As the convoy continued with their journey, they are within visual range of Alnus Hill. The commander of the AT-TE was communicating with the base before asking Raker to share the information.
"Got word from the commander: we are closing in on Alnus Camp." Raker informed.
"Thank you, Raker." Mikrak replied. "And there is one thing I have to check out."
"Anything in particular?"
"Two X-wings in that camp. Talor said that Incom engineers are doing modifications to gather data for the new X-wings they are proposing."
"So you are a starfighter pilot too, eh? I guess that you have double duties once finished." Raker then let out a small chuckle.
The locals are wondering about the situation.
"Who is 'Incom,' by the way?" Gaius asked.
"It's not a 'who,' it's a 'what.'" Krel answered. "Simply put, they are a guild of engineers crafting our starfighters. Others include Koensayr, Kuat Systems Engineering, Slayn & Korpil, among others."
"That's a lot of engineers." Bozes was surprised.
"Indeed. We also built the fighters in secret when the Empire is around and often we steal their tech to bolster our forces."
The locals were surprised by what Krel mentioned.
"Wait! The Republic stole the Empire's weaponry?!" Tuka exclaimed.
"Afraid so." Krel answered. "If it wasn't for those acts, freedom wouldn't have come sooner and causalties could be much higher."
Piña was contemplating on the topic.
"If the Republic did some acts of stealing, are they...bandits? I'm not sure. Maybe, I shouldn't go any further for the time being."
When they approached the hill, the convoy decided to stop to allow Luger and Max to head inside the camp and to inspect the modifications of their X-wings. To their surprise, the camp has expanded considerably into a small base which includes various T-47 airspeeders, standard X-wings and other equipment.
"Look at that...the camp just grew into a base after our absence in here." Luger observed. "Do you think they are heading out to reinforce the others?"
"Likely, after all those Imperial attacks, guess command has decided to expand our capabilities." Max agreed. "But they are probably careful on what they are doing here. This place could become a sitting duck if the fighting grows intense."
Piña and Tuka followed them where they felt the same thing.
"The hill...it almost looks like it doesn't resemble the one we know." Piña uttered at the sight.
"Your Highness, after what happened...I guess this is for the best." Tuka quietly responded. "For now, at least."
They then found a Mon Calamari officer walking with a Sullustan colleague discussing various reports. The former noticed him and asked his ally to allow the Mon Calamari to excuse himself to talk to the human pilots. The pilots, in turn, saluted.
"Sir, Captain Mikrak and Lieutenat Sternbolt of Halo Squadron reporting in." Max informed the officer while saluting.
"Oh, good timing." The offiicer responded. "Command was about to inform you about the progress on those modifications but that's okay since you are here right now."
He then turned his attention to the two ladies. Tuka saluted in response.
"Private Tuka Luna Marceau, sir." She responded. "Dragon Company."
"And...I'm Princess Piña Co Lada." Piña followed shyly.
"Colonel Rix Marrab." The Mon Calamari introduced himself. "I'm in charge of the base's operations here. Now if you follow me, we are going to show the pilots something they will use at any notice."
Marrab began to guide the group into a secured area where both duraplast panels and tarp were extensively used to hide the works of the engineers. Two Republic guards were at the entrance to only allowed authorized personnel to enter. When the group arrived, the colonel told them the pilot's identities for them to enter. The ladies, however, were barred from entering.
"Sorry, ma'am." One of the guards told them. "Authorized personnel only."
"What do you mean?" Piña asked.
"Ummm...maybe we should wait here until Luger and Max come back." Tuka suggested. "They are the pilots who are assigned to that idea."
Then, Marrab went back.
"Excuse them, but let them enter." The colonel requested.
"Are you sure, sir?" The second guard questioned.
"Yes. I will allow them to see the progress."
"Right away, sir." The first guard affirmed and the guards granted Tuka and Piña entry. "You may enter."
"Thank you, kind sir." Piña responded.
"Ladies, follow me." The three then went inside the area and met up with Luger and Max.
"Guess the colonel has allowed you to see what's going on here?" Max spoke.
"Yes, Max. We were barred but then..."
"Milady, look over there." Tuka interrupted to let Piña see the X-wings.
To their surprise, the X-wings of Halo Squadron were painted black after some hours of extensive work while retaining the red identification panels. Aside from that, other noticeable differences include a different laser cannon model in each end of the S-foils, different engines and upgraded systems needed to handle the modifications. Then, a female Incom contractor went closer to the group.
"Ah, so you are here to see the progress of the X-wings, yes?" She asked the two pilots.
"Yes, ma'am." Max affirmed. "We are inspecting our starfighters."
She then took out her datapad to confirm the identities of the two men.
"You must be Captain Maximilian Mikrak of Halo Squadron, correct?"
"Yes, I am."
"And the other one here is..."
"Lieutenant Luger Sternbolt, second-in-command." Luger confirmed the data.
"There it is, thank you." The contractor responded before introducing herself. "Estel Falsheye of Incom Corporation."
"Now can you please tell us about those modifications that are made?"
"Oh yes, I will." Estel nodded before showing the pilots and, indirectly, Tuka and Piña the modified X-wings. "When we heard about those modified TIE fighters, it presented an opportunity for the company to expand our successful product. So much so that General Talor and Admiral Ackbar has invited my team to come here in secret. We are not allowed to disclose anything oustide the Board of Directors and us and we have swore an oath not to do so to maintain security over the project."
"I see." Max nodded.
"On to the upgrades: your X-wings are being heavily modified to suit the current situation on this planet. In addition to upgraded 4j.4 fusial thrust engines, the armaments are quite deadlier than the regular types."
"I don't get it." Piña doesn't understand what Estel is saying. "Tuka, you can understand them?"
"Not much." The elf shook her head.
"Four prototype Taim & Bak KX12 laser cannons would whip an Imperial pilot's ass quickly thanks to its better firepower. The computers and cryogenic power generators are also upgraded to cope with that."
"Neat." Luger commented. "Is there anything more?"
"The proton torpedoes remains the same, though. We were planning to include mag-pulse warheads but delays in development meant that we have to scrap it for the time being." Estel elaborated further. "Nevertheless, we are still testing them back at our facilities."
"Bummer." Max felt disappointed. "I was hoping we could use an extra 'oomph' for our fighters."
"Just make use of what we have to offer, Max. Oh, by the way...as of today, me and my team will be your ground crew to maintain your starfighters."
"Thank you for the help. It's much appreciated." Luger kindly responded which made Estel smile.
"I'll give you the instructions on how to use the upgrades. You need to do some homework if you want to skillfully use those birds. Estimated time of completion is about two to three weeks. Plenty of time to iron out the kinks."
"Well, we'll be on our way." Max said in their decision to resume the expedition.
"Take care of yourselves." Marrab wished to them.