"Madam, your presence is required immediately at the negotiations. The delegation is threatening to walk out unless you specifically speak with them."
Leia Organa Solo, Chief of State of the New Republic, did her best not to scowl at the minor functionary who had called her at home. It seemed something like this happened on every occasion that she tried to find time for herself.
She knew her duty, but she also had duties to her children and she couldn't leave them alone, for they were far too young. Han, Luke and Chewbacca had left the day before to visit Lando's latest scheme; Winter was busy at an Intelligence meeting and was unreachable; Threepio hardly fit Leia's definition of a good babysitter - no, it would have to be someone else - someone she trusted implicitly. She tapped a button on the comm terminal.
"General Antilles? I need a favour of you."
"Mommy? Where are we going?" Anakin asked.
Leia smiled at her three-year-old son. "You're going to visit Wedge."
"How come?" Jaina queried.
"Well, sweetie, do you really want to stay with Threepio?"
"Nah uh!" Jacen insisted.
Jaina finished for her brother. "He's so boring!"
"Well, I thought you might like to stay with someone a little more fun and exciting while I go to my meeting."
Jacen took that as a personal insult. "Another meeting? You promised to play with us today!"
"I know, I'm sorry. It's just that these things happen. I'm sure if you asked nicely you could get Wedge to find something really special for you to do."
The children considered this for a minute. "Well, okay," the twins replied together.
Leia pushed open the door to Wedge's office and stared at the man in the main desk chair who was spinning in fast circles. Wes Janson looked up and immediately jumped to his feet. Somewhat dizzily, Wes performed an elaborately embellished bow. "Greetings, Your Excellency. What brings you to my humble office?"
"Hello to you too, Wes. I came to General Antilles' 'humble office' to see Wedge. Where is he? Did you space tape him to the wall again?"
"Uh, no, I'll go get him."
A few moments later Wes reemerged with Wedge in tow.
"It's not a problem. You take care of the negotiations and I'll take care of the kids."
"I'll repay you for this, I promise."
"How about some Intelligence then - was Wes sitting in my chair?"
"We're always good!" Jaina called out as Leia walked through the door.
Wedge looked from one Solo child to the next. They certainly looked like their parents - he wondered exactly how much of Han's propensity for mischief they had inherited. Even though they seemed relatively well behaved when their parents were around, he suspected he was about to learn the truth. "So," he asked, "what do you kids want to do?"
"Dunno," Jacen said.
"Something interesting," Jaina added.
This babysitting thing might be more difficult than he thought. "Well then, let's think of something. How about we see if Corran will show you his lightsaber?"
"No," Anakin spoke for the first time.
"Boring," Jaina said.
"I want to!" Jacen insisted.
"Well then, I'll take you to see him," Wedge replied, patting Jacen on the shoulder. Then he turned to Jaina and Anakin. "I'm sure we can think of something else for you two to do. Let's see-- Jaina, you like machines, right?"
"Well then, how would you like to see the X-Wings?"
Jaina hopped from foot to foot with excitement. "Okay!"
"Wes will take you right now."
"I will?" Wes asked.
Wedge grinned. "Yes, you will. It'll be fun since you're what? Eight years old on the inside?"
"Hey!" Wes donned a look of wounded pride. "It's nine and you know it!"
"Just take the kid and go."
Jaina grabbed Wes's hand and proceeded to drag him out of the office.
"What about me?" Anakin asked.
Wedge pulled the littlest child into his lap. "I'm sure we can think of something."
"Where are the ships?" Jaina asked.
Wes sighed - he was going to get Wedge - oh yes he was. "They're in the hangar, this way."
"Hey Wes! Isn't she a little young for you?"
Oh, he would get Wedge all right - right after he finished with Hobbie. "Real funny, Klivian. Come on, you're coming with me!"
"Really?" Hobbie asked. "Where am I going?"
"We are going down to the hangar."
"But Wes, my X-Wing isn't fixed yet!"
"Well, I was planning on showing Jaina Wedge's fighter."
Jaina grabbed both their hands. "Come on! I want to see the ships!"
When they arrived at the hangar, Wes lifted Jaina up to look into the cockpit. "This lever here controls what way the nose is pointed. And we use these to control how fast we go. Oh, and here's Hobbie's favorite button."
"What button is that?"
"It controls the ejection seat."
Hobbie stepped in and pointed to the comm. "This is what Wedge uses to tell Wes to shut up. See how worn out the controls are?"
Jaina reached out a hand. "What does this button do?"
Wes pulled her back. "Ack! Don't touch that - it fires the proton torpedoes!"
"Oh." Jaina jumped down out of Wes's arms and pulled herself up the ladder. "What about this one?"
Four laser bolts lanced out across the hangar, sending mechanics scrambling for cover. Someone called for security.
"This is fun!" Jaina yelled.
"Uh, time to go, kid." Wes didn't want to be around when security showed up to investigate the disturbance.
"But I don't wanna!"
"I like it here!"
Wes looked to Hobbie for backup. "How about we all go down to the simulators? It'll almost be like really flying, and you can push all the buttons you want."
Jaina looked from one pilot to the other, considering her options. "Well, okay, I guess. You have to fly too though!"
Hobbie grimaced. "I've got a bad feeling about this."
"General Antilles, what brings you here?" Corran asked.
"Well, I told Jacen here that you would show him some of your Jedi lightsabery stuff. As your commanding officer, I get to make those decisions."
"Really? Where does it say that?"
"Starfighter Command Rules and Regulations page 2364, section C, line 14," Jacen chimed in.
"You coached him to say that!"
Wedge shrugged. "What if I did? You have fun, okay?" With that, he marched triumphantly out of the room.
"Commanding officers," Corran muttered.
Jacen grinned. "So, where's your lightsaber?"
Corran reached into his dresser - the lightsaber was sitting right next to the practice remote he had borrowed from Master Skywalker.
"Okay, now turn it on."
Corran pressed the ignition stud; the silver blade appeared with its familiar snap-hiss - he tried a couple practice cuts hoping to appease the boy.
"It's an interesting colour."
"You haven't seen the best part yet." Corran tapped the ignition stud again, causing the blade to double in length.
"Hey, that's cool! Can I see it?"
"Umm, no." It was bad enough when Wes had dangerous weapons; there was no way Corran would let an actual child touch his lightsaber. It didn't matter that Jacen had fought with one at the age of two. It was not a good idea.
"But Uncle Luke lets me!"
"He let you once. You can't have a lightsaber until you're a Jedi."
"But I wanna!"
Corran went to put the weapon back in its drawer. "The answer is still no."
"You're no fun!" Suddenly, the lightsaber leaped out of Corran's hand and began a wobbly flight to Jacen's hand.
"You're not allowed to do that."
The saber leapt higher into the air. "Can't stop me," Jacen taunted as only a child can.
Corran tried to jump, but Jacen jerked it out of the way. Perfect. His abilities would improve dramatically right at their most inconvenient. Corran wondered if a child that young could use the Dark Side. "This isn't funny!"
Jacen spun his new toy around Corran's head, just out of reach. "Why don't you take it? You're a Jedi, aren't you?"
Corran attempted to jump for it with the assistance of the Force, only to be pushed back by a telekinetically propelled pillow. How could a five-year-old manage to focus for so long? This was beyond the abilities of many of the adults he knew and now Jacen was managing to divide his attention without letting the lightsaber fall. "Where's a ysalamir when I need one?"
Wedge found himself at a loss for ideas; never before in his life had he been so uncertain of what to do. It didn't help that little Anakin Solo was staring at him, waiting to be entertained. "What's your favorite game in the whole world?"
Anakin kicked his heels against Wedge's shins. "I like hide and seek."
"So, do you want to play that?"
Anakin shrugged. "Okay. I'll hide first. You close your eyes and count to five bazillion."
"Five bazillion? How about a hundred."
Anakin giggled. "No peeking!"
Wedge squeezed his eyes shut as he heard Anakin's footsteps running out of the office. "One, two, three..." This shouldn't be too difficult - after all, how many places could Anakin get to before he reached the end of his counting? "... Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred! Ready or not, here I come!"
The door to Wedge's office had been left wide open. He hoped that not too many of his pilots had witnessed him sitting at his desk practicing his numbers. At least Janson was safely in the hangar with Jaina. This was an incident Wes would never let him live down.
Wedge glanced through an open door. There were flimsies strewn all across Gavin Darklighter's desk, but no sign of a little boy.
"What happened here?" a voice asked from behind him.
Wedge turned to see Gavin gaping at the mess. "Well, since it's your office, I thought you might tell me. When did you become so disorganized?"
"Apparently, in the last five standard minutes. I could have sworn I locked my door." Gavin picked up one of the papers. "Crayon? General, you didn't let Major Janson near my office, did you?"
"In the last five minutes? No, I sent him down to the hangar." There was only one other person in the vicinity that might use crayons for amusement. Wedge had guessed correctly, he was on the right track. "I bet he's in here." He checked under the desk.
"Who, sir? Major Janson?"
"No, not Janson." Wedge opened the closet. "Aha!"
He found only an ugly orange flight suit, no Anakin.
"You're so shocked that my uniform is clean?"
"No." Wedge shifted a filing cabinet that had been placed at an angle in the corner. "How about here?"
"Umm, sir, permission to speak freely?"
What else might he hide in? Wedge waved a hand vaguely. "Granted."
"Why are you ransacking my office? Have you finally been pushed over the edge?"
A high-pitched giggle from outside broke Wedge's train of thought. "Never mind, this is the wrong place!" He rushed out leaving a somewhat perplexed Gavin in his wake.
A pile of packing containers briefly caught his eye, but a couple tosses quickly pushed that notion aside. Anakin wasn't hiding in any of them.
Wedge checked behind several doors and under numerous piles of rags without any success. Suddenly, he heard a series of muffled thuds above his head. "What could that be?" He hoped that the ventilation system hadn't gone haywire again; it had just been repaired recently. A horrifying realization dawned on him. "Oh please, someone tell me he's not in the air ducts!"
The simulator room was deserted when Wes, Hobbie and Jaina arrived. Just as well, less potential for unintended trouble.
"You really plan to go through with this," Hobbie asked.
Jaina rolled her eyes. "Of course he does. Are you scared?"
"No," Hobbie insisted. "Just let me check the simulators." He reached into the last one and pulled out a large object. "Catch, Wes."
A stuffed Ewok dressed in a New Republic pilot's uniform flew towards Janson. "Not Catch, Kettch - don't you know anything?"
Wes reached into one of the cockpits to adjust the seat as far up and forward as it could go. He lifted Jaina up and helped her strap in. "Are you sure you can reach everything?"
Jaina tapped a random button. "I'm fine."
Wes adjusted one of the dials. "The intercom is set up so you can talk to me and Hobbie. Don't change anything. You remember how the controls work?"
"Yes! Are you going to get in the other one or not?"
"Yes ma'am." He could swear he heard Hobbie laughing in the background. Well, he'd get him yet.
Wes climbed into the cockpit and strapped himself in. Checking over the comm to see that Hobbie was ready, he selected one of the simplest training scenarios. It was a basic obstacle course with stationary targets for them to hit with their fighters' weapons. Double-checking that Jaina was all set; he pressed the button to begin. "Okay, the idea is to shoot at the red markers and not crash your ship. Think you can handle that last objective, Hobbie?"
"Cut the chatter." Hobbie shot off.
Wes looked out the 'viewport' to his side. Jaina was showing better control of her fighter than some of the teenagers that went into the Academy.
Jaina's voice came from the speaker at his left. "It's not that hard."
Had he said that last part aloud? Wes pushed that thought aside as he came up on the first target. He set it in his sights then pulled the trigger - twelve beams shot out towards it, four from each of the X-wings. The full dozen struck the target, causing it to blow up spectacularly. It must be beginner's luck.
Whatever Jaina had going for her, it held throughout the entire scenario. Where the girl had learned to pilot an X-wing at her age, he would never know. "You ready to go yet?"
"That's it?" Jaina exclaimed. "Don't you have anything harder?"
"We could run one of the scenarios against the Empire," Hobbie suggested.
"Whose side are you on, anyway?"
Wes almost heard Hobbie shrug. "My own. You were the one who dragged me into this."
Jaina said, "Let's make it interesting. You two can fly the TIE fighters instead of the computer."
There would undoubtedly be no arguing with the child. When it came to sheer stubbornness, she already had the makings of a Rogue Squadron member. "If that's really what you want, I can arrange it."
"Then hurry up."
Wes selected an open scenario in a randomly generated system. He'd let Jaina have a little bit of fun before he would bother to finish her off. She was just a kid, after all. As soon as the simulation began, he noticed that Hobbie was trying to fight his way free of the planet, as he had become trapped in the atmosphere. "Lousy TIEs."
"Don't go crashing," Wes suggested helpfully. Unfortunately, the suggestion came just a little bit too late, as Hobbie collided with a high-flying speeder and was sent spiraling towards the ground. Yet another addition to the "Hobbie Klivian's Funniest Crashes" holo.
A flash of light across the view ports caught his attention. Jaina clearly didn't appreciate being ignored. Oh, she'd get noticed all right. He whirled his fighter around and streaked off after her.
"Can't catch me!" Jaina taunted. She moved around erratically in his targeting display. Finally, the box went red. He had a lock, and fired his lasers.
Jaina spun her fighter away and returned fire. She clearly didn't plan on being so easy a kill as that. They exchanged salvos, but both kept dodging. Finally, Wes scored a hit that brought down the shields of the X-wing. He had her now.
The missile-lock warning went off. "Sithspawn!" Wes barely had time to register that Jaina must have remembered that she had a proton torpedo launcher before his cockpit went dark.
Corran stared down at Jacen Solo. Much farther down than a mere difference in their heights could account for. The boy had grown tired of playing keep-away with Corran's lightsaber and had decided to turn his telekinetic advantage on the Jedi himself.
"Could you please let me down?" Corran couldn't believe that he was pleading with a five-year-old.
Jacen flicked the lightsaber on and off a few times. "Umm... no."
"Jacen, that isn't a toy."
Jacen shrugged. "Never said it was."
Corran resisted the urge to kick his feet in the air. Flailing about wasn't going to get him down. On the contrary, Jacen might decide that it was entertaining and leave him hovering near the ceiling for longer. "Your uncle won't be happy when he hears about this."
"Uncle Luke isn't going to find out." A diabolical look came across Jacen's face. "So, you want down?"
Corran was almost afraid to know what Jacen had decided would be more interesting. "Yes," he said cautiously.
"Okay." Jacen let go abruptly, sending Corran crashing downwards. By some act of the Force, or of Jacen's better judgment, he landed on the bed. In a most undignified manner, but safely nonetheless.
Something crawled up Corran's leg. He reached down to brush it off and noticed that it was soft and slimy. He glanced down at the floor... Granite slugs - why'd did it have to be granite slugs? Masses of them were writhing their way towards the bed. It was as if the floor had come to some sort of primitive life while he was distracted. Those things gave him the creeps.
"What, you don't like my friends?" Jacen sounded genuinely offended.
"They're granite slugs." He didn't want to actually go out and say it.
"Ya know, fear is of the Dark Side."
"I'm not afraid, Jacen. I'm just worried about having to clean up afterwards. There are an awful lot of them."
"Don't worry," Jacen assured him, "the hawkbats will help take care of that for you."
"W-what hawkbats?" Corran asked cautiously.
He got the only answer he needed from the fast approaching wing beats.
"Oh. Those hawkbats."
Wedge stared at the ventilation grate. It would have to come off, he supposed. How Anakin had gotten it back on in the first place was beyond him. He wondered if he was even going to be able to fit in the shaft. He heaved a sigh and reached into his pocket for his multi-tool.
As he was unscrewing the cover, he heard Tycho's voice from behind him. "Wedge, what exactly are you doing?"
"Getting you to help," Wedge answered. "This grate has to come off."
"Might I ask why?"
"Well, it would be somewhat difficult to access the air ducts with this thing in the way." It seemed obvious enough to Wedge.
Tycho shook his head and tugged at the obstacle. "I probably don't want to know do I."
The cover came loose unexpectedly, sending Wedge flying across the hall. He pushed himself uneasily to his feet. Getting into the vent was going to be difficult. At least there were several boxes around that could be used as step stools. "You can go in first, Tycho."
"What? In there? Why would I climb into the ventilation system?"
"Because I outrank you, and I said so. Don't make me turn this into an order."
Tycho eyed the opening skeptically. "What possible reason could there be to climb in there?"
Why was he making everything so difficult? "Try, Winter will be mad if we don't find little Anakin."
Tycho chuckled. "Wedge, you mean you managed to lose the Chief of State's kid? He's only three years old, how much trouble could he possibly be?"
"Plenty." Wedge pointed to the open shaft again. "Get in."
Tycho disappeared easily through the gaping hole in the wall. Clearly, the ducts were larger than Wedge had originally thought. Perhaps this wouldn't be so difficult after all. With only a bit of a grimace, he stepped onto the unstable cargo container and hoisted himself up behind his friend.
It was dark inside. Wedge instantly wished he'd thought to bring a glow rod. The only illumination inside the walls came from the unevenly spaced vents. Listening intently for any sign of the child, the two pilots crawled silently through the system. There were so many twists and turns, ascents and descents that Wedge was no longer certain what floor they were on, much less what room they were near.
"Look there." Tycho suddenly spoke up.
"What is it? I just see light from another vent."
"Look more closely. The grate is missing."
"You think Anakin came this way?" Wedge wished that Corran were with him. He could use those detective skills right about now. Whatever he was doing with Jacen had to be better than this.
"It's worth a try."
Tycho jumped down into the room below, with Wedge following close behind. Wedge looked around to see where he was.
"Environmental control room." Tycho offered helpfully. "Is it just me, or is it a bit hot in here?"
"Well, I think we can safely say Anakin has been here."
Wes Janson climbed out of the simulator cockpit, utterly defeated. Quite naturally, Hobbie approached quickly to rub it in. "Well, Wes, you should be very proud."
Wes shot his friend a dirty look. "And that would be why?" Might as well let him get in whatever smart aleck remark he had planned. After all, his time would come.
"Well, as far as I know you're the only person in Starfighter Command to ever be shot down by a five-year-old."
"Actually, that's not true," Wes shot back. "Dragon Squadron was once ambushed by Atrillan pirates. Their race only lives for a decade, so some of them were probably five."
Whatever Hobbie had been planning as a retort, it was cut off by Jaina's insistent voice. "Would you two stop playing and let me down!"
The girl had managed to open the heavy simulator door, but seemed reluctant to jump all the way down. Wes lifted her carefully to the floor. "How did you get the door open by yourself?"
Jaina giggled. "With the Force, silly. I coulda used it to jump down, but I didn't wanna."
An idea began to form in Wes's mind. "Can you use that trick on locked doors too?"
"You mean like the one on the cookie cupboard? Yeah."
"Cookies, eh? Well, we'll make the mess hall our second stop. First we're going to play in the briefing room."
"Okay," Jaina replied.
The first stop was a large storage area. Wes picked up one cargo container, and nudged a second with his foot. "Grab that, would you Hobbie?"
The dour looking man heaved the box off the floor with a grunt. "What's in this thing?"
Wes shrugged. "The forces of darkness."
Hobbie rolled his eyes. "Lovely. Just lovely."
"Isn't it though?" Wes grinned.
No one spared the group a second glance as they made their way to the briefing room. During his time with the Wraiths, Wes had learned that the easiest way to become invisible was to carry a box. He set down the crate so that he could point to the door.
"We're here. Time to work your magic, Jaina."
The little girl stared at the lock for a moment before gesturing quickly. "It's open." The doorknob slowly turned of its own accord.
Once they were safely inside the room, Hobbie eagerly set down his burden and opened it up. His jaw dropped as he inspected the contents. "It's full of..."
"Toys!" Jaina exclaimed. "Soldiers and spaceships! Neat!"
Hobbie examined one of the soldiers. "This looks just like Wedge."
"Well that was the effect I was aiming for," Janson responded. "You haven't seen the best part yet."
"What's that?" Hobbie asked cautiously.
"Well we can't have an epic battle without heroes." Wes was practically bursting with excitement.
"Who are the heroes?" Hobbie asked with resignation.
Wes reached into the second crate to demonstrate. "Why, Ewoks of course."
Corran stared helplessly around at the once pristine room that had turned into a disaster zone. The floor was alive, the air filled with hawkbats, and from the look on Jacen's face, this was only going to be the beginning.
Corran cringed as the door swung open again, fearing that the boy had lured a larger predator this time. Where he could find such a creature on Coruscant was uncertain, but there was no doubt in Corran's mind that young Solo could manage it. Perhaps a zoo, or an ill-chosen pet. Jacen was disgustingly resourceful.
"I warned you about keeping rhyscate in here. See how it attracts all manner of animals."
Corran did a brief dance of joy. It was only his wing mate, on some errand. Not a vicious monster out to tear him limb from limb. "Ooryl, old buddy, I don't suppose you could shoot me?"
The Gand stared at him blankly. "Ooryl does not comprehend your request."
"It's simple," Corran explained. "I want you to take out your sidearm, point it at me and pull the trigger."
"That course of action would be unwise."
"I'm a Jedi," Corran insisted. "I can change the energy, you know that."
Jacen waved a small hand. "You don't want to shoot him."
Ooryl shook his head. "I don't want to shoot you."
So that was the game he wanted to play? At last, an area of Jedi training that Corran had mastered. The boy had just made his mistake. "You will shoot me."
"Yes, you will," Corran repeated in a flat tone.
Jacen wasn't about to give up without a fight. "You have pressing matters to attend to."
"Excuse Ooryl, there are pressing matters to be attended."
"Jacen, give it up," Corran implored. "I'm a master of the Jedi mind trick; you can't win."
Confusion flickered through Jacen's presence. "Jedi mind trick? You mean that thing that never works on Mom and Dad? I wasn't using it."
"It would seem the documents I need aren't in here." With that, Ooryl turned around and walked away leaving Corran once again alone with Jacen and his minions.
Wedge rolled up the sleeves of his uniform. "Well, we have a bit of a dilemma on our hands now."
"What dilemma would that be?" Tycho asked.
"Should we go after Anakin or repair his handy work? If it's this hot, we're going to have a hard time."
"Is that all? It's fairly simple to solve." Tycho pressed a button on the console. "Tech team to Environmental Control."
Wedge smiled. "Of course. I was just testing to see if you're ready for your next promotion."
"Sure you were. Let's keep looking. The techies will be able to figure out what the problem is for themselves."
Wedge looked down the corridor to either side of him. Which way would Anakin have gone? If only he knew what the kid was trying to accomplish, he might have some idea where to keep looking. He found himself again wishing for Corran's expertise. Tracking down fugitives had always been his specialty. "Well, it can't be that hard. Just look for the disaster area," he said with false confidence.
"Listen," Tycho admonished.
The sound of running water filled the air. "It's coming from the 'fresher."
It was as good a clue as any other. Wedge and Tycho ran towards the source of the sound, nearly slipping on the wet floor. One of the faucets had been left running, and there was water splashed all over the walls. Most importantly, there were small watery footprints leading away from the room.
"Follow that trail!" Wedge ordered. Anakin wasn't going to get away this time.
The two pilots ran down the hallway, intensely focused on the floor. Wedge was so focused on his mission that he nearly ran right into a door marked "Authorized Personnel Only."
"Well this can't be right," Tycho said.
Wedge ran his military ID through the scanner. "I wouldn't put it past him."
A mechanical voice said, "Approved, General Sillyface."
Tycho raised an eyebrow. "I retract my objection. This is the right place."
Wedge looked around. "Where are we, anyway?"
"Don't you recognize this place? It's the Starfighter Command central planning area."
"As in, the place that the orders for every fighter squadron in the New Republic comes from?"
And they'd set Anakin loose here? The galaxy was about to be in a lot of trouble.
Piloted by an Ewok, the X-wing took off with stately grace. Certain of its destination, it flew through the air to it's place in the formation.
"Atta girl," Wes said cheerily. "Now just hold it until I can tie it in place."
Jaina's eyes remained focused on the toy starfighter, which wobbled only a little as Wes climbed onto the table. It had never occurred to him just how useful a Jedi's skills could be for his pranks. She had already threaded the thin wire through the rafter, leaving only the actual knot up to him.
"Is that the last of the ships?" Hobbie asked wearily.
Jaina glanced into the box. "Yep."
"Now that we don't have to stand on the table, we can set up the ground troops on it."
"And there's still no one nearby?"
Jaina stared off into the distance. "No one."
She was definitely a useful person to have around. Wes began removing toy soldiers from the villain crate. The vast majority of them were models of Wedge, but there were various other heroes of the New Republic scattered throughout.
Jaina held up a Luke Skywalker figure. "Lift that rock! Okay, now lift another one. No, don't throw them at your brothers! Stop using the Jedi mind trick on ranking politicians! Have you memorized all the members of the old Jedi Order yet?"
Wes grinned and reached for one of the many Wedges. He shook the figurine and lowered his voice to mimic his commander. "Stop napping during mission briefings! That cloak is not part of the dress uniform! Couldn't you at least act fourteen or fifteen? Is that a games datapad?"
Jaina giggled. "He can't be as bad as Uncle Luke."
Wes shook his head. "You have no idea. The Ewoks must teach them both a lesson!"
"Is it just me or do these mostly look like Lieutenant Kettch?" Hobbie asked.
"I should hope so," Wes snorted. "I had them special ordered."
Jaina carefully set a ring of Ewoks encircling the Luke Skywalker toy. Hobbie arranged rank upon rank of identical Wedge dolls on the march. Wes carefully leveled small plastic spears before setting the Ewok warriors in opposition to them. They worked quickly, since Wes wasn't sure how much longer the briefing room would be deserted, all the while hoping that Wedge would be the first to see the inspired display.
The three conspirators stepped back to admire their handiwork. It was certainly an impressive battle scene.
"Is it time for cookies now?" Jaina asked.
Jacen looked right into Corran's eyes. "You asked for ysalamiri, right?"
Corran grimaced. He hadn't meant for the child to hear that comment. He dreaded whatever retribution Jacen had in mind. "What if I did?"
"Well, I can't get you a ysalamir, but I think I found something from the same planet."
Corran knew a lot about the creatures from Myrkr and He didn't particularly want to encounter any of them. "No, I never asked. I'm managing perfectly fine without any ysalamiri. No need for anything here."
Jacen's gaze pierced deeper beneath the surface. "You," he paused briefly for emphasis, "are a terrible liar."
"You really think so?"
"Yep. My friend really wants to meet you."
"Yeah, I'll bet he does," Corran muttered.
Jacen opened the door with a wave of his hand. A snarling predator leapt through and immediately began stalking Corran. What were the odds of a full-grown vornskr being on Coruscant?
"You're supposed to be Corellian. Why are you worrying about odds?" Jacen quipped.
The little pest had been reading his mind. Corran's attention was rapidly brought back to more immediate concerns than Jacen overstepping Master Skywalker's boundaries. As it jumped at him, Corran noticed that the vornskr was missing its tail. That meant it must be one of Karrde's. Sometimes he thought his old dislike of smugglers was justified; clearly, they weren't all right in the head, keeping such dangerous animals as pets.
"They hunt using the Force, ya know."
"You don't say," Corran said, his voice dripping with enough sarcasm to make Han Solo jealous.
It wasn't enough to impress Han Solo's elder son. "You should be nicer. He isn't going to hurt you if you're nice to me."
"Are you threatening me?"
"No." Jacen petted the vornskr.
"Might I remind you that I'm a fully trained Jedi Knight and you are not?"
"Might I remind you," Jacen mimicked, "that I have a lightsaber and you don't?"
It just seemed to keep coming back to that.
"Anakin?" Wedge called out. "Anakin, come out. You win. You're just too good a hider."
The only answer was the beeping of a thousand consoles that controlled every New Republic starfighter in existence. Consoles that could start a war. Consoles that Anakin had somehow gained access to. "Come on kiddo, this isn't funny. It's time for you to come out now."
"I'll give you cookies," Tycho tried.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
"You've gotta catch me!" Anakin's tiny voice echoed throughout the heart of Starfighter Command.
Wedge still couldn't tell where the boy was, so he turned in a random direction. "Anakin?"
"You're not very good at this game, General Sillyface," Tycho needled.
Wedge turned around. "Isn't that insubordination?"
A twinkle came into Tycho's eyes. "You're the one who pulls rank all the time. I wouldn't know."
"That kid is worse than Wes!"
"Now, now, let's not go saying anything we can't take back," Tycho warned.
"At least Wes's mother isn't my boss."
The monitors all suddenly started flashing the words "Transmitting Orders". Wedge ran over to try to find out what those orders were exactly. They included a new flight maneuver called the Antilles' Wedge that mostly seemed to involve spinning around in circles. Worse, Nova Squadron had just been instructed to use the maneuver while dropping confetti bombs on the capital of Bothawui. The Corellian groaned. "Fey'lya's going to have my head on a platter!"
Tycho nodded. "Garnished with little sprigs of greenery."
Wedge rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. Now, you look for Anakin while I try to recall these orders."
Tycho wove his way between the consoles calling out, "Anakin, it's time to come out. You wouldn't want Winter to find out you've been bad."
A message appeared on the screen informing Wedge that "General Sillyface" did not have the authority to revoke the orders. Wedge cringed as he realized that Anakin had used his name and access codes. Ackbar was going to kill him too.
Come to think of it, if he didn't catch Anakin soon, Leia might strangle him, Dark Side or no Dark Side.
"Cookies?" Jaina asked.
"Cookies," Wes agreed.
Hobbie heaved a martyred sigh. "Cookies."
Even reluctant agreement was good enough for Wes, especially since he knew that Hobbie would rapidly warm up to the idea. "Well then, what are we waiting for?"
Jaina skipped ahead of them. "Which way is it?"
"Turn right at the corner," Hobbie offered. "No, the other right."
The mess hall was usually deserted this time of day, and today was no exception. No one bothered to stop the small group as they found their way into the kitchen.
"Where are the cookies?" Jaina asked.
"Well, unless Wes has been coming in here without me, there should be a jar of them in that cupboard over there."
Wes opened the door, and watched in shock as the cookie jar levitated to the nearby table.
"Where is that kid when you can't reach the datacard with your X-Wing codes on it?" Hobbie teased.
"With Uncle Luke learning how to do that," Jaina responded.
Wes was pretty sure that this was not the intended use for Jedi powers, never mind that it was the most practical one. Luke Skywalker might be a hero, but he wasn't really all that much fun. "Well, looks like he did something right. Don't know what he was thinking when he put Wedge in charge of Rogue Squadron though."
Hobbie pulled the cover off the ceramic container. "It's empty!"
"What? Who stole the cookies? They must be found!"
"Wes, I'm hungry," Jaina complained.
That wasn't good. Wes knew what it was like to try to function on an empty stomach since his commanding officer made him do it all too often. Wedge just didn't understand that feeding the pilots should be the highest item on any priority list; pre-flight meals should always supercede mission briefings. "Well, then we have to do something about that."
Hobbie appeared deep in thought. "There might be a solution."
"Really, what is it?" Wes asked.
"Well we could always..." Hobbie stopped and grimaced. "Try to make the cookies ourselves."
Corran backed away from the vornskr, acutely aware that his path was rapidly taking him towards a corner. It didn't help that Jacen just stood there, flicking Corran's lightsaber on and off.
"Stop that," he insisted.
"You're scaring my friend, you know."
Silently, Corran shot the impious child a dirty look, hoping that word of his being forced into a corner would not get out. Offhand, he could think of at least fifteen people who would never let him live it down.
The familiar voice of one of those fifteen called out, "Sturm! Here Sturm!"
Mirax entered the room, took one look at Corran and immediately burst out laughing. "What did you do to make Sturm so mad?"
"I didn't do anything!" Corran flailed his hands back and forth.
Jacen turned off the lightsaber and tossed it into the air. "He wasn't being very nice!"
Mirax caught the weapon neatly and glared vibroblades at Corran. "What were you thinking, letting a child his age have this?"
"But, but..." Corran stammered.
"You should know better," Mirax continued. "Look at that cute little face. Don't tell me you want to see him get hurt."
Cute. Sure, Jacen was a future Sith Lord, but he was a cute future Sith Lord, so it didn't matter to Mirax. "But he-"
Mirax held up a hand to stop him. "I don't want to hear it, CorSec. I bet he wouldn't cause you any trouble if you found something to entertain him." She turned to the boy. "So Jacen, what are you in to?"
He shrugged his small shoulders. "I like lightsabers."
"So you do," Mirax laughed. "What else?"
"Animals. I really like animals." Jacen reached down and scratched behind Sturm's ears.
Mirax crouched down. "Do you know who has some really neat bugs? Face from Wraith Squadron. How about you ask Corran to take you for a visit?"
"'Kay. Corran, will you take me? Please, please?"
The look in Mirax's eyes made him certain that he didn't actually have a choice. "Sure, Jace."
"That wasn't so hard, now was it? You boys play nice, you hear."
The three of them left the room together, but Mirax quickly separated to return Sturm to Karrde. It was only then that Corran realized that she still had his lightsaber.
Access denied, General Sillyface.
The red words on the screen taunted Wedge over and over again. He'd tried every military override he knew, and none of them had allowed him to recall orders Anakin had issued in his name. "Override these orders, code Gamorrean Bantha Corellia Omega!"
Tycho turned his attention from his quest for Anakin. "That's not even a real password, Wedge."
Wedge banged his head against the console. "I know! But nothing else has worked!"
"Did you try code Kettch Nine Yellow?"
"Wes's prank code? Yes, I've even tried that!" Wedge looked down at the console and realized that he was too late. The words scrolling across informed him the Nova Squadron had just begun Phase One of Operation Fey'lya's a Big Meanie. "What did Fey'lya ever do to you Anakin?"
There was an indistinct whimper. "He yelled at me at a banquet!"
"And how did that make you feel?" Maybe he could coax the child out by discovering what was really troubling him.
Wedge could almost locate the voice now.
"So why are you dropping confetti on his home world?" Tycho asked.
"Confetti's fun. He needs to learn to be nicer." The voice seemed to be coming from a different part of the room now.
"Come on out, kiddo."
Anakin let out a high-pitched growl. "You don't get it! You have to find me! That's how the game works!"
Wedge nodded to Tycho. The voice was definitely coming from the far corner now. The two searchers fell silent, hoping that they wouldn't alert Anakin to the fact that they were on to him. He was actually visible now, crouched behind an unused terminal.
Wedge reached down to grab the boy. "Gotcha!"
Anakin squealed, "Not so fast!"
With that, he ran under Wedge's arms and knocked him and Tycho onto the floor. Wedge tried to pick himself up to pursue the boy, but found himself simply staring as Anakin's small feet beat a rapid retreat.
"Omega Signal," he murmured.
Wes surveyed the kitchen. "So Hobbie, what do we need to make cookies?"
Hobbie grabbed a canister out of the cupboard. "I think that this one is gluten powder."
"We need sweetener!" Jaina scampered up onto the counter to reach the cabinets. "Lots of sweetener!" She tossed the container down in Wes's direction. He reached up to catch it, but realized that he wasn't going to be able to make the grab.
This obviously occurred to Jaina as well, since the canister halted in midair. Unfortunately, the lid continued its progress, spraying powdered sweetener all through Wes's hair.
Hobbie chuckled. "Nice makeover."
"Very funny." Wes wiped his eyes clear of the white powder. "Is there any more sweetener?"
Jaina stood on her toes and leaned against one of the shelves. "Yes."
Hobbie stepped closer to the little girl. "You just hand that to me, okay? Don't throw it at Wes."
"Aww, but throwing things at him is fun," Jaina complained.
"I know, but if you pour all our ingredients on his head we won't be able to make the cookies."
A thoughtful expression came into Jaina's brown eyes. "Well, okay, I guess."
Wes pulled open a drawer. "I wonder where the chocolate is kept."
"Isn't it against Starfighter Command regulations to let you have chocolate?" Hobbie inquired.
Wes triumphantly retrieved his prize. "No more against regulations than anything else that we do."
"In other words, yes. Okay, we need eggs."
There was a refrigeration unit against the far wall. Rogue Squadron's elite status entitled them to luxuries such as actual eggs.
"Hey, I wonder if I can juggle!" Wes tossed several eggs into the air and attempted to catch them. Jaina and Hobbie both dove for the floor as the projectiles flew at the four walls of the room. "I guess not."
After the onslaught ended, Hobbie rose to his feet and began combining the various ingredients in a large bowl. "I hope that was gluten powder. Wes, are there any eggs left intact?"
"Umm, yeah." Wes tossed one of the eggs with astounding accuracy into the mixing bowl.
Hobbie pulled little bits of shell out of the batter. "Good enough. There's not quite enough sweetener."
"There's a bag up here," Wes offered. The contents didn't look as powdery as the other container, but it was still sweetener.
"Okay, we need sodium bicarb. It should be around here somewhere."
Jaina crawled into one of the lower cupboards and emerged with a canister that to Wes's eyes seemed like every other container they had used so far.
"Hmm, a little too much vaanillin," Hobbie mused. "Oh well, it can't hurt."
Wes made his own contribution to the mixture. "We'll just balance it out with more chocolate."
"I think that's everything. That's the mixer over there, right?"
"Shouldn't there by a splatter guard on it?" Jaina asked.
Wes laughed. "Shields are for ships, silly."
"Winter's has a splatter guard."
"Well this one doesn't." Hobbie placed the bowl under the device and turned it on. The beaters whirred rapidly in circles, sending cookie dough off in all directions to join the eggs. Of the three people in the room, only Jaina, standing below the spatter line, remained clean.
"Well, time to put them on the pan," Wes said, reaching for the bowl. He attempted to sneak some of it into his mouth, but was stopped by a disapproving glare from Jaina.
"Not until it's cooked!"
Wes sulked as Jaina and Hobbie prepared the cookies to go in the oven. He set the temperature to what seemed appropriate for their food. "I get to eat them once they're cooked, right?"
"Yes, Wes," Jaina affirmed.
Hobbie added, "It'll only be ten minutes."
"But ten minutes is like forever!"
"Are we there yet?" Jacen asked.
"No, this is just another hallway."
"When are we going to get there?"
Corran rubbed his temples. Was this what he had to look forward to when Valin grew up? "Later."
Jacen waited two seconds as they walked. "It's later. Are we there yet?"
He was going to space tape that child's mouth shut. "Look, there's the hall now."
"So we're there then?"
Corran reached over Jacen's head to knock on the door. "We're here."
"Scabrous pirates!" A voice called from inside.
"Bleeding pirates to you!" Jacen responded.
Garik "Face" Loran opened the door. "Corran, how does that kid know the countersign? You don't even know the countersign!"
Corran sighed. "He probably pulled it out of your memories. He has an annoying tendency of doing that."
Jacen merely stared up at Face, making his brown eyes as wide as possible.
Face mussed the boy's hair. "That's alright. It's just so I know that it's not any annoying former fans. Who is this? I was under the impression that your son was quite a bit younger than this."
"I'm Jacen Solo."
"Solo, eh? I served under your father once." An evil glint came into the Wraith's eyes.
"Boy do I have stories I could tell you."
Corran held up a hand to cut Face off. "Let's not corrupt the child any worse than he already is."
"So, you're a little troublemaker?"
Jacen shook his head. "Never! Corran's just no fun at all."
Face pretended to faint. "Oh horror! Corran, how could you do that to such an innocent child! Look at him, and tell me that cuteness should not be preserved."
Cuteness. Right. "We actually came hoping that you would show Jacen your pets."
"The Storini Glass Prowlers? Of course, come in, come in." Face waved them through the door.
"So where are they?" Jacen asked.
"Over here." Face led Jacen to a cage on his desk. "Look really carefully, do you see them?"
Jacen peered in at the nearly transparent insects. "Wow. They're neat. Can we take them out?"
Wedge's comlink beeped. "Sithspawn! That cannot be good."
He seriously considered simply not answering it, but gave in when the insistent tone repeated itself more loudly. He sighed and pulled the device out of his pocket. "General Antilles here."
"This is Communications. I have Councilor Fey'lya on the Holonet insisting that he speak to you."
Shavit, it was worse than he feared. He pulled himself up off the floor and walked over to one of the terminals. "You'd better patch him through then."
A moment later, the image of an extremely irate Bothan appeared before him. The reason for the politician's anger was quite evident from the bits of brightly coloured paper caught in his fur. Wedge thought that he heard Anakin's high-pitched laughter somewhere nearby. "Councilor Fey'lya, to what do I owe the honour of your call?"
"Don't play smart with me, Antilles; you aren't suited to it. I want to know the meaning of this!"
"The meaning of what?" Never reveal any information to your enemy when you weren't sure exactly how much they knew.
"I thought I told you to cut that out. I want to know right now why confetti has been raining down on the capital city here."
Wedge shrugged. "Are you having some sort of festival by any chance? Is that why you went home in the middle of a Senate session?"
"A what?" Fey'lya stammered. "A festival? I command you to stop trying to be funny this instant! Confetti bombs have been dropped on my city, and it was your orders that caused them to fall."
"You must be mistaken. I issued no such command." He thought he saw little Anakin watching the proceedings from a few stations away.
"I'm not a fool General." Wedge refrained from commenting as Fey'lya continued his tirade. Though he doubted the veracity of the statement coming from the Bothan, he was most certainly not foolish. Or at least not suicidal. "The authorization code used in the orders was yours, and therefore the confetti dropping mission was created by your initiative."
"I assure you, Councilor, there is a perfectly valid explanation for all of this." He turned away from the comm to whisper, "He's over there, Tycho. Try to grab him."
"I am listening, General. Proceed with your perfectly valid explanation."
Wedge shook his head. "I said that there was an explanation. I never said that you would believe me if I told you."
Fey'lya's fur flattened. "The nerve! I'll have you thrown out of the New Republic Military! I'll have you arrested for treason! I'll have you turned over to Imperial Intelligence! I'll-"
Anakin leapt out of the shadows and cut off the comm. "He was supposed to learn to have fun. He's just too grouchy." He grinned impishly up at the two pilots. "You still can't catch me!"
The little boy ran off, with Wedge and Tycho in hot pursuit.
Wes peered through the window of the oven door. "How much longer?"
"A minute less than last time you asked," Hobbie answered.
"You're not very good at this patience thing," Jaina commented from her perch on the counter.
"I can be very patient," Wes insisted. "Just not when I'm waiting for food."
Hobbie sniffed. "Do you smell that?"
"What are you talking about? Nothing's burning. You must be having some sort of seizure."
"I am not having a seizure! I'm telling you, something smells like smoke."
"No it doesn't."
"Yes it does."
"No, it doesn't."
Hobbie threw his hands up into the air. "I'm not going to have this argument with you!"
"Yes you are." Wes grinned.
"No, I'm not."
"Yes you are."
Hobbie screamed. "You're doing it again!"
"Of course I'm doing it again. Don't you think it's fun?"
"I refuse to answer that on the grounds that we'll wind up arguing in circles again."
"Aww. Jaina, tell him to stop ruining my fun."
However, Jaina's attention was fixed on a point behind him. "Is that smoke?" she whispered.
"Is what smoke?" Wes turned around to see it seeping out of the oven. "Sithspawn! It is!"
"Wes!" Hobbie snapped. "Watch your language in front of the kid!"
Jaina gasped. "You said one of the words that makes Mommy yell at Daddy!"
"Sorry," Wes murmured.
"Wes? Fire?" Hobbie reminded him.
"Si-That's right! Where's the anti-fire system?"
Jaina piped up. "Over there. The big red button."
Hobbie slammed the control as hard as he could. "Got it!"
"What's going on?" Wes asked. "Why didn't it turn on?"
Hobbie examined the panel. "I don't know. I think the button might be jammed."
"Well that's annoying." Wes grabbed a large pot and started pouring water into it. Hobbie gave the anti-fire system button one last futile smack before joining him at the sink.
Jaina stared at the burning oven with intense concentration. She seemed to struggle with some monumental task. Wes was about to dump the pot on the blaze when he noticed that the fire actually appeared to be dying down.
Hobbie dropped his half-filled container. "What's going on?"
Wes shrugged. He watched in amazement as the last flames flickered and died.
"Okay, it's out now," Jaina said.
Wes and Hobbie gaped at the little girl. "What? You did that?"
She spread her hands. "I just pushed all the air away from the fire so that it couldn't burn anymore."
Hobbie whistled. "Well that's impressive."
Wes looked inside the oven. "I think some of these cookies exploded."
Hobbie examined the mess. "Hmm. Maybe that gluten powder was really sodium bicarb."
The three of them continued their inspection of the disaster area. Amazingly, the cookies on the top rack were only slightly burned. Jaina reached in to grab one. "Ow! These are hot!" She made a face. "And they taste yucky. I think the sweetener was really salt."
"I don't think we can eat these," Hobbie mourned. "What are we going to do with them now?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Wes answered. "We gift wrap them and give them to Wedge."
Face reached into the cage and pulled out one of his Storini Glass Prowlers.
"What are their names?" Jacen asked.
Face handed him one of the insects. "This one is Trouble, and the other one is Mischief."
Jacen nodded solemnly. "Those are good names."
"Yes, I'm quite fond of them myself."
Jacen held Trouble up to inspect how the light hit him. "He's a neat little thing. I bet he would creep Threepio right out!"
Face gently stroked Mischief. "They're really good for that."
"I'll bet." Corran sat down in a nearby chair. At least Jacen was currently interested in something that wasn't an immediate threat to the safety of the general public. More specifically, his continued health.
"Who's a good boy, Trouble?" Jacen cooed. "You're a good Glass Prowler, yes you are."
The door opened suddenly. "Captain, have you noticed some of the systems have been acting up today?"
Kell Tainer's voice was loud enough to make Jacen jump. Corran listened in horror to the scritch, scritch, scritch of a Glass Prowler running out of the room.
Face turned to reply. "Now that you mention it, a lot of things do seem to be on the blink. Uh-oh."
"What's uh-oh?" Corran asked hesitantly.
"Mischief isn't in his cage."
"I think I dropped Trouble," Jacen whispered.
Kell lifted the boy up. "Don't worry, kiddo. It happens all the time. When things get boring, Face releases them on purpose."
Face clutched his chest. "I'm hurt that you think that. There'll kitchen duty for that comment! Now go get your Glass Prowler hunting suit out of the closet."
Kell grabbed the outfit and disappeared to go change. He re-emerged a few minutes later dressed in what looked to be distantly related to a New Republic flight suit. Some of the blinding orange remained, but there were also random flashes of neon green and electric blue. The effect was made even more nauseating by the addition of a crimson and yellow cape over top.
"Oops, almost forgot!" Kell perched a floppy purple hat on his head with a flourish.
"The Glass Prowlers are attracted to bright colours," Face explained.
Corran squinted. Too bright was right. "Isn't this a little much?"
"Trust me, this is the most effective way to catch them. We've experimented quite a bit. I'll dig up something for you and Jace to wear once I've suited up."
Corran hadn't thought it was possible for anything to be more garish than Kell's costume, but Face managed to prove him wrong. Every article of clothing that he wore was made from a series of the brightest patches imaginable stitched together with gold thread.
"Let's see what's in the costume closet. I'm afraid I don't have any child-sized jumpsuits, but will see what else I can dig up. Hmm, this might do." Face held one of the smaller capes up against Jacen. "Hand me that roll of space tape, would you Kell."
He used the silver fix-all to hem the garment, which he draped over the boy's shoulders. A yellow and orange striped hat completed the ensemble.
Face examined Corran carefully. "Now, I do have something in your size, but you aren't going to like it very much."
Corran sighed. "Go nuts. My whole day has been like this."
"Well, okay then. You agree to wear whatever I come up with?"
"I gave you fair warning." Face laughed. "The outfit belongs to one of the female squadron members."
Face threw the dress to him. "You said I could do anything to you that my little heart desired."
Corran ignored him and chanted, "It keeps Jacen out of trouble. It keeps Jacen out of trouble. It keeps Jacen..."
"Not again!" Wedge once more chased after young Anakin. Hopefully, no one else would ever learn how the child had managed to repeatedly outwit him. At the very least, he hoped that neither Wes nor Iella ever became aware of recent events.
"Come back!" Tycho called.
Anakin ignored him and continued running.
"Well," Tycho said with a shrug, "it was worth a try."
"Keep him in sight!" Wedge ordered as he continued his pursuit.
Clearly, Anakin was not going to allow his job to be easy. A neatly arranged stack of papers flew off a nearby desk, thoroughly obscuring the pilots' field of vision.
"What are these," Tycho asked.
Wedge snatched one of the flimsies out of the air. "Paperwork. Requisition forms by the look of them."
Tycho gave a brief laugh. "Does this happen often? It would certainly explain why it always takes so long for us to get any resources."
Wedge heaved a martyred sigh. "We're probably the first officers from Starfighter Command to ever end up in this wonderful situation."
"Two Death Stars, and now you'll be known as the guy who couldn't even keep track of a three year old boy. You're right though, the paperwork probably just sits on this desk for months at a time."
"Discuss bureaucracy later, find Anakin now."
"Right." Tycho started off at a run, but slipped on one of the scattered papers. Wedge skidded to a stop to avoid trampling his friend.
"He fall down," Anakin commented.
"Are you alright, Tych? Anakin, get back here!"
"I'm fine," Tycho assured him.
"You can hurt someone doing that, kiddo."
"He's okay," Anakin insisted.
Wedge helped Tycho get to his feet. "But what about next time?"
"Next time?" Anakin seemed perplexed.
"If someone comes along and doesn't know that those papers are on the floor, they could trip and hurt themselves."
"That would be bad," Anakin agreed.
"So how about you come pick this mess up?"
The pile of papers slowly lifted itself into the air. It made a wobbly flight back onto the desk and landed all in a jumble. It would undoubtedly exasperate the clerk responsible for requisitions, but at least it was no longer a safety hazard.
"Don't you want to come admire your new filing system?" Tycho suggested.
Anakin's only response was to run in the opposite direction.
"Guess not," Wedge mused.
"Well Wes, where can we find wrapping paper around here?" Hobbie asked.
"I'm honestly not sure. It's been a couple months since anyone in the squadron has celebrated a Life Day."
Hobbie nodded. "A quest, then."
Wes grinned. "Of epic proportions."
"Can we make a card too?" Jaina inquired.
"We sure can, Ace."
"Hey! Shooting me down in a simulator doesn't make her an ace!" Wes insisted.
"What?" Hobbie made a pitiful attempt at wide-eyed innocence. "It's just one of those random nicknames you give to kids."
"What's wrong with kiddo or Angel or Honey or Princess or Sweetie or Veggie or-"
"Wait," Hobbie interrupted. "Veggie?"
Wes nodded. "It was Wedge's childhood nickname."
"And he told you this why?"
"Because I'm such a trustworthy individual who would never use the knowledge against him, of course."
Jaina shook her head. "Na-uh."
"Try again," Hobbie said.
"Okay, it might have had something to do with the fact that he was rather drunk at the time."
"What do you think, Jay, is that story more believable?"
Jaina considered for a moment. "I don't know. It would be pretty hard to get a Corellian that drunk."
"What?" Wes sputtered. "You're five years old! You're not supposed to know about that kind of thing."
"This is Han Solo's daughter we're talking about here," Hobbie reminded him.
Wes threw his hands up in frustration. "Okay! I admit it! I got the information from Mirax in exchange for footage of Corran's bachelor party!"
Hobbie nodded. "Now that's a reasonable explanation."
Wes snapped his fingers. "Hey, I just remembered something! Mirax had a baby shower recently. That means that the women would probably have some cute wrapping paper that Wedge would just love. Let's go visit Shalla Nelprin."
"Because I want to visit Shalla."
"Okay, good. I was just making sure that you didn't have any logical reason for choosing her out of everyone in both squadrons."
Jaina giggled. "Wes? Logical? Now that's just silly!"
"Eh, whatever. C'mon you." Wes lifted her onto his shoulders. "Grab the box of cookies, Hobbie."
They made their way to Wraith HQ drawing no more than Wes's usual quota of strange looks. This was despite the fact that Jaina was attempting to steer him by pulling on his ears.
"Stop that. I'm the one who knows where we're going."
Jaina kicked his ribs. "Then go faster!"
"I'm trying to remember which room is Shalla's."
"I thought you had a database on all the female pilots," Hobbie needled.
"I do. But it's on my computer. Oh, here we are."
Jaina was growing very heavy on his shoulders so Wes decided to set her down. She was halfway to the floor when Shalla answered the door.
"Hi Shalla. Hobbie, can you take Jay?"
Hobbie gestured with the box. "My hands are full."
Wes gave Shalla a pleading look. "Can you get this little monkey-lizard off my back?"
"Hey!" Jaina said indignantly.
Shalla reached up to take the child. "You've been slacking on your workouts, Janson."
"I have not!" Wes rubbed his sore muscles. "I just carried her all the way from the Rogues' kitchen."
Shalla raised an eyebrow. "What were you doing in the kitchen?"
"Making cookies for the General," Hobbie explained. "We need wrapping paper."
"I should have the stuff I used for Mirax's gift. I'm guessing you want the most childish wrapping paper available."
"You know me so well."
She rummaged through a drawer and pulled out a roll of yellow paper decorated with green, blue, and red dots.
"That's perfect! I don't suppose you have anything we could make a card out of?"
"There should be some blank paper and coloured pens on the desk in the corner."
Jaina scampered over and grabbed the items mentioned. "Can you write the words, Wes?"
He took the unevenly folded page from her and pulled out a green pen. "I sure can."
"What does it say?"
" 'Happy Ewok Day, Veggie!' Now you draw some pretty pictures while Hobbie and I wrap these up."
Jaina lay down on her stomach and began covering the card with rough drawings of Ewoks and vegetables. Meanwhile, Wes grabbed a roll of tape while Hobbie spread out a sheet of gift-wrap.
"Oww!" Hobbie suddenly thrust his finger into his mouth.
"Are you alright?" Jaina asked.
"What did you do to yourself now?"
Hobbie mumbled something incomprehensible.
"Your fingers are still in your mouth," Wes pointed out.
"Paper cut!" Hobbie exclaimed.
Wes sighed. "I'll do this." He set the box on top of the paper and attempted to fold the edges up around it. The page seemed to take on a life of its own as it randomly creased everywhere except for along the edge he wanted.
Shalla laughed. "You need some help with that?"
Wes dropped the offending object and fell over backwards. "Yes!"
The hand-to-hand combat expert deftly smoothed down the rumpled paper and neatly folded it around the cookie box. "Hobbie, tape the edge down. Wes could hurt someone with the sharp edge."
Ignoring the comment, Wes watched her fold the ends of the paper into triangular flaps to complete the special package.
Wes ignored the comment and watched her fold the ends of the paper into triangular flaps to complete the special package.
"Wow, I did a really good job of wrapping that," he commented.
Shalla punched him lightly. "Is the card done?"
Jaina jumped up. "Here you go!"
Shalla attached the card to the gift with a loop of tape. Wes took it and gestured to his two companions. "We have to be going now to deliver this to the General. Be seeing you, Shalla."
She shooed them out. "Get out of here, you mynock."
"Where are we going to leave Wedge's present?" Jaina asked.
"Well, I was thinking we should put it in the briefing room with the Ewoks."
Corran had worn some pretty ridiculous outfits before, as part of one cover story or another. However, nothing could even come close to his current get up. For one thing, he had never had to wear a skirt before. And this wasn't just any skirt. It was layered, starting with flight suit orange reaching his ankles, and proceeding through the brightest shades of every colour of the rainbow, ending with lemon yellow falling just above his knees. The top that went with it was no better, since it was ruffled pink fabric covered in silver sequins.
Face reached for a small holocam.
"You do you die, Loran."
"Death threats in front of a small child?" Kell commented.
"It's not like he hasn't issued any himself," Corran insisted.
Jacen was the picture of wide-eyed innocence. "What are you talking about? I haven't done anything like that."
Corran sank into a chair, the voluminous skirt riding up uncomfortably. "Why me?"
"Stand up, Corran. We wouldn't want the holo to show you in an undignified position."
Corran rose to his feet. "There won't be a holo!"
"Not even one little snapshot for the gossip vids?" Face asked.
"None," Corran repeated.
"We have to find the Glass Prowlers," Jacen reminded them.
"Don't worry, kiddo, I haven't forgotten." Face snapped his fingers. "You're missing your hat!"
"Umm, really, that's not necessary."
Face wasn't allowing an argument. He shoved the headgear onto Corran without any further questions. A glance in the mirror revealed it to be decorated with false flowers that could only have grown naturally near a powerful source of radiation.
"Guys, we have to hurry," Kell said. "Those things are pretty small, and they aren't easy to track."
Corran glanced down at Jacen. "Are you willing to use the Force to do something helpful for a change?"
"What would I use it for if I wasn't being helpful?"
Corran chose not to pursue that line of conversation. "Try to sense the Glass Prowlers through the Force. Can you do that?"
Jacen nodded and led them out of the room. The three adults had to run to keep up with the small boy as he traced an invisible trail.
"How many people do you figure have seen us?" Corran asked absently.
Face shrugged. "It doesn't really matter. Everyone will get a little treat when I go through the base's security files."
"What security files?"
"We have to be on a lookout for intruders," Kell explained. "This whole place is littered with cameras, and Face has free access to the recordings."
Corran groaned. "What'll it take to keep them from ever seeing the light of day?"
Face gasped. "Are you implying that I would take a bribe?" He paused. "Let me get back to you on that."
Jacen stopped abruptly in front of a blank wall. "I know they went in here."
"Jacen," Corran said, "that's a wall."
"I'm not dumb. I know it's a wall! But I can feel them through the Force, they went in here somehow!"
Face examined the floor. "Look, there's a gap here. Kell, is this one of the concealed doors?"
Kell responded by pushing on an innocuous nail. The panel swung away revealing a narrow passage.
"Where does it go?" Jacen asked.
"Well, if I remember correctly, it should lead to Rogue Squadron's briefing room."
Wedge and Tycho dashed down the hallway. It was amazing how far Anakin managed to get by taking such small steps.
"The kid's got to tire himself out eventually, right?"
"Somehow, I'm beginning to doubt that, Wedge."
"I mean, we're highly trained military personnel. We're supposed to be in peak physical shape."
Tycho raised an eyebrow. Wedge suddenly noticed that they were both breathing heavily.
"Well, if we can't outlast him, then we'll just have to outsmart him," Wedge wheezed.
"We haven't exactly had the greatest luck with that, General Sillyface."
Wedge groaned. "Would you stop reminding me about that?"
"Oh, you know me. I let things drop relatively quickly. I'd be more worried about Wes finding out if I were you."
"If that information leaks, I will hold you personally responsible. You just keep that in mind."
"No New Republic general would stoop so low as to seek revenge on one of his subordinate officers."
"When you're with Wes--not telling him about Anakin's little stunt--be sure you ask him exactly what I am willing to stoop to."
"You guys aren't getting any closer," Anakin taunted.
"Arrogant little thing, isn't he," Wedge muttered as he sped up.
"Which of course couldn't possibly come from his Corellian heritage."
"You can be replaced, you know."
Anakin darted down a back hallway with Wedge and Tycho slowly closing the gap.
"Where are we now?" Wedge panted.
"It's a maintenance corridor behind the briefing rooms."
Wedge nodded. "This could work. If he runs into a room where there's nothing in progress, the main door will be locked. We'll finally have him cornered."
"And if he picks one that's in use?" Tycho inquired.
"Then we'll look like a couple of idiots who can't keep up with a three year old."
"I'm three and a half!" Anakin yelled back.
"Sithspit! How much of that do you think he's heard?"
"More than enough to make this plan blow up in our faces," Tycho replied.
Anakin reached the end of the hall and opened the last door.
"Can you remember which squadron uses that one?" Tycho asked.
Wedge grinned. "One that's guaranteed to not be in there right now. Us."
General Wedge Antilles strode confidently through the back door of the briefing room. He froze when he realized that he had stepped into the middle of a war zone. He whispered to Tycho, "Please tell me I'm not seeing this."
"Do you mean the full scale ground battle on the table?"
"Yes, that's what I seem to be hallucinating."
"The one where you and a few other Heroes of the New Republic are losing to a hoard of Ewoks?"
"You aren't helping."
"Okay, I'll be supportive. I'll warn you not to look up."
Wedge ignored the advice and directed his eyes to the ceiling. Uncertain of the reliability of his senses, he moved closer. His inspection confirmed that there were toy starfighters suspended from the rafters. Closer examinations revealed the TIEs to be piloted by more replicas of himself, while the X-wing cockpits were occupied by Ewoks. There was something oddly familiar about the appearance of most of the Ewoks.
Ewoks. Piloting starfighters. It could only be Lieutenant Kettch. Which had to mean... "Wes!"
The main door suddenly burst open. "You called?" Wes entered flanked by Jaina and Hobbie. The eternally youthful pilot carried a brightly wrapped package.
"What's in the box?" Wedge asked suspiciously.
Jaina gave him a pained look. "We made you a present. You don't want it? We worked really hard!" The little girl seemed on the edge of tears.
Wedge quickly assessed the situation and decided that hurting Jaina's feelings would probably do him more damage in the long run than anything Wes's package might do. He accepted the gift and made a show of tearing into the wrapping paper. "Cookies?"
Jaina nodded eagerly. "We baked them ourselves! Eat them!"
Wedge took a deep breath and nibbled at the cookie. It took every modicum of control that he possessed not to spit it immediately out on the floor. It was possibly the worst cookie he had ever tasted. But rather than voice that sentiment, he said, "Mmm, yummy. I think I'll save the rest for later."
Unable to restrain themselves any longer, they burst out laughing. "The look on your face when you took that bite was priceless," Hobbie commented.
"I wonder where it ranked compared to when he saw this little setup," Wes added, gesturing to the toy battle.
"Don't think I don't realize this was your doing."
"Yub yub, Commander."
Wedge glared at him. "I am a General. "
Wes shrugged. "Yeah, but 'Yub yub, General' just doesn't have the same ring to it."
"What was that noise?" Hobbie asked.
Everyone in the room fell silent as the thumping sound repeated itself. It seemed to be coming from one of the walls. The noise continued for a moment before the wall opened up and a bizarrely dressed Corran Horn fell on the floor. Face Loran, Kell Tainer and Jacen Solo quickly followed, landing on top of the unfortunate Jedi.
Wedge wondered if he even wanted to know the reasoning behind the group's bizarre outfits. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for Trouble," Face explained.
"And Mischief!" Jacen added.
"And this would differ from what you're usually up to how?"
"The Glass Prowlers, silly!" Jacen crawled under the table and emerged carrying two translucent insects. "They're okay. But I think Corran might have almost fell on them."
Corran shook his head. "Why does that not surprise me today..."
Everyone turned as the main door opened again. Admiral Ackbar emerged and surveyed the scene in apparent disbelief. "Captain Horn, you're out of uniform."
Corran glanced down at his truly hideous skirt. "I assure you, I am already painfully aware of that fact."
"Be sure to rectify the situation at the first feasible opportunity."
Corran saluted, knocking his hat to the floor. "Yes sir!"
Ackbar turned his attention to the battle. "General Antilles, traditionally one does not use models to explain missions. You have the finest holographic technology available to the military. Please use it in the future."
And try to remember that the existence of our Ewok forces is supposed to be classified." Ackbar pivoted on his heel and walked out of the room, leaving a thoroughly baffled Wedge in his wake.
"So," Wes said, "who did you unload little Anakin on?"
"What are you talking about? The kid's right..." Wedge frantically surveyed the room. Anakin was definitely not in there. "Sithspit! He must have run out when I wasn't watching!" He sank to the ground. "I give up! I'm not chasing him anymore."
"How do you plan on explaining to Leia that you lost her son?" Tycho inquired.
"I don't know!"
"Well I suggest you figure it out pretty quickly." Leia walked briskly into the room, carrying Anakin.
The boy was sound asleep.
"How could you be so irresponsible as to leave him unsupervised? Do you have any idea how many horrible things could have happened to him while you left him napping out in the hallway?"
Wedge stared mutely at the sleeping child. Somehow, it just didn't seem possible. He looked so sweet and harmless.
Leia's expression changed from angry to tender as she shifted her attention to the twins. "Did you two have a good time?"
Jaina bounced up and down. "Wes showed me Wedge's X-wing. It was so neat! I wanna fly one when I grow up... or else put out fires!"
"And what about you, Jacen?"
He grinned. "I got to see all kinds of animals!"
"Well I'm glad you had fun."
"Can Uncle Corran baby-sit us every time you have a meeting?"
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