The Kiwi Connection

Author's Disclaimer: The Rogues and Wraiths are the creations of Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston, whom I bow to daily in eternal gratitude. The original Star Wars concept is of course George Lucas's, may his name endure forever. I apologise for my sometimes unsympathetic treatment of Australians in this story - but well, all's fair in love and war, and baby, this is war! The members of the Otago Highlanders are of course real men, both literally and metaphorically, so I guess I'll have to attribute my gratitude there to Mother Nature for making them so.

Background: This story began as a "Dealing With the WEB" fragment which, like Topsy, "just growed." It was originally inspired by a chance remark by Allax when I was frothing at the mouth about meeting Kevin Smith after a concert and acquiring his autograph. She noted that I should have brought him to the CON. The idea stuck in my mind, but when I started to play with it, it got mixed up with the recent AFW forum Kiwi discussion in which some of us were matching up the Rogues and Wraiths with appropriate All Black (the NZ rugby team) personas. Add to this Diana's liking for Choysa brand tea, and El's passion for Cherryripes, and suddenly the story took on a life of its own. As the current rugby focus here was the Super 12, the Rogues and Wraiths became members of my local team instead of All Blacks, but as most of the current All Blacks are either from Otago or Canterbury, the difference is, as Holmes told Watson, quite elementary.

Those of you who are rugby-illiterate should be able to work out some connections from the story, but I have included a partial glossary at the end in case you get lost. If you want to create a bit of atmosphere in which to read the story, I suggest you make yourself a cuppa, wrap a large blue and gold scarf around your neck, paint your face blue and gold, stock up with a supply of greasy meat pies and get ready to shout, "Otaaaago! We're away!"

It was raining; and although this made the beautiful Rogue Valley scene from the WEB headquarters' windows more beautiful and mistily mysterious, it had its downside. None of the pilots had thought to bring their wet-weather gear with them, so they were all forced to remain in the house, and their efforts to amuse themselves were beginning to drive Allax and the WEBbers crazy.

Wedge was not too much of a problem, as he had happily ensconced himself in the bath for the morning, and occasionally the women could hear his voice as he ran through the full Starboys repertoire. It had taken only a few songs for them to feel grateful that the Starboys did belong to a galaxy far, far away, however they had to admit that Wedge's voice compensated for the lyrics. It was surprisingly mellow and occasionally descended into a deep, hormone-inducing growl when he hit the low notes.

Unfortunately the other pilots were becoming what could only be described as bothersome. Elassar had discovered Allax's accessory drawer, and was amusing himself by decorating his horns with an assortment of scarves, necklaces and bangles. Wes and Hobbie had found a book of children's party games, and had organised a game of Sardines which involved most of the others. Unfortunately, by the time Piggie and Runt had crammed themselves into the various wardrobes and cupboards that Wes had deemed suitable hiding places, there was little room left for anyone else, and as a result WEB HQ was beginning to resemble the trail of destruction that both the Rogues and Wraiths were accustomed to leaving behind them.

The final straw came when Myn suddenly found the enforced proximity that Sardines demanded a little too claustrophobic, and decided to go outside for a bit of a breather. He borrowed an oilskin he found hanging by the back door, grabbed his trusty laser rifle, and set off up the hill, savouring the taste of pure Oregon rainwater on his lips. Being dirt-side with the boys had its compensations as far as relaxation went, but Myn never forgot his responsibilities as the sniper of the outfit. Since the weather had closed in, he reasoned that there probably wouldn't be many people around, and so he could safely set up some targets on the hills and put in a little practice.

Essentially the idea had a lot going for it. It was just unfortunate that the local office of the IRS had chosen that particular day for their annual team-building exercise, and that particular area for their orienteering session. Still, as Wes pointed out, Myn had managed to wipe out the entire squad, so it was not like there was going to be any informers. And, furthermore, such a mass disappearance might spark a lot of interest, and maybe bring in some tourist revenue.

"After all, remember the Blair Witch," he said triumphantly.

The women cast despairing glances at Wedge, who had just emerged fresh as a spring morning from his foam bath. He shook his head, his dark hair glistening enticingly. "I don't want to know," he said firmly.

Before anyone could think of a suitable rejoinder, they all heard the sound of a car performing a wheelie on the gravel outside.

"My God - it's the police," thought Allax desperately, watching as Wes rushed to the window. The pilot emitted a low whistle.

"Great," she thought, "no doubt a female cop, too. The most perceptive and annoyingly successful kind. So now we'll have murder and sexual harassment to contend with!"

"Now that's what I call a ground car," murmured Wes admiringly. Allax threw Diana a quizzical glance, and both women moved over to join him. They saw two people extricating themselves from a dark green MGA, which even in the misty rain, exuded an aura of British elegance in its classic racing lines.

"Wedge. I want one of those," Wes said greedily, with the tone of a spoiled child.

"Not until you've passed puberty, son," his leader grinned wickedly in reply.

"Diana, I want one of those," mumbled Allax incoherently, for she had just recognised the classic male contours, the impressive breadth of chest, the narrow hips, the semi-shaven visage, the dark, slightly spiky hair, the melting brown eyes of ... Kevin Smith.

"Who's the wo--," Diana began, as Kevin's female companion caught sight of their faces at the window and threw them a friendly wave.

"I have the feeling that might be ..."

"G'day!" the woman shouted happily. "It's me, Iella. I met Kevin the other night as you know, and was going to send you his photo and autograph. Then I thought - hell, in for a penny in for a pound - why not bring you the man himself. So I talked to Kevin about it, and he said: "why not." He was pretty impressed to find he had such a following here, and also, he and I have a mutual problem we thought you guys might be able to help us with."

"But surely you didn't bring the car with you?" gasped Diana, noting the alien right-handed position of the steering wheel.

Kevin and Iella chuckled. "Geez, no. We borrowed it from Russell," Kev explained, shouldering both his and Iella's bags on his wide shoulders and approaching the now open door.

"Russell?" mouthed Allax.

"Y'know - Russell Crowe. He keeps it in Temuera Morrison's garage so he can use it when he's here. Although to be fair, I believe he sort of shares it with Geoff Murphy and Lucy Lawless. You know us Kiwis - we like to stick together and share things.

"Women?" asked Wes hopefully.

"Come off it, mate," laughed Kevin. "A man has to draw the line somewhere."

"Kev's married with kids, Wes," Iella informed him.

"That makes a difference?"

"I think you'll find it will," she replied mysteriously.

Wes stared at her, and his baby blue eyes narrowed.

"Are you trying to tell me something?"

"Let's just say that I have ideas which I am currently toying with."

"You're going to write me a story!" crowed Wes triumphantly.

"I hope so. If I ever get this horrible Ph.D. thesis finished."

"What's a thesis?" said Hobbie.

"It's a bit like the war against the Empire - it goes on and on, and problems you thought you'd dealt with keep rising from the ashes."

"Ah," all the pilots nodded sympathetically.

"Diana, if I said the word Choysa to you, would it make you want to put the jug on and dig some cups out of the cupboard."

Diana stared at her, eyes wide.

"Kev - the box of goodies please," said Iella, holding out her hand theatrically.

Kev chuckled - a deep Ares-type rumble - as he grounded the bags and dug out a box emblazoned with the Cadbury's insignia. He pulled at the top flaps with his long, supple fingers and held out a large, red and yellow, one hundred teabag packet of ... Choysa. Diana fell to her knees, weakened by years of deprivation and held the box to her breast. Kev grinned meaningfully at Allax and slid his hand into the box again. This time he drew out something in a shiny crimson wrapper and held it up to her, waggling it provocatively. Allax moistened her lips and sighed contentedly.

"Cherryripes! You bewdy!" she said.

"There's plenty for everyone," said Iella. "And after we've pigged out - no offence Piggy ..."

"None taken," smiled the Gamorrean, bowing his head graciously.

"... we have a proposition for you."

"A proposition?" Allax swallowed her mouthful of sumptuous cherry nougat and chocolate and stared at the two Kiwis curiously.

"A sort of 'you rub my back and I'll rub yours' type of proposition," grinned Kev, his dark well-etched eyebrows lifting teasingly.

Allax and Elbede exchanged glances. When they turned back to Kev, they saw he had picked up the Cadbury's box and was gazing at them as if awaiting instructions.

"Got any M & Ms in there?" Wes asked hopefully.

"What we have, my friend, surpasses M & Ms in the same way a Bakuran fruit liqueur leaves a slice of Tatooine womp rat for dead."

Wes's face lit up with his familiar boyish grin, and he turned to Wedge. "Can we rub his back, O Great Leader?" he pleaded.

Wedge rubbed his freshly shaven chin, studying the New Zealander and his shorter companion thoughtfully. "We can certainly listen," he said eventually. He held out his arm to usher Kev, Iella and the others towards the living room. "Propose on," he grinned.

* * * * *

"So," said Allax, when everyone had found a seat, "tell us about this proposition."

Kevin rested an elbow on the arm of the sofa, and his features became serious as he gazed around at the assembled faces. "Well, the fact of the matter is, New Zealand is undergoing a bit of a crisis at the moment, and it's all because of those damn Aussies."

"Aussies?" Wedge raised his dark eyebrows quizzically. "Never heard of them, what are they?"

"Australians," hissed Iella. "And at the moment they are single-handedly undermining the fabric of our society. We need someone to do something about it, and quickly."

"Ah," Wedge nodded. "Something, meaning some sort of pre-emptive strike; and someone, meaning us."

Kev stuck out his hand to Wedge, who grinned companionably and shook it firmly. "Got it in one. You're right, Iella - there are no flies on this guy!"

Iella nodded, and although her eyes slipped mischievously down to Wedge's tight, muscular thighs, she bravely resisted the temptation to respond to the double-entendre in Kev's reference to "flies."

"What tactics are these Aussies using?" asked Wes, curiously.

"They're hitting us where it really hurts, right at the heart of what gives us our sense of identity - they're beating the hell out of us at rugby," explained Kev.

Wes took a deep breath and let it out in a slow whistle. "Cruel," he said.

"If their plan succeeds, New Zealanders will lose the will to go on."

"No more Cherryripes?" asked Wes aghast at the horror of such a prospect.

Iella nodded sagely. "No more black singlets and gumboot throwing competitions. No more little fluffy kiwifruit; no more little fluffy kiwis."

"My God!" Diana gasped, the full ramifications of the event suddenly hitting her. "No more Choysa! Guys, you've got to do something about this."

"I'm beginning to appreciate the extent of this problem," agreed Wedge. He turned to Kev. "I gather you two have some sort of plan?"

"Oh yes," the two New Zealanders chorussed decisively. "But it's going to involve some hard yakker."

"Yakker," the pilots breathed the word in unison, imbuing it with cosmic significance.

"We're going to have to teach you how to play rugby," said Kev.

"And we're going to have to teach you how to play like the Aussies - dirty," added Iella.

"I love it when you talk like that," grinned Wes.

"Iella wants you to be hooker, Wes," Kev informed him.

"This is getting better every minute," Wes leaned forward in excitement.

"And Piggy and Runt, we want you as props. The deal is this: You lot get to carouse with holostars, get a trip down under, all the beer you can drink, a lot of exercise. You play rugby for us. Here, we'll show you what all this means; get the videos, Iella."

While Iella hurried out to their bags, Kevin turned to Allax. "Mind if we take over your TV for a while?"

"Be my guest," Allax waved her hand airily towards the blank screen in the corner.

"You won't object if we take these boys off your hands for a few days?" he asked.

"Actually," said Allax quietly, "you'll be doing me a favour. This wet weather has had them caged up for too long. Is this the part where you 'scratch my back'?"

"Yes, it is, and that's what we thought - but I thought it best to check," Kev smiled. "Thanks - I promise to bring them back intact!"

Diana looked thoughtful, "Allax, can we have him bring them back ... improved?"

Csillag glared at her, "They're quite wonderful the way they are now."

"They're good as they are, you're too right Csillag, but we're going to show them some training videos, so they see how to play the game, and then we'll take them through our plan." Kev smiled over at Allax.

"In that case, I'll get back to my planning, while you get to the hard yakker," smiled Allax, ignoring everyone by Kev. "But I might take that Cadbury's box with me. I don't trust certain people when there's chocolate around."

* * * * *

"I can see this game is a lot more complicated than it first looks." Wedge rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he disconnected himself from the practice scrum Kevin had organised in the living room. He and the other pilots had watched Kev and Iella's training videos, after which they had also sat through a recording of the last game Kevin's team - the Canterbury Crusaders - had played (and lost) against the Aussies.

"In terms of rules, yes; but essentially it's no different to the battles you're used to," Kevin affirmed, tipping the sofa back the right way, and surreptitiously rubbing the scuff marks Piggy's tusks had made against the polished wood of the entertainment centre. "The forwards are simply your first line of attack - they punch holes in the enemy's formation - then the backs take over and finish the job. The key to rugby is maintaining possession of the ball. If you don't let the enemy get the ball, they can't score any points."

"... and committing every little nuance of the rules to memory so we know just how far we can push them," laughed Wedge.

"That, in a nutshell, is the Aussie philosophy," declared Iella.

"Well that's the trick, isn't it," agreed Wedge, "learning to think like the opposition."

Kevin glanced across at Wedge and threw him a wicked Ares wink. "You're on to it, mate," he grinned.

"So where do we go from here?" Corran had been balancing Kev's rugby ball on his finger and trying to levitate it using his Jedi skills. Levitation wasn't his strong point, but on the third attempt, he had succeeded in holding the ball perfectly poised on its end about two feet above his hand.

"Now that's definitely going to come in useful," said Kev admiringly. "Frustrate the enemy and get them angry, then they'll give away penalties. However, first things first: we'd better give you your new identities. Iella, the photos and profiles please? We're going to need your advice, Face, on some of the disguises."

"'T'will be my pleasure," Face gave a theatrical bow.

"Then we'll ship you out to NZ, to my crib, where we'll run through some backline maneuvres in the backyard."

"Crib?" asked Elassar.

"Holiday home," explained Iella.

"Won't that look a bit suspicious," Corran frowned, "a large group of foreigners suddenly appearing unannounced in a holiday spot, and playing furious games of rugby."

"No way, mate. My crib's out in the wop wops. Not a soul for miles, unless you count the sheep."

"Wop wops?" Wes queried.

"The back country," Iella interpreted for him.

"Sheep?" frowned Ooryl.

"Naugas," repled Iella.

"Ah," both pilots nodded their comprehension.

"Then - the tricky bit. The guys you're going to have to become are the Otago Highlanders - Iella's team - because they're the next ones to play the Aussies, and so are our last hope to knock the Aussies back on the points table. Now the Highlanders are playing in Oz, so we're going to have to hijack them before they play, and the best place is going to be at the airport."

"We've rigged it up so that one of our ex-pat Highlanders agents will be at the wheel of the bus intended to take the team from the airport to their hotel," continued Iella. "They'll board the bus OK, but - and here we need you Corran - the driver will play them endless renditions of the theme tune from "Neighbours" to put them to sleep. He'll then drive to a garage owned by another ex-pat Highlanders supporter in the suburbs, where you Corran will put them into a trance. Later on, you'll fill their minds with memories of the game, and they'll go home thinking they played it."

"Superlative," nodded Elassar.

"Sounds reasonable," agreed Corran with his characteristic caution. "Tampering with minds is something I'm cagey about, but this situation is obviously critical."

"Here you are, guys - your new identities," Iella handed each some sheets of flimsy.

Piggy studied his look-alike curiously, and gave an appreciative grunt. "A surprisingly close resemblance," he mused, "but what am I going to do with my tusks." Kev and Iella exchanged sly grins at their shared images of Piggy's tusks lodged in a variety of Aussie orifices . "I think what you mean is, how can we disguise them," said Kev finally. "Face, any ideas?"

"Masks," said Face decisively. "Fortunately, a number of these guys wear extensive headgear, so we only have a problem with the faces. In some cases I'll be able to get the likeness with good makeup, but for Piggy, Runt and Ooryl, I'll need some latex and some moulding gear."

"I can organise that," Diana piped up from the doorway. "Chemistry is my thing."

"In that case I'd say we are Go," said Kev. "We'll reconstruct you as Highlanders, and then put our plan into action."

"Do we get to wear kilts?" asked Wes hopefully.

"Pity we couldn't play in them instead of in shorts," grumbled Myn. "Then I could pretend my laser rifle was just an exceptionally large sporran."

"Don't worry, Myn," soothed Iella. "We'll be using your keen eyesight and perfect aim to kick the goals."

"Really?" Myn perked up. "I'll have to do some practice, but I'm sure it'll be the same principle. By the way," he turned to Iella and lowered his voice. "Thanks for writing me that story with Tanira; she really helped me, and I'm grateful."

"I thought she would," smiled the New Zealander. "And she wants you to know, you helped her too."

"I did?" Myn looked surprised, but then a soft expression descended on his face and transformed it. "I'm glad," he said quietly.

"Face and Diana - we'll leave you to perfect the disguises. Guys, we've got some video footage of interviews with the men you're replacing. Spend some time studying their mannerisms, and then pack your gear. NZ here we come."

"To New Zealand!" Wes cried, striking a Henry V at Agincourt pose.

"Tallyho!" shouted Hobbie, leaping up to join him.

Wedge raised his eyes to the ceiling and threw Kevin and Iella an amused shake of the head. "Kids!" he murmured, and settled down dutifully to learn more about his new alter ego.

* * * * *

A tall, well-proportioned man in neat black trousers, light blue shirt and Highlanders tie stepped down from the coach that had just pulled up to players' entrance at Canberra's Bruce Stadium.

"Taine," greeted an official in a hideous green and yellow jacket with a wallaby emblazoned on the breast pocket. "Hope you're ready for the onslaught."

"Most definitely," grinned Face, his smile, although urbane, contained within it a vague predatory glint, like that of a vornskr silently anticipating the feast to come. "In fact, they're a bit hyped up. Might pay to get them to their changing rooms as quickly as possible - just in case they start ripping up the place."

The man laughed uproariously; rather, Face thought, like the kookaburras they had been watching in their motel courtyard that morning. Then he turned and gesticulated towards the entrance to a tunnel which led down into the lower levels of the stadium.

"I believe you mate, thousands wouldn't," he chuckled, too amused by Face's cheek to notice the sudden penchant some of the Highlanders seem to have developed for wearing hats. "Third door on your left," he shouted after them.

There was no doubt that Diana and Face had performed a superlative job on the disguises, but the degree of their success could be attributed to the existing similarities between the two groups of men. The Rogues and Wraiths, like the Highlanders, were a fine looking bunch. Even Kevin had had to admit that they were lucky it was the Highlanders whom they were having to replace. Disguising them as the Crusaders would have created a few problems; and disguising them as the Auckland Blues, the ugliest team on earth, would have proved well nigh impossible.

"Getting any feelings from the Aussie camp?" Wedge asked Corran, as they passed a door guarded by two craggy-faced green and yellow security guards.

Corran half-closed his green eyes and seemed to focus momentarily on some distant information source beyond Wedge's comprehension.

"Nervousness," he said quietly, "but confidence too. They're pretty sure they're going to roll us over."

"Hmm," murmured Wedge, as Kevin slipped over to walk beside them. "Over-confidence can be a nasty mistake. However, these guys are a lot more familiar with this game than we are - so we're going in at a disadvantage."

"Except that we have one weapon they don't have," Kev reminded him. "We have someone able to look inside the opposition captain's head and read their game plan. That's why I wanted Corran at half-back."

"I thought it was because that's the only position a vertically-challenged person like myself can play in this game," quipped Corran.

"Well, that was part of it," grinned Kev. "But it's mainly because the half-back is the central man - he's the link between forwards and backs. So he's in the best position to pass on useful information."

"And remember what Kev said about using injury breaks strategically," Iella's voice chimed in from behind. "Whenever you need a bit of advice, tell one of your guys to go down injured. Then while I'm giving him some mock physiotherapy, Kev can tell you what to do." She straightened her blue and gold tracksuit jacket with the Team Physio insignia on the back and grinned up at Kev. "I can't get over it Kevin. You look more like Romi Ropati than Romi Ropati."

It was true. Kevin's recent decision to grow sideburns and go far an early 1960s Teddy Boy look had made him the perfect replacement for the Highlanders' centre. All that Face had needed to do was apply a thin outer layer of latex skin to convert Kev's lean good looks into Ropati's more cherubic contours.

Kev chuckled. "Our conversion to the Highlanders' side is, as they say, complete."

Wedge snorted, and then added in a more serious tone. "Plus, while Iella's on the field, she can give us some feedback from your friend Russell and the others in the stand. They'll be able to pick up on our weak areas."

"Exactly," agreed Kev. He had talked a number of his fellow actors to join the "Defeat the Aussies" campaign - notably Russell Crowe and Cliff Curtis.

"Russell sure makes a convincing coach," said Iella. "It's a pity this is a covert operation, otherwise he'd be up for an Oscar nomination."

"They're all pretty convincing if you ask me," said Tycho. "When they wafted into the crib a few days ago, I looked at them and thought, there's no way this group of pretty holostars'll have the grit to carry out this level of subterfuge. But I was wrong."

"This is rugby, Tycho. This is our identity under threat," explained Kevin. "And remember, this is a little like being paid to eat chocolate lace for them. Getting to be part of a representative rugby team, even if they aren't actually playing, is every Kiwi boy's dream."

"And being team physio is every Kiwi girl's dream," giggled Iella. "Now, here's your changing room. I'd better go and join the medics and start looking the part. Good luck. May Shaq be with you!"

"Shaq?" Wedge, Corran and Tycho threw Iella a quizzical look.

"Shaq - our mascot - a big black cat," Iella winked at Kev, and set off to find the other members of the "medical" crew.

"Is there some significance in that wink?" Wedge asked Kev confidentially.

Kev scratched his chin and gave Wedge a mysterious look. "The guy who usually dresses up as Shaq developed an unpleasant stomach upset," he said airily, "so we had to replace him."

"Ah," said Wedge knowingly. "Let me guess - with a distant cousin of yours who happens to be a police sharpshooter?"

"No, no," replied Kevin. "With another actor friend. Lucy Lawless - alias Xena, Warrior Princess."

"I don't think I want to know any more," grinned Wedge.

* * * * *

"I'm not happy, boys, not happy at all. You're letting them walk right over you. What's going on?" Brumbies coach Mark Graham's normally unruffled features had assumed a faint greenish tinge as he addressed his team at half-time.

"Dunno, Coach. Those tactics we practised in the scrums don't seem to be working. If I didn't know better, I'd say some of them've got metal shields underneath those rugby shirts," growled the Brumbies' captain.

"I reckon Meeuws's got metal prods on his mouthguard," grumbled one of the props. "When I put the pressure on him, he twists his head and catches the nerves in my neck." He moved his shoulders in circular fashion and rubbed the problem area carefully. "He looks more like a big pig than ever," he added, feeling a certain childish satisfaction at his ability to replace physical assault on his opposite number with verbal insult.

"Ha! You try locking with Blaikie. I've got the mother of all pressure headaches thanks to him. It's like he's got horns under that headgear."

"Great talk boys. How's about we roll over now and just let them take it. Then we can all go out for tea and scones," Graham's voice oozed sarcasm.

"We're not caving in," said Gregan, the half-back emphatically. "But it's tougher out there than it looks. Kelleher seems to know what we're gonna do before we do. Whenever we try a dummy move, he's already got them organised to stop it. Plus, he keeps giving Kafer lip and getting him all roiled up."

"He keeps doing fancy things with the ball, too," growled Noriega, the Brumbies' hooker. "He seems to be able to float it somehow, and when I go to strike at it with me feet it bounces up. It's weird. And they've got new lineout calls, too. Some funny code I've never heard before - all angles and velocities." He frowned as the memory of watching Top Gun came to him. "They sound more like firing solutions."

"It's Meeuws doing the calls, too, not Randell like usual," added Gregan.

"Interesting," Graham murmured.

"I'll tell you what else is interesting," interposed Larkham, pulling out his mouthguard. "And that's all these offside penalties they're giving away. Either my memory's going, or I'm mixing them up with another team, but I can't remember the Highlanders giving away so many."

"Yeah," frowned Gregan. "It's like they've forgotten the offside rules."

"Well, I wouldn't complain," said Graham drily. "The penalty goals we're getting from it are the only thing keeping us in the game."

"That Shaq bloke's really getting on my G-string," muttered Roff, one of the wings. "I've watched him. He keeps waving his tail provocatively and distracting the touch judges when Brown kicks for touch, so they think that he's kicked it further than he really has."

"Yeah, and those bloody awful war whoops he gives when we have a lineout make it hard to hear the calls," moaned Kafer.

Graham looked thoughtful for a moment. "OK. They've obviously figured out our pattern, as well devising a new one for themselves. They're standing too flat to let our interference runners space to operate. So we're going to have to go back to the old tactics. Pull in the defence by going straight up the middle. Then when they're all committed, feed it to the backs."

"It's years since we've had to play that way," moaned Kafer sulkily. "Look boss, I reckon we're beginning to wear them down. Meeuws is beginning to grunt quite a bit which suggests to me he's tired. Just give us another ten minutes, and we'll have them where we want them."

The coach raised his eyebrows and gave the dark-haired man a jaundiced look. "What, you mean standing in a huddle plotting their next move, while Brown kicks yet another penalty goal that you've handed to him? I don't think so!"

Kafer's sulky expression darkened, but he decided for once in his life to remain silent.

"Straight up the middle!" Graham reiterated. "If you starve them of the ball, they can't score. And with any luck, you will."

* * * * *

Wedge stood up slowly and took a few deep breaths to test for possible broken ribs. The others had gathered around to hear any words of wisdom that Iella might be bringing them from Kev's mock coaching crew in the few minutes the injury break allowed them.

"Sure you're OK?" asked Iella, concerned.

"I've definitely known worse, but I must admit the thought of my X-Wing cockpit is becoming more desirable every minute", he said laconically. "How does it look from up in the stand."

"You're holding them, but it's pretty obvious they've changed tactics."

"Exactly. So I think it's time to revise what we're doing," Wedge nodded. "This bashing up the centre is wearing us down. In fact, if it wasn't for Corran's scintillating ability to get under that temperamental guy's skin and force him to keep conceding penalties, we wouldn't be level pegging. By the way, Myn, great kicking. You're a dead eye."

"Piggy's calculations of wind velocity and drag due to the damp ball are a big help," said Donos, giving Piggy a grateful pat on the back.

"As are his lineout calls," noted Kev. "But Wedge is right, it's getting pretty tough in centrefield. Us centres aren't built to take this much punishment," he indicated the blood-soaked bandage taped over Tycho's forehead. "And because they're wrapping up so many of our forwards, it's making them work twice as hard when they have to come back to support us."

"In other words, we have the emphasis all wrong. Instead of A-Wings we want Y-Wings," murmured Wedge cryptically.

"Er, Wedge. I hope that collision didn't affect your head as badly as it did your ribcage," said Iella.

"I think our great leader's about to have one of his brainwaves," warned Wes, winking at her.

"We have the speed where we don't need it, and the work horses where they can't do the work," explained Wedge. Everyone stared at him blankly for a moment, and then Corran and Face grinned at one another.

"So, what you're saying is, we swap places. The forwards go in mid-field, and the centres and wings mix it in the scrums," grinned Face.

"When they're on attack, yes. Otherwise we keep to our normal positions," Wedge nodded. "Wes and Piggy, you retain your places regardless. We need your sneak tactics, Wes, plus we need Piggy's precision calls, especially when they're on attack. But everyone else, decide who you're swapping with, and as soon as they're in possession adopt the alternate defence with the bigger guys in centrefield."

"I think I'm beginning to see why these guys are so successful," Kev whispered to Iella as she turned to leave the field.

She grinned. "Oyah," she said simply.

* * * * *

"'The best tactical battle I've seen for years. Brawn matched with brains, and smashing attack matched with unmovable courage'," Diana read gleefully from one of the many newspaper accounts of the now famous Brumbies-Highlanders clash that Wes had collected and brought back with him to WEB headquarters.

"What about: 'a scintillating display of Highlanders brilliance and lateral thinking, backed by a goal-kicking display of sublime perfection'?" read Hobbie, grinning up at Donos. "There you are Myn, you're both sublime and perfect."

"I'm overwhelmed," said the Corellian drily, but he was not quite successful at stifling the smile of sheer pleasure at a job well done.

"I can't wait to tell Crespin and Pash that we replaced A-Wings with Y-Wings and won," chuckled Wedge.

"I dunno," said Kell, nudging Face. "Some of us Y-Wings can foot it speed-wise with our more streamlined counterparts."

"And here I remind you of the universal law of momentum - mass times acceleration. But remember, from a standing start, inertia's on my side every time," the shorter man replied.

"Interesting that our fighter tactics can be applied to sport," mused Tycho. "That A-Wing / Y-Wing swap on defence, and Ackbar's famous flying wedge when on attack." He stared thoughtfully into space.

"Why? You thinking of taking up coaching smashball?" asked Wes.

"No. But it certainly proves that in the process of fighting for our lives all these years, we've picked up skills that are actually transferrable to civilian life. I find that strangely comforting."

"Yeah," the others looked seriously at one another and nodded.

Wedge turned to Kev and offered him his hand. "That was a worthwhile trip, Kev," he smiled. "As you can see - it's been a valuable experience for all of us."

"Well, it's been valuable for us kiwis too, Wedge. We can all now hold our heads up high again."

"And keep producing those Cherryripes," laughed Wes.

"And Choysa," added Diana.

"And you got to wear a kilt, Wes," Iella reminded him. The blue-eyed pilot gazed down admiringly at his blue and gold tartan, and performed a saucy twirl.

"I hope you're wearing something underneath that thing," Hobbie grumbled.

Wes raised the hem sufficiently to reveal a pair of black boxers decorated with silver kiwis.

"He's loyal right down to his undies," laughed Kev, and thumped Wes on the back. "Wes - you're a true mate and I'm going to miss you." He waved his hand to encompass the group. "In fact I'm going to miss you all. 'Tisn't often a bloke gets the chance to live out his fantasies with such a beaut crowd of jokers."

"Same goes for this sheila," laughed Iella. "But I'm afraid Kev, you and I are going to have to get our skates on. You have a TV show to film, and I have kids waiting to be organised."

"Bye guys," grinned Kev. "She Who Must Be Obeyed has spoken."

"Bye Kev. Bye Iella." The pilots and Allax and Diana walked with them out to where their little green MG waited, already packed with their bags and a supply of WEB chocolate, "Moose Nuggets", beautiful California raisins and delicious WEB conserve.

"Till the next CON," said Iella hopefully. "And may the Force be with you all."

"And with you," they all called, and then watched as the car wove its way out of sight.

"You're not going to keep wearing that thing, are you?" Hobbie muttered to Wes as they walked back inside. "'Cause if you are, I'm going to have to reconsider going around with you."

"Hobbie, is this the end of our beautiful relationship?" Wes made his lip tremble.

Wedge raised his eyes to the ceiling. "Somehow, I get the distinct impression that our little adventure is over and things have returned to normal, or abnormal as the case may be." He gazed out at the Rogue Valley scene outside. The sun had broken through the clouds, and was causing great mists of steam to rise out of the sodden ground. "Hah, look at that. The rain's stopped." He bent down and picked up the blue and gold ball that Kev had given them as a memento of their victory, and turned to the others eyes glinting mischievously. "Anyone for a game of rugby?"

"Och aye," quipped Wes.

A Random Glossary of Terms

You bewdy -- derived from “You beauty!” The phrase which Kev uses when he signs his autograph.

Yakker -- work

Hooker -- the middle player in the front row of the rugby scrum. Hookers are notoriously devious and fearless.

The Otago Highlanders and the Canterbury Crusaders are two of five NZ teams in the Super 12 Competition, an annual competition in which NZ, Australia and South Africa fight it out for top rugby honours. This year - 2000 - there was general panic when the ACT Brumbies (ACT = Australian Capitol Territory) reached the top of the points table. They had developed an attacking pattern which involved a form of borderline interference, where the man with the ball received temporary protection from opposing tacklers from a dummy runner.

Kev is a dyed in the wool Canterbury supporter.

Iella is a dyed in the wool Otago supporter.

Neighbours -- an Australian Soap Opera - yawn.

Although NZ and Australia are sworn sporting enemies, the irony is that there are thousands of kiwis living in Australia.

The Otago Highlanders gained their name from the fact that the first established European settlers in the area were the Scots.

Taine Randell -- hunky Highlanders captain and Number 8.

Kookaburra -- Australian bird with a jackal-like laugh.

The Auckland Blues are from Auckland, the largest city in NZ, and the one we provincials love to hate.

Half-back -- traditionally the spot for the shortest player. Half-backs feed the ball into the scrum and form the pivot between forwards and backs. They are of necessity confrontational, quick-thinking and cunning.

Shaq -- a large black panther and the Otago mascot. He was banned from a few games recently because he was making rude gestures with his tail.

Meeuws -- Kees Meeuws. Very large front row prop who really does look like Piggy.

Kafer -- notoriously short-tempered Aussie centre.

Larkham -- Aussie first five-eighth. First five is the first man in the back-line.

Brown -- Tony Brown. Incredibly cute Otago first five and goal-kicker extraordinaire.

Sheila -- NZism for woman.

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