A New Dawn

The stars hung motionless in space, glittering like jewels in the darkness.

Commander Dante "Stryker" Mitchell sat in the observation lounge of the ISD Merciless. As his eyes wandered among the stars outside, his mind slowly traced back to the last time he had been on board a starship...

The ensignís boots thudded on the metal plating of the bridge as he approached.

"Captain Mitchell?" he queried, "Weíve arrived at Caliban Prime and have just entered its atmosphere."

"Very well," responded the captain, "Ensign Halloway, get the crews to their fighters. We have a planet to subdue. Commander Karpov, you have the bridge."

Mitchell briskly strode off the bridge to the waiting turbolift. As he stood inside waiting for it to deliver him to the flight deck, he went over the briefing he had received via holonet from Grand Moff Dakhon.

"Captain, you are to take the Rand Ecliptic to Caliban Prime - the native people there are resisting Imperial rule. I want you to launch a magnum spread, and eliminate all resistance. I am transmitting the co-ordinates of several known missile silos and air bases. These are to be your primary targets. Any other targets are to be considered secondary - at your discretion, of course. But above all, you MUST destroy the structures located at these co-ordinates, or Caliban may well be lost to us."

The turbolift doors whisked open, interrupting Mitchell from his musings. Stepping out onto the flight deck, he surveyed the 60 pilots who made up the Evaders, the wing stationed aboard the Rand Ecliptic. Moving to the flight deck comm unit, he keyed it on, took the microphone into his hand and began to walk down the deck to his waiting bomber.

"Evaders, this is the Captain speaking. We have arrived here at Caliban Prime to correct a potentially dangerous situation. The native people of Caliban Prime have forcefully resisted Imperial rule, and itís our job to pacify them. Each of your flights has a specific co-ordinate to hit. It is imperative that you destroy your target - even if the cost is your own life. I have faith in all of you and your abilities - donít let me down. Now letís go win the Empire a planet."

Reaching his bomber, Mitchell handed the microphone to one of the waiting techs who were performing last-minute diagnostics. He then pulled on his flightsuit and helmet, and slowly climbed into his cockpit. Getting the thumbs-up from the techs, Mitchell keyed his helmet communicator, "Rand Ecliptic, this is Evader Leader, requesting clearance."

The steady voice of Commander Karpov responded in short, clipped phrases; "Evader Leader, this is Rand Ecliptic. You are cleared for launch."

Mitchell relaxed into his chair as he felt the familiar lurch of the crane picking up his TIE Bomber, then slowly moving him to the waiting hangar bay. And then, all of a sudden, his gut clenched as he was dropped down through the repulsor fields, and out into the blue sky of Caliban Prime.

Activating his engines, Mitchell keyed his communicator again.

"Lead flight, call in."

Lieutenant Faust Martenís heavily slurred voice was first to respond, "Evader 2, standing by."

Next to call in was Sub-Lieutenant Maarten Vandervecken, "Evader 3, standing by."

And last came the bright and cheery voice of Sub-Lieutenant Biggs Darklighter, "Evader 4, standing by."

"Right boys, you up for this?" asked Mitchell.

As always, Darklighter was ready with a quick response: "Captain, let me at those rebels...Iím just a shooting star that canít be stopped."

Mitchell smiled grimly to himself as he keyed in the assigned co-ordinates. Come Hell or high water, the Rand Eclipticís orders would be carried out.

As they neared the structure at the assigned co-ordinates, Mitchell began to issue his orders to the flight, "Right boys, Iím in first to scope it out. 2, gimme some cover. 3 and 4, take the feed from my sensors and let it fly." Hearing assent from all three of the pilots behind him, Mitchell began his descent towards the ground installation. His eyes warily scanned the ground for any signs of defense mechanisms, but found none. Keeping one eye on the quickly nearing ground, he glanced down at his sensor panel...still nothing.

Completing his pass, he keyed his comlink, "Ok 3 and 4, looks clean. You have your orders."

At this, Darklighterís voice broke in again, "Captain, if Iím reading this right...that isnít a military installation at all! There arenít any fortifications, no defenses - nothing! This is wrong, Captain."

"Darklighter, youíre out of line!" snapped Mitchell. "You have your orders, now carry them out!"

"Sorry Captain. Iíve been with you for a while...but I canít do this."

Mitchell turned and looked behind him to see Biggsí TIE Bomber slowly beginning to climb back to the higher altitudes again. He swore, then flipped on his comlink again: "Ok Darklighter, get your butt back to the ship, Iíll speak to you when I get back. Evader 2, with me. We have a job to do."

Pulling his ship into a tight loop, Mitchell guided it over the installation and punched the button to release his payload, then turned his back on the installation and headed back for home.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mitchell had his helmet off long before the hatch to his bomber opened. He quickly slid down the ladder and tossed the bulky helmet to a waiting tech, then walked straight to the tall pilot, brown-haired pilot standing to the side.

"Darklighter, what the hell was that? You had your orders, why didnít you carry them out?"

"Sir, Iím telling you that was a civilian building! Youíve just killed innocent people!"

"Dammit Darklighter! I donít care if that was the most holy shrine on all of Caliban! We had orders, and you DELIBERATELY disobeyed them. Iím sorry Biggs. I have no choice but to place you under arrest. Youíll stand for court-martial when we get back to base."

"But Captain, Iím telling you - "

"Orders are orders, Darklighter. Iím sorry. I truly am..." For a moment, Mitchell looked Biggs straight in the eye and tried to communicate to him, silently, how difficult this truly was. "You were a good pilot. One of the best. Better than me, even. You couldíve gone far..." Here Mitchellís voice hardened, "But youíve made the worst move you could possibly have made. Iíll take you to the brig myself...or you can have these guards escort you, either way."

Biggs stood, proudly defiant, looked straight back at Mitchell and said, "Iíll go with you - but thanks for the offer anyways."

* * * * * * * * * *

Mitchell sighed as he paced on the bridge of the Rand Ecliptic. He had informed the Grand Moff of the success of their mission, but not of Biggsí refusal to obey his orders. Mitchell couldnít stand to see such talent wasted, and so, had decided to drop Biggs off at a nearby trading post, and then tell the Grand Moff that he had gone AWOL at Caliban Prime. Behind him, he heard the whisk of the turbolift doors, and turned to see Biggs walking towards him, flanked by Commanders Karpov and Alighiera. For a moment, they all stared at one another. Then Biggs spoke:

"Captain, Iím sorry...but Iíve gotten these two to review the data tapes of our flight...and they both agreed. We didnít bomb a military building. We destroyed a hospital. Commander Karpovís done an analysis...we killed over 1,000 sick people, Captain. How does that make you feel?"

Mitchell felt tears well up in his eyes as he considered the implications of what Darklighter had said, but he forced them down. "What I feel doesnít matter, Darklighter. We had our orders. And we carried them out. Thatís all that matters."

"Is it, Captain? Is it really?"

For another long moment, no-one said anything. Then Biggs spoke again.

"Captain, Alighiera told me what you were planning to do with me...and I know I owe you a lot anyways. So weíre going to put you in a lifeboat with plenty of food to keep you alive until you can be rescued."

Mitchell just stared back at the three men opposite him. Commander Karpov stepped forward and slowly removed Mitchellís blaster from its holster. He then saluted briskly, turned and walked away. Commander Alighiera followed him, leaving Biggs and Mitchell standing at the bridge.

"Come on Captain, Iíll take you to the lifeboat."

Mitchell woodenly followed Biggs down to the lifeboats. At the airlock, Biggs paused and turned to him: "Well Captain, Iím sorry to have to do this. But you must know by now that what you did...was wrong."

"Wrong? Was it really Biggs? I was following orders. What about you? Following some moral principles? Biggs, those will get you in trouble. Mark my words. Who are we to decide whatís right and whatís wrong? I was maintaining order, as I saw fit. Youíre keeping order, as you see fit. I guess we wonít know which is really right...until we take the Last Jump."

"I guess so, Captain. Good luck." Here Biggs hesitantly offered his hand to his former Captain. Mitchell stared at it, then at Biggs for a pause that seemed to stretch into eternity. Then he grasped it in his own, and said, "You too."

Mitchell felt a bit of fabric pass into his hand from Biggsí. Looking down in surprise, he saw it was Biggsí Evaders patch - the familiar pattern of black and gold checks. He looked up at Biggs, who said "Keep it. Please. And remember this."

"I will, Biggs. I will." He responded sadly, then turned and proudly walked into the lifeboat, which Biggs jettisoned himself.

* * * * * * * * * *

The next few years were a blur to Mitchell. His subsequent discovery and court-martial. His assignment to garbage hauling on Deneb III. It wasnít until years later that Mitchell learned that Biggs had died in the debacle at Yavin IV, killed as the Rebels made their run at the exhaust port. Mitchell felt an indescribable sadness. He knew that, as he had predicted, Biggsí morals had finally caught up with him. Many times he looked at the patch Biggs had given him, and wondered why he didnít have it incinerated. And each time, it just didnít feel...right.

And then came Endor. And the Empire was forever changed. With the death of the Emperor, chaos and confusion reigned. And when the new Emperor arose, he came to Mitchell and asked him to resume command once more. Mitchell jumped at the chance to fly a fighter once more, and agreed. And that was how he found himself in the observation lounge of the ISD Merciless.

The insistent shaking of his shoulder brought Mitchell back to the present, to find a young ensign standing before him.

"Commander Mitchell? The Captain says itís time for Rapier Squadron to begin its patrols - weíve reached Sullust."

Standing, Mitchell pulled a small patch - a simple pattern consisting of black and gold checks - out of his uniform pocket. He looked down at it for a moment, then turned to the ensign and said, "Here - could you please see to it that this is jettisoned out into space sometime? Not incinerated, not thrown into a trash compactor - but jettisoned."

The ensign looked at the patch rather dubiously, but said, "Of course, Commander," and took the patch. He then turned and walked to the turbolift.

Mitchell turned back to the darkened lounge and looked out at the stars one last time. To himself, he murmured, "Well Biggs, your starís fallen to the ground. But now it looks like itís time for Strykerís to fly once more." He stood there for a moment, contemplating the chain of events that had brought him there. "See you on the other side, Biggs," he said - and then he turned and headed for the turbolift.