Project Echo: Part 18
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

As the sim module's holo screens faded to black, Wedge whipped off his helmet and gloves and released his harness. Moments later he was prising up the floor panel and reaching inside for his completed weapon. Wedge hefted the cobbled-together collection of components, and checked whether anything had come loose. He'd taken the ion pulse generator unit from a droid restraining bolt and adjusted the frequency to affect organic matter. A micro capacitor had been added to the power pack from the restraining bolt, giving him a stun weapon he thought would be good for several shots, though only at short range. Unless it blew up in his hand first.

Wedge slipped the gun into a pocket of his flight suit, and brought out a small piece of foam insulation he'd previously detached from the wiring. He pushed the panel back into place and turned to his pilot's chair. Using the fork handle, he scooped out a little more sticky sealant from the depths of the chair's mountings. Lifting his hair away from the back of his neck with his left hand, Wedge smeared sealant over the protruding end of the neuroshock implant. Changing hands, he used clean fingers to press the small piece of foam into the sealant, sticking it over the implant. He then smoothed his hair back into place.

Wedge preferred to wear his hair at collar length, which was about as long as military regs would allow for a human male in Space Command. In the weeks that he'd been held here, he'd never been offered the chance of a hair cut. His thick hair now brushed against his shoulders, concealing the back of his neck. The hair didn't prevent a signal getting through to the implant, but it concealed the visible part of the neuroshock unit, and now the foam patch that he hoped would block a radio signal intended to activate the unit. Wiping his sticky fingers on his flight suit, Wedge tucked gloves into helmet and stood up, releasing the hatch overhead.

He climbed out, handed his helmet and gloves to a silent guard, and waited while they were sealed away in a locker. Then they began the walk back towards his quarters. Wedge sauntered along between the guards, his hands in his pockets as they usually were. It was an effort for him to maintain his casual pose when adrenaline was flooding his system, but Wedge managed to keep his tone light as he chatted.

"Are you doing anything special this weekend?" he asked generally. He had no idea whether it was the weekend or the middle of the week, but it didn't matter. The guards didn't reply anyway. "Are there any good bars or cantinas around here?" he went on. "I can recommend a good family bar on Chandrila, but if you want something more for the lads, I'd recommend Saxo's, down on Axxila Way on Coruscant. They have a mid-week floor show and they hire the best Twi'lek dancers you'll see anywhere but Ryloth itself."

The guards didn't respond vocally but Wedge had the satisfaction of seeing the neck of the guard in front of him flush red, and the man's shoulders tighten. He talked a little more, then fell silent, as usual, in the routine he'd carefully developed over the last month or so. At a point almost halfway back to his rooms, there was a door labelled as a storage room, just before a junction with another main corridor. As they approached, Wedge found himself starting to breathe more rapidly, and forced himself into a show of calm. His mind was working as clearly as ever and he timed his move exactly as he'd planned.

Just before they reached the store room, Wedge spun, whipping the improvised stunner from his pocket. The guard behind was too startled by this change in routine to react before Wedge fired. There was an electronic snap and crackle from his gun. Wedge saw the guard jerk, and start to buckle, then he was spinning back to face the other guard. The front guard was turning to see what was happening behind. He was bringing the remote around, then remembered that it wasn't a pistol, and didn't need to be aimed at the target. Wedge saw him thumb the button, and his back tensed in anticipation of pain even as he was turning. Nothing happened though: the insulation did its work in blocking the signal.

The guard's eyes widened: confused, he pressed the button again instead of dodging or trying a hand to hand attack. Wedge brought his stun gun into line and fired from just a couple of paces away. The guard jolted as the ion pulse hit him, and collapsed. Wedge took a deep breath, then turned to examine the first guard he'd shot. The man was unconcious but breathing steadily. Wedge crushed the remote under his boot heel, then turned to the second man. He was also unconcious. Wedge crushed his remote too, then took his security cards. The first one he tried opened the storage room and Wedge quickly dragged both men inside, tucking the broken remotes into their pockets first to leave no trace out in the corridor.

    Moving quickly, he stripped trousers and tunic from the smaller of the two guards and donned them in place of his flightsuit. They were somewhat too large for him, but deft use of tape from a shelf in the storeroom made for a passable fit. His boots weren't quite the same as the ones the guards wore, but they were close enough, and both guards had larger feet than Wedge so he couldn't swap. He pocketed all the various cards he could find on both unconscious men, plus comlinks and a palm-sized datapad that one of them had had in a pocket. Wedge had no idea how long they would stay unconcious, so bound their wrists and ankles with more tape. A swift glance around the shelves got him a slim case with small tools, which went into a pocket along with the roll of tape.

Back in the corridor, Wedge looked both ways along the cross corridor at the junction. He had absolutely no idea of the layout of this building, or even of what floor he was on. Deciding randomly to go left, he began a cautious jog along that branch of the corridor. Wedge's instinct was to try and keep out of sight, staying to the smaller corridors. He knew he was more likely to get lost or end up in a dead end  though, if he did that. A main corridor was more likely to lead him to an exit or hangar. The stunner was back in his pocket, as a weapon in his hand was likely to draw unwanted attention.

This corridor ended in a T-junction. Wedge changed to a brisk walk as he approached. As he reached the junction, he spotted a sign showing the way to an emergency exit. and turned in that direction. The doors along the corridor were closed,  but signage suggested a mix of offices and laboratories. Wedge had walked about fifty metres when a door opened and a pair of human technicians came out. They gave Wedge a curious glance, which he returned with a cool, military stare. They turned away and walked off, chatting about something to do with accelerated cell growth, as Wedge passed them.

He kept going, wondering how long it would be before the alarm was given. Were his guards supposed to check in once they'd returned him to his cell ? Did they check in immediately, by comlink, or did they return to their office? The second option meant he had longer before anyone realized his guards were overdue. Wedge broke into a jog for a few paces, filled with the urge to hurry, then forced himself to slow. A brisk walk drew attention less than running.

A golden-furred female Bothan appeared from a side corridor, guiding a repulsor trolly laden with lab equipment. She glanced at Wedge with large violet eyes, but was only checking whether he'd be in her way as she manouvered the trolly into the main corridor. She pushed the floating trolly along at an unhurried walk, humming to herself, as Wedge walked briskly past and left her behind. He was relieved to see another sign for the emergency exit, and turned left through a pair of heavy doors into a stairwell. He had to be on the top floor, as there were no stairs going up, so he peered down into the grey, durasteel and permacrete stairwell. To Wedge's delight, there were only two floors below this one. He'd begun to fear that he was many storeys up and that the alarm would be raised before he was even halfway out. There was no one else in the stairwell, so he jogged down at some speed.

At the bottom, he slowed and exited the stairwell at a more relaxed pace. Altough he still had no idea where he needed to go, Wedge turned confidently in the direction he'd been going before, and walked on briskly. This corridor was busier; a man in civilian clothes, talking into a comlink, was walking ahead of Wedge in the same direction. Two young women, chattering away, walked past him in the opposite direction. They gave him a curious look, and one smiled unexectedly. In spite of his tension, Wedge almost smiled back at her but managed to keep his military pose. He marched away from them and felt a flash of paranoia as they giggled.

Wedge walked another hundred meters, pleased when the man ahead soon turned off into a side corridor. The relief lasted less than a minute. A door just ahead opened, and to Wedge's dismay, a guard in officer's uniform entered the corridor. The officer glanced about, spotted Wedge, and frowned.

"You!" the officer barked. "You're a disgrace to your uniform."

Wedge halted, stiffening into a straight-backed military pose, and saluted. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

The officer stared at him. "When did you last get a haircut?"

Wedge managed to avoid wincing. He'd been so grateful for his hair being long enough to conceal the patch covering the implant that he'd forgotten that his shaggy appearance was inappropriate for a guard. The poor fit of his uniform didn't help his overall appearance either. No wonder the people he'd passed had given him curious looks.

"I don't remember, sir," he replied, inconspicuously moving his hand closer to his pocket.

    "Well, it looks like it," the officer snapped. "When were you assigned here? I don't remember seeing you here before." He stared hard into Wedge's face, frowning. "I have seen you before, though, haven't I?"

Wedge had hold of his stunner now. "I don't believe so, sir," he answered, trying round his vowels slightly to suggest an Agamari accent instead of his Corellian tones. "I've only just arrived on base."

The officer shook his head and took a step backwards, looking Wedge up and down. "I know you from somewhere else — holos…"

   As a belated look of recognition dawned on his face, Wedge drew the stunner and fired. There was a louder crack than before, and a jolt of pain shot up Wedge's arm. He yelped, the smoking stunner dropping from limp fingers. The officer collapsed like a deflated balloon, crumpling to the floor. Wedge bent and snatched up the officer's blaster with his left hand before glanced back along the corridor. Miraculously, there was no one else around. Stepping over to the door the officer had come out of, Wedge pressed the pad clumsily with his tingling right hand. He lunged through as the door opened, blaster at the ready. The office was empty and silent. Tucking the blaster into his waistband, Wedge hauled the unconscious officer inside and locked the door.

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