A Tale of Frustration and One-Eyed Vanity
Word Count: 4978
"Green Four, report status."
Cyclops was bored. He knew how to fly, and he knew he was good. It utterly enraged him that these rebels had the gall to force him through their training simulations. As if he was the one that needed them, rather than the true way of things being that they needed him to wage war against the Empire.
"FOUR? WAKE UP!"
Cyclops sighed. The mewling of his inferiors bored him. He toggled a few switches. "Ready."
"Are you sure?"
"Do you want me to show you how ready I am, or do you just want to fly the damn sortie already? Get out of the way and let me solo this." The strange accent of his assigned flight leader assaulted his ears. It was a weird mixture of higher-ed and a lilting cadence, and it reminded him of some ancient famous eccentric genius. From what Cyclops had seen from the man in the simulators, however, showed that he was far from a savant behind the stick.
An exasperated sigh from the one who'd introduced himself earlier as Vander filled the airwaves. After a moment of silence that was sure to be the Togrutan savant calming himself, he came back on. "Ok, we inspect those freighters and see if they're carrying refugees. Follow me out and form up in a finger four."
Cyclops watched as Vander's simulated TIE Fighter lurched forward, only to clip its right solar panel on the ceiling on the way out, sending the fighter spiraling out of control upon exiting the hangar. It took the pilot longer than normal to recover control, and his damaged panel trailed sparks.
"You have GOT to be kidding me," Cyclops guffawed, holding down the brakes while he throttled up. After his ship's engines began to whine in protest, he released the brake and rocketed out of the hangar at top speed, rolling his ship on the way out to show off. He immediately set his destination as the three freighters that were attempting to run away toward the dark side of the moon.
"Wait!" Vander cried. "Form up on me."
"You can't even exit the hangar!" Cyclops scoffed, ignoring the command as he continued to extend his lead on the rest of the flight. He muted the comms to block out more whining from the amateur leader.
His sensors chirruped, showing him a flight of four T-wings coming out from the shadow of the freighters. He un-muted the channel. "Four bandits. Tally-ho, their mine."
"Fall back and take them as a group," Vander commanded. "See sense, man! You're in a TIE Fighter, you don't have shields."
"If ego powered shields, he'd be invincible," the human female called Cheese quipped dryly.
Cyclops muted the channel again. He couldn't abide being commanded by an inferior pilot, and refused anything he suggested out of principle. Surely the Rebels would see his skills were far superior and they'd place him into a frontline squadron soon. "Guess I'll just have to show them just how good I am..."
The rangefinder rapidly counted down as the four fighters rushed headlong into his crosshairs. Just after they entered maximum firing range, Cyclops triggered two dual bursts at the lead fighter, then snapped off another pair of shots at another. He threw his ship into a wobbly weave to avoid their return fire. As the red lasers filled the area around his ship, his first salvo connected and destroyed two targets.
He triggered a dead drift as they neared, swapping aft for nose in the span of a few meters. He swapped cannon control to single-fire and mashed down the trigger, unloading all of his laser energy into the aft of another T-wing. It erupted in satisfying fashion.
However, before he could work his way back in on the last ship that had broken away, a dual blast from farther off skewered the T-wing's cockpit, burning through the shields and immolating the pilot. It cruised off into the distance, no longer a threat.
Cyclops frowned. "Who stole my kill?"
"Not your kill if you didn't land a shot," the Shistavanen pilot named "Jazz" rumbled.
Cyclops let it go. He wouldn't say it out loud, but the wolfman's demeanor intimidated him outside of the cockpit, and in the cockpit he was the best shot he'd ever seen. He huffed and resumed flying toward the freighters, intent to find some reason to destroy them.
Vander had other ideas, however, as he hailed them on an open channel and found out they were indeed carrying refugees. Just as the Togrutan pilot began to ask more questions, Cyclops had heard enough.
"Excellent," Cyclops said, cracking his knuckles. "Power down your engines or be destroyed."
"Wait a minute," Vander admonished. "They said they are refugees from an Imperial attack."
"Well, we're Imperials in this sortie, aren't we?"
"It's the principle," Cheese countered. "We're clearly on the wrong side of this mission."
"Pop quiz, geniuses," Cyclops snorted, gobsmacked by their stupidity. "We're in eyeballs. How the hell are you going to hyper out with them?"
"They're offering to take us with them," Vander cut in. "We just have to attach to their docking clamps."
"Alpha flight," the voice of their flight commander onboard their Ton-Falk-class Escort Carrier Shatter cut in. "Terminate those freighters immediately."
"Negative, Command," Vander replied stoically as he carefully maneuvered his ship toward one of the docking clamps. Cheese and Jazz followed suit.
"Do it or be destroyed."
"Stuff it," Jazz responded.
"So be it, traitors."
A squadron of TIEs launched and made a beeline for their position.
"You coming, Four?" Cheese called out.
Cyclops wheeled around so he was facing the twelve new targets. "...never was one to shy away from a fight..."
The clamshell canopy opened, bathing Cyclops in light. Without waiting for it to fully open, he gripped the edge and levered himself out of the simulator pod. As he got to his feet, he found himself toe to toe with a disappointed-looking Vander.
"You need to learn how to work as a team. This Vindoo Barvel act is going to get you, and your team, killed."
Cyclops narrowed his good eye and grinned maliciously. "You need to learn how to fly out of a hangar."
The insult rolled off of Vander without any noticeable impact. "The 'book' exists because they are proven strategies to keep people alive."
Cyclops crossed his arms and leaned against his sim pod. "While you three were running with your tails between your legs, I became a double ace."
"Simulated double ace," Jazz huffed as he made his way out of the sim room.
Vander took heart from the support, and confidence filled his features. "Yet, we survived while you ended up dead."
Cyclops uncrossed his arms and closed his eye, rubbing the area that would be the bridge of his nose if his species had one. It was one mannerism he'd picked up from others and was a favorite to mime frustration. "It was just a sim."
Cheese shook her head. "Yeah, but someday it'll be real."
Days later, they had another simulated sortie, but this time it was conducted in real X-wings with targeting lasers against another training cohort. While the others had approached it with the standard level of caution Vander was quickly becoming famous for, Cyclops sped in with reckless abandon.
He'd managed two simulated kills when the opposing hotshot snuck in on his aft and lit him up. His ship ground to a halt as the other simulated dead had done when he'd killed them, and he sat there fuming for the minute he stayed deactivated. He cursed the pilot with every derogatory nickname he could think of until his ship thrummed back to life.
The score was tied, but then Jazz scored a miraculous sniping shot at range to pick off a fighter that had begun to wheel around on Cyclops as he was still recovering speed. Cheese was defensive with the hotshot punching her ship full of simulated damage, yet somehow she managed to keep her ship alive. The girl had luck on her side, as well as a gift for evasive maneuvers.
Narrowing his eye, Cyclops immediately tucked into the hotshot's aft and lit him up with enough laser energy to destroy his ship three times over. "How's it feel to be scrap metal, space sprog!" he crowed as he continued toward the disabled ship, putting his engines right in front of the pilot's viewport before boosting off.
With their ace down, he looked for the next best pilot on the field, finding the training leader of the enemy cadre in a duel with his own trainer. "Hot shooter, coming through!" he shouted as he dove toward his target, stitching it until it was also deactivated.
"Focus fire on the leader!" Vander shouted.
"Always seconds too late, eh Vander?" Cyclops derided, wondering why the man would tell them to focus on the target he'd just "destroyed". However, he looked back at the scoreboard and his eye widened. The score had jumped 5 points in their favor, giving away the key to the game. The trainee pilot kills only counted as one point, but the leader counted for 5. Immediately, Cyclops circled around until the leader reactivated, and then quickly took his ship down again.
It was a one-sided affair. As they all landed back at the base, tempers flared from the other group of pilots as they felt it was a cheap victory, loudly letting everybody know that had scoring not been conducted in the way it was, they would have won.
"Ah, but it WAS scored that way, amateurs," Cyclops joked as he mockingly put his arm around their hotshot, an ex-racer Rodian named Ruby. While the man clearly didn't like the close contact and mockery, he didn't shake Cyclops' arm away. He took his arm off of Ruby's shoulders, and patted the Rodian on the butt a few times. "Good game. Welcome to go again anytime you want," he teased, letting his hand linger against Ruby's backside. He surreptitiously slipped his hand into the Rodian's pocket while he poked him between the eyes with the other hand. "You've got to always be looking at the bigger picture, you know."
Ruby frowned, finally having enough of Cyclops' gloating, and shoved him back and stormed off with his training cadre.
"You need to learn to follow orders better," Vander said quietly as he passed nearby.
"I take orders from one person," Cyclops responded haughtily, "me."
Cyclops waited another moment for Vander to leave, and then turned the prize over in his hands, admiring the craftsmanship of the wallet that had, up until moments ago, belonged to Ruby. His skills in larceny weren't historically great, and he expected to get caught trying the stunt, but the Rodian's anger clouded his senses.
Opening the wallet, he whistled. Snugly in the folds sat over 2000 credits. He made to grab the spoils of his daring raid, but a hand slapped the bottom of his hand hard. Surprised by the strike, he released the wallet and watched it sail lazily through the air. He reached out with his other hand to grab it, but another hand snaked in front of his and snagged it.
"This doesn't belong to you," Cheese said sarcastically, securing the wallet in her hand as she trotted off after the quickly retreating Ruby to return his money.
"Puritan," Cyclops spat, looking around to see if anybody had seen his stunt. Looking around, saw that he was now alone with the techs going over the ships. Nobody had witnessed his feat. He was disappointed, as he felt like Jazz might have been impressed by his stealth.
He shook his head and trudged off. He had some drop-bear droppings squirreled away in his locker, and he planned to put them into Vander's pillow. He'd been named the official leader of their cadre, and the man's head needed to be deflated. As if somebody as low-skilled as he could command Cyclops...
He decided he'd spike Cheese's breakfast with hot sauce as revenge for her spoiling his fun. Jazz, well, he'd give the wolfman a wide berth.
Surely the Rebels would deem him fit to go on active duty and earn a full promotion after today's exercise. If not, he guessed he'd just have to figure out how to leave and join up with a rebel cell that needed his services and provided him with plenty of Imperial targets.
He had ample amounts of revenge to serve up after all.
A week later, they'd graduated as a class into a flight of 5. Ruby had been plucked from his class and been added to their flight. Immediately a rivalry was formed between Cyclops and the newcomer, as the Rodian was the closest being that could rival his own skills and aggressive flying. They went tit-for-tat each exercise, coming out even. He decided he would become the first ace of the group as a way to assert his dominance.
Cyclops and the rest had been promoted to Flight Officers, but somehow that incompetent Togruta was made a full Lieutenant. That sent Cyclops into a silent rage. If this group of rebels couldn't recognize the virtuoso in their midst, well, they just didn't deserve to witness his greatness. He feverishly worked through the limited access of active cells available to somebody of his rank, and had just about solidified his plan to force a transfer when their orders came through.
Escort a U-wing to the surface of a planet to evacuate a spy, strike the base's defenses, and kill any fighters in the area.
Perhaps he wouldn't be too hasty. Maybe the injustice of being put under the command of the skill-deficient Vander would correct itself when he crashed on takeoff. If he somehow managed to survive that, certainly the Imps would get him. He just had a knack for missing shots and evading poorly.
He had to give it to the man, though. He sometimes came up with helpful strategic insight during flights, but it seemed this came at the cost of his focus on the here and now. Cyclops admired his ability to see the bigger picture sometimes, though he wouldn't admit it verbally.
"Let's do this by the book," Vander cautioned.
Cyclops bit his tongue. As confident as he was, this was his first real mission. While he didn't lack confidence, he really didn't want to pay the piper if he wasn't as hot as he thought he was.
Cyclops snorted. "Affirm..."
As the five X-wings and one U-wing approached the target planet, four TIEs rose up to intercept. Cyclops badly wanted to boost and handle the fighters himself, but he restrained himself. Barely.
As if he'd read Cyclops' mind, Vander spoke. "Three, Four, Five— take the fighters. Two, stick with me and the package."
Cyclops whooped in excitement at having been set loose. He throttled up quicker than Jazz and Ruby, though Ruby was not too far behind. "Pilot with the fewest kills buys drinks for the top kill-getter," he goaded. "First blood is mine!"
"You're on," Ruby replied blithely.
As they rapidly closed, Cyclops minded the distance. He'd learned to fire just before they entered range, a lesson Jazz had passed on after their first exercise. His finger hovered over the trigger as he steadied his aim. He squeezed off a blast just before entering maximum range.
He was rewarded with a clean kill, skewering the central ball of the TIE with all four shots. Simultaneously, two more TIEs erupted into miniature novas as Jazz and Ruby had also fired before reaching maximum range.
"First blood is mine!" Cyclops hollered, banging his fist against the side panel of his cockpit in excitement. "And boys, I have expensive taste!"
"It's not over yet," Ruby retorted.
"Too close to call," Jazz responded dubiously. "We'll need to check the replay."
"Nonsense," Cyclops replied. "Clearly mine blew up first."
"Can you guys focus on that last fighter?" Vander asked as he, Cheese, and their U-wing blew past and headed toward the surface.
Cyclops grinned as an idea popped into his mind. "Say, Five, you up for some fun?"
"What do you have in mind, Four?"
"Feint and backstab."
"Sure," Ruby agreed. "Who's the bait?"
"Be my guest, Five," Cyclops replied.
"I got something for him," Ruby trailed off as his ship kicked over on its wingtips and pulled into the path of the lone TIE. As he approached, the cocky Rodian quickly rolled his ship so the Imperial would be able to see him inside the cockpit. Cyclops watched in awe as the Rodian lifted a gloved middle-finger as he passed in front of the enemy, and then boosted off to entice the Imperial to engage. Both fighters entered a long loop, bringing them back around toward the waiting Cyclops.
Cyclops caught himself staring, his jaw agape. He dove and accelerated. Just as he was about to pass underneath the rapidly approaching TIE, he killed his throttle and triggered a dead-drift, pulling his nose up as his ship continued to travel in the direction he'd been going. He waited a split-second as Ruby's ship passed overhead, and then triggered one quad blast aimed at the bottom of his quarry.
The four laser bolts severed the pylons attaching the solar panels to the ball cockpit, sending the wings pinwheeling off in both directions while the intact cockpit sailed into oblivion. Cyclops whooped again. "Scratch two!"
"Helluva shot," Jazz admired.
"Poor Imp," Ruby mused.
Cyclops snorted derisively. "Why do you say that?"
"Imagine how confused he's got to be while he floats out into the black," Ruby clarified. "He gets flipped off, and the next thing he knows he's got no wings!"
The three pilots guffawed with laughter.
Vander and Cheese had done their part of the mission, blowing up the air defenses of the base without issue, though both had missed their first shots. Whilst they were in a dialogue about the nuances of strafing ground targets, another squadron of fighters approached from a nearby moon.
"Where did they come from?" Vander cursed.
Cyclops turned into the threat. "Who cares, let's kill em."
Ruby pulled around and joined his wing, though Jazz hung back and formed up with Vander and Cheese, making a group of two and a group of three.
"Wait, let's be smart about this," Vander replied, but his grand strategy for the event never materialized as Cyclops and Ruby unleashed their cannons preemptively. Both pilots managed two kills apiece in the head to head, having gone into a Darklighter Spin before firing.
"Pull back and re—" Vander started, but stopped as something else drew his attention. "Watch your three-low, Deuce! Sithspawn— Three, I've got one on my tail. Where did he come from?!"
"I'm hit!" Cheese cried out.
Vander's voice rose in distress. "Status!"
"Hear me baby, hold together," Cheese murmured, talking to her ship.
"Hang on, Two," Ruby replied flatly. "Break to port and help me engage."
Having reduced the threat by a third, Cyclops celebrated. Unfortunately, he hadn't pulled off and found himself on the far side of the enemy formation. His ship shuddered mightily as multiple TIEs had wheeled about to exact retribution for his temerity. Apparently Ruby had managed to make the correct maneuver and had reunited with the flight, so Cyclops was the lone easy target. With the rest of the squadron engaged, he was on his own. Just as he liked it.
"Your funerals, Impies," Cyclops grumbled as he shunted his shields fully aft to shore them up while he attempted to shake his pursuit. During training, he'd noticed some unorthodox maneuvers Cheese used to shake pursuit. Deciding to try them, he wobbled his ship and varied his speed, shaking one of the pursuit fighters and throwing off the aim of the others. He attempted an Eimaglen Turn, and cheered in satisfaction as he shook two of the three remaining fighters. However, his closest adversary executed a textbook reverse throttle hop, managing to stay on his aft and continued to pump laserfire into his depleted shields.
His astromech whined a loud warning about his newfound lack of shields, causing Cyclops to growl. As he looked back to see where his last attacker was, another loud warning brought his attention forward. A twitch of his hand squeezed the trigger and pushed him below a TIE coming head on. He was rewarded with a clean kill. The enemy, however, had managed to hurl a dual burst before going nova, and the green blasts bored in directly at him.
Time slowed down as the verdant streaks approached his unprotected nose, coming so close to skewering him that he saw the planet's features in the background blur due to heat distortion. They passed by each side of his cockpit and missed his engines by mere millimeters.
He exhaled heavily with relief at having avoided death by the narrowest of margins. Seeing an opening, he began a corkscrew avoidance. The maneuver was Ruby's favorite. A loud cheer from his astromech drew his attention to his sensors, seeing the aftermath of his most ardent attacker exploding. His brow furrowed. "Who got that kill?"
Text appeared on his screen from his astromech: It was friendly fire.
"I'll be damned," Cyclops chuckled, seeing he was clear as the two others he'd slipped earlier had been destroyed by Vander and a heavily damaged Cheese, whose tails had been cleared by Jazz and Ruby seconds earlier. Seeing no other enemies on his scopes, the adrenaline began to drain from his system.
"Heard from our package. Mission complete. Form up and R-T-B," Vander ordered.
"Thank the Lost King," Cyclops muttered, unsure if he had anything left in him to keep fighting if more Imperials arrived and they had to continue fighting. His first live fire mission was a success, but he'd have to work on his stamina if he wanted to avoid running out of steam in the middle of a protracted engagement.
Before landing back at their base, Cyclops had managed to rejuvenate himself once he watched the recording of the sortie during their hyperspace transit. Not only had his shots killed the first TIE as he'd claimed by the smallest sliver of a nanosecond, he also was an Ace with five kills, and a possible sixth if he got credit for the friendly-fire kill he'd induced. Ruby had only managed to down four fighters, Jazz three, Cheese got two somehow with her barely functional ship, and Vander had only managed one.
Buoyed by this news, he didn't even wait for a ladder to be attached to his cockpit, instead opting to hop down to the floor, landing lightly on his feet as his knees bent to absorb the impact. He held the landing pose briefly, imagining he was a superhero that had just landed from a tall distance. After another moment of feeling cool, he rose to his full height and pumped his fist in the air. He swaggered over to his flight as they debarked, making a show of blowing on his fingernails and then rubbing them against his chest, as if he were shining an imaginary badge. "Bow down, boys and girl, to the new sheriff in town!"
Ruby shook his head and chuckled, and Jazz also cracked a small grin. However, Vander made a beeline directly for him, gripped the shoulder of his flight suit and shoved him roughly against Ruby's fighter. Cyclops attempted to break the grip, but he was caught off guard and unable to free himself.
Vander jabbed a finger a millimeter away from Cyclops' eye, and then also at Ruby. "The two of you WILL follow my orders, or you will NOT be a part of this flight. This cowboy druk is DONE. You hear me?"
Ruby looked at the deck, but nodded once to acknowledge the message.
Blood pumped through Cyclops' veins rapidly as his anger spiked. He finally broke the grip, and then shoved Vander away. "I waxed six fighters out there! You'd all be dead without me!"
"Five," Ruby interjected, finding his voice finally to reduce the lead of kills that Cyclops had accumulated. "Friendly fire from the enemy doesn't count."
Cyclops leveled a stern gaze in the Rodian's direction and gesticulated dramatically. "Of course it counts."
"No, he's right," Jazz replied. "Have to score a hit for credit."
During the sidebar, Vander regained his grip on Cyclops' shoulder, tightening it even more. He pointed at Cheese's fighter, full of scoring and new holes that hadn't been there when they'd launched. He then pointed to his own ship that had its own ragged furrows from close calls. "You go lone wolf, and you hang your buddies out to dry. We almost died out there because you two flew off the handle and weren't there to cover each other!"
Spittle flecked onto Cyclops' face as the Togrutan yelled and caused him to flinch away, but he couldn't break the renewed vice-like grip. A defiant sneer crept across his lips. "If you can't take the heat..."
"Uh oh," Cheese mumbled ominously, stopping her inspection of her damaged ship to turn around.
Disappointment swept across Vander's features. "It's not your flying, it's your attitude," he continued tersely, some spittle accumulating at the corners of his mouth. "The Imps are dangerous, but right now you're worse than them. You're dangerous and foolish. You may not like me, but whose side are you on?"
Cyclops finally managed to gain some distance as Vander released him. He rubbed his shoulder absentmindedly as he leveled a venomous glare. "The side that lets me kill the most Imps."
Vander shook his head sadly as he regarded the Duros. "You ignore a direct order again, and you are GONE, got me? Every time you go up there you're unsafe. I can't have a danger lingering around my pilots."
"That's right," Cyclops retorted as he raised a finger. "I am> dangerous." He pointed at his pristine X-wing, and then the beat up ships of Vander and Cheese. "If you can't handle that, ship me off somewhere else and make me somebody else's problem. I'm not going to hold myself back to make you feel safer by picking off the fighters that dive in on you from all directions because you fly too straight!"
Two days later, Cyclops stood in the hangar and admired his new rank patch. After a moment and a prideful sigh, he turned and regarded his X-wing, shuddering. Gone was the boring paint job with the green stripe of his first squadron, having been replaced with a gaudy yellow with green trim paint scheme of his new assignment. Typhoon Squadron awaited him, and he was told they were just the sort of outfit that would get him plenty of action. It was just the sort of place Vander would transfer him to, if only to assault his senses with that ugly paint scheme. At least he had five kill markers along the edge of his cockpit, eliciting a broad grin.
He shook his head, just relieved that the leader had even agreed to transfer him in the first place. Looking around, he saw Ruby, Jazz, and Cheese wave from the doorway. He smirked cockily and gave them a lazy salute, before donning his helmet and clambering quickly up the ladder. As he began preflight, a blinking light on the console drew his attention. Pushing it, a holovid of a grinning Vander appeared. His accented voice filled the cockpit.
"Take care of yourself, Lieutenant. We both know you're good at it." Vander's head canted and he continued with a more thoughtful expression and tone. "Remember, the Rebellion is a band. A group of idealists. Everyone is each in themselves special, unique, key," he said, punctuating each of the last words by lightly punching his fist into his other open hand. "Every one who falls is one less. You are very talented—" his visage took on a slightly pained expression, as if admitting that fact had hurt him, before recovering himself and grinning, "use it to help others live long enough to teach still more."
Cyclops barked out a hearty laugh. "That high-falutin fancy-pants is all right, you know that?" He shook his head, rendering a more proper salute to his old wingmen who still were nearby to see him off. After they returned his salute, he kicked on the repulsors briefly to pitch his nose skyward, and then slammed the throttle forward to scorch the deck where his X-wing had been sitting. He had to leave a mark for them to remember him by, and there was no guarantee they'd realize he'd been the one who deposited another round of drop-bear droppings into their bedrolls before leaving.
As he went ballistic to clear the atmosphere, his thoughts drifted back to Vander while the roar of his engines filled his ears. The educated Togrutan was a skilled tactician, but he needed to focus more on his immediate surroundings if he wanted to avoid experiencing vacuum. But on the other side of the credit chit, Cyclops could do well to divert some attention every now and again to take stock of the overall battle to make sure he didn't fly himself into his own grave to chase a kill.
"Hope he makes it." He said aloud and paused, the faces of Jazz, Cheese, and even Ruby flashing through his mind's eye as well. "I hope they all make it."
The atmosphere gave way to the black of space as he continued to rocket toward his jump point to link up with his new cell. "I also hope they all go to bed before the cleaner droids arrive..."