Rescue the Farmboy: Liberation title image

Chapter Twenty-One

Davish Krail, nicknamed Pops by virtue of being the oldest member of the Gold Squadron, brought his Y-Wing into the attack formation flying even with Gold Two and close behind Gold Leader. If their luck held, all three of them would drop proton torpedoes and at least one of them would go down the shaft to the reactor.

Jon Vander’s voice came over the comm. He was young for a captain, but was already a quadruple ace and survived the Battle of Scarif. “Red Leader, this is Gold Leader. We’re starting our attack run.”

“I copy, Gold Leader. Move into position,” Red Leader said from the strafing runs the Red Squadron were making across the surface of this battle station.

The three Y-wings swooped as one closer to the surface. “The exhaust port is marked and locked in!” They dodged the green laser bolts from a surface armament and descended into the trench. Laser bolts continued to fire from the armaments ahead. “Switch all power to front deflector screens.” An XX-9 heavy turbolaser on the bottom surface of the trench continued firing at them. “How many guns do you think, Gold Five?”

“I’d say about twenty guns,” Pops said tersely. The flyboys in Red Squadron needed this information, just in case. So did the base if they wanted to make a training simulation out of it someday. “Some on the surface, some on the towers.”

The forward deflector screens at double strength kept the laser bolts from landing directly in their cockpits. “Switch to targeting computer,” Gold Leader ordered.

Pops threw the switch that brought the targeting computer screen directly in front of his face. The trench was reduced to a grid of yellow lines with red lines traveling down the screen that marked the ship’s progress.

“Computer’s locked,” Gold Two said. Dex Tiree was younger than Vander, but he survived the Battle of Scarif with them. Suddenly the laser bolts stopped firing completely. “The guns… they’ve stopped!”

There was only one reason why the Imps and their programmed turbolaser batteries would stop firing at enemy ships. Pops glanced over his shoulder. “Stabilize your rear deflectors. Watch for enemy fighters.”

“They’re coming in! Three marks at two ten.”

Pops shifted his deflector screens while Gold Leader pointed out the direction of the TIEs. The center one was a model he hadn’t seen before with angled solar arrays. They moved as one unit as they dove almost vertically into the trench and came up behind the Y-Wings. And they were fast. The center one locked onto Gold Two and fired before Tiree had a chance to adjust his screens. The third Y-Wing vanished in a fireball. Pops increased his speed to stay close behind Gold Leader. Vander had picked this close formation and he would stick with it. It worked well enough at the Battle of Scarif.

Vander’s voice sounded panicked over the comm. “I can’t maneuver!”

“Stay on target,” Pops intoned. They’d only get one shot at the target shaft. He wasn’t locked onto it.

“We’re too close!”

“Stay on target.” Pops repeated his mantra.

“Loosen up!” Gold Leader tried to give his panicked yell the tone of an order, but it didn’t matter as the laser bolts from the TIE fighter streaked past Pops and scored a direct hit. Gold Leader was gone.

Pops climbed out of the trench and the TIE fighters followed him. “Gold Five to Red Leader. Lost Tiree, lost Dutch.”

“I copy, Gold Five,” Red Leader said.

“They came from behind—” The laser bolts struck home and the explosion took away any other warnings he could have given them.

General Moradmin Bast frowned at the analysis projecting the Rebels’ intentions with their attack. Lord Vader’s TIE Advanced fighter had wiped out three snub-fighters in the Meridian Trench near the Death Star’s north pole. The analysts hypothesized the Rebels were trying to set off a chain reaction in the reactor core. They wouldn’t succeed, but Bast would be less nervous if they had paused to retrofit Erso’s reactor core design with anything more stable. It hadn’t been his call and neither was this one.

He straightened over his console in the office he shared with High General Tagge. Damn that he had left to investigate a potential Rebel base several sectors away before they realized there were Rebels aboard the Death Star. Because Bast had to bring this potential risk up to the Grand Moff, and it would be nice to have support from someone else in command who was clear sighted over the threat the Rebels could be.

No time to dawdle now. He stepped out of the Army Operations Office and looked over the dark main room of the Overbridge. Grand Moff Tarkin stood in front of his command station staring at the main viewscreen that showed the gas giant Yavin formed by red lines so the battle station’s target represented by green lines was visible behind it, moving closer to Yavin’s edge.

Bast walked up to his senior officer’s shoulder, and spoke in a low tone to not alarm any of the other officers and technicians on the bridge. “We’ve analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?”

Tarkin turned his head to look at the younger man. He didn’t bother to lower his voice. “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!” He turned back to the viewscreen.

The tracking technician spoke over the comm for the entire bridge to hear. “Rebel base, three minutes and closing.”

Bast nodded sharply, even though Grand Moff wasn’t looking at him, and turned back to Tagge’s command station. He could monitor the battle and the on-going analysis from here and not miss the ultimate destruction of the Rebel Alliance. The Grand Moff was mostly likely right, he told his lingering doubt. There was no way the Rebel snub-fighters could exploit a weakness in three minutes. Not with Lord Vader shooting them to components. No one could beat his talent at piloting.

Garven Dreis glanced over his shoulders. His wingmen Red Ten and Red Eleven were in position with him. “Red boys, this is Red Leader. Rendezvous at mark six point one.”

General Dodonna’s voice filled the comm over the assents of his surviving pilots. “Red Leader, this is Base One. Keep half your group out of range for the next run.”

“Copy, Base One. Red Five, Two, and Three, hold up here and wait for my signal to start your run.” The three young pilots with the highest simulator scores on the entire roster acknowledged the orders as they got their starfighters up to the northern hemisphere of the battle station. Garven led his wingmen into the trench. “This is it,” he announced over the open comms as the X-wings leveled off in the trench and the towers rained laser bolts directly at them.

“We should be able to see the target by now,” Red Ten said.

Red Eleven answered Red Ten. “The disruption down here is unbelievable. I think my instruments are off.”

Suddenly the laser fire from the tower dominating the metal ridge at the far end of the trench went silent. “Keep your eyes open for those fighters!” Red Leader ordered as he hunched over his stick.

“There’s too much interference.” Red Ten complained. “Red Five, can you see them from where you are?”

Luke’s voice was assured over the comm. “No sign of any…wait! Coming in point three five.”

“I see them.” Red Ten said grimly.

Garven ignored the interplay as he brought out his targeting computer. “I’m in range.” The readout screen showed the red lines moving in on the target exhaust port. “Target’s coming up. Just hold them off for a few seconds.”

Sweat beaded over his face. He knew the Imperial TIEs were closing in, but couldn’t concentrate on them and the target at the same time. “Almost there,” he said out loud for himself and the others listening.

The fireball behind his X-Wing lit up the cockpit and the trench, and Red Twelve’s transponder code vanished. “Better let them loose,” Red Ten said. “They’re right behind me.”

“Almost there,” Garven said, chanting it like a religious mantra.

“I can’t hold them!” Red Ten yelled before another fireball lit up the trench.

On the targeting computer’s readout screen, the red lines closed on the end of the yellow line trench and turned into crosshair angles. Garven fired two proton torpedoes and climbed out of the trench. “It’s away!” he yelled as the explosion blossomed around his X-Wing. He flew out of the fireball adding scorch marks to the hull of his snub-fighter.

“It’s a hit!” Red Nine exclaimed over the comms. His transponder signal was just now leaving the horizontal trench strafing area.

Garven checked his instruments. “Negative.” He looked back down at the surface damage on the Death Star. “Negative. It didn’t go in; it just impacted on the surface.” His instruments pinged in alarm and Garven jinked. The prototype TIE fighter from the trench hit his X-Wing with a laser bolt. It must have followed him up and out. And he hadn’t noticed. Hadn’t expected it really. The bolt had hit the upper starboard engine and an alarm flashed on his control panel. It was a critical failure cascading into an explosion.

Luke’s voice came over the comm. “Red Leader, we’re right above you. Turn to point oh-five; we’ll cover for you.”

“Stay there,” Garven ordered. “I just lost my upper starboard engine. Get set up for your attack run.”

The prototype fired again and Garven’s stick wouldn’t respond. He yelled as he tried to pull up and away from the surface. It didn’t work. He hoped he impacted with something important to the Imps. Anything really to give his boys a chance.

Leia squeezed Luke’s lightsaber, making sure that her fingers and thumb were far from the activation button. Gold Leader gone, Red Leader gone, Alderaan gone. A mountain felt like it was lodged in her throat. The air forced in here for the computers was freezing her under this thin dress. She missed the thicker weight of the Tatooine garments Biggs had given her. There was barely any wedge left between Yavin 4 and the Death Star. She looked over at Threepio. Somehow his frozen expression looked worried. Anxiety throbbed between her and everyone else in the Command Room. Her grip tightened on the weapon and she checked again that she had no chance to activate it and destroy their precious equipment.

Commander Hudsol turned from the tracking screens to the rest of High Command around the circular viewscreen table. High Command as a group all looked up at him. “Without the squadron leaders, how will they regroup?” His worried gaze snapped between General Kenobi and General Dodonna. It finally stopped on General Dodonna, probably because he had been Supreme Commander for so much longer and directly responsible for this base.

General Dodonna opened his mouth to reply, but the comm system crackled to life. Luke’s confident voice gave orders that he had no rank to be giving. “Biggs, Wedge, let’s close it up. We’re going in. We’re going in full throttle.”

All the eyes in the Command Room focused on General Kenobi, who had a small wistful smile on his face as Wedge Antilles, the ace of all the fighter squadrons, said, “Right with you, boss.” Even Leia, whose command experience had been many lessons from the men and women in this room and from her father, knew that ‘Boss’ was a nickname reserved for the squadron leaders. She squeezed the lightsaber again, feeling something small but bright inside of her against the anxiety and fear bearing down on her. Something like hope?

“He is his father’s son when it comes to leading people,” was all the Jedi General said as the command room filled with the conversation from the last bombing run the Alliance had.

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