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Stellar Pathways, Part 6
By Michael J. Pfeffer



Part 6

March 30th, 1998
4:00 PM Local time
Trakai Starport

"No. No way."

"Daria, please. You're the smartest person here. I must urge you to think your decision
over," Skywalker said.

"No," Daria repeated. "Nyet, no deal, no dice, pull the chain, shut the door, shoot it
down, turn it off. No." She crossed her arms, assuming a stalwart look.

"Okay," Luke sighed. "I can't force you into doing anything you don't want to. We'll
release you and your friends..."

"Thank you," Daria said.

"After, that is, the necessary New Republic flight qualifications, temporary residency
applications, viral screenings, and health checks."

"What?"

"You heard me. It's standard procedure for anyone visiting New Republic territory. For
now, since you don't have an appointed sector of living, we'll be putting you up in the
ship's brig. But for now, we have to impound your vehicle. Come with me, please," he
said, leading the way towards the hangar bay.

Daria narrowed her eyes. "You wouldn't."

"I have to," Luke said, his voice radiating infinite calm. "That is, of course, unless you
were a private guest."

"Oh. And I suppose that becoming a private guest involves taking sides in an interstellar
war countless googols of miles from home, risking my life, and possibly getting
accosted by large green bug-eyed monsters?"

"Your ship is being equipped with shields as we speak. You're on the side of good and
justice. As soon as you're finished, you can go home."

"And the bug-eyed monster?"

"Is large and green, yes."

"Whatever. Okay, we're in."

Luke smiled. "Michael's walking about, but he wanted you to have this." Luke reached
into a pocket and withdrew a small credit-card shaped object with the letters "DFA" on
it. Daria took it.

"What is this?" she asked.

"It's the activation key for the MJP-911. He feels that you need some time in the
limelight. I admit, he's a war-horse, but he's a nice guy."

Daria smiled. "Yeah."

4:45 PM
Star Cruiser Triumphant
Red Squadron Ready Room

"Ladies and gentlemen, if I might have your attention please, we'll start the briefing," the
squadron commander said, raising his hands. The X-wing and A-wing pilots sat down in
the amphitheater-like ready room. Daria, Michael, and Mara were among those in the
crowd. The commander took a small pointer and gestured to the holographic projector
in the center. The lights dimmed, and a model of the triangle-shaped Imperial Star
Destroyer came up in the middle of the room.

"That's your target," Michael whispered to Daria.

"The Imperial Star Destroyer is the line combat starship of the Empire. Although it may
appear heavily defended, the Turbolasers have trouble tracking starfighters. Most of
you already know how to destroy ISDs..."

"Destroy?" a cocky young pilot in the front said. "I've got ten kills of those behemoths
already!" Most of the pilots snickered.

"As I was saying," the officer said, silencing the pilot with a look, "this one, the
Intimidator, is the flagship of the rogue Imperial Admiral Karian. It has the standard
complement- thirty-six Imperial TIE fighters, twenty-four TIE interceptors, and twelve
TIE bombers. These should only be flies to swat, gentlemen."

"Question: who're those?" an older pilot asked, pointing to Michael, Mara, and Daria.

"Those are your fire support. They're flying a modified Imperial Missile Boat with heavy
weapons. Mr. Andrews, would you kindly inform our people to what you're packing?"

Michael stood up, but had to brace himself halfway and proceed with help from Daria
and Mara. "Well," he said weakly, aching with pain from his legs, "we're fitted out for
long- and short- range radar and infrared guided missiles. They're fitted out to fire
rearwards. Also, there are turret lasers, Gatling multibarrel cannons, heavy bombs,
rockets, countermeasures, et cetera." He eased himself back into the chair.

The briefing officer nodded. "Honorary Lieutenant Daria Morgendorffer will be behind
the controls during this mission. Commissioned Officer Mara Jacobs will be assisting
her. Any other questions?"

There was silence from the briefing room.

"Good luck, and May the Force be With You all."

Launch Bay 2
4:50 PM

Daria stood in front of the bulk of the MJP-911 starfighter. The hawkish front was as
intimidating as ever, and the technicians were shining it up while fixing the missiles and
weapons into place. Mara Jade walked up, her hair and tunic wafting in the artificial
windblast.

"It's a great ship," Mara said.

"Yeah," Daria responded. "I've been through a lot in it."

"It's not going to be easy," Mara said. "Killing people."

"No," Daria said. "I never pictured myself doing this. At least not at my age."

"That's what I thought," Mara said. "I was taken in by the Emperor and trained as an
assassin. When I was fifteen, I was already taking lives."

Daria shuddered. "How did you get into that?"

"It's a long story. We'll talk after the mission. But first, I want you to take this." Mara
handed her a small velvet box.

"What is it?" Daria said, opening it up. There was half of a clear green crystal shard
inside.

"It's all I know of my sister," Mara said. "When I was nine years old, my mother had a
girl who looked almost entirely like me. A mystic gave her these two crystal halves. We
kept them together until the day the Emperor's stormtroopers came. The last thing my
mother did before she died was to give me the top half. Until I meet my sister, I'll never
find the match."

"Wow," Daria said. "That must suck.

Mara sighed. "I try not to think about it."

Suddenly, a loudspeaker activated. "All pilots, to your stations. All pilots, to your
stations. Launch in five minutes."

"You'd better go," Mara said. "Your partners are already inside. Good luck, Daria," she
said, patting her on the shoulder. "Don't stop until they're going down in flames."

Daria stepped up the small stairs to the MJP-911's main hatch, her hair beginning to
waft more. "We'll knock 'em dead," she said with a smile. Snapping a salute, she
entered the MJP-911, and the hatch sealed.

Jade smiled. "Yes, you will," she said to nobody in particular.

Continued...