Project Echo: Part 9
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

Tycho greeted Wedge as he entered his spacious office, and sat down on the opposite side of the desk to his commander. Wedge answered, but was studying his terminal display, his eyes flicking over the data. Tycho made himself comfortable and waited for Wedge to finish. He knew that Wedge had spent most of the morning in a meeting with Admiral Ackbar, General Cracken, General Ben Iblis and other senior officers. Tycho was sure that Wedge had brought him in to discuss the results of that meeting, which probably meant the next assignment for the Rogues.

When Wedge finished reading and turned to him, Tycho noticed that his smile seemed a little forced. It was something he'd seen now and again and it seemed to be occurring more frequently. Most of the time, Wedge was clearly happy to be part of the Rogues again, enjoying the flying and the camaraderie. But sometimes his mood became more reserved, as though he had doubts about what he was doing. Tycho found himself wondering if the reality of starfighter combat was getting to Wedge. He seemed blissfully happy with Iella and Syal; no one in Rogue Squadron had been seriously injured since his return, but every combat left enemy pilots dead, and Wedge had seen enough of his friends die over the years to know that no one was invulnerable. It was possible that the contentment of his home life was making Wedge reluctant to take the same risks he'd accepted before.

"How was the meeting this morning?" Tycho asked.

Wedge grimaced. "Like a meeting." He gave a quiet sigh and fiddled with his stylus for a few moments. Letting it drop, he looked across the desk at Tycho.

"Has Winter mentioned rumours of trouble around the Corporate Sector?" he asked. When Tycho nodded, he went on. "They've been making very precise raids on ships from New Republic planets. Cargo stealing mostly, but the last attack was a kidnapping." Wedge paused, looking grim. "Obviously the New Republic can't provide military escorts for all merchant vessels, even when they travel in groups, which they've started to do. The Corporate Sector-based pirates are only attacking unescorted freighters."

"Does Intel think there's a leak somewhere?" Tycho asked.

Wedge picked the stylus up again and studied it as it twirled in his fingers. "No, they don't. To get the data on all the escorted, or rather, unescorted convoys, it would have to be someone very high up in Command who was the leak."

Tycho frowned slightly. "You don't agree with that assessment?"

Wedge looked up at him, his dark eyes studying Tycho's face. He looked uncharacteristically undecided for a few moments, then his eyes flickered and his face settled into his closed, sabacc-playing expression. He shook his head briskly and sat upright.

"The evidence points another way," he said firmly. "Intel believes that the CorpSec are listening in on NR military comms and sorting through the data to pick out which freighters are being escorted. All legitimate merchant flight plans are logged with planetary Space Control, hours or even days before they take off . Most of it is open-access info if you know where to look, and the pirates may well have a few insiders working for Space Control on different planets. They find out who's going where, when, and ignore the ones they know will have an escort. Even if the merchants are rendezvousing with their escort away from the planet, the pirates still know about it, and avoid them."

"How are they listening in?" Tycho asked. "I know the scrambling on most military channels isn't that tough to break with the right equipment, but it's often pretty low powered. You've got to be relatively close to pick it up. The stuff that goes long-distance on high-powered transmitters is highly coded, surely?"

Wedge nodded. "That's pretty much right, or has been up until now. Intel have learned that one of the Corporations has developed new tech which means they can pick up transmissions they wouldn't have been able to hear before."

Tycho's eyes widened. "How?"

"I'm not clear on all the technical details," Wedge admitted. "But the theory Cracken is working on is that they've found a way to pick up comm signals indirectly. When you send a signal, the subspace radio wave goes straight out and anyone within range can pick it up, though the message itself may be scrambled. But radio waves bounce," Wedge said, gesturing with his hand. "They bounce off almost anything really, but metal does the job very well, like the hull of a starship. Your X-wing's subspace radio picks up my transmissions when I com you from my ship, but some of the radio waves carrying that message will bounce off the hull of your ship, or will carry on to hit another ship in the area and bounce off that. And though they get weaker the further they travel, they go on being bounced around through subspace, travelling in all directions, even if they were specifically aimed somewhere in the first place. Intel think that this new tech is sensitive enough to pick up these bounced signals at a much greater distance than before. They reckon a ship with the new equipment can pick up subspace signals from two systems away." Tycho let out a whistle. "They can listen in from so far away that we don't know they're there?"

Wedge nodded. "The info Intel has suggests they're using specially adapted TIE Defenders. They've been codenamed 'Echo ships'. I'd guess that the Corporation behind them has taken out the tractor beam projector and the warhead launcher to make room for the new equipment."

"There could be externally mounted, or deployable sensors, like our Snoopscoot X-wings have," Tycho suggested.

"It's possible," Wedge agreed. He fell silent, apparently brooding over what he'd just told Tycho.

Tycho waited a little, then spoke up. "So what are High Command planning to do about this new tech?"

"They want us, Rogue Squadron that is, to go capture some of these modified Defenders," Wedge announced abruptly.

Tycho's eyebrows went up. No wonder Wedge didn't seem happy; this wasn't really Rogue Squadron's work.

"Wouldn't the Wraiths be a better choice for this?" he asked.

Wedge shook his head. "They've been in deep cover for two months, doing something else. They can't abandon that work to go after the Echo ships and it could be at least another couple of months before that assignment's finished. Command are beginning to come under pressure from Fey'lya and his cronies who want the wealthy merchants and their interests looked after. Cracken reckons he has some solid data on how to get hold of the Echo ships, and he wants to act quickly.

Tycho thought for a few moments. "Well, I guess that after conquering Coruscant, and getting Ysard off Thyferra, stealing a couple of fighters looks like pretty small credits."

Wedge smiled at that, amused in spite of his overall mood. "I guess that's true."

He leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Cracken gave me a bunch of files with data about the Echo ships, and everything that's known about the facility they're based at. I'll look at it this afternoon and start planning the mission. I need you to run the squadron through some Defender sims; I want to know who's best at flying them, and the practice will do everyone good."

Tycho nodded. "Will do."

"Thanks. Don't talk about Echo ships, or mention the new tech. I'll give them a full briefing later, probably when we're on our way to the Corporate Sector."

"Got it," Tycho replied. He looked across the desk at his friend. "I hope there's some good data in Cracken's files. I'd like to know if they give a clearer idea of where they got this info. I don't like these missions based so heavily on Intelligence data where so much of it is guesswork. They think one of the Corporations has developed this new tech. They think it's fitted to these Defenders that they think are at this base. I'd prefer less think and more know."

"I'm sure Intel know what they're doing," Wedge replied. He grinned suddenly. "After all, if you didn't trust NR Intelligence agents, why did you finally marry Winter?"

Tycho laughed. "If you tell Winter I doubted the ability of Intel agents, I'll tell Iella you said the same thing."

Wedge's smile dimmed briefly, the light going from his eyes. He nodded. "I don't want to hurt her," he said softly. He looked down, frowning as he thought. When he looked up again, his face was back to the sabacc mask.

"I'll start on the background files now," he said neutrally. "I'll see you tomorrow morning with the results from the first sims."

Tycho kept his own face expressionless as he nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow then." He stood up and left the office, wondering why Wedge seemed so uneasy, and feeling pretty uneasy himself.

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