Project Echo: Part 7
Gillian F. Taylor
Tycho followed Wedge as he changed course, closing up with the rest of the squadron. He kept pace as Wedge accelerated, weaving his way through the asteroid cloud.
"I make the enemy as three X-wings and three Uglies," Ghazal reported. "I think they're Die-wings."
Tycho shook his head at her report, wondering why anyone would choose fly into battle in a lumbering ship made from a Tie fighter cockpit and Y-wing engines.
"Seven here. I spy another dozen coming to join the party." Wes sounded pleased, even though the Rogues were now outnumbered.
"Five, Nine: ping the transponders in the groups approaching you and send the data to me. I'll see if I can triangulate where they're coming from," Wedge said.
"We've got a mix of X-wings, Uglies and a couple of Defenders to play with," Wes said.
"Nine here. Reaching maximum range," Gavin announced.
Sure enough, a few moments later, Tycho saw distant flashes of laser light among the asteroids. The nearer group of pirates, the full squadron that Wes had spotted, were showing on his sensors, though the images tended to wink out and then reappear as the asteroids, and the ores some of them contained, interfered with the sensor equipment. Even the active signals from the other Rogues' ships tended to vanish alarmingly from his sensor board from time to time.
A few seconds later, Two Flight was in combat, and less than a minute later, One Flight had joined them. Tycho followed Wedge after an X-wing painted in pale pink with jagged black and red markings.
"My X-wing is offended by the colour scheme on that thing," Wedge remarked over their private channel as he turned his X-wing onto its starboard foils to slip past a asteroid.
"Mine feels sorry for it," Tycho replied, taking a snap shot that sizzled red light past the pirate's canopy and blew a small rock into space dust.
"Didn't; I hit the asteroid," Tycho protested.
"The asteroid isn't shooting back." Wedge was jinking his own X-wing furiously as he sped through a clear patch of space.
The pink X-wing was behind and slightly above him, firing rapidly with unlinked laser cannons. In spite of its rate of fire, only a few shots hit Wedge's shields and those didn't have the energy to punch through. The pirate was working hard to try and land a good shot as he chased Wedge. Wholly focussed on hitting his target, he was easy prey for Tycho, who quad-linked his laser cannons and blew the pink X-wing out of space with a single shot.
"Good shooting," commented Wedge, spiralling upwards.
"Good work as bait," Tycho answered, spinning his ship to join him. Together, they went to find more work.
A few minutes later, Wedge and Tycho had accounted for another two of the Red Mynocks. Tycho couldn't sure, because of the intermittent sensor contact, but it looked as though the pirates had lost about nine or ten fighters, while all the Rogues were still intact. The Redemption had signalled its arrived insystem and was closing towards Jabril 3. He and Wedge were currently disengaged from the combat, taking a moment to assess the overall situation.
"Seven. Anyone - I need help please." Ligg was doing her best to sound calm, but Tycho could hear the suppressed panic in her voice.
He studied his sensors and found her away from the main group, hotly chased by two ships. Her wingmate, Wes, was busy playing hide-and-seek in a dense group of asteroids with the last surviving Defender.
"Try to circle back to the group," Wedge advised Ligg. "Don't forget you've got three dimensions to move in."
"Eleven here." Corran spoke. "Hang on Eight. I'm on my way to you."
Corran was the nearest Rogue to Ligg's position; he broke away from the main group and accelerated through the asteroids. His X-wing twisted and turned as it manoeuvred with breathtaking speed that suggested to Tycho that Corran was drawing on the Force to guide him.
Ligg was being targeted by a pair of Headhunters. Her deft piloting had kept them from scoring too many hits, but the demands of dodging two ships while not colliding with any asteroids gave her little chance to fire anything other than the occasional snap shot in return. As Corran came closer to firing range, one Headhunter was making a turn above her, while the other was on her tail. He flew an intercept course, keeping a spinning chunk of rock roughly half the size of his X-wing in a line between himself and the chasing Headhunter.
"Ligg: keep on the same bearing," Corran told her.
"Okay," she answered abstractedly. Her X-wing jittered around, skipping past obstacles as the two Headhunters closed in.
Corran remained on course for the intercept. Tycho guessed he was going to pop up from behind the asteroid and shoot the Headhunter as it passed, but he kept on course just a moment too long for that.
"What's he…?" Wedge exclaimed.
At the last possible moment, acting too late for almost any other pilot to do it, Corran changed course. The nose of the X-wing came up, presenting its belly to the asteroid he'd been using as cover. The asteroid suddenly kicked away from him, becoming a deadly missile on course for the chasing Headhunter. Corran's ship bounced upwards, now pointing at the other pirate ship. A clean shot vaped that Headhunter, leaving a bright ball of gold and silver fire. The fast-moving asteroid smashed into the fighter chasing Ligg, breaking it in two and leaving a trail of debris in its wake.
"The Solo Slide!" Wedge exclaimed.
It was an old, old trick, named now for Han Solo, who as a cadet had performed it better than anyone else. What Corran had done was to switch on his repulsorlift as he presented the belly of his fighter to the asteroid. The repulsor had pushed against the rock, just as it did against a planetary surface to provide lift. As a repulsor vehicle is lighter than the planet, it is the vehicle that moves. The asteroid that Corran had pushed against was lighter than his ship, so the asteroid had been moved by the push, and turned into a missile.
"Thanks Eleven," said Ligg, audibly relieved.
"You're welcome," Corran answered, looping his X-wing around to join her. Tycho glanced at his sensors and saw that the Rogues had the fight well under control, with just three of the Red Mynocks remaining. Wedge had come to the same conclusion.
"One Flight, break off from current combat. We're going in after the base," Wedge ordered. "Bolt's narrowed down the area where the base should be; he's sending the data to the whole squadron now."
Tycho's own astromech, Moon, chirped to register arrival of the information.
"Co-ordinates received," Tycho said, the data and a flight path appearing on his screen. "Good work, Moon," he added, turning his fighter onto a new trajectory.
Wedge's X-wing appeared outside his canopy, and Tycho took up station, keeping beside his wingmate as well as he could in the asteroid cloud. Heikki and Inyri formed up with them as they broke away from the main battle and went looking for the pirates' base.
The data led them through the asteroids to the slightly larger of the twin moons. As they made an orbital approach to the south pole, Tycho's sensors showed new contacts.
"Four coming in from 320280," Tycho warned.
"I'm reading them as Headhunters," Inyri added.
"Let's go introduce ourselves," Wedge said, turning his fighter to meet the newcomers.
Just before they reached firing range, Wedge broadcast to the four Headhunters.
"This is General Antilles of the New Republic calling the Red Mynocks. Your other fighters have been destroyed and if you four try to fight us you'll be vaped too. Surrender and you'll live. Your choice."
"Natalya Elu never surrenders!" The pilot's voice was high-pitched with defiance and, Tycho suspected, fear.
One of the four Headhunters dived forwards, putting an asteroid between itself and the approaching X-wings. A few moments later it came whipping out in a turn tighter than the longer X-wing could manage, firing wildly. The sharp move and firepower didn't disturb Wedge, Tycho or Inyri, all of whom had flown and fought Headhunters many times. Their lasers all hit, with Heikki's following a second later into the exploding mass of fighter. Tycho regretted the pirate's doomed attack, but a hit from a panicked enemy was as deadly as one from a calm pilot, and the Rogues hadn't been able to take the chance of letting Natalya Elu continuing her mad attack.
"Does anyone else want to fight ?" Wedge asked coolly.
One by one, the last three pirates surrendered, powering down their weapons and shields.
After that, it became a straightforward mopping up operation. The pirates on the moon base surrendered too, powering down their defences. Rogue Squadron covered them and the pirates still in fighters as two shuttles from the Redemption cautiously made their way though the asteroids to collect prisoners and destroy the base. Some three hours later, Tycho and the other Rogues finally returned to the Redemption's X-wing hangar.
After landing his fighter beside Wedge's, Tycho popped open the canopy and took a deep breath of the familiar hangar smells of ozone, machine lubricants and metal. It was a smell that suggested safety to him; the safe return to base after a mission. It evoked other memories and feelings too, but that first breath, after the sterile, recycled air of a cockpit, was a moment he liked to treasure. Removing his helmet, Tycho thanked Moon for the good work the droid had done, and climbed down the ladder a tech had placed for him.
Wedge appeared, grinning broadly, and gave him an exuberant hug around the shoulders. Tycho couldn't help smiling back.
"You look like a novice who's pleased to survive his first real combat," Tycho said.
Wedge laughed and looked embarrassed. "I feel like that; it's been so long. And fighting in a snubfighter is so personal. It's a bit different to giving orders from the bridge of a capital ship."
"You flew like an ace," Tycho reassured him gravely, though his eyes showed laughter.
"And we all came back," Wedge said, turning to look at the other pilots.
They were gathering in a group, where Ligg was thanking Corran loudly. Tycho and Wedge joined them, Wedge adding his own praise.
"It was some sharp flying," he said. "Risky, but you pulled it off."
Corran shrugged. "Ligg needed help and that seemed the most efficient way of dealing with the problem. It was good flying though," he added with a cocky grin.
"It was a good display of team spirit too," Wedge said, looking at the pilots gathered around. "Rogue Squadron was asked to do a difficult job out there, and you did it very well. We were outnumbered, but we acted as a team and it paid off. Being here, a part of Rogue Squadron is a privilege for me, and incredibly satisfying. I'm proud of you all," he finished.
There were nods and murmurs of approval from the rest of the squadron. Tycho noticed Ligg and Ghazal holding themselves proudly, their eyes shining. They both looked like they were bursting to tell of their experiences and talk freely to the other pilots. Wedge waved a dismissal.
"Go get cleaned up, relax, sleep, whatever."
The group broke up, with hugs, pats on the shoulder and brisk chatter. Wedge participated happily, still buzzing on adrenaline. When they were done, Tycho touched him on the arm.
"Come on, let's go get a drink."
Wedge nodded and smiled. "Popping out of hyperspace almost right into an asteroid isn't something I want to do again in a hurry. I should have used the repulsor to bounce it away but I was so startled I just didn't think of that. I guess the basic reflex of just dodging the thing took over…" he began as they walked from the hangar.
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