The forest that took so long to cross on foot was taking no time to fly over in the airspeeder. Lucinda stared out of the viewport at the trees that blurred into one green mass below.
"Did Skywalker survive?" Dankin asked over his shoulder from the pilot's seat.
"Do you think I murdered him out in the forest?" Mommy shot back.
"None of us, Jade, but Solo was sure worried about it. Insisted on being right in the middle of the Boss' plan."
Lucinda twisted in her seat away from the viewport to face the adults as the names clicked together. "Han Solo? That was General Han Solo?"
"It wasn't a good time for introductions, but yes, that was Captain Han Solo. He resigned his commission about the same time he got married," Mommy explained.
"Oh." And he had come to Myrkr to bring Jedi Skywalker back home to the New Republic. He couldn't go! She hadn't gotten a chance to ask her questions yet!
The airspeeder landed in front of the barracks building. "Go shower," Mommy ordered as they got out.
Lucinda frowned. "You need medical."
"I am going—under my own power—to medical. You need to get clean." Mommy pointed to the barracks.
Lucinda huffed as she headed to the barracks door. She wanted to be clean, but she wanted Mommy to not be bleeding and she wanted to not miss Jedi Skywalker before he left. She turned at the door and saw Mommy heading across the lawn to the main building. Behind the maintenance hangar, people were setting up towing cables between an X-Wing and a Corellian Engineering Corporation YT-1300 light freighter. Since she had to move fast now, she ran down the hall to her quarters, undoing her braids as she moved.
She scrubbed everywhere with cleanser—because there was no point fighting with Mommy about what clean means—but she didn't stay in the dryer cycle long. She wrung her red-gold hair with her hands until her body was dry enough, then jumped out. She pulled on a clean jumpsuit and her spare boots before she ran back up the barracks hallway and paused at the door outside.
More airspeeders were bringing people back to the base. Everyone shooting at the Imperials in Hyllyard City must work for Captain Karrde. The entire base converged on the maintenance hangar and the ships docked around it. Captain Solo directed the people with the towing cables. She didn't see Mommy, so now was probably her only chance. She ran across the lawn.
Lucinda charged up the saucer-shaped freighter's entry ramp with her wet hair slapping against her back. "Jedi Skywalker!" She headed right in the tube-like corridor. "Jedi Skywalker!" She ended up in a hold she had seen in holodramas. At least the dejarik table with a circular bench around it and the engineering station that she ended up between were familiar. The galley station on the other side of the hold was new. It hit her and she skidded to a stop on the deck plate. This was the ship that escaped the first Death Star and did something famous with the Kessel Run; not that she could remember what that was. "Astral, I'm on the Millennium Falcon." Her voice dropped to a near whisper, and she felt dizzy.
Another man's raised voice echoed from the corridor on the other side of this hold. "I'm fine, Luke. Take Threepio with you!" She didn't recognize his voice.
Jedi Skywalker emerged from that same corridor, still wearing his hike-stained clothes and the puffy welts on his face. "Oh no, your mother finally stopped yelling at me about kidnapping you. You're not stowing in here to start that again."
"I'm not stowing. I just wanted to ask you some questions alone."
He herded her back into the corridor. "You can ask me on the entry ramp, in full sight of everyone."
Lucinda huffed but went along with it. The question was important, and Mommy had pulled a blaster on him. She turned around when she was on the entry ramp.
He sat cross-legged in the doorway where she'd have to climb over him to get back inside. "What's so important to ask me you skipped the dryer cycle?" He smiled at her still-wet hair.
She glanced around, but Mommy was out of sight and everybody else was by the maintenance hangar. "You knew Mommy before I was born."
His smile shifted to a frown. "I think you should ask your mother for the details about that."
"I don't need the details!" She glanced around again, but her raised voice had gained no attention. She knew the difference between classified secrets and Mommy secrets, and what she wanted was the latter. "I just want to know who my father is, if you met them both before I was born."
He winced. "I'm sorry, Luci. It was just your mother and me on that… adventure. She must have met your father after we took our separate escapes." Lucinda's shoulders drooped. "She hasn't told you about him?" he asked.
"She never talks about before I was born." Lucinda huffed again before explaining more. "Just a few things, never about her family or my father, like her entire life started when I was born. And I know that's not how it works." She crossed her arms over her chest and squeezed them tight.
"Children are a new life and change everything. Your mother possibly didn't like her life before you, and that's why she doesn't talk about it. I'm sure, in time, she'll tell you about it."
He nodded. "And if I come across badly in your mother's story, just remember I was young and stupid at the time." He grinned and Lucinda giggled.
"Why did I dream about you?" she asked once that stopped being funny.
"Our minds work out things that have stimulated them in dreams." He shrugged. "The past few days have been very stimulating."
"No, it was when I was little. And it wasn't like those dreams. It was hot and bright and I could feel the wind blowing sand on me. And I saw Artoo shoot your lightsaber to you and you caught it and you were fighting above a pit of teeth and tentacles." His serious expression made her hands mash together, and she squeezed her fingers. "I didn't know it was you, not until the fight in Hyllyard City."
Jedi Skywalker reached out and rested his left hand, his real hand, on top of hers. That stopped the squeezing. His hand swallowed both of hers, but it was warm and callused. His smile was as gentle as his touch. "It's alright, Luci. Maybe the Force didn't want you to be afraid of me when we met."
Her hands didn't twitch, but her stomach sank instead. "Mommy says to hide the Force because bad people will take me for it."
His smile slipped into sadness. "One day, things will be safe enough so you won't have to hide. And maybe you'll learn from me." His blue eyes warmed again. "But that's far enough into the future not to worry about, okay?"
That was what Mommy said any time Lucinda thought about what she would be when she grew up, but no one had ever told her being a Jedi was on the list. "Okay," she finally said.
He patted her hands and pulled back. "I don't think you have to worry about those dreams. Just treat them like you treat the other dreams."
"Right." Lucinda nodded her head. "I will." She let go of her hands and put them behind her back. "Can I see the Falcon now?" She smiled in that way that usually got what she wanted from adults, everybody but Mommy.
He chuckled, and she decided he had a friendly laugh, one that shared the joke with you rather than make you the joke. "You do that very well, but I already told you I don't want your mother mad at me."
"Why would I get mad?"
Lucinda spun around as Jedi Skywalker jumped to his feet and came further down the ramp.
Mommy stopped at the bottom of the entry ramp. She was clean and dry, wearing fresh clothes, and carrying Jedi Skywalker's tabard. She made a dismayed noise. "Luci, did you even try to get dry?"
"I got mostly dry." Lucinda pushed her hair back off her shoulder. It slapped against her shoulder blade. "Are you fixed now?" She frowned up at her mother.
"Yes, I'm no longer bleeding. Can you go get dry and start packing?"
Lucinda's hands mashed together again. "Did you lose this job?" She hadn't yelled at Captain Karrde about keeping people. Did Captain Karrde end Mommy's employment because they crashed the Skiprays?
Mommy shook her head. "No, I still have a job. We're abandoning this base for another one. You've got time to pack everything and neatly."
That was a first. Lucinda couldn't remember having time to pack before fleeing a planet. But she and Mommy had never had anyone drop a megagram of stone on the stormtroopers chasing them before either. "So this is goodbye?"
"Until we meet again." Jedi Skywalker held out his hand. Lucinda shook it, feeling very grown up. "May the Force be with you."
"May the Force be with you too!" She headed down the entry ramp and looked up at Mommy, who waved for her to continue walking away. So Mommy wanted to talk to Jedi Skywalker alone. Well, she didn't think Jedi Skywalker would tattle about asking about her father. She trudged across the clipped grass toward the barracks. A new base to explore. That would be fun. Hopefully, the next planet won't have anything that liked to eat her and Mommy like vornskrs. She should mention that to Captain Karrde, on the ship, when he's not so busy.
Luke stepped off the entry ramp. Mara was an arms-length away, watching over her shoulder as Lucinda walked back to the barracks. She had cleaned up and now looked like she hadn't just spent three days in the wilderness. He wished he had had time to clean up after the skirmish and getting Lando back to the Falcon. Or that his face was less grotesque right now. Hell of a last impression to make, especially after their time in the forest had given him hope that she wouldn't mind seeing him again.
Mara turned her head back to Luke. Her loose red-gold hair gleamed in the sunlight as it settled back into place around her shoulders. "What was so important that she rushed to see you?"
Lucinda had gone to a lot of trouble to not ask about her father in front of Mara. She had to know about her daughter's curiosity, so she had her reasons for not telling. He had no right to judge Mara's decision, and an echo of personal pain was not a reason. Besides, he couldn't explain that mess, not with most of it classified. And he didn't want to piss Mara off about her parenting. Someone had, given how she had reacted over her daughter's blaster skills. She'd never want to see him again if he pissed her off. Lucinda had the right idea.
"She had a Force vision," he said. Mara's face whitened under her freckles and her green eyes bulged. Maybe that wasn't the safer topic. "The skirmish—"
"She saw that?" Mara interrupted. Her hands curled into tight fists. "How is that possible on Myrkr?"
Luke shook his head. "No, the skirmish reminded her of it. She said she had dreamed it years ago, and it sounded like what me and Artoo did with the lightsaber above the Great Pit of Carkoon when we rescued Han. I told her the Force wanted her to not fear me when we met."
"You believe that?" Mara's eyes stopped bulging and narrowed at him, worriedly rather than angrily.
"The future is always in motion, and what Force visions I have had were more metaphorical than showing me actual events. The time I got actual events…." He couldn't flex his right hand like he normally did when he thought about Cloud City, so he rubbed the seam between his prosthetic and his real arm through the cloth of his sleeve. "It didn't go according to the conclusions I had drawn. The only other one who spoke of visions to me, well, I don't think the Battle of Endor went how the Emperor foresaw it either."
Mara took a shaky breath. "So, don't draw conclusions about one-off Force visions?"
Luke gave her a lopsided smile. "If you can help it. I told Lucinda to treat them like her other dreams since she worried more about disobeying your hide the Force directive."
"You don't approve of hiding."
"Training is better."
Mara crossed her arms over her chest. "And you're ready to take Lucinda as your padawan."
Now Luke felt his eyes bug out at her. "Padawan? Lucinda? Before you?"
He took a deep breath. "An entire generation, our generation, lost access to what they can do. I want to give that heritage back to those who want it. And the New Republic needs Jedi Knights, adults ready for what the Force has in store for them. Eventually, the students will get younger, but I'm not stealing Lucinda from you. Not now, not ever."
Mara scowled. "If you had actually gotten away in that Skipray, you would've turned around as soon as you found her and brought her back? A Force Sensitive child?"
"Yes," Luke answered and then added honestly, "as soon as I had scrambled back-up, I would have brought her straight back to you."
Mara's scowl cracked as she chuckled. "I can't blame you for wanting back-up."
"Good. So, you could be a Jedi too, if you want." Luke saw Han moving next to the ship docked beside the Falcon. His brother-in-law crossed his arms but didn't come closer to the scene at the entry ramp. "Luci said this was a good job you have with Karrde, but you both have the option. And there's time for Luci to decide what she wants. You have my comcode? It's the best way to contact me; I always check the messages." His ears burned at the speed his words were gathering.
"I have your comcode." She smiled and her cheeks pinked. "I'll think about the training, Luke. For both of us."
"Great!" He grinned, even though his puffy and numb cheeks didn't want to stretch. It probably looked goofier than usual.
"Here." She held out his tabard. "I don't want to hold you up. Solo got the rest of your things already."
The pale skin of her hand called out to him. Did he dare? It always worked for Lando. He reached for the tabard and bent, pressing a kiss against her knuckles.
She gasped as she released the material. He looked up while still bent over her hand. Her face was flushed, and she was breathing just as hard as he was. He wanted to make her breathe hard by touching her in other places, but that would be inappropriate without her permission and right now with the audience. He let her pull her hand back as he straightened with his tabard in his own grip. "May the Force be with you, Mara," he said softly.
It took her a moment to speak. "And with you, Luke," she said just as softly. She spun away and headed to the maintenance hangar.
Her swaying stride drew his gaze, but he saw Han's loose arms stance of shock out of the corner of his eye. Luke pretended to have not seen it as he turned and headed up the entry ramp. They had the entire flight to Coruscant for Han's comments.
Luke checked on Lando—who had turned his face to the wall of the medbunk and pretended to be asleep already—and the droids before heading to the cockpit, timing it with the ship lift off. "Any problems with the tow cables?" he asked as he slid into the copilot's seat.
"Not so far," Han said as he leaned forward and looked all around them as the Falcon cleared the trees. "The extra weight's not bothering us. We should be all right."
"Good. You expecting company?"
"You never know." Han gave the sky one last look before settling back into his seat and gunning the repulsorlifts. "Karrde said there were still a couple of Chariots and a few speeder bikes unaccounted for. One of them might have figured that a last-ditch suicide run was better than having to go back to the Grand Admiral and report."
Luke stared at him. But Han's hands remained wrapped tight around the controls. "Grand Admiral?" he asked.
Han's lips twisted into an angry sneer. "Yeah. That's who seems to be running the show now for the Empire."
A chill like the night air on Tatooine ran up Luke's back, prickling his skin along the way. "I thought we had accounted for all the Grand Admirals."
He remembered what Mara had told him after he had told her and Karrde the attacks were like kidnappings. They have a way to exploit them, a way they are so damned confident of they'll risk going after the most famous potential Force users in the galaxy before they're even born. A Grand Admiral hunting Leia and the twins, and who would hunt Mara and Lucinda as soon as the Imperials learned about them. Why? None of the other warlords had been interested in Force users.
"Me too," Han said to Luke's last aloud comment. "We must have missed one."
Luke felt a surge of awareness and strength fill him before Han finished speaking. As if he were waking from a deep sleep or stepping from a dark room into the light. The Force was again with him.
He breathed deeply and flicked his eyes across the control board for the altimeter. Just over twelve kilometers. Karrde had been right; the ysalamiri reinforced one another. Luke didn't wish the smuggler any ill will after all this, but he had no desire to inform Karrde of that answer either.
"I don't suppose you got a name." His voice had gone soft as he closed his eyes and the sensation worked its way through him.
"Karrde wouldn't give it to me." Han frowned curiously at Luke. "Maybe we can bargain the use of that Star Cruiser he wants for it. You okay?"
"I'm fine." Luke spoke more normally to ease Han's worries. "I just—it's like being able to see again after having been blind."
Han snorted. "Yeah, I know how that is."
"I guess you would." Luke opened his eyes and looked at him. "I didn't get a chance to say this earlier, but thanks for coming after me."
Han waved it aside. "No charge. And I didn't get a chance to say it earlier—" he glanced at Luke again with a smug smirk. "—but even looking like something the proom dragged in, you add the only red-heads on the planet to your collection."
He knew it was coming, but it still spiked his irritation. "I love how everybody says that like I have had a legion of them when there has only ever been the one." His ears burned when he realized what he had admitted. So much for telling no one about Mara.
Han twisted to the other side of the cockpit and reached for the nav computer's controls. "There's no shame in having a type, Luke. But you said a long time ago not to count Shira Brie."
"Brie has never counted; she was an Imperial spy. And she has fallen to the Dark Side. Remember, she likes to be called Lumiya now."
"All that time in the forest made you cranky. You were not this cranky on Dathomir after Teneniel turned you down."
"That's not what happened."
"And you had a thing for red-haired women long before Brie infiltrated or Teneniel…." Han's voice trailed away as he spun back around to look at Luke again.
Luke stared straight out the viewport. The forest looked rather pleasant from this high up.
"Wait, that was her?!" Han exclaimed. "Mara Jade? Where did you meet her? When?"
He had to give Han some kind of answer or Han would start coming up with theories. "I met her after the Battle of Yavin."
"Oh, on one of your teach yourself how to be a Jedi without any help trips?"
Luke nodded, hoping that Han would leave it at that. He had done too much thinking of Grakkus' enslavement of them both this week. He'd rather think of Mara now, curvier and blushing from just a kiss on her hand. A kiss he had given her.
Han turned back to his piloting. The Falcon cleared the atmosphere and sped for deep space. "So the kid's father is long gone?" Luke pursed his lips, but Han continued, "Don't get huffy. You're not about to pull out the courtier stops on a married woman." He chuckled. "Too bad Lando missed that."
Luke's ears had begun to cool but now they heated again. "Lucinda said a Ghent told her that her father abandoned Mara when she was pregnant. Did you meet him?"
"Karrde's slicer, still pretty green, but he knew gossip about me and Chewie that Lando didn't even know. So he might have picked up on that and would be unaware enough to not tell the poor kid." Han glanced at him with a smirk. "What, being an uncle is not enough now? Ready to try your hand at fatherhood?"
"I'd like a chance to take Mara out first," Luke said. He remembered her words again, that she worried that she and her daughter would be kidnapped by the Imperials too. Seeing her again would probably depend on ending that threat.
A light flashed on the control board announcing that the Falcon was far enough from Myrkr's gravity well for the hyperdrive to function. Han nodded at it. "Course's already programmed in; let's get out of here." He wrapped his hand around the central levers and pulled. The stars shifted into starlines through the viewport.
"Where are we going?" Luke asked as he watched the starlines fade into the mottled hyperspace sky. "Coruscant?"
"A little side trip first," Han answered. "I want to swing by Sluis Van shipyards, see if we can get Lando, you, and your X-wing fixed up."
Luke glanced at his brother-in-law's scheming expression. "And maybe find a Star Cruiser to borrow for Karrde?"
Han scowled slightly, annoyed that his tell had been spotted. "Maybe. I mean, Ackbar's got a bunch of stripped-down warships ferrying stuff to the Sluis sector already. No reason why we can't borrow one of them for a couple of days, is there?"
"Probably not." Luke sighed. "Especially if we do get the name of a Grand Admiral out of it." He leaned back in the co-pilot's seat. "Maybe if we had their identity, we would have the reason why behind the kidnapping attempts."
Han's presence went grim. "The Minister of State and her babies gives them leverage over the New Republic."
Luke shook his head. "Both Karrde and Mara focused on the Imperials wanting Force users. Mara's especially frightened of her own daughter getting caught too." He remembered the fear and anger in her green eyes when she threatened to shoot him with the stormtroopers meters away searching the wrecks. "If it was just leverage over the New Republic, they'd be going after the families of all Inner Council members."
"And nobody but us have been threatened." Han clenched his teeth like he was chewing on the idea. He turned his seat to face Luke. "Say the fake Falcon on Bpfassh worked, and they now have Leia and the twins. Leia's not going to agree to help them, so that leaves them with two babies that have to grow and train. Right?"
Luke turned the co-pilot's seat to face him. "Right."
"So who's going to train them without you, without Leia?"
The answer was already in Han's suspicious mind, but Luke said it in the cockpit. "A Force user that has fallen to the Dark Side. Someone's looking for an apprentice, probably made a deal with the Imperials as soon as the HoloNet broke the news Leia was pregnant."
"Shavit." Han's face whitened. "Leia suggested they might have a Dark Jedi on Bpfassh, right before our gray friends showed up with blasters. That could be how the Imperials are coordinating their attacks without any transmissions was her theory."
"Leia didn't mention that to me back on Nkllon."
Han rubbed his fingers over his lips. "I forgot about it too. Funny how a Star Destroyer's arrival just makes you forget." He shook his head. "Did Mara have any ideas on who has teamed up with the mysterious Grand Admiral?"
Luke shook his head. "She never said. She would have, if she knew."
"You're sure of that?" Luke nodded. "Anything from the Force?" Han blinked with an expression that he couldn't believe he asked that.
Luke didn't rub it in. "No, but I haven't meditated on the idea. Maybe it is Lumiya. She could have decided kidnapping is the only way she can be a mom."
"Nobody has seen her since the Nagai-Tof War. What about the guy behind Lord Shadowspawn?"
"I think the meltmassif surge/feedback killed him, but his ship was lost in hyperspace." Luke shivered. He had barely defeated both of them on his own. "Maybe we shouldn't bother with Sluis Van, then. We can head to Coruscant and start some intelligence searches. Lando's hurting, but he's not in any danger."
Han shook his head. "No, I want to get him taken care of —and you too, buddy, how's your hand?" He glanced down at Luke's right.
Luke sighed and looked down at it too. "It's completely numb now and I can't move it."
"When we hit Coruscant, we're going to hit it running. So enjoy Sluis Van while you can. It'll probably be the last peace and quiet we'll get for a while."
Luke didn't sigh. It would give him time to meditate on the next step to take. If Coruscant was as bad as Han felt it was, he probably wouldn't have time once they reached it. But he couldn't stay on Coruscant long. If those who used the Dark Side of the Force were attacking again, he needed help. He had to find the voice who spoke to him during the battle at Nkllon and get his help. That meant chasing down the C'baoth rumor as soon as possible. "The more things change; the more they stay the same. But a break sounds nice." He stood up. "I'm going to get cleaned up."