TIE Fighter: Prime Wing
The Special Edition
by Jennifer Quail
Some of you I'm sure have read TIE Fighter before. This, however, is a revised edition, edited for grammar, spelling and content. I haven't changed any major plot points, but it is a better story now. "Tighter," as my creative writing teacher would say, and I've corrected some internal inconsistencies.
DISCLAIMER: Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas and Timothy Zahn
and on the computer games TIE FIGHTER and X-WING from LucasArts Entertainment
Used without permission and with the greatest respect. However, the characters Rurik, Thelea,
Avran and Giriad all were created by and belong to ME! This story may be posted elsewhere,
but only with my name, e-mail address and disclaimer attached.
SPOILERS: None that I'm aware of! (Unless you've been living in a hole and haven't seen STAR
WARS: A NEW HOPE. If you haven't, you're a very sad person and what are you doing on this
web site, anyway?)
SETTING: Some time after A NEW HOPE and before THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
The Imperial-class Star Destroyer Eradicator hovered over the crippled installation, its forward batteries raining green death on the Rebel weapons cache. On the tactical screen on the station's fading yellow deflector shields flickered and died. A few more bursts, and the display informed the Eradicator's tactical officer that the station's power generators had been reduced to 25% operational. "The target installation is disabled, Captain Kespar," the officer reported.
The Eradicator's captain nodded briskly. Kespar was a thin, hawkish man with watery gray eyes that shifted when he spoke. "Excellent. Inform the boarding parties that they may proceed."
Three troop transports launched from the Eradicator's hanger carrying the Imperial stormtroopers who would occupy the station launched, heading at their sluggish but sure pace for the captured installation. The Captain watched from the forward bridge, monitoring their progress on a tactical readout. The transports had heavy shields, but were for the most part unmaneuverable and poorly defended. Their initial bombardment had supposedly disabled the station's weapons systems, but when it came to trapped Rebels, desperate fanatics that they were, it never hurt to be cautious. One of the Destroyer's numerous TIE squadrons swung around the three ships in lazy loops, sensors scanning for any sign of Rebel reinforcements. So far, the skies were clear.
The transports had almost reached the station's docking bay, shields dropping as they maneuvered to dock. Everything appeared normal, when suddenly every sensor on the Eradicator's bridge screamed a warning as one of the transports died in a fiery red burst. "Sir!" the lieutenant at Tactical shouted suddenly. "We have enemy ships in sector three-twelve!" On the display, the images of two large vessels appeared on the screen, glowing a hostile red.
"What?" Kespar spun around. "Who are they?"
"One frigate, Nebulon-B class," the young officer reported. "A Mon Cal cruiser, both at twenty klicks. The frigate just launched two squadrons of X-wing fighters!"
"Launch two Interceptor wings to take them out!" Kespar ordered. The eight Imperial fighters, tiny green blips on the display, separated from the Eradicator and rushed out to meet oncoming Rebel fighters. But even before their launch tractor beams had powered down, another troop transport disappeared in a hail of laser fire from the Nebulon-B. One of the escort TIEs was clipped, and spun off into one of his wingmates, sending both to a sparking, spinning death. He looked at the communications officer. "I thought you said the station didn't get any distress signals out before we destroyed their communications antenna!"
"They didn't!" that man protested. "We would have detected them. It might be a coincidence. . . ." The communications officer looked unconvinced by his own words.
"No, they came out of hyperspace ready for a fight. Forward batteries, open fire on those capital ships!" Kespar ordered. The turbo laser blasts lanced out toward the rounded shape of the Mon Cal vessel, and was met with a seemingly endless fusillade from the larger rebel ships. Meanwhile, the Interceptors were rallying, but found themselves outnumbered by the better-shielded Rebel snub fighters.
"Captain, shields are down to fifteen percent!" another officer called. "We can't take much more of this!"
The communications officer was clamoring for his attention. "Captain, Gamma wing leader reports heavy losses and desperate need for reinforcements!"
"We can't take the time to launch another squadron until we take out that cruiser!" the Captain said. "Tell Gamma Leader to hold on until we can send out-"
"Gamma Leader's been destroyed, sir," the communications officer. "We read no contacts from any of our TIEs or the transports."
Kespar winced and closed his eyes. "Turn the ship. Prepare to make the jump to lightspeed."
"Captain, our shields are down to five percent!" a voice from the crew pit warned.
Tactical called, "The Nebulon-B is turning to assist the cruiser!"
The Eradicator shuddered violently once, and then again. "Captain, shields are down!"
"Prepare for lightspeed-"
But Kespar never finished his orders. At that moment, the Mon Cal cruiser and the Nebulon-B let loose a deadly hail of proton torpedoes. Already crippled and shell-less, the Eradicator still could have outrun them if they'd had time to turn. But they didn't. And the projectiles were well-aimed, demolishing engines, turbo laser batteries, and finally, the conning tower. Kespar's final thoughts before the world exploded around him was a grim certainty that there was no way the station had called for help. Someone had informed the Rebels. He, and his entire crew, had died betrayed.
Rurik Caelin, First Lieutenant in the Imperial Navy and recent graduate of the TIE fighter training program, knew he should have been happy with the rank and the "well done" from his instructors. Only the best, brightest, and most talented cadets were selected for flight school. He should have been bursting with pride. He should have been overjoyed. He should have, but he wasn't.
Wiping black strands of hair from his forehead, he slipped the simulator helmet over his head. He knew that he had to keep his skills sharp, but he was beginning to be sick of holographic battles and simulated victories. If I were from a core world, I'd be on a Star Destroyer by now, he thought bitterly, as he punched up the next scenario. But he was from a tiny, backwater planet in the Outer Rim of the Empire, and that, he had learned, made all the difference.
The mission the computer presented him with was to enter a Rebel shipyards and destroy as many of the snub fighters as possible before they went hot and came after him. Rurik had already decided to take out the Y-wings and B-wings and fight the Xs and As man-to-man. It seemed more exciting that way. The bomber-style Ys and Bs were too sluggish to make for an exciting chase. His ship for this mission would be a TIE Interceptor. Better than a classic TIE, but not as good as the new TIE Defender or Advanced, he thought. And the scuttlebutt was that Sinear Fleet Systems had something even better up their sleeves.
Then he was in the mission, and Rurik turned his attention to flying. They were in tight quarters, so he quickly redirected power from his engines to his laser canons. Sometimes the Interceptor's speed was an advantage, but in close-in dogfights, it usually only served to put you in front of your opponent and as such, in front of his turbolasers.
With two quick blasts, he took out the stationary B-wings. Swinging in a wide, lazy arc, he turned to target the parked Ys. As he did so, a computer warning alerted him that the Xs and As were coming on-line. Leaving two concussion missiles to finish the Ys, he turned to look for the attackers who would be shooting back.
To his surprise, he found that the Xs and two of the As were holding back. One lone A-wing was headed straight in to meet him, lasers blazing. That can't be the computer, he thought to himself. Someone in another simulator? It had to be. Grinning behind the holo helmet, he swung around to meet this challenger.
The A swung in and out of his sights, never getting quite close enough for lasers or stable enough for a missile lock. Rurik turned the agile TIE and dove sharply, cutting in behind the Rebel. He fired his laser cannons, but the A twisted and spun upward so quickly that for a moment his targeting computer lost the lock. Glancing upward, he saw nothing of the other fighter. He began to turn-
Suddenly a laser bolt slapped him hard from behind. The shell-like Interceptor's targeting computer immediately fritzed out in a dramatic shower of sparks. Now, though he could still fire, it would be random shots at an unmarked target. Two more blasts and his guidance vanished, leaving him little more than a drifting blaster cannon at the mercy of inertia and his pursuer. There was another flash-
And then the simulator went dark. They'd got him. Heaving a sigh, Rurik pushed his helmet back from his forehead. Had this been a real battle instead of a sim, he'd be so many subatomic particles drifting in space. He leaned back against the restraints, feeling the tense muscles in his neck relax a little. Learn from your mistakes in the sim so you don't make them out there.
The hatch of the simulator cracked open with a grinding of servos. "Lt. Caelin," said the rough, gravelly voice of Major Kel Varens, the commandant of TIE Training Base Alpha-27. "Step out of the simulator, please."
Stifling a groan, Rurik lifted himself up to the deck. Varens was a short-bodied little man with thinning dirty blond hair and narrow eyes that always seemed to glare laser bolts at the new pilots. "That was a real pilot in that A, wasn't it, sir?" Rurik asked.
Varens nodded tightly, and said with a sardonic sneer, "That was your new wingmate."
Rurik kept his jaw from dropping, but barely. "New wingmate, sir?"
"Why they're giving this important an assignment to Rimworld scum like you is beyond me." From anyone but Varens, that comment would have made Rurik bristle, and the conversation would have been over one way or another. But from the Major, it was little more than standard abuse. Around the base, it was said that Palpatine himself couldn't have gotten a word of praise out of the Major's mouth. "Of course, since this is our little freak wing, you ought to fit right in."
That, on the other hand, stung. Ignoring it as best he could, Rurik asked, "If I may, sir, who was that flying against me?"
They were approaching the opposite end of the simulator complex. Varens, with his typical brusqueness, rapped on the simulator pod. "Lieutenant Commander!"
The pod's seal cracked open, and Rurik got his first look at his opponent. The loose jumpsuit gave no clue to the form, but this person was small, even slight. They reached up and pulled off the helmet, and Rurik felt as though he'd been kicked in the stomach. The pilot who'd out-flown him, demonstrating enough skill that they ought to have been on a real assignment, was a female.
Worse, she was an alien.
The eyes that regarded him when the pilot discarded her helmet were pupil-less, intense and a deep red-gold. It took him a minute to realize that they also gave forth a light of their own, and did not merely reflect the light around them. Her skin was a soft, pale blue, only a little paler at her mouth. Blue-black hair was braided in a whip-thin lock that disappeared down her back. He wondered if she was sitting on it. She studied him for a moment before swinging to the deck in one clean move. She came up to his shoulder, but the even, emotionless way she stared at him made him feel as though he was sinking into the deck.
Major Varens did not change his nasty tone at all. "Caelin, this is Lt. Cmdr. Thelea. You'll be flying with her. I'm going to let you two get acquainted, but be in Briefing Room 1013 in fifteen minutes. You'll meet the rest of your wing there. Don't be late." He stalked off without waiting to hear their acknowledgments.
Rurik was left staring dumbly at this-this-whatever she was. She met his level gaze with an unnerving glowing stare that he noticed uneasily bore a striking resemblance to blaster bolts. Finally, she said, "It is customary for a junior officer to introduce himself when speaking to his superior for the first time." Her voice was cool as ice water and even as the hum of the engines below decks.
Rurik's eyes narrowed, but the Lieutenant Commander's squares on her uniforms backed her up more powerfully than a squad of stormtroopers. "Lt. Rurik Caelin," he said stiffly, with all the formality he could muster. "May I be so bold as to ask your name?"
She heard the sarcasm in his voice and raised an eyebrow. "You heard my name." Then, as if realizing he wasn't going to let it go with that, she said, "My name it Lt. Cmdr. Thelea tal Kyrn. You will call me Commander or Commander Thelea."
"Your given name?" he asked.
Her expression didn't change. "Tal Kyrn is a familial reference which would be utterly meaningless to a mere human." For the first time, the level tone varied slightly, and the scorn was obvious.
"A mere human?" Rurik challenged, bristling. "What makes you so special, alien?"
Her eyes narrowed and her mouth tightened at the corners, just a bit. "What makes me special, Lieutenant, is that I have out-flown every fighter pilot in the Imperial fleet except Lord Vader himself. What makes me special is that I outrank you, and you had better show me a little more respect, unless you want to be piloting a garbage scow to Kessel!"
He tried to meet her glare, but found the red glow disconcerting, to say the least. He wondered if there was anyone who could look her in the eye without flinching. "My apologies, Commander Thelea. Now, if I'm not being rude, may I follow you to briefing room 1013, so that we might meet our new squadron mates?"
Thelea's expression returned to her earlier level of unreadablity. "Spare me your sarcasm, Lieutenant Caelin, and let's go. But let's get one thing straight-I don't know how long you're going to last with this unit, but so long as you're here, I outrank you, so do not get on my bad side. Do we understand each other?"
For a minute, Rurik was sorely tempted to argue with her. Not only was her very alien-ness disturbing, her smug, disgustingly level tone of voice irked the Outer-Rim defiance of authority that was hardwired into his personality. But on a second look, he realized that her unstated threat was backed with more than rank. A small hold-out blaster hung at the waist of her flight suit, and the way her hand rested near the grip said she knew how to use it. "All right," he said. "I'll try not to irritate you. Now, may I escort mi'lady to the briefing room?"
Thelea didn't glare at him, but the icy blankness said enough. "After you, Lieutenant."
In briefing room 1013, Major Varens was waiting with another officer in a standard brown Navy uniform. When Thelea and Rurik entered, there were already two other people (humans, Rurik noted with some relief) seated in the chairs before the display screen, both dressed in the black shipboard jumpsuits favored by TIE pilots. They took their seats beside these two and waited for Varens to formally begin the briefing.
While they did so, Rurik took the opportunity to examine the other two who presumably made up the rest of their wing. One was a youth, who couldn't possibly have been any older than Rurik himself. The youth had sandy blond hair cut in the harsh military style given to Academy freshmen. Brown eyes that were just wide and eager enough to be annoying were taking in the briefing room and his fellow pilots with quick turns of the head. For a minute, he caught Rurik's gaze and offered a friendly, enthusiastic smile. Rurik returned the expression thin-lipped. A kid, he thought disgustedly, he can't be more than eighteen.
The other pilot was as far to the other end of the spectrum from the first as was possible. This man had gray hair and the lined, hard face of a veteran. He looked so much older Rurik wondered if he had seen action in the Clone Wars. His uniform had the broken-in, well-worn look of old clothing, and the marks where many unit patches had been thermal-fixed and then removed. On the sleeves, there were battle patches, too, including one the made Rurik do a double take. It was a black-rimmed sun going supernova, with the silhouette of a standard TIE Fighter at the center. Rurik couldn't help the low whistle that escaped. "Yavin," he breathed.
Thelea, who had been staring pointed at the bulkhead somewhere in front of her, turned sharply. "What is it, Lieutenant?"
Even her iciness didn't deter him. "That pilot-he was at the battle of Yavin," he said. "He survived!"
Thelea's expression didn't change. "A few did, you know, no thanks to the Grand Moff."
Rurik stared at her, stunned by the casual disrespect. "What?"
"Tarkin was fool. If he had been more prepared for the assault and less overconfident, he could easily have crushed the Rebels," she said with a clinical detachment, as though showing disrespect for a man so recently become an Imperial martyr was nothing at all. "Only Lord Vader had the foresight to realize that no man-made object is impenetrable. Tarkin was blinded by his own ambition, and it cost us our best chance to end the Rebellion. Now this war is going to go on forever."
The gray-haired man had overheard them, and he looked over his shoulder. "I beg your pardon?" he said in the cultured accent of Imperial Center. "The Grand Moff was far from ambitious. It was my pleasure to serve with him for many years, and I assure you he had no interest but the Empire's at heart."
"I am impressed by your devotion, Commander L'Grath, but not by your blinders," Thelea said cooly. Obviously, she knew this old-timer. "Tarkin was a ruthlessly ambitious man, and that was his undoing. Unfortunately, for a great tool of the Empire was lost."
"Be at attention," Varens said, and abruptly the conversation stopped. "This is Captain Heverab from the Imperial Security Bureau. He is here to brief you on your first mission as a wing."
That was the first acknowledgment that they would indeed be flying together. The kid looked disgustingly excited, Rurik noticed, and the old man, resigned. Thelea kept her face blank, but he was beginning to think that was simply her normal expression.
"In the name of Emperor," Heverab said, a standard enough opening statement. "What I am about to tell you is highly classified eyes-only. One standard week ago, a task force lead by the ISD Eradicator was dispatched to capture a rebel outpost near the Dirkact sector of the Outer Rim." He activated a holoprojector, and the ships appeared, the Imperial vessels a benign green and the Rebels glowing hostile red.. "Shortly after they disabled the stations power generators and shield systems, a Rebel task force appeared out of hyperspace." On the holo, the Nebulon-B frigate and a Mon Calamari launched a swarm of tiny red fighters that quickly overwhelmed the smaller number of TIEs and turned on the Eradicator. "The Eradicator was hopelessly outgunned, and was lost with all hands. We obtained these images from a lone TIE pilot who escaped and made his way back to Imperial space." He switched off the projector.
Rurik looked at the other three. The kid looked like he was ready to jump out of his seat from excitement. The old man had the hardened look of a professional, and Thelea still had that infuriating unreadable mask for a face. For himself, Rurik thought that while it was distressing to hear of the loss of a Star Destroyer, and infuriating to think that the Rebel scum responsible had gotten away, the loss of the Death Star and the billions of lives aboard had numbed the Imperial fleet to tragedies.
"We at ISB have determined that the two ships responsible for the death of the Eradicator and her crew came from a small moon of the world called Friedor." Now the projector displayed that colorless gas giant, with a small red dot pinpointing the moon. "Friedor is a large gas planet in the Je'cEven sector, an uninhabited area of space known to be used as a meeting place and dumping ground for smugglers, pirates and other scum like them. We now believe that a sizeable rebel force is using Friedor's moon as a staging ground for attacks on our fleet and supply ships. We have also confirmed that the Rebels are shipping supplies through the outsystem asteroid belt, where containers are left for pickup." The picture changed again, and Friedor's gaseous bulk shrank to a third of its former size, and they saw the rocky expanse of the asteroid belt that ringed the system. "Your mission is to locate this supply dump and destroy it."
Varens stepped forward. "From this moment on, your are designated as Alpha Wing. Commander Avran L'Grath will be you wing leader, with Lt. Commander Thelea in second position." Rurik looked at the old man, who merely nodded. "Lt. Rurik Caelin and Lt. Giriad Quoris will round out the wing." Varens gave them a moment to take that in. As they'd all figured it out already, there was no discernable reaction. Then he continued, "You will be assigned to the Victory-class Star Destroyer Valiant, under the command of Captain Sol Medreian."
"Sir." Thelea barely waited for an acknowledgment. "Begging the Major's pardon," she said, her voice in the same neutral pitch as always, "Isn't the Valiant part of Vice Admiral Thrawn's fleet?"
Rurik had never heard of this Vice Admiral, and he wondered why it made any difference. Admirals were, to him, all the same. But for some reason Varens hesitated, and his lip curled in an expression that might have been disdain. "Yes," he said, and he sounded strangely reluctant, "Vice Admiral Thrawn is in command of that group. It is of course only a subsidiary of the Outer Rim territories fleet."
Rurik shivered. That made a difference. That fleet, made up of Destroyers with famous names like Avenger, Devastator, Stormhawk, Judicator, the legendary ships, was under the direct personal control of Lord Vader, himself. Stories were told of a quick rise through the ranks in that fleet, if you were lucky. The unlucky merely disappeared. But Varens was continuing, and with a shake of his head, he forced himself to pay attention.
"For now," the Major was saying, "You will be issued standard TIE Interceptors. If your performance deems you worthy, you may eventually receive the more advanced models currently being developed." Then he dropped his usual lecture tone. "I must tell you that I personally see very little hope of that. You are being assigned to this wing for one reason only: there are those who would like to see you not come back from your missions, and frankly, looking at all of you I can see why. Ordinarily, I would tell you now that you are part of the finest fighting group in the Empire. However, I must be honest. You have all shown extraordinary skill, and that is the only reason that an old man who ran from a glorious death, an alien freak who's a female, no less, some Rimworld scum-" Rurik met the Major's eyes with a level gaze that held neither the malice he felt nor the shame that Varens was right. "-or the son of some third-rate, dispossessed noble from an insignificant Core world were not shown the airlock immediately!"
If Thelea was offended by Varens's words, she chose not to show it. Avran L'Grath, the old man, looked vaguely ashamed and embarrassed. Giriad didn't know better than to look offended, and might have said something if L'Grath hadn't placed a placating hand on his arm.
"You have twenty-four hours to assemble your gear," Varens went on. "Then you are to report to shuttle bay 96, where you will be deployed to your new assignment. Bring honor to the Empire!" As he turned away, Rurik distinctly heard him mutter, "If it's possible for such a group of miscreants."
The others, if they heard, said nothing. Once the two officers had departed, Giriad, the kid, was the first to speak. "Well, it's nice to know they have so much confidence in us." Then he brushed it off with the naivete of the young. "But it'll be great to prove them wrong!"
L'Grath shook his head. "Young man, I'm afraid you have a great deal to learn about what it's really like as a pilot. In all likelihood, none of us will return from out first mission."
Giriad didn't seem inclined to believe this. "What about you? Look at that patch! You survived the worst the Rebel scum could throw at us. So how can it be so dangerous?"
L'Grath's eyes lowered, and he said in a very aged voice, "Though the Major spoke very harshly, what he said might be considered true."
Scorn replaced eagerness in the boy's eyes. "Well, I'm not going to run from a fight." L'Grath didn't meet his eyes.
Rurik couldn't let the kid's cocky attitude pass. "Oh, yeah?" he said. "How would you know? You've never seen the outside of an airlock. I'll bet the first time a Y takes a shot at you, you'll run like a scared mynock."
Giriad looked at him with visible distaste. "I was flying airspeeders before I could walk. What's your prior experience, Rimscum? A swoop gang?"
Rurik had a fiery response on the tip of his tongue when a cool, modulated voice cut them off. "This bickering is both pointless and juvenile." Thelea was sitting with her elbows resting on the arms of her chair, her hands clasped before her. She wasn't looking at them, her glowing red eyes narrow slits in the glacial mask. "We must function together, as a unit, if we are to survive. Rebel snubs and pirate raiders aren't the only danger out there. Division amongst ourselves could prove fatal. So please, settle these childish disputes before we leave for the Valiant. Humans." That last was a mutter, under her breath, and the disgust was faintly audible.
"Well, I do beg your pardon, mi'lady," Rurik said with a mock bow. "We will try to live up to your so-much-more civilized standards." Something in the alien pilot's cooly superior attitude was pushing all his disobedience buttons, the ones that had driven his parents to distraction. "What, exactly, is this internal danger we must be so vigilant against?"
Instead of answering, Thelea rose in one fluid motion. "If you will excuse me, I have a great deal to do before we leave. Please, settle your petty differences before tomorrow. We have a great deal ahead." She stalked out the door with only a brief nod to T'Grath.
"By the Core, but she's a stony one," Giriad said. "I hope she flies better than most of her kind. I'm not looking forward to having some alien back me up. I hope she doesn't get in the way."
"Don't worry about Thelea getting in your way," T'Grath said darkly. "Worry about getting in hers."
Rurik looked to where the alien pilot had disappeared out into the corridor. Getting into Thelea's way did seem a dangerous move, and it was one he intended to avoid. For now.
Thelea kept her eyes focused on the ground ahead of her. She had long ago learned that the humans were disturbed by the glowing red, and so she did her best to avoid looking at them. Now she did not think of it, nor did she hear the ringing of her boots on the metal walkway.
Thrawn's fleet. She would be serving in Thrawn's fleet.
Logically, she knew she would not meet the Vice Admiral. He was far to important a person, even in this human Empire, to pay any notice to a girl who was, after all, tal Kyrn. She shuddered at the thought of trying to explain that epithet to the human, Caelin. She shook her head grimly. He radiated a smug confidence that irked her to the marrow of her being. How could he understand that it meant she was a no one, no House, no betrothal, no name? But something about the black-haired human had piqued her interest. Not his skill as a pilot, though he was undoubtedly gifted. She'd seen better. But the way Giriad and Varens treated him, as though he were less than they, because of his homeworld. That she could understand.
But Thrawn was a different matter entirely. Despite the fact that working for the insignificant human Empire lowered one's status, his intellect was still considered one of the highest of his House. It was said there were even some who still swore fealty to him, even in his exile, that somewhere there was a home guard loyal to him. If he had only obeyed the High Families' edicts, he could have been first among them all. Instead he had chosen disobedience and exile, and now served the human Empire, a humiliating demotion for one of such promise.
Then again, she rationalized, if one like him had decided to leave, one with such an intellect, something must be out here. And perhaps now she would have a chance to ask him. Perhaps he could tell her something even more important. It was a slim hope, but he was so much older, a full adult in their long-lived race. Maybe he knew the answer she needed to find.
The names of her parents.
She was mulling this over when the hand fell on her arm. She came to an abrupt halt and rounded on the intruder into her thoughts, but realized at once that the aura of this person was both familiar and overpowering. She looked into the cowl of a hood at a pair of blazing ice eyes, all that was ever visible of this person. "What is it?"
He clenched down on her arm, but she didn't flinch. "Your mission is a cover," he said in a harsh whisper. "Be sure to check the contents of the cargo carriers before firing. Someone is slipping the new TIE technology to the Rebels, and must be stopped! Save that container, and call for backup. A troop transport will arrive to deal with the contraband." His grip dug in painfully, but she did not change expression. "In the name of the Emperor. Sucess!" He released her and melted back into the shadows.
Thelea considered these instructions as she continued to her quarters. Orders from the Inner Circle were always mysterious but clear. She had to obey. If she didn't. . .she shuddered, and pushed the memory far back into her mind. When she had been a lone recon pilot, it had been easy. Now, thinking of the jaded L'Grath, the gung-ho and arrogant Giriad, and Caelin's irritating lack of respect, she knew it would be much harder. And if one of them was a plant, an enemy, it could be deadly. She had to be cautious. Both her private missions were more in jeopardy than ever.