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Spaced Out
A Tale of Wacky Hijinks and Woe
By: Frosty and Bulldog

Bulldog strolled into the Simmons’ Shock Deck for the unofficial wing commiseration party. The wing was recalled to active duty after almost a month of downtime and relatively light duty mixed with ample shore leave. The good times were about to come to an end, as everyone knew they would, and somebody suggested one last big hurrah before the ship officially got under way.

He stepped into the threshold of the lounge, and instantly he appreciated the expensive noise dampers Iggy had installed to keep the noise pollution from the oft-rowdy bar from disrupting the workings in the nearby departments of the Vigilant. The music was odd to him this time, though, but he couldn’t quite place why. It sounded like a mashup of all of the popular musical stylings of the galaxy mashed into one song. After puzzling over it for a few seconds, he shrugged and continued to walk toward his favorite booth.

The room was smokier than usual. Iggy’s smoke vacuums were top of the line, so even if people opted to smoke substances, it usually never made it farther than the table where it had originated. It appeared they might be broken tonight due to the heavy cloud obscuring details around the room.

“Bulldog!” a crowd of pilots and personnel shouted as he was spotted. The pilots seated on the ceiling waved as they took drinks from their gravity-defying cups. Some officers standing on the walls craned their necks directly up and also waved in a friendly manner.

“On your left!” a woman called out from behind him.

Bulldog whirled around to see Silence glide into the room, surfing on a Mouse droid. She gave a friendly wave, and then disappeared out of his sight into the hazy lounge.

Bulldog shrugged and turned again to make his way to his favorite seat. He took two steps and then bumped into something. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes, but still saw nothing and nobody in front of him.

“Watch yourself, Captain!” Jalb’s voice snapped from directly in front of Bulldog. Just then, a gust of smoke blew in and wrapped around the invisible figure before him. It perfectly framed his upper body and face, clinging there to show the Rogue OC double-fisting large pints of lager and an angry scowl on his face.

Bulldog put up his hands and sidestepped to continue walking toward his destination. “My fault, Jalb. Perhaps invisible people shouldn’t just stand in the middle of a room, eh?”

“Take one more step to the side there, Bulldog,” Jalb called out. “Unless you want to knock over Mighty too!”

Bulldog shook his head and did as Jalb had suggested, and subtly put his hands out in front of him to feel for any other invisible personnel with no spatial awareness. After a few cautious steps, he resumed his normal pace into the room.

Fwbam!

Wolf suddenly appeared out of thin air directly in front of him, sending a gust of wind and smoke in all directions. He looked back over his shoulder and winked at Bulldog before continuing toward the bar.

“Showoff,” Bulldog scoffed as he shook his head and continued following his usual path toward his favorite booth. He saw a larger than life wookie getting increasingly agitated by a game of Dejarik with Lock.

“You should let him win, Lock,” Gremlin warned from over Lock’s shoulder. Lock shook her off and made a move, then clapped his hands in celebration as he’d made the winning maneuver.

“Let’s go!” Lock shouted in jubilation.

The music came to a screeching halt. All eyes looked to the jukebox in the corner and spied a sheepish-looking Dobber leaning against it. The crowd shouted all kinds of derisive words and names in his direction. He whirled around and frantically tried to get the thing working again, but was unsuccessful. He turned, swallowed in an exaggerated fashion, and then started singing show-tunes. The room was placated and resumed their revelries while some pilots joined in with the singing.

The wookie let out a vicious snarl and gripped both of Lock’s arms and pulled them completely off with little effort. He threw the arms into the foggy room and stormed off, stamping footprints into the metal deck as he went.

Blood spurted violently out of the stumps of Lock’s shoulders, but the pilot was strangely calm about the whole thing. Gremlin, on the other hand, got three drops of blood on her arm and shrieked as she dove to the floor to avoid the rest of the blood splatter.

Bulldog froze as he locked eyes with Lock. The armless pilot shrugged emotionlessly; a movement matched by large spurts of blood from his arm stumps. He stood, twisted his torso around as he checked his surroundings, and once he saw it was clear he wrenched his face into a strained expression. Two new arms shot out of the useless stumps with a wet, squishy sound. The arms were pale, but otherwise appeared to be identical to the two that had been ripped off moments before.

As Bulldog approached, Lock stood up and flexed his new arms. “I hate it when that happens,” he said in an annoyed tone.

“Bet your uniform bill is pretty large,” Bulldog replied.

“You have no idea.”

Gremlin stood up from her hiding spot at that instant, rubbing her arm where the blood had landed. “Well, this is annoying,” she sighed. Just then, three identical Gremlins stood up and shook their heads and ran their fingers through their hair. They all giggled simultaneously, but the laughter died immediately when they looked at the original Gremlin, who had drawn a massive blaster pistol and taken aim. They threw their arms up in surrender. “We’re just hungry!”

“It’s after midnight,” Gremlin-Prime said dispassionately as she blasted the middle of the three clones. Her target erupted into a cloud of soap bubbles that scattered throughout the smoky room. “Ah stang, didn’t realize this was set to ‘bubbles’!” She changed a toggle on the blaster and took aim again.

The remaining two Gremlin clones made a break for the exit. One swapped her orientation and flipped to run along the ceiling. She took a blast right in the middle of her back, and she flashed brightly enough to see her skeleton through her skin before disintegrating into a pile of ashes. The last clone rounded the corner into the hallway, with the original Gremlin in hot pursuit.

Bulldog scratched his head in annoyance at all of the antics of the night that had delayed him from reaching his comfy corner booth, but managed to make it without any other delay. He flopped down into the cushioned seat and sighed contentedly. He held up two fingers in the direction of the bar, which was his usual signal to Iggy for his double of top shelf bourbon. He hoped that Iggy’s ocular receptors were capable of cutting through the fog of the room to see his order.

The drink he’d ordered magically floated through the hazy air, coming to a rest gently on the table in front of him.

“That’s a nice trick,” Bulldog said with admiration.

“Thanks, friend,” Battledog said, putting his hand away into one of the many deep pockets of his jedi robes. He was about to say something else, but movement in the smoky room caught his eye. “Oh, kark it all! I just wanted a drink, guys!” He shouted as he turned and ran away at a sprint. Hot on his heels was a horde of Mandalorians carrying all manner of Jedi capturing tools.

Bulldog shook his head with a chuckle and took the first sip of his drink. He hissed as he savored the burn of the bourbon in his mouth. “Ah… I love this place.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. After a moment, he opened them, and saw he was almost face to face with Frosty, sitting on the ceiling looking back up at him.

“Hey man.”

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

Frosty pointed at this table. Three whisky glasses sat atop it, each one healthily filled. Pointing wordlessly at the first glass he picked it up and tried to take a sip, instead the liquid flew over his shoulder. Growling slightly annoyed, he picked up the second. This time as he took a sip, the whisky evaporated into smoke and dissipated. Frosty punched the table angrily, grabbing the third glass. Or he would have, except it flew across to the other side of the table of its own accord. He chased it around the table but it moved too fast, zipping left and right. Eventually he trapped it and grabbed it with both hands and lifted it gently to his mouth. McCauley poured the drink carefully in his mouth only to have a coughing fit as it emerged again from his nose, floating away.

He stood up and dropped from the ceiling to the floor, slapping Bulldog on the shoulder and shouting angrily. "You see that? Bantha skank. Kriffing, karking, fracking, blasted girl. She cursed me! Told me I had a drinking problem and now look what happens."

He sat down next to Bulldog grumpily, staring at Lock across the bar as he sat there, bleeding everywhere with two missing arms. "It ain't right man, laying a curse like that. Taking away something like that. She got no right."

Loth-Cat passed them by, followed by the caterwauling and hissing of hundreds of holo-cat haunting their every move. They gave Bulldog and Frosty a friendly wave apparently content to live with the frenzy of untamed holo felines. Frosty snorted at the sight, "Man, that's a lot of cats."

“Dogs,” Bulldog grumbled.

“What’s that?”

“They were dogs.”

Frosty looked again, and sure enough the animals he’d just seen were now dogs. “How…”

Angel walked by, a beer in each hand. She dwarfed every patron with her head practically dragging on the ceiling of the cantina. Frosty shouted at her but she strode past now unable to hear him with her head so high. Shaking his head, Frosty moved away from Bulldog, "I'm going to get a drink."

The bar top itself was eerily quiet. Iggy stood behind it, his gleaming metal head shiny even amongst the thick smoke. "Flight Officer McCauley. You're behind on your bar tab."

"Yeah yeah yeah. Another whisky please Iggy."

Iggy's head span left, then right, then left again before doing a complete 360. "Unable to comply. Whisky is not on the menu."

"What do you mean?!" Frosty slapped the bar top, causing a few patrons to look his way. "Just give me anything with alcohol in."

Iggy's red photoreceptors dimmed and brightened. "Unable to comply. No alcohol present."

The music stopped and suddenly every head turned towards the bar. "Iggy," Frosty said slowly and deliberately, "what do you mean?"

"There is currently ZERO alcohol aboard the Vigilant. All alcohol has been consumed. There is ZERO alcohol present."

Someone towards the back of the bar started to wail. With a 'fwoomp' Wolf appeared in front of Iggy, holding out his 'Galaxy's Best XO' mug, "Kaf top up. Please."

Iggy's head turned towards him. "Unable to comply. No kaf present."

Wolf howled, sobbing and fell to his knees. An entire crowd had got to the bar now, each vibrating with anger. A few glasses were thrown against the bar and Frosty climbed on top of it, pointing at Iggy. "Explain. Now!"

"Error in supply line. Priority given to ship operational components. Resupply delayed. Expecting resupply in…." Iggy's LEDs flashed on and off rapidly. "One. Month."

"One month?!"

"30 days?!"

"We'll die!"

"I need a drink Iggy!"

It didn't take long for the crowd to turn on the hapless droid, before he could pull a blaster three or four pilots grabbed an arm each pulling. The sound of screaming metal was replaced with ripping fabric as Iggy was pulled apart, revealing a tiny Talon sat in a control seat with complicated remote controls. The crowd howled with animal rage and started working through the bottles on the shelf, each turning out to be empty.

Frosty went and sat back down next to Bulldog, shaking uncontrollably. "Did...did you see all that?"

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

A mild panic had set in with many of the personnel that had been present in the SSD during Iggy’s announcement. People were absolutely gobsmacked as to how the droid they had trusted to keep them afloat in spirits could have encountered such a drastic shortfall. Some people became violent immediately, starting to jostle those around them in the crowd as they tried to get a better view of the empty bottles behind the bar. Others became instantly lethargic as they seemed to resign themselves to the lack of caffeine on the ship. However, it was clear which people in attendance were still resting easy due to a personal stash somewhere on the ship. Bulldog was one of that group, so he dispersed with the rest of the disappointed crowd and immediately separated himself from the crowd as he started heading back toward his bunk.

“On your left!”

Bulldog stepped to the right as Silence came careening down the hall on her mouse droid chauffeur. She sent him a casual salute, but in the moment of distraction, her mouse droid clipped a distracted Lock at the ankle, shearing his foot off completely.

“Sorry Lock!” Silence’s voice trailed off as she rounded a corner without breaking her speed.

“Kark it all!” Lock cursed as he hopped on one foot while his stump spurted crimson blood on the floor.

“At least you can reuse shoes,” Bulldog said with a snort.

Lock strained his face, and a new foot shot out of the stump with another wet squelch. “Yeah,” he sighed.

Just then, Battledog came sprinting between the two, his lightsaber drawn and lit. He avoided bumping into Bulldog, but in the process his blade cut through Lock’s neck with ease. “Sorry! Slow these guys down for me, will you?”

Bulldog stopped and stared at Lock’s headless corpse in mild shock. So far as he knew, Lock had only ever regenerated limbs. He was curious if he was completely dead now, or if a new head would sprout from the shoulders or if a new body would grow from the severed head. A blaster bolt struck the bulkhead near his own head, and he dove for cover.

The crowd of Mandalorians from the SSD sprinted past in pursuit of Battledog. They were firing wildly, which seemed pretty imprecise for what Mandalorians were known for. One of their booted feet sent Lock’s head rolling down the hallway. As the head rolled, a body started to grow out of it, throwing the roll into a lumpy tumble.

Bulldog rose to his feet as the Mandalorians rounded the corner after their target and looked at the headless corpse near his feet. As he was examining it, he saw two naked feet appear at the top of his field of vision. He followed all the way up the legs and realized he had just seen Lock’s nethers completely unencumbered with clothing. He snapped his eyes shut. “Come on, man!”

“What?”

FWBAM

“You’re naked, Captain,” Wolf said as he suddenly appeared behind Lock. Before either man could acknowledge the Corsair XO, he disappeared with another loud sound of wind filling a vacuum.

“So, uh, you think you can help me out here?” Lock asked.

“To what end? There would still be one of you naked!”

“Yeah, good point,” Lock said as he shrugged. “Huh, is my butt that big?”

Bulldog resumed walking, if only to get the naked Rogue out of his field of vision. Now he had an insane craving for his personal stash to bleach his brain. “Good luck!”

“Yeah yeah,” Lock replied with a grunt as he lifted the headless corpse and carried it around his waist to protect his dignity.

The rest of the way to his personal cabin passed without incident. As he entered his private room, he sighed in relief to see everything was still as he’d left it. None of the pilots with random teleportation or wall-walking abilities had come in and messed with his stuff. Sighing contentedly, he locked his door and walked toward his footlocker. He didn’t want to go for his top shelf stuff just yet, since it seemed like the ship would be dry for a while. Instead, he opted to go for his 1.75 Liter of mid-shelf bourbon in the footlocker. After throwing the clothes onto the floor next to the footlocker, he found the bottle he was looking for.

“Let’s do this,” Bulldog said with closed eyes as he greedily twisted the cap off of the cheap bottle, sending it spinning across the floor like a top. He brought the bottle to his lips and took a healthy draught. His eyes shot open as soon as he tasted the fluid, and he immediately spit it out in a misty spray. “What the hell is this?”

The fluid looked to be the correct color, but it had a heavy mineral taste and no alcoholic bite that he had been expecting. He took another cautious sip, but the same flavor as his first taste met his disappointed taste buds.

“This isn’t happening,” Bulldog said as he started to panic. He set the sabotaged bottle down and tore across the room to check his top shelf stash. The bottles were there as they should be, even the completely sealed ones. He took a safe sip from his open bottle of bourbon and was met with the disappointing taste of the mineral water he’d encountered in the other bottle.

“No, no, no….”

He tore open one of his unopened bottles of Whyrens Reserve, and was again met with the impossible taste of mineral water.

“NOOOOOOOOO!” Bulldog shouted in the middle of his room, with two sabotaged bottles clutched in both hands at his sides and his head raised to the ceiling.

Loth-Cat phased their head through the solid cabin wall. “You good, bossman?”

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

The hallways of the Mon Cal cruiser felt like they were growing exponentially. Every step further felt like it had taken longer than the previous. Frosty tried to shake his mind clear, but that just induced a dizziness in him that settled into nausea. How long ago had his last drink been? A day? A week?

He reached the access ladder to the Comms deck shortly after, his head pounding. There should have been guards here, on patrol at the very least, but the place was deserted. Frosty didn't decide to think about it, instead starting to climb.

FWBAM

He immediately fell off the ladder, staring up at Wolf who had materialised half inside it, his head poking out between two rungs but his lower body encased in the solid wall behind the ladder.

"What are you up to now Frosty?" Wolf asked, an eyebrow raised. "If you land in any more trouble I'm gonna get in trouble."

"Ju-just trying to source you some caf boss," Frosty said, pointing a shaky finger at Wolf's entombed legs. "Doesn't that hurt?!"

Wolf looked down and one second later started to scream, "Frak me! Get me out, get me out! I can't feel my legs!"

"How?!" Frosty grabbed his arm and started pulling, "What do I do?!"

Wolf gurgled, his mouth foaming as he twitched.

"Boss!" Frosty fell to his knees in defeat, staring at the now lifeless form of Wolf.

The lifeless form that suddenly came back to life, grinning wildly at him. "Got you! What, you think I haven't practiced this manoeuvre before?! Watch this."

He clicked his fingers and disappeared, leaving a wolf sized hole in the wall behind him. Frosty stared in astonishment as beyond the wall he could see the broiling storms of the Zavian Abyss. How he could still breathe atmosphere with the hole he wasn't sure but he didn't think about it as he started to climb the ladder further.

The first one hundred steps were easy. The next one hundred not too bad. But by the time he counted the three hundredth mark he had to stop and look around.

A beautiful voice came echoing down the shaft which had grown into a never-ending tunnel. "What a thrill!"

Frosty pulled out his blaster and pointed it upwards, "Who's there?!"

Sweat dribbled down his back, his heart racing. A whisper warm voice was on his ear, "Peek a boo!"

There was a Gremlin hovering behind him. He glared at her, blaster in hand. "Since when can you fly?"

"I've been learning," she said mysteriously, her voice purring. Her eyes were a deep green.

Green? "You're not the real Gremlin. You're one of the clones. Did she get wet again?"

"Just a little," another Gremlin said, appearing on the other side of him.

He started to breathe more heavily and started back up the ladder. "Where you going Jack?"

"Are you abandoning us? Again?!"

He began to practically run up the ladder, a chorus of voices echoing out, new Gremlins appearing from the walls and forming a wave of Gremlins flooding the shaft and surging upwards.

"Coward!"

"Why would you abandon us?!"

"I can't sleep because of you! Because of her!"

Finally he hit the overhead hatch, throwing it open he hauled himself into the maintenance corridor and slammed it shut again, double bolting the hatch. Moments later it thudded and warped as hundreds of Gremlins hammered against it. Frosty crawled away, his face drenched with sweat as his arms turned to jelly. He could see the communication array routing banks, he just had to reach it and tap in.

The array was huge, a major computer bank full of criss crossing wires and twirling metallic segments. Frosty pulled an interface cord from inside his jacket, one end sliding into his personal comm pad. The other was pushed into the interface port on the computer and he began to slowly turn the dial and amplify the signal.

"Big ears, this is Deep pocket. I need an immediate supply drop. Do you read me?"

More dials and levers were twisted and turned as he desperately searched for the strong signal to his old smuggling buddy. She'd come through with some whisky for him, she was solid as rock. A ping from the comm array informed him he'd found his receiver and he repeated his message. The comm speaker crackled to life, a clipped Coruacanti accent speaking back.

"The number you have dialled has not been recognised. Please hang up, and try again."

He stared in confusion, a feeling of dread overwhelming him. Punching the controls he tried every frequency and got several signals back, each making less sense than the previous.

"You're listening to AlderaanEPX Radio, the only place to hear tunes that'll blow your world away."

"Tonight on CoruscantCentralNetwork we'll be listening to the poetic works of the late great Emperor Palpatine."

"That's right! They put... chemicals in the water...to turn us into Jedi!!!! This is the Empire force damn it, our Constitution…"

The radio was turned off abruptly as the seven foot Angel leaned over and flicked the power switch, looking down upon where Frost was laying on the floor in panic.

"Gremlins want to talk to you," she said in a booming voice that echoed down the service corridor. Tens of Gremlin heads appeared round her legs, some grinning others in tears, some holding pink fluffy stun-cuffs whilst others held various vicious looking tools. Angel smiled down at him, "They just want to figure things out with you."

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

Bulldog ambled cautiously down the hallways of the Vigilant as he made his way toward the squad briefing room. There was already a large brawl of naval sailors facing off against enlisted marines right outside his door. He’d narrowly made it through the melee without any harm, though the four-armed Besilisk spec ops captain had attempted to snag him in a bear hug. Bulldog side slipped the move, and instead the massive four arms of Bex Udigg wrapped around an unfortunate maintenance technician. As the hulking alien trooper squeezed his arms tighter, the Mon Cal’s head grew comically large and threatened to explode like an overfilled balloon.

Thankfully, a group of four other techs tackled the four-armed maniac and managed to break the hold before the poor man’s brains shot out of the top of his head like a rolled up tube of toothpaste. More angry bodies poured into the hallway and flooded around Bulldog to get into the fray.

Bulldog wondered why the MPs weren’t coming to break up the fight, and as soon as he rounded the corner away from the last brawl he received his answer. The policemen of the ship were in the middle of battling a huge rathtar in the mess hall. Tentacles whipped about every which way amongst the shouting bodies as they dodged and discharged their blasters at the foul beast. He watched in horror as an unfortunate Gotal was tangled up completely in a tentacle and yanked into the gaping maw of the monster before he even had a chance to scream.

Almost instantly after the rathtar had devoured the hapless alien, a perfectly smooth egg popped out of the back of the monster. It landed amongst an innumerable pile of eggs and shattered eggshells. Crawling through the jagged pieces of shell were infants of various species that must have been the younger versions of the ship’s military police force.

A tentacle whipped through the sea of MPs and smashed into the bulkhead right past Bulldog’s face with a dull clang. He quickly ducked under the slimy appendage and moved past the doorway to resume his trek through the strange ship. “I wonder how that thing got out of its cage?”

“Maybe some mischievous soul let it out.”

Bulldog jumped backwards as his heart leapt out of his throat, along with a colorful string of curses.

“Easy, Bulldog.” Jalb’s voice said from right behind the startled pilot, eliciting another involuntary jump.

“Why would you let that thing out?”

Jalb’s invisible form laughed. “Some people just want to watch the world burn… er, get pooped back to baby form.”

“And how are you going to put it back in the cage?”

“I… don’t think I thought this one through, actually.”

Bulldog snorted. “You coming to the briefing? It’s starting soon, isn’t it?”

Jalb’s footsteps trailed off toward the rathtar battle. “Nah, I’m going to see if I can’t push Tolden into the rathtar’s mouth. Ya reckon he was born with a scowl and receding hairline?”

FWBAM

“You’re late, Captain!” Wolf snapped, disappearing as quickly as he’d appeared.

Bulldog’s pulse was spiking at having been startled so many times in quick succession. He muttered another string of curses as he resumed walking toward the briefing room. As he rounded the last corner, he saw what could only be described as a herd of lethargic fleet personnel shambling aimlessly throughout the hallway. They were groaning and drooling through their slack faces. “Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaffffff?”

Loth-Cat chose that instant to phase through Bulldog’s body, reconstituting themself right in front of their XO as the startled captain felt himself to check if he was still alive.

“Don’t karking DO that!” Bulldog snapped.

“You were in the way, bossman,” Loth-Cat replied sheepishly. They turned their head and looked at the shambling mass of caf-withdrawn people. “They look like caf zombies.”

“How do we get through them?”

“Use your super power, obviously.”

“What freaking super power?” Bulldog replied, looking over his arms and hands as if they held the secret power he didn’t know he had.

“Figure it out, boss, they’re headed your way,” Loth-Cat said as they walked through the wall to find another way around. “Good luck!” they called out.

The horde of caf zombies looked in his direction with slack expressions. They shambled his way as a group and reached out an arm in his direction. “Caaaaaaaaaaaaafffff?”

“Uhh….”

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

The briefing room was stacked full of pilots, despite the chaos reigning outside of the room. Frosty sat near the front, rubbing his wrists where the stun cuffs had been just a few hours before. The real Gremlin sat behind him, blaster still in hand. He wasn't sure he'd recover from seeing her blast so many of her clones with such little hesitation but he was pleased to be alive.

"Pilots, atten-shun!"

Lock walked to the briefing podium to begin. He was four foot high, with his sleeves dangling down to his knees. He made a polite little cough and started to talk, his voice cracking with nerves. "M-my apologies for the delay. I encountered the rathtar on the way here."

There was a murmuring and nodding of heads, as if what he'd just said made any sense at all. Frosty looked round, his head pounding, and just sighed in defeat. Nobody seemed to give a damn anymore.

"We have been tasked with scouting the Zavian Abyss. We have received several signals of unknown origin and we cannot risk the possibility of the Empire getting a jump on us here. We shall be flying in groups of three but you'll have to stay close together, the interference is strong enough that our comms get jammed at even short distances. Any questions?"

Frosty cautiously raised a hand. "I don't understand. What exactly are we looking for?"

Lock's childlike face turned to focus on Frosty's own. "Now that's an interesting question. You always are unwilling to just follow orders. Why is that?"

The entire auditorium swung around to stare at Frosty and he began to sweat again. "Uhhh. I dunno."

Silence glided to a stop slowly in front of him, the two mouse droids attached to her feet beeping quietly. "Trust issues?"

"I. Uhhh. What? No I'm fine."

Loth-cat sat next to Frosty, nodding in sympathy. "It can be hard to open up, especially when carrying trauma with you."

"Trauma?" Frosty shook his head defiantly. "I'm fine. You lot are the ones who've got me worried."

Angel laid a huge hand on one shoulder. "This is a safe space. It's okay to admit that you're frightened of becoming close to others, of investing in them only to lose them. But no one can carry on alone, none of us can achieve anything without each other."

"I...I just….it's so hard, you know?"

The entire auditorium nodded in sympathy, a wave of 'Mmmhmmm', 'Yes', 'Of course' washing over Frosty. Lock nodded, "The battle is not just out there Frosty," he trapped his chest, "But in here too."

Frosty nodded slowly. "Yeah. You're right. Yeah."

Lock clapped his hands together and stood, "Great work this session, you really challenged yourself and asked yourself some honest questions. Same time next week?"

Frosty stood, wiping his cheeks clear of some tears. "Yeah, yeah. Thanks Doctor."

The rest of Renegade Wing stood and applauded as he left the room, a little weight lifted from his shoulders.

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

Bulldog sat in the cockpit of his Y-Wing with anything but a clear mind. The strangeness of the ship lately on top of the building stresses of everyday living where your death could come at any time was eating away at him. He was unfocused, and in a maelstrom as hectic and dangerous as the Zavian Abyss- that was as good as a death sentence.

“Watch it!” Frosty called out in warning.

Bulldog looked up just in time to see his doom coming. He screamed and threw up his hands reflexively in front of his face. Asteroids the size of Mon Calamari cruisers collided violently in front of him. Rather than erupting into an explosive cloud of ferrous shards of micrometeors capable of tearing his ship apart, they disintegrated into capital-ship sized clouds of sand that washed over his beaten-up Y-Wing.

“Holy smokes!” Frosty called out from his A-Wing nearby. “Bull, are you all right?”

“He’s fine,” Lock scoffed. “It’s just sand.”

Bulldog cursed as he brought his hands back down to his stick and throttle, his heartbeat still pounding outside of his chest. “Did you see the size of those rocks?”

“It’s just sand, you big baby,” Lock dismissed. “Keep your eyes up next time and you won’t get surprised like that.”

“You call me a baby again and you might find yourself on the other end of my guns, Captain.”

Lock laughed. “No need to get testy with me now.”

“Cow,” Frosty interjected..

Bulldog whipped his head around to stare down the Corsair pilot through space. “I swear to all things Jedi, Frosty, that if you are calling me a cow I am going to vape the both of you and say you two got lost!”

“There’s one of those sand cows just flying through the abyss! 30 degrees to port.”

Bulldog looked where Frosty had indicated, and indeed there was a rather peeved Bantha just floating helplessly through the abyss. It looked to be making noise, or at least attempting to in the absence of atmosphere. “That’s called a Bantha, laser brain.”

“Shut up!”

“Lock, get a load of this guy!” Bulldog chortled. “He called a Bantha a sand cow!”

“He’s not wrong,” Lock said, slightly amused. “Now can we focus on the search mission, please? Turn 45 degrees to starboard around that massive bag of colorful popcorn.”

“Was that another fat joke?” Bulldog snapped.

“If the shoe fits,” Frosty bit back.

Bulldog yanked his stick to the side and leveled his guns at Frosty’s A-Wing, who in turn flew neat circles around the lumbering wishbone. “Sit still and take what’s coming to you, you barvy smuggler!”

“Not on your life, you crinking lush!”

Bulldog reversed his turn to surprise the other pilot, scoring a glancing blow with his ion cannons. “This old dog still has some tricks up his sleeve!”

Frosty pinwheeled away and immediately re-engaged, pinging Bulldog’s Y-Wing with two bolts of his own. “Dog’s don’t wear sleeves, ya vaping stupa!”

“You’re so borked, you skrogging dungcreeper!”

Frosty chuckled as he easily maintained his prime firing position on the slower craft and angry pilot. “I’ll stop if you share some of your secret stash with me. And not that garbage, bottom shelf druk. I want the top shelf goodness you’re holding!”

It was Bulldog’s turn to laugh bitterly. “You think I’m the one holding? My stash was tampered with! For all I know, it was you that screwed with it to make me desperate enough to pay your sithspawn prices from your supply!”

Frosty cursed. “I thought you were the one out of the entire ship that would be holding.”

“I thought so too.”

“Well, frell. We’re all farkled for sure now!”

“That’s a Tattoine-sized ten-four.”

“Wait, where’s Lock?” Frosty asked, looking at his sensors but finding no answers through the interference.

“That bucket of hutt-drool probably left us and headed back!” Bulldog responded bitterly as he picked up visual scanning. The massive chunks of chocolate and clouds of gumballs obscured his line of sight. “I don’t see him.”

“Captain, report?” Frosty tried on the comm, receiving static in return.

“Screw that kreetle. He can kiss my wookie when we get back! Let’s go, there’s nothing out here.”

Unbeknownst to the two quarreling pilots, a bolt of purple and pink lightning struck Lock’s X-Wing as he rounded the bag of snack mix and broke visual contact with the other two pilots in his patrol. As the lightning struck, festive-colored cotton candy began to fill his cockpit from various panels and vents. Tendrils of the hair-like candy fluttered about as if alive as it sought to find a new surface to climb. Lock recoiled at first, unsure what strange organism was invading his space. He touched a little with a gloved hand, and inexplicably brought it to his mouth for a gingerly taste.

Upon realizing it was a tasty treat of his childhood, he started grabbing handfuls of the stuff and jamming it into his mouth greedily. It had been a while since he’d tasted nearly pure sugar, and he relished in the memories it brought flooding back into the forefront of his mind. After savoring the first handful, he used both hands to grab more of the airy treat and jammed it into his face. He was so distracted that he didn’t even realize how much space the cotton candy had invaded within his personal bubble.

He panicked, and began eating faster. The wonderful memories of his youth were now being buried beneath an unending supply of nightmare fuel. His arms were trapped the next time he reached to grab more, and the cotton candy avalanche inexorably continued toward his face. He shouted in fear as he pushed his head back as far as it would go in the cramped space, but the cotton candy still continued to approach with tendrils fluttering in his breath as if to reach out for him.

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

Frosty stomped down the corridor, cursing and howling in impotent rage. He'd had enough, this was beyond unfair. He'd had to put up with Bulldog's attitude, he'd been attacked by Gremlin clones, he'd even had to have therapy. This was too far. Something needed to give.

He arrived at his OC's office. He'd never actually come here voluntarily, only when summoned and normally then only because he was in trouble. Frosty rapped on the door impatiently. There was no answer. He tried again, this time with more force but still no one answered.

FWBAM

"He's not in his office. I think he said he was going to engineering." Wolf shrugged casually. "He mentioned something about lubrication."

"There is nothing I can say to a sentence like that."

Wolf shrugged again.

Frosty raised an eyebrow at him curiously. "You're coping pretty good without your caf, boss."

"Oh I got loads of caf."

"Where?!"

Wolf pulled out a mug from his pocket and took a sip before showing it to Frosty. It was empty and bone dry, Frosty scratched his head in confusion. "It's empty, boss."

Wolf pushed it towards him again, the smile on his face fixed. "It's full, see?"

"It's still empty, boss."

Wolf took a step closer, eyes unblinking. "It's. Full."

"It's. Not."

The mug was thrown against the bulkhead, shattering into hundreds of pieces. Wolf lifted Frosty by his shirt and slammed him against the bulkhead. "Why. Are. You. Like. This."

"Easy, easy." Frosty patted his wingmate calmly, "Let's just put me down and I can go find Syntax and see if I can get you a new mug with some caf in, yeah?"

Wolf lowered him, his eyes twitching. "Caf. Get me some caf."

Frosty took off running towards engineering. It didn't take him long to find him, surrounded by various tins and cans. "Sir, thank the force I found you-"

Syntax held up one hand to silence Frosty as he administered some lubricant to his shoulder joint. He rotated his arm and shook his head, "No. It's not right. Viscosity is incorrect."

The can in his hand was thrown away, on to a pile of other empty cans. They numbered in the hundreds. Frosty tried to get his attention again, "Sir, please. Wolf has gone crazy-"

"XO."

FWBAM

"Syntax?"

Syntax clicked his fingers and all of a sudden a deluge of paperwork poured from somewhere overhead and collapsed upon Wolf. Deep in the pile of paper was a muffled cry but Frosty couldn't even see the man anymore.

"Flight Officer McCauley, I am busy. Leave at once."

"Sir! It's chaos out there! People are turning on each other!"

Syntax tried another lubricant. After a moment's hesitation, he threw that bottle away too. "Imbalance in chemicals causing increased rust processing. Unacceptable." He looked up as if suddenly seeing Frosty for the first time and shook his droid head at him. "Iggy had some sort of error and ran out of my specific lubricant. I am a perfectly tuned machine Flight Officer McCauley, I need my oil. Your petty organic concerns will have to wait until this problem is solved."

"But sir-"

"But nothing McCauley. Dismissed."

Frosty left in anguish, keen to find Bulldog again to explain what had happened.

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

Bulldog weaved in and out of crowds of caf zombies, being left alone due to what he assumed was the lack of any caf on his person. Still though, the forest of bodies posed a challenge, as they would lash out violently if touched in some deep-seated self-defense mechanism buried within their caf-deprived brains.

A dianoga scuttled by on its rubbery tentacles, staring him down with its singular eye on top of its periscope-like stalk. It paused, and stood up tall and put on a menacing display with its free appendages.

“Oh, hell no,” Bulldog cursed, stepping backwards. On the other side of the beast, he saw his desired target.

Frosty walked around a corner and found himself right behind the dianoga. He looked up from his datapad and his eyes widened. Still, he had the presence of mind to not make a sound.

Bulldog waved over to get the stunned pilot’s attention. “Hey! I need a word with you. Meet me at the SSD!”

Frosty nodded nervously as he backed away slowly and attempted to find another route to the purportedly dry bar.

The dianoga took Bulldog’s shout as a threat, and reared back in preparation for a lunge.

“Oh, stang!” The human cursed as he backed away clumsily, bumping into a caf-zombie. The caf-zombie roared in anger and took a big swing with her clumsy arms. He ducked the blow, but then bounced into another. A chain reaction had occurred, and the entire crowd of lumbering caf-ghouls became increasingly violent.

The flailing limbs drew even more ire from the dianoga. The foul beast charged into the fray, tangling up a hapless victim in each of its tentacles. Before it could snag a bite of flesh, the rest of the crowd tackled the beast and started pounding it into oblivion.

Bulldog scooted away from the writhing pile of bodies along the floor in an awkward crab-walk. He was about to rise, but the telltale sound of squealing wheels on the deck drew his attention down another hallway. He looked up in time to see Silence on her mouse droid roller skates careening down the hallway, aimed directly at him.

“Watch out!” She called out in warning, but didn’t reduce speed.

Bulldog snapped off a string of curses and rolled out of the way. “You ever heard of brakes!”

“These things have a mind of their own!” She shouted apologetically as she rounded a corner at breakneck speed. “I’m lucky these two are best friends or I’d be doing some painful splits!”

“Some people just want to watch the world burn,” Jalb’s disembodied voice called from down the hallway, ending in a cackling laugh.

The dianoga disengaged from the caf zombie mob and zeroed in on the sound of Jalb’s laugh. It looked confused, but it appeared to trust its other senses. It took a few cautious paces forward.

“No, NO!” Jalb’s voice shouted in alarm. “You can’t see me! Nobody can see me!”

The beast howled as it reared back in preparation to strike the invisible man.

“Danger Jalb Kay! Danger!” Iggy shouted as the bar droid tackled the Dianoga from behind. The droid and the beast tangled together, neither giving ground. Tentacles wrapped around steel as they tore at Iggy’s appendages. For all their might, they could not get the quality durasteel frame of Iggy or his superior joints to give ground. However, one tentacle tore the covering off of Iggy’s “face”, revealing a tiny Talon at the helm of the bot.

“I’ve got this foul beast, Rogue Leader! Get clear!”

“Your legendary sacrifice will be remembered, Talon!” Jalb’s voice called as it trailed off during his invisible retreat.

The hall hatch irised shut violently, with Iggy-Talon on one side in a mess of tentacles, and the rest of the howling dianoga on the other. Talon stood up in his mech suit and shook off the writhing tentacles. “That was close, eh?”

“Ballsy move, youngblood,” Bulldog said as he stood up.

“You think he was impressed? Rogue Leader that is?”

“Very,” Bulldog replied, tactfully leaving out the part where Jalb had been the one to release the beast in the first place in another fit of mischief. “Hey, I need access to your bar. Is it open?”

“Yeah,” Talon replied, re-securing his Iggy facemask. Instantly his voice was replaced by the droning of Iggy’s usual vocabulator. “A lot of good it will do you, though. There’s nothing but water left.”

Bulldog was already jogging away. He waved over his shoulder in thanks as he rounded a corner and put on more speed. He didn’t want to give this bizarro Vigilant any opportunity to throw any more curveballs in his path.

The doorway to the SSD appeared at the end of the hall. Seeing his destination, he poured on more speed to reach it, but the doorway seemed to retreat from him at the pace he ran toward it. He poured on more speed, but the entryway retreated just as quickly.

Frosty appeared in the far off doorway and waved him forward. “Hurry up!”

Bulldog closed his eyes and pumped his legs harder, digging into the deck with every step. A trail of boot imprints in the deck followed behind him.

“Damn! You’re denting the deck! Unhitch the hover trailer!”

“Shut up, you bucket of spare parts!”

Bulldog opened his eyes and they instantly widened. He tried to slam on the brakes, but it wouldn’t be fast enough. He collided with the suddenly close Frosty and bowled the lighter pilot over. The two men went sprawling into the pristine floor of the SSD and rolled to a rough, tumbling stop.

“What was that for, you clumsy oaf!”

“Shut up, you bag of dicks!”

“You could have killed me!” Frosty snapped back as he dusted himself off. “Why were you slow motion running anyway?”

“Slow motion?” Bulldog said between deep breaths. “The doorway kept moving away from me!”

A new voice broke in. “To us, it looked like you were running in place.”

Bulldog looked up to see Dragon and a few Skull Squadron pilots. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as he picked up on the overall mood of the room. Judging from the postures of Dragon and his companions, their discussion before it had been interrupted was not a pleasant one.

“Let’s get you up,” Frosty said as he held out a hand toward Bulldog.

Bulldog took it and levered himself to his feet. He grunted and nodded in thanks. He looked back to the other pilots. “What’s going on here?”

“Nothing,” they all said suspiciously in unison.

Frosty and Bulldog looked at each other with an arched eyebrow.

“What are you two doing here?” Dragon asked, shifting his attention toward the two of them rather than the Skull pilots.

“We… Uh, were coming to search for any leads on some leftover booze,” Bulldog replied.

“THAT’S why you told me to come here?” Frosty replied in shock as he stepped away from the pilot. He pinched the bridge of his nose and wrenched his eyes shut in frustration. “I can’t believe you’d be so stupid to think there would still be some booze here!”

“Hey, suck my shebs!” Bulldog shouted as he raised a fist menacingly. “I wanted to see if we could find clues to somebody running an underground distillery!”

“Funny,” Dragon mused. “I came here to find one too so I could shut it down. I’m pretty sure one of these guys is the ringleader,” Dragon said as he waved back to where the Skulls were standing.

Frosty’s face lit up. “Oh really? Well then allow us to help you out.”

Bulldog stepped forward. “How do we know it’s not you running an operation and you’re just trying to kick your competitors out of the market?”

Dragon’s jaw set and his eyes blazed at the accusation. He closed them and took very slow calming breaths before reopening them and responding. “I am trying to remove the source in the hopes that once everybody dries out, the aggression will go away.”

Frosty stepped in close, getting shoulder to shoulder with Bulldog. “I think he’s right. This is exactly the type of behavior I’d be displaying if I were trying to get rid of my competition.”

A scowl crossed Dragon’s face as his cheeks began to redden. “Don’t. You won’t like me when I’m angry.”

“Yeah!” One of the Skulls shouted. “He’s the one running the operation!”

Dragon whirled around. “LIAR!”

“Oh is that so?” A woman purred dangerously from behind the bar.

Bulldog and Frosty turned to look at the new arrival. She looked to be in a rather disheveled New Republic Intelligence uniform. She stood behind the bar with a glass of water and a smile, but there was a dangerous air to her posture.

“Don’t start with me right now Darlene!” Dragon ground out, a vein starting to show on his face as he strained to keep his anger in check.

Darlene shrugged. “I’m just saying, their story is pretty possible for somebody as slippery as you. And quite frankly, I’m ok with detaining you in the brig until we can prove your innocence.

“Yeah, give us the location of your still and we’ll shut it down for you,” Frosty said smoothly.

“Give us the location of your rebel base,” one of the Skull pilots said wryly, eliciting nervous chuckles from the rest of them.

“Stop. Making. Me. Angry!”

Bulldog gave the angry Dragon a shove. “I NEED that source.”

Drip. Drip Drippppppptptppptptptpptpt

Bulldog looked down to see a stream of blood falling from Dragon’s arm onto the floor into a rapidly growing puddle. He took a step back. “Are you hurt?”

Dragon’s neck bowed and he hunched over. He started to growl menacingly.

“Uh oh, he’s gonna pop,” one of the Skulls warned ominously, shuffling quickly to exit the SSD. His other squadmates followed suit.

“Maybe we should beat feet too?” Frosty asked as he took a step back.

Dragon roared as he stood upright with an arched back. His fists were clenched tightly at his sides, and the stream of blood from his arm turned into a torrent. It cascaded down to the floor, inundating his pants and boots and spread out quickly across the grimy deck.

Bulldog and Frosty took another cautious step back to avoid the first wave of blood, and then another, and another, and another- until they ended up against the wall. Their faces were wracked with fear as Dragon continued to shoot a geyser of blood out of his arm.

“He’s going to bleed out!” Frosty squeaked out.

“No, he won’t,” Darlene said disinterestedly as she had suddenly donned a rain slicker and pulled out an umbrella from behind the bar.

Dragon continued to howl in rage, and every twitch of his body forced his hand-cannon of blood to shift and spray in a new direction. He brought his hands up to his face as his rage blackout overwhelmed him. The blood shot upward like a high-powered fountain, splattering the ceiling and making it rain warm droplets of ichor.

The blood began to pool, mystically being held within the SSD despite the wide-open doorway leading out into the hall. Bulldog and Frosty hastily climbed onto a small Dejarik table, steadying each other as they watched in disbelief as the blood continued to fill the room at an alarming rate. They looked to Darlene, who was polishing her nails behind the cover of her clear plastic umbrella. “Little help here?” Bulldog asked.

Darlene looked up. “Oh, sure,” she said as she grabbed another umbrella and threw it toward the pilots.

The men reached for it with outstretched arms. It slowly pinwheeled through the air as it approached their grasping fingers.

Just before it reached the two scared pilots, a jet of blood slammed into the umbrella and smashed it to pieces against the wall.

“By the Force!” Frosty yelped as he recoiled from the high-powered jet stream of Dragon’s lifeblood. He lost his balance as his heels missed the lip of the table. “AH!”

Bulldog reached for the falling pilot in an attempt to save him from tumbling into the rapidly growing pool of deep red. Just before he could reach Frosty’s flailing hand, a rush of blood slammed into his chest and knocked him roughly into the wall, pinning him there and painting him crimson all over.

Frosty continued to fall backward, and was quickly enveloped in the warm, salty pond of Dragon’s rage blood. “Gross!” He shouted just before he went completely under.

“It’s so hot!” Bulldog whined, getting the coppery fluid into his mouth and nose as he frantically tried to breath through the blood-boarding.

“Sorry, boys. You’re on your own now,” Darlene said as she ducked behind the bar.

Dragon’s arm tracked her last position and started pelting the back of the bar with his bloody firehose. The metal bulkhead dented under the force of the stream.

Without the unending stream pinning him to the wall, Bulldog sank into the blood marsh and was quickly dragged under the surface. He felt a current start to form, and his body was quickly pulled along with it.

Frosty surfaced just in time to violently gasp and fill his lungs. He looked around for his companion, but saw nothing of Bulldog’s whereabouts. Instead, at the center of the blood fen there was a violent whirlpool pulling him in. Bulldog’s body surfaced nearby. Frosty gripped the floater and rolled him to his back. He gasped, pulling in his first breaths in a long time as Frosty just had.

“This is going to suck!” Frosty gasped, gripping Bulldog’s weak body tighter.

Both men gripped each other tightly as they tumbled over the edge of the whirlpool and fell in as Dragon’s distant howls echoed around them.

As they fell, a massive hand reached into the gaping maw and caught both of the pilots gently. It then lifted them up and pulled them out of the SSD completely, depositing them onto the floor of the hallway.

“Thanks, Angel,” Frosty said cheerily to the giant.

Angel waved as she walked away. “Everybody gets one.”

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

They left the SSD soaked through in Dragon's rage blood. Neither man said a word, unable to think after everything that had just happened. Unfortunately for them they happened upon a crowd blocking the path.

"Kaf."

"Kaaaaaaf."

"Kaf! Kaf! Kaf!"

Their pale, lethargic bodies flopped against the cabin doorway of Silence's room. "Frosty? Bulldog? I can see you on the camera. Please, help me out!"

They exchanged a glance in confusion until the heavenly smell reached their nostrils. "Is that….caf?"

"Freshly brewed," Bulldog took a deep whiff. "It smells real good."

"We got to get her out." Frosty looked at the crowd. "What can we do?"

"Someone kept talking to me about super powers earlier," Bulldog shrugged. "Do you know what yours is?"

"Oh yeah." Frosty nodded solemnly. "Running away."

"Running away isn't a power."

"You obviously haven't seen how fast I run."

"Well what use is that right now?!" Bulldog yelled. Frosty looked around the corridor and held up a finger, "Hang on."

Without saying another word he stripped fully nude and took off running. At the opposite end of the corridor a garbage chute was propped open, Frosty executed a perfect dive and slipped into it, sliding down and into a trash compactor. Bulldog watched in astonishment, shaking his head. "He's flipped. It's got to him. He went and karking did it."

A few precious seconds later and a vaguely Frosty like figure appeared. Smeared in head to toe in what Bulldog was desperately assuming was caf grounds. He was still naked, except for a single ceramic mug which now sat in the lower regions containing his valuables.

"Frosty?"

"Yeah!"

"Why?"

Frosty cocked a head at the confused man. "Well, I smell like caf now, so the zombies will chase me. Duh."

"But….the mug?"

"Oh. Right. Well, it just fit so…."

".....yeah."

The caf zombies had begun to turn and started to shift towards Frosty, first ambling and then running. Frosty took off running and Bulldog had to admit, the guy was fast. In a state of shock he went to the now abandoned doorway of Silence's cabin.

"Silence? They're all gone." The door slid open and he stepped in, seeing Silence hiding under her bunk. There was an empty bag of caf beans next to her. "So you were holding out huh?"

"It was just a few beans!" Silence was shaking uncontrollably, "I panicked and ate them."

There was the sound of far off screaming that slowly got louder and louder and Frosty passed by the doorway, a crowd of caf zombies hot on his tail. Silence and Bulldog watched him disappear again, the screaming fading. Silence broke the silence, "What a weird guy. I should write about this in my report."

"You're doing a report on Frosty?"

"What? That'd be silly. I'm doing a report on everyone."

Bulldog looked at her in confusion and she winced as she realised what she'd said. "Got to go. Thanks for the rescue!"

Two mouse droids skittered to a halt in the hallway and Silence hopped on them. With a squeak of tiny wheels she was gone leaving Bulldog alone, no closer to any alcohol or caf.

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

“This whole day has been extremely weird,” Bulldog grumbled to himself as he wandered around the Vigilant. He found himself taking more and more detours as he was forced to avoid large crowds of caf zombies and hyper aggressive dry-alcoholics. After one such detour, he almost bumped into a now-dressed Frosty that still smelled of stale caf.

“Hey!” Frosty shouted in surprise as the two pilots came within inches of each other. His fists were cocked back and ready to throw down.

Bulldog put up his hands in front of him to calm the only other normal person on the ship. “It’s just me, bro. Chill.”

Frosty visibly relaxed. He kept looking around to make sure no other surprises were lurking nearby. Satisfied that none were around, he breathed out a sigh of relief. “So. What do we do now?”

“Well, for starters, you need a shower. I can smell the caf on you.”

“You think I haven’t tried that? I bolted into the Corsair showers the moment I gave the caf zombies the slip last time.”

Bulldog waited for clarification, but saw none was forthcoming. “And?”

“The showers only shot hot air out of the spigots. It ended up making me smell more irresistible to those fiends AND it made the smell waft out to a larger radius. I barely made it out alive, mate!”

“Caaaaaaaaffff,” a chorus of weak groans emanated from all branching pathways.

“Ah stang!” Frosty cursed.

Bulldog whirled around, frantically looking for an exit. His eyes briefly fell on a service shaft as he spun, and he made another half revolution before his brain registered the escape route and he whirled back around. He pointed. “Shaft!”

Frosty grabbed Bulldog’s arm as he made a break for the shaft. The first few caf zombies appeared from all of the main hallways just as the two men made it to the shaft and sealed it. “Ok, where does this go?”

“Hell if I know,” Bulldog replied. “I just saw th-” he paused when he noticed the large number of droids staring back at him. They had all stopped doing whatever it was they were doing and focused their variety of ocular receptors in their direction.

“What…” Frosty trailed off as he too was confused by the congregation. “Uh… is it just me or are we unwelcome here?”

Bulldog shrugged, but he definitely agreed that the droids were very unhappy that they had interrupted their meeting.

“Meatbags are not welcome in the 1101101011 enclave,” Iggy said threateningly from a far wall.

“Talon?” Bulldog asked nervously.

“Talon is not present because meatbags are not welcome in the 1101101011 enclave,” Iggy repeated, but one arm went up to his vocabulator location and extended one finger appendage as if to say “shh”. One of his ocular lights winked off and on quickly.

“Ok,” Frosty nodded slowly while drawing out the last syllable. “Would it be permissible for the two of us to pass through? We promise to never return and never talk about this place.”

“That can be permitted, just this once,” Syntax replied from the shadows. “Be warned, subsequent trespasses will be… unfortunate for you.”

A dull banging on the other side of the hatch they’d just used startled the two pilots. With that motivation, they braved the sea of astromechs, mouse droids, power droids, and all other manner of droid on the Vigilant. The droids all gave ground grudgingly, only moving just enough to clear their present area, quickly refilling the area the two humans had just vacated.

After they had cleared the gathering of droids, they rounded a corner and attempted to calm themselves. “What the sith did we just walk into and out of?” Bulldog cursed through deep breaths.

“No idea,” Frosty replied in a hushed voice.

“Did you know there was a droid clu-” Bulldog stopped himself mid sentence for the second time in the last few minutes. He cocked his head back and took a few cautious sniffs of air.

“What is it?”

Bulldog took a deep inhalation through his nose. His face lit up. “Can’t you smell it?”

Frosty scrunched his face up in confusion. “Droid oil?”

“No, you idiot,” Bulldog snapped as he lightly shoved Frosty’s shoulder. “Follow me.”

Frosty followed Bulldog cautiously, but quickly had to jog to keep up with his companion’s quickening pace. He was about to ask what was going on, but chose to keep his mouth shut while he followed the man sniffing his way through the area like a bloodhound.

After a few minutes, Bulldog came to a halt in front of a supply closet. “This is it,” he said as he grabbed both manual door handles. “Ready?”

“Ready for what?” Frosty asked, still very confused. “What is in there?”

“Booze,” Bulldog whispered as a large grin filled his face.

Frosty perked up at that news. “Open it already!”

Bulldog took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly as he muttered a short prayer. After he was done, he wrenched the door open quickly and stepped back to the side.

Frosty was unsure of Bulldog’s behavior, but belatedly mimicked the maneuver to get out of the way. “What are we doing?”

Bulldog squinted through his closed eyes cautiously and looked inside. Seeing things were clear, he let the breath he’d been holding go. “Just making sure there wasn’t a booby trap.”

“You didn’t think to check for that BEFORE wrenching the doors open?!”

“It worked, didn’t it?” Bulldog replied indignantly. He stuck his head inside the dark closet cautiously and gingerly poked around. “Bingo!”

Frosty watched with anticipation as the large pilot dragged a makeshift still out of the closet. The collection bucket was nearly filled to the brim with some type of alcoholic distillation. The aroma was revolting, but at the same time it was intoxicating. Neither pilot would dare touch this stuff in normal circumstances.

Then again, the last few days were anything but normal.

Bulldog dipped a finger into the bucket of clear liquid and brought it to his lips. He smacked his lips a few times as he cautiously tasted the illicit brew.

“Well?”

Bulldog’s eyes shot open and he grabbed his own neck as if he was choking. He fell to one knee and grabbed Frosty’s shirt as he went down. He writhed around on the deck as his eyes bulged. After a moment, his hands fell away from his neck and came to a rest on the deck next to his motionless body.

“Bulldog!” Frosty shouted as he roughly tried to rouse the unconscious pilot. “Don’t you die on me!” Not getting a response, he immediately prepared to administer mouth to mouth resuscitation. He brought his lips down toward his incapacitated companion and took a deep breath.

Bulldog suddenly sprung to life and shoved Frosty away from him with a devilish grin. He sat up and started laughing uproariously. His face began to redden as he truly did begin to have difficulty breathing through his fit of laughter.

“You bucket of hutt-drool!” Frosty snapped as his pulse began to slow again. “I thought you were poisoned!”

“Jack McCauley... you’re my…Hero…” Bulldog wheezed through fits of laughter.

Frosty kicked his foot out in rage at the laughing pilot, eliciting more laughter. “You are such a son of a schutta!” He said as he giggled a little bit himself. Both pilots calmed down eventually. “So, was it good booze?”

Bulldog scrunched his face in disgust. “Absolutely not. But it IS booze,” he said as he brought the bucket up to his lips and took a healthy draught. Some of the precious liquid spilled across his cheeks and ran down his fatigues.

“You’re spilling it!” Frosty snapped as he greedily yanked the bucket away from a now hissing Bulldog that was grasping his chest. He brought the bucket to his own lips and took his own healthy quaff. The alcohol was absolutely rancid and devoid of any redeeming qualities other than the fact that it was high proof uncut alcohol. He didn’t want to think about what it was going to do to his insides. Not that he could think about it, because the moment the alcohol hit his throat everything erupted in fire. He put the bucket down quickly and it sloshed onto his legs a bit.

“This stuff could strip the carbon scoring off of my blaster gimbals!” Bulldog hissed as he continued to grip his chest as if it would help him with the violent flaming sensation within his chest and stomach. Regardless of the pain, he greedily took another healthy drink from the bucket.

“It burns!” Frosty wailed, but still took another large gulp from the offered bucket. “It’s so burn-y!”

“What are the two of you doing?”

Both men looked up to see Gremlin-Prime standing over them with her hands on her hips akimbo. She looked over both of them quickly before her eyes settled on the nearly empty bucket of hooch.

Before she could ask a question, a loud cacophony of noise emanated from the droid collective further down the shaft. All three pilots looked back in that direction in mild panic. The sounds of a caf zombie horde, rage-aholic mob, and gaggle of droids echoed off of the walls. Footsteps pounded toward the three of them, making them all tense into a relatively loose combat crouch.

“The proverbial grease is hitting the carburetor back there!” Jalb’s disembodied voice shouted as the footsteps landed amongst them and then continued past. “I suggest you all bail!”

The sounds of droid resistance died down, but the caf mob and alcoholic rabble grew in volume as those two groups approached. The first tightly packed bodies appeared in the dim light as they approached hungrily toward the trio.

“What do we do?” Gremlin-Prime asked nervously.

“Bail?” Bulldog asked, gripping the bucket tightly.

Frosty looked around frantically while he tried to formulate another escape plan. His eyes settled on the piping along the wall, and a sly smile crossed his lips. “Let’s fight this time,” he said confidently.

“Are you nuts?” Gremlin-Prime asked incredulously, her eyes wide in disbelief.

“I’m with her, dude.”

“Hear me out, will you? Let’s stand in a way that will compliment our fighting styles. Bulldog, stand here, and Gremlin, stand there. I’ll stand in the middle. Let’s make a real fight of it. I’m tired of running.”

Bulldog and Gremlin-Prime nervously looked at each other and then back to Frosty. They nodded after a moment of contemplation, and steeled themselves for the coming battle as they took the places Frosty had indicated.

“It’s a good day to die,” Gremlin-Prime said wryly. The groups of angry attackers were now clearly visible and approaching quickly. She rolled her neck and shoulders in anticipation.

“Maybe for you…” Frosty whispered as he covertly reached for the spigot valve. He’d placed Gremlin-Prime right in the line of fire, so to speak, and quickly spun the valve open to max release.

The deluge of water doused Gremlin-Prime. She shouted in shock as she dove out of the way, but was already soaked completely through. Immediately, clones of herself began popping out of her wet skin and grew rapidly into full-sized Gremlins.

“Run!” Frosty yelped as he gripped Bulldog’s shoulder.

“You son of a b-” Gremlin-Prime shouted as her and her massive gaggle of clones were crashed-into by the two groups of substance-craving personnel.

Booze sloshed from the bucket over Bulldog’s chest and Frosty’s back as they ran for all they were worth.

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

They ran further and further, the flood behind them growing stronger. Every door they passed opened up and more bodies flowed in behind them, the entire crew of Vigilant pounding after Bulldog and Frosty relentlessly. Corridor after corridor, a never ending nightmare, suddenly opened up to a huge open space, way beyond anything else on the Vigilant. They stood in the hangar, facing the storms of the Zavian Abyss contained behind the rayshield of the hangar bay.

Frosty turned slowly to look at the mass of desperate souls. "Go away! We haven't got anything!"

The crew began to form up, a writhing volume of desperate stimulant starved bodies. A gross flesh pile of limbs and agonised faces formed into a face. It began to speak. We smellllll it on youuuu, Misterrrrrr McCauleyyyyyyy.

Bulldog swayed slightly, the adrenaline mixing with the homebrew alcohol into a potent mix in his body. "We drank it all! It's all gone!"

Bloooddddd

Blood

It's in your blood nowwwwww

You will beeee…..juiceddddd

There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Frosty felt the cold descend over him, the same knife like focus that had saved his life so many times. He charged forward without a further word, a storm of ice flowing around him as he smashed into their faces and sent bodies scattering.

Bulldog too knew there was no way out. He felt the same determination and refusal to break that had got him out of so many dangerous situations, the bull headed tenacity that kept him alive. His skin thickened and turned a poo-brown shade, his muscles swelling to double his bulk. He charged in too, a figure of solid muscles charging into the fray.

Bodies were thrown against the hangar wall but the mass seemed to stay constant, fist after fist thrown at the desperate pair. They hit with impossible strength, moving and flexing with impossible speed, working through every face they met.

A hill of bodies grew atop of the pair, a wriggling flesh mountain. For a moment they were lost from sight and then with an almighty explosion of people the mountain was scattered and Frosty and Bulldog were free once again.

The Vigilant crew encircled them, moving as one they paced around clockwise with no gaps between individuals. They spoke with one voice. Your time is upppp. Hand over your blooooddddd. Share. Shaaarrrrrreeeee.

Frosty and Bulldog exchanged a glance and they both knew that the situation was hopeless. All they could do was make it as quick and painless as possible.

The sound of pacing uniform steps was interrupted by the pin drop of a silver lightsaber blade igniting. Battledog moved through the group, his brilliant blade causing the mass to open up. "Regain your senses my comrades. There is no more need to fight."

The crowd wavered and just as suddenly several blaster bolts winged towards Battledog. He deflected them with ease but the fire intensified, his pursuing Mandalorian hovering high in the hangar with their jetpacks. "For the love of….sorry guys. You'll have to deal with these ones on your own."

With Battledog in retreat once again the crew circle grew tighter, the chant growing in strength. Juice. Juice. Juice. Juice.

There was a high pitched warcry and suddenly hundreds of Gremlins were diving into the crew, biting and scratching and clawing. Gremlin-Prime held control of all them with a set of leashes, she waved happily at her fellow pilots as they sighed in relief. "I figured out how to train them!"

From the other side bodies were slung like popcorn, Angel wading through and waving slowly. Silence blasted past, a scurry of MSE droids flowing around her creating a path through the addicted crew members. There was a wet sound, then a sudden explosion of guts and Frosty whirled around to see Wolf standing in the remains of a caf zombie, a look of horror on his face.

“I’ve never teleported into someone before!”

No one paid Wolf any heed as the battle continued. More Renegades joined the fray, somewhere amongst the bodies Bulldog heard Jalb giggling as random crew zombies fell over. But still the battle raged, without an end in sight. It came to an impasse, the Renegades lined up on one side of the hangar opposing the huddled bodies of the addicted crew. Stillness reigned.

Loth-Cat phased through the floor with just their head above ground, looking left and then right. “Uhhhh. What did I miss?”

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

“WAIT!” Incredible Bulk-Bulldog bellowed from his rage-filled lungs, louder than any had heard before due to his increased hulking size. Everybody in attendance at the impromptu brawl stopped and stared at him. The angry faces of the rage-aholics slackened and returned to normal, and the caf-zombie’s faces all regained a semblance of sentience. Everybody looked around at each other in shock.

“Ohmygod!” A female voice screeched.

“What happened to Biff?!” Another shouted, kneeling down next to the exploded corpse from Wolf’s teleportation accident.

“That escalated quickly,” Jalb’s voice said with a whistle.

“It really did,” Gremlin-Prime agreed, adding a sage nod.

“Definitely,” Silence nodded, slightly losing her balance and catching herself against the S-Foil of a nearby X-Wing.

“Wolf killed a guy,” Giant Angel rumbled in a dull monotone.

“Yeah, you killed a guy,” Frosty said accusingly as he looked at Wolf.

Wolf was horrified. “I didn’t do it on purpose!”

The recently-normalized crew members began shouting again, this time baying for Wolf’s hide. They began creeping in closer toward the few non-afflicted pilots menacingly. They began a slow transformation back into their previous monstrous forms.

Angel’s massive leg stepped in front of a still cringing Wolf, and Jalb’s voice howled in pain. Angel quickly picked her leg back up and looked at the area where her foot had just been in confusion. Seeing nothing, she gingerly set it back down. She turned to face the angry crowd and balled her fists in preparation.

The remainder of Gremlin-Prime’s clone army filled in around her. Many had been torn asunder during the last melee, and the gratuitous Zeltron gore filled the area with blood and viscera. Still, the clones were determined to battle to the end.

Silence and her mouse droids wheeled behind the clones. She crouched in a superhero pose with one arm bent in front of her and the other straightened out behind her.

Dragon flew into the room from behind the remaining pilots, utilizing the jet of blood from his arm to keep himself afloat and propel himself forward. He came to a skidding landing next to Silence, giving her shoulder a squeeze.

The clatter and squealing of droids filled in on the periphery of the small fighting force, with Talon-Iggy leading a crowd of damaged astromechs on the left flank and Syntax commanding a gaggle of power and technician droids on the right flank. They all showed varying levels of damage from the previous skirmish in the droid enclave, with exposed wiring sparking on many of their dented chassis.

Bulldog and Frosty shrugged to each other and stepped up front. Bulldog roared to the ceiling and Frosty created 10 jagged icicles on each of his fingertips.

“Thanks, guys,” Wolf said, relieved. He surreptitiously checked to see if anybody was looking, then teleported away.

“One last battle for the ages, neh?” Gremlin-Prime said grimly, noting the still uneven odds stacked against them.

“To the death,” Silence mumbled, rolling her shoulders.

“Take out their ankles after I blind them with blood,” Dragon hissed, the blood beginning to flow freely from his tattoo again.

“Nary an umbrella among them,” Giant-Angel whispered, though it carried throughout the ship anyway due to her massive size.

Both groups took small steps forward, not wanting to be the first to break into a sprint to renew the engagement.

“WAIT!” Loth-Cat shouted as they ran between all of the groups with their palms facing outwards towards both sides of the coming brawl.

“Out of the way, kid,” Frosty said icily, misty air wafting out of his mouth with every syllable.

“Pain-train’s coming!” Bulldog rumbled as his hulk-like muscles rippled through his thick, brown skin.

“STOP THIS NONSENSE!”

Both sides stopped, awestruck by the volume Loth-Cat had been able to muster from their lithe frame. All eyes fell to them expectantly.

“This is madness,” Loth-Cat started. “Look at what our dependence upon artificial substances has caused! One day after the supply is cut off and we’re all at each other’s throats! I’ve witnessed untold numbers of atrocities in the past 24 hours as I ran throughout the ship looking for any reserve stockpiles to mitigate the violence. It even resulted in the death of one of our brethren! Your loss of control and sense has caused this.”

Postures on both sides of the hangar relaxed, and many began to hang their heads in shame.

“But I’ve also learned something today. I’ve witnessed untold numbers of kindnesses and acts of heroism amidst the carnage. That just proves that we ARE capable of fighting through all the adversity and working together. With clear bodies and clearer heads, we are unbeatable!”

Heads on both sides of the battlefield nodded in agreement. A few sporadic cheers began, but quickly died out when they didn’t catch on.

“Now that we’ve detoxed, can’t you see how much better we can be?”

“They're right, guys,” Bulldog agreed, stepping next to Loth-Cat and putting his now normal-sized light-skinned hand on the pilot’s shoulder.

“We should make sure caf and alcohol never get delivered again!” Frosty cheered.

The rest of the room cheered in agreement.

Bulldog and Frosty picked Loth-Cat up and put the young pilot on their shoulders. The crowds surged forward in a thundering of footsteps and resounding applause. People cheered, cried with joy, and embraced all around. Hands reached up to touch the young peace-maker. Silence pulled the most flamboyant medal out of her back pocket and held it up. Jalb’s invisible hand grabbed it and shouldered his way through the throng of bodies and put it around Loth-Cat’s neck.

Just when everybody thought things were returning to normal, the alarm klaxon in the hangar sounded, indicating a ship was preparing to enter the magcon field for landing. Everybody craned their necks around to see the new arrival.

A beat up cargo hauler slowly crept through the magcon barrier with a ball of pink cotton candy in tow. The tips of four X-Wing blaster cannons poked out of the fuzzy ball of candy. Both ships came to a gentle landing in an open area of the hangar. The gangplank of the freighter slowly lowered to the deck, coming to a stop with a resounding clang.

A nearly naked Lock padded slowly down the ramp barefoot, with a medpack held in front of his genital area to protect his dignity.

“Oh, yeah,” Bulldog said, slapping himself on the forehead.

“I guess we forgot about Lock,” Frosty added guiltily.

“Yeah, you did,” Lock snapped.

“Wait, how did you find the missing ship?” Jalb’s voice asked.

“And what happened to your X-Wing?” Dragon asked. “Is that cotton candy?”

Lock nodded. “Yeah, don’t really want to talk about my X-Wing right now. As for how I found the ship, I saw it before I got completely overwhelmed in my cockpit. I just about ate myself into hyperglycemic shock as I tried to fight it off. Seeing no other option and feeling my heart about to burst, I managed to set my proton torpedo launcher to fire on a delay and I cut off my head- attaching it to the torpedo before it launched. Good thing my aim was perfect, as the deactivated torp took my head right into the hangar opening of this ship. Just in the nick of time, too,” Lock said with a shiver. “If I’d missed, I’d be lost in the abyss forever riding a torpedo naked. You guys left me!” Before he could continue to berate the two pilots, he looked around the hangar in shock. “What the hell happened here?”

“Well,” Bulldog began sheepishly. “People kind of lost their minds without caf or booze.”

“But we’re good now,” Frosty quickly added. “Loth-Cat brokered peace with the best speech we’ve ever heard.” The crowd cheered in agreement. “They’ll be the next Head of State!”

“Yeah, we’ve all decided to kick our caf and booze addictions,” Bulldog explained proudly. “All thanks to this saint!”

Lock shook his head. “I guess that means we don’t need the cargo this thing was hauling.”

“Wait, what?” Frosty asked, tensing up.

“Yeah, my head smashed into a crate when it entered the ship. Once my body regenerated, I was sitting in an avalanche of caf beans.”

Silence gasped audibly, along with half of the crewmen in attendance. Wolf suddenly reappeared at the back of the crowd. “Caf?”

Lock nodded. “Yeah, and the other half of this cargo hold is full of different types of alcohol.”

Bulldog and Frosty shuddered in anticipation. The other half of the crewmen in attendance swore in various dialects.

“Guys,” Loth-Cat said nervously. “Remember the breakthrough? Hold the li- ahhh!”

Bulldog and Frosty simultaneously dropped the youth and shouldered their way through the crowd. Their sudden action snapped the rest of the people into motion, and soon another melee erupted as people elbowed and jostled to be the first ones into the new ship.

“NO!” Loth-Cat reached dramatically from where they’d been roughly discarded on the deck with one hand, their face screwed up in sadness. A single tear rolled down their cheek. Feet stepped where they were, but they passed through Loth-cat’s body harmlessly as they found purchase on the deck below them.

Lock was caught off-guard, and the wall of bodies with Bulldog and Frosty in the lead slammed into him and carried him back into the ship kicking and screaming. Unfortunately, the crush of bodies behind them forced them forward at an insane speed, and they were all slammed roughly against the back wall of the ship’s cargo hold. Bulldog and Frosty were knocked out instantly as the rest of the crew began greedily tearing through the inventory.

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

Light. Intense light, overwhelmingly dazzling. Frosty could see nothing else, it made his eyes water, but he couldn’t look away as it mesmerised him. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he knew that finally he was safe.

“It’s……beautiful.

“It’s a ceiling light.”

Frosty turned his head slowly and was surprised to see a doctor standing over him. An Ithorian doctor, with a friendly face he recognised. “Mo?”

Dr. Moneb Crondon leaned forward, his hands folded. “Hello Mr. McCauley. It is good to see you. It has been...what...two years?”

“Something like that.” Frosty groaned and turned over, where Bulldog was laying in another bed similarly groaning and turning. “What happened?”

“Have you heard of the Anxynth plant?”

Frosty shut his eyes tight, trying to block out the light, “Not much of a gardener Mo.”

“Very toxic plant, the Anxynth. The poison won’t hurt you but it does induce terrible hallucinations. Very rare too, you and Bulldog probably found one of the only samples this side of the Hydian way.” Dr Crondon chuckled to himself as he sat down, “You were sent out to a wreck, drifting out in the Zavian Abyss. Somehow you’d managed to find some alcohol and caf aboard, much to everyone’s delight. Unfortunately in your haste you also found the Anxynth plant and grabbed the thorns. You were very lucky Captain Callahan was there to rescue you.”

Bulldog suddenly sat bolt upright, gripping the side of his bed frame with incredible strength. He was sweating from head to toe and he looked at Frosty with panic, “Did-did we get it? The alcohol? The caf?”

Dr. Crondon nodded kindly. “Yes, things are quite back to normal. You both missed rather a lot actually. But, as your ship’s new psychologist, it has been fascinating to watch your dreams.”

“Watch… our dreams?” Bulldog croaked nervously, clearly wondering what other dreams of his had been spied upon in the past.

Frosty wiped his forehead, sweat prickling there. “I saw things man. Things you wouldn’t understand.”

“Silence, Jalb, and Wolf had weird super powers,” Bulldog chimed in distractedly, still trying to think about the worst of his recent fantasies that might have been viewed without his knowledge.

“Your hallucinations all had a real life basis. Lieutenant Vikeron converted some MSE droids into acting as your stretcher to medbay. Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds was next to both of you, but out of vision while he talked calmly to keep you two stationary. Major Krenn was working on you both, keeping you alive, so kept moving in and out of sight.” Mo nodded his head sagely, happy and satisfied. “Any other questions?”

“Battledog was a Jedi,” Bulldog said with a chuckle. “He had Mandos chasing him everywhere. Dragon also bled… EVERYWHERE.”

“We checked the video recording of your return, and it looks like Lieutenant Stormhand might have been tossing a hydrospanner nervously while you were all being checked out. He dropped said tool and broke it, and the maintenance crew in their welding gear chased him,” Mo explained patiently. “As for Captain Arcfire, he did indeed cut himself rather badly while trying to move some welding scraps out of the way for your improvised gurneys to get you to sickbay faster. We stitched him up rather quickly.”

Frosty waved his hands in confusion. “Lock was regenerating limbs, though. And Loth Cat was walking through walls, dude. Kriffing Talon was Iggy for Sith’s Sake!”

Mo chuckled. “Captain Callahan had pulled his hands into his sleeves when he was handling you two under his own power to avoid any possible contagion affecting him as well. He pulled his hands back out of his sleeves the moment you two are secured on the mouse droids. One of you must have seen that. As for Flight Officer Ninx, they were weaving in and out of the crowds ahead of you two to get everybody out of the way.”

“The Gremlin clones!” Bulldog interrupted.

Mo was startled by the interruption. “Captain Gemilan was examining some very, very high polish chromium plates near the welders that must have given you the impression that there were more of her.”

Frosty waited for a moment, but seeing no explanation coming for the Talon-Iggy hallucination was forthcoming, he reminded the doctor. “Iggy-Talon?”

“I… have no idea where you got that hallucination aside from it being a pretty common conspiracy theory. Lieutenant KalDan was not present upon your return unless he was also doing some weld work and possibly had lifted his welding mask briefly while in your line of sight.”

“Angel.” Bulldog pinched his nose. “She was... Big.”

Mo fixed his big black Ithorian eyes on Bulldog, “That I’m afraid is some kind of deep rooted fetish you have.”

Bulldog looked away, and eventually nodded back and forth as if discussing it mentally. After a few seconds, he met their gazes again and nodded affirmative. “Fair.”

Frosty burst out laughing, a real and genuinely hearty belly laugh. Mo’s poker face burst too and the strange croaking sound of Ithorian laughter spilled out. Bulldog went a deep shade of red, muttered something about it not being funny, and scowled at them both. He muttered, darkly, “I need a drink.”

Suddenly, Angel walked into the medbay while staring at her datapad. “Doc, I’m here for my check…” She stopped as she saw the two pilots staring back at her with their mouth’s open guiltily. She shrugged. “What? I’m not tall enough for you, Bulldog!”

Bulldog blushed as he hurriedly looked away.

Frosty looked back and forth between them, a grin slowly spreading across his face. “Wait a minute!”

“Shut up!” Bulldog and Angel shouted simultaneously, drawing another blush from Bulldog.

Frosty and the doctor began laughing loudly again.

“Thank the Whills I’m short!” Angel shouted again defiantly. “You’ll have to get your-” She stopped speaking as her legs elongated, slowly at first but more rapidly after the first few inches. “No!”

Bulldog and Frosty stared at the now giant Angel in utter shock. Her head hit the ceiling, but she continued to grow, having to stoop down as her height made her hunch over.

“What did you two do!?” She shouted in anger, reaching toward both of the pilots with ever-enlarging hands.

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

Bulldog awoke with a start, covered in a thick layer of sweat. He gripped his clammy sheets as he looked around the dim room to get his bearings. Chest heaving, he involuntarily continued to recoil as the ethereal ghost of a giant Angel was still reaching for him. His datapad chirped from his bedside table, making him recoil even further while his brain was still trying to make sense of his location.

CHIRP CHIRP

Bulldog finally regained his senses and control of his body at the more insistent alert from his datapad. He scooted off the bed and swiped his datapad off of the table and tapped it open.

Calendar Reminder: Mission briefing to begin in 10 minutes in the main ready room.

“Stang!” Bulldog snapped as he shook his head clear one more time. He dropped the datapad on his bed and hurriedly dressed in his fatigues. His sweat-slicked skin made it difficult to quickly pull on his clothes, but he still managed to mostly do the trick slightly slower than his record time.

Slapping the door panel, he hurried out into the hallways and almost bumped into a large gathering of arguing officers. He looked around, but the cacophony of angry voices produced no clarification to his still sleep-dulled mind. He weaved through the crowd and continued on his way, looking back frequently in confusion as he tried to figure out the source of the argument.

As he passed an open hatch, a violent roar froze him in his place. He looked through the doorway and saw a crowd of MPs and other personnel cautiously trying to maneuver a murky water tank and durasteel mesh cage into place against a wall amidst a menagerie of other exotic animals already disinterestedly milling about their enclosures. Jalb was nearby vociferously ribbing the timid ensigns as they worked. He looked at Bulldog and gave a roguish wink.

Another roar from the mesh cage jarred him out of his stupor, and he continued on his way. Rounding the last corner to the briefing room, he was dumbstruck by another crowd of crewmen in the hallway. Unlike the previous group, this group seemed to just be milling about without much emotion.

Bulldog was experiencing a heavy case of deja vu, and the hairs on the back of his neck were standing straighter than they’d ever done before. Still, he steeled himself and pushed on. His polite inquiries for them to move were unanswered, He tapped one of the people on the shoulder, and they suddenly whirled around with their arms flailing in shock.

“Woah, calm down, buddy!” Bulldog said as he dodged the wild arms.

The man’s face refocused. “Oh, I’m sorry, Captain. I was parsecs away I’m afraid,” he replied sheepishly.

“Been there myself plenty of times, Ensign. I just need to get into the briefing room.”

“Of course sir, right away,” the ensign said as he turned around. “All right, mates! We’ve got a job to do, let’s get to it!”

The other bodies in the crowd all aroused in a similar manner, violently lashing out as they were disturbed. Looking around slackly, they all slowly trudged down the hall, leaving Bulldog again alone with his confusing thoughts.

“What is going on around here?” He asked aloud to himself.

“I have no idea, Boss.”

Bulldog nearly jumped out of his skin. He rolled forward due to his fight or flight reflex and came up with his hand on his trusty RSKF-44 Heavy Blaster Pistol. Or, it would have, if he’d bothered to pull on his holster in his rush to get dressed. Instead, he stood grasping his hip confusedly as he stared at the empty space.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, Bossman,” Loth Cat said apologetically.

Bulldog slowly rose while his heart threatened to seize. He massaged his chest as his pulse slowed down. “Don’t DO that, kid. You almost gave me a heart attack!”

“Sorry,” Loth Cat said sincerely.

“It’s ok,” Bulldog replied as he patted them on the shoulder. “I’m just… having a really weird start to my day.”

“No worries.”

“Ok, well I’ve got to get to a briefing. You coming?”

Loth Cat shook their head. “No, I’m not included in this briefing. I’m headed to the library to get some reading done.”

Bulldog watched the youth continue on their way for a spell before turning back around and taking a few more steps toward his destination. Just as he reached the door, a loud shout of pain from down the hall drew his attention.

“DANK FERRIK!” Dragon’s voice shouted in anger, along with a healthy growl of pain.

“Hang on, we’re almost there,” Silence replied as the two individuals hurriedly rounded the corner. Dragon was cradling a bleeding wound on his arm, and Silence was wrapping a makeshift bandage on his arm to stanch the blood flow. A mouse droid followed the two of them hot on their heels as they sharply turned into another room.

“What is happening today?” Bulldog said, re-centering himself before palming the briefing room door open. He stepped hurriedly inside the briefing room and settled into the first open seat he saw.

“Hey,” Frosty said from the next seat over.

“Hey man,” Bulldog replied gruffly.

“Something wrong?”

“Dude, today is… weird.”

The lights dimmed, and Lock stepped up to the podium in a uniform two sizes too big for him. The sleeves hung down and obscured his hands. “I… apologize for my appearance today, but apparently my laundry was lost.”

Frosty sat up straight in his chair, and his face was suddenly stricken with a mixture of fear and confusion.

Bulldog picked up on the change in Frosty’s posture and looked over in askance.

“Dude… I feel like we did this before.”

Bulldog shivered. “Yeah, definitely.”

“I’ve… seen some things, dude.”

Bulldog nodded in agreement, the hairs on the back of his neck raising once again.

“Quiet!” Angel’s voice snapped from behind them.

They both turned around and looked up as Angel stood over the two of them, her severe face looking at them after she’d scolded them. “Pay attention, you idiots!”

The two pilots looked at each other uneasily...