Project Echo: Part 19
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

Standing upright, Wedge took a deep breath and allowed himself a moment to calm down. Something about the light in the room made him blink, and looking about, he realized that for the first time in months, he was seeing natural daylight. He hurried across to the window, then suddenly remembered caution and approached it from one side, where he would be less visible to anyone looking in. He looked first at the sky, which was blue with a greenish tinge. He could have watched the clouds float overhead for hours, but only allowed himself half a minute.

More important right now was to study his surroundings. This window looked into a large courtyard at the heart of a three storey building. From what he could see, it didn't look military and there were no Imperial motifs anywhere. The courtyard itself was a pleasant garden area with paths winding between trees, and benches positioned at regular intervals. Wedge could see a burly green-skinned Twilek male on one of the benches, eating a snack, with his face turned towards the sun.

Tearing himself away from the window, Wedge powered up the terminal on the desk. While that was coming online, he took the holster and belt from the unconscious officer and strapped it on. The weight of the blaster against his side was reassuring. He took all the ID, security and cred cards he could find, and the officer's comlink too. Wedge did a quick search on the computer and quickly found a map of this building. He was surprised see the name Moulante Bio Inc but the schematic he found included various labs. Wedge studied the map, searching for a hangar or garage. He found two garages quickly, but it took him longer to establish roughly where he was at the moment. An area on the top floor was blank. From its relationship to the sim room, Wedge guessed that the blank space showed his own, presumably classified, quarters. He traced his route though the building, down the stairwell, and established roughly where he was now. He pulled out the small datapad he'd taken from one of his guards, and downloaded the map onto it.

He didn't bother to shut down the terminal as he left the office, though he did take a moment to lock the door behind himself. Turning back in the direction he'd come, Wedge set off at a fast walk. He had just reached a junction when one of the comlinks beeped. Wedge fished them from his pockets and saw the call was on the officer's comlink. Still walking, he switched it on to hear the message.

"Grade One alert," said a recorded message. "Pilot One has escaped guards and is loose in the building. He must not leave this base. Refer to file NR511P1 for description and holos. This is a Grade One alert."

Wedge cursed under his breath and broke into a jog. He passed a man pushing a trolley laden with boxes of office supplies, who just glanced at him. Down the next corridor was a smartly dressed woman busily talking into her comlink, who barely noticed him as he ran past. If he'd remembered his directions correctly, he wasn't far from a garage now. Wedge wondered if they were broadcasting the signal to activate the neuroshock implant. How many people had the remote units? It was difficult to forget the fear he might suddenly feel that agony searing its way down his spine and up into his head. He hoped fervently that the patch he'd stuck over the sensor's input would continue to block the signal. If it failed, he'd never see Iella and Syal again.

Wedge almost bit his tongue when all three comlinks he carried sounded at once. His right hand was working properly again now, after taking backlash from the overloaded stun pistol he'd cobbled together, so Wedge could grab the first comlink that came to hand and thumb it on.

"Attention all units. A dangerous criminal is loose on the base, wearing a guard's uniform. Identification holos are being transmitted to squadron leaders' datapads now. He must not leave this base. Capture or kill: repeat; capture or kill."

Wedge let out a hiss of frustration: they must have found the two guards he'd stunned first and left in the storecupboard. Switching the comlink to his left hand, he drew his blaster with his right and kept running. Turning into the last short corridor, he saw armed guards positioned either side of the door to the garage. The one on the left began to raise his blaster, while the other turned to slap a large red button on the wall by the door.

Still running, Wedge fired. His shot hit the left guard in the shoulder, rocking him back and disrupting his hurried aim. The guard's shot went wild, passing a couple of feet over Wedge's head. Sirens began wailing as Wedge fired again: this shot hit the guard in the chest, throwing him against the wall to slide down in a cumpled heap. Wedge didn't spare the time to watch. The second guard had started drawing his blaster after hitting the alert button. Wedge jinked sideways as he fired his own blaster. The guard fired from his hip, a micro-second after Wedge's shot. His blaster bolt missed Wedge's head by centimeters, cutting through the space where he'd been a moment before. Wedge's bolt hit the guard almost between the eyes. The man dropped as though he'd been switched off, the blaster sliding from his fingers to clatter on the floor. It was a lucky shot, as Wedge had been aiming for the general torso area: he couldn't help thinking that if Janson had made that kill, the shot between the eyes would have been deliberate, even at a run.

There was no time to think about his friends. He was on his own and the odds against him were increasing every moment. Without a glance for the guards he'd just killed, Wedge got out the cards he'd taken from the officer. Picking the one that looked like an access card, he swiped it through the doorpad. To Wedge's relief, the light turned green and the door slid open. Sirens continued to wail as he entered the vehicle garage. He glimpsed mechanics running to another personnel door on the other side of the garage, but there was no one in the immediate area. Dismissing the two cargo lifters and the enclosed personnel skimmer, he headed towards the speeders parked near the outer exit.

Both were civilian models, one utilitarian, one more sporty and open-topped. Wedge leaned over the side of the faster model, studying the controls, then straightened and headed for the keypad of the exit. He tried the officer's swipcard again but it didn't work this time. Muttering a curse, Wedge had to holster his blaster and get out the small toolkit he'd stolen from the storeroom. He swiftly pulled off the keypad cover and began pulling and replacing wires. He found the lead to the door's power unit and fed it into the keypad's smaller power cell. Standing at arm's length, he touched the door's internal test button. Too much power fed in and overloaded the keypad's circuitry causing it to explode. It was a crude method of defeating a basic lock, but Wedge had no time and no need to conceal his presence. The doors began sliding open as he sprinted back to the speeder he'd chosen. 

He vaulted in, opened the toolkit again and bent to bypass the security on the ignition. Again, he made no effort at a neat job. Seconds ticked away as he pulled wires and rearranged them. His first press on the starter had no effect. Swallowing curses, Wedge tried again. He reversed two wires and slammed his palm against the ignition button. This time the engines fired and the dashboard lit up. Leaving his hotwired mess as it was, Wedge sat up and took hold of the controls. A blaster bolt scorched past his right ear and left a hole in the windscreen.

A glance at the rearview sensor screen showed him a half squadron of guards, running towards him from the second personnel entrance. More blaster bolts came flying in his direction, a few impacting the dashboard and windscreen. Wedge ducked down in his seat and fired up the repulsorlift. The speeder rose towards the ceiling, raising Wedge above the guards' line of sight. Blaster shots continued to hammer into the floor of the speeder. As Wedge began to sit up, pressing the accelerator, he heard the rumble of the outer doors closing. Someone had overridden the damaged lock and was trying to stop him from escaping.

The speeder raced towards the narrowing gap between the heavy garage doors. Wedge took one hand from the yoke, using that and his free foot to brace himself in his seat. He changed course slightly, aiming for the centre of the diminishing gap, and rolled the speeder up on one side. Hanging on grimly, the speeder at almost 45 degrees, Wedge accelerated. He slipped the speeder between the moving doors with barely half a meter clearance on each side, and shot out into the open.

A road curved away to his right, following the front of the building and down to the main gate. Wedge ignored it; he levelled the speeder and aimed across a permacreted space between the main building and what he guessed to be a vehicle maintenance facility. The buildings were surrounded by a grassy area which was enclosed by a five meter security fence. Wedge pulled back on the yoke, finding out the speeder's maximum altitude. As he'd feared, it rose to just five meters, which was common for civilian vehicles on many planets. Wedge headed directly for one of the support posts, losing a little height.

He flew at the fence at almost full speed. To anyone watching on the security cameras, it looked as though he intended to smash directly through the fence. Wedge knew better: at this speed, the high-tensile durasteel wire would slice into the speeder and probably through his own body as well. Less than two speeder-lengths from the fence, Wedge yanked the nose of the speeder up. The underside of the speeder, where the repulsor coils were, was presented to the post supporting the fence. The repulsor field hit the post near the top and bounced the speeder a little higher. It headed up at a 45 degree angle, just clearing the top of the fence. Wedge brought the nose down again; the speeder dropped in a sharp curve until it was back to five meters above the ground, and sped on.

With that obstacle out of the way, Wedge could take a moment to assess his situation. He switched on the nav system and managed to one-handedly fasten the three point safety harness. The base – or Moulante Bio Inc – was set in gentle rolling farmland. Wedge could see crop fields and pastures, bordered with high hedges and copses of broadleaved trees. The nav screen showed him a city, labelled as Visalux, some fifteen miles away, currently out of sight on the other side of low hills. To Wedge's delight, he saw there was a spaceport. That was his destination, but he wanted to ditch this speeder and pick up another one as soon as possible. There was a smal town about four kilometers away to the south-east; not quite the direction he needed for the city.

Wedge turned the speeder in that direction. The nav screen showed him a road, but he didn't intend to be that easy to find. He dropped lower, barely two meters above the ground. A yellowy-orange cereal crop swayed as he flew over it, leaving a temporary wake behind him. Wedge could see a wandering line of trees about half a klick ahead. The line marked the path of a small river that flowed through the town he wanted to visit. Wedge turned slightly and aimed for it.

He didn't need any terrain-following software for the speeder; Wedge had done this kind of thing many times before. One of the favourite sports at farm school had been their mock hunts, ridden on thaks or slopewings. One player would ride out first to lay the trail; 20 minutes later, the others would set out in pursuit. Wedge had played  as both hunter and hunted, and had become an expert in finding the best way across country, and doing so while remaining out of sight as much as possible. Keeping the speeder at about hedge height, he quickly left the base behind him.



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