A TIE Advanced fighter exited hyperspace. It was followed moments later by two Stealth-Xs and Arcona’s T-4a Lambda Shuttle. Nearby was the infamous shroud that encircled the Antei system.
“Nu 1 to shuttle. Area looks clear,” the pilot of the TIE Advanced broadcast. That pilot was Andrelious J. Inahj. He had scrounged the ‘Nu’ callsign, his former Imperial squadron, as part of an attempt to reduce the suspicion level. Three Stealth-Xs that flew as Void meant a high class mission. Two, along with a TIE Advanced would hopefully attract less attention.
“Roger that, Nu 1. Orders are we..” the shuttle began, but was cut off.
“I know very well what the orders are. Now keep your eyes peeled for trouble. I am told that you’re combat trained. I may need the extra firepower.” Andrelious hissed into his comlink.
The two Void pilots that Inahj had selected to accompany him were Damon Tye and Nikola Valtiere. Damon, still known by some by his callsign ‘Snabbie’, had been the ex-Imperial’s second in command during his time at the helm of Void, whilst Valtiere was an apprentice of Nadrin; Andrelious was no fool and suspected that Zandro’s son would have only selected the very best. With two pilots that he had described as ‘the best of the rest’, the Arcona Rollmaster felt confident. This mission would be another success.
“Valtiere. Stick close to the shuttle. Snabbie and I will perform a standard patrol covering the immediate area. If these ‘Blood Wings’ show up, your job will be to eliminate anything that gets past us. Not that anything WILL,” Andrelious ordered. Valtiere, who was carrying the designation Nu 3 for the mission, moved into a close position. Damon, or Nu 2, turned his Stealth-X away from Andrelious’ TIE.
Inahj was just moving into position as he heard a panicked broadcast from the shuttle. “Shuttle to Nu 1. Sensors show incoming ships. They are entering the area near Buoy B-18!”
Without wasting a second, the Battlelord manoeuvred his TIE Advanced towards the designated buoy, one of many that demarcated the area. As he did so, he saw the first ships. Three old XG-1 Assault Gunboats. To a lone shuttle, such a force may have been a threat, but against three highly trained Dark Jedi pilots in state of art fighters, the Gunboats were mere child’s play.
Instead of attacking, however, the Gunboats turned away. Andrelious managed to acquire a missile lock on the rearmost of the trio, but, as he fired, his target hypered away again.
“They were scouts! The real guns will be here in a minute!” Inahj yelled, familiar with the ‘look and load’ tactic. He suspected also that the Stealth-Xs hadn’t been spotted; Assault Gunboats were over three decades old and even with their relatively advanced sensors, the technology used to hide the Void pilots was beyond the comprehension of the Cygnus scientists of the time.
Sure enough, a flight of four TIE Advanced hypered into the area on a nearly identical vector to that of the Gunboats. The timing indicated that there was likely a base or carrier ship not too far away; but that was another mission for another day. Andrelious’ one concern was protecting the shuttle and its valuable cargo.
Pick a target and stick on him, Snabbie. And no more radio broadcasts. Inahj ordered, this time sending the command through the Force. Snabbie didn’t need telling twice as he targeted the second element leader, suspecting that Andrelious would plump for taking on the enemy lead-ship himself.
It was at this point that Inahj realised that the enemy were probably all targeting him, believing him to be the sole protector of the shuttle. Even a pilot of his skill would find four TIE Advanced baring down on him to be more than a little difficult.
As the threat warning lights began to flash in varying shades of amber and crimson, Andrelious threw his ship into a set of tight turns and rolls, twisting his flightstick with years of experience coming flooding back to him. It had been a relatively busy period for the Rollmaster lately, as the conquest of Rhelg had come hot on the heels of the destructive battle against Zoraan. This time was no different.
The quartet of enemies had closed in on Inahj, but were finding it impossible to keep a lock on their target. Some of his moves were unpredictable, certainly not the ‘textbook’ manoeuvres of a conventionally trained pilot. The Battlelord would not leave his fighter flying in the same direction for more than a split-second.
To add to the woes of the Blood Wings pilots, one of their TIEs appeared to suddenly explode. It had been hit by a warhead from another ship! The rumours they had heard were true. The Shadow Clan now had ‘Shadow Fighters’, as their limited intelligence on the matter indicated. The shock of losing one of their number so suddenly had a noticeable effect on the morale of the mercenary pilots; though their craft were Imperial, the majority of the group had never received the quality of training that had once been offered by the Imperial Navy. Andrelious was able to take full advantage of the confusion and panic, and fired a pair of advanced missiles, of which he had twelve, at another enemy. The orange warheads contacted their target a second later, the other TIE’s shields flashing uselessly as they failed to repel the power of the Arconan’s attack. It was now two on two and the smart money was on Andrelious.
The two remaining enemy TIE pilots were now becoming desperate. Anything they tried appeared to be countered almost in advance by their target; they were not aware they were facing an Equite, a man with the Force as his servant that clued him into what his opponents would do.
The third TIE Advanced fell not to Andrelious, but to Damon. The young human had improved his own piloting ability greatly the last major sortie; Inahj was actually impressed with how far he had come. The pair of Arconans bore down on the remaining enemy, but it turned away and hyperspaced out even as Inahj prepared a salvo of missile fire.
Inahj frowned behind his helmet. “Frak. That means the next wave will be aware of the Stealth-Xs,” he warned, knowing that the enemy would be back. And in greater numbers.
Sure enough, a squadron of various fighters exited hyperspace a short distance away. The new enemies consisted of a TIE Advanced, three X-Wings, four A-Wings and four B-Wings. The B-Wings turned towards the Shuttle, whilst the remainder scattered, generally heading towards Andrelious.
“Valtiere. B-Wings headed your way.” Inahj warned, pleased that the Knight did not respond.
As he outmanoeuvred and defeated one of the X-Wings, Andrelious noticed something on his sensors. Something unpleasant. A new enemy signal was detected; and this one wasn’t a fighter. A Strike-Class Medium Cruiser exited hyperspace moments after the Battlelord had realised that the big guns were on their way in.
This doesn’t change anything, Snabbie. You have your Jedi Shadow Bombs. Once we get rid of the fighters, I’ll cover you. Inahj explained, again using the Force; he had anticipated that the Blood Wings may send in a capital ship should the odds become unfavourable. A ‘Strike Cruiser’ was an old Imperial ship, one that Clan Arcona had once used themselves, but it was still no small threat. One false move and its turbolasers would have Andrelious for elevenses.
Keeping close to the shuttle as ordered, Valtiere found the B-Wings little trouble, destroying the first pair as they approached. The second pair, perhaps flown by pilots with a little more ‘starfighter savvy’, managed to approach into ion cannon range and fired a burst at the Shuttle. The Shuttle pilot, though flying a fairly slow and lumbering ship, managed to dodge a few ion bursts, and returned fire with his ship’s lasers. The B-Wings easily evaded this laser fire, but the counter-attack distracted them enough to allow Nikola to pick the third off. The fourth B-Wing’s pilot appeared to lose his patience with the situation; he suddenly charged madly at the Shuttle, apparently intent on ramming it. Valtiere calmly finished the job off, stopping the attempted Kamikaze attack by a matter of feet. The debris from the final B-Wing collided with the Shuttle, its shields briefly lighting up as it was hit by the burning fuselage. A buzzer sounded in the Arconan ship’s cockpit.
“Shuttle to Nu 1. That collision took out my targeting system. I will not be able to provide any further combat assistance,” the pilot broadcast, a little worried for his escort; the Strike Cruiser was firing its turrets almost blindly in a vain attempt to ‘tag’ its Arconan enemies.
Andrelious heard the message, but did not respond. He had managed to score five kills, three X-Wings and two A-Wings, and was now nearing another X-Wing. Snabbie was locked in combat with the other TIE Advanced. As he and his enemy flew towards the cruiser, Damon noticed Andrelious flying at break-neck speed nearby.
Noticing that Snabbie had his hands full, Inahj reached out with the Force and nudged the enemy TIE. It was a slight move, not enough for most to notice, but the timing was critical. The diverted starfighter slammed into its mothership, its pilot consumed by a fireball from the resulting collision.
NOW! Andrelious ordered as Snabbie’s fighter slid past the Cruiser. The Knight needed no second invitation. He squeezed his flightstick’s fire button. Two Jedi Shadow Bombs sped out of the Stealth-X’s warhead bays, hitting the enemy capital ship a split-second later. The resulting explosion was enough to severely damage the Strike Cruiser.
Strike-Class Medium Cruisers were of a modular design. The damage from the Shadow Bombs had caused the Blood Wing ship to separate, along the module docking ports, into four pieces. The first three were now separated single modules, devoid of power, whilst the final two, including the engines and the bridge, remained attached and apparently still active, though clearly crippled. Bodies, mostly of humans, spilled out of the severed modules, dooming dozens of Blood Wing members to the gruesome fate of depressurisation.
With the remaining section of the cruiser limping desperately away, it was Andrelious who finished it off with a concentrated burst of laser fire, the ex-Imperial carefully aiming for the now unshielded bridge. Inahj then re-joined Snabbie in eliminating the last pair of A-Wings. Each pilot successfully dealt with enemy each, although a rare mistake from Andrelious wasted a warhead; the Battlelord had been too quick to fire.
“That should be it. Shuttle, you’re clear to enter the Shroud,” the Rollmaster directed, checking the area for survivors and destroying the only escape pod that his sensors could pick up. The Shuttle began its flight into the shroud, still escorted by Valtiere. Snabbie and Andrelious approached, too, ready to resume the simple formation that they had held around their mission objective before the ambush.
The cargo and Valtiere disappeared off of Andrelious’ sensors; they had entered the shroud. A few minutes later, Snabbie, too, vanished, leaving Inahj alone.
Just one more check. And I’ll join them. Inahj thought to himself, irked that the Gunboats had not come back. Fifteen fighters also did not seem much of a force, especially given the level of warning that Wuntila had given him.
A bleeping sound and a new reading answered the Battlelord’s question. A crimson painted TIE Defender, flanked by what Andrelious assumed were the original Gunboats, hypered into the area almost on top of his TIE Advanced. The vector had been carefully aimed to allow the Gunboat pilots, whose ships were much slower, an increased chance of inflicting at least some damage on the Battlelord’s fighter.
Inahj again wrestled with his starfighter’s controls. He jinked, weaved and turned, barrel rolling among the Gunboats. He noticed that the TIE Defender was sitting back, almost watching the proceedings. Andrelious suspected its pilot was a little more professional than the others he and his allies had faced.
ONE. The first Gunboat fell, destroyed by a salvo of lasers.
TWO. The second died quickly, too, its pilot no match for the Sith in the Advanced
THREE. The final Gunboat was eliminated by a pair of missiles; Inahj’s last.
Targeting the TIE Defender, the Arconan wasn’t too surprised to hear it contact him. “So my Gunboats were no match for you. I wonder if I will be…” a voice crackled.
“Let’s just get on with this. Your pathetic little band are gone. You and me now.” Inahj replied icily.
As the two TIEs approached each other, Andrelious realised that he was facing another Force user. Another who twisted the universe around to serve themselves. His opponent was also in a superior craft, unlike his men who had been in older ships.
“You shouldn’t have used all your missiles, Nu 1.” The enemy taunted as he began to lock on with his own warhead system. Andrelious was too quick for that, quickly forcing the battle into one that he had frequently encountered in the simulators – a turn war. The two ships were now locked into orbit around a single central point, each determined to catch the other for the symbolic ‘first blood’.
Even though his craft was a little slower, Inahj was keeping his turn tight enough that the speed advantage his opponent had was neutralised. This served to frustrate the Defender pilot greatly, as there was little he could do to counter the Battlelord’s strategy.
The stalemate continued for what seemed like an eternity. Neither pilot giving the other any quarter, any sign of slipping. Both were fully engaged on catching the other in a cosmic game of cat-and-mouse. Finally, Inahj appeared to grow bored of the situation. He reversed the turn his craft was making, pulling a one-eighty. His opponent reacted seconds later, but it was enough to allow Andrelious a single burst of laser fire. The shields of the Defender easily swallowed this energy, but to recharge his now depleted defences, its pilot had to slow the craft down. As he did so, Andrelious spun his vessel around, as if to move in for the kill.
Some red laser fire appeared out of almost nowhere, assaulting the slowing TIE Defender. Snabbie had returned, having sensed his comrade was in trouble. The two Arconans, now easily on top, fired simultaneously, their combined laser power enough to severely cripple their opponent.
“So. Dirty tricks. We’ll see about that,” the enemy Dark Jedi hissed, before pulling forward his hyperdrive lever. The Defender accelerated away even as the two clanmates vied for the kill, denying either Arconan the prestige that would come from killing an enemy Force user.
“Good work, Snabbie. But I had him. Next time stick to your mission.” Inahj broadcast crossly, before turning to lead his fellow Arconan back into the shroud.
The artefact was safe. But the Blood Wings were likely far from being beaten.
Contract 008: Complete
Debriefing: The artifact was transported safely through the designated route thanks to the coordinated efforts of Andrelious and his ability as a pilot.
Very impressive piece of writing. Technically, I found very little errors in syntax, spelling, or grammar. I've never been a fan of space combat in books, but you managed to make everything very clear and easy to understand. I didn't have to re-read anything and was able to easily visualize the actions of the ships in the space they occupied.
For all of that, I really felt no emotional attachment to any of the actions going on. I never felt like there was ever any danger of the mission going south. You set up the 'boss' battle at the end well, and as far as structure goes there was really no rising actions or a climax. For me, this made the story feel very flat. "This happened, then this happened, and then this happened...the end."
However, the detail you did use was crisp and clean and painted good visuals for me. I still want to know what the cockpit feels like though. I want to know how it smells. I want to know how Andrel feels about the ship he's in. What's so special about a Tie-A? Tell me by showing me through the writing.
If you can work on these elements and incoprorate them better into your story, I think you'll be able to get closer to hitting that Superior grade, let alone Excellent on a consistent basis. For now, this get's an "Excellent" on the technical execution of the contract. Barely. I was very very close to leaving it as Satisfactory though. You can do even better and I look forward to reading more contracts from you.
C-Class = 3 points;
"Excellent" Contract = 3 points;
Total = 6 points.