Space, a great eternal sea of darkness characterised by the occasional star or planet. It has been a symbol of hope and adventure for many, terror and foreboding for others. But for now, drifting through space near the small and cold world of Melvor, a world characterised by great rolling plains of tundra, was the Acclamator II class ship Resolve. She was an old vessel, part of the first wave of Acclamators commissioned by the Old Republic at the dawn of the Clone War and though she had been refitted several times, both to take up a more combat orientated role and to move with the times, her age was showing. Burns from glancing laser hits marred her surface and a great plate of protective armour had been crudely welded on to her top deck where a vast hole had once been ripped in her. She was over forty years old now and whilst she was once the terror of the skies now, in the year 7 ABY, she was looking very small and very fragile.
She was crewed by men who remained loyal to the Galactic Empire. A brave cadre of men who refused to recognise the legitimacy of the New Republic and who, in many cases, refused to recognise their defeat. But despite their stubbornness they were not fools. They and their commanders knew that this ship could not hope to compete in a fight against a modern vessel from the New Republic and as ancient as she was the Remnant of the Galactic Empire could not afford to just throw ships away. So vessels like this were often posted as patrol ships in safe systems or given the task of sneaking into enemy systems and attacking vulnerable merchant, supply and civilian convoys. It was not glamorous work but it helped to slow the New Republic down.
It was on one of these raiding missions that the Resolve was currently embarked. Ships like this, some of the most unimportant in the fleet, were crewed by two types of men. The senior crew tended to be experienced men, with years of combat under their belt, whilst the junior crew were made of fresh faced youths straight from training. The idea was that the experienced old men would teach the new crew all sorts of tips and tricks and thus greatly raise the standard of the new men. Also it meant the new crewmen, forced to make do with the oldest of equipment, would swiftly learn how to get the most from their technology greatly improving their efficiency when on more modern vessels.
It also meant that the senior crew had all sorts of useful skills and abilities. One of which was a skill almost any serviceman learns to pick up if they want to last more than a year, the ability to sense danger. It was like a sixth sense to some of the older dogs here and right now it was screaming at them. The Resolve had been on her mission for over a month now, she had managed to evade New Republic war ships in the area and had managed to intercept a number of unescorted convoys and was therefore responsible for the loss of over a million tonnes of cargo. The Republic was hunting the Resolve and it was only a matter of time until they were found.
The commander of the Resolve, Commander Aeron, was standing on the bridge, pensively staring out into the blackness. He saw danger now in everything but could keep calm, to show his nerves to the crew would have been a mistake. But he decided to voice his concerns to one man in particular. Lieutenant Talon Rake. Talon was one of the younger, less experienced crew but had done exceedingly well in his class and taken the top grade. This, coupled with a fierce loyalty to the Empire and always giving his utmost efforts in the discharge of his duties, had led to early promotion. But he still lacked real world experience. Commander Aeron saw the potential in this young man and had been keen to nurture it during their long mission.
Talon smartly approached the Commander and came to attention behind him. He was not a remarkable man, slightly less than six feet tall but made the best use out of every inch of it with his ridged posture. He was not particularly well built and his skin was slightly pale. He had a face like an eagle, his nose was hard and hooked, his imposing brow seemed permanently furrowed. His cheeks were slightly sunken and his jaw was sharp but his grey blue eyes seemed to stare out from their pits with an intensity that bore into your soul.
"You sent for me sir." Said the man, curtly. The Commander turned to face him, with a slowness that amplified his years and experience. The Commander was not a particularly old man, he was only in his late thirties. But a hard war and the burden of command had taken their toll. His face looked haggard well beyond his years and his brow seemed to also be permanently furrowed. But he stayed upright, he stayed smart and he stayed authoritative.
"Yes young Mr Rake I did. Tell me young sir, how many ships do you estimate we have destroyed or immobilized in the past month?"
"Forty three sir." The answer was instant and to the point. The Commander seemed momentarily impressed with his instant recall of the facts but this was Talon he was talking to, he probably had the dates of every engagement in his head as well as the munition expenditure and damage reports.
"Quite so Mr Rake. So what do you think is out there?"
"The enemy sir. They cannot stop running convoys through this region but they will be escorted now. They will also have assigned a task force to hunt us down. We can expect at least one cruiser at the centre of a loose network of spotter ships moving in a grid pattern." The commander gave a little smile at the answer, Talon was right but it could have been an answer from a text book. Had the Commander asked his second in command the question the answer would simply have been, trouble.
"Quite so Mr Rake. But where are they?" It was a question the Commander knew the man could not answer but he was going to let the lad say it himself.
"I do not know sir." At least the lad did not try to guess the answer or bluff his way out of it, the Commander could appreciate someone who admitted their ignorance. Gesturing out at the great empty void of space the commander smiled and said.
"We are squatting near the centre of their web, there is only light convoy activity near this desolate world but it is a little off the centre of the crisscrossing trade routes linking up the more important worlds in the system. It is not a place worth attacking so it will not be watched by the spotter ships but it is such an obvious place to hide that only a fool would shelter here and the New Republic knows the Empire does not put fools in command of these missions." The commander wore a sly little smile and looked at Talon, attempting to impress on him the importance of understanding the mind of the enemy, not just the strength of their ships and formations. Talon gave a nod of understanding but asked the obvious question.
"But the centre of the enemy web is the most logical place for the cruiser to be, waiting where it can most rapidly respond to a developing scenario." The commander nodded sagely, the young man was right.
"Indeed that is so young lad and the cruiser will come here just to rule out this world from the search but it will not expect to find anything. There is no place to hide here and any hyper drive jump would be detected. So instead we wait for the strength in their task force to come to us, unprepared for a fight. If we act quickly and the crew gives their utmost we may be able to disable their engines for a day or two, even an hour would be more than sufficient to allow us to make our escape from this system and the spotter ships will not dare pursue a vessel which has just immobilised a cruiser." Talon gave a single, short nod to indicate he had understood what his commander was saying. He had to learn to do what his enemy was expecting least in scenarios such as this and what the enemy was expecting least was for you to come at him at his strongest. It was a daring strategy and not one that he fully approved of but he understood the principle. Besides his approval was not required, he was an officer of the Empire and would always obey an order no matter how ill-conceived he might think it to be. But understanding the mind of the enemy was not the real lesson that the Commander was trying to teach.
No, the Commander was also trying to get Talon to appreciate the feeling of the situation. "What do you feel Lieutenant?" The question confused Talon at first and he answered inappropriately.
"I feel…fine sir." His confusion was obvious and prompted the Commander to smile, shaking his head with a gentle sigh.
"No no lieutenant, not how do you feel. What do you feel? Stay still and listen to everything around you and feel the air on the back of your hands. The crew sound different and there is a charge in the air, the feeling you get before the storm. It may sound alien to you but these techniques work and let me tell you the enemy are coming. Remember this feeling young sir, remember it well. It will save your life one day." There was a pause whilst Talon digested this information, he remained unconvinced and the look on his brow showed as much. The young officer may have been keen to learn and desperate not to seem stupid or worse yet disrespectful towards his seniors but he could not mask his disbelief. But the Commander took it all in good humour. "You will learn young sir. You will learn. But for now we must be ready for the fight. Kindly inspect the torpedo tubes."
"Yes sir!" Came the Lieutenant's smart reply. That was the type of order he knew how to follow. With a single smart and fluid motion Talon turned on his heel and marched off of the bridge like he would a parade ground. The young officer started striding through the cramped corridors of the resolve. Old vessels like this had tight enough corridors any way but the situation was made worse by the piles of coil, piping and wires stacked in the halls. A ship this old was permanently being repaired and as soon as one system was restored another one would fail. Thankfully the crew managed to keep all the essential systems running but there was no denying that this ship was well past her best. Men came to attention as he passed by, respectful of his rank. Just because the ship was falling apart was no reason to let discipline crumble along with it.
When he reached the torpedo room in the forward lower decks of the ship he set about inspecting the loading mechanisms for the giant ship to ship torpedoes. Primary lighting had long ago failed in this room and the few crewmen condemned to work here had to do so in eerie red emergency lighting which did not so much banish the shadows as make them more pronounced and sinister. The torpedoes sat in their cradles menacingly, everyone was all too aware of just what they were capable of and the machines rose up to the rafters like a strange metal forest, devoid of leaves. Add to this the creaking and groaning of straining metal when the systems were placed under any kind of stress and you ended up with a very foreboding room. But Talon spent a lot of time here, everyone knew that the torpedoes would be vital in surviving any kind of encounter with a military vessel and so he was permanently checking a rechecking the systems. It was whilst he was running diagnostics on the pneumatic pistons at the base of the loading lifts that an odd chill ran over him, and the hair on the back of his hands began to stand up.