Ghost Squadron: Formation
The bartender set the glass of whiskey on the table, and Julianna thanked him for it. “Bring me another three, would you?”
“Certainly,” he said in an agreeable tone.
She tossed the alcohol back in one straight motion, letting it slide down her throat with ease, ignoring the burn. It was hard to find the good stuff this far out into the galaxy, here on the rim, but she’d take the worst whiskey in the universe over the alien sludge they called alcohol here. These people wouldn’t know a good drink if it cracked them over the side of their—
A glass went flying across the bar, hitting one of the patrons between his eyes. The alien fell straight to the floor, which caused his friend to panic. From the other direction, she heard the sound of someone getting beaten, followed by a scream.
“Here you are,” said the bartender, delivering the rest of her drinks.
She looked down at the three shots of whiskey, and nodded. “That’ll do.”
The barkeep turned and left her alone. At the same time, a splatter of blood landed on the seat where Eddie had been sitting.
Julianna took the first of the three shots and slammed the tiny glass on the counter. The whiskey burned her lips and went down hard, putting a fire in her belly.
At that same moment, an alien by the name of Fr’ling spiraled into two of the barstools nearby. She felt the vibration in her legs as his red, scale-covered head met the metal support.
She took another shot.
“Whoa,” said a husky voice near the bathroom. He was a military man in every sense of the word, except he wasn’t wearing a uniform. Instead, like Julianna, he wore a set of ordinary-looking civilian clothes. It was an attempt to blend in and draw less attention. Uniforms weren’t common out here on the fringe, after all, and they didn’t need anyone asking questions. Even still, despite the outfit, the man had a hard time hiding who he truly was—a hardened, long-term military veteran with centuries under his belt. Like Julianna, this man had witnessed the birth of the Empire. He’d seen the deaths of countless enemies, even slain a few himself. Hell, depending on who you asked, this individual was the Empire. At the very least, he was the one at the top.
His name was Lance Reynolds, a living legend. A man they told stories about. He was the father of the great Queen herself.
And he had just taken a piss in the bathroom of a back-alley bar in the middle of nowhere. “What did I miss?” asked the General. He zipped up his fly, then walked over to the bar and looked at her.
“Just a bunch of idiots, sir.”
“Is that our boy? Looks like he’s taking quite the beating,” observed Lance.
She shrugged. “He was asking for it.” She glanced down at her last drink.
“We should probably do something,” Lance suggested.
Julianna pursed her lips, then nodded. “Yes, sir.”
She picked up the glass with three fingers and flung the awful whiskey back. “Ah,” she sighed, forcing it down. “Tastes like shit.”
One of the aliens let out a cry from behind them. Julianna swiveled in her seat to see what was going on, half-expecting to find her target dead.
Instead, she saw two aliens holding him by the arms. He had them locked together, all three of them unable to move.
Julianna got to her feet and cleared her throat. She looked directly at the three fighters as they pressed against one another. “That’s enough!”
Her voice boomed through the bar like thunder, and everyone who was still conscious turned to look in her direction.
Edward had his fist raised, and there was blood on his knuckles, but he didn’t move. “Oh boy,” he grinned. “That’s some kind of voice.”
“Quiet, human,” ordered T’turk, who had his arms around Edward’s neck and chest, keeping him in place. “Or you’ll be next.”
Edward snickered. “Get in line for the bad ass kicking.”
“You think I’m playing with you?” asked the alien. “I’ll rip you apart like a—”
Before the word could leave T’turk’s mouth, Eddie slipped through his arms and ducked beneath him. He dug his fist straight into the alien’s ribcage. Julianna heard a bone crack. Eddie’s foot came up, bashing the second alien in the waist, stifling him.
Julianna looked at Lance. “Do you mind?”
The General chortled. “Have fun, you two.”
She returned her gaze to the alien captain, the one who had bragged about how he had taken the lives of all those humans and how he’d tortured them, and Julianna leapt forward. She dashed so quickly that she was almost a blur, her fist hitting the thick-chested alien in the neck, breaking his windpipe. Before he could realize what was happening, she fell to her side and brought her foot up, kicking him in the face, sending him to the floor. He fell like a brick wall, shaking the very foundation of the place.
Edward grinned at the sight before him, but rather than gawk and stare, he turned toward the only alien remaining.
“No, wait!” begged the thin, red-skinned Kezzin.
But Edward wasn’t listening. He punched him in the jaw, sending a splatter of orange blood into the air. Eddie jammed both palms into the alien’s chest, sending the pirate two meters back and into the wall, instantly knocking him unconscious as he slid into a puddle of spilled beer.
Julianna stood over T’turk as he struggled to gasp for air. The alien clutched his throat. “H-How?”
Julianna towered over him with Eddie by her side. “You’re surprised?” she asked the pirate. “You didn’t expect humans to wipe the floor with you?”
“That’s why you lost,” muttered Eddie.
Julianna took a step back, and turned to the man she had traveled so far to see. “Edward Teach, is it?”
He took a napkin from the nearby table and wiped the blood from his fingers. “And you are?”
“Julianna Fregin. I’ve come a long way to meet you.”
He twisted his lips, curiously. “That so? Are you from a collections agency? I owe you some money? If this is about the ship I crashed a few months ago, that wasn’t my fault. I was sideswiped. It was a good old-fashioned hit-and-run.”
“It’s not about that, although I might have questions.” Julianna glanced at General Reynolds. “Would you care to step in, sir?”
“Who’s a ‘sir’?” asked Edward.
“That would be me,” answered Lance, approaching from the edge of the bar. “General Lance Reynolds. Pleased to meet you, Captain Teach.”
“Wait, wait, wait…You’re Lance Reynolds?” asked Edward. He shook his head. “No fucking way. That’s not—”
“Possible? I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t normally run off to this sector, but I decided to make a special exception today.”
Eddie studied the General for a moment, analyzing his clothes, and leaning in to examine his face. “You don’t look like the most powerful man in the galaxy. Are you two fucking with me right now? Is this a joke or something?”
“I’m undercover,” said Lance. “You should know, since, based on your clothes, I’m guessing you are too.”
“What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?” asked Eddie, looking down at his messy appearance. He wore a set of baggy clothes, which were now ripped in several places, and his thick, untended beard made him appear homeless.
“Is that a serious question?” asked Julianna. “You look like shit.”
“Okay, okay,” said Eddie, raising his hands. “But why would you come all this way just to see a guy like me? Did I piss off the wrong person in the Empire?”
“It’s the Federation now, but no, nothing like that.” Lance chuckled. “Quite the opposite, actually.”
“Right, well, what is it then? What would make a guy like you come all the way out to the middle of bum-fucking-nowhere just to see me? I mean, if I don’t owe you money and I didn’t piss you off, there has to be a good reason.”
“Because, Eddie,” said Lance, smirking. “You had fifty-seven confirmed kills during your service. You saved countless lives, and your men respected the hell out of you. Sure, you fucked up sometimes. Got into a few scrapes here and there. Spoke out of turn. But you kept those kids alive through the worst of it, and any one of them would give their life for yours. That’s what I found out when I went snooping. That’s why I’m here. I’ve been searching far and wide for the right person to do a job, and your name keeps coming up. ‘Edward Teach,’ they kept saying. ‘That’s the guy you want.’ Is that who you are, Captain? Are you the man they said you were?”
Edward stared at the General, this impossible figure from stories and myths. He was so composed, so relaxed, but there was a strength in his eyes. The kind that only people like Eddie knew. “I’m none of those things anymore.”
“Bullshit,” said Lance. “You’re a goddamn soldier.” He pointed to the aliens lying on the floor. “You didn’t just pick a fight with them. You raised your fist and you punished them, Edward. That’s what we do. They said they killed a dozen humans, and you taught them why they shouldn’t. That’s the kind of man I came to find. That’s the kind of man I need. Someone who knows what justice is, and who isn’t afraid to show it.”
I’m not sure what to say,” Eddie admitted.
“Say you’ll come with us and hear me out.”
“Hear you out about what, sir?”
“A mission, son.” Lance took a step forward, placing his hand on Edward’s shoulder. “A mission to save the Etheric Federation.”
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