Guilt is a powerful motivator. I tried to mention that this was on her mind during the long haul, not sure how much anything came through. Yes, to make up for the ones she couldn't save before. The sad thing, is that in spite of refusing to carry on, it wouldn't have made much difference. The Empire brought in a new ferry pilot. I think that is on her mind, too. Well, Gram is Corellian, too. He's not the type to waffle too long. And don't apologize for tardiness... Darth RL catches up to all of us, from time to time. So... Gram has come to a decision... * * * Gram came in the next morning. Ambri had finished another liquid breakfast of something chalky and disgusting, but she was keeping it down. Galdaz was behind him, arms crossed. Gram gave her a long look. “Two things,” he said. “First, do you remember the name of the planet? Where the people were taken?” Ambri looked nervously at Galdaz, who had two of his eyes swiveled towards the captain, clearly puzzled. “I never knew the name,” she said, “but…but I remember the coordinates.” They were burned into her brain, the most horrible flight of her life; she’d remember them to the day she died. Gram pulled his datapad from the patch pocket on his uniform and held it out to her. Galdaz made a noise of dissent as she took it and the stylus awkwardly and tapped the information into the datapad. Gram took back the pad and stowed it, and said, “Two, if I allow you to go, you must promise me on your honor as an officer that you will speak with the Psychdocs when you return.” IF I return. But she understood what he was saying. She’d been carrying around this guilt and horror for a long time. Telling him last night…had actually made her feel better. A little. “I promise on my honor,” she said. Gram nodded. “I’m clearing you to fly,” he said. “Bermet and his crew have finished up your ship, and they’ll load another batch of the serum. Make sure you wear the heavy winter gear with your flight suit; you’ve still got what you were issued on Hoth?” “And the nice heated socks from Captain Allax, I think.” She looked at Galdaz. “You didn’t cut them off, did you?” Galdaz sighed. “No,” he said, “we didn’t. I’m still going on record as saying I am opposed to this.” “Noted,” said Gram. “We’ve heard from the Swan, she’s inbound, they’re coming here, but it will be hours before they can rendez-vous with us. I’ve got the coordinates for the Imperial relay beacon, I think you should take it out if you can, before you try the second run. We don’t want them sending out for reinforcements.” Ambri exhaled, feeling as if something had unlocked in her chest. “Sir, thank you sir.” “Three hours to go time,” said Gram. He turned to Galdaz. “I understand your opposition, Affie, but under the circumstances, I think the risks are justified.” Galdaz made a face. “There must be other pilots certified for X-wings,” he grumbled. “A few. But I don’t think they’ve got the necessary skill level to get past the blockade. If they did, they’d be in the Fighter corps.” “Fine!” huffed Galdaz. To Ambri, he said, “The bacta gloves and socks stay on, and we’re going to need to keep the facial bandages on, as well. I’ve got a protective mask you can put over them.” “It won’t interfere with my eyesight?” said Ambri. “No, you should be fine. And I’ll agree on condition that you do wear the winter gear. I’ll send in Lieutenant Dryza to help you get dressed.” The mask made her feel like a Kaminoan sina-dancer. Holes for the eyes, small holes for breathing, a small hole for the mouth, but the rest was pure white, expressionless. The bacta socks squished when she walked, but she didn’t feel pain. Of course, Galdaz insisted on a hover chair. It was embarrassing, rolling into the hangar and doing her flight check in it. Bermet and his techs accompanied her. Galdaz was there, too, and Hchch, and Captain Parnos. She saw a few other crew members of the Queen lurking around the edges of the hangar, pretending to do various chores. It all made her feel very self conscious; as if she was some sort of Grand High Admiral on inspection, with an honor guard trailing her. She had Parnos open the cargo hatch, to see for herself that the precious cargo was stowed securely and properly balanced. Bermet’s team had replaced the entire upper right cannon assembly, along with two of the deflector shields. “Try not to take too many more hits,” said the chief, in his high, barking voice. “These are our last spares.” “I didn’t think the others were that badly damaged,” said Ambri with a frown. “They weren’t. But under the circumstances, we thought that brand new might be better.” Ambri nodded and looked back at the guns. “Ranged at 250?” she asked. That was the preferred range for head-to-head starfighter battles. Bermet nodded. “Yes, if you run into trouble.” “And you will,” muttered Parnos. “My plan is to outrun everything.” Bermet snorted. “Yes, we pretty much took apart the impulse engines and figured that out for ourselves,” he said. “We flushed all the conduits, replaced the power regulators, and gave an extra coat of sealant to all the stress points.” He cleared his throat, and said, “We’ve also added some isotropic booster mix to the fuel tank; it might give you just a little extra speed without having to put too much extra stress on the engines.” She looked up at the engines, and then down to Bermet and his ground crew, hovering in the background. “You’ve been working on this all night,” she said. “I really can’t thank you enough, Chief. It might make all the difference.” Bermet actually blushed. “Just doing our jobs,” he said brusquely. They’d done their jobs well, as near as she could tell. It couldn’t have been in any better condition than if it had come from the factory. Better, probably. She looked towards the magcon field, out at the stars, and took a deep breath. Finally, she got out of the hover chair and stretched. “Time to go,” she said. She looked to Hchch, the highest ranking officer in her line of command, and saluted. “Commander, permission to get underway?” “Granted,” said Hchch, returning the salute. “May the Force be with you, Flight Officer.” She made her way up the ladder, and paused. There were new markings on the nose of the plane, just forward of the cockpit. Two straight lines with a circle touching between them. Kill marks, for four TIE fighters. “One more and you’ll be an ace,” said Bermet. “We put those on last night.” Ambri wished they hadn’t. “Thank you, Chief.” She settled into the cockpit, strapping herself in, putting on her helmet and adjusting the commlink so that it actually reached the mouth hole of the mask, and put her gloves on over the clumsy bacta gloves that Galdaz had created. Most of the fighter pilots she knew were proud of their skill, and were happy to show off the killmarks of the ships they’d gotten. She found it creepy, though. She’d killed, to protect herself and others, and she’d kill again if she had to, but she didn’t think it was something to be proud of. It was wrong to keep score with other peoples’ lives. She went through the familiar pre-flight routines and checks. All systems were green, no fluctuations, no worries. “Minni, you ready to go?” She didn’t bother to read the text on the cockpit screen with Minni’s reply, she recognized the enthusiasm in the little droid’s whistled response. One last quick, visual check showed that the flight space was being cleared, with the signal crew taking position. She cleared her throat, and opened up her comm channel. “Patchwork Queen, this is Mercy One, all systems green, request departure protocol.” It was Gram himself who responded. “Mercy One, you are cleared to launch. Confirm vector coordinates.” Easy enough to punch these up. Five hyperspace jumps, the fourth was in red; the signal beacon she needed to take out. She transmitted these back to the bridge, who confirmed they were correct. “Ready to launch,” she said. The repulsors came up to full power, and she put the sublights online. The ship was rising off the deck now, slowly and controlled. She punched in the controls to retract the landing struts and eased the fighter forward, watching the signal crewman. He cocked his head, listening to commands over his own commlink, then dropped his arm. Go. She nudged the stick forward and slipped out of the hangar and away from the Queen gracefully, deliberately. She had to readjust the cabin heat; she’d forgotten how hot she’d had it on the way back from Kassallia and now she was getting too warm. She adjusted the artificial gravity, slipped left and right to get a feel for the inertial dampeners, then nodded, switching to her sublight engines and bringing the hyperdrive up to full power. “Minni, do you have the hyperspace coordinates?” They were already flashing on her control panel, with the directional course locked in. She brought the nose of the ship around. “Patchwork Queen, this is Mercy One, we are outbound.” Gram responded. “Mercy One, we acknowledge,” and added in Corellian, “Fair skies and a tailwind.” Ambri smiled at the traditional farewell from her homeworld, and took one final check of the various data readouts in the cockpit. Flight recorders were recording, flight cams were on. “Here we go,” she said, and punched into hyperspace.