Project Echo: Part 12
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

The flash grenade exploded with a sonic boom. Even with his eyes closed and the grenade detonating around the corner, Tycho saw the brilliant flash as it went off. Unless they were very quick-witted and lucky, the guards would be temporarily deafened and blinded. Within seconds of the detonation, Tycho was looking around and blinking in a effort to dispel the coloured shapes that floated in front of his eyes. The noise of the alarms was more muffled than before, but he heard Wedge urging them to start moving again.

Tycho glanced into the side corridor as they ran past. The surviving five security guards were helpless, shaking their heads, stumbling about or crouched on the floor, their expressions dazed. The Rogues jumped the bodies of the fallen and left them all behind. They passed doors labelled as storage bays and a smaller door leading to an office. Wedge paused briefly at the next junction, getting his bearings, then turned left. No one spoke, saving their breath for running. Another hundred meters and Wedge turned right into a short corridor that ended in a large blast door, typical of hangars. The light on the keypad was green. Wedge slapped the door open button with his free hand, and the blast door whisked aside.

This hangar was much more crowded than the other. Crates and barrels were stacked around the walls, the floor was filled with a variety of vehicles and there was a distinct smell of heavy lubricant and fuel in the air. Tycho was relieved to see the raised wings of a Lambda shuttle visible on the far side of a nearby heavy cargo skiff.

"Over there!" Wedge gestured to it and increased his pace.

The Rogues sprinted for the shuttle, rounding the bow of the travel-worn cargo skiff. As they came in sight of the shuttle, a side-door in the wall of the hangar opened and a dozen security guides charged in, blasters firing. Those first snatched shots went wild, giving the Rogues a chance to fire back some of their own as they dived for cover. A personnel carrier had been parked up close to the skiff, and the Rogues dived behind it. Tycho found himself between Wedge and Ghazal, all of the humans gasping for breath as they crouched behind the metal vehicle and recovered briefly. Ooryl didn't respire in the same way, so didn't need to take deep breaths.

"Anyone hurt?" Wedge demanded, his eyes sweeping his squad.

Everyone shook their heads, even Ooryl, who had learnt the human gesture. Corran popped his head up over the central spine of the carrier to get a glimpse of the guards. Two blaster bolts seared past his hair as he ducked back.

"They're in cover behind some component crates," he reported.

"Keep them there," Wedge ordered, looking at Corran, Ooryl, Ghazal and Heikki.

The pilots began shooting, mixing blind shots with random pop ups from their different places behind the carrier. Fire came back, some bolts thudding into the body of the carrier, while others passed overhead and to the sides, leaving score marks on the skiff or the floor. Tycho and Wedge turned to study the shuttle. Tycho estimated it to be about twenty meters from their current position — twenty meters of open space, with no cover available. The crates the guards were sheltering behind were at one end of that space, giving them an excellent line of fire at anyone trying to cross between the two vehicles.

"Unless you've got any more flash grenades tucked away, we can't make it," Tycho said, looking at Wedge.

Wedge's jaw tightened as he assessed choices. "No more grenades," he said grimly. "It has to be the shuttle. I can't see any other space worthy vehicles in here that will take all of us." He turned to look at the cargo skiff. "Maybe we could use that to ... " His voice trailed off.

Tycho looked too and saw that the driver's control board had had the fascia removed, and loose wires were hanging out, waiting for the repair to be finished. "Sithspawn," he said quietly.

Wedge was studying the shuttle again. "Hatch is locked, but I can get it open, maybe fifteen seconds," he calculated. "Just a couple of seconds to sprint from here to there."

"That dozen guards can get off more than twenty shots in just the time it would take you to reach the shuttle, Wedge," Tycho said fiercely. He knew the bright look of determination that shone in Wedge's eyes, and knew how hard it was to get him to change his mind in that state. "It would be suicide, and we'd be still stuck here, but without our commanding officer."

Wedge looked at him. "You commanded the Rogues for eight years, Tycho. You don't need me."

"We need every blaster and every set of brains we've got to get out of this," Tycho told him. "You can't throw your life away."

Wedge's face became more stubborn. "I brought you here," he said passionately. "I have to get you out and the shuttle's our only chance. Give me enough covering fire and I stand a fair chance."

"A fair chance isn't good enough," Tycho insisted. "We've got to think of something else."

"I can improve the odds," Corran said. He holstered his blaster and unclipped the lightsaber from his belt. "With covering fire, I should be able to handle any shots coming our way."

"That reduces the odds from suicidal to highly dangerous," Tycho said.

Corran grinned. "Never tell a Corellian the odds," he quipped.

Wedge looked uncertainly at the lightsaber for a few moments, then nodded decisively. "We'll do it." He switched his gaze to Tycho. "I want heavy covering fire from you all just before we start our run. Keep it up as best you can."

"We wouldn't do anything else," Tycho said honestly.

"No, you wouldn't," Wedge said, almost to himself. He flashed a brief smile and touched Tycho on the arm. "Good luck." He turned away before Tycho had time to answer and crouched, ready to sprint. "Ready."

Corran crouched too, and activated his lightsaber with its characteristic snap-hiss. "Ready," he echoed.

Tycho took a deep breath and glanced at the three beside him. Any fear was held at bay by the determination to succeed. "On my mark, we all start firing," he ordered. Tightening his grip on his blaster, he took a moment to batten down the fear he felt for his friends, then called "Mark!" and popped up to pour fire at the security guards.

Heikki, Ghazal and Ooryl straightened up at the same time, firing as fast as they could. Ooryl had the blaster he'd taken from the security guard in the hangar, and was firing that at the same time as his own. The air was hot with blaster fire and the smell of rapidly fired blasters. The guards initially ducked back behind their increasingly blaster-scored crates. After a few moments, some blind shots came back, and the guards furthest away leaned around the far end of the crates to shoot at Wedge and Corran.

They were behind Tycho, but he could hear the thrum of Corran's lightsaber and saw some blaster bolts deflected back at the guards. As he fired, he saw that one of the crates was beginning to crack from the repeated shots hitting it.

"Second crate from the right," he called, concentrating his fire on it.

The others followed his example as best they could, while bobbing and weaving to prevent the guards getting an aimed shot at them. Blaster bolts were coming their way, and Tycho was increasingly grateful for the solidity of the personnel carrier they sheltered behind. The surface of the crate they were shooting darkened under the repeated blaster fire, then it suddenly cracked open. The components inside blew up, scattering pieces outwards like shrapnel. The guards behind that crate fell, and their neighbours recoiled, crying out in pain.

With almost half the enemy injured or distracted, Tycho took a moment to duck back and look at Wedge and Corran. They had reached the shuttle hatch. Wedge was urgently working on the lock, pressing series of numbers into the keypad. Corran was standing between him and the guards, the silver-white blade of his lightsaber whirling as he caught and deflected blaster bolts. There were still four or five guards shooting at him, and a few bolts slipped past as he valiantly blocked as many as possible. As Tycho watched, the light on the hatch keypad turned green, and the hatch slid open, the ramp starting to expand downwards. Tycho felt a sudden rush of adrenaline at the sight.

It inspired the remaining security guards to redouble their efforts. The barrage of bolts directed towards the shuttle visibly increased.

"Go, go, go!" Tycho yelled, gesturing to the shuttle.

They sprinted for it, firing as they went. Wedge had turned and was firing back at the guards while Corran kept up his defence with the humming lightsaber. Blaster bolts slashed through the air in both directions and Tycho felt his skin prickle as he ran. Then he saw Wedge jerk and collapse, dropping his blaster as he fell beside the ramp. Tycho stifled a cry, finding yet more speed to cover the last few meters. He heard an exclamation from Corran, and from the corner of his eye saw the Jedi gesture with one hand. The guards screamed, and their firing ceased.

Tycho arrived by Wedge's side at the same time as Ooryl. As Heikki and Ghazal sprinted up the ramp, Tycho and Ooryl lifted Wedge between them. He was limp in their grasp as they carried him aboard the shuttle, Corran following with his lightsaber ready in defence. They carried Wedge to the space behind the rows of seats and gently laid him on the floor of the shuttle. Ghazal had already gone to the cockpit and was firing up the engines; Ooryl went forward to take the co-pilot's seat. Tycho bent over Wedge as Heikki frantically pulled items from the shuttle's standard emergency aid locker.

"Wedge!" he called desperately. Wedge opened his eyes, struggling to focus on Tycho's face. The blaster bolt had hit him in the chest, just to the left of his sternum. He was struggling to breathe, his body trembling spasmodically. His face was white with shock; his dark eyes large.

As Corran covered his lower half with a thermal blanket, Tycho spoke to him.

"Hang on. We're on the shuttle. There's first aid equipment and we're on our way to the Redemption."

Heikki pressed an Anti-Shok hypo against Wedge's neck and delivered a dose of the drug.

"Ben ... benz," Wedge struggled to get the word out.

"Rest," Tycho told him, one hand resting on Wedge's shoulder. "Save your strength," he pleaded.

"Benzalko." The word came out of Wedge in a rush. With that, his eyes closed and his head rolled limply to one side.

"No!" Tycho cried as Wedge shuddered, his desperate breaths seeming louder than the engines as the shuttle took off.

As Heikki placed the oxygen mask over Wedge's face, the breaths quietened abruptly, hesitated, and stopped. Tycho expected Heikki to bring over the resuscitation equipment, but instead he held a scanner over Wedge's chest. He passed it back and forth as the trembling stopped and Wedge became still and limp. Corran cried out involuntarily, a sound of despair. Heikki studied the scanner's monitor, then slowly shook his head. He lowered the scanner and sat back.

Tycho blinked at him, feeling numb. "We'll be on the Redemption in half an hour. You've got to revive him, keep his brain oxygenated until he reaches a medbay."

Heikki shook his head again and turned the scanner so Tycho could see the monitor. "The blaster bolt went right through his heart. Massive blood loss through the wound. He ... he bled to death, internally. Even if I could replace the blood he's lost, his heart's so damaged there's nothing to pump it round, and this shuttle doesn't have a heart pump. I can't do anything!" he finished with a frustrated cry.

It had happened so swiftly that Tycho could barely believe it. Wedge was dead. Tycho closed his eyes, feeling a lead weight settle in his belly. Nothing would be the same again.

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