He could feel it, that itch in the back of his mind that persisted the longer he sat idle or ignoring it. Some would call it the inability to focus. Others would call it an addiction rearing its ugly head into reality. His dear wife Iella called it one of his ‘defining character traits, even if it comes in handy at the worst times.’ But whatever its name, General Wedge Antilles was feeling it now; the need to fly.
A need made many times more insistent by the mountain of paperwork sitting in front of him, or the fact that the cruiser Mon Aurora had been sitting still for almost a week over the garden world of Pyranna Bor’neth. Everytime Wedge looked out his window, he was green by infinite stretches of green and blue, only recently discovered and settled to supply the larger galaxy with critically needed food. It was the kind of serenity he’d only heard of in holo-vids or propaganda. So there was temptation to reach out and just touch it even from orbit. A need made worse through the sad fact he hadn’t had time to do so since Rogue Squadron met up with the Aurora while in-transit to its final destination, making for a straight week of stacked-up bureaucracy for Antilles and a week of training drills for his pilots.
Much of the work was the routine signing of forms and logistical headaches that he was unfortunately getting used to in his generalship. Such were the things that made the New Republic live and breath, so that much he was privileged to do. But it was the top of his pile that drove the itch to fly, because he needed the moment to think. Sure, such a need may have been a little irresponsible, using up fuel and time that wasn’t always available, but Wedge could hear his wife’s loving prodding across the galaxy. It’s all you’re going to think about until you do it, my dear.
“Alright, alright, you win.” Wedge whispered with a smile, before tapping on his desktop comlink. “Hanger Deck, this is Antillies. Please prep my starfighter for launch.”
“Yes General! It’ll be ready the moment you come down!” the maintenance crew lead answered eagerly, which Wedge would admit was a little contagious. Having given into the temptation, it was a little difficult to keep the same glee from his own face. “Gate, file us a flight plan with the cruiser’s control crew. Mark it as…hmmm, call it a shakedown.”
The R5 astromech droid chittered its understanding of the request, before giving its pilot a positive peep to relay that the flight plan had been prepped and cleared. There may have been a little vanity at work when Wedge nodded his approval at the rapid reply, but given the slow pace of the week, there were few reasons to deny the request of a General.
Despite the uptick in mood Wedge felt about walking to the hanger with purpose, that last un-fulfilled task still bounced around in his mind. How it would change the dynamics of Rogue Squadron, balanced on the razor’s edge of how the New Republic and other starfighter squadrons would benefit from such a change. And how do I tell them?
The sounds of a bustling hanger washed over him like a refreshing breeze of engine exhaust, crew chief swearing, and the beeping of overworked droids. The moment the closest crewman saw who had graced them with his presence, the young Rodian snapped to his feet to salute Wedge, but Antilles waved him down. Such bravado and ceremony wasn’t why he was here, and he’d had enough of it to fill a lifetime. Still, most of the workers and grease-monkeys he passed on the way to his X-Wing whispered something in awe of him.
Already at attention in waiting, the crew chief standing by Wedge’s personal fighter also gave the crisp salute. “As requested, she’s all ready to fly within acceptable specs.”
A sentence that made Wedge chuckle internally, since he could remember a time when ‘acceptable’ meant ‘flyable and nothing else’. “Good work Hulkori. You do Grizli Squadron proud.”
The maintainer lit up like a rising sun, and Wedge swore the young man’s head swelled a few centimeters, before the General motioned for his astromech to link up for takeoff. Gently declining Hulkori’s offer to hold his helmet while the pilot got comfortable, Wedge let himself sink into the g-chair of his starfighter. A spot as familiar to him as any could ever be, Antilles closed his eyes and ran his gloved hands across familiar switches, buttons and levers. Each one, he could call by name, and each one had probably saved his life at one point.
The shrill whine of the X-Wing’s four engines coming to life was practically a comfort anymore, he’d heard it so often. As a joke on several occasions, Gate played the sound for Wedge whenever the General was frustrated or otherwise distracted. A habit which Iella had scolded the droid for, often leading to the astromech waddling away to sulk.
“Rogue Leader, four lit and in the green. Beginning checkout flight.” Wedge called out as the starfighter gently rose from the hanger floor. Most any other work going on around him stopped for a moment as the X-Wing gracefully floated out of the mag-shield and into the hard vacuum of space. Even sealed in the canopy, he could feel the moment he left the artificial atmosphere behind for space, and it made him smile.
He let the starfighter contine drifting forward as he set the cockpit atmosphere to his liking, reducing the cockpit heat setting as well as the artificial gravity while making sure his legs could extend fully on the rudder. Once he had the internals right where he wanted them, Wedge gently slid the throttle forward, letting the X-Wing slowly build up its speed as he headed planetward.
“Alright, Gate. Start your system checkouts, we’ll be hitting the atmo terminus in a moment.” Wedge ordered, and the R5 warbled back its questions. “Yes, I’m sure the ground crew did fine, but it never hurts to know.”
As he’d expected, the moment the X-Wing hit a certain atmospheric resistance, its shields kicked on with a low power setting. Friction-generated fire surrounded him for a moment, and he could feel the high winds of near-space limits trying to bounce him around. But it was all over as fast as it began, and the cool blue of a clear sky welcomed Wedge like it had been waiting for him.
Scanning the horizon below him, Wedge could make out the eternal clashes of surf against sand, the creeping gloom of a summer storm far off his nose, and the luscious browns and reds of a great forest below. It reminded him of Endor’s forest moon, where the Rebel Alliance had fought so desperately to finally end the tyranny of Palpatine and Darth Vader, and where so few of his friends and comrades had returned from. Thoughts of which made his gloves tighten on the control yoke and his eyes focus.
Time for the real paces… he allowed himself to decide, before opening the X-Wing’s signature s-foils to their open position and shutting off the fighter’s main sensor nodes. With one deep breath in, Wedge pointed his nose straight down and let the X-Wing begin a screaming dive towards the foliage below. Even in the plummet, Wedge let the starfighter talk to him, feeling the subtle shifts in the rudder and how the winds hit his port side just a little harder than the starboard. Only when he was less than a hundred meters above the treeline did Gate chitter a sound of alarm, which Rogue Leader responded to by rolling inverted and pulling the diving X-Wing in as tight a loop as it could make under full power.
He kept the loop going until he was facing the open infinity of the sky once more, before standing the fighter on its right side and snapping into a tight turn back into his previous direction. Wedge let the X-Wing skate above the top branches as if they were a sheet of ice, bouncing along with the changing contours and slipping the rudder each direction. Each motion, each maneuver soothed the itch that had been building in the base of his skull, letting him drown out that nagging voice that had been building in his temple for just a precious few moments.
Suddenly, the forest disappeared under him, giving way to a massive canyon cut by an unforgiving river. Naturally, Wedge let the X-Wing fall gracefully with gravity until its thrust sprayed hot mist behind him. Putting all power to engines, Rogue Leader pitched and turned through the winding stones and impossible angles. Whenever possible, he’d even complete a full aileron roll with each turn, letting the world spin around him as much as his own thoughts spun within.
The canyon continued on for several kilometers before beginning a gradual smoothing-out to be one with the surface again, at which point Wedge stood the X-Wing on its tail and blasted straight up into an encroaching cloud front. Gusts of turbulence and sheets of cold rain slammed into him from all sides, and he soaked in every bounce and dip the starfighter made to compensate. Annoyed at being pelted by the elements, Gate griped at the ace pilot.
“I know, I know. I’ll send you for an oil bath once we’re done, I promise.” Wedge conceded, gently pulling the starfighter above the chaos of the weather so that the beaming sun could dry it.
“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say the stoic, ever-dutiful General Antillies was shirking his own duties.” A familiar voice called out to him over the comlink, instantly doubling the size of Wedge’s smile. “My duties still include identifying officers suspected of treason, Rogue Two.”
Colonel Tycho Celchu laughed at the barb as his own X-Wing drifted down from the sky to meet Wedge at the same flight level, “Sure, toss me in a cell, and then we have Janson in command of not just Rogue Squadron, but the entire air wing on the Aurora.”
“And I’d only have them doing fly-bys of my cabin every other hour, thank you very much!” interrupted Major Wes Janson in Rogue Three, passing both Wedge and Tycho on full power before pulling tight loop back to settle in formation. “I mean, what else have they been doing all week, computer-based training?”
“Three’s just mad that Grizli Squadron figured out his bag of tricks in the sims and kept popping him with torpedoes at range.” glowered Rogue Four, Major Derek ‘Hobbie’ Kilvian.
“Sounds about right”, Tycho added, “Three loves his side-slips, even in Imp fighters.”
“Makes it more challenging.” Wes retorted. “Plus, every newbie that sees a squint do that is aghast that it’s even possible, every time.”
Wedge kept quiet for the moment, just letting the banter fill his canopy and his soul. To each of these men, Antilles owed his life a dozen times over. Since the earliest days of the Rebel Alliance, and through the fires of every subsequent war, these four had formed a bond above perception or rebuff. They were brothers, they were family.
Which is why the report titled “Assignment Projections and Allotments” and the names on it had dug into Wedge’s mind the moment he read it. He knew, with the push of a button, he could squash the transfer notices and only a few administrative grunts would ever know it.
But to stand in the way of the needs of the New Republic? To deny up-and-coming starfighter aces the unique training and experiences that his Rouges brought to the fleet? It was a weight that Wedge knew he was trying to outfly today, but it had sought him out at this moment.
“So brought you down here, boss? Just taking a joyride on official time?” Tycho probed his friend, which made Wedge ‘sigh’ in acknowledgement. “Partly. Mainy…just coming to terms with the times. You’ve each been re-assigned by Starfighter Command out of Rogue Squadron.”
For a moment, there was silence. Each pilot felt the punch of those words in different ways. And as was tradition by now, Wes was first to respond. “Oh good, new minds to mold and corrupt!”
Wedge had to chuckle at that, for it was almost clairvoyant. “You’re actually on the credits there, Three. You got picked for instructor duty on Commenor.”
“I’ll be sure to give General Salm your best, boss! Defender Wing won’t know what hit them once I’m done re-writing their training.” Rogue Three responded, surprisingly excited for Wedge’s ears.
“Same goes for you, Two. You got tagged for Solar Fang Squadron out of Borleias.” Wedge relayed to Tycho, to which the second pilot gave a sage hum. “Aggressor squadron, makes sense. I can show the new recruits how dangerous TIEs can really be in proper hands.”
“Four, you got the special assignment. Test pilot for the R&D squadron over on Mon Cala.” Antilles announced, earning approving whistles from Tycho and applause from Wes. “Not bad, Hobbie! Now you’ll have to learn how to swim!”
“And you’ll have to learn decency and how to act around kids, Three. Force help us all!”
“Speaking of,” Tycho clued in on, “With these moves, who moves up to lead the Squadron? You stepping down to just the Rogues again?”
“No,” Wedge began, still in disbelief that these words were going to leave his lips, “Rogue Squadron will be led by Gavin Darklighter.”
“Oh wow, now I feel old.” Janson shot back with, “Is he even old enough to fly solo?”
“If he is, that makes us ancient.” Hobbie snorted. “We’ll need to prepare him for ‘the burdens of command’.”
“I’m pretty sure that Gavin could still drink you both under the table.” Tycho retorted, before asking, “You okay with this, Wedge?”
General Antilles decided to just let his mind crack open and spill out what it may, these three deserved the uncut truth. “We won’t be flying forever, Rogues. As much as we try to. Maybe it’s time we start getting the young blood ready to be better than us.”
“Wait, wait, I’m trying to picture an old, retired, and not-crochety Wedge Antilles,” Wes chuckled. “Nope, sorry, not seeing it. Boss is gonna retire in the cockpit, even if it kills him.”
“Nah, Iella will kill him first,” Hobbie countered. “Probably in ways that would make Darth Vader feel sick.”
It was in that moment, when the final rays of the setting sun kissed their sky goodnight, that Rogue Leader was at peace with his decision. “You’re probably right, Hobbie. One more reason I’m counting on you all to get these younglings in the best shape we can get them.”
“You can count on us, Lead.” Rogue Two responded, before closing the S-foils of his X-Wing and beginning a slow ascent back to the orbiting star cruiser.
“Yub-yub, General! Oh man, I can’t wait to tell that story of you in an Ewok suit!” Rogue Three laughed, following Two’s ascent but adding in a lazy roll for style points.
“I can too swim…I just don’t like to.” Rogue Four countered, beginning the return journey as well and leaving Wedge alone once more. The lead ace watched his fellow pilots ascend beyond him, a moment he felt more than saw in his chest and at last felt that most all was right in his world. They would always be Rogue Squadron, even if they didn’t always wear the colors of the legendary unit. And when the sun finally set on their skies, it would rise on the next generation that had been made better by them, through them, and for the greater galaxy.
“Rogue Lead, initiating return to the Aurora. My compliments to the hanger crew, my X-Wing handles like a dream.”
Sure, I’m supposed to be neck deep in my NaNo project(s) right now, but everyone needs a break once in a while. And re-visiting Rogue Squadron has always been mine.
I hope you all enjoy,