Fit to Command
This story takes place in Csillag's own personal timeline thus fitting in between my stories: Escape from Hoth and The Rescue. I've also indulged my penchant for filling in some more things that happened off-screen during and immediately following ESB.
Wedge Antilles walked the corridors of Home One, the Mon Calamari flagship of the Rebel fleet, in a daze. Just a few days ago, a large portion of the fighting strength of the Rebel Alliance had been stationed on the remote ice world of Hoth, but the Empire had found them and tried to destroy them. There had been heavy casualties, but the bulk of the personnel and equipment had been evacuated successfully and the transports had rendezvoused with the rest of the fleet. Only in the vast darkness of intergalactic space far beyond the galactic rim could they hope to hide and be able to build up their strength for the next confrontation with the Empire.
The frantic departure from Hoth was not what troubled Wedge, however. Just before he left the Hoth system escorting the last transport, Wedge had received a recorded transmission from Luke. He had expected Luke to follow them to the rendezvous, but in the message, Luke had said that a vision of his first Jedi teacher had directed him to go to the Dagobah system and find a Jedi Master named Yoda - that it was absolutely vital to do so. Luke had asked Wedge to tell Mon Mothma where he'd gone and why and that he would get to the rendezvous as soon as he could. He was also supposed to tell Princess Leia and Han Solo about Luke's change in plans.
That was part of what troubled him and everyone else in the fleet. The Princess and Solo were missing; they had not arrived with the other transports from Hoth. Wes Janson had reported briefly seeing the Falcon being chased through the asteroid field by TIE fighters and at least three star destroyers before his group made their jump to lightspeed. Solo was a crack pilot, but could he have avoided being pulverized in that asteroid belt and eluded the TIEs and star destroyers? He was a Corellian and had a knack for beating odds, but it seemed highly unlikely. When the fleet had been informed that the Princess was missing, it seemed as if some of the fire had gone out of everyone. She had not started the Rebellion, but she had definitely been a source of inspiration to the Alliance.
What was of more immediate concern to Wedge was that Luke had, at least temporarily until his return, passed the leadership of Rogue Squadron to him. He had only been Rogue Squadron's executive officer for one day and a lieutenant for even less than a day. After he had given Luke's message to Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar, the Admiral had promoted him to brevet captain and confirmed his position as Rogue Leader, despite his youth and lack of command experience.
Wedge had also just received orders from the Admiral which transferred what was left of Rogue Squadron to Home One as one of its fighter units. Privately, Admiral Ackbar had told Wedge that it was because Wedge was, in spite of his very junior status, one of the few people who was completely in the picture regarding Luke's current whereabouts (even though they didn't know where Luke actually was). He'd also indicated that he had plans for Rogue Squadron that he would elaborate upon at a later time. In the meantime, Admiral Ackbar had given Wedge authorization to recruit pilots from throughout the fleet to replace those that had been lost at Hoth.
"Calling Captain Antilles. Calling Captain Antilles." Wes Janson had his hands cupped around his mouth and pretended to be speaking through a megaphone.
Wedge realized that Wes had actually been trying to get his attention for some time. He stopped and turned to face him, "I'm sorry, Wes. I was thinking."
Janson grinned, "Dangerous proposition, thinking. What about?"
"A lot. Admiral Ackbar has ordered what's left of Rogue Squadron assigned here to Home One for starters."
"Nothing wrong with that, is there?"
"Well, no, but there is a lot more. Let's find Tycho and Tarrin and go visit Hobbie."
"Good idea. He's been driving me crazy calling me on my comlink every fifteen minutes. He hates being cooped up in the Medcenter and not knowing what's going on."
"Well, he's going to get an earful. I have a lot to tell all of you, but it has to be kept quiet; at least for the timebeing."
"Sounds intriguing, Wedge. Let's go."
Hobbie Klivian was Wes Janson's best friend, but all of them had been very concerned about him until the medics had brought him out of the Bacta and let them know that Hobbie would be fully recovered in a few more days. He had been badly injured during the battle on Hoth, but retreating ground troops had pulled him out of his speeder and carried him to one of the transports. Now Hobbie was resting more or less comfortably in a small room aboard the medical frigate Redemption. Wedge, Wes, Tycho and Tarrin were crowded into the room around the hospital bed.
Janson's baby face wore a big grin, "So, Hobbie. Any luck with the nurses yet?"
Hobbie's perpetually mournful expression was partly hidden by Bacta bandages, but his eyes held a cheerful glint that the Rogues took as a good sign, "More than you might think. Injured pilots are considered heroes around here. You should try getting banged up. You might actually get a date."
Janson snorted in response, but Wedge forestalled any further reply.
"We're all glad you're feeling better, Hobbie" he said. "Are you up to getting some squadron business taken care of?"
The others in the room looked at Wedge a little surprised, but Hobbie answered, "Sure, Wedge. What's happening?"
"Tycho, check the hallway then have my R2 unit come in here."
Tycho did as Wedge asked and all of them crowded a little closer to make room for the little droid.
Wedge looked around the room at each of them, "There's something you need to hear. Other than the Provisional Council, you're the first ones to hear this. R2, play Luke's message from yesterday."
The little droid beeped compliance and played the message, "Wedge, I'm sorry that I have to mislead you about following you to the rendezvous. There isn't enough time to explain much, but there is something I have to do first. I have to go to the Dagobah system. I know it sounds crazy, but when I was out in the blizzard before Han found me, I had a vision. I saw Ben Kenobi; he told me to go to Dagobah and find a Jedi Master named Yoda. It is absolutely vital for me to find him. I don't know how long I'll be gone, but I will get to the rendezvous. Tell Leia and Han and Mon Mothma where I've gone and why, and that I will be there as soon as I can. I heard General Rieekan put you in charge of the squadron when I went down on Hoth. Let the guys know that I will be back, but I have to do this first. You will do great as Rogue Leader while I'm away. May the Force be with you. Luke Skywalker, out."
For several moments there was absolute silence in the room, then Tarrin said, "So that's why you had to report straight to Home One when we got here. I wondered why Luke didn't show up after us."
"Yes, Tarrin. That's why. There's more, though."
"Obviously," said Wes, the usual grin on his face. "You're sporting captain's pips, but the morning of the battle Luke had only just given you the lieutenant's pip." He gestured at the small metal rank insignia on Wedge's uniform. "Two promotions in one day; that has to be some kind of record."
As soon as the initial shock of his second promotion in a single day had worn off, Wedge had decided to tell his fellow Rogues everything he knew about Luke and about Princess Leia and Han Solo's disappearance and Admiral Ackbar's personal interest in Rogue Squadron. Unfortunately, it wasn't much.
"That's right, Wes. At the meeting with Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, and General Madine, the Admiral promoted me to brevet captain and confirmed my being in charge of the squadron until Luke comes back. You all know him as well as I do so we can count on him coming back, but there is no way of knowing when that will be." He paused for a moment. "As far as the Princess is concerned, there still hasn't been any word that I've heard about."
He took a deep breath and held it for a moment. "As soon as the Brass can get some kind of count of the number of people we lost at Hoth, there is going to be a fleet-wide memorial service for them. We're really going to miss Dack and Zev and the others, but I'm glad you're still with us, Hobbie."
Tycho had been quiet up to this point, but now he spoke up, "That still isn't everything, is it, Wedge?"
"Very perceptive, Tycho," Wedge answered. "No, it isn't. The Admiral has given me authorization to recruit pilots from throughout the fleet to rebuild Rogue Squadron after our losses at Hoth. He's got plans for us." He turned to Tarrin, "That's why you're here, Tarrin. Would you be interested in transferring from freighter driver duty to flying with Rogue Squadron?"
"Like you really need to ask him that, Wedge..." Wes snorted.
Tarrin just gaped for a moment in disbelief, "Me?" then whooped, "Would I like to join Rogue Squadron?! Of course, I want to join! Thanks, Wedge."
"Shhh! We don't need to be broadcasting all over the fleet." Wedge said. "Everything in Luke's message and what we've been talking about is strictly squadron business by Admiral Ackbar's orders. Understood?"
The door started to open, but was blocked by Wedge's R2 unit. A female voice came from the other side of the door, "What's going on here?" A pretty red-headed nurse stuck her head around the door. She spotted Wedge and noted his rank, "I'm sorry, Captain, but Derek needs to rest and he shouldn't have so many visitors at once."
Wedge smiled as he answered, "Yes, ma'am. We were just going." He turned back to Hobbie for a moment, "We'll see you later, Hobbie. Come on, guys. We've got work to do."
The rest of the Rogues left Hobbie's room, but Wes stayed a moment longer, "Derek needs to rest?" he said repeating the pretty nurse's words and tone of voice and winking at Hobbie. "I'll just bet he does."
On their return to Home One, Wedge located an unoccupied conference room and the four Rogues continued their discussion.
"Wes, you said that you had seen the Falcon being chased through the asteroid field at Hoth, right?"
"That's right. Solo was flitting that junk heap of his around pretty well, but how long could he keep it up? They're either so much space dust or they found a place to hide."
"Found a place to hide? From a bunch of star destroyers?" Tarrin said raising an eyebrow.
"Sure. Some hole they could crawl into long enough to do some quick and dirty emergency repairs. Han and Chewie are masters at those," Wes said leaning back in a stretch with his hands behind his head.
Wedge nodded, "They are. So we had better hope that those star destroyers decided that the asteroids would take care of them."
He paused for a moment, but just as he was about to bring up a new subject, the door to the conference room swished open and Admiral Ackbar stepped in, "Ah, here you are, Captain. How is your injured pilot?"
Wedge and the other Rogues stood and came to attention as the Admiral came into the room. He was startled at how well-informed the Admiral was, "Fine, Sir. He's out of the Bacta and resting comfortably. He should be released in a couple of days."
"Good. I wanted to speak to you and your pilots personally about what I have in mind for you."
"Please, Sir, join us," Wedge said indicating a place at the head of the table.
Ackbar came around and sat down waving the Rogues back to their seats, "Sit, gentlemen." He turned to Wedge, "What have you told them so far, Captain?"
"Sir, the four of us and my R2 unit paid Hobbie a visit over on the Redemption. I felt that they needed to have all the information about Luke so I had R2 play the entire message. I believe we are all certain that Luke will return to the fleet when his own ... mission is completed. Other than tapping Tarrin here as our first replacement pilot, that is really as far as we've gotten."
Tycho raised his hand, "Excuse me, Sir. Have any of our intelligence units picked up any information about Princess Leia?"
Wedge nodded at Tycho, "Sir, Tycho is also from Alderaan, but I imagine that the entire fleet is bombarding you with the same question."
Ackbar turned one large amber eye in Tycho's direction and the other at Wedge, "You're right. Everyone on every ship in the fleet is asking about her and many are offering to go looking for her. Unfortunately, we cannot risk the security of this fleet with such a search. We must try to be patient and trust that Captain Solo is a skilled enough pilot to elude the Empire and join us here."
After another brief silence, Ackbar continued, "That was not why I came here, though. I wanted to discuss the future of Rogue Squadron."
Wedge and the others were puzzled, "The future of the squadron, Sir?"
"Yes. Commander Narra, before he was killed at Derra IV, had sent Starfighter High Command a proposal for a new type of fighter unit; one that had no set mission profile, but could be used in many different capacities. The author of that proposal was one Captain Luke Skywalker." Ackbar turned both of his wide-set eyes on Wedge, "The proposal is a good one and I want Rogue Squadron to become this unit. Do you agree?"
Wedge swallowed hard and nodded, "Yes Sir. Luke and I had batted the idea around while we were on Hoth. We had even developed some simulator scenarios and tried them out. I didn't know that he had written it up and submitted it, though."
"Interesting," the admiral mused. "The co-author of the proposal was Wedge Antilles."
Wedge was speechless. The others tried, unsuccessfully, to keep from laughing at his surprised expression.
Ackbar continued, the barabels around his wide mouth twitching with amusement, "I showed the proposal to General Madine as well. He was also impressed, although the comment he actually made was 'Fighter jockeys aren't noted for blending into the background so that they can execute covert missions. Their talents run more toward blowing up the scenery.'"
The Rogues chuckled at that, but kept their attention on the Admiral.
"Captain, I want you to continue to recruit new pilots until you have a full roster. For the timebeing, you will just be one of our normal fighter units. You will rotate with the other squadrons in the fleet flying perimeter patrols and you will have the opportunity to fly combat exercises to bring the unit up to fighting form. At the appropriate time, you will be given additional training for your future missions. Starfighter Command has been briefed on Luke's proposal for your unit and have agreed to your being semi-attached to Fleet Command in your new role. You will report to me when you begin your additional 'activities'. Until then you will still report to Starfighter Command. "
"Yes Sir," Wedge answered.
"As far as recruiting the remainder of your replacement pilots, you have my authorization, yes?"
Wedge held up the datapad that had been on the table in front of him, "Yes Sir."
"Good. I would advise using extreme discretion in contacting the pilots. Do it in person, if you can, but review their security clearance beforehand. I believe you humans have an expression, 'trust your gut'. I agree with it, but it is best to have as much information as possible."
Ackbar stood and the Rogues followed suit, "I will speak with you again soon, Captain."
After the Admiral left them, Wedge and the others worked out a division of labor within their ranks to accomplish the tasks the Admiral had given them. Wedge had quickly drawn up a list of pilots that he knew personally and asked Wes and Tarrin to do the same. Then he had Wes and Tarrin do the personnel record and security checks on them that Admiral Ackbar had suggested. Meanwhile, he and Tycho casually began visiting the pilots and other acquaintances on the various ships where they were billeted. Ostensibly, these visits were to introduce Tycho, a newcomer to the Alliance, to a broad cross-section of Alliance personnel. In reality, Wedge was taking the Admiral's advice regarding 'consulting his gut' about each potential addition to the squadron.
The whole recruiting process took a couple of weeks, but Hobbie was discharged from the Medcenter after a few days and was able to help with the culling process. Wedge often compared his gut reaction to particular pilots with Tycho's and found that they almost always agreed on the ones they found questionable. When they compared their gut reactions to Wes and Tarrin's records searches, there was an uncanny correlation between the ones they had found questionable and the personnel records that indicated potential problems.
By common agreement, Wedge's group did not add any negative notations to the files of the personnel they chose not to ask about joining the squadron, even when they were sorely tempted. Wedge quietly contacted the pilots who had met the requirements, but stressed that their current commanding officers had to agree to the transfer as well. He also contacted the commanding officers; once they saw Admiral Ackbar's authorization for the recruitment effort, they did not object too strenuously. More than one commander was surprised, however, to see such an authorization in the hands of a relatively junior officer and did call the Admiral to verify it.
After another few days spent shuffling the pilots and their fighters and support personnel around within the fleet and running numerous simulator missions, the newly reconstituted Rogue Squadron was almost ready for action. Wedge called a squadron briefing to make wingman assignments and prepare them for their first rotation flying perimeter patrol for the fleet.
The pilots had reported to the briefing room as scheduled and were chattering with excitement. Wedge rapped on the lectern at the front of the room, "Let's get down to business. I am grateful that you new Rogues were willing to join us and even more grateful that your previous commanders were willing to let you go. Although, let's face it; it's awfully hard to say 'no' to an Admiral."
The pilots chuckled, but Wes said, "Nah, they were happy to see 'em go."
Groans and crumpled paper flew at him.
"Pipe down, Wes. Here's how the squadron will be broken down into Flights: I lead One Flight, Hobbie leads Two Flight, and Wes leads Three Flight. Your squadron designations and wingman assignments are now in your datapads. As you can see, those match up to the simulations you've flown over the last few days. Our assignment is pretty basic: at 18:00 hours we will take over the perimeter patrol from Nighthawk Squadron. We fly a flattened spherical course around the whole fleet as wingpairs separated enough to cover as much of it as we can at an average distance of 1000 kilometers from the fleet. The patrol lasts four hours, but we stay on station until we're relieved by ... Wampa Squadron? Wes!" Wedge had missed Janson's sending his datapad that little tidbit.
"Gotcha, Wedge!" Janson grinned from ear to ear and the other Rogues laughed.
Wedge glared at Wes, "You'll pay for that!" he said mock-seriously. "We'll be relieved by Starburst Squadron at 22:00 hours. I want all of you to report to the hangar two hours before we're due to go out. I want to make sure all our fighters are in top condition before we go. Understood?"
"All right, then. Dismissed till 16:00 hours in the hangar."
The new Rogues filed out of the briefing room, but the core group stayed.
"Wedge, we need to talk," Hobbie said coming around the lectern. "You are running yourself ragged."
"I've got to run this squadron," Wedge protested.
Hobbie put his hands on Wedge's shoulders and pushed him down into a chair. "You have us to help you, if you'll let us."
"Other than letting us wade through all that security stuff while we were screening pilots, you've been doing all the work," Tarrin said. "You did the initial contacts with the pilots; you argued with their commanding officers; you argued with the quartermasters, the deck officers and the mechanics when the pilots and their ships were shuffled around."
"You even had to face down that idiot, Vordan, when he found out what you were doing. And you haven't gotten nearly enough sleep since all this started," Wes added. "Not that we think you've gotten cranky or anything, mind you."
His normally cheerful expression also showed genuine concern for his friend. "We were thinking of reporting to Admiral Ackbar that you've driven yourself to exhaustion and that he should order you to report to the medical frigate for an enforced rest, but Hobbie didn't want to risk your putting the moves on that cute red-headed nurse who took pity on him." The infectious grin on Wes's face took any sting out of his words.
Hobbie snorted, but Wes ignored him and continued, "Instead, we've decided that you need an executive officer. You knew how to delegate on Hoth, but you've forgotten so we've decided to remind you."
"And who is this unfortunate person?" Wedge asked scrubbing a hand over his face and rubbing his eyes.
Wes, Hobbie, and Tarrin exchanged decidedly mischievous looks, "We've nominated Tycho. He's got the temperament for it."
Tycho immediately protested, "But I've just barely joined the squadron!"
Tarrin grinned, "Well, you're more senior in it than I am."
Wedge slumped back in the chair, "They're right, Tycho. I do need an executive officer, especially if we're eventually going to be that special unit the Admiral wants. And you are the right one for the job, too. You have the right gut instincts when it comes to choosing pilots."
Tycho slumped into the chair next to Wedge, "If you say so."
"Cheer up, Tycho. You're only stuck with the job till Luke gets back; then I get bumped back down to XO and you're off the hook."
"Nope," Hobbie said glancing at Wes and Tarrin again. "We've talked that over too. Even when Luke gets back, the kind of unit the Admiral wants? The XO still needs an XO. You're stuck, Tycho."
Confounded by superior logic, Wedge conceded defeat, "All right, guys. Are you through with me now?"
"Sure, Wedge; as long as you go take a nap before our patrol."
The Rogues, new and old, reported to their hangar on schedule and all ships checked out both according to the mechanics' reports and the pilots' personal inspections. During their 'meet and greet' trips around the fleet, Wedge and Tycho had found the chief mechanic who had looked after Rogue Squadron's X-wings and snowspeeders on Hoth. The Chief had told Wedge that they had lost a couple of the other mechanics who had been in his crew on Hoth, but that most of them had survived and been evacuated. Wedge had promptly used the little pull he had to get them all assigned back to Rogue Squadron aboard Home One. He was very pleased to be working with familiar personnel, and he was especially pleased that Cubber Daine was one of the mechanics who had survived. Cubber had stayed up all night with the Rogues working on the snowspeeders so that they could be ready to go out and search for Han and Luke when they had been lost out in the blizzard on Hoth.
As soon as the Rogues' mechanics were billeted on Home One, they had gone down to the hangar and started working on the fighters. The mock animosity between mechanics and pilots was still there, but it was obvious to everyone that the verbal barbs they lobbed at one another were strictly for the sake of appearance. There was a real bond of trust between them that was rare even in the Alliance. Wedge smiled to himself as he climbed into his fighter. This newest incarnation of the Rogues had yet to fly an actual mission together, but they were already a more cohesive unit than many he'd seen flying together much longer. Admiral Ackbar will get his special fighter unit out of this group he thought to himself.
Wedge keyed his comm unit to the squadron's frequency, "All right, Rogues. We'll fly out to rendezvous with Nighthawk Squadron in formation, officially change the guard, then break by Flights and wingpairs to take up our patrol positions."
By turns, they acknowledged him, then he switched to the hangar deck's frequency, "Rogue Squadron requesting permission to depart for assigned patrol."
His helmet speaker squawked, "Rogue Squadron cleared to depart."
"Okay, Rogues. Let's go." Slowly, the repulsorlifts floated the fighters off the deck; maneuvering jets pushed them through the magnetic containment field and away from the huge ship they now called home. "Flights in Delta pattern; One, center front; Two, port; Three, starboard. Course 245 mark 3. We wouldn't want the Nighthawks to think we're new at this, would we?"
The Flight leaders acknowledged, and Wedge could easily hear their chuckles through the static of the transmission.
The brief flight out to the patrol perimeter went without incident. Wedge called the Nighthawks' squadron leader on the Fleet frequency, "Rogue Lead to Nighthawk Lead."
"Nighthawk Lead." Wedge's comm squawked back in his ear.
"We're here to relieve you for perimeter patrol."
"Copy, Rogue Lead. It's quiet as a tomb out here. Shouldn't be any problem for you kids."
Nighthawk Lead was only a few years older than the Rogues, but he had been leading his squadron longer. Wedge ignored the little jibe; it hadn't meant anything anyway.
"Acknowledged, Nighthawk Lead. An easy patrol is fine with us. Just leave us a fresh pot of caf."
"Copy that, Rogue Lead. Nighthawks heading in." A single click signaled the end of their exchange.
The rest of Nighthawk Squadron formed up on their Lead then they darted away back toward the fleet.
"All right, Rogues. Once around the block in formation. We'll drop off by flights the next time around."
Before they could acknowledge his order, Wedge's sensors squawked. The cockpit monitor indicated that a ship was about to emerge from hyperspace. It did a moment later, right in front of them. It was a Correllian stock light freighter -- a very battered, very familiar looking freighter... and its shields were not raised.
Wedge was startled for a moment. Although he had hoped along with everyone else in the fleet that Han would be able to elude the star destroyers Vader had chasing the Falcon, its reappearance at that particular moment was the last thing he expected to see. Then his comm unit beeped indicating that it was receiving a transmission, "This is the Millenium Falcon. Request permission to board the medical frigate immediately."
Wedge frowned; the voice emanating from his helmet speaker was wrong. Even as agitated as it sounded there was a suave, urbane quality to it. It was definitely not Han Solo's voice. Wedge was not about to allow spies or saboteurs to approach the fleet no matter what the condition of the passengers, "Rogue Lead to incoming ship. Identify yourself immediately and provide security codes or we will fire."
As soon as Wedge had heard the stranger's voice coming from the Falcon, he had locked the S-foils of his fighter into attack position. He noted with grim satisfaction that the rest of the squadron had done the same without being instructed to do so. His R2 unit had already provided a firing solution for his proton torpedoes, but the Falcon's shields remained down. A quick look at his sensors indicated that the rest of the Rogues also had their weapons trained on the ship.
The stranger's voice came through his comm system again, "I said, this is the Millenium Falcon. We need to get to the medical frigate right away. Luke is badly injured."
The stranger still hadn't given the security code that would have permitted Wedge to allow them to approach the fleet, but this time he had heard an anxious Wookie's growl in the background.
Hobbie's agitated voice crackled from Wedge's helmet speaker not bothering with communication protocols, "Wedge, that was Chewie. He wouldn't let anyone near that ship who didn't belong there. If Luke is hurt, we need to get him to help."
"I know that, Hobbie," Wedge answered also abandoning comm protocols, "but I'm damned if I'll be the one that lets a saboteur or spy near the fleet."
He was torn between his duty to protect the fleet and the Alliance and his wish to get his friend to medical help as quickly as possible. Then the decision was taken out of his hands. Another voice crackled out of his helmet speaker, "You see, Wedge, I was right. You are doing right by the Rogues and the Alliance." The voice sounded weak, but Wedge instantly recognized it as Luke's.
Before he could respond, another voice, a woman's voice, taut with worry, but instantly recognizable, cut across Luke's. "Wedge, Luke is badly hurt. We've got to get him to the medical frigate now."
As soon as Wedge heard Leia's voice, elation chased away all his doubts, but not the urgency of the situation. "Right away, Your Highness. We'll escort you in." He switched to the squadron's frequency. "Wes, Hobbie. Your Flights stay out here and continue the patrol. One Flight will take them in. I'll let you know how he is as soon as I can. Out." He switched back to the Falcon. "Chewie, follow us in. I'm calling the fleet now to tell them we're heading straight for the Redemption." A slightly less anxious Wookie roar answered him.
Wedge flipped a switch on his comm unit to contact the fleet. "Home One. This is Rogue Lead declaring a medical emergency. I'm escorting the Millenium Falcon to the medical frigate. Luke is aboard and badly injured. Have a trauma team waiting in the landing bay. The Princess is also aboard and safe."
A communications officer from Home One responded. "Acknowledged, Rogue Lead. Trauma team standing by in Redemption's landing bay." Static couldn't drown out the whoops of joy Wedge heard behind the comm officer's voice.
The other three fighters in his Flight maintained position flying close to the Redemption, but Wedge followed the Falcon into the landing bay. The trauma team and a security detail were already aboard the Falcon by the time Wedge ran over and pushed his way through the crowd of people that had gathered around the ship. A moment later they emerged from the ship guiding a repulsor gurney down the boarding ramp. The crowd broke into cheers, but they faltered when they caught sight of Luke.
Wedge had expected to see that Luke was battered and bruised, but what staggered him was seeing that Luke's right hand was gone. "By all the hells of the Sith... What happened to you, Luke?" Wedge said to himself. Luke's arm was laid across the blanket that covered him, but an emergency medpac unit encased a stump. The trauma team did not stop, but continued to guide the gurney out of the hangar. The Princess had followed the gurney out of the ship and cheers erupted again when she appeared. She did not acknowledge the crowd around her, but followed the gurney. She did see Wedge at the foot of the boarding ramp, gave his hand a grateful squeeze and pulled him along behind her to follow the trauma team.
Wedge and the Princess sat in the cramped, but private waiting area near where the medical droids were working on Luke. They had been there for several hours, but he had had the presence of mind to report to Starfighter Command and to Admiral Ackbar. Starfighter Command had given him permission to stay with the Princess until the medics could report Luke's condition. Admiral Ackbar had come to the Redemption immediately and sat with them as Leia told what had happened since their departure from Hoth.
It was almost too incredible to believe. Han actually had successfully flown through the asteroid field long enough to find a cave to hide in. Unfortunately, it had turned out to be the gullet of a giant space slug living inside one of the large asteroids. They had escaped the space slug only to find the star destroyers still out there waiting for them. The hyperdrive had been damaged again so they had hidden again by using the emergency docking clamp and clamping the ship to the back of the bridge tower of one of the destroyers until the fleet broke up to go into hyperspace. Then they floated away with the standard garbage dump. Only Solo could have thought of that; it was a shame it hadn't worked. Once the Imperial fleet left, Solo had located a possible safe haven on the gas mining world of Bespin. An old gambling acquaintance, Lando Calrissian, was the Baron Administrator of Cloud City. Calrissian was the one who had been helping Chewie fly the Falcon and had also apparently been the Falcon's previous owner.
Leia's tale became more and more incredible as she told it. Lando had also been the one who had betrayed Han, Leia, and Luke to Darth Vader. As grim as that had sounded when she told it, her story got worse. A notorious bounty hunter, Boba Fett, working for Vader, had deduced that they would go to Calrissian for help. Fett had informed Vader and he had set a trap. Han and Leia were to be the bait to lure Luke to Bespin so that Vader could either convert him to the Dark Side or kill him. Calrissian didn't even know who Luke was or why Vader wanted him. Vader had threatened to leave an Imperial garrison on Bespin. As the Baron Administrator, Calrissian had been forced to go along with Vader's plans in order to protect the people of Bespin.
The Princess and Chewie had been forced to watch as Han was encased in carbonite and turned over to Boba Fett, who intended to take him to Jabba the Hutt and claim the bounty Jabba had placed on him. Luke had had another vision showing him the danger Han and Leia were in. He had come to Bespin to try to rescue them, but had ended up fighting a lightsaber duel with Vader, which was how he had been injured. Vader had planned to take the Princess with him when he left, but Lando freed her and Chewie before they were put aboard Vader's shuttle. They were unable to get Han back from Boba Fett, but they had managed to rescue Luke; how, Wedge didn't quite understand. A harrowing escape from Vader's fleet had brought them here to the Alliance. Whether it was in time to save Luke's life, they were still waiting to find out.
Admiral Ackbar had recorded Leia's recitation of what had occurred during their absence from the Alliance. He had taken the datapad with her initial 'debriefing' to an immediate meeting of the Alliance's Provisional Council. They would listen to it and decide what to do next. Leia refused to leave the medical suite until she knew Luke's condition and Wedge was glad that he could stay with her. It was bad enough that they had to wait; it would have been far worse if he had to rely on second-hand information.
Wedge stood next to a viewport and looked down at Leia's bowed head. He knew that the factual recitation of the chronology of events was not even close to the whole story. She was holding back, but what? He was used to seeing the Princess as a strong person and tough leader. They were close to the same age, but now she seemed so young and vulnerable. His heart went out to her. "Your Highness?" he said quietly.
The Princess looked up at him from her tightly clasped hands, "Oh, Wedge." she said, her voice on the verge of breaking, "I can't lose him. I can't lose either of them." She hid her face in her hands and started to sob. The night that Luke and Han had been lost out in the blizzard on Hoth had been a long, lonely, frightening vigil for her and for the whole base. Wedge had recognized at the time that she cared deeply for both Han and Luke. Now he realized that it was much more. She loves them, Wedge thought to himself. She loves them both.
Wedge sat down next to her and gathered her into a comforting embrace, "You won't, Leia. Luke is strong. He'll recover from this. And we'll find Han, you'll see." He said it as much to reassure himself as to comfort her.
He sat holding her for a few more moments then she pulled herself back. With her eyes closed she took a deep breath then she opened her eyes. The fiery Rebel from Hoth was back, but the first thing she did was gasp. "Wedge, you're still in your flight suit! How long have we been here?"
He was about to answer her when the medical droid, TwoOneBee, came into the waiting area. Wedge and Leia shot to their feet. "How is he?" they asked in unison.
TwoOneBee answered in the calm, measured tones of a mechanical construct, "Commander Skywalker has suffered numerous lacerations and contusions resulting in considerable blood loss. His right hand being severed put him into shock, but fortunately, the wound was immediately cauterized, which prevented his bleeding to death. In spite of the rather primitive medical equipment available on the Falcon, the more minor injuries have already begun to heal." TwoOneBee sounded almost surprised at that observation, but he continued, "We have offered to grow a replacement hand from cloned tissue, but he has refused. Instead, he has chosen to accept a biomechanical replacement hand. For now, he must rest and regain his strength. The surgery to graft the biomechanical replacement will be scheduled as soon as he is strong enough."
Wedge and Leia both let out a huge sigh of relief, "May we see him?" Leia asked, "Just for a minute?"
TwoOneBee paused a moment as if considering the request, "Yes, but only for a moment. He must rest." The droid moved aside to let them enter the treatment area and rolled toward the corridor.
The medical droids had cleaned Luke up, but he still looked very pale. A far more sophisticated medpac unit was attached to the end of his right arm. His eyes were closed, but he hadn't fallen asleep yet. Wedge could see the effort he made to open his eyes and focus on them. "Princess. I'm sorry I couldn't get there in time to save Han."
Leia couldn't say anything for a moment; tears welling up in her eyes. Then she said, "You just get well, Luke. I can't lose both of you." She squeezed his left hand gently and brushed his hair back from his forehead, but did not say anything more.
Wedge hated seeing Luke so weak and hated Vader even more for doing this to Luke. "We'll find Han, Luke. Don't worry." It sounded pretty trite even to himself.
"I know we will, Wedge. Just look after the Princess for me now, okay?"
Wedge nodded in response, but Luke hadn't seen it. The effort of speaking to them had exhausted Luke. He'd closed his eyes and was instantly asleep.
Wedge and Leia stood looking down at Luke a moment longer then left the room. TwoOneBee waited for them outside and Leia asked him again. "Will he be all right?"
"Yes, Your Highness," The droid answered. "But you will not be if you do not get some rest yourself. My sensors indicate that you are close to exhaustion. You are also close to exhaustion, Captain. You are not medically fit to fly at this time."
"I know. I'll see the Princess to her quarters, then get myself to mine, OneBee. Thank you for taking care of Luke. Call both of us if there is any change in his condition."
"Yes, Captain. Those were my orders."
Wedge was surprised by the droid's reply, but he was too tired to work out who had given those orders. The adrenaline that had kept him on his feet for the last several hours was fast abandoning him. He walked Leia to her temporary quarters near Luke's room then made his way back to the hangar.
Wedge realized before TwoOneBee had told him that he was in no shape to fly his ship back to Home One, but there was an intership shuttle that would get him back so that he could collapse into his own bunk. He thought he was close to the waiting area for the shuttle. All he wanted was a wall to lean against to keep himself on his feet.
Suddenly he felt himself being propelled forward by hands on both his arms. "Come on, Captain Hero. Time for you to go home and hit the sack."
Wedge looked around blearily realizing that he had been all but walking in his sleep. Hobbie was on one side of him and Janson on the other. They walked him onto a small intership shuttle and put him into a seat. Up front, Tarrin and Tycho were at the controls. They got clearance to depart and piloted the shuttle out of the hangar.
Finally, Wedge was able to gather his wits enough to ask, "What are you guys doing here?"
Janson gave him a tired smile. "When we got back from our patrol, there hadn't been any word about Luke yet. We called Admiral Ackbar. He gave us permission to come over to the Redemption and wait for news. He also told us to see that you got back to your quarters safely." He raised an eyebrow at Wedge. "How often are we going to be tucking you in, Sir? This isn't exactly why we joined the Rebellion."
Wedge summoned up a tired smile of his own. "I'll try not to let it happen too often. Did you hear about Luke?"
Hobbie nodded. "Yes. When you and the Princess went in to see Luke, TwoOneBee found us waiting for you in the hallway. Admiral Ackbar had transmitted orders to him permitting him to tell us what he'd told you and also a reminder to escort you home. We sort of followed you, discreetly, when you walked the Princess to her quarters, then down to the hangar. You were about two steps from falling asleep on your feet when we grabbed you."
In the single day since the Princess's return, any number of rumors of what had happened had circulated through the fleet. A brief bulletin had been broadcast indicating that Luke would recover, but that he needed further medical treatment. That satisfied the immediate concerns, but additional information had not been forthcoming and even wilder speculations made the rounds.
Admiral Ackbar had prevailed upon Starfighter Command to allow Rogue Squadron to skip their next rotation for flying the perimeter patrol. He knew and they knew that Wedge had stayed with the Princess through a long night until the medical droids had been able to report that Luke would recover from his injuries. He had even sent some of the Rogues to see to it that their exhausted young commander would make it safely back to his quarters.
Using fleet authority override codes he had countermanded Wedge's orders to his droid to wake him. It was not something Ackbar did lightly, but pilots whose reflexes were slowed by exhaustion were soon dead pilots. Ackbar did not want Wedge to be an exhausted dead pilot. He saw a great deal of potential in Wedge Antilles and meant to develop it. Defeating the Empire was a very daunting proposition and every resource they had would be needed to accomplish the task, if it could be done.
As soon as Ackbar had heard Luke's recorded message from Wedge's droid, he knew that Luke would begin to be pulled away from flying with Rogue Squadron to concentrate more on developing his Jedi skills. He needed the special unit that Luke had outlined in that proposal and, since Wedge Antilles had also had a hand in developing the proposal, he was the logical person to head the unit in spite of his youth and very junior status. Ackbar had convinced himself that Luke had unconsciously responded to a prodding from the Force when he had asked Wedge to be his XO for the squadron, and Luke himself had confirmed that idea when Ackbar had seen him a short time ago.
Neither Luke nor Wedge had expected to be in the positions they found themselves in, but they had performed admirably in extremely difficult circumstances. It was unfortunate that Luke had been unable to rescue Solo from the clutches of the bounty hunter, and even more unfortunate that he had been forced to confront Darth Vader alone. Still, the unexpected aid of Baron Calrissian had resulted in Luke's and the Princess's return to the Alliance. His debriefing would prove interesting indeed.
Wedge gradually became aware of the various noises associated with life aboard a capital ship. He kept his eyes closed a moment longer, but they flew open when he realized that one sound that was missing was the wake-up alarm he had requested from his droid.
The R2 unit stood silently in the corner of his tiny cabin, his photoreceptor focussed on Wedge. "R2! Why didn't you wake me up?" Wedge sat up and glanced at the wrist chrono he had laid on the desk next to his bunk and his mouth dropped open, "I've been asleep for eighteen hours! You were supposed to wake me up ten hours ago! I missed a patrol we were supposed to fly!"
The little droid squealed in protest. Wedge looked over at the terminal screen to see the mechanical beeps, whistles, and squeaks translated into Basic. Admiral Ackbar overrode your orders about the alarm. He instructed me to tell you that you needed sleep more than you needed to fly another patrol. Rogue Squadron was removed from the rotation of patrol flights for one cycle so that you could rest. All communications to you were directed to your XO. The Admiral instructed me to have you report to his office when you did awaken.
Wedge was both relieved and disturbed by the droid's words. He would not be in trouble for missing a patrol because he'd overslept, but he knew that certain parties within Starfighter Command might feel that a young, inexperienced commander was being coddled by the Brass. Dealing with that would not be a pleasant prospect.
A chime sounded and Admiral Ackbar looked up to see Wedge Antilles enter his office and salute.
"Captain Antilles reporting as ordered, Sir."
"At ease, Captain. Come, sit down." The Admiral indicated the chair across the desk from his own. "Are you sufficiently rested?"
Wedge frowned as he answered, "Yes, Sir. But I would have been rested enough ten hours ago."
Ackbar swiveled his wide-set eyes at Wedge, "Then you would have woken up ten hours ago. No, you needed the sleep. Waiting with the Princess for news of Luke's condition was as exhausting for you as a full-fledged space battle. And even before Luke's return, you had been driving yourself very hard."
"Yes, Sir." Wedge was forced to agree.
"However," the Admiral said indicating the datapads scattered on his desk, "We have not been idle. Baron Calrissian has been debriefed. The Princess is satisfied that he did not have any choice but to cooperate with Darth Vader. To do otherwise would have put the people of Bespin in danger of being subjugated by the Empire. As soon as he had the opportunity, he informed the population that the Empire was about to take control of the city and suggested that they leave immediately. A large majority of the population did succeed in escaping thanks to his warning."
Wedge mulled that over for a moment. He wasn't too sure about trusting someone who had betrayed friends no matter what the circumstances.
The Admiral continued, "Calrissian has gone to see Luke aboard the Redemption. They have decided that although Boba Fett will eventually go to Tattooine to claim the bounty Jabba the Hutt has on Captain Solo, it might be possible to intercept him and rescue Han before that happens. Calrissian apparently has contacts that may be able to provide information on Fett's movements. He and Chewbacca will leave shortly in the Falcon to start tracking down leads. When Luke is fully recovered, he intends to join the search. The fleet cannot spare Rogue Squadron to assist in the search, but I intend for you to be ready to assist in the rescue if needed. Your unit will begin its additional training almost immediately, but you will also continue to participate in the patrol rotation. Do you anticipate any problems with this?"
Wedge shook his head, "With the training and patrol schedule? No, Sir. But won't the other fighter units wonder what we're being trained for that they're not?"
"Need to know, Captain. And they don't need to know," the admiral answered, an amused note in his gravelly voice. "There is something else you do need to know. Your promotion to Captain is now permanent as is your position as Rogue Leader." He paused knowing that Wedge would object.
Which Wedge did. "But Luke is back now. He's the commander of Rogue Squadron. My promotion was only supposed to be temporary until he came back."
Admiral Ackbar leaned back in his chair slightly, "Luke has asked that you go and see him once our meeting is concluded. He wants to explain himself to you personally, but it amounts to this: he knows that continuing his Jedi training will frequently pull him away from the squadron. The squadron needs stable leadership, especially now during your initial training. You developed the concept for the squadron with him so you are the logical choice to lead it. He has told me that he still wants to fly with the squadron as often as he can. He is not leaving Starfighter Command just yet, but the squadron would be better off in the long run with you leading it."
Wedge sat in the chair in Ackbar's office stunned into silence once again. He idly wondered just how often his mind could withstand these sudden shocks.
Ackbar let him absorb this latest bombshell for a moment. Then he waved Wedge up from the chair. "Go on now, Captain. Go and see Luke. He's waiting to talk to you."
Wedge stood, saluted, turned and left the office. Ackbar slowly shook his head. Wedge Antilles is the only one who doesn't yet realize that he is a very capable leader and truly deserves the promotions he's received he thought to himself.
Luke looked much better than he had the last time Wedge had seen him nearly twenty four hours earlier. He was sitting up in bed and greeted him cheerfully enough. "Hi, Wedge! I'm glad you're here."
Wedge smiled and answered, "These Medcenter visits are getting kinda old, though, aren't they?" He was trying to keep the tone light.
Physically, Luke did look a lot better than he had yesterday, even with the medpac unit attached to his arm, but there was something about the eyes... Luke had changed during the time he'd been away from the Alliance. It had not been quite a month since they'd left Hoth, but Luke seemed years older. Something had happened to him beyond the physical injuries. Those would heal, but Luke would never be the same as he had been.
Luke grinned and the younger eyes shone through for a moment. "Well, I seem to get myself into more trouble than I can handle when the Rogues aren't around. Leia, Chewie, and Lando had to rescue me instead."
Then it was Wedge's turn to look serious. "And speaking of the Rogues...What's this about leaving me in charge of them? You're back now. You're supposed to be Rogue Leader; I'm supposed to be the XO, remember?" He was still trying to keep the tone of their conversation light, although the subject was very serious to him.
Luke glanced down at the medpac unit on his wrist. When he looked back up to answer Wedge the pain in his eyes was back. "Wedge, I know it was a shock to you to suddenly be in charge of the squadron, but I knew that it was right. Jedi intuition, remember?" he smiled.
Wedge did too, both of them remembering their conversation in the Medcenter on Hoth when Luke had asked him to be the squadron's XO.
"Yeah, I remember, but I had just barely gotten over that shock when you did this to me." He tapped the rank insignia on his chest.
Luke also tried to maintain the light tone. He shook his head smiling, "I didn't do that. You did. You proved that you were a good officer so they made you one."
They were both silent for a few moments. Then Luke spoke, his voice serious again. "Wedge, listen. I've thought about this a lot. I'm thinking of the squadron. How would they feel if I ran off on my own every time I got one of these Force promptings? I can't tell when it's going to happen ahead of time. Look what it did to you when I took off with no warning after Hoth. Once, I'm hoping you can understand and forgive me for. If I keep doing it, the squadron won't have any confidence in my sticking around when things go wrong. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Wedge could see that Luke was really almost desperately hoping that he would be able to understand, and he did. Luke's description of what would happen if he continued to lead the squadron was frightening. He had seen other squadrons whose members had doubts about their leaders. They always seemed to be the ones that got chewed up in battle. The Rogues hadn't been like that at Hoth even though they had been pretty thoroughly chewed up. They knew Luke knew what he was doing and kept up their ferocious attacks on the walkers even after Luke had crashed. Seeing him take down a walker single-handed after he'd gone down boosted their confidence even more. And after that, they'd taken his directions without question. Wedge didn't want the new incarnation of the squadron to lose that confidence.
"Yes, Luke. I see what you're saying, but why me?"
Luke smiled, relieved that Wedge had accepted his argument. "Because they already have confidence in you. You were leading them even before I asked you to be XO. You recognized what needed to be done while I was lost out in the blizzard on Hoth and did it. You didn't wait to be told what to do. You just knew and the rest of the guys saw that."
Wedge let out a long gusty sigh. "All right, Luke. You win." He thought a change of subject was in order. "Tell me about what happened to you while you were gone."
Pain that wasn't physical washed across Luke's face, "Not just now, Wedge. I'm not really ready to talk about it yet. Why don't you tell me about the Rogues? Admiral Ackbar said that you've rebuilt the squadron since Hoth, but I want to hear it from the Boss."
Wedge smiled again. That was what he had called Luke when he and Biggs had followed Luke in on the final run down the trench on the Deathstar at Yavin. "That was your doing too, Luke. You put my name on that proposal for the new type of fighter unit and Ackbar got the crazy idea that I should lead it."
Luke gave him a small grin, "I thought you should too; I thought that back on Hoth. I couldn't put that in the proposal, though; you were still only a flight officer. You were the one who came up with most of the simulator scenarios, remember? The Force moves in mysterious ways; you were in the right place at the right time for the job."
"You had something to do with that as well... making me XO and all that followed."
The rest of his visit was taken up with filling Luke in on the new Rogues and the general news around the fleet. Luke, in turn, told him of the little gnome-like creature who had turned out to be the Jedi Master Yoda, some of his training on Dagobah, and his flight to and arrival on Bespin.
Wedge sensed that there was more to tell, but he didn't press Luke. He could tell that Luke was getting tired and that whatever else had happened to him, he couldn't talk about it yet. He got up to leave. "I'll come and see you again tomorrow after your surgery. Take care, Luke."
He was on his way down to the hangar to fly his fighter back over to Home One when his comlink beeped. "Antilles."
Tycho's voice emerged from the tiny speaker. "Wedge, are you still aboard Redemption?"
"Yeah, Tycho. What is it?"
"The Princess would like you to go to her quarters. She didn't want to interrupt your talk with Luke, but she would like to speak to you."
"Alright, Tycho. I guess I'll be back a bit later than I thought.
"Right, Wedge. Out."
I wonder what she wants to see me about Wedge thought as he turned around and made his way up to Leia's quarters.
Wedge pressed the buzzer outside the Princess's door to announce his presence. The door whooshed open and he was greeted by the Princess's warm smile.
"You wanted to see me, Your Highness?"
She raised an eyebrow as she ushered him into her quarters. "Am I going to have to start calling you Captain Antilles? I thought we had forgotten titles because we were friends."
Wedge smiled sheepishly. "Sorry Leia."
They both sat down on the small couch that took up much of the floor space in the front section of her quarters. "I was not terribly coherent by the time you left me here, but I know that I did not get a chance to congratulate you on your promotions and being put in charge of Rogue Squadron. Admiral Ackbar told me earlier today that you did a great job rebuilding and leading the squadron while we've been gone and that you will be pulling some non-standard missions after you go through some specialized training."
"He and Luke seem to think that I can do it. I thought I was going to be Luke's XO, but he pulled a fast one on me," Wedge said chagrined.
Leia smiled. "Luke showed me that proposal for the new unit before he turned it in to Commander Narra. He told me that you had come up with the simulator scenarios outlined in it. That's why he put your name on it. Credit where credit is due, Wedge."
"You're all ganging up on me," he said shaking his head.
She patted his hand. "Sometimes we can see what is best for you better than you can."
Then she took a deep breath and looked up at him a more serious note in her voice. "I also wanted to thank you."
"For what?" he said puzzled.
"For everything, Wedge. For your commitment to the Alliance. For being my friend and Luke's friend. For staying with me that whole awful night in the Medcenter. For caring about Luke and Han the way you do." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
Which took Wedge by surprise. For as long as they had been friends, she had never done that before. He stammered, "Y-you're welcome." It wasn't every day that he was kissed by a Princess.
She knew she'd caught him off-guard, which had been her intention, but now wanted to put him at ease again. "I don't go around kissing just any pilot that wanders by, you know."
Wedge saw the playful glint in her eye and laughed. "I should hope not. I would hate to be on Luke's or Han's bad side. They're both awfully protective of you."
"Luke's or Han's bad side?" It was Leia's turn to be surprised.
"Oh, now come on, Leia. We are friends and I can see it. You may not want to admit it, but you love them both. And you have since Yavin. You've been able to hide it pretty well, probably even from yourself, but it's true."
He saw her expression turn from surprise to something like despair. "Oh, Wedge. That's my problem. You are my friend and there is no one else here that I can talk to. My only friend from Alderaan is with the Alliance, but she's not here with the fleet now." She dropped her gaze to her clasped hands. "I don't want to hurt either of them because I do care about them both so much."
The pain he saw in her dark eyes when she looked back up at him wrenched his heart again.
Her voice breaking with barely held back tears Leia continued, "When we were on Bespin, I finally admitted to myself that I do love Han. He never said as much to me, but I thought he loved me too. Seeing him frozen in the carbonite nearly killed me."
Wedge felt decidedly uncomfortable. Here he was listening to the Princess pour her heart out, and he didn't have the faintest idea of what to say. He said nothing, but gently took her hand in his.
"And Luke," she went on after taking a deep breath. "I feel somehow connected to him too. That connection is what told me where to find him after he'd been hurt."
Now he was confused. "I don't understand."
She looked back up at him. "I just knew. We were trying to get away from the TIE fighters that Vader had sent after us. All of a sudden, I heard Luke's voice in my head. He called to me and I could see a picture of where he was. He was barely holding onto a weather sensing array underneath the city. We got to him just in time."
None of what she had just said had been in the recitation she'd given Admiral Ackbar during their long night in the waiting room. Wedge shuddered thinking of Luke's close call, but could not think of anything to say.
Leia glanced down for a moment then back up, "I'm sorry, Wedge. I shouldn't have burdened you with my problems."
"No, Leia. Don't be. I am your friend, and Luke's and Han's. I can't help you sort out your feelings for them, but I can and will always listen, no matter what. And I'll do whatever I can to help Luke find Han."
She smiled gratefully, "Thank you, Wedge. You are a wonderful friend."
He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. "Any time, Leia." Then he got up to leave, "I have to go, but call me any time you want to talk." The door to her quarters had swooshed open and Wedge was well aware that they were theoretically back in the public eye. "Will there be anything else, Your Highness?"
She knew he was looking out for her best interests and answered him with the barest glint of shared amusement, "That will be all for now, Captain. Thank you."
Wedge had made it all the way to Redemption's hangar, boarded his fighter and flown it back to Home One before Tycho called him again. "Rogue Two to Rogue Lead."
"Rogue Lead. What is it Tycho?"
"Admiral Ackbar wants you to report to his office, Lead."
"Acknowledged. I'm coming aboard now. Be there in a few minutes. Lead, out."
What surprises does he have for me now? Wedge wondered as he brought his ship in to land.
Again Wedge found himself in the Admiral's office, but he hadn't dropped any bombshells on him this time-- at least, not yet Wedge thought to himself.
"So Captain," Ackbar was saying, "Did you and Luke reach an understanding regarding Rogue Squadron?"
"Yes Sir," Wedge answered. "Luke will join us on patrols, training, and other assignments when his other commitments permit him to do so. He'll be an auxiliary and fly with Two Flight to avoid confusion, although I'm perfectly happy to let him have the Rogue Lead designation whenever he flies with us."
"I'm sure you two can work that out when the situations present themselves." The Admiral shifted in his seat. "Now, for your next assignment. Do you know Commander Varth?"
Wedge's eyes widened. "Only by reputation, Sir."
Ackbar's mouth opened in a Mon Calamari approximation of a human smile. "A safely diplomatic answer, Captain. He is not the most likable person you'll ever meet, but what he can teach you will keep you alive. Rogue Squadron is being temporarily reassigned to his command. You will spend three months with him. He will teach the Rogues advanced combat tactics and you will get the chance to practice what you learn going on strike and fade missions with his other squadrons. I have spoken to him and he is aware that he will be training you as a special tactical unit. Do you have any questions?"
"Yes Sir. When do we leave and how do we get there, wherever there is?"
Admiral Ackbar was pleased that Wedge seemed eager to get on with the training. "That will be a very involved proposition. At the moment, we do not have a transport vehicle large enough to carry your X-wings that is not immediately recognizable as an Alliance ship. You will have to fly your own ships to your destination and it is a very long flight. Since Darth Vader's probe droids are out there in the thousands, we hope that the small size of your fighters might go unnoticed and allow them slip in to the base undetected by the Empire. When you go, it will be by Flights rather than the whole squadron together."
Just getting to Varth's base will be a challenge Wedge thought, "Yes Sir. What about our support crew?"
"For once, they will travel in relative style," the Admiral said giving Wedge a sidelong look with one large amber eye. "They will go on a regular supply ship; a freighter which we have established a suitable cover for in that sector. They will meet you at the base within a few days of your arrival."
"And when did you say we were leaving, Sir?"
"I didn't, but it will be in two days."
"Two days!" Wes was not happy. "And training under Commander Varth! This is not going to be fun."
They were sitting in the corner of one of the mess halls on Home One drinking caf. "We didn't join the Alliance to have fun, Wes." Wedge pulled out his comlink. "Tycho."
"Yes, Wedge," Tycho's voice crackled out of the speaker.
"Find an unoccupied briefing room and get the whole squadron and crew together there. I've got our next assignment."
"More like our next internment," Wes muttered under his breath.
"No, Wes. What we'll be learning from him will keep us from being interned -- in a prison camp. Besides, we'll only be there three months."
"Well, I might be able to hold out three months. Come on. Let's get this briefing over with." Wes and Wedge made their way out of the mess hall not noticing that a miniscule spy-eye disguised as a rivet detached itself from the wall and floated on a repulsor field after them.
"Excuse me, Wedge," Tarrin said. "Did you say Commander Varth?" He looked as if he was going to be sick.
Wedge frowned. "Yes, Tarrin. What's the matter?"
"I'm dead. That's what's the matter." He put his head in his hands.
"What do you mean?"
Tarrin's expression was bleak when he looked back up at Wedge, "When I first joined the Alliance, I was put into one of Varth's squadrons." He shuddered. "I flew fine in the simulators, but I was too nervous in the real fighters when we did our combat exercises. Varth yelled at me a lot, especially when I crash-landed a trainer. He said I would never make a fighter pilot and had me transferred to Hoth."
Everyone in the room was stunned into total silence. Wedge put a hand on Tarrin's shoulder. "Tarrin, you sat in on our simulations on Hoth and did great, and you never once screwed up in the combat exercises we've done here."
Tarrin looked at Wedge shaking his head. "You don't yell like Varth does."
"Tarrin, you're a very good pilot. And you're going to prove it to Varth."
The tiny spy-eye, undetected on a wall in the briefing room, recorded the remainder of the squadron's briefing on their reassignment. When the briefing broke up, it floated out of the room and eventually lodged itself outside a cabin on the crew quarters deck.
Half an hour later, the one of the cabin's two occupants returned. He noticed the extra rivet in the door's frame and waited until the little spy-eye floated into the cabin. He took the spy-eye and placed it into a receptacle in the side of a datapad. The recording of the Rogues' briefing played itself out and the man snorted to himself, "Tarrin can't fly a garbage can. I should have been in Rogue Squadron. They should have asked me, not that incompetent. And why Wedge Antilles is leading them, I don't understand. He must have done something to sabotage Skywalker before we left Hoth." He slammed his hands down on the small desk making the datapad jump. "They'll be sorry. They'll all be sorry, and then they'll be dead."
The Rogues had all had a chance to say goodbye to their friends in the fleet, but many of them still showed up in the hangar to see them off. Among them were Luke, who was now fully recovered, Leia, and Admiral Ackbar.
Luke shook hands with Wedge. "I'm sorry I can't go with you. I know I could learn a thing or two from Commander Varth, but Lando and Chewie are expecting me."
"Luke, you do what you have to do to find Han. But call us if you need us." Wedge grinned at Luke and Leia and gave Admiral Ackbar a sidelong glance, "We'll go AWOL if we have to to help you out."
Admiral Ackbar just shook his head.
Leia laughed and said, "Oh, you'd better not do that, Wedge. I understand that before he joined the Alliance, Commander Varth used to sail real boats. He'd keelhaul you for desertion." She squeezed his hand and smiled. "You just learn what he can teach you and get back here as soon as you can."
"My sentiments, exactly, Your Highness." Admiral Ackbar offered Wedge his hand. "You're needed here, Captain. Don't do anything foolish."
"I won't, Sir." Although he didn't let it show, Wedge was surprised at how emotional he felt. Luke and Leia were close friends so it was not surprising that he would miss them. He realized that he had also become attached to the Admiral, but it was more of a mentor-student relationship and he would miss that. From Tarrin's descriptions of Varth, he did not expect to become close to Varth at all.
He looked around at the other Rogues making their farewells and smiled when he spotted a familiar looking redhead, the nurse who had looked after him, holding Hobbie's hand as she said goodbye to him. "All right. Mount up, Rogues. Let's go."
In another part of the Mon Calamari ship, the disgruntled pilot, who had spied on the Rogues' briefing, pulled a non-Alliance issue long range communications unit out of the tiny closet in his quarters. He set the unit up on the desk, plugged a pre-recorded datacard into it, and pressed the transmit button allowing himself a self-satisfied smirk.
On the bridge, the communications console began wailing an alarm. Lieutenant Onoma called out to the captain. "Sir. I'm reading an unauthorized transmission from this ship."
"The captain spun his chair around to face the communications station. Triangulate its origin immediately. Security. Alert." Alarms began wailing all over the ship. "Have you located the source of the transmission, yet?"
"Yes Sir. It is coming from Deck Eight, Section C. Pilot's quarters, Sir. I'm jamming, but I don't know how much got through."
The captain nodded. "Get security down there immediately. Was the transmission in code?"
"Yes Sir. Imperial, but an old one. We've had it cracked for months."
"What does the transmission say?"
Lieutenant Onoma punched a couple of buttons on the console and the message began to crackle from the overhead speakers just as Luke, Leia, and Admiral Ackbar rushed onto the bridge, "If anyone out there is looking to knock out an Alliance fighter squadron, Rogue Squadron is on its way to Atrivis. They're a bunch of babies and shouldn't be much of a problem. Commander Varth and his fighter wing are on Atrivis. They should be more of a challenge..."
Luke spun to face Admiral Ackbar. "Sir, Wedge's mission is compromised. We have to call him back."
Ackbar nodded. "Lieutenant, contact Captain Antilles immediately."
The Rogues had flown out to the 1000 kilometer perimeter together and Wedge was about to order the three Flights to make their jumps to hyperspace when his comm unit beeped. He flipped to the fleet frequency and was surprised to hear Luke's voice. "Wedge, your mission has been compromised. Abort it now."
"Wait a minute, Luke. What happened?"
"A traitor just transmitted the information that Rogue Squadron was on its' way to Atrivis. Security is about to arrest him."
"Who was it, Luke?"
"Don't know yet, Wedge."
Another voice entered the conversation. "I do, Wedge."
Wedge glanced out his cockpit to the right. "Who, Tycho?"
"Vordan. It's Jens Vordan."
Luke's voice came back. "Security just confirmed it. Jens Vordan. How did you know, Tycho?"
Tycho didn't answer, but Wedge did. "A gut feeling, Luke." Vordan was one of the pilots they had talked to that both Wedge and Tycho had felt wrong about. They had not asked him to join the squadron and later he had gotten quite belligerent about it.
Suddenly, Wedge felt another wrench in his stomach. "The crew! Sithspit! Our maintenance crew! Luke, we have to go to Atrivis. They're walking into a trap."
Admiral Ackbar's voice replaced Luke's. "What do you mean, Captain?"
"Sir. You don't know how much of that transmission got out before it was jammed, do you?"
"Then we have to go, Sir. The Imps are looking for us everywhere. If they get even part of that transmission they'll find the Atrivis base. Our crew left before us on the freighter. They're out of touch and don't know that the base is compromised. You can warn Varth to evacuate now, but we have to go to defend the freighter long enough for it to jump back out again."
"Very well, Captain. Bring them back here if you can. Good luck."
"Thank you, Sir." He didn't waste any more time; flipping to the squadron's frequency he said, "Okay, Rogues. This is it. Let's show them what we're made of. Make the jump to hyperspace in three. Three. Two. One. Now!"
The stars elongated into lines which blurred into the white tunnel of hyperspace.
The first jump from the Alliance fleet's deep space hiding place lasted several hours, but it was only one of several that the Rogues had plotted to get themselves to the Atrivis sector. Hyperspace had isolated Wedge from the rest of his squadron, but it had not stopped him from thinking. I knew that Vordan was bad. I should have reported him to Security. If the Chief and Cubber and the others die because of my mistake, I'll deserve whatever the Court Martial throws at me.
Wedge shook his head. Come on. Pull yourself together. We'll be popping out for the first course change in a few minutes. Start thinking of how to sneak in to Atrivis.
The alarm announcing the end of the first hyperspace jump sounded and Wedge settled himself to take over piloting the ship from his R2 unit. The spinning white tunnel broke up into star lines which shrank to become the individual stars as seen in the sky of the Beltoomis system.
Beltoomis was a remote system on the fringes of the Atrivis sector. Wedge had chosen it as the first transition point in their course to Atrivis because it was a good place to hide, and he'd been there before. The star was a normal yellow sun with seven planets and their moons orbiting it. The second, third and fourth planets all supported a wide variety of plant and animal life, but, surprisingly, no intelligent native species. The system had been thoroughly surveyed in the days of the Old Republic, but it was so far off the main trade routes that colonists had not bothered to come and settle there, although pirates and smugglers had occasionally spent some time on Beltoomis Two. When the Alliance had started using the Beltoomis system for hyperspace navigation in pilot training, the pirates and smugglers had moved on.
Wedge flipped the switch on his comm unit to the squadron's frequency," All Rogues, report in."
All twelve of them had emerged safely and checked in.
"We've got a little breathing space here so I want to go over our changed plans. First of all, I hope you all caught some sleep in hyperspace because that we don't have time for. I want us to land on Beltoomis Two..."
He stopped when Janson interrupted him, "Oh good. Time for a picnic."
"Pipe down, Nine. No time for picnics, but I do want us get out of these cockpits for an hour or so and have something more substantial to eat than E-rations. We're going to skip the other jumps we'd originally plotted and go straight to Atrivis from here..."
"But we're going to hop short to the edge of the system and scout it out first, right?"
That was Tarrin.
Wedge smiled grimly to himself, "That's right, Three." The combat simulations had tested the Rogues in a number of tactical situations and this was one of them. If their initial reconnaissance showed that the system was clear of Imperial ships, they would find a spot to lie low and wait for the freighter to show up. Hopefully, a simple contact could be made, and they could leave without incident. Otherwise... "We'll go over contingencies while we're having lunch. Okay. Let's get on down to B Two."
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