Chapter 2. Taris: She's Coming With You
Crossposted from the Short Fic Weekly Challenge thread, prompt Worst Day Ever.
Hell of a morning. Less I say about Needles' lab, the better. At least we gave the Havoc Squad defector the execution he deserved.
I returned to my ship, sent in a barebones action report and tried to take my mind off the things I had seen in Needles' lab by playing Gunners. Classic holo game. They still have it in a lot of arcades. Simple, yes, but it's soothing when you don't want to think.
A holocall brought me out of it. Kirsk showed up. His jacket was half shredded and his face looked bruised.
"Kirsk? What happened?"
"Uh, a few things," he said, "it's been exciting. For instance, did you know that Rodian dermitis not only develops pungent symptoms within an hour, but can actually spread through shiv-to-dermis contact? Also, could you spot me five thousand credits?"
Kirsk held up his arm. It dripped.
"Credits?" I said. "Credits are your priority here? For goodness' sake, hang up and get to a doctor!"
"Only doctor 'round here who won't turn me in requires cash up front."
"You're on Coruscant, Kirsk. There's gotta be a thousand doctors within a klick's radius."
"Yeah, and every last one of 'em is very interested in either the police feed or the local bounty board. Only one I can trust is the guy who takes cash."
"I don't believe this."
"I'll pay you back, big brother. Just sayin', this…uh…condition…isn't getting any fresher."
"You got it. I can manage five." Barely. "I'll zap it by right away."
Kirsk beamed. "You're the best." He tightened a bandage around his arm and added, cheerfully, "So, how're you doing?"
"Well, I just watched a man forcibly inject one of his underlings with a weaponized rakghoul strain, then maintain an amused-sounding running monologue explaining the agonizing transformation as it happened. So I stopped the doctor, and the new rakghoul, and then my subordinate, who's usually a decent guy, chewed me out for not wanting to wrap the remaining pathogen up in a bow and hand it to our weapons lab. Now I have a hell of a headache and I probably have to kill you because I ran off my mouth and dropped sensitive inf– "
"Oh, ha, wow, that's interesting! Gotta run!" Kirsk wasn't even looking at me. His last word was almost lost in the sound of blaster fire. He managed one last dazzling grin before sprinting out of the holocam image. A second later the call went dead.
"Dammit, Kirsk." I scraped together five thousand credits and wired them to the last known dead drop I had for my little brother. On the assumption that he was still alive. He usually was, after exits like that; it just took him a few weeks to resurface. That idiot.
No sooner had I arranged that than a call came up on the ship's main holo. It was General Garza. I called Jorgan in and activated the holo.
"General." I saluted.
"Savins. I received your report. Very good work. I'm most impressed."
"Thank you, sir."
"I am disappointed that we couldn't recover a sample of the weaponized rakghoul strain."
Jorgan and Garza gave me matching hard looks. Right. Yeah. Sorry my conscience inconvenienced you.
"But," said Garza, "you did get the primary objective. Now, having reviewed the relevant information, I'm wondering what you thought of your contact, Sergeant Dorne."
"Dorne?" Do you have any idea how far down the list of things I want to think about she is? "I guess she got the job done."
"I looked over her service record. Most impressive, I must say. Were you aware that Dorne served with the Imperial military for almost two years?"
"Not just Imp, military Imp. That's great, General."
"It left a disciplined mind. Sergeant Dorne earned more commendations in her two years of Imperial service than most soldiers earn in ten."
"So she's good at being an Imp. With respect, is this leading somewhere? Because I'd like to be out of her neck of the woods soon."
Garza ignored my outburst. "Since joining the Republic, she's earned two Medals of Valor, both for rescuing wounded soldiers under fire behind enemy lines. This woman has led an exceptional career."
"I'm not too impressed by her intimacy with enemy lines."
Garza's look got even sharper. "Sergeant Dorne is Havoc Squad material, Savins, and she's already successfully demonstrated the ability to work with you. With her you'll be halfway to a full squad."
"General, I'm not thrilled about having an Imp in my squad."
She gave me the no-excuses look. "You don't have to be thrilled," she said sternly. "And I think it might go better for you if you avoid calling her an 'Imp'."
"Yes, sir," I said, trying my best to sound professional. It came out sulky and I knew it.
"I'll handle the paperwork. You go give her the news." Garza's image flickered out.
I rubbed my eyes. "Tell me I hallucinated that one."
"No sir, that just happened," said Jorgan. "Garza's got a point about her record."
"She's putting an Imperial in Havoc Squad, Jorgan. Does that not get a reaction out of you?"
"Seems to me she got our Republic operation done fast and right. Takes guts to become a defector, Savins, and she's got skill besides."
"Fine. Fine. Eat first, then let's bring her in."
We ate quickly, then left the ship and headed on back to the control center, where Dorne was at her station. She looked up when we approached. "Leftenant? Is there something else I can do for you?"
Scrub the accent or get out of my life, or maybe both. "General Garza's having you transferred to Havoc Squad," I said. "You'll be shipping out with me."
"A transfer? To Havoc Squad?" She lit up, way outside what I would've thought that little rules recitation machine could express. "Leftenant, this is…this is the greatest honor of my career. I'm speechless."
Jorgan spoke up while I practiced biting my tongue. "Membership in Havoc Squad is the highest achievement in all of the Republic Armed Forces, Sergeant. Congratulations." He saluted.
Yeah, what he said. Except without the congratulations.
Dorne saluted back. "I'll prepare my Regulation Six Personnel Transfer documents at once!" she gushed. How do you remember which rulebook you're quoting all the time, anyway? Do Imps use different document numbering systems?
"I'll meet you back at the ship, Sergeant," I said. She saluted me and headed out with a spring in her step.
"Try to be a little less gracious," growled Jorgan, "I think somebody in orbit didn't pick up on the 'you're unwelcome' vibe."
"The sergeant's still happy, isn't she? So's Garza. We hit our happiness quota. I don't have to contribute. So move out."
He scowled harder at the look on my face. "Sir, a commander should– "
"We're not discussing this, Sergeant. Move. Out."
I hurried to the ship and settled down to glare at Gunner on the bridge console. My reflexes were off. I was doing a terrible job. This, on top of everything. I couldn't even blow up little digital mutant mynocks. That rakghoul victim's changing screams were still ringing in my ears, I was freshly broke, my brother was probably dying of an exotic stupidity-transmitted disease, Jorgan was mad at me again, I had an Imp on my ship and everybody thought that was a great thing, and I couldn't even blow up digital mutant mynocks.
She found me on the bridge while I was still struggling to get past the end rush of level eight. "Sir," she said, and waited for me to pause the game and look up. "My equipment and personal effects have been stowed in full accordance with transport code section two." Then, warmly, "If I may say so again, sir, it is truly an honor to be selected for Havoc Squad."
"General Garza doesn't choose slouches," I said. It was civil. I can do civil.
"I intend to begin reviewing and memorizing all relevant dossiers and intelligence reports on our next assignment immediately. If I discover any points of confusion or areas where I believe I can contribute, I'll submit a full 587-B report."
Are you for real? "Or just talk to me, Sergeant."
"If…you prefer, sir," she said doubtfully. Then she saluted and walked out.
Jorgan passed her on her way down the stairs. He stepped onto the bridge, leaned up against the wall and crossed his arms. "Can't imagine why she would rather submit paperwork via HQ than talk with you," he drawled.
"Would you stop that?"
"I can give as good as I get, Savins, but you can't expect the total-jack*ss command style to work with everyone. Way I see it, she's pointing her blaster at the same guys we are now, so you may as well start giving her some respect."
"Way I see it, I'm the CO and she was transferred here against my stated recommendation on qualifications I have yet to see." I turned away. "Now beat it. If I don't finish level eight by bedtime I'll be forced to declare this day a total loss."