Hard Time: Part 1
By Bulldog, with a contribution by Silence
Bulldog slumped back against the cool wall of his cell, shivering slightly as the durasteel instantly cooled the back of his sweat-slicked prison tunic. The past two weeks of his third visit to the brig on Toseng had been filled with grueling, mind-numbing physical labor. He'd been pressed into service alone to dig the trenches for the infrastructure of the next addition to the ever-growing brig compound.
Objectively speaking, he couldn't blame Shen'ryu for his hard time. In his place, he'd probably have done similar with a hard case subordinate that landed themselves back into the brig for the third separate time in a month.
Of course, Bulldog wasn't quite an objectively-minded thinker. As he sat there cooling off physically, mentally he raged. No amount of mind-numbing work could distract him from the injustice he felt at each shovel-full of dirt he cleared, each half-ration meal, or the lack of any sniff of alcoholic respite.
The last part caused his eyes to widen in surprise, as it hadn't been anything he'd mentally cursed Shen'ryu for up until now. He shuddered at the realization, and then continued to shake as a cool sweat broke out on his brow. Suddenly his stomach churned, and he scrambled across the cool floor to the exposed waste receptacle and unloaded the contents of his stomach violently.
After three mighty heaves and two dry retches later, he rested his head against the duraplast fixture and closed his eyes.
"Got a visitor, Hard Case!"
Bulldog started awake, his eyes shooting open as he rocketed to his feet. He hadn't had a visitor in the past two weeks, something he attributed to Shen'ryu not allowing anybody to come see him. So the sudden announcement sent a mixture of excitement and trepidation vibrating throughout his body.
The door opened, and Silence appeared.
Confusion flitted across Bulldog's features as he rose to his feet. She was the absolute last person he expected to come calling. "Um, what?"
"Hello to you too, Captain," Silence greeted wryly. "Permission to enter?"
Bulldog snorted and waved her in. "As if I have any say in anything in this place."
Silence stepped in slowly and regarded the room warily. "Looks the same as it was the last time I paid you a visit," she said as she regarded the prisoner thoughtfully. She looked him up and down. "More room though."
"Har har," Bulldog said sarcastically in reply to her joke about his weight loss. "Half rations is apparently the name of the game this time around."
Her eyes settled on his newly muscular upper body. "Mixed with some hard labor I see."
Bulldog shrugged, but a bit of pride welled up within him. He waited for her to explain her presence, but she didn't appear to be in a hurry. "What brings you by, Loot?"
Silence's hands remained behind her back, and while the left stayed there, she pulled the right hand out in front of her. Clutched in her hand was what looked like a rudimentary book. She held it out with a malicious smirk.
Bulldog took the proffered book and eyed it dubiously. "Punchers... Regret?" He said, reading the title aloud. He arched an eyebrow at Silence after he noted the stock-romance novel cover image. "A... uh, romance story?"
Silence snorted. "Figured you'd need some reading material, considering you can't have a datapad in here to satisfy any... urges. You can read, right?"
Bulldog scoffed. "That's some rather low-hanging fruit for a prank if you ask me, Loot," he said, flipping the book over to read the back-cover summary. After half-paying attention to the first sentence, alarm bells began ringing in his head. He grabbed the book in both hands and read the rest intently. A blush rushed to his cheeks as he recognized a tawdry, hyper-wrought retelling of the events of the brawl when he'd first landed on the planet flashed before his eyes. "Uh, Vikeron?"
He held the book up in his hand, facing the back cover toward her. "How closely did you read this?"
A dubious look flashed across her eyes. "Not... very... Why?"
It was Bulldog's turn to laugh. "I think it's about us."
Her eyes widened with embarrassment. "WAIT, WHAT?" She quickly grabbed the book and read it intently. As she brought her left hand out from behind her back, she dropped another stack of books.
Bulldog studied her eyes with a mixture of mirth and curiosity. "The summary said it was an unlikely love story between 'an uptight pencil-pushing officer and a tragically tortured soldier', and after a brawl in which the soldier accidentally strikes the officer they fall in love in the brig."
"It WHAT?" Silence squawked in a mortified voice.
Bulldog stifled a laugh as a strange thought crossed his mind. "Who wrote it?"
Silence turned the book over in her hands. "Cat Caper. Who the hell is Cat Caper?"
Bulldog shrugged. "No clue. Where did you find this?" he asked as he stooped over and picked up the novellas she'd dropped. He noticed a small number on the spine of the books, indicating they were all a part of a larger series. "What number is on the spine of that book?"
Silence took a look. "Says it's number 6. What does that mean?"
He ignored her question as he perused the titles of each book, and then took a brief look at the back cover summary of the first. "Huh, looks like this story, Droid's Right to Love, might be about Syntax and Frosty," he said as he shuffled the next book up. "And The Dragon and the Gorgon seems to be about... Dragon," he said, mumbling "that's not terribly clever," under his breath before adding "and possibly that intelligence agent Orvan that has been harassing him for a while?"
Silence was dumbstruck, but there was a flash of what could have been jealousy that crossed her features briefly. "Unbelievable."
Bulldog snorted. "Looks like somebody is going around 'shipping' various members of the taskforce, and we just got 'shipped'."
Silence snatched up the rest of the books and rifled through the titles aloud. "Let's see... The Pixie and the Demon, The Lothario and the Heiress, and Jester's Hidden Desire... Who the kark is writing this dreck! Cat Caper is clearly a pen name, and it has to belong to somebody in the taskforce."
"No idea," Bulldog replied, but no other quip came to his lips as his mind locked up. A pregnant pause filled the prison cell as he looked at Silence, a mixture of confusion and desire roiling through his nervous system. She finally took her eyes off of the romance series and immediately set her jaw. "No chance in hell!"
Bulldog shook himself out of his stupor. "In your dreams, Zoomie!" he snapped back defensively.
Silence quickly dropped the books and spun on her heels, exiting the cell.
Bulldog scooped up the books, noting that the book about him and Silence was missing.
Bulldog walked out into the hallway as he'd done every day when the door buzzed open, but his eyes flashed in confusion as a new guard was standing there before him. This man was nearly a head and a half taller and far more muscular than his normal guard, and his close-cropped hair lent an air of danger to him. "Where's Bilk? And Steem?"
The hefty human elbowed Bulldog in the stomach roughly, doubling the prisoner over. "The prisoner will speak only when spoken to!"
Bulldog recovered quickly, rising back to his full height. Worry flooded through his mind as he hadn't been struck by any of the other guards before. His time hadn't been easy by any means, but he hadn't been physically accosted by any of the staff up until this point. He looked around for any other personnel, but he found he was alone in the hallway with this new guard, which was another change in the usual protocol he'd become accustomed to.
"I am Captain Wrant, and my crew and I were recently rotated out of Traitor's Remorse," the guard said haughtily, clearly relishing in the impunity he had to act. "Does the prisoner know where that is?"
Bulldog had no idea what Traitor's Remorse was. He assumed it was another prison complex, and it must have been a tough one to have caused this man to act physically so quickly into their... relationship. "No, can't say that I have heard of it."
Captain Wrant smirked. "It's where all of the Imp defector scum go to get processed after their defection," he explained, motioning for Bulldog to walk in front of him. "Full of all the scum that enacted and carried out the senseless orders of the mad Emperor."
"Sounds like a lovely place," Bulldog said, shuffling down the hallway. A sharp pain in his back radiated up and down his spine as something hard struck him in the middle of his spine. He staggered forward, but caught himself against the wall. "The hell was that for!"
A hand gripped his shoulder and threw him forward. "Keep walking, scumbag!"
"We're on the same side for kriff's sake!"
Captain Wrant guffawed. "I am an officer of the New Republic. You are my prisoner. We're not on the same side!"
"I am an officer of the New Republic too, ya' moof milker!" Bulldog said, motioning toward himself with both hands. "Didn't you read my dossier?"
Wrant frowned. "You aren't a member of anything, Convict, aside from my chain gang."
"Chain gang of one," Bulldog grumbled, rubbing the small of his back again. A threatening wave of Wrant's baton made him flinch, but no blow was forthcoming.
If only it was that one incident, Bulldog could have weathered the rest of his time in the brig.
Unfortunately, the new crew of guards that had arrived presumably from Traitor's Remorse with Captain Wrant apparently held Bulldog in the same regard as their leader. No matter who the guard was, they treated him roughly at every turn. Counting Wrant, the new guard crew consisted of three human males and one hulking Houk. The humans appeared to be cut from the same cloth, all light-skinned with shiny bald heads and more muscles than brain cells. Out of the new arrivals, only the Houk seemed to be less enthusiastic about causing him any distress, though he did so to seemingly avoid the wrath of the rest of his compatriots. Given the inherent strength of his species, the blows that landed had to have been nothing more than quarter-strength love taps to avoid any serious damage and amounted to nothing more than some shoves.
It started with mere jostling here and there, but as Bulldog found it within himself to grin and bear the petulant bullying, they began to up their game. He began to find himself tripping when rounding corners as feet found their way in front of his, and sometimes a "helpful" smack from a baton in his back sped up the process. Each blow was landed in such a precise manner to avoid visible bruising from any cursory examination while clothed, but his back and knees were almost purple from the accumulated blows.
Back in his cell, his meal delivery always came with an added garnish of spit, or at least what he hoped was merely sputum and not something even more unsanitary. His water was always sloshed about roughly upon delivery that half of it spilled upon his tray, causing his food to be even more soggy. More than once his bread ration would be mashed under the small gap between the door and the deck, ending up in a pile of dusty crumbs.
This went on for days until Bulldog had had enough of the rough treatment. The shoving and tripping had a certain cadence to it. Each action seemed to occur at the same spots in his short journey from cell to work detail. The first blow came just as he expected, three steps out of his cell. The next, two more later. The first shove hit four steps after that.
He bore each blow with the seething rage he'd taken the others for the past week, grinning darkly as he knew the coup de grace was coming the moment he rounded the corner in the hallway. The trip and baton combo would hit the moment he turned to change directions with the hallway, and he physically and mentally prepared himself for his coming act of defiance. His mind's eye played out the future with painful clarity, him side-stepping the trip and twisting quickly to grab the coming baton strike. Once he gripped the baton, he'd snake his other leg around and scissor-trip the guard to the ground, pulling hard on the baton to speed the guard's fall.
It looked so easy in his crystal-clear imagination, but he was still surprised that reality so closely matched his mental image. The only difference was that the unnamed human guard fell forward so much faster than the slow-motion dramatic fall of his mental daydream that when he hit the ground, it was face-first without managing to get his hands out to break his fall. Teeth clattered all across the floor as the guard began grunting in pain.
Before Bulldog could exult in his victory or apologize for the shockingly vicious nature of his defiant act, Wrant and the other two humans fell upon him and rained savage blows all over his body. He rolled over to his stomach and attempted to protect his head as best he could, but this just opened up his ribs to unbelievably hard kicks to his ribcage.
"Guys..." the Houk grumbled, but did nothing else to intercede.
"You shouldn't have done that!" One of the guards yelled as he slammed his baton down hard across Bulldog's head. His hands absorbed some of the blow, but it still hit with enough force that his vision faded to black.
Bulldog opened his eyes for the first time in the recovery ward and immediately shut them. There was no way the person he thought he'd seen sitting before him was actually here now. Absolutely no chance. "I've gone crazy," he snorted.
"Maybe," Lock's voice replied.
Bulldog opened his eyes slowly. As his vision adjusted to the lighting of the room, Lock's seated form was indeed there at his bedside. He scanned the room for others, only spotting the Abyssin med clinic doctor on duty. Relaxing, he adjusted himself into a more comfortable seated position, wincing at all the pain the movement brought on.
Lock looked him over with a wary eye. "What happened?"
Bulldog opened his mouth to reply, ready to let Lock know about the new guard crew and how they'd been treating him, but movement at the doorway caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. As he looked that way, he made out the angry face of Captain Wrant. The guard waved his baton menacingly across his own neck, and he mouthed words that even Bulldog didn't need to hear to decipher. A cold sweat broke out at the small of his back.
"Earth to Bulldog," Lock said, waving his hand in front of Bulldog's face. "You there?"
Bulldog snapped his eyes back to his friend and tried to calm himself, but he wasn't sure that he was convincing in the effort. "I tripped."
Lock looked unconvinced. "Way I heard it, you assaulted one of the guards."
"I tripped," Bulldog repeated, refusing to meet Lock's eyes. "We got tangled up on the way down."
Lock sighed. "You gotta straighten yourself out, man. Beating on the guards isn't going to get you out of this mess."
Lock let out an exasperated grunt and rose to his feet. "Maybe the hard labor will do you some good in that case."
Bulldog watched the man rise and walk away, wanting so badly for his friend to look back at him and understand the grave danger he was in and get help. He hoped his face conveyed the message without tipping off the spying Captain Wrant, who was just outside waiting for him to give another reason to initiate a beating.
Unfortunately, Lock didn't look back. He nodded once to Captain Wrant as he passed him at the doorway, but never looked back at Bulldog.
Bulldog was put back to work the moment he was declared physically fit by the clinic doctor. His muscles screamed and his joints ached, but otherwise he was well enough to work. He reveled in his solitude during this hard work, and for once the guards hadn't tormented him physically during the transit from his cell to the work area.
He was sent to a different area than before, but this one was even more secluded than the previous one. Three sides of the "courtyard" were made up of walls from the brig, and the open side provided him a commanding view of... nothing. The area he could see was still undeveloped land enclosed in the large perimeter fence.
So far as he knew, the entire area would be built up according to some New Republic base doctrine. He wasn't privy to such things, nor did he have any sort of regular experience in ground bases. His scant experiences had all been from ragtag reclamation squats from his days in the Rebel Alliance. Hoth, Black Squadron's dusty digs, M-Base... Sithing M-Base, the place he had the bad luck of encountering one Major-then-General Thram Shen'ryu.
His thoughts drifted to darker tidings as his initially refreshed mood had soured from the thought of the spiteful Bothan. Unfortunately, he couldn't shake the negativity as he soon realized that all of his ground base experiences had ended in spectacular disasters, though he'd only survived Black Squadron's demise due to a drunken confrontation with his commander and rapid transfer to Renegade Wing thereafter.
Had he always been so anti-authority? He thought back to the time before his accidental encounter with the Rebel Alliance, and the lone authority figure in that phase of his life had been his oft-absentee father. That gruff disciplinarian had instilled within him an almost deep-seated hate for anybody that told him what to do. He'd been able to rise above it sometimes during his time with Renegade Wing, but he attributed that more to the generally competent leadership than any personal growth on his end.
"I see that time in the clinic hasn't done the quality of your workmanship any favors, Captain."
Bulldog tensed at the sound of the familiar, grating voice of his Bothan foil. He slowly turned around and rested both hands on the shovel's grip, squinting through the late day sun. Shen'ryu stood in the middle of the clearing, cutting no doubt what the Bothan thought was an imposing figure with the sun at his back.
"Heard you the first time," Bulldog coughed. "Is there a reason for this visit?"
Shen'ryu growled quietly at the dismissal, but shook it off quickly. "Just coming to see the progress on the new guard tower. Your slow pace is causing a bit of a backup, and I wished to see what the holdup was."
"Well, Major, the holdup is that you've got one man doing manually what a few construction droids could complete in a day."
"The construction droids are being used to build more permanent hangar structures and billets for your pilot friends, Captain," Shen'ryu explained, pausing momentarily as a predatory smile crept onto his lips. "Though, if you wish for more help, you could always tell me who else in Renegade Wing was a party to your last... adventure..."
Bulldog scoffed. "Why, I don't know what you are talking about, Sir. I was caught alone."
Shen'ryu chuckled. "Very well. Perhaps a different carrot would do the trick? This guard tower, once finished, will overlook quite an expansive outdoor area for you and future prisoners to utilize for exercise and free time. Will that make you work faster?"
Bulldog held his blistered hands out for the Bothan to see. "If you think I'm slacking, you haven't been paying attention. You are welcome to take a turn with the shovel to show me how it's done, Sir." He smirked, the rational part of his brain telling him to swallow the next comment while the petty part overrode the caution. "Can't imagine you'd know anything about getting your hands dirty, though."
Shen'ryu's eyes flashed with anger, but it was quickly replaced with something more cold and unsettling. "It seems the carrot won't work, so how about the stick?"
Bulldog snorted derisively. "You can get those psychos to beat on me even more if you want, but it's only going to slow down the timetable on your precious guard tower."
Confusion rippled across Shen'ryu's features, which gave Bulldog pause. "Beat on you? I authorized no such thing."
Bulldog guffawed. "Please. You want me to believe somebody with their finger in every part of this base didn't specifically call in a crew of mentally deranged colossi to beat me, and it was purely random?"
Shen'ryu stormed off, tapping furiously into his datapad. As he reached the doorway, he began speaking in an animated fashion with the guard on duty.
Bulldog watched the exchange with intense interest, but knew things were about to get way worse once Shen'ryu stalked off, leaving the toothless human guard staring daggers in his direction.
Bulldog had survived the next couple of days with naught for torment. Even his food remained untampered with. It made him wonder if he'd read Shen'ryu wrong and the man really had no idea what the guards had been putting him through. Perhaps the Major had raised enough hell and made enough of his patented threats for the abuse to cease.
The guards gave him no indication aside from their angry glares. However, today seemed different. As his cell door opened this morning, Bulldog thought he caught a glint of malice in the eye of Captain Wrant. Wordlessly, the guard motioned him out of his cell with his baton, and the two men walked the usual pathway toward the courtyard.
As Bulldog neared the worksite, the sounds of digging reached his ears. He stumbled a bit as he looked back questioningly toward Wrant, but the guard only smirked and motioned them forward with the business end of his baton.
Bulldog shook his head and moved faster, curiosity winning out over trepidation. As they reached the locked doorway that separated the interior to the open courtyard, Wrant stepped forward and flashed his badge across the reader. As the door whooshed open, he stepped aside, the same predatory leer on his lips that had been there since they'd exited the cell.
Bulldog shivered at the sight, but pushed through the tremor of fear and stepped through the portal. After a moment of his eyes adjusting to the blinding light of the late-morning sun, he beheld two black-clad figures working with shovels where Bulldog had left off the evening before. He stopped, unsure of himself.
"Wanted extra bodies, didn't ya?" Wrant stage-whispered.
"Who are they?" Bulldog asked, noting that both figures had stopped their work and were currently staring back at him with neutral expressions.
Both men sized him up in their own ways. One had the look of a pilot or another type of skilled combatant, looking at various parts of Bulldog's body as if he were scanning for weak points or threats. The other more brutish man just looked mean, as if his face was in a permanent scowl that couldn't go away. Neither of them looked welcoming, however, and after another moment of wary regard, they both returned to their work wordlessly.
"Out with you, traitor," Wrant grunted, shoving Bulldog farther into the yard with the end of his baton. "Here are the Imp friends you asked for."
Bulldog nearly fell forward, but caught himself short of falling completely. He hissed in pain as he turned and glared at Wrant, rubbing the small of his back. "Imperials?"
"Uh-huh," Wrant chirped with a nod and dangerous leer. "Enjoy your day, sweetheart," he chuckled darkly as he closed the door, leaving the three prisoners alone.
"You asked for us to be placed here?"
Bulldog turned, noticing the smaller of the two Imperials had stopped shoveling and was waiting for a reply. "Well, not exactly. The blasted kung-brain in charge was complaining about my slow work, and I made a smart remark about him coming to help me..."
"I oughtta flat-weed this sleemo," the larger of the two muttered loudly as he paused his shoveling and looked back over his hulking shoulder.
Bulldog tensed up at the threat, and then surreptitiously looked around for a shovel to defend himself. The mental math of his mass, while impressive, was nothing compared to the absolute behemoth of an Imperial that had just made the off-handed threat. If it came to a feat of strength, he'd need something to swing and brain the roid-hound quickly to avoid being snuck up on by the other Imperial.
Unfortunately, the last shovel was standing uselessly against the wall far away from his current position. He'd have to be exceptionally fast to get there and grasp the improvised weapon with enough time to cock it back and swing. He tensed, prepared to spring forward at the first indication things were about to go down. The lack of guards in the yard sent a chill down his spine, as if this was the new plan all along.
"Easy," the other Imperial warned his companion, giving Bulldog one more look of scorn before turning back to his own work. "Just ignore him."
Bulldog audibly released the breath he'd been unintentionally holding in.
The days had been hot and full of non-stop menial labor. Neither of the Imperials seemed interested in chatting at first, as each time Bulldog had ventured a benign comment about the weather or the banality of their task, neither of his companions had even looked up from their own toiling.
They spoke back and forth amongst themselves plenty, mostly complaints that Bulldog had voiced earlier when he'd tried to first talk to them. They seemed to have some sort of history with each other, but it was clear that they weren't from the same branch of the Imperial war machine based on their physiques.
This puzzled Bulldog, as he was doubly curious where the familiarity of these two came from. While he indeed knew some personnel from the other departments of the Vigilant, he didn't consider himself close to any of them. At least, not close enough to appear as thick as thieves as these two appeared to be. Perhaps if he were imprisoned by Imperials with one of the people he recognized from the Vigilant he might be acting in a similar fashion, but he wasn't so sure. He continued to be left out of their discussions, and felt a pang of sadness at being left out.
However, during an outdoor lunch break of an exceptionally bright day, the three of them found themselves huddled underneath the shadow of the same area of exterior wall. Bulldog was still separated by a few paces from the other two, who were sitting closer to each other, but it was the closest any of them had been since they had begun their... working relationship. There just wasn't any other place in the shade that he could sit to avoid intruding upon their personal bubble, and he was too hot and tired to be worried about his own personal safety.
"I'd say this is cruel and unusual punishment for an enemy prisoner," the smaller Imperial said aloud, "but if they're doing this to one of their own, you must be in a heaping world of bantha dung."
Bulldog was startled by the sudden conversation starter after his previous attempts had been rebuffed, so it took him a minute to realize he'd just been invited to talk for the first time in days. He coughed, sending flecks of dry bread in all directions. He began to choke as he almost inhaled some of the crumbs, and another coughing fit ensued.
"Easy there, turbo," the slighter Imperial chuckled, handing over his canteen.
"Don't help that Rebel scum," the larger Imperial snapped.
"Relax, Stegg," the smaller man soothed. "We're all out here doing the same shab."
"Don't tell him my name!"
Bulldog accepted the canteen graciously and took a long draught. He continued to cough a bit, but after a few more violent fits it began to die down as he regained control of his body.
The Imperial arched his eyebrows as he waited for a reply. "So, who did you piss off?"
"This is just what happens when you deal with an incompetent commander," Bulldog said, handing back the canteen and nodding his thanks.
"Seven Hells, Reb," the man replied with a whistle. "You got it made in the shade."
Bulldog snorted and gestured toward the trenches they'd been digging the past few days together. "How do you figure?"
"Because you stop breathing in the Imperial Navy when you are... dealing with an incompetent officer."
"Thath enough jawin'," the toothless guard shouted from the doorway.
"Welp, back to it," the Imperial said cheerily as he rose to his feet quickly.
"Yep, back to it," Bulldog replied, rising to his feet more slowly.
The rest of the day passed in relative silence again, as both sides seemed to be digesting their takes from the small snippet of a conversation, though the smaller Imperial had at least given Bulldog a nod during quitting time as they were queued up to go back to their cells.
The next day, Bulldog found himself working closer to the pair of Imperial prisoners, unsure if the small progress they'd made yesterday would carry on into today. He made sure to not be too close as to appear intrusive without being invited, but he hoped his proximity made it obvious enough that he was willing to talk more, if only to pass the time.
The slight one looked over his shoulder and smirked. "Have a nice night there, Reb?"
Bulldog snorted. "Best accommodations this side of the core. Received dinner and breakfast in bed, with minimal spit to boot."
"Hell," the Imperial replied. "I wish they'd hold the spit on our food. Seems like they might be giving us your ration."
Bulldog grimaced. "Sorry," he said sheepishly, unsure of what else he could say. He was slightly embarrassed that his torment was lessening, but it was being sent the way of his two workmates.
"It's not your fault, Reb."
Bulldog dug a few more shovel-fulls of dirt out of the trench, and then ventured another conversational bridge. "Say, what's your name?"
The smaller Imperial paused in his work as he seemed to mentally debate how to respond. After a few heartbeats, his shoulders relaxed. "My last name is Rahm'ionoh, but most of my friends just call me 'Romeo'."
"Romeo," Bulldog said with a smirk. "Nice."
"What do we call you, Reb?" Romeo asked.
Romeo arched an eyebrow. "Fellow flyboy, eh?"
It finally hit Bulldog that 'Romeo' was a callsign rather than a lazy abbreviation of his longer last name. His eyes widened as his initial assessment upon first sight had been correct. "Wishbone driver here. What about you?"
Romeo laughed. "Ah, I loved pulling up on a flight of you wallowing piles in my Squint. So easy to splash if I came up from below to avoid that blasted topside spark thrower."
Bulldog chuckled nervously, feeling slightly guilty that he was laughing about an Imperial making a joke about vaping unknown allies of his. Feeling his hackles raising a bit, he snapped back. "You never came up on the Buccs. We'd have rolled and hit you with those ICTs before you could hit us."
Romeo shook his head. "Nah, mate. We strike too fast for you to even see it coming."
"Yeah, if we had shab for SA maybe."
Romeo grinned. "Don't all you Rebs have piss-all for SA?"
"If our SA was so bad, how'd we win?" Bulldog retorted as he resumed shoveling dirt.
Romeo resumed digging as well. "Haven't won yet, Reb," he quipped back.
The hulking Imperial known as Stegg stopped digging and stared daggers at Bulldog. He growled, but otherwise didn't speak. After staring long enough to make it uncomfortable, he broke eye contact and resumed his digging. "Don't get chummy with the enemy," he muttered in warning to his compatriot.
"Gotta pass the time somehow, grumpy," Romeo quipped back. He shot an apologetic look in Bulldog's direction.
The rest of the morning shift passed in silence. As the sun rose higher into the sky and began to beat down on the three men, they all wondered when they'd be given the ok to take a break and given lunch.
Time dragged on as a reprieve appeared to be far off, and each of the men began to slow down as they were slowly depleting their liquid reserves as their water hadn't been refilled from the day before either.
"Say, you think they're trying to give us heat stroke, Reb?"
Bulldog stopped shoveling to wipe the sweat from his brow. "This group of psychos? Probably."
"That's... encouraging," Romeo replied, and then his face blanched. "Guess this still beats being stuck at Narkina 5."
Bulldog perked up at the mention of Narkina 5. While he'd never been nor seen images, some of the old timers of the Rebellion spoke about it in hushed tones over drinks. "I've heard of that place."
Romeo shuddered. "Hope you can swim..."
Bulldog nodded. "Surprised we were using that place after the Empire had been using it."
Romeo winced. "We weren't actually doing anything during that time, though the guards were doing their best to come up with a reason to use the shock floors as often as possible."
"How long were you there?"
"Long enough," Romeo sighed.
"Have you heard of a place called 'Traitor's Remorse'?"
Romeo's expression soured, and he spit angrily. "The Mandos have a word for the people there that I quite like because it has a certain ring to it: 'Aruetii'."
"Aru-what now?" Bulldog asked, suddenly wishing he'd spent more time with Gnoizic learning the Mandalorian language.
"Turncoats. Scumsuckers," Romeo spat.
Bulldog was confused. "It was a place for traitors?"
"It was where Imperials that defected were taken," Romeo muttered angrily. "The weak-minded fools that lacked conviction and decided to join the enemy."
Bulldog nodded thoughtfully. "This group of guards apparently rotated here from there."
Romeo pursed his lips ominously. "That can't be good for us, then. I heard our side sent agents there to hopefully disrupt the process, so these guys are likely on high alert if they came from there."
"Disrupt the process... how?"
Romeo was quiet for a long while, but he apparently wasn't willing to elaborate.
A voice from behind them startled all three men. "What he means... is that they'd send agents packing surgically implanted bomb components that would pass through security scans, and then they'd sacrifice themselves removing the components to construct the bomb and blow up a lot of good people," the voice growled.
Bulldog whirled around, stunned to see Captain Wrant standing in the doorway. He was flanked by two of the human guards, with food and water in their hands. Suddenly he saw them in a slightly new light. It didn't excuse how they had been treating him, but he at least felt a little empathy for what they'd likely been dealing with in their previous duty posting.
"Big wathe of thime thrying tho thruth an Imp," Toothless grumbled as he set the jug of water down near the door. With another vehement look of disdain, he turned and left back inside the building.
"Only good Imp's a dead Imp," the other human grumbled, dropping the food tray at his feet before spinning on his heel and walking back into the brig building. Food clattered off of the tray in all directions as it hit the dirt, covering many of the chunks of bread in freshly churned dirt.
"Don't make me call the meatwagon for you malingerers," Wrant taunted, stepping back and leering at the men as the door whooshed shut.
"Guess it's time to break, eh boys?" Romeo quipped as he jammed his shovel into the dirt, leaving it straight up in the air. He walked over toward the deposited food and began pulling the chunks of bread off of the dirt and began brushing it off as best he could.
Bulldog likewise stuck his shovel into the dirt and joined the Imperial, grabbing the dirtier pieces of bread and attempted to brush them off, putting one of the dirtiest pieces into his mouth in hopes of making some sort of peace offering to both Imperials.
Stegg dropped his shovel and lumbered over, picking up a few pieces of the bread that hadn't fallen off of the tray so they were without a dusting of dirt. He filled his canteen almost to the brim, leaving very little left in the bucket for the other two men. Without so much as a look of apology, he lumbered off to a shady spot and ate in silence.
"Why'd you keep fighting after Endor?" Bulldog asked between bites of bread.
Romeo snorted. "Would you quit?"
"I'm not on the side of the evil guys though," Bulldog countered, spitting out some dirty saliva from his last bite of bread.
Romeo sighed. "Where you see evil, I see order and protection."
Bulldog shook his head vehemently. "Protection that isn't asked for is coercion."
"Some people don't know what's best for them happens to also be what's best for everybody else. Those systems needed to see the bigger picture," Romeo said, a little edge to his voice. It wasn't anger or threat tinging his voice so far as Bulldog could tell, just pure conviction. "If they refused, they were made to see things the correct way."
"You were on the side that built two planet-killing space stations!"
Romeo nodded his head quickly as he finished his mouthful of bread. "Ask any true naval man and you won't hear any of us saying those were good ideas. Bloody awful waste of good credits if you ask me."
"But you didn't defect when they destroyed an entire planet!"
"Alderaan was one of the seats of power of the Rebellion," Romeo said, his voice faltering slightly. "I don't deny that the loss of life was tragic, but your side made it almost impossible to identify friend from foe on that planet."
"Good riddance," Stegg grumbled from farther off.
Bulldog's mouth hung agape. "The loss of life was astronomical though... A lot of our best people are Alderaani natives that defected from Imperial forces after that day."
"Even more stayed and did their duty to the Empire," Romeo replied quietly.
Something in the man's voice stopped Bulldog's train of thought. He was prepared to drill home how any Imperial that felt the destruction of an entire planet was acceptable made them irredeemable, but something was nagging at the back of his mind. "I can't imagine ever meeting somebody that stayed on after their own people blew up their home."
Romeo pursed his lips as his eyebrows raised. He put down his bread and held out his hand. "Born and raised in Crevasse City."
Bulldog's brow scrunched in confusion. "What miserable berg is that from?"
"Alderaan," Romeo whispered somberly.
The rest of the day passed in silence for all three workers. They had begun digging separate trenches, which might have been for the best of all involved after Romeo had dropped the bombshell of his heritage. The Imperial didn't seem to have much more to say on the subject, and Bulldog wasn't sure he could process anything more if he had continued to talk.
For Bulldog's part of the conversation, his mind had completely locked up at that revelation. His brain just couldn't comprehend how somebody could keep fighting for an Emperor that had signed off on the destruction of his home planet. If the Rebellion had signed off on the destruction of Rendili, he likely would have immediately lashed out at all involved in the order.
Or, more honestly, he'd have just immediately flown off the handle and killed as many people around him as he could before they took him down. He continued to dig, unable to work any other way for his brain to come to the same conclusion that his fellow ditch-digger apparently had.
But to continue to serve at the hand of those that murdered his planet? Impossible. While he'd managed to cut down on his fits of rage that clouded all semblance of rational mind, he knew that something of that nature would throw him right into the black abyss of anger.
"That's enough for the day, dirtballs," Wrant's voice called from the doorway.
Bulldog started at the sound. They were the first words that had been uttered since lunch. He looked back and saw the guard captain flanked by the Houk.
"Let's go," Wrant called again, waving them forward with his stun baton. "We don't have all night!"
Bulldog and the two Imperials set down their shovels and shuffled over silently. They lined up and followed the Houk into the brig complex. They continued following the same path they'd taken after each shift, but they all took a left as opposed to the right turn Bulldog was accustomed to taking. "What's this?"
"New arrangements," Wrant said from the back of the procession. "New rooms for the new chums," he said with a dark chuckle.
Bulldog merely shrugged and continued following the Houk guard in front of him. They continued into a different wing of the brig that he'd never been in before. Judging by the lack of grime or dust, it must have been recently fabricated. Some of the wiring for the lights was still hanging loosely from the ceiling and the door panels weren't fully secured yet, though the tiny lights on the displays were functional.
"In you go," the Houk rumbled, pointing into the first available cell.
Bulldog nodded, and then shot a glance at the Imperials behind him. They seemed to be taking the change in scenery a little worse than him, eyeing everything suspiciously. Romeo met his eyes, asking a silent question about their safety.
"One cell's as good as another," Bulldog quipped, hoping to sound calm enough to allay Romeo's misgivings. The moment he cleared the threshold, the door groaned shut behind him. "Hrmph. So much for everything being new here."
"In you go, next to your new best friend," Wrant's muffled voice taunted through the sealed door.
"Easy, Captain," Romeo replied, his voice much more clear as it came through the wall between cells.
"Secure that last one the next cell over," Wrant's muffled voice said, ignoring Romeo.
"Well, this cell is trash," Bulldog said to himself as he took a look around his new lodgings. It was smaller than his previous cell, and one look at the small wall-mounted refresher made it clear even a bowel movement wouldn't be a comfortable affair. The wall-mounted cot similarly appeared to be about a foot too short for somebody that was average height to comfortably fit on.
"Huh," Romeo's voice replied. "This is actually nicer than what they had us in before."
The next day they were back in the yard, apparently in the home stretch of the ditch digging portion of their work. It seemed like a few more days of hard work would get them onto the next phase of their labor, whatever that ended up being. Knowing Wrant and the rest of the guards, it would be something even more back-breaking and demeaning.
Bulldog didn't feel right today. His back was killing him from the paper-thin mattress that was too small for his still-too-large bulk. Whatever position he'd finally managed to fall asleep in was apparently the wrong one, and he just couldn't get the multitude of knots worked out of his lower back as he worked.
"What's wrong, Reb?" Romeo asked, genuine concern in his voice.
"My back," Bulldog grunted in reply. "It's killing me."
Romeo nodded as if he understood what was going on. "Looks like that downgrade in... accommodations... seems to be doing the trick."
Bulldog arched an eyebrow in confusion. "How do you figure?"
"If the goal of the guards was to break you down, not being able to sleep comfortably will do the trick in no time," Romeo said matter-of-factly.
Bulldog pursed his lips as he absorbed the wisdom his fellow ditch-digger had bestowed upon him. It made perfect sense that the new, much more uncomfortable cell was just the next evolution of off-hands torture that Wrant and his crew would wage upon him. A trill of anger rushed up and down his spine, warming his body with rage. He turned around, spying Toothless standing at the door leering back in his direction.
They held eye contact for an uncomfortable amount of time. Toothless at first appeared to be begging for Bulldog to take any sort of step in his direction so he could mete out more physical punishment. But as time went on, Toothless's confident grin fell into a barely-contained mask of anger.
Bulldog smirked as he saw the guard lose his composure, feeling his own anger melting away as he regained control. Knowing that this was just another petty attempt to break him down, he resolved then and there to persevere through it, if only to spite them. He put the shovel horizontally across his lower back and trapped it in place with his arms. He began twisting at his waist, attempting to use the hard wood of the shovel to work out the knots near his spine.
"Much better," Bulldog sighed, ceasing the stretch and rolling his shoulders in relief. He resumed his digging, feeling quite refreshed.
After a few shovel-fulls of dirt, he felt his ears burning. While he didn't have any known proclivity toward the Force, he often felt as if people were talking about him when this sensation occurred. Generally speaking, when he felt this sensation he was usually right. Taking a break by leaning against his shovel, he scanned the area surreptitiously.
Off to his left, Romeo was digging away diligently as he hummed the Imperial March to himself. Looking to the right, he noticed Toothless talking closely with Stegg. Neither man was looking in Bulldog's direction, but for some reason he felt as if he was the subject of conversation.
Just as quickly as he noticed the hushed conversation, it ended. Stegg shook his head as he walked away, and Toothless resumed his posting just inside the doorway with an air of feigned disinterest.
"That was weird," Bulldog mumbled, resuming his own shoveling.
Romeo ceased his humming and turned around. "What was weird, Reb?"
Bulldog thought about relaying what he'd just seen, but it didn't quite make sense to him either. "Eh, nothing."
It had been a grueling day of digging as the Toseng sun seemed insistent on not wavering from the point right above their heads. The three diggers had naturally managed to find places in the shade to dig until the heat subsided. The guards had left them to their own devices, closing the door for whatever reason only known to them. Probably had to do with the environmental controls and the coolness of the corridor without a yawning door letting all of the cool air out. They must have wanted to hoard that cool air jealously, as they hadn't even opened the door to drop them off some water and bread for a midday break.
Bulldog found himself at the far end of the yard with Stegg, while Romeo was across the yard in his own patch of shade. The massive Imperial was almost right on top of him, his massive muscles rippling beneath his sweat-stained tunic as he dug. Bulldog shuffled a few steps back, but found himself just inside the barrier of shade he'd claimed before the bigger man had invaded his personal space. "Hey man, mind giving me some room to work, here?"
Stegg ignored the request, instead taking an intentional step closer without looking, continuing to dig. He continued to dig wordlessly, the only sign that he'd heard the request being the step closer he'd just taken.
"Look, man," Bulldog grunted. "I don't know what your deal is, but there's plenty of shade for both of us."
Stegg ignored the words, continuing to dig. This time, his discarded dirt was falling into Bulldog's portion of the trench.
Bulldog's ears popped as his anger spiked once again. He watched incredulously as more and more piles of dirt continued to erase his hard work. His teeth clenched as his grip tightened on his shovel. "I'm going to stick this shovel up your recharging port if you don't back off, bantha breath!"
Stegg stopped digging finally, his shoulders heaving as a deep, rumbling chuckle escaped his lips. He turned slowly to face Bulldog, looking down as he raised himself up to his full height. He was a full head taller than the Renegade, and his face had a malicious grin. "What are you going to do about it, you puny Rebel?"
Bulldog felt the fight leaving him temporarily as he sized up the Imperial and realized his threat had no effect. He felt his already thirst-dry mouth go even drier as a trill of fear ran up his spine. It reverberated through his limbs, making his legs feel weak and his palms go sweaty. His mouth formed words wordlessly, but there was no breath in his lungs to formulate any sort of words.
"What are you going to do about it?" Stegg asked with a predatory leer. He shoved Bulldog roughly in the chest.
Bulldog allowed himself to be cast out of the shade and stumbled back, squinting his eyes against the sudden assault of the sun. He raised his arm in an attempt to shield his eyes, bringing the shovel up as he did so due to the nervous grip he'd maintained through the confrontation.
It turned out to be the only thing that stopped him from losing the top half of his skull as he felt the shovel handle vibrate in his hands along with an ungodly screeching sound next to his ear.
Bulldog pitched over to the side, bells ringing in his ears. The shovel went flying from his hands with the shock of the blow, and all he could do was cover up while stars swam across his vision.
"Take it easy!" Romeo's far off voice called out, getting louder.
"Back off, Scumlover!" Stegg's voice growled from somewhere nearby. His footsteps rumbled in the dirt near Bulldog's head as he tried to get his bearings.
"The guards'll kill you!"
"That's what you think, flyboy," Stegg gloated, his grip tightening audibly on his shovel. "We're about to get a reprieve."
Romeo's rapid footsteps managed to arrive nearby, skidding to a halt. "What are you talking about?"
"They," Stegg started, but no other words escaped his lips as the report of a stunbolt sounded through the air.
"Down, Convicts!" Wrant's voice boomed from far off.
"Why'd you do that?!" Romeo shouted in reply.
Bulldog heard the thud of Stegg's body a split second before he felt the ground shake near his feet. He recovered himself at that instant and quickly rose to his feet. As his blurry vision cleared, he saw three things simultaneously. Romeo was nearby, getting down on his knees. Wrant was striding forward slowly, his blaster smoking. And finally, Stegg's stunned corpse was twitching at his feet.
His head throbbed where the Imperial had smashed the side of his head with the shovel. His anger returned, building with each pulse of pain in his temple. Unconsciously, he stooped over. His hands found the worn grip of the shovel, and he rose to his feet with the digging implement held tightly in a white-knuckled grip.
"What are you doing?" Romeo asked nervously from his prone position on the ground.
Bulldog barely heard him as he began to hyperventilate, raising the shovel above his head. His mouth was frozen in a rictus of rage. His heart thundered in his chest as his pulse quickened. His mouth salivated in anticipation of driving the point of the shovel right through the neck of the man that had attacked him. He rose up to his full height, lifting the improvised weapon as high as could be.
Another stunbolt cracked through the air, and Bulldog felt every nerve ending in his body cry out at once. Electric pain arced up and down his nervous system as his muscles painfully locked up.
"Ten cent head on that worthless body of yours," Wrant chuckled from behind Bulldog's locked-up body.
Another stun bolt sounded out from point blank range.
The air whooshed past Bulldog's ears as the ground rushed toward him. He was out like a light before he met the painful conclusion head-on.
Bulldog awoke to an ice-cold bucket of water being dumped on his head in his cell. All of the air was sucked out of his lungs, and he found himself gasping to replace it. He gripped his chest as he sat upright quickly, and then grabbed his head as it began pounding mightily.
The guards all laughed at the spectacle, pointing derisively.
"Goth the thdrool andth thdirth outh!" Toothless guffawed.
Bulldog had recovered his senses with the aid of another flash of anger. He looked up at Toothless as he continued to laugh in an exaggerated fashion. "Oh, is that how you get them out of your uniform?"
Romeo barked out a laugh from next door at the retort.
Toothless immediately stopped laughing and fixed an angry glare on him. His mouth moved as if it were gnashing the teeth that used to be there, likely a gesture from before they'd been knocked out. He took a step forward and raised his stun baton above his head.
Only a restraining arm from Wrant stopped the guard from raining down some extracurricular blows. "Ease off, Traege."
Toothless fixed a menacing glare on Bulldog, but it slowly faded into something dangerous that sent shivers up the prisoner's spine. His eyes flicked toward the wall of the cell briefly before zeroing in on Bulldog's again. "I'll be theeing you," he growled, pointing the end of his baton at Bulldog's nose and holding it there. "Real thoon, thuff guy."
"Enough, Sergeant!" Wrant ordered, giving his subordinate another shove toward the door.
The two men watched the angry guard walk out, and then regarded each other thoughtfully. Bulldog thought he saw a hint of worry in the guard's face, but he quickly banished the thought when he weighed it against the balance of his treatment by Wrant and his guard crew.
"You might want to watch that mouth of yours," Wrant warned, scratching his own cheek with the end of his own baton. "Before it costs you more than you can afford."
With those ominous words, the guard left. The shiver of the threat and ice bath remained.
A knock at the wall near Bulldog's head woke him later that night.
"Hey Reb, you ok?" Romeo's muffled voice called out.
Bulldog snorted at the idea of receiving sympathy from an Imperial while he'd been getting all sorts of torment from people that were supposedly on his side. "Eh, I've been stunned before."
That brought a chuckle from Romeo's side of the wall. "Can't say the same, fortunately for me."
"What, never stepped out of line before?" Bulldog joked.
"I told you before, Reb," Romeo replied, "you step out of line and you end up with a new smoking hole for a face."
Bulldog shivered again, realizing how much better he'd had it despite the few poor leaders he'd suffered under since joining the Rebellion. It sobered him up to the fact that his situation might not be as unjust as he often felt. "How can you work for people like that?"
There was a long pause, but after a while Romeo ignored the question. "I'm sorry."
Bulldog arched an eyebrow. "For what?"
"Ah, yeah," Bulldog sighed, remembering the incident of the day. "Real nice guy, your friend."
"He's no friend of mine, Reb."
"He isn't saying much, but he did say the guard made it clear that if he took you out, our... time would be much easier."
Bulldog's eyes widened at the implications of what Romeo was saying. A disagreement between mortal enemies was understandable, and much easier to digest. A conspiracy of the guards hiring a hitman to take out somebody on their own side was such a mind-blowing thought that he couldn't even begin to process it.
"You sure you were on the right side, Reb?" Romeo asked sarcastically.
Bulldog couldn't even begin to formulate a response. As he lay there on his bunk, for the first time ever since he'd been out of combat, he felt really afraid for his safety.
Romeo broke the silence again. "Quite a mind-karker, eh Reb?"
"Yeah," Bulldog sighed sadly. With nothing else to say, he rolled over and attempted to fall asleep. Oblivion was elusive, however, as he didn't feel safe for the first time in a long time.
The sharp sound of somebody crying out in surprise nearby woke Bulldog suddenly. His fight-or-flight immediately kicked in, and he was on his feet and ready to lunge at a threat at the drop of a pin. His pulse quickened and his fists clenched, but as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized the sound hadn't come from his cell.
Next door, the wet smacking sound of flesh pounding on flesh could be heard. Romeo was crying out in pain, only interrupted by the sound of blows being landed. Each blow made Romeo's cries come a little more softly.
"Noth laughing now, are ya," Toothless' muffled voice taunted.
Bulldog's eyes widened. Immediately he knew what was happening. He rushed toward his cell door and tried to pull it open with all his might. The door groaned as the hinges and locks strained in their housings, but the whole assembly held against the force of his pull. He began slamming his shoulder into the door, irrationally trying to blow it off the hinges the other direction.
"HEY!" He began shouting. "HELP!" He kept repeating himself as he slammed his body into the door repeatedly.
The pace of the beating increased. Romeo's cries were reduced to a muffled whimper.
His shoulder cracked as he slammed into the door with all his might, sending a jolt of pain up and down his arm and collarbone.
"WRANT!" Bulldog roared as he threw himself back into the door, but the pain overwhelmed him and his knees buckled. "SOMEBODY!" He whimpered loudly. "HELP," he called out weakly on the floor as he cradled his shoulder.
Toothless could be heard laughing as he rained a few more punitive blows down.
Bulldog screamed his voice raw, but nobody came. The beating continued for a little longer, until Toothless had apparently tired himself out and left, attempting to whistle as he walked away.
Bulldog awoke with a start, finding himself strapped to a gurney in the med center. He looked around frantically as he tried to get his bearings. His heart rate spiked as he kept searching for any threat to his safety.
"Easy, son," a tired voice said from somewhere farther in the room.
Bulldog zeroed in on the voice, craning his neck to get a look at the source. A single split-pupil eye appeared above his head, causing him to recoil and let out a yelp of fear.
The eye widened. "Sorry, sonny," the blue-skinned Abyssin med-tech apologized as he backed away a respectful distance. He ran a hand through his shock of white hair. "Didn't mean any harm."
Bulldog recovered his senses enough to regard the one-eyed sentient with a calmer eye. He did indeed seem harmless enough now that he wasn't surprised by the rare one-eyed resident of Byss somewhere other than his home planet. "Where is Romeo?" He swallowed heavily, attempting to work saliva back into his dry mouth. His throat hurt and his voice sounded hoarse to his ears, likely from the amount of screaming he'd done earlier in the night.
"Hm?" The med tech asked as he looked over some vitals on his machine. "Who?"
Bulldog looked around again, seeing that he was the only occupant of the room. "One of the other prisoners. He was getting beaten in his cell!"
The lone eyebrow arched in confusion. "You're the only one they brought in I'm afraid," he said, but then smiled. "Don't worry though, you'll be right as rain soon enough. Just managed to sprain your shoulder. I've put in an order for light duty until it heals up."
Bulldog couldn't comprehend the words the Abyssin was saying. "That can't be, doc. They were beating on him pretty good! I could hear it through the wall of my cell."
A troubled look flashed across the tech's face. "Beaten, you say? Who was beating a prisoner?"
"Nobody," Toothless' voice called out from the doorway.
Bulldog's heart seized as if an icy fist gripped it inside of his chest. His head slowly turned until his eyes fell upon the sinister guard. The man's vicious leer sent a shock of fear running through his system.
The tech's eye widened as he continued to look at Bulldog's vitals. He clearly was following the change in the readings and made the connection that they were related to the arrival of the guard. He looked at the guard after jotting down a few notes. "The prisoner seems to think one of his neighbors was being assaulted in his cell."
Toothless chuckled. "Yeah, he would thay thath."
The Abyssin shifted in his seat to fully face the guard, a serious look on his face. "I fail to see what is so funny about an allegation of an illegal assault going on within these walls, Sergeant."
Toothless straightened up to his full height, cutting a menacing figure in the low light of the med center. He took three steps forward, closing the distance between them. He held out a datapad in one hand, the other gingerly holding onto his baton.
"What's this?" The tech asked, eyeing the datapad with distrust.
"The prithoner'th behavior reporth, writthen up by Capthain Wranth," Toothless explained. "He hath a habith of atthithude problemth. He'th the reathon I am mithing all thethe theeth," he said, punctuating his claim by curling his lips back to show the wrecked landscape of missing teeth and swollen gums.
The tech skimmed through the reports on the offered datapad, shaking his head periodically. After going through the entire thing, he handed the datapad back. "I see nothing in this report that pegs this man as a pathological liar. It seems a stretch that he'd sprain his own shoulder for no reason."
"More likely he did ith atthempthing tho forthe hith door open tho ethcape," Toothless countered, pulling up another file on his datapad.
"I saw nothing in the report that would indicate that the prisoner is stupid enough to break his own body to escape."
The Abyssin sighed, looking back between the two men as he attempted to suss out the truth of the whole situation.
Bulldog pleaded with his eyes, begging the medical man to push the point further.
"I suppose I should go take a look for myself," he said finally. "In which cell is this other prisoner located?"
Bulldog cheered mentally, until a menacing glare from Toothless sent another trill of fear throughout his system.
The guard handed the datapad back to the technician. "Thoughth you'd thay that. Here ith a recording of their hallway from lath nighth. Fath forward or don'th, up tho you. You'll thee the only thime anybody wath in thath hallway wath when we heard 'im yellin' and came tho theck on 'im."
The tech looked at the datapad again, and fast forwarded it to make the examination go faster. After a few more moments, he nodded to himself and wordlessly handed the datapad back to the guard with a nod.
"I'll thake him back to hith thell, doc," Toothless offered. "Mighth ath well geth him outh of your hair."
Bulldog's eyes widened with fear at the idea of going anywhere along with the guard. His heart-rate flared again, causing a cautionary beep to emanate from the machinery hooked up to him. He looked frantically toward the Abyssin, pleading with his eyes for the man to understand that he was telling the truth and that he was in mortal danger.
"I see, Sergeant," he said after a long pause, sending a look of disgust in Bulldog's direction. "Very well. Let me get this arm in a sling, and then I'll release him to your custody."
"There'th no need for thath I think," the guard replied easily. "He'th a throng boy."
Bulldog's heart rate spiked again, and this time the med tech looked into his eyes earnestly. The beeping of the monitor grew more insistent and rapid to match his heightened state of fear.
"Sergeant, this man is terrified of your presence," the Abyssin said matter-of-factly. "Can you explain that?"
Toothless chuckled. "Hell, Doc, I'm a guard, and he'th a prithoner."
The Abyssin raised his eyebrow. "That simple, huh?"
The guard nodded and showed a wide, toothless smile.
"Perhaps he really does think his neighbor was beaten in his cell," the tech mused. He looked back to the guard. "May I have that vid feed again? It might allay his fears if he sees the empty hallway I saw in the file."
Toothless complied silently, pulling his datapad back out and opening the video file he'd just shown. He handed it to Bulldog directly.
Bulldog took the datapad gingerly in his good hand, keeping one eye on the guard out of fear of a coming blow. Of course, such a blow would come later when they were alone, not with the medical technician in the room to witness it. Calming himself, he hit the play button and examined the screen, noting the timestamp in the bottom corner of the screen moving at a 4 times normal speed.
It appeared to show the hallway outside of their doors, and the guard all exited Bulldog's cell around the time they would have just showered him with ice water to wake him. Then...
Nothing moved on the screen aside from the timer, though a few dust motes appeared here and there to disprove the thought that it was just a still-shot of the hallway with a fake timer attached.
Then, Bulldog's door began to shake. Just as quickly as it had happened on the vid feed, it ended. And then Toothless and the Houk guard rushed over and opened the door, coming back out with his limp corpse in their arms.
The feed ended without any other movement.
"See?" The med tech said soothingly. "It is my thought that you may have just had an incredibly... vivid nightmare. Nobody had entered the next cell over at any point before you apparently threw yourself into your own cell door."
Bulldog's jaw dropped. He was certain he'd heard the things he heard coming out of Romeo's cell, certain as anything he'd ever felt in his life. Never before in his life had he had such a vivid dream that he'd woken up thinking it was all real. He shook his head. "No way I dreamt that. Impossible."
The Abyssin's face was a mask of pity. "Unfortunately, the evidence is quite clear I'm afraid."
Bulldog shook his head violently, making his vision swim slightly. He held out the datapad, but just as Toothless was about to grab it, a thought struck him and he pulled it back. "Wait."
"Where's the audio?"
The tech looked back to the guard, realizing it was a good question. Or, at least attempting to humor his patient. "Is there audio?"
Toothless shook his head with a false mask of sadness. "Unforthunathely, thath wing'th audio ith noth hooked up juth yeth."
"I see," the one-eyed medical tech replied, nodding with finality. "Well, I suppose it is what it is. Are you satisfied, Captain Clark?"
Bulldog's hand lost its grip on the datapad, his mind completely rebelling against what he'd just watched. The entire episode had been too vivid for him to have dreamt it, and there is no way he would have thrown himself so haphazardly against the door of his own cell for any other reason.
Yet, the evidence on the screen was quite clear so far as he could tell. He'd made up the entire thing in his subconscious mind apparently.
"But it all felt so real," he said, his voice trailing off as the tech began to gently put his arm in a sling.
"I'm sure it did," the tech agreed politely. "Stress... has a way of doing things to our minds sometimes."
"Yeah," Toothless agreed diplomatically, though his face was more threatening than conciliatory.