Louise Turner And Catriona Boyle
Luke Skywalker clutched the towel to his body and eyed the shower cubical suspiciously. He could hear the sniggers from the rest of Red Squad as they closely monitored his progress toward the stall and, risking a glance over his shoulder, he caught sight of Wedge Antilles sporting a massive, self-satisfied grin. Skywalker swallowed and turned back to the matter at hand. As he took a step forward and peered inside, he nervously recalled the last time he had approached it. . .
He had just dropped his flight suit and underwear, switched on the water, when something shrieked. He had turned quickly and found one extremely wet and smelly Arnamack snarling at him from the floor: These Yavin IV indigenous creatures were famous among the Rebels for their dislike of water and for their wonderful defence mechanisms. This one was obviously not very happy. Luke had taken a step back in the hope that he would make the exit before it pounced.
The Arnamack turned its hindquarters towards him and let loose a foul stream of noxious purple liquid. Luke squawked in disgust and dismay. He stumbled backward, falling from the cubicle into the locker room, much to the delight of the rest of the flight and tech crew who had gathered there to watch Antilles' prank unfold.
"Something wrong, Luke?"
Janson smirked, and Luke threw them both a venomous look. "No!" He stepped smartly into the shower and closed the partition. Once inside he cautiously glanced around and, once reassured that all was safe, he activated the shower. He turned his face to the jet of water and ran his hands through his hair, enjoying the sensation as the warm deluge massaged the fatigue of the patrol from his body. Antilles was going to pay for the Arnamack incident. He smiled at that thought, relished wiping the complacent look off his friend's face. . .
* * *
"How's the Arnamack, Luke?" The Chief Technician smiled sweetly at him. "Didn't know you were into keeping pets. Against regulations, you know."
Luke grimaced; he might have known the entire base would get to hear about it. He'd even had personnel walking past him holding their noses. He took a sip from the cool glass of beer he held and eyed the festivities of the party. It was the Flight's anniversary, and the Rebels were making the most of a rare chance to relax and enjoy themselves. However, Luke was still sore about the shower room and declined to answer Ysabel's question.
"Course, if you're that desperate for company at night, then maybe you could let me know. Messing around with furry animals ain't natural. And look what happens when things go wrong..." She raised her eyebrows at him.
Luke almost spilled his drink down his fatigues. He turned to regard her, almost as warily as he had the shower stall. "Aw, gimme a break, Chief!"
"Where?" She grinned at him.
"Hey, Luke, looks like you got a proposition there!" Hobbie exclaimed, walloping Luke violently across the shoulders.
The slap sent Luke stumbling straight into Ysabel's arms. His drink slopped over the rim of the glass, splashed down the front of their uniforms, soaking them both.
"Well, looks like we'll both have to get changed now!" she told him, helpfully. And she gazed meaningfully at him with impish delight in her green eyes.
"Dear me," said Hobbie. "We'll tell them you died bravely." He shook his head, sadly.
Luke hurriedly extricated himself from Ysabel's embrace. "Another time," he mumbled and headed for the other side of the room, his face warm and crimson.
"I'm open to offers, honey!" she called after him. And laughed, "Only make sure you leave off the Arnamack perfume!"
Luke escaped into a safe corner behind two med-techs, and sat wearily down in a vacant chair. He was finding it hard to adjust to the rigours and customs of military life - not to mention his new comrades' sense of humour - after his sheltered upbringing on a Tatooine farm. He'd only been here a couple of months and he was already the butt of their jokes. He understood that the squad members were not being vindictive with their pranks. In their own way they were welcoming him into their ranks and in a short while someone new would come along and take his place. But, for now, he was their primary target.
"Supplies have finally arrived, I hear."
"Not before time. We've been crying out for bacta tanks for weeks..."
Bacta tanks? Luke looked up in interest and listened to the techs discussion. "Yeah, I hear they're being installed as we speak."
A delighted grin broke out over Luke's face as the seed that the techs conversation had planted in his mind grew into a full blown, and somewhat evil, idea. He stood up on his tiptoes to peer over the heads of the women in front of him. His quarry wasn't difficult to find. Antilles' voice was raised in a loud and inebriated song, as he slouched at one of the tables with Janson and Zev. He was waving a hand as he led the chorus, his glass of beer sloshing dangerously in his grip. The song teetered into some off-key harmonies, and all three singers burst into frenzied laughter. Antilles slumped forward onto the table, causing even more mirth to erupt amongst the pilots.
Luke edged towards the door as discreetly as he could, praying that none of the choir would notice his departure. The door to the rec lounge closed behind him and the noise and bustle of the party receded to a comfortable level. He wiped with disgust at the beer on his uniform; it was drying now and beginning to give off that unmistakable whiff of stale alcohol. He sighed in resignation - it seemed that he was destined to carry a certain aroma about him. However, there was no time to change and he hurried off to the hangar.
Han Solo clenched the wrench in his hand and waved it at his Wookiee co-pilot. "No! And you know where you can stick this!"
Chewbacca eyed the tool dubiously and grumbled under his breath. Han had just returned to the Falcon after yet another argument with the Princess, and - as had become the norm these last few weeks - he was taking it out on his partner and ship. The Falcon was getting yet another overhaul, the fifth in two weeks to be precise, as Han attempted to rid himself of his brewing anger.
"What was that?" Han questioned from across the hull, certain that Chewie had just made a reference to a certain part of the human anatomy. "If you said what I think you said, I'm gonna..."
"Hi, Han! Chewie!"
Han leaned over and squinted down at Luke. "Uh, hi, kid."
"I need your help," Skywalker informed him. "Chewie, too."
"So what's new?" Han commented cheerily, his sullen mood beginning to lift a little with Luke's appearance. He and Chewbacca clambered down to join the young pilot. "Phew!" Han pressed his hand to his nose. "Is that Arnamack essence I smell?"
A pained expression flitted over Luke's features. "Please, Han," he begged. "Don't you start, too."
"Must admit, kid, Antilles got you pretty good."
Luke shrugged. "Yeah, don't I just know it." Then he smiled, rather deviously, Han thought. "Now it's my turn."
Han laid down the wrench he was still holding, much to Chewie's relief. "What's the idea, Luke?"
"Don't you think, Wedge Antilles, that you have been drinking quite enough for one night?"
Wedge pulled an unimpressed face at that suggestion. "Aw, Yzzi, stop being such a, a..." He frowned, and shrugged, as Zev passed him yet another glass of beer.
"Come on," said Zev, voice slurred as he set the glass unsteadily in front of Wedge's face. "You gonna back out of this one, Antilles? Grow up, will ya? You're never gonna be anything if you take her advice instead of having a good time. Down in one!!"
Wedge gazed in muzzy acceptance, picked up the glass, and gulped, and gulped, and gulped. And collapsed over the table.
"Oh, great!" snapped Ysabel. "Now look what you've done. And you can get him back to his dorm and put to bed. I ain't helping you this time."
"But he's your little baby, Yzzi," complained Zev.
"Yeah, maybe, when he's sober. But not when he's lying here comatose. Get him back!"
Janson nodded, sadly. "Awright, Ysshhhi. We'll make shure he getsh there in one peeessshhh."
"Like hell you will. Looks like I'd better escort the lot of you home. Else you'll all be spending the night in the X-wings 'cos you took the wrong turn."
Ysabel stormed out from Red Flight's dorm, muttering disgusted curses about brainless pilots and idiotic youths who should maybe try growing up for a change.
Luke, Han and Chewbacca ducked into the shadows of a storage compartment as the Chief Technician strode angrily past. They waited for several silent moments, then re-entered the empty corridor.
"Looks like the Chief's pissed off," Luke observed, happily.
"She'll be even more pissed off once you pull this stunt, kid. Ever consider that?"
For a brief instant Luke appeared hesitant. His hand paused over the door's access panel as a fleeting thought of facing a raging Ysabel, once she discovered what he had done to her favourite pilot, crossed his mind. However, it didn't stay long. Revenge is sweet - no matter what the consequences. "Don't care," he announced, brightly. '"Sides, it's not just me, is it! You're in it, too!"
Han gave the blond youth a withering stare. "I've got a bad feeling about this!"
Ignoring Han, Luke palmed the door open and was instantly met by the contented snores of his comrades. "After you." He motioned them forward, then entered the dorm at their backs. The door closed.
"Where's Wedge?" asked Janson.
Ysabel looked up from the engine with a start. "What do you mean 'where's Wedge'?"
Commander Narra, seated in his cockpit with the canopy open, also took an interest in Janson's words. Ignoring the ship's readouts he craned his neck and looked down at the pilot as the young man addressed Ysabel once more.
"You mean, you didn't take him back to your room?"
"Listen, kiddo. I wasn't going to put up with any of you in that state. Not even Wedge. 'Sides, I had to get all of you tucked up last night. Don't you remember?"
Janson looked distinctly uneasy. "Well, actually, no."
Narra's face twisted in an expression of disgust and disappointment. He had only been leading Red Flight for a short while, and had been hoping that the promising pilots assigned to him would behave more like combat veterans, and a little less like Academy recruits who had stumbled upon an open cantina after completing their finals.
Ysabel groaned. "Fantastic! We've lost Red Two. Janson, I put him to bed last night." "Well he wasn't in it this morning."
"He wouldn't have been in no fit state to move himself anywhere... Oh no!" She stood up on the foil, and looked around, warily. "Where's Skywalker?"
Luke, they soon discovered, was with his own ship. From the few words of conversation which drifted their way, he appeared to be discussing the problem of his stabilisers, which still refused to yield to the techs' manipulations. The trouble, caused by a hit above the Death Star, kept recurring, much to everyone's chagrin.
Looking so damn innocent. As usual, Ysabel observed, unable to halt her suspicions.
The lights of the med lab flickered on as the day shift entered to complete the installation of the new equipment. The techs' discussion on the transplantation of Twi'leks' lekku was abruptly cut off when they caught sight of a naked man floating in one of the new bacta tanks.
"Previn said nothing about a patient." One of them observed, moving in for a closer look. He squinted in at the figure, trying to distinguish the features that were hidden by the breathing apparatus fixed to his face.
"That's not bacta in there, it's water." The second tech was studying the readouts from the tank with some confusion.
"Oh shit!" the other announced, finally able to place the man. "It's Antilles!"
"They've found him, sir!" called the Deck Officer. He came jogging over to Narra's X-wing, and it looked as though he was trying hard not to laugh. "He was in a bacta tank! They're trying to get him through the hangover just now. Reckon he'll be vaguely sober in quarter of an hour or so."
Narra sighed, glowering at the news. "I see. Put it on the tannoy that I'll be holding the briefing in an hour. I'll soon get to the bottom of this." He turned away and stared across the hangar. "Skywalker!" he roared. "Get your ass over here!"
Han, on hearing the shout, winced and ducked down behind one of the Falcon's lifters.
Luke's mouth went unexpectedly dry. He glanced frantically about looking for Han, but there was no sign of the Corellian or Chewbacca. He turned toward Narra and took in a heaving breath of courage. It couldn't be any worse than facing Uncle Owen when he'd skipped off for a couple of days to go to that Academy Recruitment Fair at Bestine with Biggs. Resigned to his fate he plodded over to face his commanding officer.
Narra did not look amused. Neither did Ysabel, who was standing with her arms folded across her chest, looking like she wanted to do something very personal to him with a hydrospanner. While Janson and the Deck Officer still looked like they were finding hard to contain their amusement
"Yes, sir?" he inquired, as innocently as he could.
"I think we have something to discuss, Skywalker. Regarding Lieutenant Antilles and a bacta tank."
The corners of Luke's mouth twitched. "Bacta tank, sir?"
"Yes, Skywalker. Bacta tank. B-A-C-T-A. Strikes me you might somehow have escorted our friend Lieutenant Antilles down to the medical bay and persuaded him to take a little swim. Would you care to enlighten us on the matter?" He fixed Luke with a frowning glare.
Janson exploded into unexpected laughter behind him, and Narra turned around and glowered. Janson gulped, and looked suitably apologetic. Narra gave him one last look of warning, then returned to Luke, waiting for his explanation.
"Ah..." Luke was never very good with excuses. He flashed a disarming grin at his superior. It had no effect; Narra's face was a study of stony disapproval. "Well, sir... I left the party early last night and... um... " He faltered and ventured a glance over the commander's shoulder at Janson. For his part Janson was making winding-up motions at Narra's back. Luke's lips twitched again.
"Something funny, Lieutenant?" Narra inquired with sarcastic pleasantry.
"Uh, no, sir." Luke swallowed his humour. He could feel himself shrivelling under Narra's gaze and Ysabel's hostility.
"You were trying to explain what had happened to Antilles, and you were not making a very good job of it, were you?"
"Uh, no, sir." Luke repeated, truthfully.
"What the Commander is asking, Skywalker," Ysabel broke in. "Were you the bright spark who dumped Antilles in the bacta tank, huh?"
Luke briefly considered his options: blame someone else, just tell a downright lie or spill his guts with the truth. He opted for the latter. "Yes."
Narra snorted. "Surprise, surprise. Took long enough to get the answer though, didn't it? Thought we'd have to call security to drag it out of you." He enjoyed the startled look that flared in Luke's eyes.
"It wasn't just me!" Luke found himself blurting out.
"Oh?" Both Narra and Ysabel questioned, looking at him with renewed interest.
Luke glanced over at the Falcon. "Han and Chewbacca...." He trailed off as the Millennium Falcon's hatch closed, her engines fired and, as he watched, his accomplices departed the scene of the crime.
"Solo and Chewbacca aren't here, Skywalker," Narra reminded him, a faint trace of triumph lurking in his voice.
Luke reminded himself never again to intervene when Han faced a hostile Princess. Where Leia was concerned the Corellian was on his own from now on. Dejectedly he looked down at his boots and steeled himself for Narra's reprimand. "There was the Arnamack, sir," he said in his defence.
"Yes, well, I heard about the Arnamack, and I think Antilles should have been clipped around the ear for that one, but two wrongs do not make a right What does piss me off is that you've pushed the whole flight off schedule. I've got to hand it to Antilles. At least he makes sure his stunts don't interfere with the smooth running of this squad. And he doesn't try fooling around with Alliance medcentre equipment. I think the Chief Med Officer deserves an apology, don't you?"
“Yes, sir,” Luke answered, sheepishly.
“Sir!” It was Antilles, galloping a little unsteadily across the hanger towards them. “I’m sorry, sir, but I was in the med centre, and they didn’t know what the hell I was doing there and I’m sorry I’m late… and I don’t feel that well.”
Luke bit back his laughter. Tried to switch his gaze elsewhere but at Antilles, whose skin was rather pasty white and somewhat puckered looking.
Wedge came a halt. He took one look at Narra, one look at luke and scowled as the full implication of the scene penetrated his still-fuzzy head. “Skywalker! I’m gonna…”
“Ah, ah!” warned Nara wagging his finger at Wedge. “I don’t want to hear of any more trouble from either of you two. And I mean that. You’d better apologise to Lieutenant Antilles, Skywalker…”
“Sir!” Luke protested indignantly.
“Do you mind not interrupting me, Skywalker? I was about to say that the Armamack incident deserves some kind of apology from you, Antilles. It was a pretty dumb trick to pull on one of your fellow officers.”
“Sir,” Wedge muttered in sullen concession.
Narra raised an eyebrow at Luke.
“Sir,” Luke repeated with exactly the same tone as Wedge.
“I don’t see why we need an Empire when we’ve got you two to guarantee trouble around here. Well, briefing’s in forty minutes, so you’d better get your brains in working order by then.” He paused for effect, allowing his words time to sink in. “Dismissed, and get the hell out of my sight before I really lose my temper!”
He watched them both trudge off in opposite directions, each heading for their own ship. He sighed wearily, a hesitant smile growing on his lips. If they weren’t both so young and entitled to some fun now and again - and such damned talented pilots - he would have grounded them there and then. He turned for his own ‘wing, wishing he could have been so inventive during his Academy days.
“Those boys,” he told Ysabel, “will no doubt be the death of me.”
“Yeah, well, they’ll be the death of us all,” she responded, sourly.
Narra laughed. “Still smarting, Jaconti? Nonsense! It’ll do Antilles good not to get his own way around here once in a while.” The Imperceptible smirk crossed his face once more.
Ysabel nodded distantly in response to Narra’s words. However, if she knew Wedge Antilles…
Talk about embarrassing! Wedge fumed his way through the briefing, fumed his way through the practice flight. He wasn’t called up for patrol duties, thank the Force, or else he’d have fumed his way through that, too. So he irritably survived the day and tried to take the comments from the squad gracefully until he finally fumed his way through debriefing.
By then he felt a little hazy and a little tired, and he really was more interested in working out some fitting kind of retribution for Luke’s prank, than listening to Narra trying to psychoanalyse his way through standard Imperial attacks patterns.
“Huh?” wedge jumped in surprise at the bark that Narra had sent in his direction.
“Water on the brain, sir!” piped up Hobbie, and the whole squad exploded into unanimous laughter.
A grin of pleasure broke out over Luke’s face and he leaned back into his chair, enjoying the ribbing Wedge was taking. The tables had certainly been turned.
Narra tapped his fingers on the desktop as he waited for the hilarity to fade. “Thank You, Hobbie,” he said curtly, privately wishing he could head-butt the nearest wall and make this whole little incident ramble off into oblivion.
Narra could see Antilles bristling away in private indignation in his corner. Planning something, no doubt, the commander realised, and he sighed to himself wondering how the next episode of this feud would manifest itself.
Wedge wandered over to Narra’s X-Wing, and sat down on one of the lower rungs of the tech crew’s ladder.
“You still got a sting in your tail, huh?” Ysabel’s sympathetic query came from above.
Wedge grunted a sad assent.
Ysabel climbed down as far as she could, then jumped to the floor beside him, narrowly avoiding kicking him in the skull. He flinched back from the imminent collision, then smiled to himself as he realised that he maybe should have guessed that she wouldn’t be so stupid as to actually hit him.
“Water under the bridge,” she said, then winced. “Sorry, Wedge, didn’t mean that.”
He just gave her a look of reproach in response.
“Just let it wash all over you.” She grinned at him, ruffled his hair, then added, “You must give Skywalker some credit for the idea. Smart, huh?”
“It was mean, it was underhanded. It was down right sneaky! I mean, I couldn’t even defend myself. You should have seen the look on the med tech’s faces, Yizzi! Never been so embarrassed in my life!”
"What about the Arnamack?" she retorted, with a smile. "Wasn't that mean, underhand and sneaky? Poor guy didn't have a chance! From what I heard he had to have three showers before the stuff would come off, 'sides he tottered out of that stall in the buff in front of us all. You only had to face a couple of medics, and at least they're used to seeing nude beings. We girls were shocked!" She placed a gentle hand on her chest to convey her meaning.
"He should've looked first," was Wedge's blunt reply. "I didn't get much option, did I?"
"Yeah, right! And I can see you acting in a more dignified manner when faced with a wet Ami." She tapped a spanner lightly on his head. "Call it quits and leave it, Wedge."
"Couldn't you do something to get back at him? You know he's scared stiff of you. Couldn't you try turning on your charms or something?"
"Wedge Antilles! Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"Yeah," he replied with a grin.
"You want me to seduce him?!"
Wedge fidgeted a little. "Well... Not exactly like that. Maybe just get him worried?"
She appeared to consider this for a while then she grinned, a wicked grin. "You know, I might just see what happens. Could be amusing, you know. And fun, too. After all, he is kinda cute. With that nice hair, those blue eyes... Not to mention that sexy dimple!"
Wedge looked up at her with an expression of disgust. "What?"
"Getting jealous, kid?" She was looking even more self-satisfied now. "You know what they say about blonds, don't you?"
"So what do they say?" he asked, suspiciously.
"Wouldn't you like to know! Well, I'll certainly work something out, don't you worry."
Luke was frowning as he peered over the instrument panel of his X-Wing. That damned stabiliser had come loose again during the practice and his techs were having difficulty fixing the problem. He scratched at his nose in contemplation.
"We could always ask Jaconti to take a look at it," one of the techs suggested, and looked hopefully at him, wanting to get the problem off their backs once and for all.
"No!" Was Luke's immediate response. Ysabel hadn't said much to him about the bacta tank and he didn't really want to give her the opportunity to home in on him.
"She is the chief, sir," the tech reminded him. "She ought to know."
There was a whistle from the droid socket and Luke turned his eyes to the translation. "I know, Artoo, but she's..."
Artoo blooped back with what sounded like a reprimand. Luke cleared his throat and shot a glance to the waiting men. They smiled back at him. He shrugged and gave up: it was embarrassing arguing with a droid when you knew you were going to lose, besides an encounter with Jaconti was inevitable at some point in the next few hours. He might as well get it over with.
"So what exactly is the problem?" she beamed at them.
The techs looked expectantly at Luke.
He fidgeted nervously in the cockpit. "Uh, well, the stabiliser keeps breaking loose and, um, well, we can't get it to stay put. So, uh, well, we thought maybe you could, uh...help." He cleared his throat once more.
"Sounds exactly like its pilot," she told him, cheerily, and she patted him briskly on the cheek. "Never mind, Luke, I'll see what my magic touch can do with it. There's not much I can't fix around here, remember." And she smiled again.
Luke was somewhat confounded by this treatment. He had expected an angry Ysabel yelling at him about his mistreatment of a fellow pilot, followed by a lecture on X-Wing mechanics, not this charming, friendly woman who was already leaning over the miscreant foil. He had the distinct feeling she was up to something - sweetness and light didn't seem to be her style, not when she had a reputation for having even the Deck Officer in a state of fear and trembling half the time.
"Sure, Chief," he mumbled back at her.
She paused on the ladder, reached out and laid a friendly hand upon his arm. "Just call me Yzzi, Luke."
"Uh, sure... Yzzi." He was starting to get uncomfortable and he glanced nervously about for his techs. They were no longer there - in fact the hanger seemed surprisingly empty.
Ysabel sighed. "See the problems you cause me, Luke Skywalker? Right now I should be relaxing upstairs with a drink. And what do I get instead? Playing around with Luke's faulty stabiliser. Looks like you owe me plenty of favour points for this one, darling."
Luke suddenly wanted to be somewhere else. "Uh, Yzzi..." He fought to stop his growing unease with the situation. "Has Wedge said anything to you, I mean...uh..." He wasn't sure he knew what he meant himself, he just felt like he was being set up. He felt as though the squad were watching from some vantage point in the hanger, just waiting to spring the coup de grace.
She raised her eyebrows in quizzical misunderstanding. "Wedge? You think Wedge is trying to get you back for what you did to him? Come on, Luke, would I do a thing like that? I'm deeply hurt!"
He looked toward her, studied her green eyes looking for any deception which she might be trying to conceal, and he suddenly realised the Chief Technician was a rather attractive woman and not some mindless worker in a greasy coverall. He glanced away feeling his cheeks beginning to burn. "It wasn't just me," he reminded her. It was all he could think of saying at that moment.
"Yeah, right, Skywalker. But it was your idea, wasn't it?"
He smiled and nodded. "Yeah!"
"Shows a clear sense of imagination, a certain degree of inventiveness, and a warped sense of humour, too. I like those qualities in a man, you know. Just my style."
Luke coughed, threw a quick look at her, then turned to face the readouts displayed before him. "Really?" Then he regretted his question.
"Oh yes. Ask the Deck Officer."
"Deck Officer?" He echoed, with hollow tones.
She winked at him, then turned her attention back to the stabiliser. "Oh, by the way, Luke. It ain't true, what they say about me."
"You mean you don't listen to the rumours? Must be the only one in this place who doesn't. I'm a nice girl really, you know. You can ask the Deck Officer that, too, if you want. But I do like to have my favours repaid in full. With added interest. And right now your account's going up into double figures."
Luke was speechless. This was a direct come-on if ever he'd heard one - which wasn't very often - and he wasn't sure how to react. He only wished Han were here to help him out of this one with some sharp wit and charm. He struggled to think of some appropriate words to say that wouldn't offend her, or attract her further. Then he had to fight to get them past his lips. "What do you mean? Double figures?"
"Come on, Luke! You drag me out of my rec time, have me stuck down here on my own when I could be having a good time, and you dare to ask me that? You've got a nerve!"
"It wasn't my idea!" he protested, a little too quickly.
"Yeah, you'll be telling me next that Wedge must've cursed your ship or something."
"Well, he was behind me in the trench!" He didn't mean what he was implying, and he knew Yzzi would realise that. However, he couldn't stop himself from blurting it out.
"Ah, but you're the one whose torpedoes hit the right spot, Luke!"
Luke could have screamed with frustration. He sank lower into the cockpit, hoping to distance himself from her. He even considered shutting down the canopy. "I was lucky," he remarked, trying to fill the growing silence which followed her innuendo.
"Added attraction!" she responded. "Might be worthwhile trying to get some of that luck rubbing off on me."
Luke stared at the lever for the canopy. It was extremely tempting just to give it a little tug and shut himself off from a situation that was rapidly escaping his control. His face was red, his heart was pounding and...
Artoo beeped from behind him. "What's he saying?" Ysabel inquired. Luke read the printout "Uh, nothing."
She leaned over the ladder, her mouth very close to his ear, her breath brushing his face, and she, too, read what the 'droid had said.
"Looks like you need to relax a little," she whispered, her lips lightly touching his ear. "'Droid says your life systems have kicked into high gear. I know some Corellian massage techniques, if you're interested."
"How's that stabiliser going?" he suddenly burst out in panic.
She straightened up. "Needs a fair bit of work, Luke. Actually, I can manage fine here on my own. You just take yourself off and get yourself a nice cool shower. I'll catch you later."
"Yeah, right." He pulled himself from the cockpit, only to find his way blocked by Yzzi standing on the top rung of the ladder. She shifted slightly to the side to let him pass, but it was inevitable that their bodies would touch. Luke had never moved so fast in his life.
He was high-tailing it out of the hangar, trying to make it seem like he wasn't hurrying, but nonetheless trying to escape before anything else could happen. He had just drawn level with the Deck Officer when the event he had feared came with a vengeance.
"Skywalker!" The call came ringing out in a singsong voice from the vicinity of his X-wing. "Don't forget my favour points! Your place or mine?"
Luke ducked his head down and sprinted for the shower room, not bothering to look back at the Deck Officer's startled expression.
Wedge met him in the mess room. "How's the stabiliser?" he asked. "Heard it was giving you some trouble."
Not as much as trouble as Yzzi, Luke wanted to retort, but he held his tongue. "Ysabel's workin' on it."
"Couldn't ask for anyone better," Wedge told him, solemnly, as he pulled up a chair and joined Luke at the table.
"Guess not." He gazed down at his plate and tossed his food with his fork. It had looked gruesome when he had been served it, but now that it had cooled and congealed it resembled the shed skin of a Tatooine Sand-viper.
"Mind, Luke, you can't expect to get something for nothing, you know. You'd better be grateful. She's got her work cut out seeing to the needs of the Commander, let alone bothering with the likes of you." And Wedge fixed him with one of those straight-faced stares.
"What do you mean?" Luke bit back, choking on the mouthful of food he had just shovelled in.
"Why the defensiveness?" Wedge asked, innocence personified. "I'm just saying that it's polite to remember that you owe her one. That's all."
"One what?" Luke wanted to know, trying to pin Antilles down to specifics. He couldn't rid himself of the feeling that he was being set up.
"You could try buying her a drink some night," Wedge told him, helpfully. "That might do it."
Luke's relief was total. "Oh, right! No problem."
Wedge arched an eyebrow over at him. "What's she been saying to you, Luke? Has she been propositioning you? And you took it seriously? Aw, come on, don't be so damn clueless. As if she'd want a Lieutenant. She won't look twice at anyone below the rank of Commander. Haven't you heard that?"
"Of course I didn't take her seriously," Luke rose to the argument. He pushed his plate to the side and reached for his cup of Caffm. '"Sides, if she doesn't go below Commander why does she show so much interest in you?"
"That's different," Wedge replied, firmly. "Quite different. Our friendship is purely platonic."
"That's not what I heard!" Luke informed him, with a touch of triumph to his voice.
Wedge shrugged aside the comment. "Okay, so we sleep together? That's all it is. Sleeping."
Luke couldn't quite believe his ears. "You sleep together? But you don't sleep together? Tell me the next one, Wedge."
"You've got a voice like a klaxon, Skywalker," Wedge snapped. "Keep your damn voice down, will you?"
Luke glanced around them and found half the squad listening in. He turned back to Wedge. "Sorry."
Wedge just smiled. "They know anyway. Can't exactly keep many secrets around this place. So what time are you seeing her then?"
"I'm not," Luke declared, adamantly. He took a sip from his cup. "I'm busy."
"Oh? That's not what I've been hearing. Seems to be one of the most definite arrangements this hangar's seen for a long time. Deck Officer's miffed, you know. You're taking his girl. Not wise to tread on the toes of senior hangar staff." And Wedge shook his head in sage disapproval.
"I'm not!" Luke squealed in protest. "Nothing happened, and nothing's gonna happen. The Deck Officer can have her, 'cause I'm not interested!"
"Ah, but she's interested in you, and what she wants she gets. Without any exceptions. It's always been this way, right since she came here. And she's been with the Rebels for at least eight years now." Wedge was trying hard not to smile, as he watched the look of horror appear on Luke's face. Maybe he was exaggerating a little, but Luke wasn't to know that.
Luke's first thought was that he'd rather face the Arnamack than Ysabel Jaconti. He stood, sending his chair scraping back across the floor, and he leaned over the table. "Well, she's not gonna get me!" he whispered, tightly. Then he turned to march from the room, and immediately found himself face to face with the object of discussion.
"My ears are burning, Skywalker," said Ysabel. "I must be popular, to merit such attention."
"Uh, hi, Yzzi."
"Tonight, Skywalker. Don't forget, because I won't." She draped her arms about his shoulders, and pulled him closer. "The room number's twelve, level two. Near the techs' dorms. Twenty-two-thirty do okay?"
Luke was nose to nose with her, his eyes level with hers. Her breath was warm and smelling faintly of freshly ground mint. "Yzzi, I..." he stumbled, all too aware of the interest they were gathering and of the effect she was having on him. "I've got, um, ahem, other plans."
"Not the Arnamack!" she exclaimed, loudly.
"No!" He was squirming now, fighting to come up with a plausible excuse. "I've got to, well, you see... uh... I've to meet the Princess."
"Oh, really?" She took a step back, regarding him with what looked like new respect. "I'm impressed. So what have you got to offer that royalty's after, then?"
"What do you mean?" He paused for a beat, then: "No! Oh, no! It's not like that. I never meant it was like that. Oh, shit!"
"Ah, so we can call it a temporary appointment, then? Okay, drop by later. Or I could always come and find you. Doesn't worry me." She sidled up to him, wrapped her arms around his waist and placed her lips upon his.
A whoop of delight rose from the pilots and other personnel in the mess. They broke out into a round of applause, which slowly petered out as the kiss continued.
Wedge eyed them dubiously, growing increasingly uneasy. This was perhaps going too far.
They broke apart and Yzzi moved off, swinging her hips for Luke's benefit. He stood there, rock still, gaping in shock at what had just happened to him.
"Shut your mouth, Luke, and sit back down. Your Caffin's getting cold." Wedge sounded disgruntled, and more than a little chilly.
Deliberately ignoring Antilles, Luke pushed his chair back up to the table and attempted to saunter nonchalantly from the room. Trying not to heed the comments from the squad as he passed them, he kept his back straight, his head up and made for the door. He suddenly realised that he needed help.
Wedge watched him go, as Janson sat down beside him. "I don't believe this!" Wedge gasped. "She's serious!"
"Of course she's serious. They've got the sweepstake running already. The odds are five-to-one in favour of her getting him laid. Even the Deck Officer reckons it's a dead cert, and he should know, shouldn't he?"
Wedge did not deign to answer him.
Leia Organa watched, unable to hide a hint of a smile, as Luke paced about her quarters. "Luke, you're like a caged Arnamack. Sit down!"
Luke withered there and then. He plopped down, beaten, upon the nearest chair. "Thanks, Leia. I really needed to hear that."
"Well, I'm sorry, Luke, but you should have known better. You get at Antilles, and you're bound to get that woman doing something."
"Yeah, it's the 'something' I'm worried about," he confessed, quietly. His head fell into his hands. "She's after my blood."
"Not exactly," replied Leia, dryly. "Perhaps you should just, em, lie back and enjoy it. After all, she's not the darling of the hangar crew for nothing." The sarcasm was biting now.
Luke glanced up, startled. "I can't believe you said that!"
"Perhaps I can't suggest any other alternative, Luke. Oh, why did you have to get involved with this in the first place! Can you imagine how embarrassing it is for me?"
"For you?" Luke was incredulous. "What about me? It's my... my... It's me that's on the line here!"
"Luke, I could have a word, but do you really think that would be a good idea? You're in that flight now, and you'll have to look after yourself. They won't think much of you if you depend on me to get you out of trouble, will they? I'm sorry, but you'll really have to sort this out on your own."
"I just wish Han were here," he said, sadly.
Leia snorted with derision. "He's probably the one who gave Antilles the Arnamack. I saw him with one a couple of hours before your flight came in. Why do you think he left in such a hurry? Command didn't even have to argue this time to get him to make that weapons run."
Luke's eyes narrowed with cold fury. "He's a dead man."
"Yes, well, from what I've heard about Sergeant Jaconti, maybe you are too, Luke," replied Leia, breaking out into a full grin.
And Luke suddenly realised he was a lost cause.
Luke cautiously made his way along the lower levels towards Red Flight's dorm. He was bone weary and looking forward to the sanctuary of his own bunk and sleep. He glanced over his shoulder and was relieved to see the corridor still empty behind him. Perhaps he was going to make it there without further mishap. He turned the last corner...
She was slouching against the wall, hands in pockets, and she smiled in greeting as he made his faltering approach. "Ah, there you are! Thought you'd forgotten our appointment. Was going to send Wedge out to find you, but there ain't no need now, is there?"
Luke cleared his throat, loosened the collar of his fatigues. "Ah, Yzzi, could we maybe.. .forget about this? I mean... people gossip."
"Yeah, they do." She shrugged. "Well, Luke, if you want. But I reckon you could do with those Corellian massage techniques I told you about. How else d'you think I got that grumpy look off Antilles' face after what you pulled on him last night?"
Luke began to think there was some hope here after all. "Maybe some other time. I'm kinda tired tonight," he explained to her, then added "I just want to go to bed." Then he realised, with awful horror, what he had just said.
She seemingly ignored his crass mistake. "Look, Luke, I've been winding you up all day. I'd like to make it up to you. Come back to my room, for some Caffin. Nothing more than that. Promise. Okay?"
Luke contemplated her words, the sincere expression on her face. It might be a good idea to get to know the Chief Technician a little better. Besides, he could do with a friendly face just now. "Nothing more?"
"Nothing more." He nodded, agreeing. "Okay."
Ysabel poured the Caffin and handed him the cup. "There you go, kid. You see, I don't bite."
"Thanks," Luke took a sip at the hot liquid, wondering if he were thanking her for the Caffin, or for not biting him. "Nice room," he told her, just for something to say. He looked around for somewhere to sit, then plonked himself on the nearest chair.
"Get yourself into the Commander's place, and they'll give you one just like it. It helps to get promoted here, you know. By the way, I got that stabiliser licked." She smiled at her words, and that wicked gleam loitered in her eyes again for just a moment. "Don't understand why you didn't come and see me about it before."
Luke considered his words carefully. He didn't really want her to know that he had been scared stiff of her, until now. And he wished he had paid attention to Kenobi's words about not judging people and situations on first impressions. "I don't either. I guess I saw you as being only Narra's tech."
"I do hold responsibility for the entire Wing. Now are you settling down a bit? You've been as jumpy as a startled Tree-Myre ever since I first spoke to you."
He shrugged. "I guess I'm not used to being around... um..."
"Women?" she suggested. And then she laughed. "I've heard that one before from someone else round here. Relax, would you? You're making me feel nervous!"
"I'm not that naive!" he said petulantly, jumping to his own defence. "I'm just not used to such directness."
"Well you are now, huh?"
Luke laughed. "Yeah, it's beginning to look that way."
"Good. You'll do okay here, kid, if you'll just loosen up a little." She paused behind him, and rested her hands gently upon his shoulders.
Luke immediately stiffened in response. Then he forced himself to slacken his taut muscles, not wishing to jeopardise their new-found friendship. "I'll try," he told her.
She just laughed, lightly, her fingers deftly massaging the base of his neck. "That better?"
"Um, um, urn. You got a very limited vocabulary, boy!"
He thought about that, then smiled and chuckled. He relaxed under her manipulations, and closed his eyes as she worked out the tension from his shoulders. "Mmmmmm. . ." He voiced his appreciation of her ministrations.
"Ain't so bad, is it?" You still in a hurry to get back to the dorm?"
"No," replied Luke, truthfully.
"Okay. Look, you won't get the full benefit of this with you hunched in the chair like that. If you like, you could move over to the bed, and..." She tilted her head towards the bunk, smiling at him with faint reassurance.
Luke glanced up at her, a little concerned once more. His eyes were wide with trepidation.
She patted his shoulder, and slid her hand forward to his chest, releasing the top fastener of his jacket.
"Come on, Luke. No tricks, honest."
He placed his cup of Caffin onto the floor. He was still nervous, still pondering the implications of this situation, his agitation growing more intense as he shrugged off the jacket. Ysabel pulled the under-shirt over his head and motioned to the bunk. Swallowing his anxiety he followed her directions and lay face down upon the coverlet.
"That's better," she said, gently. She settled down upon the bed, straddling his body, and leaned forward to continue with the massage.
Luke twisted around, his hands catching hers, stopping her. Then he reached up, snaked a hand around the back of her neck and pulled her head down towards his own. He kissed her.
The kiss lingered to its conclusion, and then she pulled back slightly, with a light-hearted laugh. "Thought you were tired, Lieutenant!"
He grinned, feeling quite pleased with himself. He sat up, and pulled her hips closer to his body . "It's amazing what a cup of Caffin can do!"
"Yeah, well," she commented, as he began to unfasten her jacket. He spread the cloth aside, his hands entering the warm space between the cloth of her undergarment and that of her fatigues. He stroked the simple cotton of the bra-top that covered her breasts. "I never quite knew its effects were that dramatic!" She gripped his shoulders, pushed him back down against the bed and lightly ran her open palms over the skin of his abdomen. She paused at the waistband of his pants, smiled at him, and slowly began to unzip his fly. . .
"Where's Luke?" Janson asked, looking around him, studying the faces of the flight crew present.
Wedge sighed. "More to the point, where's Ysabel? Damn, looks like I just lost three cred chips."
Commander Narra strode into the hanger. He wandered through the ranks of X-Wings, and wandered back again. "Deck Officer! Where's my tech?"
They met in a conversation near Narra's ship, and Wedge smiled. "Now get out of that one, Skywalker!" he said, with a snort of amusement
"What about Ysabel?" asked Janson, worriedly.
"Oh, she'll manage. Believe me, she'll manage."
"Right, this morning's briefing will cover..." Narra glanced around his squad immediately noting the empty chair. He grimaced, feeling a sudden sense of deja vu. "Where's Lieutenant Skywalker?"
"Ah," Wedge rubbed at his nose, trying to hide his smile. "He's with your Chief Technician, sir."
There was a flurry of activity from the door as Luke came tripping in, his foot catching on his flight harness that trailed on the floor behind him. He was frantically trying to zip up his orange coveralls. His hair was dishevelled, his clothes wrinkled and his facial expression alternated between terror and smugness. He came to a flustered, breathless halt before Narra.
"Good night, Skywalker?" asked Narra, mildly.
A hushed titter of amusement rippled through the gathered pilots.
A deep crimson blush worked its way over Luke's features, even his ears burned. "Yessir!" he offered. Quite jauntily he thought, given the circumstances.
"Sit down. And be thankful I made thirty credits on the outcome of your run-in with my Chief Technician. If you'd let me down I might not have been so lenient. Only next time remember to set the chrono, will you?"
The titters grew to full blown laughter and Luke meekly made his way through the squad to his seat beside Wedge, who was staring ahead, trying to look unruffled by this turn of events. Luke sat down, turned and fixed his wingman with a wide satisfied grin. "Thanks, Wedge."
Antilles merely moaned in despair, and dropped his head mournfully into his hands.End