Small Acts of Kindness
Word Count: 4543
The control room hummed with activity as those on duty monitored the airspace around and beyond the base that Renegade Wing was stationed at. Given the relative safety of the area, and the fact that it was Life Day and celebrations were in order, the skeleton crew found themselves busy enough, relaying instructions to patrols or ensuring their instruments were in working order. A sweet melody hummed quietly in the background, just audible enough over the buzz of the computer consoles and the familiar click of buttons. As the control room door hissed open, Lieutenant Felreya walked in with a tray of drinks, steam rising from the contents of the mugs.
"Happy Life Day boys and girls," she said, handing the drinks around to those manning their stations. Some gave her their thanks, while others picked up a mug by the handle and assented their thanks with a nod.
"Smells delicious, Lieutenant," said one of the controllers as the tray was almost empty. "What is it?"
"I hear it's a local brew and delicacy," she said with a smile. "Called 'hot cocoa'."
The controller took a sip of the hot beverage, a smile creasing his lips as the mug left it.
"Whatever it is," he said, taking another sip, "it's good!"
"Let's just hope," Felreya said, taking the last mug for herself and placing the tray on top of an empty console nearby, "that Major Bannon doesn't..."
Before she could finish her sentence Major Bannon, the senior officer on duty, walked into the control room, a scowl on his face.
"You just had to jinx us, didn't you?" muttered the controller as he glanced towards Bannon and took another sip of his beverage.
"Who authorized this?" he growled, staring around the room. He was met with blank stares and glances from those in front of him. "I said," he enunciated slowly, "who authorized these festivities?"
"No one, sir," piped up an officer from his control panel near Bannon. "But, it is Life Day after all. We just thought..."
"Music during operating hours," he growled. "Drinks near sensitive and expensive equipment," he said, grabbing the mug held by the nearby controller, "decorations hanging in hazardous areas," he finished, grabbing and tearing at some coloured streamers near the doorway. Clenching it in his fist, he held it up. "All unauthorized and hazardous."
"But sir," said Felreya, gesturing openly with her arms, "Life Day comes but once a year. Surely even you must take some time to...."
"There is a time and place for festivities, Lieutenant," Bannon growled, "and that time and place is not here or now. You are free to join in the festivities in the Meal Hall or Lounges when your shifts are done. Now," he said, raising his clenched fist and extending an index finger, "I want this entire place cleaned up by the time I get back. If it isn't, you'll all be working well into the next shift!"
Groans escaped the mouths of the control crew in the room as Bannon stormed out.
"What a kriffing bantha milker," complained someone nearby.
With a sigh, Felreya reached for the tray and dragged it off the console before moving to collect the half-empty mugs. With the music stopped, the mood in the room had quickly turned sullen.
"Any word from the flights on duty?" she asked when she approached the main control console.
"Flights One and Two have just finished their shift and landed," said the middle-aged woman at the console. "Flights Three and Four are on patrol nearby. Flight Five is still twenty minutes out."
"What is Flight Five doing so far out from base?" she asked.
"Intel registered what they thought were new settlements in the area that weren't there a few weeks ago when we set up operations here. Flight Five has been sent to confirm and investigate."
"Have them check-in," Felreya said.
The operator nodded and began relaying instructions to Flight Five. The response came back a few seconds later.
"Flight Five reports that they've found two new settlements," she said, "and are going to check on a possible third. They're also requesting supply drops for aid."
Felreya scrunched her mouth to one side. If any other senior officer were on duty there wouldn't be an issue. But with Bannon in command during this hour....
"Tell Flight Five that we can't provide aid right now," Felreya said. "But we'll forward the request up the chain of command. As soon as they identify the third settlement, have them head back to base."
"Yes, ma'am," the controller said.
Felreya began to move about again, collecting the last of the mugs. Checking the chronometer in the room, it read 22:30 hours ... still plenty of time for some Life Day festivities to happen, if they were lucky.
The four X-wings cruised above the landscape in a loose v-formation, their search lights on full power, guiding them through the darkness. Captain Andrew "Dobber" Dobson listened sullenly as the instructions came over his headset.
"Understood, Control," he said. "I'll let you know when we're headed back."
"What's the answer?" Katlyn "Starfire" Thornwood asked eagerly over the radio.
"Control says negative on the aid drop, Rogue Two," Dobber answered, glancing towards his left at her. "Will have to wait to be sent up the chain of command."
"Karabast," Starfire scowled.
"I bet Bannon's in charge tonight," chimed in Jack "Frosty" McCauley, Corsair Nine, as his X-wing rose and gently fell to Dobber's right. The scarlet light from the engines shone brightly in the darkness. "By the Force how I hate that man."
"You're not the only one," said Rosk "Silence" Vikeron, Corsair Twelve, as she finally spoke up.
"Careful, Corsair Nine," Starfire said. "Wouldn't want Bannon to overhear you say that."
Frosty gave a quick snort of laughter over the radio. "That karking stick in the mud?" he said sourly. "I'd rather have the pleasure of taking my boot and shoving it up his...."
Io, Dobber's astromech, hooted before Frosty could finish his sentence, cutting off his words. A ping came from Dobber's targeting computer, and the image lit up to show the landscape ahead.
"I've got something," Dobber said.
"Is it the settlement?" Silence asked.
"Could be," Dobber replied, flicking a few switches and buttons in his cockpit. "Only one way to find out," he said as he sent the target to Starfire, Silence, and Frosty.
"Target received, Rogue Three," Frosty said. "Let's check it out. Forming up on your wing."
With that, the pairs of X-wings peeled away and to the right towards their destination.
It was several minutes later before they saw the faint glow of lights ahead of them in the distance. The targeting computer continued its melodic hum as the yellow-gold lines shone from the black background of the computer screens. Red numbers ticked down steadily indicating the closing distance to the settlement.
"I think we've found it," Starfire said.
"A wonderful observation, Rogue Two," Frosty said with a slight hint of sarcasm. "Slowing throttle to half speed. Let's get a good look and not surprise them."
Pulling back on his throttle, Dobber felt his X-wing slow until he matched speed with Starfire and the others. Tilting his X-wing slightly to the left, he made ready to get a good visual of what was down below.
The scene was appalling. Makeshift huts were clustered in small groups around the fallen husks of Imperial war machines. Buildings lay in ruins, heaps of rubble spilling in every direction, and entire roofs or walls simply missing. The frames of two AT-ATs lay pressed into the ground. One had completely fallen over sideways, its head module a charred wreck. The other looked as if it had been downed by a tow-cable from an Air Speeder ... just like on Hoth almost a year ago. A few AT-STs, or what remained of them, lay scattered about the area or collapsed into houses. And what looked like the remains of a TIE Fighter or two were wedged firmly into the embankments near the settlement.
A few lights dotted the area below, indicating some source of power nearby. A large fire lit up the center of the settlement, providing warmth to those near it. Others began to emerge from their huts or shelters to take a look at the oncoming X-wings. Children of all ages and sizes either huddled behind their parents or ran towards the center in small groups, curious as to what the New Republic ships were doing so far out here.
What bothered Dobber the most wasn't the poverty that he saw ... he had seen plenty of that since joining the Rebellion years ago ... it was that the people looked to be starving.
"By the Force," Starfire said in awe as the X-wings completed their first flyby. "I've seen a lot of things, but nothing as bad as this."
"Welcome to the ashes of the karking Empire," Frosty said.
"Where the poor and oppressed are still downtrodden," Silence finished.
"It's not right," Starfire said.
"It isn't, Two," Silence replied.
"I want another pass of the settlement," said Dobber, leveling out his X-wing again.
"Agreed," said Frosty. "Coming around for another pass. Call it in when you're ready, Rogue Three."
The X-wings gently rose to gain some altitude, then banked left to circle around.
"I'd say about two, maybe three-dozen people," Dobber said on the next flyby.
"Might be some more if there are people inside the walkers or makeshift huts," Silence assented.
Dobber watched as a small group of children waved to the pilots while the adults looked on, their hands raised to shield their eyes from the glare of the X-wings' lights.
"Why a settlement so far out here?" Starfire asked.
"Any number of reasons, Two," Frosty said. "Could be farmers. Scavengers. People displaced by the recent fighting."
"Or people with nowhere to go," Silence added. "No distinct houses remain by the looks of all that rubble and wreckage."
"Couldn't we radio back to base?" Starfire queried. "Ask for some transports to pick them up? We've got more than enough room and supplies."
"Wish it were that easy, Two," Frosty said. "Believe me, the galaxy doesn't always work the way you want it to. I think we're done here."
"Copy, Corsair Nine," Dobber said as they peeled away and slowly headed back to base. "Calling it in."
As he activated his radio channel and began reporting their findings, he glanced over his shoulder and back at the settlement. He saw the people standing there, looking towards the X-wings as they left, hopeless. A few began to move away from the crowd.
He hated it. All of it.
And as he finished giving his report, something stirred inside of him.
"You know," he said finally, "we haven't had the opportunity to train together, have we?"
"Not all together, no," said Silence after a moment.
"And we all have chaff particles as countermeasures, right?" he asked.
"We do," Frosty said cautiously.
"Then now would be as good a time as any for a quick exercise. No Imperials around."
"What? Why?" Starfire asked as he caught her shooting him a quick glance of confusion. He winked back at her.
"It would be quite the aerobatic show, wouldn't it?" he asked. "Especially on Life Day, wouldn't you agree?"
"Yes," Starfire said, realizing his meaning now. "It would."
Frosty and Silence exchanged glances and nodded at one another.
"Well then," said Frosty, "shall we get started?"
"On your wing," Silence announced. "Though I'd much prefer my A-wing for maneuvers compared to these sluggish Dewbacks."
Chuckles spilled over the radio as the four X-wings maneuvered to head back towards the settlement once more.
"Starfire, take point," Dobber said. "Shall we open with a Silver Sparrow classic maneuver?" he asked, glancing towards her.
"Boss," she said as her X-wing moved ahead, "nothing would make me happier."
Bannon watched as the flight of X-wings changed course on the display map and headed back towards the marked settlement.
"What is Flight Five doing?" he asked.
"I don't know, sir," said the controller in front of him, glancing over her shoulder.
Bannon stepped towards the console and pressed a button on the panel.
"Flight Five, this is Major Bannon. Explain yourselves."
Static filled the airwaves.
"I say again," continued Bannon. "This is Major Bannon. Flight Five, explain yourselves."
Once more, silence filled the airwaves.
"Flight Five, you are ordered to return to base immediately. Failure to comply will result in...."
"Control, this is Flight Five," came Frosty's voice over the airwaves, spilling across the room.
Bannon watched as the icons of the X-wings moved above the settlement, then began to rise into the night sky.
"Flight Five," Bannon said tersely, "your orders are to return to base immediately and report to...."
"Major Bannon," Frosty said pointedly. "It's Life Day. For once, kriff off."
With that the line went silent.
Bannon's face turned a hot red.
And those near him hung their mouths open in awe of what the pilot had just said.
"Would someone care to explain what those pilots are doing?" he spat, pointing towards the display.
"Doing what Renegades do best, sir," Felreya said as she moved up next to him, looking at the icons as they broke apart and began to dance across the display screen. "Giving hope to those who need it most."
The crowd below craned their heads up as they watched the four X-wings climb into the darkness above, their scarlet engines standing out against the night sky. Suddenly they broke apart at their apex and curved away from one another, fanning out and diving back towards the ground at different angles.
A light flashed as something shot from the rear of one of the X-wings. Then another, and another. Soon the skill was filled with four quick explosions that lit up the night sky as clouds of sparks blossomed and fell towards the ground. The pilots curved and streaked their way past the crowd several times, sometimes individually, sometimes in pairs. Every so often, one or more of the X-wings sent out another explosion that lit up the night sky.
More denizens of the settlement emerged from their makeshift dwellings to take in the commotion. 'Oohs' and 'Aahs' rose from the crowd, and many cheered and applauded as the X-wings performed their death-defying maneuvers on their many flybys.
Then, they noticed two of the X-wings ... these ones with grey-and-black markings ... begin to charge towards one another from opposite directions. The crowd gasped as it looked like they would collide, but at the last second the two X-wings cut their directions sharply and peeled away from one another, each launching another explosion from their ships a few seconds later. The crowd applauded and cheered the maneuver while the children giggled in delight as sparks rained down but fizzled out well before hitting the ground near them.
The airshow continued on for several more minutes with countless maneuvers and formations, each more spectacular than the last. The denizens may not have had much, but this was something none of them would forget anytime soon.
"Looks like our little show worked," Silence said as she completed her final maneuver. "I also don't think we've attracted any Imperial attention. Scopes and skies are clear."
"One last flyby," Dobber said, decreasing his altitude and beginning his approach towards the settlement. "One quarter speed, as low as you can safely get."
"Copy that," Starfire said.
As the X-wings lined up, Dobber reached forward and pressed the button to open the lower storage compartment of his X-wing.
"Oops," he said. "How silly of me. It seems like that month-long stint in the brig made me forget some of my controls. It would be a real shame if my supplies accidentally fell out." Giving his X-wing a quick nod downwards before pulling up again, the entire contents of the compartment tumbled towards the ground, away from the group of people below. He tilted his X-wing to the right slightly and waved to the crowd below. They, in turn, cheered and waved back at him.
"Well would you look at that," Frosty said as he watched Dobber's equipment tumble towards the ground. "It seems my astromech is malfunctioning. It would also be a shame if I lost all my equipment as well." Several seconds later, Frosty repeated a similar maneuver to Dobber. Silence followed suit, then Starfire. Being the last in line, Starfire glanced over her shoulder at the scene behind her.
The people scurried towards the scattered crates of gear. Ration boxes. Heat lamps. Power cells. Portable shelters. Tools. Anything and everything that an X-wing could carry for survival. Only there was no fighting or arguing for who got the spoils. There was only sharing.
A smile spread across her face, and as her compartment closed she increased her speed and formed up with the rest.
As the X-wings touched down on the tarmac, the flight crews moved to greet the pilots and service the craft. Lights lit up the night sky as the pilots climbed down the ladders from their X-wings and headed towards the hangar entrance. Two ferry carts moved to greet the four pilots. One was empty, ready to transport them back inside the base. The other carried a passenger and some security personnel. It was Major Bannon.
"Oh boy," said Starfire as she moved next to Dobber.
"Just stay calm," he mumbled to her. "Let us do all the talking."
"Captains Dobson and McCauley," Bannon spat as he stood up. The security personnel followed suit but kept their distance. "Care to explain yourselves?"
Dobber and Frosty exchanged glances.
"Why Major," Frosty said coolly, "whatever do you mean?"
"You know what I mean, Captain," Bannon fumed. "Failure to comply with orders. Insubordination. A complete disregard for the safety of civilians. Not to mention four X-wings missing their supplies!"
Frosty crossed his arms defensively.
"I should have you all thrown in the brig," Bannon finished.
"Been there, done that," Dobber said with a shrug. "Introvert's paradise, really."
Katlyn did her best to stifle a laugh, earning a glaring glance from Bannon. He was about to say something when another cart rolled up. This time it carried the Wing Commander himself: Colonel Vince "Stryker" Rambo.
"What seems to be the problem here?" he asked neutrally.
"Colonel Rambo," Bannon said with a quick salute. "Just taking care of some rogue pilots."
"And Corsairs," Silence muttered audibly enough to catch Stryker's knowing glance.
"I can see that," Stryker said, turning back to Bannon.
"Given their recklessness," Bannon said, turning to nod at the four pilots, "I think a reprimand and brig time would be a suitable course of action."
"I'll take it under advisement," Stryker said, looking at each of the four pilots. "I'll take it from here, Major. You're dismissed."
With another quick salute, Bannon returned to the trolly and left with his security team. Stryker looked the four pilots over as the cart whirred away.
"Okay, what happened?" he asked.
They told their story from start to finish about the settlement and their aerobatic exercise.
"If anything, sir," Dobber said to Stryker, "I'll take full responsibility for this. It was my idea after all."
"And yet your flight team followed suit," Stryker said, "when they could have easily refused. I think a punishment is in order."
The four pilots exchanged glances with one another.
"But it can wait until tomorrow, when you'll catalogue and resupply your respective crafts."
"So, no brig time?" Starfire asked.
"On Life Day?" Stryker mused. "Hardly. Though I don't think you should do something foolish like that again."
"Understood, sir," Dobber said. The four pilots saluted him.
"Good," Stryker said with a nod. "Now, the night is still young. And I believe there are some festivities and gift exchanges happening inside. Wouldn't want to miss those, would we?"
With that, he returned to his trolly and was whisked away towards the base. The other four followed behind on theirs.
After depositing their gear in their lockers, Silence and Frosty ducked inside the Lounge area where the gift exchange was happening. Music arose from inside the doorway, and the sound of cheers and laughter spilled out into the hallway. Dobber stopped short of the doorway, while Starfire turned to face him.
"You coming?" she asked.
He hesitated, feeling the anxiety rise in him.
"I," he began, "I'm not sure."
"Come on, boss," Starfire said. "You have to have some fun sometimes."
"Maybe another time," he replied, then turned to walk towards the hallway that would lead towards pilot quarters. Starfire caught up with him a few seconds later.
"Please tell me that your time in the brig hasn't made you completely anti-social," she said, stepping in next to him.
"It hasn't," he said as they walked down the hallway.
"But?" she asked.
"I just don't feel like celebrating right now," he said with a shrug.
A puzzled look crossed her face until she realized what could have been bothering him.
"It's the first one without her, isn't it?" she asked.
They stopped at the entryway to the pilot quarters corridor.
"It is," he said, turning to face her.
"Okay," she said, placing a hand on her hip, "I get it. But wouldn't she want you to have some fun?"
Dobber mulled over what Dia might have said under the circumstances.
"She probably would have told me to stop being such a nerfherder for starters," he said.
"I'd be inclined to agree," she said. "Did you at least put your name in for the gift exchange?"
Dobber reached back and scratched his head.
"I, um, didn't," he said.
"What?!" she asked incredulously. "Next to the food and drinks, that's one of the best parts! Man, you really are a nerf ... oh sithspit," she trailed off as something above her caught her eye.
Dobber looked up to see some red berries framed with green leaves. It was high enough to not be immediately noticeable, but still an eyesore once it was noticed.
"Is that...?" he began to ask.
"Mistletoe," she said.
"Who could have...?" Then the answer both dawned on them.
"Gremlin," they both said sourly in unison.
"She's sneaky," Starfire said.
"Wonder what she had to do to get that," he said. They both looked at each other awkwardly and embarrassed. Both faces turned a light shade of red.
"We don't have to," he began to say.
"Totally don't have to," she replied nervously.
"I mean, there's no one else around," he continued.
"Some Life Day traditions are a bit silly."
"We could just walk away. No one else would know."
Their eyes met. Awkward silence filled the air. Starfire was the first to speak again.
"Oh, to hell with it," she said. "Don't read into this beyond what it is."
She stepped closer and, quickly brushing the hair tuft away from her face, gave him a quick but soft kiss on the cheek.
"What you did for those villagers tonight was sweet," she said as she broke away. "Happy Life Day, Dobbs. I hope you find something to make you happy."
He reached up and touched his cheek where she had kissed him.
"Happy Life Day, Kat," he said after a moment.
"Now if you'll excuse me," she said, taking steps to walk backwards, "I'm going to go have at least one drink and exchange my gift."
He nodded in acknowledgement.
"Oh, and Dobbs," she said, stopping. "You totally need to call Charity and Maisie back. My sisters won't stop asking for you. It's getting kind of annoying."
"Alright," Dobber said, holding up his hands, "alright!"
She flashed him a grin and turned to walk away.
"Hey Kat," he called. She glanced over her shoulder. "Thanks."
"Don't thank me yet," she said with a smile before rounding the corner and disappearing from sight.
Dobber turned to head towards his quarters and was immediately met by the imposing figure of Lieutenant Colonel Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds, his OC. He hadn't heard him approach from behind. Jalb was holding a wrapped gift of some sort in his hands, a stern look on his face.
"What in the actual fu..." he began.
"I can explain!" Dobber said, holding up his hands to stop Jalb from finishing his sentence or moving any closer to where he was standing.
As the chronometer neared midnight, Dobber entered one of the holovid booths set up to make calls to families and relatives. Closing the door behind him, he entered the information that Charity had given him. It was several seconds before her familiar face appeared on the holo projector. Despite being displayed in blue, her bright eyes shone through while her blond hair spilled past her shoulders.
"Andrew!" she said in delight. "What a surprise!"
"Hi, Charity," he began.
"I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever call."
"I've been ... busy," he said. Which was the half-truth.
"And here I was beginning to think that you were ignoring me."
"No," he said after a second. "Not ignoring. Just ... a lot on my plate, so to speak."
She nodded in understanding. "I get it," she said. "A hero like you has many responsibilities."
He was about to argue once more with her that he wasn't a hero, even if he had saved her life and Maisie's not that long ago. But he refrained, knowing it wouldn't get him anywhere.
"How's Maisie?" he asked.
"I just finished putting her to bed," Charity said. "Little sweetheart just couldn't make it to midnight."
"That's too bad," he said.
"She misses you," Charity said. "She's your number one fan."
"So Katlyn reminds me," Dobber said dully.
"How is my dear sister?" Charity asked.
"Uncharastically chipper today," he said. "But she's doing well."
"Despite her cocky demeanor at times, she loves Life Day," Charity said. "It's always been her favourite day of the year. It's the one time she's a big softy, you know?" Dobber nodded in understanding. "So," Charity asked casually, "do you have any plans?"
"Not really in the festive mood this year," he said. "Maybe next year."
"That's too bad," she said. "It's too bad you couldn't visit us at the station. Tons of guests and food and gifts. I even," she said a little playfully, "got a new dress just for the occasion."
"Yeah. Look, Charity," he politely interjected, "it's late and I should probably get going."
"Oh," she said with a little surprise. "Okay. I understand."
"Not that I haven't enjoyed this," he said quickly. Then, "Can I ... can I call you again sometime?" he asked after a moment.
He watched as Charity learned forward against the holovid desk and cupped her chin and face in her palm with an amused smile.
"Now that," she said, "is something I'd very much enjoy."
"Happy Life Day, Charity," he said.
"Happy Life Day, Andrew," she said, giving him a wink.
With that, he ended the transmission and left the booth.
When he got to the hallway that led to the quarters or lounge area, he stopped to consider what Katlyn and Charity had said. He went left instead of right. Loud cheers greeted him when he entered the lounge.