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Magnificent 9- Part 2
By: Bulldog
Contributions from: Foo, Dragon and Silence, Loth Cat, and Shadow

Toseng Wasteland Plains
POV: Knight

The hunt for the AWOL Renegade pilot was not going well. The impromptu search party had started off in the relative direction the skimmer Bulldog had taken from base had started on before the tracking chip had been disabled, but for all they knew he had done that on purpose to throw any pursuit off his trail. He was smart enough, despite outward appearances, to pull off a bait and switch like that if he didn't want to be found.

The fact that that direction had corroborated with the vaguest of recollections from the Cathar Buccaneer pilot wasn't much comfort after they seemed to not find much in the way of a trail to follow. Knight didn't get much of a read one way or the other on if Bearcat had lied to them, but he also didn't know the new pilot that well yet.

"For all we know, that blasted hairball is lying to cover for his XO," Freak said over the private Corsair channel. Knight nodded in agreement as he mentally tuned back into the squadron discussion.

"It's a possibility," Silence replied.

"I don't buy it," Frosty disagreed. "What do they have to gain by lying to us?"

"He's right. There's no reason for deception," Dragon agreed.

"Just because you don't see a reason doesn't mean one doesn't exist," Silence countered. "The Captain is sneaky. It stands to reason..."

"What, that his pilots would lie because Bulldog's been slippery in the past?" Frosty snorted. "If that's the case, we're all cold, unfeeling automatons or nervous caf addicts."

Knight smiled at the references to Syntax and the relatively... kind... description Frosty gave for himself. The debate carried on while he continued to scan the horizon. The six Corsair A-wings were spread out into a ragged search line, and the X, B, and U-wing of Buccaneer Squadron lagged behind slightly as their throttles strained to keep up with the speedier scout craft.

"Focus on the search," Syntax's voice cut through the conversation, squelching any more speculatory debate.

Just then, Knight's cybernetic eye noticed a blip of energy on his sensor display off to the west of their current position. He focused his attention on the readout, but the blip disappeared just as quickly as it had shown up. His normal eye hadn't even registered the energy spike, meaning it must have been sudden but faint enough to not be noticeable to anybody without visual augmentation.

"Uh, I had a reading about 200 klicks to the West," he reported haltingly on the group comm channel, not sure if it had actually existed or if he had just had a hiccup in his ocular software.

"Are you sure? I don't have anything on my scopes," Foo replied, oblivious to the fact that he and the rest of the Buccaneers had been omitted from the conversation up until now.

"I didn't see anything," Bearcat rumbled.

"You're the ones that sent us off in the wrong direction!" Freak snapped.

"Cut the chatter, Corsair Six," Syntax admonished. "How sure are you of this, Seven?"

"Not sure at all."

"Maybe we should split up?" Blue suggested.

"We need to go check it out!" Loth-Cat exclaimed definitively. "Now!"

"What makes you so sure?" Silence asked dubiously.

After a moment of silence, Syntax broke the standoff. "That position is roughly near an abandoned Rhydonium mine on the map. There is a high possibility there is a village still in the area. Let's go."

Knight sighed, hoping his mouth didn't just send the entire search party in the wrong direction. He rolled his A-wing and then pulled up on the stick to bring his ship about on the new heading. He mouthed a silent prayer as he continued to scan the horizon.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog gasped loudly, finally able to pull air into his lungs. He gripped the loose dirt at his sides where his hands had fallen to the ground as he suddenly regained some semblance of motor functionality. Unfortunately, more movement than his fingers was still out of the question despite every urge he was sending through his nervous system. Pain continued to radiate from his chest, interrupting any sort of coordination.

"Get those snitches out here!"

From nearby, the gathering of Zabrak villagers gasped loudly, but they did not scream or call out in protest. Two humans dragged a beaten Tarla and Torsten through the crowd toward the center of the clearing. Her face was a red and purple mess of bruises and dried blood, and Torsten's face was equally pulped. Once they were nearby, both were roughly shoved to the ground on either side of the supine Bulldog.

The man that shot Bulldog had holstered his pistol and moved closer, towering over the three beings. He looked around the village and raised his voice with his arms. "You see? You see what happens when you go for help?" He gestured to the two beaten Zabraks and Bulldog. "There IS no help!"

"You tell them, Hock!" The humans in attendance let loose a mean-spirited laugh, some waving their blasters around while laughing. Zabraks shied away and attempted to go back inside, but were held by the gang members nearest to them.

"No no, you don't get to miss this," Hock said with a quavering voice as he levered an accusatory finger at all in attendance. "You all don't seem to get it. You belong to US. You do what we tell you to do. You go where we tell you to go." He paused as he looked around. "You die when we tell you to die!"

Hock rubbed his temples as the humans in attendance cackled at his last comment. Once it died down, he continued. "Earlier today, the actions of two of you cost the lives of three of our number. We will balance the scales now!"

He knelt down and drew his DT-12 blaster, pressing it against Torsten's forehead. The young Zabrak shied away from it and whimpered. Tarla attempted to speak, but only a muffled squeak came out of her ruined mouth. Hock smiled as he pulled the barrel of his blaster away from Torsten and then placed it against Tarla's forehead. Unlike her son, Tarla met the barrel with steel in her spine, as if she welcomed the touch of her impending death. Hock frowned slightly, but pulled the blaster away to draw the moment out for longer.

"This is the champion you pinned your hopes on! This is the best you could come up with? Pitiful," he said as he spat on the downed Renegade.

He leaned closer to Bulldog and looked down at where his spittle had landed, his brow raising in confusion as he examined the blaster wound on Bulldog's chest for the first time. "What?"

Bulldog had recovered more of his motor functions and tamped down on the pains in his chest while Hock was gloating to the crowd. He lifted his head and bared his teeth in a predatory leer. His hand found the cool metallic cylinder he'd secured behind his back, drew the weapon, and tilted the aperture up quickly. His thumb slid neatly onto the activation stud and came to a rest there.

Hock's eyes widened as he attempted to bring his gun back into line. The lit half of his cigar fell from his lips as his clenching teeth bit clean through it.

Bulldog pressed his thumb down the activation trigger. The lightsaber throbbed to life in his hand.

The scarlet blade extended and tore through the center of Hock's chest. Hock's eyes widened and his mouth stretched into a pained sneer as the rest of the cigar fell from his mouth. The modified DT-12 in his hand fell from his loosening fingers as his other hand reflexively went to his punctured chest. As the hand grasped the still lit blade of the saber the fingers all fell from his hand. He hovered in that position for a few seconds, until finally toppling forward on top of Bulldog and loosed a death-sigh into the now silent gathering area. The thrumming of Bulldog's saber reverberated throughout the gathering.

"My god!" One of the goons shouted, finally rousing everybody from their stunned stupor at the same time. The Zabraks broke apart and fled into whatever dwelling they could reach. The gang of humans charged forward with their blasters raised, sending a wild flurry of bolts into the air. A few slammed into Hock's corpse, making it dance slightly with each impact. Tarla and Torsten dove face first to the ground and curled into as small a target as they could manage.

Bulldog attempted to draw his blaster to shoot at the nearest threat, but both of his arms were pinned underneath the corpse of the enforcer he'd just skewered. He was helpless. Above the cacophony of different blaster models cooking off rounds, Bulldog heard a building sharp whine. He looked into the sky again and caught the glint of light off of multiple starfighter cockpits closing in quickly.

A few ranging shots from the approaching A-wings slammed into the loose ground amidst the charging gang, immediately halting their approach as they too looked up. A round of shocked curses now filled the air as they were stunned into inaction. A few raised their blasters skyward in a feeble attempt to attack the new threat. Most broke into a sprint between the buildings as they ran for their swoops. More whining joined the sounds of starfighter engines as they tore off across the desert field toward the caves in the distance.

More laser fire rained down from the approaching fighters, immolating the few thugs that had stood their ground and attempted to shoot down the New Republic ships with their hand weapons in a futile gesture of resistance.

The corpse on his chest smelled of cooked flesh, bringing him back to his immediate situation. He planted both hands into Hock's shoulders and attempted to lever the man he'd killed off of him, but he found that he still didn't have the strength to do it after the impact of the blaster on the blaster resistant spider carapace he'd stolen from Lock's footlocker and been wearing.

Suddenly, a Zabraki male came skidding to a halt near him and rolled the corpse of Hock off of him. He then grabbed the discarded blaster and scanned the area for targets while Bulldog sat up, rubbing his chest underneath his armor gingerly. "Are you injured?"

Bulldog allowed himself to be helped to his feet and shook his head with a wince. "Nothing serious," he said while rubbing his chest some more. He examined the elderly Zabrak in front of him. "Thanks. Who are you?"

The Zabrak bowed his head slightly as if ashamed. All of his head horns were snapped off or ground down to weathered nubs. "I am Akhoi. In basic, it translates to 'Champion with Horns'."

Bulldog understood his embarrassment at the irony of his name and the current state of his appearance. He pursed his lips and nodded sympathetically. "What is your position here?"

Akhoi smiled wanly. "Closest thing to a chief, if you can consider anybody a chief that lets their people be preyed upon by a filthy group of ruffians. Can you tell me what you are doing here?"

Bulldog gestured to Tarla and Torsten as they were being helped away by some villagers. "I encountered them in the city. She was about to be executed in an alley next to the courthouse. I... couldn't stand by and let that happen."

Akhoi looked confused, then regarded Bulldog carefully. "Why? In our experience with humans on this planet, they don't meddle in the affairs and miseries of the Zabrak population unless it directly affects or benefits them."

The resignation in Akhoi's voice stabbed Bulldog in the heart, overriding the exterior pain in his chest from the blaster impact. For somebody to feel this helpless over the state and wellbeing of their people solidified his sense of righteous duty that called him to this place. His nerves hardened, and he set his jaw as he regarded Akhoi with glistening eyes. "That's changing today. You have my word."

Akhoi nodded uneasily. "We'll see."

"If you can find the will to stand, I will stand with your people, Akhoi."

"And your... friends?" Akhoi asked, gesturing to the New Republic snub fighters in the air.

"We'll see," Bulldog replied, preparing himself to argue with a droid. He knew that it was more than likely Syntax in charge of this detachment of A-wings, which meant he'd need logic where there was none to share since there was no appealing to the humanity of a droid. If he was really lucky, and he wasn't, it would be Wolf or Dragon in charge. Those humans were more likely to back his play here.

Akhoi pointed at the deactivated lightsaber hilt on his hip. "You carry the weapon of Maul."

Bulldog narrowed his eyes in confusion. "Who?"

"A dark, ruthless Zabrak. He had a red-bladed lightsaber, as you have now," Akhoi said, recoiling slightly. "You are not the same as he, are you?"

Before Bulldog could parse Akhoi's words and the meaning of his trepidation, his attention was drawn skyward again.

A-wing engines roared as they neared the ground and broke off into a circling pattern as they searched for new targets. An A-wing and U-wing chased the retreating thugs, missing intentionally but barely to keep them running their swoops at max throttle the entire way back to their cave. A throatier rumble accompanied a B-wing and X-wing as they came in for a landing outside of the village. One by one, the A-wings gave up the circling search and landed with the rest of the fighters. In unison, cockpits popped open and pilots levered themselves out of their seats.

Bulldog's heart soared when he saw both Knight and Dragon, making him feel optimistic about his chances. Then the black chassis of his old OC stepped into view, and his heart sank.



Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Syntax

The human before him was being irrational. They were often prone to such irrationality and seemed to always run on that setting as default. He yearned for the oil bath he had lined up for this afternoon before being diverted upon the current set of events he found himself in. The dusty village exacerbated the need for the oil bath he was missing, and his coding took on a bit of a mean streak while he waited an infinite amount of time for the human to finish speaking his inefficient verbal language.

This entire conversation was moot. His logic circuits had predicted with about 98% certainty that no matter what amount of logic he presented that Bulldog would not listen and would not willingly go back to the base. By his estimation, being a cold, calculating droid and stunning the pilot to bring back to base would have saved everybody here the six minutes and thirty-seven seconds he'd spent approaching and attempting to talk the human down.

"This just is not acceptable, Lieutenant Colonel."

397 seconds wasted. 397 seconds that could have been spent back in the air heading back to the oil bath that he'd scheduled. The human was attempting some sort of treatise on duty and humanity, but he was starting from the flawed position of somebody that was shirking his duty to come out here in the first place. Of course, nothing his vocabulator could say would change the mind of the human, and of course he'd ultimately be forced to set his Czerka AM-125 to use electric taser rounds and stun Bulldog to get him to come along. Or maybe just pelt the human with nonlethal rubber rounds until he was a mess of welts, but at this range those rounds would cause more damage than he'd like to explain back at the base.

"The Captain is right, Lieutenant Colonel," A Zabraki male said, holding a blaster that had been dropped by a dead gang member. "The time for us to rise up, with your help, is now!"

397000 milliseconds spent listening to this selfish human waste everybody else's time. Had this been done in binary or via shared data packets with another droid, it would have taken a small fraction of this time to resolve the disagreement. He momentarily thought about using his DXR-6, but then realized that even the most glancing of blows would probably cause a grievous injury to the pilot he'd come to collect. He began calculating the force he'd need to incapacitate the recalcitrant human if he swung it like a club.

"I should have known a cold, unfeeling droid wouldn't understand," Bulldog said with a heavy edge of snark. "What do you have to say to the very sound reasoning I've laid out?"

The thought of his oft-forgotten disruptor rifle jarred some of his little-used circuit pathing to life, and his full ground combat and infiltration suite came alive involuntarily. He attempted to stop this, but the dust in his chassis was causing enough of a distraction to his control functions that he could not turn this off quickly. His sensors detected multiple beings (Zabraks, all) cowering in the nearby buildings, with a few watching cautiously through glass-less windows.

Bulldog began to speak again, but Syntax held out a hand to stop him. Farther out, past the Zabraks in the nearby buildings, his sensor suite detected multiple beings rushing in. He turned his head in that direction in an attempt to get a better look at what was coming. He drew the DXR-6 from his back and held it at the ready.

"What is it?" Bulldog asked more quietly as he leaned in close, looking in the same direction as Syntax.

"COVER!" Syntax pushed through his vocabulator at maximum volume, firing his disruptor the moment a human appeared with a blaster leveled in their direction. The device was set to short range mode, making the weapon most effective between 10 and 20 meters. However, this human was 45 meters away. The droid's aim was true though, and the bolt dissipated slightly to only disintegrate the entirety of his thorax rather than turn the entire human into a cloud of dust.

For a moment, nothing happened. The thugs stared at their comrade who inexplicably was still standing sans chest. The Renegades and few Zabraks brave enough to pick up discarded blasters stood motionless as they too were unsure what to do. A gust of wind picked up, sending the dead man toppling backward into a cloud of dust.

Chaos broke out in that instant as blasters fired from both sides.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Foo

"They're in the caves," Foo reported, sending one more shot toward the cave opening they'd last seen a thug's swoop barrel into for cover.

"They're not coming back," Frosty replied as he kicked his A-wing over and headed back.

Frosty's ship sped off ahead and rejoined the rest of the New Republic fighters on the ground. The top speed of the smaller ship left the U-wing lagging far behind, which suited Foo just fine because he wanted to get a better look at the village their XO had run off to. As the ship approached the village, he flew over it and then pulled up into a high yoyo.

At the peak of the maneuver, both Foo and Loth-Cat could see the village in its entirety. A single main street that fed into a massive open gathering space, made of nothing more than compacted dirt ran the center of the town. Small single level businesses and houses filed along either side of the battered track, off shoots extended into what looked like more residential dwellings. No matter how either of them sliced it, the town as a whole looked battered and old.

Loth-Cat pointed out an area on the outskirts with an open area. "There, looks like an ideal area for this fat bird."

Foo scoffed. "Hey now, no fat shaming my baby." They rolled back down off the apex of the yoyo and settled into an approach. He kicked the craft sidelong as he descended into the open space with more agility than what would have been given for a craft of its size. Dust kicked up obscuring the area but undeterred, Foo once again manipulated both the throttle and repulsorlifts simultaneously, stretching his hand to cover both levers.

Loth-Cat marveled at the ease and fluidity that Foo used to manipulate the craft on landing. They themselves never really had much practice in rapid landing procedures. "You're gonna have to teach me that one day."

"Compliments of the Imperial Navy...." Foo started with a slight bit of disdain, trailing off either through his concentration on the landing or of thoughts of the past. Loth-Cat didn't push any further, not wanting to further exacerbate the issue. The U-wing squatted heavily on its landing gear but still felt smooth inside. The engine began to wind down as Foo flicked a few switches, keeping the vessel in standby mode but shutting down everything else. Pressing the button in the center of the five point harness, he was released from the restraints and saw Lothcat manipulate the harness in a similar fashion.

Foo stood. "Alright let's go bag us a silly XO and get the hell out of here." Loth-Cat followed suit, laughing as they climbed down into the bay. They palmed the door release and it transitioned downwards into the rampart that was used earlier to get into the ship. They both trotted down the rampart and reached solid ground.

Both Loth and Foo surveyed the area as they walked, finding the area was open save for a couple shattered looking buildings and a decrepit well that probably had not been used in years. Towards the town it funneled into one of the side streets that eventually lead to the main street. Corell noticed several individuals standing or sitting throughout the area, most of which seem to be to him, at least in peculiar positions; something that harkened back to days of old for him, back on Corellia. He didn't like it in the least bit.

Loth spoke, snapping him out of his thoughts. "Damn, I need to go back to the ship— forgot my pack."

Foo nodded "Yeah, fine..." focusing back on the scene before him. While still too far away to hear clearly, he could see Bulldog gesturing animatedly and Syntax gesturing slowly. The other Corsair pilots were nearby, but not involved in the discussion.

The shot that rang out was not in Foo's direct vision but he ducked nonetheless and made haste for the nearest cover he could find. His eyes settled on the only thing near him that seemed solid enough to absorb a blaster bolt.

That damned well would at least this time around find some usefulness he thought, as he dove, digging his hands into the ground and throwing dirt into the air to obscure any view the attackers had on him. He slammed into the curved wall of the well, the dust he had kicked up before him settled and he could see Loth-Cat standing still, unsure of what to do. "GO!" Foo screamed. "Get to the door gun NOW!!"

The scream by Foo snapped Loth-Cat out of their inaction and they made a mad dash back to the U-wing as blaster bolts started tracking. They practically jumped up the rampart and dove behind the wall containing the door gun. It had been a while since Loth-Cat had trained on the use of it and they had some difficulty releasing it from its stationary locked position on the wall. Eventually, after a few seconds of frantic fidgeting, they swung it out the open door. They took a second to assess the unfolding scene. Foo was pinned down behind the well by more than one shooter, who was clearly cussing up a storm. Further away, the other Renegades had taken cover and were advancing in a coordinated fashion on the ambushers. The townsfolk had all but abandoned the open areas; those that could not get inside were curled up into tight balls on the ground.

Foo tried to peek out the side of his cover but was met with immediate fire. One of the shots splashed against the brick of the well, showering the side of his face with molten rock. He snapped back into his original position, trying to ignore the pain that burned into his skin. "FRACKING HELL! I thought I was done with this shavit!" he shouted to himself.

He had joined the Imperial Navy and later the rebellion starfighter command to specifically get away from this crap. The slums of Coronet City had not been a kind place growing up. On more than one occasion he'd had been forced to fight for his life just because he had taken on a job from certain individuals. And this felt no different. Another shot clapped the top of the well showering him in more molten rock. Now, more pissed off than ever. Foo unclasped his DX-13 blaster pistol, ripping it out of its holster and shoved the barrel over the edge of the well. He fired repeatedly all while cursing vehemently over the blaster whine.

Loth-Cat watched for a moment as they nestled the door gun against their shoulder. Foo tipped his blaster over the edge of the well and began firing, they could see his mouth working and even made out a few words. None of which were pleasant. They seemed to imbue his shot with some sort of incantation that made them accurate. The first dropped low of his target, hitting the crate they were hiding behind. The second tracked upwards, slamming directly into the target's chest. Foo strafed over to the net target forcing them to duck behind cover as the shots came closer.

Loth-Cat barked out a laugh to themselves despite the madness they were witnessing and decided to take a page from Foo's book. They depressed the trigger and began cursing and screaming, sending harsh words and bolts of light in the direction of the ambushers.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bulldog

The ambush had the desired effect of cowing the villagers back into submission, as even the Zabraks that had picked up discarded blasters had immediately ran back inside to the safety of their dwellings or nearby shops, leaving only the Renegade pilots to do the hard fighting. The only Zabrak that remained outside to fight was the apparent village chief that had been attempting to argue with Syntax.

The attack had also occurred at the worst possible time, with all of the pilots far enough away from their ships that they couldn't safely get back into the safety of their cockpit and shields. One snub fighter could end this engagement in a similar fashion as the previous engagement. While many of the Renegades had some ground training and skills, it was very clear that they weren't on the same level as a ground-first unit, as they would have immediately sent out perimeter security rather than stand around gawking at the argument between Bulldog and Syntax. And had the Corsair OC not shouted out a warning before the first shots, many of the pilots may have been burnt down before they could get to cover.

Bulldog noticed a dearth of cover nearby, so he stayed low to the ground as he triggered bolts in the vague direction of the enemy besieging them. Syntax was advancing in the open, drawing heavy fire. The only thing keeping the droid alive was the fact that many of the gang members targeting him at this point were blind firing around their positions because the droid had completely maimed three of their number that popped out enough to take aimed shots.

"Get to cover!" Syntax ordered, loosing a steady stream of lethal slugs from his machine pistol and triggering another disruptor rifle blast.

"Come on, get to cover!" Bulldog grunted as he army-crawled forward across the open ground. The Zabrak next to him nodded and likewise crawled next to him on his hands and knees. The goal was to reach the nearest building that appeared to be a little defilade from the ambushing forces.

"After we deal with these—" The village chief started, suddenly going silent with a grunt.

Bulldog looked back to see a burning hole in the middle of the chief's chest. The Zabrak had a look of confusion on his face as he hung there on his knees, unsure what had happened or what he could or should do next. The look was mirrored on Bulldog's own features, as he froze while locking eyes with the Zabrak. Panic overwhelmed his senses as he felt an inescapable urge to just stand up and sprint in the opposite direction. His training in starfighter combat said that when you are being strafed, you turn into the attack. While the textbook of ground combat said something similar, it was a lot different when you didn't have a set of shields and extra armor between you and certain death. Sure, had had that piece of blaster-proof spider carapace still on his chest, but there were plenty of places he could take a lethal bolt when more than one person targeted you.

He froze, his brain telling him to move forward and his panic-overridden instincts telling him to sprint off into the hills. Through widened eyes, he looked around the battlefield. Syntax and Knight had somehow found their way onto two separate rooftops while they pinged accurate sniper shots down on their attackers. Both took cover as a flurry of bolts slammed into the facades of their roofs, and then popped up in different locations on the roof to return fire.

Silence was angrily slapping her carbine with her back to some cover. Her inattention was almost her undoing, and Bulldog was too frozen to even so much as shout a warning. The bearded thug smirked as he realized he had a clean shot at one of the pilots outside of her fighter. He took careful aim with his rifle and prepared to fire.

Dragon appeared nearby and assessed the situation with the speed commensurate with an A-wing pilot. He drew his holstered blaster and shot from the hip, slamming the gang member against the wall with a high powered bolt from his DL-44. He ran over to Silence and tossed her his other blaster, and then drew a wicked-looking claw knife as he peeked around the edge of the building. Silence nodded in thanks as she discarded her carbine and started returning fire with her newly acquired blaster. All of her shots missed, and as she cowered behind cover again, Dragon picked off another of the enemy taking aim at her. He was shouting something, but it was lost among the din of battle.

Bearcat and Blue were next to each other, firing wildly in the vague direction of an enemy that was trading shots with them. Bearcat nodded and said something to Blue, he shook her head in reply. Not agreeing with her, Bearcat growled as he ducked inside of a building, appearing out of a side window with a better angle on their targets. Unfortunately for Blue, the gap created in the defensive line of the Renegades was just large enough for one of the hardened gang members to slip in. He pointed his blaster at the back of Blue's head and prepared to pull the trigger.

Before Blue could be executed from this blindside attack, Frosty appeared from a nearby roof and jumped with a fist cocked back. The pilot had judged things exactly right with his trajectory, slamming his fist right into the side of the goon's head before he landed on the ground in a sloppy combat roll. The thug's head snapped sharply to the side with the blow, and he spun to the ground in an unconscious heap. Frosty dragged himself back behind cover as he rubbed his ankle with a pained expression on his face.

Another gap had formed by the wildly shifting movements from both sides of the conflict as they attempted to outmaneuver each other. As the gang attempted to slip in and break the defending Renegades apart, Freak appeared and deployed his snap batons with a flick of the wrists and systematically disarmed and disabled the man by striking him in the hands and other sensitive areas.

A near miss whined past Bulldog's ear, jarring him from his nerve-induced petrification. He shoved the shock-stricken alien to his back and then scurried over to examine the wound, his medic skills finally kicking in. He pressed a wadded up shirt to the wound while he looked around for anything else he could use to help. "I need a medkit!"

"Here!" Frosty shouted, grasping the emergency medkit from his flight suit and hurling it through the air.

Bulldog watched it sail across the open area in a lazy arc, tumbling end over end. Time slowed down as every detail of the familiar standard issue medical pack came into crystal clear focus. The cloth tassels on the zippers flapped lazily against the wind as the medpack turned end over end. He reached out a hand to grab the pack as it neared.

A blaster bolt struck the pack just before it reached his hand, setting the medpack alight in flames and skittering off to the side. Bulldog yanked his hand back quickly, feeling the heat from the recently blasted medpack on his knuckles. He looked back to the Zabrak and saw his sallow complexion. He knew the man had very little time left without proper medical care, but his body was rooted in place due to his fear.

"Go," the Zabrak huffed weakly.

Bulldog looked the dying man in the eyes, pleading with him mentally to stay alive. Blaster bolts continued to fly slightly overhead and kick superheated glass particles up from the flash-fused dust. "Ok, ok, ok..." he mumbled as he worked up his nerve by mentally affirming his ability to survive, finishing the ritual with a definitive nod. His features wrenched into a scowl and he roared as he rose to his knees and started blasting randomly.

Another blaster bolt hit him in the chest, sending him tumbling backwards. He rolled end over end, coming to a skidding halt on his stomach, farther away from safety than he'd been seconds before. Again the air was forced from his lungs, and he started coughing violently as his first gasp of air was full of dust and dirt.

Bulldog wrenched his eyes shut and curled into a ball, waiting for it to be over..


Toseng airspace
POV: Shadow

Shadow buckled his helmet on securely before engaging his snubfighter's repulsorlifts, all the while ignoring the angry screeching of his artificial co-pilot.

"Keep it down, we don't exactly have clearance for this and I'd rather not draw attention to this excursion if possible."

The astromech squawked sullenly and fell silent as Shadow tracked the A-wings of Corsair Squadron in the distance.

"You know the deal, keep it professional when we're on a mission or I'll eject you on a trajectory towards the nearest star... and before you complain, yes this counts as a mission. I have a hunch that whatever Bulldog has gotten involved in is going to get out of hand."

With a shake of his head Shadow pulled on his flightstick and lazily looped around on a course designed to intercept the Corsairs from the opposite direction.

"As we're not supposed to be involved in this, let's take the scenic route and hopefully my gut instinct is wrong and we can come back with no one the wiser."

During the flight, he kept himself busy monitoring the mixed flight of Renegades to keep them just over the horizon from his current position. He racked his brain to think of a good excuse to be out here if he got pressed by a superior officer. He had a nugget of an excuse formed when his astromech chirruped to get his attention.

"Alright, this place isn't so bad. Could use a few more trees, but mining is the main industry here so it's hardly surprising. You reading anything interesting back there? It'd be nice to get back home before anyone realises we've gone."

The response from the droid was not positive. Grunting in annoyance, Shadow locked his S-foils into attack position.

"No rest for the wicked, I'm pretty sure using starfighter weapons against ground pounders is highly questionable but that village is on the verge of being overrun so time to put the fear of the Force into them."

Rolling his X-wing into a lazy dive Shadow set his quad laser cannons to rapid single shot and began to strafe the attackers that had yet to enter the village proper to prevent as much collateral damage he could and hoped it would be enough to turn the tide.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bulldog

The area took on an eerie quiet the moment the Spectre Squadron X-wing finally shut down fully. Everybody took stock of their own supplies and health. The two Renegades with the worst injuries were Bulldog and Frosty, which was quite miraculous as Bulldog just had a bruised chest and abdomen and Frosty had a twisted ankle.

The only Zabrak casualty was the chief, having succumbed to his chest wound. The villagers gathered and looked upon him sadly as they started praying quietly as a group.

"That's it, Captain. We're going back to base now," Syntax said, sporting a new scorch mark on his shoulder where a blaster bolt had grazed the black droid.

"We can't," Blue objected. "They will be back in full force the moment we leave!"

"It is not our responsibility," Syntax replied flatly.

"Ground command able to send a squad or two this way?" Bulldog asked hopefully, but he already knew the answer.

Syntax shook his head with a loud squeak.

"Then screw your responsibility, Sir," Blue replied with a set jaw. "These people will be dead if we leave!"


"I don't know, boss," Frosty started, testing his recently wrapped ankle gingerly. "I don't much like the idea of leaving these people to die."

"Fly them out?" Freak suggested.

"Not enough room in the U-Wing and skimmer for all of them," Foo replied with a curt head shake.

"And they won't leave even if there was room," Bulldog said quietly. "I suggested as much already and was shot down."

"We are back where we started, it seems," Syntax replied. "Time to leave and let things fall where they may."

"By the Force!" Loth-Cat exclaimed, but then they faltered as they couldn't coherently put together the argument they wanted. Instead, they gestured around the village in futility, and it somehow got the message across.

"Yeah," Dragon agreed, nodding to himself.

Knight walked over after scanning the horizon one last time with his scoped Blastech E-11 and seeing no more threats. "Are we staying or going?"

"This isn't a democracy," Syntax said sternly. Before he could continue, his head cocked to the side and his body went stock still once again.

"Sir?" Silence asked nervously as she stepped closer.

Syntax snapped to full height just as she reached him and took a cautionary step backwards. "Apologies, an urgent communique came through. Six and Seven are to join me in the air immediately for an urgent recon sortie from command. Base Command is pulling our patrols out of orbit to look over a few suspicious areas on the planet."

"And the rest of us?" Frosty asked through a wince brought on by trying to put weight on his hurt ankle.

Syntax regarded all of the gathered pilots equally, and then lingered on the sad gathering of Zabraks. If a droid could slump their shoulders in defeat, that would be what Syntax looked like at that moment. "Captain Clark is the senior officer here, his recent lodging in the brig notwithstanding, and you will all be under his command if you stay. I cannot cover for any of you that remain behind. If orders come through requiring your attendance, I fully expect you to abandon this fool's errand and attend to your official duties. I will attempt to divert ground forces here to relieve you, but know that I cannot promise that."

Blue sighed heavily with relief. "Thank you, Sir."

"Don't let it happen again," Syntax replied as he spun on his heel and headed back to his A-wing, Freak and Knight flanking the droid. After the 3 ships took off, they took a precautionary path near the cave to scare the gang off from making another attack before streaking off to their new mission.

"Great," Dragon said to break the silence once again. "Now what?"

"We dig in," Bulldog said, attempting to shake the lingering remnants of fear he still felt from the last engagement. Another conflicting group of emotions welled up, but he didn't have time to investigate those as everybody was looking to him for guidance. He felt a wave of worry wash over him as he realized everybody was looking to him for the next course of action, and hurriedly made an effort to pass it off to somebody else. "My ground tactics are very lacking, however, so if any one of you have a better idea for defending this place, I'm all ears."

"I can help with that I think," Shadow said as he raised his hand.

Everybody looked at the new arrival that had just saved their backsides. The pilots more familiar with Shadow nodded readily in agreement.

Bulldog trusted their feelings and nodded in agreement himself. He was both relieved that somebody else volunteered to take charge, yet also nervous that he wasn't the one calling the shots. The conflicting emotions clouded his features momentarily while he tried to parse out his feelings. "Great, tell us where to be and how to prepare."

"I uh, don't have a sidearm," Shadow said, holding his hands up in apology. "Didn't think to grab one when I decided to follow you guys."

"Thanks for the save," Silence replied while patting him on the shoulder. She unslung the DC-15A carbine she'd unsuccessfully used in the last firefight and handed it over. "I'm terrible with this. I'm sure you can make better use of it." She then looked to Dragon and offered his blaster pistol back.

Dragon shook his head and pushed her hand back. "Keep it. I'll teach you how to shoot it once we get things settled here," he said as he handed her the matching holster. He looked around to the gathering crowd of recently armed Zabraks and raised his voice. "Any of you want to learn how to shoot? I'll teach you," he said as he nodded toward a blind alley he'd seen earlier and started walking in that direction.

Silence smiled bashfully as she affixed the holster to her belt and gingerly placed the DL-44 into it. She deliberately avoided matching Dragon's gaze while she continued to smile. She shook her head once she realized he'd already begun walking off and then hurriedly caught up to him.

Bulldog looked around at the group that remained. Shadow was now examining the town to figure out where to place defensive strongpoints, frowning at the haphazard layout of the village. Frosty had sat back down and was rubbing a topical numbing cream on his ankle. Loth-Cat and Foo were deep in conversation as they walked back toward the U-wing, nodding back and forth as they spoke. Dragon and Silence went off to set up a makeshift blaster range, and were followed by a few of the braver Zabraks that now held discarded blasters. Blue was speaking with some of the village elders in a calming tone, putting her public-relations skills to good use. Bearcat was standing on a rooftop near the edge of town closest to the cave system standing watch.

"There's nine of us, right?" Shadow asked in a whisper as he ambled back to Bulldog, shaking him from his observations.

"Hrm? Yeah, Nine," Bulldog replied, snapping back to reality. "And a crowd of disorganized Zabraks."

"Not sure how to quantify them in the defensive strategy. If they break and we put them in a key position, it'll get us all killed."

Bulldog nodded in agreement at his assessment. "So, what do you think?"

"We should leave, like Syntax said," Shadow replied flatly. "Not knowing the strength of the gang, and knowing that we aren't trained for ground combat, we shouldn't stay and fight."

"Well, I don't think that's an option at this point. I can't have the deaths of these people on my conscience."

"What about the deaths of any of us?" Frosty chimed in from his seat on the ground. "Because that's looking extremely likely."

Bulldog bristled at the question. "You are free to hop into your cockpit and go, bro."

Frosty smirked. "And miss all the fun? Nah."

"The starfighters are a good idea," Shadow said.

Tarla joined the conversation, shaking her head. "This entire plain is riddled with Rhydonium deposits just below the surface. It's a wonder none of your shots to this point hit any of them yet."

Bulldog winced. "Ok, so no starfighters."

Foo ambled over. "I think my door guns would be safe to use still, so I can keep the fat lady in the air if that'll help."

"Better than nothing," Bulldog said with a nod.

"We've got a good group of nine for this type of thing," Shadow said, rubbing his chin as he continued to mull over positioning possibilities now that the best idea was shot down due to the environmental hazard it posed. "Maybe we let them back in and set up ambushes... Try to destroy their group in detail so the villagers have the upper hand after the whole ordeal."

"The Magnificent Nine," Bulldog said wistfully as he gazed dreamily out into the barren fields nearby, hope and pride swelling within his chest.

Frosty snorted and laughed, breaking the mood. "That's it, I'm going home. I can't be a part of something with 'magnificent' in the name."


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Dragon

The alleyway was secluded. A fossilized carcass lay in a corner, a molt of some sort of insectoid desert creature probably long extinct. There was nothing in here but dust, a couple dumpsters, and a long rocky mountainside that would serve perfectly as the backstop of an improvised shooting range. Dragon checked the dumpsters and pulled out a mixed assortment of trash. Some cans, a few bottles, and a rusty metal sliver. He placed the makeshift targets on different spots of the mud-brick alley wall, and used the metal sliver to carve crude hominid-shaped targets onto its surface.

Soon, some of the bolder Zabraks began to trickle in. Dragon smiled when he spotted Silence among the crowd. Their gaze met for a brief moment, but both quickly broke eye contact. Figures . . . zero problems killing, but can't hold eye contact with a girl. Way to go, Dragon. He shook his head.

"Alright," Dragon said after a few minutes, once it was clear no one else would show up. "Who's got prior experience with blasters or firearms in general?"

Silence raised her hand shyly.

He smiled at her. "Anyone else?"

A Zabrak raised his hand. "I, uh, fired a slugthrower once."

Dragon scanned the crowd. He knew his work was cut out for him, but also that any weapon would do if they had the will to do. "Good. I'm not going to give you a comprehensive study course, we don't have time for that. What I will do is give you what you need to stay alive and keep those around you alive. There are four rules."

Dragon paced in front of the crowd slowly. He hated it. He wasn't an instructor. It made him uncomfortable, but he'd been told more than once that he was good at it, somehow. "First rule. Finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot. Yes, that means you," he said, addressing one of the Zabraks. Dragon unholstered his DL-44 blaster and showed him the proper positioning of the index finger on the side of the weapon. The Zabrak's eyes opened wide as he apologetically removed his finger from the blaster's trigger.

"Good. Second rule. Do not point your weapon at anything you don't intend to destroy." He grinned, looking at another Zabrak. "I'm sure your friend's leg ain't too happy right now. Point that blaster at the ground," Dragon said.

"Blast! Sorry!" The Zabrak quickly complied.

"Perfect. Third rule. Treat all blasters, slugthrowers, and firearms in general, as if they were loaded. When you're handed any of the above, check their condition, charge, and, if applicable, if there are any rounds in the chamber. Do not blindly trust anyone who says the weapons are safe, make sure they are."

The crowd murmured in agreement.

Dragon rolled his left shoulder and stretched his neck. Man, I'm tired. "Fourth rule. Be sure of your target, and whatever may be behind your target, prior to firing. Once you pull the trigger, you can't take the slugs or blaster bolts back. If you adhere to these four simple rules, you'll never have a problem."

Dragon explained a few basic drills, and then had everyone remove the power cells from their weapons so they could dry fire safely and get used to not jerking the trigger when pulling it. He walked around the line of shooters, correcting their posture, giving them tips, and helping out whoever needed help. He wanted to spend more time with Silence, but as an acting rangemaster, he had to devote time to the other students.

"Good job. Now let's have some fun while putting what you've learned to the test. Load your weapons and give me two shots to center mass, meaning: aim for the chest of the targets carved on the wall."

The Zabraks nodded.

"In a firefight," Dragon continued, "you have very limited time to think. Training is there to kick in and take over. Try not to rush, however, and make sure to aim before you fire. Speed is fine, but accuracy is final."

The alleyway lit up with blaster fire as the Zabraks went through the drills, while Dragon called out instructions and targets to hit. Two hours and change later, the Zabraks showed definite improvement. They were hitting targets consistently, and their groupings were pretty tight for beginners. They wouldn't win any shooting competitions anytime soon, but they'd have a fighting chance against the bandits now. Silence, on the other hand, had taken to the heavy DL-44 blaster pretty damn well. Her shots were more accurate than her scores at the range on the Vigilant.

I think you need to ditch the hold-out blaster you normally carry and get a real gun, Dragon thought. He looked at the members of his unofficial training cadre and raised his voice to be heard. "One last thing. Use your cover. Do NOT stand out in the open if you can help it, and if you are stuck out in the open, keep moving. A stationary target without cover is a dead target."

Some of the Zabraks approached to thank him before leaving. Soon, only Dragon and Silence remained in the alleyway.

"That was some fine shooting," Dragon said.

Silence grinned. "Uh, thanks! This gun is heavy, but it kicks less than my standard-issue, and is, surprisingly, more comfortable to shoot."

"It will also drop bigger targets. Packs way more punch." Dragon fumbled for words to continue the conversation. "I, uh, wouldn't trust my life to a hold-out blaster."

"Oh, that means you wouldn't trust me to cover you?"

Vardak's blood, Dragon, he thought. "Any weapon will do, if you will do."

She moved in closer to him. "Nice save."

"I got my moments, I guess."

"Honestly," she drew back, suddenly serious, "judging from my performance this morning, I'm not sure I will do, either."

"You just needed some training," he assured her quickly. "You did great today."

"I did better," she corrected, seeming determined to be hard on herself. "It's obvious I need more work."

"It's getting dark, but maybe sometime I could give you some private lessons," he offered.

"Really?" Her face lit up. "Thank you! It's a date. Er, not a date like a 'date' date, just . . . you know."

He smiled as her cheeks turned redder by the second. It was definitely a date.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bulldog

Dusk had given away to night in the small village. Small, old-timey lamps lit various intersections with dull, orange light. Shadows were everywhere, as there never quite seemed to be enough light to keep everything easily visible.

Due to the dark nature of the area between the caves and village, Bearcat had been placed on a small patrol route slightly outside of the village due to his species' natural low-light vision and heightened smelling abilities. The defenders had been instructed repeatedly to not just fire at the first thing they saw moving in the darkness in case it was Bearcat coming back in to warn everybody of a coming attack. Shadow had likewise gone out beyond the perimeter to patrol a different probable approach vector, moving quietly amongst the brushy plains.

Bulldog decided to conduct one last interior patrol to check on the defenders and make sure the ruses and traps Shadow had concocted were ready to go. The entire strategy had been laid out to all of the chief defenders, but there was still a complex web of feints, backstabs, and kill zones that needed to be executed properly for the defense to be fully effective.

He first met with the small number of Zabraks sprinkled through various positions. They were the real wild cards of the entire strategy, as they wouldn't ruin the defense if they folded under pressure, but they could inflict heavy casualties if they held their positions and executed the orders Shadow had given them. Bulldog did his best to explain their jobs again and provide an air of confidence, but he was still shaken from his previous experience on the ground and being caught out in the open. He reiterated how and when they should 'retreat' to draw the gang into the first ambush point, and hoped they executed it properly and convincingly.

Not feeling any better than he had before meeting with them, he shivered as he moved to the next position, being careful to step over the nearly invisible tripwire set up across the main road into town. If it worked properly, it would pull down a false wall and reveal a fully automated turret cobbled together from a damaged door gun from Foo's U-wing. He meandered around the building and knocked to announce his entry.

"What's up?" Foo asked, a steely calm in his voice as he held out a hand.

Bulldog shook the offered hand warmly. "Just doing the rounds real quick. How's the gun work coming?"

"Almost done," Loth-Cat chimed in from the other room, followed by the sound of tools clattering and a sharp curse.

"You heard the kid," Foo replied with a chuckle. "Gun's rigged up, but the targeting system hardware interface is giving us fits. We're afraid it'll rattle itself off after sustained automatic fire."

Bulldog nodded as he thought deeply on the subject. He wasn't very mechanically inclined, however, so he didn't have much to add. "Try welding more support struts?"

"I am, Bossman," Loth-Cat replied in a strained voice. "After I get this last bolt secured properly."

"You sad to see this gun out of your girl?" Bulldog asked as he turned his attention back to Foo.

Foo waved his hand dismissively. "Bah. She'll be back on board once this business is finished. She's not doing much good there now with the busted gimbal system from the last light fight."

"I told you that was an accident!" Loth-Cat interjected, another clang and round of cursing punctuating his exclamation.

"Didn't say it wasn't," Foo replied with a conspiratorial smirk in Bulldog's direction. He leaned in close to Bulldog and lowered his voice. "I just like winding the kid up."

Loth-Cat appeared in the doorway, holding a portable welding kit. "I heard that," they said as they clicked the flint spark tongs to trigger a flame. They looked sternly at both pilots as they nodded sharply forward, bringing their face shield down.

"Just kidding," Foo said, holding his hands up in mock surrender. He looked back to Bulldog after Loth-Cat went back into the other room with the welder. He seemed to be juggling a question in his mind, but unsure how to vocalize it.

"What is it?" Bulldog asked, picking up on Foo's dilemma.

Foo sighed. "Why are we here?"

Bulldog started to explain how they had to defend the civilians, but Foo stopped him. "Don't give me that poodoo. Why are we REALLY here?"

Bulldog pursed his lips as he attempted to organize his chaotic thoughts. He found that he didn't have an answer readily available, and he found that deflating.

Foo read his expression and frowned, turning his back to Bulldog. "Well, I'm glad me and the kid are going to be zipping above this thing in my bird, with shields between us and this mess."

"Must be nice."

Foo whirled back around and leveled an accusatory finger in his direction. "Yes, it is! I didn't ask to be here. None of us did. Like it or not, you're the reason we're here right now getting shot at. You best figure out what we're really doing here, or call it all off before one of us eats a blaster bolt!" He shouldered past Bulldog and exited the building in a huff.

Bulldog stood there, his mouth agape. The steady buzzing of Loth-Cat's welding in the other room was calming, but his heart still raced as his brain fought to gain control of his thoughts. After thinking upon Foo's question, it fell down to two equally viable possibilities: dealing with his father's death and his helplessness in the matter, or hoping to somehow release himself from all martial responsibilities.

While each option had evidence in support, he truly wasn't sure which was the correct reason for him coming out here, and that troubled him. He sat on a rocky stool and massaged his temples, gazing into the floor absentmindedly.

"You good, Boss?" Loth-Cat asked, lugging their welding kit and tank out of the room.

"Yeah kid," Bulldog lied, attempting to put on a confident facade. "I'm good, just tired."

Loth-Cat smiled kindly. "Want me to stick around so you can catch a quick forty?"

Bulldog shook his head and stood up. "Nah, I'm too amped up for sleep. Go put that stuff back and get into position. I suspect you and Foo are going to be more vital to this defense than you both realize."

Loth-Cat beamed a little at the comment, shooting a happy grin in Bulldog's direction. "Thank you, Sir."

Bulldog smiled kindly even though being called 'sir' made him feel physically ill. "Get going."


Toseng village
POV: Shadow

After having done a final check of the preparations and some light attempts at morale building with the locals, Shadow sat down on a bench and took some deep breaths to help clear his mind and focus, the way his uncle had taught him as a child.

His mind drifted towards the words Krayt had spoken after Caston City, and if he was right did his uncle know all along?

Shaking the questions and doubts from his head he returned to his meditation just as he had before every mission. This time however something was nagging at him, with a grunt of annoyance he stood up and tried to find somewhere peaceful and secluded.

What he found was unexpected to say the least, Bulldog was toying with some kind of metal cylinder. Suddenly a blade of red energy extended away from him with a snap-hiss and he took a few tentative swings.

That's a lightsaber! Why does Bulldog have one? I hope he doesn't plan on using it in a fight though, he's putting too much strength into those strokes. I've been told stories about those weapons, they weigh almost nothing compared to traditional blades but have huge destructive power. 'Finesse' is the key, and I'm not sure Bulldog even knows what that word means.

As he was about to step forwards Shadow was almost overcome by a wave of malevolent intent freezing him in his tracks.

Was that the lightsaber? That can't be right... No, it feels like it's coming from beyond the village.

"The bandits are coming! We're under attack!"

If anyone asks how I knew, I'll say I was scouting the perimeter and spotted movement.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bulldog

Shadow's warning galvanized the defenders. The first ranging shots from the Zabraks drew a heavy response in return, blaster bolts pelting their squat building's facade. The shouted war cries of the attackers had the desired effect, and the Zabraks broke and retreated.

Bulldog watched as they mostly retreated in the proper direction and nodded to himself with hope. The lone defender to go the wrong direction was cut down in a hail of blaster bolts from a flanking pincer. The new attack group surprised him, but Shadow had warned them that something similar would probably happen and planned accordingly.

As the second group charged in to press their apparent advantage, a quick reaction element of Blue, Bearcat, and a few Zabraks appeared behind them and started raining fire from above and behind them. While initially confused, the dark nature of the battle illuminated the source of blaster shots briefly, making it easier to track who was shooting. The return fire was intense, and the lesser trained Zabraks that lingered out of cover ate blaster bolts in the chest and face, being flung backwards and out of sight.

Before the gang could press their attack back to clean out Blue and Bearcat's ambush position, a set of improvised explosive devices filled with rocks and bits of metal shrapnel exploded, showering the humans that were out in the open with a mixture of stinging and stunning particles. Still, they pressed on with discipline and broke into the bottom floor of the ambush building. The first goon into the building triggered another trap, and another set of explosions both inside and outside of the building went off, wrecking the attackers and blunting their advance. In the confusion, Blue and Bearcat slipped away to their next position.

The first force continued to charge in through the main thoroughfare, encountering little to no resistance aside from the sporadic return fire from the first group of retreating Zabraks enticing them in. They were cautious, belying some sort of advanced military training from their past. The caution wasn't enough to save them from the next trap, however, as one of the humans cautiously creeping along the walls with his eyes scanning the rooftops triggered a tripwire.

"Ouch town, population you guys," Bearcat said as he shifted his attention for the next phase of the attack that would involve his sector if Shadow's predictions continued to come true.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Frosty

Frosty tucked his head down and put his back to the reinforced barricade at the foot of the stairs. He and his two Zabrak companions were tasked with holding this position as long as possible to stop the gang from disabling the auto-turret they just unwittingly triggered.

The false wall of the building hiding the cobbled together auto-turret collapsed on the gang member that triggered the trap, adding insult to injury. The moment the targeting system identified body heat and movement in the night, it unleashed a heavy steam of laser bolts into the men on the opposite side of the street. Half of their number were burned down almost instantly. Those that weren't killed outright were rolling on the ground, writhing in pain. Once the turret finished hitting the upright targets, the cold calculus of its targeting programming swung back through and finished the wounded attackers off with another burst of fire with deadly accuracy. Having no more viable targets, it continued to scan the field of view for a moving heat signature. One of the bodies twitched, and the gun zeroed in on it and unleashed a torrent of bolts into it, forcing it to jerk around even more with each impact, drawing more fire. The corpse finally came to a rest as the last few bolts went through its now missing torso and slammed into the ground below it.

Frosty heard the gun go silent, which meant that they were about to get really busy in the next two seconds. He nodded to each of his companions and reminded them to stay down. The attackers were attempting to batter down the door. Each thud of a shoulder or booted foot against the solid-yet-rotting door jarred the three individuals in their place. He motioned for both Zabraks to relax and reminded them to and stay down.

The door finally gave in, and the first few men into the doorway with their guns drawn were blasted apart by the pair of lethal cobbled-together explosives they'd set up for manual detonation. Frosty tossed aside the now useless detonator and leaned up over cover with his gun drawn, as did the two nervous Zabraks next to him. One stood straight up, and Frosty had to tug the inexperienced combatant down to avoid making too much of a target of herself.

Just as he'd pulled her down to his level, two more attackers burst in. Frosty triggered his blaster, as did his two companions. Their fusillade of lethal light met the two men head on, engulfing them in fire even as their bodies collapsed into a smoldering heap.

The attackers were put off initially, as they regrouped outside of the building and thought through their next move. Dragon and Silence popped out from concealed positions on the roof across the street and started pinging targets with deadly accuracy. Silence's time spent training with Dragon had borne fruit, as she was going shot for shot with the accomplished pistoleer. Their attack forced the humans to make a decision, and it was the course of action most unfortunate for Frosty's group barricaded inside the turret building.

With another cry to gather their nerves, they rushed into the turret building. The two Zabraks to either side of Frosty were caught out of cover and skewered with multiple bolts. Frosty saw the writing on the wall and dove head-first through a window behind his position, rolling his already injured ankle even further. Growling through the pain, he knew he wouldn't be able to make it to his next position across the street without being caught out in the open due to his busted wheel.

Looking around, he found a darkened alcove leading to a neighboring basement and wedged himself inside. The attackers flooded out of the window he'd jumped through and immediately started spreading out, some searching for him, others continuing to move forward to press their attack despite the horrendous casualties they'd just taken.

"Stang," he whispered internally, wanting to be quiet but also mad at himself for possibly ruining the entire plan.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Foo

Peering out the left viewport of the cockpit as they circled far above the low lying town, Foo could make out the movements of the group on the ground with what little light the moon was offering. Snaking their way through the alleys, they bounded around and over several obstacles that had been discarded throughout the inner bowels of the village. The leader of the train made a right turn down a particularly narrow alleyway and was met with a fairly high wall, bringing them to a halt. The rest filed in one after the other stopped as well.

There was a bit of a lull in their activities as they seemed to be discussing what to do next. Continuing down the previous alley led the main street and thus out into the open, which was not ideal. Going back ment running into potential pursuers. Finally, one individual stepped towards the wall before them, seemingly surveying it. Then took a few steps back and ran towards it.

Just before contact, they jumped to the left, kicked off the adjacent wall, then the right, propelling them to the top of the obstruction. They swung a leg over to steady themselves on top of the wall and began to help the rest over the wall as they made their attempts. Partway through the group, a rotund individual stepped forward and made their attempt. They scampered up the wall and grabbed the out reaching hand, but at the top they seemed to lose their balance and tipped over the opposing side at a precarious angle. Foo unconsciously winced knowing what consequences were to come.

The figure disappeared behind the wall and half a second later could be seen rolling out of the fall on the ground in a semi controlled fashion, stumbling a few steps as they raised from the roll. They had somehow managed to salvage what otherwise would have been a nasty spill.

Sitting in the co-pilot's seat Loth-Cat spoke up, bringing Foo's attention back into the cockpit. "This doesn't look good" They pointed out the viewport at several places where more groups of people could be seen moving in towards their squadmates and friends.

Foo cursed under his breath and turned to Loth-Cat. "You better get to the gun. I'll dive down and let our ground pounders know what's up."

Loth-Cat started moving but paused for a moment while unbuckling. "Won't using comms alert the enemy?"

Foo sighed. "Possibly, but the enemy already knows where they are and better to have our guys go in on even terms than blind." The logic seemed to resonate with his counterpart and they nodded; hopping out of the seat, they made their way towards the door gun as Foo began transmitting. He waited one more moment before diving to give Loth-Cat a chance to secure themselves in the gun harness.

"Ground, you've got several groups converging on you from the south and southeast. Best find a place to hunker down and get ready. They look like they mean business."

The group he'd been monitoring stopped the moment he'd begun transmitting. After scaling the wall, they had landed in one of the residences' backyards. The wall itself wrapped around the yard, but dropped a couple feet as it reached the front yard. Still, it made for a perfectly defensible area.

Foo keyed the transmitter again. "Oh and by the way, great recovery on your little tumble there boss."

"Just shut up and get your gunner ready!" Bulldog's angry voice whispered sharply.

Foo double clicked an affirmative but a chuckle could be heard between the clicks. He banked his ship again as he made another wide turn, looking to give his partner the best possible angle to engage.

"Locked in!" Loth-Cat called over the internal comm through his headset.

Foo took his cue and banked the ship back towards the engagement area. Even with the moonlight, it was still difficult to see; even more so for Loth-cat on the door gun. The canopy on the U-wing at least attempted to brighten what little light there was. Foo tapped the center console screen and put a pin on where he knew Bulldog and company to be and then clicked the comm open once more. "Ground, you're gonna have to find a way to light these guys up, the moonlight isn't giving us much and we're pretty much flying blind up here."

The U-wing by design was mainly used as a troop carrier and would normally have night vision equipped. But with the recent developments in technology and warfare as a whole, the cumbersome craft were starting to find a new foothold to exploit in ship to ship combat. This meant that the newer versions of the craft, such as the one Foo was flying, had to make room for some of the new advancements and drop some of the old. This left him yearning for an older version of his ship, if only for this moment.

There was silence over the comms for a moment or two longer and then Bulldog came through. "We've got some IR strobes that we can light them up with. Just make sure you aim at the bright shiny things and not us." The bitterness in his voice belayed that he still had his feathers ruffled about Foo's previous jibe.

"Did you catch that, Kid?" Foo called over the internal comms.

"Right, shiny thing's bad. Got it," Loth-Cat shot back.

Foo flipped back over to the open channel and pushed the button. "We're good up here, just don't hold onto those things for too long when lit."

The first of the strobes launched out the front archway of the tiny complex and over to one of the alleyways that dumped out into the main street where the first group waited. Another went over the wall and landed further south indicating a house on the corner of one the streets that the enemy had congregated around.

The action was met with immediate fire opening up. Bulldog's ground group returned fire from various positions. It was only then that Foo noticed that at least two of the group had managed to get on top of the building and were firing shots down at their opposition. "Alright, targets are up Loth-Cat. I'm gonna swing around and get you sight on that alleyway first."

Loth-Cat's eyes widened as the ship unexpectedly banked in hard, pointing their gun downward and then rapidly brought it back into place, giving them a clear view of their objective. They took a bead on the strobe and depressed the trigger. Shots ripped out in rapid succession and they found themselves clenching hard to recover the recoil of the gun. It sprayed over the intended target but the shots were wild and they released the trigger.

They took a deep breath and steeled themselves and once again depressed the trigger. This time the shots were more controlled as they walked the fire from the strobe down the extent of the alley. Loth-Cat wasn't sure how much damage they caused but the return fire on the complex was heavily reduced.

"Good job kid!" Foo hollered over the internal comm. "Moving us around to get an angle on that corner building!"

"Alright!" they yelled back in an almost giddy tone.

As they maneuvered, Foo witnessed another strobe being tossed over to another location. It landed and stayed for a moment. Suddenly it was tossed back into its original direction. It seemed someone had realized what was up and didn't want any part in being marked for aerial support. Clearly this was going to be the more troublesome group. Foo swung about and lowered the ship, trying to get a better view while still putting Loth-Cat on target of the building on the corner. He watched the strobe sail back over to its intended target and once again it was tossed back. This time, someone dove out of the complex and grabbed it again. It was no light toss. The individual whipped it with all his strength, and it rapidly crossed the street only to abruptly stop, which he could only surmise was at the expense of someone's face. The shadow reeled back and a single shot followed, collapsing the shadow onto the ground. He looked back over and saw the one who threw the strobe back give one last obscene gesture before being pulled back into the complex by his collar.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bearcat

The battle on the second front had been unfolding as the Spectre pilot had said it would, giving Bearcat a slight chill at the uncanny nature of Shadow's accurate prediction. He and Blue had executed a series of hit and fade strikes, sometimes with entrenched Zabrak fighters, but more often just the two of them popping up, firing a few shots, and then fading away.

"Next position up ahead," Blue said breathlessly as she led the way through a small alley to the building on the edge of the town. From there they would be able to draw fire while also calling in air support from the circling U-wing that housed Foo and Loth-Cat.

Bearcat nodded as his ears perked up. His head whipped around to track the source of the muffled sounds of movement he'd heard. His blaster drifted in that direction, but he didn't prepare to fire fully as it could have been a friendly combatant moving out of coordination due to extenuating circumstances forcing them to move outside of the prescribed plan.

He slowed his pace as he started picking up hushed snatches of conversation, and the hair on his hackles rose in alarm once it was clear that two of the voices were human and one was a deeply guttural rumbling bass. He froze in place and took aim in the direction of the approaching enemies.

Blue looked back finally and noticed her partner's disposition, but despite her improved performance in combat this time around, she yelped in surprise as the four enemies appeared nearby.

Bearcat blasted the first human he saw before the man could shoot his friend, drawing a sharp curse and the attention of the other human as he swung his blaster around and snapped off a shot that hit the wall above his head. Ducking reflexively, he whirled around at the sound of heavy footfalls approaching rapidly from behind him.

He turned just in time to see two meaty fists attached to two hulking arms rushing toward him in a double uppercut. The first caught him in the stomach while the second smashed into the middle of his forehead simultaneously. The blows sent him flying across the small alley, slamming through a rotten wooden door. The floorboards of the decrepit building snapped and splintered the moment his body landed, dropping him into the basement in a shower of shredded wood. He slammed his head on the hardened bedrock of the basement floor and attempted to rise quickly to rejoin the fight, but his vision swam and his limbs refused to listen.

"Z!" Blue screamed in fear. She attempted to shout more, but the report of a blaster silenced her.

More of the rotten floor collapsed, burying Bearcat as he lost consciousness.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Shadow

Shadow wasn't sure if his warning was enough to get everyone into position, and he couldn't worry about it.

He wasn't a leader.

People were using his tactics and following his plans, but that wasn't his problem.

He wasn't a leader.

He pulled his cloak tighter and waited. He was to keep watch over the rear entrance, a job he took because he could do it alone whilst the He'd do what was needed but none of the other defenders were people he'd learn to trust, hopefully they'd stick to his plan.

Shadow rubbed the truncated sleeve of his jacket and took a deep breath as his fingers ran over the burnt edges.

I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

Looking down on the group trying to move past him Shadow sighed and stepped forward.

As he hit the ground, one of his axes dug deep into one of the bandits, Shadow rolled forward and embedded the axe in his off hand into the stomach of another raider.

As he dodged to the right of a quick burst of fire Shadow drew a vibro-dagger from a sheath on his left sleeve and lunged forward aggressively, thrusting the blade into his target's throat.

In the same motion he grabbed his cloak and threw it over the head of a nearby opponent, wrapping him up Shadow dropped quickly to one knee causing a loud crack to come from the individual trapped in his cloak.

As he dropped Shadow unsheathed the blade hidden in his boot and lunged forward to quickly silence the last assailant in his eyeline.

Without pausing he pulled one of his axes from his first target and in a single smooth motion threw it at one of the bandits that tried to escape.

With a deep sigh Shadow collected his weapons and started to carry the bodies of his victims somewhere others would not notice and returned to a place he would not be seen.

Six targets in just a handful of seconds... Was it always so easy to take a life? Force I hope not, but it's getting harder to recall.


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog was tired. He'd been on high mental alert throughout the entire night while he displaced position after position in the frantic fighting retreat planned by Shadow. Bits and pieces of the plan had failed, leading to more than one harrowing encounter at almost point blank range with a random thug. He'd used the lightsaber in one such instance to sloppily decapitate a goon that had literally bumped into him, but the ancient weapon turned out to be a beacon in the night that attracted all manner of blaster bolts, so he secured the weapon and didn't plan to use it for the rest of the battle.

The enemy weren't the only beings scurrying about in the night. He'd almost blasted more than one of the friendly indigenous population that had ventured out into the battle, both as combatants or noncombatants. The mental strain he'd been under was exhausting; constantly being hyper-aware of his surroundings and making a decision whether to shoot to kill or not in a split second took four times as much concentration.

The gunfire died down slowly as the dawn of the new day began leaking light over the horizon. He allowed the new light to warm his sweat-slicked face and closed his eyes as he savored the feeling as he leaned against the facade of a building.

A new feeling of contentment began to fill and refresh him as he felt like a weight had been lifted from his chest. He pushed off of the wall and opted to ignore the thread of the thought and just bask in the positive vibes as he did a slow spin to scan the village.

Multiple fires raged in certain areas, mostly due to excessive blaster fire striking older, dried out wooden structures. A few bodies were littered throughout the streets, but the overwhelming majority belonged to the predatory gang and none appeared to be Renegade casualties.

"Thank you," a soft voice said from nearby.

The disturbance jarred him back into combat mode as he crouched, drew his blaster, and spun in the direction of the voice, his eyes scanning for the threat that might be trying to end him. The healing but still damaged face of Tarla recoiled slightly from his blaster barrel, but she stood her ground. He stood up and holstered his blaster quickly and muttered an apology.

She smiled, but it turned quickly into a wince as some of her healing scabs ripped open. "Thank you, Captain. Thank you for freeing us." A tear rolled down her cheek, but it was one borne of happiness rather than pain and sadness. "You are Oucoa reborn. And that other clever human is Kaz Lo reincarnated, I'm sure of it."

Bulldog felt uncomfortable accepting her praise at first as well as confusion at the foreign references she'd used for him and Shadow. "I couldn't have done this by myself. The rest of the team did all of the heavy lifting," he said as he gestured around the village with a grimy hand.

Tarla nodded once, but persisted. "Yes, but without you as the impetus, we would still be in bondage. Or worse," she said with a wan smile, remembering the many near brushes with death she'd experienced in the last solar cycle. "Our ancestors can look down upon us with pride now, as can yours." She paused, tilting her head up toward the still visible moon in the sky. "You all are proof that not all Takask wallask ti dan are evil."

Her reference to Bulldog's parents forced him to fully confront the spectre of his father's death, unable to avoid it this time like he had a few moments ago. He felt a lot of the weight of his father's death was no longer constricting the area around his heart as it had just weeks ago. Part of that broke away when he'd confronted Talon, and a little more while he spent time cooling his heels in the brig when he'd had nothing to do but think.

Part of him felt like the fault and guilt he felt for his father's death had washed away because he'd faced it head on after a year of avoidance, and while he wondered if he took on this quest to cleanse himself of that guilt or to avoid his squadron responsibilities, he finally felt like he had an answer as more Zabraks came by with questions about what they should do next, as if he was now their leader. He realized that he no longer felt the revulsion he'd felt building in recent months whenever he'd been looked to for guidance.

He laughed, as he finally understood himself fully for the first time in a long time. To those in attendance, it looked more like an unhinged outburst of somebody that had been under too much stress recently and just snapped. To him, he finally felt the weight of uncertainty and worry collapse around him, as if a series of lead chains suddenly fell away from him. He instantly felt even more refreshed as the elation of his recent mental breakthrough blasted away every bit of the fatigue he'd been feeling.

Frosty and Silence appeared, each raising an eyebrow at his current disposition. "Feeling... better after another fight, Captain?" Silence asked wryly.

"I always feel better after a good dust-up," Frosty interjected as if her question's tone offended him.

Bulldog regarded her with clear eyes, and smiled widely. "I'd say I'm feeling better, Vikeron, but I don't think it was because of this scrap."

A troubled look crossed her features. "Did you... get to kill enough to work that out of your system?"

"I know I did," Dragon called out grimly as he joined the gathering.

Bulldog shook his head, still smiling; slightly less so as Silence's line of questioning reminded him just how dark a place he'd been in recently and how much of it was clearly visible to others. "No, I think I just took your advice and figured out some serious shab— and worked it out."

Silence mulled the comment around her brain for a moment, before smiling herself and nodding once. "I'm glad to hear it, Captain."

"I hate to break up the party here," Shadow said as he approached, "but I think if we don't get back to base soon we're going to all be spending time in the Captain's favorite building while we prepare for our own disciplinary hearings."

Foo and Loth-Cat joined the Renegades as they all contemplated the consequences of their choices to stay behind and undertake this fight, picking up on the solemn mood without having heard any of the conversation leading up to it. After reading the crowd, a look of worry crossed Loth-Cat's face. Foo picked up on it before the rest, and nudged the youth questioningly.

"Where are Cho and Zynnadi?" Loth-Cat asked, scanning their surroundings urgently for the missing Buccaneers.

"What was their last confirmed position?" Bulldog asked as he looked around, alarm raising the pitch and pace of his voice.

"I saw them pitching an IR strobe back and forth with some bad guys," Foo offered uneasily, "but that was fairly early into things if my memory serves..."

Shadow closed his eyes and seemed to meditate for a moment. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes and pointed down the main road and took off at a brisk pace. The rest of the pilots followed suit. After a short jaunt through the harder hit parts of the village and a few smoldering frames of buildings that no longer existed, Shadow slowed his jog and started looking around in a more measured manner.

"Do you... Do you think they didn't make it?" Foo asked as everybody stopped and spread out as they conducted individual searches of the surrounding area. He peered into a pile of cinders and ash that previously was the wooden walls and floors of the building, hoping he didn't see any evidence of a corpse. The heat from the pile of coals was still surprisingly intense despite there not being any flames present, and it forced him to squint his eyes and shy away slightly. His vision shimmered as the heat distorted the air. He held his breath as he attempted to scan the farthest corner of the building before bailing out, and his heart stopped.

A blackened hand frozen in the rictus of death was sticking out of the smoldering rubble, attached to a body still hidden beneath the cinders. The blackened skin was cracked, displaying red streaks of cooked sinew beneath.

A gentle breeze kicked up, sending the smoky smell of cooked nerf steak into Foo's nostrils. His gag reflex overwhelmed him. He fell backwards with watering eyes as he attempted to hold onto the contents of his stomach, retching loudly on his hands and knees.

"What is it?" Frosty asked, finally catching up to the group with his still smarting ankle. His eyes flitted between a vomiting Foo and the burnt pile of rubble he'd just looked in and saw the hand. His visage hardened and he sighed sadly.

"He ok?" Silence asked Frosty as she knelt next to Foo to examine him. "What's wrong?"

Frosty didn't answer. He nodded once in the direction of the grisly sight.

"Frell! Guys? I think we found one of them..."

"Which one?" Dragon called out while looking over his shoulder, pushing open the splintered remains of a door. Silence's tone chilled him to the bone, and he continued walking into the building as he looked over his shoulder toward the others, not noticing the deteriorated status of the floor of the building he was entering.

"I... I can't tell..."

Dragon's foot came down to empty air, and his body tumbled end over end as he cursed loudly.

To be concluded...