Keth slid down into the cockpit of his TIE and began his pre-flight checks. Exercises were always a bore to him. Sure, he enjoyed any opportunity to fly, but a dry-fire combat event against the underwhelming pilots of the Hammer seemed like a waste of time. Year after year the pilots of the Warrior proved their superiority, and in more tangible ways than pretending to shoot one another without real consequences.
Consequences. That's what made a real pilot. Knowing that your actions could result in the death of yourself or a wingman... it heightens the senses. Made one more aware, more acute. Live or die by your choices. The true test of ones ability, and by nature, a strengthening of the Imperial forces by elimination of the weaker pilots.
Yet, there he sat, strapped in for what would certainly be a hum-drum skirmish resulting in an assured Warrior victory. All checks were complete and departure clearance received. With a sigh, he slide the throttle slowly forward and carefully guided his TIE out of the hangar. He maneuvered his way through the other TIEs as they departed the Warrior and made his way toward Theta's formation. Taking his place at the head of flight 3, he awaited the word that signaled the start of the event. Some pilots nerves were certainly on edge, wound tighter than a drum. Keth was just ready for things to be over so he could get back to firing actual lasers at well deserving, real targets. Suddenly, the communication broadcast crackled to life, though the message was not quite what was expected.
"All personnel, the exercise is cancelled. Repeat, exercise is cancelled. There has been contact! Multiple Rebel ships incoming! Turn weapons to combat settings. Defend the fleet!"
In an instant, every TIE lurched into motion. Each squadron commander directed his flights to prepare them for the new threat. In the next moment, numerous X-Wings, A-Wings, and B-Wings appeared as they decelerated from hyperspace. The Imperial squadrons each turned to intercept. The groups of fighters drew closer. Ever closer.
The darkness of space was suddenly illuminated with bright green and red slashes of energy. Small ships darted in every direction. Keth took flight three and pulled them to the edge of the skirmish, determined not to let any of the Rebel ships escape the fray and make a potential run for one of the capital ships. Suddenly, a B-Wing screamed across his view port, targeting one of his wingmen. He immediately swung around and strafed the enemy ship. His first two shots were wide, as expected, but the next three landed squarely on the hybrid fighter. It promptly changed direction. Keth followed it and took three more wild shots, landing two of them. He then noticed two other green blasts from his left land on their target. One of his wingmen were engaging his target as well. This B-Wing was taking a beating. Only a few more shots... Keth paused. His readings showed only slight shield damage to the Rebel fighter. It had taken multiple hits, yet was barely scratched! Something was amiss.
At that moment, Keth spotted an A-Wing at the edge of the battle. It was turning away. Was it running? He then noticed that it's trajectory was carrying it in the direction of the Warrior. What could a single fighter, let alone a speedy, low-firepower A-Wing, do against a Star Destroyer? Then again, an A-Wing was able to take down a Super Star Destroyer at the battle of Endor. A moment of panic gripped the Major.
Immediately Keth swung his fighter around and slammed the throttle to full. He put the A-Wing in his sights... he just needed to close within range. But wait, why wasn't the Warrior firing on the Rebel? Did it not see the ship on its scanners? Was the crew underestimating the risk? Before he could make a call to his capital ship, he realized he had closed on the A-Wing. He lined up his shot and squeezed the trigger. His view port was illuminated in green flashes as bolt after bolt of energy slung forward. Shot after shot slammed into the crafts shields, shimmering, dissipating. The A-Wing promptly swung to the right, but the Major turned with it. Another shot. Another. He peppered the agile fighter a few more times. He had decreased power to his engines to tighten his turn and keep the A-Wing in his sights. Oddly, despite connecting blast after blast, the crafts shields held strong. Three quarters intact and charging! Something was definitely wrong.
In his moment of hesitation, Keth had made a mistake. The A-Wing maneuvered deftly and was able to turn enough to escape his reticle. It was attempting to gain position. Keth reacted immediately and swung toward his enemy. As they each turned toward one another, they danced in a circle, each trying to turn tight enough to be able to line up a shot. With each revolution, the spacecraft briefly appeared at the edge of one another's view port. Keth could almost see into his rival pilot's cockpit.
Round and round they circled, each trying to gain position. Keth knew that if either of them broke off to attempt to obtain a better angle, they would achieve the opposite.
Round and round, waiting for the other pilot to make a mistake. A fatal slip up that would end this duel. But would it? Every shot the Major had taken had only minimally damaged the Rebel fighters. Was there something wrong with his TIE? Had the traitorous scum discovered a more effective shielding mechanism for their ships? How would that be possible without Imperial intelligence discovering their plans? Again he circled. Again the Rebel pilot matched his maneuver. His frustration grew. His anger welled within him. In that moment, he could hold it in no longer. He screamed in rage! A wave of force blasted out from his TIE, rippling through space. It struck the A-Wing. The Rebel craft jarred abruptly, "skidding" away from Keth's TIE. He cut his engines to low power and swung around. As he did, he noticed a jet of... gas?... emanating from the A-Wings view port. Had it been damaged? What was the condition of the rest of the fighter, then? And how had he done what he had done in the first place?
Just then, the wind screen exploded outward. There was a brief puff of condensed air, then the vacuum of space. Resting in the cockpit, Keth could see the pilot, strapped into his seat, but wearing a protective space suit, certainly still alive. Oddly, it wasn't the orange or green common to Rebel pilots. It was... black? An Imperial flight suit and helmet! What was the meaning of this? Then the comms crackled to life.
"Stand down! All pilots, stand down immediately! Cease fire and return to your ships for debriefing. This was an exercise. An aggressor pilot's safety has been compromised. The exercise is terminated. Repeat. All pilots stand down and return to your ships for debriefing."
The realization of what had occurred settled on the Major. He promptly turned his TIE around and started for the Warrior. The attack was staged. The Rebel craft had no doubt been acquired from previous missions. The pilots were certainly members of the TIE Corps. The TIE fighter's weapons had probably been fitted with a safety device to prevent any significant damage. It all made sense. The only part that Keth couldn't resolve was how he had disabled the A-Wing. All his anger had manifested itself. It had never happened before.
As a child, his father had told him about the Force, about how he was born in tune with it and how he could learn to use it. His father had taught him some things, but after he left his home, he no longer had a teacher. All he had was some pages of notes his father had given him. He studied them from time to time, but never thought too much of it... until now.
But, at this moment in time, there were more pressing matters. The Major had just damaged a captured Rebel craft and seriously endangered a fellow TIE Corps pilot. He would have to answer for his actions. That's when the call came through.
"Major Aalith, as soon as you land you are to report to the Commodore. Some of those pilots you were facing were members of the Command Staff."
"Roger" was all he could muster at that moment. As he neared the hanger, he knew he would have to provide a very colorful explanation. He only hoped it would satisfy his superiors. Anything less and he could be assured a swift and severe punishment.