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       Star Wars: X-Wing II: Wedge's Gamble, p.1

           Michael A. Stackpole
 
Star Wars: X-Wing II: Wedge's Gamble


  DEATH AMONG THE STARS

  The Y-wing let a proton torpedo go at point-blank range, but it shot past the eyeball and would have hit the X-wing had Corran not rolled fast. “Break outside, Champions!”

  The Y-wing pilots complied with Corran’s order, but did so slowly. The TIE spun in on Champion Five, pouring verdant laser bolts into its shields. The Y-wing pilot continued his roll and dive, and the TIE corrected to follow him, allowing himself to fly a level arc as he pursued his quarry.

  You’re mine, now. Corran eased back on his stick, millimeter by millimeter centering the Imperial fighter on his targeting crosshairs.

  Whistler shrilled a warning.

  Behind me? Who? He glanced at his sensors and saw the other TIE closing in on him and he wanted to break away. Can’t, Five is history if I do.

  Corran hit his trigger and prepared for nothingness.

  STAR WARS: WEDGE’S GAMBLE

  A Bantam Spectra Book / June 1996

  SPECTRA and the portrayal of a boxed “s” are trademarks of

  Bantam Books,

  a division of Random House, Inc.

  ®, ™, & © 1996 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

  All rights reserved. Used under authorization.

  Cover art by Paul Youll.

  Copyright © 1996 Lucasfilm Ltd.

  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-79622-6

  Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

  v3.1

  DEDICATION

  To the memory of

  Roger Zelazny

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  The author would like to thank the following people for their various contributions to this book:

  Janna Silverstein, Tom Dupree, and Ricia Mainhardt for getting me into this mess;

  Sue Rostoni and Lucy Autrey Wilson for letting me get away with all they have in this universe;

  Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, Kathy Tyers, Bill Smith, Bill Slavicsek, Peter Schweighofer, Michael Kogge, and Dave Wolverton for the material they created and the advice they offered;

  Lawrence Holland & Edward Kilham for the X-Wing and TIE Fighter computer games;

  Chris Taylor for pointing out to me which ship Tycho was flying in Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi and Gail Mihara for pointing out controversies I might want to avoid;

  My parents, my sister Kerin, my brother Patrick and his wife Joy for their encouragement (and endless efforts to face my other books out on bookstore shelves);

  Dennis L. McKiernan, Jennifer Roberson, and especially Elizabeth T. Danforth for listening to bits of this story as it was being written and enduring such abuse with smiles and a supportive manner.

  DRAMATIS PERSONAE

  ROGUE SQUADRON

  COMMANDER WEDGE ANTILLES (human male from Corellia)

  CAPTAIN TYCHO CELCHU (human male from Alderaan)

  CAPTAIN ARIL NUNB (Sullustan female from Sullust)

  LIEUTENANT CORRAN HORN (human male from Corellia)

  LIEUTENANT PASH CRACKEN (human male from Contruum)

  OORYL QRYGG (Gand male from Gand)

  NAWARA VEN (Twi’lek male from Ryloth)

  RHYSATI YNR (human female from Bespin)

  ERISI DLARIT (human female from Thy ferra)

  GAVIN DARKLIGHTER (human male from Tatooine)

  RIV SHIEL (Shistavanen male from Uvena III)

  ZRAII (Verpine male from Roche G42)

  M-3PO (Emtrey; protocol and regulations droid)

  WHISTLER (Corran’s R2 astromech)

  MYNOCK (Wedge’s R5 astromech)

  ALLIANCE MILITARY

  ADMIRAL ACKBAR (Mon Calamari male from Mon Calamari)

  ALLIANCE INTELLIGENCE

  GENERAL AIREN CRACKEN (human male from Contruum)

  IELLA WESSIRI (human female from Corellia)

  WINTER (human female from Alderaan)

  CITIZENS ON CORUSCANT

  ASYR SEI’LAR (Bothan female from Bothawui)

  INYRI FORGE (human female from Kessel)

  FLIRY VORRU (human male from Corellia)

  ZEKKA THYNE (human/alien male from Corellia)

  CREW OF THE PULSAR SKATE

  MIRAX TERRIK (human female from Corellia)

  LIAT TSAYV (Sullustan male from Sullust)

  IMPERIAL FORCES

  YSANNE ISARD, DIRECTOR OF IMPERIAL INTELLIGENCE (human female from Coruscant)

  KIRTAN LOOR, INTELLIGENCE AGENT (human male from Churba)

  GENERAL EVIR DERRICOTE (human male from Kalla)

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  Also by This Author

  Introduction to the Star Wars Expanded Universe

  Excerpt from Star Wars: X-Wing: The Krytos Trap

  Introduction to the Old Republic Era

  Introduction to the Rise of the Empire Era

  Introduction to the Rebellion Era

  Introduction to the New Republic Era

  Introduction to the New Jedi Order Era

  Introduction to the Legacy Era

  Star Wars Novels Timeline

  1

  Even before his X-wing’s sensors had time to scan and identify the new ship, Corran Horn knew it was trouble. That knowledge was not based on the ship’s unscheduled, unannounced reversion to realspace in the Pyria system. In the month since the Rebel Alliance took the planet Borleias from the Empire, more ships than Corran cared to remember had popped in for a quick survey of the place. Some were on diplomatic missions from worlds that had already joined the New Republic coming to inspect the latest conquest of their forces. Other ships had been sent by the rulers of planets who wanted to separate fact from propaganda before they decided if they wanted to shift allegiances in the galactic civil war.

  Still others had been Imperial vessels on reconnaissance missions, and a goodly proportion of the rest were Alliance sh
ips with legitimate business in the system. All of them had to be checked out, and the hostiles discouraged, but the patrols had produced no serious incidents or fatalities. This spawned a complacency among the pilots that was not conducive to long life, but even Corran had found it hard to keep his edge when no serious threats presented themselves.

  The new ship’s arrival slashed away his peace of mind like a vibroblade. The sensors reported a modified freight cruiser that had started life as a Rendili Star Drive ship—not in the Neutron Star-class of bulk cruiser, but something roughly a quarter that size. That in no way made it remarkable or unusual—dozens of ships built on the same design had been through the system since its conquest. The name, Vengeance Derra IV, followed the naming convention common among New Republic ships of recalling some event in the course of the civil war. It had even entered the system on the course and at the speed the Rebels had dictated for freighter traffic.

  Still, something is not right here. During his brief career with the Corellian Security Force, hunting down smugglers and other criminals, he’d learned to trust his gut feelings about things. His father, Hal, and even his grandfather—both CorSec officers themselves—had encouraged him to follow his instincts in dangerous situations. The sensation frustrated him with its elusiveness, as if it were no more tangible than the faint scent of a flower teasing his nose and defying identification.

  It’s enough that I know something is odd. Exactly what isn’t important at this point. Corran keyed his comm unit. “Rogue Nine to Champion Five, you handle the challenge. Wait here with Six. I’m going to go out and do a flyby.”

  “I copy, Nine, but we are supposed to expedite all shipping in this area. They aren’t in the challenge zone yet.”

  “Humor me, Five.”

  “As ordered, Nine.”

  The system patrols had been broken up to cover four zones around the planet of Borleias. The plane of the ecliptic split the system up and down, with sun side and out splitting it core and rim. Corran and two Y-wing pilots from General Salm’s Defender Wing had up-and-out, which was by far the busiest sector because the planet’s moon had moved out of it and sunward two days previously.

  “Whistler, see what you can do about boosting our sensors to pick up any anomalous readings from that freighter.”

  The green and white R2 astromech blatted harshly at him.

  “Yes, fine, there’s likely to be lots of things wrong with that freighter.” Corran frowned as he nudged his throttle forward and the X-wing started off toward the freighter. “I was thinking about inappropriate weapons or other odd things.”

  As Corran’s fighter came in closer he began to get a visual feed on the ship. All of 150 meters long, it had the gentle curves of smaller ships, or the larger Mon Calamari warships. The bridge was a bulge on the top of the bow that tapered back and down into a slender midship. Two thirds of the way back toward the stern the ship’s body flared out again to accommodate the star drives. A communications array sat right behind the bridge, and quad laser turrets bristled off the bow and in a ring around the middle of the ship.

  Whistler splashed a report on the ship onto Corran’s primary monitor. It was a Rendili Star Drive’s design, from the Dwarf Star-class of freighter. It shipped roughly fifteen hundred metric tons of equipment, ran with a crew of four hundred, and had nine quad lasers as well as one tractor beam that could be used to pull salvage into the belly storage area. The guns and carrying capacity made it a favorite for short-haul traders who were willing to work in areas of the galaxy where authority had broken down, or Imperial entanglements could be a problem.

  “Champion Five here, Rogue Nine.”

  “Go ahead, Five.”

  “I challenged the Vengeance and it answered with a code that is good.”

  That surprised Corran because he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with the ship. “Did they get it on the first try?”

  Five’s comm unit didn’t filter the surprise out of his voice. “No, second pass. Why?”

  “I’ll tell you later. Stay where you are, but get someone to lift from Borleias in an assault shuttle. You and Six be ready for trouble.”

  “As ordered, Nine.”

  Whistler chirped an inquiry at Corran.

  “Yes, I think it’s exactly like the doubletaker case.” Back on Corellia he and his partner, Iella Wessiri, had investigated a series of burglaries where things had been stolen from houses, but there were no signs of forced entry. All of the security systems were manufactured by different companies, and installed and monitored by different agencies. The key to cracking the case was that the ROMs used in the security systems all came from the same manufacturer. An employee had sliced the code that got burned into the chips so when a particular password was used on the locks, the system would spit out the correct password. On the second try the thief would enter the correct code, get in, and rob the place.

  The Y-wing fighters the Alliance used were old, but still vital, and most of them were a patchwork of new and old systems. Spare parts were not easy to come by, and whatever were available were used quickly to keep the fighters in service. It was conceivable that a sensor/comm unit integrator had been fitted with odd chips that gave away codes when checking them. Arranging for such things would not be beyond the Empire’s Director of Intelligence, Ysanne Isard, especially if it would help prevent the Rebel Alliance from taking Coruscant away from her.

  Corran punched his comm unit over to the frequency the freighter was using. “Vengeance Derra IV, this is Lieutenant Corran Horn of Rogue Squadron. Stop now. Stand by for boarding.”

  The freighter did not even slow, much less stop. “Is there a problem, Lieutenant?”

  Corran shifted the targeting crosshairs of his heads-up display over to lead the freighter, then sent a quad burst of red laser fire across the ship’s bow. “Vengeance, stand by for boarding. There will only be a problem if you make one.”

  “Standing by.”

  The freighter began to roll to port, exposing its top toward Corran’s ship. Not good. “Five and Six, prepare proton torpedoes. Link fire and lock on the freighter.”

  “Nine, they’ve done nothing.”

  “Yet, Five, yet.”

  Swinging up and around from the belly of Vengeance, four TIE starfighters raced in toward Corran’s X-wing. Without waiting for them to start shooting, he slapped the stick to the right and brought the fighter up onto its starboard S-foil. The TIEs started their own turns to port and began to dive, anticipating his escape maneuver. Corran punched his left foot on the etheric rudder pedal, skidding the stern of his ship to starboard, then shot off straight in the opposite direction from his pursuit.

  “Nine, we have two TIE bombers deployed.”

  “Five, fire on the Vengeance, then take the dupes. I’ve got the eyeballs. Let Borleias base know we have trouble.” He knew the Y-wings would have little trouble outflying the dupes—pilot slang for the double-hulled bombers. If he could keep the TIEs occupied, they wouldn’t be in any position to harass the Y-wings. If the missiles the Y-wings launched at Vengeance were enough to take down the forward shields, the freighter’s captain would have to think about running, which would distract the TIE pilots, since without him, they were stuck in the Pyria system.

  Lots of ifs there. Time to make some of them certainties. He used a snap-roll to bring the fighter up on the starboard stabilizer again, then dove into a long loop that took him down to where Vengeance’s bulk hid him from the TIEs. Rolling his ship and applying some rudder, he arrowed straight in at the freighter. This put him in position to watch as the quartet of proton torpedoes launched by the Y-wings nailed the ship’s bow. Each missile exploded against the shields like a star going nova.

  The astromech droid whistled up a requiem for Vengeance’s bow shield.

  Corran tightened on the trigger and sent a quad burst of fire toward the ship’s bridge. Without waiting to see if it hit or did damage, he barrel-rolled to port, moving toward the middl
e of the freighter, and pulled back on the stick to bring the fighter’s nose up. His targeting crosshairs hung just above the horizon of the freighter’s hull.

  A TIE starfighter, shying from the series of explosions against the forward shield, streaked over the freighter’s edge and right into his sights. Corran triggered a quad shot that caught the eyeball on the port side quadanium steel armored solar panel, slicing the hexagon into a dozen or more pieces. A secondary explosion suggested a failure in one of the ion engines that the fighter’s subsequent careening off through space confirmed.

  Corran rolled up on the left stabilizer foil and drifted to port for a heartbeat before snapping over onto the starboard S-foil and hauling back on the stick. The maneuver allowed him to evade the fire coming in from Vengeance’s lasers. It also put him on the vector the TIE had used coming in over the freighter’s hull. Adding a bit more to the starboard roll and pulling back on stick again took him out past the ship’s damaged bow and let him swoop in on the tail of another TIE.

  The eyeball broke back left, but Corran rolled his ship through a corkscrew that kept him on target. He fired twice. The first quad shot missed, but the second tagged the ball cockpit full on. The lasers blew through the engine, then an explosion ripped the fighter apart. Corran dove into and flew through the expanding ball of incandescent gas, then rolled and dove again.

  “Five, report.”

  “One dupe dead, one sleeping.”

  Corran laughed aloud. “Nice shooting, Five. Good thinking.” The Y-wing pilots had shown the presence of mind to engage one of the bombers while using their ion cannons. The weapons were inferior in power to lasers, but they had the advantage of knocking out a ship’s electronics by overloading the electrical system. The ion cannons could render a ship inoperable, allowing the pilot to be picked up later.

  Chances are, though, this Imp pilot will kill himself to avoid capture. Still, the ship might teach us something.

  “Nine, the freighter is turning to run. Do you want help with the eyeballs?”

  “Negative, Five.”

  Whistler scolded him with a harsh blatty sound.

  “It’s not that I think I’m that good, Whistler, it’s that I know they aren’t.” Refusing assistance to deal with enemies that outnumber you was usually ascribed to unending egotism or terminal stupidity, but Corran had a third reason in mind. The Y-wing pilots, while enthusiastic and decently trained, were insufficiently experienced in dogfighting to be much help to him. If they entered the fight, he’d have to worry about hitting them. Without their intervention, his only possible targets were Imperial ships, and that fact gave him some freedom.

 
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