Project Echo: Part 26
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

Tycho smiled as he looked across the small cabin on the Pulsar Skate to where Wedge was sitting up in bed. They were almost a standard day's flight from Benzalko, still a few more hours from Coruscant. Wedge had slept most of the time, with Tycho's order backing Heikki's request for his squadron mates to only visit for short periods. Wedge looked far better now than when he'd first woken. Then, he'd thanked his friends for his rescue, eaten a little soup, and soon needed to rest again.

After a few more hours of sleep, Wedge had awoken noticeably improved. He'd had a short session in the sanisteam, shaved and eaten a decent meal of Corellian spiced meatloaf, that Mirax had prepared for him. As he looked across at Tycho, his eyes were bright though there was still a slight lethargy in his movements, and his face was paler than normal.

"Iella and Syal were fine last time you saw them?" Wedge asked eagerly.

Tycho nodded. "Worried about you, of course, but, yes, both fine."

Wedge smiled and leaned back against his pillows. "It's been so long — what four months?"

"Nearer five now," Tycho told him. "Nineteen standard weeks."

"Five months," Wedge repeated to himself. "Syal will have developed so much." He gave Tycho an accusing look, softened with a gleam of humour. "I was expecting you to come looking for me sooner than that."

Tycho shrugged. "We didn't know you were missing until barely two weeks ago."

Wedge's mouth dropped open slightly as he stared at Tycho, utterly stunned. After a few moments, he found his voice. "You didn't miss me for over four months? Nobody noticed I wasn't there?"

Tycho fought back a sudden urge to laugh. He couldn't remember ever seeing Wedge so thoroughly taken aback before. He fought down the humour though, helped by the thought of what he needed to explain.

"I'm sorry, Wedge," he said honestly. "I guess the Corporation didn't tell you, and we'd all got used to the idea."

"Told me what? Got used to what?" Wedge demanded.

Tycho took a deep breath, trying to organize his thoughts. "We didn't know you were missing because you weren't." He held up a hand to forestall Wedge's interruption. "I saw you leave your office and Iella saw you arrive home half an hour later. But that wasn't you. You'd been kidnapped on the way, and a clone took your place. Promezia Corp had grown a clone of you and spent five years training it to be you. To be a great pilot and a commander; to speak with a Corellian accent; to learn your gestures and phrases; a lot of your history; even to change a baby's nappy. We had no reason to suspect a substitute, so we assumed the clone was you."

"A clone." There was a look of sudden understanding on Wedge's face. "They kept me in a small suite and gave me clothes like I'd wear at home — the right size for me too — but they weren't brand new. They must have belonged to the clone. I bet those were his rooms too." He paused, running one hand through his hair and rumpling it up. "A clone," he repeated. "Of me. That's hard to believe without seeing it. Knowing that there's someone out there who almost is you in every way…" His voice trailed off, then he looked up suddenly, almost frightened. "Is the clone back on Coruscant?"

Tycho shook his head. "The clone was killed," he said simply.

He told Wedge about the clone's time among them. He explained how the clone had trained and fought alongside them and about the Echo Project. Tycho also explained the background intelligence they'd since unearthed about the clone and his creators, and the theories about who benefited from the plan. Then he told Wedge about the mission to Galdo, to steal the Echo Project ships, and how the clone had changed his mind about leading them into the trap and had died helping them to escape. It was strange to be looking directly at Wedge, while telling how someone he'd believed to be Wedge had died in his arms. The memory was still sharp and painful; Tycho knew that he had lost someone he cared about that day.

The Wedge sitting opposite right now looked at him thoughtfully.

"You really believe that this clone betrayed his creators at the last moment to save you and the rest of Rogue Squadron?" The question was genuine, not sarcastic.

Tycho nodded. "The facts are pretty clear: we were all ready to climb into those booby-trapped ships and he stopped us. He led us to a hangar with a shuttle and put himself in the line of fire to open it for us. He didn't ask anyone else to take that risk." Tycho paused. "I worked with him; I flew into battle with him. I knew you — he — wasn't happy about going on that mission, even though he tried to hide it, and I saw the moment when he decided he couldn't betray us. He didn't just look like you, Wedge, there were so many similar things in the way you move, gestures and so on. I saw him making an important decision in that hangar; I just didn't know what it was at the time."

Wedge nodded, frowning a little. "Do you believe he was a good man?"

Tycho studied him as he thought about his reply. "Yes, I do," he said confidently. "He only knew us for a few weeks but he betrayed his creators, not us. I don't think he'd ever had anything like the trust and respect, and love, that he got from us all. He gave that all back to us." He stopped talking, and waited for Wedge to speak.

There was silence for a few moments, then Wedge forced out the question that had been bothering him.

"He wasn't just me in Rogue Squadron, was he? He took my place at home too. Do you think…do you know he treated Iella and Syal?"

"He loved them," Tycho said promptly. "I don't think it happened immediately. Iella said he was a little awkward with Syal at first; she assumed you were too tired from the new job to play with her much. But later on, Wedge, he loved them. I remember him leaving the bar in good time to get home and put Syal to bed."

Wedge sighed gently, relaxing a little. "Not knowing anything about my family was the hardest thing to bear," he said quietly. "I never imagined someone else stealing my life — my family. I'm glad he loved them," he finished, so softly Tycho could barely hear him.

Silence fell. Wedge wasn't looking at Tycho, or anything in particular. He gazed absently at the cover of his bunk, frowning again. He caught his lower lip between his teeth for a few moments, but didn't speak. Tycho recognized the gesture as something Wedge did when coping with difficult or painful thoughts. He studied his friend, thinking about what he'd just said.

"Iella did love the clone," Tycho said. Wedge looked up sharply, his expression confirming that Tycho had correctly guessed what was worrying him. "She loved him because she thought he was you."

"He lived with her for what — four months?" Wedge said, his voice a little rough. "She didn't stop loving him, did she, even though he wasn't me?"

"He wasn't you," Tycho said, pointing at Wedge. "But he wasn't anybody else either. He was created as a physical replica of you. He spent his life becoming you and in the end he followed your example. He did exactly what you'd have done. Iella didn't love him on his own account, because there wasn't anyone else to love. Just someone who was, to all intents and purposes, you." He paused before continuing. "I guess it must be difficult to believe, as you never met him, but remember that Iella wasn't the only one that the clone fooled."

Wedge nodded slowly. "I keep thinking of this clone as 'someone else' who moved in with my wife and daughter and took my place. It's very hard to grasp that it wasn't a stranger or new person. It was me, but not me; a near-identical substitute who had those experiences with my family, while I missed out." He gave a brief laugh. "I'm jealous of myself."

Tycho smiled, and was relieved to see Wedge smiling also.

"Once we'd established you were missing, Iella was desperate to find out what had happened to you," Tycho said.

"I guess I can't really blame her for taking the clone for me," Wedge said thoughtfully, gazing across the small cabin. "If I did, I'd have to blame everyone else for not noticing either. And it's hard to believe that so many smart people would be taken in unless the clone really was so like me." He switched his gaze to Tycho.

"He was," Tycho said promptly.

There was another pause before Wedge spoke again.

"What I want most is to see Iella and Syal," he said decidedly.

"You'll see them in a few hours," Tycho reminded him. "You can call Iella on the holocom as soon as we arrive insystem."

Wedge nodded and smiled briefly. "I think I'd better get some more rest. I'll need to be at full strength to cope with an excited two-year-old. Thanks for telling me about the clone and everything, Tycho."

Tycho rose. "You're not the only one who could do with some sleep. I'll be writing reports and getting talked at in meetings about this while you're off home with your family. That Moff who has the cloning technology, Moff Blackmore, may well be planning to use the intelligence he got from you to launch an attack soon. The New Republic needs to be ready for that. I favour the idea of tipping off Admiral Pellaeon and letting him deal with his moffs."

"Sounds good to me," Wedge replied. He was leaning against his pillows more, visibly tired now.

"See you in a few hours," Tycho said, and left.

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