It was 0354 local on Xenen, and Izra Dargan had just barely crawled into bed after playing designated pilot for some of the guests for the Bel Iblis-Bullian wedding. The small apartment he kept on Wayfarer wasn’t much to look at, but he stayed on-station so rarely it didn’t matter all that much. It had been more convenient the night before to stay on the orbital station rather than fly back to his modest house on the surface, so he’d schlepped there and collapsed into bed about two hours before his comm went off.
“Hey there, sexy.”
He sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Doesn’t she know what time it is? “It’s good to hear your voice, sweetheart.” The pilot cleared his throat, stretching. “What time is it there?”
“Hrm. You know, I’m not really sure. What time is it by you?”
After a glance at the clock, he answered. “0400.”
“Then it’s 0400. Want to have breakfast?”
“Wait, you’re here?”
“On approach to Wayfarer, yes. I have a drop off to make.” There was a pause. “Do you know if General Rendar has her comm on?”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. “The one for work? Probably not. Call her personal line.”
“Frequency? I don’t have the latest one.”
Shaking his head in confused bewilderment, the pilot gave his wife the information, barely sparing a thought to what kind of delivery this must be.
“Who was that on the comm?”
Tag smiled faintly at her drowsy husband, now sprawled across the space where she’d been laying before getting up to answer the comm. Shrugging into a shirt, she leaned in to give him a quick kiss. “Someone from Intel. I have to head up to Wayfarer. Go back to sleep; I’ll see you at breakfast.”
“Something up?” Dalsuna was just awake enough, it seemed, to understand what she was saying and formulate intelligent responses-but only barely. She could tell that he’d be asleep again shortly after she left.
“It’s just a drop off. Tell Indy I’ll be a little late, okay?”
“Mmmph. Okay.” He rolled onto his back and pulled the covers up. She dropped another kiss onto him.
“Sweet dreams, Dal. I’ll see you later.” She tugged on her jacket and left.
The X-wing that landed quietly in bay twelve on Wayfarer station was older than most still operational-only a handful of the fighters in the fleet were as old, or as well-cared for. Tag climbed unceremoniously from her cockpit, walking down her port S-foil before dropping to the deck, landing in a crouch. A slender woman with ink-black hair stood waiting, arms crossed.
Tag smiled wryly at Mara Amber-Dargan. The woman was only a few years older than she was and still as deep into black ops as she had been ten years ago. “I had trouble getting clearance to land. Seems they’re having a meeting in bay three. You know how it is.”
The other intelligence officer nodded. “You’re right, I do. Come with me.”
Tag fell into step with her old friend, glancing toward her with the slight shake of her head. “What’s this about, anyway? Must have been urgent if it couldn’t wait until I was on duty.”
“Once upon a time, you were never off duty.”
She drew a sharp breath and exhaled it quickly, the air hissing through her teeth slightly. “Times change.”
Mara’s tone softened. “You know, we never thought you were going to get back in the game, when you left after Colonel Pellman died.”
“…I never intended to come back.” Tag licked her lips, shaking her head slightly. “Of course…being targeted for use as a scapegoat by someone I should have fired ten years ago…that’ll convince you maybe it’s time to come back.” She rubbed her forehead. “And then there’s this bloody war…”
“Mm. Yeah. This bloody war.” Mara crossed her arms as they walked toward a quiet corridor, uncrossing them only to flash ID to a pair of guards that moved to bar their entry. The guards stepped aside and the pair continued on. “It’s only going to get worse.”
“Y’think?” Tag shook her head slightly. “Must come for every generation. Our parents suffered the rise of the Empire…our grandparents fought the Clone Wars, we fought in the Rebellion. Now our children have to face this new enemy. It’s not fair, but it’s the way things are.”
“Damon says thank you, by the way, for getting him into Dalsuna’s class.”
“Damon should take a few semesters off, or transfer to one of the universities on Xenen. Conceli’s defenses are bantha shit.”
The other woman winced but nodded. “I’ll let him know.”
Tag stopped walking; Mara took another couple steps before turning around.
“What’s the matter?”
Tag shook her head. “What’s this about, Mara? It’s not a social call. What kind of drop is this?”
Mara winced again. “It’s something I’m sorry I didn’t realize sooner. We captured a small Vong craft about two weeks ago-Sony was out doing some weapons testing and ran afoul of a small patrol. We managed to destroy all but one-the one we captured. Aboard was a subject of some interest. I swear, Tag, if I’d realized sooner, I’d have been here sooner. Mea culpa. They put me in charge of something for once and I frakked it up royal.”
With a snort, the general shook her head. “You did well enough taking charge in the old days to be Kingston’s SO. Show me this person of interest, huh? I’m sure Izra’s waiting for you.”
Mara managed a smile and gestured for her to follow again. Before long, the pair came to a doorway, flanked by another pair of guards.
Mara held up her card, Tag shook her head and dug hers out of her jacket pocket with no small measure of sheepishness. It had been a long time since people recognized her on sight for her rank-then again, she no longer had her former command to stand on. Apparently satisfied, one of the guards turned toward the keypad next to the door, punching in an access code as Mara spoke to the other.
“She’s to be released into General Rendar’s custody.” She handed over a datacard. “Those are the official orders from Colonel Cannele and Command on the matter.”
The guard nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
The door slid open. Tag stood in shocked silence for a few long moments before smiling faintly.
“Well. I can think of a few people who will be happy to see you again.”