"Mary!" Louisa Perkins cried out with no small measure of exasperation.
"NO!" Mary Travis barked back as she stormed out of her office, hoping that the morale office would take the hint and leave her alone.
Unfortunately she did not.
"You're being unreasonable!" Louisa strode after her, not about to let the rebel commander slink out of giving her an answer no matter how intractable she might appear on the matter. Louisa had worked with Mary Travis long enough to know when the woman was absolute in her refusal and when she was being difficult. Her petulant manner seemed to indicate that on this occasion, the commander of the Siraj base of the Rebel Alliance was being the latter.
"I'm not being unreasonable, what youre proposing is is undignified!" Mary exploded after wrestling with the correct word. Coming to the conclusion that Louisa was not going to let the matter drop, Mary paused in the middle of the corridor to confront the morale officer on this matter once and for all. "This is a military base! Not boarding school for bored teenagers!"
"Oh give me a break!" Louisa stared at the commander as if she were throwing a childish tantrum. The exchange was drawing the attention of most people walking past the commander and the captain, though none dared to make any comment on it because this was hardly the first time the two women had engaged in such public disagreements. Ever since her arrival on the rebel base, the arguments between Captain Perkins and Commander Travis were almost attaining legendary status much to the chagrin of those closest to them.
"We're talking about entertainers!" Louisa exploded in frustration. "Not Twileki dancing girls with no clothes on!"
Two officers paused in mid step at that remark and stared at Mary hopefully.
"Forget it," she hissed and sent them scurrying before turning back to Louisa. "You see, this is what comes of ideas like this! I mean I'm not even taking into consideration the security nightmare this is going to cause!"
"Mary," Louisa said trying to calm down herself before her own temper got the better of her. "I would not bring this up unless I had not considered those details already. I am a military officer, despite what you think and I am aware of the knife's edge we walk so I am perfectly aware of all the security considerations that must be taken into account before they arrive. However, I might also add that these are entertainers, singers, dancers, conjurers and jugglers. That sort of thing. They are members of the cause and know they are more use to us as entertainers rather than soldiers. Theyve already performed on a dozen of our others bases and so far none of them have managed to be reduced to radioactive mush!"
"It reeks of trouble!" Mary declared, starting to really hate this whole idea because it was growing on her. In truth, she supposed it might not be a bad idea if her command had a few days of entertainment. After all, the dynamics of rebel membership made it impossible for its troops and officers to get any kind of recreation other than what was available on hand, which was not much. The lack of it diminished morale and efficiency, not to mention everyone would be wound so tightly that the slightest provocation would set of a powder keg of trouble she did not need right now. "I just dont like it," she grumbled.
"Of course you don't like it!" Louisa returned sharply, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Since have you ever liked anything that was fun? I mean at the Academy! We'd all want to sneak out to go town and you'd be the one who'd want to think it wasnt worth the waste of study time!"
"It was!" Mary exclaimed trying to justify herself but unable to deny that perhaps Louisa was right, she might have been a little too eager to thread on the straight and narrow in the past but she would die before admitting to that to this woman.
"How can such an able commander be such a complete....," Louisa started to mutter under her breath.
"Ladies," Josiah Sanchez suddenly interrupted with his soothing voice, after having come across the scene and deciding that their debate was being conducted in a venue too public for the ex-Senator's liking. It was not as if it was anything new to the rebels of the Siraj base but it did not do for two senior officers to be screaming at each other like children. "Do you think you could keep it down a little? This is hardly the place to be having one of your infamous arguments."
"It's not an argument," Louisa said haughtily, her gaze challenging Mary to say it was any different. "Its a request which she shouldn't be turning down! At least not without good reason."
"You're not going to leave me alone until I say yes are you?" Mary glared at her with an exasperated sigh, wishing this whole matter and Louisa Perkins, not necessarily in that order was something she could dispatch into the brig with the minimum of fuss.
"Nope," Louisa stated defiantly with a smirk across her face. "This is my job and I say that if you don't allow these people to let off a bit of a steam and enjoy themselves, they're going to start killing each other. Theyre under a great deal of pressure as it is being confined here when theyre not fighting a damn near invincible enemy. More than anything, they need to know what it is to take a breath and relax!"
"I am perfectly aware of that, Captain." Mary frowned in reluctant agreement that Louisa had brought forth some very valid points that should not be forgotten, despite her personal dislike of the suggestion to improve the situation. Even if the entertainment as Louisa called it was not to her taste, Mary still ought to be giving the matter the consideration it deserved.
"Alright," she conceded mostly because she wished to be done with the whole subject. "I'm approving your request pending a security report on how these people are getting to my base without alerting the entire Imperial command to our presence."
"Well thank you," Louisa said sardonically. "Look at what I have to work with here." She glanced at Josiah for sympathy. "I mean show a little optimism will you Mare?"
"Go away Captain," Mary threatened with a menacing gleam in her eyes. "Go away before I shoot you."
"I'm going," the captain grinned, "Only because I have to be ray of sunshine in the face of your constant gloom." With that she took herself off down the corridor away from Mary and Josiah.
"I'd like to use a ray on her alright," Mary growled as she watched Louisa go and turned back to Josiah. "I hate her. I hate her lots."
"Well as long are we're being mature about this." The older man gave her an impatient stare. "You know what the problem with you two is?"
"That shes an insufferable cow?" Mary answered with a smirk.
"That youre both alike," Josiah said with equal smugness in his voice.
"If you didnt technically outrank me, Id have you thrown of my base for saying that," Mary pointed out with a raised brow.
"And that is why there is still order in our universe." He grinned at her. "Now if I continue on my way, do you think you are capable of managing to not get into trouble or should I fulfil my promise to your father to keep an eye on you by following you around like I used to do when you were a teenager?"
"I never got into trouble as a teenager," Mary said proudly.
"No you didnt but you seemed more mature then," Josiah teased.
"Dont you have somewhere to be Senator?" She asked, hands on her hips as she glared at him with mock offense.
"As a matter of fact I do. Ill see you later," he replied before going on his way as well.
Mary watched him go before deciding to take a little walk through the base for a little break. She had been at her desk all morning and the encounter with Louisa was all that she needed to know that it was time for a little relaxation. Besides, it had been some time since she had taken a stroll through her command to see how things were going outside her the walls of her office. At the moment, things were relatively quite beyond the usual assignments the rebellion did in undermining Imperial authority as well as gathering their forces in secret. She supposed the stretches of time where nothing took place was part of the reason why people were starting to climb the walls as Louisa so quaintly put it during the opening act of her argument.
"Commander," Mary heard a familiar voice call after her as she was approaching the hangar bay and paused to look over her shoulder at the sight of Colonel Audrey King, one of her more experienced fighter squadron leaders. Audrey had been a veteran of the Clone Wars and had lasted with the Imperials long enough for them to require her squadron to bomb a civilian target, an order she refused and was later court-martialed for disobeying. As far as Mary was concerned, the Rebellion was lucky to have her.
"Have you got a minute?" She spoke out as she neared Mary.
"Sure Colonel," Mary slowed her pace and allowed the woman to catch up with her. "What can I do for you?"
"Well we need to boost our fighter ranks," Audrey replied. "Weve had a couple of skirmishes and while my pilots are good, I think we need the extra manpower. It will be some time before Lieutenant Dunne is ready to take out this new Rogue squadron you've got planned and I'd like to schedule some training exercises. Particularly in close quarters combat."
"Buck's the one to talk to about that," Mary suggested. "The man is gifted. He's also a good teacher. He's done marvels with JD."
"I agree," Audrey nodded. "Except I can't seem to make the suggestion without his making his usual forward pass."
"Oh that?" Mary rolled her eyes. "Yes, when randy was handed out, Buck got more than his share."
"I'm flattered of course," Audrey chuckled, "just not interested."
"He'll be crushed," Mary retorted. "Still, you make a valid point."
Upon entering the hanger, Mary and Audrey caught sight of the Corellian pilot. It was a common sight whenever he had free time to find Buck Wilmington making some modification to his ship. If he was not making additions to the craft then he was usually fine tuning the existing system. Usually JD Dunne would be aiding him in the endeavor and on rare occasions, Chris Larabee might even lend a hand. There were times when Buck conducted such work on Vin Tanner's ship, the Tracker. Whatever he called it, there was no doubt that Buck's primary reason for working on the Rogue or the Tracker for that matter, was because he loved tinkering.
It was his second favorite thing.
On this occasion, Buck appeared to be conducting a minor overhaul of his ship's sensors. Components were lying on a greasy sheet of canvas on the nearby workbench as Buck carried out the task of cleaning each part for re-assembly. Mary wondered if there was truly a need for such major work or was Buck just bored and giving himself something to do. The thought unhappily surfaced the possibility that her command's need for relaxation might not be as outlandish or undeserved as she thought. Mary frowned inwardly at the idea that Louisa might be right. Although lately, the captain had been doing much to alleviate Buck Wilmington's morale considerably. They had been constant companions of late much to Mary's horror but she supposed that there was no accounting for taste.
"Hello Buck," Mary announced herself when she reached the handsome Corellian.
"Hey Mary," Buck's reaction was that trademark boyish grin that had the power over so many women. "Colonel King, couldn't stay away from me huh?" He joked.
"Oh get over yourself," Mary interceded before Buck could throw another forward pass at the squadron leader. "We're here on business."
"Can't blame a guy for trying." Buck smiled mischievously at the older woman.
"Well you are trying," Audrey chuckled.
"Children please?" Mary cut in once again. "Do I have to put you two flyers in different sandboxes?"
Buck and Audrey exchanged a look as they stifled verbal bantering and allowed Mary to get on with her proposal. "Audrey's suggested that we might start some training exercises on close quarters aerial combat. I think its a good idea. TIE fighter pilots undergo something similar and if we don't teach our pilots to compete, a lot of them are going to die."
"I agree," Buck nodded, sounding the complete professional now. "It takes a lot of instinct to do that though. Pilots got to rely on more than just the computer. There aren't many that can do that. You got a short list Colonel?"
"I have a few candidates in mind," Audrey volunteered. "These are the same names I've put forward for Rogue squadron when the new X-wings are built."
"Well JD's definitely got to be in. The kid's the best gunner we got," Buck replied without being able to hide his pride in the boy.
"Why Buck, I didn't know you cared!" JD chuckled as he entered the conversation, wrapping an arm around Buck's neck in a wholly inappropriate manner.
"Boy," Buck pried his arm from around his neck, "I told you, you need to date more."
"Hey Finn," JD glanced at the young blond pilot who had just come off patrol with him. Both youths were still wearing their flight suits and had just left their ships to the ministrations to the technicians who would run the standard post-flight maintenance. "Buck's missing me."
"Drop dead." Buck shoved the younger man away with a bemused smile. "Kids today."
"Anything to report?" Mary asked JD as he and Finn, the new pilot from Sollust, amused themselves at Buck's expense.
Since arriving at the Siraj base, JD and Finn had become fast friends, mostly because both of them were the same age and had come from backwater rural planets where they were still a little overwhelmed by the situation they found themselves in. Buck seemed to encourage the friendship, claiming it would not hurt for the young man to spend some time with people his own age.
"No Sir," Finn replied first. "Its quiet."
"I don't like it when its quiet," Mary sighed. "Too many reasons for things to go wrong."
"I SAID NO!" Nathan Jackson's voice boomed behind them.
"Don't like the quiet huh?" Buck said innocently and received a scathing glare from Mary before she turned to see what was annoying the command officer to such a display.
Nathan Jackson was storming towards them with Casey Wells following closely, immediately ending speculation for the captain's ire. For the past few weeks, Casey had been pestering Nathan to allow her to reconfigure all the communications codes with a new system she had devised. Since communications section of the base was one of Nathan's responsibilities, Mary had left it in his hands to deal with the young woman. While Casey's idea had merit, there was a great deal of risk in allowing her to dismantle the entire system to make her reconfigurations and the young girl did not know how to take no for answer.
"But Nathan, it will work!"
"Girl, do you want me to eject you into space?" Nathan glared at her as he came towards Mary. The young woman had intercepted him on his way to find his commanding officer, once again bombarding him with the possibility of allowing her to do what she wished on his communications station which he had no intention of doing.
"Nathan, you're being silly," Casey declared as if she was the adult and he was the pest for not letting her try what was clearly a brilliant idea. "I mean it will make things work faster because no Imperial agent is going to crack my codes!"
"Unfortunately we won't know that until we install the damn thing and let it work and if by any chance you're wrong, we'll all DIE!" Nathan growled.
"Now that was harsh," Buck grimaced.
"But Nathan, I'm only trying to help," she said in a small voice, her expression disappearing from that of a capable young woman to a little girl, disappointed and hurt.
"Oh no you don't!" He glared at her as he saw her face starting to break into a tearful expression. "You're not doing that to me!"
"I just wanted to make things safer for everybody." Her lips curled into a little pout. A bat of lashes and a glimmer of moisture in her eyes was all it took.
Nathan threw his hands up in exasperation and cried defeat. "ALRIGHT, you can try it but not just yet. In a week or two okay?"
"Really?" Casey exclaimed brightly. "You mean it?"
"Yes," Nathan rolled his eyes, wondering how at his age, he could be affected by the sight of tears at his age! "I mean it," he agreed reluctantly.
"Oh you won't regret it!" Casey beamed brightly and hugged him hard. "I'm going to get things ready right now so that it will be perfect!"
"You do that," Nathan growled. "Just go do it somewhere else."
"Yes Sir." She saluted and hurried off, beaming while Nathan was shaking his head in disbelief at how he had fallen for that old trick.
"You know," Mary glanced at Audrey as they viewed the exchange and its inevitable end as Nathan started towards them again. "I'd forgotten how well that works."
"Yeah," the corner of Audrey's lips crooked into a little smile. "Its been awhile."
"Oh come on Nathan," JD cried out, never being able to remain silent where Casey was concerned. "You gonna let her get away with that?"
"I don't know JD," Finn remarked "I mean Casey's pretty smart, she could make it work," JD's new friend came to the lady's rescue.
"Are you kidding? She's a pain in the ass snotty blue blood!" JD exclaimed, wondering if Finn had suddenly gone insane.
"I think she's kind of nice," Finn admitted reluctantly.
"Nice?" JD stared at him. "What do you mean nice?" However, his tone was decidedly suspicious.
"I mean nice." Finn started to get uncomfortable and decided to leave this subject and the scene while he still could. "You know girl nice."
"Girl nice?" JD demanded and was not about to let him go without an answer. "What do you mean girl nice...."
None of the others said a word until after the two young men were out of earshot.
"What just happened?" Nathan looked at the other around blankly and feeling as if he walked into the middle of a play.
"Oh I think JD's just discovered another rooster in the hen house." Buck grinned, reminding himself he had better have a talk to the young man when time permitted or else the kid was going to challenge Finn for the Casey's hand especially when he so obviously had no feeling for her.
"Nathan," Mary asked after shaking her head at what she had just witnessed. "This idea of hers. Is it feasible?"
"Yes," Nathan nodded. "Extremely feasible once its working but also extremely difficult to implement, we'd have to rip out half the wiring to replace it with the kind that will do what she says it will."
"Casey's proved to be quite the slicer," Buck spoke in the girl's defense. "She knows code like I know women."
"God," Audrey rolled her eyes.
"Just let it go," Mary said with a sigh. "Let's just play it by ear before we decide to go ahead. I don't want our com system getting a major overhaul in case something happens."
From the corner of her eye, Mary saw Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner emerge from one of the unoccupied berths in the hangar bay. Chris often used the space to continue Vin's Jedi training because it was secluded and saw little chance of them being interrupted by interested onlookers. On this occasion, it had been the first time in weeks that Vin had been able to resume his lessons since he had been injured at the hands of Darth Vader on Ithor. Chris immediately made eye contact with Mary and approached, hiding his pleasure to see her behind a seemingly indifferent facade. Vin however, appeared as if he had been pushed to his limits as he was covered in perspiration as he toweled the moisture from his bare arms as he came towards them.
"Something up?" Chris asked as he arrived even though his Jedi senses detected nothing in the emotional states of his friends to indicate trouble.
"Not really," Buck answered continuing to work on his parts on the bench. "Just JD discovering that he don't like anyone else paying attention to Casey."
"If I recall you were the same Buck," Chris reminded with a little smile. "The first time Ezra looked at Inez."
"Die painfully Larabee," Buck scowled at him.
"Someday maybe," Chris grinned. "But not today."
"Get over it Buck," Nathan added. "It looks like Ezra and Inez are a permanent thing."
In truth, Nathan could not deny that he was just a little biased on this point. He liked the idea of Ezra finding someone finally. For two long, his old friend had kept people at arms length, men and women alike. Inez was the first woman with whom Nathan had ever seen Ezra form such a deep connection, much as it was to Buck Wilmington's annoyance. "Besides, I thought you and Louisa are together these days."
"Don't mention the L word!" Vin hissed jokingly, making pointing gestures at Mary, who promptly swatted him on the back of the head playfully.
"I wish you two would get a long," Chris sighed. "I mean you are so much....."
"Finish that statement and I will see to it that you die painfully," she warned.
Chris laughed, unable to hide the fact that he enjoyed watching Mary and Louisa argue sometimes. It was extremely entertaining and one of the few perverse pleasures the Jedi Knight allowed himself. "So did she get you to agree to the entertainers?"
"You know about that?" She stared at him in surprise.
"Yeah," Buck replied, eager to get his revenge at Chris' earlier statement about his jealousy over Ezra's and Inez's relationship. "Tell Mary how you are acquainted with a troop of entertainers, Christopher."
Mary saw the smirk on Buck's face and knew this had to be good. "Chris?"
The Jedi expression turned stormy and menacing as he sent daggers in Buck's direction before realizing that Mary was expecting an answer. "Its a long story," he muttered, refusing to meet her gaze.
"Sure it is," Buck sniggered under his breath.
"Okay, this is killing me. What is it?" Vin stared at Chris, able to tell from his friend's guarded emotions that this had to be an amusing story if not a highly embarrassing one.
"Nothing," Chris grumbled at the triumphant smirk on Buck's face. "Buck, I'll get you for this."
"Chris," Mary insisted. "I demand to know." She stared at him with arms folded, giving him that look of determination that told everyone present that she would be relentless in acquiring an answer from the Jedi.
"I'm not telling you Mary," he said abruptly and started to make a hasty retreat. Hopefully, she would let it go at that.
Unfortunately, it was not to be.
"Chris!" Mary started after him. "You're not getting away that easily."
"Buck," Vin turned to the pilot as Chris strode out of the hangar, with Mary in pursuit, firing the same question and appeared as if she would continue to do so until he responded. "You are a bastard, you know that?"
"Just for that," Buck met the younger man's eyes with a wicked gleam in his own. "I won't tell you about him and the lady acrobat either."
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