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.
Booster stared at his daughter until she noticed.
“What, Father?” she said, looking at her jumpsuit for a minute and then back at him.
“Has Nirago been putting ideas in your heads?” he asked.
“What?” she repeated, this time in astonishment. “What kind of ideas? What are you talking about?”
“You,” he said, “and Wedge.”
She stared at him. “What?” He seemed to have rendered her less verbal than usual, if nothing else. “Me and Wedgewhat?”
“Are you two thinking about” Booster realized he wasn’t at all sure how he was going to end that question. Fortunately, Mirax caught on.
“Me and Wedge?! Oh, Father! What makes you think that?”
“Well,” he started, but she kept on talking.
“I couldn’t marry Wedge! That would be like marrying my brother. I love Wedge, but he’s not...” she made an expressive grimace at him. “When I marry, it’ll be to someone who makes me feel all fizzy, you know? Fizzy, and, and sparkly and weak at the knees. Like you did Mom, or Grey did Mrendy. Not Wedge, he’s too... comfortable.”
Booster wondered for a minute if he wanted to pursue what she meant by “fizzy”. Or “weak at the knees”. He decided he didn’t. Mrendy had promised him she’d talk to Mirax about whatever it was women taught their daughters. “After all,” she’d said, smiling at him, “if anything were to happen to Grey, I know you’d make sure that Wedge knew all that dumb man stuff...” Well, at least he hadn’t had to do that ... Something had happened, but, thank Sathembi for her small favors, not while Wedge was a child... If Mirax had gotten this from Mrendy, she’d be all right, if was inborn in women, he didn’t want to know it, and if it was from someone else, well, it was too late. “You could do worse than comfortable,” he pointed out.
She just laughed, shaking her head so that her black hair floated in Korbyn’s less than standard grav. “I intend to do a lot better. Why settle?” she said. “That’s not the Terrik way. You didn’t, did you? Ever.”
She was right about that, he had to admit, and so he did, adding, “Settling is giving in.”
“Exactly.” She cocked her head, looking for a moment very like her mother. “What made you think that, anyway?”
He returned to his original topic with a sense of real grievance. After all, if that wasn’t the cause, and he hadn’t really thought it was, and then what? He asked her.
“Cause of what?” she returned.
"His letting as sweet a Mirc Recre sloop as ever came out of the Fin Teremon shipyards sit on a back lot until the Korbyn quitclaim runs out on it and he’s left with nothing.”
“Oh. That,” Mirax said.
“Yes, that. It doesn’t make any sense,” Booster said. “CorImExCo ended up giving him next to nothing, and those Ch’Sheyari had nothing left but that sloop. It’s his ticket to freedom. I can’t understand it; his own ship,” Booster was shaking his head in bafflement. “He could go wherever and do whatever he wanted. Choose his cargoes. He wouldn’t have to run glit, if he didn’t want to.”
“He didn’t mind,” said Mrendy, sounding slightly hurt.
“I know,” said Booster. “Though I think that was because it was Nirago’s consignment.”
“Oh, Father,” said Mirax. “Wedge is sophisticated enough to know the difference between glit and spice. Besides, it was us.”
“Still, I run spice. And he wouldn’t want to, and he wouldn’t have to if he’d take that damned sloop.”
“Well, he doesn’t want to.”
“I know,” Booster shook his head again. “That’s what he says. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well” Mirax began, but he was wound up and kept going.
“It’s his own ship. Yes, he’d have to hire someone, or buy a couple of droids, but his own ship, Mirax. He won’t be able to afford that for years, not if he lets this one slip through his fingers.”
“And even if he doesn’t want his own ship, even if he’s that peculiar, he could sell it, it’s cash in his pockets, which Sathembi knows he could use some of, and he just sits”
"just doing nothing. This is his ship, the universe has given it to him”
"Father,” said Mirax, forcefully and very seriously, “he doesn’t want that ship.”
“So he says. I don’t understand it. Your own ship is the best thing” Booster was shaking his head.
Mirax interrupted him fiercely. “Maybe. But not that ship. He’ll never set foot on that ship. He can’t. Don’t you see, Father? It would always remind him of them, his parents. He’s not built to see it as any kind of justice or irony. It would just hurt.”
Booster cocked his head and looked at his daughter, his wise, insightful daughter. Sometimes she surprised him like this, made him proud and humble at the same time. And now that she’d pointed it out, he saw it: where he said “a ship” Wedge had always said “that ship”. Well, that can be fixed.
“C’mon, Mirax,” he said, standing.
“Where?” she said, getting up as well, her dark eyes guarded.
He grinned at her. “I can learn,” he said. “We’re going shopping.”
“For what?” she grinned back.
“A new ship for Wedge,” Booster said. “If he doesn’t like that one, well, we’ll just have to find him one he will like. Before tonight, when that quitclaim runs out.” She put her arm around his waist and hugged him. He snorted. “Of course, he’s going to lose a lot on the deal.”
“No, he’s not,” she said. “You’ll take care of him.” She patted him on the ribs.
He shook his head. “How did I get into this?” he groused, but she knew he wasn’t serious
grinned at him before skipping through the door ahead of him.
Of course, there were no droids. There never were.
And, like most spacer’s joints, it was the kind of place you could do just about anything as long as it didn’t damage the property and you paid your tab. Korbyn was more open than many places, its security force never came onto the field unless invited, and into the bars only to stop open warfare, so you never had to worry about who might be listening in that regard. As for private feuds, bounty hunters, and the like, well, you always took your chances. Some always put their backs to a wall. Booster didn’t bother.
Wedge didn’t either, but there probably wasn’t anybody coming after him. Yet. The Ch’Sheyari were less than two days dead, after all. Their friends, assuming they’d had any, wouldn’t have found out yet. Which was a good thing, because most, if not all, of the boy’s attention was on the glass in front of him. Booster paused a moment, looking at him.
Wedge had crossed a line. He’d killed. As far as Booster was concerned, he was an adult now. It wasn’t that that was a test, exactly, you could sure be a man without having killed, Grey had been; but once you had, you were nobody’s child anymore. Wedge was still young, and Booster wouldn’t hesitate to give him advice, but he couldn’t be taken back under Booster’s wing like Mirax, who, please Sathembi, would be there for several years yet. He’d pushed his way into adulthood, and Booster could only pray he was ready to handle it. He thought Wedge was. He hoped.
Booster got a drink, and then walked up to the table and sat. Wedge nodded a greeting, his dark eyes back to their lighter, bleak look. Booster tossed the package of papers and the slip chit down in front the boy, who looked at them incuriously for a few minutes before flipping the chit over with one long finger. “What’s this, then?”
“Your ship registration.” Booster took a drink of whiskey.
Wedge pushed the packet away. “I don’t want that ship, Booster.”
Booster wondered how he’d ever missed the intonation. “That finally dawned on me... Okay, Mirax pointed it out. This is a different ship.”
Wedge glanced up.
“It’s a lot smaller, more like the Skate. You can handle it on your own. If you want, that is.”
“Trying to get rid of me?” That was wry, but probably hid some real worry.
Booster shrugged. “Nah. You want to run it, run it. You want to lease it, lease it. You want to sell it, sell it. Bank the money, give it to the homeless, stick it in your duffel. I don’t care. You want to crew for me, I’d be glad. You know that. The choice is yours. But so’s the ship.”
“Think about it. What I said earlier, that’s true. A man can’t aspire to anything greater than owning his own ship and controlling his own fate.”
“Where did this come from?” Not exactly enthusiasm, but maybe as much could be hoped for.
"Larra’s Used Ship Yard.”
“ ‘The Honest Hutt’?” Wedge smiled involuntarily. “It flies?”
“Larra is honest,” said Booster. “Well, if you keep an eye on him. Anyway, he got the better of it. It’s in good shape, could use some paint maybe. But the engines are sound and the weapons work, and all the computers are online and uploaded with good stuff.”
“Huh,” said Wedge, flicking the berth chit back and forth in front of him.
“Just think about it,” said Booster. “It’s your decision, but... well, I’d like you to make the right one.”
“I don’t know, Booster...” Wedge fell silent again. They sat there quietly for a while, finishing one set of drinks and ordering another.
A shadow fell across the table.
“Are you Booster Terrik?” The man was slight, dark, and nervous.
Booster looked him up and down carefully before answering. “Who wants to know?” His tone wasn’t precisely encouraging, but the man smiled fleetingly, more like a tic than a genuine expression, and sat down in the empty chair. Wedge glanced at him briefly, and then went back to his Rhyferrlan ale and his problem.
“Tor. My name is Tor. And I understand that you have a ship that you, um, let?”
Booster regarded him without enthusiasm. “I do, sometimes, carry cargo for those who don’t have other transportation. What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Ah. Medical supplies.”
Right. “Medical supplies,” repeated Booster with no expression.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And where would these medical supplies be delivered?”
“Ah, well, I’d as soon not say just yet” Tor smiled edgily again.
“It’s a bit difficult to deliver cargo when you don’t have a destination,” Booster said with the air of one pointing out an elementary error in a child’s schoolwork.
“Well, you’d get the destination before you left, of course. It’s just that we’d like to, to...” Tor quailed before Booster’s mismatched gaze and couldn’t seem to finish the sentence.
“Medical supplies. That’s all?” Booster noticed that Wedge had put down his drink and was paying attention.
Booster interrupted him. “You know, Mr. Tor, if I was to get stopped and find out there was something other than medical supplies, not every prison wall in the galaxy could keep me from finding you.” He smiled, one of his less encouraging smiles.
“Ah, well, there might be one or two crates of small arms...” Tor glanced around the tavern as if wondering should he go elsewhere.
“Medical supplies, and ‘maybe’ one or two crates of small arms. You would be one of those rebels, I imagine,” said Booster, who had no real patience for anybody crazy enough to defy the Empire. Smuggling or small-time crime, yes; actually putting stolen X-wing fighters and smallish cruisers into firefights with Star Destroyers, no. He was Corellian, but those odds were too damned overwhelming. He liked to be around to spend his earnings.
"Well, um, yes. So to speak...” Tor’s voice trailed off. He visibly regrouped and said, “We need these things delivered, Mr. Terrik. Are you interested?”
“Most people who come to me ‘need things delivered.’ How much are you offering?” Booster got to the important question, though he was fairly sure it wasn’t going to be answered in an interesting manner. He was watching Wedge out of the corner of his eye, contemplating a possible future and wondering exactly when the cure was worse than the disease.
Tor sat up a little straighter and said, firmly, “Two thousand.”
Booster hadn’t expected it to be quite so ridiculous. He laughed; he couldn’t help it. “Two? I don’t go anywhere carrying anything for two.”
Tor closed his eyes for a moment, visibly doing sums. “I could go three,” he said.
“Three?” Booster shook his head. “Three is barely more than two. I’d need ten, anyway.”
“Three.” Tor looked at Booster, and then shrugged. “I suppose...,” he said, starting to get up.
“Now, just hold on a minute.” said Booster, making up his mind. “I won’t do it for three, but Wedge here will. Right?”
“Oh. Yes,” said Wedge, “yes, I will.”
“You have a ship?” Tor gave Wedge a frankly incredulous look.
“Yes, I do,” said Wedge. “It’s in berth 63 if you want to look at it.” Booster hoped that Tor hadn’t noticed Wedge’s surreptitious glance at the slip chit lying on the table. A captain who couldn’t remember where his ship was wouldn’t earn a lot of confidence.
“And you’d take the job?” Tor seemed to be torn between finding someone who’d make the run and worrying that Wedge wasn’t old enough to put into jeopardy.
“Here, let me settle this,” said Booster. “I’m going to tell you two thingsno, three. First, the kind of money you’re offering, and the kind you’re prepared to offer, isn’t nearly enough to get me involved in your politics. Second, the only person in this bar, probably on this rock, that it is enough for is Wedge here; because he’s already interested in your politics, and he’s the only one still young enough to put sympathy ahead of profits. And third, no matter what kind of money you offered, you’d be hard put to do better than Wedge Antilles, young or not. That’s Booster Terrik’s recommendation; you got a problem with it?”
“You’ll do it for two? Since it’s barely less than three, that is?” Tor wasn’t entirely dumb.
“Yeah,” said Wedge. “Yeah, I’ll do it for two. When?”
“Tomorrow, first thing in the morning. We’ll bring the cargo and give you the destination coordinates, and the credits, then.” Tor was now businesslike.
“Okay,” said Wedge, holding out his hand.
The rebel paused a moment, and then the corner of his mouth quirked up in what looked like a real smile. “Okay,” he said, and shook hands.
After he’d left, Wedge picked up the papers and flipped through them quickly. “Maybe I’d better get out there and look at this thing.”
“Don’t trust me to pick out a nice one?” teased Booster.
“It’s not that,” said Wedge. “I just figure I ought to know where everything is on it before I start trying to load any cargo.” He stood up, and put his hand on Booster’s shoulder. “Thanks, Booster.”
“Ah, what for? You’re probably going to get yourself killed. You sure as Sith won’t make any money running ‘medical supplies’ for those idiots.”
“Well, those idiots are kicking the right people in the teeth,” said Wedge seriously. That was Grey again; Grey, and Mrendy’s light-in-the-dark idealism.
“You just watch out,” said Booster. “Those people tend to kick back.”
Wedge just grinned at him, very nearly jauntily, and started to turn.
“Wedge,” Booster said, remembering. “Stop at Larra’s on the way to the field, countersign that quitclaim, or you’ll lose both ships.”
“Okay, Booster,” said Wedge, and left Calhoun’s. Booster sat back and watched him go, then contemplated what he’d just done. Well, too late to undo, and the boy looks alive again. And a man needs to be alive to live. Wedge hadn’t been for too long. It’d work out. Wedge was young enough to put other things in front of profits, and he was full of ideals, or at least he had been. Maybe he was again. Booster sighed. Mrendy, Grey, I’ve done the best I know how for your boy.
And then he reached across the table and picked up the glass of ale Wedge had left
because Booster Terrik didn’t believe in wasting anything.
“Wedge!” Mirax’s voice reached him through a line of ships. He followed it and saw her standing beside what he had to admit was a nice-looking vessel, a little larger than the Pulsar Skate, not so curved and organic-looking, more aerodynamic, with lines that said ‘danger’ and ‘speed’. She slipped an arm around his waist and looked up at the ship with him. “Father picked you out a nice one, didn’t he?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “I guess he did.” He craned his neck to look at the bow and then pulled away from Mirax to walk under the belly of the ship. He trailed his hand across the skin and smiled. She’ll do.
“Wedge, are you going to keep her?” Mirax had come up behind him.
“Yeah; yeah, I am.” He dropped his hand. “I need to get inside.”
“Your father just got me a job, too,” he said, locating the switch to open the cargo bay.
“Really?” Mirax sounded very pleased. “Doing what?”
“Hauling medical supplies for the rebels, in the morning,” he said softly after a quick look around. “They wanted Booster, of course”
“Of course,” said Mirax loyally.
“But they couldn’t afford him. I work cheaper.”
“You would,” she teased, climbing up the ramp inside the ship. “Come see her cockpit, Wedge. She’s very nice, and set up for just one crewman if necessary, even the guns.”
“I don’t plan on using them,” he said, following.
“Who does? It’s often really nice to have them, though.”
“Very true. And I’d be shooting at the right people. But I’m not exactly a fighter pilot, Mirax.”
“You could be,” she stuck her head out of the cockpit and flashed him a bright smile. “You’re really, really good.” She moved aside to let him in, and then leaned over his shoulder.
“Maybe,” he dismissed the idea. “Right now I’ll settle for being able to outrun them. I’m assuming Booster had that in mind?” He slid into the pilot’s chair and started examining the controls.
“Two nearly brand-new sublight engines, and a pair of Hyrian hyperdrives just like the Skate’s,” she said. “She should be fast enough.”
“Good. Fueled up, too; nice work, Booster.”
“He does have a way with people,” said his daughter. “Wedge, what are you going to call her?”
“What’s she now?”
Mirax made a remarkably unattractive noise. “Or something like that,” she added.
“Ah. That won’t do... I’ll think of something.” He got up and made his way back through the passenger section and cabins, such as they were on a cargo hauler. Two real if small cabins, one more modified into a storage area, two open bays, the hatchways down to the main cargo areas ... tighter quarters than the Skate, but neat and clean. Booster had done very well for him, indeed. He went back outside and stood looking up at the ship. It’s not a refueling station, Dad, Mom... it’ll work out though. I promise I’ll do right with her.
“Wedge?” Mirax had come up behind him, and put her hands on his shoulders. “You okay?”
“Yes. Better than I have been in a while. Something to do, I guess... I know.”
“What I’ll call her. Treta’s Answer.” He couldn’t see her face, didn’t know what her silence meant. “Do you like it?”
She slid her hands off his shoulders and hugged him. “It’s perfect, Wedge. Your parents would approve of it.”
He leaned back against her. “I hope so,” he said softly.
“They would,” she said, squeezing him tightly once and then letting go. “You need to get that painted on her, I think. Begin as you mean to go on.”
“I can’t paint.” Wedge didn’t want a droid putting that name on his new home.
“I’ll do it for you,” she pushed him in the general direction of the maintenance bay. “You get the paint”
Mirax doing it, that was good. That too was right. “Green and gold,” he said. I’ll put your colors on her, Dad, your names in your colors. Then you’ll know I’ll do right with her. Grey hadn’t ever bought the station whose logo he had designed, but his son would use it.
“Whatever,” she said, “and I’ll paint, while you register the name change. If you’re
you don’t have all day.”
“You don’t approve,” Wedge looked at Booster steadily. “Do you?”
“I don’t disapprove,” said Booster, shrugging.
“I’d hope not. You scored me this job,” Wedge pointed out.
Booster grinned wryly. “You got me there.”
“Wishing I hadn’t taken it?” Wedge surprised himself a little bit. A couple of months ago, he’d have been afraid to hear the answer. He guessed he’d gotten his feet back under him. He felt like, well, like he was back in control of things again. Still didn’t know exactly what “things” were, or what he wanted to do with them, but that would probably come in time.
“I am, a little,” Booster agreed after a moment. “I mean, it’s good you’re going somewhere, I’m just not sure about your destination.”
“What do you mean?” Wedge was honestly curious. He didn’t know he had a destination.
“I’m not signing up,” Wedge said, amused. “I’m just running supplies for them. For a price, let me add. It’s just a job.”
“I wonder,” Booster drained his glass and poured another.
“Booster,” Wedge said, “you’ve run arms for them.”
“I know. But it is just a job for me. Arms for them, spice for the ProvSec, glit for the rich boys and guns for the bad ones, it’s all one to me. Long as I get my money up front.” He shook his head. “There’s no politics in it.”
“I’m not political,” Wedge protested.
“Yeah? Who was said to me just this afternoon ‘those idiots are kicking the right people in the teeth’? Was that your clone?” Even Booster’s red implant looked ironic.
“Well, okay,” Wedge admitted. “It helps, who they are. But”
“Tell me you’d run something, anything, for a Diktat official.”
It was a challenge Wedge tried to avoid. “You don’t run slaves.”
“No. But I run spice, not just glit, and I run karraba, and farrax, and stuff you’ve never heard of yet. And I run arms for rebels and warlords and anybody else with enough money to hire me. I’ve transported stolen property back to its owners, and away from them. One reason our favorite CorSec investigator has lost me more’n once is that Diktat governors like my work. I got no politics. You do.”
“Are gonna go down,” said Booster. “We’re talking the Empire. A handful of perpetually broke dreamers and disaffected senators are not taking Palpatine and Vader and the whole machine of Imperial oppression down.”
“You agree!” Wedge pounced on the word.
“With what? That the Empire is oppressive? Sith, Wedge, you’d have to be brain-dead not to see that. So what?”
Booster continued. “Government’s oppressive. The Republic wasn’t much better than the Empire; how d’you think Palpatine came to power? The setup was there, just waiting for someone. I’d’ve been a criminal under the Republic, just like I am under the Empire. Or the Diktat. And another thing, the rebellion is an automatic Imperial death warrant, and the Diktat’s no easier on ’em.”
“The Diktat,” said Wedge, “is part of the Empire. Of course they’re as bad.”
What seemed like patriotic pride fleeted across Booster’s face. “The Sector’s not part of the Empire. This rebellion is against Palpatine, not the Diktat.”
“Oh, come on, Booster,” said Wedge. “The Diktat is Palpatine’s lap dog.”
“Okay, krayt dragon,” Wedge conceded. “But he’s Palpatine’s.”
“The Sector’s officially allied with the Empire, nothing more.”
“Right. And that’ll last as long as we behave ourselves. Tell me you think we could break the alliance and become really independent.”
“Of course not,” admitted Booster; that was just common sense.
“So, if CorSec hunts rebels to keep an Imperial Fleet from showing up and the Sector from becoming some Grand Moff’s property, then what’s the difference from doing it because some Grand Moff says to? How’s the Diktat different from having a Grand Moff here already, if every move he makes is conditioned by what the Empire will do in reaction? CorSec. The Imperial Security Service. The Empire. The Diktat. Where does one stop and the other begin, Booster? At the edge of the Sector? Is it just damned galactography? Is that all it is?”
“I thought Grey had stopped talking like that.” Booster shook his head. “Around you, anyway.”
“He did,” Wedge said impatiently. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t hear him. Both of them.”
“What a rotten child you were.”
“All right, all right. Yes, the Diktat is part of the Empire. CorSec equals the Empire. You happy?”
Wedge sighed. “No. The point is, Booster, this is something I can do something about. Not much, maybe, but with the Answer I can” he stopped, hunting the right word.
Booster sighed, too, and gave it to him “You can avenge.”
“Is that what you think it is?”
“There’s nothing wrong with vengeance,” said Booster almost gently. “You have a lot to avenge.”
“Hah. Mrendy might not have killed for politics, but she would have slaughtered anyone who hurt you or Grey, don’t think she wouldn’t have. Don’t ever think that.”
Wedge was quiet for a while. Then he said, softly, “Yeah. She would have.”
“Yeah.” They were both silent for a few minutes.
Finally Wedge said, with a wave of his hand, “Yeah, but this isn’t about that, really.”
“I know. I’d feel better if it was,” Booster answered. “If I thought you were out to hurt them because you know that one reason Horn and his bosses didn’t do a hell of a lot was because they thought Grey was about two steps away from being a rebel himself, well, then I’d know you’d know when to stop. But you’re gonna end up believing in it.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are,” Booster said, with parental certainty. “And then you’re gonna land yourself in trouble.”
“Maybe so,” said Wedge. “We’ll see. But Mom always said you gotta do what’s right.”
“Yeah,” said Booster. “I heard that argument you had with Horn back on Ralla. I figured then you were half Mrendy and half Grey and all yourself. ‘What’s right’... Mrendy never had any more politics than me, but she did have more, I guess morals. Ethics. Something. And Grey, he believed all that stuff, too. He wouldn’t have done anything, though, nothing more than letting rebels use his station for refueling. But you” The smuggler shook his head. “You’re gonna put them together and go in a whole other direction.”
Wedge thought about it. He still didn’t see himself taking up arms against anybody, leading any great charges or anything like that. Like he’d told Mirax, he wasn’t even planning on shooting at them if he could avoid it. There had to be more to life than just aimlessly carrying other people’s cargoes, that was true, but, “I’m no hero, Booster,” he said. “I know my limits.”
“I hope so,” said the older man. “I’d feel a lot better if I thought so.”
“I do,” Wedge assured him. “Believe me, I’m not looking for glory. Just freedom. And spending money,” he added.
Booster laughed. “Keep that in mind, and you won’t go too far off course.”
Mirax appeared by the table. “Are you two planning on sitting here and drinking all night? Wedge is leaving in the morning; we have to do something.”
“Sitting and drinking is doing something,” Booster said.
“Shall I pull up a chair, then?” she said, fisting her hands on her hips in a very Terrik attitude.
Wedge got to his feet. “What do you want to do?” he asked, already missing her.
“Let’s go watch ships leave,” she said, taking his hand.
He was touched. “Sure,” he smiled at her. “Coming, Booster?”
“To sit out by the field, in the cold dark, not to mention rain, for a couple of hours, and watch ships leave? I don’t think so,” the older man said. “I’ve seen my share. You two run along. See you in the morning.”
“Okay,” Wedge said.
Mirax smiled at her father. “Good night, then. Don’t drink too much. Come on, Wedge,” she pulled at his hand and he followed her out. Wedge figured this was probably the last time, certainly the last in a long time, that the two of them would be together with nothing to do and nowhere to go and no one looking over their shoulders, and he was grateful to Booster for not coming.
It had stopped raining. A small breeze was stirring Korbyn’s night air; it carried the noise and scents of Kolibri’s away, replacing them with the quieter sounds and cleaner smells of the rain-washed city. A slight misting still hung in the air, barely enough to notice, and the clouds were drifting with the wind, racing in the higher levels of the atmosphere, scudding over the stars and the two little moons, which were noticeably irregular even from Korbyn’s surface. But it was a warm night despite Booster’s grumbling, and Wedge and Mirax headed for the field without hesitation.
Once there, they climbed to the top of one of the emergency berms along the southern side of the field. Wedge pulled off his jacket and spread it on the damp moss. Mirax dropped onto it, leaning back on her arms. Wedge looked down at her for a minute, and then said, in tones of immense reasonableness, “Now, I know you won’t wear a jacket for love or money”
“I might for love,” she said reflectively, “and I certainly would for enough money. What’s your point?”
He tried to ignore her, but he knew his lip was twitching and amusement had crept into his voice. “but I find myself asking the universe, is that any reason I should get my butt soaked? And the universe answers, ‘I don’t think so.’”
“Whatoh. Sor-ry,” she said, giggling. She curled her legs up and scooted over, making room for him. He sat down a little more slowly, looking up at the sky. She shoved his shoulder. “Hey,” she said, “the ships are down there.”
“I know,” he said, still looking up.
“If you want to go stargazing, you should have said so,” she said. “We could get a skimmer, go someplace there aren’t any lights.”
“No,” he said, “I don’t...”
“It’s over there, idiot,” she said, pushing his chin in the right direction.
He found it right away now that he was oriented, the brilliant blue point of light that was Corum. He looked away almost immediately, down at the field. “That’s a Corellian corvette, coming in,” he said.
“Who cares about the ones coming in?” Mirax’s voice was a little odd.
He looked at her, and discovered that she was looking at him. Little beads of moisture clung to her face and hair, and sparkled in her eyelashes like... well, dewdrops, he supposed, though he wasn’t entirely sure what dewdrops looked like. Drops of starlight. “Not us,” he said after a moment, “we’re already where they’re just getting to.”
She smiled at him. “So we are,” she said. “So we are.” She looked back at the field. “There’s one. What is it?”
He looked at the freighter maneuvering a little clumsily on its repulsors. “It’s a White,” he said.
“Wedge, I know it’s a White,” she said. “Which: a 15 or an 18?”
He took another look. “An 18,” he said decisively.
“Wrong!” she crowed. “It’s an 15!”
“It is not,” he said. “YT-1500s have sensor dishes over that port blind spot.”
“Not standard, they don’t,” she said. “Anyway, 15s have two access doors to their cargo bays, not just one.”
“Unfair!” he protested. “I can’t see the cargo access with her turned like that.”
“You should have looked sooner,” she said, and then relented. “Okay, we won’t count that one... what’s that about sensor dishes, anyway?”
“The only 15 I ever saw had one,” he said, “put into the station three... no, four years ago.”
“Never saw one like that,” she said. “It’s a good idea, though. If Whites have a flaw, that’s it. Wonder where they’re going?”
“Who knows?” Wedge leaned back on one arm. “Wonder if they’re going to get there?” he asked as the freighter nearly brushed a parked Cal Richland.
She laughed. “I hope they weren’t parked in the 90s...” That was where the Skate was.
“Or the 60s,” said Wedge, wondering what the reimbursement procedures would be. Also, surprising himself somewhat, wondering what Tor would do if Wedge backed out, wondering how important were those medical supplies, and how would he get them delivered... Was Booster right? He shook his head; he wasn’t a hero, you didn’t have to be a hero to worry about your clients. “What’s that one, then?” he asked, pointing.
Mirax growled before answering. “A Lambda-class Imperial shuttle, may she crash and burn. Too easy.”
“Okay,” he grinned. “That one?”
“Come on,” he teased.
She stared at the slim ship maneuvering neatly and then heading skyward. “I have no idea,” she confessed.
“Me, either,” he said.
“You” Mirax didn’t seem to be able to come up with a word forceful enough. Instead, she knocked his arm out from underneath him. He fell, laughing. “No fair,” she said.
“Wonder who they are,” he said, staying down and watching the ship run for the stars.
“Where do you suppose they’re going? Or came from?”
“Wonder where I’m going,” he said, dismissing the stranger as it vanished from sight.
“Don’t you know?” Mirax asked.
“No, he didn’t say. He’ll tell me tomorrow.” Wedge looked at Mirax. “I guess he’s paranoid.”
“I guess,” she said. “With reason... Wedge, we won’t know where you are.”
“Don’t worry,” he sat up and ruffled her hair, leaving it hanging over her face. “You won’t lose track of me.”
“Hey” she shoved his hand away and pushed her hair back. “Cut it out... What’s that one, then?”
“It’s a Cal... a Cal...”
“Freilander!” he said triumphantly.
“Right,” she said, leaning against him. “Wonder where”
“Alderaan,” he said.
“How do you know that?”
“They were in 64,” he grinned. “I heard them talking.”
“You,” she said, fondly.
A lull fell over the field, and they were quiet, too. Then Mirax said, “Wedge?”
“Do you remember the first time we ever did this?”
“Do I?” he snorted. “You got me in so much trouble...”
“Pooh,” she said, her breath tickling his ear. “You loved it.”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “Yeah, I did.”
“I’m going to miss doing this,” she said. “I’m going to miss you. You’re going to take care of yourself, aren’t you?”
“I’m going to do my best,” he said. “Hey, are you crying?”
“No!... Yes, maybe,” she admitted.
“Well, don’t,” he said. “Honestly, Mirax, I’m not going to my death. Between you and your father, my head’s spinning. Take the ship, take the job, don’t take the job, don’t go...” he was kidding and she laughed, which made him feel a lot better.
“I guess Father just worries that you’re going to go and do something stupid.”
“You don’t?” He felt flattered.
“No. I know you will. You’re so responsible, it’s going to get you in trouble, I know it is, since you don’t know how to be,” she paused, looking for the right word.
He offered her one, smiling into the darkness. “Irresponsible?”
“Oh,” she crooked her arm around his neck. “You... you know what I mean.”
“I know,” he said, patting her arm. “I’ll be careful. I had a good teacher.”
“Well, you just do,” she said. “And stay in touch.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I will. Promise. You and me, Rags, till all the stars burn out, remember?”
“I remember,” she said softly. “But things have changed.”
“Not that; not as far as I’m concerned anyway.”
“Or me. Till all the stars burn out.”
“Come Sith or starfall,” he answered.
“And beyond,” she finished, and, hugging him once more, shifted to look back down at the field, her shoulders leaning comfortably against his.
As for Wedge, though he was looking down at Korbyn Field himself, he wasn’t really seeing it. Instead, he remembered.
“Wedge! We-edge!” Mirax’s voice echoed through the maintenance bay. “Wedge, where are you?”
“I’m up here,” he called.
“Where? Oh, I see you!” She scrambled up the ladder to the upper catwalk and leaned against the railing where he was sitting. “Wedge, what are you doing?”
“Reading,” he said.
“Five Brothers Rising,” he answered.
“What’s that about? The Clone Wars?” She put her hands on his shoulders and leaned over him. “‘Centerpoint Station is situated at the barycenter around which orbit the Double Worlds. Its age is undetermined. At its center is the sixty-kilometer empty sphere ...’ That’s one boring chunk of exposition,” she said, kneeling down, taking the pad from him and scrolling forward, ignoring his protest. “And everybody already knows that, anyway... ‘Twenty kilometers of decks, over two thousand...’ Duh. ‘...operated by the Federation of the Double Worlds within the framework of ...’” She hit the first-page button and announced, in outraged tones, “This is a history book!”
“I did know that,” he said, taking it back from her. “Some of us have to pass exams, you know.”
She didn’t argue that with him; he’d convinced her a couple of years ago that the exams were desperately important to him. But she did say, “I’m bored, Wedge.”
“Read something,” he said, finding his place again. “I’ve got lots of novels, print and holo both.”
“I’m too bored to read,” she said.
“Sorry,” he said. “Mom and Dad have the system busy.”
“Wedge,” she said, tickling the back of his neck with the end of one of her long, black braids, “let’s do something.”
“Mirax,” he protested, slapping backhandedly at her hand, “I have to study.”
“No, you don’t. Your mom told Father you always get good grades, and anyway you just took them. It’s four months till you have to go again. You can skip a day.”
“Well...” he hesitated. She was right about one thing, it was a deadly dull text.
“Pleeeeease,” she said, “I’m so bored. Let’s do something. Be a good host.”
“All right,” he said, punching a bookmark in place. “All right. Stop whining. And how come you’re only a guest when it suits your purposes?”
She smiled at him and jumped to her feet. She had gotten even taller than him since the last time she’d stayed on Treta, and Mrendy had said to Booster, in deeply significant tones, “Mirax is starting to grow up, you know,” but Wedge didn’t see any real changes in her. She was still the same where it counted, in her mind. And her energy. He stayed sitting down and looked up at her. “And is that my jumpsuit?”
She looked down at the blue coverall she was wearing halfway unzipped over a white shell, sleeves rolled, as though she’d forgotten what she had on. Which, he reflected, was entirely possible with Mirax. “Yes, it is,” she said. “I don’t have a clean one.”
“Then we could do laundry,” he said.
“Oh, Wedge, honestly,” she said, and climbed to sit on the upper railing, looking down at him in disgust. “Let’s do something.”
He bit back his automatic impulse to tell her to get down from there, right now, and instead asked, “Well, what do you want to do?”
“Let’s go to Iriodana,” she suggested.
He stared at her. “Iriodana? Mirax... what do you really want to do?”
“I want to go to Iriodana,” she said. “Let’s go.”
He sighed patiently. “My parents are busy, remember? Taxes... you do know what those are, don’t you?”
“Yes, I know what they are... But we don’t need your parents.”
“How are we supposed to get there, then? Walk? It’s kind of a long way. Not to mention vacuum. Empty space. No ground.”
“We can take the runabout. I can fly it.”
“You can not.”
“Yes, I can.”
“You can’t. It’s illegal.”
“Not. I have a license.”
“You don’t,” he said, seized with envy.
“Yes, I do,” she said, unzipping a pocket and dropping the card into his lap.
He stared at it. It was a recreational license, sub-light only, but it was genuine. She’d gotten it on her thirteenth birthday, a couple of months ago. And his father had told him he had to wait until he was fifteen...
“So,” she said, “you see, worrywart? It’s legal. Let’s go.”
“We can’t. My parents would kill me.”
“Yeah, right. Wedge, your parents wouldn’t kill you if you started buying spice and charging it to their accounts. Don’t be such a killjoy. Let’s go.”
“Mirax, I’m not supposed to.”
“Did they ever tell you not to?”
“Well, no, not specifically...”
“So, okay. You can go.”
Wedge was aware that there were a lot of things he hadn’t been forbidden to do because it never crossed his parents’ minds that he’d want to do them. Still, she did have a license...
“C’mon, Wedge,” she cajoled. “Your dad’s taken you there, hasn’t he?”
Wedge had to nod.
“So, he doesn’t disapprove of Iriodana. And you said it yourself, they’re busy... we ought to keep out of their way.”
“Well...” he crossed his arms over the lower railing and leaned his chin on them, looking out over the bay.
“Isn’t there anything you’ve ever wanted to do there that your dad was just too busy for?”
“Well...” he was giving in, and she could tell it, just like she always could.
“I knew it! What? We can go and do it!”
“Well, I always wanted to just watch ships leave, you know?” he said, feeling a little foolish. What if Mirax thought that was a waste of time, like his father did?
“Oh, cool!” she said. “I love watching ships leave, well, except Father’s. I never thought of spending an afternoon doing it, though. Oh, Wedge, let’s do it!”
“All afternoon?” Wedge was back to knowing this was a bad idea. “Mirax, we can’t.”
“Oh, come on, Wedge.” She hooked her feet under the lower railing and flopped over backwards to put her face at a level with his. “It’s so boring here, let’s go”
“Mirax!” Wedge leapt to his feet and leaned over the railing. He grabbed her by the open jumpsuit and hauled her upright, then off the railing altogether. “Don’t do that!”
“Wedge!” She stared at him in astonishment. “What’s the problem?”
“What if you fell?” He realized his hands were shaking so he grabbed the railing on either side of her. “You could get killed!”
“Wedge, honestly,” she protested. “There’s no gravity here”
“There’s gravity,” he insisted. “Why are we standing here if there’s no gravity? There’s plenty of gravity, and you mass enough to break your stupid neck if you fell.”
“Your parents are paranoid,” she stated. “I wasn’t going to fall.”
“You might,” he said, “and what do you mean, my parents?”
“I’m surprised they let you up on this catwalk at all.”
“They let me do a lot of stuff!” he said, stung. “And anyway” he paused, uncertain how to finish that sentence.
“Then, let’s go to Iriodana,” she said. “Look: I’ve got a license, it’s legal, your dad takes you there all the time, they told us to stay out of the way... it’s perfect.”
Wedge hesitated. He had a bad feeling about it, but he wasn’t sure how to say no.
“Great!” She took silence for consent. “It’s not 10 yet, we can spend all afternoon there and be back in time for supper.” She ducked under his arm. “Come on. Unless you’re going to wear that.”
“What’s wrong with this?” Wedge looked at his almost new cream-colored shirt.
“Nothing,” she said. “Except you’ll probably get cold; a magcon field doesn’t keep heat in all that well.”
“Okay, I’ll get a jacket,” he said, giving in. It was just Iriodana, and she did have a license. And he did want to go.
So he got his jacket, and she stuck her head in on his parents and said, “We’re going out, okay?” and was waved off, and they went. Wedge had thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip. Mirax piloted Flyaround very differently from Grey; she flew with more dash and enjoyment, as if it was fun rather than a job to get through with as little wasted time and energy as possible. Flying was a delight to Mirax, not just a way to get from point A to point B; it was a feeling that Wedge could identify with.
At Iriodana, they had left the runabout in the Gus Treta station’s reserved spot, for which CorImExCo paid whether they used it or not; Wedge’s knowing that had salved his conscience a little bit, as had the knowledge that if they’d just used the runabout around Treta they wouldn’t have burned much less fuel. But truthfully, he didn’t think very long or hard about anything like that; he just had fun. Even though he did get cold, they both did, sitting on the edge of Iriodana’s field, close to the magnetic containment field itself. That had been the first time they’d ever played the game of challenging each other to identify ships, and the first time, too, they’d wondered where the ships were going. Wedge had pointed out a sleek Baudo-class yacht, much better maintained than the Pulsar Skate, with an intricate, and labor-intensive to maintain, lavender and silver paint job, landing with exquisite grace. “Wonder where she’s been?”
“Who cares?” said Mirax airily. “She’s only coming here, and we’re already here.”
“Yeah,” he said. “We are, aren’t we? Here ahead of them.” It was silly, but it felt good to say it.
Eventually they’d gone back to Gus Treta, and he’d gotten in the trouble he knew was coming. His father had been waiting in the bay when they arrived, his jaw set and his eyes flying their green storm signals. His mother had been there, too, though she looked relieved to see them rather than angry.
Mirax’s protesting “But I have a license!” had deflected Grey only momentarily.
“Fine,” he said. “I’m certainly glad you didn’t break any laws. But, since things have to be spelled out for you, I will: you are forbidden to take Flyaround, or indeed any ship belonging to this station, or even just sitting here, now or in the future, without the express and specific permission of myself or Mrendy. Is that clear?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Good. Go and get ready for dinner. Wedge,” he’d turned to his son, “apologize to your mother for making her worry, and then go and wash up. We’re going to talk after dinner.”
“I’m sorry, Mom,” he said, meaning it. “I didn’t mean to make you worry.... we only went to Iriodana.”
“I know you didn’t,” she said. “But you did. How were we supposed to know where you were?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think...”
“Very true,” said Grey. “Go get washed.”
Dinner was rather silent. Mirax ate enough to make up for Wedge’s not eating at all, but Grey ate like it was a job, and nobody had anything much to say. Mirax volunteered to clean up afterwards; Mrendy smiled and accepted. Grey looked across the corner of the table and said, “Wedge.”
Wedge swallowed and rose, following his father out and into the office.
“Sit down, son,” said Grey, himself sitting on the edge of the desk. “Tell me what you were thinking.”
“Dad, we just went to Iriodana Field,” Wedge started, but Grey shook his head and Wedge stopped.
“No. I know what you did. Tell me why you did it.”
“Mirax wanted to go...” Wedge’s voice trailed off as his father closed his eyes and shook his head again.
“And if Mirax wanted to see how deep into Varra Gus you could go, would you?”
“Or if she’d suggested going to Corellia?”
“Good. So we’ve established that she’s not using some sort of mind control over you; you went along with it. Why?”
“She has a license,” Wedge tried. “I wouldn’t have gone if she hadn’t had a license.”
“Noted in your favor. Did you think that made it okay?”
“No, sir,” Wedge acknowledged.
“Then why did you do it?”
“I wanted to,” Wedge admitted. “It was fun.”
“Good boy,” Grey said. “I’m glad you’re admitting it. You knew better, but you did it anyway because you wanted to. That’s fair to say?”
Grey looked at him steadily. “I’m really disappointed, son. I thought you had better sense. I thought we could trust you.”
Wedge bit his lip. “I’m sorry. I really am.”
“That’s not enough. Or do you think it is?”
“No, sir,” Wedge swallowed hard. He wanted to cry but he wasn’t going to; he wasn’t a baby anymore. He wished his father would hurry up and get this over with.
Grey sighed; Wedge wondered if getting hit hurt more. “Okay. You’re grounded. Nothing but schoolwork and meals gets you out of your room for the next week.”
“Yes, sir,” Wedge said.
“Run on. Say goodnight to your mother and go up to your room.”
Wedge escaped. At least, he escaped Grey; he still had to face Mrendy. She heard him coming and came out into the hall. “Going up, Wedge?”
He nodded, his eyes on the floor. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he almost whispered.
“Wedge” she put her fingers under his chin and tilted his face up until his eyes met her green ones. “Don’t be so upset,” she said. “You could have done much worse things.”
“I shouldn’t have done this, though.”
“No,” she smiled a little. “But I’ll tell you a secret: it’s not so terrible, what you did. We’ll all get through it, Widget.”
The old nickname brought the tears to his eyes. He blinked them away and said, “Dad”
“Yes,” she nodded. “Your father’s upset. But he still loves you, you know. You do know that, don’t you, Wedge?”
He nodded, biting his lip. She smiled at him and hugged him; he returned it. “Go on up, now,” she said. “Try not to be too upset. Your father forgives you already, and so do I. Good night, sweetheart.”
He fled up the stairs, but not without noticing that Mrendy headed, not back into the kitchen, but down the hall to the office.
Five Brothers Rising lay on his desk, neatly centered. He picked it up and sat on his bed, but the words were too blurred to read. Eventually he gave up and, dropping the text on the floor, just cried. Much later, when he was exhausted but not asleep, he heard his door open. He froze, not wanting to talk to anybody.
“Wedge? You asleep?” Mirax whispered. When he didn’t answer, she left.
He lay, feeling sick, wanting to cry again but out of tears, for an eternity. When the door opened again, he was nearly asleep, worn out. Grey didn’t say anything, just tucked the blankets around his son and ruffled his hair gently enough not to wake him. Wedge wasn’t certain his father had even been there until he woke in the morning, under the covers and with his book back on the desk.
He went downstairs. It was late, the kitchen was empty, and he didn’t see anybody. Mrendy had left bread for him to heat; he took it back to his room. This time he made himself concentrate on history. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been reading, long enough to have worked his way through the complicated set-up of the Federation of the Double Worlds and its administration of Centerpoint Station and actually think he understood it, when the door opened and Mirax came in.
“Hey,” she said, flopping down on the end of his bed. “Where’re those novels you mentioned?”
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said.
“I asked your dad,” she said, leaning over and looking at his desk. “These them? Which one’s best?”
“Shadow of the Black Star,” he answered.
She pulled it out and looked at it. “It’s pretty long, isn’t it? Oh, well, I’ve got all week...” she rolled over and opened the book.
“Mirax,” he said, “you don’t have to be here all week.”
“Yeah, I do,” she said. “I mean, it’s really my fault you got grounded.”
“No, it’s not,” he said. “You didn’t make me go.”
“Whatever,” she shrugged. “If you’re stuck in here all week, well, I’m here, too.”
“Well...” he paused; he felt good that she wanted to, but he couldn’t blame her for his actions. Still, he wasn’t asking... and he knew that she thought being by herself was dreadful, whereas he kind of liked it, though not as a punishment. Being sent away wasn’t at all the same as going off on your own. “Okay, if you want.”
“I don’t want to, exactly,” she admitted. “But I think I have to.”
They fell silent for a few minutes. Then Mirax said, “Wedge?”
“Hmmm?” he looked up from his book.
She was looking at him funny. “Are you mad at me?”
He blinked. “Mad at you? What for?”
“Getting you in trouble. I never saw your dad so mad. Did he hit you?”
“No,” said Wedge, affronted. “Dad never hits me.”
“Don’t get your back up... you’re just weird, then, I guess.”
Wedge wasn’t sure what she meant, but he didn’t want to discuss it. “Well, thanks. From you, that’s a real compliment... Does Booster hit you?”
“Nah. Mostly he just yells and stomps around. I didn’t hear your dad yell.”
“He doesn’t,” said Wedge ruefully. “I wish he would.”
“You are weird... Wedge.”
“Are you mad at me?”
“Idiot. Of course not. It was my fault.”
“Mine,” she said. “I made you.”
“Did not,” he said. “I could have said no... besides, I liked it.”
She smiled suddenly, sparkling with gladness. “Really, Wedge?”
“Yes, really.” He leaned back in his chair. “I did... Too bad we can’t ever do it again.”
“Oh, ever’s a long time. Anyway,” she flopped over, “Father will take us, I bet.”
“Maybe,” Wedge said. He wasn’t sure he’d have the nerve to ask permission.
“Anyway,” she said, “I’m glad you’re not mad at me. I was afraid you were.”
Wedge thought about it. “No,” he said, “I never was.” He had a sudden realization; it made him blink.
“I’m not mad at you, Mirax. I don’t think I could be. Ever.”
She sat up and stared at him. “Really?”
“Not really. I mean,” he amended quickly, “not really mad.”
“No matter what, Wedge? ’Cause me either, at you.”
“No matter what.”
They stared at each other. Then Mirax smiled a slow, almost wicked smile. “Will you hide me from CorSec?”
Wedge smiled back. “I’ll hide you from the Hutts. Will you get me.... will you get me OutSector, uh...”
“When you think of it, I’ll carry it. Wedgeyou remember Galactic Delinquent?”
“Well, yes,” she said, “it was pretty bad.”
“Pretty bad? Is that all you can say? Even with Torquil Hart in it, it stank.”
“Yes, but, you remember what he and Ryssa Favor said to each other?”
He did, and he smiled at her. “You and me, kid, till all the stars burn out.”
“Come Sith or starfall,” she answered.
“And beyond,” they said together. Mirax punched the air and dragged out the last syllable like a battlecry.
“Although beyond what,” Wedge said, “I don’t know.”
“Beyond everything,” said Mirax, flopping back on the bed, and then sitting up suddenly to level a stare and a finger at Wedge. “But I am not gonna marry you!”
“Deal,” he said, appalled. That the relationship between Hart’s soldier of fortune and Favor’s streetwise waif had turned, apparently without cause, into torrid, altar-bound passion was one of the many reasons Galactic Delinquent had been so bad. “I won’t marry you, either.”
“Okay, then.” She lay down again and picked up Shadow of the Black Star. “Does this thing get any better?”
“How far have you got?”
“Page 4,” she said.
“Yes,” he said, indulgently, “it gets better. A lot better.”
The week dragged. Wedge slogged his way through a lot of school work, and Mirax read two and half novels and nearly drove him crazy asking what was going to happen next. He broke down and told her the whole ending of Red Sun, White Sun, which was why she only read half of it. On the fifth day, Mrendy looked in on them and said, “Mirax, your father’s online. Do you want to talk to him?”
“Yes!” Mirax jumped up off the floor and tore out the door.
Mrendy smiled after her, and then crossed over to the bed and held out her hand. “May I?”
Wedge handed her his pad. She looked at it, smiled at him, and said, “The rate you’ve been working you’re far ahead of schedule. You don’t want to get so far ahead you start forgetting what you’re only learning for tests.”
“I won’t, Mom.”
“You should take it easy, anyway, okay?” He nodded, and she added, “I can’t believe Mirax actually stayed in here all week. She’s a good friend.”
He looked at his mother; there was a little worry in her green eyes, or something he couldn’t really name. He wasn’t sure what she might be worried about, but he decided it was that he was not appreciating Mirax. “I know, Mom,” he said. “She’s great. It wasn’t her fault, but she wanted to stay, anyway. It was nice, even though she nearly went crazy.” That had been the right thing to say; Mrendy smiled at him.
She might have said something else, but Grey showed up in the doorway. “Mrendy,” he said, “would you go down and settle schedules with Booster?”
“Sure,” she said, handing Wedge’s pad back to him. As she went past her husband, he touched her arm and said, “Hold Mirax downstairs, would you, hon? I want to talk with Wedge.”
“Will do, love,” Mrendy said, drifting her fingers across his hand and smiling at him. Mirax thought Wedge should make his parents stop that, or that he should at least be embarrassed by it, but Wedge always felt warm inside when he saw it.
The warmth lingered even when Grey shut the door and leaned on the edge of the desk. He looked down at his boots for a minute, and then across at his son. “Wedge, I wanted to say I’ve been really impressed this week. You’ve handled yourself very well.”
“Really?” Wedge started to grin, and then thought. “I’m sorry you had to find out how I’d behave, grounded.”
Grey shook his head, sighing. “No,” he said, “that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. It’s my fault,” he spread his hand on his chest. “The thing is, most of the time you’re such a... well, you’re always a good kid, Wedge. You’re always good. But so much of the time you’re so damned steady that I get tricked into thinking you’re older than you are. You’re thirteen, not seventeen, and I shouldn’t expect you to act seventeen. You should be allowed to be thirteen.”
Wedge didn’t know exactly what to say, so he said, “I’m not a little kid anymore, Dad; thirteen’s not a baby. I shouldn’t be doing stuff I know better than.”
“That’s what I mean. At thirteen, yes, you should. That’s not exactly permission, mind you, sport,” he added quickly.
Wedge did grin at that. So did Grey. “So, given that you haven’t whined or complained, and have done what you’re supposed to, and that you’re really sorry and won’t do it againright?”
“Or anything like it, Dad. I promise.”
“Okay. I’m springing you early.”
“Yes, really. As of now, you’re cleared to go. And speaking of whichyour mom is taking you out tomorrow in Flyaround. As soon as she’s satisfied, we’ll get you your license.”
Grey said, laughing, “Yes, really. Sublight only, mind you. It’s not legal for you to have a hyperspace license till you’re fifteen, and I don’t care if Mirax gets one next week. I won’t want to know it if she does, and you won’t. Get one early, I mean. Clear?”
“Transparasteel,” Wedge said.
“Don’t be too excited,” Grey said warningly. “I plan to get some use out of you; there’s a lot of pickups you can make at Iriodana.”
“Anything. Anytime. I won’t let you down, Dad, I promise.”
“We’ll see,” his father said, but not seriously, so Wedge felt free to laugh. He also jumped off the bed and hugged his father, hard.
Grey returned the hug. “You’re a good kid, Wedge, all things considered,” he said. “I think we’ll keep you.”
“Wedge.” Mirax’s voice reached him. She sounded like she’d said it before. “Wedge.”
“Where?” he asked. “Which one?”
“Are you okay?”
He took a deep breath, and realized that he had tears in his eyes. He wiped them and nodded. “Yeah. I am. I really am. I was just remembering...”
She leaned her cheek against his shoulder and said, “You sure?”
“Yeah, I, I’m sure.”
He bit his lower lap and laughed slightly. “Actually, that day you dragged me off to Iriodana.”
“We had fun that day, didn’t we?”
“Until we got home...” his voice trailed off. “Mirax?”
“Have you ever heard of the Ten’Di’iri?”
“The butterfly people?” she asked.
He nodded. “They have that long childhood, and then when they turn into adolescents, they just make a chrysalis and turn into goop that turns into grown Ten’Di’iri.”
“Assuming they don’t get killed for their shells,” said Mirax.
“Assuming,” he agreed. “What I wonder is, what do they think while they’re in their chrysalises? I mean, is it easy for them to grow up? I know they come out totally different...”
She gave it some thought, and then shrugged. “I don’t see how they can think. I mean, they don’t have brains, just goop. I think that’s why they don’t know anything when they come out, it’s all new, brains and all.”
“So that’s all we are? Just brains?”
“Are you getting mystical on me? Do you mean, souls? Or Jedi-talk?”
“Mom always said we were made out of starstuff, and we sang with the stars whether we knew it or not.”
“That sounds pretty mystical... What brought this on?”
“I don’t know. It’s just... I feel like that last eight months have been, well,” he hesitated, not sure how to put it into words.
“Goop?” she asked.
“Kind of. More like, no, yes, goop. Not me, but the universe. Like I’ve been fighting not to drown, and suddenly I’ve got my feet on ground again. But I’m still me, or I’m me again... do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah. Father’s been pretty worried about you, but today he told me you were going to be all right.”
“That’s not what he told me,” Wedge said. “He told me I was going to end up broke and in trouble.”
“Oh, that,” Mirax waved a dismissive hand. “Sure. But you’re going to be all right.”
“You know,” he said. “I think I am.”
“I think,” she said, sounding a little regretful, “that if you have to meet this guy first thing in the morning, we’d better go back. You’ll be dead on your feet if you don’t get some sleep.”
He looked at his chrono. “That’s the time? You’re right.” He stood up and held out his
hand to her.
She took it and came gracefully to her feet, bringing his jacket with her. He took it his
other hand, and
arms around each other’s waist, they walked slowly back to the hotel.
Wedge spotted the green and black uniform at the edge of the berthing area while he was checking the cargo before it was loaded onto the Answer the next morning. He reached out and grabbed one of the cargo handlers by one of his upper arms.
“What is it, Captain Sir?”
That sounds good. But he had something else to think about. “Go, right now, and find the captain of berth 92. Tell him that a man from CorSec is here. Got that?”
“Berth 92’s captain, man from CorSec. Yes, Captain Sir.” The little Shilaren scurried away, and Wedge ducked under the Answer’s nose and headed across the bay. When he got closer, he saw his guess had been right.
“Well, Investigator Horn,” he said pleasantly, though he was seething inside. You couldn’t get here a couple of days ago, could you? And the first thing you do is check out the outsystem ships... He smiled politely. “Who’d have looked to see you here? Korbyn’s just a little bit out of your jurisdiction, isn’t it?”
“Not chasing a felon, it isn’t,” Horn was just as pleasant. “How’ve you been, Antilles?”
“Oh, just fine. Just fine.” Which felon? Are you actually here after them?
“Still crewing on the Skate?” Horn asked casually.
“Oh, no. Not any more,” Wedge was delighted to see the shadow that crossed the man’s green eyes. Still after Booster, are you? You gotta do better’n this. “Got another ship,” he volunteered helpfully.
Horn’s gaze sharpened. “Oh? Out of the Sector?”
“Nope. Actually, Korbyn registry.”
“Really?” Horn didn’t look pleased. Korbyn registry was a registry of convenience and told you nothing. “Who’s the owner? Anyone I know?”
“Me, in fact.” Horn was visibly startled. Wedge smiled.
“Where’d you get a ship?”
“Is that an official question? Or a friendly one?” Wedge asked, still pleasant. This was too much fun. “Not that I’m going to answer either way, mind. You’re way out of your jurisdiction for official, and we’re not friends. But I would like to know.”
“It was friendly.” Horn stared at him, almost in disappointment. “This one isn’t: what cargo you carrying?”
“None of your business, CorSec. It’s not bound for anywhere you mean anything.”
“Okay, Antilles. Maybe so. But this is my business: where’s Booster Terrik?”
“I really couldn’t say.” Wedge did his best to sound regretful; he wasn’t sure he succeeded.
“Can’t? Or won’t?”
“Can’t. Just don’t know. Keeping tabs on him isn’t my job, Investigator Horn. I’d like to think you did some of your job adequately, since your salary is paid by taxes.”
Horn rubbed his jaw. “I suppose I almost deserve that. But we haven’t given up yet. The case isn’t closed.”
Oh, yes it is. You just don’t know it. “Yeah, well, you’ll pardon me if I don’t hold my breath waiting. Chasing Booster seems a lot morewhat? Exciting? Promotion worthy? Profitable? What, exactly?”
“I’m not going to stand here and debate CorSec policy with you, Antilles.”
“Good thing, ’cause I’ve got places to go. See you around, CorSec.” Wedge turned and walked back to the Answer, feeling pretty good about the exchange. He could have told Horn about the Ch’Sheyari, would have if the investigator’d actually gotten to Korbyn on the trail of the pirates, or at least he thought he would have, but if the man was here chasing Booster ... Sithspawn take him. He ignored Tor’s questioning look, took the manifest from the patiently waiting Shilaren crew chief, and started double-checking crate numbers.
“Everything in order, Antilles?” asked Tor when Wedge came back down onto the bay floor.
Wedge nodded as he signed off on the manifest and accepted the crew chief’s wishes for a good flight and a speedy return. Then he turned to the rebel and said, “Okay. We’re loaded. Now I need the destination coordinates, and the two thousand.”
Tor gave him the coordinates. “It’s a place called Dantooine,” he said. “Pretty empty except for us. I hope,” he finished glumly.
Wedge cocked his head and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll double check before I land. And you did give me up-to-date recognition codes, I hope? It’ll be okay. Now. The money?” Over the thin man’s shoulder he saw Horn, watching. Good. A little more time for Booster and Mirax. And Tor’s a professional at this. I think. He returned his attention to Tor as the man said,
“The money,” said Wedge. “You remember the money? Rock-bottom price?”
“Yes, well,” said Tor cautiously. “About the money...”
“I need the money,” Wedge said firmly, folding his arms across his chest. “Fuel doesn’t come free.”
“No, of course it doesn’t.” He brightened. “We could give you fuel, you know. It’s easier to come by than cash. Would that appeal? At all?”
Wedge regarded him thoughtfully. “Well, since I’d be using it to buy fuel, some of it anyway...”
“How about five hundred now and fifteen, or fuel and whatever, when you get to Dantooine?”
A suspicion flitted through Wedge’s mind and he spoke without really thinking about what he was saying. “Just how broke are you?”
Tor started to protest, and then smiled ruefully. “Pretty broke. Moving this cost more than I figured.”
“Need any?” Wedge offered, surprising himself.
“What?” Tor was obviously surprised, too.
“Well, I mean, if we’re going to be doing business, what the hell?” As long as Booster doesn’t get to hear of it... “I could lend you five or six hundred, and they could pay it back on Dantooine.” Sounds like the right thing to do, Mom, doesn’t it? “Or whatever.”
“Well... ah, sure. Yes.” Tor stuck his hand out suddenly. “My name’s Hagen, Hagen Tor. From Alderaan. Welcome to the Rebellion, Wedge Antilles.”
Wedge smiled back at him. Yeah. This feels right. This feels very right. “Glad to meet you, Hagen. And, thanks.”
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