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Star Wars: Unexpected Consequences

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Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Lucinda shrieked.

"That calyarnr," Mara snarled as she shifted the Skipray into glide mode. They lost no more altitude, so she keyed up a contour scan of the cliff face beneath the rim building. She had to find a landing spot within reach of the rim. The dark island below would put her out of reach of the rim without the repulsorlifts. C'baoth lobbing rocks at them made landing next to the building impossible.

Or she could fire up the main drive and pull for space, and find a new job because she couldn't free Karrde with Lucinda in tow. She gritted her teeth. No defeat. Karrde and Luke deserved better from her.

She studied the contour scan during this lull in the rock storm. The Jedi Master was probably waiting to see if she'd crash without further effort on his part. Maybe she could convince him that he destroyed them without actually wrecking the ship. All she needed was…

About a third of the way down the cliff face of the island was a roughly hemispherical concavity where erosion had eaten away a layer of softer rock from the harder material surrounding it. The remaining ledge was relatively flat, and the whole thing was large enough to hold the Skipray.

"Luci, tighten your seat restraints and pay attention. I'm going to do an airstilting maneuver to land us without the repulsorlifts. It is an absolute last-ditch alternative to crashing."

"Not crashing is good." Her daughter said shakily.

Shavit, Mara hated doing this to Lucinda right after she just went down in a crash a few weeks ago. They were out of options, though. She flipped the ship nose up and eased on the main sublight drive.

The glare of the drive trail illuminated the approaching side of the rim mountains, making the shadows dance across the rocks. The Skipray jerked up and forward. Mara brought the nose further back off vertical to stabilize it. It threatened to overbalance, but she eased it back. It twitched almost too far in the other direction, but she steadied it. Mara felt the sweat beading on her forehead as she kept the unwieldy ship balanced with no help from the Force.

Lucinda sucked in her breath and held it.

Mara split her attention between the approach scope, the airspeed indicator, and the throttle and brought the ship in. The drive trail hit the cliff face when the Skipray was ten meters short of the ledge and ignited the rock. Flames sheathed the ship and obscured the viewport with blue, purple, green, yellow, red, and bright white fire.

The hull warning siren blared as the heat grew. Mara ignored it as she narrowed her eyes to the glare to see the cliff face ahead. Five meters away now; she extended the landing struts. Another warning siren alarmed as the temperature inside the cabin rose.

The Skipray's ventral fin scraped against the edge of the ledge with a screech and reverberations through the hull. Mara cut the drive and braced herself. Her stomach flung forward as gravity yanked the ship tail-first onto the ledge. Now Mara held her breath as it balanced. The ship changed its mind and toppled forward and slammed down hard onto its landing skids.

Mara shoved the sweat out of her eyes, breathed, and keyed for a status report.

Lucinda sucked in air like she was a puncture in a vacuum seal. "That's better than a crash!"

"Yes, we're both fine and we have working engines, hyperdrive, life-support, and hull integrity." She put the systems on standby before turning her seat around to face the rest of the cockpit.

"I never want to do that again." Her daughter still heaved for air.

"I hope you don't have to."

"Never want to ride in a Skipray again either."

Mara ignored that; Lucinda would get over the frights, eventually. She got out of her seat and unclasped the datacard necklace from around her neck. "I want you to stay in the ship until I or Jedi Skywalker come for you." She fastened the necklace around Lucinda's neck.

Luci tucked it inside her jumpsuit before she undid her restraints. "Do you think Jedi Skywalker's okay? He didn't stop the rocks."

Now that they were safe from the danger of falling out of the sky, her undefined worry snapped to attention with Lucinda's question. Had they come all the way to find Luke unable to help? Thrawn had called C'baoth mad. What did that make him capable of doing besides cooperating with the Imperials? Her daughter didn't need to share her fears. "Maybe he did. We haven't been hit since the last one." She freed the nutrient frame from the seat and hefted it and its lizard into the main cabin.

Lucinda followed her, still looking worried. Mara handed her the nutrient frame as she turned on the dorsal hatch behind the laser turret. "He could comm us, but he hasn't."

What reassurance did Lucinda want about this? "Luci-love, you have no idea what all he has faced and survived. He is fine. And in the slimmest chance that he is not, the Imperials will face my wrath. Okay?"

The young girl looked determined with that. "Okay."

"Put the nutrient frame on the hatch lift when I send it back down." Mara stepped on the circular plate and pressed the control button with her foot. The repulsorlift engaged and lifted her up through the aperture in the hull. She stepped off the repulsorlift plate and tapped the control back down. It opened again, and she looked up.

Oh shavit! Instead of being ten to fifteen meters beneath the top of the crag, the Skipray was almost fifty meters under it. She pulled a glow rod from her belt pack and aimed the beam of light across the rock face. The climb was possible, difficult with the top-heavy weight of the nutrient frame, and she didn't want to think about how fatigued she would be at the top.

The hatch sealed shut with the repulsorlift plate and the nutrient frame that the ysalamiri clung to waited on it. Mara attached the glow rod to the shoulder of her flight suit right by her neck, shrugged the frame onto her shoulders and back, and reached for her first set of handholds.

She had ascended maybe two meters when the rock centimeters away from her nose blazed with light.

Her grip loosened, and she slid back down to the Skipray's roof, scraping her arms and legs, but she landed in a crouch and pulled her blaster out. She snapped off a quick shot that took out the leftmost of the twin lights blazing at her despite how she had to squint. The other shut off, leaving her in darkness and with purple blob afterimages and the whine of an engaged repulsorlift.

Above that noise came a faint warble of Binary.

There was a chance that the droid belonged to C'baoth or was an Imperial loaner to the mad Jedi Master, but the freedom to takeoff whenever it felt like it seemed more like something Luke would allow. "Hey!" she called out to not draw attention from the rim. "You—droid. Are you Luke's astromech unit? If you are, you know who I am. We met on Myrkr, remember?"

The indignant tone of its reply made her want to rebuke it from ever using that Binary around her daughter. So she and the droid weren't friends. Fine, that didn't matter.

"Yes, well, skip all that. Your master's in trouble. I came to warn him."

Another electronic warble she couldn't translate, but the sarcasm made it even louder in the night air.

"It's true," Mara insisted. Her vision was recovering from the dazzling lights. The dark shape of the X-Wing hovered about five meters away, and the droid was aiming its two starboard laser cannons at her. It was taking Myrkr way too hard. "I need to talk to Luke right away," she added. "Before that Jedi Master up there figures out I'm still alive and tries to rectify the situation."

The droid didn't respond. She had expected more sarcasm. Perhaps it had witnessed the brief battle between the Skipray and C'baoth's flying boulders.

"Yes, that was him trying to kill me and Lucinda." She straightened her body and holstered her blaster. "Nice and quiet, so that your master wouldn't notice anything and ask awkward questions."

The droid beeped a question.

Mara guessed at what it was questioning. "I came here because I need Luke's help. Imperials captured Karrde, and I can't get him out by myself. Karrde, in case you've forgotten, was the one who helped your friends set up the ambush against those stormtroopers to let you leave Myrkr. You owe him."

The droid snorted.

"Fine," Mara snapped. "Don't do it for Karrde and don't do it for me. Take me up there because otherwise your precious master won't know until it's too late that his new teacher, C'baoth, is working for the Empire. And I'm not leaving him here for them to scoop up."

The droid was silent. Then the X-Wing turned, so the lasers were no longer aimed at her and sidled alongside the Skipray. That argument apparently convinced the droid. Now how was she going to fit in that cockpit with the ysalamiri frame strapped to her shoulders?

The X-Wing lifted higher and then stopped not too far above the Skipray. The landing skid under the nose cone extended down over the Skipray's hull.

"You must be joking." Mara glared at the thin metal pistons. It was a long drop to the lake below.

The droid didn't respond.

Mara heaved a sigh and climbed aboard. She and the frame both fit underneath. "Okay," she called out when she was secure. "Let's go. And watch out for flying rocks."

The X-Wing drifted away before moving upward. Mara braced herself against unexpected wind gusts or flying rocks, but they reached the top of the craggy island without either. The ship settled on the ground, and Mara saw the shadowy figure of a cloaked man standing silently beside the fence surrounding the house, a stonework building lodged between two of the larger crags.

"You must be C'baoth." Mara let go of the landing skid and got a grip on her blaster as she stepped out from under the starfighter. "You always greet your visitors this way?"

The figure didn't speak. Mara took another step toward him, fighting down her building unease. The Emperor had looked like that so often; the hood pulled forward so no one could easily see his face. He had looked like that when he had taken her from her home. He had looked like that when he gloated over her baby. That one was just a nightmare, she reminded herself.

"I have no visitors except lackeys from Grand Admiral Thrawn," the figure said, shattering the remembrance. He sounded nothing like Palpatine. "All others are, by definition, intruders."

"What makes you think I'm not with the Empire?" Mara shot back. "In case it escaped your notice, I was following the Imperial beacon on that island down there when you knocked me out of the sky."

The starlight didn't give much to see by, but C'baoth tilted his head and she saw a glimpse of a smile. "And what precisely does that prove? Merely that others can play with the Grand Admiral's little toys."

"Can others get hold of the Grand Admiral's ysalamiri too?" She waved her left hand at the frame on her back while her right hovered over her blaster. "Enough of this. The Grand Admiral—"

"The Grand Admiral is your enemy," C'baoth snarled. He dropped the hood back and the slight breeze tugged his long gray hair and beard. "Don't insult me with childish denials, Mara Jade. I saw it it all in your mind as you approached. Did you really believe you could take my Jedi away from me?"

Mara controlled her muscles and skin from exposing the shudder she felt. She heard the unstable edge of madness in his voice, but more alarming was the icy steel behind his voice and the ruthless confidence in his supreme power emanating from him.

It was like being in the Emperor's presence again.

"I need Skywalker's help." She forced her voice to remain calm. "All I need to do is borrow him for a little while."

"And then you'll return him?" C'baoth asked sardonically. His pale face was wrinkled, but nothing like the deformities Palpatine had hidden under his robe.

She clenched her teeth against the urge to tell him hell no, she wouldn't bring Luke back to anyone who claimed him like a possession. Work with his delusion as much as she was able. "I'll have his help, C'baoth. Whether you like it or not."

That was probably not the wisest tacit. Oh well, she had promised Luci to hurt the Imperials if they hurt Luke.

The smile was back, as ephemeral as a ghost. "Oh no, Mara Jade," he breathed. "You are mistaken. Do you truly believe that because you stand in the middle of an empty space in the Force that I am powerless against you?"

"There's also this." Mara pulled her blaster from its holster and aimed it at his chest.

C'baoth didn't move, but malice surged in the air between them. "No one points a weapon at me with impunity," the Jedi Master said with quiet menace. "You will pay dearly for this."

"I'll take my chances." Mara stepped back until the frame pressed against the X-Wing's starboard S-foils. Above and to her left, she heard the astromech droid chirping to itself. "You want to stand aside and let me pass? Or do we do this the hard way?"

C'baoth's head tilted as he gazed at her. "I could destroy you." The menace had vanished from his voice now, leaving something almost conversational in its place. "Right there where you stand, before you even knew the attack was coming. But I won't. Not now. I've felt your presence over the years, Mara Jade, you and your daughter. And now I've seen you in my meditations. Someday you will come to me, of your own free will."

"I'll take my chances on that one, too," Mara said.

"You don't believe me." C'baoth said with another ghostly smile. "But you shall. The future is fixed, my young would-be Jedi, as is your destiny. Someday you will kneel before me. I have foreseen it."

"I wouldn't trust Jedi foreseeing all that much if I were you," Mara retorted. She risked a glance past him at the darkened building and wondered what C'baoth would do if she shouted Luke's name. "The Emperor did a lot of that, too. It didn't help him much in the end."

"Perhaps I am wiser than the Emperor was," C'baoth said. "I can give you a galaxy that would be safe for your daughter. I can give her strength to defeat any foe. Is that not—" He broke off and turned his head. "I told you to go to your chambers," he said in a louder voice.

"Yes, you did," a familiar voice acknowledged. A new figure emerged from the shadows at the front of the house and moved across the courtyard.

Luke.

"Then why are you here?" C'baoth asked.

"I felt a disturbance in the Force." The younger man passed through the gate and came more fully into the dim starlight. His face had a great sabacc expression floating above his body in black, but his eyes fixed on Mara. "As if a battle were taking place nearby. Hello, Mara."

"Luke." Her mouth went dry. He was moving under his own power, and she had almost reached the conclusion that he wouldn't be. Now all she had to do was convince him she was more trustworthy than a Jedi Master. "Look—Luke—"

"I came here of my own free will," he said with a quirk to his lips. "Master C'baoth didn't kidnap me."

Mara had almost forgotten the blaster she had pointed at C'baoth and didn't trust him enough to put it away. "I need your help. Karrde's in trouble with the Empire."

"I see." Skywalker looked at C'baoth. "What happened here, Master C'baoth?"

"What does it matter?" the other countered. "She came here with that creature strapped to her back, obviously intending harm. Would you rather I had not stopped her?"

"Luke—" she began.

He stopped her with an upraised hand, his eyes still on C'baoth. "Did she attack you?" he asked. "Or threaten you in any way?"

Mara looked back at C'baoth and felt her breath freeze in her lungs. The haughty confidence vanished from the Jedi Master's face, leaving something cold and deadly in its place. Directed not at her, but at Luke.

Luke wouldn't need convincing of C'baoth's treachery, she realized. Somehow, he already knew.

"What does it matter what her precise actions were?" C'baoth demanded, his voice colder even than his face. "What matters is that she is a living example of the danger all Jedi face from a galaxy that hates and fears us."

"No, Master C'baoth," Luke said gently. "You must understand that the means are no less important than the ends. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack."

C'baoth snorted. "A platitude for the simpleminded. Or for those with insufficient wisdom to make their own decisions. I am beyond such things, Jedi Skywalker. As you will be someday. If you remain."

Luke shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "I can't." He turned away and walked toward Mara.

"Then you turn your back on the galaxy," C'baoth said, his voice now earnest. "Only with our guidance and strength can they ever hope to achieve real maturity. You know that as well as I do."

Luke stopped walking and turned partially to look at C'baoth again. "But you just said they hate us. How can we teach people who don't want our guidance?"

"We can heal the galaxy, Luke," C'baoth implored. "Together, you and I can do it. Without us, there is no hope. None at all."

"Maybe he can do it without you," Mara said loud enough to interrupt the verbal spell. She remembered that snoring courtier in Palpatine's office, and Luke looked like he was about to slump into slumber at any second.

Just like she had on the approach to Jomark….

Stepping away from the X-Wing, she approached Luke. C'baoth made a slight movement, as if he were to wave her away. She hefted her blaster, and he seemed to abandon the idea.

She kept her gaze on C'baoth but saw when the Force-empty zone around her ysalamiri touched Luke from the corner of her eye. He inhaled, shoulders straightening from a slump he probably hadn't even noticed they had, and nodded as if he understood something unexplained. "Is this how you would heal the galaxy, Master C'baoth?" he asked. "By coercion and deceit?"

C'baoth threw back his head and laughed. It was the last reaction Mara expected from him, and the sheer surprise of it froze her.

A small rock came out of nowhere to strike her gun hand. The blaster spun off into the darkness as her hand flared with pain and then went numb. "Watch out!" she cried out to Luke as she dropped into a crouch and scrabbled around for her weapon. A second stone whistled past her ear.

There was a snap-hiss beside her, and the green-white glow of Luke's lightsaber bathed the terrain. "Get behind the ship," he ordered her. "I'll hold him off." He took a long step forward out of the ysalamiri's influence. The lightsaber flashed sideways, and she heard the double crunch as its brilliant blade intercepted two more incoming rocks.

C'baoth continued laughing, raised his hand, and sent a flash of blue lightning toward them.

Luke caught the bolt on his lightsaber. For an instant, a blue-white coronal discharge surrounded the green of the blade. A second lightning bold shot past him to vanish at the edge of the empty zone around Mara; a third again wrapped itself around the lightsaber blade.

Mara's fumbling hand brushed against her blaster. Scooping it up, she swung it toward C'baoth—

A brilliant flash of laser fire whited out the scene in front of her.

She had forgotten about the droid sitting up there in the X-Wing. C'baoth must have forgotten about him too.

"Luke?" She blinked at the purple haze floating in front of her eyes and wrinkled her nose at the tingling smell of ozone. "Where are you?"

"Over here by C'baoth," he answered. "He's still alive."

"We can fix that." She picked her way across the streaming rut the X-Wing's laser cannon had gouged in the ground and headed to the two men.

The old man was lying on his back unconscious but breathing evenly with Skywalker kneeling over him. "Not even singed," she murmured without thinking about it. "Impressive."

"Artoo wasn't shooting to kill." Luke slid his fingertips across the old man's face. "It was probably the sonic shock that got him."

"That, or getting knocked off his feet by the shock wave." Mara lined her blaster up on the still figure. "Get out of the way. I'll finish it."

Luke looked up at her. "We're not killing him. Not like this."

"Would you rather wait until he's conscious again and can fight back?"

"There's no need to kill him at all," Luke insisted. "We can be off Jomark long before he wakes up."

She stiffened. C'baoth wanted her and Luci, and that only had one answer in their lives. "You don't leave an enemy at your back. Not of you like living."

"He doesn't have to be an enemy, Mara." Why was his earnestness so irritating? "He's ill," Luke continued. "Maybe he can be cured."

Mara's lip twisted. She didn't want to hurt him with this. "You didn't hear the way he was talking before you showed up." She took a deep breath. "He's insane, all right; but he sounded just like the Emperor and Vader used to."

He looked up at her with thoughtful eyes, and she saw a muscle twitch in his cheek. "Vader was deep in the dark side, too. He broke that hold and came back to the Light. Maybe C'baoth can do the same."

"I wouldn't bet on it. He's already working with Thrawn." Mara holstered her blaster, recognizing his obstinate look. "Just watch your back, please. If you're wrong."

"I will." He looked down at C'baoth once more, then back up at her. "You said Karrde was in trouble."

"Yes," Mara nodded. "Thrawn has taken him. I need your help to get him out."

She braced herself for the inevitable bargaining, but Luke nodded and stood. "Okay. That's your ship down the cliff?"

"Vaunted Jedi powers of foresight?" Mara ignored how her stomach churned over that. What C'baoth had seen would not come to pass; she'd never kneel to the likes of him.

"I looked before coming outside." He offered her one of his abashed smiles before heading to his ship.

Mara unfastened the nutrient frame and left it next to C'baoth. Hopefully, he'd freak out when he woke up and couldn't feel the Force. The retractable ladder up to the cockpit finished extending to the ground and Luke clambered up it. She followed him, prepared to hang onto the ladder this time instead of the landing strut.

He looked down at her from his seat. "I've got you. Let go of the ladder."

She frowned at him, but shifted her balance to her feet. The Force shifted around her, feeling like a sling as she lifted into the air. Her eyes widened as she drew even with the cockpit. Luke's arms guided her inside and onto his lap. She draped her calves outside the cockpit and leaned against his chest.

Luke hesitated before loosely wrapping his arms around her. "Sorry. I should have asked."

"It's all right." Her head swum with the realization that he was unimpaired and on her side. She had to concentrate on the next stage of the mission and the next obstacle. But she wasn't alone now, and that felt like she had drained an entire bottle of Whyren's.

"Take us down, Artoo." His right hand rested on her thigh. "Are you all right?"

The X-Wing lifted into the air without closing the cockpit hatch. Time to pull it together and concentrate on making things right with Karrde. "I have a plan to get aboard the Chimera again; I had it before I left. According to their flight schedule, they're going to be taking on supplies in the Wistril system four days from now. If we push it, we should get there a few hours ahead of them. We'll ditch the Skipray, take charge of one of the supply shuttles, and just go on up with the rest of them. But I don't know what to do with Lucinda."

"You brought her with you?"

"I didn't have a choice. Some of Karrde's people tried to hurt her to get back at me. We can't leave her here."

His thumb stroked her thigh as he thought. "Winter," he announced. Mara lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him better. "We can leave her with Winter on Coruscant. She's the only one I think is still on Coruscant."

"Who?"

"Winter Retrac, she is Leia's Doncella. Lucinda will be safe with her."

The lights on the control console reflected in his eyes. "We won't make it to the Chimera in time if we detour to Coruscant."

"Artoo can fly her back in the X-Wing, unless your plan needs one."

She grappled with the least outrageous part of that sentence first. "No, we don't need an X-Wing to get aboard the Chimera. But she can't fly an X-Wing. She can't even fly a skyhopper yet!"

"Artoo will handle the flying. He'll get her to Coruscant." Luke's hand shifted to support Mara's back. "If you're worried about that long in hyperspace making her bored, I can put her into the same trance I use for hyperspace jumps. She'll sleep the whole trip away."

Mara couldn't say anything. Her baby, alone in the cold dark of space in a fragile starfighter that Luke had disabled once? But they could not take her with them to steal an Imperial shuttle.

Luke winced with her distress. "I trust Artoo with my life. He'll get Lucinda safely to Winter. I wouldn't knowingly send her into danger."

"I know," Mara whispered back. "And I know we don't have a choice."

The droid beeped at them as the X-Wing hovered in the air. They were hovering next to the Skipray.

"I'll put you on your ship and record a message to Winter while you get Lucinda." Luke made it sound like an offer, so she nodded. She floated up like gravity no longer had a hold on her. She flexed her legs down for the Skipray's hull as she reached it. Her boots touched the surface, and the Force pulled back, letting gravity pull on her again.

She glanced back at the X-Wing after she activated the hatch. Luke was climbing on the retractable ladder and concentrating on the droid behind the cockpit. Then the repulsorlift platform lowered her into the main cabin.

Luci had a blaster aimed at her as the hatch telescoped closed. Mara grinned. "Good girl."

She dropped her arms and then barreled into Mara for a hug. "You're back!" She squeezed Mara around the waist. "Where's Jedi Skywalker?"

"He's getting his X-Wing ready." Mara took a deep breath. "You must take it and his droid back to Coruscant. Let's get your bag."

Lucinda jerked back. "Mommy, no! You were supposed—" She stopped that train of thought as Mara marched back to the cabin. "I can help, Mommy," she insisted. "I can."

Mara scooped up the datapad and cards that rested on Lucinda's bunk along with an already-worn jumpsuit and stuffed them into Lucinda's duffel bag. "Luci-love, I know you want to. But we're going to impersonate Imperials, and you are not tall enough yet." Mara sighed at her daughter's impressive pout. "You'll be helping to get his X-Wing to Coruscant. We can't leave it here."

"But you said I can't fly yet!"

"The droid will have the stick, but it still counts as flying. You'll get to brag about it to everyone when we get back to base with Captain Karrde."

"Okay," Lucinda said, making each syllable sullen.

Mara fastened Lucinda's bag closed and grabbed her bag. "Jedi Skywalker has a friend that will take care of you, Winter Retrac, so you be on your best behavior." Lucinda nodded reluctantly. "You keep the datacard necklace safe."

Her daughter pressed a hand to her chest where the necklace rested under the jumpsuit. Now her blue eyes opened wide with a trace of fear. "Mommy?"

"I'll be back to take it again, don't worry. But don't lose it either."

"I won't," Lucinda said somberly. Mara wrapped her arm around Lucinda's shoulders and pulled the child against her. Lucinda walked with the leaning contact to the hatch panel and didn't let go as they rode it up to the hull.

Luke had moved the nose of the X-Wing over the Skipray while she was inside. He dropped off the ladder with a smile. "Hello, Lucinda. Artoo's ready to fly with you. He has the message for Doncella Retrac, so you just need to tell the maintenance workers you need to see her."

"Doncella Winter Retrac," Lucinda said slowly. "I'll remember."

Mara knelt and hugged her. "It's an adventure. We'll do something fun on Coruscant when I get there."

"Yes, be careful, Mommy." Lucinda let her go and headed to Luke.

"I'll be right behind you." He boosted her up to the ladder.

I have her with the Force. His voice said in Mara's mind. I won't let her fall.

Lucinda clambered into the cockpit with no mishaps. Luke kept up a steady stream of reassurances as he helped her strap in. "Did your mom tell you about the trance?"

"No."

"I do it all the time while traveling through hyperspace. You'll sleep, no bad dreams, and wake up in the hangar bay at Coruscant."

Lucinda flailed. "But I'll miss it!"

"Miss what? Hyperspace?"

"No, the approach. I haven't been to Coruscant." She sounded dismayed.

"Oh, I enjoy watching a new planet approach too." Luke looked down at Mara. "Your call, Mara."

She reached the bags up to him and made sure her stern voice carried into the open cockpit. "You can't touch any of the controls. Coruscant has so much space traffic; you don't want to mess up the flight path and get others hurt."

"I won't touch anything. I promise!" Luke leaned further in and put both bags in the footwell. "Artoo will do all the piloting," Lucinda added.

"Okay, then." He set the flight helmet on her head and tightened the chin strap. "Play the wake up chord, Artoo."

"I heard it."

"Good, remember it." His voice took a difference cadence and Mara felt the Force stirring around them. "Relax in the seat. Artoo will play that chord when it's time to wake up so you can see the approach to Coruscant." He leaned back and headed down the ladder. "Seal up, Artoo," he said normally.

The droid beeped at them, and the cockpit hatch lowered over the seat.

He dropped off the ladder, and it retracted into the starfighter. "Keep her safe."

The droid whistled affirmatively before the X-Wing lifted away.