If a stray wanderer ended up in this system right now, he might not see anything out of the ordinary. Distant stars shone their feint light like beacons of hope, and equally distant nebulas gave away brilliant colours (and a fair amount of radiation). Only a keen eye might have caught that one area was free of starts. Only it was not. What might seem like an empty space, was truly the shadow of the Sovereign-class Super Star Destroyer, sitting motionless, like a predator waiting for its prey to make a careless move. A few small beads seemed to move across it from time to time – only they were no beads, but Imperial TIE craft patrolling the area.

The vastness of space was quite hard to grasp with logic, even for someone as familiar with it as Vice Admiral Viper Pred. The Acting TCCOM stood inside the Command Staff briefing room, watching through the viewport as one flight of TIE craft returned from their patrol route, swiftly replaced by another one.

Recent events were difficult to grasp and come to terms with. No matter how hard they tried to conceal it, the treachery at Aspire 2 touched every single member of the fleet. Some had relatives on that station, others – friends, but almost everyone lost someone. And everyone was angered by the New Republic treachery itself.

Pred gathered his composure as he turned around and faced his assembled staff. There were roughly thirty officers, ranking from lowly lieutenants to generals assembled around a large oval table. All stood at attention and patiently awaited his words. He needed not waste time on introductions or explaining the situation. They were all well aware of what was going on. He simply had to communicate his decisions as to what happens next.

"Events at Aspire 2 have brought new challenges to the Fleet," he started, slowly sweeping all officers with his gaze. "And these new challenges require us to show some flexibility. We will be going through some severe reorganization and I expect it to affect each and every one of you."

"Fighter squadrons will be reassigned to other ships and their rosters will be reworked. We will be creating a force more capable of facing whatever is waiting for us out there. And what that is – we are not certain yet."

He took a pause to look at the officers. All of them stood still, not displaying the slightest of emotions. He knew they had friends in their respective crews and squadrons, but he also knew they were Imperial Officers first, and they understood duty must come first to any personal matter, close relationships included. Their superior training, apart from the greater purpose of making the galaxy a safer place under Imperial rule, would hold them together no matter what came next.

Pred picked up his datapad from the table and pushed a few buttons.

"Each of you have just received orders," he spoke calmly. "along with a detailed schedule of debriefing with High Command. Each of you is to report to this room at the designated time. We will explain your next assignments and what you will be tasked of next. We will start with Captain RichyV. The rest of you are dismissed until your time comes."

With that, he nodded to the officers and they started to slowly empty the room. After a minute, only he and RichyV were left inside, the captain still at attention.

"At ease, captain," Pred gestured him to a chair on the opposite side of the table. The captain sat down, not saying anything without being asked. Proper Imperial training, Pred thought, so hard to come by these days.

"From your record I believe you should be quite familiar with what was once Epsilon Squadron, commander," the admiral said, clearly expecting confirmation.

"Yes, admiral," RichyV replied.

"You must then know that their assignment has always been deep strike in enemy territory, and that they have been supplied for that purpose."

Only a nod this time.

"We will be reinstating the squadron with you as its commander and stationing it aboard the Hammer. The squadron's mission will remain the same and you will be getting a complement of shiny new toys which should allow you to see your missions to successful completion. Flights One and Two will be flying TIE Defenders which are en route from Sienar Fleet Systems' factories on Lianna. Flight Three will be the 'strike' of your group, with its brand new Missile Boats from Cygnus Spaceworks having just arrived in Hangar Three."

"This is your starting roster," the admiral said, sending a file to RichyV's datapad. "You are to identify and fill any remaining open positions as soon as possible," Pred paused. "Any comments so far, captain?"

Before even looking at the roster, the captain said, "It will be my honour to command Epsilon. The squadron will do its best and more to return the Empire to its true glory, sir!"

From the look on his face Pred could see these words were sincere. He could also see glimpses of excitement, although RichyV tried hard to conceal them. Good, Pred thought, he should be excited for what was about to come his way.

"Good, Captain" he said aloud. "Your first orders are to secure supplies for all your new craft. The Requisition Officer has been notified of your immediate arrival and what craft you'll be looking to fit, but I will leave the choice of details like warheads, countermeasures and such to you."

"As soon as your craft and pilots are assembled, you are to report combat readiness," Pred looked deep into his officer's eyes. "Good luck! Dismissed."

RichyV stood up and got to attention. Upon Pred's nod, he turned around and marched out the briefing room. Epsilon is in good hands, the admiral thought before looking at his datapad to call in his next officer.

To be continued...

================================= 24 ABY (seven years later) =================================

[Incoming transmission...]
[Security clearance: TOP SECRET]
[Subject: Epsilon SCOM Assignment]
[Transmission: begin...]

From: Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS)
To: LC Miles Prower
Copy: HA Anahorn Dempsey, AD Plif, COL Gilbert Frown, MAJ Narven Task

Effective as the reception of these orders, Lieutenant Colonel Miles Prower is to transfer to the assignment of Commander: Epsilon Squadron in Wing I aboard the ISDII Hammer. Your transfer is to be conducted by either your personal craft or an available transport or shuttlecraft from the ISDII Warrior. In the event of action stations being called before departure, you are the remain at your pre-transfer assignment until action stations has been terminated.

Epsilon Squadron is a Strike tasked squadron. Its current compliment is as follows:
8 x TIE Advanced starfighters
4 x Missile Boat Mark II starfighters

Upon transfer to the Hammer, please report to Major Narven Task, (Wing I Commander) and High Admiral Anahorn Dempsey (Hammer Commodore).

By the way, has anyone seen my stapler?

Vice Admiral Pape R'Work

[Transmission: end]
[NOTICE: Remember to close your session when leaving this comms station!]

Witcher looked at the screen for a while, slowly shaking his tumbler glass in one hand to let ice dissolve slightly into the beverage. Those squadron commanders come and go, he thought, wondering how long would this one last.

Prower had a nice track record. Already a Lieutenant Commander with some success at hunting both rebels and pirates in the sector. At first glance he seemed capable to lead the young bunch into action.

But Witcher has seen many come and go. Each one had his own visions and – in many cases – delusions of grandeur. Some managed to keep their squadrons afloat. Others propelled their teammates into oblivion on some ill-advised suicide run at overwhelming opposing forces.

In this galaxy, surviving was key. The Emperor's Hammer had nowhere near the scale of the late Empire – in terms of numbers of systems under control, but also considering resources available. It wasn't necessarily the craft – these could be manufactured relatively cheaply. Pilots were a different story: Each and every pilot who did not die on their first few missions was worth his weight in gold these days.

Witcher knew that well. He never was an ace-kind-of pilot. He always laid low, never stuck his head into unnecessary danger. This approach ensured he never got any distinguishment for bravery or achievement, as well prevented any kind of promotion, despite his many years of service. However, it did something more important – it kept him alive. Unlike many of his late friends aboard the Star Destroyer "Grey Wolf".

As Witcher's mind slowly slid into memories of friends long gone, a harsh voice brought him back to the present.

"Finish up and pay, pilot," the Hammer cantina waiter said. "Others are waiting to use the comms."

The pilot closed the comms station session, finished his drink, put the glass on a nearby table and said "Put it on Silwar's tab."

To be continued...