Twelve X-wing snubfighters roared down into the atmosphere.
The world below, Coruscant, former throne world of the Empire, was an unbroken landscape of urban construction, a vast city reaching from pole to pole, blanketed by gray clouds shot through with white and yellow flashes of lightning.
The squadron commander, piloting a black fighter with an incongruously cheerful green and gold checkerboard pattern on the bow, shook his head over the grim vista of the world below. Even after all the time he'd spent here--even after the crucial role he'd played in conquering this world for the New Republic--he still could not get used to the arrogance of Coruscant. It was a world that could only rule or perish, for it produced nothing but soldiers, officers, and bureaucrats, and could not feed its population without importing massive quantities of food from around the galaxy.
He took a visual scan of his immediate surroundings. "Rogue Three, tighten up. We're putting on a show here."
A green X-wing closed in tighter to the formation. "Yes, sir." Though distorted by the comm system, the voice sounded indulgent rather than military.
"That's 'Yes, Wedge'
until we're formally returned to duty." The commander smiled. "Or perhaps, 'Yes, Exalted One.' Or 'Yes, O envy of all Corellia.' Or--"
A chorus of groans interrupted him. The voice of Nawara Ven, the squadron's Twi'lek executive officer, cut through it: "Stop complaining. He's earned his little vacation from reality."
Then the voice of Tycho Celchu, Wedge's second-in-command, sharp and military: "Sensors register a squadron of fighters rising toward us. Speed is X-wing or better; sensor profiles suggest X-wings."
"Maintain formation," Wedge said, then switched his comm unit over from squadron frequency to New Republic military frequency. "Rogue Squadron to approaching X-wing formation, please identify yourselves."
The voice responding was brisk, amused, and familiar. "Wrong designations, sir. We're
Rogue Squadron. You're simply a rogue squadron.
But for the next few minutes we'll do you the courtesy of designating ourselves Red Squadron to avoid confusion. We're your escort."
"Hobbie? Is that you, Lieutenant Klivan?"
Klivan...again, just for the next few minutes."
The other X-wing unit rose into view, gradually attaining the altitude of Wedge's squadron. Wedge was startled to see that the dozen snubfighters were painted in Rogue Squadron's traditional red stripes and twelve-pointed insignia. "Hobbie, explain this."
"No time, sir. We have a course change for you. High Command has decided to broadcast this entire event across the HoloNet--"
"--so set your new course to ninety-three, follow my rate of descent, and we'll get you there in one piece. After that, you're on your own."
Within moments their destination was clear: Imperial Plaza, a ground-level ferrocrete circle so broad that in spite of the surrounding skyscrapers, it could be seen from high in the air at angles other than directly overhead. The plaza was packed with spectators; even at this altitude Wedge could see banners and fluttering haze that looked like chaff but had to be some sort of celebratory confetti.
A speakers platform had been erected on the plaza's west side, with barricaded open areas north and south of it--obvious landing zones for the two squadrons.
As they descended toward the plaza, Wedge flipped his comm system back to the squadron channel. "Once around the park, outbound port, return starboard, at five hundred, Rogues. They're here for a show; let's give them one."
Immediately he heard Hobbie's answer on the same channel: "Same, Reds, but starboard to port return at six hundred meters. Sloppiest flight group buys drinks."
The two squadrons parted, circling the plaza at its perimeter, the wingtips of the X-wings sometimes only meters from the faces of admirers piled up against the skyscraper windows. The squadrons crossed one another's positions on the far side of the plaza and rejoined at their first position, then spiraled down toward the landing zones.
Rogue Squadron angled toward the northern area, Red Squadron toward the southern. At three hundred meters, Wedge said, "Landing gear and repulsorlifts, people," and both squadrons began the safe, vertical descents allowed by the snubfighters' antigravity engines.
Wedge smiled. "Your Red Squadron looks pretty good, Hobbie. A pity you haven't had time to teach them anything about precision flying." "What?"
"Rogue Squadron, Three Diamonds Parade Formation, execute!"
After a moment's hesitation--it had been some time since the unit had practiced the intricate parade formations--the Rogues split into their three flight groups, each group maneuvering into a diamond-shaped formation--one X-wing forward, one back, the two others side by side in the middle--with Wedge's group forward and the other two side by side behind, making a triangle of diamonds, all facing eastward.
Even over the sound of the repulsorlifts, Wedge could hear the cheers from the crowd.
Hobbie's voice came back immediately: "Red Squadron, same maneuver, but one-eighty to their orientation." He sounded amused rather than angry. And in moments his squadron was in the same Three Diamonds Formation, but his X-wings faced west.
More cheers--the crowd was going wild over the aerial demonstration.
"A little wobbly, Hobbie."
"We haven't been together that long, Wedge, but we still know a few tricks. And you
started this. Red Group Three, deny Rogue Group One!"
The three-fighter triangle to Hobbie's starboard rear broke away from the Red Squadron formation, sideslipped and reversed orientation while maintaining the same internal order, and came into position a mere ten meters beneath Wedge's group, descending toward the spot where Wedge would have landed.
"Not bad, Hobbie. Rogue Group Two, deny Red Group One!"
Corran Horn, in his green X-wing with the black and white trim, led his group in a similar maneuver and positioned them directly beneath Hobbie Klivan's group.
"You mynock. Red Group Two, deny Rogue Group Three!"
"Rogue Group One, substitute Red Two!"
The two squadrons' flight groups crisscrossed above the speakers platform as they descended, a dazzling display of precision flying, until, when all were a mere ten meters above the ground, Rogue Squadron was reassembled over the southern landing zone, Red Squadron over the northern. The two dozen snubfighters set down within moments of one another.
Their pilots climbed down from their cockpits into a whirlwind of celebration: New Republic diplomats and old friends dragging them up onto the speakers platform, clouds of confetti raining down from the skyscrapers ringing the plaza, roars of appreciation and exuberance from the thousands in the plaza. Wedge managed to get handshakes and backslaps from Hobbie and Red Squadron's second-in-command, Wes Janson, before being dragged into line formation with all the pilots; the crowd's roar was too overwhelming to allow them to hear one another's words.
At the front of the platform, at the speakers lectern, stood the New Republic Provisional Council's best-loved speaker, Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan. Unlike most of the New Republic's representatives present, she was dressed simply, in a belted robe of senatorial white. She caught Wedge's eye and gave him a smile and half shake of the head, acknowledging their mutual dislike of public spectacles such as this, then turned back toward the crowd.
With a few waves of her hand she managed to reduce the crowd's roar to the point her amplified voice could be heard above it. "Citizens of the New Republic, I present to you Rogue Squadron!" Another protracted roar, and then she continued, "Before I bring Commander Antilles up to speak, I think I should put the squadron's recent accomplishments in perspective. With their efforts, we now have, once again, a steady supply of bacta--a supply sufficient to stamp out the last lingering effects of the Krytos Plague. With their efforts--"
Wedge tuned her out. This was all old news to him. Weeks before, he'd led Rogue Squadron--the true Rogue Squadron, the men and women now in civilian dress--on a mission that the New Republic military command could not support. Resigning their commissions, the members of Rogue Squadron and a handful of professional insurgents had mounted a civilian action against the new government of the world of Thyferra, the world where the overwhelming majority of bacta, the miracle medicine, was produced. That new government was headed by the Empire's former espionage leader, Ysanne Isard, and could have become the core of a reunited Empire.
But now Ysanne Isard was dead, and Rogue Squadron's resignations had apparently been creatively misfiled--meaning that they were never civilians--meaning that, with the mission's success, the New Republic was retroactively making the Thyferran mission an officially sanctioned operation.
Excerpted from Wraith Squadron: Star Wars (X-Wing) by Aaron Allston. Copyright © 1998 by Aaron Allston. Excerpted by permission of Spectra, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.