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Old 10-14-2007, 03:33 AM   #1
Ihasabukkit
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Disaster on Yuman - fanfic

I had this fic posted at fanfiction.net, when I was redirected over here. I hope I'm in the right place. Sorry about any little spelling errors or illconstructed paragraphs...I still haven't really smoothed any of it over.


Title: Disaster on Yuman
Author: Ihasabukkit
Characters: The Rogues, (post-reformation, plus some old-timers)
Synopsis: When a mission to strike an Imp communication base goes horribly wrong, the possible loss of one of the New Republic's best and brightest, Wedge Antilles, threatens to make matters worse.


---------------------------------------------------
CHAPTER 1

The entire ground team was dead. Hobbie, Tycho, and Wedge sprinted out of the burning building, the bad aim of the few remaining stormtroopers whizzing by them. As they got to the dock where they had left their x-wings, they ground to a halt. Hobbbie's X-wing had been crushed under a falling pillar, a mass of twisted metal and smoke.

"Sithspawn!" Tycho turned to Wedge as the three took shelter behind a piece of destroyed machinery, wincing as the blasts scorched the other side and whizzed overhead. "Wedge, Tonna's backup file was in Hobbie's X-wing! Now we don't have the data or a way to get out of here!!"

An idea dawned on Wedge. It wasn't a very good idea, admittedly, but then he had acted on worse. He decided on it with hardly a moments hesitation. "I have a plan. Hobbie, take my X-wing, and you and Tycho fly back up to help the Mon Remonda."

"Don't even think it Wedge. We aren't leaving a man behind!" His second in command looked at him stubbornly, and behind him Hobbie nodded in agreement. "Not gonna happen, boss."

"Listen. You trust me, right?" They all flinched as a blaster shot hit the metal right above their heads. Wedge looked at them expectantly. "Right?"

Looking more suspicious than trusting, the two pilots slowly nodded their heads. "Good. This time, I actually have a plan, and it's going to work. While you two fly up, I'm going to go back and beam the plans up to one of our Star Destroyers. I think they should both be in range by now."

"Wedge, this place is gonna blow soon. How the hell are you going to get back out?"

Wedge gave them his most rakish and confident grin. "The least of your worries, Tych. Not getting blown up is one of my special talents."

But both Hobbie and Tycho looked torn, considering. Wedge knew they suspected the truth, but he also knew that there was no other way. Time was in short supply, and about to get shorter. There was a huge crash, and they spun around to see another ornamental pillar come crashing down...just meters away from Tycho's X-wing.

Tycho energetically pointed a finger at him. "If this is a martyr self-sacrifice, Wedge, I'm not going to humor you; I'm just putting 'stupid egoist' on your gravestone, got that?"

Hobbie nodded. "And I'm going to give Rogue Squadron to Wes."

Wedge growled at them, a grin underneath the grimace. "That's beneath your power, Captain Klivan. I doubt Janson would be able to deal with the ensuing mutiny, anyways. And Tycho, that better be 'universe's most brilliant and humble crowned jewel of Corellia. And a really good smuggler."

"Wedge, you were an awful smuggler!"

"That's just Mirax talking!" Wedge shot back, and then went into a crouch, checking the charge on his blaster. He could practically hear the adrenaline pumping through his veins. "Whatever happens, don't let the ties take out Mon Remonda's shields, and make sure the Star Destroyers get into the right quadrant."

"They'll be there. And you watch your rear end, boss."

The three of them paused amidst the chaos to make eye contact. It was a look of comradery that only fellow soldiers could share, an implicit understanding beyond the comprehension of civilians or innocents. It spoke to how long they had been fighting together, throwing their bodies and fighters in the path of destruction.

"On the count of three," Wedge shouted over the roar of another explosion, breaking the spell, "we split! One...two...THREE!"

Wedge leaped out from behind the machinery and sprinted towards the other side of the hanger, spraying blaster shots in the direction of the unseen stormtroopers. Hobbie and Tycho hesitated for one moment, and then made like mynocks out of hell for the x-wings.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was easy for Wedge to find his way back to the control room. The stormtroopers who had chased them to the docking bay hadn't followed him back in, something that he didn't blame them for. It also meant less deaths, imperial deaths or not. So far, the mission had been an absolute disaster, and he shook his head in regret.

Several months ago, Intelligence had happened upon the rarest of information gold-mines. A high ranking Imperial had quietly defected to the fledgling New Republic while retaining his command post. In short, Cracken could gather information without the Imperials knowing it had been leaked. The diamond; a small planet in the heart of Imperial space was revealed to be a major communications planning center. It was here that all the software and new codes for Imperial data transfer and communication were programmed, and where much of the encrypted information transfer between planets and fleets passed through. If one could get in and quickly steal the information before it was destroyed, they would have weeks, if not months, of access to oblivious imperial channels.

Cracken had organized a ground mission to stage a simple strike and take. It was a feasible plan, considering that base's defense was not in machine power or manpower, but in the incredible secrecy of its location. Another case in which Imperials were beginning to fall on old Alliance strategies to survive, Wedge thought. Just an hour before, the Mon Remonda and two captured Star Destroyers appeared without warning in orbit around the planet, releasing fighters to combat the few tie squadrons and raining fire onto the earth surrounding the central base.

The infiltration squad flew in on a lambda craft, and wing one of Rogue Squadron flew cover for the atmospheric mission. So far, so good. Then, all hell had broken loose. The lambda landing went smoothly as the Rogues handled the few ground-based ties and the anti-starfighter batteries. Tonna and her crew landed in a hairball of stormtrooper fire, which Wedge and his three squadron mates could only do so much against. Strangely, they noticed that the imperials firing on the commando team were not doing so methodically, but were actually fleeing to several shuttles in the hanger.

After the team blasted their way into the building, a wounded stormtrooper made it apparent why the planet was so lightly guarded. The imperials had installed a massive self-destruct system in the entire base; if compromised, the sensitive information on the planet would simply blow up. Fortunately, In a show of humanity uncharacteristic of Imperial planning, the system was timed such that all the base inhabitants would have time to evacuate. Wedge realized now that this wasn't humanity; not only was it inconceivable that a ground crew could infiltrate as quickly as Cracken's commandoes had, but the struggling Empire couldn't spare the hundreds of technicians and troops that were stationed on the planet. It would have been a heady blow.

The stormtrooper revealed that the explosions would happen in stages, with external structures targeted first. And they were; the hangers, most empty except for a few tardy stormtrooper transports, exploded in balls of flame that the starfighter pilots could see dotting the massive base. Collateral damage; thirteen of Cracken's commandoes. The terrified stormtrooper told Tonna that the sensitive control centers would be next. With no time to lose, Tonna had led her crew straight to the central database, and they had managed to disengage the self-destruct mechanism for that wing of the building. How, Wedge had absolutely no idea. But then, he wasn't used to diffusing bombs, just setting them off.

They had begun streaming the codes in the database to Mon Remonda, until Mon Remonda's communication center was taken out by a suicide tie-bomber. The next sequence in the self-destruct mechanism then went off, taking with it Rogue Two, Jorram Nelson, an excitable new recruit from Borleias. A tie hit by debris from an exploding command tower had spun directly into his fighter. There was no time for Jorram to register Tycho's shouted warning or for him to eject, and he had disappeared in a ball of sickly yellow and orange.

At this point, most of the base personell seemed to have evacuated, but some of the remaining imperials had the sense to realize that New Republic troops had actually reached the planet, and were inside the base. It was these few stormtroopers that picked off another significant portion of Tonna's crew.

Next Tonna's people had tried streaming the data to the Torlan's Freedom, one of their Star Destroyers in orbit, but the sattelite dish that projected to that particular region of space had been destroyed in the second self-destruct sequence. In order to receive the data, one of the two Star Destroyers would have needed to enter the region that the crippled Mon Remonda was in, something that would have taken time they just didn't have. They tried streaming to their Lambda craft, but a rogue tie-bomber destroyed the grounded ship while Wedge, Hobbie, and Tych were still reeling and distracted by the loss of Nelson. Tonna had frantically commed the pilots, and they could hear screams and blaster fire behind her voice. She needed foot backup, they heard, and then static.

At this point, the entire base seemed abandoned. The tie-fighters were vaped, the batteries were quiet, and so the three x-wings landed in a desperate attempt to see if they could help the commandos they were supposed to be protecting. They'd found their way to the database room by following a trail of dead bodies, corpses of both imperials and their friends and acquaintances. The room itself was the scene of a massacre. Part of the bomb sequence had apparently gone off despite Tonna's efforts, and while the important computer equipment was largely untouched, the blast and shrapnel had taken out a dozen of the remaining commandoes. It was a gory sight.

Tonna's body was leaning over the control panel, a stormtrooper blaster shot steaming from the back of her head.

"Sithspan!" Gagging from the smell of blood and burning hair and flesh, they had set about finishing what Tonna had started at the console. They used the entry codes from her datapad and began streaming the data to Hobbie's shipboard computer and R2.

Last edited by Ihasabukkit; 10-14-2007 at 04:03 AM.
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:35 AM   #2
Ihasabukkit
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CHAPTER 2

Cracken was not a happy man. He had no idea what was happening to his commandoes on the ground, and not having intelligence was his biggest irritation in life.

"Sir, we have communications from the base!" a highpitched communications officer looked up from his console.

Cracken's stomach jumped into his chest; communications had been nonexistent since Mon Remonda had suffered the loss of its bridge. "Bring it up. Full screen holo."

The first thing Cracken had done when he had been given Torlan's Freedom as a base of operations was to create an auxilalry bridge that mirrored the control centers used during the Rebel Alliance's early days. It was adjacent to the main bridge where the ship's captain ran the craft, which had retained it's original Imperial design. Cracken had found he was uncomfortable standing above his team like an imperial officer, hence this one level, crowded, much more intimate intelligence control room. It also made it easier for him to look at his subordinates screens.

"It's an encrypted New Republic broadcast on a main imperial channel, sir. It has Ltn. Tonna's input code. It..." the young Mon Calamari punched away at a few controls, and his eyes narrowed in concentration as static came out from the input com.. "It's only broadcasting in the area near Mon Remonda, sir. If we moved closer to that sector-"

"Done." Cracken straightened his back. "Agent Wessiri, tell Captain Bungung to move the ship closer to Mon Remonda." A pretty woman dressed nondescriptly in New Republic uniform, with no rank insignia, nodded, saluted, and excited for the bridge.

The communications officer, a Ltn. Orkwall, Cracken remembered, continued punching away at his console, occasionally reaching out to adjust a nob. Underneath his feet, Cracken felt the thrum of the engines as they began manuevering the massive ship in a different direction. He realized he was tapping his foot with impatience; he quickly stopped himself.

Ltn. Orkwall garbled a noise of excitement when the static began to clear on the screen. "We have audio and visual, sir. It should clear up soon."

Another voice, cooler and deeper, grabbed his attention from behind. "General, we're also getting a strong data transfer. It looks like the data we came here for, sir."

"Imperial encryption?"

"No, sir, it's one of ours."

Cracken felt a surge of triumph. Streaming with a New Republic encryption had no doubt taken the infiltration crew extra time and effort, but it would make their job that much easier. The Imperials wouldn't be able to decipher what data they knew about their operations, and it also meant that no-one could eavesdrop on his conversation with his ground-based agents.

"This is...calling New Rep...code zero-nine...five...-"

Cracken punched the two-way speaker on Orkwall's console, and the Mon Calamari jumped at the sudden intrusion into his established space. "This is General Cracken. Tonna, speak to me. What's your status--- ANTILLES?"

The screen had suddenly cleared to reveal a rather disheveled and bloody fighter pilot. The pilot looked equally as surprised at the sudden appearance of Cracken. "General." He regained his composure and saluted. "Antilles reporting in for Ltn. Tonna, sir."

"What- don't tell me Tonna suddenly decided to try her hand at piloting. Because you sure as hell are not one of my commandoes, Antilles." Cracken didn't look, but he could hear that a relative hush had descended on the control room. They were, no doubt, all craning their necks to listen in.

Antilles blinked brown eyes at him. "The commandos are gone, sir."

A chill settled in Cracken's gut. "Dead, or fled, Commander?"

"Dead sir." Airen watched as Antilles reach up and take hold of the camera settings. He toggled for a few seconds, obviously trying to reset it so the camera took in more than his face. Cracken jerked back when the camera range readjusted. Orkwall made a choking noise and covered his mouth with his hands, and the control room erupted in worried noise. Half the room had been blown to pieces, and he could see the pieces of many of his agents. The bodies of men and women that he had handpicked and trusted were draped over chairs and consoles. The body of Lieutenant Tonna was slumped at a console only five feet behind where Wedge was sitting. The pilot must have noticed that Orkwell was staring at the hole in her head, because he hurriedly reached up and readjusted the holo-cam view again.

"General, there isn't much time, so I'll be brief," Antilles informed him. "My guess is that that codes will take about 20 minutes to upload." The man paused, and seemed to be checking something to the left of the screen. He winced. "Maybe 25. In that case, I don't think it will all get to you."

"Are you under attack? Antilles, I have no idea what the hell is going on over there, and I would really, really appreciate an update."

Antilles nodded. "Sorry, General. As far as we can tell, when we entered orbit, the base entered into a self-destruct cycle."

"Self-des...sithspit."

"Yes, sir. It's been going off in cycles, and a bunch of the external hangers exploded not long ago. The entire base seems to have been evacuated."

"So, every commando-"

Wedge looked authentically pained. "Taken out in the explosions or stormtrooper fire, General."

"Double sithspit." Cracken suddenly felt unbelieveably weary. He rubbed his eyes with his fingers. "And your pilots...?"

"Nelson didn't make it. Major Celchu and Klivan are on their way back up. We tried streaming the data to an X-wing after Tonna got taken out, but the X-wing got smashed." Antilles' calm demeanor was interrupted by a strange smile. "They think I actually have a plan."

"You don't have a plan?" Cracken stopped rubbing his eyes to stare at the man, who's expression became a little sheepish. It was a face Airen doubted many people ever saw on Wedge Antilles.

"I'm open for suggestions, actually. But I'm pretty sure the only plans that will work end at 'stream as much data as possible before base goes boom'."

Cracken felt that awful sensation in his gut, the one that rose to bite him everytime he was torn between an agent getting out or finishing the mission and saving hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives. Come on, General, he told himself. Time for those fast, live-saving decisions that you put your trust in.

"Alright, Antilles, here's what I want. I want you to stay there until most of the data has transferred. I'm going to pull some strings and get another shuttle from Mon Remonda sent down to pick you up."

The brown-haired bust on the screen shook it's head adamantly. "Negative, General! That would take half an hour, at least, and this base is going to self-destruct before then."

"Commander, I am not going to walk in and tell the remaining pilots of Rogue Squadron that I am responsible for your death."

Wedge looked grim. "And telling the families of a dead rescue team that you sent them on a hopeless mission is better?"

Cracken growled. "You don't hold your punches, Antilles." He paused, hating how hard the next words came to him. "You can leave now, Antilles. You have time to make it away from the base. Take a landspeeder, set up camp..."

Cracken noticed that Iella Wessiri was standing to his left, out of the pickup range of the holocam.

Wedge grinned at him like a maniac with a deathwish. Which he probably was, Cracken thought. It was the nature of anyone crazy enough to pilot a flimsy starfighter against Death Stars. "That would be too logical for a Rogue, sir. And anyways, chances are I still wouldn't make it out in time."

The two officers both knew the truth, though. Good people had died trying to get this information to the New Republic; the evidence was the bodies and blood littering the scene behind Wedge's head. To abandon the mission now would be to abandon the friends who had given their lives for it. It would invalidate their deaths. That was something Commander Antilles couldn't do, and Cracken knew he wouldn't have been able to either in the same situation.

Cracken gave the holo-image a stern look. "Antilles, you're a good man, and I hate to lose you like this."

Antilles nodded in acknowledgement. It was a heartfelt goodbye, and the best the hardened General could get away with in front of an entire team of subordinates. It was one officer acknowledging the other as a peer. Suddenly Antilles started, and looked towards the direction where Cracken assumed the door was. He could barely make out muffled shouting and pounding. Antilles regained his grim expression grim. "Sir, if I can take your leave, I have some things to attend to. Looks like some imps want to shut the broadcast down."

"Do what you will, Commander. May the force be with you."

The audio and visual turned to static, and Orkwall began hurriedly pushing buttons, trying to bring the connection back up. Cracken looked over to the other officer to see if the pilot had inadvertently cut the broadcast as well; but he got a thumbs up in response.

Iella looked at him with a stony expression. Cracken knew she had been in contact with the Rogue Squadron pilots on Coruscant; that probably made Wedge's death harder than it would have been. "Sir, we've been analyzing the data as it's coming. You were right, sir."

"Clones?"

"Clones." They were speaking quietly, under the range of what the rest of the intelligence team could hear. There were no leaks from this room, but intelligence habits die hard. "Nothing for certain, but the plans are definitely similar to the blueprints for cloning tanks. There was also a supply list for biological elements used for the bodies."

"Then our contact was right." The two of them were walking back to Cracken's command seat, which was situated next to a large tactical screen with synopsis on all the different stations in the control room. "A cloning facility. It explains why the self-destruct mechanism is taking so much time."

Iella looked at him curiously. "Are you saying the facility is actually underneath the communication base?"

Cracken nodded. "It would make sense, wouldn't it? A perfect cover-up for the ship traffic-"

"And the prolonged self-destruct mechanism gives them time to save the cloning tanks." Understanding dawned on Iella. "The communications building is a diversion, a coverup."

"While they're busy smuggling their god-forsaken creations out from under our noses! Sithspawn!" Cracken pounded a meaty fist against a flashing tactical table. Several people stopped what they were doing to look at him.

"I want scout ships covering every travel sector around the planet. If something does manage to slip thorugh and leave the system, we need to know vector, time, size, and destination."

Iella nodded to a nearby officer, who hurried off with the orders. "General, should we send more ground troops?"

"No." Cracken shook his head. "The self-destruction threat is real. While losing cloning resources would be inconceivable to the Empire, so is letting us get our hands on the empty facilities. They want to save their equipment; they don't want us to know they had it. It's a delicate balance between saving their facilities and revelaing themselves. Hence the time-bomb." He paused, deep in thought. "The self-destruct triggered probably an hour ago, when we entered the system. That's plenty of time for them to get the equipment out. Otherwise it would have blown right away."

"If we could catch them on the ground, General, or even get a look at the cloning facilities-"

"Antilles is right, it would take us half an hour to get another team down there. It will have blown by then. That or it would blow with them in it. Get Skywalker on deck. See if he can sense the clones. We might be able to track them down if any leave the system."

Another aide scurried off. "And also, while Antilles is sitting down there, we might as well have him do an extra search for more material. The computers seem to have left largely unprotected; tell him Tonna's datacard has entry codes if he needs them."

"Sir, Antilles is a pilot, not a slicer."

The General gave an almost imperceptible shrug. "He learns fast. Get someone on the line to help him. And you!" An aide looked over with mild panic. "Tell Admiral Ackbar that we may have some Imperial friends popping up soon. Tell him to be prepared to send reinforcements."

"Sir?"

"Don't play dumb, Liutenant Vrahash. We all know that if the Empire has cloning interests here, they are going to do everything possible to protect them-"

"General!" One of his people rushed into the control room, almost falling over herself as she skidded to halt in front of him. "Imperial Star Destroyer just left hyperspace! They think it's the Exterminator."

Cracken nodded, his expression grim. "This is going to be one hell of a day."
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:37 AM   #3
Ihasabukkit
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CHAPTER 3

The second Wedge closed the communication line he scrambled for the dead bodies closest to him, looking for a blaster with a fresh charge. The pounding on the door was getting louder. No doubt some of the Imperials had organized themselves enough to notice that a steady transmission was beaming from the base. Why had they sent foot soldiers instead of just blowing it up?

"Shoot first, think later, Antilles," he murmured to himself. He ripped a vibroblade and sheath from a downed commando and shoved it into the waistline of his flight suit before hurrying over the debris as quickly and quietly as possible. Blaster at the ready, he took up a fighting position beside the door.

The pounding stopped and he heard the unmistakeable hum of a metal cutter. He'd sealed the door with a blaster shot when he came in; they were just going to cut through the lock system. Behind that noise, he suddenly could make out a low rumbling as well, and the building began shaking slightly, pieces of the ripped ceiling falling down around him. Another explosion had gone off somewhere nearby. The stormtroopers, or whoever was outside the door, stopped the metal cutter for just a moment before continuing.

It took a full three minutes before the job was completed. There was silence as the enemy on the other side readied itself, and then Wedge found himself fighting for his life.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

General Cracken had joined Captain Bungung on the bridge. The Sullustan's short stature made him look almost ridiculous on the stark and imposing walkway, but Cracken knew better than to judge him for it. Bungung was an extremely competent captain, and an imposing warrior when times demanded it.

"Your analysis of the situation, Captain?"

Bungung looked at the taller human with his large, almost comical eyes. "They want to protect this base more than we thought they did."

He was smart, Cracken thought to himself. No point in lying to the man. "We...think that the communications center might be a cover-up for a different facility."

"And let me guess; if I, a non-intelligence member of the New Republic, knew the nature of this facility, you would have to kill me."

Cracken's eyes crinkled in wry amusement. "I was right. You are smart."

Bungung's chittering laughter resounded around the bridge. "Well, since I must forget the nature of this facility, how important is it that we get it?"

"When the base blows, Captain, we will lose valuable information. We have one operative on the ground with access to the databases; the more time we can give him, the better. The infrastructure itself is doomed, so securing the planet isn't a top priority."

"Hmmm. And what do you think this new Star Destroyer wants?"

"To distract us. They are trying to hide something. If we can hold out and continue searching all craft fleeing the base, the higher the chances we can find the clue to understanding this base."

"And the more you'll feel you haven't sent fifty good people to a needless death?"

Cracken stiffened, and turned an eye to the Sullustan. "You make presumptions, Captain. Though twelve minutes ago, you would have been right. New intelligence has changed our situation."

Nununb nodded. "Mon Remonda is crippled. I predict she will leave the battle. And while we may be understaffed, one Imperial Star Destroyer is no match for both of ours."

"Starfighters?"

"We have Antilles and Rogue Squadron to deal with their ties. Blue Squadron is also under his command."

Cracken resisted the urge to wince. "Not completely, Captain. The contact on the ground is Commander Antilles."

"What?" The Sullustan turned his huge eyes to the general in surprise. "I assumed one of your commandos was down there still."

Cracken shook his head, and Bungung sighed. "Very well, then sir. We will hold the Destroyer and their squadrons with what we have until you have your information. You will inform me the moment we are good to leave the system?"

"Of course, captain."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wedge had decided that pain was one of the galaxy's least pleasant creations. He knew he was injured, so why was his body telling him the obvious? His X-wing had done the same thing once; an entire wing had been obviously blown off, and the shipboard computer had irritated and distracted him by beeping a nonstop warning. As if he wasn't aware of the damage.

The beeping now was coming from the bleeding wound on the left side of his head, the blaster wound that had grazed his right side to the bone, the wrenched muscles in his legs, the broken ribs, and the harsh bruises and shallow rips over his arms and torso.

He'd done pretty well for himself, considering the odds. It had been one of him against five well-armed stormtroopers. He'd taken the first one down instantly with his blaster, caught the second with the same element of surprise and had shot the man point blank in the throat. When he'd then been injured by a lucky blaster shot, however, things hadn't gone quite as smoothly. As he'd hoped, he'd moved in too close for truly effective blaster use, and the fight had turned into a physical struggle with gun butts. He'd used the stormtroopers as shields against their buddies, and had gotten two more with his knife. The last one he knifed inbetween the armor on the right elbow, and though the soldier couldn't shoot a blaster, he could still punch, tackle, and put up one hell of a fight. The scene had ended with Wedge being slowly strangled on the ground...when luck destined that he'd find a blaster with his grasping left hand. The rest ended typically.

Taking a deep breath, and gritting his teeth against the pain shooting along his nerves, Wedge gripped the edge of a computer and tried to pull himself to his feet. He stood there for awhile, just gasping. His injuries weren't life-threatening in the short term, and he didn't think he would bleed to death before the cuts clotted.

Good. As he made the agonizing trip back to the communications console, his body told him that the fight had been hard; his mind told him that it had been too easy. One pilot doesn't take down five stormtrooopers in close combat, not unless that pilot were Plourr or Xerxce. He glanced back at the bodies. Their armor, he couldn't help noticing, was scorched and battered to a degree that he couldn't have inflicted. 'That's it,' he thought. The regiment sent to the control center must have been wiped out by one of the nearby explosions. These five had been the only combat ready survivors.

"Aren't I lucky," Wedge murmured, then winced as his leg seized up.

When he finally made it to the console, he slid slowly into the seat, carefully trying to find a position that didn't send pain shooting through his body. He blinked when he saw his image reflected in the blank plexiglass vidscreen. He looked like he'd gotten in a fight with a Wookie. The blood matted his hair on one side of his face, and his orange flight suit was covered with blood splatters, both his and his opponents'.

A sudden grin of amusement lit up his face. He looked like a hero in a really bad holo-movie, right after they had taken out all of the villain's henchmen and was about to take on the boss. No one in those movies ever got bloody noses or swollen eyes; it wasn't attractive enough. And while every other part of him looked awful, his face was swell-free. He snorted out loud. If anyone ever made a movie about him, at least his death scene would look dramatic. Maybe they would hire Face as the actor. Maybe the audience would assume he had been devastatingly handsome.

Feeling he had regained whatever breath his broken ribs would allow, he reached for the communications channel. He hit audio, and then hesitated above video. There was no real reason to broadcast his bloodied mug to Cracken. And besides, if there was no footage, the holodrama writer might take some liberties and have him dying in an X-wing.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Wedge?! What are you doing there?"

"Luke? What are you doing there, more like?"

"Telling you to get in your X-wing and get out of there, is what I'm doing! For sith's sake, Wedge, there's still time to get out!"

"Um, no can do, Luke. I'm pretty sure there isn't a vehicle in this entire base that hasn't blown up or flown off."

"That's impossible. Find a landspeeder, or a repair dolly."

"The second explosions took out all the unused hangers, Luke. Nothing left."

Luke felt frustration growing, and he had to work to keep it in check. With an apprentice watching him closely, losing it was not something he wanted to do. "Well, here's an idea, Wedge. Have you considered walking out?"

There was a pause on the other side. "Walking? Like, that thing you do after you get out of your X-wing?" Wedge's voice seemed truly bemused.

Luke didn't find it very funny. "Yes, walking, or running, anything to get out of that exploding death trap you're in."

Hearing the anger in Luke's voice, Wedge didn't come back with a quip. He seemed contrite about upsetting his friend. "Sorry. It's ten miles to the edge of the base. And anyways...I'm not really in any shape to be running around right now."

"You're injured?"

"Just a bit banged up."

"Why do I get the feeling that that is a huge understatement."

There silence from both sides as Luke rubbed his forehead, trying to get control of his emotions. Wedge risked his life everyday. Why was he so upset this time? Maybe because this time, there was no getting out, and they both knew it. His friend was as good as dead. There was no slim window of escape, no lucky break, no friend to save him at the opportune time-

"Luke?"

"What, Wedge?"

There was a pause on the other line. "You aren't mad at me, right?"

Luke felt all the rage melt out of him. Yes, he was mad that Wedge had to be so brave all the time, mad that his friend didn't think more of his own life. Mad that he hadn't been there to stop it. Mad that there wasn't anything he could do right now. But mad at Wedge?

"No, Wedge, I'm not mad at you. You know, you're kind of a hard guy to be angry with."

Wedge gave his friendly chuckle. "Really? I always thought I was pretty good at rubbing people the wrong way."

Luke smiled. "Just your enemies and your superiors, Wedge."

"That's good to know. Hey, you said something about cloning on this planet, right?"

Luke and Iella shared a glance. "Yes. They think there might be a cloning facility in the communications base. That's why the self-destruct mechanism is taking so long."

"So the clones can evacuate!" Wedge crowed.

"Well, no, we think they want to salvage the equipment," Luke said. "I doubt tube bodies can walk by themselves."

"Wait, give me a second, Luke, I want to check something out..."

The static rumbled and rustled, and they heard a few loud thumps on the other line. Iella was fairly sure she heard some Corellian curses as well.

Luke looked over at the woman curiously. He could feel the worry radiating off her, despite the calm and controlled expression she had donned. He wondered what her relationship to Wedge was. He wouldn't pry into her mind to find out, though. He would just ask Wedge sometime...sithspit. He was at Wedge Antilles' deathbed.

"Guess what!" Another large thump came across the audio, and Wedge sounded like he had just figured out a way to make X-wings faster than A-wings. "I think I found your clones, Luke!"

Luke furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. "Huh?" Not a proper response for a Jedi Master, he realized. He hoped Kyp hadn't noticed his lack of cool.

His friend's voice came across a little crackly, as if Wedge were only partially facing the responder. "The stormtroopers! The stormtroopers are the clones! It explains why they all had the exact same running gait! Wait, let me check a third one, just to be sure. Twin brothers aren't out of the realm of normal-" There was more static and a few more thumps and clacks.

"Sithspawn, that one smells like he hasn't showered in a month! And I thought I smelled bad after a mission," Wedge's voice grumbled.

"Wedge, are they-?"

The voice came across the line seriously. "They are, Luke. They're all identical."

"Clones," Luke breathed. Iella had already hurried off to tell General Cracken the news.
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:46 AM   #4
Ihasabukkit
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CHAPTER 4

"Wedge, I hate to say this, but your suicide missions always end up being very useful."

Another chuckle. "Yeah, but I don't have you around to save me this time."

Luke felt his throat squeeze shut, and he struggled to hold back the deep emotions. Think of Kyp. Hearing that Luke didn't respond, not trusting his voice to speak at the moment, Wedge spoke up uncertainly in the silence.

"Luke?"

"Still here, Wedge."

"Look, if you have other things you need to be doing right now, it wouldn't bother me." It occured to Luke that his friend meant it. Not that he didn't want Luke around...he just didn't want to be a burden.

"Wedge, don't be an idiot! I don't care if a planet were blowing up. I'm your wing, alright? You're stuck with me to the end." Luke's voice shook a little, but he brought it back under control. He and Wedge weren't soul-mates, they hadn't grown up together, but they were something else; the comrades in arms who had seen each other through thick and thin. Wedge was the most reliable, trustworthy, honest, friendly-"

"Luke? Hey, I don't know if I ever told you..." his friend sounded embarrassed, and thoughtful. "I just wanted to thank you for all those times you saved me. And I mean, not even me. All of us. All that stuff you pulled, Luke; I've thought it out, and I think you're the reason we're all alive."

"Wedge-"

"No, hear me out. I don't know how I got lucky enough to be your friend, but I couldn't ask for a better one. You're the best type there is, Luke."

"What, the kind with psychic powers?"

"No, not that. Though don't get me wrong, that is pretty helpful sometimes. You just always see things through to the end. And you look out for everybody. You never think twice about climbing out on a limb for people. I just...I was always really proud to fight with you, right?"

Luke didn't trust his voice to answer. He stood staring at the static of the screen. Wedge must have been worrying at the silence again, because he came back in like before.

"Luke?" He was probably worried that he'd made him upset, Luke thought. And it wasn't because he was scared that his friend might be mad at him; he actually didn't want Luke to feel bad. It was probably killing Wedge that when he died, Luke would have to mourn. Wedge would probably sneak off and die in a corner if it meant no one would feel bad about it.

"I'm still here, Wedge. And...thanks." He meant it. Couldn't think of anything else to say. He looked over at Kyp. The boy was expressionless, probably shocked that a simple fighter pilot with no force abilities to speak of had put Luke into such an emotional state. Well, if Kyp wanted to think less of him for it, Luke told himself, then Kyp was just lessening himself.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Just two minutes later, Major Tycho Celchu had wheedled, yelled, and squirmed his way into the Intelligence center via comlink. An overwhelmed Orkwall had patched his X-wing comlink through to Wedge's audio. Tycho hadn't been happy when he found out his suspicions had been right, and that his commander really had absolutely no way of leaving the base before it blew.

He was, in fact, furious. "Sithspawn, Wedge, you told me you had a plan!"

Luke and Cracken stood not ten feet away, whispering intently to each other as busy intelligence agents hurried around. Iella was occupied at one of the data analyzation centers, conveniently within hearing distance of the static-filled exchange. Unbenowest to either pilot, every other agent within distance was trying to listen in as well.

"I did have a plan."

"Commander, I don't know if you've realized this, but when you say plan, it should be implicit that you mean GOOD plan."

"Well, that's implicit for most people. Come on, Tycho, you know most of my ideas aren't good ones."

They could practically hear the silent fuming on the other line. "Look, Wedge-"

"Save it, Tych. I'm running on borrowed luck. I have to obey the return policy sometime or another. How are the Rogues?"

"Hobbie, Gavin, and Fleur all had to punch out. They're in bacta. Except Nelson and you, we're all fine. We're guarding escape routes the imperials might use to get to hyperspace."

"Hobbie blew up my X-wing? Why am I not surprised. But this is good; once you get new fighters in, you'll still be at almost full fighting strength."

"Wedge, that's still once 'we' get new fighters in."

"We both know it's you, not we. It's not a big deal, Tycho."

"I could have stayed. I'm better with imp computers."

"Winter would have killed me, Tych. And knowing Hobbie, he would have lost three limbs before he reached the control room."

"It's still 'stupid egoist' on your gravestone. You know that?"

Wedge chuckled. "Yeah."

When Tycho spoke again, they could hear his voice was choked, even over the static of the comlink. "Wedge, do you have any idea how many people are going to miss you?"

There was a brief silence on the air, as he seemed to consider. "Well... I know you'll miss me."

"Just me?"

"Well, without me, you're responsible for raising Wes." Tycho snorted. "Listen, Tych, I'm sorry." Wedge's voice was quiet, and regretful. "I know what I would feel like if you died. If you feel at all the same, I'm sorry."

This time Tycho's voice was so choked he could barely get the words across. "It's alright, friend. I'll forgive you."

---------------------------------------------------------

"Wedge, are you there?"

Luke worried when a voice didn't respond instantly. The explosions on the com were getting louder, obviously hitting areas near to where Wedge was. Cracken's people had somehow uncovered the plans to the self-destruct cycle in the data that had already been beamed up. The explosions were planned to take out sensitive information centers first, while areas with personel were untouched until later. The final cycle would be one massive explosion that would demolish the entire base, but they hadn't been able to decipher when that explosion would take place. It could be anytime.

Luke felt relief roll off Iella when Wedge's voice crackled back to life. "I'm still here, Luke. I'm having trouble accessing the information you want, though. I'm not very good at slicing."

"That's ok, Wedge. Look, we need to see what the clones look like. Is there a way you can get one of them to the vid-cam?"

He heard a sigh come across the line. "I was worried you'd ask that. Just give me a moment."

Wessiri looked at him. She had given up pretending to be occupied with other tasks, and her whole attention was now on the communication console. "Master Skywalker, can you tell how badly he's injured? With your skills?"

Luke shook his head. "I don't have the power to pinpoint him at this distance and with all these people. If he was closer, yes." He noticed Kyp Durron was watching him with interest, felt it in the Force. Farther out he could also feel the pain of the hundreds of dead, dying, and wounded Imperials and New Republic troops in the system. Honing in on one man's pain in that mess of emotion, familiar friend or not, would have been extremely difficult.

Another wave of worry washed off from Iella, though her face betrayed little. He looked at her with sympathy. "It's possible that if he was seriously injured, I would have felt it. I've occasionally picked up on the pain of friends, even at a distance." Iella nodded, looking slightly reassured.

Another rash of swearing lit up the comlink, and Luke couldn't help grinning. He was one of the few people that knew Wedge had a smuggler's colorful vocabulary, which was rarely used because of the man's leadership responsibilities. Now, his Correllian friend had no such reservations.

Finally, there was a thump on the line, and they could hear rustled noises and more grumbles. Luke could sense all personnel within a twenty foot radius give the drama unfolding on the vidscreen their full attention...while pretending to attend to their tasks, of course. As trained intelligence operatives, they were doing a very good job of just that.

"OK, Luke, you're about to see one hell of an ugly face."

"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Wedge. You don't look half bad in those wanted posters."

"Very funny, Skywalker. Here it comes-"

The screen flashed to life again, and several operatives nearby made little exclamations, turning to murmer with each other. Luke decided that Wedge's description had been pretty apt. He had somehow managed to prop a dead stormtrooper up into his seat, the white armored figure slumped back with its arms hanging listlessly. The helmet was off, obviously, and the clone was not a handsome man in death, and probably had not looked much better in life. The slack jaw was too thick, he had heavy jowls, a bulbous nose, a protruding forehead, and thin stringy blond hair. The glazed eyes stared blankly forward.

"Well, that is definitely an interesting cloning choice," Kyp observed, marking his first words of the afternoon.

As they watched, the body began slowly to fall forward, blood and drool dangling out of its mouth. "Oops, sorry about that-" The forehead thunked into the vid-cam, and a few lines of static ran up the screen. An orange-garbed arm appeared to yank the body back, but the body fell backwards too fast it began to list to one side. "Sithspit-" the body disappeared from the screen with a loud thud.

Wedge's friendly face, which had appeared on one side of the vid-screen, winced at the sound. "Sorry. Was that enough of a look for you?"

Cracken, who had come to stand next to Luke during the display, nodded in affirmation. "That'll do."

Wedge nodded, and when he began reaching for the video controls, he stopped when Cracken, Iella, and Luke shouted "No!" in perfect unison.

Wedge blinked up at the screen, and Cracken glared at it. "Keep the vid setting on, Commander. That's an order."

Wedge looked rather unhappy, but complied. "Yes, sir."

The pilot sat down gingerly in the chair just vacated by the dead clone. When he had rather blearily refocused on the screen, he noticed Luke and grinned. "You really are here! I thought you were still at the Maw, Luke!"

Luke grinned back at his friend. "I got bored. Master Jedi don't get to blow things up very often."

"You should rejoin the Rogues. That's about all we do nowadays."

"Did we ever do anything else?"

Wedge looked deep in thought, then looked back in amusement. "No."

"Antilles, you look like a starfighter landed on you." Cracken meant it, too. The left side of the man's face was matted in blood, and his flight uniform had almost as much red as it did orange. Wedge was also favoring his left side, though he was trying hard not to show it.

Cracken and Kyp and everyone looked at Luke in surprise when he couldn't hold in a snicker. Wedge glared too, confused. "What's so funny, Skywalker?"

"You look like one of those heros in a really bad Imperial melodrama."

Wedge sighed. "I was trying to avoid that..."

-----------------------------------------------------

It was a new feeling, knowing you were going to die. Wedge was surprised to feel that it also came with an incredible sense of freedom. For years, he had literally pushed himself in the very path of death; those early desperate battles with the Alliance had been just that: desperate, and by all chances, he knew he should be dead a hundred times over. Most everyone else was. People he felt were smarter than him, more charismatic that him, better looking than him, hell, he felt many were probably better pilots than him, had blown up in every way possible, but still he flitted free.

Knowing death could be seconds away made you numb to the reality; and you learned to ignore it. But when he was responsible for others, when risking his own life meant that good people might die with him, death once again became a terrifying monster, something to be avoided, something that settled as an awful sensation in the pit of your stomach.

Now, he faced death with no-one around to suffer the side-effects. Just him. The lack of choice in his survival completely eliminated the responsibility of keeping friends, innocents, and himself safe. As he typed away at the computer, he actually smiled.

It would be alright if he died right now. He'd had a good life, and he'd pulled off some pretty great stunts. He regretted everyone he had lead to their deaths, but he had done well in keeping others alive. No one was dependent on him. His close friends all had others to lean on if they wanted to mope about his death. He'd paid his dues to Booster and Mirax for all they'd done for him.

Who else did he have unfinished business with? He had always purposely distanced himself from all but a few friends, and it was those friends, Tycho, Wes, and Hobbie being at the top of the list, that he worried the most about. But then again, they were all hardened soldiers, and they had a quiet, unspoken agreement. When one of them would die, it was with the trust that his friends would remember the good times and move on. It was something they'd all had to do dozens of times before.

A tiny piece of ceiling bounced off the keyboard, and he blinked at it. It was somehow a bit funny. Raining ceiling? He could see someone writing that into the voice-over narration of his melodrama death scene, camera zooming out from some giant explosion- 'Commander Antilles, the second leader of Rogue Squadron, died an honorable death as the evil shards of a dead empire rained down around him in a flurry of ceiling tiles- And now, the exciting life and death of Corran Horn, a two-part series-'

"Commander Antilles? This is special operative Wessiri."

Wedge had frozen the second he recognized her voice, and he looked up with an expression of befuddled surprise. Which almost immediately turned into a big smile.

"Iella!" He tried to cover how happy he was to see her when he saw her mask of professionalism was in place. It wasn't hard to do, as his was just as practiced. "What can I do for you?"

"Two things, Commander. First, you can recheck the construction log in storage drive C394 for anything more on the cloning tanks. We've just beamed an entry code to your console." Wedge found that he was staring at her, and he shook himself out of it, nodded. She really was beautiful.

"Alright, that's no problem. Should I just stream it all up, or go through it manually?"

"Both, if you can. The stream should be able to handle a little extra data."

Wedge typed away in concentration until he had pulled the correct entry screen up. He reached up to reset some of the controls, and then gasped and gritted his teeth when it stretched the wound in his side. Fighting through the pain, he shoved a bit farther to hit the button, and tried to sit back with as much composure as possible. He considered turning the vid-cam setting off again, but decided against it when he looked up and saw Iella looking back at him. She seemed to be trying very hard not to say something.

He punched another button and met her eyes, feeling slightly light-headed. "It's streaming. Now what was the other thing I could do for you?"

"Get out." Wedge stared at her in complete surprise. "Just, try to get out, Wedge. Please." Iella was leaning into the screen and speaking in a near whisper. Her mask was completely gone, and he could see the fear on her face.

"Iella..."

"Do it for me, Wedge. Please, just start walking."

Something constricted his throat, and he still just looked at her, not knowing what to say. Finally, he just shook his head, slowly, his eyes showing pain, and regret, and grief.

He was going to lose Iella. Suddenly, dying didn't seem as nice as it had been just a few minutes before.

The images on both ends shook and began to run with static as the next set of explosions hit, and then they flashed into darkness as the final self-destruct cycle took out the broadcast.

Iella could look over at another screen and see the heat sensor grid displaying the final destruction of the base that held the man she loved.

--------------------------

Luke felt the explosion throught the Force and sprinted from where he was on the bridge for the intelligence room, leaving Kyp in the middle of sentence. No. Wedge wasn't just his friend, he was a pivotal figure in the New Republic, more so than anyone, superiors or subordinates, probably realized...but now Wedge Antilles was dead. He reached the console with the heavy truth settling around his feet. Iella Wessiri was leaning on her hands on Orkwall's station, the young Calamari standing off to one side, looking unsure of himself. Luke walked straight up to her and put his arm around her shoulders, and squeezed her into a hug. It was as much for him as it was for her. He felt and heard Cracken and Kyp walk up behind them.

Cracken's voice was solemn and regretful as he spoke. "We're leaving for hyperspace as soon as the fighters have returned." He saw Iella nod her head, and continued, clearing his throat. "I know Antilles was close to both of you, and I'm sorry for your loss." It wasn't condescending or ironic, just but a heartfelt condolence from a hardened warrior, and one who had seen too much death in his own time. "There will be time for proper grieving soon. Now, we need to finish the work that Antilles and Tonna started."

Her body posture one of complete grief, but her face calm and unswollen, Iella straightened and turned to look at Cracken. Luke let her go, and shoved back his own feelings. There was still work to be done. As they walked away, the entire control room was a hushed silence, honoring the dead.

-----------------------------------------

Bungung turned as his communications officer waved for his attention. "Sir, message from the Mon Remonda's intelligence unit. It looks like the Imperial fleet in the Yamaka system just entered hyperspace, en route for this system." Bungung chittered in exasperation.

"Have you told the general?" he asked the young man.

Said young man looked slightly bashful. "Doing so right now, sir."

Bungung looked back out of the bridge's viewport into the sparkling space before him. The crippled Mon Remonda had almost left the planet's gravitational field and was preparing for hyperspace. Their other Star Destroyer, Freedom's Victory, was in a stand off with her Imperial sister, their tiny fighter craft battling in a series of flashes and lines in between. The Executor was simply trying to block their exit from the system until reinforcements arrived. The Yamaka system was only an hour away via hyperspace. They were deep in Imperial territory, hence the short travel time. He wondered what spies Cracken had situated in the Yamaka system such that they could inform them of the fleet's departure. If, after such a strong communication burst, they were still alive.

Making a sudden decision, he twirled his small figure to face the bridge crew. "I want all starfighters returned to the ship, all spaced pilots brought in. No one gets left behind. We have half an hour to get into hyperspace."

A chorus of 'yes sirs' greeted him, and he turned back to the massive window. No doubt the general would be disappointed at their necessary departure; extra time to poke around the demolished base would have been precious. With the Empire coming in full force to defend this tiny planet, they would have to leave or face a massacre. But the fact that the Empire still wanted to protect a destroyed base, after all sensitive information had theoretically been taken or destroyed, was interesting. Bungung smiled, his big black eyes shining. He had a feeling that the New Republic would be back to this place, whether the Empire wanted them to or not.
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:47 AM   #5
Ihasabukkit
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CHAPTER 5

Hobbie walked glumly into the briefing room and surveyed the other pilots. Both of the squadrons that had been under the late Commander Antilles' command were seated in the theater-styled chairs, many slumped in exhaustion, others nursing bacta patches and splints. None looked anything but upset and glum, and few were talking to each other. Hobbie knew that for once, he probably fit right in.

He could still taste the bacta in his mouth. His years of experience told him it had been from that cursed batch that came off Thyferra a couple years back. It wasn't the best of quality, and the aftertaste was particularly nasty. He thought again that maybe he should have taken the promotion from the Gernian bacta company. That had been some good quality stuff.

"Hobbie." He nodded at Tycho as the man walked by. The man looked like he'd been through hell, and Hobbie doubted he'd slept since they'd fled Yuman. Hobbie ducked around a few mingling pilots and sat down near the far wall, a place where he could survey others without much attention coming his own direction. He watched as Wes Janson entered the briefing room as well. When they'd docked and learned about Wedge, Wes had disappeared, and no one had seen him until now. After grimly surveying the room, he headed for the anonymity of the far wall, apparently thinking along the same lines as Hobbie. He seated his lithe mass a few seats down, and they exchanged a simple nod. Janson also looked like hell, Hobbie decided. He slumped listlessly, and his face was devoid of the sparkling mischief that usually brought both mirth and misery to his fellow pilots.

Tycho stood up from where he had been studying a datapad and walked to the front and center of the room. The room quieted as he attended to the holo console, and when he looked up, it fell in complete silence. It was a first for a pilot briefing, Hobbie decided.

Tycho cleared his throat and looked out over the crowd. He didn't look eager to start speaking, but he did. "I'll start off by saying that both the General and the ships' captains commend all of you for the bravery and good shooting you showed at Yuman. Keeping the ties in check was crucial for the mission, and in that we were successful." He paused, looking stony and collected to the inexperienced eye. Hobbie, who had known the blond-haired man for years, knew better.

"Not only did we succeed in getting the data we needed, we also discovered a possible weak link in the Empire's intelligence system. When we left the system, a fleet was en route to defend the base, so Yuman must have been more important to the imperials than a mere communications center." Hobbie watched as Tycho cast his eyes over his audience, and did so himself. Rogue Squadron and Blue squadron, the two X-wing units, and Talcon squadron, and A-wing unit, filled the chairs. Some were nodding in response to Tycho's words, others were simply staring off into space, their thoughts elsewhere.

Tycho looked down at his datapad. "Unfortunately, we suffered losses. Talcon Squadron, I'm sorry to report that Slunb Turnbian didn't survive bacta. After his A-wing exploded, he apparently suffered serious nerve damage. There was nothing the techs could do." He paused again, and silence filled the room. People already knew that the Sullustan hadn't made it, but that didn't make it easier. "His A-wing is repairable, so Talcon four won't be without a wingman for more than a few weeks, when Major Johnes screens recruits."

He looked down at his datapad again, using the notes on the screen as an excuse to gather his thoughts.

"Blue Squadron, we're happy to report that you all made it. However, four of you punched out, and three of those X-wings are irreparable. Also, Toni Gellanstrider won't be in fighting shape for at least two more weeks, so it's unlikely you'll be assigned any new missions until you're at least up to 10 fighters. You can expect some downtime." Some of the Blue Squadron pilots nodded, looking pleased. Hobbie swore he saw one middle-aged pilot pout at the news, however.

"Rogue Squadron, Hobbie, Fleur, and Gavin all punched out, but recovered nicely. Hobbie's X-wing blew up, of course, but the other two are repairable. Unfortunately," Tycho paused again, in what could be interpreted as a dramatic affectation. It wasn't, though. The next words were just hard to say. "Jorram Nelson didn't make it. We lost him planetside." Tycho stopped again, his hands gripping the side of the console so hard his knuckles were turning white. "Commander Antilles didn't make it either," his voice choked out.

Sithspit. A horrible swirl of wrenching emotions filled Hobbie's own stomach. He had been keeping it under control, trying to think about everything else, something you became quite good at when friends died on a monthly, sometimes weekly, basis. Tycho saying it out loud made it impossible to hide from anymore. He swallowed and glanced at Wes, who's face was a lifeless mask, jaw clenched.

Tycho was struggling to bring his personal emotions under control in the front, and after five more seconds he plowed on. "Rogue Squadron, I'll be taking over as Rogue Leader for now. Call numbers stay the same, but I'm now Rogue One. Blue Squadron and Talcon Squadron, wait for your private briefings for your own number changes. I have orders from high up that the three squadrons are no longer under the same command. Blues," he glanced down at the datapad again, "you're reassigned to Mon Remonda. Talcon, you're staying here. Rogues, we still don't know. Could be the Ithor moon, for all they'll tell me. Alright." He punched a button and a holo of the Yuman planet appeared to orbit in the center of the room.

"Thoughts on the mission, people? Observations? Bad jokes?" He stood to one side of the room to facilitate the discussion.

For a long time no one said anything, and the room stayed in a morose silence. Finally Corran Horn from Rogue Squadron raised his hand.

"Horn?"

"Yes sir. I was just wondering sir. I know that Commander Antilles'..." he swallowed, before continuing, "um, remains, are still on the planet. Sir, are we going to leave them there?"

"We left Nelson there, Lieutenant. You think there is anything left to retrieve?"

Corran shrugged. "Maybe not, Tych. I know it's not logical. I just...feel so bad leaving him there. At least Nelson we know didn't survive, because his X-wing blew. We can grieve him, sir, without...doubting ourselves. And even though there probably isn't a chance that Wedge is alive, we never got to see him go, or see his X-wing, or see a body-"

"Point taken, Horn." Tycho looked indescribeably tired. "Let me assure you, I feel the same way. If I had a choice, I would fly back and try to give Wedge a proper funeral. But frankly, the planet is now overrun with Imperials. It would be impossible."

Another Rogue raised her hand, Feylis Ardeyle. "Not impossible, sir, if you don't mind me saying. We could plan a mission to the planet, and then just avoid the space fleet and fly straight to the ground."

Tycho shook his head. "Risk an entire squadron to find the body of a dead man? Hero of the New Republic or not, Ardeyle, I have a hard time imagining Star Command giving that mission a green light."

"How do you know he's dead?" There was rustle as everyone in the room turned their heads to look at the young Blue Squadron pilot who had spoken up. Said pilot blinked, as if not expecting the sudden attention. "I mean, no one knows for sure that he didn't survive. Maybe he managed to get to safety before the base self-destructed. Maybe he disconnected the explosives around his area, or-"

"Tork, no one survives the self destruction of an entire military base." Tycho was looking at him with a strange hard look in his eyes. "I have firsthand information that the commander was in the base's com center when it exploded."

"Well, maybe that part of the building didn't explode! No, I mean it!" Noticing that Tycho was shooting lasers with his eyes at him, the young man followed up with "uh, sir. Sorry sir."

"It's alright, Tork. Just do us all a favor and don't mess with our heads right now. It's not appreciated," Tycho warned.

Tork looked abashed, and the room began turning their attention back to the front. "It's just that-"

Tycho began to look seriously angry. "Laklee..."

Tork spat his words out in gush. "Sir, it's just that Wedge Antilles survived two Death Stars, and I know Major Janson and Major Klivan were there with him on Hoth, and he's gotten out alive in every one of those Rogue Squadron missions, and I have a hard time believing that he blew up on some nowhere planet with no one finding his body, I just feel that somebody like him would have found a way to survive. Sir."

We're with you, kid, Hobbie found himself thinking. Wedge had always found a way out, no matter how dire the situation. A three meter gap in their defenses, a flutter in the enemy turbolaser fire, a last-second brilliant maneuver when everyone assumed that they were as good as dead...it was impossible to believe that this man hadn't squeaked out. Muttering and whispering now filled the room, but Tycho, Wes, Hobbie, and most of the Rogues stayed grim and silent.

Tycho sighed, and looked at the hopeful young man. "Tork, we appreciate your point. But sometimes, luck runs out. Mine will run out someday, probably before the luxury of retirement. Yours might, too. Wedge's ran out yesterday on a small planet in the Yuman system. As impossible as it seems, we have to let it go. Just like we let Jorram Nelson go, or Slunb Turnbian go, or Cracken's commando team go." He looked down at his feet, silent for a moment. Then he looked up. "Memorial service for all of our pilots is tommorrow night, main hanger. Get some sleep, everybody. You need it. Room dismissed."

Most of the room occupants stood to leave, talking with each other, heading off to bury their sorrows and celebrate their survival in glasses of gin, showers, and sleep. Hobbie didn't move, and when the room populace had shifted, he looked at the others who had hung around; Tycho, Wes, Corran, Feylis, Gavin.

They looked at each other. Tycho spoke first. "You all know I just lied, right?" He had sat down in the seat right of Wes in the makeshift circle they had formed.

Gavin smiled. "Of course we know. You're an awful liar, boss. So, when do we leave?"

A smile crossed Wes's ruggedly handsome face as well, without the usual mischief, but with a determination. "X-wings will be repaired in two days, according to our ever so friendly Twi'lek mechanic. She says she can get us a scrap retrieval mission near the edge of the gravitaional field, if we need it. She has a sudden, inexplicable need for used Gundanium scrap metal."

Tycho nodded, and his look of exhaustion flitted away, his mission look back in place. "I think we all know what to expect, but we also know that that doesn't change anything." He looked at the room. "You've no doubt accepted that if we do this, I might be court-marshalled, and Wes will be leading the Rogues."

Wes snorted, and Gavin shook his head. "Wrong, Celchu. If we do this, we ALL might be courtmarshalled. This isn't just your decision. Rogue Leader."

Tycho raised an eyebrow. "You've got a serious hero complex, Darklighter. You know that?"

"Coming from you, Major, that doesn't mean much," Gavin grinned at the older man.

Tycho shook his head in mock bewilderment, and Wes chuckled. "Well, Tych, how's it feel to be out-heroed? But since it looks like we all might be facing a nice little courtmarital here, I'm not too worried."

Corran smiled at him. "Are you ever?"

"When my massive income is threatened by the horrors of unemployment? Then I'm terrified. But in this case, I doubt Star Command would be happy if half of Roge Squadron retired early. Just a hunch. "

Hobbie decided it was time to break in. "All this legal talk is nice and all, but I'd like it if we figured out how to do this without me having to taste bacta in the next couple of days. I think the smell is becoming permanent."

Feylis nodded. "Yuman is probably swarming with imps at this point. We wouldn't be able to fly in with just our X-wings. They'd just raze us down. I think we'd be better off infiltrating."

"Iella!" Corran smacked his knee as the thought came to him. "Listen, Wedge is as important to her as he is to us. I bet she knows all about what's going on in the system, maybe she can even get us down there with some sort of Imperial identification."

Hobbie looked at him cautiously. "Are you sure she'd want to risk it? She's in Intelligence, not some snubfighter jockey. It's a different degree of punishment for breaking orders."

Corran returned Hobbie's look with one of simple confidence. "Sometimes friends come first. And look, I wouldn't do this for just anybody. I know that if I get kicked out of piloting, I might not be able to help as many people, or save as many lives. But Wedge..." He paused to let emotions flow past, as happened to all of them when they mentioned his name, "he gave more to the New Replublic than anyone I know. He deserves this. It's the least we can do for him, for everything he's done for everyone else."

They all sat in a determined silence, their minds as one. Wes spoke up next. "Do we tell the other Rogues?"

Tycho nodded. "They don't need to come along, of course, but they should know. We can trust all of them." Tycho rubbed his unshaven jawline, once again looking exhausted. "Corran, if you can get in touch with Iella today, that will give us time to plan something with her before the X-wings are flight ready. Feylis, I need you to start talking to the other Rogues- OW!"

Wes had kicked him hard in the shin. "What in the Sith's name was that for?!"

"You need to sleep, boss."

"Wedge didn't sleep."

"Yes he did. I made sure he slept." Wes nodded seriously to back up his statement. Tycho just glared at him, though a hint of curiousity showed up.

"Wes, no-one could make Wedge sleep if he was in mission mode. Even I couldn't."

"Well, then you never tried kicking him." Without preamble, Wes kicked again, this time hitting him in the kneecaps.

"****SPIT, Wes, that is NOT acceptable-" Despite Tycho looking about ready to throw a left hook to his face, Wes turned to grin at Feylis.

"It usually took three kicks to get the commander to go to bed," he whispered, "but I think I can get Celchu here to go in two-"

Tycho finished his ranting, not having heard Wes, and then stood up grumpily, favoring one leg, and swaying slightly from exhaustion. "Fine, Wes, you got me, I'm going to bed. We all are. Except for you, Corran. Contact Iella as soon as you can. We'll reconvene tomorrow."

Wes shot an 'I told you so' look to Feylis as Corran faked a pout. "Pick on the young guy, eh?"

Feylis grinned at him as they stood up. "I'm younger than you, Horn. They pick on you for your other qualities."

"Such is life," Corran said with a dramatic sigh. Then he looked more seriously at the group. "We have to move fast. The sooner the other Rogues know the better."

Tycho nodded. "Don't worry about that. The second they know it's for Wedge, this operation will be moving like wildfire."
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:49 AM   #6
Ihasabukkit
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CHAPTER 6

Luke knocked on the important looking door and entered when he heard Cracken's voice. The general was standing with his back slightly turned to the door, arms crossed, staring in concentration at a holoprojection. It looked like a projection of the base on Yuman. He turned and motioned for Luke to join him. "Master Skywalker, good to see you again. I had assumed you would leave the fleet as soon as we had the information you needed."

Luke left his cloak on a nearby chair and walked over to join the older man. "No, general, there is still much I'm curious about. Thank you for taking time to see me."

Cracken shook his head to deflect the thanks. "Don't think twice of it, Master Skywalker. A Jedi Master, and a hero of the Rebellion at that, always deserves time. So." He turned back to the holoprojection, though he angled himself so that he could still see Luke. "What is this meeting about?"

Luke crossed his own arms and looked at the red laser lines of the now-destroyed base. "I'd like to know everything you've discovered about the cloning system on Yuman. It is of utmost importance that the Jedi, as well as the New Replublic, know what the Empire is doing."

Cracken was looking at him with interest. Luke was getting a reading of sharpness and intelligence, and also a feeling that the man was being cautious. "I suppose you're picking up on what I'm feeling right now Skywalker. I also assume that it would be very hard for me to hide things from you."

Luke shook his head adamantly. "Reading the minds of those who don't want their minds read is something a Sith, not a Jedi, would do. I pick up on your basic emotions, yes, and while I have the ability to read your thoughts and memories, it is not something a Jedi Master does. Your secrets are your secrets, general." He gave the general a strong look. "Though I hope you view me enough as a comrade that you would entrust me with some of those secrets."

The general looked pleased, and harrumphed. "Understood." He motioned at two chairs near his desk, and they both walked over and took a seat. "But first, Master Skywalker, I would very much like your impressions on the situation that unfolded on Yuman. Did you sense anything unusual through the Force?"

Luke held back a smile. The general was wily to the core, which was the reason he was a general, and director of intelligence, in the first place. "Very well. Clones don't necessarily send off a different force aura than normal people, except that their minds are often younger, more brainwashed, and simpler. Also, they lack many of the normal thought patterns that normal people have because they were rushed though their mental growth periods. In short, I would have to be concentrating on an individual mind to detect a if they were a clone, and even then, it isn't foolproof, especially with non-humans. So I failed to detect if there were clones attempting to leave the system."

Cracken leaned back in his chair and looked grumpy. "No imperials at all attempted to leave the system. We're the ones who ran with our tails on fire. So you didn't detect any anamolies among any of the imperials, not even the fighter pilots near the ship?"

Luke shook his head. "No. The fighter pilots, as far as I could tell, were normal trained tie-jockies. Inexperienced, but normal. Which is why Wedge's," damn, he faltered on the name, swallowed, and shoved the sudden grief down again, "em, discovery, is so surprising. While we would assume the local imps would be bolstering their forces with clones, I picked out none our general sector." He paused. "Not that my senses were fool-proof, of course."

"Durron detected nothing interesting, either?" The general rubbed his chin.

Luke sighed. Kyp had been hard to read, as he usually was. "No. Now, that's all I could pick out. My gut sense is that they have been running a cloning operation for some time under that communications plant, and that they were training their clones to master certain jobs."

Cracken nodded. "you are correct in that. Now you do realize that you are no longer a member of the New Republic, though you are an ally, and so I don't have the power to give you information that might damage our chances there. I can give you some information, knowing who you are, and because of your help on the planet, but this is an extremely unusual situation."

Luke almost sighed again, this time holding back frustration as well. Bureaucracy. And Intelligence people. "Tell me as much as you can, general. Cloning is something that directly influences the Jedi. Remember that we are ideal people to clone for the Empire. I don't want an army of cloned Jedi running around, and if you can help me make sure that doesn't happen, than we are both in a better place."

"Understood. We ran checks on the face that Antilles beamed up before we left the system. He wasn't in any of our records. However, our physiognomy specialist and geneticist have a suspicion that he may come from the surrounding area. We also have good informatoin that they have other lines of clones."

Luke perked up at that. 'Information' in intelligence jargon always meant an informer or an infiltrated agent. "You have someone on the planet, then?"

Cracken glared. "I said we have information. Don't read anything into that, Skywalker."

Wishful thinking on your part, General. Time to start fishing. "Do you have any information on who the other clones are based off of?"

The general continued to glour. "As far as we are concerned, none of them are based off people with powers in the Force. Remember, Master Skywalker, about our agreement. We only need the Academy's involvement if the Imperials have begun to look for and clone jedi. Until we have proof of that, it is still solely a New Fepublic Intelligence issue. And you can trust that as soon as we have detected suspicious clones, we will alert you."

Luke was getting a strong vibe that more information would not be forthcoming. Time to take his leave. "I remember our arrangement, General." He stood up and picked up his cloak, extending a hand to shake with the rising man.

"One final question," he said, as he walked towards the door. "It's obvious that the imps were watching over the base from the nearby system. I would like to know your analysis on why they didn't just guard the planet directly."

Cracken smiled. "It's simple. They know my people are good. We have all the major fleets and bases marked out over Imperial space. If they had any significant hardware on that planet, we would have known about it. To protect the planet, they made it an uninteresting communications base. When we found out it was actually THE communications base, it was due to a lucky break, as we had no reason to suspect otherwise. Little comunication actually went out from the planet; it was the communications development planet, and they shipped the code to ships and those ships would then reroute the beams to other locations, not giving this base away. If we had known about the base, it would have ceased to be useful for a variety of purposes. Like cloning. But I assume you basically surmised this yourself. You're clever Skywalker. You want to know what I think and understand, to predict my moves. Have I stayed up with you, old man that I am?"

Luke grinned back. "General, you're as sharp as they come. Thank you again, and I still expect to hear from you the moment you learn significant information about the clones. We might have links to track down if they are related to force-users." Luke knew Cracken probably wouldn't take him up on that, but the older man nodded anyway. "And, I lied, general. One more question."

"There's always one more. Shoot."

"Do you have any plans to send a team down there? If you do, I would like a Jedi to go with them. Or, I would like to go myself."

"You're an incredible man, Luke Skywalker. I'll consider, but no promises. And no promises about a planetbound team. If I did send one, I admit, a Jedi would be useful."

"I'm glad you see it that way." Luke nodded at Cracken, before pulling up his dark brown hood. "Good day General." Cracken saluted, and walked him to the door.

"May the Force be with you."

----------------------

Well, that hadn't gone anywhere. Luke felt frustrated as he walked down the halls leading away from Crackens central office. The man was as secretive as a Yvork. Luke had held back on asking the questions that had also been pressing his mind. Like, would that commando team be retrieving the bodies of the dead. The body, if there was one, of Wedge.

Luke hadn't felt like Wedge had died. Call it a six sense, hope, the force, or his mind playing tricks on him in his slightly repressed grief, but he couldn't shake the feeling that that chapter wasn't closed. Not until there was a funeral. Not until they had found something of him. Not until it was obvious as day that his old ally was gone.

As he stepped into a turbolift, taking his place beside a very tired, and suddenly very excited mechanic, Luke planned out the next few hours. He had a sneaking suspicion that there was someone else in Intelligence that felt the same way about the situation as he did, and that person might prove to be an invaluable ally.

------------------------

"Skywalker?" Iella slipped out from behind the crowd, looked around confidently, just oozing caution and hyper-awareness to Luke's jedi-trained senses. She faked a casual smile and slid into the dark booth with him. Once out of view from passerbies, the smile changed into a look of suspiciousness and caution. "You wanted to see me in private. This is best I could do, and I can only ensure it's security for a short time. What do you need that the rest of intelligence can't know?"

"Geez, you get right to the point." There was no hero-worship from this woman. "But before I get to that point, I wanted to ask you something. You're friends with Corran Horn, correct?"

The woman nodded curtly, and then cocked an eyebrow. "Is this about Corran? I'm tired of saving his fighter jockey ass, if it is. Mirax does that now."

Luke couldn't help but grin, which didn't make the woman on the other side of the table much happier. He could see why Wedge liked her. Had like her. Which brought him right back on target. He leaned forward. "Listen, I need help. I don't know exactly how to put this into words, but...I'm not exactly a smooth politician."

Iella smiled. Seeing a Jedi Master admit imperfections must have been amusing, Luke supposed. "You're a pilot, not a politician. I get your type quite well, Master Skywalker. And I'm quite good at translating through their communicative and social quirks. Go right ahead, and make it fast, please. I have a job to do."

"Yes, ma'am. Look, I know Cracken has you working on the cloning situation on Yuman. And..." He paused, and looked around at the slightly dirty both. It looked like it hadn't been well-scrubbed in years. "You're sure this place is clean? I mean, of listening bugs."

Iella looked professionally offended.

"Sorry, of course it is. I forget who I'm working with. Look, Cracken doesn't want me involved in the investigatoin at all, and he is giving me no information. However, Cracken is ignoring the fact that this particular situation is siginficant to more than the New Replublic, and that I'm involved whether he wants me to be or not. Even if that means finding a way to get planetside without any New Replublic support." He watched as Iella narrowed her eyes, thinking.

"Jedi or no, Master Skywalker, it's an imp rat nest down there right now. You can't charge in with an Xwing and a lightsaber. If you'll excuse the rudeness," she added.

Luke laughed. "I'm guessing that your one contact with the Jedi Order is Corran Horn, correct? Correct. Horn often has a more straightforward way of dealing with these situations than I've found are necessary. They often work brilliantly in the end, but if I go planetside, it will be sneakier than that. However, I would prefer not having to go alone, without the involvement of the New Republic Intelligence department."

"You want Cracken to give you an infiltration team?" Her sharp eyes narrowed. "As a warning, I know how the general works, and he won't take to it." Iella pretended to be examining the nails on her left hand. They had silvery polish, Luke noticed. It went well with her hair color and eyes.

"I know he won't. He also won't give me the intelligence I need to make a successful mission of it. That is why I'm coming to you." Luke worked hard to match her stare, as she pinned him with her eyes. Knowing Corran must have made the woman fearless of the Jedi; she had guts.

"You want me to disobey Cracken and leak you information."

"Yes."

"I could be fired. Courtmarshalled."

"Yes, you could."

"I could legally be tried for treason. You are asking me to be tried for treason?"

"Yes, I am." Iella just stared at him. Luke hoped he looked as serious as he felt.

"So tell me," she demanded, "just what motivator you have to try and inspire me to turn my back on my own organization. Or are you thinking I'll risk my loyalty just because you are a famous Jedi master? Don't get me wrong, Master Skywalker, I admire everything you've done and what you mean to the New Republic, but I don't make a habit out of disobeying commanding officers, not even for you."

"Which is probably part of why Wedge liked you," Luke said quietly. "Loyal to the end, just like he was."

Iella sat back like she'd been punched in the gut. He could feel her complete shock, registration of what he'd said, and then a moment of incredible grief covered almost instantly by anger. She leaned forward and Luke almost drew back from the raw, hurt rage on her face. "Don't...you...dare."

Luke took another deep breath. This was definitely why he left politics for the other side of his family. "Iella, I'm sorry to bring it up. Wedge was a very good friend of mine. And..." he paused, trying to clear up emotions and thought. "It would seem illogical to Cracken to send a mission to that planet just to scour for one dead man. Especially when men are dying all over. I want to go back and learn about the cloning facility before the empire knows that we know about it. I also want to lay Wedge Antilles to rest."

He looked into her now closed expression; she had leaned back so that it was mainly covered in shadow. He sighed. "I don't know if that means recovering his body, or going to the place where he died, or just leaving his helmet there. But I can't rest easy knowing that my friend was left behind, alone, on a planet full of imperials. I want to do something to repay him for everything he's done for me. And I'm asking your help in doing that."

Iella was quiet for a long time, several minutes. Luke couldn't fully see her face, but he could hear her slightly erratic breathing. A waiter droid popped into their booth and asked obnoxiously if they wanted anything to drink, but Luke just handed it a credit for a tip and motioned for it to leave them alone. It grumbled as it walked off to the next bar customers.

Finally Iella leaned forward and put her elbows on the table. "I'm in. I suppose Rogue Squadron will be in, too."

Trying not to let the sudden feeling of triumph show on his face, Luke nodded gravely, as a Jedi Master should. "I'm assuming so as well. Corran doesn't know that I'm with the fleet, but I plan on contacting him as soon I can find out where he is. And I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I don't step on Cracken's toes." he watched her for a moment. He could practically see the wheels turning in her skull. "Thoughts?"

The woman shook her head. "Not now. We need to be going. I assume you know enough about intelligence not to expose me to the elements."

"I've learned a little bit from Horn. I'm good at being sneaky." Luke smiled. "My private comlink number is-"

"No!" Luke stopped in surprise as Iella held up her hand. "I'm an Intelligence Agent. One of the best. I know how to contact you. More important is that you know how to contact me."

"You have access to my private comlink number." Luke frowned. "Cracken shouldn't know that. I change it on a monthly basis."

Iella shrugged. "Not often enough, apparently. Do you have a good memory? I have a thirteen digit call-number that you should be able to contact me at, securely, but only for bursts of up to 60 k's or five minutes. Ready?"

As Luke wrote the numbers into memory, he wondered how Corran had managed to keep up with this woman. Maybe it was a Correllian thing.

-------------------------------------

As Iella walked away, it occured to her that perhaps the best way to avoid disobeying orders was to change those orders. She sat on a nice bench in one of the common areas for a good half an hour and simply thought. Afterwards, she tried to steel her frayed nerves and walked towards Cracken's office.

------------------------------------------

The General blinked. "Agent Wessiri, right now I don't feel that an infiltration team is necessary. We'd be going in almost blind, and with no ground contacts."

"We'd have one, sir, and I think that would be enough." Iella was standing rigidly at attention in front of his desk, hair pulled back in a simple ponytail, dressed in the civilian styled outfit that lower ranking members of the New Republic wore on their down time. "Tonas, sir. He's proved himself to be a reliable contact up to this point, sir, and I feel he could brief us sufficiently so that we could enter the system safely and unnoticed."

Cracken's chair squeaked in protest as he leaned back, thinking. "You've read his most recent report, then?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then you'll have noticed that he's increasingly paranoid about detection. They may be narrowing in on him, and if we continue to push our communications with him we might lose him completely, get him killed or spooked."

"That's why I say we use the contact as soon as possible, before it is compromised," Iella returned.

"Let's say I did decide to send a team to the planet. If you were in charge, Agent Wessiri, what would this team do, exactly?" he asked.

"For one, it would allow us to rescue Tonas before he's found out. Two, it would allow us to map the area, gain as much intelligence as possible-"

"I agree, of course. I was planning on sending a team down once we've finished decoding the information we've recieved. Once they lay off on security, we should be able to infiltrate with relative ease. I had been planning on sending Agent Gonarl as lead. I must admit, Agent, I'm surprised by your eagerness to lead a ground mission on this planet. You are doing an excellent job in decoding and communications."

"Sir, the more I understand the situation, the more I feel it would be imperative to get a ground team on the planet as soon as possible," Iella said adamantly.

Cracken still looked unconvinced. "Gonarl is more experienced in group infiltration. I don't believe you've ever headed or organized a large group mission, Wessiri. But I will consider your request. I will tell you over the next couple of weeks, when the mission is ready to proceed." He lifted his eyebrows in surprise when Iella shook her head adamantly.

"Thank you sir, but I would like to begin organizing this mission within the next two days, general."

"You're joking."

"No, sir. I'd like to be able to recruit from within Intelligence, and perhaps from within Star Command as well. I can have a complete outline of the mission plan by tomorrow, sir." The woman stood as straight as before, chin raised, looking confident and fearless, absolutely sure of herself.

Cracken suddenly felt old again. Where these young people got all their drive and energy, he had no idea. He supposed he'd had it at one point. He sighed. Hampering that enthusiasm probably wasn't the best way for an old man to utilize the skills of his people. His agent was requesting, demanding something that he was used to doling out on his own initiative. Well, he'd see how she did with it. But first, he'd make her squirm. "I'll consider your request, Agent Wessiri. I'll text you by tonight with my decision." He nodded at her, signalling her dismissal. Her face still not betraying a particular emotional response, she saluted crisply and quietly left the room, the door closing with a soft swoosh.

He sighed again and typed her 'code-green' text message right then and there, setting it on a timed send-off so it wouldn't reach her address until later that night. Maybe that would make ensure she didn't get cocky.
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:50 AM   #7
Ihasabukkit
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CHAPTER 7

The next morning, the news of Wedge's death had been filtered to various persons that the New Republic deemed significant to attend his private funeral. It was an old tradition in Star Command to hold small, military-only services for their downed men and women, and in that tradition, this particular funeral would be attended only by former comrades. As such, the death of Commander Antilles was already buzzing news in the gossip chains of the military, but nothing had been officially stated on a larger level. Personnel were being warned to keep the issue quiet, for intelligence purposes.

No doubt the propaganda department of the would be having a pompous and overblown hero's sendoff later, but they would hold it off until major news networks had broken the story and forced them to make it public.

The first ship to arrive was a small craft from the planet Eiattu.

----------------------------------

In the hanger they watched as Plourr, elegant, beautiful, and commanding, gracefully shook hands with the various important personnel of the Mon Remonda. Captain Bungung looked star-struck, and the few diplomats and squadron leaders practically waited in line to shake her hand.

Tycho stood to the side of a door about fifty feet away, arms crossed, watching with a slight smile of bemusement. Wes wandered over to stand slightly behind him and watched the display.

The man shook his head in disbelief. "I still can't believe that's Plourr Ilo."

"Isplourddacartha, Wes. There's a difference. And you still can't cross her, I'll bet."

"Yeah. But Plourr into politics? That's like sending me into diplomacy."

"That's a terrifying thought."

The hanger- ons eventually dispersed, and Plourr looked over and caught sight of the two Rogues. Tycho gave a small wave, and then blanched. Plourr's diplomatic grace had disappeared as she began striding towards them like an ATT, an aid scurrying into double-step to keep up.

Wes surreptitously took a step farther behind Tycho. "Uh, oh. I thought she was a diplomat now."

"And I thought she'd be happy to see us?" Tycho turned to glare worriedly at Wes in the brief moments they had before her arrival. "Did you do anything? I know you did. What did you do."

Wes appeared to think hard, looking confused. "I sent her a letter once, but that was over two years ago. You think she remembers that?"

They turned around and blinked at the old comrade who had appeared in their faces. Tycho regained composure. "Hey Plourr."

"Hey Tycho." She glared at her aid, who withered. "Go do something for a couple hours." The aid nodded and began walking off, glancing behind her several times in confusion.

Plourr shoved Tycho and Wes back through the door and started walking into the depths of the ship where there would be no diplomats to recognize her. Wes and Tycho just followed. Finally, she stopped and spun around, and looked about ready to say something.

Tycho waited quietly.

"He's not dead."

Tycho stared in complete shock, his jaw moving slightly. "WHAT? How do you know? Did you get word from somebody? Are you sure?"

Plourr suddenly looked like a deer in the headlights. "Because he's Wedge."

A shadow darkened Celchu's face. "What do you mean 'because he's Wedge'."

"Listen Celchu, I didn't mean it literally. I don't KNOW if he's dead or alive, I just know he can't be dead because he's goddamn Wedge Antilles." Plourr looked furious, probably deeply, deeply embarrassed to have raised her friend's hopes over something not true.

Tycho went stony faced.

Wes watched with his jaw hanging as Plourr's taut expression changed and her mask melted off. She looked near tears, furious, like an animal trapped in a corner. Her voice was a vicious whisper. "He can't be dead, Tycho." She practically snarled. "If the Captain died on some nowhere sith-forsaken dung-heap of a planet in a farking ground based explosion...and who the hell was there with him, Celchu? Where was his wingmate?"

Tycho's face mimicked hers. "Don't even go there, Plourr. Don't you even farking go there, alright? How do think I feel, huh?"

Wes stared at them, as their voices had risen from way beyond whispers, and they were gesticulating passionately.

"I heard tell that you left him, Celchu. How the hell could you leave Wedge? What the hell were-"

"I had no CHOICE, Plourr! We had to contact the cruisers and tell them to get into position; if me or Hobbie had been shot down, we needed the other one to-"

"You LEFT him there, Celchu, ALONE. What sort of wingmate-"

"You think I WANTED to leave him? Wedge is my best farking friend, you idiot, you think I wanted to leave him there, on that ****-hole planet-"

"YOU LEFT HIM, CELCHU, It's YOUR goddamn fault he's dead, you should have stayed there with him or..." Wes was now frozen in place, watching as his two friends neared the point of physical blows. But then Plourr paused, and she looked well beyond the verge of sobbing. Not a single tear in her face, of course, but if she had been anyone but Plourr,...

Tycho didn't have the same success. Suddenly leaning back against a wall, he took a shuddering breath. "I know, Plourr." He was speaking quietly. "I left him. What sort of awful partner leaves their wingmate. It IS my fault." Wes continued to watch as moisture made it's way down one of Tycho's cheeks, which the man wiped away furiously.

"Oh damn..." Plourr leaned against the same wall, all the fight gone out of her. They had somehow found themselves in a small corridor, for maintenance people, out of the way of everybody. Not caring if her ornate dress got covered in grease, she sat down heavily. Tycho followed, scrubbing at his face, and Wes leaned down against the wall opposite, head hanging, scared to make eye contact with either of them.

"I'm so sorry Plourr."

Plourr didn't asnwer, biting her lower lip in a massive effort to gain control of her own emotions. She looked over at Tycho, the man who never cried, who was now staring blankly at the wall across from him.

"No, Tych, I'm sorry. Sithspit, I wish I was better at this stuff. I just got so upset I didn't know what to do except get mad. I shouldn't have gotten mad at you."

She leaned on her crossed knees and wiped her hand across her scalp. "It's not your fault, you big buffooning moron. Of course it's not your fault."

Tycho didn't answer, and Plourr kept talking.

"It's the imps fault. I know that. It's just the idea that it was a ****ing explosion...I don't know who to go after, who to take down for that. I could attack that whole planet, just make every one of those miserable life forms suffer..."

Wes broke in. "That wouldn't bring him back, though."

Plour stared at him, her jaw clenched, eyes suspiciously moist. She looked down. "I know."

They all sat there for a long time, in silence. They could hear something dripping.

Finally, calmed down enough to talk, Plourr shifted. "After my family died, you know, you guys were the only family I really had. Wedge..." she paused and wiped her sleeve across her face. "He was like a big brother."

Tycho nodded. "You guys were my family too. Without Wedge, I don't think we could have found that."

Another long silence, as they each sat with their own grief. Wes sniffed.

"Let's go get drunk. Think about something else." Wes looked at them with a hint of his old mischief. Tycho stared at him like a kid just waiting to be told what to do, and Plourr raised an eyebrow.

"There's a whole bunch of A-wing jockies in the starboard cantina. They think they're hot stuff. I say after a few gins, we take them down a knotch, eh?"

A small smile appeared on Plourr's lips. "I can use a chair?"

Wes nodded. "You can use a chair. You know, we're all still here. We don't have Wedge, but we're still the Rogues."

Moisture finally overwhelmed Plourr's eyelids, and she started to get up, wiping off the tear as the small smile turned into a large one. "I think you're right. We'll drink to Wedge."

She reached down and helped pull Tycho to his feet. Tycho nodded. "I'm up for that."

"Good," Wes quirked a smile. " Now if you'll follow me..." he started walking towards the light at the other end of the corridor, "I think we have some havoc to cause."

Plourr grinned, and Tycho shook his head. "Children. At least you don't have your blasters on you...wait Plourr? You did leave your holdup blaster with the checkin people, right? Plourr? Hey, Plourr!"

Plourr turned and grinned maniacally as she turned the corner. "Of course I still have it. But don't worry...I like fists better."

"Plourr, as your commanding officer, I demand you hand over your blaster."

Their voices were growing more distant as they made their way back to the hustle and bustle of the ship.

"You aren't my commanding officer Celchu. I can do what I want."

"Fine, then listen to me as the voice of reason."

"Since when has your voice been reasonable?"

"Since always."

"Since never."

"I'm reasonable."

"No you're not."

"Yes, I am!"

"Don't make me punch you in the gut, Celchu."

"You're right. The fact that I'm carrying on this conversation at all makes me rather unreasonable."

"Damn straight it does."

"Who asked you, Wes?"

------------

Hobbie and Plourr had a hilarious reunion, one that had even Tycho smiling and ended with Hobbie desperately fighting his way out of a classic headhold. All four of the Rogue's were now seated at a table in the seedy ship's cantina.

Hobbie glared over his glass of lomin-ale at Plourr for the umpteenth time and rubbed his hand over his scalp. "You really think my hairline is receding?"

"I didn't say that, Hobbie. I said your hair looks different."

"But the cut is the same. Same color. Why would you say it was different if my hairline wasn't receding?"

Plourr, who had knicked a mechanics suit to wear over her dress to blend in better, grinned at him. "I'm sure you can still pick up unwary Bothans, Hobbie. Quit whining."

"So you think it is receding then." Hobbie looked inconsolably glum, and slumped back in his seat. "I'm doomed. I'll never get another date."

Tycho was feeling a little bit better, possibly because of the alcohol, but he was finding it extremely difficult to sit with the original Rogues in their natural setting without their core member.

As he stared blankly at his glass, Wes took notice and snorted. "We're supposed to be thinking about other things, Tycho. Here, get drunk faster." He reached over to pour more ale from the pitcher into Tycho's glass. Tycho didn't even seem to take notice, though after taking another blank sip, he voiced what was on his mind, on all of their minds.

"I miss Wedge."

All four of them now turned their attention to their mugs, poking at them, not making eye contact.

Plourr clenched her jaw. "So...you never found a body?"

Wes shook his head. "No way to. The entire planet is overrun with Imperials, and on top of that, the base completely self-destructed." Wes smiled. "Although I hear it was a spectacular explosion. Biggest since the Death Star. No doubt that might placate Wedge's ego a bit."

Hobbie smiled slightly and turned sad eyes to Tycho. "Are you really putting 'stupid egoist' on his grave?"

"I'm thinking about it." Tycho glowered at no-one in particular. "That really was a dumbass stunt he pulled. And I told him I would, anyways."

Hobbie looked over again. "You mean that comment you made at the X-wings?"

Tycho shook his head. "I talked to him again, when he was in the base. I also told him his plan was a bad one."

Wes cocked an eyebrow. "You know most of his ideas are bad ones."

Tycho nodded. "He admitted that. But no matter how bad Wedge's plans are, they always managed to get us out alive."

"Which made them good plans," Plourr added.

"Which made them good plans," Tycho agreed, and swallowed. "I just wish I could still tell him that."

There was yet another silence, as they sat back and thought. Plourr started fiddling with her mug again.

Suddenly Hobbie sat up a little straighter, and stared straight at Plourr. Plourr responded by looking at him quizzically, as Hobbie seemed to be searching for words. After another moment, he spat them back.

"We're going back."

Plourr's eyes widened. "You're going back to Yuman?"

Hobbie nodded, and looking pleased with his short bomb of a sentence, sat back and waited for Tycho and Wes to continue the thread.

Tycho looked at her with hard eyes. "There's no way in hell we're leaving him there like that. We should have clearance to go back soon. We'll misinterpret orders if we have to."

Plourr leaned forward, a small smile of grim eagerness on her lips. "You know that now I'm in on it, you won't be able to get me out."

Wes finished off his ale with a massive gulp and then put it down, looking wry and Wes-like. "We kind of figured. Which-" he turned to direct a quick glare at Hobbie - "is why we were waiting for a good time to tell 'your highness', so she doesn't run off and attract attention to the whole thing. Remember, bugbite?"

Hobbie glared back. "You guys were taking forever."

Plourr now looked completely smug. "Don't worry, stupid." She snatched the ale jug as Wes reached for it and put it out of his reach. "I'm a politician now, remember? I can keep my mouth shut."

Tycho picked up the ale jug again from an unsuspecting Plourr and confiscated it to his right. "We'll need your resources Plourr."

"You've got it, bud. If you had an X-wing for me, I'll even fly in personally."

"We don't have the plan hammered out yet, but we thinking more of a backup craft for a base of operations. Maybe you could pull out of hyperspace just beyond the gravity field-" A glugging noise attracted their attention, and all three glared in unison when they noticed that Hobbie was drinking the remaining ale straight out of the pitcher.

Wes suddenly extended his hand. "Give me the rest."

"No. Why?" Wes reached out and just grabbed it. Then, reaching out to the table behind him, he grabbed an empty glass. Filling it up with ale, he put it at the place where, in historic times, Wedge would have been sitting. He then poured a bit more ale into each of their empty glasses and put the empty jug down in the center of the table with a strong thud.

"To Wedge. The best goddamn friend we ever had, and ever will have." He lifted his glass.

Tycho raised his own. "To the man with the worst plans."

Hobbie raised his. "And the best."

Plourr raised hers last. "And to one helluva good pilot."

In unison, they proclaimed, "To Wedge!" Then clinking their glasses and nodding to their absent friend's cup of ale, they drank their glasses dry.
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Old 10-15-2007, 12:57 PM   #8
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Who are you? What do you want?


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Old 10-15-2007, 01:40 PM   #9
Ray Jones
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please choose

[ ] sanity
[ ] almightey freezer
[ ] panty
[ ] honey
[ ] milk


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Old 10-15-2007, 05:55 PM   #10
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who am I? uh, I can go if you want...
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Old 10-16-2007, 10:34 AM   #11
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Mwaha. But not without having the milkman offer you some of his delicious milk? ^^


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Old 10-16-2007, 10:35 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ray Jones
please choose

[ ] sanity
[ ] almightey freezer
[ ] panty
[ ] honey
[ ] milk
It's a toss-up between sanity and panty. Perhaps we can engineer some sort of combination. Panity. Yes, I choose panities.


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Old 10-16-2007, 04:55 PM   #13
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nevamind. seeya.
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Old 10-16-2007, 05:34 PM   #14
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I may read the whole story later, i read a little of the first chapter, from what I read, it was pretty good.


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Old 10-16-2007, 05:38 PM   #15
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Aw, come on. It's fun!!


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