Project Echo: Part 3
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

"Lead, break port!"

Tycho saw Wedge's X-wing barrelling left almost before he'd finished speaking. TIE laser fire flashed through the space where the X-wing had been micro-seconds before, coming close enough to graze Wedge's shields. The overstrained shields flickered and lit up briefly, which was never a good sign.

Tycho reversed thrust and spun his X-wing over backwards; a manoeuvre violent enough to jostle him in his seat in spite of the inertial damper being almost on full. It also put him in a nose dive above and behind the Interceptor. The Interceptor was also turning, in one of the impossibly agile moves that the X-wing couldn't match, and was chasing Wedge again. Wedge danced his X-wing about, the squint's fire skittering past.

And while the TIE pilot was busy trying to nail Wedge, Tycho lined it up and fired a shot clean through the cockpit. The Interceptor exploded in a silvery cloud that Tycho neatly sideslipped to join up with his wingman again.

"Thanks, Tycho." Wedge's voice was calm, slightly distracted. His X-wing turned back towards the main furball. "Nine, are you getting anywhere with the SD's shield generators?"

Tycho followed, his eyes scanning the sensors and the space outside his cockpit, as he listened to Corran's report on the ship they had ambushed. As there was nothing in their immediate area, he had a few moments to think about the sim.

Rogue Squadron had been three members down when Wedge had rejoined. Ghufran had been killed in combat three months ago, Reme Poller had transferred to another squadron and Vurrulf had retired on medical grounds. Wedge's return had refreshed the squadron, delighting old friends like Hobbie, Wes, Corran, Inyri and Gavin, and inspiring the newer members, who knew him as a legend. Wedge had delegated the job of narrowing down the applicants for the two spare places to Tycho, but had been working hard to reintegrate himself with the unit.

The return to flying starfighters had been a long-held dream for Wedge, and achieving it had put a spring back in his step. When the posting had been confirmed, Wedge hadn't stopped grinning for a week. Wedge had returned to his duties in Rogue Squadron with enthusiasm, as well as the thoroughness he had always brought to command.

Tycho had seen that Wedge had been reading the full pilot profiles of not only the newer members, but even those of old comrades in arms like Wes. And when he hadn't been studying the squadron's members and activities, Wedge had been leading them in sim missions like this one. When the new recruits, Ligg Panat — a Krish female — and Ghazal Elu, a human female from Axxila, had been chosen, Wedge had increased the sim practices to get the squadron working together as well as possible.

This one was almost done; Hobbie was out, his ship damaged by debris from a TIE that Inyri had destroyed and Ghazal had lost her upper starboard cannon but was sticking with Gavin, her wingman and had scored two kills with her damaged ship. The other ten Rogues were undamaged, and had accounted for one squadron of eyeballs and nearly a full squadron of squints. Those no longer engaged in combat were assaulting the Impstar Deuce that the TIEs had been shielding.

As Tycho watched, Wedge launched his own attack. He seemed to fly almost down the throats of the turbo-lasers firing at him. His X-wing spun and danced, moving too swiftly for the massive guns to get a successful lock on him. As he got closer to the body of the huge ship, it was harder for them to track him, but even a close miss from a capital ship turbolaser at such short range could knock a starfighter briefly out of control. And a few seconds was all it would take for a tumbling X-wing to cross into the path of another laser, or to slam into the Star Destroyer itself.

Following Wedge into the stream of laser fire, Tycho remembered the speculation when it had been confirmed that Wedge was to return to the squadron. Would the time away from the cockpit, or marriage and fatherhood, affect Wedge's flying? When they'd started the sims, Tycho had found that he and Wedge had lost a little of the harmony born of shared experience that had enabled them to work so well together. Hard practice in the sims had restored much of that unity, and Tycho had relished the bonding. Wedge's raw piloting skills hadn't diminished at all, and right now he was flying for the bridge viewports with the attitude of a man with something to prove.

"Arm two torps and slave to my data." Wedge's voice was outwardly calm, with an underlying tension. "Fire on my mark."

"Copy, lead," Tycho answered, setting up the proton torpedoes.

The bridge of the star destroyer was looming ahead of them, filling Tycho's canopy.

"Mark!"

Blue lines streaked away from the two X-wings, aiming for the viewport of the bridge. Both X-wings peeled away, turning in opposite directions. The torps hit, the viewport exploding and debris pouring out into vacuum. Tycho heard an exclamation of victory from Wedge, a sound that was cut short as Wedge's X-wing was vaporised in a laser blast. Tycho felt a momentary jolt of shock, though he knew it was only a sim. He skimmed his X-wing close across the surface of the star destroyer and clicked his comm over to the all-squadron frequency. He was about to ask for updates when the simulator screens faded to black and the machine began to shut down.



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