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Part 3

By Bulldog, with contributions from Jalb and Wildcard

Toseng City Skies

Bearcat kicked his ship on its port S-foil to avoid crashing into an apartment building. He'd have slowed down and pulled up, but the TIE fighter down the street was lining up for a strafing run on Blue's crashed cockpit section. Any delay in maneuvering would mean her certain death. As he took in the vista of the street and surrounding buildings whilst sideways, he narrowed his eyes in the distance. A flash of light reflecting off of a cockpit screen gave away the location of his target. He feathered the stick slightly to nudge his nose on an intercept course, and poured shield energy into his engines for the extra boost.

His target was either oblivious to his approach, or felt that the darkness of the night was enough to keep it safe for the strafing run of his downed friend. Whatever his thought process, would end soon enough. Without Bearcat's use of his targeting computer, the TIE wasn't alerted with a target lock, and his only warning of impending doom was the briefest of glimpses of four lasers slamming into his cockpit.

Before Bearcat could cheer, an alarmed warble from his astromech brought his attention back to his sensors. Three more TIEs were angling in from above. As he pulled up to turn into them to reduce their attack time, one of them broke off. "Vherrre is that vone going? Find out what its target is!" he shouted at his astromech.

Bearcat brought his attention back to the two TIEs charging into him. Two sets of dual-linked lasers filled the atmosphere around his cockpit, and a few bolts tickled his forward shields. In return, his quad linked blast broke the starboard solar panel free at the pylon connecting it to the cockpit, sending both it and the rest of the TIE spiraling out of control. Unfortunately his next snap-shot at the other target went high, and both ships passed each other and began turning for another attack.

His astromech finally computed the other TIEs target, and chirruped as it pinged the location and put a text explanation on the console.

The skimmer, laden with all of the recently freed prisoners and moving as slowly as you'd expect an overloaded vehicle to be moving.

Bearcat's heart filled with dread. The TIE he'd just jousted with would be back on him within seconds, but the TIE bearing down on that skimmer would make short work of them, and the entire mission would be a wash. Where he ignored the greater mission before, he now felt a strong feeling pulling him in the direction of that distant TIE.

He slammed the throttle forward, and dumped his last bit of shield energy into his engines to close the distance quickly. Unfortunately, it looked like he might not be quite fast enough, as his target unleashed a stream of fire toward the skimmer.

The skimmer managed to make a slow, juddering turn into a blind alley, narrowly avoiding the walls as well as the trail of green energy zeroing in on their original heading. The TIE slowed as it attempted to make a repulsor-drift turn to finish off the target.

An alert from his astromech reminded him that his other opponent was closing in on him, having shunted laser energy to engines and engaged a boost after him. Bearcat ignored the alert as he focused all of his attention on his rangefinder, again avoiding an active targeting lock to keep the element of surprise.

Green lasers filled the area around him as his pursuer attempted to burn him down. He jinked slightly to the right to give himself a little better angle of attack, and then paused one more moment to close the distance. He squeezed the trigger just as the TIE had managed to slow his momentum and was about to move into the alley to pursue the skimmer. His four laser bolts slammed into the broadside of the TIE's solar panel, slamming it into one of the buildings nearby as it went nova.

Whooping in satisfaction, the thrill of his victory was short-lived as a laser bolt slammed into the aft of his ship. Instantly his power flickered as his ship lost altitude briefly before systems recovered and he was again climbing. His astromech let loose what could only be a string of binary curses as the ship continued to alternate flying under power and falling slightly as power went out.

Thankfully, his erratic flight worked to his advantage as his attacker overshot his position, maneuvering to chase a fully functional X-wing rather than a half-dead one. Bearcat tracked the fighter and squeezed the trigger.

Nothing happened.

"Blast it! I need laserrrs!"

His R5 unit bleated, but suddenly there was a surge of power within the ship.

Bearcat mashed the trigger down again, and was rewarded this time with three of four bolts lancing out and skewering the TIE at the center of its cockpit. There was no explosion, but the pilot was clearly dead as the ship began a lazy, spiraling dive into the distance.

Unfortunately, his cheer was swallowed by the complete loss of power of his own ship. While the X-wing had better atmospheric glide characteristics than most other snub fighters, it was still going to be a rough landing without any sort of repulsorlift to slow his descent. His nose pitched down as the wind buffeted his ship. Without an inertial compensator, he was shoved back into his pilot couch as the G's began to pile up.

"Get ... Rrrepulsorrrs ... online!" He huffed out as breathing became increasingly difficult. He wrenched back the stick as best he could to pull his nose up from the straight nosedive he was in, getting a little help from the flight profile as it came up painfully slowly. He grappled with the 'loud handle' as pilots colloquially called the ejection lever, but without ship power it didn't trigger the sequence. His end fell away and slammed against the back wall of the cockpit as the g-forces pinned his limb there.

The astromech in the back squealed, unable to convey any meaningful speech with the being in the cockpit since the power was out and the Cathar didn't speak binary.

Suddenly, the ship thrummed to life, but it was too late to recover. The repulsors fired up, blunting what would have been an instantly deadly landing and trading it for one that would be more-than-likely deadly. The nose broke through the glass facade of an office building just as the power died out again. The keel of the X-wing skidded across the lobby floor with an ear-splitting squeal. The vibration throughout the ship was constant and vigorous to the point that Bearcat's body went numb with the tactile overload. He roared, but the sound was drowned out by his astromech's wailing and the cacophony of destruction being wrought by his ship's skidding crash.

Directly ahead was a hefty stone sculpture depicting a stylized globe of Toseng. The nose of the ship impacted it head-on, shattering about half the distance up the structure of the ship until all forward momentum was stopped completely.

Bearcat was slammed forward against his restraints hard enough to feel his shoulders crying out, partially dislocated. His head snapped forward against his chest, then rebounded and slammed back into his pilot's couch.

He lay there, dazed and in pain, looking up at the smoke-filled interior of the building he'd just crashed into. He felt blood dribbling from his nostrils, covering his lips and working small rivulets into the fur on his chin. His eyes refused to focus on anything that made sense.

A meek interrogative tootle from his astromech brought him back to the present.

He opened his mouth and gasped, taking some of the copper-tasting blood into his mouth. He attempted to move his arm to unclasp his restraints, but both shoulders appeared to be out of their sockets. He looked down, and saw the unnatural bulge in both arms and snarled. He slammed his right shoulder into the side of his cockpit, and nearly whimpered at the pain as it almost overwhelmed him. His battlefield triage worked, however, as he was able to control his right arm. His numb fingers fumbled with the restraints, managing to unclasp them after a longer than normal amount of time. He then gripped his left shoulder with his right hand and eased it back into its socket, causing much less pain than the other shoulder.

He levered himself gingerly out of his cockpit, wincing at the sight of his thrashed ship as he manually forced the canopy open. Another pitiful beep from the astromech in the socket drew his attention aft, and he clambered over the wreckage to examine his mechanical buddy's plight. With no power to the ship, he wouldn't be able to eject the faithful R5 unit from the socket. He also couldn't manually do it without a full ground crew, a power winch, and probably the jaws of life. The wreckage had all but covered up the very top of the astromech's dome, and the new debris had been melted in such a way that the opening left was not large enough to pull the droid free.

"I can't leave you herrre like this, Rrr-5."

It hooted indignantly, and then trailed off with a wailing sound.

Sounds from the street reached Bearcat's ears. Through the smoke, he spotted white armored stormtroopers making their way into the building gingerly, avoiding the new wreckage as well as being wary of the possibility that the pilot survived.

Bearcat hissed and drew his blaster, taking careful aim. He held his breath and prepared to make his last stand.

The droid beeped quietly, shaking what was visible of its domed head from side to side.

"I can't let them take us alive," Bearcat whispered, as he continued to track his target.

An angry bleat snapped him out of his target-fixation, It also drew the attention of the squad of troopers slowly advancing on the wreckage.

Bearcat took out his datapad, thankful to see that it wasn't destroyed or smashed in the crash. He turned it on and aimed it at the IR port on the domed head of his astromech. "If you've got a plan, I'd love to hear it. Quickly."

Text flooded the screen quickly. Bearcat scanned it as fast as possible, but his brain didn't work at the speed of a droid. His eyes widened when he reached the last word of the message.


Coupled with the snippets he'd managed to read as the message had been transmitted, it was enough to force him into a new course of action. He stumbled down off of the ship, keeping the bulk of the wreckage between him and the advancing stormtroopers to avoid being spotted. Looking around quickly, he found a door that he'd be able to slip into quietly without drawing attention. He made his way there quickly with his head ducked low, managing to reach it and conceal himself in the room beyond just as the voices of the stormtroopers rose in volume.

"Got the wreckage right here, Sarge!"

"Check for survivors, Corporal!"

Bearcat looked around the room he was now in. It appeared to be a backroom of a bank. The wall seemed sturdy enough, meant to repel brute-force robberies. Still, he needed to find another way out of the building. A window high up on the far wall drew his attention, and he made his way there in record time, opening and slipping out of the small casement with all the haste and grace he could muster.

Just as his feet touched the rough pavement of the alley beyond, the entire building shook, and once again Bearcat's hearing was overwhelmed by the sounds of chaos. Smoke and fire rushed out of the window above his head, sending a shower of glass into his dreadlocked hair.

From somewhere on the main entrance of the building, a trooper stumbled out of the inferno, coughing violently as he fell to his knees and tore off his helmet. "The ship exploded. No Rebel survivors, and my entire squad is down. We need medical!"

Bearcat got his bearings, and then slinked off in the darkness toward Blue's location. His droid's sacrifice had bought him the element of surprise.


Toseng City Streets

Bulldog saw Bearcat's X-wing crash into a building even farther down the street, past Blue's crash site. He put his datapad to his mouth and whispered loudly. "Five, report!"

Static responded.

He put the device back into his hip pocket and rushed forward as safely as he could manage while staying somewhat concealed. He was still unarmed technically, as his blaster was completely empty. He hadn't been able to appropriate any of the blasters from the dead garrison as the prisoners picked them up as they made their escape.

He came to a skidding stop. The bodega in front of him was aflame, yet another unfortunate piece of collateral damage the people of Toseng had to bear. Unfortunately for Bulldog, it obstructed his relatively clear path in the shadows along this side of the street to reach Blue's still deserted crash site three blocks away.

He looked around quickly, and made a dash across the street as fast as he could. He skidded to a stop, slamming against the facade of a restaurant with his shoulder gently. His heart thundered in his chest and ears, obscuring his ability to listen closely to see if he was spotted, or if he heard any signs of a nearby patrol. Thankfully, he'd side slipped the first responders to the prison, hiding in the shadow of an alley as a stormtrooper platoon and more imperials with firefighting gear ran down the middle of the street. He kept expecting more to come his direction, but no other enemies appeared after that first major group.

He examined his surroundings. This side of the street provided much less darkness for him to slink along than the other side, as the street lights that still functioned were posted up on the opposite side, and less overhang shielded him from the lights across the street. He shook himself loose and rose to his full height. Before he could take a step, however, the sound he'd been hoping he wouldn't hear came into focus.


The staccato thundering of another platoon of black-clad troopers on the pavement came to an instantaneous halt. All of the troopers aimed their BlasTech E-11 blaster rifles in his direction. They all seemed to be ready for any sort of movement, almost hoping for it so they could set their target alight with the full might of their blasters.

"Hands up!"

Bulldog froze in place. He knew the score immediately, and even IF he had ammunition for his blaster, he wouldn't be able to draw fast enough to even get one trooper before they literally reduced him to ash.

Rough hands gripped his shoulders and dragged him out into the center of the street, and the troopers crowded around him as if they all wanted to get a good look at a rebel close up. Somebody elbowed him in the gut, buckling his knees slightly. The platoon rippled with laughter as they watched him grip his stomach. The nearest trooper put the cold barrel of his blaster against the crown of Bulldog's head.

"Well I'll be a Reek's uncle," a familiar voice guffawed. "Of all the gin joints in the galaxy..."

Bulldog tensed up at the sound of the voice. He turned his head slowly and saw the murderous grin of Wrant, mouth open and full of teeth. The man was clad in black armor similar to his men. He sighed. "Of course it's you."

"You're in for a world of hurt, Rebel scum," Wrant replied, elbowing Bulldog in the stomach roughly.

As the pilot fell to his knees with the blow, he looked up in time to see Wrant's fist rushing toward him. He didn't have enough time to avoid or block the blow, however, and the meaty fist snapped his head to the side. Bulldog kept his balance, however, and rubbed his tender cheek with a free hand. "Still punching down I see," he taunted.

Another trooper put a blaster to his head, planting it firmly against his temple.

"Wait, the Commander will want him alive."

"Aw, come on Cap!"

Wrant's reply was drowned out by the sound of a snub fighter's engines whining at a high pitch. All heads pitched upward, attempting to see what the source of the sound was.

Bulldog likewise looked up, and through the sea of bobbing heads, he caught the briefest of glimpses of what he thought was the front profile of a U-wing in the darkness bearing down right on top of them. Before he could confirm his thoughts, the chin-mounted KX7 laser cannons unleashed chaos. The guns, firing in single-fire mode, stitched their way from the street toward the tightly-packed group of Imperials.

His eyes widened as he finally realized what was happening. He gripped Wrant and pulled the surprised man on top of himself, then held on for dear life as the trooper began struggling to break free. The whumping sound of the cannon bolts that hit concrete rose in frequency as they and Foo's U-wing approached.

Then, the sound was replaced with the unmistakable sound of energy punching through armor and immolating the flesh beneath. Those hit directly seemed to emit an almost surprised sounding grunt as their body was piledrived into the pavement. The screams of alarm and cries of pain intermingled with each other, causing the entire unit to melt into chaos. A few tried to return fire feebly with their infantry weapons, but they had no hope of doing any sort of real damage. Even if the shields were down, the best they could hope for would be to scorch the transparisteel screen of the cockpit and try to blind the pilot.

The rumble of the engines roared as the craft leveled out. Before Foo could gain altitude and loop back for another run, however, the eerie howl of TIE engines filled the air as another trio of fighters chased the U-wing away.

The ground was full of smoke and the coppery smell of blood. The cries of pain died out, and the shouts for status updates were few and far between. Bulldog wrenched open his eyes and realized the human shield he was struggling to hold before was now deathly still. He roughly rolled the Wrant off of his chest only to find that the man was missing his entire midsection, upper torso and legs only being held together by smoldering bits of uniform.

Bulldog let out an involuntary sound of disgust as he crab walked away, only to have his left hand plant itself firmly into something wet and warm. It emitted a loud squelching sound as wetness spread through the spaces between his fingers. He knew what it was even before he looked, but his brain still forced him to turn his head.

A trooper had the unfortunate luck of taking a bolt directly to his chest. The armor did what it could to ablate the energy, but it was ultimately burned away as well as the top layer of the man's flesh. Bulldog's hand was now smashing what was left of either his heart or lung.

With another sound of disgust, he got to his knees and vomited. His stomach had never been all that weak, but he also never made it a habit of reaching into the wrecked body of somebody and smashed an organ intentionally. After two strong jets of bile cleared his lips, he spit out the remainder as best he could. Suddenly, the smell of smoke reached his nose. Looking down, he saw that his tunic was on fire, and the crab shell armor plate he'd stolen from Lock and had been wearing was also melting. He frantically stripped both tops off, throwing the super-heated items as far away from himself as his temporarily weakened arms could manage. He resumed vomiting as the cloying smell of burnt shell armor embedded itself in his nostrils.

"Hey! The rebel survived!"

Bulldog's head shot up, and he saw one of the three standing troopers pointing at him.

"Get him!"

Bulldog reached back to the corpse he'd just inadvertently put his hand inside of, but this time he drew the holstered E-11 on the trooper's hip. He ensured the safety was off, and took hasty aim just as the nearest trooper stumbled over a corpse of one of their comrades. Before he could recover and take aim with his own weapon, Bulldog fired. The first bolt went wildly off course, so he sent three more in the trooper's direction. The first two peppered the ground and corpses near his target, but the third entered the eye socket and dropped his target.

He looked back at the blaster rifle in disgust. "No wonder they never hit anything."

The scuffle of feet on pavement nearby drew his attention. Another trooper was rising to his feet about 10 feet away, but his back was turned.

Bulldog rose to his feet and took two careful steps closer to his target before pulling the trigger. He fired three bolts again, but being this close all three slammed into the target and pitched him forward. Before he could properly survey his handiwork, a blaster bolt went screaming past his head.

He whirled around and dropped to his knee and took aim. He pulled the trigger. From this distance, with his own blaster, he'd have drilled the trooper center mass. Instead, this blaster sent the bolt over the shoulder of the charging trooper. Two more trigger pulls framed the charging Imperial, one hitting the ground at his feet and the other passing harmlessly to the right of his shoulder.

The trooper's return fire was similarly wild, being fired from the hip by a charging body. The unending stream of bolts seemed to slam into everything except Bulldog, though one did singe the toe of his boot.

Bulldog likewise held down the trigger, and thankfully his fifth bolt managed to slam into the enemy's abdomen just under his chestplate. The man doubled over and grabbed his stomach as he writhed on the ground. Bulldog rushed forward and put the blaster barrel underneath his chin and pulled the trigger, ending the man's suffering.

He surveyed the scene of carnage around him, his bare chest heaving. While he hadn't wrought the havoc, he certainly was responsible for this many torn and twisted bodies even if he had only personally ended three lives. Sickness welled up within his stomach as he took the moment to internalize the aftermath of his plan.

Once the feeling passed, he looked back at the ruined body of Captain Wrant. The lower half was still facing upward while his upper torso was facing downward. Anger welled up within him, but it was quickly replaced by a satisfied sense of revenge. He spat on the corpse. A violent chill struck him as his sweat-slicked upper body caught a nighttime breeze as his adrenaline began to ebb away from his . Realizing he was still shirtless, he looked around and saw that one of the troopers he'd killed with his appropriated blaster had a more or less intact black jacket. Quickly stripping the dead trooper of his top, he was thankful that the fleet trooper uniform had a stretchable material to allow it to fit over his paunch.

An explosion from down the street past Blue's crash site drew his attention as he zipped up the jacket. Glass and metal erupted out into the street, showering some waiting white-clad bodies just outside.


Toseng Alleys

Bearcat managed to find himself just across the street from Blue's crash site, having slipped into the back entrance of some sort of antique store that was surprisingly unlocked. As he skulked through the shadows of the back room, he heard a noise. Whirling around with his blaster pointed, he immediately relaxed when his eyes fell upon the source of the noise. "Oh, it's you."

Torsten stood, his blaster raised in front of him. His face was a cold mask of impassivity.


Bearcat took the low-powered blaster bolt to his thigh and fell to the ground with a mixture of pain and surprise on his face. His blaster went clattering across the floor, ending up under some shelving units full of overstuffed boxes of used stuffed animals. He looked up questioningly, but the murderous intent in the youth's face came to the forefront. Time slowed down as Bearcat's fight or flight instincts took over, and time slowed to a crawl. He saw the twitch of tendon in Torsten's hand signifying another shot was about to head in his direction. He dove forward and to the side, trying to reach his blaster while also putting shelves between himself and the enraged Zabrak.

"You killed my mother!" Torsten snarled as he examined his blaster more carefully, finding and adjusting the power setting to maximum.

Pwoom! Pwoom! Pwoom!

Shots rang out in quick succession, slamming wildly into reserve merchandise. The last bolt slammed into the box of stuffed animals just as Bearcat managed to get behind it, and the entire box burst into flames. Bearcat kept sliding across the floor, stifling cries of pain each time his wounded thigh dragged against the dusty flooring. He found a more solid redoubt and paused to catch his breath. "The Imps killed Tarrrla!"

Dark, cloying smoke soon filled the room as the stuffed animal flames quickly jumped to a nearby box of old, dusty linens. Torsten began to cough violently as he maneuvered around with watery eyes.

"You killed her soul by moving her from where she fell!"

Bearcat moved silently again, not responding to the youth's raging declarations. He slipped around a shelf just as Torsten came around the other side, coughing more as he tried to clear his eyes. Bearcat moved quickly to get around the shelf and take the youth from behind.

"She's damned to wander the universe for eternity! It's all your FAULT!" Torsten fired off two more wild bolts at random targets. "You took her away from me!"

The noise covered Bearcat's final approach. He took two large steps, faltering slightly as he planted with his wounded left thigh, but he still made it to the youth before he could turn and fire his blaster. He locked his strong arms around Torsten, one around his neck in a deep choke and the other digging his talons into the wrist and hand of his gun-wielding hand.

Torsten screamed in a mixture of anger and surprise, dropping his blaster out of reflex and reaching both hands to the arm around his neck. He attempted to push into his attacker and slam him into a shelving unit, but he was no match for the Cathar's inherent strength. His lungs began to scream as they couldn't get oxygen.

"Ve didn't vant to move herrr, but yourrr entirrre village vould have been tarrrgeted if ve'd left herrr," Bearcat hissed in the Zabrak's ear. "They vould have found herrr grrrave and discoverrred yourrr home." No sounds answered him, as his grip was tight enough across Torsten's throat to stop any air coming in or out.

Eventually, the struggling ceased completely. Torsten's arms went limp and hung loosely at his side. Bearcat held the choke for a few beats longer just to ensure that the angry youth was completely incapacitated and wouldn't resume antagonistic actions immediately after he let go.

He slowly eased off the pressure, and then laid the youth down on the increasingly hot floor. The flames were growing, catching onto more flammable merchandise. Thinking quickly, he fished out his blaster from under the shelf it had slid, and holstered it quickly. He was about to leave, but after two steps he stopped and looked back at the unconscious youth. Surely Torsten would die if left here, as it was unlikely he'd revive in time to escape the flames.

Cursing angrily, he went back and gently scooped up the teen that had shot his thigh and went out of the back door he'd originally entered. Only now, at this slow exit pace, did he see that the door lock was busted. It was likely that Torsten had been the one to break in, which was why Bearcat was able to just walk in. He kicked himself mentally for not noticing this detail upon his initial entry.

He traveled a few buildings over and deposited Torsten's unconscious body behind a dumpster. Only after he rose back to his feet did he realize this was the very same alley they'd first met. An intense wave of irony washed over him as he remembered their role in saving Torsten and his mother only to be shot by the youth in the same location over a week later.

"Surrender yourself!"

Bearcat froze at the command, and turned slowly with his hands clearly visible. However, as he turned, he saw nobody in the alley or at the mouth of the alley in the street. He arched an eyebrow in confusion, but still ducked into the shadows as he pulled out his blaster. The wooden grip felt hot to the touch, and he almost dropped the WESTAR-34 out of reflex. He brought the blaster into the light, and noticed a large amount of scorching along one side of the blaster. It was clear that it had been close enough to a fire for a long enough time that the internals of his blaster might very well be compromised enough to blow up in his hands if he attempted to fire it.

He cursed angrily at his luck, and then cursed again when he realized he'd left Torsten's blaster in the now raging inferno they'd just left. He looked around for any bit of refuse he could use as a weapon, but nothing was readily at hand that he could appropriate.

"This is your last chance! Surrender or she dies!"

Bearcat's heart leapt into his throat. The mention of 'she' meant that Blue was alive, and now in the hands of an Imperial! Ignoring all sense, he padded toward the end of the alley and stopped just short of the edge. He poked his head out, and saw Blue on her knees in front of a hulking Imperial. The man seemed to be made of metal almost completely, which struck Bearcat as odd at the time. What wasn't confusing, however, was the blaster he had pointed at the back of her head.

The only reason he didn't come out with his hands up was the fact that the Imperial was looking into the storefront that they'd just set ablaze, clearly assuming a rebel agent was stuck inside and attempting to come up with some sort of plan.

Bearcat grinned. He was still undetected. Judging the distance, he felt he could make it before the Imperial would be able to react to his presence. He took another moment to map out his route for maximum speed and concealment. He removed his flight boots as he surveyed the area so the soles on concrete wouldn't give away his approach, opting for the softer padding of his hair-covered feet.

The Imperial slammed his blaster against the side of Blue's head, eliciting a cry of surprise and pain from the kneeling pilot. "You have ten seconds to exit that building or this one dies!"

Bearcat snarled quietly as he launched into motion, his rage blinding him slightly as he ignored his original stealthy path and made a direct loping run toward Blue and her captor. As he approached, he felt his talons on his fingers and claws on his toes come out in anticipation of his strike. He cocked his left arm back, ready to swipe.

The Imperial seemed to sense his approach at the last second. He kicked Blue squarely in the back and attempted to whirl around and level his blaster at his new attacker, but the Buccaneer was upon him before he had a chance to fire. A quick slash of his claws against the Imperial's hand and forearm caused him to recoil out of reflex and released his blaster.

Bearcat snarled triumphantly as the blaster went clattering to the pavement. He didn't stare at the recently dropped weapon though, opting to ignore it and continue to press his attack. His follow up swipe with his right arm was slower and weaker than normal, a remnant from his combat triage on the earlier dislocation. His middle talon raked across the Imperial's cheek rather than a full on five-fingered gouge ripping off his entire face. To follow up with his advantage through surprise, he lashed out with a left-legged kick, his toe claws ready to puncture the man's abdomen.

The Imperial took the two scratches in quick succession without complaint, rolling his body away from the worst of the talons and caught the kick at the ankle. His cybernetically enhanced eye spotted a burn wound of some kind on the thigh of the leg he caught, and he immediately punched down hard on the blistered, hairless flesh.

Bearcat cried out in pain as he lashed out with another swipe to disengage. He rolled away, but popped quickly to his feet, favoring his burnt leg slightly. The Imperial was upon him instantly, sending fists and kicks with dizzying frequency at varying angles, Bearcat slipped or blocked each blow expertly, but his counter-right punch was caught by the Imperial at the wrist. He swiped his left hand at the machine-man's arm to break the grip.

The Imperial ducked the incoming claw and ducked underneath the arm he was holding, maintaining his grip as he came back up behind Bearcat. The arm twisted back with the motion, and the shoulder threatened again to pop out of its socket. Not wasting any time, the cyborg slammed a forceful punch into the back of the shoulder blade, popping the arm back out of the socket completely.

Bearcat half-whimpered-half-snarled as the pain overwhelmed him. The ball joint of his arm was now sticking fully out of the socket in front of him. His knees buckled as his nervous system lost all sense of cohesion. The Imperial continued to maintain the pressure on his arm, forcing him to fall to his chest to keep from having the arm completely twisted off of his body.

With his face up against the cold pavement, he attempted to open his watery eyes to look for any sort of weapon he could use to gain some semblance of an advantage. Unfortunately, the blaster he'd knocked out of the Imperial's hand was just out of reach.

Suddenly, the grip on his arm was gone, and it flopped to the ground with a meaty thud. He rolled to his back and attempted to set the joint back in place, once again crying out in pain as his arm grinded around the shoulder socket. As he sat up, he saw Blue draped over the Imperial's shoulders, attempting to choke him out with a feral look in her eyes.

The Imperial seemed calm despite the choke being set deep into his neck. He stood to his full height and almost grinned as he let Blue struggle to save her friend. He cast a confident grin on Bearcat's sitting form before snaking an arm over his shoulder and gripped Blue's neck. In one fluid motion, he bent forward and slammed his attacker to the pavement hard on her back. The air left her lungs immediately, and she began gasping to regain her breath.

Rage overcame Bearcat. He sprung to his feet without fully setting his shoulder back and charged. He roared deeply, seemingly startling the Imperial slightly. He raised his good arm back to strike, his talons splayed out for maximum carnage.

The man backpedaled two steps to gain space to accept the attack on his terms. The strike was telegraphed a mile away, and he smirked as he stepped under the swipe and sent a knee into Bearcat's abdomen with enough force to knock the wind completely out of him.

Bearcat fell to his knees and cradled his stomach. A tight roundhouse kick to the back of his head snapped his head down into the pavement with a loud crack. Stars exploded in his vision as he tried to regain his feet. He stood quickly, doubled over, but immediately fell back down as his vision swam.

He attempted to push himself back up, but his coordination had fled his body, and fell back to the ground with a whuff.


Toseng City Apartments

Sidda stayed out of sight, using the wire optic cable to snake over the ledge to watch the events unfold. A fight this close to her apartment would draw unnecessary attention to her if she was spotted filming from her balcony, so this was the next best thing she could do despite the lower quality image.

She thought to help the New Republic pilots with her blaster, but this high up her aim would be more of a liability than anything else. And by the time she could make it to the ground floor, the reinforcements she was sure were heading to the area would be there.

So here she sat, continuing to film to ensure a true accounting of what happened here would be spread to the world, rather than whatever sanitized version the Imperials decided to display. She'd already seen plenty of their propaganda pieces on the newswaves lately, blaming the civilian casualties they caused on rebel activity. No doubt they'd add the latest batch of civilian casualties they'd inflicted to the New Republic counter.

She attempted to steady her nerves, but the howling of TIEs cruising over the city were increasing in volume and frequency. Each flyby threw her into an involuntary shiver, causing the image on her screen to shake.


CRS Vigilant SSD

Wildcard sat in a corner booth of the SSD, eyes welded to his datapad. Finally, he had reached the very last video on the holonet site, which he'd realized as he was working his way through the queue was actually oldest to newest, meaning this was the most recent upload. Disturbing as the content was, something within him couldn't seem to leave it alone. It was as though finding more reason to hate the Empire was fuelling him.

He saw a hand-to-hand duel on the screen this time between an utterly massive Imperial officer that appeared to have mechanical augmentations and a being that moved so quickly that it was hard to make out details on the screen aside from an orange blur. The Imperial's movements were equally impossibly fast, blurring the screen at times until both combatants were in some sort of hold.

During the second of these slow-downs, Wildcard's eyes widened. The footage was still shaky, and taken from a bad angle up high, but he knew the orange blur from his white dreadlocked mane as it flailed about. A familiar Cathar grimaced and roared in a mixture of anger and anguish. Bearcat. Still in his orange flight suit, unbelievably getting absolutely manhandled in hand to hand combat.

He knocked back the last of his whiskey, before grabbing his datapad and dashing from the room, praying it wouldn't take him long to find a member of Command Staff.


CRS Vigilant Rec Room

"Guys, check this video out!" Blixus shouted from the far side of the room.

Loth-Cat was curious, but they were not quite in the mood to be sociable despite being in the rec room where others were gathered. Truth be told, it had been a hard time in their bunk without Blue being a few doors down as she normally was. The entire hallway dedicated to the Buccaneers felt empty without her presence, and they wanted nothing to do with it.

"Holy shavit, is that Bearcat?" Wolvinator asked from the gathering.

Loth-Cat perked up. Bearcat? Perhaps Blue is with him? They rose from their secluded area and moved closer to the gathering, picking their way through the crowd to get a better view of the screen.

"Who is that guy that just took Bearcat apart?" Ant asked aloud.

"That's a bad, baaaaad man if he took down an angry Cathar in H-to-H," Rainman added ominously.

Loth-Cat's eyes widened at that comment, and their jaw dropped when they finally got a clear look at the screen. Bearcat was splayed out on the ground, rose to his feet unsteadily, and then fell back to the ground just as quickly as he'd attempted to rise. Their hand went to their mouth. "Oh, no," they said quietly to themself.

"Z!" Blue's voice cried out softly.

An icy fist gripped Loth-Cat's heart. They'd heard her voice from the video, plain as day. Across the lightyears of distance, the woman of their burgeoning desire was in harm's way, and they weren't there to help her. "Get up, Z!" Loth-Cat shouted, shocking those around them with the ferocity of the words. "Don't quit!"

"That's two of our lost people confirmed alive," Dragon growled. "Told you we should have gone back!"

More bodies began to file into the room and crowded around the screen. Many of the newcomers immediately cursed when they surveyed the scene. Angel put a reassuring hand on Loth-Cat's shoulder, her face a mixture of sadness and kindness.

On the screen, Bearcat's eyes suddenly focused. He looked back over and saw the Imperial had picked up his blaster and was holding Blue on her feet by the scruff of her neck. He attempted to rise once again, but his body appeared to still be made of gelatin, and he fell back to the ground, gulping in air helplessly.

"Maybe we shouldn't be watching this," Knight said nervously, clearly worried about what was probably going to happen next and the effect it would have on their morale.

Blaster fire from down the street drew the attention of the camera operator, as well as the principle characters of the video.

"The Sith is that?" Lock asked aloud.

"It's farking Bulldog!" Jasted shouted, his mouth hanging agape at the sudden appearance of his friend on the screen..

On the screen, Bulldog was charging forward, unleashing a hail of blaster bolts into a small group of stormtroopers that had begun to converge on the area. They were close enough that each one took a deadly bolt somewhere on their body. The last trooper fell to his knees in astonishment, only to be bowled over by the charging Buccaneer.

"Get em, BD!" somebody cheered.

Loth-Cat felt a glimmer of hope welling up within their chest. No way would Bulldog allow anything to happen to their friends. No way could their XO possibly fail. "Do it," they whispered hopefully.

"This ends now," the Imperial said with a sneer.

"Dion!" Blue whimpered.

Loth-Cat's heart seized, and began praying to all manner of Mando'a to preserve the life of Blue. They weren't ready to say goodbye, especially without being able to do so in person. "Please... Oya'cye, Kyr'am, Mare'cye, Darasuum, Oya! Oya..." They repeated the last part of the mantra, which translated to 'Let's Live! Let's Hunt!', over and over again. Nearby, Gnoizic had picked up on the whispered chant and the two said it in unison.



"NO!" Bulldog roared as he continued to charge, discarding his spent blaster as he pumped his arms and lengthened his stride.

A pained shriek escaped Loth-Cat's lips. Those in attendance that knew of the budding relationship bowed their heads slightly, and those that didn't still felt the pain of a lost comrade in arms. Very few actually knew how deep that romance had become.

"I'm gonna kill that karking schutta!" Dragon snarled. The sound of a table being flipped in the background startled everyone in attendance. "He's farking MINE!"

Back on the screen, Blue's corpse was dropped to her knees, then crumpled to the ground with smoke emanating from her ears, nostrils, and slightly open mouth. The level of detail on the screen was unsettling to the viewers as the camera had automatically zoomed in. The look on her face was one of complete terror mixed with sadness. Her eyes still looked like they had life in them, and they focused just slightly on Bearcat's face. Her mouth twitched at the corners, and her death rictus settled into a smile as her eyes glazed over.

"Oh gods, preserve us," Loth-Cat squeaked, their voice sounding extremely far off from their body.

Bearcat snapped. He roared in anguish as he found his feet once again. The anger focused his vision and cured his imbalance. He lunged forward and gripped the Imperial's blaster arm before he could level his aim at Bulldog. He forced it into the air as a few bolts went harmlessly into the sky.

"Take the tin man apart, boys!" Rogue shouted, drawing a hearty agreement from the enraged group.

Loth-Cat felt their knees buckle, but before they fell to the ground they were caught by the sure hands of Shadow and Angel, who pulled the youth out of the crowd and away from the screen. As the two Spectre pilots checked them out, Loth-Cat got one last look at the screen.

The camera reacquired the charging Buccaneer, zooming in on Bulldog's rage-filled face as he rushed forward. He lowered his shoulder into the Imperial's unprotected midsection. His mouth was screwed in an airless roar, white spittle at the corners. His eyes were wide open, though his brows were sharply angled toward his nose. His neck was flexed out with maximum strain, his skin stretching tightly to show the sharp bulging of his sternocleidomastoid muscles on either side of his neck.


All three beings went flying in separate directions.

Suddenly the feed cut out, and was replaced with another view from a lower angle, and it was clear that a little time had passed since the video they had just watched.

"By the Force," Silence said with a gasp once she got a clear look at the screen.


Toseng City Streets

Bulldog charged in without a plan other than extricating his remaining living subordinate, and it clearly showed. Blue's face was replaced with Zossa's, shutting down the higher functions of his brain as he rushed toward the collision.

After utilizing his bulk to break Bearcat free of Feing's grasp, he had no idea what to do next. His head swiveled around, taking in the chaos of the area down the street while he attempted to find Bearcat as well as locate Feing within the intersection of the open street.

Bearcat was on his hands and knees nearby on the patchy concrete, but Feing was out of sight. Cursing inwardly, he took two large steps to help the Cathar to his feet while he still continued to scan the area. "Get up! GET UP!"

Bearcat shook his head, but his vision was clearly still swimming, having taken most of the blow Bulldog's body had inflicted due to Feing shifting his position at the last instant. "Vvvvvv... Vhat?"

"Get out of here!" Bulldog shouted, shoving the pilot toward the direction of the rendezvous that still thankfully appeared to be clear of Imperial guards.

"Vhat about you?" Bearcat asked, recovering more of his balance and composure as his eyes regained some of the typical Cathar acuity. He was rubbing his right shoulder vigorously as he attempted to maneuver it safely back into its socket.

Bulldog finally spotted Feing, who had now risen to his hands and knees in a furrow dug into the side of the road by Blue's B-wing cockpit crash. The street the two Renegades now occupied was clear aside from Blue's fresh corpse. "I've got unfinished business," he said grimly as he turned to face the murderous Imperial.

"You vill need my help! See it thrrrough!!"

Bulldog cursed the mention of his favorite poem internally. "You need to get the prisoners to those dicey smugglers and off this rock, Z," Bulldog replied, hoping the fact that he had no intention of joining them on the way out was hidden from the tone of his reply. He planned to end Barand's enforcer here and now, possibly trading his life so that this man wouldn't be able to kill any more Renegades in the future. "And I need to make sure this schutta doesn't close the exit. Go."

Bearcat dug in his heels and shook his head emphatically from side to side, stumbling slightly afterward as he lost his balance.

Bulldog clenched his teeth and pulled the rebellious Cathar close. "The attention of every trooper will be focused right here at this very moment. You need to make sure those prisoners make it out or this will have been all for nothing! See your part of this through!"

The sound of many boots thundering on the floor from a nearby hallway drew both of their attention. Bearcat's eyes finally softened as he realized that any more discussion and delay would make this entire mission, and Blue's death, meaningless if they didn't get the prisoners off-world. Taking a step back, he nodded once while his face was a mask of sadness.


Bearcat picked up speed with his backpedal, turning at the last possible moment to navigate the shadows to avoid any unwanted attention. On his way out of the area, he scooped up Blue's corpse. From the opposite direction, a platoon of stormtroopers came jogging out of an alley. The moment they spotted Bulldog, their weapons were up and they were shouting orders for their prospective prisoner to obey. They hadn't noticed Bearcat as he slipped into the shadows and retreated.

"Stand down," a commanding voice boomed from somewhere else in the area.

Bulldog knew whose voice it was, but the troopers seemed to be unsure and didn't comply immediately for fear of a ruse. They continued to surround him as they kept their weapons pointed at him and the direction of the new voice.

"Commander, Captain Pash has requested a sitrep and wants any prisoners brought to the Consolidator alive."

Feing stood from where he'd been knocked down into the ditch, straightening his uniform as he did so. "I believe, Lieutenant, I ordered your troopers to stand down. See to it that they do so immediately," he said with a hardened edge to his voice.

"But the order from Cap—"

Feing's jaw clenched at the challenge to his authority. "He is not here right now, Lieutenant. I am in charge. Order your men to stand down or you will be relieved of your rating."

The lieutenant quailed at the thought of losing his rank. "Yes Sir! Right away sir!" The stormtroopers all immediately fell to purpose, taking up positions at the perimeter of the street.

"Well, Captain," Feing said nonchalantly as he hopped up to the street effortlessly, jumping five feet up with little apparent effort. "It looks like you are now trapped."

Bulldog stood as tall as possible and thrust out his jaw in what he hoped was a defiant pose. His fists hung loosely at his side, ready to commence battle but not outwardly threatening. The opening stanza of his poem echoed throughout his mind in his own steely voice.

When you're up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it's vain to try and dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!

He smiled grimly. "A trapped Renegade is the most dangerous kind, Commander. You learned that the hard way at Nabrisk if my memory serves."

Feing clenched his jaw, causing a vein to bulge from the non-cybernetic side of his face. His cybernetic eye aperture narrowed, mirrored by the dark glare from his fleshy eye. After a moment, he spoke. "I remember killing many of your friends during that... skirmish."

It was clearly rage-bait, but it didn't strike a chord within Bulldog. While it was true that many Renegades had been blasted to atoms during their interdiction of Operation Cinder, many had been new recruits that he hadn't had a chance nor the will to get to know. He had plenty to be angry about with Feing, but that line didn't push him over the edge to make a hasty and poorly thought out attack. Again his inner monologue continued the poem.

Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don't let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!

Feing shifted his stance as he took another step closer. Both men stood face to face, just outside of striking range of each other. The troops that filtered into the street took up positions on the periphery with their weapons at the ready. Feing broke the silence again, clearly annoyed that his last comment hadn't goaded his opponent into attacking. "Well, as you can see, there is no way out of this for you. You aren't leaving this street a free man, Captain. The way I see it, you have two choices," Feing said, ticking the options off on his gloved fingers. "One, you leave here in stun-cuffs, to be apprehended and then personally interrogated by myself. Or, you can fight me for your chance at freedom."

Bulldog snorted derisively. "As if your men will let me leave after I dismantle you piece by piece, metal boy," he retorted grimly. He kept one eye locked onto Feing while he scanned the periphery with his other eye, noting that there really was no way out for him. While he knew he should feel fear and apprehension, a cool calm had filled his body as acceptance of his fate finally landed home. If he surrendered now, these troopers would likely be able to catch up to Bearcat as he slowly made his way to the escape rendezvous.

Feing nodded slightly, and a cruel smile crept onto his face. "Option Two it is, then. Good," the half-cybernetic Imperial said as he took a step back to create more distance. He looked over his shoulder, and made two quick hand motions along with a subtle nod. The entire contingent of Stormtroopers holstered their blasters and formed a ring of bodies, closing off the intersection. A lone officer bounded off into a nearby building with a duffel bag of some kind.

A voice called out from a nearby balcony moments later. "Rolling, Commander!"

Bulldog didn't allow his gaze to leave Feing's, already knowing that this confrontation was likely about to be recorded for propaganda purposes. He clenched his teeth, but just as quickly relaxed all of the muscles in his body momentarily to center himself. His inner voice came back again, calmer than before.

Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you're beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don't give up, whate'er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!

Feing nodded, and then his eyes once again bored deeply into Bulldog's. "Are you ready for death, Captain? The broadcast is live, and Commodore Barand will be very pleased to witness your demise first-hand."

Bulldog was taken aback. "You're broadcasting this live? How?"

Feing smirked. "I have my ways. We won't interrupt every channel, but we'll reach enough across the galaxy. I'm about to make you famous."

Bulldog watched as Feing settled into a combat stance he wasn't familiar with. He wasn't a very skilled hand to hand fighter, and having run out of ammunition for his heavy blaster earlier in the operation had really left him without any other options. He still had his ace in the hole; but he didn't want to reveal it until he felt he could really win the fight. He shifted his stance, and prepared to lunge.

Feing mirrored Bulldog's weight shift in preparation to accept a wild lunge from the unskilled human. He was attempting to straddle the line of knowing he could beat the Renegade to a pulp with ease but also wanted to put on a good show for Barand and any other Imperial forces in hiding via the live broadcast. He also noted many of the nearby civilians watching from their windows or balconies. He had the leeway to drag this out as long as he wanted it to go, and his inclination at the time was to make it clear that this New Republic pilot was no match for Imperial might. Judging that it was time to begin, he decided to give his opponent one more push to fly into a rage.

"You don't stand a chance, here, Captain. You can't beat me now, and you couldn't save the girl either."

Rage exploded within Bulldog's chest. While Feing clearly was referring to Blue's recent demise, Bulldog allowed himself to pull from the well of anger deep within his chest at his personal loss of Zossa years prior. While it was a whirlwind relationship, she had been the only being in the galaxy to draw such a strong romantic reaction from within. An explosion of white-noise crossed with water rushing over a massive waterfall filled his head. Warmth throbbed throughout his entire body from his chest. An electric jolt vibrated through his limbs, starting closer to his torso and ending at the tips of his fingers and toes. His gut clenched, quickly followed by all of his muscles as they coiled in preparation to strike. His teeth ground as the mask of anger took over his face, a vicious snarl accompanied by a guttural growl left his throat. He lunged forward rapidly, taking one step to close the distance and then launching himself into the air with his fist cocked back.

His opponent hadn't moved, leaving his head as an inviting target for his jumping punch maneuver. It was named after a comic superhero whose name escaped him at the moment, but the move was one that was used sparingly in combat sports due to the inherent risk. He was banking on that irregularity of the maneuver being just the thing that would allow him to surprise the Imperial officer.

Time slowed down as he flew through the air. As he reached optimal distance, he began to throw his cocked-fist forward, aimed directly at the bridge of Feing's nose. He visualized sending his fist straight through the weakest part of the human skull, ending with it erupting out of the other side in a shower of bone fragments and gray matter.

Feing reacted at super-human speed, throwing his cybernetic fist forward. His punch met Bulldog's fist in the space between them. Feing's Quadanium Steel-reinforced hand shattered Bulldog's flesh and bone fist upon contact, the force of the collision snapping bones in sequence as the fists pushed into each other. He then stepped slightly to the side to allow the flying pilot to coast past him, turning to face his opponent again with an almost bored look on his face.

Bulldog landed behind Feing, but the pain in his now ruined right hand caused him to almost fall to the ground. He'd broken bones before, but never the entirety of his hand. All 27 bones in his hand felt like they had been pulverized into dust, though, and his conscious mind was having difficulty focusing on anything else. Even the rage-fueled adrenaline he'd relied upon so many times before was having difficulty overcoming the pain. He cradled his now-fluid hand with his left as he took a few more stumbling steps away from Feing. He fought hard to stifle a cry of pain, turning it into a cross between a husky moan and growl.

"Hurts, doesn't it, Captain?" Feing asked sarcastically as he crossed his arms and relaxed his posture. "Probably having a hard time clearing your mind and coming up with another plan of attack? Bet you wish you were back on Rendili, living the playboy lifestyle your absentee father had built for you."

Bulldog was taken aback by the fact that Feing knew about his childhood and adolescence. His mind traveled back to his communication with Shen'ryu, where the blasted Bothan had used his name and rank multiple times. Of course they'd have been analyzed the moment they were decoded. Thankfully, it appeared the encryption held until it was too late for them to stop the mission— or so he hoped. The sharp pain of the initial injury had faded to a dull-but-consistent throbbing. He attempted to center himself by recalling his favorite poem, but the pain overrode his memory. His face must have betrayed his shock, though, as Feing continued the taunt.

"Bet your mother would be disappointed in the failure you turned out to be." He feigned surprise as he put his hand to his mouth. "Oh, she died, didn't she? Couldn't wait to escape you, huh?"

Rage again overwhelmed Bulldog's bodily control and he lunged forward again. With one functional hand, all of his attacks came from the left side. Each time he swung a fist, Feing was able to shift his positioning to avoid or duck around the blow. He was quickly winded, but his rage carried on the ineffectual attack to the point of exhaustion. Jab, haymaker, backhanded swipe, haymaker, jab, uppercut, hook, straight, uppercut. All missed by a wide margin.

Feing mimed a yawn as he dodged another wild haymaker, leaning back and grabbing the flailing limb toward the end of the swing and throwing the pilot across the pavement with his own momentum. He looked toward the camera and smiled darkly while shaking his head at the pitiful display of martial ability. "If this is the best Renegade Wing and the New Republic have, then the Empire will be back in charge of the galaxy within the next few weeks," he declared haughtily, likely playing it up for Barand and the captive holonet audience.

Bulldog lay on the ground on his back where he'd skidded to a halt after being tossed aside, his chest heaving to draw oxygen back into his lungs and rejuvenate his screaming muscles. The taunt struck a nerve within him, but his body just didn't have it within itself to rise to the challenge just yet. He continued to lay there, audibly gulping in large amounts of air while fighting hard to stave off hyperventilation. People lost fights because they were the first to gas out, and here he was almost out of energy while Feing appeared to have expended no energy at all.

"Get up, Captain," Feing taunted once again. "Surely you have more fight in you than Flight Officer Shuun did. Or perhaps that vicious hairy alien would be more of a challenge..."

The barb landed squarely, and Bulldog clumsily kipped-up back on his feet and charged forward. Again, left handed strikes sailed through the air in a flurry, but each was handily dodged or deftly redirected by the cybernetically-augmented Imperial. Bulldog was again becoming fastly winded, but he decided to do something unexpected. He feinted a large haymaker with his left hand, but as he torqued his body to that side to lock the blow into place, he flailed his broken right hand forward.

With a sickening squelch, the hand landed awkwardly against Feing's cheek, staggering the Imperial for the first time since they'd gone to blows. He recovered quickly, though, and with his face screwed up in rage he struck back. The Commander's booted foot lashed out, catching Bulldog in the solar plexus and slamming him backwards.

The air left Bulldog's lungs as he reflexively grabbed at his chest even though there was nothing he could do to assuage the sharp pain. A wave of nausea washed over him as the blow reverberated through his body, doubling him over. He retched as he simultaneously tried to pull air into his lungs, exacerbating the rising levels of panic in his brain.


Kijimi Thieves Quarter

Zeva watched the pirated videofeed with feigned disinterest. She'd recognized the New Republic pilot almost immediately since he'd been on Kijimi about two months prior. She'd played him then, just as she played him years before when they first met.

"This guy's getting owned," one of the enforcers in the lounge guffawed as he watched Bulldog take the heavy front kick to his chest and go sailing through the air.

Zeva smiled at the comment as others began laying down bets, but inwardly she was conflicted with her feelings. A song she had heard and associated with underdogs in life or death situations began to play on their jukebox. "Quite apropos," she mused quietly to herself.

Death surrounds
My heartbeat's slowing down
I won't take this world's abuse
I won't give up, I refuse!

This is how it feels when you're bent and broken
This is how it feels when your dignity is stolen
When everything you love is leaving,
You hold on to what you believe in.

A young girl came padding into the room. All of the enforcers in attendance knew to be on their best behavior and use clean language while their boss's daughter was around. "Mommeeeee," she cried as she launched herself through the air.

Zeva deftly caught her daughter, having known it was coming due to the rote nature of the ritual. "What's wrong with my little runner? You should be in bed!"

"I was watching my cartoon, then I clicked something else and this came on," she said hurriedly, holding out her tablet and pointing at the screen. It was the same pirated feed that was currently on in the gang's lounge. On the screen at that moment, a splatter of red mist launched itself from Bulldog's mouth as he took an undefended haymaker to his cheek. "Who is that man and why is the robot hurting him, Mommy?"

The last thing I heard
Was you whispering goodbye
And then I heard you flatline

No! Not gonna die tonight
We're gonna stand and fight
Don't close your eyes

No! Not gonna die tonight
We're gonna fight for us
No, we're not gonna die tonight.

Zeva turned the tablet off and looked her daughter straight in the eyes. "You should be in bed asleep, young lady!" She was surprised by the sharpness of her own voice, brought on by the motherly instinct of trying to shield her child from the true violence of the galaxy. "They are just play fighting for a movie, dear. Nobody is really getting hurt."

On the main TV, Bulldog got headbutted in the side of the head and he staggered back multiple steps as he attempted to gain distance to recover his senses. The group of enforcers whistled and cheered quietly.

"That guy is getting pounded," one of the enforcers giggled, but quickly realized the error of his ways and shot a worried glance toward Zeva.

Zeva stared daggers at him in return, and pursed her lips. She looked back at her daughter and patted her on the head. "Just go to bed, runner girl. This'll be over soon."

The little girl launched herself through the air and hit the ground running, her footfalls padding along the floor in a familiar rhythm of a toddler on a mission and in a hurry. She giggled as she ran, miming throwing a punch she'd seen earlier in the broadcast by jumping and punching on her way down.

Break their hold
Cause I won't be controlled
They can't keep their chains on me
When the truth has set me free

This is how it feels when you take your life back
This is how it feels when you finally fight back
When life pushes me, I push harder
What doesn't kill me makes me stronger

The last thing I heard
Was you whispering goodbye
And then I heard you flatline

Once her daughter had left, the enforcers in the room began cheering and joking once again, coloring every other word of their sentences with a curse. Zeva wasn't in the same spirits as her crew, however. The appearance of her daughter reminded her of the connection she had with the man currently getting his brains beaten in. To punctuate her feeling, a wobbly Bulldog parried a jab, slipped under a hook, but ducked into a tight upper cut that landed squarely on his forehead, sending him tumbling backward.

She shook her head and her body, finishing by shaking her arms and hands. It wouldn't do for her crew to see her despondent over this. She turned it quickly into anger. Anger that she was losing a possible asset that could be leveraged for support later. He'd been a useful pawn back when she'd used him as a cover for a B&E job to procure some spice, and again a few months prior when she'd gotten him to unwittingly murder the one person that she couldn't touch herself under the guise of his personal revenge.

On the screen, Bulldog attempted to grab Feing in a tight clinch, but the Imperial deftly sidestepped the grab and tripped the pilot on his way past.

Zeva continued to seethe in her anger. Anger that the New Republic apparently hadn't improved his hand to hand skills much past what they'd been four years ago when they'd met. He'd been a clumsy fighter with no skills aside from bar-brawling then, and apparently his pilot training hadn't done much to improve that. "I'm a cold blooded killer now" he'd said last time she'd spoken with him. Apparently that wasn't enough to save him now.

Bulldog attempted to back away from a strike, but ended up tripping over his own feet and fell to the ground.

An almost imperceptible growl left Zeva's throat. More anger rose to the surface with it. Anger that this vid file was being shared indiscriminately across the entire galaxy. Kids all over would be watching this instead of their cartoons or other entertainment options if they made an inadvertent click. Parents would have to explain the true nature of the galaxy to their children much sooner than they'd planned to do so.

"Who you got, boss?"

Zeva glared at the enforcer, making the man flinch involuntarily. She smirked, and slapped a credit chit on the counter. "I've always had a thing for the underdog."

No! Not gonna die tonight
We're gonna stand and fight
Don't close your eyes

No! Not gonna die tonight
We're gonna fight for us
No, we're not gonna die tonight.

Don't you give up on me
You're everything I need
This is how it feels when you take your life back
This is how it feels when

The crowd in the room cheered and winced in unison as the New Republic pilot was repeatedly battered and toyed with. Each time he attempted any sort of offense of his own, the Imperial cyborg treated him as if he were humoring a child, allowing blows to get close but not land properly.

After one such flurry of exhausted offense by Bulldog, Feing landed a heavy straight punch directly to his chest above his heart, sending the pilot stumbling backwards before he collapsed to the ground on his stomach while his unbroken hand gripped at his chest.

"Man," one of the enforcers whistled in appreciation. "I haven't seen a punch that hard to somebody's chest that didn't kill them. This guy's a machine."

"He's literally half a machine," another chimed in.

"I can't believe the other scooch is still alive!"

Zeva looked at the screen where Bulldog was writhing around on the ground, clearly in pain from the entire fight, but extraordinary chest pains from the last blow were clearly giving him some sort of cardiac distress judging from the look on his face. He made an attempt to rise, but the awkward one-armed push-up failed halfway through and he collapsed again to the street.

No! Not gonna die tonight
We're gonna stand and fight
Don't close your eyes

No! Not gonna die tonight
We're gonna fight for us
No, we're not gonna die tonight.

No, we're not gonna die tonight.
Not gonna die
Not gonna die
Not gonna die
Not gonna die
Not gonna die TONIGHT

"Looks like you're gonna lose some money tonight, Boss."

Zeva smiled nonchalantly and shrugged. "Eh, sometimes Goliath just beats the absolute shavit out of Dravits." The rest of the Spice Runners in attendance laughed at the analogy and raised their glasses in agreement. While she was smiling and carrying on outwardly, inside she was a mess of emotions.

"Get up. GET UP!" she cursed quietly to herself.

As if her urging from parsecs away had magical power to pierce the veil of the past, Bulldog suddenly slapped his broken hand and his unbroken fist into the ground and pushed himself to one knee. His battered and bruised face was alive with sudden vitality and it looked like he might be ready to actually start fighting, as if he'd been pulling the longest, most brutal rope-a-dope in history.

Bulldog's grim voice echoed in Zeva's memory. "I can fight better than the last time I was here. I'm a cold blooded killer now." She looked at the man getting his sudden second wind with a glint of hope in her heart. "Show me," she whispered so quietly that nobody else could hear.


Toseng City Streets

Feing closed the distance instantly, thrusting his knee upward. The blow caught Bulldog square in the nose, snapping his head back and sending him once again flying through the air to his back. A stream of thick blood arced through the air from his nose as his head snapped backwards and he fell away. Feing relaxed and clasped his hands behind his back as he stood at parade rest while looking directly into the camera with a cocky, murderous glint in his eye.

Bulldog was spent. Even at his best condition he wasn't a match for a competent close quarters fighter. His brawler skills and extra heft were wasted if he couldn't bring the fight to the ground where his mass could work in his favor. While he lay there, staring up at the starry night sky of Toseng, his mind wandered. He thought about where things went wrong, and how he found himself moments away from either death or a very painful torture session that would surely end in his death. While he cursed the fact that Torsten forced them to start the incursion before everything else was set, he didn't think anything really would have changed enough to save him from this fate. He was here now, regardless of what had caused it to transpire as such, and he needed to keep all Imperial eyes on him so Bearcat, Foo, Shen'ryu, and Guts could get the freed prisoners off the planet.


Feing tensed at being addressed by another subordinate. "Hrm?"

"Captain Pash demands this man be brought to his ship for questioning now. Alive."

"Well, we don't always get what we want, now do we?"

The officer's voice wavered, clearly not prepared for the flippant dismissal of an order from the supreme commander of the forces occupying the planet. "He also knows you are broadcasting this and demands it to be shut down."

"He can come down here himself if that's what he wants," Feing said softly, but the tone of his voice made it clear he had other plans if the Captain actually came down to the surface, which had been more or less his dominion for the past week.

"I've been ordered to jam the signal if you don't comply, Commander."

That caused Feing to stop his pacing. Looking to the side of the officer, he made one quick nod. The muffled shout of surprise from the officer became smaller as he was dragged away by more of Feing's fanatical troops.

"Nobody will be stopping what's coming to you, Captain," Feing whispered to Bulldog once the sounds of the interfering officer ceased. "And everybody's gonna see me take you apart piece by piece."

A cool calm washed over the Renegade once he heard the words. His breathing slowed, and the pain in his chest and hand faded from his mind. The only regret from the entire thing was that he wasn't able to save Blue. Everything else he'd have done over and over again ad nauseam if it meant prisoners made it home.

He coughed violently and blew the accumulated blood in his mouth and throat into the air in a red mist. Sucking in a deep, calming breath, he forced the remaining blood to gurgle through broken teeth. Taking another, deeper breath, he finally felt clear headed. "See it through."

He drew his empty blaster and flipped it deftly in the air, catching it by the barrel with the brylark grip facing outward.


Toseng Alleys

Bearcat was flagging. His thigh was burning where he'd been shot by Torsten, his shoulders still felt odd due to his unskilled battlefield triage, and the cyborg Imperial had more than likely cracked a few of his ribs during their fight. His right eye was swollen shut, so he was constantly swiveling his head as best he could to get a full field of view as he assessed his surroundings each time he had to dart from cover to cover.

Blue's cold corpse bounced upon his shoulder, reminding him of the loss each time her body jostled against his. Each time the gaping hole in his chest threatened to overwhelm him, he remembered that his Captain was currently buying him the time to make it to safety. He wouldn't give up until he was on the escape freighter, or he was physically incapable of going on.

His blaster was in his left hand, scanning for targets constantly. Memory of the possible damage to the weapon from the fire had fled his mind, and his scrambled thoughts were far from rational. A few times during his escape he'd nearly shot civilians scurrying through the darkness, only to pull up at the last possible moment before killing them. Again, motion in the darkness ahead of him drew his attention and the barrel of his blaster.

"Don't shoot!" a shrill voice called out, holding furred hands high.

"Who arrre you?" Bearcat growled, moving closer.

"Essian, I'm a nurse with the Anti-Venom," the diminutive Chadra Fan responded.

Bearcat was perplexed. "Vhat arrre you doing here? Vhy arrren't you on the ship?"

"Help me with her!" Essian replied, ignoring his question as she gestured toward the unconscious Zeltron female she was attempting to drag through the alley. "She's too big for me to carry." Her eyes settled on Blue upon his shoulder and she narrowed her eyes. "What's wrong with the Pantoran?"

"She's dead," Bearcat responded sadly as he examined the familiar features of the unconscious Zeltron the furry nurse had been dragging.

Essian's eyes widened. "Leave her and carry this one. She's still alive!"

Bearcat snarled angrily and holstered his weapon roughly. "I vill not leave herrr!" As he made his declaration of intent, he adjusted Blue on his hurt shoulder and knelt down, wrapping his better arm gently around the Zeltron's waist before popping to his full height, flipping her limp form up onto his other shoulder with relative ease. His knees and wounded thigh shot alarm signals all throughout his nervous system, but his strength of will held out, aided by a power roar for good measure.

Essian shot her finger to her lips. "Wake up the whole neighborhood, why don't you!"

"Shut up and lead the vay."

Essian took point, appropriating Bearcat's WESTAR-34 from his holster. She took one look at the weapon, however, and put it back in his hip holster. Her large ears were just as sensitive as his own, if not more so now that he had two bodies on his shoulders with their rustling clothing interfering with his own keen sense. They moved quickly, only pausing one time as Essian poked her head around a corner to survey the scene before waving for them to continue.

They knew they were getting close to their escape when they began to hear arguing voices. As they rounded a corner, they saw a heavily customized YV-260 freighter parked near the wrecked CRV Anti Venom. The bald human captain of the ship was gesticulating wildly, whilst a furry Bothan was standing resolute at the bottom of the ramp with his back to the captain. In the middle of the two was a human female, half brokering peace, half arguing her own point.

All eyes and blasters were aimed in their direction once, only to be holstered almost immediately.

"Essie!" The female shouted as she bounded over. A different human male bounded down the ramp after her, still wearing his own filthy flight suit. The Bothan also moved with the two humans, all three asking questions at the same time.

"Is that Gremlin?" The young human asked, incredulous.

"What took you so long?" The female asked, but the tone was full of worry rather than anger.

"Where is Captain Clark?" The Bothan queried, raising his volume to be heard over the others.

"Captain Kardia," Essian spoke for both of them "Captain Gemilan is fine, just sedated. The other pilot is deceased, however. This one," she said as she hooked a thumb in Bearcat's direction, "is fading fast."

"Captain Clark?" The Bothan insisted.

Bearcat grumbled and shook his head as Gremlin's body was grabbed by Kardia in an awkward fireman's carry. She and Essian moved forward to get the unconscious Zeltron aboard the escape vessel. Fatigue overwhelmed the Cathar, and he fell to a knee after being relieved of half his burden. His free hand slammed into the ground reflexively to stop himself from falling completely flat on the pavement, but the vertigo was strong enough to make his head swim and he'd be down on his stomach shortly without help.

The Bothan Major cast his eyes down for a moment as he pondered the response to his question. "Perhaps we can wait a moment longer?"

"We've got to go NOW the bald human still at the top of the ramp shouted. "The window is closing!"

"Told you we needed to wait," The Bothan hissed as he threw his shoulder underneath Bearcat's free arm to support the wounded pilot who insisted on carrying his fallen friend. He tried to lift the increasingly woozy Buccaneer himself, but was immediately reminded that he wasn't as strong as he used to be during his youth.

The other human attempted to grab Blue's corpse from Bearcat's shoulder, but the wounded Cathar let loose a menacing growl and bared his fangs. Instead, he assisted as best he could by jamming his shoulder underneath Bearcat's other arm that refused to relinquish his friend's corpse, and the three living beings were quickly upright and making stumbling progress toward the ship.

The bald man at the top of the ramp cursed loudly. He spoke into his comm, and then cursed some more when he got his reply. He cast an angry finger down at the struggling trio of bodies moving slowly. "I'm going up to the cockpit and retracting the ramp from there. If you're not onboard, yer going to be permanent residents!" He spun on his heel and provided help to Kardia and Essian with their burden to get them inside the ship.

"We cannot wait," the Bothan said sadly.

"We have to, Major!" The young human argued from behind them as they began climbing the ramp.

"It is out of our control. Now help me get these two aboard. That's an order!"

The human and Shen'ryu struggled with their charge as they half-dragged-half-carried Bearact and Blue across the threshold. With a loud grunt, they eased the two down gently to the ground. Essian was there instantly, running a scanner over Bearcat's body.

"See to it he gets whatever aid you can spare, nurse," Shen'ryu said as he gave a reassuring shoulder squeeze to the heaving Cathar.

Bearcat winced and roared, lashing out involuntarily. He cried out in pain as his arm reached a certain angle, and it fell limply to the deck. His other hand reached across his own body to grab at his hurt shoulder, squeezing hard enough with his talons to draw small beads of blood through his torn flight suit.

Essian dodged the limbs easily as she pushed a sedative through his neck with her hypodermic injector. Shen'ryu nearly fell to his backside, as he hadn't been prepared for that violent reaction.

"Easy now," Essian soothed. She fixed an eye on the surprised Bothan. "Can't you see he's got a shoulder dislocation? It's clear as day to anybody paying attention that wasn't put back correctly, and you just grabbed it. Please let me do my job without any more interruption!" She got back to work, chittering quietly in her native tongue that she should have let him get clawed for his idiocy.

Bearcat's head lolled to the side as the ramp fully retracted and the hatch eased shut. He felt the deck vibrate and felt light-headed as he thought the ship took off. His half-lidded eyes refused to close, because he didn't want to lose sight of Blue. He gripped her arm weekly with his left hand.

A bedraggled staff officer came skidding to a halt nearby. "Major!"

"What is it, Lieutenant?"

"We're missing somebody!" The officer held up a clipboard with a hastily written roster of names. "I've just done a quick run through the entire ship and worked my way back down here. We're missing one person!"

Major Shen'ryu nodded knowingly and held up a hand to calm his subordinate down. "Captain Clark isn't coming."

Bearcat's head shot up, fighting through the increasingly hazy feeling buzzing through his veins. "Captain Clarrrk?!" He attempted to look around, but his eyes couldn't focus on any particular face around him, and his head fell back to the deck with a thud.

"No, we're missing somebody else!" The staffer held out the clipboard with one name circled multiple times. "We're missing—"

Bearcat's eyes fully closed, no longer able to fight off the drug induced sleep.


Toseng City Streets

Feing's methodical footsteps slowly approached. He was in the middle of a droning soliloquy about duty, order, and strength. Rather than rush the moment, he was drawing it out to savor the victory and build the drama of the moment for all of the captive viewership on every channel of the holonet.

Bulldog's head was swimming. He'd taken enough blows to the head that he knew there was some serious damage aside from the obvious broken nose and missing teeth. He couldn't focus his vision clearly, no matter how much he tried to calm himself down. His blaster-as-a-club gimmick had lasted all of three seconds before Feing had disarmed him once again and sent the empty weapon flying off into the distance.

He was on the verge of losing all manner of composure, but then he remembered an old trick he'd used in his youth to focus his mind. He took another moment to think of the right song to get his mind right. He couldn't allow himself to quit, not yet. The prisoners needed every moment he could provide to escape. Finally, the words came to him.

Woah, yeah! We have it all right now.
Woah, yeah! We have it all right now.
We have it all!

When you know that it's all over,
But you've got a lot left to say.
Then go on now, and do something about it,
Cause it's all in your head anyway!

Bulldog knew he didn't have a chance to win a straight up fight any longer, especially with his broken dominant hand. If now or never was a feeling, the calm determination filling his body was the epitome of the sentiment. The mental music was having its desired effect. He slowly and calmly slipped his left hand behind his back, grasping the sweat-slicked metallic cylinder secured against his back at his belt beneath his jacket. He slowly pulled the lightsaber free, reorienting it underneath himself so his thumb found the activation stud easily.

Now, he waited for the perfect moment to shock Commander Feing.

When it seems that you won't make it,
You just can't give up on today,
Just break it down, and make ya think about it,
In the end you won't be filled with accolades

You gotta find a way
We know these times are tough
Just try to seize the day.
What are you waiting for?
We have everything

"So, now, it is time to end this mockery of combat, much like we will end the mockery of misgovernance and disorder that the New Republic represents!" Feing snarled as he finally closed the distance across the blood-slicked duracrete, now towering above the supine pilot. Looking down, he chuffed derisively as he bent over and grasped his opponent firmly by the throat. He applied enough pressure to make breathing uncomfortable, and then began lifting the man up off the ground.

Bulldog's eyes bulged at the pressure on his airway from the cybernetically enhanced hand of Commander Feing. He felt himself rising, his upper body off the ground while his butt and legs remained down. In a few moments, he'd be on his feet or held off the ground, whichever Feing deigned to do. His right arm hung limply at his side, his ruined hand floppily bouncing off of his hip, sending a twinge of pain up his arm that was strong enough to make his eye twitch and upper-lip curl. He kept his left hand behind his back, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He knew the weapon was likely now visible to the soldiers in the street, so he had to straddle a fine line to strike before it was noticed and a warning could be shouted.

Woah, yeah! We have it all right now.
Woah, yeah! We have it all right now.
We have it all!

When it feels like everyone is out to get you,
And your dreams are shattered, things will never change.
Always remember that I'll be there to help you,
I'll be the boy who will always find a better way

The augmented Imperial fully lifted the spent pilot off of the ground with one arm. The haughty look on his face hadn't changed much, though a murderous glint had come over his one flesh and blood eye. He tightened his grip, closing off the rebel's airway completely in his black-gloved hand. "Any last words, Captain?"

I will make this on no crossing,
If your world, it starts to decay.
Go straight ahead forever you can count on me,
I will never leave you floating in the wake.

You gotta find a way.
We know these times are tough.
Just try to seize the day.
What are you waiting for?
What are we waiting for?
We have everything!

Bulldog stared at Feing, fighting back the blackness at the corners of his vision brought on by the lack of oxygen. He attempted to spit in the Imperial's face, but his mouth was so dry and he couldn't force any air through his mouth to propel any spittle. Instead, he fixed what he hoped was his most defiant and triumphant glare to his face, and swung his left arm out from behind his back. His thumb depressed the activation stud, and chaos ensued.



A red lance of deadly energy sprouted forth from the previously hidden lightsaber. It had been aimed perfectly by Bulldog, and would skewer the murderous Imperial Commander through his heart and scythe through his upper torso. He closed his eyes and smiled in anticipation of his pyrrhic victory.

Woah, yeah! We have it all right now.
Woah, yeah! We have it all right now.
We have it all!

Unfortunately, Feing had somehow been ready for the last ditch maneuver, and even before the blade was activated, his free hand was already in motion to intercept Bulldog's hand and torque the weapon aperture away from his chest.

Time slowed down as the blade deployed with the tell-tale snap-hiss and high-pitched hum as the blade grew in length. It was moving toward flesh at a snail's pace as both men struggled to keep it on their intended target.


Crushing Existence,
What are we searching for?
Too much is there now,
And there's always a quest for more.
And when you think that there's nothing left to like,
Just pick yourself up and remember,
That you're alive!

Bulldog fell to the ground in a heap, and began gasping for air once again now that Feing's hand was no longer wrapped around his throat. He brought his right hand to his neck out of reflex, but in his nearly-asphyxiated confusion he'd forgotten that the entire hand was an inoperable and now swollen mess of red flesh and pulverized bone. He attempted to raise his left hand to his neck to provide some semblance of psychosomatic relief, but found that he couldn't feel his neck. His eyes shot open in alarm as his brain fought to process what was happening.

Years of muscle memory told him that he'd moved his arm and hand enough to where he should be able to touch his neck. However, nothing was there. He feared he may have somehow been paralyzed, but a quick shake of his legs disproved that avenue of thought. He took in a deep breath and lifted his head with supreme effort, ignoring Feing still towering over him while he strained to look at his left arm. His eyes widened with true fear when he finally realized what had happened.

A stump of cauterized flesh met his gaze. Where his left arm should be was nothing but empty space. The pain flooded in and overwhelmed him once his brain caught up. And a blood curdling scream leapt unbidden from his lips. He turned his head away from his missing arm, but as he rolled in the opposite direction Feing was there, holding his dismembered limb and shaking it in his face.

"Lost something, have you?" Feing chuckled as he stood upright and ripped the now deactivated lightsaber from the lifeless hand and tossed Bulldog's arm to the side. He kicked the Renegade hard in the ribs, successfully rolling the pilot over to his stomach as he recoiled from the blow. "Get up. GET UP!"

Woah yeah! We have it all right now.
Woah yeah! We have it all right now.

Bulldog attempted to drag himself away with his left arm, but had again forgotten it was gone and made no progress. With supreme effort, he slapped his ruined right hand on the ground and pushed with enough force for the shattered appendage to gain purchase on the rough street surface and drag himself a foot away. He repeated the process, crying out in pain as he slammed his broken hand into the ground to move some more. He knew it wasn't going to be enough, but his will to live refused to let him give up. Once more he slapped the pavement and dragged himself inches away. His wrecked hand erupted as the skin tore, showering his face with the blood and bits of splintered bone that had pooled in the wrecked appendage.

He finally regained some semblance of his senses, curling up into a ball and then rolling to his knees. He lifted one leg up and managed to get a shaky boot firmly planted on the ground. Just as he grunted to rise fully, he was propelled back to the ground by a booted foot to his upper spine.

"That's enough of that pitiful mewling, Captain," Feing derided as he took a step forward, bending down and gripping the pilot by the scruff of his neck and pulling him to his knees. His other hand touched upon something in Bulldog's pocket. Pulling it out, he tore the paper bag with his teeth until the one-armed rebel pilot action figure was fully free of the packaging. He held it up to the camera and laughed. "Ironic, isn't it?"

Bulldog sat there, his butt on his heels as his chest heaved. He slapped the husk of his broken hand ineffectually at Feing's clamp-like grip on his neck, but was easily brushed aside. He attempted to swat with his left hand, but was only rewarded with a stump wiggle.

Feing's hand snaked around to his neck as he knelt down behind the Renegade, putting his mouth millimeters from the beaten man's ear. "Do you see anything, so close to death? Anything to have made your pitiful life worth it?"

Bulldog felt the hot metal of the lightsaber's blade emitter against the back of his head. He again attempted to shake free, but he'd spent all of his energy and was unable to break the hold. A slight flutter of movement on a nearby balcony caught his attention. He couldn't tell exactly what he saw, but it either looked like a blaster or a recording device of some kind. He looked into the mystery device, breathing heavily. He smirked. "See it through," he huffed defiantly.

"False bravado until the very end," Feing spat. He tensed, drawing in a deep breath to raise his volume to address the gathered troops and any other nearby bystanders. "Witness the end of the paltry terrorism on Toseng, and the beginning of the end of the New Republic!"

Woah yeah! We have it all right now.
Woah yeah! We have it all right now.
We have it all!


CRS Vigilant Renegade Wing Rec Room

Shadow stood in the Rec Room with the other gathered bodies that now totaled just about all of the pilots of Renegade Wing as well as many of the troopers from various commando units in the Vigilant Task Force. He watched impassively as the senseless beating continued, and still remained stoic while others gasped during the struggle for the lightsaber and the outcome. The room continued to crowd with bodies as word spread throughout the ship like wildfire.

"I'm going to kill that karking mother schutta," Dragon growled, pacing around the room. Many of the people in his immediate area moved to give him a wide berth. "I'm gonna tear open his neck and rip his farking tongue through it! I'm gonna ... I'm gonna ..."

On the vid feed, they all watched the macabre scene unfold. Shadow knew that the scene was lightyears away, and any manner of him getting worked up now wouldn't be constructive since he wouldn't be able to reach the scene in time to change things.

He surveyed the scene around him, taking in the mixture of disgusted, sad, and a few hopeful faces in the gathered personnel. He held out a small reservoir of hope that Bulldog would survive, but he also knew the likely conclusion that was to come. Still, he kept his face impassive.

Feing stood on the pavement with his arm around Bulldog's neck, and his other hand held the lightsaber against the back of Bulldog's head. The vid feed zoomed in on Bulldog's face, which was a surprising mixture of serene and happy.

Shadow hoped that if it ended the way he thought it would, that Feing would miscalculate the entry angle and sever his own hand in the process. He gripped his belt tighter as he waited for the charade to end.

There was a ripple of activity from the stormtroopers surrounding the scene. The camera operator panned over and zoomed in on the source of the disturbance. Amongst the throng of white armor, a young man in a filthy Corsair Squadron flight suit launched himself into the crowd, attempting to punch, kick, and wrestle his way toward the main attraction. After making it halfway through, his momentum was finally arrested and he was grappled securely by five stormtroopers.

The camera zoomed in again. Helmets bobbed in and out of the frame as the matted light brown hair of the pilot obscured its owner's face. The troopers slapped two pairs of binders on the man, one set securing his hands behind his back while the other secured his feet together. Without the ability to widen his base, a vicious shove from behind sent the pilot face-first into the pavement. A crack was audible on the recording even though the camera operator was a fair distance away.

As the man rolled to his back, he continued to try and squirm toward Bulldog and Feing. Another trooper kicked him in the ribs, causing the prone man to roll over onto his back.

"Oh, no," Silence gasped, her hand covering her mouth in horror.

"Guys, that's Junior!" Freak shouted as he pointed, his own look of disbelief painted across his features.

Shadow's eyes immediately zeroed in on Jalb from across the room by the door. Jalb's posture was uncomfortably tense during the earlier parts of the video, but now he'd pushed off of the wall he was leaning on and strained his eyes. His complexion paled the moment he'd confirmed the identity of his son on the recording, and his arms that had been crossed in front of him went up to his face. One hand covered his mouth while the other gripped the back of his head.

Shadow sensed something was about to happen, and he turned his head to watch the vid once more. His eyes refocused just in time to see the camera shift focus back onto Bulldog's face. His lips mumbled something unintelligible from this distance, and he smiled.

Feing visibly tensed, and Shadow knew what was coming. He wanted to look away, but found that he couldn't. Feing's words were obscured by the rustling of the camera operator's uniform as they answered a comm call in a muffled voice. After a short conversation, the camera focused once again on the two men in the street.

Suddenly, a red lance of energy erupted from the middle of Bulldog's forehead, exiting right in the middle of his eyes and the bridge of his nose. His body tensed and jerked violently as the lightsaber burnt its way through his brainpan and cooked off the surrounding brain matter. Feing held the twitching body in place for a few agonizing beats before releasing his hold on the dead man's throat and letting the corpse fall forward. The blade exited the same hole it had entered, meaning there was no more graphic or grievous damage to Bulldog's head. Not that it mattered in the slightest, as their compatriot was gone.

The occupants of the room took three different reactions to the execution they'd just watched. Some cried out and covered their eyes. Others cursed loudly and began yelling angrily at Feing. The last group, like Shadow, were impassive and gave no hint of their true feelings on their faces as they stood stock still.


CRS Vigilant Renegade Wing Rec Room

Lock let loose a sharp curse as he too looked like he wanted to hit something. However, rather than do that, he grabbed two handfuls of his white hair and pulled hard as he half fell, half squatted with his back against the wall and his head bowed toward the ground.

Dragon elbowed the wall he'd been leaning on with enough force to shake the items on the shelf farther down the wall. He turned around and let loose a sound that was a cross between a roar and pained wail as he rubbed his elbow with his other hand. At the end of the wall, a large beer glass fell off the shelf and landed on the tabletop jukebox with a crash. Music started playing, and nobody moved to stop it. The opening synth riff continued to build in intensity and complexity, joined by brief bursts of distorted guitars.

Frosty was on his feet instantly. Without taking his eyes off of the broadcast, he spoke in a solemn voice. "We have to go back. Now." Many voices murmured in agreement.

Loth Cat jumped to their feet immediately and patted Frosty on the shoulder, nodding emphatically in agreement. "For Bulldog," they croaked as tears streamed down their cheeks. "For Cho."

The mood of the room slowly built as more people stood up, and the volume and conviction of the agreements rose with them. The rest of the band on the jukebox joined in, crashing drums and thundering bass completing the frenzied musical arrangement.

"People, please remain calm," Stryker said as he rushed into the room like a man with a purpose. It was telling that he knew exactly how his pilots would react to what had just been viewed by all. "This is exactly what they want us to do. I know what the Captain meant to us, but so do they!"

"I don't care!" somebody shouted from the crowd, but was smart enough to keep themselves out of sight. A trained ear might have thought the voice belonged to Ant or Wolvinator.

Stryker flinched at the first real disagreement leveed in his direction by one of his subordinates. He held his hands up in front of him to urge everybody to remain calm. "We must finish re-arming and repairing. We need to prepare properly and not go off half-cocked and angry."

Jalb stepped out of the crowd and approached Stryker quickly, looking directly into his CO's eyes. The ruckus of the room fell silent almost instantly as all in attendance were enthralled by the coming debate in front of them.

No words passed between the two men, and the entire room was silent save for the slight rustling of people's clothing as they fidgeted. Jalb's hardened gaze met with the calm, sympathetic look in Stryker's eyes. The singer began belting out the lyrics on the jukebox, filling the tense silence between the two leaders with an anthemic melody.

"The frak Vince! We've seen four of our people. How many more are down there?! How many have we lost because we didn't go back for them!? Where are our intelligence assets on the ground?! I want to mount a rescue op, immediately!" Jalb bellowed quickly in seemingly one breath, his previously pale face turning purple with rage mixed with oxygen deprivation. He breathed rapidly, bordering on hyperventilation as he waited for the senior Renegade Wing officer to reply. When a reply wasn't forthcoming immediately, he slapped a nearby wall. "Well?!"

After what seemed like an eternity, Stryker bowed his head and held up one finger. "I need one week, Chris. We've got reinforcements inbound. Give me a few days to aggressively train them up, and we'll go." Deep down, he knew that if he forbade any action longer than that there would be mass desertions as pilots took it upon themselves to go back. These piecemeal attacks would be futile and lead to the destruction in detail of Renegade Wing.

The song on the jukebox ended, the last words being wailed by the singer's booming tenor filled the silent room. "Through the fire and flames we carry on!"

Jalb nodded himself and turned to face the entirety of the wing crowded into the common room. He nodded sharply once, opening his mouth to speak. A look of worry mixed with anger flitted across his face, causing him to choke up slightly before he spoke.

"Simulators, now," he said barely above a hoarse whisper. He turned and left the room, with Stryker at his side as the two men began a discussion of tactics and available assets.

The entire room exploded into action. The Renegades were preparing for war, and planning to go back to Toseng. They would be bringing all the fury of hell with them.

The End

Lyrics from:

"See it Through" poem by Edgar Albert Guest
"Not Gonna Die" by Skillet
"We Have it All" by Pennywise