Project Echo: Part 5
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

As Wedge had predicted, just six days later Rogue squadron left Coruscant as an active combat unit. He gave them a full briefing aboard Redemption, the Corellian Corvette that was flying them towards their destination. Tycho stood beside him at the lectern as the rest of the squad settled themselves onto the rows of bench seats at the other side of the room.

"All present?" Wedge glanced quickly about the room, checking faces. "Good." He started speaking without looking down at the datapad in front of him. "We're flying out to the Jabril system, which is some fifteen hours from Coruscant. We'll be in combat almost as soon as we arrive, therefore we're hitching a lift on the Redemption so we've got the chance to eat proper meals, exercise, and sleep in beds, rather than cockpits."

"And with other people," added Wes, in a too-audible whisper to Hobbie. Hobbie looked at him warily and pointedly shifted a few inches further away.

Tycho kept his face straight, as Wedge paused for the barest moment to glare at Wes before continuing.

"We've all done enough long-haul flights in our X-wings to appreciate the difference that will make when we get into combat."

Tycho saw Hobbie and some of the others nodding at this. Wedge glanced at him, and he switched on the holoprojector, which lit up on Wedge's other side.

"A gang of pirates have been based here for the last three or four years, gradually building up their strength and capabilities. They call themselves the Red Mynocks, possibly because they think that's the sort of thing that pirates ought to be called," Wedge added witheringly.

"That, or they're a Corellian smashball team," Gavin suggested.

"There's a difference between pirates and a Corellian smashball team?" Wes quipped.

Wedge waited for the laughter to die down before continuing. His face wore a mix of humour and exasperation that Tycho had seen many, many times.

"The Red Mynocks are becoming a major hazard to shipping in this sector and Rogue Squadron have been given the job of clearing them out."

Corran raised his hand, and spoke when Wedge nodded to him. "If they're so powerful, why aren't there more capital ships involved?"

"Because they wouldn't be much use in this situation," Wedge answered.

Tycho altered the holopad controls; the display moved, changing from a general view of the system to a close up of the third planet. This was a gas giant, appearing in stripes and blotches of rust, beige and cream. Tycho continued to shift focus to Jabril 3's moons. Even when the holo image was enlarged, it remained a confusing mass. Wedge reached into the holo to indicate points as he spoke about them.

"There are twin moons, which orbit around one another, as well as around Jabril 3 itself. Surrounding them is this mass of asteroids, probably the remains of a third moon - possibly even two moons. As you can see, the asteroids make for a pilot's nightmare. Most of them are fairly consistent in their orbits, but that only really helps if you know the pattern of their orbits. And there's more than a few that are unpredictable."

"I would like to know we are meant to find the pirates among the asteroids?"Ooryl asked.

"That's something that's been baffling intelligence and fleet command for a while," Wedge told them all. "Intelligence set up a sting operation a couple of weeks ago. Some inadequately defended cargo ships were sent out as bait, and the pirates went for them. There was a very brief skirmish, during which silent transponders were fired at the pirates' fighters and so attached to them. These are tiny, fairly low-powered transponders. They will only give out their location if pinged by a coded signal set to a certain, narrow-band frequency." He stopped and glanced over at Tycho.

Tycho stepped forward to continue outlining the plan that he and Wedge had devised a few back.

"The Redemption won't be taking us right into the Jabril system," Tycho told the pilots. "The Red Mynocks don't have any capital ships, but they may well have remote-controlled ordnance set up on some of the outlying asteroids. If they fly patrols, we may be fighting as soon as we come out of hyperspace. As you know, launching from a carrier is a vulnerable time for both fighters and carrier. We could sustain a lot of damage before we've had a chance to start fighting back. Also depending on how things develop, we could end up having to defend the Redemption instead of taking the fight to the pirates' base.

Instead, she'll be dropping us off a few minutes flight time out of the Jabril system. We'll hop into the system, on a vector heading for the moons. The gravitational pull of the twin moons and asteroids will pull us out of hyperspace almost on top of them, giving us the element of surprise. The Redemption will jump in system a few minutes later, using a conventionally plotted course, that will bring it out closer to Jabril 4. It will be close at hand as our support vessel, but should arrive far enough away not to be immediately involved in any fighting."

Wedge took up the briefing again.

"The squadron will enter the asteroid field in flights, keeping the flights close together. Each flight leader will try to ping the transponders on the pirates' fighters. No doubt they'll spot us before we spot the base anyway, and I don't think they'll be in the mood for uninvited guests."

Wedge stood a little straighter as he looked out over his pilots. "Flying and fighting in that asteroid field will be difficult even for the pirates, who fly in and out regularly. It'll take pilots as good as Rogue Squadron to go in there after them and destroy them."

Tycho could see the pride in Wedge's eyes as he continued to speak.

"It's a risky mission, but that's what we do. The Red Mynocks may know this patch of space better than we do, but we have other advantages. Our fighters are newer, and better-maintained. We benefit from training and working as a team. Between us, we have experience that a hundred pirates couldn't match.

On a personal note, I just can't tell you how I feel about being a part of Rogue Squadron. It's been the focus of my life for so long - this just feels right."

Wedge relaxed and smiled a little. "We done some sims featuring asteroids. Command have given us one adapted to match what we know about the moons of Jabril 3. Put in some time on the sims, but don't forget to eat and rest so when we arrive, we're ready to go. No alcohol from now onwards. I'll see you all here again in 14 hours. Dismissed."

The pilots rose and made their way out, talking about the mission and their plans to the next few hours. Tycho switched off the holoprojector and collected the data disk. Wedge pocketed his datapad and leaned against the lectern.

"Less than a day, just more than half a day really, and we won't be flying a sim this time," he said.

To Tycho, he seemed a little anxious, though the signs were hard to spot. There was some tension around his eyes that he couldn't quite disguise. Of course Tycho felt it too; it was a feeling that never quite went away, no matter how many missions one had flown and survived over the years. And Wedge had more to lose now than he'd had ten or fifteen years ago. Tycho smiled and clapped him on the shoulder.

"The flying may be tricky but they're still only pirates," he told Wedge. "Like you said, we've got years of combat experience they can't hope to match."

Wedge's eyes flickered briefly before he smiled. " 'Years of combat experience'?" he repeated. "I hope that's not a polite way of saying I'm old, Tycho. Don't forget you're older than I am." He pointed accusingly at his friend.

Tycho laughed. "Those few months really make a difference, don't they? Come on." He turned for the door. "Let's go beat up those youngsters in the sims. That always makes me feel better."

"Me too," Wedge replied, following him.

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