Tycho Celchu leaned heavily against the cell wall. It seemed ages since his arrest for the murder of Corran Horn, longer still since he had been really free. Why had he not listened to them to begin with? Given up when he had had the chance? His mind roved restlessly over the memories--there were so many places where his life had been suddenly and immediately redirected--which had led him to this? Did it begin with Lusankya? Or was it only after his escape... now, the choices he had made since his return to the New Republic seemed a shockwave that threatened to overwhelm him. Closing his weary eyes, he forced himself to try to remember why he had joined the Rebellion so many years before. Was it to avenge Alderaan? To sooth his guilty conscience? Did it even matter why? In those first few months, he'd found truer friends than any he'd known before. Something that was almost a smile touched his lips as he felt the icy cold of Hoth seep into his bones.
Lieutenant Forsk led the young recruit down the hall to the lounge, eyeing him coldly. Celchu had the lithe build that denoted a fighter pilot. According to the rumors, he had been a hot hand in a TIE before switching sides. In Forsk's book, men didn't change their loyalties so easily unless they were trouble, and he intended to make sure that this man had no chance to endanger the Rebellion.
As they reached the lounge, Forsk decided on the safest place to put the newcomer.
"Commander Salm, sir, this is Tycho Celchu. He's just joined. I thought you may have space for him in Gold Squadron." Privately, he added. "Graduated from the Naval Academy. A real hotshot. Watch him."
Salm regarded the pilot.
"Do you know how to fly a y-wing, son?"
"I've not had any experience with them, sir. I have been formally trained in TIE starfighters, interceptors, and bombers, though, so I shouldn't have trouble adjusting to the ship."
"I see." Salm cleared his throat. "The Koensayer Y-Wing fighter isn't a ship you just adjust to, son. It's a good, steady craft that takes a fine hand to fly. Still, you have had pilot training." The older man considered. "Well, let's run you through some sims and see how you do."
After exhaustive training in the simulators, Tycho began to feel at home with the Alliance fighters, if not with the men themselves. Forsk seemed to be always hovering around, waiting for any mistake to pounce, and Salm still hadn't approved him for the squadron. Pulling himself free of yet another training cycle, he emerged into the hanger deck and started for his quarters. He noticed several landspeeders being maneuvered into position by mechanics, and was briefly amazed that the repulsorlifts were even working in the fierce cold. As if he had predicted it, the lifts of the ship closest to him failed, and the speeder collapsed to the ground. In the melee that followed, Tycho found himself hauling the pilot, who was surprised but otherwise unhurt, out of the cockpit.
Brushing himself off, the rescued driver grinned and held out his hand.
"Hobbie Klivian, Rogue Squadron. Much obliged for the help back there."
"Tycho Celchu." Tycho found himself returning the man's infectious smile. "That was quite a display you put on."
Hobbie sobered immediatly. "This damn cold--all the machinery's malfunctioning. There's a back order for conversion packs, but with our luck, who knows when we'll get 'em." He turned and started toward the pilot lounge. "Hey, what squadron did you say you're with?"
"I didn't. I've only been here about a month. I hope to be accepted into Gold Squadron though. General Salm is still running me through sims before he approves me."
"Y-wings? So you haven't flown before?"
Tycho laughed. "No, I'm flight certified on--ok, let me review my slang--eyeballs, squints, dupes, brights...pretty much any ship the Imps have out there." Seeing the shocked look on the other man's face, Tycho explained, "I graduated from the Naval Academy."
Hobbie stopped and turned his full attention to the pilot. If the man was telling the truth, there was no way he belonged in the antiquitated y-wings. "What are your training scores," he asked curiously. The pilot's answer caused his eyes to widen considerably. "What nerf-herder stuck you in with those pig drivers!" he exclaimed. "Come with me, I have someone you ought to meet."
"Hey, Luke, have you got a minute?"
Hobbie was calling out to a set of legs dangling from the top of a battered Corellian freighter.
"Yeah, what's up," came the muffled reply.
"I've got someone here with me--I think you'll want to meet him."
"Uh, hold on, let me get this transponder back in. Han's been having some trouble with the comm system, and I volunteered to help him get it back online."
Tycho looked at Hobbie. "Luke? As in Luke Skywalker?" he asked incredulously.
"You know him?"
"Know of him," he answered. "Back at the Academy I simmed against an upperclassman--Biggs Darklighter. He was always talking about this hotshot friend of his back on Tatooine. Later I heard the same name associated with the pilot who killed the Death Star."
Hobbie laughed. "That's the one. So, you knew Biggs? He and I both came over on the Rand Ecliptic. I was assigned to a different squadron, got stuck guarding supply runs. That's where I was when the Death Star came visiting. Later, Luke looked me up for this squad he was forming. Been here ever since." He nodded as a brown-haired man in a mechanic's coverall walked up.
"Hi there. Luke Skywalker," he introduced himself.
"Luke, Tycho here has higher scores than me in the sim, but some nerf-brain has him trying to get into the Golds," Hobbie volunteered.
"The Golds?" Luke laughed. "Who assigned you, Tycho?"
"A fleet officer--Lieutenant Donan Forsk. Commander Salm is still reviewing me for his squadron."
"No way he belongs with those dewbacks, Luke. He was at the Academy with Biggs and me."
"Really?" Luke considered the pilot carefully. Although he didn't place much value on the theory, the fleet was cautious with some former Imps. "If you don't mind, just why are you with the Rebellion?"
A pained look crossed Tycho's face. "Alderaan," he said flatly. "It was my homeworld."
Luke nodded grimly. That was plenty of reason for him. "Right. Well, I'll review your scores--have you run any X-wing sims yet?" At Tycho's nod, he continued, "Good. I'll see what I can do. With Dack acting as my gunner, Laryn needs a wingman. Take him by to meet the other Rogues, Hobbie. I think Wedge said something about dinner in the West Quadrant, so you might as well warn the rest of the squadron. Good to have you, Tycho."
As Luke turned back to the freighter, Tycho regarded Hobbie curiously. "You mean he'll take pilots just like that? What is this Rogue Squadron?"
"Us?" Hobbie offered what Tycho would learn to be a rare grin. "After Yavin, Luke pulled some strings. He took what was left of Red Squadron, recruited some friends and friends of friends, and named us the Rogues. Basically, we're a bunch of hotshot pilots who are crazy enough to do what no one else will. We'd fly our X-wings through the Emperor's black heart itself--and I'd put my money on our coming out alive. C'mon. Let's go meet your new squad."
"What is this Rogue Squadron?" Tycho whispered again. He'd flown countless missions as a Rogue, seen pilots come and go, and even watched the squad be broken down and rebuilt. Still, though, Hobbie's definition stood. Always, the Rogues had managed to pull off missions that defied logic, that couldn't be done. They'd prided themselves on doing the impossble. Images of those early pilots rolled like holos through his mind. So many faces--hotshot pilots, so sure of thier own invincibility.
"Bad news, Rogues." Hobbie's announcement caused the pilots in the lounge to look up.
"It seems that the Empire has taken over this base. We have been sentenced to life on Kessel. That's the good news. Unfortunately, Wedge will be serving as our cook during our stay."
A chorus of groans broke out. One pilot promptly doubled over and rolled onto the floor.
"Chan Resch." Hobbie indicated the pilot, who was now moaning. "He used to room with Wedge--he's tasted that cooking before." Resch promptly sat up and demanded to be introduced.
"Ok, ok." Hobbie cleared his throat and waited for the din to die down. "Everyone, this is Tycho Celchu. He's going to be Laryn's wingman. Tycho, your new partner is seated right over there." A dark-haired, slender woman who had seen more than her share of sorrow stood. One by one Hobbie named the other members. "There's Dack," a fresh-faced pilot barely twenty nodded, "and Zev, he's Rogue Two; Wes Janson, Wedge's gunner, --speaking of which, everyone, we're supposed to meet Wedge in the West Quadrant in less that ten minutes. I hope you ate."
When they arrived, a fire had been set up, and the much-lamented dinner was roasting over it. A figure straightened and ambled over to introduce himself.
"Hey, Hobbie, where'd you find a friend to follow you around?"
"Friend? This is my worst enemy. I heard you were cooking, and brought him so you could poison him."
"Oh, come on, I'm not that bad. I'd like to see you do better."
As Hobbie prepared to further the issue, Tycho stepped up and held out his hand to the brown-eyed pilot.
"Tycho Celchu. Hobbie just got me into the squadron."
"New, huh. I'm Wedge Antilles. Glad to meet you. Hungry?" Wedge turned back to the fire, glared at Hobbie, and loudly called the rest to come eat. Tycho couldn't deny the others' complaints--the meat was actually terrible.
"Wedge," Chan finally called out, "I have known you since Dantooine, and I still can't figure how you can make nerf taste this bad.
Wedge looked up in surprise. "Are you kidding? This is taun-taun," he said simply.
The shock on Chan's face caused Wes to roar. Soon the rest of the squadron was laughing as well. Tycho was amused, but found himself holding back from the banter that the rest seemed to delight in. Laryn slipped over and seated herself by Tycho.
He prepared to throw back a quip, but the honest concern in her face broke through his defenses.
"A little. It's been a while since I've relaxed. Hobbie didn't mention it, but I was at the Naval Academy. They weren't exactly lax about discipline there. Then, well, after I left I was so confused... I wasn't sure what to do next... if I'd made the right choice..." His voice trailed off, thick with memories of his family and friends, with the memories of his home. Laryn studied him carefully.
"Celchu... that name's familiar. Where have I heard it before?" She thought for a moment. "Alderaan," she whispered. "That's your homeworld, isn't it." Her sympathy was unmistakable.
"When I was a little girl," she continued after a pause, "my father worked for the Empire. He was, for a time, the liason for Novacom. Your father was his superior. I was very young, but I remember going to work with my father, and your father would come out of his office, and he always had some sweet or present, and stories about the things he'd done. He often spoke of his sons. You were the Tycho who had done those wonderful things."
At his questioning look, she laughed a little. "You were the one who made me want to learn to fly. When you were four, you took your father's landspeeder. He was talking to an acquaintance, and you got into the seat, and off you went. It was a miracle that you were not killed. When they finally caught you, all you talked about was how you were going to become a bird and fly. You would be a pilot. The way he described it, I knew it was what I wanted to do, too."
Her voice trailed off for a moment. "We didn't stay long. After that it was back to Coruscant, off to Corellia, or Contruum, or even Tanaab. When I was sixteen we were sent to Kashyyyk. My father protested the enslavement of the Wookiees there. Imp Intel came and took him away one night, and he never came back. Not long after that I joined the Rebellion. I remembered the little boy who wanted to be a bird, and I became a pilot. Now you're here. I never would have believed it. You attended the Academy?"
"It must have been terrible for you, when the Empire destroyed Alderaan. You did make the right choice, Tycho. You did."
Only three days had passed since Luke had accepted him as a Rogue, but already Tycho felt at home. The pilots were young, none over twenty-eight, and most not yet twenty-one. There was a free-spiritedness, an easy acceptance that he had not experienced since leaving his family for the Academy. The pilots relied on one another, each trusting the others absolutely. That trust had extended to Tycho and welcomed him. One night his door buzzed. When he opened it, Larynn was standing there.
"Congratulations, you've won a prize."
Still trying to clear his sleep-fogged brain, Tycho just looked at her. Handing him a steaming cup of caf, she grimaced. "Escort duty. Luke can't go--he's off someplace with Princess Leia. You, me, Wedge, and Wes are pulling this one. You have fifteen minutes to get to the briefing."
Ten minutes later, Tycho reported. Wedge and Larynn were already there, each holding their own caf, and Wes arrived a few seconds later. A captain appeared and placed a card in the datapad standing on the table.
"You will be guarding a freigher, codename Star Child, as she makes a run coreward. She'll feed you the coordinates for each jump as she gets ready to make it. Minimal risk, but the supplies that she is getting are absolutely vital. Captain's name is Nien Numb, a Sullustan. Suit up, you're go in thirty minutes."
As the pilots assembled by their fighters, Tycho had ignored the churning in his stomach. In a few hours, he could very likely be shooting at his old comrades. Although he had rejected the Empire, the thought of flying against men he'd known... eaten with... joked with... sickened him. A mechanic rolled up a ladder; Tycho pulled himself into the cockpit of his X-wing. The hangar officer gave the clearance signal, and gracefully the four snubfighters lifted into the air.
Almost immediatly the Star Child joined them. Her captain beamed the coordinates, and Tycho instructed his R2 unit to enter them in the navcomp. Wedge's voice came over the comm. "We're clear, Rogues. No names--designations Three, Four, Five, and Six. Star Child, we are go on your signal." The Sullustan chittered his acceptance, and the ships leapt into the brilliance of hyperspace.
He had been lucky. The run had gone smoothly, its greatest difficulty being a lack of storage space in the freighter. This was solved by dumping the storage compartments of the x-wings in favor of the cargo. It was not a bad trade in Tycho's mind. Whatever personal effects he had had with him were worthless compared to the freight--the conversion packs for the airspeeders. Looking back, it seemed that the Force had indeed been with the Rebels in those dark days--just a week after their return, Vader and the Imperial fleet had come callling. He had been lucky in that regard as well. When the battle came, he was too busy protecting his new friends and their future existence to worry about his old ones. He had fearlessly guarded the shuttle to Rendezvous Base, and had fought side by side with his squadron mates in the desperate, hectic weeks that had followed.
The sound of the guard bringing his meal recalled Tycho from his memories. "Any news?" he asked.
"Nope," replied the guard, eying the prisoner suspiciously. "Not unless you count that Commander Antilles has threatenend to resign his commission. Hope you're happy, Imp."
"But he can't do that!" Tycho exploded. He jerked to his feet and began pacing the cell. "Wedge is the best thing the Alliance has going for it! If he leaves, no way they'll be able to hold the New Republic together."
The guard scowled and placed the unappetizing tray in the cell. "Guess you should've thought of that before you betrayed your squadron."
The door slammed, its echo remaining in his mind as a symbol of all he'd lost. He was trapped in a web he could not escape.
He ignored the food, continuing to pace the short distance from wall to wall. Wedge was a proven commander, and the best starfighter tactician in the military, however much he had avoided it initially. The
"Which rules are we using, now?"
"Corellian." Wedge Antilles grinned wickedly.
"I'm out." Janson turned away from the table in disgust. The others laughed and continued the game.
"Hey, Tych... you play sabaac?" Hobbie called a second later.
"I'm a pilot, aren't I?"
"Then, c'mon. I'll take your money anyday."
The pilots were off-duty, for the moment, relaxing in the makeshift lounge in a corner of the hanger. They had been hit hard at Hoth, only six Rogues remaining at the end of the battle. It had almost been five. Hobbie had crashed directly into an AT-AT, being rescued from his speeder by the final wave of withdrawing infantry. He'd been dunked in a bacta tank as quickly as possible, but had only recently been released from the med bay. Aside from a few scars, he was now as good as new. Wedge and Wes had emerged unscathed, as had Tycho himself, but Larynn was gone, struck by a random blast from one of the Star Destroyers. Chan, Zev, Dack, all had died. No one had seen Luke since the battle.
Suddenly, the door whooshed open and the missing pilot entered. He looked grim, sterner than Tycho had ever seen him, and although he had been fine when the squad had met to exchange the speeders for their x-wings, his right hand was now a cybernetic replacement.
"Wedge, can I speak with you?"
"Yeah, sure. Where've you been?" Luke's second-in-command looked confused.
Wedge rose and followed him to an office in the corner. The game stopped as the Rogues watched the office.
"What's going on?" Wes asked Hobbie under his breath.
"No telling. Wedge is steamed though, at the commander disappearing like that. Rieekan chewed him out pretty good over it."
"The squadron really doesn't need this. We're on thin ice anyway."
Tycho turned his attention back to them. "What do you mean?"
The original Rogues exchanged a look.
"Well," Hobbie began, "Starfighter Command isn't big on the idea of x-wings to begin with. They prefer Koensayer's y-wing snubfighters."
"Slow, outdated pigs," Wes muttered. Hobbie glared at him.
"Anyway," he continued, "after Yavin Luke could do pretty much whatever he wanted. He liked x-wings. And he didn't want to go back to another squadron. Wedge felt the same way, so they talked Fleet into creating us. We know that the T-65 is the way to go, but they see us as a bunch of show-offs who are too irresponsible for other squads. They've been using the x-wing survival ratio as proof. Honestly, it's not that hot." The commander and Wedge were trying to show them that they're wrong.
Janson sat up. "Now we've hit our second big battle, and we got chewed up. Then, our commander just disappears. Rumor has it that we'll get reassigned, broken up. Wedge is not happy."
"I see." Tycho turned to see the door open and Luke stride out. He didn't look at the knot of pilots as he passed.
"Luke!" Hobbie followed him, Janson close behind. No one emerged from the office. Tycho headed over to check on Wedge.
Lieutenant Antilles was bent over the desk, head down.
He didn't look up.
"Uh, listen. I haven't been here that long, but I'm sure that wherever they send you, you'll do fine. I mean..." Tycho's voice trailed off as Wedge looked up.
"Celchu. What are you talking about?"
"Well, sir, the others said that Fleet was going to break up the squadron, that the Rogues would be disbanded."
"Disbanded? The Rogues..." Wedge seemed to be having trouble placing his thoughts.
"You might even end up flying with the commander again," Tycho continued, trying to identify the right thing to say.
The lieutenant went ramrod straight.
"Sithspit!" he roared, sweeping every item from the desk in a fury. "The Commander has just informed me that he's leaving. The squad is in my command now."
"That means, Flight Officer Celchu," he interrupted, "that I have to find a way to take five pilots and convince Fleet not only that x-wings need to stick around, but to become the backbone of the navy, and I have to somehow accomplish this while rebuilding a squadron, and I have to do this while the squadron hero is off chasing down a gangster. Now, why don't you tell me how I'm going to do this, since you seem so ready to give advice."
Tycho sat back and considered, then smiled at the other man.
"You're the boss now Wedge, so I guess you'll do it by giving us orders. Then Wes, Hobbie, and I will carry them out, and then, well," he paused, "somehow we'll do the impossible."
Wedge Antilles stared for a moment, then shook his head slowly.
"Apparently I underestimated my problems. I'm going to have to do this with a group of lunatics."
Wedge Antilles stared for a moment, then shook his head slowly.
"Apparently I underestimated my problems. I'm going to have to do this with a group of lunatics."
Tycho grinned at the memory. Although each promotion had been fought tooth and nail, Wedge had succeeded in becoming the premier starfighter pilot in the Rebellion. Rogue Squadron had managed to earn a place of respect in the Alliance fleet, finding a firm friend in the Mon Cal leader, Admiral Ackbar. When the second Death Star had appeared, Wedge had flown as a group commander. Tycho remembered the day clearly, but not for the reasons many would name. It had been a perilous mission, and not one likely to be forgotten, but it had been noteworthy in other ways. He closed his eyes. Veteran pilots frequently avoided befriending newbies, thus insulating themselves from the pain that their deaths would cause. It was something particularly suited to Rogue Squadron's oft-suicidal missions, and Wedge was one of the worst about it. Long after he had been accepted by Janson and Hobbie, Wedge had still refused to admit his friendship. It was only at Endor that Tycho had truly become a Rogue.
Wedge entered the briefing room slowly, as if reluctant to share his news with the other pilots of Rogue Squadron. A few hours before, he'd been summoned to Home One without warning, and the tension had increased exponentially each moment he'd been gone. Speculation had been rampant, the older members wondering if an attack was emminent, or if they were being called out on another scout mission. They'd been based off the cruiser Mon Remonda since the Empire's discovery of their previous base. The newer pilots had disagreed, arguing that it could be a guardian mission... escorting the Provisional Council or some other noteworthy. A few had gone so far as to speculate the Rebellion's surrender.
That had created instant chaos in the lounge, with Janson pointing out the success of the Rebels' hit-and-hide technique, Hobbie protesting that there were too many people who would die for their involvement, including each pilot in the squadron, and the new Mon Cal, Bhetar, quietly reminding them of the evil of the Empire's slavery system. The clamour had continued until a comm buzzer had instructed them to report immediately to Briefing Room 12-C. They'd waited only a few moments for Wedge. He inserted a card into the battered projection console, then turned to face the assembled pilots.
When he spoke, his voice was heavy and precise.
"Rogues, we are currently in transit to the Sullust system. When we get there, we will position our x-wings in a defensive screen around the Mon Cal cruisers. We will then jump in formation to this point," he indicated a tiny moon, "Endor. There, we will ambush the Emperor while he is abord a second Death Star."
Whatever reaction he'd been expecting hadn't happened. Aside from a sudden intake of breath, no one said a word. He continued on with the briefing, feeling the slightest flicker of hope in his stomach. Maybe, just maybe, this time they were ready for it.what was coming.
"And that's it. We wait for the shields to come down, then we go straight for the main reactor core. You have eighteen hours to Sullust. Hobbie, Janson, Tycho, I want to see you. The rest of you are dismissed."
The more experienced pilots waited as the others filed out. "What's up, boss?" Hobbie said at last.
Wedge relaxed a little, then frowned. "Ackbar wants to spread us out a little. I'm commanding Red Wing, and I'll have the rest of the Rogues with me. You and Janson, though, have been sent over to Blue Wing. They're inexperienced and could use you two to anchor them. You've been flying as a pair for the last couple of months, so I kept it that way."
The two men nodded. Tycho looked confused. "Boss, I've been flying with Bhetar... where are we going?"
Wedge took a deep breath. "This won't be easy. Only two of us survived the last Death Star. It's going to be dirty out there, and I'll need someone I can trust on my wing. Bhetar will fly with Kenser, and you'll be with me. Is your x-wing still down?" At Tycho's nod, he looked thoughtful. "I've got two extra ships at my disposal. There's a B-Wing and an A-Wing. It's your choice, of course, but I'd go with the speed for this one. It's good to have you on my wing, Tycho. You're one of us."