Project Echo: Part 15
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

The quiet was broken by Leia.

"You said there were two reason for substituting with the clone?" she said gently to Cracken.

The Intelligence director nodded. "The other advantage that the clone makers gain is time. Time to interrogate General Antilles at their leisure and gain as much information from him as possible. And time to act on that information.

If General Antilles had simply vanished, standard military procedure would have necessitated changing codes, passwords and other sensitive information that he was privy to, on the assumption that he would be forced to give up that information under interrogation. It would have been done as soon as we were certain that he was missing.

From what Colonel Celchu and Iella Antilles have told us, it seems that the clone was among us for approximately three months. The clone's presence concealed the fact of General Antilles' absence and so security measures were not taken during those three months." Cracken paused, the heavy muscles of his jaw and neck tightening as he made the admission. "That has been rectified now," he finished.

Iella spoke up for the first time. "We now know that the dead man is a clone, but where is Wedge — my Wedge?" Her pain showed in her eyes, but not in her voice.

"The use of the Promezia Corporation base as the location for the Echo ship trap suggests their involvement," Admiral Ackbar said.

"But why would they want New Republic military secrets?" Bel Iblis asked, turning to look at Cracken.

"They may not have acted alone," Cracken replied. "The cloning technology is likely to have come from the Imperial Remnant."

"The technology, maybe," Bel Iblis said. "But this plot isn't Gilad Pelleon's style. He's a straightforward soldier; he doesn't care for dirty intelligence work."

Cracken looked a little surly at that remark. "It could have been done behind Admiral Pelleon's back. Some of the Moffs don't like the power he has."

"Well, whether or not the Imps are involved," Bel Iblis said brusquely, still looking at Cracken. "It's three months since they took Antilles. That's more than enough time to get all they can from him. And once they've got all his information, he's useless to them. He was probably executed weeks ago."

A brief cry escaped from Iella. She snapped her mouth shut and sat with her hands clenched and her face rigid as she fought for control. Tycho felt a surge of anger at the general's tactlessness, which faded only slightly when Bel Iblis bowed his head briefly and apologized to Iella for upsetting her. Iella couldn't bring herself to answer verbally, her lips pressed tightly together, but she acknowledged the apology with a brief nod of her head. Leia reached over and touched her gently on the arm.

"That may not be the case," she said reassuringly. "We'll do all we can to find out what's happened to him."

"Thank you," Iella answered, a little hoarsely.

"We'll start looking into the Promezia Corporation," Cracken said, backing Leia's promise. "They seem the most likely suspects in General Antilles' disappearance. Someone grew that clone and spent five years training it to act as General Antilles. There may some kind of data trail; goods supplied to a remote base perhaps."

A faint memory came to Tycho, a nagging feeling of something that might be important. "They did an excellent job of conditioning the clone to behave like General Antilles," Admiral Ackbar commented. "I spoke to him several times and never suspected that this wasn't the Wedge I'd worked with before."

"Preconceptions," said Cracken. "We had no reason to suspect he was not the original Antilles, so we assumed that he was. There may have been some changes in behaviour, and undoubtedly gaps in the clone's knowledge of Antilles personal life," he looked over at Iella. "But the clone surely had the potential to be as bright and adaptable as Antilles, and would have covered for himself."

"He did," Iella said. She shook her head. "I think he grew to be more like Wedge in other ways, too. I noticed that just after he'd returned to Rogue Squadron, Wedge seemed a little awkward with Syal in the evenings. He knew how to do things like change her nappy, but he didn't play with her much. I thought he was tired, with all the work of changing his post and getting the squad working together again. But after a few weeks, he seemed back to normal. He played with her and ... and he said that being her daddy was the most important thing in the galaxy. Wedge — the clone — said he'd never imagined what it was like to have a family like this."

"Because he'd never had a family," said Leia sadly. "The clone must have spent most of his life in some kind of high — security facility, isolated, while his creators secretly developed him as their tool and conditioned him to follow their plans."

"Which backfired," Tycho said. "Because we thought he was Wedge and treated him like a person, not a tool. He spoke about how much he enjoyed being part of a team like Rogue Squadron, and how we looked out for one another in battle." He paused and swallowed. "We were probably the first friends he ever had. And when it came to the moment of betraying us, he couldn't." The nagging memory finally popped into Tycho's mind. "When he was dying, he put the last of his strength into saying one word — it was important to him, but it didn't mean anything to me at the time."

Cracken glowered across the table at him. "You didn't mention this in your report."

"I forgot," Tycho said frankly. "Wedge was dying right in front of me; that's what I remembered."

"What did he say?" Iella asked intently.

Tycho frowned as he thought. "Ben ... something. Bens ... bens ... Benzalko!" he said triumphantly.

There was a slight stir around the table as those present tried to recall any meaning. It was Winter, unsurprisingly, who spoke up.

"Benzalko is a planet in the Corporate Sector." She hesitated for a moment, consulting her holographic memory. "The Promezia Corporation have major holdings there."

"Then that's it!" Iella exclaimed. "The clone couldn't bring himself to betray the Rogues in the end; he helped them instead. The last thing he could do to help was to tell you where Wedge is." Her eyes were bright as she looked at Tycho.

"The clone may not have been referring to the place where General Antilles was taken," Cracken said carefully. "Benzalko may just be home to the facility where he was created, or he may simply have been indicating the location he knew of for the Promezia Corp."

Iella shook her head vigorously, and Tycho backed her up.

"The clone knew how important Wedge is to us. He experienced it all: the love of his — Wedge's — family, the respect and affection of his colleagues. The clone told us how moved he was by it. And he spent his life training to think and act like Wedge, to become Wedge and he did. That's why he saved us and died for us," Tycho said passionately. "Wedge would have tried to give us the information we needed to find someone we loved. That's what the clone did."

"I think you're right," Leia said. She looked across the table to Cracken. "I think Benzalko is the first place we should look for Wedge."

General Cracken nodded, then looked across at Iella. "We'll start the search for General Antilles there, but please remember that what General Bel Iblis said is very probably true. Your husband may no longer be alive," he said with unaccustomed gentleness.

Iella let out a slow, controlled breath. "I understand that," she said, holding herself as though for a formal briefing. "The most important thing for me is to find out what has happened to him, alive or dead. It will be easier to cope if I know."

Cracken inclined his head. "I understand."

Admiral Ackbar took charge of the meeting again. "Our knowledge that it was a clone of Wedge who was killed will be kept secret until further notice. If the Promezia Corp know that we've discovered their plot they will be submerge their path into deep waters and be harder to follow. And if they have General Antilles alive still, they may simply kill him rather than try to keep him hidden."

Leia nodded. "I think the clone should have a private funeral, just as we planned for Wedge," she suggested, looking at Iella. "He deserves it in his own right. But we'll find an excuse to delay the memorial service. If we find that Wedge is dead, then unfortunately, it will go ahead."

Iella nodded. "That seems right to me. Thank you."

"Rogue Squadron would like to have a role in finding Wedge," Tycho said, looking at Cracken. "The squadron has taken a major blow in losing Wedge. And in effect, we've lost him twice over: the real Wedge is missing, and the clone we believed to be Wedge was killed. Looking for Wedge — finding out what happened to him, would give us the feeling of fighting back."

"Finding General Antilles is a job for Intelligence," Cracken objected.

"The Wraiths aren't available, and if he's being held somewhere alive you may need military firepower to get him out. And we've proven ourselves in working closely with Intel before," Tycho said, finding it hard not to actively plead for something he wanted so much.

"I can help with preliminary work," Iella said. "I shan't leave Syal, but there's a lot I can do here on Coruscant."

"I'll help too, if I may," volunteered Winter, looking at Leia, who nodded.

Tycho turned to Admiral Ackbar, trying to read the Mon Calamari's expression. Ackbar raised one flippered hand in Cracken's direction. "This combination has been successful before," he said. "I'm willing to authorize Rogue Squadron to take part in the search for General Antilles."

"Very well, Colonel Celchu," Cracken said. "You get your way."

Tycho looked at Iella. She smiled at him, more positive and more hopeful than he'd seen her since he'd broken the news to her from the Redemption. He smiled too; there was no guarantee that Wedge was still alive, but they had a hope now, that they hadn't had two days ago.

"We'll find out what happened to him," he promised Iella.

She nodded. "I know."

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