The V-formation of ten tiny ships didn’t move and remained pointed at the large, ominous battleship. Maurel smiled at them from the control bridge, eager to observe the fire fight.
Captain Jorn stood at his side, much less confident than his admiral. He had heard of the Galactic Raiders: the small, but elite group of fighters that had the reputation of outsmarting Vong battleships during the war. Straightening himself, Jorn decided that it wasn’t the time or place to start doubting. Then he turned to his admiral.
“Admiral Maurel, we are in attack position. The TIE interceptors are waiting for your command.”
“Very good, Captain. Deploy the interceptors and allow them full responsibility. Then, when I give the word, send out the DYTE fighters,” Maurel’s young musical voice commanded, giving not one glance to his captain.
“Yes, sir,” Captain Jorn nodded, and gave his commanding officer the signal. Then he turned back out the viewport to watch the soon-to-be battle, standing as tall as he could to match himself up to his admiral. Of course, it would be a waste of energy.
Maurel’s smile grew, and his eyes glittered with the dark eagerness for destruction. “This will be a day long remembered,” he sighed.
Jorn gave him a quick glance and only hoped that his admiral was right.
Lilliya awaited in silence, staring blankly at the black ship. Her mind began to wander and drift. Her senses became open to her surroundings and she could feel her fellow pilots and their anxiety, she could feel the cold and stillness of space, the smooth metal of the black battleship far ahead of her . . . And there was something inside it.
Her eyes glazed over as she became lost within herself, searching for the thing within the ship. She knew it, whatever it was. It called to her, pulled on her mind, whispered . . . but she couldn’t understand it!
The crystal trapped beneath her silver space suit, began glowing warmly against her sternum. Lilliya’s gloved hand unconsciously moved to cover the area with her palm. The voices in her earphone faded and she seemed to disappear within herself for only a moment . . .
“Yo, Crystal Girl!” Vorn called loudly over the comlink, breaking her strange trance.
“Lilliya, they’ve deployed interceptors,” she heard Jenar’s voice confirm.
Blinking twice and glancing out her cockpit window to see the tiny white TIEs flying their way, she responded with a clear voice. “I see ‘em. Nobody move until we know their flight pattern.”
“Yeah, but why interceptors? They’ve got to be the oldest design of Empire-based TIEs,” a pilot named Sputtnick said.
“They must be updated,” Lilliya answered. “There’s no way anyone would use the old interceptors unless they wanted to get their butts kicked.”
“Duh, Sputtnick. Of course they’re gonna be updated, you dweet,” Vorn laughed.
“Lay off, Baby. I don’t want any mock-jokes on this run, got it?” Lilliya scorned.
“Got it, Crystal Queen. It’s all about the affirmatives,” Vorn continued to laugh.
“Pointless to give him any orders,” Lilliya muttered to herself. Then she focused on the swarming interceptors. There was no real logic to the way they were approaching the V-formation. The interceptors were literally swarming around each other, sort of in a copy-cat Yuuzhan Vong pattern only not as smooth and natural. It was a wonder how the TIEs could handle such tight maneuvers and loops. Lilliya peered harder to see where the leader might be, and to her surprise, there didn’t seem to be one. The oncoming enemies looked to be in a battle of their own. If anything, it was definitely a chaotic approach.
“What do shey shink shey doing?” she heard Tongree say, as if in response to her thoughts.
“They obviously have no real pattern here,” said Sputtnick.
“No, and no leader,” Jenar said.
“Well, the plan hasn’t changed, Raiders,” Commander Tentle spoke. “We wait until they show their faces.”
The ten Galactic Raiders waited in silence for the swarm to reach their formation. And in a flash, ten interceptors flew above and past them without a single shot distributed. Then another ten flew above and past them. And another ten, and another, continuously without any attack.
The Raiders didn’t budge, though some were shaking with anxiety in their cockpits.
Lilliya bit her lip, a sudden wave of nervousness enveloping her. The TIEs weren’t doing anything but taunting and encircling them. At first, Lilliya thought that maybe they should have started firing on them as soon as they passed by, but then maybe that was the whole point. Maybe the enemy wanted them to fire the first shot, so they could blame the start of the battle on somebody else. And yet, something else told Lilliya that wasn’t the case. Nevertheless, something was definitely telling her to move.
“All right, Raiders,” she said, keeping a steady watch on the next ten ships flying towards them. “Enough of this catch-me game. We’re moving out and around. Lock s-foils in attack position.”
All Z and V-wings opened up their weapons artillery and awaited the next order from their Raid Leader.
The ten interceptors shot by again, taking no notice to the opened wings. But suddenly, one of the interceptors quickly changed its coarse and rammed into the last V-wing from behind.
A scream and then static screeched through the Raiders’ comlinks as the fireball of both enemy and Raider dissolved into space.
“Whoa!” shouted one of the pilots in alarm.
“We just lost Waike!” announced Jenar.
Before Lilliya could react to the death of one her shipmates, she realized all the rest of the interceptors were changing coarse and flying straight at them.
“It’s a suicide run!” yelled Sputtnick.
“All right, Raiders! The game has begun. Follow my lead,” Commander Tentle ordered. The interceptors only feet away, Lilliya jammed down hard on the yoke and her Z-wing flew straight down. All eight other ships followed her until they cleared the oncoming ships.
Lilliya gritted her teeth. It was too quick and too soon for one her pilots to die. But she knew she couldn’t focus on it now. “All Raiders, you know the drill,” she said, “we’re just here to test our enemy. I don’t want anyone getting in a sticky situation where you’re more than likely gonna die. And that goes for you too, Baby.”
“Hey, Crystal Girl,” his infamous satirical tone coming through, “you know me. I gotta play with the big boys.”
“Yeah, sha big boys,” Tongree laughed.
“Fine. I want Raid 2, 4, and 6 to follow me. We’re gonna explore the mother ship. The rest of you, go play with the ‘big boys’,” Commander Tentle ordered.
The Raiders split, the four Z-wings flying towards the ship and the five V-wings charging the thirty-some interceptors.
“It’s time to dance!” shouted Vorn, as he and the other four V-wings charged the oncoming interceptors.
And, as in response to Vorn’s battle cry, all interceptors fired their laser cannons. The V-wings easily dodged the amateur shots and fired their own cannons. A flurry of green and blue bolts filled the area.
And so began the dance.
“What’s the plan, Commander?” Sputtnick asked, as the Z-wings neared the black battle cruiser.
“You see those diamond-shaped domes on each side of the ship? I’ve got a hunch those are the shield generators. Let’s split up and see if we can do some damage to them,” Commander Tentle answered.
The four Z-wings separated and moved to each generator and began firing. The black cruiser didn’t seem to respond and allowed the tiny ships to pelt it with blue laser fire. Yet, the blue fire appeared to crackle then disintegrate against the black armor. It was the same with the diamond generators.
“Nothing! I can’t get through,” a frustrated Raid 6 announced.
“Same here,” Jenar agreed. “The shields are too strong.”
“Try neuron torpedoes,” Lilliya said, “and aim only for the generators.”
All four of the ships fired the white neuron torpedoes. The glowing white bulbs hit the generators with a pause of silence. A second later, the torpedoes blew, impacting and shoving the small Z-wings back, and temporarily blinding the pilots.
“That was a stronger reaction than normal,” Sputtnick said, squinting against the white light.
“Hopefully it worked against those generators,” Jenar said, blinking his eyes until the white fog cleared.
The bright light disappeared only to reveal the black cruiser untouched. And the four generators stood perfectly intact.
“Well, now we know their shields are good,” Raid 6 said, allowing a touch of sarcasm to fill the mood.
And, as if in response, the Raid 6’s shield generator began glowing red hot and then to an orange-white.
“Maybe it just takes them awhile to blow,” Sputtnick commented, as his own generator began glowing red.
“I don’t know. I have a feeling that it has nothing to do with our neuron torpedoes,” Lilliya said, a knot wrenching her stomach.
Raid 6 watched his generator glow hotter, the white light hypnotizing and flashing.
“Wow . . . it’s amazing,” Raid 6 breathed, staring with unblinking eyes.
Suddenly, a golden beam struck out towards the Z-wing and, for only a moment, nothing happened. But then, in absolute silence, the ship blew and disintegrated instantly.
“Sithspawn!!” cried Sputtnick in alarm.
“Dive!” Lilliya shouted, as she saw the other three generators glowing a hot white.
The three Z-wings drove downwards at the very same moment the golden beam shot out, barely missing them. But Sputtnick’s left wing was still nicked in the escape.
“Lilliya!” he cried. “My left wing got hit!” He waited for the explosion, but it never came. Instead, his wing remained dead, silver electrical waves crackling from time to time.
“Can you still fly?” she asked.
“Hardly. I can’t turn.” Panic began to overtake him.
“Use your emergency wing and get back down to Endor,” she ordered.
”No! You’re no good up here and I can’t lose any more men,” Lilliya spoke through a tight jaw.
“Lilliya! The beam destroyed the backup wing also. I can’t maneuver at all,” Sputtnick bit out through his terror.
Lilliya sat in silence for only a second, her mind racing. “Jenar, can you use your tractor beam and take him down with you? Then return as quickly as possible.”
“Yeah, I can do it,” he said.
Jenar made his way towards the other side of the black cruiser to rescue the wounded Z-wing.
“Wait! Something’s wrong,” Sputtnick cried. “My ship! It’s getting hot. It’s overheating somehow.”
“I’m almost there, Sputt. Just hang on,” Jenar said.
“Please hurry,” Lilliya whispered mostly to herself.
“I don’t know if I can take it. I’m roasting in here. I can’t even touch the controls anymore. Something’s wrong! Lilliya!” Sputtnick screamed.
“Just hold on!” Lilliya cried out. Her heart began racing, and helplessness began to overtake her. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know how to help Sputtnick, her pilot, her friend. “Jenar—“
”I know! I know! I’m almost there,” he said, panic beginning to overwhelm him also. Finally he saw the little black Z-wing. But it wasn’t black anymore. It was slowly turning a shade of red, just like the diamond generators.
“I can hardly breathe in here! I—oh no!” And in that very moment, his ship blew and melted away into the void of space.
“No,” Lilliya breathed, squeezing her eyes closed, as if that would shut out Sputtnick’s terrified scream.
“Lilliya,” she heard Jenar say, but didn’t answer. Or couldn’t at the moment.
“Lilliya!” he called again, this time shaking her out of it.
She let out a gasp of air, along with the pain that filled her. “We’re getting out of here and we’re calling the Galactic Alliance for help. This isn’t something we can handle on our own.”
“Sounds good, Lil. Let’s regroup the others,” Jenar said, his voice well controlled.
The remaining two Z-wings flew back to the chaotic battle between the V-wings and the interceptors.
“All Raiders,” Commander Tentle called to the V-wings.
“Hey, Crystal Girl! Glad you can join us. Did you have fun with the mother ship?” Vorn said in his usual playfulness.
“We lost Te’ther and Sputtnick. The ship is too powerful for us to deal with and we are far outnumbered by interceptors. It’s time for us to leave this party and call for help,” she ordered.
“Aw, and the fun was already starting,” Vorn moaned.
“I think we can take the interceptors, Commander,” spoke Raid 10. “We’ve gotten them down to fifteen now. They’re horrible fighters.”
“No! We don’t know what else that cruiser has in store for us. We need help from the Alliance,” she commanded.
“The Alliance doesn’t even remember who we are. What makes you think—“ Vorn began.
“Vorn!” she yelled, and they know when she uses his real name, she means business. “An order is an order! You either do what I say or I can leave you here to freeze.”
Vorn gulped down his normal cockiness and obeyed.
“Great. All Raiders back to Endor,” Commander Tentle finally ordered.
“They’re leaving,” Captain Jorn said, his face showing worry.
“Not to worry, Captain,” Maurel soothed, a smile spreading across his face. “They won’t have any where to go once we’re done. Call in the interceptors and charge the diamond laser for half-power. Then deploy the DYTE fighters.”
“Yes, sir,” Jorn said, confidence rising for his admiral again. “They will be much surprised at this, won’t they, Admiral.”
“They will indeed, Captain Jorn. They will indeed.”