Project Echo: Part 4
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

Tycho released the control stick and took a deep breath, consciously relaxing his shoulders. He stretched, letting himself calm down from the intensity of the battle, then popped open the simulator canopy and climbed out. He joined the other pilots who were clustering around their commander. Wedge had removed his helmet and was rubbing his hair, which was sticking out in random spikes as hair usually did after being under a helmet for a while. Tycho removed his own helmet and did the same, afterwards automatically smoothing his fairish hair back into place. Wedge was looking annoyed, but the smile he turned on his pilots was genuine: Tycho guessed that he was annoyed with himself for getting vaped.

"Well done, everyone," Wedge said, standing upright in officer pose. "Overall that went very well. Ghazal, you stuck to your wingman well; good flying."

The slender, brown-skinned woman beamed with delight at the praise.

"Ligg, I liked the way you fought that squint, but try not to get too focussed on one target to the exclusion of what's around you. I'll say more to you all tomorrow, when I've had a chance to review the sim," Wedge went on. He relaxed his pose and grinned, slapping Hobbie lightly on the shoulder. "I would tell you to look where you're flying, but I guess I'm in no position to preach about that."

"It means the first round's on you," Wes Janson said, grinning cheerfully at his commander.

"And the second's on you," Wedge responded.

"On what grounds?" Wes protested.

"On the grounds that I'm a general and you're only a major," Wedge told him, grinning in return. "Therefore you have to do what I say."

"You know, I'm not sorry you got yourself vaped," Wes grumbled, though his eyes still sparkled with humour.

Shaking his head, Tycho followed as Wedge led the way to the on-base cantina.

As usual, the younger and newer pilots settled at one table, while Tycho, Wedge, Wes, Hobbie, Inyri, Gavin, Corran and Ooryl spread themselves around another. The first orders, for lomin ale and soft drinks, were tapped into the keypad in the middle of the table, and Wedge swiped his credcard through the slot to pay for them all.

"So, Wedge," Wes said cheerily. "What's your excuse for getting vaped?"

"Making a point to the new squadron members," Wedge answered promptly. "Always keep focused. When you blow something up, don't brag about it and think about what you've just done. Think about what you have to do next."

The group laughed at his explanation of his error.

"Like looking where you're going," Inyri said.

"It's kind of important," Gavin agreed. "Don't you think, Hobbie?"

Hobbie snorted. "I was looking where I was going. It was Inyri's fault for not looking at where I was going when she blew up that TIE."

"You should have dodged that debris cloud," Inyri retorted. "Your reflexes are getting slow because you're getting old."

Hobbie's long face took on a martyred expression. "I'm not even forty yet," he protested, amid laughter from the others.

A service droid rolled up and deftly slid the tray of drinks onto the table. The conversation broke into smaller groups as the pilots compared experiences in the sim. Tycho sipped his ale, sighed with pleasure, and turned to Wedge.

"Aside from the odd careless mistake," he said dryly. "I reckon that went pretty well."

Wedge gave him a scowl that was only part in humour, and nodded. "The squadron's really working well as a team now." He turned his brimming mug of ale round and round. "A couple of days ago, Admiral Ackbar asked when we'd be operational again. I think we're ready now, don't you?"

"I think the squad's as tight as it can be without actually flying together in combat," Tycho replied, leaning against the back of the padded bench seat.

"Yes," Wedge said thoughtfully. "Combat is the real test." He looked up from studying his ale. "I think the Admiral's got something in mind for us. Tomorrow I'll review today's sim, and all being well, I'll tell him that we're ready for full duty again. We could be off Coruscant inside of a week."

"Good," Tycho said. "Training and team building is important, and it's good to be here in Coruscant where our families are, but out there is where we need to be." He gestured vaguely upwards. When Wedge gave him a questioning look, he continued. "We're pilots; we fly things. It's what we do. Rogue Squadron isn't about briefings and saluting and winning in sims. It's about getting out to where we can help people and do some good in the galaxy. We all volunteered for that; we've risked our lives doing it more times than we can remember. There's a point to all this work on the base and that's to make us as good as we can be at stopping the bad guys."

Wedge sipped his ale, and leaned back too.

"I see what you mean." He paused, thinking. "I didn't… I'd forgotten what it was like to be part of a team like this. Fleet command's different. But being part of the Rogues, coming to the cantina like this…" He gestured at the group around the table. "I've had to adjust to being part of a squadron again after years of offices and ship's bridges."

"You're as good a fleet officer as there is," Tycho told him. "But this is where you belong."

Wedge blinked and smiled. "Thanks."

They drank and chatted about the recent upgrades to the X-wings. The conversations were lively and good-humoured. Hobbie teased Wes about an engineer he'd been trying to get a date with. So far she'd rejected his invites outright twice, and stood him up once.

"Hey," Wes said indignantly. "At least I'm trying. The last woman you dated moved to Tattooine."

"Keli was an anthropologist," Hobbie protested as Wedge and the others laughed. "She went to study the jawas."

"Yes, but before that, she had you properly by the jawas," Inyri put in mischievously, to more laughter.

Wedge finished his lomin-ale and looked at his chrono. "I'd better be off in a minute," he told Tycho.

"Syal's suppertime?" Tycho asked. Wedge nodded, and he continued, "if we're leaving Coruscant soon, I guess you want to make the most of your time with her."

"Yes," Wedge said thoughtfully. He leaned back into the bench seat. "I never really realised what it would be like to have a child. Being part of this squadron's great; there's so much friendship, respect and trust. We trust one another with our lives. I feel it's something I've earned.

With Syal it's different, somehow. She trusts me completely and utterly; she loves me without question. I don't feel I've earned it; it's just there. It's kind of scary, because I don't want to let her down. But it's also like a wonderful gift. I feel so lucky to have that."

"You have earned her love," Tycho told him. "You're a good father. There are billions of children in the galaxy, of all species, who are neglected, starved, harmed or abandoned by their parents."

"You're right," Wedge answered, his eyes flashing with some emotion that was gone before Tycho could identify it. "Some children never know a proper family."

"It's why we fly those X-wings," Tycho said. "To give other people, families, children, a chance to live happy, normal lives."

Wedge nodded and sat, gazing at nothing in particular. Tycho guessed he was thinking of his parents, and remembered his own family, lost along with their planet.

After a few moments, Tycho gave Wedge a nudge. "Aren't you supposed to be getting back to your own family?"

Wedge smiled suddenly, his thoughts returning to the present. "You're right," He stood and picked up his helmet. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said to the table in general. Wedge acknowledged the farewells with a wave, and threaded his way through the tables in the cantina, his step brisk.

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