Sul sito ufficiale della Electronic Arts è comparso The Light You Bring, un racconto breve scritto da Joanna Berry e ambientato durante la campagna di Star Wars Squadrons che vede la Squadriglia Vanguard in una missione:
When you’re holding steady at just below flank speed in open space, streaking towards a thousand scintillating stars, your world becomes vibrant and simple.
The engine vibration, transmitted through the balls of your feet and the fine bantha leather of your gloves on the throttle, is like the tone on a viol string to a trained musician. A fraction too low or too high, and you risk a stall — a disaster for you and your squadron in combat. But the A-wing is a daredevil’s starfighter; it handles well at extremes. It won’t stall. You know that, with the same calm certainty that you know your own name—
“Knock it off, Keo. Flying with your eyes closed ain’t impressing anyone.”
Keo Venzee opened their eyes and looked to their right, grinning at the Y-wing bomber with green-and-blue detailing now flying alongside. Its fuselage visibly quivered as it tried to keep up.
Through the Y-wing’s canopy, Keo’s squadron mate Frisk waved a scaly, three-fingered hand. His deep voice crackled over the comm again. “We all know you can fly that kite in your sleep, hotshot. Ya don’t need to prove it.”
Keo shrugged. “Well, when you fly a Y-wing, I guess you know what it’s like to feel half-asleep…”
The two of them banked against the stars. Ahead, Keo could make out a faint golden veil, the leading traces of the Ringali Nebula that weaves its way across the Bormea Sector. Far behind them was a small fleet of New Republic corvettes, a Nebulon-B frigate, and the mighty MC-75 star cruiser Temperance, along with an assignment of starfighters that made up Vanguard Squadron. Their squadron.
Keo throttled the A-wing back down with a practiced hand. A Mirialan with yellow-green-skin, mid-twenties at most, they didn’t look old enough to be an experienced pilot. A string of racing rivals, and later Imperial pilots, had made that mistake, and paid for it. “It’s nice to finally stretch our wings. Even if it’s just a routine patrol.”
Frisk grinned over at Keo through the Y-wing canopy—quite the sight on a Trandoshan. His cream-colored snout poked out of his battered helmet, showing off a mouth full of sharp teeth. “I’ll say. Three weeks stuck in the fleet? It’s all this New Republic protocol, I’m telling ya. When we were a rebellion, nobody had time to sit on their tails that long.”
Keo leaned back in their seat. “Unless it’s for a good reason.”
“Well, I ain’t one to gossip—” Keo snorted, with one hand over their comlink. “—but word over last night’s sabacc game was that we got a new secret operation lined up. Something big.”
“Aren’t you banned from playing sabacc in the wardroom?”
“Never said it was in the wardroom. Got to stay in practice.”
“Ah, that reminds me,” said Keo. “I’m behind on my training. Can’t practice moves like this in-fleet.”
You listen for the engine tone, you know how far to push it, and go—
The A-wing peeled off and banked to port, then looped back and came in low over the Y-wing, skimming Frisk’s canopy by an arm’s length. Then it swung up and accelerated away so hard its engine wash barely had time to tickle the Y-wing’s nose.
Keo chuckled, bringing the A-wing back into formation. “That move won me the Socorro Sunset Grand Prix.”
Frisk huffed. “Well, yeah—anyone can get an A-wing to dance. Ain’t so easy for a bomber.” Keo heard knuckles crack. “You want to see skill, watch this—”
“Ardo Barodai to patrol.” A voice, gruff but not unfriendly, filled both their helmets. “When you two have finished clowning around, head on back to the Temperance. I’ve got a new assignment for you.”
Keo and Frisk exchanged a look between cockpits.
“Can’t argue with the Chief,” said Keo.
Frisk scowled as they swung back towards the fleet. “That was gonna be a great maneuver, too.”
“Of course it was.” Keo hit their boost thrusters. “For a Y-wing.”
“It’s a simple job,” Ardo told them in the Temperance’s briefing room. “But it’ll just be the two of you. And you’ll need to be discreet.”
“You know me, sir,” Frisk said proudly. “Model of discretion—if this is about our new secret operation, no one’ll hear a thing.”
Keo nudged him. “Yeah, you’re off to a great start…”
Ardo Barodai, Vanguard Squadron’s intelligence chief, studied them thoughtfully. He was a strongly-built Mon Calamari with a squint and a wrinkled uniform—anything Ardo wore was rumpled as soon as he put it on. Vanguard’s rookie pilots chuckled about it behind his back. To veterans like Frisk and Keo, Ardo was “sir”, because they’d seen that kindly, distracted Mon Cal glance at a tactical display, give a couple of orders, and crack an Imperial fleet’s formation like a geejaw egg.
“I don’t know what fleet gossip you’re hearing,” Ardo said, “but Vanguard has the new squadron commander coming in soon and I have a thousand things to organize. That means delegating.”
“Why us?” Keo asked. “We aren’t special ops, or intelligence.”
“Because an ex-racer and a former—Well, you and Frisk will fit right in.” Ardo activated the holotable and brought up a star chart, zooming in on three decrepit-looking space stations orbiting a massive gas giant.
“This is the Navlaas Triad,” said Ardo, hooking his webbed thumbs into his belt. “Time was, these three stations had a nice little automated clouzon gas operation going—mining, processing, refining—” He pointed to each station in turn. “Droid barges went between them, kept the whole thing running day and night. That was before the war, of course. The mining company was squeezed too hard by the Empire. Now the stations are backwater refueling posts for smugglers, illegal racing syndicates… anyone trying to operate unnoticed along the Inner Rim.”
“Hey, why’d you look at me when you said ‘smugglers’?” Frisk protested.
“ ‘Cause you never stop talking about hanging out in the galactic underworld,” said Ardo, mildly.
“Yeah, but not smuggling. Selling collector’s pieces is a legit business.”
“You got yourself a death mark,” Keo pointed out.
Frisk snickered. “Selling them is legit. It ain’t my fault that Imperial governor didn’t check if they were real.”
“Ahem.” Ardo zoomed in on the holo, focusing on one of the stations. “A New Republic agent was operating in a nearby system, but the Empire got too close. From her last report, she was taking the intel she carried to a contact of mine on Triad Station Daralto, right here. I need you to go in and retrieve it. Discreetly.”
Keo frowned. “You mentioned the Empire…”
“There have been Imperial patrols reported nearby. Something’s up, but don’t engage them. Go in under their noses, and get out.”
“Fewer TIEs is always good for us,” Frisk pointed out.
Ardo’s brow creased. “Not this time. If Imperial Intelligence sees New Republic activity there, it’ll put this particular operation in jeopardy.” He looked between them. “I mean it. I need you to handle this one by the book.”
Frisk sighed. “Whatever you need. Right, hotshot?”
Keo wasn’t listening. They were studying the stark blue holo on the briefing table, still frowning.
Sometimes, experience and intuition work out of sight until there’s a conclusion that’s just there, unasked for but impossible to deny. And you know …
“Something on your mind, Keo?” Ardo asked gently.
Keo roused. “No, sir. We’ve got this.”
Sometimes you just know there’s going to be trouble.
* * *
Navlaas was a deep-blue gas giant streaked with electric green clouds of clouzon gas. Its eight moons were pitted with craters from asteroid strikes.
And other strikes, too. As the two starfighters streaked to their destination, Keo spotted a faint scatter of silvery wreckage adrift above one of those moons. “I think this was a marker buoy,” Keo called. “Probably left over from the old mining operations. Funny, these things are usually built to last…”
“Hold up,” said Frisk over comms. “I got something on scanners.”
Keo checked their scope. “I see them. Let’s go dark.”
They both cut power and let their fighters drift, hidden amongst the pulverized buoy wreckage. Keo huddled down in their seat.
Shadows began to pass over: the distinctive TIE silhouette that sets every New Republic pilot’s hand on the trigger. Keo counted four Imperial TIEs — a TIE interceptor and three standard fighters — in a diamond formation.
“Look at those Imps,” Frisk whispered over a secure channel. “Still flying around like Endor never happened. No one’d miss ‘em out h—”
Green laser fire flickered from the TIE interceptor. Keo’s hands twitched towards the trigger. “They see us!”
“Nah. They’re using the wreckage for target practice. We’ve just gotta sit tight.” There was a grin in Frisk’s voice. “Remember what they say, if an Imp’s firing at you, you’re the one thing they won’t—”
Green light blasted by again, almost skimming Frisk’s Y-wing. Frisk gulped. “Though, uh, I guess they’ve had time to practice.”
After a short eternity, the laser fire stopped; the shadows passed. Keo watched the scope, feeling their midsection slowly unclench. “Okay. We’re clear.”
They both powered their engines up again. “Those Imperials must be using the Navlaas Triad to refuel,” Keo mused. “That might even be what Ardo and New Republic Intelligence are working on.”
“Maybe.” Frisk’s Y-wing drew alongside. It was freshly repainted, like Keo’s A-wing, to remove all trace of Vanguard Squadron’s green-blue markings and anything else that might link them to the New Republic . “Can ya believe he used to be more of a maverick?”
“Yeah. Before Endor he’d never let the Empire just waltz around like that. We’d get the intel and bag a few TIEs just to teach ‘em a lesson.” Frisk huffed. “Now we practically wave at them as they fly by. Or wait for this New Republic to finish wading through red tape long enough to give us some orders.”
“It’s a different time, Frisk.” Keo shrugged. “We’re fighting for a safer galaxy—sometimes that’s what it means. Back on Mirial we’d say: ‘it’s easy to live your old life over and over, but the new life you start today is better’.”
“Heh.” Frisk gave a rueful chuckle. “I like that better than what they say on Trandosha to the clan loudmouth…”
“I’ll tell ya when you’re older.”
Their fighters skimmed around the moon — its sand as pale as Mirial’s cold deserts, now Keo was thinking of home — and came up on Triad Station Daralto in the near distance. Four towers sat above a squat central hub, while a ragged queue of old droid barges moved slowly through the processing center on its underside, carrying nothing to nowhere.
“No one figured out how to turn those barges off?” Keo pondered.
“Or they’re using ‘em for something shady,” said Frisk. “Speaking of, once we get in there, let me do the talking.”
“I can handle myself.”
“In the sky, sure. But here, people might be nicer to the big scaly guy, you know?”
“Then just be careful,” said Keo as they headed for the hangar. “If the Empire’s around, this could get complicated.”
“Let’s see your identification.”
Frisk glanced over at Keo and mouthed ‘complicated’.
Keo nodded, imperceptibly. The dockmaster was a muscular Chagrian woman who looked like she bent girders for breakfast and chewed them for lunch: exactly the kind of station official you’d expect to see out here. But behind her shoulder stood an Imperial officer, a glaring male human about Keo’s age with dark blond hair and a shabby uniform.
Keo found their eye drawn to the officer’s gloves. They weren’t smooth leather: there were patches between the thumb and first finger. And the officer’s sleeves had what looked like hand-sewn straps buckling the cloth snugly against his wrists. Not standard Imperial issue at all. Almost like…
“Will this do for ID?” Frisk handed over a datapad with their cover identities—and, Keo noted, a generous credit chip discreetly tucked underneath.
The dockmaster took it and scrolled through. The credits vanished as if by magic.
“Those are Rebel Alliance starfighters,” the Imperial officer said coldly, pointing to their repainted fighters. “I know non-standard engine modifications when I see them.”
“Not any more,” Frisk said cheerfully. “The Alliance hired us as mercs but never paid up. Figured those fighters would cover our expenses—they ain’t caught us yet.”
“You admit to fighting for the Rebellion?”
“We deserted,” said Keo, putting an edge in their voice. “We had better things to do than get tangled up at Endor.”
The Imperial folded his arms, but said nothing more as the Chagrian dockmaster tossed the datapad back to Frisk. “Looks fine. You’ve got hangar space to refuel, but don’t sit around. Relkin here—”
“Lieutenant Relkin,” the Imperial corrected her.
The dockmaster rolled her eyes. “The lieutenant has a garrison here. All arrivals and departures are monitored. So no funny stuff.”
Monitored? Keo shifted.
“You got it,” said Frisk, moving past.
“Wait.” Lieutenant Relkin’s gloved hand shot out and blocked Frisk’s path. He frowned at him and Keo. “Don’t I know you?”
Frisk chuckled nervously. “Ha. Like you’d forget this face?”
Relkin studied them both for a long moment, then scowled and stepped away. “Go on. Get out of here.”
Outside in the access corridor, Keo let out the breath they had been holding. “That was close…”
“Yeah.” Frisk scratched at his cheek with a rasping sound. “Maybe Relkin worked for that Imperial Governor, Derantus. He wouldn’t still be holding a grudge over those ‘collector’s pieces’, right?”
“I mean, so what if Derantus made an ass of himself in front of Admiral Thrawn—”
“This is serious!” Keo hissed. “An Imperial garrison hanging out in a strategically important system? That’s more than just refueling.” Frisk was glancing over his shoulder; Keo tapped him. “We need to keep our heads down. Where are we meeting Ardo’s contact?”
“The cantina.” Frisk checked his pockets as they walked. “It’s your round, though. That dockmaster wasn’t cheap…”
The station cantina was built around a massive decommissioned clouzon gas filter that stretched from floor to ceiling, with sullen green light flickering inside. The patrons sat huddled in corners. Keo guessed most of them were smugglers: they were drinking with all the good cheer of people who’ve just found out that leftover Imperials might be inspecting their ships.
Frisk approached the bar circling the central filter. The bartender — a slender, blue-eyed Zabrak— glanced up from the shockball scores. “Well?”
“Polaris ale for me,” said Keo.
The Zabrak poured. “And for you?”
Frisk leaned over. “I could go for a Ringali Sunset.”
The Zabrak raised an eyebrow, glanced around, and shrugged. “Sorry. Haven’t seen Chandrilan brandy in months.”
“Where’d you first try it?” Like the bartender, Frisk’s answer was a little rehearsed.
“Sissubo. But not since the war…”
Keo wandered away, partly to give Frisk cover and partly to keep an eye on the place. No one seemed interested in them, but that sense of trouble, trouble lingered in Keo’s mind.
They sipped the drink to steady their nerves. The Polaris ale was cold and surprisingly good. The taste took Keo back to their first stop out from Mirial at a grimy waystation, ordering a Polaris ale because the person next to them had ordered it and Keo wanted to fit in.
They’d had a good life on Mirial. But every time Keo looked to the stars, they’d felt an impossible yearning. If it’s possible to feel homesick for where you’ve never been, Keo felt it more acutely every day — a need to see what was out there. That waystation, on Keo’s first day away from home, seemed like the most cosmopolitan place one could imagine. Watching people from all corners of the galaxy, enjoying a drink like any other seasoned traveler — and getting a first electrifying glimpse of galactic racing on the bar’s monitor — had felt like Keo’s initiation into a larger world.
“Hey.” Frisk wandered over with a drink that reeked like a fuel spill. “You all right?”
Keo swallowed the last of the Polaris ale. “Thinking. Did you get what you needed?”
“Kinda.” Frisk steered them into a quiet corner. “When she saw the Empire was here too, that New Republic agent wasn’t takin’ any chances. She jettisoned her astromech droid on Laanen—here, it’s one of Navlaas’s moons.”
He took out his holoprojector and showed Keo a sketchy holo of an icy, desolate landscape. The astromech’s location was picked out in red halfway down a canyon. “Its mag grapple is active, so all we gotta do is fly past and pow, it’ll hook right to our hull. Location’s tricky, though. Like threading a needle.”
Keo studied the approach vector, gaming it out in their head. “My A-wing can handle that.”
“Glad to hear it. Let’s get going.”
The two of them headed for the cantina door. “But the Imperials are watching departures,” Keo said. “We’ll need to figure out a way to reach the moon without being spotted.”
“Yeah.” Frisk set his mug on a table as they passed. “Don’t want any nasty—”
The cantina door opened, framing Lieutenant Relkin and two Imperial stormtroopers in dingy armor.
“—surprises,” Frisk faltered.
“There you are,” said Relkin, glaring icily. “I knew I recognized you.”
Keo and Frisk gulped; Frisk raised his hands. “Look, okay, you got me. Fair’s fair. I’ll give that governor back his credits. Anything, just leave my friend out o—”
“What is this idiot blathering about?” Relkin barked. He swung towards Keo—their hands shot up. “You. I should have known your face the second I saw it.”
“The Socorro Sunset Grand Prix,” said Relkin. “That stunt you pulled at the last second—that cheating little maneuver that knocked my ship off course—cost me the champion’s medal I deserved.”
Keo blinked again.
“Dark green racer?” Relkin asked, exasperated. “Yellow stripe on the dorsal?”
“Oh!” Keo gestured wildly as they remembered. “Of course, your sleeves!” Keo turned to Frisk. “Pro racers sometimes tighten up their sleeves like that so—”
Relkin pointed a finger in Keo’s face: their hands shot up again. “I’d have finally had a chance at the Imperial Starfighter Corps instead of refurbishing old fighters,” Relkin hissed. “I could have defended my Empire when they needed me, instead of being left to rot doing logistics while the Death Star burned!”
“Well, any war effort relies on logis—”
“And now you’re a thieving mercenary along with your lizard friend,” Relkin went on, grinning nastily. “Do you know what that means?”
“That we’re no threat and we can just go our separate ways?” Frisk ventured.
“No,” said Relkin, drawing his blaster. “It means no one’s going to miss you.”
With no warning Frisk shoulder-charged Relkin, knocking him into the wall opposite the door. The Imperial squeezed off a shot apparently out of reflex; it ricocheted off the door frame as his blaster clattered to the deck. The stormtroopers scrambled for their blaster rifles as Keo took off down the corridor. “This way!”
Relkin struggled to his feet. “Get after those two. A promotion to anyone who teaches them a lesson.”
Frisk caught up with Keo as the two skidded around a corner. Blaster bolts seared above their heads. “We gotta reach the hangar,” Frisk panted. “If they arrest us, they’re gonna figure out who we’re with–”
Either by luck or judgement, the next shot hit the door panel ahead of them. The panel exploded in sparks. Keo slammed into the door—it wouldn’t move. They looked around desperately, then spotted something in the wall. “The air vent!”
Frisk grabbed the vent cover and yanked with all his strength. The rusting hinges shrieked as he levered it up: Keo dived inside, but instead of an air shaft they found themselves sliding down a long chute into darkness. They managed to grip the sides and brace themselves just in time. “What the—?”
From behind there was more blaster fire, then a scuffle, a “Whoop—!” and something large and scaly knocked into Keo, sending them both tumbling into the darkness, until—
“Ack, I landed on my tailbone… Where the heck are we?”
“I don’t know, I can’t see…”
“… but the deck feels weird, though. Like there’s… Hey, there’s something here. Like a line. Feel it? Goes right across the floor.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I feel t—”
With that, the ‘deck’ hinged open and dropped them another eight feet into a pile of metal cylinders, sending them spilling across the floor.
Keo sat up, wincing. “…Okay. That definitely wasn’t a vent. Probably a loading chute for clouzon gas canisters.”
The deck shuddered beneath them. Keo recognized the vibration: old, tired engines limping along long after maintenance was overdue.
“Great.” Frisk lurched up beside Keo, clutching his head and tossing a cylinder aside. “You know what this is? We’re on one of those dumb droid barges circling around between the stations.”
Keo looked around at the cargo hold. Abandoned gas canisters rolled across the deck.
“This might be our ticket out of here,” Keo pondered. “If we reprogram it, couldn’t we fly it back to the hangar–?”
“Then what?” Frisk got up and cracked his neck. “Relkin’ll be watching every ship like a hungry exogorth. How’re we gonna get to the moon and pick up the astromech without him realizing?”
“We’ll come up with something.” Keo tried to smile. “Come on. It’s better than being shot at.”
“I’ll take being shot at over this.” Frisk dusted himself down, then clumped over to the droid brain’s control panel and pried the cover off. “At least I know what to expect.”
After a moment of rewiring he went on: “You think that TIE interceptor we saw on the way in could’ve been Relkin’s fighter?”
Keo thought about it. “If I was an Imperial who raced, I’d fly a ship like that.”
Sparks flew: Frisk shook his hand. “If we’d just bagged those TIEs, no one would’ve missed Relkin until we were back home with that astromech, sippin’ a post-mission caf.”
“That wasn’t the plan—”
“Yeah, I know.” Frisk yanked a wire out, hard. “The New Republic just needs us to play our part. Yes sir, no sir, polish the paintwork sir.”
Keo crouched next to him. “Frisk, what’s the matter?”
“Ah, forget it. I’m just grousing.”
“No,” said Keo. “You’re not.”
Frisk’s big shoulders slumped. “I’m a rebel, Keo. Always have been. Never fitted in at home, so I lit out and did my own thing. The Rebel Alliance let me take a swing at the biggest bullies in the galaxy—my way.”
He sighed. “But now we’re a New Republic. We gotta go legit. But that’s not me.” Frisk pulled a fuse out of the control panel and stared at it. “You know where I belong in a legit government? Prison ship or community service, pick one.”
“You really believe that?” Keo asked.
“We’re making the New Republic here and now,” Keo said. “Because it’s made of everything we fight for. Hope, or peace, or… just being who you are. The Empire decides who the right people are, and makes a door that only fits them. But the New Republic can have room for everyone. If that’s how we want it to be.”
“Frisk, why were you picked for this mission? You were a perfect fit because of what you’ve done.” Keo patted his shoulder. “When there’s darkness, whatever light you bring into it is worthwhile—no matter where that spark began.”
Frisk sighed, then smiled. “How come you’re half my age and still smarter than me, huh?”
Keo smiled as Frisk took the fuse and slotted it into its new position, continuing: “But unless you can pep talk this rustbucket into cloaking, getting that astromech and then jumping to hyperspace, we still need to handle Relkin.”
Keo got up and roamed, thinking, then snapped their fingers. “What’s that you always say about sabacc? ‘Don’t play the game’—”
“—‘play your opponent’.” Frisk started grinning. “Ya know…Relkin won’t be suspicious about us goin’ to that moon if he’s invited along.”
“You said you could thread the needle down on that moon and pick up the astromech. Could ya do it at top speed?”
Keo grinned back. “Try me.”
The barge shuddered again, changing course towards the station. Another gas cylinder rolled against Frisk’s foot as he took out his comlink. “All right. The first part’ll be better coming from you. And then let’s see what those credits to the dockmaster bought us…”
“I mean it,” Dockmaster Nerlisha snapped. “Those stormtroopers can’t just shoot up an access corridor because they feel like it.”
Lieutenant Relkin leaned back in his chair. His desk–in a supply room he had commandeered as an office–was meticulously tidy; his helmet, polished to a mirror shine, rested on a corner. “If you properly screened the riffraff on this station, we wouldn’t have to protect ourselves.”
Nerlisha glared. “Your Empire isn’t what it used to be, Relkin. You don’t give me orders. If you cost me any more customers—”
Relkin’s comlink bleeped. He smiled coldly at her. “The war isn’t over. The business of the Empire cannot wait. Would you excuse me?”
Nerlisha stalked out.
“Worthless alien,” Relkin muttered. He snatched up his comlink. “What is it?”
“Who is this?”
“The Socorro Sunset Champion.”
Relkin set his teeth. “Well. That was a dramatic escape. A little less dramatic now that I have your fighters impounded indefinitely.”
“Shame. I was hoping to make you an offer.”
“What could you possibly have to offer me?”
Relkin sat up.
“We win, you let us go. Lose, you keep my A-wing… and we’ll both know who’s the better racer. And just to make it fair, it’ll be against me and my colleague.”
“A Y-wing?” Relkin chuckled. “You’re insane.”
“No. I’m a better pilot than you. I need a handicap to match.”
Relkin’s smile faded. His hand rested on his helmet—a refurbished helmet from stores, not one earned in honor. That chance had been lost forever, thanks to that Mirialan upstart. But…
“I’ll agree…on the condition that you allow me to disable your hyperdrives.” Relkin shrugged. “Assuming you and your lizard friend weren’t planning to flee the second you leave the hangar?”
There was a beat of hesitation, then: “And miss the chance to beat you again? Fine. Do whatever makes you think you can win.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“The ice moon Laanen. Through the canyons. If your interceptor can handle it — and your nerves — meet us in the hangar.”
“I’ll be there,” Relkin said softly, and ended the call. “Trust me.”
Vengeance might be sweet, but half its sweetness is in the anticipation.
* * *
The solid blue-white surface of Laanen gleamed like steel in the light of its distant star. Fantastical ice formations spiraled around fissures in the surface where warm gases escaped: spires loomed like misshapen teeth. A crash on that ice, at racing speeds, would obliterate a starfighter, shields or not.
Keo breathed slowly, checking helmet, gloves, seat restraints, and calming their thoughts. Don’t fly from your head—fly from your heart. Feel the potential success ahead of you. Aim for that and nothing else.
The three fighters headed for the agreed starting point. Frisk’s Y-wing lagged behind. The dark TIE interceptor cast a shadow sharp as daggers in the thin air.
Keo’s comm crackled on a private channel. “Ya know he’s going to try something.”
“Of course he is.” Keo adjusted the throttle resistance. “But I can handle it.”
“Good. I’m feeling kinda naked without my hyperdrive.”
“You’re sure you can get them both working again?”
“Sure, I’ve hotwired hyperdrives a thousand times–assuming this sleemo gives me the chance. But you focus on the pickup. I’ll figure out the rest.”
Up ahead, a massive lopsided archway of ice stood above the depths of a massive canyon, with only blue darkness below. The three fighters slowed as they approached.
“These are the terms, as agreed.” Keo frowned at hearing an Imperial voice over familiar channels. Lieutenant Relkin went on: “Three circuits of the canyon. If you’re both ahead of me when the third circuit is complete, you’re the winners. Otherwise—”
“We get it,” Frisk snapped. “Imperials—love hearin’ themselves talk…”
“Beginning synchronized countdown, then. Best of luck, ‘champion’.”
Keo keyed into the countdown. “I don’t need luck.”
The numerals ticked down steadily. Two… one—
Keo was already throttling up as the numeral counted to zero. The A-wing shot ahead, cutting through the cold stillness, and scythed down into the canyon. The sheer glassy walls were crisscrossed with bridges of ice. Keo sent their starfighter skimming a wing tip above the bridge, dipped down through a tight gap, and powered through a narrow passageway, picking up speed. Fast as the A-wing was, though, the pointed shadow of the TIE interceptor was keeping pace. Frisk’s Y-wing was left far behind.
The scope blipped with a proximity alert, reminding Keo that there was more at stake than their racer’s pride. The astromech…
Chunks of ice bounced off the A-wing’s canopy–one of the ice formations was breaking apart. Keo weaved smoothly through the larger fragments as debris thundered into the canyon. Seconds later a burst of green turbolaser fire blasted the ice into frost. Relkin’s TIE interceptor emerged from the glittering fog.
“Hey!” Frisk’s voice cut into Keo’s concentration.
“Merely clearing the path,” Relkin answered.
Keo glanced at the scope again. Close.
They swung around a curve into a fantastical sight. The sides of the canyon were covered in sheer ice sheets; like waterfalls frozen in place. Keo swung the A-wing between them, every sense alert.
The scope blipped urgently. There—a flicker of red and white, almost lost behind the largest ice fall.
Keo accelerated and swung the A-wing into a vertical position, showing its belly but shielding any visual of the astromech from Relkin. The seat restraints dug deep into their shoulders as they threaded the fighter behind the ice fall with inches to spare, and—
Keo heard a metallic slithering sound, but that was all. Their readouts blipped red: negative.
“You got it?” Frisk whispered urgently on the private channel.
“The grapple couldn’t connect.” Keo accelerated out from under the ice fall. Relkin was drawing ahead. “Hull’s picked up too much ice!”
They skimmed the sides of the canyon, passing Relkin by a fraction and marking the first lap.
Relkin swore. “One down. You’ll be eating my exhaust for the next!”
That’s a good idea….
Keo brought the A-wing back onto an even keel and, gauging the distance precisely, brought their starfighter just in range of the TIE interceptor’s engine wash.
The change in air density rocked the cockpit. Warning lights shrieked. But Keo looked up and saw droplets of water and melting ice blasting backwards over the canopy.
In his cockpit, Relkin felt a subtle shift in his flight profile. There was that Mirialan merc, interfering with the aerodynamics around his interceptor. A good trick.
Keo kept glancing up. “Come on…”
The ice was clearing in chunks, but not fast enough—the moon was just too cold. Teeth gritted, Keo kept the A-wing steady in the blast of heat from the TIE interceptor, as the two starfighters completed the second lap with Relkin ahead, chuckling.
The two starfighters swung through the canyon and headed for the ice falls. As they approached, the last of the ice finally slid clear. Keo prepared to break off—just as a missile streaked from the TIE interceptor and exploded in midair.
A shockwave sent Keo’s A-wing spiraling away. It took all their skill to pull up seconds before they smashed into the canyon wall. “Concussion missile!”
“Just knocking some debris off my tail,” Relkin said.
Cracks spread across the ice falls as the shockwave died away. One collapsed in shards in the wake of the starfighters hurtling past.
Keo’s reflexes took over. They punched the boost thrusters and blasted straight for the astromech. That ice fall was crumbling before them: only seconds remained before it collapsed into the abyss and took the intel with it.
Keo closed their eyes.
The A-wing shuddered as something grappled onto the hull and locked in place. Keo opened their eyes, feeling the A-wing’s balance shift. “I got it—”
A massive shard of ice struck the A-wing’s starboard side and sent the starfighter corkscrewing into the depths of the canyon.
Relkin glanced at his sensors and chuckled. His rival was vanquished.
And—oh, here was that stupid Y-wing ahead of him, still struggling to finish even one circuit.
“I’ve actually lapped you,” he chuckled as the interceptor easily roared towards it. “What were you thinking, bringing that worthless barge to a race?”
“Guess you’re right,” said the Trandoshan. “A Y-wing ain’t a racer…”
With a chunk, the Y-wing’s launchers released a dozen silvery clouzon gas canisters into the frigid air.
Relkin’s mouth fell open.
Daydreams and target practice are no substitute for combat training. The TIE interceptor was traveling too fast to evade. Its wing struck the first canister and tore it apart, triggering a chain reaction. A second later, a massive electric green explosion sent Relkin’s TIE tumbling helplessly into the abyss.
Frisk glanced out at it. “A Y-wing’s pretty great at bombing runs, though.”
He keyed the private channel. “Keo?”
“…Keo, come in!”
Light flared below—not an explosion, but the cooler light of thrusters. A battered A-wing emerged from the canyon and struggled to gain height, trailing ice crystals with a new astromech grappled snug behind the canopy.
“I’m here—just about. Is Relkin—?”
“He’s alive, but he’s gonna be pretty mad when he surfaces. “ Frisk gulped. “Let’s find somewhere safe to get these hyperdrives back online and go.”
The two fighters soared towards the stars.
“Lucky thing those canisters weren’t duds–and that the dockmaster really wanted to stick it to the Empire.”
“Yes. I’d have won that race, though.”
“It’s important to know your capabilities.”
“Well, mine stretch as far as getting back to Vanguard. Right now, sitting in the fleet don’t seem so bad…”
* * *
“Where have you two been?” Ardo Barodai wanted to know. “A simple pickup took you that long?”
Standing in the cold light of the Temperance’s briefing room holo, smeared with engine oil and with the red-and-white astromech sitting between them, Frisk and Keo glanced at each other. “Things got… complicated,” Keo ventured.
Ardo folded his arms. “Well, there’s been no stirrings from Imperial Intelligence. Imperial Logistics, on the other hand, is buzzing like a Killik nest.” A smile quirked the side of his wide mouth. “For some reason they’re confiscating every clouzon gas canister on the Navlaas Triad…?”
Frisk shrugged. “Counting stores must keep ‘em busy.”
Ardo gave them both a long, searching look, then nodded. “All right. You did good. You’ve each got a three-day pass.”
“Yes!” Keo punched Frisk’s shoulder. “Come on. You owe me a drink.”
“What? After that save we’ve gotta be even.”
“Not even close. Though that was a nice payload drop.”
“Heh. That one ain’t in the New Republic’s book.”
Keo chuckled. “Not yet…”
Ardo let them go, then crouched in front of the astromech and removed a gold data card. Patting the droid, he inserted the card into the holo table, then stood back as a galactic map sprang up. Points began to appear at key locations—each one showing the symbol of an Imperial Star Destroyer.
Ardo nodded to himself. “Well. Looks like the next phase of Project Starhawk is good to go…”