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Consolation and Loss

Captain Roy 'Lock' Callahan, Captain Gemilan "Gremlin" and 2nd Lt Namieh "Tattoo" Calyse

[ Bacta Tank; FRG Redemption; Endor System; Six Hours after Battle ]

As consciousness began to drift through his mind, Roy “Lock” Callahan was mildly aware that he was floating.

The first hints of his return were the twitches of his fingers and toes, which were detected by the medical droid that was assigned to watch the bacta tank. The sour taste of bacta clued the pilot into his predicament even before he opened his eyes and they were invaded by the stinging miracle liquid.

Wait. He’d used bacta before and it never stung.

Something was wrong.

He began to look around, squinting his eyes in an attempt to see outside of the glass, but the green tint of the bacta made it difficult. The mask he wore was oppressive, and though he knew that he was getting enough air, it didn’t feel that way. Trapped, Lock kicked at the window, doing everything possible to resist the urge to rip the mask off of his face.

There was no need for Lock to kick the glass, in the droid’s humble opinion, considering that it had already begun the process of extracting the human.

Above Lock, a small hatch opened on the top of the Bacta tank. What he should’ve done was wait for the mechanical arm to descend and connect to the vest that Lock and his mask were rigged to but the pilot was desperate to get out. Swimming to the bottom of the tank, Lock touched the bottom with his feet and impulsed himself outwards and emerged from the liquid, splashing a ton of bacta over the sides. He flailed a little bit as he smacked the robotic arm away and tried to pull his body out.

Lock successfully slammed onto the floor next to the tank. Sweet victory! The pilot groaned in pain--maybe he would think it through next time. Realistically speaking... probably not.

“Lieutenant,” the droid was saying. “You are not following proper procedure. Please return to the tank so I may extract you properly.”

“Kriff that,” Lock said as he pulled himself up off the floor and the puddle that had formed where he had landed. His whole body ached from the fall, but that wasn’t what was bothering him. His whole head itched!

Stumbling, he ignored the droid’s protests by ripping the mask off of his face and stripped off the constricting vest until he was wearing nothing but a pair of bacta-soaked boxers and found his way over to a mirror, leaving wet footprints behind him. He placed both hands on the wall to hold himself up and he looked at himself. HIs expression turned from confusion and discomfort to horror.

His black hair was slowly changing to white; beginning with the roots, color slowly disappeared until there was only white.

“Oh... Frak…”

<>

[ Lock’s Room ]

“... You’re lucky to be alive,” Doctor Ghelex Phven said.

“Heard you the first time, doc,” Lock replied without looking at the besalisk doctor, passing a finger over one of his now white eyebrows.. He was much too preoccupied with his reflection to pay too much attention to the four-armed alien. Apart from his hair--all over his body--turning white, he also sported a new scar just under his left eye from when his head had hit the transparisteel cockpit on his way out. What would Aruithil think of him now?

Lock had received new clothes since all of his things had left with the Home One, ironically around the same time he was waking up. He’d been given a pilot’s uniform, a size too big so it looked baggy on his frame. The only one of his personal belongings that he still had was the leather jacket he wore for good luck--and as luck would have it, he’d been wearing it when he’d ejected from his X-Wing. It still had the Red Squadron and the personalized unofficial Red Leader patch Gremlin had made for him on it, one on each side..

“I’m serious, Captain. Most cases of bad bacta end in the patient’s death, or at least a severe allergy to it, but you… you’re lucky that the only thing that changed was the color of your hair,” the large being continued. One of his hands held a datapad, while two others jotted notes down. “It’s just hair, Captain.”

“It’s First Lieutenant, actually,” Lock answered as he turned around to face Phven. The doctor was a head taller than the Corellian. Reaching up to his chest with his right hand, Lock ripped off the brevet captain rank pips he’d held as Red Leader and tossed the square piece of metal up so that Phven could catch it. “And call me Lock.”

“Right, Capt--Lieuten--Lock,” the doctor fumbled his words as he attempted to catch what the pilot had tossed into the air. Lock smirked, looking amused. “You can’t just give me these!”

“What about Fate?” Lock asked, ignoring the Besalik’s complaints.

Phven looked confused. “Fate? That’s, ah, not exactly my area of expertise--”

“No, no… Fate. R2-F8. Eff-Eight. Fate,” Lock clarified for the doctor.

“Ah! Not my area of expertise, either, but, let me see,” he said as he lifted his datapad closer to his face and scrolled through it briefly. “Ah! Yes. R2-F8, destroyed alongside X-Wing Gold Six… oh! Oh dear.”

“What? What happened?”

He handed Lock the datapad, “I’m afraid it’s not good news. This is the report on what could be salvaged from the onboard computer.”

Lock’s eyes passed over the text, quickly taking in the details. As he did his heart sunk and a terrible feeling of guilt overcame him. According to this, Lock had taken too long to get clear of the shockwave created by the second Death Star’s explosion. A piece of the frame had hit his X-Wing from behind, destroying his engines, his left S-Foil and decapitating Fate in the process. In his last act, Fate manually ejected Lock from the cockpit, which was mostly intact (but wouldn’t be as soon as what was left of his fighter exploded). The canopy didn’t open correctly, which is where the scar under his left eye came from. He was picked up within minutes and had spent the last few hours in bacta.

The report included an excerpt of the last lines of memory from the X-Wing’s computer, translated into galactic Basic: We did it. It was an honor, you idiot. MTFBWY.

Lock returned the datapad to the doctor, his expression cold. It was a lot to process. The whole battle, losing his Squadron, his X-Wing, even his astromech. It felt like he had nothing left.

“There’s no reason to keep you here. I’m sure that you can find a transport down to the planet’s surface, I hear they’ve built a base for everyone who… has nowhere else to go. Until they get new orders.”

“Yeah,” Lock didn’t even look at him. He snorted and shook his head saying, “Thanks, doc.”

“I’ll leave you be then, Capt-Lieuten-ah-Lock,” though Phven fumbled his words again, this time Lock didn’t snicker. The doctor cleared his throat, “ Ahem. So, you can take the time you like, but, ah, the nurses will be coming by soon to prep the room.”

“I’ll be out of your hair soon enough, doc,” Lock said, finally turning towards the large alien. “Maybe you could do one last thing for me before we part ways.”

Phven raised a brow, “What do you need?”

“I just need to check the list for some names.”

<>

[ Tattoo’s U-Wing; Surface of Endor’s Moon ]

Night descended on the forest moon of Endor, but the work wasn't done. 2nd Lieutenant Namieh "Tattoo" Calyse flicked on the spotlight attached to her helmet, cutting through the dark with a bright beam that illuminated the wreckage she stood beside. Hours after the final shot had been fired, she and other members of the SAR team still toiled in the hostile wilds long past dusk.

Above her the trees towered higher than she dared to guess like the many skyscrapers on Coruscant, hiding any number of strange creatures in the shadows of their branches. She could hear them. Even over the jarring noises of the recovery operations, she could hear the strange animal calls. Any one of them could be an enemy in wait, but she tried to put it out of her mind.

She breathed heavily in the humidity with her light pointed low, avoiding the shattered remains of the personnel pod jammed into the trunk of the tree several storeys up. When she had first come across it, she'd known instantly there was no one left to be saved. After so many years, you learn to recognize it, to save yourself the heartbreak of prying another of those twisted capsules open to find only viscera inside. Technology could only do so much for hard impacts. She couldn't know which of the large ships it had come from, only that it was one of their own.

Her mind drifted while she radioed the pod status, relaying codes she had given hundreds of times. The work hung heavy on her shoulders.

Leoran was out there somewhere. He had failed to report in with his unit after the Nautilian exploded. Every moment she scoured the battlefield, thoughts of him lingered in her mind. Was he lost? Hurt? Or perhaps in pieces like the-- no! Until his body was recovered, she would not think of it. Could not think of it.

The very idea made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, and she fought a suddenly overwhelming sense of nausea. Where had the weight come from that crushed her ribs, that made her heart beat as if to free itself from her chest? "Get ahold of yourself!" She begged quietly.

"Repeat?" Asked the voice in her ear.

Tattoo cursed, staggering away from the massive tree and into the knee-deep foliage. "All good, over," she lied.

Ferns grew thick and abundantly on the ground level among other plants she didn't recognize, brushing her legs through the suit she wore with each crunching step upon the loam. As darkness descended, the fog took on an especially disorienting quality that even her headlight couldn't fully pierce. She sank to her knees, dropping onto all fours with a shuddering gasp.

If he never came back, she would be all alone. Again. All that training, all her compartmentalizing began to fail as the realization began to hit. Tachycardia. Hyperventilation. Vertigo. Instinctively she began an assessment, ticking off the symptoms even as her head swam. Focus on the patient, herself in this case. Distancing made this process easier, made the spiraling thoughts possible to cope with. The work. The work must still be done. Others in the wreckage. Tattoo took long, slow breaths and counted to ten. She could do this.

"L-T. You're needed back at the Redemption," hissed the radio in her ear. "Packages secure. Nearing bingo fuel."

Another breath. "Copy that, I'm headed home. Keep the lights on for me."

<>

[ Gremlin’s Room; FRG Redemption ]

It was quiet in the small room. Not the deep silence of space - the gentle hum of the ship’s ion engines, overlaid by the beep of medical machinery, saw to that - but there was peace, of a sort, in the near-sterile environment. Gremlin sat on the narrow bed, hugging her knees to her chest, and tried to think of …. nothing. Not the time she’d spent EV, alone in the void while the battle continued around her. Certainly not the deaths of ‘her’ cadets …. she shook her head violently to dispel the sounds she couldn’t hear and tried to think of something more positive. Of her friends in Red - no, her friends who used to be in Red Squadron. She’d been separated with them for the duration of the battle. Hopefully they were all right.

Hopefully they were all alive.

The door hissed open, making her jump, but at least it stopped her unnerving train of thought. A large Besalisk entered, wearing the nametag ‘Dr Phven’. Gremlin unwound her arms and sat up, trying to look competent and in control - or as controlled as she could be in a flimsy medical gown. The doctor squinted at his datapad, tapping it with one pen while writing a note with his third hand. “Lieutenant Gemilan?”

“It’s Flight Officer, actually. But call me Gremlin, doctor - everyone does.” She pasted on a smile and tried to relax, letting her pheromones work their occasional magic. One way or another, she was getting out of this room and off this ship. One way or another, she was going to find her friends.

The Besalisk shifted, blinking, while the wattle on his head inflated slightly. “Um - G-Gremlin.” He cleared his throat and, trying to regain his composure, leaned forwards to study the readouts on the monitors. “So, how are you feeling?”

“Better. Much better, thank you.” She leaned forwards, letting the gown slip halfway off one slim, red shoulder. “The bacta really helped.”

The doctor eyed her closely. “Bacta - yes. Um - was your hair … er, always that colour?”

“My hair?” Gremlin picked up one dark purple strand, still damp from the bacta, and frowned at it, mystified by the question. “Yes, it’s always been like this.”

“Oh. That’s good. That’s very good!” The doctor looked …. relieved? Before Gremlin could say anything more, he hurried on. “Well, your physical readouts are within normal parameters for your species, but I want you to have a full checkup before being returned to flight status to make sure you’re completely fit. That won’t be for a few days, though; we’re focusing on critical injuries first. Take some time to relax - apparently there are celebrations under way on Endor, so you may want to find transport down to the moon - and you’ll receive a message calling you back for your medical in due course.”

“That sounds perfect, doctor. Thank you.” Gremlin all but purred the words, not caring where she went as long as she could track down her squadmates. The Besalisk eyed her closely.

“Remember, Gremlin, it’s normal to experience symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares or anxiety after being part of something as traumatic as this battle. If you have any of these, I’d recommend avoiding alcohol or other stimulants and immediately seek help from qualified medical personnel. Do you understand?”

“Yes, doctor. I understand, doctor. Do you have any clothes I can wear, please? My old flightsuit isn’t fit for anything now.” Gremlin hopped down from the bed, causing the gown to fall off her other shoulder. The Besalisk backed away, looking flustered.

“Yes - in here ….” He pushed a button and a locker door opened, revealing a neat pile of orange X-wing flightsuits. “Find one that fits you and please remember to take the rest of your personal possessions with you. The nurses will be along soon to prep this room for the next occupant.”

Shortly afterwards, the door hissed open again and a pilot stepped into the corridor of the Nebulon-B medical frigate. Her borrowed flightsuit was turned up several times at the ankles and wrists; it bloused over her grey webbing belt, making her look like a child carrying an adult’s accoutrements - flak vest, ejection harness, chestbox, helmet. She caught her foot on one folded cuff and stumbled, losing her grip on her helmet, which fell to the deck with a clang.

An older man, wearing a brown jacket over a pilot’s uniform, levered himself off the opposite wall and retrieved the lid, holding it out to her with a lopsided smile. “Thanks ….” Gremlin began, but something about the smile made her stop. And the jacket - that patch, the Red Leader patch, she knew that patch - but his hair was white, pure white, as were his eyebrows …..

It couldn’t be him. Could it?

Lock?!

“Hey, Grem.” The smile - cocky and infuriating as ever - yes, that was him. “D’you like the hair?”

“It’s …. you’re …..” She was struggling to take it in. “It’s gone white!”

“Bad bacta. Apparently I’m lucky to be alive.” He shrugged one shoulder, seemingly unconcerned, but Gremlin’s mind was working overtime. She couldn’t stop herself; the question had to be asked.

“Is it white - everywhere?”

He tossed the helmet to her; she caught it by reflex. “That’s need to know, Gremlin. C’mon. We have Reds to find.”

That brought her out of her temporary paralysis, opening the door for a flood of memories she’d momentarily managed to forget. “The squad - how are they? Did they all make it?” Her normally ruddy skin was a pale pink. She reached out, putting one hand on the Corellian’s arm. “Tell me, Lock. Are they all alive?”

He hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah. For now, at least. C’mon. I know where most of them are - the doc told me what he knew of their whereabouts.”

“So where are they?” She fell into step beside him, clutching her gear.

“Most jumped out with Home One when she left but one of them is here, on the Redemption.” Lock met her gaze squarely. “It’s Angel, Gremlin. She’s … not good.”

<>

[ Angel’s Room ]

Jeni “Angel” Courtner had always been a beautiful woman, but that beauty was now hidden behind a respirator mask as her small body floated in the tank of blue green liquid. That in itself was worrisome, but not as much--not even close--as the two enormous sets of bandages that covered one of her legs and part of her chest, hiding the gruesome wounds that the young woman had received escaping the exploding Death Star.

Guilt invaded Lock as he watched her hanging there between life and death. Next to him, Gremlin covered her mouth, aghast in horror at the state of her friend.

He wanted to apologize to Angel. Tell her that their roles should be reversed. It had been his decision to turn around when he heard that Gnoizic was under fire. Maybe if he’d kept going he could have been there… No, even if he had, that meant that he more than likely would’ve died and she still would’ve received these wounds. Lock had read the report before he’d gone to get Gremlin. He knew that there were two reasons that she was even alive--firstly, her superb flying skills, and secondly, the A-Wing’s compact size. An X-Wing would never have made it through that gap as its S-Foils made it too wide.

After a few moments of silence Lock began, “I…”

“Excuse me!”

He was interrupted immediately by a Chadra-Fan in a nurse’s uniform. The rodent-like alien forced her way between Lock and Gremlin’s legs, huffing angrily as she did and speaking with a high-pitched squeak. “Excuse me! You’re not supposed to be in here! This is a restricted area! Please leave immediately!”

“Now listen here you little sh--” Lock began but was again cut off, this time by a much deeper voice, one he recognized. A large hand was placed on Lock’s shoulder.

“Give them a moment, Nurse, this is their friend,” said Doctor Phven.

“I don’t care if they are her friends! I have to prep Lieutenant Courtner for surgery! If they are truly her friends, they’ll get out. Now!”

Lock and Gremlin looked back to look at the Besalisk doctor who could only smile apologetically at them. He shrugged, “We do need to prep her,” Phven offered.

Gremlin made a move to leave but stopped when she realized that Lock hadn’t budged. The older pilot turned back towards the Chadra-Fan nurse, “You are the rudest rodent I’ve ever met--and I’ve been to Coruscant!”

“Kiss my hairy ass, flyboy!” she called out as they left. The door closed before Lock could fire off another reply.

“Will she … be okay, doctor?” Gremlin asked tentatively.

Phven let out a heavy sigh. “Both of you are strong, but have seen enough loss today, and I would wish that I can spare you from more… but I cannot lie to neither of you. Lieutenant Courtner’s chances are slim.” Behind Phven, Lock punched the wall. “Something penetrated the hull of her A-Wing and passed through her leg and chest. We will have to replace several organs, bone, muscle… few are able to survive these surgeries. The chances are...”

“We don’t want to hear the chances,” Gremlin said, rather sternly this time. It was out of character, Lock noticed, but didn’t say anything. “Will she make it?

“If she is strong enough…”

“She is, doc,” This time it was Lock’s turn to interrupt. “You do your part… she’ll do hers.”

“Yes, but--”

“We have a transport to catch. We leave her in your many capable hands, doc,” Lock said, already starting to walk away. There was no point in continuing the conversation. All he would do was tell them to prepare for the worst. The worst? They lived every day prepared for ‘the worst.’ If she did her job, Angel would make it. She was a fighter, after all. She had made it out of that Death Star when nearly anyone else would’ve just let themselves die.

“You heard him, doctor,” Gremlin gave Phven a defiant smile. After a quick “thanks!” she ran off after Lock.

<>

[ Hangar; FRG Redemption ]

Standing alone beside the open airlock at the rear of her U-wing, Tattoo leaned against the cold surface of its hull. Others might find the chill unpleasant, but to her it was familiar, reassuring. She wanted that, in the moment. Datapad in one hand, she scrolled through the information on the glowing screen though her eyes remained still, unmoving. She wasn’t reading the log she flipped through, focused somewhere else deep inside. The cacophonous din that was the other pilots and crew sharing the Flight Deck was but white noise.

Gone. Everything changed in a day. In an evening. A single battle. Some part of her knew that there should be tears, that crying was a normal part of loss. Her eyes remained clear, staring through the datapad rather than at it without watering in the slightest. She was… sad. Yes, she was sure of that. Boogie was gone, dead. Silver was gone in a crisis of faith, of purpose. Leoran was missing. Her chest felt tight, a cold hand curled around her very core. This was sadness, self-analysis surmised. Nothing else made sense of the numb emptiness that she truly felt.

"Ready to go?" Digger's voice gave her a start, and she looked up to greet the Dug that peeked through the open porthole as he continued. "Nearly topped up."

"Almost." She answered, glancing back to the datapad. "Start preflight checks for me and I'll meet you inside."

Digger gave a salute with one foot and disappeared from the airlock. Tattoo exhaled heavily, looking back to the screen she held. Enough dawdling.

Sitting on the flight deck, not too far away from the U-Wing were four men in orange pilot’s flight suits awaiting their transport to the forest moon of Endor. The oldest member of the group caught sight of the U-Wing’s pilot and stood up, tossing a bag over his shoulder and making his way over to her. The other three, human as well, followed him.

“Good evening, Lieutenant,” the man said, his tone pleasant. He seemed to be in a rather good mood--which was something, considering that if he was a pilot, on this ship, in need of a ride, he’d most likely been shot down in the battle--in other words, a breath away from death. They’d been brought to the Redemption for their obligatory bacta dunk after exposure to the void of space. In fact…

“Hey, don’t I know you?” asked one of the men, a blonde pilot with an easy smile. “I’m Ranger. I think you picked me up!”

Tattoo heard these men approach and this time wasn't taken by surprise, looking up with a patently neutral expression. As the first spoke, she offered him a smile that failed to reach her eyes. She opened her mouth to reply when the blonde pilot interrupted, drawing a cool stare Ranger's way while he identified himself. When she realized the reason behind his outburst, her face softened and the tired grin she flashed was genuine.

"Ranger, right, I remember you. Good to see you're already back on your feet, flyboy," she answered and tucked the datapad under one arm, reaching to shake his hand with the other. "It's Tattoo, but everyone just calls me 'Tatt'. Headed planetside?"

“I’m Zoom. You picked up Ranger? Look for me planetside, I’ll buy you a drink!” said the first man, reaching towards her hand and clasped her hand. Zoom had a friendly nature about him, relaxed, which was quite the juxtaposition compared to the A-Wing that he specialized in piloting. “And I’ll make sure that Ranger buys you two more.”

The men laughed. The youngest of the group pushed his way to the front, “Hey, Tatt! I’m Leo! Nice to meet you!”

The last man grunted at Leo tried to push past him and pushed Leo behind him. “Hey, watch it, Leo! Just because she’s cute doesn’t mean--”

“I didn--I mean-- You--Damn you, Biggs!” Leo was as red as a Zeltron now and retired to the back of the group, much to Biggs’ pleasure.

Tattoo let her hand fall back to her side, watching the men laugh and jostle one another. Camaraderie. It made her think of better times and with those came a gentle rush of delight. To be acknowledged as someone's savior never failed to lift her spirits. This was why she did it, why she risked her life to pull people from the wreckage: the happiness on their faces was its own reward. Though, a few free drinks never hurt.

Leo. Her smile fell and her heart sank with it. The pilots continued to speak, but the moment that name hit the air, Tattoo felt as though the wind had been knocked from her. She was no longer paying them attention, visibly dissociating for a second before instinctively slapping the lid on those particular thoughts. This was not the time, not the place. Her smile returned, albeit dimmed, on a face as lifelike as a mask.

"Nice to meet you guys, too," she inclined her head with a toss of rich auburn hair. "I'll take all the drinks your credits will buy." That expression turned cheeky as she spoke, returning from the shade of herself she had briefly become. "Long as you promise your flying will be better next time around."

Zoom seemed to be the first to catch onto Tattoo’s momentary lapse. He offered her a warm smile, “We promise, Tatt. Thank you for everything you do.” He sought out her eyes and gave her a knowing nod before boarding the U-Wing.

Ranger followed, “Thanks again!” he said to her. Biggs offered a curt nod and a smile. Leo, on the other hand, was still embarrassed by what had happened a few seconds ago. “S-sorry, B-Biggs can be an a-ass. Thank you, miss!” He rushed onboard and at that moment it looked like that was it.

She was about to board herself when someone called out from behind, “Wait!”

Tattoo paused with her foot on the ramp, tossing a look back over her shoulder at the insistent voice. A girl, Zeltron by the look of her, and a man whose shockingly white hair made her wonder what he was. By their haste, they were eager to be off and that suited her just fine.

The two pilots dashed across the flight deck, one in an oversized flight suit and the other wearing a brown pilot’s uniform and leather jacket. It had been the woman wearing the flight suit who had called out, a red skinned real-life Zeltron, not an embarrassed young human. Both reached Tattoo, breathing heavily. As much as bacta could do for someone, it still wasn't enough to cure the build-up of fatigue caused by battle.

“Got room… for two more?” asked the male.

"You're in luck, I have a couple seats free," she nodded without bothering to face them, resuming her ascent into the U-Wing's interior. "Hurry up and strap in, we're leaving in five."

The first thing they heard when they boarded the U-Wing was Ranger, “Lock! You nerf-head!”

A fist landed on the man-now-identified-as-Lock’s shoulder, followed by laughs from Zoom, Biggs, and Leo. “Kriff it, Ranger! What in Corellia’s nine fracking hells!”

“You know what that was for, you missed your shot!” Ranger retorted.

Lock rolled his eyes, evidently accepting Ranger’s reasoning. “Well, damn, I’m sorry, I sort of had a squint trying to cook me at the time.”

“So did I! That was the whole point of the maneuver!”

“Look, I got him after--happy?”

“I will be! After you buy me a drink!”

“Fine!” Lock snorted and moved towards one of the seats, giving Tattoo a look and a shrug, accompanied by a cocky grin. “What can you do?”

The Zeltron next to Lock elbowed him as she passed in front, giving him a sweet but insincere smile. “Oops!” She made her way over to Tattoo with a grin, “Hi! I’m Gremlin! I know it’s a short ride, but… need a co-pilot?”

"Tattoo," she answered reflexively without looking back to acknowledge the approaching woman. Once she sat in the cockpit, she no longer cared for unimportant matters like manners. There was a job to do and like the switches she flipped with a brush of her fingers, Tattoo changed. Ice-blue eyes flickered over the instruments, triple-checking the readings Digger had already confirmed on her way in.

"Hm? Co-pilot?" That drew her attention. She cast a glance at the Dug, her one remaining crewmember, who had taken a seat among the pilots in the back. He was chatting animatedly with the pilot callsigned Biggs, though over the noise of several concurrent conversations, she couldn't make out their words. Digger was capable of doing the job, but it was not his preferred role.

"Uh, well, I guess mine isn't up for the trip this time. Sure, hop on in. You ever flown one of these before?"

Gremlin shook her head, “Never flown a U-Wing, but I’m familiar with the X-Wing. I think Incom builds both? Shouldn’t be too hard!” The red skinned pilot was immediately in the co-pilot’s chair. Truth was that one pilot could easily fly this ship, a co-pilot just made it easier. “I’ve been looking forward to seeing the moon. It’d been a while since I saw a *green* planet. Last planet Red was stationed at was a brown swamp.”

Tattoo nodded absently, listening to her while she multi-tasked. At the press of a button, the ship around them began to vibrate as the U-Wing’s fusial thrust engines spooled up on command. Their familiar hum soothed that aching rend in her heart, if only just slightly. Noting the mention of Red Squadron and the absence of Red insignia on Gremlin’s oversized gear, she filed the discrepancy away as likely insignificant, though her curiosity had been piqued.

“It is that,” she replied. “Green. Everywhere you look, there’s more of it. Trees bigger than I’ve seen anywhere else. Kind of nuts, actually. Digger, we look good back there?” Calling over her shoulder, Tattoo pulled the safety belt down over her chest and then checked to see if Gremlin did the same; the Zeltron flashed a quick thumbs up.

After a brief lull in the chatter at her back, Digger replied in his raspy drone. “Everything stowed away, El-Tee.”

Tattoo nodded and radioed the controllers to ask permission for lift-off. Through the plasteel windshield, the flight deck was abuzz with activity. Brightly uniformed crew filtered between those dressed in drab mechanic garb, massive storage crates piled alongside stationary craft while ships navigated the narrow flyway above. It was a chaotic scene for anyone unaccustomed to it, but for her, the Redemption was as close to home as she had come in a very long time.

The U-Wing seemed to leap at the chance to fly again, powerful engines crackling even at impulse as it slowly rose above the deck. Like a cat, she seemed to stretch in the short taxi between where she had been parked and the glowing, shielded exit. She was a craft built for speed, for maneuverability, and Tattoo had but to lean on the yoke and the U-Wing slipped forward effortlessly. Only once they were clear of the airlock did she apply the throttle. Though the cabin dampened much of the rattling, she took off toward the verdant moon propelled by the roar of her engines.

<>

[ Ewok Village; Surface of Endor’s Moon ]

Tattoo had been right, Gremlin thought: Endor’s forest moon deserved its name. Shades of green were everywhere: in the lush foliage edging the landing-strip, the canopies of the huge trees stretching overhead … even the sky had a greenish tinge, or maybe that was just her eyes working overtime to process the colors. They’d touched down lightly, Tattoo’s skilful piloting winning appreciation from all aboard, but as they disembarked the Mirialan was already preparing for another flight. Since they’d been the last shuttle from the frigate that evening - hence their hurry to board - Gremlin wondered what Tatt was planning to do, but she turned her thoughts away from flying with an effort. Apparently there was a party going on ….

Turned out that the moon’s inhabitants, little furry creatures called Ewoks, threw what she later called “the best karking party in the galaxy!” For all that their homes were halfway up gigantic trees, with flimsy ropes the only barrier to falling from the wooden platforms, they had a surprisingly strong party ethic, allied to some equally strong home-brewed alcohol ladled from cauldrons into whatever people could find to use as cups. Each huge tree hosted its own celebration, rickety wooden bridges leading from one to the other; orange-flamed torches were lit as darkness descended. Overhead, the rustling leaves played counterpoint to the drumming and chanting of Ewoks marking their liberation from the Empire, though Gremlin was slightly shocked to realise that their “drums” were the empty helmets of Imperial troops.

“Apparently they’re vicious little things if you’re not careful,” Lock shouted in her ear, noting her expression. “Those troopers over there,” he waved to a small band of Rebel fighters in their camouflage ponchos, who were laughing uproariously as one of them tried to dance to the rhythm, “were telling me how they’d taken on a squad of stormtroopers and won!”

“Ha, we should get ‘em in an X-wing if they’re that good!” Their newest friend, Lieutenant John “Knight'' Vorwald, raised his wooden mug to some fellow pilots in their distinctive flightsuits. He didn’t recognise their squadron patches but he’d already downed several drinks and the fact that he was missing one eye, a result of injuries from the battle, meant he couldn’t see too well even before he’d started on the alcohol. Fresh out of bacta, sent down to the forest moon while medics focused on the most serious casualties, he was both celebrating victory and mourning his loss. “Though they’d have to grow a bit, I guess,” he mused, turning his head to get a better look at the Ewoks; he was already adapting to the loss of binocular vision.

“More than a bit!” Lock muttered, knocking back the rest of his drink and frowning at his empty mug. “Any chance of something not from this moon, d’you think? Grem? Hey, Gremlin …..”

Knight started laughing. “She’s over there, with those Ewoks - and she’s dancing!”

She was indeed. Swept along by the euphoria of survival, she had linked arms with a white-bearded trooper and was whirled into the dance, laughing as she passed to an A-wing pilot, then another trooper before ending amid a huddle of furry Ewoks who chattered at her in high-pitched voices as they bounced to the rhythm of the beat.

“Lock! Lock, get yourself over here!” Gremlin called, waving to the white-haired pilot. “C’mon, Knight, let’s dance!” She reached down to one of the Ewoks and clasped its paws, careful of the sharp-looking claws. It was like dancing with an excitable, though furry, child.

“I’ll go find some drink,” Lock grumbled. “You might as well keep her company, Knight. She won’t leave till the music stops.”

Knight didn’t complain. After so many years fighting and flying, so much death and destruction, the fact that he was alive to celebrate the end of the Empire was truly astounding. He joined the group of Rebels dancing with the Ewoks, pushing aside thoughts of his injury. Bacta had healed him; he’d get a prosthetic eye in the future; right now he just wanted to have fun.

As the music rose to a crescendo, he grabbed Gremlin’s hands and they started to spin, leaning back to counterbalance each other’s weight. Others were turning arm in arm, shouting, expressing their sheer joy at having survived. For Gremlin, the world shrank to a whirl: Knight’s grin, orange flames, the smell of campfires, shouts of laughter, all echoing memories too recent to be forgotten …. blinking cockpit lights, smoke from overheating components, her B-wing spinning, shrieks and cries coming from her commlink ….

The music came to an abrupt stop and she reeled away, stomach churning, to come to a halt against one of the rough-walled huts which ringed the platform. Gasping for breath, she leaned against the wood, taking comfort from its solidity as she fought back nausea while keeping her eyes closed.

“Hey, Gremlin - you all right?”

Slowly she peeled back her eyelids, squinting until her gaze settled on Knight’s bandaged face. “Y-yes. Yes, I’m fine.” She managed a more secure smile. “I am, honest.”

“Well ….” He didn’t sound entirely sure, but Lock appeared just then, clasping two bottles to his chest and holding a can of beer in his free hand.

“Found it! Found the Rebel stash. Or maybe it’s Imperial - who cares?” He nodded towards the bottles. “Wine … more wine … I’ve got more beer in my pockets - what d’you both want?”

Gremlin steadied her breathing and knew, more than anything, what she wanted. “Two livers or not, I want to get drunk. Really drunk. So we’re gonna need a lot of drink for each of us.” She took a bottle of wine from Lock; it was still strange to see him with white hair, but that was the least of her worries right now. “I’ll split the bets with you, all right? Alcohol only allowed.”

Knight looked from one to the other. “Are you talking … drinking games?”

“You better believe it.” Lock’s mouth curled in his trademark Corellian grin. “Never try to out-drink a Zeltron, man. Watch and learn. And you can help take the bets, if you want.”

<>

[ Tattoo’s U-Wing ]

"El-Tee?" Digger's voice crackled over the comm-link. "New orders: recovery ops suspended for the night. We're to head back to the village."

"But it's barely dark," Tattoo objected in vain.

"It's been hours since nightfall, Tatt." Digger softened his voice and gave her a serious look.

Every bone in Tattoo’s body told her to keep looking, that she was just about to find him. She stared back at Digger, noting the bags under his eyes, the way the Dug’s tired arms were struggling to support the rest of his body, and finally sighed. There was nothing she could do--the logical part of her brain told her that the more tired they were, the more likely they were to make a mistake.

“Fine…” Tattoo answered and turned back to look out the cockpit window of the U-Wing. Before her an endless ocean of enormous trees sprawled out before her, as far as the eye could see, disappearing over the horizon. “Let’s just go.”

“Thanks, El-Tee,” Digger sat back down into the co-pilot’s seat and let out an exhausted sigh.

“Yeah, Digg,” was the only thing she could say as she pulled on her flightstick and turned the U-Wing about, heading back to base camp, where the victory celebrations continued. Truth be told, she couldn’t celebrate. Her heart wasn’t in it. Her heart was out there, lost among the trees. Tattoo swallowed hard and pushed the U-Wing to its maximum speed.

Maybe if she went faster, morning would come sooner, and she could do her kriffing job again.

When they finally landed Digger said goodnight and disembarked, leaving Tattoo on her own in the craft. She tried to distract herself with diagnostics, trying to put the rest out of her mind. Trying to put him out of her mind, even if just for a few moments. Tattoo wasn’t going to be that lucky though. Within seconds she felt it. Oppressive, crushing, screaming solitude--a loneliness of the soul that she felt was going to tear her apart. She placed over her face and breathed in a desperate sob before standing straight up and running out of the U-Wing. Fresh air helped--a little.

Tattoo wiped any tears that had dared to escape her eyes with her forearm and she started walking, making her way towards where she could hear music and see a roaring bonfire. She needed the warmth. The mirth. The company.

<>

[ Ewok Village ]

Tattoo had been right about the roaring bonfire. Set in the center of the village, men and women of all species celebrated the defeat of the Emperor. Ewoks mingled about them, talking in their amusing yubs and yips, trying to give food or drink out to the party goers while others played instruments, keeping the party alive. One such Ewok approached her, offering a can which she politely refused.

No-one really looked her way as she walked slowly around the fire, taking in its warmth, and she almost preferred it that way. That way she didn’t have to reject anyone’s company, even though they had the best intentions. It wasn't long until she found a rather thick log to sit on and watch the fire from. She didn’t need company, really, just to be around others was enough to keep away the loneliness. For now, at least.

“Tattooooooo!” howled a female voice. So much for keeping to herself. Tattoo turned to see a young Zeltron woman, bottle in each hand and a drunken grin on her lips, riding on the shoulders of an equally drunk young man with one eye. “Onward, my steed!”

“I said m’name is Knight!” protested the one-eyed man, though an amused grin adorned his face. “Knight’s do tha ridin’ where I comin’ from.”

“Kriff it, Knight, walk stray! I’mama...ahhh! Waaaah!”

As predicted, the movements of the drunken Zeltron atop the drunken human caused said drunken human to lose his balance and trip forward. For an instant everything went slowly; Tattoo saw Gremlin flying through the air. Her natural instincts kicked in and she stood, arms wide open, to catch the red-skinned girl. Gremlin’s weight and impulse forced Tattoo to take a step back and brace herself, but her heel encountered an excess of log and suddenly she was falling backwards and over it with Gremlin on top of her!

“Wahh!” “Kriff! Ow! Feck!”

Gremlin was laughing, still sprawled out on top of of Tattoo. She pushed the drunk Zeltron off of her, rolling her over to the side so both were now staring up at the sky, their legs resting on the logs. After a moment, when Tattoo got the chance to realize how ridiculous the scene must have looked, she couldn’t help but giggle a little herself.

“Whisky?” Gremlin asked, offering her the bottle in her right hand. Tattoo refused, shaking her head. Then Gremlin offered her the bottle in her left hand. “Wine?”

Tattoo laughed softly, “No, haha, thank you …”

A shadow suddenly appeared over both of them. The Mirialian looked up and saw a man she recognized. How could she not? His white hair made him stand out. He held a bottle of beer in his right hand and the other was stuffed in his side pocket.

“Who’s the hot yellow chick?” he asked in a drunken slur.

Gremlin answered as Tattoo raised a brow. “It’s Tattoooooooo!” she howled and began rolling from side to side, laughing to herself. “She’da nice Uuuuuuu-wing pilot who brought’s us down … here.”

How much had she had to drink? Tattoo wondered. Weren’t Zeltrons supposed to have two livers?

“Oohhh… okay. Don’t tell her what I said though,” the white haired man answered. Clearly this one wasn’t any more sober than the other two. “‘Lo, name’s Lock, nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, really nice,” Tattoo tried to sit up but her legs were still on the log. She had to swing her legs down, which felt awkward, and then pull herself up before finding herself face to face with Lock. They looked at each other for a moment. He started leaning slightly to the left, so much that it looked like he was going to fall over.

“Woah - I’m good,” he steadied himself before she could reach him. “Did you see those dance moves?”

“You call those dance moves?” she snorted and crossed her arms. “Looks more like drunk-and-trying-not-to-fall-over.”

“Mmm, oh, you know the steps, too?”

Tattoo scoffed and looked over at the man who’d been carrying Gremlin on his shoulders. He was still on the ground. “Not as good as your friends here,” the Mirialian answered, motioning towards Gremlin as she made her way towards Knight and knelt over to make sure he was still breathing. “He’s asleep!”

Lock bent over Gremlin, offering her a hand. Her legs were over the log but she was too drunk to realise she had to pull them over if she wanted a real chance at standing up. Not only that, but she refused to let go of either bottle, so she just rocked side to side with an expression of pure, drunken concentration. Lock looked amused.

“Told him not to try and outdrink a Zeltron.” Lock stood back up, letting Gremlin figure it out on her own, and put his hand back in his pocket as he took a sip of his bottle of beer. He shrugged, “They never listen.”

By now Tattoo was trying to help the man up. She gave Lock a look, “Are you going to help me or not?”

She could have sworn Lock was about to say ‘not’ but instead Gremlin interrupted him. “I’ll help!” she exclaimed, popping up from behind the trunk, any difficulties she may have had put far behind her. She leapt and tripped over the trunk, but soon she was up again and helping Tattoo pick Knight up. Somehow, both bottles had survived the ordeal. The Mirialian couldn’t help but be impressed.

“I’d help,” Lock finally answered. A lopsided grin grew on his lips as he swayed from side to side, still clutching his beer. “But you two seem to have it all taken care of.”

“Come on,” she said to Gremlin. “We can take him to my U-Wing, there is a cot in there. We can connect him to an IV or something or he’s going to wake up to the worse hangover.”

The Zeltron giggled. “I dunno if that’ll help him, Tatt, he had like …. forty shots of Whyren’s Reserve!”

“Forty!” Tattoo’s eyes opened wide.

“Don’t exaggerate, Grem,” Lock said from behind them, casually following as the two women carried the unconscious drunk towards the landing pads. “More like twenty. Oh. Shit. Stairs.”

There were indeed stairs. Tattoo had forgotten that they’d have to climb a few flights of stairs to get to the U-Wing. It was inevitable--the trees were too dense and high to land on the planet otherwise. Somehow they managed to climb them all and in the end even Lock helped get Knight up to the U-Wing and into one of the cots used for SAR. By the time she was done, Tattoo felt a wave of exhaustion and she sat down with Lock and Gremlin on the floor, from where they’d been watching her work.

On the other side of Lock, Gremlin had laid her head to rest on his shoulder and promptly fallen asleep as well.

“I suppose you’ll be passing out next,” Tattoo commented, tearing her eyes away from Gremlin’s sleeping face to look straight ahead at Knight, who had begun to softly snore.

“Me? The party has just started,” Lock replied, bravado in his voice. He brought the beer up to his lips and drained what was left in the bottle.

Tattoo shook her head. “Sure.”

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“What do you mean what’s wrong?”

“I mean you seem angry about something. Being angry is a waste of time, if you ask me,” Lock said with a shrug. Gremlin’s head bobbed on his shoulder but she remained asleep.

“I’m not angry,” Tattoo replied, defensively. “I… just have a lot going on.”

“We all do. But we just beat the Emperor and blew up a second Death Star before there was another Alderaan,” Lock pointed out. “Doesn’t happen every day. It’s worth celebrating.”

“Maybe… sure, it is, but…” Tattoo took a deep breath. “What does it matter?”

“Matters to you.”

There was silence for a few minutes between the two.

“I … his name is Leoran,” she finally said, then fell quiet again.

“And he’s still out there,” Lock concluded. She nodded.

Slowly he put one arm around her shoulders and brought her in a little closer. Tattoo was as surprised as anyone that she didn’t resist. Instead she leaned in and wrapped her arms around Lock and held onto him. It took all she had to just hold him.

“I… need to find him…” Even though it was a little more than a whisper she could hear her voice quiver. “I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t.”

“You will,” Lock answered. “We’ll help you.”

She let go and stared at him. “Why? Why would you help me?”

He raised a brow and smirked. “To get laid of course,” he answered, matter-of-factly.

Tattoo scoffed. “You’re trying to get laid by helping me find my boyfriend!?”

Lock’s grin only grew more roguish, “Hey, if you don’t want to ... maybe Leoran will be a little more grateful …”

“Oh, shut up!” she said, unable to hold back the smile, and punched him in the ribs, making him jolt and waking up Gremlin in the process.

“Ow!”

“Huh? Time for shots? Mmm, yes, please…” Gremlin murmured, still more asleep than awake. Both Lock and Tattoo laughed, which just confused Gremlin more. “Huh? What’d I miss…?”

“That your friend here is as bright as dark matter,” Tattoo replied

Now it was Gremlin’s turn to smirk. “And that’s new…?”

“Hey!”

<>

[ Lock’s Hut; Ewok Village; One Day after Battle ]

The pounding at his door sparked his mind into immediate consciousness and the hellish reality of being hungover. Every time the caller’s fist rapped against the hut’s entrance, a screw made of molten metal twisted unforgivingly into his skull.

“Ughhh!” he groaned as he tried to force his body to life. The pain in his head and the bright light assaulting his eyes from every little crack and space in the kriffing hut put him into a needless, hurried panic and he quickly pulled some boxers on and stumbled to the door. He opened it wide before any more knocking could ensue. As the bright beam of light blasted through the door, illuminating the entirety of his hut, Lock regretted the decision.

He could barely see Gremlin in front of him. “What?”

“Tattoo is about to take off,” Gremlin informed him. She seemed rather chipper this morning. Curse her two livers. “Come on! We’re already losing sun!”

Lock stared at her, “What are you talking about?” Even as he asked he remembered the night before and was immediately filled with regret. Never make promises when drunk, the Corellian reminded himself -- Aruithil had always taken advantage of that debility. He groaned. “Wait -- let me get some boots on.”

Cursing, he finished getting dressed, making sure to remember to strap on his holster and blaster--you never knew what you might find out there. These vicious little Ewoks must have some natural predators, the Corellian assumed. He tossed on his jacket and put on a pair of sunglasses before grabbing a bottle of water and a ration bar from his back and heading out to meet Gremlin again. The two of them made their way back over to Tattoo’s U-Wing, even confronting those damn, inhumane stairs on the way. As they approached, Lock could see that Tattoo and a Dug were already at work--in the last stages of refueling, from what he could tell. Good, at least the hard work was done.

“Here we are,” Lock said dryly as he approached, stopping in front of them with open arms. “Ready to fulfill our blood oath.”

Tattoo snorted and rolled her eyes. She looked like she’d slept less than Lock had, and any chance of sneaking a smile out of her had been burned away by the morning sun. Today she was all business. “Oh joy,” she said as she entered her U-Wing. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

“Oh, we want to. We really, really do,” he sighed.

“Really,” Gremlin added. “We want to help.”

The Dug looked back and forth from Lock and Gremlin to Tattoo.

“Who are these chumps?”

<>

[ Tattoo’s U-Wing ]

It didn’t take long for introductions to be made between Digger, Lock, and Gremlin, and Knight -- who was very surprised when he woke up an hour into the flight, hangover-free thanks to Tatt’s IV. They introduced Knight to their quest - to find Leoran, Tatt’s Pantoran lover, wherever he might be.

Not once did Tattoo leave the pilot’s chair; she was completely focused on her task. The four of them rotated as co-pilot. Digger had a pack of cards in his pack and that took their minds off of the boredom for a while, but not for too long. Lock was the first to reoccupy Knight’s vacant cot once the pilot was up and about, and didn’t hesitate to pull rank to nap for the first couple of hours of the search. But even napping, talking and card games didn’t prove enough to stave off the pilots’ restlessness and before long they were pacing back and forth, waiting for--

“I got something,” Knight said from the co-pilot’s chair.

Digger, Gremlin, and Lock crammed into the cockpit to look.

“Looks like it’s an escape pod!” Knight continued. “Transponder… MC633-dash-9B… it’s from the Nautilian!”

“Give me the coordinates!” Tattoo demanded.

Knight turned to her, his mouth open, unsure of how he was going to say what he was going to say. Tattoo didn’t have the time nor inclination to wait.

“Knight!” she said, turning to him. “Those coordinates!”

“Tatt… I’m not picking up any life signs…”

“Just give them to me, Knight…”

It took only a few minutes to reach the coordinates, a heavily forested area, its canopy so thick that it was impossible to see below. They circled a few times before they found a clearing a kilometer north and set down. Though normally the idea of having to walk a kilometer would’ve been reason for plenty of complaining, after having spent most of the day cooped up in a U-WIng even Tattoo could appreciate the chance to stretch her legs.

Plus, this forest was something else.

Millennial behemoths surged from the ground, the mossy trunks like pillars holding up the green sky. Streams of light filtered through the leaves, illuminating the ground where ferns could grow as tall as a man. Paths had been carved out by wild fauna in the shadows, where the vegetation was less tenacious, and it was precisely on those paths that the pilots walked, admiring the natural beauty of the moon.

“We’re here,” Tattoo stopped. She’d been leading the group, eyes fixed on the tracking signal on her transceiver.

“I don’t see shit,” Lock commented from the back. He was right. They should be right on top of it…. On top… Tattoo looked up. It was on top of them, stuck in the branches of one of the giant trees. Lock followed her gaze upwards. “Ah… Shit.”

“I’ve got this!” Gremlin said, already pulling off her pack and the poncho she’d won from a Rebel trooper during the previous night’s drinking games. Beneath it, she’d tied her flightsuit’s arms around her waist.

“Wait, are you sure about that?” Knight asked, looking up into the canopy far overhead.

“Sure! I used to climb trees in the jungles of Rainworld - this shouldn’t be too hard,” Gremlin answered, full of confidence. “It’s not even raining, how difficult can it be?” The flightsuit followed her poncho, leaving her clad in skintight shorts and a vest top. “Ready for climbing - see!”

“It’s not that we don’t doubt your abilities,” Lock countered. “But maybe we should let the Dug go up--he’s built for it. No offense, Digg.”

“Personally, I say let Red try to climb the giant tree of danger,” Digger replied with a shrug.

“See? I got this,” Gremlin grinned.

“How about we slow down and come up with an actual plan?” Tattoo interrupted with a dose of common sense. “That’s about fifty meters up--we have to be careful.”

After about thirty minutes of deliberation, it was decided that both of them would make the climb, using a rope between them as a sort of safety harness. Tattoo, Knight, and Lock watched from below as the two made the grueling climb. In truth it ended up taking much less than expected for them to reach the pod.

“It’s open!” Gremlin confirmed over commlink, sparing them the need to shout. “No sign of forced entry--ooh…. Oops, there. Digg, can you reach that branch? Great! What’s that? Oh! I see it! Digg found some dried blood, not a lot. Looks like whoever was here left a while ago.”

How the pod’s occupants had gotten down boggled the mind.

Tattoo sighed in frustration, “Alright, you should head down now, before it gets dark.”

“What do you mean? We could start our own Ewok village up here,” Gremlin joked over the commlink. Lock rolled his eyes.

“I think I’ll pass,” Tattoo replied.

“Hey. Lock, Tatt, look at what I found,” Knight said, not too far away from them. The Corellian and Mirialan made their way over to him. He pointed out some reddish stains on the leaves, tilting his head to focus more clearly with his remaining eye. “Look, it’s dried blood. Maybe from the same person in the pod. They probably came this way!”

<>

[ Surface of Endor’s Moon ]

“I estimate about 10 to 12 stormies. Looks like they’re guarding one prisoner.” Digger’s grating voice was a low buzz as the former marine relayed his intelligence to the small group of Rebels. He paused, looking at Tatt: she was haggard, her facial tattoos stark against her pallor. She had bitten her nails down to the quick, clearly consumed with worry for her missing lover.

“I … couldn’t get close enough to see who it was,” the Dug admitted, watching her shoulders droop as she heard the news. “Couldn’t even see the colour of his - or her - skin. They’re pretty beaten up.” Leoran was Pantoran, with his species’ typical blue skin. The fact that the prisoner was so badly hurt didn’t bode well for their future, unless they were rescued.

Lock’s hand clenched on the stock of his blaster. “Five of us to 10 of them. That’s pretty good odds. We’re not leaving a Rebel behind!”

“Nobody said we were. But I don’t have a blaster with me.” The frustration was clear in Gremlin’s voice. Digger looked at her, shocked.

“No weapon! Red, how’d you survive so long?” He shrugged one shoulder, where his compact A-300 was slung in its battered holster. “Even flying SAR, this baby’s with me all the time.”

“My X-wing’s lasers would beat your ‘baby’ any day - in space - but my blaster’s with my flight gear, stuck in a locker aboard the Redemption. We were supposed to be here for a party, remember?” The Zeltron shook her head, dislodging twigs stuck in her hair from the tree climb. “I’ll play my part in this, somehow. Just throw me a blaster when you liberate one, Digg!”

“Make that two blasters.” Knight’s mouth twisted in a wry grin. “I haven’t seen mine since I was taken into surgery. Though I’m not sure how good I’d be right now,” he added, pointing to the patch covering his missing eye.

“Eh, once a sniper, always a sniper,” the Dug said with a shrug of his spindly shoulders and a confidence that Knight couldn’t quite match. “Tatt’s packing, aren’t you, El Tee?”

“Always. But that’s all the firepower we have - there’s no spare weapons on the U-wing, either.” Tattoo looked as if she wanted to explode into action, but she was holding herself back with difficulty. Lock eyed the Mirialan, trying to hide his concern, but Gremlin picked up on it anyway. They’d fought alongside each other for long enough that she didn’t always need her empathic senses to cue her into his mood.

“So - what are we going to do?” she asked, glancing at the white-haired man.

Lock took a breath and began to speak.

<>

[ Makeshift Imperial Camp ]

The stormtroopers had created a hideout between the trunks of two fallen trees, each almost as tall as they were. Some of the group were probably inside, beneath the boughs they had pulled across to hide them from Rebel patrols; at least three were on guard duty outside, semi-concealed in the rich Endor undergrowth. The prisoner, a huddled figure, was cuffed to a branch and barely visible from the ground. This much they knew from Digger, who had scaled another giant tree to gain a better view of the Imperials’ location; he was now in position with his blaster readied for action.

Knight and Gremlin had crept through the forest and were ready to act as decoys to spring the trap - and, hopefully, not draw too much fire. “Shavvit, I wish I had a blaster!” the one-eyed pilot muttered, peering out cautiously from behind yet another broad tree trunk. He squinted, trying to get his remaining eye to focus; his depth perception was still affected by his recent injury. If he’d had a blaster, he wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to hit a target unless it was large, immobile and preferably already dead.

“Well, Lock did say the Ewoks managed to fight ‘em without blasters. We’ll manage too,” the Zeltron whispered back, before catching her breath with a little hiss. Knight froze too: he had heard it as well - the unmistakable sound of voices over commlinks. And it was coming from behind them.

Swiftly they hunkered down, trying to camouflage themselves among the leaf litter and scrubby plants competing with Endor’s huge trees for light and space to grow. The smell of soil and decaying plant matter was strong. Gremlin drew a corner of her mottled green and brown poncho over Knight’s back, silently relieved that she’d left her orange flightsuit back at the site of the crashed escape pod. The voices were growing louder. From the way the stormtroopers moved, carelessly tramping through the undergrowth, and their use of vocoders instead of the in-helmet comms system, it was clear they thought they were alone in this part of the forest.

“ … think there’s any chance of rescue? With the Death Star gone -”

“You don’t know it’s gone!”

“Yeah. Right.” The sarcasm was clearly audible. “You don’t get meteor showers like that unless there’s a lot of debris burning up in the atmosphere. And it’s disappeared from the sky - you used to be able to see it day or night. D’you think it’s gone on a joyride through the galaxy or something?”

“The Emperor might have ordered it to blow up another planet! Like Alderaan - after winning the battle, they’re keeping those Rebels in check …”

“Fine. Fine, you think that. But I hope we’re able to contact Command soon and get out of here. I’m getting fed up eating these little murder bears. Just as well they don’t have blasters!”

As the stormtroopers laughed, Knight glanced at Gremlin, who rolled her eyes. It didn’t take empathy to know that they were both thinking of what they’d say to Lock after this. Assuming they survived, of course.

The footsteps were closer now. Knight held up two fingers and Gremlin nodded in agreement: there were only two stormtroopers nearby. Hopefully they would head back to their hideout, then the attack could begin …. Knight closed his hand around the fallen branch he’d chosen earlier as a makeshift weapon. It wasn’t a blaster, but it was better than nothing.

“Ahhh - I can’t wait. Gotta pee.” The grumpy trooper’s voice was louder than before; they were clearly close by.

“Emperor’s bones, man, can’t you wait?”

“If I could, don’t you think I would? Karking armour, it’s always in the way ….”

Despite their perilous situation, the listening pilots found themselves stifling giggles. There was something incredibly funny about imagining a stormtrooper taking an illicit piss mid-patrol, even if it was happening so close-by that they could hear the stream of urine hitting the ground. The man gave a satisfied sigh as he finished.

Gremlin? Knight? Are you in position? It was Lock’s voice, coming from the commlink on Gremlin’s wrist. Even as she frantically hit the button to mute it, they could hear the stormtroopers reacting.

“What’s that?”

“Someone’s here - call it in!”

Their plan, such as it was, depended on surprise; if the stormtroopers at the campsite were prepared for an assault, there would be carnage. There was only one way to react. Knight surged onto his feet and hurtled round the tree, cannoning shoulder-first into one of the Imperials and knocking him back into the second. Wielding his branch like a club, he dealt the second stormtrooper a resounding blow to the head which sent him stumbling to the ground, stunned, his blaster falling from his hands.

Knight dived for the weapon, fingers automatically finding the appropriate holds on the slick black surfaces, and rolled onto his back in time to fire a volley of shots at the first trooper. Some initially went wide but as Knight’s vision adjusted, he aimed for the white breastplate - it was the biggest target. The plastoid absorbed the initial few blasts but Knight kept the pressure on the trigger, allowing his aim to drift upwards towards the less-protected throat region. The man sagged to his knees and fell sideways, charred patches marring the white armour; behind him, the second trooper groaned and Knight turned to cover him. “Don’t move!”

Gremlin was close behind when Knight’s first erratic blaster shots sent her diving for cover again as they flew overhead. She could hear more shots coming from the direction of the stormtroopers’ hideout - hopefully that was Lock, Tattoo and Digger taking advantage of the distraction they had provided. It hadn’t been the decoy they’d planned, but with luck it had worked. As the shooting stopped on the other side of the tree and she heard Knight’s warning words, she rose cautiously. Was he talking to her?

“Don’t move.”

She stiffened. That wasn’t Knight’s voice. Eyes wide, she slowly turned her head to face a third stormtrooper, blaster raised and aimed straight at her, his finger already tightening on the trigger and she knew without doubt that she was going to die. Not in space; not in fighter combat or hanging EV, watching the battle rage in the distance, as she’d experienced just a couple of days ago; but in this forest, now, with the ozone smell of blaster fire in her nostrils and the noise of distant fighting in her ears. And all she could feel was ….

Peace.

The noise of the shot was deafening.

Gremlin gasped, her hands shooting out in automatic reflex as she tried to stay upright, but she staggered and fell onto her backside. In front of her, the stormtrooper’s blank eye-socket was a smoking hole; as she watched, not quite believing what had happened, he keeled over - almost in slow motion - and crashed to the forest floor.

“Looks like Digger was right! Once a sniper ….” Knight reached down one arm to help her stand, keeping a watchful eye on the dazed trooper as he did so.

“Always a sniper,” she managed to say through numb lips, unable to tear her gaze away from the sight of the stormtrooper’s body.

Knight grinned. “You bet! Come on, let’s see how the others got on. I heard them shooting - can you contact ‘em and see if they need backup?” He handed his blaster to Gremlin, then collected the weapons from the two dead troopers while she covered the remaining one. “Look at us - three blasters between two! How’s that for a result?” He was euphoric, exhilarated by the battle. Gremlin tried to smile, but it was a weak effort.

By the time she contacted Lock by commlink, the firefight was over. Three stormtroopers were dead at the hideout, to add to the two in the forest, and six were prisoners in addition to the one Knight had injured. “And the prisoner?” Gremlin asked, as Knight used the trooper’s own binders to clasp his hands. She held up the commlink so they could both hear Lock’s answer.

A short pause. “He’s alive. But he’s not Pantoran.”

<>

[ Ewok Village ]

His name was Jem Hader, a Zabrak, and he was from the Nautilian. That much they managed to get out of him before he collapsed, worn down by thirst, hunger and the beatings administered by his captors. The Rebels forced the remaining stormtroopers to strip down to their black bodysuits and dumped their armour pieces, a pile of white plastoid, inside their leafy hideout. Then the troopers took it in turns to carry Hader back to the U-wing, constantly guarded by his blaster-toting rescuers.

Tattoo insisted on flying back to the Ewok village, saying it gave her something to focus on. She looked brittle, on edge; saving the Zabrak prisoner had reinforced her conviction that Leoran was out there, somewhere, in the immensity of the forests. Only the fact that they couldn’t continue their search with seven prisoners on board made her reluctantly return to the Rebel base. Digger split his time between treating Hader, who lay semi-conscious on the SAR cot with IV lines into his arms, and joining the others in guarding the stormtroopers. It was a cramped flight back, as the U-wing was packed beyond its normal capacity. Even the normally cheerful Gremlin seemed withdrawn.

As they made their approach, Tattoo toggled the comms to inform the security detail covering the Rebel encampment about their prisoners. A full squad of armed guards was waiting beside the platform as the U-wing settled onto its landing-gear; the Major in charge, a Weequay, took formal control of the prisoners from Lock as his troops hustled them away.

“We’ll have them off-planet in a couple of days, once the initial rush to re-settle our troops is over,” he explained in heavily accented Basic. “You should take your man from the Nautilian to our new med-station so he can be treated and his name added to the list of survivors.” Major Golto pointed over his shoulder to the temporary medical centre, set off to one side in the large clearing which housed the landing-pad.

Lock nodded. “Will do. Thanks, Major.”

“Knight and I can take him,” Digger offered, glancing up from checking the medication in Hader’s IV. The Dug dropped his voice and added, “I’d appreciate it if you and Red could keep an eye on Tatt. The El-Tee’s pretty beaten up, inside - maybe she’ll come drinking with you this time?”

But when Lock approached Tattoo, who was going through the post-flight checks with Gremlin acting as co-pilot, the Mirialan was firm in her refusal. “No. No, I need to sleep. I have to be up at first light and get out there looking for him again!” She glared at Lock as if he was preventing her from flying, although the gathering darkness was a far more effective barrier to continuing their search and rescue operation.

“Tatt, you need to eat first, then sleep.” Gremlin looked across from her position in the co-pilot’s seat. “You can’t help Leoran if you’re not thinking straight. Let’s finish these checks, then get some food, all right?” The Zeltron looked equally exhausted, dark purple circles shadowing her violet eyes, but she was watching her new friend with some concern.

Tattoo slumped back in her seat, sweat-soaked red hair straggling around her face. She seemed on the verge of tears. Finally, she drew in a slow breath and exhaled shakily. “All right.”

Lock laid one hand on Tattoo’s shoulder, a gesture of comfort, but she didn’t give the impression of feeling it. Beneath her SAR flightsuit her muscles were rigid; her whole posture was one of barely suppressed tension. With a silent sigh, he removed his hand. “I’ll wait outside till you’ve finished, then.”

<>

[ Ewok Village ]

For the first time in ... she didn’t know how long … Gremlin was alone.

Around her, the celebrations continued. Just the day before, the Rebels had won the Battle of Endor, albeit with terrible losses; the previous night’s partying had celebrated the sheer relief of being alive. Now, the impact of grief was beginning to be felt. Where the Ewok village had been overwhelmed with exuberance, now the atmosphere was mixed, tempered by the knowledge that so many friends and loved ones would never be seen again.

Hopefully, that wouldn’t be the case with Tattoo’s missing lover. Gremlin and Lock had escorted the Mirialan to the Ewok village to find something to eat, then seen her safely to the hut she was sharing with the other SAR pilots and left her to sleep. Free from responsibility, each seeking distraction from their own thoughts, they had plunged into the party which was cranking up again as night blanketed the forest moon.

Hours later, Gremlin was alone. She had become separated from Lock - or wandered off, more accurately - and found herself in a quiet part of the Ewok village, well away from the raucous noise of the Rebels and their furry hosts. All evening, as she had eaten and smiled and drank and tried to seem normal, her thoughts had been dragged back to the moment that afternoon when she had stared down the barrel of the stormtrooper’s blaster, knowing she was going to die.

It wasn’t a new feeling: she had been a Rebel fighter for four years and death was her unseen copilot. She’d been easy pickings during furballs in the past - most recently two days ago, during the Battle of Endor. She’d even stood side by side with Lock before an Imperial firing squad, facing the end together before they were saved by the other members of Red Squadron. But always, always she’d reacted to her imminent death: fear, anger, desperation - never a feeling of peace. Of … relief?

The Emperor may be dead, she realised in a moment of crystalline clarity, but the Imperials wouldn’t give up easily. There would be other moments in the future where she’d face death again. One day, she wouldn’t escape; there wouldn’t be a Knight to rescue her. There wouldn’t always be a happy ending.

This high in the trees, there was a faint breeze to stir the leaves overhead and bring the occasional waft of scent from some night-blooming flowers. Gremlin leaned against the crude wooden barrier, lashed together with woven ropes, which protected the edge of the uneven pathway. The bark covering the single rail was rough against her palms. She had been drinking: not enough to get a Zeltron drunk, normally, but as she gazed down into the darkness below she felt a wave of dizziness overwhelm her.

Gremlin subsided onto the wooden platform like a Okari junk-puppet whose strings had been cut. Resting her head against one of the fence-posts, she took deep breaths of the humid air until she could open her eyes again, to see that she was sitting on the edge of the walkway with her legs dangling over the void. It should have been shocking - she didn’t remember consciously choosing to sit there - but again she felt an overwhelming sense of peacefulness. This was right. This was good. This was how she should feel.

Slowly she shuffled forwards on her backside, ducking her head so she could pass beneath the rail. She was balanced on the edge, now. It would only take a small shift of her weight and she would be flying again, straight down, away from the terror and the grief and the guilt at losing all three cadets in her flight during the battle over the forest moon. Gremlin had lost pilots before, but these deaths were particularly hard to bear. So why bear it? Why not just take the plunge? Didn’t she deserve peace, after so long spent fighting?

Gremlin closed her eyes. Her breathing was shallow, her heart thumping rapidly in her chest, but she was smiling. The warmth of the evening wrapped around her, muffling the far-off sounds of the party and the pattering of feet approaching the platform where she sat.

“Den yayath, theesa. Den yayath.”

She gasped, startled, flinging up one hand to grasp the rail overhead in an instinctive gesture that stopped her from falling. To her right, a chubby Ewok stood, blinking, watching her intently. “Den yayath,” the grey-furred being repeated, taking a step closer. She - somehow, Gremlin knew the Ewok was female - laid one clawed paw on the Zeltron’s hand where it clasped the rail. “Arandee, gyesh. Danvay. Danvay, jeerota.”

“I …. I don’t understand,” she began, but the Ewok chittered again.

“Danvay. Tyatee thek!” She beckoned and abruptly another Ewok appeared, placing a comforting paw on Gremlin’s shoulder. She, too, started to talk. “Chyasee thek. Arandee, theesa. Arandee.”

Within seconds, it seemed, eight or nine furry creatures were crowding around, gently urging her back from the edge, chattering, surrounding her with warmth and care and hope. It was like being back in Red Squadron at the end of a mission, sitting at the bar, re-living the best and worst moments of the fight. The comradeship and sense of family. The knowledge that she wasn’t alone. She didn’t realise she was crying until the first Ewok patted her cheek, which was damp with tears.

“Den glek, theesa. Ehshtee grek!”

Several Ewoks held out their paws to help pull Gremlin onto her feet, where she swayed for a couple of seconds before regaining her balance. The little group steered her carefully back down the wooden ramps towards the area where the celebrations were still going strong; she didn’t really want to attend the party, but the Ewoks were adamant. They settled her next to a campfire where the warmth could reach her and pushed a wooden mug into her hands - not alcohol, but a rich broth. She sipped, careful not to burn her mouth, and watched the antics of the Ewoks as they danced. Slowly peace stole over her: a different peace to the seductive perfection of before; a feeling that acknowledged she would make it through this crucible of loss, as long as she had friends. As long as she had others to live for.

By the time Lock found her, she was asleep next to the embers of the fire, surrounded by dozing Ewoks.

<>

[ Ewok Village; Two Days after the Battle ]

Predawn on Endor’s moon was always a gorgeous affair. As the moon rotated about the gas giant, the sun’s rays bounced off the planet, creating a second horizon in the sky that illuminated the forest on the moon’s surface.

It was all lost on Tattoo, though, as she climbed the steps up to the landing pad. It had been another night of tossing and turning and when she did finally fall asleep she was plagued with nightmares. “Don’t just leave me,” she could hear Leoran saying in her dreams, his voice coming from deep in the forest. Those words haunted her even now -- not even the kick from the hot caf she was sipping as she walked was able to push them away.

After yesterday, she doubted that Lock, Gremlin or Knight would be showing up, perhaps not even Digger, so she started prepping the craft, giving the U-WIng a thorough inspection once she’d connected the fuel line. The refueling was just about done when she noticed a man watching her. It took her a moment, but she finally recognized him.

“You’re finally awake!”.

He stepped forward. Compared to the state he’d been in when they found him yesterday, captured by stormtroopers, he looked like a new man, though it would take a lot longer for the dark bags under his eyes and his gaunt cheeks to fade. A brief smile flashed on his lips and his cheeks turned red. In another life, or another time or place, she might have found the Zabrak attractive.

“I meant to thank you,” he said to her. ‘For saving me.”

“I was just doing my job,” Tattoo answered. “But you’re welcome. Just do me a favor and don’t waste my hard work.”

He smiled, “I’ll do my best. I’m Jem Hader, but my mates call me Boxer. I was a mechanic on the Nautilian.”

“I was on the Nautilian,” Tattoo answered, looking away from him and doing her best to look busy. Maybe he’d leave if she looked busy enough.

“I know! I mean, I saw you on the flight deck,” he answered.

“The Nautilian’s flight deck was always busy - it’s amazing you remember,” she answered, turning off the fuel line and detaching it from the U-WIng.

“It’s amazing I survived at all. If it hadn’t been for Leo…”

Tattoo swiveled around immediately. “Leoran?”

‘Yeah, how did you--”

“You were in the escape pod with Leoran? What happened? Where is he?”

Boxer was quiet for a few moments. “Were you and Leoran close?” Tattoo nodded and Boxer sighed heavily. “You should sit down.”

<>

[ Lock’s Hut ]

The knocking at the door of his hut stole him away from slumber once again.

Lock awoke with a groan. He would’ve shouted for whoever it was to go away, if his throat wasn’t so dry. Growling, he pulled on a pair of and grabbed a bottle of water, which he chugged down in about the three seconds it took him to walk to the door. He opened it.

“Tattoo?” he asked, surprised to see her.

Immediately he knew there was something wrong. She was looking down, the fiery spirit barely an ember. Lock reached out to her, touching her face gently, getting her to look up at him. Her blue eyes were full of barely held back tears. It could only mean one thing, he knew… she had finally learned the fate of Leoran and it wasn’t the happy reunion she’d been so desperately seeking out. She was heartbroken.

“Tatt…” he said in a low voice, enveloping her in his arms.

Leaning into his chest, the Mirialan wept ….

<>

[ Tattoo’s U-Wing ]

Lock decided to let Gremlin sleep in; besides, he had no intention of disturbing the Ewoks clustered around her, especially as new stories of their ferocity against the stormtroopers were being circulated every day. Digger volunteered to get things ready at base camp, so Lock volunteered Knight and himself to go recover Leoran. Boxer went with them, as well, and Tattoo, who opted to allow Lock to pilot the U-Wing to their destination. She took over the co-pilot’s chair and stared blankly ahead instead.

They were quiet the whole way there, landing in the same clearing they had the day before and hiking back to the camp where they’d rescued Boxer. One hundred meters south of the camp, they found him.

Leoran was sitting, his back to a tree. His chest and stomach was marked with blaster burns but they weren’t the shots that had killed him - that would be the one which had created the burned-out hole that replaced his right eye socket. “He wouldn’t let himself be captured,” Boxer had tried to explain. “He killed two of them before the sniper …”

Knight stared at the one-eyed cadaver, a myriad of feelings overwhelming him at the site. He’d been so close to being a one-eyed cadaver himself that it was hard to look at Leoran. Instead he turned to Boxer. “And you? What were you doing when he was fighting for his life?”

Boxer looked away, ashamed. “We only had one blaster.”

“Why didn’t you pick it up, then?” Knight continued, though Boxer didn’t get a chance to reply.

“That’s enough,” Tattoo interrupted both of them from her position on her knees next to Leoran’s body. She caressed his blue cheek lovingly and sniffed. After a moment she broke away and inhaled a sob, getting herself under control. As she wiped her eyes, she said, “We need to get him on a stretcher and take him back.”

“We’ll take care of it,” Lock said and looked at Knight and Boxer, a look which they recognized as ‘they would take care of it.’

About an hour later they were in the air again. This time, Tattoo stayed in the back with Leoran and Boxer and it was Knight who joined him up front in the cockpit. They were quiet at first, the impact of finding Leoran dead, even though they had never met him, hitting them hard… or at least most of them.

“How do you do it?” Knight finally asked him.

Lock looked confused. “Huh?”

“How do you do it? He’s dead. I know I didn’t know him, but … that could’ve been me. And I don’t have someone like Tattoo to come after me. I would’ve just sat there till I rotted or an Ewok cooked me,” Knight sighed. “You seem so calm about it, that’s all.”

“Huh. I guess.” If it’d been up to him, Lock would’ve ended the conversation there but one glance at the one-eyed pilot told him that he wouldn’t be content with a non-answer. “This isn’t my first failed rescue,” Lock elaborated. “I suppose this is the norm. I can tell you the names of more dead people than living ones.”

“That’s… grim,” Knight turned to look forward to the viewport, unsure if he regretted asking or not. “Remind me to not get rescued by you.”

“You asked.”

[ Ewok Village ]

Flames danced over the pyre, consuming Leoran’s lifeless remains as efficiently as they would consume any other. It burned and crackled, illuminating the night sky as a small group of people watched.

Sitting on a log not too far from the pyre were Tattoo and Gremlin. The Mirialan had leaned her head on the Zeltron’s shoulder and stared into the flames, the pain behind her emotionless expression evident. Gremlin held her close, tears unashamedly streaming down her cheeks. Digger had known and been friends with Leoran, so the loss hit him hard. He’d found his own log to sit on with Boxer, who had a hand on the Dug’s back. Knight and Lock stood on the other side of the fire from the rest.

Lock watched them, noting how each of them was affected differently by Leoran’s death. As his eyes turned back towards the flames, Lock couldn’t help but think back to what Knight had asked him. How did he do it? It wasn’t that he didn’t feel sad, but he wasn’t happy either, or mad, or excited. Or anything at all. He felt nothing. The deeper he looked within himself, the more nothingness he found. What had Aruithil called him? Heartless. It was as if a switch had been turned off. Lock was no psychologist, but he was pretty sure that that was not a good thing.

When he looked up from the flames he could see that more people had approached. It didn’t surprise him at all, really. They had all lost a lot, even if they had won the battle. It was a pyrrhic victory if Lock had ever seen one. What did surprise him was how this little service of six people had inflated to well over fifty in the span of a few minutes.

“It’s the Empire’s fault,” someone said.

“We won the battle… people shouldn’t still be dying! It’s unfair!”

Boxer stood up, “The ones who did this… they deserve to pay! Murderers! Criminals!”

“Yeah!”

“They have ruined our lives! Destroyed whole worlds to bend us to their will! Killed our friends and family! They’re the criminals!” Boxer continued. Lock’s eyes darted throughout the crowd. They were starting to get riled up. Hidden hurt and anger, barely washed away by the festivities and liquor, were beginning to surge back up to the surface. “And what’s worse! We know who killed Leoran… they’re right here… in this very camp!”

“Bastards!”

“Kill them!”

“Justice for Leoran!”

“Whoa,” Lock decided to interject. “Kill them? We all want justice for Leoran, but is this really the way to get it?”

“You weren’t there, Lock!” Boxer yelled over the voices of the crowd; they were starting to grow alarmingly agitated. “You didn’t see how even after they murdered him they sat there and unloaded shot after shot into him. Because he dared to be a Rebel! Because he was different!”

“They’re murderers! We should do the same to them!”

“Give ‘em to the Ewoks!”

“Yeah, they’ll eat them alive!”

“You’re all insane!” Gremlin called out, but her voice was drowned out by the rest.

Boxer stood up on his log. “We all know what’s going to happen! They’ll be happy little prisoners and we’ll treat them with dignity and respect and they’ll get a fair trial and just walk away! Because they were ‘under orders.’ I say NOT THIS TIME! This time we get real justice! This time they get what they deserve!”

“Yes!” “Justice for Leoran!”

“Follow me!” Boxer yelled and jumped off his log, and started to make his way through the mob of rebels.

“Nucking facker,” Lock grunted and went after them.

<>

[ Ewok Village ]

It didn’t take more than a few minutes for the mob of angry Rebels to march from Leoran’s funeral pyre to where New Republic Security was keeping the Imperial prisoners. By this point things had gotten so loud that the entire village, Ewoks and Rebels alike, had been woken up and were coming out in droves to see what was going on. The smarter ones opted to stay out of it, but inevitably the mob grew as word spread.

Boxer led them right to the wooden barricades that the New Republic security forces had built, basically little more than a series of pens that could hold about ten men each. There was a guard on every corner and two at the entrance to the pens. They gave each other a nervous glance when they caught sight of the approaching mob.

“Call the Major?” asked one of them.

The other nodded vehemently. “Yeah, good idea, call the Major.”

Boxer stopped right in front of them. “We demand that you let us through. We want the prisoners captured yesterday.”

“Do… any of you have… uh, authorization?” one of the guards asked.

“What does it look like? Now hand them over before we have to move you out of the way!”

“Yeah, get out of our way!”

“You have no right to keep us from him”

“This is justice!”

“Feed them to the Ewoks!”

“Yub!” A pair of Ewoks near the front of the mob hopped up and down, shaking their spears.

The guards were looking pretty nervous at this point. The mob had completely surrounded them and the sheer mass of bodies shouting threats and profanity would’ve been enough to make any one nervous. They shifted their aim from one angry Rebel to another--would they really shoot if they had to? A sudden noise grabbed their attention. One of the guards instinctively reacted and aimed a shot in direction of the sound. It missed, but it completely discouraged the Ewok trying to climb the fence from any further attempts.

The shot only got the mob angrier and in the heat of the moment Boxer decided to do something very stupid. He grabbed that guard’s blaster and ripped it out of his hands. There was a moment of shock on everyone’s face but as quickly as it arrived the moment passed and became even more chaotic. Now men and women threw themselves on the guards, pulling their blasters from them, roaring in an adrenaline-infused haze of misplaced victory.

“Stop!” someone yelled but she was ignored.

Tattoo shoved a Rodian aside as she forced her way to the front of the mob. She’d lost Gremlin and Lock a little bit further back but she was undeterred. Pushing between two Mon Calamari, Tattoo found herself in front of Boxer. “Stop!” she called again, locking eyes with Boxer. “I said STOP!”

“Stop? You should be the first one to want justice for Leoran!” Boxer yelled at her.

“You call this justice?” she asked, furious. “This isn’t justice! This is attempted murder!”

The mob had started to quiet down as the argument between Boxer and Tattoo began to heat up. Lock appeared from the crowd, moving in between Boxer and the entrance to the prisoners’ pens, blocking it while the other man was distracted. Gremlin slipped through the group as well and found a place next to Lock, followed by Knight and Digger.

“Murder? Did you see what they did to Leoran? They shot him over and over--”

“After he’d killed two of them! You said so! HIs heroic last stand.” Tattoo glared at Boxer. It was so painful to talk about, but she wouldn’t let his memory be used like this. “This isn’t about Leoran, Boxer, and you know it! This… this about you… about every one of you…”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Boxer asked, irritated and worried about the sudden drop in momentum. He had finally noticed the counter-mob forming at the entrance of the pens, which meant things were only going to get harder. It was important that he get people on his side again or this whole thing was over before it began. “So you’re saying that it was okay for them to kill Leoran? I thought you were supposed to love him!”

“I do love him! And that’s why I know this is wrong! I don’t condone them killing Leoran … but I don’t condone Leoran killing them either because killing, no matter if it’s in a war or not, is wrong, and that is why it isn’t justice!” she rebutted. “You know who thought killing was justice? The Empire! If you didn’t fall in line… you died. If you refused, you died. If you didn’t live by their rules, you died. Committed a crime? You’d die, too. The Empire didn’t give a damn about justice, all it cared about was being in control… and that’s what scares you right now. The loss of control. The feeling that no matter what we do, it’s futile. I don’t blame you. Vader and the Emperor are dead. The Death Star was destroyed … but we’re still at war. People are still oppressed and our friends are still out there dying for our cause while we’re stuck on this moon waiting for High Command or the New Republic or whoever to figure out what to do. I feel that way, too. I did love Leoran … but murdering others in his name isn't justice… it’s just a stain to his memory.”

More people had joined the group barring the mob from the entrance. She caught sight of Ranger and Zoom joining, and not long after Leo, followed by Biggs. Even through the pain and sadness she felt pride, knowing that these were some of the best people the galaxy had to offer. Thrown into a bad situation, they still remembered to do the right thing. They could’ve stood by and watched, but they took action instead. True heroes to the Rebellion.

Boxer stared at Tattoo, unsure of what he had just heard her say. “You’re a fool, Lieutenant, and if you don’t let me through right now you’ll regret it when these sons of mynocks walk free because they were just doing their duty. Their duty to kill us! Right!”

He turned back to the mob but even before laying eyes on them he knew he’d lost them. A few of them answered back, but in general the majority looked ashamed of themselves. Little by little they had already begun to disperse. For an instant, Boxer considered just shooting, letting loose on Tattoo and her stupid shit friends for keeping him from getting his revenge on the stormtroopers that had held him captive.

“Have it your way, then!” Boxer spat and threw the blaster he’d commandeered onto the ground before stalking off and disappearing into the crowd.

Tattoo let out a sigh of relief and turned towards her friends and offered them a weak smile, “You know what? Maybe I will accept that drink …”

<>

[ Ewok Village; Several Hours Later ]

Major Golto, the Weequay army officer who was in charge of the prisoners’ security, arrived minutes after the mob had begun to disperse. He seemed to take perverse joy in holding Gremlin, Tattoo and the rest for additional questioning, though in the end their testimonies had led to the arrests of Boxer and a few others. It wasn’t an outcome that Gremlin particularly liked, but it was better than what could have been if Tattoo had not intervened.

“That took long enough,” Gremlin commented as she walked over to her group of friends. Lock was sitting on a log with Digger while a cross-armed Tattoo and a fidgety Knight waited to get out of there. Not too far from them, Gremlin could see Boxer with his arms cuffed behind his back, kneeling with his co-conspirators.

“Did you end up tricking them into a drinking game?” Knight asked, trying to make a joke. Gremlin smiled, though she didn't particularly feel like laughing at the moment. She particularly didn’t feel like drinking either. There were appearances to maintain, though.

“I managed to convince them for next time,” she answered. “Now I just need to figure out how to get interrogated by Major Golto again.” She wedged herself between Digger and Lock on the trunk and leaned her head on Lock’s shoulder with a heavy sigh. “He knows exactly what to ask a woman.”

“Age, weight, where do you want to go to dinner?” Knight retorted with a challenging smirk. She knew he was trying to get her to take the bait, but she didn’t really have the energy. The last few days were finally taking their toll on her.

“My three favorite things,” Gremlin replied, shaking her head, but her smile was forced.

“Guys,” Lock interrupted. “Please. Stop. These jokes. They’re so bad.”

That got a few chuckles from them; even Tattoo smiled. She’d been particularly quiet since her big speech. Gremlin could only imagine what she was feeling … to have to go through that after everything else. Before she knew it, Gremlin stood and enveloped Tattoo in her arms, hugging her tightly. Tattoo hugged back, holding the Zeltron close to her. Digger, Knight, and Lock remained silent.

“Oh! Sorry,” Gremlin said after she released Tattoo a few moments later. She wasn’t sure which of the two had needed it more. “You know - I don't feel like partying tonight.”

“Neither do I,” Tattoo admitted. “Honestly. Part of me just wants to get out of here.”

“Back on the Liberty, I used to get in my A-Wing and fly when I needed to de-stress,” Knight commented. “I mean, we have your U-Wing …”

“That’s a good idea,” Gremlin said.

“Flying away is actually rather appealing,” Tattoo agreed.

“I think I’ll join you,” Digger added. He looked over at the white-haired man. “What about you, Lock? Want to come?”

Lock shook his head. “I think I’ll stick around here for a little while longer. I’ll walk you to the landing pad, though.”

<>

[ Ewok Village ]

Lock watched the U-Wing lift off and disappear into the sea of gigantic trees and stared in their direction for a few moments before finally letting out a sigh and turning around.

As he made his way through the village he couldn’t help but notice the change in mood. The euphoria of victory had rushed out of their systems, leaving them with doubts and fears and the knowledge that more terrible battles like the one that had happened a few days ago were still to come. The war wasn’t over, but for a moment it had felt damned close, and just like a stim high, the stronger the dose, the harder the crash. People were crashing all around him, in their own little personal ways.

He passed by his hut before making his way over to the little healing station that had been busy after whole incident with the mob. Some of the guards had gotten roughed up and later some of the more foolhardy and drunk members of what was left of the mob had refused to disperse, meaning more injuries, meaning someone had to take care of them.

Pushing past the tarp’s flap, he entered the makeshift medical tent and noticed the rows of bunks to either side, most of which were unoccupied. Once Lock scanned the room, it took only a moment to catch sight of her just as she lifted a mug of kaf to her lips. To him, she was as beautiful as she’d always been; whenever she smiled her smooth caramel skin gave way to a brilliant smile that enraptured him every time he saw it, dimples and all. As usual when she was working, she had tied her long, dark dreadlocks into a bun on top of her head. At the same moment his eyes looked upon her, she glanced up, meeting his gaze, her dark brown eyes piercing him as if she’d caught him in flagrante. She snorted, unable to retain the liquid in her mouth as she exploded into laughter.

“It’s so… white!” she managed to say, unable to gain complete control of herself. Other medics had turned to look at this point, some smirking or chuckling. Lock leaned on one of the poles holding the tent up, shaking his head but unable to keep a smile from creeping onto his lips. “Oh my! Ghel had told me… but wow!”

“Oh so you knew I was here but not a single doctor’s house call?” Lock asked with a playful frown.

Doctor Aruithil Cho tilted her head and raised her brows. “Me? Make a house call to you?” she asked, beginning to drain away. “I hope you have funnier jokes than that one, Roy.” She stopped right next to him, looking up at the white haired man. “Especially after the last time I saw you. The question is… how did you know I was here?”

She knew how to irk him--first by calling him by his name, then bringing up their last fight. Lock decided not to let it get to him. “I recognized your handwriting on the notes on the chart next to Angel’s bacta tank. And I saw when you arrived with the rest of the medical staff.”

“Angel? Oh! - -you mean Lieutenant Courtner,” Aruithil recognized the name. “One of your pilots, I assume? She has been through a lot.”

“How is she?” Lock asked.

Aruithil looked at him for a few moments, as if debating whether to tell him or not. If she wanted to, she could have just said there was doctor-patient confidentiality, but she knew him better than most, even if they hadn’t seen each other in over three months. “She’s still in a critical condition. Her body is resting now, but her next surgery is in ten hours. Speaking of which… I need to get back to the Redemption.”

“Stay a while,” Lock said, stepping closer to her. She didn’t back away -- honestly, Lock didn’t know anything or anyone capable of making her do so, under any circumstances. “Have a beer with me?”

The doctor snorted and shook her head incredulously. “I have surgery, Roy. I need to go.”

As she began to move away, Lock reached out and grabbed her arm. Both paused and looked at each other. Realizing what he’d done, the Corellian let go.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Can I at least walk you back to the landing pad?”

Turning to him, she contemplated the pilot for a few, long moments. Finally, Aruithil asked, “Have you changed your answer?”

Lock knew this was coming and yet when it did he remained silent, as if delaying the answer would do any good. He looked at her and shook his head.

A sad smile formed on her lips. “Then you know the answer. Goodbye, Roy.”

“Good bye, Aru,” he said softly as she turned and exited the tent, leaving him surrounded by the injured and the staff, but nevertheless feeling alone.

<>

[ Tattoo’s U-WIng ]

Piloting was a nice distraction for all of them. They took turns diving between the trees, following rivers, and flying up waterfalls, but as all good things it had to come to an end. It was the early hours of the morning before the U-Wing finally touched down again.

Gremlin had fallen asleep hours ago and Knight offered to carry her on his back all the way to her hutt. Digger offered to stick around and help her shut down the U-Wing but Tattoo released him from the obligation, letting him go get some rest too. That left her by herself for the first time since she’d gotten the news.

The realization was so sudden that it felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She attempted to breathe and it felt like she was inhaling nothing. Dizziness swept over her and she realized she was falling. She grabbed onto the internal walls of the U-WIng and made her way to the entrance and slammed her palm into a button. The rear door began to elevate, closing her in the vessel.

She inhaled and finally felt air fill her lungs, but when she exhaled it came as an uncontrollable sob, then a scream, then everything was a blur -- if it was a trick of her mind or her own eyes watered down with tears, she didn’t know but after twenty minutes of kicking, hitting and screaming at everything she could find in the U-Wing Tattoo collapsed to her hands and knees, unable to stop crying.

“Leoran…” she repeated over and over, her voice quivering. “I’m so sorry… I shouldn’t have turned back… I should’ve kept searching… I knew I was close… if only… I’m so sorry, my love, I’m so sorry…”

In the morning, Digger would find her sleeping there.

<>

[ Lock’s Hut; Ewok Village; Surface of Endor’s Moon; Three Days after Battle ]

For a third kriffing day in a row the door to Lock’s hut rattled under the mercy of someone’s impatient fist.

Lock’s bloodshot eyes opened wide and in an instant he was up. Was the entire galaxy conspiring against him? Couldn’t he just suffer a hangover in peace just once!? Stomping his way over to the door, he could feel his rage growing exponentially with every step closer to the door. Again someone knocked, louder this time.

“I’m on my kriffing way!” he called out as he reached the door. Lock yanked it open with a roar only capable from a man half asleep. “Whatdoyoukriffingwant!”

It wasn’t until the words escaped him that Lock realized who was in front of him. A full-blown lieutenant colonel. Instinct made Lock, half asleep and in his boxers, snap to a salute. Many men of his visitor’s rank would’ve been annoyed, offended, or even taken advantage of the moment to make him suffer, but this man in particular only seemed amused.

“At ease,” he said. “I’m Lieutenant Colonel Bill Morrison, callsign Jedi. You’re First Lieutenant Roy Callahan?”

“Yes, sir. Call me Lock,” he answered.

“Very good, Lock,” Jedi grinned and offered him a datapad. “We’ve got a lot to discuss. Have you heard of Renegade Wing?”