Helos squadron broke out of hyperspace as the Taldryan forces traded first shots with the invaders. The sea of Collective capital ships swarming Mattock Station, the fireworks of turbolasers, the outnumbered Brotherhood forces—it was a dire sight, carrying with it a sense of déjà vu for Bale. The memories of Battle Group Scargill’s recent offensive in the Caelus system flashed in his mind and he could not help but wonder if perhaps it had all been a practice run. No matter, he thought. Whatever this was, he welcomed it.
He was more than ready for round two.
“You’re grinning.” The whining voice belonged to his Rodian co-pilot, Etho Pavi, or Onecup, as Bale had taken to calling him on account of his intolerance to alcohol.
“And you look like you forgot your coonies back home, kid. Get ready.”
Onecup left the cockpit with a nod, a nervousness to his step. Bale didn’t blame him. This was his first space battle, afterall, and this one was a doozy. The kid was a real Jedi with ships and electronics, but he’d never been in a real fight. In fact, he’d never been offworld until Bale found him. You could run all the simulations you wanted—and this Rodian ran a whole lot of them—but nothing prepared you for the all-too-real chance of death, or the insurmountable odds they were now facing. The truth was that fear never truly left you. You just learned to cope with it. Bale just hoped that Onecup would survive long enough to learn that precious lesson.
As battle erupted and swarms of Collective fighters rushed the Brotherhood defense, Bale veered the Nomad towards the melee. The Aggressor-class Assault Fighter cut through the night sky, his squadron of orange Z-95 headhunters in tight formation behind him. It wasn’t a pretty sight by any stretch but then, that was not the point. No, the point was for them to draw the eye away from the pitch-black Upsilon-class shuttle flying right smack in the middle of their formation. Any sentry would have trouble catching sight of the Harbinger amidst a flock of flashy old starfighters and Bale hoped the shuttle’s state of the art tactical jammer would keep the Collective’s automated defense from spotting it in such tight formation. They dove as one into the fray, pouring through the oncoming wave of enemy fighters. Then they did the exact opposite of the other Taldryan starfighter forces and beelined for the capital ships, Lancer and all. Any commander worth his salt would have known that was a suicidal move, and Bale wondered for a moment as they drew closer if perhaps this was a mistake. It wasn’t long before they were swimming neck deep in bad guy, a rain of turbolaser hammering their shields. As another wave of fighters came at them, Bale kicked the ship to full thrusters then activated the comm.
“Onecup?” he asked.
“Copy,” the Rodian responded.
“Like we practiced. Disengage in three, two…”
The Nomad appeared to come apart mid-flight, splitting in two beneath the ship’s forward pincers. The top part, the assault fighter, swerved up with Bale onboard whooping and gunning, while Onecup and the Pathfinder tore away from the hard dock with a roll, belching turbolasers at oncoming Collective fighters. Together the two ships exploded through the ball of fire that were their enemies. Helos squadron fanned out besides forming a blade ready to cut a swathe through the enemy forces.
Soon, the announcement came. Erinyes said over the clan-wide frequency, “Mattock station is clear for launch. Transports are a go. Let’s get these people off the station. Protect the transports.”
That’s our cue.
“Harbinger, do you copy?” Bale said after flipping the comm frequency.
“Shure thing, boshman!” A female voice broke through the speaker with an overeager slur. Bale grinned. The Harbinger’s pilot at her finest. “One secon—”
“We hear you,” General Zen’trula’s no-nonsense baritone interrupted the pilot.
“Got the word. Ready, old man?” asked Bale.
“All wings report in,” Bale demanded over the squadron-wide channel.
The reports came through one by one. “Helos Two, standing by.”
“Helos Nine, standing by,” confirmed another. Others followed.
“Hold tight!” All surviving ships accounted for, Bale brought the Nomad swerving in a tight arc. The squadron veered straight for the Durga, the Dreadnaught filling up the entirety of the Nomad’s cockpit window. Bale let out a whistle. “Alright, boys and girls. We’re going all in. We gotta make them think we mean business.”
Turns out they didn’t have to do all that much to get their attention. The barrage of cannon fire that greeted them told Bale the enemy was taking them seriously. Too seriously. Helos squadron took serious damage. Three of them were blown to smithereens mere moments into the engagement. Several shots rocked the Nomad tearing away at its shields. The onslaught was so intense that even the Harbinger was forced into defensive maneuvers. Onecup and the Pathfinder seemed to have the easiest time of all despite the ship’s poor maneuvering capabilities. The boy was good.
One head-on hit shorted the Nomad’s shields. Bale let out a long hiss through grinding teeth. He squirmed in his seat, suddenly feeling terribly hot. The beads of sweat rolling down the back of his neck felt terribly cold by comparison. He couldn’t take many more hits before he was carbonized.
“We need to pull out!” Onecup screamed through the comm, his voice terribly shrill.
“Almost there,” Bale said.
A turbolaser tore through a Z-95 as it cut across Bale’s vision. Bale swore.
There was a crack of thunder that rocked the Nomad and a great big shadow swept over Bale. The Spear, the battle team’s Marauder-class corvette, dropped out of hyperspace above the Durga with impeccable timing, firing a volley into the Durga’s flank. All fire turned for the corvette. Just as Zentru’la had planned.
“Helos, fall back! Your turn, old man!”