Ghosts of Hoth: Part 2
By Bulldog, with contributions from Silence, Frosty, and Foo
[Toseng Occupation: Day 6]
New Republic Airfield - Toseng
The following afternoon, Bulldog was met at the door of the Buccaneer bunk hooch by an aide de camp from Shen'ryu's staff with a slip of paper and a satisfied smirk. The contents of the paper held four Renegade Wing names, a mission profile that looked an awful lot like a very long and boring patrol for the sake of being a long and boring flight, and the jumping-off time, which was within the hour.
"I wasn't aware Captain Callahan had arrived on planet yet," Bulldog replied as he rolled his eyes at the message contents, addressing that part of the note first to see if there was some sort of technicality he could exploit to avoid this ambush. "And certainly they haven't gotten a new X-wing delivered for him yet, have they?"
The aide nodded once, her false-pleasant visage seeming to hang in the same place while her head bobbed. "Actually, the Major ensured there were replacement fighters delivered to the Vigilant as soon as possible, and that Captain Callahan was given a new X-wing and astromech for immediate transfer to the surface. He arrived a few hours ago."
"We're missing dinner for this?" Bulldog grumbled, eyeing the orderly more clearly to make sure it wasn't a joke. "And Lock just landed. The Major is really going to make him saddle back up again?"
The aide clearly enjoyed the suffering they helped to inflict upon others, especially when it was somebody higher in rank. The mirthful glee on her face was so plainly evident that it was clear she was confident in the protection of her immediate superior's authority to protect her if any sort of complaint were to be filed. "The Major said he needs your pilots to conduct this run immediately to ensure the security of the entire planet, Captain. It is to be executed exactly as written on that paper. Shall I log and forward any complaints on your behalf?"
Bulldog groaned inwardly. He should have assumed Shen'ryu would begin playing petty power-trip games with the Renegades almost immediately, yet having almost the entire day to settle in had caused him to let his guard down. And here he was, just before the dinner time on the base, being ordered off for a long enough sortie that he and the pilots also named on the slip of paper would miss their meals completely. And knowing the Major, there wouldn't be any sort of substitute, or if there was a replacement they would be Clone Wars era rations.
Still, he had one more ace he could try to play to delay the mission. He made a show of being overly pensive, as if a thought had just struck him and he was attempting to suss out a solution privately. Finally, he shook his head to indicate the direction his false mental dialogue had gone, and fixed an unfortunate look upon his face. "Unfortunately, we might have to delay this mission to ensure the mechanics have a chance to make sure everything is tuned properly for the atmosphere. Perhaps we can push this sortie for, say, one more hour to ensure the craft are prepared."
The woman apparently had been expecting just this sort of gambit, either on her own or more likely had been prepared ahead of time by Major Shen'ryu. She smiled the type of smile you knew was without any sort of warm feeling as she withdrew another slip of flimsiplast and handed it over. "With the Major's compliments, Captain."
Bulldog gingerly took the new slip of paper between his thumb and index finger, as if it were biohazardous material. He slowly brought it up to his eyes, already knowing what he was going to see. Taking one brief moment to scan, he hung his head in resignation and nodded.
"The Major had anticipated the need for that type of maintenance, and had ordered it to be conducted hours ago. Your ships will be ready to fly within the hour, Captain," the aide de camp said with an annoying flourish. "Shall I relay any other comments or concerns on your behalf?"
"No, that'll be all," Bulldog replied, screwing an equally sarcastic grin on his face to match the tone of his voice. After the aide had spun smartly on her heel and walked off, Bulldog lashed out with his boot and sent a pebble flying off into the distance.
Lower Atmosphere - Toseng
"Ok guys, let's get this scouting run done quickly," Bulldog said as he gently lifted his Y-wing off the ground and eased the throttle forward. Around him four other fighters took off and followed his vector out. "Faster we get done, faster we might be able to get dinner in the mess hall," he bit out tersely. He was tired, damn it! He'd spent the first half of the day exploring a defunct museum with Loth-Cat as a birthday present for the morose rookie, and while it hadn't been taxing physically, he still felt the use of muscles he didn't normally utilize in the cockpit.
"What is this, a scouting run?" 1st Lt. Jack "Frosty" McCauley asked impatiently, clearly frustrated at having to keep his wedge-shaped rocket couch at the speed of a Y-wing rather than its natural state of speed incarnate. Also likely contributing to his frustration was the fact that he was breaking in one of the reserve A-wings as his own now that he had been shot out of his old fighter last week.
"Yep, a basic snoop and scoot," Foo replied tiredly from the cockpit of his U-wing. He was the second oldest pilot on the sortie, and it took quite a bit to get him agitated or excited.
Lock was likewise in a replacement fighter and audibly unhappy about it. "Forget the mess hall. Faster we do it, faster we can get back to 'The Hooch' for a round or three," he said, referring to the bar the pilots had more or less taken over due to its proximity to the base. Officially called 'The Anchor Inn', the pilots noted the distinct lack of water nearby and figured it was ironic. While he'd never been there yet, in the few hours he'd been on the ground he had been filled in on the new-to-them watering hole.
"Listen, you had good food today for lunch, Ghost," Bulldog whined as his stomach rumbled. "The food down here is... very bad. You'll see for yourself soon enough, but we still need the calories."
"Speak for yourself, Cap," Frosty chimed in. "I'd rather take my bread ration in liquid form tonight. The Hooch sounds good to me."
"Besides, you know if we make it back in time for the mess hall that you-know-who will find some reason to close it early," Foo explained. It was the closest thing to a gripe any of the pilots had heard from the veteran.
"Why is it called 'The Hooch' again?" Talon, their last pilot in the flight, asked quietly.
"Because some lamebrain in Shen'ryu's infantry named it the Officer's Club, or 'The O' for short," Frosty snorted. "No way I'm going into a bar where I have to see everybody's 'O' face!" That drew a hearty round of laughter from all in attendance, aside from Talon.
"What's an 'O' face?" the youth asked earnestly.
"Erhm, um," Frosty stammered.
"I don't know that we should be the ones educating him on that one," Foo said with a chuckle.
"Just tell me!"
"Can it!" Bulldog snapped, fighting off another hunger pang. "We're getting over the first waypoint." He switched his comm to the general New Republic frequency for the ground forces. "This is Halo Flight to all New Republic Ground Forces in Sectors 35 through 52. Give me your status and tell me if there is anything you need checked out."
A jumble of voices came in at once, and Bulldog realized his attempt at expediting their mission had just backfired as every sector unit attempted to report or request aid at the same exact time. He let loose a string of colorful curses, all of which happened to be picked up by the comm and broadcast out.
"Easy, BD," Lock cautioned. His intonation made it clear what he wanted to add: 'Shen'ryu might be listening, so do it by the book.'
"That's some interesting strings of curses," Foo started, "I haven't heard some of these paired together before."
"Been learning from him as well," Frosty agreed with a chuckle. His voice took on an intentionally bad tonal imitation of Bulldog. "Fracking shavit-heads!"
Lock joined in, fighting off laughter. "That is one of my favorites, but how about: 'Kark me running', anybody?"
Foo snorted as his memory was jogged by the previous examples of Bulldog's apoplectic Tourettes outbursts. "He said 'Mother-dick' once during a bombing run!"
Frosty's Bulldog voice responded with another imitation. "Son of a karking mother-schutta!"
Lock kept the riff session going. "How about 'eat a bag of bantha balls', anyone?"
Foo jumped back in with another Bulldog-ism, poorly fighting off his own laughter through each syllable. "I heard him dressing down one of the rookies, and I shit you not, he called the kid a 'wack-ass buster' with a straight face. I don't know how he didn't laugh the moment those words left his mouth!"
Everybody burst out laughing at that revelation, drawing ample heat to Bulldog's cheeks as he listened to his common curses being spit back in his face. The last one was more damning than the others with how lame it sounded when somebody else said it. If he could crawl into his pilot's couch and disappear like pocket change, he would have done so immediately. A husky, sarcastic "har har," was all that he could muster in response.
"We're not supposed to say that stuff on the general frequency, are we?" Talon asked, horrified.
"No, we're not," Lock agreed, his laughter petering out with the reminder of the business at hand. His sober nature was short-lived, however, as he immediately burst into a fit of sharp laughter. "But who is gonna discipline him? He's the head of the Wing for the time being!"
"I AM the LAW," Frosty mimicked in a poor facsimile from the action holo he'd seen that line from. It drew more chuckles from the flight.
Bulldog chuckled as well, and it re-centered him mentally. "Ok, so I guess we need to do this one by one. Gonna be a lot of talking..."
"It's gotta be done," Lock said sympathetically.
Bulldog settled in for a lot of talking as he cycled through the seventeen sectors they were responsible for covering. Each sector reported all was well aside from the last one that wanted a flyby of a cave system they thought they saw some unexplained activity in. A close scan of Foo's sensors showed it to be large bear-like mammals settling in for the evening. Having nothing interesting to do, the rest of the flight was filled with silly banter and showy maneuvers. Even Talon had joined in toward the end, showing his ability to dead drift to the rest of the flight. In atmosphere the already nifty maneuver took on more of a knuckle-ball approach as the wind currents made his X-wing dance in random directions. They returned to base and landed their craft without incident, though the mess hall was definitely closed at the time of their return..
"First round at The Hooch is on me," Bulldog said as he hopped off the ladder and took off his helmet.
"Deal," Talon said as he trotted toward his bunk.
"I'll be there after a quick shower I think," Foo said, smelling himself and dramatically pulling his head away from his armpit.
"Got anything good to pocket in case they haven't gotten anything good since our first scouting visit?" Frosty asked hopefully.
"I'm sure they haven't gotten anything new since last night," Bulldog replied.
Lock shot them both a glance. "You both went drinking without me?"
"Should have floated your way down the surface, Ghostman," Frosty replied glibly. He zeroed back in on Bulldog. "How 'bout it? Anything good I can drop into my flask?"
"Me too? Please sir, can I have some more?" Lock added with a chuckle, holding his hands out in a humorous facsimile of an old holo about an orphan begging for more food.
"Sure, come on," Bulldog said with a grin as he headed back to the Buccaneer barracks building with Lock and Frosty in tow.
Buccaneer Temporary Barracks - Toseng
Bulldog was attempting to hide his really rare bourbon from Lock and Frosty as they began filling their flasks with some of his better whiskey. They'd learned the hard way last night that the liquor selection at The Hooch was not quite as substantial as the one in the SSD. For the first time, a lot of pilots realized just how spoiled they had been on their home ship with their surly and sarcastic IG-series bartender.
"Give me some of that one," Frosty said, pointing to a bottle Bulldog had been trying to conceal. "The bottle is shaped like a thermal detonator, and that's cool."
Bulldog gave him a suspicious look. "The one with the fathier on the top of the cork?" Frosty smiled obliviously to mask the fact that he was quite aware that it was one of the harder to acquire bourbons as he held out his flask and a funnel. Bulldog begrudgingly began filling it with the rarer alcohol he'd been hoarding. This particular spirit was a mainstay of his favored cocktail, the Mandalorian Sling.
"I'll just take this one," Lock said, eying a bottle with the picture of a Bantha on it. "Bantha... Trace?"
"That one's great," Frosty said as he held his flask steady for filling.
Bulldog arched an eyebrow. "If you think that one's so great, why aren't you getting some of that?"
Frosty was caught dead to rights. His mouth hung agape as he started to stammer. "I... uh... er... ummmm..."
"Case closed, ya' bastard," Bulldog grumbled. He motioned to his holstered blaster on his nightstand. "Don't press your luck, ya' barvy trickster."
Frosty finished filling his flask and put the cork back into the bottle. He looked over at the blaster and began miming somebody shaking with fear and their hands up. "Oh no, sir! Please don't stun meeeeeee! I got a wife and kids!"
Bulldog held up a finger and aimed it at Frosty's chest as if it were a blaster. "There's no stun setting on that blaster. It only fires in one or two bolt settings."
Frosty's smile faded momentarily as he visibly quailed at the thought of being on the business end of Bulldog's RSKF-44 heavy blaster pistol. "No stun setting at all?"
Before Bulldog could retrieve the blaster to show him, Ant burst into the barracks with a wild look in his eye. He zeroed in on Bulldog, and ran over while gulping in copious amounts of air. "Dude, you have GOT to hear this!"
"Calm down, man," Lock said as he carefully filled his flask with the Bantha Trace. "Is everything ok?"
"Message from the command group finally come through?" Frosty asked.
Ant shook his head in response. "No, look, I heard some serious shab regarding your family and a member of this wing!" he shouted, looking directly at Bulldog with wild eyes.
"I don't have any family. Mom died when I was young and my father died at Hoth..."
"I know," Ant said, finally getting his breath back, though the manic expression on his face remained. "That's what I'm talking about!"
Frosty settled in nearby and prodded the gossip source to continue with his hand and an expectant gaze. "Well?"
"I heard," Ant said, steeling himself, "that somebody in this Wing is the one that shot down your father."
Bulldog felt the world contract in on itself. He'd been having flashes of those memories ever since they came to Toseng, but this was more visceral. He felt ill at the implication that one of his colleagues had been the one to gun down a disabled, defenseless freighter. His legs gave out, and his backside landed heavily on his cot. The springs protested loudly, but otherwise the only sound in the billet was his heavy breathing.
"This is a rumor, right?" Lock asked, putting a hand out to forestall any rash decisions. "Let's not get all worked up about it until we can really figure out if it's true, right?"
Frosty shushed Lock and motioned for Ant to continue. "Well, who was it?"
"Talon?" Frosty scoffed. "No way, he's too young to have been at Hoth."
Lock quickly nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I would check your information on that one. That can't be right."
"That's what I heard," Ant said adamantly.
"Who did you hear this from?" Lock asked, putting a supportive hand on Bulldog's shoulder.
Bulldog's face was screwed up in the beginning stages of blind rage. His fists gripped the bedspread and his face began to turn red. He trembled as the cascade of emotions began spilling out and fighting for dominance and control over his body.
Lock, having worked with him the longest and closest out of those in the room, recognized the warning signs and attempted to head things off at the pass. "Woah, easy Dog. We don't know that this is real yet. Could just be somebody picking on the new 'ex-Imp' in the Wing for all we know."
Bulldog's response was flat and lacking any discernible emotion. "I need to see Talon."
"I don't think that's such a good idea, man," Lock replied as he held up both hands in front of him. "How about you let me go find out what is true and what isn't, and then I'll come back."
"No," Bulldog responded, still staring at nothing in particular.
"I'm going to have to insist," Lock said as he added an edge to his voice. "Frosty, Ant, keep him here. I'll be right back. I'll get to the bottom of this!"
"Uh, ok," Ant said uneasily as he looked at his increasingly angry executive officer. He more than most was well aware of what his second in command was capable of doing when pushed far enough, and he had no wish to see what would happen to him if he got in the way.
Lock bounded out of the barracks. Frosty looked to Ant, then to Bulldog. "Like we could stop this rage monster," he scoffed.
"I'm going to talk to Talon," Bulldog said flatly as he rose from the bed slowly and walked out of the building. The two pilots pressed into service to restrain him merely stepped to the side to avoid a confrontation.
"Did he have his blaster?" Frosty asked Ant nervously as he noticed Bulldog's flask sitting on his bedside table where his blaster and holster had been when they entered the bunk.
"I... uh... think he might."
Ant and Frosty looked at each other, and after a heartbeat they bounded out of the building after Bulldog.
'The Hooch' - Toseng
Bulldog opened the saloon-style doors gradually as he took equally measured and slow steps into the building. Part of him was screaming to rush in and start throwing punches, but the more cold and calculating part of his brain maintained control and forced his deliberate pace.
The conversations again hushed as they saw Bulldog enter, and his face definitely wasn't as controlled as his body. They knew something was about to go down, and they were equal parts bracing for impact and eagerly awaiting the coming confrontation. Even the base personnel not from the Vigilant seemed to know that something big was about to go down.
He spotted Talon at the bar and started heading in his direction. Through the crowd, the youth caught a glimpse of him and waved him happily over. As he continued walking forward, the crowd parted like the red sea for him without any resistance. Nobody wanted to get in his way or interrupt the coming confrontation.
"Hey BD," Talon said cheerfully. Next to him, Foo nodded politely as he sipped a Trandoshan Ale.
Bulldog stood next to the seat Talon had saved for him, but declined to sit at the moment. He bit down on his rage and calmed himself enough to get his next words out quietly. "Is it true?"
Talon brought the glass of wine to his lips as he eyed Bulldog. The glass hung there as the youth contemplated what his companion could be referring to, but deep down he knew what this was about. He gently put the glass down and clenched his jaw. "Who told you, Captain?"
Frosty, Ant, Loth-Cat, and Wolvinator burst into the bar at that moment, and they hurriedly took up positions behind Bulldog. 2nd Lt. Sigurd "Battledog" Stormhand and Captain Kell "Dragon" Arcfire sidled over to the new arrivals. "What's going on?" Dragon asked in a whisper.
Ant leaned in close to the two Corsairs. "Talon killed BD's dad at Hoth, and he just found out."
"Allegedly," Frosty hissed.
"Oh karabast," Battledog groaned. Dragon clenched his jaw and merely nodded in understanding.
"It doesn't matter who told me," Bulldog replied, his anger rising. "Is it true?"
Lock and 2nd Lt. Rosk "Silence" Vikeron stepped forward and put themselves in between the two men. "Whoa, guys." Silence started out cheerfully, but as she took a closer look at Bulldog's face, her cheer vanished. "Look, I can see you got some issues to sort out with each other, but maybe the sparring room would be a better place. You know, where people can throw punches without getting court martialed?"
Behind Talon, the Spectre pilots in attendance caught wind of the building tension and slowly filled in the ranks behind their youthful wingman. 1st Lieutenants Conall "Shadow" McKenna and Paul "Rogue" Sweet stood behind the diminutive Lt. Jeni "Angel" Courtner and Flight Officer Marshall "FLATTOP" Westfolder. "We have a problem here?" FLATTOP asked icily.
"I just want him to answer the question," Bulldog said through clenched teeth with a strong hint of the simmering rage within himself. He pulled off his rank bar and placed it on the bar in front of Talon. "I'm not asking as a Captain. Just a couple of adults having a discussion."
"This isn't the time or place," Lock replied in an attempt to defuse the situation.
Bulldog ignored Lock's interruption, maintaining laser-focus into Talon's eyes. "Is. It. True?"
"This is going to hurt," Angel whispered to Shadow, who nodded gravely in response as he clenched and unclenched his hands.
Talon looked into Bulldog's eyes and recoiled slightly at the sight of the almost fully red irises staring back at him. Despite being on the verge of tears himself having to recount that day, he steeled himself and sat straighter on his bar stool. He took another long draught of his wine. Setting the glass down gingerly, he looked straight ahead and clenched his body in anticipation of the blow to come after his next word.
"All. Your. Fault.
The dam broke in Bulldog's brain. All sense of right and wrong disappeared; only a hunger for revenge remained. Anger. Aggression. Hate. These parts of his brain took over his body while the small part of his conscious mind screamed for him to stop and stand down, to escape and take time to think. The rage forced the rational emotions completely out of his body, as if he were now a bystander watching the entire situation unfold from nearby. He watched his doppleganger's hand fall down to his blaster on his hip and wrap around the worn Bylark grip. He started lifting it, his finger fitting neatly into the trigger guard. Millimeter by millimeter the heavy blaster pistol rose from its holster. Thundering heartbeats marked the time as he just about cleared the tip of the barrel from the holster. One more split second and he'd be able to shoot from the hip. At this range, there was no way he could miss...
Hands from all around his body double grabbed and pulled at him. Two sets of hands shoved the blaster back into the holster and clamped down on his hand to keep him from drawing the weapon. He was lifted off his feet and dragged across the room amongst the cacophony of shouting servicemen. His back hit a wall and it jarred him back into his own body. He growled and gnashed his teeth as somebody wedged a forearm into his neck to hold him back.
Lock finally tore Bulldog's hand away from the blaster and yanked it out of the holster, shoving it behind his back in the waistband of his trousers. "Cool. OFF!" He leaned in close, whispering just loud enough for Bulldog to hear. "Your blaster doesn't have a stun setting, you crazy fool!"
"I say if that guy killed his father, he's earned the beating that's coming to him," Dragon said as he jostled with the crowd pushing Bulldog into the wall.
"Captain Clark!" Silence shouted, barely making her voice heard over the commotion. "Would you just think about this for a second?"
"Let me go!" Bulldog roared, his eyes wide with rage. White flecks of saliva formed at the corners of his mouth as he hyperventilated through his struggling.
"Cool OFF!" Lock repeated angrily.
"I'm going to kill him!"
"The hell you are," Rogue replied as he cracked his knuckles. "Gotta get through us first."
Lock looked over his shoulder and stared daggers at his longtime friend. "You're not helping!" He looked back toward Bulldog and leaned in close. "I'm trying to stop you from tearing the Wing apart. For the greater good, you have GOT to stand down!"
Bulldog ceased struggling, and the crowd loosened their hold on him. He focused his burning gaze on Lock in front of him. His breathing slowed, though his body still quivered with rage "Get out of my way."
"Let them kronging fight already!" a random trooper shouted from elsewhere in the bar.
Lock turned his head to track whoever had made that comment. "Shut that trooper up!"
Bulldog took the chance and elbowed Lock in the side of the head, sending the Rogue sprawling off to the side. He let loose a feral roar crossed with a war scream and kicked off the wall to propel himself through the throng of bodies between him and Talon. Silence attempted to hold him back by sticking out her arms. He grabbed her outstretched arms and spun his body. The momentum sent her flying back into the throng of bodies that were attempting to recover their senses and stop the crazed Buccaneer.
Dragon caught Silence in his arms and stopped her from smacking into a wall face-first. The two of them locked eyes momentarily and stared for what seemed like an eternity to the two pilots. Before he could say something, Dragon spotted Shadow stepping in front of Bulldog. The close quarters expert unleashed a series of jabs and elbows that stunned the larger pilot. "Excuse me, Miss," Dragon said politely as he gently shoved past her and took three running steps forward before tackling Shadow to stop him from taking the less-skilled Bulldog apart. The two men rolled roughly across the floor, upending stools and tables. They both deftly rolled in opposite directions and face off, sending feints and jabs as they measured each other up.
Bulldog shook his head clear as he recovered from the flurry of blows he'd just taken without landing one of his own. He spotted Talon, who inexplicably had not moved from his original barstool. He started moving forward again, his fists clenched.
Loth-Cat slipped in between them and placed a hand into his chest. "Cool it, Boss!" Their XO paused, but did not look at them. Before he could speak or resume moving forward, an arm snaked around Bulldog's throat and started to choke him with a deep sleeper hold. "Hey!" Loth-Cat shouted as they lunged around Bulldog to engage the owner of the arm.
Rogue tightened his grip on Bulldog's neck. "You can't touch him," he said coldly. He felt the larger pilot begin to falter, but a sharp pain in his groin forced him to release his grip. He fell backward, cradling his genitals. Looking up through watery eyes, he saw the youthful Loth-Cat standing over him. Loth-Cat again attacked the combat expert's weak point and let loose another booted toe-kick into the downed man's testicles.
FLATTOP attempted to tackle Bulldog while he was stunned, but he was intercepted by a lunging Ant. Their momentum sent them toppling over the bar, their feet sticking up in the air as they continued to struggle.
Damak ran forward, but he ate a fist from Wolvinator as the human appeared from behind Bulldog. The surprise blow stunned the close-quarters veteran, but he recovered quickly enough to tackle the human around his midsection and bum rush him into a crowd of nearby troopers, who joined in the brawl by striking at both of them for knocking over their drinks.
Bulldog stalked forward, laser focused on Talon as the youth continued to wait at the bar. While his eyes were wide, the young Spectre also had a look of sad resignation as he awaited the coming blows. Bulldog reared his fist back, but it was grabbed by somebody before he could unleash it at his desired target.
Lock roared as he threw his hips into Bulldog's back and pulled the bigger pilot's arm down, sending him flying end over end as he completed the arm drag. He stood over the bigger pilot with a bloodied nose and a trickle of blood from his ear where Bulldog had suckered him. "This isn't going to change what happened!"
Bulldog locked eyes with him from the ground. "I don't care. He killed my DAD!" He shouted, sending flecks of spittle in all directions. He slowly rolled to his stomach and regained his feet. He eyed Lock warily. "Move."
"N—" Lock started to reply, but was interrupted by a barstool breaking across his back. He sprawled forward in a shower of splintering wood. Bulldog's heavy blaster skittered across the floor a few feet away, having been knocked out from behind Lock's back.
Frosty dropped the legs of the destroyed stool and stood over Lock. "Get out of his way."
"You're on his side?!"
"He deserves to get some licks in."
"He's going to kill him!"
"No he isn't," Frosty replied uneasily, looking back at Bulldog. "Are you?" He hurriedly grabbed the blaster off the ground and backed away to keep the deadly weapon out of reach.
Bulldog ignored him as he resumed his journey toward the waiting Talon. All around him fists were flying as often as curses. Friends tangled with friends. Enemies used the distraction to settle old scores. He got to within one step of Talon and reached out to grip the youth's shoulder to turn him around, but a small pair of hands stepped in between him and Talon and shoved him a half step back. He looked down to see the diminutive Angel looking back up with him with her jaw set. Silence managed to find her way back to the focal point of the brawl and stood beside Angel.
"Would you just fracking listen to me!" There Silence went again, trying to shove logic into places it didn't belong.
He attempted to send a fist at them, but his body refused to follow that impulse. It was as if committing fratricide was no problem to his rage-blinded brain, but hitting a woman intentionally was a line his body wouldn't cross.
Battledog barreled through, grabbing both women in a shoulder tackle. "Let him get his licks in so this can end!" He shouted as his momentum carried the two lighter pilots across the room.
Silence cuffed Battledog upside the head ineffectually, yelling at him. "Why do you think I suggested sparring?"
"This can end if he just stops!" Angel shouted as she started clawing at Battledog's face.
Bulldog grabbed Talon's shoulder and spun him around in his stool. White flecks of saliva dotted the corner of his mouth as his face contorted into a mask of rage. He raised his fist and slammed it into Talon's cheek, sending the youth sprawling across the floor. He followed and picked the youth up again.
Talon blinked his eyes rapidly to clear the tears out of his vision. He didn't put his hands up to defend himself, however. He nodded in understanding and waited for the next blow, which followed immediately. The fist slammed into his nose, snapping his head back and sending blood dribbling down his lips and chin as he fell back again.
Bulldog stepped forward and bent over to pick him up again. He gripped Talon by the scruff of his neck and pulled him to his feet. He reared back again, but somebody caught his arm.
"He's had enough I'd say," Foo said, holding onto Bulldog's arm with all his might.
"I'll say when he's had enough," Bulldog said as he slammed his head back, smashing Foo in the nose and sending the older pilot to the ground. He locked eyes with the dazed Spectre pilot. "Fight back!" he roared as he shoved Talon roughly through the door behind him, sending the youth sprawling into the back room of the bar. He stalked forward.
Talon regained his feet, but he kept his hands to his side. Blood ran down his chin, and the beginnings of a bruise was forming under both eyes. He stood, swaying slightly.
"Fight back!" Bulldog shouted, sending an uppercut deep into Talon's stomach. The air exited the youth's mouth with an "oof" and he fell to his knees as he cradled the impact site.
"He's had enough!" Lock shouted from the doorway, tackling Bulldog around the waist. The two men rolled along the dusty floor of the back room, each trying to grapple the other into submission.
"Give it up already, Ghost!" Bulldog growled while the two men rolled around. His hands attempted to grip the short white hair of Lock, but it wasn't quite long enough to gain purchase.
Bulldog ended up on top and straddled his friend. He sent fists raining down on Lock's chest and face, landing with a meaty crack each time. He reared back for a finishing blow, but the opening gave Lock enough time to recover and slide out from under him. He was immediately on his feet, and sent a front kick into Bulldog's stomach as he rose and turned around to re-engage. The booted foot sent him flying back into the far wall and the crates of empty bottles, sending broken glass skittering across the floor as they fell and shattered. Before he could recover his senses, crunching glass marked Lock's quick steps toward him to deliver a flurry of fists into his midsection, ending the combination with an uppercut that landed flush with the bottom of his chin.
Bulldog's head snapped up and his teeth clattered as they were forced together. He forced his eyes open just in time to see Lock's haymaker headed for his temple. He fell to his knees as the blow sailed millimeters above his head. The broken glass tore into his knees as he landed, making him wince as the skin was punctured in multiple places. It fueled his rage and focus, however. Pushing through the pain, he let loose a wild uppercut with all of his strength, connecting with Lock's genitals. The pilot lifted off the ground with the blow, and then went limp as he fell to the side and rolled around the broken glass in anguish.
"Dirty... son of a..." Lock wheezed weakly, grabbing his crotch as he writhed on the ground, the broken glass crunching as rolled from side to side.
Bulldog shook his head clear and pushed himself to his feet, small bits of glass embedding in the palm of his hand. He picked at it absentmindedly as he took three crunching steps toward Talon, who hadn't moved from where he'd previously fallen. "Fight me."
Bulldog's breath was ragged. He'd spent nearly all of his energy, but his rage would sustain him for the duration of this conflict. It would all be over in the next few seconds, then he could collapse and rest. He rolled his shoulders and neck. Behind him the sounds of the brawl raged on. The rational part of his brain returned briefly and was horrified at the carnage his temper had caused, but again it was pushed into the background. He clenched his fist, the pain from the bits of glass still embedded in his palm burrowing deeper drew more power within him. He cocked his arm back, but stopped as his elbow smacked into something. He turned around, and was horrified at what he'd just done.
Laying on the glass-filled ground was Silence, cradling the eye Bulldog's elbow had just slammed into as she attempted to intervene once more. Groaning, she curled into a ball as she clutched at her face with both hands.
Bulldog looked at his fists and opened his bloody and battered hands in horror. He looked at the battered and bruised Talon leaning against the wall as well as the writhing Silence on the floor as she covered her eye. "What have I done?" he moaned. "This is all your fault."
Lock silently recovered his feet and senses and closed the distance quickly. He took a lunging jump toward the nearest wall and rebounded off of it in the air with his right foot. The momentum from the rebound allowed him to swing it in a lightning-fast roundhouse kick. His booted foot slammed into Bulldog's cheek and sent him sprawling across the room.
"You've done enough, you blasted oaf," Lock spat as his chest heaved, standing over the motionless berserker.
[Toseng Occupation: Day 7]
New Republic Brig Cell - Toseng
Bulldog sat on the cool duracrete floor with his back to the far wall of his cell, so he could face the door. The lights flickered at random intervals, which was maddening- and probably intentional to keep detainees uneasy. The events of the night before kept replaying in his mind, and every time the memory ran its course he felt complete, world-shattering shame. His rage had taken over his body completely yet again, but this time the fallout wasn't going to fall solely on him. He knew that if Shen'ryu and his Colonel didn't know yet, they surely would find out soon, and there would be hell to pay. "This is all your fault."
Activity from the front door of the brig building snapped him out of his self-loathing loop. The voice of his waking nightmares echoed along the empty halls as it greeted the guards. Light footsteps carried down the hallway until the door to Bulldog's cell opened. Standing in the doorway, backlit by blinding white light stood the last being Bulldog wanted to see.
"Quite the textbook display of a lack of discipline I'd say, wasn't that?" Shen'ryu asked with a malicious chuckle.
Bulldog didn't respond verbally. He just cast his eyes down in shame.
"Be a real shame if the full details of last night were reported to your superiors, wouldn't it?"
"It should be reported," Bulldog murmured with a bitter edge.
Bulldog looked up defiantly. "Report it. I deserve the punishment heading my way."
Shen'ryu looked confused for a moment, as if he couldn't fathom somebody taking responsibility for a mistake that could ruin their career. "I don't think you understand, Captain. This is grounds for a court martial."
Bulldog let loose a resigned sigh. "Then I guess I spend the rest of my life on a prison ship." He snorted involuntarily as a memory of an old training sim came to his mind. "I wonder if the Dargon is nice this time of year..."
"No," Shen'ryu shook his head curtly, his lip curling into a sneer at the glib attitude his prey was displaying. "That won't do. I need you and the rest of your group at max strength to maintain my hold on the planet. Why do you think replacement snub fighters were found and delivered so quickly? Hmm? I didn't do all that logistical hoop-jumping just to lose my grip on this place!"
"Don't you mean the Colonel's hold on the planet?"
Shen'ryu waved the comment away angrily. "Whatever. I've already relayed my report on the matter to your superiors onboard the Vigilant. They know that there was a scuffle, but have been told it was between members of your Wing and a unit of rowdy shock troopers."
Bulldog's jaw dropped. He looked up and examined the Bothan as best he could, still partially blinded by the halo of light framing Shen'ryu. "What?"
"I've already told you," Shen'ryu growled impatiently. "I need Renegade Wing's full combat assets at my disposal. I'll not let your... disagreement with one of your own ruin my plans for this planet."
Bulldog's mind raced. On the one hand, it seemed like he was being offered a get out of jail free card that would save his career. On the other hand, there was absolutely no way he could trust the shifty Bothan to follow through, and it was more than likely that he would use this information at a later date to blackmail him. But then again, the chance to have this moment of insanity wiped away from his record was a tantalizing prospect...
"I'll report it the first moment I get a chance," he declared defiantly, not believing that Shen'ryu was playing straight with him in this conversation. It would be just like the vindictive Bothan to get his hopes up that there would be no consequences only to have the hammer drop.
Shen'ryu's fur rippled in agitation. "You'll do no such thing, as I have control over the only means of reliable communication off this rock at the moment. Do not cross me on this, or I will take it out on the rest of your friends," he declared icily. "I gather that you don't much care what happens to you, but you do care about how your actions affect others... after the fact."
"Whatever you're planning, I want no part of it."
A furred finger tipped with a sharp talon pointed directly between Bulldog's eyes as the Major leaned in close. "You'll do what you're told or I'll string up the participants of your little soiree on charges of disorderly conduct and insubordination, resulting in all of their careers being tanked. Sure, I lose the Renegade Wing asset, but I'll just requisition another... Sure would be a pretty big black eye to the political landscape on this planet if the most celebrated wing in the New Republic was dissolved due to infighting and attempted murder."
Bulldog clenched his jaw, but otherwise held his tongue this time.
"See, he does know how to see sense!" Shen'ryu said as he stood and clapped his hands loudly one time. "Good. You'll stay in here to cool off for however long I want because I said so." He stepped back and tossed a lazy salute, and was gone.
The door, however, didn't close. After another minute the main door of the brig building opened again, and jogging footsteps rapidly approached. A figure skidded to a stop as they passed the open door and noticed Bulldog sitting within.
"Hey Captain," Jalb greeted Bulldog breathlessly. "Sounds like you and some of the boys and girls had a night, eh?"
Bulldog nodded slowly, and then cast his eyes down again. "It was all my fault, Sir."
Jalb scratched his chin as he sat down in the cell's only chair, a look of confusion beginning to form on his face. "The way I heard it from the Bothan's report, you and the others were set upon by a drunken bunch of shock troopers. Are you saying you provoked the fight?"
Bulldog sighed and thought long and hard about his next course of action. His emotions raged for supremacy again, but this time it was responsibility versus deceit. He worried for his friends and wingmates, and knew that his next course of action could doom their careers.
"Cat got your tongue?"
Bulldog sighed, and relented to the dominant emotion he was currently feeling at this moment: honesty. "Sir, I started the brawl."
"Ok. Bad, but not the end of the world," Jalb replied as he leaned back in the chair. "Though, you should know this whole situation has probably made it impossible to promote you as we'd discussed." He paused for a moment, then barked out an involuntary laugh as a sudden thought struck him funny. "Did you really decide to incite a fight with some ground-pounders just to head off a promotion? That's rather... extreme, even for you."
"As if I wanted another promotion," Bulldog scoffed bitterly. "And yeah, normally a bar brawl wouldn't be the end of the world, but it wasn't between us and a bunch of shock troopers..."
Jalb leaned forward as he puzzled over the implications of that last line. "Go on."
"Sir, I beat up Talon. He didn't even fight back... He just took it."
Jalb's eyes widened in disbelief and his jaw dropped. Recovering from his shock quickly, anger flashed across his face as he rose to his feet quickly. "He's a kid and you're a superior officer, Captain! What were you thinking?" he hissed as his anger exploded to the surface.
Bulldog grimaced. "I wasn't thinking, Sir. He admitted to killing my father at Hoth and something just snapped," he said as he looked helplessly at his hands. "It was like I couldn't even control my own body. I honestly think I might have killed him if the others hadn't stepped in."
Jalb was silent as he contemplated the bomb that had been dropped. He began pacing furiously. "This is a serious problem, Captain."
Bulldog nodded sadly. "I'm prepared to take full responsibility for my actions, whatever they may be."
Jalb stopped pacing and slapped his hip with his flight gloves in frustration. "Gave you one job, to keep things together while we were gone. One job!"
The heat of embarrassment returned to Bulldog's cheeks, but also caused him to break out into a cold sweat all over his body. He hung his head in shame. "I know, Sir."
Jalb scratched his head as a look of confusion swept across his face. "Why would that barvy Bothan lie about this in his official report? What's his angle?"
"He said he needed Renegade Wing at full strength to keep the planet in line," Bulldog replied dubiously. "He also mentioned this going public would be a big problem for the political landscape of the planet. I figured he was lying to set me up with you to see if I'd lie to you. Quite frankly, I can't believe he actually did what he said he did. I just assumed he was toying with me and would pull the rug out from under me if I went along with him."
"He's going to try and hold this over my head," Jalb grumbled, a tone of defeat carrying through the room with his words.
"Don't let him, Sir. I'm fully prepared to take the punishment I deserve. Report it accurately to the Colonel and Admiral Vodani. Shen'ryu will be forced to give up his leverage that way."
Jalb paced back and forth. "No, that bloody Bothan has a stranglehold on the comm array and the fuel supplies for our fighters. Only way to get a message out is through him I'm afraid... And I don't think he's wrong about the political fallout of this thing, either... Blast it, Bulldog!"
"I know, I skrogged it all up," Bulldog said, looking at his feet again as waves of shame washed over him.
"I'm going to do my best to keep you and the Spectres separated," Jalb said after a long pause. "You've put me in a hell of a position, being back under that hairy bastard's thumb like this again. And I finally outranked that furry poofritter!"
Bulldog said nothing, as he had nothing constructive to offer.
"I wish you had just gone along with that scheming pile of hutt dung and kept this to yourself!" Jalb growled as he stormed out of the cell. He stopped as he entered the hallway and looked over his shoulder. "Don't think you're safe just yet, Captain. I just may decide to remove that bloody bastard's leverage and do just what you suggested." The door closed this time, leaving Bulldog alone with his negative thoughts once again.
"This is all your fault!"
New Republic Brig Building- Toseng
Jack McCauley walked into the brig, looking deeply uncomfortable. The officer on duty fixed him with a stare but didn't say anything, just pointing towards the cell where Bulldog currently sat. The door slid open and he walked inside, chewing on a cigarette and nodding at Bulldog as he leaned against the wall.
"I'm sorry mate. I should have kept a cooler head, reeled you in. I know what family means, how that switch in your brain operates. I should've seen how it was gonna go."
Bulldog fixed him with a bloodshot stare. Frosty looked away. "Cigarette?"
Bulldog took a fresh cigarette and let Frosty light it for him, coughing slightly after his first inhale. "I don't normally smoke anymore. Used to do it recreationally before I joined..."
"Yeah, me neither." Frosty continued to chew on his own dog eared cigarette. "I quit."
"I really farkled it, didn't I?"
Frosty winced, "Yeah mate. You did. I don't know how you get out of this one."
They sat for a while, Bulldog taking long slow drags whilst Frosty chewed on his, deep in thought. "Can I make a request, BD?"
Bulldog shrugged, but refused to meet Frosty's eyes. "Sure."
"After they've had you shot for attempted murder, can I have your whisky collection?"
Bulldog glared at him but eventually, watching his friend's idiot grin, he too began to smile. "If they shoot me I'm gonna make sure they shoot you too."
Frosty nodded happily, "There you go, that's the spirit."
The door to the cell opened and the officer motioned at Frosty to leave. Frosty started towards the door, but before he exited he turned around to face Bulldog. "Listen. I've got in a lot of messes in my life, hurt a lot of people. It's not too late to make it right. Don't let it go on, it only makes it worse."
Bulldog stared at Frosty as he walked out of the cell, the door closing behind him.
New Republic Brig Hallway - Toseng
Foo paused for a moment with his hand outstretched to release the door mechanism as his mind clouded. What was he doing here? What did he hope to resolve? Questions swirled in his mind. He thought it through once more and they finally settled. Foo took one deep breath before depressing the button. The door slid aside revealing a disheveled looking Bulldog perched on an uncomfortable looking chair. Unshaven and days old uniform, sans rank. With another chair situated in front of him. Empty and in wait.
Foo stepped forward and entered the room. It was desolate. Four walls; a floor; all made of duracrete. Gray and devoid of any life, that is except for the individual situated in the middle. A noise half between a laugh and one of disgust came from Bulldog. "Pfft, you come to pay your respects too?"
Foo slowly strode forward before reaching the chair. He grabbed it and spun it in place, positioning the back of the chair before Bulldog and took a seat. Arms crossed over the backing of the chair. "So I'm not the first then?"
Bulldog leaned back into his chair, giving an air of nonchalance. "Nah, someone else dropped by to ask for my whisky collection."
Foo looked crestfallen. "Shavit, that was my question." Both chuckled at the absurdity of the request before falling silent.
"So," Foo, leveled a stare at Bulldog. "Why are we here?"
Bulldog barked a laugh, gesturing forward. "You know why, you were there! He kill-"
Foo cut him off with a swift draw of his hand over his own throat. "No, why are we REALLY here?"
Bulldog fell silent and leaned forward on his chair, elbow resting on his knees.
Foo sighed. "I thought...all this shavit was over your father-" Bulldog started again but Foo, frustrated, yelled over him, "Shut it! I'm not done!" He sat back down not realizing he had lifted out of the chair and seated himself again. "But clearly that's not the case. Your previous incidents in the SSD? The bar here? It's clear at this point that you're just looking for an out, life or death, and just using your father as an excuse."
Bulldog's eye hardened. "Kark off!" Rage welled within him, helping to propel him from the chair. He tackled Foo to the ground and began throwing haymakers left and right. Foo held his arms up over his face, mostly fending off the wild attacks. Bulldog yelled as he laid into his would-be judge. "You! Have no idea!-".
The door slid open revealing a trooper who screamed "All right break it up you two!" Both Bulldog and Foo turned in unison and yelled back "Frack off!"
They continued to struggle with punches being thrown either way before Foo was able to use his agility on the larger man. Foo managed to roll over and pin Bulldog's arms to the ground and started to throw his own haymakers into Bulldog's face. A few connected before Foo was ripped off the top of Bulldog by a guard trooper. Bulldog clambered back upright, bleeding from his lip and cheek. He looked as though he was going to make another run at Foo, but the trooper already had his blaster out and was aiming at the convict. Bulldog slowly raised his hands, but none of the venom left his eyes.
Foo broke the grip of the trooper, knocking the blaster off to the side. His chest heaving, he wiped the blood off his brow from one of Bulldog's blows and pointed to him, walking a step forward. "You! You think you're the only one to experience loss? Frack off!, we all have!" He hand-waved over the base, his eyes boring into his adversary's eyes.
"My father's killer is HERE! In my grasp! I can make things right, right here, right now!" Bulldog spat back.
Foo got into Bulldog's face again. He felt the trooper grip him once more, trying to pull him back. "That's not for you to decide! You! Are not judge, jury and executioner! And to be absolutely blunt, you're not even after the right person."
Bulldogs defensive stance dropped at Foo's words as a mask of uneasy confusion fell across his face. "The hell do you mean?"
Foo pointed an accusational finger. "You! You've killed him!"
Bulldog felt the anger swell within him again and his fists began to ball up. His teeth slowly bared as the rage bloomed once again, and his fists clenched.
Foo started again. "Listen—" Foo's attention turned to the trooper, "can you take your fracking hands off me? My girlfriend doesn't even touch me that much." The trooper reeled from the quip and took a step back, removing his hand from Foo's shoulder and started to rub his cheek. Foo turned back to Bulldog now free of the troopers grip. "Listen, this isn't about Talon or your father. This is about you....and how you thought you should have died in his place."
The trooper recovered his senses after he realized he'd actually been struck during the scuffle at some point. "That's it! This is over!"
Foo felt the trooper grip him once more and haul him out the cell, leaving Bulldog to catch his own breath and deal with his own wounds, alone.
Brig Refresher - Toseng
In the refresher mirror, Silence stared expressionlessly at the ugly bruise staining her left eye and cheek. She would have winced at the sight, but she knew wincing would hurt too much, so she kept her dismay on the inside.
It really wasn't the injury that bothered her. She'd recently helped save Bulldog from what she'd thought at the time were bogus murder charges. Sure, the evidence had been faulty, but something she hadn't told everyone was how everything else pointed directly at him. Opportunity, motive . . . only thing missing was a murder weapon. Would Bulldog really go so far as to commit murder?
The answer to that last question had clearly surfaced. It was one thing to avenge someone you loved by attacking a stranger. It was another to attack a man in your own fleet, a fellow pilot you'd fought beside and had to trust your life to. But worst of all, Bulldog was an executive officer. For an officer to lose all judgment and intend serious harm to a lower ranking man was almost as bad as someone trying to frag their superior.
Silence fully expected the man's career to be over, yet as she stared at the reports no one knew she had access to, she saw a blatant cover up. Shock troopers? Really? If someone questioned her own involvement, was she supposed to say an imaginary shock trooper punched her in the face? She wouldn't. She wouldn't lie about that.
It wouldn't matter what she said. The cover-up came from Shen'ryu, once she traced down all the data trails. That shady, scheming Bothan was a clear threat to the safety and wellbeing of Silence's fleet. She would be digging up everything she could on the hairball after this.
But Shen'ryu hadn't elbowed her in the face or tried to kill one of her fellow pilots.
Drawing a breath, she washed her hands and then her face, gingerly, and then she headed for the brig. The hallway wasn't long, but construction on other parts of the building indicated that command had plans that involved expanding this facility. If they hadn't originally planned to expand the building, Bulldog's recent outburst within a few days of landing had to have made it abundantly clear that expansion was necessary.
A guard stepped forward and held out a hand for her to halt. She stopped, and waited expectantly for him to speak. Seeing the guard's mouth remaining shut, she lost her patience. "Well?"
"The prisoner got into another scuffle in the cell with another pilot," the guard said tersely. "If you're going to go in there and rile him up, I need to know so I can call backup now."
Silence finally saw the reddened cheek on the trooper, indicating that he'd taken a blow of some sort during the scuffle he was referring to. She put her hands up in what she hoped was a placating fashion. "No plans to go to blows on my end."
The guard examined her intently for a few beats longer before pursing his lips and stepping aside. "If I hear a scuffle in there, I'm coming in with my blaster stunning anything moving. Consider yourself warned."
Silence nodded, and then opened the door. Her eyes fell immediately on a sullen looking Bulldog with a swollen face sitting in the corner. "Hey." It was a good word to rely on, when no other words came to mind. She folded her arms over her chest, not entirely sure why she had come.
Bulldog's head came up. He winced, seeing her blackened eye. "Sorry."
"Yeah, my face is the least of my concern. You know why? Because you weren't aiming for it." She hadn't planned to be so snarky, but once she opened her mouth, her frustration poured out. "My concern, sir, is about what you were aiming for."
"I know I —"
"Do you really?" Silence's temper rose. "You should have some idea by now how a military unit works! We put our lives on the line for each other every day without hesitation. Why? Because we know the other guy would do the same for us! We put up with miserable conditions, pitiful wages, and exhausting schedules. Why? For the cause? Maybe. But mostly we do it for the man standing to our left and the man standing to our right. Makes us an unbreakable chain. But what happens if you can't trust the man on your left? Yeah. Broken chain. All you care about is the man on your right after that. And the man on your left, well, he'll probably die the next time someone needs to risk their lives for him because no one will!"
"Maybe they shouldn't," Bulldog muttered.
"Which is fine for you to say, but if you bite the dust, what about the poor saps who relied upon you to save their hides?" Silence grunted in aggravation. "Look, I didn't come here to yell at you, and I'm sure I'm committing every definition of insubordination by talking to a superior officer this way, but I'll be honest. Rank doesn't mean much to me. I was a commander once, you know that? Had my very own squadron. I screwed them over."
He looked down. Maybe he hadn't heard about her history.
"My bad judgment, my inability to control my emotions got the last of my friends killed! You know, that's something you can never undo. You can't just go back and make amends. No matter how many times you say you're sorry to the dead, they never say, 'Oh, I forgive you.' " Gritting her teeth, Silence took another breath. "But you got lucky, you idiot."
"Lucky?" From his expression, clearly the last thing Bulldog felt right now was lucky.
"Yeah. You're lucky that you've been valuable enough and respected enough up to this point that your friends saved your neck. By saving Talon's neck. You nearly did something unforgivable. Instead, you just did something really stupid. Your own men might not even trust you for a while, let alone Talon. Good luck sorting out that mess and clearing your conscience." She stared hard at the man's face. "It was stupid. But not unforgivable. I suggest you think real long about that."
Slowly, he nodded. Silence knew berating him was pointless. Clearly, he'd already been beating himself up over it. "I know why you aren't going to be spending the rest of your life in military prison."
Bulldog's head came up quickly.
"You know the problem with officers? They have the power to destroy everyone under their command. Some of them mean well, and make mistakes. You and I, we know what that costs. But the higher the officer, the larger the command, and some of them . . . don't make mistakes. They don't care who they hurt." Silence reached for the door. "Get your act together, sir, because this fleet has bigger problems to face than some drunk and disorderly XO throwing punches. Shen'ryu, for example, but I don't think he's the only one."
"Shen'ryu?" That note of surprise . . . did he not know Shen'ryu had covered for him? "How did you know?"
"Uh . . ." So he did know, but she'd nearly blown her cover. She thought fast. She couldn't tell him she had security clearance well beyond her paygrade. "Logic. Only he has enough influence to sell some bogus story about shock troopers starting a bar fight."
His brows knitted, like he couldn't decide if he believed her. Time to go, before he asked more troublesome questions.
"Look, don't worry about my eye. Things happen. You think you messed up? In my opinion, I've done worse. And guess what? No one was willing to discipline me for it either. I had to fight to get ranked down and transferred." Silence waved through the observation window in the door to get a guard's attention. As the door opened, she glanced back one last time. "Everyone loves a good redemption story. Figure it out before it's too late."
New Republic Brig Cell - Toseng
Bulldog drifted off to sleep with his back against the wall and his arms perched up on his knees. It had been a long day filled with never ending guilt bombs and waves of shame. What's more, they were all right, even the ghost of his father's last words. "This is all your fault."
The door squeaked open slowly, jarring Bulldog from his fitful rest. His eyes snapped open, but they had a hard time adjusting to the dim lighting. The figure stood in the doorway patiently, as if they were waiting for permission.
Bulldog rubbed his eyes vigorously to help clear them up. After his eyes finished watering, he recognized his visitor. His heart seized with shock.
Talon stood in the entryway. His face was a mess of dark blue bruises around his nose, cheek, and eyes.
"What," Bulldog said flatly as he recovered his composure, hiding any bit of recalcitrance from his voice. He immediately began thinking that this may be a trap by Shen'ryu to get him further ensconced in his debt by forcing another confrontation he'd cover up, for a price. His eyes narrowed as he became hyper-vigilant.
"I, uh... wanted to talk to you," Talon said quietly, clearing his throat. "Nobody knows I'm here aside from Gremlin. I don't think anybody else would have let me come."
Bulldog relaxed at the admission that Shen'ryu wasn't likely behind this meeting. His heart still thundered within his chest, however. "So talk."
"May I sit?"
Bulldog snorted at the deference on display, but a small part of him knew he should be the one asking for permission in this exchange after the way he'd acted in the bar. He motioned to the chair with a curt nod of his head.
"I'm not pushing for charges," Talon said flatly.
"You should," Bulldog replied, deadpan. "I was out of my mind and way out of line."
"I'm sorry," Talon said after a long bout of silence.
"You're sorry," Bulldog scoffed.
Talon misunderstood the meaning of Bulldog's tone. "I was just doing my job!"
Bulldog bristled at Talon's response. "Your job was to murder defenseless people."
Talon looked at him with despair. "I think about that kill every night! There was no honor in it!" he shouted. "I know it was a ship full of wounded soldiers probably, and it was disabled."
"Then why did you do it?" Bulldog growled.
Bulldog snorted and spat to the side on the floor. "It is the soldier's job to disobey unconscionable orders."
"That's not how it worked in the Empire. That's a fast track to a painful death for you and your loved ones."
"So THAT wasn't the thing that made you think the Empire was bad," Bulldog snorted. "I can't wait to see what it was that truly put you over the edge enough to defect."
A tear rolled down Talon's cheek, and more followed immediately after. The words stung him, and he was clearly reminiscing about something unpleasant from his past. He didn't respond.
"Why. Did. You. Do. It."
"You had just killed a group of my peers. We were a TRAINING squadron. YOU killed kids that didn't know any better!"
"This is all your fault."
"You were flying TIE Fighters in a combat zone. You were combatants."
It was Talon's turn to laugh bitterly this time. "You could say the same about the two of you, flying armed freighters away from a rebel base."
Rage blossomed deep within Bulldog, but this time his rational brain maintained control, and saw the truth of Talon's words. He opened his mouth to say something spiteful and hurtful as his built-in defense mechanism dictated, but his brain maintained control and forced him to close his mouth. "I hadn't thought of it that way," he bit out slowly. The rage monster within him wasn't going away quietly, however. It clung to the one kernel of truth that made him out as an avenging son of an unjustly murdered father. "But still- his ship was completely dead in space with no engines. Why strafe it?"
"As I said, you'd just killed some of my friends. We were ordered out, and I needed to kill something. I was too far away from you while you were killing my friends!" Talon was breathing heavily as he remembered the events of that day that had scarred the both of them. "I killed the only thing I saw on my assigned vector out."
Bulldog sneered. "You killed a defenseless transport full of my father's crew. They weren't even rebels! Yeah, they had a few wounded troopers with them and some supplies, but that was it!"
"There were rebels on that ship that would carry on the fight when they escaped and recovered," Talon scoffed. "You know it's true. Look what happened to you."
Bulldog opened his mouth, but snapped it shut immediately. "I wasn't a rebel either, but what happened that day made me one."
Talon didn't say anything. He swiped away the tears that had been running down his cheeks and attempted to regain his composure. "And here we are, both rebels now."
"I'm sorry. Truly."
"I really didn't know it was your father in that freighter until recently," Talon said somberly.
Bulldog's eyes flashed angrily again. "Then why didn't you tell me when you did figure it out?"
Talon looked at him with an amused look on his face and a smirk, but the expression ended in a pained wince. "You just beat the snot out of me. You think I wasn't running versions of that through my brain over and over again?"
Bulldog barked out an involuntary, yet genuine, laugh. "Yeah," he said with a smile. "I get that."
"I'm sorry I lost my mind back there and hit you. Maybe you deserved one punch, but the others were uncalled for..."
The two men looked at each other with different perspectives. Neither felt like they would be friends any time soon, but the fear and rage were no longer there for either man.
"It's going to take me a bit," Bulldog said haltingly, holding back tears. He wasn't sure if they were of the sad or hopeful variety.
"Same," Talon said as he motioned toward his ruined face. "Welp," he sighed as he stood up and held up a crisp salute. "I'll see you when I see you, Captain."
"Thanks, LT," Bulldog grunted as he forced himself to his feet. He straightened up and returned Talon's salute with the best salute he'd offered anybody in weeks.
Talon nodded and spun smartly on his heel and walked out of sight down the hall. Bulldog stood for a while, but after it appeared nobody else would be coming to visit or berate him, he sat back down against the wall and put his head between his knees.
For the first time in a long time, he didn't hear his father's voice berating him. This time it was his own in his mind, which he murmured aloud quietly. "This is all my fault."