Mercy Flight --COMPLETE, 1/17/18 Timeframe: 2 weeks after the Battle of Hoth Characters: All OCs Genre: Action/suspense/medical drama, squadfic Summary: A young Rebel pilot makes a desperate run through an Imperial blockade WARNING: Icky medical descriptions Notes: Ambri Merrin first appeared in Dreg Squadron. Spoiler Inspired by the Nome Serum Run of 1925 and Michael Stackpole’s Krytos Trap. * * * Ambri Merrin took a deep breath to calm herself as the strange patterns of hyperspace swirled and coalesced into a crisp starfield. Even before her X-wing starfighter was fully out of hyperspace, her eyes were moving from her scanners through her entire field of vision, looking for enemy ships. There was at least one Imperial Class star destroyer, they’d heard, which meant potentially bumping into six full squadrons of TIE fighters. Although the Empire had no reason to expect an incursion, which meant more likely one squadron, split into several patrols. If they were lucky…if they were ridiculously lucky, they could slip past and get to the planet with the precious cargo intact. “Set S-foils to attack position,” said Lieutenant Dzin. Ambri frowned as she complied. Hymuth Dzin was more experienced than she was, and he outranked her. But in this situation, every millisecond counted, and from her experience, she knew that an X-wing was faster in its cruise position than it was in attack position. Granted, not much faster. But if they had to outrun TIE fighters, it might be enough. She wouldn’t question him. She’d been a full pilot for the Rebellion for all of three weeks. Dzin had been around since just after Yavin. The blue-skinned Duros pilot was skillful and aggressive. The two of them were temporarily assigned to one of the Rebel ships, The Patchwork Queen, a strange Corellian conglomeration (“the Ugliest of Uglies,” as its crew proudly called it), en route to their permanent assignment. There were no simulators to train in, but Dzin did his best to help Ambri, coaching her while on their patrols and diagramming different moves when they were relaxing in the tiny storage closet that was serving as their temporary quarters. Dzin wanted to make sure that their weapons were online and available if they did run into trouble. Ambri would have preferred to make a straight run for it. But it wasn’t up to her. She checked her position, flying just off his right. They were the only two. If they didn’t make it through… Ambri’s astromech whistled a warning. She glanced down. “Long range scanners show 4 marks, coming in at… 270.” She looked up. “No visual.” “Increase to full speed,” said Dzin. “No sign of a Star Destroyer. Must be on the other side of the planet.” “We hope,” muttered Ambri. She looked up. “Wait, there they are! Four TIE fighters!” “Four eyeballs,” Dzin corrected. “Keep running!” Ambri looked at the planet ahead of her, Kassallia, a neutral world, which had never been part of the old Republic and which wasn’t under the Empire. Doomed, if they couldn’t make it through. The TIE fighters were approaching quickly. In terms of speed, they were a good match for the Incom X-wing fighters. She increased throttle, matching Dzin’s speed. The TIE fighters were on an intercept course, and Ambri knew that they weren’t going to make it past. Their only hope was to fight. And that would be a mistake. “Shields to full. Hang on tight, Minni,” she said. Her astromech chirped, busily monitoring the various systems of the sleek craft. “Gold Two, prepare to engage,” said Dzin. Mentally, Ambri groaned. “Copy, Gold Leader.” The TIE fighters opened fire. Flares of green flickered across the X-wing’s shields. Ahead of her, she saw Dzin break to the left. She countered to the right, jigging a bit. If they kept to their current pattern, they’d meet up and she’d fall in to his left, although going the wrong direction. Dzin didn’t complete his turn; he rolled over his lower right foil and pulled his nose up to come at the fighters, approaching just off their flank, firing as he came. One of the blasts hit, and the right side solar panel came off the TIE Fighter. Ambri swore softly, trying to move back into position, eyeing the TIEs. They were breaking, too, left and right, coming straight at Dzin. He opened fire again, missing, but the TIE to his left didn’t. She saw a flare on Dzin’s left engine. Ambri rolled left to intercept, shooting as she did, straight into the ships. One was shooting back at her. She spared only half a glance at her targeting computer, continuing to shoot in one long burst as it flew across her path. The TIE exploded in a ball of flame. Dzin had his nose up, and he was climbing, with one of the TIE fighters in hot pursuit. The other one was coming straight for her. She jigged sharply to the left and climbed herself, trying to catch up with Dzin’s tail. Dzin was juking and twisting, but the TIE, built for maneuverability, matched him easily. Ambri shook her head. In space, Rebel pilots tried to avoid dogfights. They could match the speed of the TIE fighters, but they weren’t nearly as maneuverable. “I can’t shake him!” shouted Dzin. Minni whistled a warning. Ambri didn’t bother to spare a glance. There was one on her tail, too. “Minni, divert more power to rear deflectors,” she said. There was a rumble and her ship rocked. A hit, but so far the shields were holding. She sent off blasts at Dzin’s opponent, missing both times. “Leader, turn to point six-eight; I can’t get a clear shot.” He tried to comply, pushing down the nose and turning hard to his right. Ambri rolled quickly, keeping the TIE in her sights as it followed her wingmate down. She was in the blind spot now, and she fired a long burst, pushing the throttle to its max. The TIE was firing, too, torpedoes! “They’re locked!” shouted Dzin. He jerked sharply to the left, and the TIE tried to follow, bringing it across Ambri’s line of fire. It exploded in a ball of gasses and flame that was quickly extinguished in the vacuum of space. Ambri was forced to roll and turn sharply as another blast rocked her ship. The rear deflector shields were down to thirty percent. She cut her throttle sharply, and the TIE fighter shot past her, not expecting the maneuver. “I can’t break—“ Dzin’s voice broke off and there was a flash of light. Ambri choked back a cry of denial. Gone. Dzin was gone, with the precious cargo he carried. She took a deep breath. She’d taken out two, Dzin had disabled one, and there was one more still behind her and the stars only knew how many headed their way. Resolutely, she pointed the nose of her ship towards Kassallia and switched her foils back to cruise position. TIE fighters were difficult to beat in a dogfight, and she was now outnumbered. Another reason to avoid it. Getting sucked in only gave the Empire more time to send reinforcements. And they had plenty of those. She was Corellian, she didn’t need to know the odds to know that they were heavily stacked against her. The only hope now of succeeding in her mission was to run as fast as she could. She switched shield power to increase her rear deflector shields, and cut power to nearly every other system, feeding it into the engines. “All right, Minni,” she said. “We’re gonna redline it. Hold on tight.” She slammed the throttle to full, pointing straight at the planet. The acceleration slammed her back against her seat. What little intel they’d had in the briefing said that there were shields over three of the major cities, but the planet as a whole was unprotected. The X-wing shot forward, with the surviving TIE fighter hard at her back. Another warning from her astromech. She looked at the scanner. Four more TIE fighters, inbound. Great. And at the very edge of the scanner range, what was probably the Star Destroyer, moving to intercept. Probably launching even more TIEs. It would be a few more minutes before she’d be in atmosphere. She looked at the surface, blue and gray, with great swirls of white clouds—wait. She took a closer look at the clouds. Weather system. There were storms down there on Kassallia. Just what she needed. Ambri didn’t realize she was smiling as she headed for one of the angry swirls. Flying in storms was no fun, but X-wings were fairly sturdy. TIE fighters were not. Her ship could handle some storm gusts—probably—but theirs absolutely could not. That was one of the few strengths of X-wings over TIE fighters. TIEs were generally more maneuverable in space, but in atmosphere, with those solar side panels fighting against any kind of mild wind, they were like trying to ride a bucking kampok. In a storm, forget it. She fed more power to the engines, listening to a high-pitched whine of protest. They were at 105%, and she edged them up to 108%. She didn’t dare take them higher. In her former life, before she joined the Rebellion, she had been a (reluctant) test pilot for the Empire, pushing ships of every type to see what their limits were. X-wings could get to 110% before they suffered structural or system failure. She’d learned this the hard way. Her ship was pulling ahead, slowly, and the landscape of Kassallia filled her screen. The TIE fighter fired off a few shots. It was out of range, too far to get a lock for its torpedoes. There was a flare across her shields as she plunged into the atmosphere of the planet, and immediately the small ship started to buck. She eased up slightly on the throttle, trying to hold the controls as the various crosswinds assailed her. A few heartbeats, a few more…and the world went white as she plunged into a cloud. The winds were buffeting her, and her eyes were on her instruments. She was more or less blind, flying by scanners only and fighting the stick. But now she had a chance, a chance to lose her pursuers. She had to take that chance. Because, with Dzin gone, she was the only hope to save Kassallia.