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Warm Welcome

A Tale by Animal

Major Chris "Animal" Stephen opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. His alarm chrono was vibrating on the nightstand and softly chirping that it was time to get out of bed. It had been difficult to find something that actually worked to wake him up. Being a New Republic pilot you learned to sleep when and where you could. He could sleep next to the roaring engine of his trusty B-wing fighter, but something as simple as a door closing at odd intervals could keep him awake.

His night had been filled with a kaleidoscope of memories and feelings that didn't allow him a restful sleep. He had started to utilize white noise to drown everything out, but the horrors still could pierce through that.

He sat up and reached over to turn off the chrono, swung his legs over the side and stood up. Stretching from head to toe, he performed an informal diagnostic. Neck, arms, ribs, torso, legs, ankles, all functional, but aging far too quickly. He let out a loud sigh and headed to the refresher. Military life was all about processes and checklists. Deodorant on, teeth brushed, hair combed, flight suit on, boots shined, rank insignia secured, command cylinder, check check check...

One last look in the mirror at the moneymaker and he was ready for the day. Staring at his reflection, the images from his dreams returned. "Why didn't you protect us?" said a woman in a New Republic fleet uniform, "We died because of you!" said a male Mon Calamari in the clothes of a maintenance tech.

"Enough!" Chris yelled at no one in particular. He lowered his voice. "I am sorry I was not able to save you, but I can still save others. Give me a chance!"

There was no indication that the memories agreed with his request, but he could no longer see them in the reflection. They were now replaced by a note, placed there at the suggestion of the ship's psychologist Dr. Ithaas Zequaal. The note had only 2 words: YOU MATTER.

Chris wasn't sure if the note was working. The Death Star weapon vaporized a lot of people that mattered.

Done with the mirror, he picked up his datapad to look over his schedule today.

His day started with a flurry of meetings, one with the duty officer, and then with the wing CO. Meetings with the maintenance chief about the Buccaneer squadron craft, and somewhere in there he needed to find time to train his pilots, find a bite to eat, get in a workout and finish up some code on the slicing program he was still troubleshooting.

He would have to be as efficient as possible to get everything done. First stop was the Caf house and some chow, he needed a boost. As he ate his breakfast and caffeinated himself, he was oblivious to everything that went on around him. His nose was deep in his datapad trying to organize his day to get everything done. He filled his pockets with a few snacks for later.

First stop was a chat with the duty officer. He provided an informational update regarding fleet status, expected arrivals in system, and what kind of Imperial presence was in the area.

Today's report was a couple of resupplies of fuel and repair parts, but there wasn't anything that looked like it needed Buccaneer Squadrons heavy hand. That was good, maybe there was more time to work on the new Vandersloop attack pattern with the X-wing.

Next up was the task of checking in with the commander of Renegade Wing, Lt. Colonel Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds. Animal was sure that Jalb_k knew when someone was looking for him and would always be somewhere else. Animal had been a part of Rogue Squadron for a time, but had never been through that useful bit of leadership training.

There were two sure ways to find Rogue Leader. The first, and usually less desirable, was for him to be looking for you. Once in his crosshairs, escaping that target-lock was most difficult. The second option was to start in the ready room, find another wing member, and talk to them about fleet strategies or flight tactics.

Animal was making eye contact with everyone he passed in the corridors of the huge Mon Cal cruiser. It caused a lot of salutes to be returned, but then he could also virtually interrogate everyone to see if they knew where to find Rogue Leader. Nobody was giving up the prize this time, he would have to fall back on his not-so-sure-fire system.

It didn't take him long to reach the wing command center, and entered with a salute to the New Republic Marine at the door. He swung by the caf station for a drink and headed for the briefing room, offering some greetings along the way.

Chris cleared the bulkhead door and entered the briefing room. "Morning gents!" he greeted them, seeing the two other squadron OC's already there. "Am I late for something?"

"Not this time Major, but they day is young," said Lt. Col. Alrick "Krayt" Durgan, the OC of Spectre squadron.

Animal stopped in his tracks, looking at the person sitting at the head of the table with his back to him. "And what do my wandering eyes see here? My OC is actually in front of me, and not on my six jeering me to go faster? What are the odds?" Animal said with a bit of surprise.

"I calculate that the odds of him being in this room at this time of day to be under 15%," added Lt. Col. 9-LOM "Syntax" helpfully.

"But Syntax, tell me truthfully. Cross reference those data points and make two subsets. One holds the odds of finding him in here when you're looking for him, and the second is the odds you find him in here when you are not looking for him."

Syntax turned his head slightly, going through the calculations. "I do not see any difference in the subset odds. Perhaps it is your perception of the difficulty of finding him that is skewing your results."

"That is a"¦." Animal started.

"Or it's bad luck," Syntax concluded.

Animal chuckled to himself. The android pilot was better than him in almost every category that mattered to a pilot. If he somehow got feelings, or worse, perfected snark as he perfected everything else, Animal was in trouble.

"Do you even believe in luck Syntax?" Animal asked.

"Never had much use for it," responded Syntax matter-of-factly.

Animal chuckled to himself again and turned to his OC, who he knew was listening, but was also navigating the datapad in front of him trying to get a grip on something. "Good to see you here sir, was hoping I wouldn't have to chase you all over the ship," Animal said, addressing Jalb_k.

"You'll never catch me in those slugs of yours Major," Jalb_k said with a smirk, still focused on the datapad.

"That is a valid point sir, but when I do get my guns pointed at you, look out!" Animal returned fire.

"As long as you're aiming at him he is pretty safe," added Krayt, again with the smirk.

"Oh ok, I get it. Gang up on the slow kid." Animal was taking out his datapad to sit at the table with the rest of the officers. "So I drive a slug, Jalb_k flies an antique, and Syntax is basically flying a rocket with a fuse. Seems like the only safe ship is the U-wing."

"Two rockets, technically," Krayt added.

"Hey Syntax?" Animal asked, "what would the odds have been for the New Republic to defeat the Empire at Endor using only U-wings?"

"Zero," replied Syntax coldly. "It is so close to zero I am unable to inflate the value to share a more emotionally positive value."

"Would have made for some interesting holovids though," Animal said, finishing his thought. "So what do we have going on today?"

"Looks like a light day for CAP and low chance of mobilization," Jalb_k answered, "but I am working on a few things for Buccaneer and was actually looking for you."

"So you were looking for me?" asked Animal, arching his eyebrow.

"Yeah, lucky you came in here so I don't have to send out a search party," Jalb_k confirmed.

"Hah, I knew it. I look for someone and they turn invisible. You look for someone and they just appear," Animal ranted. "Here I was thinking I broke the two laws of finding Lt. Colonel Reynolds, but really it's just law one in action."

"What two laws?" Jalb_k finally looked up from his datapad.

"Law one states that the highest chance of success of finding Jalb_k is when he is looking for you," started Syntax.

Animal pointed at him in agreement and emphasis.

"And law two says that if that doesn't work, the only other way to flush out the Rogue OC is to talk tactics and strategy." Krayt paused nodding his agreement in the laws, "but," he continued, "there is a debate on whether talking good tactics has more of a chance of a Jalb_k sighting or whether you should totally butcher them. Jury is still out in my opinion."

Animal spread out his arms palms up, looking at Jalb_k like he was a defense attorney and he was resting his case.

Jalb_k shook his head slowly in mock disapproval and addressed Animal again. "So your request for a couple of U-wings to join Buccaneer squadron was approved. That should bring your available craft to twenty. Six B-wings, six Y-wings, six X-wings, and two U-wings. Fleet thinks this kind of setup is a little risky, seeing as it decreases the number of bombs on the target, but they also understand that we are the experts and look forward to our official report on the efficacy of such a mix of craft."

"Yes sir, I understand," Animal said, nodding his agreement. "I appreciate your willingness to take this to Fleet. We won't let you down."

"I know you won't," replied Jalb_k. "You just make sure your team trains with the new craft in the mix and work on your communication. It's key with these new masking abilities that you work together and deliver your payloads with precision."

"Absolutely sir," Animal agreed with a nod.

Jalb_k continued. "This new configuration allows a larger spectrum for success or failure. Some of the fleet bean counters like the smaller margin of error, but I sold them on the professionalism and skill of your bomber crews and the returns we would get with future success."

"I agree sir, we will train with it today," Animal confirmed

"Excellent, that's what I want to hear," Jalb_k said, picking up one of the datapads to his side and handing it to Animal. "Here is a new pilot for Bucc. Name is Flight Officer Glenn "Wolvinator" Ahdee'khee. He was in an A-wing with Green, shot down over Endor screening Red and Gold on their attack runs. He has good scores on his flight evals, solid recommendations and field reports from his CO's. The ones that have survived, that is."

Animal nodded in understanding.

"Get him oriented into Buccaneer ASAP. I want him training today so you can take a look at him. Let me know what you think of him on the next duty report," Jalb_k said as he handed the datapad to Animal.

"Will do sir," Animal said as he accepted the datapad. "Why don't you come by the SSD later tonight and shake him down yourself. I will gather everyone up and we will welcome Wolvinator in Buccaneer style."

"Sure," agreed Jalb_k. "I think I'll have an opportunity for that tonight."

"Thank you sir, I appreciate it," Animal replied, popping a quick salute to indicate he was leaving.

Jalb_k returned the salute and Animal headed out. "Good to see you two, catch you later," he said as he looked at Krayt and Syntax.

"Not even on your best day, Major," chided Syntax.

Animal offered Syntax and Krayt a salute as he left, and he mentally checked that off his list.

As he walked on autopilot, he looked over the new Flight Officer's file that was being added to his squadron. Seemed like a quality candidate, but moving from the A-wing to the B-wing was as large a change in equipment and strike options he could think of. He would have to push him into the deep end and see if he floats. Better to identify knowledge deficiencies in training rather than engaged with the enemy. At the very least, I need to make sure he'll qualify in a strike X"¦

Chris swapped out datapads to look back at his slice code. It was stupidly simple. The only challenge honestly was getting it into the protocol stack. The rest was mostly communications and notifications of go/no-go scenarios. He was pretty sure it was done; just needed to test it out.

He returned the salute of a sergeant walking away from the hangar as he entered through a small service door. The Mon Cal cruiser's hangar was massive, holding the majority of the wing's operational fighter craft in organized chaos. It was a coordinated dance between the Deck Chief and the Flight Control Officer. There were a few smaller ancillary hangars that could handle a squad of fighters, but they were really only in use when going into action and opposition was expected. There was also a small service hangar that held the tug fleet and other assorted craft.

Animal headed to one of the control areas, finding a crewman on the deck checking over a Rogue Squadron X-wing. They had their arm buried completely into the port side launch hardpoint. From the look of the equipment at his feet he was doing some cleaning and general inspection.

"Sergeant, do you know where Tech Sergeant Haarit might be?" Animal asked, hoping the mechanic would realize he was asking for the tug pilot/mechanic colloquially called "Skitch".

The sergeant continued to reach into the launcher, grunting with the strain, but also trying to recall where he had seen her last. "I think she was inspecting the incoming repair parts or one of the new U-wings your squadron is getting."

"Appreciate the help, don't let her give you any trouble," said Animal, indicating the X-wing. He walked towards the receiving area of the hanger and hoped Skitch was easier to find than Jalb_k.

Animal didn't mind the non salute from the sergeant. Although with his arm that far up the torpedo mechanism it would have been an interesting photo. No need to distract the techs any more than a question when they were working on the ships that were so important to their mission.

Animal followed the hangar walk path which should take him to the receiving area. He rounded a corner and was rewarded with finding new Bucc U-wings in the hangar, loaded with spare parts. He was impressed with the efficiency of sending spare parts in the ships that were being reassigned to Renegade Wing.

Animal approached from the front of the ship and headed to the port side entry door, where he heard voices. He ran his hand along the foil that gave the ship its name and reached the door just as a tech jumped out at him. Each of them stopping uncomfortably close to each other. Several other techs jumped out of the doorway as well, heading to the rear of the ship where there was a hoversled.

Animal backed up out of the way, assuming they would be bringing the generic repulser vehicle close to the door to unload the spare parts. "Tech Sergeant Haarit, do you have a moment?"

"Sure do sir, if you'll give me a minute" the Sergeant said, then turned and commanded her crew. "Let's go people, I want these fat ladies unloaded ASAP. We can't finish today until we unload these spare parts, perform an inspection and run a diagnostic." She turned back to Animal, but remembered something and turned back around again. "And give it a fresh paint job once it's cleared. Buccaneer is a green base with a black logo, but look it up before you start. I hate rework and we're not paying OT."

"You got it boss!" came a call from the hoversled.

"Alright, I got five minutes. What can I do for you?" asked Skitch as she rubbed her hands clean with a greasy towel.

"Well, I think you've all but answered by question about the U-wings being added to my squadron. Please let me know how the inspection goes and if you need any input on storage and armament. I can send that through the usual channel as well," said Animal.

"Not a problem sir, we'll get right to it," replied Skitch. "Anything else?"

"Yes, one more thing I need your help with," Animal said conspiratorially as he handed Skitch a datapad.

She read through the datapad, scoffing a few times and gasping a few others. Animal wasn't sure how to read her, but she seemed amused. "THAT, definitely cannot be done in here, or in aux bay. It will have to be done in maintenance. Have you spoken with Fossil about this? She seems like the biggest hurdle you have, and there are some big ones in there," Skitch offered.

"As a matter of fact I already have her approval to use her space," Chris responded confidently. "I need your team to provide the opposing force, and with some setup and clean up."

"Yeah i see that," Skitch said, scratching her head. "Not exactly my ideal night off."

"I can see that, but how often do you get permission to do this kind of stuff to a group of officers. Like us or hate us, you know we're cocky a-holes you would sometimes love permission to punch," Animal said, seeing a glimmer of hope. "I also included some liquid incentives."

Skitch handed the datapad back to Animal. "I don't think I can get enough of the crew to help me out, then what, me against you? No thanks," she said, shaking her head.

"Tell you what, add on another round of drinks, and a 10-year bottle of the sea aged whiskey from Mon Cal. Maybe that will sweeten the deal. And if you don't get enough people to help when you get the activation notification, let me know and I'll figure something out."

Skitch thought about that for a bit. She and her crew liked to visit the cantina a time or two, and they could make for a quick clean up. "Make it a 20-year bottle of Whyrens and you got a deal. I can scrounge up enough people to make it work for that price."

"You drive a hard bargain," added Animal, thinking that this teamwork exercise is just what his pilots need. "I accept your terms."

"Excellent," replied Skitch. "We will make it happen."

"Appreciate your effort on this," said Animal, extending his hand to Skitch.

"Maybe you'll have to owe me one, depending on how it ends up," Skitch replied, shaking the Buccaneer OC's hand.

"Hah, I think you're gonna owe me," Animal snorted.

"I'll do one better, two repainted U-wings coming right up!"

"Carry on Sergeant!" Animal returned the salute and turned to leave. He headed over to the sim center to get set up for a few training flights for Buccaneer.

It was a pretty quick trip to the sim room, but enough time for Chris to eat one of his pocket snacks. He didn't want to find these later after they had gone bad. He would grab a drink in the sim room to wash it down.

As he walked into the sim center, he saw a few of his pilots getting ready. His Captain Andy "Bulldog" Clark was talking to an unknown flight officer in a green flight suit.

As he approached, Bulldog introduced him. "And this is Major Stephen. He is the Buccaneer OC. Animal, this is Wolvinator, our newest transfer."

Wolvinator saluted and Animal returned it, and followed it up with a handshake. "Welcome to the team Wolvinator, glad to have you here."

"Glad to be here sir. Looking forward to showing you what I can do," responded Wolvinator.

"I've prepped everyone for the mission boss. We're ready for your last words and then I need to get the new guy into his rig. Come on, I'll help you out," Bulldog indicated to Wolvinator to follow him. He was going to get the quick tour of his sim pod before things officially started.

Animal approached the control desk, fighting the urge to push a few buttons as he had no idea what they did. "Alright Buccaneer, this will be a classic assault on an ISD. Nothing special about the ship or fighter defense. We will be working on good communication with our U-wing support for masking, flying in formation with a wingman, and accurate delivery of the payload to important systems."

Animal paused to let everyone get comfortable and settle into their seats. "Please also welcome Wolvinator into billet six. We will have time tonight to put him through the true Buccaneer paces, but until then let's throw him into the fire."

"Welcome Wolvinator!" everyone said with varying levels of enthusiasm.

"By the Force, I know this guy!" exclaimed Flight Officer Anton "Ant" Whitemont as he popped his head out of his pod. "But last I checked, he went by the callsign "˜Famzee' at Endor"¦ I guess this is an improvement?"

"Shut it, Ant!" responded Wolvinator playfully.

"Time for grab-ass is later! Tighten up Buccs, here is what we're running," Animal called out.

"Three will be driving the U-wing, Seven and Eleven will be flight 1, Two and Four will be flight 2 and Six is on overwatch in an X-wing." Animal paused for questions. "Seven, you have operational command on this one. Practice your timing with the masking from Three. Should only take you two runs to take out all the systems."

"Seven copies," responded Captain Mitch "Rev" Ri'chard.

"Begin hyperspace sequence. Pilots prepare to engage the enemy," Animal announced from the master console where he could monitor the entire mission and switch POVs on the fly. He paused to let the pilots make final preparations. "Exiting hyperspace in four, three, two, one."

Animal and Bulldog watched the live action from the sim rigs on the screens in front of each of them, taking notes on what went well, specific and immediate improvements, and ideas for future training. Rev organized the squadron in a Vic formation, with the X-wing in the lead and the U-WIng in the center. They headed straight for the nose of the Star Destroyer.

"Six, Angle down 8%," Rev ordered.

The squadron angled down to dive under the Star Destroyer and set up the Vandersloop.

"Three, prepare to mask on my mark. Rendezvous after attack run is 4KM above the ISD.

"Copy that," confirmed Flight Officer Dion "Loth-Cat" Ninx.

Rev counted down. "Three, Two, One, Mark."

Wolvinator in his X-wing broke out of formation to engage the incoming enemies. He knew he only had seconds of the mask to push his advantage. He locked the Goliath missile at range and fired it.

Flight 1 boosted and broke to port for the Star Destroyer's starboard notch to set up the Vandersloop maneuver. Flight 2 mirrored their movement on the ISD's port side.

Buccaneer Six picked out a fighter and poured as much laser fire into it as he could. Just before he passed the TIE squadron a large explosion knocked him off his line, removed his shields and damaged the port s-foils and laser cannons. His engines showed 74% efficiency, he went evasive and headed for the rendezvous.

Loth-Cat, after masking the squadron, followed the X-wing, which would engage the enemy first. They watched the Goliath missile fire and the X-wing follow the shot, knowing that would be dangerous. Three watched the port side of the X-wing get enveloped in the detonation of the missile and saw the damage on their instruments. They engaged a repair droid to mitigate some of the damage to their squadmate and followed Six to the rendezvous.

The two flights of B-wings executed a picture perfect Vandersloop maneuver, flying through the notch in the Star Destroyer on the center-line aimed directly at the shield generators. Once they passed the notch, they were under the shield coverage and released their proton torpedoes.

"Mask is available at rendezvous," called out Loth-Cat.

"Ten seconds out, mask on my mark," replied Rev. "Tighten up on me."

It was an artistic dismantling of an ISD's defenses. The B-wings masked once more and One Flight strafed the main cannons and the targeting system on the top side with bombs. Flight 2 completed the destruction of the Power System controller and the rest was just clean-up focusing on turrets and exposed power fluxes.

Satisfied the mission was a success, Animal shut down the simulator and let everyone catch their breath. He asked the tech to load up a different scenario; one with more X-wings with an ion torpedo strike package to train a brute force shield strategy.

"While the computer is evaluating and finalizing the scores of that training mission, everyone take a bio break and meet in the briefing room," ordered Animal. He grabbed a cup of water and sat down with Bulldog to review their notes. They compared what went well, prioritized topics for discussion, and what needed to be improved.

They settled on a deeper look at the spacing on the final approach to the shield generators, and a talk about Goliath missiles and why you want to delay your approach a bit to stay out of the kill zone.

"Get them on a run with the X-wing and add a few more TIE fighters for added difficulty," Chris said

"Will do sir," responded Bulldog, "and I will let them know about the welcome party for Wolvinator tonight."

"Please do, but don't work em' too hard today. We will need some energy tonight," Chris said with an eyebrow raise, knowing that was an understatement. He exited the sim room knowing his pilots were in good hands with the ex-Rogue pilot.

He made his way back to his quarters, but he still had a few things to do before the welcome party for Wolvinator. He was actually looking forward to a little exercise. With the nightmares he had been having lately, it seemed his runs have been the only chance to let his mind wander and think about something other than squadron business.

He quickly changed into his PT shirt and shorts when he returned to his quarters, and sat down at his small desk area. He looked over his slice code, looking for flaws or anything that would prevent it from working but he couldn't find anything. He ran a validation through his datapad, and that too came up green.

He tied his shoes, trying to think of any last minute concerns, and couldn't, so he pushed the button and submitted it. Now it was on its way. One more thing to check off his list

He headed out of his quarters to the main hangar for a jog. For some reason the feeling and sound of the durasteel flooring put him at ease. It also didn't hurt to be surrounded by the crew and fighter craft of the most lethal flight wing in the entire New Republic arsenal.

His thoughts wandered as he lightly jogged through the hangar, trying to keep his heart rate at an optimal level for exercise, but to also make it a light workout so not to be too tired for the evening. He passed a variety of craft and crew going about their duties. He saw a couple of Corsair A-wings enter the hangar after a successful patrol, and a few X-wings in the ready position being fueled up for service. He was about to run past another X-wing when he noticed the Buccaneer Green paint job and a new name on the side. Flight Officer Glenn "Wolvinator" Ahdee'khee. Animal tapped the nose of the snub fighter in appreciation and expectation as he continued his run.

The chronometer on Animal's wrist vibrated with the indication of 30 minutes gone by, and Animal bolted in a full out sprint. It was a straight shot to the mag con field, and he always liked to finish there.

Animal was breathing heavily by the time he slowed up to end his run, and put his hands behind his head to catch his breath. Looking out the hangar's main exit into space, he was close enough to be able to see his breath due to the low temperature.

He lingered for a few moments thinking about memories of previous battles. There were no nightmares here, only fond memories of those who had paid the price of their allegiance. The emptiness outside was captivating, and deadly, more than once trying to consume him. So far Animal had been able to dodge the tentacles of death and fate, but he knew it was only a matter of time. Pilots didn't live this long still anxious about dying, it was more about what you would accomplish while you were still alive.

Satisfied that death wasn't coming for him today, Animal walked back to his quarters and hit the refresher. He cleaned up well enough if he did say so himself. Putting his uniform back on and securing everything he needed to leave his quarters, he poured himself a drink from the carafe sitting on the table below a small memorial. He made it a double.

Mounted to the wall was a piece of the CRS Liberty's hull. Draped over it was his Endor Battle Nova medal. He raised his glass in salute to those who were lost, and drained it dry. He set down his glass and headed out the door.

Animal made his way to the ship's most popular gathering spot, the Simmons Shock Deck. Any crew member of any rank could visit during their free time, and Buccaneer should have a few solid hours after training hard today. He didn't see any of his pilots there yet, and there were other patrons sitting in "their" corner, so he pulled up to the bar to get the evening started.

"What can I get you Major Stephen?" Iggy asked, serving a drink to a customer at the far end of the bar.

That was an excellent question, what DID he want. "Let's start off with a beer if you could."

Animal sat at the bar and thought about his day. Any day you live through is a good day, he convinced himself. He also thought about what he would say to welcome Wolvinator into the ranks of Buccaneer, or whether his little team building exercise would work.

Lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice his XO pull up the seat next to him. "The usual, Igs," Bulldog said to Iggy. He shifted to face Animal. "Doesn't look like you've been here too long, your glass is still full," he pointed out.

Animal looked at his glass and sure enough it was still full. He was sure he had been drinking and thinking this whole time, and he definitely had the beer aftertaste. "Guess I got a little lost in thought there."

"Well don't get all philosophical on me now. They don't like us flyboys thinking too much," Bulldog said sarcastically, trying to lighten the mood.

"Well I have certainly never been accused of that," replied Animal. "That might be the most hurtful thing you've ever said to me."

"I'm just getting started," Bulldog said matter-of-factly as he received his double of bourbon from Iggy.

"Philosophical is a big word for you, nice work," Animal retorted, raising his glass in a toast

"I'm more learn-ed than I like to portray," Bulldog quipped, emphasizing the "˜ed', and clinking the glasses together. "Let's go take our corner table and get this party started."

Animal looked up at their corner and sure enough it was now available. He hadn't been paying enough attention.

Animal and Bulldog talked shop and training as the rest of the Buccaneer squadron made their way into the cantina. The company was top notch, and Wolvinator was fitting right in. Apparently him and Ant did know each other, so Animal enjoyed listening to them try to one up each other on the most embarrassing story of the others.

The table full of Bucc pilots made him think of the ongoing joke around the CRS Vigilant that if you're looking for a pilot from Buccaneer Squadron, you should look in the Simmons' Shock Deck first. This seemed to imply that they were a bunch of drunkards who rarely trained. Animal had heard the rumor and was frankly tired of it. They trained all the time.

Animal looked past the rowdy group of Buccaneer pilots assembled at their table and surveyed the room. He was able to come to three conclusions. One: it was pretty busy for this time of night. Two: wasn't "this time of night" relative in space? Who made up time and why was it always threatening him with lateing, late-ed, lateness, not being on time. And three: there was a three, he was pretty sure he just had one. Oh Three, he had lost count of the drinks he'd drank.

He was aware enough of the visual of a squadron commander having a few too many drinks. But it had been so long since he had had a chance to just let go and relax.

Rev's voice caught his attention. "And there I was, shooting right down the seam of the most gorgeous, untouched virgin you have ever seen. I passed an airlock on the Port side and imagined it was reserved for special dignitaries. I just happened to have a dozen special guests to drop off at that exact location. They were such a hit that just after arrival the ship exploded into a million pieces. As I pulled out.."

The rest of the Buccaneers at the table groaned under the softball setup.

But Rev continued ""¦the ship was TOAST- BOOM! I could hear the screams of the commander over the radio curse our names before it broke into a million pieces! That's gotta be the shortest command in history."

The assembled pilots were cheering on the story when Bulldog interrupted. "That wasn't screams or curses, it was laughter. And it sure as hell wasn't the enemy. It was me and Gnoizic laughing as this wounded TIE fighter practically delivered our targeted Proton Torp right into the hanger. It was a thing of beauty."

Animal raised his glass. "To the Imp Deuce Empire's Misery!"

Ant looked up from his drink. "I think it was the Empire's Glory."

"To their misery!" The whole table said in unison. Drinks were upended and drained.

Animal looked at Bulldog across the table, with his head down for a moment in concentration. His reputation for holding his liquor was legendary, and he could imagine him just willing his liver to work harder.

Animal looked at his chrono, making sure that he wouldn't be late. He has something special planned for his pilots. Bulldog looked up to catch his gaze, he mouthed the words "it's time."

"I'll go get the next round. It's time to get serious," Animal said as he stood up.

As he moved away from the table, he could hear 1st Lt. Kyle "Gnoizic" Mandal ask faintly, "what does he think we've been doing?"

Animal didn't need to stick around to know the answer from his XO. They were, of course, just getting started. He returned to the domain of Iggy the bartender. "Iggy! my droid! How the heck are you doing?"

Animal was sure that Iggy's continuously adapting brain made him move slower when he disapproved of a patrons' greetings. "Greetings, Major Stephen. Need I remind you that emotional greetings are lost on me. I am not anyone's droid, and I am doing the same thing I do everyday, serving meatbags enough drinks to poison a normal, healthy crew member."

Animal slapped the bar for emphasis. "Well keep it up, you're doing a heck of a job slowly and methodically poisoning us. It's a good thing none of us are normal specimens of their respective species, am I right?" Animal asked with a smirk

"Sir," Iggy started.

"I get it, I get it," said Animal, holding out his hands and over emphasizing his surrender. "My sarcastic charm and sharp wit are lost on you as always."

"Indeed they are," Iggy agreed. "May I get you another round of drinks perhaps, or provide the beginning note for another painful rendition of "˜Glory for the Rebellion'?"

"We will definitely want another round," Animal replied, glancing around the bar to hear if anyone was in earshot. "But first I need to know if you're up to date on the latest protocols."

"If I could be offended, I am sure that I would be," Iggy replied flatly. "Even the insinuation that I may somehow not be up to date on the latest protocols or even the latest personnel reports is"¦."

"Iggy!" Animal interrupted, knowing that as a meatbag, his status at the bottom of his priority list was at least the same as everyone else's. "I need you to execute the "˜Warm Welcome' protocol."

If Iggy was capable of a scoff, Animal believed he would have received one. "That is not a valid protocol. Perhaps you did not read the daily brief correctly, or it did not contain enough pictures."

"I take pride in your developing sarcasm Iggy!"

"It was a genuine offer to assist in your developing reading abilities."

"Thanks Iggy, I didn't know you cared." Animal shifted his weight to stand at the bar more comfortably. "Please check again," he said coldly, not willing to enter a futile battle of wits with a droid.

Iggy took longer to search this time and moved his photoreceptors to meet the stare of the Bucc OC. "I have found the protocol you are requesting. I am certain it was not there before. I am unsure how you have subverted my protocol security," Iggy stated, still evaluating the situation. "However, the new protocol has indeed been located, and it has your signature for being juvenile and unproductive. State parameters and confirm."

"30, order confirmed," answered Animal. "And please load me up with another round for my pilots."

Iggy went about the task of loading up a tray of drinks for the Buccaneer pilots. Animal turned and leaned on the bar looking back at the table adopted by the Buccaneer squadron. Hanging above the table were a few classic bomber flight suits, one orange and the other yellow, along with a piece of debris from one of the death stars, a pair of crossed vibro sabres and the pirate flag of some warlord he couldn't remember in his current state.

"Can you bring another round over in 20 minutes, Iggy? I can close the tab after that," Animal said as he grabbed the heavy tray of drinks and headed back to the group.

"That isn't part of my programming," Iggy stated flatly, as he returned to other customers.

By the time Animal had returned to the table the tray was getting heavy and oddly unbalanced. "Little help!" and the words were barely out of his mouth when he lost his footing and the floor rose up to meet him. He flinched, expecting to be wearing the round of drinks, but looked up and it was steadied between Bulldog and Ant. "Thanks for the assist," he said as he picked himself up.

"No problem Boss," said Bulldog. "You find what you're looking for down there?"

"I am happy to report," Animal said, pointing his finger up and hardly waving at all, "that everyone is wearing shooooooes."

"Hah, wonders never cease," replied Bulldog. "I wasn't sure everyone could dress themselves."

Animal jumped up like he was checking the underside of a wheeled ground vehicle, brushing his hands off. "Now that that is taken care of, where was I?"

"You were about to make a toast to the Admiral's daughter!" yelled Gnoizic from the back of the table.

"You're gonna have to be more specific, but no that isn't it!" replied Animal, looking around the table for someone helpful.

"You're ready to admit you still have dreams about flying in your underwear!" supplied Rev with a smirk.

"Damnit Rev, I told you to get out of my head. But seriously, they'll never catch me!" Animal said, making a circle with his hand trying to return to the point. "But no, again, that's not it."

Flight Officer Shirou "Crane" Origami sat up straight and extended a finger like he had an idea of something to share, but seemed to lose the thought or think better of it and he fell back into his seat. The dour Bothan had been barely participating in the merriment.

Animal started to count those at the table. "This isn't just any other day gents. We're supposed to be welcoming a new operator of the BOOM today. There was a fresh-faced young lad here just a bit ago. And if he were here right now"¦."

"He's here sir!" Ant said, interrupting Animal and over excitedly pointing at Wolvinator.

Wolvinator grabbed a drink from the recently delivered tray. "What are we waiting for, To Buccaneer Squadron!" he cheered and aggressively gulped down the latest drink.

"Indeed" Animal agreed, "To Buccaneer Squadron!"

The rest of the table toasted Wolvinator as well.

Commotion from the entry to the Simmons Schock Deck drew Animal's attention, and he watched more than a dozen flyers enter the bar led by Rogue Leader himself. They made their way past the bar to gather a drink and swiftly headed over to join the rest of the Buccaneers.

"It's about time you decided to show up," said Animal, looking up at the Rogue commander, his executive officer Major Tony "Thanatos" Marco and several other members of the elite squadron. "I thought we might not see you after our last drinking competition."

Jalb_k looked at Animal soberly. "Some of us have real work to do. The training never stops, you of all people should know that!"

Animal sat upright, very rigid. "We never stop training either, sir. Today is arm day. This is set 12 of our arm curls, annnnnnnnnnd go!"

In surprising unison, the Buccaneer pilots all raised their glasses to their lips and took a deep draught, stopping only at a nod from Animal. "And remember to slowly lower the arm to get the full benefit of the motion and to avoid injuries."

"Care to join in our workout? It's never too late to start getting in shape," Animal asked with a smirk.

The table looked at Jalb_k, and the Rogue OC stared blankly at Animal, unphased and unamused. "We should get going, but first I wanted to come and officially welcome Wolvinator." He looked around the table, landing on the new Buccaneer Six. "I assume that's you."

"Yep, that's me," Wolvinator said, raising his glass.

Bulldog had noticed Thanatos quietly making his way around to flank the new pilot, but wasn't quite prepared for the impact of what was about to happen.

"STAND AT ATTENTION PILOT!"

And in an instant the table of inebriated Buccaneer pilots were standing; some military reflexes died hard. It's not something that happened very often in the Simmons Schock Deck, but this occurrence was certainly drawing a lot of snickers.

"Major Stephen?" Jalb_k inquired, keeping his eyes locked on the new Buccaneer SIx.

"Sir?" Animal responded.

"Have you properly instructed your new pilot to the rules and regulations of Renegade Wing?"

"Yes Sir!" Animal answered formally, seeing some of the other Bucc pilots start to stiffen up, still unsure if he was joking.

Jalb_k shifted his gaze to the Buccaneer OC. "Would you say he properly displays the ideals of his wing, his squadron, and his OC?" he asked, shifting his gaze back to Wolvinator.

"I would indeed sir," Animal stated confidently.

"I guess we'll see about that," Jalb_k said, accepting the challenge. "Stand at attention Flight Officer Ahdee'khee. Let me see a proper salute"

Wolvinator snapped his right hand into a crisp salute and held it. Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds measured up the slightly shorter man, looking him in the eye.

"Rogues, dress inspection," he said, without blinking.

The assembled Rogues moved in silently and began to physically evaluate the uniform of the new Buccaneer Squadron flight officer.

"I've got snow on the mountain," Thanatos said from behind, brushing off Wolvinator's shoulders.

"Wet shoes down here," 1st. Lt. Nick "Jasted" Finelli called out, kneeling down to get a good look. "Best case he spilled something, worst case he can't hit the refresher. Bad sign for a bomber."

"These pockets are covered in crumbs and are not properly creased" piped in the newly minted Rogue, Major Andrew "Dobber" Dobson. He brushed off the Flight Officer's shirt. "I estimate at least a handful of cantina snacks worth."

Animal was impressed with the poise of his new Flight Officer. It wasn't every day you were put through something like this. He could tell Wolvinator wanted to defend himself but had seen this enough to know that it wouldn't do any good. He stood at attention and waited for the firestorm to pass.

RIIIIIP!

"Shoulder patch was definitely out of alignment sir," Captain Roy "Lock" Callahan said, patting the junior officer's shoulder firmly to re-affix the patch. "All fixed."

"Inspection complete sir," 1st Lt. Josh "Hellcat" Kinney said from behind Wolvinator.

"Very well, what are your recommendations, Major Stephen?" Jalb_k looked to the Buccaneer commander.

If talking about Wolvinator in front of him had any effect, he was doing an admirable job at hiding it. Only a concentrated look would show him wavering ever so slightly. "Sir, he has excelled in his training thus far, and has an impressive resume. It would be a shame to space him," Animal started, trying not to break his cover. "My suggestion would be another round to make sure he is fully trained!"

And with that, the gig was up. The assembled pilots all laughed and gave Wolvinator a good ribbing. Animal did happen to see Loth-Cat, who had quickly moved out of the "˜newest pilot' slot, finish a cantina snack they must have been holding onto while at attention.

Jalb_k raised his glass and the pilots followed. "To Renegade, To Buccaneer, To Wolvinator!"

"To WOLVINATOR!" They all cheered in unison, and downed their beverages.

"You boys don't stay up too late now." And with that, Jalb_k and the Rogue pilots dropped off their glasses at the bar and left the cantina.

The Rogues had just cleared the cantina entrance when Loth-Cat leaned over and tapped Animal's shoulder, raising their voice so they could be heard over the others at the table. "Sir, I think you're beeping!"

Animal took out his communicator and sure enough, he had a call. Apparently duty never sleeps. "Hey thanks Three, appreciate it." He stood up carefully from the table and turned away, heading down to the bar. "Go for Major Stephen."

Loth-Cat, still determined to finish the latest non-alcoholic experiment in front of them, took another swig of an awful concoction. They held the glass away from their face to look at it and just decided no, can't do it. They would just have to stick with the blue milk.

"Major Stephen!" came a call from the hatch, as a blond wearing a pony-tail stood in the doorway surveying the room.

Ending his call by the bar, Animal motioned for the new arrival to follow him to the Buccaneer table.

The older pilot wearing Sabre Squadron red made his way over to the Buccaneer table following Animal, carefully navigating the room with a large satchel slung over his shoulder.

Once they reached the table, the junior officer offered a sharp salute as Animal steadied himself and returned the salute in gesture but not necessarily formality. "What can I do for you Lieutenant?" asked Animal

Lieutenant Corell "Foo" Davis held out the leather satchel. "Sir, I was told to deliver this to you"

"You should stick around," Animal whispered as he took the satchel with a wink. With a quick pivot, he had returned to the table and started unpacking the bag. "Gentlemen, and I use the term in the loosest sense, it's time to rally. We have an important and high priority mission."

"The refresher is that way sir!" offered Bulldog sarcastically, pointing to the back of the cantina.

Animal continued to unpack the bag, providing Bulldog the most minimal of responses.

"Sir, if it's trying to drink what Loth-Cat is drinking, we need to reevaluate those objectives, not even they can drink it," Gnoizic added dejectedly.

"What am I even doing here," Crane whispered hopelessly just loud enough to be heard as he rubbed his forehead.

"I got it," Rev added with a pause. "It's clearly an escort mission. We are to provide a security escort to the Major and drop him off at the retirement home."

"Don't you assholes dare," Animal warned with a grin. "I WILL HAUNT YOU! But no that's not it." He was digging around in the bag and finally pulled out a datapad.

"To Buccaneer Squadron commander, from Commander F. Pants, NRI," Animal looked up from the datapad. "Ouch, that's an unfortunate name eh?"

He continued reading "I am sure you can understand the need for discretion on this matter. Your team will proceed at best speed and recover stolen property."

"What the hell is going on?" asked Wolvinator. "We are in no condition to be going anywhere."

"What stolen property? Sounds like a perfect job for the NRI," added Gnoizic. "My skills are wasted on cookie cutter missions."

Animal pushed a button on the datapad to bring up the photo. "But it looks like this property is important to one of you... did anyone lose their patch and wings?" He inquired as he turned the datapad around to show the table.

Everyone at the table except Bulldog and Animal checked their uniform. "How the hell?!?!" Wolvinator exclaimed. "Those good for nothing sumbitches stole my stuff right in front of us! So that's how it's gonna be..."

"There are lessons to be learned here pilots- about situational awareness. But that will have to wait," Animal chuckled. "We have important work to do." He returned to the datapad. "Just summarizing here, we need to navigate some sort of obstacle course, defeat the evil defenders, and complete a few impossible tasks to save our squad's honor. Oh, and our newest Buccaneer has operational command of this op." Animal looked at the table "Any questions?"

"What are these for sir?" asked Ant, holding up the 4 leather bandoliers with large sized loops.

"We aren't going to have any backup on this one, so we will bring along a delicious surprise," answered Animal. "Each of these slots will hold an Ion Sucker and its containment apparatus. If we need a little extra punch we can use them for offensive purposes. Or if they aren't needed, we'll have a tasty beverage."

"And what about those two meter-long bags? Portable proton torpedoes?" asked Gnoizic hopefully.

"No, these are not directly related to completing the mission. But they may cause a mission failure if they are damaged," Animal said mysteriously, handing one to Bulldog. "This one is for you."

Animal turned to Buccaneer Six. "Wolvie, your command starts now."

Wolvinator looked around the table, thinking about strategies for the upcoming raid. "Foo, great to see you. Feel like joining us?"

Foo looked apprehensive in barging into a potential Buccaneer party, but also intrigued. "Would love too, if you'll have me."

"Have you? We're gonna need you. Another sober resource can't hurt." Wolvie pointed at Foo, "you're Buccaneer zero for this mission."

"Roger that," Foo responded with a smile, playing along with the game in taking orders from a junior rank.

"Gnoizic and Ant, take these bandoliers and load them up with the Ion Suckers at the bar. I can only assume with that many cans that they are ours."

"You got it boss!" replied Ant, and he and Gnoizic headed to the bar.

Bulldog slapped Foo on the back. "Let's get this man a drink! He has some catching up to do!"

"Two, Eleven and myself will have bandoliers. I will double up," continued Wolvinator. "I'll give orders on the fly. Any suggestions, bring "˜em up, but I have final say. Any questions?"

Animal raised his hand. "Do I have time to use the refresher?"

Wolvinator thought for a moment, and was interrupted by Gnoizic at the bar. "Grenades loaded sir! We're ready to go."

"No time, lets go," responded Wolvinator. The table stood up, anyone with any drink left tipped it back and put it down on the table with a little emphasis, signifying they were ready. They geared up and left the SSD.

It was 3 decks below and about fifty meters to the maintenance hangar. Under normal circumstances this should have been a quick trip, but with so many of the pilots in the group pretty inebriated, it was challenging to keep everyone going at the same pace.

They reached the corridor down from the maintenance hangar and Wolvinator stopped. He could see a hoversled parked at the entrance with bright helmets hanging from the water cannons. "Status by the numbers," he asked the squad.

"Zero ready," replied Foo, looking ahead down the corridor and seeing the hoversled awaiting them.

"One is here," slurred Animal, focusing on the wall in front of him.

"Two is pretty good," spoke Gnoizic.

"Three is green," said Loth-Cat.

A long pause took hold.

"Where is Four?" Wolvinator asked as he turned around. All of the inebriated pilots looked around, but couldn't spot their missing Bothan.

"Looks like he went AWOL," Bulldog said with a violent hiccup.

"Seven is ready," Rev responded dryly.

"Eleven is here for you," said Ant.

"Twelve is ready for mischief," Bulldog said at the end of the line.

Wolvinator took a deep breath to center himself. "It's time to rally up Buccaneers, we have an op to get through and we need to focus." Just as he finished, he let out a loud belch that reverberated throughout the corridor. "If they didn't know we were here, they do now," he said, rubbing his belly. "Six has rallied and is ready to go."

Several other Bucc members let loose muffled belches trying to get control of their sloshing bellies.

"Sounds like we have the Buccaneer Squadron call to arms!" cheered Animal. "Maybe we should look into getting a standard."

"I suppose that's one way to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies," offered Bulldog.

"Time to go to work!" Wolvinator said with confidence. "Best speed to the hoversled!"

The pilots thundered down the hallway towards the awaiting hoversled. It was far from the elegant repulsor sleds that might be used by the wealthy, but what it didn't have in comforts, it had in utility. It was equipped with four heavy fire suppression cannons. Strapped on them were the brightest helmets they had ever seen, with a face shield and a fabric skirt hanging from the back that would combine with the rest of the users gear to provide full coverage.

To onlookers, the approaching pilots were at a brisk stumble. They could see now there was foam covering the floor up to about a meter, which would impede their ability to navigate on the ground.

Wolvinator, Foo, and Loth-Cat were first to the sled. "Three fire it up, you're on the wheel. Zero, I need you to provide assistance to the elderly."

"Eld-HIC-erl-HIC-y," Bulldog snorted.

"You gonna let him talk to you like that Animal?" Asked Rev from the entrance.

"Having to carry you two Captains slows me down!" replied Animal from behind him.

"Twelve and Seven on front guns, Two and Eleven back guns," Wolvinator called out.

The hoversled hummed to life as Loth-Cat familiarized themselves with the controls. Sounds of footsteps on the catwalk above could be faintly heard over the hum.

Bulldog and Animal were a little more off balance as they cleared the entrance to the maintenance bay as the wall they had been using to prop themselves up was no longer available. Both pilots, with the meter long bag on their back, decided to dive onto the sled on their stomachs.

Bulldog managed to hop up rather gracefully for his condition, and started to orient with the cannon in front of him, but Animal slid across the deck and was about to fall off the other end when Rev on the front port side gun grabbed his arm, and an aware Foo grabbed his back leg to stop his momentum.

"Nice catch gents," Animal said, a little out of breath.

"Op commander's order, sir," replied Foo, straight-faced.

The hoversled shuddered with the added weight but started forward with urgency, making everyone steady themselves with the movement. Animal could see the full layout now that he was on the sled and elevated a bit. The maintenance bay was organized into a large block "˜S' surrounded in repair bays. Each bay was protected by heavy plastic screens.

Movement caught his eye as he looked up to the catwalk secured to the walls surrounding the entire room, allowing anyone to quickly move over anything on the ground. He looked back behind them to see the access stairs, but an actual assault wasn't necessary in this instance. "Ugh, that was a bad idea" Animal said to himself, feeling slightly more dizzy from looking around.

There were about a dozen defenders up there, armed with anything they could throw at them safely. The foam on the floor was thick enough to obscure visibility so there was no telling what kind of obstructions might be there if they had to walk.

"Down with the invaders!" They shouted.

Animal couldn't help but chuckle at the absurdity of it.

The objective was clearly visible ahead. It looked to be a couple of serving trays loaded with shot sized glasses filled with a wide range of colored liquids. One tray was marked leaded and the other was marked unleaded. Which probably indicated whether they contained alcohol or not.

"Three, swing us close!" commanded Wolvinator over the noise. "Prepare for starboard broadside!"

The catwalk defenders were raining down pieces of insulation and a few even had portable water cannons themselves. The hoses could be seen strung up to the catwalk level and the cannons secured to the railing.

The chaos escalated quickly, Animal thought, and it was awesome. He saw a couple of metal cylinders arc over his head and disappear into the foam. Shattering on the floor, the result was that the foam was pushed out of the area and he could clearly see that there were conduits laid out on the floor and other tripping hazards in their way.

They approached the first objective and Loth-Cat aggressively swung the rear of the sled around to orient 90 degrees to the left. The kid had a good touch on the controls.

Bulldog and Ant, finally in range of the defenders, aimed their cannons at the catwalk and returned fire in short, powerful bursts causing a few of them to take cover.

"Park it Three. Eleven, point the cannon at the catwalk and lock it on. All squad, move to the first objective!" shouted Wolvinator

Foo was first on the ground, followed closely by Animal. Not because he was spry all of a sudden, but he was sitting on the front of the sled with easy access. The pilots naturally paired up, locking their arms on each other's shoulders for stability.

Reaching the objective, the team began to consume the shots. Rev and Loth-Cat were taking care of the unleaded tray, while the rest of the pilots were working on the other. With the cannon locked on, the spray was beginning to soak everyone.

Some of them were less than tasty. Animal didn't have much of a choice by the time he got there. One was a light orange color, and tasted fruity. The after taste was an aggressive bitter, as he selected his second shot. Up close he could see this one was multicolored, with a dark liquid on top tapering to a bright orange on the bottom. This one tasted like lava, or at least how he envisioned lava to taste. It slowly crawled down his throat and burned something fierce.

"Found it!" cried Gnoizic, holding up the first key. He hurriedly lowered his helmet down from resting on his head and turned back to the hover sled. Animal grabbed another shot, as did another pilot. Animal looked up and saw it was Bulldog. They clinked shot glasses together in a toast and took down the drink. This one was much more common and he could feel the cooling on the way to his belly. They both put the glasses on the tray and headed back to the sled.

"I'll hold em!" Wolvinator took the key from Gnoizic. As they boarded the sled, "quit lagging behind guys, we gotta go!" he ordered.

"They're moving on the catwalk!" exclaimed Loth-Cat, having resumed their post behind the wheel.

"They are moving to the next objective!" followed Gnoizic.

"Go!" shouted Wolvinator as the last pilot boarded. "Status update?"

Rev and Bulldog gave a silent thumbs up as they were dealing with a full belly, and Animal had his hands on his knees with apparent hiccup burps, but he too gave a thumbs up. There was no time to rest for any of them. Loth-Cat hadn't missed a beat once everyone was on board, they were approaching the second objective. This next turn would bring their port side aimed at the objective, which was obscured by some flimsy barricades.

"Two and Eleven, clear a path with the ion suckers!" ordered Wolvinator. Gnoizic and Ant nodded and complied, each clearing a portion to the side of the objective with their alcoholic projectiles.

Loth-Cat was getting better at navigating the skiff and parked the sled perfectly next to the path.

The taunts and jeers of the maintenance crew on the catwalk increased, and more falling debris and water came, this time from two cannons secured to the catwalk. The objective was a large tray of drinks, but this one was filled with larger pint glasses, and was divided in the middle. The colors on the leaded side were also more muted, tending to be in the range of an ale or stout, while the colors on the unleaded side were vibrant and bright.

In between the sled and the objective were a couple of transparisteel shields used either for the fire suppression work or perhaps some kind of riot. Although the only riot Animal could contemplate was running out of booze. He barked loudly and sloppily began hiccup-laughing as his brain deconstructed words in a way only a very drunk individual could. The combination of boo and ooze certainly is delicious.

"Twelve, you and I are on the shields, everyone else to the objective!" ordered Wolvinator.

Animal could see the logic in picking the two largest pilots to utilize the shields, but you could never tell how close to capsizing from drink Bulldog was. It was a common concern among some of the command staff that Bulldog had a problem. This was quickly followed by the self-awareness that everyone on staff tended to have some sort of coping mechanism for what they had experienced and witnessed. He snapped back to reality as he stumbled across the floor towards the drink of trays. Oh stang, self-awareness can be a real schutta.

Wolvinator and Bulldog hoisted the large shields and labored while carrying them; they were solid and heavy. "Eleven with me, One with Twelve." Wolvinator tried to organize the group "We're gonna provide a shield roof to protect us while we take down the next objective."

It seemed simple enough. One pilot on each end of the shield holding it up to provide shelter to the pilots at the station. It was a bit harder in practice with the heavy shields and dubious amounts of coordination among the team.

Loth-Cat pounced on the liquids that looked non-alcoholic. They took down a blue milk pretty quickly and searched for more with the help of Rev. Drink consumption was slower at this station with the larger glasses and their two biggest drinkers being on shield duty.

Animal was feeling the strain of the shield and almost let it slip while he was changing arms to prop it up. Bulldog seemed confident in his ability to hold up the shield and grabbed a drink after he changed arms as well. Animal, not wanting to be outdone, did the same.

Wolvinator and Ant, seeing Bulldog drinking did likewise. "I got it!" cried Loth-Cat, blue milk mustache and all.

They had finished about three quarters of the drinks on the tray, but leaving some behind felt wrong. As the rest of the Buccaneers headed back to the sled using Six and Eleven's shield, Bulldog and Animal found what looked like the tastiest drink left and took one for the road. With the defenders moving along to the final objective, they no longer had to hold the shield over their heads, making the trip a bit easier.

"Defenders on the move!" shouted Loth-Cat as the team returned to the sled. They slipped back into the driving position.

The Buccaneers pilots were all diving onto the sled head-first on their bellies as they reached the sled. "Ohhh that might have been a bad idea!" came the cry of Rev from the bow, holding his gut.

Bulldog was first to finish his drink and get rid of the evidence. As they got closer to the sled, Wolvinator turned and saw Animal still drinking and gave a head tilt, clearly displeased with his OC for the delay.

The shields were stacked on board and the rest of the squad recovered. The sled turned and was aimed at its final destination. "Even up Buccs," called Loth-Cat from behind the steering column. Clearly there were too many occupants on the port side.

The hoversled jolted forward as Loth-Cat engaged the engines, eager to get to the last objective.

In front of the Buccaneers was a three-story tall tower of drinking tankards. Filled with an amber liquid that Animal hoped was a light beer. This uniform can't hold much more!

"Holy Crap!" explained Wolvinator. "I hope someone still has room, that's a lot of beer!"

The foam covering the durasteel floor here was less than when they started, and there were conduits and other obstructions on the ground stacked higher than before. As they moved towards their target, Wolvinator surveyed the scene. He could see the defending mechanics and other crew members preparing to give the pilots more trouble, and one in particular caught his attention. In his hand was a remote control, and before he could yell out a warning the hoversled lost their front repulsor engines and the sled pitched hard forward.

Animal, sitting on the front of the hover sled with a giant grin on his face was dumped immediately onto some conduit and insulation obstructions. His only coherent thought was that he couldn't roll due to the bag slung over his back.

Bulldog and Rev, holding on to the front water cannons, were swung around and dumped to the durasteel when the rotation limit was reached. The rest of the team had found something to hold onto and were making their way off the sled onto the stable ground below.

Animal and the officers at the front of the sled weren't able to give orders, but that didn't mean they couldn't take the initiative. He groaned as he picked up one of the shields that had slid off the front and saw Bulldog pick up the other one. "Rev give me a hand," called Animal.

A couple of Ion Sucker grenades again tried to clear away what was left of the foam, but this area had more physical barriers rather than the fire suppression foam. There were wildly strung conduits and strips of blocky insulation in their path, which would make it a bit challenging to walk.

The Bucc OC and XO locked the shields together and moved forward at a steady pace. Rev joined them. "Major, Captain," he said, taking cover behind the mobile barricades. "Captain!" They each replied with a head nod and a bit of laughter.

Water was beginning to hit the shields when Loth-Cat and Foo joined them. "Thanks for the cover!" exclaimed Loth-Cat, as they handed an ion sucker to Rev. "Follow me sir, I'll tell you the plan," as they and Rev dove into the obstructions and started to crawl around the objective.

The wall was collecting pilots in its shadow every few steps. The shield wasn't so large it could cover everyone, but it was better than being out in the open. The debris and water was more concentrated than previously, and everyone was pretty saturated.

Animal, Bulldog and Foo managed to navigate the group right up next to the tower of drinks. It would have been ideal to have the shields placed in between the objective and the defenders, but the catwalk provided too much elevation.

As the pilots regrouped behind the shields to decide their next move, Wolvinator laid out the plan. The defenders seemed to be holding back a concentrated attack, knowing the pilots would need to make an effort to get the drinks.

"Eleven and I on shields, we will separate and the rest of you quickly grab drinks. Hopefully in our first round we can find the key."

The pilots nodded agreement.

"Seven NOW!" Wolvinator yelled in the direction of the catwalk. And started to count down on his hand from 3.

From the other side of the beer tower, Rev rose out of his concealment within the debris and chucked an Ion Sucker up onto the catwalk. The defenders were caught by surprise not knowing anyone had moved in that direction.

Wolvinator reached one on his hand "Separate!"

The shields slid outward to reveal the beer tower and Animal, Gnoizic and Ant quickly grabbed what they could. Animal cleared the shields with two giant beer flagons and the shields were slid back into place.

"Stang, I only got one," said Gnoizic.

"Same," said Foo.

Bulldog didn't answer, as he quickly started to drink one of the two he managed to grab.

Animal handed his drinks to Six and Eleven supporting the shields, and grabbed one of Bulldog's, looking into it for the key. "I don't see a key, but we might as well check to make sure," he said, resigning to the fact that this was a lot of drink.

Bulldog downed it in less than fifteen seconds, but It took about a minute of serious gulping before the rest of the squad joined him. "Tick Tock guys," he chided the team. "I see now where the real training is needed."

Out from the debris crawled Rev, huffing a bit from the effort. "Did you see the looks on their faces when that ion charge went off? Haha that's worth the price of admission right there!"

"We got one more attempt at this with cover. Everyone ready!" Wolvinator didn't wait for a reply. "Three, you're up!" he yelled again towards the catwalk.

The defenders were a bit more aware this time and redirected their assault towards the newly appearing Loth-Cat.

Wolvinator didn't count down this time, seeing the defenders' attention already shift. "Separate!" he called out.

Loth-Cat threw the last ion drink up to the catwalk but it struck some of the debris being thrown down from above. It hit the bottom of the thick plastic protecting the last repair bay and caused it to blow inward. This bay was apparently full of parts and equipment for older New Republic craft.

With the shields separated again, the Buccaneer pilots grabbed the rest of the beers and brought them back.

"You know guys," started Rev, "we could just pour these out and retrieve the key and be done."

"Them's fightin' words, Seven!" replied Bulldog, grabbing another tankard. "You don't waste the liquid of life unless it's in tribute. And right now I am worthy of that tribute, GO BUCC!" and he led the way.

The rest of the squadron grabbed a drink and methodically started to gulp it down. Animal looked up from his drink and saw Bulldog raise his eyebrows at him with a smile. He was struggling a bit to finish this last one, but he would get it done.

The pilots were all finished and put down their flagons, but no one had found the key.

"What the hell!" cried Wolvinator, unable to figure out what to do next.

"HA HA!" exclaimed Bulldog, as he showed teeth in his next smile, and was holding the key.

The rest of the assembled pilots cheered in triumph, as the lights went dark. Moments later, the emergency lights engaged.

"Now what the hell?" asked Wolvinator.

The other pilots fell silent as running could be heard from people on the catwalk. They were wise to vacate the area. Animal and the Buccaneers pilots couldn't hyperspace out of this one.

Animal, unaware he had been in a sitting position, tried to stand up. The evening's frivolities were finally catching up with him, and he was finding it hard to keep his eyes open, or focus. When did he get so dizzy?

There seemed to be a very large figure in the darkness requesting his presence. Animal tried to hide a sigh, but failed as he also belched. If there was ever a time where he needed a personal masking unit, now was it. "XO?"

"Sir?" Bulldog appeared instantly at his side. Where the hell did he come from?

"Gather em up, we are all done here. Wolvinator, congratulations on your first command! You performed really great. Really great." Animal said, not realizing there were now around 20 people looking back at him. "Oh, and don't forget to leave our little gift to the maintenance crew peoples," he slurred. "Oh, and your wings and patch too. To the victor spoils the go!"

Animal turned and headed towards the darkness and the huge figure that awaited him. "Where is he going?" he heard from behind him, but they didn't need to know, this was his doing. It was time to pipe the payer, or was it pay the piper? Semantics.

As he steadied himself with the corner of a repair bay, he saw a blast from the not so distant past. He lifted the heavy plastic cover from the bay to get a better look at the familiar object. It was a Y-wing cockpit with the Blue Squadron colors. Under the port side viewport was the name Cpt. Yurell "Blaster" Sun. He recognized the name, but never had the opportunity to fly with the pilot. There were burn marks on the front of the ship, with one of the cannons melted by enemy fire, and the viewports had a hole that went through both sides. At least it was a quick death. Animal put his hand on the durasteel hood to pay respects to the fallen, and for a little support.

He continued on into the shadows of the repair bay to talk to an imposing figure. The intimidating commander of the maintenance bay was even more so in the dark shadows of the corridor. Her name was Fossil, and she was of the Martigrade species, and was a celebrated and still mysterious crew member. She was extremely large, having a head almost a meter tall. She towered over the Buccaneer OC. Her voice was low and smooth, devoid of any emotion.

"I was reluctant to approve access to my domain, and I see that my reservations were not unfounded. I was in agreement that training is a worthwhile use of time and resources, and you were able to exploit this opening into a full use of my facilities, and from the sound of it at my arrival, some of my techs."

Animal had his shields up to max, but the barrage of guilt and expectations were weighing heavily upon his shoulders. He leaned against the wall next to him for balance and support. Fossil continued calmly. "You have taken some liberties with the interpretation of your request for my space. Before I provide the captain with a full report of what has occurred here and your role in it, would you like to advocate in your defense?"

Animal leaned even harder on the wall, unsure if he would rather be able to melt through it for a quick escape or just close his eyes to sleep this off. While he may have outranked her as a Major, even Colonel Rambo showed Fossil the utmost respect. He had concluded that she was not someone to trifle with. High ranking non-coms tended to know where the bodies were buried, and how they got there.

"It is not my wish to make an enemy of you," replied Animal. "You are far more important to the operation of the wing than I am. Any one of my pilots out there could be in my place tomorrow. I am confident in my flying abilities that I will avoid that, but lady luck works in mysterious ways." Another deep breath from Animal and he continued. "My pilots and I put our lives on the line every single day for the shared belief that we should all be treated fairly. We fight for ourselves, for Buccaneer, for Renegade Wing, and for every crew member that supports us. If I have disrespected you or your domain, if I have lost your trust or your respect, then I am truly sorry for that."

Animal could feel the emotions trying to break free, sometimes his drinking could almost be like a truth bomb. "As a leader, I will do whatever I need to do to prepare my pilots for what they need to succeed. Sometimes they need more skills to fly, or more training to understand a weak spot, or how to fly in formation and support their wingmates. Other times they need to feel like they can trust the pilot in the craft next to them, that they will do what needs to be done to make sure we can all come home safely. We have to trust our commanders that the mission they are sending us on is suited to our skills, but we also need to have the confidence that each and every one of us can in fact complete the mission parameters."

Animal forced himself to take another breath. "I have flown in some of the biggest battles in the galaxy, with furballs the size of galaxies, with some amazing heroes of the New Republic. While I am supremely confident in my flying abilities, I now have twelve souls or more under my command. My pilots put their lives in my hands to bring them back, They entrust me with something I may not be worthy of, and that terrifies me. I have so many doubts and concerns."

Animal could feel his heartbeat in his head, and the ache reminded him that he would need to hydrate before going to bed. He tried to stifle a belch and a groan at how it made him feel. Either Fossil didn't notice, or it didn't dignify a comment, or worse, she had enough evidence for a court martial and didn't need any more.

It was probably a good time to wrap it up and ask forgiveness, but the emotional wave washed over him and the dam broke. "You don't have to care about my problems. You have your own challenges to deal with. But when I watched the Liberty and its crew take a direct hit from the Emperor's new Death Star weapon, everything changed in the blink of an eye. I realized that being right, being the good guys, doesn't mean you can't get hurt. We don't always have a fair fight, we don't always get to say goodbye to the people we care about. I am still alive and they are not, but did I perform my duty better than them? Or was it just stupid luck!"

Animal took a breath, realizing his face was becoming flush and he was losing his temper. He didn't want the Fossil to think it was directed at her, especially considering the fact that she could probably fit half of his torso in her mouth if she chose to take a bite out of him. "I guess what I am saying is I am not asking for empathy, perhaps I need the pain to let me know that I'm still alive and that I have purpose. I will accept any discipline you suggest. I deserve all of it. I just want you to know that I am fighting for you and the new republic, and I am training my squadron the best I know how. With hard work, sweat, and a little sarcasm and drink mixed in," Animal smirked, regaining some levity. "I respect everything that your crew does for us."

He was exhausted at the release of the emotional baggage he had been carrying for far too long about the destruction of his previous home, the CRS Liberty.

He swung the bag on his back around and opened it up. "I had hoped to leave this in your office, as a thank you for your help in my training efforts. In light of my actions and your disapproval it may be ill advised, but in my state, I may not be thinking straight. I asked around, but I couldn't find anyone who knows what your drink of choice was."

"Major Stephen, do you really think that offering me some expensive alcohol will make me overlook your transgressions or remove your guilt? I will not be bribed," replied Fossil evenly.

Animal was able to find the smallest reserve of energy to use his arms and push off the wall to stand upright to let Fossil know he was serious.

"Oh this isn't alcohol, although I understand why you would think that. I am hoping you will find what I have to offer more valuable." He grabbed at the contents of the bag but he didn't seem to have the dexterity to get his hands on it. He stared at his hands, how dare they betray him in his moment of need.

"In this bag is a drink made by the Ithorians of Ithor. I offer it to you in the hopes that we can share a drink from time to time and become friends. I didn't spend time with the essential crews that kept me flying previously, and I don't want to make that mistake again."

The Martigrade was silent for what seemed like a long time. "We have more in common than you think Major. May I suggest you speak with someone soon about the serious problems you have with substance, the mental hardships of loss, and the stress of command. You are not just the leader of a squadron but a representative of this wing, and its support staff. I will accept your offering and look forward to sharing some with you after whatever punishment the Captain deems appropriate." The Martigrade turned purposefully and started to leave. "If you would please, clean up before you leave."

Animal was stunned speechless. He realized that his mouth was open and closed it as he turned to address the Buccaneers sitting close by feeling pretty happy with himself and his foresight.

"XO, did you leave our gift for the crew?"

"Do you think he's talking to us now, boys?" Bulldog looked around the other pilots and turned to his OC. "Yes sir we did. We've been over here so long we almost opened up the 20-year bottle of Whyren's without you. Everything ok with the, uh, hallway over there boss?"

"Good work, I knew I could count on you!" Animal pointed several times at his XO, and slowly turned to leave, "and yes, we're all clear, let's go." He made for the exit at a slow stupor.

All the Buccaneer pilots were still not believing what they had witnessed. Their OC had carried on a long and animated conversation with an invisible person in a darkened hallway. Did he really know what was in all those drinks?

"You heard the man Buccs, Let's pack it up!" Bulldog said, helping up several of the other pilots

The hoversled came back to life as Foo rolled out from under it. "There we go, bypassed the remote and got controls back," Foo said with a little pride as he closed up the access panel. "This should help get us moving."

"What was that all about?" Loth-Cat asked Bulldog, nodding toward Animal as they helped Rev and Gnoizic onto the sled. "There wasn't anyone there right?"

"Not to us, but there was to him," Bulldog replied. "Personally, I'm hoping he got her number!"

"Ask him if she has any friends!" Wolvinator added, checking his uniform to make sure his recovered wings and patch were secured.

"Let's get out of here." Bulldog suggested as they loaded the last Buccaneer pilot on to the sled. "We all need some sleep before our duty shifts start. . ."