My Month with the Gods
I awoke early the next morning, as I wanted to be sure that I was ready on time. Captain Ven (I realize this was not the proper Twiílek usage of his name, but I donít know his correct name so itís the best I can do) had informed me a Major Derek Klivian was to be my guide for the day.
My schedule consisted of a tour of the base and surrounding areas and an orientation session in the early evening followed by a diplomatic dinner. The dinner was supposed to be fairly informal, giving the program participants a chance to meet, but dress uniforms had been requested. I was sure this was going to be one of those boring, 'look good for the holo-recorders' events that I hated so much.
Oh well, at least my dress uniform was fairly comfortable and, if I do say so myself, somewhat flattering. This was more than I could say for some of the dress uniforms I had encountered in the past but I get ahead of myself.
I was ready about 20 minutes early, dressed in one of my trusty flightsuits with my long brown hair braided, and decided to try to catch up on a little local news. I turned on the holovid and immediately went to sleep.
The soft knock at my door was interpreted by my travel-fogged brain as thunder, the beeping of my comlink is what finally woke me. I answered it, hoping I didnít sound too groggy, "Xen here."
A somewhat hesitant male voice answered, "Um... General Xen? Maíam, are you in your quarters? If so, can you please come to the door, maíam?"
With a start, I realized what time it was. Good thing I had gotten ready before I sat down, I thought as I walked to the door. A quick glance down assured me that I was indeed presentable. I opened the door expecting to find one pilot but I actually found two, both wearing majorís insignias and patches indicating they were members of Rogue Squadron.
"Major Klivian?" I asked as I returned their salutes.
The taller of the two answered, "Please, General, call me Hobbie. And this is Major Wes Janson." He indicated his compatriot.
"Please, call me Wes," the shorter pilot quipped.
"Well, if youíre Hobbie and Wes, then Iím Sandy." Finally, the name clicked. Hobbie was the nickname of the Rogue pilot notorious for his unusual crash totals. I had not heard the name Derek used very often when referring to him and tended to forget about that.
I considered the pair in front of me. Wes was a few inches taller than I was with dark hair, boyish good looks and blue eyes that seemed to be eternally smiling; his shoulders were broad almost to the point of being uncomfortable in a cockpit but not quite.
Hobbie was even taller and a few years older than Wes with blond hair, slender build and sad blue eyes. Although not classically handsome, he was attractive with an air of constant pessimism. They seemed like opposites in every way but there was a certain camaraderie that was hard to overlook.
Hobbie led the way down the hall. "This is your tour so where would you like to start?"
"Well, since I havenít had my morning cup of caf, how about someplace we can eat breakfast?" I hoped they couldnít hear the rumbling in my stomach -- I had fallen asleep as soon as I had gotten to my quarters and had slept through the evening meal. Prior to that, I had existed on ration bars during the 2-day trip to Coruscant.
Wes answered, "Now that sounds like a great idea."
Hobbie gave me a wry grin, "Thatís our Wes, always thinking with his stomach."
I looked over my shoulder at the playful Rogue, "So, to what do I owe the honor of two escorts? Or is someone somewhere just that afraid of me?"
Wes laughed, "You know, Hobbs. I think Iím going to like her."
Hobbie shot me a conspiratorial look, "He doesnít really have to be here; he just didnít have anything better to do with his day off. We can get rid of him if you want."
"Hobbs, Iím hurt. I thought you said you wanted my company today?" Wes pouted.
Hobbie stopped at the lift doors and turned around to face his friend, "No, I said I didnít trust you not to get in trouble today since I wasnít going to be able to keep an eye on you."
My laughter followed us into the lift. Being a pilot myself, I had heard a lot of stories about the Rogues and tended to follow their exploits whenever possible. So far, the three I had met were living up to their unitís name and reputation. I was beginning to look forward to the upcoming month.
Throughout the day, I was able to pry a little more information out of the pair. I learned that the first three weeks of this particular exchange program consisted of time spent with a squadron and its commanding officers plus 'strategy sessions' with the general or higher-ranking individual in charge of that squadron's wing.
The final week would include simulated war games in a nearby sector of space. These would take place in several phases around an uninhabited gas giant to better simulate planetary defense situations. Depending on the participantís abilities and experience, this could mean anything from leading a fighter squadron to command of a capital ship and its battle group.
Since the Rogueís CO was a general and at times had himself commanded battle groups, that meant I would be spending a lot of time with none other than Wedge Antilles himself. I wasnít sure whether I should be flattered at the undivided attention or annoyed that someone felt I needed it.
I was curious, however. I would not have pictured the Rogues taking part in such an exercise and wondered if the close-knit group of pilots would be accepting of someone who would essentially be considered a civilian observer among their ranks; one that would possibly be leading them into 'battle' - after all they did have a reputation to uphold.
Wes and Hobbie must have either read my mind or had already had this conversation. They assured me that General Antilles had personally chosen me from among the other participants. This didnít help much. It couldíve meant anything from I had the most flight experience to I was the least objectionable one of the bunch.
I did get them to admit that there was a pool going among them as to whether or not I could fly an X-wing. "What if I canít," I asked, trying to hide my growing unease. The look they gave each other let me know they were even more uncomfortable with that thought than I was. Uh-oh. Iím in trouble.
"Um... Wedge said you were a fighter pilot," Hobbie said hesitantly. It was more of a question than a statement.
"I am," I replied. "But Iíve never flown an X-wing. My grandfather used to have an old Headhunter that he let me fly when I was a teenager but thatís the closest Iíve come." I could tell this wasnít going well so I added that I could fly TIEs as well as anything produced by Xen Manufacturing.
"Thatís why the name sounded so familiar. Youíre part of the Xen family from Jovan," Wes seemed to perk up when I nodded. "No wonder Wedge agreed to be a part of the exchange program this time. He's usually pretty good at finding excuses not to participate."
By the time we finally got around to visiting the hangers, Wes and Hobbie were acting like I was one of them. They even agreed to teach me to fly an X-wing in what little spare time I had as long as I didnít tell anyone other than Wedge that I couldnít yet fly one. They assured me that it probably wouldnít take very long given my background.
Late that afternoon, they dropped me back off at my quarters so I could get ready for the orientation and dinner. By the time my escort arrived two hours later, I was pacing. I really wanted to get this over with.
Captain Gavin Darklighter was barely out of his teens and the epitome of tall, dark and handsome. His goatee and dress uniform added something of a distinguished look to his youthful features that seemed mature beyond his years. Considering he was already a battle-hardened veteran, this was quite understandable
The orientation and dinner were not as bad as I expected. The other participants were a mix of aging generals, a few colonels, a couple of commanders and one rather stuffed shirt Admiral. There were several species represented that I had not encountered before and I found myself in a 'people watching' mode more often than not.
The only blight on an otherwise enjoyable evening, not counting one particularly loud-mouthed, know-it-all Colonel who thought he should have been assigned to the Rogues, was Gavin. The young pilot was rather aloof and it took more than a little prying to get him to open up.
I knew from the publicity the Rogues received that he and Asyr Seiílar had been close, but I had not realized they were lovers. He was still feeling the pain of her loss and it showed. I did finally get him to lighten up somewhat when I managed to engage us in a verbal sparing match with the before-mentioned loudmouth Colonel who didnít even realize who Gavin was.
Continued in Part Three