The formation, now consisting of a heavily modified Z95 (two-seater, with a Class 5 Hyperdrive engine) and a Gthroc-720 freighter (unimaginatively named G720), flew directly towards the Imperial Star Destroyer and the unknown class of ship – hoping to get past quietly with just a simple radio exchange. After all, they weren’t even sure what the nature of the Tatooine blockade is.
“Unidentified ships, this is ISD Nightmare, send over your transponder codes” – was the first message they heard on the radio. A quick exchange followed, resulting in the transponder codes being sent over (after all, it’s just a rented freighter!), and the Z95 with Kameron and Sandon onboard breaking formation and running silent. Thus came the moment of truth. “G720, reduce speed and prepare for inspection. Customs Frigate L-489 is approaching.”. Max hastily went to the back of the ship, muttering about the original plan of jumping while still within the gravitational pull of Tatooine, in order to hide the gear of all the other members of the team. The plan was to make it look as though Helmsman is the only one traveling (Max would spend the next few hours in a hidden compartment).
An elaborate game ensued, while Helmsman prepped all the jump data and informed Kameron of the destination coordinates. All went smoothly – long before the ISD activated its traction beam, the crew entered the swirling vortex of a hyperspace tunnel. Two hyperspace jumps and a few hours in sub-light travel later, the pleasant sight of three Corellian Corvettes and the Firestarter loomed in view from the darkness of the void.
While Helmsman delivered his reports to Commander Sato, the rest of the crew quickly made it towards Palpatine’s Lazy Eye – a favourite among most crew members of the Phoenix. As the music increased in volume and drinks began to pour (Bonteia herself joined the table, intrigued by both their return and the new arrival), the atmosphere became ever more festive with each consecutive drink. However, Max remained isolated among all this drollery. Concerned about the leisurely attitude of all those around him, and unaware of how much (if anything!) they know – he chose to avoid answering questions about his past, despite Bonteia insisting. When he found out that the crew of the Ghost had left not long before the G720’s arrival, he became only more concerned. He left early, briefly stopped by Kameron in the corridor for a quick exchange.
Kameron returned to the table, where more drinks came and stories began – after all, Phoenix Squadron have been quite busy while they were sitting on Tatooine, avoiding the Empire (a dramatically failing at it!). Two Imperial Convoys have been destroyed, enroute to an Outer Rim colony. Some gear was salvaged, so it turned out to be a double success – gear gained, and an Imperial Colony basically starved or forced to cancel their operation. Moreover, a mining facility in the Khooz asteroid belt (medium operation, providing some materials used in Stormtrooper Armour) was successfully overrun. Three officers were captured, one of whom divulged the location of another (larger) mine. He got a quick death. The plan was, to do a short jump and handle that mining facility before traveling to the Unknown Region to lay low for a little while – the Empire was growing more aware of Phoenix Cell by the week.
Max went to speak to Commander Sato, he wanted to understand what he is allowed to share and what remains a secret. He was not surprised that his lineage was to remain a secret known only by those who were with him on Tatooine. There were many people in Phoenix Cell who were on the receiving end of the Blizzard Force. However, Max’s overall past was not a secret, as many of those around him are defectors. He did, however, receive one vital piece of advice.
“Remember Max. There should be only one thought in your mind when deciding what to share and what to keep hidden – survival. Perhaps it will be easier to survive when building an ally by sharing something? Perhaps not? That is how you decide what to share.”
The former officer spent some time wandering, and met of the of the Firestarter’s Chief Mechanics. A young and helpful lad, keen to assist in acclimatising to Rebel life. He simply didn’t know, that Max’s concerns run deeper than pure ‘alienation’. He went to sleep. Not for long.
The alarms echoed across the ship at 01:14 Ship Time. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ALL CREWS TO BATTLE STATIONS, PHOENIX SQUADRON LAUNCH. REPEAT, PHOENIX SQUADRON LAUNCH IN BATTLE FORMATION AND ALL CREWS TO BATTLE STATIONS”. Max ran to the hangar, jumped into the familiar Z95, and launched to join the already prepped 3 members of Phoenix Squadron. Similarly, Kameron ran to her A-Wing (astromech already in place) despite having had a few. There was no other option, they were being attacked. The adrenaline helped bring her around a bit, but it was nowhere near what she needed…
Helmsman took on the lead, divided the 10-strong squadron into 4 units, told everyone to prepare. They were preparing to hold the enemy long enough for Phoenix Cell to jump into hyperspace. 8 Imperial Light Frigates loomed into view. Max was well aware that each one travels with two Tie Fighter squadrons – 8 strong each. It was not going to be an easy fight. Sandon took lead of the triad Sandon-Kameron-Max, and they broke off to their right – awaiting the Tie Fighters to be launched. The frigates slowly moved closer, still out of laser range – their heavy turrets silent and immobile.
The first Tie squadrons entered the void of space, leaving the frigate hangars. Over 40 Tie Fighters, and this wasn’t even half of them. Moreover, two of the three top pilots in Phoenix Squadron were drunk. The dog fight, once it started, was not pleasant. Max did all he could to visualise the battle and share the information with the whole squadron – but the inebriated pilots reverted to instinct. Phoenix 5 exploded, hit by the crossfire of the first two Tie squadrons. Garran Trel, 28 years old. Born on Dantooine to a farming family, always wanted to see Coruscant from the cockpit of a rebel fighter. Fathered a child on Corellia, left her there to keep her out of harms way.
Kameron swerved in a wide barrel roll with her weapons ablaze straight into the swarm of Tie fighters, flying through the explosions and relying on R2’s ability to divert shield power to protect them from the small debris. Max saw the chaos all around him, it was impossible to impose any coherent strategy – he reverted to his pilot instinct as well, having no options left. Exchanging frighteningly quick laser fire, avoiding head-on battles with squadrons, and forcing Tie fighters into crossfire scenarios, he squeezed every inch of power out of the Z95. But the drawbacks of an ancient fighter limited what he could do – often meaning he had to release his advantage in order to avoid fire from his tail and evading salvos. He managed to bring 4 fighters down, as far as he could see. Perhaps more.
Kameron, once free for a moment, saw a number of Tie fighters tailing Max. She also saw two Tie’s flying straight down onto Sandon. She chose to ignore the two squadrons going straight for her – a quick warning command shouted to Sandon and her A-Wing shifted towards those two fighters tailing Max. With both fighters down, and a brief ‘thank you’ on the comm, Kameron turned around to help Sandon. His A-Wing suffered a dangerous blast hit to his shield generator – any second his fight would be over.
“All fighters, this is the Corvette Haze, preparing to jump.” Before the commlink shut down, and explosion was heard – “SHIT! They hit the engines! FUCK! FUCK! All stations evacuate, I repeat, all stations: EVACU….” a second explosion came. The nearest area of space was lit up by the laser fire from the frigates, now in range. And by The Haze exploding. No escape pods launched. 96 crew. 3 years in Phoenix service. Captain Herdin Oorn, 46 years old. Former Line Commander of the Bespin Defense Fleet, defected after his brother was one of the 250 people shot dead during a peaceful protest on Geonisis. 53rd Legion, Dissidence Suppression Ops, Stormtrooper Corps.
“To all crews, this is Commander Jun Sato, commence emergency jumps in Protocol 56 directions. Phoenix Cell is broken, I repeat, Phoenix Cell is broken. Proceed with emergency protocol 56. May the force be with you all.”
Phoenix 8 exploded, crashing into a Tie fighter. A mistake in 8’s maneuver. Had one too many to drink… Thalon Y’drin, born on Tatooine 32 years ago to the a cantina-owner. He drew caricatures of Imperial Capital Ships on the side of his A-Wing. He also drew portraits of squad members for use at debriefings – his depiction of Helmsman’s nose particularly drawing laughs each time. Once, he tried to flirt with Kameron. He was never good at it, but she gave him time of day. She couldn’t just reject him, he was a nice guy…
“This is Phoenix Squadron Leader – copy. All fighters, proceed as ordered. Sandon, Max, Kameron – fall into formation on me. If anyone knows of a safe spot to hide – send me the coords and prep for emergency jump.”
Cameron’s R2 sent the coordinates to Nar Shaddaa, a known location where Kameron had enough contacts to hide in relative safety. From the Empire at least.
“This is Corvette Robin, copy Phoenix Command.”
“This is Corvette Dutybound, co…”
The next series of laser blasts tore through the hull of Dutybound. The last thing heard on the comm, were the screams of the bridge’s crew. 93 crew members, no pods launched. Captain Erton Hyde, Kameron’s first senior commander when she joined Phoenix. 55 years old, wife and two children onboard the Firestarter. He didn’t scream when the Dutybound was hit. His eyes just had enough time to fill with tears before the reactor exploded. Just enough time to understand it’s over.
The comms opened, it was Helmsman. “You ready???”, the three other members of this unit confirmed. “JUMP!”
As the stars turned to lines, and the tunnel into hyperspace opened, the 4 fighters left the site of carnage. Phoenix Cell was broken.