The Echo Project - part 2

Tycho glanced at the chrono on his X-wing’s board, and adjusted his grip on the control stick. He didn’t like doing ‘blind’ hyperspace jumps, relying on the gravitational field of a planet to pull him out into realspace. It wasn’t so bad if he was relying on an Interdictor to provide the gravitational field, but the idea of suddenly dropping out next to a mass of whirling asteroids went against all his piloting instincts. Tactically of course, it was good sense, which is why he hadn’t tried to argue Wedge out of the idea. Thrawn had proven the effectiveness of using gravity fields to bring ships up close to their targets, and Tycho had to admit that the alien had been a tactical master.

Adrenaline spiked as the proximity alarm squawked. The white lines of hyperspace broke up and reverted to realspace. Outside his cockpit was a mass of whirling matter – asteroids and smaller chunks of rock. Immediately ahead was Wedge’s X-wing, but Tycho had barely registered his surroundings when Wedge abruptly rolled to port.

“Sithsp…. Two, break now !” Wedge’s voice came over urgently.

Tycho had started rolling to starboard the moment he saw Wedge’s sudden movement. They flashed by either side of an asteroid the size of an A-wing. Tycho took a deep breath and joined up with his wingman again, behind and slightly to one side of Wedge, who was aiming for a space between obstacles.

“S-foils to attack position,” Wedge ordered. “And check in.”

“Two, with you,” Tycho answered.

“Five here, for the moment,” Hobbie said anxiously.

“Seven. Ready to go hunting,” Wes’s voice was cheerful.

The rest of the Rogues checked in; somewhat miraculously, in Tycho’s opinion, none of them were damaged at all. He put his shields to full all around and continued behind Wedge.

The three groups of X-wings swooped and dived through the asteroids, keeping roughly two klicks apart from one another. The flight leaders, Wedge, Hobbie and Gavin, were signalling the transponders, waiting for a response to guide them towards the Red Mynocks’ base. With Wedge’s attention partially diverted by the search, Tycho was scanning for signs of life on the larger asteroids.

“No sign of any remote ordnance,” he reported.

“I don’t see anything either,” reported Reda, a female Sullustan in Hobbie’s flight.

“Not picking up any hardware,” Corran said. “But I’m getting a feeling of something out there. I think we need to head roughly 6030 from our current flight path.”

“I guess we don’t have any other leads,” Wedge said, somewhat hesitantly. “OK, 6030 it is.” His X-wing headed around gently to the right and began to climb higher into the asteroid field.

“Scanning for magnetic fields shows a mass in the direction that Eleven suggested,” Ooryl said. “It is large enough to be the twin moons we believe the pirates to be based on.”

“Good thinking, Twelve,” Wedge replied. “Comm silence unless necessary, folks.”

The next couple of minutes was a hair-raising ride where simply flying his X-wing needed almost all of Tycho’s attention. In some places there were clear paths between the asteroids; in others, rocks seemed to come out of nowhere. His fighter echoed now and again to the ding of micrometeors making it through his shields and hitting the skin of the X-wing. Wedge remained in his sights to the front, with Heikki and Inyri staying in formation as best as they could to port. Elements of Two Flight often came into view as they wove their way through the maze of floating rocks, but Three Flight only showed up on his sensors. As he banked hard port to follow Wedge around a rapidly spinning asteroid with a wickedly jagged surface, Tycho was grateful that all of Three Flight were there on his sensors.

“I’m getting something on my sensors !” Ghazal’s voice with high-pitched with excitement. “Half a dozen fighters coming in at 10345.”

“They’re not showing up over here yet,” Wedge answered.

“Lead, Twelve sees them too.”

“Definitely hostile,” Corran warned.

“If there’s just half a dozen, you shouldn’t have too much problem with them, Three Flight,” Wedge said. “We’re on our way to mop up anything left over, and stay alert and alive, everyone.”

Tycho followed Wedge as he changed course, closing up with the rest of the squadron. He kept pace as Wedge accelerated, weaving his way through the asteroid cloud.

“I make the enemy as three X-wings and three Uglies,” Ghazal reported. “I think they’re Die-wings.”

Tycho shook his head at her report, wondering why anyone would choose fly into battle in a lumbering ship made from a Tie fighter cockpit and Y-wing engines.

“Seven here. I spy another dozen coming to join the party.” Wes sounded pleased, even though the Rogues were now outnumbered.

“Five, Nine: ping the transponders in the groups approaching you and send the data to me. I’ll see if I can triangulate where they’re coming from,” Wedge said.

“We’ve got a mix of X-wings, Uglies and a couple of Defenders to play with,” Wes said.

“Nine here. Reaching maximum range,” Gavin announced.

Sure enough, a few moments later, Tycho saw distant flashes of laser light among the asteroids. The nearer group of pirates, the full squadron that Wes had spotted, were showing on his sensors, though the images tended to wink out and then reappear as the asteroids, and the ores some of them contained, interfered with the sensor equipment. Even the active signals from the other Rogues’ ships tended to vanish alarmingly from his sensor board from time to time.

A few seconds later, Two Flight was in combat, and less than a minute later, One Flight had joined them. Tycho followed Wedge after an X-wing painted in pale pink with jagged black and red markings.

“My X-wing is offended by the colour scheme on that thing,” Wedge remarked over their private channel as he turned his X-wing onto its starboard foils to slip past a asteroid.

“Mine feels sorry for it,” Tycho replied, taking a snap shot that sizzled red light past the pirate’s canopy and blew a small rock into space dust.


“Didn’t; I hit the asteroid,” Tycho protested.

“The asteroid isn’t shooting back.” Wedge was jinking his own X-wing furiously as he sped through a clear patch of space.

The pink X-wing was behind and slightly above him, firing rapidly with unlinked laser cannons. In spite of its rate of fire, only a few shots hit Wedge’s shields and those didn’t have the energy to punch through. The pirate was working hard to try and land a good shot as he chased Wedge. Wholly focussed on hitting his target, he was easy prey for Tycho, who quad-linked his laser cannons and blew the pink X-wing out of space with a single shot.

“Good shooting,” commented Wedge, spiralling upwards.

“Good work as bait,” Tycho answered, spinning his ship to join him.

Together, they went to find more work.

A few minutes later, Wedge and Tycho had accounted for another two of the Red Mynocks. Tycho couldn’t sure, because of the intermittent sensor contact, but it looked as though the pirates had lost about nine or ten fighters, while all the Rogues were still intact. The Redemption had signalled its arrived insystem and was closing towards Jabril 3. He and Wedge were currently disengaged from the combat, taking a moment to assess the overall situation.

“Seven. Anyone – I need help please.” Ligg was doing her best to sound calm, but Tycho could hear the suppressed panic in her voice.

He studied his sensors and found her away from the main group, hotly chased by two ships. Her wingmate, Wes, was busy playing hide-and-seek in a dense group of asteroids with the last surviving Defender.

“Try to circle back to the group,” Wedge advised Ligg. “Don’t forget you’ve got three dimensions to move in.”

“Eleven here.” Corran spoke. “Hang on Eight. I’m on my way to you.”

Corran was the nearest Rogue to Ligg’s position; he broke away from the main group and accelerated through the asteroids. His X-wing twisted and turned as it manoeuvred with breathtaking speed that suggested to Tycho that Corran was drawing on the Force to guide him.

Ligg was being targeted by a pair of Headhunters. Her deft piloting had kept them from scoring too many hits, but the demands of dodging two ships while not colliding with any asteroids gave her little chance to fire anything other than the occasional snap shot in return. As Corran came closer to firing range, one Headhunter was making a turn above her, while the other was on her tail. He flew an intercept course, keeping a spinning chunk of rock roughly half the size of his X-wing in a line between himself and the chasing Headhunter.

“Ligg: keep on the same bearing,” Corran told her.

“Okay,” she answered abstractedly. Her X-wing jittered around, skipping past obstacles as the two Headhunters closed in.

Corran remained on course for the intercept. Tycho guessed he was going to pop up from behind the asteroid and shoot the Headhunter as it passed, but he kept on course just a moment too long for that.

“What’s he…?” Wedge exclaimed.

At the last possible moment, acting too late for almost any other pilot to do it, Corran changed course. The nose of the X-wing came up, presenting its belly to the asteroid he’d been using as cover. The asteroid suddenly kicked away from him, becoming a deadly missile on course for the chasing Headhunter. Corran’s ship bounced upwards, now pointing at the other pirate ship. A clean shot vaped that Headhunter, leaving a bright ball of gold and silver fire. The fast-moving asteroid smashed into the fighter chasing Ligg, breaking it in two and leaving a trail of debris in its wake.

“The Solo Slide !” Wedge exclaimed.

It was an old, old trick, named now for Han Solo, who as a cadet had performed it better than anyone else. What Corran had done was to switch on his repulsorlift as he presented the belly of his fighter to the asteroid. The repulsor had pushed against the rock, just as it did against a planetary surface to provide lift. As a repulsor vehicle is lighter than the planet, it is the vehicle that moves. The asteroid that Corran had pushed against was lighter than his ship, so the asteroid had been moved by the push, and turned into a missile.

“Thanks Eleven,” said Ligg, audibly relieved.

“You’re welcome,” Corran answered, looping his X-wing around to join her.

Tycho glanced at his sensors and saw that the Rogues had the fight well under control, with just three of the Red Mynocks remaining. Wedge had come to the same conclusion.

“One Flight, break off from current combat. We’re going in after the base,” Wedge ordered. “Bolt’s narrowed down the area where the base should be; he’s sending the data to the whole squadron now.”

Tycho’s own astromech, Moon, chirped to register arrival of the information.

“Co-ordinates received,” Tycho said, the data and a flight path appearing on his screen. “Good work, Moon,” he added, turning his fighter onto a new trajectory.

Wedge’s X-wing appeared outside his canopy, and Tycho took up station, keeping beside his wingmate as well as he could in the asteroid cloud. Heikki and Inyri formed up with them as they broke away from the main battle and went looking for the pirates’ base.

The data led them through the asteroids to the slightly larger of the twin moons. As they made an orbital approach to the south pole, Tycho’s sensors showed new contacts.

“Four coming in from 320280,” Tycho warned.

“I’m reading them as Headhunters,” Inyri added.

“Let’s go introduce ourselves,” Wedge said, turning his fighter to meet the newcomers.

Just before they reached firing range, Wedge broadcast to the four Headhunters.

“This is General Antilles of the New Republic calling the Red Mynocks. Your other fighters have been destroyed and if you four try to fight us you’ll be vaped too. Surrender and you’ll live. Your choice.”

“Natalya Elu never surrenders !” The pilot’s voice was high-pitched with defiance and, Tycho suspected, fear.

One of the four Headhunters dived forwards, putting an asteroid between itself and the approaching X-wings. A few moments later it came whipping out in a turn tighter than the longer X-wing could manage, firing wildly. The sharp move and firepower didn’t disturb Wedge, Tycho or Inyri, all of whom had flown and fought Headhunters many times. Their lasers all hit, with Heikki’s following a second later into the exploding mass of fighter. Tycho regretted the pirate’s doomed attack, but a hit from a panicked enemy was as deadly as one from a calm pilot, and the Rogues hadn’t been able to take the chance of letting Natalya Elu continuing her mad attack.

“Does anyone else want to fight ?” Wedge asked coolly.

One by one, the last three pirates surrendered, powering down their weapons and shields.

After that, it became a straightforward mopping up operation. The pirates on the moon base surrendered too, powering down their defences. Rogue Squadron covered them and the pirates still in fighters as two shuttles from the Redemption cautiously made their way though the asteroids to collect prisoners and destroy the base. Some three hours later, Tycho and the other Rogues finally returned to the Redemption’s X-wing hangar.

After landing his fighter beside Wedge’s, Tycho popped open the canopy and took a deep breath of the familiar hangar smells of ozone, machine lubricants and metal. It was a smell that suggested safety to him; the safe return to base after a mission. It evoked other memories and feelings too, but that first breath, after the sterile, recycled air of a cockpit, was a moment he liked to treasure. Removing his helmet, Tycho thanked Moon for the good work the droid had done, and climbed down the ladder a tech had placed for him.

Wedge appeared, grinning broadly, and gave him an exuberant hug around the shoulders. Tycho couldn’t help smiling back.

“You look like a novice who’s pleased to survive his first real combat,” Tycho said.

Wedge laughed and looked embarrassed. “I feel like that; it’s been so long. And fighting in a snubfighter is so personal. It’s a bit different to giving orders from the bridge of a capital ship.”

“You flew like an ace,” Tycho reassured him gravely, though his eyes showed laughter.

“And we all came back,” Wedge said, turning to look at the other pilots.

They were gathering in a group, where Ligg was thanking Corran loudly. Tycho and Wedge joined them, Wedge adding his own praise.

“It was some sharp flying,” he said. “Risky, but you pulled it off.”

Corran shrugged. “Ligg needed help and that seemed the most efficient way of dealing with the problem. It was good flying though,” he added with a cocky grin.

“It was a good display of team spirit too,” Wedge said, looking at the pilots gathered around. “Rogue Squadron was asked to do a difficult job out there, and you did it very well. We were outnumbered, but we acted as a team and it paid off. Being here, a part of Rogue Squadron is a privilege for me, and incredibly satisfying. I’m proud of you all,” he finished.

There were nods and murmurs of approval from the rest of the squadron. Tycho noticed Ligg and Ghazal holding themselves proudly, their eyes shining. They both looked like they were bursting to tell of their experiences and talk freely to the other pilots. Wedge waved a dismissal.

“Go get cleaned up, relax, sleep, whatever.”

The group broke up, with hugs, pats on the shoulder and brisk chatter. Wedge participated happily, still buzzing on adrenaline. When they were done, Tycho touched him on the arm.

“Come on, let’s go get a drink.”

Wedge nodded and smiled. “Popping out of hyperspace almost right into an asteroid isn’t something I want to do again in a hurry. I should have used the repulsor to bounce it away but I was so startled I just didn’t think of that. I guess the basic reflex of just dodging the thing took over…” he began as they walked from the hangar.

“He’s very good with her,” Iella remarked, watching as four-year-old Valin rolled a ball towards her daughter.

Syal shouted and toddled determinedly towards it, her chubby hands reaching for the toy.

“He doesn’t spend enough time around other children,” Mirax answered. She lounged next to Iella on the sofa in Iella’s living room, sipping some strong caf. “The novelty hasn’t worn off yet.”

Syal gave the ball a shove in Valin’s direction, adding a gleeful shriek. Iella winced.

“Why aren’t small children fitted with a volume control and a remote ?” she asked.

“They have no concept of volume, do they ?” Mirax said, agreeing. “Thank the Force Valin is old enough now to quieten down when I remind him to. Mostly, anyway,” she added more accurately.

As the children continued to play, Mirax glanced at her chrono.

“I wonder if they’re back dirtside yet ?”

“Might be,” Iella said. “They were due back this afternoon if the mission went OK.”

“This is the third since Wedge returned, isn’t it ?”

“Fourth,” Iella corrected. “And so far, no losses or even injuries.” She crossed her fingers.

Both women looked at their children, aware that either or both of them could already be a widow. Valin noticed the silence, and glanced at his mother. Syal threw the ball at him and managed to hit him in the chest. Her shrieks of laughter, and Valin’s expression, made the women laugh too and they relaxed again.

“Booster keeps telling us we ought to come and visit,” Iella remarked. “I suppose a Star Destroyer would give Syal a bit more space to run around in.”

“You’re welcome to let her use Valin’s old toys,” Mirax offered. “There’s a closet full of his baby toys in our cabin. Booster is forever buying him things.”

Iella nodded. “I’ll have to comm him and thank him for the mag blocks he sent Syal. He treats her like a granddaughter.”

“Well, he thinks of Wedge as his son, so of course Syal’s his granddaughter,” Mirax replied.

Iella thought back to the time when Wedge, Corran and other Rogues had gone missing after being ambushed at Distna. While Booster had supported Mirax though the loss of her husband, Wedge’s apparent death had been a more personal blow. Even as Iella reminded herself that both men had returned safely, she heard the apartment door sliding open.

“That sounds like my little sweetheart,” Wedge called, as he entered.

Syal shrieked at his greeting and toddled to meet him, lifting her arms to be picked up. Wedge laughed as he lifted her, swinging her high in the air.

“X-wing climb ! X-wing dive !” he exclaimed as she swung up and down before he settled her against his hip.

“Da, da, da, da !” Syal rattled out in return, her voice muffled as Wedge bent to kiss her.

Iella moved in for her own hug and kiss, relishing the physical presence of her husband. She filled her arms with Wedge and Syal, feeling Wedge’s free hand pressing against her back, and breathed in the musky scent of his skin as she kissed him, and held her face against his. As she lifted her head again, she looked into his eyes, seeing the warmth and love there, and knew those feelings were reflected in her own eyes.

Valin called a happy greeting, surprising Wedge, who peered past Iella to see the visitors. Iella released him and moved aside as Mirax came over to claim her own greeting.

“Long time no see,” she said to Wedge, giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Whose fault is that ?” Wedge answered, absent-mindedly jiggling Syal about as he spoke. “You’ve been away on the Errant Venture all the time I’ve been back with the Rogues.”

“That’s no excuse,” Mirax retorted. “You’re a general; you could organize some orders sending Rogue Squadron out to the Venture.”

“That’s assuming we knew where Booster was,” Wedge said.

They moved to sit down again, Wedge keeping Syal on his lap. He bounced the giggling girl on his knees as they talked. Valin moved a box of blocks to the middle of the floor and began constructing a fort.

“Everyone’s OK,” Wedge reported. “Ooryl’s ship took a heavy hit from an ion cannon and he spent a while getting checked out in medbay, but he’s fine now. We got the job done with no losses.”

Mirax smiled. “That’s always good to hear. Oh, and speaking of hearing things, have you heard the stories about ships from the Corporate Sector causing trouble ? They seem to have very good intelligence on where and when the New Republic patrols are going to be.”

Wedge looked sober. “There’s been nothing official about it.”

“Last I heard of, a cargo of ginger-pine oil, whortleberries, Chandrilan sea-opals and wave-pearls and some Ithorian mead got taken.”

“Luxury items,” commented Iella. “High profit on a relatively small cargo.”

Mirax nodded. “Merchants in the area are beginning to demand more support from the New Republic.” She looked at Wedge. “You could end up out there.”

“We could,” he agreed, looking unhappy. He stroked Syal’s fair hair then pulled her in close for a cuddle.

Mirax tactfully changed the subject. “Valin, start putting those away, please. Your father is coming home so we’d better be there for him.”

Valin swept a hand through his construction, demolishing the walls. “ ’K, Mummy.”

The adults stood up, Wedge with Syal clinging to him.

“Good to see you, Wedge,” Mirax said, leaning over to give him a peck on the cheek. “Come over and visit in a couple of days and we’ll have a game of sabacc while the kids watch a holo in Valin’s room.”

“That sounds good,” Wedge replied. He patted Syal’s bottom, and lifted her skirt to peer apprehensively into her nappy. “I think she needs changing.”

Mirax grinned. “What a humble task for General Wedge Antilles: Conqueror of Coruscant; only survivor of two Death Star runs; the most decorated pilot in Starfighter Command.”

“Former commander of the New Republic’s only Super Star Destroyer,” added Iella. “Liberator of Thyferra.”

“And Daddy to this little girl,” Wedge finished. “Which is far more important to her.” He paused and looked down at Syal with a tenderness that made Iella’s throat constrict. “For so long, all that was in my head was flying and killing; defeating the enemy. I didn’t know what I was missing. Having a family, and friends is more precious than I ever imagined.” He looked up at Iella, his eyes full of emotion.

Mirax turned away. “Valin, have you put all those blocks away yet ?”

Iella smiled at Wedge, and he returned it. Hitching Syal up a little, he said.

“OK, sweetheart. Time to go and make you nice and clean.”

Bidding farewell to Mirax and Valin, Wedge carried Syal off to her room.

Tycho greeted Wedge as he entered his spacious office, and sat down on the opposite side of the desk to his commander. Wedge answered, but was studying his terminal display, his eyes flicking over the data. Tycho made himself comfortable and waited for Wedge to finish. He knew that Wedge had spent most of the morning in a meeting with Admiral Ackbar, General Cracken, General Ben Iblis and other senior officers. Tycho was sure that Wedge had brought him in to discuss the results of that meeting, which probably meant the next assignment for the Rogues.

When Wedge finished reading and turned to him, Tycho noticed that his smile seemed a little forced. It was something he’d seen now and again and it seemed to be occurring more frequently. Most of the time, Wedge was clearly happy to be part of the Rogues again, enjoying the flying and the camaraderie. But sometimes his mood became more reserved, as though he had doubts about what he was doing. Tycho found himself wondering if the reality of starfighter combat was getting to Wedge. He seemed blissfully happy with Iella and Syal; no one in Rogue Squadron had been seriously injured since his return, but every combat left enemy pilots dead, and Wedge had seen enough of his friends die over the years to know that no one was invulnerable. It was possible that the contentment of his home life was making Wedge reluctant to take the same risks he’d accepted before.

“How was the meeting this morning ?” Tycho asked.

Wedge grimaced. “Like a meeting.” He gave a quiet sigh and fiddled with his stylus for a few moments. Letting it drop, he looked across the desk at Tycho.

“Has Winter mentioned rumours of trouble around the Corporate Sector ?” he asked. When Tycho nodded, he went on. “They’ve been making very precise raids on ships from New Republic planets. Cargo stealing mostly, but the last attack was a kidnapping.” Wedge paused, looking grim. “Obviously the New Republic can’t provide military escorts for all merchant vessels, even when they travel in groups, which they’ve started to do. The Corporate Sector-based pirates are only attacking unescorted freighters.”

“Does Intel think there’s a leak somewhere ?” Tycho asked.

Wedge picked the stylus up again and studied it as it twirled in his fingers. “No, they don’t. To get the data on all the escorted, or rather, unescorted convoys, it would have to be someone very high up in Command who was the leak.”

Tycho frowned slightly. “You don’t agree with that assessment ?”

Wedge looked up at him, his dark eyes studying Tycho’s face. He looked uncharacteristically undecided for a few moments, then his eyes flickered and his face settled into his closed, sabacc-playing expression. He shook his head briskly and sat upright.

“The evidence points another way,” he said firmly. “Intel believes that the CorpSec are listening in on NR military comms and sorting through the data to pick out which freighters are being escorted. All legitimate merchant flight plans are logged with planetary Space Control, hours or even days before they take off . Most of it is open-access info if you know where to look, and the pirates may well have a few insiders working for Space Control on different planets. They find out who’s going where, when, and ignore the ones they know will have an escort. Even if the merchants are rendezvousing with their escort away from the planet, the pirates still know about it, and avoid them.”

“How are they listening in ?” Tycho asked. “I know the scrambling on most military channels isn’t that tough to break with the right equipment, but it’s often pretty low powered. You’ve got to be relatively close to pick it up. The stuff that goes long-distance on high-powered transmitters is highly coded, surely ?”

Wedge nodded. “That’s pretty much right, or has been up until now. Intel have learned that one of the Corporations has developed new tech which means they can pick up transmissions they wouldn’t have been able to hear before.”

Tycho’s eyes widened. “How ?”

“I’m not clear on all the technical details,” Wedge admitted. “But the theory Cracken is working on is that they’ve found a way to pick up comm signals indirectly. When you send a signal, the subspace radio wave goes straight out and anyone within range can pick it up, though the message itself may be scrambled. But radio waves bounce,” Wedge said, gesturing with his hand. “They bounce off almost anything really, but metal does the job very well, like the hull of a starship. Your X-wing’s subspace radio picks up my transmissions when I com you from my ship, but some of the radio waves carrying that message will bounce off the hull of your ship, or will carry on to hit another ship in the area and bounce off that. And though they get weaker the further they travel, they go on being bounced around through subspace, travelling in all directions, even if they were specifically aimed somewhere in the first place. Intel think that this new tech is sensitive enough to pick up these bounced signals at a much greater distance than before. They reckon a ship with the new equipment can pick up subspace signals from two systems away.”

Tycho let out a whistle. “They can listen in from so far away that we don’t know they’re there ?”

Wedge nodded. “The info Intel has suggests they’re using specially adapted TIE Defenders. They’ve been codenamed ‘Echo ships’. I’d guess that the Corporation behind them has taken out the tractor beam projector and the warhead launcher to make room for the new equipment.”

“There could be externally mounted, or deployable sensors, like our Snoopscoot X-wings have,” Tycho suggested.

“It’s possible,” Wedge agreed. He fell silent, apparently brooding over what he’d just told Tycho.

Tycho waited a little, then spoke up. “So what are High Command planning to do about this new tech ?”

“They want us, Rogue Squadron that is, to go capture some of these modified Defenders,” Wedge announced abruptly.

Tycho’s eyebrows went up. No wonder Wedge didn’t seem happy; this wasn’t really Rogue Squadron’s work.

“Wouldn’t the Wraiths be a better choice for this ?” he asked.

Wedge shook his head. “They’ve been in deep cover for two months, doing something else. They can’t abandon that work to go after the Echo ships and it could be at least another couple of months before that assignment’s finished. Command are beginning to come under pressure from Fey’lya and his cronies who want the wealthy merchants and their interests looked after. Cracken reckons he has some solid data on how to get hold of the Echo ships, and he wants to act quickly.

Tycho thought for a few moments. “Well, I guess that after conquering Coruscant, and getting Ysard off Thyferra, stealing a couple of fighters looks like pretty small credits.”

Wedge smiled at that, amused in spite of his overall mood. “I guess that’s true.”

He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Cracken gave me a bunch of files with data about the Echo ships, and everything that’s known about the facility they’re based at. I’ll look at it this afternoon and start planning the mission. I need you to run the squadron through some Defender sims; I want to know who’s best at flying them, and the practice will do everyone good.”

Tycho nodded. “Will do.”

“Thanks. Don’t talk about Echo ships, or mention the new tech. I’ll give them a full briefing later, probably when we’re on our way to the Corporate Sector.”

“Got it,” Tycho replied. He looked across the desk at his friend. “I hope there’s some good data in Cracken’s files. I’d like to know if they give a clearer idea of where they got this info. I don’t like these missions based so heavily on Intelligence data where so much of it is guesswork. They think one of the Corporations has developed this new tech. They think it’s fitted to these Defenders that they think are at this base. I’d prefer less think and more know.”

“I’m sure Intel know what they’re doing,” Wedge replied. He grinned suddenly. “After all, if you didn’t trust NR Intelligence agents, why did you finally marry Winter ?”

Tycho laughed. “If you tell Winter I doubted the ability of Intel agents, I’ll tell Iella you said the same thing.”

Wedge’s smile dimmed briefly, the light going from his eyes. He nodded. “I don’t want to hurt her,” he said softly. He looked down, frowning as he thought. When he looked up again, his face was back to the sabacc mask.

“I’ll start on the background files now,” he said neutrally. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning with the results from the first sims.”

Tycho kept his own face expressionless as he nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.” He stood up and left the office, wondering why Wedge seemed so uneasy, and feeling pretty uneasy himself.

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