By Bulldog, Frosty, Jalb_k, Lock
With Contributions by Foo, Damak, Gremlin, Knight, Syntax and Wildcard
Lead Editor: Shadow
Directed by Frosty
The Galactic civil war rages on! Numerous victories by the fledgling New Republic have brought the Empire ever closer to its end, but the war is not yet won. Advancing further along the Perlemian Trade Route, towards the Inner Core, Renegade Wing is coming upon one of their greatest challenges yet.
The unassuming colonial mining world of Toseng is in chaos. Decades old tensions have broken through as demonstrators take to the streets, demanding an election and the end of Imperial assigned rule. Led by the radical politician Rori Brebor, they have succeeded in scaring the Governor Vak Spidrucket into deploying armed troops against unarmed civilians and allying with the cruel Commodore Tol Barand.
Under Mon Mothma's direct command, the New Republic has sent one of their best ambassadors to convince the Governor to complete a peaceful transfer of power. It is Mon Mothma's hope that Toseng can be a demonstration to the galaxy that not every planet needs to become a battleground in this brutal civil war.
Unbeknownst to either Republic or Empire, from the shadows, the Hutts are watching Toseng. With its rich Rhydonium deposits and proximity to the Perlemian Trade Route, they spy an opportunity to provoke a violent war and sweep in afterwards to take Toseng as their prize. Former Alliance and Imperial intelligence agent Zeno does their bidding, working as a master manipulator from the shadows.
So the Renegades find themselves unable to take action until it is possibly too late, having to watch and wait as Imperial and Republic alike amass their forces, hoping no one lights the fire of war on Toseng's surface...
[ Capital City; Toseng; 4.7.5 ABY (Two and a half months ago) ]
It was amazing how little things had changed in his time away. Martuk's Fried Wonders still stood on the corner of 7th and Border street and it pleased Keyleb to see it still standing. He stopped to look in the window of the small fast food restaurant; the lights were shut off and no one was inside. Still, it was standing. Looking in the window he could see his own reflection so he ruffled the messy blonde hair on his head with his good hand, the right one, trying to cover the scar on his forehead. He was still standing.
Keyleb strode down the street like he owned the place; he knew some people in his course at college would never come down here. They'd called it the bad part of town. But these streets were his streets, he knew the cracks in the sidewalk like the lines of the back of his hand. Perhaps the fact it hadn't changed at all wasn't so good; no one had bothered to fix anything around here.
Crozier's block was named after an old mining magnate. Or maybe a legendary miner? Keyleb never had paid much attention in his history classes but he did know this place. It was home. He didn't even have to climb the steps outside the front door, he recognised the woman sat at the bottom step.
The young woman lifted her head from the datapad she was reading, looking at Keyleb quizzically. He gave a gentle wave and watched as her eyes widened as recognition dawned. "Frak me, Keyleb! You're back!"
She threw her arms around him, hugging him deeply. He felt his cheeks glow a little with embarrassment but returned the hug with his right arm. "Yeah, I'm back. For good. Got honourably discharged for injury."
"Injury?" Tinta looked at him with concern so he slowly withdrew his left hand out of the jacket pocket he had kept it in, wiggling his remaining forefinger, index finger and thumb at her. "Yeah, kinda hard to hold a blaster without the other two fingers."
She looked as if she was about to say something but was interrupted by a voice at the top of the stairs.
"Tinta, meeting is about to start, I need you-" The young Zabrak man froze in his tracks, looking down at Keyleb from the top of the stairs. His skin was a pale grey and the horns on his head had grown lopsided and stunted. Keyleb could see the start of an angry bruise on his right eye socket. The Zabrak man stared, the words coming slowly. "What you doing here Keyleb?"
"I came to visit," Keyleb could feel the tension ratcheting up. "It's good to see you Yurn. Is Katur in?"
Keyleb felt Tinta's arm tense at the mention of Katur's name. Something wasn't right. "Yurn....where is she?"
Yurn came down the steps in fast strides, like a predator stalking a nerf. His eyes were ablaze. "My sister is in the frakking ground Keyleb."
Keyleb rocked on his feet, feeling dizzy. He'd always told himself that when he got back.... "What happened?"
"Empire happened, Keyleb. Just like it always does." Yurn leaned back against the stone bannister adorning the staircase. "She went to the street celebration, when we heard the news about the Emperor. Danced and danced. Two days later TolSec came knocking. Kicked the door down, she panicked and they shot her. Not once Keyleb, they didn't shoot her only once. They used a whole damn blaster pack. TolSec and their stormie buddies."
There was a venom in the way he said stormie. His tongue dripped with hatred. Keyleb felt a little gust of pride puff his chest out, "A stormtrooper wouldn't do that. We're trained to-"
"We!" Yurn stepped to him, his face inches from Keyleb's. "We?! They really got you, didn't they?"
"I left," Keyleb said meekly but Yurn was shaking his head violently at the idea. Tinta pulled at his shoulder gently, "Maybe you should go. We can talk another time."
Keyleb felt the anger rise in him again, "No! I have every right to be here! I grew up here, you were my friends-"
"You chose the Empire, Keyleb."
"I didn't choose them, it wasn't easy! I just wanted to go to college, man."
"Yeah and my sister just wanted to live." Yurn collapsed back against the wall, sinking to the floor. Tinta knelt down beside him, trying to give him support. Yurn's voice was small now, distant. "Good for you going to college, Keyleb. Happy for you. But some of us don't get to make those tough choices. Some of us just have to try and survive."
Keyleb stood there, wordless for a few moments longer. Eventually he turned and left his friends on the step, walking away.
[ Outside the Capital of Toseng; 4.10.1 (Present Day) ]
He scaled the hill top slowly, breathing heavily and cradling one arm. The ground out here was mostly loose stone and rock, sharp little pebbles that cut his hands as he half walked, half crawled up the hillside. He stumbled his way to the top and finally got a chance to look over the ridge.
There, in the distance, was Toseng City. Huge plumes of smoke rose from buildings, fires raging across the neighborhoods whilst a Star Destroyer hovered above the city skyline. In the skies above him he saw New Republic fighters mixing with TIEs, dashes of green and red light trading places as the occasional blast came up from the ground aimed at one target or another. But the thing that really got his attention was the corvette which lay in a deep groove it had plowed on the open flat land, the familiar colour scheme of the Anti-Venom on the mostly intact ship structure. Jack "Frosty" McCauley nearly whooped with delight at the sight, before turning his head back to downhill. "Great news kid! I found the medics, you're going to be just-"
His voice was drowned out by the sound of screaming engines overhead. The sky became dark as an Imperial Star Destroyer passed over, a dagger of fire and flame. Sickly black smoke poured from multiple wounds in the hull and Frosty watched as swathes of armor plating peeled off under intense heat and structural strain, falling to the ground. There was another matching roar and Frosty looked back to the city. The other capital Imp ship was starting to rise, slowly at first but eventually it gathered momentum. For a second it seemed as if the wounded ISD was going to plow straight into the healthy one but they just missed one another, the surviving ship descending again to keep it's control on the city below. The noise abated as the crashing star destroyer's engines finally went out, leaving it falling forwards towards the ground. Frosty felt his heart in his throat as it passed over the city, mercifully just going beyond the city borders.
It landed on the other side, a huge explosion of dura-steel and dust as it came to a stop, a mushroom cloud of debris moving up into the sky. From his vantage on the hilltop Frosty watched as throughout the city buildings rocked from the shockwave, transparisteel shattering from the force. Suddenly it was upon him too, throwing him backwards, rolling back down the hill, as the sound finally arrived, a cavernous deep bellow of pain emanating from the cruiser.
He finally stopped rolling at the bottom, reaching over next to him he felt metal and flesh. The young pilot dressed in black next to him was still laying on the fashioned stretcher Frosty had made hours ago, but they were very still. Frosty elbowed them with his one uninjured arm, "Hey, kid. I think battles over......kid?"
[ Capital City; Toseng (A few days earlier) ]
The streets were loud, echoing with noise from the thousands who had gathered together. A line of colour and mass of faces, stretching down nearly every street that led from the circular centre where the Colonial Palace stood. Toseng security forces mixed with Stormtroopers and Imperial Infantry units, trying their best to hold back the mass of bodies. The threat of violence was constant, troopers would raise their blasters and shout and protestors would pick up bricks and cobblestone but everyone held their line. They were all waiting to hear the news.
"Pass me the comm-pack, yes come on! Here, give me your hand! No, the other hand. Kriff me you're heavy."
A small yellow Twi'lek woman was bouncing on her heels in excitement, stood atop a cargo hover truck that was parked in the street surrounded by protestors. She began to point her right arm upwards, a mechanical contraption that began to whir and click as it unfolded slightly revealing a camera that began to come online. Behind her, the taller man she had just pulled up took the bulky backpack contraption from her and started fiddling with the switches and dials on it. The woman continued to chatter as he carefully tuned it in, his eyes affixed on a display showing the picture he was currently receiving from her camera arm.
"It's the perfect shot! Quick, we need to do a take before someone kicks us off of here."
He grunted in annoyance but nodded, and with no delay she was suddenly a calm professional, her non-cybernetic left hand touching the cybernetic glasses on her face which activated and began to pick up her voice as she spoke. "The protests in Toseng have grown in strength in the preceding days, despite the increasing violence used by Imperial forces on Toseng. Governor Spidrucket was hoping to calm citizens by giving them the long overdue election they had demanded. But, only days before voting booths were due to open news came through from electoral observers: Ballots were going missing and in some areas new ballots missing Minister Rori Brebor appeared at several voting booths."
She panned the lens in her arm over the crowd, moving slowly to take in the enormity of the crowd. A chant had started now, clapping and stamping of feet. A call and response started, a loudspeaker voice calling out over the crowd.
"Show me what Democracy looks like!"
The crowd responded in a roar. "This is what democracy looks like!"
The reporter spoke louder into the comm in the glasses now, attempting to drown out the crowd. "Governor Spidrucket is currently holding a meeting with Minister Brebor to, in the governor's own words, calm the situation."
As if on cue the crowd roared as the governor, minister Brebor, and a third person stepped onto the balcony. The camera moved rapidly but smoothly, focusing on the figures. The reporter started once again, "Governor Spidrucket, Imperial assigned administrator, is preparing to speak alongside his main electoral rival, Zabrakian Rori Brebor, a supporter of the New Republic and favourite to win the election. The Pantoran woman next to Mr Brebor is Ambassador Racyne Vel'Ath, sent from the New Republic to aid Toseng's existing government in a peaceful transfer from Imperial rule."
Governor Spidrucket stood up to the mic first. "People of Toseng!"
The boos were so loud it felt as if the buildings were going to fall to the waves of noise. The Zabrak man stood forward and boos turned to cheers. He leaned forward into the microphone, past the Governor and spoke quietly but firmly. "Our election will go forward."
Cheers and shouts echoed around the streets as the camera panned back over. "We now have confirmation that the election will be going ahead. Thanks to backroom bartering and incredible pressure from the streets it looks more and more likely that a peaceful revolution could occur on Toseng. Could this be the start of many across the galaxy? Finally an end to this destructive conflict that has cost so many of us so much to bring an end to the violence of the Empire? For Queen of the Core Network I'm Yam Siddalla, live on Toseng."
She waited a moment longer until the comm man nodded and immediately rushed him for a hug. "That was amazing! Kriff me, can you feel that rush Jez?!"
"Yeah, yeah," he mumbled, looking towards the crowd, watching the troops. A few were moving towards their position, pointing and pushing through the protestors. "Come on Sidda, we got to go."
[ Rogue Leader's Office; CRS Vigilant; Classified System ]
"Can you trust him?" The man that question had been directed at took a deep breath and grimaced, leaning back in his chair he crossed his left arm over his body to hold his right elbow while he pinched the bridge of his nose with that hand.
"Honestly, Vince... I don't know mate." He dropped his hand and leaned forward to look at the Wing CO again. "What I mean to say, 2 months ago I would have had zero reservations accepting him as my XO, but 2 months ago Endor was fresh, we were all alive and glad to be..." his mood turned pensive, "a lot has happened in the meantime."
Colonel Vince "Stryker" Rambo picked up the Mandalorian helmet that he'd placed on the couch next to him and stood with it in both hands in front of him. He gazed into the empty helmet as if looking for inspiration for a moment then sighed and looked back at Rogue's OC.
"I get it, Chris, I do. But you know as well as I do, more so, that we need pilots on the line. If you had reservations perhaps you shouldn't have worked so hard to get him back to active duty?" Jalb snorted as Stryker put his helmet back on. "You've got the orders, make it happen."
Lieutenant Colonel Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds straightened in his seat and threw a casual salute with a lopsided grin. "Sah!"
[ Dobber's Cell; CRS Vigilant; Classified System ]
Jalb palmed the plate beside the door into the security centre after the guard at the control desk acknowledged him. The door swooshed open into the starkly lit 'detention center': two corridors with magcon shielded cells five a side down both. The first cell of each row, while not spacious, was a little larger than the other four and allowed for a little privacy for the 'fresher as well as a desk to work at that dropped down when the bed folded back up into the wall.
Jalb lifted his chin to the Non-comm at the desk inside the door and pointed towards Captain Andrew "Dobber" Dobson's cell, and strode towards it after getting a thumbs up from the Corporal. The magcon shimmered off as he approached and he saw Dobber at his desk, a data pad in his hands and several chips scattered across the desktop. The incarcerated pilot looked up as the shield deactivated and pushed his chair backwards to get to his feet. Jalb waved him down before he could get up.
"At ease mate, I've had my fill of Military propriety and political kowtowing the last few weeks to last me the rest of my career." Dobber 'harrumphed' and sat back down. Jalb raised an eyebrow "Oh really?! You've had it easy down here, kicking back, 3 squares a day, oh, and exercise as I recall!" he finished with a smile.
"Yeah, well, it was easy until you sent me all this," Dobber replied, gesturing to the data chips strewn across his desktop. "When you said you'd find me something to keep me occupied, reviewing Tactical Operations for the historical Sim missions is not what I had in mind," Dobber ended with an eye roll.
Jalb's answering smirk indicated he knew exactly what he'd put his pilot through. "The price we pay... Captain."
Dobber looked up and his face displayed a raft of emotions as he parsed that simple sentence, from belligerent anger to calm resignation in the space of seconds.
"You know, as well as I do, that we can't go around belting senior officers, POW's or otherwise," Dobber went to open his mouth and Jalb shushed him with a held up hand before he could say a word. "And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony of that statement. However, I am now a Lieutenant Colonel."
Dobber nodded pensively. "Understood Lead." he sighed.
Jalb took a hard look at Dobber, then he crossed his arms and took on a slightly sterner visage. "I don't think you do mate. You're very, very lucky to be getting away with a one rank reduction." He once again held up his hand. "You were unfortunate to have witnesses who were, at best, impartial, at worst, downright antagonistic. At the same time you were fortunate that cooler heads at Fleet prevailed. The weeks you've spent down here have appeased the most vocal of your detractors, and the demotion has silenced the rest."
Dobber nodded slowly as full comprehension seeped into his consciousness. He looked up with hope in his eyes. "So... I'm back on active duty?"
Jalb guffawed. "Rogue Three, you are out of uniform and not at your place of parade, get that sorted before I bust you to L.T.!"
[ Captain's Ready Room; ISD Conviction; Classified System ]
Oshi did her best to straighten her hair and uniform.
Meetings with Barand always made her nervous. She knew that they shared a common desire for revenge and that he had entrusted her with many secrets, but she still wanted to impress him. She could see a future under his command.
The door to his office slid open and she stepped through, datapad tucked under her arm. "You wished to see me, Commodore?"
Barand motioned at her impatiently to step forward, "What can you tell me about Captain Pash?"
Oshi's eyes closed as she concentrated. "Captain Jerryk Pash of the Consolidator. Refused to follow through with Operation Cinder under Admiral Versio; has been independent ever since. He likes to play the honourable Captain, but his ego gets in his way more often then he realises."
Barand sat back in his chair, nodding happily. "Good. I'm assigning you to him as a communication officer."
"Excuse me, sir?"
Barand smiled at her, obviously pleased to see her flustered. He always wanted to come out on top in these little mind games. "Captain Pash has agreed into an alliance with my forces. He has not yet sworn fealty to me, probably that ego of his you mentioned, but I am confident he will eventually. I want you to go to the Consolidator and observe him. Ensure I can trust this alliance. I need his Star Destroyer for our upcoming operations in Toseng."
"Yes sir, I understand." Oshi snapped off a smart salute, causing Barand to smile again. Just before she could leave his office, Barand called out to her. "Report directly to me, Lieutenant Frell. Commander Feing is away on another operation for me currently, so any info is for my eyes only. Understood?"
Oshi nodded, leaving the room with her stomach churning. Into the buzz wasp nest I go I guess.
[ Frosty's Room; CRS Vigilant; Classified System ]
"I'm worried about her."
The holo projector fizzed and sizzled with the signal as it travelled light years across the galaxy from the Vigilant's current location to Portway City. McCauley fiddled with a few buttons on the holoprojector, distracting himself from the conversation. "She's fine, ma. She's just tired. Long school day."
Mary McCauley fixed her son with a withering stare. "Jack, she shouted at you and stormed off. For the third week in a row. She spends all week looking forward to these calls then she loses it."
"It's hard for her." Jack rubbed his temples. "This is the longest time we've spent away from each other in three years. I've always told her I'd be there. That's a big change."
"It's more than that." Mary looked worried and Jack focused on her face more clearly. "She's been getting into trouble at school. Outbursts of anger. Teachers are concerned. I'm concerned."
"She's a McCauley alright."
He snapped his head up, his ears burning at the way his mother said his name. "Well what do you want me to do about it?!"
Mary fixed him with a stare and he wilted. She spoke more softly, "You both went through a lot. I've been talking with Gemilan when she calls. She helped me fill in some blanks. Dearbhail talks about it too, occasionally. The constant moving. It's all catching up to you, all of us really. She needs some professional help. There's a child psychologist in town, I've sent them a message. I think it'd be good for Dearbhail to talk to someone who can help her work through it."
Jack's shoulders slumped as her words sunk in. "You're right."
The silence hung in the air a while, static fizzes punctuating the silence. Jack did his best to shift the conversation, "So....you said Gemi has been calling D. Was she happy to hear from her?"
"Oh, very excited. She hardly stops talking when Gemilan calls, it's like she's a completely different girl." Mary looked away from Jack a little, "I like her. She has a good heart. Are you two close?"
"We....are. A lot's changed. I was away two years, everything is different."
Mary smiled softly at him, "I'm sure you'll get used to it. Just need some time."
He thought about the endless drills, the saluting, the parades. The battles, the losses, the routing of Imperial forces. The aftermath, the casualties. Refugees from war torn planets. "Yeah ma. Just time."
She fixed him with a knowing stare but didn't push any further, despite the desperate need to know everything happening in his life. "Have you made some other friends?"
"It's not school ma!"
"Well, it's a big change. You need someone you can talk to. You haven't met anyone....special?"
Gremlin, you little kriffer! What have you been talking to her about?! "I'm hanging up now ma."
"Wait! Before you go. We've got a new schedule, I'll message you the details, but you'll need to call at a different time."
Now it was Jack's turn to stare, "What's going on?"
"Oh, nothing really. I'm just picking up more shifts at Cheeznoes."
Jack's face wrinkled in confusion. "You're working at the burger place? Ma, come on, I'm making plenty enough to support you both."
"What's wrong with it?"
He staggered a little, "Well, I mean, there's nothing wrong with it, I just-"
"Jack, I spent ten years in that prison cell. I know it has taken me a while to adapt again but I can't just sit in this apartment all day. I need to see people again, I need to have structure to my day. Find some purpose, you understand?"
"Yeah ma, I do."
Mary nodded, satisfied. "It's not a bad place to work. Small family business, Mr Drett works so hard, especially since his wife passed away. It's a real tight knit team, he's a real leader."
A small spark went off in Jack's head. "Ma....are you dating the burger man?"
"Look, I've got to go now."
Jack laughed and felt a little tension ease. It was good that she was finally moving forward with her life again. "Yeah, that's alright. I've got to go help prepare my XO for a briefing now anyway."
"Oh, with Wolf! Gemilan has mentioned him. Another old friend?"
Wolf's youthful face flashed before him before he saw Lock, Gremlin, Dearbhail. How many people would he abandon in his lifetime? Was Wolf just the next in a long line? "Ma...do you think I made the right choice coming back? Leaving Dearbhail behind?"
"Oh, Jack..." She put on her bravest smile for him. "I'll tell Dearbhail you love and miss her. I've got to go. Stay safe."
The holoprojector cut out and Frosty was left alone again.
Major Myke "Wolf" Krenn stood outside the briefing room, rubbing his forehead in frustration. Frosty stood opposite, scanning a datapad for some kind of information.
"Ben says we're fully operational, just did a full strip and inspection of Corsairs three and four and he's happy they're holding up well. Says we're still low on some spare parts but he's making do."
Wolf nodded at the information, "Okay, great. Anything on when we'll get our final pilot to fill the empty seat in Corsair three?"
"Nothing yet," Frosty shrugged. "A-Wing is hard to recruit for, most of the new recruits don't get the scores required."
"Okay, fine, we can cope with eleven operational pilots. Anything else?"
"Yeah, one thing." Frosty put the datapad in his pocket. "What's so important about this Toseng stuff? This is the third briefing this week on it."
Wolf looked confused, "Don't you read the files?"
"I skim 'em," Frosty admitted with a shrug.
Wolf shook his head, "The Toseng system holds a shortcut that can cut out a part of the Perlemian Trade Route. If we hold Toseng we could flank the Imps along the 'Perl. Plus, Toseng is the largest source of Rhydonium this side of the galaxy. If we can get those resources and deny the Empire them at the same time-"
"Yeah, alright, you've made your point. Well you go do your briefing, just tell them to make a decision already. The tension is getting to people," Frosty shrugged, "something in the air man."
Wolf nodded and paced into the briefing room and a full blown argument. All of the command staff of Renegade Wing were present, including Colonel Rambo and the Vigilant's Mon Calamari captain Terak Quelle. Presently Jalb, Rogue Leader, was slapping the table with his hand. Wolf took a seat quietly, taking the coffee that Lt. Col. 9-LOM "Syntax" offered with thanks.
"We've all seen the vids, Major Murg!" Jalb barked, looking tetchier than Wolf could remember seeing him in some time. "The Imps are getting violent with the protestors! We can't just stand back and observe."
The Quarren intelligence analyst, also known as Barraken, was doing his best to appease Jalb. "I understand your anger, Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds, but it's not so simple. Toseng has been in a delicate situation since the death of the Emperor, if we act hastily we could very well drive the population back into the arms of the Empire. We must trust in the reports we get from our ambassador-"
"Trust a politician?" Cpt. Andy "Bulldog" Clark snorted, shaking his head. "I'd rather trust a hutt."
Cpt. Gemilan "Gremlin" spoke next, her own voice raised to an unusual degree. "That politician is my friend Ambassador Vel Ath. She's a two year veteran of Red Squadron, she knows what the real fight is. If she says we have to take our time and wait then I say we wait."
Lt. Col. Alrick "Krayt" Durgan tapped the table lightly, "So we keep waiting for this election that might never happen. Or it'll happen and the Empire will rig it. People keep protesting in the streets, Imps keep getting heavy handed. We can't just let them stand by and hurt people."
"People will get hurt if we go in too." Wolf placed his coffee cup down on the table, surprised to find himself speaking up. He looked around the faces at the table, "We all know there's a cost to fighting in a place like that. Shots are going to miss, ships are going to crash. If we go in, civilians will die, people's homes will be destroyed. We have to acknowledge this. Just because our intentions are good doesn't mean...I just..."
"My XO is correct," Syntax picked up where Wolf trailed off. "If military action is required at Toseng, the bulk of Imperial ground forces and administration are located in the capital. There will be a loss of innocent life. We must protect them."
The room fell silently as they all sat and pondered the situation. Captain Quelle broke the silence first. "As High Command has requested, we must stay on guard. Right now the situation is too tight to call, a vote is looking more likely but even then the result is not guaranteed. There are many loyal Imperial citizens on Toseng."
Stryker leaned forward, "Let us concentrate on what we can do. Keep our squadrons running sims on potential action on Toseng. I've looked over all the data you've gathered in your initial training runs and I have a few suggestions...."
[ Depths of Nar Shadaa's Underworld ]
Even though it was barely midnight, Zeno was unsurprised to see the bar completely cleared out when she entered.
Opaque blue light permeated from the walls, giving the establishment a moody vibe. The stage was empty as it had been for years and the booths and tables separated out enough that it wasn't possible to listen in to the conversations of others, which wasn't a surprise at all, considering what this establishment was used for.
The Gamorrean guard outside had already run her credentials, so the guards inside didn't bother her--apart from some appreciative looks for her feminine figure which weren't a bother at all. As she passed by one of the more attractive human guards, she passed a hand through her newly dyed auburn hair, flashing him a smile. Though she had little interest in him on a personal level, Zeno knew a potential asset when she saw one, and nowadays every asset counted.
Since her dismissal by the newly dubbed New Republic Intelligence--ironically named, considering the fools that worked for it--Zeno had been forced to call in every favor she had. Now she was pitching a hail mary coming to this meeting. Truth was that she was desperate. If this didn't work out then she was in some deep nerfshit.
A particularly large Nikto invited her to have a seat at one of the round tables. It mumbled something about getting her a drink but Zeno waved him away with evident disinterest. The only thing she was interested in was concluding her business and getting off this stinking moon as soon as she could.
From behind her a deep voice spoke, "Hohoho! My dear, won't you accept our hospitality?"
Turning, the woman's eyes darted towards the massive form of the Hutt that filled a doorway that had previously been obscured by a holo emitter. Paranoid slug, she thought to herself.
"I'm here on business, Nagga," Zeno answered coolly and stood up to face him. She saw his bulbous eyes drift over her form, and though she'd worn this form fitting red dress specifically for this reason, she still couldn't help the wave of disgust that washed over her. Like any spy worth their salt, she was able to hide it, or so she hoped. She stepped around the table, allowing the tips of her fingers to linger over the wood, caressing it as she walked, until her hand slid off the table, dropping to rest at the side of her hip. Zeno stopped a few feet away from him, "I've been waiting for your answer, Nagga."
A long, meaty tongue slithered over the creature's moist lips and from within his big belly laughter rolled. "My dear... How do you expect me to think of business when you are so beautiful? Hohoho! Were we not speaking of billions of credits, I might even consider making you one of my, hohoho, girls." This time Zeno did not bother hiding her disgust, causing the hutt to laugh even louder, "Hohoho! Very well, then... to business... to business, my dear..."
"Is Farlu on the way?" Zeno asked.
"Nay! Farlu had an... unexpected visit from the Empire, hohoho," Nagga replied as he slid towards her. He waved one of his arms, calling over a waitress.
"Lord Nagga?" she asked, fear in her voice. She was a young Twi'lek woman, green skinned, barely above the legal age. The hutt grabbed her backside and hugged her to him.
"Hohoho, my sweet, bring Daddy Nagga his favorite, yes?"
"Y-yes, my Lord," she squeaked out before the hutt let her go and she ran off to do his bidding.
Nagga turned back to Zeno, "Have a seat, my dear."
"No, thanks, I'll stand," she replied immediately.
A fist slammed onto the table and Nagga growled, "Sit down, woman!"
For an instant Zeno considered telling the hutt to shove it where the sun didn't shine but she wasn't exactly sure how to word it. In the end, the ex-spy sat down and crossed one leg over the other, revealing her knee. Naga licked his lips again, "Hohoho!"
"Business," Zeno said, stressing the word.
"Right, right, my dear, business..." Nagga answered as his eyes darted to the Twi'lek girl that was returning with a small cauldron that she set in front of the massive slug. She moved away as quickly as possible, but still recieved a smack on the behind from her owner as she fled. Zeno was just about done with this sack of slime. "Hohoho! Beautiful isn't she? I purchased her four years ago, it was such a pleasure breaking her in..."
"Business," Zeno repeated.
One of the hutt's hands dived into the cauldron and pulled out what looked like a tadpole that had just begun to grow legs. It struggled and squeaked as the hutt brought it to his lips. His massive jaw closed mercilessly upon the creature, crushing it with a defeated squeak and crunch between his molars.
"Delicious, hohoho!" Juice and drool flowed over his lips and his long tongue slid over it, picking up as much as it could in a single sweep. Zeno was disgusted. "Ah, yes, business, hohoho!, business, eh? Very well, my dear. I have decided to agree to your proposal."
"Good," Zeno stared at the massive, obese figure.
"Such a serious girl, my dear," the Hutt answered, clearly annoyed with her response. "I would enjoy breaking you in."
"Break me and you'll lose your market on Toseng," Zeno answered quickly.
"Maybe it might be worth it."
There was a pause as they stared at each other. Zeno stayed perfectly still, thinking of the holdout blaster hidden in her bag. If she'd still been with the Rebels--the New Republic now, she reminded herself--she would've had a team outside waiting for her signal. Things were different now. Now she had no team waiting for her outside. All she had now was herself.
A fake smile grew on her lips and she stood up. Zeno walked around the circular table and sat down upon it, in front of the Hutt, right next to the cauldron, and crossed her legs. Slowly she reached into the pot and grabbed hold of one of the tadpole-like creatures, noticing the tendrils that were growing from it's head. What are these? she thought to herself, doing her best to avoid thinking too hard where the tadpoles might come from. Instead she reached out and used the squirming thing to caress Nagga's lips. Slowly she dipped into the Hutt's mouth, who greedily bit down upon the tadpole, killing it with a crunch. Zeno wanted to vomit, but continued smiling instead.
"It would be a waste to break me," she said softly to the Hutt. "I'm more enjoyable when I'm unpredictable..." Her eyes met Nagga's.
"Hohoho! My dear! Aye! Now I remember why I enjoy you so much, my lovely, yes yes!" the Hutt reached out unexpectedly and pulled her towards him. Had she misjudged? She fell upon his pillowy stomach and immediately tried to twist her way up but he was too fast. Thick, moist fingers surrounded and squeezed her throat as he held her head forcibly to his breast. "I do enjoy you! But I enjoyed my brother Farlu as well. Remember that, respect that. You are in my territory, schutta, and if you ever forget that again I don't break you, I'll have my guards break you into little pieces and then I'll send you back to those bastards you betrayed... who do you think will pay more? The Empire? Or the New Republic?"
The hand around her neck made breathing and speaking difficult. "How... how did you..."
"I'm Nagga, how do you think I know? I know everything! Humans must be the stupidest of all races, constantly under estimating the rest. Are you going to behave yourself, woman?"
Nagga let go and flung her off of him. She crashed into the table, knocking it over and the contents of the cauldron all over herself. A warm, sticky liquid stuck to her, drenching her red dress and ruining her well put together hair. Red burned on her face, humiliated for having overstepped. She was swearing revenge but kept her eyes down, fearful of reprisal. The Hutt laughed at the sight and snapped his fingers.
A Weequay walked over with a small black case. He pressed a button and opened it, revealing the hundreds of thousands of credits neatly stacked within.
"Half now, half when you've fulfilled the contract," Nagga explained to her. "Stand up."
Zeno pulled herself up warily and reached over for the credits. The Hutt seemed to smile at her. "Say 'thank you, Lord Nagga.'"
"What?" she asked, her hand stopping mid reach.
"You heard me... or do you need me to explain it to you like before? Hohoho!"
Zeno cursed him in her mind, one thousand times over. She would have her revenge. Her eyes blazed with hatred of him, of herself, of everything she was forced to do now that she'd lost her life's work. She'd have revenge against them all.
"Thank you, Lord Nagga," she said, forcing out each syllable.
"You're welcome, schutta. You belong to me. Hohoho! Go, do your job, and return when you've finished," Nagga waved her off. "Hohoho!'
Zeno took the credits and without a single word walked away into the streets of Nar Shadaa and disappeared with her shame.
[ Orbit around Toseng ]
The Silver Ticket, a YV-260 Light Freighter, looked like a ship that had seen better days, though it's captain, a Zeltron male named Tsurio, often remarked that it gave the Ticket character. That very same Zeltron sat in the pilot's chair of the ship, one booted foot propped against the empty co-pilot's seat as he waited.
Tsurio was a handsome man, even by Zeltron standards. His light violet hair was combed back and his goatee perfectly trimmed. His eyes were a light pink, standing out against his dark red skin. You would never guess that Tsurio led a band of scoundrels from his appearance, especially when taking into account his fine clothes made of rare silks and fabrics.
He'd nearly fallen asleep when his holocommunicator began to buzz. "Finally," he murmured to himself as he reached out and slapped the button to accept the communication.
A gigantic, floating, holographic image of a woman with a sharp beauty and cold eyes appeared, staring straight at Tsurio. Immediately he sat up. "Comfortable in my ship, Captain?" the woman snapped at him.
Here we go, the Zeltron thought with a heavy sigh. He offered her the biggest smile he could muster, "Ah! Zeno! How lovely to see you again. You are as beautiful as ever, my lady."
"Cut the crap, Tsurio," she answered impatiently. She seemed to be in a fouler mood than usual. "I don't have the time to sit here and flirt with my underlings."
"Underling? Now that's such a harsh word..."
"I don't give a damn. You work for me, understood? Unless you want Zeltros to find out..."
"No! Fine! Underling it is," Tsurio cut her off.
She stared at him. "Very well. I'll keep this brief. We've been given the green light. The Operation is a Go."
"Copy that," Tsurio answered. "Is that all?"
"That is all," Zeno replied and cut the transmission.
Tsurio sighed. "Such a sweetheart..."
[ Bar in Capital City; Toseng ]
Between two cartoonish rancor arms, aurebesh letters flickered in bright neon color, on and off over and over, above a modest doorway on a dirty street.
Buried in the slums that pocked the outskirts of the Capital, a small tavern named "Rancorpits'' was a haven for those of ill repute. Tsurio's crew immediately had chosen it as their new home while they were on the planet, though they were very disappointed by the fact that there were no Rancors to be found inside.
"So that's Drogg, he likes to shoot things." A feminine finger pointed at a rather large Gran. Standing at least a foot taller than the rest of them, Drogg's three eye stalks remained ever vigilant. A long, flowing goatee sprouted from the chin of his sheep-like face. Next to him, their rump firmly in a bar stool with their hefty arms hanging over the back, was a Dug using its legs to mix a drink. "And that's Svitzek, Drogg's life partner, right?"
A smile flashed across her lips and he was again reminded just how attractive he found the pale skinned woman. Her violet eyes fixated on him, expectant.
"Right," he laughed as he began to rake his fingers through his blonde beard, watching the woman with an amused look. "Just don't let them hear that!"
"Or what? I can take 'em," she laughed. "You know I'm right, Guts!"
"You are freakishly strong," he admitted. Slowly, he touched his bald head with his right hand, running his fingers along the scar that ran from his right brow, over his skull until the back of his head.
"See! Now, let me finish, yeah?"
Guts held his hands up. "By all means, Sigilien, carry on."
She watched him for a moment longer before she smiled at him and continued, pointing at a human.
"Joff Braxley," she claimed. The man was nearly as tall as Drogg but probably a quarter of his weight. Impossibly thin, the man sat by himself, combing his long, beautiful raven black hair. Guts considered him an asshole on this alone. "He's a... vegan sharpshooter?"
"His words, not mine," Guts shrugged. "I've only had to work with him once before. Thinks he's too cool for the rest of us."
"That's not exactly a high bar," Sigilien teased, picking up her drink and taking a few sips to keep from cackling at Guts's hard stare. "Don't be mad at me! If anything you should be mad at yourself for making it so easy."
Guts rolled his eyes and shook his head, unable to contain his amusement anymore. "You're so annoying."
Sigilien wiggled her brows and laughed. Suddenly her attention was diverted; her eyes darted over to a young Zabrak girl who stood up from one of the booths and ran over to throw her arms around a recently arrived Zeltron male.
"That's Captain Tsurio," she said. "He's the one one paying us."
"Almost," Guts corrected her. "Zeno pays us. Tsurio is just her boy toy."
"Hey, I heard that, asshat," Tsurio warned as he passed by. "I'm not her boy toy. I'm her favorite boy toy. Don't be jealous, Gutsy. Come on. Team meeting."
"Yeah, yeah, be right there," Guts lifted the beer he was drinking and moved the bottle around, swirling the contents, showing he was nearly done with his drink.
Tsurio shrugged and then looked over at Sigilien and his demeanor changed completely. With a cool smile and a wink he said, "Hope you'll join us soon, Miss."
"Aye, aye, cap'n," Sigilien gave him an exaggerated salute, causing Guts to snort and Tsurio to wink at her. Tightening an arm around the Zabrak girl's waist, the Zeltron continued onwards. Siglien turned to Guts, "Who's she?"
"Huh? Oh, that's Astin, our inside man. Girl," Guts shrugged and drained the rest of his beer. "Whatever. Let's go see what we're getting paid to do."
A few minutes later the rest of the bar had been cleared, leaving only Tsurio's team sitting around one of the larger tables.
"Alright, boys and girls, let's keep this simple," Tsurio began. "We've been given the go ahead to begin the operation. We will be divided into three teams. Team One will be Drogg, Svitzek, and myself. We'll be the command center and we'll coordinate everything through the Silver Ticket."
Guts turned to look at the two aliens. He knew that there was more than one reason to keep them onboard. Even in the capital city, which was much more ethnically diverse than the rest of the planet, Grans and Dugs were rare enough to draw attention no matter where they went. That, and the fact that their wallu nut sized brains told them to shoot and ask questions later, meant that they would be relegated to the ship until they needed the extra muscle. Neither of them seemed to care, really, and were more interested in their drinks than the briefing.
"Team Two will consist of Astin and Joff," Tsurio continued, pointing at the sniper and the Zabrak woman. "Your mission is to worm your way into Brebor's office. I know you have an in, Astin, so take full advantage of that."
"Anything for you, my Captain," Astin answered, clearly infatuated with the Zeltron. Guts rolled his eyes--she had it bad. In a way, Guts almost felt bad for her.
Tsurio winked at his Zabrak lover. "I know, babe. Joff will be watching over you." He turned his attention to the sniper. "Right?"
"Yes, sir," Joff answered. "I've found a few places to set up at, all with clear views of Brebor's Office."
"Good, good," Tsurio said and finally turned to Guts and Sigilien. "You two are Team Three. You've already made contact with the Militia?"
"Aye, they can't wait for Life Day to come early," Guts answered. The True Loyalist Militia was a radical pro-Imperial faction and would only do business with humans. "We have a meeting set up for a few days from now. They want to buy blasters."
"And we'll have a crate of blasters for them," Tsurio replied. "Looks like we're all set up. Joff, Astin, start heading out, we'll be in communication. The rest of you start getting ready. Tomorrow we're going to change the world."
"Oh! I finally get it!" interrupted Sigilien. Everyone turned to her in confusion. "The sign," she began to explain. "Rancorpits. Between the arms of the rancor. Like, a rancor's armpit."
There were a few moments of silence as they attempted to comprehend this new knowledge that had befallen them, before they all groaned.
[ Approaching CRS Vigilant; Classified System ]
Flight Officer Zynnadi "Bearcat" looked out of the passenger viewport of their frigid transport module and took in the vista before him. A heavily armed and armored Mon Calamari Cruiser sat floating in the middle of a small taskforce that included three Nebulon-B Escort Frigates, six Corellian Corvettes, and two ships of a model he wasn't familiar with.
"That one's a Dornean Gunship," a soft voice said from nearby. "It's death to any TIEs that venture too close with those eight concussion missile tubes and all those cannons."
Bearcat looked over at the owner of the voice. It was the young Pantoran from his flight school graduating class, but he'd forgotten her name. To be honest, the only reason he'd remembered her at all was her species' blue skin, which sent him into a heightened state of alert when he'd first seen her coloration. She was pointing at the ship with a half-circle front end with a thin neck attached to a slightly wider body. The thing absolutely bristled with the weaponry she'd mentioned. He nodded in thanks. "And the otherrr?"
"I'm not sure," she responded as she paused to blow a loose strand of her light purple hair out of her face. She looked back to Bearcat with her familiar yellow eyes and smiled kindly. "You forgot my name, didn't you?"
A wave of heat flashed over Bearcat as he felt intense shame for not remembering her name. He'd been so singularly focused in attaining the best ranking in the group that he had forsaken all else. "I apologize, but I have. But I DO rrrememberrr you arrre a Pantorrran." He left out the part that his species was very familiar with Pantorans, as many of his race had historically been sold to their race as slaves after their one-sided war against the Mandalorians. She was the first of the species that he'd personally encountered, though stories of their cruelty and indifference had been told ad nauseum throughout his youth.
She smiled prettily. "Yes, at least you did get that correct and not mistake me for a bloody Chiss." She waited for a chuckle at her apparent joke, but it landed flat on the relatively sheltered Cathar. "Oh, I forgot, first time off your planet so you probably haven't heard of or seen a Chiss," she said with an embarrassed blush. "My name is Cho Shuun. The unimaginative bunch in our class just call me 'Blue'."
"I apologize forrr forrrgetting it," Bearcat said graciously. "And I am-"
"Zynnadi," Blue interrupted with another smile. "I remembered the first time you told us."
"So," Bearcat said after a long pause. He looked around, and the other two pilots from their class were bundled up with more clothes. For the first time the entire flight, He'd realized that he and Blue were the only ones that appeared comfortable with the low temperature of the cargo module they were hitching a ride in. His fur insulated him fairly well, and apparently her species had a fairly strong tolerance for low temperatures compared to the others.
"So," Blue replied as she gazed out at the task force they were joining. "I don't know what that last ship is. Do you?"
Bearcat followed her gaze, settling on the ship that appeared like a bullet-shaped fish with a stinging tail at the end. "It kind of rrresembles the transport ve're currrently on," he said with uncertainty. "But... strrrongerrr?"
Blue nodded. "GR-75, yeah, I see that resemblance..."
"It's a Mon Cal frigate," one of the other pilots from their class chimed in gruffly, the tone of his voice indicating that the two non-humans were stupid for not knowing this fact.
Bearcat knew this human's name, as he'd been his top competition for the top ranking in the flight class. "Thanks, Farrrtun," he replied, knowing that the pilot absolutely hated his last name and had done his best to conceal it from them. The day the flight instructor had called it out, he'd punched one of the pilot recruits that had ribbed him a little too much about it. The action had earned him the nickname 'Slugger' from the instructor, as well as latrine duty for a week.
Slugger shot him a menacing look for the use of his embarrassing last name, but otherwise didn't seem keen to engage in any more verbal or physical posturing. Instead, he smiled and opted to show off his intimate knowledge of the ship in question. "MC30c, and they're fast. I've heard of them catching up to retreating TIEs to finish the job."
"Appreciate the information, Slugger," Blue said sarcastically.
Slugger rose to his feet and took a step closer. He balled his fists menacingly.
Bearcat shifted his stance to face the aggressive human and revealed his retractable claws. He bared his fangs as an added measure of intimidation. The human visibly quailed at the sight of Bearcat's new sharp features, but he stood his ground.
"Calm down, guys," the fourth passenger of their compartment groaned. "We're all on the same team, and going to the same squadron."
"Stay out of it, Peacock," Slugger grunted.
The Theelin female grimaced at her nickname, earned by caring a little too much about her looks during flight school. The vanity part of it she didn't mind, but being referred to by the male half of the vain avian species nibbled at her. Still, she rose to her feet. "I'm doing you a favor, you idiot. Sit down before he vents your insides."
The fight left Slugger the moment she finished speaking. He attempted to maintain the posture for a moment longer, but his smile was filled with nervous energy as he waved at Blue and Bearcat dismissively. He sat back down in his seat next to Peacock and resumed their private conversation.
Blue sidled closer to Bearcat after the confrontation had petered out. "Thanks," she whispered.
"Some people just need to be beaten once to rrrealize they arrren't the best fighter in the rrroom," Bearcat purred as he absentmindedly ran his finger along the hairless scar that ran diagonally down his face. He resumed gazing out at the task force he and his companions were joining and set his jaw in determination.
"I vill be the best."
The module shuddered as a tug docked with it and locked its magnetic clamps tightly. Despite all of them knowing it was coming, it was still unsettling to have the orientation of their compartment changed as the tug pilot did their best to get their tasks done as quickly as possible. Blue bounced into Bearcat as she lost her balance with the reckless cargo procedure. He caught her with one arm and braced against the wall with his other hand, his claws involuntarily deployed but this time a welcome addition.
"Thanks," she whispered kindly as she found her own feet.
"You think this guy is in a hurry or what?" Slugger snapped as he gripped the side of the cargo module for support.
"Probably doesn't even know there are people inside this one," Peacock replied, likewise holding on for dear life on the edge of her bench.
Again, as before the tug pilot whipped their cargo module around to re-orient for docking with the Mon Calamari cruiser. Bearcat hadn't let go of the cargo container he'd been gripping since the last reorientation, so he and Blue barely moved. Slugger and Peacock let loose another string of curses as they were roughly jostled once again. The viewport caught the edge of the magcon field as it whipped past.
"Coming in hot!" Blue warned.
A sudden braking maneuver almost threw all of them forward along with their loose baggage, but Blue's warning had prepared them all and they'd braced hard before the sudden stop. It still didn't stop another angry string of curses from all of the beings along for the ride. They felt the deck shudder as the module was set down just as suddenly as they'd been stopped. The door to their cargo module groaned as it began to open slowly, with a sliver of light at the top growing slowly to admit more of the ambient atmosphere from the hangar bay.
Bearcat and Blue disembarked the cargo container at a leisurely pace while Slugger and Peacock practically sprinted down the small ramp to the freedom of the larger space. The moment their feet hit the deck, the tug that had brought them into the hangar unclamped and spun effortlessly in the air and headed back out for another module at the medium transport they'd hitched a ride on.
Another tug was maneuvering in a much larger cargo module that probably carried their snub fighters along with some other war materiel and supplies. Bearcat and his compatriots walked quickly to clear the deck for the new arrival, but they were all relatively lost with where to exactly go with all of the activity going on in the cavernous hangar. They were all awed by the various fighter craft spread around the hangar with varying numbers of kill silhouettes painted onto the fuselages. A beaten up Y-Wing with a green paint job had the usual TIE markings, but a few ship symbols he was not familiar with.
"Look at this one," Blue said as she stood next to a gray X-Wing with almost neon blue highlights.
Bearcat, Slugger, and Peacock ambled over to Blue as she attempted to decipher the image. "I can't figure out what this is."
"A circle with a dot?" Slugger asked as he raised an eyebrow.
"It means," a gruff, disinterested voice called out from behind them, "that the pilot made a Death Star run and survived it."
The pilots whirled around and stood at attention once they recognized the rank on the pilot's chest before them. Bearcat examined the rotund human captain. His uniform was on the sloppy side, as was his beard. His eyes appeared to be a little bloodshot, and Bearcat's heightened sense of smell detected more than a hint of alcohol on the man's breath.
"You lot must be my greenies," the captain continued. "I'm Captain Clark, the XO of Buccaneer Squadron here on the Vig. We are the heavy hammer of the task force. They call, we brawl. 'Strength through irresistible focused firepower' is the motto. Learn it. Love it. Live it. Any questions?"
Slugger snickered, attempting to catch himself with his hand. "S.T.I.F.F."
Bulldog took two steps closer to the sniggering human, moving faster than a man of that size should be able. "Something funny to you, greenie?"
Slugger straightened back up and recoiled slightly, but held his ground. "No sir."
"That is the motto of the best bomber jockeys in the galaxy," the angry captain growled in a low voice. "You don't get to laugh until you've survived your first sortie. Got that?"
"You probably ended up top of your flight class, and came from a small town where you were the center of the universe. Real hot poodoo. Too bad that all means nothing out here. Got that? Nothing. You're lower than the janitorial staff until you survive your first sortie." Bulldog stepped back, breathing heavily after ripping into the insolent pilot. "Anybody else think the motto is funny?"
A chorus of "No sir" replied back.
Bulldog relaxed. "Good. Now follow Ninx here, and they'll get you sorted into your new billets. Clear the deck so the real workers can get their jobs done," he said as he spun on his heel and stormed off.
A youthful human of an androgynous look stepped forward with a kind smile. "Cap's all heart once you get to know him," Loth-Cat said as they nodded toward the retreating Bulldog. "Anyway, this way to the Bucc billets. Grab your gear and follow me, please."
Bearcat shouldered his small personal bag and his heavy gear duffel. Seeing Blue struggling with her gear pack, he handed her his small personal bag and shouldered her heavy bag as well. She nodded back to accept her quiet thanks, and then followed along behind the rest of his pilot class as they followed their guide. All around him, people of all species were moving about with a purpose. The number of beings carrying out tasks was mildly overwhelming to his senses, as his people were accustomed to having a lot of space when they needed it. Tired of your surroundings? Go on a hunt. Tired of your littermates? Go stretch your legs on a jaunt through the savannah. Need to clear your head? Dig your claws into the bark of the ancestral trees and climb until you have a bird's eye view of the entire forest.
"This place is building up for something big," Slugger said in awe. "Hey, pilot."
Loth-Cat looked over their shoulder as they continued to lead the way through the bowels of the ship. "Yes?"
"It looks like we're prepping for something big," Slugger said. "What's the plan?"
Loth-Cat shrugged. "I'm just a Flight Officer, like you four. I won't know anything until a briefing happens. Sorry."
"Flight Officer?" Peacock asked. "How long have you been with the squadron?"
"Almost two months," Loth-Cat replied as they came to a stop outside of some open doors.
"Two months and still a Flight Officer?" Slugger asked with a mocking edge to his voice.
"Yep," Loth-Cat replied, either oblivious to the dig or choosing not to engage. "Anyway, Flight Officers Shuun and Un Fabee are in here," they said as they pointed to one of the open doors.
Peacock walked in first and deposited her things onto one of the beds, attempting but failing to keep the disapproving look off of her face. Blue walked in and deposited her light bag, and then stepped aside for Bearcat so he could set down her gear duffel gently. She patted his shoulder in thanks as she handed him his own personal bag, then clapped her hands energetically as she took in her new home.
Bearcat bid her adieu and stepped back into the hallway with Slugger and Loth-Cat. Across the hall, there was one open bed and the other was occupied, but his view was obscured by the angle of the doorway so he couldn't get a good look at the other pilot.
"Flight Officer Fartun is in here with Lieutenant Mandal," Loth-Cat said cheerily as they pointed to the room Bearcat had been examining.
Bearcat's neck and shoulder hair stood up on its hackles. Mandal?
Slugger turned around, his eyes flashing with anger at the usage of his given last name. The look persisted as his eyes fell upon Bearcat. "So long, hairball," he said as he entered the room and dropped his bags loudly on the empty bed, jarring the other individual awake with a start.
As the previously slumbering figure stood, more features were visible to Bearcat, setting him even more on edge. Greaves and vambraces of Mandalorian design and coloration came into view as the pilot stepped forward to greet his new roommate. The pilot's helmet was off, but his chest armor was also of Mandalorian design. A young human with brown hair and soft blue eyes looked back at him and smiled politely.
"Welcome to Buccaneer," the Mandalorian said as he shook hands with Slugger, and then held out a hand toward Bearcat. "Call me Gnoizic."
Bearcat recoiled and flashed his fangs, as if the touch of him would be death. His claws shot out and dug into the bags he was carrying. His pulse quickened as time slowed down, a side effect of his fight or flight reflex kicking in.
Gnoizic pulled his hand back and held both of them up in a conciliatory gesture. "Hey, sorry. Is shaking hands not a form of greeting for your species? I apologize."
Bearcat was embarrassed instantly as he realized how he must appear to the others at this moment. He forced himself to calm down, retracting his claws and relaxing his coiled muscles. "I apologize, Lieutenant. This... is a verrry new envirrronment forrr me," he panted out.
Gnoizic smiled politely. "Of course. Well, welcome to the squadron," he said with a polite wave rather than attempting another handshake.
Loth-Cat smiled kindly as they tugged Bearcat's arm gently to draw them farther down the hall. As they continued, a Bothan stuck his head out into the hall. "Hey, Crane. This is Zyn..." they trailed off as they had difficulty with the pronunciation of his name.
"Zynnadi," Bearcat replied politely as he sized up the new arrival. The scent of the Bothan was... off to him. While similar in appearance, that's where the similarities ended. This one smelled as sour as his disposition appeared to be.
"Origami," Crane replied gruffly as he turned away and went back into his bunk.
"He's still adjusting to the new duty rosters," Loth-Cat said as they leaned in close. "Spectre is down a pilot and we are now at a surplus, so he's been bumped over there for the short term. Anyway, we're the next room over. This way," they said as they continued walking to the next open door. Loth-Cat entered first and stood near their bunk as they waited for Bearcat to enter.
Bearcat set his bags down gently and took the room in. Before he'd had much time to study things, his roommate interrupted his examination.
"I hope you don't mind my saying, but your flight school scores were excellent."
Bearcat arched his scarred eyebrow. "You saw those?"
Loth-Cat nodded. "The Captain shared them with us. Said you had the scores to be a Rogue someday if you survived long enough."
"Trrruthfully, I applied immediately for Rrrogue Squadrrron," Bearcat replied honestly. "I vasn't expecting... this."
Loth-Cat laughed. "Yeah, it's rare if anybody goes straight into Rogue," they replied as they opened their footlocker and started rummaging around. "The Captain was a Rogue before he became the XO for Bucc, you know. He'd be somebody to talk to regarding joining Rogue for sure."
Bearcat nodded politely as he started putting his personal effects away. He began organizing things, but his mind was racing about the Mandalorian he'd just met, and the implications of having to work closely with him despite the history between their people. The Mandalorians had conquered and subsequently sold his ancestors into slavery. Many ended up as chattel for the Pantoran race, but Blue's behavior displayed anything but a superiority complex the Cathar had associated with the blue humanoids his ancestors had told him about. Perhaps this Gnoizic is similarly not as evil as my people have led me to believe. Better be on my guard nonetheless...
A loud clattering of metal on metal drew Bearcat's attention to Loth-Cat's feet. A Mandalorian shoulder pauldron had slipped out of their footlocker and was currently bouncing near their feet.
Bearcat again seized with fear as soon as he recognized the origin of the armor. He reflexively got into a combat crouch, baring his fangs and claws. His pulse quickened again as he prepared to lash out in an aggressive posture, to defend himself with a pre-emptive strike at the first appearance of aggression from his new roommate.
Loth-Cat absentmindedly picked up the pauldron humming to themselves. The humming ceased as they noticed the disposition of their new roommate. "What?"
"You'rrre a Mandalorrrian."
Loth-Cat smiled as they held the pauldron up, oblivious to the effect it had on Bearcat. "Not quite, no. Maybe someday? It's complicated."
Bearcat bared his teeth at the sight of the piece of Mandalorian armor, but the threat his ingrained instincts clearly sensed was not present. "My people... arrre not on good terrrms with your people."
Loth-Cat looked genuinely confused. "I can't seem to remember ever hearing about a war between Aq Vetina and your race."
Bearcat arched his scarred eyebrow. "Mandalorrrians don't hail from such a place as farrr as I have heard."
Loth-Cat shook their head. "No. They saved us from the droid armies of the Separatists during the clone wars, though."
An angry hiss escaped Bearcat's lips. "Saved yourrr people, enslaved mine."
A look of intense horror took hold of Loth-Cat's features. "Enslaved?"
Bearcat nodded. "Vhy anybody vould vant to join a rrrace of conquerrring slaverrrs is beyond me."
"I had no idea."
"I must insist on a new bedding arrrangement. I cannot rrrest prrroperrrly knowing a Mando-vannabe is my rrroommate vhile anotherrr is a few doorrrs down the hall."
"We're not the Mandalorians of your past!"
Bearcat hadn't stopped to respond, angrily growling as he stormed out of the room and down the hall the opposite direction he'd come. He didn't want to walk past the other Mando's room either. He had no idea where he was going, but he had a lead to follow. He'd smelled the faintest traces of alcohol on his new executive officer's breath as he'd been dressing down Slugger. His species' keen sense of smell had been a benefit to his tracking abilities, and he planned to put it to good use now.
Unfortunately the humid, sterile environment of his new home was filled with scents he didn't recognize, and it mingled into an un-trackable smellscape that confused his otherwise keenest sense. He wasn't sure what he was smelling in any one direction, though a nearby Rodian crewmember gave off a very strong stench that made his nose crinkle and lips curl in a grimace. Through all of the "noise", he couldn't parse out any particular waft of alcohol to trace back to its source.
He stopped in the middle of a large hub of some sort and just stood there, paralyzed by the sights, sounds, and smells of all of the different beings moving around about their daily tasks. He turned slowly around, his eyes darting about as he tried to make sense of the environment he'd stumbled into. Beings of unknown species ambled past, some looking sullen, others jovial.
"Are you lost, Flight Officer?"
Bearcat whirled around, but there was nobody there. He turned around again and attempted to make sense of things. He felt a tug on the back of the leg of his fatigues, and he made him almost leap out of his fur as he jumped forward and whirled around, landing in a combat crouch.
His landing brought him eye to eye with yet another new species for him: a short, pig-like man with a jowly face and wispy blonde sideburns. The new being looked at him kindly. "Are you lost?"
Bearcat relaxed and rose to his full height, looking down upon the shorter being. "Yes, I am lost."
The pig-man chuckled. "Clearly," he said with a smile. "Where are you trying to find?"
Bearcat scratched his chin, unsure if he should give his XO's name or just a place he was actually trying to find. "I am looking forrr my executive officerrr."
The shorter being examined Bearcat's uniform for a moment, and his eyes lit up after a brief moment. "Wonderful. Your first day and you're already trying to find the most important part of the ship!"
Bearcat flashed a nervous grin and nodded, hoping to mask his true intentions from his new guide. Inside, he was confused at the response he'd been given, considering he'd asked about a person and this short pig-man was talking about a place.
"I am Koldin," his guide said as he gestured to his chest with both hands.
Bearcat bowed his head respectfully. "Zynnadi."
"You are a new Buccaneer pilot," Koldin said matter-of-factly, pointing to the new patch on Zynnadi's shoulder. "I am an engineer. If you ever need to find anything, we're the department to ask." He stopped to scratch his chin and smile. "The place you seek is more than likely the SSD."
"The main hub of all things alcohol aboard this ship, Z."
Bearcat nodded slowly. "Ok, so vherrre is this 'SSD'?"
"I've got duty in five, but follow along, new guy," Koldin said as he brushed past Bearcat and walked briskly through the crowded area. Despite his diminutive size, he weaved in and out of traffic with ease and with a quickness that was surprising for a being with short legs.
Bearcat jolted himself from inaction and did his best to follow along. His grace and coordination were no match for the sheer number of crewmen traveling through the area in a chaotic dance of duty, however. He jostled and bumped into many as they all snipped insults or backed away slowly from the sight of the large human-sized cat that was looking increasingly nervous.
He finally reached the other side of the hub and made it to a hallway with more orderly traffic split in two directions, allowing him to go with the flow as he continued to follow Koldin. The Ugnaught was a few bodies ahead of him and showed no signs of slowing down. After a few twists, turns, and two ladderways up, they'd reached their destination.
"This is the place, Z," Koldin said with a pointing finger. "You might want to go to the new crewman orientation file on the net. It contains a thorough map, though it's missing the hidden throughways and side paths that my department is privy to. If you buy me a few drinks next time I'm off, you might just find you'll have access to the super secret map as well."
"Thank you. I vill do that."
Koldin nodded jovially. "Sounds like a plan, my good man," he said as he doubled back and started heading back the way they'd come. He waved without looking back. "Welcome to the crew!"
Bearcat entered the shipboard cantina with cautious uncertainty. Bearcat thought it was strange that the engineer had known with certainty that his target would be here, but upon entering the darkened interior he did indeed see his executive officer sitting in a corner booth alone nursing a drink.
The others in the bar gave the Cathar a wide berth as he entered, as his eyes had a set look about him. His eyes didn't leave the drinking pilot as he crossed the room determinedly, coming to a stop a polite and safe distance away. "Captain?"
"Stow the 'captain' shab here, kid," Bulldog grumbled while he continued to stare into the bottom of his own glass.
Bearcat waited for more of a response or an invitation to continue, but he did not receive one. He took in a deep breath to steel his nerves and pressed on. "I vould like to discuss trrransferrfing to anotherrr squadrrron."
Bulldog snorted, then took a drink. He hissed as the liquid burned his throat, and finally looked up with a wry smile on his face. "I'd like to say this is record time for a transfer request, but I think Crane's got you beat on that front."
Bearcat thought back to the dour Bothan he'd met earlier and understood his disposition a bit better. Still though, just because his request for transfer had been denied didn't necessarily mean his would be summarily dismissed as well. Surely his issues with the proximity of Mandalorians would carry the day. "Sirrr-"
"Stop," Bulldog interrupted, holding up a hand. "Your request is denied."
Bulldog arched an eyebrow, but interrupted again. "What about the Mandos?"
"They enslaved my people!"
This made Bulldog pause, his mouth hanging open as he swallowed the quip he was about to say. He eventually closed his mouth and took another sip. After mulling it over for a lengthy amount of time, he motioned for Bearcat to sit across from him. "I understand now how this might be a difficult assignment, and I apologize for being so flippant earlier."
Bearcat sat and breathed a sigh of relief at the apology. "Thank you, sirrr. Now, I figurrre that my flight school scores arrre good enough forrr entrrry into Rrrogue-"
Bulldog snorted loudly again, rudely interrupting Bearcat's train of thought. "Out of the question," he said as he looked over his shoulder. "Igs, another. Make it with some balls this time."
Bearcat felt a wave of anger wash over him. "I cannot function properrrly vhile looking overrr my shoulderrr everrry time I'm arrround them!"
A fresh glass of bourbon appeared in front of Bulldog, who immediately grabbed it and took a healthy swig. He hissed again, and nodded in appreciation at the server droid. "Look, kid-"
Bearcat flashed his fangs in frustration. "I am not a juvenile. My species maturrres at-"
Bulldog held up his hands in surrender. "Ok, sorry. Bad habit. Look. You weren't just assigned to us. We NEED you. Do you think I would just ask for any green pilot for one of our escort fighters? No, don't answer that. I wouldn't. We need a pilot with your reflexes and skills to keep our slow movers safe so we can go bust the big ships. And when you're not busy doing that, you're going to be keeping our support craft safe from enemy fire. Your skills are exactly where they are needed. End of discussion."
Bearcat frowned. "I am morrre than qualified forrr Rrrogue though, and-"
"Enough," Bulldog said as he slammed his hand down on the table, sloshing the alcohol in his glass over the rim. "And now you've made me spill my drink. Nobody goes straight into Rogue Squadron... anymore. Nobody," he said as he fixed a steely gaze on his new pilot. "Dismissed."
Bearcat growled quietly, but stood up and walked away as there was no other recourse for him to take at this juncture that he could divine. "Thank you forrr yourrr time, Captain," he hissed as he spun on his heel and stormed out of the bar, scattering more nervous personnel in his wake.
[ Capital City; Toseng ]
Yam took a sip of the caf, savouring it, as she absent mindedly played with the slightly shorter lekku on her left. Things had been so hectic the past week or so she hadn't had the chance to really sit down and enjoy life. The caf in this cafe was good, maybe not Chandrilla levels of good but for this far out towards the rim you'd be hard pushed to do much better. Not that she was actually here to enjoy the caf.
"I could arrest you right now, you know?" The man looking down at her wore plain clothes but it was obvious from his bearing that he wasn't a civilian. Yam offered her sweetest smile, pointing towards the plate that sat on his side with the sugared dough ball on it. He glared at it, "Bribing a police officer is a crime you know."
"Just shut up and eat the food Detective Montara."
The detective shrugged and sat down, eating it ravenously. "I'm serious, journalist. I've heard stuff about what you've been up to. Some in the office think we should have you arrested for espionage. Propaganda against the state."
Siddalla smoothed her lekku over her shoulder, calming her nerves. She was taking a risk doing this but didn't know who else to turn to. "I'm sure some do. But you don't, do you, Detective?"
He fixed his eyes on hers. "What are you implying?"
"I've done my research, Montara. I know what they all say about you. Straight as a laser beam, never takes a bribe, never stops asking questions. You're the closest thing Toseng has to an honest cop."
"No such thing," Detective Montara said, wiping his fingers on a napkin. He leaned forward and took her cup, taking a swig of her caf. "You're old enough to know how it works. I just do my bit and get by."
"I'm serious, Detective. I got info that I need someone important to hear. But I can't get to them."
Detective Montara fixed her with a look. He was young, maybe just past thirty, but his eyes looked tired. Everything looked tired. "Alright Siddalla. I'll bite. What you got?"
She leaned forward, trying not to look too conspicuous. "My contacts have spotted weapons getting moved. Support funneling towards more radical groups. I think someone is going to try to stop the election. I think they're going to kidnap Rori Brebor."
The detective put down the cup of caf slowly. "That's a lot of shooting in the dark. What if I put it to you that it's just as likely a republic commando team, looking to give the republic a reason to come marching in?"
"Don't be so dense," she snapped, her face flush with anger. "We both can see which way the tide is turning. Republic has plenty of reasons to come to Toseng as is, why would they send Ambassador Vel'Ath here if they wanted to just seize Toseng with military force? Someone wants to stop the election. If they took Brebor the whole thing would come to a halt. We have to warn him Detective, this planet deserves better than falling into a war."
Detective Montara closed his eyes and wrapped his knuckles on the table a few times before standing. "Come on, I'm sure this badge is still good for something. Let's see if we can chat with Brebor's people."
The ride to the palace didn't take long, despite the regular blockades of troopers and security forces. That badge indeed had some power. In mere moments Sidda was inside the palace, although admittedly under a close escort with Detective Montara. People here were dressed well and servants moved at a brisk pace, carrying trays of drinks and food. Sidda spotted Brebor standing at a balcony, alongside the New Republic ambassador, but before she could reach her she was intercepted by a Zabrak woman. The woman extended a hand, "Shyon Anandes, senior aide to Rori Brebor. How may I help you?"
Sidda shook her hand animatedly, pointing at Rori. "Please, I need to talk to Brebor. I believe his life is in danger-"
"His life is always in danger." Shyon was still smiling but there was little warmth to it, "We receive death threats in the thousands everyday. What's different about this one?"
Sidda tapped her foot impatiently but she could tell she wasn't going to get any closer. So instead she pulled out her datapad, some flimsi notebooks and started to explain everything she'd heard. Every whisper, every suggestion. Shyon listened intently and nodded carefully but didn't let her get any closer to Rori. Eventually, once Sidda had stopped waving her arms and ranting and raving, she nodded once more. "Thank you Ms Siddalla for this information. Our security team will handle it."
Sidda looked confused and shook her head angrily, "Look, you don't understand-"
"Oh, but I do Siddalla. We have received similar information previously. Trust me, Rori's bodyguards would give their lives for him. They believe in what he is. They are highly capable, most have had stints off world training with New Republic special forces. He is as safe as he possibly can be. Now, please, you must leave. We have work to do."
Sidda took off her glasses and rubbed her forehead and stepped back, irritable. "Fine. Fine, I did what I could. You just watch yourselves."
She left with the detective, angry. I did what I could.
[ Governor's Palace; Capital City; Toseng ]
Ambassador Racyne Vel Aath stretched her arms, feeling her shoulders click. Before her, Toseng City stretched out for several miles. She snorted thinking of the name, an ode to the planet's history. When the original colonists had first arrived they weren't thinking of making a new home; this place only existed to exploit the resources it had. Now it had its own culture, its own history. The colonial palace she stood in was testament to that. As were the crowds of people protesting that she could see a few blocks away.
Behind her she heard the distant rolls of laughter. The Colonial Governor of Toseng, Vak Spidrucket, had the most irritating laugh she had ever heard. Everything about him irritated her. His arrogance in how he thought himself superior to the people massing outside the palace. His cowardice, once she had let enough drips of information to creep into his mind and make him realise he was in a losing position. His selfishness in when he desperately tried to negotiate immunity from prosecution in a republic court if he completed a peaceful transition of power. Many, many days she had idly daydreamed of snapping his neck. She knew she could do it, she'd trained to do it with Red squadron, and Spidrucket underestimated her. The dream kept her sane.
She let out a deep sigh, feeling the fatigue settle in her chest. She knew, really, this was the right thing to do. By making sure the vote happened, that Spidrucket quietly stepped down, that local Imperial forces quietly handed over their weapons and left the service that she was avoiding costly blood shed. Mon Mothma no less had talked to her about how important Toseng would be as an example to the galaxy. If just one tenth of the Empire's holdings could be convinced to go this peaceful path; think of the lives and destruction saved. Think of how it would reduce the Empire's strength without costing the Republic anything.
She understood all this. But yet it just didn't sit well.
She knew that guaranteeing immunity meant losing the ability to pursue justice for so many. She didn't know everything that Spidrucket had done in his time as Governor, but she knew he was guilty of enough. Yet he and those who had served under him would get to walk freely into the sunset. That kind of thing wasn't why she had signed on to fight in the first place.
Maybe she could get away with snapping his neck. Maybe.
She watched disinterestedly as Shyon Anandes, one of Brebor's aides, turned away a journalist. She recognised the woman, a Twi'Lek reporter for the Queen of the Core network. She was talking animatedly alongside a man showing his police badge, Shyon nodding patiently. No one had the energy to deal with annoying distractions tonight it seemed.
"Ambassador, may I join you?"
Racyne turned to look at the small Zabrak man who stood behind her. She smiled, genuinely, and motioned him forward. Rori Brebor returned the smile, looking out over the balcony. She liked Rori, he was as genuine as they come for a politician. He'd first been elected in his province because he'd simply walked to every door in his community and dared to ask, hey, why can't we change the way our mine works? A slight figure with a limp, he hardly cut the dashing revolutionary. But he possessed a spark that few could deny, a desire to see the world change and the belief that if enough people really cared and got together then nothing was impossible. It'd taken weeks of negotiations to get Spidrucket to allow Brebor into the colonial palace, but he didn't seem to notice or mind.
"Mr Brebor. How does the night treat you?"
"Well, Ambassador. I hear the troops have kept their distance from the protestors tonight. No doubt another one of your shrewd negotiations."
Racyne smiled again, "I just reminded Governor Spidrucket that if he continued to allow his forces to shoot and beat civilians I couldn't guarantee that Luke Skywalker wouldn't personally come and dispense justice."
Rori laughed, a warm and gentle noise. "Ah, Jedi Knights as boogeyman who come to deal with the naughty Imperial boys and girls. Very good, Ambassador."
They both turned to look out the balcony again, watching the rising smoke and distant chants of the protestors. Racyne could see the fatigue in Brebor's eyes as he watched his community from his vantage point. "I learned something of you, Ambassador."
"Is that so, Mr Brebor?"
"Yes, it is so. I learned you used to be a pilot. For the Alliance. Is that correct?"
Racyne felt a little taken aback. People assumed Brebor was a simple man, but he was sharp as a knife and had some very smart allies working alongside him. "Not particularly well known, but yes it is correct."
Rori nodded, looking up to the sky now. "Like many children, when I first saw a ship arcing through the sky I wanted so badly to be a pilot. Then, during the Clone Wars, when I saw ARC-190s and V-19s flying above me liberating my home from the Separatists, I dreamt of being a combat pilot. It held such romantic appeal and, until today, I don't think I've ever met a starfighter pilot."
"It is very romantic," Racyne mused, looking at the sky. "Both beautiful and terrible at the same time. I felt so alive whilst flying but I saw so much death. I miss it terribly, but I don't think I could ever go back."
There was a silence for a moment between them, and Racyne gave an involuntary shiver as a cold breeze swept over the city. It's cooling breeze reminded her of back home, on Pantora. Rori looked distant, his eyes somewhere else. Racyne whispered to him quietly, "Are you okay Mr Brebor?"
"Have you ever met a Reng'ali, Ambassador?"
Racyne frowned, her forehead knitted in concentration. "No, I'm afraid I don't know of their species."
"Very rare to see them outside their home system, or so my friend told me. I worked alongside him for years and he had the most curious trait. Every start of the month he would work himself to the bone, just for the one day. He worked hard the other days too, but that first day he would push himself to the very edge." Rori leaned back from the balcony, pointing at one of the orbiting moons, "You see the Reng'ali looked at our galaxy and they saw orbits and cycles and repetition. For him working hard that first day of the month would echo forward and both dictate the future as well as reflect it back. I always found the concept quite quaint."
"The cycles of life form the basis for many religions across the galaxy," Racyne nodded. "I understand it."
"I didn't." Rori sighed. "But then, looking back, I see the start of my home's current cycle. The violence and fury that came with the Republic's clone army never fully faded from here. The uniforms changed, the names changed, but the troops remained. The newly installed colonial governors remained. The event echoed forwards."
Rori looked Racyne directly in the eyes. "We are at the start of a new cycle, Ambassador. It cannot be birthed to the sounds of laser fire, no matter how well meaning and heroic your Republic pilots are. Toseng must have a chance to be free, truly."
"It won't be like that this time," Racyne said carefully, looking at Rori. "We are here to make sure it doesn't, Mr Brebor."
There was a ring of a bell and a serving droid stepped towards the balcony, but Shyon, his aide, moved to intercept first, a serious look on her face. Rori smiled and bowed a little, turning back to Racyne. "Duty calls upon us Ambassador. Let us continue our work."
[ Capital City; Toseng ]
The first weeks of college had gone pretty well for Keyleb. He'd clashed a little with some of the other students on his course. He found them naive about the Empire and the great hope they believed the Republic to be. But in time he had found his own group of friends who understood him better. Only one admittedly was also a veteran, plus he'd worked in logistics and supply which was light years away from Keyleb's experiences, but he knew they wouldn't judge him at least.
Zom, the current speaker in the group, was gesticulating wildly. Keyleb found the guy kind of annoying, he was arrogant and brash and wouldn't ever let you forget that his father was Governor Spidrucket. He knew how to get a group worked up though.
"It is weakness. Cowardice wearing the false mask of compassion!" Zom slapped the table angrily, his face and cheeks red with anger. "Of course everyone likes the idea of democracy. We all love the idea of getting to choose. But people are idiots; they'll vote for whoever promises them the most unbelievable things like candies for children. Vote for no more work! Vote for all of us getting free houses! It's all a fantasy."
There were several nods of agreement and a few mutterers. Keyleb found himself nodding along, thinking of his old friends protesting instead of working. If she'd just kept her head down, like he did...
"An elected leader can never be strong," Zom said, settling back in his chair. "They will always be vulnerable to their own electorate. It takes great men, strong men, to look at a problem directly and take the difficult actions required to fix it. Look at Keyleb."
The group turned to look at Keyleb, and he felt his entire body tense up. "What?"
"You were a stormtrooper Keyleb. That took strength. It took quiet determination and grit to do what you had to do. The work of you and your brothers to make hard decisions in the interest of everyone else. It took sacrifice, didn't it?"
Keyleb thought of the spider creatures feasting on his squad, in a far off uncaring world. Light years from any other human to hear their screams. "I guess..."
Zom fixed Keyleb with a look, the look Keyleb had now learned well that meant he was ruining the moment. "What I'm saying is we have to be those strong men now. Like the Emperor fixed the corruption of the senate, we have to stop our home falling to chaos. We have to act, this childish vote has to be stopped."
There was a broad murmur of agreement which Zom pounced upon. "Good, I want you to meet two friends of mine."
From the back of the room two men stood up, men who Keyleb could instantly see from the way that they walked were military. "This is Feing and Kuro. They're from the True Loyalist Militia and they want to talk to us about how we can help."
[ Central Atrium; CRS Vigilant; Classified System ]
The beach was impeccable, a beautiful golden sand with long flowing lines that had been raked to perfection, just a short distance from the wall of trees and plants native to Mon Cala that engulfed the majority of the atrium. All along the shore groups of beings of varied species sat, some in beach wear whilst others still had on their uniform from their recently finished shift. Joyous chatter filled the air, laughter and jostling. The Vigilant might be a warship, but it was still of Mon Calamari design and origin and so had a lake at it's centre. A military minded person might have pointed out that the space could be better used for a military function, but the Mon Cal would point out that taking care of people was a military function.
Jack "Frosty" McCauley did not feel particularly taken care of as he lay face down on the beautiful sand, coughing up lake water. A hand slapped him on the back, causing another coughing fit.
"How have you never learned to swim, Jack?! It's part of basic survival training," Gremlin gave him another slap on the back, which he irritably swiped at.
"I skipped that part," he wheezed, rolling over and pulling himself up to a sitting position. "You're a horrible teacher by the way."
"You're an awful student!" Gremlin sat beside him, her body glistening with the water. Even her hair looked good despite the fact she'd just had to drag his half drowned, panicking ass back to shore. "How'd you never do this as a kid?"
Frosty shrugged, watching a group of four turbolaser gunners wrestle each other as a pair on shoulders. "No such thing as a public pool where I grew up."
Gremlin laid back into the sand, feeling the soft support on her back. "Hey. You remember the first time I tried to teach you how to swim, aboard the Star?"
"Yeah, yeah I do. I was panicking so you tried to pull me out. You pulled on the wrong blasted thing!"
She laughed, a giggle as she remembered the face he'd made. "It seemed the easiest way to get you to focus on me at the time. Such a shame it was so small."
He rounded on her, his wounded ego flaring. "That water was cold!"
Her laugh turned into a snort and slowly he started to laugh too. Watching her face, her purple hair spread across the sand, he felt something click into place. He loved her, maybe in ways he didn't realise he even could. He was lucky she'd ever let him back into her life again. He took a deep breath, trying to ground himself in the moment. "Hey, Gemi. You ever think about how different things could have been? You miss it?"
Her smile fell, her eyes darkening. "I can't live in the past, Jack. A lot happened."
They laid there, side by side, gazing up at the roof of the lake housing for a while. They'd needed this, everyone on the ship needed it. Things were tense with the Toseng operation potentially looming over them and every moment they could find to breathe counted. Eventually she spoke again. "I miss Red. I miss the Morning Star. I miss Ice and Sunshine and Boar and Sensei and....I liked how quiet it was. When we used to go to the lake, some days, it was really just me and you. I miss that."
Before he could reply a face appeared above him. Angel, a slight smirk, on her face. "I've been saying for days me and you should go for a swim, Gremlin, and then you stand me up for a Corsair? Betrayed by my own wingmate."
"Oh I only picked him because he's feeling lonely. You know I can't ignore a charity case, Jeni."
Frosty gave a playful glare at both of them, "Wow! Okay, first off, I have lots of friends."
Angel arced an eyebrow, "Yeah, you've got your right hand I guess."
Frosty and Gremlin howled with laughter, causing Angel to smile with pride. She nudged them both with her booted feet. "Seriously, you both know there's a party in the SSD to celebrate Dragon. Aren't you going to come join?"
Frosty answered first, a little uncertain. "I'm, uh... trying to avoid the bar these days."
"It's strictly no alcohol," Angel said kindly.
Frosty shrugged. "Yeah, okay I guess. I could brave it."
They both turned to look at Gremlin, who smiled conspiratorially. "Oh, well. I'm trying to avoid Lock."
Angel started to grin again, "What have you done?"
Before she could answer there was a roar of "GREMLIN!" Across the huge lake Lock was storming towards them. Lock, with bright, neon green hair.
[ Capital City; Toseng ]
"I don't think Tsurio likes you very much," Sigilien said, dipping her spoon into her fresh cup of kaf and slowly began to stir, mixing it with the blue nerf milk she'd ordered.
Sitting across from her, Guts examined the woman, who looked strangely mismatched. She'd decided to tie her light blonde hair into two pigtails, making her look younger than she probably was. Not only that, but she was wearing a green jumpsuit with its sleeves and legs rolled up to her knees and elbows and a utility belt across her waist--at one point she had painted a smiley face over whatever logo had been there before. One of the round lenses of her sunglasses was hot pink and the other baby blue, adding to her extravagant sense of style. Instead of boots she was wearing simple sneakers and rainbow colored knee high socks--which made Guts wonder what was the point in rolling up the jump suit in the first place? Watching her precariously pick up the cup of kaf by the handle, her pinky finger perked up, as she gently sipped the dark blue liquid with such finesse (while dressed how she was) was probably one of the most jarring things Guts had ever witnessed.
As for himself, he was wearing a very tame jacket and tunic with a blaster pistol strapped to his thigh. His left, as usual, remained gloved. With a little impatience, Guts picked up his own mug of hot chocolate and took a long drink from it. Not the brightest idea but he bore it.
"Kriff him," Guts answered. "Him and Zeno."
Sigilien's brows bounced up in interest. She crossed her legs on her chair and leaned forward, "Oh? Tell me more."
Guts narrowed both eyes. "Why do ya care?"
"Want to know a secret?" Sigilien pulled her sunglasses down to the tip of her nose, looking at him with her violet eyes, lips playfully smiling at him.
Guts suppressed a shiver and returned her smile. Leaning on his elbow, he drew closer to the woman. "Surprise me," he replied, meeting her gaze.
"I couldn't care less about Tsurio, or Zeno, or Drogg, or Joff, or whoever," Sigilien said in a raspy whisper. "I'm only here 'cause I find you interesting."
With that revelation Sigilien leaned back into her chair with a laugh. Guts stared at her, unsure if she was playing around with him or not. It took him a moment, but finally he replied, "Sure. You're kriffin' with me."
This only made her laugh harder. "I swear I'm not!"
"Yeah, right then, what do ya' find so kriffin' fascinating then?"
She closed her left eye. "First of all, you have a cybernetic eye." Guts's expression must have given him away cause her grin only grew alongside her boldness. "And don't think I haven't noticed your left arm."
How in all of Corellia's Nine Hells had she noticed his cybernetic eye and arm? Guts kept both facts close to his heart--the only person that could know was Zeno. Had Zeno sent Sigilien to test him? For a second he almost stood up and walked away but a thought stopped him--why would she reveal herself if that was the case? It wasn't impossible per se to notice his cybernetic enhancements, but it wasn't easy either. One had to know what they were looking for, most of the time.
"But really," Sigilien continued, resting her chin on the palm of her hand. Her arm was propped on the table, supporting the weight of her head on her elbow. "The most interesting thing is that your name isn't Guts O'Connor, it's Conn--"
"Shh! I told you to not say anything about that!" Guts cut her off. He knew that telling her his real name upon meeting her had been a bad idea, but it had been the only way to get her to sell that X-wing to him, the X-wing that had previously belonged to his brother. He'd hoped to find something interesting but was disappointed to find the X-wing to have barely been used and in near mint condition. He'd ended up selling it on the black market.
As with everything, Guts's reaction amused the eccentric woman, "Relax! Relax. I just wanted you to know that if you ever wanna get the hell out of this crew... I have your back. I'll go with you."
Guts watched her and for a moment he could see sincerity in her eyes, but before he could answer his commlink started to ring. He glanced from the device and back to Sigilien. "We'll finish this conversation later."
"Sure," she laughed and returned her attention to her kaf as Guts attended the commlink.
A few moments later, Guts stood. Sigilien jumped up from her seat, "Time to go?"
Guts smirked, "Time to go."
Sigilien leaned over behind the table they were sitting at and lifted a huge box. No matter how many times he saw it, Guts couldn't help but feel awed by her incredible strength. As she reached him he made a comment, "You talk about my cybernetics but what about yours? How can you even lift that?"
"I work out," she answered with a snort. "You don't wanna share your secrets but expect me to share mine?"
Sigilien gave him a wink, "Come on, Gutsy, we've got illegal firearms to sell to extremist terrorists."
"When you put it that way, how can I refuse?" the man replied and followed after her.
It didn't take long at all to traverse the streets and back alleys until they reached the meeting spot, a small park nestled by various housing complexes in one of the seedier parts of town. Guts and Sigilien were the first ones to arrive, though soon after four more men made their appearance.
From Guts' point of view only one of them seemed to be any threat, the same man that he'd already spoken to previously. Guts was no stranger to cybernetic replacements, but Obadiah Feing took it to a new extreme, with a completely replaced cybernetic jaw, neck and shoulders. At least one of his arms was completely mechanical and the soft red glow his own eye detected in both of Feing's indicated to Guts that both eyes were cybernetic as well. It didn't help that Feing was a massive tower of a man, and even without the enhancements, he would have been intimidating.
To Feing's right was a pale skinned man with slick black hair and a neat moustache who was staring after Sigilien, to the point that it made Guts uncomfortable. On the other hand, Sigilien herself seemed oblivious to it or just didn't care.
Lasty, the two kids. Guts recognized one as the son of the planetary Governor, which was perfect. That meant that things were going perfectly to plan. The last kid Guts had never seen before, and from the looks of it he felt completely out of place. There was something about the way he walked and moved that made Guts think of him more similar to Feing and the creep than Spidrucket, and Guts knew for a fact that Feing, at least, was an Imp. The last clue was the missing fingers on his hand. Ah, this kid was likely a stormtrooper, or had been.
Before anything was said Sigilien dramatically set the enormous case on the ground between them. Guts kept his hands in his pockets.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," Guts began.
"Guts," huffed Feing through his prosthetic and stepped forward. "We have your money. Have you brought us what we asked for?"
"Take a look for ya' selves."
Taking a step forward, Guts approached the case and entered a code. He gave it a tap with his foot and a mechanism activated, splitting the top and folding outwards to reveal dozens of blaster rifles neatly stacked one upon the other. Feing looked over it and without looking up he snapped his fingers.
Behind him, Spidrucket shoved a briefcase into the kids hands. The two exchanged some whispered words but finally, meekly, the kid with missing fingers approached. Sigilien had caught sight of that, too, and moved to intercept him so that Guts could keep an eye on Feing. She accepted the briefcase with a simple, "Thank you, darlin," before sauntering back to Guts. She set the briefcase on a bench and did a quick count.
"Like what ya see?" Guts asked.
"It is acceptable," Feing answered, finally returning his attention to the seller. "It is exactly what I asked for. But I will need more."
"Aye? How much more ya reckon?"
"A lot more," Feing growled.
"Ya gotta work me, mate, that isn't a number."
Feing pulled a blaster rifle from the box and Guts's hand shot directly to his own side arm. The cyborg laughed, amused by Guts's reaction. He tossed the blaster to the moustached creep who began to examine it. With his hand still on his blaster, Guts turned to Sigilien.
"Think ya can count faster?" he asked.
"Oh, I'm done, I've been done," Sigilien answered, standing at his side, hands on her hips.
"Then why didn't ya tell me?" Guts asked incredulously.
She shrugged, "I guess I was caught up in the drama."
Guts snorted and shook his head, turning towards Feing, "We're done here. If ya want more, ya know how to contact me. Next time, give me a number, aye?"
"We'll be in contact," Feing answered, closing the case and picking it up with the same ease that Sigilien had carried it earlier. What kind of crap am I getting myself into? Guts reflected. I'm surrounded by monsters.
"Come on," he said to Sigilien, who was carrying the briefcase with the credits. "Let's get the kriff out of here."
"Oh, good, I'm starving! Where do you wanna go?"
[ Capital City; Toseng ]
The booth was quiet, despite the fact both Yam and Jez were sat in it, eating their food. The whole restaurant was in fact quiet, with barely any diners inside. It'd also been the only place open for dinner for miles. Yam poked at her spiced tagine deflated whilst Jez chewed on his wrap. Yam had tried to emphasise the importance of what she was saying to Shyon, Brebor's assistant, but she felt dismissed. A lot of nods and thank yous but it didn't seem like the woman had taken her seriously. After all, Brebor got death threats everyday for years now, what was one more? Jez was staring at his plate, his face blank. Eventually he spoke, "Ship is ready to leave tonight. Got her all prepped."
Yam looked up from her food, her forehead creased into a frown. "You what?"
"The ship, Sidda. It's time for us to go." Jez was watching her carefully. He looked angry too.
"That's nerf shavit Jez. Election hasn't even happened yet. We know Brebor is in danger! We have to be here, to let everyone know...."
"They already know Sidda. Republic has intelligence operatives. Anyone who bothers to tune into the network knows. We've done our part."
"No!" She found her hands were shaking as she shouted, "No, that's not right. We're not done yet."
"I am!" Jez stood up, pushing his plate away. "I don't know what has got into you! I know you used to be embedded with rebel troops, Sidda, but you're pushing it too far. Clandestine meetings with Detectives? Gathering intel on terrorist groups? You're going to get us both killed. You've got a blasted death wish."
She fixed him with a stare. She respected Jez but they came from different backgrounds. As the Rebellion had morphed into the New Republic she had also found herself in a position of having to make changes. She'd been convinced to take a position with the Republic's new official allied news network, the Queen of the Core. There she'd met Jez, a broadcast technician who'd impressed with his technical ability. In their short time together they'd already covered countless protests, reprisals, battlefields and bloody aftermaths. But he hadn't gotten as involved as she had. Her cybernetic right arm was evidence of the price she had paid in the past. She couldn't let this one go, not this time. Her tongue dripped with venom, "Frak off Jez."
He held his hands up and backed away from the table. "You sort your head out and you come join me on that ship. This isn't your home Sidda. We leave. We're not soldiers, we always leave."
She watched him go, seething. He was right, they always left. Everytime, they left. But this time it felt wrong, there was a chance here, a real chance that it could be the way forward for the galaxy. Show Imperials a different way of doing things. Lay down your blasters, walk away. No more reprisals, no more battlefields, no more bloody aftermaths.
She left the diner in a foul mood. A cold air had swept in over the plains and into the streets of the capital, with the protesting crowds having reduced in number. This time tomorrow people would be voting and then maybe it'd be all over. Maybe she should just go home.
The arm was around her throat in an instant. She tried to scream but the hold was too tight and all she could do was gasp. Thrashing with all her might she felt her vision start to cloud, she was finding it hard to see or feel anything. It felt like her heart would explode. Then she saw him, Jez, running towards her, knocking her and her assailant over. Rolling across the alleyway she felt a solid wall behind her. Siddalla gathered herself, feeling around on the ground and grabbing her glasses she pulled herself up to a standing position. Jez was rolling on the floor with her assailant, a pale skinned man with a neat moustache. She looked for a weapon, turning to pick up a lid from a nearby trash dispenser. Turning back to her assailant she prepared to lift it and bring it down upon him.
She saw the moustached man withdraw a blaster and fire once, twice, three times into Jez's chest. He sagged down, lifeless. With the same instincts that kept her alive in so many dangerous situations she turned and ran, dashing from alleyway to alleyway, never looking back. Her feet carried her away, to safety, back home to the port where her ship waited.