When it Rains
By Lock, Gremlin, and Frosty
Rain poured like crazy against the window of his office like it always did. It pounded, and its sound was a constant buzz to the ticking of the old fashioned clock that hung on the wall, slowly counting the seconds away. Turning every minute into an eternity.
It was a rather large room, enough to fit three desks. Two of them were at the front of the room, facing each other so that there was a walkway through the two that lead up to the final desk, that of their superior, with its back to the window. All three desks had a personal terminal to the base database and all had stacks of datapads, flimsi papers and pens, reports of the latest simulator runs that the test pilots had gone through.
In the first of the two desks sat the gray-furred male Shistavanen, Sonn "Berserker" Ryles, and across from him the diminutive female Sullustan, Diah "Alien" Drugo. They were hard at work, sifting through the datapads while accessing their terminals. Every once in a while they would say something to each other, some remark about a student or how they might better their training methods this way or that, in a vain attempt to pique the interest of the officer in charge.
He was dressed in a blue flight suit that had two patches on it; the Rebel Insignia on his left shoulder and his status as an instructor on his right shoulder. His black boots were propped up on the table as he held the same piece of flimsi that he'd had been revising for the last half hour. Across his chest, just like with Alien and Berserker, was his callsign. The man was Lieutenant Roy "Lock" Callahan, leader of the instructors at Rainworld Academy (as it was unofficially known, as its name was classified) in X-Wing piloting He was the staunch rival of Lieutenant Aidem and his Y-Wing group, both of which answered to Captain Amonos, a Y-Wing pilot himself, and leader of the Starfighter Pilot Training Division at the rainy Training Facility.
"Cadet Nath's record was broken," mentioned Alien, glancing over to her boss for a moment. He didn't lift his eyes from his paper, so she sighed and continued. "By Cadet Gemilan."
Lock's eyes lifted from the paper and darted to Alien. "She's the Zeltron, right?"
"Yes, she is."
"Who's Nath, again?"
Alien sighed in resignation, probably already expecting this. "I told you last week, sir. Cadet Nath. Devaronian." When Lock continued staring at her, she added, "Toro."
"Ohhhh, Toro!" Lock nodded, and sat forward, placing his flimsi down on the desk.
Berserker snorted. "Typical."
"Typical, sir, that you remember the beautiful Zeltron woman every time but seem to forget half of the pilots in the training group most of the time." The wolfman turned his head towards Lock for the first time.
"Hey!" Lock held his hands up. "It's not my fault that some students stick out more than others."
"Just like Cadet Liorca sticks out? Or Drill Sergeant Zolos?"
"I have a weakness for Twi'leks--sue me."
"I don't have to, they are probably already both drawing up papers about how you always stare at their assets when you think they aren't looking."
"Aha! But I'm only looking, Zerk, so they can't file charges!"
"Will you two calm down?" Alien elevated her voice, quieting the two males. "For Force sake, you two! You're supposed to be military officers!"
"Tell him to act like one, then, instead of pushing all the work on us and--"
"It's called delegation--" Roy interjected.
"--ogling all the women on base!"
"It's not ogling, I'm responsible for making sure they're in fit condition--"
"Stop! Both of you!" Alien cut both of them off again before it could go any further. "Sonn, it's our part of the work and, sir, you should stop staring at all of us."
"Us? Was he looking at you?" asked Berserker. Roy decided to say nothing, preferring to wait for Alien.
She, on the other hand, was somewhat confused. "Well--yes, right? You said that he was looking at all the women on base." She narrowed her eyes as the much larger wolfman cringed somewhat. "Right, Sonn?"
"Uhm, well, yeah, I-I guess--I didn't mean all of them..." Berserker's unplanned attempt trickled to death by the glare that Alien awarded him. "Sorry."
"Were you discriminating against me, Dogbreath?" Alien snapped at the larger male. "I think you and I need to step outside!"
"I'm not going to fight you, Alien."
"Why not? Afraid to get your butt beaten by an ugly girl, are you?"
"I never said you were ug--"
"Calm down, you two," Lock finally said, standing up and waving his hands down to relax them. "You've both got work to do, no time for arguing."
They looked at him for a moment before muttering "Yessir..." and returning to the work at hand.
Lock stood watching them for a few moments more before sitting back down in his chair and picking up the same piece of flimsi he had been staring at before: a proposition from High Command to start selecting candidates for a new X-Wing squadron that an old friend was assembling. He narrowed his eyes, wondering what was up -- he knew that none of the cadets were ready and Command knew that as well from the reports he'd been sending them. He'd barely received this last batch. Maybe a few like Toro or Rider or Sensei or Gremlin were ... but it was still too early to be completely sure.
Rain poured like crazy against the window of his office, like it always did. It pounded, its sound a constant buzz to the ticking of the old-fashioned clock that hung on the wall, slowly counting the seconds away. Turning every minute into an eternity.
Meanwhile, the Death Star fired on Alderaan.
* * *
[Classified Location, Cadet Barracks]
She had died 17 times already. She would probably die once more before the day was through.
Flight Cadet Gemilan lay on her bunk, wide-eyed and wakeful, staring at the bottom of the bed above. The last simulator run had been bruising in every sense of the word. They had been jumped by some TIEs in atmosphere and the resulting dogfight had seen her slammed from side to side in the tiny X-wing capsule. At least she had survived, that time, but whenever she closed her eyes she re-lived fragments of the battle, her hands twitching with moves she could, should, have made.
Frak, she hoped she'd beaten Toro's record in that sim! The Devaronian had been unbearable since taking the lead. Gemi might not be the most intuitive pilot in the training squadron but what she lacked in natural skills, she tried to make up for with practice. It would be sweet to see her name at the top of the board, even for an hour or two. But it would be sweeter, right now, to be able to sleep ...
Gemi turned on her side, punching the pillow in frustration. Training at Rainworld Academy was intense; the Rebellion seemed intent on turning them into fighter pilots as quickly as possible. Inside the competitive atmosphere of the training facility, sealed away from communication with the outside world, the pressure was relentless - no doubt mirroring the life they'd lead when, or rather if, they graduated to a fighter squadron. Cadets learned to rest whenever they could, snatching sleep at odd moments before being called to yet another surprise drill. Gemi could usually doze off wherever she happened to be but this time, in the relative comfort of her bed, sleep eluded her.
The door to the barracks hissed open, casting a familiar shadow over the wall opposite Gemi's head. She turned round.
"Hey, Gremlin." Sensei, the multi-limbed Xexto, was frequently her wingmate on live training flights and in the sims. They were the oldest and youngest cadets, yet they'd formed a bond between them. Odd; she liked it when he called her Gremlin, yet she'd hated the nickname when the McCauleys had given it to her. She had been furious when they had told her the meaning of the word, taking it as an insult to her engineering skills, but now she saw it in a different light. Jack McCauley - where was he now?
Pushing aside her thoughts, she propped herself on one elbow to smile at Sensei. "Hey yourself. So did you survive, that time?" It had become a grim joke, to keep a tally of the number of times they had 'died' in sims. Death was not unknown to the trainees: two cadets had already been lost in live flying exercises. Virtual death was preferable, despite the embarrassment.
Sensei stretched, four arms making his modified flight suit bulge strangely. "This time. Don't know about next." The Basic words sounded odd in his accent, but Gemi was used to his speech by now. She grinned.
"Ah, don't worry, you've still got a long way to go before you reach my score. I've been trying to get some sleep before the next session so I don't make it 18, but I just can't." Gemi swung her legs over the side of her bed, tossing her long plait of purple hair over one shoulder. She aimed a winsome smile at her wingmate. "I don't suppose you'd fancy some one-on-one time before the next drill? It might even make us sleepy ..."
Sensei hooted with laughter, as he always did when Gemi propositioned him. "Why don't I talk philosophy to you instead? That always puts you to sleep." It was a running joke between them; Gemi shook her head, pantomiming horror at the thought.
The Xexto tilted his elongated head to regard her, noting the dark circles under her eyes, the tension in her shoulders. "I could give you a massage," he suggested, quietly. "Or a hug."
The unexpected offer brought a lump to her throat. Her voice was husky. "A hug, please. If I have a massage, I don't think I'll wake up for days." Gemi stood, hitching the hated flight suit into place, and stepped into Sensei's embrace, not caring that she had to stoop to lay her head against his. They stood together, Zeltron and Xexto, for several minutes until Gemilan sighed and straightened up, managing a smile.
"It's only 17 deaths, after all. How much harder can it get?"
And on Alderaan billions died, foreshadowing events to come.
* * *
[Rebel Base, Yavin 4]
The Rimward Liberty was more than just an ugly ship. It was beautiful, in its ugliness, like many a Class 720, but it was more odd-looking with many panels missing or strange sizes. It looked like it had been assembled from scrap and there was some truth to that. It was as old as the Empire, more dilapidated then a moisture farmer's speeder and about as clean as Jack McCauley's jacket.
That jacket was currently wrapped around the main fuel feed of the Liberty, thoroughly soaked in lubricant. A small puddle of the substance had dripped off the jacket's sleeve and onto the floor, which was currently responsible for the bump on the back of Jack's head. He lay on the floor, cursing silently, as the lubricant dripped from his boot to the floor again, almost guaranteeing that this was a process that would be repeated.
"Wha'cha doing down there, man?"
Jack glanced round to the inquisitive face of Wrench, the Tintinnan mechanic. His little beady eyes were blinking in incomprehension and his rat nose had wrinkled in confusion at the sight of Jack on the floor.
"Oh, just relaxing, Wrench. What's going down?"
"Big bad stuff Jack, big bad stuff." The little rodent shook his head, "It's really horrible."
Jack shrugged, pulled himself to a sitting position and dug a lighter and cigarette out of his pocket before placing the cigarette in his mouth. Wrench shook his head in panic as Jack lit the cigarette. "The fuel line is just there!"
"You worry too much," Jack said, taking a puff. "So, what's a-shaking? I saw a few teary faces around."
"Well.....it's the Empire ..."
"It's always the Empire," Jack scoffed.
"This time it's really, really big. They used this new type of weapon or something."
"Alderaan. It's gone."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Gone? Planets don't disappear."
"No, no, not like missing. Like .... destroyed."
Jack took a deeper puff. "Well....."
There was a silence and Wrench let Jack digest the news. He'd noticed a lot of the humans had seemed more affected than most other species, not that surprising really. Eventually Jack spoke again.
"Can you help me fix this fuel line?"
Wrench gave Jack a quizzical look. "I do not understand humans sometimes."
"What? I'm not from Alderaan. It ain't nothing to do with me."
"What do you mean, nothing to do with you? It has everything to do with us! Does it not make you angry? The way the Empire can get away with this?"
Jack shrugged. "They do worse every day, just in places you don't hear about. No point getting all upset about it."
"A whole planet! Gone! Do you not realise what this means they could do to us?"
A puff of smoke accompanied the shake of McCauley's head, "You mean you. There is no 'us'."
Wrench looked really confused now. "So you're not part of the Alliance, now?"
"I've always preferred to think of myself as a private contractor," Jack said, pulling himself up so he was standing.
"But you have a rank."
"Got to have a rank to get paid."
There was more silence as Wrench started to help fix the fuel line. He seemed slightly bothered by Jack's attitude, but Jack was slightly bothered by the little rodent's prodding. Didn't aliens get when it was best to just drop the subject?
After a while the silence was broken by Wrench. "So where are you running to next?"
"Got to take a shed-load of things to Rainworld Academy. Apparently they want more supplies."
"Rainworld? That's a long way away from here..."
"Yep. At least a week of hopping from system to system, trading supplies and picking up people where I need to. Lot of things the Alliance want to be taken to and from Rainworld."
"It's a pilot academy, right?"
"Aye. A lot of cocky flyboys."
"But you fly?"
"Not the same. Dunno if they might want to rope me in for their exercises too - always fun having newbies completely failing to escort me and my shuttle out of hot zones."
"Aren't you worried about patrols? I heard the Imperial presence has gotten heavier recently."
"I ain't worried about me, Wrench. I have my agreements with the local authorities. In fact I know exactly when and where I'll be boarded and I'll comply fully with their demands. Often better than running away. But you ought to be worried."
"I heard that precious princess of yours has disappeared, probably with the rest of Alderaan. If she's been captured, the Imps are probably not far off knowing about this place. With a planet killer on their side, you ain't got much hope."
Wrench went very quiet as he continued to work on the fuel line. After a while Jack spoke up. "That Lucy, she's from Alderaan, right?"
"Yes," Wrench said cautiously.
"Perhaps I should comfort her."
Wrench let out a sigh and continued to work on the pipe as Jack leant against it, puffing away on his cigarette.
* * *
Above Yavin, several wings of fighters carried the hopes of the Rebellion against the greatest weapon ever built. Laser cannons fired retina-searing pulses and TIE fighters harried the brave pilots as they attempted the trench run, seeking the tiny exhaust port which could destroy the advancing Death Star.
Meanwhile, in another part of the galaxy, far far away ...
"If I'd wanted to be a ground-pounder, I'd have joined the frakking marines," Gemilan grumbled, crouching behind a log as two flight-suited cadets ran past, their orange coveralls vivid against the greenery. "Wait - who's that ...?"
She ducked down, pressing her face into the earth, the smell of leafmould and damp filling her nostrils. Sensei, who had risked peeking out - his natural colouring blended more easily with the jungle surroundings - scrunched back into a tangle of limbs and breathed, "Alien and Berserker. Looks like they're chasing Hacker and someone else. We must be close."
"Close, yeah?" Gemi's face was liberally daubed with mud to conceal as much of her red skin as possible. "Dunno how much closer we can get without being seen ..." She winced as blasters whined in the direction of the fleeing cadets and a flurry of shouts erupted. "Guess that's them caught, then," she finished with a sigh.
"Indeed." The single, dry word was evocative of a philosophy professor, which had been his peace-time role; in contrast, the Xexto's appearance was that of a fugitive. He and Gemi had shed their distinctive orange flight-suits within seconds of being dumped in the jungle as part of a survival exercise. Sensei hid his second set of arms beneath a dull brown under-robe while Gemi had soaked her white singlet and shorts in a puddle to darken them - on Rainworld, there were plenty of mud-baths to choose from. More mud streaked her smooth skin, breaking up the red expanse.
Gemi frowned, consulting the hand-drawn map which had been their sole source of direction for the duration of the exercise. "I think we're meant to get over there," she pointed east, "but how we do it, I don't know." She had no desire to be 'tagged' by the modified blasters, having been warned that they stung. Knowing that the effects wore off within half an hour was cold comfort.
She turned to the Xexto, who was gazing skywards with a strange look on his narrow face. "Sensei? A little help ...?" but he cut her off with a gesture and pointed up. Up, towards the canopy of trees that stretched overhead, thick branches all but interlocking, like a road-map pointing towards .... Gemi drew in her breath and glanced back at her fellow cadet. Her smile was feral. "Let's do it!"
The climb was harder than they had expected. Sensei's extra limbs came in handy; he could cling onto the tree and still stretch down a couple of hands to help Gemilan. Equally, there were times when her greater height helped them reach the next level, but finally they both sprawled across one of the largest branches, catching their breath before the next stage of the plan.
Their new route was slippery with moss and littered with the nests of some small creatures who scattered dung liberally around their homes. Gemi scrunched up her nose as they picked their way past the first set of nests, clinging to the upper branches to help keep their balance. "That stuff stinks!" she whispered to Sensei, trying to keep her boots away from the mess. By the time they had been in the canopy for an hour, though, she had forgotten about her desire for cleanliness and was ploughing through patch after patch of guano, intent on keeping upright and avoiding discovery by the instructors who had been set to catch them.
"Who needs survival exercises, anyway?" she groused to Sensei as they took a brief rest and a gulp of lukewarm water from the single bottle they'd been allowed. "If I'm shot down I'll just surrender, then escape!"
The Xexto smiled. "Ah, the impetuousness of youth. They're not just teaching us about survival, Gremlin. We're meant to be developing teamwork, lateral thinking, strategy - all skills that will be useful to us in our X-wings, too."
Gemi looked doubtful. "Really? I just think it's a chance for Lock the Cock to show how wonderful he is. 'Ooh, look, I can shoot unarmed cadets for real, not just in the sims!'" She shook her head, sending her wet tail of hair whipping back and forwards. "He wouldn't be so quick to do this if he was up here, facing a blaster up the backside if he's caught!"
"He probably did something like this too, in his training. There's a reason why we're being put through this, Gremlin." Sensei's voice was soothing. "Come on. We can't be far away now. Let's see if we can be the first cadets ever to make it to the end without getting caught!"
The notion fired Gemi's enthusiasm once more and she followed the Xexto with renewed vigour, though her thoughts were focused more upon the indignities she'd like to commit on Lieutenant Lock than the eventual outcome of the exercise.
A short while later, the cadets crouched next to the trunk of one of the largest trees they had negotiated so far. Their eventual destination - a beacon set atop a case of supplies - was lying in the middle of a small clearing, easily visible from above. They were discussing in whispers how best to approach their goal when the sound of footsteps below drew their attention. Gemi and Sensei froze as Lock himself appeared, talking quietly into a portable comm.
"Yes - Sensei and Gremlin are the only two left. Any sign of them where you are?" A brief burble from the commlink. "Right. I'll meet you here, then." The comm clicked off and Lock pulled something from his pocket - a ration pack, by the sound of the covering being ripped off and the chewing that ensued.
Gemi's stomach grumbled; she put both hands over her belly and hugged, hoping Lock couldn't hear the sound. The Lieutenant was standing directly beneath one of the clusters of nests. She wished that one of the little creatures which inhabited the nests would choose that moment to evacuate its rear end over Lock's head. It was a pleasant thought, but not the most important one in her mind.
To Sensei, she pointed in the direction of the clearing and mouthed, "Go for it! I'll watch him." At least if Sensei made it to the beacon, it would hopefully count as a team victory. The Xexto looked like he was going to demur, but he was higher up the tree than Gemi and in a perfect position to clamber across the branches. He gave a brief nod of his flexible neck and slithered off, looking like a demented insect with his spiky limbs.
Gemilan was left watching Lieutenant Lock. Her eyes kept getting drawn to the nests. There was a large pile of guano perched precariously close to the edge of the branch. If only she could nudge it - just ever so slightly - so it plopped over onto him .... oh, what sweet revenge it would be for dumping them all in this rain-sodden, stinking jungle!
Sensei was closing in on the beacon, now. Gemi was torn between watching him and trying, ever so slightly, to shake the branch with the nests on it. She was about to give it another jiggle when two more instructors appeared - Alien and Berserker, both wearing combat fatigues like Lock's, far more suited to the jungle surroundings than the cadets' poisonous orange. Gemilan huddled against the trunk, keeping one eye on Sensei and the other on the meeting taking place below. Berserker, the grey-furred Shistavanen, waved one arm in the direction of the beacon, did a double-take and shouted.
It all happened very quickly after that.
Realising he had been spotted, Sensei scuttled along the branches, seeking to drop to the ground near the beacon and turn it on to signify a successful escape. Berserker raised his blaster; Lock and Alien were split-seconds behind. Gemi yelled and jumped from her hiding-place, heading for the branch with the nests, rather than towards the beacon. The vibrations from her movement made the guano shift, sending a sizable quantity of dung splattering over Lieutenant Lock, who unfortunately happened to be looking up to see where the shout had come from. The noise and movement startled Berserker, whose shot went wide, and Sensei slapped the beacon's top, setting off the klaxon to declare that the exercise had finally been won.
Gemi was laughing even as Alien tagged her.
* * *
"It's a shame he didn't believe that it was an accident," Gemi said later, once they'd showered away the sweat and stench from the jungle.
"Well, you were heading away from the beacon," Sensei pointed out, but the Zeltron shook her head.
"I was trying to divert attention from you. Clearly I wasn't going to head towards the beacon." She gave him an innocent look before dipping the brush appropriated from a cleanbot into a bucket of acrid-smelling disinfectant. "At least you sounded the klaxon. Seledesnoi, first-ever winner of the survival challenge!"
The Xexto chuckled, sounding like a squeaky hinge. "It was a joint effort. We worked together to achieve success - just as wingmates are supposed to do."
"Indeed!" Gemi grinned at her unlikely friend. "Now buzz off, you, and don't do anything to get this bathroom dirtier than it already is. I've got to get it cleaned up by midnight, remember!"
Left alone in the tiled, echoing facility, Gemilan relived the moment when the guano had splattered all over Lieutenant Lock. It had been worth it. It had so been worth it!
And in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin, with the remains of the Death Star turning to meteorites in the night sky, the same sentiment was being echoed by the leaders of the Rebellion. They had just won their first major fight against the Empire. Despite the losses, the pilots and ships sent to their doom, it had been worth it.
* * *