Mommy had brought Lucinda once to Hyllyard City when they first moved to Myrkr. Hyllyard City had its small houses and commercial buildings crammed together with narrow streets running between them. They had stashed travel supplies, and Mommy had made sure Lucinda could withdraw credits from the local bank if they got separated. They had flown here in an airspeeder.
Now, they were nowhere close to those places. Lucinda tried to keep her heart from pounding by breathing hard. The stormtroopers surrounded them. Mommy always said to never get caught by stormtroopers. They couldn't fight because Mommy and Jedi Skywalker both wore restraints around their wrists. And the black lenses were always watching them.
The stormtroopers herded them around the perimeter of the town, aiming for one of the wider avenues that radiated from the town square in the center of town. Lucinda saw glimpses of the open area between the buildings as they walked. She was glad Jedi Skywalker carried her for so long in the forest; otherwise, she'd be too tired to keep up with all the adults. She stayed next to his legs. She was sure she could jump on his back if they needed to run.
The leading stormtroopers had just reached the target street when, in perfect coordination, the stormtroopers changed formation. Those in the inner circle pulled in closer to Mommy, Jedi Skywalker, and Lucinda while those in the outer circle moved farther away, the entire crowd coming to a halt and gesturing to their prisoners to do the same. Lucinda's skin prickled at the silent display. How could they do that without saying a word? Maybe their helmets had comms only for each other?
She looked up at Mommy, who stared at the Imperials with narrowed eyes. Lucinda made sure she was between her adults and touched Mommy's leg. Mommy glanced down and offered her most reassuring smile. It would be a lot more reassuring if Mommy had a blaster in her hands right now.
Lucinda tried to smile back to show she wasn't scared, but it felt more like a grimace. But something was happening in the street ahead. Four scruffy-looking men hustled around the corner leading a fifth man in the center of their square straight to the Imperial mass. The fifth man's hands were restrained behind his back. The new group had barely emerged from the street when four stormtroopers intercepted them. A short and inaudible conversation ensued, which concluded with the civilians handing their blasters over to the stormtroopers with obvious reluctance.
Escorted now by the Imperials, they continued toward everyone else. Lucinda's eyes opened wide, and she glanced up at Mommy. Mommy looked confused at Chin, Thatch, Gyyll, and Dralin marching a stranger as their prisoner to the Imperials. So, Lucinda looked back at the group with her forehead creased in confusion too.
The stranger didn't work for Karrde, but he looked familiar. He hadn't bothered to shave, but he didn't have a full beard yet.
The stormtroopers opened their ranks to let the newcomers through. "What do you want?" The major demanded as they stopped in front of him.
"Name's Chin." He kept his gaze locked on the major's face. "We caught this ratch snooping around the forest—maybe looking for your prisoners there. Figured you might want to talk with him, hee?"
"Uncommonly generous of you." The major said sarcastically while he looked the stranger over in a quick glance. "You come to this conclusion all by yourself?"
Chin drew himself up against that sarcasm. "Just because I don't live in a big flashy city doesn't mean I'm stupid. What hai—you think we don't know what it means when Imperial stormtroopers set up a temporary garrison?"
"You'd best just hope that the garrison is temporary." The major glanced at the stormtrooper beside him and jerked his head toward the new prisoner. "Check him for weapons."
"We already—" Chin stopped when the major looked at him.
The frisking took only a minute and came up empty. "Put him in the pocket with the others," the major ordered. "All right, Chin, you and your friends can go. If he turns out to be worth anything, I'll see you get a piece."
"Uncommonly generous of you," Chin repeated with an expression just short of a sneer. "Can we have our blasters back now?"
The major's expression hardened. "You can pick them up later at our headquarters. Hyllyard Hotel, straight across the square—but I'm sure a sophisticated citizen like yourself already knows where it is."
Chin glared at the major for a moment, but glanced at the stormtroopers clustered around. Without a word he turned, and he and his three companions strode back toward the city.
Lucinda swallowed hard and looked up at Mommy. Why was Chin and the others leaving them with the Imperials? Mommy stared after them.
"Move out," the major ordered, and they started up again. Lucinda jogged to stay beside Jedi Skywalker.
The stranger fell into step on Jedi Skywalker's other side. "Well," he muttered. "Together again, huh?"
Jedi Skywalker smiled as best he could with his puffy and blistered face. "Wouldn't miss it," he muttered back.
Oh, that was a call sign! Mommy and Lucinda had used those before. The stranger was from the New Republic, but that didn't explain what Chin and the others were doing.
"Your friends there seem in a hurry to get away." Jedi Skywalker commented in the same low voice. The stormtroopers didn't appear to be listening in as the group walked.
"Probably don't want to miss the party," the stranger told him. "A little something they threw together to celebrate my capture."
Lucinda stared ahead and tried to puzzle that one out. It sounded like the worst reason to have a party.
"Shame we weren't invited." Jedi Skywalker didn't sound sorry, not like he had back in the forest. He sounded suspicious. Lucinda looked up at him, but he was looking at the taller stranger.
"Real shame," the stranger agreed with a face that didn't match how amused his low voice sounded. "You never know, though."
Their entire group had turned onto the avenue now, moving toward the center of town. She could see something gray and rounded ahead of them over the stormtroopers' heads. Oh, the archway; people had told her and Mommy to go see it when they had come to the city before. They hadn't had the time then.
Were Jedi Skywalker and the New Republic stranger talking in more code? Lucinda scowled before remembering she needed to look sad and scared. Jedi Skywalker should have taught her and Mommy code while they were in the forest. She looked up at him, but his gaze flickered from the archway to the stormtroopers.
She looked back at the archway. The people of Hyllyard City had been proud of it, and other places she and Mommy had lived had had nothing like it she remembered. Its upper part was composed of different types of fitted stone and flared outward like a mushroom top. The lower part curved in and downward, to end in a pair of meter-square supporting pillars on each side. It rose a good ten meters into the sky with about five meters between the pillars. The town square was empty ground about fifteen meters between the arch and the buildings.
She couldn't see what was so special about that arch, so she looked at the stormtroopers. The ones in the lead marched out of the narrow avenue and each lifted his blaster rifle a little higher and shifted away from the others. Something was wrong and her stomach clenched around that.
"Is Threepio here?" Jedi Skywalker asked the New Republic stranger in a more urgent mutter.
Lucinda looked up and saw the stranger frown. "He's with Lando, yeah."
Jedi Skywalker nodded and looked back over his right shoulder. Then he shifted away from Lucinda and behind the stranger. And the next thing Lucinda knew, Artoo squealed as he fell flat with a crash.
Jedi Skywalker crouched down beside him and struggled with his manacled hands to lift the droid. Lucinda darted back to help. He only had one working hand, even if they didn't want the Imperials to know about it.
Artoo let out a loud warble right in the human man's ear by how he winced. Luci felt it ringing in her ears and she hadn't been that close. She shook her head and reached out to help lift the droid.
A hand closed around her arm and jerked her to the side. It squeezed so hard she didn't have to pretend tears as she cried out. Stormtroopers were picking up Artoo and Jedi Skywalker as the major jerked her between him and Jedi Skywalker.
The major scowled, and Jedi Skywalker matched it. He lifted his bound arms and dropped the circle of them over Lucinda's head, pulling her back to him. The major let her arm go and demanded. "What was that?"
"He fell over," Jedi Skywalker told him. "I think he tripped—"
"I meant that transmission," the major cut him off. "What did he say?"
"He was probably telling me off for tripping him," Jedi Skywalker shot back. "How should I know what he said?"
The major glared at him. Lucinda glanced at Mommy. Her face was white with fury. When she looked like that, somebody got hit. The major deserved it, but Mommy was wearing the restraints. She wouldn't be able to hit the major as hard as he deserved.
The major turned to the stormtrooper at his side. "Move out, Commander. Stay alert." He turned and headed back to the front of the group.
"You okay, Luci?" Jedi Skywalker lifted his arms from around her. She nodded at him, glanced over at Mommy, and kept nodding.
Mommy dropped her chin once to acknowledge that information before turning and walking behind the stormtroopers.
The New Republic stranger aligned with Jedi Skywalker and Lucinda again. "I hope," he murmured, "you know what you're doing."
Jedi Skywalker took a deep breath as his gaze went straight ahead again. "So do I," he murmured back.
Lucinda followed his gaze. It was back on the arch. If they ever got away from the stormtroopers, she was going to ask what was so special about it. The stormtroopers were taking them straight to it. Jedi Skywalker kept staring at it. She didn't want to give the plan away, if there was a plan, and her stomach would feel a lot better if Jedi Skywalker and his friend sounded surer of themselves.
Nothing happened as they crossed the empty plaza. The stormtroopers in the lead passed under the arch and the major was only a few steps away from it when four of the stormtroopers surrounding their group blew up.
Yellow-white fire lit up the landscape, hurting her eyes with how bright it was. The multiple detonations made a thunderclap that knocked her to her knees. She screamed and covered her ears, but she still heard blaster fire ignite behind them.
Strong arms scooped her up against his chest—cloth-covered, not armored. Lucinda grabbed hold of Jedi Skywalker, and now the sounds of the battle battered her ears: the blaster fire from behind them and from the stormtroopers hugging the stone pillars, speeder bikes whined louder around them. Stormtroopers grabbed Jedi Skywalker under his arms. She glanced up and saw the Chariot assault vehicle turning around to face the unseen attackers.
The stormtroopers dumped them in the narrow gap between the two pillars holding up the north side of the arch. Mommy was already there, and she surged up to keep Lucinda and Jedi Skywalker from landing on the ground. Lucinda grabbed onto her mother as the woman pulled back. Two more stormtroopers tossed the New Republic stranger into the space with them. Four of them stood over them, using the pillars for cover as they returned fire. Lucinda looked back over the town square.
Artoo was still out there! Red blaster bolts flew past his barrel-shaped body as he rolled toward the arch as fast as his little wheels could carry him.
"I think we're in trouble," the New Republic stranger said under the sounds of all the blasters. "Not to mention Lando and the others."
"It's not over yet." Jedi Skywalker knelt on the stone ground, looking at the battle. "Just stick close. How are you at causing distractions?"
"Terrific," the stranger answered. He brought his hands out from behind his back, the chain and manacles he had been wearing now hung loose from his left wrist. "Trick cuffs," he grunted. He pulled a strip of metal from the open cuff and used that to poke at Jedi Skywalker's restraints. "I hope this thing—ah."
Lucinda spun in Mommy's lap and pressed the buttons like they had practiced. The restraints eased open around Mommy's wrists.
"Good job." Mommy kissed her forehead as she also wormed out from under Lucinda's weight.
"You ready for your distraction?" The stranger took the loose end of his chain in his free hand.
"Hang on a minute." Jedi Skywalker looked up. Lucinda craned her neck back. Most of the speeder bikes had flown under the arch and hovered close to the top stone. Their laser cannons spat fire toward the surrounding houses. In front of them and below their line of fire, the Chariot had turned parallel to the arch and was coming down.
Mommy crawled forward and grabbed Jedi Skywalker's arm. He turned his head to her. "Whatever you're going to do, do it!" Mommy hissed. "If that Chariot gets down, you'll never get them out from cover."
He nodded. "I know. I'm counting on it."
The Chariot settled to the ground in front of the arch. Jedi Skywalker moved his feet under him. "All right, Han. Go."
The stranger named Han nodded and surged to his feet. He came up in the middle of the four stormtroopers standing over them. He bellowed and swung his shackles across the faceplate of the nearest guard, then threw the looped chain around the neck of the next stormtrooper and pulled away from the pillars.
The other two stormtroopers leaped on him and took the entire group down in a tangle. Lucinda scooted back on her butt so they didn't land on her.
Jedi Skywalker stood up and leaned around the pillar, looking at the droid hurrying across the empty square. He held out his left hand. "Artoo!—now!"
The silver metal of his lightsaber hilt reflected sunlight as it dropped into his outstretched hand.
The sound of the battle fell away as Lucinda's mouth dropped. She had seen him catch the lightsaber like that before. The green lightsaber blade extended out with a snap-hiss.
The stormtrooper guards had subdued Han's crazy attack and were getting back on their feet. Jedi Skywalker took them all down with a single sweep of the blazing green lightsaber. "Get behind me," he snapped and stepped into the gap between the northern pillars.
It had been one of her too-real dreams. The kind that Lucinda hadn't had since Mommy and she had moved to Myrkr. A blue, cloudless sky had had two suns beating down on a sea of yellow sand. The man in black stood on a skinny platform instead of the skiff and addressed a larger repulsorlift vehicle that she had never seen before.
But Artoo had been on the top of that vehicle, and he had fired the lightsaber. So, the man in black who dropped off the end of the platform above the hole filled with teeth and tentacles only to grab it and flipped back into the skiff and caught the lightsaber once he landed there must be Jedi Skywalker.
The stormtroopers between Jedi Skywalker and the southern pillars realized something had changed and turned to face the Jedi, aiming their blasters at him.
Jedi Skywalker ignored them as he turned and slashed his lightsaber up and across. Cleaving one of the northern stone pillars in half.
There was a loud crack, and the whole arch shivered. His next stroke cut through the second pillar on this side. Stone on stone grinding noises drowned out the blasters as the two pillars began sliding apart.
Mommy grabbed her as she scrambled away from the arch. Han grabbed them both and pushed them along. Lucinda ran as best she could, hunched over and staring back at the arch. The stormtroopers and the major were all staring up at the stone. The major's eyes and mouth widened in horror.
Jedi Skywalker did something to his lightsaber's hilt and hurled it at the southern pillars. The green blade stayed lit and sliced through one pillar and nicked the other. Jedi Skywalker dived out as the stones' grinding shifted to a loud roar.
Mommy and Han both rolled onto their backs to stare at the stones crashing down on top of the Imperials. Lucinda scrambled onto her feet. She saw Artoo had come to a stop well away from the mass of stones and the crumpled nose of the Chariot assault vehicle.
Jedi Skywalker stood up and retrieved his lightsaber from the edge of the mess. He turned it off and hung it on his belt before walking toward them.
"That was effective." Han stood up and dusted his trousers. "I'm going to find Lando." He looked over Jedi Skywalker, making sure he was okay before he skirted around the former archway, heading to the buildings that saw both sides of the square—the street where they came into the town square and the arch.
Mommy sat on the ground until Jedi Skywalker reached them. She had a satisfied smile on her face now. "And here I was thinking this was all over kill for just one man." She accepted his hand and his help up off the ground. They stood there looking at each other and didn't let go of their hands while airspeeders came over the buildings to land in the town square.
Lucinda huffed and hugged Mommy from the side since they weren't looking at her. The tabard and Mommy's tunic were both sticky under her hand. "Mommy! You're bleeding again!"
That broke the adults apart. Jedi Skywalker twisted around to examine Mommy's back for himself. Mommy huffed. "They came open, but it's not so bad."
"Does Hyllyard City have a medcenter?" Jedi Skywalker lifted the hem of Mommy's tunic and the black tabard to see the bottom bandages for himself. "Otherwise, we need to see what supplies your coworkers left in the Imperial garrison."
"Why do you think they'd steal them?" Lucinda asked.
"Mara, Skywalker." Captain Karrde climbed out of the nearest airspeeder. Aves jogged across the town square towards their group.
Jedi Skywalker let go of Mommy's tunic and turned to face Captain Karrde. "Mara got injured by a vornskr."
"I'm fine," Mommy insisted.
"You're bleeding," Lucinda told her. She folded her arms over her chest. Bleeding was not fine; that was Mommy's own rule.
"Well, let's keep you fine," Captain Karrde said. He gestured back at the airspeeder he had arrived in. "Dankin can take you and Lucinda back to the base first."
"I'm going to find Han and Lando." Jedi Skywalker backed away from the group.
Mommy huffed, but only said, "Come on, Lucinda," and she herded Lucinda to the airspeeder. Lucinda went along so Mommy would have her back fixed sooner, but she glanced back at Jedi Skywalker petting Artoo and heading toward the building Aves had left.