Green as it Gets
Deep Space, Present
This was getting all too much, too much to handle. Even the darkness of space seemed to be surrendering to the ever expanding cloud of light.
"Lead," Jack "Frosty" McCauley said over his comm, "this is useless. We got to pull out."
"Shut up and stay with me Frosty," Lock's voice came back over the comm, his fighter twisting awkwardly. "I don't have time for your usual jokes, man."
"I'm not kidding," Jack said, cutting his throttle and pulling his X-wing's nose up, heading straight for Lock. He feathered the rudder pedal and cut left, avoiding hitting Lock head on whilst his lasers swept past his squadron leader and punched through the TIE that was pursuing the CO. "We can't win this one."
"Don't tell me the odds!" Lock said, tearing off again.
Frosty sighed to himself as his hand pushed the fighter port, following Lock almost lazily. The movements inside his fighter looked smooth but the result was a fast moving, confident fighter. Frosty almost seemed to predict where to go next, rather than relying on reactions to get him out of the way of hazards. It looked effortless; however it was anything but.
He quite enjoyed combat in a way; he had decided a while ago. Of course he hated the build up to it, the training, the uniform, the boring hyperspace jumps and the moment when he saw the odds and got the sinking feeling he and everyone else were going to die. He hated the post combat lull too, when the adrenaline left you and you started thinking about how close it was. But during the actual thing, when it was too late to be scared, he adored it. The way it sharpened the mind, the way every hair on your body stood up. Yeah, he loved that feeling.
Not that he'd ever go looking for a fight. Gods no, he often felt sick knowing he was about to likely die. But right now he was alive. That's what mattered. Yeah, he could see where that TIE was going to go, he could tell from the way it dove that it was trying to get him to follow, to set him up for a trap. Yeah, he knew how clever he felt when instead he cut the throttle and the TIE following him suddenly flew past and found itself in his crosshairs. That was all too familiar and exciting.
It was, as far as Frosty knew, the closest he came to peace. Even drinking couldn't numb him like combat could. Shame his emotional silence was shattered very abruptly.
"Twelve, shake him!"
"I can't, damn it someone get him off me!"
Jack looked out his canopy and saw where Mooch was, the TIE's crawling all over him. He saw how it was too late. The fighter exploded. The silence was shattered.
Mining Planet K-14B, Three Days Previous
Jack McCauley walked the streets, a grin spread from ear to ear. Yes this little planet was a hellhole, a dust trap filled with the poor and the oppressed. Yes he'd had to risk quite a lot coming here on leave, seeing as it was an Imperial mining planet. But hey, this was worth it. It was totally worth it to see a very special lady.
Of course Ms. Roisin Jewell was no ordinary lady, at least not in Jack's mind. He was his very first. At the young age of fifteen they had laid together, and where he had entered the room a boy, he left it a....well a boy. But a much less lusting young boy. She'd left Coruscant not long after, her family coming to this pathetic planet so her Dad could work in the mine, but he had always had a soft spot for her. Now she had contacted him and apparently had something very important to tell him.
The meeting place was a tavern, if you could call it that. It was a prefab structure but the white outside was now dusty brown from the air, the inside was presumably brown from.....well who knows what. But Frosty strode up to the bar confidently, a smile on his bearded face. The grizzled looking bartender looked at him, "What?"
"I'm here to see a lady by the name of Roisin. Roisin Jewell."
"And you are?"
"Jack McCauley," McCauley said with a grin. A light seemed to come on in the bartender's eyes and he nodded, "Aye, I recognise the face. You look just like she said."
He reached into his pockets and handed Frosty over a little device, some sort of voice recorder. "She told me to get you to listen to that in private before you make any hasty decisions."
Jack waved away, "Yeah, yeah, she always liked to play cat and mouse."
Sighing wearily the bartender simply pushed the device into Jack's hand. Frowning Jack turned around and took a seat in a quiet corner, activating the device.
"Hey Jack. It's Roisin." Jack smiled, well yeah of course it was. She sounded almost just like he remembered, if a little tired. "I can't meet you today."
Jack's face dropped and he felt for the blaster under his jacket. Was this a trap?
"To be honest it was kind of stupid of you to think I'd want to see you after all this time. But I do need a favour from you."
This isn't funny.
"Now if you haven't changed much I know you won't think much of me by now. Hells I expect you to have dropped the recorder and left by now."
There was a big sigh from the recorder and the telltale click of a lighter lighting a cigarette. "Listen, I did my best. I really tried, really really tried, but I've got nothing left. But I'm not heartless, you know? So I figure it's your turn. I did my time, you can do yours. You're partly responsible for her too, after all."
Her? Who the hell is her?
"She'll be waiting upstairs for you. There's one other thing Jack....I...I'm not sure if she is yours. See I was also seeing Connor, your brother Connor see, around the time I saw you-"
"-but you two were always so close and...I...well, I don't always make the best choices. But whatever else happens, she is your blood. You remember that. I know what that means to you."
Jack threw the recorder down and stormed up the stairs of the tavern, the bartender shouting for him. A burly man tried to stop Jack but he simply pushed him over, heading forward to the door at the end of the corridor. Is this some kind of sick joke?
He kicked open the door, looked at the pile of rags on the bed and felt his galaxy turn upside down. The little pile of rags stared right back at him, her browny blonde hair covering most of her face but those little green eyes still stared right into him. Those little green eyes, just like his. Just like Connor's. Just like their mother's.
"I-" Jack stumbled for words. The little child stared at him. He stretched out his hand to her, motioning very slowly towards himself like he was trying to calm a wild animal. "I'm going to take you away from here."
Jack bit his lip slightly, "If you want."
The little girl stared at him quietly, "Jack. My name is Jack McCauley."
Silently the little girl stood up from the bed and walked towards him. She took his hand and led him away from the room, in a daze.
CRS Morning Star, Two Days Previous
Dr. Moneb Crondon sighed, a gravelly sound coming from his Ithorian throat. Such a simple question, with so many connotations.
McCauley was alternating between staring at the doctor and through the viewport in the alien's office, into the observation room where the young girl sat drawing. She seemed relaxed, but she did not seem happy. More curious. When she looked up at McCauley he waved, but she merely stared for a while before going back to her drawing.
"She didn't speak a single word for the whole journey. That's twelve hours of silence! Goodness knows I tried. No one there would tell me anything about her either, most people didn't even know she existed." Jack gave Dr. Crondon, the Morning Star's medic and resident head doctor a tired look. "I don't even know her name."
"Hrm," Moneb said emphatically, handing over a flimsiplast piece to McCauley. "She wrote DEARBHÁIL when I asked her her name. Derbhall? Dearbail?"
Moneb looked at the writing sideways and shook his head. "No, no. That makes no sense."
"Derfall. Trust me. It's the old language; what my Ma and Pa spoke."
"Hmmm," Moneb said again in a non committal way. He cleared his throat, "Well, physically speaking she is surprisingly healthy. A bit thin, but that's easily fixed."
"But why won't she talk?"
Moneb fixed a beady eye on Jack and sighed. The man looked like he was about to keel over from stress. What an awful, but also amazing, surprise to have placed in his lap. "There could be a great many reasons as to why she chooses to keep quiet," he said patiently, "But have no fear. I will keep a close eye on her and with some time to adjust and perhaps a few therapy sessions she will hopefully open up in time."
Moneb sighed again. He had forgotten how to talk to parents. "You seem to be taking this rather well, Lieutenant. I did not expect you to have any paternal....instincts."
Jack shrugged his shoulders, trying to look calmer then he felt. "Couldn't leave her there, could I?"
"Of course not. But have you fully thought this through?"
"Mo I don't know! I don't even know if I'm going to keep her!"
Dr. Crondon nodded carefully, "I thought you may face some difficulties. I took the liberty of looking into various adoption schemes for you."
Jack wrinkled his brow, he and his brother had never needed adopting had they? But they'd never really done right either. "Let's hear them."
"Very well." Moneb opened up his computer, making it easy for Jack to see the information he had collected. "Official Imperial schemes will give Dearfail-"
"Yes, yes, Derfall a strong chance to move upwards in life. Most of the children taken in go on to have many well paid positions." Moneb grunted a little. "Unfortunately, most of the positions are within the Imperial military."
"I can't stand the idea that people I know might shoot her down one day!" Jack wailed.
"Quite, quite. I've found a few other, non Imperial run, adoption homes. They will care for her."
"But?" Jack said, not believing his luck.
"But," Mo continued, "she may find that her life is dangerous. They're on Outer rim planets where pirate raids and other criminal activities are common. She may never find a safe life out there."
Jack looked crestfallen. "What else can I do?"
Moneb folded his arms and observed Jack, waiting for the young man's brain to process his thoughts. "I can't let her stay here. Mii'Sui only allowed it because I had no alternatives; besides this is a Rebel warship. It doesn't get much more dangerous than this!"
"No less dangerous than the other options, Lieutenant."
Jack frowned again. "What are you saying?"
"Think carefully. What frightens you most about this situation?"
Jack turned back to look through the viewport on his daughter. Or was she his niece? Did it really matter? "She's my blood Mo. She's the last of them, what with Conor gone. I'm not sure I even want that in my life."
"But will you give her up?"
"I'm not sure," Jack sighed, "I just need to think."
Meanwhile Dearbhail continued to draw, occasionally pausing to look up to the viewport where her rescuer stood, looking concerned. She screwed up her features, let her hand move gently across the flimsiplast and began to trace more lines. She turned once more to the drawing, her outlet. She continued.
Deep Space, Present
"Lead, Twelve is down."
I'm not ready for this.
"Pipe down, Eleven!" He barked, swinging his snub fighter around. "Find Nine and Ten and stick to them like glue!"
"I'm not getting any positive scans of a body lead," came a voice more clearly through the comm. A private line, Frosty from the sounds of it. "Although with so much going on, who can tell?"
"Keep your mind in the game," Lock said, sweating slightly, "There's no time for bodies."
Why? Why now?
It had all started so well. Red's first battle with Lock as CO hadn't been a huge success but they'd got what they'd needed. Admittedly there were losses to the Alliance, but none to Lock's squadron and so he'd left feeling not buoyed but somewhat less stressed. But it was not a major battle and so the war had yet to show it's true brutal side to Lock. This battle was exactly that.
The information had been wrong. It always was. Red was meant to sneak in, hit and run, but instead had found itself surrounded and dug in. Matters had only been made worse when Defender Wing had attempted to wade in, suddenly turning the disaster into a full blown clusterfrak. Should have called a retreat earlier. Should have hightailed it the moment things turned sour.
He cursed himself as a laser sliced past his fighter, forcing him to turn a tight corkscrew. He'd let emotion cloud his judgement, something his Imperial training had taught him to not do. All because in that first fight he'd called a retreat the moment the objective had been met. A pilot had been lost that day but he'd paid it no heed: It was not his pilot and it was not his mistake. The pilot had been foolish. But now, in the stark clarity of battle, he realised that loss had niggled at him. Caused him to think twice. Caused him to not try and break out when they'd had the brief chance to.
Flash wouldn't have let that happen. She wouldn't have let high command push us into action when the marines aren't confident pilots and the pilots aren't confident marines.
"Red Seven, get yourself back to your wingmate right now!"
Frosty saw the need to retreat. Should have said frak the objective. Screw the mission. I can't be here for this.
"Reds, don't let them constrain us! Keep the combat zone wide, keep them working hard! We can't win this but we can not lose."
I'm quitting when we get back. I'm quitting and I'm never looking back. A scream of a TIE fighter caused a twitch jerk of the flight stick. "Two, keep up!" If I get back.
"Lead, I think Flash is hit! Flash is hit lead, she's hit!"
Jet, why didn't you tell me it would be like this? Force damn you Jet!
CRS Morning Star, 2 days before
The buzzer sounded on his door, jolting Lock from his mental sleep. He had nothing to do at this moment so had chosen to enjoy a rare moment of calm in his office. He stood from behind his desk, cluttered with various datapads and a pack of tabac cigarras, and sauntered over to his office door. He opened it and looked somewhat annoyed at the young girl standing before him.
He opened his mouth to speak and shut it again. Suddenly his brain was no longer cooperating with him; this was new and unmarked territory. Lock had fought for the Empire, turned his back on them and rebelled, thrown a few drunken punches and won a card game or two in his time but he had, as far as he could remember, never had to deal with children. What did you say to kids anyway?
"Er," he said, his edge of cool evaporating in the white hot stare of an expectant child, "Peek a boo?"
"What are you doing?" Jack said to Lock, suddenly appearing by the girl's side.
"I, er," Lock struggled to regain his composure and turned to a well entrenched defence mechanism, "Is this girl you're doing? What is she doing here?"
"Look man, it's been a heavy day. Can we relax in your office?"
"Yeah sure, come in."
All three of them walked into the office, Jack instantly took the chair opposite Lock's desk whilst Lock moved round to sit behind the desk. Dearbhail meanwhile stared at a messy pile of clothes on Lock's couch before she eventually settled down on top of a smaller pile. She pulled out a flimsi and started to draw again.
Sighing, Jack put his feet up on Lock's desk, but when this prompted a furrowed brow from his CO he sighed again and put his feet on the floor. Lock nodded, satisfied, and put his feet up on his desk.
"There's a child in my office."
This seemed a valid explanation to Frosty and normally it would have done to Lock; their friendship was solid as a rock thanks to Lock knowing when not to, or possibly not caring to, ask questions. But some questions demand answers and this question was prodding Lock in all the wrong places.
"There's a child. In my office."
"Fine, look, she may or may not be my daughter but she is definitely blood related. Her Ma...her ma," Frosty glanced around to Dearbhail and dropped his voice to a whisper, "She had enough and told me to look after her and...well....yeah."
Lock gave the child a puzzled look and shrugged, "As long as she don't cause trouble. Mii'Sui cleared it too, right?"
Lock nodded, seemingly content and offered a cigarra to Frosty. He took it, feeling a lot happier; Lock wouldn't poke him anymore, wouldn't ask difficult questions like ‘Where's she going to live?' or ‘Isn't it too dangerous here?' or that old chestnut ‘But how can you, as a barely functioning adult, take care of a child?' That was why he was such a great friend.
They spent a few moments in silence, puffing away, before Jack shattered it. "You ain't been doing great."
Lock shrugged again, perhaps a hint of annoyance in it.
"This whole commanding business, I can see it's getting to you."
"Frosty you couldn't see into my mind if I opened it with a vibroblade and invited you to poke around."
"That ain't true!"
"You don't come steal a smoke near the fuel tanks in the hangar bay no more."
"What does that prove? That I'm not suicidal?" Lock said, raising an eyebrow.
"It proves that you're worried about setting examples." Jack let a triumphant grin spread across his face.
Lock simply shook his head, "You're insane McCauley."
There was silence for a while longer whilst the two enjoyed their cigarras. Lock absent mindedly keyed a few buttons on his datapad and music came on in the background, its slow and melodious tones settling in their minds. It was the kind of music that made Jack feel blue. He glanced behind him and saw that Dearbhail was still colouring happily. Or at least as happy as he could tell, the girl's face always seemed so blank and inexpressive.
"What's it like Lock? The commanding? All that responsibility?"
Lock cocked an eyebrow at Frosty, "You're the one with the kid and you're asking me what responsibility is like?"
Jack shrugged the thought away and continued to give Lock a look. Lock responded with a puff of the cigarra which pushed Jack into the dangerous territory of giving him a real look. Lock saw this and exasperatedly backed down. "Really mate, you look tired."
"I don't sleep so well these days," Lock said blankly, secretly irritated that Frosty had got that out of him. "I can feel it all the time, you know?"
"It's like being on one of the heavy gravity worlds. I can feel it pulling me down all the time but I can't actually see it. Every time someone screws up in the sims, everytime I get a mission plan from high command I feel it. I fear that someone is going to die."
"We always had that though," Jack said interjecting, "hell you've had more of it then I have when you was X.O. and it never seemed to bother you."
"Different, I haven't had to lead like this before." Lock said, shaking his head sharply. "If someone dies now it's my fault. Not anyone else's."
"What if they did something stupid? Or their wingman let them down? Or command sent us on an impossible mission?"
"Then I should have trained them better, changed the flight groups or told command to stuff it and it was an impossible mission." Lock looked at Frosty, his eyes strangely unfocused. "Everything is on my head now and I feel it all the time."
Lock sighed again, his shoulders slumping, and he drew out a whisky bottle and two glasses pouring himself and Frosty one. Sense told him it was best not to but some rituals have to be observed.
"So that's why you were hiding away in this office then? Out of some stupidly placed guilt? Fear? You were kriffing scared?" There was the faintest trace of anger in Frosty's voice and it made Lock angry too.
"Hey, it's not that simple. You don't want to be seeing people's faces if you know they might never be seen again because of your decisions. You don't know what that's like."
"Huttwash! We all know what it's like, that's war! That ain't no excuse to turn your back on your friends. Jet never did to you."
Lock shot Frosty a look and the man instantly shut up. Some lines shouldn't be crossed and Jack realised he'd been lucky to get away without a punch. Silence reigned for some time longer.
"I can see why Flash hated the job," Lock said eventually.
"Yeah. Cause she had to deal with you."
The men laughed as Dearbhail watched them; after a slight pause she continued her drawing.
Deep Space, Present
"Nine, we gotta get out of here!"
Mitch "Rev" Ri'chard knew he had faults. He knew them well, as he believed it was important to find those imperfections and make up for them. But for all his faults he was certainly not a coward and nor was he prone to panic. "Relax Eleven. Running now would be the end of us."
"But they got Mooch, Nine!" Came the desperate plea.
"They'll get you too if you keep dwelling on it," Rev said, starting to sweat as he threw his snubfighter around. "Stick with me and you'll be fine."
Rev hoped he sounded as confident as he meant to be but he had to admit he was struggling. Although he'd fought a few battles in the X-wing now and had flown sims countless number of times this was a whole new level. This was where experience counted and he knew he was lacking that.
How he wished this was a battle on solid ground where he was much more confident. But for now he had to simply do his very best.
"Come on three flight, there's more eyeballs heading our way!" A laser streaked close to his fighter and he adjusted his flight path to try and avoid any more near misses. He heard the scream of a TIE, saw it bearing down on his position and gritted his teeth. Then, all of a sudden, the TIE became a ball of debris as another TIE collided with it-an not all uncommon event when fighting became this close. Rev uttered a quick prayer to Y'Shua in thanks.
CRS Morning Star, Two days previous
Dearbhail walked into the gym and sat down cross legged on one of the exercise mats. A few meters away from her Rev was doing as many push ups as his body could allow. The sweat poured off his face, his muscles straining with the effort, but his face looked relatively calm. His mind was elsewhere.
I have to get better. As X.O. I have to improve.
He changed to press ups and continued.
The other pilots have the jump on me, I have to work hard to catch them up.
He would have chuckled if his lungs would have let him. It was difficult suddenly finding himself the X.O. of a combined ground and space unit. He had no difficulties in leadership and he was a natural foot soldier but flying was a hell of a challenge. It required sharp reflexes and buckets of training.
Rev had never worried that he might not be a good enough pilot to lead his flight, nor had he ever worried that he might get himself killed because he didn't have enough experience in flying. Rev didn't worry because he had a secret weapon.
Whereas most cadets in flight school spent their down time wooing impressionable men and women, Rev just trained more. When other trainees would be busy having breakdowns, Rev would pray a little, get up off his knees and train some more. The man had an iron will and his faith in Y'Shua gave him an unshakable confidence that somehow never fully blossomed into arrogance.
He pulled himself up and then got down onto his knees, his hands coming together. Suddenly he looked peaceful, his breathing slow and laboured. It was important to him to pray regularly. It gave him time to reflect and get closer to Y'Shua. Y'Shua guided him, gave him purpose and filled his life with light. It was thanks to Y'Shua that Rev knew he could overcome his inexperience to become the worthy flight leader he knew awaited inside of him. It was thanks to Y'Shua that Rev did not feel fear as keenly as others; after all, if the end waited for him just around the bend, then he knew it was Y'shua's will. Until then, he knew he was safe in Y'shua's hands.
If only it was always this simple.
Deep Space, Present
Flash stuck to her wingmate like glue, her mind sharp and focused. In the raw turbulence of combat her mind was more refined than ever and she felt limitless. She was a Mandolorian in battle, a soldier second. It was at times like this she felt most comfortable with herself for this was her purpose in life.
Another explosion, another cry over the comm. Only a short time ago she would have felt a twang of guilt, a pain, that she as leader had failed but that was Lock's duty now; she had long ago failed it. She would simply wait until further orders were handed to her and then she would carry them out.
She gritted her teeth as her X-wing swung around, physics desperately trying to throw her fighter away whilst she fought back with sheer will. There would be no mistakes today. She pulled the trigger and her lasers converged on a TIE, blowing it apart, but as soon as it was gone another appeared into view. They were outnumbered four or five to a fighter, maybe more, maybe less. They needed to pull out.
She forced it out of her mind; it was not her concern. But the fighter that was now chasing her wingman very much was her concern. She set after it, a grin on her face.
This was her purpose.
CRS Morning Star, Two days earlier
The voice was robotic, clipped, monotone. It'd be wrong to say it was emotionless because even neutrality is an emotion but it was certainly incredibly controlled. Dearbhail watched the strange person in armour stroll around the holomonitor, pointing out the simulator replay to the dusty brown haired young man who observed. He had an air of intense discomfort, seeming as if the simple act of being next to the armoured lady was causing him to feel fear on the most basic level.
"There, you see how you evaded me?"
The young man looked at the holo and nodded carefully.
"That was good. But what you did next," the armored figure waved at the holoprojector as she vaped him from existance, "was not good. You got very predictable. Do you know why?"
Seagulls shook his head quickly.
"Regimental. Ordered. Imperial." Flash shook her head sadly, "Your Imperial training does you well, but sometimes you need to think more creatively. Do you understand?"
Seagulls nodded quickly. Flash sighed, a strange sound from her helmet. "You may leave. For now."
He scampered out, taking only a precautionary second to glance at Dearbhail. Sometimes it was best not to question the going ons aboard the Morning Star.
Flash meanwhile remained at the holo projector, staring at it intensely. It was good that she still had this duty, it reminded her of her past wrongdoings. She had screwed up and so she had taken a fall but she would do her very best to rectify the damage and that started with training Seagulls. He had potential and she was hammering that potential into making him a fine pilot but sometimes she worried. Was she even a good example of a fine pilot?
She had always naively thought that Mandolorians made the greatest soldiers in this galaxy but she had recently reassessed this thought process; great warriors was without question but great soldiers...well. Soldiers required unthinking discipline and that was something Flash was not sure she could always rely on.
This guilt, this constant burden, it was fresh and unusual. Previously when Flash had screwed up, seen people die, she'd known there was someone else to blame. The Empire, a lone Mandolorian. But this time the only person she could blame was herself; the anger she would usually use to push herself forwards only turned to hatred of what she had done. This was a new feeling.
She took off her helmet, thinking she was alone, and ran her hand through her short hair. What kind of example was she to her juniors? Perhaps her role as a senior pilot was not correct. She appreciated what Lock had done for her, keeping her on, but perhaps it was best she voluntarily took a step back.
Yes. That was it. She'd decided. After the next engagement she would make clear her intentions to Lock to stand down from active duty and would become a training officer with flight support. She would stand on the sidelines, training the youngsters and serving as an example. Let your emotions cloud your judgement and this is where you will end up.
After all, she felt angrily, it was no more than she deserved.
Deep Space, Present
Reduce throttle, pull back sharply, increase throttle, feather the pedal and pull the trigger. Confirmed hit. Look for Rev, find him, stick to him. Fighter targeting him, reduce throttle, get in aim and pull trigger. Confirmed hit. Look for Rev, find him, stick to him.
"Still with me Ten?" Came the question over the comm. Ice responded with a quick double click of the comm. She had no time to talk now; she was concentrating. Another target appeared and she watched it cautiously, like a cat, waiting for her flight leader to make the first move. When he did she pounced, mercilessly attacking the eyeball. The TIE dived left and straight into Rev's own laser fire causing Ice to smile coldly. Any kill was a success as far as she was concerned.
The odds were against them. Lock would think of retreat, but Ice was not ready for that. It was not time; the mission had to be completed. "I'm hit, I'm hit!" Came a cry over the comm, Ice glanced towards her radar and instantly put it out of mind. There was no way she could help the pilot now, such was battle. She had to concentrate on her own battles.
"Spotted a TIE group heading for Krayt squadron. Let's get them."
She was thrown back as she throttled up and keyed her comm, "Copy flight leader."
CRS Morning Star, Two days earlier
Some days it seemed easier. Other days it was harder.
The room was not empty for crates stood everywhere but if you were to take any living being in there they would find it hard to use a different word to describe it. Devoid of the hustle and bustle that infected the rest of the Mon Calamari cruiser the room felt spiritless.
Today was perhaps a harder day. Perhaps that was why she was here, in this room. She found it difficult to be around the others on harder days.
Atop one crate sat a young girl, flimsi in hand. She stared curiously at the figure below her, confusion on her face. Who was this person? Why was she here? Why did she have those shoes on?
Racyne twirled again, her body rising with the crescendo of the music that seemed to echo in this place. Yes, perhaps today was a sad day. After all it was acceptable to be sad once in a while and she didn't think she was odd for wanting to be alone at such times. She was trying hard to talk to the others more, she had to admit Gremlin had a very positive effect on her. But today she was remembering the others before and wished to be alone.
It was difficult sometimes trying to make friends with her squadron. So far in her life most people she had gotten close with, hell most people she'd just worked with, had been killed. Admittedly this was par for the course when you fought in an outnumbered and outgunned rebellion but in the manner in which Racyne had lost her parents and how she'd been cast from squadron to squadron nibbled away at her.
She was not new to opening up to people, although a life of privilege did not endear you with a great many friends it did not leave you lonely either, but it had been so long since she had been fully honest with someone else it felt new. The squadron really tried with her though, except for perhaps Frosty but she figured he'd come out with his problem sooner or later.
The sounds of music drained away and Racyne relaxed, coming back down on the soles of her feet. She picked up her music player and left the crated room deciding that was quite enough emotional solitude for today; as she left she turned to look at the top of one of the crates but there was no one there. Shaking her head in confusion she headed out.
Deep Space, Present
"Red Five, break port!"
Gremlin threw her X-wing to the left heavily and then suddenly dipped the nose, sending her into a lazy loop. There was a flash of lasers and a sudden explosion and her tail was clear thanks to the quick work of Seagulls. "Thanks for that Red Eight. Seven, Six where are you?"
"One klick from your position!" Came the strangled reply, Gnoizic and Raven were obviously under a lot of pressure. "Could. Do. With help."
"We're on the way, hold tight!"
The laser fire was more intense in this direction and Gremlin wasn't entirely sure if she and Seagulls would make it. For a brief moment she hesitated, perhaps it wasn't right to risk Gulls' life like this then? But it was also her duty as flight leader to look after Gnoizic and Raven.
Plus, Gnoizic was a pretty good looking guy and they seemed harder to find these days.
"Eight, I'm going to ask you to do something risky."
"I'm ready, Five," sure enough, Seagulls sounded it. Perhaps a little nervous but willing.
"You enter the TIE cloud starboard, I'll go port. We'll draw their fire and have Six and Seven back with us in no time. You game?"
"Say the word!"
1 klick. 0.8 klicks. 0.6 klicks.
The two X-wings swam into the lethal cloud, spraying laser fire where they could. The TIEs scattered, like a flock of birds, from the sudden onslaught, and suddenly two flight was reunited again.
"Thanks for that, Five," Gnoizic panted over the comm, "I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable."
"Pay me back later flyboy," Gremlin chirped, as her console screamed at her, "We got more inbound. Heads up two flight!"
CRS Morning Star, Two days earlier
"Ice, you can let yourself in!"
"Jack if that's you you can leave me alone! I'm drowning in datawork here!"
There was a slight pause and for a brief moment Gemi let out a sigh of relief. It soon disappeared though.
She strode towards the door and opened it, glaring at Jack's face. "Listen you half witted, scruffy little-oh."
She looked at the child standing in front of Jack and suddenly all her worries seemed to evaporate. "Hi!"
"Can we-" Jack began but Gemi had already taken the child's hand and led her into her room. She sat her down and searched frantically under several datapads and a great many pile of clothes. Suddenly she thrust her hand in the air triumphantly, a chocolate bar in her palm. She proffered it to Dearbhail who took it silently and started to unwrap it.
"Dearbhail, you should thank Gemi for that," Jack said in his best parenting tones but Gemi waved his comments away. "Ignore grumpy puss there and enjoy it."
With Dearbhail tucking into the chocolate, Gremlin turned to Jack and raised a curious eyebrow. "So?"
It didn't take him long to explain everything to Gremlin. She was a very good listener, never questioned your story and was very open minded. "Has she talked to you yet?" Gemi asked when Jack had finished, rather more quietly.
Jack shook his head and then shrugged his shoulders. What more was there to say? Instead he frowned at her and gestured to the door. "What was with the attitude? What did I do to offend you?"
"Hmm? Oh, sorry. Just a little stressed out, that's all."
"That so? All that flight leader business getting to you?"
Gemi sighed deeply and suddenly Jack could see how deflated she looked. "Like you wouldn't believe. I've only been flight for a week and already it's killing me. We've doubled our sim time to try and learn how we fly as a flight, I've suddenly got all this extra data to assess and pass on to Lock and the responsibility...I mean I've never had to lead before, you know? Not when I was smuggling, not as a pilot and then all of a sudden I'm in charge of three other pilots."
Jack felt a sudden surge of guilt, as a Lieutenant he'd also been up for her role. Perhaps he shouldn't have been so pleased about Gremlin having to shoulder the burden instead. She rubbed her temples and suddenly looked up at Jack, flashing a smile. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to go on. Don't want to put a downer on your whole day."
"Nonsense," Jack said, moving closer to her, putting a hand on her hand. "If you don't let some of it out you'll end up blowing your brains all over that cabin wall."
Gremlin shook her head and rested it on his shoulder; when he did not flinch away she relaxed somewhat. "You have one hell of a way of cheering a girl up, you know?"
"Yeah, I know." Jack let a small grin creep onto his face, "But I needed you to cheer up so you could babysit sometime."
"If I didn't love kids so much I would kill you."
Deep Space, Present
There was a grunt inside the cockpit as Rogue pushed his X-wing hard to port, feeling his entire body seemingly try to tear itself in two as the artificial gravity exerted its effect. He completed the move and set after the TIE Fighter he had been chasing. "Still with me Four?"
"Right with you Rogue," Trick echoed back.
Paul coated the vacuum around the TIE with laserfire and gave a small grunt of satisfaction when two punched right through the TIE's engines, causing it to scatter in a very energetic way.
"You seemed a little slow there Three," chided Trick playfully as yet another TIE sent them into a panicked banking manouvere.
"Still learning the controls of these X-wings," Rogue half joked, cutting the throttle and wincing as he was winded by the seat punching into his back. However the TIE that was chasing them was suddenly in front and trying to make a break for it. "Still used to TIE fighters."
"Cut the chatter one flight," Lock snapped over the comm. "Concentrate on the task at hand."
Rogue nodded in sentiment and set after another target, his fingers dashing over the X-wing's controls. He'd spent the best part of the past week since he'd arrived aboard the Star but even now he didn't feel fully comfortable flying the X-wing. This battle was not the kind of test he needed right now.
"Two more coming from mark 0 10!"
Rogue pulled up his nose and set on a diagonal course for the four TIEs heading towards his fighter. If there was one thing he really didn't like about the Rebellion it was how often the odds were against them.
CRS Morning Star, Two days earlier
Rogue looked up from his meal in the canteen into the smiling face of his wife Cally. Letting a grin spread on his own face he pulled a chair out to let her sit down. "How are things with you today?"
"I'm good," she said honestly, "But I've had a relatively quiet day. You on the other hand have not; what time did you get up this morning?"
"About 0500. Had to get early sim work in."
"Yeah, early no kidding." Cally started to tuck into her own meal and grinned at Paul, "Feeling more settled in those X-wings yet?"
Rogue nodded but grimaced a little, "Not quite as comfortable as I would like though. I can see why they're so popular though and why they used to be so damned hard to kill."
There was a short pause after Paul's last comment but Cally broke the silence once more, "Playing on your mind?"
"What? Killing rebels in the past or the fact that I'm about to go out there and shoot some Imps down?"
Rogue nodded sagely and thought about it a little while as he chewed on his food. "What is done is done. I regret killing some of the people I did but some of the others deserved what was coming, I took out some real nasty people. I can't change it so why dwell on it?"
Cally nodded, that sounded like the man she knew her husband to be. But things were never quite that simple. "But being a rebel?"
"Well...." Rogue pushed some of the food around on his plate, "I don't fear what I have to do in the line of duty. Every Imperial I stop is another innocent life saved."
"I admit they have different ways of doing things," he said after another little pause to mull things over. He pointed towards another table where Frosty sat with Gremlin, with Dearbhail in between them who was giving Rogue an intense stare. "It's all very new and I have to admit it's unusual. But I'm confident with you by my side that I'll make it through."
Cally smiled, slightly more bashfully this time. "I'm sorry but I have to run again. I need to brush up on some of the basic maintenance of my X-wing."
Cally nodded and gave him a quick kiss. As Paul walked away from the table he gave Dearbhail a quick little wink. The young girl tilted her head to one side and began to draw.
CRS Morning Star, Present
"They've lost another one," the Mon Calamari comms officer stated calmly from his listening post aboard the Star's bridge.
Captain Mii'Sui looked up at his comms officer and frowned. "Who lost one, Ensign?"
"Krayt squadron sir. No, wait." The bridge became visibly more tense, "It's okay, they had a damaged engine but they managed to hyper out."
Mii'Sui nodded, satisfied that another loss had been narrowly averted. This was one of the worst ways to have to lead, watching from afar unable to interfere or help. He turned to the woman who was responsible for the current situation and gave her a steely glare. She could be considered beautiful by human standards if Mii'Sui understood them correctly, but there was something very wrong about her. Her skin, bone structure, eyes and hair all radiated a cold beauty but her face was so expressionless it was akin to staring at the wall. There was no doubt about it, she was definitely an intelligence agent.
"Agent Zeno, you are sure about your information?"
"Without doubt," the words came out perfectly. No hint of accent or stutter or life.
"Agent, there are a lot of good men and women out there dying; my best squadron has already lost one pilot and I'm not sure how this mission is even helping."
"The mission is succeeding. They must continue the mission."
"But why? Why are my pilots dying for you?!"
The bridge had gone deadly silent, all members were doing their best to listen but not appear to be listening. Captain Mii'Sui watched Agent Zeno carefully; she seemed to be assessing the situation. Surely she could see that the bridge was turning against her. Still she said nothing so Hannibal pressed onwards.
"Agent Zeno, you cannot doubt my willingness to sacrifice. But this situation is unacceptable and-"
"They are acting as a feint, to pull Imperial forces from a blockade trapping our main fleet. They have given fleet forces a window of one hour to get past a weak spot in the blockade. We estimate perhaps one tenth of the fleet will be able to escape this way." Agent Zeno blinked, once.
"Yes Captain. One tenth is a sizable army, an invaluable resource. It would also be a blow that would affect the Empire's status and make Lord Vader seem weak for failing to finish our fleet off at Mako-Ta. It is worth approximately eight of our pilot's lives."
Mii'Sui stared at the woman. It was of course all true. The army they would gain would be a much greater advantage then the losses they would sustain. But the way she said it...
"Captain?" Ensign Tills asked from his comms station.
Mii'Sui set his face into a stony stare. "They must continue the battle."
CRS Morning Star, Two days earlier
"No. No I won't do it!"
"Lieutenant McCauley, there are no other options for you."
Frosty glared at the ice woman and eventually nodded. "Fine."
There was an uncomfortable pause and Zeno had a rare moment of emotion cross her face; a quizzical look. "Lieutenant, why do you always fight my orders? Is it some sort of alpha male reaction to being ordered around by a female?"
"You really don't get it do you?" Jack snorted and shook his head. "It's how I deal with the guilt that you lay upon me. At least I know I tried to fight you."
He stormed away, leaving Zeno alone in the corridor. She stood still for a moment and realised there was a child staring at her. She stared at it and it stared at her. For the first time in as long as she could remember she was the first to blink. She turned on her heel and walked to her temporary accommodation, deciding the child was a figment of her imagination.
Of course. A figment of her imagination. It was the only logical response. She knew that this often happened, especially to some of the more volatile agents. Training required a clean mind and the trouble of creating a clean mind from a dirty one was that sooner or later dirt would start to leak in through the cracks.
She arrived in her room and entered, sitting down behind her desk. The child had followed her in and sat down but Agent Zeno became determined to ignore her persistent presence. She took a single tablet from her medication draw and started to scan the room for listening bugs. Confident she was definitely alone, except for perhaps a figment of the imagination, she opened her computer and started an audio diary.
"I have spoken to my agent in red. He will ensure they will not retreat unnecessarily in the face of battle. He will obey because he knows I," she paused, desperately trying to inject some human tone into the recording. She settled on a metaphor. "I have him by his primary decision maker."
She paused, staring at the child. She was sure her medication would take effect soon. "Dr. Crondon saw me when I arrived aboard the Star. He wished to have another meeting. I declined his request, I have too much to do at this point in time. I am....happy? Yes, happy that he shows concern despite our relatively few meetings. However, this is something I must do alone."
"I tried a joke today," she said to her computer. "I do not believe anyone realised I was joking."
She made a strangled noise, like a small cry of a child, but it failed to escape her throat fully. "I...I am struggling to undo some of my....training. I fear the Empire's restructuring of me is only made worse by the work I currently do for the Alliance. But it is important to me that I do these things for the rebellion. I must have....revenge? Justice? I...I must see the Empire fall. That is what I know. These emotions I am trying to exercise feel so very new to me."
There was another long pause. It was as if her body was trying to throw out several emotions that echoed within her soul but were constrained by her mind. Eventually she settled on another little bit of personal information, "I have set a date up for next week. I am assured that he is a kind man, or so his personal profile indicates."
She nodded. Yes, that was more like it. She was looking for companionship. That was very human. She looked up and realised the child had gone, feeling more content she closed the audio log and, with only the slightest moment's hesitation, deleted it.
Deep Space, Present
The hot light was everywhere that Orinko could see. His bulbous Mon Calamari eyes panickedly surveyed the firefight, green flashes nearly striking his fighter. Everywhere was a mass of fast moving objects. He felt his mind start to close, it was all too much, too much to handle.
"Orion Seven, break port!"
He pushed his cumbersome Y-wing as far to the left as it would yield but still the laser fire came raining down upon him. Then, all of a sudden, the lasers stopped. A voice he recognised, Commander Lock, rang out across the comms: "All squadrons pull back. The Imps are in full retreat. Pull back."
"What?" Came one cry, "They're running now?"
"Guess they realised they got other places to be," Frosty said from his comm. Orinko was not ready to let them go yet however and he started to chase the TIEs.
"Orion Seven, return to formation."
"They're running!" He cried over the comm excitedly, "We can get them!"
"Orion Seven, return to formation. Right now."
A few of the more damaged TIEs and some of the TIE bombers were slow enough for Orinko to catch up with and he began to fire at them. He caught one in the fire and let out a whoop of victory. "I got one!"
"Seven return to formation!"
"Sir, we can get them!"
Then Orinko realised a few of the other TIEs had turned around and were bearing down on him. Before he could cry out the laserfire had punched through his shields and into his canopy, vaporising him in an instant. The comms remained silent for some time.
Eventually Lock's weary voice broke through, "Return to the Morning Star. All squadrons return home."
Deep Space, One day earlier
"All fighters retreat, all fighters retreat."
Orinko felt despair fill his soul and he cried out, "But they just gunned down Eight! He's EVAC, we can get him!"
"Retreat Orion Seven!"
"But what about Eight? What about Gar?"
There was a scream of engines and then an X-wing was suddenly behind his fighter, a smooth voice came across the comm. "Time to leave Orion Seven. You do no one a favour by staying."
"I will not leave my friend behind!"
Red lasers scorched above his Y-wing, making him jolt. The voice suddenly got colder. "Leave now Seven. That is an order."
Cursing Orinko jumped into hyperspace.
CRS Morning Star, One day earlier
Orinko stalked towards the X-wing belonging to the pilot who had shot at him. He waited impatiently as the pilot climbed out of the cockpit calmly. When the man took off his helmet Orinko ignored the man's smile and started to shout at him, gesturing wildly.
"Why would you not let me stay! Why did you force me to leave!"
"You would have got us all killed if we'd stayed behind," Jack said calmly. "You think this battle was important? Tomorrow's operation is doubly so and we can't afford to lose too many pilots before that one. It's going to be a hard slog."
Orinko ignored his logic and felt his webbed hand curl up into a fist. "You left him there to die! He was my friend! I left him!"
"Kid, sometimes we have to make difficult decisions-"
Orinko struck out at Frosty and all of a sudden he was pushed up against the man's X-wing, McCauley holding him by the throat. "Now you listen here you little kriffer," McCauley said coldly, "I've had it up to here with you. You didn't want to leave your friend behind? Didn't want to see him die? Then you shouldn't have joined the damned alliance. We're at war, we lose people, you got to learn to live with that. I for one ain't going to throw my life away saving the dead because I got things to come back for. I got a child that depends on me, I got someone to look after. You understand? You do as you are ordered or you end up dead."
He let the Mon Calamari go, who rubbed at his neck weakly. "You're a rookie kid. You're as green as it gets. Start learning or ship out."
"Is there a problem Lieutenant?" Commander Mauldin approached, giving Orinko a critical eye. "I apologise if-"
"There's no need sir," Jack said quite cheerfully. "The lad has a lot of pent up anger and I can't blame him. No need to chuck him in the brig, I'm sure he'll be quite alright now."
Commander Mauldin nodded and let Jack pass. "Kriffing aliens," he muttered quietly as he left the hangar, picking up Dearbhail, who awaited him as he walked.
CRS Morning Star, Post battle
The fighters of the Morning Star landed one by one, battered and bruised. The numbers were down; Orion had only eight Y-wings left, Krayt ten X-wings, Viper ten A-wings and Red eleven fighters. Those that had returned looked damaged and would require some heavy maintenance. Slowly, one by one, the pilots filtered out of the hangar and towards their intended destinations whilst the mechanics began their work.
Jack turned from his stiff walk to see Dr. Crondon and let a small smile escape. "Hey Mo."
"I just wished to see if you had any more thoughts about Dearbhail?"
"She's staying with me."
"Ah. Good. I shall leave you to your business."
"Thank you Mo. For everything."
Dr. Crondon bowed to Frosty and Dearbhail in his arms, "Any time sir."
Lock sat in his office, the holoprojector on. General Kyran Nole, his Bothan superior, stared back at him as he relayed his report.
"That is all sir," Lock said, doing his best to keep straight.
"Very good, Commander." Nole paused, looking at Lock. He knew enough about humans to be able to read the man's expression. "Commander?"
"Today you went to war outnumbered three to one. For every loss in your squadrons you killed four of theirs. You helped the alliance evacuate a great many troops and resources. Commander?"
"You lost one of Red. One. I expected it to be far worse. You did a very good job."
"Yes sir," Lock sighed but felt a small weight lift from him. "Thank you sir."
"Good. Get some rest man."
Rev turned to face Ice, who walked towards him purposefully. "Ah, Racyne. How are you?"
"Good sir, thank you. Much better for being away from combat."
"Hah, yes indeed!"
Racyne looked at her feet awkwardly for a moment before smiling and looking directly at Rev. "I just wanted to say thank you sir."
"Oh. What for may I ask, Lieutenant?"
"For getting us out today sir. I knew I could rely on you."
Rev felt slightly taken aback and smiled in turn, "Thank you Racyne. I didn't expect...well...after we lost Mooch..."
"Nothing could be done about it sir."
Rev nodded, confident in the knowledge that she was indeed right. "Yes. You're right."
Racyne smiled and turned to leave but Rev's voice brought her back, "Sorry sir, what did you say?"
"I was asking if you'd care to join me and a few of the others in the Fishtank, Racyne?"
She smiled, a genuine smile of warmth. "I'd be delighted sir."
"You're sure about this, Lieutenant Alvers?" Commander Vogel looked at the letter Flash had drafted and handed it back to her. "You wish to step down from active duty?"
"Yes," she said simply. "I do."
He nodded, "If you insist. I will inform Commander Lock."
She turned to leave Vogel's office but before she could escape he spoke to her once more. "I saw Flight Officer Cillis returned in one piece. I'm sure your training with him was invaluable."
"He's a quick learner," she left without a further word. Perhaps redemption was within reach.
The Fishtank was already alive with pilots drowning their sorrows and celebrating their successful return. They would feel the guilt of loss later, now was the time to celebrate as loud as they could.
Gremlin sat at a table with Gnoizic, Seagulls, and Raven. They were all laughing, feeling cheerful that their flight emerged unscathed. Raven was speaking above the laughter, "I got to admit it Gremlin I thought you were crazy when you suggested you and Gulls go in separately like that."
"So did I!" Seagulls laughed, "But I trusted you, flight. I knew you had a good plan."
"He's not wrong flight." Gnoizic smiled at Gremlin, "I'm glad you were leading us today."
She smiled a little, bashfully almost, and felt buoyed. In their first major battle, only a week after forming, she hadn't lost any of them. "You three are such softies. But you can buy me a drink as thanks."
Paul climbed into his bed, having relaxed in the refresher, holding his wife gently. She smiled at him, "How was it?"
"I wasn't quite as fast in the X-wing as I hoped, but I did pretty good."
Cally smiled more but continued to prod, "But when you had the Imps in your sight?"
"Didn't hesitate. Not even once."
"There's the warrior I know."
Agent Zeno sat in her room, the audio log on.
"Mission was a success. I shall avoid assigning anything too stressful to my agent in Red for a few weeks; I think he is on the brink of collapse."
She took out her bottle of pills, but after a brief hesitation, put it away again. "My date was successful. The subject did not seem scared or insulted by me. I think we shall meet again."
She closed the log and deleted it.
Commander Mauldin sat to write Orinoko's parents a letter. It would be a long night.
Jack arrived back to his quarters and grinned as he put Dearbhail down. "So what would you like for dinner? I can arrange for almost anything thanks to a bet me and the cook had."
He turned around to put on some more comfortable clothing and stopped in his tracks when he spotted them. Drawings, piles of them, all beautifully done. He saw pictures of Lock smoking a cigarro in his office, Rev doing press ups, Gremlin talking to him, Ice dancing, Rogue eating with his wife, Flash training with Seagulls, Zeno sat alone in her office, and finally Orinoko arguing with Jack. Each one showed a facet of the person that Jack could not have previously seen. It was eye opening to feel a sense of pity for Zeno.
"These...I mean...these are beautiful."
Dearbhail wasn't in front of him but when Jack pirouetted wildly she was suddenly right behind him, a helmet looking oversized in her hands. It was bright yellow, with some green detailing decorating the helmet. When he looked at it more closely he could see that it was a green, three leafed plant. The fabled shamrock that his Ma would often talk about.
"Is that for me?"
Dearbhail nodded and smiled. It was the first time he'd seen an expression on her face and it broke his heart, before stitching it up with her in it's centre. "It's even more beautiful."
"It's so you're easy to see," said a little voice in the singsong tones of Jack, Conor and her own mother. "Space is very dark so I thought if your helmet was bright no one would ever lose you."
"Don't you like it Dad?"
He squeezed her tightly, making her giggle. "I love it, kid."
The funeral the next day for the lost pilots was a sad affair, especially for Red, who would feel Mooch's loss keenly. Although they openly wept for him there was also a sense of solidarity and confidence about Red Squadron. One week after they'd had another leadership change they'd emerged from a near defeat to be victorious.
Everyone paid their last respects to Mooch before his coffin was shot into space; Dearbhail and Frosty were the last to do so. If anyone was to recover the coffin before it met its demise in atmosphere they would find, amongst the other tributes, a drawing of a three leafed green plant.