JD and the handful of rebel ships had somehow managed to survive the battle that had them pitted against three to one odds. For a time, the departure of the Purgatory had lessened the numbers they were faced with, and with that momentary lapse, the rebel fighters were able to gain considerable ground. From the first day of his flight instruction by Buck Wilmington, the one thing that the seasoned star pilot had been adamant he learned, above all else, was independence from automation. Too much of flying was stolen away by the computer intelligence that resided in all ships, Buck claimed, be they fighters, starships or great destroyers like the one they had been battling today. In close quarter combat, or dog fighting as it was known to fighter pilots, it was more than dangerous to have such a great reliance on machines, it could be debilitating. A computer can calculate what another computer is going to do in a nanosecond of time. However, machine intelligence had difficulty converting human instinct into cold hard binary numbers it could understand and translate. The delay by human standards was negligible but that delay could save one's life a dozen times over if employed correctly.
It was during this battle that JD understood that lesson. It was the reason why he had disabled his targeting computer and advised all the others in the air with him to do the same. Flying on instinct, without computers, had given them an edge and it was an edge that lasted. Arduously and even though friends died around them, the rebel pilots started to regain the ground lost when they had been overwhelmed by the Imperial TIE fighters. Ezra had taken a good deal of them with him when he had lead the three destroyers away and soon those who were left behind were being reduced to lesser numbers with each flaring explosion in the sky. JD flew like he had never flown before. His ship and he became one in a way that he had never achieved in all his time flying at Buck's side. During the battle, many things were revealed to him but none as important as understanding that, for better or for worse, he was a fighter pilot and his end would most likely come in a fiery explosion.
Strangely enough, JD did not seem to mind as he commanded those around him, encouraging them to hold on, swooping into help those in trouble and in turn being rescued himself on one or more occasion. JD understood that, however he ended his life, this would be the path by which he would live it. He decided it while trying to ignore the wreckage that swept past the canopy of his ship as he blasted TIE fighters to hell and back. He decided even when he saw the debris of ships and body parts, trying to forget that those had been people he knew, friends that were lost. He was growing up in the cockpit of a fighter in the middle of a battle he might not survive.
The irony of it was almost amusing.
"Attention Alliance forces engaging the Empire, " the sound cut through his headset and flushed away all the chatter between the rebel fighters as they fought their battle. "The last transport is away! The last transport is away!"
They had done it! JD sighed visibly, knowing they had succeeded. The bulk of their forces were beyond the Empire's reach. All they needed to do now was break off and make the jump to hyperspace in order to meet up with the rest of the fleet at the rendezvous point. JD was almost ready to give the order to retreat, to take the lives that had not been lost and escape with their lives before the Empire called in reinforcements, or worse yet when those three ships came back after destroying the Purgatory. He tried not to feel ashamed about thinking of their situation in that manner when the fact that the Purgatory's destruction would also mean that Nathan and Ezra were dead. That thought alone sent icicles of anguish into his heart. Being apart of the Seven was something he had no words to describe. He had left home when his mother had died, chasing dreams, and would no doubt had come to a bad end had it not been for the six men who took him under their wing. They told him without ever saying the words that he was not alone, that as long as he was with them, he never would be.
More explosions flared around him, soundless in the twilight dark. Vacuum made the explosions an inert affair of a bright surge of fire, extinguished in a second by the airless void. JD blinked and snapped himself out of his reverie because it had to be done. They had to get out of here. With Ezra and Nathan absent, he had to lead them. He hoped that they were still alive and if they were, he prayed they heard the announcement and would leave before the Purgatory was destroyed. Suddenly, at the corner of his eyes, JD saw the return of one star destroyer. It was exuding a thin cloud of gas from one of its engines. To his eye, the craft appeared as if it were damaged. JD found himself wondering if this ship was here, where then was the Purgatory.
Almost in answer to his question, another burst of static filled his headset and he wondered what news was coming now. For an instant, he thought that perhaps the earlier proclamation had been false, that the transports had not gotten away after all. However, the voice speaking in clear tones, with the slight drawl of a Coruscant native from the southern continent, was one JD knew all too well.
"This is Commander Standish," Ezra announced through the head set. "The other two star destroyers have been destroyed. Concentrate all fire power on the remaining ship!"
For a moment there was stunned silence throughout the small fleet of X wings and Y wings that had survived the carnage so far. However, the mood soon turned into something of a charged battle
frenzy when they heard their commander had wiped out two star destroyers in what had to be a stroke of tactical genius! Anyone who ever saw Ezra play sabaac could attest to that personally. JD however, should never have doubted the man at all.
"You heard the man!" JD shouted, with an exuberant cry. "Let's take her down!"
He was not alone in his jubilation, for the rest of the pilots sounded their enthusiasm with similar cries for blood, and suddenly all the TIE fighters seemed to be forgotten as the rebel fleet converged upon the wounded star destroyer.
"Ezra," JD managed to get in touch with the commander of the Purgatory. "I'm glad you're okay."
There was a pause and though he did not know it, at that moment on the bridge of the Purgatory, both Ezra and Nathan were exchanging glances of relief that the youngest member of the fellowship was still alive and had not perished with so many others.
"Not as much as Nathan and I my young friend," Ezra replied warmly. "However, at the moment, what say we conclude the business at hand?"
"Yes Sir," JD grinned. "Whatever you say."
The X-wings and Y wings broke off into two groups. JD led the group that went after the remaining destroyer, attacking it like carrion that had discovered a particularly plump carcass after a famine. They struck repeatedly and dogged the destroyer no matter which way it turned. While it struggled to shake off its smaller assailants, the Purgatory made more decisive strikes, taking advantage of the interference provided by the smaller ships to do more serious damage. Very soon one of the destroyer's main engines was faltering and it was a matter of time before they were completely disabled. When the rest of the X wing contingent from the surface of Colu joined the fight, the star destroyer decided enough was enough. Although they did not hear it, the rebels could imagine the order for retreat that was given.
The TIE fighters engaging the Y wings broke off their attack and immediately returned to the faltering destroyer. Despite the desire of some to see the craft destroyed, Ezra had chosen to be magnanimous. Besides, the word of this resounding defeat would soon spread like wildfire across the galaxy. The victory would allow the Rebel Alliance to appear, to the many worlds that had been teetering on the edge of support, as a formidable military force while at the same time maintaining a benevolent side by sparing the lives of the wounded Imperial ship. Therefore, when the destroyer had made its bid for escape, the rebels had given it just enough of an opening to allow the battle cruiser and its accompanying TIE fighters to slip through and make the jump to hyperspace.
On the surface of Colu 3, the ground forces had rounded up what was left of the Imperial assault team that had attempted to take the base by a surface attack. The prisoners were left in the abandoned rebel base once the evacuation process was complete. No doubt an Imperial force would return here soon enough with reinforcements and they would be found. The Alliance did not believe in killing its prisoners and with the Seven in charge of the clean up efforts, it had even less chance of happening. Once everyone was accounted for, and what bodies could be retrieved were done so for burial at a later time, the rebel and the Seven left Colu for good.
On board the Purgatory, the seven friends found themselves in each other's company for the first time since their last gathering at the Colu base. There was a great sense of relief in knowing that they had come through the battle alive and with their number intact but there were so many who had died that the victory did not feel as sweet, despite the overwhelming odds they had faced and conquered. Chris Larabee could sense the feelings sweeping through his friends as they sat around the table in the mess hall, nursing hot cider and picking at their food, trying to feel cheerful even though they grieved in their own way for those who were lost. It was a time of reflection and they all were content to indulge themselves in it.
"We did good you know," Chris remarked, breaking the silence.
"We lost too many people doing it," Ezra said sadly. He was a commander even when he was at the table with his friends and those in charge often felt the pain of such losses the worst. Mary was the same way. However, Ezra would not make any more mention of it beyond that because like every commander on the battlefield, losses were a part of the game.
"We beat them though," Buck declared proudly, always the optimist. "We beat them good."
"Yeah," Vin nodded and no one could deny that infectious smile for too long. "I guess we did."
"They're going to think twice before they come after us next," JD said just as equally proud of what they had done, even though the reality of it was that the Empire would probably come after them with everything it had in its arsenal now. They had proven they could challenge the Empire and that could never be a good thing for an Emperor like Palpatine, whose belief in himself depended entirely on the superiority of his regime.
The days ahead were not going to be easy.
Still, there was no reason to dwell too much on tomorrow. They had survived today and when it came down to it, that was more important than anything else.
"So what's next?" Nathan turned to Josiah.
"We're going to have to find a new base," the Senator answered.
"Oh good. Recon," Buck chuckled. "I volunteer."
"You're just volunteering so you can meet women." Nathan gave him a knowing look.
"And this is bad how?" Buck returned the man's stare with a devilish glint in his eye.
"You're a lost cause," Vin shook his head with a chuckle.
Chris was staring at Vin because suddenly, all this seemed so far away. He seemed to be watching all of it from a great distance. The table seemed to pull away and the world began to fade. It was as if the corners were blurring. For a moment, he thought he might be fainting. The disorientation seemed to fit. He blinked once or twice, trying to understand what was happening, but everything was becoming smoky. He saw Vin look up, meeting his eyes and realizing immediately something was wrong.
"Chris!" Vin called out. "Chris!"
"Chris," a feminine voice called to him. "Wake up."
Chris Larabee blinked and opened his eyes. For a moment, he was lost in that place between dreams and wakefulness. He found himself staring at her, surprised for a moment that she was here for some odd reason, when suddenly it all came back to him in a flood. The deluge lasted no more than a second and suddenly, everything was as it should have been. Chris wondered why he had ever thought it was ever any different. Sweeping his gaze around the room he had awakened in, he found himself exactly where he should be, at his home in his bed, in the home he shared with his wife and child.
"Sarah." He stared into her lovely face and wondered why for an instant it felt as if she were gone from his life. It was not a pleasant feeling.
She was standing at the foot of the bed, holding his son Adam in her arms, giving a look that told him immediately she was starting to get impatient with him. "Chris its almost noon."
"I'm sorry," Chris replied. "I guess I was more tired than I thought I was," he answered, staring out the window and seeing the sun blazing in all its magnificent glory over the skyline of Coruscant. It was good to be home. He traveled far too often these days.
"Well it's no wonder," she sighed with loving, understanding that he was what he was. "You do too much work for the order."
"It's not work Sarah," he answered and was about to say more when he realized that he had no wish to cover old territory when it was only motivated by her concern for him. She was his wife after all and she loved him. In the same position, he would feel just as strongly. "I'll try and come home more often," he said instead.
"You Jedi are all the same," she smiled knowingly and turned to leave. "A woman in every port."
Chris laughed. "Yeah but you're the only one I married."
She glanced over her shoulder and gave him a smile that melted the heart in his chest, the one that had the power to make a Jedi feel like a schoolboy, and replied in that silky voice of hers. "Are you coming, or will Adam and I have to eat lunch alone?"
"I'm coming," he smiled, climbing out of his bed to join his wife and son.
Dreams, he snorted to himself. Too often Jedis seemed to be inundated with such things and this one was so insignificant that most of it was fading from his mind already. He could not even say what it was about had he tried to remember. If it was important, he was certain he would dream it again. If not, it mattered little. He had a wife and a son and a life to live by the will of the Force. Beyond that, what else was there? Not much he decided.
Especially when it was just a dream.
Obviously this story is not in the continuity of the other Star Wars stories. Consider it a preview if nothing else.
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