Date: 51:1 (16 years after the Battle of Yavin)
Star Destroyer Hunter
Laughter echoed through the halls of Hunter's Troop Country as the capital ship cruised through hyperspace, on a heading for Farpoint with the captured Outlander trailing behind it. Fresh from a successful mission that had netted surprisingly few casualties for the ground pounders, the men of Alpha Company were cooling their heels with a bottle of Corellian whiskey to warm their hearts and Hudson's stories to lift their spirits.
Blaine wiped tears from his eyes as the laughter died down, shaking his head.
"Lieutenant, you're a sick, sick man. And if you're telling the truth then so is everyone from Earth!" the corporal exclaimed.
"Hey, we only had one planet to work with. Had to get our laughs somewhere in the military," Hudson replied smugly. "Crem, another round!"
"Sir, yes sir," the Bothan replied, pouring more whiskey into everyone's glasses, resting on the empty ammo crate they were using as a table. Between patching wounds and saving lives the day before, and somehow having smuggled the drink on board the ship, Crem was already becoming a popular member of the company. The other soldiers present certainly appreciated him. Eichel had even said the Bothan was "alright", which was a glowing recommendation from the sergeant.
"I have to admit, you guys have a much easier time of it off-duty than we do," Dorn piped up as Crem poured his drink.
"We don't have shields and starship armor between us and the enemy, Dorn," the Lieutenant explained. "We have a tendency to check out more often and in bigger numbers, this last mission being the rare exception. If we can't all hang out together and enjoy life while we can, than we've got a sorry lot indeed."
"Too true, that," Blaine said. His thoughts wandered to the men who'd died alongside him, from the casualties on the Outlander all the way back to poor Jake at the Watchpoint. Even back to his father. With that thought he raised his glass. "How about a toast, to the ones waiting for us on the other side of the line? To absent companions!"
"To absent companions," the others said in unison, some looking more grim than others. Dorn looked thoughtful at that, and Blaine wondered why. Word in the trenches was that Dorn had been their transport pilot because he'd lost a buddy in a spacefighter furball and had needed some distance from his squadron. Probably just thinking about that buddy, Blaine figured.
"So, Blaine, got any stories of your own? Or was your planet too much of a backwater?" Hudson said jokingly, breaking the silence that had settled over the group after the toast.
"Ha ha, very funny sir," Blaine replied sarcastically. "Just because nobody, not even other people from the Mid Rim, can find Dahvil on the map doesn't mean it was a backwater. Just... quiet, is all. Heh, except when I was growing up. There was this one time when me and my buddy Tir, um, 'borrowed' his dad's landspeeder. Well, wouldn't you know it, but the damn thing broke down out on the plains, and suddenly we hear kath hounds howling..."
* * * * *
"Oh, I've been to the Rim, where the stars they are dim, and the Jawas are bigger than Hutts..." Blaine mumbled the old spacer ditty he'd picked up in his hometown's spaceport to himself as he made his way to his room. He wasn't drunk, just tired, but Blaine was one of those people to whom fatigue meant pretty much the same thing as being sloshed. "And I've been to the Core, where the whiskey costs more, and all of the ladies are—"
"Wha!?" the corporal spun around, to see the Lieutenant and Eichel jogging up to him. "Oh, sirs. Um, aren't your bunks the other way?"
"Yeah, but we forgot something," Hudson said, coming to a stop. "Could you let Lobacca and the rest of your squad know tomorrow morning?"
"Um, sure, Lieutenant. What is it?"
"I'm being transferred. They're giving me Green Squad. You boys are going to be on your own," Eichel said, crossing his arms. Blaine's face fell at the news.
"Oh, stang. We can't seem to keep our hands on a squad leader for more than a few months, can we? So, who's transferring into Red to replace you?"
"Nobody. We don't have anyone left to transfer without hurting the squad we take them from," Hudson explained with a shrug.
"Perfect, so we're going to get some sergeant fresh from the Core," Blaine muttered. "Well, we won't be the first, so I'm sure we can deal with it just like everybody else. I'll pass on the word, but nobody's going to like it."
"They don't have to, they just have to deal with it," Eichel pointed out.
"Yeah, I suppose. Well, if that's all, good night, Lieutenant, Sarge." Blaine turned to continue on his way, starting up his tune again. "I've been to Ralltiir, and drunk all their beer, and made my escape in a flash..."
The lieutenant and the sergeant watched him go until he turned a corner, and then turned to look at each other.
"Think he has a clue?" Hudson asked.
"Not in the slightest, sir," Eichel answered. "Not in the slightest."
Alpha Company Barracks, Farpoint, two weeks later
With Lobacca at the gym taking a few laps, as Ishi Tib were wont to do, Blaine had the room to himself and was spending his time sitting on his bunk and trying to type up a message to home. It wasn't going so well. Frustrated, he tossed a ration bar wrapper into the stormtrooper helmet he'd swiped from the Outlander and was using as a garbage bin.
The trouble was about how truthful he should be in his letter to his mother and sibling. His little sister was too young to remember her father's letters, but Blaine wasn't, and now that he was in the military himself he knew how much Tal Averre had sugar-coated things for his family. His mother knew now too, having looked through the journal Tal had kept and that had been returned by his commanding officer.
Mom knows how rough this life can be, so if I'm not careful she'll know I'm not giving her the whole story. But should I really tell her I got shot in a lung and had to spend half a day dunked in bacta? he wondered, fiddling with the datapad. His struggles were interrupted as his door chimed, and Blaine frowned. Lobacca wouldn't ring the chime, and neither would most of the guys or gals, so who could it be?
"Come on in," he said, tossing the datapad on his desk and standing up. He was glad he had stood when the door hissed open and Lieutenant Hudson stepped in. It came as a shock; the Lieutenant had never visited him in his own quarters before. "Sir! Do we have some sort of situation going on?"
"Oh, not really, Blaine. Just some minor business. Here," Hudson said, tossing Blaine something small and metallic. Blaine caught it in one hand and look down at it for several moments before truly understanding what he was looking at. A rank tab with three black dots, the symbol for a sergeant in the New Republic military. Blaine looked back up at Hudson, his eyes wide with shock.
"No. No way. Gotta be a joke, right? A prank, right?" he said, the words tumbling out of him unbidden.
"Nope, that's the real deal. Paperwork's already gone through, Crontauer approved it, and the roster's been updated accordingly," Hudson said. "Congrats, Blaine. You've got your very own squad." The corporal—actually, a sergeant now—tried to reply to that, but no words came out of his mouth as it moved uselessly.
"Tell you what, why don't you just have a seat and let it sink in," Hudson said, nodding towards one of the chairs in the room. Blaine nodded slowly in return, sitting down and turning the rank tab over and over in his hands. Hudson sat down on the other chair, crossed his arms, and waited. It actually took less time than he had expected.
"Sir. This is a serious question," Blaine said after a minute, speaking cautiously. "Are you kriffing insane?"
"Not funny, sir. Lieutenant, I've only been on a handful of missions! Hell, I just got bumped up to corporal a few months ago!" Blaine said, his voice frantic as his mind screamed the idiocy of the situation at him.
"That's more missions and more time than a lot of people manage out here. And those missions have included infiltration, boarding action, search and rescue, assault, defense, and a short stint operating independently. Plenty of variety in there. Any more excuses?" Hudson said with a small smile, which only riled Blaine up more.
"Operating independently? You mean Second Beta, right? The mission where I had just two rookie privates under my command for all of half an hour, the mission where I apparently lost my mind and started bossing around superior officers on the bridge of that damn ship!? The one where I cussed out the Colonel about ten minutes before the boneheads practically ripped her karking eyes out!? You call that justification for a promotion!?" Blaine didn't even notice that he was standing, or that his voice was starting to get loud enough to be heard out in the hall.
"Averre, throttle back and sit down!" Hudson said sharply, and Blaine's mouth snapped shut as he returned to his seat, turning red from embarrassment. "Now, you listen here. I did not say that you were perfect, or that you were the best soldier I'd ever seen. Far from it. What I am saying is that I think you can handle this, and so does the Captain, and so does Eichel. You've made mistakes, true, but you've still done a good job. And may I remind you that you're not the only one with a black mark from Beta that's being overlooked in lieu of what we accomplished."
Blaine fought back a wince at that. His mistakes might have cost him a rank or perhaps a court martial if they'd been addressed properly. Hudson's attempted killing of the Admiral, orders from the Colonel or not, would've carried a much heavier penalty. Hudson was, in short, telling him to suck it up because his problems weren't nearly as bad as they could be.
"Yes sir. Guess I'm the Sarge now, sir," Blaine said quietly.
"Why's this really bothering you, Blaine?" Hudson asked, somewhat confused at the kid's attitude. "You didn't gripe about making corporal, you didn't shy away from leading Kale and Greg, and you seemed to be past your mistakes at Beta. What's the problem with being a sergeant?"
"Aside from having an entire squad's life in my hands?" Blaine quipped. Hudson merely rolled his eyes and gestured for Blaine to get to the point. "Well… look, I don't want to sound whiny or anything, but it's my old man. Dad was a sergeant when the Imps got him. I always figured I'd have to work hard to reach the same place he did, to earn it. I just... don't think I have, yet. Getting it this easily cheapens it somehow."
Hudson nodded slowly, scratching his chin for a moment as he tried to come up with the right reply to make Blaine see things the right way.
"Blaine, I don't think anyone, at least the people who have their heads on right and the correct priorities in place, thinks they've earned the next rank up," he began. "How could they, when each rank brings some new responsibility or duty to the table? It's what you do with the rank you've got that really determines if you've earned it or not. Don't of think of this promotion as cheapening your father's rank. Think of it as putting yourself in the best place to do right by it instead."
Blaine thought that over for a few moments. What Hudson was saying made sense. Maybe he hadn't earned the three black dots yet, but if he did good work once he had them, maybe he'd live up to his father's memory and his own expectations. With his decision made, Blaine removed the corporal tab from his uniform and clipped on the new sergeant tab. He chuckled lightly, shaking his head.
"What's so funny?" Hudson asked, curious.
"Nothing, really. I guess I just expected it to be heavier, for some reason," Blaine said with a wry grin, gesturing towards the new tab.
"Heh, trust me, the weight'll sink in sooner or later. Just wait until you're a lieutenant," Hudson said, standing up. Blaine followed suit, but shook his head.
"No way the Captain's really that crazy, sir," the sergeant stated.
"You never can tell. Well, congrats again, sergeant," Hudson said, walking towards the door. "Make sure to brief your squad about your new position."
"Yes sir," Blaine said as Hudson left and the door hissed shut. The sergeant spun a chair around and sat down at his desk, his fingers lightly touching the new rank tab for a few moments before he reached out and turned on his com screen, calling up Kale.
"What's going on, Blaine?" the young Coruscanti said when he answered the call.
"Kale, I'd like you to get the squad together. Tell them it's important, we've got some things to go over," Blaine said to the private. Kale's sharp eyes narrowed for a moment before he obviously noticed the sergeant's rank and sat up straighter.
"No problem, Sarge! Right away!"
"Thanks, Private. Averre out."
Blaine closed the screen and looked at his datapad, thinking that at the very least he would have interesting news for the folks back home. Still, he had work to do first, so he stood up and headed for the door. He'd fetch Lobacca while Kale gathered the others, and then he'd get down to earning the rank he'd been given.