DAY ONE BLUES: Part 2
By Bulldog, Dobber, Frosty, Guardian, Lock, Silence, and Wildcard
Directed by Lock
Aboard the frigate Black Hawk, Wildcard slumped into his bunk, looking forward to at last being able to rest following the battle.
He noted for the millionth time that his bed was too soft. Even though New Republic standard-issue beds weren't exactly top of the range, they were a hell of a lot more comfortable than the bed in his cell. Too comfortable, he found. As he made his best attempts to envelope himself in the welcoming graces of a deep sleep, his door slid open, ripping him from the clutches of comfort. His eyes shot open and he stood up perfectly straight, simply by instinct, waiting by his bed and looking straight ahead.
Into the room walked a short, stocky Gand, who he knew as Jade Five, Lurek "Chilli" Kyifr. Chilli halted at the peculiar sight before him.
"What are you doing... Wildcard?" He asked, seemingly needing a second to remember the pilot's name.
"Nothing. What is it?" Wildcard bit back defensively, relaxing his posture and making eye contact at last.
"Gand has been told to retrieve you. Gand believes there is some kind of celebration in order... or memorial. A mix of both, Gand is led to believe," Chilli replied somewhat monotonously.
"I'll pay my respects privately. Give everybody my regards and my condolences," Wildcard told him, a dull edge in his voice that was somewhere between annoyance and disinterest.
"Gand will only be sent to convince you again if you do not come with Gand. Gand would be willing to offer you a taster of some substances Gand has been known to procure, if that may convince you instead."
Wildcard should have known a spice peddler when he saw one. He'd spent his day to day life surrounded by these people. The fact that one had made his way into the Starfighter Corps was an interesting development. Even pilots needed a boost, he supposed.
"No, I don't want any spice, Chilli."
Wildcard sighed. This was something he would just have to get on with. "Fine," he said, "I'll come. But a word of advice first: next time, knock."
A few ships over, aboard the Mon Calamari Cruiser Vigilant, Buccaneer's Executive Officer let out a bellowing yawn in his office.
Bulldog was exhausted, but the only thing keeping him out of his quarters right now was the stack of after-action report logs he needed to go through to piece together some semblance of what went wrong for the Buccaneers at Toseng. Animal was doing the same work, but had asked him to do it in parallel to see if one mind saw something the other did not.
His second task was to call down to the planet to get the status of their downed pilots and the disposition of their equipment and health. While he knew Foo had survived without much injury, he wasn't sure on the statuses of Ant, Wolvinator, and Rev. Though, the latter was likely dead, he just hadn't had a front row seat to it as he did with the other fatality so some small part of him was holding out hope the veteran had survived. He shuddered at the brief flash of memory of Slugger's ship before and after the blast that had hit it, and shook his head quickly to clear it from his mind's eye. Hastily, he thought of another task he had to complete.
He also had to check in with Blue, Bearcat, and Crane to see how the new pilots were holding up after that meat-grinder. He knew Gnoizic was enough of a veteran to talk to somebody if something was troubling him, but the rookies often needed to know it was ok to reach out to their superiors and friends if they needed help. Loth-Cat also had queried him multiple times regarding status updates on his ship and droid that Foo had crash-landed on the planet, so he had to go to the young pilot to calm them down and let them know he'd find out as soon as possible but everything was likely fine But first, he needed to start the task Animal had given him, so he spooled up the flight cam footage from his Y-wing and settled back into his chair. He couldn't avoid it any longer.
The moment he took one look at the first "significant" timestamp automatically created by his flight computer on his flight log, Bulldog broke out into a cold sweat. It was the moment Slugger's ship got blasted apart by the AT-AT on the streets, sending the fiery wreck careening into the building in front of Bulldog's ship. It was true that similar things happened in battle all the time, but having seen it happen right in front of him in person, it felt different.
Which, at face value, made him feel silly because again, he'd watched comrades and subordinates die in battle before, and many times it had been within close visual range too. For some reason Slugger's sudden death shook him to the core, however, and he didn't have the stomach to continue to watch the combat log after seeing it happen again. He shoved himself out of his chair and began walking the halls.
He saw Krayt storming in the direction of Stryker's office as he wandered the halls, but the veteran ignored his lazy salute as he passed. Bulldog continued to wander aimlessly, but each direction he chose didn't give him any sort of satisfaction until he rounded a corner and beheld the familiar sight of the SSD.
After standing still for a moment to contemplate if he'd subconsciously made his way here or if the Force or plain-old muscle memory had led him here, he found himself going to the place he often went when he needed to unwind. He expected it to be empty, which was what he'd secretly hoped would be the case so he could drown his sorrows in silence. So he could just drink anonymously without anybody looking to him for guidance or expect anything from him.
Unfortunately for him, there appeared to be a modest crowd in attendance. It seemed as though there appeared to be an odd celebration of sorts going on, where the pilots in attendance raised their glasses in unison, then somebody said some words, and then again in unison they slammed their shots on the counter and then drained them in one fluid motion. From his vantage point in the hallway he couldn't hear a thing since Iggy's sound damping system prevented any auditory pollution to the rest of the ship, so he'd have to go inside to see what was going on.
Bulldog caught Wolf near the inside of doorway watching on in grim fascination, so he sidled up next to him. "What's up?"
Wolf jumped with surprise and recoiled mightily as he attempted to recover his senses. Grasping his chest with his hand, he shot a surprised glare back at Bulldog. "You have no business being that sneaky!"
Bulldog snorted. "Sneaky? I'm pushing 140 kilos. The deck shakes when I walk."
"Yeah," Wolf chuckled as he rubbed his chin absentmindedly. "I guess I was just taken in by the ritual Crane was sharing with the pilots from his days at the Bothan Military Academy."
Bulldog looked back at the group as they had begun raising another glass. He listened closer to the speaker, who was currently Rogue from Spectre Squadron. "To Trip. He may have been a clumsy Sullustan kid that was shy in large groups to all of you, but to me he was a dependable wingman. He was a good kid, and he has been taken too soon. Kith Rai!"
"Trip, Borsk Ruk!" The crowd responded in unison. They slammed down their glasses, and then gulped their shots of alcohol quickly.
Bulldog arched an eyebrow and looked questioningly toward Wolf.
"They mean something like 'kind friend' and 'proud warrior' in Bothese," the Corsair XO elaborated. "According to Crane, these are common sayings at warrior wakes."
The entire ceremony took on a new meaning to Bulldog once he understood. He realized that the wingman of the lost pilot was the one to give the brief eulogy. He hoped Slugger would receive such an address. Unfortunately, he realized that the truly confirmed fallen pilot's wingman was down on the surface of the planet below and unable to eulogize him properly, so he likely wouldn't get the honor.
Bulldog gave Wolf a pat on the shoulder and then stepped into the crowd. He grabbed one of the shot glasses on the tray being passed around and raised his glass, remaining standing to ensure he would be the next to speak. He attempted to smile, but his face wouldn't cooperate.
As everybody grabbed their drink, they looked at him expectantly as they held their glasses up.
Bulldog attempted to speak, but his words caught in his throat as emotion threatened to overtake him. Mercifully, nobody seemed to find this funny, and judging by many of the faces in the room his minor hiccup of emotion was common amongst the speakers. Clearing his throat and shaking his shoulders, he began. "To Slugger. He may have been a hotshot fresh out of the academy to all of you, but to me he was a competent pilot that didn't shy away from a fight. He was a good pilot, and we are all worse off for his loss. Kith Rai!"
"Slugger, Borsk Ruk!"
2nd Lieutenant Rosk "Silence" Vikeron left the Simmons-Schock Deck lounge with an unusually quiet Doc Jobber in tow. She wasn't comfortable with not knowing whether to celebrate a victory or mourn lost lives. Moreover, she didn't like getting drunk, so she couldn't properly do either.
She didn't know most of the lost pilots. Preferring to keep to herself, she hadn't even bonded with her own wingman, Fox, and now she'd never get the chance. While others commiserated in the bar, she walked out, guiltily feeling like she didn't belong. What's more, she was absolutely garbage at offering comfort to others.
She headed back to her quarters, eternally glad for the privacy it afforded her. Putting her foot through the door as soon as it started to slide open, she gently nudged back the eager and decidedly illicit furball who greeted her at the door.
"Nimbu!" She slipped in and closed the door quickly. Her face brightened momentarily. "You're adorable, you know that?"
The black and white furball had grown rapidly in the six weeks since she, FLATTOP, Gremlin, and Lock had found it on the forsaken, unnamed planet where they had crashed. They had smuggled it offworld and onto the Vigilant by hiding it inside Jobber.
Nimbu was the kitten of some undocumented feline species she and Lock had taken to calling "longcats". She--they didn't know if longcats even had males and females, but the pronoun had stuck--had transformed from a black and white, wobbly, tuber-shaped ball of fluff, to a spunky kitten with ears too big for her head and a tail that grew longer and fluffier by the day. Between the black and white areas, stripes and swirls of gray fur had emerged. Her eyes were still huge and orange and fully capable of melting hearts instantly.
"Meeee!" Nimbu squeaked happily, partially inflating for greater buoyancy before launching herself at Silence's head. "Myeeh."
"Ow!" Silence extricated the kitten from her black hair. "You scamp, you have claws, you know, and they're sharp!"
"Even the baby alien creature has weapons," Jobber grumbled. "Why don't I get any?"
Silence stuck out her tongue at the droid. Reasoning with him was pointless.
Snuggling her face into the kitten's fur, she sat on the chair at her desk. She beckoned to Doc Jobber. "Get over here."
"Oh, sure-" Jobber started to retort, but his orange lights flickered purple as Doc took over. "Jobber, hush."
Doc sailed over and Silence put an arm around the droid. She plopped Nimbu on top so she could hug them all at the same time.
She barely knew the pilots who had died in this engagement, and there was nothing she could have done to save Fox, but it brought back memories of a time when she'd been a major, in undeserving command of her own squadron. She had lost them all, and it had been completely and undeniably her fault. Selfishly, she cried for them instead.
"Eee?" Nimbu licked her cheek.
Wildcard sauntered uneasily into the Black Hole, the bar aboard the Black Hawk. The scene before him was a grim one. Several of his squadmates sat still with a thousand yard stare, trying to process the death of whichever squad member they had been close to. His OC, Rafesr "Dusty" Dustvain, sported a party hat, whose bright colours juxtaposed strongly with the dark feeling in the room. Every now and again he would make an attempt to tell some funny anecdote or other where he was the bravest hero the Republic ever knew, but his words fell on deaf ears.
The XO of Jade Squadron, Nejaa "Light" Sab're, was all alone in the corner. Even for somebody as distant from the squadron's dynamic as Wildcard, this was noticeable in how unusual it was. Light was well known for being bright and welcoming. These traits were visible no longer.
Dusty approached him sluggishly, lacking the admittedly infuriating energy that normally emanated from him. "Hey, Bakk. Sorry to drag you out like this. We lost three pilots. PrettyBoy, Web, and Drums."
Wildcard patted him on the shoulder and expressed his condolences for the fallen pilots.
Was Web the Wookiee one? No. That was Drums... I think.
After he had gotten himself a drink, Wildcard made his way to Light, who hadn't moved an inch since he entered the room. Taking a seat next to him, he tried his best to think of the right thing to say. Truthfully, there was very little he could say. Very little that would ease the Bith's pain. After several minutes of contemplation, he finally spoke.
"Y'know boss, the problem with this galaxy of ours is that we never learn. How many wars will it take to realise that we can't keep doing this? I... I'm sorry, bo- Light."
"I'm gonna miss him," Light replied, just a hint of a choke in his voice.
"PrettyBoy," Light said, answering the question that Wildcard hadn't yet asked. "He was a great friend. The best friend I ever had. He understood me in a way nobody ever has, and I like to think I understood him just as well. He got so much crap for being the cheesy-smiling posterboy for our squad. I heard all the whispered comments. He was just trying to be the face of kindness in the galaxy, and I can't think of anyone more suited to that role than he was. I just..."
Light hesitated a moment. "I just wish I'd had one more day with him. One more day to tell him all the things I never told him."
Wildcard was overly conscious of his every movement. He was entirely unsure of how to comfort him, unsure if he was even capable. Before he could figure out the appropriate way to react, an announcement sang through the ship's halls.
"Attention all personnel. Prepare for hyperspace jump in ten minutes."
Most occupants of the bar stood up and began to leave. Before going, Wildcard turned and helped Light to his feet.
"Let's go avenge him."
Back on Toseng, Aru spotted Lock instantly when she found the right bar. He was the guy getting the shavit kicked out of him by some blue-skinned fellow. The assailant and Lock were rolling on the floor, trading furious punches.
"Stop!" she yelled. They both paused. The blue man studied her. She swallowed. "Please, stop. He's lost someone."
"Haven't we all?" the man asked.
As mad as she was at Lock for getting into trouble again, she found herself justifying for him. "I know... that's why... Sometimes we do stupid things because we we are feeling so hurt. Sometimes we do stupider things when we think it's our fault."
Getting to his feet, the blue man rolled his eyes. He bent over to pick up a pair of sunglasses and put them on.
Aru rushed to Lock's side, but as soon as he sat up and saw it was her, he pulled away, angry, as usual.
"I had it under control."
"No you didn't."
"I had them exactly where I wanted them."
"Beating the crap out of you?"
"I didn't ask for your help."
"Roy, can we not-"
"Who even asked you here in the first place?"
"Get away from me. I'm just a casualty waiting to happen right? That's what you said on Zeltros."
"That's not what I said! I meant that if you didn't get out soon-"
"I'd end up like Mustang?"
She didn't answer.
"I don't need your advice. Just stay away from me, Aru. You were right about not wanting to tell me you were here. Just... leave me alone."
"Roy..." she began but he was already gone, leaving her behind in the bar. With a heavy sigh, she returned to the bar and started trying to put the stools back together.
"They're broken, ma'am. I appreciate the help, but there's nothing to be done," the bartender said, having returned behind the bar again. "I thank you for what you did. You, uh, want something to drink? On the house."
"No, thank you, I'm back on duty in an hour," Aru answered. She then noticed the blue man still standing there, watching her. "May I help you?"
The man slowly shook his head. "No, not really."
"Then why are you looking at me like that?"
For a long moment he didn't say anything but she stared him down, until he gave a resigned sigh and downed what was left of his drink.
"It's nothing. Your kindness to that fella... Reminded me of someone I used to know who helped someone who didn't deserve it..."
Someone who didn't deserve it. Aru frowned as she headed towards the door. What Lock deserved was getting harder for her to decide by the day. Of course she cared for him, and as she did with all people, she wished she could help him. But many of the troubles he got into, he had brought upon himself. Guilt. She knew it well, and she had no medicine to cure that. He hated himself and so was determined to make everyone hate him too.
She sighed as she pushed through the door. It would be easier if he had succeeded.
Halting abruptly, she barely avoided tripping over Lock's body. Having fallen face-first into the dusty street, he had passed out.
"Kark you!" she cursed as she grabbed one of his arms and tried futilely to drag him to the speeder she'd parked out front. "You're going to make us both miss that U-wing, you motherkriffin'..."
And then she saw her speeder wasn't there. Even if she had been able to get him onto it, it was long gone, stolen within the few moments she'd been inside.
She stopped struggling and swearing a minute later, exhausted from her efforts and everything else that had happened recently. She felt tears of frustration welling in her eyes. She couldn't carry Lock's baggage any more than she could carry his weight. She should leave him in the street to teach him a lesson.
Instead, she sat next to him, trying not to cry as she considered how to get him back in time to catch the U-wing.
"Reminds me of the day we met, Baby." A familiar man of formidable size had stepped out of the bar, with a petite balosar woman at his side. He blinked in recognition. "Oh, hey, Doc. Didn't expect to see you here."
"Do you need some help?" The woman crouched at Lock's side. "Jak's got experience in field medicine--"
"She's a doctor, Bey. I'm not."
"Right." Bey's face fell.
"The idiot's just unconscious." Aru got up self-consciously and dusted herself off. "The last U-wing's going to be headed back to base any minute, my speeder was stolen, and I can't move him by myself. Can you help me?"
"Sure thing." Jak took a step back and then rolled across Lock before Aru could say a word. As bizarre as the move looked, when Jak came back up on his feet, Lock was wrapped neatly over his shoulders. "Let's go."
Bey smiled at Aru's expression. "It's a trick he learned during our commando training. He loves showing it off. This pilot doesn't weigh that much, but I once saw Jak pick up a Besalisk using this technique."
Aru's eyes widened. Besalisks and heavier species were always problematic to move.
Bey wagged a finger at her. "Don't look so impressed. It'll go to the idiot's head, which is big enough already!"
Jak grinned as they set off down the street at a brisk pace. "That's what she said."
Bey kicked the huge man squarely in the butt.
"Surprised you can even kick that high, Baby B," Jak mocked the small woman. "Careful ya don't sprain somethin'. I'd have to carry your shapely behind home, too."
Bey suddenly noticed Aru's expression and held up both hands. "It's not like that. We're just friends. We talk trash to each other all the time. By the way, I'm Specialist Bey Bem'sura. Everyone calls me Baby, though. And this is Specialist Jak Eagerman. You can just call him Jak."
"Well, I'm glad you came along. I didn't expect to find you in the same bar as..." Aru trailed off, suddenly mad. "You must have seen the fight. Why didn't you--"
Bey shook her head. "When men pick fights, it's best to let them fight."
"Your guy wanted his ass beat. Who are we to deny him the pleasure?" Jak shrugged under Lock's limp weight.
"We would have stopped it from going too far," Bey assured. She studied Aru's face for a moment as they walked. "You care about him."
"It's not like that," Aru stole Bey's own words. She averted her gaze from Lock in equal parts sadness and annoyance. "Not anymore."
Lock came to in the stuffed U-wing.
He'd been strapped in next to a Human and an even larger Dowutin, though it felt more like squeezed between. If that wasn't bad enough, the two had clearly been hard at work for hours, or so their armpits revealed. Gagging, the white haired pilot wiggled between them, trying to establish some small bit of personal space.
"Looks like he's awake," said the Human next to him. "Maybe he'll tell us what he was drinking--wouldn't mind gettin' ahold of some of that myself."
"Erb... mannmerb... arb..." Lock slurred and mumbled at the man.
"What's that? Ya want us to squeeze ya a lil' tighter?" the large man said with a wry grin. He looked up at the Dowutin that had been silent up until now, "Hear that, Lil Tree? Flyboy wants a squeeze."
Both large beings leaned into the inebriated man between them hard enough that the air escaped from the man's lungs with an unceremonious "Umfoh!"
The small, Balosar woman sitting across from them shook her head but did nothing to stop them.
"Can... you... moof?"
"Ah, what's that you sayin'?"
Lock tried to raise his voice but the big guys squeezed him again.
"You hear anythin'?" the Human asked the Dowutin.
"Nah. T'ink 'e might wan' out?"
"Maybe, but you think he'd be polite to the ones that carried his drunk ass to the U-wing, you know?"
Catching the hint, Lock managed to squeak a "Can... you... PLEASE... move?"
Both moved aside and finally Lock was able to take in a deep breath. Verbal barbs rushed to the tip of his tongue, but he willed himself to say nothing except a simple, "Thanks."
"You're welcome. That wasn't that hard, yeah?"
Lock kept silent.
It wasn't until the U-wing started its descent that Lock realized how drunk he still was. The dipping feeling centered in his stomach, swirling the alcohol within, making him feel sick. He must have looked dire because both giants to his side gave him as much space as they physically could. Bastards, he thought to himself. Why don't you try and squeeze me now?
Thankfully the U-wing landed without incident. He remained seated, fighting his usual urge to get out of there. Instead he opted to wait until everyone had cleared out and he could remove himself--slowly--from the ship's interior. He'd resigned to his fate, staring off into space, when he felt a tug at his straps.
He looked down. Most of the marines had gone, now it was just Aruithil undoing his straps. Lock blinked, watching for a moment before he realized what was going on.
"Hey, get off--"
"Shut up," she hissed at him under her breath.
"Uh-oh," he said, recognizing the tone. She shot him a glance that could've torn through his X-wing. "Sorry."
Before Lock could answer she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him from his seat. The alcohol rushed to his head and suddenly the world started to spin. Losing his equilibrium, Lock tumbled forward, right into Aruithil. She caught him and he instinctively embraced her to keep from falling. Both tensed up; both felt the other do so. They quickly pulled apart.
"I got it," he said.
Aru gave him a doubtful look. "You sure?"
"Who cares?" asked Zippy, cutting in. He'd been watching the entire exchange. "Get off my ship already."
After shooting the man a drunken glare, Lock grabbed onto one of the top compartments of the U-wing and forced himself to walk, clutching either side as he could in a vain effort to walk out on his own, just to trip on the ramp and fall face first into the dirt of Toseng.
Lock looked up to see Starfire looking down at him. "Sup?"
"Uh, everything okay?"
"I'm just... uh... testing... how soft the ground is."
Aruithil came down the ramp, "For Force's sake, Roy, I can't take my eyes off of you for ten seconds." Taking a glance at Starfire, she asked, "Are you one of his wingmates?"
"Ye-es?" she answered, tentatively.
"Good, maybe you can help me get him to his tent," Aruithil bent over to grab one of the man's arms. She motioned to Starfire to grab the other. Not knowing exactly what to do, Starfire opted to just do as she was asked. Aruithil thanked her.
Lock not so much. "I'm fine, I can walk on my own."
"The imprint on the ground says differently," Aru told him. "How much did you even drink? You were only gone a few hours."
"I drank everything I could find," he answered. He turned to Starfire. "Don't get old, kid, people start questioning you."
"People already question me," Starfire retorted.
"Bah, you overthink it," Lock slurred. "People just don't want you to die. We're just trying to keep you safe."
"Sounds familiar," Aru interjected. Lock turned to her and met her eyes for a second before it became unbearable and he turned towards the ground.
The Airfield, at this point, was mostly green grass expanding over flat land with a few intermittent hills, most of which would be equally flattened out in the next few days. It was a mostly empty space, clear of tents, reserved for starships of a multitude of sizes, if Lock had to guess. All in all, it didn't prove interesting enough to distract the man from the sudden pang of guilt that coursed through him in that moment.
"I understand that," Starfire finally answered, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "But you need to trust me, too. I can't go out there doubting myself because of how you feel either. I do want to say--"
Lock's boot made contact with something--someone--and was just drunk enough to put his entire weight on them.
"OOF! My nuts!" Frosty called out.
Lock looked down, drunkenly trying to process what had just happened. "What are you doing down there?"
"Screaming in pain, you kriffin' nerfbrain!" Frosty swiped at his leg, causing Lock to topple over, bringing Aru and Starfire with him... right on top of Knight and Frosty.
"Watch that elbow!"
"Did you just touch my boob?"
"Lock, no one is trying to touch your choobies."
After a few seconds the five of them were sitting in the grass looking at each other. Lock snorted, quite amused at the situation. Aruithil immediately crawled over to Frosty to check on the situation. Starfire and Knight looked annoyed, but there was a smile threatening to crack the facade.
"What were you two doing laying in the middle of the airfield?" Aruithil questioned once she was satisfied that they hadn't done any additional brain damage to Frosty.
Though it was Frosty who pointed up at the sky, it was Knight who answered. "We were just looking at the stars in the sky."
"Any of you know which star is which?" Starfire asked.
"Nah, not really. Well, we figure that one is the Vigilant. Or the Sov. Either or." Frosty pointed at a particularly bright speck in the night sky.
Starfire pointed at another speck, "I bet that one is Chandrila."
"How so?" Lock asked.
She shrugged. "Just a hunch."
"That one's Coruscant. Or Toprawa," Frosty added, pointing a finger at his own star. Similar to the star Starfire had pointed out, Lock had no idea. "One of the two. Doesn't matter, really, I guess."
"This planet sucks, but it has one hell of a view," Knight commented, leaning back into the grass to rest his head on his hands. "It's one thing to see the Galaxy from a viewport, it's another from down here. See any stars you know, Lock?"
Lock looked up at the sky, at the millions of worlds and systems looking down upon him. He almost mentioned his home planet, but then recalled Aru was with them. They had no way of knowing, but she would never be able to point out her home to them.
"Nah, I'm crap at astrogation," Lock answered with a shrug. "That's what astromechs are for."
"Speaking of astromechs," Starfire interjected. "Did they recover 10-CK?"
Lock shook his head. That was two astromechs in the space of a year. "Little guy never had a chance."
"Sorry," Starfire said, quietly.
"Don't worry, Duece," Lock nodded to her. "It's not your fault. It's that bastard Dusty's fault."
"Dusty?" Knight asked. "Jade Leader? What'd he do?"
An hour passed as the five of them spoke and shared stories. Stories about the battle, about home. Even Aru began to feel more at ease among strangers and slowly joined the conversation. She and Lock were able to steer clear of any sensitive topics, though they caught each other looking more than once. In time, Lock sobered up enough to stand on his own.
"Alright, I think I'm done," he announced, extending his arms and back in a long stretch. "I'm going to head off."
"I think I'll stay here a while longer," Starfire said.
Aruithil stood as well. "I think it's time I headed back, too. I have to be up quite early."
Frosty was too comfortable laying down to get up. "Night, Doc."
"Alright, nice meeting you, Doctor," Knight said with a polite wave.
"Just Aru is fine, really. And take care of that head, Frosty, or I'll have Knight drag you back to the Anti-Venom, got it?"
"You got it!"
"Night, Renegades," Lock said and started making his way towards the tents, hands in his pockets.
He had only walked a few feet when he stopped and looked back towards her. She seemed to be trying to decide which way she wanted to go--with him, or without him. He didn't blame her. In the end, she chose the wrong decision, to follow him.
It was always going to be that way, though, wasn't it? Her choosing him over the saner, safer choice? In his younger days, that thought may have inflated him with pride. Who didn't want a beautiful woman pining over them? He knew, though, that he was just hurting her, no matter what he felt about her. If he truly cared about this woman, he would do what was best for her.
They were nearly to the Anti-Venom when Lock stopped walking. "Aru."
She stopped, too. Turning she looked at him, waiting. Lock wondered if she was bracing herself.
"Thanks for coming to get me," he said after a few moments. "Can we be honest with each other?"
"I'm always honest-"
"We're never honest."
She sighed, impatient. "What do you want, Roy?"
"You still love me, don't you?"
"No," her answer was immediate, yet she looked taken by surprise.
"See? We're never honest."
"Do you love me, then?"
"Yes," Lock answered, unflinching. He stared into her eyes. She had not been expecting him to answer that.
Aru crossed her arms. "What am I supposed to say, Roy? That I love you, too? Even though you've done nothing but treat me worse than nerfshit all day long? What kriffin' happened to you? You weren't like this before."
"I've always been like this, that's what you don't understand," he replied, keeping his voice cool and hard. "We're too fundamentally different, Aru. You fix things, and I only break things. You're right, about everything. I almost died today. To save that girl down there, because I felt guilty because I let Mustang die. I would've died--and you would've been looking at my name on a list, like you always feared. And before I nearly died, I killed more than a half dozen Imps like it was nothing--another day on the job. I don't feel bad, I don't feel anything towards them. You are a shining beacon of mercy, and I am a merciless son on a sarlacc. In the end, I'll just end up breaking you, too."
There was silence between them for a long while. Aru stared down at the floor, taking it in, tears in her eyes.
"I wish... I wish I had never brought that up on Zeltros," she told him.
"I used to, too," he answered. It was getting harder and harder to keep his composure. "But now I'm glad that you did... because... if you hadn't... I suck at this. At words. At love. At life. I'm such an idiot. I wish I could be normal, and give you what you want, Aru, but I can't... and you... deserve better."
"Why do you always try to decide for me? Who are you to tell me who is and isn't better, who I should or shouldn't love."
Lock shook his head. He didn't have an answer. "I'm just me."
"And this is what you want? To decide for us what's best?"
"You're such an arrogant bastard, Roy. A damned child, you think things just happen the way they happen because you said so? Damn you, damn you! Damn you and your kriffin' words... your blasted reasons... your everything..." It was getting hard for her to keep her voice low, to even form a comprehensible argument.
"Aru?" squeaked a voice from behind her.
Both turned to look at a chadra-fan, broom in hand, standing a few feet away. Lock recognized her from somewhere but couldn't exactly place her... On the other hand, she recognized him immediately.
"Callahan!" She screeched once she saw Aru's tears streaming down her face. "You did this!? I'll tear your tiny little testicles off!"
She swiped at him with the broom and he got out of the way. "Blast off, rat nurse, don't you see I'm in the middle of something?"
"What did you call me?"
"What did you call her?!" demanded Aru, overpowering the Chadra-fan's voice. She walked straight up to Lock and swung her right fist, connecting directly to the pilot's jaw.
Lock dropped, dazed and surprised by the hit.
"Don't you ever call her that again, Roy! Now get out of here, you've done enough for today! Blast off, for kriff's sake!"
Lock was shocked at her words. They hurt more than expected--even more than the punch.
Slowly he stood up.
"Yeah." He nodded, massaging his jaw. He looked at Aru, "Good talk. Good night."
He turned to go and didn't look back.
The voice was surprisingly small, considering the source. Gremlin stood above Frosty, leaning down and blocking his view of the starfield. Besides him Knight was snoring gently, Starfire's head on his shoulder as the two pilots had succumbed fully to battle fatigue.
"I can see down your top like this," he said, grinning. Gremlin didn't crack the slightest smile causing Frosty to frown. "You alright?"
"I'm...is your head alright?"
He nodded, "Yeah, little headaches but I'm alright. My nuts hurt more now."
Gremlin shook her head at his second attempt at humour. "I need you to come with me."
Frosty pulled himself to his feet steadily, patting down his pockets until he found a scrap of flimsiplast and marker and scribbled a hasty note; Gone for a walk with Grem. I'm okay. He placed the note in the snoring Knight's top pocket, before following Gremlin away.
She stayed mysteriously silent for the whole walk although Frosty could clearly tell she was nervous. They walked some distance from the main part of the camp, coming to a small clearing away from the tents to where a small freighter was sat. Gremlin paused at the bottom of the open ramp, hesitating. Frosty ran his fingers across a nameplate, just above his head, the Silver Ticket. "She's not bad, Gremlin. Decided to finally go back to a life of crime, eh?"
"Frosty, I want you to prepare yourself. It's a hell of a shock, but it's good news, okay? I'll be right here to help you process it."
He was confused by her words, but carried on up the ramp anyway. Entering into the main cargo bay he looked around carefully. The first person he spotted made the hair on his neck stand up; Sigilien. She was smiling at him, "Hi curly!"
Frosty glowered, remembering the beating she had given him on Voorder III just a few weeks ago. Curiously though he didn't feel fear when studying her, her attitude and the calming presence of Gremlin nearby. He stared at her, "Not going to break my nose this time?"
She shook her head, although her grin got wider. He realised now Ice was next to her, her own face concerned, although that concern was focused on Frosty. "Alright, what the hell is going on here?"
"They're worried you're going to pass out or something."
Frosty looked at where the voice had come from. He had a shaven head, but a blonde goatee, a scar from eyebrow to the back of his skull. But Frosty didn't take any of those details in; for him what stood out was the eyes. Green as emeralds.
The voice too, the slight lilt and drawl. "I told them not to worry about that. You're tougher than that, aren't you?"
"No," Frosty half whispered, his legs going numb.
"No welcome for your own brother Jack?" The man was grinning, although his eyes were dark.
"I saw you die," Frosty repeated. "I saw you die on Pantolomin, Connor."
Connor stepped towards Frosty, his eyes now ablaze. "Never much of a medic, were ya Jack? Couldn't tell a dead man from a dying man. Too busy runnin'."
Frosty stepped forward too, both of them inches from each other. "Where the hells have ya' been?! You wait for five karking years to find me?! I would have called you instantly if I knew-"
"You left me to rot in an Imperial prison ya' karking pile of drakk! When I got out I found out you'd joined the Alliance and I couldn't find you for love nor credits. So I found other work."
"What does that mean?" Frosty's eyes narrowed. "How'd you get out? Did the Imps get to you?"
Connor swung first, his fist connecting with Frosty's jaw, but Frosty had already started diving forward and in a blink of an eye they were both on the floor. From the side of the room Ice and Gremlin dove forwards to break the two men up, but Sigilien grabbed them both, shouting happily, "Hells no, let them fight! I love brother on brother stuff!"
Frosty got his arm around Connor's throat, choking his windpipe, but Connor threw his head back cracking Frosty's nose again. Howling he rolled away, scrambling to his feet and throwing a haymaker at Connor. Connor adjusted his body and took the fist to his ribcage, the whoosh of air escaping from his chest. In retaliation Connor swung his arm around and grabbed the back of Frosty's head, a fistful of hair in his hand. They slammed against the wall together, roaring.
It was hard to tell which one started laughing first but almost immediately both had dissolved into a fit of childish giggles and the grappling had suddenly turned into a hug.
"You crazy mother frakker! How'd you join the Alliance?"
"Blackmail! How'd you get out of jail?"
"Blackmail! I worked my ass off to find out where you were from my boss, then you ran off!"
"I was in hiding! If I had known!"
Gremlin and Ice sagged in relief, whilst Sigilien sagged in disappointment. "Oh Gutsy, I thought you two were going to give me something real good to entertain myself with."
Frosty and Connor looked at her, "'Guts'? Seriously, you're going by Guts?"
"Aye, well, everyone calls you Frosty."
"Frosty is a cool name."
"Yeah, when we were kids on the lower levels it was cool. Now you're just a sad old man."
Frosty shook his head, "Oh my gods, Force take me Connor. Ma's gonna have a heart attack-"
"You know where Ma is?!" Connor was suddenly concerned, "I tried finding info out on her at the prison but it said she'd been killed in a prison riot."
"Yeah brother, I put that info there. I got her out!"
Connor hugged him a little tighter, roughing his hair and letting his brother's broken nose spill blood on his jacket. "You pirate! Freed our ma! Broke her out of a prison under the Emperor's own nose, you're a madman!"
Frosty laughed, "Aye, well family Connor-"
"-it's all that matters." They were beaming at each other, bruised and bloodied. "So, you ended up bedding that little pink demon after all?"
Gremlin was laughing now too, the stress of the situation having dissipated. "He bedded me? Please Connor, I've reduced your brother to a quaking pile of-"
"Oh kriff me, Connor, you don't even know about Dearbhail!" Frosty was shaking his brother by the shoulders, "I've got a....well actually maybe you've...well. There's a new member of the clan."
"There's a kid?" Connor looked Gremlin up and down, "So is she like bright red or-"
"Roisin Jewell. Remember her?"
"Yeah of course, how could I forget. Pretty hot considering she was no Twi'Lek." Connor frowned, "But, we were barely teens. She moved away."
"Yeah, well, that's partly why. One of us got her pregnant."
Connor thought about this a while, "Where's the kid? She calls you Da?"
"With Ma, somewhere safe. Yeah, I always called you her lost uncle."
"Good. Let's keep it that way, I don't want that kind of responsibility." Connor shook his head, "A father, a Rebel and the plaything of some Zeltron lass. I barely recognise you, man."
"Aye, well. It's been a time. I don't doubt you've changed too. What are you doing here anyway, were you here to find me?"
Connor's grin dropped and he looked uncertain. "Here's the thing brother, I was hired for a mission. Kind of kriffed it up, in some trouble with my old boss now. She's the one who got me out of jail, promised me I'd get to see you again someday."
Frosty felt his blood run cold. "Who were you working for Connor?"
His brother looked him dead in the eye. "Zeno."
Dobber dreamed the same dream that he'd had on and off for the last month. He sat in a room with the same audience. His friends. His peers. His opponents. His enemy. Vice-admiral Vodani and her attache sat facing him, listening to the lines of questioning and testimony, the carefully phrased responses, the outbursts - and most of all, the lies. Syntax, his droid friend and defending legal counsel, sat to his left. Dragon, the silent tough-guy that Jalb had requested to be part of the defense if only to keep Andrew in check lest he have any more outbursts, sat to his right.
Jalb took the stand, answering Silence's questions as she acted in her capacity as the prosecuting attorney.
"How would you characterize the Major?" Silence would ask.
Before Jalb could give his response, he was replaced with another pilot -- Rogue, an old Blue Squadron teammate.
"Can you tell us what you saw?" Silence asked, walking past him, arms folded. The figure shifted again, this time to that of FLATTOP.
"I know what I saw," FLATTOP said, "I saw-"
"... a terrible decision," said the figure of Gremlin, her gaze shifting towards Andrew.
"What was so terrible about it?" asked Silence, turning to face Andrew now. "He is guilty, isn't he?"
The figure shifted again, this time to that of Lock.
"Dobbs is innocent," Lock said. "Gaspra deserved it."
"Is he now?" asked Silence. "Does she?"
Silence now shifted positions, leaning down to face Andrew at the table with both palms flat against its surface.
"We all saw what you did," she said. "Aren't you-"
She was interrupted by Vice-admiral Vodani banging the gavel on the table.
"Order!" she called, "Order in my court!"
"He's guilty, you know," said a new voice from behind her. Silence shifted out of the way to reveal the figure of Captain Brynna Gaspra, the Imperial Captain responsible for the death of Dian Tann and several other Rogue Squadron recruits. "I mean, why bother to attack a defenseless captive? It's so..."
Andrew could feel the rage boiling up in him, knowing what would come next.
"... uncivilized," Gaspra finished with a wry smile in his direction.
"You monster!" he snarled, shoving his chair backwards as he clamored up, "I ought to--" he began, but before he could finish the swift but heavy hand of Dragon clamped down on his shoulder and shoved him back into his chair.
"It was the dumbest thing he could have done," said Bulldog from the stand, Silence walking towards him. "I don't even think I've done something that stupid. Guilty? Karking right he is."
"No," Andrew said.
The image shifted once more, with Gaspra back on the stand.
"I'm sure that the Major would appreciate a small gift," she said, lifting a box covered in wrapping paper and a bow up from somewhere behind the witness stand.
"No," Andrew said more audibly. He could feel his heart begin to race, his brow beginning to sweat.
Silence took hold and brought the box over to the table, placing it in front of him. She took hold of the red ribbon between her index and thumb, its lacing spilling over the side from where the bow sat neatly perched atop the present.
"Let's see what the jury thinks of this new evidence," Silence said. Andrew watched in horror as she began to pull at the fabric, its ribbons lengthening. His heart was pounding as the ribbon came undone, and the four sides of the box clattered open to the tabletop.
The head of Dia Tann, her eyes open and staring up at him, met him. He tried to recoil in horror, but Dragon was standing behind him now, both hands firmly holding him down in place.
"Ladies and gentle beings of the jury," Silence said, picking the head up and pacing it on a silver platter that had suddenly appeared, showcasing it to everyone in the room. "I'd like to enter this new piece of evidence into the trial. One severed head, still functioning."
"Fascinating," said Syntax. "And I thought only some droid variants were capable of doing that. I mean, I know I can," said Syntax as he removed his head and placed it on the table in front of him. Andrew glanced aside to give Syntax an incredulous look, but Silence kept talking.
"I present to you the lady of the hour, Miss Dia Tann."
"I especially enjoyed her," Gaspra said with a wry smile. "She proved quite troublesome during the interrogation. Feisty is putting it mildly."
Silence walked back towards Andrew, Dia's head in hand. Tears began forming in his eyes, and he tried furiously to stand up. But Dragon's hands held him firmly in place, like the talons of a raptor that was holding down its prey.
"I especially enjoyed disposing of her body after the execution," Gaspra finished, a smug smile of satisfaction on her face.
Silence put the tray with Dia's head on the table in front of Andrew again. Dia blinked as Silence filled Andrew's vision again. He tried to look away, but Dragon used a hand to grab him from behind under the chin and forced his head around.
"I know what I saw," Silence said. "I know what I think. But let's see what Miss Tann has to say about the matter. Dia Tann, on the account of allowing the death of you and his unborn child, how do you find the defendant?" Silence asked.
Dia's mouth opened, and one hollow, breathless word spilled forth.
"NO!" Andrew screamed in horror as the courtroom and its occupants melted away.
He bolted upright from the cot he was sleeping on in his private tent. Gasping for breath, he clutched his chest. It felt like a vice was being used to squeeze and tear at him. His shirt was drenched in sweat, and Io began to stir, her dome lights activating. Looking around, he took in his surroundings, but it was mostly dark. The sound of crickets chirping in the background was the only other immediate sound he heard.
Falling back into the stiff padding of his cot, he used both hands to wipe his face. Io gave a low hoot.
"No," he said after a moment, "No, just ... just a bad dream."
Io's dome whirred from side as she rotated it, the blue-and-red lights giving a faint glow.
"What time is it?" he asked.
Io chirped her response. It was just after one in the morning.
"Kriff," he said, wiping at his bleary eyes. He sat up and fumbled for his flight suit. Slipping into it, he zipped it up before putting his boots on. As he got up, Io began to move towards him, but he motioned for her to stay put. "I just need a quick trip to the refresher and some fresh air. I won't be long," he finished.
Io gave a low hoot as he exited the tent, brushing the flap out of the way. Taking a deep breath of the cool, crisp night air, he got his bearings and headed towards the refresher station. He ran across the odd sentry or personnel member taking care of late-night duties, but most of the camp lay asleep under the light of the stars and the infrequent night light generator to guide people to their destination.
Once he had taken care of his business in the refresher, he headed towards the open field where the surviving starfighters lay before heading in the adjacent direction. When he found a small hill, he sat down and stretched out to gaze up at the stars. The crickets and other night critters continued with their symphony, and somewhere in the distance -- he wasn't quite sure where -- he thought he heard some sort of owl give its low tittering call without receiving a response. It wasn't long before he noticed the familiar shapes of the Vigilant and its support ships gently making their way through low orbit around the planet.
He did know how long it took him to drift off, but he awoke some time later to the early light of dawn peeking over the horizon and someone gently shaking him awake. Opening his eyes, he saw Jasted kneeling next to him.
"Jasted," Andrew said, rubbing his eyes, "what-"
"Easy, friend," Jasted interrupted. "It's still early. You do realize we have cots and tents, right?"
Andrew sat up and took in his surroundings. The night symphony had stopped, and the camp was beginning to come alive again with more and more people milling and bustling about.
"Yeah," Andrew said. "Yeah. I just, ah, had a bad dream and needed to get some fresh air."
Jasted stood up and turned to face the camp again. He was silent as Andrew yawned and tried to erase the bleariness from his eyes.
"Was it about her?" Jasted finally asked. "The trial?"
Andrew looked up at him. "How did you--?" he began to ask.
"Lucky guess," Jasted said. "Plus, you were also talking in your sleep."
Andrew's face turned red from embarrassment. If Jasted had overheard him in his tent, who knows who else might have heard.
"Oh," Andrew said, scratching the back of his head.
"It still bothers you," Jasted asked, looking over his shoulder at him. "Doesn't it?"
"It does," Andrew said, looking down then up again.
Jasted turned to look away, back at the ships and tent formations of the camp. "Your personal relationships are your own business," he said, "but if you're going to fly with us, you're going to have to exorcize your personal demons sooner or later."
Andrew thought over what Jasted had said. Then he asked, "So, what do you think?"
Jasted gave a quick snort. "I think many things. Be more specific."
"The trial. Where do you stand?" he asked, standing up.
Jasted twisted around to face him once more. "Of having an inappropriate affair with a junior officer and assaulting Gaspra," he said, "you're guilty without a shadow of a doubt. For wanting revenge, well... that's your business."
Andrew bit the inside of his mouth to stop himself from saying anything rash.
"But if it's going to affect your flying, as I suspect it did earlier when I had to go Eee-Vee due to your reaction time, then you really need to figure your shit out. Soon. I'd rather not end up in a body bag because of your decisions. I don't think you want to be, either." Jasted turned and began to walk away before Andrew could respond.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Andrew muttered finally as he watched Jasted.
Moving in a direction adjacent to where Jasted was headed, Andrew crested the small hill and made a beeline for the makeshift mess-hall tent. He hoped a warm meal would at least begin to make the day better.
Commander Feing drew the hooded cloak tightly around himself as he weaved through the throng of displaced wretches in the squalid tent city. Obscuring his face had two benefits: hiding the cybernetic half of his face and distorting the muscular outline of his body. It would do nobody any favors if anybody were to pay him any extra attention, as he'd have to eliminate the witness. Dead bodies drew unwanted attention, even in shanty-cities such as this.
He continued to weave through the shanty, his eyes up and examining the surrounding terrain. In the distance, the craggy hills beyond the crashed corvette lent themselves to perfect sniper blinds that could rain harassing fire down upon the personnel within unless they planned to set up an aerial shield system. Surely whoever planned to set up the base in this location wouldn't be so dumb as to leave that approach completely unprotected. Though, he didn't give any rebel much credit for their tactical thinking so they very well could be just that stupid. It would be something to look into in the future during his planned guerilla operations.
He stopped just inside of the tent line closest to the newly set up New Republic cordon. While it hardly looked impenetrable despite the electro barrier and ample guard presence, he no doubt knew he could infiltrate and wreak as much havoc as he pleased while the rebels were still relatively disorganized. Beyond the invisible barrier, enemies were toiling furiously to construct prefab buildings and flatten out what could only be an airfield of some kind.
This observation told him that the base was going to be a big thing, as no airfield he'd ever seen was just by itself on a contested planet. It also told him that the window for a debilitating strike was likely too small for him to muster up any sort of numbers he'd need in the time allowed. Unless...
He spun smartly on his heel and brought his wrist up to his mouth as he weaved his way back through the village of wretched aliens and wounded beings. "Captain Trent, do you read me?"
After an inordinate amount of time, a timid voice finally responded. "Identify yourself."
Feing sighed, but at least this was caution he could understand coming from an Imperial Star Destroyer captain that had recently crashed what was left of his ship. "Operating number ISB-97," he whispered as he shot a furtive glance in all directions to ensure nobody appeared to be following or listening.
Captain Trent's voice returned with an incredulous tone. "You... survived?"
"Nevermind that now, Captain," Feing responded curtly. "I need a squad of your best troopers to rendezvous at a location forthcoming for an immediate retaliation strike on the New Republic base. Not in their armor, for obvious reasons of course."
"A... Strike?" Trent responded, confused. "To what end? Any progress made on the ground there would surely be wiped out by a retaliatory strike from their starships and snubfighters." Trent paused, but held the line open as if to contemplate how to make their reasoning clearer. "They own the space and air, Commander," he added in a tone and slow cadence reserved for speaking to simpletons and children. "Any successful taking of the base would surely invite a bombardment from the sky."
"Not to take the base," Feing explained, struggling to keep his tone even despite the rising frustration. It was as if the Captain assumed he knew nothing of naval and planetary warfare and how the two were linked. The fact that he'd been involved in the war long before the Captain experienced puberty galled him that much more. He calmed himself before continuing, if only to appear deferential enough to avoid causing the reluctant Captain to clam up completely. "Just to sow so much discord and confusion that they cannot aid the populace while they devote extra resources to their security. It's a win-win for our forces."
"I fail to see how this helps our current disposition."
Feing resisted the urge to slap himself in the face with the palm of his hand. "Captain, not only do we drain their resources, we also have a small window to either capture or assassinate the members of Renegade Wing that are currently awaiting a ride back to their ship. This includes almost all of the remainder of Rogue Squadron, on the ground where they are vulnerable as opposed to in the sky where they are nigh untouchable."
There was a long pause as Captain Trent appeared to mull over this new information. "My forces are staying near my ship, Commander."
Feing's flesh and blood eye widened, matched by the enlargement of his red cybernetic iris. "That crashed ship of yours is sure to be investigated the moment the rebels get more personnel on the ground, Captain. Staying there is a death wish!"
"I have it on good authority that we will be retrieved any day now," Trent replied haughtily, making it clear that his decision was final. "It is more prudent for me to preserve as much material as possible to return to Commodore Barand. Surely he will reward me for being frugal."
Feing cleared the limits of the tent city, and was finally fully exposed should anybody be looking his way with a discerning eye. He couldn't continue this discussion to make the inexperienced whelp see the sense of his suggested action while also ensuring his stealth protocol in the open areas. "I will only say this one more time, Captain," he said with an icy tone, venom dripping off of every syllable. "Staying there will be a death sentence for you and your men. Now, if you provide me with the squad I have asked for, your location will be less precarious as the rebels will have larger issues to deal with."
"Or, your pre-emptive strike could be just the impetus they needed to come snooping around my ship sooner, Commander. The answer is still, and will always be, no."
Feing sighed. "If you refuse to see sense in this case, at least be smart enough to build outposts around your crash site so everything isn't all in one place that can be conveniently bombarded from space. Feing out."
He killed the connection on his wrist communicator and spat angrily. Without any forces of his own, he wouldn't be able to do any sort of outright action against the rebels. He could, however, sabotage as much of the planetary communication infrastructure as he could to hobble the rebel scum's efforts to coordinate.
He made a mental note to attempt to reach out to the bunker complex that was nearing completion before the battle had commenced. They may lack troops, but the hardpoint would be quite a redoubt from ground forces with the small numbers they had on hand. Unfortunately they'd be a prime target from the skies. They needed all the time they could get to set up some adequate air defenses and scrounge together whatever fighter cover they could put bodies into. He knew they ostensibly had two squadron's worth of TIE Strikers at the base because he'd seen the paperwork, but he wasn't sure how many rated pilots had been stationed there yet. If they'd been fully staffed, likely those fighters would have joined the recent battle, so that was another mystery he needed to unravel and another asset to organize. He didn't want them to tuck and run, however, as each delaying action would slow the Rebels down and keep them too busy to entrench properly for when his forces returned to sweep them out of the system.
He shifted his path and headed toward the closest civilian comm relay array. His satchel of explosives bounced lightly against his hip as he increased his pace. He would need to hurry if he wanted to infiltrate all of the local stations and plant his surprises to blow in synchrony. While it wouldn't be quite the blow he was capable of delivering with the forces he'd requested from Captain Trent, lacking any sort of communication ability would slow the occupation down. And when the rebels went through the trouble of repairing them, he'd blow them up again until he was out of explosives. Then he would find or build more, and continue to wreak havoc as best he could.
He just hoped this would be enough to buy time for the counter attack his forces were sure to be organizing. He hoped.
For the first time in a long time the pilots of Renegade Wing serviced the two U-wings that had been busying themselves going back and forth from the city and picking up down pilots. While the crew and pilots of the U-wings slept, Jalb had everyone-even the Rogues, to Lock's dismay-clean, refuel, and make minor repairs to the transports. Starfire and Jalb, of course, were exempt, seeing as neither needed the ride back to the ship, as they still had their X-wings.
They started after breakfast and it didn't take long between all of them, though Gremlin and Frosty didn't show up until they had nearly finished. Lock shot a questioning look at Shadow, who simply shrugged, having as much of an idea as Lock as to where they had been. Both looked like they hadn't slept, and though Frosty seemed emotionally drained, there was a look in his eyes that Lock hadn't seen in a long time.
In any case, by midday the dozen or so pilots were shuffling their way onto Zippy's transport.
Lock hung back, watching each of them go in. Foo, Ant, and Wolvinator were first, and they carried a small container with them, which they gently placed into the secured storage rack onboard the ship. The gentleness with which they carried the item told Lock all he needed to know-there was a fourth Buccaneer on this trip.
Gremlin and FLATTOP followed. Only a few weeks ago he'd been stranded with both of them, Silence, and a few dozen civilians. They'd all barely made it back with their lives back then, too. Gremlin had had to take on more responsibility than it was fair for her to bear then as well, and in both cases she'd exceeded expectations. She'd grown so much since her days on Rainworld and been his stalwart companion throughout most of the Rebellion. Throughout all the celebrations, the deaths, the victories, and the heartbreaks she'd been there. Yet somehow she still had the strength to laugh and smile and even make FLATTOP laugh with her. Part of Lock was envious. Part of him was worried for her. He'd been that way before.
"You coming?" Jasted asked him, bringing Lock back to Toseng.
"Yeah, in a minute," Lock answered. Jasted raised an eyebrow but shrugged and followed Knight and Junior in.
Shadow and Frosty followed closely behind, whispering to each other about something that Lock couldn't overhear-he'd figure out what later, if he remembered to bug Shadow about it. Maybe Frosty had found another crate of spirits that had fallen off the cargolift, though after the events on Voorder, Lock doubted that the man would favor him with any kind of discounts.
To one side of the U-wing Dobber and Starfire shared a few words. A laugh from the side caught Lock's attention; he turned to see Jalb and Kardia talking. Jalb was looking much better, both physically and in spirit, and Lock imagined Kardia had had something to do with both of those factors. Sometimes finding the right person did wonders for the soul. As they ended their conversation, Kardia gave Lock the stink eye before moving on.
Jalb walked up to Lock chuckling, "You may want to stay away from the medical tents for a while, Nines."
"I figured," Lock answered with notable annoyance, a fact that only made Jalb laugh again.
"Right oh," Jalb turned his attention to Starfire. "Let's get a move on, Rogue Two. That means the two of you, too, Captains."
"Copy that, Lead."
Andrew stepped out of the hold of the U-wing that had transported the Renegade Wing pilots from the surface. The recycled air of the hangar, along with the smells of chrome, durasteel, grease, and fumes was a stark contrast to the fresh air on the planet from earlier.
"Home sweet home," said one of the pilots behind him as they fanned out and moved away from the U-wing. Andrew caught sight of Starfire and Jalb's X-wings as they entered the hangar, gracefully making their way to the landing area.
Tucking his helmet underneath his arm tighter, Andrew began to make his way down the line of starfighters towards the exit of the hangar. Scores of flight crews were busily working away at doing maintenance checks or repairs to the craft, with the odd pilot coordinating repairs or deep in discussion with the crew.
It wasn't long before he spotted Silence. She was busy with what looked like running diagnostics on her craft, arguing with one of the technicians about internal power balance.
Figure your shit out, came Jasted's voice in his head.
Half of him wanted to go over and talk to her and get things sorted out. He meant to move, but his mouth felt dry and his feet wouldn't move. He could feel the anxiety building in his chest.
"... well the problem has to be somewhere," he overheard her say. "You sure you ran a full diagnostic?"
Licking his lips, he tried to move once more, but found he couldn't. His feet felt glued to the deck plating.
"Wait a minute," she said as she checked the data pad once more. She then reached inside the open panel of her fighter craft and pulled out a component with a tug. Silence turned to face what Andrew thought was him, holding up the component.
"... well, here's the guilty culprit right here."
"No I'm not," Andrew found himself mouthing in a hoarse whisper, the pain in his chest squeezing tighter.
"Dobbs?" came Starfire's voice. "Dobbs?"
"Huh?" he said, partly startled.
"You're not what?" she asked, a confused look on her face.
Andrew fell out of his preoccupation with Silence and came back to his senses.
"I'm not, ah ... I'm just... talking to myself, Two," he said.
"Are you okay?" she asked after a moment, raising an eyebrow and looking from him to Silence then back again.
"Fine," he said, taking a few more steps towards the exit now. "Just fine."
"Okay," she said cautiously as she fell in next to him. Hound and Io weren't far behind them. "So, what's on the agenda for today?" she asked innocently.
"Hot shower is my first order of business," he said. "Then Jalb wants me to upload battle diagnostics to the simulators so we can begin using it for custom and historical missions. After that, training with U-wings."
"Sounds fun," she said, brushing her tuft of hair out of her face for a change.
"How about you?" he asked.
"Ditto on the shower -- separately, of course," she began, "then Jalb wants me in the sims for a few quick missions before whatever we're doing later today."
"How come you get all the fun?" he asked as they turned the hall and headed down towards their quarters.
"Perks of being the hot-headed new girl?" she said innocently with a smirk as he turned to look at her.
"You're happy today," he said.
"I slept well," she said as they neared his quarters, "and I think the fresh air did me some good."
"So what you're saying," he said as they came to a stop outside of the door to his bunk, "is that maybe you'll finally be able to make some clear headed decisions for a change?"
Katlyn gave him an incredulous look. "Really?" she scoffed.
"Well, it never hurts to have a fresh start," he said with a wink.
She gave a quick laugh and shook her head, starting to walk backwards away from him. "You just wait until we play sabacc sometime," she said, pointing a finger at him. "Then we'll see who will really be making clear-headed decisions. See ya 'round," she finished with a quick two-fingered salute, and turned to head to her room.
Silence awoke with a start, a loud noise coming from her doorway. She looked around sleepily; she had fallen asleep at her desk again. Nimbu was on her lap, ears perked up but still curled up, whilst her terminal was open with a half written report for Cracken. Shutting the terminal hurriedly she stood, putting Nimbu in one of the hidey holes she had made for such occasions.
"Shhh!" She implored the small mammal, before crossing the cabin to open the door. Shadow was stood in the doorway, his mouth set into a grim line. Silence gave him a curious look, "Uh....hi?"
"We need your help." He'd already turned away, walking back down the corridor he had come from. Silence felt confused, she and Shadow had barely talked before. She wasn't the most sociable member of the wing, but all of sudden this man was asking for her help?
She ordered Doc Jobber to keep an eye on Nimbu and ran after him, shrugging on a jacket. "Why my help?"
"You used to work with intelligence." Shadow answered her as she caught up, taking a left turn into a quiet service hatch, where he started down a ladder.
Silence followed down carefully, "Yes but not anymore. If you need an expert-"
"I spoke with Poker," Shadow offered matter of factly as they exited into a low ceilinged maintenance corridor. "You are an expert in this case."
Silence tripped over a loose cable, catching herself on the wall. She didn't recognise exactly where they were in the ship, but she had some ideas. This looked like one of the places she suspected Frosty kept his goods. "You spoke to Poker? I thought no one talks to the Skulls."
"I like to know about the people I work with," Shadow said, opening a doorway and beckoning her inside. "Hard to trust strangers."
She stepped inside after him, into a full room. It was clearly some kind of store room, but instead of the fuses and power cells she would have expected most boxes were labeled as containing foodstuffs. She saw packets of caf beans, rare whiskies and some kind of chocolate. She'd finally found Frosty's motherlode, but that wasn't what held her interest.
The room, although only small, was full of people. In one corner was the yellow Twi'Lek woman, who she recognised as Sidda, the journalist who had been on all the holos her squadmates watched. Next to her stood Zippy, smoothing down his neat moustache. Gremlin was here, looking sullen, whilst the kidnapped Pantoran ambassador Vel Aath stood with her. Frosty was sat on a crate, pouring out a drink from one of the bottles, handing it to two strangers Silence did not recognise. One was a bald man with a blonde goatee, with at least the hint of familial ties to Frosty. That was curious, she didn't know of Frosty having any brothers or cousins. A woman, with violet eyes and small stature, took the bottle from Frosty and took a glug. Something about her set Silence on edge.
The door sat behind her and Silence felt unease. She felt as if she had just been pulled into something dangerous. Shadow took a seat on one of the crates and nodded at Silence, "Silence, tell us everything you know about a woman called Zeno."