This story takes place on Csillag's own personal timeline shortly before the events in Epsiode V The Empire Strikes Back. I would like to thank Iris Bailey for allowing me to borrow her characters again.
The briefing room was finally quiet after the last of the pilots had filed out. Wing Commander Narra had just finished debriefing Rogue Squadron after a simulator exercise testing some of their newly developed defensive tactics and maneuvers. Luke Skywalker was showing quite a decided talent in that area, and all of the Rogues were young and fearless enough to try anything. Narra shook his head ruefully, "That proposal of Luke's that I just sent off to High Command was really something. I just hope they live long enough to ..."
His train of thought was interrupted when his comlink beeped. He flicked the switch on its base, "Narra."
A female voice said, "Commander Narra, please report to General Rieekan in the operations center."
"Acknowledged." He sighed heavily, stood and walked out of the briefing room.
The operations center of the Hoth base was dimly lit so that the technicians manning the various consoles could see their screens more easily, and the power savings were actually significant. It was also pretty tightly packed. Personnel and equipment practically on top of one another made moving around in the operations center something of a challenge.
Commander Narra spotted General Rieekan next to the main communications console and slowly negotiated his way through the obstacle course toward him. "Ah, Narra. Good." General Rieekan greeted him. "Come with me for a minute." The General caught Princess Leia's eye. She nodded and followed them from where she had been monitoring an auxiliary comm console.
The three of them moved to a relatively quiet corner of the operations center. Rieekan turned to Narra and the Princess, "We just received a coded microburst transmission from Omega Base. The Princess has decrypted the emergency code in the message. Your Highness?"
Narra looked from Rieekan to the Princess, "The code they sent means that we need to send someone to Omega Base to pick up documents including changes in standing orders that are too risky to transmit even with our best encryption," she explained. Omega Base was the Alliance's most secure facility because it was where the political leaders of the Alliance were in hiding. Contact between Omega Base and other Alliance bases was kept to absolute minimum in order to safeguard the leadership, but sometimes it was necessary.
"You need a reliable pilot." Narra nodded his head understanding immediately.
The nod turned to a shake, "But all we've got in the way of ships here are snubfighters, transports, and the Millenium Falcon. Somehow, I don't think Omega Base will be very happy if you send Captain Solo and the Falcon on this mission; they are just a little too conspicuous especially after his narrow escape from Ord Mantell."
Princess Leia also began shaking her head and smiled ruefully, "They definitely would wonder just how scrambled my brains have gotten if we did send him, but that won't be necessary. Another ship is due to land shortly; the Zena's Pride."
"Then the pilot you want is Wedge Antilles."
The Correllian Engineering Corporation YT1600 freighter, Zena's Pride, settled in to land in the main hangar not too far from the Falcon. Leia waited until the ship powered down and then walked out to meet the new arrivals.
The boarding ramp lowered and a moment later an attractive woman about thirty years old with light brown shoulder length curly hair descended followed closely by an unusually quiet R2 unit. "Your Highness. It's good to see you again."
Leia smiled, "Ily'eene, please. We've known each other for too long; just call me Leia." Her smile faded slightly, "Besides, the planet where I was a Princess is dust. It seems awkward to hold onto the title."
"Alright, Leia." Ily'eene seemed a little unsure, but felt better when Leia's smile returned. "Oh, before I forget," Ily'eene rummaged in the small bag she had hanging at her side. "I have a message for you." She located the datacard in her bag, pulled it out and handed it to Leia.
The Princess slipped the card into her datapad and pressed a button to see who the message was from. "Winter." Another smile blossomed on her face. Winter had been Leia's playmate and companion from the time she had been a very small child on Alderaan. Shortly after the Battle of Yavin, Leia had learned that Winter had survived Alderaan's destruction because she had been off-planet on a supply mission for the Alliance. They had not managed to have a face-to-face reunion yet, but did stay in touch as much as security procedures and common sense allowed. Ily'eene had often acted as their own (unofficial) personal courier since she also worked in Ordnance and Supply. Leia switched off the datapad, "I'll read it later. Thank you."
"You didn't tell Wedge I was coming, did you?" Ily'eene asked.
Leia's dark eyes became merry, "No, I thought a little surprise would be good for Wedge. You don't mind, do you? The boys are in the pilots' lounge. I'll come with you."
They walked toward the hangar exit nearest the ready room the slightly battered, very quiet R2 unit trundling along behind, "So, how do you want to do this; have Sneaky sneak up on him, or sneak up on him yourself?"
The pilots' lounge was bustling with activity. Several of the Rogues were standing in one corner rehashing the simulator exercise they had just finished, complete with exaggerated movements of their arms demonstrating maneuvers. Others were seated at tables drinking caf or playing cards. Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles were seated at another corner table also discussing the just completed simulator exercise, although without the wild gesticulations occurring elsewhere in the room.
From his position at the table, Luke could see the entrance to the room, but Wedge was seated with his back to it. Luke glanced up at the door as he listened to Wedge and saw Leia; she put her finger to her lips to indicate that he should stay quiet. A battered and familiar but very quiet R2 unit followed Leia into the room, trundled over to Wedge and quietly began irregular tapping noises that Wedge in his concentration didn't hear. As his body shifted, indicating his subconscious annoyance, the droid let out a loud electronic call modulated, "Squeak!"
Wedge jumped in his seat then turned, "Sneaky!"
Wedge's shout alerted the other pilots that something was up and they all turned toward him.
"What are you doing here, Sneaky?" Wedge asked in an uncharacteristically excited voice. "Where's 'Eenie?"
The other pilots looked at each other and then back at Wedge.
Wedge stood up and saw the Princess grinning, "Your Highness," he said, startled.
Luke stood up beside Wedge and also wore a big grin. Ily'eene had followed Leia into the ready room sporting yet another grin on her face.
"Hello, Captain Doctor Antilles. That was quite a jump. I guess you never did give Sneaky that rattle or squeak you threatened him with."
She had barely gotten the words out when Wedge swept her up in a bear hug and swung her around the room. " 'Eenie! It's so good to see you again! What are you doing here?"
Such an exuberant display on Wedge's part was not something the Rogues were used to seeing. He usually kept his emotions in check, especially when it came to interacting with female Rebel personnel. Normally, Wedge was the soul of politeness and courtesy and not given to any sort of boisterous behavior. The other Rogues had yet to discover whether or not he even had a girlfriend. Now, they thought they had the answer to that question, and an 'older woman' too; they were impressed. They were wrong, but they were impressed.
Wes Janson and Hobbie Klivian looked at each other, their eyes lighting up with notions of all sorts of possible ways to tease their squadmate. The others merely began commenting on Wedge's visitor.
"Captain Doctor Antilles?" that came from Zev Senesca , "Wedge, is there something you've forgotten to tell us about?"
"Hey, Wedge, where have you been hiding her?"
"Aren't you going to introduce us?"
"How does he rate a gorgeous creature like her?"
Wedge ignored them for the moment as he released her from the hug, but kept hold of her hands. "You weren't supposed to be here for another two weeks. Is something wrong?"
The side comments subsided and the rest of the room's occupants settled back to watch their friend with interest.
Ily'eene smiled, "New orders. I'll tell you about it later. Why don't you introduce me to your friends?"
Luke went and stood beside Leia while Wedge introduced Ily'eene to the other Rogues. Wedge was Luke's best friend among the pilots, so Luke was especially glad that Leia had been able to pull off this little stunt. "That was great, Leia. It is getting very hard to surprise Wedge with much of anything anymore. He really needed a boost."
Leia smiled at him with an expression of, all too rare, genuine pleasure. "It was just too good an opportunity to miss. I was dying to see if Sneaky could still sneak up on him, that jump was definitely worth seeing."
Luke and Leia had known Ily'eene since Yavin. She was one of the Alliance's best procurement operatives and had often made supply runs to the Yavin base before it had to be abandoned. Wedge had originally joined the Alliance smuggling supplies to one of its first bases, Dantooine, in his own freighter, the Zena's Pride. Ily'eene had been the operative who recruited the sixteen year old and accompanied him on his first trip for the Alliance. The mission had not been without problems and Wedge had ended up saving Ily'eene's life.
Since most of the pilots on the Hoth base were new to the Alliance or had been assigned to bases other than Yavin, they had not met Ily'eene Milam. But they knew a 'looker' when they saw one.
Hobbie's perpetually mournful-looking face had an exaggeratedly hurt look on it. "Wedge, you've been holding out on us. Where did you meet this beautiful lady?"
Janson came up on Ily'eene's left side and put his arm around her shoulders. "Never mind that. Why are you wasting your time with him when you could have your pick of ... me?" he said with a devilish twinkle in his eye.
Ily'eene just smiled and shook her head. "Pilots and their egos. You never change."
Wedge blushed slightly. They think there's something between us, he realized. Suddenly, he felt very awkward, like he wanted to disappear through the floor to get away from everyone's scrutiny.
"Ily'eene," he said trying to force down the blush, "these jokers are the Rogues; Wes Janson, Hobbie Klivian, Dack Ralter, Zev Senesca," he said pointing to each in turn. Then he pointed past the first four to the other pilots standing behind them and introduced them one by one. "Guys, this is Ily'eene Milam. She works in procurement so be nice to her. We've been friends ever since I joined the Alliance."
"Procurement!" exclaimed one of the pilots, "Does that mean we'll be getting some decent food around here?"
Wes had taken his arm from around Ily'eene's shoulders, but stayed next to her. "Friends, huh?"
"Good friends?" Hobbie asked.
Ily'eene smiled. "Well, on our first mission together, he saved my life." Her face assumed an innocent expression. "Does that make us good friends?"
The Rogues' curiosity was piqued. "Saved her life?" Dack asked looking from Ily'eene to Wedge.
"Tell us what happened," Wes piped in.
Ily'eene glanced at Wedge and saw his eyes start to widen and his blush deepen, and she knew exactly why he was starting to panic. Depending on how she chose to tell it, certain parts of that particular story might open him up to some pretty unmerciful kidding. The two of them were friends so she decided to spare him, "Another time, perhaps. I'm really here on business so I suppose I had better get to it."
Princess Leia decided it was about time to rescue Wedge from his squadron mates, "Ily'eene, the General is waiting." She turned and gave Luke a significant look.
He picked up on it immediately, "Come on, Wedge. Let's walk them to the ops center."
Reluctantly, the Rogues allowed Ily'eene to go, but they called after her, "We still wanna know what Wedge's reward was for saving your life!"
Wedge retreated almost swearing.
General Rieekan and Commander Narra were waiting for them in the General's office. The four newcomers found seats for themselves and prepared to listen. The General began, "Antilles, we have a very important mission and we would like you to take it."
Wedge was puzzled. Why is he being so cagey? I'm a soldier; he can just order me to take the mission. "Of course, Sir. What do you want me to do?"
"This isn't a simple piloting mission." the General said. "It is actually more of a courier mission. We need you to go to Omega Base to pick up some documents, which are too sensitive to risk transmitting even with our best encryption. We need to protect the security of the mission and we've come up with two ways to do that, but we need your cooperation."
Wedge was still confused, "I don't understand, Sir." While most Rebel personnel were aware of the existence of Omega Base, its location was, necessarily, a closely guarded secret, divulged only on a need-to-know basis. Wedge's mind started racing, I'm way down on anybody's list of people who need to know where Omega Base is. Why did they pick me?
The general glanced down at the datapad on his desk then back at Wedge. "We need to use a ship that is not known to be associated with the Alliance. You never signed your freighter, the Zena's Pride, over to the Alliance when you began smuggling for us. We were hoping you would volunteer your ship as well as pilot the mission for us."
Wedge glanced over at Ily'eene. Several months before the Battle of Yavin, numerous skirmishes with the Empire had taken a heavy toll on the number of pilots the Alliance had on active duty. In addition to going on supply runs with Ily'eene and teaching her to pilot his ship, Wedge had been training to be an X-Wing pilot. He was added to the fighter pilot roster and flew three successful missions before the Battle of Yavin. He had asked Ily'eene to look after the Pride and Sneaky, his copilot droid, and the two of them had continued to go on supply missions for the Alliance.
Ily'eene returned Wedge's look, nodding. Now I understand why I had to get here sooner than originally planned.
Wedge looked back at the General. "Yes, Sir. You can have me and my ship."
"Thank you. I assume you have a secure and obscure place to keep the documents on the ship." the General said.
"And I assume, from your previous association with Booster Terrik, that you can switch out your ship's ID transponder to further confuse matters."
Wedge was startled. How does he know about Booster? He almost managed to maintain a neutral expression. "Yes, Sir."
The General smiled knowing full well that he had surprised Wedge with that little piece of information. "There is more to this mission, however. Your Highness?"
Leia's gaze traveled over the people seated around her then returned to Wedge and Ily'eene. "The run into and out from Omega Base will be entered automatically on your astronav computer from a datapad and will automatically erase as soon as you exit hyperspace. That is to ensure that should you and your ship be captured, the base's location will still be secure. No record of the coordinates will remain in the computer to be found and once you reach the base, you should expect not to leave the ship, for additional security and to save time. Once you've completed your first jump away from Omega Base, it would be a good idea to make some random jumps to further confuse your backtrail." She smiled at Wedge, "But you'd do that anyway."
She glanced down at a datapad in her lap for a moment. "The second part of your mission is actually to provide camouflage for the first part. That's why you're in on this, Ily'eene. You've done this type of mission many times. After you've left Omega Base, you will be making another stop to pick up some new personnel to bring back here. They have all been cleared through Alliance Security."
Commander Narra, who had been silent up to this point, spoke. "One of those new recruits is a pilot. He defected from the Empire shortly after Yavin and has been making his way to the Alliance ever since. If you should happen to run into trouble on the way back, he might be able to help. He is, I'm glad to say, to be trusted."
Ily'eene looked a bit nervous. "Let's just hope that isn't necessary. This mission will be tricky enough. We really don't need the Imps to pilot us out of it."
General Rieekan stood and the others followed suit. "Princess Leia will give you your final briefing before you leave tomorrow. Remember, officially, you are only going out to pick up new personnel."
"Yes, Sir." Ily'eene and Wedge answered in unison.
Wedge, Ily'eene, and Princess Leia left the General's office, but Luke remained behind when Commander Narra called him back.
Leia walked part of the way back toward the hangar with Ily'eene and Wedge, but stopped when she heard a boisterous group, almost certainly the Rogues, approaching from a side corridor. "You two go on ahead to the Pride. I'll run interference for you and catch up with you later." She turned around to head off the Rogues and Wedge and Ily'eene made their escape.
As they approached the ship, Wedge slowed and then stopped. His gaze traveled over the contours of the ship and he stood lost in thought. The ship he'd named for his mother held many memories, mostly good, many exciting, and some harrowing, but he would never trade anything for any of those memories. They were part of who he was ... they were part of all he had left to his old life.
Ily'eene had known Wedge long enough to recognize that he needed a few moments with his memories. She stood back and watched him quietly. He certainly has grown up in the time that I've known him. He's had to.
Wedge had been sixteen years old and had volunteered via Booster Terrik to smuggle for the Alliance when she first met him. She had been reluctant to watch another kid play Rebel and get himself and others killed, if she remembered her first impression correctly. That first impression had immediately been proven wrong when he faced down a pirate who had tracked him down in order to avenge the death of a comrade. It turned out that Wedge had killed the pirates responsible for killing his parents, but he only wounded the pirate who had come after him when he could easily have killed him as well.
Repeatedly on that first mission, Ily'eene found herself first, wondering if he was too young to handle the situations they found themselves in and then, impressed all over again as he demonstrated just what he was made of. She had been seriously injured by a poisonous animal on that mission and Wedge had literally saved her life. She smiled to herself as she remembered how his face had turned red in the pilots' lounge earlier. He was afraid that I'd tell his friends just exactly how he'd saved my life. Well, not everything has changed; not all of his innocence has been burned out of him. Twenty is still so young.
Ily'eene shook off her memories, "Come on, Wedge. Let's go inside."
"Right, 'Eenie. You've taken good care of her," he said indicating the ship.
They went inside and sat in the main compartment. "I wouldn't dare do anything else," she said smiling. "I know how much the Pride means to you, and it means an awful lot to me that you trust me to look after her." She looked around the ship. "Sneaky does most of the work, though."
"Speaking of Sneaky ..." Wedge said looking at the droid that had followed them back into the ship. "Have you introduced him to any more monsters?"
Sneaky heard his question and let out a loud squeal of electronic invective.
Ily'eene grinned. "No, we only seem to run into that sort of excitement when you're along for the ride."
"Well, that makes me feel much better about this mission," he snorted. "I'd be perfectly happy to have this thing come off like a milkrun."
Ily'eene opened her eyes wide and affected an innocent sounding voice. "Is this the same Wedge Antilles who picks the pockets of Imperial officers, out-flies Imp tractor beams, shoots man-eating serpents, takes on Death Stars ...?"
Wedge shook his head. "I may be a Correllian, but I'm starting to learn that odds will catch up with you sooner or later. They caught up with Biggs and Piggy at Yavin," he said referring to his first two friends among Alliance pilots.
They had been Ily'eene's friends as well, and she too sobered remembering them. Damn. We have lost a lot in this Rebellion. Still she kept her tone light. "Ah, but they weren't Corellian!" She was rewarded with a smile.
Footsteps on the boarding ramp alerted them that they were about to have company, then Leia came into the ship followed by Luke.
Wedge looked up at Luke. "So what did Narra want with you after we left?"
Luke and Leia sat down at the table with Wedge and Ily'eene. "He is taking Renegade Flight out to fly cover for the convoy from Derra IV. He's put me in temporary command of the squadrons left here."
"That's great, Luke," Wedge said genuinely happy for his friend.
"Wedge, you know I don't want to command," Luke said shaking his head. "He wants me to run more snowspeeder simulation exercises with the Rogues since the real things aren't ready yet. I wish you could be in two places at once because I could really use your help."
Leia answered him, "Don't worry, Luke. You'll do fine. This mission is only supposed to take them a few days, then Wedge will be back."
Luke stared at the table top, his blue eyes troubled, "I can't put my finger on it, but something just doesn't seem right."
The four of them were quiet for a moment. Wedge, Leia and Ily'eene were all aware of Luke's growing Jedi powers, but he had lost his teacher, Ben Kenobi, on the Death Star. He had confided in the three of them, and Han when he was around, that he felt like he was floundering around in the dark most of the time. Occasionally, a flash of insight he usually attributed to the Force would show him an answer to whatever he was grappling with. He was still very uncomfortable trusting people's lives to it, though, especially the lives of his friends.
Luke looked up at his three companions apologetically, "I'm sorry. I didn't want to spook you."
Leia answered for them. "It's all right, Luke. The Empire's been pushing us and pushing us. We're all getting spooked. Forget it. Let's go get something to eat."
Wedge, Ily'eene, Leia and Luke tried to find an inconspicuous corner of the mess hall so that they could continue to discuss the mission, but the Rogues spotted them and barged over to join them. Before they arrived at the table, Leia whispered, "We'll just retreat to the Pride after dinner to talk more."
Wes Janson and Hobbie Klivian squeezed in on either side of Ily'eene forcing Wedge to move over. "So tell us, 'Eenie, how did Wedge save your life? Was it fun?"
Luke grinned. He and Leia knew the whole story, but he couldn't resist teasing Wedge a little himself. "Come on, Wedge. You know they won't leave you alone till you 'fess up. You might as well get it over with."
Wedge glared blaster bolts at Luke. He almost never got annoyed with Luke over anything, but this thing with Ily'eene was really bothering him. Why am I feeling so uncomfortable around her? She is one of my best friends; I've never felt like this around her before.
Hobbie looked from Ily'eene to Luke exaggerated disbelief on his face. "You mean you've known all this time that Wedge rescues damsels in distress and you didn't tell us?"
Ily'eene saw Wedge start to blush again. She winked at him and laughed. "My hero. Seriously, we were on a supply run; we escaped from an Imp Interdictor cruiser, but the ship was damaged. We had to land on a planet to make repairs. I was attacked by a two and a half meter long poisonous serpent. Wedge killed it, carried me back to the ship, and got me back to base so the medics could treat me. End of story."
Relief flooded through Wedge. Ily'eene had given the Rogues a highly edited version of that episode, but it was the truth and he had no wish to expand on it any further.
Wes and Hobbie, however, were not ready to let it go yet. Hobbie asked, "So, when did this happen?"
"The Alliance's main base of operations was still on Dantooine," Wedge answered reluctantly.
Zev did some calculations in his head. "Sithspit, Wedge! Have you been flying for the Alliance since you were twelve?"
None of the Rogues were too many years past that age, and Wedge was not the oldest among them. They were impressed. Escaping from an Imp Interdictor cruiser was a major accomplishment, as was surviving the Death Star run at Yavin.
Leia had been sitting back enjoying the pilots' banter, but it was time to get back to business. "'The Adventures of Wedge Antilles, Ace Pilot and Galactic Hero' will have to wait," she said standing up. "Wedge and Ily'eene are going on another mission and I've got to give them their briefing. Come on, you two."
Wedge and Ily'eene stood up to follow the Princess from the mess hall, but before they walked out, Ily'eene turned back to the Rogues eyes twinkling. "Who knows. When we get back, we may have another chapter to add."
Wedge already had his back to the Rogues so they didn't see it, but his face flushed red. Again.
Early the next morning, Leia and Wedge were sitting at the table in the main compartment of the Pride drinking caf as she went over the details of their trip. She handed a datapad to Wedge. "This datapad has the coordinates for Omega Base. When you leave here, make some random jumps to confuse your back trail. We don't need to make it possible for any Imps you should happen to run across to trace us here. The last part of the trip, you'll be flying blind. When you're ready, just let the datapad enter the coordinates for the jump into the navcomputer."
"Has this been tried before?"
"No. First time."
She saw Wedge's grimace, but he did not voice a protest. "I know that goes against every safety rule you've ever been taught about hyperspace navigation, but it's to protect you and us. What you don't know can't be tortured out of you if you're captured. The datapad will also insert a special code that will erase the coordinates from your navcomputer as soon as it detects that you've emerged from hyperspace on the run in to Omega Base."
She handed Wedge another datapad. "This one has the security recognition signal you'll use to be allowed to land at the base. You will be taken straight to the Provisional Council and receive directly from their hands the document packet you're to deliver back here. From the time you receive it until you deliver it to me or to General Rieekan, you must be absolutely certain that no one else even touches it."
Wedge looked up from the datapad in his hand to the Princess, a roguish glint in his eye. "The Falcon isn't the only ship with smuggling compartments," he said grinning. "The documents will be safe and you'll have them in a few days."
"Good. I'll give Ily'eene her part of the briefing, then you can get going. I'll feel a lot better once you're back. The Empire is looking for us everywhere. Be careful."
"We will, Your Highness," he said his expression serious again.
"Wedge, please. We're friends. I've asked you before; can't you just drop that 'Your Highness'?"
"I'll try, Leia," he said distractedly as he stood up from the table. "I'm going to do my pre-flight. Ily'eene can fill me in on her part of the briefing on the trip."
Ily'eene came into the main cabin from the cockpit just as Wedge went down the boarding ramp.
Leia looked up as she sat down at the table. "Ily'eene, is Wedge all right? He doesn't seem to be himself."
Ily'eene shook her head. "I'm not sure. He was fine when I first arrived, but then something changed. Something is bothering him, but he hasn't told me what it is."
"Is he all right to go on the mission?"
"Yes, I think so. There's something he needs to work out. When he's ready, he'll tell me." I hope.
Wedge was halfway through his walkaround when Wes Janson and Hobbie Klivian sauntered up to him. Wedge rolled his eyes and tried to ignore them, but being Rogues, they didn't make it easy.
"So, Wedge." Hobbie began, "Are you going to enjoy having the chance to be alone with your lady?"
Wedge pulled his hand out of an access hatch and turned to face them, "She's not my lady. She's my friend."
Janson shook his head. "Then you're a fool, Wedge. She's gorgeous, she's smart, she's funny, and she's here. What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing's the matter with me," he answered a little more hotly than he had intended to. "It's not like that. We're friends; if anything, she's more like a big sister." He stopped speaking, suddenly reminded of his own real older sister, who had disappeared years ago.
Wedge's sister, Syal, was about the same age as Ily'eene and he remembered her being very beautiful and kind. If he thought about it, he could draw parallels between the two of them, but there were also many qualities about them that were completely opposite. It seemed odd to him that his mind had put Syal and Ily'eene together like that. He'd have to think about it some more, but not right now, he told himself.
"Guys, I have to finish this pre-flight. Doesn't Luke have something for you to do?"
Wes and Hobbie had been watching Wedge as he disappeared inside himself for a moment. They silently agreed that Wedge wasn't going to say any more so they let it drop.
"Yeah. We're going to be fine-tuning those tactics and maneuvers we went through yesterday in the simulators." Wes said. "You'll have to play 'catch up' when you get back." He sensed that he should try to lighten Wedge's mood somehow. "But that shouldn't be too hard for 'Wedge Antilles, Ace Pilot and Galactic Hero and Purported Gentleman'."
He ducked as Wedge threw the greasy rag he was holding. "See ya when you get back, Hotshot."
Wedge was quieter than he should have been when he came in from doing the walkaround. Through the cockpit viewport, Ily'eene had seen the two Rogues, Wes and Hobbie, talking to Wedge. She hadn't heard what they had said, but it wasn't hard to guess. They think that Wedge and I are a couple or that we should be, and that bothers him. We're going to have to talk about this, but it will have to be later. We need to get going.
From her seat behind Wedge in the cockpit, Ily'eene reached up to tap him on the shoulder, "Captain? It's time to shove off."
Wedge shook himself from his reverie. "Yes, Ma'am." He deliberately injected a light-hearted response from early in their acquaintance.
Ily'eene laughed. "This is the Zena's Pride requesting clearance for immediate departure," she said, flipping a switch on the ship's comm unit.
Princess Leia's voice came back slightly distorted. "Clearance granted. Have a safe trip."
"Thanks. See you in a few days."
The departure from Hoth went smoothly and Wedge negotiated their course through the asteroid belt without any trouble. Their first jump away from the Hoth system was a short one, just to give them more options for hiding their point of origin. Wedge stayed in the cockpit with Sneaky while Ily'eene went back to the galley to make them some caf.
She sat down to wait for the caf to finish brewing and started thinking. He really was happy to see me when I first arrived, but something started to bother him later. That business with the Rogues teasing him about us is part of it, but there is more to it than that. I need to find out what it is and help him work it out. It won't be easy because he's so used to holding everything inside. There just aren't that many people he can talk to; I hope he can still talk to me.
She called Wedge on the ship's intercom. "Wedge, the caf's ready if you want it."
"Be right there," his voice crackled back.
She had the caf waiting in a couple of mugs when he came into the galley and handed him one as he sat down.
He took a sip. "Strong enough to peel paint. Perfect," he said smiling over the rim of the mug, but it was a tight smile nervous energy rigidly held in check.
He's still all closed up, Ily'eene thought. Even when we've been in tense situations on previous missions, he was more relaxed, looser. She wasn't quite sure how to get Wedge to start talking so she thought she'd start with the Rogues. "Your friends are real characters," she said hoping that was a neutral enough beginning.
Wedge looked up at her, his smile gone. "They are, but sometimes those characters can be a real pain in the rear, too."
Hmm, maybe that wasn't such a good place to start after all. "They care about you. They wouldn't tease you if they didn't."
Wedge looked down at the table not wanting to meet her eyes. "You know they think there's something going on with us."
Ily'eene restrained a smile; she had been right. "So?"
Wedge looked up at her, surprised for a moment, then back down quickly.
She reached over and raised his chin so that he would look at her. "There is something going on with us; not what they think, but still ..."
Just then an alarm sounded.
"That's the end of the first jump coming up," Wedge said, relieved that the conversation had been interrupted. He stood and headed forward.
Blast! Ily'eene thought to herself. We have to talk this out.
Wedge was laying on his bunk fully dressed and unable to sleep. Their instructions were to arrive at Omega Base 48 hours after their departure from Hoth. He and Sneaky had worked out a series of hyperspace jumps of varying lengths that had them bouncing all over the Outer Rim Territories and a few other places besides. Their insane tour of the galaxy had been underway for a day and a half and Wedge had spent that time trying to avoid Ily'eene's attempts to talk seriously.
Why am I afraid to talk to her? She is one of my best friends, and she just wants to help. He remembered the sudden connection he'd made between Ily'eene and his sister, Syal, back on Hoth and his thoughts went off on that track. He reached up to take down one of the few holopanels he he'd hung up on the wall of his cabin. It was his favorite picture of Syal. It had been taken when he was six years old on Correllia at a family picnic just before they moved to Gus Treta. Syal had her chin resting on the top of his head with her arms wrapped around him and both of them wore matching broad smiles.
He stretched out his body, suddenly feeling old and tired. It shouldn't bother him if he loved Ily'eene. As she said before, "So?" So what if she's older? He knew she loved him unconditionally. He felt that sort of love from Booster Terrik, his late father's best friend, and foster father. He felt it from Mirax, Booster's daughter.
But something was different about Ily'eene. Or was it? He was tired. He allowed himself to drift off to sleep, knowing he might not get another chance to nap during or after this mission.
Wedge dozed and he dreamt.
Ily'eene was stroking his hair out of his eyes, placing her cool, dry palm on his forehead. She spoke to him, "Don't force it, Wedge. It'll be fine. My sweet Veggies." He looked up at her and it was his mother, Zena Antilles, looking at him now. "No fever, but I'm always worried. He's so grown up now that she's gone. I'll never forgive myself." Her hand caressed his face gently. Wedge closed his eyes, feeling the callouses in her hard-working hands softly scratching his cheek. He gazed up and his mother faded into the dream-mist, becoming Syal's visage. "It's not you ... it was never you. I'm leaving because I have dreams that Mom and Dad don't understand. You take care of them for me, and remember that I'll always love you."
He broke out into a sweat, clutching at the hand on his face. His eyes focused now on Mirax's young mien. "Stop, Veggies! That hurts! I swear if you don't let go, I'll slam your privates back where they came from the hard way!" Shocked, he let go, then tried hard to grasp her again. He had sometimes fantasized about "getting serious" with Mirax, but it never happened. He'd told himself that he feared Booster, that she would never say yes. But the truth was that he didn't really find her sexually attractive. And even he knew that without that part, making a move on a woman wasn't the wisest thing to do. Even so, he allowed his imagination to roam wild, deep in the night.
When he finally grabbed the hand, it was to his surprise, Princess Leia. She was smirking at him, "I grew up fast too, remember."
Waking suddenly, he sat bolt upright in his bunk with the holo still in his hand. He studied his sister's image then thought about Ily'eene. Ily'eene and Syal are about the same age. That must be the connection. Physically, they were nothing alike; Syal was more what would be called classically beautiful, while Ily'eene seemed more athletic, perhaps. So why am I keeping her at arm's length? Still, he loved Syal and he knew she loved him, wherever she was. She had told him that the night before she left, and he had never doubted it for a minute, even when he had blamed himself for Syal's leaving home.
Then it hit him like a blaster bolt. I love Ily'eene the same way I love Syal! He realized that when he had told Wes and Hobbie that Ily'eene was like a sister to him, it wasn't just words. In his heart, he had equated Ily'eene with Syal, and since he didn't even know if she was alive or dead, he had put Ily'eene in that place. Booster's daughter, Mirax, was also like a sister to him, but it wasn't quite the same. She still had Booster, and he hadn't seen Mirax or Booster since he'd joined the Alliance. He needed not to be alone in the universe, and with Ily'eene in his life, he wasn't; even if it was only in his own mind.
There was a knock on Wedge's door and Ily'eene's voice came through slightly muffled, "Wedge? Are you asleep?"
"No 'Eenie, I'm not sleeping. Come in." Wedge sat up on his bunk still trying to absorb his moment of self revelation.
Ily'eene came in to Wedge's cabin still dressed and looking like she hadn't slept either, "Please, Wedge. Talk to me. Can't you tell me what is bothering you?" She sat down on the bunk leaving some space between them.
He looked at Ily'eene in light of his newly understood feelings about her. "You'll think I'm crazy," he said.
"Well, that will make us a matched set," she said a little uncertainly. "I've been driving myself crazy trying to think of what I could have done or said to make you mad at me."
"Oh, no, 'Eenie. I'm not mad at you. You didn't do or say anything." He took her hand in his, "I've just been doing some really hard thinking and I've managed to untangle a few knots in my head. I'm just sorry I kept pushing you away while I did it."
"Can you tell me a little about it?"
I have to tell her. It's not fair to her to shut her out. Please, please be able to understand this. "I'll try." He took a deep breath, "I've told you about my sister, Syal."
"Yes. You said she left home when you were seven."
"That's right; after a big fight with my parents. I still don't know for certain what the fight was about." He paused for a moment looking back in time. "Syal was ten years older than me, but we were very close; probably closer than most brothers and sisters, in spite of the age difference."
She noticed the picture Wedge had been looking at laying on the bunk next to him. She had seen the picture before and it always made her smile. "You're lucky to have had a sister like that," Ily'eene said quietly.
"I know," Wedge said. "I remember that she came into my room the night she left. She came to say goodbye, although I didn't know it at the time. She told me that she loved me and that she always would no matter how far apart we would be or wherever our lives took us. I told her that I loved her, too, and that I would always remember that she loved me. The next morning, she was gone. For a very long time afterward, I blamed myself for her leaving, but I never, ever doubted that she loved me just like I never doubted that my parents loved me. My parents never told me why she left, and eventually I understood that it was too painful for them when I asked, so I stopped asking. I know they loved her just like they loved me, but they couldn't forgive her for leaving."
Wedge took a shuddering breath, his emotions now very close to the surface. "When my parents were killed in the explosion, I felt very alone. Booster tried really hard to fill in for them, but it wasn't the same. I still knew that Syal loved me, but she wasn't there when I needed her to be. It was just me against the universe. Then you came along."
Ily'eene had been looking down at their clasped hands, but that brought her attention back to his face a little surprised. "Me?"
"Yes, you." he smiled shyly. "You got stuck with a sixteen year old kid on a mission for the Alliance. You were probably thinking he was too young or too reckless or too immature to take seriously; just like a sister would."
"Now, wait a minute," Ily'eene protested. "I remember that sixteen year old kid getting us out of all those scrapes and saving my life in the bargain," she paused for a moment, "What do you mean 'just like a sister would'?"
"Well, this is where I may be getting crazy. Are you sure you want to hear it?" I hope she doesn't think I'm a hundred kinds of idiot, he thought as he felt a tightness in his chest.
"Yes, I want to hear it. Go on."
"All right, but you asked for it." Wedge took another deep breath. "I didn't figure this out until just before you came in here, but this is it. You and Syal are about the same age. When I think about Syal, I remember being able to talk to her about anything, although anything to a seven year old couldn't have been too much."
Ily'eene smiled. "Don't sell that seven year old short."
He smiled back and went on, "Anyway, once you and I got past the issue of my being sixteen, I felt like we could talk about anything too, just like I could with Syal. We talked a lot on that first mission and the others we went on. You could kid me like Syal had without making me feel like an idiot. You did learn to take me seriously too."
Ily'eene was beginning to see where Wedge was going with this, but she wanted to let him finish so she didn't interrupt.
"What I just figured out tonight is that I had put you into the same place as Syal in here," Wedge said tapping his chest over his heart. "You've been there ever since and I haven't felt alone in the universe anymore." After a moment, he looked up from their still clasped hands, "So, am I crazy?"
Tears had welled up in Ily'eene's eyes and she could see that his looked suspiciously bright as well, "No, Wedge. You're not crazy." She paused for a moment, "But why did all this bother you? Why couldn't you tell me before?"
He didn't answer immediately, but then with another deep breath he began, "Well, like I said before, I've only just managed to sort it out up here," he said tapping his temple. "The feelings were there, but I didn't know what they were and it bothered me that I didn't. When Wes and Hobbie and the others were implying that we had a romantic relationship, I knew that wasn't right, but I just couldn't get a handle on what it was. Then, tonight, my scrambled brains put you and Syal together and it clicked. I had subconsciously made you into another sister, but I guess was also subconsciously afraid that you would reject that and I'd be alone again."
She looked straight into his serious brown eyes, "Wedge, I could never reject you. I've been doing some serious thinking too. After our first mission, when you came to see me in the Medcenter and were still blaming yourself for my injury, I told you that you were one of the bravest, most honorable, and kindest people I knew. And that I trusted you with my life. Do you remember that?"
"Well, all of that is still true. I knew exactly what your friends were implying, and I still think that whatever young lady does end up with you will be very lucky. She'll also have to be very special to deserve you." She raised her free hand to caress his cheek, "What we have is different from a romantic relationship, and it is more than just friendship. It is the unconditional trust and love of a family, and it's been missing from my life for much too long. I am honored that you think of me as a sister; I would be honored to be your sister. If I could wish for a younger brother, I'd wish for you. Neither of us ever has to feel alone in the universe again."
Wedge brushed her tears away. They were both emotionally drained, but exhilarated at the same time. The tightness he had felt was gone, "Well, shall we adopt each other then," he asked.
Ily'eene grinned, "Yes, I think we should." Her expression turned a little more serious for a moment, "A very wise young man once told me that when something awful happens, sometimes you need someone to hold you for a while. I think we need to expand on that. We need hugs to celebrate good things too." She smiled at him again asking, "Could I have a hug from my new little brother?"
Wedge gave her a big smile, "You sure can, Big Sister." And he did just that.
Their heart-to-heart the previous night had cleared the atmosphere between them, and Wedge and Ily'eene were much more chipper than they had been the last couple of days, in spite of sleep deprivation. Even Sneaky seemed to sense that things were back to the way they should be and chirped happily to himself Wedge had at last implemented some programming that would allow the astromech to make little "whistle while you work" noises so at least Wedge would know where he was.
Ily'eene, Wedge and Sneaky were all in the cockpit strapped into their respective places. Wedge had entered the final jump coordinates to take them to Omega Base just as he had been instructed using the datapad and not verifying the calculations like he normally did. It still made him uncomfortable, but he understood the necessities of security.
He looked over his shoulder at Ily'eene, "Are you ready?"
"Okay, here we go." Wedge pushed the levers to engage the hyperdrive. Outside the cockpit the stars stretched themselves into lines and disappeared into the blur of hyperspace.
Sneaky squeaked a question.
"No, Sneaky. This is just a short hop."
Ily'eene looked up at Wedge, "Wait a minute. How do you know that? You weren't supposed to look at the coordinates."
"No, the Princess said I was supposed to use the datapad to enter them directly into the navcomputer so that the erase code would be entered as well. She never said I couldn't look at the coordinates on the datapad. If I don't know where we are going, how can I get us out of there if we run into trouble?"
Ily'eene saw the innocent expression he'd assumed when he looked back at her and laughed, "You're the Captain."
"And don't you forget it," he said grinning.
The cockpit alarm sounded, "Okay, this is it." Wedge pulled back the hyperdrive levers and they popped back into realspace.
Almost immediately, the comm unit crackled, "This is Perimeter Patrol Flight two five. Please identify yourselves immediately." Two X-Wings had come up to the ship and were parallelling them from slightly above and behind.
Wedge flipped the switch on his console, "This is the Zena's Pride. I've got a recognition signal to transmit."
The comm unit crackled again, "Proceed with the transmission."
Ily'eene had the datapad with the recognition code plugged into the comm unit and pressed the button to transmit the signal.
After a moment, the flight leader spoke again, "Code signal verified. Please follow us in. You will be given landing instructions when we approach the base."
Now that that little procedure was over with, Wedge and Ily'eene took a moment to look around. They were approaching a very pleasant looking planet with a normal amount of variation in the terrain from mountains, to grasslands, to jungles to oceans. "Nice place to call home," Wedge said.
"You know where we are?" Ily'eene asked.
"And you're not going to tell me."
"Nope. What you don't know, you can't tell. It's safer that way."
Ily'eene let a little exasperation into her voice, "You weren't supposed to know either. If something goes wrong after we leave here, you'll be in more danger than me and more of a risk to the security of this place."
"Then we'll just have to make sure nothing goes wrong."
The landing had been uneventful. They waited in the ship as they had been instructed until their escort arrived, then went out to meet them.
Since Wedge and Ily'eene were supposed to be independent freight haulers, they were dressed in civilian clothes, and they were both armed appropriate to their cover. They each wore blasters holstered and slung low on their hips. They also each had a couple of vibroblades and small holdout blasters concealed elsewhere on their persons, in keeping with their assumed identities.
The escort was a squad of six neatly turned out Alliance Security troopers. The squad leader stepped up to them and said, "Follow me, please." He turned sharply on his heel and headed back toward a large building at the edge of the landing field. Wedge and Ily'eene started to follow him and the rest of the squad fell in behind them, forming a solid wall of soldiers around them.
As they made their way across the landing field, Wedge noticed that it was a full-fledged military base, which made sense since they were protecting the leadership of the Alliance. Everything about the base appeared to be crisply military, which was something of a contrast in comparison to the base on Hoth. General Rieekan and Commander Narra had come up through the ranks in the Old Republic military, but ran things pretty loosely.
When they entered the building, another Alliance Security officer stood up from his place behind a desk. "Identification, please?"
Wedge and Ily'eene pulled out their Alliance ID's and handed them over to him. He verified their identies and returned the cards to them. "You'll have to leave your weapons here," he told them.
Wedge and Ily'eene handed over their openly worn blasters and one vibroblade each. The officer didn't say anything, but stood and waited. They looked at each other, shrugged, and pulled out the holdout blasters and two remaining vibroblades placing them carefully on the desk in front of them.
"Is that it?" the officer asked.
"Yes," they answered in unison.
"It better be. Take them to the council chamber."
Wedge and Ily'eene were surrounded by their escorts and taken to the council chamber on the top floor of the building. A blue light next to the door was lit. The leader of their escort turned to them and said, "It could take a while, so you may as well make yourselves comfortable." He pointed to some chairs next to the window.
"Huh," whispered Wedge. "I guess this milkrun isn't as important as some other stuff going on."
Ily'eene spoke quietly out of the side of her mouth, "You didn't hear it from me, but I can smell Mon Cal."
Wedge looked at her quizzically, and she explained, "This is just hearsay, but I have information that the Mon Calamari are about to join the Alliance. If they do, they'll bring their fleet of capital ships with them, but they want one of their own people to be in charge of the fleet. That isn't too popular an idea in some quarters, but that's what they're talking about inside."
Wedge wrinkled his forehead, "Why should anyone mind that the Mon Calamari want to be in charge of their own fleet? We all still have to work together to defeat the Empire."
Ily'eene put her hand on his arm, "Shh! Not so loud! Anyway, that stuff is for the leaders to worry about."
Before they could discuss the matter further, the blue light next to the Council Chamber door went out and the door opened. The Mon Calamari delegation came out accompanied by members of the Provisional Council. The Mon Cals were animatedly discussing something that Wedge couldn't quite catch, but the humans who were with them seemed to be pleased so apparently some agreement had been reached. Well, we'll hear about it when we need to.
A very distinguished looking woman in her late forties with short auburn colored hair came out of the chamber and over to where Wedge and Ily'eene were sitting. They stood when they saw her approach and their eyes widened when they realized that it was Mon Mothma, the Head of the Provisional Council. She put out her hand and smiled at them, "Lieutenant Antilles, Miss Milam. It is a pleasure to meet you."
Wedge and Ily'eene both shook her hand. "Excuse me, Ma'am." Wedge said, feeling very uncomfortable that he was about to correct the most important person in the Alliance, "But I'm not a lieutenant. I'm just a pilot."
She smiled at Wedge again, "I've seen your file, Antilles. It's only a matter of time. And you're not just anything. You and thousands of others like you are the backbone of our fight for freedom."
Wedge didn't know how to respond to that so he didn't say anything, but he was able to see now why Mon Mothma was such a highly respected leader. She knew how to make every person recognize the value of their contributions to the Alliance cause.
"Ms. Milam, I've also seen your file. Your work is just as vital to us as the fighters on the front lines. They couldn't do their jobs if you and others like you didn't risk your lives to do yours."
"Thank you, Ma'am," Ily'eene whispered.
"Please, come inside." She turned to go back into the Council Chamber and beckoned for them to follow her. Inside the Council Chamber Mon Mothma walked to the front of the room, but instead of going to her own seat behind the low podium on the table, she sat down in one of the chairs to one side. Wedge and Ily'eene also sat in the chairs that she directed them to, both of them feeling awestruck to be sitting in the Council Chamber.
"I am so glad to be able to talk with you for a few minutes. Because of my position and the necessities of security, I don't often get the opportunity to talk to the people who are out there facing the Empire on our behalf."
"She's right, you know."
"Right about what?" Wedge responded only half listening as he continued the pre-flight system check on the ship.
"Mon Mothma. She is right about you. You will be an officer in no time."
Wedge turned to her momentarily speechless, the stammered, " An officer??"
Ily'eene said nothing more, but smiled to herself and thought Yes, an officer, little brother. Young you may be, but you have what it takes.
Wedge had regained his composure and finished the pre-flight. "All green on the board. Let's get going."
"Yes, Sir!" Ily'eene said grinning. She flipped a switch on the comm panel, "This is Zena's Pride requesting permission to depart."
"Permission granted. Have a safe trip, Pride."
End of Part 1.
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