770: Part 4
Rating: R
Gillian F. Taylor

Three days later, the smiles were gone. As soon as Corran and Iella had arrived at the apartment that evening, Wedge had known that something was seriously wrong. Iella enveloped him in a long hug, squeezing him as though trying to transfer some of her own strength into him. When she finally released him, he saw something strange in her face, like sympathy, though he couldn't imagine for what. Corran was trying to hide his feelings behind an expressionless mask, but that alone sent warning signals to Wedge's reflexes. Mirax had been subdued when she'd arrived back a few minutes earlier, and Wedge could guess why now. Corran must have commed her to break the news in advance. He was the only one who didn't know.

Once again they sat in what had become their accustomed places in the living room, Iella on the sofa beside Wedge, and Corran and Mirax in the chairs opposite. Mirax glanced towards the kitchenette, as though she wanted to delay the moment by offering drinks, but she was too direct to do such a thing. Wedge could see Corran summoning the courage to open the conversation, and spoke first.

"You've found out who altered the Lleyan file," he said. "Just tell me."

Corran took a deep breath and hesitated; he was having trouble looking Wedge in the eyes. Iella spoke up.

"Tycho."

Wedge turned sharply to look at her. His brain seemed to be having trouble processing the data she'd given him.

"Tycho?" he repeated.

Iella nodded, that look of sympathy clear in her brown eyes. "It was Tycho Celchu who altered your copy of the Lleyan file."

Wedge frowned, and looked across at Corran and Mirax. They wore similar expressions to Iella: sympathy, worry, anger. Wedge opened his mouth to speak, shut it, then tried again.

"Tycho? Tycho altered the file so I'd choose a school as a target? No! No, not Tycho!" He paused, fighting down panic. "How do you know it was Tycho? Have you got proof?"

Corran leaned forward and dropped a couple of data cards on the low table. "We worked out how long it was between you getting the Lleyan file from Intel, and you reading it and planning the attack. At that point, you and Tycho should have been the only people who even knew about that file. Only about five people would have been able to get at your datapad in that time span, and Tycho had the best opportunity."

Wedge had both hands curled into tight fists. "Why would you suspect him? He's my XO, my wingman, my best friend!" The last word came out as a desperate cry.

Iella took up the conversation. "At first we only considered him simply because he had the best opportunity. We thought we'd be eliminating him."

"I went to speak to him," Corran said. "I asked if he'd heard anything from you recently and what he thought about why you'd made such a mistake at Lleyan. Tycho said it had been a dreadful misjudgement on your part. He said he couldn't imagine how you'd made such a mistake. But he was lying, Wedge. I could sense it, feel it through the Force."

"When Corran told me that, I started to look more closely at Tycho's files," Iella said. "I found this." She handed a datapad to Wedge.

He took it and stared at the screen. The file opened was a list of buildings, with notes appended. After a few moments, it sunk in that these were civilian buildings in Gaudaron — libraries, schools, hospitals, sports arenas. Partway down the list he saw a set of co-ordinates that were burned into his memory. They were the position of a school, with the age-range and numbers of pupils listed in the description. The note linked to the description simply read 'looks like a factory — perfect'.

Wedge gasped as he read it, colour draining from his face. He let Iella take the datapad from his numb hand, barely aware of the words being spoken to him.

"I'm so sorry, Wedge. I wish we didn't have to tell you this."

"Wedge, Wedge — are you all right?"

"He's going to faint."

"I'll kill that kriffing Celchu myself!"

"Wedge!"

He jerked back to reality. Iella had her arm around his shoulders, supporting him as he shivered uncontrollably. Corran and Mirax were leaning over the low table; Mirax had her hand on his knee. Wedge let out a great groan, the only sound that could express his pain, and let Iella pull him against herself. He clung to her, letting her stroke his hair and whisper soothing noises, until the shivering died away.

"Wedge. Drink this."

He looked up to see Mirax offering him a glass of whiskey. Wedge stared at the glass with hungry eyes, but then bit down on his lip as he shook his head.

"Not now," he said, his voice rough. "I daren't."

Mirax's eyes widened as she understood, then she withdrew the glass. "Caf, then."

Iella released Wedge as he sat upright again. He took slow, deep breaths, trying to calm himself.

"Why ..." He looked across at Corran. "Why would Tycho ... betray ... me?" Pain stabbed at Wedge's heart as he spoke that blunt, ugly word.

Corran looked embarrassed. "I think he wanted to be Rogue Leader."

"He'd betray me just for that?" Wedge asked, bewildered. He shook his head.

"You've had that role a long time, Wedge," Corran said. "It's completely a part of who you are, so much so that you maybe don't realize how big a deal it might seem to someone else. Tycho trained at the Academy to be a leader, remember? Since he's got command of Rogue Squadron, he's been determined to show what kind of a leader he can be."

"If he wanted a command, he could have said so," Wedge protested. "I wanted him in Rogue Squadron, but I'd have recommended him for a command of his own if I'd known he'd wanted one. Admiral Ackbar would have agreed."

"He wants to be Rogue Leader," Corran repeated. "To lead the best; to be the best."

Mirax pushed a cup of caf into Wedge's hands, and sat down opposite him. "It's a bizarre kind of compliment really," she said. "Tycho's risked all this because he wants to show that he can do what you can do."

Wedge lifted the mug and sipped absently. Something in him kept wanting to deny the evidence before him. He didn't want to believe that it was Tycho who had tricked him into choosing a school as a target. That Tycho had been willing for innocent people, children, to die, in order to disgrace a friend and win a promotion. But it was true.

Even the warmth of the caf couldn't dispel the cold bleakness in Wedge's soul. He closed his eyes, and let the tears slide down his face as he wept silently for everything he had lost.

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