Project Echo: Part 25
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

"We're approaching security now," Wes warned as he slowed the repulsorvan.

Mirax finished wiping hair colour from her fingers and threw the hand cloth in a disposal bag.

"All set back here," she replied, settling back into her seat by Wedge's head.

The van halted and they waited in repressed quiet for their turn to be inspected. Corran had reduced his presence in the force, but couldn't entirely shut out the anxious presences of his comrades. Mirax's concern for Wedge shone strongly in his perception as he took her hand. Hobbie pulled at the collar of the white medical tunic he was wearing, his long face gloomy. Heikki, also in a medical tunic, leaned over Wedge, whose floatbed was clamped to one side of the van. Small monitors on Wedge's chest and temple sent data to the display fixed above the bed. Life signs were still displayed in red, not green, and Heikki's round face wore a grimmer expression than usual.

"Come on," he muttered under his breath, glancing towards the cabin.

Tycho, who now had startling orange hair, turned and looked back.

"Is there a problem?" he asked, his anxiety only showing in his eyes.

"I need to get him on fluids," Heikki answered. "And I'd be happier with him in the Skate's medbay with full support systems to hand. He's only just hanging on."

"He'll be all right," Mirax insisted, stroking Wedge's hair which had been trimmed shorter and darkened further to make it almost as black as her own.

Corran wanted to touch her hair, to soothe her fear as best he could, but knew she was strong enough to cope.

Tycho peered out of the side window. "We're next in line," he reported back.

Sure enough, a couple of tense minutes later, Wes eased the repulsorvan forward into the security bay and the spaceport security were at the windows.

"Open up." There was a peremptory bang on the side door.

Winter keyed it open and stood before the security officer as he entered, interrupting politely but firmly as he started to demand ID cards.

"Please, this man is very ill. I beg you not to disturb his family unnecessarily."

The officer peered past her to where Wedge lay. The abruptness in his attitude softened but his manner was still strictly official as he spoke.

"There is a dangerous criminal at large in the city, ma'am. We are required to search all vehicles entering the spaceport, and the check all IDs."

"I understand. We will co-operate, of course, but please be respectful," Winter asked, looking cool and professional. She offered her own card first.

The security officer scanned it, and scanned her hand. The Rogues had been expecting a similar level of security at the spaceport, and had come prepared, with the help of some Intelligence equipment. Several sets of cards had been prepared for everyone, including Wedge, with biometric data. Winter had added the final touches of personal data to the cards, according to a pre-prepared scenario, as they'd driven from the industrial estate back to the spaceport. A few suitable costume pieces, temporary hair colourants, ID badges and the like had been hidden in the repulsorvan's smuggling compartments, and had been brought into use now.

The palm scan matched the data on the fake card that identified Winter as a medical insurance agent. Another officer at the front had already scanned Wes and Tycho and accepted their IDs. The one inside the van scanned Heikki, who was listed as a medical officer, and Hobbie, listed as his assistant. Mirax and Corran passed too, as Wedge's sister and her husband. The officer paused, looking at Wedge and frowning.

"I need to check him as well," he said.

Corran tensed, ready to try and influence the man's mind if necessary. He knew he was good at it, but was not as confident in his ability as Luke would be. He could sense that the official was used to dealing with reluctant travellers who resented his interference and was ready to be suspicious. Failing in an attempt to make the official believe their story could be disastrous right now, especially with Wedge so weak. Corran opened himself to the force, but waited before acting.

"Please don't disturb Hiroke," Mirax begged, not having to try too hard to sound anxious. She caressed Wedge's face, her hand partially obscuring his features.

Heikki touched the officer lightly on the shoulder and leaned close to speak quietly.

"The patient is dying. He should not be disturbed."

"Dying?" the officer repeated, more loudly. He glanced around, as though embarrassed by saying the word out loud.

Heikki nodded. "Systemic heamopathy syndrome; he can't produce healthy red blood cells. His body can no longer transport enough oxygen to support itself."

"Oh; I'm sorry," the officer said. "If his condition is so critical, why is he being transported off-planet?"

"He was brought here for an experimental new treatment being developed by the Vattanix Corporation. Unfortunately, his condition was too far developed for their treatment to work."

"Hiroke wanted to come home again," Mirax put in. "He wanted to die at home, on Chenga. He wanted to see our sun again. It was the last thing he said," she added, her voice cracking slightly.

The security officer looked at the floor of the van for a moment, then straightened up.

"I'm sorry, but our records will show eight people aboard this vehicle, and I must have eight ID scans entered in the records," he said, looking at Winter.

"Fine," Heikki said impatiently. He leaned over the bed and carefully drew Wedge's hand out from under the blanket, holding the palm towards the officer. "Do your job."

The security officer held out his scanner and read Wedge's palm. Winter had pointed out that Wedge's biometric data may have been supplied to the local law officers and that a scan might be checked against stored records as well as the ID card. So a little synthflesh had been carefully sculpted onto Wedge's hand to alter its contours, and a handprint transfer applied to give a false reading that matched the data on the card. By leaning across Wedge to lift his hand, Heikki had got himself between the security officer and Wedge's face.

In spite of the precautions, Wedge's friends all tensed up or held their breath while the scan was taken. There was a pause, while the scanner's computer matched data, then the unit beeped and a green light came on. No one actually sighed with relief, but Mirax relaxed her fierce grip on Corran's hand. When the officer was done, Heikki tucked Wedge's hand back under the blanket and turned to check his patient, further blocking the officer's view of Wedge.

"If you've finished, we'd like to proceed, please," Winter said, smoothly drawing the security officer's attention to herself. "The patient needs to be transferred to the medbay on our ship as soon as possible."

"Everything checks out," the officer said, glancing around the inside of the repulsorvan. He nodded. "You're clear to proceed." He downloaded data onto a chip and passed it to Winter. "Your clearance and exit codes. Have a good flight," he added automatically, before glancing awkwardly at Wedge, and leaving.

The short journey to the Pulsar Skate's landing bay went smoothly enough, with no external difficulties. Inside the van, however, Heikki was watching the monitor anxiously.

"Blood pressure's dropping," he muttered, almost forgetting the presence of the others.

Mirax was still sitting with one hand caressing Wedge's hair. "How can that implant kill him? Has it damaged his brain?"

Heikki shook his head. "No, not directly anyway. The muscle spasms prevented him from breathing properly, so he's suffered hypoxia — oxygen deprivation. His heart rate's been too fast for too long. He's struggling to stay with us."

As he spoke, Wedge's shallow breathing hitched, then resumed. Mirax stifled a gasp, them bent so her face was close to Wedge's.

"Keep fighting, Wedge," she whispered. "We're taking you home to Iella. Your family's waiting for you."

On her other side, Corran was staring bleakly at the floor of the van, his hands curled into tight fists. He could feel Wedge's presence in the force dimming. He'd felt the presence of the clone fade and then vanish as he died and that overwhelming sense of loss was perilously close again. Impulsively he stood and moved next to the float bed. He put his hands on Wedge's chest, closed his eyes, and opened himself fully to the force. Luke had taught him how to use the force to restore and heal himself, but he'd never tried to help another person in this way before. Corran didn't know in advance what he was going to do: he trusted that the force would find its own way.

He felt the energy of the force entering him and concentrated on Wedge's weak presence. Corran gathered the force, feeling its strength building within him. He didn't know how to transfer that energy into Wedge though. He could feel Wedge's chest rising and falling under his hands and became aware of his physicality as well as his force presence. One of Corran's strongest Jedi talents was the ability to alter another person's mind, making them see or believe what he wished. Now he needed to alter Wedge's body; to give it strength, replenish oxygen and slow the fast breathing and rapid pulse that were using up what little strength he had left.

Corran shifted his focus to the weakened body under his hands and let the force flow into that. Just as he put thoughts into minds, Corran began to feed healing energy into Wedge's body. He felt Wedge beginning to respond and found himself becoming attuned to Wedge's body. It was easier to find the right places to change things, to slow the racing heart and make the breaths slower and deeper. And he could feel Wedge gaining strength, his presence in the force becoming clearer. Corran trembled a little with the strain, but he kept up the healing until Wedge seemed stable.

When Corran opened his eyes again and looked at the monitors, the life signs had turned a reassuring green. Mirax took his arm and helped him to sit as Heikki bent over the float bed.

"Pulse and respiration are normal !" he exclaimed. "Brain activity is increased. I'd say he's asleep — certainly not deeply unconscious any more."

Mirax hugged her husband while Hobbie reached over to clap him on the shoulder. Winter was too far away to reach Corran, but the smile on her face was enough. Corran smiled too: a couple of weeks ago he'd believed that he'd let Wedge die by not being fast enough with his lightsaber to protect him from the guards' blasters. He'd still felt guilty even when told it was a clone of Wedge who had died; the clone had still been a living person with a presence in the force. This time he'd got it right: Wedge would live. Corran felt more at peace than he had in days.



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