Rebel Squadrons

PSG Xa 112a: Sabaac - The Aftermath

By GEN Damon Lightwind
Unit: The Rebel Squadrons
Narrative, May 07, 2011
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Ta Re` D’jo

After doing as little as possible during the mission so far – which actually was the mission parameters: to stay alive, but make it look like the enemy was in control of the circumstances – Ray was ready to actually DO something. Far too much was at stake, and far too many risks had been taken already.
Neo came over the com. “Alrighty, then. We’ve all had a chance to load up and review the orders. This mission is simple. Disable the Odin. Disable whatever is with it. Kill all the fighters. Save anything that can be useful. Come home alive. …which ever ship might home be… No sweat, right?” There was no response on the com. …which gave a good indication how the rest of the Greys felt about their chances of this being an easy mission. “Ray… you’re in charge of this one. Show us all what you got.”
…I’d gotten stuck in a B-wing since, apparently, the opposition was going to be too much for a Y-wing to handle.
–Geez, Neo… the B-wing is worse than the A-wing!
The squad flew out and hypered to the coordinates of the Odin. A wave of T/A’s came out of the ship.
“You guys get on those dogs, I’m not the best with them. Keep ‘em off my back, and I’ll disable the big stuff!”
“Copy that, Red 4,” she heard a pilot over the com say.
I disabled the enemy ship first before proceeding to the Odin. They were pretty easy to disable, actually... That is a little suspicious, really. Note for Castor, Trap for our Trap?
Then I helped take out some of the T/A’s. …at least I provided them with a target while the others caught them while their attention was on me. Since I only used my lasers for a few shots at the Star Destroyer bridge, which was already disabled, and drawing the T/As to it’s defense, she could use most of her laser energy to support her shields when needed. Eventually, there were no more enemy starfighters, and Shock had control of the ISD..
“Alright guys. We did what we needed to do. Good Job! Rendezvous point now.”
“Copy that,” came a few voices over the com.
…as a side note, I suggest some ships are better than B-wings. Either that, or making special alterations the B-wings. I can’t shoot for crap in them. …and I don’t much like being bait. …especially by my own choice.

Damon Lightwind

-= CRS: Odin, Med Ops=-

Damon didn’t remember much from his recent ordeal having been unconscious for the better part of four hours. All he knew at this point is he was safely back aboard the Odin as he laid there quite sore. It seemed his little wrinkle had worked so well, in fact, it all but drove the enemy commander nuts. As a result he just decided to grab the first person he came across and brought him down to be interrogated.
…unfortunately for Damon he was the one that got picked and for hours he was beaten and tortured.
Now all he could do was heal.
…and deal with med ops.
…and being the case study.
…yet again.
However, Damon was more than willing to deal with it this time around, feeling quite satisfied things succeeded.
He watched as best he could, as the MedTechs helped the others. It was not easy to see very well through the massive swelling around his eyes – through which his view was tinted red, suggesting blood inside his eyeballs. And that suggested that those clots were going to have to be removed, or his vision would eventually be obstructed. Considering his issue with bacta, that procedure was something he really didn’t want to speculate about.
He awaited his turn to be slid into a bacta tank. …which wasn’t going to work.
As he laid there he tried to remember anything he could about anything that happened recently. Mostly all he could remember was General Greedo entering the detention area. Members of Shock came through the door behind him, and everything went black after that.
"Okay, Captain. I just wanted to warn you, it's your turn, and it looks you'll be in there for a while," the female MedTech explained.
Damon, hardly able to be understood due to his swollen face, said concisely, "Id’s dot goingk to urk.”
She blinked once, and thought a moment. "Oh! That's right! You’re the bacta resistant one. Gods less fortunate. Ever since bacta was invented, we’ve all but lost our capability to deal with injuries in primitive ways."
“Yah.,” he said closing his eyes that were almost swollen shut anyway. “I doe.”
She wheeled his table off to the side, and started consulting her assistant droid.
“aye-the-uay… how's James doingk?"
She sighed, and said, "Not sure just yet. Captain Stargazer is in pretty rough shape. At first glance you wouldn't know it, though. *You* look worse than he does, and you’re in better shape than him."
"Thahnks." He managed to say. Breathing had started to hurt, and his breaths were becoming more like gasps. “Datafad…?”
“You just stay put. I’ll see if I can get it for you. But I’ll tell you now, that you’re not going to be in any condition to use it.” She swabbed the inside of his elbow.
“Whai…” Damon asked weakly.
“This is going to pinch a little.” It did. Just a little. The MedTech turned and slid a needle into a tube, and hung a bag on a hook on the pole over the head of his gurney.
“Don’t fut vee out yet.”
She held a hypodermic at the ‘y’ in the tube. “Any particular reason…?”
“Gotta see Javes for a sec.”
“Just for a sec. But then I gotta put you out.”
“S’okay. Jess a sec.”
She wheeled him to the wide walkway, and past a few curtains. When the gurney stopped Damon saw his ‘charge’ (as it were) doing the bacta walk. …which wasn’t a ‘walk’ as much as it was a ‘float’.
He looked at James' tank and sighed. "Uf to you dude. Dun wat I ken. Yu gotta do thiz fart on yer own." He stared in silence at his wounded friend for a moment, thinking, "We’ve all made it through this. …a little worse for wear and tear. …but we lived. Come on, dude. Fight."
Damon rolled his head to the face the opposite direction and found the MedTech. He nodded slightly.
Everything hurt.
She nodded in return and rolled him back to his corner.
The MedTech reached up to the ‘y’, and push the contents of the syringe into the fluid already in the tube.
His view of her suddenly skewed sideways, as if the top left and bottom right of his vision were being pulled in directly opposite directions.
“Start from one hundred, and count backwards.” Her voice sounded like she was in the next room.
He blinked slowly once.
…and didn’t remember getting to count to one hundred. …much less ninety-nine.

Sabaac ‑ The Aftermath.

Ray jumped from the cockpit and landed with a resounding thud on the flight deck floor. She flung her helmet off and let it skid across the deck back toward the B‑Wing she'd just shut down, and only briefly acknowledged the cheers from the repair and flight deck crews. She made her way quickly through the throng to the Deck Officer amidst thumps on her shoulders and back, with quick smiles to the crew. She barely noticed due to the adrenaline still coursing through her veins. She was still "on" from the mission she'd just returned from. Ray had found that this was usually case, though never this bad, and she usually wound down in Shock’s Playroom, but at this point, though, she only had one thought.
"Where's Castor?" The question fired from her lips as she snagged the Deck Officer's arm. Castor had taken Admiral Borran’s place in one of the most dangerous jobs in the operation, but, admittedly, he was the most likely to survive it.
The DO's quick intake of breath and scowl, as he was firmly turned to face his assailant was calculated to show his displeasure at being handled so roughly. But as he completed his turn and saw the look of concern and recognized the Dathmirian pilot, the DO felt it better to drop the matter, this time, particularly since it was one of the esteemed Grey pilots who had committed the minor indiscretion.
Ta’ Re` D’jo, experienced and confident. More than that, though, she was a combat pilot in Grey Squadron. She'd graduated from the Academy with top marks in Combat Tactics, and after spending some time in the Fleet she put in for duty with Grey ‑ an outer rim squadron whose reputation was met with varied shades from skepticism to complete awe. But Grey was quickly becoming legendary in the Academy ‑ their missions and tactics were required study, and Cadets dreamed of someday being a part of it.
Grey had distinguished itself in a number of ways. First of all, Grey had been attached to the CRS Odin which was at that time commanded by General Greedo‑96. Greedo was the 96th clone of a bounty hunter who had worked secretly for Emperor Palpatine. He'd become disillusioned with his cruel master and the punishments the Emperor meted out on a whim. But Greedo‑96 was an excellent tactician, and had joined the Rebellion where he could put his talents to use without the constant fear of the Emperor's abuse. Greedo's Rodian feral instincts, along with his superior combat ability and tactical brilliance, had won him command of the Odin, the flagship in this sector. The General had taken a different assignment for a while, as had Grey, but now Grey was back on the Odin, as was Greedo, as an advisor this time. The General was often brusk and very often his demeanor seemed insulting to those who weren't familiar with his constant near ranting gruffness.
Grey was also one of the squadrons which were still in the pursuit of the remnants of the not quite dead Empire, which was scattered, yes, but not completely gone, and quite active in this section of the outer rim. Grey was assigned to keep those scattered remnants from reorganizing into a coherent force – the leaders of these small groups were not inconsequential, and far more than capable of consolidating their efforts into a major disruptive force. Therefore, the pilots of Grey got to see quite a bit of action. Through the organizational and tactical skills of both General Greedo and Grey's commanding officers, Admirals Tyrell Borran and Castor Efrata‑Landis, and the combat skills of the pilots themselves, Grey's losses were far below the average for combat squadrons. Grey and the Odin had defended themselves successfully many times when they'd become the targets of offensive maneuvers by the enemy.
Ray had come up through the ranks quickly, but she'd earned every promotion, and felt good about them. She had applied for the transfer as soon as she'd made Captain, and sat at the simulators for hundreds of hours running every Grey mission on file ‑ every minute of her spare time. In the end, it must have paid off, because she had received notice fairly quickly considering the "waiting list as long as a winter on Hoth". Many of the Grey pilots, if they moved on at all, advanced into command positions. That was one of the biggest reasons why so many applied ‑ if you were good enough to be accepted, and stay alive, you were already recognized as being on a "command track" and the success of your career was almost guaranteed if you got into Grey. …you only had to survive long enough to see it.
Not everyone stayed alive, though, despite of the fact that Castor Efrata-Landis made sure that all of the pilots stationed on the Odin had only the best equipment in a complete state of full repair, were fully qualified for duty, and the mission tactics provided for as many contingencies as possible. The Grey selection process was designed so that the pilots could meld together into a fully functional team so as to maximize their cooperative efforts and hopefully minimize loss of personnel. The simulator tests were grueling, almost as much as the interviews. It took a special kind of person to be a Grey ‑ neither Borran nor Castor were fond of dead heroes, and neither cared much for informing the relatives.
Many of the Odin's crew, as well, had officially requested to be transferred there. One was not taken onto the Odin lightly and with Admiral Borran commanding, those who didn't fit in immediately with the smooth functioning of the ship and crew, or didn't remain that way, were summarily transferred off. No questions. No recourse. No regrets.
Ray had just returned from one of the most demanding missions she'd ever flown and was one of the very few Fighter Pilots in General Greedo's "Sabaac Gamble" operation to be able to hyper her starfighter to the rendezvous point. Most of the rest were in process of being recovered by the Rescue and Salvage teams, and she couldn't keep the look of urgency from her face.
"He's coming in at the Medical Ops port, sir," answered DO smartly.
"How about Borran?"
"Doing a bacta dance under cover of a maintenance accident." Deck Officer Kevlar prided himself on always knowing the whereabouts of every craft belonging to the Odin, and made every effort to know who was on them, and if they were on the command team and not on any craft, exactly where they were.
"Thanks," Ray called over her shoulder, and she was off and running toward Castor’s specified location. Admiral Borran had to be in some other solution in MedOps, because he was allergic, or something, to bacta, as far as she heard. If he was still there, then his cover worked. But as far as everything else went, too many things could have gone wrong this time. Grey, and Castor, and Borran, and Greedo, and all the rest, had put themselves between the jaws of death before, but they'd never let themselves go halfway down it's throat, as well. …until this time.
As she turned the corner into the last short stretch of corridor, she nearly ran into Captain Rabid, a man whose face and hands bore more scars than Ray had thought was possible – not even on Dathomir. Rabid, the only name anybody ever used for him ‑ and not much else about him was publicly known ‑ had arrived at the spot only seconds earlier, and was leaning, hands against the bulkhead. Both stood panting, slightly out of breath, having run to the port to meet the Grey Squadron Commander.
Most of the traffic was docking close to Medical Operations as the Rescue and Salvage teams brought in their findings. This particular corridor had almost constant traffic, and, judging from the voices coming over the audio receiver it didn't sound like it was likely to end soon. The Transport that Castor was on was in the process of bringing back officers of the Odin, wounded and not, returning from the Star Destroyer which had been in command of the unit that had recently captured the Odin. Ray looked sideways at Rabid – there were rumors about him too. …and how most of the scars were self-induced. She didn’t say anything, but he caught her looking at him.
“Yah,” was all he said. …which could have meant just about anything.
The General had come up with a brilliant, but exceedingly risky plan. With the aid of Admiral Castor Efrata‑Landis, the pilots of Grey and the Shock Team, largely depending on timing and the coordination of the forces and crew, they had allowed the Odin to be captured so as to get themselves in a position such that the tables could be turned and the captors might quickly find themselves the captees. The potential for disaster was so high that the entire crew had been given the opportunity for transfer. There had been no takers. None. Zero. Zip. …they were either very brave, or very stupid.
General Greedo and Grey had been tracking down information on an alleged Doom's Day weapon, thought to bear the name of "Star Hammer". They had tracked and identified supply convoys and slave traders with the aid of a pirate leader who believed the rumors to be true. The pirate leader, Flame, a mysterious female Rodian, decided that the most sane, and profitable, course of action would be to alert Greedo, his presence in the sector was already known to her.
Flame had created a convoluted plan which would ultimately allow her ship to be captured by General Greedo. She could then inform him of the weapon, hopefully in return for the freedom of herself and her crew. Then she could return to her business and ship without having her crew feel betrayed, and rest a little easier in the knowledge that the Mighty Greedo was on the job. The universe would never be able to stand, nor understand, power of that magnitude. It was better off destroyed ‑ which was part of the deal she cut with the General. He would ensure that the weapon technology and all of it's research were destroyed, and all of the research personnel were incarcerated or killed. …knowing Greedo… probably more often the latter than the former. …likely by a margin of a thousand to one.
To this end, the Odin had been attacked, but had made its way into hyper space. The General had consulted with Borran, through Castor, and immediate orders were given. Greedo and the Shock Team would suit up, go EVA, and attach and camouflage themselves on the outside of the Odin's hull. Castor, assuming command of the Odin, had the crew partially disable the ship, and prepare to be boarded. A third of the Grey pilots took their fighters and jumped immediately to the location of the Independence, the closest command ship of any size, there to await a predetermined "all set" signal. Another third remained aboard to keep track of the crew and to keep them from panicking. The rest launched in order to "simulate" resistance ‑ after which they would "run", if able, seemingly to abandon the Odin to it's fate, and rendezvous with the first group.
Hopefully, the Odin would then be captured, without sustaining too much damage, and taken to a place where its commander (Castor, at this point) and crew could be interrogated, and the Odin refitted for Imperial use. When the Odin arrived at it's destination, the General would send a hyper‑space homing signal back to the Independence, where the awaiting Grey pilots would be resupplied, rearmed and ready. The Rescue and Salvage team, waiting in a nearby system, would be contacted and then scour the recent battle site for survivors. Again hopefully, losses could be held to a minimum.
Upon receiving the General's signal, Grey would jump to the Odin's location and cause as much of a distraction as possible to allow Greedo and Shock to place themselves in positions where the shields of the Odin and the Imperial Task Group Command Craft could be taken down quickly from outside the ships, transferring between the two, unnoticed on the outsides of Imperial Transports and Shuttles. When settled and ready, a second signal would alert the Grey pilots, already in action, that the shields were down and that the two craft could be disabled. From there, both craft would be captured by the Shock teams and the Alliance officers aboard.
Castor had volunteered to take command of the Odin, in place of Admiral Borran, who was irreplaceable in that position. Both the Admiral and the General agreed that, with Castor's particular Force talents – a variation on an old Jedi mind trick, which allowed him to seemingly disappear – would be able to be "at large" on the Imperial Command ship more quickly, and have the better chance of surviving the situation should the Imperial leaders feel the need to display their frustrations and anger to a "captive audience". Castor's main task was to free any captives on board the Imperial Command Craft, allow Shock Team to board, and then take down the shields on any Advanced TIEs or Gunboats that may be ready to launch, allowing the Grey pilots to concentrate on disabling the two capital craft without as formidable a resistence. They had stashed weapons and lock opening devices all over the Odin so that those left aboard would be able to make their escape and attempt to take back the ship when the signal was sent.
It was a brilliant plan, but so many things depended on each part completing their assigned tasks, and doing it quickly. So many lives could be lost, but there was also so much to gain by it. Once they took back the Odin, and captured the Imperial task group command ship, they'd be that much closer to having more useful information about the "Star Hammer". From the point of view of Greedo, Grey and the crew, if they won, then they won. If they failed, it was only a matter of how they would die ‑ not a question of "if". The Star Hammer could be used against them, along with the rest of the universe, if allowed to be completed.
The operation had gone smoothly, more or less by the numbers, and far more smoothly than anyone had dared to hope, and the mission had been a success. Both capital craft had been taken and were now under Alliance control, presumably… if Greedo and Shock had been successful taking over the Star Destroyer. Everything was done but retrieving survivors, tending to the wounded, and celebrating (one of Grey most favorite pastimes). Ray had been assigned to a B‑Wing during the battle, but Rabid, another Grey pilot, had stayed aboard the Odin to coordinate the retaliation strike. Both now waited at the lock to greet and congratulate Castor. …assuming he was in shape to be greeted and congratulated. …which they were both worried about and neither condition could be guaranteed.
The Transport lock whisked open, and General Greedo swept by – they hadn’t known he was aboard – hardly even noticing anyone was present, almost before the doors had completely opened. Ray only saw that he was still in his vacuum suit, the green of his scalp showing over the suit's helmet seal. His pressure helmet held in hand as if he might heave it away from himself at any time, like he was expecting it to explode. The General's ears twitched with little quick jerks, which also added to the impression that he was probably angry about something.
"Sir!" Someone called, and all present snapped to attention and saluted the by now empty air as the General stormed away toward his quarters without having said a word. The only sounds were the clomping of the General's hull‑boots, the unexpected Rodian shout – the meaning of which was lost as it was completely covered by the crash and clatter of his helmet as it hit the opposite wall with some force, shattered, and the pieces scattered over the floor. Ray’s impression hadn't been wrong, and the two Grey pilots turned to look at each other questioningly while they floundered in his wake with words of congratulations not having escaped their mouths.
"What's HIS problem? We got the Odin back" Ray said, "AND the Star Destroyer, just like he'd planned."
Rabid had fully intended to quip "Maybe Castor looked at him cross‑eyed. Or maybe he found a piece of a Grey starfighter flinging out into space on the wrong vector, and Castor wasn't available to be yelled at" when his voice completely failed him. The MedTechs pushed a gravlift through the lock doors. On it was Castor. Ray gasped, and Rabid's indrawn breath hissed through his teeth as the recognition, and Castor's condition, set in.
What was left of Castor's shredded uniform was covered with blood. His left arm was immobilized from his wrist to his chest, and by the way his entire side was bandaged, they could see that he was missing at least two fingers, as well as his thumb, and most of the bones in his arm, shoulder and that side of his rib cage had been broken. His left foot was twisted and crushed into a gelatinous mass. Castor's right eye was unable to open, even had he wanted it to, because of the swelling of his face. The left eye only stared blankly into space, unfocused, and unblinking. The emergency breather had to be held on with thin strips of space tape because of the misshapen face. The skin of his neck and chest bore the marks of chemical and heat burns.
An older officer, was Castor, not very handsome ‑ but not ugly, not very tall ‑ but not short, not very heavy ‑ but not thin. His hair was completely white and well past his collar in length ‑ he kept it out of his eyes with a thick braided cloth band tied around his head. He normally smiled a lot, through his bright red and widely handle‑barred moustache, and laughed loudly at a good joke ‑ particularly if it was on him. It wasn't uncommon to see him having drinks with the junior officers and crew at the Odin's Bar and Grill when he had the time. He cared about his pilots and the young officers he trained, and usually carried himself with a kind of quiet dignity. Sometimes, though, the dignity slipped, and he might have been mistaken for a fledgling Cadet.
The Grey pilots knew him to be honest, fair, and caring. And Castor always took the heat from the General when Greedo was not quite pleased with Grey's performance ‑ which seemed to be far more often than necessary, as Castor was almost constantly victim of Greedo searing tongue lashings. Being Castor, though, that heat never found it's way to the Grey pilots ‑ at least not the same heat that he got from the General, and certainly not delivered in the same manner. They very often sat with him in his office, a small cubicle hardly large enough to fit them all, sharing jokes, problems, and stories, though Castor's inventory of stories was limited by the memories which had been lost in the spice mines of Kessel. He was a model officer, for the most part, and many showed the influence of his training.
Now his hair was matted to his skull, thick with blood, and he was barely recognizable as Castor. The Imperial interrogators had apparently tortured and beat him with insane and malicious abandon. Castor breathed shallowly, and scarlet foam slid down his cheek from his nose and mouth, leaking from the edges of the breather.
Rabid made a strangling noise, his mouth wide open as if he'd forgotten how to breathe, and Ray’s knees buckled as she sat down suddenly with her back against the bulkhead as the Emergency MedTechs all but ran with the lift toward MedOps. The younger pilot stared blankly, as she reran the mission in her head, and thought of the part that Castor had to play in it.
Ray’s head drooped to her knees, and shaking it unbelievingly she mumbled "How in the name of the First Witch was he able to get the shields down on that first bunch of TA's? How could he DO that in that condition? Oh, gods! I should have been here! How did he do that?"
Rabid grabbed one of the MedTechs. "What happened to Castor," he demanded. "Is he okay?"
The medic stopped and shook his head. "I don't know. He's in really tough shape, and he's lost an awful lot of blood. There was a search for wounded throughout the Star Destroyer. We had a list of personnel over there. They found him on the flight deck but we didn't even see him until one of the Wookies on the team reached down and picked him up. I don't know how we could've missed him lookin' like that.
“Listen, they'll do what they can at MedOps, but, personally, I'm not confident we found him in time. I'm sorry. We'll do everything possible, and probably try a few things that aren't, too.”
The MedTech stopped for just a second, knowing there was just one little bit of good he *could* do, right now. “Just remember…" he said far more calmly. “The Admiral is our XO too. We’re not going to be careless. And we’re not going to not do everything can. But we’ve got to go. Time is real short here.”
Rabid thanked the tech, and stood with his eyes closed for a minute, trying one of the calming techniques that Castor had been trying to teach him. Castor knew quite well about his problem, and felt that it might be minimized, even though not cured completely, through the proper training. He felt like something was squeezing his chest, like his head might explode at any moment. After a few seconds Rabid decided that it wasn't going to work this time, and, when he looked down, Ray was still mumbling "I should have been here... I should have been here..." and staring blankly between her knees, occasionally wiping her nose on her flight suit.
Squatting down next to his younger, but higher ranking, squadron mate, Rabid put a hand on her shoulder as much to get her attention as to offer support. When Ray didn't look at him, Rabid gave the shoulder a painful squeeze. Ray winced, gasped, and finally looked up.
"Kid, I WAS here ‑ don't beat yourself to death. There was nothin' ya could've done that I wouldn't've, given the chance ‑ or did do when I did get the chance. We all had our orders. So did Castor, and him, Admiral Borran, and the General agreed that, if things turned nasty, Castor would be the one with the greatest chance of survival as commander of the Odin, and still have a chance to help complete the mission. He's still alive, and he ain't gave up yet. And it ain't too very likely that he's about to. He's lost too much of his life already to give up."
Ray’s eyes started to lose their focus. Rabid thought that the kid might be starting to lose it, so he gave the Dathmirian a small slap on her ear. Ray focused quickly on Rabid ‑ a small slap from him was nothing gentle.
"Stay with me, Ray. I'm the only one that's supposed to go away like that, and I'm don't think I can hang on too much longer as it is. So you're going to have to." Rabid's breathing was labored, and his eyes had begun to dilate. A low growl started deep down in his throat.
"But Castor... He's... I..." Ray couldn't even think straight enough to voice a coherent thought. The mental image of Castor remained foremost in her mind.
"Castor's been through an awful durned lot.” The growl interrupted him, and he started to twitch. “He got away from Kessel ‑ one of a real small few that ever did. He lived on raw spice and corpses for the gods only know how many years ‑ Castor doesn't. That's where he got his force trainin', kid.” He twitched hard, and stood up, struggling to complete his thought. “And that's where he dropped all those memories we don't ask much about. Someday I'll tell ya how I found out.” Another twitch and growl. …and a little foam slid from the side of his mouth.
"Ya gotta understand that Castor ain't stupid, kid, and he ain't much into pain. It don't do for him what it does for me.” Twitch. Extended blink. “I know him. Better than most. And I know that he didn't have to let 'em do that to him. The fact that he DID says that he figured he had to protect someone.” He started talking more urgently, as if he didn’t have much time. “Knowin' him, most likely, us. He let 'em have himself so that they wouldn't go lookin' no where else for something more fun. He's crazy like that ‑ he does that sorta stupid crap. Blaster bolts! He didn't have to let 'em ‑ he could've stopped it! He didn't HAVE to let 'em! He didn't..."
Rabid howled. He’d been punctuating his sentences with shakes and squeezes of Ray’s shoulders, on which Rabid's grip was beginning to be more than moderately painful. Ray saw the wild look growing in Rabid's eyes while the muscles in his face were jumping as if trying to change into that of a completely different species.
The maze of scars fairly danced on Rabid's face.
Ray had heard odd rumors about Rabid, things that had happened before he'd volunteered for duty with Grey. Things that had happened since. But the whole story hadn't been told... rumors about slavers. Torture. From the rumors, as bad as what they'd done to Castor ‑ maybe worse. …and for a whole lot longer.
Ray remembered when Rabid came onto the Odin. Most everybody knew him already. Surprise was evident throughout the ship ‑ they'd all thought he'd been killed. The celebration in the Bar and Grill had been almost immediate. But, apparently, no one wanted to talk about where he'd been, and nobody else wanted to be the one to ask. Castor knew. So did Mike McEwen, a pilot who had recently left Grey on the "Command Track". They were the ones that brought him back. They'd been gone for nearly three weeks. But they weren't telling anything, either.
Rabid went on, foamed spit flying from his mouth, as he shouted. "He came and got me! He came for ME! I'M the one that SHOULD've freakin' well been with him!"
With that, Rabid sprang back to his feet. Ray would never tell anyone that she'd heard Rabid say, in a voice clearly not Rabid's... a voice that raised all the hair on the back of her neck... a voice much deeper, and much darker... as he walked stiffly away, fists clenched tightly at his sides. "When we find the one that did this, we're goin' to rip his throat... out... with... my... bare... TEETH!"
Rabid's last word sounded more like a preditorial bark then speech as it echoed around the corner of the corridor back to Ray, and it was punctuated with a sharp bang that sounded like someone had hit one of the bulkheads with a hammer. Every few seconds after that was yet another resounding hollow thud that sounded farther and farther away, accompanied by a pained growl. Ray knew that it was Rabid doing the hitting, and she was pretty sure it was the walls being hit ‑ she just wasn't at all sure she wanted to know with what they were being hit.


Alone in his cabin, Rabid's breathing was heavy and fast through his mouth. The air burned in his lungs. His eyes were squeezed tightly closed, as if to shut out a sight best left unseen. His fists so tightly closed that little drops of blood smeared between his fingers. The image of Castor on the gurney filled his mind, and, when it changed, it only shifted to something worse ‑ torture at the hands of the slavers, other ghosts from his past. He tried so hard to stay here and now. The gruesome pictures flashed behind his eyelids, circled and danced until they all became one, a blur... and then came the voices...
Low growls came from deep within his throat, as his body jerked and he rolled into a semi‑fetal position on the floor. Foamed saliva mixed with blood from the bites on the inside of his lips sprayed from his bared teeth as the growls became louder. His eyes flew open flashing back and forth wildly as if trying to focus on something moving too quickly to be seen, and his face contorted into a horrific mask of rage. His fingernails, short as they were, had bitten deeply into his palms. He clawed the air, arms flailing, throwing scarlet droplets onto the walls. The growls turned into a long animal howl, like something from the depths of the Kashyyyk forest. And the howl turned into a shriek as he rammed the back of his head on the floor time after time after time. The shriek finally died as his lungs emptied themselves, and a blood stain grew on the floor where he continuously banged the back of his skull. His indrawn breath was to the utmost capacity of his lungs, expanding his rib cage nearly to the point of exploding, and the following scream, had his quarters not been sound‑proofed a long time ago, might have brought crew running from either end of the ship.
This wasn't the first time this had happened to Rabid. Not by far. Nor would it likely be the last.
And the screaming continued.


A while later, Rabid sat in a simulator cockpit, hands shaking, eyes flashing, and blood dripping down the back of his neck, his throat raw. The SimTechs had watched him come in, load a number of historical missions, and enter the chamber. He'd done this a number of times before, although, he'd never looked quite this bad. They had standing orders not to disturb him, definitely not to talk to him, absolutely not to try to stop him, not to alert anyone that he was there, and on the penalty of something better left not described NOT to let anyone else enter the chamber other than one of the senior-most Grey pilots. The word they'd gotten, straight from Admiral Efrata-Landis, stated that they were to use blasters on extreme stun to enforce their orders ‑ even on each other, if need be. Failure, in this case, would be dealt with harshly. But no one could figure out, though, if punishment would be meted out by the Admiral or Rabid!
Rabid moved through SimOps on his single minded mission, as if some geis had been thrust upon him. The SimTechs could only stare wide eyed and silent. On occasion, a junior SimTech, unfamiliar with the situation, would freak, get up, begin to run, and have to be stunned. But even the Officer in charge of SimOps had said that seeing Rabid like this never ceased to make his skin crawl. It was as if Rabid's body moved, but, aside from it's single driving purpose, there was no mind controlling it ‑ for all intents and purposes, a zombie.
Rabid ran, and reran, all of Admiral Efrata-Landis’ ComTac missions, until he finally fell asleep from physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, his hands on the controls, and simulated stars whirling around him, his simulated craft spinning out of control. The SimTechs, monitoring the missions, were aware of the conditions, and slowly, ever so slowly, brought the sim chamber out of it's spin so that it would seem to be flying straight and level. Very often Rabid would emerge after about fifteen hours more, and while not seeming exactly refreshed, he'd at least look like there was a mind controlling the body.


Rabid was eventually found by Major Qixx Dragoon, one of the two oldest Greys, a tall handsome man that talked softly, and seemed to have a special affinity with Rabid, an understanding. Although he was a prankster, his modus‑operandi being a favored spit‑ball shooter, he seemed to have hidden depths to his soul that might stay locked away from public view forever. In his own way, he was quite familiar with the problems Rabid faced, and that was why he always sought Rabid out, instead of shying away as most others normally did. Once you could get past the "ugly, mean, thoroughly unpredictable", Rabid was a good friend. Once you could get past the "ego and nonchalance"… so was Qixx.
Qixx had been flying an A‑Wing during the Sabaac Gamble operation, and was one of the last to leave the battle scene, having stayed on to help look for survivors ‑ Grey pilots in particular. He'd been told about Castor's condition, and immediately went to find Rabid, whom he was sure wouldn’t take the news well. When he didn't find his friend in any of his usual haunts… or… bleeding places, as it were… Qixx had come directly here to SimOps. After checking with the techs, he entered the chamber slowly, calling softly to Rabid, walking around so that he'd be in front of him if Rabid opened his eyes. Qixx kept his hands open and in front of him. As he got closer he could see that Rabid's flight helmet was shattered, and was in pieces around his shoulders, as was the headrest to the pilot's chair.
"Rabid," Qixx called softly, as he gave Rabid's shoulder a soft squeeze. "You okay, bud," he asked aloud, but to himself he thought "How can you do this stuff to yourself and not die of a skull fracture or a brain hemorrhage is far beyond me."
"Come on, Raboo. Open those baby blues for me, dude," Qixx gently coaxed. "Oh, Rabby. Wakey, wakey, rise and shine," Qixx softly sang in the voice with which he so often annoyingly played with Rabid.
Rabid looked up slowly with glazed eyes. "gotta kill... butchers..." he said weakly through cracked, dry lips.
"I know," answered Qixx quietly, "and I'll help you. But right now, you gotta get some rest, dude."
Rabid had acquired dozens of new deep cuts on his hands and face ‑ his knuckles looked like something a snow‑monster from Hoth might have spit out. His forehead didn't look much better.
"Man, Rab, I sure don't want to see the back of your head," he thought. "You sure made a mess of this place."
"Rest... yeah... no... can't..." Rabid shook his head a little in a weak attempt to clear his thoughts and groaned. "Can't... gotta... Sim time... fly... get Castor back... from butchers" he said groggily as he reached for the "start" button. Pieces of his helmet with bits of blood crusted hair stuck to them fell around his shoulders and clattered on the deck as he shifted position. Several of the cuts reopened and began to bleed again.
Qixx reached across the controls and gently, but firmly, pressed against Rabid's wrists, gently forcing them lower, preventing him from starting the sim run again. "Yes," he said gently, "you do. And no one wants you back out there more than me, Rabba‑dabba‑do. But you don't need to get it all right now. Not right now. Come on, Rabby, we gotta go. I know where there's a bed that's calling your name. It would just love to have you in it." He finished the sentence inside his head saying "in spite of, but particularly because of, the shape you're in."
Rabid struggled weakly, too exhausted to do much more than that, but stopped after a few short seconds. Rabid let his forehead droop to the console. Qixx undid the buckles that held Rabid in the pilot chair, and tugged gently to dislodge him from the tangle. The remainder of the pieces of the helmet bounced down among the equipment, and Rabid started to stand, but collapsed into Qixx instead. Qixx caught his almost unconscious squad mate, and held him as he would a child, as Rabid started to sob. Tears mingled with the blood, and both stained the front of Qixx's fatigues. Almost sitting anyway, Qixx brought Rabid the rest of the way to the floor and rocked him gently until he cried himself out, and finally fell asleep again.
Few had ever seen Rabid in this condition, almost none could even have thought him capable of it ‑ someone so violent, so uncontrollable, so unpredictable... crying himself to sleep. Some believed him an unknown factor, a loose turbo cannon, and questioned the value of his presence on the Odin. One of the junior officers, shortly after Rabid came back on board with Castor and McEwen, while in the Odin's Bar and Grill, had asked Castor about Rabid, and why was he a Grey pilot if he didn't fly. Some of the senior Greys present, overhearing the question, had started joking about "fresh meat for dinner tonight". But Castor turned to face the young officer and simply answered, in a very quiet steely voice, but one that seemed to carry throughout the room, because all other conversation had instantly stopped, "Because he's not dead, nor has he requested a transfer." After that answer, concurrently vague and crystal clear, no one had raised the question since.
Qixx had witnessed the evidence of Rabid's problems, many times before, as had Castor and a very few others. They knew the warning signs well, and, when Rabid couldn't get to someplace private, they'd seen the worst ‑ sometimes having to stun Rabid for their (and his) own safety. Most of the crew tended to stay away from him, because his scars sometimes, in a certain light, made him look less than human, more canine, and because of his occasional unpredictably violent behaviors. Qixx patiently waited, though, until Rabid was deeply asleep, then he picked him up, and exited the Sim chamber. He apologized for the mess Rabid had made, and suggested they call someone up to clean the chamber out, then they might want to run a diagnostic of the equipment.
He carried Rabid all the way back to his quarters. Onlookers offered help, but Qixx only requested that someone open Rabid's door, and then to be left alone. They'd taken Rabid to MedOps once. Only once. It had taken a lot of time to repair the droids and the consoles they'd been smashed against. Castor had to do that Jedi‑thing that tended to freak everyone out, and go invisible. And he'd had to shoot Rabid with the highest powered blaster stun setting three times before he'd finally gone down.
Once Rabid was on his bunk and his boots had been removed, Qixx looked around at the scattered debris that used to be the furniture and accouterments of Rabid's quarters. He picked up most of the mess, and tossed the pieces of replaceable stuff down the recycler chute. Pieces of things he wasn't sure about, got piled in the corner. Rabid could repair just about anything if he had all the pieces. He'd had an awful lot of practice.
As he left, he dimmed the lights, turned and gave Rabid one more quick check to be sure, and softly said "I know how you feel, Rabboo. I know how you feel."
Qixx had been having his own problem with "duality" lately. The calling of the Dark Side of the Force had been almost overwhelming at times. He had occasional nightmares for many years, but they seemed to be coming more frequently, and more frighteningly vivid, of late. Sometimes, it was so strong, he could almost taste it ‑ and it frightened him. His anger frightened him, and he was very familiar with Rabid's anger at what they'd done to Castor. He'd been thinking of talking with Castor about the nightmares and the calling of the Dark Side. Castor seemed to be able to draw on both light and dark at the same time, and in equal proportion, without adverse effects. But now, considering the extent of what the butchers did to Castor, he might never get the chance. He wanted revenge for what they'd done to him. He wanted it so bad he could smell it. And that frightened him too.
Closing Rabid's door, Qixx decided to go down to MedOps. He was tired. He hadn't slept since before launching from the Independence. He'd flown the operation, and stayed to find the missing Greys. Then he'd made sure that everyone got back from the Star Destroyer safely, and helped restore order on the Odin, made sure that the Star Destroyer was secure, and organized the Greys that weren't in MedOps. Then he'd taken care of Rabid. It had been a long time since he'd slept, but there were a few more things he had to do. As he walked through the door he found Damon Lightwind, along with Ace Farlander, James Stargazer, Corran Horn Jr. and Petr Margul. Corran and Stargazer were confined to medbeds under observation boards, and Ace and Petr sitting or standing nearby. Ace was standing, waving his hands in the air in front of him to illustrate a point in his story as he talked excitedly.
"Yo, dudes," Qixx called.
"Yo, Qixx!" Ace scrambled through the obstacle course of tables, chairs, and medscreens and consoles to greet the entering pilot. Ace was an energetic sort, one of the youngest Grey pilots, and always seemed to be in motion. His enthusiasm and light heartedness were infectious, and it was hard to keep a somber atmosphere when he was present. "Oh, man! What did you do to your shirt?"
Qixx answered in his easy fashion, "I got tired of the color. Guess I needed a change. Figured I'd try camouflage ‑ red would blend right in around here lately, but I ran out part way through."
Ace just answered with a "huh?" look.
"Yo, Kicks! Great to see your ugly face! Now get it on out of here before I puke," Corran Jr. called. Junior was a dark, sarcastic, bantering officer who'd been on his own for a time, and had only recently come home to the Odin. He was the only one senior to Qixx of the Grey pilots, and had a relationship with Dragoon that spoke of many battles fought side by side.
"Remind you of your mother, do I? She said you used to do that a lot. …puke… when you were a little whizzer ‑ I spent many a night with her. Got to know her REAL well, " Qixx countered.
"You know, one of these days I'm going to leave your butt out there floating toward some big time gravity well. Then we'll see about mothers" Junior replied.
"Bite me," Qixx spat, "Sir!"
Lightwind and Stargazer, both new additions to Grey, watched the exchange silently, decided that Qixx and Corran really did like each other, and that they wouldn't have to stun anybody ‑ not that either of them could do much of anything while confined to bed.
Before Qixx could flame Corran again, or vice versa, Ace interrupted. "Have you seen the guys?" He jerked his head back toward the next doorway ‑ the Bacta Tank Room.
"Not yet," Qixx replied, "I know we found Prim and Ste, but I didn't hear anything about Neo. Did they find him?"
Damon and James continued their conversation softly as the info they already knew was told once more. Primlar had been hit by the hood of his exploding A‑Wing after he'd ejected. His suit had stayed intact, but he'd received multiple fractures in various places ‑ nothing dangerous, but plenty serious enough. Ste Tyson had received severe radiation poisoning as the path of his ejection had just missed an oncoming Advanced TIE, but he was caught in its exhaust trail as it turned to avoid the Debris of his A‑Wing. Of the three Advanced Cadets flying in the mission, the one that had the B‑Wing had been nearly pulverized, having ejected into the hull of the Star Destroyer. The two flying A‑Wings had suffered oxygen starvation, having ejected early on ‑ one had died. The other two were in tanks.
"Yep!" Ace plucked at Qixx's sleeve, as if to draw him into the next room. "You gotta come see. Prim and Ste are okay, two of the Cadets too, just a little broken 'n' bruised, but Neo's a mess. I don't know 'xactly what happened, but he decompressed bad. Boy he's a mess! Castor's a mess too ‑ I almost puked first time I looked. You gotta come see." Ace had been talking a streak and hardly took a breath.
"Stop!" Qixx held up his hands in front of him, palms out, and Ace quit talking mid word. "I don't think I can go in there right now. Sorry."
"K. But you should say 'hi', at least," Ace replied, a slightly hurt look on his face. He turned and went into the Tank Room.
"Listen, I just can't go in there now ‑ maybe later," he called after Ace. "I don't know that I could deal with it right now," he thought. Then he turned to the others who had only been slightly injured in the battle. "How're you guys holding up?"
"I've been better," Tile smiled, "happier, too. The meddroids won't let me up."
"Hey, Tile, at least we get a few days off," Corran tried to lighten Tile's mood. "And the nurses are real nice," he chuckled.
"I heard that," Tile agreed.
"Speedy and Ray out getting things straightened away?" Qixx inquired.
Ace stuck his head around the corner and called "Yep! Last I heard ‑ somebodies got to watch the Cadets. It'd be a little hard for the boss right now. Where's Rabid?"
"Started to foam ‑ had to put him down," Qixx half‑joked. Every one chuckled, but it was more of a "too close to truth" kind of chuckle.
Then the general conversation turned to more mundane matters. Ace only half listened as he walked back and forth among the bacta tanks, their residents floating just off the bottom but completely submersed in the viscous fluid.
"Hey, guys," Ace said quietly enough that those outside wouldn't hear. "I know you can't hear me, an' all, but I just want you to know that I'm here with you. Even though you don't know, an' don't much care right about now, but at least I know somebody's in here with you. Castor, they told me that you'd been tortured ‑ really bad tortured, an' that you let them do it. I don't know how you really had a choice, but I'm tryin' to understand. There's a lot of stuff I'm tryin' to understand. Neo, you're the best there is, but I guess no matter how good you are sometimes things go wrong. They said that you somehow managed to hold your suit closed even though you were unconscious and more'n half dead when they finally found you. An' I guess that's another big lesson you're going to try to teach me when you finally can: don't let yourself get rammed by a crazy dude flyin' an Avenger. But I don't know how you're gonna avoid it the next time. Prim and Ste, it's not right without you guys here. I'm learnin' an awful lot from all you guys, an' I'm tryin' to be just like you Castor, an' you Neo, an' Prim an’ Ste. But I think I'll skip the bacta part this time, though, an maybe the next time too, if I can. An' Qixx, an' all the other Grey pilots... An' I can't hardly believe I'm one, myself. An' I know you really can't hear me, but I'm really upset right now, an' I really need you guys to come out soon and be whole again. An', Castor, I don't know how they're goin' to fix you ‑ you're missin' an awful lot of pieces. They said you lost the right eye too. An' nobody can figure out how you got the shields down on that whole first bunch of Avengers ‑ nobody can figure out why ANY of us are alive, considerin' what you had to go through to help us out the way you did. There was just too many Avengers... An we can't figure out how you did it."
Ace's voice had faltered a few times, but he'd been talking in almost one enormously long sentence, as if he couldn't separate one thought from the next. He stopped and swallowed a few times, and refused to let any tears fall.
Toward the end of the shift cycle, Damon and James were released from MedOps, and were ordered to stay in their own bunks for two days, but to call MedOps if they needed anything. John "Speedy" Gonzalez and Ray D’jo stopped in and stayed a while. Qixx, Corran and Petr left as well, presumably to head up to the Bar and Grill. Each of the Greys had gone in to walk down the row of bacta tanks, giving each a pat or a wish for quick recovery, before they left. They all gave Ace a pat on the back or shoulder, as well, on their way out. Except for Qixx.
Ray delayed leaving long enough to catch one of the med‑droids. "Are they going to be okay," she asked, "the ones in the tanks?"
"Yes," the meddroid replied. "Primlar and Tyson will be released in two days, and then confined to quarters for a week. Commodore Neo will need about three more weeks of treatment, as he suffered severe capillary bursting and hemorrhage along with acute nitrogen‑narcosis caused by decompression. We have also retained an inventory in stasis of many healthy parts from various cadavers of both Alliance and Imperial persons, and we have some, similar in body and blood type, with which we can repair or replace any parts in need of such for Admiral Efrata‑Landis, although, his stay will be extended."
"Thanks," said Ray, "I'll drop by to check on them tomorrow."
"Yes, sir. Good night, sir," bade the droid, who then turned his attention to the monitor.
Qixx stayed a while longer, alone but for the medtechs and droids. He still couldn't bring himself to go in and look at the tanks. His soul was too torn between wanting to see them, and remembering them how they were if they didn't come back. It was a foolish concern, he knew, but Castor and Neo were close enough to death as it stood, and things happen. Unexpected things... Terrible things... At last, he left and made his way toward the Bar and Grill, abandoning Ace to his solitary vigil.


In the Bar and Grill, the atmosphere was somber. The laughter, the noise, the reek of alcohol and odd foods that usually permeated the place gave way to quiet discussions, many frowns, and an air of seriousness. This was where Grey usually wound down from their missions, and of those not confined elsewhere the only ones missing at this time were Rabid and Ace Farlander who was still carrying on his solitary watch over those in the bacta tanks. The crew always stayed clear during those periods, as a sign of respect for the pilots who put their lives on the line, but this time was different. This time everyone was directly involved, and everyone had put themselves in the direct path of danger. But Grey was the key. If not for the Grey pilots, everyone present would be dead, and the galaxy would be on an imminent collision course with the Star Hammer.
Crew members filled the bar, and crowded close. They offered their congratulations on the success of the operation, but also they offered sympathy for the Greys confined to the Bacta Tanks and support for the pilots present. The Grey pilots were gracious and appreciated the support greatly ‑ heroes weren't the supermen, or the emotional stones, that the legends spoke of. Quite often it hurt. Their hearts ached when a comrade fell wounded, and, when one was lost, it was as if they lost a part of themselves. Some of them were closer than family. Most had no other family than each other, and they'd give their own lives without hesitation for the sake of their Grey brothers.
Castor was the center of Grey. No better, no worse, but the center. He was the one that made the whole thing come together and work so smoothly. He was the one that made them a unit, a whole. He was their commander, their brother, their father, their friend. He was the strength of Grey and it's unity. The fact that he'd come so close to sacrificing everything for them, for the Odin, for all, weighed so heavily on them that they felt as if their universe would tear itself to shreds if he were lost. His pain was theirs, and it showed quite obviously.
As the night cycle approached, Ray suddenly lifted her drink and called loudly, "To the wounded! May they soon walk among us, again!"
"To the wounded!" the crowd echoed.
"To Castor!" Qixx called, with a wry look. "May he forever be able to dodge my spit balls!" No one noticed the tear as it slid down Qixx's cheek. He had wiped it away too quickly.
"To Castor!" came the echo followed by more than a few chuckles.
"To the Squadrons!" shouted John Gonzales in turn.
"To the Squadrons!" the crew cheered.


Late into the middle of the night cycle, when most of the crew was asleep, a solitary figure strode quietly into the Tank room. He took care to make sure that no conscious living beings were present as he didn't particularly care to be seen. A Grey pilot ‑ the Farlander boy ‑ was asleep across a console. He'd be very stiff from his present position in the morning. The lone figure silently inspected the six bacta tanks and their human contents. He stopped in front of Castor's and stood for a few minutes, deep in thought.
Only momentarily, and only just before he left, did the long green Rodian fingers gently touch the glass of Castor's tank.



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