Chapter 3: Fade to Black

Roland awoke suddenly, his heart pounding in his chest, and his head aching like a Rodian Mind Slug had been feasting on his brain all night. He sat up and rubbed his forehead with his fingers of his left hand well his right hand wiped the drool that had pooled in his beard on his cheek. He couldn't recall the previous night, probably for the best. He twisted to his left to climb out of bed only to fall out and smash his shoulder against the cold hard plating of the floor. "Ahh, krif." He cautiously pulled himself up to his feet. His bedroom had a soft left spin to it. He moved slowly with his dizziness to the refresher on the other side.

Finally stepping inside he sat down and relieved himself. He exhaled and opened his eyes, looking down he saw the bottle of Durosian Special No.64. "Ah, of course." He lifted it off the floor to his eyes and gave it a shake. "Hmmm, still half full." He lifted it to his lips and took a dip sip. Roland cringed, the transformation from liquid to a gel once it touches the mouth was a quirk of Durosian drinks. Roland didn’t mind it but had a hard time growing fond of the long burn of the alcohol as it worked it’s way down his throat. "What was I doing last night, to think this was worth it?" He placed the drink on the countertop to his left and sat up to walk into the sanitizer. He pressed the button on the wall and a wave of soft vibrations hit his naked flesh. Sonic cleansing was something he loathed, but it was what he had now.

Once he dressed he stepped out of his room, the Durosian Special in his right hand. Roland worked his way down the cold metal hallway of the living quarters. He finally patted his left breast pocket for his datapad, pulled it out and checked what day it was. He stopped instantly. "Oh." His grip tightened around the neck of the bottle, ground his teeth and narrowed his brows at the string of numbers. He wanted to hurt someone. He probably already did, he just couldn't remember. He closed his datapad and pocketed it again. He looked down at his gloved fists. He slammed his left fist into his thigh. The pain felt good, he deserved it. He raised his right and took another gulp from the bottle. Three years. Three years and a day since the battle of Jakku. He smashed the empty bottle against the floor. He raised his right leg and stomped it down and stood at attention. He probably already did this yesterday but Roland couldn't remember. He had to be sure, for his own mind to find ease.

Roland tried to find their faces. As many as he could conjure up. Osis, Gaz, Liao, Showers, Yahr, Kov, Paos, Daar, Marik, Card. There were too many he would never get them all. Not all of them were dead, but that wasn't the point. They were Imperials, and they stayed Imperials till the end. He took a few moments more. "I miss you all." He dropped his stance and continued down the corridor.

Malleus Station was a repurposed Imperial deep dock. Situated above Ord Mantell it was once used in the repairs and refitting of Star Destroyers and smaller Imperial craft. Now, most of it operated as a trading outpost. Markets, living quarters, offices, a few good cantinas and from what was left of the deep dock itself, a repair shop was made out of the last large hangar bay that wasn't now used as docking. "Marr and Ward's Refit and Repairs." It was the only repair shop for almost a thousand parsecs.

The business itself was usually steady. Most customers were independents. Traders, smugglers, bounty hunters, tourists. Every once in awhile a New Republic ship or fighter squadron came through, if Marr and Ward had the parts, they would see to their needs too.

"Ah! Roland, you made it in." Danis Marr was a tall man, pale green eyes and deep orange hair tied back behind his head. "Feeling any better?" Danis' black tech suit hid the grime but his face held a layer of grey and brown streaks.

"To a degree Marr." Roland hung up his black coat and stepped into his own tech suit. "Can you remember them all?"

"No."Danis scoffed.

"Who do you remember the easiest?" Roland asked as he approached him.

"My brother. I've told you about him before."

"I just needed to hear it again." Roland smiled at Danis and placed both of his hands on Danis' shoulders. "What's the work line looking like?"

"We still have to replace the last segment of the injection line on that YT-1210, and we have a squadron of X-Wings coming in for a check-up in about three hours."

"Affirmative. Let's get on that injection line."

"Yes, sir." Danis smiled back. "Heckler has already begun the deionization of the replacement."

"Great, I will start the dismantling, the section panelling off?"

"Yeah, I got that done this morning."

"Thank you, Danis." The two of them made their way to the small Correllian freighter across the hanger bay. The ex-Imperial hanger bay was still in good condition. The dark grey of its bare walls was kept relatively clear, the floor was organized and orderly. No component crate was out of place. Roland's TIE Defender was kept in the launch bay thirty meters above their heads. He made sure to keep it maintained and launch-ready.

"Salutations: It is great to see you, Master!"

"Good to see you too Heckler." The dorid stood exactly two meters tall and took a humanoid but aggressive skeletal from. It was an even matte black but its eyes glowed a violent orange. Roland and Heckler approached the worksite at the rear of the light freighter. "What do we have left?"

"Assessment: Just the final installation of the Type-93 Keynne Injector B."

"Alright. I'll get on it." The work on the freighter wrapped up in less than two hours. It was an easy swap, Danis had already done most of the work this morning. He put his tools away, checked his datapad for any updates, none. Then
he went looking for other duties.

"Statement: The meat bag has returned to claim his ship." Roland stopped checking inventory counts.

"Heckler, don't refer to our customers like that." Roland groaned, giving the droid an exasperated look. "I've told you that many times before."

"Explanation: His total mass and volume are greater than most customers of his species, Master."

"True." Roland pocketed his datapad and began to walk past Heckler. "But still, we are supposed to be professionals."

"Acknowledgement: Yes Master."

"Thank you." Roland saw Danis under the station entrance to the hanger speaking with Dr.Dalek. He decided to pick up his pace and jog the rest of the way towards them.

"Ahhhh Mr.Ward. There you are, is my ship ready?" Dr.Dalek was a Twi'lek, a deep blue skin tone with a soft yellow gaze. Heckler was right, the doctor was on the heavy side.

"Yes, sir. Engines should be responding as normal, food restocked, cells charged and we also found a small knot in your shield generator modulators that may have been losing you two percent on your recovery time."

"Thank you very much for your work, both of you." He lowered his tone as if someone may be listening. "And that droid of yours." He gave with a soft chuckle. "What has the bill come to?"

"Forty-two hundred." Danis broke in eagerly. For a moment Dr.Dalek was taken back, he quickly recovered his composure.

"A fair bargain, for the best." The doctor reached into his pocket, pulling out a rather hefty bag and counted out the appropriate credits, handing them to Danis. "And a tip for the speedy service." Passing both Roland and Danis a hundred credits more each.

"It was our pleasure Dr.Dalek." Roland gave him a nod then another to Danis.

"Thank you, doctor, I will take you to your ship." Danis leads the customer through the hanger. Roland sat in the chair behind the front desk and checked his datapad, just over an hour till the X-Wing squadron would arrive. Roland didn't mind working on the New Republic's starfighters. He chuckled to himself at a comment a Republic pilot made to him two weeks ago.

"There is a heavy irony that I am now putting Republic starfighters back together," Roland said to himself. He watched the light freighter powerup, rise and navigate itself out through the hanger bays shield. He closed his eyes to gain a few moments of energy. He heard Danis walk up to the desk. Roland opened his eyes and leaned forward. "He says anything else?"

"The doctor? No. I think Heckler had him intimidated." Danis piled the credits on the desktop and began setting them out into two piles.

"I'm surprised Hecker doesn't have that effect on more people. Do you think the doctor might have recognized its design?"

"It's not impossible, but highly unlikely. If he did recognize the make I have a feeling the doctor would have let us keep the ship."

"Agreed," Roland said comfortably, he leaned back in his chair. "The Republic dogs are still just coming in for a refuelling?"

"As far as the order tells. Something wrong Captain Ward?"

"There might be, just can't shake the past right now."

"That's what you said yesterday too, I knew I still smelt something Duro on your breath." Danis cracked a smile.

"That stuff was your idea?" Roland rubbed his eyes.

"Of course, you don't have a taste for anything outside of Correllian beverages."

"I do prefer my drinks to retain their liquid state."

"Did you chew it?" Danis retorted still holding his smirk.

"No, I had already swallowed it before I was aware of what it was doing."

"Ahhhhh, you see Captain, you are supposed to chew it. That will turn it back into a liquid and release its true flavour."

"You will have to remind me next time we have a session of remembrance." Roland smiled at his best friend. "I'm glad I still have you, Ensign, I don't think I could be this strong without you."

"Thank you, Captain." Danis smiled widely and his face flustered slightly. "I…" He reached into his right-hand pocket and pulled out something in his fist. "I found this in a shop, a week ago, I had it refurbished. I meant to give it your last night." Danis offered his hand to Roland, who stood up and walked around the desk up to Danis taking the Ensign's closed fist into his own hands. They look into each other's eyes.

"What is it?" Danis gave a soft chuckle and loosened his fist. Roland looked down and softly pulled Danis's hand open. It was beautiful. Roland's eyes began wavering as he took Danis' gift into his own hands. The rectangle with six squares filling it's two rows, three red on top and three blue underneath. The Imperial rank insignia of a Captain. Danis took a step back and stood at attention. Roland, eyes still locked onto such a magnificent gift from his best friend. He pinned it over his left breast pocket. He looked back into his friend's eyes, took the stance of attention himself and saluted Danis. Danis returned his salute. They both held their position for what felt like several minutes. When they both finally dropped their arms and stood at ease both faces were wet with tears. Danis took a step toward Roland and they embraced each other.

"Condescending Observation: Your moment of organic passion will be a subject of my future ridicule."

"Awh, krif off you bucket of code." Roland shot back at the droid, taking a step back from Danis and rubbing the lines of tears from his face.

"Remember Heckler, I know how to shut you down and disassemble you." Danis returned with his smirk back on. "It might be days before I return you back to an operational state."

"Statement: Your threat is noticed, however, should Master ever change his mind I will revel in the moment of my killing you."

"Your loyalty to my wishes is respected Hekler, however, it would be appreciated if would not threaten someone directly every day. Now go tune the refuelling stations for the Republic squadron coming in."

"Acknowledgement: Yes Master." Hekler turned around and left the two of them.

"Well, it has been a while since he threatened you, Danis."

"Man, his hard code is stubborn isn't it?" Danis said watching Heckler work his way slowly across the hanger. He turned back to Roland and opened his mouth to say something but the roaring of four X-Wings and their engines filled the hanger bay. Roland gave a nod to Danis and they both stood up and went to greet the pilots.

The X-Wings where standard T-65s. The squadron leader was the first on the hanger floor. "Greetings!" He gave a wave and a friendly smile. Danis went off to help Heckler and Roland approached the Captain.

"Welcome to my shop, Captain?"

"Captain Gyr." He offered his hand to shake. "You must be Captain Ward." Roland took his hand and returned a confident squeeze and friendly shake. Gyr was just a few centimetres taller than Roland. Outfitted in the classic orange and white pilot suit of the Republic. He was a well-built human with an ebony flesh tone, had a soft black stubble on his chin ìwith grey eyes.

"Affirmative. My report says you are coming in for refuelling, does that hold up with yours?"

"Yes, it does."

"Excellent we will get started, shouldn't take any more than twenty minutes."

"Great." Gyr looked up at the TIE fighter rack. "That Defender yours?"

"Yeah, she served me well. "

"She's a beauty, never seen one up close before. What engagements did you fly her?"

"The Battle of Fondor Shipyards and Jakku." Roland was surprised at Gyr's causal approach to him and his ship. Other Republic pilots usually ignored it or gave him dirty looks the whole time.

"I was at Jakku as well, flying escort to bombers. Never saw any Defenders though."

"There were only four of us, we were tasked to defending the dreadnought."

"Ahhh I see, if you don't mind me asking, how many splashes did you earn in her?"

"Sixteen with her, in total through my career, twenty-one."

"I only ever scored six. You must have been one hell of a pilot." Gyr saluted him. Roland returned it. "So a Captain, did you ever command a Star Destroyer?"

"I was offered the position when they promoted me. I turned it down."

"I know what you mean, I was offered to command an EF76 Nebulon-B escort frigate. I turned that posting down." Gyr smiled at Roland, rubbing his chin with his right hand. "Like me, you just felt complete inside the cockpit."

"Yes, I often sit inside it. Let my mind relive the moments of bliss such a craft granted. I wish I could take her out again."

"Yes Captain, I'm sure you do. You know the Republic is looking for more pilots. One of your skills, I'm sure they would overlook your history to acquire."

"No, I don't think I could."

"So you don't believe in the Republic?" Gyr narrowed his brows and his voice lowered.


"We liberated the people your Empire enslaved!" Gyr was clearly becoming offended now.

"All those slaves were those who fought against the peace my Emperor brought."

"Slavery is not peace!"

"What about your Republic's clone army? Was that not slavery Captain Gyr?" Roland ranted, his own patience running thin.

"The one who became your emperor was who brought the clones, our leader base is made of some who rejected the idea of an army even then."

"And when the war ended he released them from their service. We had achieved peace!"

"Your arguments are so shallow, you really are still an imp. A reign of fear is not right, we had to fight it."

"Exactly! Your loyal rebellion broke the peace because you didn't like how it was achieved. There was peace! My empire gave it to all of you and you threw it on the ground!"

"You lost!"

"Republic dog! It was all about winning, wasn't it? You fail to see the bigger picture then and you still do. I am still alive, the Empire will never die." Roland cracked a smile. Gyr saw this and took a step toward him, fists clenched.

"Are you sure?"

"I am still an Imperial!" Roland patted his rank insignia. "And when the time comes we will conquer you all again."

Gyr reeled back and swung his fist across Roland's forehead, his smile suddenly froze and he shivered. He knew what was coming. He knew he couldn't stop it. He closed his eyes as he fell to the floor and his body tensed. A pounding in his head grew stronger and stronger. It was glorious.

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