End of an Era

Maybe at a different time, a different place, a different person even, the situation would have been happier. As the young man sat in the back of the lounge, as he always did, Flight Officer Mike "Wolf" Kern watched the end of an era. The era where a wonderful collection of people had once gathered at that table to play a game of sabacc, to swap war stories, just to talk. Now they were all gone, and all that was left were the echoes of a time long since passed.

He'd watched it all, sitting quietly in the back corner of that lounge. The pilot hardly made himself noticed, never inviting anyone to sit with him, nor accepting invites from others. They had all come and gone, the youngsters and hotshots, but there were a core of those who would never die. They, and they alone, would be the ghostly crew that would forever haunt the CRS Liberty.

Wolf had seen and watched as things began to change as the old guard was retired from active duty. Sometimes he felt it was all ending. They'd had the time of their lives, but now it was time to move on, make more memories. He acknowledged that need, but found himself recalling the memories lost…

#

She had been there the day his battered Z-95 had arrived on the CRS Liberty. In fact, she'd been the first one of the Liberty crew to meet him. Aradia "Slicer" Emerson had been there… and now she was leaving.

When the news came in that Slicer was retiring to other things, Wolf was crushed. She was really the only one who he'd talk to. She was one of the only ones to hear about his sister's death and his orphaned childhood. Slicer was his best friend aboard the Liberty, and now she was leaving him.

The day of her departure had come and the entire wing had assembled in the hangar to see her off. The entire wing, save one. Wolf was lying in his bunk, staring at the ceiling, when his quarters' buzzer went off.

"Enter," he said sadly. The door slid open slowly and in the doorway stood Slicer, leaning slightly against the wall. Her auburn hair hung like a halo around her angelic face as she stared at him with glazed eyes. Wolf met that gaze, his solemn stone-edged expression never changing.

She took a tentative step forward, but stopped. "May I… err… come in?" Wolf nodded and she walked deliberately to the unoccupied cot next to him. Wolf had had the fortune to be one of the only Liberty pilots to get an unoccupied room.

Slicer looked down at the floor, her hands tightly knit together as she searched for words. Before she could begin speaking, Wolf broke the silence.

"Listen," he said, tearing his gray eyes away from their stare at the doorway. "You don't have to say anything. This is your call. It's what you need to do. We both knew that this group wouldn't be together forever…" his voice lowered to a whisper. "… It's one of the untold horrors of war."

Biting her lower lip, Slicer gripped her hands tighter, their knuckles becoming white from tension. Releasing her hold, she suddenly gripped his hands with a firmness that portrayed her sadness more so then any words. "I don't want to leave, honestly I don't…"

"I know. Hell Slicer, I wouldn't want to keep you from a career opportunity where you could be blasting Imps three times over what you're doing here. Talk of a major offensive seems to be in the air… I hope you get to the front lines."

Buccaneer's former executive officer smiled but a tear ran down her flush cheeks. "I don't… stang… I'll miss everyone so much. Guardian, Corsair Leader, Rogue Leader… all the way down to the punk kids like you who think they own the skies." Wolf chuckled slightly and she joined him, but it lasted but a short time.

"This grand gathering… this circle of friends we have here… I'll remember it forever. I've had the time of my life. I know I'll spend many nights alone out there, thinking of all of you… I know I'll cry… me… you believe it?" Wolf gave her hands a slight squeeze. "I believe it. I've seen a softer side of you," he hesitated. "Once in a while."

Again they laughed together. "I'll never forget it, as long as I may live…" she looked deep in his eyes. "You won't forget me… will you?"

The Corellian pilot looked at her seriously for a second, then shook his head slowly. "I'll never forget. I could never forget."

"You have that about you Wolf. You don't forget… I know that now," she gently pulled Wolf's locket out from around his neck. "I don’t want to die alone kid," she said and reached into her pocket.

Wolf looked away. "My sister said that too…"

"I know Wolf, I know. Here"- she squeezed a metal chip into his hand-"If I die, please… just, someday think of me, and remember." Wolf promised her that he would. The chronometer beeped.

Slicer looked at it quickly and stared at the floor again. "I have to go… I just have to… I don't want to say it… oh kid, goodbye."

"No," he said quickly and looked her strait in the eye. "No goodbyes. They mean that I'll never see you again. I’ll see you around."

Slicer sniffed. "Yeah, right… see you around kid."

She stood up and went to the door, but then turned back, smiling. "And every time I see a junky old Z-95, I'll think of you. Maybe I'll even hail it, just to see if it's your voice I hear…" She trailed off, unable to go on. Wolf looked at her, a smile of his own shining on his youthful face. "I'll be listening."

"I know… Wolf… I hope you find her… you deserve that." She smiled one last time and left.

As the door shut behind her Wolf hung his head and whispered, "Goodbye."

#

He had not gone to her departure. Wolf had long ago decided against seeing friends leave, because he knew that he would never see them again. Goodbyes were so final to him... he preferred to keep the hope that someday this ensemble would once again be sitting together at the sabacc table, nostalgic stories being retold. Wolf knew that would never happen.

He opened the clasp to his locket and flipped Jana's image off. The chip Slicer had given him would be used. He slipped it in, and the picture of Slicer sitting in the cockpit of Wolf's battered Z-95 Headhunter, smiling, shot up. Wolf smiled back at the image. She'd been fixing some broken component aboard the old starfighter when he'd taken the shot, using it as evidence against her I'd-never-be-caught-dead-in-that-thing statement towards his personal transport.

He closed the locket and placed it back under his flight tunic. Ordering another Kiola, Wolf closed his eyes: envisioning that sabacc game, seeing that era again, seeing it again for the first time. It was those ghosts that he'd never forget. He could not forget. Oh how he'd miss it, how he'd miss it all when this time was gone forever.