770: Part 2
Gillian F. Taylor
As well as the public spaces, the casinos, bars and shopping outlets, the Errant Venture also had small lounges, where deals could be made more privately. Booster Terrik stood just outside the doorway to one of these lounges, listening to the two men talking inside.
"We don't have nice, fleet-issued X-wings, we fly Uglies. Can you handle one of them?"
"I can fly anything." It wasn't a boast, just a simple statement of fact.
The first speaker made a sound of mild disbelief. "If I take you, you won't be the commander, Commander. You'll obey my orders at all times."
"I understand." The words were flat and dull.
"You'll swear an oath to it."
"Then I guess we've got a deal, Antilles."
Booster acted before the speaker finished his sentence. His long stride carried him into the small lounge and up to the table before the men sitting there could shake hands. Booster seized the taller man by the collar of his fancy tunic and hauled him to his feet.
"Juhani, take yourself and your miserable band of mynock-fodder pirates off the Venture right now, and don't come back in a hurry."
As Wedge started to rise, Booster glared at him. "You, sit." Wedge subsided back into his chair.
"Sithspawn, Terrik, what's this got to do with you?" Juhani demanded.
Juhani wasn't a small man, but Booster shook him effortlessly.
"Wedge isn't going to join your worthless band of trigger-happy scum while I'm alive and breathing," Booster growled. "I know why you're always after new pilots. You give them lousy ships to fly and expect them to do too much. How many have you lost this year? Seven, eight?"
Juhani scowled, but didn't make the futile effort of trying to break free from Booster's grip. "I thought Antilles here is supposed to be the best starfighter pilot in the galaxy."
"He is, but that won't keep him alive more than a year in the waste-of-materials you call starfighters."
Juhani looked across at Wedge. "Are you going to let Terrik make your decisions for you?"
Wedge stared at the whiskey bottle on the table and didn't answer. Booster shoved the pirate towards the door of the lounge.
"Get off my ship and stay away from Wedge Antilles."
Juhani straightened his tunic and departed, scowling.
Booster dropped into the seat opposite Wedge and poured himself a shot of the whiskey. He didn't offer Wedge any; once Wedge started drinking, he was likely to continue until he was unconscious. Now Wedge avoided the bars and casinos, salvaging some pride by staying sober as often as he could.
"If you want to commit suicide, Wedge, just put your blaster to your head and pull the trigger. It's more honest."
Wedge responded with a look of utter despair that tore at the older man's heart. Booster rose and moved to stand behind Wedge, placing his big hands on Wedge's shoulders. He squeezed gently, trying to soothe the tense muscles under his hands.
"You'll get through this, Wedge." His voice dropped to a bass rumble. "You're strong."
Wedge just sighed sadly, letting his head droop forwards.
"You've been through tough times before and survived," Booster said, shifting his grip so his thumbs were working on the top of Wedge's spine. "Remember how black things seemed after Jag and Zena died? You pulled through then and you'll do it again."
"I didn't cause their deaths," Wedge said quietly. "I put my grief into finding those who were responsible and killing them. This is different. Seven hundred and sixty eight people died on Lleyan and it was ultimately my fault. I screwed up on one target, and hundreds of people died."
Booster couldn't speak at first, choked up by the abject misery in Wedge's voice. His hands kept moving, kneading and massaging in a silent attempt to bring comfort to the young man he loved as a son. He'd known Wedge from the day he was born, but had never seen him so broken as he was now. It wasn't the loss of prestige or career that had shattered Wedge, it was the belief that he had failed in his duty. That Wedge had even considered joining Juhani's pirates told Booster how worthless Wedge felt himself to be. It wasn't just a slow way of committing suicide; for Wedge, it was the act of a man who had lost all honour.
There was silence for a minute, as Booster tried to push aside his fears for Wedge's future and concentrated on trying to find the words to help him. One of the last things Wedge had said popped into his mind.
"You said you made a mistake when you allocated the school as a target," Booster said. "How did that happen?"
"I don't know," Wedge said tiredly. "I swear it was in the intelligence file I had when I was planning the mission. But it wasn't there later. I must have mis-read something."
"That's not like you, Wedge, you're careful," Booster said. "I think that school was listed as a target in the file you used."
Wedge raised his head. "But it wasn't in the original file, and it wasn't there later," he repeated.
"Then somebody tampered with your copy," Booster said firmly.
Wedge turned in his seat, looking up at the older man in surprise.
"You've been too busy blaming yourself for making a mistake, to ask how come you made it in the first place," Booster said. "Those nerf-brains who court-martialled you should have asked that question."
As Booster looked down at Wedge, he finally saw hope in his eyes, and it was as welcome as rain on Tatooine.
* * * * *
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