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 over the memories--there were so many places where his life had been suddenly and immediately redirected, and he'd had to reevaluate himself to suit new circumstances. Now, the choices he had made since his return to the New Republic seemed a shockwave that threatened to catch him in its merciless grasp. Closing his weary eyes, he forced himself to remember why he had joined the Rebellion so many years before. Why? To avenge Alderaan? To soothe 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 files, 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, 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 harumphed loudly. "The Koensayer Y-Wing fighter isn't a ship you just adjust to. 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 more 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 crashed 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." Despite his usual reserve, 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 took a deep breath and 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 hanging 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 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 grimaced. "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, Larynn 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, all certain 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 Larynn's wingman. Tycho, your new partner is seated right over there." A sober, dark-haired woman 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."
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 held himself back from the banter that the rest seemed to delight in. Larynn slipped over and seated herself on the bench next to him.
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."
"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.
Tycho took a deep breath. He'd resolved not to, he'd told himself time and again that it would be a mistake, but for the third time in a single day he found himself confiding in a stranger.
"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. Larynn studied him carefully.
"When I was a little girl," she said 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. He reveled in it even as guilt consumed him. He'd spoken privately to the commander, to Hobbie and to his wingman as well, asking them not to reveal his Imperial origins. With the shame of his past well concealed, he felt free to begin his new life. 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 within seconds. 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. He saw Larynn glance over at him, then he realized that the pilot was heading his way.
"Tych, I can't pretend to know how you're feeling right now, and I can't tell you it'll just go away. I just wanted you to remember that we're here for you... you don't have to be alone in this."
Her words, intended to help, had stabbed deep into him. The reality was that he couldn't reach out. He was alone. None of the other pilots had actually served the Empire. Hobbie--well, he'd defected immediately after graduation, while Tycho himself had proudly flown with the Imperial Navy for three weeks after Alderaan's destruction. He stiffened, then spun as a mechanic rolled up a ladder; Larynn nodded at him and left. 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.
Looking back, he had been lucky. The run had gone smoothly, its greatest difficulty being a lack of space in the freighter. This they 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 speeders. 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 calling. 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 put down the unappetizing tray. "Guess you should've thought of that before you betrayed your squadron."
The door slammed, its metallic 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 thought of him resigning over one of the Empire's ploys--or worse, over him.... Tycho stopped pacing abruptly, grabbed the plate, and hurled it at the door.
"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?"
"C'mon, then. 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--as he approached the game.
"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 closed door.
"What do you think'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 when Luke never showed up."
"I heard. Literally. It wasn't Wedge's fault, though. 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, wallowing pigs," Wes muttered. Hobbie stopped to glare 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. Luke 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 opening and Luke striding out. He didn't look at the knot of pilots as he passed.
"Luke!" Hobbie rose and followed him, Janson close behind. No one emerged from the office. Tycho looked back at the trio, then 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."
Tycho stepped back, trying to reconcile the good news with the officer's reaction. "Uhh, well, congratulations sir..."
"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 just how that's going to happen, since you seem so ready to give advice."
A thousand possible reactions crossed his mind, but only one seemed to fit. He sat and placed his feet on the desk, then smirked 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."
Tycho grinned at the memory. Although each promotion had been fought tooth and nail, Wedge had become 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 Tycho had been accepted by Hobbie and the others, Wedge had remained aloof. 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 imminent, 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 noteworthy individual. 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 a battered projection console, then turned to face the assembled pilots.
When he spoke, his voice was heavy, precise.
"We are currently in transit to the Sullust system. When we get there, we will position our fighters 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 aboard a second Death Star."
Whatever reaction the commander expected hadn't happened. An expression that eerily resembled hope swept across his face as he continued with the details of the briefing.
"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, Celchu, 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. 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 someone 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. Have the fusial dampers for your fighter come in yet?" At Tycho's scowl, 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."
It was odd, in retrospect. None of them had really expected to survive the battle--Tycho knew Janson had even developed the "Theory of A Pilot's Life" in response to it. Why had Wedge chosen then to let down his guard? Choosing to leave the question unanswered, he thought back to Endor.
After the battle and its ensuing celebration they'd staggered into the Mon Remonda's lounge--sleep was still impossible.
Wes and Hobbie were the only survivors from Blue Wing, although how they'd managed that they didn't know. Tycho had stayed with Wedge until within the Death Star itself, when he and another pilot had led their pursuers through endless miles of tunnels and corridors, eventually finding their way out only seconds before the explosion. The explosion itself, of course, was the result of Wedge's torpedo.
They hadn't said much. He remembered being incapable of realizing that the Emperor, who had been the focus of his life, either as a hero or an enemy, for almost a decade, was dead. Even now it left a strange, hollow feeling in his chest. None of the others had seemed as affected by the fact, although Hobbie had been even quieter than was his wont. Wedge had even been ready to pick up and fly a routine scouting mission the next day.
Exhaustion swept over him. The historians referred to Endor as the Rebellion's greatest day--the day the Empire died and the New Republic was born. He disagreed. There had still been fighting to do... starting the next day, with the Ssi-ruuk, and then Sate Pestage, and Isard, and the all the little Imperial remnants who chose to continue the Empire's fight personally. The fight--it was still going on. And he was stuck in this cell, because they thought he would willingly betray what he had worked so hard to help create. He was so tired of fighting--of always escaping by the slimmest of margins. There would be no dodging the odds this time.
The door again slid open and Voleyy entered. Tycho lazily rolled his head--he had finally decided that there could be no future for him, and therefore no reason to display any curiosity. His interest peaked, though, when he saw the package in the guard's hands, and he sat up.
"You've got a message," the man grunted. "Can't take you out of the cell, so I've got to bring the machine to you." He tossed the box on the cot and left.
Utterly bemused, Tycho toyed with the message card. He was relatively certain that someone in his position should not be allowed messages--which begged the question of who the sender could be. He knew he didn't have any family, and his friends were mostly militarily isolated, which left his options rather limited. Taking a deep breath, he inserted the card and pressed the button. The message screen popped up, all of the tracing information canceled out by "TOP SECRET" stamps. It was followed by a crest he'd never seen before: the aurebesh "c" and "s" symbols imposed in green over a black curved blade. Finally, the projection resolved itself into two seated figures. They sat in an austure room-blank walls, plain chairs. No indication whatsoever of where they were. Tycho resisted the urge to laugh. How had Janson and Hobbie managed this?
"Surprised?" Wes Janson's grin was refreshing. "Hope you like the party decorations--we're under strict orders not to disclose our location. Stupid precautions for the bureaucrats. Anyway, we heard that you'd gotten yourself into a mess and..."
Hobbie broke in. "And we thought you could use someone to let you know it."
Hmmm. As predictable as those two ever were. The projection flickered off for a moment, but the sound of a new voice came through.
"Captain Klivian? You're needed in the hanger. The Corsairs just returned."
"I'll be right there. Wes, take over. Hey, Tych--I know you can hear me. Take care of yourself. If the Death Star couldn't beat you, there's no reason why this should."
The projection snapped back on, revealing a sober-looking Janosn. "Sorry about that. Listen--Hobbie and I know you're innocent. You just can't fly with a guy for five years and not know who he is. And--we've discussed this--we're willing to back Wedge up, no matter what happens."
Wes's expression became sardonic.
"The New Republic may have lost its mind, but you've still got friends in it. You aren't even supposed to be allowed messages 'til the trial, but... well, we got in touch with an old friend of yours who pulled some strings. She's not too happy with you right now, you know. If you ask me, it's because you keep dying on her. If you ask her, well, I don't think I'd want to. Damned if she isn't the princess, though."
Wes winked deliberately. "Anyway, I guess I'd better make my point. That night in the cave on Cilpar, I know I pressured you about being an Imp. I've never apologized. I know you've been guilty about your past, but don't be. You're a good man, Tych--a good pilot and a patriot. Of course, you tell anyone I said that and you'll be target practice." Wes grinned again, then the holo flickered and died.
A bit overwhelmed, Tycho contemplated the wall of his cell. He and Hobbie had gotten along well from the start... Wedge-- well he could almost read Wedge's thoughts... but Janson had been different. All along Tycho had been afraid of having his Imperial background revealed, had been afraid it would cast doubt on his loyalties, and he'd been right.
It was no secret that Janson's attitude had soured after Bakura. He had been with the Rebellion longer than any of them, first at Tierfon, then at Yavin and on until Endor. The death of the Emperor there, and later the truce with the Empire as they fought off the Ssi-ruuk, had raised his hopes of a final peace. With the return of hostilities came a dark mood that had lasted for weeks. He'd stormed and yelled about insignificant details and fired endless rounds into practice dummies--not that Janson ever needed target practice to sharpen his lethal skill with a blaster.
The situation came to a head one night in the ready room. They'd just returned from a patrol and found their usual hanger space occupied by a Bakuran shuttle. The techs had mentioned that Captain Petr Thanas was meeting with the captain of the ship. Janson had snorted loudly and walked away. The rest followed silently--Wedge had asked them to give Wes plenty of room for the sake of unit cohesion. A locker slammed and an angry Wes strode around the corner.
"What the hell's wrong with Fleet? It's bad enough that we haven't tried Thanas for war crimes and spaced him, but now they're parading him around like a conquering hero!"
Hobbie stripped his gloves and boots. "I don't know what you're talking about. Thanas hasn't done anything since he came over. And..."
He silenced Janson's interruption. "And there's no point in holding him responsible for anything he did as an Imp. He's one of us now. He surrendered to Luke, remember?"
Janson emitted a sound somewhere between a cough and a howl. "That's just it," he ground out. "He's not one of us. And I can't just forget those allies of ours turning and firing. Do you remember that? You can't trust the damned Imps. They're all liars and traitors by nature, or they wouldn't be there."
"Hold it-- you're just not making sense, Wes. I was at Prebsvelt IV, so was Biggs." Hobbie unzipped his flight suit. "You don't think we're traitors, do you?" There was a thin edge to his voice.
The moment was broken by the sound of a locker slamming. Tycho unapologetically left his gear and headed for the showers. Wedge shot Janson a warning look, then headed after him.
"What's the matter with him?"
"Besides the fact that you're being a stellar-class idiot? Why don't you think about it, Wes. Why doesn't Tycho ever talk about his past? Why wasn't he on Alderaan? Why does he know how to fly any blasted ship in the galaxy?"
"How should I know, and what difference should it make?"
Completely exasperated, Hobbie stared him down. "Tycho was an Imp pilot, Wes. Grow up and realize that people change."
Just around the corner Tycho had a death grip on the refresher's sink. He clearly heard Hobbie's damning confession, and forced himself to look up at his commanding officer. He wasn't sure what he expected to see-- disgust? condemnation? an utter lack of trust? Worst of all, he was completely aware that he deserved it.
Wedge was leaning against the wall, face blank.
"Well, what do you want? My resignation? Immediate request for transfer?"
"Why didn't you tell me when I assumed command?" He sounded curious, not accusing.
"I didn't want to--I thought that if I proved myself loyal first, then I could let everyone know later, when there wouldn't be suspicion. Then, it felt like I was betraying everyone, like I couldn't tell because no matter what I do to escape it, the reality is that I was a loyal Imperial officer. I had no problem flying against the enemy, was quite willing to shoot them down. They weren't worthy of my respect or consideration. Then Alderaan died, and I realized that I couldn't blame it on dissidents and rebels. However much I despised my planet's involvement with the movement--I knew it wouldn't get us anywhere to fight the power structure--it was clear that the Empire destroyed it, coldly and without regard to the citizens it was sworn to protect. I knew immediately that I would never be able to remain with the Navy, I knew that my future was with the Rebels. I can't expect you to understand or even to try to, and I know that I'd be unlikely to believe it myself. I am a Rebel, Wedge. I didn't want my past to get in the way of that."
It was silent. Tycho seemed wrung out, completely exhausted.
"For what it's worth, I knew. It's in your file, and Luke told me about it when you came in, anyway. It didn't seem worth mentioning, and the need never really came up. Tycho, I have no doubts about your loyalty. Nothing will change that. Not only that, you are a Rogue, and you'll stay one until you decide to leave. Our new pilots arrive tomorrow, and I'm sure things will pick up from there. You might try leaving Wes alone to stew this over. He'll be fine, once he thinks about it."
Wedge had said more, in the form of telling Janson in no uncertain terms to drop the subject. Which he hadn't, of course. Still, the issue had eventually faded into the background, with more immediate issues like survival commanding the new squadron's attention. In his heart, Tycho knew that he'd found his place--like Wedge had said, he was a Rogue, and nothing would change that.
The alienation that he'd felt earlier drained out of him. He had a place and a responsibility, and his faith in the outcome of the trial had become postive. He was innocent, and his fellow Rogues would believe that regardless. And that, in fact, was what he'd been looking for all along.
(Thank you, I hope you enjoyed the story. Again, if you have questions about things I've written here, you're welcome to consult my F.A.Q. or to email me at email@example.com)