“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fighting-fifty-third!”
The team of fresh recruits ran past in their standard issue jogging uniforms. It was a group of Crimson Blade trainees, all girls between eighteen and twenty-four, the kind Hunter was usually all over.
“Let me guess, you thought watching the greenies get all hot and sweaty would make you feel better?”
Hunter looked up to see Jason round the base of the bleachers and come to sit next to him.
Fairleoun was a joint Gudersnipe School and Gudersnipe Crimson Blade base, used primarily as a supply depot and training facility. Three large cities nearby provided a fresh supply of people.
Join the Crimson Blade, see the Multi-Verse, meet new and interesting people, and kill them!
The terrain was flat, a contour generally un-enjoyed by Gudersnipe bases. The land was simply not strategically sound, and at the first sign of attack the base would most likely bug out. This side of the facility was where the Crimson Blade teams trained.
“You didn’t have to stay with me,” Hunter pointed out. “You could have taken a posting with one of the other ships.”
“Nah, there wouldn’t have been one available that I wanted,” Jason shrugged.
“I’m sure you could’ve found something,” Hunter insisted. “Half the captains in the western fleet would give up their left dangly bit to have you under their command, and the other half are women and wish they had left dangly bits to give up.”
Jason rolled his eyes and glared at Hunter. .
“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fighting-fifty-third!”
“You really like the ladies, don’t you?” Jason asked at length.
“I thought it would cheer me up,” Hunter sighed. “But somehow the sight of so much female flesh isn’t helping.”
“You lost your one true love,” Jason shrugged. “It’ll be a while before you’re ready open your heart again.”
“But she was more than a woman!” Hunter whined. “She was my ship! I don’t give a darn about the rank, but the ship… at least Tactical Command didn’t add insult to injury by giving her to someone else.”
“Or destroying her,” Jason replied. “I think Gailen’s orders sent you a pretty clear message: this isn’t forever.”
“He’ll lord it over me,” Hunter mused. “Promise it back if I do little things for him. Generally not a pleasant thought.”
“Not pleasant,” Jason agreed. “But look at it this way: the Saratoga’s not going anywhere. Kinda like your rank.”
Hunter glanced down at his new lieutenant’s bars and cringed.
“Just for reference,” he commented. “It really looks bad to a military tribunal if your official report begins with ‘So I said Kill them all, and let God sort them out!’
“As I understand it, that sort of thing is generally frowned upon.”
“It wasn’t just that I disobeyed orders,” Hunter admitted. “It was that I refused to provide a satisfactory reason as to why. But I couldn’t tell them, Jason! I couldn’t… but then, they understood that, and that’s probably why I didn’t get life in front of a firing squad.”
“You know,” Jason mused. “It occurs to me that as a commander, I can now give you orders.”
“I’ll just disobey them,” Hunter sighed.
“Well, they’re orders, all the same,” Jason drew a folded piece of paper from his pocket, and holding it in two fingers, passed it to Hunter.
“Orders,” Hunter snorted. He opened the paper and began reading through it, eyes crossing back and forth over the lines of text.
* * *
“Glad you’re here, Hunter,” Gailen began as Hunter entered the briefing room. “Before I bring the rest of the team, let me be clear: you may disobey these orders.”
“I was already thinkin’ about it,” Hunter snapped. “I thought missions with three percent survival rates were reserved exclusively for Crimson Blade Regulars.”
“Three percent was adjusted specifically for GS pilots,” Gailen shrugged. “Success is still zero, raised to approximately one percent if you agree to take the mission.”
“Three percent,” Hunter spat. “Three percent out of thirty pilots comes to a total loss, when rounded to the nearest whole-pilot. One percent chance of success…”
“IF you do this,” Gailen stated. “The recent incident will not have happened.”
“What?” Hunter blinked.
“The court marshal,” Gailen said. “It will be erased from your record.”
“One mission, and you undo everything?” Hunter hazarded. “You’ve got the chance to force anything you want, and you choose one mission?”
“One mission with an almost certain probability of failure,” Gailen shrugged. “I don’t expect you to survive, but in this case I believe it is a wager that must be made.”
“Condition,” Hunter said simply. “No orders. Every pilot has to volunteer.”
“Done,” Gailen nodded.
“Ok,” Hunter exhaled and turned to Jason. “Thanks for volunteering, pal.”
“I hate you,” Jason snapped.
The far doors opened and a number of admirals entered. It was a curious combination of leadership, both School and Crimson Blade commanders, as well as Alliance and coalition-marked uniforms.
Something big was up.
Gailen assumed a position at the front of the room and flipped on the viewscreen to show a picture of an over-weight, acne-riddled gentleman holding a replica katana and glaring angrily at the camera.
“This man,” he began and paused to swallow. “Does not appear to be any threat. His name is Joseph Manse. Strangely, he is the greatest single menace ever released.”
The image changed to show a familiar movie poster, and Jason let out an audible grown.
“Star Wars,” Gailen stated. “You’ve all heard of it. No more than one of an infinite number of science-fiction movies. No one is certain exactly where this particular theatrical work found its origins, but most legitimate scientists consider it gawd-awful.
“Its popularity, however, is boundless. It first appeared over a millennia ago, and the viral nature of the work has grown like a cancer. We ignored it, and to be honest the movie itself is ultimately unimportant.
“What is worrisome is the fan-base. They are some of the most virulent, obsessive nerds in the known-worlds. And this man—” The screen returned to the original fake-sword-wielder. “—Is their leader.
“He has spent the last four decades amassing support. Despite his appearance, he is quite charismatic, and through web forums and fan conventions, he has gathered an army. He has literally built an empire out of these… these fans.
“Our psychological profilers have identified Joseph as a megalomaniac and a psychopath, a dangerous man in a position of power. With that power, he has constructed every fan’s dream: a real, working movie prop, life-sized and fully authentic.”
“Wait a second,” Jason interrupted. “Do you mean to tell us that—”
Gailen clicked his controller and brought up a new screen, depicting a large sphere and several lines of tactical data.
“The only working Death Star in existence,” Gailen stated. “In mint condition.”
* * *
“The first phase of your mission, Mr. Jusenkyou,” Gailen explained. “Is to lead a reconnoiter. We know that in addition to the sphere, he has amassed a rather substantial fleet. We need to know their whereabouts, capacity, and plan of attack.”
“And you expect we’ll be able to determine this from onboard?” Hunter questioned.
“The Death Star knock-off uses a pirated version of a popular computer operating system,” Gailen replied. “The makers of said OS are quite annoyed about this rather large act of software piracy, and have cooperated by providing us with override codes. Unfortunately, the codes cannot be used to plant a virus or arm the self-destruct, all they can let us do is access their main computers and… look around a bit.”
“And how do you suggest we sneak onboard?” Hunter asked. “Shall I check with supply and requisition a corellian corvette?”
“I was thinking you’d simply exploit their weak security and just walk onboard,” Gailen said dryly. “We’ve arranged for you to take over a small transport freighter carrying fruit and grain. You’ll simply make the scheduled delivery, land in a docking bay, and proceed on foot. With any luck, you’ll be able to slip away, find a computer terminal, then download the data we need to this USB memory stick I got as a promotional giveaway.”
“Seriously?” Hunter blinked, taking hold of the small plastic component at the end of the nylon lanyard.
“Yes, well,” Gailen shrugged. “Sorry I couldn’t make it harder for you. Best of luck, hope you don’t die. Oh, and if you are tempted to rescue any princesses along the way, remember that you are under strict orders to ask if they have a friend who likes older men.”
“Ok, I’m officially creeped out,” Hunter stated. “Jason, let’s go reconnoit.”
* * *
The tiny freighter stank of fruit mold and was full of flies. How exactly they managed to avoid being sucked up and killed by the ship’s ventilation system was a mystery, but the current working theory was that the ship lacked actual life-support.
Dressed in grubby smugglers clothes and smeared with a little grease for authenticity, Hunter, Jason, and Rian crowded together in the cramped compartment and approached the vaguely menacing threat.
“It just doesn’t look like it should be that dangerous,” Rian was saying. “I mean look at it out there! Looking all giant and yonic.”
“Ok, you aren’t allowed to talk anymore,” Jason declared. “Hey, Hunter, I’m a little fuzzy, are we going to have to kill some Bothan spies on this mission?”
“Probably not,” Hunter sighed. “But, you know, maybe we can on the way back.”
The cigar-shaped freighter with it’s three long cylindrical engines alighted in one of the large hangars, and a troop of soldiers dressed in plastic armor approached.
“Hey, guys!” Hunter waved as the ramp touched the ground. “Where do you kids want this shipment of bananas and wheat germ? And while we’re here, would you like to place an order for some anti-depressesants?”
“I’m thirty-seven,” one of the soldiers replied.
“What?” Hunter blinked.
“You said ‘kids’,” the soldier growled. “I’m thirty-seven.”
“Well that’s absolutely lovely for you,” Hunter rolled his eyes. “Hey, listen, our ship’s got a few non-essential system glitches that we weren’t able to take care of, do you mind if while you’re unloading I go use your can?”
“What?” the soldier asked.
“The head,” Hunter clarified.
The soldier pulled off his mal-fitting helmet and squinted at Hunter from behind thick-rimmed glasses.
“Bathroom,” Hunter stated. “May I please use your bathroom?”
“Oh, sure,” the soldier nodded. “Just go down that hall until you reach a T junction, then take a left, then a right, then two lefts, it’s pretty clearly marked.”
“Thank you,” Hunter smiled, and started off.
“Hey! Buddy system!” Jason shouted and raced to catch up.
Once out of earshot, Jason let out an exasperated sigh and glared around.
“It’s really this easy, isn’t it?” he growled. “We just land and get out. Is it just me, or are these people all entirely too stupid to have built a ship like this?”
“Too stupid to build one, no,” Hunter shook his head, and rapped his fist against a loose plate along one of the walls. “Too stupid to build one WELL, probably. Wrecking this thing should be a piece of cake.”
They reached a computer terminal and Hunter quickly went to work while Jason kept watch.
“Those guns they were carrying,” he commented. “Looked real.”
“Real live blasters,” Hunter confirmed. “Non-projectile weapons, lasers.”
“Well, I suppose this day could be worse,” Jason sighed. “Have you got your ECM?”
“I got it right h—here!” Hunter sang with false bravado, holding up the small Electronic Countermeasure device strapped to his wrist. A simple particle scattering field was enough to render most hand-held lasers completely useless, giving Gudersnipe quite the upper hand whenever these were employed against them.
Hunter plugged in Gailen’s thumb stick and began downloading data. The stick had a small corporate logo on the side, and more on the lanyard, but it did have the advantage of looking totally innocuous. If searched, Hunter could give up the drive and have it appear as nothing out of the ordinary.
Thundering boots echoed through the metal hallways, and Hunter knew he had little time. A few quick keystrokes finished the file transfers, and the drive was out and back into his pockets just in time for the guards to surround them.
“GS punks,” a voice spoke. “I knew they’d send you, who else could bypass my security systems so quickly?”
“It might have been a little harder if your password wasn’t ‘god’,” Hunter replied confidently.
A shadowy figure, dressed in a long black robe stepped into view. His face wasn’t a hideous mask of scars, more a mildly nauseating constellation of pimples. The fact that he looked about fifty made this even more frightening, but there he was.
“So,” Hunter began conversationally. “How’s puberty?”
“Silence!” the emperor commanded. “Now tell me the Foundation’s plan of attack.”
“I can’t, you just said to be silent,” Hunter replied helpfully.
“Enough of this!” the emperor waved, turning on his heal. “Kill them both!”
The guards advanced, holding up their replica laser rifles menacingly. Hunter and Jason moved a bit closer together until their backs touched, while their arms vectored towards weapons of their own at deceptive angles.
“So,” Jason remarked. “Any of you happen to be Bothan?”