Project Echo: Part 11
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

"I'm sure it's a trap," Wedge went on, his voice decisive. "Like you said, Tycho, this mission is heavily based on what Intel think and believe, not on data they know." He strode briskly to the nearest Defender. "Getting in here wasn't easy but it should have been harder. There should be more security on a base with top-secret new tech."

"You think this hangar's a trap?" Corran asked, looked up at the ceiling in search of security cameras or hidden weapons.

"No." Wedge popped open one of the maintenance hatches on the Defender's cockpit. "This place is too big and they wouldn't be able to take us out without damaging the trips too. And there's the risk that some of us might be able to escape in the trips."

"They want us to steal trips that they've sabotaged," Tycho reasoned, joining Wedge as he hunted through the Defenders hard systems inside the hatch.

The others moved up close too, alert and ready for action.

"Then they will lose some Defenders, whether they are destroyed here, or when we take them," Ooryl said.

"They could have bombs set to go off when we meet up with the rest of the squadron," Ghazal suggested. "Or when we rendevouz with the Redemption. That way, each trip sacrificed will do more damage."

"Ah." Wedge pulled his head out of the hatch. "Found it." He held a grey box nested in a tangle of wiring. He could lift it into view, but there wasn't enough length on the wires to let him bring it out of the maintenance hatch.

The other Rogues crowded round to peer at it.

"It's hardwired into the Defender's systems," Tycho said. "It'll go off when you press some button, like the hyperdrive, or when the sensors feed it some information."

"And there's enough explosive there to make a mess of this fighter and anything flying in formation with it," Corran added.

Ooryl and Ghazal had pulled back to keep scanning the hangar.

"How long will it take to remove them?" Ghazal asked, facing away from the others as she turned her head from side to side, in search of danger.

"Too long," Wedge answered tightly. "None of us are demolitions experts and we don't know what kind of booby traps there are." He carefully set the grey box back inside the Defender's innards."

"It would be risky ..." Corran said thoughtfully. "But we can ..."

Wedge shook his head. "One person would have to try on their own first, because if they got it wrong, that way we'd only lose one of us. We don't have the time for that kind of trial and error, and I'm not losing any of you now," he added fiercely. He took a deep breath, and turned to look at the far side of the hangar. "There'll be other ships on the base; a shuttle probably. We'll take that."

As Wedge walked away from the fighter, a siren began to shriek. Tycho instinctively glanced about, looking for secuity guards or a scanner that might have picked them up. Wedge broke into a run, his expression grim. The other Rogues followed, blasters out and ready for trouble. Wedge led them to a large internal door at the rear of the hangar. Tycho frowned at the red light showing on the keypad; it would take them valuable time to get through. As Heikki was fishing a probe from one of his pockets, Wedge raised his blaster and fired at the wall just above the keypad. There was a flash and sparks; everything on the keypad lit up briefly as the door hissed and slid open a few inches then stopped. Ooryl was the first to grab the edge of the door with his three fingered hands and start pulling it open wider.

"Design fault of that model," Wedge said briefly. "Hit the circuit in the right place and you get a feedback overload that unlocks the door and puts a power surge through the hydros before overloading them." He slipped through the gap and out of the hangar.

The door led into a utility corridor, with walls and floor finished alike with plain ferrocrete. The lighting was harsh and bright, the plainness of the corridor broken only by security doors, directional and warning signs, and statutory fire fighting and emergency equipment fixed at set intervals. The Rogues entered at a jog, the thudding of their boots carrying in the hard, echoing space.

"Where will the shuttlebay be?" Corran wondered, looking at the line of doors and the intersections ahead.

"Should be this way," Wedge replied.

He led them on at a steady run, Tycho running slightly behind his left shoulder while the others followed. Tycho glanced across at his friend as they went. Wedge's face was tense, but he'd lost that uncertaincy Tycho had seen recently. The old, familiar intensity was in his eyes, his whole being concentrating on potential dangers as they ran through the enemy's base, with the siren wailing.

They were some 20 meters from an junction when Tycho thought he heard the thudding of boots from somewhere heard. Wedge also caught the sound, hard to distinguish from their own echoing footsteps, and raised his blaster. Moments later, the first security guards came pounding around the corner from the righthand corridor at the junction. The Rogues weren't turning; their guns were already pointing in the right direction. All six of them fired, the air in the corridor sizzling with blaster bolts. The two guards in the lead dropped, one of them screaming as he curled up clutching a belly wound. The ones behind them sprayed fire back down the corridor as they retreated back round the corner.

The Rogues scattered, Wedge, Ooryl and Heikki diving towards the right wall, while Tycho, Ghazal and Corran flattened themselves against the left. Tycho looked about and saw that thankfully, none of them were hurt. The Rogues and the guards exchanged a few shots, with no hits made by either side. Tycho's group were at less of an acute angle to the corridor where the guards sheltered, and one blaster bolt hit the wall just a few inches above his head, making him flinch.

Two guards pushed the muzzles of their blasters around the corner and fired blindly. Using their cover, another man crawled out far enough to grab the ankle of the injured man and start hauling him back into shelter. Wedge crouched, getting lower than the blind shots coming his way, and aimed. A single shot ended the rescuer's efforts and he slumped to the floor. The guards ceased their covering fire and retreated around the corner.

Tycho looked across the corridor to Wedge. "We need to keep moving," he said, pitching his voice loud enough to be heard above the sirens, but not so loud the guards could readily hear him.

Wedge nodded; with his free hand, he dug a small sphere from one of his flightsuit pockets and held it up. "Flash," he called, and held it ready to throw to Tycho. Tycho holstered his blaster and cupped his hands, ready to receive it. Wedge lobbed the grenade carefully across and Tycho caught it neatly. He glided forward a couple of steps to give himself a better angle into the cross corridor, pressed down the two switches simultaneously, and threw the flash grenade. He watched just long enough to be sure it was going into the guards' corridor as he wanted, then he turned away, closing his eyes, and clasped his hands over his ears.

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