Thanks go out to Deinna S for proofing this, to my dear, dear, sister Renegade, who, if not for her efforts, this fanfic wouldn't be here today. Finally, to my wife, Betsy, because without her love, I'm an empty shell without form.
Wedge sat heavily into his chair. On his desk was the daily stack of datacards he was required to deal with as unit commander. He reached up and ran his hand over his face, screwing his eyes shut. Silently counting to three, he opened his eyes. The datacards hadn't moved, hadn't disappeared as he had wished. Sighing dejectedly, he pulled the stack towards him, activating his datapad.
It was times like this, when there was peace, which had him on edge. The threat of dying in combat didn't scare him as did the prospect of endless days of tedious office work. It was a morbid thought, but true, and at times nearly scared him to death.
Requisition forms, daily reports, maintenance logs, pilot incident reports, it all blended together into a morass he couldn't escape. No matter how patient he tried to be, he always ended up ready to pull his service blaster out and fry every last card. Looking up from the view screen he noticed by the chrono mounted on the far wall that only a scant few minutes had gone by since he sat down!
Pushing the viewer away and sitting back, Wedge propped his feet up on the desk, folding his hands behind his head. He spotted something interesting; it was a new addition to his trophy case that caught his eye.
Getting up and crossing to the case, he pulled a newly framed holo out, causing a smile to blossom from deep inside of him.
Standing in front of an exotic looking palm tree on the sands of a small archipelago was a human female with shoulder length blonde hair. It was sunset in the holo but her smile lit up the scene, reaching up to her brown eyes. She wore a two-piece ensemble that showed her midriff and a lot of leg, but didn't show too much. The best thing about her was the fact that she was his wife, Iella.
Now that was something to get excited about.
Never in all of his life had he been as happy as he was now. Sure, blowing up Death Stars and saving the galaxy felt good, but this was a different brand of it. This was like nothing he had ever really, truly felt before.
Wedge felt as if his life had been an incomplete puzzle until he had declared his love for Iella on Adumar those few years back. Their marriage, a small affair, was a joyous occasion attended by a small gathering of their closest friends. It was a union that was straightforward and direct, much the way he and Iella were in their professional lives.
He picked up the other newly framed holo and he felt his grin get even broader. It showed a tired, but happy looking Wedge leaning over Iella, who was seated and holding their second daughter, Myri. Their first-born daughter, Syal, looked at her new little sister in utter fascination. It was a good shot. Tycho had bought the latest and greatest holocamera and had practically worn it out that day.
Of all his accomplishments, nothing topped the feelings he had about becoming a father. Nothing. It was the ultimate expression of their love and something they had both greatly looked forward to. It was also a sobering experience, one that had far reaching repercussions.
Wedge's entire adult life had been spent fighting for what he believed in, flying his X-wing with a passion and abandon that had made him, quite literally, the best pilot there ever was. He never really ever gave his own personal safety any thought, just that of his pilots in his command; he had a mission to do and if he died doing it, then he died knowing he was helping others. Even though he had chafed at promotions, feeling he was better suited on the front lines then pushing databits, he eventually acquiesced, but did so with conditions that let him still fly. Flying was the catharsis to his soul that kept him whole and sane.
Now, he had a family counting on him to come home alive. And that fact changed everything forever, as far as he was concerned. With that came one of the most important decisions he had ever been forced to consider: Retirement.
He always thought, in those rare instances when he actually gave it any cogent contemplation, that when and if the time came, it would be the most difficult decision he would have to make...if he was alive to make it. It seemed that no one ever really retired a fighter pilot; they only died a fighter pilot. In his long years flying he figured that was the way he would go someday. But he hadn't, and now probably wouldn't. Make that never will, he thought.
Wedge was secure in his decision to retire; Tycho, his best friend and squadron mate, was also heading down that same path. His other closest friends, Wes Janson and Derek "Hobbie" Klivian were probably not too far behind them as well. All told, the four had almost one hundred standard years of service and had accounted for over six times that many kills. It was a staggering amount, if not a sobering one.
One of the datacards he was working on, that he wanted to work on, was an analysis of whom he wanted to take over command of Rogue Squadron. It should have been an easy task but was hardly that. The logical candidate was Tycho. He had taken command of the squadron for a short period when Wedge was in charge of Wraith Squadron, and again when he took command of the Lusankya. Since he already knew that the day he retired Tycho would shortly follow, he wasn't a good choice. Neither were Wes and Hobbie. They weren't destined to stay for too long. Or so he thought. You could never tell with those two.
The next obvious choice was Corran Horn. Corran, though, had recently told him that he too was retiring. Not only was he a father and concerned for his own family, but he was a Jedi Knight. And one who was gaining more and more importance in the grand scheme of things, too, it seemed. So Corran couldn't do it.
What Wedge wanted for his squadron, most of all, was stability. It was one of the most stable squadrons, leadership wise, in the history of the New Republic. He had been its leader for over twenty years.
Wedge shook his head in amazement. Had it really been that long?
He realized that there was one pilot who had been with the squadron for a long time, who was still relatively young, and had at least another ten or so years left, the way he saw it. Before he informed said pilot, he would have to think it through, maybe even talk it over with Tycho.
A chime sounded, indicating he had a visitor. "Come in."
The office door whisked open silently and in stepped his friend, Colonel Tycho Celchu. Tycho wore his standard nerf leather flight jacket, which Wedge thought a little unusual since it wasn't all that cold outside to him. Tycho smiled, "Ah, I see you're admiring the skills of a professional Holographer. Hmm, nice shot of you, Iella, and the girls."
"Well, the guy was a real hack, actually," he said, giving his friend a bump with his shoulder. "What's with the jacket?"
Tycho sniffled and shrugged. "Dunno," he snatched the holo he had taken out of Wedge's hand and eyed it expertly. "I woke up not feeling too good. I'll get checked out after I leave here, though. Good shot. Guy must've had a great holocamera."
Wedge grabbed the holo back. He gingerly placed it back in the case with the other one.
"Anyone could take a shot like that. So, what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, oh, I know! It was to take these datacards here and review them for the General." He grabbed the stack of datacards and the viewer and thrust them into Tycho's hands.
"Now wait just a second, Wedge." He thrust them back but Wedge crossed his arms with an evil gleam in his eye, his jaw thrust out. "No way, this is your mien, not mine. Unless, no, no you wouldn't, would you?"
"Uh huh." Wedge slowly nodded his head. "That's an order, Colonel."
Tycho placed the stack back on the desk and grabbed a corner of it to lean on. "Okay, well, then this is for you." He reached inside his jacket and produced a datacard of his own. He handed it over.
Wedge looked at it. It had the official seal of the Admiralty on it and was marked: URGENT.
He groaned inwardly. "What's this?"
Now Tycho grinned maliciously. "Yes sir. I was on my way over here when one of Ackdool's aides intercepted me. I went evasive but she had a strong gravity well projector."
Wedge nodded sagely. "Sure she did. And I bet Lieutenant Gaskil's big blue eyes had nothing to do with it. Doesn't Winter get tired of your gawking at other women?"
Tycho looked at him with a wounded expression. "C'mon, Wedge, tell me you never admired a pretty lady's eyes besides Iella's." Seeing Wedge staring blankly at him, he shook his head. "Well, you know I would never go behind Winter's back, right?"
"I know you wouldn't, Tycho. But I also know that you're a sucker for blue eyes. Just like your wife's." He playfully punched him in the shoulder. "Really, I am glad you're here because we need to have a serious talk, park it, if you will." He sat back down, placing the Admiral's disk off to the side. "I want to talk to you about my retirement."
For a moment Wedge wondered if his friend had heard him. He was about to ask when Tycho spoke up in a subdued tone. "You know, Wedge. This is a day I have dreaded for a long time."
Wedge cocked an eyebrow. "Really? I'm kind of looking forward to some extended time off with my family and closest friends. How are you seeing it?" Tycho leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, forming a sturdy base for his chin. "Well, because, whether you knew it or not, I've always maintained that the day you went, I would go too. Now before you think I'm pouting or being spoiled, I want to assure you that neither are it."
"Are you going to tell me or am I going to have to guess?"
Tycho chuckled. "Well, sure, guess if you want."
"It's because you must figure that when I retire, it must mean there's nothing left to do, no more obvious enemies to fight, and the simple fact that I'd give the command to Wes over you scares you silly."
Tycho sat back, folding his arms across his chest shaking his head in amazement. "Three kills, Wedge. Especially having Wes, wait a minute! You'd promote him over me?"
"Do you really think I'd be that cruel to the New Republic?"
Wedge chuckled. "Yes, and you. Now, since you're retiring too, we really need to discuss my replacement. Before we get any further, however, I want to place a couple of calls because this is no ordinary occasion."
"You're right about that," Tycho agreed.
"Tell you what," Wedge glanced at his wrist chrono. "It's 1430 now. Let's say we meet back here at, oh, let's say, 1800. Okay?"
Tycho nodded and got up to leave. "I guess I'll see you then."
As Tycho neared the door, Wedge activated a button near his communications console. The button was the lock for his door, which Tycho nearly ran into, expecting it to automatically open. "Aren't you forgetting something, Colonel?"
Tycho slowly turned around. He seemed to make some silent decision and snapped to attention with a full, perfectly executed salute. "Sorry, General, I must have forgotten. Will the General kindly unlock the door now?"
"Not that, Tycho, this." Wedge pointed at the stack of datacards.
"You were serious about that?"
"Of course. Do me a favor, Tycho, just do them, okay?"
"As ordered." Tycho retrieved the stack. "Say, where are we going at 1800?"
Wedge thought for a second. "Well, I was thinking about Ithorian, that sound okay?"
Tycho's eyes brightened. Wedge knew Ithorian cuisine was some of Tycho's favorite fare. "Are we bringing our families?"
"No," Wedge answered. "This is for the three of us only."
"Are you going to tell me who it is, or am I going to have to guess?"
Wedge smiled. "Dismissed, Colonel."
The lighting was subdued without being depressing. It looked like the natural twilight one could find on Ithor, home of the gentle Ithorian people. Washed orange light filtered through skylights in the ceiling at a fairly sharp angle, further adding to the illusion of sunset and giving a serene ambiance to the room. As the light beams played along the floors and tables, it meandered around the extensive lush vegetation that grew everywhere the eye could see: yet wasn't strangling to behold. Everywhere in sight, pillars topped with huge urns of plants native to the Ithorian homeworld thrived. Where skylights didn't interrupt the ceiling, flowering vines climbed sharply up vaulted arches. The Ithorians preferred to have their restaurants and businesses open to the outside, but this particular establishment, Ij' Liatiat, was built in the exclusive theater district. Only the theaters were near open sky as to accommodate the whims of various playwrights who preferred open air for certain venues. Still, the Ij' Liatiat was one of the best Ithorian restaurants on Coruscant.
As the Protocol Droid led him to his table, Gavin became more and more nervous. Wedge's message had been cryptic at best: Your presence is requested at Ij' Liatiat at 1830 tonight. Dress appropriately and come alone, Regards, General Wedge Antilles, Rogue Squadron. The squadron's logo had scrolled over his data recorder after that. The symbol filled him with pride every time he saw it.
He arrived at the table and the General was already seated, as was Colonel Tycho Celchu. That didn't really surprise him, either, since the two were inseparable when on Coruscant. So much so that people wondered if they were brothers. Biologically they weren't, but in every other aspect they were.
Wedge looked up over a snifter of Corellian brandy. "Please, Captain, sit down."
Tycho placed his snifter on the table and leaned forward, extending his hand. "Good to see you, Gavin."
Gavin Darklighter returned Tycho's handshake and sat down. In the nearly two decades he had served under Wedge, he had trouble remembering the last time he had seen his commanding officers in street clothes. Wedge wore a practical maroon pullover and aside from a wedding band and functional chrono, no other jewelry. Tycho, however, cut the cloth as the stereotypical dashing fighter pilot that all of the holodramas portrayed. He wore a black, silky jerkin that was loose at the neck, but tight at the wrists. He wore a wedding band on his left hand and a platinum signet on his right. A very expensive looking chrono adorned his left wrist, while the right sported a gold bracelet.
Gavin's tastes were more aligned with the way Wedge dressed, and he wore a simple white pullover and khaki slacks with comfortable shoes. "Good to see you too, Colonel." He nodded at Wedge. "General."
Wedge returned Gavin's firm handshake. "Tonight, Gavin, just call me Wedge. Although this is a formal meeting of officers, I don't think it should be too formal. Right now, however, let's get you something to drink and get some food. I'm hungry."
The three pilots dined on the best Ithorian cuisine outside of Ithor that evening. The conversation was equally good, reminiscing about old times and old friends, recounting the various missions and highlights of the last twenty-plus years. Gavin began to realize that there was something else going on that evening. It started to occur to him that he was being spoken to on more even terms, as opposed to a conversation between a subordinate and commander.
"You know, Gavin," Wedge began, "there is an ulterior motive for our inviting you here this evening." He reached below the table and produced a small box. It was a hinged jewelry box. "We want you to have this." He held the box out to Gavin.
Wedge watched the younger man knit his eyebrows as he accepted the box.. He could tell Gavin was caught totally off guard by it, as well as the course the evening was beginning to take. He glanced over at Tycho who gave a slight nod in return.
Gavin opened the box and it was readily evident to Wedge that he was at a loss for words. The younger man carefully removed a platinum signet ring from the box and looked at it carefully, examining the details. He seemed to remember where he was and looked up at them.
He found his voice again. "Uh, Wedge," his voice cracked, "I really don't know what to say."
"Well, Gavin," he smiled. "All you have to do is accept it. But..." He paused and took a long pull from his brandy, trying to ready himself for his next words. "You have to accept it on one condition."
Gavin eyed him and the ring suspiciously. He glanced at Tycho, but, as always, Tycho was unreadable. Seeing no support there he locked back onto Wedge. "And what would that be, General?"
"Well, Gavin, it's like this." He took a deep breath. There is no going back now, he thought. This was the ultimate moment in his career. He thought he might falter and glanced over at Tycho and was rewarded with a quick wink. He barely nodded back and looked at Gavin. What he saw was not the sixteen year old who enlisted all those years back, but the grown man who had become a capable fighter pilot, who had earned the respect of his peers, and would be among only a select few to lead Rogue Squadron. Then a funny thing happened. Unbidden, or he would argue later, purposely springing to mind, was an image of Iella. All of a sudden he knew that this was the right decision, and true to his form, he acted with the confidence of a seasoned veteran and Rogue Squadron's greatest pilot ever.
"I want you to have Rogue Squadron." He saw Gavin's eyes grow large. "That and promotion to Colonel. Now, I realize you'd be skipping the rank of Major, but a Major won't do to command our squadron, right?"
After a moment, Tycho spoke. "You know, Gavin, you can pick your jaw up from the table any time."
The three men laughed quietly, the tension having been broken. Gavin put the ring back in the box and pushed it towards Wedge. "With all due respect, Wedge, I can't take this. This should go to Colonel, I mean, Tycho." He looked between the two and saw he wouldn't get any support from either.
"It isn't going to be that way, Gavin." Tycho said as he pushed the box back at him. "I'm retiring too." He held up a hand to forestall any interruption. "And before you say 'give it to Corran' or Wes or Hobbie, then think again. We're all retiring, if not right after Wedge, then soon after."
Gavin was silent. He looked between the two. Seeming to come to some conclusion in his own mind he nodded slightly. "I see. So, in other words, I get to command Rogue Squadron, minus about, oh, half of it? The best half?"
Wedge shook his head. "No. That's not it at all, at least not all of it. You get the squadron, minus us, but you have to look at it this way: When I reformed the squadron right when you joined it, I didn't have anyone but Tycho and myself. And he was under house arrest, remember?" Seeing acceptance, he continued. "So, you're actually getting more of a squadron than I did. So, what will it be? Will you take the squadron?"
Gavin broke into a smile that reached to his eyes. "Sure, Wedge. I'd be honored. And I won't let you down. Or you, either, Tycho."
The three pilots talked some more and drank Corellian brandy late into the night, celebrating the end of one era, and the beginning of a new one.
Wedge looked up at the assembled members of his squadron for what he knew would probably be the last time. No one but he, Tycho, and Gavin knew of last night's proceedings. He glanced over at Gavin and wasn't surprised to see him acting as if nothing had ever happened. He also noted that he hadn't worn the signet ring yet, either.
Grabbing both sides of the rostrum, he cleared his throat. "Good morning, people. I hope you have all enjoyed your week of liberty. You all certainly look relaxed, which is good. Now, though, it's back to work." He thumbed the holoprojector on and the lights dimmed in the briefing room. A bluish green planet was projected from the floor display unit between himself and his pilots. Orbiting around it was a fair number of Golan IV defense platforms. He heard some mumbling and a groan from Hobbie. "Cut the chatter, folks. What you're looking at is the planet Bastion, the capital of the Empire, as we know it, and our latest destination. Now, before visions of engaging the last of the Imperial fleet comes to your minds, let me assure you that isn't the reason for our visit." He switched the viewer off and the lights came back up. "As you all know, the Peace Treaty is now official, having been ratified by the Senate. As such, the New Republic has been granted permission to send a diplomatic envoy to their capital to begin talks about the nuances of such a treaty.
"Our mission is fairly straightforward." He stepped around the rostrum and stood before his pilots. They were all the best the New Republic had to offer and he was proud to have led them. He clasped his hands behind his back and continued. "We're to provide as escorts to the shuttle Republic Pride and her diplomatic envoy. Once we arrive at the Imperial capital, our job is done."
"Famous last words."
There was chuckling from the pilots at the remark. "Do you have something to add, Wes?"
The green eyed pilot stared at Wes for a moment, forestalling a remark from the jokester, before setting his sights on Wedge. "Well, with all due respect, Wedge, why are we the ones going? If I track this right, wouldn't it make more sense to send in a Mon Cal cruiser to show the flag?"
"An astute opinion, Mr. Horn, but there is a reason why we're going and not a capital ship."
"Yeah, we make better targets." Hobbie said sullenly.
Wedge smiled. "No, that's not it." He began pacing back in forth in front of the assemblage. "I agree on the point that a large warship would be safer, but consider the fact that the New Republic doesn't want to be construed as a conqueror. And that's the message a ship like a Mon Cal would convey. This diplomatic envoy is probably the vanguard of more traffic between the two governments and the senate feels this is an appropriate show of force."
"And that's why they're sending Rogue Squadron."
"Correct, Mr. Horn." Wedge acknowledged. "We are a good symbol of the New Republic's military. That should convey a sense of importance to the mission. Any questions? No? Well, all pertinent data will be uplinked to your datapads. We leave tomorrow at oh-six hundred."
Wedge stopped pacing and placed his hands on his hips. "Before I dismiss you, there is one more item of business to attend to." He took a deep breath and blew it out, his cheeks puffing as he did so. "At the conclusion of this mission, I will be resigning my commission from the New Republic military and retiring." He noted that everyone's attention was firmly riveted on him. They seemed to be taking it the way he thought they would: a confused-looking shock. Except for Tycho and Gavin, that is. Even Corran, who was usually hard to stun, looked taken aback. He knew that for them, as for him, this was a day they all feared would eventually come, and which would seem unreal.
Wes gave Hobbie a sidelong glance. "So, Wedge, when do I start?"
Laughter broke out among the pilots. Even Wedge laughed. "Actually, I already have a replacement, Wes. Correct me if I am mistaken, but didn't you once tell me that when I retired, you would, too?"
"That's before I realized that I would be commanding the squadron."
Most of the pilots mocked a groan but Wedge wanted to get to the point. "People, please," he held a hand up. "I'm serious, Wes. And this applies to all of you. I don't want some of you to retire just because I happen to be doing so. I realize that some of us have surely earned retirement and some need to do it."
Wedge softened his tone. "I'm serious, people."
Inryi Forge raised her hand. "Ms. Forge?" Wedge asked.
"Sir, if I may," she began. "Is there a particular reason you are retiring?"
Wedge nodded. "There is, and I will be more than happy to discuss it after this mission. Right now, however, we all need to get ready for tomorrow's early start. Is there any other unfinished business?"
Corran spoke up, his brow furrowed in concentration, and said: "Yes, sir. Who is your replacement?" "My replacement will be Captain Darklighter." Wedge saw universal acceptance, as he knew he would. This group of pilots was a very tight knit group that always got along. It hadn't always been that way in the past, but it was now. The more he thought of it, as he watched everyone gathered around Gavin, he knew that this was the right time to retire. "Dismissed."
As the pilots filtered out Wedge gathered his datacard from the viewer. He looked up to see Corran Horn standing in front of him. "So, you finally did it."
Wedge nodded and began walking out of the briefing room. "You sound like you were expecting this."
Corran threw an arm around Wedge as they walked. "Me? Well, let's just say I thought you had a chance." He started to chuckle. "It was Mirax who had it pegged, though."
Wedge looked at Corran. "Is that so?"
"Correct." He patted him on the shoulder. "She said if you didn't retire soon Iella would probably make your life really difficult if you went and got yourself shot down. That and Mirax's threat of making my life miserable for me letting you get yourself hurt had me thinking your decision to retire was inevitable."
The two laughed as they exited the briefing room.
Wedge exited the turbolift on his floor, humming a traditional Corellian children's tune. He liked to get his singing voice warmed up some so his children wouldn't cry in terror at his attempts to swoon them. He rounded the corner and almost ran into Mirax Terrik-Horn and her son Valin. Wedge marveled at how much Valin looked more and more like his father, Corran.
"Good to see you, Veggies," Mirax said.
Wedge blushed. "Uh, Mirax, I'm not so sure I want Valin calling me that. Hi, Valin, how are you?
"Good, Uncle Veggies."
Mirax blushed. "Oops." Wedge gave her a sidelong glance and dropped down on his haunches. He looked Valin in the eye. "Say, what have you got there, soldier?"
Valin held up a small children's model of a B-wing bomber. "It's a B-wij. I got it from Papa Booster."
Wedge glanced up at the increasingly embarrassed Mirax. "Is that so? Why didn't he give you an X-wing like what your Daddy flies?"
"Papa says B-wij's are better."
Wedge smiled and ruffled his hair. He stood up. "I bet Corran doesn't know about this yet, does he?"
Mirax shrugged. "You know my father. Good seeing you Wedge. Gotta go and take care of my men. Bye."
"See you later. Bye, Valin."
"Bye, bye, Uncle Veggies." Wedge shook his head and headed for his dwelling. He slid his access card through the lock and the door whisked silently open. He heard the door chime as he crossed the threshold. Syal, his oldest daughter, came rushing in from the living area.
"Daddy, daddy! Catch me!"
Wedge caught his daughter as she flung herself at him. He scooped her up and twirled her about.
"How's my girl?"
"What are you doing, my little voosha?" He used the Corellian word for rocket.
"I'm not a voosha, Daddy, I'm a girl."
Wedge held her at arm's length. "Really, you look like a voosha to me!" He swung her around, making whooshing noises. His daughter squealed and giggled. After a few spins he lowered her to the floor, lest she get too dizzy, although, he never once had seen her get that way.
"Hello, handsome, got any left for me?"
Wedge grinned and grabbed Iella in a fierce hug. "Of course I do! There's enough of me to go around, dear."
"Good," she answered. "Myri needs to be changed." She gave him an evil grin and disappeared into the kitchen.
Wedge lightly sat on his favorite easy chair. It was very early and he did his best to keep quiet so as to avoid waking the girls. Iella came from the kitchen with a small tray bearing a steaming cup of caf and some pastries.
"Can't you call in sick?"
Wedge snickered. "Sure, no problem. Iella, I'll only be gone two days. After that you're probably going to get sick of having me loitering around here."
She grunted. "Not a chance, Wedge. I can find plenty for you to do."
Wedge finished putting on his boots. "Oh, did I mention I might be signing on with the merchant's guild when I retire from the Rogues?"
She gave him her best glare. "Ha, ha. Very funny."
He took a long pull from the steaming caf, letting its warmth fill him up. "Sure, I have it all figured out. We'll sell the apartment, cash in our pensions and buy a tramp freighter. It'll be tough for a few years until Syal is old enough to help. And just think: in a few more years we'll have a full crew once Myri can do her part."
She was on top of him before he knew it, one leg across his thighs, the other under his chin. She had a sly grin on her face. "Say that again, dear?"
Wedge grabbed her and pulled her close. "I was just saying that I have to go now."
They kissed briefly before unwinding from each other. He got up and grabbed his cup of caf, draining it. "Time for me to take off, Iella. Duty calls."
She let out a long sigh. "I guess. Hey, Wedge."
He turned from their front door. "Fly fast and shoot straight." She blew a kiss at him.
He playfully reached out and grabbed at the thrown kiss. "I wouldn't do it any other way."
During the first leg of their flight from Coruscant, Wedge felt pretty good. Being in the cockpit of his old fighter always buoyed his spirit. It was as comfortable and broken in as his favorite easy chair. This X-wing was only the second such fighter he'd had in his whole career, the first having been shot from under him during the Cilpar campaign a few years after the Battle of Endor.
He glanced down at the chrono as it counted down the time to reversion into the Anobis system on the mid-rim. From there they would jump to Garqi, reorient, and make the final jump to Bastion.
The countdown was complete and with a rush, the streaks and whirls of hyperspace reverted back to realspace. Almost immediately, his R5 unit began sending telemetry data, its sensors having picked up another ship. Wedge didn't need his astromech droid to see it, though.
The crescent that was Anobis hung fist-sized twenty degrees above his position and just to port. Hanging in space to its right and only four kilometers away was the all-too-familiar dagger shape of an Imperial warship. Wedge assumed that with the peace treaty in effect that this was just a coincidence and that this ship-- Stormwind, a Victory-class Star Destroyer, as his scanners told him-- was doing what they were about to do: reorient on the nav buoy here and continue on to its next destination. Wedge hoped that was the case because the buoy was six kilometers distant with the Stormwind juxtaposed between them and it.
Another glance at his scanners confirmed that all twelve X-wings were arrayed around him surrounding the Republic Pride. "Okay, Rogues, listen up. One Flight and Two Flight, we continue on towards the buoy at present course and speed. Three Flight, protect Republic Pride in a diamond formation, twenty degrees above our plane, half a klick back, match our speeds. No one locks s-foils unless I give the word or we're fired upon." He kept his eyes on the Star Destroyer looming in front of him as he heard the clicks from the Rogues' comm units acknowledging his orders. "Gate, get me the freq for that Imp."
As they approached, the Stormwind began turning on her longitudinal axis to port, giving her gunners the best firing solutions. It also presented a larger target for the Rogues. "Lead, this is Nine."
"She's no ordinary Vic, Lead." Corran stated. Wedge started to scrutinize the destroyer as he continued, "I had Whistler scan her for anomalies and sure enough, she's sporting Impstar shield generators. She'll be one tough customer in a fight."
Wedge shook his head. This wasn't good. The flip side was that if she was shielded like her bigger cousin, the Imperial Star Destroyer, she couldn't maintain those power levels for as long as the bigger ship. He had the feeling, though, that in a protracted engagement the Rogues would expend too much firepower and time and that wasn't something he could afford on this mission.
Gate flashed a message on Wedge's scanner. He had the frequency of the Stormwind. "Stormwind, this is General Wedge Antilles of the New Republic. You are in New Republic space, please state your intentions."
There seemed to be an inordinate pause before they answered. "General Antilles, this is Supreme Admiral Jarroth of the Imperial Navy. It is you, I believe, who are in Imperial space. I suggest you and your Rebels surrender before I turn you into molten slag."
It was all Wedge needed to hear. He switched back to his tactical frequency. "Rogues, lock s-foils into attack position. One and Two Flights, expend half your torps on the Vic and go evasive. We need to give the others cover. We are Omega. I repeat, we are Omega." He reached up and locked his own s-foils into position.
"Wedge, we can take it," Janson said.
"That may be true, Five, but our job is to get the Republic Pride to Bastion and that's not negotiable."
"As ordered, Lead." He could hear disappointment in Janson's voice.
Wedge didn't have to wait long for a targeting solution on the star destroyer as they were practically at point blank range at just over two kilometers. But that also meant that the Imperial's gunners would be getting targeting solutions rather quickly, too. He selected dual fire for his proton torpedoes and squeezed the trigger. He watched as the blazing blue contrails of two torpedoes raced quickly away from his X-wing. He then squeezed the trigger again, sending two more. All told, thirty-two torpedoes from both flights raced towards the star destroyer.
In response, the Stormwind opened up with her smaller dual turbolasers. Her larger quad turbolasers would be too slow to track the incoming missiles and fighters. Wedge knew, as he kicked his fighter up on its port stabilizer, dodging the incoming lasers, that he had numbers on this first pass. The Vic could only fire half of its forty turbolasers because of its facing. At best they would have a hard time tracking the incoming torpedoes. And from all of his years of flying against capital ships he knew that it was easier to avoid a bigger, slower ship's guns than a TIE fighter's.
They were literally flying over the top of the destroyer when the bulk of the proton torpedoes impacted against her shields. As Corran said, her shields were more effective than a standard Victory class, and amazingly, only two or three missiles scored hits through them. Those three detonated against the ships hull, peeling back layers of armor, but not doing the substantial damage he had hoped for. It was then that his threat warning blared to life.
"Lead, break starboard!" Tycho snapped at him.
Wedge was already reacting, and continued his corkscrew to port as a red streak flew meters from his fighter. All around him concussion missiles from the Stormwind sought targets. Fortunately for most of the Rogues, they were too close for most of them to arm.
Wedge realized that it wasn't only his Flight they were after, but the shuttle. He stole a glance upward and saw that the shuttle appeared to have survived, but he couldn't tell much else. He heard a couple of reports of some of his people being hit. As fast as it happened, he was past the top of the destroyer and streaking away from the enemy.
"Gate, get us ready for hyperspace." He took a quick look around and counted at least six other X-wings but immediately went evasive as another hail of concussion missiles came clawing away at them.
"Lead, Seven is EV."
"I copy, Tycho." Rogue Seven was Myn Donos. "Let's hope the Imps take care of him because if they don't, there will be nothing left of that Vic when we come back." Wedge cut hard as a concussion missile streaked by and then immediately dived.
He could see the nav buoy getting closer. He glanced up quickly as he saw the shuttle and three X-wings streak into hyperspace. At least the shuttle is safe, he thought.
He felt more than heard the explosion behind him. Indicator lights lit up his status board and he could tell he was yawing hard to starboard. He pressed hard on his left etheric rudder pedal and the fighter aligned itself. He noted that his shield generator was down, his communications were down, and he was afraid to look back because his R5 unit was offline. His nav computer was up as was his hyperdrive so he knew he could at least jump out. He didn't hesitate and engaged his hyperdive.
It was a very short trip.
He couldn't say exactly how long he was in hyperspace, but with a loud bang, his hyperdrive gave out. His head lurched forward as the X-wing bucked under him, reverting to realspace. Pain shot through strained neck muscles trying to compensate where his inertial compensator couldn't.
Wedge immediately tried to take stock of the situation. His first order of business was to determine if he was hurt. A quick inspection quickly revealed that aside from his strained neck, he seemed to be okay.
He then tried to determine how badly damaged his ship was and determine whether he would stay safe. A quick look outside froze his guts.
He was drifting along at a good rate without any thrust from his engines. He immediately initiated a cold start procedure and breathed a sigh of relief when the engines came back online. He could tell that they were damaged but not to what extent.
Slowing the X-wing down, he tried to see if he could stay clear of the asteroids but a visual scan of his immediate vicinity quickly ruled that out. He drifted between the slowly rotating remnants of dead planets at a crawl. The fighter seemed a little sluggish under his touch so he didn't want to chance damaging the fighter worse than it was. Especially since he wasn't too sure of the extent of that damage. It didn't help that one wrong move among these floating behemoths would end his day rapidly.
Minutes dragged by as Wedge maneuvered carefully in and out of the paths of the asteroids. He realized that this field, wherever it was, seemed to be rich in various mineral deposits. Distant starlight dully reflected off of more than one rock, hinting of treasures yet unclaimed.
"Well, Wedge, you always wanted to die with a small fortune." He craned his neck around to watch a particularly gold tinged outcropping float past. He wished he hadn't.
Besides the pain in his neck, the sight of his R5 unit stiffened him. Or what was left of it.
Where the flowerpot dome and receptor units were supposed to be was a tangle of twisted metal and frayed wires. He eased his head back around lest he run himself into a rock that would finish the job that the concussion missile had started.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly through his mouth, Wedge realized he had to put down somewhere and get a handle on the X-wing's damage.
Spotting a crescent shaped asteroid that must have suffered through untold numbers of collisions, Wedge saw it as his best place to land. It seemed to provide a fair amount of cover in its sheltered crook, so he made for it.
He began the landing sequence. All seemed well when his s-foils closed and his gear came down and locked, the three green lights on his forward panel indicating the gear were locked in place.
The asteroid loomed so large in his canopy that it practically blotted out the rock field's view all together. It seemed he made a good choice.
He kicked in the repulsors and breathed silent thanks, as they too seemed in working order. Expertly settling the fighter onto the uneven surface, he only had to readjust his landing slightly.
Once down, he shut down all but the most essential systems, figuring that he should be able to get another engine start initiated. He then got to work.
Maintenance personnel didn't always have the luck of having an astromech unit around when performing field troubleshooting and for that, Wedge was thankful. It enabled him to tie into the ship's main core system and use his main scope as an interface. He worked the small roller that enabled the screen's pointer and within minutes had a fairly complete picture.
Besides Gate's gruesome demise, his hyperdrive motivator was blown, his shield generator was blown, and his main comm relay had taken substantial damage. He figured he might be able to get tight bursts of the comm at short range; it wouldn't be nearly enough to reach a deep space relay station. His sensors were erratic and the weapons relay seemed to be shorting out whenever he reset it.
The good news was that his life support system was functioning well and three of his four fusial engines were at near normal levels. The topside starboard engine was highly erratic so he disabled the main fuel relay and enacted the safeguards to prevent it from coming online. He slowly unbuckled and twisted all the way around to try and get a better look at the wounded engine.
His suspicions were correct. The pattern of systems that had been damaged told him that the missile had detonated above him and to starboard. He could see the shredded engine cowling and secondary shrapnel pattern that had culminated with his astromech droid's demise. There was more, though. His eyebrows knit in concern as he noted the small gouges out of the back panes on his cockpit. If he had been just scant meters closer to the explosion the outcome of this day would have been entirely different.
Wedge settled back in. He had one final check to do before he tried to plan his next course of action. Before he could affect any type of plan, he needed to know how long he had until his life support system failed.
After checking and then rechecking the numbers, Wedge had his final answer. If he stayed relatively inert, he would have fourteen hours left. Trying to fix the fighter from the inside was going to be extremely difficult, but a remote possibility. But that would mean taxing the life support system, thereby reducing his allotted time probably by as much as seventy-five percent.
He had no question in his mind that he would rather try to fix the X-wing than sit by and hope for a rescue.
He figured that as soon as the squadron came out of hyperspace at their next stop it would be pretty obvious he wasn't there. Wedge also knew that Tycho, although torn between duty to complete the mission and obligation to his friend, would complete the mission first. He wouldn't expect a man like Tycho to do it any other way. The mission came first. Period.
The one little promise he also made to himself was that when he got out of this jam he would see to it that the Stormwind would pay for this.
Taking off his helmet and gloves, Wedge reached into a small compartment below his floorboard and retrieved a basic field toolkit. With the determination that set him apart from most men, he set to work.
There was no sign of Wedge anywhere, and for one of the few times in his professional career, he felt afraid. Not for himself, but for his best friend. "All craft report in."
He listened as all but Wedge, Rogue Three, Rogue Seven, and Rogue Eight called in. He had seen a lucky shot from one of the Stormwind's turbolaser batteries vaporizes Rogue Three, a new pilot named Cheyin Yael, a woman from Chandrilla.
Rogue Seven, Myn Donos, had been with the Rogues since Wraith squadron disbanded. Tycho knew he had been shot out of his fighter and could only hope the renegade Imperial had picked him up. Rogue Eight, Khe-Jeen Slee, an Issori, died from a concussion missile that ripped through his torpedo magazine. A lucky shot on the Imperial's part, to be sure.
For what was supposed to be a peace mission this was sure turning out to be quite the contrary.
"Tycho, we have to go back."
"Negative, Wes," Tycho said past the lump in his throat. "We have a mission to do, first and foremost."
He could hear anger in Wes' voice. "That's bunk, Tycho. That's Wedge and Donos back there with the Vic. We can't abandon them. I won't abandon them."
Tycho swallowed hard. He knew that Wes was right and that it was the sentiment of the rest of the Rogues. But he knew, as well as most of them did, that Wedge would complete the mission first. Then he would go back and do what he could. "No."
"Wes is right, Tycho," Hobbie added somberly. "We could leave four fighters to escort the shuttle and go back. We can't leave Wedge and Donos back there."
Before Tycho could reply, Corran broke in. "It may be hard to accept, Rogues, but Tycho is not only right, but he's in command. We have our orders."
"We'll see about that," Wes bit back.
"You don't even know if Wedge just misjumped, Janson," Corran spat back. "If he is dead then going back isn't going to do anything but possibly get you killed, too."
"That's enough!" Tycho heard the angst in his own voice. "Anyone who disobeys a direct order will face severe repercussions. We have orders, we have an objective, and we will carry through with them. Now, form up and prepare for the next jump."
There was a pregnant pause that thickened in his cockpit by the second. He punched in the next set of coordinates and fed them to the rest of the squadron. He took a quick glance around at the formation only to see two X-wings peel off.
"Lead, Nine here, I'm in pursuit."
"Negative, Nine." Tycho resisted the urge to abandon the mission and follow Hobbie and Wes, but he knew he couldn't do that. He knew Wedge would want them to carry on, no matter what. "Let them go."
"You can't be serious, Lead."
Tycho punched the side of his canopy. "Yes, Nine. I'm afraid I am."
Wedge shook his head slowly. After an hour of trying, he determined that there was nothing more he could do. He was stranded. Without a hyperdrive and with limited life support duration, he was as good as dead.
And that was totally unacceptable.
After he crawled back in from behind the limited maintenance access, he replaced his gloves and helmet and thought about his situation. He had deduced that his X-wing had sustained its damage from a concussion missile at close proximity. If he had jumped to light speed a moment sooner he would have been fine, but there was not much he could do to fix that.
His thoughts moved to the mission. He estimated that the squadron should have made it to Garqi by now and possibly onto Bastion. If he knew Tycho, they would stay long enough to deliver the diplomats and then head back to find him. But the question was, where was he?
The only solution he could come up with was that he was still in the Anobis system. When his hyperdrive had failed he was unceremoniously dumped back into realspace not far from where he had made the initial jump.
He didn't worry too much about the Imperials because they probably thought he had successfully jumped out of the system or that the concussion missile had finished him off.
The Imperial was obviously a renegade who had chafed at the treaty. That was one of his biggest concerns which was shared by the New Republic leadership. Elements of the Imperial military would surely see the peace treaty as their chance to split off on their own.
The reality of his dire situation began to set in and Wedge, for one of the few times in his life, didn't know what the outcome would be. When he fought the Death Stars, he knew that death was a definite possibility. And with every confrontation with enemy starfighters he knew it might be possible to die, but he had only met his match once.
It occurred to him, quite suddenly, that he might never see Iella or the girls again.
A pit seemed to open up in his guts and threatened to pull him in and overwhelm him. He rubbed the palms of his hands over his eyes, taking a deep breath. He couldn't die here. He couldn't leave his family. But the feeling of hopelessness about his situation was like a Nek battle dog that threatened to rip his throat out.
"Dammit, Wedge, think!"
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. If they never found him alive, the least he could do was record a farewell message. Because his R5 unit was destroyed, the only recording he could make was on his personal datapad. It couldn't record his image but he could place a limited sound file on it. It was meant for note taking, not speeches. Still, he could probably get a decent message on it before it used up its memory.
He reached into his thigh pocket and pulled the datapad out, thumbing the record button on. "This is General Wedge Antilles of the New Republic and Rogue Squadron. The following message is intended for my wife, Iella Antilles, and my daughters Syal and Myri."
He hit the pause switch while he tried to calm himself down. This was harder than he had thought. Swallowing past the fist-sized lump in his throat, he reactivated the recorder.
"Iella, my love. This isn't how I pictured myself saying good-bye to you at all. But if you are listening to this, then I am not coming home. Iella, I don't know if I ever said that I loved you as much as I wished, but I know that you are aware that not a day goes by when you're not in my heart and in my mind. I realize now that I am the luckiest man alive because I have your love. I know it will be hard to raise the girls without me, but I know that you'll find a way. After all, you're the brains of our family." He cleared his throat.
"Syal, my dear. You may not understand what is happening, but I want you to know that your Father loves you very much. Some day, when you're older, I want you to understand that you won't have to face the universe by yourself like I did. And always remember your sister. I know that if I ever could do things over it would be to never let mine go." He paused a moment to muster his courage. He wiped at his eyes, trying to keep the floodgates at bay.
"Myri, my little one, as you grow up, I won't be anything more than just an image and memory to you. But I want you to know that I love you incredibly. I want you to promise your mother that you will always stay on your sister's wing and always shoot straight. Well, my time on this recorder is quickly ending so I guess all I have left to say is that I love you all. Iella, I know you'll do this, but if you need Tycho or Mirax, use them for their support. They will help you through this. I know it. I love you." The click of the datapad shutting off sounded like thunder in his ears and ushered in the rain that poured from his breaking soul.
Tycho stood with his arms crossed, his jaw firmly set. The last few hours had been some of the most trying he had ever had with the New Republic military. His best friend was missing in action and two of his other close friends had mutinied.
His report on Wedge and the other killed pilots was finished but he had waited until now to get the last bits of information before making the call to Coruscant.
Bastion's sun warmed him as he stood on the tarmac at the main Imperial starfighter base, but it couldn't burn the chill from his bones as he watched the two X-wings land. He wasn't sure whether he was angry with himself for not going back with them or angry with them for disobeying a direct order. Under any other circumstance, had it been anyone but Wedge who was missing, he knew they would not have questioned him.
Were Wedge here now he would be spitting torpedoes, he thought.
Both canopies opened and each pilot climbed down the egress ladders the support crews had rushed over to them. Tycho watched the pilots confer quickly and then head over toward him.
Perhaps for one of the very few times since he had known him, Tycho was a little surprised by Janson's countenance. His ever-present smirk was gone and he shared the same dour look as his cohort, Hobbie. In tandem, they both saluted him. He didn't return it.
"Before anything else happens, Tycho, I want to tell you this," Janson began. "We're not sorry for our actions, as reprehensible as they may seem."
"And," Hobbie said. "We resign our commissions, effective immediately."
Tycho just shook his head. "You know..." He looked at each in turn. "You two have known me for a long time. And you still don't really know me, do you? First, I am quite angry right now, but not about what you may think. Second, your resignations are denied, at least until this investigation into Wedge's disappearance and that Vic are concluded. And third."
Wes glanced at Hobbie, then back at Tycho. "Third?"
Tycho reached out and placed a hand on each pilot's shoulders. "Third is I need my friends right now to help me through this. Come on, we need to come up with a plan."
Tycho turned but was held fast by Janson. "Tycho, wait."
Janson turned Tycho around. "What, Wes?"
Hobbie spoke first. "There was no sign of Wedge, only debris left from Slee's, Yael's, and Donos' fighter. And Donos wasn't anywhere to be found. So the Vic must have picked him up."
"That's right," continued Janson. "If Wedge was shot down, there was no sign of his wreckage."
Tycho looked at both friends. "But he may have surrendered." He saw their startled expressions. "You hadn't thought of that, had you? And if he did surrender, then we had better tell Coruscant about it. That Vic was apparently not an Imperial following orders but an obvious renegade."
"Gee, we never thought of that."
"I know, Hobbie, it's all right." Tycho said.
"You never think of anything, do you?" Wes quipped.
Hobbie jabbed Wes in the ribs. Tycho pushed the two apart. "Cut it, you two. We need to come up with a plan. Let's go."
Wedge jerked awake with a start. He hadn't realized he had fallen asleep. He glanced at his chrono. It had been three hours since he ended up here and it was becoming more obvious by the minute that a rescue wasn't going to happen anytime soon. That meant it was time for him to act.
He rubbed at his eyes, trying to rub the sleep from them. He had turned the life support system to deep space rescue, which dialed back the air enough to simulate a high altitude, thin atmosphere. That let a pilot become a little more lethargic, but conserved precious air. Wedge dialed it back to full and in moments he felt more invigorated.
It was then that he had the eerie feeling that he was dead.
He had heard the countless stories about near death experiences from reports and holos. They all said you saw a tunnel of light coming at you and then you were in some other place. But those beings had been resuscitated and never found out what it was they really saw.
Outside his forward pane, a definite light was getting closer.
He instinctively armed torpedoes only to realize that they were inoperative as was his entire weapons system. A cold start was out of the question because he didn't think he would have time. He reached for his service blaster. He didn't know if it would help except to make him feel better.
The light was really close now. But it wasn't the afterlife at all, but a mole droid! Mole droids were used by miners to help them prospect. Judging by the looks of this one, it was quite old.
He knew that where there was a mole droid, there was a miner.
The high metal content his X-wing gave off must have drawn the mole droid to him. He watched as the mole droid examined his ship, heading around it in a circuit before coming back to the cockpit. It flashed its light in a sequence. After a pause it repeated itself. It must be trying to talk to him! He recognized the flashing now as the standard light code for distressed ships and scrambled for his penlight. He found it but it was broken. It must have flown from his hip pocket during the fight and was useless. So he did the next best thing.
He flashed the X-wing's landing lights.
The mole droid had asked him if he was hurt, which he wasn't, and wouldn't answer Wedge on anything else. After a few more moments, the mole droid flew away. He remembered that mole droids were linked to their mother ships and this one was obviously heading back to it.
And that meant he was about to have company.
Minutes later, a ship right out of the Imperial arsenal came into view over the crest of the asteroid. Wedge didn't need an invitation to start his engines. It was time to go.
"Do you understand, Colonel? We will coordinate with the Imperials in this manner. You will return to Coruscant, immediately."
Tycho's jaw muscles clenched as he stared at the image of Admiral Ackdool, the head of the New Republic Military. Thoughts of resigning, like in the days of the Bacta War, came to mind, but he knew that wouldn't work here. It wasn't the right answer. If Wedge was really gone, then someone had to tell Iella. He didn't want just anyone to do it, either. Wedge would want him to handle that.
"As ordered, Admiral."
From what he knew of Mon Calamari over the years, they were largely unreadable, but most seemed to affect human-like qualities. Ackdool slumped visibly in his chair that even over the distance of this holocall was obviously one of dejection.
"Believe me, Colonel. I would let you go, but for a number of reasons. I think the seas are rough as it is without allowing you to ride this tempest out. General Antilles and Lieutenant Donos, if they are alive, will be our top priority to rescue."
"I understand, Admiral. Celchu out."
"Ackdool out." The screen went blank.
A firm hand rested on Tycho's shoulder. "He's right, you know."
Tycho slowly spun the chair around. Corran took the other chair. "I know, Corran. It doesn't mean I like it, though."
Corran nodded. "You're not supposed to like it, Tycho. If you did you wouldn't be the best friend that Wedge knew you as. Besides, I have a feeling that if things do turn out as bad as we fear then having you on Coruscant will be the best place for all of us. We all love him, you know?"
"He's not dead, Corran, not until I see him. I don't-- no, make that I won't believe it." He got up and stormed out of the communications suite.
Corran stood up to stop Tycho, but the Alderaanian's eyes told him that he needed time to himself right now. He stared at the blank screen for moment. He knew he would probably be reprimanded for this, but he didn't care. If word of this got to the media, then he would rather Mirax hear it from him first. That way when the world came tumbling down on Iella at least Mirax could be there to try and pick up the mess until they all got home.
"I don't believe it! Wedge Antilles, how long has it been?"
Wedge took the offered hand as he completed his climb up the docking collar. "Fenny it has to be, what, twenty five, thirty years?"
The large prospector helped Wedge the rest of the way up. He dwarfed the Corellian pilot. Streaks of gray shot through once shocking red hair and beard, but otherwise, Fenwarten "Fenny" Perredor looked hale for a man who once had served in the spice mines of Kessel with Wedge.
Actually, Wedge thought, we never really got to the mines because Rogue Squadron rescued us from the prison train that carried the prisoners from the processing center to the mines. It was there, at the processing center, that he had met Fenny.
The large miner had been in custody for about a year before being transferred to Kessel. As luck would have it, he found out from Fenny that his had been the mining ship that had found the missing Corellian Corvette, Anoat Pride that the old Red Squadron had been sent to find. Apparently, Fenny had found it and the Empire was using it as a trap for the Rebels to find. He was taken aboard the Carrack Cruiser Rendili Eel and then transferred just before a flight from Red Squadron, that had included Biggs and Garven Dreis, had found it.
After Wedge and the other prisoners, including Fenny, were rescued, Wedge hadn't really heard from the large miner too often. They messaged each other but hadn't come face to face until now.
"I have to admit, Fenny, that the sight of an Imperial landing ship did startle me."
A deep basso chuckle echoed throughout the ship's hold. "I bet. Had your comm worked you may have been more at ease. But hey, it all worked out. Come on, let's go get you cleaned up."
"Sure," Wedge said. "So, was this surplus?"
"You betcha." Fenny answered. "The Imps are hard up for money right now and I was more than happy to oblige. It's completely like the ones they used, minus the standard weaponry, of course. They couldn't leave it armed." The two made it into the spacious cockpit. It resembled the Lambda class shuttles closely. The Imperials liked to have crews cross-trained as much as possible and keeping the cockpits the same was essential to that task. "Grab a seat, buddy, and tell me, what in Kessel's mines brings you way out here. You obviously were in a scrape, I figure, right?"
Wedge felt a lot better now that he could stretch and let his legs extend fully. "Well, it's classified, of course, but yes, I was in a fight and I guess my hyperdrive blew. Tell you the truth, Fenny, I don't know where here is."
"This?" He waved a club-like fist. "This here is the Zazzin belt on the outer edges of Anobis. I had heard from a friend of mine that it was ripe and he was right. I'll be bringing my big haulers out now."
"Business is that good?"
Fenny nodded. "Sure is, Wedge. I've got five ships plus this here one. I couldn't be any happier. And now with the peace between the NR and Imps it makes life a little easier. 'Cept for the occasional Warlord or pirate, that is."
"You might say that's how I got here."
Fenny cocked an eyebrow. "Really? I guess I won't ask. I'm sure you want a lift outta here, huh?"
Wedge nodded. "If it's not too much trouble, yes. Can you take my fighter?"
"Can I take your fighter?" Fenny said as if Wedge were being silly. "I never really repaid you for rescuing me, you think I'd leave your wings out here? Nope, I wouldn't think of it. Where to, boss?"
"Coruscant would be great."
"Then Coruscant it is." Fenny grabbed the controls of the ship and kicked the throttle up. "Say, you like music? Because I think you're gonna like this."
Wedge settled in for the ride. It wasn't quite what he expected for his final flight, but then again, he mused, nothing ever really was what one expected was it?
The door chimed. It almost sounded as sad as the atmosphere in the home. Mirax walked over to it and activated the door. Tycho and is wife Winter stood there with long faces, Tycho looking as if he hadn't gotten much sleep. "Won't you come in?"
"Thanks, Mirax." Tycho said as they entered. "How is she?"
"Well, all things considered, she's a strong girl. I think she's staying this way until she knows for sure. The girls don't really understand what's up, but they know something's wrong."
Winter walked ahead into the living area and sat with Corran and Iella. Tycho could hear Valin Horn and the Antilles children playing in the playroom. Mirax laid a hand on Tycho's forearm. "How are you doing, Tycho?"
He looked her in the eyes for a moment before answering. "Like I did when I lost my family on Alderaan, Mirax. But I'm not going to give up yet. The task force has only been gone a few hours and it's only been a day since he disappeared. I guess I'm going on faith that he's okay somewhere."
"Tycho." Corran approached. "Mirax, can I talk with him a moment?" His wife nodded and rejoined Winter and Iella. "I put in a call to Luke. My instinct told me that he should get involved here."
Tycho stepped further away from the living area. "It's as good a suggestion as I have. Listen, I took the liberty of having your X-wing prepped along with Janson's, Hobbie's, and mine."
Corran arched an eyebrow. "That sounds suspiciously like disobeying a direct order from high command." He smiled and gave a wink. "But count me in, Colonel. What's the mission?"
Tycho pulled out a datapad and activated it. "I had my astromech compile all the data feeds from all of our X-wings. Here, you can see Wedge right...there." He pointed to an X-wing that led one of the flights. "As you can see, all is reasonably well."
"Considering the fireworks going around all around us."
Tycho nodded. "Correct. But watch closely." He activated the viewer. Real footage was edited in with some simulated frames for when a gun camera wasn't on Wedge. It showed him going evasive and then both watched as a concussion missile detonated just high and to starboard of Wedge as he jumped to hyperspace. The frames slowed greatly showing that Wedge's X-wing appeared to be in one piece as it jumped.
"All that proves, Tycho, is that he was intact when he jumped. Unfortunately, the collateral damage from that missile might have broken the fighter up. He could be atoms scattered all over by now."
"I agree, but I also disagree." Flipping a switch on the datapad, Tycho showed a complex schematic. "I had some logistics run on possible damage scenarios and probable locations if he did come out of hyperspace somewhere."
Corran grunted. "You've been busy in the last few hours."
"It's Wedge, Corran."
Corran could hear the seriousness in Tycho's voice. He understood how close they were and how hard the Rogues pulled for each other when one was down. His own capture years ago made him aware of that. "Sorry."
"It's okay, you'd do the same for any of us. Now, look right here. What do you see?" Corran eyed the schematic. "If this is right, then shrapnel from the missile took out at least one engine his astromech, and-" He looked up at Tycho, a cold pit in his stomach.
"Let's hope the transparisteel on that cockpit worked, Corran." Tycho deactivated the pad. "The compiled data has given me enough to have a plot run of possible ending points of such jumps based on historical data from similar misjumps over the past twenty years."
"How many was that?"
"You'd be surprised. But the ones matching Wedge's, that is, ones with similar results were obviously fewer. Still, it gives us a starting grid."
Corran looked to the living area where he could see the women conversing. Iella appeared to be holding up well. He had heard from his own wife that it was something fighter pilot wives learned to do, but it still amazed him they could do it at all. He would have been a mess if had heard about the circumstances. He looked back to see Tycho studying him. "When do we leave?"
"Red Flight report in."
"Red Two, standing by," said Corran.
"Red Three, ready," said Janson.
"Red Four, standing by, I guess," said Hobbie.
"Okay, boys, stand by while I get us cleared." Tycho switched frequencies to Coruscant Space Command's main one. "Control, this is training flight Red, outbound for the practice area, standing by."
An official sounding voice replied, "Stand by, Red flight."
Tycho got a little nervous, not because his training flight was a ruse, but because he didn't care for the deception. No matter how hard he had tried, High Command was reticent to lose any more fighters to the renegade Vic.
"Red flight, are you mission capable?"
Tycho knit his eyebrows. Mission capable referred to whether they carried live munitions, which normal training flights usually didn't do. He thought they might have figured them out but decided not to lie about this. "Affirmative, we are."
"I copy that, Red Flight. We just picked up an odd scan signature in sector twenty-seven, grid beta. One of the sentry beacons couldn't get a positive ident. The last scan showed a ship detaching from the main one. We have two unknowns inbound. Divert your flight and check it out."
Tycho frowned. He wondered why another picket fighter that flew patrol in-system couldn't do it. Checking his coordinates he realized they were probably the closest. During the peace, picket fighter forces were thinned out and had a lot more space to patrol. "As ordered." He switched to tactical. "Did you all catch that?"
Three clicks of affirmation told him they had. Tycho angled his fighter on an intercept. He cycled his scanners on long range and picked up the two targets at almost one hundred kilometers and closing. He couldn't get a read on them. "Red Flight, lock S-foils into attack position. Passive Rules of Engagement apply; fire if fired upon." Three more clicks.
He watched as the range counted down. They were about fifty klicks out when Wes exclaimed. "Woah! I just got a huge power spike in the ultra high freq band."
"Me too," said Corran. "Whistler is interpreting it now. Filtering. Okay, I'll patch it in."
At first Tycho only caught static but then a voice started coming through. "-illes of the New Republic seeking assistance, please." Tycho froze. It sounded like Wedge!
The comm erupted with hoots and cheers from the other three pilots when they heard it.
"I repeat," the transmission was stronger now and clearly intelligible. "This is General Wedge Antilles of the New-"
"Wedge!" Tycho yelled. "Wedge, it's Tycho, you old Corellian space dog! Who's that with you?"
"Tycho?" Wedge asked. "Boy am I glad to hear you! Listen, I'm running on a relay through the Ravenous Gundark III behind me so she can't transmit nor receive. Look, my X-wing is pretty bad off. Can you clear me in?"
"You bet! Stand by."
"Wait, Tycho, one more thing. Can you transmit a message for me with a holo feed from your astromech?"
Tycho smiled. "Sure thing, Wedge. Hooking in now."
"Who can that be?" Iella looked up from her datapad.
Mirax got up and crossed over to the counter where it was. "I'll get it. Hello? OH MY! Iella, come quick!"
Iella leapt up in a panic, knocking her chair back. The loud clatter was enough to wake her children and young Valin Horn napping in the next room. "What is it, Mirax?" She asked, her voice shaking.
Iella looked upon a scene of a starscape with an X-wing focused in the center. The image was coming from a feed that looked as if it was from an astromech droid. "Hello, ladies, Tycho here."
"Tycho? What's going on?" Iella gripped the counter so hard her knuckles were white.
"Oh, nothing," he said. "We just found this poor old Corellian pilot who lost his way."
Iella was suddenly wrapped up in a fierce hug from Mirax. "Wedge! They've found him!"
Iella buried her head in Mirax's shoulder, tears of joy and relief flowing freely. Her husband was coming home.
News of his arrival traveled like wildfire throughout the base. The small stands that were originally set up for a small gathering and the podium were still in place when the crowd of military people showed up. The military band that was supposed to play was absent, but someone had called the press and like granite slugs, they were everywhere. Remote holocams flitted in and about the crowd as if performing some surreal mating ritual, greatly annoying the assembly, as was their usual forte.
Iella stood with Mirax and Winter at the fore of the assembly, their children still groggy from the abrupt manner in which they were awakened. They eagerly scanned the sky and didn't have to wait long.
Six streaks could be seen entering the lower atmosphere above them: five snubfighters and a larger, shuttle-like craft. As they descended in formation, Iella saw that the larger craft was some kind of modified Imperial Landing craft. She wondered who it could possibly be. She did know, however, that the lead X-wing had to be Wedge.
She watched and listened to the growing excitement of the crowd as the X-wing's descended on repulsors without fanfare. That was Wedge all right, no flashy flying, just straight to the point. But it was obvious from the damage to his fighter that he was extremely lucky to be alive.
The military police kept everyone back behind stanchions as the canopies on the fighters opened. A moment later the four remaining pilots of Rogue Squadron were let through to welcome their comrades back. It was all Iella could stand.
"Mirax, come on." She said to her friend. She had Myri in her hovercarriage and had Syal in tow, but she was not going to be held back! Mirax followed, her son in tow. At the barrier a New Republic MP stopped the women.
"I'm sorry, ladies, this is a restricted area."
Before he knew it, Iella had her New Republic Intelligence badge in his face. "Iella Antilles, NRI. This is a Spec Op, Private. Don't blow my cover. Now, move!" She pushed passed the surprised soldier not waiting for a response.
Mirax followed, smiling fully. "I'm with her."
Wedge was greeted by hearty slaps and hugs as he dropped from the egress ladder onto the ramp. He drank in the atmosphere and the warmth of the camaraderie.
Before he knew it, Tycho had him in a fierce hug. He heard him speaking in his ear over the hoots and hollers of the other pilots. "Don't ever pull that again, Wedge!"
"What, the concussion missile barrage or the hyperdrive failure?"
Tycho held his best friend at arm's length. "None of it, Wedge. Let's say we just hang it up now while we can."
Wedge smirked. "And miss this kind of reception? This, I can get used to."
"We were going to have a life-sized ice sculpture of you," said Wes.
"And the full Coruscant Philharmonic, but you ruined everything," added Hobbie.
"But that's okay because we sent you the bill," Wes quipped.
"You forgot one important thing, Wes." Wedge shot back.
"While I was MIA I changed my mind about Rogue Squadron. You're in command now, Colonel Janson." He could see the visible shock on Wes' face. "And as such, all requisitions are now yours, including that bill."
Hobbie, Tycho, and the other Rogues laughed hysterically at the joke. Several hearty slaps pounded Janson as he stood there with a look of shock on his face. "But Wedge, I was only kidding!"
Wedge let out a laugh of his own. "So am I, Wes, you're not going to have Rogue Squadron! You really think I'd entrust it to you?" The squadron broke out into even more laughter at Wes' expense.
"So, General, do you really think you have time to laugh it up with your squadron?"
Her voice cut through the laughter like a knife and Wedge immediately whipped his head around, despite the twinges from the combat. Iella stood there at the edge of the group of pilots, their younger daughter in her arms, their older clinging to her leg. Wedge didn't see or hear anything else. In a blur he had her in a hug, careful not to smother his daughter. He kissed Iella as if he feared she would disappear, as if she were a dream he would lose if he woke up. He broke the kiss after a moment and scooped Syal up with one arm. He locked them all in a hug and felt utter relief at having come home.
"Wedge, when I heard-"
"Shh," he held a finger gently to her lips. He could see her tears barely in check. "I'm home, my love. For good. I don't need to be told where I need to be anymore. My place is here, with you and the girls. I want them to have a father when they grow up. I don't want to orphan them like I was."
She couldn't hold back anymore, tears of happiness rolling freely down her cheeks. Wedge smiled at her. Everything would be fine now. He had one more thing to do, however.
"Iella, I have one more thing to do."
She sputtered out a small laugh through her tears.
"Oh Wedge, come on, they can take care of themselves now."
"I know." Wedge looked back briefly, then to her. "I really know that now. Just one moment, I promise." He put Syal down and placed her arms gently around her mother's leg again, giving his daughter a wink. He stood back up and turned around in a crisp, military fashion.
"Captain Darklighter," he bellowed. "Front and Center!"
The Rogues quieted down, even the crowd of onlookers seemed hushed by the sudden command. The pilots parted to let Gavin through. Wedge could see Tycho smiling at him and gave the slightest of nods.
"General, sir. Captain Darklighter reporting." He snapped to attention.
"Captain Darklighter. You are hereby promoted to the rank of Colonel, and with it the duties and responsibilities that come with that rank." Wedge threw a crisp salute. Gavin followed suit. "I also, effective immediately, hereby turn Rogue Squadron over to you, sir. The squadron is yours, Colonel."
He could see the pride brimming from the younger man. "Thank you General. I have the squadron. General, sir, it's an honor I will discharge faithfully. I won't fail you."
Wedge broke the salute. He started to turn away, when to the very last pilot, they saluted him. Wedge saluted again, fighting back the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.
It was finally over, his Final Flight.
He turned and gathered his family.
He was home.
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