There have been many times in the life of Piquo where he has wondered about the validity of the universe and the integrity of sentient beings. How could everything be balanced when something as such had just occurred? Is there truth in the lives of men? Why would something like this happen with no warning or foreshadow of any sort? The unmistakable grief and sorrow enveloping Piquo's shattered world could be cut with a blade, a blade like the one that laid sheathed on Piquo lap at that very moment. The past week had been nothing but bad times for Piquo, beginning with the loss three fellow pilots, pupils of Piquo's, the destruction of three E-wings, and ending with the demotion and suspension of Piquo himself. The memory of the accident was still so raw and vivid in his memory that he still sobbed uncontrollably at the slightest thought of the crash.
* * * * *
"Well, today is the end of your training and your admission into the squadron as fully certified pilots. I am very proud of all of you, and I know that you will all make Rogue Squadron proud. Your final test is a dogfight against drones in which you will be drastically outnumbered. No live-fire will be used, in fact you will be flying without shields or weapons of any kind, but you will be informed of hits and damage to both your vessels and your opponents. Hop into your fighters and proceed to the coordinates that have been loaded into your navcomps. I'll be flying patrol around your flight area, so I'll be watching you. Good luck," Piquo preached to the three up and coming pilots that would be filling the ranks of his diminished squadron. With the addition of these flyers, Talon would be back to full strength.
As Piquo's students climbed into their respective cockpits, Piquo reminisced about the last few weeks and the characteristics of the pilots whom he trained. In the ship to his left sat Janice Murtaw, a young female human from Coruscant. Janice was a hotheaded pilot, quick to anger, and tenacious in her defense of her honor and her wing mates. Not the person you want to insult, Janice had shown a maturity that is uncharacteristic of redheads. Being a redhead himself, Piquo couldn't help but forgive her of her faults. All told, Janice was a very capable pilot and someone that Piquo would trust with his life in an instant.
Waiting in the middle fighter was Duren, a male Twilek and one of the most brilliant tactical minds that Piquo had ever known. Duren could instinctively predict an enemy's every move, giving him a distinct edge in any dogfight. Duren had been the only trainee to last more than two minutes in a simulator with Piquo, a feat very rare in training. When Piquo had asked Duren about his interest in switching to Tactical Operations instead of piloting, he became infuriated and refused to answer, leaving the question unanswered, something that bothered Piquo very much. Although he was somewhat bothered by this mystery, Piquo was very confident that Duren was quite capable of flying a fighter, and he had shown himself to be an adept pilot in every way.
A short, stocky human male sat in the right hand fighter, waiting for clearance to take off. Reese Sobanski had transferred to fighter ops from star fighter mechanics shortly after being assigned to Farpoint. His expertise and knowledge of everything pertaining to fighters gave him an understanding of his opponent's vessel that only aided him in dismantling it. While not exactly lacking in creativity, Reese tended to be more of a mechanical pilot, not prone to fancy maneuvers or showy tactics. Of the three, Piquo felt like he knew the least about Reese, partly because Reese, like most mechanics, was somewhat of an introvert. Despite his lacking social skills, Reese had proven himself to be one of the most dependable members of the squadron.
Piquo received clearance for take-off before anyone else, and he quickly accelerated into the atmosphere of Farpoint, thrilled by the rush of adrenaline that filled him every time he flew. He heard the go-ahead that was given to the three other pilots, and led them to the training field situated over the plains of the planet.
"Ok, I'm going to cue the release of the drones. They'll attack on sight, so don't hesitate to fire on contact," Piquo told the new pilots as the circled.
"But sir, one of our primary rules is not to fire until fired upon," it was Janice that had spoken, and right she was.
"Very good Janice, I was hoping that one of you would catch that," said Piquo as he keyed in the launch code for the drones, "no one is to fire until you have been attacked."
Shortly, the computer-controlled drones came into view, and the three trainees began evasive maneuvers to prevent damage to their ships. As soon as the first drone fired, Piquo knew something was amiss. The laser fire that was scoring the hull of Reese's ship was not merely harmless light as it should have been, but full power star fighter blasts. Piquo clicked his comm. button to alert his students, but he was cut off by a scream from Janice. She had been hit by a number of shots and was losing altitude quickly. Instinctively, Piquo flew into the fray and began hunting the drones.
"Get the hell out of here! Fly away as fast as you can and get back to the base. Tell command to send some help," Piquo barked as he loosed a torpedo at a drone. Either because he had not heard the command or he chose to ignore it, Duren did not disembark from the battle and flew directly into the path of Piquo's live missile. The explosion was doubled as Janice's fighter struck the ground and erupted into a ball of flame.
"Sir! More of them, I don't know where they came—" started Reese. Piquo feared for the worse as he disembarked from his battle to go aid his beleaguered comrade. Suddenly, the realization of his mistake dawned on Piquo. He had ordered two separate sets of drones for two operations today, one of harmless practice drones for this lesson, and one group of live-fire drones in two waves for a demonstration that was scheduled for the morning but was postponed to that evening on account of inclement weather in the early hours of the day.
As Piquo reached his endangered pupil, he saw the young frantically trying to evade a number of volatile drones. Piquo watched as Reese snap-rolled to the left, right into an approaching drone. Reese's E-wing faltered in air as both of its engines failed and sent the machine plummeting towards the planet. Piquo flew in silence for a while, not believing what had just happened. Oblivious to all, Piquo squeezed his eyes closed in denial of the event. No, it's not real. Any minute I'm going to wake up and this will all just be a bad dream. I'll wake up, take the kids out for their exam and it'll all be fine.
In a daze, almost as if it were dream, Piquo barely remembered the rest of the day. The arrival of the vessels to eliminate the drones, the ensuing chaos of questioning and investigating, his sentencing, demotion, and subsequent suspension; all was lost to him, faded by the burning sights of young pilots dying and falling. Nothing mattered but the grief that he felt and the guilt that dominated his mind.
* * * * *
With his vision clouded by tears and exhaustion, Piquo slowly drew the short sword from its sheath, admiring its sparkling brilliance. The ceremonial dagger, given to a son by his father when he has reached maturity, had stayed locked in Piquo's trunk for many years, only now seeing the light of day. The hard metal of the blade felt cool as Piquo pressed its edge into the skin of his forearm, just below the wrist. As he began to drag the blade across his skin, relishing the pain that seared from his splitting skin, the door to Piquo's room flew open, a shadow standing in the entrance.
"Piquo, what are you doing?" yelled a male voice as Piquo attempted to hide the dagger, blood beginning to show on his arm from the shallow incision that he had made.
Quickly assessing the situation, Corben Breed whipped out his blaster and stunned Piquo into unconsciousness. He tried to pry the dagger from Piquo's hand, but his fingers had locked into a death-grip on the handle of the weapon.
* * * * *
Piquo awoke in a bed in the medical ward of the base. He marveled at the IV's in his arms and the ties that kept his appendages secured to the bed. A bandage wound around his right wrist, snuggly closing the wound there. As if on cue, Crewman Anjali Hundu walked in and smiled at Piquo.
"Well Piquo, you gave us quite a shock. No one expected that you would take this so harshly, it's a good thing that Corben walked in when he did."
"Eh... wha—" Piquo began, finding it very hard to speak.
"No, don't speak, just rest. You've been very sick, your brain chemistry was so skewed that you've been asleep for three days. You should be fine, and I expect a full recovery. Now sleep." Anjali said as she walked out of the room. As she disappeared from sight, Piquo flopped his head back onto his pillow, all feelings of fatigue lost. As he lay there, the memories of the past few days flooded his mind. In the midst of his new wave of panic, a monitor began slowly beeping, increasing in frequency and intensity as Piquo's anxiety mounted. Piquo began breathing very heavily, his eyes darting side to side uncontrollably. Startled, Crewman Hundu ran into the room and quickly tapped out a command on the keypad next to Piquo's bed. Very quickly Piquo's vision began to fade into darkness and a very troubled sleep took him.
In a nearby monitoring room, Crewman Hundu was standing next to Captain Ben Pierce, both analyzing a graph on a static graph on a screen.
"That was a major spike in adrenaline there, see where it peaks here right before the sedative hits him," stated Captain Pierce as he pointed at a high point in the graph, "I don't think it would be wise to allow many more episodes like that. Let's up his dosage of anti-depressants and bipolarity medications."
"Yessir," replied Hundu, "do you want me to keep him sedated for a while?"
"That would probably be for the best, let's make sure his brain chemistry has returned to normal before letting him wake again." Captain Pierce left the room, leaving Crewman Hundu to watch over the sleeping patient.
As she watched the troubled pilot sleep, she couldn't help but feel a sort of sympathy towards him. He had made simple mistake with consequences that were anything but simple. I hope he can come out of this not hating himself and able to return to duty, he's one of the best trainers we've ever had. Anjali sighed as she settled in for a long night of surveillance.
* * * * *
"Well Piquo, it seems that you are physically able to return to duty. I see no reason why you can't return to your normal routine, excepting, of course, your pending suspension. Sorry to bring this up, but you are to report to Admiral Fel's office for sentencing," Captain Pierce explained as he checked Piquo over for the final time after his tenure at the medical ward.
Piquo felt a cold hand grip his heart as he made the walk towards the CO's office. Has this hallway always been this long? Piquo thought as he took what seemed to be his thousandth step down the hall, which in actuality was only his twentieth. The metal doorknob, which Commander Fel had insisted on having for reasons unknown, had never felt quite so cold as it did this day. As he entered the outer office, the officer on duty waved him into the inner office to face the Admiral.
Admiral Nick Fel sat at his desk, his elbows resting on the arms of his chair with his fingered steepled in front of his face. He had a haggard look on his face, a look that no doubt came from the "red tape" and paperwork that had to be dealt with regarding Piquo's accident. He let out a long breath and gestured for Piquo to sit in the chair across from him.
"You've made quite a mess of things Piquo. Not only have we lost the three pilots from the accident, we've had five more recruits demand reassignment before ever reaching our planet. Fortunately, you're not being charged with murder, but the blame for the incident rests solely on your shoulders. There will be a formal ceremony, but you can consider yourself demoted to Flight Lieutenant and suspended with pay for two standard months, after which you will be reviewed for a return to duty and command of your squadron. You are to report to the ceremony at 07:30 tomorrow morning in dress whites. A location will be decided upon later and you will be informed soon. Dismissed."
These words penetrated Piquo's very core. He had known the truth for a while, but hearing such a powerful person state the truth made it much harder to bear.
* * * * *
Not even 30 minutes after Piquo's demotion ceremony, he was in his quarters packing his bags. As his zipped up his worn duffel bag, he shook his head, dreading the next two months and what he had to do. As he squared his shoulders and set himself back into his normal state of readiness, a timid knock came at Piquo's door. After granting permission for his visitor to enter, Corben Breed entered, and, seeing the bags on Piquo's bunk sent a questioning look in his direction. Corben had been a frequent visitor of Piquo's while he had stayed in the med ward.
"I'm leaving for my two months of suspension. I'm going to visit the families of the deceased pilots and personally apologize for the deaths of their family members. I don't think that I could live with myself if I did nothing and let them be informed of my failure with just a note of false sincerity. I've already cleared it with Command, so there's no use in trying to stop me," Piquo declared with utter certainty. His eyes portrayed nothing of the dread that filled his heart. He wanted nothing more than to stay here and let the families cry over their note, but he knew that he would be forever haunted by these memories if he didn't set things right with the families.
"Well sir, I hope you find what you're looking for on your journey. Come back ready to fly, we'll be needing your leadership more than you know," Corben stated as he moved aside to allow access to the corridor.
"Thank you Corben. I hope I find what I'm looking for too. Goodbye," Piquo said as he took his first steps down the hallway; the first steps of the hardest journey he would ever experience.