“This is Nebessor to Baeliole, scans are showing hyperspace signatures...confirmed, unidentified ships exiting hyperspace coreward to the convoy. Out seven klicks.”
“Sir, the Nebessor reports unknown ships jumping in.”
“I heard them Lieutenant.” Captain Graddeth said calmly as he stood on the Baeliole's bridge. “Status of Delta and Beta?”
“They're awaiting orders in their convoy positions sir.”
“Very well. Flight control, launch Theta. Have Sigma and Gamma on standby. Comms, signal the Nebessor and request further instructions.”
“Sir, craft are confirmed. Roughly two-dozen enemy starfighters and multiple ATRs with three supporting corvette or gunship analogues.”
“Only two dozen?” remarked Lieutenant-Commander Viness from besides Captain Graddeth. “They'll be torn to pieces.”
“No, if those are Alliance fighters then they'll have shields. Most likely X and Y-wing type starfighters. They'll be more than a match for our TIEs.”
“Should we order the light cruisers in?”
“No, let them remain in the lead and chase positions. They'll help screen against those corvettes and gunships. The Baeliole and Nebessor will stay within the convoy itself and provide the anchor of its defense.”
Viness frowned but nodded. “Aye sir.”
Captain Graddeth sighed, he missed Commander Tyrone, however his previous XO had been given command of his own ship finally. A Nebulon B-2 frigate, the Asteror if memory served. In his place, Viness would have to suffice despite the Lieutenant-Commander's inexperience. It was of little matter though, this was why Fleet Command sent him many of their up and coming frigate and cruiser captains. He was the best at what he did. A thin smile spread across his face. In ten years of service as commanding officer he'd never lost a convoy to the Rebellion. Today would be no different and Viness would get to see how the escort plied its trade.
“Mantis Leader this is Fire Ant Leader.”
Commander Toffet keyed his comlink. “Go Fire Ant.”
The Y-wing pilot's voice was shaky as he spoke. “Commander...it's the Baeliole.”
Ice sank into Toffet's stomach. “Are you sure?”
“Positive, the Gray Death is here.”
Toffet swore. The mission had just gotten a whole lot worse. They were supposed to jump the convoy, knock out or drive off the escorts and grab as much of the cargo—or the freighters themselves—as they could and scram. Against the Baeliole though, he shuddered. That ship had claimed hundreds of pilots' lives. He looked at the Escort-class cruiser as it hung in the center of the convoy ominously. It and the Nebulon-B frigate formed the pivot point of the four escort ships in the formation. At the fore and aft of the convoy hung lone Carrack cruisers. By themselves they were dangerous, fast, durable, and well armed. However what truly frightened Toffet was what Baeliole would be carrying in its hangar: the 127th Composite TIE Wing. It was a crack unit composed of TIE Fighters, Bombers, and Interceptors. Already he could see two of the TIE Fighter squadrons in the space around the convoy and the Baeliole was launching the Interceptors now. This was going to be brutal.
“Orders sir?” inquired Fire Ant Leader.
Toffet swallowed. “Engage, all ships engage, stay with the ATRs, do not let those Imps get them.”
“Raiders are coming in sir.”
“Very well, they have committed themselves.” Captain Graddeth said with a grim smile. “Order our cruisers to break and engage those enemy capital ships. The Nebessor will fall back to the chase position and launch fighters, Baeliole will remain at the center of the convoy.”
Besides him, Lieutenant-Commander Viness watched the deadly ballet, glancing up questioningly at his superior.
“Why are you sending out the cruisers? I thought you wanted them kept close.”
“I did, but now that I know that they're not going to run I want them to keep those capital ships busy.”
“Why? Our Fighters and Interceptors can't kill them even if they're prevented from escaping.”
“True, but if they're fighting for their lives against our Carracks then they won't notice our Bombers until it is too late.”
Viness eyes widened in realization as Graddeth watched. Delta, Beta, and Theta closed with the enemy and began their lethal dance with the enemy. He winced as a few of his men's fighters winked out of existence but accepted that as part of the price of war and moved on with life. More TIEs were launching from the Nebessor as he watched and moving to engage the raiders.
“Do we have confirmation on the enemy ships?”
“Confirmed sir, markings and ship types are consistent with known Rebel units. Fighters are X-wing and Y-wing type, capital ships are a CC type frigate with two supporting CR90 corvettes.”
“Ah, I see.” Graddeth said with a smile.
“See what sir?”
“The CC-type frigates are interdictors Lieutenant-Commander. The Rebels intend to trap us here and take the convoy at their leisure.” he sounded amused by this notion. “However they failed to realize that cornering a predator is sometimes just as dangerous as being hunted by it.” he turned to Flight Control. “Launch Sigma and Gamma, target is that frigate. Once it is knocked out they may engage the assault transports and corvettes at their leisure.”
“Aye sir, launching now.”
“Now Lieutenant-Commander, watch what happens when you bite off more than you can chew.”
“The Sigmund is down!”
“Get this guy off me!”
“I'm hit! I'm hit!”
Commander Toffet swore as more and more of their formation was picked apart by the Imperial forces, to make matters worse, the cruisers were turning their guns on the fighters as well as the corvettes! This was way too hot, he'd already lost a third of his fighters not to mention the Sigmund.
“All ships, abort! Repeat, abort the mission and fall back!”
The Alliance withdrawal didn't resemble so much a retreat as a complete rout as individual fighters tried to get away from the Imperial fighters and capital ships. In the resulting furball, Toffet lost another three fighters for two of the enemy units. His astromech chirped desperately and he punched his hyperdrive and leapt into the safety of hyperspace. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. The Gray Death and her fighters had claimed even more Alliance lives.
“Sir, the Rebels are retreating, but one of the corvettes and two of the assault transports are crippled. They're broadcasting their surrender.”
“Oh? Indeed.” Captain Graddeth remarked with a hint of amusement in his voice. “Since when do we accept the surrender of pirates?”
The communications officer smiled. “Acknowledged sir.”
Graddeth returned the smile demurely. “Order our ships away from those transports and the corvette. Tell them to continue to pursue the other Rebel forces until they've jumped, the Baeliole will be leaving its escort position for a short time. Maneuver us towards those disabled ships.”
The Baeliole broke formation with the convoy and moved towards the crippled Rebel ships. Lieutenant-Commander Viness licked his lips nervously.
“Are you going to take them prisoner sir?”
Captain Graddeth raised an eyebrow and nodded towards the weapons officer.
In answer to Viness' question, the Baeliole's cannons raked the Rebels and blew them into oblivion in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but drifting wreckage in space.
Graddeth glanced at Viness. “Our mission is to guard this convoy, and every convoy hereafter Lieutenant-Commander. We do not give any quarter to any that would seek to prevent that mission so that they may try again another day.”
Viness nodded stiffly. “Yes sir.”
Graddeth eyed his latest protege appraisingly for a moment before turning his attention back to the mop up operation.
“Order our cruisers to resume their escort positions. The Nebessor will rejoin the Baeliole at the center of the convoy. Once our fighters have finished sweeping this trash from the area they are to return to their berths.” he glanced at his chronometer. “We jump in twelve minutes, wrap this up.”
Twelve minutes later the fighters of the 127th Composite TIE Wing and the Nebessor's fighters had returned to their respective hangars as the convoy leapt into hyperspace, blurring with pseudo-motion and leaving in their wake the drifting remnants of the Rebel attack, grim testament to the lethal effectiveness of the Baeliole, the Gray Death.