Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wings" series of novels.
No copyright infringement is intended.
Wedge brought Treta’s Answer out of hyperspace precisely on the entry coordinates. It had never been particularly smart to do otherwise, and lately, with the Diktat beginning to worry about the not-so-insignificant rebels, it wasn’t particularly safe. Holding position, he kicked the preset course into his navicomputer and kept one hand on the hyperspace engine switch, just in case, the way Booster had taught him, and watched as a Pocket Patrol Boat slipped past him, verifying that he wasn’t a fleet of attackers and then losing interest in him, veering back out to watch over Corellia.
Corellia. Heart of the Corellian System, which was the heart of the Corellian Sector. Home of the Diktat, only slightly less Imperial than the Empire it was allied with. It grew in Wedge’s viewscreen with every hundred kilometers he traveled, a blue and white globe whose beauty was perhaps the most deceptive he’d ever seen. He’d been there twice before in his life, and hadn’t planned on coming back this soon, if indeed ever. But things happen and you have to go with them, Wedge had always known that. He just wished that they were good things more often than they were.
Coronet. Corellia’s main city. He’d always halfway wanted to see Treasure Ship Row, but he’d also always figured Booster would be showing him the sights, not just occasioning the visit. Nor did he figure he’d be much in the mood for sightseeing now, all things considered. In fact, all things considered, he’d much rather not have been going to Coronet at all. But Mirax had called and he couldn’t say no, not even with a hold full of contraband destined for Dantooine. He’d just have to walk softly, look harmless, and keep his mouth shut. I ought to be able to manage that..., he thought wryly and thumbed the switch for Coronet Field Control.
Still, when Treta’s Answer set down on the back end of the main field outside Coronet, overlooking rows of Diktat PPBs and a few Imperial shuttles, with fewer commercial ships than seemed right, Wedge knew he was in for a bad day. That feeling was only strengthened when he walked down the ramp and the first person he saw was long-legged, black-haired, and very, very angry.
“About time you got here,” she greeted him.
“Mirax!” he protested. “I was all the way past Sullust. Just how fast did you expect me to get here?”
“Sooner than this,” she brushed aside physics. “What are you going to do?”
Wedge glanced around the field. So far, the mechanics and cargo-handlers probably thought it was a domestic dispute (well, maybe it was); best to keep it that way. So he backed up the ramp into the Answer, knowing that Mirax would follow him.
“Wedge Antilles, don’t try to get away from me! What are you going to do?”
He slapped the ramp controls and Answer neatly closed up. “Mirax,” he said, then stopped and took a deep breath. “Mirax, what do you expect me to do?”
“I don’t know,” she said, making it a challenge rather than an admission. “Testify!”
He stared at her in disbelief. “WhaMirax. Calm down. You’re the most rational person I know; think about that for a minute.” She glared at him. “What in seven sectors could I possibly say”
“that wouldn’t dig him in deeper,” she finished for him, deflating suddenly.
“Exactly.” Not to mention probably dropping me into the cell next to him. But he really wasn’t going to mention that. It wasn’t important.
“Wedge,” she said softly, her voice trembling slightly; Wedge realized he preferred her angry. “He’s going to Kessel.”
“Now, you don’t know that. He might not; he’s never murdered anybody. He might just get Thalaferri...”
“CorSec hates him. You know that.”
“Yeah,” Wedge admitted. “That’s true.” He sat down on the nearest mislabeled crate and contemplated Booster’s probable future. It was grim, he had to admit.
“Oh, Wedge,” said Mirax, sitting next to him and sounding more depressed than he felt. “What are we going to do?”
He hated it, but it was the only thing to say. “Nothing.”
“Nothing. There’s nothing to do, Mirax. Hire a good advocate... except it would probably be a waste of money.”
Mirax pounded her fist on the crate, then stopped and stared at the label. After a moment, she looked sideways at Wedge, a slow grin starting despite herself. “Resistors? T13-957 resistors?”
Wedge shrugged. “There’s a good market for that stuff on, ah, less-developed worlds.” He wasn’t fooling her, he knew, but her he wasn’t trying to.
“Wedgewhy did you come here, carrying that?”
“How could I not come?” He spread his hands wide. “After everything your father’s done for me, the least I can do is come when you ask me. Besides, no one’s getting inside the Answer without my permission; I’ve had a few modifications made on her lately. I’m not off-loading here. And nobody’s looking at that cargo, either.”
“You hope!” she said.
“Yeah. I do,” he said honestly, forcing himself to add, “Anyway, I won’t be here long.”
“You’ll see Father before you leave,” she accepted the facts, something she was much better at than he was. For a Corellian, she paid a lot of attention to the odds. It must have been her mother in her, though Wedge barely remembered Rima Terrik.
“Of course I will,” he said, slightly hurt that she might think otherwise. “In fact, I’ll come see him now, if it’s visiting hours.”
She bounced upright. “It is. Oh, Wedge, it’ll do him good to see you. He’ll probably growl at you, he told me not to call you, but he’ll be glad.”
“I’ve known Booster almost as long as you have,” he smiled and let her pull him to his feet. “I won’t say his bark is worse than his bite, but I will say he hasn’t bitten meyet.”
She hugged him suddenly, and said into his collarbone (sometime in the last half year he’d gotten an inch taller than she, first time in their life), “I’m really glad you came, Wedge.” Before he could respond, she’d pulled away and was saying, “So, come on; you don’t have all day.”
He shook his head and followed her down onto the field, noticing something else that had happened in the past half year: she’d gotten a lot prettier. He didn’t envy Booster wondering what was going to happen to her over the next few years, though Mirax could certainly take care of herself. He hadn’t gotten any closer to deciding whether he should invite her to come with him; while he had no reservations about her abilities, running one kind of contraband for the rebels wasn’t much, if in fact any, safer than running something else for corrupt Corellian politicians or other racketeers, and it did require a lot more in the way of dedication. At least, if you did it like Wedge, for fuel and spare parts instead of cash. He knew what Booster thought about such altruism, but Mirax was a mystery in this as well as most things.
His thoughts were cut off by an unexpected sight halfway to the Field gate. He stared at it in disbelief, then realized that he had actually stopped walking. “Mirax!” he called, trotting after her. “Hey, Mirax!”
She turned around, startled that she’d gotten so far ahead of him. Before she could say anything, he grabbed her elbow and steered her toward a maintenance shed. She had taken one look at his face and stayed quiet, but as soon as they were in the shadows at the back of the shed, she demanded, “What is it?”
“Is that the Skate?” he demanded back at her.
“Back there,” he jerked his head in the general direction of the ship. “Just sitting there with no guards on her.”
She looked over his shoulder, saying, “It can’t be. Why would the Skate be...” she paused for a moment, staring, then looked back at him, her dark eyes wide with a sudden speculation, “...just sitting there with no guards on her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why isn’t she impounded?”
“Because Booster’s not convicted yet!” That had to be it. “Because your name’s on the papers as a partner, right?” Booster had convinced him to put someone’s name on Treta’s Answer for the same reason: if only one partner was arrested, the ship defaulted to the other, at least until the first one was convicted, when things could get very complicated, especially in Corellian courts.
“Well, yes, but, Wedgewhy no guards?”
He didn’t have an answer for thatno, he did, he realized, as he looked at Mirax, looking young, almost coltish, in her dark jumpsuit with the embroidered skate on its shoulder and her black hair cascading down her back, he did have the answer. He started to laugh.
“Wedge Antilles, just what is so funny?” she said dangerously.
He pulled himself together. “Your name is on the papers.”
“Because CorSec is stretched just a little thin these days, and someone said ‘Mirax Terrik? Who’s that?’ and somebody else said ‘His daughter,’ and somebody else said ‘Oh. A kid.’“ Wedge could actually hear the conversation. “You’re still sixteen. You’re a child.”
She looked at him with her mouth open.
“I think you could take the Skate off Corellia, if you did it now, right now, before anybody smarter starts thinking about it, or before they realize I’m here”
“You? You’re barely legal yourself!” she said indignantly. “Why would they take you more seriously than me?”
“Because I’ve got the Answer and Horn’s looked at me once or twice already,” Wedge pointed out. “Point is, Mirax, you could probably walk right over there, onto the Skate, and ask for clearance and leave.”
“Save the Skate for Father?” her eyes shone.
He felt obliged to point out the downside. “If you do, you’ll piss off CorSec. If Booster wasn’t slated for Kessel”
“This would do it,” she nodded. “Or maybe even put an extra year or two on his sentence. But, we’d have the ship, as long as I stayed out of the Sector.” She paused, chewing her lower lip reflectively. “Do you think I should?”
He was flattered that she’d ask his opinion. “Absolutely,” he said without hesitation. “The day I got the Answer Booster told me that owning his own ship was the best thing that could happen to a person. And knowing that you and the Skate are both waiting for him can only help.”
“You’re right; he’d rather do five years and keep the Skate than four and lose her. And I could earn my own way, he wouldn’t have to worry so much. He’d be a lot happier... Wedge! If I do it now, I won’t be able to say good-bye to him.”
“You couldn’t anyway, Mirax,” he pointed out. “I’m sure they’re wired; if you said anything, they’d slap guards on the ship in no time. CorSec can be careless, or callous, but they aren’t stupid.”
“You’re right again,” she said, then smiled at him. “Do you plan on making a habit of that?”
“I can think of worse ones to have,” he smiled back. “You’re going, then?”
“I think I have to,” she said. “Look, Wedge, tell Father”
“I will,” he promised.
“And take care of my room?” She held out a key.
“Yes,” he said, taking it. It didn’t escape his notice that she wasn’t holding out any cash, but he decided to be charitable and assume her money was either in her room or on the ship. If he was lucky, it was in the room; if not, well, he could afford it. Probably. And he owed Booster more than the price of a room. “Anything else?”
“Take care of yourself,” she said seriously, and hugged him.
“Inevitably,” he answered, but she scowled at him.
“I know you too well for that, Wedge Antilles. This... this thing you’ve gotten involved in, it’s not safe. Not that you’d ever choose anything just because it’s safe, or run from danger, I know, but ... just take care of yourself.” She hugged him again.
“I’ll try,” he promised, returning the hug, “and you do the same thing, hear me?”
“Deal. And I’ll see you, soon. Come Sith or starfall.”
“Till all the stars burn out,” he held her a minute longer.
“And beyond,” she finished the litany, kissed him on the cheek, and then turned and walked briskly away.
Neither one of them had mentioned the possibility of guards inside the Pulsar Skate. It was a chance that she’d be taking, but one worth it. And they were both Corellians: neither of them wanted to hear the odds.
But Wedge intended to wait until it was too late, anyway. Just in case.
The sight of the Pulsar Skate lifting off the Coronet Field and heading for the stars was one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen.
All the green, black, and white uniforms set Wedge’s teeth on edge. It hadn’t been anything like long enough for him to forgive them for the way they’d handled his parents’ murder, and now they’d arrested Booster. He figured it’d be years before he was able to tolerate CorSec. And that wasn’t even considering the political angle. Still, knowing that Mirax had put one over on them helped him behave with ordinary politeness. Or it did for the first forty-five minutes’ worth of forms and lines, anyway. After that he figured he was doing well to be patient. And the twelfth time he had to tell someone who he wanted to see, he very nearly wasn’t that any more.
Fortunately, that was the last time he had to tell anyone anything. Five minutes later, he was shown into a visitation area. Of course, it was another ten minutes before Booster was brought in, but at least nobody was asking Wedge to fill out any forms in the meantime. The room was small and stark; the only furniture in it was a table with three chairs. Three of the walls were dull white, the fourth, the hallway wall, was transparasteel, giving a nice view both ways.
He didn’t see any comms setup, but it would have surprised him immensely if CorSec didn’t have a way to listen to whatever was said. Maybe they couldn’t directly use it in court, but they’d use it to continue their investigations, close up the holes in their cases, he was sure of it. Good lawyers probably brought jammers with them, Wedge figured, engaging CorSec in a little dance around the truth: if you can’t hear what we say what does it matter if you could understand it? Wedge intended to just not say anything incriminating. He sat in one of the two chairs on the right-hand side of the table and watched the corridor, waiting.
Booster was escorted in by two CorSec guards. He was dressed in a bright yellow jumpsuit that turned red at elbows and knees and ended short of wrists and ankles, to avoid interference with the binders he was wearing. He needed a shave, and they’d put a patch over his left eye in case his visitor was transmitting something illegal (or so Wedge guessed), but all in all he looked pretty good. There was still swagger in his hampered stride, he towered over the guards, and they clearly thought of him as dangerous. Wedge grinned in spite of himself as he stood up.
“No physical contact; stay on your own sides of the table,” said one of the guards, and they went back through the door to stand in the hallway, watching.
Booster glared. “What are you doing here, you idiot?”
“It’s good to see you again, too, Booster,” said Wedge, sitting back down. “Keeping fit?”
“Don’t give me that. I told Mirax not to call you.”
“Maybe I heard it on the news,” said Wedge.
“And maybe rancors fly,” snorted Booster, dropping into the chair opposite. “I’ll give that daughter of mine a piece of my mind”
“It’s a good thing you can’t, then; you don’t have that much to spare,” grinned Wedge.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Wedge answered the real question. “Mirax has left the Sector. In the Pulsar Skate.”
Booster sat very quietly for a long moment, staring at Wedge. His expression was unreadable at first, and then a slow smile started, reached his good eye, and spilled over into laughter. Out in the hallway, the guards looked at each other uneasily. Wedge figured they must worry when prisoners got happy. Booster laughed for a long time, then finally managed to say, “Gone? In the Skate?”
“Yeah. To both.”
“Saw her with my own eyes.”
“Living stars. You mean those not quite as smart as brain-damaged Gamorreans just left the Skate where she could just take it?”
“In one, Booster,” grinned Wedge.
“Now that’s good news,” the older man said with deep satisfaction.
“Thought it might cheer you up.”
“As for you, though,” Booster started, then shrugged. “What’s the use? Might as well admit it, Wedge; it’s good to see you. Even though you are brain-dead to come here.”
Wedge laughed. “Maybe, Booster, maybe. If it makes you feel any better, I’m not staying long.”
“It does, some.” The smuggler shook his head. “Not as much as the news about Mirax, though. That the Skate will be waiting when I get out.”
“Thought it might compensate you for not seeing our depressed faces during the trial.”
“I’m just as glad she won’t be here for that,” he admitted. “You’ll look after her while I’m gone?”
“That’s what we do,” said Wedge. “Though she can look after herself pretty well, you know.”
“I know. Still, can’t hurt to have someone keeping an eye on her, even if that someone does have ... unbalanced ideas about employers.”
“I have?” started Wedge, then laughed and shook his head. “No, Booster. This isn’t the time or the place for that conversation. I’ll keep an eye on Mirax; that’ll have to satisfy you for now.”
“Good. And maybe she’ll keep an eye on you, too.”
“Could be,” admitted Wedge. “At any rate, you worry about you, not her.”
“And you worry about her, not me. It’ll take more than a few years on Kessel to break Booster Terrik, Wedge.”
“I believe it,” said Wedge honestly. Out in the hallway he saw one of the guards checking a chrono. “I think we’re about out of time.”
“Oh, well, I never much cared for long good-byes, anyway.” Booster got to his feet as the door opened. “Wedgethanks.”
Wedge found himself feeling distinctly uncomfortable. “Don’t mention it, Booster. Any time ... well, hopefully this’ll be the last time... I mean”
Booster laughed. “I know what you mean. Take care, good luck, all that stuff.”
On his way out of the detention center, Wedge heard a halfway familiar voice. “Antilles, what are you doing here?”
Wedge turned and recognized the tall man in CorSec green and black. “Well, Investigator Horn. How nice to see you again.”
“Visiting Booster Terrik?”
“Is that a friendly question? Or an official one?” Wedge could tell Horn recognized the quote, but the man seemed to be trying to stay calm, almost polite even. Well, why not? He’s won. He got Booster.
“It won’t do you any good, you know, being a known associate of a man like Terrik.”
“No? I’ll bear that in mind.”
“When did you get in, Antilles?”
“You can check the Field logs.” Wedge waited just long enough, and added on top of Horn’s next word, “so I’ll tell you: this morning.”
Horn took a deep breath, visibly counting to ten. When he spoke again, his voice was deceptively friendly. “And the first thing you did was come see Booster?”
“No. Not the first thing,” Wedge smiled slightly. “But it was pretty high on my agenda.”
“What did you talk about?”
Wedge raised an eyebrow. “Old times, the future, this year’s springball tournaments... what do you usually talk about with a man in jail?”
“The charges,” said Horn.
“Ah. Well, I’ll try to remember that the next time I do it,” said Wedge, cheerfully, “I’m not very good at it. Don’t have much practice.”
“Booster’ll give you practice.”
“You carrying what he usually did?”
“What have I ever done that makes you think I’ll answer that?” Wedge was honestly curious.
“Your ship’s on the field? Maybe I should check your manifest.”
“Get a warrant, CorSec,” Wedge stopped pretending to be polite.
“I just might.” Horn looked like he regretted the quick answer as soon as he’d said it.
“Do, and we’ll finish this conversation then. But not till then.”
There was a pause. Horn had something on his mind, Wedge could tell, and he had to admit he was curious. So he waited until the man spoke again. “Antillesa word of advice.”
“Ummm?” Wedge raised his eyebrow again.
“Politics doesn’t mix well with the law. What’s politically appealing isn’t therefore legal.”
“Oh, thank you for those words of wisdom, Investigator,” said Wedge earnestly. “I think I’ll have them framed and mounted in my cockpit.”
“You could do worse,” snapped Horn. “It doesn’t matter why you cross the line, once you cross it you’re lost. A criminal. A Terrik.”
Wedge held his hands out in front of himself, palms up. “Booster, you,” he said, moving his hands as though weighing the words. “Booster, you, Booster... you.... Booster.” On the last word he snapped his hand into a fist, jerking it upwards.
Horn glared at him. “Don’t make a mistake that’ll ruin you, Antilles. Booster may seem pretty romantic, but after Kessel it’ll be a different story. Your father”
Wedge cut him off with a cold, dangerous voice. “Don’t.” He had no desire to hear what Horn would say about Grey Antilles, none at all. Horn stopped talking, blinking. Wedge didn’t let him recover his balance. “Maybe I’ll see you around, CorSec. Right now, I’ve got places to go and things to do, and you must have some yourself.” He turned on his heel and walked away.
Wedge didn’t break stride.
“Pay close attention during the trial, Antilles. It could be previews of coming attractions!”
“In your dreams, CorSec. In. Your. Dreams,” said Wedge, but too softly for Horn to hear him, and continued walking: away from the building, across the street, out of Coronet, onto the field, and off Corellia. For forever; or at least, for as much of forever as he could see.
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