Chapter 1: Crash Landing
The general's head wound won't stop bleeding, a slow but steady seep from under the edge of the bacta patch, but Cody's afraid to press on it any harder. The bone feels sound, but he's seen too many plates of seemingly undamaged armor shatter when struck in just the wrong spot. Staring won't make it heal faster--what Cody wouldn't trade for a Jedi's force-abilities right now--but it gives him something to focus on instead of the throbbing pain in his own ankle and shoulder. Not much bacta patches can do for either. Blue Squadron moves around him in the cramped shuttle cockpit with the efficiency of men who have long worked together, though he's pretty sure he recently signed off on requisition orders for three of them. Always good to see shinies integrate quickly into an existing squad.
"Sir." Wooley crouches beside him, fingertips brushing the general's shoulder. There's a deep bruise high on his cheekbone that makes Cody's scar ache in sympathy, but he looks otherwise uninjured.
"Sitrep?" Cody asks, purposefully ignoring the worry evident on Wooley's face when he looks down at Kenobi's lax form.
"Squad's banged around but operational, aside from Bliss--Rivet's pretty sure he's got a concussion. We've got a standard medpac, slightly depleted, rations for two months at full portions, basic survival supplies for twelve, and just enough ammo to get us into trouble. One hold-out blaster for the pilot, but otherwise our only weapons are what we brought on with us." Not good, in other words, but about what Cody had figured on. "Pen's trying to get the long-range communicator working, but from the level of swearing I'd say we're shit out of luck." He hesitates, looking almost apologetic. "At least the atmo's breathable?"
"No 'at least' about it," Cody says, because he's got to get morale up and keep it there or they're doomed. "If the temperature's within tolerance range and there looks to be enough daylight, send Waxer and Boil out to get the lay of the land--tell them to keep an open channel and stay within comm range. No repeats of Ryloth, I don't care that it all worked out in the end."
"No sir," Wooley says, mouth twitching with amusement. "Should I tell them to be back before bedtime, too?"
"Promise them tea and cookies," Cody says, because it's a joke that Kenobi makes from time to time. That earns him another mouth-twitch from Wooley. "Do we have functional short-range sensors, or do we need to set up a perimeter watch?" The lights and most of the consoles appear to be working, unlike the engines, so it's at least possible.
"I'll find out, sir," and then Cody's alone again with his unconscious superior officer.
"Feel free to wake up and take over any time now," Cody tells him, exasperated, fond. "It's your fault we're in this mess anyhow--'The force isn't telling me anything so this route's probably safe', my ass. Five extra days of travel on the main hyperspace lanes and none of this would've happened."
"Any signs of consciousness?" Rivet doesn't wait for an answer, just drops cross-legged onto the deck and starts manipulating Cody's wrecked ankle. "Does this hurt, sir?" It's like having plasteel shards driven through the joint, and it takes considerable effort for Cody to keep from punching him.
"Yes it hurts," he hisses instead. "And no, he's still out." The medpacs stored on GAR shuttles include some fairly potent painkillers, and under nearly any other circumstance Cody would be demanding them right now. Given everything, though, he fixes his eyes on the general's left ear and practices his deep breathing as the squad's combat medic continues prodding, though he bites through his lip when Rivet removes his boot in a sudden flare of pain so bright he can nearly see it. "Have you ever heard the phrase 'bedside manner', Rivet?"
"Waste of time," Rivet counters, with the cheer of a brother who's only doing his duty and so can't get dinged for it by his commanding officer. "Wiggle your toes for me, sir." Cody does, silently inventing a few new swearwords along the way. "Looks like it's just a sprain--I can wrap it for you, but try not to put any weight on it for at least a couple of days."
"I'll see what I can do," Cody says, sardonic, knowing it'll bounce right off the impenetrable shield of Rivet's dedication to his secondary craft. "You know anything about resetting a dislocated shoulder?" Rivet does, though Cody almost regrets the question when it requires him passing custody of Kenobi over to a nearby, vacantly-staring Bliss.
"Not like he's up to much else at this point," Rivet comments to nobody in particular, carefully removing the armor plates from Cody's shoulder and arm. "Now, lie down and let Jumbo sit on you. I haven't had enough practice to make sure it won't hurt." Cody invents a few more swearwords and nearly bites through the fabric of his gauntlet before the process is over, but the pain finally drops to an ignorable level and everything seems functional again--though Rivet straps his arm to his chest and orders him not to use it unless they wind up in the middle of an actual firefight. "Even then, probably best if you just find a rock to hide behind."
"Guess we'll just have to avoid getting ambushed in the middle of an empty field, then." Having at least the option of using his arm again has mostly revived Cody's good humor, aided by the return of Kenobi to his lap. The bleeding seems to have finally stopped, and when Rivet flashes the general's eyes with his bucket headlamp the pupils respond evenly.
"No concussion, probably no swelling on his brain--my guess? His body's just taking the chance to force him to sleep." With that, Rivet leaves to get Bliss more comfortably situated in the far corner of the cockpit, where he's less likely to get stepped on. Cody pulls Kenobi's robe up underneath his head, to provide a bit of padding from Cody's cuisses, directs a passing Flare to collect his bucket from where it had rolled away in the crash, and settles down to listen in as Waxer and Boil provide commentary on seemingly every inch of ground they walk across. From time to time Wooley interjects a question or order, but mostly it's just the two of them with none of the verbal filters that would be in place if they realized Cody was on the channel--a lot of speculation as to how long it'll take the general to wake up, if he'll wake up (Of course he will, Boil says, sure as if they were discussing the rising of a sun. General Kenobi's not going to let a little thing like crashing into an uncharted planet take him out. Besides, Commander Cody would never let him live it down), how long it'll take for someone to notice they've gone missing, whether anyone will ever find them, and which team is most likely to win this year's Smashball Galaxy Cup. Apparently the Karfeddion Skull Crackers are having a particularly good season.
Wooley comes over a couple of times to give Cody off-comms updates: yes, the sensors are working, so they don't need to post a watch outside the shuttle, and here's the temporary duty roster for Cody's approval; no, Pen absolutely cannot get the long-distance communicator to work even if they cannibalize the entirety of the surviving shuttle, but he can possibly build a beacon, it'll just take a couple of days; would Cody like to split a ration bar?
Cody never wants to split a ration bar, because ration bars are made of wood pulp and off-brand vitamin mix, but he's hungry and tired and it'll make Wooley feel better if he says yes, so he does. They eat in near-silence, just the whisper of voices from Cody's bucket on the deck beside them. Aside from Sixer, currently on comms and monitor duty, the rest of the squad have settled down in twos and threes to get what sleep they can. According to Wooley's calculations there's another couple hours of daylight yet, but they're coming off Coruscant time and the inevitable adrenaline crash from a rapid series of near-death encounters.
"I'll take first watch," he tells Wooley when they're done eating, after the third time Wooley's visibly jerked back awake. Cody's own weariness is the kind where his mind won't allow his body the option of rest, so he might as well grant it to his brother. Wooley murmurs his assent, tips his head against Cody's shoulder, and is a sleep-lax weight against his arm and side a moment later. Cody's functional arm, which means he's pinned for the moment and has to call Sixer over to retrieve his bucket for him, voice pitched to avoid waking anyone. From the way Sixer hesitates, head slightly cocked, before leaning in to help Cody get the bucket on, there are now almost certainly holos of Cody playing cuddlebug with both his sergeant and commanding officer.
"For morale purposes only," he warns, probably unnecessarily, given that it's Sixer and not one of the others. "No blackmail."
"But of course, sir." And Sixer settles the bucket into place, somehow managing not to mash Cody's nose in the process, setting the seal at his neck with unexpectedly gentle hands.
He listens for an hour or so, half-dozing at times as the ebb and swell of chatter between Waxer and Boil and Sixer occupies enough of his mind that there's no room for questions such as whether anyone would bother looking for their lost squad if they didn't have High Jedi General Kenobi with them. Cody might be a marshal commander, but any one of the commanders below him--and not a few of the captains--could step into his position without real injury to the GAR. Jedi, on the other hand, are functionally irreplaceable, and Kenobi even more so than most.
But Cody's not thinking about that right now. Cody's listening to the easy three-way camaraderie of Alpha team, and making a mental note of locations that might be worth investigating more closely in a day or so, once the squad is up and fully operational again, and beginning to wonder if he should nudge Wooley awake and let him mind things for the next couple of hours. And then Cody's on sudden high alert when Boil hisses for Waxer to shut up, keep his head down, and look over there--is that a group of mounted soldiers? Why yes it is, Waxer agrees with a kind of nervous calm, and it looks like they're armed with slug-throwers and headed for that village right below where Waxer and Boil are currently hiding.
"What kind of reception are they getting?" There's a long moment of absolute silence over the comms after Cody speaks.
"Friendly, sir?" Waxer hazards eventually. "Even with the binocs it's kind of far to see clearly, but everyone's dismounting, and they don't seem to be forming a perimeter or anything, just mingling with the locals."
"Can you give me a head count? Are they armored?"
There's another, longer moment of silence before Waxer reports. "There are too many trees in the way for an exact count, but I'd estimate it at a platoon, sir. They're wearing some kind of standardized armor on their upper body, can't see the legs. Most of them have helmets. Too far to even guess at the material. Do you want us to attempt a closer recon?" Wooley's comment about just enough ammo to get into trouble flashes through Cody's head, accompanied by a vision of Waxer and Boil overwhelmed and the enemy following their trail back to the effectively defenseless shuttle.
"Negative." It comes out harsher than he intends, but he can't risk them exposing their position for such a tenuous possibility of information gain, not when their current situation and resources are so poor. "Record what you can and then get back here before nightfall. Obscure your trail as best as possible, but otherwise use all speed."
"Yessir," Waxer snaps off, echoed by Boil, who still sounds a bit shell-shocked at having Cody break into the channel unannounced.
"Sixer, continue monitoring the channel, and let me know if anything else occurs of import. As you were, gentlemen." He clicks his tongue to imitate the chirp of sound that sometimes comes from dropping a channel. Across the room Sixer swivels to look at him; Cody can almost see the raised eyebrow through the expressionless front of his bucket. Cody just stares back until Sixer shrugs and turns back to the sensor readouts.
After almost a minute of dead air, Boil ventures, "How long was he on the channel?"
"Whole time," Sixer informs him in the pious tone of a brother who knows he's not the one getting in trouble. This news is greeted with a lengthy but subdued string of cursing, which ends just before Cody would have to break back in to remind Boil that he's got a job to do. "Pretty much," Sixer says, all good cheer. "Now, let's figure out how to get you guys back here intact for your dressing-down." There probably won't be one, given all the circumstances, but it won't hurt to let them both stew for a while--a reminder that comms protocols exist for a reason. Never know who might be listening in.
Meanwhile, Cody switches his bucket to the exterior audio channel and regretfully nudges Wooley. "Sergeant, we have a situation."
"Yessir." Wooley lurches upright, bleary-eyed, patting the deck beside him until he finds his deece. "I'll go rouse the men." Cody grabs his elbow before he can stand up and squeezes just enough for it to register. Stay. And Wooley's really not fully awake yet because he immediately collapses back against Cody's shoulder, clutching his deece in his lap. "What kind of situation, sir?" He scrubs at his eyes with the unarmored heel of one hand.
"The kind that means we can let everyone sleep for another half hour while we plan." Wooley unsuccessfully tries to smother a yawn, but his eyes are mostly clear now, and by the time Cody finishes laying out what Waxer and Boil discovered he's frowning in concentration.
"If they were that close, not much chance they didn't see the shuttle as it was coming down and probably have a good idea of the trajectory of the landing site at a minimum. Ship's cannons are fixed, so not much we can do there. No cover around us means we can see them coming, but they can see us as well, and if they have anything to breach the hatch with we're toast. I hate to say it, sir, but we might need to abandon the ship and head for somewhere better-hidden and more defensible. Rations will be a pain to transport, but we can manage enough for at least the first few days." He sits up a bit more, and starts making calculations on his fingers, silently mouthing the numbers to himself.
"I'm more concerned about the injured," Cody says, gesturing towards his taped-up ankle and the unconscious general in his lap. "I can't walk unaided, and the general will need to be carried or dragged. Last report I had on Bliss's condition sounded like he might also need to be carried. We're going to be leaving one heck of a trail and moving pretty slow."
Wooley curls his hands into fists and stares at them for a moment. "I can't believe I forgot about Bliss. What kind of sergeant am I?"
"One who would've remembered before it could've caused an issue," Cody tells him because it's the truth. "Let's go check on his condition--I need to test just how bad my ankle is, anyway."
Pretty bad, as it turns out. Cody could walk on it if he had to, but not for long and he'd be completely wrecked during and after. As it is, he winds up using Wooley as a crutch and basically hopping on his good foot across the shuttle deck to where Rivet's curled protectively around Bliss, torso and thigh plates stacked neatly beside him.
"I'm pretty sure it's a brain-bleed, sir." All of Rivet's usual armor-clad cheer is gone, replaced with worry and weariness--and a tenderness Cody never could've guessed at as he cradles Bliss's head against his belly. "Nothing I can do about it--even if I had the equipment I sure as anything don't have the training. The medpac computer just says to keep him stabilized until a medical droid is available for diagnosis and surgery if needed, but that's obviously not an option here."
"No," Cody agrees, leaning more heavily against Wooley as he tries to find a position where it doesn't feel like his ankle's about to explode into little painful pieces all over the floor. "Not here." He looks back at where they'd left the general tucked up against the bulkhead, his robes bundled under his head for a pillow. They'd shaken him pretty hard, getting him off Cody's lap, going so far as to tentatively slap his cheek a couple of times, with absolutely no reaction. Cody had tested his pupil response again, and that was still good, but it was downright scary to have him so … well, dead to the world. Usually the man would snap to wakefulness at the mere mention of his name, no matter how many days he'd gone without sleep. "I think--I think we need to do something I really don't want to do."
Wooley stiffens beside him, but says nothing. Rivet pulls Bliss's head closer to himself, stroking his thumb down Bliss's cheekbone, but doesn't look away from Cody, eyes clear and calm. "What's that, sir?"
The words taste like failure in Cody's mouth, but better that than avoidable death. "I think we need to turn ourselves in to the local authorities."