The stick is clumsy in his hands as he coasted between the leftover cosmic rocks around him. Every turn, every climb or dive, takes more and more effort as he pulls the starfighter through the paces that would be second-nature to him. Gone was the smoothness of the touchscreen controls, the snap attention of computer-assisted maneuvering and engine power. What the T-65 X-Wing lacked in responsiveness, it made up for in claustrophobic tightness.
He hated it, every second of it. If not at the ‘suggestion’ of Commander Worf and over-arching guidance from Starfleet to extend the hand of diplomacy, Lt. Ryan Cooper would have never taken the yoke of this wreck.
Perhaps the most infuriating part of all was the infernal astromech droid sitting behind him. Uncooperative, unable to predict his needs or assist his commands automatically. It just sat back there, beeping and chirping its merry tin box of a head, occasionally squealing when the Federation pilot forced the starfighter into anything that looked like a sharp turn.
The familiar sight of three Vindication-class Valkyries swopping into to form an arrowhead with him was a welcome sight. “Having fun, Lead?”
“That’s a big fat negative, Two. This thing is awful.”
To punctuate his distaste with the Republic craft, his wingman pitched over him, canopy to canopy, and slipped back into position with honed ease, “That’s too bad, Lt. I think it looks good on you.”
He could almost see her smile though the cockpit, “You’re just saying that because now you can all catch me.”
“It would seem your assessment of our allies’ capabilities is…unfavorable.” Chimed in Four, perfectly calm and logical as a Vulcan is want to do. “Yeah, you could say that. But hey, it’s good to know just how badly we’ll tear them up if it ever comes to that.”
“You think it will? The Republic seem generous and open enough,” Two posed worriedly.
He wanted to think she was right. The New Republic knew the price it took to defeat tyranny just as much as the Federation did, without the benefit of being an established power. Everything their allies had fought for, they had fought with only hope and skill. Some of them would credit “the Force”, which Ryan had a hard time understanding. No such thing as magic that can’t be explained through science…
Still, if it had to come to the worst case scenario, the Republic massively outweighed Starfleet in numbers. Even the fleet buildup to deal with the Dominion and the Borg didn’t even come to half of the Republic Navy. “I think, if they wanted something bad enough, then yeah, it wouldn’t be pretty. Time will tell who’s right or not.”
She was silent after that, at least until his main screen began to flash at him, “Signal from the Typhon. Everyone’s forming up to move on to the next sector.”
“Copy that Two, lead the way. I can’t wait to drop this thing off.”
The fighter tweaked and twitched under every touch of his fingers, jerking him around in the seat. There was no smoothness to the controls, no way to ease the Valkyrie into its paces, it simply moved. He couldn’t hear the hum of the fighter’s engines to tell him how fast he was moving, couldn’t tell his droid companion Gate to pipe up or shut up. Only the cold, unfeeling voice of the computer interface answered him, half the time telling him that his request violated some blasted safety parameters. If he spoke but a sentence, it would steal control from him and merrily carry him into an asteroid.
It wasn’t his ship, it would never be. After years behind the stick, Wedge Antilles could feel how his fighter was behaving under his graces. The sounds of the engines told him which ones were working harder and which ones were finicky. The snap of the S-foils into attack or cruise position was second nature to a lullaby from him. It’s not a snubfighter, it’s a goddamn computer console with a cannon…
The sudden appearance of three X-Wings from behind a spinning rock alarmed the computer, waring him about collision course and risks to structural integrity. But the General paid it no mind, letting his flight dash across his path, nose to nose, before looping back and boxing him in like an extra layer of shields.
“Can I say it first? That thing looks like a piece of Gamorrean trash, boss.” Wes Janson piped in first at his starboard.
“You stole my line, Three.” Hobbie Kilvian snorted, “But yeah, I don’t like that look. It…, I mean, the thing glows along the side, is all I’m saying.”
“It’s an interesting piece of engineering to be sure. But hey, being able to fire torpedoes at FTL speeds is a nice touch. Might have to talk to our crews about that one,” Wedge acknowledged.
“So, what’s the verdict, Lead? Everything you thought it would be?” posed his right-hand man, Tycho Celchu.
A question that made Wedge scowl, “Yes and no. It follows the Starfleet mindset, sure. One the one hand, this thing has a bigger loadout than even a TIE Defender, or some small gunboats. Not to mention the aft mine dispenser and tractor beam, it’s a fighter’s fighter sure.”
“But…” Tycho injected, sensing the pause in his friend’s thought.
“But it’s too complicated. Too many circuits to cross-feed, especially whatever the sith this ‘bio-neural’ circuitry is. One good shot from an ion cannon, and this thing would blow itself up in an instant.”
“Yeah, what is it with this side of Union using the anti-matter of all existence as a fuel source? At least when a squint blows up, it just blows up. It doesn’t rip a hole into another dimension or whatever…” Janson mused.
“You think they’re having as much fun with your fighter, boss?” Hobbie asked as they slowly came about to face the Mon Aurora and the end of their test flight.
“I’m not sure, Four, but Gate will tell me if they even scratch the paint.”
“You’re having him record their flight?” Tycho asked, a tinge of surprise in his voice.
“You think the Feds aren’t doing the same? I guarantee that this box is recording every move I make, right down to my disapproving head-shaking. They just love knowing everything.”
“That’s a fact, Lead. One day they’ll learn to stop being so intrusive. And they might even grow up a bit,” Hobbie responded, before the chirp of an R2 droid caught his ear. “Signal from the Aurora. The Fed carrier is getting ready to move out.”
Wedge sighed part relief, part anxiety as to the end of another show of being the New Republic’s leading ace. “Copy that. Rogue Group, form up and lock in for home.”
This is a companion piece in a way to something I did a while back, the meeting of the fighter jocks from different universes. On the one hand, when life gives you a chance to fly something new, you take it. On the other hand, your friend today could be your nemesis tomorrow…
I hope you all enjoy.