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 cailyn@xwpilots.de.

The Decision

Part 4: Looking Back

Tycho turned the gaudily colored datacard in his hands, his thoughts lost in the past. The day his brother had given it to him he had been so happy, so proud to go to the academy. The memory of that pride had mocked him ever since the first Death Star had shattered his world. How could he have been so blind? Now the holos on this datacard, put together by an eleven-year-old, were nearly all he had left of his home.

He wiped away the rising tears angrily. He shouldn't have drunk so much whiskey. With time passing by he hardly ever got this sentimental when he thought about his family. He had learned to enjoy remembering his lost home, he wanted to honor the memory of his family and friends, not be haunted by ghosts at night. And he had mainly succeeded. Most people carefully avoided talking about Alderaan when he was around, and while he acknowledged their thoughtfulness, he didn't want to avoid the subject. Alderaan must never be forgotten, and who else but the survivors could ensure that?

He had liked talking about home today, showing the holos of his family and homeplanet to his fellow pilots. Kell, one of the Wraiths, had been fascinated. He had been born on Alderaan, but his family had moved to Sluis Van when he was a child, and he had only vague memories of the planet. Gavin had sat there open-mouthed and only remarked, "It's so green."

Tycho still chuckled when he remembered that wide-eyed Tatooine farmboy stare. After all they had been through, Gavin was still so refreshingly... rural. He smiled when he remembered Lara telling him if his brother was ever looking for a job, he should apply to NR Intelligence. She had wished the ground would open and swallow her when she belatedly realized that his brother had been dead for years, but Tycho didn't mind at all. Rather the opposite. It was an honest compliment, and Skoloc would have freaked out if he had been around to hear it.

The Rogues and Wraiths had tried for hours to slice into the holonet broadcast to watch the zone-ball finals tonight, but in vain. Finally Hobbie had remembered that Tycho's father had been the CEO of a large holonet provider and had asked him for help. So Tycho had eventually been able to put Skoloc's decoding program to good use. After eleven years he hadn't expected it to work, but Lara had to make only a few slight modifications. She couldn't believe a ten-year-old had programmed it.

Absently, Tycho realized that he'd reached his quarters and unlocked the door. It was already past midnight, and he was tired. But even after lying in bed for more than an hour, sleep wouldn't come. His thoughts were still occupied with his memories.

Rolling around restlessly he briefly considered returning to the pilots' lounge where the Corellians were still playing sabacc. But he didn't feel like playing cards, and the last thing he needed right now was more Corellian whiskey. Apparently luck in games of chance and resistance to the effects of alcohol were somehow genetically implanted in Corellians. At least in Corellian pilots.

He hadn't been so deeply moved since his Return, and he was wondering why today's completely ordinary situation had upset him so much. He remembered the night when he'd returned to Yag'Dhul after his Return. In a way he had felt relieved, although it hadn't been the almost religious experience to him that it apparently was to many Alderaanians, but he hadn't expected it to be anyway.

But on the other hand, dealing with his past and thinking about appropriate gifts for Nyiestra and his family had brought home how much he missed them all. So that night he had been very grateful that Winter was already back on Yag'Dhul. They had talked the whole night, and it had taken a lot of the pressure from him.

Winter had suggested that he write a letter to his family, telling them about his life now. She'd included such a letter in the gifts for her own Return, and she'd strongly encouraged him to write down his feelings. He had thought it to be a bit weird to write letters to dead people, but nevertheless he had planned to try it.

But the war against Isard hadn't left him any spare time, and after a while he'd forgotten about it. But right now, with the mood he was in, Winter's suggestion didn't sound so strange anymore. Maybe it would help him to clear his mind. Still a bit reluctant, he got up and activated his datapad.

*Dear Mum and Dad,

I know it's a bit strange that I'm writing a letter to you now, more than seven years after your death, especially since I seldom sent letters when you were still alive. I'm sorry that I didn't. At that time I'd never expected that there was so precious little time left.

There is so much I want to tell you now, and I don't know where to start. You don't even know why you died. In a way I'm glad you died happily, and didn't suffer. And I know you did because we were talking when it happened. But on the other hand I wish you'd at least learned why you had to die and who did it.

The shame in me is still burning hot. I wore the uniform of your murderers, and I wore it proudly. I closed my eyes for such a long time. Hell, even Skoloc was wiser than I was. He saw the truth in the reports I so easily dismissed as 'Rebel Propaganda.' I had to learn the hard way, and the price was so high I almost gave up, sometimes, in the beginning. During the first months it was mainly hate and the wish for vengeance that kept me going. I'm not proud of it, and at that time I would have never admitted it, not even to myself, but those were my feelings.

And sometimes, at night or during long lonely hours in my cockpit, I wished I had never left home. I dreamed about the things we could have done during the two and a half years we would have had left together, until the Death Star. In these desperate hours death seemed much more pleasant to me than living with the memory and the shame. But it would have been the easy way out, and I knew it, of course. And life went on.

In the Rebel Alliance I have met great people, and some of them I consider the best friends I have ever had. They helped me through the hard times, and through the hate boiling inside me. I wasn't the only one who'd lost so much, and their example gave me the strength to carry on, to start living again. Especially Wedge. He is my commander now, at that time he was my wingman, and above all he's my friend. He had lost his parents and his home in a pirate attack when he was only sixteen. Still, he wasn't bitter. He had no personal reason to fight the Empire, still he did with all his strength just because he knew it was the right thing to do.

I don't know whether you'd understand that I believe fighting for the Rebel Alliance and now for the New Republic is the right thing to do, even if you knew it was the Empire that killed you and our world. During our discussions after my application to the academy I understood that for you pacifism wasn't something superficial, but a sincere emotion, the core of your beliefs. Although I never was a pacifist -- and I'm even less now than I was when I left Alderaan -- I admire you for your faith. If everyone thought like you did, this galaxy would be a much more peaceful place.

But unfortunately in my experience there are people who are evil, and who will remain evil whatever you do, and sometimes the only way to stop them is to kill them. I know you would fight against this belief with all your heart. But while we still don't agree on this point, I now -- after fighting in a war for eight years -- understand what you tried to tell me about your own experience in the Clone Wars. Knowing war only from hearsay and from books, I had kind of romantic ideas about it, at least subconsciously. Fighting in a war somehow seemed to be an adventure, and the camaraderie between brothers-in-arms was enticing. I knew -- or maybe I didn't actually know -- war isn't pretty, or even something to long for, but nevertheless those feelings existed, and were strong.

What war is like, no one can tell you. It's something you have to experience for yourself. Those feelings can't be described to others. The ever-present death, friends dying around you, the hunger, the cold, the hopelessness and despair. And fear of death, sometimes. Thinking about all the suicide missions we undertook, I wonder why I was so rarely scared to death. Maybe because I was acting, my fate was in my own hands. I was scared before Endor, and before Brentaal when I learned we would be flying against Fel, my old instructor from the academy, and on a few other occasions. But the moment I sit in my cockpit the fear is gone, and I guess I would be long dead if it were otherwise. Extreme fear of death, the kind that makes your stomach and heart clench and your body tremble and paralyzes your brain, I only experienced when I was helpless, during my stay on Lusankya, and once while I was imprisoned by the New Republic for crimes I never committed.

But the faces of the people who died right beside me are always present. In the morning we might have sat together and joked, and in the evening they were dead, gone forever. The worst thing is that you start to seal yourself off from the pain, try to keep your distance. Wedge flew against the first Death Star, the one that destroyed Alderaan. Only three pilots survived that attack, and it took him almost a year before he allowed himself to get close to someone again. I try not to do that, it's very hard sometimes. But everyone deserves to be remembered as an individual.

And yes, I know that is true for the Imperial soldiers too. I'm aware that you would be shocked to see my kills painted on my X-wing, to hear me talk about vaping enemy fighters as if there weren't people flying them, and sometimes I'm shocked, too. But most of the time I don't think about it. I believe in the New Republic, and I'll do everything I have to to protect it, and killing is part of the job.

Don't get me wrong, I wish it were otherwise. I wish this war would stop immediately, but it isn't going to happen, not anytime soon. We thought it was over after Endor, where the Emperor died, and then when we took Coruscant, but it wasn't. And now I'm sure it won't be over for a very long time, and I don't delude myself thinking I'll be alive to see the end of it. But I hope the children I meet on the streets here on Coruscant and on all the other worlds will someday live in peace and in freedom.

Today I thought about Skoloc; when my fellow pilots tried to slice into the holonet broadcast and didn't succeed I gave them Skoloc's program (I'm sure you remember the night you caught us watching the zone-ball finals :-)) and it still worked, after all these years (and yes, I know it's illegal). When I have thought about Skoloc, I have always remembered him as the little boy he was when I last saw him, and only today I realized now he would be older than some of my pilots are. It makes me sad to know that Nyiestra, Mia, Besca, Alischa, Skoloc, and all the others never got the chance to live their lives, to make their dreams come true. I wish you all could come back, for just one day or even just one hour, to see what has become of the galaxy. To know your death wasn't senseless, but the wake-up call many people needed, the beginning of the end of the Empire.

On Coruscant there is a democratic government again, and Princess Leia is a part of it; like her father she always was one of the leaders of the Rebellion. And the Jedi Knights are back. Skoloc would be so thrilled if he knew. I wish I could introduce him to Luke Skywalker, the first of the new Jedi.

But above all I want to talk with you, to introduce my friends to you, to discuss with you the things that are whirling inside my head. I remember I told Mia once how much I hate the Alderaanian custom of discussing everything, and now I miss it terribly. Alderaan seemed so boring to me when I was a teenager; now I know it was a peaceful haven in a violent galaxy, and I wish it still existed. I hardly ever spend time with fellow Alderaanians. I don't have much time to meet people outside my squadron anyway, but I also still feel like an outsider in the Alderaanian community because I'm a soldier. There are a few other Alderaanians in the New Republic military, and I like talking with them. It's strange, I always thought it didn't matter to me where someone is from, and of course it doesn't really. Most of my friends are from elsewhere, and for sure I don't think any less of a person because of his or her race or homeplanet; if I did I would betray the very core of the things I fight for. But having grown up on the same planet creates a closeness I never knew existed, especially when the world you remember so dearly is gone.

My girlfriend is from Alderaan. I didn't plan to fall in love with someone from my planet of course, it just happened, but it is great to be close to someone who once walked through the same streets, read the same books, watched the same plays and holos. And who, too, has lost her world. It's much easier to talk about Alderaan with Winter than with anyone else. Most people feel uncomfortable, don't know how to react, how to treat an Alderaanian, and I can understand that. I wouldn't know what to do, either. With Winter I can share my memories, talk about the places we both know so well, even about the holo programs we both watched back home. Not that we always talk about these things. We rarely do, actually, but sometimes a small thing, like today's holonet incident, reminds one of us of the people we lost, and then it's great to have someone to talk with, and to cry.

I wonder if this lump deep down will ever disappear. I don't think so, and in a way I don't want it to go. What happened to you and to Alderaan must never be forgotten. I miss you so much.*

He slowly pushed away the datapad with the unfinished letter, not able to write on. For a few minutes he fought against the rising tears, but then he gave up and allowed them to flow freely. He didn't know how long he had been sitting there, his head on his folded arms, weeping, when he finally noticed the sound of the door chime.

"Come in." He had reacted out of reflex, and he didn't realize he was still crying until he saw the shock on Hobbie's face. Tycho smiled slightly at his friend.

"Are you okay?" The Ralltiirian gently touched the Alderaanian's forearm, obviously not sure how to react. Small wonder. He had never seen him cry. No one had ever seen him cry except Wedge and Winter.

"I'm fine."

But Hobbie still looked concerned.

Wiping his tears away, he added, "Really, Hobbie, I'm okay."

The other pulled a chair over and sat down. "I'm sorry, Tycho. I shouldn't have asked for your help. I didn't mean to tear open old wounds again."

The Alderaanian shook his head. "No, Hobbie, you don't need to apologize for anything. I don't mind talking about home. It hurts, yes, but I don't want to forget my family and friends." Quietly he added, "I just wish I could see them again one more time."

They sat in silence for a long time. It was Tycho who finally broke the awkward tension. "Why did you come?"

Hobbie suddenly sat bolt upright. "Oh, damn, I almost forgot. Wedge sent me. General Solo called for a briefing of the squadron leaders in..." -- he glanced at his chrono -- "...ten minutes."

*Great. So much for getting some sleep tonight.* With a sigh Tycho stood up and stepped to the small refresher unit at the opposite wall to let some cold water run over his face. "Do you know the reason for this briefing in the middle of the night?"

"No idea. But I guess we'll learn soon enough."

"I suppose so. Let's go."

The two pilots left the room and jogged down the hall toward the turbolift.

(c) Petra Genske, July 2001

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