Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wings" and Roger McBride Allen's "Corellian" series of novels.
No copyright infringement is intended.
“Captain Antilles,” called the colonel’s aide. “Could you come here a moment?”
Wedge had just about broken himself of looking around for Captain Antilles when the name was spoken, but he didn’t think he’d ever get used to it. He walked across the wide reception area, wondering if he was about to be given yet another reason why he couldn’t get his money today... as if it weren’t really obvious: the rebels were stony broke. And part of it was his fault: he’d let them unload, instead of at least threatening to take the cargo to someone who would pay for it. Still, they’d fueled the Answer up and a Verpine mechanic had headed up the team that had checked her from stem to stern, so things could have been much worse.
On the other hand, maybe they were about to get worse. From what he’d seen so far on Dantooine, that could so easily happen.
He stopped next to the middle-aged man in the dark gray uniform and waited patiently while he dealt with someone who had grabbed his elbow in the meantime. This man was wearing a dark blue uniform; Wedge wished the rebels would just pick a uniform and go with it. You could tell their fighter pilots because they all wore orange flightsuits, like the Rebellion had gotten a deal on them somewhere (“Look, okay; I’ve got 40 gross of flightsuits here, change of administration, the color’s wrong now-I’ll throw them in, whaddaya say?”), but it seemed like everybody else wore whatever they wanted, whether what they’d arrived in or just what caught their fancy. It wasn’t that Wedge had a thing for uniforms, he wasn’t wearing one, and few people he’d ever dealt with had (none that he’d ever cared for); but it made them difficult to sort out, and militaries were supposed to be easy to keep track of.
On the other hand, maybe he needed to lighten up. Not everyone in a uniform was CorSec. Still, it’d be nice to know if this guy was more, or less, important than the colonel, let alone his aide. Especially since everyone here seemed to have the notion that Wedge Antilles had nothing better to do than wait around on Dantooine while they decided whether Hagen Tor ought to have promised him 2,500 and fuel. And he didn’t like Dantooine. The trouble with planets was, they didn’t have any climate control, just climate. They were pretty, some of them, but why anybody would live on one... Wedge folded his arms and leaned against the wall, smiling to himself and in a much better mood, despite five days of waiting.
“Captain Antilles, I’m sorry about that,” said the aide as the blue-uniformed man left, “I didn’t mean to keep you waiting like that.”
“That’s all right; what’s fifteen more minutes?”
“I’m glad you feel that way,” said the man; here it comes, thought Wedge. “Colonel Vertrix wanted to know if you could see him this afternoon?”
“I haven’t got any appointments I can’t cancel,” said Wedge wryly. “Yes, I can see him this afternoon. Any chance he’ll have my money?”
“Well,” the aide said.
“Look, Captain Antilles,” the other man began.
“I’ll take it up with the colonel,” Wedge lifted a hand to stop the excuses.
“Sorry,” the aide said ruefully, and then turned and went back down the corridor, almost immediately surrounded by a collection of motley men. Wedge wondered briefly how much of his money they wanted, and then shrugged it off. Looked like Booster was going to be right again: “You sure as Sith won’t make any money running ‘medical supplies’ for those idiots,” he’d said back on Ralla. Wedge just hadn’t expected him to be quite so literally right.
He took a deep breath, and then coughed as he nearly choked on the humidity. How long did it take people to learn to breathe air this thick and wet? Or did you have to learn it as a child? Breathing a little more shallowly, Wedge walked over to the officers’ mess hall, where he’d been told he could eat the first day he’d been there. Nobody had questioned his continuing presence as the days piled up, and the food was okay, though nobody really knew what to do with a sausage and it was better not even to think about cake, let alone breakfast bread, light and fluffy with little pieces of meat baked in.... The caff was very good, though, and that made up for much.
He found something to eat and made his way to an empty table. It wasn’t next to a wall, but then, he didn’t think he was in danger of being backshot here on Dantooine. He could remember, almost wistfully and as if a long, long time ago, when he hadn’t given that sort of thing a first, let alone second, thought. He could also remember Booster telling him that making a fuss about getting your back in a corner was as reassuring to bystanders as being the only one armed in a room: they generally began wondering who was hunting you, and why, and they rarely wanted to get to know you well enough to be on your side. ‘Besides,’ Booster had added, ‘when your back’s in a corner you only have one way out: through whoever’s in front.’ He grinned to himself, remembering his best friend’s pragmatic father and all the advice he was prone to giving. Though it had to be admitted, it was always good advice.
“May I join you?” The unexpected voice startled him. It belonged to a man in a brown and rust uniform, with (Wedge thought) colonel’s insignia, whose close-cropped hair was a nondescript sand. In fact, he was a nondescript man altogether, except for the confidence in his bearing. He didn’t look familiar; Wedge couldn’t remember having seen him before. Nevertheless, he nodded an answer and the colonel sat across from him. “Madine,” he said, “Crix Madine.”
Crix... a good Corellian name. Wedge smiled and introduced himself in Corellian.
The colonel nodded, smiling himself. “I figured from your clothes you were from the Sector,” he said; his Corellian was definitely native. “Been here long?”
Wedge shook his head. “Got in a few days ago,” he said.
“Korbyn.” Wedge almost said more, but he’d gotten out of the habit, or, perhaps more accurately, into the habit of keeping his own counsel.
Madine grinned slightly. “Before that? Or, at least, where in the Sector?”
Wedge gave what had become his standard answer when someone asked that and he felt like answering, embellished a little for a compatriot. “A rock called Gus Treta, mid-Sector, the Corum system.”
Madine nodded. “Iriodana?”
“You know it?” Wedge was surprised.
“I know Iriodana,” the man said. “You from there?”
“No, it’s a company station. Was,” he amended. “But I’ve spent my share of time on Iriodana. You?”
“Born on Aflic,” came the answer, “but grew up on Corellia. Antilles-that sounds more FedDub than anything else.”
“My dad was from Tralus,” Wedge nodded. “Never spent much time there, myself.”
“Good thing, probably,” said Madine, “seeing as how it’ll be a while before you have a chance to get back.”
“True,” Wedge nodded, though he figured he’d probably get back sooner than the colonel. “Anyway, things are getting ... tight,” he settled on that word and Madine nodded hearing it, “back home nowadays.”
“So I heard,” Madine said. “You can’t have been gone that long; people can still get in and out?”
“You can,” Wedge conceded. “The Diktat’s locking it down, though.” He cocked his head and hiked an eyebrow. “You planning on it?”
“Planning?” The colonel shook his head. “Not planning.... Just thinking about it.”
“Leave someone behind?”
“Oh, yeah,” he nodded. “Most of us did... wife and two daughters. Sent ’em home before I switched sides.” He shrugged. “I figured the Diktat wouldn’t give them up. What do you think?”
Wedge thought about it a minute. He certainly didn’t know what the Diktat’s personal political convictions were, assuming, of course, that he had any beyond that keeping his job was a Good Thing. But it figured that on something like this the man would probably, in Booster’s words, dance with the one that brought him. “It would take a lot,” he said. “No guarantees, but, it would take a lot.”
Madine nodded. “That’s what we figured. So, Antilles, what about you?”
Wedge shook his head. Something about the man made him add, “Probably wouldn’t have left if they’d still been there.”
“That happens, too,” Madine nodded.
Wedge shrugged. “It’s a big universe. Everything happens.”
Madine laughed. “That’s FedDub, all right. ‘Everything happens’ - been a while since I heard that.” He finished his caff and leveled his green eyes at Wedge, who thought to himself, ‘okay, here it comes.’ But he was wrong; the colonel went off on a different trajectory altogether. “You’ve been here nearly a week, I think... I’ve been seeing you around.”
“Set down five days ago,” Wedge answered, wondering if he’d run out of free board and lodging. But he was wrong again.
“Five days... Not in uniform yet?”
Uniform? That’s what this is about? Sorry, colonel...Wedge shook his head again. “No,” he said. “I’m not a soldier; brought a cargo in from Korbyn.”
“Cargo carrier?” Madine blinked, and then his eyes narrowed speculatively. “Oh...”
“Look, colonel,” Wedge said, “I’m a pretty fair pilot, and a better mechanic, and I’m not about to give up my ship and my liberty for a uniform. Besides,” he couldn’t resist adding, “orange is not my color.”
“Liberty? Free trade, that usually means.”
“Is that a complaint?”
“No,” Madine lifted a hand pacifically. “Not at all. We’re all on the wrong side of the law here, even if we don’t all admit it. But free trading is a bit more than just hauling freight. It’s downright useful.”
Wedge looked at him warily. “Is it profitable?”
Madine laughed out loud. “To whom?”
“I’m sure it must be,” Madine said. “Too many people engage in it for them all to be amateurs.”
Now Wedge had to laugh. When he was able, he said, “In general, yes, it’s profitable. But I haven’t been paid yet for the first thing I ran for you-”
“Not me,” Madine protested.
“You’re all wearing the uniform, even if it isn’t the same one,” Wedge said. “And not paying isn’t a good way to get repeat business.”
“I’ll tell the appropriate people.”
“Please,” Wedge said.
“Your own ship, you said? What is it?”
“A modified Cal V,” Wedge said, still feeling a little strange about it.
Madine shook his head. “I’m not familiar with those,” he said. “If it doesn’t carry a couple of companies of infantry, I don’t know it. Big?”
“One man,” Wedge said. “Small cargoes... the valuable kind,” he grinned.
“One man? No wonder you don’t want to give it up.” Madine’s eyes focused over Wedge’s shoulder. “Here comes my aide,” he said. “I’m late for something, I can tell. See you around the base, Antilles, for a while anyway.”
Wedge nodded. “Clear skies,” he said.
Madine laughed. “Infantry likes cloud cover, son,” he said.
“I’ll remember that,” Wedge said, watching as the colonel walked off. It had been nice to talk in Corellian again. He’d learned Basic young enough to be natively fluent in it, but Corellian was his hearth-tongue, as they said. Out here, people who spoke it were few and very far between, and all of them were friends. So far, he reminded himself. He was going to have to watch that.
He finished his lunch and deposited the tray for cleaning, adding Madine’s abandoned cup to it before he took it away. Then, bracing himself for the unadulterated air of Dantooine’s outdoors, he headed back over to the headquarters building.
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