By the time they were both sated, it was early evening. Wedge showered and dressed in civilian clothes before heading to the kitchen and fixing a quick meal for them both. There was a new urgency to his movements, driven by the knowledge that time was running out.
“What’s our plan of campaign ?” Tycho asked, as they ate spicy noodles.
“I need to call Nawara,” Wedge told him. “Admiral Ackbar said if I resigned so close to the start of a campaign, I could be charged with treason, or maybe he’ll try desertion.”
“Surely it can’t be desertion if you submit a formal resignation ?”
“That’s what I think,” Wedge agreed. “I’m not planning to actually fight the government, or help anyone else to, so I don’t think a charge of treason would stick, but I’m going to cause last-minute disruption to important plans.” His heart was heavy at the thought of how much trouble he would cause by resigning at this critical time. “I also know a lot of sensitive information about the New Republic’s immediate military plans.”
“Maybe we should call Hobbie and Wes,” Tycho suggested. “If we both leave, then they’ll have to pick up the squadron after us.”
Wedge stirred his bowl of noodles. “I know.”
“It seems fair to give them some warning.”
Wedge didn’t answer immediately. “Hobbie saw this coming,” he said eventually. “Not quite this mess, maybe, but he said we should be more discreet.” He looked across the table at Tycho. “In a way, he was right, but it’s only the timing I have any regrets about. It can’t be helped now. Nawara’s already involved, but I don’t want to drag anyone else into this until absolutely necessary.”
Tycho nodded. “You’re right. It’s better for them to be able to say that they didn’t know anything about our plans, if this ends up in a big mess of courts martial.”
“As soon as I’ve finished this, I’ll call Nawara,” Wedge said, scooping up a mess of noodles and making a determined attack on his food.
Less than an hour later, Nawara was settling down on an armchair in Wedge’s quarters. Wedge and Tycho were on the sofa facing him, sitting so close they almost touched. These last few days it had been impossible not to notice the changed relationship between them. Their mutual joy had been clear too, but now that had changed too. Tycho’s face was cool, emotions reserved and only glimpsed through those bright blue eyes. Wedge’s eyes were stormy and he had a stubbornly defiant look.
“Thanks for coming over so quickly,” Wedge said.
Nawara had wondered at the urgency of the summons; fortunately he’d hadn’t planned anything he couldn’t drop.
“I’ve completed the proposal on 117/A,” he said, fetching the datachip from a pocket. “It’s ready for you to sign off and submit when you’re ready.”
He held the chip out and Wedge took it, turning it slowly as he looked at it.
“Thank you, Nawara. I really appreciate the time you’ve put into this for me.” He sighed softly. “I hope it isn’t going to be wasted time though. I don’t think I’ll be able to submit it. Tycho and I are submitting our resignations tomorrow.”
Wedge passed the datachip back to Nawara, who was so surprised he almost dropped it. Catching it with the tips of his claws, Nawara hung on to the datachip and echoed:
“You’re resigning tomorrow ?”
Wedge nodded. “Admiral Ackbar summoned me to his office this afternoon; he had orders for me regarding my ‘inappropriate relationship’.” He shared a look with Tycho, and put his hand on the other human’s, then turned to Nawara again. “The admiral gave us two choices, neither of which are acceptable. We have decided that if the military doesn’t value us enough to let us love one another as we wish, then it can manage without us.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Nawara answered honestly. It was impossible to imagine Starfighter Command without Wedge and Tycho. He absently slipped the datachip back into a pocket.
“We’re sorry to have to do it,” Tycho said, as direct and sincere as Nawara had always known him. “We’ve let this piece of discrimination dictate our lives for years but it was getting too much for us to live with. It was affecting our working relationship and I’m sure you saw how it was starting to affect Rogue Squadron. The timing’s bad, but we can’t change what has happened. We can’t take back what we’ve said to one another so we’ll have to find another way of fighting this discrimination.”
“I’m not going to just disappear quietly,” Wedge said promised. “I’m going to resign, and make it very public about why I’m resigning. They made me into a hero and a name for the media, and I’m going to exploit that. I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen, even the sludgenews networks. Once the issue is out in the open, then you, or Hobbie, can submit the proposal to remove 117/A. Ackbar won’t be able to fire it into a black hole without anyone noticing.”
Nawara sat and thought about what he’d just been told. He could fully understand why Wedge and Tycho intended to act as they planned, and sympathized with them, but the prospect was disturbing. Wedge intended to set a bomb off under the New Republic military, and his timing could hardly be worse.
Wedge wasn’t exaggerating when he spoke of the publicity that portrayed himself and Rogue Squadron as heroes. Though Wedge never actively sought publicity for himself, he understood the importance of it for propaganda and took part in organized media events as part of his duty. His face and name were recognized across the galaxy: there was even a famous holoposter, popular especially with students, showing a stylised image of Wedge’s head, wearing his distinctive flight helmet, above images of the two Death Stars. The disappearance of Rogue Squadron at Distna, and their reappearance and subsequent triumph against Isard and Krennel, had only enhanced their reputation.
It was that reputation which was at the heart of the opening part of the campaign against Harrsk. Rogue Squadron were planned to launch the campaign with hit and run attacks on some of Harrsk’s most high-profile facilities. Once the squadron’s presence was established, they would launch a sustained campaign across Harrsk’s territories that had them flying and fighting continuously for almost thirty-six hours. Of course, not even Rogue Squadron could really hope to endure active combat for so long, let alone survive.
Pash Cracken’s squadron had been training in X-wings, and would be coming in to substitute, even using voice modulators so if their transmissions were picked up, they would sound like the members of Rogue Squadron. A series of carefully timed raids had been planned. A squadron would pop out of hyperspace at its target, attack, then vanish into hyperspace again. In reality, it would only be a short flight to a carrier ship waiting in a nearby system. The pilots could rest aboard the carrier, while their fighters were repaired and refuelled, and fly to their next mission. The attacks were timed so that ‘Rogue Squadron’ would attack, vanish into hyperspace, and apparently reappear somewhere else three or four hours later, ready to fight again. The two ‘Rogue Squadrons’ would alternate actions, so each would have a few hours rest between fights, while the other one was in combat. It was a bold strategy, designed to throw Harrsk off-balance and spread fear among his troops as word of Rogue Squadron’s apparent tirelessness got about.
To have the two commanding officers of Rogue Squadron resign and make a public attack on the military, would seriously undermine the carefully-planned campaign. That Wedge and Tycho were willing to do so, told Nawara much about how desperate they were.
“Does Admiral Ackbar have any idea that you’d do such a thing ?” he asked. “Such a threat might make him more willing to accommodate you, until the proposal goes through formally.”
Wedge shook his head. “It didn’t make any difference. I told him I’d quit and go public. He threatened to charge me with treason.”
Nawara’s lekku shivered; he felt cold inside. This whole situation was turning out worse than he’d imagined it could. He sat back and tried to think straight.
“Treason, no, I don’t think they could reasonably charge you with treason, Wedge,” he said slowly.
“I didn’t think so either.” Wedge sounded contemptuous.
Nawara took a deep breath. “By resigning so close to the start of a campaign, you could be court-martialled for conduct unbecoming an officer.”
Wedge looked shocked, and turned to Tycho. They looked at one another for a few moments, silently sharing thoughts in a way that told plenty about their closeness. At last, Wedge turned back to Nawara.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he admitted. “But whether I retire or get dismissed in disgrace, at least I’ll be free to love Tycho.”
Nawara hesitated, trying to get his thoughts clear before he spoke. “It may not be as simple as that. You two resigning now is bad enough; you know better than I do how much disruption that will cause. But this first stage is based around the name and reputation of Rogue Squadron, and you, especially, Wedge. Admiral Ackbar can’t afford to let you, of all people, raise bad publicity about the military right now. You can’t do it.”
Wedge fixed Nawara with a glare that took him back to his first days as a new recruit.
“I have no choice, Nawara: Ackbar won’t listen to me. This assault on Harrsk isn’t time-critical, it doesn’t even have to be Harrsk we attack first. Yes, I can cause the military to waste a lot of time, and money, but they can change the plan and start over again if necessary. We aren’t quite committed yet.”
“Wedge, a court martial isn’t the same as a civil trial.” Nawara paused to muster the words he needed. “It’s not public, you won’t be able to make your case there. If they impose a ban on reporting the trial, you won’t be able to go public. As far as the galaxy at large is concerned, you’ll just be two disgraced ex-officers, two fallen heroes. Even if you could get someone to listen to you, you’d have no credibility. They can’t keep you from leaving, but they’ll try to limit the damage. You won’t be allowed to cause disruption as such a critical time.”
Wedge was stiff with repressed anger, his dark brows drawn into a line above his eyes. He turned to Tycho, who looked troubled.
“Do you think Admiral Ackbar would go so far ?” Wedge asked him.
Tycho scratched his cheek as he thought. “I think the admiral would do almost anything to protect the military. I don’t think he’d enjoy prosecuting you, but he’d put military needs first.”
“You might avoid the court martial if you resign but swear not to go public about 117/A until after the campaign against Harrsk,” Nawara suggested.
Wedge shook his head. “The fight against Harrsk is likely to last for weeks and he’s not the only Inner-Core warlord. Depending on how the others react, it could become a continuous war lasting for months. By the time it’s over, my resignation will have been forgotten. There’ll be other heroes.”
“But none with two Death Stars painted on their fighters,” Nawara argued.
“Exactly,” Tycho said. “Right now, Wedge is the most famous and most decorated fighter pilot in the galaxy. We have to use that to get our voices heard.”
A part of Nawara admired their courage, but another part despaired at their stubbornness. The more he thought about the disruption their resignations would cause, the more likely it seemed that they would have to be stopped, or at least silenced from speaking out. Although he suspected he was wasting his breath, his respect for his friends drove him to try again.
“I’m sure Admiral Ackbar would rather not lose you; you’re just too valuable to the New Republic. He might not be willing to let you be together right now but you might be able to make a deal. If you put up with 117/A, at least until the campaign is well under way, he might agree to pass your proposal quickly in a few months time.”
Tycho took Wedge’s hand. “It’s not just a matter of us not sleeping together,” he said, his blue eyes frosty. “Admiral Ackbar wants us truly apart. Either I transfer to another squadron, or I’m dismissed in disgrace for breaching regulations. I’m nothing but a tool to be used to force Wedge into doing what Ackbar wants. I don’t think I want to go on serving in a military which has so little respect for me.”
Nawara’s lekku twitched. He was starting to see just how hurt the two humans had been by their treatment. He remembered Wedge’s unhappiness when they’d first met to talk about Regulation 117/A. Years of quiet misery had soured into a bitter resentment that could no longer be swallowed. How many other homosexuals in the military felt the same way ? Nawara felt more strongly than ever that the regulation needed to be abolished, but the timing was all wrong. He couldn’t see how Wedge would be allowed to make his stand.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I truly am. This regulation’s done more harm than I realized, and it must go. I’m willing to submit the proposal when the time is right but I can’t do it now.”
Wedge nodded slowly. “I’m sure you’ll know when the time is right, Nawara. Thank you for everything you’ve done.” He released Tycho’s hand and rose. “I’m sorry, but I have some decisions to make in the next few hours.”
Nawara stood, as did Tycho. He shook hands with both humans.
“I wish I could be of more help now. I’ll keep thinking about it, but frankly Wedge, speaking as a friend, you two are in a very difficult situation right now. It shouldn’t be so – you deserve better treatment. But reality is that you’ve breached regulations, albeit one that should never have existed, and you’re threatening to undermine weeks of preparation within days of a major campaign starting. It’s more than likely that Command will do everything they can to stop you, even if it means ruining not just your career, but your reputation. You could end up labelled as not only a disgrace to your uniform, but as someone too selfish to care about the pilots he’s walking out on.”
Wedge’s face darkened. “You know that’s not true.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I thought I was putting lives at risk by leaving.”
“I know that,” Nawara reassured him. “So does everyone who’s served with you.”
“Those of you who’ve served with me and lived to talk about it,” Wedge said heavily. “Maybe leaving won’t be so bad if it means a life with fewer friends dying.”
Tycho put his arm around Wedge’s shoulders. “They all volunteered to fight and risk their lives, the same as we did.”
As Wedge turned to look and smile at Tycho, Nawara had the feeling he was seeing something that was a valuable part of their relationship. Wedge was a strong person, but as leader of an elite squadron, sent to do the most difficult tasks, he carried a heavy burden of all the lives lost over the years he’d been in command. Nawara wondered how he’d have coped without Tycho’s support.
“I’ll be going,” he said. “Remember, I’ll help out any way I can.”
Wedge smiled, though he was clearly not happy. “Thank you; I’m most grateful.”
Tycho echoed Wedge’s words as they walked to the door. Nawara shook hands with them again before leaving; this could be the last time he saw either of them and he wanted to make a proper farewell.
As the door closed, Wedge turned and took Tycho in his arms. They just held one another, taking comfort in touch. At last, Wedge released his hold and they separated.
“So what do we do now, Tycho ?” Wedge asked, his eyes searching his lover’s face. “Play at being good little soldiers, pretend to be happy for a few weeks or months, then submit the proposal ? Or risk firing our reputations as well as our careers down the tubes and hope we can find someone who will listen to us ?”
Tycho didn’t hesitate. “I couldn’t pretend to be happy without you around. I could manage being separated for a while if there was a good reason, but there isn’t one. I’d resent the fact that Admiral Ackbar forced us to split up, and I don’t want to serve someone I resent. Resentful, unhappy officers are not good officers.”
“I volunteered for this Navy,” Wedge said slowly. “I expected to be killed serving in it and I accepted that. I didn’t expect to be forced to serve under duress. I can’t accept that.” The words saddened him but a weight seemed to lift from him at the same time. He was clear in his own mind now that he could not accept Admiral Ackbar’s conditions for his future service. He was about to make a frightening break from all he had ever known and done as an adult but he wouldn’t be alone. The most important person in his galaxy would be alongside him.
Wedge had no idea what he would do with his life, at least once the battle over 117/A had been fought. He knew himself to be an exceptional soldier and felt guilty about not using his skills where they could be of real benefit, but there was a relief in knowing that no one’s lives need depend on his decisions again. He looked at Tycho, who smiled.
“Ackbar should have known better than to try and force a Corellian to do something against his will,” Tycho said.
“And he should never have picked a fight with an Alderaanian who was strong enough to defy a planet of pacifists to take up arms.”
Tycho’s smiled faded. “It’s like Yarvin and Endor, Wedge. This is a battle we must win, because we have no other choice.”
“We won those battles at a terrible cost. It was worth it – it would have cost us more not to fight them – but there were many sacrifices made.”
Tycho caressed Wedge’s cheek. “We’ve both sacrificed much to fight injustice. This time it’s injustice that directly affects us. Do you think I’d do anything less for this cause than for the Rebellion ?”
Wedge shook his head. “ No. We’ll fight 117/A together, Tycho. We won’t be separated.” He took a deep breath and let it out fast. “The fight starts now. Nawara was right when he said Command will have to try and silence us. Our only option is to get support now, before I have to give my decision to Ackbar tomorrow.”
Tycho looked worried. “If we go public now, while we’re still sworn officers, then we’re adding insubordination at least to the charges. It’s bordering on treason, so close to a campaign we’re a part of. You could maybe make the midnight headlines but we’d be locked up and silenced less than half an hour after that. Even if we transmitted our resignations direct to the admiral right now, it would be much the same.”
“I wasn’t planning to call the holonews just yet.” Wedge strode across the room to the holocomm unit. “I’m going to call Leia.”
He sat down and selected the number for the Solo’s apartment. Grinning at Tycho, he said, “What’s the point in having friends in high places if you never use them ?”
In spite of his words, Wedge felt a little sick about what he planned to do. Leia and Han had been good friends through the years. Both knew that Wedge was gay and Wedge even recalled Leia expressing indignation and sympathy to him when Ackbar had first imposed the regulation banning same-sex relationships. The war against the Empire had been at its height, and that had seemed more immediately important to everyone. No doubt Leia had forgotten about 117/A since then. Wedge was sure Leia would support him, but he didn’t like to impose on the friendship. Nevertheless, Leia had the influence and moral authority he needed to get his cause heard.
Han answered the comm, grinning crookedly.
“Hey, Wedge, old buddy ! How are you ?”
“Fine,” Wedge answered automatically. “Is Leia there ? I need to speak to her.”
Han’s gaze shifted briefly to Tycho, who had come to stand beside Wedge’s chair.
“No can do, I’m afraid.” Some of the smile left Han’s eyes. “She left this morning to go visit the kids.”
Wedge’s heart fell. The Solo twins were hidden away on a remote planet somewhere for their own safety. Han and Leia took it in turns to visit when they could, but each trip lasted around five or six days. Whichever parent was visiting travelled in secrecy and was out of contact to all intents and purposes.
“Is…” Wedge hesitated, then decided he had to ask. “Is there any way you can contact her ?”
Han frowned slightly and shook his head. “Not for anything less than a declaration of war, and I’m not sure I would even then. When this new campaign starts she won’t have time to visit the kids for I don’t know how long. She needs this break with them before it all starts.” He looked intently at the two pilots. “What did you want to speak to her about ? Can I help ?”
“It’s nothing you can help with, Han,” Wedge said. “It’s official stuff we wanted Leia’s support for.”
Han looked puzzled. “At this time of night ? There’s something wrong if you’re calling Leia for help at this time. Should I be worried ?”
Wedge shook his head. “It’s personal; a disciplinary matter. There’s no threat to anyone else.”
Han frowned again. “I can’t imagine what kind of trouble you two are in if you need Leia’s help right now.” He smiled. “If there’s any help I can give – an extra blaster or a quick ride out somewhere in the Falcon, just let me know. I’ve nothing to do, and no one to do it with, right now.”
“Thanks, Han,” Wedge said sincerely. “We’re grateful.”
Han grinned. “Grateful enough to come over and lose creds to me at sabacc sometime soon ?”
“I don’t think we’ll be able to,” Wedge answered. “Give our best wishes to Leia and the kids.”
Han nodded, looking more sober. “As soon as I hear from her, I’ll let her know you called.”
“Thanks,” Wedge repeated. “Goodnight.”
He switched off the holocomm and leaned back in his chair. Tycho put his hands on Wedge’s shoulders and Wedge let the warm touch soothe him for a moment.
“So much for that,” he said quietly. “Our best support is off somewhere in the galaxy, destination unknown.”
“What about Luke ?” Tycho suggested. “Han might know where he is.”
“I don’t think so. I spoke to Leia about him the other day and she didn’t know.”
Wedge leaned his head back against Tycho and closed his eyes. They were running out of options and there was so little time in which to achieve anything. He stayed like that, tears pricking behind his eyelids, as Tycho stroked his hair. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d been relying on speaking to Leia.
“So who do we call next ?” Tycho asked coolly.
Wedge looked up at him. Tycho’s face was set with a calm determination, other emotions hidden behind his aristocratic mask. His steadfastness gave Wedge fresh courage to try again.
“There’s no point in speaking to Fey’lya,” Wedge mused. “We don’t like one another so he’d only support me if he thought he could twist our cause to his own ends. If he was desperate enough to risk doing that just before a new campaign…”
“We wouldn’t like the results,” Tycho finished. “He might well be capable of getting 117/A abolished, but he’d probably use the political scrap to get rid of Ackbar and install one of his puppets.”
“We’ll go over him,” Wedge said suddenly. He leaned forward again and pulled up a new code on the holocomm. “I’ll talk to the Head of State.”
His hand shook slightly as he pressed the buttons. Wedge had met Mon Mothma many times, and knew that she respected and liked him. It still seemed incredibly presumptuous to comm her and beg for her help on a personal issue. An aide answered the comm, and rather abruptly informed Wedge that Mon Mothma was unavailable.
“It’s important,” Wedge insisted. “I need to speak to her tonight.”
“The Head of State is not available tonight,” the Gotal insisted. “You may leave a message.”
Wedge recoiled at the thought of telling an obstructive, unimportant stranger his problems. He glared at the holo. “Tell Mon Mothma, now, that General Antilles needs to speak to her urgently about the warlords operation.”
The Gotal glared back. Wedge inwardly cursed his bad luck at this aide being a Gotal. The species’ head cones were sensitive to electromagnetic radiation and provided them with a high degree of empathy as well as helping them to locate other beings. Their innate abilities made them popular as aides and diplomats, as well as hunters. Unfortunately, the head cones couldn’t pick up anything over a comm message, forcing Gotals to rely on their poor hearing and eyesight. Being deprived of their primary sense tended to make them touchy and irritable when using a comm.
“I will forward your message, but I cannot guarantee when the Head of State will pick it up,” the Gotal said tartly. “If there is an urgent problem relating to military matters, I suggest you call Admiral Ackbar’s office.”
Wedge resisted the urge to curse aloud, and merely cut off the comm call.
“Try General Cracken,” Tycho suggested.
Wedge turned at looked at him.
“Cracken respects you,” Tycho said. “He’s not prejudiced and if he’ll speak up for us, he’s got a lot of weight with Command. Besides, he’s put a lot of time and resources into this campaign already; I’m sure he’d rather convince Admiral Ackbar to let us be together than have to start planning all over again because we’ve quit.”
Wedge didn’t like the idea of calling Cracken, but he could see the logic of Tycho’s argument. In any case, he couldn’t think of anyone else to try. Reluctantly, he called the general’s comm.
After a short delay, General Cracken’s holo appeared. His bright, coolly intelligent eyes flicked from one pilot to the other.
“Good evening, gentlemen. You needed to speak to me urgently ?”
“Yes, General. I’m sorry to disturb you.” Wedge paused, unable to find the words he needed.
Tycho shifted position behind him and rested a hand on Wedge’s shoulder. Cracken’s expression darkened slightly. “Am I to assume there’s some truth in the rumours I’ve heard about you two recently ?”
Wedge met his gaze steadily. “Yes. We are in a relationship.”
“I don’t think you’d call me like this to announce your engagement,” Cracken said. “Especially as you are in breach of regulations. So what’s this about ?”
“It’s about the effect of that regulation: 117/A,” Wedge said, carefully keeping his voice under control, though he felt both nervous and defiant. “We’ve obeyed the regulation for years and tried to pretend we didn’t have feelings for one another. But we do, and trying to suppress that was affecting our working relationship; it was starting to affect the squadron.”
“One of you should have transferred elsewhere,” Cracken said, his gaze shifting to Tycho.
Wedge felt a flare of anger. “The problem was not that we are in love, but that we’re not allowed to be in love. And people in love don’t want to be apart.”
“In any case,” Tycho put in. “Speculation about what others think we should have done is irrelevant now. We’ve made a commitment to one another and we intend to keep it regardless of a discriminatory regulation.”
“117/A is unfair,” Cracken allowed. “But it is still a current regulation. You’ll cause problems.”
“We already have,” Wedge said. “Admiral Ackbar spoke to me this afternoon. The basic outcome is that he won’t allow Tycho and I to serve together. We’ve had enough of giving in to discrimination, and being denied our right to love. I know the regulation can’t be legally abolished overnight, but unless we’re allowed to stay together as we wish, we’ll both resign our commissions tomorrow.”
Cracken’s face flushed dark red. “You can’t do that !”
“We can and we will,” Wedge insisted.
“Have you any idea…? Of course you have,” Cracken corrected himself. “You know exactly how much work has gone into setting up the campaign against Harrsk and you know perfectly well that the first stage is based on exploiting the reputation of Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron. You’re threatening treason, General.”
“It’s not treason !” Wedge snapped, hoping that Cracken wouldn’t think of the ‘conduct unbecoming’ charge, at least for now. “I had no intention of resigning now, but Admiral Ackbar has made it impossible for us to stay. I’m asking you to speak to him, to persuade him to allow us to stay together.”
Cracken’s green eyes flashed. “I’m head of Intelligence, not of a dating agency.”
Frustration at not being taken seriously got to Wedge.
“That kind of attitude is what’s driving us away !”
“I thought better of you, General Antilles, and you too, Colonel Celchu. I find it hard to believe that you would consider betraying the New Republic like this.”
“We’ve been forced to it,” Wedge insisted angrily. “We’re the ones who’ve been betrayed.”
Cracken let out a harsh bark of laughter. “Betrayed, how ? You have chosen to breach regulations.”
“A regulation that you admit is unfair,” Tycho put in, narrowly beating Wedge.
“But which exists,” General Cracken growled. “You’ve both been thoughtless and irresponsible and now you are using threats, almost blackmail, to get your way.”
There was just enough truth in the general’s accusation to sting Wedge’s conscience.
“It wasn’t deliberate,” he protested. “I’ve worked as much as anyone on developing this plan, and on preparing my squadron for the campaign. Now you’re telling me how vital I am to the New Republic military, but I’m still being treated like a child, and being dictated to about my personal life. I’ve spent years pretending that I don’t care for Tycho, but I do. Finally sharing our love after so long is like the relief and joy after the Emperor was killed. If you take that away, if we’re forced to separate, we’ll be unhappy and stressed. I won’t be able to function the way I should as an officer.”
“You need to start acting like an adult, not an adolescent, General Antilles.” The holo of Cracken bristled with anger. “There are lives depending on you and you need to start thinking about them, not about yourself.”
“I am thinking of them,” Wedge argued, beset by an increasing feeling of hopelessness. “That’s why I’m telling you I can’t do my job properly if Admiral Ackbar insists on me and Tycho separating.”
“Then talk to Admiral Ackbar; he’s your commanding officer, not me. Better yet, just face up to reality and admit you’re in the wrong. After all you’ve done for the New Republic, gentlemen, I’m astounded that you could even consider doing something so damaging and selfish as to resign at this time.”
“I’ve spent almost my whole adult life being unselfish !” Wedge exclaimed. “I’ve spent it fighting for the rights of others. Now I’m fighting for my own rights.”
“What about the right of your squadron to have the leader they deserve ?” Cracken responded. “You have a duty to your squadron, and to all the other soldiers whose actions in this campaign will be affected if you walk out now.”
“That’s not fair and you know it,” Wedge retorted. His hands were clenched into fists; if the meeting had been face to face, rather than via holo, he’d have struggled to refrain from punching the Intelligence chief. “No one soldier is irreplaceable. I could get killed in the first action of the campaign.”
“Then you’d have died doing your duty, Antilles. Resigning now is tantamount to sabotage.”
“Resigning is looking more and more tempting,” Wedge snapped. “I was looking for support, not emotional blackmail.”
“Your attitude is unacceptable, General,” Cracken fired back. “You’ll get no support from me in your efforts to avoid the consequences of your actions. I suggest you think long and hard about your future and make the right decision, for the sake of the New Republic, which you’ve already invested so much in.” The holo of the general reached forwards to something out of range of the holocam, and abruptly vanished as the transmission ended.
Wedge thumped the desk and let out a string of curses, continuing in a variety of languages, until he ran out of breath. He sat gasping for a few moments, then his energy drained away and he slumped back in his chair, letting his eyes close. A moment later, he felt Tycho’s hand on his head, gently stroking his hair. Tears welled in his eyes at the loving, supportive caress.
“Oh, Tycho.” His voice was choked. “I’m sorry. I made a mess of that.”
“He didn’t listen.” Tycho’s words were dark with anger. “You were right. He was using emotional blackmail. He could have offered support but he just threw all the blame on us, and tried to make you feel guilty about thinking of your own needs for once.”
Wedge couldn’t answer straight away. He just needed to feel Tycho’s hand in his hair and to let the knowledge that he was loved ease the pain. When tears slipped down his cheeks, he wiped his hand across his face and sighed. Taking a deep breath, he summoned his flagging courage.
“I love you.”
It was the only thing he was certain of right now. Opening his eyes, Wedge turned to look up at Tycho.
“We’ve lost this battle. Cracken will be expecting us to fall into line until the moment he hears of our resignations, and then he’ll be fully behind Admiral Ackbar in prosecuting us. Mon Mothma might be inclined to favour us, but she won’t make an issue of it if Ackbar and Cracken tell her we need to obey regs or be silenced. Her reputation will suffer if this campaign fails, or takes too long, so she’ll take their advice.”
“Which won’t be in our favour.” Tycho’s hand kept moving in Wedge’s hair.
Wedge nodded. “Leia’s the only one who would stand up to the admiral, but by the time she gets back to Coruscant, things will have gone too far for her to make much of a difference.”
“Our timing’s been altogether lousy in this,” Tycho said starkly.
“I don’t regret falling in love with you though.” Wedge turned a little more and put his hand on Tycho’s waist.
Tycho smiled at him. “Nor do I.”
Wedge fell silent again, comforted by Tycho’s presence. Thoughts chased round in his brain like a pack of slashrats after a jigabird. Every direction his mind went only seemed to narrow down the possibilities.
“We need to find some way of drawing attention to ourselves; something Command can’t hush up.” He was thinking aloud. “If I’m going to resign or be thrown out, it’s got to be dramatic enough to highlight why I’m doing it.”
“You could break into Admiral Ackbar’s quarters and assault him,” Tycho suggested.
Wedge snorted a laugh. “Don’t tempt me. It wouldn’t work, anyway. That’s definitely the kind of thing that would get me arrested and silenced.”
They stayed as they were, silent again, for a minute or two. Wedge was the first to speak.
“I don’t want to serve in this military any more, but I don’t want to abandon Rogue Squadron just before a war, either. ”
“It’s not your choice, you’ve been forced into it, Wedge. Nawara understands and the others will too.”
Wedge looked up at Tycho, his heart heavy.
“Nawara isn’t about to fly into combat. The rest will understand, but I’m letting them down all the same.” The doubts he’d been suppressing came to the forefront.
“Cracken was right; I can’t just leave them.” Wedge paused and cleared his throat. “Every day I’d be looking for news, wondering if anyone had been killed. And if any of the Rogues I’d abandoned died, I’d always be wondering if it would have been different if I was there with them, leading them.”
“You could be the one killed, Wedge,” Tycho said, his voice shaking. “If we resign together, then even if we’re court martialled, you’ll be safe.”
“Safe and unhappy,” Wedge answered. “It would be different if I were retiring in the normal way, but I wouldn’t retire in a time of crisis. Oh, Tycho, after the trench run on the first Death Star, I felt so guilty for pulling out and surviving, and leaving Biggs behind to die. I know, logically, I did the right thing, and it’s not my fault that Vader killed Biggs, but it hurt. It still does; that scar has never quite faded. Hurt isn’t logical. There’s a list in my head of all the pilots who’ve flown with me and been killed. It’s too long, Tycho, and I can’t always remember them all. But with all of them, I was there. I know I did what I could. If I walk away from the Rogues right now, and some of them die in battles that I should have been there for, I’ll never stop feeling guilty. I couldn’t live with myself,” he finished softly.
“Then stay with the Rogues,” Tycho said, his voice catching. “I’ll join Pash’s squad.”
Wedge stood up and faced him.
“I can’t do that either, for the same reason I can’t abandon the Rogues. What if you got killed ? I wouldn’t be there. I’d never stop wondering what I could have done, and I’d blame myself. I’d blame Ackbar too. I’d be no use as a commander, even if it never happened, because I’d be worrying that it would. I’d more than likely get myself stupidly killed, and maybe others with me, and that Sith-spawned regulation would fade back into obscurity unchanged. I’m trapped, Tycho, and I can’t find a way out !”
Wedge stood, trembling slightly, utterly desperate.
“It might not go like that, Wedge. You’re strong,” Tycho insisted. “You’ll always be a fine commander.”
Wedge shook his head. “Not now, Tycho. If I was strong enough, I would never have broken that kriffing regulation. I told myself that I’d submit the proposal, then tell you about it, and we’d wait until it was passed. I knew I needed to stay clean and not risk anything before the proposal was passed, but I couldn’t do it. And now…now I know what it’s like to tell you I love you, and to hear you say the same to me, and to kiss you…knowing that you were flying into combat and I wasn’t there would tear me up.”
He could see that Tycho understood. Flying in combat required immense concentration. A pilot who got distracted by his feelings, good or bad, soon became a dead pilot.
“We’d both be worrying rather than flying,” Tycho said. “Neither of us is really fit for combat duty, but Ackbar can’t let you stand down, otherwise why not just let you go now ? And if you fly, I’m flying too.”
“So we’ll both end up dead, and the regulation will stay unchallenged.”
“Nawara knows about our cause,” Tycho said. “We’d have to tell Hobbie and Wes, everyone. If you and I were both killed they’d make sure our voices were heard. It would be our memorial.”
Wedge stood silently for a minute. When he spoke, his voice was slow and resigned.
“If I resign, Command will try to silence me; I won’t have a way of bringing 117/A to public attention. If I stay with Starfighter Command, I’ll fly badly and probably get myself killed. Even if I don’t at first, at least one of my pilots will die because I’m not up to the job and I couldn’t live with that on my conscience. I’d get myself killed sooner or later ... and then someone can use public sympathy for my death to publicise the proposal to remove 117/A.” He paused, the inevitable conclusion forming in his mind. “If I fly, I could accidentally get my pilots killed, as well as getting killed myself and I won’t let that happen. My death could be used to serve a purpose but any other deaths would be pointless in that regard. This is my battle and I don’t want anyone else dying because of it.” He saw painful understanding dawn on Tycho’s face.
Wedge kept on speaking. “It’s the best solution, Tycho. When I signed up to be a fighter pilot, I accepted I’d most likely die for the sake of other people. This is the same principle. Most people would say piloting a snubfighter against a Death Star was an act of suicide, right ? I survived that, but there’s other means of dying. If I manage it right, my death could bring an end to 117/A and no one else would have to go through what we’ve been through.”
Tycho’s blue eyes blazed. “Wedge, I can’t let you…”
“Don’t try and stop me,” Wedge interrupted. “It’s the best solu…”
Lightning fast, Tycho grabbed him into a hug.
“I won’t let you die alone, Wedge,” he said urgently. “We promised to stay together and I meant it ! I’d rather die with you than go on alone. If we choose to die together, it will show the galaxy how serious we were about our love for one another and emphasize how wrong the regulation is.”
Wedge wrapped his arms around Tycho’s neck and kissed him passionately. When, at last, the need for air forced them to part, Wedge laid his head on Tycho’s shoulder.
“I love you. I love you, Tycho.”
He wanted to plead with Tycho, to beg him to stay alive, but at the same time was comforted to know that Tycho wanted to accompany him into death. Tycho was a soldier too; he had made the same choice to risk his life for the sake of others.
You have accepted my decision to die; how could I try to deny you the right to the same choice ? You have acted of your own will all along, and it would be arrogant of me to assume that I am responsible for your actions. You are ready to commit suicide because you love me, but it’s not my fault that you do. I am grateful that you do, and yet sorry that it’s led you to this.
Tycho tightened his hold. “I love you, Wedge. My only regret is that I’ve had so little time in which to say it to you.”
So little time to hold you and make love with you, Wedge thought sadly.
It took a tremendous effort of will for him to release his hold. He straightened up, slowly detaching himself from Tycho.
“We need to plan this carefully,” Wedge said. “We have to be as sure as we can that our deaths will draw attention and can’t be hushed up, or passed off as some unfortunate accident.”
Inwardly, Wedge was amazed at how calm he sounded, talking about deliberately killing themselves as though it were no more than a briefing meeting to be endured. He’d long ago accepted that life as a starfighter pilot would likely lead to his own death, of course, and no longer feared death itself. Either it would be some other kind of existence, where he would meet again those who had died before him, like his parents, or else there would simply be nothing. The thought of Tycho dying, the light fading from his blue eyes, upset him more. He suppressed a shudder with the thought that if there was an afterlife, at least he and Tycho would be there together.
“We have to act very soon,” Tycho said. “Admiral Ackbar’s expecting you to give your decision tomorrow afternoon, isn’t he ? If you go and tell him we’re resigning, he will probably arrest and charge you there and then. If you don’t go, he’ll send someone to your quarters to arrest you. Either way, Ackbar will be in control and we won’t be able to get our message out publicly.”
Wedge nodded. That’s what it was about now, publicising the misery and repression of regulation 117/A.
“So we have to do it before they come looking for us,” Wedge said. “And in plenty of time. We’ll have to be definitely dead, with no hope of reviving us.” His voice choked for a moment and he reached out to touch Tycho’s face. “We’ll have to set up time-delayed messages, so we can record what we want to say, but they won’t be sent out until an hour or so after we’re dead.”
“Messages to news companies ?” Tycho asked. “Timed right for the main morning news bulletins.”
“Yes, we have to catch Command off-guard. Act before they expect it, and before they can hush things up. And messages to Wes and Hobbie so they can get here, before security arrive and try to destroy evidence, or make it look like a hoax.”
“Not Nawara ?” Tycho suggested.
Wedge shook his head. “There’ll have to be an investigation and they’ll soon find he was here this evening. I don’t want him charged with being involved, and if he’s first on the scene too, it’ll look even more suspicious.”
Tycho hesitated for a moment, then said. “The media will respond better if they have images as well as messages – I mean, our bodies.”
“Yes. We can rig a remote holocam to get pictures and attach them to the outgoing messages.” Wedge’s first instinct had been to recoil from the suggestion, but he quickly saw the sense of it. Now he’d made the decision to die, he was determined not to shrink from anything else. “Maximum shock value. Holos – film – that Command can’t cover up or explain away. Images that will lead to demands for a public enquiry. If we’re going to die for a reason, we want the whole galaxy to hear about that reason.”
“Once we’re dead, it won’t matter what images of us are splashed across the holonet. We’ll never see them.”
The corner of Wedge’s mouth lifted in a slight smile. “At least neither of us have family to be embarrassed by us.”
“We have each other, and we’ll die holding one another,” Tycho promised.
“That’s another detail we have to decide,” Wedge said. “How we die.”
“Blaster pistols ? Quick and certain.”
Wedge thought for a moment. “Too quick. I don’t want to linger, but I want to be in your arms, and kissing you when I die, if it’s possible.”
“Vibroblades in the heart then. If you open the heart right up, it’ll take half a minute – a minute maybe – to lose consciousness.”
“Long enough to put the knife in myself and then kiss you,” Wedge said.
“We…we could make it truly mutual,” Tycho said. “To show how much we’d do for one another. I’d let you put your knife in my heart.”
Wedge thought about it. He hated the idea of plunging a blade into Tycho, to be the one to take that final step, but oddly found that he didn’t mind the idea of Tycho doing that to him. He trusted Tycho not to falter, and to make a clean job of it.
What would be harder – thrusting a knife into myself, or into my lover ?We’ve both chosen to die, but I think that I’d rather be responsible for Tycho’s death, and take the burden of self-destruction off him.
“OK, I’m responsible for your life, and you’re responsible for mine,” Wedge said.
Tycho sighed and relaxed a little. “I never dreamed that I’d be offering to kill you, Wedge, but I swear I’ll be as quick and painless as possible. I think it’s easier to hit the target when you’re not holding the blade against your own skin. Also, I’ll be thinking too much about getting it right for you to worry much about what’s going to happen to me.”
Wedge swallowed; there was so much he wanted to say, but the words seemed to be stuck somewhere. He hugged Tycho and kissed him, hoping his gestures would express what he felt. As Tycho’s lips moved against his, Wedge knew that Tycho understood him. They felt the same way.
When the kiss broke, he detached himself and looked into Tycho’s blue eyes.
“We don’t have much time, so let’s not waste any. We’ll record our statements and messages now and set everything up. Then we’ll take some whiskey into the bedroom with us and spend the rest of our lives making love.”
Tycho smiled and caressed Wedge’s face. “I like the sound of that: spending the rest of my life making love to you.”
Wedge nodded, then forced himself to turn and get down to business. He had to find exactly the right words for the last, and most important, messages of his life.