"It's a trap!"
Admiral Ackbar's words made Willow's heart skip a beat. Certainly, she'd expected the Death Star II to be heavily guarded, but how the hell did the Empire knew they were coming?
Standing on the bridge of Home One, Willow was commanding the group of techs tasked to keep the bridge 100% operational no matter the cost. And with 'group of techs', she meant herself, a purple-skinned Twi'lek, a plucky Gungan female strapped from head to toe with tools and three astromech droids buzzing around trying not to get in the way of the Mon Calamari command crew steering the ship. This bridge was Admiral Ackbar's nerve center for the battle efforts, and even though she had her doubts she was up to this task, the admiral had expressed his full confidence in her abilities.
Even though she had been serving aboard Home One for two years now, being appreciated was still something new for her. Definitely refreshing, considering how much she'd been kicked around on the Executor due the Empire's anti-female, anti-alien stance. In private, she always surmised that the Emperor must have had very few dates in lifetime.
The ship rocked as a series of proton torpedoes hit the bow. Two consoles exploded to the side of the bridge and immediately, while the injured crewmembers were being seen to, Willow sprang to action. "I4," she told one of the droids. "Transfer turbobattery control to console 23. Dak-dak, help me pop the lid. Let's get this screen blinking again. Gilba, we need spare parts here!"
"Yes, ma'am, Big Boss Willow, ma'am," Dak-dak flapped her ears in a typical Gungan manner. While R2-I4 transfered computer control, Willow popped the top of the console, while Dak-dak slid underneath it.
Willow was working mostly on auto-pilot, watching her hands do the work as if she was watching a stranger. She glanced out the viewports and saw the skeletal image of the Death Star II floating around Endor. Thank the Force that they'd gotten to that thing in time before it was finished. One such terror had been enough.
She shot a brief look at the admiral's holographic tactical display panel... Their fleet was bigger then the gathered Rebels. Forty Star Destroyers, numerous support craft and well over a thousand TIE's. Forty... Willow winced and looked out of the viewport again while working. So far, the ships were not approaching, just boxing them in, sending in the TIE's first. Green and red blaster fire in the distance lit up the blackness of space.
Tara, Willow felt nauseous when thinking about that. My Tara's out there.
It was silly, Willow knew that. Tara had gone out on missions before, and she was hardly worried then. Why was today different?
But she knew the answer to that. Everything about this battle felt wrong. The ships were there, but they weren't moving in. The shield around the Death Star II was still up. Something was so very wrong here... and she sensed that the admiral felt it too.
"Tara," she whispered when she finished her repairs and the formerly broken console was working around. "I4, transfer controls back to this console. Good work, Dak-Dak." Willow knew her work was only beginning. As the Rebellion's flagship, Home One was bound to be a primary target.
At least Tara wasn't alone out there. She was with Blue Squadron. And she had her trusty astromech with her. Willow shook her head... R3-Y5, the droid who was permanently surly. Trusty, yes. Reliable, yes... but, golly, that droid's just damn rude! Well, what do you expect? His memory hasn't been wiped since the Clone Wars!
Y5 just loved to complain... all the time and about everything. While Willow and Tara were making love for the first time, R3-Y5 rolled inside their bedroom bleeping angrily that Willow's loud moans were disturbing his recharge-cycle. Tara had a laughing fit when a blushing, mortified Willow covered herself up quickly. After that incident, they made sure that the door to their bedroom was locked.
Willow had once offered to wipe R3's memory and reprogram his personality matrix, but Tara had been horrified by that suggestion. Tara told her she considered R3 a self-thinking being and that Willow had no right to reprogram Y5's personality simply because it was not to her liking.
Tara had won R3-Y5 in a high-stakes game of Sabacc with a deep-space trader on Tatooine five years ago. Tara had literally played him under the table and when the trader bet more than he could afford, he ended up being forced to leave the cantina creditless, droidless and in his underpants.
Of course, most of those credits ended up paying for expensive gifts for twi'lek dancing girls. Han told her that Tara used to have a healthy appetite for exotic women. And, to Tara's dismay, Han Solo had only mention the words 'M'lyb twins' to make her blush redder than a Manaanian seacrab... it got even worse whenever Lando Calrissian was around... he always had the best kind of stories. Tara was always quick to add that her scoundrel days were over and was looking to settle down. Considering the women Tara had been involved with and could be involved with, Willow wondered why Tara had chosen her of all people to pursue. But she was only too happy for it.
If we'd both survive this, Willow thought wryly. Again, Home One rocked slightly, and some monitors flickered.
"Power failure!" Willow shouted. "D4, G11, get working on those conduits," she said while running to the power distribution node and started to reroute emergency power to the most essential bridge control systems and Admiral Ackbar's holographic tactical consoles until the starboard reactor would come back online. A few seconds later, the bridge was humming with life again, but Willow was still struggling to maintain it so.
At least Tara would be safe in her Y-wing. The Y-wing was known for it's adaptability. And Tara had the most customized Y-wing she had ever seen. Like an ordinary Y-wing in Rebel service, it had been stripped of its bulky surface armor and had most of its innards exposed for quick maintenance access. But, unlike a regular Y-wing, its central spar didn't mount the massive ion engines in a 90 degree angle, but at a 50 degree angle, bringing the engines closer together. For added stability, a series of four inwardly folded foils were mounted on top and bottom of the engine pods, which were also slightly longer than standard. The end result was a sleeker, faster and more maneuverable craft. The price to pay were the higher energy costs for the shields.
Tara's safe. She's safe. Safe. She has to be...
Careening through Space, Tara found herself being chased about three TIE-Interceptors. Blue Squadron had a bad run-in with the TIE's, and, despite their piloting experience, the enemy had succeeded in breaking their formation.
R3-Y5 bleeped something that was drowned out by the sound of her engines accelerating, but, knowing Y5, she was sure it wasn't flattering. She checked her instruments and found the TIE's still hot on her tail.
Come on, come and get it. Easy target... she thought and got ready. The TIE's were almost breathing down her neck... until she suddenly decelerated. Tara briefly experienced a red-out from the massive G-forces on her body, but she weathered it nicely. What she expected happened: all three faster TIE-Interceptors overshot her and ended up in front of Tara's eager turbolasers. Three explosions quickly lit the blackness of space.
Not, Tara grinned and accelerated again, headed back to her Squadron.
"This is Blue Leader. All check in," Tara called over the comm.
"Blue One," sounded over the comm. "Shipshape."
"Blue Two, spaceworthy."
"Blue A-wings, all accounted for."
"Blue Three, singed, but flying."
"Blue Four, stabilizer's loose. Otherwise fine."
"Fold down your foils, Blue Four," Tara said.
"Copy that, Blue Leader."
"Blue Five, what is it with clones and bad aiming?"
"Blue Six, super-duper."
"Blue Seven, active."
"Blue Eight. I lost my droid."
That was her group. Blue one through six, X-wings, herself, Blue Seven and Blue Eight Y-wings and accompanied by a small group of five A-wings.
"Alright," Tara called over the comm. "Target ahead. Xavier manoeuvrer," Tara announced. It would be an attack that would seem like a standard run, but while the others distracted the turbolasers, three craft would break off for a precision run.
"Blue One and Blue Five, you'll run interference. We do this by the book and we'll all come back alive. No heroics, everybody! That means you, Spike!"
"OY!" sounded over the comm. "Blue Five resents that, Blue Leader!"
"Let's dance," sounded over the comm, the eager voice coming from Blue One.
"No unnecessary risks, Dawn," Tara called. "Let's get to it!"
While rest of the squad veered to the side of the ship, Tara and her escorts dove forward. While
Ahead was their target. The Imperial Star Destroyer Tyranny had strayed too far from the main group, providing them with a perfect opportunity. Blue Squadron barrelled towards the tip of the wedge-shaped ship and, at the last moment, she and her escorts broke off. While Blue One and Blue Five kept the turbolasers busy, Tara skimmed mere feet away from the ship's hull, skirting along the ship's shields. She pulled up sharply as she came to the command tower, and launched two proton torpedoes.
The torpedoes, guided by R3-Y5 expertise, fired at point-blank range, penetrated the shields and slammed into the shield generator, disabling it entirely. Together with her escorts, Tara barreled back down towards the ship and pulled up again after passing the Star Destroyers massive engines, trying to ignore the powerful G-forces forced upon her body.
She saw that her Squadron were already picking away at the Tyranny's soft underbelly and decided to join the effort. Parting gift, she grinned inwardly and launched a single torpedo. It slammed into the now unshielded hangar-bay, completely incinerating whatever TIE's and shuttles stored in there.
"Withdraw," Tara commanded. "Head towards the Calm Reef." On her instruments, she saw that the massive Mon Calamari cruiser Calm Reef was already targeting the Tyranny. Halfway to the Calm Reef, the doomed Star Destroyer was being treated to a barrage of laser cannon fire. When Blue Squadron had reached the Calm Reef, the formally imposing Tyranny had cracked in two.
"WOOHOO!" sounded Dawn over the comm. "Eat that, bucketheads!"
"One down. Thirty-nine to go," Tara said and checked her commscreen for new orders from Admiral Ackbar. "Alright, Squadron, a group of TIE-bombers is making a run for Home One. Let's see to it they never get there."
Willow... We'll keep you safe, sweetie, Tara thought as her squadron headed towards the TIE-Bombers. The A-wings and Blue Two and Six had already engaged their fighter escorts while she and the other Y-wings were launching their attack from below. Home One was already in range... sixteen bombers to take out...
Willow looked up from her work, to keep an eye on the viewscreen. The battle outside seemed to be intensifying. At that moment, a TIE-bomber spun out of control and slammed into Home One, harmlessly into the shields. A Y-wing passed right in front of the bridge section, leaving no doubt as to who the person was who'd taken out that TIE-bomber.
Tara... Oh, baby, Willow sighed with relief after having seen this sign of life from the love of her life.
"Tara be a bom-bad pilot-lady," Dak-Dak said appreciatively.
"Blue Squadron, reporting," Tara answered the comm while hunting down a few stragglers that been driven from their main group.
"Red and Green Squadrons are pinned down by a trio of Victory-class destroyers," sounded the voice of Lando Calrissian. "Be awfully kind of you if you could help unpin them, Tara."
"Sure thing, 'general'," Tara replied with a smirk. Outside of her viewport, she could see a Corellian Corvette shattering in three large pieces.
"Hey, don't shoot the messenger," Lando replied, while Tara joined the Sundance, a Nebulon-B frigate and three Corvettes and headed towards the Victories.
Still, Tara had this nagging feeling that everything about this fight was just wrong. Why hadn't any of the bigger ships moved into the fray? Why only frigates and Victory-class destroyers? It was almost as if the larger ships didn't want to get into the way... or something at least.
At that moment, the reason became abundantly clear. A huge green blast of energy passed her, reducing the mighty Mon Calamari ship Alliance to a collection of charred space debris.
"By the Force, no..." Tara sat back in her seat and sighed heavily. Behind her Y5 bleeped angry about being shot at.
"That blast came from the Death Star!" sounded Lando over the comm. "That thing's operational!"
Tara closed her eyes. Every eve before battle for the last two years, she and Willow had made love with a passion as if it would be the last time. Last night might very well have been the last time.
It's all over... Willow felt like crying. The Rebellion... Freedom... Tara... Our love... It all ends here...
"We saw it. All craft prepare to retreat," Admiral Ackbar sighed heavily. He knew as well as Willow that with the Death Star II online, this battle was over.
"You won't get another chance at this, Admiral," Lando tried. Willow shook her head and continued working on the computer access terminal. Lando, ever the optimist, Willow thought.
"Wesa not dyin'," Dak-Dak said, more of a hopeful statement than an actual truth. "Wesa fight harder, so wesa win!"
"If only it was that easy, Dak-Dak," Willow sighed. "Even admiral Ackbar think we should retreat."
"What? Mesa worry?" Dak-Dak snorted. "No, no, no, Big Boss Willow. Wesa can still do this."
"We have no choice, General Calrissian," Ackbar said. "Our cruisers can't repel firepower of that magnitude."
"Han will have that shield down. We've got to give him more time," Lando replied.
Willow sighed heavily. "Come on, Han. Come on. Be bom-bad."
"Yousa be saying mesa bom-bads now?" Dak-Dak admonished. "That be Gungan-speak! How would yousa feel if mesa be saying yousa babbles?"
Tara and her squadron were skirting between the two armada's. Upon Lando's suggestion, Ackbar ordered all ships to move in to the large destroyer group. Though faced with tremendous opposition, the Death Star could no longer fire without destroying its own ships. The two armadas, like their sea-bound ancestors, blasted away at each other in individual point-blank confrontations. In the thick of it all Tara and her squadron were hard at work destroying individual TIE's that were making life miserable for the Rebel capital ships.
To say that this was a dangerous situation to be in was the understatement of the millenium. Dozens of turbolasers on one side, TIE's on the other and then the constant risk of being caught in the explosion whenever one of these massive ships would go up in flames.
She checked in on her squad. So far, everybody was still alive, but Blue Six, Ahita, wouldn't last much longer. Still Ahita was a good pilot and could hold her own, so Tara's main concern was Dawn. She was a young pilot, inexperienced. The rookie of Blue Squadron. Tara'd been sticking close to Dawn, taking out some TIE's that she hadn't seen or wouldn't have been able to destroy in time. Tara had promised Dawn's sister she'd keep her safe. And that was a promise she was going to keep no matter what.
A Star Destroyer exploded behind her, while the Rebel victor limped away, its read section alive with a series of minor explosions. In a final act of heroism, the Rebel cruiser managed to move in next to a second Star Destroyer before it exploded completely, taking the other ship with it. Desperation... pure desperation.
Tara reacted to late to avoid a small but sharp piece of debris. Her Y-wing groaned as it slammed against the right engine, imbedding itself into the pod. Alerts started to light up the cockpit, and Tara had to reach over for her fire extinguisher to put out a small fire from a damaged console.
Y5 complained loudly, but immediately started to regular the power-flow to keep the craft up to speed and prevent the mounting instability from blowing himself and Tara into atoms.
This was turning out to be a very, very bad day.
"The shield is down!" Ackbar shouted on all Rebel channels. "Commence attack on the Death Star's main reactor."
YES! Tara clapped her hands together once. Han, I love you! Uh, in a completely non-romantic, platonic way.
YES! Willow practically danced on the bridge. Han, I love you! Uh, well, no, cause I love Tara and I'm kinda gay, so I don't love love you, I just friendship-y love you. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate you taking down the shield, cause now me and Tara could still live through this and be together for so much longer.
"We're on our way," Lando grinned. "Red Group, Gold Group, all fighters follow me. Told you they'd do it!"
"We've got to give those fighters more time," Ackbar announced. "Concentrate all fire on that Super Star Destroyer."
"Oh, sithspit, here it comes," Willow braced herself as Home One prepared for a slow pass alongside the Executor. Before long her old ship and her new ship were duking it out, pounding turbo-lasers, missiles and torpedoes into each other's side. Willow held on the console she was working on while the entire ship rocked, feeling as if it was shaking itself apart. Looking out of the viewport, she could see both the bow of the Home One and the Executor bathed in explosions caused by targeted high-yield ordinance. Shards of metal littered space. She could only imagine the massive damage being done to both vessels.
Around her, the bridge was burning. The admiral sure wasn't making her job any easier.
"Droids, put out those fires!" Willow shouted. "Dak-Dak, get working on the computer access ports! Gi..." she started to say, but found tears forming in her eyes. Gilba lay on the floor, caught in one of the explosions. There was no doubt that he was dead.
She'd known him for a year... been standing right next to her, excited that the Death Star's shields were down and then... he was just dead. This... this isn't fair! We're winning! How... how could this have happened? This... this just isn't fair!
"Big Boss Willow!" Dak-Dak called. "Wesa mourn later! Now wesa need ta get ship workin' for bom-bad admiral!"
Tara was in trouble. She'd taken three direct hits from the Executor's turbolaser array. Though her craft was durable and strong, the damage done was substantial. In fact, her entire squadron was in bad shape.
"Dammit!" Tara shouted over the comm. "I can't take any shots at hangar B. My torpedo-tubes are clogged up!"
"Copy that, Blue Leader. We'll take care of that one," announced Blue Seven.
"Tara! Uh, I mean, Blue Leader," Dawn said. "Their bridge shields are down! Should we..."
From the corner of her eye, Tara caught an explosion at the Executor's bridge section.
"Oh..." Dawn said while the Executor started to spin out of control. "Never mind."
There was cheering on the mostly repaired bridge when the Executor collided with the Death Star and blew up like a shuttle bought at a Toydarian's Slightly Used Starship Shop. The wake of the explosion took out two smaller Star Destroyers as well. Willow watched her former ship go up in flames, but didn't feel any form of sorrow.
"Burn," she whispered softly.
"All craft," Ackbar ordered. "Fall back to a safe distance. We don't want to be near that station when it goes."
Willow hurried to Home One's hangar bay as soon as she had heard that Blue Squadron was docking. After the destruction of the Death Star and the death of the Emperor, most of the remaining Imperial fleet had retreated, leaving only a few damaged stragglers behind.
Willow winced when she saw the severe battle-damage of Tara's craft. Scorch-marks marred the otherwise fine craft and there was a large jagged gash alongside the right engine pod. There was a large blackened spot on the cockpit where a laser had penetrated the shield... If it had penetrated the Y-wing's armor, Tara would have been incinerated...
But the cockpit folded open with a bit of a shudder, and out stepped Tara. She looked very tired, sweaty and her hair was disheveled after removing her helmet.
Willow ran to her and Tara let her flow in her arms, hugging her tightly. Willow's lips met Tara's, the prelude of a deep, soul-searching kiss. Finally, Willow broke the kiss and lay her head on her lover's shoulders. "I was so scared for you," Willow whispered.
"Hey, I'm fine," Tara smiled. "I grew up in the pilot seat. Space is my element, sweetie."
"I lov... Dammit, Spike, stop staring at us!" Willow scowled.
"Oy," Spike snorted as he dismounted his X-wing. "I was just hoping for another show."
Willow something hard push against her leg. "BREEEEET!" shouted the now released R3-Y5 at Willow, causing her to jump away from Tara. Y5 continued to roll towards the oilbaths.
"That droids hates me," Willow pouted.
Tara took Willow in an embrace. "Y5 hates everybody... Well, except Spike. And you did stand in his way, sweetie."
"Hey, guys," Dawn grinned as she climbed from her X-wing. "This is big. This is, like, huge! Emperor fried, Vader burned up, Death Star gone, Imperial fleet scattered."
"No, this is bollocks," Spike grumbled. "You think these Imperial tossers are just going to roll over and surrender? No, we'll be system-hopping for years to come, and putting out brushfires for decades."
"I just heard admiral Ackbar talking to Mon Mothma on the bridge," Willow smiled. "Systems everywhere are throwing off the Imperial joke. We've won."
"Spike is right, though," Tara smiled. "But for now, lets celebrate. I for one, really could really use a bath right about now."
Willow smiled knowingly. "Home One's in shambles, but the admiral has given me and Dak-Dak some time off... and I could really use a bath too. So..."
"Can I watch?" Spike smirked.
Dawn smacked Spike in the back of the head for good measure.