Project Echo: Part 24
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

There was a tense silence in the repulsorvan as Wes drove along one of the multi-lane highways towards the area Wedge had last been reported. Tycho was also in the front and on his other side was Winter, listening intently to the earpiece of the portable comm unit she held in her lap. She blew out her breath sharply.

"He's got past the blockade!" she exclaimed. "His speeder's taken hits but the patrolmen don't think he's hurt." There were brief whoops from the other passengers and Wes thumped the dashboard with the flat of his hand.

"I said they wouldn't stop Wedge that easily!" he cried, grinning.

Tycho waved for him to shut up as Winter continued reporting.

"Four units in pursuit. He's turned off into the Brightside Industrial Zone."

The red blips of the police speeders showed on the nav display Tycho was watching. He tapped the Rogues' current position on the map and the cluster of police units. A route between the two lit up on the screen in response.

"I'm on it." Wes glanced at the nav and changed lanes neatly.

A minute or so later Winter reported. "They've lost him. They're sure he turned out onto Saville Street but they've lost sight of him."

Tycho studied the cluster of police icons. The four had spread out, but others were showing on the nav map too. They were concentrated between Wedge's last recorded position and the spaceport, working up and down the main highways in pairs.

"They're searching," he concluded.

"It's Saville Street we're on now," Wes pointed out, his eyes eagerly scanning the moving traffic.

"Corran?" Tycho asked.

The Jedi Rogue was in the back of the repulsorvan with the rest.

"I'm trying," Corran answered. Already opened to the force, he seemed abstracted as he searched for Wedge's presence among the many life forms he could sense in the area. "There. I think ... Wedge ... found him!" His green eyes widened.

"Where is he?"

"Is he OK?"

"How far?"

Corran shook his head at the deluge of questions. "Wedge is OK; frustrated, I think," he answered, his eyes still unfocussed. "He's ... " Corran pointed across the inside of the van with his right hand.

Hobbie turned the datapad he was holding and studied the map on the screen.

"That looks like another industrial estate. If we turn left we'll come at it from the opposite direction from where they last saw Wedge," he called toward the cab at the front.

A pair of police speeders passed them heading in the other direction, sirens and lights working.

"Hah, you missed him," Wes said with satisfaction.

"Take this next turning to the left," Tycho directed. "That must be the edge of the industrial estate ahead."

"Miserable looking place," Wes remarked, slowing for the turn.

It was indeed: a mass of mostly-empty, decaying units, that sprawled for over a kilometer in each direction. The place was a maze of narrow roads, alleys and accessways. Wes turned off the outer road onto the first main access road.

"How on Hoth are we going to find him?" he asked.

"Corran?" Hobbie asked.

"He's not really moving," Corran answered, pointing ahead and to the left. "He's .. "

Corran jerked back in his seat, banging his head on the side of the van, and screamed in pain.

"What is it?"

"Corran!" Mirax grabbed her husband's arm. "Corran! Break contact. Drop out of the force." She shook him hard.

Corran gulped, shaking his head. He focussed on Mirax's face, his own face suddenly pale.

"Pain," he whispered hoarsely. "Pain." He was breathing heavily.

"Where the kriff is Wedge?" yelled Wes, increasing speed.

Corran clung to Mirax's shoulders, staring into her eyes as he tentatively reached out to the force again. He grimaced, but said: "Left."

He managed to direct them further into the maze of buildings, his breathing getting rougher and his face paler, until he was trembling with shock. Mirax bit her lip, torn between her desire to find Wedge and her longing to stop the pain her husband was feeling. When she saw Corran's eyes start to roll upwards as he swayed towards her, she shook him again.

"Corran. Break the contact. We need you functioning."

He stared blankly at her, unable to respond. She gave him a stinging slap across the cheek and shouted.

"Corran!"

The Jedi blinked at her, then gasped, his eyes clearing. Mirqx slid one arm around his shoulders and cupped his cheek with her other hand.

"Are you alright, love?"

Corran nodded. "Yes, yes. But Wedge .. " He shuddered.

"Ssshh, yes. Do you know where he is?" Mirax was doing her best to sound calm. The others in the repulsorvan stayed quiet, not wanting to disturb Corran's fragile concentration.

"We're close," Corran answered. "I don't know exactly where." His voice became urgent. "He was getting weaker."

Tycho gestured to Wes, who halted the slow-moving van.

"We'll split into pairs and search on foot," he ordered. "Heikki, stay near the repulsorvan so you're central. Don't forget there's local law out there searching for Wedge too."

The Rogues and their allies scrambled from the van, heading off to search the side roads and alleys in the area around. Tycho and Winter ran towards a unit that had once been a lighting store. Tycho called Wedge's name, hearing Wes and Mirax calling too as they searched in different directions. Winter was holding her datapad in front of herself as she jogged, her white hair rippling with the speed of her movement. She was studying the movements of the police speeders as they searched for Wedge nearer the spaceport. They rounded the far side of the shabby unit and looked anxiously into the alley that ran behind it and the adjoining unit.

Parked halfway along was a battered brown speeder with blaster marks and holes in the windows. Tycho and Winter both sprinted towards it, calling Wedge's name. Tycho skidded to a halt alongside and glanced in, seeing immediately that it was empty.

"Sith," he muttered. "Where is he?"

"Tycho!"

Winter was already climbing the fence, her movements quick and neat. Tycho saw the abandoned speeder on the far side, and the scattered pile of plasticard boxes and other debris. At first all he heard was the metallic noises of the fence as Winter swung herself over the top, then he heard the raw, uneven gasps for breath. Lunging toward the fence, Tycho saw Wedge lying amid the trash, his taut body jerking feebly. As Winter dropped the last metre or so, Tycho snatched out his comlink.

"Heikki - we've found him. Around the back of the Glo-So-Good lighting store - no, the one next to it. The alley at the back is divided by a fence. You'll have to come round behind the other building. Get here quick." He barely waited for the acknowledgement before shoving the comlink back into his pocket and following Winter over the fence.

She was shaking her head as she examined Wedge.

"I can't find any injuries," she said, pressing her fingertips against his throat. "His pulse is far too fast."

Tycho's stomach twisted as he looked at his friend. Wedge's face was a greyish-white, his lips faintly blue from lack of oxygen. The near constant convulsions of pain were stopping him from breathing properly. His eyes were open but Tycho couldn't tell if he were conscious or not.

"A poison?" he asked, putting his hand on Wedge's upper arm in an attempt to comfort, and feeling the muscles to be rigid under the loose shirt sleeve.

"Possible," Winter answered. "But so many have such specific antidotes and I doubt if the medbay on the Skate is sophisticated enough to do the kind of analysis we need."

"We'll think of something," Tycho vowed. "Even if we have to search the rest of this miserable planet for a cryocapsule to put him in until we can get him back to Coruscant."

He looked up at the sound of footsteps, and saw Mirax and Corran sprinting along the alley towards them. Mirax dropped to her knees as soon as she reached them, anxiously calling Wedge's name. Corran stood nearby, frowning as he watched. He was still pale, and Tycho wondered whether he was still feeling Wedge's pain even without making an effort.

"He's fading," Corran said bitterly.

"Don't die, Wedge," Mirax pleaded, stroking his long hair. "Iella and Syal are waiting for you. They want you to come home." As she caressed him, she passed her hand over the back of his neck.

Wedge abruptly went limp, his eyes closing. Tycho gasped, and heard the others do the same. Wedge took a deep, rasping breath, then as Mirax moved her hand, his back arched and he became rigid again.

"No, Wedge!" she cried, moving her hand back to cradle his head again.

Once more Wedge went limp.

"What .. ?" Tycho said.

"I can feel something," Mirax said, moving her hand cautiously on the back of his neck. "There's something sticking out; some kind of implant like a data jack."

Winter let out a hiss of disapproval. "A neuro-shock inplant. It activates by a remote signal and acts directly on the nervous system. It's illegal in the New Republic."

"What can we do about it?" Tycho asked.

Winter was already rummaging in one of her jacket pockets. "Roll him into the recovery position."

Mirax and Tycho did as she asked, with Mirax doing her best to keep her hand steady against the back of Wedge's neck. Winter tore the wrapping from a small bacta patch. Mirax held Wedge's hair out of the way with her free hand so Winter could stick the patch over the implant as quickly as possible. Wedge twitched and stiffened as Mirax removed her protecting hand, then slumped limply again when the patch went on and blocked the signal to the implant.

"That's got it," Mirax said fiercely.

Winter was bent over Wedge too, her slender fingers pressed against his neck.

"No pulse," she said simply. The tortured breathing had stopped too.

As Mirax and Winter briskly rolled Wedge onto his back and started resusitation, Tycho turned to look along the alley.

"Where's the kriff is .. ?"

Heikki came into sight around the corner at that moment, Wes and Hobbie with him, towing the float palette from the van. He saw the two women working on Wedge and increased his speed. A few moments later he was lifting his box of equipment from the float and listening to Winter's explanation as she performed heart compressions, keeping perfect time with Mirax's artificial respiration as she spoke.

"Shock and exhaustion," Heikki muttered, pressing a dose of Anti-Shok into Wedge's neck. "Too much stress on the body from muscle contractions and pain, and not enough oxygen taken in. It's drained his strength."

He threw the container into the rest of the trash and passed a scanner to Tycho.

"When I'm ready, hold that over his chest here." He waved his hand over Winters' as she pressed on Wedge's ribcage.

With a few, practised moves, Heikki set up the resus unit, holding the long, charged needles delicately.

"OK, Winter."

On her cue, she pulled open the loose shirt to expose Wedge's chest. Tycho held the scanner over his heart area, with the screen angled toward Heikki. The medic-pilot carefully inserted the needles into Wedge's chest. When he'd got them positioned with the tips just piercing the sinoatrial node of the heart, he pressed the trigger buttons. Tycho could see the scanner screen at an angle, and saw the image of the heart twitch, though Wedge did not appear to react in any way. There was a stronger double contraction followed by a pause that seemed far too long.

Tycho was reminded of those dreadul moments on the shuttle, when Wedge - the clone of Wedge - had died in his arms. Now, as then, he was helpless to do anything as his friend wavered between life and death. He felt his hands trembling at the memory of losing Wedge once before, and he had to make an powerful effort to hold the scanner still.

Tycho was waiting anxiously for Heikki to trigger the needles again, when Wedge's heart beat a second time and then settled to a rapid rhythm.

Heikki carefully withdrew the needles and returned them to their self-sterilizing compartment in the resus unit. As Mirax paused between breaths, Wedge's chest heaved. Tycho grinned as Wedge began breathing again. It was shallow and rapid but the weak gasping was better than silence. Heikki took the scanner from Tycho and swiftly ran it over Wedge's body.

"No injuries," he reported. "But he's very weak. I need to get him back to the Skate."

"You've given him a chance," Mirax said gratefully. "That's all Wedge ever needed."

Tycho, Corran and Wes lifted Wedge carefully onto the floater. Mirax carefully tucked a thermsheet over him while Heikki fixed an oxgen mask to Wedge's face.

"Now, straight back to the Skate," Was said as they headed back to the truck.

Winter shook her head. "Not directly back. I need to do some work before we reach spaceport security."

"The Chenga plan?" Tycho asked.



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