Star wars Battlefront 2nd Inferno Squad
作 者：Christie Golden
The four young officers obeyed and turned to look at Admiral Versio expectantly. He had offered them no refreshment, and indeed Iden knew the members of the little gathering could count themselves fortunate they had been invited—or, rather, ordered—to sit.
Versio’s dark eyes roamed over each of the faces turned toward him, settling on his daughter’s. The stern visage gentled, ever so slightly.
“Lieutenant Versio,” he said, “I’m glad you could join us.”
Iden felt a quick flush of warmth. Gideon had been right. Her father was glad to see her.
“Thank you, sir,” she said.
That was, apparently, enough sentimentality for the admiral. He turned to again address the entire gathering. “I direct your attention to the holoprojector in the center of the table.”
Iden went rigid.
She suspected what they were about to see. And she realized it had been she who was responsible for it being here.
Iden watched along with the others, stone-still. The only part of her that moved was the quick pulse of the vein in her slender throat. She saw the battle unfold, again, heard the sound of orders being issued. The countdown. The flash of light, the chaotic careening of her ship.
She forced herself not to look away, but out of the corner of her eye she registered the reactions of her fellows. Meeko’s face displayed shock. Marana’s eyes were wide and her lips parted slightly. Even Gideon had turned a shade paler, and she could tell he was forcing himself not to glance over at her, to illogically confirm with his own eyes yet again if she was all right.
Her father, mercifully, ignored her completely.
“I believe we all know what this is,” Versio said, pausing and then deactivating the hologram. “This recording is currently being analyzed and evaluated as one of a handful recovered from ships that were out of the direct blast area.”
Iden was grateful he didn’t single her out, but from the sidelong glances of Meeko and Marana, she suspected they knew anyway.
“This was a dark day for our Empire. A very dark day. But, as you can imagine, and perhaps already know, we are working on plans for retaliation against the Rebel Alliance on every level open to us. We have plans from the very grand to the very intimate. And the latter is where the four of you come in. There’s a particular front in this battle that I have suggested be addressed, and I have been given authorization to proceed.”
Iden’s father was using that voice. That voice meant something very big, very significant, and very personal to him was going on. That he was including her in it made Iden feel proud—but it also put her on high alert. She sat erect in her chair, her eyes on her father, her breathing slow, and listened.
“Our glorious Death Star was destroyed by something very small indeed—a tiny flaw, implanted by one man who single-mindedly betrayed the Empire over the course of years. One person, in an X-wing fighter, hit a target only two meters wide.”
He squared his shoulders. “We were arrogant,” he said, and only Iden—and, perhaps, Gideon—knew what that admission cost him. “We paid a terrible price for that. And we will not make that mistake again.
“The contribution that one small team can make when it comprises the best of the best is, I believe, both overlooked and invaluable. The distillation of individual accomplishments and skills into a smoothly functioning unit will be something the enemies of the Empire will not be prepared to guard against.
“After careful evaluation, I have decided that the four of you represent the finest the Empire can field.”
It was quite a statement, and they all knew it. Versio clasped his hands behind his back and walked in a predatory circle around the rapt group as he regarded each of them in turn, his eyes searching, laserlike, and piercing, as if trying to plumb their very souls. Gideon and Iden were used to that level of scrutiny, but familiarity made it no less intimidating.
The admiral’s gaze settled on the tall man. “Del Meeko. You worked your way up through the ranks, first as a stormtrooper, then a shoretrooper, then a TIE pilot. You have received several commendations for courage under fire. Your commanders have made notations that you excel at whatever you turn your hand to, but you seem to be particularly gifted with repairing everything—from armor to droids to engines.” Versio smiled thinly. “Your captain did not part with you with good grace.”
Meeko was smart enough not to break eye contact with the admiral, but the mechanically inclined TIE pilot did fidget slightly in his seat as he inclined his head in appreciation of the words.
“Seyn Marana,” Versio continued, turning to the petite young woman. “You possess the gift of eidetic memory, which has served you well throughout your career. You graduated top of your class at the Imperial Academy of Uyter a full year early—and with honors. You speak . . . twenty-seven languages, is that correct?”
He paused to let her answer. In that sweet voice, the very young lieutenant replied, “Twenty-nine, sir.”
Versio’s eyebrows rose. “Twenty-nine,” he said, his voice a gravelly purr. “I stand corrected. You can read and write seven more—it is seven, yes? I’d hate to be mistaken a second time.”
The girl—Iden couldn’t help but think of her that way; clearly Seyn was barely into her twenties at best—seemed to be seriously reconsidering her earlier quick correction of Versio, but she replied,
“Yes, seven, sir.”
“Seven. You are also a master cryptologist. And a superior shot who can take out a foe at over five kilometers.”
Iden regarded the “girl” with considerably more respect.
Now Versio turned to Gideon. Iden, who knew him so well, saw her father’s expression soften with pride. “Gideon Hask. First in his class at Coruscant Imperial University. Served with valor aboard the Mandate, receiving a battlefield promotion and the Crimson Star for exceptional performance against the enemy.
“And finally, Iden Versio. Graduated top of her class at Coruscant Imperial University, with honors. One of a handful of survivors of the Death Star, where she had held the record for most verified kills in battle—and has the melancholy honor of never losing that title.
“Your mission will be to recover information, artifacts, or individuals that could prove harmful to the Empire if they fall into the wrong hands—or if, perchance, such information has already fallen into the wrong hands. You’ll be cleaning things up, as it were. We’ve just borne witness to the level of damage that can be inflicted upon our Empire when such pivotal information is used against us. We cannot, must not, shall not allow this to happen ever again. Is this understood?”
Everyone replied quickly in the affirmative. The admiral nodded.
“You will do as you are instructed. No questions. We need to recover anything and everything, anyone and everyone, who might pose the slightest threat to the Empire. You are all accustomed to being part of something larger than yourselves. To being a part of a vast machine. But this unit will be a microcosm of only four. You’ll be performing the majority of your duties without direction from me—in fact, there may be lengthy periods of time when you will not be in contact with me at all. It is imperative that you learn very quickly how to work together smoothly and efficiently. You’ll find that a great deal of weight will be resting on your shoulders.”
Iden’s heart began to slam slowly against her chest, but she gave no sign of it. It wouldn’t do to register how thrilled these words made her feel. Responsibility was exactly what she wanted. The team as a whole, it seemed, would be given a great deal of it—but she wanted more.
The girl smiled, and for a moment Seyn looked so young that Iden wanted to protect her more than she wanted to fight alongside her. She dismissed the thought. Seyn’s youth surely belied a lot of strength. Garrick Versio would never want anyone on “his team” who wasn’t strong. After all, they were the best of the best.
That logical conclusion meant that the quiet Del Meeko also had something special to offer. And of course, Iden knew Gideon well enough to know how much he brought to the table.
“Any other questions?” There were none. Versio nodded. “Dismissed.”
The four got to their feet, saluted, and turned to go. At the door, though, Gideon hung back, considering, then asked his new commanding officer, “Sir? Does this unit have a name yet?
The faintest of smiles quirked Versio’s lips. “It does,” he replied. “It’s a promise to the rebels.
“It’s called Inferno Squad.”
“Attention, pilots,” came the voice of her commander, Kela Neerik, in Iden’s ear, and for a brief, beautiful instant Iden thought her squad commander was going to explain what was going on. But all Neerik said was, “Death Star is now six minutes out from target.”
Iden bit her lip, wondering if she should speak up. Don’t. Don’t, she told herself, but the words had a life of their own. Before she realized it, out they had come.
“Respectfully, Commander, with only six minutes until the entire moon’s destruction, why are we out here? Surely thirty one-person ships won’t be able to do anything resembling damage to the Death Star in that amount of time.”
“Lieutenant Versio” — Neerik’s voice was as cold as space — “don’t assume your father’s position gives you special privileges. We are here because Lord Vader ordered us to be here. Perhaps you’d like to put your question to him personally when we return to the station? I’m sure he’d be delighted to explain his military strategy to you.”
Iden felt a cold knot in her stomach at the thought of a “personal” conversation with Lord Vader. She’d never met him, thankfully, but she had heard too many chilling rumors.
“No, Commander, that won’t be necessary.”
“I thought not. Do your duty, Lieutenant Versio.”
Iden frowned, then let it go. She did not need to understand the rebels; she needed only to destroy them.
She targeted the nearest X-wing and fired. Green lasers sliced through the enemy ship, and then only pieces and a flaring sheet of flame remained.
As if they sensed her renewed resolve, the rebel pilots suddenly upped their game. There was a brief flash at the corner of Iden’s vision, and when she turned to look, she realized with sick surprise that this time the debris hurtling off in all directions was black.
Iden didn’t know who had just died. TIE fighters were so uniform as to be practically indistinguishable from one another. Their pilots weren’t supposed to think of their ships in the warm, fuzzy way the rebels were reported to do. A ship was a ship was a ship. And Iden understood that, as far as most in the Empire were concerned, a pilot was a pilot was a pilot: as expendable and interchangeable as the ships they flew.
We all serve at the pleasure of the Emperor, her father had drilled into her since she was old enough to comprehend what an emperor was. None of us is indispensable. Iden had certainly seen Imperial ships shot down before. This was war, and she was a soldier. But indispensable be damned.
The half smile she’d been wearing during most of the combat vanished, and Iden pressed her lips together angrily. She veered, perhaps a touch too violently, to the right and targeted another X-wing. In mere seconds it exploded into a yellow-orange fireball.
“Gotcha, you—” she muttered.
“No commentary, Versio,” warned Neerik, her voice rising a little; more hot than cold, now.
Iden targeted the closest Y-wing, locked onto it, and blew it to pieces. Watching the fragments of the starfighter hurtling wildly was some small compensation for the deaths of her fellow pilots.
“Death Star is two minutes to target. Be aware of your distance from the planet.”
Ah, so that was why Neerik was giving the countdown. Iden had to give the pilot of a nearby Y-wing credit for courage, albeit of the foolish kind; the ship was now racing away from the Death Star at top speed. Were they heading back to Yavin’s moon, nobly choosing to die with their base, or were they just trying to evade her?
Not happening, Iden thought, and continued her pursuit. She got the vessel in her sights and fired. She didn’t slow as the ship exploded, but simply pulled back and looped up and over the fireball and debris, snug in her crash webbing, and smoothly dipped the TIE fighter in front of the Y-wing for the perfect shot.
The pale moon-shape of the Death Star loomed behind the vessel, its gargantuan size making the rebel ship look like the toys she’d been allowed to play with as a child. The Y-wing was making for Yavin as fast as it could, swerving erratically enough that Iden frowned as she tried to get a lock on it.
A sudden scalding brightness filled her vision.
Temporarily blinded, Iden hurtled wildly, her TIE fighter tumbling out of control. As her vision returned, she realized debris was coming at her as intensely as if she had suddenly materialized inside an asteroid field. Her focus, always powerful, narrowed to laserlike precision as she frantically dodged and swerved, maneuvering around the biggest pieces and wishing with all her being that TIE fighters had shields.
Iden pivoted and tumbled, breathing the mercifully still-flowing oxygen deeply and rhythmically. But she knew in her heart it was just a matter of time. There was too much debris, some of it the size of a standard escape pod, some of it as small as her clenched fist, and she was right in the thick of it. The smaller pieces were pelting her TIE fighter already. Sooner or later, one of the big chunks would hit her, and both Senior Lieutenant Iden Versio and her ship would be nothing more than smears on what was left of Yavin’s moon.
Somehow, she’d wandered too close to the Death Star’s target and had gotten swept up in the chaotic sweep of its destruction—exactly what her commander had been warning her against.
But how was that possible?
“Mayday, mayday,” Iden shouted, unable to keep her voice calm as she desperately dipped and dived to avoid disaster. “This is TIE Sigma Three requesting assistance. Repeat, this is TIE Sigma Three requesting assistance, do you copy, over?”
Silence. Absolute, cold, terrifying silence.