Everything to Lose
Rating: PG

Diana

This tale was inspired by Gillian F. Taylor's A Heart Full of Stars, where she brilliantly describes Wedge fighting a neural illness which affects his coordination and ability to walk. It's not something he can control, and it's not something he can force along with medications. He's vulnerable and scared, and nothing seems to help in his recovery. Is he permanently affected? Or does he need some other way to recover his health? A mind trick perhaps, for this most non-Jedi of Alliance heroes!

A big thank you to Gillian F. Taylor for allowing me to pick up on part of her tale when she inspired me with this one. (Do read this and others — she's very very good!) I truly appreciate Ms. Taylor's generous indulgence; a million thanks!



Wedge had not improved much in the past weeks. He'd attended his physiotherapy sessions and had sat through neurological probings and tests. He'd forced himself to not expect anything.

Rather, he tried not to expect anything. But a lifetime of hard work resulting in successes beyond belief had not prepared him for ... nothing. Negative results meant failure ... and failure is simply not an option for the likes of Wedge Antilles!

Every specialist he saw had brought new hope that this would be the cure ... till his disappointments drowned out his optimism.

True, though he didn't get better, he didn't get worse. But it was hard to be optimistic about this fact when it was so difficult to grip things — every time he'd picked something up, he'd find he couldn't hold it for long before it started to hurt. His hand would shake and the therapist would have to struggle pry his fingers off the item.

"You're holding it too tightly, sir. Please, relax your grip; you have to re-learn how to hold things." The young psychomedic spoke in a calm tone, designed to prevent panic in his patients. "You have plenty of strength, don't worry! No need to show me how strong you are, sir ..."

The therapists even did scans to show Wedge how much pressure he was exerting just to pick up a stylus. The ropey muscles in his arms, back, neck, abdomen and even legs all tensed up and glowed fuchsia in the 3D live-scan display, indicating what muscles he was using. In contrast, a young human sample used only the muscles in his arms with some contribution from the back and shoulder muscles, and without the intensity Wedge was exerting.

The Ithorian doctor who had first treated Wedge had suggested he see a psychiatrist to help calm him and subdue his performance anxieties. Wedge burned with shame at the thought. He'd been lying on his medcot, wondering if he was insane. Had the virus he'd contracted managed to affect his psyche, too?

Now, every time a new specialist was brought up, Wedge would assume any treatment would result in no improvement. He'd shielded his heart from the pain of any new disappointment. Wedge knew that this could be contributing to the failure of the treatments, but he simply could not afford the luxury of hope anymore.

He heard the lock to his door being picked open and the sound of hydraulics as the entry opened up. Must be someone I know ... oh, please let it not be Janson or Hobbie ...

"Feeling sorry for yourself, there? Gee, if I didn't know better, I'd say that behavior was typical of a Coruscant native. But too bad ... I know you're Corellian." It was Han Solo, whom Wedge had known since the Battle of Yavin. "So if you're Corellian, what would make you mope? Lost a sabacc game? Woman prove to be fickle? Lost your ship?"

"Ahh ... the ship ..." Han saw the glimmer in Wedge's eye when he'd mentioned the ship. He sat down by Wedge's bed. "Did they say you can't fly?"

Wedge sighed, his breath coming out as a rough shudder. "I know I can't ... not in this condition."

Han leaned back in the seat near the bed and folded his hands before him. "So, you don't want to fly?"

Wedge, who was embarrassed before, now grew angry. "Don't be an ass, Han. You, of all people, know I want to fly!"

His fellow Corellian didn't take offense to the patient's tone. "Well, I'm having doubts about your citizenship, is all. You seem to have accepted that you aren't going to fly, so I assume that means you don't want to ..."

Unbidden, hot tears filled Wedge's eyes. Hoping Han hadn't noticed, he blinked them back rapidly. "I can't. I've tried for weeks, I've taken the meds, I've done the therapy, I've drunk I don't know how many litres of fluids a day. I've been probed, stuck, prodded, I've even consented for neurology students to inspect me! I'm not getting better, damn it!"

It was no good. The tears breached his eye sockets and poured down Wedge's face, silently.

Han's face looked concerned, but was otherwise passive. Should expect that from a sabacc player, considered Wedge.

"So, what do they say you have to do now? These med-rats, they always have a suggestion. Now and again, they're decent ones, even if they seem off the wall. And you know, it's not like you need a dozen good ideas — just one will do, if it works." Han's tone was the same as ever.

Wedge whispered his confession, afraid who else may hear it. "Han, I'm ashamed to say it ... they think it's in my head!"

Han looked thoughtful, rubbing his chin with his hand. "Is it?"

"No! I want to get better!" Wedge was still whispering, albeit fiercely.

"So what's the problem? Let them look in your head. They may find some other stuff in there about your mother or about that girl you knew on Forlor ... so what? You know it's in there. What're you scared of?" Han was irritatingly calm as he delivered his brand of logic.

Wedge was going to respond ... but he found he had nothing to say to counter Han's argument. What am I afraid of? he wondered to himself.

After a long pause, Wedge grunted, "You're right, Han. I have nothing to lose, everything to gain. What a cliché I've become ..."

Han shrugged, "Besides, what do you have to lose? Stop being so proud — I know, hard to not be proud if one is Corellian. And you've had your chance doing it your way. Give the nut-docs a turn to do you over. Anyway, if you do nothing, you're guaranteed to lose. What kind of Corellian accepts those kind of odds?"

Wedge was surprised at Han's logic, "Did you come here to bully me into seeing the psychomed?"

"Yeah," Han smiled for the first time during his visit. "How'd I do?"

Wedge surprised both of them by laughing loudly!

* * * * *

"You may consider it hokum," Han had advised, "but try it out; what do you have to lose?"

The Corellian had left Wedge's room with that parting statement and the the patented twisted Solo smile. It had been delivered so casually, but Wedge realized that it was rich with meaning. What Han meant was, If you refuse to try, you've lost more than everything. And you owe your friends that effort, no matter how ashamed you are of your weaknesses, perceived or real.

Wedge had not been able to walk more than a dozen steps before needing the repulsorlift seat to transport him, and he tried not to be self-conscious about his use of the assistance device. He needed it, that's all. Besides, he was going to see another doctor, who knew the details of his condition. The doctor wouldn't think less of him, surely.

He became depressed at this defeatist attitude that had become part of his logic, justifying his failures ...

To his surprise, the doctor was a huge Thakwaashi. Members of the race are significantly larger than humans and said to be as strong as Wookiees. What surprised Wedge most was that he'd told Princess Leia that the key to his recovery was to "change his mind" from his normal competitive, success-driven persona to one schooled in patience and obedience, traits he knew he had, but would need to strengthen in order to recover from his illness.

The Thakwaash race have multiple brains which they could allocate for different tasks. Wedge once commanded a Thakwaash called Runt Ekwesh — so-called because he was small for his race, even though he towered over any human — who was learning how to shunt between his different minds. It had fascinated him that a race evolved which could recognize a damaged mind or personality, and create a new one to suit their needs.

Come to think of it, that makes sense ... a being with multiple minds should be a good psychomed ... though I wonder, can he analyse himself??

Wedge imagined Runt arguing with himself, and he was trying hard not to giggle as the doctor approached him. "Commander Antilles, thank you for coming. I have heard much about you."

Wedge shook the being's hand, "About my case?"

"Yes, yes," nodded the big equine head, "and also from my baby brother. You know Hohass, I believe?"

"Hohass ... Runt? You're Runt's brother?" What a small galaxy this is, marveled Wedge.

"Half brother once removed, yes. A big family we are, and Hohass is the baby. His grandmother is my grandmother. From her, I know you have helped Hohass, and we are grateful. I am honored to at last meet you, sir!" Though Runt tended to speak softly, his brother was not that way inclined and Wedge was bowled over by the doctor's enthusiastic greeting.

"But now, you come for help, Antilles ... I am familiar with your case. You are familiar with the gift of the Thakwaash, to change minds as needed and sometimes at will. I was recommended and qualified in your case because you believe conventional methods to be too slow or not successful, am I right?"

Wedge was glad he was already sitting, and that his repulsorlift chair could be elevated upward to look the doctor directly into his enormous eyes. "Do I call you Doctor Ekwesh?"

"For now, please I am Doctor Haddeus. But later, I will become BigBoy. And for now, you are Commander Antilles."

Wedge giggled again.

"What do you love to do, Commander?"

Wedge answered promptly, "Fly."

"Good, good ... that is your goal, then. The finish, but the start, you need smaller, smaller ... what do you desire to do right now?"

Wedge replied quickly again, "Walk."

"Smaller still, Commander. Something specific ... walk how? Walk where?"

Wedge did not reply immediately this time. He thought of walking, and how he'd taken it for granted before. How good it would feel to walk into the hangar up to his X-Wing. How he'd jog along, unthinking, with his friends in the squadron, shoving and pushing one another, affectionately jesting. He could smell the caf in the mug in his hand, the feel of his boots hitting the duracrete flooring, and he envied his former inattention to any of these details.

He thought of the parties he'd attended that he hadn't wanted to, the parades he'd been forced to march. How he'd welcome the discomfort of having to stand at attention, anywhere!

He thought back to his childhood, running down the streets of Treasureship Row with Mirax Terrik, the woman he thought of as his sister and oldest friend. They were running from the big men they'd just pickpocketed, who in turn had stolen credits from an old woman two roads over. He thought about how proudly he stood before the old woman, who wept with gratitude. He remembered the woman clinging to him, unable to hoist herself up to a standing position without help. He remembered escorting her on his arm to the medcenter ...

His mind wandered into the future, where Iella Wesseri would take his arm and allow herself to be lead into a restaurant. She'd lean on him, knowing he was strong and would support her, trusting him with her very own life ...

Wedge found himself coming to his senses at the tapping of a strong Thakwaashi poke on his hand. He'd been daydreaming ...

The big doctor spoke softly, "You have your wish?"

"Yes," choked back Wedge, not wanting to sob. "I ... I want to walk up a grand staircase and not worry about who is watching me. I want to step over the threshold at the top of the stairs, into a fine restaurant, with my beloved lady-friend on my arm. I want to lead her to the table gracefully, without embarrassment or apology. I want her to know I am capable and strong, and that she can rely on me ..."

The doctor leaned back and pursed his big lips, showing big chunky teeth. "Yes, yes ... that will do. Okay now, stand up, Commander. I know you can. Now stand here, it's not far from the repulsor-chair," Haddeus directed the patient.

"You must use your imagination, which I know you have. You are a military strategist, a brilliant one, which means you have a mind which can imagine many concrete, finite things. You will use that mind in this exercise. Hold out your hands, palm upwards."

Wedge did as he was told; he was surprised to find it was easier to do as commanded rather than do as he wanted.

Doctor Haddeus put his hands into balled fists before him, one atop another, and formed them like was holding a rod or a club. "This is an old-fashioned ax, Commander. See how I hold it? It has weight, it has form, it has balance. See how I swing it, Commander? Now, see how my arm muscles ripple when I lift and swing? See how my legs must be parted for balance against the big weight? Watch my back, do you see the muscles I use as I twist and hold and release?"

Wedge nodded, wondering what this was about?

"Now, Commander, close your eyes. I am giving this big top-heavy ax to you. I want you to receive it — no no! It is HEAVY ... it has FORM ... yes ... yes ... like that. Do you feel the weight as I pass it to you, first one hand, now the next?"

Wedge remembered Han's challenge, "You may consider it hokum, but what do you have to lose to try it out?" And so he allowed himself to enter this rather silly game Doctor Haddeus was playing with him.

To his surprise, though he considered it trivial and silly, Wedge required a large measure of concentration to play this game. He willed himself to feel the smooth ax handle, the lopsided weight of the ax-head. He forced himself to grip the invisible, non-existant item in his hands.

Gradually, his desire to do a good job overtook his shame and disbelief.

"Good ... good start, Commander," Haddeus's voice entered Wedge's imagination. "There is a tree before you. It is large, and old old old. But, like in all imaginings, it is not just a tree ... it is a symbol ... It is blocking you from good health, blocking you from your doorway to recovery. You cannot get through it the usual way ... you cannot walk through it, you cannot push it aside. You must cut it down!

"But wait ... think ... think ... use the minds ... how do you approach the tree? How closely to you come? How do you stop? How do you hold the ax? How do you swing? Which muscles will you use? How will your legs respond to the backswing? And what muscles will you need to keep you upright when you hit that strong, hard trunk? Think of what you saw my body do ... think of what your body will do!"

Wedge discovered himself hypnotized by the doctor's voice. Uh ... to swing ... there are my hands ... and wrists. And arms ... wait, my shoulders lifting the ax ... my back ... hips have to rotate ... good, my feet are apart ... they'll support me so I don't fall over when I swing ... have to be careful ... ax is heavy ...

He was surprised that he was sweating quite heavily. Well, I'm swinging this sithspawn of an ax!

His first attempt at swinging the imaginary ax was clumsy. Don't drop it! His stroke was clumsy, and he felt the weight of the big ax-head pulling him downward along an awkward ellipse. Gah! I'm falling again!!

Fortunately, Doctor Haddeus was there to catch him.

"Slow ... slow ... it is hard work! Try again. From the beginning ... pick it up ... bend your knees! You can feel the ax ..."

* * * * *

Wedge was exhausted, more so than he'd felt in ages. He'd spent most of the day at the psychiatry medcenter, playing at cutting down a tree with a Thakwaashi doctor. Playing, but with intense seriousness.

I actually could feel that ax ... I felt it hit the tree ... it hurt my hands to feel how hard the wood was ... braced myself for the blow, got to get the timing right ...

He spontaneously remembered some talks he'd had with Luke Skywalker, and remembered how Luke had described his first conscious and formal connection to the Force. He'd been made to use his newly acquired lightsabre to block the strikes of a sparring remote, but he had to do it with a blast-helmet set over his eyes. "I was deprived of my sight, but it was if I could really see the remote ... and I could feel when it was going to shoot a laser bolt, and where. I was forced to move without thinking, and I learned to move the lightsabre to block. I had to learn not to challenge my instincts and feelings. There was no joy, per se, at the successful block, but a sort of crackle in my surroundings. I felt alive ... connected ..."

That was it ... that's how Wedge had felt, cutting down an imaginary tree with an imaginary ax. It was silly, he'd felt strange ... but he could see the tree ... he actually felt the heft and weight of the big cutting tool.

"The damned ax is dull," grumbled Wedge.

Haddeus laughed in a way reminiscent of Runt, the other Thakwaash Wedge had known. "Good! You will learn to sharpen that ax, in time! Sharpen, more detail, more instructions from that mind to those hands!"

After the session was over, Haddeus offered an explanation of the therapy's meaning, "Your nerves are damaged now. Some of your minds had depended on those nerves so they could do their work. Now, they are damaged. They need help doing what you used to do automatically. You have to tell them how to do what they once did without help. They want to work, but can't do it as they had before. It is not their fault."

It made sense, and Wedge felt an elation he hadn't felt in all the time he'd been sick. "What do you mean help them? I have to rewire myself?"

The Thakwaash nodded vigorously, delighted that his patient understood so quickly. "Yes, exactly! Exactly! You must rewire, you must re-groove the pathways. The myelin sheath which cover your nerves, some do not work anymore, so you get a bio-organic short-circuit. You want your brain to tell your muscles to do something, but they use the pathway they'd always used, but the signal is blocked ... or it goes elsewhere and you spasm ... or it just never leaves your brain. You have to re-circuit ... make new connections ... you must tell it how to do it differently."

"But ... isn't there only one way for a message to get from my brain to my hands? Isn't there only one nerve from my head to my lungs, for instance?" Wedge's incredulity was tinged with astonishment.

"Oh no, creatures are much more resilient than you can guess. One's minds are fascinating things. There are easy default pathways, for sure, yes," agreed the doctor. "But if those can no longer carry signals, you can rewire, re-switch ... you can absolutely force your body to find new ways to send those messages. Like if you must attack a space station, is there only one way to do so? Is there truly only one right way to do anything?"

"I see ... I do see!" Wedge looked at his hands, and suddenly felt that they hadn't betrayed him. He'd been accusing his body of going its own way, but now he understood that his body was as frustrated as he was! His hands wanted to do the things he wanted them to do, they just weren't getting the messages, and they couldn't send any back to him, either!

"Doctor, this is wonderful! I'm going to get better, I'm going to!" He couldn't contain his excitement, and he stood up and took a celebratory swing with that air-ax to that imaginary tree. He laughed, "What's next, do I climb the tree?"

"But today, we are finished," said Haddeus, taking the invisible ax from Wedge's hands, and even propping it up against the wall, ax-head downward. "You will see me next week."

"Next week ... but, I'm making progress now!" Wedge was panicked, thinking his progress would be hindered!

"Commander, you will have homework to do ... you will not spend the week fretting and doing nothing! And you are tired, more tired than ever before, eh? You will wake up sore tomorrow, I promise. You were many times cutting down a tree!"

As the doctor described the exercises Wedge would have to do four times a day, the feeling of relief flooded the former head of Rogue Squadron. Maybe this can work? It will work!

* * * * *

A few weeks later.

Wedge had made excellent progress; every visitor who'd come to see him noticed it. The old Wedge was coming back, they'd said!

He'd progressed from cutting down a tree — an activity which involved the conscious bunching up and twisting of muscles — to walking up a flight of stairs, which involved stretching, balance, timing. Doctor Haddeus explained that walking up a flight of stairs required power and conscious effort, and thus was simpler than walking on a level hallway. Walking down was a much more difficult task, since it was basically a controlled fall.

Wedge had laid in bed, thinking his way up a flight of stairs. Doctor Haddeus had trained Wedge to understand that every movement needed to be planned and imagined in advance. "That way, there are no surprises when you walk the walk, so to speak. Preparedness, just like in battle, eh Commander?"

Wedge imagined himself pulling his leg up, pulling his body forward, feeling the effects of gravity; how his arms needed to swing to maintain his balance. The first few times he'd rested after this mental exercise, he was stunned to feel how sore his muscles had become — the very ones he's told his body to use to climb the stairs.

I had thought fatigue was purely physical ...

The day came when the doctor took him to a little-used flight of stairs in the medcenter to try it out the mechanics Wedge had developed in his mind. He'd stumbled, and had to concentrate on holding his foot, toes-upward, so they wouldn't catch on the corners of the stairs. Doctor Haddeus actually put weights on the tips of his shoes so that Wedge would be more conscious of the effort.

"Often, the smallest things are the most difficult," explained the doctor, "so, I am adding an enlargener so you could feel the angle of your foot more acutely."

To Wedge's surprise, he could do it!

He was panting hard at the top of the stairs, but he had done it! And rather than being ashamed for being out of breath, he was proud. It had taken much conscious thought and a lot of sweat, and he had managed to climb up a full flight of stairs!

"How does it feel, Commander?" The doctor bellowed at him from the bottom of the staircase.

Wedge panted, "Great! I ... whew, I'm out of breath!"

"Excellent — shows that you are yet alive! You have not needed to teach yourself to breathe, have you noticed that? Now, try coming down the stairs ... no! Do it backwards, you're not ready for forward yet," instructed the gleeful doctor. "And remember to angle your foot and prepare the muscles in your toes!"

He was afraid he'd fall, walking backwards, not being able to see where he was going. Doctor Haddeus continued talking him through the steps, telling him that his minds were still forming the new circuits, that he needed to reinforce them. Just like Luke's blind acceptance of the Force, he reminded himself.

He was not even conscious that his shaky legs were finding the step behind and below him rhythmically, and with a measure of confidence he wouldn't have thought possible just a month ago. When he reached the bottom, the Thakwaash cautioned gently, "Stop. Rest now."

Wedge felt like jumping and cheering! He wanted to run up the stairs in celebration!

"Stop, Commander," repeated the doctor, as he noted Wedge's intention. "Like for anything, you must master the basic skills. In time and with repetition, speed and strength will come. You have been very ill, and you are climbing back from the hole of your illness. There are right ways, and many wrong ways. Your minds must discover the right ways. Patience!"

Wedge flushed, "Forgive me — my gratitude knows no bounds, doctor! But I feel —"

"Impatient." The doctor finished the sentence for him. "You are using the wrong mind right now. The desire for success is an excellent thing, Commander. But a different mind for a different situation ... the mind you need is the one who studies, the one who is patient, and the one who follows without understanding but with respect and enthusiasm. Runt used to call it his 'soldier mind.' You are a good soldier, Antilles ... the New Republic needs you. Do not blow this one. Duty with passion!"

Wedge bowed his head, in the manner of a disciple before his master. "Yes, doctor. I hear, I obey."

"Then, follow."

As Wedge followed the big doctor down the hallway, he felt ashamed of himself for being so eager. His impetuousness might damage his body, or emotionally harm him. He schooled himself to be more reserved, but to still work hard!

He was so busy chiding himself that he wasn't aware till much later that he was walking along a long corridor without having to think about what he was doing ...

* * * * *

It wasn't long before Wedge imagined himself in a sim, reacting to the animated sequences of a space battle. He could feel the stick in his hand, feel the buttons under the right fingers. He could feel the surge of a swooping dive, so steep that the inertial compensators couldn't keep up. The thrum of the engines as they recharged to fire was something he felt deep in his bones; he knew when to shoot without having to refer to the monitors indicating when the charge had maximized.

He felt the way the piloting couch wrapped around his body, and how snugly he fit into the cockpit. His feet bobbed on the rudders, applying just the right amount of pressure to turn him this way or that. Pitch and yaw and every movement were controlled with the subtle pressure of his digits or toes or knees, so intuitive that he could put his whole conscious brain toward incapacitating the enemies before him, who were poised to attack him and his friends!

Every day and in every way, Wedge was telling his body what to do and how to do it. But only in his dreams, he could truly forget the arduous attention to detail and soar through space with the X-wing starfighter as an extension of his body. Sometimes when he dreamed, his body had disappeared. In it's place was only an X-wing — the cyborg version of Wedge Antilles.

He confessed this to Doctor Haddeus, who guffawed. "No need for worry, Commander. What you are doing is exhausting, and I'm afraid to have to tell you, you may never return to that old version of you again. You will fly again, yes, I am sure. But you will have to unlearn a lifetime of battle experience and learn it all again. Your muscle memory is no longer available for you."

Wedge gasped. "Never?"

"No, I'm afraid not. Never the same again. It is like an obese person going on a diet, who promises themself they will eat as they once did, once they reach their target mass. And when they do, they regain their mass, plus more!" Doctor Haddeus sighed in sympathy. "It is a mistake to think you can be the same again, so much has your minds and their circuits been damaged."

"You mean ... you mean it can happen to me again? But I've come so far! How could I lose everything I'd gained?" Wedge couldn't believe it!

"Oh, don't be sad, Commander," admonished Haddeus. "It doesn't mean you won't be better! Or different! Imagine how unpredictable you will be! Surprise parties are in your future, sir!"

Wedge smiled — he couldn't help it — listening to the doctor's boisterous giggle. It's true ... if I'm wired differently, no matter how well they'd studied Wedge Antilles before, they couldn't predict how I'd so things now. He giggled too, thinking of Wes Janson's reaction to the new Wedge!

The new Wedge Antilles ...

The new, improved Antilles!

Bet I'd vape Janson even faster if he doesn't see the new moves coming.

That thought alone was incentive to do more and better with his imaging therapy.

* * * * *
"Think I'm able to think through the delicate muscle control required of a starfighter sim, doctor?" Wedge tried hard to sound confident, rather than childishly excited. "I'm ready, I'm sure I am."

"Yes, I am sure, too. You have friends awaiting you for a chance to play with you already. But from what I hear, you should vape them without any trouble." The doctor opened the door, and Wedge stood up clumsily and quickly. Oops ... forgot, I have to THINK first, DO after ...

The doorframe filled with an equine looking, tall lean form, which Wedge was astonished to see. "Runt! How are you!" Wedge thought of the muscles he'd need to shake Hohass Ekwesh's big hand a second before he did it, and it went very well.

"Commander! I am well, the Wraiths wish you well also!" The smaller of the two Thakwaash in the room clasped Wedge's hand, being careful not to hurt his former leader, though his happiness at seeing the human was genuine and unconcealed.

"What are you doing here?" Wedge pulled away from the warm hug.

"BigBoy told me he needed me to sim against you," Runt said nervously, his head tilting to acknowledge his brother. "I did tell him that I am hardly a challenge, even when you are ill."

Wedge laughed, "Nonsense, you were doing very well when we last saw each other. Undoubtedly, you've improved!"

Runt smiled, "You forget, I'm a ground-pounding commando now!"

"You'll hurt Janson's feelings — all those hours he'd spent training you!" It felt good to joke. Like a normal person! How long had it been since he could rib someone?

"Listen, Runt," Wedge became serious, "your brother tells me you're going to run a sim against me. I guess you know of my condition ... and I don't want you holding back. Come after me like Zsinj himself. No excuses, do you understand?"

Runt snapped a crisp salute, "Yub Yub, Commander!"

Wedge laughed so hard he fell down again, and for the first time in forever, it felt good to hit the ground!

* * * * *

Runt had indeed managed to beat Wedge in the three sim runs they'd done together. When Wedge crawled out of the simulator cockpit, he shook the Thakwaash's hand and clapped his back.

"Some excellent maneuvers, Runt! You have gotten better. Intelligence has kept you flying, despite your protestations, obviously."

Runt's long eyelashes cast downward in embarrassment, "I have a confession, Commander. I have been practicing with Major Janson, ever since BigBoy asked me to help."

Doctor Haddeus snorted, "And Commander Antilles has been trying to re-learn how to walk. What does that say about you, Hohass, that you barely beat a man who's body now behaves as if he's never flown?"

Runt hung his head, "I know ... shame on me. I apologize, Commander."

"Not at all, Runt! In fact, can you come back for my next session? You gave me some ideas for my therapy ... and I'm really impressed with your improvements, really!" Wedge meant what he said.

"Face asked me for your schedule. All of the old Wraiths want to sim you while you are down, sorry to say." Runt was quite embarrassed to deliver this fact. "You are weakened and out of practice, it is the only chance any of us will have to fly as anywhere near your equal."

Wedge groaned, "I knew I shouldn't have let Janson train you all ... he's a bad influence ..."

"Yub yub, sir," smiled Runt, shyly. "I may be back for your next session, or it may be someone else. We are chosen based on how well we are doing in the unit. I will try to behave so that I may grant your wish, Commander."

The former commander of Wraith Squadron took Runt's hand in both hands. "You ... and your brother, you've given me my fondest wish already! I'm in recovery, I'm going to get better. I'll be better than before, you'll see! Hey, do me a favor?"

Runt blinked, "Anything of course, sir!"

"You tell Janson ... you tell him that I'm coming for him!" He was giddy delivering this statement. "You tell him he won't even see me coming!"

And though he had to think it through before he did it, the little victory jig he did was totally worth doing. It was reported by Runt to everyone who'd listen as the most amusing dance, ever and passed into the realm of legend when describing Wedge Antilles, best pilot in the New Republic!

And Janson never did see his sim vape coming!


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