The swearing coming over the encrypted channel made even the seasoned pilots blush, an inventive collection of at least seven or eight languages, including a suspiciously Ssi-Ruuk hiss, spilling into the demi-squadrons cockpits and helmet feeds. A wash of crackling static cut the diatribe short, the characteristic distortion pattern of military grade jamming.
The six X-Wings, a motley collection of scarred and battered relics for the most part, had fallen from hyperspace like a pack of Jawas - or rather they had been ripped from hyperspace, the force of the reversion snapping all six pilots back into their grav couches. Pell had reacted first, his instincts kicking his fighter into a tight evasive pattern as his left hand gunned the fighter's main engines up to flank speed. Selecting a more rustic line-of-sight comms channel he activated his transmission circuits.
"All fighters, scatter and reform by pairs - check your proximity sensors and call out contacts!" The Admiral's voice was tense, mentally suppressing the excitement and simple joy of combat, even as a fresh rush of adrenaline threatened to take control of his better judgement.
"I see it, sensors are scrambled but I've got visuals on an interdictor, 4km astern at mark... 130." The reply sounded distant, akin to a muffled voice in the next room due to the channel in use. From the accent Pell recognised the voice as his own wingman, a Corellian flight leader on loan from the Immortal. His X-wing had stayed tight astern as Pell completed his evasive flight pattern - an impressive display of his skill.
"I can't see it, coming around - all fighters, hold back and watch out for the fighters, looks like they knew we were coming!" Pell threw his head back, relying on his eyes rather than sensors but unable to see the Interdictor he now knew to be sat dangerously close.
He cursed, to himself this time, evaluating what had happened in the last ten seconds since their carefully planned initiating attack had gone so terribly wrong. The scratch squadron had divided, the second group of fighters planning to arrive at a 4 minute interval in support of the initial force. Their MC80 - nicknamed Rebellion's Relic by one of Pell's flight members - remaining out of the fight for this early engagement in what had been a carefully planned exercise. Clearly the Warrior had gotten wind of the 'surprise' exercise, reacting quickly to place a picket along the most likely threat vector.
He laughed at the thought of their demi-squadron as a threat in this context - they were lucky to have been dragged out at the very fringe of the Interdictor's range, close enough to the edge of its gravity well to turn tail and flee back to the safety of lightspeed. Not exactly the start to the exercise that they had all assumed - a timely lesson for the TC command staff, perhaps, that the enemy rarely acted as you expected them to do.
"Fighters - same vector and closing fast." His wingman's distinctive accent broke through his thoughts, Pell finding them himself a few seconds later as both X-wings turned to port. It looked like a full squadron of TIE interceptors, although even at 4km they were difficult to spot as more than suggestions of menacing dagger shaped foils as light played off their durasteel panels. Another, bulkier vessel looked to be charging in their wake...
"Be advised there's a Skipray in there as well, watch out for missile locks and ions - we're not going to achieve anything here. Flights 2 and 3 head for home, stop the rest of the squad and the Relic from jumping into this mess - if the Warrior saw this coming then they'll be ready for us to charge in all guns blazing." Pell triggered his comms, a quick series of taps a non-verbal signal for his wingman to follow his lead.
Redistributing available power to his frontal deflectors he pulled back on the throttles, slowing the closure rate and giving him a heartbeat to pick his target from the onrushing horde. Stuttering pairs of pale red laser energy speared towards the TIEs, joined by those of his wingman, stitching a searing pattern of light into the oncoming. Equally pale beams of emerald energy pulsed back, almost hesitantly as the pilots noted the low output of their weapons. Pell smiled, enjoying a momentary triumph at their confusion - but to their credit they resumed their blistering fire quickly, veteran instincts keeping their fingers locked onto firing studs. The blaring countdown in his ear continued to fall, his shields losing simulated energy with every impact. A harsh tone signalled the 'death' of his wingman, while his own shield counter hit zero, the tone changing to register simulated hull and system damage.
His cockpit lights dimmed and the stick went dead in his hands. The tone was now a flat and insistent pulse, becoming silent as he muted the alarms. He was pleased to note that, as the TIEs and the lumbering Skipray flashed past in pursuit of his squadron, a trio of TIEs were equally lifeless - drifting with the last of their momentum, cockpits dark. An awkward silence ensued, 30 seconds passing before the pursuing fighters returned to his line of sight, sweeping back to their mothership - the Interdictor sat much as it has been around 2 minutes previously, guns silent, gravity well generators and jammers active. The Skipray rolled into sight, settling alongside his fighter at close range and opening ac broadband comms signal with a stuttering crackle of electronic backwash.
* * * * *
The Interdictor's commander completed his report, the holographic projector shutting down as the signal was terminated with a last lingering shot of a pair of X-Wings jumping to lightspeed. The comms station fell silent, giving way to the background noise of the Warrior's bridge, almost mechanical in its precision and quiet industry. The Commodore, his insignia still fresh and bright, turned to the gathered Wing and Squadron Commanders, a confident expression on his face.
"Our intel was correct, it looks like they pulled the exercise forwards by a month and tried to pull a fast one. The engineering officers are spitting feathers over the embedded safety programmes - I think they're more embarrassed than anything else that command managed to effectively hack our entire combat system without being noticed." He paused for breath, noting the attentive gazes of his subordinates, seasoned veterans all. They'd survived war, conflict and struggle - as well as countless exercises. If they were surprised by the format of this one then they weren't showing it...he resolved to do the same.
"We can expect an initial announcement and mission conditions soon I expect, but they clearly thought they could catch us off guard - well done to all of you. I'm pulling our escorts in close, we'll jump to a new RV in 8 minutes. Expect that they're aware of our previous flight plans and routines, we'll change them all and ensure they don't catch us napping. Any questions?". The assembled officers glanced at one another, none making a sound.
"In that case, ready your squadrons - reports to the General here as soon as possible, let's make sure we can put every fighter in the void until we know just what their plan for us is. Dismissed." His officers straightened at the command, turning smartly to starboard and falling out - moving away in a loose group towards the main turbolift, beyond the watchful naval troopers standing sentry. The Wing Commander hesitated for a moment, seemingly ready to make a point, but turned to follow them after a moment's pause.
"The game's afoot, I just hope we're ready." He spoke quietly, almost inaudibly - catching the eye of the comms technicians around him he resumed his previous expression of confidence, throwing them a winning smile. Turning on his heel he paced back to the forefront of the bridge, gloved hands clasped behind his back and every bit the Imperial Admiral. Gazing through the armoured transparisteel viewports, he lost himself in thought. Knowing better than to interfere, his Flag Captain ushered the other bridge officers away before they could report the ship's readiness, leaving the Admiral in silent reflection as the stars streaked and the Warrior accelerated into hyperspace.