Coruscant 80 ABY
“Thank you so much for agreeing to this.” The young Twi’lek’s yellow skin flushed a deeper hue as he looked at his hosts.
“Please, sit down,” Leia Organa-Solo said, gesturing at a comfortable chair opposite the sofa that she and her husband, Han Solo, were sitting on.
Vesa Lin sat, putting a small recorder unit on the low table between them, and glancing at the screen of his datapad. You didn’t need to have Leia’s Jedi Master skills to see that the Twi’lek was nervous. Han had met many awestruck youngsters through the decades and the novelty had long since worn off. Nowadays, it merely made him feel old: Han refused to admit, even to himself, that at 109 standard years, he was old. His impatient sigh was quiet, but clear enough. Leia dug her elbow into his ribs and smiled across at the young male.
“You said you were studying the Vong War ?” she asked.
Vesa Lin nodded, one lekku twitching slightly as he looked at the legendary humans sitting right on the other side of a small table from himself. He cleared his throat.
“I’ve read files and watched holodocs,” Vesa said. “But I really wanted to get first-hand material. The Vong War was so long ago; so much has been recorded about it since by people who weren’t born then, or who were too young to experience what I’m most interested in.”
“It was only forty- forty-something – years ago !” Han said indignantly.
“Fifty one,” Leia corrected.
Han opened his mouth, thought for a moment, then closed it again, looking sulky.
Leia turned to Vesa and smiled. “What aspect of the war is it that you are studying ?”
Vesa glanced at his datapad for reassurance. “My doctorate is on the domestic side of the war. The invasion caused a great deal of population displacement and I’m researching how that affected families, as well as the obvious impact of civilian deaths during the war, particularly the loss of children.” His lekku twitched slightly and curled at the ends as he spoke.
Leia took Han’s hand, and the two looked at each other for a moment.
“I know that this is a painful topic for you,” Vesa said quietly. “But I want to try to understand how families coped with loss during the war and after, and you lost one of your sons.”
“Anakin,” Leia said softly.
“And Jacen,” Han added. “He didn’t die during the war,” he continued, looking at Leia. “But that’s when we started to lose him. The things that happened to him, what the Vong did to him, that’s what started him along the path to the dark side.”
Leia sighed and nodded, then took a deep breath, her spine straightening as her gaze became firm. “Yes, we lost Jacen too, but it came years after Anakin’s death. It was a consequence of the Vong War, but it wasn’t part of that war. And we still have Jaina and we have each other, Han. We’re luckier than many.”
Han’s expression changed, his face suddenly showing his age. “Wedge.”
Leia closed her eyes. “Oh, poor Wedge.”
Borleias 27.5 ABY
The Yuuzhan Vong had taken Coruscant, the heart of the New Republic. The defeated forces retreated, giving what support they could to the millions of refugees who fled from the captured planet. Billions more were left behind, to the mercy of the merciless Vong. The New Republic forces scattered, with Fleet Group Three heading to the nearby system of Pyria. They recaptured the main planet, Borleias, from the occupying Vong force, and set about restoring an abandoned biological facility as a temporary base. With immediate business taken care of, General Wedge Antilles paused to speak to his friend and ally, Luke Skywalker, and Skywalker’s wife, Mara.
“Then I want you in charge of special forces, special operations, Mara. I know this is a lot to ask of a woman with a small baby…”
Mara straightened, holding Ben to her. “Trust me, my capacity for mayhem is undiminished.”
Wedge’s smile broadened. “I didn’t spot any ranking Intelligence officers in that crowd. I’d appreciate it if you could act as our Intelligence head for the time being. When we get in an officer from Intelligence, you can move over to Luke’s department of special forces and mayhem.”
Luke hesitated before speaking again. “Wedge, has there been any word about Iella or the kids ?”
Wedge shook his head. “None, but if there’s anyone in the New Republic who could smuggle herself and two children off Coruscant…”
“It’s Iella, I know. They’ll be fine, Wedge.”
“Are you…” Wedge’s voice was suddenly hoarse. “Does that mean you’ve seen something ? With your Jedi perceptions ?”
Luke shook his head. “I’m sorry, no.”
“Oh.” Wedge schooled his features back into impassivity, but to Luke, he looked as though another hope had suddenly died within him. Luke felt a crushing shame at having given him a false hope, however inadvertantly.
Wedge rose. “Yes, I’m certain they’ll be fine.” He left the chamber, Tycho with him.
“He’s hard to read,” Mara said. “How is he ?”
Luke shrugged. “Holding on. Relying on all that military discipline. But not knowing about his family is chewing away at his guts.”
Coruscant 80 ABY
Vesa Lin frowned, trying to place the name that the Solos had just said. Han saw his expression and scowled.
“Wedge Antilles, General Antilles,” he said tetchily.
Vesa’s eyes lit up with recognition. “Of course ! General Antilles commanded at the Seige of Borleias; we saw the holodoc at school. I believe he was an excellent tactician.”
“Wedge was one of the finest officers to ever serve in the Rebel Alliance, the New Republic or the Galatic Alliance,” Leia said, her eyes flashing.
“One of the best pilots I ever saw; nearly as good as me” Han admitted. “And much better as an officer than I ever was, even though he never went to military school, and I graduated from the Imperial Academy.”
“No training could instill a sense of duty like Wedge had,” Leia said. “It came from within him, like his honour.”
Vesa’s lekku twitched. “I hadn’t realized you were acquainted with General Antilles. I guess you met him during the war.”
“We knew Wedge before then,” Leia replied with schooled patience.
Vesa thought for a moment, his red eyes narrowing. “General Antilles…oh ! He was in Rogue Squadron, wasn’t he ?”
“Wedge was Rogue Squadron !” Han exclaimed. “Don’t they teach you kids anything in school ? We knew Wedge for years. He was there at Yarvin; he flew down that trench with Luke. They were like sitting banthas in there, Vader and his wingmen chasing them and no room to manouvre and no way to shoot back, but they did it anyway. Wedge and Luke were the only ones who came back from that. Luke Skywalker, I mean. You’ve heard of him, haven’t you ?”
Leia put her hand on Han’s arm and leaned forward, smiling kindly at the embarrassed Twi’lek.
“Soon after Yarvin, Wedge and Luke founded Rogue Squadron,” she said, her voice calm after Han’s. “When Luke went to study to become a Jedi, after Hoth, Wedge took command of the squadron. He made it into a legend. Wedge led the assault on the second Death Star at Endor; he fought at Bakura; he enabled the New Republic to capture Coruscant; he got Ysanne Isard off Thyferra; his loyalty saved Luke and Han at a vital moment of the fight against Thrawn.” Leia shook her head. “There’s too much to tell.”
“Admiral Ackbar tried to promote Wedge to general about four times before Wedge finally cracked and took the promotion,” Han added. “It turned out he was just as good at fleet operations as he was at small unit tactics.”
“Thank the Force,” Leia said. “What he achieved at Borleias was nothing short of genius. And he gave us hope, right when the galaxy needed it most.”
Borleias 27.5 ABY Predawn
There was a rap at the door. Wedge jolted upright, his eyes opening, his mind momentarily cloudy about where he was, what he should be doing.
He was still in his office, in his chair, but he’d fallen asleep. He couldn’t let himself do that. Every moment he didn’t push himself, more people might die.
He rubbed sleep from his eyes and turned to the door. “Come.”
His visitor was a human male of average height, shaven headed and extraordinarily handsome.
Wedge rose. “Face ! I was afraid you were lost back on Coruscant. Come in.”
Garik ‘Face’ Loran, leader of the covert intelligence unit that Wedge himself had founded twenty years earlier, came to greet him. Wedge hugged his old friend exuberantly.
“How many Wraiths made it out with you ?” Wedge asked, stepping back.
“We were lucky,” Face said. “We didn’t lose anyone at Corcuscant.”
Wedge grinned widely at the news. “I can’t tell you how much it cheers me up to hear that. But how come it took you six days longer to get here than the rest of us ?”
The bright sparkle left Face’s dark eyes. “It was mayhem on Coruscant, Wedge. Billions of beings trying to flee and only enough time and ships to evacuate millions. The Vong landed while folks were still trying to get off planet. We went to see what we could do to help.”
Fear and hope rose together in Wedge’s heart. “Did you…did you see Iella and the girls ?”
Face shook his head. “I’m sorry, Wedge.” He grimaced, expressing his frustration. “We tried to check the spaceports and landing pads closest to your home. There were too many places, too many ships, and not enough of us for everything we wanted to do. Some of the ports, it was a free-for-all. People were fighting one another to get on anything that would fly. Finding one woman and two small girls in that…and Iella would have the sense to avoid the chaos. She’d go somewhere less obvious.”
“Yes,” Wedge agreed dully. His hands were clenched in fists so tightly that his short fingernails were digging into his palms, but he didn’t notice the pain.
“I’m sorry, Wedge,” Face repeated quietly. “But Iella’s smarter than any Vong. I’m sure she’s out there somewhere, taking care of your girls and trying to reach you.”
Wedge was silent a few moments, a sick fear rising from his stomach. Then he took a sudden, deep breath and forced the anxiety into some corner at the back of his mind.
“You did the best you could,” he said. “I know that, and I’m grateful. I’m glad you’re here. There’s plenty of work for everyone on Borleias and I’m going to need all the help I can get, even the Wraiths.” He smiled as he spoke the last words, but the smile didn’t convince either of them that he was happy.
Borleias 27.5 ABY
Wedge watched the shuttles landing via the holocam feed from the special ops docking bay. A Yuuzhan Vong ship had ejected 22 beings, mostly humans and a few aliens, high above the atmosphere of the planet. The victims had been fitted with headcovers of some form of the Vong’s ooglith cloaker suits, which would give them a few minutes of oxygen to breathe. A few minutes was all they would have had anyway, as they fell into the planet’s atmosphere and burned up alive as flaming meteors.
It was Wedge’s nephew, Jag Fel, who had led the rescue. With extraordinary, delicate piloting, he’d intercepted the victim’s courses with his fighter and changed their direction enough that they were no longer heading for the planet. Jaina Solo and Kyp Durron had followed his example, and all twenty-two victims had been recovered by the emergency shuttles that Jag had called for.
Wedge saw the first survivors being carried from the shuttles by the med crews.
“We’d better arrange for them to go through decomtamination,” he said to Tycho, who was at his side. “And everyone who’s been in contact with them. I wouldn’t put it past the Vong to booby-trap them just in case we did save any.”
Tycho nodded, his cool expression concealing what he felt about the Vong’s tactics.
“I wonder how long those poor people were held by the Vong,” he said. “We should debrief them later to find out where they were captured.”
Wedge tensed suddenly. He continued to stare at the monitor for a few moments, watching the figures moving, then spun to face Tycho. His face was pale.
“I have to go see…Coruscant…”
Tycho nodded, understanding. “I’ll carry on here.”
There was sympathy in his vivid blue eyes as he watched Wedge hurry from the operations centre.
Wedge started at a brisk walk, making his way to where the rescued victims would be brought into the biotics facility. After a hundred meters, he couldn’t restrain himself any longer and began to run. He was vaguely aware of the personnel around looking at him, wondering why their commanding officer was running somewhere. He knew they would be asking one another questions and worrying about what had spooked the leader they all depended on. For the moment though, Wedge couldn’t bring himself to care about the morale of his troops.
He arrived at the hall and skidded to a halt, breathing heavily. The first blanket-covered figures were being brought in on floatbeds. Wedge quickly spotted the officer in charge, a Bothan female making rapid notes on her datapad as the victims passed her. Wedge hurried across the hall.
“Lieutenant L’sar,” he called.
She turned, ears flattening and her teeth showing slightly in annoyance, until she recognized him. “Sir.”
Wedge halted beside her. “Have you a casualty list yet ?”
L’sar nodded. “Four died from exposure in space before the shuttles could reach them. The rest are all suffering from various stages of cold exposure, but they should recover. A few have minor injuries, broken bones mostly, from impact with the fighters that deflected them.”
As Wedge listened, he anxiously examined the victims being carried past. He didn’t recognise any of them.
“Do you have names ?” he demanded.
“Yes, including the dead.” L’sar consulted her datapad. “The prisoners exhanged information while…”
Wedge grabbed hold of the datapad, turning it so he could read the screen for himself. L’sar’s patched orange and brown fur rippled in irriation. Wedge scanned the list quickly, then again more slowly, double-checking it. The names he longed to see weren’t there. Wedge felt as though the planet had been snatched away from beneath him as his slender hopes were dashed. He let go of the datapad and abruptly turned away, covering his face with his hands. Struggling with the need to howl out his pain, Wedge simply stood still and silent.
L’Sar’s voice was anxious as she repeated her query.
“General Antilles ?”
Wedge shuddered once, then lowered his hands. He took a slow, deep breath, pushing the pain to the back of his mind and forcing himself to concentrate on the here and now. He turned to the lieutenant.
“Thank you. Good work, L’sar.” Wedge straightened himself into a formal, military pose. "Carry on.” Returning her salute, he turned and left the hall.
Coruscant 80 ABY
“Family meant a lot to Wedge,” Han said. “He lost his first family before he even graduated school.”
Leia turned to him. “Han, that’s personal stuff. I don’t think Wedge would want us to tell that to strangers.”
Han looked straight back at her, then at Vesa. “It’s a matter of public record; anyone who wants to can look it up. I think what happened to his family on Gus Treta affected how he reacted to what happened in the Vong War. Besides,” he turned to Leia again. “Who’s going to be hurt by us telling it ? We can’t hurt Wedge; nothing can hurt him or his family any more. That whole family are gone ! Destroyed by the Vong. Good people, just gone, lost. There’s no one left to be hurt.” He paused, and cleared his throat. “We owe it to them to remember them.”
Vesa spoke. “Of the billions who died in the war, many are forgotten simply because there was no one left alive afterwards who remembered them.”
Leia nodded. “You’re right. The galaxy needs to remember what happened to people like the Antilles. And… what happened to Wedge’s parents probably is relevent.” She gave Han an apologetic look.
Han looked smug for a moment, then his expression changed as he turned to Vesa Lin.
“You’d better switch that recorder on, now,” he said.
When the recorder was on, Han settled himself back into the sofa and began to speak.
“Wedge was Corellian, you know,” he said with a touch of pride. “His parents ran a fuelling depot on Gus Treta, a space station in the Corellian system. He had an older sister; she ran away from home when Wedge was just a kid. She vanished, and it was just Wedge and his parents. He didn’t hear about her for years after that, after his parents had died. He nearly found her a couple of times, got to meet his nephew, Jag Fel, during the Vong War. But Wedge never saw his sister again after she left home. He had some relatives down on Corellia, but family was just Wedge and his parents on Gus Treta. And that ended when he was seventeen.”
Han told the story of how pirates fleeing from Corsec had set the fuelling depot alight, and how Wedge’s parents had sacrificed themselves by staying on the burning depot to detach it from the rest of the station before it exploded.
“Wedge lost everything.” Leia took over the story. “Family and home. I was a couple of years older than Wedge had been, when Alderaan was destroyed, and I lost my family and home.” She paused for a moment. “But at least I was busy with the Rebellion. The battle of Yarvin came straight after that and then the evacuation and then…” She spread her hands. “I grieved, but I was an adult, and I had a purpose. Wedge hadn’t even graduated school when his family died. He had to make his own way, find his own purpose.”
“The Rebellion,” Han said.
“And when he joined that, it wasn’t safe for him to go back to Corellia and visit what family he had there,” Leia added. “He had to make the Rebellion his family.”
Borleias 27.5 ABY
Wedge barrel-rolled to port, and frowned as he levelled off again. He rolled to starboard and almost immediately to port again.
“Artoo, I think the portside stabilizer is a fraction off. She’s turning slightly better to starboard.”
R2-D2 trilled a response that sounded both surprised and somehow impressed. The message he showed on screen confirmed that the port stabilizer was functioning at 1.5% under optimum capacity.
“Hey, I was an ace in X-wings before Luke ever even saw one,” Wedge said. “I know X-wings.”
R2’s response was blunt; Wedge grinned.
While Luke was away on a Jedi mission on conquered Coruscant, Wedge had his permission to use his friend’s X-wing as his personal transport, and naturally R2-D2 came along too. As well as being transport, the X-wing served another purpose for Wedge, albeit an increasingly bittersweet one as the days on Borleias slid into weeks. Wedge loved to fly. He loved the speed, the freedom and the harmony he felt between himself and his craft. The short flights he snatched above Borelias helped to calm him and refresh him mentally. Aside from the sheer joy of flying, Wedge also relished the peace and solitude of the cockpit. He had given standing orders that when flying, he was to be contacted only in case of immediate necessity, and Tycho ruthlessly filtered out many of the calls and requests that otherwise interrupted Wedge’s waking hours. Out in an X-wing, Wedge could, for a short while, forget the noise, stress and duty that filled his days and sometimes his nightmares.
Wedge reversed thrust, bringing the X-wing to a gentle halt. As he lost momentum, he adjusted the fighter’s position above the planet. Orbital space around Borleias was crowded with ships of every size from the Lusankya down to other single-seat fighters. It took Wedge a couple of minutes to get his fighter orientated to his satisfaction. Eventually though, he could rest his head against the back of his seat, and gaze up at nothing but the stars.
“Hold in this relative position, please, Artoo, and keep an eye out for trouble,” Wedge asked. As the droid beeped acknowlegment, Wedge settled down into the padded seat and let himself relax.
Here, above the atmosphere, the stars didn’t twinkle, but shone hard and bright. From his earliest childhood, Wedge had loved to gaze through the viewport of his bedroom on Gus Treta at the stars. That love had never left him. As his life grew more turbulent, with death ever present, he found reassurance in the eternal peace and beauty of the stars. He knew full well that stars, too, lived and died and had witnessed the death of one himself. However, being out among the stars in a small ship gave Wedge a sense of peace and calm.
Sometimes Wedge could forget about himself as he gazed out at the stars that filled his galaxy, that particular part of the universe he called home. But now that galaxy was being taken from him by outsiders. Those silent, peaceful stars were being conquered by an alien race who wanted to wipe out and change everything they found there. Wedge couldn’t think of the invading Vong without thinking of his wife and daughters. Weeks had passed since the fall of Corsuscant, and there was still no word of them.
The stars began to blur. Wedge blinked fiercely and felt the tears running down his face. A low moan escaped him, but that was all. He wanted to scream or shout but somehow he couldn’t. A curious numbness blanketed him, leaving him adrift in his own body. Wedge became almost motionless, barely even breathing.The stars shone around him, silent and cold. He knew time was passing, but couldn’t tell if it were seconds or minutes. He seemed as frozen as though he’d ejected and was floating in space. Wedge viewed his passive state with a sense of detachment, reminding himself to take a breath now and again, and wondering quietly how long he would stay like this.
Some distant, muffled part of his mind clung to reality. Gradually, vague, misty feelings began to coalesce into coherent thoughts. There were things he needed to do; things he was needed to do. Iella, Syal and Myri needed him. He needed to look for them and make them safe again. Other lives depended on him right now, in this star system. The Vong had to suffer for what they had done. If the Vong had robbed him of his family, he would take theirs from them.
Wedge gasped suddenly, breaking the near-trance state. He grabbed the control stick as adrenaline surged through him, and yanked it sideways. The X-wing dipped and rolled, R2 tweetling surprise at the unexpected move. Wedge barely registered the droid’s protests. Instead, he threw the X-wing into a sharp dive, pulling out almost immediately. He pushed the engines to full, then slewed the fighter around in a flat spin, before standing on end and rocketing away from the planet.
“Artoo, give me point four gravity.” When the droid queried him, Wedge simply snapped “Do it !”
Wedge normally flew at .05 gravity, just enough to give him the feel of how his X-wing was moving while protecting him from the sharp turns and manouvres of space combat. Now, as he abruptly changed course, he felt himself shift in his seat and his head jerked to one side. Wedge slammed the stick over the other way, his vision greying out momentarily as the fighter spun and his shoulder hit the side of the cockpit. It was a light blow, not enough to bruise him, but he could feel it.
A madness possessed him; an urgent need to make contact with the physical world around around him. Wedge accelerated at full speed for ten seconds, then threw the engines into reverse, slamming himself forward into his harness. The straps pressed against his chest and stomach, driving breath from him. The heavy helmet caused his head to jerk forward, straining his neck. The pain was good, real. Wedge embraced it and put the X-wing into a tumbling roll. The fighter skittered through space in a series of wild moves, like a demented flutterwing, jinking, rolling, twisting and diving. Inside, Wedge was being thrown around, banging shoulders, elbows and legs within the tight confines of the cockpit. Every jerk against his harness, every wrench his neck absorbed as his head moved around, every pain and discomfort told him that he was alive. Wedge couldn’t stop himself; he flew as though trying to escape from an entire squadron of TIEs. In a cold rage, he punished himself as he struggled to return to normality.
A painful electronic astromech shriek through his helmet speakers pierced the beserk impulse that had taken over. Reality crashed back into his conscious attention at last. Wedge’s pulse rate jumped as noises hit him; alarms wailed and a voice was hailing him.
“Red One, Red One. This is Taanab Yellow Aces Eight. Please respond.”
It took Wedge’s mind a moment to catch up with the unfamiliar call sign. In that time, he saw amber lights flashing on his fighter’s diagnostics board, and identified the loudest alarm.
“Artoo, quiet that target lock alarm.”
The droid beeped anxiously but obeyed, as Wedge changed comm frequencies.
“Ace Eight, this is Red One.”
Scopes showed a pair of E-wings pacing him as he eased off his speed.
“Who are you, Red One ? I don’t know of a Red Squadron here.”
The lead of the two E-wings still had a target fix on Wedge, who didn’t have his shields up. As Luke’s X-wing was not currently assigned to any squadron, Wedge had designated its transponder code as Red One. His wild flying had drawn the attention of two of the pilots patrolling in planetary space.
“This is General Antilles,” Wedge said clearly and firmly. As he spoke, he felt the weight of his name and rank settling over him, with all the responsibilities they brought with them.
“What would General Antilles be doing up here on his own, flying like a novice with a piranah-beetle in his helmet ?” Ace Eight mocked.
Wedge was angry for a moment, before sense told him that the other pilot had a valid point. He thought for a moment, mentally reviewing the Yellow Aces Roster.
“Leiutenant Olix, this is General Antilles.” Wedge’s voice was cold enough to strike fear into the heart of anyone under the rank of colonel. “If you don’t believe me, patch me through to Major Janson. I’m sure he’ll be happy to confirm my identity.”
There was a moment’s silence before the apologetic reply. “I’m sorry, sir. It’s just, we were puzzled by the way you were flying.”
Wedge bit on his lower lip, remembering the way he’d been throwing his fighter around. It was no wonder the patrolling pilots had come to investigate. He noticed absently that Ace Eight had switched off his targetting computer. Word of this incident would soon be spreading around Borleias and his men would be wondering why their leader had been behaving in such a way. Wedge shuddered; he couldn’t let anyone, not even Tycho, know what he’d just been through. As people had been killed and injured in the long weeks of fighting, the survivors had had to work even harder to fill their roles. Everyone was tired, nerves were stretched. He couldn’t let their confidence in him be shaken.
“This fighter has been modified,” Wedge told the Yellow Ace pilot. “I needed to know how well it would perform in a combat situation and I wouldn’t ask anyone to do a job I wasn’t willing to do myself.”
“Thank you, sir.” Ace Eight sounded relieved. “I had no idea an X-wing could handle like that,” he added, respect clear even across a com link.
“Ask Major Janson to give you a demonstration sometime,” Wedge replied. “But return to your regular patrol now.”
“Yes, sir !”
The two E-wings peeled away, moving together smoothly as befitted pilots taught by Wes Janson.
Wedge watched them go before turning his own fighter and setting a course back to the biotics building on the planet below. He took a last look into the black of space, remembering the little girls he’d called his shining stars. His heart seemed to fall into a bottomless pit but his hands stayed steady on the controls. Ruthlessly, Wedge pushed that gnawing ache into the back of his mind. He longed to search for his family, but it wasn’t a task he could manage on his own, not while the Vong were still a force in the galaxy. And while the Vong were here, more families like his own would be shattered.
The best thing, the only thing he could do now, was to dedicate himself to winning the war against the Yuuzhan Vong. That job started with the thousands of beings he commanded here at Borleias, every one of them his responsibility. It was a thought that threatened to crush him, but Wedge couldn’t abandon his duty to them, no matter what the cost was to himself.