The Echo Project

Wedge Antilles switched off his work terminal, leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms upwards until something in his spine clicked. He grunted in a satisfied manner and relaxed. He sat quietly for a few blissful moments, then the door to his office opened and his second in command, Tycho Celchu, entered. Wedge looked warily at the datapad Tycho was carrying.

“I’m going home,” he stated, straightening up.

Tycho nodded; at the end of the day he looked as composed and as well-turned out as when he’d arrived. His aristocratic looks and self-possession could still somehow make Wedge feel just a little bit second-rate in comparison, even if he did have that extra pip on his uniform.

“This isn’t urgent,” Tycho said. “It’s just the final requisition requests that you need to check and sign.”

Wedge held out his hand for the datapad.

Tycho sat in the chair on the other side of Wedge’s desk as Wedge scrolled casually through the list of items.

“2 flightsuit magcon generators,” Wedge read aloud. “Ten size 5 hydrospanners ! What are the mechanics doing with them ? 50 litres of black paint.”

“That’s for putting the kill marks on your new X-wing,” Tycho quipped.

“Those Death Stars do use up a lot of paint,” Wedge replied. He continued reading from the list. “Two X-wing repulsor capacitors, 3 sets X-wing harness webbing.”

He paused, and then read, “I dozen fu-fu valves.”

Tycho frowned. “Fu-fu valves ? I don’t know what those are.”

Wedge tapped the datapad. “Did Wes have a hand in compiling this ?” When Tycho nodded, he sighed and leaned back in his chair. “There’s no such thing as a fu-fu valve. It’s an engineering in-joke; a piece of bafflegab used to convince the customer, or a senior officer, that they know nothing, because they’ve never heard of the fu-fu valve, and that you, the engineer, are a genius, because you do know what it is.”

“Like that extruder valve nonsense Kell Tainer tried to pull on you once ?”

Wedge nodded. “If I signed an order for fu-fu valves, Supplies would be chuckling about it for months.” He sighed. “Wes has been a major for how long: eight years ? And he still plays these pranks like he did when I first met him seventeen years ago and we were both flight officers.”

Tycho’s face lightened with a smile. “It’s his way of welcoming you back to the squadron.

Wedge snorted, but a grin tugged at the corners of his mouth for a moment. Then, looking across the desk at Tycho, his expression sobered. “Tycho…” He paused, biting briefly on his lower lip. “I…”

“I don’t mind stepping down to second-in-command,” Tycho said robustly. “You asked me before you wangled your way back to Rogue Squadron, and you’ve already apologized several times for taking my command off me.”

Wedge shrugged. “You’ve been Rogue Leader for seven years.”

“Look, Wedge, I’ve missed working with you, and I’m delighted to have you back. And as you’re a general, and I’m a colonel, of course you’re going to be in command – you’d have to punch Ackbar in the face and get demoted a rank or two if you want to be in Rogue Squadron with me still as lead.”

Wedge relaxed and chuckled at the idea. “Thanks, Tycho.”

“I’m ready for a break,” Tycho admitted. “After seven years, it’ll be good to have someone else taking final responsibility for the squadron. And for you, it’s just the one squadron to be responsible for, not the crew of a Super Star Destroyer, plus the crews of whatever other ships are in your force. A dozen lives, instead of thirty thousand on one ship alone. You’re under less pressure; I’m under less pressure. I’d call that a win-win situation. And you know perfectly well that if I were desperate for command, I wouldn’t have stayed as your second in Rogue Squadron before you went off to play with the big ships. We’re a good team, Wedge, and working together is more important to me than who has the most pips on their shirt.”

Wedge smiled. “I’m glad to be back. And speaking of getting back…” He became brisk with energy as he rose and walked out from behind the large desk, heading for where his jacket hung.

“Syal’s what, fourteen months old ?” Tycho commented, also standing. “Hasn’t the novelty worn off yet ?”

Wedge grinned as he shrugged the worn, old civilian jacket on over his general’s uniform. “Nope. She seems to be learning or saying something new every day.” He paused to glance out of the wide window, giving a fine view of Coruscant.

“Are you walking home again ?” Tycho asked.

“It’s useful exercise,” Wedge said. “I don’t have as much time for the gym as I’d like and after being in an office, it’s good to get a breath of fresh - well, Coruscant – air.”

Tycho nodded amiably as they headed for the door together.

“I’ll see you in the morning then.”

“Sure.” Wedge card-locked the office door and waved cheerfully as they headed in separate directions. “See you.”

Iella was reading a story aloud when she heard the sound of the apartment door opening. Syal heard it too, and wriggled off her mother’s lap, toddling determinedly to the door of the living room. Wedge entered and paused, looking around. Iella sighed inwardly: Wedge had always kept his quarters very tidy when he lived alone, but even reasonably tidy seemed a challenge when there was a small child about.

“Da, Da, Da,” Syal greeted him, the volume increasing with each repetition. She held her arms up expectantly.

Wedge looked down at her, then bent to pick her up, settling her rather heavily against his hip. Syal threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek, babbling happily at him. Iella followed their daughter, slipping one arm around Wedge’s waist and giving him a kiss. She felt a slight hesitation before his lips pressed back against hers, as though she’d surprised him. When she released him, he was looking at her with wonder in his eyes.

“Are you all right ?” she asked, flicking her long hair back over her shoulder.

“Yes.” He looked endearingly awkward. “You’re so beautiful.”

“I know,” she answered, her eyes sparkling. “You’re a very lucky man.”

“Da !” yelled Syal, pulling on her father’s hair.

Wedge flinched, and for a moment Iella saw the conditioned battle reflexes take over. All softness vanished from his face, his eyes becoming fierce with absolute concentration as he turned his head towards Syal. A moment later, he had suppressed his fighting instinct, and had visibly relaxed, managing a small smile for his startled daughter.

“Sorry.” The apology was for both of them. “I’ve got a headache.”

“There’s painkillers in the bathroom cabinet,” Iella said, reaching out to take Syal. “Would you like me to brew you some caf ?”

“Yes, please,” Wedge said, passing his daughter to her mother. He gently touched Syal’s fair hair and smiled at her. “I think I will get the painkillers.”

Iella put Syal down on the sofa and gave her the holobook she’d been reading from earlier. Looking up before turning to the kitchen, she saw Wedge heading for the corridor that led to the bedrooms and bathroom. He seemed to be moving a little less certainly than usual, which suggested to Iella that his headache was worse than he admitted to. Which was typical of Wedge, who hated to make a fuss about his health. Shaking her head at his stubbornness, she went to make the caf, and start the evening meal.

“Has the headache gone ?” she asked later, as they settled into bed together. Wedge had seemed a little preoccupied all evening, less relaxed than he usually was when he got home.

Wedge blinked at her then smiled. “Yes; I’m fine thanks.”

Iella hitched herself closer to him and reached over to rub between his shoulderblades. He often carried a lot of tension there and the rubbing soothed him. They were lying face to face, just a few inches apart. Iella gazed into his eyes, fascinated as always by the slight green tint to the brown iris’. The green colour wasn’t obvious except in strong light, or from close range.

“How’s the restructuring of Rogue Squadron going ?” Iella asked, guessing that rebuilding the unit might be what was causing his stress.

“It’s on schedule,” Wedge replied. “Being back feels rather like starting over again.”

Iella could feel him starting to relax now, his muscles becoming looser. She slid her hand down to the small of his back and smiled.

“You don’t have a headache now, and I don’t have a headache, so…” She pulled herself against him and kissed him.

Wedge responded slowly, a little tentative at first, then he let her deepen the kiss. When they broke apart, Iella slid her hand up and down his spine and listened to his soft sound of surprised delight. His eyes lit up with fierce pleasure and he wrapped his arms tightly around her as he kissed her again, harder this time. Iella was breathless when he finally broke the kiss. Wedge seemed suddenly intense and she was reminded of the way he had been on that memorable night on Adumar. Playfulness was replaced by a sudden rush of hot desire through her body and Iella willingly yielded to Wedge’s vigorous, almost rough, lovemaking.

“Lead, break port !”

Tycho saw Wedge’s X-wing barrelling left almost before he’d finished speaking. TIE laser fire flashed through the space where the X-wing had been micro-seconds before, coming close enough to graze Wedge’s shields. The overstrained shields flickered and lit up briefly, which was never a good sign.

Tycho reversed thrust and spun his X-wing over backwards; a manoeuvre violent enough to jostle him in his seat in spite of the inertial damper being almost on full. It also put him in a nose dive above and behind the Interceptor. The Interceptor was also turning, in one of the impossibly agile moves that the X-wing couldn’t match, and was chasing Wedge again. Wedge danced his X-wing about, the squint’s fire skittering past.

And while the TIE pilot was busy trying to nail Wedge, Tycho lined it up and fired a shot clean through the cockpit. The Interceptor exploded in a silvery cloud that Tycho neatly sideslipped to join up with his wingman again.

“Thanks, Tycho.” Wedge’s voice was calm, slightly distracted. His X-wing turned back towards the main furball. “Nine, are you getting anywhere with the SD’s shield generators ?”

Tycho followed, his eyes scanning the sensors and the space outside his cockpit, as he listened to Corran’s report on the ship they had ambushed. As there was nothing in their immediate area, he had a few moments to think about the sim.

Rogue Squadron had been three members down when Wedge had rejoined. Ghufran had been killed in combat three months ago, Reme Poller had transferred to another squadron and Vurrulf had retired on medical grounds. Wedge’s return had refreshed the squadron, delighting old friends like Hobbie, Wes, Corran, Inyri and Gavin, and inspiring the newer members, who knew him as a legend. Wedge had delegated the job of narrowing down the applicants for the two spare places to Tycho, but had been working hard to reintegrate himself with the unit.

The return to flying starfighters had been a long-held dream for Wedge, and achieving it had put a spring back in his step. When the posting had been confirmed, Wedge hadn’t stopped grinning for a week. Wedge had returned to his duties in Rogue Squadron with enthusiasm, as well as the thoroughness he had always brought to command.

Tycho had seen that Wedge had been reading the full pilot profiles of not only the newer members, but even those of old comrades in arms like Wes. And when he hadn’t been studying the squadron’s members and activities, Wedge had been leading them in sim missions like this one. When the new recruits, Ligg Panat – a Krish female – and Ghazal Elu, a human female from Axxila, had been chosen, Wedge had increased the sim practices to get the squadron working together as well as possible.

This one was almost done; Hobbie was out, his ship damaged by debris from a TIE that Inyri had destroyed and Ghazal had lost her upper starboard cannon but was sticking with Gavin, her wingman and had scored two kills with her damaged ship. The other ten Rogues were undamaged, and had accounted for one squadron of eyeballs and nearly a full squadron of squints. Those no longer engaged in combat were assaulting the Impstar Deuce that the TIEs had been shielding.

As Tycho watched, Wedge launched his own attack. He seemed to fly almost down the throats of the turbo-lasers firing at him. His X-wing spun and danced, moving too swiftly for the massive guns to get a successful lock on him. As he got closer to the body of the huge ship, it was harder for them to track him, but even a close miss from a capital ship turbolaser at such short range could knock a starfighter briefly out of control. And a few seconds was all it would take for a tumbling X-wing to cross into the path of another laser, or to slam into the Star Destroyer itself.

Following Wedge into the stream of laser fire, Tycho remembered the speculation when it had been confirmed that Wedge was to return to the squadron. Would the time away from the cockpit, or marriage and fatherhood, affect Wedge’s flying ? When they’d started the sims, Tycho had found that he and Wedge had lost a little of the harmony born of shared experience that had enabled them to work so well together. Hard practice in the sims had restored much of that unity, and Tycho had relished the bonding. Wedge’s raw piloting skills hadn’t diminished at all, and right now he was flying for the bridge viewports with the attitude of a man with something to prove.

“Arm two torps and slave to my data.” Wedge’s voice was outwardly calm, with an underlying tension. “Fire on my mark.”

“Copy, lead,” Tycho answered, setting up the proton torpedoes.

The bridge of the star destroyer was looming ahead of them, filling Tycho’s canopy.

“Mark !”

Blue lines streaked away from the two X-wings, aiming for the viewport of the bridge. Both X-wings peeled away, turning in opposite directions. The torps hit, the viewport exploding and debris pouring out into vacuum. Tycho heard an exclamation of victory from Wedge, a sound that was cut short as Wedge’s X-wing was vaporised in a laser blast. Tycho felt a momentary jolt of shock, though he knew it was only a sim. He skimmed his X-wing close across the surface of the star destroyer and clicked his comm over to the all-squadron frequency. He was about to ask for updates when the simulator screens faded to black and the machine began to shut down.

Tycho released the control stick and took a deep breath, consciously relaxing his shoulders. He stretched, letting himself calm down from the intensity of the battle, then popped open the simulator canopy and climbed out. He joined the other pilots who were clustering around their commander. Wedge had removed his helmet and was rubbing his hair, which was sticking out in random spikes as hair usually did after being under a helmet for a while. Tycho removed his own helmet and did the same, afterwards automatically smoothing his fairish hair back into place. Wedge was looking annoyed, but the smile he turned on his pilots was genuine: Tycho guessed that he was annoyed with himself for getting vaped.

“Well done, everyone,” Wedge said, standing upright in officer pose. “Overall that went very well. Ghazal, you stuck to your wingman well; good flying.”

The slender, brown-skinned woman beamed with delight at the praise.

“Ligg, I liked the way you fought that squint, but try not to get too focussed on one target to the exclusion of what’s around you. I’ll say more to you all tomorrow, when I’ve had a chance to review the sim,” Wedge went on. He relaxed his pose and grinned, slapping Hobbie lightly on the shoulder. “I would tell you to look where you’re flying, but I guess I’m in no position to preach about that.”

“It means the first round’s on you,” Wes Janson said, grinning cheerfully at his commander.

“And the second’s on you,” Wedge responded.

“On what grounds ?” Wes protested.

“On the grounds that I’m a general and you’re only a major,” Wedge told him, grinning in return. “Therefore you have to do what I say.”

“You know, I’m not sorry you got yourself vaped,” Wes grumbled, though his eyes still sparkled with humour.

Shaking his head, Tycho followed as Wedge led the way to the on-base cantina.

As usual, the younger and newer pilots settled at one table, while Tycho, Wedge, Wes, Hobbie, Inyri, Gavin, Corran and Ooryl spread themselves around another. The first orders, for lomin ale and soft drinks, were tapped into the keypad in the middle of the table, and Wedge swiped his credcard through the slot to pay for them all.

“So, Wedge,” Wes said cheerily. “What’s your excuse for getting vaped ?”

“Making a point to the new squadron members,” Wedge answered promptly. “Always keep focused. When you blow something up, don’t brag about it and think about what you’ve just done. Think about what you have to do next.”

The group laughed at his explanation of his error.

“Like looking where you’re going,” Inyri said.

“It’s kind of important,” Gavin agreed. “Don’t you think, Hobbie ?” Hobbie snorted. “I was looking where I was going. It was Inyri’s fault for not looking at where I was going when she blew up that TIE.”

“You should have dodged that debris cloud,” Inyri retorted. “Your reflexes are getting slow because you’re getting old.”

Hobbie’s long face took on a martyred expression. “I’m not even forty yet,” he protested, amid laughter from the others.

A service droid rolled up and deftly slid the tray of drinks onto the table. The conversation broke into smaller groups as the pilots compared experiences in the sim. Tycho sipped his ale, sighed with pleasure, and turned to Wedge.

“Aside from the odd careless mistake,” he said dryly. “I reckon that went pretty well.”

Wedge gave him a scowl that was only part in humour, and nodded. “The squadron’s really working well as a team now.” He turned his brimming mug of ale round and round. “A couple of days ago, Admiral Ackbar asked when we’d be operational again. I think we’re ready now, don’t you ?”

“I think the squad’s as tight as it can be without actually flying together in combat,” Tycho replied, leaning against the back of the padded bench seat.

“Yes,” Wedge said thoughtfully. “Combat is the real test.” He looked up from studying his ale. “I think the Admiral’s got something in mind for us. Tomorrow I’ll review today’s sim, and all being well, I’ll tell him that we’re ready for full duty again. We could be off Coruscant inside of a week.”

“Good,” Tycho said. “Training and team building is important, and it’s good to be here in Coruscant where our families are, but out there is where we need to be.” He gestured vaguely upwards. When Wedge gave him a questioning look, he continued. “We’re pilots; we fly things. It’s what we do. Rogue Squadron isn’t about briefings and saluting and winning in sims. It’s about getting out to where we can help people and do some good in the galaxy. We all volunteered for that; we’ve risked our lives doing it more times than we can remember. There’s a point to all this work on the base and that’s to make us as good as we can be at stopping the bad guys.”

Wedge sipped his ale, and leaned back too.

“I see what you mean.” He paused, thinking. “I didn’t… I’d forgotten what it was like to be part of a team like this. Fleet command’s different. But being part of the Rogues, coming to the cantina like this…” He gestured at the group around the table. “I’ve had to adjust to being part of a squadron again after years of offices and ship’s bridges.”

“You’re as good a fleet officer as there is,” Tycho told him. “But this is where you belong.”

Wedge blinked and smiled. “Thanks.”

They drank and chatted about the recent upgrades to the X-wings. The conversations were lively and good-humoured. Hobbie teased Wes about an engineer he’d been trying to get a date with. So far she’d rejected his invites outright twice, and stood him up once.

“Hey,” Wes said indignantly. “At least I’m trying. The last woman you dated moved to Tattooine.”

“Keli was an anthropologist,” Hobbie protested as Wedge and the others laughed. “She went to study the jawas.”

“Yes, but before that, she had you properly by the jawas,” Inyri put in mischievously, to more laughter.

Wedge finished his lomin-ale and looked at his chrono. “I’d better be off in a minute,” he told Tycho.

“Syal’s suppertime ?” Tycho asked. Wedge nodded, and he continued, “if we’re leaving Coruscant soon, I guess you want to make the most of your time with her.”

“Yes,” Wedge said thoughtfully. He leaned back into the bench seat. “I never really realised what it would be like to have a child. Being part of this squadron’s great; there’s so much friendship, respect and trust. We trust one another with our lives. I feel it’s something I’ve earned.

With Syal it’s different, somehow. She trusts me completely and utterly; she loves me without question. I don’t feel I’ve earned it; it’s just there. It’s kind of scary, because I don’t want to let her down. But it’s also like a wonderful gift. I feel so lucky to have that.”

“You have earned her love,” Tycho told him. “You’re a good father. There are billions of children in the galaxy, of all species, who are neglected, starved, harmed or abandoned by their parents.”

“You’re right,” Wedge answered, his eyes flashing with some emotion that was gone before Tycho could identify it. “Some children never know a proper family.”

“It’s why we fly those X-wings,” Tycho said. “To give other people, families, children, a chance to live happy, normal lives.”

Wedge nodded and sat, gazing at nothing in particular. Tycho guessed he was thinking of his parents, and remembered his own family, lost along with their planet.

After a few moments, Tycho gave Wedge a nudge. “Aren’t you supposed to be getting back to your own family ?”

Wedge smiled suddenly, his thoughts returning to the present. “You’re right,” He stood and picked up his helmet. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said to the table in general. Wedge acknowledged the farewells with a wave, and threaded his way through the tables in the cantina, his step brisk.

As Wedge had predicted, just six days later Rogue squadron left Coruscant as an active combat unit. He gave them a full briefing aboard Redemption, the Corellian Corvette that was flying them towards their destination. Tycho stood beside him at the lectern as the rest of the squad settled themselves onto the rows of bench seats at the other side of the room.

“All present ?” Wedge glanced quickly about the room, checking faces. “Good.” He started speaking without looking down at the datapad in front of him. “We’re flying out to the Jabril system, which is some fifteen hours from Coruscant. We’ll be in combat almost as soon as we arrive, therefore we’re hitching a lift on the Redemption so we’ve got the chance to eat proper meals, exercise, and sleep in beds, rather than cockpits.”

“And with other people,” added Wes, in a too-audible whisper to Hobbie. Hobbie looked at him warily and pointedly shifted a few inches further away.

Tycho kept his face straight, as Wedge paused for the barest moment to glare at Wes before continuing.

“We’ve all done enough long-haul flights in our X-wings to appreciate the difference that will make when we get into combat.”

Tycho saw Hobbie and some of the others nodding at this. Wedge glanced at him, and he switched on the holoprojector, which lit up on Wedge’s other side.

“A gang of pirates have been based here for the last three or four years, gradually building up their strength and capabilities. They call themselves the Red Mynocks, possibly because they think that’s the sort of thing that pirates ought to be called,” Wedge added witheringly.

“That, or they’re a Corellian smashball team,” Gavin suggested.

“There’s a difference between pirates and a Corellian smashball team ?” Wes quipped.

Wedge waited for the laughter to die down before continuing. His face wore a mix of humour and exasperation that Tycho had seen many, many times.

“The Red Mynocks are becoming a major hazard to shipping in this sector and Rogue Squadron have been given the job of clearing them out.”

Corran raised his hand, and spoke when Wedge nodded to him. “If they’re so powerful, why aren’t there more capital ships involved ?”

“Because they wouldn’t be much use in this situation,” Wedge answered.

Tycho altered the holopad controls; the display moved, changing from a general view of the system to a close up of the third planet. This was a gas giant, appearing in stripes and blotches of rust, beige and cream. Tycho continued to shift focus to Jabril 3’s moons. Even when the holo image was enlarged, it remained a confusing mass. Wedge reached into the holo to indicate points as he spoke about them.

“There are twin moons, which orbit around one another, as well as around Jabril 3 itself. Surrounding them is this mass of asteroids, probably the remains of a third moon – possibly even two moons. As you can see, the asteroids make for a pilot’s nightmare. Most of them are fairly consistent in their orbits, but that only really helps if you know the pattern of their orbits. And there’s more than a few that are unpredictable.”

“I would like to know are we meant to find the pirates among the asteroids ?”Ooryl asked.

“That’s something that’s been baffling intelligence and fleet command for a while,” Wedge told them all. “Intelligence set up a sting operation a couple of weeks ago. Some inadequately defended cargo ships were sent out as bait, and the pirates went for them. There was a very brief skirmish, during which silent transponders were fired at the pirates’ fighters and so attached to them. These are tiny, fairly low-powered transponders. They will only give out their location if pinged by a coded signal set to a certain, narrow-band frequency.” He stopped and glanced over at Tycho.

Tycho stepped forward to continue outlining the plan that he and Wedge had devised a few days back.

“The Redemption won’t be taking us right into the Jabril system,” Tycho told the pilots. “The Red Mynocks don’t have any capital ships, but they may well have remote-controlled ordnance set up on some of the outlying asteroids. If they fly patrols, we may be fighting as soon as we come out of hyperspace. As you know, launching from a carrier is a vulnerable time for both fighters and carrier. We could sustain a lot of damage before we’ve had a chance to start fighting back. Also depending on how things develop, we could end up having to defend the Remption instead of taking the fight to the pirates’ base.

Instead, she’ll be dropping us off a few minutes flight time out of the Jabril system. We’ll hop into the system, on a vector heading for the moons. The gravitational pull of the twin moons and asteroids will pull us out of hyperspace almost on top of them, giving us the element of surprise. The Redemption will jump in system a few minutes later, using a conventionally plotted course, that will bring it out closer to Jabril 4. It will be close at hand as our support vessel, but should arrive far enough away not to be immediately involved in any fighting.”

Wedge took up the briefing again.

“The squadron will enter the asteroid field in flights, keeping the flights close together. Each flight leader will try to ping the transponders on the pirates’ fighters. No doubt they’ll spot us before we spot the base anyway, and I don’t think they’ll be in the mood for uninvited guests.”

Wedge stood a little straighter as he looked out over his pilots. “Flying and fighting in that asteroid field will be difficult even for the pirates, who fly in and out regularly. It’ll take pilots as good as Rogue Squadron to go in there after them and destroy them.”

Tycho could see the pride in Wedge’s eyes as he continued to speak.

“It’s a risky mission, but that’s what we do. The Red Mynocks may know this patch of space better than we do, but we have other advantages. Our fighters are newer, and better-maintained. We benefit from training and working as a team. Between us, we have experience that a hundred pirates couldn’t match.

On a personal note, I just can’t tell you how I feel about being a part of Rogue Squadron. It’s been the focus of my life for so long – this just feels right.”

Wedge relaxed and smiled a little. “We done some sims featuring asteroids. Command have given us one adapted to match what we know about the moons of Jabril 3. Put in some time on the sims, but don’t forget to eat and rest so when we arrive, we’re ready to go. No alcohol from now onwards. I’ll see you all here again in 14 hours. Dismissed.”

The pilots rose and made their way out, talking about the mission and their plans to the next few hours. Tycho switched off the holoprojector and collected the data disk. Wedge pocketed his datapad and leaned against the lectern.

“Less than a day, just more than half a day really, and we won’t be flying a sim this time,” he said.

To Tycho, he seemed a little anxious, though the signs were hard to spot. There was some tension around his eyes that he couldn’t quite disguise. Of course Tycho felt it too; it was a feeling that never quite went away, no matter how many missions one had flown and survived over the years. And Wedge had more to lose now than he’d had ten or fifteen years ago. Tycho smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “The flying may be tricky but they’re still only pirates,” he told Wedge. “Like you said, we’ve got years of combat experience they can’t hope to match.”

Wedge’s eyes flickered briefly before he smiled. “ ‘Years of combat experience’ ?” he repeated. “I hope that’s not a polite way of saying I’m old, Tycho. Don’t forget you’re older than I am.” He pointed accusingly at his friend.

Tycho laughed. “Those few months really make a difference, don’t they ? Come on.” He turned for the door. “Let’s go beat up those youngsters in the sims. That always makes me feel better.”

“Me too,” Wedge replied, following him.

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