Project Echo: Part 13
Gillian F. Taylor
Time passed in a daze. Tycho automatically fulfilled his obligations as the Rogues' commanding officer as the Redemption returned to Coruscant. The shuttle had got clear of Galdo with backup from the rest of Rogue Squadron in their X-wings, summoned from their waiting position by Ghazal. Shuttle and X-wings then made the short jump to rendezvous with the carrier. Tycho had debriefed the Rogues, breaking the news of Wedge's death to those who'd not been part of the infiltration team. Worse than seeing the grief on Wes and Hobbie's faces was making the holonet call to Iella on Coruscant.
Tycho could have composed a message and sent that, as was more usual, but he had to do Iella the courtesy of telling her himself, and being there to answer her questions immediately. His own numbness helped to insulate him as the light died from her face when he delivered the news.
"It happened so fast," Tycho repeated, his conversation disjointed. "Wedge didn't suffer much. He saved us. We couldn't do anything for him. It was a fluke; the blaster bolt went right through his heart. He died so quickly."
"Thank you," Iella said softly. "I know you'd have done anything possible to save him." She paused, and cleared her throat. "Please don't blame yourself, Tycho. He knew the risks he was taking when he went into combat, and we both accepted them. At least I'll be able to say goodbye to him. He's not missing in action." She shook her head, her long hair swaying with the movement. "Thank you."
"I'm so sorry," he whispered in return.
"I know." Iella made a slight smile of thanks, and cut the connection.
Tycho closed his eyes and the tears finally began to flow.
* * * * *
Tycho entered the memorial hall with his arm linked tightly in Winter's. She was in a simple black jacket and dress that looked stunning with her white hair. Tycho wore his dress uniform out of respect to the friend they were saying farewell to. The funeral was the next day, for family and friends only, but Wedge's casket was in the little memorial room so those that loved him could see him one last time, and pay their respects in private. A public memorial service was scheduled for a couple of weeks' time, to celebrate the life of the New Republic's greatest starfighter pilot. The politicians had effectively taken charge of it and Tycho felt it was going to be a publicity event for them. Wedge's courage, honour and virtues would be celebrated on behalf of the New Republic, and Tycho had been told, not invited, to make a speech.
But that was in the future. Right now he was in the peaceful room, decorated only by two holos of Wedge; one formal, showing him in his general's uniform; the other a family holiday snapshot of him smiling, Iella at his side and an infant Syal in his arms as they stood on a beach on Chandrila. Still holding Winter's arm tightly, Tycho approached the open casket and looked into it. The edges of the simple casket glowed faintly blue as they emitted the conservator field that kept a body fresh until the actual funeral.
Wedge had been laid out in his dress uniform, the crisp white of the jacket contrasting with his dark hair. He wore a red sash embroidered with representations of the many medals and honours he'd been awarded in almost twenty years of service. The actual medals had been kept by Iella for Syal when she grew up. Tycho studied Wedge's face. It was expressionless and somehow empty, without even the life he had had when sleeping. It was like looking at a mask, and yet unmistakably also the real Wedge. Tycho found the duality disconcerting, and looked away.
He didn't want to linger here. He'd needed to come, to see the formality of Wedge's death. That bare minute or so on the shuttle had happened too fast; his mind hadn't truly made the transition to believing that Wedge was dead. Seeing him in his coffin, laid out in the rituals of death, Tycho could begin to adjust to the reality. He let out a long, soft sigh. "Tycho. Look at his right hand."
Tycho blinked and turned to look at Winter. The urgent tone of her voice puzzled him more than the words.
"Look," she insisted.
Tycho did as she asked. Wedge's hands were together on his chest and looked perfectly normal to Tycho.
"What am I not seeing?" he asked.
"A scar, from when Rogue Squadron were sent to liberate Coruscant from Ysard," Winter said, her voice carefully controlled. "Wedge, Pash, Iella, Mirax and I were in a safe apartment when Corran inadvertently sent a speeder bike crashing through the window, remember? Wedge got shards of transparisteel embedded in his hand. I found some rhyll to kill any infection, but as we were undercover, there was no bacta available. He had to let the wounds heal naturally, and it left a scar."
Tycho's eyes widened. "I remember now. It wasn't a big scar and I think it faded over the years. I stopped noticing it, anyway."
He looked again and saw that the back of Wedge's right hand was smooth and unblemished.
"He could have had it surgically repaired at some point," he said cautiously.
"Wedge wasn't that vain," Winter replied, a little absently.
Tycho saw the slightly distant look in her eyes and knew she was looking back at the images of Wedge recorded by her astonishing holographic memory.
"I last saw him at the party to mark his return to Rogue Squadron. He had the scar then." Winter said confidently.
"Iella would know if he's had it removed," Tycho pointed out.
"He also had a small scar on his outer left elbow," Winter said.
Tycho nodded, remembering. "He got it at school on Corellia, falling off a slope-wing he'd been told not to ride."
Winter looked into the casket. "We need to know if this man's got that scar or not."
Without waiting for Tycho to reply, she reached into the casket and gently picked up Wedge's left arm. Tenderly pushing up the jacket sleeve, she revealed a bare elbow that had no scar. After restoring the sleeve, she replaced the arm as it had been. Tycho stared at the body in the casket. "That's…it must be Wedge. I flew with him; talked to him. And look at him; you couldn't get that close a match with surgery, surely?" He paused trying to order his disjointed thinking. "An almost perfect replica but without those little scars we know that Wedge had…so if it's not Wedge then ... a clone?" he suggested suddenly.
Winter nodded. "I think that's right. A perfect replica in genotype, but just missing the tiny details accumulated through life that alter the phenotype. Neither injury was treated by military facilities so I doubt either of those scars are listed in Wedge's medical records."
"I can barely see the scar on his hand in that holo," Tycho said, looking at the family picture. "It could easily be a flaw in the recording, or a smear of sand from the beach." He looked again at the body in the casket and shook his head. "But I worked with him, fought with him. He ... there was something a little different about him. But until a few moments ago I'd have sworn on the remains of Alderaan that this was the Wedge Antilles I've known for seventeen years."
"We need to call General Cracken and let him know what we've seen," Winter said briskly. "Detailed analysis will tell if this is a clone or not."
A new thought hit Tycho like an ion bolt. He turned sharply to face Winter.
"If this is a clone, where's the real Wedge?"
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