Star Wars: Unexpected Consequences Title

Chapter Four

Lucinda recounted all the datacards on her desk. It was the same as the last three times she counted; one was missing. And it was the lessons on the Clone Wars history of Naboo that she had ignored doing while Mommy was working off planet. But she was back now. And Mommy was going to do a progress check on Luci's lessons as soon as she finished with the fancy dinner Captain Karrde was holding for base guests.

Luci glanced at her still covered meal tray. The missing datacard churned her stomach and made her not hungry at all. Luci had opened the datacard. She remembered how it started with the battle between the Trade Federation and Naboo to explain something that happened when the Clone Wars started ten years later. She would know what that was if she had done the lessons. When was the last time she had opened it?

She flopped into her desk chair and thought hard. Mommy had been gone for two months, so it had been a while. The last time she had worked on it was before the Star Destroyer had shown up to collect ysalamiri, when she had panicked and packed up her things to run. She jerked up and grabbed her datapad. It had fallen out of her bag in the Skipray. The datacard must have fallen out too. And she missed picking it up while Chin hauled her out of the ship.

Mommy had told her to stay out of the Skiprays and she had. But Mommy would be madder that Lucinda hadn't finished her lessons. Luci doing them on her own was proof that she was a big girl who could take care of her responsibilities.

But now, Mommy was busy with the fancy dinner. Luci could get the datacard out of the Skipray and be back in her room working on her lessons before that ended. Then Mommy would only have questions of why Luci was behind, and because she hadn't done them was the honest answer.

And Mommy would ground Luci until Luci was back on schedule, which wouldn't be fun but was less awful than the alternative.

She left the datapad on her desk as she left the room. Nobody was outside as she dashed across the clearing, and the Skipray she wanted was docked on Landing Pad 1 again. The main hatch was down, so she scrambled over the main wings on the body of the ship. It was a lot easier to do without the bags this time. No datacard in the tiny passageway between the cockpit, so she went into the main cabin and scowled.

Someone had magnetically clamped the crates to new positions in the cabin. If they had put one of them on her datacard, damage or data corruption would make it useless. Mommy would have to waste credits on a replacement.

She didn't see a datacard on the cleared deck plate in this cabin. Maybe it had ended up where the datapad had: under the fold-able bench. They had stacked four boxes in front of those benches, but not flush against the hull. She peered behind the boxes.

The seats were lifted against the hull. A datacard was on the floor up against the wall. Lucinda dropped to her hands and knees and crawled to it. She wrapped her hand around it, wanting to cheer out loud, but didn't. Somebody might hear her and tell Mommy.

Boots stepped onto the entry ramp.

Lucinda jerked her head to check, but the crates hid her. She didn't dare come out now. Everybody who worked for Captain Karrde would tell on her to save themselves from Mommy.

She heard his low grunting, like he was straining to do something but trying not to make a lot of noise. She stayed frozen but mentally screamed, Get your check done and go! at him. But he didn't leave as something heavy and metallic landed on the deck plate.

An electronic twitter sounded in the passageway. "So how about no more complaints when I grab you with the Force?" The male voice was low. The hinged hatchway hissed as it closed. "Cockpit is this way." The boot steps headed forward, followed by a much quieter whir.

Luci crawled to the edge of the crates hiding her and craned her neck until she saw the closed hatchway. He was taking off?!

Mommy was going to KILL her.

No, that would be over too quick. Mommy was going to do something worse. Luci's imagination failed with coming up with a suitable something. She had to get out of here before takeoff because Mommy's anger might be less if Luci didn't actually leave planet.

She crept onto her feet, grateful for her soft-soled boots that made her feet quieter than the male's boots. Then she moved sideways in the main cabin until she pressed against the opposite hull with a view into the cockpit. A blond human male dressed in black was wrapping the seat restraints around a barrel-shaped astromech droid wedged between two of the three seats at the Skipray's tech/weapons station.

Her heart pounded. She didn't recognize the man. Mommy always introduced her to Captain Karrde's new hires. She dashed to the wall between the main cabin's door and the autochef unit, out of sight of the cockpit pressed up against it.

Mommy had been super busy since Wild Karrde docked a few days ago, so it's possible she forgot to introduce a new crew member. But Captain Karrde didn't need any astromech droids for any of his ships. The maintenance tech had told her all about that.

So where did they come from, Hyllyard City? And what were they doing, stealing the Skipray? She slid the datacard into a thigh pocket on her trousers.

"Looks like everything's already on standby." The man said, not so worried about his volume now after he shut the hatch. "There's an outlet right there—give everything a quick check while I strap in. With a little luck, maybe we can be out of here before anyone even knows we're gone." The droid beeped in response.

He was stealing the Skipray! Lucinda's mouth dropped open. The engines were already rumbling, triggering Mommy's rule about always being strapped in when the ship's sublights were running. But he was stealing the Skipray! And he didn't know she was here. She closed her mouth as she thought. If she was sneaky and made sure the thief didn't know she was here, she could sneak to the comm and tell the base where it was after they landed. But where to hide?

She dashed to the folded bench behind the magnetic crates. There was just enough room to lower the seat between the hull and the crates, keeping her hidden, and she could strap in, even though she had to sit cross-legged to squeeze her legs behind the crate. She pulled the restraints around her body.

She finished tightening the straps just in time to feel the Skipray shift forward and her body slid a little to the left. The thief wasn't wasting any time.

"I think we're in trouble." The man called back to his droid.

Was it normal to talk to a droid so much when the droid doesn't speak Basic? Mommy couldn't ever afford a droid until this job, but they didn't need one. Lucinda gripped the restraints tighter as the sublight drive roared. The thief-pilot was going fast, but it didn't feel like the Skipray was going higher. Something scraped against the bottom and the droid squealed so loud she heard it.


Maybe the droid was the brain of this stealing the Skipray operation, and that's why the man kept talking to it.

The droid trilled.

"Hang on!"

Oh, Lucinda did not like the sound of that shout. The Skipray rolled hard and her stomach flipped as the roll became a spin that didn't stop. She heard the cockpit canopy shatter and felt the Skipray slam into trees. She shrieked as she covered her head with her arms. The crash balloons popped out of the restraints and covered more of her. The droid answered her scream with an electronic scream of its own.

Luke didn't hurt as he staggered back to consciousness. This was one of his better crashes, considering the splintered trees outside the fighter's twisted canopy. The fighter must be equipped with an emergency acceleration compensator along with the restraints and crash balloons. Its nose had plowed into the ground and now the aft section was higher.

He and Artoo couldn't linger here. The fighter chasing him probably had reinforcements coming from Karrde's base or worse, the Star Destroyer in orbit above the planet. Leaving had been the best option; company for dinner, yeah right. He brushed the leaves and twigs away from himself and the instrument panels in front of him. The scopes were dead.

Artoo moaned behind him.

"You okay, Artoo?" He unlatched his restraints and leveraged himself out of the seat.

Artoo warbled at him. {Passenger. Can't scan status.}

"Hang on, I'm coming." Luke climbed up the slanted floor. It could have been a worse incline if they had come straight down to the ground on the ship's nose.

The droid's scomp link had broken off cleanly, and Luke made sure the remains retracted properly. And a few dents; but Artoo wasn't fussing about them. {Passenger. Can't scan status. Check on passenger.}

"What are you talking about?" Luke untangled the seat restraints from around the droid. Then he heard it, a choked off sob that could never be mistaken for metal giving way from stress.

Artoo magnetically latched onto the deck plate and swiveled his dome to aim the photoreceptor at the cockpit door.

Luke climbed into the passageway and into the main cabin of the small ship. The sob choked off again, but this time it sounded like a hand slapped over a mouth. But he didn't see anybody, just magnetic crates still stacked together next to the hull. A hull wall that undoubtedly had benches that folded up out of the way like the other side.

He crossed the cabin to look between the crates and the hull. The seat was down, and a little girl about seven or eight was curled on it, hiding her face against her knees. Her shimmering red-gold hair was plaited in two braids curving above her ears with the braids falling onto her shoulders. And he only knew one woman with that shade of red; he had run after enough of the wrong ones to know the difference now. His aching heart thudded. He hadn't sensed this child at all, couldn't sense her now. Was she hurt? He knelt next to the bench. "Are you hurt?"

Her head snapped back, and blue eyes reddened from crying glared at him. "Why should I tell you anything?! You stole from Captain Karrde. This was his Skipray, and you wrecked it 'cause you're a terrible pilot!"

"That move works better in an X-wing," he conceded. Her tear-soaked face was red from the yelling, and her neck and arms moved effortlessly. "But if you're hurt, you need to tell me so we can use the medpac before you move a lot and make it worse."

Artoo twittered. {Torso contusions. No internal structures or systems damage.} The scan done, the droid turned and rolled into the passageway with the main hatch.

The little girl blinked at him. "It hurts where the restraints caught me like I hit it real hard, but I can walk."

"Can you undo the restraints?"

She scowled. "I shouldn't listen to you. If you're willing to steal, you'll do worse things to me."

Artoo whistled in squeamish-sounding awe before elaborating. {Other ship crashed worse than we did. Slipstream pull down, in all probability.}

"One problem at a time, Artoo." He called over his shoulder.

Curiosity crept across her suspicious face. "How do you know what the droid is saying?"

"I know Binary. I can't speak it; human throats can't make all the same sounds."

"Nobody told me I could learn it."

"Artoo taught me. Let's all find somewhere safe to go and I'll help you learn some. My name is Luke."

"It's safer to stay with the Skipray. Everybody on base said that."

"That's true if the Imperial Star Destroyer in orbit didn't see us go down." He hoped these smugglers were raising her with a healthy sense of fear of them, along with a suspicion of strangers.

Her blue eyes widened as she struggled to breathe. "They came back?"

"I'd show you the scopes, but the crash took them out."

She stared at him, and Luke wished he could soothe her fears of him through the Force. Her hands shook as she unlatched the restraints and swung her legs out to the side of the seat. Luke stood and stepped back to give her room. She skidded a little and then scowled up at him like he had caused it on purpose. "Just because I don't like stormtroopers doesn't mean I like you."

"Fair enough. Do you know where the safety supplies are stored?"

"In a compartment above the main hatch." She went through the doorway first and stared at Artoo. "You look familiar."

Before droid or man could respond, a female yelled from outside. "Sithspit, Skywalker, if that stunt didn't kill you, I might finish the job!"

If Luke had any doubts over her lineage, the child's reaction confirmed it. She shrank back from the hatch with a muttered "Blast it."

He smoothed out his twitching lips that wanted to smile before scooping her up in his right arm. She squeaked and grabbed his shoulder. "We both have to face this music, kid." The crash had sheered away the wing he had pushed Artoo over to get the droid to the hatch, leaving a clear path to the ground not too far below.

Luke swung out of the hatch and dropped to the ground. The little girl squeaked again as she fisted his tabard for support. He straightened his knees and looked directly into the holdout blaster's barrel. He shifted his focus to the icy face behind it.

The little girl perched on his arm trembled. "Mommy?"

Mara's glittering green eyes focused on Luke. "Aren't you the perfect Jedi Knight now?" Cold venom laced her words. "Already stealing children. Put her down."

That old Imperial lie kindled his anger, but he kept it contained for the child's sake. "I didn't steal her; she stowed away!" He wasn't sure how successful he was at containing it. He set her on her feet before turning back to the fighter.

Artoo beeped worriedly and had latched onto the outer hull of the ship, but now couldn't detach without falling flat on the ground.

Mara didn't shoot him in the back as he helped Artoo get his treads on the ground. "Lucinda Padmé Jade, why aren't you in your room working on your lessons?"

With Artoo stabilized on the forest floor, Luke turned around to watch the family dynamic. Mara had tucked her blaster in its forearm holster and planted her hands on her hips. His lightsaber was hanging from her belt again. She hadn't worn it when she had moved him from the barracks to the shed.

Lucinda fidgeted, much like Luke remembered doing when Uncle Owen or Aunt Beru had that tone. She drew a datacard out of her trouser pocket. "It got left on the Skipray last time and I thought I could get it without interrupting the special supper and then he stole the Skipray!" She pointed to Luke. "Why aren't you yelling at him?"

"His turn is next. Now is about you and how you were supposed to stay out of the ships and do your lessons while I was off planet. How many did you finish if you just now missed this datacard?"

Luke turned back to the Skipray and climbed inside. Mara had a child, a family, and that knowledge was eating his insides like acid. It shouldn't. Hadn't one of the first things he had said to her in Grakkus' cell been that he knew a luminous woman like her would never pick a man like him? And she hadn't. She hadn't escaped with him, and she had found someone else who she loved and trusted enough to have a child with. Hopefully, the Jade fellow who managed that knew how lucky he was.

He found the release for the compartment and pulled out a metal case. He didn't recognize the company logo, but the equipment inside was a standard survival kit. No blaster. The conversation outside moved off lessons and punishments to injuries and a mediscan. Mara had finished running the medisensor over Lucinda by the time he jumped down with the survival kit.

"You must wait until we're back at the base for any bacta salve," Mara said as she closed a matching survival kit.

"I hope we're not walking the entire way back," Luke said to goad a reaction out of her.

She stood, and her hands went to her hips again. "I should make you walk back just for this." She waved her hand to take in the clearing created by the two crashed fighters.

Luke almost retorted that he wouldn't have even attempted a drop-kick Koiogran turn if she hadn't been right up his thrusters, but the whine of a repulsorlift grew louder.

Lucinda frowned. "That's not one of Captain Karrde's ships."

Mara's expression pinched with determination. "It's not. Into the trees, all of you, move!"

The little girl sprang into the forest edge at Mara's command, and Artoo scooted after her. Luke plunged through the scant bushes and dodged around the trees, carrying the survival kit from his fighter. Mara was right on his heels, so close the tip of her redrawn blaster brushed against his back. About twenty meters in, he bent to help Artoo over a wide tree root. "Far enough," Mara ordered. "Hide the droid and hit the dirt."

The tree trunk was wide enough to screen Artoo's body. Lucinda stretched out on the ground behind the root, her head turned to her mother and her hand clamped over her mouth. Luke flattened himself next to her and looked back at what had alarmed them so.

A Lambda shuttle rotated in the air above the wrecked fighters.

Mara crouched over her child to press against Luke and whisper into his ear. "You give us away and I will shoot you." Then she withdrew, lay on Lucinda's other side, and wrapped her free arm over the trembling child.

They watched the shuttle settle on the torn-up ground between the ruined fighters. The ramp dropped before it finished moving and disgorged stormtroopers. White armored figures split into three groups and two searched the fighters. The rest walked around the edge of the clearing with portable sensors.

All the while, Mara kept her blaster ready to fire and made no move to alert the stormtroopers. But Karrde had planned to turn Luke over to the Imperials?

After a few minutes that felt so much longer, the Skipray searchers emerged and held a meeting at the shuttle's ramp. All the perimeter searchers returned, and the detail boarded. The shuttle's ramp sealed and lifted into the sky.

Luke waited until he could no longer hear the repulsorlifts before moving. Mara might be pissed that he stranded them here and that saving him had divided her with her boss, but she didn't want to see him in Imperial custody. "Well—"

"Quiet," Mara muttered. "They'll have left a sensor behind, just in case someone comes back. Grab some distance." She seized her survival kit and headed further away from the clearing. Lucinda scrambled off the ground, chased after her mother, and seized Mara's left wrist above the case.

Luke grabbed his survival kit and encouraged Artoo out from behind the tree. The woman was favoring her right leg but set a quick pace. Artoo kept just as quiet as the organics, and at least the pair in the lead made a path around the larger roots.

Between fifty and sixty meters from the crash site, Lucinda tugged on her mother's arm. Mara stopped and looked down at her. "We're far enough now. Sit down."

Lucinda plopped on the ground with a boneless ease. It tempted Luke to react the same way, but he decided it was better to kneel in front of his survival kit and dig out a ration bar. There were twenty-four packed inside, enough to last a crew of four three days eating twice a day. He pulled out three.

Mara had opened her survival kit but had only removed a small flat case that she now had on her lap. She was frowning down at it and tapping keys inside it. Must be some kind of micro-console. "Food, Mara?"

"I ate," she answered without looking up.

"I didn't." Lucinda wilted a bit as Mara looked at her. "I was going to eat after I got back to my room."

"Catch." Luke tossed Lucinda a ration bar and then stowed the extra back in the kit before eating his.

The little girl wasn't so eager to tear into hers. "You said they weren't chasing us anymore."

"They weren't, otherwise, they would have ventured into the forest." Mara's attention focused back to the micro-console. "The incoming shuttles must have seen us go down and sent a detail to investigate. Karrde's going to spin them a sugar story about what happened, and we can't walk into their arms until we know what that story is."

Lucinda nodded and opened her ration bar. Luke frowned as he swallowed his last bite. "Stormtroopers have chased you?"

"You think you're the only one to have ever been on an Imperial most wanted list?" Mara snapped before the micro-console beeped. "We've got a three-day hike to the edge of the forest at Hyllyard City." She closed the micro-console and packed it into her survival kit.

That was an abrupt subject change. Did Lucinda's father cause their Imperial trouble? "That doesn't sound so bad," Luke offered.

"Three days on foot avoiding vornskrs and making sure the Imperials didn't leave any watchers in the sky." Her voice was as dry as the Western Dune Sea. "Your droid can't keep up."

It wasn't fair to pick on Artoo when it was likely her little girl couldn't keep up either, but Luke avoided that comparison. "Artoo has traversed forests before just fine."

{Endor was okay,} Artoo whistled. {It was dry. Dagobah.} He added a blat sound. {Stop going to Dagobah, Luke.}

Mara shook her head. "It knows too much about this whole situation. If the Imperials get their hands on it, Karrde is a dead man. They won't find out anything if it's in pieces."

Both Luke and Lucinda looked at Mara in disbelief while Artoo moaned. "How can he teach me Binary if you take him apart?" Lucinda asked.

"Who said anything about you learning Binary?"

"Not an option, Mara," Luke said. "Besides, he's your best bet to get a message to Karrde, assuming you have some way of transmitting a comm signal in that survival kit."

Mara's expression was suspicious. "There's a sonde balloon included that can take the antenna high enough, past most of the forest damping. But it's non-directional, which means the Imperials will listen in."

"Forest damping?" Lucinda asked as she brushed a ration bar crumb off her cleft chin.

"The vegetation here limits sensor ranges down to practically zero," Mara said.

"Artoo can encrypt it so that no one else will get anything out of it," Luke said.

"Wonderful." Mara smirked. "Except for one minor detail: if the encryption is that good, how is Karrde supposed to decrypt it?"

"He won't have to. The computer in my X-wing will do it for him."

"That's impossible. You can't do a counterpart encrypt between an astromech droid and a ship computer, Skywalker."

"Why not? Artoo's the only droid who's worked with that computer in over five years, with close to three thousand hours of flight time. He's bound to have molded it to his own personality by now. In fact, I know he has—the ground crew has to run diagnostics through him to make any sense out of them."

Lucinda crumpled her ration bar wrapper into her trousers pocket. "You don't wipe his memories? I thought military ships had to."

"I like Artoo the way he is," Luke said. "The X-wing is my personal ship and we're not part of any military unit, so that rule doesn't apply. And he and the X-wing work better together this way."

"How much better?" Mara asked.

Maintenance had run that test just a few months ago, but so much had happened in between. "I don't remember the exact number. It was something like thirty percent faster than a baseline astromech/X-wing interface. Or closer to thirty-five."

Mara stared hard at Artoo. "That's counterpart-level speed, all right. The Imperials could still crack it, though."

"Eventually. But it would take some specialized equipment to do it. And you said we'd be out of here in three days."

Her gaze moved back to Luke. "Your ship's sitting all alone out in the forest. How are you going to get the message back to Karrde?"

"Someone will check on the ship, sooner or later. All we have to do is dump the message into storage and leave some kind of signal flashing that it's there. You have people who know how to pull a dump, don't you?"

"Any idiot knows how to pull a dump. But all your answers don't change that it will take forever for your droid to get across this terrain."

Luke spotted a tree with two low branches just the right size, moved and knelt in front of Mara. She didn't draw back from the sudden closeness. His desire to close the gap with a kiss nearly flattened him. He knocked that desire back with how that wasn't right; he had hurt her, and she had moved on. Ignored the pins and needles in his prosthetic hand, he unclipped his lightsaber from her belt.

She quirked an eyebrow, but otherwise didn't stop him as he stood up. Lucinda turned a very puzzled face between him and her mother, though. Luke tried to ignore that as he ignited the lightsaber and trimmed, shortened, and cut the branches from the tree. He clipped it back to his belt before reaching down for the branches.

Now Lucinda's expression was an open mouth of astonishment. Mara meanwhile had dug a coil of high tension wire out of her survival kit and tossed it to him. She glanced upward at the darkening sky. "Come on, get busy with a travois. We must find a clearing to put the sonde balloon up, and I want to get that done before nightfall."

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