“…SUBJECT J829P MUST BE ALLOWED TO PROCEED WITHOUT INTERFERENCE. AS FOR THE OTHER TWO, FEEL FREE TO USE AS MUCH DEADLY FORCE AS YOU WISH.”
Seated in the forward station of his newly-acquired Upsilon-class command shuttle, Ephron Zult eyed the immense space battle around Jaemus. The command craft was many times the size of the First Order transports used by stormtrooper squads, its folded durasteel wings providing additional protection to the crew compartment and engines.
“Pirates. How annoying,” Zult sighed as several dilapidated Z-95 snubfighters and corvettes appeared in the forward view screens, hindering their progress to Jaemus. “We don’t have time for this. Deploy Invictor Squadron.”
A swarm of First Order TIE/sf space superiority fighters—heavily-armed, two-man advancements of the TIE fighter—arrived from hyperspace behind the command shuttle. Unlike the Galactic Empire, Zult admitted, at least the First Order understood the need to protect their valuable resources, especially highly-trained pilots. Gone were the days of TIE fighters without shields or adequate firepower. The newer, black TIE/sf had improved shields, a hyperdrive, and carried a dedicated gunner in a rear-facing position behind the pilot. Their cannons and missiles made short work of the pirate Z-95s, blast boats and corvettes trying to seize vessels arriving in the Jaemus system.
Zult flipped the shuttle’s comlink to transmit General Hux’s codes to the First Order battle groups in the region. Once the command codes were recognized, Zult used his shuttle’s holo projector to send his shimmering image to the bridges and consoles of dozens of First Order warships.
“This is Pentastar Agent Ephron Zult. By authority of General Hux, all First Order craft now answer to me. Battle Groups Alpha and Beta, form attack pattern Spear Bravo. Get me through that Republic battle line. Battle Groups Delta and Gamma, cover Alpha and Beta.”
Although he had promised General Hux that he would only “observe and report”, Zult had other priorities. The space battle raging around Jaemus and the Republic screen of warships protecting the shipyard was too large for him to deal with. Better to use the resources available to provide a diversion. Once he entered the shipyard, his primary goal was locating Subject J829P and separating him from his annoying friends—once and for all.
“I don’t want Sully Tigereye or that Ergo girl interfering anymore,” he muttered. Zult didn’t want prior friendships or loyalties confusing the objectives of his valuable resource.
He grimaced. The risk of mission failure had only increased because of the influence of Dr. Brixie Ergo, herself a reputable physician. Of all the worse luck in the universe, the daughter of the woman who designed his mission programs was accompanying Subject J829P!
He tapped his own internal comlink to communicate with his stormtrooper units waiting below the shuttle’s flight operations deck.
“Commander, your troops are to only use melee weapons in that dock. No blasters, no grenades. I don’t want Subject J829P harmed or disintegrated. Is that clear?”
“Understood, sir.” the commander replied. “Are we taking prisoners?”
“No. Subject J829P must be allowed to proceed without interference. As for the other two, feel free to use as much deadly force as you wish.”
Aware of what happened to the stormtroopers ejected into space on account of Tigereye and Ergo, the commander answered with a satisfied-sounding bite to his voice.
Cutting the intercom, Zult motioned to the shuttle’s pilot hooked into the helm and navigation control. Gunners were already at their stations, firing the shuttle’s defensive cannons. Ahead of them, two of the First Order battle groups of delta-shaped Star Destroyers were forming a triangular wedge, one destroyer followed immediately behind by two more. The Alpha wedge was flying in close proximity to the Beta wedge, doubling the amount of available firepower. Attack formation Spear Bravo was designed to break through defensive screens of ships.
“Put us inside the head of the spear, Pilot.”
The pilot maneuvered the shuttle, surrounded by a ring of TIE fighters from Invictor Squadron, inside the heart of the spear formation. The star destroyers at the point would lead the attack, penetrating the defensive wall of Republic ships and spreading outward. Zult’s shuttle and his TIE forces would fly right through the breach, protected on nearly all sides by the bulk of the immense warships.
The energies exchanged between the two opposed forces was enough to lay waste to the surface of a planet. The First Order’s new Star Destroyers were many times larger than the Imperial-class, dwarfing the Republic’s Mon Calamari cruisers, frigates and gunships trying to shore up the wall. Instead of aiming for the defense stations at the guard gate, the First Order spear approached the defensive line at an oblique angle, the immense destroyers’ hulls knocking aside entire capital ships as though they were toys.
The lead star destroyer of Alpha, Primal, and the lead of battle group Beta, Gazer, took the brunt of the attack. Their hulls and superstructures vanished under a withering concentration of Republic fire. Thousands of personnel on both sides died, trapped inside corridors with air running out, their lungs burnt to a crisp from raging plasma fires, or their bodies flung into the cold embrace of space.
Zult noted the immense destruction with an almost-imperceptible shrug, muttering to himself as he always did regarding the sacrifice of so many lives to his own whims.
“Better them than me.”
The second row of star destroyers used the burning hulls of Primal and Gazer to protect them from the Republic ships trying to stop them. Delta and Gamma battle groups shored up the sides and the rear of the attack, keeping the Republic or other vessels from trying to swing around and attack them from those angles. The spearhead started to expand as the First Order drove a hole deep in the defensive wall. Zult’s TIE squadron prevented Republic squadrons of E-wings and T-60 advanced X-wings from getting too close to the command shuttle. Everything was proceeding with ruthless efficiency.
“Now, Pilot.” Zult traced a path through the flaming debris field with the forefinger of his cybernetic hand across a repeater display to mark the way in. “This is your course. Full acceleration.”
The command shuttle pilot engaged the engines and flew the shuttle as Zult directed—through the dying carcass of a Mon Calamari cruiser. The shuttle, even with its wings folded, proved a tight fit as the pilot maneuvered through the ship’s ripped bulkheads and cracked interior spaces. By traveling through the dead behemoth’s interiors, Republic sensors and visual scans would be blocked. While the Republic was distracted fighting off the remainder of the First Order battle groups, Zult’s shuttle and his TIE force slipped through the defensive wall and entered the shipyard.
“Locate dock THX-1138.” Zult checked the shuttle’s sensors, locating the resource by his unique biorhythmic signal. “Be quick about it. The Republic may be slow to respond to our little visit, but they’re not stupid.”
Situated among a long row of space docks and specialized cradles designed to build and service anything from a YT-1300 series freighter to a Super Star Destroyer, Brixie noted they had finally reached a stall in the THX corridor marked 1138.
Brixie pressed her face against the cockpit viewport, trying to determine what was so important that had brought Hugo here. The ship locked down inside the stall was larger than a fighter but smaller than a shuttle. In many ways, it resembled a kitchen knife left flat on a table. There were heavy lasers and missile launchers in a pod at on end, a boxy engine pod near the center point and a rounded cockpit at the other end.
“What is this thing?” she asked. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Hugo didn’t reply as he docked the shuttle to the stall’s pressurized maintenance shed.
Tigereye derisively snorted an explanation. “It’s a B-wing.”
Brixie knew of X-wings, Y-wings, E-wings, A-wings and even U-wings. They were all part of a large classification of one and two-person armed spacecraft called snubfighters. She had never heard of a “B-wing.”
Tigereye undid his seat’s web straps and climbed out.
“Before the New Republic, the Rebel Alliance was looking for something that packed a bigger punch than the old Y-wing. The B-wing flies vertically. Cockpit at the top, gun pod below. Small S-foils on the sides of the main wing open, adding to the weapon spread. If the pilot wanted, the whole cockpit could rotate around to maintain sightlines with a target.” Tigereye kept his eyes on Hugo as he started shutting down the shuttle’s systems. “If I guess right, this is the B-wing. The original design prototype. It had one owner. Admiral Gial Ackbar.”
Brixie remembered the Admiral, a Mon Calamari and one of the most important leaders of the Rebel Alliance and the New Republic.
“I didn’t know the Admiral flew fighters.”
“Ackbar and another Mon Cal named Quarrie led the design team on Shantipole. They test flew this one against an Imperial force, wiping it out of existence, before handing it and the plans over to the Rebels. B-wings never really found their place in the Alliance. Too big and clumsy in a fight with a TIE eyeball. My guess is that this one’s been parked here ever since. It’s a museum piece.” Tigereye watched Hugo as he ignored the unconscious shuttle pilot on the med table. He was too busy collecting components and parts from the shuttle’s maintenance locker and tossing them into a carry-all box. “What do you want with a B-wing? Why not take the shuttle?”
Hugo ignored his questions. With his selected tools, he headed to the shuttle’s airlock connector and checked the readouts indicating the air pressure in the maintenance shed matched that inside the shuttle and had an adequate oxygen count.
“I’m starting to enjoy this new silent phase that he’s in,” Sully muttered to Brixie, motioning for her to collect the data pad and the cylinder. At the medtable, Brixie adjusted the pilot’s medical monitor to set off an alarm hoping someone would pick up the signal and come by the dock. The man needed real medical attention.
Tigereye helped himself to one of the stormtrooper blaster rifles still locked to the loading deck floor, then filled a tactical vest with weapon packs and other gear including fragmentation grenades. He tossed Brixie a blaster pistol, a field medkit and a set of comlinks.
“The Republic is going to let us take this B-wing thing?” she asked.
“General Cracken thinks we’re on a mission for Colonel Stormcaller. Which would be impossible, since no one’s seen or heard from the colonel in over three years. He was given a posting in the new Entrallan government, but he turned it down. He left without so much as a note.”
The shuttle’s airlock pressure door snapped open with a hiss and the shed door on the other side opened in response. Lights flickered on inside. The maintenance shed was a mostly empty corridor with stacked fuel cells and other vital components in a vertical rack and locked bins for spares arranged in cabinets along the walls. Brixie spotted Hugo ahead of them, crossing the maintenance shed floor. He was heading towards the airlock at the other end, the connecting tunnel leading to the B-wing’s cockpit.
“Hurry up,” Tigereye warned her. “His royal pain is in some kind of hurry.”
Hugo suddenly twisted around and tossed a metal cylinder in their direction. Not knowing how he managed to get hold of a grenade, Sully grabbed Brixie and threw her to the deck, lunging to take hold of something sturdy. If Hugo set off an explosion inside the shed, there was a chance the walls could buckle and they could all be going for a one-way ride outside.
The cylinder did nothing but blink a bright yellow light and scream with a tone loud enough for Brixie to clamp her hands over her ears.
“It’s a signal beacon,” Tigere roared over the noise. “Not an explosive!”
“I guess we should be grateful it’s not a grenade,” Brixie yelled back. “But I’m not!”
Scrambling to his feet, Tigereye yanked Brixie upright by grabbing the back of her tunic’s jacket. They had lost valuable time ducking the improvised grenade. Hugo was already at the other end of the maintenance shed and was opening the airlock door leading to the B-wing.
“He’s leaving us!” Tigereye kicked the beacon into silence as he ran at much faster clip towards the end of the shed than Brixie ever could.
“Hugo, wait!” Brixie called out. “Don’t leave us here! We want to help you!”
The airlock door snapped open. A wave of stormtroopers wearing Pentastar Alignment symbols on their armor were waiting behind the blast door. Instead of carrying blaster rifles, they wielded disruptor batons and riot control shields.
They were going to seize Hugo!
But for reasons Brixie didn’t understand, the stormtroopers ran past Hugo and charged—straight towards Sully Tigereye and her.