Theta's second flight circled their temporary mothership, the understrength trio of TIE Advanced flying clear of the octet of Interceptors landing onboard the Pan. The Thetan fighters continued in a loose circuit for a few more minutes, their pilots talking on internal comms while their hosts sorted themselves out.
The call to support the Pan had come at short notice, Admiral Mitchell having seemingly decided to supplement each of his three recon forces with a handful of extra fighters - eager not to bleed their strength through losses by committing heavier recon elements more able to protect themselves. The Interceptors had lost a single fighter in a skirmish with a lone 'rebel' scout, before losing another three in an encounter with a more substantial foe, an aggressor corvette lurking in grid GT18, a popular and well sheltered nexus of two subsidiary hyperspace routes. The corvette had seemingly gone down fighting, as would be expected of a minor war vessel with no fighter escort - although the after action reports had suggested she was likely there to recalculate a jump, rather than as a picket or lying in wait.
Suffice to say, the losses hadn't kept the Commodore particularly happy, but he'd recognised the need to continue a probing approach until he knew just what form their foe had taken - in the interests of keeping the exercise vaguely even he imagined it to be larger capital vessel with a support group, a parallel to the Warrior - but he hadn't shared his thoughts with Theta beyond that.
"Give them a little more time, they're a new squadron - certainly didn't expect an exercise with this level of novelty. Their Commander is... let me see... ha, want to guess?" The Flight Leader, General Jarek La'an, spoke to his two flight members.
"The way they're flying, 14?" The sardonic voice of Major Marcus Caine was readily identifiable, his dry delivery entirely in keeping with his usual sense of humour.
"I assumed we were using droids, there's actually a pilot in those things? Have we started press ganging Auroran cab fliers?" Colonel Torres sounded a lot less jovial, not entirely satisfied with the calibre of pilot covering their detachments backs. He trusted his fellow Thetans, their shared trust earned through years of combat operations, but not the green squadron they were looking after - or babysitting as he described it.
"27. Meaning he's been out of flight school for... a little over 4 years, so he's either bloody good to have gotten this far this quickly, or we're entirely desperate for pilots. Here's hoping we're not the latter." La'an quipped, before frowning at himself in a moment of introspection. "But we were all young and stupid once, that's for damned sure".
"I was never young." Caine joked in return, earning a muffled laugh from Torres and La'an over the channel.
"Theta Flight, this is Pan, we're readying for the next jump. Slave your navcomputers to our signal and prepare for a co-ordinated jump, flight time... 36 minutes. Standard sweep on arrival - your flight will disperse and secure the area while we commence sensor sweeps." The terse and frankly irritating voice of the flight controller onboard the frigate grated on La'an, but he resisted the urge to snap back.
"Understood, acknowledge your last and ready in all respects." He arched his back against the grav couch he was sat on, stretching tired muscles. They'd only just joined the frigate and it looked like they were going to be kept on the outside for at leadt 2 more grid searches, so another 3 or 4 hours - not a massive concern, but it suggested to La'an that the frigate's commander had little faith in the efficacy and alertness of his own fighters. Although with that in mind they had lost 4 of their number in the last 6 hours - if that had been a wartime loss then the squadron's morale would have been devastated, so even in exercise conditions they may well have been suffering. La'an's respect for the frigate's young commander went up a mark or two as he considered that, noting that perhaps he'd grown cynical at some point in the last 12 years - although when, exactly, he struggled to identify.
The controls in his cockpit changed, the navicomputer blinking with amber lights turning green in succession and an audible increase in his capacitors signalling the redirection of power to his ship's compact hyperdrive. Bracing himself and his tired back against the grav couch he counted to 3, gauging when his drive would engage, smiling as the stars stretched to infinite streaks right on time, before the TIE seemed to hurtle forward. The comms channel disengaged, leaving La'an alone with his thoughts for a few moments while he considered what to spend his time doing. He knew pilots who would sing, sleep or engage in well-practised routines or rituals while they were in hyperspace. He tended to enjoy a good book, although not being able to remove a flight helmet made the more traditional approach difficult. Reaching down to the small device on the belt of his flight suit he triggered the activation button, while switching on his helmet feed from the same device.
"The Decline and Fall of the Old Republic: The Clone Wars. Chapter 3: The Blockade of Naboo." His latest interest being history, it would take another... he paused to consider... 78 missions before he exhausted this particular subject. Allowing himself to relax, he simply listened.