The dark haired man who stepped last into Phoenix Squadron's briefing room was most certainly not the usual pilot that bore the calsign Phoenix 11, although there was a striking resemblance between him and Indiana Bridger. The man grinned at Mike Bullian in a familiar way and flashed the other man a thumbs up. Mike grinned back, but didn't move. They obviously knew each other in some way.
The man stepped up to Colonel Horn and handed him a datacard from the pocket of an old gray flightsuit. "My cousin regrets that she's not here to fly with the squadron, but between her coordination of setting up a base on Xenen and her two new little ones, it wouldn't be a smart move to leave the Aurora Force at the moment. She sent me instead. Captain Nylan Bridger, Procurement and Supply, reporting for duty."
Corran Horn, Jr., looked the man up and down, trying to keep a semi-disgusted look on his face. Procurement and Supply his foot! This man might have been so once, long before, but he most certainly wasn't anymore. He had the bearing of a fleet command officer, or perhaps an Intelligence officer, if they even had any sort of bearing. Corran shook his head. "Go sit down. I've got to get this briefing underway."
Nylan settled down in a seat in the rear corner of the room, his green eyes focused forward on where the briefing began. It was all pretty straightforward, but parts of the briefing documents were unreadable, which made him nervous. The objective seemed clear, though--take the Echo Hawk.
Strapped into the cockpit of his fighter, Nylan began to have second thoughts. It had been a long time since he'd flown an X-wing. His leather-clad hand squeezed the stick of the T-65. He almost shook his head. Too long, it had been. He just hoped he wouldn't get anyone killed. Before him, hyperspace suddenly faded into realspace, and the fingers of his free hand flipped the throttle to full, his shields and lasers to maximum recharge, and found his first target--a TIE fighter outbound from the Echo Hawk. There were three, and his CMD dubbed them Alpha Flight. He launched after them as Y-Wings dropped into the system.
The Force flowed around him, enveloping him, as it should a good Jedi. He lost all sense of what was occurring, all he heard was a buzz in his ears--he was one with the Force, flying as one with the Force.
Then, suddenly, he found himself going head-to-head with a single corvette. He checked his magazine and cursed. No proton torpedoes left. He didn't bother to check his shields as he flew at the corvette--another was doing its death-roll nearby, a slow barrel-roll as fire erupted from random points along the hull.
His consoles exploded suddenly, bathing him in flame. Nylan's jaw clenched, willing himself not to scream, as his ejection seat propelled him away from his crippled fighter. For a few moments, he blacked out. He awoke to find himself being jostled by a tractor beam. He looked up to see an Imperial shuttle looming above him, and he murmured a curse. This was NOT good, not good at all.
Nylan fumbled for the vibroblade tucked into a pocket of his flightsuit, but his hands were shaking too badly, whether from the cold or shock he didn't know, for him to do more than fumble it out and watch it drift away into space. His helmeted head was dashed against the hatchway of an airlock, and again he blacked out.
Nylan Bridger woke to find himself in a cell aboard the Imperial-Mark II Star Destroyer HAMMER STRIKE, staring blankly at the ceiling. His left leg ached deeply, and an attempt at sitting up told him he'd injured his back and ribs--they'd screamed in pain. A shiver ran through him, and he wondered, offhand, if these people had realized who he was. I never should've been so stupid, he thought, to carry my ID card and to wear my tags on this run.
The cell's door opened; a woman stepped in. "Ah, Captain Bridger, you're awake. This is a fine thing. Now, you will tell us where you came from."
He sat up immediately and looked at the woman framed in the doorway, brandishing two blaster carbines and sporting a dark jumpsuit. "Cari?!"
Cari Kissick-Miller laughed and tossed him a carbine. "Let's get your sorry butt out of here. Be grateful you wore those tags, Tag never would have found you otherwise. She sent us to spring ya."
Nylan eased to his feet as a shout came from farther down the corridor. "Cari, you have him?"
Helping Nylan up, Cari shouted back. "Got him, Ryan! Let's blow this joint!"
Disbelieving and almost bewildered, Nylan limped with Cari out into the corridor and toward the rest of the Red Omega Commandos. With a sigh, Nylan noted that again he owed his cousin, Tag, his very life.
Indiana Bridger's arms were crossed as she watched Nylan get pulled out of the bacta tank. Mike was next to her, his arm around her shoulders. "I should've just come out and flown the mission myself," she quipped. "For all the time this run's lost me."
"Look at it this way," Mike said, kissing her neck, "you DID have time to look over those status reports."
Indy growled, still unhappy, then spotted Corran approaching. She nodded to him. "Colonel."
Corran nodded back. "Commanders." He cast a glance at Nylan, who was still drugged into unconsciousness and getting hosed down by the medics. "How's your cousin doing, Commander Bridger?"
"He's coming back with us to Golgan III. We'll leave him there while we return to Xenen."
"I imagine he'll have a story to tell."
"I imagine it'll be classified, sir, most of what he does ends up that way." She motioned to a medic. "Get him ready for transport, the WOLFSBANE leaves in half an hour." She turned back to Corran. "With all respect sir, as much as I would like to stay, I need to get back to my strike force."
Corran shook her hand. "Good luck to you out there in the Kartuiin Sector."
"Thank you, sir, we're going to need it." Indy kissed Mike briefly. "See you at Golgan, if not sooner."
Mike nodded and headed off to speak with Corran about something. Indy looked at her cousin again and shook her head with a faint smile. "Better him that me, I guess." She left medbay and headed down the corridor to file some last-minute paperwork before picking up some of the other Aurora Force members and flying back in to Golgan III.
Looking red-faced and abashed as he entered Phoenix Squadron's briefing room, Nylan Bridger tossed a salute at Corran and slipped into a seat. His cousin's stern lecture about how and how not to get captured still rang in his ears, although it had been weeks since he'd left Xenen again to cover her duties.
"Nylan," she'd said, "don't give me reason to race out here all over again, all right? And don't make Tag worry, because that makes her take action, and THAT makes Dal worry, which gets ME in trouble because I started the chain reaction."
His attention snapped to the briefing as the lights dimmed. Corran stood by a holoprojector and explained straightforward objectives--protect the Echo Hawk while it was repaired and re-supplied. Apparently, they hadn't eliminated the Imperial presence in the area yet, which made Nylan wonder at their effectiveness in the Minos Cluster. *Ah, well,* he thought, *mine is not to wonder why, it's RSHC's. I'm just a simple Intel man who happened to get attached to his cousin's unit and happens to cover for her when she's in the field with the Aurora Force....* Idly, he wondered why Indy stayed with the PBF while she was obviously very busy with her command. That, however, was not his place to wonder, either, and so he simply picked up his blue-and-indigo helmet and headed out of the briefing room.
Before him, hyperspace whirled in all its majesty. During his time with the Alliance, he'd learned to love with a passion those last quiet moments on hyperspace, those last few moments before a battle, or the last few minutes of solitude before showing up at a crowded spaceport....or those last few minutes of planning how to greet Tag after arriving at an Alliance base. He sighed. Those had been the days, when they hadn't had to answer to a bureaucracy, when they hadn't answered to anyone but each other and their own consciences. Oh, how he missed it!
The Y-Wing dropped out of hyperspace smoothly, but Nylan frowned nonetheless. There hadn't been time enough for him to familiarize himself with the ship's controls and he still didn't have a complete grasp of how to fly the damned thing. Things went downhill from there.
The X-Wing pilots, he observed, must have been drunk, because they paid no attention whatsoever to where they were flying. Twice, perhaps three times, he clipped them with lasers while tracking a TIE, probably once with his ion cannons. Then, suddenly, another rammed him as he was tight-tailing an assault gunboat. He cursed wildly as that happened, but didn't allow himself to lose focus on his mark. "Tag," he murmured, "what I wouldn't give for your Echo Wing right about now." He certainly could've used the back-up from the fighter group under the command of Major Shada Arcona that was attached to the Task Force Deliverance.
Phalon's Folly was long gone by now, killed by bomber torpedoes that he was powerless to stop as he had caught sight of them too late. He cursed himself for that failure, praying that the families of the dead would understand that he had tried to save their loved ones. Dew's Trust and Echo Hawk had left the system, their parts of the mission complete.
It was with a tear rolling down his face that Nylan finally pressed the hyperdrive button. He'd killed many today, and allowed more to die. It wasn't fair. His only solace was the fact that the X-Wing pilot that had plowed into him was picked up by a Republic shuttle before the man--or woman--froze to death.
Quietly, Nylan walked through the halls. He was in uniform now, a plain, slate-gray uniform with indigo accents and a beret of the same color. Into the office of Colonel Horn he stepped, his heart heavy and his eyes downcast. "Captain Nylan Bridger reporting as ordered, sir."
Corran looked at him for a long moment before speaking. "The X-Wing that hit you. The pilot has expressed her deepest regrets for the disagreeable incident."
Nylan shook his head. "Sir, they shouldn't have been out there. No way in hell. They weren't paying a scrap of attention--"
"I investigated," Corran interrupted. "Turns out there was quite a party the other night amongst some of our younger pilots. They forgot they were slated for duty the next day and were mostly hungover while they were flying. As I said, they're all deeply sorry."
"Twenty-three men and women died aboard the Phalon's Folly because they weren't there to do their jobs right!" Nylan blurted out. "Do they know that?"
"No one died on the Phalon's Folly," Corran said in a low voice. "There was a crew of three aboard her. They managed to escape before the blast."
"Saw the crew manifest. I figured as much. Most of the crew was grounded after the aforementioned party. Captain Bridger, you're harder on yourself than I am. Now get out of my office."
Nylan snapped to attention, then began to head out of the office without protest. He just wanted to make a shuttle back to Golgan III and then snag some rack time for a while. Maybe he'd even run into Tag and Dalsuna....
"Oh, and Captain."
"You tell your cousin that she needs to quit being in the field when the briefing calls go out, you understand me?"
Nylan grinned and nodded once. "Be glad you've been getting me, though. Slate would've crashed into his wingman."
As Nylan walked out of the office, he left a bewildered Corran wondering who the hell Slate was and why he would've crashed into his own wingman.
It was a nice thing to see at a briefing. After how many missions, Indiana Bridger, Phoenix 11, was actually sitting with the rest of her squadron in the briefing amphitheater. It was a nice thing for Corran to see as he stepped up and commenced the briefing.
The mission briefing was straightforward, as usual. It outlined the objectives for the mission-- identify freighter cargo and destroy any hostiles found in the area.
It wasn't until after the briefing, when Indy approached him and a shadow detached from the far wall that Corran realized that he shouldn't have gotten his hopes up. Indy was in a repulsorchair, one of her legs propped up at a gentle angle, the knee wrapped in gauze and a brace. She offered Corran a smile as Nylan stepped up behind her. "Sorry if I got your hopes up," she said quietly. "But unless you want me flying with a shattered kneecap, I think you'll have Nylan again for this one. I'll be working flight control myself."
Corran pointed to her knee. "How the hell did THAT happen?"
Indy sort of grinned. "I'll tell you later. Drinks are on me tonight." She moved off, slipping past Nylan, who nodded to Corran.
"Sir." Then he was gone.
"Phoenix Eleven to Control, this is a comm-check." Nylan's fingers flicked the switches on his board and he rubbed at his forehead for an instant. How many times had he stepped in for Indy? Three? Four? Ah well. At least he'd finally begun to feel comfortable in the "box with teeth" as he had referred to fighter craft earlier in his life. *If Tag could see me now,* he smirked.
"Eleven, this is Control. You're coming in loud and clear. This is the go sign." It was Indy's voice over the comm. "Good-luck, Nylan. May the Force be with you."
Nylan had to smile, knowing how hard it was for his cousin to say that, knowing how much she resented their family's legacy in the Force, the strength in it that imbued each of their line. "Thanks, Indy. I'll see you when I get back." His fingers wrapped around the stick and he lifted from the pad, glided through the magnetic field, and started off for hyperspace. He hit it at mission count T-fifteen minutes.
By T-0, Nylan was reverting from the riotous colors of hyperspace into the calm blackness of realspace. For half a moment, he scanned the system, wondering if he'd somehow miscalculated his hyperspace jump--there was no one else in the system. After affirming that this was the correct area of space, he cycled his shields and charged lasers, settling down to wait.
Suddenly, there were the freighters, slipping into the system from hyperspace. Immediately, he turned up the throttle and made a long loop toward them, intent on his targets. His tactics were simple--first identify, then engage.
Half a heartbeat later, chaos erupted.
Y-Wings, TIEs and Gunboats, a Star Destroyer and a Corellian Corvette hit the system at almost the same moment. Nylan cursed and checked his shields. Still full--for the moment. He finished identifying the freighters and got a missile off at one of them before the first wave of fighters and gunboats hit him. By the time he had time to turn away from the fighter craft, the freighters and the Y-wings were either destroyed or had jumped to hyperspace. Either way, they were gone.
He wasn't sure how long he stayed after that, killing fighters and gunboats, but it was until a static-y message came over the comm. "Return to base." Indy's voice again. With a heavy sigh and not knowing whether or not his mission had failed or succeeded, Nylan closed his s-foils, pulled the hyperspace lever, and headed for home.
At debriefing, he learned that his mission had failed, and he shook his head and sighed, casting a glance at Indy later, as they unwound in the pilot's lounge. "I'm sorry, cous. I just can't seem to fly a successful mission."
She turned to him and grinned. "I just hope to be flying the next one myself, Nylan. I wouldn't worry about it."
Nylan just shook his head and glanced out at the stars. At least none of their own had died this time around.