The Cardooine Aerospace Academy: Tale 2

Landing his B-wing in the CRS Liberty's main hangar, Prowler flicked his engines to standby, his repulsorlifts to full power and slowly settled the fighter on the hangar deck where the technician had been signaling him. He popped the fighter's canopy open and clambered down the ladder, his legs stiff from remaining motionless for several hours. The recon run with Bulldog had turned up nothing, just another six hours of quiet and boring travel through empty space.

He headed to the Lounge to relax and have a drink before crashing into his quarters. He cleared the threshold between the corridor and the Lounge a few minutes later and was greeted all around by ten pilots or so. What the hell?!

Then he remembered something and felt like slapping himself across the head for forgetting that he would be continuing the story he'd started the previous night.

Lots of' pilots here tonight. Guess that yesterday's audience blabbered about my story, he thought, as he walked to the bar, ordering a mug of lum instead of rye whiskey. His throat was dry and in need of moisture, plus the fact that he knew this tale was going to take a while. He was also very thirsty. Mixer handed him his drink and he took a long pull at it, letting the icy-cold fermented brew soothe his dehydrated entrails. He then turned around, smiled theatrically to Condor, Darklighter, Kid and Vids and then turned to the new group of interested listeners: Bulldog, Kallysto, Animal, Hellcat and Syntax. Huh? Syntax? What's he doing here?

"Um, Syntax, why are you here? You're a droid," he asked, perplexed.

"How perceptive of you to notice," answered the droid, in his closest approximation of a sarcastic tone of voice. The others chuckled. "But to answer your question, I'm here to assimilate data on my flight partners. My programming always suggests that knowing your surroundings is a good way to be 'comfortable' in them. You don't mind my being here, I hope?"

Prowler shook his head slightly, "No. Stay. Please. The more that are here now, the less I will have to repeat my story tomorrow." The droid nodded and sat down.

Prowler set himself and said, "Gentlemen. What I am about to tell you is part of my past… a past that I try as often as possible to forget, as it brings back dreaded memories. While I will never truly forget them, I will temporarily ignore them while with you, fighting against the Empire and for freedom. So, for this evening, I am sharing with you my past and would appreciate you paying much attention to my story so that I do not have to repeat myself many times over."

The ten pilots seated around him nodded in silence.

Prowler grabbed a self-conforming seating-pouch and plopped himself into it and took a deep breath. "I believe I will name the second part of this tale: Challenges."

The visit of my family made me completely reorganize my train of thought and my values in life. So far, loyalty and trust had never hit me "smack on" in the face, due to the fact that I was extremely interested in the commercial spying side of my parents business. (Spies should never really be trusted. Just look at Imperial Agent 00-Imp.)

But when I realized that all I was doing was being a childish brat and throwing away something much more valuable than money or commercial value, friendship and life experience, I looked inside myself and almost barfed. It was time for a change, a major change.

From that point on I radically altered my social behavior. My tone of voice with my superiors was no longer scornful, but filled with respect, as I realized with my new views that the experience and knowledge these men and women had to offer could save my life - and has, very often. My assignments were given back on time and I became respectful with my comrades, compromising when our opinions didn't coincide.

My teammates couldn't believe how I had changed and soon we became, quite definitely, the best friends one could have. Real, genuine compadres. Our team scores rose far beyond what we had ever hoped for and teamwork became a natural stance for us. We did everything together; as the training instructors told us we'd have to.

It had been a year and a half that I was at the academy and soon came the time for a real, live-fire combat session against the other teams at the academy.

Around forty teams of men and women, including ours, were sent out into the great tropical forest that covered a quarter of the equatorial continent. We were given a blaster power-pack belt, a blaster carbine permanently locked on "stun", a blaster with the same, protein-boosted rations for a day and other survival equipment.

Our goal was to make our way to a secret air base, conveniently located somewhere in the middle of the forest, to survive our way there without getting stunned by another team, which would result in our elimination from the tournament, then get to the fighters there and then proceed to accomplish a mission in those fighters, which would be specified to us once inside the secret air base.

Believe me when I say my teammates and I prepared for this exercise. We trained like nutcases for two months prior to the start of the mission. We reviewed ground tactics by the ton, put them into practice against our training officers in the field and survived, pretty much, two-thirds of the time. We also started tactical situation analysis, to be able to modify our plans at any given time during a mission, if a crisis arose.

We advanced our scouting and reconnaissance techniques and practiced all of our combat skills until our own physical restrictions made us stop.

And soon enough, the day came.

Dawn that day was wet and foggy, as it seems to be on every single day that is really important in life.

A personnel carrier flew us and fifty other teams up to an altitude of 6000 feet over the forest, where we jumped off in repulsorlift parachutes, one team at a time.

Soon, my team's turn to jump came and I ran out the rear hatch of the craft. The void tugged at me as I plummeted for the ground below. At the preset altitude, the parachute opened, breaking my descent in a sharp tug and slowly I sailed towards the surface. A few minutes later, my team and I were quickly eliminating any traces of our landing in the woods nearby. We cut out our parachutes and folded them up to use as blankets or as a short-notice roof. We then used our SatPos (Satellite Positioning) units to make our way across the planned intervals we'd given ourselves, reducing our distance to the base by twenty-four kilometers. I distinctly recall thinking, Only another 95 km left… a joyride.

For those of you that do not know me well, I confess that sarcasm is always evident in my voice.

Our instructors had told us that the first day or so would be calm, as the forty teams would each be starting off from where they had landed. It would be when we all reached the twenty-five kilometer radius perimeter that surrounded the airbase that all hell would break loose.

Again, they were right.

The next two days were calm, punctuated occasionally by a spike of fear and adrenaline as a hunting carnivore would jet past us, hot on the tail of a keffa, the local small, yet swiftly quick, herbivore. We fed on keffa beast, hunting them with our knives, as a stun-blast is much to imprecise to shoot down a small and nimble creature. They're actually very good, when you can find a decent chunk of meat through their bony bodies.

We could, of course, have eaten our protein-boosted rations on the first day, but we decided against it, keeping our most nutritious bit of food for the last day of the exercise.

The fourth day was when the action started.

We saw another team run by on the opposite side of a mountain ridge, as they jogged quickly to the bottom of the hill. Somehow, they hadn't noticed us. I've always though it was because of the sun that was behind us, even though we were in a great forest.

We followed them for two kilometers or so, right until they stopped at the edge of a river, where they were probably going to refill their gourds. Mach and I climbed up in a huge tree, making our way above them for a clear head shot, while Chrizze and Cloud crawled along the ground to circle them. It took exactly six stun shots to knock them down and one more to still the person that was twitching.

We then signaled the supervising pickup crafts to come and grab the silent team. They arrived fifteen minutes later, took their four new passengers and told us that we could take what we needed of their equipment. We appropriated the remaining foodstuffs they had and a few blaster power packs. They then took off as if they hadn't been there, leaving us to continue the exercise.

We kept on going for the day, more cautious then than ever before, as the encounter with the other team had alerted us to the action to come.

We heard several blaster fights going on for the next day. They were at a fair distance, obviously, as we had to strain to hear them clearly. We avoided them as best we could, but eventually our luck came up short and another team ambushed us. Blue flares of coherent energy erupted from carbine nozzles all around us; the only warning we would get.

Incidentally, all four of the members of our team had developed a rather bizarre technique to circumvent the effect of being knocked to the ground by a stun shot. It involves developing the reflex of jumping into the air as soon as you hear or see the shot being fired. More often than anything, the stun shot will hit you lower on the body than the attacker would believe, therefore avoiding a knockout shot to the head or the torso. While you're legs might be suddenly asleep, you can still move and you are still conscious.

What happened was that we fell to the ground as if the other team had knocked us out, but when they approached us to contact the transport, we stunned them. The personnel transport arrived to pick them up and then we took off, now within twenty-five kilometers of the airbase.

Somehow, we made our way to the airbase without any further encounters with other teams. We were exhausted beyond our belief and the five hours of sleep offered to us by the personnel on the base before we'd be given our briefing for the mission were accepted with gratitude.

On a side note: of the forty teams that were launched into the woods, eleven successfully made their way to the air base. We were the fourth team to arrive.

I awoke from the two hours of sleep feeling groggy and terribly sloth-like. But two glasses of juri-juice and a body filled with adrenaline later, I was pepped up and ready for anything the CAA's roughnecks could throw at me, and so we're my comrades.

Prowler lowered his head silently and inhaled a deep, calming breath. He looked up a few seconds later, his eyes shining in the dark room, their rims a crimson color. He nodded once and said, "So far, this tale is just the recounting of my youth and there are no reasons for me to be 'leaking from the eyes'." He shook his head, "But that part will come soon, you'll see."

The other all leaned back in their seats and stared at him as he cleared his throat.

"I think you've heard enough for tonight, my friends, and that you've had a bit too much to drink, " he added with a smirk.

"Naw…that just ain't true," slurred Condor, his voice thick with the effects of alcohol, "I'm still gud t' go fer sum more."

The pilots all laughed as Prowler said, "Perhaps, but your attention is always divided at this point in the night. I think I'll pursue the story during our next free evening."

Condor shrugged, "Suit 'urself, but I wuz havin' a jolly gud time."

At that, the pilots all stumbled out of the Lounge, on the verge of being roaring drunk and stumbling constantly, ready to let dreams roam their minds for a few hours.