Lucinda missed Myrkr. More accurately, she missed the calm and happy atmosphere of the crew when they had been on Myrkr three weeks ago. She thought the next base would get that way on Rishi, but they had to abandon it in twenty-four hours. She didn't even know the name of the planet they were on now, but she knew that everyone that worked for Captain Karrde were on the Imperial bounty list.
Lucinda had left her and Mommy's bunk room, expecting to have the recreation room to herself at this time of the day. She hadn't thought of the crew—three or four ships' worth of people all at this base—needing to hide, too. Most of them had crowded into the recreation room that doubled as the mess because it connected with the kitchen. And none of them were interested in watching a holodrama. She pressed against the wall beside the open doorway to the hall and listened as hard as she could to the angry rumble inside the room.
"It don't make sense." Lachton's voice got above the rumble. "Karrde's been givin' her plump assignments since she joined up."
"I saw it happen!" Something banged down on a table. Lucinda jumped, but Wadewarn continued yelling. "She got the drop on the Boss and left with the bucketheads without a blaster bolt being fired."
Lucinda curled her hands into fists. Something happened to Captain Karrde? But who were bucketheads?
"Nobody's calling you a liar, Wadewarn." Lucinda didn't recognize that woman's voice. "Funny she picked the Imperials after the way she cozied up to Skywalker, though."
Cozied up to Skywalker? Were they talking about Mommy? Lucinda's eyebrows tightened over her eyes. But Mommy would never pick the Imperials. They wanted to split the Jades apart and she would never see Mommy again.
"She's a scheming schutta, that redhead ciken. The Imperials found her price. Maybe it's running this organization."
Lucinda's entire body felt like it was on fire. She knew those words were horrible things to call any woman. Wadewarn was not saying them about Mommy!
She charged into the large recreation room. Most everybody in there clustered around the tables near the kitchen end. Wadewarn stood at the first table with his back to the hall doorway. She gathered speed and slammed into the larger man. "You nerf herder! Don't you call my mother that!"
Wadewarn staggered but caught himself against the table.
Luci stepped back out of reach but with her fists up, like Mommy taught her.
"You little shavit!" Wadewarn spun around, glaring at her with her darkening red face. Laughter cascaded through the group and his neck tendons corded.
"You big shavit! Don't you call my mother that!" She repeated.
His lips opened in a sneer. "Your mother is a ciken. Where's your father?"
"It's not you, so I don't care!"
Laughter from the others answered that before Wadewarn responded. His face was so red it was almost black, like a storm cloud.
Lucinda was so intent on watching Wadewarn's next move, she didn't realize someone was behind her until meaty hands closed around both her biceps, pressing her arms against her sides. "Let's teach Jade a lesson 'bout betrayal." Lachton said above Lucinda's head. "This brat is the only thing she cares about." He shook Lucinda hard. "Maybe not, since she left her behind."
Her stomach dropped away from her body with the angry and excited sneer on Wadewarn's face. She had to get away from him, but the crowd had shifted around the table and the fight, and they blocked the hall doorway. She better get behind Lachton and go out through the kitchen.
Wadewarn pulled a long vibroknife from its sheath on his belt. Blast it, Mommy would definitely say she should have grabbed the weapon when she shoved him. "Let's see if your mother still loves you without a nose."
"Wadewarn, don't." Someone clustered around the sofas said.
He spun around to face them. "You aiming to be Jade's second in command?" He snarled the question like a wounded vornskr. And she had heard one when Jedi Skywalker cut off its tail.
Lucinda raised her knee as high as she could, nearly touching her chin, and stomped her heel down on Lachton's foot.
Lachton howled as he jerked up his foot. Lucinda wrenched her arms free of his limp grip and dove under the table as Wadewarn whirled around.
He dropped to his knees and reached for her, but she was already out of reach unless he crawled. Too many legs between the edge of the table and the kitchen doorway, but there were fewer people standing in front of the next table over. She scrambled across the floor on all fours.
She looked back, and Wadewarn was climbing onto his feet. "Stop that traitorous schutta's whelp!" Nobody intercepted her as she reached the next large round table and she jumped and rolled on top of it. She stood up in a fighting stance in the center, but it would only seat ten people around it. Wadewarn's long arms could reach her unless she was astral at dodging.
He plowed into the table with his gut, but the sturdy metal didn't budge. His snarl was inarticulate as he swept his vibroknife toward her.
Luci backed away from its reach, mindful of the table's edge behind her. She glanced up. Mommy always said going up was the best option 'cause people didn't look up. But there wasn't anything she could grab within jumping reach.
"I'm going to take you apart!" Wadewarn started moving around the table and Luci matched his circling action. "Gonna show your ciken mother what happens to traitors!"
She heard the cackle/purr through Wadewarn's yelling, Lachton's encouraging hoots, and the rest of the crowd's noise. It hadn't been a month yet since those sounds meant vornskrs wanting to eat her, Mommy, and Jedi Skywalker in the forest, but she didn't think she would ever forget that sound. She took her eyes off Wadewarn and looked at the hallway door.
Chin stood there, only noticed by the ones closest to the opening, holding two tail-less vornskrs by their straining collars and leads. "Sturm, catch him." He dropped one lead.
The brown animal surged toward Lucinda's table. She screamed as the fangs and the claws leapt into the air.
But Sturm didn't land on her like the wild one had landed on Mommy. His mouth closed around Wadewarn's raised arm with the vibroknife and with an easy pull had the man on his back on the floor.
Wadewarn's screams weren't angry now. They were sharp with pain. She could hear the pain in his voice and hadn't known that was possible. Everyone else in the room had fallen silent except for Drang, who cackle/purred enough for both vornskrs.
Chin's calm voice was louder than Wadewarn's screams. "What hai is going on in here, hee?"
"The traitor's brat attacked Wadewarn and me," Lachton answered. "No good, just like her mother."
"So that is why you attack a child with a vibroblade, hee?" Chin's floppy hair didn't look so silly now with how his eyes were glaring at Lachton. His gaze swept over the rest of the room. The others glanced away. Chin harrumphed under his breath and walked closer to Lachton. Drang got louder as he sized up the human. "That's not the crew the Boss runs."
"We ain't got a Boss cause of Jade!" Someone else in the crowd yelled. Lucinda curled her fists tighter.
"Good news!" Ghent ran into the recreation room, but didn't clear the doorway, smacking his shoulder hard. "Ow! The Imperial bounties are gone; thought you'd all want to know…." His voice trailed away as he took in the quiet except for Wadewarn's now whimpering on the floor. "What's going on?"
Chin glanced at him before looking back at Lachton. "Aves has gone to find out what hai happened to the Boss. Lucinda, go back to the console room with Ghent till I be getting you."
Lucinda slid off the table as far from Sturm and Wadewarn as she could get. The vornskr's yellow eyes were closed like he was savoring the taste of Wadewarn's arm.
Nobody grabbed her as she crossed the room. She took Ghent's hand. He continued looking confused, but led her out of the recreation room and back up the hallway to a smaller room crammed with consoles. Two chairs—one a conform-seat and the other smaller and harder—barely fit in what floor space was available.
She climbed into the smaller and harder chair and sat with her legs pulled up to her chest. She hugged them tight to keep them there. The datacard necklace pulled on her neck. So it was still safe, like Mommy asked her to keep it.
Ghent chewed on his bottom lip as the door slid shut behind him. "What happened?" he asked.
"Wadewarn said bad things about Mommy."
The young man sat down in his conform-seat and ran a hand through his blue hair as he sighed. "Smugglers aren't polite society."
"I know. This was different. They were all mad at her and called her traitor and wanted to cut off my nose."
Ghent swallowed hard. "Not a joke that went wrong?"
Luci rolled her eyes. "What's funny about pulling out a vibroknife?"
That stumped him. He turned the chair to face the closest console screen and stared at that for a minute. Lucinda hugged her legs. He stood quickly and pulled a small box down off a shelf above the screens. It was labeled encoding components, but when he lifted the lid, it was full of brightly packaged candy. He plucked out two of the individually wrapped pieces and held the blue one in front of her nose.
"Mommy doesn't like it when I eat candy in between meals. It's a rule."
Ghent smirked. "Huh. She told me it was a rule to eat candy after you got away from someone trying to kill you. You earned it."
She let go with only one of her hands, holding it out for the offering. Ghent dropped the candy onto her curled palm and turned back to put the box back on the shelf. He sat down and focused on the console screens.
In the quiet, she slowly peeled the wrapper off the candy. The morsel of chocolate melted and coated her tongue. Ghent chomped his piece and swallowed, but she pressed her chocolate against the roof of her mouth to savor it longer. Before too long, she swallowed the remains. Now she could ask. "You said the Imperial bounties were gone? For everybody?"
Ghent jerked his head to look at her. "Oh, yes." He picked up a datapad that was plugged into the console. "They're all gone for the people the Imperials knew worked for Karrde. They didn't know about you and me."
But the Imperials had known about Mommy; she had explained that when they left Rishi. "Did the Grand Admiral die?"
Ghent blinked. "I haven't seen any news that he has. Why?"
She had to explain this carefully. Mommy had told her they couldn't let anyone know about the Emperor hunting them; it would give away the Force if other people knew that. "The bounties went away on me and Mommy after the man who made them died."
"There were bounties on you?"
"Before we met you."
He blinked again. "Captain Karrde probably worked out a deal. We'll know more when Aves gets back." He nodded and focused on the screen again.
Lucinda tightened her arms around her legs again and rested her chin on her knees. She'd feel much better about the situation if the Grand Admiral who found them on Myrkr was dead.
The door slid open, and both she and Ghent turned toward it. Chin's grim expression softened when he saw them. "You need any patching, young one?"
"No," Luci answered.
"You come help me in the kitchen while we wait for Aves to get back." Chin held out his hand. "It's all right. Sturm and Drang and Wadewarn are all in their rooms."
She uncurled and took his hand. They entered the kitchen through the hallway door, not the doorway to the recreation room. Someone was playing a holodrama now, but with the volume too low to hear from the kitchen. And they didn't turn up the volume after Chin started banging pots and pans. She fetched the ingredients Chin wanted and waited until he was chopping a peeled root vegetable to ask. "Chin, why is everybody mad at Mommy?"
The older man sighed as he set the cooking knife down. "It be adult problems. Nothing you need to worry about." He slid the cut pieces into a pot on the stove. "Get the Brekka beets."
She turned to the pantry with a huff. Mommy needed to tell Chin that Lucinda could handle all kinds of adult problems. The Jades never had any other adults they could trust. She brought the red, round roots back to Chin.
"There you are." Aves leaned against the kitchen door frame, keeping the door to the hallway open.
"Here we be," Chin answered as he cut the stems off the gourds. "You got my message?"
"Yeah. Cook that fast because we need to evacuate again." Chin muttered something Lucinda couldn't make out. Aves sighed. "It keeps us safe, Chin. But I got one more thing to do before we tell everybody to pack. Come on, Lucinda. Let's get your stuff."
She paused, wondering if this was a trap to hurt her. "Why?"
"I'm taking you to your mother. It's not safe for you here."
Mommy had left her here with the datacard necklace and everybody else because it wasn't safe to go with her and pick up the Etherway on Abregado-rae. "Mommy's back?" she asked.
"We have to meet her in a little while and get the Etherway back." Aves rubbed his face. "You need to see her, especially after this."
"Okay." Mommy at least would tell her what was going on and give her clear instructions.
Aves took her up the stairs to her and Mommy's bunk and waited in the door until she repacked her lessons into her go bag that was still full of her clothes. They walked to the closest landing pit, where the three Skiprays were docked.
Dankin met them there, carrying a ysalamiri and its wearable nutrient frame. "Here it is. I already put the tech scanner and the blasters in the hold. What's going on?"
Aves shook his head. "Head back to the base. I've got an announcement to make when I get back."
Dankin looked suspicious, but left the landing pit without arguing. Aves picked up the ysalamiri and headed into one of the new Skiprays. Lucinda's heart sank a little at that—the Skipray was now her least favorite ship to fly in—but she said nothing about that when Aves let her sit up in the cockpit. He stashed the half-meter long lizard in the main cabin while she strapped in and then swung into the pilot's seat.
They flew out of the city, but didn't climb the atmosphere. Were they meeting Mommy in the next city over? She twisted the navigation station's seat and craned her neck to look out the viewport. Aves brought the Skipray down toward a clear bit of land about the size of the largest landing pit Lucinda had seen that was ringed by trees. Water surrounded the trees, but she bounced when she spied the modified Corellian Engineering Corporation Action V transport resting in the clearing. Mommy stood on the entry ramp of the other ship, waiting while Aves brought the Skipray down beside the larger ship.
She waited to undo her straps until the Skipray settled on its landing struts and went into standby mode. Then she bounded down the entry ramp way ahead of Aves. He had rotated so the entry ramps opened between the ships. Mommy almost went into guard stance when she saw Luci but she didn't signal or say stop so Lucinda ran up to her and hugged her tight. "Mommy!"
She pressed her hands into Lucinda's back. "I'm glad to see you, Luci." But her tone and her surprise didn't match her words. Lucinda let her go as she looked up. "Aves, why did you—?"
Aves clomped down the Skipray's entry ramp, packing the tech scanner. "She can't stay with us. Some of the men were going to maim her if not kill her, and Chin was the only one who stopped it. She ain't safe."
"She's not safe with me either. I'm going up against Imperials!" Mommy's hands curled into fists.
Lucinda felt her stomach sink. Everything was all bad, and she made it worse by fighting with Wadewarn. What had happened to Captain Karrde?
"Not my problem, Mara." Aves looked sorry and tired at the same time. "And I don't want her shoved out an airlock while my back is turned. Good luck getting the boss back." He shifted the tech scanner in his arms and passed them going up into the Etherway.
Lucinda looked up at Mommy and made her eyes huge. "I'll be good and help, Mommy. I promise."
Mommy sighed. "Stow my bag in the Skipray." She passed the duffel to Lucinda.
Luci ran up the entry ramp and into the stowage compartments in the bunk room. She heard Mommy's lighter steps into the ship and up to the cockpit as the main hatch closed. She made sure the compartments holding her and Mommy's bags were closed tight and headed back to her seat at the navigation station. Mommy was in the pilot's seat, double checking all the settings and sensors. Luci stretched but reached the control panel without kneeling in the seat. "What to put into the nav computer?"
She keyed it in carefully before buckling her safety restraints. Mommy finished her checks and buckled hers on. Soon the Skipray lifted off the ground and climbed through atmosphere. The nav computer finished its calculations, so Luci sent them to the pilot's control panel with the push of a button. Nobody hailed them and no other ships intercepted them either, and soon the stars shifted to lines and then to mottled space.
Mommy unfastened her restraints with a sigh. She changed seats to the technical station next to Lucinda. "What happened back at the base?" She turned the seats, so they faced each other.
Lucinda slowly unfastened her safety restraints, so she didn't have to look at Mommy. "Wadewarn and Lachton were mad at you and calling you names. I tried to make them stop and then they pulled out a vibroknife to cut off my nose."
Mommy took a deep breath and spoke like she was trying not to scream. "You got in a fight with vibroblades?"
"He didn't have it out when I shoved him." Luci curled more into her seat. "And I got out of the hold and up on a table 'cause I couldn't get out the door. Then Chin made Sturm bite Wadewarn, and I stayed with Ghent and him until Aves brought me to you." She risked looking up. Mommy's face pinched with worry, but not icy. "Something happened to Captain Karrde, and they were scared and mad. But Chin and Aves wouldn't tell me what happened."
"Did you get hurt?"
"Nope, but I think I broke Lachton's foot like you taught me how."
"Good, but I don't need you to fight to defend my honor." Luci scowled because the Jade girls had to stick together and nobody else fought for Mommy and if Mommy made it a rule how was Luci supposed to watch her back? But Mommy continued, "They're all mad at me because it looks like I gave Captain Karrde up for the Imperial bounty."
Lucinda gasped. "But you would never?" Imperials had chased them for Lucinda's entire life. Why would Mommy ever help them? She wouldn't.
"No, I didn't and I wouldn't. Unfortunately, I got picked up by the Imperials and I thought the Grand Admiral would honor a deal that would get the bounties off of everyone." Mommy glared at the navigation computer.
"He put a homing beacon on the Etherway and then sent an assault team to capture Captain Karrde when he met the ship. It's my fault he is caught and I have to get him out."
"So the Imperials have Captain Karrde on Jomark?"
Mommy shook her head. "No, I think the Imperials have trapped Jedi Skywalker there. I need his help to get Captain Karrde free."
Getting Captain Karrde free already seemed easier with Jedi Skywalker's help, or at least not as hopeless. But he was caught too? "Do we have to rescue everybody from the Imperials?"
Mommy chuckled, leaned in, and hugged Lucinda tight. "It looks that way. But if the New Republic has lost anyone else, they'll have to pay a finder's fee for them."
She squeezed her mother back, so glad to finally have answers. "But not for Jedi Skywalker?"
"No. He has a free pass for rescues." She kissed Lucinda's hair before letting her go. "Let's fix some food and rest before we reach Jomark."
Mara grinned in the shadowed artifact room. More warehouse than curated display space with two starfighters stored in the cavernous room along with stacks of crates against the walls, but the remains of large statues and smaller items sitting on display pedestals like the one she was crouched before with her hands in its circuits made an attempt at showing off the illicit treasures. She snipped the last wire to power the security alarm. The slug was a fool to trust this model of display pedestal. Coruscant museums stopped using them centuries ago. But then this same slug thought he could collect illegal Jedi artifacts without her Master or Lord Vader ever discovering it.
She stood up and looked down at the prize her Master wanted before Vader slashed his way through everything in this room. It was a dodecahedron, large enough to fit in her hand. Untarnished silver filigree connected the translucent blue panels together, forming the object. It glowed with its own internal power unchanged from the one lamp illuminating the room. It didn't look dangerous, but her Master had warned her more than once to not activate it.
She pressed the control pad and the transparent case from the top of the display pedestal raised into the air. She picked up the artifact. It weighed nothing in her hand. She smirked and lowered the case back onto the pedestal. Let the stupid slug wonder what had happened to it the next time he wandered back in here. It fit perfectly into the padded bag her Master had instructed her to get. She sealed the bag and strapped it against her body. She had to climb up to reach the airspeeder for her getaway, and it couldn't be in the way.
Satisfied with how everything had gone, she turned from the display pedestal and stepped toward the crates that formed her ladder up to the ventilation shafts. One silent step, a second silent step, and then a seam in the floor glowed blue. A force field shot up in front of her face. She spun around, but the force field continued around her and the display pedestal. She lost sight of how high it went as the lights in the ceiling above a model solar system clicked on. The shadows disappeared as feet ran toward her location.
She looked down at the floor. The tools she had on her wouldn't give her access to the force field generator under her feet. Her Master could with his power. She closed her eyes as she reached into the bond that connected them across the galaxy. Master.
He stirred against her mind, like a roiling storm that hadn't unleashed its fury. Have you succeeded, my Hand? Do you have the holocron?
I have it, Master! But there are complications. She opened her eyes to show him the force field, and the organic alien and droid guards assembling beyond it. That was a larger gathering of muscle than she had expected.
His voice, unheard by the guards, sighed with disappointment. The sound cracked the floor under her feet. I had such high hopes for you, Mara, but I'm afraid you failed me.
The floor splintered underneath her, and she was falling into a blackness that matched despair. He had not called her Mara since he named her his Hand. No, Master, I just need—
I will not divert any competent Hands from their missions to a rescue of an also-ran.
His harsh voice full of finality sent her flailing into free fall. "But I am your Hand?" she whispered against the crushing weight on her chest.
He heard that whisper. No Hand of mine would ever be so feckless to be captured by a slimy piece of worm-ridden filth. You deserve whatever punishment the slug thinks up for this defeat. The rumbling storm pulled out of reach and the withdrawal buffeted into a tailspin.
Metal clicked on the floor, twelve clacks in a rolling beat against the floor. She felt the vibrations through her feet back on the solid floor.
She glared at her enemies surrounding her. None of the eyes staring back at her were human, but the organic ones leered back. She didn't have to smile and simper back here in Hutt Space, so she snarled. Not that they heard her through the force field.
Grakkus loomed over his security force. Hutts weren't typically that tall. His wide mouth parted in laughter. His shoulders and head shook with it. The leers on the Nikto and Klatooinians faces grew stronger.
Mara curled her fists. She'd knock those expressions right off of their faces. She slid her right foot back as she settled into a guard stance and loosened her fingers.
The force field dropped back into the floor and two Nikto crossed over that threshold with hands outstretched. She seized the closest leverage point and tossed the male over her. He landed on his coworkers and droids as she dropped and kicked the second Nikto. He fell back, and no one was in line to catch him. She scrambled over him, kicking back as she broke free. Her heel hit his head.
Grakkus' laughter bounced off the crates and statues. "Kaa, bu kaae ukaueth ah dokoi! Doppomka uen chace. Mwa Jeedai hatkocanh uoh kouwoleue pacmonean."
She ran toward the X-Wing. It was closer and wasn't trapped by crates like the covered Delta-7B against the wall. If she could get up inside it and its systems still worked, this fight would be over. She'd aim the weapons at the laughing slug on cybernetic legs and see how fast he could run.
Someone slammed into her back. She tucked and caught herself on her hands and knees. She rammed her elbow back into the Klatooinian's head. His arms slacked around her and she rolled out of his hold and back onto her feet.
The battle droids with the electrostaffs had moved around the organics and blocked her from the X-Wing. How the hell did Grakkus get his hands on this many MagnaGuards? But they made no move toward her, so she reluctantly turned her back to them as she faced her organic opponents.
A green-scaled Nikto ran ahead of the group. Mara braced her feet and smashed her fist into his face. His small facial horns scratched her knuckles and fingers, but he went down. The Klatooinian scrambled onto his hands and knees before she kicked him in the head again. The next rushing Klatooinian blocked her punch, so she slammed her knee into his torso. He flailed his arms with his yelp but backhanded the right side of her face.
The blow knocked her back, but not off her feet. Grakkus roared with anger now. "Whao uba sewapka mwa catabola, Jee hatkocanh uey uba bamohh! Koose uen nei ateema."
She had no idea what the Hutt had yelled, but the males rushed her in mass. She punched with both hands and kicked. The ones she struck fell back, but not down. The others crowded closer. A Klatooinian slid behind her, wrapped his arms around hers, and his hand landed on her breast and squeezed.
Er haran nayc. This di'kut will pay for groping her like that. She curled her neck down and grabbed his thumb with her teeth.
He screamed and jerked his hand off her breast, but he moved it up. She clamped her teeth tighter as he sawed his digit between them, and she ignored the blood filling her mouth.
Other hands grabbed her arms, pulled her hair, and tugged at her jaw. But they weren't having any luck prying her mouth open.
The Klatooinian shrieked as she bit down and danced behind her back. His rhythm was awful.
Grakkus moved forward to look at the development in the melee. Two MagnaGuards screened his oddly muscular bulk from the crowd. "Tagwa, mwa kaae Jeedai hatkocanh uoh wa yae bacaka tah. Sianatianeu uen."
One of his MagnaGuards raised its metallic hand with a blaster. She saw the blue circles of the stun blast as it came at her. The scene faded to black, but her mind was not stunned.
So she was dreaming. That eased the old bitterness over her failure to free herself from that fight. Now she knew how this dream would go, fake darkness heralding Luke's arrival and his presence dismissing the sting of fear and failure with his unexpected kindness. She would never regret her defeat because it had led to Luke and an eager gentleness that she had only experienced with him.
His hands on her skin, hands that never groped or hit. She missed his touch so much she would accept the phantom substitute of her dreams.
So of course, her body slammed down onto a medbed and a pressure gripped her lower abdomen. She instinctively pushed and pushed, but it wasn't right. She hadn't been flat on her back when she had Lucinda; Naboo used birthing stools. But the baby was coming, she couldn't stop it. Medical droids surrounded the medbed.
Droids she recognized. No.
She jerked her arm to push the closest one away, but a restraint was wrapped around her wrist that kept it locked against the medbed's railing.
Not this. Not again.
She had to push, and she felt her baby's body slide free of her body. The midwife droid had the infant who let out a healthy wail that matched her bright potential in the Force. Mara's daughter, so bright in the Force, just like her father.
Mara struggled against the restraints. She had no freedom to reach the midwife droid at the foot of the medbed. "Please." She begged as she strained her hands toward the pair. "Please let me have my baby."
The droid turned and rolled to the side of the room filled with pleased coldness, a banked rage mixed with glee anticipating more power. Darkness that swamped the actual physical space of the medical suite, but didn't obscure the gnarled figure waiting. How had she spent her entire childhood in the presence of that darkness and had never questioned it?
"She's my baby, please give me my baby." Mara sobbed despite herself. Tears wouldn't do a damn bit of good; she had to fight for them both.
But the droid and Palpatine ignored her. She could only see his thin lips smiling under his hood as he looked down at the wailing infant. "A Skywalker under my control from the beginning."
"NO!" Mara screamed. But pain was crawling up her left arm. She jerked to look at the intravenous drip, now cloudy with a poison. "NO!" She forced herself upright with all of her strength.
And the seat restraints for the pilot station caught her before she slammed into the control panel.
She sat gasping for breath and tried to make sense of why that warning was back. Footsteps ran into the cockpit, up to her seat. "Mommy?" Lucinda's cheek had an indent from the bunk. Her wide blue eyes looked out the viewport and then back up at Mara. "What's wrong?"
Mara ignored how her flight suit stuck to her sweaty skin and found a smile for her daughter. "Everything's fine. I just had a bad dream."
Lucinda didn't look reassured. "A Force dream?"
"No." Mara was gut sure of that. Palpatine was dead, and she and Luke never got their clothes off around each other on Myrkr. "Just a normal bad dream."
"Do you need a hug?"
Mara leaned to the side of the seat as far as the restraints would let her and wrapped her arms around Lucinda. Luci snaked her arms around Mara and through the restraints to return the squeeze. The proximity alert pinged for attention.
Mara let her go and leaned back. "Go strap in. We're there."
Lucinda nodded and skipped back to the navigation station. Mara listened to the clicks as her daughter fastened the seat restraints. The tone of the proximity alert changed, thirty seconds remaining. Mara cupped the hyperdrive levers in her hand and watched the indicator reach zero before gently pushing the levers back. Mottling blue shifted to starlines and then to black of space with a dark sphere of a planet ahead.
They had arrived at Jomark.
She tapped the comm, keying the code she had already programmed during their flight. On this planet, Thrawn's people were still using the standard Imperial guidance transponders they had taught her as a child. The Skipray's displays flashed the location, an island forming the center of a ring-shaped lake just past the sunset line. She triggered the transponder once more, but the location didn't change. She keyed in the sublight drive and started down into the atmosphere. Trying to forget that last image of a gleeful Emperor's face….
The wailing of the ship's alarm jerked her awake. "What?" she barked aloud. Lucinda didn't answer her question or say anything about the alarm. Mara's sleep-sticky eyes flicked across the console for the source of the trouble.
The Skipray had rolled half over onto its side. The computer screamed with the stress of keeping the ship from spinning out of the sky. Inexplicably, she was already deep inside the lower atmosphere, well past the point where she should have switched to repulsorlifts.
Clenching her teeth, she switched over and scanned the map as she leveled the ship. She had only been out of it for a minute or two, but at their current speed even a few seconds could be fatal for her and her daughter. Who was being remarkably quiet over the alarm and the bad flying. Who had just woken up from a full eight hours of sleep. Who loved observing takeoffs and landings from the cockpit.
Mara dug her knuckles into her eyes, fighting against the fatigue pulling at her and feeling sweat break out again on her forehead. Flying while half asleep, her old instructor had often warned her, was the quickest if messiest way to end your life. And it would be her own damn fault.
Or was it?
She confirmed that there were no mountains in the path and keyed on the autopilot. She unstrapped from the seat and swiveled it around.
Lucinda was strapped into the navigation station's seat and her head hung to her chest in deep sleep.
Something wasn't right with both of them being this exhausted at the same time. She remembered Palpatine sitting on his throne. She was around Lucinda's age and so bored by the meeting as the subordinate droned on and on as she waited at attention against the wall. Then her former master caught her eye with a flash of a smile before he spoke. She couldn't recall what he had said, but she remembered how the Force shifted in the room. And then the subordinate was snoring.
She left the cockpit, fighting the urge to give into the fatigue with every step. The ysalamiri and portable nutrient framework that Aves had given her was in the main cabin. A meter or so from the little animal, the fatigue vanished. Now no longer feeling as if she had just finished a four-day battle, she carried the ysalamiri frame into the cockpit. She strapped it into the gunnery station seat beside Lucinda.
Lucinda raised her head. "Mommy? What's going on?"
"Somebody doesn't want us to see Jedi Skywalker." Mara climbed back into the pilot's seat. "They don't know we have a ysalamiri."
The rim of the mountains surrounding the lake was visible on the electropulse scanner as she turned off the autopilot program. The infrared scanner had picked up an inhabited structure on the far side of the lake on an island rising from the water. Probably where Skywalker and this mad Jedi Master were staying. The sensors picked up a smaller than the Skipray mass of spaceship-grade metal just outside the building, but no weapon emplacements or defense shields either on the crater rim or on the island.
Maybe C'baoth thought his sleepy-time trick was enough protection and didn't need to hide turbolasers. Mara hunched over the control board, alert for his next move as she steered the Skipray over the rim and across the lake.
They were nearly at the midpoint of the crater when the attack came, a sudden impact on the Skipray's underside that kicked the entire craft a few centimeters.
"What was that?" Lucinda demanded.
Another impact hit the ventral fin and yawned the ship hard to starboard. Mara corrected with a growl. "There's nothing on the sensors." The ship rang with another impact. "It's rocks. He's throwing rocks at us!" And the sensors were blind to them.
"Who?" Lucinda demanded. "Jedi Skywalker?"
"No, the Force user keeping him here." The fourth impact knocked out the repulsorlifts, sending the Skipray falling out of the sky.