Project Echo: Part 21
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

Wedge cruised into the outskirts of Viralux in a dark brown, hard top landspeeder. During his brief visit to the small town where he'd swapped speeders, he'd also raided an old fashioned washing line, and had replaced his over-sized black guard's tunic with a loose-fitting cream shirt. He had the officer's comlink clipped to the open neck of the shirt and was listening to the messages being sent back and forth by the Moulante Bio Inc. security force.

"Local forces have been alerted to the presence of an escaped and dangerous criminal. They are monitoring approaches to the spaceport and major thoroughfares ..."

Before entering the city, Wedge had planned several routes to the spaceport, assuming that the major access routes would be watched. Following his nav screen, he turned off the ring road that circled traffic around the city centre, and headed through an area of industrial estates and retail zones. The traffic was lighter here, but not so scarce as to make his presence unsusual. He flew at just a little over the speed limit, not daring to go faster. Likewise, he stopped at the junction lights, even through the traffic crossing was light.

As a high-sided cargo skiff left the crossing, Wedge could see the traffic waiting at the lights on the other side to him. First in the queue was a Visalux Police speeder. His heart jumped, but he resisted the temptation to stamp on the accelerator. The local police were on the lookout for him, but this landspeeder hadn't been mentioned in any of the descriptions he'd listened in to on his stolen comlink. Stealing a glance at the police speeder, his heart sank as he saw one of the policemen scanning the surrounding vehicles with a vis-magnifier. Wedge looked down and moved one hand as though adjusting something on his control panel. Looking up through his long fringe, he saw the magnifiers settling on his speeder, and the officer studying his face. Wedge didn't dare duck out of sight, as he needed to see the actions of the policemen. His breathing slowed as he concentrated, and his fingers tightened on the steering yoke. The policeman adjusted the setting of the vis-mag, and Wedge suddenly recalled that a police model would have recognition software that searched for a match in various databases. He saw the policeman stiffen and say something urgent to the driver as he lifted a hand to point at Wedge's speeder.

Wedge sat up and stamped on the accelerator in one move, without waiting for the lights to change. He crossed the path of an open-topped skimmer, causing the driver to swerve, and zipped across the junction at an angle towards the police speeder. The police vehicle had just got under way, beginning a U-turn to bring it in the direction that Wedge was heading. The move was also bringing it across his path. Wedge simply flew over the police speeder, so low that that the underside of his own speeder scraped antennae and sensor dishes from the roof of the police skimmer. His repulsors pressed the police speeder into the ground, hampering its efforts to turn, while his speeder was bounced off the end of the police vehicle, accelerating him forwards.

Wedge raced his speeder along, cutting through the other traffic, going around or over with equal abandon. His comlink wasn't set to pick up the local law enforcement's frequencies, so he had no idea what units might be responding to any calls being sent out by the speeder chasing him with all sirens howling. Wedge wished he had Gate to scan frequencies for him, but there was no friendly astromech in the speeder.

The police speeder was dropping back but surely others would be on their way to the party. Wedge hauled his speeder into an abrupt turn at a junction, using the forecourt of a speeder repair shop as part of the roadway. Straightening up, he headed towards a sprawling shopping mall a couple of blocks away. Wedge half-smiled as he raced along, relishing the challenge of controlling his speeder on its wild flight through the traffic. This was no sim; this was the adrenaline rush of the real thing. The speeder was heavy and clunky compared with his X-wing, far less manouvrable, but he had the feel of it now. He skimmed over and between other moving vehicles with the narrowest of margins, leaving a trail of chaos behind him as other drivers belatedly swerved or braked.

The police speeder that had identified him was dropping back, its driver neither as skilled nor as desparate as Wedge. Up ahead through, Wedge saw the flashing lights of more police vehicles approaching. He swerved the speeder off the road and over a low fence into the plaza out front of the mall. Pedestrians scattered in panic as he raced across the open area, though he was flying high enough to clear even a tall Wookiee. Those he did fly over were knocked to the ground by the pulse of the repulsorlift, but the brief impact wasn't enough to actually hurt anyone. The approaching police speeders had turned in his direction. Wedge didn't waste time watching them; he swooped down into the underground speeder park.

Wedge had to deccelerate sharply, though he still turned onto the first level at about twice the recommended speed. The speeder park was divided by graceful plastcrete columns into access roads lined with parking bays. This level only had the main entrance/exit strip and a single road on the far side of the columns. To the left was the ramp leading down into the lower and larger levels of the speeder park. By some kind of miracle of the Force, Wedge spotted a vacant space on the other side of the first level. He whipped the speeder around to the other side of the columns and to the free space. He didn't slow until he was almost alongside it. Standing on the brakes, he pulled the yoke across so the rear of the speeder swung around in the direction of the space. When the rear of the speeder was aligned with the gap, Wedge hit reverse and backed into the space, all in one smooth move. He powered down the repulsors but didn't turn the engines off altogether. Slipping from the seat, he crouched in the footwell, watching the entrance to the speeder park on his speeder's rear view sensor screen.

Only a few seconds passed before three police speeders appeared in the entrance. Wedge's speeder was mostly obscured from the entrance by the bulky hardtop speeder parked in the bay on the other side of the columns. The policemen in the leading speeder looked about and saw nothing moving and nothing obviously out of place in the small entrance level. Wedge's pulse thudded in his ears as he watched the policeman consulting with the others via comlink. After long seconds, the police speeders headed for the ramp and disappeared into the lower levels, assuming he'd just fled as far as possible. One speeder went down the up ramp, to intercept him if he were coming out that way.

Wedge waited until all the police speeders were out of sight, then counted to ten. When he reached ten, he was back in the driver's seat and accelerating back round to the exit. The barrier looked flimsy but Wedge knew better than to try ramming through it. That would only set off alarms and and an ion trap further along the exit tunnel. The security system had automatically scanned his speeder when he entered. It scanned him again as he approached the exit and issued a charge based on the length of his stay - in this case, it was for the minimum of one hour, though he'd only been inside for maybe five minutes. Wedge swiped one of the credcards he'd acquired through the machine's slot, and the barrier rose. He shot out as soon as possible: almost too soon, as he heard the barrier scrape the roof of the speeder. He burst from the tunnel back into daylight and away, leaving the police speeders in the depths of the speeder park.



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