"I appreciate the report." General Vince "Stryker" Rambo tapped the key that switched the datapad's screen off, then leaned back in his chair. "What do you think could have been better?"
On the other side of the desk, Captain Adam "Guardian" Burns shook his head. "Not much. Maybe another squad or two of commandos? Having more firepower, we may have been able to overwhelm any resistance easier, but that would have required more U-wings for insertion and space was already tight." His artificial left hand raised to the metal plate that surrounded his droid-like left eye, scratching at the unfeeling metal out of habit. "A few more technical specialists to help Rosk's team get control of engineering. Other than that...I think we did the best we could."
Stryker nodded in reply, watching his former wingman. "General Syndulla was nothing but complimentary on both the effort and the result. She's put in a general commendation for the groups participating. Sealed, of course, due to the nature of the operation and all."
Guardian shrugged. "Glad to hear it, but that and five credits will get you a tall cup of caf in the canteen."
"How did Captain Clark do?"
The pivot to a specific subject stopped Guardian's instinctive itching. "Bulldog? Fine. He was great in the cockpit, and alright when we got off. I think he was...nervous, probably, when we weren't flying. Not used to being shot at when he isn't in a fighter. But no complaints."
Vince nodded again, filing the information away. "Anyone else not up to snuff? Any complaints you do have, you didn't want to put in the official report?"
Adam's organic eye looked away. "Not about the mission, no."
Stryker recognized the hesitant tone in Guardian's voice. "But...?"
Adam sighed. "When we got back, dropping the commandos off before I ran the U-wing back up here...there was a Bothan dirtside. Officer uniform. Bulldog...might have waved me off the ground before I could hear what he was yelling at everyone, and he seemed a little animated that I was not listening. But I had the standing order from you to come back up with the U-wing, so...I left."
Stryker nodded. "That would be Major Thram Shen'ryu. He's nominally in charge of our forces on Toseng. Which - in his opinion - includes Renegade Wing."
"Oh, does it?" Guardian's eyebrow arched. "That's...terrific."
"Your enthusiasm is matched by most of the rest of the Wing." Stryker rubbed his brow, thinking. "We've...dealt with him in the recent past, before Toseng. He made a name for himself in Intelligence, and thinks that means he's a brilliant commander."
"One of those. Even better."
Stryker shrugged. "It is the reality we have to deal with. Since Endor, we're trying to act more like a legitimate military, and that means dealing with people like Shen'ryu."
"Regardless, we'll bullseye that womp rat when it's time. Other business first."
"What do you have, lead?"
Stryker grinned, shaking his head. "It's not bad." Pushing out of his seat, the general moved to a cabinet behind his desk and opened a door. He pulled out a pair of short glasses and a tumbler filled with an amber liquid. He unstoppered the tumbler, poured a small amount into each glass, then replaced the tumbler and offered one of the glasses to his guest. "Jedi and I have been talking."
Guardian managed a weak grin as he took the glass. "Why does that conversation worry me?"
Stryker returned to his seat. "I have no idea, Renegade Five."
"Five, huh?" Guardian swirled the liquid in his glass, thought creasing his brow. "I'm still not sure a fighter is a good fit for me."
"That's why we aren't giving you a fighter. We're giving you that U-wing." Stryker paused, watching his friend.
There was silence for a few heartbeats before Guardian spoke. "...the U-wing?"
"Yes. A multi-crew ship. So if something does go wrong with your cybernetics, there will still be a hand on the stick."
Guardian nodded slowly, staring into his glass. "Who's hand would that be?"
Vince shrugged, the corner of his mouth turning up. "That's up to you. You have free reign to put your own crew together."
Adam continued nodding.
"Oh, and one more thing - your assignment is search and rescue. Not a strike role."
Guardian's eyes shot up to meet Stryker's. Vince nodded, then downed his drink in a single swallow. "You seem surprised. You think I would put you back on the front, given the opportunity to let you do what you always did best?"
Adam finally smiled, then threw back his own shot.
Stryker set his glass back on the desk, mirroring his subordinate's smile. "Let me know who you want, and I'll get it done. Welcome back, G-man."
Guardian set his glass next to Stryker's, then stood and snapped a smart salute. "Glad to be back, sir."
"Knock that off. Get your crew, get your ride set up, and then let me know. I've got your first assignment waiting."
Dov Retanna maneuvered around a trundling Treadwell droid and checked his datapad again. Main flight deck Vigilant, highlighted on the display, bay Esk-5. He should be there...shortly?
Not that there was a lot of traffic to delay him. The Vigilant's main docking bay was much quieter than the Duros had expected, but with the majority of Renegade Wing on the surface of the planet below, it shouldn't have been a surprise. Along the opposite side of the bay from where he was, most of an X-wing squadron - Skull, he'd been told - stood ready to scramble. On the other side rested a small scattering of various fighters, including an open-doored U-wing in bay Esk-5. He stepped past the painted edging that marked the perimeter of the bay, looking for whoever had sent the request for a meeting.
There was sound and motion from inside the starfighter's belly, and a human figure emerged. Captain Burns had his flight cap in his hand, wiping the sweat from his brow and wearing a grey flight jumpsuit, but unzipped to the waist and the arms tied like a belt. A simple white t-shirt was underneath, and Dov started when he realized the man's left arm was completely artificial, all the way to the hand. Burns pulled his cap back on, then made a large, exasperated motion with his arms, speaking to someone behind him.
"I know, Cutter, but it's the best I can do. If you're set on being the flight doc, we're just going to have to make it work."
The second individual hovered out of the ship. The top half was a medical droid, a 2-1B unit like so many Dov had seen in his service. But at the waist, instead of legs, what looked like a platform wide enough for Dov to lay down on had been bolted on to the bot. Underneath must have been some kind of repulsorlift setup, because the droid floated down the boarding ramp after the captain.
"I will find a way to accommodate the proximity issues, Master Adam, but there should be some way to reorganize the equipment inside to allow me a touch more maneuverability."
Captain Burns had stalked over to a tool bench and was drinking out of a brand-new keep-warm. Dov cleared his throat, worried he was intruding on something, and the captain turned towards him.
"Dov! I'm sorry...Sergeant Retanna." Captain Burns put the keep-warm back on the bench, then waved off Dov's salute. "You don't need to do that here."
"Thank you, sir, but..."
Burns touched his right hand to the brim of his flight cap. "Fine. But don't worry about standing on ceremony with me. Dov, I'd like you to meet Cutter." The captain nodded towards the droid. "Our improved 2-1B. Cutter, this is Sergeant Dov Retanna."
Cutter nodded to Dov, a surprisingly organic gesture. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant Retanna. Master Adam has been very excited for your visit."
Dov's overlarge red eyes blinked, then looked to Captain Burns. "Master Adam?"
The captain shrugged. "Save a droid once, and he'll make you think you're the boss from that point forward."
Dov barked a laugh, then waved his datapad. "Did you send for me, sir?"
Captain Burns nodded. "I did. And please, call me Guardian."
"Alright, Guardian. Do you need my help with..." Dov nodded towards the U-wing.
"Got it in one. I've been reassigned to Renegade Flight, and given this U-wing."
"Yeah, long story." Guardian adjusted his flight cap, moving to stand next to Dov, looking towards the U-wing. "It involves losing my eye and arm and leg and a few of those pesky internal organs. Warranty is better on the parts I've got now though."
Dov chuckled at the joke. "I was going to ask, but..."
"There really wasn't time to catch up. No worries."
"So...how can I help?"
"I need a crew."
Dov blinked again, turning towards Guardian. "...sir?"
Guardian clapped a friendly artificial hand down on Dov's shoulder. "I have been assigned this U-wing and told that my mission assignment will be search and rescue. Which means modifying this ship in ways I am unfamiliar with, and don't even know about yet. I have a very limited amount of time in a cockpit like this, but when I did, I had a great flight engineer in the second seat who had made mission-specific modifications that saved a lot of lives. I'd like you to do it for me permanently. Or...at least for a campaign. Try it out. If it doesn't work, no hard feelings."
Dov looked back at the U-wing, his mind spiraling with possibilities. He'd met Guardian on that mission, a shakedown flight of a U-wing Dov had modified to help with the Kintan Strider commando platoon's covert insertions. It had been different than his usual tinkering with smaller field devices for the platoon, and he'd loved it, even if the field test had been more than he'd bargained for. "No, sir, absolutely. I...yessir. I accept. Who...who else is on the crew?"
Push, feel the resistance of the bar and the gravity repulsors fighting you, shove it away and feel the muscle straining, fighting, exhausting to complete the work, aching with the effort. All the way up, then relax and let the bar drop to your chest again, and then...
Again, more tired, more work, more work, exhale, pushing it all out, fighting to get it back to the top and it's not going to go and you can make it it's your best weight and that will be a personal record and you need to get this done to show that you are improving and getting better and c'mon fight to get it up one more time...
...and through the sweat and your eyes squeezing shut to force as much power as you can into the lift and your gritted teeth there is...someone else, hands gently on the bar and a voice you recognize but can't place saying "C'mon, Corporal, you can do it, don't give it up now," soft and low and encouraging and helpful, and there's the last bit and extend all the way, then key the holds and let your body relax as your arms scream in agony and drop to your sides. And now...
"I didn't need your help." Winna Prange sat up, finding the energy to maneuver the back of one hand through her short, spiked hair, dark with a shock of bright blue, wiping the sweat away. She grabbed her bottle, then threw back a long pull of the electrolyte replacement drink it held.
"I didn't think you did, but I didn't think it would hurt." The voice didn't betray any of the anger at her accusation that she'd expected.
Winna looked at the far side of the gym, towards the small workout rooms along the wall. She could see Giojene in one of the chambers, spinning and kicking, her headset supplying the music she was dancing to. Between them were smaller clusters of troopers, pretending to take turns fighting gravity, but instead, watching the Twi'lek dance.
Like she'd rather be doing.
They called it "watching the Riot." Capitalizing it now, after the nickname the Twi'lek had received when she broke Judder's arm and had threatened to shiv Ugotha. The two other troopers had sworn that they hadn't done anything, that Giojene had just suddenly lashed out, but Winna didn't believe them. They had said something. Or done something. Some combination of both.
She took another pull from her bottle and turned towards the person that had interrupted her. She wondered if he'd hoped that she'd recognize him and jump to her feet, and salute and fumble over herself not realizing who it had been.
If he had, his face didn't say it.
He was leaning carefully on the machine behind the one she'd been using, arms now folded. He was wearing a flight cap, and a grey jumpsuit, and boots, all of which looked new, even with the grease stains on the jumpsuit. His left eye - jutting out from the metal plate over the eye socket like they'd swiped it directly from an R2 unit and bolted it there - adjusted, focusing on her.
"I'm impressed. Even when I was trying to keep up with the pilot's physical standards, I don't know that I could have lifted that much."
Winna hadn't been expecting that. She had several comebacks ready, but none suitable as a rejoinder for a compliment. So she stayed quiet.
Captain Burns did as well for a few moments, then nodded. "Ah, so...do you have a minute?"
Winna had been dealing with officers for years. This was by far the most unique interaction she'd experienced. "Sure, sir, but if this goes too long I may have to jump back in for my next set."
"By all means," he replied, maybe a little too fast. "I don't want to interrupt your work here. So...I'll cut to the point. I've been reassigned to Renegade Wing."
Winna's eyebrow arched. "Weren't you always?"
That caught him off guard. "Uh, yeah, but there was..." he motioned with his left hand towards his eye. "...an incident."
"Oh. Well, congratulations." She began rolling her arms, stretching her shoulders out and getting the blood flowing to prepare for her next set.
"Thanks. Well...I've been given a U-wing and asked to put a crew together."
"Sounds like fun." She turned away, scooted down on the bench and laid back, settling under the weight bar.
"It's..." he paused, moving to spot her again. "...it's something."
She mentally threatened him with bodily harm if he tried to interfere with her set, then thumbed the activation triggers to start the gravity tension to send the bar down towards her chest. "Looking for recommendations?" She grunted out as she pushed up for the first repetition.
He shook his head, watching the bar and her arms. "...no."
"Then why are you..." She pushed up for the second rep, then keyed the lock button and sat up, turning to face him. "You're here to ask me?"
Captain Burns had stepped back slightly as she reset the bench, but was nodding. "Yeah."
Winna felt her dark eyes narrow. "Why?"
Burns shrugged. "I've been assigned to search and rescue. Talking with the engineers, we're going to rig up a tractor beam to make a few things easier. I need a gunner to operate it. And...someone with some combat experience, in case we get shot down, or have to land and then move to pick someone up, that'd be really useful too. And the list of people I know who I feel comfortable asking is...well, not long."
Winna blinked. "And if I say no?"
"Honestly," the captain trailed off. "I'll probably just ask Infantry Command for a recommendation or two. See who they have available and interested."
"Oh." She turned away, a cascade of thoughts running through her mind. "Do you need an answer now?"
She felt him shrug. "No, I don't, but our General has my first assignment lined up, so sooner is better than later."
She forced herself to stand, and turned back towards him. "Let me have a bit to think about it, would you?"
Captain Burns nodded. "Absolutely. And if there's anything else you would want...just let me know. Additional training guarantees, promotion, hazard pay, whatever." He offered a strip of flimsi. "My comlink code. Let me know when you decide - one way or another."
She took the flimsi, staring at it as if it were a piece of spoiled fruit. She felt his eyes on her, waiting a heartbeat or two for a reaction, and then he turned. "Talk to you later, Wonderful."
As the captain started to depart, Winna turned. She tore her eyes off the flimsi, up through the gymnasium again. Giojene was exiting her studio room, headphones around her neck, sweat staining her snug workout attire. The Twi'lek looked up, met Winna's eyes, and gave a small wave, ignoring the flurry of other bodies pretending to return to their physical exertion.
Winna spun. "Captain!"
He stopped, having not made it quite to the door, and turned.
Without waiting, she continued. "I have a condition."
"The Vigilant crew has assured me they are bringing down another pre-fab that we can convert into another set of examination rooms. That should give us some more elbow room when working, and keep you madmen from tripping over each other as you are doing your jobs."
The assembled crowd chuckled. It wanted to be a laugh, but the doctors and nurses and medics and technicians formerly of the Corellian Corvette Anti-Venom had worked themselves into a state of tired determination. Their initial arrival on-world had been mostly terrifying, their corvette shot down when attempting to make landfall to bring medical supplies to the besieged inhabitants of Toseng. It had been nothing short of a miracle that the ship had stayed intact as it came to rest, making it one of the most expensive supply drops in galactic history.
They hadn't let that deter them, however. The corvette's shell was within a stone's throw of the field headquarters that had been erected, and the crew had been quick to move the supplies from the Anti-Venom to the HQ. Some initial pre-fabricated buildings from the Vigilant and they'd been ready to receive the steady stream of refugees from the city.
Well, the first wave. Subsequent migratory patterns had resulted in the unofficial expansion of the field headquarters, and now a tent city sprawled away from the military camp. A crude landing field had also been walled off, but even up against the barricades that kept launch and landing blasts from lighting tents on fire temporary structures had been set up, leaning up against the thick permacrete slabs.
What had started as a medical relief effort had blossomed into a full-blown refugee issue. Supplies were already stretched thin, and the medical staff were now working around the clock to assist the hurt and sick. The crew of the Anti-Venom was doing their job, despite how massive an undertaking it had become. And the captain of that crew, Kardia Milo, was proud of them. Despite them only offering a weak chuckle at her joke.
She continued. "We've asked the Alliance for more doctors, but - as usual - they haven't committed to diverting any additional manpower to us at the moment. I'm hopeful, but we all know how slow resupply can be. So...keep at it. Be safe, be smart, and if you need help, ask."
Kardia ran over the notes at her lectern, making sure that she'd covered everything. One more hastily-scrawled note at the bottom had avoided her attention on her first pass. "Oh, one more thing -"
The assembled group, most of her medical staff, had stood, stretching tired legs and backs and shoulders, and began towards the exit to the conference room. At the rejoinder they paused then half-turned back to her.
Kardia offered them all what she hoped came across as her best smile. "Renegade Wing alerted me that they have assigned a ship and crew from their ranks to provide us with any remote transport or other support we may need. No word on who it is, but it is another tool we can use to do our work, so don't hesitate to use it."
"I'd hesitate. That guy owes me money."
Kardia blinked. The crowd turned back to the door. The pilot must have entered late, when everyone else stood up to leave, but now he stood there, at the back of the conference room, in a blue flight suit with all the trimmings - flak vest, flight harness, gauntlets tucked into the belt and helmet held at the hip. The Aurebesh for "Rescue" was stenciled in white down the sleeve of the suit's left arm, and he'd shaved since she'd last seen him.
The weird, astromech-cybernetic left eye was a dead giveaway.
Some of the less tired doctors recognized him first, and stepped to greet and congratulate and thank him. The recognition spread, and the energy in the room lifted, and they shook hands or clapped each other on the back as the crew filed out and the pilot moved towards her podium.
Kardia was smiling when the crowd finally thinned out and she could reach out to shake his hand. "You look much better."
"I feel much better." He nodded, took her hand and squeezed gently. "I have you to thank for starting me down that path."
Kardia shrugged. "I just gave you something to do."
"Which, apparently, is what I needed."
"See? I'm a great doctor."
He laughed. She'd never heard him laugh before. "No argument here. Well, Captain, before you get worried, I've been assigned a U-wing, so there's plenty of space onboard for a small team. I'm at your disposal, with Stryker's orders and Jalb's compliments."
Kardia's eyebrow arched, a grin tugging the corner of her mouth up. "Jalb's compliments?"
"Yes, ma'am. Strict orders from Rogue Leader to, and I quote, "make sure the lady gets anything she needs."
Kardia fought the smile, gathering her notes. "Well. He's extending that level of credit, is he?"
"The Rogues have a habit of running a very high tab, but they are always good for it."
"Were you a Rogue, Captain?" She tilted her head, and he fell in beside her as she moved towards the door.
"No ma'am. Came to Renegade Wing as a Corsair. Was transferred to Buccaneer shortly. Never qualified for Rogue. Now, I'm attached to Renegade Flight. Renegade Five, technically."
"Renegade Five. Has a nice ring."
"Callsign is Guardian, ma'am."
"Stop "ma'am-ing" me, Guardian. Or I'll have you hauling the veterinary team around, expressing different critters' anal glands."
"Yes ma'- Sorry. Yes, Captain Milo."
"Kardia, damn it."
"Yes, Kardia damn it."
She stopped, slapping her notes down on the table in the middle of the medical group's command center. "You've got jokes now, eh?"
He shrugged, setting the freshly-painted flight helmet on the table as well. "I've felt more me in the last few days than...well, since before this." He tapped the plate with his protruding eye. "Again. I have you to thank for a lot of that."
"Well. I'm glad I could help. But I just found out we got your ship as a new toy, and I haven't figured out exactly where we need to play with it yet, so you're going to be hanging around here for a bit, okay?"
"Of course." He opened a pocket on his flight suit and fished out a sheet of flimsi. "My orders, in writing, from Renegade Leader."
Kardia took the flimsi and glanced it over, then set in on her notes from the meeting. "Did we need this in writing?"
Red-Eye — no, not any more — Captain Burns shook his head. "We didn't, no. However, to forestall any possible complications, General Rambo thought it best for you to have a physical copy."
Kardia pressed her lips into a tight line. As much as Guardian was wearing a uniform and talking about other Generals and Colonels and whatnot, she still considered him one of her people, and the thought of a complication raised her hackles. "Are we expecting an issue?"
"Not expecting," Adam hedged. "Just...covering for a possibility."
"Well, there will be no interfering possibilities here. We have a job to do, and nothing's going to keep us from doing it."
"Copy that. My crew is unloading what we brought down - some more dehydrated foodstuffs and medical supplies that were scrounged from somewhere in the task force. I think resupply is heading our way, but haven't heard anything solid. I'll let you know when and if that changes."
Kardia smiled. It seemed like Guardian still considered himself one of her people too. "Anything else that you need right now, Captain?"
"Yes, Kardia. Where's Doctor Cho?"
Doctor Aruithil Cho's brow wrinkled as her brown eyes scanned the datapad. The readout displayed the testing results, but nothing seemed out of place. She set the pad on the small table in the corner of the examination room, then turned.
The little Zabrak girl was kicking her legs over the edge of the examination table, leaning back against her mother's shoulder, watching her feet appear and disappear from her perspective. Her mother looked more worried, arm stretched around her daughter's torso, holding her in place on the table. They were wrapped in warm clothes, proof against the chill, windy weather outside.
"Well," Aru began, stepping closer to the pair. "Her numbers look fine. I don't think there is anything physically wrong with her - she doesn't seem to be fighting any illnesses. I think it's stress; Force knows there is plenty of that going around. There are a few natural remedies I can get you a prescription for that may help her go to and stay asleep. I'll get a note to the pharmacy; you should be able to pick it up within the hour. Make sure not to overdo the medication, and try to get some rest, yeah?" The last was directed to the little girl, who looked up and gave Aru a nod.
The mother slid off the exam table with a tired grin of her own, then scooped her daughter up in her arms and nodded to Aru. "Thank you, Doctor," she offered, then moved to and through the door and out.
Aru sighed, watching the pair leave. It was one of the easier examinations she'd had, but not being able to do much more than prescribe a sleep aid was frustrating. A sickness could be directly fought; tired was a plague that had swept through the entire camp. On the other hand - tired wasn't contagious. Aru moved back to her datapad. She sent the prescription notice over to the pharmaceutical group, then set the pad back down.
There was a soft knock at the door. She'd thought the mother and daughter had been her last scheduled consultation before she got at least a small break, so the sound drew a scowl for half a second before she remembered where she was, and how many needed her help. She wiped the frown off her face and moved to the door, keying the switch to let the portal slide aside.
The blue pilot's uniform and tray of lunch threw her off, but then she saw the astromech ocular implant and took a step back.
"Heard it was time for you to eat," Guardian said, offering her the tray. Her stomach growled as the smell from the meal reached her; a salad and some kind of grilled and sauced meat and a tall glass of something steaming called to her on a basic level.
"I was going to say, I was certain that last consult was the final one of my calendar before...some meal. So this is a welcome surprise." She took the tray, then turned to deposit it over on the table. "Not sure I ordered delivery, though."
"You didn't." He pulled a chair over for her, then stood to the side. "Kardia told me you were pulling this shift; I checked the schedule and saw the opening. Figured I could save you the time by putting something together for you and bringing it over, seeing as how I wanted to talk to you anyway."
She sank into the seat, picked up a utensil, and began to eat, offering him a look. "Talk to me? About what?"
Guardian motioned towards his flight suit. "I seem to have found my way back to Renegade Wing."
Aru nodded, filling her mouth with some of the sauced meat so she didn't make any comments.
He took her silence as an invitation to continue. "I've been attached to the headquarters flight, and been assigned a U-wing and a search and rescue mission."
She paused, the utensil stopping halfway to her mouth. "Search and rescue?"
"Yeah. When I wasn't flying my strike roll, I usually ran S&R. So wing leadership decided to just let me do S&R as my primary."
Aru had spent time in a combat cockpit as part of a fighter squadron. She couldn't remember many of her fellow pilots who would have rather run search and rescue - there wasn't as much braggadocious glory-seeking in it. "That's...important."
"I think so. And I'm putting a crew for the U-wing together. I've got a couple of important pieces...but I could use a co-pilot. And a co-pilot who is also a full doctor would be a level of redundancy that I think would make the mission even more successful."
She blinked as she realized that he was talking about her. "...what?"
Guardian nodded. "You've got a skill set that you aren't using, Doctor Cho. You must have been somewhat good at it, because you're still here. So I thought I'd offer a way to get back to using everything you know, instead of just part of it."
Aru stopped, setting the utensil back on the plate. Her mind was spinning, running down multiple lists of possibilities between blinks. "I...I don't..."
"No need to answer right now," he continued. "I've been assigned as the attache to the medical team here. So...if you want to take a ride out on the ship, get a feel for the cockpit and the rest of the crew, see what it would be like, just let Kardia or me know."
Her turn to stand, to get back on her feet and find some strength. "I don't want to get back into the cockpit, Red-Eye. I've moved past that part of my life. I'm happy to just be a doctor."
Guardian held up his hands. "And that's fine, that's why I'm asking. I wasn't sure I'd want to get back, but...the idea of doing rescue full-time, bringing our people back, it's - like you said - it's important. And I think you'd be a big asset to it."
Aru sighed. She couldn't disagree that there was a lot of logic in his request. At the same time, it wasn't something she'd considered or wanted.
He picked up on her pause. "Look. Think about it, please? Either way, I thought I would ask. And sit back down and enjoy your lunch. Please."
She nodded, easing back down into her seat. "Thank you for bringing it to me."
"You are more than welcome, doctor. Oh, and you should know - I'm on the list for a different eye. Something that will be easier to fit under a flight helmet."
That drew a smile from Aru. "And something that won't scare small children?"
"That's the idea."
"Well. Some good news."
It was Guardian's turn to smile. "Thought you would like that. Well, I'll leave you to your lunch, and see you around, Doctor." He gave a last nod, then turned towards the door.
"See you around, Captain," she said after him. He exited and she turned back to her meal. She wasn't sure what it was, but everything he had chosen for her tasted amazing. At least she'd have the fuel to get back to work, as well as think about what he'd asked of her.
And that was something.
"So," Captain Burns said, walking alongside the repulsorlift sled, "...why do they call you Wonderful?"
For the fifth time, Winna adjusted the flak jacket, trying to get it to not completely pinch under her arm. She was still getting used to the uniform; since they would be serving on a fighter, Guardian had insisted they all wear the same thing. It wasn't as easy to move in as the commando getup she'd gotten used to in her service. But like most things, she'd find a way to make it work.
"I was the first woman in the platoon. Our first operation, they asked if anyone had any questions, and I did. XO said it was wonderful having a woman's opinion. It stuck."
Guardian winced. "Oh. Well. That's...a thing."
"Not really. We can figure something else out..."
"No." It came out more forcefully than she'd meant it to. "It's me, now."
Guardian nodded, guiding the sled across the uneven track. Like most impromptu settlements, there weren't really roads, just travel paths worn down by continued movement. Thankfully, the repulsorsled couldn't get hung up on the terrain; it could, however, angle into the corner of one of the hastily-assembled pre-fabricated buildings. The rows of buildings were uneven - precision being secondary to haste - so avoiding traffic coming the other way and the odd silhouette of the construction was a bit trickier than he'd anticipated.
But he was a Renegade Wing pilot, and so he'd made sure not to get stuck on anything. Besides, it'd be a bad look to do it on Wonderful's first day. Based on the former SpecFor soldiers he knew, she'd never let him forget it.
The transport on the landing field was hissing as its hatches opened, dropping a personnel stairway for passengers and a larger opening for the cargo it carried. Guardian maneuvered the repulsorsled up to the cargo ramp, then locked the brake. Wonderful was still fidgeting with her uniform as Guardian stepped to the load officer. They exchanged words, then the pilot returned to the sled.
"Shouldn't be long; they're going to load it up for us."
Wonderful nodded. "So...you're going to teach me to fly that thing?"
Guardian looked to the sniper. "That's the idea. Not combat maneuvers, but basic stuff. In case the worst happens. Medic training, too, and I'll probably ask Dov to work us all through some maintenance, emergency repair stuff."
Wonderful's eyes narrowed. "But not Giojene?"
Guardian's mouth tightened. "No. Well...nothing but the very basics. Not until she starts speaking Basic."
Wonderful frowned. "You and I speak it, and you said that droid has a translator attached."
"Yes, you and I speak it. But Dov doesn't, and not everyone in the fleet does. If she's flying, she needs to be able to talk to the other fighters and ships in the area.
"Look," Guardian took a breath, looking away from Wonderful. "She doesn't have any trouble understanding it, so I know she knows it. And it's her decision to not use it - from what you've said, and the little in her file, I can't imagine the trauma she's been through. But until she deals with that, the answer is going to be no."
Wonderful angrily tugged her flak vest again, turning away from her pilot. "...okay."
Guardian considered for a moment, readjusting his flight cap. New, and blue to match the flight suits, with a Renegade Wing patch front and center. "I appreciate your understanding."
She turned back to him, pierced eyebrow arched. "You are, without a doubt, the strangest officer I've run in to."
"Probably helps that I'm not SpecFor -"
The new voice cut in from the stream of disgorging passengers. Wonderful turned, finding the source instantly. A young woman, military duffel slung over one shoulder and travel pack on the other, wearing the blue-and-brown getup of Alliance intelligence had stopped short. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and blue eyes wide as she looked at the captain. There were a pack of intel-garbed individuals, and most of them had stopped to watch after the outburst. The loading crew had stopped burdening the repulsorsled and were watching as well.
Wonderful sized the woman up, then looked to Guardian. He'd gone...slightly pale?...and was turning towards her.
Jessa — apparently — dropped her luggage into the dirt and covered the distance in the blink of an eye. Wonderful's combat instincts kicked in, and she reached for the blaster at her hip, but pulled up short as Jessa's arms wrapped around Guardian in a crushing hug. He'd managed to get his arms up, and was hugging her back, a stunned look on his face.
Jessa was speaking again, the words rapid-fire and accusatory. "Ithoughtyouweredead wherehaveyoubeen whathappened bytheForce howareyouhere whatisthis"
Guardian was rubbing a hand up and down her back. HIs mouth was moving, but no sound was coming out.
Wonderful took her eyes away from the pair, to the crowd that was gathering, and cleared her throat. "All right, you've seen enough, hop to it. Back to work!" She put her best growl behind it, and her officer impression must have been enough. The loading crew disappeared back into the freighter and the rest of the intel spooks, most of them chuckling and shaking their heads, drifted off deeper into the camp.
Winna made sure they were gone, then turned back. The embrace had stopped. The two were talking, Jessa fighting the urge to touch the plate on Adam's artificial eye. Guardian was nodding, then noticed the sniper watching. "Wonderful! This - this is Jessa Wyllums, with Alliance Intelligence. Jessa, this is Winna Prange, callsign Wonderful. She's my gunner."
"Pleasure to meet you, Jessa," Wonderful offered a smile and her hand. "Any friend of the captain's is a friend of mine."
Guardian shot her a look, but Jessa took her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Wonderful. Glad he's got someone looking after him, finally." The handshake was solid, professional. Jessa released, then looked back to Adam. "Well, this is my new assignment. Let me know when you have some time off, you can tell me what happened."
Adam nodded, organic eye blinking. "Of course. Go get settled, I'll catch up with you."
Another nod to Wonderful, and Jessa strode back to her packs, regathered, and headed off after the rest of the Intelligence group. Guardian watched her go. Wonderful let the woman get well out of earshot, then looked to the captain. "So...friend of yours?"
Adam nodded, not looking at Winna. "Yeah. She was the fighter intelligence attache on the assignment..." his voice drifted off, but he lifted his left hand to point at his eye.
Wonderful smirked. "Just the attache?"
Guardian blinked, then looked at Winna, a confused expression slipping onto his face.
"Because that is not how you greet someone you thought was dead, if it was a professional relationship."
Guardian's mouth moved, but no sound came out.
Shaking her head, Wonderful moved to the repulsorsled's controls, unlocking the break and guiding the sled. "Let's go, Captain. Not good to have an officer out here gawking."
"We didn't...there wasn't time." Guardian started after her, shaking his head.
"Well, you're lucky - there may be time now."