Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wings" series of novels. The Corellian System is from Robert McBride Allen's "Corellian Trilogy". All of the Rogues (except Wedge and Wes) are mine.
No copyright infringement is intended.
The ceremony was over, and the celebration was beginning. It was kind of funny to Wedge that Leia had worn her Senatorial robes to hand out the Rebellion’s first medals (another of General Dodonna’s ideas) but he guessed the deeper symbolism was that the Rebellion was the legitimate heir to the Old Republic, and the Empire the illegal interloper. He’d have to ask her; he didn’t want to reveal his ignorance to anyone else. At any rate, she and the medal recipients-Luke, Han, and Chewbacca-were the focus of attention. As they should be, he had no quarrel with that at all. He’d survived the run, but he’d pulled out early and never gotten a shot off. Well, not a torp into the Death Star, anyway. He was content with surviving; that was all the reward he needed. That and having seen the Death Star explode from close enough to feel it.
He was actually surprised at how good he felt about the celebration. If he’d been asked earlier, he’d have said it was denying or ignoring the deaths that had happened, but now he could see that instead, it was accepting them and raising them to a new importance: they had bought something wonderful at a terrible price, and to deny the wonder was to cheapen the cost. Biggs and Jek and Marcan Voorhees, all the rest of them, were deep in the soul of the celebration. The destruction of the Death Star was somehow more meaningful because of them. Wedge couldn’t put it into words, but he was glad to be there, in the newly made dress uniform that Jan Dodonna had commissioned, with all the rest of the pilots and soldiers, together. Later he’d hear the word community and realize that’s what he was feeling, now he just felt good.
When it happened, he and Rom Hothagan, fresh out of a bacta tank, were standing by one of the tables, drinks in hand, with a couple of Y-Wing pilots, one of whom had just finished telling the funniest story Wedge had ever heard in his life, about a blind Grand Moff, a Stormtrooper, and a Wookiee. Rom was hanging on every word and the other Y-Winger, who’d heard it before, was sniggering and gasping long before the end. And when he got to the punchline (Ah, sir, no sir, that’s not his arm...), Rom simply died. Wedge himself wasn’t sure which was funnier, the story (not his arm) or Rom collapsing against the wall, unable to stand up for laughing. He himself was laughing harder than he had since, well, he wasn’t sure when. Too damned long. The Y-Winger was just gearing up for another joke when Wedge felt a hand on his arm, and the other three guys quieted down fast. Too fast.
Wedge turned. She was wearing a dress uniform too, though all that really penetrated was how much better it looked on her than it did on, say, Rom. Thick fair hair spilled across her shoulders. Silvery-grey eyes, set just slightly aslant in a face that took his breath away, smiled up at him. “Hi,” she said, in an oddly familiar voice. Wedge didn’t know who she’d thought he was; his only goal in life was to make her happy he wasn’t whoever she’d been looking for. His only problem was, he had no clue how to accomplish that feat.
“Hi,” he said, and wished he had thought of something better, wittier ... wittier. She’s probably looking for the jokester, here... But no, she wasn’t. She was looking straight at him, and her smile was still there. “I’m-” he started, and she interrupted him.
“Wedge Antilles, I know.” Her hand was still on his arm, and she took a half-step closer to him for no good reason that he could tell.
“You do?” he said, and immediately decided he’d be better off silent than coming up with such undistinguished responses.
“Of course I do,” she said. “You Ran the Trench, didn’t you, along with Luke Skywalker?” The capital letters were clear in her unplaceably familiar voice.
Rom Hothagan saved him from having to answer that. “Yes, ma’am, he sure did. And you know that was Vader in that squint,” he casually made her a present of what the Rebels’ intelligence officers still thought was a profound secret. They had no idea how pilots talked, even across enemy lines, and too many TIE pilots had survived the Death Star. The whole Alliance knew that the Empire had lost Vader to the depths of space in a non-hyperdrive-capable fighter. It was one more reason to celebrate.
Her fine blonde eyebrows drew together for a moment’s puzzlement. “Which? Oh-the one that hit you?” She sounded concerned.
Wedge’s head was spinning, as if he’d had a whole lot more to drink than he knew he had. Again, Rom answered for him, though what he said had Wedge blushing.
“That’s right. It took a Lord of the Sith to put him out of commission.” Over her head Rom was giving Wedge the pilots’ hand signal for ‘close it up’.
“But, you’re all right, aren’t you? I mean,” she glanced out onto the floor, “you could dance, couldn’t you?”
Wedge found his voice. “Truth be told, I’m not very good. But, if you’re willing to take the risk-?” Anything to get away from Rom Hothagan at this moment, anything to get closer to whoever she was.
She laughed gently, sliding her hand down his arm to take his in hers. “I think I can chance it, Lieutenant.”
“Wedge,” he said, “please, just Wedge,” as he put his drink down on the table and followed her wherever she had in mind to go, resolutely ignoring Rom’s ‘victory’ hand signal.
“And I’m Inidia,” she said, “Inidia D’Treyvan.”
The name meant nothing to him, but he was more than willing to shelve the mystery for a while, for as long as she looked at him like that, and talked to him at all, let alone like she wanted.... Wedge wasn’t going to think about what she wanted. In fact, when he looked at her, he wasn’t thinking about anything at all.
Mrendy had taught him and Mirax to dance four years ago, or was it five? As far back as he could remember he’d wakened nights to music and crept out to watch his parents dancing with each other, quiet and simple, conversations without words. He had very much wanted to learn how to do that. He hadn’t had much occasion to use it, but he’d learned it well, though both Mirax and his mother’d been taller than he and it was different feeling his partner’s head against his chest ... well, it was very different dancing with Inidia altogether. Mirax had certainly never clung to him like this. Nor had he wanted her to...
Halfway through the dance he figured he’d better say something. Otherwise, she was likely to think his brain had locked up. It had, of course, but he didn’t want her to notice. So he offered the most clichéd opening gambit he knew: “Where are you from, Inidia D’Treyvan?”
“Actually, I’m from Coruscant,” she said.
“Really?” That startled him.
“You can be from Coruscant without being even remotely rich and influential,” she said lightly.
“I’m sure you can,” he said; there were what, fourteen billion people there. “It’s just, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Coruscant before.” He heard his accent as he said the word, not in time to stop himself from giving the second -c- its hard value, the tell-tale Corellian corus-kant instead of corus-sant the way she, everybody here, did. Oh, well; I am from Corellia after all, he thought and hoped she didn't mind.
“I’m your first? How nice!” Her silver eyes glinted at him. She didn't seem to mind his accent at all.
Once again, he had no idea what to say. Rom’s absence, a blessing a minute ago, was sorely felt. He was rescued this time by the end of the music. They moved off the floor and he quickly asked her if she wanted a drink. Miraculously, she did.
Over it, she asked him, “You’re from Corellia, aren’t you, Wedge?” He nodded, and she remarked, “That’s so confusing. Corellian Sector, and City, and star.”
“It’s not quite that confusing,” he said. “There’s the Corellian Sector, and the Corellian System, and Corellia, but the star is actually Corell, and the city’s Coronet.”
“Are you from Corell? Sorry,” Inidia laughed. “From Corellia, I mean.”
“No,” he smiled, “I’m from, well, I was born on a rock called Gus Treta, actually. My father was from Talus, one of the Twin Brothers, and he ran a fueling station for CorImExCo on Treta.”
“In the Corellian System?” asked Inidia. “And what twin brothers was your father one of? Somebody I should have heard of?”
“No, the Twin Brothers, sometimes they’re called the Double Worlds, Talus and Tralus; they have a common barycenter they orbit. Anyway, they’re in the Corellian System, but Treta orbited a gas giant around a star called Corum, about halfway out from Corell to the farthest Outlier. Which,” he realized that he was, if not babbling, coming close to it, “are the hinterland systems, and probably more about the Sector than you really want to know.”
“All I want to know about Corellia,” Inidia said, “is: why do all the interesting Corellians leave?”
Wedge could have died because he knew he was blushing. Fortunately, the music started again, and she took his hand. “Another?” she asked, and pulled him onto the floor. Not that he was resisting.
After a few moments she said, “You know, you’re entirely too modest, Wedge. You dance very nicely indeed.”
“Have we met?” he asked, partly to change the subject, but also because he had to admit he really did want to know the answer; it was driving him crazy, or helping to anyway. “I can’t believe I wouldn’t remember you, but your voice is so familiar...”
Inidia laughed again, and Wedge realized he could fall in love with that sound alone, let alone the eyes and the smile and everything else. She collected herself, her face growing very serious, and said, “All Squadrons, stand by. Squadron Leaders, report your positions. Attack Squadron-”
“Oh, yes! Of course,” he said as the half-familiarity resolved itself into full recognition. “Central. You’re the Voice of Central.”
“You sound different, much better,” he amplified, “in both ears, not to mention the subject matter. Besides, you never actually spoke to me before.”
“I’m sure that will change,” she smiled and then leaned against him. “You won’t stay a lieutenant much longer.”
At that moment he could picture himself a general.
Neither of them spoke again until the music ended, and then she tucked herself under his arm, putting her arm around him. “Let’s take a walk, Wedge.”
They walked in silence through the wide stone corridors of the ancient building into Yavin’s damp, dark, and scented night. Birds or something called in the forest around them, and some large white flowers opened themselves to whatever flew in the darkness. Only a few strong stars struggled through the overcast, but the moon was up, a pale, slender curve against the darkness. Inidia paused, raising her equally pale face with its shining hair to the sky. “There’s nothing like this on Coruscant, nothing like this at all. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“I’ve never seen anything more wonderful,” said Wedge, staring at her.
She turned to him, smiled, and touched his face. When he bent his head to hers, she met him, holding him close. He buried his hands in her hair and kissed her again.
“Do you have a room-mate, Wedge?” she asked softly.
“No. Actually-” Actually, boxed belongings were all that remained of Marcan Voorhees, with whom he had shared a room since joining the squadron and who had vanished into the chaos now being called The Battle of Yavin. “No. I don’t.”
She pulled his head down to her again. “Good,” she murmured.
They ended up, Wedge didn’t quite remember how or after how long, in his room. Marcan’s boxed life in the corner had for those two days been pointing Wedge a reminder of mortality. Tonight, he didn’t even notice the boxes. Or miss Marcan.
“Am I your first?” she asked him later in the close darkness. “I’m honored....”
“No,” he said against her warm skin. “I am.”
When Wedge woke the next morning, fighting his way through his usual morning vagueness, Inidia was gone. It took him a few moments to decide he hadn’t conjured her up out of his imagination, and another few to find the note she’d left, lying beside the holo of his parents. ‘Wedge: these must be your parents; you look like your father. They look like nice people, like their son. I’ve got early duty, you were sleeping so cute I just couldn’t wake you. I’m off at 1500.-I.’
The note evoked conflicting emotions. He wasn’t off that early, but it looked like dinner was a definite go, and afterwards, well, afterwards. But ‘cute’? Cute? That was a risk he wasn’t prepared to take; the note had to be destroyed.
At breakfast, where, typically, there wasn’t anything like decent bread, Wedge made do with the good caff and some fruit. He sat down, and almost immediately Rom sat next to him. “So, Wedge,” he said with feigned casualness, his pale blue eyes alight with artless curiosity; everything about Rom invariably appeared both innocent and lit up. Wedge always found him tiring in the morning. “Sleep well last night?”
“Rom, I haven’t had a whole cup of caff yet.”
“You left early. How late could you have stayed up?”
“Rom, don’t mess with me. I’m not awake enough for you,” said Wedge, thankful that the Y-Wingers weren’t in Rogue.
“Pretty late, I guess.”
“Are you old enough for this conversation?” Wedge demanded, raking a hand through his dark hair.
Rom stared at him in disbelief. “Me? Am I old enough?” There was undercurrent to that that Wedge wasn’t awake enough to think about. Rom added, indignantly, “I can’t be a year younger than you.”
“It’s an all-important year.” Wedge finished his caff and contemplated the effort involved in getting more, weighing it against the alternative, which was to sit there and listen to Rom without being really awake. Before he’d come to a decision, a fresh, steaming cup appeared in front of him. He looked up to see Luke sitting down across from him, his plate filled with that porridge stuff he thought was breakfast food. “Morning,” he said to the Tatooiner. “Thanks.”
Luke smiled cheerfully at him; another morning person. They should have to eat breakfast at their own tables. His tousled blond hair and slight build made him look younger than Rom. It took a minute for Wedge to register that Luke was wearing captain’s pips on the tan uniform.
“What’s that?” Wedge asked, gesturing at Luke, and then at his own collar.
“General Dodonna asked me to take command of Rogue Squadron. Red, I mean,” he said, shrugging and smiling.
“Really?” said Rom, diverted. “Wow. I mean, great, Luke. I mean, sir.”
“Luke is fine,” he said. “Wedge?” That was a trifle tentative.
Wedge looked at Luke over the edge of the cup as he took another deep, reviving draft. He said, meaning it, “Congratulations. You deserve it. You fly like one of us, all right.”
“Well, there is one thing,” said Luke, his blue eyes very serious in that young face.
Rom looked back and forth between them like a man at a full-court racquetball match, with money on one side and love on the other.
“My exec. General Dodonna wanted to let Commander Williard pick him.”
“Sainer will make a fine XO,” said Wedge. “Who’s going to be your wingman, picked one yet?”
“I don’t know, I thought maybe Rom here-” Luke started.
“Sure, I guess...” This time when Rom’s pale eyes tracked from Luke to Wedge they lingered there.
“Rom's very good,” said Wedge, wondering briefly exactly what Williard had had to say. He would have thought Yavin made a pretty good audition. Sure, he’d had to pull out, but he’d saved Luke’s skin first. Still, it was not exactly a surprise.
“I'm sure he is. But,” said Luke with emphasis, “back to my exec. I’m sure Sainer is a good man, but I told the general if he wanted me to take command of the squadron I wanted to pick my own second-in-command. Because you’re going to be doing the Hutt’s share of the work. I’m a Jedi with no teacher; I have a lot of training I have to figure out.”
Wedge wasn’t at first sure he’d parsed that properly. He ran through it again. No, no mistake. “I’m your exec?”
“If-if-you want the job,” said Luke. “Leia’s told me a lot about you. And we flew together. I know you, know you’re the man I want. What do you say?”
“What does Williard say?”
“The general said I could have my pick,” Luke smiled suddenly. “The commander doesn’t get to contradict him, not if I understand military ranks properly.”
“That part you do,” said Rom, all cheer.
Wedge put on a show of considering it. “Well,” he said, “one thing: I get to keep Tyree.”
“From what Tyll Sainer said, trying to break you two up would be like trying to teach a bantha to fly.”
“Assuming that’s a metaphor for ‘useless effort’,” said Wedge, unable to keep from grinning any longer, “I’m your XO, Captain.”
“Good,” said Luke. “I think we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’ll be worth it.”
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until nearly noon that Wedge realized this was the first step toward “not staying a lieutenant for long.” Before that occurred to him, he and Luke had started sorting through personnel records, looking for six pilots to fill out the squadron. Rom, Academy graduate Tyll Sainer, the veteran Zev Senesca, and the silent, even sullen Cort Herowik, were what was left. Oddly, Rom, whose cheerful insouciance precluded him from leadership, was the veteran, having joined the rebellion four months earlier than Sainer, and a full year earlier than Wedge. How he’d conned anyone into thinking he was old enough was a mystery, let alone Major Vaerrit, or Williard. Zev had been around a while, though he was fairly new to Rogue, and Herowik, although he’d obviously seen a lot of action, had been in uniform only a couple of months. Luke cheerfully admitted to little experience, though what he did have was impressive. Wedge would have like to get more veterans, but there weren’t any to be had. They would have to build on what there was.
At least there wasn’t any enormous hurry. For one thing, they were short on X-Wings. For another, squadrons didn’t deploy alone, except on high patrol over Yavin, so whether any one squadron was up to strength was moot. If one had twelve and the other eight, or both had ten, it was all one.
After about three hours, Luke asked Wedge, “What do you think about Afrit?”
“Who?” Wedge looked up from his side of the desk.
“Malina Afrit.” Luke tossed the datapad to him. “She seems good; she got four kills when we were going after the Death Star.” Wedge nodded appreciatively. “She was flying with Orange, so she wasn’t around us, but she seems good. Still, Captain Felt has her flagged... this does mean that he wants to transfer her, doesn’t it?” He gestured at the datapad.
“Yes, it does,” Wedge was grinning as the name, coupled with Felt’s, finally registered. “He does. It’s a ‘personality conflict’. She broke his arm. He’s lucky she didn’t break something else, the way I hear it.”
“What happened?” Luke asked cautiously.
“Well, Felt’s Imperial.” At Luke’s raised eyebrow, Wedge amplified, “Culturally, I mean. By training, out of seven years’ service, and from an old, established Palpatinistic family on an Inner Sector world. He, umm, has some very definite ideas about women, is very set in his ways. And Afrit’s, well, not. Any of it.”
“I’m sorry,” said Luke, with a fleeting expression that said he was tired of being sorry about being provincial. Wedge reflected for a moment that that was the essential thing that separated them: when you were from the Corellian Sector the rest of the galaxy was out of step with you. “I don’t quite... What ways?”
Wedge hesitated a minute, wondering how to put it without stepping on Luke’s Tatooine sensibilities. Biggs had never quite lost his strict desert frontier upbringing, either. “Your average Imperial officer figures that any woman assigned to his unit-if there is one, that is-is there to make his life more pleasant. A lot more pleasant.”
Luke stared at him for a moment, clearly puzzled. Wedge thought, was I ever that young?, and wondered if he’d need a 3d graphic, and then understanding dawned in those blue eyes. “Oh,” he said, “oh.”
“I’d say, especially if she got four kills the other day, take her. Sainer might grouse a little, but I’ve known women can fly rings around most men. Sainsy’s smart enough to come around.”
“At least she won’t have to worry about that sort of thing here,” said Luke, firmly.
Wedge repressed his first impulse, which was to say that he didn’t think Afrit worried about much. He and Rom had run into a couple of Orange pilots a few days after the incident, and it had seemed like they were the ones doing the worrying. Both Rom and Wedge, neither one Imperial in the least, had found it faintly amusing and deeply satisfying. Now Wedge just agreed with Luke and then offered a name of his own.
“Janson?” Luke said, looking at the datapad.
“Wes Janson. He’s got no formal training, he was a shuttle pilot, but right after we lost Flit Saldarin Wes flew a mission with us, filling in. He’s got aptitude and guts, and he’s wasted just sitting around in repple.”
“In where?” Luke asked cautiously.
Wedge flashed back to his first days with the squadron. At least he’d been a deep spacer before that, only the military terms and slang had thrown him. Luke must be running into words he didn’t know on a more or less continuous basis. Wedge made a mental note to expand everything the first time he said it, maybe the second, too. “Replacement pool, flying for anyone who’s grounded temporarily.”
“He might have flown with us again against the Death Star if Leia and Biggs hadn’t dragged you into the middle of it.” Wedge said. “Dutch wasn’t sure about him, but that’s just because he wasn’t from a ‘good’ background. Dutch wasn’t sure about me, either, and the only reason he had Rom around was because Rom was there first.”
“Okay,” said Luke, “I trust your judgment.” He glanced down at the reports, and then back up at Wedge and said, “Biggs was sure about you.”
Wedge laughed. “I know.” He leaned back in his chair, holding a datapad. “Biggs was pragmatic. Once he decided he liked how someone flew, he didn’t care where they came from. He even forgave me for running glitterstim.”
“You, too? Does everyone from Corellia smuggle?” asked Luke, somewhat plaintively.
Wedge laughed again. “No. But most of us in the Rebellion do, or did, anyway. Most Corellians never leave the Sector. The Rebellion gets the wild ones.”
“But, when did you have time... I mean, you’re not much older than me, are you?”
“I don’t know,” shrugged Wedge. He figured there wasn’t any way to compare their ages; it wasn’t how long you’d lived, it was how. “I’m nineteen. Be twenty in a couple of months.”
“That’s barely older than me,” said Luke, mostly to himself. “But how... I mean, I’m sorry. It’s really not any of my business.”
Wedge tossed the datapad onto the desk and shrugged. More than three years and it still hurt, hurt to think about it and hurt to say the words. So, of course, he said them in true Corellian fashion, lightly and off-handedly. “My parents died when I was sixteen. A boy’s gotta find some line of work when he’s on his own. Besides, I had help: my parents’ best friend was a pretty successful smuggler.” He laughed. “Which is more than I ever made.”
“Was your father,” Luke paused, probably looking for a polite way to say it. Wedge had a wayward thought: I’m going to get a lot of practice at not laughing with him around.
“In the business? No; my dad ran a fueling station for CorImExCo on Gus Treta.” A brief flash of deja vu; had he said that to someone recently? He shook it off. Luke was looking at him as though he really wanted to hear it. “He was straight as a laser. He never broke a law in his life. Bent several, it’s true, but ... Mom was the wild one,” he smiled wistfully. The sense of repetition was gone; he knew he hadn’t said that to anyone in a couple of years, anyway. “Mom stayed in the marked lanes, but she knew the back ways, too.”
“I never knew my parents,” said Luke, a little yearningly. “My aunt and uncle raised me.”
“On a moisture farm,” said Wedge. “Biggs used to talk about farming.”
“Biggs’s father’s not a farmer,” said Luke. “Huff Darklighter’s a trader, pretty influential, really. Of c ourse, Biggs used to work over at his uncle’s a lot. When he was doing anything constructive, I mean.”
“He was a good man,” said Wedge. “He was honest, and he valued excellence.”
Luke nodded. “He wasn’t made for farming.”
“You either, I’d say.”
“No.” Luke’s eyes clouded. “My uncle Owen tried, but... I’m supposed to learn the ways of the Force, be a Jedi like my father was. I don’t know how I’m going to do it without Ben.”
“Jedi contrive,” quoted Wedge, not sure what else to say.
“I hope so.”
“Are you two eating?” Sainer looked in the door, Rom at his elbow.
Luke arose with alacrity. “Sure,” he said. “Come on, Wedge. I’ll take these names to Commander
As predicted, Williard wasn’t very happy with the replacements Luke requested. Luke got his way, of course; Jan Dodonna was a powerful patron, and even those who weren’t certain that Luke really was a Jedi realized the value of saying he was. And either by native inclination or luck, Luke appeased Williard by accepting two men that he proposed: Vlad Ruun, son of a Senator from Arusia, and his wingman, Len Kepple. When they added Vlast Carro, Afrit’s wingman from Orange (Felt was so glad to get rid of her that he didn’t demur at losing both of the combat team), they were up to eleven. And that with relatively little work on their parts, when all was said and done.
Finding the twelfth wasn’t as simple, or as important. As Williard pointed out, they’d gotten two from the new arrivals, one from the replacement pool, and two from Orange, leaving that squadron down to eight itself. Thus, they could move to the back of the line for their last man. That was reasonable, though so too was Rom’s dark prediction that Williard was waiting for the perfect pilot to fall into his lap, the man who would so obviously combine all the right characteristics that no one would quibble when he took over the squadron, or at least (given Dodonna’s favoring of Luke) become the exec.
Wedge was a little too busy to worry about Rom and his predictions of doom, though. They might not have worked very hard to get up to eleven, but integrating those eleven into a fighting unit wasn’t done overnight. The moreso since Luke had been put in command with only his native talents in the cockpit and the aura of the word Jedi to recommend him, and neither Ruun nor Kepple were overly thrilled with a woman squadronmate. In fact, Ruun had several personality conflicts from the first day. Unlike Marcan Voorhees, product of seven hundred years of noble ancestry and aristocratic to his slim fingertips, who had unblinkingly accepted street thieves, smugglers, farm boys, and a probable murderer as his peers in uniform, the senator’s son, product of the Empire’s new order, balked at them all. And Kepple followed his lead in that as well as everything else.
There was also the nagging problem of what to do about Marcan. It wasn’t just the two boxes of belongings, it was the whole summation of the man’s life. When his father had died, he had inherited the title, and on Narada titles still meant something. His family had disowned him when he defected, but he couldn’t be knocked out of the succession. He’d been married at eight; she’d formally repudiated him, but he hadn’t behaved as though that was anything but a protection from Narado-Imperial wrath, and, frankly, no one in the squadron had a clue as to the quality of his relationship with her, his mother, or his brother and two sisters. In fact, the existence of the sisters came as a surprise to everyone but Rom, who told the others about them. And granting the brother would like to know he was Lord ArReivian now, how exactly did one tell him? Luke was willing to let Williard worry about it all, but Wedge couldn’t let it go that easily. Luke hadn’t known Marcan; Wedge had. They had been roommates for six months, and Wedge had grown very fond of the good-natured yet detached Naradan.
And he’d more or less inherited Rom from Marcan, too. Not just as wingman, either, though Luke had apparently read more into Rom's glance than Wedge had and had paired them, leaving himself without a wingman for the time being. Why him and not Sainer, whom Rom had known longer, Wedge wasn’t sure, though part of it was that Sainer still tended to think of Rom as a boy and Wedge only thought of him as not old. Perhaps he and Rom had more in common than was apparent on the surface, more than Rom and Sainer did, though that hardly explained why Marcan had taken the young pilot under his wing; two more different individuals would be difficult to find. Whatever the reason, Rom had spent many an evening sprawled on the foot of Marcan’s bed, and now he was as often in Wedge’s room as not, with his cheerful chatter. Wedge envied him his resiliency.
And there was Inidia. She took up a lot of Wedge’s time, even when he wasn’t actually with her. He thought about her; more often, she occupied his mind without any real thinking going on. When he did actually think about her, or them, he was occasionally disquieted; he wanted to feel about her the way he thought his father had felt about his mother, but he didn’t. He told himself that would come in time, that probably Grey had been surprised by Mrendy a lot when they first knew each other, that that wordless communication of theirs had taken years. He also told himself that there was a war on, after all, and things moved faster; when you might well die tomorrow you didn’t want to wait as long as a week... He didn’t always believe himself. But in her actual presence all doubt and questioning disappeared, and all that remained was wondering what she saw in him and being glad that whatever it was, she did see it; those, and the pure pleasure of her company.
Also, there was General Dodonna’s decision to add combat tabs to the uniforms he’d already put the Rebellion into. A simple tan bar of fabric with the word “Yavin” embroidered in red was sewn onto the left uniform shoulder of every man or woman who’d participated in the battle. And those who’d taken part in covering the retreat from Dantooine got a tab with that planet’s name. Which was okay, in fact added a certain pride to some of the younger pilots and a lot of the people who’d fought on the larger ships, or flown the non-combatant shuttles, people who didn’t always get the respect handed to the fighter pilots. Where Wedge had a problem with it was that the tabs he got had a black dot centered under the v of Yavin, as did Luke’s, representing the Death Star.
Which was, obviously, just plain wrong.
“There’s been an error,” he said to the quartermaster sergeant. “These are Captain Skywalker’s, not mine. I need plain ones, like everybody else.”
“Sorry, sir,” the sergeant shrugged. “I was specifically told, these DS-tabs for you and Captain Skywalker.” When Wedge pressed him, he pulled out the requisition form (another of the general’s contributions to the war effort) and showed him the signature: Jan Dodonna, Gen.
Wedge thought about talking to Commander Williard, but wasn’t up to admitting to the man that he needed taking down. It was a character flaw, probably, and he was aware of it, but he just couldn’t. Fortunately, Colonel Vertrix was available.
As the group commander waved Wedge into a chair, he asked, “What can I do for you, Lieutenant Antilles?” Unlike Williard, he said the rank as though he meant it.
“It’s the combat tabs, sir,” said Wedge. “I think the general’s made a mistake.”
Vertrix raised one of his shaggy eyebrows. “We have them, had them, in the Imperial Fleet,” he said. “Believe it or not, they do serve a good and useful purpose. Your background is not corporate,” which was by far the kindest way Wedge had heard it described, “and you may not appreciate that.”
“Sir,” Wedge said, “I’m aware that I’m not sufficiently military to follow everything the general does, but actually I’m not talking about the concept of the tabs. I’m talking about his putting the Death Star on my Yavin tab.” Wedge put the pack of tabs on the colonel’s desk.
Vertrix flicked the pack back towards Wedge. “You were there, lieutenant.”
“I was in the vicinity, sir,” pointed out Wedge.
“Close enough for the general,” smiled the older man.
“Lieutenant, you did run the trench. You were in it. You and Captain Skywalker are the only two X-Wing pilots who survived the attack on the reactor.”
“Skywalker and Solo are the ones who pulled it off,” said Wedge, wondering why this was such a difficult concept. “I wasn’t there at the end. I pulled out.”
“You were ordered to pull out; you followed that order.”
“I wasn’t there, sir,” repeated Wedge. “And a lot of people know that.”
“Lieutenant, let me explain something to you,” said Vertrix. “But first-when was the last time you saw Solo?”
“To speak to?” asked Wedge.
Vertrix shook his head. “Just saw him.”
“This morning, actually, sir.”
“What was he wearing?”
“Wearing?” Now Wedge was thoroughly confused.
“Was he in uniform, lieutenant?”
“Oh. No, sir,” said Wedge.
“No. And although Mik Rieekan disagrees with me on this, I doubt he ever will be. You are.”
“So is Luke Skywalker. And he-”
Vertrix interrupted him. “Is a Jedi. You aren’t. You’re an ordinary soldier, not Jedi anyway,” he grinned, “and you were there. You can call it anything you like, Antilles, from a lie to a misdirection to propaganda, but it’s important that the average soldier gets the idea that he can contribute.” He paused, but Wedge wasn’t sure what to say, so he didn’t say anything. Vertrix continued, “As to your other point, actually, the only people who know exactly what happened out there are Skywalker, Solo, a handful of other pilots-certainly not more than a dozen know for sure-, and those of my Central who were listening when Captain Skywalker ordered you to pull out. Now, it’s true that most of them are in your squadron; if you think it will be impossible for you to work with them, we could transfer you, though frankly I don’t want to. Captain Skywalker wants you as his exec, and, well, the general wants to give Skywalker what he wants. Still, we could transfer you; everyone’s short pilots. Purple, Black, Orange, Brown... Yellow needs a commander.”
“They’re Y-Wings,” Wedge protested involuntarily.
“I’ll make a note: no Y-Wings,” smiled Vertrix. “But seriously, do you want a transfer?”
Wedge thought. He didn’t. And he didn’t think most of Rogue Squadron would have problems... Ruun might, but Ruun and he already weren’t really getting along. And transferring might look like an attempt to hide. In Rogue he could always shrug and say, hey, you know I was only in the vicinity... “Can I take a rain check on that?” Wedge hoped he’d gotten the phrase right.
“Yes, I think so. But don’t wait too long,” warned Vertrix, smiling. “Is there anything else?”
“No, sir,” said Wedge, standing up and saluting.
Vertrix returned the salute. “Good afternoon, Lieutenant Antilles,” he said. “And, lieutenant?”
Wedge turned. “Sir?”
“Don’t forget these.” The colonel tossed the pack of combat tabs at him.
“No, sir.” It didn’t occur to Wedge until he was back at his own office than Inidia would have been pleased if he’d taken the command of Yellow Squadron. Well, I just won’t mention it...
Two days later, the Imperial prisoners were moved off Yavin; it was the day Wedge very nearly quit as the squadron’s exec. Eight days after the battle, the Rebellion put together the necessary transport for moving the prisoners, pilots mostly, to the planet where they were to be interned. They’d been kept inaccessible from the Rebels, most of whom hadn’t given them a second thought. And then, one fine morning, they were brought to the field to be taken up to the transport. Funnily, Inidia’s confidence in his career never entered the picture that day.
Rogue had just come back from a training flight; half of them, Wedge and Luke included, were still in the hangar when the shouting started. Incoherent noise at first, and then a voice, commanding, “Put that blaster down, lieutenant!” By the time they got outside, it was too late to stop anything.
The lieutenant with the blaster was Rom. He was the central figure in the tableau. Spread out around him were scattered Rebel pilots, mechanics, and ground troops; the latter had their own weapons out. The Imperials, wrists in binders, were huddled in the back of a ground transport, all but one. That one, a blond commander about thirty, stood up against the side of the tail of the transport, his eyes closed and his head back, futilely straining away from the muzzle of Rom’s blaster, which was pushed into his throat at the angle of his jaw. Rom’s knuckles were white on the blaster grip, his eyes were dark with wide pupils, and his breath was ragged.
Luke held his arm out to keep the others back. Damn it, thought Wedge, where’s Marcan when you need him? Or Major Vaerrit? And what the hell is Rom doing?
“I said, put that blaster down.” The order was repeated by Captain Felt.
“Pompous bastard,” muttered Malina Afrit.
“Captain Felt,” said Luke calmly. “He’s in my squadron.”
“Then maybe you should handle him,” snapped Felt.
“I will,” said Luke. He stepped forward carefully. When he spoke again, his voice sounded odd. “Rom, you don’t want to do this. Put the blaster up.”
The pressure of the blaster’s muzzle eased. For a moment Wedge thought that whatever Luke had done had worked, but then Rom spoke. His voice was calmer than Luke’s. “You’re wrong. I do want to do this. You-” that was to the Imperial flyer. “Move to your left and get in with the rest of them. Move!”
“That’s it.” The voice came from Wedge’s right. It was the ground troops’ captain, and he was signaling his men as he leveled his own weapon at Rom. He raised his voice. “Drop that blaster and move away from there, or you’re dead.”
“They dead with me,” said Rom, shifting his aim to cover the interior of the transport.
“Okay,” said the captain.
“No,” said someone else. Wedge looked back at the captain to see Williard pushing the man’s weapon down. “I’ll deal with this.”
The grey-haired Alderaanian walked onto the field, apparently not noticing the crowd at all. “Don’t do this thing, boy,” he said conversationally. “Dutch wouldn’t be happy.”
“Go away. Leave me be.” Rom’s voice was suddenly strained.
Williard’s, on the other hand, was calm, although the tendons were visible in his neck. “Can’t, boy. Dutch wouldn’t want me to.”
“I have to do this.”
“They’re not the ones you want.”
“They,” said Rom fiercely, “murdered Dutch.”
“They killed Dutch,” said Williard. “It was open combat. It was war. It wasn’t murder. This is murder.”
Rom shook his head.
“Dutch wouldn’t approve of this. The butchering of prisoners, unarmed: every fiber of his being would object to this. Every nerve, every muscle would revolt from it. Don’t do this to him.”
“Dutch is dead.” He still hadn’t looked at Williard.
“True,” said Williard calmly. “Are you going to do what he’d have abhorred alive and call it honor to him dead?”
Rom spun around and fired. Williard didn’t move, though half a dozen others did. The beam put a hole in the building, having passed less than a foot from the Alderaanian’s shoulder. “Dutch is dead, damn you!” Rom yelled.
“There are civilized ways to deal with this. Most of us get taught them much younger than you. Put that away and learn one,” said Williard, more calmly than Wedge would have credited him with the guts for.
Rom stared at him. “How many ways?”
“A lot. Every world has at least one, and most have several.”
“Do they work?”
“Better than this will. You’ll feel worse tomorrow.” Williard walked up to him, within arm’s reach. “You know better than this.” His voice was conversational, but the absolute silence on the tarmac made every word audible. “You just don’t know what else to do. Put it away. Dutch worked too damn hard on you for you to do this to him.”
“Don’t do this to Dutch’s memory. Don’t make this what he’s remembered for.”
Rom dropped his eyes suddenly, shaking his head in anger. He handed the blaster to Williard, who nodded. The crowd seemed to give a collective sigh, and the Imperials sagged against the sides of the transport.
Beside Wedge the ground forces captain took a step forward. Williard’s head jerked at the movement, and the Alderaanian nailed the man to the spot with a look and a sharp movement of an outstretched hand. Then his eyes slid across to Wedge, and the hand turned into a beckoning finger. Wedge took a deep breath and then trotted up to the wing commander and the young pilot. “Yes, sir?”
“Lieutenant Antilles, you’re a Corellian, aren’t you? I believe the Corellian Sector is one of those places where one of the ways to deal with grief is to get blind, comatose drunk, isn’t it?”
This wasn’t the time or the place to go into that; besides, it was true. “Yes, sir,” Wedge said quietly. “That’s one of them.”
“Good. Take the lieutenant and teach him that one,” Williard said.
Wedge nodded. He reached for Rom’s arm; the youngster jerked away from him. “Don’t touch me,” he said. “Stay away.”
“Fine,” said Wedge. “Come on.” Rom stared at him, his eyes still not entirely sane. Wedge had had no idea Dutch Vaerrit had meant that much to the boy. He revised his opinion of Rom’s resiliency and cheerfulness, and of his own powers of observation. “Come on, Rom,” he said again, striving for that quiet, reasonable tone Marcan had used with such success. “I could be wrong, but I don’t think you get ordered to get blind drunk very often; I think we should take advantage of it.”
Rom blinked, and then his eyes were his again. He gave a short laugh. “Sure, Wedge. Whatever you say.” He took a couple of steps away, and then turned back to Williard. “Sorry, sir; sorry about... everything.”
“I know you are,” said Williard. “Go away now.”
Rom nodded and walked quickly away, Wedge beside him. They passed both Luke and the ground forces officer, each headed for Williard. Wedge wasn’t sure if he was sorry to miss that or not. One thing he was sure of, there were depths to Williard he’d never suspected.
After a few steps, Wedge realized he was now leading the way. At least Rom was following. Wedge headed for the DownTime, ignoring the stares they were collecting. Inside, he pointed at a back booth, and Rom headed for it obediently. Wedge watched him go, wondering what else was hiding under that quiet surface, and then went up to the bar.
“Help you?” said the bartender, an off-duty sergeant who never, but never, said “sir” in the bar.
“What have you got back there that’ll knock a man out?” asked Wedge, knowing that Rom, for all his youth, drank regularly, though not overmuch; it would take something strong to put him out.
“This’ll do you,” the bartender said, pulling an unlabelled bottle of pale green liquid from his store and setting on the bar.
“Put that Rodian shit away,” said Wedge sharply. “I want him to pass out, not die.”
The man shrugged, and brought out some Trandoshian whiskey. “This’ll take longer.”
“But he’ll wake up,” Wedge pointed out. He started to pay for it, and then paused. Rom was probably not going to drink by himself. On the other hand, Wedge didn’t think Williard had meant him to get drunk... “Got any Ayluran spiced?” he asked.
“You like that-” the bartender started, involuntarily, and then caught himself. “Of course.” He produced a rather dusty bottle and a couple of glasses.
Wedge sat down across from Rom and poured, one glass from each bottle. “What’s that?” Rom asked, gesturing at Wedge’s glass.
“Ayluran,” said Wedge. “It’s an acquired taste,” he added, not saying he hadn’t acquired it. Nor that it wasn’t very potent, despite its sharp flavor and the kick the spices gave it.
Rom picked up Wedge’s glass and sniffed it. He wrinkled his nose and put the dark scarlet liquor back on the table. “Smells like-” he hesitated, looking for the right word.
“Yes, it does,” Wedge agreed heartfeltly. He pushed the whiskey toward Rom and picked up his own drink. “To Dutch,” he said.
Rom had picked up his glass. He paused and gave Wedge a hard look. “I thought we just got drunk,” he said.
Wedge didn’t hesitate. That would be the easy way, but if Rom wasn’t going to want to blow the head off the next Imperial prisoner he saw, or himself, just getting drunk wasn’t the answer. Unless Williard wanted him to stay drunk, and if he did, he’d picked the wrong Corellian. “No,” he said. “That’s not the way we do it. You say something, something about Dutch,” he amplified, “with each glass.”
Rom stared at the pale yellow liquid for what seemed like forever. “To Dutch,” he said finally, and drained his glass with a sharp shake of his black head.
That was the pattern for the next four glasses: Wedge said something and Rom echoed it, with perhaps a minor change. As Wedge hadn’t known Vaerrit very well at all, he wasn’t able to say anything of meaning, and Rom seemed content with that. Finally Wedge said, not entirely truthfully, “He didn’t give a damn that I didn’t go to the Academy.”
Rom raised his glass and said, “He didn’t give a damn-” and stopped abruptly. “He did, though. He did give a damn.” He tossed back the whiskey and poured his own refill, not waiting for Wedge. “He saved my life,” he said, drinking and pouring again. He looked deeply into the glass, and then raised his head and stared at Wedge. “Do you know where I’m from?”
“Kanraynor,” remembered Wedge.
“Yeah. Do you know Kanraynor?” Rom said bitterly.
Wedge couldn’t remember ever hearing that voice from the boy before. “It’s just a name in your records,” he said. It was, in fact, one of the few things actually in Rom’s records.
“It’s a hellhole,” said Rom, “and Dutch got me off it.”
Wedge blinked; he’d thought Rom predated Vaerrit. Some exec, he thought.
Rom drank again, poured again. “Dutch was a fool.” His cheeks were wet as he swallowed.
Wedge managed to avoid drinking any more of the Ayluran spiced. Rom didn’t even notice as he very nearly finished his bottle before he passed out. Wedge called for a cab and took him back to the squadron’s quarters. He settled Rom in bed, hoping Wes would have enough sense just to let him sleep, and went back to his own room.
He had managed to drink only five glasses of that Ayluran stuff, which wasn’t anything like enough to get drunk on. Too bad, as that might have explained his mood, which was dark and depressed. And not over Rom, either, or at least not only on Rom’s account. He’d be okay, in time. He just needed people to give him that. Williard had known what to do. Wedge hadn’t. Williard was probably right about other things, too. Wedge sat on his bed, his back against the corner, and wondered if Luke, and the squadron, wouldn’t be better off with someone else, like Sainer, as executive officer. He didn’t want to let go of it. It was surprising how much he didn’t want to. But maybe he should. Take up Vertrix’s offer, transfer to, oh not to Yellow, but maybe to Purple...
There was a rap on the door. “Come on in,” he said.
Malina Afrit came in. They hadn’t said a lot to each other in the week since she’d joined the squadron, but he liked her. In some ways she reminded him of Mirax, though in others she was unique. She was good-looking, he couldn’t help but notice that, a good body even though she was only five feet tall, a sleek cap of short black hair, and deep purple eyes in a very pretty, if somewhat austere, face. But even if he hadn’t had Inidia Wedge would have stayed clear of attempting involvement with her, and not just because of Felt’s broken arm. If anything, that made Afrit more attractive; Wedge liked strong women. But he respected her enough to not even think about what she clearly didn’t want thought about. Malina was his friend, and that was where it was stopping.
“Do you want a drink?” he offered, his Corellian manners pulling him out of his mood.
“Haven’t you had enough?” she asked, seating herself on the corner of his desk, one foot on his chair and the other swinging. “You look used, man.”
“I was offering you,” Wedge said, “but no, I haven’t. I drank that Ayluran stuff, and not much of it.”
“Any of it’s too much,” she said with a little snort. He’d learned that signified amusement; now he laughed a little in agreement. “How’s the boy?” she asked.
“Dead to the universe. Down for the night, anyway,” said Wedge. “He’ll be okay, given time. They going to press charges?” He figured she’d know.
She shook her head once. “No. The commander talked the groundpounder out of it, sort of a combination of ‘no harm done,’ ‘you know how it is,’ and ‘it’s your own damned fault for lousy security’.”
Wedge laughed, and then sobered again. “What about the Wing? Is there going to be any-”
She was shaking her head. “The commander told Skywalker to let it go. Said it wasn’t likely to repeat itself, the major was like the boy’s father.”
“Yeah,” Wedge said heavily. “Yeah, apparently.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “What’s this?”
“What’s what?” he sparred.
He might have saved himself the trouble. Somehow, all the women he knew could see right through him, Mirax, then Leia, and now Malina, who said, “Hothagan put on a good cover. You can hardly blame yourself for not seeing though it-or maybe you can, but you’re wrong about that, Wedge Antilles.”
“Am I?” he asked. “I didn’t have the first notion what to do.”
“Like anybody else did,” she snorted again. “How many times have you been in that kind of a situation?”
“Well,” he admitted, “never.”
“Well,” she mimicked him, “so? Next time, you’ll know.”
“Williard has been in service longer’n you have been alive. They had to have taught him something, even if they are damned Imperials.”
“Maybe,” Wedge ventured, “people who know something ought to be in charge.”
“Like who?” she demanded. “The only people out there saying anything are in charge, and you’ll notice neither Felt nor Skywalker accomplished one damn thing. The rest of us were just as useless as you; which of us are you thinking of to take your place?”
Wedge smiled. He didn’t generally appreciate being called useless but he found her astringency refreshing. “I guess you’re right,” he said.
“Sure I am,” she said. Then she pointed at him and said, “I know what you’re thinking, but we have more than enough ex-Imperials running this show. We need some people like you, people who think differently, people who think free. Besides,” she dropped her hand back down the desk and shrugged, “you’ve got something they can’t teach.”
“That would be?”
“Look at you: you’re sitting in here, worrying about the boy and about your fitness.... you’re born with that, or at least you get it young. You’ll do.”
Wedge opened his mouth to argue, and then shut it. He recognized that tone, and argument was futile. Besides, maybe she was right. His father had said, more than once, that most good leaders occasionally worried if they were right for the job....
“So, anyway,” she said, pushing herself off the desk in a graceful movement, “even if all you drank was that spicy garbage, you need to eat. Come on, I’ll buy you dinner at the officers’ mess.”
“You’re too generous,” he smiled at her, standing up himself.
She punched him lightly in the ribs, which he interpreted as an affectionate gesture. “Just looking for a promotion,” she said.
“You’re slaving to the wrong ship,” he said lightly.
“Am I?” she said. “Come on.”
Halfway through dinner, while they were discussing paired X-Wing tactics, Inidia walked up to them. Wedge smiled at her; she said, in a slightly stiff voice, “Here you are, Wedge. Who might this be?”
Malina raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Wedge said, “This is Lieutenant Afrit, from the squadron. Malina, this is Inidia D’Treyvan.”
“Pleased to meet you, I’m sure,” said Inidia, putting her hand on Wedge’s shoulder.
“I’m sure,” said Malina. “Lieutenant Antilles, my wingman and I have some things to go over.” She stood up. “I’ll see you at the morning briefing, sir. Miss D’Treyvan, good evening.”
“Goodnight,” said Wedge as she left.
“Afrit?” said Inidia. “Wait a minute. Isn’t she the one who broke that officer’s arm?”
“Yes,” said Wedge a trifle cautiously.
“Oh,” Inidia smiled suddenly and sat down in Malina’s vacated chair, pushing her plate aside. “I was looking for you, honey; I heard you had some excitement over here today.”
“It wasn’t much,” said Wedge, relieved. “One of the men was upset. It’s all over.” He didn’t feel like going into it with her. And he knew she would accept it, she wasn’t that interested in the squadron.
“Good,” she reached out and put her hand on his. “Are you almost through?”
“Why?” he asked .”Did you want to do something?”
She smiled at him again. “Well, I thought we could think of something. I don’t have to be back at Central till morning.”
“I expect we can think of something, then,” he said. “I’m done here.”
Unfortunately, that was truer than he knew. Whether it was the Ayluran or the stress, or both, he was so tired that he was asleep within two minutes of lying down, before Inidia was even in bed.
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