Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wings", A.C. Crispin's "Han Solo" and Kevin J. Anderson's "Jedi Academy" series of novels.
No copyright infringement is intended.
Rogue Squadron took Wedge in, but they didn’t exactly take to him. It wasn’t surprising; they’d been together for a while, and eight were of a piece, ex-Academy cadets who, assigned to the same squadron, had stolen their fighters and run for the Rebellion while on a training exercise. Even their extremely unofficial name (they were “really” Red Squadron) was Imperially bestowed, along with their death marks. Rogue Leader, Major Vaerrit, wasn’t one of them, but since he was the squadron commander he wasn’t expected to be. And at that he, too, was ex-Imperial Fleet. Even Wedge’s age was a factor: they were just enough older than he was to consider themselves a lot older. But Wedge had gotten colder shoulders than theirs before, and he figured after a few weeks they’d see he could pull his own weight.
If he could. He hoped Leia was right about that. If not, he didn’t know what he’d do; he could hardly go back to Arownyow and ask for the Answer back, even though he was sure to get her.
Rogue’s unofficial leaders were two hotshots named Biggs Darklighter and Jek Porkins. They were an odd couple: Darklighter was a farm boy from a backwater called Tatooine, famous for its pilots and its crime lord, and was lean and caustic like his planet; and Porkins was a provincial governor’s nephew who was a couple of years older, and sleek and well fed like his. But they flew like angels, if angels of death, and were good friends. It was an article of faith among the other Rogues that Darklighter and Porkins had simultaneously broached the notion of defecting to each other; it was certainly true that they’d carried the rest of the squadron with them.
Next to them was Amil Karsk, also an ex-Imperial snub jockey, though he’d come over before the rest of the Rogues. Or maybe he wasn’t next. Wedge couldn’t really tell after only a week. Either Karsk was friends with Darklighter, or he hated him but fell in behind him because ... well, either because Darklighter was the leader and Karsk couldn’t buck him, or because Karsk knew which side his ryshcate was frosted on. Wedge had heard the story, how Darklighter had come back from his first mission claiming five kills, which would have made the Tatooiner an ace right out of the gate, except that Karsk had insisted that one of the kills was actually his. Darklighter had let him have it, which made Karsk an ace, after fourteen or fifteen missions, but he hadn’t stopped there. No, Darklighter had kept it up, and was still giving Karsk one out of every five of his kills. Wedge couldn’t figure it: if it had been him, he’d have pushed Darklighter’s teeth down his throat. But then, maybe Darklighter’s insinuation was right; if that first kill wasn’t really Karsk’s, his silent acceptance was more or less in character.
The only other non-Imperial was Rom Hothagan, young (very young; Wedge couldn’t quite see how he’d convinced anyone he was old enough to fight) and very cheerfully self-effacing. Dutch Vaerrit had obviously taken the boy under his wing, and the rest of the Rogues looked on him alternately as a kid brother and a mascot. He was a good pilot, and did his best to blend in with the rest of them. As for that rest, they would sort themselves out in time, but in the main they took their lead from Darklighter and Porkins. And they were pretty military, which Wedge couldn’t be. Many of their attitudes annoyed him, and he knew he was having a hard time sorting out what made sense in a military unit from what was just stupid. Like, for instance, their belief, Imperial in origin, that most aliens couldn’t be real soldiers, or that women couldn’t be pilots-Wedge pictured Darklighter explaining that point to Mirax when the tall pilot really annoyed him, and the thought never failed to cheer him up.
Darklighter prided himself on his skills, and with reason. He was the best pilot in the squadron, had the most kills, and enjoyed telling others about it. He told a good story, too; Wedge enjoyed listening even when things started slipping into fantasy. Usually all he did was listen, conditioned by his mother’s training in manners as much as by smugglers’ bars where challenging a man’s story could get you killed, and anyway, he wasn’t sure enough of himself to challenge anybody for anything. One four-hour flight in an X-Wing didn’t make him a fighter pilot, and he knew it; if it weren’t for Leia’s encouragement, he probably wouldn’t even have tried. And this despite how completely at home he felt in the cockpit of the X-Wing. To him, it wasn’t cramped, it wasn’t even tight, any more than his own skin was, and from it he could touch space itself. If he had to put up with some attitude to live with that feeling, then he’d put up with it.
Or so he’d felt until the day when Darklighter told the DownTime Bar about Tatooine pilots and Imperial Academy records. “Because,” he’d finished, “Tatooine produces the best pilots in the galaxy.”
“Cut thrust,” Wedge said mildly. “Imperial Academy records aren’t the province of Tatooine.”
Darklighter and Porkins had turned on him in tandem, a little out of proportion to what he’d said, he thought. “What would you know about Academy records?” asked Darklighter, and Porkins had nodded.
“I know enough to know that most of them, 9 out of 11, I think, belong to a Corellian,” Wedge had said, still mildly, though feeling a certain amount of pride in the connection.
“Solo.” Darklighter’s voice was filled with disgust.
“That smuggler.” Porkins sounded much the same.
“I hear he has a Wookiee partner,” said Karsk. It was characteristic of the man that it was impossible to tell from his tone what he thought of that fact. He was always ready to say, ‘Yes, that’s just what I meant,’ or ‘Sithspawn, no. I didn’t mean that at all,’ depending on what the reception was. Unless, of course, he simply was completely in tune with his audience.... Wedge just couldn’t tell.
Darklighter ignored his contribution, anyway, saying, “They took his name off, and rightly so. He’s run spice. For a Hutt. He’s a disgrace, to everything we stand for, and-at least I’d think so-to Corellia as well.”
“Smugglers are scum,” began Porkins, and Wedge realized he’d better speak up fast. Whatever happened would be better than the squadron finding out later.
“You know,” he said, and he couldn’t help the edge he heard in his voice and couldn’t smoothe it out very much, “some of my best friends are smugglers.”
It silenced Porkins, all right. Darklighter stared at Wedge, who was aware of the rest of the squadron’s eyes, and the way the talk had stopped.
“I’ve met Solo,” Wedge continued (it was true, though he doubted the renegade would remember him, as he’d been very much the kid in the background while Solo refueled his Falcon, joked with Grey, and watched while Mrendy fed the Wookiee copilot some outSector ‘delicacy’ none of them had ever heard of before). “In fact, I’ve smuggled myself.”
Darklighter shook his head. “Running guns and supplies for the Rebellion doesn’t count.”
Tell that to the Imps. Wedge refused to take the proffered out. “I crewed for a man who’s run everything from gems to spice, which is sort of fitting since he’s mining it now.” That floored everybody except young Rom, whose dark eyes actually seemed to warm up. “And, sure, mostly I ran arms and medical supplies for the Rebels, but some of the things I carried were a lot less innocent than glitterstim. And the Rebellion doesn’t exactly pay well, so I carried for others, too.”
“You’ve run spice?” Porkins sounded as though he couldn’t quite believe it, and wasn’t sure what to do if he did.
“Yeah,” Wedge lied, making sure it didn’t sound like an admission and hoping it didn’t drift over the edge into assertion.
“Well, you weren’t ever at the Academy; that makes a difference...” began Darklighter, and Wedge found himself unwilling to have excuses made for him. Especially not that one.
“Did it ever occur to you that there are a lot of people who think moving from the Imperial Navy to the Rebellion is a quantum leap upwards? That going to the Academy is in itself a participation in the excesses of Empire? That anyone who ever put on that uniform, even if they took it off later, is a lot worse than someone who just ran a little glit?” Wedge stopped, looked around the bar, and wondered if he’d said too much. Everyone was being very quiet.
Then a familiar voice sounded right over his head. “Wedge Antilles has at least as much honor as anyone else in this room,” said Leia Organa. Some of the pilots started to get up, but she waved at them to keep their seats, concluding the gesture by dropping her hand onto Wedge’s shoulder. “And while I don’t know that smuggler you were talking about,” how long had she been listening? thought Wedge, hoping he hadn’t disappointed her in some way, after she’d recommended him to Major Vaerrit and all, “I’m sure his way of life doesn’t prohibit him from being a good pilot, or invalidate any records he earned. Records which, I’m confident,” she smiled down at Wedge as he glanced up at her, “Wedge would have owned had he gone to the Academy. Except,” she laughed softly, “maybe that one where he flew under the Emperor’s statue. I think you’re a little too stable to take that risk. What you must remember,” she became serious again, looking around at the pilots, “is that any man who is wearing this uniform,” and she tugged gently at Wedge’s orange-flightsuited shoulder, “is as good as any other one, no matter where he came from to get here: a career in the Imperial military, or a few years or months there, a farm, a lawyer’s office, a city street, or the Kessel run. That’s one of the things we stand for, and if we start refusing anybody who believes what we believe, then where do we differ from our enemies?”
Wedge could think of a number of places, but he kept his mouth shut. As usual, Leia was very persuasive, and Porkins even nodded at Wedge thoughtfully. Darklighter was regarding him pensively, and had been ever since Leia had said that about his breaking the records. Wedge wished they had enough fuel on Dantooine to let them fly for fun, because things were never going to get settled between him and the pilot from the desert until they’d flown together.
“Wedge,” Leia repeated, and he snapped back to reality.
“Sorry, Leia,” he said, “did you want me for something?” Somebody drew a sharp breath which Wedge only later realized was because he’d left off her title.
“As a matter of fact,” she said, “yes. Walk me to the field, would you?”
“Sure,” he said, jumping to his feet. Outside it was muggy, as it always was on Dantooine. Three little moons showed palely through the dusky sky, and a hundred million things-birds, insects, lizards, Wedge didn’t know what-were making a racket. It occurred to him that maybe this place, so damp and thick-aired, made Darklighter as uneasy as it did him, if for different reasons. He chuckled at the thought, and Leia smiled warmly at him.
“Good,” she said. “I’m glad you’re not angry all the time.”
“I’m not angry most of the time,” he protested.
She regarded him seriously. “Are you sure, Wedge?” She didn’t give him time to answer. “Anyway, I wanted to ask how things were going-now I’m not sure I do.” Her rueful smile made that a joke on herself.
“Things are better than I thought they’d be, not quite as good, maybe, as you did,” he answered her. “I’m getting along.”
“Good,” she said again, tucking her arm into his and starting them toward the field. “I’d hate it if I’d made you miserable. Truly, Wedge, I think this is where you belong, where you can do the most good for the Rebellion-”
“And the latter outweighs the former, if you’re wrong, right?” he teased gently.
“Well.... yes,” she admitted. “After all, Kirlir can run supplies for us as well as you did; lots of people can. But I’ve never-never-seen someone take to a fighter like you. We’re not strong in ships, yet, and we’ll have to beat the Fleet if we’re going to win. We need brilliant pilots.”
“I don’t know how brilliant I am,” he said, automatically reverting to the training his mother had given him: never brag, even if it’s true. “I do know I’ll do my best.”
“Your best, dearheart,” said Leia, “is good enough for me.” They walked in silence for a few dozen meters. Slowly the sky began to approach a good, hard dark, but few if any stars could pierce the atmosphere, and those that did shivered with the effort. Wedge missed the multitudinous brilliant, sharp-edged stars of his childhood and the ebony of a pure, airless sky, not to mention the silence. Even as he thought that, Leia sighed and said, “I love quiet nights like this. All those beautiful stars... There are too many moons, but otherwise I could almost be in our summer home, back on Alderaan. Of course, we need a lake...”
“There’s enough water in the air to make one,” said Wedge.
She laughed. “Do you ever get homesick, Wedge?”
Taken unawares, he said the first thing that came into his mind. “My home’s not there anymore.” He regretted it as soon as he’d said it. She certainly hadn’t meant to hurt him, and he felt too close to her to want to hurt her with the truth. So he added, quickly, “But no, not really. I mean, there are a lot of places I can go that are airless rocks with beautiful views.”
“Oh, Wedge,” was all she said, but she squeezed his arm in sympathy. After a moment she said, “I’m leaving in an hour. I wanted to say goodbye.”
“Leaving?” he asked, surprised, though he wasn’t sure why. She was a Senator, after all, she couldn’t stay away from Coruscant for any length of time. “Who’s flying you?”
“Maybe I’m flying myself.”
“To Coruscant?” he asked skeptically.
“No; to Alderaan first. Then I’m taking one of the Organa ships to Imperial City.”
“I’m glad,” he said sincerely. “Say hello to your father for me; tell him I’ve finally gotten a real commission.”
“I will not,” she said. “But I will tell him you asked to be remembered to him, and how wonderfully you’re serving the Rebellion.”
“Whatever you tell him, it won’t make him happy.”
She laughed. “No, I suppose not. He’ll believe what he wants to believe. But he does like you, really.”
“And I like him. He has a great deal of courage, like his daughter.”
“Thank you,” she said simply. “Take care of yourself, Wedge. We need you, and I’d miss you.”
“You do the same,” he said. “You’re the one walking into the rancor’s den, not me. I see my enemies when they come at me, and I know who they are.”
After that, it was a good thing that they had to abandon Dantooine the next day. It wasn’t just the quarrel (Wedge didn’t want to give it any more substance than that) about smugglers, it was the squadron’s apparent notions about Princess Leia. Wedge wasn’t at all sure he’d convinced his roommate, a very skeptical Naradan aristocrat named Voorhees, that he wasn’t anything but the princess’s friend, even though the very notion had caught him completely by surprise. Wedge found it hard to grasp that anybody could assume that a woman’s friendly touch had to have overtones; he’d spent his whole life enfolded in Mirax’s sisterly embrace, at least metaphorically and often physically, and he’d never thought anything of it, not like that. He had finally pulled the blanket over his head and prayed for something to distract the Rogues.
He didn’t really mean for it to be Imperial scouts, let alone a task force.
Looking back, it hadn’t been entirely unexpected that they’d have to abandon under fire, it was in fact rather business as usual. The problem lay in the Rebellion’s being run by politicians and served by junior officers who had the habits of deference and obedience. They were still two months away from Jan Dodonna, who was at that moment still obliviously serene in his career, weeks away from the genocidal orders that would drive him away from the Empire and give the Rebellion their first true tactician, their first general; and years away from the big Mon Calamari ships and the admirals who would carry the battle to the enemy. Underfunded, undermanned, and inexperienced, the politicians tended to keep in place until they were found, and then they had to run for it, with the snub fighters covering their retreat. In point of fact, this would be more or less the way they operated for several years yet, certainly as late as Hoth, arguably even later. The only good thing about it was that the fighter pilots got a lot of work in when it happened.
And so it transpired on Dantooine, the snub jocks guarding the big transports as they fled its desolate sanctuary for a new, more promising one. No transports were lost, a signal victory, but ten X-Wings were, though none, this time, from Rogue Squadron. And, as the saying went, in this kind of fight, you rarely lost the mount without losing the rider. And the results were, again, not entirely unexpected.
What was entirely unexpected was how the newest Rogue fared.
When Wedge brought his X-Wing to rest in the rough shelter at the new base on the forested moon of the gas giant Yavin, one of the ground crew was scrambling up onto the superstructure before Wedge had the cockpit open. He helped Wedge unbuckle and unhook, and took his helmet from him. Wedge stretched, and reluctantly prepared to get out of the vehicle that felt so much like second nature. The crewman said, sounding a little disappointed, “A couple of scorch marks, nothing serious...” Wedge felt an eyebrow rising in disbelief, but before he could ask the man how badly he’d like the T-65 damaged next time, the mechanic continued, “How many, sir?”
How many what? Shots? Shot-ats? Before Wedge could say anything, the R2 unit still seated behind the cockpit whistled, and data scrolled up on the screen readout.
“Eight?” said the mechanic, and his face lit. “You got eight kills, sir?”
Wedge thought back through the battle over Dantooine, before the leap into hyperspace and the journey to Yavin’s system, five hours in which he probably ought to have been bored, but hadn’t been. “Yeah,” he said after a minute, “eight sounds right.” Keeping score still sounded a little peculiar to him; bragging was against his upbringing, even if it was Corellian, and bragging about how many people you’d killed... he could hear Booster explaining just why that was stupid. Then he realized: five was an ace. An ace. Mirax was right: I’m good at this. I really am.
“Oh, man. I mean, sir,” said the mechanic, regarding Wedge with disproportionately personal joy at the number of dead Imperial pilots. The R2 unit whistled again, and the mechanic’s glee doubled as he read the second message. “Six eyeballs, a squint, and a troop carrier? Oh, man. Did you like the way it handled, sir?”
Wedge decided that something was going on in the mechanic’s groundside view of the war that he wasn’t aware of, and resolutely resigned himself to bafflement. “Yes,” he said honestly, “I loved the way it handled. It was wonderful.”
“So I’m your regular, sir?” the man sounded hopeful.
“If you want to be,” said Wedge. “I mean, your work is ... what?” he broke down and asked as the mechanic punched the air with a soundless ‘yes!’.
“You don’t know, sir? You broke the record.” The man smiled happily. “Five was the best, four you pilots say but... anyway. Eight. That’s clearly best ever, not just best today. And you’re my pilot, so-I win.” He smiled again and assisted a bemused Wedge out of the cockpit. Wedge didn’t even want to know what he’d won. Still smiling, the mechanic tossed down Wedge’s helmet and said, “Don’t worry, Lt. Antilles. I’ll keep it perfect. How’s the R2?”
“Ah, fine, fine,” said Wedge. It was sinking in: he’d beaten Darklighter’s record. Antilles, you’re an ace, he reminded himself, but the thought crept back: Darklighter will not be happy about this...
“Good,” said the mechanic “I’ll make sure it doesn’t get overdue for memory wipe, and keep it overhauled, too, sir.”
“Fine,” said Wedge. Clearly, things were different in the military. At least I don’t have to stay up late pulling my own sublight engines... He waved at the mechanic (I’ve got to find out his name, if I’m going to be ‘his’ pilot...) and started to walk away, and then realized he didn’t know where anything was at this base. “Ah, excuse me?”
The mechanic looked down. “Sir?”
“Where do I go?”
“Oh, right, right ... sure. Out that door, sir, then third building to the left.”
“No problem, sir.” The man turned back to the job of removing the R2 unit, and Wedge walked slowly toward the bay doors.
He crossed the flight strip too preoccupied to pay much attention to his surroundings and entered the building the mechanic had indicated. Only then did he realize that the man had sent him, not to quarters or headquarters, but Yavin’s DownTime... Things were different in the military, he’d have thought a bar would have been low on the priority list. It was a long while before he appreciated how valuable a sanctioned DownTime was for maintaining morale among fighter pilots, whose mortality rate was among the highest in any unit. At the moment, he just wondered if he ought to turn around and not offer a target, but then it was too late. He heard his name called across the dark room, and saw Darklighter making his way toward the door.
The Tatooiner came up to him, his mustached face still alight with the remnants of battle-joy. “Man,” he said. “Oh, man.” He didn’t seem the slightest bit put out over losing the record. “Over here,” he steered Wedge toward the tables where most of the squadron-Porkins; Karsk; others, including Voorhees and the kid, Rom Hothagan-were sitting. A tall bottle was on the table, a bottle whose shape was naggingly familiar to Wedge. Darklighter picked it up and began pouring, saying as he did, “Corellia, right?”
“Well,” Wedge accepted the glass and looked in disbelief at the amber liquid. “Corellian Sector, anyway. This isn’t-?”
“Whyren’s Reserve? Yes, it is,” said Darklighter, and Porkins amplified,
“First round from top pilot’s world.”
“Nice tradition,” said Wedge, tasting it appreciatively.
“I just hope it’s better than that crap you make us drink,” said Karsk as Darklighter poured his glass full.
“Don’t get used to it,” Darklighter warned, laughingly. Wedge didn’t say anything, and Karsk glanced at him as though expecting different. But despite eighteen months of Booster Terrik, it was still Grey Antilles’s codes that, mostly, ruled Wedge’s behavior, and Grey had always told him fighting was too desperately serious to be undertaken lightly. Though when you must, do, and give no quarter... Karsk was giving him a glimpse into the politics of Rogue Squadron, but Wedge wasn’t going to challenge Biggs Darklighter over something this trivial. And Darklighter proved that decision right with his next words: “This is our only bottle. And I understand the stuff is mortally expensive. Antilles is going to have to settle for something a little more mundane from now on.”
“Wedge,” Wedge said. “And anything can be considered Corellian, if you look at it from the right point of view.”
Rom laughed at that; Wedge thought the kid was the only one who’d gotten the joke. Then he wondered if Rom ought to be drinking whisky. Ah, why not? He flies like a man, and he’s killed like one...
Darklighter-Biggs-laughed again. “Man,” he repeated, sitting down next to Wedge and pouring again for them both, “I will say this: you do come as advertised. Absolutely as advertised.”
“No kidding,” said Jek Porkins. “I think you would have had those records.”
Voorhees nodded, raising his glass. “Absolutely,” he said in his aristocratic drawl.
“Well, I don’t know,” said Wedge, now with Mrendy’s warnings about bragging echoing in his mind.
“Naah,” said Jek with a broad, friendly grin. “You were never at the Academy. What would you know?” For the first time, that sounded like a friendly insult, not a true one.
“I know,” said Biggs, with no trace of jealousy. “You were flat out brilliant. You sure you’re not from Tatooine?”
“I am,” said Marcan Voorhees. Rom laughed, and so, after a startled minute, did Biggs.
“If running spice teaches you to fly like that, maybe we should all do it,” said Jek.
Wedge responded in kind, accepting the apology. “I, uh, didn’t actually run any spice personally. I just crewed for a guy who did. But ‘brilliant’s a little strong, don’t you think?”
“I don’t,” said Rom, with feeling. “You saved my neck out there.”
“Yeah,” said Jek, “how’d you know he was in trouble? I just barely saw it myself; you were nowhere near. Then-pow! there you were, pulling him out the fire.”
Wedge paused. How had he known? He just had. He looked quizzically at Jek. “I could see where he was, where they were.” To Rom he added, “I could see you needed help, and Jek wasn’t going to get there in time.”
“Hey, Wedge, I don’t care how you did it: crystals, insider knowledge, the Force, blind luck... I’m just damned glad you did,” Rom replied earnestly. Voorhees punched him lightly on the shoulder and nodded his agreement to Wedge.
Jek was still worrying at it. “You could see it? But you weren’t anywhere around it.” Wedge was puzzled. The whole dogfight had spread itself out in front of him, around him, with crystal clarity. He’d known where everyone was at every moment, and usually where they were about to be, too. Hadn’t they? Didn’t they? Jek was continuing: “I didn’t even see you until you were coming out of the debris right at me; for a half a minute I thought you were going to hit me. And then you just spun out of it and took out another one I didn’t see.”
Biggs spoke up. “Let it rest, Jek. He’s got it, that’s all there is to it.”
“What?” asked Wedge, wondering if he was making a fool out of himself with the question, if Academy pilots knew what ‘it’ was.
Biggs shrugged. “It. The gift. You’re a born snub jock, Wedge. It can’t be taught ... well, Commander Nilsen used to say ‘Of course it can be taught. It just can’t be learnt.’ Not everybody can fly one of the little ones, and not every one of those that can can fight ‘em. And only a handful of those can fight ‘em like you. How many hours you got?”
Wedge hesitated. “Counting today?”
Biggs laughed outright. “See what I mean? Less’n a dozen, I bet... I’m right. After you, me and Jek are the best, but we couldn’t do what you did after ten dozen hours ... can’t do. Look at today.”
Jek nodded. “All true, every word of it. They warned us about people like you.”
Wedge felt slightly panicked. “What if today was just luck?”
Voorhees laughed. “Two is luck. Eight is it.”
“I am not ready to fly second to Dutch Vaerrit,” said Wedge.
Now Biggs laughed. “No. No, you’re not. Not by a long shot. Snub jocks can be born, but not squadron leaders.” Wedge’s relief was tempered by the desert-born pilot’s next words. “You’ve got a lot to learn, boy, and we’re just the guys to teach you.”
Wedge had a feeling he was going to be sorry he’d ever heard of Rogue Squadron. Either that, or this was the best day of his life.
At the squadron briefing the next morning, Biggs dropped into the chair next to Wedge. “You’re sneaky,” he said.
“What?” said Wedge.
“You annexed Tyree,” Biggs said.
Rom started laughing. Marcan Voorhees drifted in their direction, his smoky eyes warming. “What’s the joke?” he asked.
Rom wrinkled his nose at Marcan. “New guy stole Tyree from under Biggs’s nose.”
“The new man. Did he really?” Marcan drawled softly.
“Yes,” said Rom good-humoredly. “The new guy did. You didn’t know? You his roommate.”
“So I am,” Marcan said, “but not everyone talks constantly. Congratulations,” he added to Wedge, who had no idea what they were talking about. Two days ago, he wouldn’t have said so, but now he did.
“Who, or what, is Tyree?”
“Your new mech,” said Biggs.
And then Major Vaerrit came in, and Jek snapped, “Ten-shun!”
They snapped to, and then Dutch Vaerrit said, “Be seated, gentlemen.”
They sat, Biggs on Wedge’s left and Rom on his right, with Marcan next to Rom. Biggs sat at attention, Rom frankly slumped, and Marcan managed a graceful, even elegant sprawl. Wedge hoped he looked more like Marcan than Rom, but wasn’t overly sanguine about it; still, he didn’t worry.
After a few bits of business, mostly about the new base and the difficulties of dealing with the gas giant (which Wedge barely listened to; Yavin couldn’t be any more difficult than Varra Gus had been), the major said, “Last item.” As always, everybody paid attention to that. “Due to Blue Squadron’s heavy losses-”
Biggs muttered, “Better not be breaking us up.
At the same time Rom said, “Double flight duty.”
Vaerrit continued, pretending he hadn’t heard either of them, “-Section Sergeant Tyree and two corporals have been reassigned to our flight mechanics’ section. Sergeant Fearchar will be assigning primary and secondaries, since we’re still short mechs. You are each responsible for making sure that you have either a primary mech, or two secondaries, and I will hold you to it. If your S-foils fall off, it’s not just your own neck, gentlemen; think of your wingmen. We have a good-sized fuel dump here; we’ll be flying every other day. In theory, at any rate,” he added, glancing at Rom. “Until Blue and Green are up to strength, you’ll all be flying three-and-one. Starting at 1100 with 3 Flight, and Karsk and Sainer; 1 Flight and Voorhees and Hothagan will fly day after tomorrow. Enjoy it while you can, gentlemen. That is all.”
“Damn,” said Biggs after the major had left; he was 3 Flight Leader. “I took lateral thruster damage yesterday. I hope it’s fixed.”
“Borrow Wedge’s,” suggested Rom. “It’ll be flyable.” There was a joke there, Wedge could tell, he just didn’t know what it was.
“No kidding,” said Jek.
“It is,” said Wedge, figuring he’d better inject himself into this conversation before it got completely away from him. “I didn’t get hit.”
Biggs shook his head; Jek said, “Well, maybe...” The two of them headed off toward the hangars, followed by the other four scheduled to go up and Zev Senesca, always ready to help out. Tapan and Antel San walked off more slowly, engrossed in discussion, and Herowik stalked off on his own, as usual. Rom, Wedge, and Marcan remained.
“What odds that?” said Rom. “One’ll get you five he polished Wedge’s S-foils instead. What do you say, Wedge?”
“I’m a Corellian,” Wedge said, since he had no clue which way to answer it. “We don’t do odds.”
“None of you never?” asked Rom, curiously.
“None of them, ever,” affirmed Marcan in his soft drawl before Wedge could answer. “It is a point of cultural pride; it prevents them from grasping how hopeless some tasks really are.”
“Well, none of you Naradans have ever learned that, have you?” grinned Rom.
“With us, it is a point of pride to beat recalcitrant tasks into quivering submission,” responded Marcan and then, while Rom worked that out, he said to Wedge, “You don’t know about Tyree, do you?”
“No,” said Wedge. “I don’t. He was the mech who volunteered to be my, he said regular not primary?”
“Tallish, blond going grey, dark blue eyes?” asked Marcan.
“That’s Tyree. He laid claim to you? I’m not surprised. Sergeant Fearchar told me Tyree picks his own. He was a section sergeant, flight mechanics on Devastator, a Star Destroyer. One day, immediately before an attack by Devastator’s fighters on a Rebel installation, he simply sabotaged two squadrons of TIE-interceptors, stole a shuttle, and defected. No one knows why, precisely, but he brought such a dowry with him that he couldn’t be turned down. He’s eccentric-”
“Weird,” interpolated Rom, his pale blue eyes dancing.
“-but brilliant. The other flight mechanics swear that there is little he can’t do with a T-65,” finished Marcan.
“Then, shouldn’t he be the major’s mech?” asked Wedge.
“‘Should’ has only a passing acquaintance with Tyree,” said Marcan.
“He works where he’s needed, but he picks his own pilot,” said Rom. “Biggs was hoping to get him, but you slid in with that show you put on yesterday.”
Wedge nodded, but he was aware that Tyree had indicated that he’d worked on Wedge’s X-Wing before the evacuation of Dantooine. I’ll talk to him about it, he decided. For the moment, it seemed he was in good hands.
But somehow, he never quite managed to bring it up; Tyree's calm assumption of responsibility for him never quite allowed him to raise the subject. But he was, quite definitely, in good hands, even if sometimes he thought they were a little too good.
In midafternoon Wedge found himself with some spare time on his hand, and he opted to work on the X-Wing. When he’d had it up that morning, the sublight engines had been running rough in atmosphere, and he figured the intake needed tuning. He knew the Wing was short of mechanics, and this was routine maintenance that Tyree might not get to for a couple of days. Besides, it felt good getting his hands dirty again.
With his head and shoulders inside the engine, he didn’t hear the approaching footsteps. He did hear the voice, however.
“What are you doing, sir?” The question came from Tyree, in a completely neutral tone.
“Realigning the intake,” Wedge answered.
“Sir, why are you doing it?”
“Because it badly needs it,” Wedge pulled out of the manifold, leaned on the S-foil, and looked at the mech curiously.
“Yes, sir. But you’re not supposed to be doing it, sir.”
“I’m perfectly capable of doing it,” said Wedge, more than slightly annoyed at the implication that he wasn’t. Damn it, he’d been working on engines since he was eleven, he’d helped his father rebuild the Pulsar Skate’s starboard hyperdrive from the core out at fifteen, and he’d kept Treta’s Answer going for two years on his own.
“Yes, sir. I’m sure you can, sir.” The stress on that hit on the ‘you’, which converted it into a compliment, but the rebuke followed anyway. “But it’s not your job, sir. It’s mine.”
“There’s enough work to go around, Tyree,” Wedge said, almost amused.
“Yes, sir. Of course. But, sir, this is not your job.” Tyree reached out and took the ratchet out of his lieutenant’s hand before Wedge realized what he was going to do. “You’re the pilot, sir; I’m the mech. You fly, I maintain. Your job is to be constantly ready to fly; it’s my job to keep your 65 ready to be flown.”
“Tyree,” Wedge said in exasperation, “I’m not after your job.”
“No, sir; I’m aware of that,” Tyree said patiently. “It’s your job I’m concerned over. If you don’t eat or sleep, you’ll get sick. If you don’t relax, you’ll stress out. If you don’t practice, you won’t get better. And if you don’t teach, and learn from, the others, the squadron won’t get better. And that’s your job, sir. We’re here to defeat the Empire: you climb into the 65 and actually fight, and I make sure it’s ready when you need it. If you take your time to do my job, sir, you can’t be ready to do yours. So, sir, please go away and let me go to work. Sir.”
Wedge was left with nothing to say, not an unusual occurrence when dealing with Tyree. It wasn’t dumb insolence, not as Wedge understood the term, it was simply an implacable reasonableness that took no prisoners. And Wedge had to admit the man had a point. Spending half an hour working on intakes might merely be not the most profitable use of his time, but spending half a day, or more, stripping an engine was definitely outside his job description. He sighed. He had been enjoying himself, damnit.... “All right, Tyree,” he capitulated. “I’ll go away.”
“Thank you, sir,” said the mech. “I’ll finish up on the intake, and then I’ll get on that starboard thruster. It’ll be ready for you tomorrow afternoon, sir.” He sounded as he always did, barring those few occasions when he was moved to joy by the number of kills Wedge (who frequently felt like a cat delivering mice) brought him, which was calm and not the slightest bit triumphant.
Wedge wasn’t sure that a little triumph wouldn’t have better than ‘parent successfully explaining not-very-difficult concept’, but he’d take what he could get. At least the X-Wing would be ready. “Thank you, Tyree,” he said.
“Yes, sir. Have a good evening, sir.”
When Wedge glanced back, Tyree was deep inside the manifold. Wedge sighed and left the hanger.
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