Wedge Antilles forced himself to take a deep breath. Shouting at General Salm wouldn’t help, and neither would punching the stocky officer. Instead, he glanced across at Tycho Celchu, standing at formal attention in the presence of General Salm and Admiral Ackbar. Tycho was the tallest and most physically imposing of the three humans present; his fine, aristocratic face was still and emotionless as he gazed across Ackbar’s office. He looked like a recruiting poster for starfighter pilots, though in the black flight suit he preferred, he looked like the ideal model for the Imperial Navy, rather than the newly created New Republic.
And right now is not a good time for Tycho to look like an Imp.
Only a closer look at Tycho’s crystal blue eyes revealed anything of the mental scars he carried following the months of imprisonment and torture at Lusankya and Akrit’tar. On his return, the Alliance had held him for two months of debriefing and only now, after a wait of a few weeks, had Wedge been able to arrange for Tycho to join him here on Folor.
“Captain Celchu cannot be trusted !” General Salm repeated, raising his hands to emphasise his point. “He shouldn’t be here; he should be locked up.”
“He’s been locked up for months,” Wedge snapped, glaring at Salm. “He’s been debriefed from here to the Outer Regions and back and no one’s uncovered any proof that he’s been brainwashed.”
“The other Lusankya sleeper agents showed no signs either,” Salm replied.
“Because they didn’t remember they’d been in Lusankya, so no one asked them about it before they acted. Tycho knows he was there, so Intelligence asked him about it but couldn’t find any indication of brainwashing. Which you want to show is proof that he was brainwashed. You’re taking the absence of proof to be proof itself !”
Wedge stopped there and took another deep breath, forcing himself to unclench his fists. Tycho stood as still and apparently calm as before but Wedge could see the tightening of the muscles in his face that betrayed his inner tension.
“Gentlemen.” Ackbar’s gravelly voice broke the tense silence. He swivelled his eyes so he could see Wedge and Salm at the same time without needing to move his head. “This argument is getting no futher. If I want to listen to circular, unfulfilling disagreements, I can attend a Provisional Council meeting.” He paused for a moment, then turned to Tycho. “Captain Celchu, what do you have to say in the matter ?”
Tycho faced the admiral, still braced in his formal pose.
“Sir, you know my history and you know why I chose to join the Rebellion.What happened to me at Lusankya and Akrit’tar has only strengthened my desire to bring down an Empire that relies on cruelty and fear to control its subjects. I want to serve the Rebellion – the New Republic – in whatever way I can.”
Tycho’s voice and face were tightly controlled as he spoke, betraying nothing of his feelings other than the fact that he was concealing them. It was a non-expression that Wedge was seeing more and more often in the weeks since Tycho’s release from rehabilitation. It was this kind of situation, the continous suspicion and distrust that was doing it. Anger, fuelled by frustration and a sense of injustice, burned in Wedge with each new obstacle put in the way of Tycho’s attempts to return to his normal life.
I don’t know how he can stand it !
Wedge bit on his lower lip as he looked at his friend.
“You understand why we must be cautious ?” Admiral Ackar asked, swivelling one amber eye to look at Wedge simultaneously.
Tycho nodded once, sharply. After a moment, Wedge nodded as well.
“There’s a difference between being cautious and being paranoid,” Wedge said. “You know that Tycho is an outstanding pilot and a fine officer. It would be a waste not to use the abilities he offers us.”
“You’d better just hope that he doesn’t use those fine piloting skills to vape you during a training exercise,” Salm said. “That would deny us your talents too, Commander Antilles,”
In spite of himself, Wedge bristled at the remark, turning his head to glare at the other officer. Admiral Ackbar intervened again, holding up his large hands in a gesture of peace.
“There is no question of Captain Celchu being allowed to fly a fighter in the near future,” he announced. Before Wedge could speak, he continued. “We will, however, find some way of allowing Captain Celchu to stay and work on Folor Base in a position where he poses minimal risk. We are civilized beings, and we will work out an acceptable compromise, gentlemen.”
Wedge took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Wedge managed not to scowl at the woman in the Alliance Security uniform as he walked into the officer’s gym and found her waiting against the wall inside. The officer was one of those assigned to watch Tycho, which wasn’t her fault. She was merely following her orders. Everywhere Tycho went on the base, he had to be accompanied by a security officer, or another officer like Wedge. The supervision only left off when he was in his own rooms and Tycho had to arrange for an escort whenever he wanted to leave them. Every visit to the canteen or gym was watched, and places like the hangars and flight sim rooms were strictly out of bounds.
Tycho was already on a resistance machine when Wedge entered. Wedge greeted his friend as he got on a treadmill to warm up a little before he started on his stretches. Tycho answered briefly, concentrating on the smooth flow of his movements. Wedge set his machine for a brisk walking pace, finding his own rhythm, and looked over at his friend.
“You didn’t come to the officer’s mess last night,” Wedge said casually.
“Didn’t feel like it,” Tycho answered.
“You missed a good game of sabacc.” Wedge told him all about the game. “Aril thought she was going to take a hand with a pure sabacc,” he finished. “Then the randomizer kicked in and I got an Idiot’s Array and won both the hand pot and the sabacc pot. She swore at me in five languages, and well enough to blister paint in all of them.”
Tycho’s face lightened for a moment. “I wish I’d heard that.”
“Come out tonight,” Wedge suggested.
Tycho paused for a few moments between sets of repetitions. “I should,” he said quietly. His gaze wandered to the far side of the gym where the security officer was sitting. “Maybe.” He clicked the machine’s resistance up a couple of steps and started his leg presses again, driving himself harder.
Wedge finished his warm up and got off the treadmill. He moved to an open space and began a series of stretches. As he went through the slow lunges and bends, he kept a surreptitious eye on Tycho. He knew Tycho’s usual exercise routine as well as he knew his own, and lower body work came towards the end of Tycho’s routine. So Tycho had already been exercising for some time, and yet he was working himself harder than normal.
When Wedge had first been allowed to see Tycho, after his escape from Akrit’tar, he’d been shocked at his friend’s condition. Tycho had been underweight, hollow of face and obviously weak. During their time together in Rogue Squadron, Wedge and Tycho had enjoyed a non-committed sexual relationship, for occasional mutual pleasure and relaxation. Wedge had known Tycho’s body very well and the changes to it had shown him what his friend had endured, far more than anything Tycho had actually told him.
Since then, Tycho had worked on regaining his health and strength. He was close to his usual weight and his lithe body was starting to look toned again. Realistically, there was no need for him to push himself as hard as he was doing now.
<.EM>Is Tycho just filling in time because they won’t give him anything to do ?There’s no need for him to push himself though, if he’s just taking up time. Or is he venting frustration on the resistance machine, instead of punching Salm in the face ?
Finishing his stretches, Wedge moved to a weight machine, adjusting the settings to suit himself before settling into it.
“I’ll come by for you after I finish work,” he said to Tycho. “We can go eat then head down to the officer’s mess.”
Tycho paused, and picked up a towel to wipe sweat from his face. “I don’t fancy going to the canteen tonight.” His face was carefully neutral.
“Then I’ll come by after I’ve eaten and we’ll go drink together. That’s an order, Captain Celchu,” Wedge added with mock severity.
Tycho turned to look at him, and a slight smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “As you order, Commander Antilles.”
Wedge grinned as he pulled down the weighted bar. He knew he could drink Tycho under the table anytime, and tonight seemed like a good night to do so.
“Of course they’re not here,” Tycho said. “The room couldn’t possibly be this quiet if Wes was here.”
“Not unless he was sitting in a corner, plotting one of his pranks,” Wedge answered, leading Tycho over to a table near the middle of the room.
Aril Nunb was already there, sitting beside a stocky man in early middle age. Opposite was one of their former Rogue Squadron colleagues, the Quarren, Nrin Vakil. Nrin raised a hand by way of greeting, his mouth tentacles parting to reveal needle-sharp teeth in a Quarren smile.
“Nrin !” Tycho said, smiling more widely than Wedge had seen in a while. “I didn’t know you were here.”
Nrin offered him one of his large, three-fingered hands to shake. “After Ciutric, I took leave to think about what I wanted to do. I no longer wished to fly in combat, but I cannot abandon the Rebellion; there is much work to be done, still. So I now use my skills to train new pilots.”
“Good teachers are invaluable,” Tycho said. He paused for a moment, thinking, then smiled and sat next to Wedge.
Wedge gestured towards the older man. “Tycho, this is Captain Afyon.”
“Of the Eridain,” Tycho recalled. “You were at Endor.” He held out his hand.
Afyon simply stared at Tycho for a few moments, assessing him, then slowly reached out to shake his hand.
“Captain Celchu,” he said neutrally. “I’m impressed that one of the Hero Pilots of Endor remembers someone who just commands a mundane corvette.”
Wedge relaxed a little: he’d assumed Afyon’s subtle hostility to be due to the Lusankya rumours about Tycho, but it seemed to be no more than the captain’s habitual resentment towards well-known fighter pilots.
“Starfighters alone wouldn’t have won Endor,” Tycho answered calmly. “We wouldn’t have stood a chance without the capital ships keeping the Empire’s big guns busy, and buying time for us.”
“I wish the holojournalists would remember that,” grumbled Afyon.
In spite of his comment, he sat back in his chair and raised his glass of lum, letting the subject drop.
Wedge silently marvelled at Tycho’s patient attitude. It was what, barely eighteen cycles since Tycho had done things like hot-headedly challenging the Ante-Endor Association on Mrlsst. That more impulsive, reckless Tycho would have reacted more strongly to Afyon’s comments.
He’s not reacting enough. Something has changed in Tycho and I don’t know if I like it.
But Tycho was talking to Aril now, asking about her brother, Nien. A serving droid appeared and Wedge ordered lomin ale for himself and Tycho. By the time the drinks arrived, a pack of sabacc cards had been produced and Nrin was dealing the first hand. As the evening went on, Tycho began to relax, and Wedge did too. The sabacc was for low stakes only, though there was still a highly competitive edge, as there always was when pilots competed against one another at anything. After a couple of hours, a tightly fought hand ended with Aril getting her revenge for the night before. Wedge called the hand when holding a pure sabacc, but the card values shifted and he bombed out, while Aril’s score of 21 changed to -23, giving her a negative sabacc and both pots. Aril cheetled with delight, Wedge let out a howl of dismay and Tycho laughed heartlessly.
As Aril gathered up her winnings of 54 credits, three wooden Ewok coins and a pocket comb, Wedge leaned back in his seat and looked around. The officer’s mess had filled up quite a lot since he and Tycho had arrived. The other tables were mostly full, with other lively games going on. A few groups of people circulated around, seeking out friends or kibbitzing on games. As he sipped whiskey and watched, Wedge noticed glances being directed towards his table.
For a few moments, he thought that the looks were directed at himself. The year or so he’d spent doing propaganda for the New Republic had been an odd experience. Wedge remembered clearly how excited he’d felt as a child if someone famous had visited his parents’ fuelling depot. So he could understand why crowds had turned out on planet after planet to see the New Republic’s lauded hero, his medals and decorations glittering on his dress uniform. At the same time, it had been hard to realize that the hero they were staring at was actually himself, plain old Wedge Antilles. Wedge believed that his heroism, such as it was, happened strictly within the cockpit of an X-wing, and had often wondered if the crowds had been disappointed to see nothing more than a shortish, slim and rather ordinary-looking man. Since the propaganda tour, Wedge had almost got used to being recognized by beings who were complete strangers to him.
This time however, Wedge quickly realized that the glances were instead for Tycho, sitting next to him. He saw a dark-skinned women whispering something to a Rodian, who turned his sensitive snout towards the pilots’ table, and sniffed delicately. What the Rodian might learn about Tycho’s loyalty from his scent, Wedge couldn’t imagine but it seemed to be uneasy. Over to his right, Wedge spotted a group of junior SpecOps officers conferring together, and shooting quick looks in Tycho’s direction.
He’s not a Lusankya agent !
Wedge quickly suppressed the flare of irritation, not allowing anything to show on his face. Glancing sideways at Tycho, Wedge saw that the laughter had gone and the wary, defensive look was back. His heart sank, but he put a smile on his face as he spoke.
“I think this deck’s rigged,” he remarked, picking up one of the cards and examining it.
Tycho managed a slight smile. “You’re just a bad loser, Antilles. You always are.”
Wedge’s smile broadened, becoming feral. “Yeah, just ask the late Emperor Palpatine.”
Afyon snorted. “Typical snubfighter jockey ego.”
“You must admit that Commander Antilles has the skills and successes to justify an ego the size of the Maw,” Nrin told him straightfaced.
Wedge half-scowled. “I don’t know whether to be offended by that, or flattered.”
Afyon and Aril spoke at the same time.
Wedge turned to Tycho, about to ask for some support. As he did, the little group of SpecOps officers passed behind their seats. They were talking amongst themselves, but as they moved past, one turned towards Tycho and spat the word ‘Lusankya’. Wedge tensed immediately, bringing his feet under his chair in order to stand up. But before he could rise, Tycho put a hand on Wedge’s forearm. Startled, Wedge looked at Tycho and saw the subtle shake of his head. Letting out a deep breath, Wedge made himself relax back into his chair.
The SpecOps officers walked away, not looking back.
“They’re not worth it,” Tycho said quietly.
“Their opinions certainly aren’t worth a hawk-bat’s piss,” Wedge snapped. He looked at his friend. “How can you stand it ?”
Tycho gave him a half-smile. “I found it’s possible to endure far more than you’d ever imagine you could.”
“You’re back with the New Republic now,” Wedge replied. “You shouldn’t have to be enduring anything.” And what you endured at Isard’s hands nearly broke you, my friend. You were catatonic. And now you’ve stopped smiling and you look weary but you don’t admit it. How well are you coping, really ?I think your endurance is starting to run low. Talk to me !”
Aril picked up the cards, shuffling them neatly with her short-fingered hands. Tycho drained the last of his lomin ale.
“I think I’ll pass,” he said. Glancing at Wedge, he added. “You stay here; I’ll call for an escort from security. No point in disrupting your evening, when I can interrupt theirs,” he added with a thin smile.
Wedge shook his head. “There’s no reason to let wampa-heads like those SpecOps guys interrupt your evening, Tycho. If you really want to go, I’ll escort you, but the Rogues never won any battles by running away.”
Wedge regretted those last words as soon as they were out of his mouth. Tycho flinched momentarily, then the look in his bright blue eyes hardened.
“You’re right,” he said quietly, and sucked in a deep breath. “I guess maybe I got used to not attracting trouble. Sometimes it’s easier not to fight back.”
Wedge swallowed, fighting down a sudden pain at hearing his friend talk that way.
Just how much did the Empire hurt you, Tycho ?You joined the Imperial Navy to fight and change them from within, then you joined the Rebellion to fight actively against them. You’re a fighter !
“You’re a Rogue, Tycho,” he said aloud. “No one can take away what you’ve done to fight the Empire. You flew into a Death Star to take the fight to Palpatine. Remember that.”
“An experienced soldier learns when and where to fight,” Nrin remarked, his mouth tentacles curling as he spoke. “When you are alone and outnumbered, it may be better to hide, but sometimes you have to stand and fight.”
Afyon nodded his agreement with that. Aril began dealing the cards, including a hand for Tycho. Tycho sat still for a few moments, looking at his friends gathered round the table. He looked last at Wedge, his expression resigned, then pushed his empty glass over to him.
“If I’m staying, I need another drink.”
Grinning, Wedge turned to attract the attention of a serving droid.
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