“This is Gold Leader,” Dean’s voice commanded over the comms. “All wings report in.”
Sam listened intently as his fellow pilots ran through their call signs. He’d been quickly introduced to most of them after that morning’s briefing, though it’d been a lot of faces and names and he wasn’t able to place many of the voices just yet.
“Red Ten, standing by.”
“Red Four, standing by.”
“Red Three,” came Jo’s voice, and Sam could picture the determined set of her jaw when she spoke. “Standing by.”
He recognized Ash, speaking as Red Two, and the veteran pilot who’d spoken up in the briefing, Jody Mills, chiming in as Red Leader. Sam jumped in next.
“Red Five, standing by,” he said, his eyes scanning the familiar console before him. Everything was ready.
Benny followed him – Gold Five – and on and on it went until all forty-two Red Squadron pilots, thirteen Gold Squadron Y-Wings, and twenty Yellow and Blue Squadrons had reported in. Somewhere in the middle of all of the call signs, Sam heard a different voice that startled him enough that he flinched in his seat.
“Sam, may the Force be with you.” It sounded exactly like Castiel. Sam shook his head, positive he was hearing things, and took a deep breath to calm his nerves.
It was just a memory, he thought, and focused his attention on the real voices coming across the comms.
“Lock S-foils in attack position,” Mills ordered.
Sam flipped a few switches and made the proper adjustments on his console. The wings on his ship split apart, like the other X-Wings in front and behind him, unfolding and readying for battle. His breath hitched and his heart fluttered beneath his ribs.
“We’re about to pass through the magnetic field,” said Dean. “Everybody hold on.”
On cue, Sam’s ship shuddered and rumbled. He thought back to when he’d been on board the Impala with Bela, Bobby, and Ree, the ship getting forcibly drawn to the Death Star. They’d been helpless, sliding towards certain doom. He smiled at the memory, thinking about how far he’d come. Their small ships were bypassing the tractor beam that was meant for large vessels, and while there was quite possibly still some ‘doom’ involved, he was definitely not helpless.
“Hoo-wee,” Ash drawled and whistled low. “She’s damn gigantic!”
“I’ve never seen anything like it…” Red Seven, Sam was pretty sure, murmured in awe. She sounded as frightened of the thing as Sam had been when he’d first laid eyes on the Death Star.
“Keep it down, boys and girls,” Jo cut in, her voice all business. Sam could hear a tiny tremor there but only because he knew her so well. “Deflectors on – double front.”
“Accelerate to attack speed,” said Dean. “Squad 1, cut across the axis – hopefully you can draw their fire.”
“Copy, Gold Leader,” Mills replied.
“Squad 2, with me. Let’s make a run for that damn shaft.”
“Copy,” Benny acknowledged, as did two of his Y-Wing counterparts.
Sam followed the members of his squad diving towards the Death Star’s surface. This close up, it resembled a metallic city, all squares and angles, peppered with sparkling lights. He directed his ship low and a second later, turbo-lasers streaked and burst past him.
“Here they come!” he called out over the din.
He shoved on his controls, steering his X-Wing expertly around the gun emplacements. He could feel the Force singing in his veins and he let it move through him, guiding his instincts. He fired at the surface of the Star in a haphazard pattern and swung right to avoid a hail of lasers.
A massive fireball exploded in front of him, breaking his concentration. With a gasp, Sam wrenched on his controls to avoid it. At the speed he was going, this was going to end badly.
“Sam!” Jo shouted.
Sam arced away from the fireball, skimming through the outermost part of it. His readings jumped, indicating his hull had been scorched a bit, but everything was otherwise fine – that’d been too close.
“I’m okay, Jo,” he assured her, exhaling. “Singed ‘er a little.”
“Don’t do that again,” she said.
No need to tell me twice, Sam thought. He twisted his ship around to avoid another volley of lasers, and tore off to join a fellow pilot who was ravaging a number of radar emplacements and towers.
“Watch yourself kids,” Mills warned. “There’s a helluva beating coming from that deflection tower.”
Sam spun his ship to the left. “I’ve got it, Red Leader.”
He found the tower in question and let loose on it. Flak thundered past his hull, buffeting his ship, but Sam fired back and pushed his ship in a winding dive around the tower. The Imperials guns couldn’t follow him fast enough and a second later, Sam’s shots delivered a fatal blow. The tower erupted in a column of flames.
“Sweet shootin’ there, Harvelle!” Ash exclaimed.
Sam grinned. “It’s… Winchester, actually.” Somehow, it was strange but so very right to be saying that out loud.
“Wait, what?” said Ash.
Jo laughed. “It’s a long story.”
“Squads, come in,” Anna’s voice, coming from the control hub down on Yavin’s moon, crackled over the comms. “We’re reading a whole new batch of signals. The Emperor is retaliating – keep your heads up. Enemy fighters are headed your way.”
“S’only ‘cause they can’t hit us with them damn big’un guns,” Ash said with a chuckle.
“Well, whaddya know, we got ‘em on the ropes,” chimed in Red Nine.
Sam frowned at his console, his eyes darting between the displays and controls. “My scopes are empty – anybody got a read on these fighters?”
“They’re jamming us all to hell,” said Mills. “Keep visual scanning – chances are, they’ll be tryin’ to ram one up your ass before your scopes pick ‘em up.”
“Thanks for the visual,” remarked Red Eleven dryly. Mills laughed.
Sam checked over both his shoulders and flicked his eyes out over the Death Star’s exterior. He pulled his ship around wide, climbing away from the grey expanse that was riddled with smoke-belching craters. Far out and straight ahead, silhouetted against the flickering lights of the battle station, Sam spotted a dozen fighters screaming towards them.
“Incoming, point oh-twelve,” he relayed.
“I see ‘em,” Mills said.
The fighters dispersed, scattering across the Star towards the Rebel fighters. Sam punched his engines and jetted after one that was headed in Jo’s direction.
Oh no you don’t, he thought viciously, gunning his X-Wing.
“Damn it!” Mills cursed. “Ash, you got one your tail!”
“I can’t see ‘im,” complained Ash.
Sam locked his sights on one of the Imperial TIE fighters, keeping half his attention on the comm chatter and Ash’s situation, and fired his guns. The fighter spun away from Jo’s ship to avoid Sam’s lasers, but Sam wasn’t about to let him go.
“Damn son, he’s on me tight,” said Ash, a note of panic coloring his voice.
“I’m coming for you,” said Red Seven. “Hold on.”
“Hurry the hell up!”
Sam closed in on the TIE fighter and fired again, zig-zagging sharply to match the Imperial’s evasive maneuvers. He connected with the enemy ship’s engines, sending it spinning to the Star’s face below. It erupted in a fantastic ball of fire and Sam allowed himself a quick grin.
“Shit, shit…” Red Seven swore and Sam glanced with worry out his window, but couldn’t see the pilot that was in trouble.
“Madison, where the in the damn hell are you?” Ash barked.
Before she could reply, there was a crackle of interference that indicated a friendly ship had been lost. Sam caught a glimpse an explosion far ahead and to his left, and banked his X-Wing towards it. He felt a pang of loss as the shrapnel of Seven’s fighter drifted out from the fiery flare, but if she was gone, somebody needed to rescue Ash.
“I can’t shake him!” Ash yelled.
Sam could see his friend’s X-Wing flying erratically, up and down and farther away from the melee, but the TIE fighter on his tail matched him almost move for move. The Imperial appeared to be just short of firing range, otherwise Sam had no doubt he’d have lit Ash up by now. A second Imperial, possibly the one that’d taken out Seven, was closing in tight behind the first one.
“I’m behind you, Ash,” said Sam, hoping he sounded calm.
“Shoot ‘im already!”
Sam came in hot, flying at both TIE fighters’ exposed right wings, and firing fast and hard. Before they could correct their blind spot, Sam had nicked one of them and blasted the other. His own X-Wing zoomed over the detonating TIE fighter as it engulfed the other that had been flying close to it. Ash’s ship zipped down low then shot far across the Star’s surface to escape the duel eruptions.
“Hot damn!” he said with relief. “Thanks a lot, Sam.”
“Any time,” Sam replied, and exhaled.
“Three down, only about a million more to go,” said Jo grimly.
Sam turned his ship in a wide arc and spotted another wave of incoming TIE fighters. His stomach dropped. They’d hardly made a dent in the first batch.
This was going to be a long battle.
Dean listened to the comm chatter with half an ear as he skimmed along the Death Star in search of the trench. He knew which grid they needed, but it’d sure looked smaller when he’d been studying holographic plans. He effortlessly veered around a set of gun turrets sluggishly pumping turbo-lasers in his direction.
At least the diversion was working – while the Red and Blue squads kept the TIE fighters busy, Dean and a select few of the Gold squad were able to search for the target shaft. He wondered if the appearance of the fighters meant the Emperor had realized his big guns designed for cruisers were almost laughably easy to avoid in a snubfighter.
He couldn’t help smirking a little when Benny swore loudly and said, “Man, heads up on those towers!”
“Almost clipped me too, the buggers,” came Gold Two’s Core-accented grumble.
Okay, so maybe it’s just me, Dean thought.
Finally, he spotted the section they were looking for and steered his X-Wing down into it. Two Y-Wings, including Benny, followed. He switched comm channels so he could communicate directly with the Red squad.
“Red Leader, this is Gold Leader,” said Dean. He bumped up his speed and tightened his grip on the controls. “We’re starting our attack run.”
“’Bout time,” Mills said. “I was startin’ to worry you’d fell asleep.”
The corner of Dean’s mouth quirked. “Relax, Mills, you’ll get your turn.”
He steadied his ship in the trench and felt his heartrate ratchet up. There wasn’t a lot of room to move in this trench should enemy ships close in on them. Just to be safe, he poured on a little more speed. Of course, that meant pulling out at the end of the trench was going to be a bit of a bitch, but he’d worry about that when he got there.
“In formation, boss,” Benny reported.
Dean flipped back to the other frequency. “Copy, Gold Five.”
His eyes flicked to the readout on his left. It showed that his ship was headed in the correct direction as deemed by the techs down on the ground with Star’s maps spread out before them.
“Port’s locked in,” he added.
Laserfire streaked overhead, as much a blur as the gray sides of the trench. Blasts of flak rocked his ship and Dean swiftly adjusted his shields so the majority of his power was in the front deflector.
“We makin’ bets on guns?” he inquired conversationally.
“S’pose,” Benny replied. “Usual?”
“Of course.” Dean dipped his fighter a little to avoid a barrage from a laser cannon.
“Eighteen, split surface and towers,” said Benny.
Dean hmmed. “I think it’s more than that, easy. Twenty-seven, split. Hannah?” He scanned his scopes, which were sputtering unhelpfully because of all the jamming. He glanced over his shoulder to physically look for enemy fighters and cussed under breath – three had broken off from the main pack tangling with the Reds and Blues to come after them.
“I’m not playing,” Gold Two, Hannah, moaned.
“Come on…” Benny wheedled.
“Fine,” she sighed. “Twenty-one, split – higher on the surface.”
Dean flipped channels. “Mills. Guns in the grid?”
He checked over his shoulder again for the Imperials. Crap. They were still coming. He stabilized his rear deflector to protect his back and nudged his engine on. He noted his partners did the same to keep pace.
He switched to the Gold-only channel. “Behind and up,” he said quickly before flipping back to the Red frequency.
Mills asked, “Up and working, smoking heap, or all together?”
“All together.” Dean held on tightly under a fresh onslaught of laserfire coming at them down the trench. The TIE fighters roared behind him.
“We count twenty-eight, even.”
“Thanks.” Another quick glance at the fighters showed they were following them from above rather than behind. Dean scrunched his brow. What were they waiting for, an invitation?
“Who lost?” He could hear the smile in Mills’ voice.
Dean chuckled. “Not me.”
“Darn. One of these times, Winchester…”
Dean laughed again as he flipped back to the Gold frequency. Above and behind, the TIE fighters were in range but still holding back on firing. Dean’s stomach twisted with nerves as he tried to discern what they were waiting for.
“I am not flying naked,” Hannah stated, realizing she’d lost.
Dean couldn’t help snickering loudly. “You know Ash loses on purpose because he likes flying naked and it pisses Jo off, right?” he said. “He’s a genius – he knows how many there are before anybody’s even thought about counting.”
He flipped on his targeting computer. A small rectangle attached to a metal arm extended in front of him. Dean pulled it close so it covered one of his eyes.
“Targeting computer is locked,” he relayed. The display was blue, black, and white, showing the trench as a series of clean lines. At the bottom, the distance from his ship to the target in a flickering countdown.
“Well, good for Ash,” Hannah grumbled and huffed. “I get all sweaty and stick to the seat. I’m not…” She sighed. “New bet?”
Benny hooted with laughter and Dean grinned. It was a good second before the three of them realized the trench had become eerily quiet.
“What the hell?” Dean muttered suspiciously. He kept one eye on the targeting computer, the other on the gray trench walls whizzing by.
“Why’d they stop the guns?” Hannah wondered.
“Ah, so they don’t shoot their cousins, I s’pect,” Benny commented. “They’re coming in now – three marks at two ten.”
Dean looked away from the computer for a moment to crane his neck around. The three TIE fighters that had been hovering were now diving. Sweat broke out on Dean’s forehead and he cursed. The X-Wing he was piloting probably had a chance at outrunning the Imperials, but Benny and Hannah’s Y’s were built for power over speed. And with minimal room to maneuver in this damn trench…
“Hey, don’t fret, brother,” Benny said calmly. “We got you covered.”
“Just stay on target,” Hannah agreed, though her voice trembled.
With a frown, Dean pressed his right eye against the targeting computer again. “I only need a minute.”
“Then we’ll give you a minute,” Benny promised.
The TIE fighters fired, and Benny and Hannah did their best to gently weave back and forth, up and down in the narrow trench. Moving at all was dangerous since the trench boxed them in and their vehicles were moving so fast. The Imperials flew to match them, though one of them made a catastrophic mistake, steering too far to the left and clipping the side of the trench.
“Hold on!” Benny hollered.
The Imperial over-corrected and went slamming in the opposite wall, nearly taking out one of its teammates in the process. The shockwave that rattled Dean’s ship was intense and quick. Alarms went off in his cockpit, informing him that the strength of his rear shields had decreased. He held tight to his controls so his own ship didn’t veer towards the trench sides.
The distance counter on his computer was decreasing rapidly but not fast enough. He knew the more they accelerated, the more dangerous exiting was going to be, but with Imperials riding their ass, he hardly had a choice.
“Let’s try to outrun ‘em,” he said.
Worry snaked into his chest – he hoped the Y’s could even go this fast and that Benny and Hannah could still manage them if they did. They were some of the best pilots in the Alliance, but the Y was not an easy beast to handle. They were also the only ships they had. Knowing the Emperor was right outside their door, the Rebels were putting everything they could into this assault. If this raid failed, the Star would blow them away anyways.
“Come on, come on,” Dean grumbled, watching the numbers on his computer count down. He glanced back at his friends and the enemy ships only to see that he was starting to slowly pull away from the others. “Damn it!”
“Fly true, brother, we’ve got your back,” Benny assured him.
“Just hold them for a few seconds,” said Dean. He could feel sweat sliding down the side of his face as laserfire erupted somewhere behind him. Come on, hurry up, hurry up…
“It’s too tight in here,” Hannah squeaked. “They’re right on top of us!”
“Stay calm, H,” said Benny.
“We can’t hold them! Loosen up, Benny!”
“Come on, come on, damn it…” Dean murmured, his heart battering his chest. He was almost there…
Hannah shrieked, “My shields! Somebody do som–”
Dean glanced back just in time to see Gold Two explode into blazing debris. He lashed out, punching the roof of his cockpit.
“Tell me we’re close, brother,” said Benny. This time his voice was shaking even though Dean knew he was trying to mask it.
“A few seconds,” Dean promised. The distance indicated on his targeting computer had dropped to four digits and was falling faster than ever… Dean held his breath. Three…
“Dean…” Benny’s voice rose in warning.
“I got it!” Dean exclaimed, firing his torpedoes. The moment they’d left his ship, Dean hauled back on his ship’s steering to pull out of the trench, narrowly avoiding becoming a smear on the exhaust port’s wall. His heart walloped into his throat.
Benny was right behind him, spinning away from the Star and the enemy fighters, skimming the top edge of the port wall in a shower of sparks. He whooped.
“Hit’s away!” Dean exclaimed.
There was a brief cheer from the other pilots, and Dean looked down to see his handiwork, only to see a tiny explosion. His grin dropped away.
“Wait, false alarm – it only impacted the surface. Damn it!” A hail of laserfire buffeted his ship. The Imperial ships that had dogged him and Benny in the trench were still on his tail. Dean wrenched his controls, spinning away from them.
He caught sight of Benny’s Y-Wing diving, and for a second, thought he was simply evading the fighters. Then he realized there was a column of smoke trailing behind him, and before Dean could call out over the comms for his friend, Benny’s ship collided with the Death Star’s surface. The blast shook Dean’s ship, momentarily blinding in its brilliance.
Tears stung Dean’s eyes. They’d all known death was high possibility on this mission. Somehow, Dean hadn’t really believed it would happen to those he was close to.
He heard Bela’s voice in his the back of his mind, calling this endeavor ‘suicidal’, and felt sick to his stomach. Another Rebel ship went down in a screaming spiral of flames beside him as he deftly avoided getting shot down himself. There was panic on the comms indicating Novak in Red Nine was hit and losing control of his vessel, and then Mills was hit by enemy fire as well.
Dean swallowed. Maybe Bela’d been right after all.
Alarms blared from every direction, the command center bustling with activity as officers ran from station to station. There were reports of collapsing hallways, fires, and an increasing list of casualties from all the lower decks.
Lucifer stood by the window, still and calm as ever.
“Sir,” Roman, out of breath, hurried up beside the Emperor. “According to the analysts, even with the ship-to-ship attacks, the small Rebel vehicles pose an incredible danger and they are already inflicting significant damage. Shall I give the evacuation order?”
Lucifer smiled. Sometimes these kids were so small-minded. He closed his eyes and could still Yavin disintegrating in a sensational, cataclysmic ball of fire.
“Roman, don’t you think we should stick around to watch our victory unfold firsthand?” He fixed the general with a patronizing smile. “Cool your jets, hombre. I have forseen this, you know.”
“But sir, a small group has broken off from the main assault unit and they almost infiltrated – ”
“Trust me. You’re giving them too much credit.”
Roman’s lips thinned and he tossed in one last report about a ship crashing into the main hangar bay. Apparently there’d been a series of explosions that had reached the fueling tanks for the TIE fighters, and now they were unable to send out more ships.
Lucifer remained unconcerned. He figured they’d sent out enough to give the Rebels a run for their money, and anyways, they were like, five minutes away from blowing them to kingdom come, so what did it matter?
“Honestly, Roman,” said Lucifer. “Don’t you have something useful to do right now?”
Roman’s jaw ticked but he gave a curt nod and rushed off back to his station. Lucifer turned his eyes to the forward viewscreen to watch the battle. A tinny voice sounded overhead, informing them that Yavin’s fourth moon was drawing ever closer as the Star orbited the planet.
“Rebel base will be in range in three minutes.”