DAY ONE BLUES
By Bulldog, Dobber, Frosty, Guardian, Lock, Silence, and Wildcard
Directed by Lock
[ Toseng Occupation: Day 1 ]
If it weren't for his flight straps holding him into his seat, the explosion behind Captain Roy "Lock" Callahan would have knocked him face first into the buttons and panels littered across the X-wing's dash, probably ending his career right there and then. Instead, they forced him to cling to consciousness just long enough for the g-forces caused by the rapid spinning of his fighter to knock him out.
Within seconds he was back. Though the world was a blur he knew that he'd already dropped several hundred meters. As the engineless starfighter sped up its descent, it began to stabilize somewhat now that gravity had taken over, yet its grace, if any, was more akin to a mindless meteor, falling heavyside first, without any regard of the friction it may cause. He was falling decidedly faster now but at least g-forces weren't impeding his movement anymore, allowing him to get his bearings.
The X-wing had been hit from up top and behind, tearing off the two upper S-Foils and the subsequent explosion of his engines had ripped off another. Lock was suddenly flung from side to side in his fighter as something gave way from the heat and ripped off of the ship. Only then did he realize that the nose of his X-wing was missing, too.
"Damn you, Dusty," he tried to say.
At least the Anti-Venom had made it to the ground-and probably in much better shape than he would. So that was nice. In his head, he heard a small voice: At least she's safe. Ish.
Helplessly, he watched as the last remaining S-Foil flew past him, upwards towards the Imperial-class Star Destroyer and the battle that raged around it. Red and green bursts of light flickered intermittently, sometimes followed by a brighter flash. In that moment it was all he could focus on. Was he breathing? The pressure was incredible; he'd never take Inertial Dampeners for granted again. Lock forced himself to breathe. Oxygen replenished him enough to turn his head and look behind him; no sign of his astromech and the ground was getting closer and closer.
Lock's hand dug in between his ejection seat and the paneling of the cockpit; as soon as he found the lever he pulled and everything went black again.
Something touched his face. Then again and again.
"Hello? Are you like dead-dead?" a voice asked. Female. Basic. "Or just feel like you're dead-dead?"
His eyes sprung open and before him was a woman in full tactical gear. Couched down next to him, she'd pulled her face mask down when trying to revive him. Lock wasn't sure if she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen in his life or if he was just happy to still have a life. Seeing he was awake she gave him a confident smirk.
"Oh good, you're not dead-dead," she said, as she reached to her side and pulled her canteen from her bag. Lock accepted it and drank greedily, which only seemed to amuse the woman further. "I imagine that after falling a few thousand meters I'd be pretty dehydrated, too."
Lock had no idea what she was getting at. It must have been obvious on his face because she pointed down at his crotch. "I'd have pissed myself, too."
Lock's eyes widened, "I did not...!" He looked down. The woman had pulled him from his ejection seat which was at the bottom of a hill along with his parachute. Though he hated to admit it, he noticed some moistness to his flightsuit. "It's sweat, th-that's all."
"It's sweat, th-that's all!" The woman imitated him and laughed. Even through the daze he could tell she was just playing around, rather than being malicious. "Make sure to put that in your report. Wait here, I'll be right back."
"Wait." He grabbed her arm before she could get up. "The Battle. Did we win?"
She looked up at the sky which had grown considerably darker than when Lock had been falling. How long had passed? Maybe he had pissed himself. Finally she nodded.
"If you can call that a win."
"What do you mean?"
"You'll find out." She pulled her arm, freeing herself from his grip. "Sit there and drink, Sweaty-pants, I'm going to call in a Uey."
Above the planet, Bulldog circled the CRS Vigilant as he waited for his turn to enter the hangar. The only other fighters in the area were the X-wings of Skull Squadron as they flew combat air patrol around the taskforce. The last ship in the area that wasn't a fighter was the mysterious MG-100 StarFortress SF-17 that had helped turn the tide of the battle on the planet by nearly obliterating the ISD Glory with their payload of proton bombs. He'd heard rumors about the ships, but assumed Renegade Wing wouldn't get any since Buccaneer Squadron's reputation of hitting any target was enough to stave off the new design. Yet, here one was, and he hadn't even noticed it when he'd launched earlier today.
It had held such a key role in the battle that he was sure whoever was on the ship was bound to receive a hero's welcome once it landed. He looped around again to get a better look into the cockpit, but there wasn't enough time for him to get close enough to see inside before it entered the magcon field of the hangar bay.
Bulldog followed in close behind, sparing one last bitter glance at the planet of Toseng. He hoped they would be leaving this graveyard at their earliest convenience, once the pilots that had been shot down and wounded were stable enough to be picked up.
Looking forward, he settled his ship gently on the deck in his usual berthing area. The gaps in the Buccaneer craft sent pangs of sadness through his body. The crafts belonging to Peacock, Rev, Wolvinator, Foo, Slugger, and Ant were absent, and likely only one of them would be salvageable enough to make it back after a few repairs. They had effectively lost 50% of their strength, though Crane had survived the battle with Spectre Squadron and would likely be back with the Buccaneers soon.
He sighed heavily as a mixture of fatigue and melancholia threatened to overwhelm him in the cockpit. Flying at only half-strength on his inertial compensator let him feel the movement of his fighter through his maneuvers, but it tired him out exponentially more as his body fought to maintain consciousness during particularly brutal high-G maneuvers. He fought through both the fatigue and the post-battle despondency by popping the canopy and forcing himself out of his pilot's couch. The moment the seal of his cockpit was broken, a loud cheer invaded his senses. He absentmindedly reached for the ladder and began the debarking procedure he'd completed hundreds of times, only this time the ladder wasn't there.
Somebody's voice called out a warning. "No, vait!"
It was too late. He found himself plummeting to the deck, landing heavily on his backside amongst the landing strut underneath the laser-scorched nose of his Y-wing. Pain shot up from his tailbone all the way through his spine and radiated out through all the nerve pathways in the area. He growled angrily and fought back reflex tears, hoping the rage would overcome the pain and keep the tears at bay. He was unsuccessful.
"Rrrough landing, Cap?"
"Now who the kark forgot to put the ladder there?" Bulldog roared as he forced himself unsteadily to his feet, utilizing the front landing strut for support. The sharp pain gave way to a dull throbbing pain that radiated throughout his entire lower back and legs. He fell back to one knee, leaning heavily into the support to stay somewhat upright.
The sound of a light thud and scuff drew his attention. As he turned his head, Bearcat was just finishing his roll and popping back to his feet effortlessly.
"Vatch that firrrst step," the Cathar Buccaneer said with a hint of mirth to his voice as he held a clawed hand out.
A few pilots snickered with the joke, similarly stranded in their cockpits as none of the hangar crews had bothered to bring the ladders to the Buccaneer fighters. Bulldog shot them all angry glares, silencing Blue and Loth-Cat immediately. He slapped away the offered hand as he struggled to his feet and continued to look around, seeing that not only were the Buccaneers missing any sort of ladder, the surviving Spectres and Corsairs were similarly stranded on the noses of their ships as they waited patiently. Some were taking their predicament better than others, sitting with their feet dangling carelessly off the edge. Others, equally angry and impatient as Bulldog, were waving frantically for the techs to do their jobs.
As Bulldog continued looking around, the blank space where the Rogue craft should have been stuck out like a sore thumb. The pit in his stomach turned into a full-blown black hole as the implication of that empty deck space settled in. He racked his brain to think about the last time he'd heard a Rogue sound off over the air, or the last time he'd seen one in the skies. Unfortunately, he'd been mostly flying on exhausted instinct and muscle-memory by the time they'd made it back to the Vigilant so he couldn't remember anything from the return trip clearly.
He frantically began scanning the rest of the hangar to see if they'd been routed to a different area, but the only other sight in the hangar was the throng of technicians surrounding the B/SF-17 StarFortress. They were cheering mightily, which accounted for the shouting he'd heard when he first popped his canopy. Looking back to the Buccaneer staging area, he found Animal standing on the lower S-Foil of his B-wing staring at the still-growing group celebrating raucously.
"Yo Major!" Bulldog called out as he hobbled over, his right hand pressing hard into his lower back to alleviate some of the pressure that was building.
Animal's eyes took a moment to focus on him, belying his own fatigue. "What's up, Cap?"
"Where are the Rogues?" Bulldog asked, waving toward their empty berths. "They get routed to the auxiliary hangar?"
Animal shook his head and cast his eyes down. "They, uh, had heavy casualties. Most got shot down."
Bulldog's face, already in a grimace due to the pain from his fall, fell even lower. He attempted to ask a follow up question regarding who was still alive, but the words caught in his throat. Before he could summon the composure to ask, the crowd's cheering rose to a fever pitch. He looked back, and saw Talon, Damak, Wackachangi, Snorp, and some woman he'd never seen before exit the bomber and were being mobbed by the adulating crowd. All of the beings looked extremely uncomfortable with the heightened attention save for Wackachangi who had both hands raised in the air, one still clutching a massive wrench. A concerted effort began to lift up all the beings, but they struggled under the weight of the massive wookiee as well as the bulky form of Snorp. Still, Talon, Damak, and the mystery female were now riding a wave of maintenance technicians toward the exit of the hangar.
More thuds jarred Bulldog from staring at the crowd still cheering the slapdash crew of the heavy bomber. He turned around to see the pilots of Spectre, Buccaneer, and Corsair Squadrons giving up on waiting for ladders and just trying to lower themselves to the deck with varying degrees of dignity.
"Blow up one little Star Destroyer and you get this type of celebration?" Silence asked, rubbing her shins and wincing.
"Definitely in the wrong line of work," Dragon agreed, rolling his neck as he watched the celebratory procession exiting the deck.
"Hate to break it to you zoomies," Gnoizic started as he walked over, taking his helmet off and shaking his blond hair loose. "I've waxed my fair share of cap ships and haven't once been carried off the deck."
Despite the wave of sadness that had overcome Bulldog, the banter of the survivors and the celebration of the surprise heroes brought a smile to his face. It was a short-lived smile, however, as another sharp pain shot up his spine. It coincided with Animal's voice calling his attention.
Bulldog shuffled over to Animal, who was still standing on his B-wing. He looked up expectantly, his shoulder slumping as fatigue once again threatened to overtake him. Only the anger at each twinge of pain managed to keep him upright and alert at this point.
"Two jobs for you, Cap," Animal said as he held up both fingers. "One, I need you to get me off this ship. Two..."
An hour and a change of clothes later Lock was sitting in a recently put-up tent in what would soon become New Republic Headquarters on Toseng.
The view from above had been impressive. First he saw the Anti-Venom, still where it had crashed hours ago at the base of a mountain. In front of the corvette the doctors and technicians had set up a half dozen large tents and were working on placing more. From the sky, Lock could see the ant-sized bodies of hundreds of soldiers working on setting up even more tents and a rather large contingent had even begun to dig what would eventually be the foundation of various buildings. He'd heard that grunts could build up a base in a matter of hours, but truth be told he'd never really witnessed it first hand.
After that, the magic ended. The U-wing landed in a field that was scarcely populated by fighters. He saw only two Rogue X-wings, and one looked like it would probably never fly at full capacity ever again. From the lack of Buccaneer Y-wings, Spectre X-wings, and Corsair A-wings, he imagined that they had fared no better than the Rogues.
Once changed, he was directed towards a rather large tent and told to wait there for Lt. Colonel Reynolds to contact them.
"You made it." Captain Andrew Dobson was the first to notice the white haired pilot enter the tent. He looked absolutely exhausted, his usual impeccable attire marred by burns and debris after he'd been forced to go Extra-Vehicular. "Good, I was starting to worry."
"Not the first time I've crashed and burned, Dobbs." Lock shrugged, trying to look casual. Glancing around the room he nodded to the two other occupants. "Starfire, Jasted."
Of the two Lieutenants, Starfire seemed least at ease, pacing back and forth a few times before taking a seat on the complete opposite side of the tent from Dobber and Jasted. The bearded, dark haired pilot in the opposing corner lifted a hand. It contained a flask.
"Have a seat, Nines," Jasted said. "Lead should be here pronto."
So this is what that marine in the boonies had meant.
Lock took the flask and sat down next to Jasted. While he took a swig he noticed Dobber shift seats out of the corner of his eye, moving over next to Starfire and whispering something to her.
"Not now," Lock heard her say.
Dobber nodded, "Alright. Later, then, okay?"
"Must've been a bitch to land that X-wing," Lock said out loud, handing the flask back to its owner. "Good job, though."
For a moment no one said anything.
"What do you mean?" Starfire looked right at him, challenge in her eyes.
Lock gave her a confused look but attempted to explain himself nonetheless. "I saw the X-wing on the landing field-it looked like it got hit pretty bad..."
"Oh, and you assume that was my X-wing?" Starfire was on her feet. "Just... just because why? I didn't ask for your-"
Catching wind of where this was going, Dobber stood up, trying to mediate.
"Starfire, now's not the-"
"Oh, no," Jasted muttered under his breath.
Her eyes locked on to him.
"Stand down, Rogues," interjected a Macquarian accent, still capable of summoning authority even in its owner's tired state.
All four of them turned to see Rogue Leader standing in the entrance to the tent. Lt. Colonel "Jalb_k" Reynolds had seen better days; his right leg was enveloped in an external cast and he had a crutch under one arm to help him walk. Supporting him was Captain Kardia Milo, who had one hand placed gently on his back while she carried Jalb's datapad in the other. Lock glanced at Starfire, realizing that it wasn't her fighter that had been damaged.
Dobber sat down. Starfire looked like she still wanted to say something. She looked from Dobber to Lock, then to Jalb and back to Dobber before finally taking a seat a few chairs away from the Captain. Meanwhile, Jalb himself took a seat at the front of the room. The rest of the Rogues watched and waited for him to speak.
Jalb leaned forward, elbow on the knee of his good leg. "That was one hell of a stink, Rogues, but we accomplished the mission..."he looked down at the ground and nodded slowly to himself, "we accomplished the mission." Looking back up at the pilots through red rimmed eyes he tried to smile, but only managed a pained grimace. "Well done, ya rancors, we kicked the Imps off the damned planet. Three, Five, Nine-you lost your fighters but at least you're still kickin'. Deuce, well done..." he looked intently at the young Rogue, "take on board what I said up there, remember this feeling, and use it, it will keep bringing you back."
Starfire looked solemn and nodded once. From the rest, silence.
"Right oh, that's the good news," he continued with a heavy sigh. "Major Marco... Thanatos was evacuated off planet to the Vigilant. He is expected to survive after a bit of surgery and a few days as a Floater."
Again he paused. Though there was no verbal response, there seemed to be some relief in the expression of the Rogues. All except Lock, who stared intently at Jalb, arms crossed, knowing what was coming next. Jalb met his eyes and for an instant the two could see into one another; the guilt they felt, the tiredness of their soul.
"That isn't the case for all of us," Jalb continued, breaking eye contact with Lock to scan the room. "Spectre Four, Trip. Corsair Eleven, Fox. Buccaneers Seven and Nine, Rev and Slugger. Renegade Three, Mighty, a former Rogue...' Jalb's voice cracked and he took a shuddering breath, " and Rogue Eleven. Mustang"
Lock clenched his jacket as the names were listed off.
"What in the Nine-Hells happened out there?"
Jalb took his time collecting his thoughts. "Things are still under investigation, but as far as I know there was a bombing at the Peace Talks. Major Murg managed to survive and is compiling a more detailed report. Admiral Tolden... didn't make it." Jalb shrugged, as unsatisfied with the answer at the rest were. Over the next few days the full details would be revealed, but for now this was all they had to work with. Jalb's demeanor changed subtly and the exhausted grief was replaced by a cool fury as he sat straighter. "Imps accused us of sabotage, but it's likely they set this up themselves. It explains why that flight was on top of us from the start... If I had..."
Kardia placed a hand on Jalb's shoulder. "Sorry to interrupt, but if I may have a few words?" At Jalb's nod, she continued, "I wanted to personally relay my thanks to you, Rogue Squadron, on behalf of the Anti-Venom and its crew, for sacrificing so much to protect us. We swear that it will not be in vain-we will help the people of Toseng, no matter what. You've inspired us to not just give it our all, but even more if we can. Thank you, all of you."
"Just doing our job," Jasted answered for them.
Lock turned away, muttering under his breath. "Hope you're right."
Jalb looked straight at him then up at Kardia who simply closed her eyes. Using his crutch, Jalb gritted his teeth as he pulled himself up, pushing past the pain in his leg.
"That's it for now, Rogues. Talk to the Quartermaster, each of you has been assigned your personal tent for the night; tomorrow morning a U-wing will bring us up to the Vigilant. It'll be a few days before we can replace our X-wings, so feel free to make yourselves useful elsewhere." He paused, looking around the room. "Any questions? No? Good. Dismissed."
The U-wing came to a gentle stop on the outer edge of the Anti-Venom camp. Knight gladly took the hand Foo offered him, pulling himself up with a slight grunt. He wasn't truly injured, but ejecting was never comfortable and he suspected his back would ache for at least a few more days. They stepped out together, Knight still carrying his bundled up parachute like a giant blanket.
"You're keeping that?" Foo asked jokingly, a beat up C-series astromech in tow.
"You never know when it might come in handy," Knight offered, although in truth he didn't know why he hadn't left it aboard the U-wing that had picked them up. His parents had taught him to be frugal and so nothing was left to waste, including a half ripped parachute. "That was...a tough one."
"Yeah," Foo shook his head. "Who did you lose?"
"Junior got shot down but last I heard he was floating safely to the ground. Fox didn't make it. No one's sure about Frosty, it seemed like he was making a controlled landing on a mountain."
Foo laughed, but there was no humor in it. "Typical Frosty. He'll survive, he always gets out."
"Yeah," Knight said uncertainly. "How did Bucc fair?"
Foo let out a long whistle through his teeth. "Me and Wolvinator escaped alright. Ant nearly pasted into the ground but Bulldog managed to get his droid to eject him, although I haven't seen him yet so I don't know if he's alright. New kid, Slugger, he didn't make it. We think Rev's gone too."
"I know. I saw." Knight felt a wave of resignation come over him as what he'd witnessed was confirmed. Rev was about as experienced as they came and now he was just gone.
"Yeah." Foo suddenly picked up his pace, pointing amongst the crowd milling around the camp. "I see Wolvinator and Ant! I'm going to go give them shavit for getting shot down, you coming?"
Knight looked around with uncertainty, his arms clinging his ‘chute to his chest. "Sure, although try to remember you also got shot down."
Ambling over Knight was pleasantly surprised to see Junior was with the two Buccaneers, looking pretty cheerful as always. Junior immediately laughed at Knight's little bundle when he saw him, "You don't need that karking thing anymore Knight, just drop it!"
"You're laughing now," Knight tried wagging a finger whilst holding the parachute bundle, "but when it gets cold I'll have a nice blanket whilst you lot will be freezing your nuts off."
"Ah frell, I reckoned we'd all just huddle up to stay warm," Junior joked but the other two Buccs remained grim-faced.
Foo raised an eyebrow at them, "You alright guys?"
"They got a bad job thrown at them, Foo," Junior said, his tone suddenly darkening.
Ant spoke up first, his face grim. "They recovered a body...or parts of one...they think it's Slugger. They need someone to ID him."
Knight and Foo exchanged a look. There weren't many responsibilities that came with being a junior officer in a squadron, but Ant and Wolvinator were Flight Officers so Foo was the most senior Buccaneer present. Foo puffed his chest up, "Okay. I'll go."
Wolvinator and Ant exchanged a glance, before Ant cleared his throat. "We'll come too."
"Yeah," Wolvinator nodded with confidence. "You know, squadmates and all that."
"No sign of Rev?" Foo asked hesitantly.
Ant shook his head but Junior spoke up, "Zippy is doing runs to the city in the U-wings. He'll find him!"
"Mostly bringing bodies back now..." Wolvinator said darkly and the group fell silent again. Knight and Junior watched them go and Knight felt a tinge of happiness that he wasn't type rated for the U-wing. What would be worse, flying back the injured and hearing their pain or the dull silence of the dead? He desperately wished that Wolf had been shot down with him, he'd be able to follow his lead in how to help the injured here at the makeshift hospital.
Knight refocused, trying to think best how he could help. Or do anything at all except stand around hopelessly. "We should find Frosty, if he's here."
"Yeah, he will be," Junior said with false confidence. He was staring at one side of the camp. "You hear about the other squadrons?"
Knight shook his head.
Junior shrugged. "Spectre Lead got shot down but he's gonna be fine. They lost Trip. Rogue though....Thanatos is worse off. Last I heard he's gonna have a bacta bath and be alright. Mustang didn't make it, same for Mighty."
"Mighty?" Knight shook his head, "Mighty was flying?"
"Yeah, all the old fellers. Helped escort Damak and Talon in taking down that destroyer." Junior rubbed the back of his head awkwardly and Knight took pity on him.
"Is your dad alright?"
"Yeah, nah, I dunno really. He's walking wounded but...that was a lot."
Knight made a decision for himself. "Go see him. I'll find out any news on Frosty."
Junior looked at Knight, his eyes conflicted. "Frosty's my old wingmate, I can't abandon you to-"
"Don't make me make it an order, Flight Officer. Go see Rogue Leader, it'll do you both good. I'm perfectly capable of handling Frosty on my own."
Junior started to step away before suddenly pivoting on his heel, "Kriffing hell, I forgot about Fox!"
"It's alright," Knight reassured him. "We'll talk about it later. Go let your old man know you're still kicking."
Junior left hurriedly and Knight was left to his devices. It wasn't much, but he could be of some help to his squadmates. As he scanned the crowd for a good direction to start towards he spotted an older woman, with a young Zabrak child on her lap. The child was shivering, pulling in close to the elder for warmth. Smiling Knight stepped forward and presented them with his parachute, "Here. Take this."
The woman took it and wrapped the child in it, thanking him with a silent nod. Knight gave her a smile and walked off in search of what he hoped would be a living pain in the ass, instead of a dead friend.
The dark gray X-wing with neon tints circled the camp slowly, allowing its pilot to take a good view in. Gremlin was the last renegade starfighter flying in atmosphere; the others had headed back to the Vigilant whilst the few Rogues were currently grounded in the campsite. At first she had escorted the multiple U-wings back and forth from the city, talking to Zippy over comms to get updated. She'd soaked in every little bit of info she could, more than she could bear, before Zippy had told her firmly that she needed to rest.
Now, gliding over the mountain that the Anti-Venom sat at the base of, she agreed. She did need rest, but she couldn't switch off. She had hoped some gentle flying might let her unwind but somehow she had ended up scouting out where Frosty had apparently crashed. Zippy had reassured her already that they'd checked his crash site; found his empty seat ages away from the wreckage. He'd said all signs pointed toward Frosty walking to the campsite and Zippy knew how to read tracks but...she still had to see for herself.
It was another twenty minutes before Lil Leo, her astromech, bleated at her that fuel was getting low. Thanking the droid, Gremlin finally flew away from the mountain, confident that she wasn't going to find that idiot. She coordinated with the makeshift air control at the campsite ground and landed in one of the empty spaces the U-wings were using.
The canopy popped and Gremlin pulled herself from the cockpit, her purple hair matted with sweat. She nearly fell from the ladder, the fatigue suddenly overtaking her. It was getting worse, first the week of hell, then the Morning Star's grave, now this. Maybe she'd listen to Angel, finally talk to Krayt about taking some leave-
Gremlin spun on her heel, to see Krayt standing there patiently. "Sir! How did you-that is....good to see your sir."
"You too, Captain. I need your X-wing."
Gremlin's face screwed up in confusion at the request, "Sorry lead?"
"I have to return to the Vigilant," Krayt answered, with some annoyance. "The U-wings will take you and the others back up later."
She watched, helplessly, as her senior officer climbed into her X-wing. Leg in cast he took off, abandoning her here. Cursing slightly she walked away, hoping to find somewhere to rest. Instead she found comfort.
"Gemi!" The voice shouting came from a pantoran woman, dressed in what were formerly fine clothes now ripped and bloody. Her eyes were still bright though and she moved with the litheness of a dancer, even with a slight limp.
Gremlin burst into a sprint and nearly knocked the woman over, wrapping her in a tight hug. "Oh Ice! Oh Force take me, I was so worried, I was so scared for you!"
"I'm okay, it's alright," her friend soothed her. "Squeeze a little less would you? I had half a building on top of me."
Gremlin eased her grip, rubbing Ice's back with her hands. "You were meant to be safe, being a diplomat. I didn't think I had to worry about you anymore."
"Ah, well. You can take the girl out of Red Squadron..."
Gremlin buried her face into Ice's shoulder, the sobs finally emerging. "Oh Ice, I've missed you."
"I missed you too Gemi," Ice rubbed her sweaty hair. "You stink like adrenaline and ozone."
"You smell like dust and blood."
"Ohhhh! I like that one, that's a good smell!" Gremlin tensed at the new voice, immediately recognising it. Her hand went for the blaster on her hip, the blaster that had fallen off and was still in her X-wing. The bright twinkling violet eyes of Sigilien were staring at her, a smirk of amusement on her face. "Fancy seeing you here pal!"
Gremlin immediately went to shout for the guards but Ice placed a hand on her shoulder, "It's okay, Gemi. They saved me."
"That's right pinky!" Sigilien puffed her chest out. "I'm a goody now."
"She tried to kill Lock, Ice. Back at the Morning Star." Gremlin was attempting to put herself between Sigilien and Ice.
"I know Gemi. She filled me in on her...adventures. Trust me, okay? You need to meet her friend."
Sigilien winked at Gremlin and put on her sunglasses. "Hey Gutsy! I need you to come over here."
Gremlin refused to let Ice back past her again, looking for the nearest guard. This was a trap, without a doubt, she just needed to shout to bring the republic's best over and-
"Hullo Gremlin." The man who had arrived had a shaven head, a deep scar running from the right eyebrow to the back of his head. His goatee was a sandy blonde, his eyes a bright green. A thousand lights went off in Gremlin's head, as her brain stirred. It couldn't possibly...
"We...we need to find Frosty..." She said, in total shock. "We need to find Frosty now."
As soon as he got the chance, Lock left the tent.
He'd known Rev for years at this point; he'd been a trusted XO for most of the time he'd flown with him. Later he and some of the Reds would have to meet up to have a non-alcoholic drink in his honor. He'd invite Dobber, too, perhaps-Rev had been a Blue, as well, for some time.
Although he'd known Rev for much longer, and any reasonable person would assume that that loss would hurt most, it was Mustang's loss that actually troubled Lock. It felt like it was his fault. Mustang had been his wingmate, the one that was supposed to have his back, and he'd let him get chewed apart by the enemy and then Lock had saved his own skin. It had been someone else who was responsible for Rev's death. Maybe that was the difference. Or maybe he'd hit his head too hard on the way down.
Had Mustang been the reason that Lock had thrown himself between Starfire and Imperial guns? Had he almost gotten himself killed over it?
Lock shuddered, feeling unrecognizable to himself. He needed a kriffing drink.
Stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jacket he walked through the camp, lost in his own thoughts, though naturally he was drawn towards the edge of the camp, where he could see the Capital only a few miles away, smoldering in the sunset. Maybe he'd find a bar.
He didn't even recognize Aruithil's voice at first.
"Roy! You made it!" A body hit him from behind, wrapping their arms around him, nearly making him stumble forward.
When the tension did not leave the man's body Aruithil slowly let go and took a step back.
Lock turned to look at her. How long had it been since he'd last seen her? If he didn't count the brief glimpse at Endor... more than half a year. Her words still rang in his ears: ‘If you continue down this path you'll only become another statistic. I don't want to live wondering if you'll come back this time, and if you do come back, whose blood do you have on your hands?'
The getaway on Zeltros that still haunted him in his dreams.
When he had learned earlier today that the Rogues would be escorting the Anti-Venom to the surface, he'd known she was on board. He'd known she knew he knew she was on board. The entire flight down he'd wrestled with the desire to send her a private message on comms, asking her why she hadn't told him she would be here. Even when he'd been fighting for his life and later plummeting to his brush with death he'd wondered. But standing before her again, he knew. He could see it in her eyes. She knew, too.
His heart skipped a beat. She looked more amazing than before, and Lock hated her for it.
"Defying statistics yet again."
Lock regretted it as soon as it came out of his mouth. The look on her face. Damn it, he had done it again. Was he going to screw it all up today? It seemed that way.
"Oh, wow... I'm s-sorry, I..."
Lock cut her off, "Stop. Don't apologize."
She bit her lower lip, looking away, growing smaller. What was he even doing?
"Don't apologize for anything. You're right. I will be a kriffin' statistic. Like Jet, like Rev, like Mustang. It's kill or be killed and I've done a lot of killing so don't feel bad for me, Hawkeye, ‘cause I'm going to be a Force forsaken number on the banthashit spreadsheet of kriffin' life. So don't. Kriffin'. Apologize."
The Corellian took a step back, arms wide open.
"You have nothing to apologize for," he continued. "You were right. Deal with it."
Turning, Lock started to walk away.
"You're wrong," he heard Aruithil say behind him.
Lock didn't look back but showed her his middle finger.
The Buccaneers were walking through the disorganized-but-growing tent city in a dazed state, more walking-dead than alive. Their demeanors matched the shell-shocked vibe of many of the civilians that had made their way to the Anti-Venom's crash site and added to the rapidly growing tent city in the vicinity. Those that couldn't crowd into the mish-mash of tents just huddled together on the sides of the throughways, but without a plan in place every path was a labyrinthine mess filled with dead ends and switchbacks.
Viewing and identifying the remains of Slugger had been one of the most gut-wrenching things any of them had ever had to do, which was saying a lot considering the amount of combat they had all seen collectively. Foo, a veteran of the Imperial fighter corps and defecting hero with a Reaper, Wolvinator and Ant both Endor veterans with Green Squadron, none of them had really ever seen or been prepared for what they had just witnessed.
It had been up to C4-5PR to utilize a face-scan from its database to match the lower half of Slugger's face with what was on file. None of the humans could have identified the rookie's body with any sort of accuracy, so they took the droid's dispassionate report at face value.
Foo bumped into Loth-Cat's droid as it stopped in front of him, eliciting an indignant series of tones from the "mouthy" astromech. Muttering an apology as he shook his head clear, wiping away the vision of a torn arm and the blue-from-blood-loss jawline and chin of the Buccaneer rookie, he refocused on his surroundings.
"Hey boys," Jasted said with a wave, oblivious to the haunted state of the three Buccaneer pilots.
Shadow, however, seemed to notice something was amiss with the trio. "Everybody ok?"
Wolvinator and Ant were both slack-jawed, and merely offered an unfocused nod in return. Foo, however, managed to get the air into his lungs to offer a verbal response. "No, I don't think we are."
FLATTOP focused on the ashen faces with a discerning eye. "What's up?" It was clear he already knew the truth of the matter, with his search and rescue background and the grotesque sights he'd seen before.
"We'd rather not talk about it, if that's ok," Foo replied flatly for the Buccaneers, not even bothering to look back at his pilots to check with them. Ant and Wolvinator merely nodded along in agreement anyway.
FLATTOP and Shadow nodded in tacit understanding, and while Jasted didn't quite seem to know what was going on he certainly picked up enough of the vibe to avoid pressing the issue. "So, how's about we show you three where we're bunking for the night?" He pointed toward a hastily erected fence that seemed to separate the chaos from the immediate area where the New Republic forces were attempting to organize some sort of permanent base. Farther down the fence line, the metallic chain-link barrier was already coming down, being replaced with some sort of pylon device. "We're just over there, past the new electric fence."
Shadow hummed a familiar children's show tune that went along with the lyrics that all children found hilarious: Don't whiz on the electric fence.
Aruithil chose to take a walk away from the main camp to gather her thoughts.
Roy "Lock" Callahan was the single most frustrating man she'd ever known, he was smart and dedicated but always seemed to move towards self destruction. She wished she cared for him less than she did.
Skirting the edge of the medical portion of the camp, she distracted herself by marveling at the infrastructure already in place in the few short hours since the Imps had left. She'd got to know several members of the Republic's civil engineering corps and they were amongst the most experienced in service. Years of practice had made them experts in rapid assembly of infrastructure for rebellion bases. Last she'd heard they were struggling with the transition to more permanent, fortified structures, but she was confident they'd soon figure it out.
She came to a stop as she realised where she was and let out a low breath. Here, amongst the flat ground, were rows and rows of bodies covered in sheets. It was the part no one liked to talk about, the part she hadn't been able to stop thinking about since Alderaan. Each sheet had markings drawn on, indicating what was to be done with the dead. Toseng civilians, Republic soldiers and Imperial troops. Eventually they would all go separate ways, but for now they all lay waiting together.
It was unsurprisingly quiet here, deserted except for two figures. One, a Republic pilot in the bright orange flightsuit, was sat on the floor next to a sheet marked Imperial. The other was a yellow Twi'Lek woman, some kind of camera in hand. Aruithil felt a flash of hot anger at the sight and started marching purposefully towards the pair.
"...powerful thing is hope, powerful thing." The pilot had just finished talking, his voice low and slow but the Twi'Lek woman was about to ask him something else. Aruithil recognised her face now, Yam Siddalla the famous reporter, but her anger was flaring instead of cooling and she placed herself between the camera and the pilot. "You shouldn't be here."
Yam looked Aruithil in the eyes, her own eyes twinkling. Aruithil steeled herself, ready to argue. This is not entertainment, these people are vulnerable and you're- "Of course," Siddalla cut off her thoughts with a polite smile. "Thank you for your time, Lieutenant McCauley."
Aruithil watched her leave, furious at how reasonable Siddalla had been. Instead she rounded on the pilot, ready to give him a verbal barrage. She felt herself soften at the sight of him. His curly hair was matted and knotted, a mixture of sweat and blood tangled amongst it. His forehead had a crease of blood dripping down that had dried, whilst his eyes were unfocused and distant. Aruithil crouched down and noticed the one reaction he had, one hand was on the sheet of the dead Imperial next to him. It got tighter as she got closer, as if he was afraid someone was going to take the body away or as if it would float away without him tethering it.
She looked at him carefully, studying his reactions. "Can you tell me your name?"
"Frosty," he offered, instinctively.
"Your real name, pilot," she said, with a slight smile.
"Jack McCauley," he said, not reacting to her.
Aruithil pushed the matted hair covering the man's forehead back, examining for the source of blood. "Did you hit your head, Jack?"
He was clearly concussed but extremely lucky. Most pilots that hit the canopy of their cockpit on ejecting suffered a broken neck. Aruithil was glad to have found him though, he needed to have a full scan and be kept overnight for observation. "I'd like you to come with me Jack, somewhere safe."
Jack failed to move when she pulled at his arm slightly and she felt frustration again at the stubbornness of pilots. She noticed, however, that he was staring at the body he had his hand on. "They'll be taken care of, don't worry."
"What happens to them?" He finally focused on her for the first time, "Where do they go?"
"Well, the civilians are given to local mortuaries, as long as they have capacity. Our soldiers are identified and taken aboard one of our morgue ships, to be prepared to return to their families."
Jack had still not let go of the sheet he was gripping, "And him?"
Aru eased her grip on Jack's arm, trying to put him at ease. "We will do our best to identify him and if we can we will let his family know directly. If we can't identify his next of kin, we pass the information we do have on to the Empire. We keep them safe aboard our morgue ships and in larger facilities, sometimes the Empire agrees to do transfers of remains, other times we keep them until we have liberated their home and can return them to their resting place. I promise you Jack, he will be taken care of. Please, come with me."
The pilot clambered unsteadily to his feet but no longer resisted, letting her lead him away. "A morgue ship huh....that sounds creepy."
She led him away from the rows of bodies, firmly striding towards the Anti-Venom. She was finally able to put Lock out of mind now, confident in her role as a healer. She knew it might be futile ultimately, that this pilot would also meet his end in his next sortie, but at least she had tried to prolong his life.
A red skinned woman with purple hair and teary eyes was charging at them, followed closely by a Pantoran woman. She looked highly distressed but Aruithil still recognised her as Gremlin, a comrade and friend of Lock's. The pilot linked in Aru's arm simply gave her a dopey wave. "You survived, Gremlin. That's good. Did Wolf and Lock make it?"
Gremlin stopped short of Aruithil and her patient, her hands shaking wildly. Frosty hadn't seemed to have noticed the sudden tightening around his arm from Aru at the mention of Lock's name. For an anti-social kriffer he sure does make some friends.
"Yeah they're both okay. Jack, I need to talk to you. I can't believe it-"
"Does he need to know right now, Gremlin?" Aruithil asked cooly.
Gremlin looked between them both, wringing her hands. Finally she seemed to notice the blood on Frosty's forehead, "Is he okay?"
"He has a concussion," Aru said confidently, knowing that Gremlin wouldn't argue with her medical expertise. "I'm taking him in to get checked over and kept overnight for observation."
Frosty was shaking a little now, his eyes getting moist and his voice slow. "I killed a kid, Gemi."
Gremlin looked even more distressed and confused but Aru shook her head gently in response, pulling Frosty a little tighter as he swayed. "Mood swings and confusion are common with concussion. He hasn't done anything....that is...he did what you do in war. I'll make sure he's looked after."
Her ward was rubbing his head now, groaning. "What did Gremlin want to tell me?"
The Pantoran woman swept round Gremlin, placing her arm around Gremlin's shoulders and patting Frosty's arm. "It's okay Frosty, we'll tell you tomorrow. You take a rest."
Aruithil led him away but not before turning once more to see Gremlin and her friend being corralled by Nurse Essian. "Captain Gemi, I told Ambassador Vel Aath that although her injuries were not serious enough for immediate treatment, that she still needed to rest. Come with me and make her sit down at once!"
Frosty vomited suddenly, the green and yellow of his stomach bile wetting the dust floor. Aru rubbed his back gently and encouraged him towards the Anti-Venom.
They're all so vulnerable, she thought to herself.
Katlyn "Starfire" Thornwood sat on top of the left s-foil of her X-wing. Datapad in hand, tools scattered haphazardly around her, she ran through the diagnostic report for the deflector screen projector. Behind her, Hound, her R6 astromech, was perched atop the craft, welding and repairing one of her stabilizers.
"How you doin', buddy?" she asked as she reached for a wrench. Hound gave a series of chirps and hoots as the sizzle and crackle of the astromech's welding components continued. "At least it's an easy fix," Kat said as she began tightening the bolts exposed from the open panel. She glanced up to see Captains Dobson and Callahan walking near the tentline, engrossed in a conversation. "Unlike some things," Kat muttered as she saw them finish their conversation.
The two men nodded at one another, then broke apart to go their separate ways. Callahan moved further down the tent line, while Dobson began walking towards her, the sound of his boots scraping the dirt and grass as he got closer.
Here we go, Katlyn thought to herself, glancing slightly up and down again as if to give the impression that she was just noticing him. "Captain," she said without looking up as he came to a stop mere meters from her, helmet tucked underneath his right arm. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I came to talk," he replied after a few seconds.
Katlyn finished tightening the last of the bolts and set the wrench aside, closing the panel to the deflector screen projector. "Guess I don't have much of a choice, sir," she said. "Me up here, you down there," she said, waving the datapad in his direction. As she began collecting the tools around her, she saw him bite his lip, contemplating his next words carefully.
"Starfire," he began before changing his mind, "Kat ... look, Jalb may have made me the Wing Training Officer on short notice ... but with me, you always have a choice. We can either do this now, or do this later. Either way, we need to talk."
Placing the last of the tools in the plastisteel case, she snapped the lid shut. Grabbing it with one hand, she swung her legs around so that they were dangling over the edge of the S-foil. With a little effort from her free hand and a push using her torso, she slipped to the ground, her boots making a soft thud in the grass.
"Alright," she said, handing him the repair kit and wiping sweat from her brow, "talk."
"I get that you're angry with Lock," he began as she untied her gray-black flight suit from around her waist and began slipping her arms back into their sleeves. "It was a bad assumption on his part...."
"Angry?" she asked as she zippered up her flight suit and took the repair kit from him with a slight tug. "Why should I be angry?"
As she turned to duck and walked under the X-wing to place the kit in the cargo hold, she thought she heard what sounded like an audible, frustrated sigh escaping him.
"In fact, how could I possibly be angry after everything I've experienced since I joined Rogue?" she continued as she emerged from underneath the X-wing and walked back towards him. She turned and took a few steps to pick up her helmet, which was placed neatly on the ground next to the red ladder leading up to the cockpit. Picking it up, she tossed it intently towards the open canopy. It made a clattering bang as it landed inside. "But what do I know?" she said, crossing her arms and not turning back to face him. "I'm just the hot-headed rookie who can't do anything right in everyone's eyes."
Silence filled the air for some time between them before either of them spoke again. Finally, she heard him shift from where he was standing and move next to her.
"You're right," he said finally. "It's not fair that you feel like you're treated less than the person you are."
Katlyn glanced at him out of the corner of her eye briefly before resuming her stance.
"Lock filled me in on what I've missed since being in the brig. How he and Bulldog and the others have been training you. How you've started to show some progress and refine your skill."
Katlyn looked up at Hound, who was finishing up his repairs.
"Jalb filled me in on what I missed after I got shot down," she heard him continue. "How the three of you took on that Star Destroyer. How you worked with him to successfully take down the shield generators - no easy task, I might add. That takes some damn skill and piloting."
"I got lucky," she said, finally turning to face him.
"Luck had nothing to do with it," he said, taking a finger and pointing it at her. "You did what Jalb expected you to do, and earned his commendation for a job well done. I don't even think I've gotten praise like that from him."
Katlyn shifted her weight to her other leg, considering what she was hearing.
"What was a stroke of luck, however," he said firmly, "was Lock and I surviving while covering you. We could have easily ended up like one of the others who didn't make it," he continued.
He's not wrong, she thought after a moment, thinking back to the chaotic battle mere hours earlier.
"I mean, I took a beam cannon from a TIE Bomber for you," he said with half a laugh. "That's probably the craziest career first for me. But it could easily have been the last for either one of us. Or both."
Katlyn thought about that moment for a few seconds. How she hadn't followed his instructions to either take the shot or break off. How she was more intent - and eager - to protect the corvette than do what was needed at the time.
"Sorry," she finally said, glancing down and then back up at him.
"It's just that," he continued, trying to find the right words. "That ... well, that's twice now that I've risked my life to protect yours. I'm really hoping that the third time won't be the charm, as the saying goes."
Katlyn thought back to their first meeting and mission together, how she had greedily tried to go for the weapons system of Captain Gaspra's Star Destroyer, and how he had ended up taking enough shots meant from her to damage his X-wing as they were pulling out of the maneuver. She'd been cocky that day, eager to fly with the most elite squadron the New Republic had to offer and prove herself. Have I been too reckless and careless, even now?
"Do you remember what you said to me, the day you came to visit me in the brig for my outburst?" he asked.
Katlyn paused for a moment, thinking back to that conversation. "‘I'd like to get to know that person someday. The real you'," she said after a moment, meeting his eyes.
He nodded in return.
"Some circumstances have prevented me from doing the job that I need to do," he replied. "Part of which is being there for you. The other part is my behavior towards you and others. That's on me. But for what it's worth ... I'd like to get to know the real you, too. The one who belongs and deserves to be in Rogue Squadron. As a person and, hopefully, a friend."
He really is sincere this time, she thought to herself. Maybe I've been wrong about him and the others.
"That," she began, "that'd be nice for a change."
A small smile crept across his face. "Good to hear," he said. "Now, I have to get going. I have some battle data to process and eventually get uploaded to the simulators. Are we good?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said with a nod.
He turned and moved past her, beginning to head back towards the tent line.
"Hey, Dobbs!" she called, looking at him.
"Yeah?" he asked, turning back to face her.
"Thanks," she said. "For everything today."
"You should also speak to Lock. Get whatever is between you ironed out."
"I will," she said. "When the time's right."
Placing two fingers to his temple and then waving his hand towards her, he departed back to wherever he needed to go next.
"Hound," she called, then made a quick, shrill whistle to command him to join her, "let's get going."
Lock kicked the door of the latrine, letting himself out of the plastic container by touching it at little as possible. He didn't inhale until he was a few steps away, wiping the sting out of his eyes as he did so-and ran right into someone's chest.
Looking up, he recognized the large besalisk male. "Doctor Phven?"
"Oho, Captain Callahan!" An enormous hand landed on Lock's shoulder. "You look well, Captain! I believe I haven't seen you since you crawled out of that bacta tube on Endor; I see the color never came back!"
Before Lock could answer, the hand on his shoulder essentially lifted him up and set him aside, moving the Corellian out of Phven's way. "Pardon me, Captain! I'm afraid that I cannot stay and reminisce; I have wounded to take care of once I've taken care of business!"
One arm pulled the door to the latrine open as the Besalisk turned towards the line behind him and with a wry grin said, "You all better find another latrine, gentlemen, because I'm about to top this one off."
As the door shut to many disappointed groans and moans and complaining whines, Lock realized just how lucky he'd been.
"Welp." He moved on. The other beings in the line scattered to find another portable refresher station save for one brave soul that was either too tired or too lazy to move on from their spot in the line.
Once he decided that he wanted to be as far from Aruithil as possible, he headed towards the edge of camp. A simple electrically shielded fence line-posts with internal shield generators that created an invisible barrier that would shock anybody who attempted to cross it while active. Every few dozen meters a pair of marines were posted to keep watch and alert the base should anyone try to breach the barrier. As he made his way there, Lock noticed that whereas most of the pilot's tents were located near and around the airfield, the marines seemed to have made themselves at home closer to the edge.
Lock walked along it, giving lazy nods to marines as he passed by, hands still buried in his pockets. On the other side of the fence he could see another city of tents being built as survivors from the Capital whose homes had been destroyed now made their way across the five kilometer flatland between the crash site and the city.
This is why she was here, he realized. Not to vex him, but to help these people. It made sense; it was who she was and it made her better than him. The only way he could help them was killing someone--he could probably kill them if they asked for it. He doubted it'd be any more difficult than any of the other times. That was the difference between him and her. She fought for life, and he fought to kill.
Hopefully, Lock and the Vigilant would be moving on sooner rather than later and Aru could get on with her life. And him with his own, however short it may be. An image of Mustang's X-wing being torn to shreds passed through his mind's eye.
"Let me guess what you're thinking, Sweaty-pants," asked a familiar voice behind him.
"How about you leave me alone?" he answered, turning back towards the marine that had rescued him before. He should be grateful, but the last thing he wanted was company. Everybody could just get blasted right about now.
Without all her gear on, the marine looked like a different woman altogether, though that smirk that immediately blossomed the moment he laid eyes on her gave her away. Unlike Aru's frizzy hair which she tied into a bun when she didn't feel like doing it up, this woman's raven black hair was long and straight, and would've reached her shoulder's if she didn't have it in a tail. The blaster on her hip and the vibroknife haphazardly shoved into one of her military-issue boots gave her a rugged appeal that contrasted with her natural beauty, though she had none of Aruithil's grace, nor style, which usually consisted of long gowns in an Alderaan-fashion. Had Lock bothered to examine her closer, he would have realized that the woman had no identifiable markings on her whatsoever.
She placed a hand on her hip and pretended to pout. "Where's the fun in that?"
"Right here." Lock pulled a fist out of his pocket. Middle finger up.
She ignored him and took a step towards him. He fought the urge to push her out of his way.
"You're thinking that this fence would get overloaded immediately if we were swarmed." Her eyes were on the refugees outside. "It would take only a few to short circuit. They could do it during the night, while everyone was asleep. Even if we got the alarm up, they would be on top of us before we could get to a blaster."
"Don't look at me," she said. "It's what you were thinking."
"No it wasn't."
"Then what were you thinking about?"
"I was..." Ackbar's voice rang in his head as Lock realized that he'd been led into a trap. "It's none of your business-but I was thinking that I want to get off this kriffing base."
"What's stopping you?"
"Well, let's say that I've already had one too many shocks today. I'd rather not have survived burning to a crisp on the way down just to fry into a crisp right now."
"You mean... because of the fence?" She snorted. "Why don't you catch a ride on a Uey? Zippy has been going back and forth all day."
"Zippy?" He knew Zippy! Perhaps there was hope.
"He took over for Major Murg who was on scene when the bomb went off," she let him know. When Lock gave her a puzzled look she took the cue. "The Quarren intelligence officer."
"Apparently, he's a hot hand behind a stick."
"We could always use more of those," Lock commented. Perhaps he shouldn't have said that; as soon as he did he felt a hole in his gut. "I need a drink. You wouldn't have any to save a life would you?"
"You're confusing me with a medic, flyboy," she answered with a snort, crossing her arms, though her expression remained amused. "Plus, if anyone is getting a drink it's me, exactly for that-saving your life!"
"I would've crawled back on my own," Lock rolled his eyes, offering his own smirk.
"You wanna crawl back to the 'Vette on your own?"
He was about to fire back when the image popped into his head; Aru meeting up at the Corvette, taking care of him, wanting him to be safe, give it all up... He offered a weak chuckle instead, "I guess not. Thank you, really, for finding me out there."
"So Flyboy's do have manners, who would've thought?"
"Look, I need to get going if I'm going to catch that U-wing. How about I get you two next time. Deal?"
She looked at him for a moment and finally shrugged. "Sure, deal."
"Right. I'm Lock, what's your name?"
"I know, Callahan, I had to file a report. I'm Nyku."
"Thanks, Nyku. I'll catch you another time," he said as he started to make his way through the tents, making his way towards the air field.
The interior of the tent Frosty was laying in was a cacophony of noise. Tens of beds, more than he thought possible to fit in the space, were laid out and each had a patient on. Some moaned and groaned from their wounds, others were silent but the constant beep of the machinery they were attached to disturbed his sleep.
Frosty put the pillow over his head, wanting to scream. He felt totally overwhelmed and his head was throbbing. He'd had his scans but frustratingly there was nothing to be done. Every other injury he'd ever had was easy; take a bacta bath, have some surgery, take your meds. But somehow, the brain was different.
So he'd been told to try and get some rest. How the hell was he meant to get some rest?
"I've seen better places to nap." Knight was standing above him, a grin on his face.
Frosty grabbed at his arm, hissing. "Get me the hell out of here!"
"Well good news for you, doc says they want your bed for the real wounded and has discharged you into my care."
"Good. Help me up." Frosty noticed Knight wince a little as Frosty used his outstretched arm to sit upwards. "You alright?"
"Just some post ejection back pain. You know, standard stuff."
"Yeah," Frosty struggled to keep his balance, his head spinning. "If you're old."
"I'm going to choose to believe that this is one of those mood swings the doc warned me about," Knight chuckled, as they left the tent together. "I know my friend would never say such a thing."
Frosty grunted with the effort of walking, not protesting when Knight linked his arm in his to help his balance. "Who said we're friends?"
"We're getting old Frosty. The new kids call us veterans behind our backs."
"Don't you dare," Frosty snarled, swaying arm in arm with the wincing Knight. "I ain't even twenty six!"
"Hmm," Knight nodded sympathetically. "Pre-Yavin, right?"
"Well, sure." Frosty conceded. "I mean only just."
"Pre-Endor is a veteran to the new recruits now Frosty. We're positively ancient beings."
They arrived at Knight's chosen location, the makeshift airfield. Frosty gave him a look, "You thought the sound of U-wings would help my headache?"
"I figured watching the pretty ships fly would entertain you."
"Hmph." Frosty sat carefully, taking the ration bar Knight offered with little complaint. His stomach was griping from when he had emptied it earlier. "Alright, tell me. How bad?"
"Fox." Knight sat next to him, staring idly at the sky. "Mustang. Trip. Mighty. Slugger. Rev."
"Karking hells." Frosty chewed on the bar. "This was a bad one."
"You know Rev was the first person who got me sober for a while there?"
"Sounds like Rev," Knight added mutely. "Mighty is the one that gets me. A legend like that..."
They sat in silence for a while together. Knight kept opening his mouth and closing it again, annoying Frosty greatly. He felt a little wave of anger, "Come on, out with it!"
"Doc told me you'd been talking whilst you were getting examined. Talking a lot. Is there anything you need to talk about?"
Frosty watched as Zippy's U-wing came to a rest in front of them, the doors opening as casualties were pulled from it. Zippy turned in the cockpit, looking out the side viewport. Spotting Frosty he stuck his middle finger up at him and Frosty returned the favour. "I'd been having doubts recently. About whether doing this was the right thing to do with my life. If we were doing enough good. I mean, look at the city, John. Look at the devastation. I tried talking to Myke about it, but he's.."
"An idealist." Knight offered. "How he's managed to keep such a positive attitude all this time I don't know."
"I reckon it's spice. The real good stuff."
"Hmm," Knight nodded. "So?"
Frosty shrugged, "It was just a moment of doubt. It passed. You know what I mean?"
"Anyway. I met this TIE pilot I shot down on the mountain. Idiot shot at me, so I shot him, right in the karking stomach. Dragged his ass all the way to the Anti-Venom. He wouldn't stop talking and I...I just unloaded on him, John. Got it all off my chest. He was just a kid, barely old enough to drive a landspeeder, and I shot him in the stomach and raved at him till he died. That's farkled."
"Aye," Knight offered. "It is."
They sat in silence for a while, Knight finally breaking the relative peace. "It is exhausting."
"Aye," Frosty nodded. "Force help me I feel like every death eats another part of me. Frakking Fox. My fault, if I hadn't have gone down-"
"Psh!" Knight cut him off, "Now you're talking like a rookie! Trying to take all the blame. Last I heard you did some real hero shavit for Wolf. Protecting your wingmate whilst your own ship is on fire."
"Ach, it wasn't quite that grand, John. It was my own mistake, I ignored a warning siren when we scrambled. Too distracted with my doubts. If I'd been smart-"
"Then you wouldn't have launched at all and we'd have lost Wolf as well as Fox."
Frosty thought about this a while, as the wind picked up a little. "Pre-Yavin eh? Yet Dragon got promoted before you?"
Knight snort-laughed at the insult, "Alright, Frosty. Concussion can only account for so many insults before I leave you here."
Frosty laughed too now, feeling a little tension within himself ease. "We just keep on surviving, don't we?"
"Yeah we do. We do."
Lock was boarding Zippy's U-wing, he also spotted Frosty and Knight, sticking his middle finger up at them from the boarding ramp. Both Corsairs returned the favour. "I don't know about you Knight, but I could eat. Reckon we can find anything decent?"
"Yeah," Knight stood and Frosty followed, linking arms again as both coped with their own injuries. "I'm sure there's a couple of rookies somewhere round here that could spare a meal for an old veteran or two."
The main command tent had been erected in the shadow of the Anti-Venom. It wasn't the largest or grandest of the quick-construction buildings that the medical craft often deployed, but it was the most important. It served as the central nerve cluster of the operation, especially with the actual corvette in its current state. Figures entered and exited with pace, a beehive of moving bodies and shouted requests, of equipment assignments and personnel postings.
It was the one place Jalb was very hesitant to visit. But Kardia had insisted she needed to check in with her staff, and she'd been so accommodating already today, helping him limp around the area. So how could he really say no to a doctor with that kind of bedside manner?
Besides, she had the painkillers that were keeping his leg from sawing itself off and finding something better to do than hoof the rest of him around.
So they struggled up the hill together, towards the underside of the jugging, blackened bridge section of the Anti-Venom, to where the main command tent was. And it was a struggle. Between the cast, and the crutch, and a slightly smaller person who didn't have to answer to a command chain that expected physical excellence, the climb was labored. But Jalb was thankful for a distraction from the butcher's bill, and the company really couldn't be beat.
The nicety of the situation passed when one of the Anti-Venom's nurses, a diminutive Chadra-Fan, stopped them to ask if some other harried human had found the pair. After a few start-and-stop attempts, they finally deciphered that it was Junior who had been looking for Jalb, and had been directed towards the main command tent. But the relief Jalb had felt at the realization that his son was alright was quickly replaced by more worry as to why he was looking for the Rogue Leader with such intensity.
Jalb was hoping there wouldn't be any more bad news.
The pair had finally made it to the command tent, and Kardia keyed the door to slide open on the prefabricated wall. The scent of antiseptic and polished metal blasted out, the interior climate controls working overtime to keep the temperature down inside.
Jalb made a face, then allowed Kardia to help him inside. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting inside, and he felt Kardia tug him sideways, out of the path of the door and out of the way of anyone else that needed to walk right there.
"Captain!" A voice called from the darkness, and then Kardia was leading him further into the area, around bodies and humming equipment, towards a large display board with names and numbers. Several junior staff members approached Kardia, immediately moving to her for an approval on a datapad or an idea of what needed to go where. Jalb watched as his escort handled all of the requests deftly, quickly dispatching her staff to their tasks.
Then there was someone at his other shoulder. He turned to look, saw the medic was pointing, and he followed the finger to find Junior slumped in a chair, an intravenous device pumping a clear liquid into his arm.
Jalb gave a start, then pushed off of Kardia and lumbered over to his son.
There was a wet cloth across the youth's brow, and his feet were slightly raised on an empty supply box.
"What happened?" Jalb demanded, learning heavily on the crutch to take Junior's wrist, fumbling for a pulse.
"He passed out, sir." The medic had followed him, stepping to his side and trying to force Jalb's hand away from Junior's arm. "Red-Eye thinks it's dehydration, possibly altitude. We're on the side of a mountain and he burst in here all worked up, looking for you."
Jalb let out a breath. "So he's fine?"
"Yes sir." The medic slipped a small vial out from a holder on her belt, uncorked it, and held it under Junior's nose. Whatever was in the container worked, and Junior's eyes fluttered open. The youth sputtered, twisting his head away from the vial, shaking the cloth loose from his head to fall into his lap. "Huh whu...agh."
Jalb suppressed a chuckle. "Ease up there, pilot. Welcome back."
Junior blinked a few more times, then his face contorted and he grabbed the cloth off of his lap. He'd acted quickly, but not fast enough that the moisture from the cloth hadn't left a damp spot. Junior stood, then awkwardly bent back; the intravenous needle hand yanked halfway out of his arm and the machine began to emit a keening alarm. With a snarl Junior ripped the rest of the needle clear, then pressed the cloth against the blood that was oozing from the needle's former entry point.
Jalb took all of this in with a grin. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Kyle turned back to his father, shooting the older man a glare. "Just got a little...lightheaded, is all. You're a hard man to find sometimes."
Chris nodded down towards his crutch. "I know. Fast and evasive, that's me." His grin shifted slightly. "Is everything alright? A few people said you were in quite the rush to find me."
"Yeah, ah..." Junior looked around quickly. "...yeah. Just. Heard the butcher's bill hit Rogue pretty hard."
Jalb's grin faded, and he started nodding. "Not just Rogue. The Wing got chopped up pretty bad."
"Yeah, Corsair is...well. Still haven't heard from a few." Junior's worry settled on to his face. "I'd heard you were mobile, at least, but I...just wanted to...y'know..."
Chris smiled, then took a step towards his son and wrapped an arm around Kyle's shoulders. "It's good to see you too."
Kyle nodded, wrapping his un-bleeding arm back around his father. "Thanks, dad."
Someone softly cleared their throat, a gesture of not wanting to either intrude or surprise. Jalb turned his head, and Kardia was there, a respectful distance away, flanked by a tall, scraggly-bearded man with a bandaged head and an astromech's visual sensor jutting out from where his left eye should be, dressed in a medic's jumpsuit. Jalb nodded, squeezed his arm around Junior again, and then stepped back. Kyle let his father separate, patting the older man's shoulder, then looked to the other pair.
The bandaged man frowned and stepped around Kardia and then Jalb, fishing a roll of medical tape from a kit on his belt. He nodded at Junior, and the pilot offered his bleeding arm.
"Junior," Jalb started, shuffling on his crutch back over to Kardia, "this is Captain Kardia Milo of the Anti-Venom. She's the reason we're in this mess." He offered Kardia what he hoped would be a charming smile.
She grinned back. "Not entirely, Commander. We had some Imperial help, after all."
Kyle let the medic bandage his arm, but turned and nodded at Kardia. "Ma'am."
"Kardia, this is Flight Officer Kyle Reynolds, Corsair Four. Callsign Junior. And my son."
"Ah, that would explain the resemblance." Kardia smiled, nodding over to Kyle. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Flight Officer. And thank you for your help with...whatever that all was."
"It's the job, ma'am. Uh...not to be rude, but...you're from the home country?"
Kardia's smile widened. "I just happen to be, yes."
"See?" Jalb chuckled. "Even out here, we take care of our own."
Junior nodded. The medic had finished with the wrapping on his arm, and the compress was solid. "Wear this for a few hours, and the bleeding should stop," the bandaged man was telling him. Junior kept nodding along with the instructions. "And find some fluids to drink. Not alcohol - water. You've been through a lot in the last few hours, and your body needs to replenish what it's lost."
"Yeah, I got..." Junior had turned from the medic back to his father, and then stopped. Jalb was staring at the medic. Not in the manner that would be paying attention to instruction, but full on-gawking at the man. Junior's eyes flashed to Kardia. She'd picked up on it too, her eyes flicking between Jalb and the medic.
"I...also wanted to introduce you to our pilot," Kardia managed to say, haltingly, suddenly unsure of what was going on. "We call him Red-Eye, because...well, he didn't give us anything else. But he's the reason the ship is still intact, and not spread over a significantly larger part of..." She trailed off as Jalb stepped away from her and grabbed the medic's shoulder.
"Look at me." It was his officer voice, his 'Rogue Leader will not be disobeyed' voice, and Junior hadn't heard it used with anyone outside of the wing.
The medic stiffened, then turned to face Jalb. His organic eye was bloodshot, shadowed by an aura of darker flesh, but that uncanny red glow from the cybernetic attachment threw weird shadows across the rest of his face. "Hey Chris. You held out on us - you never told me your son was a pilot."
"Adam." The name was all Jalb managed before he dropped the crutch and threw his arms around the medic.
Junior felt his eyes widen, looked at Kardia, saw the same expression on her face, then turned back to his dad.
The medic had returned the hug, and was crying; Jalb was laughing and slapping the back of the medic's shoulders.
"Jalb, if you aren't careful, you're gonna need another cast."
"Shut up, Guardian." Jalb broke the hug, hands on Red-Eye's shoulders, looking directly into the other man's good eye. "Where the hell have you been?"
"No, it's fine, Phven, I'll go-I need some fresh air anyways. Just let me grab my pack."
As dusk began to settle over the horizon, Aruithil emerged the Anti-Venom with a pack slung over her shoulders. On his way back Zippy had sent a message: "Rescue teams found more survivors under rubble, need a doctor to advise on how to remove them from the site."
Normally Phven would be the first to go, but the population of Toseng seemed to have an adverse reaction to him-to his species, to be specific. Since arriving, most of his attention had been on the wounded combatants, leaving the natives to Aruithil and the rest.
It didn't take her long to make her way from the crashed corvette to the airfield where a lone U-wing was waiting for her. She found the pilot outside, a mandalorian.
"Just Zippy is fine, Doctor Cho."
"Very well. I'm just Aru, then. Are we ready to go?"
"Just about to finish refueling. Go ahead and take a seat. We're bringing along an extra passenger, hope you don't mind."
"Thank you. It shouldn't be a problem," she answered before heading inside.
As soon as she saw him she decided it was a problem.
Even as much as she had liked his black hair, she still found him attractive in white-even though she knew she shouldn't. The sight of him sprawled out across half the seats in the U-wing's left side made the woman's heart beat faster. Lock saw her as well and immediately shot up in his seat, confused at her presence.
"What now?" he asked.
Instantly, anger and regret filled her. She turned away from him and placed her supply bag on the floor.
"Nothing," she replied, walking briskly past the Corellian to take the co-pilot's seat of the U-wing.
"I was gonna sit there," she heard from behind.
Without turning she answered, "So?"
"So, maybe you should let the pilot co-pilot, Doc?"
Aru saw her eyes narrow in the reflection of the transparisteel.
"Did you really just say that?"
"The arrogance. You have never, ever, not even once beaten me in a sim!"
"Well, there was that one time-"
"You mean the time that you were up by one and the base had a black out? Doesn't count, even Jet told you you were full of-"
"I was going to win anyways and you know it-"
"Banthaspit. And my point stands. You don't get to say I'm not a pilot."
"You gave it up. You gave up. Want to pilot? Find a freighter and haul refresher seat rings-but don't get in a snubfighter and call yourself a damned pilot to my face, I know better."
"I gave up? No, I stopped trying to kill people to try and save them. If there were more people focused on fixing rather than breaking then maybe we'd have some chance."
"Kriffin' idealist. It's already too broken, you can't fix it. You can't fix everything or everyone. You can't help the whole blasted Galaxy by playing nurse."
Aruithil turned to him, boiling in rage. As calm as she tried to be, when provoked she could have one hell of a temper. The problem was, when she looked at him, at the man she loved, beaten and bruised, so broken in spirit that he didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel... She felt pity. She knew she could never tell him (he'd never forgive her), but it did stop the venom she was about to let loose onto the man.
"Do you even have clearance to leave the base?" she asked instead. "Do I need to call Lt. Colonel Reynolds?"
"Kriff me, take the blasted chair, I don't give a damn."
She saw him turn away from her in the reflection and she did the same, hating herself, hating him, hating the situation they found themselves in. She regretted ever asking him to stop-if she had, maybe things would have remained good. Maybe they'd be happy, somehow. She had wanted to help him and all she'd give them both was pain.
"Whoa. I could cut the tension in here with a vibroknife."
Aru wiped her eyes and turned to see that Zippy had entered and was closing the door behind her. "Took you long enough," she said to him, trying to sound more cheerful than she felt. "Ready to go, skipper."
"Aye, let's get you where you need to go," the mando answered as he slid into the pilot's chair.
Luckily, Lock remained quiet the rest of the trip. He was the first to disembark and headed off so fast that the only thing she saw of him when she herself left the U-wing was the back of his jacket disappearing down an alleyway. Even if she had wanted to, which she definitely didn't (or so she told herself), she had much too much to do here. Aru hadn't been called on location just to sight-see.
Some soldiers came over, one rather large human male and a smaller Balosar female.
"I'll take that for ya, Doc," the male said. "Tech told me to tell ya to head right in. They're waitin for ya."
"It's not pretty," the Balosar warned.
Aruithil took a deep breath. "Let's do this."
It was a few hours before they were done. Rocks had fallen upon a young Zabrak woman, pinning her in place. The med techs and corpsman on scene had been concerned about what kind of risk lifting the slab would entail. Eventually they were able to get it off of her and through much effort even save the woman. Aru smiled happily as she watched Zippy's U-wing take off again, delivering her and a few others to the base.
"That's all of them," someone said. "Let's pack it up. That next U-wing is our ride home-miss it and you'll have to find somewhere to stay in this flaming pile of nerfshit."
Aru looked around the now dark streets and noticed that Lock still hadn't returned. Immediately she realized that if she personally didn't go and find him, he was going to be left behind. Everyone else was busy getting the work area ready for departure, and those that weren't were soldiers keeping the place secure. Frowning, she sighed and tapped one of the rescue workers on the shoulder.
"Uhm, sorry to bother, but... where's the closest bar?"