Someone, obviously not Commander Narra, clears the next mission for Rogue Flight with a great amount of difficulty. There are rumours that the orders are inspired by the stubborn will of a princess, and those rumours are probably true. Not that it matters, when Wedge Antilles finds himself alone in his quarters after twenty-four standard hours in his X-Wing, blind but for the residual pinpricks of distant stars arrayed across his eyeballs.
His muscles are still tense enough that he resembles a droid, after stumbling out of the X-Wing and ambling along the corridors with a pilot either side of him to make sure he got into his quarters. Luke might have been one of them. He can’t remember. He doesn’t care. Maybe he should.
He would rather face another day cramped into a cockpit than to follow his latest orders. Downtime, planet side – one of the few places in the galaxy that Alliance pilots can do so without being chased. No wonder. It’s probably half as pleasant as Nal Hutta and smells worse than some places he ran cargo to back when he tried to be legitimate. Staying cramped in his rack was the plan, except he and the other occupants of the bunks had the same unrefusable orders – cram into a shuttle, get a few credits thrown at you and spend a couple of days “down”.
So instead of doing something useful, Wedge Antilles finds himself planet side with only the lingering whiff of fuel hovering around him keeping him away from whatever other stenches he encounters. Even that gets tiresome fast. His…friends are drinking somewhere. He might be thirsty for some good old Whyren’s Reserve, but all the cantinas here stock nasty local stuff, and that’s it. Somehow he manages to feel sorry for Luke in all this. He knows their vaulted leader is still green as the froth on Lomin ale. He just hides it better than some. Wedge envies him a little. He himself has no naivety to hide anymore.
Eventually he finds himself alone in some alley and it’s as if even the vermin scurrying around his feet don’t want to be near him. He probably stinks worse than a Rancor. The ‘fresher queues are always too kriffing long onboard and sometimes he just doesn’t want the smell of engine oil and grease to go away. He likes the dirt. He doesn’t like the memories though. Gus Treta. His parents. Gus Talon. Mala.
Wedge drags his fingers through his hair. It hurts. But it’s a hurt that he can deal with. He sees his reflection in a dusty window, hand still stuck on his head, eyes darker than black holes. He could probably head into tight Imperial territory and frighten off a battalion of stormtroopers all on his own, looking like that.
Something snaps. He can’t stand his image.
The few credits in his pocket are Imperial and get him someplace to sleep. He doesn’t sleep. Probably can’t remember how to close his own eyes. The place is just fancy enough to have somewhere to wash – communal to save on space in the tiny rooms. And it’s deserted. Good thing too, or he’d scare off the other patrons. Although, given the moulded walls, even he might not deter them.
Wedge manages to drag himself into what could be the most fusty spa he’s ever been in, but the water doesn’t disappoint. He sits, allowing the bubbles to rise up against his skin. And suddenly he feels weightless. Really weightless. Not just the kind of floating sensation he got in the vacuum of cold space. More like…when he was a kid, emerging from a bad dream, waking up to the warmth and safety of his parents’ voices.
For the first time in years, Wedge relaxes. He lets the stains of oil and grease leave him. Just this once. Just this once he can forget anything before or after this moment. Right when he’s sure he’ll evaporate into the muggy air of the spa, he hears the light step of what undoubtedly is a woman entering. He considers turning to face her. He considers not doing so.
She makes the choice for him, slipping into the pool opposite him. Pretty, in a simple kind of way. Blonde, delicate lips, a smattering of blue freckles – not entirely human – and cute. Wedge is fairly certain he wouldn’t have noticed her had he seen her a few minutes before. Because right now nothing in his past matters, and only this moment means anything.
“So you flyboys do scrub up well under all that grease,” she says with sly smile.
Wedge mirrors her smile. It takes him a short nanosecond to realise he really means this smile. This makes the smile between them last for what seems to be eons. He finally replies, “Depends on who or what we’re supposed to be scrubbing up for.”
Her laugh is nice. A little like Mala’s used to…Wedge shakes the thought away. Mala isn’t here. She never will be.
The woman holds out a hand. “I’m Ketta.”
“Wedge,” he replies, taking her hand.
A firm grip for such elegant fingers. It’s obvious she’s not a local. A Rebel, but definitely not a pilot. Her eyes betray nothing of dogfights or fire fights...in fact, her eyes say nothing at all. Wedge suspects she’s with intelligence, but he doesn’t ask. He doesn’t even ask when they share a meagre dinner – something that still squirms on their plates.
They share a laugh, trade small bites. Wedge tells her only about what he thinks of the planet, what he might be doing if he was stuck in his quarters and not stuck here. She says even less. But her company is what he needs as they walk the streets, and as he takes her back to his room. He can’t sleep anyway. He might as well share the darkness with someone.
Ketta trails her fingers over each scar as she finds them. Wedge doesn’t object. He hardly remembers those scars, even though a day before they had been fresh in his mind. For a few hours, he can’t even remember why he’s there with her. He just is. It’s later that he wonders what he would be doing instead, if Gus Treta hadn’t…
Probably be fuelling up some ship. Probably have a nice, safe Corellian wife. Wedge imagines that she would be blonde, like Ketta. He smiles at the thought.
The next two days seem distantly intense with her. His credits run out early on, but she appears to have more than enough to get by on. She could probably afford somewhere better to stay, but maybe she likes the dirt too. Wedge guesses that she probably does.
The time passes and he’s standing in front of her, saying goodbye like he’ll see her again. They won’t meet after this, he knows. He’s just a pilot and she’s…whatever she is. Grabbing one last casual kiss, Wedge turns and goes back to the shuttle, back to the others in Rogue Flight, back to reality. He walks without any weight in his steps and his head stays high.
After those two days, he feels like one of the new pilots. Ready to take on the Empire by himself. And he remembers to contact Mirax after months of silence, because in some way he realises he needs the connection to his past.
Some time later, he thinks about Ketta and tries to find out anything about her in a bout of curiosity. He comes up empty in nearly every place he sticks his hand into, until he discovers it was a codename. A Rebel agent, like he suspected. He never learns her real name, but he learns that she died. He doesn’t know when or where – yet somehow he thinks it was closer to the Core systems. In a way, he feels that everything points to the Core, even if they’re still just fighting on the edges.
Wedge decides if they ever go for the Imperial Centre, he wants to be there in the strike. Not for vengeance. Not necessarily for Ketta. Just…for everyone.
He tries not to remember names anymore. He doesn’t bother getting close to the newer pilots. Because he knows from experience now – names just get in the way, and make memories for themselves. There are some he knows too well to forget, like Luke, Hobbie, Wes and Tycho…but mostly…it’s the new names he succeeds at losing.
But when he does close his eyes, he dreams of Ketta. He dreams that he is on the Gus Treta station, and an airlock separates them. She mouths the same farewell that she gave him on the planet, “See you round, flyboy.”
He always wakes up after that. But when he does, he feels weightless.