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 Operation Welcome Home
Part Nine

"Hold that end up more... no, to the left... no, your other left..."

"Help me shift this table out of the way..."

"It's not gonna hold, it's slipping... toss me that other roll..."

"Do you have another rag? Throw it here..."

Four Rogues scurried around the living space of a small apartment, their voices crossing and colliding as they tried to finish the last details for their welcome-home surprise. They couldn't be sure when their target would arrive, but they had something less than an hour before the optimum arrival window opened, and they had to be done before then.

When Hobbie and Wes returned to the apartment, Wedge and Tycho had been preparing some of the hanging decorations to go up, as soon as they had more adhesive tape--which fortunately Wes had purchased several rolls of from the helpful, Basic-speaking shopkeeper. On looking around, however, Hobbie had pointed out one very important thing which the other three had overlooked: they'd cleaned everything BUT the living room. Which was the one room they would probably spend the most time in during their stay, and which was receiving most of the attention in decorations. It would be a little inconsistent, he suggested, to decorate the ceiling, but not fix up the rest of the room to match.

After a collective round of forehead-slapping and groaning, the Rogues dealt with this hydrospanner that had been tossed into the works with their usual dispatch. Dividing their forces, Wedge and Wes set about dusting and sweeping with a vengeance, while the taller pilots continued work on the ceiling, all trying to keep out of each other's way. Several bumps and curses punctuated their failures in this regard.

"Why do women have to keep so many knickknacks?" Wes grumbled, shifting another set of them to the side so he could dust the entertainment console.

"Maybe you can ask when she gets home," Wedge tossed back, busy shifting things around to dust the terminal-desks on the other side of the room. He picked up a small model of what looked like an NR pilot, dressed in flightsuit and complete with tiny blaster. Curious, he looked the figure up and down, pulling off the oversized helmet, and then blushed. He set it carefully back down, hoping none of his pilots had noticed him picking up the bright-orange model.

Hobbie stood on a chair, ducking slightly as he held a series of wires against the ceiling. Tycho was still fiddling with his X-wing model, trying to make it hang at a jaunty angle as it "flew" across the living room toward Corellia. "Try hooking that end wire around the wing, maybe it'll keep it up?"

Tycho made the adjustment, and then nodded in satisfaction. He drug another chair over beside Hobbie's, armed with a roll of masking tape in one hand and another looped over his wrist. He started liberally applying the tape to the ceiling, awkwardly reaching around Hobbie's splayed hands to fasten all of the wires. Since they hadn't found anything but the masking tape to hang his masterpiece with, he was settling for quantity over quality. He'd hang some more "stars" from this section, to hopefully distract from the patches of tape plastered across the ceiling. "Okay, now slowly let go..."

Hobbie carefully released his hold on the wires, ready to grab if the tape didn't hold. The model shifted slightly, settling, and then was still. He breathed a quick sigh of relief. "Whew. I wasn't sure we were gonna get it up."

"It's up. I just hope it stays," Tycho answered, watching the model closely as he stepped off the chair and pulled it to the side so Hobbie could step down. Not seeing Wes behind him, he bumped into the shorter pilot, making both jump.

"Tycho! Watch where you're going!" Wes growled, his patience frayed.

"Watch where you're dusting!"

"I WAS watching where I was dusting! You keep outta my way, Celchu!"

"All right, that's enough! Both of you!" Wedge snapped. Tycho threw a dark look at Wes, and then stalked into the kitchen to get a drink. As he disappeared around the corner, a heavy thumping beat filled the room yet again, muffled by the wall.

"I've had about enough of that, too," Wes snarled. "Try to ignore this, nerf-for-brains!" He drew a small blaster from a side-pocket on his pants leg, and levelled it just over average human height at the adjoining wall between apartments.

"No!!" Wedge and Hobbie both dove for him. "No shooting up the neighbors!"

"Low profile, remember?" Hobbie said urgently, pushing his arm up and out of line. "And we don't have time to fix blaster marks..."

Wes allowed Wedge to twist the blaster out of his hand without too much of a fight. "If she lives with this all the time, I think she might not mind the blaster hole, if it shuts them up," he grumbled, crossing the room to pound on the wall. "Hey, what's this?" His sharp eyes caught the model that Wedge had tried to set unobtrusively behind one of the monitors on the desk. "Looks like a pilot," he commented, picking it up.

Wedge winced, knowing it was too late to stop the inevitable. Wes held the little pilot up, staring eye-to-eye with it, and then blinked. He looked across the room at his commander, a huge grin splitting his face. "Well, look-ee who we have here..."

"Look out!!" The panicked cry cut through whatever else he was about to say. All three looked toward the sound of the voice, startled, just as the tape holding the X-wing's wires gave way. Hobbie started to jump forward to catch it, but before he could scarcely move, with a blur of motion, Tycho was flying through the air from the direction of the kitchen. His outstretched hands caught the model, scant seconds before he thumped flat on the ground on his stomach.

For a surprised moment, everything was still. But before the other three pilots could move to pick up their fallen comrade, the rest of the tape gave way. Stars, planets, and suns dropped out of their orbits; Coruscant rolled into a corner, Corellia bounced off in the direction of the 'fresher, other planets flew in random directions, and glittering plastene stars scattered everywhere.

The Rogues could do nothing as the galaxy came apart around them. When the last bouncing pieces came to a stop, the three standing pilots stared at each other, wide-eyed. From the pilot on the floor came a tiny anguished sound.

Wedge blinked, trying to come to grips with a bad situation gotten much, much worse. But before he could form any kind of plan, a quiet chirp cut through the apartment, like the final knell of doom. The sound of his comlink.

Operation Welcome Home: Part Ten

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