The Echo Project - part 7

“We’re approaching security now,” Wes warned as he slowed the repulsorvan.

Mirax finished wiping hair colour from her fingers and threw the hand cloth in a disposal bag.

“All set back here,” she replied, settling back into her seat by Wedge’s head.

The van halted and they waited in repressed quiet for their turn to be inspected. Corran had reduced his presence in the force, but couldn’t entirely shut out the anxious presences of his comrades. Mirax’s concern for Wedge shone strongly in his perception as he took her hand. Hobbie pulled at the collar of the white medical tunic he was wearing, his long face gloomy. Heikki, also in a medical tunic, leaned over Wedge, whose floatbed was clamped to one side of the van. Small monitors on Wedge’s chest and temple sent data to the display fixed above the bed. Life signs were still displayed in red, not green, and Heikki’s round face wore a grimmer expression than usual.

“Come on,” he muttered under his breath, glancing towards the cabin.

Tycho, who now had startling orange hair, turned and looked back.

“Is there a problem ?” he asked, his anxiety only showing in his eyes.

“I need to get him on fluids,” Heikki answered. “And I’d be happier with him in the Skate’s medbay with full support systems to hand. He’s only just hanging on.”

“He’ll be all right,” Mirax insisted, stroking Wedge’s hair which had been trimmed shorter and darkened further to make it almost as black as her own. Corran wanted to touch her hair, to soothe her fear as best he could, but knew she was strong enough to cope.

Tycho peered out of the side window. “We’re next in line,” he reported back.

Sure enough, a couple of tense minutes later, Wes eased the repulsorvan forward into the security bay and the spaceport security were at the windows.

“Open up.” There was a peremptory bang on the side door.

Winter keyed it open and stood before the security officer as he entered, interrupting politely but firmly as he started to demand ID cards.

“Please, this man is very ill. I beg you not to disturb his family unnecessarily.”

The officer peered past her to where Wedge lay. The abruptness in his attitude softened but his manner was still strictly official as he spoke.

“There is a dangerous criminal at large in the city, ma’am. We are required to search all vehicles entering the spaceport, and the check all IDs.”

“I understand. We will co-operate, of course, but please be respectful,” Winter asked, looking cool and professional. She offered her own card first.

The security officer scanned it, and scanned her hand. The Rogues had been expecting a similar level of security at the spaceport, and had come prepared, with the help of some Intelligence equipment. Several sets of cards had been prepared for everyone, including Wedge, with biometric data. Winter had added the final touches of personal data to the cards, according to a pre-prepared scenario, as they’d driven from the industrial estate back to the spaceport. A few suitable costume pieces, temporary hair colourants, ID badges and the like had been hidden in the repulsorvan’s smuggling compartments, and had been brought into use now.

The palm scan matched the data on the fake card that identified Winter as a medical insurance agent. Another officer at the front had already scanned Wes and Tycho and accepted their IDs. The one inside the van scanned Heikki, who was listed as a medical officer, and Hobbie, listed as his assistant. Mirax and Corran passed too, as Wedge’s sister and her husband. The officer paused, looking at Wedge and frowning.

“I need to check him as well,” he said.

Corran tensed, ready to try and influence the man’s mind if necessary. He knew he was good at it, but was not as confident in his ability as Luke would be. He could sense that the official was used to dealing with reluctant travellers who resented his interference and was ready to be suspicious. Failing in an attempt to make the official believe their story could be disastrous right now, especially with Wedge so weak. Corran opened himself to the force, but waited before acting.

“Please don’t disturb Hiroke,” Mirax begged, not having to try too hard to sound anxious. She caressed Wedge’s face, her hand partially obscuring his features.

Heikki touched the officer lightly on the shoulder and leaned close to speak quietly.

“The patient is dying. He should not be disturbed.”

“Dying ?” the officer repeated, more loudly. He glanced around, as though embarrassed by saying the word out loud.

Heikki nodded. “Systemic heameopathy syndrome; he can’t produce healthy red blood cells. His body can no longer transport enough oxygen to support itself.”

“Oh; I’m sorry,” the officer said. “If his condition is so critical, why is he being transported off-planet ?”

“He was brought here for an experimental new treatment being developed by the Vattanix Corporation. Unfortunately, his condition was too far developed for their treatment to work.”

“Hiroke wanted to come home again,” Mirax put in. “He wanted to die at home, on Chenga. He wanted to see our sun again. It was the last thing he said,” she added, her voice cracking slightly.

The security officer looked at the floor of the van for a moment, then straightened up.

“I’m sorry, but our records will show eight people aboard this vehicle, and I must have eight ID scans entered in the records,” he said, looking at Winter.

“Fine,” Heikki said impatiently. He leaned over the bed and carefully drew Wedge’s hand out from under the blanket, holding the palm towards the officer. “Do your job.”

The security officer held out his scanner and read Wedge’s palm. Winter had pointed out that Wedge’s biometric data may have been supplied to the local law officers and that a scan might be checked against stored records as well as the ID card. So a little synthflesh had been carefully sculpted onto Wedge’s hand to alter its contours, and a handprint transfer applied to give a false reading that matched the data on the card. By leaning across Wedge to lift his hand, Heikki had got himself between the security officer and Wedge’s face.

In spite of the precautions, Wedge’s friends all tensed up or held their breath while the scan was taken. There was a pause, while the scanner’s computer matched data, then the unit beeped and a green light came on. No one actually sighed with relief, but Mirax relaxed her fierce grip on Corran’s hand. When the officer was done, Heikki tucked Wedge’s hand back under the blanket and turned to check his patient, further blocking the officer’s view of Wedge.

“If you’ve finished, we’d like to proceed, please,” Winter said, smoothly drawing the security officer’s attention to herself. “The patient needs to be transferred to the medbay on our ship as soon as possible.”

“Everything checks out,” the officer said, glancing around the inside of the repulsorvan. He nodded. “You’re clear to proceed.” He downloaded data onto a chip and passed it to Winter. “Your clearance and exit codes. Have a good flight,” he added automatically, before glancing awkwardly at Wedge, and leaving.

The short journey to the Pulsar Skate’s landing bay went smoothly enough, with no external difficulties. Inside the van, however, Heikki was watching the monitor anxiously.

“Blood pressure’s dropping,” he muttered, almost forgetting the presence of the others.

Mirax was still sitting with one hand caressing Wedge’s hair. “How can that implant kill him ? Has it damaged his brain ?”

Heikki shook his head. “No, not directly anyway. The muscle spasms prevented him from breathing properly, so he’s suffered hypoxia - oxygen deprivation. His heart rate’s been too fast for too long. He’s struggling to stay with us.”

As he spoke, Wedge’s shallow breathing hitched, then resumed. Mirax stifled a gasp, them bent so her face was close to Wedge’s.

“Keep fighting, Wedge,” she whispered. “We’re taking you home to Iella. Your family’s waiting for you.”

On her other side, Corran was staring bleakly at the floor of the van, his hands curled into tight fists. He could feel Wedge’s presence in the force dimming. He’d felt the presence of the clone fade and then vanish as he died and that overwhelming sense of loss was perilously close again. Impulsively he stood and moved next to the float bed. He put his hands on Wedge’s chest, closed his eyes, and opened himself fully to the force. Luke had taught him how to use the force to restore and heal himself, but he’d never tried to help another person in this way before. Corran didn’t know in advance what he was going to do: he trusted that the force would find its own way.

He felt the energy of the force entering him and concentrated on Wedge’s weak presence. Corran gathered the force, feeling its strength building within him. He didn’t know how to transfer that energy into Wedge though. He could feel Wedge’s chest rising and falling under his hands and became aware of his physicality as well as his force presence. One of Corran’s strongest Jedi talents was the ability to alter another person’s mind, making them see or believe what he wished. Now he needed to alter Wedge’s body; to give it strength, replenish oxygen and slow the fast breathing and rapid pulse that were using up what little strength he had left.

Corran shifted his focus to the weakened body under his hands and let the force flow into that. Just as he put thoughts into minds, Corran began to feed healing energy into Wedge’s body. He felt Wedge beginning to respond and found himself becoming attuned to Wedge’s body. It was easier to find the right places to change things, to slow the racing heart and make the breaths slower and deeper. And he could feel Wedge gaining strength, his presence in the force becoming clearer. Corran trembled a little with the strain, but he kept up the healing until Wedge seemed stable.

When Corran opened his eyes again and looked at the monitors, the life signs had turned a reassuring green. Mirax took his arm and helped him to sit as Heikki bent over the float bed.

“Pulse and respiration are normal !” he exclaimed. “Brain activity is increased. I’d say he’s asleep – certainly not deeply unconscious any more.”

Mirax hugged her husband while Hobbie reached over to clap him on the shoulder. Winter was too far away to reach Corran, but the smile on her face was enough. Corran smiled too: a couple of weeks ago he’d believed that he’d let Wedge die by not being fast enough with his lightsaber to protect him from the guards’ blasters. He’d still felt guilty even when told it was a clone of Wedge who had died; the clone had still been a living person with a presence in the force. This time he’d got it right: Wedge would live. Corran felt more at peace than he had in days.

Tycho smiled as he looked across the small cabin on the Pulsar Skate to where Wedge was sitting up in bed. They were almost a standard day’s flight from Benzalko, still a few more hours from Coruscant. Wedge had slept most of the time, with Tycho’s order backing Heikki’s request for his squadron mates to only visit for short periods. Wedge looked far better now than when he’d first woken. Then, he’d thanked his friends for his rescue, eaten a little soup, and soon needed to rest again.

After a few more hours of sleep, Wedge had awoken noticeably improved. He’d had a short session in the sanisteam, shaved and eaten a decent meal of Corellian spiced meatloaf, that Mirax had prepared for him. As he looked across at Tycho, his eyes were bright though there was still a slight lethargy in his movements, and his face was paler than normal.

“Iella and Syal were fine last time you saw them ?” Wedge asked eagerly.

Tycho nodded. “Worried about you, of course, but, yes, both fine.”

Wedge smiled and leaned back against his pillows. “It’s been so long – what four months ?”

“Nearer five now,” Tycho told him. “Nineteen standard weeks.”

“Five months,” Wedge repeated to himself. “Syal will have developed so much.” He gave Tycho an accusing look, softened with a gleam of humour. “I was expecting you to come looking for me sooner than that.”

Tycho shrugged. “We didn’t know you were missing until barely two weeks ago.”

Wedge’s mouth dropped open slightly as he stared at Tycho, utterly stunned. After a few moments, he found his voice. “You didn’t miss me for over four months ? Nobody noticed I wasn’t there ?”

Tycho fought back a sudden urge to laugh. He couldn’t remember ever seeing Wedge so thoroughly taken aback before. He fought down the humour though, helped by the thought of what he needed to explain.

“I’m sorry, Wedge,” he said honestly. “I guess the Corporation didn’t tell you, and we’d all got used to the idea.”

“Told me what ? Got used to what ?” Wedge demanded.

Tycho took a deep breath, trying to organize his thoughts. “We didn’t know you were missing because you weren’t.” He held up a hand to forestall Wedge’s interruption. “I saw you leave your office and Iella saw you arrive home half an hour later. But that wasn’t you. You’d been kidnapped on the way, and a clone took your place. Promezia Corp had grown a clone of you and spent five years training it to be you. To be a great pilot and a commander; to speak with a Corellian accent; to learn your gestures and phrases; a lot of your history; even to change a baby’s nappy. We had no reason to suspect a substitute, so we assumed the clone was you.”

“A clone.” There was a look of sudden understanding on Wedge’s face. “They kept me in a small suite and gave me clothes like I’d wear at home – the right size for me too – but they weren’t brand new. They must have belonged to the clone. I bet those were his rooms too.” He paused, running one hand through his hair and rumpling it up. “A clone,” he repeated. “Of me. That’s hard to believe without seeing it. Knowing that there’s someone out there who almost is you in every way…” His voice trailed off, then he looked up suddenly, almost frightened. “Is the clone back on Coruscant ?”

Tycho shook his head. “The clone was killed,” he said simply.

He told Wedge about the clone’s time among them. He explained how the clone had trained and fought alongside them and about the Echo Project. Tycho also explained the background intelligence they’d since unearthed about the clone and his creators, and the theories about who benefited from the plan. Then he told Wedge about the mission to Galdo, to steal the Echo Project ships, and how the clone had changed his mind about leading them into the trap and had died helping them to escape. It was strange to be looking directly at Wedge, while telling how someone he’d believed to be Wedge had died in his arms. The memory was still sharp and painful; Tycho knew that he had lost someone he cared about that day.

The Wedge sitting opposite right now looked at him thoughtfully.

“You really believe that this clone betrayed his creators at the last moment to save you and the rest of Rogue Squadron ?” The question was genuine, not sarcastic.

Tycho nodded. “The facts are pretty clear: we were all ready to climb into those booby-trapped ships and he stopped us. He led us to a hangar with a shuttle and put himself in the line of fire to open it for us. He didn’t ask anyone else to take that risk.” Tycho paused. “I worked with him; I flew into battle with him. I knew you - he - wasn’t happy about going on that mission, even though he tried to hide it, and I saw the moment when he decided he couldn’t betray us. He didn’t just look like you, Wedge, there were so many similar things in the way you move, gestures and so on. I saw him making an important decision in that hangar; I just didn’t know what it was at the time.”

Wedge nodded, frowning a little. “Do you believe he was a good man ?”

Tycho studied him as he thought about his reply. “Yes, I do,” he said confidently. “He only knew us for a few weeks but he betrayed his creators, not us. I don’t think he’d ever had anything like the trust and respect, and love, that he got from us all. He gave that all back to us.” He stopped talking, and waited for Wedge to speak.

There was silence for a few moments, then Wedge forced out the question that had been bothering him.

“He wasn’t just me in Rogue Squadron, was he ? He took my place at home too. Do you think…do you know he treated Iella and Syal ?”

“He loved them,” Tycho said promptly. “I don’t think it happened immediately. Iella said he was a little awkward with Syal at first; she assumed you were too tired from the new job to play with her much. But later on, Wedge, he loved them. I remember him leaving the bar in good time to get home and put Syal to bed.”

Wedge sighed gently, relaxing a little. “Not knowing anything about my family was the hardest thing to bear,” he said quietly. “I never imagined someone else stealing my life - my family. I’m glad he loved them,” he finished, so softly Tycho could barely hear him.

Silence fell. Wedge wasn’t looking at Tycho, or anything in particular. He gazed absently at the cover of his bunk, frowning again. He caught his lower lip between his teeth for a few moments, but didn’t speak. Tycho recognized the gesture as something Wedge did when coping with difficult or painful thoughts. He studied his friend, thinking about what he’d just said.

“Iella did love the clone,” Tycho said. Wedge looked up sharply, his expression confirming that Tycho had correctly guessed what was worrying him. “She loved him because she thought he was you.”

“He lived with her for what – four months ?” Wedge said, his voice a little rough. “She didn’t stop loving him, did she, even though he wasn’t me ?”

“He wasn’t you,” Tycho said, pointing at Wedge. “But he wasn’t anybody else either. He was created as a physical replica of you. He spent his life becoming you and in the end he followed your example. He did exactly what you’d have done. Iella didn’t love him on his own account, because there wasn’t anyone else to love. Just someone who was, to all intents and purposes, you.” He paused before continuing. “I guess it must be difficult to believe, as you never met him, but remember that Iella wasn’t the only one that the clone fooled.”

Wedge nodded slowly. “I keep thinking of this clone as ‘someone else’ who moved in with my wife and daughter and took my place. It’s very hard to grasp that it wasn’t a stranger or new person. It was me, but not me; a near-identical substitute who had those experiences with my family, while I missed out.” He gave a brief laugh. “I’m jealous of myself.”

Tycho smiled, and was relieved to see Wedge smiling also.

“Once we’d established you were missing, Iella was desperate to find out what had happened to you,” Tycho said.

“I guess I can’t really blame her for taking the clone for me,” Wedge said thoughtfully, gazing across the small cabin. “If I did, I’d have to blame everyone else for not noticing either. And it’s hard to believe that so many smart people would be taken in unless the clone really was so like me.” He switched his gaze to Tycho.

“He was,” Tycho said promptly.

There was another pause before Wedge spoke again.

“What I want most is to see Iella and Syal,” he said decidedly.

“You’ll see them in a few hours,” Tycho reminded him. “You can call Iella on the holocom as soon as we arrive insystem.”

Wedge nodded and smiled briefly. “I think I’d better get some more rest. I’ll need to be at full strength to cope with an excited two-year-old. Thanks for telling me about the clone and everything, Tycho.”

Tycho rose. “You’re not the only one who could do with some sleep. I’ll be writing reports and getting talked at in meetings about this while you’re off home with your family. That Moff who has the cloning technology, Moff Blackmore, may well be planning to use the intelligence he got from you to launch an attack soon. The New Republic needs to be ready for that. I favour the idea of tipping off Admiral Pellaeon and letting him deal with his moffs.”

“Sounds good to me,” Wedge replied. He was leaning against his pillows more, visibly tired now.

“See you in a few hours,” Tycho said, and left.

There was a joyful, too-brief reunion at the spaceport. To Wedge’s annoyance, there was an order from Admiral Ackbar himself that he was to go directly to a Starfighter Command hospital for assessment. He allowed himself to be examined and scanned, but when the 2-1B droid tried to keep him in overnight, Wedge flat out refused.

“The neuro implant must be removed,” the med droid said.

“You’re not going to do that tonight, though, are you ?” Wedge demanded.

“No. I need to study the scans taken in order to…”

“In that case, you don’t need me in overnight,” Wedge interrupted. “I’ve been kept apart from my family for almost five months. We’re on the same planet at last, and I want to spend time with my wife and daughter. There’s nothing – nothing – you can do for me or give me that will help me recover more effectively than spending time with my family.”

The droid was silent for two seconds as it processed this argument. It understood that its patient was expressing a strong emotional need and concluded that this outweighed the immediate physical needs. It gave its consent that Wedge could return to his home overnight, inadvertantly saving Wedge from the charges of assaulting a droid, which would have been the most likely outcome of a refusal.

Wedge was home in time to put Syal to bed. This took him longer than it had before, largely because Syal was excited at seeing her daddy again and was unwilling to lie down and go to sleep. It didn’t help that Wedge wasn’t very good at getting her to settle down, as he was so thrilled to see his daughter at last, and was fascinated to see how she’d grown and developed. Syal quickly realized that just saying ‘daddy’ was enough to keep his attention a while longer. She smiled at him, snuggled against him and chatted to him in baby talk. Only when Iella looked in at them for the fourth time did Wedge manage to harden his heart and tear himself away. He kissed Syal’s cheek, tucked the covers over her and left the room without daring to look back.

It took some time for her to settle, though when only Iella responded to Syal’s calls for her daddy, the little girl eventually gave in and went to sleep. Wedge wanted to hear about what Syal had been doing and what she’d learnt during his absence. Discussion of their daughter kept them occupied until Wedge caught himself yawning, and suggested bed for them both.

In bed, he wrapped his arms and legs around Iella’s slender body, relishing the sensation of holding her close at last. Iella entwined herself with him, her long hair spilling softly across both bodies. Wedge didn’t speak at first; he simply held her, feeling the gentle rhythm of her breathing, the softness of her skin and the warmth of her body nestled against his. She too remained still for the most part, now and again stroking one hand soothingly along his back or reaching up to caress his hair. When at last Wedge spoke, his voice was muffled against her shoulder.

“This is what I dreamed of when I was a prisoner. Just being here, like this, with you.”

“It’s not a dream now,” she replied. “It’s real.”

Wedge nodded and sighed. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was feeling: relief, contentment, joy, love and the guilt that came when he tried to reconcile his role as a soldier with his role as husband and father. He lifted his head and looked into Iella’s eyes.

“Was it selfish of me to rejoin Rogue Squadron ?” he asked.

She shook her head, very certain. “We discussed this before,” she reminded him. “In any case, this clone plot was put in motion while you were with Fleet Command – on the Lusankya. You’re a soldier, Wedge, just as you were when we first met, and when I agreed to marry you. It was my choice to marry a soldier.”

Wedge managed a small smile, feeling somewhat ashamed. Of course Iella was a grown woman and capable of making her own decisions.

“Sorry,” he said, kissing her cheek.

Iella looked into his eyes, looked down and then looked straight at him again.

“I’m the one who should be apologizing,” she said quietly.

Wedge could feel the tension in the muscles under her smooth skin.

“What for ?” he asked.

Iella managed a wry smile at his question, and kissed him softly on the lips. “Surely only you would ask that,” she remarked.

Wedge blinked at her, puzzled.

Iella tightened her grip on him for a moment. “I’m apologizing for not realizing that the man I treated as my husband for four months wasn’t in fact the man I’d known for over ten years.”

“Ah. I said you needed to get your eyes tested.” The quip came out before he could stop it.

Iella stuck him on the shoulder, the impact reduced by the limited movement she could manage. To Wedge’s surprise, she then pushed him away and struck wildly at him two or three times.

“Iella ! I’m sorry !”

She withdrew herself from him and curled up, looking at him with stricken eyes.

“Stop apologizing,” she begged.

Wedge just managed to stop himself from saying ‘sorry’.

“You’ve done nothing wrong,” she went on. “I mistook a clone for you. I made love with him.”

Deep inside, Wedge felt a flare of jealousy, but he kept it from his face. As soon as he’d known that the clone had been living with Iella he’d been aware that his wife had probably made love to the other man. Alone in his cabin on the Skate, Wedge had confronted this situation. His head believed one thing but his heart felt another. In the end he’d known he would forgive her, knowing it had been done in error, but he hadn’t been sure how he’d handle the moment. Now, seeing her upset and blaming herself, Wedge was overwhelmed with his love for Iella and the desire to see her happy again.

“You didn’t deliberately cheat on me,” he told her. “You believed it was me. Tycho, and Corran, Wes and Hobbie: they all believed it was me. You weren’t the only one. How can I blame you for making love to your own husband ?”

Iella sniffed inelegantly and looked at him with frightened eyes that brimmed with tears.

“Wedge: I’m pregnant. About five months. I don’t know which of you is the father.”

Joy lit up Wedge’s heart. He gathered Iella to him, holding her close again.

“Pregnant ? The scans are good ? The baby’s healthy ?” he asked eagerly.

She looked at him. “Yes, yes, everything’s fine. But I don’t know if it was you or the clone.”

This time the problem registered. Wedge continued to hold her as he thought.

“Well, genetically it won’t make any difference,” he said. “The clone was a replica of me, with the same DNA, so it doesn’t matter which of us physically fathered the baby; the result will be the same. Half yours, half mine, same as Syal,” he said with satisfaction.

“What about emotionally ? Do you think you’ll be able to cope ?”

“On the way into Coruscant, Tycho showed me some holos of the clone with Rogue Squadron,” Wedge said slowly. “It was like looking at myself doing things I didn’t remember. If I hadn’t been told it was a clone, I’d have assumed the holos had been digitally altered to put me in. Seeing my clone made it – him - more real to me; it helped me to understand how he’d passed as me for so long. Tycho said he wasn’t a person in his own right – just someone created to be another Wedge Antilles. I think what I’m getting at is that if he fathered the baby, then it’s the same as if I did. A sort of proxy of me. Not another distinct person.”

Wedge looked at Iella, knowing what he meant inside of himself and wondering if he’d managed to get that across.

She smiled at him and snuggled closer.

“I’ll be there when the baby’s born,” he continued. “I’ll change nappies, put it to bed, feed it mush, take it to school, argue about pocket money, teach it to fly and give it love and support. I’m the one baby will call ‘daddy’ and that’s the important thing.”

Iella looked at him with glowing eyes and gently caressed his cheek.

He kissed her forehead and switched his mind back to enjoying the sensation of her physicality.

“We’ll have to start thinking of names,” he said. “Is it a boy or a girl ?”

Iella made a noise that was somewhere between a sob and a laugh.

“I know someone I’d like to choose a name for.” She paused before continuing. “I know the clone spent his life trying to be you, but in the end he made his own decisions and acted for himself. He never had a life of his own or even a name of his own. I think he should have a name for his memorial.”

The idea had never occurred to Wedge, but then, in spite of seeing the holos, the clone was still something of an abstract idea to him, a stranger. He’d been a real person though to Iella, Tycho and the others who’d known him.

“I think you’re right,” he said. “He should have an Antilles family name.”

Iella smiled. Holding him tighter she said:

“I almost wish that the baby was from him. You lived in the same place he did but he was there for five years, which was almost his whole life. He didn’t have family, or friends until the last few weeks of his life, and even then they were borrowed from someone else. It makes me angry when I think how he should have been like you. He had all that potential and it was stifled and wasted. His DNA wasn’t even his own, but if he provided the sperm cell that created this baby, then he achieved something of his own with his life.”

“We’ll never know about the baby for sure,” Wedge replied. “But the clone saved the lives of Tycho, Corran and the others on Galdo. No one can take that away from him.”

Iella nodded, and moved to rest her head against his shoulder.

“I love you, Wedge Antilles,” she murmured.

Wedge held her, utterly content. “I love you too.” He yawned. “And I’m going to be a daddy again,” he added smugly.

“I’m the one doing all the hard work for the next four months,” Iella pointed out.

“Mmmm,” Wedge replied sleepily.

They kissed gently and lingeringly, then separated to settle down more comfortably for sleeping. Wedge heaved a long, contented sigh and reached out till his hand just touched Iella’s arm. It was comforting, but in a dark corner of his mind there remained the knowledge that his clone had spent nights in this same bed, sharing it with Iella. He reminded himself that it hadn’t been for very long – only a few weeks if you thought about the time the clone had been away on missions. It was nothing to the time he and Iella had already spent together and, Force willing, there would be many more years to come. Then the thought abruptly reversed itself, hitting Wedge with an almost physical jolt.

He was almost thirty eight years old: a few weeks were only a fraction of his lifetime. The clone had only had some five years of life, and only the last few weeks of those pitifully few years had been spent as part of a normal family. The clone’s existence had been a secret so his life with Promezia Corporation must have been very restricted. Wedge suspected he’d mostly been confined to those very rooms that he’d spent just under five months in. Suddenly the clone was no longer an abstract, but a man like himself. In spite of seeing the holos, Wedge’s mind couldn’t quite put his own face on his idea of the clone, but he now found himself thinking of the clone as a person, one who had been bored, frightened and lonely. Wedge found himself growing angry, as Iella had, at the thought of this vulnerable person being exploited for the sake of gain, and never being allowed to live his own life.

At least, not until he’d finally been sent on the mission for which he’d been created. The clone had been given a family and friends and it had made him happy. But he’d given it all up, risking his life to open the shuttle for the Rogues and losing the gamble. And his last word had guided the Rogues to where he, Wedge, was being held prisoner. If they hadn’t arrived on Benzalko when they did, he would be dead now. The clone had given up his own, brief, happiness, and made it possible for Wedge to be lying in this bed with Iella right now.

Wedge moved restlessly, prompting Iella to open her eyes and look at him.

“I was thinking,” he said impulsively. “I’d like the clone to be called Jagged Antilles.”

Iella nodded. “That’s an honourable name. He was worthy of it.”

Wedge touched her arm, comforting himself with her presence. “I love you.”

“I know,” Iella replied. “Now go to sleep.”

Wedge smiled at her and closed his eyes. He relaxed and fell asleep almost at once, content at being with the family he loved so much and grateful to the clone, whose short life had left its echoes in his own.

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