Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wings" and Kevin J. Anderson's "Jedi Academy" series of novels.
No copyright infringement is intended.
Wedge came home in the early afternoon, as had become his habit, and he brought work with him, as was necessary with such hours. Qwi had been a solitary person when he’d first met her, but after several weeks of daily contact she’d begun to confide in him, and then to look for him, and to enjoy the company. His company, he’d begun to think. After Ithor, she’d dreaded being alone. Now she was fine on her own, or at least she said she was, but Wedge still hated to leave her by herself and spent as much time at least in the apartment with her as he could.
Bel Iblis and Borssk Fey’lya, especially the latter, had moved to change his duty back to regular status after Ithor, and now it was no longer his job to be with Qwi. The Corellian Senator had always hoped to convince her to build weapons for the Republic, and giving her a general officer as escort had as much been to win her over as to protect her. Now, he’d pointed out, she didn’t need protection, she was of no use to anyone and so in no danger. And the Bothan had said, in so many words, that now that she was of no further use to the Imperial sympathizers around the galaxy, she was of no further importance to the Republic. Wedge hadn’t argued with either of them or fought the status change, there was no point in it, but he hadn’t intended to abandon Qwi, either.
He’d ensured that his apartment was secure enough for him to bring his work there. He’d taken three weeks’ leave and devoted it to Qwi. He’d offered her the unused guest room, and she’d accepted it with almost desperate gratitude. Now he was used to her being there, and he had begun to dread the day she’d be ready to move out.
For the time being, though, he spent all his spare time either with her, or near her, and did as much of his work at home as he could. As this particular afternoon wore into evening he was working on squadron assignments for the pilots in training on Folor. Sometime in the near future, when the dust had settled from the Daala/Kessel incident and after they had figured out how to move an entire battle group through the Maw itself, somebody was going to be returning to the Maw Installation. Wedge intended to be that somebody, and he intended to take Qwi with him. It might help her memory; at the very least she could be of assistance sorting through the labs and equipment left behind by the Imperials when they’d fled. But he needed to get his house in order first, especially since Ackbar was no longer on the Council. That old fish and he had fought often enough, but at the end they had always been on the same side.
He stretched and doublechecked the pilot count in the Fourth Sector.
“Dead stars!” That was accompanied by the sound of something shattering.
Wedge couldn’t remember ever hearing Qwi’s voice raised like that before, or her swear like that, either. He scrambled to his feet, knocking over the chair, and ran for her room. Her door, as usual, wasn’t closed; he stopped in the opening and stared, dismayed.
Qwi was standing in the middle of the floor. One arm was wrapped around her, the narrow hand clutching her other shoulder. Her other hand covered her mouth. She was trembling so hard that her hair sparkled in the light. Tears streaked her pale blue face, and her wide indigo eyes shone with more, unshed. Shattered pieces of a glass lay on the floor near her bare feet. The last time he had seen her look anything like this had been that morning on Ithor. But this time when her eyes found him, they knew who he was. And the emotion they held was not fear, but rage.
“Qwi,” he said carefully, “do you want me-”
She interrupted, fiercely. “No! I don’t want you to do anything. I want to do it. I. Me.” She spun around, oblivious to the danger of the broken glass, and pounded her fist on the terminal on the desk. “I do not want you to do it. I don’t want the machine to do it. And I don’t want a droid to do it. I want to do it myself. A year ago I could have done it in my sleep. I’d have known the answer before the question was fully asked. Now I know nothing. Nothing!”
It was true, and Wedge didn’t know what to say.
“I was the best at what I did, the best anywhere. Anywhere! Now I am less than a child. I know nothing, I can do nothing. I look at texts I could have written, that I could have demolished, and I can’t understand them. And it’s not just that-I don’t know anything. I own nothing, I can’t do any work... I have to depend on you, like a cripple, like a child. Before, I didn’t know where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do, but I could go, and I could do. Now,” she spun around, gesturing wildly at the books she had flung about the room, “now I can’t, and I hate it. I can’t even fight my way through things I played at before. I have to ask everything, I have to ask you everything, and how long must you answer? How long will you answer?”
“As long as you need me to,” he said, calmly, hoping she could hear the truth. “Just that long.”
“And what will I ask? All these questions! Which way is Coreward, Wedge? What’s my favorite color, Wedge? Do I like Montyrn? Do I know that man? I ask these things, I have to ask these things. But, what’s the fourth law of thermodynamics, Wedge? That I will not ask!” Her voice soared, her hands flailing.
He was as upset as she, if differently. He caught her hands between his. “Qwi, it’s not forever. You’re still smart, you just have to learn it again. That’s all.”
“All?” She pulled away from him. “All?”
“Qwi,” he held his hands up, “that’s not what I meant. What I meant is, you can do it.”
She stilled, looking at him. He reached out, carefully, and took her hands again.
“You’re still smart. You can learn anything you put your mind to. Qwi, I saw you learn navigation effortlessly. You’ll get it all back. You will. You’ll have to start again at the beginning, but it will all come back. Just give it time.”
“How long, Wedge?” she asked, softly.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “Tarkin took two, three years to give you twenty years’ worth, but no one’s going to use his methods. I don’t know. Not too long.”
“How long can I stay here? How long can I ask you, lean on you like this?”
He swallowed and tightened his hold on her hands. “As long as you need to. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than be here for you.”
She stared at him with dark, wide eyes, unblinking for longer than a human could, as if she were trying to read his soul. “Do you mean that?”
He met her gaze unflinching. “Completely,” he said.
She sighed and leaned against him. He put his arms around her shoulders, gently, almost tentatively. After a moment, he said, “You just have to start at the beginning, that’s all. Don’t start with the fourth law of thermodynamics. Start with the first one... or before that. Start with two plus two, and then go to two times two, and then to two squared-”
“Wedge,” she said against his collarbone, with a trace of amusement in her voice. “They’re the same thing.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess they are, for two,” he said. “See, you’re on your way.”
“Wedge,” she said, pulling away from his hold to stand close to him, looking at him. “If you mean it... why do you always go away from me?”
He didn’t even consider pretending he didn’t know what she meant. “Because of exactly what you said. Because you depend on me, lean on me. It wouldn’t be right, otherwise.”
“No, it’s exactly what you said,” he said earnestly. He tried to remember her words. “‘Which way is Coreward, Wedge?’ It’s that way. ‘What’s my favorite color?’ Hunter green. ‘Do I like Montyrn?’ No; you don’t like brandy at all, but you do like Whyren’s Reserve, or any other single malt. ‘Do I know that man?’ Yes, it’s Garm Bel Iblis, and you fought with him over what to do with the Sun Crusher; you won. But just as there are questions you don’t want to ask, there are those I don’t want to answer.” His eyes flickered away from her; he found himself looking at the broken glass on the floor. “‘Do I love you, Wedge?’ I can’t answer that question. How can I answer that? I don’t even know for sure what the answer is. I know what I want it to be... but that doesn’t make it so. And you believe me when I answer, whether I’m right or wrong, so how can I answer that question?”
He felt her fingers on his cheek, the gentle touch of their pads, and then she took his chin and raised his head until their eyes met. “I don’t have to ask that question, Wedge,” she said softly. “I know that answer. I always have.”
“Do you?” he asked. “Or do you just think you do?”
She looked at him very seriously. “Come,” she tugged at his hand.
“Where?” he asked, allowing her to lead him.
“Come,” she repeated, “let me make us some tea. We must talk, I think, Wedge.”
In the history of the galaxy, had anything good ever followed the phrase we have to talk? Nevertheless, he followed her into the kitchen and let her push him gently into a chair while she busied herself with water and pots and so on. He leaned his chin on his hand and watched her, realizing after a moment that he was reminded of his mother, a little. In mood more than anything else; just so she’d worked sometimes while his father watched her and peace filled the room like the scent of the tea. Don’t go there, Antilles. Not now. “Can I-” he started.
“Sit,” she said.
He did. After a moment, not looking at him as she measured the tea, she said, almost as though it had only just occurred to her, “You are angry with your friend on my account.”
He straightened in the chair and said, “He’s not my friend; he never was my friend.” He knew the finality in his tone was saying and he never will be; he didn’t put it into words, but he meant it. And he also didn’t ask how she could have such forbearance.
“Not him.” Her musical voice was so flattened that he felt better about the depth of his own hostility. “I mean Luke Skywalker.”
“Oh. Yes, a little. All right, a lot,” he amended. “But it will pass.”
“Good,” she said, without elaboration. She poured the hot water and set out the cups. He wondered briefly if making tea was something that had escaped Kyp Durron, or if she’d relearned it, or even if she’d known it before. He couldn’t remember if he had introduced her to tea or not. Sometimes it angered and frustrated him when he didn’t know the answer to her question because he just hadn’t been paying enough attention. This time, he thought he would have remembered teaching her to make it, anyway, so he shook off the feeling and just pulled the cup closer, wrapping his hands around its warmth. She sat down across from him, looking at him seriously. “Did you talk to Luke Skywalker,” she asked finally, “when he came here, after?”
“No,” he said simply. He had been still too angry. He hadn’t been afraid, exactly, that his anger would stop Luke from helping Qwi, but more that it would keep Luke from it, somehow. And he hadn’t wanted to hear another lecture from the Jedi about ‘yielding’ to his anger, or on ‘making peace’ with Durron. Wedge didn’t make peace with people as easily as Luke, he didn’t have the same stakes in the game. So he had gone away, left Qwi with Luke and gone to Folor for a week and avoided the whole situation. He knew he probably shouldn’t have, but he had.
“He told me things, after he’d done all he could.” Qwi was lining up her spoon with her cup and the sweetener. It was a habit she’d picked up from him.
“He told me that I wouldn’t get anything back I didn’t already have. He said, if I didn’t remember it now, unless it was something trivial or from my childhood, I wouldn’t. Because it wasn’t forgotten, it was gone.”
“Oh, Qwi,” he said, feeling inadequate.
“It’s all right, Wedge,” she said.
“Qwi,” he began, and she nodded.
“I know. I’m angry, so very angry, about it. But it’s a fact. And I do remember that facts aren’t opinions; they can’t be changed. No matter how much we... I... rage against them. From time to time. But, Wedge, what I wanted to say was this: he told me I shouldn’t remember you.”
“What?” Wedge hoped he hadn’t heard that correctly.
“He told me that I ought, that,” she looked for another word, “that there was no reason he could see why I did remember you. Even as poorly, as limpingly, as I do. He said, you were completely bound in with the things Kyp Durron wanted me to lose, and new, and, and by all rights, the way these things work... I should have forgotten you along with Han, and Bel Iblis, and the rest of them.”
Wedge reached across the table between them and she grasped his hand tightly.
“But I didn’t. I couldn’t, and I can’t, and I never will. I’ve loved you forever, Wedge, as much as that means anything now. I’ve loved you longer than I can remember.” She raised her hand, holding his, to her face and rested her cheek against the back of his hand.
“Ah, Qwi....” He couldn’t remember when he had ever felt so completely inarticulate.
“Don’t go away from me.”
Her dark indigo eyes were tearing his heart apart. He fought to remember why he was right, and it was wrong, but he didn’t have much luck. He couldn’t think of anything to say.
“You don’t have to come closer, if it doesn’t seem right, or fair, right now. Just, please, don’t go further away any more.”
“I won’t,” he finally found his voice. “I promise that.” He rubbed her cheek with his hand, gently, and then smiled at her. “You could ask me harder things.”
“I don’t want to,” she said.
They sat quietly for a few moments, hands entwined. Then she yawned, a sudden almost convulsive shake of her head that shivered her hair. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’m so tired.”
He freed his hand from hers and gently stroked her temple. “You should sleep. You’ve been working way too hard.”
“I suppose you are right, Wedge,” she said, and yawned again. “I will go to bed now.”
“Let me get that glass up first,” he said, “or you’ll cut your feet.” He got up, pulled the whisk broom from under the sink, and headed toward her room.
She followed him and stood in the doorway as he picked up the shards and then swept the area. “I’m sorry about the glass,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “All my glassware is cheap.” He stood up and threw the glass into the disposal. “Have a good night’s sleep.”
She came into the room and paused next to him. “Good night, Wedge,” she said.
He leaned down and kissed her. “Sweet dreams, Qwi,” he said softly, and left the room, pulling the
door shut behind him. He walked back to his study and stood his chair back up, and then, smiling to himself,
he went into the kitchen and fetched the tea, and sat down to finish his work.
One thing that Wedge figured he would never get used to was the sheer amount of paperwork generated by the Fleet. Another was the way most of it just piled up in his office whenever he went anywhere, not quite urgent enough for someone else to take care of but far too urgent for him to let slide one more day. You would have thought, he thought, that chasing Daala around the Maw would count for something. Not to mention the prototype Death Star. And the thing he’d found the hardest: letting Kyp Durron onto Yavaris’s bridge and being civil to him. Surely that effort should have gotten him out of at least some of this. If there were any gods with power and senses of justice, it would have.
Qwi had found it harder than he, but she’d been able to hide below and immerse herself in her studying. She had seen Durron only the once, but it had disturbed her so badly Wedge had been even more worried about her than usual. He thought she was spending too much time studying, working far too hard. But whenever he said so, no matter how gently, she only shook her head stubbornly and said, “I must, Wedge,” and kept it up. He had learned one thing himself: Omwati could be even more inflexible than Corellians. Or at least this one could.
Going to the Maw Installation hadn’t been as useful to Qwi as Wedge had hoped. The place had been completely strange to her, as if she’d never been there in her life. Even finding her personal logs hadn’t helped. They had only told her that she had known no one, had no friends, been immersed in her work, in short, that her previous life had been as empty as her current one. She had clung to him, adrift, and he’d promised to help fill it. But since then she’d redoubled her efforts to regain her knowledge, logging long hours, too long in his opinion, at her terminal. And she hadn’t slowed down yet the week they’d been back. She rarely even took time out to play her music anymore.
Some things came quickly, math, for one; either Durron hadn’t truly removed it or she was learning it at a pace that would have felled most people. Well, there had been a reason that Tarkin had selected Omwati children, and that reason was that they were brilliant. And the ones he’d chosen had been the brightest of the lot. That the Grand Moff’s methods had destroyed nearly all of them didn’t invalidate that. Other subjects came slowly. And others stayed teasingly out of her reach. The only things that were really clear to her were the memories of her childhood, before Tarkin had come.
And those isolated, starkly lucid moments that Durron might have left her purpose, like the memory of one her classmates having a seizure during a test. Or another one breaking down in tears halfway through an explanation of something Qwi couldn’t quite now remember, and the terror she, they all, had felt as the Stormtroopers had removed the sobbing girl. Or the memories, blended into one long remembrance, of standing, on a ship she thought, watching whole sectors of the planet below-her home-destroyed to punish and motivate. She still couldn’t bear to watch a planet from orbit. Wedge had found that out when he’d offered to show her Coruscant from the bridge on Yavaris; most people, he knew, liked to watch planets from orbit. But he’d been more than happy to show her the other view, his favorite, at least that he shared with anyone: black space scattered with innumerable living stars. She’d liked that, liked it very much.
Someday, he thought, he’d tell her the one he missed. The glinting grey rocky horizon, steep and close; the arch of the green (not blue, and certainly not red or yellow) gas giant filling a quarter of the sky; and the incandescent blue dot of the sun; and all of it surrounded by black so deep you could almost touch it filled with stars strewn thick and brilliant and sharp... He found himself wishing he could take her there, and shook off the nostalgia. He didn’t have time to indulge in it. Not with all this paperwork.
“Sir?” Sergeant Sunrunner was standing in the doorway.
“General Cracken is on one for you, sir.”
“Thanks,” Wedge unmuted his comm and punched in line one. “Arien?”
“Wedge. I don’t want to go into details, but can you come here this afternoon? I have something you’ll want to see.”
Wedge didn’t hesitate. Arien Cracken didn’t waste your time. “An hour from now?” he asked.
“See you then,” Cracken nodded.
Wedge got up and walked to the front office. “Sunrunner?”
The sergeant looked up. “Yes, sir?”
“I have to leave now; I need to go over to Intelligence and talk to General Cracken.”
“Yes, sir.” Wedge stood in the doorway, irresolute. Sunrunner looked back up from his desk. “Something, sir?”
Wedge made up his mind. “Yes. Call Coruscant Field Central and have my T-65 prepped. Fuel, extra air, missiles, torps, the whole works.”
“Yes, sir. Are you going somewhere, sir?”
Wedge nodded slowly. “I might be, sergeant. It depends on what General Cracken has to say. I’ll let you know if I need you to clear my calendar.”
“Yes, sir,” Sunrunner said.
Wedge walked back into his office and began getting ready to leave. There was no guarantee, of course, not only not of anything useful but even of this being what he hoped it was. After all, Arien Cracken’s was a rather large domain, and he had his eyes on an even larger portion of the galaxy. It was possible that Wedge would arrive to find some covert military operation in the planning stages. On the other hand, at least when Ackbar had been Chief of Staff, such things rarely started in Cracken’s office. This had to be about the files Wedge had recovered at the Maw Installation.
“This is every file, every bit of information, Tarkin left behind, and probably a lot of extra stuff, too. It may be useless, but... Arien, I need you to put your best slicer on this.”
Cracken had looked at him with that air of faint interest he manifested so well. “Are you looking -we looking-for anything in particular?”
“Omwat,” Wedge had said flatly. “There is not a word in any database on Coruscant. It might be in here somewhere.”
“Well,” Cracken had said, forbearing to comment. “We’ll take a look.”
Wedge hadn’t expected to hear anything this quickly. He and Cracken had a good working relationship, after their initial friction, but six days? Either the files were too corrupt to be sliced, or Intelligence had gone at them for their own purposes. Probably the latter.
Hopefully, the latter.
He shut off everything and left.
Arien Cracken’s hair was a memory of red, but his eyes were as keen as ever. Pash would look like this in another quarter century, Wedge thought. They had never gotten into the habit of shaking hands, and they didn’t now. Instead, the tall intelligence chief gestured at the datachip on his desk. “There you go, Wedge,” he said. “But I don’t think you’re going to be happy with it.”
“There’s nothing there?”
“No. There’re coordinates, all right. Out in the Outer Rim. But his notes are ... final.”
Wedge had been reaching to pick up the chip. He hesitated at that, and then went ahead and put it in his breast pocket. “How final?”
“I don’t think you’re going to like what you find.” Cracken leaned back. “I hope I’m wrong.”
“What makes you think I’m going?”
“What Pash had to say about you when you were his CO.” Cracken laughed shortly. “And my own experiences.”
“That’s why you get the big office, I guess,” said Wedge.
“Not much gets past us,” he smiled sardonically. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Wedge said sincerely. “Mind if I use your comm?”
“Not at all,” Cracken said, rising. “I’ll just amble out and talk to my aide for a minute. I don’t want to hear anything... because this didn’t happen.”
“Understood,” Wedge said. He called his office. “Sergeant Sunrunner? I do need you to clear my calendar. Get me a week, starting now.”
“Yes, sir. May I tell people why?”
“No, sergeant. Nobody needs to know.”
“Yes, sir.” One of Sunrunner’s many virtues was his lack of curiosity. “I’ll take care of it, sir. Sir, Coruscant Field Central should have your T-65 ready within the hour.”
“Thank you, sergeant.”
“Yes, sir. Have a good trip, sir.”
Qwi wasn’t in the apartment when he got there. Since he’d been rehearsing what he was going to say to her, how he was going to tell her, how much he was going to tell her, all the way from Cracken’s office, and not meeting with much success while he did, Wedge was glad. He didn’t even wonder where she’d gone. He wrote her a quick and uninformative note, changed out of his uniform into something more nondescript, and grabbed a few things, not many; there wasn’t a lot of extra space in the cockpit of an X-Wing, after all. Then he headed for Coruscant Main Field.
He had the driver drop him off outside Field Control. He walked into the office and inquired of the clerk as to his X-Wing’s status. After a moment, the field manager came out.
“The general’s T-65 will be ready in ten minutes, sir,” he said.
Wedge nodded, but his answer was cut off by the unexpected arrival of Han Solo, who leaned against the doorjamb and said, cheerfully, “The general won’t be needing his T-65.”
“I won’t?” Wedge said.
“Let’s go for a walk,” said Han, meaningfully.
Wedge hesitated, and then nodded. “But,” he said to the field manager, “don’t stop working.”
Once on the field, they were joined by Chewbacca, who rowled a greeting that Wedge returned before rounding on his taller countryman. “What are you doing here and what did you mean by that?”
“Leia sent me-”
“Leia? How did she find out?”
Han laughed. “You had a meeting with her day after tomorrow. Your secretary, whatsisname, is discretion itself, but don’t blame him for being unable to keep things from her. She’s very good at finding things out.”
Chewbacca agreed with that; so too, reluctantly, did Wedge. “I’m still going, Han.”
“Oh, I’m not here to talk you out of that, buddy,” said Han. “I expect that’s what Leia really wants, but I can’t see wasting my time like that. No, what I’m here for is to talk you into going wherever it is you’re going in the Falcon, with Chewie.”
“In the Falcon?”
“She’s better than any X-Wing.”
Wedge hesitated. There was no doubt of that. Nor was there much doubt that he’d be less conspicuous and more comfortable. “Chewbacca-do you want to do this? What about your honor debt?”
Chewbacca told him that, of course, his honor debt had been expanded to Leia when Han married her, and again to their children. And while caring for the children was simple as regarded the debt, Chewbacca frequently found himself caught between the other two. He’d come to the conclusion that the simplest way to deal with that was just not to let Han do things that made Leia want to kill him. Like letting Wedge go off by himself.
“Chewie says he’d love a vacation,” said Han, breezily.
Chewbacca laughed, and Wedge did, too. “Yeah,” he said to the Wookiee, “I guess he does get used to translating... how often does it match what you actually said? Ever?”
“All right, all right,” Han held up his hands in surrender. “The furball’s right, as usual. Leia doesn’t want you going off. I can’t stop you.”
“You got that right, anyway,” said Wedge.
“So, this is the next best thing. I can’t go, but Chewie’ll...” Han’s voice trailed off.
Wedge gave him a hard look. “What’s going on?”
Han glanced around, and then put an arm over Wedge’s shoulders. “Look,” he said confidentially, heading out toward the berthing bays and carrying Wedge with him. “I don’t know if you know this, so if you don’t you didn’t hear it from me... Leia’s under a lot of stress. Mon Mothma’s not just sick, she’s dying.”
Wedge broke stride. He hadn’t known that. He didn’t want to believe it. True, he hadn’t seen her at a Council meeting in a long time, but he’d been missing a lot of them lately himself. “Are you sure, Han?”
Han sighed, facing Wedge. “Leia’s sure. The politics is rough and getting rougher. I don’t do politics well, but... anyway, Mon Mothma’s dropping a lot of stuff on Leia and she can’t say no. And if she could-”
Wedge shook his head. “With Ackbar gone, it’d be Furgan in charge. Bad idea. Or Fey’lya,” he added after a thought, “and that’d be a worse one.”
“Somebody oughta just shoot that Bothan,” Han said in frustration. “He’s a lot more trouble than he’s worth.”
Chewie pointed out how much more trouble that would create. Han gave him an exasperated look. “I didn’t say I was going to... Anyway,” he turned back to Wedge, “Leia’s been running things for a while already, and it’s just gonna get harder on her. Luke’s off with-” he came a dead stop, obviously remembering how Wedge felt about Luke’s protégé. “He’s not around. He’s spendin’ all his time on Yavin, now, anyway. So I can’t go anywhere. Not right now. But Leia doesn’t need to be worryin’ about anybody else right now. Take Chewie with you.”
“Are you sure about Mon Mothma?”
“I know, Wedge,” Han said. “She’s always been there.”
Wedge shook his head, remembering something his father had once said, about thousands dying to spinward and tens of thousands to trailing, “but it shall not come near thee,” he quoted softly.
“What?” asked Han.
“Nothing,” Wedge shook his head again. Mon Mothma had always seemed so completely untouchable, serene, in control. In a very real sense, she had been the Rebellion. And she was the heart of the Alliance...
Han didn’t pursue it. He said, looking worried, “So, listen, buddy, do me a favor. Don’t dump anything more on Leia. Take Chewie.”
Chewbacca agreed, especially about not worrying Leia. Wedge knew about losing friends, didn’t he?
“Yeah, okay. Okay,” Wedge capitulated, not against his will. It was going to be a lot more pleasant trip in the Millennium Falcon than in an X-Wing, and Chewbacca was a lot better company than an R-4 astromech droid.
“Just one thing,” Han said warningly. “The last guy I lent her to left pieces of her behind.”
Wedge laughed. “Lando did pretty well to bring her back at all, Han. I swear I didn’t think she’d fit half the places he took her.”
“Yeah, well, just be careful with her.” Han looked up at the stock freighter’s irregular outline.
Chewbacca reminded Han that he’d be there. He wouldn’t let Wedge crash her into anything.
“Well, don’t,” said Han. Chewbacca waved a hand at him dismissively and let down the ramp.
Wedge slapped him on the shoulder. “Look, Han, I don’t expect anybody to be there. As long as nobody mistakes me for you, I’ll be fine.”
“For me?” Han asked incredulously, pointing at himself. “You’re kinda short to be me.”
“Next to Chewbacca we all look short,” Wedge pointed out, grinning.
“Yeah, maybe. But you’re not wearing bloodstripes, and I never wore a green shirt in my life.”
“So your friends will know the difference; it’s not them I’m worried about,” Wedge teased.
Chewbacca was of the opinion that Wedge didn’t know Han’s friends very well if that were true.
“Very funny, fuzzball,” said Han. “A week away from you will be a break.”
Chewbacca hoped Han was still thinking that after dealing with the kids and Threepio unassisted for a couple of days.
“Are you trying to get him to change his mind?” demanded Wedge. “Let’s get going.”
“Your sergeant said you’d be gone a week. Where do we come looking if you’re not back by then?” asked Han.
“Arien Cracken knows,” said Wedge.
“You military guys and your secrets,” Han shook his head, the very picture of openness and candor.
“We’re better than you politicians,” Wedge fired back, and Chewbacca laughed at them both.
“Ah, get out of here,” said Han. “And, may the Force be with you.”
“Thanks,” said Wedge, who made it a practice to take things in the spirit in which they were offered. “Take care of Leia; if you’re right, we’re really going to need her.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Han. “I’ll tell the field manager to stick your X-Wing back into storage.”
That had the ring of goodbye, and Chewbacca obviously thought so; he wrapped Han in a comprehensive hug and then walked up the ramp. Wedge and Han exchanged the quick, hard, one-armed embrace of Corellian men and Wedge followed the Wookiee into the stock freighter.
He shut the ramp and made his way to the cockpit. Chewbacca was already sitting in the copilot’s seat, starting the preps for take-off. Wedge stopped behind the Wookiee and said, “You ought to be in the other seat, Chewbacca.”
Chewbacca shook his head, gesturing as he pointed out that the other seat wasn’t very comfortable for his length of leg. He was used to sitting where he was, anyway.
Wedge shrugged and sat down in the pilot’s seat. It had been a long time since he’d been in anything this size, but his hands remembered where everything was. Cal Vs had the navicomps up and behind the pilot’s left shoulder just like YT-1500 freighters, and every Maudie he’d ever seen had subspace and atmospherics under the right hand. The rest of it was pretty intuitive. He found comms and called in for clearance while Chewbacca finished up preflight. They got clearance immediately (he pictured Han standing over the controllers’ shoulders, dropping Leia’s name), and slid through the sky towards one of Coruscant’s defense shield ports.
Wedge let Chewbacca handle the departure while he pulled the datachip out of his pocket and inserted it into the navicomp, entering start coordinates for some little way from their exit from the defense field. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself; funny how old habits came back. In the X-Wing, he’d have gone into hyperspace as soon as he could, and while some of that would have been logistics, more of it would have been don’t-care. In Rogue’s official green and grey flightsuit and the elemental simplicity of an Alliance Incom T-65, he had always gone straight at where he was going. But ten minutes in civvies and a battered light stock freighter, and out came Mirax’s lamented, lost smuggler. There was probably a moral there, but he didn’t feel like looking for it. He leaned back and waited for the navicomp, and enjoyed the ride.
It was odd, though; the last time he’d been out of uniform had been the Thyferran campaign, a little more than four years ago. At the time, he’d felt adrift. Now, he felt almost liberated. Of course, this was almost a game, and that hadn’t been anything like. He honestly hadn’t known whether the Alliance would take them back or what he’d do after Thyferra was liberated if they wouldn’t. He’d even woken up in a cold sweat several times, fighting off an entirely new nightmare, thanks to Tycho’s joking remark that, while Bror Jace’s family combine undoubtedly saw themselves as heir to power, the Vratix’ independence movement was likely to have its own ideas. “Since you’re breaking them free,” the Alderaanian had said, “they’re likely to offer you the throne. So to speak.”
Whether or not Qlaern had that in mind Wedge had never known, had never (and would have never, most likely) gotten up the courage to ask. More concretely, Mirax had offered him the Pulsar Skate late one night. “Father would prefer you to have her over Corran,” she’d said honestly enough, adding ruefully, “not that Corran wants her.” Which was probably why... but at any rate, Wedge couldn’t have taken Mirax’s ship. He’d probably have bought one of his own with his undoubted Thyferran profits-hiring out as mercs or a home guard didn’t really appeal-but his mind had fought shy of exploring a future that didn’t include the Alliance military. He’d told himself at the time that he didn’t have the leisure for such theorizing, and anyway there was no guarantee he’d be around to need a new career. And in the end, the Alliance had taken them all back as if they’d never left, and it hadn’t arisen.
Eleven years in uniform, well, eleven years in the Rebellion, anyway, and now it was fifteen years. All his adult life, almost half of his life, period. Maybe it was nothing more significant than Antilleses liking stability. Of course, the notion of calling the Rebellion stability made him laugh.
Chewbacca wanted to know the joke.
“I just realized, I need a vacation,” said Wedge. Of course, he’d had one, just a few months back, but it had ended badly... He shook his head. He didn’t want to think about that at the moment, just as he didn’t want to think about where he was going. He didn’t know what he was going to find, there wasn’t any point in worrying about it. More to the point, he knew, he didn’t know what he wanted to find, and he also knew the main reason he had left at flank speed was to prevent himself from finding reasons not to go at all. He’d always been that way; he could remember, clear as starlight, his father hauling him physically to a stop on the morning of his sixteenth birthday.
“Slow down, Wedge,” Grey had said, his eyes with that trick they’d had of showing amusement overlying concern. “You’re barely sublight. You want to get to Tralus that badly? It’ll still be there if it takes a couple of hours more.”
“I want to get back home that badly,” Wedge remembered saying. “I don’t want to go to Tralus at all.”
Grey had tousled his son’s hair and then rested his hand on Wedge’s shoulder. “I know. But ‘needs must’ drives ‘wants not’ and always has. The trick is learning to like ‘must’ more.”
“Do you?” Wedge had never asked that before, not seriously at any rate.
Grey had looked at him gravely for a moment, and then, with a slight smile, he’d said, “I said it was a trick. Sometimes I do. Specifically, today, no.” Wedge remembered the surprise and actual pleasure he’d felt; his father had never answered him so truthfully on the subject. “Not at all. I don’t like having to prove twice a year that my son’s learning half again as much as other kids, and learning it better. The thing is, you are. You make me damned proud, Wedge. And every five months I get to show everybody else why I am. The rest of the time I have to keep it hidden so you won’t get conceited.”
Wedge, who’d had a steady diet of praise from both parents as long as he could remember, had snickered.
“Yeah? You think not? That’s why I beat you, boy,” Grey had snagged his son in a wrestling hold, attempting to bear him down, but although Wedge still hadn’t reached even his father’s modest height, Booster had taught him a few tricks and he could win as often as not. They had scuffled playfully, Grey saying, “You know we just keep you around for free labor,” as he managed to get the upper hand.
Wedge had retorted, “You couldn’t afford me if you had to pay me what I’m worth,” and Grey had collapsed on top of him, laughing.
Mrendy’s voice had interrupted them; they’d scrambled to get up but not quite quickly enough. “Are you ready-boys. Oh, Grey. Honestly.” She’d crossed her arms and stared at them. “Wedge, go change that shirt. Grey, do you want him to look like a throwaway at the TestCenter?”
Grey had pulled Wedge to his feet and fingercombed his hair, while saying, “Oh, Mrendy; our boy could never look like a throwaway.”
And Wedge had added, “I’ve got a change in the Skipper, Mom. I’m all right.”
She’d looked at them sternly. “I don’t know if it’s safe to let you two go off by yourselves.”
“I’ll bring you back something nice,” Grey had said, smiling at her.
“Just bring Wedge back,” she’d said, and Wedge had stopped tucking in his shirt and hugged her.
“I’ll be back, Mom. I know all this stuff....”
Wedge came back to the present with a jolt as Chewbacca repeated his question, louder, which made it pretty loud. “Sorry,” he said to the Wookiee as he checked the navicomp. “I was about a parsec away.”
Chewbacca shrugged. It was pretty obvious Wedge had a lot on his mind. As far as Chewbacca was concerned, this was a vacation, and he really didn’t mind how long it took.
“Thanks, Chewie,” said Wedge, as he prepared to engage the hyperdrive. “It’s the near edge of the Outer Rim. Can the Falcon run all out?”
Chewbacca gave his snuffling chuckle. The Falcon could always run full speed, except when she couldn’t even make the jump...
Wedge laughed too. “Okay. Shouldn’t take us more’n twelve hours.”
Good; Chewbacca was always glad for a chance to eat and sleep.
Wedge grinned as the stars exploded around the Millennium Falcon and they left Coruscant for the Outer Rim via the nowhere of hyperspace.
Chewbacca ran his eyes over his board, and then stood, stretching. It was suppertime, he felt; did Wedge want anything?
“If it’s no trouble,” said Wedge, “otherwise, I can fix myself something.”
The Falcon’s galley was as idiosyncratic as the rest of her, Chewie informed him; he’d fix something Corellian, like Han ate, if that would do.
“Do?” Wedge smiled. Nobody on Coruscant cooked Corellian-style, at least nobody Wedge had ever found. “It will be wonderful.”
Chewie grinned at him and then left. Wedge stretched and observed hyperspace through the window in front of him. It had been a while since he’d been this close, Yavaris was too big for the feeling of it to really get through. He enjoyed it, even on a cruiser, and on a small ship, or in a fighter especially, it energized him. Not everyone liked it, he knew some species even had to be drugged to tolerate it, but he loved the feeling of hyperspace, like a humming deep in his bones, the singing of the stars reaching beyond the ordinary... maybe someday he’d tell that to Qwi and she’d make music out of it.
What, he wondered idly, had people done when they were confined to planets? How could you go anywhere when it would take decades to get there; how would you even know there was anywhere to go? When the only stars you knew were those strong enough to push their way through your atmosphere, how did you even know what stars were? When he’d been studying the early history of the Sector, he’d asked who’d invented hyperdrive. Mrendy had told him nobody knew, they’d always had it, or at least they’d had it so long nobody remembered not having it. “Whoever discovered hyperdrive (‘invented,’ Grey had interpolated, ‘and discovered hyperspace’), her name (‘I thought you were teaching him history’) is lost, like whoever discovered electricity, or plastic-” Wedge shook his head sharply and stood up.
What was wrong with him lately? The smallest things reminded him of moments from five years ago, ten, longer. But he wasn’t just remembering them, he was falling into them, submerging in them, almost becoming lost in them. He was hearing Tycho’s voice, feeling his father’s hand in his hair, and even seeing his office drenched in Varra Gus’s jade light... Maybe he did need a vacation. Whatever, he needed to get it under control. He didn’t have time for nostalgia.
He walked aft and leaned in the doorway of the galley. Chewbacca glanced up; he was just finishing dishing up what Wedge’s nose told him was nerf stewed with dumplings. When was the last time he’d had that? It must have been when he was sixteen... he shook his head again with a snort of irritation. What is wrong with you? Not three minutes ago you say haven’t got time for nostalgia, and look at you... should have asked for something Alderaanian. Or Wookiee, that wouldn’t have come with memories as a side.
Chewbacca looked upset. Did Wedge not like nerf and dumplings?
“No, in fact I love ’em. My mom used to make ‘em all the time,” Wedge assured the Wookiee.
Bad memories? Chewbacca was ready to apologize, but Wedge shook his head.
“No, Chewie,” he said, taking the plate into the Falcon’s ‘passenger lounge’, a done-over cargo hold next to the galley. “Nothing but good memories.” And that’s the problem... nothing but.
Still... it was a good meal, and Wedge tucked into it with real enjoyment. Han had Rhyferrlan ale on board and Wedge downed a couple, while Chewbacca had several of his own to go with his under-(if)cooked whatever it was. Wedge didn’t want to ask. After eating, he got beaten quite badly at a holographic battle game Chewbacca was fond of. As the last of his little translucent critters had its neck wrung, Wedge finished his third ale and said, laughing, “Don’t let me get talked into playing this for money with anyone, Chewie.”
Chewbacca laughed. Wedge was better than Han, he allowed as he shut off the game board.
“You’re kidding,” said Wedge. “How can anybody be worse at this than that?”
Han, the Wookiee told him, tended to get emotionally involved with his playing pieces. Five minutes into a game and half of them had names, and then the man started making bad moves to protect his favorites... Wedge could beat him, easily. And Han loved to bet.
“I’ll bear that in mind,” said Wedge, grinning.
Chewbacca rose, stretching. He was going to get some sleep. If they were going to be where they were going in nine and half hours, Wedge might want get some, too. Not to worry, he added, if they got yanked out of hyperspace, the Falcon always had her shields up and had alarms, to boot.
“I’ll sleep,” Wedge nodded. “I’ve been up since early.”
Chewie vanished toward the crew area. Wedge sat for a bit, wondering when was the last time anybody had worried about how much sleep he was getting, and then stood up and made his way towards the cockpit, stopping to pick up one last ale on his way. He stood for a moment, leaning on the back of the pilot’s chair and looking at hyperspace, and then made up his mind. He reached up and pulled the datachip out of the navicomp and sat down. He pushed the chip into the datareader built into the console and scanned past the navigational data to the text.
[[W - there was almost nothing in the files on your topic. We did find, and pulled, the loc., and here’s the only relevant entry from what’s left of T’s personal logs. -AC]] The Emperor’s designer is [taking] all the credit for the Death Star. I cannot say that I am surprised, considering the treatment meted out to him when he fails. It is of no matter, of course; Xux has no interest in the battle [station] now that it has left her drawing boards. She had, for that matter, lost interest in it before the prototype was completed. She has already moved to a new, more elegant weapon, and I have every confidence that even more will be [forth]coming. It is unfortunate that Omwat will produce no more Xuxes, but the product is cheap [at the] cost. If the cloning facilities can be restored... or perhaps parthen[ogenetic] breeding. But any need to reproduce Xux lies in the future.“Final” Cracken had called it, and Wedge had to admit it sounded final. He took another drink and reread the entry, and then removed the datachip. It also raised a question he hadn’t thought of before, probably because there wasn’t anything to be done about it: Qwi and children. He didn’t know if she even wanted children. He turned the datachip over in his fingers.
“The hell with it,” he said aloud and finished his ale. Chewie was right. If he didn’t get some sleep before they arrived, he’d be running on empty. He put the datachip back into his vest pocket and stood up, heading back toward the crew area. They’d be there soon enough, all the questions would be answered then. There was no point in sitting around and brooding.
Chewbacca had left the door open to Wedge’s-Han’s-cabin. He had also pulled down the bunk and left the holdall open, and empty... Wedge shook his head. He was going to have to talk to him about that; Wedge wasn’t his responsibility. Whatever the relationship between the Wookiee and Han Solo, Chewie owed Wedge no honor debt. And Chewbacca wasn’t in the Fleet, for Wedge’s rank to matter. And the Falcon was certainly not Wedge’s ship. Wedge had always found it hard enough when people whose job it was did things for him he could (should) be doing for himself. Tyree had set him straight on that, but Chewbacca didn’t work for Wedge, and Wedge could make up his own bunk without the war effort grinding to a halt. First thing in the morning...
Wedge stood beside the bunk and pulled off his boots. He chucked them into the holdall under the bunk, added his bag, and latched it shut. He hung his shirt and vest on the hook by the door. Then he sat on the bunk and ran his hands through his hair, linking them together behind his head and leaning against the bulkhead. The Falcon’s engines thrummed against his shoulders, soothing as a back rub. After a moment, he pulled the blanket loose and lay down, putting his back against the partition and wrapping himself in the covers. He didn’t expect to sleep, but he did.
Wedge woke when he wanted, as usual, and in his usual morning fog. He rarely remembered his dreams, even nightmares that woke him, unless he made special effort, which he generally didn’t. This morning, he had a peaceful feeling that, once he was awake enough to recognize it, made him reach for the dream, but it was too late. It was gone. He lay there, half-awake, for a few minutes, and then decided he really did need to get up. He sat up, and was disoriented for a moment; where the hell -- Oh. Right. The Millennium Falcon. He raked his hands through his hair, yawning, and got out of bed.
Caff. There had to be caff in the galley. Did Han drink it? He couldn’t remember. No matter. There had to be some; Leia drank it. Not bothering with his boots, or thinking about his shirt, he made his way to the galley.
There was caff. Once he found it, Wedge put it on to brew, his mind on autopilot, and waited for it to finish. One of his fondest memories of Tycho was waking up with a cup of caff four inches from his nose... Stop that, he commanded himself. Keep your mind focused on today. It’s going to be difficult enough to get through if you’re paying attention to it. Halfway through his second cup he was awake enough to start thinking about breakfast. Maybe Han stored breakfast rolls, with those little cubes of meat in them? He did. Wedge smiled in satisfaction and put them in to heat. By the time Chewbacca got out to the galley, Wedge was completely awake and ready to make his shipmate’s breakfast once he found out what the Wookiee wanted to eat.
Fruit, the Wookiee said, and five or six of those rolls. He could heat them himself--
“Chewie, I can heat them up,” said Wedge. “I’ve successfully done three already. Here, take one while I put more in.”
Chewbacca hesitated, and then took the roll and piled fruit onto a plate. He took it into the lounge and sat. His eyes followed Wedge for a moment more, and then he began to eat. After a few minutes Wedge brought out the rest of the rolls and sat down as well. In answer to Chewbacca’s question he said, “We’ve got about forty minutes. Plenty of time. I’ll get dressed in a minute, and clean up the galley.”
Chewbacca pointed out that Wedge had made breakfast; he would clean up.
Wedge shook his head decisively. “No. Yesterday you cooked and cleaned; I’ll do the same thing.” Chewbacca looked unhappy, so Wedge pushed it a little. “Sith, Chewie, it’s your ship. I should be doing all the work.”
“Chewie,” said Wedge, “we need to get this straight. I can take care of myself, I’ve been doing it for a long time now --”
Too long, Chewbacca opined.
That threw Wedge off his stride for a minute; he had no idea what Chewbacca meant by it. “The point is,” he resumed, “I know how much sleep I need. I know when to eat. I don’t need to be coddled. It’s your ship-”
Wedge was a guest, Chewbacca said.
“This is so much better than an X-Wing, I should be paying you for the privilege.”
Han wanted it, and Leia would be annoyed, severely annoyed, if anything happened to Wedge; of course he had to come on the Falcon.
“Nothing is likely to happen to me in the galley, Chewie. I can make caff in my sleep, usually do, and the day I can’t stick something in the oven for three minutes--”
That wasn’t the point. Chewbacca didn’t mind cooking, he liked it.
“Cooking is the least of it, Chewie,” said Wedge patiently. There wasn’t any point in getting annoyed over this, Chewie meant well. And he’d gotten into habits with Han, obviously... “We’re equals. You can fly the Falcon better than I. I can make up my own bunk. I can fix my own meals. I can fix your meals, too. You’re not a noncom, and I’m not Owner-Captain here. Okay?”
Leia, the Wookiee began, but Wedge interrupted him. “Leia is not responsible for me, Chewie. I’m not her brother. I love her dearly, but she’s married to Han.” He added, quickly, “And he isn’t any relation to me, either. I can take care of myself, you don’t need to do it.”
Wedge was very young, Chewbacca observed.
Wedge blinked. He hadn’t expected that. “Eight, ten years younger than Han, maybe, but that’s not young. I’m thirty-two, which may sound young to a bicentenarian but is well over adult for a human.”
Then Wedge had been thirteen the first time they met, Chewbacca said.
It still surprised Wedge that Chewie had remembered that, let alone recognized him after six years, six pretty eventful years in an age span that changed a human a lot. “Yeah,” he nodded. “But that was a long time ago.”
True enough, as such things went. But Wedge had been very young when his parents had died; too young.
“That was sixteen years ago,” said Wedge. “And you have no responsibility for me even if I was still sixteen. I can watch out for myself, Chewie. I really can. You can take it easy on this trip. Relax.”
Chewbacca was silent for a moment. Then he shrugged and, with a slightly embarrassed look in his eyes, said that Wedge was right, but... It wasn’t because the Falcon was idiosyncratic. And it wasn’t for Han, or even for Leia. It was because Wedge spoke Shyriiwook just for its own sake; because nineteen years ago a Wookiee fresh from Imperial slavery and looking at a life-debt’s exile from Kashyyyk and clan and family had been shown that his prospects weren’t as bleak as he’d thought. It was because he’d met a provincial maintenance station manager who hadn’t blinked at his wife and son’s spending time with a Wookiee, a boy who was shy but polite and friendly, and a woman who not only knew his language but spoke with him, chatting and laughing, asking about his family and offering him food and hospitality. And through the years that had followed, when over and over humans had assumed that if they couldn’t understand him he didn’t understand them, or that he was more a trained animal than a person; when they talked around him, or about him; when they simply ignored him... through all of that the memory of the Gus Treta station had become ever more precious.
His final statement was, simply, unanswerable: it was for Wedge’s mother’s sake.
For your mother’s sake. There was nothing to say to that but a soft “Okay”.
Chewbacca nodded. Then he picked up the plates and went into the galley. Wedge sat there a while longer, remembering Mrendy and Chewbacca nineteen years ago, remembering the woof of pleasure when the Wookiee realized the woman understood him, and the way the two of them had chattered away while Grey had dealt with the not-quite-yet-legendary Han Solo. Grey had kidded him afterwards that most boys would have been hanging around the dashing, daring captain, but Wedge had been more interested in the first mate. It had been because of that afternoon that Wedge had gotten Mrendy to teach him Shyriiwook, ‘just for its own sake’, over and above the six languages he had to learn for school. He had forgotten why, but now he remembered: because Chewbacca had been so courtly to Mrendy because she treated him like a person; somehow, at thirteen, Wedge had perceived how unusual that was. Not for Mrendy, who treated everyone like a person whether she understood them or not, but for the tall, shaggy alien. For your mother’s sake. It might not be an honor debt, but it was a debt all the same.
Chewbacca startled him out of his reverie by touching his bare shoulder. It was ten minutes to dropout; Wedge should get dressed.
Wedge nodded. “Right. I’ll be right out.” He stood up, and then added, “I really don’t think we’re going to find anything here. At least, nothing threatening.”
Better safe than sorry, Chewbacca said.
Wedge nodded and went back to his cabin. Nothing threatening. Well, nothing life-threatening. Nothing armed and shooting at them, anyway. He didn’t know but what he’d have preferred otherwise; at least it would be clear and unambiguous. And he could shoot back.
He sat on the bunk and pulled on his boots, and then he smoothed over the covers and latched the holdall, and swung the bunk up out of the way ... doubles took up a lot of room, he reflected, and Corelli Systems stock freighters weren’t yachts. They might have been made to carry at least four crewmen, but not in as much comfort as this. Han, or somebody, had obviously spent a lot of time redoing the cabins. Han’s had a casual neatness about it, nothing was shiny or sharp-edged or labeled, but everything was tucked away somewhere; no amount of fast maneuvering or even grav changes would knock anything loose. No pictures... Wedge understood why Leia and the kids weren’t here; Corellians didn’t display pictures of the people they saw everyday, only the dead or the gone. Apparently Han had no one gone, and missed none of his dead. Wedge wasn’t sure if that was a state to be envied or not.
Or maybe, he thought, as he took his shirt off the hook, maybe Han just didn’t have any pictures of them. He so very nearly hadn’t had one of his dead...
He walked back up to the cockpit, tucking in his shirt as he did. When he got there, Chewbacca looked around and informed him that they were nearing dropout, he should strap in. He settled into the pilot’s seat, reaching up for the navicomp as he sat. He punched in the coordinates for Yag’Dhul, just in case; you could always lose yourself at Booster’s home base. At least, you could if he liked you, Wedge thought, smiling to himself. The move was almost certainly unnecessary, but better safe than sorry. He strapped in while waiting for the navicomp to deliver the solution.
Beside him, Chewbacca was checking guns. Wedge took a moment to admire the way the Falcon was jury-rigged to allow the copilot to double as gunner; that mass of cabling and wires looked a right disaster, but obviously worked: YT-1500 freighters were designed for a crew which included two gunners, as Lando had flown her at Endor, but the Millennium Falcon had been a two-man ship for a couple of decades and survived some rough times. Wedge had never heard of one besides her that successfully ran so undercrewed. He glanced up at the navicomp, and then the console chrono, and then asked, “Did you do this gunnery rigging?”
The Wookiee barked an affirmative.
“It’s nice work,” Wedge said appreciatively.
The navicomp interrupted Chewbacca’s grouse about the hydraulics. He blinked at Wedge and inquired if Wedge thought the Trenti maneuver was necessary. He hoped not, because the Falcon wasn’t very nimble on instant turnarounds; Han always found it better to come in ready to fight.
“No,” said Wedge, “I don’t really expect it.” He grinned. “Don’t tell me there’s something a Cal V can do better than the Falcon?”
Chewbacca allowed as how there were probably several things, regardless of Han’s opinion. But the Falcon was both faster and gun-heavier than any Cal V, as well as carried more cargo, so it balanced. It was just habit, then, setting up for the Trenti?
Wedge nodded. “Booster Terrik taught me to do that, sixteen years ago. He, ah, was pretty insistent about my learning it. It’s come in handy in the past...” Just for a moment he recalled explaining that same maneuver to a much shorter, slimmer, and greyer-furred alien, as he and Kiplir had prepared to drop out of hyperspace near Arownyow... Chewbacca’s next question pulled him out of the memory.
“Where are we?” Wedge repeated, astonished. “Living stars, you mean I haven’t said?”
No, he hadn’t, said Chewbacca. He’d said the Outer Rim, and that was all, and that was a rather large section of real estate.
“Damn,” said Wedge. “I thought I had. I’m sorry. I’ve been in another dimension or something this whole week... longer.”
Problems?, inquired Chewbacca. Arien Cracken was frequently involved with problems, wasn’t he?
“That’s certainly one way of putting it,” agreed Wedge. “But Arien’s not the problem, closer to the solution. Of a different problem, though,” he added, thinking about it. “This is something else. Maybe I’m getting old.”
Chewbacca laughed, showing teeth in real amusement. Wedge had told him how old he was, and thirty-two wasn’t old, even for humans. For A Besseids it was old; well, on reflection Chewie had to admit that for A Besseids it was five-six years dead.
Wedge smiled at that, and then said, “I don’t know, Chewie. I’m starting to feel old. Every little thing is dragging me into a memory nowadays. Not just reminding me of something, burying me in it. It’s like... oh, I don’t know. Senility or something. Slap me the next time you notice it -- or,” he corrected hastily, “tap me.”
Chewbacca chuckled, but then said he didn’t think Wedge needed to be concerned about it, it would pass.
“You think?” said Wedge, but broke off as the alarm sounded and the Falcon shuddered and then punched her way into normal space. For a few minutes both of them were occupied, shutting down hyperspace systems and putting sublight ones on-line, scanning for anyone who might be around, making sure all shields were functional. They wouldn’t need the Trenti maneuver; no one was there. They were alone in the Outer Rim, the almost starless arch of the intergalactic emptiness dominating their view and making the galaxy that filled the rest of it twice as bright, three times, as it usually appeared. One of the Rim’s lonely stars burned in solitary glory ahead of them, empty blackness behind it.
Wedge stared in silence. Lines from Stardog's Journey, an old children's book he, like most Corellians, had practically memorized, came to his mind: Way far away, long and far beyond the Hinterlands that lie long and far beyond the Outliers, where the galaxy flings the great spiral edge of its trailing Rim into the deep, dark, cold, stark, black emptiness of the interstellar Void, that's where the Stardogs live ... the wonderful slashy splashy black of the Void beyond the sweet, scattery Rim, where the stars spray out against the emptiness just so and the galaxy leans just there.... From this sky, black slashed with star-smeared streaks, to the chaos of the Maw -- no wonder Qwi found even Coruscant’s nights star-filled and delightful.
Chewbacca threw a couple of toggles, and then resumed the conversation, stating that yes, he did.
It took Wedge a minute to remember what they’d been saying. “Really?” he asked.
Chewbacca nodded. It seemed pretty obvious what was bothering Wedge, and he’d get over it.
“Glad you think so,” said Wedge. “What?”
The Wookiee canted his head to one side, wrinkling his nose as he spoke. Wedge’s woman (he hesitated over the phrase) had no past; Han said she didn’t remember anything at all since she was a child. Wedge, Chewbacca thought, was worrying about her, and refusing to admit it -- like a real Corellian, because there wasn’t anything he could do about it, he figured he just had to accept it. But it was too much, so it was coming out in this way: Wedge’s own past was dominating his thoughts because she couldn’t remember hers. Plus, Chewbacca added, Wedge was spending a lot of time remembering things for her, or so Leia said, so his mind was in the habit... He’d get over it, said Chewbacca, once it sorted itself out.
Wedge thought about that. It made sense. Corellians didn’t ask the odds, but they knew when there weren’t any. What can’t be cured, his mother had said, must be endured. And his father had been fond of If you don’t have air, you can’t breathe Even Qwi had said it, Facts aren’t opinions, they can’t be changed no matter how much you rage against them... But it wasn’t in the Corellian mindset to really believe that: they looked for cures; they held their breath; they argued with the universe. They fought back. They figured, as Grey had once said, his arm around his son’s shoulders, you might as well try to breathe vacuum, what the hell have you got to lose at that point.
“I hope you’re right,” he said finally. “It’s a nuisance, if not worse.”
Chewbacca nodded confidently. Wedge could trust him, he was right. He knew.
“I hope so,” Wedge repeated. “Thanks, Chewie.”
Chewbacca shrugged. No problem, he said; just one thing -- where were they?
Wedge had to laugh. When he could, he said, simply, “Omwat.” At Chewbacca’s puzzled look, he added, “Qwi’s homeworld. I hope... I think.”
Think it was her homeworld, or think he hoped, asked Chewie shrewdly.
“I don’t know,” said Wedge candidly.
Chewbacca suggested they just go look, then.
Wedge nodded. Omwat’s sun (‘the sun,’ Qwi had said, ‘I don’t know what name it had’) danced ahead of them in the darkness. Several planets accompanied it, but at this distance it was impossible to tell if they were partners, alive as it was alive, or merely grace notes in its dance. He pointed the Falcon at it and kicked in the sublight engines. They’d know soon enough.
Soon enough, all the questions would have answers. All that would remain was learning to live with them.
They drew close enough to the system to see details. Wedge wasn’t expecting it to be hard to guess which planet was Omwat; few systems offered more than one planet for living on. The Corellian System, with its five worlds not only habitable but inhabited from ancient times, was unmatched. Most had only the one, a handful two, and a few, so small a number you could easily memorize their names, three. His expectations were met. Omwat had six siblings: one little rocky world racing close to their parent star; another tiny one, this frozen, at the far edge of the system; three gas giants, two orange and one ringed and yellow; and one planet which was red and rocky and lifeless, and close enough to see in the night sky when anyone had been on Omwat to be looking up into the night. It was indeed easy enough to tell which was Omwat: it was the dead one. The murdered one.
Wedge had been to Alderaan since its death. He had flown the edge of the Graveyard remembering the planet’s life, and watched as a Star Destroyer was ground into rubble by what remained of a once-thriving world. But in some ways Omwat’s corpse was worse than the remnants of shattered Alderaan.
It wasn’t just because Qwi was the last of her people, while Alderaanians were, if not numerous, at least a sizable and influential group; not just that Alderaan was remembered daily, its Graveyard the goal of pilgrimages and a thing to swear by, while Omwat was forgotten -- more accurately, had never been known. That was indeed part of it, but only part. Alderaan’s relic was startling and obvious, immediately apparent to the unaware starfarer who approached; its death had been sudden, unexpected, and, although monstrous, a tactical move in the war. Qwi’s homeworld circled its sun in the path it had always taken, affecting space and hyperspace as it had always done, looking to the casual eye much as it had always seemed, but it was black and scoured of life, less a corpse than a shadow. Tarkin had killed it slowly, over two years, reducing it to a charred ruin in order to produce his one exquisite gem. But despite what he’d told her, there was none of it spared, nothing was left there, no thing and no one. Tarkin was thorough and ruthless: Omwat would indeed ‘produce no more Xuxes’.
The Corellian and the Wookiee were both silent as the Millennium Falcon approached Omwat’s orbit. Wedge finally broke the silence, saying quietly, almost prayerfully, “Black, dead stars.”
Chewbacca snarled an endorsement of that sentiment, adding a comment on Tarkin’s ancestry and personal hygiene.
Wedge’s answer, a heartfelt agreement, was cut short by the Falcon’s proximity alarms. Chewbacca swore and banked the stock freighter. In her blind spot, detectable only by her at-the-moment-ignored sensors, was a small station, hanging in a near-planet orbit above Omwat’s northern hemisphere. Lights shone on it, and for a moment Wedge thought of the Maw Installation, still fully staffed and functional a dozen years after Tarkin’s death. But this station just sat there, showing no signs of life beyond the illumination. Chewbacca acquired a target lock, but held off firing, cocking his head, wrinkling his forehead, and mrowing his puzzlement in a half-finished query.
“I think,” Wedge said slowly, “I think it’s empty.”
Life support seemed to be working, noted Chewbacca, looking at his sensor displays. So did power, heat, grav... But he thought Wedge was right; there was no one home.
They looked at each other in silence for a long moment. Wedge wanted to go onto the station as much as he’d ever wanted anything, but he hesitated to say so. This wasn’t Chewbacca’s quest, after all, and who knew what Tarkin had left behind? But before he could speak, the Wookiee did, observing that Han had ‘acquired’, don’t ask how, a number of old Imperial codes. If one of them worked they could activate the station’s magnetic shield and enter its docking bay. Did Wedge know when the station was likely to have been abandoned?
“About twelve years ago, I guess,” said Wedge. He wasn’t going to argue it with Chewie this time. And he certainly wasn’t going to ask about probably illicit activities on Han’s part; he wasn’t CorSec and he didn’t work for Arien Cracken, either. Besides, Han was a flag officer himself, and husband of a senator who was on the Council; why shouldn’t he have captured Imperial codes?
He had that one. The station welcomed them aboard.
Or at least, it didn’t blast them dead when the Falcon slipped through its magnetic shield and settled carefully onto the surface of the docking bay. That was probably the best they could expect from an Imperial science station, which the insignia painted on the walls proclaimed this to be. They looked at each other silently, and then, in unspoken agreement, they went for their weapons.
Wedge pulled his blaster out of the bag in the holdall and looked at it thoughtfully a moment. It was his old Pechora, with a worn leather belt, lighter in weight and appearance than the more popular BlasTechs, that hadn’t been new when he’d gotten it on Ralla. He didn’t wear it much any more, though he of course kept it in good working condition. In fact, he hadn’t carried it in nearly ten years: Ord Mandell, with Tycho... who’d told him he looked like he belonged on some Alderaanian holodrama called Patrol Posted. And he’d told Tycho the best they could hope for was that they’d all think Tycho’d been cashiered from the service, he was so obviously military. He smiled at the memory, and buckled on the Pechora, tying it off above the right knee. There wasn’t a mirror in Han’s cabin, but Wedge imagined that, externally at any rate, the transformation was complete again, and Mirax’s regretted smuggler would have looked back at him if there had been.
He rejoined Chewie, who was carrying his bowcaster, and they let down the ramp.
The station felt empty. There was no dust, true, but the air seemed stale though it tasted pure enough. Wedge’s footsteps echoed sharply in the bay as they walked slowly out of the Falcon, ringing against the walls and dying slowly against the magnetic shield that kept the air in. When Chewbacca spoke, gesturing in the direction he meant to go, to look at engineering, his growling words bounced off the walls, too. Wedge nodded at the Wookiee instead of speaking, hesitating to add to the echoes. Chewie didn’t speak again either, just nodded back and padded silently off.
Wedge headed in the opposite direction. Frankly, he had no idea where he was going, but he trusted Chewie knew the layout; one Imperial station was probably much like another, and the Wookiee had spent more than a few years laboring on them. Of course, if he ended up in engineering, while Chewie fetched up in a barracks or somewhere, it might go a long way toward getting rid of that shy thirteen-year-old Chewie apparently couldn’t forget. He smiled slightly and toggled open the door.
The corridor curved away from him, its floor clean and bare. A mousebot trundled around the bend, skittered to a stop, and fled away from him, bouncing off the wall... needs a memory wipe, Wedge thought. A thin line of windows ran along the outside wall, letting in the view of dead Omwat and its indifferent, still singing sun. On the inner wall, as he walked forward, he saw a door. The lock panel glowed green beside it. Wedge paused, took a deep breath, and touched the pad.
The door slid open with only a faint hesitation. The room behind it was dark, though illumination began to grow almost as soon as the door opened, and there were no controls that Wedge could see. There were no windows, either. Whoever had lived in this room had been dependent on their doorkeeper for light. And someone had lived here. It was a dorm, Wedge guessed. Five bunkbeds stood along the walls, two opposite the door and one next to it, and one more on either end of the room. Nine of the beds held only a rolled up mattress. The tenth, an upper, was still made up, though rather spartanly, with a thin blanket and flat pillow. Wedge stared at that evidence of Tarkin’s display of failure and result, and felt his jaw clench.
Double-doored wardrobes stood between the beds. Wedge cautiously opened one next to an unmade bunk. It was completely empty. So were the next three. The final one, though, held something: two plain, black jumpsuits, small, though long in the leg and arm. And on its floor, where whatever housekeeping droids there were had judged it belonged, lay a thin, copper-colored chain, a bracelet Wedge decided, dropping to his heels and carefully picking it up. He rubbed his thumb over its central lozenge, enameled with a blue flower, and stood up. He had a bad feeling about this. Dropping the bracelet into one of the pockets in his vest, he took a last look around the room. Nothing else.
He walked back into the corridor and touched the keypad. The room began to darken as soon as the door began closing. He turned and started along the corridor before the door was completely shut. Somewhat further than the length of the room he found another door. Taking a deep breath, he keyed that one open, too.
This room had been a study center, he supposed. Five carrels, backed up against five more, ran down the center of the room. Each of them held an in-surface data displayer and a keyboard. Had held, Wedge realized; nine of the displays showed the melted, even shattered result of a blaster hit. Again, he checked the drawers of those nine first. But this time the tenth carrel was as bare as they were. He pushed the power switch.
password:blinked on the screen in pale blue against the black. He shut it off again; he was no slicer at the best of times. He looked around the room; large screen displays lined the walls, but they were all off. He tried turning them on, but only the one still worked. The nine showed frost-lacings across their screens, but the tenth gave him a closely written equation that was far beyond his physics. If physics it was. He stared at it for a while, but it told him no secrets, and he shut it off. There was nothing else to see, and he left, heading along the curve towards whatever was waiting.
Another door. This one opened into a much smaller room, and one with light controls. This had been somebody’s office. Only one thing was left here besides chairs and an empty desk; that was a large holoscreen on the wall. It was dull, but a line of words began pulsing across the side of it when Wedge approached.
Display: Full Cycle / Last Version / New?Wedge reached out and touched the command line, asking for the full cycle. The screen went blank, except for the command
Stop?at the bottom, and then displayed the pictures of ten children, four across the top and bottom and one more on either side. In the center section was a map of Omwat itself. The map showed the continents, divided by border lines in soft green, against a blue sea. Wedge reached out and touched the command, freezing the picture for a moment.
The children were all Omwati. They ranged from Qwi’s pale blue to a fairly dark, almost navy shade, but all of them had light hair, fair to pearly, and dark eyes, indigo, brown, black... Six were girls, he guessed, because six of them had longer hair than the others, a couple of them nearly downy still. The other four’s hair was spiky, short. Those, he thought, were boys. Because Qwi was one of the longer-haired ones. He’d picked her out quickly from the portraits, bottom row, second from the left; it was, in fact, a little spooky how quickly he’d picked her out. But it was wonderful to see just what was racial -- the arch of the eyebrows, the texture of the hair, the size of the pupils, the proportion of the jaw, and the length of the neck -- and what was Qwi -- the coloring, the delicate complexion and the darkness of the eyes, the pearlescence of the hair; the slant of her cheekbones; the tip-tilt of her nose; the slight sideways stare; the strength in her mouth, and the hint of obstinacy; and the lurking, almost buried humor.
He looked at Qwi’s portrait long enough to memorize it. Finally, though, he had to see the “full cycle”, and he touched the
Resumecommand on the screen. A section of the map went black, and the picture next to Qwi’s acquired a red slash across the slender, spiky-haired face. Wedge swore. He swore again as a second child’s picture was slashed, and another section of the map went dark, but was silent as the other seven suffered the same fate, leaving only Qwi’s picture undefaced, and just one section of the large southern continent glowing a soft green. He stared at the portrait and the lying map for a while longer, he wasn’t sure how long, and then he hit the Off command with his fist, shivering the display before it blanked out again. He very nearly put his fist right through the whole screen, but refrained.
Instead, he just left the office and headed on down the corridor. Unless he’d completely lost track, and he was willing to admit to being distracted, he was nearly halfway along the perimeter of the station. He was not entirely startled, then, to come to a door across the corridor. Its keypad was also uncoded, and when Wedge touched it, the door slid open and revealed a large room, possibly a briefing room or lecture room. The outer wall, for the entire curving length of the room, which was about the same size as the docking bay, was filled with a window onto the Rim, the limb of the dark planet just visible along the edge of the transparency.
Station-born, Wedge was aware of the movement of this place without really noticing it. As he looked out into the ragged starfield framed by the gray walls, he could guess that Omwat would fill the view completely in another nine hours, maybe a little longer. With no reference points on its surface, he couldn’t be sure how often in a week the planet’s rotation would line up with the station’s, but he was fairly certain that you’d be able to see any point on the globe from this room sooner or later. See it... and see it destroyed.
This had to be the room where the children had watched the Imps burn their classmates’ homes for their failures, the place scarred into Qwi’s memory so that she still couldn’t bear to watch a planet, any planet, from orbit. And yet, for all the horror it had held, this room was not as repugnant as the office, or as malignant as the dorm. Those had been closed, dominated by the ghosts of Tarkin and the suffering children. This one was ruled by the stars, and if they were indifferent, at least they weren’t cruel.
Wedge glanced around the barren room, but there was nothing there. A door was opposite the one he’d come in, and he started towards it, but the stars drew him and instead he found himself standing by the window. He laid his palm on it and felt the chill through the transparasteel and the magnetic containment field that layered over that. It was as much in his mind as in his flesh, he knew, the soul-deep cold of the nothing which was the stars’ dancing ground. Funny, how Hoth’s chill had been more to his dislike than this, the slow cold of the icefields that had crept into his bones and made him wonder if he’d ever get warm again. This was a cold so strong and so fast that it came back around to warmth, blazing l ight that nourished even as it could kill.
He bent his knee, resting it on the ledge of the window, and then sank back to sit on his heel, leaning his shoulder against the transparasteel. With the side of his head on the window, he couldn’t see Omwat at all....
When Chewbacca came in, his reaction was typical of the planet-born, especially of those who, like Wookiees, rarely looked up the naked night sky. With a snarl of distaste, he informed Wedge that he’d freeze to death if he sat there any longer, and he stood more than an arm’s length from the window, treating it more like a landscape than a real view. Wedge stirred, a little stiff and uncertain just how long he had been sitting there, and answered Chewie a trifle impatiently. “No, I won’t. This place is built better’n that.” Then he paused, reconsidered, and said, “Isn’t it? You find engineering?”
Chewie had. He gave it, grudgingly, another year or so before it lost power, and half a year more before it fell into the planet’s atmosphere. Had Wedge found what he was looking for?
Wedge shrugged, standing up. “I don’t know. I don’t know that I know what I was looking for, if it comes to that.”
Chewie looked at him. Wedge sighed and put his hand inside his shirt to rub his shoulder. He wasn’t anywhere close to freezing, but he had stiffened up a little. “All right,” he admitted, as if Chewbacca had pressed him instead of saying nothing. “I know what I was hoping. Sort of... I guess I was hoping that Tarkin hadn’t lied. I knew he had. That Sithspawned rodent probably lied when truth would have served him better, and I knew he was lying even without Cracken’s message. But I think I was still hoping.” He blew out a breath, because saying it out loud had confirmed it. He had been. You are an idiot, Antilles. Might as go all the way with it. Thirteen’s about right... “I was hoping her family would still be alive but that she wouldn’t want to come back. Best of both worlds. That kind of thing.” Abruptly he realized he’d said all he really wanted to say on the topic. And Chewie’s tilted head and worried expression didn’t help. He jerked on his collar, settling his shirt back where it belonged, and said, “I didn’t find anything worth looking at. You?”
Nothing. A panicky housekeeping mouse-bot, some empty rooms, the engineering/life-support section, already running down and in need of some repairs in its attitude-stabilizers. Nothing.
“Same here,” said Wedge. “Nothing.”
Chewie shrugged. What was keeping them here, then?
Wedge echoed the gesture. “Nothing,” he said again. He was suddenly in a hurry to leave. “Let’s get out of here.”
Chewie seemed on the brink of saying something else, but apparently thought better of it. He nodded in agreement, and fell in behind Wedge, who headed for the corridor.
As he walked, Wedge found himself contemplating shutting the station down completely and watching it fall into its erstwhile victim and die. It wasn’t as though, if it was constructed well enough to survive the plunge through the atmosphere, there would be anything its impact could damage other than itself. And it wasn’t as though the Alliance needed an empty Imperial station. It would be enormously satisfying to watch.
He wasn’t going to, though, for two reasons. First, he wasn’t Arien Cracken, nor did he work for the man, and he didn’t know whether there was anything useful here or not. That lone functional unit in the study room might have been password protected just to keep the kids from cheating off each other, but it might have some scientific prize tucked inside it. Probably not, but it wasn’t his call.
That was the professional reason. The personal reason was even more compelling. When he got home, he was going to have to talk to Qwi. And he could neither lie to her, nor take away her choices. Either of those courses would be disastrous, the second the worst of all things he could do. Even though he could tell her what was here, tell her what he’d seen, memorize every inch of the station, he couldn’t take away her chance to see it herself, if she wanted, no matter how much he felt it was a bad choice.
No matter how much he wanted to shield her from it, from everything, he had to remember that she was a grown woman, and stronger than she looked. A lot stronger. And he couldn’t keep her tucked away safe now, any more than he had been able to before. He might want to make it up to her -- desperately did want to -- but that wasn’t the way to do it. Not if he wanted to stay in her life at all.
He felt he was on a frayed tether with Qwi, so easy to make one move wrong and lose, not his balance, but his life. If he were she, he’d be so damnably sick of it all, sick of second-hand memories, sick of other people telling him what he knew and how he felt about it, so tired of other people’s filters on his life, and fed to the eyeteeth with never knowing for himself... If he were she, he’d want to see this place, even though, he being he, he found it depressing; no, worse, he found it evil.
He didn’t understand why she didn’t get angry more often. On the other hand, maybe she, maybe all her people, were more in balance or something than he was. That probably wouldn’t be hard; he spent a lot of his time wondering why people weren’t angrier than they were. Leia, Tycho, Chewie for that matter; Wedge glanced sideways at the Wookiee, who had caught up to him easily. And Luke had told him he was too angry more times than he cared to remember. “Anger is the path to the Dark Side,” the Jedi said.
Maybe, but Wedge had found anger to be the path to constructive action, more often than not. Without anger, people accepted things, like the Empire, like slavery, like death... Wedge felt anger was like the Force, it was a tool. He had done a lot of things, angry. As Mirax had pointed out to him once, he’d won the Second Battle of Borleias because he’d gotten angry. And Mria Avib had been liberated because of anger, his and other pilots’. He’d concede you had to be able to tell when it was no longer productive, know when to let go of it, but letting go was not what Luke called releasing, as far as Wedge could tell. And if being Jedi meant pretending you weren’t angry, or even actually getting so accepting that you really weren’t, well, it was probably a good thing that he was as Force-blind as an ysalamir.
As usual, he’d talked himself into a better humor. As they entered the docking bay, he glanced at Chewbacca. “Anything else you want to look at here?”
The Wookiee shook his head. He’d seen all he wanted.
“Me, either,” Wedge said. “Once around the block, then, to see what we can see? And then back to civilized space?”
Did Wedge mean Coruscant? Because Chewbacca wasn’t so sure the adjective applied.
Wedge grinned. “‘Civilized’ means ‘living in cities’, so Coruscant’s got to be the most civilized place in the galaxy.”
Then civilization is overrated, Chewbacca decided.
Wedge laughed aloud. “You get no argument from me there.”
Chewbacca shrugged his massive shoulders.
“I was thinking,” said Wedge, who wanted someplace to do even more thinking, so he’d be able to decide how to tell Qwi what he had to tell her, “maybe, if you don’t mind, don’t need to get back--”
Chewie chuckled. They had more than five days, still. And it would do Han a lot of good to spend several of them with his children. On his own.
Wedge grinned. The twins were sure one hell of a handful. Or maybe two? And the other one would be coming home any day. He found the notion of Han Solo’s kids with Jedi powers really funny, probably because he didn’t have to live with them. When they were teenagers it was going to be interesting to watch, preferably from a great distance. Like, a couple of sectors... Of course, Leia and Han seemed happy now that the kids had stopped crying for Winter when things went wrong; in fact, Han could, if you didn’t stop him, bore you to tears. But as for himself, Wedge was more than content to be an honorary uncle to Leia’s and stand for Mirax’s Rima. The older he got, the less he wanted kids running around his house; well, until very recently he hadn’t even had a house for anybody to run around in. And Han was even older than he was. Wedge was willing to bet that by the time Chewie got back, Han would be very, very glad to see him.
So he didn’t hesitate any longer to say, “Then, I was thinking, we could go by Yag’Dhul, spend a day, maybe two, there. I’d like to see Booster Terrik again, see what he’s done with the place.” Have a conversation, get his advice...
Chewie was agreeable, and said so as he opened the ramp entrance to the ship.
“Any place you want to go?” asked Wedge. “I mean, we’ve got the Falcon for a week, we might as well make the best of it.”
Chewie shook his head. Not for just a day, no, no place... he paused, cocking his head.
“What?” asked Wedge, drawing his blaster without thought. Was the place as empty as they’d assumed? Assumptions can kill.
Chewie gestured reassuringly. It was just a message in the comm unit, he could hear the signal.
“Let’s pretend you couldn’t,” said Wedge, holstering the Pechora. He was talking to the Wookiee’s back, though, and he didn’t expect to be heeded. He followed Chewie into the Falcon and closed her up, writing off his visit with Booster.
Chewbacca propped his bowcaster up against the bulkhead and started the playback as soon as Wedge reached the cockpit.
Wedge?... Wedge?... Hey, Chewie! ... Great. Well, I’m gonna assume that you guys are just out for a little bit. Look, it’s ... hell, there’s a CST time stamp on this. Wedge, you need to get back here. Leia needs you. A certain politician is raising a real stink, and it isn’t Borssk Fey’lya, which will tell you how bad things are; she needs somebody sympathetic from the General Staff. Get back here as fast as you can, they’re meeting tomorrow. There was a brief pause, and then Han’s voice added, and call, damnit.
“Furgan, probably,” said Wedge, dropping into the pilot’s chair. “Maybe Somba Renn... I can’t figure what Han thinks I can do that Crix Madine can’t.”
Perhaps Councilor Furgan had objections to General Madine?
“They all would, if they know him,” Wedge said, picturing his compatriot’s brusque manner, to use a kind word for it, in the Council Chamber.
Perhaps Leia had asked for Wedge, Chewbacca suggested as he prepped the Falcon.
“Could be,” Wedge shrugged. Not that he wasn’t always glad to lend Leia moral support, but he rather wished he’d gotten a couple of extra days. On the other hand, maybe she had something specific in mind... not that it mattered, he’d always come when she called. “Guess we’re going home.”
Chewie nodded, and then asked when the meeting would be. Han hadn’t said.
“No, it’s always at ten,” Wedge answered, “I’ve been to enough of ‘em to know. So we should have plenty of time.”
Wedge checked the time. He stared at the panel chrono and then looked at his wrist. “Five hours? We were there for five hours?” He shook his head. “That can’t be right.”
Chewbacca shrugged. He didn’t depend on chronos, but that sounded about right to him. He’d gone over engineering and maintenance and control pretty thoroughly. And Wedge had fallen into the stars and gotten lost. The Wookiee sounded disapproving as he started the engines and lifted the Falcon off the decking and out into open space.
“For more than four hours?” Wedge shook his head again, and then shook it off. “We are gonna have to scat.” He reached up and starting punching numbers into the navicomp. “And 30 minutes from the Field to the Council Hall. That’ll be pushing. But it should be enough.”
The return vector to Coruscant was already plotted, and the navicomp delivered the solution. Wedge hesitated a moment, looking at the dead planet and its mechanical companion, the brilliant sun in the near distance and the star-splattered space in the far. Chewie prodded him softly, and Wedge nodded. “All right. Hang on.”
The Falcon leapt from normal to hyperspace in an uneven coruscation of starflare as the Rim blossomed and faded around her. Even that’s different out here, thought Wedge, and then put it behind him.
He leaned back in the chair and put one booted foot on the edge of the console. He looked out at hyperspace without seeing it. “Furgan,” he said after a moment. “It has to be Furgan.”
Chewie asked why.
“Because Somba Renn doesn’t care about the military; she’s got a totally different agenda. Furgan, on the other hand, had more than a finger in Ackbar’s leaving...”
Ackbar left after the Temple of the Winds affair, pointed out Chewbacca.
“Don’t forget; I was on Dantooine when that happened, not Coruscant. Far enough away to see the whole picture. Plus, I’ve seen these things rushed before,” said Wedge, with a slight edge in his voice. “Ackbar was pressured into resigning. And if Furgan was behind that, then he’s got an interest in who takes Ackbar’s place. And Leia will know that. Crix wouldn’t be accepted....” his voice trailed off.
Wedge wasn’t the Republic’s greatest strategist; in fact, if anybody had told him he was a strategist at all, he’d have had to wonder what they knew about strategy. But he was a good tactician, he knew that, especially under the gun when he didn’t have time to second guess his own first ideas. Dump him in the middle of the most screwed up situation and he could figure his way out of it; he had certainly done that his share of times, plus. So, think about this, Antilles...
Chewie left him alone. That was okay; while he missed having someone to compare notes with, bounce ideas off, he’d always worked better alone than with someone who didn’t know his style, or the background of the problem. He’d worked best with Tycho... no time for that. He stopped the memory before it got started, which was heartening. It implied that he could, in fact, concentrate if he had to.
“It’s the middle of the night on Coruscant, isn’t it?” he said, finally.
It was, Chewie affirmed from the galley. Was Wedge hungry?
“Yes, I am. But I’m going to call Han first. If it wakes him up, too bad.” Wedge grinned. “If it’s not enough of an emergency to keep him awake, he shouldn’t have bothered us.”
Wedge got through, but to Leia’s protocol droid. “It is well past the hour any reasonable person calls, General Antilles,” the droid fussed.
“Wake General Solo up, anyway,” Wedge said.
“Well, I don’t know, sir, he only went to sleep--”
Chewbacca’s roar stopped the droid cold.
“Of course, General Solo did say he was expecting your call,” Threepio said and left them on hold.
“Wedge!” Han was awake and annoyed. “Where are you?”
“On our way back. But it’s gonna be close, that’s why I’m calling. Assuming the Falcon holds together, we’ll be there a little after nine.”
“Nine? Wedge, they meet at ten. And Leia needs you there.”
“Wedge, if you walk in and take that seat like you’re entitled to it, nobody will go against Leia over it. You’re too popular, you’re too respected, and you’re not political. But if you’re not there, I don’t know that she can get you appointed over Furgan’s objections.”
“I’ll try,” Wedge said, “but physics is physics. We’ll get there when we get there. You could help by having transportation there to meet us.”
“And a uniform,” Han added. “You don’t look the part.”
Wedge acknowledged the truth of that with a raised eyebrow and a nod, even though Han couldn’t see him. “And an agenda. I’ll need to sound like I know what’s going on.”
“Leia’s got one of those around here, someplace ... Hang on, I’ll dump it to the Falcon and you can read it over on the way back.” Han sounded happier.
Wedge waited for the data dump, staring out the Falcon’s main window into hyperspace. Han sounded like he wanted Wedge in the General Staff’s seat for the foreseeable future. Politics... how he hated politics. But he’d known when he pinned on the general’s insignia what he was letting himself in for, it was why he’d put it off for so long. He redirected his gaze to the toe of his brown boot; he couldn’t see anything reflected in it. He sighed.
“Wedge?” Han’s voice from the comm unit interrupted him. “I found the agenda. I’m sending it.”
“Good,” Wedge said. “I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
“Han, I need to get cleaned up, I need to read this agenda, and I need to sleep, not necessarily in that order.”
“Sleep?” Han sounded outraged.
“Never go into battle tired if you don’t have to,” Wedge said. “And if you don’t think this is battle, you haven’t been paying attention.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Tell Leia I’m on my way.” The comm unit signaled the end of the data dump. “I’ll see you, Han.”
“Okay,” Han reluctantly let him go.
Wedge slapped the unit off and decided to print a flimsy of the agenda. As it spooled out of the printer, his nose twitched and he turned around to see Chewbacca coming out of the galley with a plate and a mug. “Chewie,” he said, with a feeling of futility.
The Wookiee put the food down and held out the Rhyferrlan, and informed him, with some asperity, that Wedge also needed to eat. Before Wedge could say anything else, Chewie added that Leia needed him to be alert and well-rested, so he should eat now and sleep. Chewie would wake him in time.
Wedge surrendered. Besides, the smell of the gravy on the dumplings had made him believe he hadn’t eaten in nearly seven hours. He dug into them, once again glad that Chewie knew Corellian cuisine, and just as gratefully drained the ale. Chewie was reminding him of Sunrunner, though not, of course, as relentlessly lowkeyedly formal. But there was that same feeling that somebody else was making his short-term decisions for him. Tycho had told him once, years ago now, that people did that because they couldn’t help him where it really counted. Whatever the truth was, Wedge was, he knew, used to it. And not above taking what he sometimes characterized, if only to himself, as shameless advantage of it, because it was really nice not to have to worry about the trivia.
So, he finished up the meal and let Chewie take the dishes. What he’d said to Han was the truth, it was a battle he was going into and not one of a kind he was good at. Any advantage he could get, he’d take, and gladly. He’d be flying wing to Leia, but he still couldn’t afford any mistakes at all. He picked up the flimsy and headed towards his cabin.
At least he’d beaten Chewie back here, he thought wryly, as he pulled the bunk down and tossed the agenda onto it. He could still put himself to bed. After he’d done so, he glanced over the agenda and was relieved to see nothing the General Staff had a real stake in. That meant he had some time to find out what he ought to be fighting for. Tomorrow his main task would be to make sure the Council knew that their support of the current government hadn’t ended when Ackbar had resigned. He could do it, he figured; Han was right, though it wouldn’t have occurred to him, he was too popular for anyone to take him on with no warning that they’d need to, especially not after the battle with Daala. And that he’d been on Dantooine until recently helped, no one would expect him to be the General Staff’s nomination for the Council seat.
But he wasn’t looking forward to it. He had a feeling he’d rather get shot at.
He tossed the flimsy on the floor and put out the light and made himself relax. As Booster had always
said, sleep when you can, you don’t know when you’ll get another chance.
When he woke, the smell of caff luring him out of the darkness, he felt somewhat better about the whole thing, though he was on his second cup before he realized why: if he was sitting on the Council, he was permanently on Coruscant. And that would be good for Qwi. He’d managed to get to the Maw again, no matter what, but the problem could have been being sent someplace else. Not just like Dantooine, resettling people, that wasn’t a problem, but being reassigned to another sector. That might have been hard. You didn’t want to keep uprooting Qwi... she had to have something permanent in her life besides him.
He made a face, staring into his caff. He shouldn’t be thinking about Qwi and his personal life right now. He should be thinking about Leia and the Republic. He should be thinking about Furgan and that situation. Furgan... something about the Caridan just didn’t smell right. When he got back to Coruscant, he’d have Sunrunner pull files for him, do some homework. He was sure he’d been right when he told Chewie that Furgan had something to do with Ackbar’s resigning, but he didn’t have anything hard to go with the feeling. But he could get it, if it was there to get... call in markers from Sainer if nothing else.
But that was middle-term planning. Right now, he needed to clean up, go over that agenda again until he had it memorized, get his mind set for walking into the Senate Chamber like he belonged there. He finished his caff and the breakfast rolls Chewie had heated up and said, “I’m going to go get ‘freshed up. If Han calls, tell him I’ll call back.”
Chewie snorted. That wouldn’t make Han happy.
“Yeah, well, he’d like it less if I was late.” Wedge stood up and headed back toward the very nice, and very nonstandard, refresher unit Han had put onto the Falcon when Leia started traveling on her regularly.
Twenty minutes later, fully awake, shaved, and ready to face a Star Destroyer (and halfway wishing that was an option), he sat down in the so-called lounge and went over the agenda again with another cup of caff while Chewbacca minded the bridge. He felt pretty confident about knowing it all the way through by the time the Wookiee called that they were near to dropout. Almost simultaneously, the comm unit rang.
“Be right there,” Wedge called, putting the cup in the galley.
He got to the bridge in time to hear Han demanding, “So, when are you getting here?”
“Three minutes to dropout,” Wedge said. “What, seven, eight, to get through the defense shield and down to the field. Twelve minutes, maybe fifteen.”
“That’s cutting it close,” Han complained.
“Hey, calm down. We’re here. We’ve got an hour--”
“From now,” Han interrupted.
“So that’s forty-five minutes to get there. It’s only a thirty-minute trip. We’ll make it.”
“I hope so.”
Chewie interrupted to point out that it was time to drop out and if Han kept them talking they’d just be later. He then unceremoniously cut off the comm. Wedge admired his style.
Eleven minutes later Chewie settled the Falcon onto the field. As soon as the door opened, Han charged up the ramp. He was followed, Wedge was glad to see, by Sunrunner, who was carrying a uniform.
“Come on, Wedge, no time to waste,” said Han.
“Glad to see you back, sir,” said the sergeant. “Here’s your uniform.”
“Thanks, Sunrunner. It’s a little sooner than I expected.”
“I hope your trip was successful, sir.”
“Yes, I think it was,” Wedge said, stepping inside the cabin to change.
He heard Han and Chewie exchange a few remarks, too far away to understand them. Then the Corellian strode up to the cabin and rapped on the door. “Hurry it up, Wedge,” said Han.
“Would you relax? We’ve got plenty of time, Han.” He sat down on the bunk to pull on his boots. He took a minute to look at his reflection in them, the glint of gold sparking deep in their sleek black depths, and then stood up, reaching for his shirt. Back to work, Antilles, he thought wryly. Vacation’s over.
He pulled the shirt on, fastened it up and adjusted the collar, and then tucked in his shirttails. He picked up the jacket and opened the door.
“Great,” said Han. “Let’s go.”
“Just a minute. Shouldn’t I have a briefcase or something?” Wedge looked at Sunrunner when he asked that.
That young man looked faintly scandalized. “The general doesn’t carry his own case, sir,” he said. “Lieutenant kinRyan is waiting for you. I’ll take care of the general’s things here, sir,” he added.
“Thank you, sergeant,” Wedge said and followed the increasingly impatient Han out of the Falcon and into the waiting transport.
“Go,” said Han as soon as they were inside and the driver lifted off, banking around to head for the heart of the city and the Senate buildings. He leaned back against the seat and watched Wedge put on his black jacket. After a few moments he said, “Look, Wedge, thanks for coming back so quick. Leia really needs you.”
“It’s not a problem, Han. Don’t think twice.”
“Yeah, I know, but -- Chewie told me you found Omwat. He said it wasn’t good. I know you wanted more time...” he shrugged apologetically. “Sorry I couldn’t let you have it.”
“Han,” Wedge leaned forward, slapped his friend’s knee sharply. “It’s not a problem. If Leia needs something I can do, then I’ll do it. Besides,” he sat back, “it’s not like there was anything to do out there.”
Han regarded him seriously. “Anything I can do? I mean, I’m not much use at this game, so if I can, just ask.”
Wedge shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “I was just going to Yag’Dhul to put off coming back here.”
“I’m sure. Besides, I expect Leia wants you around.”
“She seems to,” Han smiled as he said that. Sometimes he let Wedge see it, how he was still surprised that Leia Organa had married him. The rest of the galaxy just saw the swaggering self-confidence, but every now and then he let his compatriot inside. It was one of the reasons Wedge couldn’t say no to him when he did ask a favor.
“Look, Han, she was bred for this. She eats, sleeps, and breathes it. I’ll back her play, don’t worry about that, but I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.”
“I don’t know, Wedge,” Han’s dark eyes were worried. “It’s all coming down pretty fast. She really thought everyone would get along with each other, you know?, and it bothers her when stuff like this happens. Plus Mon Mothma’s being sick...”
“Well, then, we’ll just have to do what we can.”
“Yeah. I wish Luke was around,” Han said.
Wedge snorted; he couldn’t help it. “Luke’s worse at this than we are,” he said. “He’s not interested in the big picture, that’s why he’s back at Yavin.”
“I know Leia’d like to have her brother around,” Wedge said, “but if he’s not, he’s not. We’ll have to do -- and I bet she’d rather have you than him, anyway.”
“You’re probably more use to her right now, too,” said Han.
“Well, thank you for that ringing vote of confidence.”
“Idiot,” Han grinned. “You know what I mean.”
Wedge grinned back at him. “Yeah. Luke wouldn’t be able to take the General Staff’s seat on the Council.”
“Idiot,” Han repeated. He looked out the window. “Almost there,” he said.
Wedge followed his gaze, seeing the tree-lined plaza in front of the Senate growing larger as the pilot spiraled in for a landing. He fastened up the jacket’s silver buttons. “Does this collar look right?” he asked, missing a mirror.
“Here,” said Han, tugging slightly at the shirt’s collar to even up its grey edge over the black jacket’s stiff, upstanding one. “There you go. Very impressive, I must say.”
“Well, I hope so. They’re a tough audience, what I hear.”
“Those ribbons ought to sell it,” said Han. “You’re as tough as they are, and they know if it wasn’t for you they wouldn’t be here. You’ll knock ‘em dead.”
Wedge blew out a long breath as they settled onto the landing pad. “I hope so.”
“Get it done, Rogue Leader,” Han said seriously.
Wedge grinned wryly as the door was opened by a young woman in Starfighter tan. “General Antilles, sir,” she said. “Glad to see you made it.”
Wedge found her name somewhere in his memory. “Lieutenant Chereisa, isn’t it?”
She blushed, her caff-colored complexion darkening. “Yes, sir,” she said. “I’m acting as your adjutant today, sir. Lieutenant kinRyan is waiting inside.”
“That’s fine.” Wedge glanced at his wrist chrono.
“We have about seven minutes, sir,” she said.
“Then we’d better be going,” he answered. “Han, see you later.”
“Right,” Han called after them.
kinRyan was inside the main doors, just outside the entrance to the Senate building. His sleek white fur was in stark contrast to the black uniform he was wearing, his curled horns and his hooves dyed the same ebony as the uniform. He was an impressive sight; more importantly, Wedge knew his memory was photographic. As a Flag Lieutenant you couldn’t ask for better, though he’d have been far down the list for corvette commander. Different fights, different weapons, Wedge thought as he greeted the Kellrian. “Good to see you, kinRyan.”
“Thank you, sir. We’d best get on inside.”
Wedge nodded. kinRyan picked up a documents case and handed it to Chereisa and transferred the datapads he was holding to his left hand, pushing open the door as he did so. Wedge took a breath and walked through, followed by his Flag Lieutenant and his adjutant.
The main dais seemed about a mile away, though it couldn’t have been, enormous though the Hall was. Wedge walked down the rampway, his eyes fixed on the white-clad figure of Leia, ignoring the senators and their aides who were, he knew, watching him. Just another battle, Antilles, he thought. You win this one by making it down this ramp.
As he walked, he let his eyes move around the Hall, and even turned his head a couple of times to look around, consciously fostering the image that he was at ease, not on parade. He even broke stride once, pausing to listen to and then laugh at Chereisa’s sotto voce joke about vertigo. As he neared the dais, he pitched his voice for kinRyan’s keen, forward-flicked ears. “Somba Renn, Furgan, the Bothan -- who’s the other one?”
“Senator Valkan Arrida, for Dagesine,” kinRyan answered softly. “And Furgan prefers ‘ambassador’ as a form of address.”
Wedge nodded. That was something he’d probably known but hadn’t thought worth remembering. It wasn’t like talking to them had been high on his ‘to do’ list, and, he reflected, if it had shown up there, Sunrunner would have briefed him.
He stepped onto the dais. Leia stood up to greet him. “General Antilles, it’s so good to see you again,” she said.
“And you, Senator Organa-Solo,” he answered, adding, “Good morning, Senators, Ambassador,” to the others.
Somba Renn, who hadn’t stood up, cocked her head at him and said, waspishly, “General, isn’t that an admiral’s uniform?”
“It’s a fleet uniform,” Wedge answered, taking his seat as he did so. “But I’m sure the senator will notice I’m not wearing admirals’ nebulae.” In truth, Wedge doubted if the politician had ever noticed the five different types of flag rank insignia, or that she really cared if she had.
Before anyone else could say anything, the chimes ran out to signal the hour was struck to begin the session. Leia, who had remained on her feet, called the assembly to order.
In goal, thought Wedge. In goal, and game over. Then he looked around the Hall. Next game, he realized. Next game in a very long match.
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