This is a work of fan fiction. No monetary profit has been gained from its production and no copyright infringement is intended. The Star Wars characters and events used in this fan fiction are the property of George Lucas. Mike Stackpole and Aaron Allston invented or shaped most of the characters with whom I'm playing, so my special thanks go to them for writing such great novels and comics. If you would like to republish the fanfic, please ask me. Any comments are very welcome at email@example.com.
Cadets and Rebels
Tycho didn't look up from his datapad when he heard the soft hiss of the door behind him. It was long past curfew, and the cadets weren't even allowed to work at this time -- although he often did -- let alone be outside their rooms. But Zack never cared for regulations, and so far Tycho's roommate hadn't gotten in trouble, at least not in serious trouble. Tycho winced when Zack put his hands on his shoulders and pushed his thumbs into his taut muscles, and reflexively ducked to avoid the pain.
Zack let him go. "You shouldn't work all night and spend your spare time in the simulators. Your neck and shoulder muscles are so tense they feel like stone. It has to hurt even when I don't touch them."
It did. But that wasn't important. And not Zack's business anyway. "Not everybody can afford to roam around every night. I... we have six tests next week plus a difficult new sim coming up, and I haven't even managed this one yet."
"No one has. And if you don't succeed, no one will. Fel asks the impossible, as usual."
"He just tries to push us beyond our limits." Tycho's reply came with the speed of an often used argument, but frustration was evident in his voice. Every time he was pleased with a good performance, and felt like he finally knew everything one possibly could about flying TIEs, Fel came up with a new, even more challenging sim and rudely brought him back down to ground level again. *Well, I wanted a challenge when I came here, so I shouldn't complain now.*
Zack had sat down on the edge of the desk, his arms folded across his chest, observing Tycho closely.
When their eyes met, the Alderaanian was surprised to see a sincerity on Zack's face that was very unusual for his always optimistic, fun-loving roommate. He pushed back his chair. "Something wrong?"
Zack bit his lip for a while before he answered. "Yes. Bad news. Disturbing news, actually. You know some of the cadets who got arrested for 'Rebel activities' quite well, don't you?"
Tycho felt his stomach tighten. He knew most of them, three of them he even considered friends, especially Lennik, a very close friend of Biggs. He simply couldn't believe they were Rebels. Sure, they didn't like some of the things that were going on in the Empire and in the Imperial Navy, but that didn't make them Rebels. He himself disagreed with several things, but nevertheless he was loyal to the Empire. "Yes. Will they be court-martialed?"
"No. They're dead. All of them. Died during interrogation."
"What?" Knocking over his chair, Tycho jumped up and stumbled backwards until he was stopped rather abruptly by his locker.
"Shhh. Do you want to wake up the whole academy?"
"But... that can't be true. I mean, I don't even believe they were actually involved with the Rebellion, but even if they were, they would face a court-martial. But 'died during interrogation'? All of them? Who told you this?"
"I can't say. But it's a reliable source. Apparently they tried out new interrogation methods on them."
"Your source must be wrong. I don't believe it."
Zack shrugged. "Your choice."
When the cadets had all mustered the next morning, the academy's supervisor addressed them. "As most of you know, five days ago a small Rebel cell was uncovered here at the academy. I trust all of you are as disgusted as I am that terrorist elements have been among us. I've been informed this morning that all accused cadets were found guilty and were executed immediately. The investigations are ongoing and thorough. I demand your complete cooperation with the Military Intelligence officers. Anyone who thinks he might have the slightest bit of information about Rebel activities at our academy must make either the MI officers or his superiors aware of them, otherwise he will be considered a Rebel sympathizer and face court-martial. Dismissed."
When he retreated, Tycho glanced at Biggs who had turned deathly pale. Lennik had been a very close friend of the Tatooinian. Tycho wished he had given Zack's source more credit and told Biggs about the rumors before so that at least he would have been prepared.
When he opened the display in front of him, Biggs noticed for the first time that his hands were trembling. He stared at the letters scrolling down before his eyes, but he didn't grasp their meaning. His mind was frozen. *Dead. They are dead. All of them. Lennik, Weylin, Renkah, all dead. It has to be a dream, it has to.*
But he knew it wasn't. He had witnessed most of the arrests himself, had even talked with Fel about it. Thinking back, he realized that Fel had already known at that time the arrested cadets were as good as dead. In a way, he had known it too. But then later in the evening when a very shocked Tycho had come to his room and told him that Lennik, Weylin, and Renkah, three of their friends, had also been arrested, he had been so sure that it was a mistake, a misunderstanding. He didn't know about the other cadets, but these three at least were no Rebels.
But they were dead now. Executed for treason. Had he been wrong? Had they actually been involved with the Rebellion? All three had been accused of Rebel sympathies by some people before. But did disagreeing with certain Imperial politics already make you a Rebel? Not in Biggs' book. It happened from time to time that cadets got dressed down or even punished for 'rebellious thoughts' by their superiors at the academy, and he himself had once been warned that some of his opinions could end his career in the Navy before it had even begun. But he had never heard that a cadet had been arrested and court-martialed, let alone been executed, for something like that.
He sighed inwardly. He wished he had been in the simulator complex with Tycho and had had the chance to see his friends a last time, to look them in the eyes and maybe understand what they were thinking. *How does it feel to get arrested and then to stand before a judge and wait for him to decide if you're going to die or not?* If they had stood before a judge at all. Only four days had passed between their arrests and their execution. Had they ever had a fair chance? A chance at all? Fel had seemed so sure they would be executed, and he definitely was no hard-liner. But he knew the Imperial military much better than Biggs did. Maybe they really never had a chance. Had they known this when they were arrested? And had they at least been given some time to write a last letter to their family and friends?
Biggs felt tears rising to his eyes when he imagined sitting in a small cell, writing a farewell letter to his folks, knowing that it would be the last thing he did in his life. Suddenly an acute pain in his right hand hit him.
"Get up, Cadet!"
It took him a moment to realize that his history instructor, Lieutenant Klauke, was standing in front of him, his pointer still raised threateningly. He jumped up, fighting against the reflex to bury his aching hand under his left arm.
He caught the derogatory look his instructor gave him, and Biggs realized that Klauke had obviously misinterpreted his tears. Well, better to be thought soft than having to answer embarrassing questions.
"What did I just ask you, Cadet Darklighter?"
"I don't know, sir." Biggs involuntarily flinched when the pointer slammed down on his desk.
"You don't know? What do you think you're doing here? This is an Imperial Military Academy, Cadet, not your local nursery. This incident will be reported, and, in addition to your normal assignments, you'll write an extra essay on the historical importance of the Trade Federation's blockade of Naboo. Sit down."
"Yes, sir." Biggs tried to look subdued, but he couldn't care less about Klauke and his punishments. *What does it matter when your friends are dead?*
Tycho jumped to the ground and leaned back against the cold metal of the simulator. After two straight hours of flying, he was exhausted. To boot, the events of the last days were whirling inside his head. He closed his eyes. He had briefly talked to Biggs and Hobbie during lunch, but he hadn't told them what he'd learned from Zack the night before. He still wasn't sure whether to believe this mysterious source. It wasn't hard to guess how his roommate had gotten this information, but from whom he had no idea. It couldn't be one of the cadets, which left either their superiors or a person from outside the academy, and he really couldn't believe in any of those possibilities. But it definitely was not something to talk about with anyone except Zack. He had to ask him. Maybe his source would be willing to share more information.
And Lennik? He remembered the arrests, the stormtroopers, the look on Lennik's face. They hadn't been very close, but Lennik was a nice guy, very fair and ready to stand up for his friends or anyone who needed help. He wasn't consistent with the picture Tycho had of the Rebels, not at all. He was no terrorist.
Sighing, he pushed away from the simulator and ran right into someone. When he opened his eyes he found Fel frowning at him, and he stumbled back a few steps. "Sir, I'm sorry, sir. I..."
"I think it's advisable to open your eyes before starting to walk, Cadet."
"Yes, sir." He blushed.
"Well, I noticed you survived the run for the first time tonight."
"Yes, sir, but just barely." Fel regarded him for a while, making Tycho very nervous. He respected and admired his flight instructor, and usually he didn't feel this awkward when he was around.
"You don't seem to be delighted. You tried for the whole week to pass this sim, now you have -- and you're the first one, I might add -- but still you seem depressed. Is something wrong?"
"I think I'm just exhausted, sir."
Fel turned around and started to walk toward the exit of the simulator complex, curtly gesturing Tycho to come along. "Some of the cadets who were executed for treason were friends of yours, weren't they?"
"Yes, sir." Fear started to build up inside him. What if people thought he was a Rebel, too? But Fel knew he wasn't, he had to know that.
"What do you think about this incident, Celchu?"
Fel patiently waited for an answer while Tycho tried to sort out his thoughts and emotions. *Tell him the truth, you have nothing to hide.* "I'm shocked. And confused, I guess. I mean, I knew them, and I would've never thought they were Rebels. They were dissatisfied with some things, but they were no terrorists. It was just a few days ago I last talked to them, then they were arrested, and now they're dead."
"You don't think they deserved death?"
"I don't know. If they were found guilty of treason, capital punishment is the only possible penalty. But..." He wordlessly stared at the ground.
"I... I can't comprehend what has happened. They never hurt anyone, not that I know of. On the contrary."
His flight instructor stopped abruptly and turned around to face him. He waited until Tycho had looked up before he spoke. "They were executed for treason. That's a capital crime. I understand this is hard for you and the other cadets who knew them, it's always hard to realize someone you trusted didn't deserve your trust, but don't think they didn't harm anyone just because they didn't hurt someone directly. They rebelled against a legal government, broke the oath they swore to the Emperor, gave information to the Rebel Alliance. They betrayed all of us. Information they gave to the Rebels, and would have given to them in the future had their Rebel cell not been detected, might have led to the death of Imperial soldiers somewhere else in the galaxy. Who knows what they would have done after graduation? Defected and fought against the people who trained them? Against the people who considered them friends? Or remained in the Imperial service as moles who await their activation, giving vital information to terrorists, and then one day turning against their comrades, killing the people who trusted them?
"I'm willing to believe some of them had idealistic reasons for what they were doing, and didn't realize the full extent of the harm they caused. But neglecting to think about the consequences of your actions doesn't protect you from paying for your crimes, and rightfully so. Let their fate be a warning to all of you. Don't get involved with something you don't understand just because you're momentarily dissatisfied or angry. The Empire ensures peace, stability, and prosperity, and everyone who opposes it is an enemy of the people, of all of us. Rebellion leads to anarchy and death, as I've unfortunately experienced several times."
"I understand, sir, and I won't ever turn my back on the Empire. It's just so hard to believe they did."
"Yes, it's hard to believe for me, too."
They walked together in silence while Tycho thought about the things Fel had said. They made perfect sense. He had joined the Imperial military to protect people, to ensure peace, and the Rebels brought war to the galaxy. He had met some jerks since he'd joined the Navy, but most officers were responsible and cared for the people under their command. Like Fel.
And still, the memory of Lennik's face and Zack's words 'they died during interrogation' were hard to forget or ignore. *'Died during interrogation.' 'Tested out new methods.' It can't be true. It can't.*
"What else is bothering you, Celchu?"
Tycho winced guiltily. "Nothing, sir."
"Don't lie to me."
The Alderaanian thought furiously. He couldn't tell Fel about the rumor he'd heard, even though he wished he could. He wished Fel would say that it wasn't true. But if his instructor asked him for the source of the rumor, he had to answer. You don't lie to superior officers. Period. And that would get Zack into serious trouble.
But Fel waited for an answer, his arms folded across his chest, his expression grim. "Don't try to hide anything from me. The MI will interrogate every cadet, and trying to hide anything from them will get you into very serious trouble."
"You think I'm a Rebel?"
"No. But there's something you know about this case, something you haven't told me yet."
Tycho felt his stomach slowly folding on itself. If Fel told the MI, either he or Zack or his source or all of them were head over heels in trouble. *Died during interrogation. Great. Just great.* He took a deep breath before he answered. "It's only a rumor I've heard, and I can't believe it's true. It is said that they weren't executed, but died during interrogation." The beating of his heart was so loud he was sure Fel heard it. Almost trembling he waited for the inescapable question: 'Who told you?' He wouldn't tell. This was his problem, he wouldn't sweep along anyone else. But Fel just stood there, pondering. When he finally spoke, Tycho felt as if someone had cut the ground from under his feet, but for a reason he hadn't expected.
"It is true. The MI officer in charge decided to use a new interrogation method on them, and apparently they died from the aftereffects. To be honest, I don't like the MI's way of handling this case, but it doesn't really make a difference. They had already confessed their Rebel activities and would have been executed anyway." He regarded Tycho closely. "Be careful with the rumors you hear." With that, he turned around and left a very shocked and confused cadet standing alone in the hall.
"Did they already interview you?"
"No. Where were you?"
"You don't want to know." Zack sounded surprised, probably because Tycho usually knew better than to ask what he was doing.
"Are you crazy? The academy is full of MI people. Everyone is under suspicion, and you wander around all night as if nothing has happened."
"Hey, relax." Zack let himself fall back onto his bunk. "I have to cultivate my connections. And have some fun. You already work hard enough for both of us."
"C'mon, Tycho. Our priorities are just a bit different. And you have to admit that my information is usually accurate."
"Too accurate," the Alderaanian whispered to himself.
Tycho sighed inwardly. Zack would get mad when he found out Tycho had told Fel about the rumor, and for a very good reason. And being on the receiving end of his roommate's anger was not a pleasant experience. "I said it's too accurate for my liking. I wish it were otherwise, but apparently your 'source' was right. They died when the MI tried new interrogation methods on them."
"Who told you?"
"Did you tell him what I told you last night?" Zack's sharp voice caused a cold shiver running up Tycho's spine.
"Yes," he admitted. Before his roommate could explode, he hastily added, "I didn't tell him who told me. And I wouldn't have. I really didn't want to tell him anything, but he kept asking. What could I possibly do? Had I refused to answer he might have told the MI."
"He might tell them anyway. And that will get both of us into serious trouble, really serious trouble." Zack's retort was sharp, but he seemed to take the news calmer than Tycho had expected.
"I know. And I'm sorry. But I wouldn't tell them anything."
"As if you had a choice. Do you think Lennik and the others confessed their Rebel activities voluntarily?"
Tycho stared at his datapad, for the first time wondering what exactly had happened to them, and how they'd died. *The MI wouldn't torture their prisoners, would they?* He guessed they had used drugs to find the truth, and a new drug could have had side-effects no one expected. It wasn't a pleasant thought, but it was much more pleasant than the alternative. "I'm sorry, Zack. If someone questions me about my source, I'll try my best to keep it secret."
Zack sighed. "I know you would, but I don't think we have to worry about that. Fel likes you; he won't make you a target. And I have a plan myself. But be more careful next time. I know you trust Fel, but there are some things superior officers just don't need to know." He got up and went to the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Spreading some rumors. The more people know, the less likely anyone finds the source."
Tycho looked around carefully before he knocked quietly. He never felt comfortable when he disobeyed orders, but tonight, with the MI around, he was especially nervous. The door was opened slowly from the inside.
"Come in," Hobbie whispered.
Biggs didn't look up when Tycho entered the room. He sat cross-legged on his pallet and stared down at his feet.
Hobbie shrugged when Tycho looked at him questioningly. "He's still in shock."
"I'm not. Not anymore. I've started thinking. " Biggs looked up slowly while the two other cadets sat down on the other pallet, a fierce expression on his face. "I can't believe Lennik and the others are dead. Within days of their arrest. What kind of justice is that? And did you hear the rumors? It's said they died during interrogation. They tortured them to death!" His voice had become louder and louder and now he was almost shouting.
"Shhh," Hobbie whispered. "Are you crazy? If the MI hears you..."
"I don't care." But fortunately he was calming down again.
"We don't know whether these rumors are true. You know how fast these stories are made up."
Tycho fidgeted uneasily. "This rumor is true," he eventually said quietly.
The two others stared at him. "How do you know?"
"Fel told me."
"What did he say?"
"That the MI tried a new interrogation method, and they died of the aftereffects after their confession. They would have been executed anyway."
"And you believe that?" Biggs asked sharply.
The Alderaanian looked at him irritated. "Believe what?"
"That they confessed 'Rebel activities' before they died. All of them?"
"That's what Fel said. Are you suggesting that he lied to me?"
"Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't know better. I think the MI didn't even care whether they were Rebels or not. They just tortured them until they died."
Tycho looked at him in disbelief. "You can't be serious. Imperial justice is strict, but not arbitrary. I guess they used truth drugs on them, as usual and allowed by the law, and a new drug had a fatal side-effect no one expected. I don't like that, but they would have died anyway. Face it, Biggs, they did confess their involvement with the Rebellion."
The other snorted. "'Imperial justice isn't arbitrary!' How naive are you? Have you ever heard of someone who got arrested and was later found not guilty? The moment stormtroopers knock at your door, you're dead."
Tycho jumped up angrily. "Oh, really? And you know that exactly from whom? Your Rebel friends?"
Hobbie went between them and tried to calm his two friends. "Stop it! None of us knows what really happened, and we're all way too emotional."
"Too emotional, Hobbie? Lennik was my best friend. He helped me through the first hard months at the academy, and he never let me down. And now he's dead, only because he became enmeshed in the wheels of our great Imperial justice."
"What makes you so sure he wasn't guilty?" Tycho asked. "I didn't want to believe it, either, but we have to face the facts."
"Fact is that he died four days after his arrest. What kind of justice is that? He never had a chance."
"He was found guilty of treason. He betrayed all of us."
"He didn't betray anyone," Biggs shot back. "If he was a Rebel, I am too."
"Yeah, maybe you are." Furious and frustrated, Tycho stormed out of the room.
With a sigh, Hobbie sat down again on his bunk. "You continue to talk like this, Biggs, and we'll have stormtroopers knocking at our door pretty soon."
"You think he'll report me to the MI?"
"No. As long as he doesn't really think you're a Rebel, he won't."
"He of all people should understand it. He's from Alderaan, for the Emperor's sake, the home of people's rights and fair justice." Biggs didn't even try to hide the sneer in his voice.
"Yes and no," his friend answered calmly.
"What do you mean?"
Hobbie leaned back against the wall and pondered for a while before he answered. "Yes, because he was raised on a world which is proud of its democracy, its stand for equal treatment of all beings, its fair and independent judicial system. And he values these things, no doubt. But on the other hand, growing up on Alderaan he has never experienced Imperial injustice. And don't forget that his motives for joining the Imperial Navy have to be very different from ours. You came here to escape your remote planet and your father's influence, I'm at the academy because my parents ordered me, I was never given a choice, but he had all opportunities open to him. And he chose the Imperial academy against his family's wishes and against the pacifistic conviction of his whole planet. Whatever made him do it, he certainly didn't do it lightly, and I think it takes more than some bad feelings about the circumstances of these arrests and executions to make him reconsider his choice. He will see the truth eventually, but not yet, it's too soon for him."
Biggs stared at Hobbie speechless. Never before had he heard so many consecutive sentences from the taciturn Ralltiirian, and never before had his roommate given such a clear indication of his own political standpoint. "Hobbie, what--"
But his friend stopped him by raising his hands. "We shouldn't talk about it anymore tonight."
That night Biggs didn't get much sleep, too many thoughts were whirling inside his head.
"It's almost past curfew, where have you been?" Biggs looked up from his work as Hobbie silently closed the door behind him.
"I talked to some people. Apparently the investigation is finished and the MI left Prefsbelt this evening."
The Tatooinian breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good news. I was scared, really scared."
"Yeah, me too." Hobbie sat down on the desk next to his friend.
"I was so frightened during the interrogations I was sure the MI would become suspicious."
"And some of my answers were so clumsy and uncertain I expected to get arrested on the spot. And when they called me for a second interrogation, I was sure I was done for."
"Same here." Biggs smiled slightly. He knew they shouldn't talk this openly about their feelings, not even in their own room, but after a whole week full of nervousness and fear in which they had rarely dared to talk at all, he longed for conversation. "I don't think I've ever felt this frightened in my whole life, Hobbie. Have you?"
His roommate rested his chin on his fist. "Yes, once. Back home. On Ralltiir, a few friends and I spread anti-Imperial flyers, and we painted slogans on walls. Secretly at night, of course. It was more than a child's prank. We were convinced of what we were doing, but I don't think any of us realized what consequences our actions might have. For several weeks we continued, then the city governor was annoyed enough to hand the case over to Imperial security. My father is the head of security, so suddenly I found myself in the middle of the investigation."
"Your father suspected you?"
"No, fortunately he didn't. But he talked about his investigations every evening during dinner, bragged about the efficiency of his men and how close they were to getting the terrorists. And he made clear to me and my siblings -- quite drastically -- what would happen to them after they were caught. I was scared, really scared to death. We were kids, and we were pursued as if we were assassins or bomb attackers. But we were lucky. A riot started, and Imperial security was too occupied with that to further investigate our case." He sighed, and Biggs noticed that his hands were trembling slightly.
"You think your father would have arrested you if he'd known?"
Hobbie didn't hesitate for a second. "Yes, definitely."
The simple statement shocked Biggs. But he sensed his friend's reluctance to tell him more, so he didn't press the subject. His roommate had already placed an enormous confidence in him. If anyone learned about this incident, as negligible as it might seem, Hobbie was dead, that he was sure of. A week ago he would have laughed about it, but Lennik's death had made him reconsider. And his opinion of the Imperial judicial system had changed drastically. He sighed.
"Are you okay?" Hobbie studied him with concern.
"Yes, I am. I'm slowly realizing how much I've changed during the last week. If someone had accused me of Rebel sympathies two weeks ago, I would have rejected it fiercely, and meant it. But now, I'm not so sure anymore. I'm starting to see myself as a Rebel and the Empire as the enemy, and in a way this scares me."
"I don't think you've changed very much, Biggs. I think your definition of Rebel has changed. You thought Rebels were extremists, terrorists even, determined to bring chaos and anarchy to the galaxy. I'm sure there are people like that, but I think the majority of people who rebel against the government, whether privately or organized, are ordinary people who just can't endure the injustices any longer. People who have given up the hope that the Empire can be changed from within the system."
Biggs nodded thoughtfully. "You know, I don't think Lennik ever considered himself a Rebel. But the Empire did. By their definition, I will be proud to call myself Rebel."
Tycho pulled the blanket over his head. He was just glad the week was over. Six difficult tests, lots of sim work and physical exercise, and the interrogations to boot. He had been questioned by the MI twice, for over an hour each time. Most of the other cadets had only been interrogated shortly, but some, such as Biggs and Hobbie, had been questioned for hours. Tycho had feared they might be arrested as well, but as far as he knew the investigation was finished now with no further arrests.
In an already very tough week, the constant nervousness and suspicion combined with the knowledge that friends of his had been executed as convicted Rebels and with the memory of his last argument with Biggs had pushed him to his limits. His nerves couldn't take anymore. His body hurt. He was physically and mentally at the end of his strength. All he wanted to do now was sleep, but he was too exhausted and taut even for that.
"Are you okay?"
Tycho looked up, surprised. He hadn't noticed Zack had returned. "You're back already, before curfew? Are you sick?"
His roommate nudged him playfully. "This week I spent every night working at my desk after you had finally managed to give me a bad conscience, and apparently you didn't even notice." His tone was a mixture of accusation and huffiness, but the grin on his face spoiled the image.
"I just didn't realize the change was more permanent."
Zack started to massage Tycho's shoulders carefully, but even the gentle touch made him wince. When the other pressed his fingers into his neck muscles and slowly skimmed them down along his neck and shoulders, he had to bite into his pillow to avoid crying out loud. It hurt badly.
"Zack, please", he hissed between clenched teeth.
Tycho heard him rummaging in his things, but he didn't look up. Instead, he pulled his blanket over his head again and buried his face in his pillow. All he wanted was to sleep. He sighed when Zack sat down on the edge of his pallet again and pulled back the blanket. *I think I liked it better when he was away all night.*
"Relax." He carefully spread a hot liquid over Tycho's back.
"Where did you get +that+ from?"
"You don't want to know."
The Alderaanian sighed and just enjoyed the warm oil on his aching muscles. His roommate started to massage him, but although he apparently tried to be gentle Tycho groaned quietly several times and felt tears rising to his eyes.
"I'm sorry. But you'll feel better when I'm finished, I promise."
It felt like an eternity until Zack had loosened his muscles enough that the massage actually became a pleasant experience. Tycho relaxed and enjoyed the warmth and the regular movements of Zack's hands on his back.
He woke with a start when the first rays of the rising sun fell onto his face. Sitting bolt upright he finally remembered that today was the start of the year's first festival week and the cadets weren't required to get up as early as usual. In fact, it was still one hour till the wake-up call.
Relieved, Tycho lay down again, curling up underneath his warm blanket. He moved his shoulders and neck muscles experimentally. They didn't hurt anymore, for the first time in weeks. As annoying as Zack could be sometimes, he knew how to make him feel relaxed. With a sigh and a glance at his roommate who was still asleep, he fished for the datapad on his bedside table and started to read Ny's last letter again.
"You've read this letter how many times now?"
Tycho rolled his eyes and put down the datapad. "You don't know what I'm reading."
"I do. You never look as happy as when you're reading a letter from your girlfriend or watching her holos."
"You're just jealous."
Zack chuckled. "No, I'm not. Serious relationships are not for me. I prefer to be independent."
"You don't know what you're missing."
"Neither do you, kid."
Rolling over Tycho grabbed his pillow and quickly threw it at Zack, then covered his head with his arms before it came flying back.
Instead of throwing back the pillow, Tycho stuffed it under his head again with a grin. "You need to try harder to tease me today, Zack. I haven't felt so relaxed in weeks. Thanks for the massage yesterday."
"You're welcome. But you ought to train with me in the gym more often instead of sitting at your desk or in a simulator all day."
"I'll try to find some time for that if you promise to train with me in the simulators."
"I don't like piloting. And I'm pretty bad at it."
"Not that bad. But you'll have to fly after graduation, and without proper training that might become lethal pretty quickly."
Zack sighed. "I know. Okay, I will let you chase me through the sims if I'll get my revenge on the mat."
"I could really get used to these festival weeks." Hobbie leaned back in his chair, enjoying the warm sun of this early summer day. He laughed when he saw Biggs pulling his jacket closer around his body. "Don't tell me you're feeling cold."
"I am. I grew up on a desert planet, remember? It's hot there, really hot."
"How do you endure that?"
"You get used to it."
"I wouldn't. But nevertheless I would like to visit Tatooine one day, I'm curious what it looks like."
"Not much to see, really. Sand, rocks, some canyons. A lot of dubious beings, boring farm life, only interrupted by the occasional exciting sandpeople attack." Biggs grimaced.
"Doesn't sound like you want to go back. Do you still have friends back home?"
The Tatooinian smiled. "Yes, I do. A good friend of mine is still there, but he wants to come to the academy as soon as possible. And he's a hell of a good pilot, Fel will be surprised."
"He's better than you?"
"I don't like to admit it, but yes, he is. I think he might even be better than Tycho."
Hobbie raised his eyebrows slightly. "That good?"
"Yep. He has more raw talent, I think, but not as much discipline by far. I'm not sure who would win a direct contest."
The Ralltiirian sipped his lemonade thoughtfully. "Have you talked with Tycho recently?"
His friend sighed. "No, I haven't. I rarely saw him over the last week. I guess he's still angry."
"Unsure what to do with us, more likely."
"What do you suggest?" Biggs asked.
"I think we should try to save our friendship. If this incident separates us from him, and from the other cadets, the MI has reached one of its goals."
Alarmed, Biggs looked around carefully. "Shhh. And you tell me I'm talking too much?"
"Sorry." But he smiled.
Biggs relaxed again, too. These last quiet days and the wonderful weather had washed most of the tension and nervousness away. If it weren't for the lump deep down in his throat, he could convince himself that nothing had happened, that it had all been a bad dream.
When Tycho lowered himself into the simulator cockpit, he carefully tried to avoid any contact between his right side and the hard metal surface. He couldn't remember ever having this many bruises. He had used much of the additional spare time the cadets were granted during the festival week for unarmed combat training with Zack, and he had been beaten up very thoroughly.
Despite the pain, he smiled when he remembered the lessons. He'd always been a pretty good fighter although no match for Zack or some of his friends. To his surprise Zack had turned out to be a very good teacher, even though he seemed to enjoy beating up his roommate. Nevertheless Tycho was grateful for the lessons, and his skills had even earned him the respect of some of Zack's buddies who had still thought him soft and weak only because he was from Alderaan. A prejudice he had had to deal with from his first day at the academy, and one he hated wholeheartedly.
He grimaced when the straps pressed against an especially nasty bruise while he put on his helmet. Well, he had gotten his revenge in the cockpit by putting his roommate through sim after sim until the other was so exhausted that he didn't even manage to fly straight any more. Zack had complained that he was worse than Fel, and Tycho secretly liked this observation, although he knew of course that he was nowhere near as good an instructor as Fel was.
But he'd discovered that he liked training other pilots, and apparently he wasn't too bad at it; Zack's performance had improved noticeably over the last five days. Both cadets had agreed to keep up the joint training as often as possible during the coming weeks which would have a much tighter schedule again.
While he almost subconsciously went through the preflight checklist, his thoughts wandered to Biggs. They hadn't talked since their fight, and they'd only greeted each other curtly when they'd met in the halls or canteen. But that hadn't happened often. Tycho had avoided his friends. He told himself that he didn't want anyone to think him a Rebel, but he knew that he actually didn't want to confront his own mixed emotions about the recent arrests, and he especially wasn't ready to discuss them with others.
But he missed the talks. Zack was a nice guy, and some of his friends didn't turn out to be as weird as Tycho had thought, but none of them were really interested in serious conversation. In the past he had discussed some very serious and personal topics with his roommate, and sometimes he himself was surprised how much trust he put in Zack telling him things he had never and would never talk about with his friends, but these occasions were rare. Usually Zack wasn't willing to discuss a topic in depth, he thought life was too short and too much fun to brood over such uninteresting things as politics.
He shook his head briefly to clear his mind. He'd better put his full attention on the upcoming simulation. With his left thumb he activated his comm. "Blue One to Blue Group. Do you copy?" To his surprise it wasn't a computer-generated voice that answered him.
"Blue Two ready to go."
"Thought you might need a real wingman, Tycho."
"Two real wingmen," Hobbie's voice added.
"I do. Thank you. Let's go then."
An hour later the three cadets met in front of the simulators and shook hands cheerfully. "Great flying, guys!" Hobbie jumped enthusiastically onto Tycho's back.
The Alderaanian winced. "Ouch! Hobbie, please."
The other looked at him surprised. "That can't have hurt."
Tycho smiled ruefully. "It does when you're covered with bruises."
Biggs turned around. "What did you do?"
"Unarmed combat training with Zack and some of his friends."
"You trained with those lunatics?"
"C'mon, Biggs, Zack isn't that bad, and his friends turned out to be quite nice, too. Besides, I learned a lot from them."
"If you say so. I always wondered how you manage to get along with him."
The edge in Tycho's voice amazed Biggs, but he knew better than to press the subject. He and Hobbie had come to reconcile, not to start another fight. He put his hand on Tycho's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be disparagingly."
The Alderaanian smiled at him. "It's okay."
Hobbie pushed between them. "C'mon, stop talking. I'm starving, and it's almost supper time. Let's hurry."
Laughing, the three cadets started to run down the hallway.
(c) Petra Genske, July 2001