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Failing Upward

Captain Andy “Bulldog” Clark

Now

Captain Andy “Bulldog” Clark was drunk- again.

His datapad chirped, drawing his attention away from the glass of bourbon he’d been staring into for the last hour. The night had started as one of his usual bad nights commonly did, with a double pour of good quality Whyrens Reserve, quickly downed and chased with a tall glass of Jet Fire, and then the bargain barrel whiskeys and bourbons made their appearance. No use in paying for the expensive stuff after the first few rounds because it all started to taste the same after a while.

And like most of his bad nights, he made it very clear to all that came by that he wanted nothing to do with any of them. After the first few personnel were gruffly turned away, the rest had learned to give the sullen Rogue a wide berth so he could drown in his cups in peace. Even the amiable maintenance tug pilot Pillan “Skitch” Haarit had been unable to steer him into calmer waters, which was almost unheard of ever since the first time she’d helped pull him out of a career nosedive almost two months prior. Once that exchange had been seen by all, everyone knew something was going to come to a head later on in the evening, and they settled in for the trainwreck with a macabre onlooker’s delight. Unfortunately for them, nothing had blown up in the past hour, and they quickly lost hope for any extracurricular entertainment and finished their drinks and conversations quietly before leaving.

Bulldog numbly wrapped his hand around the glass of alcohol that had mesmerized him for the past hour and lifted it to his lips. Taking a glance around the now relatively sparsely populated bar first, he tossed the glass back and quaffed the low-quality booze down. He hissed as the high proof bourbon burned on its way down his throat, coated his esophagus, and warmed his stomach where it came to a temporary rest.

Chirp CHIRP

Bulldog smashed his fist down on the datapad, smashing the screen with his meaty fist. He waved at the ex-assassin droid behind the bar. “Another, Igs,” he slurred. “Bottom… Shelffff blurgggggh!” he said, punctuating his request with a lengthy belch.

Iggy’s ocular sensor zeroed in on him and seemed to hang in the air for an eternity. “Your datapad indicated you received a message, Captain. Perhaps you should go find another means to view it now that you’ve smashed your primary means of message retrieval.”

Bulldog’s fists clenched and his nostrils flared in aggravation. “I’m off duty, bartender. I want another drink.”

Iggy spun its head around to interact with another patron making an order. With what sounded like a dismissive sigh, the droid responded. “That was my polite way of saying you are cut off, Captain. Would you like to see my less-polite method?”

Bulldog rose from his booth on unsteady legs. He took halting steps forward as he approached the bar. When he was a meter away from the bar, he stopped. His hand fell to his hip where his RSKF-44 dangled in its holster. He patted the worn Brylark wood grip of his trusty heavy blaster with his middle finger a few times. “You know, tonight I just might want to see you try,” he growled.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t remind the Captain that damaging New Republic Property would violate multiple statutes and likely result in a court martial and prison time aboard a New Republic Correctional Transport,” Iggy replied in a bored tone as it went about its cleaning duties, multiple glasses in different appendages were held over a sink while a water spigot from its body shot cleaning solution into them.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t remind the droid bartender that it is his job to pour drinks.”

“It seems we are at an impasse, Captain.”

“So we are.”

The rest of the bar patrons had shied away to the edges of the SSD while they watched the staredown. They were shoveling various bits of Outpost Popcorn Mix into their mouths, clearly happy they’d decided to fight off sleep in hopes of seeing some drama unfold. They’d have a front row seat to the action and be the envy of everybody the next few days. Nobody attempted to record the interaction with their datapad cameras since Iggy had outfitted the interior with anti-recording jammers to protect the dignity of the patrons, which also led to longer visits while people waited for something to happen.

Bulldog faked like he drew his gun, instead pointing his finger and miming shooting from the hip with a sloppy smile and ‘pew pew pew’ sound effects. Iggy didn’t react, which sunk his spirits. He brought the finger up to his mouth and pretended to blow the smoke from his finger, then spun the finger-blaster and fake holstered it. He then backed down, not wanting to escalate further, and definitely knowing he wasn’t likely to win a quickdraw contest with an ex-kill droid even when sober. He waved dismissively with both hands and staggered out of the bar, eliciting a chorus of groans from the onlookers that had been hoping for a show.

He bounced from wall to wall as he stumbled through the hallways of the Vigilant, getting a wide berth from the few night shift personnel that were traversing from department to department to deliver materials and datapads. Their reactions were a mixture of annoyance, disgust, and mild humor.

After a lengthy journey, he found his cabin and keyed the door open. Abandoning all pretense of organization normally befitting a person with the rank of Captain, he threw his clothes off in all directions and flopped face first on his solo billet. He was snoring and drooling within seconds.

*********************

Then

“I’ve been promoted to Captain?”

Lieutenant Colonel Chris “Jalb_k” Reynolds laughed at the look of sheer disbelief of his subordinate’s face. “Yes, Captain.”

Bulldog was perplexed. “Why though?”

“Stop acting like you didn’t earn it. We have generals in the armed forces that have done far less than most of our pilots,” Jalb said slightly more seriously, having reminded himself of the Bothan who’d tried to get his friends killed and derail his career.

It all seemed so preposterous to Bulldog. “Sir, I fell asleep in my cockpit a month ago. Then I crashed another ship on a planet a week later.”

Colonel Vince “Stryker” Rambo stepped in. “Captain, nobody’s perfect. If General Firth would let us, there would be a whole slew of promotions throughout the wing. As it stands, we’re giving them out as fast as we’re allowed to do so.”

It was too much for Bulldog, but he stared at the wall with dead eyes. He knew enough about the military to know that when a superior officer thought something was a good idea, junior officers weren’t going to change their minds. “I just… I feel like I failed upward on this one.”

Lieutenant Colonel Bill “Jedi” Morrison barked out a brief laugh from his position seated on some filing cabinets.

“I think most of us feel that way, Captain,” Major Tony “Thanatos” Marco replied with a knowing smile.

Bulldog sighed. “And there’s no way out of it?”

“No,” the four men said in unison.

Bulldog smiled mischievously. “At least me and Lock can fight now without having the issue of rank messing it up.”

“That’s… Not what rank is for,” Jalb said, taken aback.

“Kidding, Lead,” Bulldog said with a chuckle. “Or am I?” His face grew serious quickly. “I don’t have to have a ceremony, do I?”

“No.” Stryker stepped forward and handed him a datapad. “As luck would have it, Captain, you’ve got a sortie tomorrow. Here are the details. We decided as a show of our confidence in you, we would let you pick four other pilots from this list for your flight element for the mission. You are to select them by 1800 hours, and brief them at 1900 hours.”

Bulldog’s eyes bulged. “I’m leading the briefing?”

“Yes.”

Bulldog nodded and scanned the list of available candidates. “These are all relatively new pilots.”

“Can’t have you lead a mission with somebody more senior to you on the team, Captain,” Jalb explained sympathetically. “Don’t stress too much about it though. You’ll be fine.”

“Show them the ‘Renegade Way’,” Thanatos said encouragingly.

“Uh, I don’t know that you want these rookies learning from me,” Bulldog said with uncertainty.

Stryker nodded. “We trust your decision-making capabilities, Captain. Dismissed.” He saluted the pilot and watched him exit the room.

“Since when do people try to not get promoted?” Jedi asked, eliciting chuckles from the other men in attendance.

********************************

Now

Banging on the door awoke Bulldog from his slumber with a start. “WHAT?” he growled.

“Open up!”

Bulldog groaned as he pushed himself out of bed, last night’s drool still wet on his cheek and chin. His eyes were almost nearly closed shut by the hardened eye mucous of the night before, and he stepped on something hard in the arch of his foot in his blindness. Yelping in pain and hopping on one foot, he cleared his eyes and made it to the door.

“I’m off duty today!” He grumbled as he slapped the door control. “This better be-”

An amused Jalb was standing in the hallway, flanked by Syntax, Krayt, Wolf, and Thanatos. “Did you… ah… forget about today’s excursion?”

“Excursion?”

“I sent you the calendar event last night, Captain,” Jalb said, still attempting to stifle a laugh.

“I must not have gotten it,” Bulldog mumbled, still clearing his eyes. “Where are we going? What should I pack?”

“Just get dressed, Captain,” Syntax said.

Major Myke “Wolf” Krenn chuckled. “I don’t know, guys, I think the club might let him in this way.”

“Club?”

“GET DRESSED!” The officers all chorused.

“And hustle it up, Captain. Stryker and Jedi are in the hangar getting the shuttle warmed up. They don’t like being late.”

********************************

Then

Bulldog stood in front of the four pilots seated in the briefing room. He didn’t know how to start a meeting, much less how to conduct a proper briefing. The countless hours he’d spent in rooms like this, and he couldn’t for the life of him remember how briefings started. Generally he’d just be in his chair chatting or looking at his datapad, then somebody started talking and he paid attention.

Clumsily, he plugged his datapad into the holo display, and then spent another half-minute trying to pull up the correct file for display. The only saving grace in this whole equation was that all of the pilots in the room were very new, and probably hadn’t been to enough active mission briefings yet to know there was a usual flow to these things.

He noticed a security officer with a squat face toward the back wall of the briefing room. It was a humanoid, but he couldn’t tell if it was a good-looking Snivvian or a really terrible looking human. “Uh, excuse me? This is a private briefing for the pilots.”

“Sergeant Tah Manx. Security, Captain,” the humanoid said succinctly, as if that was enough clarification.

After a moment of not getting more explanation, he asked the obvious question. “Why are you here exactly?”

“I’m the special security detail for Flight Officer Sherru, Captain.”

“Security from who? Is he in danger?”

“Not exactly, sir.”

“Then wait outside.”

“I have very specific orders to not let the flight officer out of my sight, sir.”

“Take it up with your section leader then,” Bulldog replied, exasperated. “I’m running a private briefing with my team. Unless you are ACM qualified in a snub fighter, you won’t be accompanying us on this mission and he’ll most certainly be out of your sight then.”

Manx scrunched his face up and made it even uglier, if that were possible. He looked back and forth between Bulldog and his security detainee, and then shook his head as he turned and stepped outside of the door.”

“Thanks,” one of the pilots said. “He never leaves me alone.”

“Why’s that?” One of the other pilots asked.

“Nevermind that right now,” Bulldog interrupted. Finally, things were ready. He keyed the button and listened to the hum of the holo display as it started its slideshow.

“Ok, so, uh, we’re going to be escorting a convoy of vital supplies tomorrow,” Bulldog stopped, coughing to clear the frog out of his throat. “We will be using a mixed fighter element for this hop, flying under the designation ‘Herd Flight’. I will be in an X-Wing as Herd Leader, as will Flight Officer Van Tibl as Herd Two. Flight Officer Ninx will be in a Y-Wing as Herd Three, Flight Officer Sherru will be in an A-Wing as Herd Four, and Flight Officer Toopah is in a U-Wing for support as Herd 5.”

“Herd Flight?” Flight Officer Teondu “Trip” Van Tibl asked. “Couldn’t we have come up with something cooler, like Bone Crusher Flight?”

“Hey now,” Flight Officer Thos “Bone” Sherry admonished.

“Cloudrider Flight,” Flight Officer Tecks “Tex” Toopah sighed dreamily.

“No B-Wing this time, Captain?” Flight Officer Dion “Loth-Cat” Ninx asked.

Bulldog shook his head. “No, too slow for escort duty, and intel says this run is nowhere near contested space.”

The slideshow continued on behind him, jumping two slides ahead during the question and answer, so Bulldog speed-talked to get caught up. “We’re escorting this convoy through the Bornea Sector… yadda yadda yadda... so we’re likely to see some pirate activity if we see anything at all. Our rules of engagement are to only fire when clearly threatened.”

“Clearly threatened, sir?” Bone asked.

Bulldog smiled knowingly. “I realize you pilots haven’t seen a ton of action yet. Believe me, you’ll know when we’re clearly threatened.”

Another hand shot up. “How though, sir?” Trip asked, still confused.

“Because I’ll tell you when we’re threatened,” Bulldog replied, looking back to see the slideshow had moved even farther on without him. “Emperor’s black bones! Look, guys. We’re on a milk run with this one. Just keep your heads and follow my lead.”

The Mimbanese U-Wing pilot raised his hand, and Bulldog waved him off.

“Just have your fighters ready to fly by 0600 tomorrow. 2 hours travel time to rendezvous with the convoy through hyperspace, then another two hour hop to reach the Ringali Nebula. We escort the convoy, and hand them off once we’ve traversed the nebula to another squadron. Easy peasy.”

***************

Now

“Golfing?” Bulldog asked groggily from his seat in the passenger compartment of the shuttle.

“Yeah buddy,” Wolf replied happily.

“What is golfing?”

“It’s a game Jedi learned about on a vacation to Bar Neth a few years back,” Jalb replied. “He’s become quite fond of it as time goes on.”

Bulldog yawned mightily. He graciously accepted a cup of caf from Thanatos. “And how do we play?”

Lieutenant Colonel 9-LOM “Syntax” turned to face him. “I will now recite the rule set put forth by the PGBNA in its entirety, including the variations: Best Ball, Scramble, Four Ball, Skins, Bingo Bango Bongo-”

“That’s ok, Syntax,” Jedi interrupted from the cockpit. “We don’t need all of that information.”

“I feel like that last one was made up,” Jalb chimed in.

“I was merely answering the Captain’s question,” Syntax replied.

“And we’ll all be done with the round by the time you’re done explaining the rules,” Thanatos replied sarcastically.

“Bottom line is, you hit a ball with different clubs and try to get it into the hole first,” Lieutenant Colonel Alrick “Krayt” Durgan explained. “Here, breakfast sandwich?”

Bulldog took the offered sandwich and sat up a little straighter. “Uh, I’ve got to say, sirs, that it feels like you’re all being extremely nice to me. I’ve never heard of this ‘golf’ game, and I’ve never heard of Bar Neth. Are you guys taking me somewhere to hunt me for sport?”

“Wouldn’t be much sport,” Stryker replied from the cockpit.

“Accurate,” Syntax agreed.

Bulldog took a cautious bite of the offered sandwich, and then tore into it with relish. “Are these real eggs and actual tail-ring bacon?”

“Command has its privileges,” Jalb said, taking a large bite of his own sandwich.

“I’m, uh, not in command of anything,” Bulldog replied dubiously.

None of the beings replied, looking at each other as if they knew a secret that he didn’t.

“Oh, forgot one more rule,” Wolf broke in, breaking up the awkward silence. “Worst score buys all the drinks.”

“Wait,” Syntax interrupted. “Did we leave without Mighty?”

**************

Then

Bulldog slid his X-Wing into the middle of the freighter formation as they approached the Ringali Nebula and neared their transfer point. The destroyed moon of Galitan had sent large chunks of rock all over the cloud, making navigation a chore. He absentmindedly checked his sensors to make sure the rest of the flight was in formation, and smiled as he saw they had positioned themselves properly using his ship as the focal point. Being right in the middle of the freighter formation meant that they could respond in any direction without any wasted flight time to cut across the entire herd of freighters if the threat came from a different direction. It was a standard procedure for escorting multiple targets with an almost 360 degree attack vector.

The freighter captains had deigned to not reply to any of his hails when they made the first rendezvous, which he thought was a strange occurrence but shrugged it off. Instead, he was fed a set of coordinates, which he distributed to the rest of Herd Flight. The next hyperspace jump was also silent as all of the pilots relaxed as best they could for the journey.

Now here they were at the blue maelstrom’s gates, and every time he tried to hail the freighters to ask them to alter course to give them more clearance on all sides through the only safe corridor, he was still ignored. Something didn’t sit right with him, and he knew that being the most senior officer present among a group of green pilots meant that it was up to him to make some decisions.

“Bantha One, I say again,” Bulldog started, the feeling of frustration edging into his voice. “This is Herd Leader. I would feel much better about our ability to protect the convoy if you could alter your course by about 3 degrees to port immediately. Those rocks on our starboard side are large enough to hide a pretty large ship by my estimation.”

Nothing.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Bulldog grumbled. His eyes widened as he thought he discovered the answer to the question he hadn’t exactly been asking. He looked back to his astromech. “Weight, scan the freighters for lifeforms.”

Weight tootled and then let a series of annoyed tones loose.

“It’s ok buddy, the nebula’s playing hell with my sensors too. Thanks for trying.”

“Lead, we’re getting really close to those massive rocks on the right,” Loth-Cat in Herd Three called out nervously.

“I see them, Three. Been trying to get these Sithing freighters to alter their course for the last few minutes but I’m getting stonewalled,” Bulldog replied, pursing his lips.

“Do you think their comms are down?” Trip in Herd Two proposed.

“Maybe…” Bulldog said, trailing off as he continued to think things through. “Four, do a close flyby of the bridge of Bantha One. Tell me what you see through the viewport.”

“Uhh- roger, Lead,” Bone replied as his A-Wing cautiously moved forth to buzz the tower of the leading freighter.

The rest of the pilots waited anxiously for the report.

“Keep your eyes focused on the fringes, Herds,” Bulldog reminded them to make sure they weren’t all staring at Bone’s A-Wing like he was.

“So… I didn’t see anybody on the bridge, Lead,” Bone replied confusedly. “No lights are on either.”

“Where is the crew?” Loth-Cat asked, equally perplexed.

“Droid crews,” Bulldog said after a few seconds of deep thought. “We’re escorting droid-crewed ships.”

“Is that bad?” Trip asked.

“Well, let’s just hope their shortest path possible programming doesn’t get us into trouble,” Bulldog replied confidently in voice, but not in conviction.

Weight warbled in alarm.

“TIEs inbound!” Bulldog shouted.

“How many?” Trip asked in alarm.

“Where?!” Tex shouted, his U-Wing wavering and almost crashing into Loth-Cat, who cursed and adjusted his flight path to avoid a collision.

“Around that rock we were worried about,” Bulldog cursed. He checked his sensors, making sure this wasn’t bait to pull them off mission. Seeing nothing, he made a snap decision. “Herds, we’re going to move in to engage. We need to stay within 4 mikes of the convoy. We can’t let them pull us too far away in case it’s a diversion.”

“My scopes are clear everywhere else,” Bone replied.

“Mine too,” Bulldog replied patiently. “Doesn’t mean there isn’t more out there. These freighters aren’t going to listen to us guiding them, so we need to do our best to stick to them until we reach the hand-off and hopefully get help. Form up on me for our attack run!”

A series of affirmative replies met his orders, and the ships of Herd Flight fell into formation on Bulldog’s wings.

The five TIE fighters moved in concert as they wheeled around the massive chunk of moon that was closest to the freighters. Instead of targeting the freighters, they moved in toward Bulldog’s flight and maneuvered to make a head to head pass.

“Let’s get them all in one go,” Bulldog said confidently, feeling it in his chest this time. Head to head with an equal number of shieldless TIEs was usually a winner for New Republic forces. They arrayed themselves in a box-and-one formation, putting one in the lead in the middle to act as a target while the four on the trailing corners would add their firepower to the mix. Bulldog smiled, having seen this before many times and knowing how to counter it.

“Box formation on me, execute!” Bulldog shouted, watching the distance between him and the enemy quickly winding down. His smile wavered a bit as he saw Tex and Bone almost collide as one of them went to the wrong corner, eliciting a cursing course correction from Bone as he adjusted his positioning to avoid the nervous U-Wing pilot.

“We’re about to engage,” Bulldog said soothingly. “Keep your heads and shoot straight on this head to head so we don’t have to get into any turning battles. Five, hit me with a shield augmentation bot in 20 seconds. I’m going to soak their fire so you all can have an easier run.”

“Roger, Herd Leader,” Tex replied, his voice quavering.

“Relax, Five. Just hit me with that shield when the time comes and we’ll be fine.”

“Roger, Sir.”

Bulldog watched the timer count down intently. When it reached zero, he was 2.5 km away from the leading TIE. One second passed. Two seconds. Three. Four. Green dots appeared in his forward viewport, indicating the TIEs were opening fire early. He responded in kind.

“Five, shields!”

“Right!”

The shield was deployed just in the nick of time, enveloping his craft just as the first lasers reached him. The engagement lasted two seconds, and five fireballs of destroyed TIEs littered their aft arc. Bulldog’s shields had taken a little damage after the shield augmentation droid had burnt out due to overwhelming fire. He swapped his ELS to max out shields so he could recharge them and then pulled back around to head toward the freighters that had gotten a 3 km lead on them.

“Splash Five! Well done!”

“I got one!” Loth-Cat shouted elatedly. “You see that? I got one!”

“Don’t get cocky!” Bulldog admonished sarcastically, remembering his flight leader saying the same thing to him after his first kill. A toothy grin crossed Bulldog’s face as he remembered the pure joy he’d felt in that instant. “That’s a good kill, Three. Let’s form up and get back to our droid overlords.”

The rest of the flight cheered and filled the airwaves with their feelings and reactions.

Just as they rendezvoused with the freighters, Bulldog’s sensors chirped another alert. Instantly the joyous mood was soured. “More fighters coming from the next set of rocks. About twelve. We can still handle them though. Form up, same maneuver.”

“My shields are stronger, Lead,” Loth-Cat replied. “Maybe I should take point and soak the damage this time.”

Bulldog was torn. His subordinate proposed a plan that was tactically correct, but at the same time it put one of his subordinates at risk when it should be him. He thought long and hard about it, but ultimately declined. “Negative, Three. I’ve done this sort of thing before. I’d rather not put any of you into a rough situation if I can avoid it.

Weight warbled a frantic alert.

“Where did that Raider come from?!” Bone cursed.

Behind the original rock that had produced the five original TIE fighters, a Raider Corvette emerged and put on a burst of speed as it attempted to pursue the group of slower freighters. It would overtake them in a matter of minutes, and be able to open fire on the convoy within one minute if the intent was to destroy rather than capture.

Bulldog frowned. Enemies in the rear and one side. This is unfortunate.

“What do we do?” Trip asked nervously.

“I’m thinking!” Bulldog snapped while his mind raced. He was trying to figure out not only the best craft composition for splitting the flight to face their two-front skirmish, but he also had to figure out which pilots could handle their assignment capably. If this was command, he wanted no part of it.

“How can this get any worse?” Bone asked, equally nervous.

Bulldog’s sensors picked up some hazy readings in the direction of their handoff point. His mood soared as he strained his eyes forward, willing his sensors to clarify the picture and confirm that their reinforcements had arrived to even the odds. Sirocco Squadron’s arrival would certainly even these odds.

“Mixed composition of TIE variants dead ahead!” Loth-Cat shouted, having gotten a clear sensor picture quicker than Bulldog.

“It’s worse,” Bulldog cursed.

**************

Now

Bulldog’s entire body ached. He’d been lugging his club bag around for the past 9 holes while the rest of the wing staff in attendance were sharing small two-man hover skimmers as they navigated the course. He cursed inwardly for what had to be the one-thousandth time that day at the predictable form of junior-officer hazing he should have expected when he got invited to this excursion.

The other six officers waited patiently for him at the tenth tee box, making all manner of gestures and snide comments regarding how much time he was taking to catch up.

“You know, is this really a fair game? We’ve got a couple of force users and a droid that can calculate the perfect shot each time,” Bulldog griped.

“Get some cheese with that whine,” Thanatos ribbed.

“A wha-mburger and some french cries,” Wolf added.

“What’s the difference between a puppy and a captain?” Krayt asked.

“The two are not the same species,” Syntax answered with confidence.

“Eventually the puppy stops whining!” Krayt guffawed as he finished the punchline.

“Ok, that might be the best one,” Jedi said through fits of laughter.

“What about… uh… ah…” Jalb started, clearly stuck and panicking now that he’d brought the attention on himself. “B’omarr Monk, uh…. Jedi, and… um.”

“Ok, you killed it,” Stryker said in a flat deadpan.

“No no,” Jalb said, holding up a hand. He snapped his fingers. “What do you call a pregnant flight attendant?” He looked around, but saw confused faces all around. “Give up? PILOT ERROR!” He started laughing heartily at his own joke, but it quickly petered out when he saw none of the others in attendance were laughing.

“Yeah, you definitely killed it,” Jedi groaned through a face palm.

“I do not understand,” Syntax started. “All of the previous jokes were riffs on whining.”

“Oh come on! He’s a pilot!”

“We’re all pilots though,” Krayt explained, gesturing at the senior commanders. He then gestured toward Bulldog. “But he’s the only one whining.”

Jalb waved his hand dismissively as he nursed his bruised ego.

“Well, now that that’s over with, how about we let the captain go first?” Stryker asked to break the awkward silence. It drew a series of eager nods all around.

Bulldog shrugged and pulled his 7 iron out of the bag for this steep dropping par 3. He didn’t have much experience with this game, but he’d quickly learned that he had a good long game with his driver and he definitely didn’t want to use that club for this hole. He had to make sure he didn’t miss the green, as it was surrounded on all sides by a craggy cliff into a ring of water, with only a small walkway from the cart path to the green. He squared his shoulders and slightly bent his knees. He accounted for the wind, and felt good about this shot. He pulled the club back and prepared to swing.

“Hey, did you hear why golfers hate cake?” Jalb broke in.

Bulldog aborted his swing and felt a twinge of pain in his lower back. He turned, glaring daggers at the interrupting pilot.

“Because they’re afraid they might get a slice!”

“Your jokes are rough today, Lead,” Thanatos groaned.

“Bad form,” Syntax buzzed.

“Ok, I’m done,” Jalb said with a dismissive wave. He informally bowed toward Bulldog. “Proceed.”

Bulldog squared up his shoulders and settled himself again. Before he started his swing this time, he glared back at Jalb. Rogue Leader mimed zipping his lips, and nodded encouragingly. Bulldog checked his shot line again, and went through the swing.

Just before his club reached the contact point, Krayt coughed violently.

Bulldog’s legs clenched, forcing his body to rise as he swung the club down. The bottom of his club hit the middle of the ball, sending it rocketing forward rather than into a nice loft for the drop. His ball sailed over the green below and plunked into the ring of water beyond.

“Tough break, BD,” Wolf said as he patted him on the back.

“Hope you brought a snorkel,” Jedi snickered.

“I’d watch it in there. Heard there might be dianogas in the water hazards here,” Stryker warned ominously.

The rest of the golfers took their shots without a hitch.

Thanatos’ shot came up short, but got a favorable bounce toward the pin.

Wolf’s looked to be in danger of being even shorter, but somehow caught the very edge of the front lip of the green and checked forward rather than backward into the moat below. He let out a sigh of relief afterward.

“Well, I can’t be any worse off than the captain here,” Jalb said with a chuckle. Instead of lining up his shot normally, he started about three feet behind the ball. As he approached slowly, he raised his club as his body shifted to the side. In a show of perfect timing, he made contact with the ball just as he reached the correct position. While it was a showy shot, he barely kept his shot on the green, leaning backward as if he hoped his body could control the ball’s momentum. When it checked up, he pumped his fist in elation. “You beauty!”

“You try that idiotic shot every time we play,” Krayt said with a head shake and chuckle.

“And it’s getting better,” Jalb replied proudly.

Syntax’s shot looked to be completely perfect, but a last second wind gust pushed it to the right and the ball bounced 2 inches from the cup and rolled away. The droid vibrated slightly and looked at the club as if it was to blame for the miss.

“Perhaps I should have taken that oil bath last night,” the droid muttered.

Krayt’s shot looked like it was going way to the left, but at the right time, the wind that had magically appeared during Syntax’s shot appeared again and pushed his ball to land within two feet of the pin. He nodded, as if he’d expected that outcome.

Stryker started the elaborate warm up ritual that he’d done before each tee shot. It looked ridiculous to Bulldog, but he didn’t have enough experience with the game to know if that was normal or not. After a minute of complex shoulder rolls and arm circles, he squared up his shot and sent the ball flying quickly. It was going long, but miraculously had enough backspin to bring it back to within one inch of the cup. The rest of the golfers in attendance cheered, and Stryker bowed a few times in celebration.

Jedi smiled. He closed his eyes as he went into a deep meditation. After what seemed like an eternity, the intermittent wind completely died down. The golfing veteran smiled tightly as he lined up his shot. He leisurely completed his swing, and the ball sailed through the air. It took the same path as Stryker’s, and also got the same miraculous backspin. It looked to be on a collision course with Stryker’s ball blocking its path toward the pin, but a series of subtle hand gestures from Jedi sent the ball in an unnatural zig-zag around the obstruction. It plunked into the hole.

“That’s not fair, XO,” Wolf griped.

“What?” Jedi asked guiltily with a shrug.

*************

Then

This was too much for Bulldog to handle. Not only had their relief force not shown up, but in its stead was another group of five mixed-composition fighters bearing down upon them. They were facing slightly over 3 to 1 odds against, and that wasn’t including the Raider-II Class Corvette coming up behind them and whatever ships were out there that had dropped off those fighters ahead of them and at the other ambush point off to the side. The three-pronged trap was sprung perfectly, and each thrust would land upon them at roughly the same time to avoid the possibility of destruction in detail.

”Captain? Captain!” Tex called out.

Bulldog momentarily wondered why the captain wasn’t responding, but then realized HE was the Captain in question. It hit him again that he was in charge and the plan was his to make and call out. His brain seized as he tried to tackle the impossible odds and come up with a winning plan that resulted in zero losses.

“What’s the plan?” Loth-Cat asked nervously.

Bulldog didn’t respond. He tried to figure out which group he should throw himself at while keeping the other four pilots paired up. It was the only thing that made sense to him at the moment. He was more experienced and had more tricks up his sleeve, and thus he SHOULD last longer by himself than any of the others. Hopefully. Maybe. Probably not. I’m not Thanatos or Jalb, after all.

“Lead, what do we do?” Bone urged.

Bulldog didn’t respond. He decided that Loth-Cat in the Y-Wing needed to go after the Raider coming up behind them as he had the only ship that had enough punch to put it down. He mentally debated between having the U-Wing or Trip’s X-Wing accompany that mission.

“They’re getting closer,” Trip trailed off.

Bulldog didn’t respond. He was stuck between sending himself at the twelve fighters and letting Bone’s A-Wing and the leftover ship take on the mixed element heading at them from the front or flipping it. Neither option looked good, as they either had overwhelming odds or excellent strategic capability over whatever his flight could field against them. Either option could be survived in the beginning, but both options would wear a pilot down quickly and overwhelm them.

“In moments like these, a human captain would have turned their freighters around and started running,” Bulldog cursed to Weight. “Is there any way you can override their controls and get them to take a new heading that would be more advantageous for us?”

Weight beeped a short, negative reply.

“Of course they have security. Can you hack it?”

Weight hooted sadly.

“That’s ok. I can’t hang around here long enough for you to give it your best shot.”

“Lead?” Tex asked, his ship starting to wobble as the pilot clearly started to lose his nerve.

Bulldog took a breath to compose himself. He began calculating an attack vector for a 3 ship strike on the twelve TIEs that would put himself on the far edge of the engagement and most likely to draw the fire of the mixed element of five TIE variants bearing down upon them. “Ok here’s what I’ve got. Two and Three, you are going to turn and engage the Raider. Four and Five, adjust your heading by 30 degrees and engage with the TIE squadron. I will take a 50 degree heading to help and then hopefully draw fire from the group heading straight at us.”

“Two of us against a Raider?” Trip asked worriedly. “Wish we had a B-Wing now.”

“Yeah,” Bone agreed.

“You’d be still chugging by that rock by yourself where the Raider popped out,” Bulldog snapped. “Focus!”

“Roger, Lead,” Loth-Cat replied with an aggressive edge to his voice.

“Three against 17 TIEs?!” Tex asked with a tremble.

“Not great odds,” Bulldog started, swallowing his own dread. He forced it down, fighting with all his might to add his usual cocky edge to his voice before continuing. “Keep your heads, and trust your wings. Five, your turrets and shield bots are going to even the odds in our favor. Hit Four with a set of shields, and fire a turret right at the bigger group of TIEs to hopefully even our odds quickly. Execute!”

Trip and Loth-Cat swapped their noses for stern quickly and moved to engage the Raider behind them. Bulldog took a wide angle for the initial engagement, keeping an eye on the fast-approaching mixed flight bearing down on him from the front. Bone and Tex took a sharper turn toward the larger group of fighters.

The die was cast. They were going to fight their hardest to hold out until their relief could come find them. Bulldog hoped that once his group was logged as overdue that Sirocco Squadron would venture forth to look for them. He hoped his flight and the freighters would be alive long enough for that relief to reach them. He hoped he didn’t die. He hoped none of his rookies died because of his decision to engage rather than cut bait and run. He hoped that decision wouldn’t haunt him.

“Activating combat assault shield in 5 seconds,” Loth-Cat advised over the radio. “Stay behind me on the approach, Two, then pop out and strafe the topside starboard gun emplacements. I’ll take the port topside.”

“Tucked in tight,” Trip replied in a strained voice.

“Launch that turret and shield now, Five!” Bulldog shouted to remind the nervous U-Wing pilot.

“I, uh.. Roger!”

A shield augmentation bot shot forth from the U-Wing and homed in on Bone’s A-Wing. Just before contact where a normal warhead would explode and overload shields or damage the hull, the bot popped off and landed on the target craft. It magnetically attached to the hull and produced an overcharged shield, giving Bone’s A-Wing a shimmering blue sphere of added protection.

Another warhead sprung from the U-Wing, but this one was more boxy and slower moving. It still moved faster than a fighter, but had a much shorter distance it was capable of traveling. As it reached its terminal limit, the box sprung open to reveal a cannon at the center of a ring with four solar-panel arms spread out equidistantly around the ring. Once it fully unfurled, it began rotating in space to look for targets.

Being timed a little late, the turret was slow in tracking the TIEs to hit them at maximum range to thin them out a little before first contact. Still, the red lances of light from the stationary turret were fast and accurate, hammering two TIEs into submission almost immediately.

Bone took advantage of the disarray the squadron was facing and ate some uncoordinated shots from them until he closed in range for his rapid fire blasters to have maximum effect. The flurry of red bolts from his ship melted another two TIEs and damaged a third, which was quickly cleaned up by Tex’s U-Wing’s own lasers. Both alliance fighters sliced through the gap and started wheeling around to find another target. Neither pilot exulted in the kill this time, having far more stress and worry to keep joyous emotions tamped down.

Bulldog took ranging shots at one of the TIEs that broke off as it was spooked by the turret and was rewarded with a messy kill. His flurry of lasers were wild, but two lucky bolts caught the pylon that attacked the ball cockpit to a solar panel at just the right point and sheared it off partially. The moment the TIE made another evasive maneuver, the panel broke away completely, sending the rest of the ball hurtling off out of control into the blue cloud of the nebula.

His shots were wild because he was constantly monitoring his sensors to keep track of the mixed fighter element moving to engage. He needed to be prepared to break into the attack and force and overshoot, but wouldn’t be able to do that and focus on the first targets they’d chosen.

The communications between the ships were equally as messy as his kill.

“My shields need a boost,” Bone called out.

“Where are you?” Tex replied.

“Right in front of you!” Bone shouted angrily.

“Break off Two!” Loth-Cat urged.

“Warhead launched! Going evasive!” Trip screamed in fear.

“Drop countermeasures, flap-face!”

“You worry about that launcher, wrench jockey! I’ll worry about the missile!”

“I’ve got two on my tail!”

“Coming, Five.”

“I’m taking fire!”

“Come around for another pass!”

“Drop another turret, Five!”

The call outs were chaotic. Bulldog knew he should do his best to calm them and rein them in, but at that instant he made a sharp turn into the nearby mixed flight element of enemy fighters to force their initial overshoot. The TIE Interceptor was the one most affected by his maneuver, forced to take a wide turn to re-engage. The slower moving TIE Fighter made a tighter turn, snapping off a few wild shots that missed high. The TIE Bomber snapped shots that were low, but it made no effort to turn to engage. Instead, it dropped a mine that would bisect Bulldog’s path. Two TIE Reapers brought up the rear. One unleashed a torrent of Ion cannons that splashed across Bulldog’s bow and drained his shields. The second fired lasers, attempting to take advantage of the situation. It also fired a turret missile similar to the U-Wing’s. It started pumping lasers into his aft shields.

“Kark it!” Bulldog cursed as he corkscrewed his X-Wing to break away from the mine that was dropped in his path and gain distance away from the turret. “Weight! See what you can do to get our shields boosted!” The astromech worked his magic, and the shields boosted back up to full charge. It was just in the nick of time, as more lasers from the TIE and Interceptor splashed against his renewed shields. He saw the lumbering bomber up ahead as it continued forward to ambush Bone and Toopah as they still tangled with four TIEs, having killed two more in the intervening seconds that Bulldog had broken eye contact with them and started flying evasive.

A piece of debris flew across his vision, and time slowed down. He didn’t understand why his brain chose that moment to slow down and focus on a seemingly unimportant detail, but time soon resumed it’s normal passing. He jinked and spiraled as he continued to bore in on the TIE Bomber, hoping he could get it before it had a chance to disrupt Herds Four and Five. Just before he could get a good firing solution, a shield augmentation missile shot past his ship and connected with the bomber, giving it a blue sphere of protection.

“Bomber incoming!” He warned. He pumped lasers into the now protected bomber and slowly whittled away at the deadly ship. “Come on! Come ON!”

“Something’s getting a lock on me!” Bone shouted.

“Launches detected!” Tex screamed as he broke to evade the warhead. “Multi-missiles!”

“What’s the play, Lead?” Loth-Cat asked.

“Busy!”

“Should we regroup and help you over there?” Trip questioned as his voice rose in pitch.

“Is the Raider dead?”

“Negative, Lead,” Loth-Cat responded dejectedly.

“Keep working on it then!”

”Five, watch your six!”

“I’m going down!” Tex’s death scream pierced the airwaves. In his death throes, his ship somehow fired off a shield droid at Bone and launched a turret in Bulldog’s direction. After his last heroic act, his ship broke apart around him as another TIE stitched his stricken ship with lasers.

“We lost Five!” Bone reported urgently. “I’m completely defensive over here!”

Bulldog’s mind was racing. The TIE and Interceptor were closing in on his aft, sending green lasers through the space around his fighter. The two Reapers were bringing up the rear were firing off support tools to make their flight harder to kill. There was no chance for them to win at this rate. The moment that Raider closed in, they’d be effectively overwhelmed. He made a decision; the only decision that made complete and utter sense to him.

He unloaded his rockets into the aft of the TIE Bomber he’d been trailing, finally breaking down the shield augmentation and destroying the ship. The turret that Herd Five had fired off before his death deployed and started raining fire down on his pursuers, forcing them to break off of their runs.

“Execute Immediate Withdrawal!” Bulldog shouted as he flipped his ELS to max out his engines. “Get out of here!”

“Where is our relief?” Loth-Cat asked from his position still harassing the Raider.

Bulldog thought back to that split-second piece of debris his saw. An orange and black S-Foil pinwheeling through the nebula. “They’re not coming. Strafe that Raider one more time and head out!”

“What about you and Four?” Trip grunted as he threw his ship into an evasive maneuver to avoid a heavy laser cannon blast.

“We’ll boost out of here! Go!”

“Four, throttle maxed! Boosting!” Bone replied through gritted teeth as his A-Wing boosted forward at an impossibly fast rate of acceleration. The cloud of TIEs around him turned toward Bulldog.

Bulldog waited impatiently for a full charge on his boost, and then slammed down the button on his throttle with his thumb. He was thrown back into his seat while the visible landmarks surrounding his cockpit blurred as they rocketed past. As he approached the way they came, the Raider spit fire in his direction.

“I got it, Lead,” Loth-Cat said as his Y-Wing appeared behind the Raider. “Cover me, Two.”

“Roger,” Trip replied as his X-Wing looped around.

Loth-Cat’s Y-Wing charged it’s beam cannon weapon while he also held down the trigger for his rotary cannon. Small red bolts rapidly struck the base of the Raider’s bridge tower, and then were completely overlapped by a thick beam of energy that started drilling through the superstructure. Once the attack was done, the lights and weapons in the upper hemisphere of the Raider were dark.

“Good shooting, Three,” Bulldog huffed out through the increased g-forces of his lengthy boost. “Now get out of here before those fighters catch up!”

The four fighters sped out of the outer reaches of the Ringali Nebula. Bulldog looked back one more time at the now disabled freighters and slammed his fist down on his thigh. He had failed, and lost a pilot in the process.

Maybe they’ll never make me lead again.

***************

Now

The rest of the round was a comedy of mean-spirited errors for Bulldog.

On his next tee shot, he really got a hold of the ball and knew he’d bombed one straight down the fairway. While he squinted to keep tracking the ball in admiration, his ball suddenly hooked into a small copse of trees and nestled right at the base of a gnarly root system. He looked back in anger at the force users in the party, and they all pointed fingers at one another to deflect blame.

On the 15th green, Bulldog sent a 30 foot putt on its way with a hope and a prayer. As he watched it rolling with the various breaks of the green, it looked to be leveling out with the right speed to go right in, giving him his first par of the day. Slowly, the ball started to approach the lip of the pin with just enough speed to drop in. Suddenly, the ball disintegrated as a blaster bolt struck it from over his shoulder. Looking back, he saw Syntax holstering a blaster.

“I thought I saw a poisonous Kouhun,” the droid said with a human-like shrug. “My sincerest apologies, Captain.”

On the 16th green, Thanatos took a gouging step in the path of Bulldog’s put, depressing and disrupting the fine grass’s lie enough to make the shot unreadable. “My bad, BD. Wasn’t paying attention.”

On the 17th fairway, his ball leapt into the air as he swung, forcing his club to hit air. Twice.

“That’s two extra strokes, Captain,” Jedi said as he checked the scorecard as he walked by at a leisurely pace.

On the 18th green, Bulldog was 1 foot away and preparing to tap his final putt in to end the infernal day. As he casually lined up for his shot he felt something jabbing him in the rear end as he swung, sending the ball skittering across the green into a sand trap. He whirled around and saw Wolf trying to beat a hasty retreat, with a club in hand.

He grumbled and grabbed his sand wedge. Taking an angry swing, he sent the ball high into the air in a cloud of sand. It looked to be going wide, but it took an unnatural left turn once it hit the green and holed out. Krayt gave him a nod and a kind smile from across the hole.

“Well,” Stryker said as he put his clubs away. “I’d say we probably don’t have to look at the scorecard to see who is buying the drinks at the clubhouse.”

Bulldog hung his head in anger.

“Well, Captain, how did you enjoy your first executive golf retreat?” Jalb asked with a sarcastic tinge.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?” Bulldog replied, fed up.

“Granted.”

“This is a bunch of shavit,” Bulldog cursed. “If you wanted to have fun at my expense, you could have tied me up to a pulley system on the Vigilant and just moved me back and forth while you targeted me with paint rounds!”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Thanatos said, bringing his hand to his chin.

“Ok, Captain,” Stryker said while moving his hands in a conciliatory gesture. He looked at Wolf. “Major, please go on ahead to reserve a table for us.”

Wolf nodded and walked toward one of the hover carts and sat in the seat.

“Actually, Major, on foot if you would,” Jedi interjected.

“What?” Wolf whined.

Jedi made a disappointed facial expression. “Poking somebody in the backside with a club? There are better ways to mess with another player than actually poking them. Work on that creativity,” he said with a chuckle.

Wolf stood up and cursed. He looked again at Jedi to make sure he was serious. Seeing no reprieve, he walked off alone up the path toward the clubhouse.

“Do you have any other thoughts on this experience?” Jalb asked.

“Plenty, but none worth voicing,” Bulldog replied sullenly.

The rest of the pilots in attendance laughed heartily at his misery. Krayt patted the distressed pilot kindly on the shoulder, as did Thanatos as he stepped past him and joined the rest of the command staff of the wing.

“Do you want to tell him or should I?” Jalb asked Stryker. “It should probably come from you.”

“I suppose I’ll do it,” Stryker said with a shrug.

Bulldog waited expectantly, looking in series at each of the faces arrayed in front of him. “Well?”

“Not very patient, is he?” Jedi admonished with a smile.

“Not at all,” Krayt agreed with a nod.

Bulldog zipped his lips, deciding that it would just be best for him to button up and wait for the next punchline of the day at his expense.

Stryker pulled out a datapad and tossed it to Bulldog. “We have seen it fit to transfer you out of Rogue Squadron.”

“Sir? That can’t be right,” Thanatos said, immediately stepping to the side of Bulldog to face the others. “I have seen no such recommendation across my desk nor have I filed one myself.”

Bulldog’s heart sank like a rock.

“...To Executive Officer of Buccaneer Squadron, effective immediately,” Stryker finished.

Bulldog was floored. His mouth hung agape as he tried to process what he’d just been told. “I… uh..”

“Congratulations, man!” Thanatos shouted, having also been surprised by the news. He roughly squeezed Bulldog’s shoulders in happiness.

“We’ll be sad to see you go,” Jalb said soberly. “But we know you’re the right man for the job.”

Bulldog was still speechless. He couldn’t comprehend the news. His track record from the last few weeks ran through his mind, and all he could think of were failures and mishaps. Falling asleep in his cockpit, crashing a ship the following week, his failed first command mission... “I… uhh.”

“He’s in shock,” Syntax reported.

“No, I,” Bulldog started, looking at his feet. “I uh, I’m not saying that the Colonel is mistaken… It’s just that I…”

“Don’t think you deserve it?” Krayt offered.

“That,” Bulldog said with a curt nod.

“Throw that garbage down the chute,” Krayt replied. “You’re just the person for the job.”

“I still feel like I keep failing upward,” Bulldog said helplessly, with a mixture of happy and sad tears forming in his eyes.

“Like I said before, man,” Thanatos started.

“Yeah, you all feel that way,” Bulldog finished with a bitter laugh. He flailed his hands in frustration.

Krayt leaned in conspiratorially. “And, if we’re being honest, Animal could use the help shaping up these new pilots into ‘Renegade Material’ while Mighty transfers to Renegade Flight.”

A tear rolled down Bulldog’s cheek, and he quickly swiped it away in embarrassment.

“I am confused,” Syntax started. “Is this not good news?”

“Give him a minute, Syntax,” Jedi said. “Humans need more time to process things than droids.”

“But the mission I led was a failure…”

“Do you understand what happened here today, Captain?” Krayt asked.

“Yeah, you guys made my life hell for hours,” Bulldog barked out a laugh.

“Yeah, that,” Jalb replied with a soft chuckle. “But you also didn’t quit. And that last mission you’re so hung up on, you didn’t quit then, either.”

“I lost the convoy and a pilot!”

“It was a no-win scenario,” Jedi replied sagely. “Such things do exist in the real world.”

“As we said during the debriefing, we found no fault with your decision-making during a completely hopeless situation, Captain,” Stryker added.

“And when the Vigilant got jumped, you were one of the first fighters out into the thick of things. You physically broke down before you mentally quit,” Jalb said, putting a supportive hand on Bulldog’s shoulder. “You gave, quite literally, everything you had during that furball.”

“Definitely need more of that around here,” Krayt nodded in agreement.

Bulldog sighed, again remembering their earlier conversation during his promotion to captain and his feeling that it was very rare for a junior officer to dissuade a superior from a course they thought was right. He was going to have to accept this transfer and the added responsibilities. His nights at the SSD were about to become few and far between, and that prospect seemed to scare him even more than his last impossible mission.

“Along with this move, you will of course receive another promotion to the rank of Major, with all the responsibilities and privileges that come with said rank,” Stryker said.

Bulldog’s heart seized. Another promotion. More rank. More responsibilities.

“Congrats again, Major!” Thanatos cheered, with another rough pat on the back. “Rank does have its privileges.”

“I don’t want a promotion.”

“What?” the men all said, shocked.

“I’ll do the job, but I really don’t want another promotion. I still don’t feel like I’ve earned the last one!”

“This is… Highly irregular,” Stryker stumbled.

“That’s my price. I’ll take the transfer and do the job, but I don’t want the promotion. Not until I’ve earned it,” Bulldog said with finality to the stunned gathering.

“I think… that could work?” Krayt replied with uncertainty as he looked to Stryker for guidance.

Stryker shrugged. “We can make that work, but you will NOT refuse a promotion the next time one comes around, if that day should arrive. Do I make myself clear?”

“Deal,” Bulldog replied with a tight smile. “Do I have to come back to do this again? Because I’d rather not.”

“You’re SOL on that one, Captain,” Jalb replied with a laugh as he put his arm around Bulldog and led him toward one of the hover carts. “The Command Staff does this every few months. But don’t worry, next time you’ll probably be on the other end of the hazing.”

“Deal,” Bulldog laughed again, feeling better.

“Of course,” Thanatos added, catching up. “Drinks are still on the new XO of Buccaneer Squadron!”

Jedi stood with Stryker, Syntax, and Krayt on the green and watched Jalb, Bulldog, and Thanatos walk off. He looked to the two men. “What is it with this guy trying NOT to get promoted?”

The three men laughed and followed the first trio toward the carts.

“Humans,” Syntax said as he followed along behind. “Most irrational…”

***************************

Epilogue

“Incoming comm-wave from Captain Gaspra, Admiral.”

“Send it to my terminal,” Barand replied.

His most trusted captain aside from the one of his flagship appeared before him on his holopad. “Admiral, we have examined the cargo from the freighters we captured at the Ringali Nebula. They appear to be components for tractor beams. A lot of tractor beams. We cannot seem to find the destination of these items, however, as the droid brains of the ships bleached their systems the moment it was clear they would be captured.”

Barand nodded, slightly annoyed that the destination was still shrouded in mystery. There were plenty of destinations that were possible considering the nearby hyperspace routes.

Gaspra’s hologram continued. “We are still unsure if this is part of a larger apparatus, or if we just intercepted a routine shipment of parts meant for a fleet of ships. There were also some survivors from the original escort, as we had to deploy forces to fend off a relief force from another direction and could not completely close the net. I do not believe we were identified by the survivors though.”

Barand nodded, again a little frustrated at the news. Survivors meant investigations with witnesses, which were always much more effective than investigations of graveyards. He noted that she left out the information regarding the heavy damage of the Raider Corvettes she had detached for the ambush mission had taken.

“I will keep you apprised of our findings as we continue to investigate these ships and their cargoes. Gaspra out.”

Barand leaned back in his chair. While it wasn’t a clean win, it was still a win. He’d take that this time, and strive for the flawless victory another day.