By Bulldog, Frosty, Jalb_k, Lock
With Contributions by Foo, Damak, Gremlin, Knight, Syntax and Wildcard
Lead Editor: Shadow
Directed by Frosty
[ Rori Brebor's Office; Capital City ]
Rori Brebor's office was chaotic, full of assistants and political aides and protest leaders. Each had advice, demands, complaints. Brebor somehow looked magnificently calm, as Sidda stood to one side of the office observing him as she filmed it all. She had filmed the moments after he'd made his broadcast, the threat of what his friends at mines across the planet were willing to do clearly weighing heavily on him, but she wasn't sure if she'd ever broadcast that. Some moments perhaps best stayed private.
For the tenth time that day she felt her adrenaline spike and whipped her head around to look behind her, her hand grasping for the small holdout blaster she had acquired. An aide gave her a sheepish smile, apologised for having pushed past, before continuing on their way. Sidda took a deep breath, steadying herself. Since her attack she hadn't been able to relax; not even amongst Rori's closest allies. She had discovered the truth, that someone was trying to derail the election through violence and in turn someone had tried to murder her. Who could she trust? But worst of all, she was sure there was more to know... that there was more she had yet to uncover.
Her gaze was drawn to the window. Outside by the landing pad, a ship was coming to a stop. A U-wing, she could see the callsign Mercy One painted by its port door, shut down and she filmed the passengers disembark. Two humans and a Quarren in New Republic Navy uniforms, one a woman with the Vice Admiral rank insignia upon her shoulder whilst the other, a human male, held the rank of Rear Admiral with the remaining Quarren sporting a major's stripes. Two pilots stepped out after them, a human man with dark hair and a calm demeanor whilst the other...
He was Pantoran, that much was clear, with a neat purple moustache upon his upper lip. His armour set was not New Republic standard however. Instead, he wore a set of what looked like former clone trooper armour coloured in yellow. Dark green trim on the upper portion didn't stand out as much as the purple sigil on the chest plate and shoulder pauldrons. The sigil intrigued Sidda, a mythosaur, which meant...Mandalorian? She had met a few Mandalorians in her life, and although they didn't discriminate on species, it was unusual to see a Pantoran not represent their own culture. She wished to interview this man, to figure him out. He looked like he had a good story.
The office vacated itself as Rori moved to greet the New Republic admiralty, people dispersing to make way for their possible saviours. Sidda ignored this social direction to get good close ups of the shaking of hands and was surprised when a figure stood in front of her. The two pilots were blocking her view, the human man smiling slightly as the Pantoran man held out his hand. "Lieutenant Ikurrece Ojima, although everyone calls me Zippy."
Her annoyance at him blocking her view was somewhat abated by his face up close. He was pretty handsome too... "Yam 'Sidda' Siddalla, I'm a reporter for the Queen of the Core Network."
"We're aware," the other man said, his voice smooth and light. "Everyone aboard our ship is watching your reporting, constantly. I'm Shadow."
She shook his hand too, getting a little more irritable, "Great, but you boys are blocking my shot."
"Yes," Zippy said, a little smile playing upon his lips. "That's on purpose. Your reporting is very important but the bosses need to talk security with Mr Brebor in real privacy. After they've finished, you could interview-"
"Zippy," Shadow said, his grin widening. "He's a very interesting man."
Zippy shot Shadow a look but Sidda didn't bite, instead chewing on her bottom lip, deep in thought. She wasn't sure who she could trust on the ground in Toseng, but these two had come from outside, "I need your help, both of you."
Both of them refocused on her, their eyes serious. Zippy spoke first, "What with?"
She smiled slightly, pushing her glasses back up her nose. "Investigating."
[ Hangar bay; Vigilant ]
The hangar bay of Vigilant was awash with people, thronging with a variety of species. Mechanics crawled over starfighters in teams, moving around like jawas on a scavenging prize. Ordnance personnel shouted loudly over the din as highly explosive munitions were carefully maneuvered around the hangar.
Amongst this din, running in between all these groups, were the pilots of Renegade Wing. Every single pilot was present, bar the ones currently maintaining the constant patrols that circled their home cruiser. Frosty was at the end of the line doing laps around the hangar, trailing as his feet tired. He hated the physical training, finding little joy in sweating and hammering his body like this, but even he had to admit they were important. Now, as they ran past the magcon field, he could see why everyone was on the hangar deck. Four Imperial Star Destroyers hung in the void, pointed frames aimed at the open hangar of the Vigilant which was part of the New Republic fleet standing between the Imps and Toseng.
Frosty had seen plenty of Star Destroyers in his lifetime, the majority of which were shooting at him. He'd even glided past a few, powered down and desperately hoping they wouldn't notice his ship. But he'd never been this close to such immensely powerful weaponry that wanted nothing more than to kill him and his friends and yet be sat there, dormant. If he thought about it too long a deep pit would grow inside him, an instinct that told him to run, far away, back home.
The shuffling of feet came to a stop at the far end of the hangar, where an impromptu gym had been set up. The more exercise enthusiastic Renegades, the real nutters as Frosty thought of them, immediately jumped on to start lifting weights. Frosty watched, failing to disguise his disgust as he drained a water bottle that BattleDog handed to him. Junior was trying to bench way beyond his weight and Dragon was spotting for him. Frosty shook his head as the two men struggled with a clearly overloaded dumbbell. There was a conversation going on, amongst several Renegades, but Frosty couldn't focus on it. He turned his head slowly, looking over his back to the magcon field. The four Star Destroyers still hung there, still just waiting. He could feel it, welling inside of him, his back sweating and his heart pounding. His feet itched to run, run anywhere that he could. Somewhere, half a galaxy away, his daughter was asking what he was doing here.
"What do you think, Frosty?"
He turned back to look at a small assembly of pilots who were stood around, faces tight. "What?"
FLATTOP shook his head at Frosty's confusion, "Toseng man. We're right above it."
Foo laughed, as FLATTOP threw up his hands in exasperation. "We're asking you what you think is going to happen."
"Oh, I dunno. We'll fight I guess?"
Talon and Foo laughed together, a little tension leaking out, but FLATTOP still remained grim faced. Bone and Freak put down their weights and wandered over to the conversation, their own faces looking serious. Bone poked Frosty with a water bottle, "Come on man, everyone knows you know stuff. You've got ins with command, you got contacts on every deck. What's happening?"
Frosty shrugged, his voice low. "I dunno. Really."
"He doesn't know because Command doesn't know," Lock said, pulling the group's attention on to himself as he looked in a small mirror, adjusting his still green hair. "Stop asking. It's irritating."
"Irritating?" Dragon was growling now, having left Junior to his weights. "Irritating?! The enemy lies there, outside our ship and we just sit here and wait knowing that they want to destroy us and you call that irritating?!"
Lock shrugged, not looking up from the mirror. "It is what it is."
"This is bullshavit," Bone murmured, his own eyes dark. "I didn't sign up for this, to just sit here whilst the Imps are down there."
The group quietened down and everyone turned to look out the magcon field, to the ships beyond. Frosty realised slowly, looking around the group, he wasn't alone in his anxiety. Everyone was thinking about it, all the time. How could they not? The Imps were right there.
Silence spoke up, breaking the relative peace. "There is nothing we can do about it. All we can do is prepare our best and be ready when the time comes. So, let's get back to training and can someone help me pull this weight off Junior? He's struggling to breathe."
[Syntax's Quarters; Vigilant]
Syntax was sitting at his desk, staring at a datapad, when his office door chimed.
"Come in," he said, not looking up from the datapad. The door slid open to reveal Bill "Jedi" Morrison, the Wing executive officer.
"Good evening," Jedi said as he stepped into the office. Syntax didn't look up, and Jedi paused for a moment. "A credit for your thoughts."
"Hm?" Syntax looked up.
"Droids aren't the easiest beings to read, but even I can tell you've got something on your mind."
"What do you mean?" Syntax replied.
"Well for one, that datapad isn't on."
Syntax tensed for a moment. "How did-- ?"
"The power switch is off, I saw it when I walked into the room." Syntax relaxed slightly and set the datapad down. "9-LOM, tell me what you're thinking," Jedi said as he sat in one of the chairs opposite the droid's desk.
Syntax leaned back in his chair slightly. "This whole operation has me on edge."
"Really?" Jedi cocked an eyebrow.
"You know what my original function was, right?"
"Yeah, a protocol droid."
"Indeed. I don't utilize the programming much, but all of it is still there. Interpersonal relations, diplomacy, all of that programming is still in my head. I'm not a master negotiator or diplomat, but I still know how people communicate. It feels like we're on a precipice, heading towards a conflict that part of me wishes we could talk our way out of."
"Talk our way out of it? With the Imperials?"
"I'm not concerned for them. I'm concerned for the people planetside, the people who didn't ask for this war."
"I follow you." Jedi nodded. "What about your pilots? How are they faring?"
"I think most of them are on edge, too."
"For the same reason?" Jedi asked.
"Some of them, but I think most of them are just waiting for something to happen. For us to be given the order to deploy, to stand down, anything other than sit around. I can't say I blame them."
"I'm hearing similar sentiments from the other squadrons," Jedi replied as he rubbed his chin absentmindedly. "Frankly, I—" he stopped and peered over Syntax's shoulder. "What is that?"
"Hm?" Syntax swiveled his chair around, and Jedi got a better look at the object on the back shelf of his office. It was a transparisteel container about half a meter long, filled with a layer of rocks and twigs and with a lid haphazardly placed on top. Jedi could see several large, black insects quickly scuttling around inside. One of them was vainly scrabbling to scale the wall of the enclosure, its tiny jaws opening and closing rapidly.
"That." Jedi nodded towards the container.
"Oh, those are my Idomarian murder-beetles," Syntax replied matter-of-factly.
"I'm sorry, did you say murder-beetles?"
"Yes, from Idomar."
"...are they dangerous?" Jedi's eyebrows hitched up more than a little bit.
"Not to droids. Would you like to hold one?"
"I'll take a raincheck, thanks." Jedi said as he stood, not averting his gaze from the container. He looked from the container to Syntax, and back. "I need to go check in with Stryker, he's trying to get a feel for how each of the squadrons is doing."
"Certainly, give him my regards."
Jedi backed away from the desk, trying to keep his attention on the droid, and stepped out of the office.
[ Captain's cabin; Silver Ticket; TLM's Hideout ]
"Guts, Svitzek! Give me a hand out here," Tsurio said as he descended the cargo bay ramp.
Sigilien watched with a smile as Guts groaned and picked himself up off of the cargo bay floor and dragged his butt outside. Svitzek was much more agile, hopping off of a box and striding out on his large knuckles, leaving Drogg and Sigilien on their own. She glanced over towards the goat-faced gran, who had all three eyes currently concentrated on a datapad.
She picked up a crate and set it down next to him so she could lean into him and try and see what was on the datapad. Drogg was immediately uncomfortable and yanked the datapad out of view.
"What do you want?" he barked at her.
"What are you reading about?"
"It's none of your damned business! Don't you have someone else to bother?"
She shook her head and motioned her thumb towards the boarding ramp. "Nope, Svitty and Gutsy are outside. Just you'n'me, Droggsy!"
The gran visibly shuddered. "Go! Blast off and leave me alone!"
That's all she wanted. With a smile she got up and bounded off, heading towards the corridor that led to the living quarters and ultimately the bridge. Unlike Guts, Sigilien wasn't content in not knowing the full extent of whatever it was that Tsurio was planning. She'd been waiting for a moment with unsupervised access and this was the perfect time. Tsurio, Drogg, and Guts weren't onboard and Drogg the Lazy Loner wasn't going to bother looking for the annoying girl he'd just shooed off.
As soon as she'd boarded the Silver Ticket she'd noticed the ventilation vent on the bridge and it had not taken her long to figure out where it led. She double-checked behind her before ducking into one of the crew storage bays.
She had to stack a few boxes together but she was able to reach the roof and take the grate off before climbing up into the vent. Even as small as Sigilien was, she had to squeeze her way through the tube and it took much more effort than she initially anticipated. After a few minutes, Sigilien had nearly reached the opening on the bridge. It was close enough for her to hear the door to the bridge finally open. She froze.
"I'm on the bridge," the voice of Tsurio revealed. "I'll let you know once the connection is established."
"Hurry up, this thing is heavy," grunted Guts through the comm.
Sigilien could hear Tsurio walk over from the entrance to the comm station and sat down with a heavy sigh and activated the comm system. She didn't dare move as she listened to him try and get the comms to cut through the heavy atmospheric interference.
"Guts, do that adjustment I told you about," Tsurio finally said.
"27.6," Tsurio corrected. He let go of the button and thinking no one would hear him muttered, "Idiot."
"Uh, try that," Guts said.
Whatever Guts had done had worked. "Perfect, hold that position. I just need a few minutes," Tsurio told him and cut the link.
She heard him tap for a few seconds and he transmitted; Sigilien recognized it by the bloopy beat that played as the transmission "rang" the other party. Finally, a woman's voice answered.
"Ah, Tsurio. Finally," she said. "I haven't heard from you since I gave you the greenlight."
"I've been busy," Tsurio said and began to give her a detailed report over the past few days. Sigilien frowned--hadn't he said that he'd spoken with Zeno earlier? She knew she was right to suspect. She grinned, I can't wait to see the look on Guts' face! "We're delivering the rest of those supplies to the Militia right now."
"I suspect that you'll need more," answered the other woman.
"Aye, and not just more guns. I need more credits," Tsurio said, his voice becoming low. "It's getting dangerous over here."
"You knew that was the case going in," Zeno replied. "Don't play druk with me, Tsurio, or I'll put you back in that back alley spice house I found you in."
There was no response.
"We will be moving on to phase two of the operation," Zeno continued. "Execute Targets Alpha and Beta."
"Understood. Anything else?"
"Yes. I'll be heading that way soon. My business has nearly concluded here and I have big plans for Toseng," she told him. Then she softened her voice, "Don't worry, Tsurio. I won't forget who helped me get here."
"I hope not."
"I expect the plan to go as executed," Zeno answered, back to her usual level of pleasantries.
The transmission ended and as far as Sigilien could tell he just sat there stewing in what she assumed was rage. No, it wasn't an assumption. She could feel it. It was like heat radiating off of him; was this what Guts was talking about? As far away as she was, she could feel his emotions, the indignity he felt at working for this person who knew his secrets and his shame. She could only imagine how powerful it could be when he focused on it and suddenly she understood how people like Astin might fall for him.
"It stopped working. Reduce by 8.9 percent," Tsurio suddenly spoke into the other comm.
"Reduce 8.9?" Guts asked. "That's the opposi--"
"Just do it, Guts! Kriff me!" Tsurio shouted.
"Fine... fine... there... that should do it."
"Thanks," Tsurio said and cut the commlink.
Moments later, "Hello?"
"Oh! My Captain!"
"What's wrong, My Captain?"
Tsurio was silent for a moment. Sigilien held her breath. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. Finally he spoke, "It's time, Darling."
"Time? Time for what?"
"My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep." There was a pause. Tsurio repeated himself: "My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep."
"The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite."
"You know what you must do."
"Yes, My Captain."
"I love you."
"Yeah, same. Good luck, Astin."
Tsurio cut the transmission and commed Guts, "Turn it off. I'm done."
"Copy," Guts answered from the other side and Tsurio left the bridge.
Sigilien finally felt like she could breathe and inhaled deeply. What had she just heard!? Whatever it was, she needed to tell Guts. Something bad was going on here. As best as she could she began to squirm her way back out of the vent.
[ Restaurant; Capital City ]
Sidda sat at a table, fiddling absentmindedly with her pickled sandwich. She wasn't very hungry but she was very tired. She'd made good use of her new allies. New connections, new information. But now she felt drained again. She thought of Jez, laying there lifeless. Shaking her head free of the image she stood, throwing a few credits down on the table, walking out of the little sandwich bar and into the alleyway.
She let her feet carry her between buildings, up alleyways covered by cheap roofing materials bridging lop sized buildings. The cold was drawing in now, the darkness of night sapping from the dry dusty heat of Toseng, leaving behind the freezing air. Sidda drew her coat around her more tightly, tucking her lekku into the front of it to keep them warm.
She heard him before she saw him, but only because she was listening very closely. She spun on the spot but he closed the distance rapidly, a tall gangly figure with long raven black hair. She raised the holdout blaster she had kept in her coat sleeve, firing twice but he already had her wrist in his hand, a nasty toothy smile upon his face. She dropped the blaster as his grip tightened, falling to the floor as he pushed her down.
He withdrew his own weapon, a slugthrower with silencer attached, twirling it carefully round his finger. "You have no one but yourself to blame, journalist. Just couldn't keep your nose out of it."
Sidda looked up at him, smiling. For the first time in his career Joff hesitated, a look of confusion on his face. "What?"
The stun blasts hit him from his left, covering his upper torso and legs in blue waves. Joff dropped like a sack of bricks, his beautiful flowing locks covering Sidda's shoes as he drooled on to the dusty floor. Sidda took the hand Zippy offered as he emerged from the shadows, Shadow coming from the other side of the alley to bind Joff's hands. Zippy looked from the sleeping Joff to Sidda, a small frown on his face. "That plan was too dangerous."
"Yet it worked. Come on you two," Sidda was smiling now, despite the throbbing pain in her wrist. "My safehouse isn't far."
[ Medbay; CRS Vigilant ]
Foo wandered into the relatively empty medbay and looked around, checking each cot in turn until his eyes settled on his executive officer relaxing on his back. Well, relaxing as best you could with a 2-1B medical droid prodding and twisting an injured limb to check the joint's recovery. A hushed string of curses reached his ears as the droid rotated Bulldog's arm slightly too far.
Smiling to himself, Foo strolled over to the cot and surveyed the situation from a safe distance. The cursing became more common and increased in volume with each step he took. After waiting patiently for the examination to be completed, he waited equally patiently while the medical droid gingerly put Bulldog's arm back into the sling he'd been in since the brawl in the hangar bay.
"Keep this on unless you are taking a shower, Captain."
"Are you karking with me, Cutter? For how long?"
"Until cleared by medical personnel, of course," Cutter, the 2-1B droid replied with dimmed ocular sensors. The droid hovered away after waiting a moment more for any more complaints that needed to be quashed.
Foo put on a rakish grin. "How's the shoulder Cap?"
Bulldog glared daggers back at him as he pulled his shirt over his injured shoulder with his free hand. "How do you skrogging think?"
Foo put up his hands in mock surrender. "Hey hey, I just came to check on things."
Bulldog swore a few more times before he suddenly stopped and leveled a suspicious eye toward him. "Yeah, and I'm a smuggler-turned-general about to marry a princess. What are you really doing here?"
Foo sighed and felt his shoulder slump in disappointment at his deception being discovered so quickly. Taking a breath, he organized his thoughts one last time to make sure things came out right. He'd been thrown off his game by his executive officer's sudden discovery of his ulterior motives, so his pause was longer than usual.
"Spit it out, Loot," Bulldog grunted impatiently.
"I'm worried about Bearcat."
Bulldog snorted derisively. "Yeah? And?"
"I think you ought to go check on him."
"Hard pass," Bulldog scoffed, waving his non-slinged hand dismissively. "When Zynnadi figures out what he wants to do, he'll do it. If that entails sucking up his feelings and fighting the Imperials rather than our Mandos, great. If it ends up that he quits, oh well."
Foo was shocked. He'd expected some resistance, but the outright apathy was not anywhere close to his list of possibilities when he'd planned out this conversation. "But Sir-"
Bulldog rose to his feet and cut him off with a curt wave. "Look, if you're worried about him, you go find the raging man-sized cat. I've got to draft a letter to Peacock's family on... stang, I don't know where they're from. More work to do before I can do the work I have to do," he said with a disgruntled sigh, giving one last measured look in Foo's direction before shaking his head and storming out of the medbay.
Foo stood in place, frustration coming to a boil. Finally, sighing heavily, he made his way to the medbay door. Trying to grapple with his thoughts of what had just occurred and finding his way out, then down the narrow hallway. More deep thought and weaving through the occasional groups of people resulted in nothing. He finally let out a growl of aggravation and punched the nearby wall of the corridor, startling a couple of passersby. He decided to focus on the situation that he had originally come to resolve. First he would have to find the oversized feline furball, and then....break his face? No. That would solve nothing. Still, he found Bearcat's accusations in the hangar infuriating. He would have to find the right words to try and work things out. Although the first option sounded tempting.
During his deep thought and wandering over the labyrinth of hallways, Foo finally found himself in front of the local watering hole, SSD. He chuckled at the thought that he had become a Buccaneer more than he had realized, deciding that a drink may indeed be in order to help think things through.
As he entered the establishment though he noticed a furry individual already hunched over the bar. Foo cursed internally. He had been hoping to at least come up with some sort of game plan before confronting Bearcat but it would seem that was not to be. Frack it all. He steeled himself, striding up to the bar and seating himself beside the lump of aggravated fur.
"I don't need company," Bearcat snarled as Foo sat down.
Foo's quip was immediate. "Tough shavit, welcome to the Buccaneers. We fight together, we drink together." He held a single finger up for Iggy, hoping the droid would by now recognize his face and his preferred drink, and settled in.
Bearcat sighed a little. "Look, if this is about the whole hangarrr incident I'm sorrry."
Foo stretched out his hand and caught his drink. Thankfully it was indeed a Trandoshan ale. Gods know what he would have done if Iggy failed to recognize him and send him one of those awful spiced wines that Gremlin was so fond of. The Corellian took a swig of his ale and set it down. "Really, because it really doesn't sound like you're sorry about it."
Bearcat spun on his bar stool and looked Foo directly in the eye. "They killed and enslaved my people! How am I not supposed to be angrrry! And he," the angry Cathar paused as he caught himself, "they let Peacock die!" His infuriated stare broke contact and turned back, huffing into the glass before him. His hot breath poured over the mist that had been sitting on top of the sweet smelling concoction; barreling down the side of the glass and onto the bar itself. Silence filled the space between the two for a moment.
Finally collecting his thoughts into coherence, Foo spoke slowly. "Loth-Cat is not the entirety of Mandalorian culture. They had no part in the enslavement of your people."
Bearcat spun his stool back, facing Foo and barked. "They'rrre all the same! Everrry one of them! All they everrr do is pillage and destrrroy. Forrr vhat? Money? Glorrry? Prrride? Everrry single one of them that adherrre to those trrraditions are rrrotten to the core. So vhy should I believe they'rrre any differrrent?"
Foo's response was ice-cold. "So Blue should be no different by that definition."
Bearcat's eyes widened at the mention of his closest friend. He stammered, "Tha-thats not-"
"-What you meant?" Foo cut him off. "So where does it end? You gonna blame Gnoizic next time someone dies? Use the same excuse?" He could feel the heat rise up within him as he rose up off the stool. "How about Skull squadron? They're former Imps and again, according to your logic they couldn't possibly change! ME? You think I'd let someone die out there because of that!?"
The commotion started to draw the attention of the other patrons within the bar, but at this point Foo didn't care and continued to berate the rookie pilot. "Everyone here has a past!" He shouted as he waved a hand over the establishment and received nods from some of the onlookers in response "Most of which is not going to fit your copacetic little view of the galaxy, and if you can't get over that, you're gonna find yourself one gods damned lonely pilot amongst these Renegades!"
Bearcat had never seen Foo this angered, throwing him off even further. "I just-"
Foo cut him off again. "I don't care what you 'you just thought'," he said in a mocking tone. "Everyone here is here for a damn good reason." He paused for a moment before continuing his attack. "And if you can't get over your own frakking prejudices, then you should probably go join the Empire.... Speaking from personal experience." The venom was unmistakable in his voice.
Silence again followed that filled the space between the two. Foo took another swig of his ale but felt it wanting and grimaced as he swallowed. "My drink has lost his taste." He stared down Bearcat as he set his drink down. "I think I'll be going now."
The venom had not left Foo's voice and Bearcat could feel his embassament grow. Not so much from the crowd that had now been paying close attention to the conversion, but the obvious view his squadmate had of him. Iggy's voice quipped in. "I assure you Lieutenant that my ale is of the highest quality and could not have possibly 'lost it's taste'."
Foo sighed at the droid's ignorance of organic expressions and focused one last time on Bearcat, who's eye's barely met his. "In this world, lone pilots end up as dead pilots. Sort your shavit." With that, he turned and walked out of the SSD, leaving Bearcat with his thoughts.
[ Silver Ticket; TLM Hideout; Toseng ]
It took her a few minutes to squirm her way back out of the shaft, but she finally did so, dropping unceremoniously onto the floor with a hard thump. Wincing, Sigilien pulled herself up and rearranged her clothing. Once comfortable, she closed the vent and confidently bounded towards the door, snatching a little black, metallic ball that caught her eye and stuffed it into her pocket without a second thought.
As she approached the door she tapped the interface, stepping through right as it opened into Tsurio. She bounced off of him with a yelp, "Help! You dont want me! I'm too boney! I have fourteen venereal diseases! I just had garlic and fish!"
She attempted to breathe menacingly on him and Tsurio tried to bat her breathe away, feeling ridiculous about doing so
"What? No! Shut up, you lunatic!" Tsurio cursed, completely caught off guard by the absurdity. "What were you doing in there?"
"Me? Oh! Nothing," she answered. "Oh! Actually, I was doing something. I was looking for more of those cheese balls. I ate the ones that were left and I wanted some more."
"You ate all the cheese balls? I told you to leave them alone, I said you could have some not all. You didn't leave me any?"
Sigilien held up her hands and shrugged. "Sorry?"
Tsurio seemed to swell with rage. He bit his bottom lip and shook his head slowly. "Get out of the storage closet. Now. I came to find you. Crew meeting. In the cargo bay."
"Okie!" Sigilien smiled and brushed past him and she made her way forward, heading towards the cargo bay, congratulating herself on the job well done. She heard Tsurio following, but it didn't concern her in the slightest--lucky for her she had polished off the cheese balls earlier, savoring each crunch of the forbidden puff.
When she reached the cargo bay Guts, Drogg, and Svitzek were already there. Giving Guts a wink, she plopped herself down on one of the large crates and waited for Tsurio to make his entrance.
The Zeltron entered the cargo bay silently and looked at each of them in turn before finally speaking. His eyes met hers for a brief instant.
"We have new orders," he said, looking away. "We're moving into the next phase. It's time to light the fuse and tie off loose ends."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Guts asked, narrowing his eyes.
Tsurio gave him a dark look. "Exactly what you think it means," he replied.
"I have no idea," Guts stared at the Captain of the Silver Ticket. "Illuminate me."
The Zeltron seemed to sneer. "Very well," he said, coolly. "We're going to blow up the peace talks and kill the bitch." He pointed towards the ship's ramp, leading towards the Villa where the TLM was keeping Ambassador Vel Aath. "Illuminated enough?"
Sigilien watched Guts as his expression soured, realizing what Tsurio wanted out of them.
"Kark that," he said finally. "Find some other fool to do ya dirty work."
"I'll do it!" Sigilien put her hand up.
"Stay out of this," Guts told her.
"Are you saying you would disobey an order?" Tsurio asked, ignoring Sigilien. His gaze was locked on Guts before him.
"I don't take orders from ya, Tsurio," Guts clenched his fists. "If Zeno wants this done she can do it herself. I'm tired of being her kriffin' dog."
"You're not just her kriffin' dog, Guts, you're my kriffin' dog, too, and it seems like you need a lesson in obedience!"
Tsurio's blaster was suddenly out, aimed at Sigilien. Guts's blaster trained itself on Tsurio. Two more blasters appeared on scene, each in the hands of Svitzek and Drogg, both trained on Guts. For a moment there was a pregnant silence.
"Sorry, boys, I left my measuring stick in my room," Sigilien began to stay, standing. "If you give me a moment I can go--"
"Sit your ass down," Tsurio ordered. Sigilien complied immediately and the Zeltron returned his attention to Guts. "You may shoot me, but you and your little girlfriend both die."
"Go kark ya'self, Tsurio," Guts growled at the Zeltron and for a moment it seemed like he might choose to go out in a blaze of blaster fire but soon enough Guts lowered his weapon.
Tsurio gave him a nasty smile. "Good, boy."
Guts remained silent.
"You're going to walk off this ramp," Tsurio continued, keeping his blaster trained on Sigilien. "You're going to walk into that villa. You're going to find Ambassador Vel Aath and you're going to shoot her in the head--and if I get the slightest hint that you're going to go against my orders, I'm going to shoot her in the head."
He motioned at Sigilien with the barrel of his blaster. Guts glanced over and started as he watched Sigilien blowing on the tip, trying to make it whistle. She noticed everyone was looking at her and sunk in her seat, smiling meekly.
"I'll kriffin' do it," Guts finally replied, his attention returning to the situation on hand. "But after, yer' lettin' us go, yeah? I'm done with ya, and with Zeno."
"Sure, I'll start writing up your termination papers," Tsurio said. "Maybe I'll get a severance package going or maybe I won't be able to, because I got tired of waiting and just shot the both of you right here and now and be done with it. This isn't a negotiation, Guts. Go. Now!"
Guts looked like he wanted to say something else. He looked from Tsurio to Sigilien one last time before nodding to himself and running down the cargo ramp.
"Close it," Tsurio ordered and Drogg obeyed.
As the Gran closed the ramp, Svitzek and Tsurio put their blasters away.
"Think 'e'll do it, Capt'n?'' asked Svitzek.
"Of course he will," the Zeltron replied. He leaned over and took Sigilien's chin in his hands. "You're a pretty thing, even if you are weird. Perhaps I wouldn't mind..."
Svitzek had more questions; "An' do ya plan t'onor them deal ya made with 'im?"
"Of course not. You don't keep a disobedient dog, you put him down," Tsurio laughed, letting her go to banter with his subordinates. Drogg laughed. Svitzek laughed. Sigilien laughed. Loudly. Tsurio turned and sneered at her. "What are you laughing about? You're going to end up in the same kriffin' dumpster!"
Sigilien did not respond, instead only laughed harder. Tsurio grabbed her by the neck, "Stop laughing! Why are you laughing!?"
From her pocket Sigilien pulled out the little black ball that she'd stolen earlier and thumbed the activation. Tsurio looked at it in horror, Sigilien's grin only grew; her eyes were wide, her laughter near maniacal.
[ Sidda's Apartment; Capital CIty ]
The kitchen was small, barely even a room in the tiny run down apartment Sidda had secured for herself. It felt even smaller currently, with Sidda's shoulder rubbing up alongside Zippy and Shadow's. Together they stared at the limp drooling figure of Joff, tied up in a chair in the living room just beyond. Sidda tapped her foot impatiently on the floor, feeling herself overloaded with a million thoughts. She had always been a radical, always known she'd go far to see the galaxy change. But kidnap was, even for a life full of adventure such as hers, a new step.
"What do we do now?"
Shadow and Zippy looked at Sidda in confusion, Zippy speaking first. "What do you mean? This was your plan?"
Sidda threw her hands up in frustration, "Yes, well. This is a lot, okay! I've never had a man tied up in my living room before."
Shadow smiled slightly, "And you call yourself adventurous...."
Joff began to stir and they immediately quieted, looking upon the bound assassin. Sidda spoke up as Joff began to focus on her, his eyes going cold. "What do we do with him?"
Zippy unholstered his blaster, "Let me shoot him and be done with it."
Shadow reached over, placing a hand on Zippy's arm. "No. We need information from him. We need to know who is behind all this, who wanted Sidda dead."
Joff leaned back into his chair, smiling slightly. "Did you know I'm vegan?"
They ignored him, looking amongst themselves. Sidda shrugged, "He won't talk easily."
"That's okay," Shadow said, his voice dropping in tone. "I have my ways."
Sidda looked at Shadow and suppressed an involuntary shudder, his eyes had gone strange and distant. He meant what he said, she knew it. She didn't like the way he seemed ready to slip into this dark place, his mind somewhere else. There was something dark inside of Shadow.
"Did you know a vegan lifestyle is significantly healthier?" Joff chirped, although Sidda could see a small bead of sweat forming on his head. "Red meat is high in elements which cause cancer."
Shadow pulled a shiv out of a boot sheath slowly, running one finger along it's edge. Joff started to shift in his seat, looking at Zippy and Sidda. "I haven't had any colds since I cut out dairy, you know? As a vegan....I just....look put the knife away..."
"Names," Shadow said, twirling his viscous-looking homemade shiv. "I want names."
Joff looked Shadow in the eyes and his face changed into an expression of confusion. "Wait, I recognise you. You're McKenna, you used to be one of hers."
Shadow straightened up, putting his knife away. He looked deep in thought, almost a little disturbed. "That doesn't make sense, she wouldn't ever go back to working for the Empire..."
Sidda touched Shadow on his arm, "Who are you talking about?"
Shadow's mouth settled into a thin line, "Let me tell you about a woman I know called Zeno."
Keyleb has spent the past few hours sulking.
Most of the Militia had gone to sleep, exhausted after being awake all night, but sleep didn't come easily to the former stormtrooper, and when it did it did, briefly, it was plagued by broken light bulbs and hyper-aggressive arachnids--memories he preferred to avoid as much as possible. It was those memories, or rather memories adjacent to those, that were keeping him awake. Trooper training, Sarge's speeches. This wasn't the same Empire he had signed up for. This wasn't the cause he had envisioned being a part of.
Pulling on some shorts and a T-shirt, Keyleb marched barefoot to the kitchen that they all shared. He dropped two pieces of sliced bread into the toaster and leaned against the counter, waiting.
"The talks should be starting any time now," Keyleb heard Zom Spidrucket say. The voices were coming from the next room. Slowly, Keyleb approached the wooden door, which was ajar and peeked in.
A moment later, Kuro replied, "Feing should have arrived by now."
"He better tell your boss about what I expect."
"Ha! You're a fool if you think that the Commodore could give two nerf-nuts about what you want!"
"I've done everything he's asked!"
"And for that you will be rewarded," Kuro assured.
There was a pause as Zom considered Kuro's words. "And what about the Ambassador? What are we supposed to do with her?"
"Anything you want," Keyleb swore he could hear the man laughing. "Just make sure she lives until Feing says otherwise. I can't imagine she'll be too important going forward."
"By anything... you mean anything?"
The toast popped, but Keyleb had already left the kitchen.
It took the young man only a moment to reach his room and burst in and yank his blaster from it's holster as he dashed towards the Ambassador's room. He could still feel his stomach turning, sickened by the way the two men were discussing this woman's fate. She had remained calm and composed through this entire ordeal, and when he'd spoken to her... He couldn't let Zom or anyone else have their way with her. They were close to the city; not terribly close but close enough to make it on foot if they didn't stop to rest. He'd been conditioned as a stormtrooper, but the Ambassador... Whatever happened, he wasn't going to let Zom have his way with her, he repeated to himself.
As he got closer to her room, Keyleb slowed his pace and hid his blaster behind his back after making sure it was set to stun. Turning the corner he saw one of his companions, Terryk. Terryk was an asshole. Keyleb didn't mind shooting Terryk. Either way, he took a deep breath as he approached.
"Keyleb? What are you doing here?" Terryk asked.
"Special delivery," Keyleb replied, saying the first thing that popped into his head.
Terryk looked him over, noting that the barefoot man was in gym shorts and a t-shirt. "Is the special delivery a lie?"
"Close enough," Keyleb answered, whipping his blaster round to the front and pulling the trigger. A circular wave washed over Terryk, throwing the guard against the wall and knocking him out cold. Knowing he didn't have time to waste, Keyleb entered the Ambassador's room.
He stopped in his tracks when he saw her.
Both of her hands were bound to the wall, where she hung, long mess of lilac hair draped over her face. The sleeves of her gown had been removed up to her elbows, revealing the purple bruises that dotted her light blue skin. Her clothing was torn in many more places, her dress completely ruined, split down the sides so that her legs were clearly visible up to her thighs. When he entered, Racyne Vel Aath looked up, revealing a swollen lip and a black eye. Keyleb visibly winced and the Ambassador smiled.
"Aren't you a little underdressed for a Stormtrooper?"
"I'm here to rescue you," Keyleb answered immediately and started working on the cuffs that bound her to the wall. "I heard Kuro telling Zom he could do whatever he wanted to you, except kill you."
"Oh, lovely," she said with a tired sigh, doing her best to keep up a semblance of high spirits. "Have the Peace Talks begun?"
"I... I don't know? I think so," he answered, confused. Why would she care about that? They had to get out of here! The stun cuffs gave away with a click and the Ambassador began to fall. Keyleb managed to catch her and, wrapping one of her blue arms around his shoulders, he helped her up. "Come on, Ambassador. We've gotta get out of here."
"Why are you helping me, Keyleb?" she asked him.
"Because... it's the right thing to do... and I'm tired... tired of always being asked to do the wrong thing. I don't want to do the wrong thing anymore, I want to do the right thing. Is it wrong to want to be asked to do the right thing?"
Racyne leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He felt his face turn beet red. "You're a noble man, Keyleb, thank you for coming to rescue me," she told him softly. "I'm ready."
Before they could start moving two hands crashed upon each other, slowly clapping, drawing their attention towards the figure standing in the doorway.
"So cute," Zom said, taking a step closer. Keyleb noted the blaster on his hip was absent, unlike Keyleb's own blaster which was very much in his hand. Although this was clear, Zom continued walking towards Keyleb, full of confidence. "Let her go, Keyleb. Be a good boy. What would your Daddy say if he saw you trying to rescue an..." Zom waved his hand a little, motioning towards Racyne, unable to remember the name of her people. "... Alien girl."
For a moment Keyleb felt the pressure. He'd been given an order, and he followed orders... no, not anymore. Not those kinds of orders.
"You and my father are about to have something in common," Keyleb said softly.
"I said, you and my father are about to have something in common."
Zom snorted in disbelief. "Oh? And what's that?"
"Yeah, that I'm about to kick your xenophobic ass!"
Keyleb dropped the Ambassador as his free arm snapped towards Zom, pointing his blaster and firing a stun bolt at the man. Zom, having seen the guard outside, and the blaster in Keyleb's hands, must have predicted the setting because he dodged far to the left, past the range of the blast, and pushed off towards Keyleb, connecting a strike from his elbow into the temple of the former stormtrooper.
Dazed, Keyleb dropped his weapon and tried to take a step away from Zom, who's other arm was now reaching out towards Keyleb. Zom's fist grew large in Keyleb's vision; then darkness; then pain, and suddenly he realized he was about to hit the ground.
"Alien lover!" Zom spat at Keyleb, firing a kick into the chest of the man on the ground. "Republic Dog!"
He aimed another kick but before it connected he felt a weight on his back--the Ambassador had jumped on his shoulders. Encircling his waist with her legs, Racyne wrapped her right arm around Zom's throat and squeezed hard as she could, trying to trap him in a chokehold. He croaked an unintelligible insult at her but she held fast.
Stumbling back, Zom dug his nails into her arm and did her best to rip her off of him. She let out a scream in pain and bit down onto his ear. As soon as he felt her teeth pierce skin, a panic overcame Zom, who immediately launched himself back against the wall, slamming the Ambassador into it.
Keyleb pulled himself up from the ground and stumbled towards the Ambassador and Spidrucket. He was so involved in getting her off of him that he hadn't noticed that Keyleb was back on his feet and the young man took full advantage of the situation. Mercilessly, he swung hard as he could at Zom, landing two body blows, one after another, into the man's unprotected abdomen.
Zom grunted with pain and lashed out with a foot, catching the still slightly dazed Keyleb in the leg, forcing him back. Once again, Zom launched himself backwards, this time clipping an empty dresser in doing so. Being behind him, Racyne felt the corner of the furniture dig painfully into her shoulder blade and felt her arms loosen ever so slightly on Zom. That was all he needed. With his great strength, he flipped her over his shoulder, right into Keyleb, who at just that moment had decided to press forwards.
Both went down with a pained grunt and cry. As they tried to pull themselves up, Zom delivered two deft kicks into their faces and stomach before picking up the blaster that Keyleb had dropped.
He pressed the muzzle against the former stormtrooper's head.
"You're a disgrace," Zom said.
Two shots fired.
Zom dropped to his knees and looked down at the two burning holes in his chest. He looked back up incredulously, from Racyne to Keyleb, before falling forward onto his face, dead.
Behind him, standing in the doorway, blaster in hand, was the bald man that Keyleb had seen when purchasing weapons with Zom, Guts O'Conner.
Seeing what he'd just done, all Guts could say was...
[ Capital Building ]
Major Moggaz "Barraken" Murg resisted the urge to curl his tentacles and reveal the fanged sneer beneath as he silently watched the TIE Reaper land in the plaza.
His silence was, in part, due to the respect he felt for Vice Admiral Vodani, who was standing right in front of the Quarren. Having worked with her for the past few months had been quite the pleasant experience, and both had come to trust each other implicitly. Sadly, Barraken could not say the same for the third member of their party, Rear Admiral Tolden, who commanded the Vigilant Taskforce. There were many human tendencies that Barraken found difficult to interpret, but for the life of him, he could not understand how Tolden could file so many complaints even though he commanded one of the most--if not the most--elite starfighter task force in the entire Fleet.
Standing between the New Republic Delegation and the recently landed Reaper was Rori Brebor, the older zabrak that had called the truce in the first place. Next to him stood his aide, a young female of his same species (named Shyon Anandes, if Barraken recalled correctly). Barraken had been surprised to find so many Imperial warrants in his name, as well as several files marked as classified as top secret by some Marshal. When he had put in the request for permission to access the files, he only got back a heavily redacted and encoded file that had proven worthless. This, of course, did not discourage Barraken, who had pursued much more difficult targets in the past. The Quarren prided himself in being able to find dirt on anyone, after all--and, really, what other kind of trait did one want in an Intelligence Officer?
Finally, the reason for Barraken's desire to sneer made their appearance.
The entryway to the Reaper and down the ramp descended Commodore Tol Barand, former Intelligence Agent and currently Captain of the Conviction. Barand had been a thorn in the side of the New Republic even before the Battle of Endor, participating in multiple acts of espionage and assassination before his meteoric ascent in the abscence of the Emperor. Renegade Wing in particular, Barraken knew, was particularly sick of him and had been eating at his defenses. Next to him was the half-machine Commander Feing, who had been injured at the Battle of Nabrisk by Renegade Wing. Always an imposing figure according to records, the cybernetic enhancements only served to make him all the more intimidating. Last to leave the Reaper was Toseng's own Imperial Governor, Vak Spidrucket, who had fled to the Conviction almost as soon as it arrived on the planet.
Barand and his Delegation made their way over to Brebor. The two talked for a moment, exchanging pleasantries and handshakes, eventually making their way over to the New Republic Delegation.
Brebor spoke first, "Vice Admiral Vodani, may I present Commodore Barand?"
"I don't think we've had the pleasure," Vodani answered, but kept her hands clasped behind her back. Barand made no gesture to shake her hand either. "I am pleased that you are able to attend, Commodore."
"How could I not? The Empire values peace," Barand smiled. "We aren't the ones who started the war, after all."
"That is debatable," Vodani answered dryly.
"But it is not what we're here to debate today," Rori Brebor interjected.
"Correct," Vodani sighed. "Please, allow me to introduce you to Rear Admiral Tolden, commander of the Vigilant Taskforce, which you may know well. And this is Major Murg, my Intelligence Officer aboard the Sovereignty."
Barand's face remained stone cold. He nodded twice, once for each name mentioned. "This is Commander Feing, my right hand. And Governor Spidrucket, which you more than likely already know of."
"I believe that Admiral Vodani had a request to make," Rori mentioned after the introductions were over.
"Ah, yes. We wish to land a corvette on the surface to provide medical relief to any that might need it," she explained to the Imperial.
"Is it the Anti-Venom?" Barand asked.
Vodani seemed surprised. "Ah, yes, the very same."
"Unarmed corellian corvette," Barand smiled and shook his head, as if it were hard for him to believe the possibility. "Very well. Tell Captain Milo that she has our permission to land."
"Thank you, Commodore. Because the Anti-Venom is unarmed, we will be providing an escort until they have landed."
"Who will be providing an escort?" he asked.
"As expected. As you please, but I too will be providing an escort of my own."
From conversations Barraken had had with Vodani earlier, they both expected this possibility. The Admiral feigned having to think about it but finally nodded.
"Good," Barand continued. "Shall we proceed?"
[ Sidda's Apartment; Capital City ]
Sat in the living room of the apartment belonging to that frakking journalist Joff sweated in his bonds. His initial panic had now subsided and he felt less embarrassment then when he had started to crack. His potential interrogator was McKenna, the McKenna, whom Zeno had built so tall in his mind. He constantly compared himself to that man, always trying to best his past deeds. But perhaps in leaving Zeno's group he had lost his edge, because whilst McKenna had left with the journalist and the Mandalorian to discuss something, Joff had found his opportunity. With one final squeeze, the ropes binding his wrists frayed and cut on the screws on the back of the chair holding him. Joff smiled his predatory grin, now things could get interesting.
His first thought was to find his weapon and gun them all down. Or perhaps gun down two of them and bring McKenna in for Zeno? She would be pleased with such a bounty and he did like to please her. She was so very difficult to impress and Joff impressed most people.
But, unfortunately for his own ego, his mission took precedence. Looking at the chrono on the wall he swore quietly to himself; he was running behind schedule. Astin would be entering the talks any minute, where through her sister she would get access to the New Republic table. It was Joff's job to focus on the Imperial presence. He didn't fully understand Zeno's plan yet, but understood enough: Political and military leaders of both groups needed to be eliminated. Toseng would slip into a chaotic war which would weaken both sides and turn the population against them. How Zeno would then convince Toseng to ally with the Hutts seemed beyond Joff. But Zeno had achieved many things he considered improbable and so he best followed her plans.
Running out of the apartment at a breakneck pace, Joff focused on finding a communicator. He needed Astin to delay, to wait until he was ready too. Both sides needed to be eliminated, if he couldn't guarantee that...
He found a public comm booth just a few streets over, covered in graffiti and the long since faded mark of Toseng Public Commnet. He was thankful to find it still operational. He punched in Astin's comm impatiently, his hand slapping the large communicator box as it rang. Seconds drew out further and further as time slipped by before Astin's comm beeped, "Hi, it's Astin!"
"Astin, it's Joff. Abort mission, abort-"
"I'm afraid I can't answer my comm right now," the annoying pre-recorded sugar sweet voice of Astin said gleefully. "Leave me a message and I'll call right back!"
Joff punched the communicator box angrily, "Abort mission Astin. Pick up the comm, abort-"
He wasn't prepared for the hand on the back of his head, he was even less prepared for the force of it that slammed his skull into the toughened box. The screen flickered but did not break, as Joff slumped to the floor unconscious, blood streaming from his nose. Shadow leant down to check Joff's pulse, nodding in satisfaction that the man was alive but unconscious. Zippy meanwhile read the call log, his eyes screwed up in confusion. "Astin Anandes? That name mean anything to you Sidda?"
Siddalla scanned the display with her glasses, committing the communicator number to a photo she could look over later but chewed on her lip nervously. "Anandes is the surname of one of Brebor's aides. If they're related she could get easier access to him..."
"But what is the mission?" Shadow murmured, binding Joff's hands again. "What is Astin doing?"
Before Sidda could answer there was the noise of an explosion, echoing through the streets. Some screamed and ran whilst others pointed to the plume of smoke rising above the buildings, to the centre of the city where the colonial palace was.
[ Bridge of ISD Consolidator; Toseng System ]
There was calm amongst the bridge of Consolidator. It wasn't the kind of calm Oshi was used to, from aboard the Conviction. It was a measured calm, one of intense concentration. Everyone was focused on their work, diligently following their duties. Glancing around the bridge she could see scars of old battles, one terminal was far newer, clearly a replacement for one that had malfunctioned and exploded in a previous engagement. She wondered idly if that had been during Endor, but found her mind's wandering ending as the comm came alive.
She sat there, flicking between channels, a sense of panic building inside herself slowly. As if in slow motion she stuck her arm up, shouting, "Captain!"
Pash was above her instantly, staring down at her console, "What is it Lieutenant?"
"Reports of an explosion sir, on Toseng. At the peace talks. Multiple injuries." Oshi frowned, trying to make sense from the streams of text and voices she could read and hear.
Pash's response was immediate, "Red alert! Fighter command, launch defensive squadrons! Helm, bring us about parallel to the rebel fleet but do not close the distance, understand? Lieutenant Frell, signal the fleet to hold position. We cannot go charging in until-"
"Conviction is reporting she is launching all her fighters sir. Glory is moving into bombardment range of the rebel fleet, launching all bomber units." Oshi frowned, her fingers dancing over the comms. "They're all attacking sir."
Pash swore slightly and the sensor officer spoke up, "Captain, Vigilant is launching it's starfighters, it's ships moving into attack formation. The Rebels are attacking."
Pash's teeth ground together and his fists tensed but he didn't freeze up, "Lieutenant Frell, signal Wisdom and Victorious. Tell them to stay in tight formation, we can't allow our force to become divided. Our bomber crews will attack in waves to maximise missile impact during the enemies shield regeneration. Oh, and tell Captain Trent that if he doesn't return to formation Glory will be consigned to the slag heap."
The first beams of heavy turbolaser fire erupted on the shields of the Consolidator and the bridge shook from the force but the shields did not waver yet. Oshi shook the imagery from her mind, focusing on her task. That was all she could do, all she was trained to do. But somewhere deep in her mind she felt reassured, Pash would get them out of this. She was safe here.
[ Ready Room; CRS Vigilant ]
In all his time aboard a warship, Frosty had never ever seen a ready room so busy. Built to be multifunctional, for both giving informal briefings and allowing pilots to relax somewhere whilst being on standby, it was large but rare were the days when every pilot aboard the ship was in the place.
Truth was, currently, no one felt like sleeping in their own room amongst the Renegades. The presence of the Imps so close had people spooked, and one by one they'd found themselves hanging out in the ready room, reassuringly next door to the hangar so when the moment came they'd be in their fighters in seconds rather than minutes.
But people still needed to sleep, so they'd got creative. The few on duty beds had been extended with chairs, loungers, pump up mattresses, and even the odd hammock. Those that weren't sleeping kept each other entertained but with their voices and the lights down low; Frosty had never seen the total prima donnas of Renegade Wing be so....reasonable. Despite the lack of space, no one pushed or trod on toes, no one shouted. Card games were played in smiling hushed whispers, holo displays going over potential battle tactics had the brightness dimmed as pilots spoke as much in sign language as they did words.
Rogue squadron was currently missing, they had been called upon to escort the Anti-Venom dirtside. Frosty wasn't sure if they were lucky or not, despite reassurances that the Imps wouldn't mess with the humanitarian mission he thought it dangerous and foolhardy. Mind you, dangerous and foolhardy seemed Rogue Squadron's modus operandi to Frosty.
He leant back into the wall he was relaxed against, breathing deep. His hands were shaking again, recently that kept happening. He tried not to think about how good a drink would be right now, or how much just the presence of the others was bothering him. After this one he was going to take some leave, go home and see the kid. Wrap her in a hug and smell her hair, the little rodent. It'd been easy the first few weeks, practically partying and drinking between the fights but now the fatigue was settling in. Perhaps he'd take some more leave than he had accrued, go a little AWOL, spin a story about a broken down transport-
"We need to talk."
Frosty's eyes jolted open to see Wolf's face in front of his. That goofy kid, with his dumb smile. Except he wasn't smiling, he looked serious. Frosty hated it when Wolf got serious. "What do you want?"
Wolf took him by the arm and led him out of the ready room, just outside to the hangar. He leaned in close, his eyes concerned, "What's going on with you Frosty?"
Frosty shrugged, "I dunno, Myke. I've grown tired of war, of suffering. I've decided I'm going to go live as a student of the Force, alone atop a mountain. Drink nothing but nerf soup and think of no pleasures."
Wolf grinned at Frosty's stupid joke, hitting him on the shoulder. "Shut up you idiot, that's your worst idea yet. Really, that stunt you pulled before in the first battle was pretty stupid. Could have got yourself killed."
"I'm an A-wing pilot, Myke, doing stupid stuff and getting killed is my standard form of being."
Myke laughed again and shrugged. "You don't have to tell me but you got to tell someone. I can't have my wingman wandering off and getting shot down in battle again, Syntax says it reflects poorly on my leadership."
"Yeah, yeah," Frosty said, not rising to the bait as his mood soured at the thought of combat. "Yeah, I'll be good."
Myke rubbed the back of his neck, feeling awkward. "Look, I've chatted with Gremlin. I know what happened with the Star was a lot but you've seemed out of it for days now. Talk to me."
Frosty looked out the hangar bay, to the waiting star destroyers. "I've...I've been thinking a lot recently. About being here. I'm not sure I made the right choice. You know what I mean?"
Wolf went very quiet and Frosty knew he was in difficult territory. Myke was an adult but there was some stuff he didn't like to talk about. "We have to stop the Empire."
"Yes! We do! But sometimes I think...maybe this isn't the way I should be helping achieve that. Sometimes I think...you know with Toseng. It's all very political isn't it? And like...you know around the ship...all this New Republic stuff, it's not like the Alliance anymore, y'know? Just..what are we trying to build in the Empire's place?"
Wolf shifted from one foot to another, awkwardly. "We're creating a democracy, Frosty."
"Are we, Myke? We've got Princesses and rich senators as our leaders. I don't see any of them that understand the struggles I had growing up. We've got a real military chain of command now, we don't decide things as a group anymore. I just...I left a kid behind, Myke. I need to know this is where I should be, you know? I could die and....I could die. Am I doing the right thing being here?"
They both stood in silence, shuffling feet awkwardly. Frosty dragged his hands through his hair, blowing a raspberry in frustration. Wolf nodded slowly, "Look, after this. I think you need to take some leave. Talk with Dr Crondon, too. Really think it through. It's dangerous for you and your squadmates to be here but not committed. But, for what it's worth, you're a damn good pilot, Frosty. You make a real difference in the war here, you've even kept me alive on a couple of occasions."
Frosty laughed at his friend's sudden earnestness, batting him away in embarrassment. "Easy for you to say, Major. You try doing it this long and still being a Flight Officer."
Myke's face drained of colour and he started to pat his pockets, "Frunking shove it, koroblast, frock me. I'm so sorry Frosty, I completely forgot, we've been swamped with everything and I...I..."
Frosty looked at Wolf in confusion, "What are you talking about?"
Wolf pulled a rank insignia out of his pocket, the markings of 1st Lieutenant emblazoned upon it. "So, I uh. I recommended to Syntax that you were promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and he agreed, but funny thing right? Turns out when you left previously you had attained the rank of 1st Lieutenant. Bit of a mix up on the paperwork, turns out you were never properly discharged so as far as the bureaucrats are concerned you've been a 1st Ell-Tee this whole time, so...."
He placed the rank awkwardly into Frosty's hand and Frosty stared at it. Despite everything he felt about the saluting, the parades, the sirs and boot kissing there was a little part of him that flamed with pride. He had earned this rank. Eventually, a grin started to form on his face, "Wait, does this mean I'll get back pay?"
Before Wolf could answer the hangar filled with noise, the roaring klaxon of red alert. The entirety of Renegade Wing burst out of the ready room like a wave of water. Without even realising he was doing so, Frosty joined them, sprinting to where his A-Wing sat.
He quickly started the power up sequence, bypassing the basic safety properties to get his fighter going. His hands shook as he flicked on the switches, his breathing became more rapid and shallower. He felt black begin to creep into the edge of his vision as he silenced a warning on his portside engine, goosing the throttle slightly to encourage it to fire up. The pit in his stomach grew but suddenly he and his fighter were out of the hangar, streaming into space, pitching and wheeling to find his squadron and get his orders. His mind cleared.
Frosty knew, immediately, this is where he belonged. He was born to fly. He touched the clover patch sewn onto his suit, a gift from his daughter, and offered her a promise. Da's coming home kiddo, but he's got work to do first.