Project Echo: Part 20
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

The Pulsar Skate swooped gracefully down through the atmosphere of Benzalko, Mirax handling the controls of the light freight ship as confidently as Tycho flew his X-wing. He was in the co-pilot's seat, with Winter, Wes and Hobbie further back in the cockpit. Heikki and Corran were also on this part of the mission, which would gather intelligence on the ground and try to pinpoint a way of accessing Moulante Bio Inc. Gavin was in command of the rest of the squadron, their X-wings currently in geostationary orbit on the far side of the planet's solitary moon.

Tycho frowned at his nav screen and turned to look at Mirax. "You're not following the flight plan ATC gave us."

"If we swing a little wider on our approach we can get a visual on the bio-tech facility," Mirax explained. "I'd like to get a look at it from the air."

Tycho could see the point in that but expressed caution. "Stick as close to the flight path as you can. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves."

Mirax simply gave him a withering look, then concentrated on flying her ship again.

"Winter, you and Iella found that this Moff Blackmore sold possible cloning tech to the Promezia Corp," Hobbie said. "And he had data on Wedge for training the clone, but I don't understand what the moff gets out of the deal. It's the Corp that have Wedge."

"Credits," Wes answered promptly. "I bet they paid a fancy price for the cloning tech."

"Information too," Tycho put in. "Wedge's knowledge of the New Republic military will be of far more interest to Moff Blackmore than to the Promezia Corp."

"So if the Moff had the cloning tech, why not just kidnap Wedge himself, instead of involving outsiders?" Hobbie asked.

"Moff Blackmore and Admiral Pellaeon don't get on too well," Tycho answered. "The Moff probably doesn't want Pellaeon to know that he has cloning technology; I bet he'd rather keep that up his sleeve. Plus, from what I know of Pellaeon, this kind of plot isn't to his taste."

"But Admiral Pellaeon's head of the Imperial Remnant's military. What's the use of Moff Blackmore getting military secrets from Wedge if the head of his own military doesn't know about them?" Wes asked.

"I'm guessing here, but the Moffs have their own sector fleets," Tycho said. "It's possible that Blackmore, and maybe an ally or two, will launch some offensive of their own, based on what they've learned from Wedge. If they can score a victory against the New Republic, Pellaeon will find it very hard not to back them on further attacks. It would weaken his position with some of the other Moffs, too. Blackmore could seize some power from him."

"Wedge could have trained some of Blackmore's elite pilots," Mirax suggested. "As part of the payment for the cloning tech."

"Cracken must be going frantic," Wes remarked, looking slightly pleased at the idea. "He must be worrying that it wasn't just Wedge who was cloned."

"Unless the General Cracken running Intel right now is also a clone," Hobbie said.

Winter shook her head. "Senior staff from all throughout the military are being called in for 'medical assessments'. Routine blood samples from their medicals are being tested for anomalies in the telomeres that would indicate a clone. Cracken volunteered to be the first to have the test done."

"It took Promezia Corp five years to train up their Wedge clone," Tycho said. "That's a long-term investment with no guarantee of results. The Corp may not have the resources to develop and train another clone. Moff Blackmore may have increased his odds by selling the tech to another corp."

"Iella's looking into that," Winter said. "Now we've uncovered the companies the Moff used to sell to Promezia, we've got a start on finding similar deals he may have made."

"Well, that's Intel's problem," Wes asserted. "Our priority is getting Wedge back, then maybe teaching these mynocks a lesson with some proton torps, so they don't think of trying again."

Tycho was about to say that the waiting X-wings were for back up only, no matter that he privately agreed with Wes's suggestion, but Mirax spoke first.

"There's Promezia Corp." She pointed towards the cockpit's viewport.

Tycho glanced out, at the rural landscape below, then magnified the sensor image on screen, sending it out to the monitors at the other cockpit stations. They all looked at the flat-roofed building and the vehicles moving around in front of it.

"No obvious defences apart from that security fence," Wes said.

"Those are personnel carriers," Hobbie remarked, indicating the vehicles assembling in front of the bio-tech facility. "Heavy-duty ones, too."

Tycho pushed the magnification to maximum. "You're right. Those are security carriers — see the sensor equipment on the roofs? Something's got them busy." A small knot of tension formed deep in his guts.

Winter was already searching through comm channels, her expression intent as she listened to the different broadcasts through her earpiece. Mirax reluctantly circled away from Moulante Bio Inc, bringing herself back on the proper flight path for a landing at Visalux.

"Corran?" Tycho used his headset to talk to the pilot back in the crew lounge. "Can you sense Wedge down there?"

"No." There was frustration in Corran's tone. "There's feelings of worry, frustration and hostility clustered together. If Wedge is there, I can't pick him out among all those strong feelings. There's a definite disturbance down there."

"I can guess who's caused it," Winter said, smiling slightly. She put a channel on all-ship audio.

"... is armed and dangerous. Last seen piloting a red SoroSub 1-90 Starskimmer; probable destination is Visalux Spaceport. This is a Priority One Alert. Pilot One must, repeat must, be detained or killed."

Winter switched the audio off again.

"Pilot One has to be Wedge," Wes exclaimed. "And if he's escaped, he's already done half our job for us."

"Did you miss the 'detained or killed' part?" Hobbie asked. "They're already on the ground and after him."

"Wedge is hard to catch," Tycho said sturdily, watching Mirax as she increased the speed of the Skate to the spaceport.

"And he's dangerous, even when he's not armed," Mirax said, not taking her eyes from the controls.

"We're Rogues, and Wedge is a Rogue," Tycho said. "We'll find him first."



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