Escape From Hoth
The story takes place immediately following the events in "Prelude to Rebellion" and fills in one of the little gaps left in ESB.
"Attention, all Personnel. Report to evacuation stations, immediately. Repeat. Report to evacuation stations, immediately." The base speakers blared the announcement that everyone had been dreading. Throughout the entire Hoth base, personnel raced to their battle stations or their evacuation stations.
In his room in the Medcenter, Luke Skywalker had already sent Artoo Detoo to prepare his X-wing for departure and was finishing getting into his flight gear, "I'm really sorry, OneBee, but we'll have to forget the heavy equipment. There's plenty of time to get the smaller modules on the transports, though." He picked up a small envelope that had been on the table next to his bed and slipped it into his pocket.
TwoOneBee turned to Luke just as he was leaving the room, "Good luck, sir."
Luke had stopped by the Millennium Falcon to say goodbye to Han and Chewie on his way to the snowspeeder hangar. They had been through so much together, and Luke owed his life to Han. Again. Before they went their separate ways, Luke had felt an uneasiness. He didn't say anything to Han since he had such a difficult time accepting that the Force was something real, but Luke got the distinct impression that something bad was going to happen to Han. Well, he knows how to get himself out of trouble and Chewie will look out for him, he thought trying to dismiss it from his mind.
As he walked through the hangar, Luke could see Leia briefing the pilots who would be flying escort for the earlier departing transports. The Rogues would fly escort for the later transports, if they survived.
Luke arrived at the line of snowspeeders and began looking for Wedge. He spotted Wedge with the other Rogues clustered near his own snowspeeder at the far end of the line and called to him, "Hey, Wedge." The whole group turned to see Luke approaching. "Here, catch." Luke had pulled the small envelope from his pocket and tossed it toward Wedge.
"What is it?" Wedge asked as he caught the little packet.
"Open it and see," Luke said grinning.
Wedge opened the little envelope and a small metal rank insignia tumbled into his hand. His eyes widened as he looked back up at Luke. The other Rogues slapped him on the back and offered their congratulations.
"Well, if you're going to be my executive officer, you should have the rank to back it up and keep these jokers in line," Luke said.
He turned to the other Rogues, "Mount up, boys. The Empire's out there and we've got to slow them down long enough to complete the evacuation."
A chorus of, "Aye aye, sir"s and "Yes, sir"s came back. The rest of the Rogues turned and headed for their snowspeeders, but Wedge just stood frozen in place staring at the insignia in his hand.
Luke turned back, "I'm sorry, Wedge. It should have been a more formal presentation, but there just wasn't time. General Rieekan brought that to me this morning just before the alert sounded." He clapped Wedge on the shoulder, "You've deserved a lieutenancy for a long time. We've both been upped in rank so fast now because so many good people were lost with Commander Narra. I know you can handle it, though. You handled the Rogues and the technicians really well while I was lost out in the snow."
Wedge finally looked from the insignia in his hand back up to Luke, the shock starting to wear off, "Thanks, Luke. I wasn't expecting this."
With a teasing grin Luke answered, "Really? General Rieekan said that one of the documents you brought back from Omega Base was a list of promotion recommendations from Starfighter Command."
Wedge looked at Luke suspiciously, "You don't think I tampered with the documents, do you?" He remembered what Mon Mothma had said to him when they met at Omega base, "It's only a matter of time, Mr. Antilles." He had corrected her when she mistakenly addressed him as Lieutenant Antilles. She told him that she had seen his file. She had apparently also seen the promotion recommendation.
"No, of course not," Luke said still smiling at Wedge's discomfort. "You would never do anything like that, but it is high time you got the recognition and rank you deserve. The list was compiled before the disaster at Derra IV, but both our names were on it. Come on, mount up. The Empire is not going to wait on us."
Wedge stuffed his new rank insignia into a pocket in his flight suit and they each turned to their own speeders, but then Luke turned and called back to Wedge, "You'll do right by the Rogues, you'll see." They gave each other a final wave and climbed into their speeders.
The battle against the Imperial walkers had gone badly. The snowspeeders just did not have the firepower to get through the armor on the walkers, and the ground troops took heavy casualties as they retreated toward the transports. Luke changed the attack plan to trip the huge mechanical beasts using their harpoons and tow cables, but before he had the chance to do it, Luke lost Dack Raltir, his gunner. Wedge and his gunner, Wes Janson, had been the first ones to bring down a walker. He saw Luke's speeder get hit and crash into the snow, but then he saw and reported back to the base that Luke had gotten out, pulled himself up under the belly of a walker and took it out with a grenade that he tossed inside the thing.
Wedge had also seen Hobbie shot down and Zev crash into a walker. Retreating ground troops reported that they had retrieved Hobbie and would see to it that his injuries would be attended to on one of the transports. There had been others lost among the Rogues, but their newest member, Tycho Celchu, had done well and stayed airborne until he'd been ordered to fall back and report to his fighter for escort duty. Wedge was the last Rogue left at the transport loading site. Janson had just left along with Tycho escorting one of the final transports.
Wedge stood shivering next to his already warming up fighter. He knew that Imperial stormtroopers were already in the base, but he was waiting as long as he possibly could for Luke to make it back.
At last, Wedge spotted Luke trudging through the snow toward the fighters, "Phew! Finally! Hey, Luke! Luke!"
Tarrin, the pilot of the last transport, was waiting with Wedge.
"Wedge, Tarrin! Glad you guys are still here. Did everyone get out of the base?"
"The stormtroopers are already inside. Everybody who still could, got clear," Wedge answered.
"What about the Princess?"
"An explosion caused a cave-in blocking the passage to the loading site, but Captain Solo called us and told us not to wait. She got out with Solo on the Falcon," Tarrin told Luke.
"Then they're safe. Good. I just saw the Falcon blast out of here a few minutes ago," Luke answered.
Tarrin tried to tell Luke something else, but there wasn't time. More explosions went off inside the base, and each one sounded closer.
Wedge waved at Luke to hurry, "There's no time left, Luke. Your X-wing's ready."
"Uh-oh. Get to your ships; let's lift off!"
The last two X-wings and the very last transport that left Hoth made a very harrowing escape. The ion cannon that had provided covering fire for the earlier transports had been destroyed and a star destroyer sat right in their escape path. That was what Tarrin had tried to tell Luke on the ground. Luke quickly came up with a plan to get past it, which he transmitted to Wedge and Tarrin, but then he was off the comm frequency for a couple of minutes. The two fighters hid under the transport where the star destroyer couldn't see them. Then on Luke's signal, they fired their proton torpedoes damaging the destroyer so that it could not follow them at full speed.
"We made it!" Wedge yelled. "We're almost ready for the jump to the rendezvous point, Luke. Just give the word and we can go to lightspeed as soon as we're out of Hoth's gravity well."
Over his helmet speaker he heard Luke's response, "Uh, look ... that destroyer might still try to catch us. Wedge, you go on ahead with Tarrin. You guys make the jump to lightspeed. I'll stay back to screen you, and follow when you're clear."
In the background, Wedge could hear Artoo objecting noisily, "Luke, is Artoo Detoo okay? What's the problem?"
"There's no problem, Wedge. Just get goin'! And good luck!"
"I - well, if you say so, Luke. See you at the rendezvous, Rogue Leader!"
Just before he and Tarrin jumped their ships out of the Hoth system, Wedge's comm unit registered that it had received a recorded transmission from Luke's ship. He had already pushed the lever to execute the jump to lightspeed so there was nothing he could do to abort it. All he could do was have the comm unit play the transmission as he hurtled through hyperspace.
The message from Luke crackled in his helmet speaker, "Wedge, I'm sorry that I have to mislead you about following you to the rendezvous. There isn't enough time to explain much, but there is something I have to do first. I have to go to the Dagobah system. I know it sounds crazy, but when I was out in the blizzard before Han found me, I had a vision. I saw Ben Kenobi; he told me to go to Dagobah and find a Jedi Master named Yoda. It is absolutely vital for me to find him. I don't know how long I'll be gone, but I will get to the rendezvous. Tell Leia and Han and Mon Mothma where I've gone and why, and that I will be there as soon as I can. I heard General Rieekan put you in charge of the squadron when I went down on Hoth. Let the guys know that I will be back, but I have to do this first. You will do great as Rogue Leader while I'm gone. May the Force be with you. Skywalker, out."
Wedge sat in the cockpit of his X-wing totally and completely stunned. On Hoth when Luke's speeder had gone down, Wedge had felt a few anxious moments until he had spotted Luke climbing out of the speeder. He was confident in his own skills as a pilot, and was willing (although surprised) to be Luke's second in command, but he had never expected to be in command of the Rogues. He did not doubt that Luke would make it to the rendezvous, eventually, but in the meantime ... he was Rogue Leader. It was a very sobering thought.
The white tunnel of hyperspace through which his ship hurtled swirled around outside his cockpit, but Wedge was oblivious. It was a good thing that the hyperspace portion of this trip required little close attention to ship's operations because Wedge's mind was preoccupied with Luke's message.
He heard the ship's computer give the warning signal for reversion to normal space and brought his attention back to the task of piloting his ship. The whiteness of hyperspace broke up into star lines that became individual stars, but they were further away than Wedge had ever seen them. The rendezvous point was a position far out beyond the galactic rim. The intergalactic void around him was very dark because most of the visible light was concentrated in the swirl of stars in front of him. The Rebel fleet floated in the darkness offering the only refuge in the infinity of space.
Almost immediately, Wedge's comm system crackled, "Well, at least we won't be the last ones to the party. Luke will be buying the first round this time."
Tarrin's voice sounded too chipper to Wedge. He did not respond.
"Wedge. Hey, Wedge! What's the matter?"
Wedge shook his head to try to clear his thoughts, "Nothing, Tarrin. You go ahead and take your position with the fleet. I'll see you later."
"Acknowledged, Wedge." Tarrin's signal cut off.
Wedge keyed his comm unit over to the fleet frequency, "This is Rogue Three. Request permission to come aboard Home One." He could not use the "Rogue Leader" designation yet.
His comm unit crackled back, "Rogue Three, where is Rogue Leader?"
Wedge closed his eyes for a moment, steeling himself for the reaction to the transmission he was about to make, "Home One, that is the reason I need to come aboard. I have a message from Rogue Leader." An icy feeling in his gut gripped Wedge. He knew that every ship was monitoring the fleet frequency. They now knew that something was up and rumors would begin flying immediately. The sooner he could let the Alliance leadership know what had happened the better.
"Permission granted, Rogue Three. Report to Main Briefing immediately."
Wedge guided his ship to a hangar bay on Home One, the huge Mon Calamari ship that served as the fleet's mobile headquarters. His comm unit crackled with chatter between the other ships of the fleet already speculating about Wedge's message from Luke, but thankfully, they did not try to contact him directly.
The hangar deck crew guided his ship to a landing spot and raced to bring a ladder over to the cockpit. Others began unloading his R2 unit so that it could accompany him to the briefing room. During the flight from Hoth, Wedge had his R2 unit copy Luke's message from the fighter's comm system, then erased the original. There was no point in tempting the hangar crew to try and retrieve the message before the Rebel Leaders had the chance to hear it.
Wedge climbed down from his ship and was met by the Deck Officer. Lieutenant Antilles? This way, please. They're waiting for you in Main Briefing." During the flight to the rendezvous, Wedge had had the chance to attach his new rank insignia to his flight suit, but hearing himself addressed as Lieutenant still came as something of a shock. As soon as his R2 unit was released from the magnetic crane, they moved out followed by the stares of everyone in the hangar.
Wedge walked into the briefing room and was surprised to see only three people in it. It was a large circular room with a sophisticated holoprojection unit in the center and tiers of seats all the way around the room. The three people occupying all this space were General Crix Madine, an Imperial defector now in charge of covert operations, Admiral Ackbar, the brilliant Mon Calamari tactician in charge of the Alliance fleet, and Mon Mothma, the political leader of the Alliance.
Mon Mothma approached him first smiling and gestured toward the new rank insignia on his flight suit, "You see, I was right, Lieutenant. It was only a matter of time before you received the rank you were due."
"Yes, Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am." Wedge knew that she was just trying to put him at ease. "Excuse me, Ma'am, but where are Princess Leia and Captain Solo? I'm supposed to give this message to them too."
Mon Mothma's welcoming smile faded, "The Millennium Falcon has not reported in yet."
Wedge frowned, "But they left before I did ..."
Mon Mothma's expression became one of compassion and concern, "One of your fellow Rogues, Wes Janson, reported seeing the Falcon dodging TIE fighters in the asteroid field at Hoth. There were also a number of star destroyers pursuing them."
Wedge's gut filled with ice again. Luke asked me to tell them that he would be here, but that he had to do something else first. R2, you'd better play the message."
The four of them sat in the tiered seats of the briefing room and listened to Luke's message in silence. When it was finished, the silence continued for a another few moments. Then General Madine turned to Mon Mothma and said, "Dagobah? I've never heard of it. Do you know where it is? And who is this Jedi Master, Yoda? Will Commander Skywalker bring him back to help us?"
Mon Mothma stood and went over to a computer terminal to access the ship's databases.
After a moment, Wedge said, "On the way here, I asked my R2 unit if he knew anything about the Dagobah system. He told me that it was not in his memory banks, but he doesn't have the capacity of the ship's database."
Mon Mothma turned to face the others, "The ship's computer has no record of a planet or system named Dagobah; nor is there any record of a Jedi Master named Yoda. That does not mean they do not exist. There are many gaps in our databases, especially regarding the Jedi Masters since the Empire did everything it could to purge the whole Jedi Order. My guess is that Luke has some way we are not aware of to locate Dagobah and this Yoda."
They sat in silence again for a few moments, then General Madine raised another point, "I had heard that Commander Skywalker was stranded out on a snowfield on Hoth overnight. Is it possible that his physical injuries might have been healed, but that his mental faculties might still have been overwrought? Being attacked by a Wampa Ice Creature would unnerve anyone."
Wedge immediately jumped to Luke's defense, "Begging your pardon, Sir, but no, I don't think so. I don't have any affinity for the Force, but Luke has talked with me about it some. He told me after the Battle of Yavin that he had heard Kenobi's voice a few times and that it seemed to be meant to guide him. The first time was on the Death Star right after General Kenobi had been killed by Darth Vader. The voice told him to run. He blasted the door in the hangar cutting Vader off and he was able to get back to the Falcon and escape. Then he heard it again a couple of times during the Death Star battle. Kenobi's voice told him to trust the Force. That was when he shut off his targeting computer. He made the shots that killed the Death Star using the Force. If Luke says he saw General Kenobi, I believe him."
Mon Mothma smiled at Wedge again, "The general was not attacking his veracity, Lieutenant. It's just that we need everyone we have, especially Commander Skywalker, since Princess Leia and Captain Solo are missing."
The icy chill that had faded somewhat gripped Wedge again. Han Solo could be a real pain sometimes, but he was a fellow Corellian and a damned good pilot. Wedge had come to respect Solo as much as he was exasperated by him on occasion. Han Solo was as brave as he was reckless and had proven his loyalty more than once. He'd even shown the Rogues some flight maneuvers in the simulators (when the officers weren't watching) that no instructor would ever have dreamed of showing them. Wedge and the other Rogues considered Solo and Chewie friends as they unofficially tagged along with the Rebellion.
The thought of the Princess being missing, however, was almost incomprehensible. She had thrown herself into every aspect of base operations on Hoth and inspired all the personnel there. If a Princess could endure the hardships and pitch in the way she did, the rest of them surely could.
She had also become good friends with the Rogues and spent a lot of time with them. It was not unusual to find her in the Rogues' hangar helping them do the maintenance on their fighters then join them afterwards for a game of sabacc. Wedge had told the new Rogue, Tycho Celchu, who was also from Alderaan, how great the Princess was for the morale of the personnel at the Hoth base. If she was lost ... he didn't even want to think about it.
As they listened to Luke's message, Admiral Ackbar had removed the small rectangular metal rank insignia from the front of his uniform. His gravelly voice brought Wedge's attention back to the present, "Lieutenant, it appears that with Commander Skywalker away, at least temporarily, you are in charge of Rogue Squadron. There aren't enough more senior officers available to transfer one to command of Rogue Squadron until Luke comes back. I know it is a lot of responsibility to thrust upon you so suddenly, but your records and your conduct during Luke's absence on Hoth prove that you can handle it."
He took one of the small metal disks from his own rank insignia and handed it to Wedge. "You are now a brevet captain." The eerie sense of deja vu kept Wedge from responding with anything more than a wide-eyed stare, but the Admiral apparently sensed his discomfiture. He put a flippered hand on Wedge's shoulder echoing Luke's gesture just before the battle, "Report back to your unit. Privately - and please make sure it stays within the squadron, you may give them what information from Luke's message you feel is necessary to allay their fears regarding him. For the sake of morale, publicly, all you know is that he has gone on a confidential mission. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Sir." Wedge managed to answer, his voice a little shaky.
"We will hold an immediate meeting of all the military and political leaders here with the fleet to inform them of these developments. Then we will issue an official statement to the entire fleet as soon as possible regarding Luke, Princess Leia and Captain Solo. I hope ... we all hope ... that they were just delayed in reaching us, but I'm afraid we must be prepared for the worst case."
Wedge suppressed a shudder, but could find nothing to say.
The Admiral stood followed by the others, "I will be speaking to you again soon. Dismissed, Captain."
Mon Mothma stopped Wedge with a hand on his arm, "Thank you, Captain, for bringing this information to us. I know you are worried about your friends. We all are. We will not forget about them, but we must also not lose focus on our goal - to free the galaxy from the Empire. We must gather our strength for the next confrontation, but we will do everything we can to help Luke, Leia, and Han. And we will keep you informed."
"Thank you, Ma'am." Slowly, as if still in a daze, Wedge attached the small disk Admiral Ackbar had given him to the metal insignia on his flight suit, "I'd better get back to the squadron now."
Wedge left the briefing room and was immediately pounced on by the people milling around outside. He managed stop the barrage of questions and escape after telling them that there would be an official statement shortly.
As he made his way back to the hangar, Wedge recalled the conversation he'd had with Luke in the Medcenter on Hoth. A flash of Jedi intuition had apparently shown Luke that Wedge might be leading the squadron in very short order. They had both tried to dismiss it, but apparently the Force would not be denied. Luke was on his way to Dagobah. The chill in his gut grew to encompass his whole body. Two days ago he'd been one of a bunch of hotshot pilots. In one day, he'd been promoted twice; first, he'd been promoted to lieutenant and he had been made XO for the squadron. Now, he was a brevet captain and Rogue Leader, at least till Luke came back ...
"May the Force be with us," Wedge said to himself, "We're going to need it."
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