Death Isn't the End
From wandering the streets of a big city, overheard conversations provided much of the fodder for this story; a not-quite-forgotten Isaac Asimov supplied another piece; a long-ago memory yet another. Basically, this story is a catch-all for a lot of good plot that never fit anywhere else. Thanks to Csillag for supplying the Trellian Star and the memory, and to Wraith6 for helping to eavesdrop.
Wedge Antilles didn't feel much like a commanding officer. The Wraiths often made him feel like a combination of a nursery school wrangler and truant officer. He was forging a new type of unit, with staff culled from lists of those on the verge of being dishonorably discharged from New Republic military service. They had new skills and unexpected actions, but while most officers felt they should be rid of such people, Wedge felt that the skills and ballsiness mix would be critical to fighting the Imperial warlords who were running rogue since the Emperor's death.
He worried constantly, though. What if he was wrong? Despite his misgivings, he could only muster an iota of indignation when Kell Tainer announced that he and Ton Phanan had robbed a bank, toward their campaign of harassment against the Halmad system. They had actually driven TIE Defenders through from one wall to the other! Wedge immediately ordered them to account for every credit and valuable they had taken, but had to fight in order to not grin from ear to ear. Their glee at pulling off the unorthodox thefts were exactly what he wanted. As their successes mounted, he was learning to trust them to do the right thing, even if their direction and attitudes were more frivolous and giddy than Wedge might have preferred.
But it was not all fun and games; people had died, and the Death was something that they had not yet learned to live with. Admiral Ackbar's niece had been the first Wraith to die in battle, and finding a way to tell his commanding officer rated high on the list of the most excruciating things he'd ever have to do in his life. The deaths of Falynn Sandskimmer and Eurssk "Grinder" Thri'ag followed shortly after in a direct battle with Zsinj's Super Star Destroyer Iron Fist. Then most recently, Ton Phanan was shot out of the sky during a coordinated battle against TIE Interceptor and TIE Raptor fighters over Halmad, and died hours later, dirtside.
Now, his second in command, Lieutenant Wes Janson, had holovideoed him, telling him that missions he'd approved and helped plan had gone awry, even though they could be considered successful results. Agents of the former Imperial Admiral Zsinj, now a warlord with a huge network of financial and commodity goods, had contacted his newest squadron member, Lara Notsil. Her brother had been used to make the contact, and squadmate Myn Donos had been prompted to shoot both him and his Zsinj colleague dead during the meeting. On another assignment, Wraith slicer Castin Donn had stowed away on a contact mission, and Dia Passik had been forced to kill him to maintain their cover. This all took place just days after Phanan's unlucky death, still fresh in everyone's mind.
The newest deaths were unnecessary and terribly messy, and the bodies had to be left where they lay. Morale was low, and Dia and Lara were both traumatized. Face Loran, who had headed the second mission, felt personally responsible for Dia's suicidal state of mind, as well as for Castin's death. He hadn't detected the young man who had hidden in their Lambda-class shuttle, and blamed himself; too, he had been with Ton when the former medical doctor had died in the field, and chewed himself up for not being fast or good enough to save him. Neither death was his fault, but Face couldn't shake his guilt.
At the very least, Wedge thought it was imperative to get Lara and Dia support and 24 hour surveillance, to make sure they didn't succomb to death themselves. Thus, he needed to find Tyria Sarkin and Shalla Nelprin, who were the roommates of the two girls. Then he could put the traumatized squadronmates under watch without making it too obvious. Wes already was watching Myn Donos, and Kell was looking after Face.
The problem was that the four Wraiths he'd brought with him, Tyria, Shalla, Runt Ekwesh and Piggy saBinring, were on a well-earned general leave, and were not due to report back to him for another three standard days. Respecting their privacy, he had not required them to turn in their personal comlink codes. He could simply have them tracked down by the military police or get Ackbar's communications office to find their numbers, but he hated to call attention to the squadron at all. He'd messed up by not getting their codes, and was rather embarrassed at this breach.
So he decided he could spare an afternoon seeking them. He was in the tapcaf they headed for when Wedge had released them just hours ago. He hoped to pick up some hints where they might have gone. To his relief, their trails were still warm and finding them proved to be very interesting.
As soon as he sat down, he saw that the holonews was turned on to a popular show-and-tell feature. People could show their inventions or air their complaints and ideas. It was a way to get free advertising or to attract investors and supporters.
One man had invented a tiny repulsorlift scooter that was safe for anyone to operate. Though people who have lost their limbs often received prosthetics, some people didn't take to them well. The scooter was compact enough to be used indoors or out, and body movements made with the eyeballs was enough to direct the scooter. Even more significant, the user didn't need to be human to use it, and disabled or small pets could even be trained to ride it.
The show had picked up several beings from the tapcaf to demonstrate how easy the scooter was to use, but there came a problem when a Thakwaash came to ride it. Justifiably concerned that his product not look bad, the inventor tried to show the oversized creature a few safety tips. The hirsute, equine-looking head glared at him and puffed out his chest, bellowing, "Don't touch me!" Then he proceeded to crash the scooter into the stage set and injure the host of the show.
The voice caught Wedge by surprised. That was Runt Ekwesh! Small in size for his species, he still barely fit into a starfighter cockpit, but he was big enough to not quite fit on the scooter. He had multiple minds; but unlike humans, possessing multiple minds and personalities was a positive thing for Thakwaash. As they matured, more minds were revealed, and greater control over those minds came to bear. Eventually, Thakwaa natives could toggle between the minds as needed.
Wedge recognized this mind on the young Thakwaash, for he had seen it before. It was the prideful, macho mind, the sign of an immature, juvenile, and in this case, a drunken Runt!
Placing a call to the current commander of Rogue Squadron, Wedge made sure that Runt would be picked up by members of the famous squadron, rather than the local constabulary or even the military police. While at the secure landline near the bar, he overheard a man sobbing ... something about a Gamorrean?
Wedge sat next to the drunken human and asked, "Did I hear you mention a Gamorrean?"
The balding human lifted his head and looked directly at Wedge, "The big green ugly stole my lemma!"
Sighing, the man glared at him, "Amateur! I'm a mathematician, at the University-Academy. You've heard of proofs?"
Wedge smiled, "Sorry, I didn't make it through to that level of schooling. I've heard of a proof, though. Geometry?"
The man smiled and sat up, "Something like that. A lemma is like a stepping stone toward a proof. They can be more difficult to develop, because you have less to work with. Sometimes, a proof just presents itself when the lemmas point to it. Understand?"
Wedge's eyes lit with comprehension, "So there is a certain amount of academic glory in authoring a lemma?"
The other man became animated, realizing he had an understanding audience, "Yes! It can make or break careers! Give a reputation for excellence to an institution! Improve chances for funding, attract better scholars! Awards and fame forever! It can mean so much!"
"So how does the Gamorrean come into this?"
The other man's eyes filled with tears, "You know, that species, they're brutes! They have no patience, no class, no education. They eat, they fornicate, they kill, good for nothing but stupid hired muscle! But this one! This one! He could talk! He could think! He showed it to me!!"
Antilles nodded, "He showed you a lemma?"
"We got into an argument about MY lemma! And he showed me where I had gone wrong! My eyes! A Gamorrean showed me the error in my lemma!!" The man was sobbing hysterically.
"Where is he now?"
"In my office at the Academy … he's writing it up! He doesn't even want credit! My integrity, I'll never live this down!" The man's body was wracked with sobs, his head in his folded arms atop the table.
A few more questions and Wedge got the office comlink sequence from the man. He punched in the code, once again using the secure landline. To his relief, a familiar voice answered his salutation, "Hello, sir. I can explain everything!"
"Hello, Piggy. You have a mathematics professor in the tapcaf crying into his lomin. Did you take his lemma?"
"No, sir," the mechanically modulated voice managed to show wounded surprise, "We were just having a discussion an-"
Wedge cracked a smile, despite himself, "Just kidding, saBinring. How long do you need to finish whatever you're doing?"
"Nearly done, Sir. Dr. Timaa can clean up the rest of-"
"Back to base, then, Piggy. By the way, have you seen Sarkin or Nelprin?"
"No, sir." Piggy could be heard quickly tapping keys, entering some final esoteria.
"Will you be getting credit for this lemma, Piggy?"
Wedge could swear he could hear the green-skinned Gamorrean blushing, "Dr. Timaa wants me to, sir. But this could be a problem with Starfighter Command, no?"
"Might be. We'll talk about it later. In the meantime, if you come across the ladies, back to base with them, too. Antilles, out."
The small, bald mathematician was gone by the time Wedge came back from using the landline. Perhaps he and Piggy would see each other once again before the lemma was published. He was relieved to be spared the exact details.
Deciding his luck had run out inside the tapcaf, Wedge stepped outside and nearly ran into a man yelling into his personal comlink, "No, I told that bitch, absolutely not! She has got to be kidding ... No way, no way this boy was fooled by the turned-up nose and blonde ponytail! She's a monster, doesn't know when it's over!"
At the mention of a blonde ponytail, Wedge turned to follow the man. Eavesdropping further convinced him he'd done the right thing.
"It's awful, she throws herself on me with that lissome body. It's so pathetic to see a beautiful woman who needs a man so bad, you know? I'm telling you, fuck them once, they never go away, I'm telling you, and it's insane! Yeah, it must be the stuff the Empire did to Toprawa, but I'm glad I did it, I just don't want back in there, you know??"
Wedge simply tapped the man on the shoulder and took him into the military base for questioning. It was a simple story, it turned out he had put the moves on Tyria Sarkin earlier, and she had rejected him. He was preening to his friend, who had seen the brushoff. He was simply trying to salvage his own ego, to convince the witness that more had happened. The young man wept openly upon being arrested, and spilled everything, including the truth, giving all the information he had on Tyria.
Wedge was surprised; according to the man he'd questioned, Tyria had linked arms with a much older man. They'd gone together to a Toprawan organization's Coruscant office -- the unlucky suitor had followed them that far. He left when he spied Tyria nuzzling the older man, realizing he was just out of luck today. "Stupid bitch has a thing for sugar daddies, I guess," the hapless Romeo had sniffled.
Wedge found them together, the elderly man sitting in an old, upholstered chair, with Tyria sitting at his feet, her head on his lap, her hands around his knees. He was looking at her fondly, lovingly stroking her hair, lecturing her on some astronavigation minutiae. Tyria was looking up at the man in obvious and open devotion. When Wedge walked into the office, Tyria recognized her commander and threw herself still on her knees at Wedge, clasping her hands, begging him not to mention what he saw to Kell Tainer, her boyfriend and fellow squadron mate.
Wedge had to order her to stand up, to take a few deep breaths. He knew Sarkin was a bit flakey, but he'd never expected to see her like this. She closed her eyes and settled herself, "I'm sorry, Commander. This is Freery Garman; he was my mentor and teacher while on Toprawa."
The older man rose and shook hands with Wedge, "A pleasure, Colonel. Tyria has told me of how you saved her career. Much appreciated, sir!"
Wedge was confused, "I'm not sure what to say ... I didn't realize that you had a formal relationship with anyone outside the squadron, Sarkin."
Tyria blushed to her blonde roots. Her mouth opened, but she stuttered and made other noises that Wedge couldn't understand.
Garman again smiled, "Forgive us, Colonel. We are consenting adults, and I think it appropriate to tell you that Tyria and I have had what you might call a "crush" on one another all during her education. I'll admit, we have remained friends, more than either of use might have liked, I believe. When she can, she comes to see this old man. Tyria means grace and springtime, as beautiful as Toprawa had been before the Empire destroyed our home. Don't know what she sees in a codger like me, but I am grateful for her attention." He pinched Tyria's cheek and Wedge again saw the complete devotion in her eyes.
Wedge nodded, still not quite understanding, but deciding it was none of his business, after all. He explained to Tyria that her leave was being cut short, and she was to return to base ASAP. Tyria and Garman saluted, and Wedge noted sadness and brightness in their eyes, perhaps from moisture build-up? He left quickly.
That left only Shalla. Where might she be?
Across the street, on the floor above walking level, he saw her through a window, which sported a sign reading, "Miss Planfor's Dance Studio." It was the type of school run by aging dancers and actresses for extra income after they had lived past their useful performance days.
For some reason, it made sense to Wedge that the Wraith's hand-to-hand combat specialist be in a beginner's dance class. Shalla blushed as much as her dark complexion allowed when her commander walked into the studio. Wedge found her quite charming. She explained that she was trying to acquire some grace and dance skills to layer over her already formidable infiltration and commando skills. It was something her father had told her not to ignore, and to take dance lessons when she had the time. Miss Planfor allowed her to come as she could, and to pay for her sessions one at a time.
Once he assembled them all back on base, he explained the situations in detail, and ordered Tyria and Shalla back to Halmad immediately, to look after Dia and Lara. If the opportunity presented itself, he futher ordered them to come up with some project or entertainment to take their minds off of the killings and their parts in them.
Piggy and Runt were ordered to stay close to base; he could not afford to have the most visible members of the squadron out loose on the streets of Coruscant. He also wanted them to be ready to leave at a moment's notice. Not to mention, keep them from sampling scooters and lemmas again!
Their leaves effectively cancelled, they set to work getting supplies and paperwork done faster. That evening, Shalla and Tyria's snubfighters were loaded with new food and medical supplies, and in turn they were loaded into the Trellian Star, an aging Corellian corvette scheduled to fetch a bacta shipment from Thyferra. Piggy gave them programs that would define precisely when and where they should de-board from the corvette. He already loaded the calculations for their subsequent jumps to their astromech droids. Neither Tyria nor Shalla wanted to risk being followed, and this was the longest trip either woman would have ever made in such a small craft. They each prayed not to screw it up.
Wedge knew it would be another standard day before they could be ready to leave, for he had necessary meetings and presentations to make in that time. He ordered the remaining two squadron members to requisition some cakes and sweets, as well as electronic toys and newer flight simulator programs for the hard-working Wraiths. Wes Janson also requested holocomedies and snacks for R&R, to calm some of the tension during their missions. Hoping for the best, Wedge had Piggy and Runt decided on the nature and quantity of all these extras.
As Commander Antilles suited up to attend his next meeting, he wondered why he felt so calm in the face of this scramble to return to Halmad. He would be going back to the cold, artificial gravity environment of his unit's base of operations. The death rate was high, but not higher than acceptable. He was using minimal resources, and with the capture of enemy equipment, was even turning a profit!
Despite the gravity of their mission, and the parameters and materièl they had to work with, Wedge had to admit, this was kind of fun. The Wraiths were deadly serious, yet quirky like the Rogues were not. He felt his experiment was working, that he was going to win.
The time he spent looking for his four charges indicated they were not the normal sorts of people you'd expect in an elite squadron, nor even the earthier mores of ground-pounding commandos. They were unusual and really interesting, and there was no way Zsinj or any other warlord could predict where and how they worked. Death swirled around them, walked with them, even lay in bed with them, but they continued to work and move in their own ways. He felt good about that.
The New Republic was going to win, after all. And Jesmin, Falynn, Grinder, Ton, and Castin would be happy to know that death wasn't the end.
Disclaimer: All content is made up, and no profit or lucre is expected, solicited, advocated or paid. This is all just for fun. Any comments, please e-mail the author or WOOKIEEhut directly. Flames will be ignored. Characters and situations are based on those which are the property of LucasFilms Ltd., Bantam Publishing, Random House, and their respective original owners and developers. The rest is this story's author's own fault. This story may not be posted anywhere without the author's knowledge, consent, and permission.