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Gutshot

Part 2
By: Bulldog and Silence

Now

Silence's instincts chomped at the bit during the entire flight, telling her to hurry up, but listening to Evan questioning Bulldog eased her nerves somewhat. Hearing his calm voice gave her the illusion he was fine.

That is, until the end, as he got roughly ushered from the room. Until she heard Bulldog, muffled in the background, screaming.

It was one thing to hear some actor shrieking in a horror flick. It was quite another to hear unrehearsed pain tearing itself out of the throat of someone you knew personally. It sent goosebumps down her spine.

She spent the rest of the flight trying to stay calm. She couldn't speed up hyperspace. She couldn't know what they would find when they arrived.

It could be an ambush. It could be a legal nightmare. It could be two body bags.

All she could do was breathe and strategize.

Five minutes to arrival, she flicked the intercom switch and lifted her voice. "How y'all doin' back there?"

From within her hold, Captain Bex Udigg responded promptly. "Good to go, ma'am."

"Good." Silence's drawl vanished, replaced by crispness. "Look sharp and hold onto your barf bags, because I don't know what we're getting into, but we're going to be face-first with it in five minutes."

"Yes, ma'am."

Minutes later, the swirls of hyperspace shifted to star lines and then to sparkling blackness. A white and blue sphere loomed to her left. Kijimi, presumably.

As she checked her surroundings and her radar, Stryker confirmed what she saw. "No hostile ships within sensor range. Eyes peeled, people. Silence, do a low pass over the landing zone to check for hostiles on the ground. Everyone, stay on me. Let's not spook them until we have to."

"Roger that." Silence descended.

Skimming across snowy plains and then ascending to weave through frozen mountains, Silence blinked and then twisted to look over her shoulder. They'd just passed the coordinates given to them by Ant and Bulldog's astromech, Weight. She saw nothing but mountains and snow.

But when she looked ahead, they had entered the airspace of a small town. "This has got to be the town Ant mentioned. Scans aren't picking up any obvious threats."

"Corsair Twelve, you are cleared for landing." Stryker's voice filled her ears. "We'll cover you from the skies. Remember we aren't here to antagonize the locals. Try to get our people back without deploying the commandos."

"Of course, sir."

"Shout if you need us," Krayt chimed in.

"Will do, sir." Silence pulled her U-wing around in a gentle swoop back towards the town.

"Good job! You finally remembered how to use 'sir' in a sentence." A sarcastic voice mocked her from behind her seat. "Maybe you won't get demoted a fourth time running."

"Can it, Jobber, before I can you!" She was starting to regret wedging the droid behind her seat. She should have left it in the passenger compartment, but she'd felt sorry for the commandos. "No more sass out of you. We're here to get Evan back."

"Maybe if I had some appendages, I could be of service." Jobber's snark remained undeterred. "Be a shame if we got ambushed. Or if Evan was injured. I bet Doc has some excellent life-saving skills, if only she had limbs."

"I get it, alright? But I can't add body parts to you in the last twenty seconds of our flight!" Silence flipped the intercom. "Heads up. We're coming in for landing in a place known as Thieves' Quarter. No hostilities yet, but look lively. Kijimi ain't the most civilized of places on a good day, and this ain't what I'd call the best of neighborhoods."

She landed on the outskirts of town, patted her pockets to make sure she had her sidearm and shiv, and cracked the cockpit seal. "Ah! Eee! Cold!"

"Sissy!" Jobber's muffled voice mocked her.

"Oh, stuff it! You don't have pain receptors." Silence resealed her cockpit against the biting wind, reflecting both on her poor foresight in the wardrobe department and in the arena of tactics. She hit the intercom again. "Captain, me waltzing into the local police department alone might not be the best plan, nor would an all out assault. I'm going to try to lure them out. Stay put. Be ready."

"Roger that, ma'am."

As much as she wanted to crack open the building in question like a giant egg and snatch out her pals with the element of surprise, before anyone could try to dispose of the evidence . . . she knew they might already be dead. An assault might provoke the locals to band together for once in their history, and she couldn't risk throwing away the lives of her commandos.

Locating the right channel with Jobber's help, Silence sent a broadcast to the law enforcement band. "This is New Republic officer Rosk Vikeron, hailing local authorities. If you have a sheriff or equivalent, please respond."

"It would be common courtesy to not leave your passengers and compatriots with their face stuffed to the crack behind your seat where all the food crumbles and gross human hair collects."

"Jobber! I'm trying to talk!" Silence tried again. "This is Rosk Vikeron with the New Republic Navy, hailing Kijimi law enforcement officials. Please come in."

"You're waiting in a potential ambush, and the one individual who would watch your back is rudely shoved behind a seat like a smelly gym bag and can't see anything!"

"Agh! Fine!" Silence threw open the cockpit so she could reach over the seat. The freezing air made her gasp.

"It's just a little breeze, you wuss."

"Say that when you're seventy-five percent freezable liquid, you scrap wad!" Silence yanked the dome out and chucked it over the edge with both hands. "GO BE USEFUL!"

Slamming the cockpit shut once more and shivering violently, she tried the comms one more time. "This is Rosk Vikeron of the—"

"Yeah, yeah." A rough voice cut her off. "Heard you the first time, missy. What's with all the sudden interest in our humble corner of the universe?"

"I'm here to collect two men. Captain Andy Clark and Captain Evan Feldspar."

"This isn't exactly your jurisdiction."

Anywhere my people are being held and tortured is my frakking jurisdiction! Silence took a breath and forced herself to consider his point of view. Kijimi wasn't a New Republic planet. According to what she'd heard, the planet's "government" was more like an uncoordinated collective of criminal elements with just enough mutual interests to survive together.

"I realize that. It's come to my attention a couple of our men have caused you a bit of trouble, and I'm here to remove them and take them back to be tried for any crimes they have committed."

"Around here, we take out our own trash."

"I respect that, but in this case, we're talking about my trash, not yours."

"Your trash is guilty of murdering two of our people, not to mention evading arrest, robbery, and breaking and entering. He got away before, and that's not happening a second time."

"He's not getting away with anything, I assure you of that. Captain Clark went AWOL, and he will be court martialed."

"You expect me to buy that crock of kriffing kark?" The voice scoffed. "You don't care what he's done here. Said it yourself. He went AWOL. That's all you care about, not what he did to our people."

"Who am I speaking with?"

"Jorgen. Sheriff Jorgen to you, missy." He seemed amused, as if he'd made up the title on the spot.

"Alright, Sheriff Jorgen. Let me explain a few things." Silence hunched over her radio, remembering why she'd hated her job in the NRI. "First, if Captain Clark murdered civilians without justification, I will personally make his life miserable. That's free of charge. You got evidence? Bring it. I don't care who he is, I won't tolerate criminal conduct."

This Jorgen fellow didn't need to know as second lieutenant of a different squadron, she had absolutely no authority over Bulldog or how he was punished. If Bulldog were guilty, Cracken would get an earful, but at this point, Silence had little reason to believe anything Jorgen said.

"We have our own—"

"Second, I don't care what he's done, torturing prisoners is not acceptable. It is a crime the New Republic takes very seriously." Silence reminded herself to peek out of her cockpit. So far, there wasn't much to see but swirling snow. Either Doc Jobber had wandered off or had gotten stuck in the snow, because she didn't see the droid anywhere. Maybe she shouldn't have acted so rashly.

"Who said anything about torture?"

"Cut the façade, Jorgen. I heard his screams myself." Letting him wonder how she knew, she plowed on. "Third, you are holding Captain Evan Feldspar of New Republic Intelligence, who I know has committed no crime against you or the New Republic. You will turn him over to me immediately. Sending coordinates now."

"Or what? You're going to take on the entire town with one U-wing?"

"I'm not dumb enough to come alone, nor am I naïve enough to boast and tell you what forces I brought with me." Silence tried to formulate an appropriate warning, when she squinted at a message on her console.

I'm in position.

She entered a response hastily. The frell are you talking about, Jobber? In position for what?

Fireworks!

Frowning, she shook her head and ignored the droid. "So, either you turn over Captain Feldspar, and we discuss the evidence against Captain Clark, or you find out the hard way I didn't come alone. We have enough firepower to level this place and then some. Got it?"

"You think you can waltz into my town and threaten me? Ha! The 'New Republic' can't just raze a peaceful town."

Silence tapped a quick message into the console. Hit it, Jobber.

She had no idea what the deranged droid was up to, but it wasn't like she could have the guys strafe a town of civilians. Jobber might have a few screws loose, but he knew what she'd do to him if he injured innocent people, not that Doc would let him.

Fireworks. The obnoxious droid hadn't lied. A building in town suddenly puked sparks, as if a power transformer had blown. She checked her coordinates as she listened to swearing on the other end of the call. Yep, that was the "sheriff's" office.

"I'm not going to raze the town. Just anything that gets between me and the people you are unlawfully holding prisoner. Turn them over peacefully, or don't, but I'm not leaving without them."

"Fine! We're coming out."

Stryker's voice interrupted from the other channel. "How's it looking, Corsair Twelve?"

"I think I talked them down with only, uh, minor property damage." She stared down the road into town. "Frak. Uhm. It's fine. Hang tight, sir. I have a situation."

She saw a group of armed men exiting the sheriff's office, one of them carrying a limp form as a human shield. "Captain! Deploy! Defensive formation. Hostiles incoming from the northwest."

"Yes, ma'am." The commandos poured out of the U-wing's hold, getting into position before Jorgen and his men could get close enough to start making demands.

As the locals approached, Silence saw their human shield was too lanky to be Bulldog. Evan! Scanning the group, she found no sign of the pilot.

As much as she wanted to leap out of the cockpit and confront Jorgen face-to-face, she knew it would be stupid. She had to be ready to bail out the commandos. She had to be ready to summon the other pilots if necessary. She couldn't call them now, because laser fire from strafing ships would be as likely to kill Evan and her commandos as hit Jorgen's men.

She hastily typed a message into her console. Jobber, get back here. A fast exit might be in order.

Jorgen's men came to a stop a dozen paces from the line of commandos. Weapons bristled from both groups. Eyes bored into eyes. Evan hung limply in the leader's arms, a blaster shoved against his cheek.

"Orders, lieutenant?" asked Captain Udigg, through the comms.

"Hold your fire. We don't want to kick off some intergalactic incident." She knew any one of the commandos could have taken out the man holding Evan without any risk to the hostage, but from the look of it, if anyone so much as sneezed, everyone would open fire.

Throwing open the cockpit, she yelled over the edge. "Jorgen! Where's my other man?"

"He's otherwise occupied." Jorgen sneered from over Evan's shoulder. "And he ain't goin' nowhere. Now, you pack up and head out, or else this pretty-faced boy ain't gonna be so pretty anymore."

"Turn him over, Jorgen. He's committed no crimes." Something icy hit Silence's ear, leaving a faint sting. Something clicked against her hull, then another. Hail? She squinted at the tiny bits of ice bouncing off the ground. Just what we need.

"That's right. This whelp's of no use to me." Jorgen nodded. "That's why I'll let this one go, if you agree to leave the murderer to face his crimes. Leave in peace, and you get the kid. Otherwise, the kid loses his head."

"Sitrep, lieutenant." Stryker's voice interrupted her again.

Lowering her voice, she answered. "I'm working on it. We found Evan. Pretty good idea where Bulldog is. Just trying to end this in a way that doesn't result in collateral damage."

"Do you require aerial support?"

"No!" Hadn't he heard the part about collateral damage? She coughed, remembering herself. "I mean, no, sir. Thank you, but that's not necessary. Yet. Ow!"

"Lieutenant?"

"Sorry, sir. The weather's not too friendly." Silence frowned at the tiny white balls accumulating on her cockpit floor. A sudden gust of biting wind threw even more of them in her face, and she shivered violently. "Gotta go."

"Done consortin' with your cohorts up there?" Jorgen seemed unfazed by the hostile weather. "We have a deal or what?"

She considered taking Evan and letting Stryker or Cracken figure out how to get Bulldog back. Even if she gave the order and the commandos took out all these men without a loss, she couldn't be completely sure of finding or getting Bulldog back alive. She couldn't risk coming back later. Remembering the screaming made her shiver again, unrelated to the cold. He'd either be dead by then or wish he were.

Evan twitched, coming around as the hail stung his red cheeks. He gasped at the cold, staring about him in an effort to comprehend the situation. He flinched at all the guns pointed his direction and then squinted against the wind. "Major Vikeron?"

She didn't bother correcting him. He'd been her subordinate during their entire professional relationship, so when she'd been demoted and transferred, he hadn't had a chance to adjust. "Evan, what's going on? Is there any evidence against Bull—Captain Clark?"

Evan blinked a few times, seeming to struggle with clearing his head. "They're torturing him! They didn't give him a trial. All he had was a blaster, and it wasn't a blaster wound on the body. They don't have evid—"

Jorgen jabbed Evan roughly in the ear with the blaster muzzle. "Shut your yap, boy."

The commandos tensed, ready to fire. Jorgen's men flinched, some of them glancing twitchily between their possible targets.

"Major, they—"

The shift in mood made Silence's stomach twist. "Shut up, Evan!"

Evan's gaze dropped at her sharp tone.

"Everyone just take a breath." She didn't like how some of the commandos were starting to shiver. She'd rushed them to the U-wing without doing any research on the climate here. They weren't dressed for this anymore than she was. Frozen fingers could impair their aim, and with every minute she wasted, the more likely Evan was to get caught in the crossfire.

Then she saw an oddly-shaped figure coming from the sheriff's office. What was that? What had—

PYOOM!

A single laser bolt flashed through the frigid air, sending panic stabbing through her. Jorgen jerked backwards, as if in slow motion, and then all sense of control shattered like ice. Jorgen's men opened fire. The commandos opened fire.

It was all over before she had even duck down into her cockpit, and when she peeked over the edge, she saw bodies sprawled everywhere.

For a moment, she thought everyone had died.

Then the commandos rolled to their feet, half of them turning to aim towards—no, behind—her U-wing. The other half picked up Evan. The group moved as one back toward the ship. "Got a shooter southeast! Move! Move!"

”Got eyes on the location, Hound?”

”Negative, Captain, just the direction!”

"Lieutenant, advise immediate take-off on my mark." Udigg kept his voice calm, but the deadly seriousness of it told her enough. Bulldog would have to wait, and so would—

"Jobber!" Silence yelled to be heard over the muffling blanket of snow and the pelting hail.

The misshapen figure had gotten close enough for her to make out. A man draped over a floating dome, clinging to it like a drowning man to a life raft.

"Someone go help them!" Silence sealed her cockpit, grateful she'd left all systems online because her fingers trembled way too much from the cold and adrenaline. The rattle of hail upon the ship had become incessant. Her numb face welcomed the respite. "Captain—"

"On it, ma'am." The Besalisk captain and two of his men dashed back through their tracks in the snow, carefully skirting the field of Jorgen's motionless men.

She didn't like how two of them were moving backward, constantly scanning the area behind the U-wing. They had mentioned a shooter, but when she twisted around in her seat to look, she saw nothing but bleak, snowy peaks in one direction and unremarkable, squat buildings in the other.

She kept waiting for another shot to break the silence, but it never came. Captain Udigg grabbed Bulldog with two hands, Jobber with another, and still kept one weapon trained on the scenery. He lumbered back to the ship with his two men tight on his heels.

Preoccupied, Silence almost didn't notice the two—no, three . . . five . . . six!—ships ascending on the other side of town. Apparently word had already spread about Jorgen's demise. "Aerial support requested, now!"

"Acknowledged, Twelve. Thought you'd never ask." Something about Stryker's tone told her he'd hoped she'd never ask, and that he was a little disappointed she hadn't resolved the situation peacefully. But maybe that was her imagination.

She'd either wake up a flight officer tomorrow or still be a second lieutenant, and right now she didn't much care which as long as Bulldog and Evan were still breathing.

"All aboard, Lieutenant." Udigg's voice rumbled through her comms.

"Roger th— Frak!" Silence didn't have to ask what kind of idiot launched missiles right through town, because the blips on her radar told her. Smacking the countermeasures, she sent the U-wing leaping into the sky, pooping chaff out the back and slamming the engines to full.

She heard the commandos cussing in the hold as they rattled around, and Jobber seemed to think it was a competition. Over the comms, she heard the command staff coolly marking targets and the zap-zap of ion cannons. The familiar chatter brought a smile to her face as she streaked out of the atmosphere.

A rough and raw voice cut through it all. "Hey, Si. I owe you one."

"You owe me one heck of an explanation, Captain." Silence stifled her breath of relief. "But it's really Evan and Jobber you should be thanking. How Jobber managed to get you out, I'll never know."

Bulldog groaned in pain. "I think your droid peed on my face."

"Some thanks that is!" Jobber's abrasive voice butted in rudely. "If I had limbs and a repulsorlift faster than a crippled Hutt, we'd have been out of there in half the time! I had to spit coolant at you just to wake you up! You all owe me! You owe me an arm and a leg! Or two arms! Give me two limbs or next time I leave you all behind!"

The female voice of the second droid cohabiting on the memory core took over. "The coolant was my idea. Jobber wanted to break your ribs until you came to."

"Thanks, Doc." Bulldog grunted. "Not sure . . . how many they. . . left intact. . . ."

Silence winced as Bulldog's voice faded out along with his consciousness. "He's going to make it, right, Doc?"

"Initial observations indicate he is in stable condition, but he will require time in the bacta tank."

"Thanks, Doc. Thanks, Jobber." Evan sounded tired. "Thanks, major. I knew you'd come."

"I'm not a major anymore . . . sir." Silence smiled faintly.

"I don't give a kriff."

"You're all clear, Corsair Twelve," Stryker reported with satisfaction. "Let's head home."

**********

Then

Bulldog snapped back to the cantina, breathing heavily as the memories had overwhelmed his senses. He gripped the side of the table with white knuckles as the floodgates opened. After a moment, he tossed the entire whiskey back in one gulp, hissing at the burn as it traveled down his throat. He continued to breathe heavily, bordering on hyperventilation.

“Calm down, flyboy,” Zeva said soothingly.

“Zossa,” He said between breaths. His eyes found hers. “Sister?”

Zeva nodded, pulling out a datapad hesitantly as if unsure how she wanted to proceed.

His heart soared. He snatched her datapad and quickly tapped the commands to pull up the file he’d been tapping away on during the intervening years and gave her access. “Please, you have to show her that. It explains everything. There wasn’t anyone else after her!” He looked around, hoping to see her hiding somewhere nearby while her sister scouted it out for her. His face fell slightly when he didn’t see her. “Where is she?”

“She WAS my sister,” Zeva whispered.

Numb and broken,
Here I stand alone
Wondering what were
The last words I said to you
Hoping, praying
That I’ll find a way to turn back time
Can I turn back time?

Bulldog’s heart jumped into his throat. “Was?”

Zeva pursed her lips and her face fell. She bowed and shook her head sadly, looking at him through her waving bangs.

It told him more than he wanted to know. All of the armor he’d welded around his heart to protect him from this day had proven useless. It made sense, since armor was meant to protect from exterior damage. When an explosion came from within, that armor was useless. The bones in his body seemed to liquify, and he slumped down deep into the booth couch. However, he needed to know more, even though he didn’t want to. “How?” he whispered hoarsely.

“Does it matter at this point?” Zeva asked bitterly. “Where were you? You just had your fun and left! You didn’t care about the wreckage you left behind for us to deal with.”

Bulldog felt ten inches tall as he sank deeper into the couch, not caring that he was drawing the attention of the surrounding beings. They backed away to give him a wide berth, not wanting to get involved with whatever was going on in his corner of the sparsely packed cantina.

What would I give, to behold
The smile, the face of love
You’ve never left me
The rising sun will always speak your name

Zeva’s whisper rose in pitch. “She tried to find you for years! Sent messages. You never answered, never came back! You left them!”

Bulldog shot up in the booth, his eyes wide. “Them?” he croaked. “Your father died too?”

Zeva shook her head to the side, still spitting venom at him with her one eye still facing him. A tear rolled down her cheek. “I really liked being called Auntie Seev,” her voice breaking as she whispered somberly. She tapped a button on her and slid it across the table. A picture of a young girl, four or five years old with wild curls and hazel eyes, stared back at him.

Numb and broken
Here I stand alone
Wondering what were
The last words i said to you

Bulldog nearly fainted as his guts felt like they were blasted by an e-web at point blank range and scorched on the wall behind him. All of his aloofness and gruffness he’d affected to protect himself from news like this was not enough. He hadn’t been prepared to learn what he’d just found out. The entire world shattered around him. His vision tunneled in on that picture, focusing on a girl with Zossa’s features aside from his uniquely arched eyebrows and unruly, curly hair. She smiled brightly in the picture, holding a small pink and white plush doll close to her cheek that was dirty and worn ragged from heavy use.

Tears came down his cheeks in a torrent. Massive sobs wracked his body, but he clamped his mouth shut to keep them silent. He covered his face in his hands and laid back down on the couch.

It won’t be long
We’ll meet again

After a while, he wiped the snot and tears from his face and sat up. His eyes were bloodshot and raw. His expression hardened. “How?”

“Local crime boss broke in and killed our father in revenge for locking up half of his gang in a raid. They were collateral damage. I was out with friends that night. I came home and... ”

Bulldog pursed his lips and said a name that he’d kept locked away in a cage of rage deep within his brain. “Jorgen?”

Zeva shook her head. “He never messed with us again after your last visit,” she said with a half-hearted smile. “He’s actually the local security chief now, but he hasn’t made the crime lord pay for the murders,” she sneered. “Bribes are a powerful thing in this place.”

What would I give to behold
The smile, the face of love
You’ve never left me
The rising sun will always speak your name

“Where is this crime lord now?”

“Actually, as luck would have it,” Zeva trailed off, leaning closer to him and pointed across the room.

She smelled of the same spice and florals that Zossa had, and he forced a painful sob back down. He followed her arm across the room, settling on a paunchy mid-fifties man with male-pattern baldness. He was all smiles within his group. He said something, and the surrounding patrons laughed heartily, clearly hoping to make him feel like they felt he was the wittiest man on the planet.

Bulldog hated him instantly. Everything about him made him shiver with an almost uncontrollable fury. He began to rise, his vision tunneling in on the objective of his rage-fueled revenge trip. He envisioned the near future where he pounded this man’s witty face into the table repeatedly until it was a mess of teeth, bone fragments, and bloody scraps of flesh. He didn’t care if the guards got him afterwards, so long as he got his revenge first.

It won’t be long, we’ll meet again
Your memory is never passing
It won’t be long, we’ll meet again
My love for you is everlasting

Zeva gripped his arm tightly, pulling him back down. “What are you doing? He must have at least four bodyguards here with him, and you’re unarmed.”

“I can fight a lot better than the last time I was here,” he growled menacingly as he clenched his fists on the table in front of himself.

“Do you have a blade?”

Bulldog’s brain clicked and the gears started turning smoothly again. The nugget of a plan formed, and he smiled tightly. “Oh yeah, I have a blade all right,” he chuckled darkly.

She regarded him intently, checking him out to see where his weapon was located. “Still, though. Four or five versus you, and they’re all likely armed with longer blades or even blasters. You can’t just go charging in there like a white knight!”

“You’re right,” he ground out. “I’m no white knight. I’m a cold-blooded killer now.”

Zeva recoiled slightly at the vehemence with which he delivered that line.

Serendipitously, the crime boss chose that exact moment to excuse himself from the table and walked hurriedly toward the refresher. Two of the burly men at the table rose and followed him at a discreet distance. One took up position outside of the door and leaned his back against the wall disinterestedly. The other followed the boss into the refresher room.

“Bingo,” Bulldog bit out. He looked back at Zeva as he rose to his feet. “You might want to get out of here. It’s going to get messy.”

Nervous gratitude flooded her face. She leapt up and wrapped her arms around him, kissing his cheek. Her breath was hot against his face, but it felt familiar and right at that moment and place. She released the hug and walked casually out of the bar, waving pleasantly to the bartender on her way out.

He watched her go, making sure she had a head start before things came to a head. He affected a drunken gait as he ambled his way toward the refreshers. Acting drunk wasn’t too difficult for him these days, as it was more of a natural state of his being at this point. He swayed uneasily, stumbling to the side as he made a meandering path toward the refreshers. He deadened his face and let some drool start to run onto his chin.

“Where do you think you’re going, waster?”

A rough hand jabbed Bulldog in the chest. He recoiled in an exaggerated fashion, his head lolling to the side and drool flying through the air. He took a moment to compose himself against the nearby wall, hoping his acting was convincing. He wheezed heavily. “Fresherrrrrrrr.”

“You’ll have to wait, drunkie,” the guard said sternly. “Shouldn’t be too much longer.”

Bulldog convulsed as he gripped the shoulder of the guard for support. The guard, in turn, recoiled. “Don’t you dare puke on me!”

“Fresherrrrr,” Bulldog urgently moaned again.

“For the love of-” the guard bit out. He opened the door and roughly dragged Bulldog inside by the shoulder. “Mikos, this drunk is about to barf. Keep an eye on ‘im!”

“What, am I a babysitter now?” the guard inside the bathroom snapped from his position near the handwashing stations.

“You want to clean it up out there?”

A crisp voice broke up the argument from a nearby privacy stall. “It’s quite alright, boys. “There are other stalls this inebriated fellow can utilize.”

The guard named Mikos pushed himself off the wall and gripped Bulldog by the shoulders, roughly guiding him to another stall. The first guard went back outside to resume his posting. “Ok, wastoid, do yer biznez innere!”

Bulldog wrapped his arm around Mikos’ shoulder for support and fell into him heavily. His other hand snaked behind his back and fell upon the lightsaber hilt he’d taped to the inside of his belt. He retrieved the lightsaber and gripped it tightly on the opposite hip from the guard currently holding him upright.

“Yer really a farkled geezer, ain’cha?” Mikos laughed as he steadied the apparent drunk. “Let’s just see whatcha got innem pockets, neh?”

Bulldog cleared his facial expression and smiled tightly as he looked into Mikos’ eyes. Before the man could react, he jammed the hilt of the lightsaber against the guard’s stomach at an upward angle and flicked the activation switch. The snap-hiss of the blade was deafening to Bulldog, covering up Mikos’ surprised grunt as the red blade plowed through his belly and bisected his heart as it climbed out through his upper back. Bulldog quickly deactivated the blade with another snap-hiss and gently let the lifeless guard down to the waste unit seat of the stall they’d both been occupying.

“What was that now? Mikos, please tell me you didn’t kill the poor sodder,” the boss chuckled from his stall, apparently oblivious to what had just happened. “I don’t want to have to pay that blasted Houk any more cleanup credits.”

“Everything ok?” the door guard called out from outside the restroom.

“We’re quite all right, Dom,” the boss replied, humming happily to himself in the stall.

Bulldog’s visage took on a mask of malevolence. He gently pulled the stall door closed with his booted foot and slowly stalked toward the stall that held the target of his rage. Each step echoed loudly in his ears as his heartbeat started to increase rapidly. Killing the first man hadn’t even registered a blip on his pulse rate, but the anticipation of the just revenge he was about to serve excited him. This one was going to make him feel good. It was going to square the books within his broken heart and shattered soul. He continued to delude himself with how much better he was going to feel after he rammed the hilt of the lightsaber into the man’s face and activated it.

Bulldog came to a stop outside of the stall that the crime boss occupied, who was humming happily away as he did his business. His vision tunneled again, and his hearing was overcome by the familiar staticy sound of a torrent of water hurtling over a precipice. He gripped the lightsaber hilt firmly in his sweaty hand and balled his other into a tight fist. He waited for the right moment to strike, and started to slaver over the coming crescendo to his hastily slapped-together trip.

The refresher flushed loudly.

Now!

Bulldog slammed his shoulder into the door, breaking the lock and forcing it open inward. He met resistance instantly as the door crashed into the man inside the stall, eliciting a muffled cry of surprise as he was knocked back onto the waste unit he’d just occupied.

“What?” The man squeaked out as he looked up at the panting pilot standing over him. He saw the look in Bulldog’s eyes and knew what would be coming next regardless of what course of action he took. Still, the fight or flight instincts kicked in and he took in a deep breath in preparation to call out to his guards.

Bulldog punched the crime lord square in the nose with a tightly balled fist, his middle knuckle landing square against the man’s nose. Blood spurted out immediately and covered his mouth and chin. He gagged violently on the torrent of blood that had invaded his mouth. Before the boss could recover, Bulldog rammed the hilt of the lightsaber into his open mouth and triggered the switch once more. A quick snap-hiss signaled the man’s death, as the red blade shot forth and skewered the man’s skull. Another snap-hiss and the blade retreated, taking the red hue out of the room just as quickly as it had provided it.

The boss slumped backward, his eyes rolling back into his head. The smoking hole from his mouth showed the wall behind the lifeless corpse. The room smelled of burnt flesh, hair, and fabric along with the coppery tinge that blood added to the nasal bouquet.

The flushing stopped, and the refresher was again bathed in silence.

Bulldog turned and waited for the door guard to come charging in, but after a few moments of muffled music from the main bar room he relaxed. He turned back to the purpose of his excursion and sneered. He wanted to seriously mutilate this man for everything he’d robbed him of, but for once in his life his rational brain was able to cut through the rage blackout induced haze. While working himself to the bone dismantling this man piece by piece with his bare hands might feel good, it would certainly leave plenty of DNA evidence behind for the authorities to discover and implicate him.

Still, he delivered a swift kick to the man’s groin. He was right, it did feel good. The blow made the dead man’s head loll forward, and his lifeless open eyes struck something familiar within Bulldog. He stood, transfixed momentarily by the eyes he couldn’t quite place but swore he knew from before.

I mourn for those who never knew you
I mourn (I mourn) for those (for those)
Who never knew you (who never knew YOU)

He shook his head clear. Nodding in satisfaction at his handiwork, he again used his booted toe to pull the stall door closed slowly until it came to a rest near the frame. He put the still-cold hilt of the lightsaber against his stomach and held it with the other hand on the outside of his shirt, careful to avoid hitting the activation switch. To casual onlookers, he hoped it would look as if he still felt ill. The fact that this had been the first time he’d used the lightsaber to kill anybody wasn’t lost on him. It seemed to fit in with the significance of the moment.

Taking a breath to calm his nerves, he got himself back into drunken character. Instantly he screwed up his face into the expression of somebody that was tired of vomiting profusely but still a threat to explode at any moment. He shoulder-charged his way out of the bathroom, slamming the door against the guard outside.

“Watch it, wastoid!” He called gruffly.

“Sorrrr-eeeeee,” Bulldog moaned loudly, waving clumsily as he stumbled sideways toward the door. He stumbled through the few patrons milling about with ease as they quickly cleared the way to avoid any reversal of fortune from staining their pants or shoes.

The Gamorrean stood and held out a hand, palm up as the guard expected a key to retrieve a blaster.

Bulldog doubled over as he handed the door guard his key clumsily. He waited anxiously as the ponderous alien took his sweet time retrieving his blaster pistol from the safe. Finally finding the correct compartment, the alien unlocked the safe. Bulldog quickly yet clumsily retrieved the blaster, carrying on the act that he was a drunk bar patron that had imbibed too much and needed to get outside quickly. As the door opened to let him exit, the blast of wind from outside chilled him to the bones. It penetrated every part of his being, and he dropped the act as he huddled his arms closely round his body to keep warm. He jogged out into the squall and started following his path back the way he’d originally traveled, noting his footprints were easily visible in the snowdrifts. He would be easy to track when his two victims were discovered.

He rounded a corner and was stopped dead in his tracks by a blaster in his face. He froze, squinting to see through the thick snowfall and figure out who the stranger was.

The blaster was holstered and Zeva stepped forward. “Is it done?”

Bulldog relaxed and nodded affirmatively.

Zeva leapt forward and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. Her body and scent reminded him even more of his lost love as she pressed herself closely into him.

Bulldog leaned into the embrace and wrapped his free arm around her to return the welcome gesture. He became emotional as this close contact brought him back from the dark mental chasm he willingly plunged into earlier. He suppressed a sob and fought back tears, managing to force out a quiet one-word apology.

“I know,” she whispered, pulling back slightly. Her bright blue eyes stared deeply into his. “Thank you,” she breathed out as she placed both of her hands onto the back of his close-shorn head and kissed him deeply and passionately.

it won’t be long, we’ll meet again
Your memory is never passing
It won’t be long, we’ll meet again
My love for you is everlasting

Bulldog recoiled in surprise and didn’t reciprocate the kiss. He pushed away gently and shook his head with pursed lips. A vortex of conflicting emotions fought for control of his body at that instant, with grief and lust being the last two standing. Lust eventually lost out. “I… can’t…”

Zeva nodded in understanding, still remaining close to him.

A commotion of shouts and screams erupted from the direction of the cantina.

Both Bulldog and Zeva tensed. She reacted first, pushing him away. “Go!”

He took two halting steps away and then stopped. He turned and came back. “What about you?”

“Do you have a ship?”

Bulldog cursed inwardly, remembering his Y-Wing was not his long-missing freighter. “No,” he ground out bitterly. The sounds of alarm were getting closer. He tensed, preparing to fight by pulling the lightsaber out from under his shirt. He readied himself in a two-handed grip, the snow falling all around him as he dug his back foot into the snow.

Zeva’s eyes widened at the sight of the ancient weapon, but she shook her head clear quickly and stepped closer. “Then go. Get out of here!” She grabbed his hand and kissed it tenderly, and then swung the hilt with force into the side of her temple. She then took an exaggerated dive to the side as one hand broke her fall while the other cradled her face. “Run you fool!”

The absurdity of the situation stunned him. Footsteps were getting closer, charging in with a purpose. He shook his head angrily and cursed. With one last angry and confused glance at Zeva, he turned and ran off into the snowy wilderness at top speed.

As he crested a hill, he heard her shout. “That piece of sky trash hit me! He went that way!”

Bulldog was unsure if she’d told them the correct direction or if she’d tried to confuse them, but the latter option didn’t make much sense since his path was easy to track in these conditions. Whatever her choice, he hoped she’d be ok. He didn’t like the idea of leaving Zeva in trouble of his own making like he’d done to Zossa years ago. It hadn’t turned out well.

He finally understood her actions as he pounded through the thick brush he’d speed-walked through on the way into town. He understood that since she couldn’t escape with him, she had to make it appear that she was a victim in order to avoid suspicion. Again, he hoped it’d be enough. It kept niggling at him that he was leaving her behind as he ran.

A blaster sounded, and a bolt singed the brush nearby. “He’s this way!”

Bulldog redoubled his effort, cursing how much harder it was to run in the snow as opposed to dry ground. He hazarded a glance back as his path forward cleared and saw a few men pretty far off charging down a hill in his direction. His lead was shrinking, and it was looking like he might not get away completely. He didn’t dare use his commlink though, unsure if it would be intercepted and somehow used against him later.

He scrambled with all fours up the smooth slope toward the plateau that housed the cave where they’d stashed the fighters. As he neared the top, the men reached the bottom and sent a flurry of bolts in his direction. One hit the ground right next to his foot, propelling him on with an adrenaline-assisted burst of speed. He thought he saw a shoulder mounted anti-ship rocket on the back of one of his pursuers, and his heart fell with the implications of that weapon being present.

He mounted the lip of the plateau with a clumsy roll and sprinted across the large open area, waving his arm over his head frantically as he headed toward the cave.

“What’s going on?” Ant’s voice called from the darkness within. “My droid says all hell is breaking loose on the security channels. Something about a double murder with a laser drill or something! It’s weird stuff.”

“Prep for immediate dust off and get home!”

“What? Did you kill somebody?”

“No!” Bulldog shouted as he entered the cave. His eyes adjusted to the darkness slowly. He tripped over a rock and shoulder rolled through the fall, regaining his feet with a stumble. “Stang! Start your ship and get out of here! I’ll be right behind you!”

Ant’s X-Wing powered on with a whine and the floodlights ignited, lighting the rocky path Bulldog used. The new illumination allowed the running pilot to avoid any other tripping hazards.

Bulldog made a snap decision. A cold start would take sixty seconds to get airborne. The presence of that possible missile unit in pursuit meant he wouldn’t have time to get out without any undue risk to Ant.

“Weight, spool her up!” He shouted as he sprinted toward Ant’s X-Wing rather than his dark Y-Wing. He saw the look of confusion on Anton’s face, but waved dismissively at him to focus on takeoff. He skidded to a halt next to aft of the hull and quickly opened the rarely-used storage compartment. He deposited his lightsaber inside, and then sealed it again.

At that moment, Ant activated his repulsors and his ship lifted off. After he made sure his executive officer was clear of the back blast, he gunned the engines and pulled into a steep climb the moment he cleared the cave exit.

Bulldog quickly hurtled across the cavern and shouted loudly for Weight to slave the ship to Ant’s X-Wing and leave him behind while he distracted his pursuers. The Astromech spun it’s domed top back and forth in response.

“That’s an order. Get out of here!”

The Y-Wing’s power hub vibrated loudly as it ramped up.

Bulldog spun around and charged out of the cave. The tops of the heads of his pursuit were peeking over the edge as they cautiously looked around for the source of the roaring sonic boom Ant’s X-Wing had just made. He heard his Y-Wing’s engine starting to whine, indicating it was close to being ready to launch. He ran out into the open and drew the attention of the men that were pursuing him. He play-acted backing away from the cave in fear, hoping to put the picture into their minds that he was just as surprised by the appearance of two New Republic fighters as they were. He drew his blaster and triggered a few wild shots into the cave to ensure they knew where he was in the dim light.

A blaster bolt melted the snow near his foot, letting him know they had spotted him and were focusing in his direction again. He sprinted off to the side of the plateau as blaster bolts peppered the air around him. As he reached the edge, he threw himself blindly down the slope and rolled roughly down the steeper than expected slope. He pinwheeled down head over heels until coming to a skidding halt in the deep snowdrift at the bottom of the hill. Snow packed into his shirt tightly and immediately chilled him to the bone.

His pursuers began cautiously sliding down the hill, but they did not fire any more blaster bolts at the motionless body below. As they made it halfway down, a rumbling roar drew their attention back toward the plateau.

Bulldog’s Y-Wing, piloted by Weight, emerged from the cavern at full speed and rocketed up into the night sky.

“What were those two snubs doing here?”

“Who cares, this guy doesn’t look like he was with them.”

“How do you figure?”

“He looked just as surprised as we were. Why else would he run out into the open and throw himself off the top of this hill like this?”

“There’s his blaster over there. Why didn’t he fire back at us ya think?”

Bulldog groaned, still trying to get his wind back.

“Trak, deal with that.”

A stunbolt flashed blue and echoed across the surrounding hills.

it won’t be long, we’ll meet again
it won’t be long, we’ll meet again
it won’t be long, we’ll meet again
it won’t be long, we’ll meet again

*********

Now

Zeva sat with her back to the raised lip of the building rooftop she currently occupied as she efficiently broke down her IQA-11. She unscrewed the still-smoking extended barrel and set it gingerly inside of its soft sheath. Next, she depressed the clamp at the base of the scope with two fingers to detach her dual-zoom optic and put it into the corresponding pouch. Lastly, she folded the extendable stock back in on itself and secured the main assembly in its soft storage case. The entire gun fit into her backpack, with the sniper barrel looking like a spear slung over her shoulder from this distance.

Satisfied that her weapon was squared away, she pulled out her macrobinoculars and looked back over the ledge. Through the magnification of the device, she saw New Republic commandos frantically looking for the source of the shot that kicked off the short-lived lightfight. She smiled when one of her minor rivals tried to move in too quickly with their aircraft and were dumb enough to fire upon the New Republic forces, drawing swift and brutal retribution.

Zeva was glad that her anonymous report of an imprisoned officer had drawn the quick response that it did. She quickly utilized the roof access panel to get off the roof and out of sight of the circling New Republic snub fighters. She flopped down onto a filthy couch in the abandoned bakery’s upper floor that her gang now used as their base of operations. Memories of the first time she’d encountered the now-New-Republic-officer-then-cocky-freighter-captain flooded back to that first night.

She’d spied him from across the cantina, noting how cocksure he was, but also noting how out of place he appeared. It made him an easy mark, and she decided to make him the patsy in her planned heist for that night.

She played the coquettish and charming girl flawlessly, figuratively having him eating out of the palm of her hand after an hour. She was especially proud of the way she’d acted enraged at his callgirl inference and stormed off, knowing full-well he would come chasing after her. They always did.

She hadn’t anticipated Jorgen almost ruining her plans that night, and the memory of then-Andy-now-Captain-Clark attempting to defend her honor against the clearly stronger and superior fighter warmed her heart. A little. She hadn’t planned to actually sleep with him that night, remembering the ampoule of KO dust she had in the lining of her dress to knock him out with at the scene of the crime. However, he really was an earnestly nice man, and while that wasn’t enough for her to leave him off the hook, she’d decided that she liked him enough to get involved physically for the night. She was still a human with physical needs, after all, and he’d earned one last thrill before he got strung up for theft.

She hadn’t expected him to be gone by the time security forces responded to her anonymous tip, though. Regardless, the theft got attached to the young spacer’s local rap sheet, along with breaking and entering and assaulting a security officer. Her father’s plan had still been completed successfully. The two of them obtained the package without any of the blame.

She bit her lip, a habit she still couldn’t shake. Her face really was very expressive. She might have to start wearing a helmet to obscure it to maintain her edge in business dealings going forward.

She sighed contentedly at the memory of how that night unfolded, and how he snored innocently with her head laying on his chest. She shook her head clear and focused again on the present. He reached up to her eyes with both hands and gripped the false contact-lenses, pulling them out and depositing back into their case. She looked at a neary mirror, gazing deeply into her reddish-brown eyes.

Zeva grabbed her datapad and pulled up the file the New Republic pilot had urgently shared with her in the cantina and read the first few lines. She picked up the general apologetic tone of the message within the first page, and then skimmed the first 20 pages quickly. The word ‘love’ appeared, and she froze the screen. It hovered there while a conflicting range of emotions bounced around inside of her. Her chest tightened up and it became hard to breathe. She attempted to force the feeling away, but was surprised with how much difficulty she was having in that task.

Footsteps entered the room heavily. “We good?”

Zeva composed herself and turned to regard her top lieutenant. “Yes. Wait until the New Republic forces leave the system, and then move the gang into the security building. We need to exert our control over Thieves’ Quarter the moment they leave.

“What about your father and his men?”

“I heard from Kypper that he was murdered in the refresher of his cantina.”

The lieutenant frowned. “Quite the lucky break for us, wouldn’t you say? Both Jorgen and your father were eliminated in the span of 24 hours?”

“I make my own luck,” Zeva said ominously. “Go tell the rest of the Runners that we need to be ready to move in and get to work immediately.

“You got it, ZB,” the man haltingly said as he turned and exited the room.

“Oh, and Palko?”

The lieutenant stopped and looked over his shoulder.

“Ignorance is bliss.”

“Of course, boss.”

As he left, a four year old girl bounded into the room. “MOMMY!” She shouted joyously, launching herself into a flying hug around her mother’s neck.

Zeva caught her energetic toddler in her arms and reciprocated the embrace. “There’s my little sky trash!”

“I’m not sky trash, mommy!” The little girl replied with a giggle.

“I know. You’re my little Runner.”

“I missed youuuuuu!”

Zeva pulled away and held her daughter at arm’s length. Her eyes hardened despite the easy smile on her face. “Now, darling, things are going to get REALLY crazy for mommy at work in the next couple of weeks.”

“Really REALLY crazy?” the youth asked, arching her eyebrow.

The shape of her daughter’s eyebrows was really the only thing about her daughter that wasn’t the mirror image of herself aside from her eye coloration, which appeared to be a surprising left turn of genetics. Her eyes were almost red, and the father of her child’s eyes were a deep brown. Somehow the gene interactions had deigned to bestow a hazel coloration to her toddler’s irises.

“Really REALLY really. I need to send you to go stay with your auntie and uncle Wynn for a bit.”

The youth’s face fell. “Awwwww. How long?”

Zeva hugged her daughter close. “It won’t be too long.”

“Promise?”

“Promise times infinity,” Zeva said with finality, punctuating it with a kiss to her daughter’s forehead and wrapped her into another hug.

Her face hardened during the embrace. No soft targets. You’ll understand when you’re older. A smile crept into the corner of her mouth. Maybe though… that Captain could be useful again, down the road.

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

Farther Back

Zeva rushed into the refresher of the filthy apartment she shared with her dad, making it just in time for a torrent of vomit to cascade into the waste receptacle.

“That’s the third time in the last two hours, girl,” her father said with uncertainty. “It’s not virus season…”

“I know,” she hissed back, still hovering over the refresher to wait for the second wave that would inevitably be coming soon. She’d been unable to hold any of her food down lately, and it was starting to become a concern to both of the petty criminals.

“You’re not pregnant, are you?” Her dad asked dismissively, laughing at the ridiculousness of the thought.

Zeva laughed along, and then vomited again. “You can’t get pregnant if you don't have… sex…”

Her father was in the doorway instantly. “You got pregnant, didn’t you!”

Zeva stood and wiped her mouth, turning to face her father. “I don’t know! Would it be the end of the world if I did?” She cupped her hand under the faucet and brought some water to her mouth, swishing it around and spitting it into the sink.

Her father backpedaled and started pacing the living room aggressively. “YES! Yes it would!”

It was her turn to become angry, stomping out of the bathroom and standing across from him. “Why?”

“You can’t rise in this business if you’ve got weak points, Zeva!” He said pleadingly. “You cannot have any soft targets for people to use against you!”

Zeva barked out a laugh at the hypocrisy. “YOU had me. Are you saying you wish I hadn’t been born? I’m not a soft target.”

“I had you long before we came to this rats nest. I did what I had to do to get us to where we are now. And now- now we’re THIS close to making it to the top.” He held up the pure, uncut spice from Kessel she’d swiped from the bakery basement more than a month ago and held it up. “This right here is our ticket to the top!”

“You didn’t answer the question, father.”

Her dad pursed his lips and looked deeply into her raging eyes. Shame flashed across as he broke eye contact and turned around. “Yeah, I do. If it hadn’t been for you, I’d be the next in line to run that corrupt security gang instead of that thug Jorgen!”

Zeva snapped. Sadness and self-pity didn’t enter into the equation at this moment in time, having been mentally beaten out of her throughout her childhood by her father. He’d made sure she had no weaknesses that could be turned into a weapon against her, and by proxy, him. So her default reaction was to lash out. “You won’t have to worry about us being used as a weapon against you any more, father.” She stormed into her room and gathered her belongings.

“Where are you going?”

“Away, forever!” Zeva shrieked. “Don’t want to cramp your delusions of grandeur,” she said with a sarcastic laugh.

“Where are you going to stay?”

“That’s no longer any concern to you!”

“Who's the father?”

“Doesn’t. Concern. You.”

“You have no idea who it is, do you? Probably some piece of worthless piece of sky trash.” Her father laughed mockingly. “Sure sure, go ahead and run like your mother did. Just know that if you walk out that door, we are finished. You are nothing to me anymore! I’m going to the top and you’ll be in some gutter regretting this moment for the rest of your short life!”

“We’ll see, father,” Zeva spat under her breath as she stormed out of the apartment and his life.

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

Now

Bulldog lay on his back, drifting in and out of sleep in the medbay of the CRS Vigilant. K-series droids wheeled around about their tasks, ignoring him. Various sensors and IV tubes ran fluids or drugs into the pilot’s thrashed body.

Ant came storming into the medbay with his fists at his side. Scanning the nearly empty room, he found his executive officer’s bed and strode forward with a purpose. He placed a hand on the sleeping pilot’s shoulder and shook him awake roughly.

Bulldog awoke with a start, and then hissed in pain as he lay back down slowly. Bacta patches covered his face, giving him a very small range of expression and motion. “Wha?”

“You karking schutta! You tricked me into leaving you behind!”

“Go away, Flight Officer,” Bulldog groaned. “I don’t have the energy for this right now.”

Ant’s face was screwed up in rage. “No, you don’t get to drag me on a wild goose chase for some random Cantina Rat and then make me look like a coward that left his flight leader behind, you Sith-Loving space-slug!”

“Do I need to pull rank here?” Bulldog growled ominously.

“Spast!” Ant cursed. “Sir. You used me, and I need to know why!”

“Sir, Captain Clark needs his rest,” a 2-1B droid said as it stood nearby. “Please come back tomorrow.”

Bulldog waved the droid away weakly. “S’okay.”

The droid bowed its head. “Please make it brief, then,” it said as it trudged away. “What do I know, I’m just a medical droid,” it muttered at a low volume.

“Talk,” Ant bit out. “Now.”

“I needed a cover to get off the ship,” Bulldog whispered.

“Why me?”

“I need you to trust me on this, Ant.”

“How can I ever trust you after this?”

Bulldog didn’t respond.

“Did you think ‘hey, here’s an easy moof-milker to screw over’?”

“Stop.”

Ant waited patiently, anger still radiating warmly all over his body. He grew impatient. “Well?”

Bulldog motioned the angry pilot closer with a bandaged hand. He faintly whispered two words.

“What?” Ant asked, confused.

Bulldog motioned for him to go. This time, it worked. His angry subordinate spun on his heel crisply and walked out of the medbay.

Ant walked out of the room without a destination in mind. He puzzled over the words he’d just heard while absentmindedly meandering throughout the ship. A group of pilots trotted down the middle of the hallway, forcing him to stand against the wall as they passed. The sounds of starfighter maintenance emanated from down the hall in the direction the pilots were headed, and it all clicked in his brain at that moment.

He sprinted after the pilots and found himself in the main starfighter hangar. The pilots of Skull Squadron were trotting to their ships for a patrol swap most likely. He didn’t care what the occasion was, though. He weaved through the techs and droids and skidded to a stop next to his ship’s belly. He ran his hands along the hull until his fingers caught on the mechanism to open the fighter’s small storage compartment.

With the door open, the light from the hangar only penetrated about half of the way inside. Seeing nothing in there, he reached his hand blindly inside until he felt something with his fingertips. Cautiously, he felt around the object with care, finding the dimensions blindly. He took a deep breath and wrapped his fingers around the cylindrical object. He dragged it into the light but left it sitting in the compartment still and withdrew his hand.

The comms his droid had intercepted on Kijimi made all the sense in the world now. Not a murder by laser drill, whatever that was. The murder weapon was right here in his storage compartment, and his executive officer had clearly been the one to put it there. The implications of everything nearly floored him.

“Pifgah!” he cursed quietly. He looked around to see if anybody was nearby, and surreptitiously retrieved and stowed the lightsaber in his deep cargo pocket. He closed up the compartment and attempted to walk normally back to the medbay, feeling the heft of the ancient weapon bouncing against his leg with each step.

He entered the room quietly and moved purposefully next to his waiting executive officer. He kept his features hard and angry. Through all of the bandages on his leader’s face, he could see two deep brown eyes looking up to him in askance. He nodded curtly, but mouthed the word ‘why’.

“I trust you,” Bulldog wheezed quietly.

“Damn your trust. Why were we there?”

Bulldog looked away. “They killed my kid.”

Ant wasn’t prepared for that news, and fell back into a metal chair next to the bed. His mind raced, trying to come to grips with all of the dueling ideologies and sets of ethics that fought for dominance. He looked around the room, disoriented. Killing in cold blood was always wrong, until it wasn’t. What had previously been a clear dividing line between right and wrong for him was now blurry, and he began to understand the justification of making that line more of a suggestion rather than a rule. His ability to rationalize what had just happened scared him. He shivered involuntarily.

After what seemed like an eternity of his mental battle accompanied by nods and head shakes as he thought things through, he leaned forward and covered his mouth with one hand as he rested his elbow on Bulldog’s bed. “Damn,” was all he could push out in a weak whisper. His other hand went into his cargo pocket and wrapped around the murder weapon he was currently carrying.

“Yeah.”

Ant nodded, determinedly. “Ok.”

“Ok?”

“I’ll hold onto IT until you get out of here.” He sat, and chose his next words carefully, saying them haltingly. “I understand. I got your back, sir.”

Bulldog sagged back into his bed and closed his eyes. “Thanks.”

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

Now

"Are you sure you're okay?" Silence gave Evan a once-over for the third time.

"Apart from a few bruises, he appears to be fine." Doc circled the captain, her purple receptor flickering as she scanned him thoroughly.

"I knew you'd come for me." Evan got up from the hospital stool where they had sat him a moment ago. "I'm fine. It's your Captain Clark who got the brunt of it. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"You're not a defense lawyer." Silence folded her arms. "Why were you even there? I'm not complaining. We'd never have gotten Bulldog back if you hadn't gone. But . . ."

"There was no one qualified to send on short notice. I was mostly a friendly face. A witness." Evan shrugged. "Anyhow, thanks for saving me, major."

"Anytime. Sir."

They chuckled at the absurdity of ranks, and then Silence cocked her head at the far side of the medical bay, towards Bulldog's recovery bed. Ant had come in to talk with him earlier, but he had since left, and Bulldog now snored vigorously. "What's your take?"

"They beat him pretty badly, but—"

"No, I mean, the evidence." Silence lowered her voice. "He went AWOL. That's a crime in and of itself. I read the message he got. Somebody asking for help. Could have been motive. Or a cover."

"What are you suggesting?" Evan's eyebrows shifted in confusion. "Look, you're not in the NRI anymore. You don't have to be a detective. I don't know what all happened on Kijimi, but I can tell you one thing. Before interviewing him, they gave me a file with all the evidence. You saw how much they wanted him. But even with all their bias, the evidence they scrounged up didn't condemn him. His sidearm was locked up at the bar before the murders happened, and that's irrelevant because the wounds weren't at all like blaster wounds."

Silence sighed, still staring at Bulldog’s slumbering form from across the room.

"Look, maybe you should ask him what happened."

"The meatbag owes me good for that mess!" The droid's lights flashed orange as Jobber took the helm. "If I were his officer, I'd force him to scrape rust off the hanger floor for three weeks!"

"No, you're right, Evan. I'm not NRI anymore." Cracken might say otherwise, but Silence couldn't blow her cover by being too nosey. "And Jobber's right, too. Paperwork, debriefings, and disciplinary measures are Mighty’s job, not mine. Let's let sleeping Bulldogs lie."

Lyrics to “Bloody Valentine” by MGK and “Rose of Sharyn” by Killswitch Engage