Suddenly a bright light filled the Raiders’ cockpits and space seemed to turn white. It lasted for what seemed longer than a minute.
“What’s happened, Commander?” Raid 8 called.
“I don’t know . . .” her voice trailed off. She had a very bad feeling about this and wasn’t sure how to deal with the situation. Or how she could protect her men any longer.
Finally, the light faded and the blackness of space reappeared again. But the interceptors were gone. And in their place were larger, black, wicked looking fighter ships. Only ten of them floated in space, facing the Raiders in one single line.
“Uh oh,” muttered Raid 10.
“Looks like we’ve got new enemy ships,” Commander Tentle informed.
“Should we greet them?” Vorn asked, itching for another battle.
“No. I have a feeling these ships are ten times better than those interceptors. The plan is still in play. We must get to Endor,” Lilliya commanded.
“Affirmative,” her men confirmed.
But their ships never made it to Endor. The new enemy fighters shot out with astounding speed and intercepted the remaining Raiders, blocking them from their destination.
“Shis is bad,” moaned Tongree.
“Looks like they want us to play their game,” Vorn said.
Lilliya eyed all ten of the wicked looking ships. And realized her only option. They were going to have to stay up there and fight until they found a way to escape and call for help.
“All right, Baby, looks like you’ve got your wish. We’ll stick around to play, but in the mean time, I’m going to call for reinforcements,” Lilliya said.
“You’re the best, Crystal Queen!” Vorn shouted, then he immediately dove towards the ten black fighters and began firing. The remaining V-wings followed.
Lilliya shook her head and sighed heavily in her cockpit. There was nothing about this that felt right and she knew it. But there didn’t seem to be any other choice at the moment. Clicking her headset to the Raider Base frequency, she called her father.
“Raider Base, this is Commander Tentle. We request assistance, possibly ten more Z-wings.”
Lilliya clenched her teeth. This was not the time for delayed answers.
“Raider Base, this is Commander Tentle requesting assistance.”
“This is bad,” Jenar said over her frequency.
Lilliya didn’t have the patience to respond. “Admiral Tentle! Do you read? We request assistance.”
Again static. Nothing but static.
“Why aren’t they answering?!” Lilliya began to feel frantic.
“Try again. Maybe that black cruiser has cut off our connection,” Jenar tried to reason.
“No, no. That doesn’t seem right . . .” she trailed off.
“Doesn’t seem right?” Jenar asked, confused at what she would mean by that.
“Shh,” she hushed instead, then tried the Raider Base frequency again. “Admiral Tentle, we need your help. We are outnumbered and trapped by unknown fighter ships—“
Suddenly her ship was struck to the side, cutting her off. Before she could regain control, her ship was struck again, not by laser but by brute force. She glanced to her right and saw one of the enemy ships ramming up against her again. Then she caught a glance of the pilot. He, or it, was completely white with white hair, white eyes, white skin. It wore no helmet and only had a black fighter jumpsuit to cover its body. It glared at her knowingly with its blank, white eyes. Lilliya was lost within its stare and shivered uncontrollably. It felt like she knew who or what it was. And that it knew her just as well.
But then the black ship pulled back again and rammed her side once more, breaking her thoughts.
“Oh, great,” she grumbled, as she attempted to maneuver her ship out of the way.
But the black fighter didn’t let go. It continued to ram and shove until their wings latched together. The two black ships flew side by side through the chaotic battle and towards the cruiser. Lilliya tried and tried tugging on the stick to pull her ship away, but it seemed to be magnetically connected. There must have been a small tractor or magnetic beam installed in the enemy ship, for the more she pulled, the more the enemy ship latched on like a droch.
Her heart began to race and she cursed beneath her breath as they neared the cruiser. Lilliya had a feeling this fighter was going to crash her into the ship’s side. The two wings grazed each other as they flew beneath the cruiser.
“Lil, where are you?!” she heard Jenar call through her comlink.
—“Commander Tentle, come in . . .”
—“Yo, Crystal Queen, do you read . . .”
She had no time to answer.
The black fighter was leading her towards an outcropping and she knew for sure this white pilot wouldn’t mind sacrificing its own life to kill her. She had to think, and quickly. She yanked on her stick again, but it was useless. The black fighter had itself melded on to her, it seemed, and she couldn’t gain control of her own ship. There seemed virtually nothing she could do.
She watched, her hand slacking on the stick for a moment, and saw the outcropping get closer. She was going to die if she didn’t do something. Gritting her teeth and trying to calm the frantic thoughts running through her mind, she gripped the stick once more. Glancing at her enemy in the other cockpit, it glancing back, her mind seemed to relax. She felt a warmth against her chest and assumed it was her crystal. Then, giving her enemy a wink and a smile, she turned her focus on the outcropping again, which was now only meters away. Biting down hard on her lip, she pushed forward on the yoke, at the very same moment her right hand flew up and smacked the inside of her cockpit as if to push off the black fighter.
The two fighters separated and Lilliya spun her ship in a downward spiral, barely missing the outcrop by inches. A white glare reflected off her cockpit and she glanced up to see the fighter was gone.
Lilliya turned back around in her cockpit and let out the breath she’d been holding, and the warmth from her chest faded.
“Lil, are you all right?!” Jenar’s voice sounded frantic over the earpiece.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she finally responded, her own voice sounding a little raspy. “Just had to get one of those festering fighters off my back.”
“Show ‘em who’s boss, Crystal Girl!” called Vorn.
“We were worried about you,” Jenar said, his voice filled with strain.
“Doesn’t matter. I’m fine,” Lilliya spoke bluntly, wanting to get to the subject at hand. “I’ve got one down, how’s the party coming along here?”
“These fighters are literally impossible to kill,” explained Jenar, dodging another attacking black fighter. “All we can do is duck and dodge. Shooting them is a waste of ammo since their shields are impossible to penetrate with our lasers and torpedoes. And we’ve lost a lot of men trying.”
“How many men?” Commander Tentle asked, not really wanting to know the figure.
“Let’s just say it’s down to Tongree, Vorn, you and me. The rest . . .” his voice trailed off.
“Let’s try leading them into their own ship. Their shields or armor can’t hold against shear force.” Yet, as soon as Lilliya spoke, a tenth fighter shot into view from behind the black ship.
“That’s not the same one you tried to kill, is it, Lil?” Jenar asked.
“No. It can’t be.” But Lilliya had a terrible gut feeling that it was. “I could have sworn it blew up.” Yet, as the fighter came into a closer vector, she noticed the scraped markings of its wing that clashed against hers. “And we’ve only got four of us left?”
“Affirmative,” Jenar replied.
Lilliya swore again, much louder than the first time. Everything had gotten out of hand. They shouldn’t have lost this many men over a hit and run maneuver. And she was beginning to think this was a terrible mistake to intercept the enemy in the first place.
“We need to get back down to Endor and call for help. This is our only choice. There is no possible way we can remain up here and live to tell about it. The party is over and we are leaving, now!” she commanded, barely dodging another purple bolt shot by her former enemy fighter flying her way.
The four Raiders turned toward their Endor moon and made for their escape. Only too late, though, as a barricade of black fighters blocked their path. Soon they found themselves surrounded.
“Shis is bad, righ’?” Tongree murmured over the comlink.
“What are we going to do, Lil?” Jenar asked, striving to have a calm voice.
“The only thing we can do. Blast our way through,” Commander Tentle answered grimly.
The battle raged on against the tiny four fighters as they attempted to break through the enemy wall. Dodging and diving, the Raiders luckily missed every purple laser beam aimed at them, only to be pelted with more. It seemed as though they would not survive the laser storm, until finally Jenar shot through an opening and led the rest out safely.
But then a scream coursed through the Raiders’ comlinks and Tongree’s outcry for help broke their concentration.
“I got shot!” he cried.
“How bad?” Tentle called.
“My lef’ wing. I don’ have cont’ol!”
“Blast it! Lil, they’re gaining on him like drochs! We’ve got to go back,” cried Vorn.
“All right, Baby, just calm down. You and I will go back for him. Jenar, you get down to Endor—“
”Uh-uh. No way. I am not leaving you up here—“
”I don’t have time to argue! Just do it,” Tentle ordered. She turned her ship around without waiting for confirmation from Jenar and saw the enemy fighters stalking Tongree’s limping V-wing.
“Just hold on, Tongree-man! We’re coming,” Vorn announced.
“I don’ know how long I can hol’ on! Shey won’ stop,” Tongree called.
The black enemy fighters continued to shoot their cannons at the small spinning ship. It was amazing the purple bolts missed Tongree.
Lilliya watched the V-wing spiral downward into the dark space followed by the black ships. Her mind raced on how she and Vorn were going to save Tongree. It seemed like an impossible maneuver to catch a dying ship.
“Vorn,” she called, “I want you to attach yourself to Tongree’s ship and bring him down to the moon. I will try to distract the enemy ships.”
“Got it, Crystal Girl!” he answered back.
Vorn’s V-wing shot down to try to catch up with the out-of-control ship while Lilliya’s Z-wing flew towards the enemy. She wasn’t quite sure if it was a good idea or not to tackle all them on her own, but it seemed the only way at the time. Firing all of her laser cannons, she charged towards the black ships.
They turned to her in surprise and fired on her instead, ignoring their previous prey.
Spinning and evading, Lilliya tried pulling their attention away from the injured ship. But soon she found herself stuck in the middle of a black swarm and was overwhelmed by their fire power. Barely missing another rain of purple fire, she called Vorn.
“Baby, how’s progress?”
“I’ve got him. We’re on our way to Endor,” he answered.
“Good. I’m gonna get myself out of this mess then,” she said, slipping through an opening and speeding towards the green moon. But then she gasped suddenly, seeing a stray enemy fighter rise directly behind the two escapee V-wings. She was too far away to get to them in time, not to mention the fifty other enemy fighters directly behind her ship she didn’t want to get near the V-wings. “Baby! You’re in trouble. You’ve got one of them on your back.”
“I know. There’s no way I can shake him unless I let go of Tongree,” he answered, his voice strangely calm in spite of the situation.
Lilliya chewed at her lip as she flew towards them at full speed. She had no idea what to do, her mind cluttered with fear for her friends.
The black enemy fighter fired twice on the two V-wings, clipping both wings and making them immobile. The gravity of the moon began pulling the Raider ships into a spiral dive, the enemy fighter following tentatively.
“Vorn, is there anything you can do?” Lilliya asked anxiously. Her gloved hands began wringing her stick, watching her friends with unblinking eyes.
“Nothing,” was all he said.
The black ship fired again, blowing away the silent Tongree and setting Vorn’s ship aflame.
“Baby, I—“ was all Lilliya could say, her throat tightening in anticipation for her friend’s ship to blow.
“Hey, Crystal Queen,” Vorn said, “give that damn mother-ship my regards.”
And the V-wing blew into oblivion, taking the Raider pilot along with it.
Lilliya wished for a moment to pause and say goodbye to her dear friends she had grown up with. Grinding her teeth, she fought against the urge to cry for them and pushed onward to the beckoning glowing green moon. She had to get home. She had to see her father.
Suddenly a purple bolt struck the back of her ship, slightly dimming the lights in her cockpit. But she continued to push forward, refusing to look back at the numerous wicked black ships hunting her. Endor filled the cockpit view as she neared the moon. But then she was struck again, lurching her ship into a lite spin. Barely getting her Z-wing under control, she saw the purple laser bolts fly above her cockpit window. Now she began to think she would not make it this time. Overwhelmed by the enemy and an injured ship, all hopes of getting home faded from her mind. The Z-wing vibrating beneath her, she forced herself to relax in the seat and await her end.
The next shot never came. Instead, another Raider ship shot by her, cannons ablaze, and frightening off the nearby enemy fighters.
“What d’ya do, Lil, fall asleep in there?” she heard a male voice call through her comlink.
Jumping in her seat and grabbing a hold of herself again, a large smile spread across her face. And, despite of the situation, a laugh burst out of her voice. “I told you to get to the moon, Jenar. And you deliberately disobeyed me.”
“I think, for once, you were wrong in giving that order,” he laughed.
“I think, for once, you are right,” she laughed with him. Then she straightened her ship as much as possible and made her way towards Endor’s moon again.
“How badly is your ship injured?” Jenar asked, as he wildly pushed back the oncoming fighters.
“Not too bad,” Lilliya answered, checking her scopes for the results. “It looks like I won’t be able to fire and one more shot in rear and that’s it. Shields are really low, but I’ll still be able to land.”
“Good,” Jenar confirmed. “Get yourself down then and I’ll distract these fighters.”
Suddenly a feeling of dread dropped in her stomach and she broke out in a cold sweat. Her mind whirled and something nagged at her, something awful. Her heart began to race and her diamond scar turned a dark green in fear.
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Lilliya said, her voice shaking. She didn’t know exactly what was warning her, but she could easily guess. “I think we should both get to the base as quick as possible.”
“Then we’ll have all fifty-some fighters on our trail leading straight to the base. And your ship is not in condition to race them and land at the same time,” Jenar rationalized.
“Jenar, I have a bad feeling—“ Another purple bolt struck the side of her right wing, sending her in a sharp spin towards the green moon.
“Lilliya!” he cried out to her, and spun his ship in her direction. The enemy fighters faded from his mind for a moment.
Lilliya wrenched on the throttle to pull her ship steady, her wing sputtering, but she brought the ship to a shaky control. But instead of facing the moon, she saw the entire fleet of black fighter ships, the black cruiser, and the tiny Z-wing flying her way.
“Are you all right?!” cried Jenar’s voice.
Lilliya’s eyes widened in horror as she saw ten fighters aimed behind Jenar’s Z-wing. Her breath caught in her throat, her heart dropped, and coldness enveloped her as she finally understood the warning in her mind.
“Lilliya?” she heard his frantic voice call for her.
“Jenar . . .” she whispered, and was the only thing she could whisper as all air escaped from her body.
Suddenly all ten fighters fired on the lone Z-wing, blowing it to glittering pieces that floated away into the stars . . .
For a moment, space was still. The static of Lilliya’s comlink silenced, the movement of the fighters froze, and even the twinkling of the stars stilled. And her thoughts stopped in mid-sentence. All she could feel was the tightening of her chest as a tiny, choked scream bounced off inside. The pounding hurt so much, it felt as if she would collapse right there. Her eyes began to sting as they welled up with warm, salty tears. Her mouth opened to emanate a soft but high-pitched sound as she breathed in the air of her cockpit, cheeks flushing. Then her mind started again, the stars twinkled, the fighters moved, and the static burst in her comlink, and Lilliya’s hand pushed against her cockpit window at the space where Jenar was and a strangled scream escaped from her wide mouth. It was not a word recognized in Basic, but a word that spoke pain and agony. And that scream echoed across the space and was heard by all fighters and the black cruiser, and anything else close enough to hear.
Maurel froze on the bridge as a woman’s scream entered his mind. His crystal necklace glowed softly against his chest, and he glanced down at it. Something was not right, Maurel knew that for certain. His crystal never glowed unless he was the one causing it, and he surely wasn’t causing it to glow now. Somebody else was. And that somebody else was in that last Raider fighter. His eyes widened in shock at the realization of who that could be in that fighter. And his DYTE fighters were about to destroy it!
“Captain Jorn!” Maurel called, spinning away from the view window. “Call back the DYTE fighters. They are not to destroy that ship.”
“But, Admiral,” Jorn questioned, “I’m not sure I understand. You said we are to destroy all of them, that there are to be no survivors to warn the Galactic Alliance of our attack.”
“Captain Jorn, you question my judgement and my order. That is well beyond your position. I said call them back and I expect to be obeyed,” Admiral Maurel growled, his eyes glittering ominously.
Jorn swallowed, knowing he crossed his boundaries once again. But the absurdity of leaving one behind couldn’t help but be voiced. Nevertheless, maybe his admiral had a better plan in mind for this last Z-wing.
“Commander Celleu,” he turned to his next officer in line, “call off the DYTE fighters.”
The commander nodded and gave out the order.
Maurel turned back towards the view port and watched the scene, and he began to explain smoothly to Captain Jorn his plan for the lone fighter.
The oncoming fighters suddenly stopped their firing and turned around to return to their mother-ship.
Lilliya watched with glazed eyes, barely noticing their retreat, or her slowly spiraling descent into the Endor moon’s orbit. Blinking twice, and one hot tear falling from her right eye, she moved her hand away from the cockpit window and noticed tiny cracks in the thick transparisteel where it had been. Glancing at her hand in dazed wonderment, she also noticed her crystal necklace had been glowing inside of her suit for she felt a hotness against her sternum. Her crystal necklace: the lucky charm.
The same hand that cracked the transparisteel, subconsciously gripped at the stone inside her suit. A grim look crossed her face as she realized she was the only fighter left, and it seemed as if the enemy was leaving her here. So the battle was over for the moment, and she had lost everyone. It had been her fault, she thought, all her fault.
Suddenly a warning signal went off inside the cockpit and Lilliya felt her ship lurch backwards as if a tractor beam had hit it. In fact, her Z-wing had traveled into the gravity of Endor’s moon and was now on its way down.
Clearing her mind for the task at hand, she gripped her stick and throttled forward towards the emerald moon, though she barely had control over the ship since her drive had mostly been fried. The Z-wing’s temperature increased at a quick pace as she broke atmosphere, her hair turning gold with the blue sky. The winds knocked the small fighter from side to side, Lilliya barely keeping it steady. Warning blips began sounding all over the cockpit now, the ship skimming the tops of Endor’s forest trees. A high pitch screeching echoed throughout the forest as the ship’s bottom was clawed by the tall branches.
Again, another blast of wind hit the little ship and pushed it nearly on its side. Lilliya clenched her teeth, yanking on the stick to keep her ship steady. She wasn’t sure if she was going to survive this landing. All of her scopes had died on the way down along with her shields, so she was depending solely on the ship’s tough armor and her instinct to keep herself alive. Neither of those facts comforted her nonetheless.
Finally a clearing appeared in the middle of the forest and she forced her ship down to somehow land there. The Z-wing whined against the sudden change in direction and a fire began in the rear. Bracing herself in her seat for the coming impact, and hoping it wouldn’t crush her in the process, the ground rushed up at her. Holding a firm grip on the yoke and squeezing her eyes shut, she felt her ship brush up against the remaining trees, likely knocking them down, and crash into the soft dirt of the field, hurling chunks of black dirt across the area.
Lilliya was thrown forward against the cockpit window, cracking the transparisteel further and almost knocking her into sleep. Shaking her head to clear the sudden fog away, a warm fluid dripped down the right side of her forehead and cheek inside her split helmet. Not having time to check her wound, the fire in the back began to reach the inside of the ship and engine along with a low hissing sound emanating from beneath her feet where the fuel source was located.
Searching around her left for her hidden blaster and attaching it to her leg-holster, she tried to open the hatch. But it was sealed shut. Then, becoming much more frantic as the heat inside the cockpit increased, Lilliya tried the emergency ejection. It, too, was jammed.
Lilliya swore viciously as she adjusted herself to kick open the hatch. The glass being already largely cracked, it took only Lilliya a couple of tries to break it. Climbing through the hatch and jumping off of the crashed ship, the Z-wing blew, tossing Lilliya into the air along with the hot black metal.
She landed into a somersault and sprawled out among the soft green grass, darkness overtaking her.