Path to Glory:
Wraith Squadron

Part 2

On board the Republic Frigate 'Black Cloud', 32 hours after launch, on course for the Agamarian system…

Flight Chief Third Class Den Ogre walked into the hangar bay of the Black Cloud for the second time since transferring from the Rebel Star. Once again his face showed an expression of mild revulsion. It was quite different that what he had imagined.

The hangar deck of the RSFS Frigate had been immaculate most of the time. There was always some cadet walking around it, picking up any loose equipment, shining the polished floors. It was part of their training in discipline and regimentation. Every cadet got regular cleaning assignments there first three weeks of training. Later on, after they had progressed to a more advanced level in their training, cleaning the hangar deck was an assignment usually handed out to any cadet that had failed an exercise or gotten the lowest performance evaluation in a test flight. Since such an evaluation could lead to washing out, most cadets took the deck assignments seriously, hoping to get back into the good graces of the instructors, particularly Cracken. Either way, the only time the Rebel Star hangar deck was ever dirty was immediately before or after a mission, or during the recent unpleasantness in the Borealis system.

Here it looked like they'd just been in a firefight. The floors were stained almost black with spilt fuel, carbon scorching, and some other unidentifiable occurrences. People were scurrying around everywhere in dirty tech overalls. Astromech droids could be seen gliding from point to point, carrying various parts for the starfighters. An entire rack of proton torpedoes and concussion missiles could be seen laying open halfway across the deck, half of the warheads removed with various techs looking them over. A line of five T-65C A2 Xwings was literally in pieces. The noise of heavy machinery and loud music was almost deafening.

'Damn,' Den thought to himself. He straightened his uniform and checked to make sure that some of the filth hadn't tarnished his perfectly shined boots.

Den noticed a group of dirty techs over on the side of the hangar next to the disassembled Xwings playing what appeared to be a game of Sabacc amid a cloud of smoke. Den made sure his Flight Chief Third Class rank triangle was clearly visible on his collar as he approached the table.

"Excuse me, I'm looking for Ensign Cole Sted. Can one of you…gentlemen…tell me where I might find him," Den said in a not completely condescending tone.

Jarron and DDD looked up from the game of Sabacc that had been consuming their break time. DDD reached over and turned down the Linkin Park song that had been playing. Vuffi just smiled, not even looking up at the new comer, instead enthralled by the stroke of luck he had in his hand.

DDD looked the kid over before speaking. He knew who he was, he'd read all the files on the last minute transfers to Wraith Squadron just before the fleet had gotten underway from Mon Cal to Agamar. He hadn't had time yet to meet all of them, Scythe had taken care of the 'welcome aboard' speeches while he and Grifter had been busy getting all the equipment set up and the ships prepped.

Den's record in RSFS had been better than average. By all accounts he was one of the better cadets to have survived the recent fleet engagement. He was a competent navigator, and a good shot at range. He wasn't quite as good in a turning fight, at least according to his test scores and evaluations. Then again, he did manage to get two space-to-space kills at Borealis, one against a TIE Interceptor of all things. And there was no substitute for experience.

DDD stood up and looked Den in the eye. 'The kid really doesn't know who we are,' he thought. He considered putting a world of hurt on the FNG for the mistake, but he wasn't just any FNG. The kid, like it or not, was a combat vet now, just like the rest of them, and as such deserved a little more respect. Just a little though.

"Chief Den, do you always approach a higher ranking officer without coming to attention or saying 'sir'?" DDD chided with just a hint of ice in his voice.

Den looked at the man in the dirty tech overalls before him with a mild bit of shock. As he looked down at the table, all the other Sabacc players seemed to break into grins. One of them had the front of the work clothes unzipped, revealing a flight suit with the 131st Squadron patch on it. 'Oh frell,' he thought to himself.

Den came to attention and smartly saluted DDD. "Flight Chief Third Class Den Ogre, recently assigned as Wraith 11, reporting to ask a question sir."

DDD came to attention himself and returned Dens salute, then relaxed and offered his hand to Den. "Sub Lieutenant DDD, executive officer. Good to have you aboard Chief."

Den cautiously took DDD's hand. "Thank you sir. My mistake earlier sir, it won't happen again."

DDD thought about Den's reply. 'Interesting. No attempt at excuses, no overly emotional apologies, just a statement of fault and intent to improve. JC is training 'em well these days.'

"Very well Chief," DDD went on, "I believe you were looking for Ensign Sted."

"Yessir, the Ensign is my flight leader in the squadron, I was told he would be down here somewhere and that I should report to him immediately."

"Well, you heard right Chief. See that really dirty man in the tech overalls under the third Xwing breathing in a noxious cloud of smoke from a disgusting cigarette hanging from his foul mouth? That's Ensign Sted." DDD stepped away from Den a bit and called out. "Hey Grifter!!"

Den watched as the human the Exec had pointed to half crawled out of the access port of the lower starboard engine compartment of the Xwing. He was covered head to toe in grime. His black stained hands removed the aforementioned cigarette from his mouth and stubbed it out on a passing astromech unit, eliciting a series of angry beeps in reply. "Is it my deal already?!" Grifter shouted back as he kicked the smart mouthed droid hard in the rear.

"Nope, another 10 minutes, then you can have my chair!" DDD looked at Den again. Then he turned back to Cole. "The FNG is here!" he yelled back.

"Send him over if you would sir!" was Grifter's only reply as he began to crawl back into the Xwing.

"Thank you sir," Den said to DDD as he started walking over towards his new boss. He found himself having to move pretty fast to avoid getting run over by the collection of droids and techs moving back and forth. As he got closer, he realized that almost every single person in the utility clothes were not standard squadron techs, but actually Wraith pilots doing the work of techs. Some of them he even recognized from the indoctrination session he and his fellow replacement pilots had had with Commander Celsen. 'Strange,' he thought to himself.

"Ensign Sted, sir," Den said as he got within ten feet of Grifter. "Flight Chief.."

"Flight Chief Third Class Den Ogre," Grifter finished for him. "Recently re-assigned to 131st Covet Action Squadron. Given the position of Wraith Squadron. Second in your RSFS graduating class." Grifter popped his head out of the hyperdrive motivator housing to give Den a strange little appraising look when he said that. Then he pressed on with his recital

"Gunnery rating of excellent. Had the 13th fastest time ever in the pilot proving grounds. Rated qualified in Z-95 Headhunters, all makes and models of Xwing from T-65B A1 to T-65C A2 and some simulator time in the new D's, and over 70 flight hours in the RZ-1 Awing." Grifter gave Den another little look at that one. He then dropped down from the ladder he was standing on and walked up to Den.

"And credited with two confirmed space-to-space kills during hostile fleet action against the Galactic Empire in the Borealis system. One Kuat manned recon probe and one honest to goodness Twin Ion Engine type Imperial Interceptor. Very impressive Chief." Cole presented his soot-blackened hand to Den. "Ensign Cole 'Grifter' Sted, Third Flight Lead, Wraith 9. Welcome aboard."

Den grasped Cole's dirty hand, suppressing a grimace at the oily feel. "Thank you sir. I'd just like to say that it's a pleas…" Cole interrupted him with a wave of the hand.

"You've got a lot of catching up to do Chief, you can tell me how much you love me latter." Cole walked back to the motivator housing he was working on. "Hand me that hydro spanner."

Den reached for the tool and grimaced as he stuck his hand in another pool of dirty hydraulic fluid.

"Yea, that one. Come on Chief, we don't have all day. It won't bite."

Den shook his head as he handed Cole the tool. "I should have worn a different uniform," he said as he looked at the brand new streak of black that was smeared on his formerly pristine uniform.

"That you should have," Cole confirmed as he began to reattach the hyperdrive motivator to its coolant tank.

"I'll just go change real quick sir, be back in three minutes, " Den said as he started to turn for the crew quarters.

"No time for that Chief," Cole said. "We've got to figure out a lesson plan for you, and in the mean time you can help me realign the power couplings to the motivators."

"Sir, wouldn't it be better if one of the others helped you. After all, they're dressed for the occasion, and I know next to nothing about starfighter maintenance."

Cole grimaced. "Well then that's one of the first things we're gonna change. I got my degree in aerospace engineering; I'll talk you through it all. Everyone in Wraith is cross trained in at least basic starship maintenance" Den looked disappointed as he looked at the group playing sabacc again. Cole noticed

"They've been doing this for the last 20 hours straight. We all have. This is their first break. Each of us will get 45 minutes to grab a drink, freshen up, and join the game in shifts. Not enough time to sleep so might as well drink some stimulants and play a game. So don't look so glum. In about 20 hours you'll be able to join them." Den cracked a little smile at the 'joke', until he saw the serious expression on Grifter's face. "Ok, now go to the underside of the cargo hold and check the auxiliary power feed."

'Frell,' Den thought to himself as he stooped under the main fuselage. "It's off sir."

"Good," Cole said as he started to reconnect the power lines to the motivator. As he hooked the third high test cable to the base of the unit, a blue arc of energy busted out of the main motivator casing and nearly burnt Grifter's arm off.

"SITHSPAWN!" Grifter cried out.

"Sir, are you ok?" Den asked.

"Yea, fine, just some energy was still stored in the casing, grounded out when I hooked the last cable in." Cole looked at his singed left arm. The old scar from the piece of Awing cockpit that had lodged itself in his forearm was painfully visible underneath the seared hairs.

"Shouldn't regular tech's be doing this work sir?" Den asked

"They are. There just isn't enough to go around. We don't have quite the resources that you might be used to Mr. Ogre. We've only got half the compliment of technicians that other squadrons have, and they're all busy bring the Headhunters on the port side hangar up to speed or replacing the guidance systems on the war heads."

"Agamar has an unusually strong magnetosphere. All the solar radiation is almost completely stored and filtered through the field, making the surface very conducive to farming, but making shallow orbits a real nightmare for guidance systems. It also has the effect of artificially magnifying the gravity shadow of the planet in hyperspace. It won't effect the larger cap ships at all, but all the starfighter motivators have to be adjusted, otherwise we won't be able to jump in any closer than 2 Megaklicks to the planet."

"So why bother with the Z's at all then sir? Get those techs over here instead."

Cole looked irritated at the question. "Those Headhunters are for the Agamarians Den. They don't have many starfighters left, and even fewer pilots. Most of their resistance element are former farmers these days."

"So who's going to teach a bunch of farmers to fly starfighters?" Den amused at the concept of flying farmers.

Cole stopped hooking up the last fluidic connection and locked a hard stare right on Den. "You are, Chief Ogre."

Den's jaw dropped a few inches at that statement. Cole finished up hooking in the last lubricant lead and jumped down. "Yo! RA! Get your kinky ass over here!"

"Yo!" was the reply of one of the jumpsuit-clad people on the other side of the hangar.

As the other Wraith ran over, Den tapped Cole on the shoulder. "Ah, sir, with all do respect, I chose to serve a combat squadron, not a training squadron. If I'd wanted to teach pilots, I would have asked to stay in Bayonet."

Cole whipped around. "You really are frelling clueless about this mission aren't you Den?" Den was about to object when Cole cut him off. "What do you know about the Agamarians?" Den stammered a bit. "What do you know about the Agamarians?!" Cole repeated.

Den steadied himself against the venom in Grifter's voice. "It's a planet in the Lahara Sector of the Outer Rim Territories." Den's chest swelled a little at his prowess of knowledge of interstellar navigation.

"That's it?" Cole asked, not impressed. Den's chest deflated a little.

"Did you know it was the home of Keyan Farlander?"

"Ah, no sir."

"Did you know it was the site of an Imperial invasion, long before the rebellion was even officially organized?"


"Did you know Mon Mothma herself visited Agamar following the Ghorman Massacre?"

Den started to get frustrated by the pressing questions. "No," he said again with a gasp of air.

"Did you know that the Rebellion actually already had a base there once? Well did you?!"

"No, dammit, I didn't! No SIR! I did NOT…sir!" Den snapped.

Cole's face formed a smile that was neither funny nor friendly. "Did you know that Agamarians have a whole in their heads."

The image of people walking around with hole's in their head was enough to cause Den's emotions to do a whiplash turn from anger to mild surprise and curiosity.

"A hole? In their head? What the hell is that for?" he asked.

Cole's features seemed to relax a little. "It would seem then that you do in fact have a lot to learn. Because to lead people into battle, you should at least understand something about them." Once again Cole said something that caused Den's brain to do a 180-degree turn.

"Lead them sir?" Grifter nodded as he reached in his pocket and lit up a new cigarette.

"That's right Chief Ogre, your not only going to teach them how to fly, how to fight, your actually going to lead your own little squadron of them. Such is the nature of insurgent warfare Den, a principle mission of Wraith Squadron, in case you didn't know that." Cole gave him a hard look just then as he took another drag of his spice. "And a principle mission for this whole task force if we're going to have any hope of holding Agamar against an Imperial push to retake the planet."

"And right now, Chief Ogre, you about as fit to perform this mission as that R2 unit over there." The R2 unit in question beeped something in response, at which time Grifter flicked the last of his spice cigarette at the little droid. "Ah, shut up, no one was talking to you tin can."

Just then the person Cole had called approached them. "Chief Den Ogre, meet Ensign RoylAsasin, official 'kinkiness' officer of Wraith Squadron."

"I lubba joo too Griffypoo," RA said with a wink.

"RA, would you please make sure our FNG gets all the intelligence reports we have on Agamar? I've got exactly five minutes left to hook up the last motivator on that Xwing before I go on break."

"Sure, no problem," RoylAsasin replied.

"Thanks, I appreciate it. Also, if you could do me a favor and write him down for some simulator time on the way to the J2 office. He needs to be rated in Y's and B's. I'll make sure he gets some stick time in Imp ships tomorrow."

"Excuse me?" Den interrupted. "'FNG'?"

"Frelling New Guy," RA answered without missing a beat. Den's face became red at that.

"Thanks again RA," Cole said as RoylAsasin walked back to his Xwing. He turned and blew Grifter a little kiss with a wink as he left.

Den turned to Cole. "Ensign Sted, if I may, I understand that I come in without some of the training the rest of the Wraiths have. I understand that I haven't flow with you all before, and I understand that you have doubts about my ability to carry out this mission."

Dens expression became harder. "But understand this, sir, I'm not just some wet-behind-the-ears kid fresh out of the Academy. I may not have seen as much combat as you or the others, but I've have been there. I've been in combat; I've seen friends die. I have two kills to my name, good kills. I am most certainly not an 'FNG'. And I don't believe I deserve this treatment, sir."

Cole paused at that. "Den, the fact that you are at least a combat vet is the only reason your heels are not locked together right now. If you were straight out of the academy, with no combat experience, I wouldn't even waste the time on you right now to be honest. I'd assign you to patrol status ahead of the Black Cloud, and you'd stay there, period." Cole's expression softened just a little.

"I'm giving you a shot at the real mission. More importantly, Scythe and DDD are giving you a shot. You want combat, it's with us, doing this mission, that you will find it. And like it or not, you are not prepared for this, and you've got less than three days to get prepared for something that usually takes almost a year of training. So guess what, if you don't like it, you can always sign up for that patrol."

Den considered Cole's words. After a few seconds pause, he looked back up at Cole.

"Understood, sir. Where do I start?"