Valen Narricks and Talon Squadron
Chapter II: “A Matter of Honor”
Ongoing Imperial Storyline
Summary: Valen Narricks must choose between honor and family and face an insurmountable foe, with the fate of a world hanging in the balance!
The thousand thousand worlds of the Empire stretched out into infinity, offering Lieutenant Narricks an awe-inspiring view. Any other time, Valen would be soaking it all in, basking in the light of a million stars, reveling in the feeling of total freedom that space travel had given him since he was a boy. But this time was different. He was returning home a failure, returning home to face his brother, who had always had the highest expectations for him. Returning home to his friends, who had never known any failures of their own, friends who where so secure in their wealth and family connections that any shortcomings that came up could be conveniently swept under the rug. Yet, most of his thoughts dwelt on his father. His father, the single wealthiest private citizen in the Empire.
Caleb Narricks was the founder of NarricksCorp, a propulsion design corporation that had contracts with Sienar Fleet Systems, Kuat Drive Yards, SoroSuub Systems, and myriad other shipyards. His design for a water-to-energy drive system had made him a fortune, and Caleb had raised his sons Valen and Seti to someday take the reins and run the corporation on their own.
But Valen felt a different calling. The siren song of the stars drew him to enter the Imperial Training Academy, amid much furious protests from his father. The words still stung Valen, causing him to shudder at the thought of them. Caleb had tried to pull strings, calling in old favors in an attempt to keep Valen from military service, or at least give him a cushy office job.
However, Valen proved himself at every opportunity, finishing in the top one percent of all flight cadets in every major category. His instructors raved over him, proclaiming Valen the finest example of Imperial intelligence and upbringing that they had ever had the pleasure of teaching. His haughty, condescending demeanor, developed through years of luxurious living, made him respected and feared by the other cadets. They had fallen all over themselves in trying to impress young Valen and gain his favor, but Valen knew better than to get close to any of these men. Narricks blood simply did not associate with others not of their own ilk.
Now, all of that haughtiness was gone, and Valen was coming home to face failure for the first time. The qualification exams for entrance into the 181st Squadron had been rigorous and draining on both the mind and body. Valen had done well on the written portion of the exams, but had fallen short in the combat sims. The words of his flight instructor rung in his ears: “In this day of rebellion against the Emperor, only the finest pilots will have the honor of defending the Empire and flying in the 181st Squadron. Baron Fel’s men are the best, the brightest, the shining example of Imperial perfection.”
The Best and the Brightest. Just what Valen had always considered himself, up until now.
The shuttle gently entered the atmosphere of Aaris, Valens’ home world. He could already make out the Great Cassu Sea, it’s tumultuous waves ever cresting and crashing along the shoreline of Pollet City. Soon, he could see the winding veins of water that were the canals that crisscrossed the world, and made travel on the planet possible. Ships, large and small, bobbed gently down the waterways, in the shadows of unimaginable wealth and power. Giant monuments and skyscrapers, ancient domed temples, hallowed schools of learning, everything that was the hallmark of money and prosperity was represented here on Aaris.
The Narricks family mansion sat further down one of the largest waterways, a gloriously lit castle awaiting the return of its prince. Valens’ father obviously had decided that, with his recent failure, Valen would be coming home to stay. He couldn’t wait to hear what his father would say when he was told that Valen had reenlisted.
The shuttle set down with a gentle bump and a hiss of pressurized gas. He grabbed his duffle bag, and exited the ship.
And entered a carnival.
His father had invited everyone he knew to the celebration. The finest food was being served, the best wine passed around like water. Children ran around, playing games under the tables. It all seemed so surreal.
“Welcome home, my son!” his father roared, consuming him in a great Wookiee hug. Seti was next, pumping Valens’ hand and welcoming him home. Various friends floated by, all wishing him well. Valen paid them all polite lip service, but steadily pushed through the throng until he reached the far balcony rail. He waited until the excitement around him died down, and then he closed his eyes and Breathed. Sweet, salty sea air, so alive compared to the stale, recycled air of the starbases on which he served. It was balm for the soul.
When he opened his eyes again, they fell on the face of his father, who had followed Valen to the rail.
“What is it, son? What could possibly be troubling you tonight, when you have come home to claim your inheritance?” His old face was etched with deep love, and with the conviction that he knew that what he said was the truth. Valen hated disappointing his father. He tried not to make it a habit. But tonight, tonight was time to be his own man. He inhaled deeply, asking the sea air to bolster him against the torrent that was sure to follow.
“Father, I’m not staying. I’ve joined for another five years.”
His father was stunned, a horrified look on his face. “What?!” he stammered, “What the hell is wrong with you!” Valen flinched at the response. His father only continued. “I’ve given you everything, and you repay me like this! You’ve been given every opportunity in life, and you would throw it all away for the cramped confines of a TIE Fighter? Are you mad?”
“Father,” Valen said pleadingly, “please try to understand. Piloting is as much my life as business is yours. I would willingly trade millions of credits and a cushy desk job for an uncomfortable TIE Fighter rack. It is quite simply a matter of honor. My heart lies with the stars, not with NarricksCorp. Please understand.”
Caleb spun back to face him. “Oh, I understand, alright. I understand that my son cares nothing about the future of NarrickCorp. I see that he has been brainwashed by the propaganda of the Empire, forced to fight distant worlds as they pitifully try to rebel. I understand that my son has LOST HIS MIND, and now you will understand this,” his voice frothed with menace as he drew close to his son, “You will never see a dacmat of NarricksCorp, and you are no longer welcome into this house. Grab your bag, and get out.” Caleb stormed away, pushing through the crowd and grabbing several drinks off of the serving trays along the way.
Valen turned back to the night sea, where the waters reflected the ocean of space and formed an endless tapestry of stars for as far as the eyes could see. That could’ve been worse, he thought to himself, but he couldn’t quite figure out how.
Ten minutes later, Valen was in what used to be his room, gathering the last of his possessions. When he had finished, he turned back to the door to leave, only to face the shadowy silhouette of his brother, Seti.
“What have you gotten yourself into this time, little brother?” Seti asked dryly, shaking his head.
Valen sighed deeply. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Seti,” He said. “I love you as my friend and brother, but you are just like father: a businessman. You know nothing of honor or courage or discipline. All you know is wealth and how to acquire more of it.”
Seti smiled weakly at his brother. “You’re right, of course,” he answered, “I suppose I don’t know of these strange ideas of yours, this “Honor” and “Courage”, as you call them. I have no use for them. Make no mistake, little brother, businessmen are all gangsters and thieves, and there is no honor among us.” Seti broke into a wide grin. “But, I do know my liquor, and I’ve brought you a going away present.”
He presented Valen with an ornate glass decanter filled with a rich, amber liquid. Valen uncorked it, and inhaled the warm, mellow scent.
“Alderaanian Whiskey, my brother,” Seti informed him, “The finest reserve, and the last before its’ destruction.” He produced to fluted glasses from behind his back. Taking the bottle from Valen, he poured a small amount into each glass. Seti gave his brother one of the glasses, and then raised a toast with his own.
“I salute you at our parting, brother. May you find your Honor and Courage, before someone else’s finds you.” They shared a smile, and shared their drink. The brothers embraced, and Valen went on his way.
The shuttle burst trough Aaris’ atmosphere like a bullet, heading for space. Valen again felt the freedom of space travel, but in a very different way, now. “This is my home, now,” He thought sadly. He watched the blue orb that was Aaris fall farther and farther away, dwelling on memories of family and friends.
A buzz from the comm. console broke his reveries. Valen keyed the return switch.
“What is it?”
A squeaky young voice replied: “Sir, priority signal coming in from Colony B-114. They are under attack from a pirate raiding party.”
The hair stood up on the back of Valen’s neck, old battle senses tingling through his body. He knew that Colony B-114, located on the desert world of Salazaan, was a major Imperial mining site for raw materials. The fact that pirate forces would be so bold as to directly attack an Imperial outpost told Valen that these pirates must be either crazy or stupid. What would pirates want with so many metric tons of raw material?
“Pilot, patch me in to Salazaan Defense Command.”
A moment passed as the pilot tried to comply.
“No response, sir.”
“Damn,” Valen cursed, “If they hit the command center, then that means that they are defenseless.” His mind worked quickly, trying to form a plan. “Pilot, set course for Salazaan.”
The shuttle went to full throttle, drawing the brown globe of Salazaan closer and closer. Soon, Valen could make out red and green bursts of laser fire lancing back and forth through space. The fact that there was laser fire encouraged Valen. “If there is a light fight, then that means that some pilots must’ve made it up.”
The shuttle entered Salazaar’s atmosphere on the far side, away from the battle. It raced along the surface, staying close to the ground to avoid detection from the pirate fighters. They flew antiquated Z-95 Headhunters, an outdated starfighter, but still more than capable of destroying the slower shuttle. Valen’s adrenaline spiked as the colony base came into view. Columns of smoke poured from the base, flames leapt up into the sky. The beleaguered base fought valiantly, as did the handful of TIE Fighters, which fought against the pirates. However, the base and the fighters were quickly being destroyed. The shuttle jinked its’ way through a storm of laser fire, and settled into the hangar.
Valen jumped from the shuttles’ descending jaw, only to be greeted by a tech officer wearing oil stained coveralls. His face was covered with grease and sweat. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded. Valen let his impertinence roll off of his back.
“Lieutenant Valen Narricks. I’m here to help. Who is the unit leader here?”
The tech shook his head, raising his voice to be heard over the growing din of battle. “Captain Horrf was killed in the first strafing run. A few of the remaining pilots lifted to buy us time to mount a defensive.”
Valen raised a hand, cutting off the tech officer. “Where are the TIE racks?” he asked hurriedly.
“’Fraid there’s only one TIE left in the hold, sir. Captain Horrf was cut down in the road, and his TIE isn’t prepped for launch.”
Valen pushed past the tech, moving towards the access ramp for the TIE racks. The tech shouted his protests: “Sir, it’s not prepped! Your engines could blow out, your lasers are not calibrated, and the solar collectors might crack!”
Narricks ignored the man, and dropped into the familiar confines of the fighter. Captain Horrfs’ helmet sat on the control yolk, and Valen quickly pulled it on. A holopad attached to the control panel showed a young woman, her smile beaming out to the pilot. Whether she was girlfriend or wife, Captain Horrf would never see her again. This thought haunted Valen, as he pushed the throttle up and shot clear of the hangar. He wondered just who would miss him, should he not return from this battle. He pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the battle situation. Four TIE’s buzzed around the base, engaging the Headhunters whenever they flew in for a strafing run on the base. Pirate shuttles lifted off from the colony, filled with raw materials. Valen keyed the comm switch, which had been left dialed to the proper squadron frequency by the ground crew.
“This is Lieutenant Valen Narricks, flying TIE Fighter T-114. Form up at 0141 and wait for instructions.”
A squawk of radio static made Valen wince under his helmet. A tense, strained voice came over the channel: “Pardon my saying so, sir, but we kind of have our hands full right now. If you want to help, you could start by blasting some of these fighters off my back.”
Valen throttled up, and called back to the squad. “All right, hotshot,” he said, “on my mark, break hard to port, and then form up at 0141. I’ll get them off of your tail.”
“Order acknowledged, sir,” the voice answered sarcastically. The fighter leveled out, holding a straight course while the Z-95’s guns tracked it. Tense seconds passed as the pirates’ cannons blasted closer and closer to their mark. Valen’s fighter raced forward, splitting the normally quiet Salazaar air with an unearthly howl.
Valen lined up the Headhunter, his targeting recticle bracketing the enemy fighter in yellow. “Steady… steady…”
“Call it, lead dog! I’m getting cooked here!”
The bracket went from yellow to red, and a wailing tone from the targeting computer let Valen know that he had a lock.
The TIE snapped hard to port and climbed like a missile towards Valen’s coordinates. Valen let loose with a fire-linked burst of cannon fire that dropped the fighters’ shields and blackened the engine manifold. Before the pirate could react to this turn of events, Narricks switched to single fire and reduced the fighter to scrap. He rolled up through the debris and formed up with the remaining TIE’s.
“All fighters, climb to space. Get those Headhunters to follow.”
“Lead dog, I read a pirate capital ship in low orbit. Engine signature looks like a Dreadnaught Cruiser. If we go to space, it’ll chew us up.”
Valen clenched the control yoke. “If we stay here, the Z-95’s will chew us up faster. Get them to follow you into space, and then engage. We move slower than a wet Hutt in this atmosphere, but up there we have the advantage.”
“Copy that, boss.” The sarcastic voice taunted him, but it had clearly lost its menace. Whoever was giving Valen a hard time had begun to lighten up. “Saving someone’s tail in a lightfight tends to endear you to them,” Valen thought as the five TIE’s entered space. An old Dreadnaught Cruiser had taken up position in a polar orbit, and a volley of turbolaser shots and missiles flew to greet them. The TIE’s went evasive, weaving and jinking out of harms’ way.
“All TIE’s, push it up and engage the cruiser. We’ve got to get those fighters up here and away from the base. Open fire at maximum range, and then get as close as you can. Those heavy guns can’t track that quickly, so we’ll be able to get a few shots in.”
The starfighters threw the cruiser a storm of laser fire at maximum range. Valen knew that at this range, those blasts would have about as much effect as a rock hitting an AT-AT, but he was not trying to inflict damage. He simply wanted to get their attention, and he succeeded. In response to the attack, the Dreadnaught had recalled all of her fighters, which now sped away from the surface of Salazaan. The capital ship loomed larger and larger in the octagonal viewport of Valen’s TIE. Flack rocked his ship violently, but he and the other four TIE’s continued to push forward. The cruiser, identified by the Target Acquisition System as the Rusty Cutlass, let loose with everything it had, knowing that their own fighters would never make it in time to stop the Imperials’ first run at them.
Valen drove his fighter right on top of the capital ship, lighting up with a torrent of laser fire. He managed to destroy a turbolaser battery on his first pass, and judging by the excited yells that filled the com, the others had found similar success. They raced across the surface of the cruiser, flew over its length and shot past the huge bank of engines. The huge exhaust shook the tiny fighters with engine wash as they flowered out, rolled over, and reformed for their next run. The mighty cannons could not pivot around from front to back quickly enough to engage the TIE’s, and so they had a free run at the Cutlass. Laser fire leapt from the chin-mounted cannons, destroying batteries and relay centers. As they howled past the command center, Valen swore he saw the furious faces of the pirate crew yelling unheard curses at him. Valen broke into a grin. “This rabble has already come undone, despite superior numbers and firepower,” he thought, “proving yet again the superiority of Imperial training.”
A beeping alarm broke his thought, alerting him of an incoming fighter trying to gain a lock on his craft. The Threatlock warning system had only recently been developed for the TIE Fighter, initially deemed unnecessary for the almost disposable numbers of TIE squadrons in service. Right now, Valen was glad that they had reconsidered. He dove, and a lance of red energy tore through the space that he had occupied a moment earlier. The Z-95’s had joined the party. “Now, this gets interesting.”
A signal came through the channel. “Boss, I count 23, that’s two-three fighters coming in at .07. Am also reading a new group of five fighters coming out of hyperspace at 12.0. Emission profiles look like Y-Wings.” Valen cursed. The Z-95’s came in from below, and the Y-Wings had come out ahead and slightly above their position. In the middle, the Cutlass had repositioned her guns, and was filling the space around them with laser fire. He noticed that the small raiding shuttles had lifted off from the surface, and his mind worked furiously to work out a plan before the Y’s could hit.
“TIE group, attack formation Gamma. Throttle up and hit the transports with everything you’ve got. Get as close as possible, and maybe the big guns will lay off.”
Valen gritted his teeth. “Leaving us with twenty- eight starfighters to deal with.” The TIE’s engaged the transports at point blank range, harassing the bigger ships and using them as cover from the guns of the Dreadnaught. The pirate fighters would have to come in close to engage them, and TIE Fighters where far superior to them in maneuverability and speed. A dogfight is what Valen wanted, and soon the battle was joined.
The Z-95’s came in first, their green pilots blasting away with reckless abandon. Shots flew wide past the TIE’s, some striking the transports. Valen keyed his comm. “TIE group, engage the Headhunters. Be sure to keep those transports between you and those heavy guns. Don’t let them draw you out into the open.”
A lopsided dogfight ensued, with the pirates outnumbering them almost 6 to 1. Valen dropped his sights on a group of three incoming fighters. Keeping his port side solar panel parallel with the transport limited his maneuverability, but it also eliminated a possible angle of attack for the pirates. The Headhunters picked up speed, eager for the kill. Valen grinned. “Come on, come and get it….” He exchanged laser fire with them, but didn’t deviate from his flight path. The pirates seemed confused by this, and compensated by increasing the ferocity of their attack. Their shots slammed into the transport, tearing large rivets into its hull and showering Valen’s TIE with sparks and debris. He calmly shook the blast off, and used his targeting computer to acquire the oncoming ships as targets 1 through 3. Enemy fire continued to rain down, causing more damage to the transport
At the last possible second, Valen linked his cannons and fired on the transport, destroying an engine column. In the ensuing debris cloud, Valen killed his thrust and used his maneuvering jets to roll 180 degrees to face behind his previous position. The pirates, assuming that one of their shots had found its mark and destroyed the TIE, flew right past Valen. He quickly brought up target 1, and let fly a surgical blast of laser fire that dropped the Headhunters’ shields and sliced open the transparisteel cockpit, leaving the ship to tumble away into space. Valen acquired target 2, who seemed frozen by the death of his comrade. Again, with deadly accuracy and a minimum of laser fire, Valen blasted the port wing from the target. The Z-95 limped away, trying to regain control. Narricks had no time to watch the fighters’ demise, as the third pirate opened fire on his TIE, ripping holes in his solar wing. The control yoke seemed to increase in mass, and the TIE was sluggish in Valens’ hands.
The Headhunter performed a barrel roll, twisting around to finish him off. Valen rolled his fighter in a corkscrewing dive, intent on breaking the enemies’ target lock. Several shots flared brilliantly past him, one skipping off of the fighters’ canopy. He spared a glance above, and saw a large chunk torn free from his fighter. Another couple of feet, and his head would’ve been free floating atoms orbiting Salazaar.
The pirate fighter chased him doggedly through a series of twists and turns, constantly getting off shots that Valen barely escaped. Finally, under a hail of fire, Valen was hit.
The blast shook him, slamming his head against the side of the cockpit, leaving him momentarily dazed. A quick recovery and ship diagnostic revealed that his ship had suffered irreparable damage. His starboard side wing had been blown away, and Valen was pin wheeling towards Salazaar. He fought to regain control, but all of his instruments were dead. In desperation, he fired his emergency braking jets, which slowed his fall. Valen remembered his Imperial pilot training concerning damage control and loss of power. He seemed to recall a certain scenario in which a pilot could use his ground guidance repulsorlifts as emergency control engines. He reached for the ground control lever, located under his seat. The repulsorlifts awoke, and Valen allowed himself a sigh. Now, if he could only come in at the right angle…
Salazaar loomed larger and larger, the hazy corona of its’ atmosphere feathering out into open space. Valen pulled back on the stick with all of his strength and desperation, as if doing so would yield any results. The TIE Fighter shook as it hit the planets’ outer atmosphere, spider-webbing Valens’ viewport with hairline fractures. He gave a yell of fear and frustration, and closed his eyes.
Several moments passed, and Valen cautiously opened his eyes. He slumped into his chair, relieved that his gamble had worked. Due to the angle on which Valen came in, the repulsorlifts had skipped him off of Salazaars’ atmosphere, sending him back out into space like an errant asteroid. His ship now sat dead in space, and he watched helplessly as the battle unfolded.
The Imperial pilots had taken out thirteen enemy ships, but the newly arrived Y-Wings were hitting the TIE’s hard. Bolts of blue ion cannon fire crippled TIE fighters, and lances of red energy blasted them to pieces. Valen could count only two operational TIE’s left in the conflict, both of which danced through drifting debris and laser fire to deliver blasts against the fleeing transports and fighters. They accounted for three more Z-95’s and a Y, and now engaged a dented old pirate shuttle. Twin laser blasts dropped the ships’ shields and cut into the body, shredding armored hull plating and sending the ship into a death roll.
The TIE’s broke, acquired new targets, and attacked. The lead fighter caught Valens’ attention. He knew by his swaggering flight style that the pilot must have been the same cocky voice who had been taunting him earlier. The pilot rolled and dove, twisted and turned in an intricate dance that pushed the TIE Fighters’ capabilities to the red lines. He dropped in behind a Y-Wing, letting loose with a staccato round of fire that separated one of the ships long engine columns from it’s body. The ship rolled in its death throes, but the Imperial trailed the ship down, continuing to fire. A red beam blasted the R2 unit to bits, and walked its way up to the canopy. The beam split the cockpit in half, and the Y-Wing detonated in an expanding cloud of gas.
Valen watched with fascination as the pilot rolled up through the wreckage, acquired a new target, and let loose with a volley of fire. The damaged ship fell away, and the pilot dropped in behind a Z-95 that had been trailing the other remaining TIE. A few quick shots encouraged the pirate to end his pursuit and engage this new threat. The Imperial led him on a wild path of dives and climbs that weaved them through pirate transports and fighters. Just when it seemed that the pirate had a lock, the TIE would slip away, free from harm. Valen could see the frustration build in the way that the pirate flew his craft. His movements became heavy handed and stiff, and his vision had become one tracked.
The two ships flew ever closer to Valens’ position. He wondered just why the Imperial had drawn this pirate out into the open, and then it was made clear. The Imperial fell into a stomach-dropping climb, just as a barrage of missiles flew up from the surface of Salazaar and ripped the Headhunter to shreds. The outpost ground forces had finally raised their defenses, and now a torrent of projectiles screamed into space, reducing the pirate transports to scrap. “Damn,” Valen said to himself, “that pilot is good!”
“Damn, I’m good!” Tomax Bren congratulated himself. His playing with these pirates had given the outpost enough time to raise their defenses and call for reinforcements, which should be arriving shortly. Tomax figured that he would get some sort of commendation for this, maybe a promotion. “Anything that’ll get me off this rock,” he thought with a grin.
He returned his thoughts to the battle at hand. His circular front and rear radar screens showed no signs of his accompanying TIE. “I guess Garric didn’t make it,” he thought sadly. “None of us would’ve made it if it wasn’t for that stuffy-voiced flyboy who came out of nowhere.” Tomax’s screen revealed nothing as to the whereabouts of the mystery TIE. He assumed that it had been destroyed, or fled to safety when the Y-Wings came out of hyperspace.
He turned his fighter around, ready to get back to the battle, when he saw the last pirate transport rising up from the surface. For a moment, he debated whether to dispatch this slow tug or destroy a few more fighters.
“Aw, what the hell!” Tomax powered up his guns and dove in for the kill. He let loose on the ovoid shape of the craft with a few tracking shots, taking note on his monitor of how much damage he inflicted. The transport responded strangely, focusing all shield strength to its port and starboard side holds. “Whatever they’ve got in there, they don’t want me to hit it.” Tomax grinned, and gave them a chattering round from his linked cannons. The shields fell, and a coolant tank line was severed. For a moment, instantly freezing crystals of water flowered out into space.
And then the transport erupted in the largest explosion Tomax had ever seen.
“What the Sith was in that thing?!” he yelled.
When the cloud had dissipated, Tomax took a cruise through the debris to find any clue as to why the ship exploded after such a minor injury. He scanned the hunks of twisted metal, but found no trace of any self destruct mechanism or explosives. His scanner had picked up one larger piece of wreckage, and Tomax flew in to investigate.
“Oh, stang,” he said quietly.
A flash burnt orb of metal hung in front of Tomax’s ship, almost unidentifiable. But, the vestigial remains of a solar panel and shattered viewport told him that this was in fact a TIE Fighter. He could see the lifeless form of the ships pilot, his head lolling to the side. There was a small, thready life sign.
At that moment, a full squadron of Assault Gunboats came out of hyperspace, and fired in unison at the pirate fleet. Explosions blossomed in their ranks, and the fleet jumped into the safety of hyperspace.
Tomax keyed his commlink. “Rescue 1, Rescue 1, I need some help out here.”
A calm voice replied. “T-098, what is your emergency?”
Tomax looked at the burned out remains of the TIE Fighter, and the pilot that had turned the tide of the engagement. For just a moment, Tomax let his cocky persona drop.
“We’ve got a dying hero out here.”