Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wings" series of novels. This one also alludes to an incident (Zuveen's story) in one of AC Crispin's "Han Solo Trilogy" -- one whose repercussions I always thought weren't clearly thought through. All of the Rogues (except Wedge, Tycho, and Wes) are mine; so are Movrin, Salaarna, and their people.
No copyright infringement is intended.
Wedge heard his name being called as he went into the hangar. He paused and turned, Tycho holding with him, and saw a skimmer pulling up outside.
“Lieutenant Antilles?” the driver asked.
“I have special orders for you, sir,” he held out a sealed packet.
Wedge took it from him. He started to stuff his flight helmet under his elbow in order to open the orders, but Tycho took it from him instead. “Thanks,” he said automatically as he tore through the package’s seal and pulled out the enclosure. The orders were pretty straightforward: Leia was going somewhere to take charge of a shipment of arms, and he was to serve as her escort. He folded the flimsies and stuck them in his pocket and reached for the helmet. “I’m going to be gone for a while,” he said to Tycho. “You take the flight, okay? I’ll send someone down to fly wing for Wes.”
“He’ll be annoyed he’s not getting the day off,” predicted Tycho.
“He’ll survive,” Wedge said callously. “He needs the hours, anyway. Look, Tycho, I’m going to be gone for maybe a week. Unless Luke gets back, you run things, okay?”
“How much paperwork does this involve?” the Alderaanian asked warily.
Wedge laughed. “You keep saying we’re too casual. Now’s your chance to straighten us out.”
“Oh, thanks.” Tycho looked as though he were going to ask something else, but before he could, if indeed he was, Tyree interrupted them.
“Sir?” There was an inquisitive look on his face.
“Tyree, I won’t be going up after all. Looks like I’ll be gone for a week or so. Now’s your chance to work on those port engines,” said Wedge.
“Yes, sir,” said the mechanic and headed back into the hangar.
“I wish someone’d look at mine,” said Tycho. “Sergeant Mikral just says, ‘now, sir, you just aren’t used to 65s yet’. It’s annoying.”
Wedge grinned. “Tyree!” he called.
The man halted and turned. “Sir?”
“If you get a minute, would you do me a favor?”
“Sir,” Tyree said expressionlessly.
“Take a look at Lieutenant Celchu’s 65,” said Wedge.
Tyree’s eyes flickered in Tycho’s direction.
“He’s having trouble synching it properly,” Wedge added.
Tyree hesitated a moment, and then said, “When I get a moment, sir, I’ll see to it.”
“Thank you, Tyree,” he said.
“Sir,” the mech nodded and walked into the hangar.
“Well,” said Tycho.
“He’ll fix it,” said Wedge. “And if you take mine up while he’s working on yours, don’t break it.”
“Thank you for your confidence, sir,” said Tycho. “And what makes you think that was a promise to look at it, let alone fix it?”
“I’m used to him,” said Wedge. “He said when, not if, and see to it. So, he’ll put it right. Trust me.”
Tycho shrugged. “Hell of a way to run an army... I guess I’ll get used to it... eventually.”
“You will,” said Wedge. “Even Williard did.”
Tycho laughed at that. “Well, take care of yourself.”
“Don’t worry,” said Wedge and slapped him on the shoulder before jumping into the skimmer. “Drive on,” he said. They were halfway to the pilots’ quarters before he realized that the Alderaanian was probably worried about losing another friend. Going to have work on that perceptiveness, Antilles, he thought, but he didn’t know what he could have said, so maybe it was just as well. Anyway, this didn’t figure to be dangerous, so it’d work out.
The driver said he’d wait, so Wedge didn’t feel rushed. He found a company runner and sent him for Pars, Luke’s normal wingman, and then changed out of his flight suit into his tans. When Pars knocked on his door, he was buttoning up his shirt, so he called out, “Come on in.”
“What’s up, Wedge?” asked the fair-haired pilot. “I thought you were out on patrol?”
“I was supposed to be, but something came up. I need you to get on down and take wing for Wes. And until I-or Luke-gets back, fly wing for him, okay?” Even as he spoke, he could hear Tycho commenting on the phrasing, but it was what came naturally to him.
“Sure, Wedge,” said Pars. “You gonna be gone long?”
“About a week,” he answered, picking up his cap.
“Good luck,” Pars said, giving him a thumb’s up.
Wedge grinned and did the same, and they headed in their opposite directions. The skimmer dropped him off at headquarters, and he thanked the driver for sparing him the walk in Versace’s heat.
“You think this is hot, sir?” the driver said. “Stay away from Tatooine, then.”
“I will,” promised Wedge, having heard all about it from Biggs already. He returned the driver’s salute, then started to enter the building, but he had to stand aside as Mon Mothma, Bel Iblis, and a crowd of aides and whatnots came out.
Bel Iblis spotted him and called out, “Lieutenant Antilles!”
“Senator,” he responded.
“Defending the honor of the Corellian Sector, are you?” Bel Iblis said jovially.
“I hope so,” Wedge answered cautiously.
Bel Iblis laughed and slapped him not too lightly on the shoulder, and then went on his way. Wedge watched him go. “What in seven sectors was that about?” he asked the air, and was genuinely startled when he got an answer.
“That,” said Leia behind him, “was Garm being arch. For my benefit, not yours. I’m sorry, Wedge.” Her teeth sounded on edge.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. When General Rieekan acts like that, I’ll be concerned,” he said. “This is just weird. Politics, or personal?”
“Both, as usual,” she said, sighing. “Garm isn’t able to differentiate between the two any more, if, indeed, he ever could.”
“He asked me, a couple of years ago, if my parents had voted for him,” Wedge offered.
“He didn’t... he did. Did they? What did you tell him?"
“We didn’t live in his district.”
She looked at him with dancing eyes. “Oh, Wedge. What a perfect answer!”
“Well, we didn’t,” he said.
She laughed joyously, which made him feel good. “Wedge, I love you. I really do.”
He smiled back at her. “Likewise. So, where’re we going, Highness, and what are we doing once we get there?”
“Salaarna,” she said. “Ever heard of it?”
“Nope,” he shook his head.
“You’ll love it,” she said mischievously.
“I’ll just bet.”
“Do all Corellians gamble?” she asked, suddenly serious.
He was as suddenly wary, and answered carefully, “All Corellians don’t anything, I expect. Most of us don’t see anything wrong with running a risk, or taking a chance.” Or putting money on a springball game, or even playing sabacc for our last decicred... like a certain smuggler I could mention but don’t intend to bring up.
“That’s not what I meant,” she said, her tone light again though her dark eyes were still serious. “But, back to the topic at hand. On Salaarna we’re paying for a load of arms from Incom and BlasTech, and then arranging to have them delivered here, since, one, they won’t, and two, we don’t have a freighter to spare at the moment. The timing is rather inconvenient.” For a moment she sounded just like Bail.
“And here I thought the generals were getting the war into some sort of order,” he teased gently. “Don’t they check your calendar?”
“I believe the preferred response to that is, ‘You’re an idiot’,” she replied.
“So, what are we going in?” he asked. “Never tell me we’re buying tickets on a liner.”
“Of course not,” she said. “We’re going in my yacht. We may not have freighters, but fuel’s abundant, after all.”
“For the moment, anyway,” he nodded. “I’ll never forget the look on Vertrix’s face when he found out Hagen Tor had promised me fuel instead of credits... not that I ever got much of either,” he added reflectively.
“Wedge,” Leia said, “give it up. You’re just not mercenary, and your remembering to complain about it occasionally doesn’t change your image.”
“A man’s gotta try,” he said. “Remember what Senator Bel Iblis told me.”
“Corellians,” she said, shaking her head.
He wasn’t sure exactly what her tone meant. But if she wanted to talk about it, she would. He left her a moment’s space, and then asked, “So, when are we leaving? Sooner we go, the sooner we’re back.”
“You’re ready? Just like that?”
“I get orders, I’m ready,” he grinned. He was exaggerating, of course, he needed to pick up clothes for a week, but he knew she wasn’t ready to go either. “Besides, the squadron’s in good shape. Nobody is so indispensable that they can’t be replaced for a week. Luke keeps us on top of things.” He tossed that Luke’s way, in case he was still in the running, but he didn’t think it was the young Jedi who was on Leia’s mind. Which was too bad, because she was definitely on his. Half of his conversation with Wedge was about her. But it wasn’t Tatooiners she complained about...
“Well,” she was saying, “I happen to need an hour or so. Meet you in the hangar?”
“Okay,” he nodded. After she was gone, he checked around headquarters and found what he’d hoped for: a driver with nothing better to do than run him back to pilots’ quarters and then to the hangar. Going through the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the Death Star for the nth time was a small price to pay for not walking through Versace’s swelteringly hot late spring. The place might as well not have had an atmosphere, the way the temperature had changed in the five months since they’d arrived; then freestanding water had been ice, now it was practically steam. The only thing the atmosphere seemed good for was holding that steam in; Versace was more humid than Dantooine, which Wedge rather missed by now. He had no desire to be here in the height of summer; with any luck, the Rebellion would move on before then.
It was, of course, cool in the hangar. The R2 units and the computers in the ships were better off in cool. The result was that not only the mechs, but most of the pilots, hung around the hangar as much as they could. Of course, the pilots hung out together, usually playing cards for their meager pay and telling each other lies, while the mechs kept to their work and themselves. And the freelancers made a third group, fluid, rather motley, and ever-changing. The only constant there was the battered YT-1500 Corelli Systems light stock freighter parked over to the right side of the hangar, and her crew, both of whom were on the port hyperdrive nacelle, working, goggles on and arcwelders sparking.
Pretending to work, more like, Wedge thought, running a practiced eye over which panels were pulled off and what was exposed. No doubt the Falcon could use repairs, she wasn’t new and had been running undercrewed and on the edge for a long time. But nothing was wrong with those Hyrian hyperdrives. Han Solo was staying around a lot longer than he needed to. He could have been off and gone months ago. Wedge shook his head slightly, grinning to himself. For a man who owed money to a Hutt, Han wasn’t in much hurry to pay it back. Something else seemed to be more important. And Wedge didn’t think it was politics.
Chewie caught sight of Wedge and cut off his welder, raising one hand and calling down a greeting. Wedge waved back and continued on to the Wings of Organa, whose lovely, almost living curves placed the yacht in the distinct minority among the angular, sharp-edged weapons of war and the rough, well-worn transport vehicles. She was rather like her owner, Wedge thought suddenly, completely out of place and yet superbly at home, even commandingly so. While he stood in front of the yacht, thinking that, he heard footsteps coming up behind him. He surprised himself by recognizing them.
“You going somewhere in that?” Han asked with elaborate unconcern.
“How’s it goin’?” Wedge answered. “Yeah, we’re going somewhere. Can’t tell you where till you put on a uniform, though.”
“Well, don’t hold your breath, Antilles,” Han said. “I can live in ignorance a lot easier than in one of those.” He reached out to tug on Wedge’s collar.
“They don’t fit everyone,” Wedge acknowledged, meaning it.
“Yeah, tell that to...well, people,” said Han, resting his arm on Wedge’s shoulder and leaning on it companionably. He was enough taller that it was an easy pose.
Wedge braced himself without thinking about it. Han was considerably shorter and lighter than Booster, after all; the contact was familiar, even comforting. It was Corellian, and he missed it, and he found himself sinking deeper into friendship with Han the longer the smuggler hung around. Which should have been a reason to wish he’d leave, but... “Any specific people?” he asked.
“Gaaaa,” said Han. Unless Wedge was mistaken, that was Shyriiwook, and a rather jaundiced observation on the universe in general. “No,” Han added, back in the Corellian he’d started in; he didn’t speak Basic to Wedge, they both enjoyed using their native tongue too much. “No, anybody who can’t figure it out on their own...”
“Isn’t gonna listen,” Wedge finished.
“Right. Who’s we?”
Wedge blinked. He’d lost track of the conversation. “We?” he asked.
“Yeah. As in, ‘we’re going somewhere.’ Who’s we?”
“Oh. Me and Leia.”
“Yeah?” Han was back to enormously casual.
Wedge grinned. “Yeah. Just for a week. No big deal.”
“Not that I care, mind you,” say Han, “but those things don’t generally carry much in the way of guns. And that one doesn’t look like she’s been touched.”
“She’s fast, though.”
“I knew it.”
“We’re not going to need more guns than we have,” said Wedge. “We’re not going into combat.”
Han blew out a gusty breath. “Look, Wedge,” he started, and then seemed to run out of words.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Wedge, “or her, either. She doesn’t need it, but I’ll watch out for her anyway.”
“She’s something, all right,” said Han.
“She could almost be Corellian.”
Han laughed. “She doesn’t have enough of a sense of humor,” he said. “Everything makes her so damned serious.”
“Everything is serious,” said Wedge, “to her, anyway.”
“Yeah,” said Han impatiently, “but you don’t have to take ‘em serious. Look at you.”
“Well, she’s Alderaanian. They’re a pretty serious people.”
Han shrugged. “Never really knew one before,” he said. “Do they all grow on you like this?”
Wedge considered. He could still have done without Williard, but he had to admit the way the man had dealt with Rom had been, well, impressive. And Tycho had somehow slipped inside his heart; he didn’t know how, he didn’t make friends easily, but Tycho was there nonetheless... “Yes,” he said after a moment. “I think they do.”
“Huh,” said the older man.
They stood in comfortable silence for a while, a silence broken only when Leia arrived.
“Hello, Han,” she said. “Taking a break?”
“Yeah, Highnessness,” he said, straightening up and giving her and her traveling bag a sardonic look. “Like you, I guess.”
“I doubt that,” she said. “I’m doing something, not just ... oh, why do I bother? Are you ready, Wedge?”
“Yes,” he said, picking up his bag and reaching for hers. “I’ll put these on board,” he added, leaving her and Han facing each other as he went inside the yacht, resisting the impulse to look back.
He stowed the bags and went up to the cockpit. Sitting in the copilot’s seat, he began running the preflight checks. After only a few minutes she came in, activating the door controls with a little more force than necessary; he could hear her slap the panel all the way up front. She took the pilot’s seat in silence; he glanced across at her. Her color was high and her eyes were flashing. Wedge didn’t speak, he just turned back to the preflight.
“Are we ready to go?” she asked after a moment.
“No destination coordinates,” Wedge said, “but otherwise, yes.”
“Good,” she said, and started the engines. Once outside, she sent the yacht out of the atmosphere in the kind of steep climb she usually complained about. He raised an eyebrow, but carefully, so she didn’t see him, and stayed silent as she entered the coordinates into the navicomp. She did that with a little more energy than it required, too.
They both remained quiet as the Wings of Organa slipped gracefully into hyperspace. Several times, Leia seemed on the verge of speech but never quite got that far, and he was willing to let her be, for a while anyway. Once they were well underway, he got up and went back to the galley. There he brewed some caff, and hunted up some pastries which he put on a couple of small plates. He poured two cups-one plain, the way caff was meant to be drunk, and the other sweet, the way Leia liked it.
She didn’t exactly smile when he got back, but she did take the caff and inhaled its aroma with her eyes shut for a moment. Then she bit into one of the pastries like it was personal.
“Go ahead,” Wedge said after settling back down. “Say it.”
“Say what?” There was no particular edge to that, but she did sound a bit wary.
“Whatever it is you’re choking on,” he said. “Go ahead and say it. I promise not to take it personally, whatever it is: men, or smugglers, or even Corellians.”
“Oh, Sith,” she said, which was strong for her, “is it that obvious?”
He paused only a moment, and then said, “Well, let’s just say it’s fairly apparent that he annoyed you.”
She laughed soundlessly, shaking her head, and said, “Wrong tense.”
“Everything he says...” she paused, and then said wryly, “Not a good sign, is it?”
“Depends,” he answered. It was a bit tricky being friends with all three of them, though he certainly didn’t have to wait for the chips to be down to know which of them was more important... which of them he loved, not to put to fine a point on it. But Han’s surface-casual comments and Luke’s earnest discussions both came because Wedge knew what was private and what could be passed on, and he valued both men too much to forget that. Besides, loving Leia didn’t give him the right to interfere in her life, even if he’d known what was best for her, which he didn’t. If the choice came down to the serious young Jedi or the flippant Corellian smuggler, he knew which he thought she should take. But the galaxy was full of other men, after all, and he wasn’t at all sure what she wanted, let alone who. It might well be that someone like Tycho, someone solid, someone more respectable than Han and older than Luke...
“On what?” she asked, breaking that train of thought.
It took him a moment to remember what he’d said. “Oh, on what you think it’s a sign of,” he answered, “on what you want ... maybe on why he annoys you.”
She laughed a little. “Wedge, has anyone ever told you that noncommittal answers are-”
“Safe?” he said quickly.
This time her laugh was spontaneous and her eyes warmed. “I see they have,” she said.
He laughed with her, but was serious when he said, “I’m not exactly Ask Aunt Anja, you know.”
“Who?” she said. “Or is that ‘What’?”
“An advice column,” he said, “carried on CorHoNews... you know the sort of thing, ‘my father hates my boyfriend,’ or ‘my husband’s taken to spending nights working late, but his partner’s always home on time.’ Don’t tell me Alderaanian news services don’t have something similar?”
“Of course they did,” she said, and he could have kicked himself for using the present tense, “but I never looked at them. They never seemed applicable, you know what I mean?”
“Hmmm,” he said. “I see what you mean. ‘Dear Aunt Anja, I really want to go to the dance at school, but I’m supposed to attend a revolutionary cell meeting instead...’” he shook his head while she laughed at him. “Still, I’d have thought they’d have been escapist.”
“Who had time for escapism?” she asked. “And it was more like, ‘Dear Aunt Anja, I want to go to a revolutionary cell meeting, but I have fourteen hundred official documents to read by next week,’ anyway. If nothing else, at least I’ve escaped that.”
“Poor princess,” he teased gently.
She picked up a pastry and pretended to throw it at him, and then began eating it. When she’d finished, she said, “‘Dear Aunt Anja, I’ve met a terribly attractive man, but the only thing he gives a damn about is money-’ What?” she broke off to demand.
“Leia,” he hesitated.
“Come on, talk,” she said. “Everybody tells me there’s more to him than that, everybody except him, that is. You know him, tell me why.”
“I don’t really know him,” he said.
But she wouldn’t let it drop. “Wedge, you’re from the same place he is-what?” she said again.
This time he knew why, though; he’d been shaking his head. “Not really,” he said. “The Sector’s big, maybe not compared to some places, but it’s big enough. The System has five worlds, and I’m not even from the System. And my dad wasn’t from Corellia. I’ve been to the place exactly three times, and once was for four hours. The other two, I was a kid, on holiday, we went to Coronet for a day each time...”
“It’s the same culture,” she said. “Yet you’re nothing like him, even though you smuggled, too.”
“Sort of,” he said. “I mean, sort of the same culture.” He paused, trying to decide how much of what he’d guessed-you couldn’t say Han had ever said anything-he was free to say. Finally, he settled for, “But we come from really different places in it. He was brought up to the business; I was brought up to be a garage mechanic, to use Booster’s phrase for it.”
“It’s what my dad did,” he said. “He ran the place, would have owned it soon, but ... the point is, it was a solid, middle-class job. It was comfortable. Anything I needed, most of what I wanted, I had. Han... didn’t. If I’d been brought up like him, maybe I’d be like him. If he’d been brought up by my folks, maybe he’d be me. There is more to him than money, just look at Chewbacca, for one,” he pointed out. “Getting kicked out of the Imperial Fleet for rescuing an alien slave is not the act of someone who only thinks about money. It’s just... When you don’t have it, you think about it. When you need it, you think about it. When you have people hunting you because you owe it to them, you think about it.” He paused; she was looking thoughtful. He’d been going to mention the Bloodstripes, but maybe he’d said enough in Han’s defense, if he really wasn’t going to take sides. “He’ll never be like Luke, idealistic and ready to do things because they’re right...”
She smiled. “Luke is sweet,” she said.
Uh-oh. That’s dogged down the airlock on Luke’s hopes, Wedge realized. He wondered if she had. At least she didn’t say ‘Luke’s a sweet boy,’ that’d be venting them into vacuum. “Anyway,” he said, “I’m not the one to ask. I’m not one to talk about...” he let his voice trail off, uncertain exactly how to label what they’d been talking around more than about. But whatever the label, his statement was certainly true. He’d never been confident telling people how to do things he couldn’t do himself.
She looked pensive for a moment, and then worried, almost, he could have sworn, ashamed. “I thought,” she started, and then stopped. “How are you doing, dearheart?”
“I’m fine,” he said automatically, knowing what she was talking about without knowing how he knew.
“Really?” she asked.
“I’m okay, Leia,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”
“It’s been five months,” she said. “That’s not a long time, if you loved her.”
“I loved her,” he said, and he could hear how defensive he sounded. “I may not have known her a long time, but I loved her.” That sounded more defensive. “But I’m fine.” And that was worse. He’d better shut up.
But all Leia said was, “I wouldn’t have thought you’d love someone that quickly.”
He wouldn’t have, either, so he wasn’t sure what to answer. Finally, he said, “It happens, I guess. People ... sneak up on you. Get under your guard. Especially with a war on.”
“Ambush?” she said gently. “That doesn’t sound very romantic.”
He felt himself blushing. “Oh, it was romantic,” he said, remembering that first night. “It was fast, like... what is it, lightning?, but it was romantic.”
The other time they’d talked, she’d been too concerned with comfort to ask questions. Now she sounded truly curious as she said, “So fast? That was enough for the rest of your life?”
He hesitated, partly because he didn’t want to influence any decision she might be thinking of making, and partly because of the damned doubts that wouldn’t leave him alone. “We weren’t going to get married until this was over,” he said finally. “We’d have known each other much better by then.”
“It would have worked,” he said, not entirely certain whom he was trying to convince. “We’d have been happy.”
After a moment she asked, “What about your parents?”
“What about them?” he asked back, genuinely unsure what she wanted to know.
“Not, were they happy,” she said gently. “You’re proof of that.” He blushed again, and was glad it was dim in the cockpit. “Did they take a long time to fall in love and decide to get married?”
He smiled involuntarily. “No, and yes.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” That was a little, but only a little, tarter.
“Mom always said she fell in love with Dad the first time she saw him, before they even spoke,” Wedge said, remembering the way Mrendy’s eyes had smiled when she’d said it. She had always said, What more did I need to know than what I saw: a man with a job, a good job, who was good at it and wasn’t afraid of work, a man who was good with people, responsible, funny-it’s not everyone can make you laugh while telling you how much your engines are going to set you back, you know-a smart, capable man... And Mrendy had usually added, even after her son was the right age to be embarrassed by it, and that he looked good enough to eat for dessert didn’t hurt, either. Irritatingly, Mirax had found that perfectly comprehensible, and she and Mrendy would laugh while he and his father avoided each other’s eyes.
Leia let the silence trail on for another moment before asking, “So your father was-slower?”
“Like me, you mean?” Wedge shook his head. “Not really. Dad used to say, he knew what he wanted, he was just pretty damned sure it wasn’t going to be good for him...” Wedge took a breath, and finished, “He used to say he went resisting with every step until it was too late... and then he found out he’d been wrong.” Totally, completely, absolutely wrong, Grey would say, smiling at Mrendy, touching her arm if she were close enough, so wrong I probably used up all my mistakes for the rest of my life...but that doesn’t matter, ’cause I was right when it counted. I couldn’t put a foot wrong now if I wanted, not where I am... Wedge couldn’t imagine ever looking at Inidia that way, ever saying that about being in her life. He felt his throat tighten for the loss of something he wasn’t at all sure he’d ever had.
“Wedge?” Leia’s voice sounded a little odd.
“Sorry,” he apologized automatically, hoping he hadn’t said any of that out loud. “To answer your question, they fell in love fast, but it took them a while to decide to go ahead and marry... a big part of that was that my dad’s family was absolutely against it. They figured my mom was unsuitable... once he decided to ignore them, they got married pretty fast, too.”
Leia wrinkled her brow. “If you had family on your father’s side,” she started and then paused, “sorry, that’s none of my business.”
He grinned at her. “Why’d I end up with a reprobate like Booster, running glit and weapons instead of settling into a nice, steady job on Tralus?”
“I suppose so,” she nodded.
“Just lucky, I guess,” he said in complete seriousness.
She blinked at him, and then smiled, her dark eyes warming and joining in. “I suppose you do, at that. And I know we are, because I don’t suppose you’d have found your way to Dantooine from Tralus.”
“I doubt it,” he said, for the first time wondering what his life would have been like if his unknown relatives had, not just taken charge of him, because he firmly believed he’d have run as soon as he could, if Booster hadn’t come and gotten him, but if they had been, well, not unknown. If they’d ever come to Treta, if his parents had spent vacations on Tralus, if, in short, they’d been family instead of relatives. Grey might not have gone to Treta in the first place, CorSec might have worked harder... he shook his head, annoyed with himself. What had Kiplir said to him, more than a year ago now? Too many of your people spend too much of their life trying to remake the past. The past is a lesson, but it is not a choice. “I doubt it,” he repeated, forcing the speculation out of his mind, “but you never know.”
She smiled again. “The odds are against it-but,” she added quickly, “you don’t want to know about the odds, I know.”
“Worrying about the odds,” he said seriously, “just boxes you in. Makes you afraid to do things that have to be done because you start thinking you can’t do them.”
“What if you can’t?” she asked.
“If they have to be done,” he said, shrugging, “then they have to be done. That’s all there is to that. Better to go at it thinking you can than fearing you can’t.”
“And if they’re impossible?”
“If they have to be done,” he repeated, “they have to be done. You can’t sit around saying, ‘the odds are a billion to one we can pull this off.’ You have to say,” he shrugged, feeling almost embarrassed to be saying it at all, “‘it has to be done, and we’re who’s here, so we have to do it. Let’s go.’”
“But if the odds are a billion to one?”
“There’s a big difference between giving in to odds and knowing when you have to be careful.”
“I think,” she said, regarding him almost gravely, “that you Corellians know the odds all too well. You just choose to label the concept as -” she hesitated, looking for the right word.
“Meaningless?” he offered wryly.
“Counter-productive,” she decided.
“It’s possible,” he conceded, and then grinned. “But you’ll never get one of us to admit it.”
“I wouldn’t even try,” she said. After a few moments, she looked sideways at him and said, “Wedge, why in seven sectors did you ask her to marry you?”
He didn’t answer, because he wasn’t sure what the answer was. While he tried to figure it out, she sighed.
“I know that’s a personal question,” she said, “but, honestly, Wedge, why? You weren’t in love with her, you can’t have been... did you think you were?”
He turned towards her, answering the most important thing first. “It’s not personal... well, okay, it is, but we’re friends. Friends ask that sort of question.” Her smile was all the reward he needed for having let her get that close to him. What Inidia had taught him was how much it was going to hurt to lose someone truly close, but ... well, maybe that’s how Tycho had gotten there; you couldn’t go through life with only surface friends.
“So?” she prompted gently.
“I think I was,” he said slowly. “It wasn’t like my parents, true, but-how many people get that in their life? Were your parents like that?”
She shook her head. “Not that I remember,” she said. “They were certainly fond of each other, but not couldn’t-put-a-foot-wrong in love.”
He had said it out loud. Oh, well. He moved on. “Anyway, she was in love with me.” He wasn’t sure, but he thought Leia looked unconvinced. “She was,” he insisted though not forcibly. “She didn’t really want to be, she’d been hurt before. But she was. And she was worried, scared... even jealous.”
“Jealous?” asked Leia. “Of you? I mean,” she added quickly, “you never so much as looked at anyone else. How could she be jealous? Of whom?
“You, for one,” Wedge said, relishing her incredulous stare. “Everyone, really... I guess that’s what happens when you make a mistake, like she had. About the only woman she wasn’t worried about was Malina Afrit.”
“I can see that,” said Leia, though there was an odd undertone to her voice, not the usual one that people got when talking about Malina. “I suppose.”
“What?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “It’s just,” she added when he hiked an eyebrow at her, “if I were after you, dearheart, Malina Afrit would be the one woman I was worried about.”
He thought that through, but it was too complicated for him. He pulled out the one piece of it he felt competent to challenge. “She wasn’t after me, Leia. She was in love with me.”
“Really,” Leia said flatly.
“Yes, really,” he said. “Why did I ask her? She loved me, she wanted to get married. So did I, eventually anyway... That’s why. It made her very happy, it would have made her feel secure...” That was one of his few good feelings left, that she’d died happy. He repeated, “She loved me.”
“Well, even so,” Leia paused. “You don’t love her, not any more. That bothers you now, doesn’t it?”
His silence seemed all the answer she needed.
“You shouldn’t let it, Wedge. She’s been dead for five months, and that’s more than five times as long as you knew her. You were in love, yes, but you didn’t have enough time to love. Nor did she, or she’d have trusted you-”
How did she do that? How did she always hit on the one thing he wanted to hide the most? Unerringly, inevitably, she would address his thoughts: it won’t matter you never went to the right schools; do you ever get homesick?; if you’d disobeyed orders, you’d have been dead, too... and now, she didn’t trust you. The one thing he’d done his inadequate best to bury too deep to think about.
She went on, apparently not noticing how truly she’d hit the mark, “-and she didn’t. Not yet. And never, now. Let it go, Wedge. You’ve grieved enough over it.”
He didn’t trust himself to answer. She didn’t seem to expect it. Instead, she reached out and put her hand on his. He held it tightly for a moment, and then retreated from the emotion. “How long before we get there?”
She let him let go and answered, “It’s not that far from Versace, but we’re going someplace else first, just in case. Movrin,” she answered his raised eyebrow.
“Movrin?” he asked. “Why not Mos Eisley? Or Nar Shadda?”
“We’re not staying,” she said, “we’re just covering our tracks. Besides, lots of perfectly respectable people live on Movrin...” she was laughing before she finished. “All right, perhaps not ‘perfectly respectable.’"
“Perhaps,” he said.
“But, as I said, we’re not staying. We’re stopping just long enough to lie about where we came from and pick up a Movrin field chit, just in case. We probably won’t need it on Salaarna, they don’t ask questions often, but you never know. We’ll get there in about three hours, I guess,” she said, glancing at the chrono on the instrument panel.
“Well, I should change out of this,” Wedge said.
“Yes, you should,” she said. “All the lies in a sector won’t hide a lieutenant with those combat tabs.”
“At least I don’t have my name written on it.”
“As good as,” she said.
“Don’t start,” he said, standing up.
She murmured “Sorry” as he went by her, and he knew that would have to suffice. He couldn’t quite seem to convince people that he really didn’t like the Yavin combat tab. It wasn’t just the intrinsic dishonesty of the thing, he could disassociate himself from that and get used to it; it was the bragging about it whether it was true or not. It wasn’t good manners and it wasn’t, as Booster would have said, particularly intelligent. Why draw attention to yourself, or set yourself up as someone’s goal in life? Oh well, generally the only people who saw it were on his side.
Still, he was glad to stash the uniform at the bottom of his bag and put on something more anonymous. The Wings of Organa, being a true yacht, had mirrors in her cabins, and as he was changing shirts, the light flashing off the chain around his neck caught his eye. The day will come, Mirax had said three years ago, when you’ll want to give that to someone. It hadn’t come yet. He hadn’t given Mrendy’s ring to Inidia, hadn’t even thought of doing so, was glad he hadn’t... He shook his head. Leia was right, as usual. He’d already let it go, now he needed to admit it and get on with his life.
He touched the green and gold circlet and laughed at himself. Just like that. He pulled his shirt over
his head. Then he tucked the ring on its chain out of sight inside the shirt and settled the collar. Maybe not ‘just
like that’, but it was time to move on, and he’d done that before. What was the line- let the past bury the
dead? He gave his image one last look and then turned away.
When Wedge rejoined Leia, he was dressed in his Corellian/smuggler outfit that was just like what Han wore, except for the color. She didn’t mention it, though to her it was another proof that they were from the same culture. In fact, they made inconsequential conversation the rest of the way, both of them shying away from revisiting anything important for the moment.
Movrin was much as she remembered it from the time she’d been there earlier: dusty, chilly, boring. And the spaceport was surrounded by a tawdry, seedy town. She wasn’t surprised that the Fieldmaster’s office was there instead on the field proper; doubtless he found it more convenient for his sidelines.
As they crossed the cracked pavement, she realized that Wedge was looking around himself with approval, maybe even pleasure. She was glad he was back to his old self, but she couldn’t resist asking, “You like a place run down like this?”
“Oh, the field?” he responded. “It’s in good enough shape for what it has to do, and it’s no worse than it was last time I was here. No,” he smiled. “I like Movrin.”
“You do?” She was so used to him complaining about planets that she found this even more surprising than she would have coming from somebody else. “This is the planet you like?”
“Yes, I do,” he said, sounding sincere. “It’s... it’s nice: dry, cool, flat. It’s one of my favorite planets.”
“You’re the one who compared it to Nar Shadda and Mos Eisley.”
“Reputation, that’s all,” he shrugged.
“You like these people,” Leia accused.
“Yeah, I do,” he admitted. “At least the ones around the spaceport. Sure, I know,” he raised his hands, “they run heavily to breaking the law, but I just don’t see that as a serious character flaw.”
“Surprise me,” Leia said, but she was teasing and he knew it.
“The price on your head means we need to walk carefully, but that’s true anywhere, really,” he said, grinning. “And the local economy means we can pick up a legal piece of paper that says nearly anything, as long as we know who to ask to sign it.”
“And you know?”
He shrugged. “Don’t you?”
“I’ve heard,” she said, “that for the right price the Fieldmaster will do... what’s the approved word, Wedge?”
“Anything,” he said. She laughed, and he added, “That old man makes a nice living out of it, too.”
After that, it was rather a surprise when they finally got into the Fieldmaster’s office.
“Wedge Antilles!” The burly redhead stood up when they came into her office, beaming with what was either genuine pleasure or a pocket-lining counterfeit.
“Lishbet!” he said. “What happened to Aconyha?”
“That is a long story, and one not fit for tender ears,” she grinned, coming around the desk. “It’s been too long,” she said, offering him a handshake with both hands.
He returned both it and the shoulder slap she followed it with. “Two, well, almost two years, Lishbet,” he said.
“Sit,” she said. “Drink? Riflin and?”
“Sure,” he said, adding quickly, “straight for Lee, here,” using the name they’d agreed on for Leia.
The fieldmaster raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything as she busied herself at a cabinet. The drinks she brought them looked innocuous enough; Leia looked at hers and then Wedge’s, but she couldn’t see any difference. She tasted hers cautiously, but it was just ordinary riflin, not particularly strong though any riflin was nothing she liked much.
“Lee Ganyon, Lishbet Royle,” he introduced them and then took a drink. Whatever the ‘and’ was, it relaxed him visibly, but as far as Leia could tell he was just at ease, not intoxicated.
Royle sat down, a glass in front of her, and grinned. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Ganyon... or is it?”
Leia froze for a moment, but Wedge gave her a reassuring look. “It is, Lishbet,” he said. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Does Mirax know about this?”
Leia almost laughed; was that what it was about? Wedge’s not-quite-sister would be furious.
“As a matter of fact, they’ve met,” he said. “More to the point, does Mirax know you’re running her life?”
Royle threw her head back and laughed. When she could, she said, “As if I could. How’s that old reprobate doing, have you heard?”
“No,” he shook his head, “I haven’t. Kessel’s not anyplace I ...well, you know.”
“I do,” she nodded. “I don’t, either. Well,” she drained her drink and sat up straight. “What can I do for you?”
Wedge finished his own glass and set it down next to hers in the center of the desk. He was careful to line them up vertically, not horizontally, which Leia knew from her briefing would have served as a symbolic wall. She had meant to do the negotiating, but since Royle had put her glass out first it was obvious that she was disposed to give Wedge pretty much whatever he asked for, so there was no sense in getting in the way.
The woman was watching him line up the glasses. “What do you want?” she said, sounding amusedly wary.
“Not much,” he said. “Just sign us a field chit saying we came here from Lapryn three days ago.”
“Where are you going, that a Movrin field chit’ll satisfy ’em?” she chuckled, moving her glass away from his so there was a gap between them.
Fully open, that meant; she was going to accommodate them.
“You don’t want to know, Lishbet,” he said, sounding a bit relieved but also as if he felt she deserved some warning. Leia couldn’t argue.
“Really?” Royle looked at him from under raised eyebrows. “Deep waters, is it? The stories I’ve been hearing must be true, then.”
“I’m afraid so,” he nodded.
“Well, don’t tell me about it, then,” she said. “You look like a nice romantic young couple with in-law problems to me.”
“Still reading those trashy novels?” Wedge grinned.
“You wouldn’t know good literature if it bit you on the-” she broke off with an apologetic glance at Leia, who hadn’t spoken yet.
Leia laughed. “No, he wouldn’t,” she agreed. “It’s a good story.”
Wedge shook his head. “Surrounded again,” he said. “It’s the story of my life.”
Royle laughed, and then got serious. “If what I don’t know is true,” she said, “you don’t mind if I get you off my field ASAP? It’s not that I wouldn’t like to get high and talk about old times, it’s just...”
“I understand,” Wedge nodded. “Put a hold on that offer; we’ll do it some day.”
“Sure,” she nodded. Leia could hear the unspoken ‘if we’re still alive’ in the woman’s voice. “Lapryn, three days ago? That’s easy enough. Except we were closed down three days ago; you want five or yesterday?”
“Five would be better,” said Leia.
“Okay, not a problem. Let me have your registration info and I’ll take care of it.” She was pulling a data pad out of her desk as she spoke.
“Closed down?” Wedge said curiously. “You look full up for two days’ worth.”
“Most of ’em were in before,” she grinned at him. “We weren’t inop, just... shut. Like I said, a long story.”
“If we were here...?” Wedge hiked an eyebrow.
“Transients didn’t know, we told ’em our control system was down.”
Leia watched comprehension arrive in Wedge’s face. She made a decision right then: she was going to have to learn to do more than function in this world. She was a trained diplomat, after all; how hard could it be?
“Interesting times,” Wedge was saying.
“Want to tell me about it?” Royle smiled.
“You don’t want to know.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” she said, shaking her head. “Registration?”
Wedge shook his own head, gestured at Leia. “Her ship.”
Royle turned her attention to Leia, hand still extended. She hesitated a moment; nothing had been said about price. Was it free, or was it going to bankrupt them? She felt unusually uncertain about bringing it up, especially with Wedge’s brown eyes asking ... what were they asking? Do you trust me? Am I out of line? What do you want me to do? Knowing Wedge, he thought he was only asking the last... Maybe he was only asking the last. Maybe she was the only one sensing subtext. And if you hesitate any longer, you’ll be creating it. She reached into her pocket and held out the regicard.
The big redhead took it from her without comment and began entering data onto her pad. After a moment she tossed the card back in Leia’s direction, punched in a few more lines, and then reached to her left to pull a flimsy out of the printer. She scrawled a signature across it and held it out. “Do you want a cardlog, as well?” she asked.
Leia was surprised. A place like Movrin always had room at its field, that was one reason they had chosen it. Transients came and went with little trace. A flimsy’s record could be deleted and lost forever, but a cardlog was permanent. And while it was unlikely that anyone would ever come looking, if things went very wrong on Salaarna a permanent file might well cause a lot of problems for the fieldmaster. She tucked the flimsy away with the regicard and shook her head. “No, thank you. This will be sufficient.”
Royle nodded, dropped the data pad back into her desk. She glanced from Leia to Wedge, and then back again. “Drink on it?”
Leia wasn’t much of a drinker, but... when on Coruscant. “Of course,” she said.
“Same again?” the woman asked.
Leia shrugged and said, “Sure.” She was tempted to ask for the ‘and’ in her own, but, not knowing what it was, didn’t quite dare. Wedge was the leader there, and she knew she should pay attention to him, at least until they could talk.
Royle brought the narrow riflin bottle to the desk and poured, and then added a single drop of something colorless to hers and Wedge’s. She and Wedge touched glasses, waited for Leia, who quickly held her own up against theirs, and drank.
When Wedge put his empty glass down on the desk he asked, “When’s your shift change?”
The fieldmaster grinned again. “An hour.”
“We’ll be off shortly thereafter,” he said. “Many thanks, Lishbet.”
She flipped a hand in dismissal. “No big deal, Wedge,” she said. “If you see them, remember me to Mirax and that rogue father of hers, hear?”
“I hear,” he nodded. “Same?”
“Of course. And, you weren’t here for anybody else. Just Miss Ganyon and her pilot.”
“Thanks again,” Wedge said, standing and holding Leia’s chair.
“Yes,” Leia said, rising. “Thank you very much, Fieldmaster Royle. You’ve been enormously helpful.”
The woman shrugged. “Wedge knows: what you send, you get. Avalana cover you.”
“We could use it,” Wedge said. “But enough left over for you, too.”
“Get on with you,” Royle smiled. “Goodbye, Miss Ganyon.”
“Goodbye,” said Leia. “May the Force be with you.”
The woman blinked, but replied, “And with you.”
They walked back to the field without incident, or conversation, either. Leia had things to think about, and Wedge was never unhappy with companionable silence. Judging by the others she knew, that wasn’t a Corellian trait; she wished it was. They reboarded the Wings of Organa. “Take us out of here, Wedge,” she said. “Salaarna’s coordinates are already loaded.”
“We ought to wait,” he said. “What’s an hour, and somebody who comes and goes in one is more memorable.”
“Whatever you think best,” she said, “you’re the pilot.”
“Are you all right?”
She looked at him. His pale brown eyes were worried. She smiled reassuringly. “I’m just tired; it’s the riflin, I expect.”
“You should have said. Lishbet would have gladly given you something else.”
“Next time, I’ll know,” she said. “Wedge? Tell me how it works.”
“What?” he said, puzzled.
“This whole... subculture,” she said. “Crooked fieldmasters and smugglers and mercenaries, and all of it.”
“No,” she shook her head. “If it were that simple, I could just pick it up. Later. Will you?”
“Of course I will,” he said. “I’ll make you as good at it as I am,” he shrugged, “for what that’s worth.”
“It’s clearly worth a lot,” she said.
Wedge ducked his head. “I’ve just met some people, that’s all... How long will it take to get to Salaarna?”
“About ten hours,” she said.
“You should get some sleep.”
“What about you?”
“I’ve only been up about five hours,” he said. “And getting a lot of sleep, lately.”
Not what I’ve heard. “Lucky you,” was all she said. “Wake me in six hours.”
She was asleep before they left Movrin. When he woke her, her incipient headache was gone and she felt refreshed. She came out into the lounge, following the scent of caff, and found dinner nearly ready. “Not breakfast?” she teased, pouring adding sweetener to the cup.
“How many times in one day can you eat breakfast?” he protested, and then held up his hand, laughing. “No, don’t tell me. Tycho could eat it all day.”
She laughed with him, and then asked, “Did you get any sleep?”
“I napped,” he said. “You look better.”
“I feel better,” she admitted, and then looked sideways at him and said, “So, what’s ‘and’?”
“And?” he asked.
“Riflin and?” she said. “And what?”
“Oh.” He hesitated, and then shrugged. “Farrax.”
“Farrax?” Leia repeated. She knew she’d heard of it, but she wasn’t entirely sure what it was. Besides contraband, that was.
“Just a drop,” Wedge protested, sounding less defensive about the farrax itself than about her attitude. “And it’s just farrax; it’s not exactly-”
“Legal?” she said.
“Dangerous,” he finished. “No, it’s not legal, either, but if you’re not an exotherm, which I’m not, it’s not addictive. Well, not more than alcohol, anyway.”
“Why do you use it?” she asked.
“You were drinking the riflin,” he said.
“No,” she said quickly. “I mean, what’s it like?”
“Oh. Sorry.” He paused a minute. “I could say, it’s because Lishbet offered it, but ... it’s nice. It puts a...” he hunted for the right word, rubbing his thumb against his finger, “a... kind of a glow on the world. Besides, the taste of it, well, it brings memories up. It’s good for old friends. It’s not like glit-” he stopped, and then threw his hands up. “Aah, that’s done me.”
“Idiot,” she had to laugh at him. “Like I didn’t already know.”
He laughed, too, and then said, “Seriously, farrax isn’t much for mammals, or avians, some endothermic saurians... but you watch out if you’re around something else on farrax.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she nodded. She found she was having to restrain herself from asking him if he’d
ever used spice; not glit, the real thing. But she wasn’t curious enough to want to hear the answer.
“What’s our travel time now?”
“About three hours...” she made up her mind. As well do it now as later, in case Wedge got... well, surely not obstreperous, not Wedge, but he might have some objections. And anyway, I’m dying to get a look. She added, “but don’t get too comfortable.”
“We need to change,” she said. “We have to blend in, look like we belong there.”
“This won’t do?” he asked, more curious than anything else. For the moment.
“No,” she said. “We’d stand out, be remembered... I brought Salaarnan clothes for us, yours are in your cabin.”
“Okay,” he said, standing. “Where?”
She headed down the passageway to her own cabin. “Second drawer,” she said and ducked inside. She wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to react.
She changed quickly, pulling on the dark blue fingertip length tunic and loose, comfortable trousers with the relief she always felt when she shed her official persona. That freedom had redeemed clothes much less practical than these. Putting her hair into the long braid Salaarnan custom called for took more time, but even so she was dressed and back in the lounge before Wedge was. Not, she reflected, that that was unexpected. She wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he didn’t come out at all.
After what seemed a long time Wedge called from his cabin. “Leia. Two questions... Did you forget part of my ... disguise?”
Trying very hard not to laugh, she answered simply, “No.”
She could hear Wedge sigh as the door opened. “Is this really what the well-dressed Salaarnans are wearing this year?”
She could see his point. The shirt, a brilliant white, was sleeveless, with the neckline cut low in both front and back, and left his midriff bare. The royal blue trousers ended just above his ankles, but were made of some sleek material that stretched and clung and left little to a viewer’s imagination. A narrow, braided, white belt and blue-and-white leather sandals completed the ensemble.
“No....” she answered after a moment, and at his outraged look she added, “just the ones in Fesgarma City.”
“The fools, you mean,” he said then broke off as he took in her outfit. “Oh, this is going to be fun,” he said, sounding unenthusiastic. “Who owns who?”
“Excuse me?” she said, distracted from the view by the question. With his slim build, she hadn’t expected his shoulders to be quite that nicely muscled. And his legs, and other parts... all very nice indeed.
“Well, are you covered up because I get to kill anybody who notices you? Or are you showing me off?” She couldn’t tell which possibility annoyed him more.
“More the first, but not really either,” she said. “Salaarnan men show themselves off.”
He shook his head and sat down, putting one sandalled foot on the seat next to his and gazing at his toes as if wondering if he needed a pedicure. What she loved about him was that his complaints weren’t serious; that he was wearing the sleek trousers and skimpy shirt even if he wasn’t happy about it. There were plenty she could think of who would have fought, and some who simply wouldn’t have... and, of course, some who’d have loved it. She smiled at him and said, almost consolingly, “Look at the bright side, Wedge. No one will recognize you.”
He snorted. “Not comforting... well, it is, I guess. I’d hate to have to explain it.”
Leia looked at him and considered. “I don’t know ... I mean, it’s really not all that different from the way you usually dress.” Wedge stared at her like she’d lost her mind. “I’m serious,” she said. “Those boots, for instance; you don’t ride anything, they just show off your legs, make them look longer. And your pants, you don’t even have pockets in them to spoil the line. Those cuffless sleeves show off your wrists and hands, and that neckline is cut to show off your shoulders... yes, it is, whether you think of it or not,” she insisted when he flipped a protesting hand at her. “And those vests-they give you the pockets you need, sure, but they also enhance your shoulders and chest. That’s a very masculine style of dress, almost aggressively so.”
“Maybe,” he said after a moment. “But it’s not as exhibitionist as this.”
“True,” she grinned at him. “You can carry it off, though lots might not-” she broke off as he broadened that protest into a arm wave and she got a good look at his right side. A scar started somewhere high on his ribcage and slashed down inside his waistband over his hip. “Wedge, where did you get that?”
He blinked at her, apparently surprised, and then realized. “Arownyow,” he answered with annoying literalness.
She remembered, with almost startling clarity, a short visit she’d made, transiting a staging base at Kespa, and being asked by the commander to say a few words to the battalion of Mrown commandos who were also transiting through the base. “After all,” he’d said, “it’s so recently they decided to actually throw in with us, send troops, anything we can do to let them know how much we appreciate it...” It had been back before the destruction of Alderaan and the turning of the tide, and she’d understood and accommodated the request. The battalion commander, a dark-furred, scarred warrior, had put his hands together under his chin and greeted her as “honored Organa,” seeming pleased by the words she said to his warriors. Then, he’d flicked an ear towards the base commander and said, “If you have come from the main house of the Alliance, honored Organa, permit me to ask a question: how does the most honored Antilles?”
The battalion’s liaison officer had rolled his eyes and said, “Commander Arrkyr, I’ve explained to you that Antilles is a lieutenant, nearly the lowest rank officer we have. He’s just a fighter pilot. Am I making myself clear?”
“You are as clear as still, shallow water,” the Mrown had said peaceably, “or a magnetic containment field. Nonetheless, he remains most honored, and I bound to inquire how he does.”
“He’s just fine,” Leia had said, bemused.
“Most kind,” the Mrown had said, and later, apparently not realizing that she did actually know “that lieutenant”, the base commander had told her the alien commandos had seemed to grasp ranks and hierarchies just fine, until they brought up this pilot. “‘Most honored’ they’ll apply to Mon Mothma, or an admiral, or that lieutenant. I suppose it’s not a big deal, but it annoys Captain Sneed...”
At the time (now, of course, it would have been immediately attributed to the Death Star and no one would have wondered, even though he was still only a lieutenant), Leia had chalked this up to his having let them use Treta’s Answer, but looking back on the occasion, she wondered how she could have. She’d been busy then, she supposed, but she remembered now that they’d been very respectful of him on Arownyow when he brought the Answer.... “Wedge,” she said, “that must have nearly killed you.”
He shrugged. “It did,” he said simply, “but it didn’t.”
She craned her neck to get a better look at the scar, and then said, “What, are you allergic to bacta?”
“No,” he said. “Anything but... I broke this when I was a kid,” he held up his right arm. The movement raised the hem of his shirt, but all Leia noticed this time was the top of the scar; it had to be heart-high. Wedge continued, obliviously, “Got tanked for it. Hated it, but no problems. In fact, there’s not even a mark. But they didn’t have hospitals on Arownyow, let alone bacta, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way.”
Leia had seen plenty of injured people, but none who hadn’t ended up in a hospital, medicated for pain and-unless allergic or resistant- treated with bacta. The concept of ‘the old-fashioned way’ wasn’t intellectually unknown to her, but... She almost asked if it had hurt, but she managed to stop such an idiotic question from leaving her mouth. It hurt to look at it. “How long did it take?”
He shook his head. “Want some caff?” he asked, standing up. “I need to get used to walking around in this... I don’t know,” he tossed over his shoulder as he headed into the galley.
“Don’t know?” she repeated. Fair enough, she was thinking, I need to get used to seeing you walking around in it.
“It was a couple of months, maybe nine weeks, before it was healed enough to get around,” he said. “I stopped paying much attention after that... three months, maybe? I don’t know. But it’s fine.” He handed her a cup of caff and started to lean back against the table, and then changed his mind and sat on the low couch instead. “I don’t even think about it any more.”
“But, if you’re not allergic to bacta, why haven’t you had that-” she hesitated, not sure of the right word. “Fixed? Removed?” She’d never met anyone before who was scarred who didn’t have to be. Well, that little mark on Han’s chin, but ... suddenly she wondered if this was another Corellian custom she was trampling on.
But Wedge just shrugged again. “Bacta, as my father was fond of saying about a lot of things, doesn’t grow on trees. And the Thyferrans aren’t exactly giving us a break on the price, either, not even a volume discount.” He grinned briefly, and then got serious again. “And who knows how long they’ll even sell it to us at all? With the war on... treatment’s one thing, but wasting that much bacta on what’s essentially cosmetic?” She wondered, suddenly, if the D’Treyvan woman had pestered him about it, but she knew she wouldn’t ask. “I’d hate to think somebody died because I wanted to get rid of a scar no one ever sees, anyway.” He made a wry face, and added, “At least, not under normal conditions.” He brightened suddenly. “Hey- does this mean I get to wear a shirt?”
Leia smiled at him, shaking her head. “You are wearing a shirt.”
“My mother wouldn’t have called this a shirt,” he said.
Leia had to laugh, he sounded so disgusted. “Sorry, dearheart,” she said. “I think that would be more conspicuous than a scar.”
He sighed. “Do you carry the money? Speaking of no pockets, I mean.”
“Yes,” she said. “I get to lug around a rather large bag... Wedge, what happened? If you don’t mind talking about it,” she added quickly.
He shrugged again. She decided not to tell him how that shirt enhanced the movement; he might get self-conscious. He might stop. “My reflexes are not quite good enough,” he said, as if it didn’t matter at all. “Somebody took a shot at Kiplir, and I wasn’t quite fast enough to get him out of the way, and me, too. Are you carrying a blaster, too, since the topic’s come up?”
“Nobody carries a blaster in Fesgarma City,” she said, “and they’ll scan us at the field gate, so, no, I’m not. Somebody who?”
“That’s not a very good idea,” he said, frowning slightly. “Could be dangerous. Somebody Imperial, commandos, I think; I wasn’t paying that much attention afterwards.”
“Commandos? On Arownyow?”
“Maybe not,” he said. “Like I said, I didn’t get a good look. Force rifles tend to concentrate my attention wonderfully. So does getting shot. It’s just,” he grinned wryly, “not on faces.”
Force rifle? No wonder... “I suppose not,” she acknowledged. “They didn’t know?”
“The Mrown knew Imperial, local sector, and us,” he said. “And them, of course. Finer distinctions got lost. Nowadays, I’m sure they could tell. Does it matter?”
“I suppose not,” she said again. “Not now. How long ago was it?”
“Before I met you,” he said. “Three years, about.”
“No; I don’t suppose it matters now.” She shrugged herself. “We could have used it when we were trying to convince them to join the Alliance, if nothing else.”
“Well, they convinced themselves,” he said.
Something in his eyes, or his voice, told her there were words left unsaid. She wasn’t sure just what they were, any more than she was sure exactly where those flashes of insight came from. Knowing Wedge, which upon reflection was probably how she knew he was holding something back, it was probably that something he’d said or done had helped convince them. It was like him to downplay his contributions, or, rather, to underrate them. He had a very strong self-image, an enormous confidence in himself that, however, he was mostly unaware of. It was a very attractive combination, especially, she thought, when contrasted with his fellow Corellians, most of whom were brash and cocky and loved telling you how good they were. Wedge never bragged... Leia wished she could have met his parents, if only to tell them what a good job they’d done.
“Anyway,” he said, “they’re in with us now. And Kiplir didn’t even get scratched, so it all worked out.”
“You got scratched,” she pointed out, and then added before he said anything, “but it certainly hasn’t slowed you down any.”
“It would take more than this,” he said, and then obviously wondered why she thought that was so funny.
“What’s the problem?” Wedge shouldered his way through the crowd.
Leia turned to him with exasperation in her eyes. “Wedge,” she said softly, “they say they won’t take our usual payment contract, they want to be paid now.”
“Now?” said Wedge. “Do you have that much on you?”
“Of course not,” she said. “Do we ever?”
“You’re asking the right man,” he grinned. “I still haven’t been paid everything I’m owed.”
“Don’t tell me,” she said. “You’re an officer now, you donated your time.”
He chuckled, and then offered, “You want me to talk to them?”
“It can’t hurt,” she said, pushing a stray lock of hair back over her ear. “My yacht’s not nearly big enough to handle everything.”
He nodded, and walked over to the group of pilots, who were starting to disperse, most of them heading toward the tavern. “Hey, wait a minute,” he said.
A couple of them turned to him, and one of them said, “Hey, look, kid-”
“Lieutenant, more’n likely,” said another, grinning.
Damn these clothes.
“-whatever,” said the first, “cash up front. That’s it.”
Before Wedge could say anything, a third pilot snapped his fingers. “Antilles!”
Wedge looked at the man. His dark, scarred face was indeed familiar, but Wedge couldn’t quite place him.
“Zuveen,” the man said.
“Right,” said Wedge, remembering a night at Kolibri’s... So much for Leia’s no one will recognize you. “Korbyn.”
“Yeah,” said Zuveen.
“You know this guy, Zuve?” asked the smuggler who’d been insisting on cash up front. Two others stayed as well, one of them folding his arms over a jumpsuited barrel chest and the second linking his hands behind his back in a stance that spoke of ex-military. Neither of them looked any more receptive than the talkative one.
Nor did Zuveen, though he had an amiable expression on his damaged face. If Wedge remembered correctly, that was a very deceptive expression. The smuggler shrugged. “Yeah, we’ve met, Boren. A while back, in Kolibri’s.”
“Kolibri’s on Korbyn?” The other smuggler turned towards Wedge with a relaxing of his manner. “You used to be in the business?”
“Yeah,” Wedge nodded.
“Small galaxy... it’s still cash up front.”
Zuveen nodded. “Absolutely.”
“Why?” asked Wedge. “You know we’re good for it.”
“No,” said Zuveen. He shrugged again. “We don’t. Not any more.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, ’s far’s I know, you’re straight, so I’ll tell you how it is. Ylesia-you heard of it?”
Wedge nodded. “Spice factories... it was hit a while back.”
“Yeah,” Zuveen snorted an affirmative. “By you. The Rebel Alliance.” He pronounced the last three words with distinct distaste.
“It wasn’t exactly an Imperial target,” said Boren, “Hutts ran it. Pretty damn profitable for them... and you guys must have done all right selling the spoils.”
“After all,” said the man in the dark red jumpsuit, his voice rasping through a mechanical implant, “you sure didn’t pay none of them from Nar Shadda you hired to help you out.”
Zuveen nodded. “An awful lot of people lost a lot on that: fuel, time, chances to take some other jobs. They ran into a stich’s nest of soldiers, too, lasercannons, you name it. A lot of people took damage to their ships, injuries, even deaths. And got-nothing. Zip.”
“Less than zip,” said the ex-soldier bitterly. “When you burn your own fuel and then have to repair your ship, plus pay for the bacta on crew... that’s a negative paycheck.”
“Right,” nodded Zuveen. “That commander in charge of the Ylesian op, she lied and she defaulted. So, no, sorry, Antilles, but we don’t know you’re good for it anymore. It’s cash up front from now on.”
Wedge was a starfighter pilot, not a commando. He didn’t know anything about the attack on Ylesia, but he knew Zuveen and the others were serious. He wasn’t going to be able to talk them out of it. And if they were correct, they had a right to their stand. He blew out a long breath, thinking, and finally said, “Don’t go anywhere, okay? Don’t hire on with anybody else just yet. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Good enough,” said Zuveen. “But don’t take too long. You know how it is...”
Wedge nodded. He turned and looked for Leia, spotting her at a booth where someone who looked a little like a washed-out Rodian on a bad hair day (if Rodians had had hair, that is) was trying to interest her in a length of shimmering fabric. “Pretty but flimsy,” he said as he joined her.
“For your lady’s hair,” hissed the vendor winningly through its long, narrow snout.
Wedge resisted his first impulse and said only, “Sorry, we really can’t afford it.”
“Oh, dear,” said Leia, slipping her arm through his and shaking her head regretfully at the vendor. They walked off together; as soon as they were out of earshot, she said, “Someday I’m going to be in charge...”
“You can be in charge right now, if you like,” Wedge offered. “That vendor will be deceived, but I’ll be your flunky for everyone else.”
“And we’ll be remembered by everyone else, too,” she said, shaking her head. “That would make us stand out here like a Kalidor sunstone in a handful of gravel.”
“We could use one of those about now,” he said.
“Yes, I noticed you didn’t look terribly successful,” she sighed. “They won’t change their minds?”
“No,” Wedge shook his head. “They won’t. There’s no use trying to talk them out of it, either. And, Leia, there’s more... a lot of people are going to take their attitude.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “Why do I think I don’t want to hear this? Tell me.”
Wedge looked around, found a sidewalk cafe, and headed for it. After he pulled out a chair for Leia and sat himself, he signaled for the waiter and ordered a couple of the cold fruit-flavored caff drinks they sold all over Fesgarma City. Leia waited until the waiter had come and gone before speaking. “Now I know I don’t want to hear it. What is it?”
“I can tell you what they said,” Wedge started. “Maybe you know the ins and outs of it. They say that the Alliance contracted with a group of smugglers from Nar Shadda to hit Ylesia.”
Leia nodded. “Yes, Bel Iblis was in favor of that. Apparently the Ylesians... recruited... heavily in the Corellian Sector... I wasn’t sure it was wise to stir up the Hutts like that, though closing down the factories on Ylesia was a worthy goal. Colonel Torbul of Corellia was the one who proposed it...” she shook her head and drank some of her krints. “I don’t know, Wedge... the Corellians actually in the Corellian Sector think the Rebellion is there to further their own personal agendas. Mostly, everything seems to get filtered through the question: how will this benefit Corellia? before they decide to support it. If they decide to. Even Garm Bel Iblis... that’s off-topic. The point is, Torbul wanted to do this because there were five thousand Corellians on Ylesia. And with Bel Iblis’s backing, they got approval, if they didn’t tie up too many troops. We, Mon Mothma and I and the others, assumed they’d hire mercenaries by promising them profits from the factory coffers.”
Wedge nodded. “The Sector’s inward looking, always has been,” he observed, “and that’s what they did: hire smugglers from Nar Shadda by promising them shares in the spice. But then, after the fighting was over, they... we... reneged.”
“Reneged? How so?”
“Completely,” Wedge said. “Or, at least, that’s what these pilots are saying. They didn’t make a red millicred out of it.”
“You mean,” said Leia incredulously, “they didn’t get paid at all?”
“Not at all,” Wedge shook his head. “And they’re not willing to run that risk again, even for just a delivery instead of a battle.”
Leia was quiet, her dark eyes troubled.
After a moment, Wedge added, “People who do things for pay need to get paid.”
“Yes,” said Leia, seriously, no hint in evidence of her usual teasing on the subject. “I do see that... Oh, Wedge, what a mess.”
“Yes,” he said. There really wasn’t anything else to say.
They were both quiet for several minutes. Then Leia gave her dark head a brisk shake. “So,” she said, decisively. “The near-term problem is, we can’t get those weapons shifted. And the longer they sit in that warehouse, the more that’s going to cost us, plus, of course, the more likely it is that they’ll be discovered and impounded.”
“We can afford to pay the storage, but we can’t afford to hire pilots... Wedge, how much can I get for the Wings of Organa?”
He stared. “Are you serious?”
“Of course I’m serious,” she snapped, and then softened. “We have to get the money, and we can’t wait. If we go to Versace for it, there won’t be any pilots still here, will there? At least, none that will listen to us at all. And the arms will probably be sold out from under us. I don’t need the yacht, and it’s the only thing we have that will bring in any money at all. So, how much do you think I can get for her?”
“Well,” he said, thinking. “You have legit documentation, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “It’s a false name, but my retinal scan.”
“Good,” he said, “that means we can get market price from a legit dealer.”
“Will it be enough?”
“Yes,” he said. “A used Baudo yacht in good condition should bring in sixty, sixty-five thousand, and that’ll be enough to hire two. Zuveen runs a Cal Frielander, as I recall, and there’s another man here who talked about crew... if his is comparable, a Recre 14D or a White Twentysomething, we just need two.”
“If it’s not?”
“We still only need two,” he said. “Just, somebody else’s two. There’ll be somebody here.”
“Good,” she said, and downed the last of her krints. “Then let’s go sell the Wings of Organa.”
She started to stand up, but Wedge reached across the tiny table and caught her hand. “Leia, I know what that yacht means to you.”
“It’s just a ship, Wedge, it’s just a thing...”
“I know,” he smiled slightly, “you’re not Han and she’s not the Falcon... but your father gave her to you, and you’re going to miss her when she’s gone. I just wanted to say... I know it.”
“Thank you, Wedge,” she said softly.
He squeezed her hand and then stood up. “So, let’s go unload an old Bawdy.”
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