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Star Wars - X-Wing - Rogue Squadron, Page 3

Michael A. Stackpole

expect his scores there will measure up. I want to pair Gavin with the

  Shistavanen, Shiel. I think they'll work well together." He opened his hands.

  "Gavin's all alone and looking for a new home. Let me put him in Rogue


  Ackbar looked at Salm. "Aside from this nebulous age problem, you do not

  disagree with this selection?"

  Salm looked at Wedge and bowed his head. "In this caseif Darklighter does well

  in his Redemption trialI see no problem with letting Commander Antilles have

  his way."

  Which means my choice for XO gets opposed fullynot that I expected less. "You

  are most kind, General."

  Ackbar's mouth opened in the Mon Calamari imitation of a smile. "Spoken with

  General Solo's degree of sarcasm, I believe."

  "I'm sorry, sir." Wedge smiled, then clasped his hands at the small of his back.

  "I would also hope the General would see his way clear to letting me choose my

  own Executive Officer."

  The Admiral looked at his starfighter commander. "Who is presently in that


  "Rogue Squadron's XO is Captain Aril Nunb. She is the sister of Nien Nunb, one

  of the other heroes of Endor. She is every bit as skilled a pilot as her

  brother and worked extensively with him during his smuggling days. Sullust is

  providing us aid and having her in Rogue Squadron would definitely increase

  support from the SoroSuub government."

  "Commander, do you quarrel with this assessment?"

  Wedge shook his head. "No, sir, not at all."

  "Then the problem is .. . ?"

  "She's a wonderful pilot, Admiral, and I'd love to have her in my squadron, but

  not as my XO. In that position I need someone who can help train my pilots. What

  Aril does, what her brother does, is intuitive to them. They can't teach it to

  others. As my XO she'd be frustrated, my pilots would be frustrated, and I'd

  have chaos to deal with."

  "And yon have another candidate in mind?"

  "Yes, at" Wedge looked at General Salm and braced for his reaction. "I want

  Tycho Celchu."


  "Absolutely not!" The explosion Wedge had expected from Salm did not disappoint

  him. "Admiral Ackbar, under no circumstances will I allow Celchu to be anywhere

  near an active duty squadron. Just because he isn't in prison is no reason for

  me to want him in my command."

  "Prison!" Wedge's jaw shot open. "The man hasn't done anything that warrants


  "He cannot be trusted."

  "I believe he can."

  "Come on, Antilles, you know what he's been through."

  "What I know, General, is this Tycho Celchu is a heromuch more of a hero than

  I am. On Hoth he fought as fiercely as anyone and at Endor he piloted an A-wing

  that led a bunch of TIE fighters on a merry chase through the Death Star. He

  took them off our backs while Lando and I went in and blew the installation's

  reactor. He fought at Bakura and went on subsequent missions with the squadron,

  then volunteered, General, volunteered to fly a captured TIE fighter on a

  covert mission to Coruscant. He got captured. He escaped. That's it."

  "That's all you want to see, Antilles."


  "You say he escaped." Salm's face hardened into a steel mask. "It could be they

  let him go."

  "Sure, just like they let him go at Endor." Wedge grimaced, doing his best to

  banish the anger he felt growing in him. "General, you're fighting ghosts."

  Salm nodded curtly. "You're right, I'm fighting to prevent you and your people

  from becoming ghosts."

  "Well, so am I, and having Tycho with us to train my people will give them the

  best chance of survival possible."

  Salm tossed his hands up in disgust 2

  at Admiral Ackbar. "You see, he won't listen to reason. He knows Captain Celchu

  is a threat, but he won't let himself see it."

  "I'll listen to reason, sir, when I see the product of some reasoning."

  Ackbar held up his hands. "Gentlemen, please. Commander Antilles, you must admit

  that General Salm's concerns are valid. Perhaps if there were a way to alleviate

  some of them, an accommodation could be reached."

  "I thought of that, sir, and I've spoken with Captain Celchu about it." Wedge

  started ticking points off on his fingers. "Tycho has agreed to fly a Z-95

  Headhunter in our training exercises, with the lasers powered down so they can

  only paint a target, not hurt it. He's agreed to have a destruct device

  installed in the starfighter so that if he goes to ram anything or goes outside

  spacelanes to which he is assigned, he can be destroyed by remote. When not

  flying he has agreed to remain under house arrest unless accompanied by Alliance

  Security or members of the squadron. He's agreed to undergo interrogation as

  needed, to have all his computer files and correspondence open to examination,

  and is even willing to have us choose what he eats, when, and where."

  Salm marched over and placed himself between Wedge and the Mon Calamari Admiral.

  "This is all well and good, and might even be effective, but we can't afford the


  Ackbar blinked his eyes slowly. "Captain Celchu has agreed to these conditions?"

  Wedge nodded. "He's no different from you, Admiralhe's a warrior. What he

  knows, what he can teach, will keep pilots alive. Of course, there's no way

  General Salm will ever let him fly in combat again."

  "That can be etched in transparisteel."

  "So serving as an instructor is the only way he can fight back. You have to give

  him this chance."

  Ackbar activated the small comlink clipped to his uniform's collar. "Lieutenant

  Filla, please find Captain Celchu and bring him to me." The Mon Calamari

  looked up at Wedge. "Where is he currently?"

  Wedge looked down at the deck. "He should be in the simulator complex."

  "He's where?!" Salm's face went purple.

  "You'll find him in the simulator complex, Lieutenant. Bring him here

  immediately." Ackbar turned the comlink off. "The simulator complex?"

  "It was Horn's turn leading the Redemption scenario. Tycho knows how to fly a

  TIE better than most pilots, so I decided to have him fly against Horn."

  Ackbar's lip fringe twitched. "You've taken certain liberties concerning

  Captain Celchu already, it seems, Commander."

  "Yes, sir, but nothing that isn't necessary to make my pilots the best. I'm

  being prudent in this, I think."

  "The most prudent course, Commanderif you cared to protect the rest of the

  trainees here, not just your ownwould have been to keep Captain Celchu out of

  the simulator facility entirely!" Salm crossed his arms over his chest. "You may

  be a hero of the New Republic, but that doesn't give you any authorization to

  jeopardize our security."

  Perhaps having Tycho fly today was a bit premature. Wedge glanced down

  penitently. "I stand corrected, sir."

  Ackbar broke the uneasy silence following Wedge's admission. "What is done is

  done. Now using Captain Celchu in the scenario would have made it that much

  more difficult, would it not?"

  A smile creeping back on his face, Wedge nodded. "Yes, sirwhich is what I

  wanted. Horn is good, very good, and the trio of pilots flying on his side

  the exercise are not bad, either. Overall, Horn or Bror Jace, the Thyferran, are

  the best pilots in the whole group. Jace is arrogant, which gets under Horn's

  skin and keeps him working hard. Horn, on the other hand, is impatient. That'll

  get him killed and the only way to make that apparent to him is by having

  someone shoot him up in exercises. Tycho can do that."

  The door to Ackbar's office opened and a female Rebel officer led a pilot in a

  black flight suit into the room. "Admiral, this is Captain Celchu."

  Tycho snapped to attention. "Reporting as ordered, sir."

  "At ease, Mr. Celchu."

  Wedge gave the slightly taller man a reassuring smile.

  The Admiral eased himself out of his chair. "You may leave us, Lieutenant." The

  Mon Calamari waited for the door to close behind his aide, then he nodded toward

  Wedge. "Captain Celchu, Commander Antilles has told me that you have agreed to

  a remarkable number of restrictions on yourself and your activities. Is this


  Tycho nodded. "Yes, sir, it is."

  "You realize you will be flying a defenseless bomb, you will have no privacy and

  no freedom."

  "I do, sir."

  The Mon Calamari closed his mouth for a moment and stared silently at the

  blue-eyed pilot. "You will be treated no better than I was when I served as a

  slave to Grand Moff Tarkin. You will be treated worse, m fact, because General

  Salm here believes you are a ducat to the New Republic. Why do you agree to such


  Tycho shrugged. "It's my duty, sir. I chose to join the Rebellion. I willingly

  froze on Hoth. I followed orders and assaulted a Death Star. I volunteered for

  the mission that got me in all this trouble. I did all those things because

  that's what I agreed to do when I joined the Rebels." He glanced down. "Besides,

  even the worst you can do to me will still be better than Imperial captivity."

  Sweat gleaming from his bald head, Salm pointed at Tycho. "This is all noble,

  Admiral, but would we expect anything less from someone in his position?"

  "No, General, nor would we expect anything less of a noble son of Alderaan." The

  Mon Calamari picked up a datapad from his desk. "I am signing orders to make

  Captain Celchu the Executive Officer for Rogue Squadron, and to put this Gavin

  Darklighter in the squadron as well."

  Wedge saw Salm's expression sour, so he suppressed his own smile. Even so he

  winked at Tycho. Two flights, two kills.

  Ackbar glanced at the datapad's screen, then looked up again. "Commander

  Antilles, I expect to be informed about any irregularities or problems with your

  unit or personnel. An M-3PO military protocol droid has been assigned to your

  office to help you make out reports. Use it."

  The Corellian rolled his eyes. "As you wish, sir, but I think that droid could

  be more useful elsewhere."

  "I'm sure you do, Commander, but those decisions are made by those of us who

  haven't refused promotions time and time again."

  Wedge held his hands up. "Yes, sir." / surrender, but you don't fool me,

  Admiral. You like mixing it up in battle the same as I do, but you work with the

  big ships while I like the fast ones.

  "Good, I am glad we understand each other." Ackbar nodded toward the door.

  "You're dismissed, the both of you. I imagine you have things to celebrate."

  "Yes, sir."

  "One last thing."

  Wedge looked up and Tycho turned around to face the Admiral. "Sir?" they asked

  in tandem.

  "What did you think about the pilots in the Redemption scenario?"

  Wedge looked over at his XO. "Did you get Horn?"

  Tycho blushed. "Oh, I got Horn, but just not as much of him as I would have

  liked." Smiling proudly, he added, "Admiral, if the pilots I flew against are

  representative of the rest of the people we have to work with, Rogue Squadron

  should be operational within a couple of months, and the scourge of the Empire

  not very much longer after that."


  Kirtan Loor struggled to keep a self-satisfied smirk from ruining the stern

  expression he had worked hard to cultivate. He wanted to appear implacable. He

  needed to be merciless.

  He feared he would fail on both counts, but laid the blame on his eagerness to

  confront an old nemesis finally brought to heel. What had been a blot on his

  record would soon be expunged. More importantly, people who had ridiculed him

  would learn they had grossly underestimated him. And in doing so they had doomed


  Kirtan held his head erect as he marched down the companionway on the

  Expeditious. The Car-rack-class light cruiser had not been built to accommodate

  people of his height, so he felt some of his black hair brush against the

  ceiling. A more cautious man would have slumped his shoulders slightly and

  lessened the chance of bashing his head on a light fixture or bulkhead support.

  Kirtan, having once been told that he looked every inch a taller, younger Grand

  Moff Tarkinfrom thinning widow's peak and lanky frame to sharp features in a


  daverously slender facedid his best to emphasize the resemblance.

  Even though Tarkin was nearly seven years dead, the resemblance still earned him

  some respect. On an Imperial naval vessel, respect for an Intelligence officer

  such as himself was in short supply, so he took what he could get. The military

  arm of the Empire clearly resented having the government being run by the

  Emperor's former Intelligence chief, and they took their displeasure out on the

  least of her servants.

  Kirtan ducked his head and entered the antechamber of the Expeditious's brig.

  "I am here to interview the prisoner you took off the Starwind."

  The Lieutenant in charge glanced at his datapad. "He just got back from


  "I know, I've seen the report." Kirtan glanced at the hatchway leading to the

  detention cells. "He has been told nothing about the results?"

  The soldier's face darkened. "I've been told nothing about the results. If he

  has a disease, I want him out before he infects the ..."

  The Intelligence operative held a hand up. "Calm yourself, you'll bounce your

  rank cylinder out of your pocket in a moment."

  The Lieutenant raised a hand to check his rank badges and when he found them in

  place he blushed. "Play your little games with Rebel scum, not me. I have

  serious work to do."

  "Of course you do, Lieutenant." Kirtan flashed a smile that was more predator

  than comrade, then turned toward the detention cells. "Which one?"

  "Holding cell Three. Wait here while I get you an escort."

  "I wont need one."

  "You may not think so, but he's listed as rating

  a four on the Hostility Index. That rating requires two officers to accompany an


  Kirtan shook his head slowly. "I know, I gave him that rating. I can handle


  "Remember that when you're in a bacta bath washing away his fingerprints."

  "That I shall, Lieutenant." Kirtan grasped his hands at the small of his back

  and started off through the hexagonal companionway. His black boots made a solid

  clanking sound on the metal grating and he measured his step
s carefully to keep

  the sound rhythmic and daunting.

  The hatch to cell Three opened with a hiss of pressurized gas. Yellow light

  spilled out into the corridor and Kirtan folded himself halfway to double to

  fit through the opening. He paused inside the cell and stood tall. He narrowed

  his eyes, then immediately thought better of it. He always said it looked as if

  I were wincing in pain.

  The older, heavyset man swung his legs around off the cot and levered himself up

  into a sitting position. "Kirtan Loor, I thought it would be you."

  "Did you?" Kirtan injected sarcasm into his voice to cover his own surprise.

  "How could that be?"

  The old man shrugged his shoulders. "Actually, I rather counted on it."

  What? The Intelligence officer snorted. "You mean you thought no one but me

  would be able to puzzle out your whereabouts."

  "No, I mean that I thought even you could figure out how to find me."

  Kirtan rocked back slightly from the venom in the prisoner's voice, bumping the

  back of his head on the top of the hatchway. This is not the way this is

  supposed to be going. Narrowing his eyes, he stared down at the old man. "You,

  Gil Bastra. are going to die."

  "I figured that the moment your TIEs started shooting at me."

  Kirtan slowly crossed his arms. "No, you don't understand how desperate is your

  situation here. You thought you outsmarted me and the Empire. You were cautious,

  but not insurmountably so. You are dying even now."

  Bastra's bushy grey eyebrows met in a frown. "What are you talking about?"

  "When we took the Starwind I ordered a medical evaluation for you. You may have

  forgotten that I always remember what I have seen and heard, and in doing so you

  have forgotten how you ridiculed me for using skirtopanol to interrogate a

  smuggler working for the Rebellion. You told me then that he died during

  interrogation because his boss, Billey, had his people dose themselves with

  lotiramine. It metabolizes the interrogation drug and can induce chemical

  amnesia or, in some cases, death."

  Kirtan gave Bastra a cold smile. "Your medical scan shows elevated levels of

  lotiramine in your blood."

  ""I guess you'll just have to kill me the old-fashioned way, then." Bastra

  smiled openly, flashing white teeth in a thick, stubble-coated face. "Since

  Vader was the last Jedi, I guess you'll even have to get your hands dirty doing