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Magnificent 9- Part 3
By: Bulldog
Contributions from: Foo, Dragon and Silence, Loth Cat, and Shadow

Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bearcat

Bearcat awoke with a start as somebody fell on top of him. He snarled and went into combat mode, deploying his claws and scurrying out from under the pile of rotted, splintered wood that had covered him when he fell through the floor last night. His hands fell to his hip, but his blaster was not secured in his holster. Instantly he remembered the blow that sent him into the basement, and the two meaty arms that sent him through the floor last night. He had no idea if his blaster was down here in the dank cellar or outside in the alley.

Dust motes and wood particles filled the dark basement, with only one lance of light knifing through the middle of the room from the broken main doorway. The sound of wood splintering and scraping emanated from the other end of the basement, alongside a few muttered curses.

Bearcat growled and crouched down, his leg muscles coiling in preparation for a pounce. While being silent would be beneficial in this instance, the Cathar DNA that made up his being called upon him to give a warning growl to give his opponent a chance to disengage, surrender, or prepare for honorable single combat.

The figure was cursing as more sounds of shuffling movement came from their position. The detritus of the floor debris shifted loudly as the figure was still trying to make sense of what had just happened to them. If they heard Bearcat's warning growl, they made no sign that they planned to heed it.

Bearcat let loose a war yowl and lunged through the air with his fingers splayed out to plunge them deep into his prey. His prey sidestepped the assault and responded with a whirling fist of his own, forcing Bearcat to duck as he lashed out with a low side-kick. The mystery person caught the kick at his ankle and threw the blow away, sending Bearcat skidding off to the side of the room on a pile of splintered wood.

In the dark, relying on his ears and night sight, he attempted to swipe his claws at his prey to press his sensory advantage, but each attack of his was either deflected or blunted by his opponent, and this exchange ended similarly to the last, with one of his strikes being caught and his momentum being used to throw him across the room. Bearcat rose quickly and roared as he lunged through the air again, hoping to catch the man before he was prepared.

The sound of his lunge drew the attention of his opponent, who instantly rolled forward and underneath Bearcat's attack. The roll brought him up inside the one lance of light, and a wicked looking knife with a curved blade in a backhand grip.

Bearcat focused on the man's face and instantly relaxed. "Drrragon?"

Dragon squinted into the darkness at the sound of his voice. He didn't fully relax, but he stood up and exited his combat crouch and sheathed his knife. "Bearcat?"


Dragon bit out an angry curse in an ancient language Bearcat didn't understand. "We thought you were dead!"

Bearcat stepped forward to share the light with Dragon and shook his hand. "Not dead. Not yet."

"That's a relief," Dragon said as he looked up and shouted out for some help.

Bearcat's heart suddenly seized and he gripped Dragon's shoulders tightly with both hands. "Blue! Vherrre is Cho?"

Dragon winced at the strength of Bearcat's grip, but did not recoil as he looked deeply into the Cathar's yellow eyes and shook his head from side to side. "We don't know yet."

Bearcat released Dragon's shoulders and snarled angrily into the air in a gesture of futility and frustration. He looked around the room quickly, and then jumped onto the wall, digging his claws into the hardened clay to gain purchase as he made fast work of climbing to the next level, where he levered himself out of the ruined doorway Dragon had walked and fallen through.

"Nice!" Dragon cheered, walking to the same wall and holding his hands up. "Give me a lift!"

Bearcat stormed off into the light without looking back, hunting around for the rest of the team. Dragon's curses and calls for aid faded as his ears focused on the ambient noises he was sifting through to find a hint of Blue's voice.

Bulldog came skidding to a halt nearby, but his shouted questions were unintelligible as Bearcat continued to scan the area. His eyes zeroed in on the building he and Blue had been heading to last night when they were ambushed, finding it a smoldering pile of charred coals. Nearby, Foo was still retching as Silence tended to the sick pilot, and Frosty was still staring into the pile of burnt wreckage with a set jaw.

Loth-Cat and Shadow ran by with a nod as they and Bulldog were drawn to Dragon's shouts for help, still stuck in the basement that Bearcat had been incapacitated in for the night. The three pilots began working out a way to reach the trapped Renegade.

Bearcat's hearing returned to the surrounding area as he'd finished his auditory scan and found no sign of Blue. He stormed forward to see what Frosty was staring at, and hissed in surprise as the grisly burnt hand came into view.

"Hey man," Frosty said flatly as he kept his eyes on the protruding hand.

"Hi," Bearcat huffed as he sniffed the air cautiously. The sound of his sniff sent Foo into another fit of nausea.

"We thought this was you," Frosty said, nodding toward the hand. "Guess it must be..."

Bearcat sniffed more deeply, the smell of cooking flesh not affecting him nearly as much as it was his human compatriots. The scent markers that he'd come to know being in such close quarters with the Renegades, especially somebody as close to him as Blue had been, were not present. His brow furrowed as he attempted to parse through everything his enhanced nasal receptors were picking up. He wasn't sure if the cooking and crisping of flesh would completely remove those scent markers, but previous history on his home planet of prey that had been hunted by smell and cooked still carried the scent, albeit slightly different.

He leaned in as close as he dared, not wanting any of the hair on his face to ignite due to the intense heat and inhaled the smells of charcoal and burnt flesh more deeply.

"Why— hurk— is he— hurk—" Foo choked out, finally succumbing to his nausea and unloading the contents of his stomach. Silence recoiled slightly to avoid having vomit splattered on her boots, but still kept a close distance to offer what relief she could.

Bearcat's eyes widened as his brain sifted through the nasal data and came to a definitive conclusion.

"Not herrr."


Toseng Dusttown Village
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog helped Shadow and Loth-Cat as they managed to find a suitable length of rope to lower down into the cellar for Dragon to grab. After a few minutes of searching, the actual task took seconds as the nimble Corsair pulled himself out of the wrecked building quickly.

Muttering a brief thanks, Dragon took off toward Bearcat and started laying into the Cathar as he was attempting to divine something with his nose and ears. "You don't leave somebody behind like that! Especially a Renegade!"

"Hey man, relax," Frosty soothed, putting a firm hand into Dragon's chest to push him away from Bearcat. "He's just worried about his friend."

"Imagine if it was me that was missing," Silence added, still tending to Foo. The downed Buccaneer seemed to be over his nausea and was now working through some tears that had streaked through his soot-covered face. He was muttering something quietly over and over to himself as he attempted to soothe himself. Clearly the state of the village and recent discovery of the cooked corpse had dredged up some dark memories from his previous service.

"I don't care about that," Dragon bit out, cursing again in an ancient language nobody else recognized as he brushed Frosty's hand away. "You. Don't. Leave. A. Man. Behind."

Bulldog put his bulk between the two pilots and leveled a stern gaze on Dragon, who didn't back down one millimeter. Both men stood almost nose to nose, breathing heavily. Their hot breath washed over each other's faces. "Back it down, Captain," Bulldog said in a soft but solid tone. "It's over. Let it go."

Dragon broke eye contact and looked past Bulldog to glare at Bearcat once more, but then shook his head and stormed off a few paces angrily cursing under his breath. Silence moved away from Foo and started quietly talking to Dragon.

Shadow walked quietly into the clearing and tapped Bearcat on the shoulder. The Buccaneer turned around and accepted the blaster Shadow had offered in both hands, nodding in thanks. The sleek chrome of the WESTAR-34 reflected the growing dawn light, blinding those in attendance accidentally as the reflections flashed into their eyes. Bearcat holstered the weapon quickly and muttered an apology.

"You said 'not her'," Frosty said, breaking the silence as he looked back at Bearcat. "What did you mean?"

"That," Bearcat said, gesturing toward the burning hand, "is not Cho."

"Then where is she?" Loth-Cat asked, looking around with frenzied eyes. They cupped both hands to their mouth and shouted. "Blue!"

Bulldog watched sadly as his usually exuberant subordinate continued to shout with increasing pitch and frequency as they became more frantic and worried. He stepped forward and reached out, placing a calming hand on the youth's shoulder to quiet them. Loth-Cat turned around, tears in their wild eyes as they internally fought with refusing to accept Blue was lost while also accepting that she may be gone for good. After a few seconds of gazing into each other's eyes, Loth-Cat broke down and allowed themselves to be enfolded into an embrace. They sobbed quietly as they buried their face into Bulldog's shoulder, who looked straight ahead with a set jaw.

A chorus of urgent message alerts filled the air, startling all in attendance and forcing Loth-Cat to release the embrace to look at their datapad. Their eyes widened as they read the message, looking around to see if everybody else had received the same message.

"Urgent recall, situation... Rancor?" Frosty read aloud, his inflection rising at his confusion. Clearly he was still very new to the Corsair Squadron executive officer gig, as he didn't recognize the code.

"I got it too," Shadow said, holding up his datapad.

"It means we need to RTB immediately because of an impending threat," Dragon replied. "All of us need to go. Right now."

"Not... all of us," Bulldog said haltingly.

Loth-Cat looked back at their XO in confusion. "If you're planning to stay, then I'm staying too, Sir. I'm not leaving Blue!"

Bulldog held up a hand to forestall any arguments or comments. "I didn't get the alert," he said, holding up his still silent datapad. "I guess it's only for active duty pilots."

Silence stepped forward, her face scrunched in thought. "Well, I suppose you wouldn't be breaking any orders by staying behind and continuing to search for Blue, Captain."

Bulldog nodded in agreement, and then leveled a steely gaze at Loth-Cat. "I won't come back until I find her."

"How will you get back, Captain?" Foo asked.

Bulldog scratched his head a moment before remembering how he'd arrived. "I'll take the skimmer back once I find her. If she's in no condition to fly, we'll pick her B-wing up after I get her back to base."

Foo nodded haltingly at the reply, but clearly had been hoping to be ordered to remain behind as a transport. The rest of the pilots started to move back toward their ships slowly, except for Bearcat who remained rooted to the same spot.

"I'm not going," Bearcat said definitively as he crossed his arms. "Not vithout Blue."

"If he's not going, I'm not going!" Loth-Cat replied obstinately.

"You're all coming back," Dragon replied sternly, asserting his rank for the first time since he'd arrived. "The Vigilant needs all of us. I don't like leaving Blue behind in this instance, not one bit, but we need to do what's best for the entire group in this case."

Bearcat snarled and bared his fangs, spreading his feet to shoulder length and crouching slightly in a challenge pose. The pilots in attendance all froze as they were unsure how to deal with the uncomfortable situation. Loth-Cat, lacking the natural sharp features of the Cathar race, opted to ball his fists and spread his feet into a hand to hand combat form. The two of them glanced at each other briefly, surprised at the similar reaction the other had displayed. They both nodded subtly and then stared daggers back at Dragon.

Silence stepped between Bearcat and Dragon once again, holding her arms out between the two and shifting her body slightly to block Loth-Cat as well. "Let's just let the Buccaneers fall under Captain Clark's jurisdiction on this one. What do you say, Captain Arcfire?"

"I don't like it," Dragon replied quietly. "Not one bit."

"Think of it this way," Frosty started jovially. "It falls on Captain Clark's head if one or more of his pilots refuse the recall order."

Dragon relaxed slightly, but it was clear he still wasn't happy with the idea of some pilots flouting their responsibilities. A crowd of Zabrak villagers were approaching cautiously while the debate had raged amongst the pilots, remaining a polite distance away while the argument had been going on but now coming closer again now that the verbal sparring had ceased.

Bulldog beckoned Foo closer with a subtle hand gesture. As the other pilot neared, Bulldog leaned in close and spoke barely above a whisper. "Make sure you take the kid back no matter what. I don't want them to tank their career over this, and I also don't know what we might find... if anything."

Foo backed away and nodded subtly to acknowledge the message. Around him, villagers had started saying their thank you's and goodbye's to the various pilots that had helped liberate their village. Hands were shaken and embraces exchanged, and the Renegades acted in varying ways to the adoration and adulation being thrust upon them.

Bearcat's eyes shot open, and he gasped in surprise as his head whipped around in the same direction of the far-off cave system. "Therrre!"

"What?" Bulldog asked.

"I picked up herrr scent on the vind. It's faint. Ve must hurrry!"

Tarla stepped closer, an urgent look in her eyes. "If you are planning to go to the old lava caves, please allow us to aid you."

Bearcat subtly shook his head, giving Bulldog the confidence to reply the way he'd felt. He put a kind smile on his face and laid a hand gently on her shoulder. "We work better alone. More bodies mean less of a chance of surprise."


"We'll have a better chance of success on our own."

"My husband!" Tarla blurted out urgently, unable to finish her thought as a look of abject terror and worry filled her features.

"Ve vill find him," Bearcat rumbled reassuringly.

Bulldog nodded in agreement. "We'll get him back. We'll get them all back."

The rest of the Renegade pilots jogged to their parked fighters. Foo was moving slower, and Loth-Cat hadn't moved one inch. Tears in their eyes were flowing freely. Foo jogged back and put a reassuring hand on their shoulder, pulling them back toward the waiting U-wing. Loth-Cat struggled weakly against Foo's guiding hand, but the elder pilot increased the force of his tugging and managed to get the younger Buccaneer moving.

Loth-Cat's voice broke as he was led away by Foo. "Bring her back! Don't you leave her behind!"


Toseng Plains
POV: Loth-Cat

The engine of the U-Wing wasn't enough to shut off the worries and fears that plagued Loth-Cat's mind. The support ship was moving fast, but the young pilot stood still, staring at the buttons on the control panel, their eyes still watering and their cheeks still wet.

Of course, Foo couldn't just ignore the state of his partner, no matter how awkward things could get; a fellow Buccaneer is family. "Alright, time to be the Captain," Foo said to himself as he casually lowered the speed at which the U-wing was moving. "So, about the rookie... Blue. Think you're gonna be okay?" he asked, not as smoothly as he expected it to sound.

Loth-Cat shrugged helplessly. "I just want to know if she's okay. I trust the Captain, and..." their voiced cracked so they had to stop for a second, "Bearcat is our best tracker by far so..." they said, but it sounded like they were telling that to themselves instead of Foo, almost convincing themselves that Bulldog and their Cathar squadmate would bring her back.

"Kid, I know this is not what you want to hear right now but, what if they don't find her... soon? I mean it could be a while, plus we don't know what we're getting called for right now," said Foo, being completely honest with Loth-cat, yet trying not to make things worse.

"If that's the case then, I'll make sure to do my job quick and go find her myself, " said Loth-cat, trying to show strength and pride where there was nothing but fear and doubt.

"Even so," Foo insisted, "even if you go there and search the entire kriffing planet, maybe you won't like what you'll find. You have to be ready, kid. We all have to be ready for the worst constantly. It's part of the job. You need to keep fighting, we need to keep fighting. And... no matter what, you keep finding something to fight for."

Loth-cat was pensive. They understood every word Foo said to them, but they knew in their heart that they weren't capable of doing so. They weren't as strong as Foo, or Bulldog, or Bearcat. After a long, thoughtful pause, they spoke. "When I left my home, I left everyone I knew behind. I don't know if they are even alive," their voice started to break as they spoke, "but I left so I could fight for them, for their freedom. And what have I accomplished so far? I've killed a lot of imps, and I've seen a lot of wingmates die, their screams carved in my head. And I can't go back now, not until it's over. There were times I wondered 'why the Force allows me to keep living?' And here comes this girl, just as naive as I was, and the first thing I wanted to tell her was to leave, go home, I can't go back to mine. Then she became my home, you know?" Tears came down their face once again.

"And what if she's gone?" Foo asked in a soothing and yet sad way.

"If she's gone, then... What more could I lose?"

It felt like the whole cockpit became dark after those words, Foo couldn't keep looking at Loth-cat in the eye anymore. He felt every word they said and he wanted to do everything to help them, but he simply couldn't. The ship arrived at its destination. They had to pick themselves up, they had a mission ahead even though they didn't know what it was yet.


Toseng Caves
POV: Bulldog

"You know if you don't go back with them, you can kiss your shot at Rogue goodbye," Bulldog huffed as he and Bearcat had made quick work of the trek to the cave system from the village. Their pace had been practical, as they didn't want to be visible out in the open expanse of the sparsely vegetated field. While using the skimmer or the snub fighters would have been faster, the sound of their engines would have given up the element of surprise they were hoping to achieve by taking the attack to the gang's home.

"I do not carrre."

"You just got a promotion to Lieutenant a few weeks ago."

"Then I guess I have rrroom to be busted back down."

Bulldog grimaced. Every attempt throughout their trek to convince Bearcat to return to base as ordered was being ignored or deflected. Still though, he had to try to save his subordinate from pitching his career into the trash compactor. "I can do this myself."

Bearcat looked at him from the side of his eyes and snorted with amusement. "No, you cannot."

Anger bubbled up within Bulldog's chest, but he held his composure. "I can order you—." Bearcat's hand planted itself firmly on his chest, cutting off his reply. He swallowed the rest of his words as he crouched down next to his subordinate, knowing that the Cathar senses of smell and hearing were much more refined and accurate than his. Instead of vocalizing a question that might have tipped off their quarry, he scanned their surroundings intently.

The flat field they'd been crossing had given way to a craggy, dusty sloping hill. Outcroppings of weathered rocks provided ample hiding places and possible ambush opportunities, and smaller exposed rocks were abound to trip over or roll an ankle if you weren't careful. There were too many defilades to visually cover properly, and it filled Bulldog with dread. He wished that not only had the rest of the pilots ignored the recall order, but that they also had a squad of the Night Train marines or Bex's Bastards to help clear the approach safely. The thought of not having the hulking Besalisk Bex Udigg leading the charge shook his confidence in his chances of surviving this endeavor. Even having a gaggle of untrained Zabraks, as Tarla had offered, seemed like a good idea to him.

Bearcat's ears twitched, and he directed his nose in multiple directions as he attempted to divine the source of the alert he'd felt. After a few moments, he nodded toward one outcropping in particular that was piquing his senses.

Bulldog followed Bearcat's eyes and drew his blaster. Bearcat likewise pulled out his blaster and looked back into his eyes for his cue. Bulldog motioned for Bearcat to stay put and cover him with his hand. Bearcat attempted to disagree silently, his eyes hardening and his head shaking vehemently, but Bulldog didn't give him time to press his case as he levered himself out from behind their hiding spot and moved as quickly and quietly as he could on the loose, rocky surface.

More than once he'd stepped on rocks that appeared to be solidly in the ground but were loosely covered by powdery sand and immediately went tumbling down the hill, creating a racket as they went. Wincing at the loss of the element of surprise, he pumped his legs, splitting his attention both at his destination as well as where he was placing his feet. His blaster wavered in various directions as he attempted to cover everywhere at once while also closing the rest of the distance as fast as possible.

He grunted as he reached the target outcropping and levered himself over the top with his free arm, hoping that the direct vault would surprise somebody assuming he'd come from either side of the rocks. His eyes locked onto the only thing he saw that wasn't a part of the natural landscape, and his blaster locked onto it at his hip as he prepared to defend himself.

Bulldog's eyes widened as his mind raced to process the sight before him. He stood there out in the open on top of the rock feature he'd rushed, frozen by the unnaturalness before him. His finger slowly released the pressure on the trigger of his blaster as he continued to process the horror he was witnessing. His mouth hung open as his brain rebelled, refusing to make the mental connections to clarify what his eyes beheld. He made the perfect target for any sniper that may be watching the area, but his muscles were frozen with dread despite the thundering in his chest from his racing heart.

What looked like the remains of a humanoid stood before him, propped up by stakes and ropes. The skin had been removed in almost all places with meticulous care and skill to expose ropy muscle tissue interwoven with stringy blood vessels and sinewy tendons. The only place where the skin hadn't been removed fully was the face, with bits of dull white bone visible from the cheeks, forehead, and top of the skull.

A small ring of horns stuck out from the remaining skin patches around the top of the cranium, which made the proper connections in his mind to identify the species of the trussed up corpse.

Crunching footsteps approached rapidly from behind, jarring him from his trepidation-induced paralysis. He swung his head around and his blaster tracked the new arrival, but again his finger relaxed as his eyes fell upon his Cathar companion. The mask of abject horror was still on his face, drawing a questioning look from Bearcat as he started to round the rock he was currently perched upon.

"Get down, Captain!" Bearcat snapped as he rounded the rock and tugged Bulldog's arm to bring him down from the rock and back under the relative cover of the new rock. Before he could ask what caused Bulldog to freeze up, his nose twitched and his head snapped violently toward the flayed Zabrak. He snarled angrily as he shook his head, as if it would remove the memory of what he'd just looked upon. After a moment, he looked back upon the body with a hard look in his eye. "Who?"

"A villager," Bulldog said grimly.

The corpse coughed dryly, and the corresponding muscle groups rippled and contracted with the movement. The action was quickly followed by a soft cry of pain.

Their eyes widened as they realized the Zabrak was still alive. They closed the remaining distance quickly despite the roiling in their stomachs urging them to go the opposite direction. Neither touched the trussed up man, as every bit of his nervous system was exposed and would likely cause more pain and suffering. "Sir?" Bulldog asked softly.

The Zabrak's lidless eyes rolled lazily in their direction and the muscles all across the body tensed. His cheek muscles pulled taut as he winced in pain again at all of the activity of his exposed muscles. His head attempted to rise, but the skinned alien was too weak for the effort and his head drooped again. A raspy whisper emanated from the man that was barely audible above the wind.

"What was that?" Bulldog asked, leaning in closer.

"He said 'kill me please'," Bearcat said solemnly.

Bulldog stepped back and regarded the flayed alien grimly. Bugs had started to crawl in and out of the crevices of exposed muscle tissue. He had no doubt that the microfauna of Toseng had already set up camp in even deeper places his eyes couldn't see. His hazy medical mind was only good for fleshwounds or other fractures, but he was fairly certain this man wouldn't last much longer in the state he was in. He was honestly shocked that he'd lasted this long and hadn't died of shock during the skinning process.

"What do we do?" Bearcat asked, looking everywhere except at the sorry Zabrak.

Bulldog pursed his lips as he thought about any possible aid they could render that would save the man's life, but was coming up short. "We do as he wishes," Bulldog said quietly. "No amount of Bacta in the universe could fix this."

Bearcat nodded and pointed his WESTAR-34 at the Zabrak's head. "A quick death."

Bulldog slammed his hand down on top of Bearcat's gun and stopped him from executing the pitiful man. "Quietly."

Bearcat frowned. "It's going to be more painful this way," he said as he deployed his claws in his free hand. "Are you sure?"

Bulldog nodded, as did the Zabrak. As he looked up, he saw some sort of avian species circling in the sky, no doubt waiting for the two of them to leave so they could make a meal out of the dying alien. He was unfamiliar with Zabrak death customs, yet he felt guilty that they would be forced to leave the body to scavengers rather than bury it.


Bearcat stepped closer and looked into the dusty, scratched lidless eyes of the Zabrak with pity. He didn't rest a reassuring hand on the man, as that would likely cause him even more pain and anguish without skin to protect his nerves and muscles.

"T-t-t-t... T-torsten..."

Bulldog's eyes shot open once he processed the word, and instantly he felt more rage than sadness well up deep within him. When he'd first encountered Tarla and Torsten in the city alley, she had mentioned that her husband was taken recently. The fact that he was trussed up and skinned alive means that they likely took him for this very purpose, rather than doing this as punishment for refusal to work or do other tasks as something like this is no expedient process.

Bearcat rested the claws on his pointer finger and thumb gently on each side of the man's neck, eyeing the two jugular veins as they weakly throbbed as they transported blood from the brain and face. He noticed the two dilated areas and decided to sever them at the superior and inferior bulbs. He tensed as he prepared to draw his fingers together to slice through the veins.

"Tarlaaaaaaaghhhhhh." The name ended in a raspy whisper followed by a wet death rattle.

Blood dribbled out of the two severed veins after Bearcat's claws finished their job. The Zabrak's head bobbed a few ties, and then drooped forward as the life left within him finally ebbed away.

The two Buccaneers regarded the dead man solemnly for a few moments silently. Suddenly, Bulldog tugged Bearcat's shoulder and pointed toward the cave entrance they hadn't seen before, having been distracted by the warning display they had just dealt with. "Let's go kill all these karking schuttas."

"And find Blue."



Toseng Caves near Dusttown
POV: Bearcat

The two men carefully crept into the cave, but both were angry. It was not the most ideal mindset for an infiltration, as their clouded minds would likely miss a life-saving detail or telltale sign of a trap.

Bearcat worked hard to tamp down on his rage so he could bring his other senses to the forefront. Along the rough hewn walls were power lines and light strips, but they were deactivated, pitching the linear cave into a quickly darkening moonscape. The natural night vision of his species was helpful, but even he couldn't see in a completely pitch-black environment, which their path was quickly turning into.

They'd discovered and subsequently disarmed one tripwire already, which would have triggered a shaped charge to blast large chunks of rock into them from either side of the passageway. Still, without light, they wouldn't likely find the next one. But they also didn't want to activate their flashlights, as they would be a beacon in the dark that would direct all fire from any hidden enemies that may be lying in wait.

Bearcat held out an arm across Bulldog's chest to stop the man before he could move in any further. Bearcat was having difficulty seeing things this far into the cave, so he knew his human counterpart was completely blind or nearly there. He looked around for any sort of indication of a trap or other pathway. His eyes once again fell upon the power cables running along the ceiling of the passageway. He noticed some cables branched off at a 90-degree angle from the rest and buried themselves into the face of the wall, which perplexed him.

Fearing another trap, he gently pushed Bulldog back a few paces and then moved closer to the wall to examine the cabling, running his fingers near there until he felt the tiniest of gaps in the wall against his fingertips. He carefully pushed a claw into the gap and ran it along the seam, finding what appeared to be a hidden door. The seam ran from the floor, to just under the cables, then across and back to the floor.

Confident in his assessment, he began probing various parts of the wall to see if there was a hidden switch or lever. He found a loose rock that was seemingly attached to the wall when it shouldn't be due to gravity, and wrapped his fingers around the weathered round shape. It felt different than the rest of the wall, emboldening his actions.

"Either I'm about to open a hidden door, or blow myself up," he whispered.

"Oh, great," Bulldog responded drolly. The sound of his boots slowly taking a few steps back punctuated the reply.

Bearcat took a deep breath and turned the knob he'd discovered. A faint click responded, and the door slowly pulled away as the wall seemed to retract inward. After a meter or so, the slab of rock was pulled into a side alcove inside the smaller passageway to permit entry.

A soft light from deeper within this new passage bathed it in a yellowed tinge. It allowed Bearcat to examine the walls and floors of this new passage with more clarity, seeing no visible traps or tripwires awaiting any who enter. He looked back over his shoulder and noticed none of the light from this new passage was spilling out into the main hallway they were currently traversing. "Not a bomb," he whispered.

Bulldog's footsteps crunched loudly on the loose ground as he approached and drew up alongside his partner. "That's good. So what do you think?"

Bearcat cocked an ear toward the opening and strained to hear over the pounding of his own pulse, but could not identify anything. He gave a quick head shake.

Bulldog stood motionless while his face was deep in some sort of mental debate. Eventually, he shrugged and then stepped inside the smaller passageway and slowly made his way deeper into their new path.

Bearcat noted the size of the Captain and how much clearance there was, indicating that a species much larger than he or the human could fit comfortably within. After doing his own mental calculus, he also shrugged and followed the Bulldog into the new passage.


Toseng Cave Complex
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog cursed the loose layer of dust and pebbles that seemed to litter every floor of this cave complex. Every booted step of his was accompanied by a scratching and grinding noise that seemed to echo off the walls for eternity to announce their presence.

Still, he attempted to keep his pace relatively relaxed, so that sound itself didn't raise any alarms to anybody that may be nearby. A measured cadence of grinding sounds surely had to be a common occurrence in a place like this, so a slow and skulking pace or hurried pace would surely draw more attention. It was counter to every instinct he had that was telling him to slow down and pay attention to every sound or sight detail.

He and Bearcat continued following this winding one-way passage for longer than he'd have liked, noting multiple straight stretches where one single guard around the corner or in a small dugout in the wall could burn them down before they had a chance to retreat. Each time they reached the end of such a stretch, there was no guard around the corner and no pieces of the wall dug out for a guard to conceal themselves in. He thanked his lucky beard that the training and discipline of this swoop gang was extremely lax.

Or, more likely, was that this place seemed like a ghost town because they'd taken innumerable casualties in the battle for Dusttown, which filled him with a feeling of deep satisfaction. His vengeance was not sated yet, however, as Tarla's flayed husband outside of the cave fueled his rage. The dull light of the singular yellow light strip along the wall was enough to see, but not enough to make out any other detail, but there hadn't been anything aside from walls, a ceiling, and a floor to examine.

That changed as the next bend in the lengthy tunnel opened up suddenly into a large room. Bulldog had been mentally numbed by the walk that he didn't recognize the change in scenery until Bearcat gripped his shoulder tightly and spun him around, holding a finger up to his lips.

Bulldog closed his mouth and swallowed the curse he was about to let fly as he noticed the fatal error he'd almost made. This room was dimly lit, less than the tunnel. Along the walls were cots in various states of dishevelment, their bedrolls mostly ruffled or half-hanging onto the dusty floor.

Farther down, some of the cots appeared to have occupants. None were moving, so they were either sleeping or otherwise incapacitated. Bulldog lifted his blaster to reassure himself, but Bearcat's hand came down on his this time, indicating that silence is the better course of action. Bulldog nodded in agreement, but made a kill gesture with his free hand, running it across his neck.

Bearcat nodded curtly as he holstered his blaster. Once both hands were free of weapons, he deployed his retractable claws and crept closer to the nearest motionless cot occupant. He held one hand back in preparation to strike, but lowered his other hand toward the mouth of the slumbering man to cover it and stifle a call for help if his strike didn't lead to a clean kill. He frowned though, and hung there for a while unsure what to do.

Bulldog was confused about what was going on, so he approached the other side of the cot carefully so he could look into Bearcat's eyes in an attempt to communicate silently. Once they locked eyes, he mouthed the words: what are you waiting for?

Bearcat drew his claw across his own throat and pointed down at the man in the cot. Looking back up at them was one of the goons that had attacked the town with lifeless eyes. He gently pulled the blanket down, revealing a mess of stomach blaster wounds that had apparently killed the man after he'd been carried back to the hideout.

Instantly he realized that many of the motionless bodies in the cots were casualties from last night's battle rather than sleeping enemies for him to work out his revenge demons. Anger welled up again within his chest as he began to wonder how many of the gang were left for him to kill. It trumped his worry for Blue's condition or whereabouts, which was troubling to his rational brain but instantly dismissed by the animalistic core of his neural matrix. This dead goon wasn't completely worthless, however, as he had a relatively sharp knife in a sheathe on his waist.

Bulldog pulled the knife free, and then went across to the other side of the room. He motioned for Bearcat to check and deal with the ones on his side of the room while he handled the ones on the opposite side. They began moving from bed to occupied bed, checking for signs of life, and then extinguishing that life if it was present.

It was slow work. Creeping carefully from bed to bed as silently as possible, checking for airflow, and then slapping a hand over the mouth of any living beings while simultaneously plunging their knife or claws into and then across their throats. After what felt like an eternity, they reached the other end of the room having bypassed 23 already dead cot occupants while also finishing the job on another 16 wounded and chemically sedated swoopers. Both men were slicked with sweat, and blood was dripping from their weapon arms.

"That felt good," Bulldog whispered gruffly as they came back together near the next passageway.

"Vherrre is Blue though?" Bearcat asked.

Before either could reason out a response, a guttural voice from somewhere far down the main passage drew their attention. Bearcat's ear twitched, as he picked up that same sound from some other ancillary passage that he hadn't noted while he'd been carrying out their last grim task.

"Let's go," Bulldog said, dropping the knife to the floor with a clatter while he drew his blaster once again.

"I think ve should go this vay," Bearcat replied, nodding in the direction of the other passage he'd discovered.

Bulldog wanted no part of taking a roundabout path toward his revenge. There was killing to be done up ahead, and he wanted to get to it the most direct way. "I'm going this way and killing more people. You can go that way if you want."

"Split up?" Bearcat asked, eyes widening in surprise.

"Split up. See you on the other side, Z."


Toseng Cave System
POV: Bearcat

Bearcat watched his XO stalk off down the main hallway with a healthy feeling of disapproval. Clearly the human's rage issues that had landed him in the brig for weeks hadn't been completely resolved by his imprisonment, as he was yet again an unfocused scion of rage.

He thought for a moment to follow at a respectable distance, but the rumbling voices he heard from the ancillary passageway were one in the same with the voices that were drawing Bulldog in like a moth to an open flame. It would be tactically wise to explore the alternate pathway and provide a flanking opportunity if the Captain was storming headlong into an ambush or otherwise untenable situation.

Nodding and muttering a small prayer to psych himself up, Bearcat skulked into the secondary hall and utilized all of his other senses to detect any obstructions in his path. Only once did he have to completely stop and cock an ear forward to double check what had turned out to be the ambient sound of water dripping at a steady cadence from a large cistern.

A roar of anger startled him, and it was quickly followed by muddled words from Bulldog bouncing off the walls. Throwing caution to the wind, Bearcat quickened his pace as he navigated his way by sound to find the disturbance. The voices became clearer and more focused as he moved.

After a few more twists and turns, he found himself perched on a ledge overlooking a large cavern. The floor was only a 10 foot drop from his current position. It was short enough that he could survive it without injury, but high enough that it would not be a silent maneuver. As his eyes followed the floor, he found the source of the voices.

A group of large, four-armed aliens of a species Bearcat wasn't familiar with was in the middle of the room. They were of varying sizes, with one of the mid-sized aliens shielding what appeared to be two youths or adolescents in a terrified embrace. In front of those three stood an even larger alien, arms flexed wide in a challenge as it faced off against Bulldog, who was keeping himself a safe distance away while he trained his blaster on the brute.

Bearcat's chest and stomach smarted suddenly for what seemed to be no reason, until his eyes widened with realization. His mind flashed back to last night when he and Blue were separated. He'd been hit by two hands simultaneously and thrown off his feet and knocked unconscious. No being with two arms could have conceivably done that with enough force to send him airborne.

The voices were louder as the two beings argued, but the acoustics of the cavern still made the words unintelligible. Bearcat looked around the room quickly and saw that he could, with luck, use the stalactites to sort of swing himself across the ceiling to another closer outcropping. He cautiously gripped the nearest conical rock formation and gave a hard tug. Satisfied that there was no give, he mentally mapped out his pathway across the ceiling to reach his next desired perch and started the unorthodox traversal. Only once during the move did he have to stop and choose another handhold as one he planned to use looked much more fragile than it had from his starting point. He reached the new outcropping and gently let himself down, then crouched on his haunches as he finally was able to hear what was being said.

"You're here, which means you're a part of this gang," Bulldog said icily.

"Not by choice," the four-armed alien replied angrily.

"There is always a choice."

The alien looked back over his shoulder at what appeared to be his familial unit, slumping his shoulders sadly, before turning back to face Bulldog. His posture changed to a combat stance, indicating that he was preparing to charge the human pointing the blaster at him.

Bearcat yowled involuntarily as he launched himself feet-first from his perch. All eyes slowly tracked in his direction as he sailed through the air. Before the alien could turn his body, Bearcat's feet impacted between his shoulder blades and sent it stumbling forward. Unfortunately, this threw him directly into his executive officer, sending the human skidding off to the side.

Time sped back up as Bearcat performed a fluid kip-up to regain his footing. He drew his blaster and waved it back and forth between the trio of scared aliens and the angry male that was scrambling back to his feet. Once the alien's eyes settled on Bearcat, the rage changed to fear as he saw the blaster covering his defenseless family. He held two hands out in the universal 'stop' gesture.


Toseng Cave System
POV: Bulldog

Bulldog loosed a string of curses as he regained his footing and trained his blaster back on the hulking Besalisk Bearcat had just taken down out of nowhere. "It ends now."



"We just want to live in peace!"

"You have been seen aiding the gang while they terrorized the villagers," Bulldog scoffed. "You are complicit."

"We had no choice!"

"You said that before."

"They were going to kill us!"

Bulldog's face had been a hardened mask of impassivity up until now, but those words gave him pause. His blaster wavered slightly, but still pointed toward the alien. "Explain. Quickly."

"We used to be more numerous here, but had been methodically... cleansed off the face of the planet," the Besalisk started.

Bulldog nodded. "Yeah, that was in our planetary briefing materials. The Besalisk population was supposed to be completely wiped out."

"Our extended familial unit had made a home in these defunct mining caves, and maintained an insular settlement that involved never leaving the caves. It's the only reason we weren't included in... the purge."

The Besalisk moved closer to his family, slowly to not startle either Renegade into shooting. He put two of his arms around his wife's shoulders, subtly shielding his children with the maneuver. "Then, the human filth found our caves and moved in. We attempted to hide, but they found our lichen gardens by chance and then eventually rounded us up one by one. When the elders refused to cooperate, they were executed."

Bulldog shook his head as if something wasn't sitting right with him. "I've seen our Besalisk SpecFor captain tear somebody in half with his arms. Why didn't you all fight back?"

"We were unarmed, and they were too many, as you witnessed last night."

Bulldog snorted. "Not any more."

The Besalisk nodded and grinned in a predatory fashion. "Not any more, that is true. That is also why we were attempting to flee when you interrupted."

"Rorrax Ux, there is nowhere to go," the female Besalisk spoke up, startling all in attendance. "If we leave, we will surely die!"

"We cannot stay here!" Rorrax replied angrily. "The few gang members remaining will surely press our children into service now that they've lost so much of their numbers. Do you want them to become child enforcers?"

The female closed her mouth, clearly not wishing to retread the argument they'd already circled before Bulldog had interrupted them.

"How many Besalisks remain here?" Bulldog asked, his blaster lowering even more.

"Twenty, exactly," Rorrax replied.

"Captain, I would think these beings would be protected with refugee status by our forces, no?" Bearcat asked, having holstered his blaster completely.

Bulldog grimaced at the ease with which his subordinate had been lulled into complacency. He made sure to keep his blaster at the ready in the event that the Besalisks were working on a deception. "Yes, your people would be safe now that we have taken over."

Distrust flashed across the faces of the two adult Besalisks, though hope quickly overtook Rorrax's features as he stepped forward cautiously. "For all of us?"

Bulldog nodded, but held up a finger. "But first, we have a lost pilot that your masters have brought here."

"The blue-skinned woman," Rorrax nodded. "She is with the new captain in his office as we speak."

"Where is his office? How many enforcers remain with him?" Bearcat asked, his ears perking up at the news of Blue's whereabouts.

Bulldog motioned with his free hand for Bearcat to slow down. The urgent look in the Cathar's eyes worried him. "We need to get her back. She is alive still, yes?"

Rorrax nodded. "She was breathing when I deposited her in the office after carrying her back."

Bearcat hissed, his hand falling back to his blaster. His fangs flashed as his face contorted into a silent rage. "That was you you in the alley?"

"Stand down, flight officer," Bulldog warned. "He is going to help us get her back," he said as he looked into Rorrax's eyes and continued, "aren't you?"

Rorrax's shoulder slumped slightly as he regarded Bulldog carefully. "I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

Bulldog shook his head. "Nope. But, if all goes as planned, your community may not have to leave these caves when I'm done."

"The... only way that would be possible is if they are all dead," Rorrax rumbled ominously.

Bulldog cocked his head and made a conspiratorial grin. "What do you think I've been doing this entire time?"


Toseng Cave System
POV: Bearcat

Bearcat followed at the tail end of a very short processional, fuming about the plan that was being enacted. Or, lack of a plan, if he was being honest with his thoughts. They were walking in a tight, single file line with Rorrax in the front and the two Renegades following closely behind in his footsteps. They were going to follow Rorrax into the office and hope to use his mass profile to mask their presence until they were close enough to deal with the remaining gang members and rescue Blue.

They were also unarmed. The Besalisk had warned them that there was a blaster detection array at the entrance, and if the goal was for him to be their ticket into the room they could not be armed because his species' enforcers were also similarly not allowed to carry blasters inside of the caves. So if Rorrax set off the alarm upon entry, that would be a bigger warning to the remaining gang members than the two Renegades just rushing in with guns blazing.

Of course, being unarmed meant that if Rorrax decided to flip on them and turn them in, they would have zero recourse.

"The office is just up ahead," Rorrax whispered.

"Is it common for you to enter in this manner?" Bearcat asked.

"When summoned, yes."

"Doesn't matter. If they ask why you're here, improvise an excuse," Bulldog snapped.

"I'm terrible at lying."

"We're doomed," Bearcat moaned, grabbing for his nonexistent blaster, remembering for the hundredth time since he'd relinquished it that it was not reassuringly on his hip. He mentally cursed as he focused on keeping himself in lockstep with Bulldog in front of him. Up ahead, a trio of voices was becoming more clear. They would be entering into the middle of either an argument or a heated strategy session.

"You could always turn yourselves in."

Bearcat's heart seized as the sound of Blue's voice cut through the discussion clear as day. It was quickly followed by an angry curse and the loud report of flesh on flesh. Blue whimpered slightly. He quickened his pace, bumping into Bulldog.

"Slow down and stay focused," his captain snapped quietly over his shoulder.

"Quiet!" one of the voices shushed the others. "I hear something coming!"

"It is I," Rorrax rumbled in a resigned voice as he didn't break stride.

"Oh, it's just Meatball," another voice reported in a relieved tone.

"That is not my name," Rorrax grumbled as he entered the room. The two pilots clung to his mass shadow as best they could, hoping the appearance of one of the enforcers would put them at relative ease.

"What is it, Meatball?" A third voice asked disinterestedly. "Can't you mindless four-armed half-wits see when we're busy?"

"The clan," Rorrax started, stumbling as he searched for a plausible excuse, "uh, needs.... Uh..."

"Spit it out, ya thick bonehead!"

Rorrax came to a stop and he stood fully upright. "The four of you cannot speak to us in this manner any longer!"

The tenor of the room changed dramatically. Bearcat saw Bulldog's shoulders tense as their shield just gave away the game. Bearcat likewise felt his muscles coiling in preparation. From the sounds of the four voices, three were nearby while a fourth was farther off. The odds for the two of them, unarmed as they were, were not great.

"Whatchu' say, lamebrain?"

Rorrax let out a slow breath with a hint of a growl. Suddenly, the massive Besalisk lunged forward and wrapped all four of his arms around the nearest swooper, enveloping him completely. He lifted the surprised human off his feet so suddenly the man's boots flew off.

"Krong it!" Bulldog shouted, diving off to the side as he tackled another surprised goon, managing to take the man's back and wrap his legs around his midsection while snaking an arm under his neck. He strained as he thrust his hips forward and pulled his upper body away to add more force to the rear-naked choke he had executed flawlessly.

Bearcat yowled as he lunged in the other direction. His claws shot forth from his fingertips as he homed in on the nearest unoccupied thug. The man was trying to draw his blaster, his eyes wide with shock and fear. The sight of a dreadlocked Cathar soaring through the air directly at him seemed to paralyze his limbs, as once his hand reached his blaster he didn't draw it, instead putting out a bent arm in front of himself in a flimsy attempt to fend off the attack.

Bearcat plunged his fingers deep within the man's chest, his claws driving deep into his lungs and heart. The life quickly drained from the man as Bearcat continued to move his embedded fingers to cause more internal damage. He snarled loudly as he remained on top of his latest kill, and scanned the room for Blue.

Bulldog continued to choke the life out of his opponent with merciless efficiency. Rorrax was roaring as he now had two hands on the man's shoulders and two holding his legs. His face strained with supreme effort as he pulled with all his might, ripping the human in half at the waist in a shower of intestines, blood, and other assorted viscera. The now-freed organs flopped to the ground with wet splats.

"Holy Sith!" Blue shouted, before being silenced again with a quick yelp.

Bearcat homed in on her voice, and growled menacingly once again as he saw the last remaining racketeer had wrapped one arm around her neck while he pointed a blaster at her head with his other hand.

"Stay back or she gets it!" He said frantically as his eyes flitted across the carnage on the other end of the room. A look of horror filled his face as he attempted to work out an angle that kept himself alive.

Bulldog took the blaster out of his now-dead goon's holster and rose to his feet. "You're not leaving this place alive no matter what you do."

Bearcat likewise felt the same, but he hoped the Captain would use a little more tact to preserve Blue's life beyond the next minutes. He rose from his crouch and flicked the blood from his fingers, splattering the floor and the legs of his uniform.

Rorrax stood by impassively, his chest still heaving with a wild excitement at the revenge he'd just dispensed with his bare hands. He looked at them with new eyes, flexing each one in turn.

"I'm serious! Don't come closer! I'm losing it!"

"You blast her, you lose all of your leverage," Bulldog replied darkly, not lowering his newly procured weapon.

"We can work out some sort of arrangement," Blue choked out from her position as a human shield, her hands grabbing the arm around her neck in an attempt to ease some of the pressure.

The last gang member scoffed. "Surrender? Imprisonment? Not happening. If you want her to live, you will let me walk out of this cave, get on my swoop, and leave. That's the deal."

"Not happening," Bulldog said, taking a step forward. Rorrax seemed to agree with him, as he shifted his weight and let a disapproving grumble loose.

"Captain, you're not helping!" Blue pleaded. She shifted her attention to the man holding her hostage. "You just want to leave? I think we can make that work."

"Make your Captain see sense, girl!"

"Captain," Bearcat whispered uneasily.

Bulldog snapped out of the revenge-trance he'd been in, and his posture relaxed. He smiled darkly as he lowered the blaster. "You know what, fine. Leave her, you can go."

The goon barked out a laugh, shaking Blue's body as well. "Good, good. So here's how this is going to play out. We're walking out of this room. You will stay where you are, and the moment I get out, I'll leave the girl and be on my way."

Bulldog bowed sarcastically as he took a step away. Rorrax also stepped aside, clearly not happy with the deal that had been struck.

Blue and her captor slowly walked forward, Blue stumbled, drawing a litany of curses from her captor. "Walk properly, you dumb schutta!"

"You hurt my ankle when you took me last night!" Blue replied pleadingly.

"Walk through the pain!

"I'm trying!"

Bearcat saw his opening the second time they stumbled and were distracted. He lunged forward silently, batting the blaster away with one hand while tearing the other arm away from Blue's neck. Without support, Blue tumbled to the ground. Bearcat stood there for a few seconds, locking eyes with his surprised foe. Without any free hands, he used the only weapon he had readily available.

"Z, no!" Blue shouted from the ground.

Her voice sounded far off while his heartbeat thundered in his ears. The sound of water rushing made a staticy background that flooded out all other sounds aside from another rapid thudding emanating from the neck of the man he was struggling with. He opened his mouth as his eyes zeroed in on the slightest of undulations underneath the man's skin, indicating the jugular vein underneath was pumping blood in adrenaline-fueled overdrive.

He quickly brought his teeth to the skin over the throbbing blood vessel and bit down with all of the force he had, easily slicing through flesh and tendon. With his teeth still clamped down, he rapidly turned his head to the side, tearing out a large portion of the man's throat with him. At the end of the head twist, he opened his mouth to release the flesh within, letting it sail lazily through the air until splatting against the nearby wall. The saltiness of the man's blood remained in his mouth as he stood there panting.

Blood from the new wound sprayed over Bearcat's facial fur and showered Blue at their feet. He stood there motionless as the blood misted around him and released his grip on the man's wrists, while Blue curled up into a ball and attempted to cover her face. The goon toppled over backwards then, a shocked rictus taking over his visage.

Bulldog ambled over slowly and patted Bearcat on the shoulder reassuringly. He then knelt down and began examining Blue's injured ankle. Splitting his attention, he looked at Rorrax. "Can you please retrieve our blasters? We'll be leaving momentarily. The place is yours once again."


Toseng Lava Caves near Dusttown Village
POV: Bulldog

Three bedraggled figures emerged from the darkened mouth of the cave into the dying sunlight of dusk and shielded their eyes. Bulldog's clothes were covered in grime from the damp cave walls and floor. Blue's fatigues were covered in the blood of the last goon standing that had been dispatched viciously by Bearcat with his talons. Bearcat likewise had a healthy spattering of blood on his torn fatigues and exposed fur.

What had once been damp and clung to their skin inside the cave quickly dried and became crusty and stiff the moment they came into the dry exterior plain. Blue still had a limp due to a turned ankle, so she leaned heavily on both pilots as they each had one of her arms draped around their shoulders.

"This sprain is going to take forever to heal," she pouted as she touched her uninjured foot to the ground with each step the trio took.

"Better than a torn out throat," Bulldog said cheerily, keeping an eye on his own footing on the craggy surface.

Blue inclined her head to the side to look at him and laughed bitterly. "It is better than that, that's a fact."

"It could not be avoided," Bearcat growled defensively. The other two pilots felt him tense up immediately.

"Nobody's saying it could have been," Bulldog soothed before yelping, stumbling as he misread the lay of the land. He stepped on a loose rock that looked to be firmly entrenched in the ground, but it quickly had rolled as he put his weight on it. He recovered himself quickly. "It had to be done."

"I could have talked him down," Blue insisted.

"He deserved it," Bulldog said quickly, attempting to fend off a burst of anger from the Cathar. "He had that look in his eye. I've seen it before."

"As have I," Bearcat purred.

"He was scared," Blue protested. "He could have been convinced—"

"Enough," Bulldog snapped as he stopped walking and threw her arm off of his shoulder so he could stand in front of her. "He was going to leave, drum up a new crew, and then come back in force to reclaim his fiefdom. People like that don't deserve second chances."

"But YOU do?" Blue replied back with a bitter, sardonic edge to her voice.

Bulldog's mouth opened as he prepared to return fire with a barbed retort about how naive she was and how he was nothing like the gang of criminals, but it snapped shut just as quickly. He took a calming breath as he tried to gather his thoughts into a more coherent and measured reply. After what seemed like an eternity, he met the dull eyes of Bearcat and the fiery eyes of Blue in turn. "This WAS my second chance, and I blew it when I put everybody in danger again. I don't deserve a third. I expect to be Court Martialed the moment we get back to base for this excursion— for getting multiple Renegades embroiled in a gang war as well as the senseless rage-beating I laid on Talon before."

Blue's anger subsided, being replaced by disbelief. "But look at what you've done with this time, Captain! Yes, you got us into trouble and we could have been killed. But we also saved a village of oppressed people! You accomplished something good and just despite your previous transgressions. Proof that second chances aren't worthless is looking right back at me, and just over your shoulder there is a small village full of people that can breathe easier tonight because of you! You're a hero!"

Bulldog shook his head violently and held out a palm to stop her from continuing. "I'm not a hero, Cho. I—" He was interrupted by the sound of starfighter blaster cannons above them.

The three of them looked upward at the rapidly darkening sky to see a raging battle in the atmosphere above them. Explosions littered the area as New Republic and Imperial fighters flitted amongst the clouds. Just as suddenly as the battle had begun, the firing quickly petered out as the New Republic forces sped off.

"Wonder where they came from..." Bearcat said grimly as he continued to scan the sky.

"Hidden base we didn't find before?" Blue offered weakly.

"Possibly," Bulldog replied as he brought his eyes back to the horizon, seeing more explosions in the direction of the capital city.

"Those looked like A-wings with Corsair markings," Blue said as she trailed off.

"Yeah," Bulldog agreed. "I hope nobody was killed." He nodded his head toward the city and the battle that seemed to be going on over there. "We should hurry back and help."

"I can't fly my B-wing with this ankle, Captain," Blue protested, hanging her head in shame.

Bulldog's jaw set as his dedication to duty took over, all thoughts of his pending discipline and current grounding tossed aside. "I'll take your bird up, and we'll have you drive the skimmer back. We need to hurry," he said as he reached for her free arm.

Bearcat snapped off a hushed curse, his mouth hanging agape as he continued to stare upward.

"Moon goddess preserve us!" Blue lamented with her eyes also skyward, doing another sacred gesture with her free hand.

"What is it?" Bulldog asked nervously as he turned his head around, scanning for an immediate threat to their safety. Seeing none, he looked back to his pilots to see Bearcat pointing upward. Bulldog's gaze followed the finger upward and let loose a long string of curses himself.

An Imperial Star Destroyer scythed through the cloudy sky as it lowered itself into the atmosphere, heading off toward the capital city of Toseng.

To be continued in Resistance