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Payback By Payload Part II
A Buccaneer Collaboration

Note- This is part 2 of a 2 part story. Make sure you read part 1 posted last week!

Skoth Orbit
POV: Bulldog

“Ok, they’re sending 18 fighters at us,” Animal said calmly. “Not a problem.”

“These are two-to-one odds, Lead,” Crane replied nervously.

“Easy, Four. I’m more worried about that cap ship than anything else. Adds a layer of unpredictability to our exfil,” Animal responded. “Let’s do a battle spread by numbers and see if we can’t get these guys to spread out and make things easier for us. Zero, lag behind the center. Execute.”

Bulldog double clicked his mic as he ruddered himself on a vector that would put him at the far right flank of the formation. The rest of the Buccaneers all pulled into proper formation crisply, forming a ragged line abreast that started with Animal on the extreme left flank and himself on the extreme right. The benefits to this formation were that both leaders were in a better position to view the situations on the periphery, but it also relied on the second flight leader to sometimes bear the brunt of a head-on attack in the center.

It looked like the enemy fighters weren’t going to make things easier on them and spread out. Whomever was in charge of them had a solid tactical head on their shoulders and opted to keep the defensive box formation they were currently on approach with. If things continued in this manner, the middle of the Buccaneer line would be overloaded and overwhelmed within the first seconds of the impending skirmish.

“Spast!” Ant cursed over the air, seeing the same thing Bulldog had just mentally logged. “Hard way, then?”

“Hard way,” Animal agreed. “Four, Eleven- line up on Six in the center. Three and Twelve- next to them on the flanks. Push right through them with guns ablaze. Rest, pull back into 2nd rank 500 meters behind the first. Zero, squadron mask on my mark. Execute!”

Bulldog pulled his stick to the left and then pulled up, gently rolling and climbing at the same time to pull into his newly assigned position. The fighters approaching them were not slowing down or showing any change in their desired strategy for the coming engagement, which made him smile. With the concentration of firepower the Buccaneers were about to throw into their box formation, they would likely be nearly obliterated. He centered his crosshairs on the center-most TIE and swapped his weapons over to his Goliath Missiles, and waited patiently until the range closed enough for him to accurately dumbfire the weapon into the crowd of TIEs.

“Lead, Zero- I have an idea!” Foo shouted.

“Go, Zero.”

“What if I pop the mask, then the front rank pulls up slightly while they’re hidden, but 2nd rank stays on the same line? They’d only see my ship for the few seconds the mask is active and assume we’re still moving h2h,” Foo replied hurriedly.

“Do it,” Animal replied instantly. “Front rank, on Zero’s mark, pull up a few degrees to change the angle of engagement. You’re the quarterback, Zero. Call it.”

“R-roger,” Foo replied a little shakily for Bulldog’s taste. He was a capable pilot as far as Bulldog had experienced, and he made that U-Wing sing in space and atmosphere, but he wasn’t sure how much of this was nerves due to combat stress or nerves due to being asked to order new people around. “On my mark,” Foo said more confidently, putting Bulldog’s mind at ease a bit.

“Three.”

Bulldog gripped his stick tightly and rolled his shoulders.

“Two.”

He looked to the left and made sure he was even with the rest of the first rank of ships. His eye caught Ant’s as the other pilot was looking at him. They both nodded to each other.

“One.”

He flipped the ‘weapon’s-free’ switch on his dash that gave Weight full use of the ICT at the droid’s discretion.

“Mask deployed...GO!”

Bulldog pulled up on his stick and then leveled back out with the rest of his wingmen. True to Foo’s tactical suggestion, the incoming TIEs continued on, oblivious to their change in orientation. The distance was clicking down quickly as the two groups rushed toward each other. “Center one’s mine,” he said. “Goliath launching shortly.” He attempted to eyeball where he should aim and launch, but a gentle white arrow pointing upward on his HUD. It was placed there by Weight to let him know that his human eyes and intuition were wrong and that he should nose up slightly. A small countdown timer appeared in the center of his line of sight.

“I’m going to spray the top guys with my remaining barrage rockets,” Ant replied.

“Engagement range in three seconds!” Crane said in a panicked voice. His X-Wing wavered slightly, but still stayed in formation.

The timer countdown on Bulldog’s HUD reached zero, and he thumbed the auxiliary button on his flight stick to launch a Goliath Missile without guidance. The moment he launched, the timer disappeared and his HUD cleared. “Goliath away!”

“Engaging!” Wolvinator shouted, as he started hurling quad bursts of lasers out at the oncoming targets. Ant unleashed his remaining barrage rockets, and Crane also started firing. Loth-Cat launched a Goliath as well, and Bulldog mashed down his laser trigger and waited impatiently for his rotary cannon to spool up.

The TIEs were clearly caught off guard by the different angle of ordinance headed their way, having begun firing their rockets and lasers where the first rank had originally been before the squadron mask was deployed.

“Second Rank- Dive down by one degree and plow through them!” Animal ordered, as the B-Wings and Foo’s U-Wing dove down to avoid the Imperial’s blind fire, and then all of the B-Wings opened up with their laser and ion cannons.

The Imperial fighters didn’t stand a chance. Bulldog’s dumbfired Goliath struck the TIE Fighter at the center of the formation, and the massive explosion engulfed and damaged another 5 nearby TIEs, frying their controls and cooking their hulls beyond repair. Ant’s barrage rockets hammered the top three TIE fighters, causing three miniature novas above Bulldog’s massive Goliath explosion. Loth-Cat’s delayed Goliath hit a TIE on the left flank of the box and took out two more in the ensuing conflagration. Crane’s laserfire forced another TIE to evade into Loth-Cat’s Goliath explosion, giving the youth another kill. Wolvinator cleaned up two more TIEs with his burst cannons.

The three remaining functional TIEs were obliterated by the trailing B-Wings before they could even adjust their fire upward. The airwaves were a cacophony of celebratory reports

“Woo!” Wolvinator crowed.

“Splash Six!” Bulldog cheered.

“Three down,” Ant reported.

“Did you see that?” Rev laughed.

“Yeah!” Loth-Cat shouted joyously.

“Never stood a chance,” Gnoizic replied, which closed out the sequence.

“You guys don’t kark around,” Foo said in an awestruck voice.

“Incoming fire from that cap ship, Boss,” Crane reported, drawing their attention to the lances of green laserfire pouring toward them from the Acclamator.

“I see it, Four,” Animal replied. “Looks like they want to fight. Report by numbers, ordinance check. I’ve got two Ion torps.”

“I’m out of bombs,” Gnoizic replied, his voice rising in confusion as he finished his report. “Wait, I’ve got more, somehow?”

“Did you engage your gyro?” Rev asked.

“Affirmative,” Gnoizic replied, still confused.

“The gyro loads in a second mag of your auxiliary weapon, Deuce,” Animal explained.

“First time in a B-Wing, Two?” Rev snorted.

“Yeah, yeah,” Gnoizic replied in defeat. “Two, one mag of bombs left.”

Bulldog smiled at the ease with which the veteran pilots verbally sparred in the middle of a tense combat situation, and listened to the rest of the squad sound off. Loth-Cat had two goliath missiles left. Crane had a proton torpedo, which Bulldog thought was an odd loadout choice for an escort fighter but might come in handy now. Wolvinator had a dry concussion missile magazine, and only had his astromech repair suite left. Rev only had a composite beam left to use. Ant only had his lasers, having exhausted his concussion missiles and rockets earlier.

Bulldog chinned his microphone on after Ant’s report. “Twelve- got two goliaths left.”

“This thing doesn’t stand a chance!” Wolvinator declared confidently.

“Don’t get cocky,” Animal admonished. “These ships are surprisingly sturdy.” He paused while he thought for a moment on how to engage the ship. “Let’s try a modified Bantha Decoy. Four, Six, and Eleven- weave in and buzz the ship. Four- get distance after a close flyby and be prepared to boost-launch your torp into the ship after we bring the shields down. Six and Eleven- stay nearby and keep those gunners busy.”

“Roger, Lead,” Ant replied. “Six, Four, on me. Let’s go play with something bigger.”

“Right behind you, Six,” Wolvinator replied, still conveying levity in his voice as he and Crane formed up with Ant and goosed their throttles forward to get in close to the Acclamator.

“Zero, what’s the status on your mask recharge?”

“Ready when you need it, Lead.”

“Roger,” Animal replied happily. “Three and Twelve, hang back with Zero until we get the shields down. Then launch a goliath at it to hopefully clean off some turrets and launchers.”

Bulldog nodded and double clicked his mic while Loth-Cat replied with an affirmative message. Up ahead, the three Buccaneer X-Wings had moved in close to the capital ship and were dodging heavy laser blasts. Missiles launched to track the ships, but the pilots expertly launched clouds of chaff to break apart the warheads.

“Seven, hang back with them and close in for the kill with that beam.”

“You got it, boss.”

“Two, we’re going to close in. I’m going to boost launch my ion torp and then we’re going to follow it in and you’ll bomb it while I strafe.”

“Got it, Major,” Gnoizic replied.

“Ok, Zero- fire off that squad mask!”

“Active!” Foo shouted.

“Execute the attack!” Animal ordered as his B-Wing boost-launched his remaining Ion Torpedo. The blue warhead surged ahead with the added speed from the launch. Since his ship was masked, the source of the warhead was hidden from the Imperial gunnery crews and sensors until it was too late to counter. It slammed into the upper hemisphere’s shields with a sizzling blue shimmer as the shields overloaded.

Gnoizic had matched Animal’s boost and closed in with the other B-Wing, His attack run was a little herky-jerky as the pilot attempted to orient the awkward ship in the proper direction to drop his bombs on port half of the Acclamator’s top hemisphere. Meanwhile, Animal stitched the weakened upper shields with his lasers and ion cannons. Finally getting set up, Gnoizic dropped his ten proton bombs close in with the Acclamator’s hull. The first 5 took down the rest of the shield energy the capital ship had to offer, and the last five gravity-assisted bombs impacted the hull in a direct line from the middle of the top until the very last one hit the tip of the wedge-shaped ship. Each bomb dug out massive furrows in the armor, sending shrapnel in all directions. “Bombs away!” he shouted as he pulled away. “They really heard that gnoiz-” His gloat was cut short as his ship shuddered from a lucky blast from a turret.

“You good, Deuce?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Gnoizic replied. “Shields are gone though!”

“Pull off and recharge,” Animal ordered, breaking off his strafing run to close with his wingman.

“Torpedo away!” Crane reported, having boost-launched his proton torpedo. The slower warhead slammed into the starboard half of the ship, ripping out a large divot in the armor and exposing multiple decks to the vacuum of space. “It’s a hit!”

Bulldog launched one of his remaining Goliath missiles the moment he saw Animal and Gnoizic pull away. Loth-Cat’s missile launched moments later. “Goliaths inbound, watch the splash!” he warned, making sure Ant and Wolvinator didn’t close back in for another run and catch collateral damage.

The first Goliath hit the ship near the base of the bridge tower, melting nearby hull plates and blackening others at the outer reaches of the fireball. The second landed near Gnoizic’s bombing run, destroying a few turrets and a missile launcher.

The two Y-Wings made one wobbling strafing run, stitching the damaged hull even more with their laserfire. A near miss forced Loth-Cat to break off, and another forced out a wail from Weight. “Yeah buddy, that was close!” Bulldog replied as he went evasive as well.

“Get that thing out of commission, Seven!” Animal shouted.

“Firing up the meme beam,” Rev reported through gritted teeth. “Shields double front.”

Bulldog wheeled around to draw fire so the turrets wouldn’t focus on Rev’s B-Wing before he could maximize his composite beam’s damage. He saw the tributary lasers warm up, and then feed into one massive lance of red light. The beam shot forth, ripping through the weakened hull. A large gash was drawn across the hull along the path Rev had dragged his beam weapon.

“Beam’s done. Recharging!”

“Let’s finish this thing!” Animal cheered.

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

Acclamator Rising Star
POV: Phel Rastagar

He gripped a sensor console to brace himself as the deck vibrated heavily under the assault from the rebel beam weapon. He was sweating profusely, growing increasingly nervous as the battle had turned against them. “Damage report!”

“Our hull is at about 50% integrity!” Hawley replied. “We can’t handle much more of this!”

“Bring us about and plot a course around the planet to disengage,” Rastagar ordered as he strode toward his helm officer.

“Aye aye, Captain.”

“Guns, stop trying to individually hit these fighters and start firing in coordinated patterns like we’ve trained to do!”

“Relaying the order, Captain. Half of our topside turrets are down, and the bottom guns and launchers can’t engage!”

“Helm, rotate us to present our keel batteries to the fighters.”

“Helm copies.”

“Captain!” Hawley shouted from near the engineering station.

“What?”

“That beam attack opened up the hull!”

Rastagar pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “It’s just like our current tech. Of course it opened up the hull.”

“The captain of the flight deck says he can launch an additional twenty fighters now that they have a direct path out of the ship.”

Rastagar cheered internally, but his face did not betray that emotion. He stood up straighter and looked out of the viewport to examine the damage along the topside of his hull. It looked like a battered moonscape; completely unrecognizable as his ship. He looked back toward his executive officer with a sneer. “Do it. Launch them now. Let’s shock these overconfident rebels.”

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

Skoth Orbit
POV: Ant

Ant rolled his X-Wing and pulled into a tight turn to make another attack run on the increasingly defenseless top hemisphere of the Acclamator. The ship started to shift and roll in an attempt to bring about the fresh armor and guns. “Not happening,” he muttered to himself as he adjusted his flight path to keep the damaged half of the ship in his viewport.

Bulldog’s frantic voice cut across the comm, freezing him. “Break off and head home!”

“What?” Animal replied. “What do you see, Twelve?”

“We just opened up another hole into their fighter storage. Those fighters might launch at any minute!”

“Stang!” Foo cursed. “He’s right, I see it on my screen.”

“How many fighters?” Crane squeaked, ending his question with an audible gulp.

Suddenly, the first few TIEs shot out of the new gap in the hull.

“Retreat! Head back through the asteroids!”

“What about the mines, Lead?” Crane worried.

“Gonna have to chance it, Four!” Animal replied. “Open up those throttles before those TIEs can engage.”

“Wait! What if I launched my last Goliath? Wouldn’t it set off or disable the mines?”

“Great idea, Three! Do it!” Animal ordered.

Loth-Cat’s Y-Wing boosted toward the asteroid field and launched their last Goliath Missile. The warhead leapt forth ahead of the Buccaneers as they formed up, slamming into the nearest asteroid. The massive explosion radius cooked off three nearby ion mines, adding their sizzling explosions to the fiery conflagration. Once it died down, the first gap appeared in the defenses.

“My turn,” Bulldog grunted as his Y-Wing punched even farther ahead of the group and sent his last Goliath into the asteroid field. Once it hit an asteroid deeper in the field, the resulting explosion took another two mines off the board. The gap in the mine perimeter was now filled with nothing threatening except some half-melted micro-meteors tumbling about due to the missile explosions. “Full throttle, boys!”

“Roger, Twelve,” Ant replied, pushing his X-Wing’s throttle all the way down. The asteroid field rushed toward his ship, and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck standing up as a wave of vertigo washed over him. His left hand wanted to pull back on the throttle to make navigating the asteroid belt they’d traversed so carefully before easier, but the flood of TIEs exiting the new holes in the hull of the capital ship they’d been busting up made the trip back much more urgent.

“Go in full throttle, boys! Can’t let those fighters catch up or we’re toast. Just keep your eyes open and a light hand on the throttle,” Animal soothed, proving why he was the leader they needed to have. His confidence oozed experience, and it bled off into the rest of them through his voice over the comm waves.

Ant breathed easier, having been relaxed by his squad leader’s last instruction. His grip loosened on the throttle and stick as he allowed his instincts to take over as he trailed Bulldog’s Y-Wing as it corkscrewed around a massive asteroid.

“Oh stang!” Bulldog cursed as his Y-Wing spun abruptly away from the direction he’d been heading. An eruption of blue energy washed up against the Y-Wing’s shields, overloading it and causing arcs of lightning energy to play over the left engine nacelle. “I’ve got a problem over here!”

“No you don’t!” Foo replied.

Ant wondered what Foo meant and prepared to vocalize that question, but something caught his attention in his peripheral vision. As he flinched and prepared to avoid an incoming asteroid, his brain registered what he’d just seen streaking past as it connected with Bulldog’s sputtering Y-Wing engine.

“Repair droid attached,” Foo reported triumphantly.

“Quick thinking, Zero!” Gnoizic cheered, and then quickly cursed as he accidentally rotated his ship against his will again.

“Watch yourself, Four! Mine dead ahead!” Wolvinator called out.

“Asteroid coming up fast from your two o’clock low, Six!” Animal warned.

“Ok,” Bulldog grunted breathlessly. “Thanks for the save, Zero. Looks like that bot did the trick. Got a little twitch in Weight’s circuits, but the ship looks ok again!”

“Glad to hear it, Twelve,” Foo replied as his voice tightened up due to his snap roll to avoid a sudden asteroid threat.

“I think we’re clear of the minefield,” Bulldog called out with a strained voice. Suddenly, his comm crackled loudly in everybody’s ears. “Karking twice?!”

Ant snapped his eyes forward to catch the tail end of another ion mine explosion enveloping Bulldog’s already shieldless Y-Wing. His left engine flamed completely out, sending the Y-Wing into a dangerous flat spin in the middle of the small clearing of the asteroid belt. In moments his previous forward momentum would carry him back into another crowded area. “Kill your thrust, Twelve!”

“C-t, skkkkkkrrrrrt KAR-Sc-skrrrrriccccchhh fried.” Static.

“Hit him with another bot, Zero!” Ant urged, watching the situation helplessly.

“Inbound,” Foo responded under duress as he launched the repair bot and then pinwheeled his U-Wing around another asteroid.

“Save him!” Loth-Cat shouted nervously. “Hurry!”

The repair bot landed center-mass on the Y-Wing’s chassis, landing right near the power plant that was still sputtering. After a moment, power surged from the tiny bot and flowed into the power plant to recharge it, and deployed some emergency wiring to bridge over some of the fried circuitry. The battlefield dressing did the job, sloppy and slapdash as it was, and Bulldog regained control of his Y-Wing.

“By the karking mudscuffing Whills, I swear to all things Sith I’m going to murder whoever created Ion technology and feed them to their descendants!”

“Stow it, Twelve. Those TIEs are gaining on us,” Animal reported.

Ant hazarded a look at his sensors and confirmed what his squad leader said. While the Buccaneers were flying blind and going evasive through the minefield, the Imperial fighters had no worry from their own traps and had sped forth in pursuit. A few had been unlucky victims of rogue asteroids, but their numbers still gave them an irresistible advantage against the damaged and beleaguered New Republic flyers. “Turn and fight?”

“I’m tired of running,” Wolvinator agreed grimly.

“No,” Animal interjected. “We push on.”

“Now would be a great time for another mask, Zero,” Gnoizic said hopefully.

“You got it… Deployed!”

“Let’s get out of here, NOW!”

“I see the edge of the asteroid belt,” Crane all but screamed.

“Hold it together, boys,” Animal said calmly, though stress had crept into his voice. “We’re almost home free. Once we clear the belt, we let Twelve jump first to make sure his ship is ok, then we all jump.”

“Sounds good, boss,” Gnoizic replied, spinning his B-Wing intentionally this time. “I’m getting the hang of this I think!”

Ant smirked, and threw his X-Wing into a roll. ”I'll try spinning, that’s a good trick,” he said mockingly.

“Shut up!” Gnoizic sniped back, laughing.

“Who even said that?” Foo asked.

“Just some nerd, probably,” Wolvinator responded drily.

“Ok, I’m clear,” Bulldog’s staticy voice cut in. “Here goes nothing…”

Ant watched as the Y-Wing winked out of existence after a sputtering start to hyperspace. “Uh… I think he made it?”

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

CRS Vigilant Airspace
POV: Crane

Crane was sweating profusely, matting his Bothan fur under his flight suit and helmet in multiple places. The mission was over and all of the Buccaneers had made it home, but for somebody just finishing their second strike sortie with the squadron, it was hard to come down as quickly as the veteran pilots after a battle.

It’s not that Crane wasn’t used to excitement. He’d done his time in the Imperial Navy and become fully versed in Imperial craft flight characteristics and tactics. The difference that really seemed to be rattling him was the stark difference in odds each side faced. During his time with the Imperial Navy, he was usually on the side that engaged with numerical superiority. In his two missions with the New Republic, he’s been on the wrong side of the numbers each time.

“Control, this is Buccaneer Leader,” Animal’s voice called out calmly.

How are you so calm right now?!

“We have you on the board, Buccaneers.”

Thank the Whills!

“We are all present and accounted for. Requesting clearance to land.”

I can't believe we all made it.

“Roger, Buccaneer Leader. Deck is clear. Call the ball.”

Get me OUT of this cockpit!

“Twelve, take us in. You had the closest call out of all of us out there.”

We ALL had close calls. Multiple!

“Roger, Lead. Twelve has the ball,” Bulldog replied as he pushed his sparking Y-Wing forward. His right engine was sputtering as it had difficulty staying lit, indicating the two combat repair bots Foo had launched at the Y-Wing had done just well enough to get the pilot home, but could not completely solve the problem without more hands-on repairs.

Probably a matter of meters between him making it home and being completely fried… What am I doing here?

“Give Twelve a wide berth, then follow him in by reverse order,” Animal ordered, taking his place at the end of the line.

Crane groaned. Reverse order put him toward the back end of the middle to land. He was shaking as he lost patience with the slowness of the landing procedure. He began rocking back and forth in his pilot couch, willing Rev and Wolvinator to move faster so he could touch down and jump out of his cockpit. Nausea was starting to set in, adding more urgency to his plight.

“Touchdown,” Wolvinator reported with a smile clearly conveyed over his voice.

Finally!

Crane goosed his throttle forward to make his approach. His composure and discipline were shot, and the mounting feeling of bile creeping up his esophagus was threatening to overflow.

“Slow down, Buccaneer Four!”

Crane brought his X-Wing to a skidding stop on the deck as he killed his power. The sound reverberated throughout the cavernous hangar. Before the echo had died down, he popped open his cockpit and forced it open faster with his hands. He levered himself halfway out of his cockpit and vomited down the side of his fighter and onto the floor below.

Wolvinator, Ant, and Bulldog had been sprinting toward Crane’s ship, but they all came skidding to a halt after they saw the vomit cascading down to the deck. The worry on their faces instantly changed to smiles as they realized the pilot was only sick rather than in need of more serious medical attention. They covered their noses and made good-natured yet exaggerated sounds of disgust.

“That’s… why you don’t eat beforehand,” Bulldog said as he took a few steps away from the rapidly growing pool of chunky bile.

“Nervous in the service?” Ant asked as the other two laughed.

Wolvinator started murmuring quietly to himself as he attempted to think of a clever joke, but that part of his mind had gone blank. Ant and Bulldog looked at him expectantly, but no joke came forth.

“There’s no WAY you flew an A-Wing at Endor if you’re this slow-witted,” Bulldog laughed.

“I mean, he DID get shot out of it there,” Ant trailed off with a smile.

“Shut it, you Schutta!” Wolvie barked as he slapped Ant playfully. The two of them started a light sparring session.

“You people are crazy,” Crane said as he’d finally cleared out his insides and was watching the pilots. Vomit was still dripping down the stringy beard fur near his mouth.

“Kind of have to be to do this job, rook,” Animal said as he neared the tussle. “You good?”

NO! I’m NOT ok!

“Yeah, I think so Major.”

“Great. Hop down and get a mop to clean this up. It’s your punishment for breaking speed rules on the flight deck.”

“Drinks?” Bulldog asked as he patted Animal on the shoulder.

“Drinks.”

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

Acclamator Rising Star
POV: Phel Rastagar

“Flight leader reports that the rebels have entered hyperspace,” Hawley said with a wince, holding a ragged strip she’d ripped from the hem of her uniform to stanch the bleeding of a cut on her head.

Rastagar likewise was nursing a sore rib cage from when the beam weapon had caused some internal explosions that sent him flying into a sensor console. While it was embarrassing for a captain to lose his footing on the bridge of his own ship, his clumsiness had saved his life as the sensor console he’d been standing near erupted outward due to a power flux. Poor Ensign Plurr took the explosion directly to her face, and her corpse fell forward, smoldering in the flames as her cooked flesh overwhelmed the bridge air scrubbers. “Get Plurr out of those flames before the entire ship smells like a rebel cannibal convention.”

A junior grade lieutenant gingerly pulled her scorched visage out of the console. Her skin was blackened and cooked to a crisp, with her hair completely singed off. The moment the lieutenant saw the damage, he dropped Plurr’s body and sprinted off the bridge, vomiting loudly outside.

Rastagar’s own stomach threatened to rebel against him at the ghastly sight, but he fought hard to tamp down on the growing nausea and opted to distract himself by taking control of the bridge once again. “Engineering, get me a damage assessment and a realistic estimate on repairs. I need to know if we can leave, and if not, when we will be able to deliver our payload. Communications, see if you can raise anybody on the ground. If there is anybody left alive, we need to get them out of there. Flight Control, I need to know what we lost and what we have left. If the rebels come back, I need to know how we can fight back. Sensors, keep your eyes open for any additional attacks.”

The rapid-fire orders seemed to fall on deaf ears as the green bridge crew still appeared stunned by the swift brutality of the attack they’d just experienced at the hands of a handful of snub fighters and the ignoble end of one of their comrades at her post.

Hawley noticed that dumbfounded looks on the junior officers’ faces. “You heard the Captain!” she shouted, jarring them back into themselves. “Execute your orders!”

Rastagar caught her eyes and nodded curtly, both in thanks for the assist as well as acknowledgement of her command potential. He sidled up next to her and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I want you to analyze that attack and develop a set of countermeasures so it doesn’t happen again. Let me know what you come up with immediately.”

Hawley nodded. “I won’t let you down, Captain.”

He nodded. “I know you won’t, Lieutenant. We owe it to our fallen to make sure we learn from this and pay the rebels back in spades the next time we see them. Go get started now. I’ll keep things running here.” He returned her crisp salute and watched her stride off the bridge with a purpose. Her determination bled off into the rest of the crew, and they began executing their orders crisply and professionally. Perhaps she should have been the one put in charge rather than me… Once again, he missed his old posting

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

CRS Vigilant SSD
POV: Foo

Foo watched as Wolvinator and Loth-cat recounted their stories to each other. Harrowing tales of near misses and excitement. One particular maneuver Loth-Cat reiterated; Wolvie stopped them and explained what they could have done better. Loth-Cat’s face lit up as they understood and nodded.

Further back, he could see Animal smiling sadly to himself, as if replaying thoughts of better times, or possibly what was to come for the two newer Buccaneers. He sipped his drink absentmindedly.

Just then, Bulldog slipped into his booth on the opposite side of the table, snapping Foo out of the unfolding scene. “Look,” Bulldog started gruffly.

Foo cocked an eyebrow as he waited to see what the often dour pilot was about to say.

"You saved my ass out there this time, but don't think you'll be doing it again"

This brought a full on smile to Foo's face. "The feeling is mutual chief, you covered my ass, I covered yours, simple as..."

Bulldog's face clearly conveyed the fact that he REALLY didn't like being called ‘chief’.

Foo chuckled to himself. He pointed over to Wolvinator and Loth-cat. "Look at that, tell me what you see.."

Bulldog nonchalantly shrugged. "Couple of kids, in over their heads? As per usual."

"Exactly. Which is why your expertise is needed. You've been here a while. Show these kids what they need to know," Foo said as he abruptly stood. "Gonna peruse the selection here, you coming? Or are you gonna sit on your sorry ass alone?"

"We talking booze or women?" Bulldog asked absentmindedly as he looked at a message on his datapad. He smirked, and then looked back to Foo.

"Both," Foo responded as he cocked his head back toward the crowded bar. He started to head back that way when a hand gripped his shoulder. He looked at the hand and saw Bulldog was the owner.

“Wait one on that. Let’s go check in on the boys,” Bulldog said as he cocked his head over at the table full of Buccaneer pilots celebrating.

Foo shrugged and smiled. “Why the Sith not?”

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

CRS Vigilant SSD
POV: Animal

It was pretty busy this time of night in the Cantina, as Animal walked in with his head buried in a datapad.

The Buccaneer table shouted a welcoming “Hey Hey, there he is!” When he entered. It would make him feel special to receive such a greeting from a fine group of pilots, if they didn’t just do the same thing to every mouse droid that happened to wander through as well. Animal could have sworn he even saw one of the quick little droids with cantina mix on top of it. Animal had to nod to himself that that was a pretty darn good shot.

He strode up to Iggy the barkeep. “Iggy, how is business?”

Iggy had learned the behavior that when someone spoke with you they liked eye contact, or at least an approximation of it, so he rotated his head to bring his eye in view with the new arrival. “I have served 16.8% less fluid liters today than yesterday at this time. I expect that trend might change now that you are here.”

Animal was about to reply when Iggy continued, still staring at him. “I have also refrained from collecting over a dozen highly lucrative bounties, and haven’t vaporized anyone. Today.” Iggy stopped mixing drinks for a moment and pointed each of his approximations of hands at his voice modulator and made a blowing sound. Without missing a beat he went back to the drinks, adding the garnish and placing them on a serving tray.

“Are you angry with me Iggy?” Animal asked, partly intimidated but also impressed.

“I am unable to experience anger, so I expect I am just the same as I always am interacting with meat bags,” Iggy replied coolly. “Would you like a round of drinks for the assembled Buccaneer officers?”

“Yes I would please, could you load me up with eight tall ice waters, with a lemon garnish?”

Iggy laid out a tray on the counter and loaded it with 8 skinny glasses. “So you have decided not to punish your liver with more poison I see,” Iggy said, continuing to prep the drinks.

“My liver was not happy with me this morning and I promised it I wouldn’t drink for a while,” said Animal.

“What is the Human approximation of a while?” asked Iggy, as he carefully added ice to the glasses.

“I don’t know, I guess it can mean different things in different situations.” Animal contemplated. “I suppose in this case probably 24-hours.”

Iggy paused in an approximation of thinking. He had realized that his brain functioned roughly 68 times faster than the humans, so they needed time in between any sentences with words. For example, while he was doing an approximation of listening, he was also calculating when table 5 would need a refill, at what time he might be left in peace, and where they might be headed based on the thrum of the engine, the streaming stars in the window, and of course what was said in the Cantina. Also included in that calculation was the hint of mischief, and that caused him to pour a shot of whiskey and slide it over to the Buccaneer CO while he was deep in thought.

Animal heard the shot first, then he felt the cold glass in his hand, but before his brain could prevent his arms from their actions he had emptied the shot into his mouth. He finished the drink with an exhale to enjoy the after burn, and upended the glass on the table.

“You sneaky bastard!” Animal exclaimed, impressed and staring at the droid in disbelief. “Was that payback for the Warm Welcome protocol?”

Iggy had just finished filling up the glasses with water and was adding the lemon garnish. “I apologize sir, but I don’t follow what you are asking?”

“You didn’t give me this shot?” asked Animal.

“What shot sir? You only ordered water.”

Animal looked down and there wasn’t anything on the bar. “Of course not, why would there be!” Animal was showing a bit of confusion.

Iggy was done now so Animal grabbed the tray and headed over to the table.

The Buccaneer pilots made room for him to sit as he set the tray down and pulled out his datapad. “Gentle Beings of Buccaneer Squadron,” Animal began without wasting any time. “We have cause for celebration today, not only for a flawlessly executed mission, but we have a plus one!” The table erupted in cheers and pounded on the table in agreement.

“May I present to you our newest Buccaneer pilot, Lieutenant Corell “Foo” Davis, Buccaneer Ten!” Animal said enthusiastically. “May your aim be true, your launchers always be full, and your escorts allow you the few seconds you need to fly straight.”

Foo looked genuinely shocked, and quite unsure how to react. The squadron took that as a good sign. Everyone at the table had grabbed a glass and was holding it up right but it was still quiet.

“He’s a U-wing driver boss,” said Bulldog helpfully.

“Oh yes, of course.” Animal chided himself. “Lets see here. May your masking always have power, your repair droids fly true and your turrets turn the tides of battle! To Foo!”

“To Foo!” The Buccaneers at the table echoed, as they took a drink.

“What is this concoction?” Bulldog said, faking like he was spitting some out.

“It’s called water gentlemen, with a hint of lemon, and from now on, we are a dry squadron,” Animal replied.

“Like hell we are!” Bulldog said, seeming ready to fight over it. “I want a transfer.”

Animal couldn’t hold back the smile. “Ok ok, but for the time being let your liver come up for air. The last 24 hours has been a little crazy.” He looked at the rest of his assembled pilots. “Great job today everyone. Get some rest and I will see you at the debrief.” Animal said as he walked out of the cantina.

“Keep up the good work Iggy!” Animal said as he passed by

“My awesome is programmatically certain sir,” Iggy said without any emotion. “Have a good night.”

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

CRS Vigilant SSD
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog drank a few rounds of alcohol with the Buccaneers that remained behind after Animal had left. Almost to a man they had dumped the waters out the moment their OC had turned the corner, though Loth-Cat dutifully finished their glass before turning it over to mime dumping it out with the rest of the squadron in solidarity.

“So, do you just… keep drinking?” Foo asked as he was starting to sway a bit.

Bulldog grunted and nodded, taking a sip of his bourbon. “You’re a Bucc now, it’s a requirement.”

“Loth-Cat doesn’t drink constantly,” Foo protested, taking a sip of his Trandoshan Ale anyway.

“Loth-Cat isn’t old enough to drink,” Bulldog replied with a smirk. “In any event, I’ve tried to get them off the wagon. They aren’t…” he trailed off as he spied the NRI Captain that had assigned the mission in the first place. She had been looking in his direction and smiled prettily when he locked eyes with her. Instantly he fell into a fanciful daydream that ended up with both of them naked.

Foo leaned in, assuming the booze had finally caught up to his executive officer and he’d just passed out with his eyes open. “They aren’t what?” He shook Bulldog’s shoulder after not getting a response.

Bulldog snapped his mouth closed as he was brought back to his current surroundings. “What? Nevermind. Hey, what was that intelligence Captain’s name?”

Foo’s brow furrowed in thought. “I remember thinking it was strange when I heard it, but that’s obviously relative when we have a whole galaxy full of weirdness,” he said eloquently.

“Captain Freyu Unasawe,” Gnoizic interjected.

Bulldog’s eyes widened and snapped onto the Mandalorian’s helmet. “You sure?”

“Just replayed the recording from the briefing, boss.”

“Perfect. I’m going in,” Bulldog said as he ran his hand over his short, balding head and finished his drink in a fast gulp. “Wish me luck.”

“This I’ve GOT to see,” Ant snickered, nuzzling up close to his sweetheart known by the callsign ‘Mouse’ in Skull Squadron. She likewise laughed into her glass as she said something to her squadmates at a nearby table.

Bulldog smoothly glided across the room and took up a position at the bar next to the blue-skinned NRI Agent. “How’s it going, Captain Unasawe?”

Unasawe smiled mischievously, her purple eyes gazing up into his brown ones. “My name and rank are stenciled on the uniform, Captain. If you really want to be impressive, use my first name.”

“Freyu,” Bulldog said matter-of-factly, as if he’d actually remembered her name from the briefing earlier in the day.

She flashed a bigger smile in return. “I see I underestimated your attention and memory skills. Though, in my defense, you looked pretty rough earlier. All of you did,” she said, gesturing toward the Buccaneer table across the bar.

Bulldog chuckled politely with a contrite wince. “Yeah, sorry. Had we known about the mission, we wouldn’t have gone so hard the night before welcoming our new pilot.”

Unasawe nodded, but her expression said she was unconvinced of the truth of his last statement. “If you’re capable of this quality of work while hungover, I pity the target that faces you, completely prepared and sober,” she said, raising her glass to him.

He reached for a glass to raise, but he’d forgotten that he’d downed his before he made his approach. He nodded in what he hoped was a rakishly good look, but he wasn’t sure if he pulled it off. He’d been told he looked like he was constipated when he was trying to make a provocative face by his friends in the past. Being without a glass of alcohol in hand really threw him off his game.

She noticed his uncomfortable expression and seemed to relish in it with good-natured glee. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, Captain, but why are you so large?”

Bulldog’s eyes widened and he snorted loudly. “Wow. Had a lot of alcohol tonight, have we?”

Unasawe covered her mouth when she realized what she’d said, a look of horror flashing across her face. “I’m so sorry! That came out wrong!”

Bulldog laughed loudly. “No no, it’s all right!” He gambled on his next course of action, grabbing her glass and taking a drink of the fruity liqueur before putting it back in front of her dumbfounded face. “To quote another pilot from a lifetime ago: Good pilots survive, go have victory parties like this where we eat and drink a ton, and repeat. And I’m a very, very good pilot.”

She nodded thoughtfully and grabbed her glass back and took a drink. She seemed to mentally psych herself up for her next course of action with a curt nod, then looked directly into his eyes. “Look, Captain, I have never been very good at this and I’m short on time, so I’m going to be really direct with you. We’re the same rank, so let’s go somewhere more private and get naked.”

Bulldog was floored by her direct approach. Before he could accept her invitation, two new drinks appeared in front of them.

“Compliments of your squadron, Captain,” Iggy said, motioning toward the waiting Buccaneers, leering in their direction in anticipation.

“I’m, uh, surprised by your direct nature, considering you work for NRI,” Bulldog said, stalling for time while his brain caught up with his bodily urges. He snatched up his new glass and took a healthy draught, surprised that the high-proof bourbon didn’t burn on its way down this time. It was a sign he had imbibed a bit too much for the night, but not quite enough to not perform properly. He hoped.

She took a cautious sip of her new drink, then nodded when it was what she’d been drinking previously and took a healthy drink before continuing. “You’re, uh, kind of my type, Captain…”

Bulldog mulled it over in his mind. Well, he pretended to think about it. His body leapt at her direct invitation the first time, but he knew he should play it a bit slower for dramatics. Throwing caution to the wind after the acceptable amount of wait time, he chugged the rest of his drink. “Kark it. Let’s head back to my private quarters and see what happens,” he said, rising and walking off without looking back to see if she was following him.

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

CRS Vigilant SSD
POV: Foo

Foo and the rest of his new squadmates looked on with great interest at their XO’s approach. He stumbled all over the place as he made his way over to the Pantoran Intelligence Agent, ending with a sloppy collapse into the stool next to her after roughly jostling a few standing bodies in his meandering path. She politely accommodated his disheveled appearance and drunken lines, nodding and feigning interest with a wry smile on her face.

“He’s farkled, isn’t he?” Wolvinator asked.

“Bigtime,” Rev replied with mild disdain.

“Should we, um, stop him?” Loth-Cat asked nervously.

They all watched as Bulldog grabbed the agent’s drink and took a sip of it. All of them gasped in horror and laughed simultaneously, but also were shocked to see that the action hadn’t ended up in a slap or any other negative reaction from the blue-skinned intelligence agent.

“Save him from himself and a possible brig visit? Nah,” Gnoizic responded with a laugh. “It’ll do him some good to sleep it off on the floor there.”

“Then let’s push him over the edge, why don’t we?” Ant said rhetorically with a sinister edge, keying in an order for two more drinks for Bulldog and Unasawe at the bar on his datapad.”

“You’re evil,” Mouse giggled while she rested her head on Ant’s shoulder, her smooth auburn hair draped over his shoulders.

Foo laughed at the squadron discussion without taking his eyes off the trainwreck unfolding in front of them. The drinks Ant had ordered remotely appeared in front of the two beings. Both Bulldog and the female agent looked in their direction, and the Buccaneers made no effort to hide their interest in the conversation occurring. Foo at least attempted to act like he was looking in a different direction, but it wasn’t a convincing effort. Bulldog sloppily stuck his tongue out at them.

After Bulldog and the agent resumed their conversation, the Buccs blew a sigh of relief. “At least if he crashes and burns it won’t be because we blew it for him,” Ant said with a tight smile.

Foo nodded in agreement before laughing. “Any bets on if he survives the mission or not?”

All of the pilots shook their heads negatively with varying conviction, even the newest of the bunch, Wolvinator.

Foo, though, had a funny feeling. “I’ll wager 50 credits with each of you that our boy wins.”

“Done,” Ant, Wolvinator, Rev, and Gnoizic replied at the same time. Loth-Cat seemed uncomfortable betting on such a situation so they abstained politely. Credit chits were pulled out and placed on the center of the table.

Foo eyed the pile of credits with dread. If his intuition had led him astray, he’d be 200 credits poorer and have to mooch off the good graces of his friends if he wanted to drink for the following week.

Bulldog’s head lolled to the side slightly, and then he stood up uneasily and stumbled out of the bar without looking back. He bounced off of the wall and used the assist to round the corner and bumbled out of sight.

“Tough break, new guy,” Wolvinator gloated snarkily, reaching to pull his credit chit back.

“Today was your first mission with the wing!” Foo snapped back mockingly, angry about the sum of credits he was on the hook for. “I’ve been here for a few weeks now.”

“Yes yes,” Wolvinator said as he held up a finger and wagged it. “But you are the newest Buccaneer. Ipso Facto…”

Before Foo could snap back another retort, Unasawe stood up and looked around furtively. She shrugged, downing her drink quickly and exiting the SSD in the same direction Bulldog had moments before. His mouth fell open in shock as he pointed at her exit. “I win!”

“Quit lying, new guy,” Wolvinator said dubiously, turning his head to find the bar empty. He turned around fully and scanned the bar, but saw neither his XO or his target. “Fierfek!”