It's the message that everyone knew would come, but no one wanted to receive. Wes had been dreading it for months, but still had to be prepared for when it arrived. So when it landed in his list of message inbox, it spurred a plan into motion--putting the final touches to a packed bag; firming arrangements for travel; putting in the call to Gilthas to come in and take care of the business while he was gone. Time was of the essence. As the message said, he had to go now.
Wes, who was only two star systems away, was first of the summoned to arrive. He checked into his hotel, then went immediately to the home of Tycho and Winter Celchu. His stomach was crawling around inside his gut as he knocked on the front door. Tycho's eighteen year-old daughter, Adalee, answered it. She ushered him in without a word.
"Gotten worse?" he asked quietly, glancing around. There was no one else within view.
Adalee nodded her head. "He's hanging on," she managed, before a lump forced her voice to crack. But she quickly recovered herself. "Mom's with him."
Wes pursed his lips, trying to keep control of his own emotions. "Can I see him?"
Adalee only nodded again; perhaps she didn't trust her voice. She led Wes down a short hallway, with four doors; two on the left, one on the right, and one at the end. They went directly to the one at the end, and Adalee knocked quietly on it before cracking it open. "Mom?"
"It's all right, Lee," he heard Winter's voice, calm and strong. Wes envied her control. He always had.
"It's Uncle Wes... He asked if he could see dad." Wes didn't hear a reply, but Adalee stepped aside to let him in. He took a deep breath, then walked into the room.
The bedroom turned sickroom was warm, and all of the blinds were drawn, creating a somber atmosphere. Winter was perched on the side of the bed, holding Tycho's hand in one of hers, the other hand pressing a cloth against his forehead. Tycho seemed to be asleep.
If Wes hadn't known who was in the bed, though, he would have been hard pressed to identify him. He bore hardly any resemblance to the man that Wes had known for the last thirty years or more. His hair had gone completely white, losing the significant amount of dark blond that had been left in it. His face was almost as pale as his hair, with dark circles beneath the eyes, which were sunken. The body that had once been strong and active had wasted away to a mere whisper of what it was.
Wes swallowed hard, then approached the bed. He lay a hand on Winter's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "How is he?"
Winter looked over her shoulder at him. "Fighting, as he always has," she said quietly, holding eye contact with him for another two heartbeats before turning back to her husband. "There was nothing else the doctors could do, so I brought him home. I didn't want him to die in a hospital, away from his family."
Wes nodded. "It's what he wanted. Is he...uh... I mean, is he feeling..." He trailed off.
"Any pain?" Winter answered, looking back over her shoulder at Wes. He saw a slight crack in her mask. "The nurse who stops in regularly gives him pain medication, but it has hardly any effect anymore." She turned back to her husband. "He's sleeping more and more, which is a blessing. There's no pain in his sleep..." she ended in a whisper, and Wes heard a quiet sob from Adalee, standing to his right. Winter's other hand lay the damp cloth down on the bed, and reached for her daughter. She moved to her mother, kneeling on the floor beside the bed as Winter wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and held her close as Adalee buried her face in her mother's stomach.
Wes shook his head, and gave Winter's shoulder another squeeze. He found the entire situation unfair and unbelievable. His mind couldn't reconcile the Tycho he had known, and the one that lay before him, fading away, about to... Go on, say it. You have to admit it to yourself... Tycho is about to die.
* * * * * *
One by one, Tycho's oldest and closest friends arrived at the Celchu household. They had all come to do what they hadn't been able to with Wedge just over a year before--say goodbye.
It was just a matter of time, they knew, before the disease took Tycho. It was fatal in all cases, but death could be forestalled for a time with treatment in some. He'd responded well to that treatment at first, giving them all hope that he would be with them for a few more years at least. If nothing else, Tycho was a fighter--he wouldn't let the disease just take him--but it was inevitable, and the time had come when their friend would lose this last battle.
Hobbie arrived alone, his wife staying behind to take care of the business they'd started together. She would join him in a few days if someone could be found to look after it. She knew that Hobbie had to come, though, and sent him to his friend's side.
Iella and her daughter Syal arrived shortly after Hobbie. Iella had grown a little greyer since Wedge's death, but her strength of character and her close family kept her going. But now Tycho's illness was taking a further toll on her, and she looked tired and gaunt.
Mirax and Corran were last to arrive. Corran's role as a Jedi had taken him half-way across the galaxy, but Winter's message caught up to him. He and Mirax had turned around immediately to head back, hoping to arrive before the inevitable occurred. Their luck held, as they arrived only two days after Wes, Mirax having set some kind of speed record in their journey.
The friends gathered in the living area of the Celchu household, Syal helping Adalee to get refreshments from the kitchen while former Rogues and friends reconnected with each other. Winter remained anxiously on watch with her husband in the bedroom. Every now and then Tycho would regain consciousness, and she never wanted him to wake up in pain and alone. Some of the group joined her for short periods, but they mostly left the couple alone, letting Winter sit quietly with her husband, holding his hand and tending to his fever.
A heavy silence had fallen over the living room, the last topic of conversation being about Wes's shuttle business. But now it had ended, and no one seemed to know what to talk about next. Corran started to fidget, and eventually had to get up to his feet and cross the room, letting some of his anxious energy bleed into his movements.
"You ok, Corran?" Wes asked from where he sat against the wall, perched on a kitchen chair. It was leaning back on two legs, delicately balanced.
Corran turned, his back to the window that looked out on the front garden of the small house. He took a deep breath, trying to settle his mind. "Yeah, I guess. It's just... Yeah, I'm ok." His eyes fell, studying the grain in the flooring. How can I tell them?
"You sure?" Wes pressed, letting his chair drop to all fours, before also climbing to his feet and moving over to join Corran by the window. "You seem more edgy than I've seen you in a while. Even considering..." He motioned with his head towards the hall that led to the bedroom.
The former Rogue shook his head, unable to look directly at Wes. "It's nothing, nothing I want to talk about. Don't worry about it."
"Ok, now I'm worried," Mirax chimed in, also moving to stand by her husband. She took his hand. "What is it?"
Corran sighed. "It's just...hard to explain... You see, being who--or what--I am..."
"You can feel it," Iella whispered. "Just like with Wedge." She seemed surprised as all the faces in the room turned towards her, as if she hadnít even realized she'd spoken out loud. They all slowly turned back to Corran, however, waiting for a confirmation or denial.
"Yes, I can," he admitted quietly, knowing that he couldn't hide it now. He glanced towards the kitchen to make sure Adalee wasn't within earshot. "It's not the same, but something like it. I can feel..." He closed his eyes, and let his senses expand outwards. "Pain is what I mostly feel. And Tycho...fading beneath it. Like... Like water evaporating in the sunlight. " His eyes opened again as he shut his mind off as much as he could from the misery that was emanating from the bedroom. He wouldn't tell them just how much agony he could sense They didnít need to know; it wouldn't help anything if they did.
Corran looked around the room as silence descended on the group again. He saw Hobbie tuck an arm around Iella, and she leaned on him for support. Wes stood silently by as Mirax slipped her arm around Corran's waist. He put his arm around her shoulders, kissed the top of her head, and held her close. He tried not to imagine what it would be like if Mirax was the one in the bedroom, with him sitting on the bed, watching and feeling her life fade away.
Adalee and Syal came back into the room, stopping short at the entrance. They obviously could sense a subtle shift in the air. Wes was the first to move, going to take the tray of cups from Adalee, and life seemed to start moving again.
* * * * * *
It's hard to lose control of a life that you've fought all your life to gain control of. Thatís whatís happened to me, and I hate it. Maybe that makes me a control freak, but then so be it. Thatís what I am.
I figure itís because of the turns my life has taken, everything seemingly always out of my control. So control became everything, became important, became essential, starting on the day my world was destroyed. Alderaan and all that I knew disappeared in the blink of an eye, the victim of an Emperor hungry for power and domination. Some time later, I became the target for a fledgling New Republicís paranoia, and nearly lost not only control of my career, but my very life itself! They wanted to convict me of treason, and execute me. Me! A loyal son of Alderaan, who had more cause than anyone to hate the Empire. If not for friends who stood by me, helped to clear my name, I would have been shot. And my best friend, Wedge Antilles, who was the most determined of all to clear my name and save me, stood steadfastly by my side. Itís been more than a year since his untimely death, and I still miss him.
Of course, the same career choice that nearly cost me my life a hundred times over also made me the man I am now. I realized my dream of being a pilot, racing through the stars, and I made a difference in so many parts of the galaxy. It brought me adventure, promotion, friends that have lasted a lifetime, and eventually even marriage and a child. I survived far longer than I had any right to as a Rogue, and so did my closest friends. We flew together, enjoyed life together, bonded together in a way that can never be broken--in life, at least. We shared happy and sad times, we fought against terrible odds and survived. We celebrated victories, and mourned lost comrades along the way.
However, as with most pilots of the New Republic, eventually you get too old for it. You get shuffled into slower and safer duties, training the next generation, and the next, until you suddenly realize that youíre no longer as essential as you once were. Then retirement, that once seemed so improbably and far away, suddenly looms before you. You get a golden chrono for all your years of sacrifice, and you unaccustomedly find yourself on the outside looking in.
The upside to it all, of course, is that you now have time to spend with the family whoís suffered through your long absences and feared for your safety. You now get to indulge your interests, hobbies, and enjoy the relaxation that doesnít come easy to an old soldier. It's hard to leave the fighting behind, to find the peace that you've fought for an are supposed to enjoy in your golden years.
And, you know, one day I realized that old age was something I never really dwelt on as a pilot. Weíre a superstitious lot, afraid that if you think about or make plans for your future, youíll automatically jinx it. But then you survive mission after mission, reach desk duty, retirement, and your age quickly catches up with you. As do all the aches and pains, gradually greying hair, that slow spread around the middle that you canít avoid no matter how many abdominal crunches you do. And before you know it, your children are growing into adults, and you take on roles that you never thought you would get the chance to. Youíre a mentor to other generations, an old and trusted friend to people youíve known for thirty years, a partner to a wife who's put up with you for longer than you deserve.
The greatest shock of all, though, is when it all comes crashing to an unexpected end. Just when you finally think ĎIíve survived, Iím safe, I can enjoy my life,í fate comes into play and takes it all away. It starts with a cough, that just wonít go away. You think youíve caught a bug thatís being stubborn, so you fight it and go on. Then pain in the abdomen and chest, and you think youíve pulled a muscle from all that coughing. But one morning, you canít get up, and you feel weak, and you donít know why. Your wife convinces you, the terrible patient and procrastinator that you are, to see a doctor. A battery of tests follow, and then youíre sitting in front of a doctor who tells you that you have a disease that will more than likely kill you within a year.
Sith, I survived the death of my planet! I escaped a run on a Death Star that killed ninety percent of the pilots around me. I managed to scrape through an undercover mission to Imperial Center only to be tried for treason for my trouble. In a squadron that counted dead pilots by the dozens, I endured for more than a decade. When the Yhuzong Vong wiped out half of our known galaxy, I managed to come out the other side and make a life for my family. But now my own body is betraying me, and thereís nothing I can do. Itís the ultimate loss of control, and a poor way for a Rogue to go.
Battles are nothing new to me, though, particularly hopeless ones. So I did what I usually do--I put up a tenacious fight. I struggled through treatments that had worse side-effects than the symptoms of the actual disease. There were a lot of sleepless nights and horrendous mornings. My friends, both close and far, rallied around me to offer love and support. My wife and child were my center, my rock, an anchor for those times when I felt the urge to give in to despair. But somehow I knew it wouldnít be enough, that the control would slip and I would lose this battle. Even so, Iíve outlasted even the most optimistic timeframe of the doctors. They expected me to be dead more than a year ago.
Of course the ironic thing is, that I really thought I would be the first of us, the old time Rogues, to die. Wes suffered through the loss of his wife, but soldiered on with his shipping business and his daughter. Hobbie and his wife settled with his plants, and he enjoyed success as a writer and now a businessman. What Corran went through with the Vong--I don't know how you come out of something like that and be as strong as he is. But it was Wedge... He shouldn't be dead, it should be me that died that day. He had so much to live for, years of peace and family ahead of him. Life just isn't fair.
Now itís my turn. I know I don't have long, and I'm kind of glad. My family is suffering, and I don't want them to. And I've had a rough existence, to put it mildly, with enough horrors for several lifetimes. There's been far too much pain in my life. I've always soldiered on, though; always fought for life. But now I'm done, I have no more fight left in me, only this disease that steals my strength and leaves behind agony that no medication can mask. It's a battle I just can't win, and I'm not sure I want to. I'm done with it. I just want to go quietly and let my family be at peace. I want to be at peace.
* * * * * * *
It erupted with little warning. An awakening to pain and despair that struck at the very core of Corran's being, driving into his mind and heart like a durasteel spike. It hit so hard that the cup in his hand dropped to the kitchen floor, exploding into a dozen pieces. As sweat broke out on his forehead and upper lip, he audibly gasped, his left hand grabbing for the countertop to steady himself before he followed the cup to the floor.
Mirax was at his side in an instant, the cloth she had been using to dry dishes falling to the floor to cover bits of broken ceramic. She was asking what had happened, but Corran could barely hear her over the pounding of his own heart. There was no air in his lungs with which to answer her question.
It took a full minute to recover, to gain control of himself and shut out the waves of suffering crashing on the shores of his mind. He found he was sitting in a kitchen chair, unsure of how he got there. Mirax was crouched before him, Wes and Iella crowded to his left, Hobbie to his right. Syal appeared with a glass of water, and Corran took it from her with shaking hands, swallowing the cold liquid greedily; his throat was parched fire.
"Corran?" It was Mirax, speaking softly but urgently. She'd seen him like this before, and it always meant something awful had happened. "Corran, what is it? Talk to me."
"I'm..." He cleared his throat and tried again. "I'm ok," he managed, swiping at his face with one hand.
"Could've fooled me," was Hobbie's quiet reply.
"It's Tycho, isn't it," from Iella. Corran turned to her, and saw haunted eyes that mirrored his own. She knew about the Force-flash Corran received at the moment Wedge was killed.
"Yeah," he answered her, then looked around the rest of the group. Too much pain in my life, he thought, and realized that the thoughts weren't entirely his own. "But...different," he whispered, and he felt Mirax take both of his hands and squeeze them.
"Corran?" a voice behind them turned the attention of the group, and Corran saw Winter in the doorway to the kitchen, Adalee just behind her. Her daughter was visibly struggling to not look upset.
Hobbie straightened, voicing everyone's worry. "Oh no, is he..." he began, trailing off, not wanting to ask or know.
Winter shook her head in answer to the unfinished question. "He's asking for you, Corran," she said, very quietly. "Hobbie and Wes, too."
There was an exchange of glances throughout the group, then Corran stood. He felt a little more himself again, but there was an insistent echo of pain at the back of his mind. He drew on the Force to hold it at bay, and to return some of his own strength to him. "Ok," he answered Winter, then looked to Wes and Hobbie. The pair simply nodded.
Corran gave Mirax's hand a squeeze, and offered her a slight smile. She conveyed her concern through her eyes, and a returning pressure on his hand. He gave one last squeeze before letting go, and the trio of friends followed Winter back the way she had come, to her bedroom.
Over the last few days, all of the group had spent time in the sickroom. For the majority of that time, Tycho had been unconscious. The only people who had seen him awake, besides Winter, was Wes and Adalee. Wes had come back to the living area afterwards, unusually quiet and unsettled. When asked what had happened to make him that way, he was short on information, but something had disturbed him.
Tycho's doctor and a variety of nurses also came through, helping Winter with the task of caring for her husband in his last days. The strength and calm that Winter outwardly displayed was a frequent topic of conversation with the people passing through the Celchu household. Iella especially admired her control, knowing what it was like to lose a husband. But even Iella said that if she had been forced to watch Wedge fade the way Tycho was, there was no way she would have been so composed.
Corran found that they had stopped outside the bedroom door. Winter turned to face them, her hand on the door handle. "He's in a lot of pain," she said in a whisper. "Talking is hard for him, takes a lot out of him. And I donít know how long he'll be conscious for."
"We'll try not to tire him too much," Hobbie replied. Corran nodded and looked from Hobbie to Wes, and saw him nodding his agreement as well. With that, Winter opened the door, and the four of them went quietly in.
The room was as it had always been each time Corran went in: dark, warm, and a little claustrophobic. There was a smell of antiseptic that hung in the air, cloying at his nose, but Corran barely registered those details anymore. Instead he was focused on the man in the bed, and the waves of misery emanating off him through the Force, bombarding Corran's mental shields. It was all Corran could do to keep from turning to flee the room. But he couldn't, he wouldn't leave Tycho. No matter what he was feeling, Tycho was feeling worse.
"Hey, Tycho," Wes said quietly, approaching the bed. He bent at the waist, gently squeezing Tycho's forearm as it lay heavily on the bed. "How you doing, pal?"
Corran wiped at the sweat on his forehead. The effort of shielding himself that much more difficult in such close proximity to Tycho, to the point that he could hardly believe what he was sensing wasn't obvious to everyone around him, regardless of whether they were Force-sensitive or not. It was so thick, it was almost a palpable presence in the room. He drew a deep, calming breath, drawing again on the Force for strength and protection.
"I've been...better," was Tycho's hoarse, halted reply, glancing from Wes to Hobbie as he approached the bed as well. "I'm glad... you're here."
"Of course we're here," Hobbie said, mildly chiding their friend. "How could we not be?"
Corran hung back, unwilling (or unable?) to approach the bed just yet. But when Tycho weakly called his name, he had no choice but to approach. He steeled himself, and went to the opposite side of the bed from Wes and Hobbie. "I'm here, Tycho."
"Corran," Tycho repeated, but had to stop, trying to regain his breath. Speaking indeed was hard for him, as Winter had warned them. He looked so frail, barely a whisper of the strong and vigorous man he had been just a couple of years before. Even the intensely vivid impression that Tycho usually made in the Force was gone, replaced only by a dark, tortured hole that refused all light.
"What is it, Tycho," Corran asked, crouching by the bed to be a little closer, so his friend wouldn't have to try too hard to be heard.
"Your...your power," he tried again, his eyes closing as his face contorted. Corran's mind flashed with fire, but he pushed it aside. "Your power...as...as a Jedi..."
Corran felt an invisible fist squeeze at his heart, and again he wanted to run. He would give anything to not have to let his friend down like this. "Tych... I... I'm sorry, but my power doesn't heal. I can't...I can't cure you."
"No...not healing..." Tycho shook his head. His eyes were clenched shut again, forcing tears to roll down into his hairline. Corran glanced at Wes then Hobbie, but both of them shook their heads, not knowing what their friend was talking about. Hobbie swiped at his face with the back of his hand, sniffling. Wes was pale, trying to remain composed.
"What is it you need?" Corran whispered quietly, waiting for Tycho to find the strength to speak again.
The dying man took a breath that sounded wet and painful, and Corran touched his upper arm to offer support and let him know he was there. "It's ok, Tycho... Weíre not going anywhere, take your time."
Tycho's eyes opened, a faded blue surrounded by raw red as he focused on his Jedi friend. "No...no time...left," he grunted, with another damp gulp of air. "Want...to fly."
Corran's head came up, and he looked immediately to Winter for a clue. Her mask was slipping, both arms wrapped around her body to hug herself. She gave a curt shake of her head, to show she didn't know what he wanted either.
"I don't understand, what do you--" Corran's breath caught as it all suddenly came together--asking for him to use his power, wanting to fly. "You want me to implant a vision?"
That was Wes, who had straightened and looked at Corran over the bed. He ignored his friend's confused look, and continued speaking to Tycho. "You want me to use my powers to help you fly one last time, don't you?"
With a nod that seemed to cost him dearly, Tycho answered in the affirmative, his shoulders sagging with relief.
"I don't... I... Tycho, I don't know if you're strong enough to..." Corran shook his head, letting it dip down as he settled his mind, searching for an answer, for guidance from the power that Tycho wanted him to use.
"I don't understand what's happening," Hobbie whispered.
"Something about his Jedi power," Wes answered. "Tych wants him to do something."
"A vision," Corran responded to the question, before Wes or Hobbie could ask something else. "One of my talents is to make people see what I want them to. Tycho knows that, and he wants me to use it to let him fly one last time." His head came up, looking at Hobbie, then Wes, and finally Winter.
"Can you do it?" she asked, a rasp to her voice for the first time. Normally Corran would have sensed her shifting emotions through the Force, but the room was overshadowed by ripples of Tycho's torment.
"I try not to use that aspect of the Force if I can help it." He saw Winter's chin twitch slightly, and her eyes began to shine with unshed tears. Corran let out a long breath. "But yeah, I can do it."
"So what's the catch?" Hobbie asked.
"None," Corran lied. He turned his attention back to their sick friend. "Look, Tycho, it's going to take me a minute or two to prepare. I haven't done this in a while and I... I want to do it right. Okay?"
Corran got a slow nod from Tycho, glanced at each of the other occupants of the room, then backed away from the bed. He went into the far corner to get ready, away from everyone else. He sat, crossing his legs beneath him, laying the back of his hands on his knees. Taking a deep breath, followed by another, Corran let the Force flow through his body, silencing the noises around him and the doubt within him. He had to compose himself, gather as much strength as he could, because he knew this path would be difficult. But he had no choice; Tycho would do it for him if their positions were reversed. He had to grant his dying friend's last request, no matter the cost to himself.
With something less than a thought, Corran let his awareness edge out from his own mind. He felt the wall behind and to either side of him, solid and immovable. Slowly, his sphere grew to encompass more of the room. He found Winter, a swirl of dark colors with a vibrant outline of silver. She was afraid, anxious, appalled by what was happening to her husband. Corran wanted to comfort her, and his thoughts caressed hers for only a moment, sending peace and compassion through the connection. The swirl steadied a little, then Corran moved on.
Two more swirls of color danced into his sphere--Wes and Hobbie. Corran studied them for a moment, briefly touching each mind in turn, to let them know he was there, no more. He would not invade their thoughts, didn't need to. Again, he had to move on, to perform the task at hand.
As Corran steeled himself for what needed to be done, it occurred to him that it had indeed been a long time since he'd tried to impose a vision. Luke Skywalker told him that this particular control of the Force was called "Alter Mind". It was the ability to project a Jedi's own view of reality or an illusion into the mind of another. It was also sometimes used to change someone's mind or perceptions, or in other words, was used to bend someone's will to their own. It was also a power that often walked hand-in-hand with the dark side, as Corran knew from his own experience during his early years as a Jedi.
He squelched his doubts beneath calm and peaceful thoughts, before traveling back through his own memories of flying, trying to choose something to project to Tycho. He wanted it to be as detailed as he knew Tycho's memories must be, breathtaking in a way that would make him happy, everything that he deserved and hoped for. However, Corran began to wonder if his own memories would suffice. Tycho, even in his current condition, had a mind that moved at light speeds, so bright and observant that most people couldn't keep up. Perhaps Corran needed to try a different tact.
Thinking back to a time when being a Jedi was very new to him, Corran remembered an encounter that may just be what he needed. Mirax had been kidnapped, and Corran went to great lengths to find her, causing him to finally embrace his Jedi heritage as well as join up with a group of pirates for a while. During his time with them, he'd actually flown against Rogue Squadron. After going up against several other Rogues, Corran found his former squadmate on his own tail, taking aim. Through the Force, he'd seen--and was stunned--by Tycho's thought process, and the manner in which he read situations and reacted to them. Corran could use that experience, somehow turn it inside out, and let Tycho fly as he always had: with his heart and his mind, with everything that he was trained to do, as well as had a natural talent for.
With a deep breath, Corran expanded his sphere once again, reaching past Winter, Wes and Hobbie, for the mind he needed to touch. He thought himself ready for the contact, but in retrospect he would realize that nothing could have prepared him for it. Agony beyond description seared into his consciousness, so deep and cutting that his mind wanted to automatically severe the tie to protect itself. By sheer willpower alone, Corran maintained the connection, drawing on the Force once again to underline his own strength, although it could not guard him against Tycho's pain. The shields that had protected him since he'd walked into the house had to be down in order to touch Tycho, to feel his mind and project a sustained series of images into it. This was part of the physical price Corran knew he would pay, sharing everything that Tycho was suffering, in order to grant his last wish. Corran only hoped that perhaps by sharing the pain, it lessened it somewhat for poor Tycho.
* * * * * * *
With a roiling shudder, Tycho's X-wing punched through the atmosphere of Falloni, leaving lightning and rain behind to enter the cold vacuum of space. It was good to be free of the wet planet and his duties there, to be among the stars once again. Life was so free and simple in the craft's cockpit, his own little world where he was always happiest. One gloved hand grasped the flight stick, while the other ran admiringly over the matte surface of the lip just beneath the canopy, his mouth curving into a satisfied smile. Yes, this was where he was happiest.
Suddenly his smooth flight was interrupted by the turbulence of a jade laser blast as it passed just over his port wing. At almost the same instant, there was a scream of warning from Marca, his R5 droid. Twisting as much as he could in his seat, Tycho saw TIEs approach from the dark side of the planet, obviously on an intercept course.
"Where did they come from? Why didn't you warn me sooner?!" Tycho asked, his right hand automatically flipping the switch to separate his s-foils into their battle configuration while he turned back to study his tactical screen. Six of the small fighters in total, spaced out in a stealth attack formation. Alone as he was, they could cause him some serious problems. As his droid tootled behind him, Tycho's gaze glanced from tactical to secondary screen, reading the excuse gliding across it. "Instability in the atmosphere? You couldn't see six TIEs because of a thunderstorm?" Tycho shook his head even as he tossed his X-wing into a corkscrew spin, down and away from Falloni. He was on the cusp of the firing range of the Imperial fighters. Even though their shots weren't all that accurate, now and then they came close to getting lucky.
He knew his best chance would be to make a run for it, and find the safety of hyperspace. However, the mass shadow of Falloni had him trapped for the moment, with six TIEs hot on his exhaust. To add to that problem, Falloni had three moons, two of which were directly to his port side. He'd have a very long detour to get over, under, or around them on his present course, with TIEs slowly catching up to his rear. However, if he took the shorter route to starboard--his original heading--that would mean swerving towards the rapidly approaching TIEs. They might not have shields or hyperdrives, but the enemy fighters had speed and maneuverability on their side. Six-to-one odds were serious enough to make even a veteran Rogue think twice. And thinking was what Tycho was doing. Options, tactics, defensive techniques, underhanded tricks learned over years of flying with the galaxy's best pilots... Of course, the best trick a Rogue had up his sleeve was to do the unexpected.
With an abruptness that elicited another scream from Marca, Tycho jerked his stick to the right, twisting his fighter back towards the onrushing TIEs. The sudden move caught more than his droid off guard--two of the six TIEs noticeably flinched and the V formation they were in wavered momentarily. Tycho took full advantage of that moment, firing sheets of ruby energy into the heart of the formation to break it apart completely, scattering TIEs in all directions. And despite shooting from the hip, he'd managed to hit one of the squared ships; the lead fighter was limping badly with a smoking port engine.
Tycho aimed his fighter directly at the hole he'd created, then upped his speed as far as he could without sacrificing maneuverability. With a flex of his wrist, he pushed his X-wing into a spiraling spin, trying not to watch the planet dead ahead as it rotated around his cockpit. Instead he concentrating on his tactical screens, calculating speed, distances, angles, timing. "Marca, distance from Falloni?"
As the little droid's answer scrolled across his secondary screen, Tycho mentally re-plotted a weaving course and his timing. At the distances Marca was giving him, he'd be passing the TIEs in just under eight seconds and then--
Tycho's shields lit up as the TIEs opened fire, having reformed into two groups. Tycho ignored their shots--although kept an eye on his shield strength--and maintained his spinning ballistic course. When he was one second away from passing through the midst of the TIEs, he pulled his stick back to the center line, and then shoved it as far forward as it could physically go. In a little less than a heartbeat, his spin ceased and his ship was diving beneath and beyond the staggered TIEs.
"Surprise," Tycho muttered through gritted teeth, hauling up the nose of his ship. He was now close enough to Falloni's atmosphere to cause his shields to do some sparking. With a flick of one switch, his repulsors kicked in, and his ship bounced violently off the upper atmosphere and promptly took off at an angle he could never have managed manually. Marca screamed again, and Tycho couldn't blame him. They were completely out of control, spinning nose over tail, but at least they were heading away from the five flight-worthy TIEs and the barricading moons of Falloni.
"Fastest way to lightspeed," Tycho grunted, wrestling his stick for control of his fighter. "And watch those TIEs," he added, only half his attention on his scanners. He could feel rivulets of sweat running between his helmet and the skin of his neck.
Marca tootled something just as the fighter regained straight-line flight. Tycho looked to the secondary screen then immediately to tactical. Most of the TIEs were at least four kilometers behind him and heading in his direction. One, however, had either anticipated him or reacted quicker to his surprise maneuver, and while he'd grappled with his fighter, the Imperial pilot had managed to get almost within firing range.
"So no easy run to lightspeed," he groused. "All right, then, sometimes the old tricks are the best tricks." Tycho again increased his speed as much as he could, and launched into a series of standard evasive moves, trying to entice the TIE on his tail. He kept his attention on the tactical screen, most especially his shield strength. "Marca, give me a distance to that TIE."
Numbers appeared in one corner of the screen, decreasing every second. Marca tootled a warning about shield strength. "I know! Transfer everything but weapons to the rear shields, and hang on." Another tootle actually made Tycho smile. "Sorry, not going to spoil the surprise."
Again Tycho waited, watched, and calculated. He would have to get this just right, or he and Marca would be turned into so much space debris. Wait...Wait... Now! Tycho cut all power to his engines and applied a boost to his front thrusters; the gauge dedicated to speed dropped to nearly zero. Tycho held his breath, Marca hooted frantically, and suddenly a TIE was passing directly overhead, mere meters from Tycho's canopy. He brought his engines back up, and was quickly on the tail of the now-evasive TIE.
With a flick of his thumb, Tycho changed from single to quad fire. This had to be a killing shot if he wanted to make a run to lightspeed before the TIE pilot's companions caught up to him. With narrowed eyes and a calm but intense concentration, he tracked the enemy fighter's movements, looking for his shot. Watching... Waiting...
It was over in an instant. The TIE was weaving to starboard, and then went to port, and right into a blast from Tycho's lasers. A tiny brief flash of light, and another pilot was dead. But Tycho didn't take the time to mourn him, or even to feel the elation of having free space before him. He immediately checked his display for the course that Marca plotted for him, found his jump point, and headed straight for it. Fifteen seconds later, with a flash of incandescent light, he left the other TIEs behind and reached the safety of hyperspace.
Tycho sagged into his ejector seat.
* * * * * * *
Corran sagged against the wall, and then began to slide down it. His robes were soaked through with sweat, his head was pounding, and his heart was hammering as if it would burst from his chest. He could still feel Tycho's agony, having taken it upon himself so that his friend could "live" the vision he'd asked for.
With nothing to preclude his descent, he slumped fully to the ground, landing on his right side. He tried to summon the Force, to try and replenish his diminished levels of energy, but he couldn't even muster the concentration for that. Pain suffocated him, his vision distorted as his eyes rolled back into his head, then thankfully the blackness took him.
* * * * * * *
Wes slowly realized he was on his hands and knees beside Tycho's bed, his body trembling, muscles clenched. He gasped for air, his lungs burning desperately for oxygen. He took a moment to just concentrate on breathing, in and out, feeling the effects of adrenaline begin to ebb, leaving behind a drained sense of helplessness.
By the time his heart stopped pounding in his ears, Wes realized that Hobbie was beside him, also breathing heavily. His friend wasn't quite on his hands and knees, but wasn't far from it, either. "Hobbie... 're you..."
"I...I'm ok," he managed, bent at the waist with both hands on the bed, supporting his weight. "Whuh... What happened?"
"Dunno." Wes shook his head, using the bed to climb unsteadily to his feet. Hobbie straightened a little, reaching a hand out to take Wes's elbow, and they leaned on each other for a moment. Like coming out of a dream, Wes felt disorientated, unsure of his surroundings, but he quickly remembered the where, and especially the why. He looked down and saw that Tycho seemed to be asleep, his chest rising and falling in the shallow pattern that was normal for him these days. His skin shone with sweat, much as Wes's own did, but Tycho seemed comfortable enough for the moment. A tiny smile seemed to turn up the corners of his mouth ever-so-slightly.
Wes's eyes moved from his friend to Winter, sitting on the opposite side of the bed from Wes and Hobbie, her face buried in her hands as her back arched with a sob. It was the first time Wes had seen her cry since he'd arrived. "Winter, are you--"
"Corran!" That was Hobbie, letting go of Wes to round the end of the bed. Wes turned to see the Jedi lying on his side, on the floor. His own weakness pushed aside, Wes followed in Hobbie's wake, dropping to his knees beside the green heap that was their friend.
As terrible as Wes felt, Corran looked substantially worse. The Jedi was pale, sweating heavily, his breathing labored as he trembled uncontrollably. While Hobbie was checking for a pulse, Wes stripped off his outer shirt, rolled it quickly, and tucked it under the younger man's head.
"You'd better get a doctor. And Mirax," Hobbie added quietly, placing a palm on Corran's forehead. "He's burning up, and his heart is racing."
"I'll go," Winter said from behind them. Wes turned to look at her, seeing that her mask was back in place, if a little blotchy and pink.
"All right," was all he answered, turning back to Corran and Hobbie as Tycho's wife left the room.
"What in the name of the Sith is going on here," Hobbie muttered.
Wes helped Hobbie move Corran onto his back, and readjusted the makeshift pillow. "I don't know," he answered, sitting back on his heels. "It's a little...fuzzy. But I'd say we're all suffering from the same thing."
Hobbie looked from Corran to Wes. "Got something to do with what Corran was doing? With the vision?"
"I don't know much about Jedi powers," Wes said slowly, rubbing at the sweat on his cheeks and upper lip, "but I do know that for a moment there, I was--" Wes was interrupted by Mirax entering quietly but quickly into the room, followed by Winter. Hobbie moved aside to let Mirax get to her husband as Winter took her customary place by Tycho's side while keeping an eye on what was going on in the far corner.
"What happened? What did he do?" Mirax asked, looking over at Wes, then up at Hobbie.
"Something about a vision," Wes said, rubbing at his temples now. His head was throbbing dully in time with his heartbeat.
"A vision?! Oh, no. Corran..." Mirax bent lower, pushing sweat-matted hair away from her husband's forehead before kissing it gently. "The doctor's on his way, you'll be fine" she whispered softly to him.
"I knew there'd be a catch," Hobbie said quietly, bending at the waist with his hands on his thighs. He blew out a long breath.
"Why did he create a vision?" Mirax asked over her shoulder, Corran's hand clutched to her breastbone.
Wes shook his head slowly and sighed. "Cause Tycho asked him to."
Mirax turned back to her husband, shaking her own head. "He should have known better," she whispered.
"Will he be ok?" Hobbie asked, one hand on her shoulder.
"I hope so." She looked up at Hobbie, her eyes glistening with tears. "The doctor was already on his way to see Tycho, so it shouldn't be long until he's here."
Hobbie nodded, then turned to Wes. "What were you saying before?"
Wes's face twisted as he thought about it. It was like a dream, so vivid when he'd awoken, now distant and fading. But surely everyone else in the room must have felt it too, since they'd had similar physical reactions? "I was going to say that for a moment, I think I... I dunno, somehow I was Tycho." He shook his head, knowing how insane it all sounded. But Hobbie looked thoughtful, not shocked, and was nodding in agreement.
"We were part of the vision," Winter said from her place by the bed, and all three turned to look at her. She didn't turn towards them, but continued to be focused on her husband, gently petting his hair while he slept.
"I don't think that's what was supposed to happen," Hobbie countered, straightening. "It was for Tycho. Sith, it was Tycho, in his fighter. Wes is right, I was there, I could see it, I was living it." He rubbed at his forehead, as if trying to clear away the memory. Or possibly the same headache Wes was feeling.
"We were all there," Wes said, climbing slowly and stiffly to his feet. "We got sucked in somehow."
"Mom?" Adalee appeared at the bedroom door, interrupting the conversation, and the doctor entered to tend to his patients.
* * * * * * * *
Corran glanced around the room, his brain not really understanding what he was looking at or the circumstances he was in. Sluggish green eyes traced over pale pink walls, hanging static images of teenage boys, Tanaabian horses, a detailed floral print...
An odd room for him to wake up in, he thought in passing, noticing the duvet that covered him. Purple and pink flowers with green leaves, more mature than the rest of the decor, but still undeniably adolescent and girlish in design. Not to Mirax's tastes at all... And his wife was conspicuously missing, in a bed designed for one person.
Corran's mind eventually began to clear, bringing his surroundings into sharper detail: he was in his usual sleeping attire; there were sounds of activity outside the room; it wasn't fully dark outside the small window, but whether it was dawn or dusk, he couldn't be sure. In order to get a better feel for his surroundings, and acting mostly out of instinct, he expanded his senses. All he got for his trouble, however, was a sharp thud of pain somewhere behind his eyes. He rubbed at his forehead, just above his eyebrows, to try and clear it. Drawing on the Force didn't usually hurt. His face scrunched up with discomfort and confusion.
The covers of the bed were quickly tossed aside as Corran swung his legs around and bare feet hit floor. He pushed himself upright towards standing, and a wave of dizziness and nausea swept over him like a Tatooine dust storm, forcing him to sit back down. He then fell back, lying the wrong way across the small bed, his feet still on the floor. He groaned aloud.
Not...a good idea...
While he tried to will his stomach to keep still, memories were coming back in bits and pieces: Tycho's illness, the vision he'd asked for, Corran's frantic grip on his control as he tried to maintain it through the backwash of Tycho's agony. He'd made every effort to make the vision all that Tycho asked for and more... Had he succeeded?
"Corran! What do you think you're doing?!"
It took more effort than he would have thought to pull his head up enough to see the silhouetted outline of Mirax in the doorway. His head throbbed at the attempt, so he let it ease back onto the bed. "Tryin' not t'throw up," he answered, closing his eyes against the glare from the lights in the hallway.
"You shouldn't be trying to do anything," she said in a much softer tone, moving to his side. She took his arm, trying to help him up the bed, and his head gratefully found pillows. The room was still slowly spinning around him, but the nausea was gradually receding. "You've been unconscious for over two days, you need to stay quiet."
"Sorry," he muttered, his eyes closing out the orbit of the room.
"It's all right," Mirax whispered, as one soothing hand ran gently over his forehead then back into his hair. "Any better?"
"A bit," he answered, sinking a little deeper into his pillows. "What happened?"
Mirax's fingers hesitated for only a fraction of a second before she continued to gently pet his hair. "You passed out," she said quietly, before adding "after the vision.
Corran would have nodded, but he suspected the nausea might return, and so refrained. "Was hard," was all he would admit. He cracked open his eyes and looked up at his wife. "But it worked? It was worth it?"
"I wish you wouldn't do these things," she murmured, still slowly massaging his scalp. He couldn't help but notice she didn't really answer his question. "You frightened me."
"Sorry," he repeated, remorse flavoring his words. He wearily reached up to take her hand from his head, and she met him half way. Too tired to support the added weight, he let their clasped fingers settle on his chest. "But was it worth it?"
Mirax nodded, tears beginning to pool in her expressive brown eyes. "He woke up a few hours later. Winter said that he was almost...at peace," she managed, her free hand swiping at an errant tear. It was a few moments before she could continue, her voice catching. "He... He slipped awayÖ Later that night."
Despite already knowing that his friend was dying, the news of Tycho's death still hit Corran hard. His chest tightened, causing him to gasp involuntarily, and he found his vision blurring with tears. He tried to blink them away, but more replaced those that slid down his temples. "D-dead," he managed in a whisper, his voice cracking with emotion.
A sudden weight pressed against Corran's chest, the soft warmth of Mirax's hair brushing against his cheek as she sough the comfort of his embrace. But Corran had no comfort to give this time, having spent it all on Tycho in his final hours. Corran couldn't even comfort himself and began to weep in earnest.
* * * * * * * *
The bridge of the shuttle Faith was crowded, not meant to hold the dozen people that now occupied it. Wes sat at the helm--since the ship was his, he was the clear choice for pilot--his fingers dancing over the controls. "All engines disengaged," he announced, turning in his seat to face the gathering behind him. "Alderaan graveyard ahead."
The announcement was followed by a bottomless silence, as Tycho's friends and family gazed through the transparisteel window at the debris field. Chunks of rock moved slowly before them, all that was left of Tycho and Winter's home planet, destroyed many decades before.
It had become a ritual for some of the Alderaanians that survived the destruction of their world to return to this place at various times, on what became known as The Pilgrimage. There was no set timeframe to follow; those who wanted to return did so at their own pace. Sometimes it was to memorialize those who had been killed by leaving gifts or messages, other times to mark an important milestone in their lives. Eventually, it would be to add their own remains to those of their world they had loved and lost, spending the rest of eternity with them in the coldness of space.
It was for the latter reason that this group had gathered. Although Tycho had only made a pilgrimage to Alderaan once since its destruction, he had expressed a desire to 'rest' with his family. Winter promised that he would, and the necessary preparations were made. Now six days after his passing, Tycho was about to rejoin those he had lost so long ago.
"Do we say something?" Wes asked, glancing from face to solemn face. They had spent so much time planning how to get to Alderaan that no one had thought much past that, least of all Wes. This was his first Alderaanian funeral. "How does this go?"
"There's no real ceremony," Winter answered, her voice carefully calm. Wes suspected it was more for her daughter's benefit than the rest of the assembly. "If anyone has anything to say, they can. Then a final prayer is spoken, and..." She trailed off, and Wes understood what she wasn't saying.
"I have something to share." Everyone turned to look at Corran. It was difficult to do in the cramped confines of the bridge, made even more restricted as the Jedi made his way closer to the front viewscreen. He looked to Winter, who nodded for him to continue.
"I have many memories of Tycho," he began, turning to face his friends. "Some I keep as my own, but many I've shared over the last few days. The one memory that will always be vivid, though, was of the last time I saw Tycho. He asked me to do something for him, as most of you know, something that I knew would be difficult. But the man had risked his life for me more times than I can count--refusing was not an option. And although it caused me some... discomfort, I gained so much from my joining with him that it was worth it. Even through pain and debilitating disease, Tycho's strength of spirit, and powerful love for his friends and family, touched me deeply."
Corran paused, taking a deep breath. "The vision that I gave Tycho was of what he loved--flying. To do so, I reached back to a time when I had touched his mind during a dogfight, and I took what I'd learned and placed it into something new. I entirely created that vision, but his mind took possession of it, controlled it. He decided where it was going, what was happening, what he was doing. I saw... I saw behind the vision, a glimpse of the real Tycho, of his mind and spirit. And I could see what he wanted most..."
"It was his time. He knew it; knew it was a battle he couldn't win, and one he didn't want to fight anymore. He knew Winter and Lee..." Corran looked at each woman in turn. "He knew that you were suffering along with him. He hated seeing that, it hurt him more than any pain from the disease could. He wanted his own misery to end, but he wanted peace for you, too."
Corran stopped there, shaking his head as if he couldn't put into words what he was feeling. He closed his eyes and took another deep breath, and Wes felt an unexpected soft and reassuring touch at the outskirts of his mind; his Jedi friend was reaching out to all of them through the Force. He wasn't invading their thoughts in any way, just a comforting presence, like an arm around Wes's shoulder for support. A support that Wes hadn't realized he'd desperately needed until that moment. And that one moment of compassion put a crack in Wes's brave front. He hung his head, his back curving as he slumped in his seat. One hand wiped at his face as a tear slipped free, then rubbed at his eyes with thumb and forefinger, fighting the few tears that would follow. The touch at the edge of his mind intensified, warmth of feeling and friendship coursing through him, a kind of mental hug. Wes smiled through tears at the effort Corran was making. He knew how much using the Force still hurt the Jedi since his collapse.
I'll be ok, Wes whispered the thought.
We all will, the reply came, like words carried on the wind.
Eventually others in the group shared their memories of Tycho, supported and encouraged by Corran's soft touch. Soon a silence fell over them again, some watching the shifting ruble outside the shuttle, others looking down at their feet. It seemed it was time to do what they had come to do, even though none of them wanted to be the person to say it. As was often the case, Winter was the one to take the lead.
"There's a prayer," she started, breaking gently into the silence. "It was spoken at funerals when we had a world on which to be buried. And now it is spoken for those who are buried here. Lee has asked to speak it."
Adalee stepped forward at the invitation. Even though her eyes were red and the skin surrounding them was inflamed, Wes could see Winter's steel resolve mixed with Tycho's fire and vitality. She looked to her mother, then began the prayer. Wes bowed his head.
shed tears that he is gone,
Lee finished the prayer, and Winter slipped an arm around her daughter. Again silence fell over the group.
After a few moments, Winter stepped forward with Lee, and lay a shaky hand on Wes's shoulder. He looked up into her grey, watery eyes, and nodded; the duty he had been dreading was at hand. He glanced over the control panel to his left, even though he knew exactly where the switch he needed was located. He reached for it, his hand hovering over it for several heartbeats, then he flicked it. A red light lit beneath it, and there was a faint shudder through the deck of the shuttle. Wes looked up in time to see a silver cylinder float out from beneath his ship, slowly making its way into the swirl of rubble, all that was left of Alderaan.
"Goodbye, Tycho," Wes heard whispered somewhere behind him, and his eyes blurred with tears again.
Note from author: The prayer
used in this story is actually a poem,