Path to Glory:
Wraith Squadron

Part 7

On board the Republic Medical Frigate 'Avery', 90 minutes before launch. . .

Grifter walked briskly through the double sliding doors into the stark white interior of the Avery's Recovery Unit. The sterile appearance of the rest of the medical frigate was evident here as well. The walls and bulkheads were gleaming, the white covering showing no evidence of even a minor scuff. The coloring reflected the artificial light, making everything almost uncomfortably bright. The air had the familiar tinge of antiseptics and cleaning solutions that seemed a staple of all hospitals.

"What do they do, spray the stuff around like it was an air freshener?" he said as he took another deep breath of the sterile air.

Looking around, he noticed a 2-1B droid take a tray of medications from the nurse desk and head into one of the fifteen recovery rooms that were built into the far bulkhead. He noticed a woman dressed in white sitting comfortable behind the same desk. Grifter made his way to the human female sitting behind the desk. As he made his way down the white hallway, she noticed his approach and greeted Ensign Cole with a smile.

Grifter figured she must have been the charge nurse. She wore the typical white uniform of all navy medical personnel. The white lab coat she wore hid her rank and nametag. As he returned her smile, Grifter found himself taken with how lovely she really was. Her light brown hair was cut shoulder length, framing her face in a flattering fashion. Her light skin wasn't as pale as most of the other humans he'd seen so far on the ship. Grifter figured she must have been a recent transfer from some other hospital, probably on a world with a sunny climate. Her light blue eyes were bright, reflecting the ambient light like two blue glass marbles.

"Good morning mam," Cole said, tilting his head in a mini-bow. "Am I correct in assuming you're the charge nurse for this department?"

"You are in fact incorrect, Ensign," she said with a smile. She stood from her seat and presented her hand to Cole. "Sub Lieutenant Mari Seabreeze. Doctor Seabreeze in fact," she said warmly.

"Ensign Cole Sted," Grifter replied, shaking Doctor Seabreeze's soft, steady hand. "Pleasure to meet you mam."

"Likewise Ensign," she replied, her face still graced with the warm smile. "Now, what can I do for you?"

"I was told a Chief Den Ogre was moved to this ward. I was wondering if I might see him?"

Mari nodded and stood. "Right this way Ensign," she said as she pickup up a datapad and walked towards the recovery rooms. "Room eleven"

Cole fell instep beside her as they walked down the hallway towards room eleven. "What's his condition?" he asked, concern evident in his voice.

"He's recovering quite nicely," she said. "The bacta regenerated most of the exposed and burnt flesh, and prevented the wounds from getting infected. His shoulder required some microsurgery to reconnect some of the severed nerves, and he needed some EMP therapy to counteract the effects of the energy discharge. Everything went fine; the procedure only took thirty minutes. His brain wave patterns don't seem to have any residual effect from the energy. We grafted the skin and used bacta to minimize the scarring. Other than some pain and stiffness, for which we've got him on suppressants, he's fine. It's all right there," she finished, handing Grifter the datapad.

Grifter nodded as he scrolled through the data. "You were his surgeon?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, the smile broadening slightly.

"Well, I'm certainly grateful for your administrations mam. I'd hate to think of him being cared for by one of the machines."

"Don't like droids?" she asked.

"Never have cared for them, no mam," he admitted

"Scared by one as a child maybe?" she asked jokingly.

Grifter chuckled. "Let's just say they don't have your obviously well developed bed side manner," he said.

"You don't know me that well Ensign Sted," she winked.

Grifter found himself wanting very much to know her. 'In another life,' he thought. "Can I go in?" he asked as they stood outside the doorway to room eleven.

"Of course," she replied. "We were actually about to wake him up anyway. Everyone fit to travel is being moved to the Emancipator's Sick Bay. Most of us are being transferred there as well before the Avery gets recalled to Mon Cal."

Grifter nodded. "My squadron has been moved to the Big E as well. Seems they're sending all the support ships back before we jump into Agamar. It's a shame," he said hesitantly, "I enjoyed meeting you Doctor Seabreeze. I hope your journey back to Mon Cal is uneventful."

"Maybe we'll bump into each other on the Emancipator," she said. "I'm going with the rest of the department here," she revealed.

Grifter found himself grateful for that piece of information. "In that case mam, I'll make sure to stop by Sick Bay some time. Make sure you're all settled in."

"Well, you could always get shot, then we're sure to see each other again," she shot back, her grin taking on impish proportions.

Grifter watched as she turned and walked back to the nurse desk, wishing that the lab coat wasn't obstructing his view. Grifter shook his head, trying to toss away such thoughts for the time being. "Been on a ship too long Sted," he told himself, thinking how he should have taken the opportunity for some 'recreation' on Mon Cal after all.

Brushing aside thoughts of Doctor Seabreeze, Grifter opened the hatch and walked into Den's recovery room. Finding the room dark, he dialed up the lights slowly. Chief Den Ogre lay on a standard hospital bed against the far wall. A sensor control panel was affixed to the foot of the bed, monitoring the Wraith's vital signs. From what he could read of the monitor, Den was still unconscious.

Grifter remembered how comfortable the hospital beds could bed. Not wanting to wake the Chief, he slowly walked over to the side of Den's bed. He pulled out a small felt box from his uniform pants pocket and placed on the small table next to Den's head. "Take it easy Chief," he whispered.

As Cole turned to leave, Den's eyes fluttered open. He blinked against the light a few times, trying to focus on the blurry humanoid form he saw framed in the doorway. He tried to sit up to get a better view, a moan of dull pain escaping from him as the wounds on his shoulder protested the movement.

Grifter turned around again at the sound of Den moving. He walked back to Den's bed and pulled out the chair sitting next to the bedside table. Sitting down, he gently pushed Den's body back down onto the bed. "Don't try to move yet. Give the bacta time to work," he said.

Den's face became a frown at the sound of Grifter's voice. "Oh, it's you," he said. "What happened to the three Twi'lek dancers?"

Grifter chuckled. "How ya doing Chief?" he asked.

"Fine," Dens said, "until you chased the girls away."

"Heh, sounds like a nice dream," Cole said with a smile.

"It was a dream?" Den's asked suspiciously. "Great, I thought I died and went to Twi'lek heaven. Just when it was getting good too. I tell you Ensign, those Twi'leks sure do have creative uses for their lekku."

Grifter laughed again. "I'm sorry I interrupted."

"You should be. How would you like it if I invaded every one of your dreams? Damn, going from that beautiful image to your ugly grinning face. You could have given me permanent psychological scarring," he said in a half slurred voice.

"Good drugs," Grifter observed. "Well, I just wanted to see how you were doing, thought I might give you something," he said, pointing to the box next to the bed. "I'll let you get back to the ladies."

"What's this," Den said in a slightly more coherent voice. He fumbled with the case a second before finally opening it. The inside of the soft felt case was lined with a luxurious swath of purple satin. Resting on the fine cloth was a medal. The cloth shield of the medal contained three green Ratorr stones lined across the top, the rare Wookie marble almost glowing with an internal life. The ribbon itself was emblazoned with two winding serpents framing an image of the world of Kashyyyk. Hovering over the top of the planet was a stylized image for some godlike creature, probably from legends in the Wookie belief system. Hanging below the ribbon part of the award was a small wooden and leather bound scale replica of a bowcaster, the weapon of choice of Wookie warriors. The Rrakktorr of Kashyyyk, the medal of a young man becoming a warrior.

"You can thank Admiral Kirby Starfox, Commanding Officer of 2nd Alliance Wing for that," Grifter said with a wink. "There will be an official ceremony once you feel better, but he and Commander Celsen thought you should have this now. Gave it to me to give to you just before I boarded the shuttle for here."

Den gazed at the medal for a few minutes; his right had gently rubbing the cool Ratorr stones. Then a troubled expression came over him. "I don't deserve this," he said, putting the box down on the table.

Grifter blinked in surprise at that. "Why do you say that?" he asked.

"I almost got Lieutenant DDD killed. He had to practically drag me the whole way, holding my hand for the entire battle. He saved my life sir. He should be getting this instead of me."

"You're wrong Chief," Grifter replied. He picked up the award case and placed it back in Den's hand. He took Den's other hand and placed it over the box. Locking eyes with Den, he said "You proved yourself to be a warrior that day. You fought bravely. You surpassed your inexperience and followed orders, and you didn't leave your buddy hanging. Other people placed in you situation without the proper training probably would have just froze up. You pressed on. Even after you got shot up you didn't quit. You stayed in the fight, and in doing so probably saved DDD's life. If you knew what this medal represented, you'd know that you deserve this more than anybody right now. Trust me Chief. I'm proud to have such a fine fighter in my flight," he finished.

Den's chest swelled a little at that. "Thank you sir," Den said formally. He tried to sit up to give Grifter a salute, instead giving the Ensign a grimace of pain.

"It's ok Chief," Grifter said, once again easing him back down. "Well," he said, looking at his chronometer, "they're probably going to be here in a few minutes to ship you to the Emancipator. I'll let you get back to your Twi'leks. Make it a quickie," he said with a wink.

Den let him get halfway to the door before stopping him. "Ensign Sted" he called out, his voice tinged with concerned contemplation. "Mind if I talk to you about something?"

Grifter sat back down and faced Chief Ogre. "Sure thing Chief. What can I do for you?"

Den hesitated again before continuing. "Well, it's strange, but, well…"

"Just spit it out Chief," Grifter urged.

"I killed someone sir," he finally blurted out. Grifter nodded. "I'm not sure what I expected sir," Den went on, "but it wasn't like I thought. I've read enough; I've talked to enough people. I know that it's natural to feel some remorse sir. To maybe even feel a little guilty afterwards. The thing is, I don't. I feel, well, I actually felt pretty good. What does that say about me?" he asked.

"Oh boy, I know that feeling," Grifter exhaled. "Don't beat yourself up over it Den. You're not a murderer. And everyone's different about how it makes him or her feel. It probably just feels good because you know you can do it now. Some people can't you know. War reveals a lot about a man's personality, about his convictions. You don't feel good because you killed someone, you feel good because you know you can if you have to, that's all," he finished.

Den nodded, not quite understanding. But it made some sense at least. Enough to give him a little piece of mind about the subject.

"See, there are, oh, let's say five basic types of people when it comes to battle," Cole said. "On one end of the spectrum you have your pacifists. For whatever reason, they can't do it at all. Now it's not necessarily cowardice. Cowards use a mask of pacifism to hide their lack of courage. True pacifists can actually be quite courageous in their convictions though. It's just useless in the terms of warfare."

"Then you have your, well, let's call them 'reluctant heroes'," he continued. "They're like pacifists, but they can do it. They can kill if they have to, if they believe it's necessary. They'll fight bravely, and when the war is over they'll hate themselves for it. It's kind of sad really. They'll sacrifice what they view as their souls for a greater good, but their conscience will never let them reap the rewards of their victories."

Looking at Den for comprehension, Grifter went on. "Now in the middle of the road you have your professionals. To them it's a job, nothing more. They don't like killing, but they don't beat themselves up about it either. These are generally the best soldiers. They don't hesitate, and they maintain their edge without going over it. It's good to be in this category. You can fight and still have something to look forward to when the war is over this way," he said.

"I see," Den acknowledges, gesturing for Grifter to go on.

"Well, then you get to your 'athletes' for lack of a better term. Whatever you might want to call it, to them war is simply the ultimate sport. They like the action, the juice. They get off on the challenge, of pitting their skill against another with the ultimate reward for victory being someone's life. They're not insane, just, I don't know. I guess they're priorities are just a little skewed. Whether or not that makes them evil, I'm not qualified to say. My opinion would be no for what it's worth."

"Finally you get the psychopaths. The cold-blooded killers. They don't necessarily care about politics, religion, honor, anything. They kill for the sake of killing, cause they like it, plain and simple. Maybe because they think it makes them a sort of deity, a god. They are insane, and in my opinion, evil."

"How do you tell them apart?" Den asked.

"After awhile you just do," Cole said. "Sometimes you're wrong though, sometimes you think somebody is pretty steady, then all of the sudden they just go sour on you. See, I try real hard to figure out what somebody is going to be like. I won't work with pacifists or psycho's; either extreme will get you killed slicker than Sithspit. I don't like working with the 'reluctant heroes' either; they can spoil on you, freeze up or go insane with little warning sometimes. They're conscience becomes a liability then instead of an asset. But they can keep you centered if they're good. Personally, I like working with professionals and athletes, those are the ones that will get the mission done and get you home too, generally speaking," he finished.

Den thought about Grifter's words. "I'll assume there's some crossing over there," he said.

"Of course. There aren't many absolutes in life after all, warfare is no different."

Den looked at Cole with a pleading expression then. "What am I?"

Cole hesitated to answer for a second. Finally, he said, "You're a professional I'm pretty sure. You're a good soldier, you have a conscience, but you temper it with your logic. You know what you're doing is right and just and needs to be done. Yea, that's what you are. You the kind of guy I like working with," he said with a smile.

Den let out a breath at Grifter's answer. He had actually been worried about what the Ensign might have said. He didn't really enjoy hearing that man's scream in the forest, but he didn't hate it either. "What are you, if I may ask sir?"

Grifter was stunned by Den's question for a few seconds. Finally he stood and gave Den a crooked smile as he walked towards the hatchway. "Gotta get going Chief, the rest of us actually work for a living after all. Got preflight for a mission in an hour. Hope you enjoy your vacation while it lasts."

Den was about to protest to Grifter's avoidance of the question when the Ensign stopped at the open hatchway and turned around. He just stood there for a few seconds; looking at some far away object only he could see, before focusing on Den again.

"I don't know yet," he said, then turned and walked out of the room.