Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wings" series of novels.
No copyright infringement is intended.
Leia looked at the wall chrono again. The message that had come from her contact had said the pilot would be here hours ago. Winter had checked and nothing seemed wrong, but she was starting to get worried. She looked in on her father, who was napping at his desk, and then wandered into her library. She could at least read up on the latest legislation pending before the Imperial Senate; perhaps it would take her mind off things. She took up a set of notes and began scrolling through them, jotting down reminders to herself.
She looked up when Winter entered. "Your Highness, your pilot is here. He's downstairs, waiting."
Leia rolled her eyes. "At last. I was starting to wonder if there'd be enough time to get anything done before I have to go to Coruscant." Winter regarded her calmly. "All right," she acknowledged, "he's not that late. Take care of things here, Winter." She hugged her friend, aide, and confidante, and then headed for the stairs.
The pilot was standing in the hall, head cocked to one side as he examined one of the old portraits. Leia paused on the stairs, hoping to get a good look at him before he noticed her. She liked to size people up, she was good at it, but it was harder if they were aware of her, trying to impress her or hide things. He was dark-haired, not tall, dressed in a green shirt under a rust vest, with dark trousers and boots, the former slightly wrinkled above the right knee where he probably usually tied down a blaster. He seemed young, his build was youthfully slim, but something about the way he carried himself made her wonder if he was older than he looked.
He turned his head suddenly, as if hearing a sound she wasn't aware of making, and then crossed the wide hall to meet her. His walk was confident, but not cocky; he didn't move like an officer. And he was young... or so she thought till she saw his eyes, which were dark, steady, and not young. He waited for her to descend, and then said, in a voice that was like the rest of him, quiet and confident but over a grounding of shyness, "Your Highness? Wedge Antilles. I'm sorry I'm late; I lost my hyperdrive engine."
"Oh," said Leia. Lost his engine? How'd he get here? More importantly, how are we getting to Dantooine? "How bad is it?"
"Your father's mechanic, he said he could repair it in a couple of days," said Antilles. "Of course, a Verpine worked on her not quite a year ago, the modifications may be trickier than he thinks."
"Days? That won't do," said Leia.
"No, I thought not," he agreed. "The Answer's a Cal V, she has two hyperdrive engines, but it'll take a lot longer to get there on one. Your Highness," he added, a clear afterthought. He rubbed his chin reflectively.
"Oh, call me Leia," she said. She thought for a moment, and then asked, "Can you pilot a yacht?"
"Yes," he said simply. She liked that, no 'I can fly anything'. She found herself smiling at him, and he smiled back. She liked his smile, too; it looked friendly and open, and had no assumptions in it.
"Then we'll take the Wings of Organa," she said. "In fact," she added, "you said yours was a Cal Voornan? A freighter? The yacht will be better."
"It'll be less conspicuous," he agreed.
"Leia?" She turned and saw her father coming down the stairs. "Who is this young man?"
She climbed quickly up to meet him and walked down holding his arm, letting him put his weight on her instead of the railing. She hated it when people saw him for the first time now, frail and old before his time, with no outward sign of his strong will and fierce spirit. "Father, this is Wedge Antilles; my father, Prince Bail Organa."
Antilles didn't expect the prince to shake his hand, she saw with gratitude, only inclined his head enough to be polite.
"Antilles? What kind of name is that?" Bail's dark eyes, still bright despite his frailty, raked the young man from head to toe and back again.
"It's Corellian, Your Highness," the pilot answered unhesitatingly.
"Bel Iblis sent you," Bail said.
Leia watched as Antilles's eyes widened slightly, and she realized, with some satisfaction, that he was reconsidering his first impressions of the prince.
"He and Mon Mothma," the pilot nodded.
"Huh," Bail sighed heavily. "I suppose you can fly well, anyway. You be careful with my daughter, young man. Understand?"
"Yes, Your Highness, absolutely."
"Father," said Leia.
"You watch yourself, Leia," he said, and kissed her cheek.
"I will, Father. It's just a trip," she said reassuringly. She saw Winter standing quietly nearby and said to her, "Make sure Captain Antilles's ship is worked on." Winter nodded.
Bail raised an eyebrow. "Captain?" He was obviously skeptical about the pilot's right to that title, perhaps not surprisingly given his age and attitude.
"Owner-Captain, Your Highness," said Antilles. "Not a military commission."
"I didn't think so." Bail nodded to himself. "Run along, Leia, you'll be late."
She shook her head at him and his usual mix of protectiveness and insousiance, as though he were simultaneously scared to let her leave and yet determined to let her do whatever she wanted. She hugged him goodbye, feeling his arms around her with so little strength, remembering him from her childhood, a tall pillar of strength... He was so much worn down by the unending strain of the constant deceptions, the loss of her mother, and the illnesses. At least he didn't have to deal with Palpatine on a daily basis any longer... She hugged him again, glad to be able to take some of his burden, and then headed for the door. Antilles followed her.
Once they were outside she felt compelled to apologize for her father. "He's not very well," she added, "and, well, he's a bit old-fashioned. He'd give anything for the Rebellionhas, in a very real way"
"I don't mind," Antilles said, sounding as if it were true. "Fathers and daughters, that's a constant. Fathers of daughters and young men, that's another."
Leia nodded. "He doesn't mean anything by it, Captain"
"Please," he said. "I can't possibly call you Leia unless you call me Wedge."
"All right," she agreed. "Do you have a sister, Wedge?"
He shook his head. "No," he said, and for a moment she'd have thought him much older than she had been, as his eyes became bleak, faintly shadowed with green; his eyes seem to change the way some people's did with the colors they wore, only with him it was apparently his emotions that colored them. But then his mouth quirked upward in a real grin and he added, "Although I do have sort of a sister, she spent most of the time with my family when we were growing up. You can watch out for Mirax, but only if you don't let her catch you at it."
Leia laughed. "I'm jealous," she said.
"You needn't be," said Wedge, and then asked rather quickly, "How big's this yacht? What kind is it?"
"Baudo-class," she said. "Are you familiar with them?"
He laughed, again looking young. "I cut my teeth on a Maudiea modified Baudothough I have to admit I don't think I've ever flown one straight."
Leia remembered that yachts were a favorite smuggler's ship, along with Corellian light stock freighters and the less common Cal Voornans, such as he had. Well, the Rebellion attracted all kinds, and many smugglers were freedom-lovers at heart. "The Wings of Organa is only a little modified, one of the cabins has been converted ... its engines and controls are standard. I like flying it, myself." That was calculated to confirm her guess, and it did. He didn't tell her that women didn't make good pilots, or that if she could fly it, he could with his eyes closed. He wasn't ex-Imperial Navy.
They were entering the hangar. A ship, small for a freighter but too big for a yacht, had been added to the runabouts in the front of the bay. She was glad he'd said it was a Cal V; knowing that, she could pick out the original lines. It was a noticeable ship, heavily modified, and somewhat battered. "Is that your ship?" she asked, because she was expected to.
He nodded. "Treta's Answer." She waited for him to tell her how outrageously fast it was, or how maneuverable, but all he said was, "If you'll wait here, YourLeia, I'll fetch my things."
She watched him walk up the ramp into his ship and wondered where he'd come from.
He wasn't very long; after only a few minutes he emerged, carrying a jacket and a blaster in one hand and with a bag slung over his shoulder.
"I'm ready," he said.
"That's all you have?" she asked involuntarily.
He shrugged. "I travel light," he said, but there was a hint of something else in his voice. Something that spoke to loss. "Besides," he smiled at her, "I am going to get the Answer back, aren't I?"
"Yes, I believe you are," she smiled back at him. "Here's the Wings of Organa."
He boarded first, not even noticing that he was, she could tell. She smiled and followed him. By the time she reached the cockpit, he was running through the precheck; she almost fell overhe actually had the manual open. She sat down and watched him. He was absently whistling something minor and complicated as he prepped for takeoff; when he noticed her, he smiled again but didn't stop what he was doing. She appreciated that; she hated wasting time.
After they were in hyperspace, though, he proved he'd been paying attention to her after all. "You should get some sleep," he suggested. "You've been up waiting on me a while."
"And you've been flying as long," she pointed out, though if she yawned once more she thought her head would fall off.
"I'll nap once I'm certain we're on course," he said. "Promise."
She nodded and walked back to the cabin.
Leia woke up suddenly, and then relaxed as she remembered where she was. She glanced at the chrono and was surprised to see her nap had turned into nearly nine hours. Sitting up, she realized the other bunk hadn't been touched. That annoyed her; did that boy think he could do without sleep? She preferred her pilots more in touch with reality.
But when she reached the cockpit, her emotions changed. Wedge had turned the passenger's seat to face his and put his feet up on it, and was sound asleep. Leia smiled involuntarily; he was tucked in neatly like a cat, and she could finally guess how old, how young, he was, without the distractions of his self-confidence and his too-old eyes. Even as she pegged him at no older than she, and maybe a year younger, he woke up, blinking once or twice and then giving her his shy smile. "Morning, Highness," he said. "Or, afternoon, Dantooine time." He swung his feet out of the other chair and sat up straight.
"I told you, call me Leia," she reminded him. "And you could have used the other bunk."
"Oh, no," he shook his dark head at her. "You don't want me doing that if there's any chance I'll need to actually react to anything. I don't know what it is, but give me a real bed and it takes ten minutes and two cups of caff to get me functional. Speaking of which," he stood up, and moved aside to let her pass into the cockpit, "would you like some?"
"How long before we arrive?"
"About a half hour till we drop out of hyperspace, and then another couple of hours to sneak up on Dantooine." He ducked out of sight for a few minutes. When he returned he was carrying a tray with two steaming cups and some pastries. "It is breakfast on Alderaan, after all," he said, moving as adroitly as a steward, though anything less like she couldn't imagine. Still, he must be used to ships; ...well, of course he is, he's a pilot.
She took the tray while he settled back into his seat and asked, "Why so long to get to Dantooine from the emergence point?"
"So they can be sure we're who we're supposed to be andwhat is more important in this thingwe can check them out." He wrapped his hands around his cup and let the steam rising from the caff warm his face, too, and then took a deep drink.
"You don't like my yacht?" she said, unsure if she was insulted or not. She liked the little ship, and it was a lot less noticeable than the one he'd come in.
"Oh, no. It's a nice yacht," said Wedge, halting his hand as he reached for a pastry, and then smiling and picking it up anyway. "It handles beautifully. And it has legs. But it doesn't exactly have an overabundance of weaponry, does it, Leia?"
"It has as much as is legal," she protested.
"My point exactly," he said.
After a moment, she started laughing. "I see what you mean," she admitted.
"I have a philosophy about fighting Imperials: it's best not to, but if you must, at least have a couple of laser cannons available."
"At least," he said.
"No, I mean, really 'it's best not to'?" she said, curiously. She didn't think Mon Mothma would have sent a hotshot, but ... her instincts told her he wasn't a coward.
His eyes got that bleak look again for a minute. "Fighting when you're outgunned is usually not a good idea. If you can run away, you should," he said, "unless..." He paused, and she let him. After a moment, he said, slowly, "unless you really have to stop them. Unless you have to take them down, even if you have to go down to take them down. To save someone, something... Usually though," his tone lightened up, "discretion is the better part of valor, just like the old saying. Especially if you're carrying an important passenger."
"Well," she admitted, "I'm glad to hear that you're not planning on going up against a Star Destroyer if we find one in orbit at Dantooine."
"Nope," he grinned, "if we find one of the big boys waiting, we jump out of there as soon as. I think we can outrun 'em if we have a good enough start. Not, mind you, that I expect to find anybody there."
Leia laughed. "I hope not, Wedge." She finished her pastry, and reached for the last one. "What are these?"
"Selonian dewberry tarts," he said. "That's tarts made out of Selonian dewberries, not Selonian tarts. I don't think Selonians actually make tarts."
"They're delicious," she said, sincerely. "Did you bring them?"
"You have a nice galley here, and I took the liberty of using it; I've had the dewberries in freezestore for a while. Thought you might like something fresh."
"You made it?" Leia was surprised.
"Cook or starve," he said. "That's what my mother started saying when I turned 14."
"Well, at least you won't miss breakfast," she said, polishing off the last of the tart.
"Actually," he grinned at her, "this is dessert. Although I've noticed most of you seem to think fruit is breakfast food."
"Oh? What do you eat for breakfast on Corelliasorry," she smiled. "In the Corellian Sector, I mean."
"Breakfast bread," he said. "Small rolls, fit in the palm of your hand, with nice crisp crusts, white bread, mind you, and filled with little pieces of shenken..." he shook his head, eyes closed. He sounded wistful.
"What's shenken?" asked Leia.
"It's meat," he said. "Sweet enough to melt in your mouth. I know," he intercepted her look. "Nobody puts meat in bread. But we do, in the Sector. That's breakfast food. Not fruit, not pastries."
She smiled at him. An engaging bundle of contradictions, this Wedge Antilles. She liked him.
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