This story involves a "what if" scenario. It doesn't fall chronologically into any of the novels or the Star Wars time lines, except that it is after events in the "X-Wing" novels. It is strictly a work of my imagination. Because of this, the rank designations I have used are arbitrary. Thank you for your understanding.
"Watch yourself, Two."
Wedge Antilles struggled to keep track of the many enemy fighters, but failed. There were simply too many. Smothering a curse, he dove after the TIE following Tycho. Throwing the x-wing into a steep loop, he came up behind the faster squint, acquired a target lock, and fired. Allowing himself a brief moment of satisfaction, he keyed the comm.
"You're clear, Tych."
"Thanks, Lead." Tycho's voice became distracted. "Seven, this is Two. Break left, NOW!"
"I'm trying... They're all over me! I can't hold th..." Gavin's transmission ended in a sudden hiss of static.
Wedge scanned the area for the pilot, but saw only scattered debris.
"Sithspit. Two, can you help Six out?"
"Whatever you say, boss. I'm on it."
Tycho braked sharply, then brought his fighter into a loop, falling neatly in behind the sqint that was targeting Wes. Quad lasers flared, then a nova appeared to rival all the suns of a galaxy. Tycho noted that the shot was sloppy, unusual for him, but quickly returned his attention to his longtime squadmate.
"You okay, Janson?"
Six's voice was scratchy. "I'm out of the battle, Two. My weapons systems are GONE. I've got comm and sensors, though, so I'll just amuse myself watching you guys."
Wedge broke through. "Why am I not suprised, Six? Hobbie, keep an eye on your wingman. We've got one nasty furball here, and he's picked a devil of a time to take a day off."
The Rebels were outnumbered on a scale of approximately 12:1. Their most joyous occasion was turning out to be the most disastrous in the Alliance's history. All of them... military or civilian, government... the essence of the New Republic had gathered in one place, only to be ambushed. The comm lit up with a message from the flagship... Leia's voice came through.
"Wedge, get your group out of here! It's a trap... Hurry, before it's too la... "
Wedge was forced to break upward as the capital ships erupted into infernos of flame. He ignored the icy lump that formed in his stomach. Desperately, he scanned his sensors for the Rogues, but the shrapnel ricocheting off his shields made getting a reading impossible. Mentally he tallied the results of the battle-- who was gone? The chances of any Rogue's survival were too high even for his odds. Much as it sickened him to do so, he reluctantly gave his final order.
"All fighters, this is General Antilles. We are omega. Repeat, we are omega. Jump individually and do not come back." He swallowed hard. "Good luck, Rogues."
No answer came back. Had they finally succumbed to the impossible? With the remnants of the New Republic sizzling against his shields, Wedge computed his last hyperspace jump as a Rebel.
The shuttle attached to the docking port with a soft hiss. The pilot inside slowly powered down his systems, then gave one final look around. He sighed, picked up his pack, and entered the station. A droid waited just outside the bay.
"You are Captain Janson?"
A shadow crossed the pilot's face. "There is no Captain. It's just Janson, now."
"Yes, sir. Of course." The droid motioned to a corridor. "Your quarters are located two levels down in the fourth quadrant. 34C. Will you require assistance in relocating your things?"
"I travel light. This is all I have."
"Very good, sir. Your are scheduled to begin tomorrow. Your duties will include regulating space congestion above the planet, assessing security risks, and monitoring all military exercises in the system. We would remind you, sir, not to over-publicize your presence here. The captain accepted your application as a favor to Master Kardde. Your face is hardly a welcome one on Trantor."
The pilot nodded and wearily moved toward the lifts. The war was over.
Hobbie Klivian stared blankly at the datapad. The figures streaming across it held no meaning for him. He jumped as the customer repeated the request.
"I said, 'When will the next shipment arrive?'"
The Twi'lek drummed his fingers on the counter. Hobbie mumbled some answer, and the alien moved off. With a groan, he shut the pad and clocked out. He had chosen to make his way back to Coruscant, trusting in its sea of people to give him some diversion, as well as needed anonymity. The plan had backfired, though. He found himself drifting toward the old haunts, places far too dangerous for him. Memories of his friends haunted him continuously, and the fact that he couldn't find them even if they were alive tortured him.
Stifling a curse, he turned on his heel. He wasn't sure just how drunk a human male could become in twelve hours, but he intended to find out. After all, the war was over.
Waves of sand stretched endlessly before him in the unrelenting Tatooine sun. Tycho Celchu fought the almost physical feeling of displacement as he wrestled with the airspeeder's controls. The shipment he was hauling rattled in the speeder's bed. He didn't know what it was, and in truth didn't care.. He was bored, but worse than that, he was completely alone. Too often in his life he had been stripped of everything and everyone, and still emerged strong, but this time the hopelessness of the situation threatened to overwhelm him. He had fought the feeling at first, trying to find some solution, some way out of the disaster, but had been always forced to the same conclusion. The war was over, and his world was gone, again.
For the first time in over ten years, Wedge Antilles had returned home. He was amazed by the changes he saw in Corellia. Once brilliant, Coronet City now appeared derelict. Tattered rags replaced the festive market banners of his childhood, the inhabitants scurrying from place to place. The Diktat had done the planet no favors. One thing, however, remained the same. For a pilot on Corellia there was always work, provided the law wasn't an obstacle. Now, with his hair cut short and dyed an alarming shade of blue, Wedge was almost unrecognizable as a former hero of the Rebellion. Which was how it had to be. The war was over, and he was once again a smuggler. Ruthlessly casting aside years of training and discipline, he swaggered into a cantina.
"Terrik? He ain't been seen around here in quite a while, not since before the battle." The bartender eyed the man. "If ye're lookin' fer work, though, check over there in the corner. Ansul Tavan usually has room for hands." The blue-haired man nodded, then shouldered his way through the crowd to a portly, balding human holding forth on the condition of Corona City, Corellia, and the galaxy at large. Tavan regarded the spacer with some surprise. His eyes narrowed. It was unusual for anyone to approach him so fearlessly, but that one looked as though he had ice water in his veins. And there was something familiar about him. . .
"And you are?"
There was a short hesitation.
"Tann Kiral. I'm a pilot looking for work."
Tavan sat back. The feeling was growing stronger, but he cast it aside. He liked the look of this Kiral.
"Indeed. So many are. Why should I hire you?"
The plot grimaced briefly. "I'm the best."
He said it flatly, with no trace of arrogance or pride. Although he had never heard of a Corellian without an ego, Tavan made his decision.
"Very well. I happen to have a job for you. If you accomplish it to my satisfaction, there will be more. You will fly a freighter belonging to me on a series of stops. At each, you will pick up cargo. The people you contact will neither know each other nor what they are giving you. At the conclusion of the trip, you will return the goods to Coruscant for sale."
Tann Kiral kept all trace of amusement from his face. Once, a very similar event had almost led him to accept a generalship. The coincidence was strengthened, however, when he received the name of the freighter.
The Dark Phantom was a ship of average size and more than average speed. Tann was surprised to discover that it wasn't Corellian. It was, in fact, a product of the Kuati Drive Yards that had been highly modified. Still, it flew, and that was all that mattered to him. After weeks of being on he ground, hiding and in constant fear of discovery, Tann Kiral felt almost whole as he lifted off. For a brief moment, he could even imagine himself once more as Wedge Antilles. As the thought crossed his mind, a bitter smile came to his lips. Wedge Antilles and all he had stood for were dead.
Placing the past firmly behind him, Tann leapt into hyperspace.
Wordlessly, the Bothan entered the hotel and sat. She ordered nothing, and remained unobtrusively in the shadows. Motionless, she seemed more automated than alive, but closer examination yielded a fierceness in her violet eyes that burned with unparalled intensity. Finally, she stood and gestured to a human who had just entered.
The brunette made her way to the Bothan's table. "Asyr?" Her eyes clouded with confusion and sorrow. "But you, you died during the Krennel campaign."
"Apparently not. It seems to be a Rogue trait, and one that I took advantage of. I was glad to get your reply, Elscol."
"After I recovered from the shock, Sixtus insisted that I answer. The danger of discovery couldn't outweigh the chance of a Rogue being alive. What did you want from me?"
The Bothan smiled. "It's very simple. They've killed my friends. I want you to help me make them pay."
Weeks later, Ansul Tavan still had questions. Kiral was undoubtedly a superior smuggler, but had revealed little about himself. Tavan assumed that he was a fleeing Rebel, but he fit none of the norms associated with Alliance pilots. The man was reckless to the point of suicide, disregarding even a Corellian's normal concern for the odds. He flew hard, had nerves of steel, and showed no concern for the state of the galaxy at large. Not a bad sort to have in one's business, but Tavan couldn't shake the glimmers of recognition he had. Thoughtful, he boarded his private shuttle and headed to Tatooine...
"I tell you, he's someone important!" Tavan sat back into the chair and glared at his son. "He's too damned good not to be. I've never seen anyone fly like him, yourself included."
Choosing to regard the transparisteel viewport instead of his father, Loran Tavan allowed only a trace of bitterness into his voice, but his anguish came through nonetheless.
"That's impossible. I wasn't there, but if I had been, I would have been destroyed. Everyone was. And you know that they had everyone "important" gathered into their hands. It was a neat enough trap."
"Dammit Myn! I know better, and I know that you've been placing Rebels in our organization. I'm not asking for a complete repudiation of the battle reports, I'm just asking you to look at him."
"It's Loran," he spat. "What we do is far too public for me to be anyone else. And as for looking at him, that's out too. No one knows that I'm here, and I won't risk being recognized."
He raised a hand to forestall his father's objection. "But I know what I can do. I have a Rogue working for me. He and I don't get along, never have, and he doesn't know that it's me that hired him. We have that big shipment to Coruscant soon. Send this Kiral to me. If it's someone important, the Rogue will know him. If not, then we're in no danger."
Ansul Tavan regarded his offspring. It took guts to run the operation on Tatooine, and Myn--no, Loran--was putting himself in danger by doing it. Letting him decide the method seemed only fair. And, finally, he found a way to say so.
"Son, I've been meaning to tell you, I... I'm proud of you. It took guts to take hold of your life like you have. Not many men could have. And, I think you'll handle this the right way."
Loran spun, astonished. His father, always gruff, looked absolutely impenetrable now. There was only one thing that he could say in response.
"Smile, Dad. You can't look dignified when you're having fun."
The monotony of the job was beginning to take its toll on Janson. He was responsible for monitoring all traffic into the system, identifying threats, and coordinating landings at the station. In the six weeks he'd been there, he had come to realize just how hopeless his situation was. There were few places in the galaxy where he would be welcome. His friends had been scattered, his ideals destroyed, and his basic beliefs uprooted. Now his darkest fears were being confirmed--all the skills that had made him a valuable warrior, that had kept his friends alive, made him utterly unsuited for civilian life. As he granted yet another patrol entry, he fought to keep his anger from overwhelming him. Not even his perpetually merry nature could see a way out of this. His time had run out, and he knew what to do about it.
His decision made, he nodded curtly to the youth that had come to relieve him.
"Everything's normal. I'm going planetside. If I'm not back by morning, I'm dead."
The youth laughed. He had no idea just how serious Janson was. And, with his attention held by the surly older man, he failed to notice one ship entering the system.
Asyr Sei'lar held her breath as she manipulated the Eclipse Rider past the station. Given the galaxy's current situation, the chances of her being identified were few. That didn't matter, though, when compared to the fact that any Bothan pilot would be particularly unwelcome in most planetary systems, as if her cargo wasn't dangerous enough as it was. She was carrying the last remaining hope of rebellion. She nodded as Elscol moved up to sit beside her.
"Not yet. We haven't even been queried. Some controller must be asleep on the job. The Force is truly with us."
Elscol closed her eyes. "It's good to know that something is right now. I never would have believed that so many years of fighting could have been wiped away so quickly. Do you truly think that we're all that's left?"
Asyr clenched her fists. "I'm trained in this, remember? The chances of surviving that, that massacre are phenomenal. Impossible, really. The New Republic has been destroyed, totally."
Elscol opened her eyes. They glittered dangerously. "Well then, we'll just have to build it back up."
"And that, my friend, is something that I look forward to."
The Bothan gracefully lowered the freighter to the ground. "I'll go recon. You're a little too recognizable as the liberator of Thyferra."
"And one of the conquerors of Coruscant isn't?"
Violet eyes flashed. "Ah, but you forget. I'm an alien. All they'll see is a Bothan, not Asyr Sei'lar. I know a few tricks... if I find trouble... they won't realize what hit them. I'll be back."
Wes deliberately sought the lower levels of the city. They suited his mood. He had meant what he said to the controller. It was gone. All gone. Everything he'd fought for. His friends--they were as good as dead, in hiding just like him, if they hadn't been found and destroyed yet. There was no way to contact them, and even less reason to. Dead. They were dead, dead as he was, as the Alliance was. Whispering a half-remembered prayer from his childhood, he vowed to find something--anything--to direct him. If he hadn't by morning... Well, at least he wouldn't ever have to approve an Imperial patrol again. The simple thought being forced to welcome the murderers made him want to kill. He stalked into a tapcaf and ordered a drink. The first was followed by a second, a third, and a fourth. By the fifth, he was focusing solely on the cup in front of him, and didn't see anyone approaching until someone seated themselve alongside him.
"Want to dance?" a voice purred.
"Ah, that's a shame. Gavin was quite a dancer. Of course, I attempted to kill him after he refused me once."
The few insticts that were still operational in Wes managed to rouse him enough to moniter his surroundings. A Bothan. A smiling Bothan. That in itself set off alarms.
"Do I know you?"
The purr became a laugh. "Oh, I dare say so. If not right now, you will eventually."
Janson considered the statement throught an ale-fogged brain. "I don't think so."
The alien's eyes narrowed. "And here I was hoping this would be pleasant."
"Sorry to disappoint you." Wes attempted to rise from his chair, a particularly brave task considering the alarming tilt of the ground he saw.
Asyr shook her head. "Okay, flyboy. Your choice. We'll chat later." In one impossibly fluid movement, she lifted the glass from the table and brought it down on the human's head. Wes grunted, then collapsed against her.
The speeder careened around the building at speeds that far exceeded the ordinances. Turning in a way that more suited to a space fighter than any land-based vehicle, the daredevil blasted through an access door into the warehouse. Crates and boxes went flying. So did the pilot. The indifferent workers barely looked up at he lifted himself from the floor and dusted off. Then he switched off the speeder, turned to the crew supervisor, and bellowed, "Gehrig! These blasted repulsors are shot." That being done, he calmly turned and walked crookedly to the datapad waiting at the service desk. The chrono clicked over to the new hour, and Hobbie began typing.
Elscol drummed her fingers on the table. Asyr had been gone far too long to simply recon the area. The redhead stopped dumming and toyed with the comlink in front of her, then decided against it. Sei'lar could take care of herself.
She jumped as she heard the ramp lowering. Fighting the urge to dash outside, she lifted her blaster and forced herself to slowly walk towards the noise.
The stocky pilot leaned heavily against the lithe Bothan and didn't speak. Elscol quickly helped lower him into a chair, then poured a mug of caf. He accepted it, but still remained mute, choosing instead to glower at the alien.
"Wes? Asyr, is he okay?"
A shadow of recognition flickered in the pilot's eyes at the mention of the name.
"I believe so. He was a bit recalcitrant, so I had to... persuade... him to accompany me." She placed a hand on his shoulder. "Fortunately, his head is as hard as the rumors said. He'll recover."
Elscol considered her fellow Rogue, then nodded to Asyr. "He always has before. Does he know where Wedge is?"
It was the first he'd spoken, and it was said with a bitterness that surprised her.
"And the other Rogues?"
He raised his head. "Does it matter?" His eyes were hard.
Asyr growled. "It does to us. It used to to you. Do you know?"
Wes met her stare evenly.
"Rogue Squadron is dead."
Ansul Tavan was impatient. He was not accustomed to being kept waiting, but Kiral made his own rules and followed his own orders. The brusque pilot was becoming far more difficult to handle, and Tavan devoutly hoped that the Rebel would be able to identify him, reason with him, shoot him, anything, so long as it was a change. The door opened and the man strode in.
"I'm not on a run. Deal with it." Tann poured a cup himself a cup of caf from the waiting cart.
"Mind you do not overstep your boundaries, Kiral." Tavan forced his voice to relax, lighten. "I have a very difficult job for you."
"Let's hear it."
"You will deliver a cargo to a new customer on Coruscant. We aren't sure how far we can trust him. It may be dangerous. Can you do it?"
"You know I can. Where's the pickup?"
"Tatooine. Mos Eisley, to be exact."
Tann stiffened. "No."
The look was back. Again, Ansul wondered whether blood or ice water flowed through this man's veins. Still, such insolence was intolerable.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said no. I won't go to Tatooine."
The heavy man's eyes narrowed. Even he had limits, and the pilot had just passed them.
Tann Kiral was early for the meeting. He didn't like Tatooine, it held too many memories for him. He had attempted to avoid coming at all, but Tavan had been . . . insistent. Consequently, Kiral was not in the best of moods. He leaned against the Phantom as a battered freight skiff rattled up, it's repulsors barely keeping it above the ground. The driver, squinting into the sun as his desert cloak flapped around him, got out and began unloading the boxes roughly.
Tann jerked upright.
"Sithspit! D'you want to pay for those?" he barked.
"If you got a problem with my work, flyboy, you can unload them yourself."
He took a step forward. "You just remember who's paying you."
The speeder pilot backed down and hunched back over his work.
"Whatever you say, boss. I'm on it."
Suddenly, Tann Kiral was very ready to leave. All the pain that he had finally suppressed threatened to explode as he heard those words. The only option was to get away, now. Before he was recognized. He moved to pick up the closest box.
Too soon. The driver straightened at his sudden action, and a pair of crystal blue eyes met his own brown ones.
Tann Kiral maintained control, but barely. Wedge Antilles was dead. He had to be. The war was over. And Tycho should not have been anywhere near him. His voice as cold and malicious as his will could make it, he answered.
"Sorry, bantha boy. You've got the wrong guy."
The blue eyed man pulled himself upright, and for the first time resembled the proud pilot Tann had once known.
"Yeah, I guess so." His voice was very even. "Antilles wouldn't have the guts to come around here, anyway."
Slowly, the Corellian's native ego bridled. Dead or not, Tann wasn't prepared to let the insult go.
"And just why not?"
The Alderaanian's eyes were blue fire now. "Because he knew only real pilots could hack it."
"Antilles could handle anything you could dish out."
"Until he decided to turn and run."
The Corellian's voice became a growl. "Nobody's running now."
The Alderaanian threw himself at the other man. Tann was rammed up against a wall with enough force to take his breath away. Furious now, he pushed off the wall, throwing Tycho into a stack of boxes waiting to be loaded. Wood splintered and sand bellowed up from the impact. Tann launched himself at his opponent, who was back on his feet impossibly fast. A quick pivot on Tycho's part, and he was laying in the dust. He ruthlessly hauled himself to his feet and charged again. This time, he was not so lucky. A stiff blow knocked the wind out of him, the next one crumpled him to the ground. Always the clear leader when it came to street fighting, Tycho had knelt alongside and was now gleefully banging his head on the ground. Struggling for air, he prepared to again launch into battle, then something clicked in his head. He began to laugh. Tycho immediately got up and looked at him suspiciously. He continued to lay there, his laughter causing tears to come to his eyes.
He ignored him.
Still, he ignored him.
"Blast it, if I've cracked your empty head open, I have a right to know. Get up."
It felt very good to be back. Ribs aching, Wedge rose slowly to his feet.
"I believe I owe you an apology. Banthas should never be compared to dewbacks."
An uncertain grin began to draw at Tycho's mouth. "You mynock. Is it really you?"
Wedge sobered. "Things will never be the same again, Tych. I don't think Wedge Antilles--the things he stood for--can exist anymore. We lost." He looked away. " I'm Tann Kiral now."
Tycho slumped against a wall. "Don't be ridiculous. You are who you are. Nothing can take that away from you. It's the only thing they can't take." He squinted into the sun. "Trust me."
"I have no choice!"
Wedge spun away and glared fiercely at the Phantom.
"I'm back on Corellia," he exploded. "I'm smuggling again, I just... I... " His voice trailed off.
"Honor is internal, you know that," he snapped, then broke off abrubtly. "And at least you can go back." Tycho's soft comment impacted like a missile in Wedge's mind, blasting through the morass of self-pity he had wrapped himself in.
"Tycho, how... are you doing alright?"
The Alderaanian unfolded himself slowly. "Well, except for obnoxious flyboys who call me names, yeah, I'm doing okay. I'd rather be flying with the Rogues again, though."
"That's impossible now."
"I thought impossible was what we did best."
Loran Tavan watched the freighter disappear from the sensor screen. He allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction. The shock he'd felt when he realized just who the blue-haired pilot was had eroded into smug satisfaction. The New Republic was dead, but there were still Rebels in the galaxy. They'd been hit hard, but the reunion that had just occurred was the first step to recovery. The scourge of the Empire would soon be back, with with a little help from pirates, smugglers, and other assorted scum. Chuckling again at the memory of the two heroes scuffle, he toggled a switch, sending two messages out simultaneously. One was to Kirney on Corellia. If anyone could dig up twelve snubfighters, she would be able to. The second would be held on Coruscant until the Phantom was ready to leave. He turned to find his father standing in the doorway.
"Well, you were right."
Ansul raised an eyebrow. "I usually am. Who was he?"
Loran laughed. "Surely you have heard of General Wedge Antilles. If not, I have a story about a certain boot you should know... "
Wes Janson crept carefully down the dark corridors of Hawk-Bat Base. Everything was nearly as it was when the Wraiths had abandoned it. There was no one here. He headed back to the Eclipse Rider.
"It's all clear."
Asyr smiled in satisfaction. "Perhaps your hard head was good for something after all. I had forgotten about this hideout of Wedge's."
Wes shrugged. "You weren't a Wraith. No one who was here could forget Halmad."
Elscol appeared from the comm station. "We have something. It's a low-level transmission on Alliance frequencies. Probably recorded, but the timestamp indicates that it was created after the battle. Coordinates only. I have a feeling that this is legit, though."
Asyr narrowed her eyes. "It's risky. The chances of an Imp trap are high."
"We have to check this out. Cracken wasn't there. If he's alive... "
"We could be in for a fight," Asyr warned. "We'd be outnumbered and our strength isn't... "
Wes's dour expression lifted. He smiled for the first time in days. "Let's go."
Tycho and Wedge came out of hyperspace just short of the Golan Defense Platforms. Either of their faces was easily recognizable to the galaxy at large. Both together practically guaranteed discovery, but time was short. They were betting heavily that Tycho's deeply tanned face and Wedge's uncharacteristic demeanor would distract most suspicious beings. Taking a deep breath, Wedge hit the comm.
"Dark Phantom requesting permission to land."
"Permission granted, Phantom. Proceed to transmitted coordinates."
Tycho leaned over to flip the comm off. "Hey, Tann. Does it feel weird to you, not having a mission to pull off? Usually, we'd have no intention of following control's coords."
Wedge glanced at the other man.
"If I remember correctly, last time you were on a misson here you were officially dead and ended up on trial for murder. Does it feel "weird" to you?"
"Okay, okay. Point taken. But you have to admit, you hate flying this merchant tub. Like it or not, you're no trader."
"Yeah. I admit it. But what am I going to do?"
Tycho looked at him levelly.
"Well, that's the last of the shipment. Payment's been transferred, and all you gotta do now is wait for you exit vector to clear. All in all, you've got three--four hours to enjoy yourselves."
The tech's appraisal of the situation was correct, and Tycho was relieved to be finished with the delivery. Taking the datachip that had been waiting when they arrived, he turned to enter the Phantom. Then, he heard rather than saw a speeder come flying in and crash into the far wall. He moved to aid the pilot, who was pulling himself from the wreckage and loudly callling for the tech.
"Son of the Sith! Gehrig, the repuslsors are failing again. Blasted heap of junk's falling apart."
The tech put a restraining hand on Tycho. "He's okay. Does this all the time. Wouldn't believe that he's a pilot, would you."
Coincidence pulled at Tycho's memories, but he brushed them aside and started up the ramp. As he turned, he got a good look at the pilot. Undeniably dirty, undeniably drunk, it was, however, undeniably Hobbie. Resisting the urge to look around, he casually apprached the perpetually mournful pilot.
"Hey, flyboy, We're about to go grab something to eat. Want to come?"
Tycho kept a firm hold of his patience. "No problem. When you're a guest of Captain Kiral, anything goes."
He led Hobbie into the Phantom. Once in, he closed the ramp and keyed his comlink.
"Uh, Tann, get back here. I have somebody you'll want to meet."
Wedge's voice came back cool but curious. "I'll be there in a minute. What's going on?"
"Let's just say... it's impossible."
Turning back to the pilot, Tycho couldn't resist baiting him.
"What'd you say your name was?" he inquired pleasantly.
"I didn't," was the curt answer.
"Oh, really? Would you like to fly with us?"
Hobbie rose. "I don't know what the devil you're talking about, but if you don't..."
Tycho heard Wedge approaching and interrupted the tirade.
"Let me tell you a little about our group. We're hotshot pilots. We've flown through the Emperor's dark heart itself--and come out alive."
Hobbie glanced up, realization dawning, just as Wedge entered the cabin.
Shaking his head, he looked straight at Tycho.
"As long as he's not cooking," he deadpanned.
Exhausted and dirty, the commando hunched over his terminal. If any ships got through, well, he didn't want to think of the consequences. The message had been out for three days. If anyone had heard it, they would be here soon. He shuddered at the idea of the wrong anyone arriving. It had been so hard, wondering, wishing, grieving all the weeks they had been on this forsaken planet. A light began to blink on the screen. Holding his breath, he keyed the transmission with landing instructions. Then he set off at a dead run for the camp. For better or for worse, the waiting was over.
Carefully, she reached out with the Force. It was there, just the barest glimmer of recognition. Who was it? Friend, or foe? She clutched at his hand, and breathed a prayer. They had fought so long, had made so much progress, until... She thrust the pain aside and concentrated anew on the incoming ship.
The three Rogues stared at each other, dumbfounded. In the center of the table, the projection of Myn Donos continued to speak, "Tycho, I know we haven't always been the best of friends, but I want you to know that I do believe in the Rebellion. The Empire must be stopped, and the Rogues are the only ones who can do it. Wedge, if you will go to Hawk-Bat Base, Kirney is in the process of rounding up some fighters. She has agreed to deliver them there. We can't promise miracles, but at least you will be fit to fly."
Wedge leaned forward and stopped the projection. "I don't believe this. They're doing it to me again."
Hobbie raised an eyebrow. "I thought you relied on ingenuity in your pilots."
"Very funny. Although that is a point--the fact that the three of us are together is, well, if I say it Tycho may shoot me. But how are three pilots supposed to defeat the Empire?"
Tycho restarted the projection. "Perhaps we'll just do it like we did before."
Myn Donos reappeared. "Of course, Tavan Enterprises will assist in any way possible. For starters, I have several pilots in my employ now. Not Rogue quality," he grimaced, "but it is a beginning. When you have gotten organized, contact me and you can begin the selection process. Tavan out." The holo flicked off.
Hobbie sat back and linked his hands behind his head. "Well, it looks like Commander Square Corners is going pirate yet again." Tycho began to laugh.
Wedge gave them a look calculated to make the worst of Imp pilots flinch, but headed to the cockpit to enter the coordinates into the ship's navcomp.
Elscol Loro emerged from the ship with her blaster at the ready. She surveyed the area, searching for the people she knew would be nearby. As seconds passed and nothing happened, she lowered the weapon and called back, "No luck. They must have cleared out." Then she straightened very quickly as she felt the muzzle of a blaster rifle ram into her spine.
"Throw down any weapons and come out with your hands up. Slowly. We have you surrounded."
Very slowly, Elsocl turned to face her attacker. She saw a dark-complected man with a heavy jaw and a lined face projecting great age. She smiled, then brought up her hands. The man relaxed, only for a moment, but that was more than she needed. Grabbing the gun, she rammed it into the older man's midsection, causing him to double over in pain, then brought the butt of the weapon down onto his skull. Panting, he sank to the ground. She brought the weapon back up, positioning her back to the ship. Behind her, she heard Wes and Asyr descend cautiously.
The attack, when it came, was sudden and devastating. She was knocked to the ground as something green, alien, and immense slammed into her from the side. She heard Janson shout, and got the vague impression of a human female's foot coming down impossibly quickly, then everything went black.
She regained consciousness in a dimly lit, cold facility somewhere underground. A Devaronian male stood over her, and although he was smiling, his razor-sharp teeth did nothing to reassure her. She ran her tongue over her lips. "Where are the others?"
The Devaronian declined to answer her, instead pulling her to a sitting position and helping her out of the bed. She rose, and walked unaided through a door into a community room of some sort. Wes and Asyr sat at a table, and standing near a holoscreen was one of the most devastatingly handsome men she had ever seen.
"You're Garik Loran!"
He laughed, the last reaction she had expected. Wes stood and pulled out a seat. "Elscol, I think you'll want to sit down for this."
Tycho reported back to the mess. "They were definately here. I saw personal belongings, datapads, holos. Things you wouldn't leave behind." Wedge looked up from the projection he was reviewing. It was a list of the bare necessities that a fighting unit would need, and it was depressingly long. He buried his face in his hands. "Any idea who they may be?"
"Yes, actually. But I have to ask, would you like me to say it before or after I tell you the names?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, so you prefer after. Let me give you an inventory of one of the rooms: a collection of hand weapons, a gunner's manual to a combat snowspeeder," he paused as Wedge raised his head, then continued, "a wide assortment of honorary medals, and a stuffed Ewok."
"You're joking. That's impossible."
"I haven't finished yet. That was only one room. Another contained a small statuette of a krayt dragon, various holos of a particular wookiee, and an Imp Special Forces badge. The third,"
Shock rode freely on Wedge's face. He opened his mouth, but Tycho silenced him with a look.
"The third also had several Tatooinian articles, including a model R2 unit labeled "Jawaswag," as well as intrusion items, cosmetics, and a holo of Bothawuii. Are you ready for me to say it now?"
"Three Rogues? Alive? It can't be. How? We..."
Hobbie's shout interrupted Wedge's incoherent rambling. "We have a ship entering the base. Get ready, we have company." Wedge deliberately shut his mouth. "Go get that Ewok. Things are about to get back to normal."
Wes had been worried from the first sight of the Kuati vessel. He crept down the corridor, finding no sign of life, but refused to let his guard down. There it was... a rustling of cloth just ahead. He hit the floor as something came hurtling at him from the darkened room. He grabbed it out of reflex, then caught his breath. It was Kettch, with a note pinned to the front of the flight suit.
Yub-yub, Lieutenant. Just remember... you have the inventiveness, you have the skills, I have the resources."
Impossible is what Rogues do best...