window.
Lilliya stalked to him and stood beside him at the window, trying her best not to let her frustration with her father take over.
“You are also my father,” Lilliya sighed, too exhausted to argue anymore.
“Giving me more reason why I want you to be perfect.” He glanced at her. “I need you to be perfect.”
Lilliya gritted her teeth. “I thought I was being perfect when I made sure everything was in order, that there were no flaws. I thought you wanted me to be cautious—always telling me the reason why so many pilots die is because they rush into space instead of taking their time.”
Her father shook his head. “Not because they didn’t take their time. Because they hurried to the task of fighting instead of internally preparing themselves about why they were fighting, or who they were fighting.”
“Okay, so when do we do these internal exercises?” Lilliya spoke with half sarcasm.
“Where did you pick up this sharp tongue of yours?” Admiral Tentle turned to her, a wry smile curled on his lips.
“Oh, just something I contracted from the boys,” Lilliya shrugged, grateful that the conversation was finally becoming more casual. Something she sorely missed with her father.
Tentle squeezed her shoulder and laughed softly. “You do know that I love you, right?”
Lilliya allowed herself to slump up against him and smiled with only a hint of embarrassment. “Of course, Dad.”
Then she stood straighter again. As much as she yearned for it, she could never bring herself to linger in the affection. She loved her father with all her being and only dreamed for them to have more father-daughter moments like these. But in the end, she didn’t think she could handle all the “mushy love”moments, as she would refer to it. She was brought up during the Yuuzhan Vong War, so there was no time for love there, and lived on a base all her life with men ranging from Corellia to Tatooine. Smugglers, pirates, and military men all in one. It wasn’t a life-style a mother would want for her child.
But what could her mother do about it? She had died when Lilliya was only seven. Love was simply not something Lilliya flaunted or expressed. If she even knew how to express it.
That might have been the one thing Tentle regretted when bringing up his daughter.
He looked at her silently and unnoticed, or at least he thought, observing her profile. She looked nothing like him or his late wife. He knew that some foster children picked up some of their foster parents’ features, and hoped against hope that Lilliya would do exactly that. But to no avail. She would look like someone else’s child, whoever that someone else was. Tentle remembered when he and his wife found the girl. She was only an infant, abandoned on Mon Calamari in a tiny, very odd looking space pod. Her gold-blonde hair, which oddly enough faded into silver when in darkness, glistened unnaturally, her skin an ivory color, and her eyes. . .
Her eyes were the oddest feature he had ever seen on a human. Her right eye was a sapphire blue and her left was an emerald green, but on the left was a perfectly cut diamond shaped scar. It was unnatural, as if someone had tattooed it on the baby’s eye—which was imaginable knowing how the Yuuzhan Vong society worked—the side points of the diamond starting from the pupil to the white of the eye, the vertical points inline with the emerald-colored iris. But the odd thing was the scar literally had color to it, more like it changed color depending on her mood. He remembered the shock everyone was in, himself included, when seeing the diamond scar change from blue to red when the baby cried. He soon had the colors matched with the emotions when Lilliya had gotten older. Now, no matter how hard she would try to hide her feelings, he would know simply through the telltale diamond scar.
Another odd thing that they had found with the baby was a crystal necklace. Laced around the baby’s neck was a golden material unknown to every jeweler and attached to it were three very thin and sharp gold-metal prongs. And inside was the crystal. The crystal itself was alien to the known galaxy. It was clear and seemed to reflect every object in sight. It would also change temperature depending on the activity Lilliya would do when she grew older. Sometimes it would be searing hot and other times freezing cold. The girl rarely took it off, if ever. They never figured out why she had the necklace, but it seemed to be apart of her soul, her life force.
And she called it her lucky charm.
“You’re staring,” she spoke quietly, then turned from the window to look at her father.
Tentle cleared his throat and shifted his eyes away from hers. Sometimes her look could be so unnerving, even for a man his age. “Just admiring my girl,” was all he said, then smiled and turned away from the window, moving towards his desk. “I suppose we will introduce the internal exercise to the rest of the crew tomorrow. Is that a plan?” Admiral Tentle smiled, though it was back-to-business time. He scratched at his goatee again.
Lilliya smiled back and sighed, knowing the father-daughter moment had passed. It was nice and comfortable this time. She liked it.
“Yeah, sure. It’s a good plan,” she answered, moving towards the door. It opened and she stepped through.
“See you at dinner, Lilliya,” her father said before she left.
Lilliya paused in the doorway. Her smile froze. Rarely did she hear her father say her name. And she loved it.
“Sure, Dad.” She turned halfway and flashed him a small smile.
The door slid shut.