Unbecoming an Officer
By: Flash, Frosty, and Lock
Beck “Flash” Alvers blinked for a few moments before Nole’s words fully processed in her brain. “Excuse me, General, I’m not sure I heard you right. Did you just say, ‘Special Operations Command’?”
“That’s what I said, Captain,” answered the Bothan’s holographic form. “Recent events have clearly demonstrated that there needs to be a change in how we operate within this area, and your unit has shown some remarkable skills.”
Alvers stood still a moment more before instinctively stepping toward the projector. “I’m not sure I entirely understand, General. What skills? What brought this on?”
A smile appeared on the man’s lips and he brought a finger to them in a shhhh! movement. “I can’t exactly talk about that over a HoloNet transmission, Alvers, and you know it.”
“Understood. Will we be receiving someone to brief us?”
“Not exactly.” His smile widened. “Captain, I want you and your Exec to come to the Maria.” He nodded to something that was not being projected. “I’m sending a coded frequency acknowledgement system to your astromech—Twitch, I believe, is the moniker?—so that you’ll be able to find your way to where we’re at. Don’t lose the astromech, Captain, or else you’ll never be able to find us.”
Alvers frowned and exchanged a knowing glance with Lock. “Does it have to be Twitch, sir? That trashcan is more problems than it’s worth. I’d have fired it out of a torpedo launcher by now, except the blasted thing is too big.”
“Bring the droid, Captain. Oh, and one other thing; travel casually.”
“Come again?” asked Lock.
“Leave the uniform, X-wings, and armor behind. The X-wings and uniform will certainly give you away to any Imperials or Imperial sympathizers you may happen to come across, and I’m afraid your armor, Alvers, is just too noticeable. Even with all the Mando bounty hunters running around through the galaxy, you stand out.”
“It’s ‘cause she’s so short,” said Lock. Alvers saw a grin quickly disappear as she turned toward him to express her annoyance.
Nole seemed to enjoy the remark, however. “That and she’s too willful, even for a Mando.” His grin was wide and gleeful. “So, get packed and get going, Captain; we’ve got a lot to discuss while you’re here.”
“Understood, General; Alvers, out.” She touched the projector’s controls and the holoimage faded away, leaving the two pilots alone in the room. “I’ll go inform the captain about our departure and then pack,” she said as she turned toward Lock. “You go and procure us some transportation; I’m sure McCauley’s available, just make sure he’s sober enough to pilot the damn ship.”
Lock nodded at her. “Got it. See you aboard the Liberty. It’s going to be a very interesting trip.”
“I mean how can this not be awesome, Lock?”
“Me, you, a ship and the ability to go anywhere.”
“Frosty, we can’t exactly go anywhere, we’ve still got a job to do.”
“Sure, but there's a way to cut off travel time, ‘specially in a ship this fast. We can at least make up some poodoo about how we got delayed by some unforeseen event. I see at least two days leave for me and you.”
“That’s the final briefcase,” the black haired, scruffy looking young man said to his friend. He indicated towards the bag which had just slammed on top of all the others, breaking whatever precious valuables were inside and messing up whatever supremely neat packing had been done. “You sure everything is going to be fine like that?”
“Ain’t nothing to worry about Lock,” his compatriot said in his sing-song voice. He smiled at Lock and shrugged, “I been doing this for a long time and no one has ever pulled me over to say ‘McCauley you pack your ship wrong.’”
“How about breakables?”
“Oh, you know, Frosty, glass bottles, decanters...”
“S’not a problem, Lock. You worry too much. You think I’d be stupid enough to hide me drinks in me bags? Jeez boy, you got a lot to learn about me yet it seems.”
Lock shrugged simply, lighting a cigarette under the cover of the Rimward Liberty’s port side. Jack joined him, borrowing his lighter to light his own. A few technicians tutted at the sight of two fully grown men smoking so close to live fuel lines but all were wise enough to know not to bother the two about it. Lock and Frosty were a force of nature when put together and few liked to intervene.
“So who’s the extra?” Jack said, puffing away on his cigarette.
Lock raised an eyebrow at the young Ensign.
“Don’t play coy with me, Lock, I know there’s enough bags for this job to involve someone else. But whom?”
Lock simply took another drag at the cigarette.
“Fine, fine. If it’s a surprise, so be it. How about where? Where we going?”
The casually dressed man ignored his compatriot, seemingly absorbed in his own universe. Jack cursed lightly and shook a hand at him, “You’re a right little schutta sometimes, Lock.”
Finally Lock responded, “Ever wondered why you’re here, Frosty?”
“Every day,” Jack said confidently. Once you got to know Lock you learned there was a lot going on under the surface; you got used to the random questions.
“I mean you’re always so happy to leave. Why do you come back?”
Frosty was suddenly very quiet. Any moment of awkwardness was brokered by the sudden ping of a turbo lift and a new arrival. Jack pounced on the opportunity to change tack.
“Who is that?”
“I dunno,” Lock casually said. “Pink spiky hair. People like that stick out around here.”
“Well I ain’t ever seen her before, have you?”
“Odd,” Jack said succinctly, staring at the woman walking towards them. “She’s tiny too. Pint sized.”
“Jack, what is a pint?”
“Another time Lock,” Jack said grinning as the woman walked towards them, two astromechs in tow. “I got stuff to do.”
The spiky haired woman came to a stop when it was clear Jack wasn’t going to move out of her way. “Can I help you?”
“You’re coming with me and the LT?” Jack asked casually.
A grin spread onto his lips. “What’s your name, miss?”
“Does it matter?” came the hostile reply.
“Sure does,” Jack said matter of factly. “Can’t ask a lady out on a date without knowing her name.”
The tiny woman’s eyes narrowed suddenly, “What?”
“Can’t come aboard my ship without a little payment, miss,” Jack said, the cigarette still smoking away in his mouth. “So, how about a date?”
Five minutes later
“Take it easy, Jack, that was a pretty heavy hit to the head you took.”
The pink haired woman appeared over Jack’s face; “How are you?”
“You?” Jack asked groggily, “You did this to me you schutta?!”
“That's no way to talk to a commanding officer, McCauley." The pink haired woman said.
"That's no way for a lady to behave spikey haired crazy!" Jack shouted back at her, holding his head. He turned to Lock, “Who the hell is she?”
“Jack McCauley, meet Captain Beck Alvers. The other passenger for our assignment.”
Jack sat on the floor in stunned silence and Alvers shrugged. “I’ll take the astromechs aboard, they have all the nav data.”
With her gone McCauley turned to Lock, “She’s coming with us?!”
“Why didn’t you warn me?!”
“I didn’t know what she looked like under that Mando suit.”
Jack stood unsteadily, shaking his head. “This. Is. Insane.”
Lock watched the swirling blue scenery of hyperspace through the Liberty’s cockpit viewport and gave a content sigh. Normally he would see the vision from the cockpit of his own starfighter, but usually he was more focused on the destination of the jump then his surroundings, or trying to pass the time by conversing with his astromech, Fate.
But now…now, he was able to sit back and relax while someone else flew and worried about their destination.
Of course, that other individual didn’t seem to worry about their destination at all. “Shouldn’t you be watching the status board?” asked Alvers from behind Lock. He swiveled in his chair to see her standing in the doorway.
“I’ve got it handled, Captain,” said Jack from his pilot’s seat. He had his feet up on the instrument panel and was leaning back, seemingly relaxed. “There’s really not much I can do while we’re in this too-damned-bright tunnel other than let it flow on its own.
Lock shrugged at her and nodded in Jack’s direction. “He’s right.”
Alvers looked as though she was about to say something in argument when a shudder began to rock the ship slightly. Lock turned to look at the instrument panel, and even Jack sat up straight as though fully aware for the first time.
“Uh oh,” said Jack as he scanned the instrument panel.
Lock stared at him for a moment before speaking. “Well?”
“‘Well’, what?” responded Jack.
“What do you mean, ‘uh oh’?”
“Oh, uh, just that we seem to have a slight malfunction with the fuel tanks.”
“What kind of malfunction?” asked Alvers, who had stepped forward into the cockpit completely. Lock chanced a look at her and could see that she was not happy.
“Well, you remember that last battle we had against the Empire?”
“Yes?” Lock and Alvers responded in unison.
“I took some damage and I just hadn’t gotten around to fixing it; I figured I could do it later, it’s not as though it’s really all that important, right? Well, one of the fuel tanks just ruptured and the other is leaking so fast that I think we’re probably going to have to drop out of lightspeed to get it looked at.”
Alvers growled and leaned forward. Lock couldn’t help but notice the shapely form that the woman made while leaning next to him. “And when do you suggest we drop out?” she asked Jack.
The ship shuddered violently and began rocking in a fashion that made Lock feel as though he was on an amusement ride. Suddenly the mesmerizing tunnel of hyperspace broke apart, being replaced with the blackness of space with tiny white pinpoints in the distance. A loud clang sounded throughout the ship and half of the instrument panel shut down before Lock’s eyes.
Jack grinned at Alvers as he turned his head to look at her. “Oh, I’d say right about now would be a good time.”
Alvers looked as though she was about ready to slap Jack with the back of her hand, but Lock saw her calm down and stand upright, peering down at the search-and-rescue pilot. “Well, how are we going to do repairs? This is not something that we can easily fix in space; we need to land.”
“Way ahead of you,” said Jack as he grabbed the control yoke of the ship and touched the instrument panel quickly. The freighter lurched slightly as thrusters began igniting at the aft of the vessel. “We’re within range of an inhabited planet; seems to be a bit of a backwater, but they do have a spaceport, which means they have someone who can help make repairs.”
“What’s the planet?” asked Alvers.
Jack turned around and looked at her. “Does it matter at this point? It’s not as if we can choose another planet to go to.”
“He’s got a point, boss,” added Lock.
Alvers looked between the two men and then sighed. “You’re right. So, let’s get down there and figure out what’s going on with the ship.” She frowned at Lock and lowered her voice as she walked past, “I can only imagine what the engines look like.”
Alvers looked at the Liberty’s engines and growled in the direction of McCauley. “Don’t you ever take care of your ship?
The transport pilot just looked back at her with a lopsided grin on his face. “Well, it is my ship, to do with as I please.”
Alvers just scowled at the man and looked back at the ship. “Well, I need to get in touch and update Nole about our little side trip.” She reached down and picked up the portable communications gear she had taken out of the ship when they disembarked. It was a good thing she had packed it as a backup, something she liked to do—be prepared. “Make some sort of deal with the mechanic to get us up and running, but try not to get into any trouble while I’m gone.”
Lock and McCauley looked at her with deadpan expressions and she shook her head. “Right; I forgot who I was talking to. Just don’t kill anyone, okay? It’s too much paperwork.”
“Not for us; we’re not in command,” quipped Lock.
“Don’t push it,” she said as she turned around and raised her voice. “Twitch! Get over here, we’re going for a ride.” The astromech bleated an annoyed response as she wheeled over to the woman. “Don’t take that tone with me, or I’ll have you permanently converted into a trashcan; now, let’s go.”
She walked out of the ship’s berth and watched the sporadic foot traffic of the locals. She couldn’t trust not to be overheard by the civilian population, and she wouldn’t take that risk if her life depended on it—at least, not at this point in time. She needed to find a secure location in order to communicate with Nole, and the best place to do that was far away from civilization.
Now all she had to do was find a way to get away from the so-called civilization. I actually think Tatooine is nicer than here.
There were a few speeder-bikes and swoops parked along the road, but she needed something that would have enough room not only for the comm gear, but Twitch as well. She didn’t have to wait long; a fancy landspeeder pulled up to the berthing parking lot and out jumped a young man who looked as though he owned the world.
Wasting no time, Alvers walked over to the landspeeder and began to put her gear into the back without speaking. She was just able to help put the astromech in the cargo hold when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
”Just what the hell do you think you’re doing!” said the speeder’s owner, his face full of anger. “Get your stuff out of my speeder and get out of here before I slap you around like the harlot you are!”
Alvers just grinned at the man. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’ve got to, ah, borrow your speeder for a little bit. I’ll bring it back, but it’s imperative that I use it for a little bit.”
”Like hell!” The man took a swing at her which she expertly ducked and kicked him in the shin. He yelped in pain, tried to take another swing, and found a foot meeting his face with brute force. He fell backward and groaned, trying to get back up but failing miserably.
Alvers stood over him and looked down. “You should have taken the offer; now sit there and shut up, I’m running late.” She turned back to Twitch and hoisted her up into the cargo hold, and then jumped into the speeder. Once settled in, she looked back down at the man, smiled, said, “Have a nice day,” and sped off into the wilderness to send her transmission.
“What was that noise?”
Lock looked at the mechanic and frowned. “Don’t try and change the subject, okay? We were talking business here.”
The mechanic—an older Human in his late forties and tattered, fuel-stained coveralls—glared back at Lock with just a bit of fear in his eyes. “I’m telling you, I heard something! It sounded as though it came from the streets.” He looked around and lowered his voice a bit. “Look, there’s a local crime-lord operating in these parts; if anything…unusual…happens around here, he’ll hear about it, and it could, uh, complicate matters.”
Lock exchanged a look with Jack before turning back to the mechanic. “All we want is the ship repaired so we can be on our way in the morning. Now, is that going to be too hard for you to manage?”
The mechanic shook his head, the fear in his eyes growing. “It will be done, but I will warn you once again; do not upset the fragile balance of these parts, gentlemen, if you do not want to end up on the wrong side of things.” With that the man turned and walked toward the Liberty, leaving Jack and Lock to their own devices.
Lock looked back at Jack and frowned. “This is the best you could find?”
Jack shrugged and then looked around them. “Have you seen what this planet is like, man? We’re lucky they even have a mechanic, let alone one that knows how to use a hydrospanner.”
Lock nodded and then looked over to the exit. “Well, since we’re going to be here for a while—and boss-woman is off doing her update thing to the powers-that-be—we should find something to amuse ourselves.” He started walking to the exit and then turned, gesturing for Jack to follow. “I mean, what have we got to lose?”
”Our lives, if crazy Mando woman gets a hint of anything.” He started to follow Lock as they made their way to the exit. “But I could use a drink to calm my nerves, and I’d rather not break into the good stuff aboard my ship unless I have to.”
”It’s settled, then,” said Lock, smiling. He turned back to face forward and nearly collided with a man. “Hey, watch it!”
”Are you the minions?”
Lock looked back at Jack. “I’m no one’s ‘minion.’
The man jabbed a finger in Lock’s chest. “Look, I don’t know who you think you are, but I’m big in these parts. If you want to steal people’s landspeeders, you’re going to have to pay the price.” He glared at Lock as though trying to laser the pilot with his eyes. “Now, are you going to pay for the landspeeder, or am I going to have to step this up a notch?”
Lock just blinked, but didn’t back away from the man. “Hey, we didn’t take your ‘speeder. Now, I’m sure you think you’re some big-to-do around here, but I’m not going to be intimidated by the likes of you. Now, I suggest you get out of my way before I get you out of my way.”
The other man just backed away a few steps, which was all that Lock needed. He started walking again, Jack following suit close behind him, and went through the exit at a leisurely pace. “Just you wait,” called the man behind them. “You’ll regret this.”
”Of course we will,” muttered Lock to Jack, “but certainly not today.” They stepped out onto the pavement and looked up and down the street. Lock smiled as he spotted something further up on the left. “Well, there we go.”
Jack followed Lock’s gaze and then turned to his companion. “I like the way you think, Lieutenant.”
”I try.” Lock walked forward with Jack following close behind. They stopped in front of a building labeled ‘Exotic Dancers’ and entered through the front door. “Time to have fun.”
“What do you mean, they’re not here?”
The mechanic looked down from atop the Liberty’s hull to look at Alvers. “They went out somewhere, didn’t bother telling me where. Look, I’m just the mechanic; I don’t keep track of your boy-toys”
Alvers frowned at the man and almost felt like taking out a weapon and shooting him for his comment. She refrained, however, and allowed deductive reasoning to take hold. “Is there any place around here to get drunk?”
The mechanic nodded. “Plenty of places; this is by no means a dry town.”
”Great,” Alvers muttered to herself as she turned around. This is going to take a while.
Lock felt a hand on his shoulder and groaned. “Goes aways,” he muttered. “I’ma bussys.” The hand didn’t go away; in fact, it started roughly shaking him. Finally, Lock opened his eyes and looked up at the blurry-faced figure standing over him. “Who’re yous?”
”Remember that landspeeder?” asked a very loud voice. “I still expect payment.”
Lock tried to focus on the face before him and then smiled. “Oh, it’s you. The rude guy from earlier.” He put his hands on the bar table in front of him and forced himself to stand up, leaning significantly on said table. “Well, you can goes aways; like I said, I’ma bussys.”
”I’m afraid I can’t do that.” The man stepped back to reveal several other beings of various species flanking him. “I’m going to get my payment, be it in credits or blood.”
”Oh.” Lock looked over at Jack, the SAR pilot sleeping with a mug of ale in his hand. “MY partner hass all the cashs. You’rea gonna have to wakes him up.”
The man looked over at Jack and then back at Lock. “Right,” he said in a sarcastic tone. “Okay, boys, get to it.”
Lock watched as the other beings split up and went for either himself or Jack. He knew that he was drunk, but he still was able to muster up the energy to make a fist and punch someone.
Soon things began to blur around him. He wasn’t sure what happened exactly, but finally found himself standing over several of the thugs while the landspeeder owner was running out the front door. He felt a smile form, but then ended up on the floor somehow. Lock looked up and frowned as he saw Jack standing over him. “You hit me!”
”Sorry, man, I thought you were one of them thugs.”
Lock kicked Jack in the knee before feeling another punch hit him in the face. Once again, everything blurred into nothingness.
Alvers looked around at the scattered furniture and sighed. She had tracked McCauley and Lock to the exotic dancing business, and then to a few bars along the same street. Finally she had arrived at their final bar stop, but not before the pair had already brawled with a group of beings and taken off afterwards. “So they were here?”
”And this is how they left it!” shouted the bar’s owner. A Twi’lek woman who looked as though she was going to punch Alvers just for the mere fact the pilot knew McCauley and Lock. “I’ve had brawls in here before, but these two were beyond uncontrollable. And then they ended up beating each other, including when they were leaving.”
Alvers shook her head as she surveyed the aftermath once again. “Who were they fighting?”
The bar owner’s face went flat. “Well, that’s the real problem. It was the son of the local crime-lord. He was going on and on about his ‘speeder being stolen today, but it didn’t appear that your guys were the ones who did it.”
Alvers sighed and shook her head. Great, this is all my fault. I hate this job.
Lock groaned as he felt something jabbing him in the neck. He tried to wave it away, but the object began pressing harder against his neck. Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and turned over and came face to face with a beautiful woman lying next to him. He grinned to himself, but immediately felt a splitting headache, along with something still jabbing him in the neck. Ugh, what did I do last night?
He felt something stir behind him and turned over in the bed, the pain at his neck fading for a moment, but coming back with more pressure. He saw yet another beautiful woman lying next to him, but noticed she looked similar to the first. “That’s a bit odd,” he whispered to himself just before the pain on his neck became unbearable.
He tried to swat at the pain, but felt something metallic with his hand. Finally, he turned his head and looked straight up to see the same man from last night leaning over him, a blaster carbine in his hand and pressed against Lock’s neck. “Oh. Good morning.”
The man scowled at him and gestured with his other hand to the two women surrounding Lock. “I see you’ve become acquainted with my sisters.”
Lock’s eyes went wide for a moment and then bolted upright. He was careful not to move too quickly so as not to get shot. “I didn’t know they were your sisters. Honestly, I don’t even know what I did last night.”
”Oh, but I know. Get dressed; you’ve got someone to meet.”
Lock quickly dressed in his ale-stained clothes and tried his best not to breathe in his own stench. Once he was done, a bag was placed over his head and he felt himself being carried. He felt himself being placed into a transport vehicle; he wasn’t sure how long he was transported, but finally he was pulled out by the back of his neck.
A few minutes later the bag was lifted from his head and Lock saw himself standing before a very large man who looked as though he could beat someone just by staring at them. The expression on his face made Lock wince a little.
”My son informs me you’ve been very busy since you landed yesterday. Your companion stole his landspeeder, you racked up an impressive tab at several bars throughout the city, and you somehow managed to bed both my daughters—at the same time!”
Lock blinked and looked around, noticing his surroundings for the first time. Damn hangover. He appeared to be inside a villa overlooking a private compound, and this man was no doubt the compound’s owner. But what he noticed the most was the lack of a second Human around him.
”Speaking of my companion, where is he?”
The large man grinned and nodded to someone behind Lock. A moment later Lock saw Jack deposited on the floor in front of him, his face bruised and bleeding. “Where did you find him?”
”He was sleeping in a dumpster, and smelled worse than anything else in there,” said the thug who had dropped Jack. “I need a shower.”
Jack looked up at Lock and grinned through broken lips. “Hey, man, got anything to drink? I’ve got a killer hangover.”
The compound owner snorted and then clapped his hands. “Since you can’t repay my son’s landspeeder, or make restitution for the most heinous insult of seducing my daughters, I’ve decided to have your freighter transported here and keep the two of you locked up until I can find your female friend. Once I have her, I’ll be sure to execute all of you.” He nodded to the thugs around Lock and Jack. “Take them to the warehouse and put them in the cells. Do not leave them alone.”
Lock just gave a sardonic grin at the man in return. “Well, thank you for that; it really makes me feel better.” He shook his head and cursed. Okay, boss lady, time for you to clean up my mess.
Alvers looked at the warehouse facility carefully, picking out the positions and times of the guards on duty. She was honestly surprised to see that there was a decent setup around the facility—it wasn’t often that private hired security for lowlife gangsters and warlords put much thought into their perimeter security.
Then again, they don’t know I’m out here; they think they’ve caught everyone. That’s about to change.
She slowly moved away from the ledge and stood up when she was out of eyeshot of the facility. It still rather irked her that those two dimwits had managed to get themselves nicked at the worst possible moment. If they somehow survived the downpour she was about to create, she’d have to make sure that she shot them just for the sheer joy of it.
Alvers looked over at the landspeeder she had “acquired” the other day and grinned. “Well, I did say I would return it.”
”Have you ever thought about why we’re here?”
Lock looked over at Jack. He was tied to a chair—just like Lock was—in the next cell, and he looked as though he’d tried to ask a Wookiee out on a date. “We’re here because neither of us can apparently hold our liquor enough to not seduce women we’re not supposed to.”
”No, I mean, here, in the universe, our existence. Why are we here? Is it part of some cosmic miracle that allowed for our species to populate most of the galaxy while others only have a handful of planets? Or was it perhaps the Force that deigned to let us litter our spaceways, knowing that we’re more connected to it than a lot of other species? I really wonder about this.”
Lock just stared at the man for a few moments, unsure of what to say. Finally he shook his head as if he had just been hit with something. “Okay, just how the frack did you get drunk while we’re tied up in cells?”
Jack was about to respond when one of the guards—and that was using the term charitably—pounded his fist on the cell bars. “Knock it off, both of you. I get enough of that pseudo-philosophical drivel from my employers.”
Lock looked up at the man. He was big, could have been a wrestler from the looks of it, and his sneer certainly made him seem menacing to anyone who wasn’t smart enough to recognize that brute strength didn’t always mean dangerous. “If you’re unhappy with your current employment, I might be able to offer an alternative. How do you feel about seeing adventure throughout the galaxy and the low-low price of letting us the frack out of here?”
”Don’t push it.”
Lock was about to say something else when a distant noise caught everyone’s attention. There were some incomprehensible shouts from far away, and then a deep voice broke over the guards’ comlinks.
”Station One, Station One! All available security to the entrance!”
The two guards looked at each other and then back at Lock and Jack. “Do you know anything about this?” asked the one from before.
Lock just widened his eyes in surprise. “Me? I’m sitting in this cell, remember? I haven’t even been allowed to consult with legal representation—which, I might add, is my right as a citizen of the Galactic Empire.”
The guard sneered at him and turned away, mumbling to his companion.
”What do you think’s going on?” asked Jack in a low voice.
”These guys are despotic criminals; what do you think is going on? Some deal probably went south and now there’s a ‘blood war’ or whatever they call them. It’s posturing.”
There was a muffled explosion and the cell bars rattled briefly. The guards looked in the direction of the explosion and Lock could see that they weren’t happy. The comlink sparked to life once again. “ALL security to the main entrance! I repeat, ALL security to the main entrance with heavy weapons! We’ve got a mad woman up here!”
Lock traded glances with Jack as the two guards took out their weapons and looked at the cells. “Stay here,” said the big one before they turned back around and trotted off.
”Right,” said Lock, “because we’re in a position to go anywhere! Fracking meathead.”
His comment was drowned out by the sound of blaster shots and explosions getting closer. A new sound entered the mix shortly—those of pain-filled screams and shouts of terror. More blaster shots rang throughout the building, echoing down the corridors around them, followed by the occasional explosion. The screams and shouts got fewer and fewer until, finally, one lone blood-curdling scream loud enough to shatter glassware sounded throughout the facility before being cut off quickly from a huge bang of an explosion.
Jack cleared his throat and nodded toward the direction of the noises. “I believe the pint we’ve ordered has arrived.”
”Seriously, what the frack is a pint!?” responded Lock.
A moment later a somewhat short and tiny woman with pink hair stepped out from the corridor. She was holding a blaster carbine in one hand and a bladed weapon in another, along with shoulder-sash belts of thermal detonators and a smile on her lips. “This is what you call staying out of trouble?”
Lock just smiled. “Afternoon, ma’am. Think you may be so kind as to let us out of here; I think we double-parked out front.”
”Oh, well, you’ll want to avoid the front,” said Alvers as she walked over to the cells and kicked the doors open one at a time. “I returned the ‘speeder I borrowed. Good thing I didn’t leave a security deposit, though, because I certainly won’t be getting it back.”
He looked at the woman as she began to untie him. “Did you just make a joke? Jack! She just made a joke! Our little Mando is growing up, oh happy day!”
”I already want to shoot you; don’t make me change it to gutting you with a knife instead.”
Lock stood up and rubbed his wrists while Alvers moved over to Jack’s cell. “You’re all sweetness.”
”I concur,” added Frosty as he stood. “But, can we get out of here? I need a drink.”
“I see they finished the repairs,” muttered McCauley as the three Rebels made their way through the compound to a berth outside. The Liberty was sitting there, looking almost brand new—as brand new as it could manage—and seemed to be very much an oasis for them. “I hope they filled her up, too.”
Alvers looked around at the somewhat empty area and frowned. “I don’t like this; it’s too quiet out here.”
“That’s because everyone was inside getting their rears handed to them. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”
She turned around to glare at the transport pilot before trading glances with Lock. “Where’s your astromech?”
Her executive officer shrugged. “How should I know? I’ve been a bit tied up lately.”
“I ought to shoot you for that pun alone.” She pulled out her comlink and switched it on. “Twitch, can you read me?” A series of whistles and beeps answered her. “If you can, please try and get in touch with the other astromech, R2-F8, and have it open the Liberty for us.”
The three pilots turned back to look at the transport ship and waited. A few moments passed before a black and silver astromech droid rolled out from behind a storage container near the ship and jacked into the droid interface on the outside of the Liberty. Soon the ramp descended and the little droid started “dancing” as if proud of what it had done.
Alvers looked back at the others and shrugged slightly. “I still don’t like it, but we’ve got to get out of here. Come on.” She moved out from behind their cover and started walking, cautiously, toward the transport.
Things seemed to be going well as they made it halfway to the ship when, suddenly, blaster fire came at them from behind. Alvers spun around and returned fire, spotting at least five different points of blaster fire—too many to stand and shoot it out. “Get to the Liberty!”
Blaster fire continued to pour towards them, peppering the ground as they made their way towards the transport. Lock’s astromech yelped as bolts got close to it and wheeled itself away from the ship, back into the relative safe confines of the cargo containers.
Moments later, as if sensing the departure of the droid, blaster bolts impacted fuel cells stacked near the ship. Almost instantly the cells ruptured and exploded, its edges catching the Liberty. The transport’s hull cracked open and a secondary explosion occurred when its own fuel cells ruptured.
The Liberty exploded, causing chunks to fly through the air at incredible speeds. A reverse meteor shower filled the sky.
McCauley looked aghast at the explosion. “My ship!” he yelled in fury, and then his expression changed to terror. “My boooooooooze!” he cried out in horrified anguish. “No, they took my booze!”
Alvers growled at the man but ignored him otherwise as she ducked behind some cargo crates for cover, the others following suit. She pinpointed a couple of the blaster origin points and let loose a torrent of her own. One of the points stopped, but she wasn’t quite so lucky with the other. “I need something more powerful!” she shouted to no one in particular.
“Will this do?” answered Lock. She turned around briefly to see him rushing back from a storage container, holding an RPG launcher.
“Give me that,” growled McCauley as he grabbed the launcher and mounted it. He turned towards one of the blaster origin points and fired several shots with the launcher. “You took my booze away! I’ll kill you!”
Alvers looked at McCauley for a moment before exchanging a look with Lock. The pilot just shrugged and started firing with his blaster. Alvers turned back as well to continue firing, but made a solemn oath to herself to make sure to travel with these two ever again. It’s just too much to handle.
It didn’t take the trio long—especially with the launcher’s power—to mop up the few enemies shooting at them. Once the firing stopped, Alvers waited for a few moments before venturing out from their cover. She looked around at the destruction from the firefight and the Liberty’s explosion and frowned. “We’ve got to find a way out of here; better yet, off of this planet.”
“We could always ‘acquire’ transportation at the spaceport,” suggested Lock. “There’s bound to be someone who has a transport hanging around.”
Alvers shook her head. “The spaceport’s too far away to consider making it there on foot without being intercepted again. We need to find something here.” She looked around again. “This compound is huge, there’s bound to be something we can fly. Spread out, try and find a ship or some sort of fighter craft.”
The three Rebels separated and went in different directions, Lock’s astromech droid wheeling behind him. The image of the R2 unit reminded Alvers of her own and she pulled out her comlink once again. “Twitch, get your tin can rear over here, we’re going to be taking off. Lock in on my signal and hurry it up.” She put the comlink away without waiting for a response and continued to look through the compound.
She took a closer look at just how detailed and high security the compound looked. It was bigger than some Imperial facilities she had seen, though obviously not as security. As though it would stop me even if it were. The owner must have been rich beyond the conventional meaning of “wealthy.”
“I’ve found something!” shouted Lock in the distance.
Alvers turned and jogged in the direction of Lock’s voice. It didn’t take her long to get there, but when she did, she wasn’t entirely happy about the outcome. In front of here were three Y-wings, parked closely to each other, and looking as though they had served as far back as the Clone Wars. The rust spots made even Alliance Y-wings look good by comparison.
“This is not what I had in mind,” she said aloud.
“We can’t exactly be choosy,” replied Lock as he climbed up the side of one of the bombers. “We’ve got to get out of here, and these look to be in…usable condition.”
“My booze won’t fit in that,” muttered McCauley.
Lock got the canopy open and jumped down in the seat just as Twitch wheeled up next to Alvers. “Okay,” said the executive officer, “it appears that all systems are available and in decent condition.”
“Start it up, Lieutenant,” said Alvers.
Lock nodded and returned his gaze to the cockpit. A few moments passed and the engine pods at the rear of the craft still hadn’t ignited. Lock looked up from the controls and met Alvers’s quizzical expression. “Slight complication, Captain.”
“Why am I not surprised?” muttered the Mandalorian. “What now?”
“There’s no fuel in the fighter.” He looked around at the other Y-wings and shook his head. “Chances are they’re empty as well. But, there is a fuel dispenser behind these ships; I saw it as I was climbing up.”
Alvers heard a rattle behind her and turned to see three men running towards her. For once the enemy didn’t have blasters, but they were carrying blades. “This is just what I need,” she said softly. Keeping an eye on the approaching hostile combatants, she yelled back at Lock, “Get those ships fueled! I’ll take care of these guys.”
“Take care of us, will you?” taunted one of the ruffians with a thick accent. “A small thing like you? Don’t make me laugh.”
“That’s fine by me,” she responded as the trio stepped within range. “I’ll just make you sing.” Without hesitation she kicked the loudmouth in the groin, causing him to whimper loudly as he fell to his side, his blade clattering to the ground. “Next player, please.”
The other two grunts looked at their companion a moment and then lunged for Alvers. She responded by round-house kicking one of them in the face and elbowing the other in their gut. Both men went down easily, a couple of dull thuds as they impacted the ground followed by their blades clattering loudly in their wake.
“Remind me not to make you mad,” commented Lock. Alvers turned to see that he was connecting the hoses to the Y-wings.
“Only time I’d hit you is if you continued to hang out with Mr. Sober over here,” she said, pointing to McCauley.
“Flash, behind you!”
Alvers turned to see two more men coming towards her and growled in anger. She wasn’t sure which upset her more, having to waste her talents in dealing with these clowns, or hearing Lock use that name to address her. When this was all over with, she needed to make sure he understood that he hadn’t earned the right to use that name.
The two men approaching her were taller and leaner than her last opponents, built more for speed than brute force; her thoughts were confirmed when they didn’t appear to have weapons of any sort. She smiled as they got closer, showing them a grin that could have made a Wookiee cringe. As they approached her attack range, one of them leaned over and rolled toward her; it was a clever tactic, but also a risky one, as it left the opponent open to a non-defendable attack.
Such as the one Alvers initiated.
The Mandalaorian kicked the rolling combatant in the head and watched him tumble out of the way. The other man, however, was a bit cleverer in his approach to her; he stopped shortly before her maximum range and stood there, smiling.
“You don’t belong here,” he said gruffly. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to punish you for trespassing on private property.”
“Oh, please,” she said to him mockingly. She stepped forward and flew a punch, but the man deftly avoided it. She side-stepped and came about with a leg sweep, which the man also avoided. He was good, there was no doubting that.
“We’re almost done!” shouted Lock from the fuel dispenser.
“No need to tell me until you’re completely done,” responded Alvers as she leaned over to try and slap her fist into the man’s solar plexus—a feat that ended in her opponent blocking the move expertly. “You’ve got training,” she complimented the man.
“Conditioning one’s body helps to condition one’s mind,” he answered, a wry grin on his face. “You’re used to not having to exert your hand-to-hand skills, and that’s made you soft. Just the sort of thing I would expect from Mando scum.”
Alvers’s eyes narrowed just a bit at the insult and the man laughed. “Oh, yes, I can tell you’re a Mando just by how you fight. Brute force, the way of the warrior, an excuse to show off to one’s buir. But guess what, little woman: your father’s not here to protect you, you’re in the real galaxy now.”
Alvers felt her anger rising at a radical pace. Her opponent might have training and talent in his own right, but there was one thing he didn’t have—her tenacity and determination of a Mando’ade.
She rushed him, which she knew he would be expecting, but stopped short at the last minute and spun around to hit him in the back. He grunted slightly, but didn’t fall, and retaliated by trying to backhand her. She ducked and then did a low kick to his kneecap, shattering it. This time the man yelled, but still didn’t fall; it was time for her to bring it home.
She pulled out her blade and then backed up from the man. “Pick it up,” she said, gesturing slightly to one of the blades on the ground.
“Why, so you can fulfill some self-deluded belief that you won’t be fighting an unarmed man?”
“No, so I don’t have to pick it up off the ground.” She rolled forward and took one of the blades off the ground and popped back up just in time to avoid the man’s swing. Grinning, she side-stepped and then pivoted around him in time to drive both blades into his back, causing the man to scream loudly. “But, if you’re not going to be kind enough to oblige, then I’ll just pick it up myself.”
She spun around, the blades ready to continue, but she let her guard down just a bit as she saw the man slump down to the ground, his eyes lifeless as a holorecording.
“We’re fueled and ready,” shouted Lock. “Your astromech is already getting one of the Y-wings set up for you.”
Alvers looked back to see if there were any more hostiles around, but couldn’t spot any. “We need another droid.” She turned and started rushing back towards the Y-wings.
“What for?” asked McCauley.
“Well, unless you can be completely sure that the ships aren’t in need of having more than just the pilot in control, you’re going to need an astromech droid for assistance.” She stopped just short of the Y-wing and patted it with her hand. “Lock and I already have droids, but you’re another matter.”
“We’re in luck, then,” said Lock as he walked out from behind some storage containers. “There’s a handful of powered down astromechs back here; one of them’s bound to be in working condition.”
Alvers nodded and then looked over at McCauley. “Go pick yourself a droid, Ensign; we need to get moving.”
The man walked off, muttering about the loss of his booze, and Alvers once again just shook her head. “I am going to shoot them both, I just know I will.”
“One, this is Three, I’m picking up eleven contacts on approach from the other side of the planet.”
Alvers listened to the report from McCauley as she instinctively looked at the sensor readout. Eleven blips of undetermined nature were growing brighter, but she couldn’t make out exactly what they were. “Twitch, can you give me a better sensor profile on those contacts?” The astromech’s translation showed that the new contacts didn’t fit any particular profile on record. “Well, is there anything familiar about them?”
The astromech bleated a response and the schematic of a TIE fighter appears, followed shortly by a Y-wing, then a Z-95, and yet more starfighters followed. “Great,” she muttered to herself, “uglies.”
“One, this is Two, do you have a plan?”
Alvers looked up from the computer screen and out towards where the uglies were coming from. She wasn’t surprised by their presence—this far away from “civilization” people would do almost anything to have some sort of security and interception craft; cobbling together various fighters was a lot easier than trying to get them completely whole.
“A plan?” she repeated over the headset. “Indeed I do, Two; light them up.”
“Music to my ears.”
Alvers made sure the Y-wing’s ion and laser cannons were armed, but frowned when she checked the torpedo tubes and found they were empty. It wasn’t much of a shock—who would leave explosive ordinance loaded on a starfighter that may or may not be put into service? Even so, it was annoying not to have that capability.
“Anyone else without warheads?” asked McCauley a moment later.
“Confirmed on that,” said Lock. “One?”
“Same here. We’re stuck with lasers and ions, gentlemen. Now, since we’re not trying to win any awards or achieve space superiority, we’re not going to go after targets unless we have to. Take out the ships that are capable of catching up to us—destroy or disable, take your pick—but leave the slower craft alone. Head for the jump coordinates and get away; understood?”
“Copy that,” said Lock, quickly followed by McCauley saying, “Roger.”
She looked back at the sensors for a moment and then back up at the silhouettes expanding before her. Her fingers itched to pull the trigger, and a moment later she was rewarded by the HUD reticle turning green. Smiling, Alvers pulled the trigger and watched as red and blue bolts of death shot out through the blackness of space…
…and impacted in the cockpit of one of the uglies, shredding its pilot to bits.
The rest of the enemy craft broke formation and scattered as McCauley and Lock opened up their own torrents of red and blue. Two more starfighters blew apart as the Y-wings flew through the debris.
“I’ve got two on me, coming in fast,” yelled McCauley over the tactical channel.
“Hang tight, Three, I’m on it,” answered Lock, his Y-wing pulling away from behind Alvers.
Alvers looked at her sensors and cursed. “Three, Two, hurry it up; we can’t afford to get bogged down in a protracted dogfight. Even with our ‘superior tactical minds’ the odds are still very much against us.”
“Understood, One,” said Lock, his voice coming over the channel calmly. “We’re just tidying up around here anyway.” There was a momentary pause and one of the blips on Alvers’s sensors winked out. “Got one. Three, can you pull away now?”
“It’s got me in tight, Two; I don’t think there’s any way I can get free.”
Lock muttered something incomprehensible over the channel. “Understood,” he said momentarily, I’ll see what I can do.”
Alvers grumbled and pulled back on her flight-stick, bringing the bomber around. She didn’t like this, not at all; allowing both McCauley and Lock to get pulled into engagements meant their survivability factor went way down. But, she couldn’t let them die either. The paperwork would be never-ending.
She spotted one of the uglies heading toward Lock and grinned. As tempting as it might have been to let Lock get a dose of reality from some two-bit goon on a backwater planet she had a duty to protect her squadmate, Alvers pulled the trigger and peppered the fighter with laser bolts. Moments later the ship’s port solar panel broke off and the ugly started spinning into the black void, exploding soon after.
“Gentlemen,” she said as another blip winked off her sensor board, “it is time to go; no more delays. Head for the jump zone and enter hyperspace.”
“Acknowledged, One,” said McCauley, followed by Lock’s response of, “Understood.”
Alvers turned about and checked her sensors once again. The remaining uglies were trying to regroup, but none of them appeared to have the necessary speed to catch up to her group. Moments later the Y-wings were past the gravity well and free to leave the star system. “Punch it!”
Simultaneously all three fighters made the jump to lightspeed, leaving the uglies, the planet, and the remains of McCauley’s alcohol stores behind them.
“There she is.”
Alvers heard McCauley’s comment and looked out of her cockpit to see the distant form of the Maria. The starship was a slightly modified Dauntless-class cruiser and was therefore one of the ugliest Alliance vessels she had seen during her time with the Rebels, but it was also a force to be reckoned with in battle.
And command ship to one Bothan general.
She checked her readings to make sure the vessel was, indeed, the one they were ordered to arrive at; the last thing she wanted to do was wind up in some sort of elaborate trap. When she was satisfied, Alvers turned slightly in her seat to look at the astromech nestled behind the Y-wing’s cockpit. “Twitch, broadcast our identification on the coded frequency provided and pipe the comm traffic down to me.”
The droid’s translated response was vulgar, but at least compliant. Alvers still didn’t know why she had the good fortune to get assigned one of the most temperamental astromechs in existence, but at least the unit was competent even if it wasn’t nice about it.
A moment later a soft, melodic female voice snapped to life. “This is Maria Control to approaching Y-wings; we have you on our sensors and have received your coded ID. Please give verbal verification response to Eta Alpha One.”
Alvers didn’t even have to look up the prearranged countersignal; she had memorized them all. “I verify with Beta Epsilon Nine.”
”Confirmed, Y-wings. You are permitted to land in Bay One.”
”Understood, Control. Y-wings, out.” She closed the comm channel and then adjusted the frequency back to the shared channel with McCauley and Lock. “Here we go, gentlemen.”
Lock responded quickly. “I’m still not sure I like what this meeting is going to be about.”
”You’re not the only one.”
The three Y-wings lined up their approach for Hangar Bay One and landed smoothly, one by one, on the flight deck. Once they popped their canopies and got out, Alvers noticed that there was an armed contingent of Alliance Security personnel nearby. It wasn’t entirely out of the picture—just because she provided the correct frequency and verifications doesn’t mean that she still wouldn’t be considered suspect—but it made her put herself on guard even more, and she was already well strung out by recent events.
All this cloak and dagger is giving me a headache.
She walked over—slowly—to the armed personnel and stood before them calmly. “Captain Alvers and Lieutenant Callahan to see General Nole, as ordered.”
One of the security persons—a lieutenant by the looks of the rank on her collar—stepped forward from the rest of the team. “We’ve been expecting you, Captain. The general is waiting for you.” She glanced around her to look at Alvers’s traveling companions. “We were only expecting two, Captain.”
Alvers looked back to McCauley before turning towards the lieutenant again. “He is—was—our transport pilot.” She noticed the confused look on her face. “It’s a long story. Regardless, he won’t be joining the lieutenant and I; I assume you have a lounge aboard?”
”Excellent. Just point him in the direction and he’ll be as happy as a Jawa in the desert.” She turned and motioned for Lock to join her. “Now, Lieutenant, if you’d please show us to the general?”
The security officer hesitated for a moment, but then exchanged some words with the other security personnel before turning back to Alvers. “This way, Captain,” she said and started walking away.
Alvers fell into step behind the woman, Lock catching up not long after. They followed the lieutenant through several corridors and passageways, even a few lift car rides, until they stopped before a familiar man in a marine uniform standing next to a pair of closed doors. “Captain, Lieutenant,” he said in a pleasant tone. “Forgive my bluntness, but what are you doing here?”
Alvers blinked a moment and looked at the stiff form of Mitch Ri’chard, executive officer and acting combat leader of the Red Rancors squad. “I could ask the same of you, Lieutenant. General Nole requested our attendance.”
”Funny, mine, too.” He looked over his shoulder at the closed doors. “I arrived yesterday and was asked to wait until ‘the rest of my party’ arrived. Now that you’re here I’m assuming that we’ll see Nole soon.”
As if in answer to the marine’s statement, the doors slowly slid open. Alvers, Lock, and Ri’chard looked through the entrance to see nothing but blackness. Unsure of what to do, no one made any movement, but then a familiar voice rang out from the darkened room.
”Thank you, Lieutenant Marloe, you may go now.” The security officer nodded and walked away, leaving the trio still standing in the corridor. “Captain, Lieutenants, if you would please come in. We have a lot to talk about.”
Alvers walked forward without a second thought and soon heard the footfalls of the others behind her. The doors quickly shut behind them, darkness casting down upon the trio. A few moments later the center of the room became illuminated by low-level lighting, a Bothan standing patiently in front of a holoprojector. Alvers nodded politely to the Bothan, but didn’t bother to present any more military decorum.
”Welcome aboard the Maria,” said Nole in a pleasant tone.
”Not to sound impolite, General, but I’d really like to know what is going on.” She gestured with her head to Lock and Ri’chard. “You told us that the Rancors were disbanding and that we’re now under the supervision of Special Operations Command, yet we still don’t know the reasons why.”
Nole’s pleasantness disappeared, replaced by an icy cold tone. “Recent operations have taken their toll on your pilots and marines; over two-thirds of the Rancors have been killed or critically injured leaving only Lieutenant Ri’chard and Corporal Mandal, and over a third of the Reds have been shot down in engagements. To put it bluntly, there’s no way either unit can survive by itself with such depleted numbers.” He turned and looked at one of the blacked out corners. “A decision was made to merge the two into a…unique unit.”
Alvers followed his gaze for a moment, but didn’t see anything in the corner. “I don’t like the idea of being a spook, General,” she said casually as she returned her gaze to him. “I’m Mando’ade, a warrior; not a spy.”
”We all play the roles we are meant to play,” said a cold woman's voice from the corner. Everyone turned to stare into the darkness, but only Nole was unsurprised by the addition. “Captain Alvers, I am not advocating turning you into an intelligence agent; just a military asset to covert mission and special operations.”
She turned back to Nole and pointed a finger at the man. “You brought me into this group, General. You put me here, gave me operational command, and then put me in charge of a bunch of fighter jocks mixed together from three separate units. Now you’re asking me to become some sort of commando?”
Nole waved down Alvers’s protests. “Easy, Beck, you’ll still be a pilot; it’s just that you’ll also be doing some face-to-face work, too. With the overwhelming losses we’re dealing with throughout the galaxy—especially in regards to the Imperial blockade of the Gordian Reach—we need to replace our lost assets. Like it or not, you are an asset.”
Alvers looked back at her companions, willing them to speak up in turn. Ri’chard appeared to get the signal and stood forward.
”So, the Rancors are being disbanded permanently? Can’t we just get some more support from SOS-6 to supplement our numbers?”
”All of Team 6 is being disbanded,” said the voice in the corner. “We’ve had a lot of operations going on lately and have suffered major losses.”
Ri’chard stared at the corner for a moment before speaking again. “If I may ask, who are you?”
”No one you need to know, Lieutenant. If you have some overwhelming urge to put substance to me, then you may refer to me as ‘Agent.’ Beyond that there’s nothing to tell.”
Alvers growled slightly. “I hate all this cloak and dagger haar’chak!” She faced Nole again. “I don’t have a say in this, do I?”
The Bothan shook his head, but smiled slightly. “Knowing you like I do, however, I am sure you can make the group a crack unit. You made one cobbled-together unit work; I don’t see how doing so again would pose a problem.”
”I’d like to point out that as a starfighter squadron—change in mission profile or not—we’ll still be expected to actually fly. Do these marines even know what a fuselage looks like?”
Ri’chard stiffened a bit and stepped forward again. “Excuse me, Captain, but my people are trained in basic flight operations of several craft, and I personally have flown starfighters while as a guerrilla. Now, I may not be some super-soldier like you crazy Mandos, but I fight just like you do.”
Nole waved down the heated discussion. “Easy, both of you. All personnel—be they Red Rancors or Red Squadron—have the necessary skills to be both a pilot and a commando. That’s why the general and I made the determination to merge the two…along with some other changes.”
Alvers just stood there, looking at the man. If she opened her mouth she’d yell again—or worse—and right now that wasn’t something she wanted to do. When it became clear to Nole that she wasn’t going to say anything, he continued.
”Because of recent operational successes, the three of you are getting promotions; one grade each. So, Major Alvers, I hope you’ll be able to work with Captain Callahan in whipping up the new Red Squadron.”
Ri’chard spoke up again. “Begging my pardon, but what exactly is my role in this new unit going to be?”
”Lieutenant, you’re going to be the training officer for the entire squadron. You’re going to keep them up to date on all Special Operations Command training, as well as making sure the pilots are as good as the marines in the necessary areas.”
The marine frowned a moment. “Sir, I thought you said I was being promoted? I’m already a lieutenant.”
”Yes, but that’s your marine rank. Along with the merging, the marines are being cross-transferred to Starfighter Command. You’ll be using their rank structure from now on.” He turned to Alvers again. “You might as well get used to this, Major; it’s not going to change.”
The Mandalorian turned around and looked at Lock. “You’ve been quiet throughout this entire exchange, Captain. Don’t you have an opinion on the matter?”
Lock looked back at her and then the Bothan and just shrugged slightly. “I still get to fight, I still get to fly, and it looks as though I’ll get to blow things up in a different way. What’s not to like?” He gave a smile at Alvers. “Besides, I still get to work with Miss Positive over here, so that’s always a thrill.”
Alvers scowled but let the remark fade away. It was just how he was. “We’re still not up to full specs,” she said to Nole as she turned back around, “even taking into consideration Ri’chard and Mandal. We’re short two pilots.”
”I know where you can get one pilot,” said the shadowy figure. “I believe he arrived with you.”
Alvers blinked in mild shock. “McCauley? The guy who is so careless that he forgot to take care of his own fuel tanks?”
”Well,” Lock commented, “he does need something to do now that his ship is gone.”
She just threw her hands up in the air and shook her head. “Okay, that’s it, I give up. You want him in the unit? Fine, but I most certainly do not like it. I’ve already had my fair share of these two operating together, but what the hell, why not make my life even more miserable.” She began cursing in Mando’a, no longer caring about the generals present.
Nole’s pleasant tone finally returned and Alvers found it disquieting, if not disarming. “It works out in the end, Beck, because we’ve got something the four of you need to take back to the Morning Star. Now, despite your misgivings, I’m sure Lieutenant McCauley’s a fine pilot—at least that’s what reports have indicated.”
”Oh, so he’s being promoted, too? Don’t you have any standards?”
”Come now, Major, even you have to agree that he’s done some fine piloting, despite his occasional lapses in concentration.”
Alvers decided it was best to drop the subject and move forward before she shot someone. “What is it you wanted us to bring back—aside from a very sizable headache on my part when I explain all this to my pilots?”
”Four X-wings to replace unit losses. They’re being prepped now and will be ready once you leave this room.” Nole glanced at the chronometer on the wall. “Which will be any minute now, seeing as we’ve covered all bases—unless you can think of something else that we need to discuss?”
”Just one; why are we getting our orders from you? If this is going to be a Special Operations unit, why are we being briefed by a Starfighter Command general?”
”You’re going to be under Special Operations Command, but you’re still a starfighter unit under my direct authority. You’re not going to be getting rid of me that easily, Major.”
”Oh, joy,” she said softly.
”Well, then, if that’s all, the three of you are dismissed. And please pick up your wayward pilot from the lounge; I’m sure he’s already gone through half the liquor on this ship.”
Ri’chard gave a smart salute in the Bothan’s direction, Lock gave a half-hearted one, and Alvers didn’t even bother. She was rather annoyed at the whole ordeal and didn’t feel like being “proper” to Nole. He was normally a good person, by her standards, but she absolutely detested the cloak and dagger that was not taking shape around her—and he was at the center of it.
She led the way out of the room and heard the doors slid shut behind them. She turned back to look at the doors and frowned. “I’m beginning to regret signing up to the Alliance full-time, gentlemen, and I don’t normally second-guess my decisions. Now, let’s get out of here before I decide to plant explosives and rid myself of a troublesome contract.” She saw Ri’chard’s expression and shook her head. “It’s a saying, ner vod, calm down; let’s just get out of here.”
They walked in silence toward the lifts, another security officer waiting for them. She frowned at the man and gave him her instructions. He said nothing, but led them to the lounge where—sure enough—McCauley was sitting in a chair sipping down some concoction. Alvers just shook her head again. Why did I agree to join this group?
Alvers looked at the assembled personnel before her, sitting and talking amongst themselves. She was able to catch most of what they were saying due to her helmet comm systems—“What’s going on?” “Why are the marines here?” “Is it just me or does the captain look different to you?” “Hey, why is Rev wearing a pilot uniform?”—but didn’t bother to forestall their curiosity. They had all just undergone a very taxing operation, so she felt they were allowed a certain degree of relaxation.
She turned to the podium next to her and walked over, placing her hands on the edges for a moment. Some of the side conversation tapered off, but there was still a fair amount taking place, and Alvers needed their full attention. She took off her helmet and placed it on the podium in front of her.
That got everyone’s attention. It was rare that she was out of her armor, even while off-duty, and the only times she did were reserved for privacy in her quarters—or her recent “incognito” errand.
She suppressed the desire to grin at the stunned-looking faces before her. Instead she simply cleared her throat and began to speak. “I know you’ve all been through a lot in the past few weeks, and we’ve lost a lot of comrades and friends during our operations. But we’ve also been able to give a serious blow to the Empire on several occasions, enough to make them wake up and think about just how much it is going to cost them to keep blockading this sector. And you’ve all distinguished yourselves—some more than others.”
She paused and changed the focus of her gaze to fall upon the duo of pilots that kept causing her the most headaches since Red was created. “In fact, before I move onto the main reason why we’re here, I’d like to present some news. Officers Gemilan and Vel Aath, please stand.”
The wingmates looked at each other as though they were kids being caught doing something wrong: a justified reaction, given just how much mischief they had caused during their tenure under her command. This time Alvers couldn’t keep the grin from appearing.
”Officers Gemilan and Vel Aath, because of your outstanding abilities over the past few weeks, you are hereby promoted to the rank of Lieutenant with full approval by Alliance Command, to be made effective immediately.” Her grin blossomed into a full-blown smile. “Congratulations to both of you.”
There were a series of shouts and hollers from the marines and other pilots in the room; for their part, the two women looked as though they were going to blush from the attention. It seemed to be too much even for Gemilan’s outgoing personality.
Alvers waited for the fervor to die down a bit before speaking again. “There have been some more promotions, but I’ll get to those in a few minutes. First, I want to tell you that the missions we’ve been flying—and, for you marines, undertaking—have been pieces of cake until now. Our mission profile has been changed—all of us,” she added at the end, seeing the quizzical expression of one of the marines.
Murmurs and whispers broke out again, but didn’t last long once she cleared her throat again. “I’m going to explain everything, but first I wanted to pass along something from the higher-ups: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Special Operations Command.’”