Dramatis Personæ"Rookie One"/"Blue Leader" - Male Human - New Republic Ace PilotDane Rumol/"Green Leader" - Male Twi'lek - New Republic PilotYalessa Dreiga/"Red One" - Female Human - New Rpeublic PilotRelan Sentrem/"Red Three" - Male Human - New Republic PilotR4-H7/"Ghost" - R4 Agromech Droid - Rookie One's droidRu Murleen - Female Human - New Republic Agent8 ABYPart 1 - ProtectionA quick, continuous series of beeps sounded within the cockpit. The man within turned toward his horizontal radar, catching the glowing red dot of a starfighter that had decided to put him in a target lock. Moving from sight to thought to movement in under a second, the pilot forced the yolk away from his left knee. A large orange ball and the stars surrounding it spun clockwise around him as he forced his ship into a diving, counter-clockwise spin. The stars left little curving paths in his vision, and it was difficult for him to keep his eyes from focusing on the planet that loomed in in front. He forced his fighter to keep spinning as it made a wide turn toward the other direction. Streaks of green formed at the lower edge of his vision, then disappeared into the darkness. His pursuer's aim was getting better. He knew exactly what the pilot on his tail was trying to do. Chasing a target turning as sharply as himself, the average pilot would gradually cut back on speed and follow its prey, waiting for its guns to finally catch up. It was typical, book-approved logic. It worked most of the time. There were exceptions. He moved his left hand from the throttle bar to a half-circle button. He held it down it until the lower half of a circle of lights next to the button was completely blue. With the full strength of his shield generator protecting his backside, he stopped his fighter's roll and cut back across the spray of blaster fire. The metal around him shook twice as his shield absorbed shots, and with each vibration, his upper neck had clinched in anticipation. A lot of pilots said that they were ready for death. Most of them were lying. Every time he used his considerable shields to slip through enemy fire, as confident as he was in the invisible magnetic force fields that had kept him alive these many years, his mind prepared for the worst. Once again, the worst failed to come. Instead, he continued his turn away from his pursuer's field of fire. Quickly pressing more buttons, he brought his shields back into balance and kicked in his afterburn. Fuel was dumped directly into his thruster lines, the glowing blossom of blue light from his thrusters doubled in size, and his fighter shot around its turn. Shutting down the afterburn as he came around, he now had a good look at the ship that tried to send focused light up his tailpipe. It was a ridiculous hodgepodge of ship parts, consisting of the cylindrical cockpit from a TIE Bomber with three pylons pointing outwards. The two lower pylons connected to a pair of Y-Wing engine nacelles, while the top graduated to one of the S-Foils of an X-Wing. The fighter may have been given a name, but the general community of pilots already had one ready for such ships: Ugly. An Ugly was a ship constructed from the parts of several different ships. They were mostly seen under the control of smugglers or independent fighter pilots hiring out to protection details for smugglers. It was the ultimate child of necessity. Starfighters went through months, sometimes years of testing before put into production. During these tests, the designers considered weight, air resistance, gravitational distribution, presented target, and a myriad of other factors until they were sure they had made the perfect subject for a particular job. Sometimes the job was to take a beating from surface turbolasers and deliver two tons of bombs onto a target. Sometimes a fighter was needed, with the agility to dodge enemy fire and bullseye targets. Each ship was built with a function. Uglies were the result of cheap, independent pilots building a ship from whatever they could afford. Between the thruster at the back of the TIE core and the two Y-Wing engines, the beast had plenty of thrust, but hardly more than rudimentary handling. This was never more apparent than when the pilot who, nothing more than prey a moment ago, brought his New Republic B-Wing around and focused its three laser cannons on the Ugly. The targeting reticule flashed from green to red, and he let the energy fly. Three, then another three bursts of red light flashed toward the abomination. He ignored his targeting computer, needing no more than the burst of blue and white flame to let him know that the target was finished. The pilot continued on, now headed straight for the main body of conflict. As he rushed forward, flashes became explosions, sparks became laser blasts, and flecks became chunks of starships blown apart from hulls. He forced the throttle of his ship to its metal limit. The B-Wing had been designed by a collection of brilliant minds to be a next-generation assault fighter for the New Republic. Sporting a collection of lasers, ion cannons, and projectile launchers, the fighter made up for its minor lack in speed and maneuverability in massively powerful shield generators and nearly-unmatched firepower. He had been chased a long way outside the main field of battle. It took his burning thrusters several precious seconds to put him within target range of the firefight. When his targeting computer found its first subject, a swift TIE Interceptor gunning for an X-Wing, he wished more than anything that he was behind the controls of a quick A-Wing stunt fighter. Metal creaked as he continued to push the throttle bar against its own limits With the flick of two switches, his computer recognized the friendly X-Wing as Red Three and opened his own comm into the larger channel. "Red Three," he said, trying to keep his voice level, "Break toward me. I'll take care of the squint behind you." The voice that came back over his radio was young, determined words pushing through fear. "Trying to, boss. Already lost two stabilizers. Headed for you." The X-Wing came around toward him, trailing a black stream of crystallized carbon dioxide. The wounded starfighter's turn was wide and slow. Too slow. He realized that the X-Wing just wasn't going to outpace the Interceptor's line of fire. Forcing the afterburn button into the panel around it, he dumped fuel into the thruster as quickly as his engine could handle. His seat pushed him violently forward, shoving him toward the two ships. The Interceptor continued to pour energy at the snubfighter. The X-Wing was going to get blown to pieces. The X-Wing would be little more than a ball of flaming scrap well before the Imperial was in laser range. Without thought, he flicked fire control over to his launchers. A B-Wing's projectile cannons could load nearly any type of missile, from specialty sonic-percussion burst rockets to simple concussion missiles. Now, he armed his fighter's proton torpedoes and hurried his computer to gain a lock. He let a pair of purple comets fly. The torpedoes rushed for their target. The Interceptor brought its guns around to lock on Red Three. The B-Wing pilot simply begged his ship for more speed. "Go, damn it!" There was a burst of red and orange, then another burst of blue. "Red Three?" he called into his headset. "Red Three, come in!" Just as he reached proper firing range, the light faded. In its place floated two clusters of scraps. The glass and viewport framework of an Imperial Interceptor collided lazily with a burned and fragmented gray wing. He had got his Interceptor, but the Interceptor had got its X-Wing. His stomach began to convulse. Tightening and shaking at a steady pace, It almost drew him away from the massive fighter battle before him. This wasn't anything a medical droid could stop with location-specific bacta and a stasis. This was purely human anger. Taking a slow, calm breath, his left hand danced across a keypad. A stream of data leapt and bounded in his viewport. Targets, hardly larger than confused insects on his cockpit window at this range, were bracketed in red and green. Another pair of Uglies, each built from the bastardization of a Skipray blastboat and an unrecognizable Corellian-style ship, were the first to enter his computer's vision. They were taking a wide route around the main battle, probably to get a sneak strafing run on the B-Wing pilot's base ship, a MC-40 light cruiser. A long, curving battleship of Mon Calimari design, the MC-40, designated the Steadfast, featured two large engines atop its rear and an even larger single engine below. Built to carry a single squadron of fighters to-and-fro while possibly defending itself, the MC-40 was a big, lumbering, light gray target in a sea of black. Sure, its shields could take a couple or more shots from an Imperial cruiser, but a series of laser blasts in combination with concussive explosives in a single spot could easily break through its shields. The front end of a Skipray carried the loadout to pull off such a feat. Two of them, fully-armed, were enough to put a hole in an MC-40. Their broad flight path suggested they were planning on just that. He had other plans for them. Another thumb flick, and his targeting systems divided his B-Wing's armaments among two targets. Squeeze. Four comets, two of purple and two of red, soared toward the Uglies. An explosion of multicolored fire surrounded the two ships. He pushed forward. A stray TIE Interceptor had apparently seen the source of the lasers and torpedoes. It streaked for him, opening fire with its four cannons. He shifted his shields completely forward and dove. The stream of green comets followed. He cut the B-Wing back up through the field of fire. Green crashed against crackling blue light, filling his viewport for a slow second. The bursts subsided, and he brought the B-Wing's cannons to bear on an Interceptor that was now determined to fly past underneath. He squeezed the flight yoke, and triple streams of red blasts flooded the quick fighter's path. There was an explosion of yellow fire as the ship caught a blast, then a large burst of blue as the Imperial ship's ion engines combusted. The ship did manage to pass beneath him, though in several more pieces than intended. "Great shooting, Rookie One!" His eyes took a second to refocus. Taking a breath, he looked into the core of the battle, and realized that he had brought down the last enemy ship. Three X-Wings, followed by three A-Wings, slipped into formation and headed back toward the Steadfast. He hated this part. The battle was over, and they had won. Not only won, but dominated. For the sixteen pirates that had bit it, only one Republic pilot had lost his life. One more than was necessary. This was where he had to act excited. He might have to present a bar or two, maybe even accept one. They had prevented a complete shipment of weapons and starfighter parts from reaching one of the most powerful Imperial Warlords. This was a solid victory for the Rpublic. He was expected to be thrilled. "Rookie One, you there? The shipment's ours," came over his ship's radio. He was supposed to be ecstatic, so he made himself sound as such. "I put down the last squint, you think I don't know? And how many times do I have to tell you, Green Leader? Rookie One is a nickname. It's not my callsign,"; he said. Green Leader shot back through the channel with mock rudeness. "My apologies, Blue Leader." He laughed. "Let's head back to the Steadfast." Blue Leader, a caucasian human male in his early thirties known as Rookie One, eyed the floating wreckage of Red Three for several seconds. He thought about the words he would say on behalf of the lost Rebel pilot in the Steadfast's common room.