"Roger that, Vortex 6. I'm gonna buzz the canyon in Sector 17 before returning to base. Vortex 4 out."
Banking his airspeeder to the left, Jerrod Lourdas dropped down into the deep, rouge canyon below. They'd dubbed it Torrence Run in honor of Vortex Squadron's infamous leader, Rik Torrence, and no one could pilot the Run's terrifying twists and turns better.
Sweeping through the trench and around rocky outcroppings, Jerrod raised his craft above the opening to swing back towards another gorge known only as the Gauntlet.
"Arda Base, this is Vortex 4 returning from patrol. All clear as usual. Ready for access sequence."
"Thank you, Vortex 4, initiating computer autoguidance now," came the static reply. The cliffs and gorges scrambled most comm systems, and it had taken the Alliance months to perfect transmissions in the area.
Relaxing on his controls, Jerrod let Command and Control slave the vehicle to guide it through the dangerous twists and turns of the Gauntlet. Only the most skilled pilots could navigate the tight spaces of the canyon leading towards the Alliance hangar bay, adding another layer of protection to the base against enemy fighters.
His ship touched down in the hangar and Jerrod released his harness to begin his post-flight check. On the ground, technicians hurried to connect refueling lines and give the speeder a once-over, making sure it was ready to fly again at a moment's notice.
As he climbed down from his weathered and battered speeder, Jerrod saw Captain Harl Bess approaching. The base's chief of operations for all of its spacecraft and speeders called out, "Lourdas, anything out there?"
Jumping from the last step of the speeder's ladder, Jerrod handed his flight helmet to a waiting tech and smiled at the captain. "Just rocks and lizards, sir. Same as the last five days. I was almost hoping to run into some flyers just to fit in some target practice."
"Don't get cocky, kid. You never know when an Imperial patrol could target this world or send some probe droid to go poking around. Better pilots than you have let down their guard and paid with their lives."
"Just kidding with you, sir. I understand."
Bess gave Jerrod a stern look before pivoting to bark orders to another group prepping their ships in the massive hangar. Turning to head to the barracks, Jerrod nearly tripped over Var Narek, field assistant to
Setenna Hase, one of the base's ranking commanders.
"Sorry, sir, didn't see you there. Something I can do for you?" Jerrod asked.
Var Narek was a stickler for detail when carrying out Setenna's orders, which rubbed Jerrod and many of the lower-ranking Alliance soldiers the wrong way. Especially since his interpretation of the rules kept growing, it seemed.
"Lieutenant Lourdas, your flight path was not cleared to sweep Sector 17, and in doing so you left Sector 7 un-scanned. How do you know that you didn't miss something vital with this breach of protocol?"
"I'm sure the rocks and lizards won't mind. Besides, long range scanners showed no signs of any movement or activity anywhere out there," the lieutenant replied, waving his hand dismissively.
"I'm sure you know that sensors are unreliable throughout this entire area. Be sure you follow the prescribed flight paths, or you will find yourself removed from flight duty altogether."
Jerrod saluted ironically as the uptight commander stormed off. He'd like to see the lanky slicer try to go out there day after day, week after week, with nothing to break up the monotony. The pilot shrugged and headed to the habitat for a much-needed cold shower.
Jerrod stepped out of the offices and into the artificially lit corridors. According to his chrono it was nearly midnight; the game had stretched on for hours before the sabacc pot was won. Patting his winnings in his vest pocket, he cut across the hangar bay on his way to the barracks.
The lights in the hangar were dim to conserve the generators' power. He swore as he tripped on a cable stretched across the ground, followed by a distant clatter.
"Someone there?" he called out, freezing in place, his hand slowly going towards his holdout blaster.
From behind a rock column, Var Narek emerged, a datapad in his hands. "Oh, hello, Lourdas. What brings you out so late?"
"I was just heading back to my quarters. What are you doing back here?" Jerrod asked.
"Finishing some last minute checks of the maintenance logs. Setenna wants to make sure everything is squared away for tomorrow's mission."
"I hadn't heard about that..." Jerrod trailed off.
"I shouldn't have said anything. I'm sure you'll be briefed tomorrow," Var said quickly. "Well, it looks like I'm finished here. You should probably get some rest, too." It was less of a suggestion and more of an order.
"Yeah," the pilot nodded. "Probably."
Var followed him back to the habitat in silence, wishing him a good night when the hallway to the officer's quarters branched off. Jerrod had a bad feeling but couldn't put his finger on what it was.