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X-wing: Ambush

By Susan Hill

Scifi / Action

Chapter 1

The canopy of Wedge Antilles' snubfighter opened with a hiss, releasing the atmosphere from within. He removed his helmet and ran his fingers through his sweat-matted brown hair, reveling in the cooler air of the hangar. The whine of repulsorlifts cut through the hangar and the smell of hydraulic and cooling fluids rose to his nose. There was a chaotic flow of people throughout the hangar common when a squadron arrived. All of this was familiar to him and more than a little comforting. There was no place that he felt more at ease.

A technician put a ladder up against the smooth gray surface of his X-wing. Tucking his helmet under one arm, he clambered up and over the side. As he descended the ladder, he glanced down the side of his ship, at the long lines of kill silhouettes stenciled there. They ran most of the length of his cockpit in several rows. The technicians who painted the tiny ships had long ago given up trying to represent each and every fighter that he had shot down, so each fighter represented a squadron's worth of kills.

Running alongside the fighter silhouettes were the two Death Star representations and more than two dozen half and full capital ships, including several Star Destroyers. But to him it didn't show that he was an exceptional fighter pilot; instead they symbolized the many years that he had been fighting for the Rebellion, now the New Republic.

Too many years, he thought.

"General Antilles?" Shi'dora, Rogue Squadron's Twi'lek chief mechanic, approached him from the rear of his ship. Her lekku, commonly referred to as brain tails, swung loosely behind her as she walked across the hangar towards him.

"Did you have a good trip, sir?" she asked. She ran her hand along the stabilizer of the lower S-foil, watching as her techs started to go over Wedge's ship. When he didn’t reply right away, she turned to look at him. "Sir?"

"Hmm? Sorry, I was just thinking about how many years I’ve been doing this." He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. "Yes, everything went smoothly. Very routine. Quite dull in fact."

"Good. That means less work for us, then." She smiled, but when Wedge didn’t return her smile, she leaned in closer and looked straight into his eyes. "Have you been performing self-diagnostics while stuck in hyperspace? I have heard that humans have a tendency to over think things."

She continued to look at him intensely with her dark ruby colored eyes, and Wedge resisted the urge to take a step back. "There's nothing wrong with a little self-evaluation. And speaking of diagnostics, could you look at the port horizontal booster and power couplings? I got a yellow light on the flight back."

"Yes, sir, I'll have someone look into that immediately." She turned around, tossing him a casual salute, and moved on to the next fighter. He had clearly wanted to change the subject and she knew better than to press the matter.

Wedge started towards the exit that led to the rest of the facility, deciding to skip the chaotic pilot locker room in favor of the quiet of his quarters. The main base on Coruscant was one of the largest in the New Republic, with some of the best amenities he had experienced in his long career as a fighter pilot. The base spread across dozens of immense buildings, housing not only hangars and operation centers, but also a large part of the military logistics personnel. It was on this base that Wedge had living quarters that he currently called home.

Crossing the hangar, he nodded to Tycho Celchu, Rogue Squadron's second-in-command. The Colonel nodded back, confirming what they had discussed before landing. His second would take care of the squadron details and send the report to him later for review.

Wedge glanced at some of his pilots as he headed out, trying to gauge how they were feeling. Over the last few months they’d been reduced to escort duty when they really should have been out in the thick of things, taking an active part in the defence of the New Republic. For the foreseeable future, they would continue to escort freighters from one backwater system to another and shuttles from fleet to fleet. The squadron been very effectively pushed into the background, and only Wedge's return to their ranks had brought their morale back up to acceptable levels. He had been away from the squadron for a total of eleven months, leaving Tycho in command.

I was off playing General with the big ships.

It wasn’t until his return to the squadron a few weeks ago that he had realized how much he’d truly missed flying. While in command of various battle groups or capital ships, his time in a cockpit was limited; and even when he did fly, it was usually in a shuttle or transport. At some point he had begun to reconsider the direction his career was taking, and had thought long and hard about it, going around in circles for days before finally ending up back at the place where he had started. Rogue Squadron was the only answer.

He had asked—no, begged—Admiral Ackbar to return him to what he was best at, the command of a fighter squadron. Since no new assignment had been found for Wedge, the Admiral had been forced to agree to his proposal, more than likely with a view towards it being temporary. After a brief discussion with Tycho, Wedge asked to be transferred back to Rogue Squadron.

And here I am.

Wedge was fiercely proud of Rogue Squadron and all they had done throughout their history, even during his absence. Since he had rebuilt the squadron that Luke Skywalker had founded, they had accomplished much, including the defeat of Ysanne Isard, and their almost single-handed taking of Coruscant, or Imperial Center as it was called then, from the Empire. After capturing Coruscant Ysanne Isard had escaped to Thyferra, and Rogue Squadron had then freed the bacta-producing planet from her cruel grasp, averting a plague that would have killed billions. The Rogues had been the elite squadron whose name alone put fear into their enemies, who had been given the perilous missions, missions that some said were impossible.

He smiled at the thought of Gavin Darklighter, the youngest pilot in his group, stating in a briefing before yet another difficult mission: But impossible is Rogue Squadron's stock in trade!

Wedge’s smile died as another of Gavin's comments came to mind. Now we're baby-sitting.

Some of his pilots had taken their current duties as an insult, while others couldn't comprehend why they were being so underutilized. Wedge tended to agree a little with both. And he didn't feel that way because he was Wedge Antilles, Hero of the Rebellion. He knew that his people could be much more useful if they were out in the thick of things, making a difference in the war against the remnants of the Empire and various Moffs and Warlords. Others may think that was egotistical, but he knew it was the truth. He knew that his pilots were capable of more, and deserved better than this.

Wedge noticed Captain Corran Horn climbing down from his fighter. He was speaking to a nearby tech, making sure that his R2 astromech, Whistler, made it safely to the ground. Next to his wife, Mirax Terrik Horn, there was nothing that Corran was more protective of.

Corran was about the same height as Wedge, which was a shade shorter than average. His light brown hair and intense green eyes made him one of the more hologenic of the pilots in the unit. He had been through a lot in his time with the squadron, but it had led him to his wife and to the truth about his heritage. Corran's grandfather had been a Corellian Jedi Master, and he had discovered that the "gut instinct" he had often relied on was his own growing sensitivity to the Force.

Lieutenant Ooryl Qyrgg, Corran’s Gand wingman, crossed from his ship to talk to his friend, so Wedge kept walking towards the hatchway, giving them a casual wave as he passed.

Continuing on his way out, Wedge saw Gavin Darklighter climbing up and over the side of his fighter. He felt a dull ache in his chest as he saw the expression on the young man from Tatooine's face. It had been well over a year since the death of Asyr Sei'lar, the Bothan pilot that Gavin had planned to spend the rest of his life with. He made a mental note to speak to Tycho on what to do to try and get Gavin turned around.

Wedge smiled at, and returned the salutes of, several other familiar crewmembers before reaching the exit. Overall he had to admit that he was relieved at what he saw. His pilots seemed to be in relatively good spirits despite their current disappointing duties. Of course, the five consecutive days of downtime they were about to enjoy couldn't have hurt either.

Wedge finally reached the hatchway and returned the salutes of the New Republic guards posted there. He kept his gait casual, but he couldn't wait to get to his quarters and strip out of his sticky flightsuit.

As he walked down the corridor towards the turbolift, he ran a hand across his face, scratching at the stubble on his chin. He felt weary all over, more than he should after such light duties. He was amazed how tired he could feel after sitting in his cockpit for hours doing very little. But it wasn't only that. There was something more.

Shi'dora was correct in her assessment that he had been doing a lot of thinking during transit. On his way back to Coruscant, something surprising had occurred to him. Today was his thirtieth birthday. He had completely forgotten about his own birthday, and as he sat in the solitude of hyperspace, he realized that the more he thought about it, the more turning thirty was really starting to bother him.

Am I getting too old for this?

It was a thought that kept coming into his mind more and more often of late. His birthday was just the latest event that had turned his mind to that subject. After all, being a hotshot pilot was a job for the young.

And just when did you stop thinking of yourself as young?

He knew that being too old to be a pilot wasn’t the really root of his problem, especially since there were pilots in his own squadron, and of lesser rank, who were older than he was. It almost seemed an excuse for other feelings that he wanted to suppress.

Feelings of regret?

Wedge had been with the Rebellion for his entire adult life. He had smuggled for them and actively joined them after his parents had been killed when he was sixteen.

That's nearly fourteen years I've devoted to this way of life!

He’d lost everything that had been important to him on Corellia, leaving a void that had been hard to fill. Smuggling, then joining the Rebellion, had filled it to a point, giving him a sense of belonging that he hadn’t even realized he craved. But now Rogue Squadron was the only thinghe had left that he really and truly cared about.

He shook his head to try and stay clear of those thoughts. Feeling sorry for himself wasn’t something he wanted to do. He had chosen to join the Rebellion—no one had forced him—and he could have left at any time had he really wanted to, and he hadn't. But there was no denying that he was unhappy. He just hoped that it didn’t show on his face, and he prayed that no one had figured out that it was his birthday.

Like most pilots, Wedge didn't like to celebrate his birthday—it was a superstition that stretched back millennia, he was sure. And there was no group more superstitious than pilots. The problem with birthdays was that they celebrated life, and it served to remind every single pilot that there were many comrades who never again would celebrate another birthday.

Not to mention you never know if you'll be celebrating yours again.

No, he decided he just wanted to be alone for a while.

Wedge stopped abruptly in the corridor. "I must be losing my mind!" he said aloud. "Yup, people will be saying 'Remember, General Antilles had that breakdown? That was really sad. He seemed like such a nice, stable man.'" He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, then resumed his course towards his quarters, shaking his head most of the way.

Wedge finally made it to the quarters that he kept on base, more by habit than by conscious effort. He opened the door and walked in, letting it close automatically behind him with a swoosh of well-oiled hydraulics.

He crossed the smallish room, stripping off his flightsuit as he went and tossed it over a chair. Reaching his one transparisteel window, he dialed down the opacity until he was in semi-darkness, then headed straight for his bunk. He knew he should clean up a bit and get something to eat since it was only around mid-day, but all he wanted was to sleep—to sleep and to be alone. He fell face-first into his bunk, and his thoughts began to fade away.

But one word echoed in his consciousness even as sleep overtook him.

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