Star Wars: Unexpected Consequences title image

Chapter Fifteen

Lucinda finished the last question of the quiz on her datapad and submitted it for grading, then looked up at the office. She and Artoo had followed Doncella Retrac here for the six days they had been on Coruscant while the older woman did her duties and Luci worked on her lessons. But the comm Doncella Retrac was taking now sounded different.

"Yes, please deliver all the glyphosate-derivative to Hangar Bay 618. Payment will be finalized once I have accepted the delivery. Thank you." Both Lucinda and Artoo looked across the room as Doncella Retrac stood up from the comm console. "Are you finished with your lesson?"

"I just finished that one." It wasn't time to eat yet.

"We have to accept a delivery and see it off to its destination."

Lucinda stashed her datapad into her belt pouch and followed the older woman out of Princess Leia's office. She knew how deliveries worked at the Myrkr base. They headed down the Grand Corridor of the Imperial Palace. Lucinda loved the Corridor. So many species she had never seen in person before concentrating on their own business, and the ch'hala trees' purplish-green trunks rippled in shades of red as the sounds hit them. She had never seen any other trees do that, and they were too slender to hide predators in their branches.

Unfortunately, Doncella Retrac never wanted to linger in the Grand Corridor, and today was no different. Lucinda kept a firm grip on the white-haired woman's hand while Artoo followed them. And she held in her curiosity until all three of them were alone in a turbolift. "Are we doing a business deal?"

"No, it is a goodwill gesture. A planet needs this chemical to correct damage done to its cropland." Doncella Retrac frowned. "They will need so much more to repair their entire planet."

Lucinda glanced at Artoo, but he added nothing to what Doncella Retrac had said. Mommy would know what to ask or say in order to work a deal for Karrde's group. But neither she nor Captain Karrde were here. Luci squashed her worry that it was taking too long into a tighter ball inside her stomach. Mommy always outsmarted the Imperials, and Jedi Skywalker dropped a megagram of stone on them. They would be fine and they would get Captain Karrde out.

Hangar Bay 618 was smaller than the one Artoo had flown the X-Wing into. Only enough room for a small freighter, but the delivery cargo airspeeder inside it now made the space feel cavernous. Lucinda waited near the doorway with Artoo after Doncella Retrac let go of her hand. The woman strode forward to speak with the human male driver of the airspeeder. Their conversation didn't take long. Doncella Retrac returned to the doorway and a binary loadlifter carried a pallet of canisters all as tall as Lucinda off the airspeeder. It put the pallet down next to the wall and clanked back into its droid station.

The airspeeder had just left the hangar when a Loronar "Out System" Scout Vessel slid into the hangar bay on repulsorlift. Lucinda frowned. That ship didn't have much cargo space. Good thing Doncella Retrac didn't find more of the chemical. They wouldn't have a way to bring it to the planet.

The entry ramp descended as soon as the ship docked and powered down. A tall Wookiee emerged first, nearly bent in half to get out of the ship. Doncella Retrac smiled with relief and headed toward him. A much smaller human woman came out next, along with a gray-skinned being whose species Lucinda didn't recognize at all, but he was even shorter than the woman. The new woman's brown hair was braided around her head and her stomach extended in front of her far enough so Lucinda couldn't hug her around her waist.

Artoo beeped excitedly and rolled forward when a gold-plated protocol droid left the ship. Lucinda jogged after the astromech. He hadn't left her side the entire time on Coruscant.

The protocol droid noticed them, bypassed the cluster of adults, and raised an arm in a wave. "Oh Artoo, you would not believe the adventure we had. I thought the Empire was sure to capture us at least three separate times." The humanoid head turned to take in the otherwise empty hangar bay. "Oh, is Master Luke otherwise occupied and couldn't meet us?"

Artoo whistled sadly in response as he stopped next to the taller droid. He was worried too? Lucinda wanted to hug herself, but wasn't sure if it was safe to show her worry.

"Not back yet?" The protocol droid's head tilted again and his eye-placed photoreceptors found Lucinda. "Oh hello, I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations."

"Hello, I'm Lucinda Padmé Jade." Lucinda nodded.

"Trader Jade's daughter from Myrkr?"

"Yes," Lucinda answered before they had to move away from the ship so the loadlifter could put the canisters in it.

Artoo gave Threepio a more detailed explanation in Binary while they moved back to the wall by the doorway.

"By the Maker, that sounds exceedingly dangerous. I know Master Luke is capable, but it makes me feel better when you are both together to take care of each other."

A wave of misery hit her. Artoo could have helped Mommy and Jedi Skywalker if she hadn't needed to come to Coruscant. Though if she had been big enough to fly the X-Wing, she would be big enough to help them. She looked down at the durasteel-lined floor.

The adults—all but the gray-skinned one Lucinda didn't know; he went into the ship—joined her and the droids. "May I present Lucinda Padmé Jade," Doncella Retrac stood beside her and put a gentle hand on her back. Lucinda blinked up at the other human woman and the Wookiee. "Lucinda, this is Leia Organa Solo, Princess of Alderaan and Minister of State of the New Republic, and Chewbacca the Wookiee."

Her eyes widened with her suddenly hammering heart. Mommy had never told her how to greet royalty! And she hadn't done it right when meeting Jedi Skywalker, even though nobody had fussed at her about it since stormtroopers were chasing them. Her mind scampered after examples. Captain Karrde bowed to his clients; she had seen that before.

She folded her top half over in the Princess' direction. "Greetings!"

"Hello, Lucinda." Her voice was kind despite sounding amused. It didn't hide the trace of weariness under it. "I thought I'd be meeting you and your mother together when Luke decided to introduce you."

Lucinda straightened and tried not to frown or cry. "They aren't back yet."

Princess Leia frowned. "But I felt…." Her voice trailed away as she closed her brown eyes. She looked like she was concentrating, but on what Lucinda couldn't tell. She smiled and opened her eyes. "Luke is back, and he says he got the Falcon out of hock."

Lucinda's heart leaped to her chin while Chewbacca growled something. Jedi Skywalker was back!

"I don't know what he meant, Chewie. He had to comm someone before explaining."

"Are Mommy and Captain Karrde with him?" Lucinda demanded. It was probably rude, but she couldn't talk to Mommy without comms. That was a neat trick. Maybe she should be a Jedi and learn it. "Are they okay?"

But the Princess only smiled and offered her hand. "Let's go find out."

They all got into another turbolift and headed across the building. The Princess looked at Doncella Retrac. "He said he needs a meeting with the Inner Council."

The white-haired woman pulled out her own comm. "Well, it has been a while since we summoned an emergency meeting."

"Much longer for one summoned for Luke's benefit. I wonder what he has been up too. He was supposed to be with Han investigating New Cov," the Princess said.

"He got caught by Imperials on Jomark. Mommy and me had to get him there." Lucinda frowned. "They never did explain the rocks."

The grown-ups were all looking down at her. Artoo warbled at them. "Artoo says," Threepio said in Basic for him, "that Master Luke and he separated from Captain Solo and Baron Calrissian, leaving New Cov under Imperial fire. Since there was no way to assist Captain Solo's mission, they traveled to Jomark and stayed with Jedi Master C'baoth for two weeks. Master Luke was already concerned about Master C'baoth's mental stability, and the Jedi Master attacked when Master Luke said he was leaving with Trader Jade."

The Princess winced and pressed a hand against her extended belly. "Poor Luke. I know that wasn't the outcome he was searching for."

Chewbacca growled softly, mindful that Doncella Retrac was still on her comm.

"I'm fine, Chewie. They're fine, kicking a little. I just hate that the Imperials have made a trap out of searching for Jedi knowledge. Is nothing sacred?"

Chewbacca threw his head back and barked at the ceiling of the turbolift.

"Yes, I'm hysterical, wanting the Imperials to have ethical standards." Her smirk became a smile as the turbolift doors slid open.

This hangar bay was the same size as the one they had just left, but Lucinda had a feeling that this was where the Falcon lived on Coruscant. Jedi Skywalker was standing under the freighter's forward mandibles, speaking into his comm unit. He waved at the group and gestured to the device.

The entry ramp was extended and three more adults waited at its bottom. Lucinda recognized the technician's coverall uniform on the human male she didn't know, but he was talking to a woman with red-gold hair braided down a black tunic belted tightly around her waist. Luci ran forward. "Mommy!"

Mommy abandoned her conversation, knelt on the floor, and caught Lucinda in a tight hug. "I thought I'd have to hunt you down." Mommy squeezed Luci tight, and Luci matched it. "Have you been good?" Mommy asked.

"Yes." Lucinda let Mommy go to take a good look at her. No bruises or cuts were on her face. "Did you blow up all the Imperials?"

"It wasn't that kind of mission, but we were successful." Mommy stood up, and Lucinda finally noticed the third adult at the entry ramp.

"Hi Captain Karrde. The Imperials didn't hurt you, did they?"

He smiled at her. "I'm fine, Lucinda, thanks to the timely intervention from your mother. Who else is here with you?"

"Artoo and I had to fly Jedi Skywalker's X-Wing here." She waved a hand at the droids still lingering behind with Doncella Retrac. "He woke me up to see the approach, and Doncella Retrac has been watching us, but she's been too busy to do anything fun. But we can do something fun now that you're here." Lucinda looked at Mommy. "There are a lot of opera theaters on Coruscant. Artoo's been helping me look."

Mommy frowned, and her green eyes were sad. "We're going to have meetings with the New Republic, so we'll have to see about that."

Lucinda didn't pout or point out that Mommy had promised something fun. Mommy had told her about operas; it should have been an easy yes. But Chewbacca was talking to the technician as they headed up the entry ramp. Mommy was turning, so Lucinda turned too.

Jedi Skywalker was off his comm, hugged Princess Leia, and kissed her forehead. Luci wondered if she had a brother, should she kiss him like that? Or would he kiss her? Mommy hadn't gotten Lucinda a sibling, and that was probably the Imperials' fault too. Jedi Skywalker brought Princess Leia over to their group. "Leia, this is Captain Talon Karrde and Mara Jade."

Princess Leia nodded as Captain Karrde bowed slightly at her. "Pleased to meet you, Captain Karrde. My brother says you have something to offer the New Republic?"

"Some information on the Grand Admiral currently consolidating the Imperial Remnant and the location of the Katana Fleet."

Lucinda frowned, trying to remember if she had ever heard of a fleet named that. The Princess let surprise ripple across her face. "No wonder you're such a wanted man, Captain. That is valuable information. We are convening a meeting of the Inner Council as soon as possible."

"I got a three-bedroom guest suite for you," Jedi Skywalker said. "So you can get cleaned up before the meeting starts."

"Thank you, Luke." Mommy glanced at Captain Karrde and Lucinda. "I guess we can head there now."

"Our stuff is up in Princess Leia's quarters," Lucinda blurted.

The Princess smiled. "We will have it delivered to you."

"Your Highness," Doncella Retrac called out as she hustled toward them, holding out her comm. "It's Captain Solo."

"The turbolifts are this way." Jedi Skywalker led them across the hangar bay to the door, back into the rest of the Imperial Palace. Lucinda caught Mommy's hand and held onto it. Artoo whistled at him as they passed. "I'm fine, Artoo. Go catch up with Threepio."

"Bye, Artoo." Lucinda waved with her free hand.

He whistled {goodbye} at her as they left the hangar bay.

Jedi Skywalker smiled at her. "Kept Artoo out of trouble?"

"He stayed with me the whole time. I think he was lonely."

"Probably. He doesn't like missing the action."

She squeezed Mommy's hand as they waited for a turbolift. "Did you need him?" She glanced between both Mommy and Jedi Skywalker's faces.

He shook his head. "No, but don't let him know that. Artoo thinks he's necessary for every mission."

"Don't worry about it," Mommy said.

A turbolift arrived and Jedi Skywalker inputted the destination as they got in. "No one else is here on Coruscant?" Captain Karrde asked.

"Aves fell back to another location with everyone else after the Imperials captured you," Mommy answered.

Lucinda scowled. "They wouldn't help. They said Mommy turned Imperial and Wadewarn called her terrible names and pulled a vibroknife out when I hit him for it."

"A vibroknife?" Captain Karrde sounded surprised and a little angry.

"I know I should have disarmed him first—" Lucinda started. All the adults were looking at her.

"No, first you should not have got into a fight over me," Mommy interrupted. Luci let go of her hand, crossed her arms, and glared at the turbolift floor. "Aves couldn't guarantee her safety after that."

"Aves wasn't even there! I broke Lachton's foot and Chin stopped it."

"Chin stopped it," Captain Karrde repeated.

"Technically Sturm stopped it, but Chin told him to get Wadewarn."

Captain Karrde's mustache twitched as he looked at Mommy. "I should have insisted on a debrief."

"You were resting," Mommy said.

"And you were enjoying yourself."

Jedi Skywalker turned to face Captain Karrde, and Lucinda felt the atmosphere drop and it hurt her ears. "Do you have a problem with that?" he asked in a tone of voice Luci hadn't heard from him before.

Captain Karrde just looked at Jedi Skywalker. "Mara's personal life is her own affair." He sighed and turned to Mommy. "I'm afraid I haven't been fulfilling my employment contract to you, Mara."

Mommy shook her head. "You can't herd a bunch of nerf-noggin smugglers from Imperial detainment."

The atmosphere equalized in the turbolift, but Luci was confused. She was part of Mommy's contract?

"The very least I can do is not hire trigger-happy idiots who attack a child." Captain Karrde looked angry. "It will not happen again, Mara."

"I know because Luci will stop starting fights."

That wasn't fair; Lachton and Wadewarn started it. But the turbolift came to a stop on their floor before Lucinda could protest. A uniformed security official met their group in the turbolift. She rattled off a keycode and other details of what they could access in this section that Lucinda couldn't keep up with as she led them down the corridor to their quarters.

Captain Karrde went in first, and Mommy let go of Lucinda's hand so she could stay by the main door. Lucinda touched the wood covered wall on her left as she gazed over the open room. The main door opened into the dining section. A table with eight chairs sat between the kitchen and the main door.

The sitting area was between the wall and the dining section. A computer console was set up against the wall beside a large viewscreen mounted on the wall so the seats could watch the HoloNet. The kitchen had an eating counter with stools in line with the larger table. The counter ran to the kitchen wall that made a hallway that crossed a second hallway going across the quarters. The door across that hallway and in line with the main door was a bedroom. Jedi Skywalker said these quarters had three bedrooms.

She turned around from peering down the hallway. Jedi Skywalker stood in the main doorway with his entire attention focused on Mommy. He was smiling as he said something too quietly for Lucinda to hear. She started toward them, but Captain Karrde called her name.

He sat at the console and had it up on a catalog of outfits. Lucinda stepped up beside him. "Yes, sir?"

"What did Wadewarn and Lachton call your mother?"

"I'm not allowed to say those words. Mommy will give me extra lessons and make me scrub the base with a toothbrush."

"Ah, those words." He made a couple of selections before turning to the next group. "You and your mother will not see them again. You have my word."

Luci nodded gravely. "Thank you." She didn't want that vibroknife anywhere close to Mommy's back.

The console beeped that a message was arriving. Captain Karrde opened the text comm file. "Ah, etiquette directions for the New Republic's Inner Council from Minister Organa Solo. Two hours away, that should give everyone a chance to clean up. Thoughtful." He turned back to the clothes and selected another outfit. "Did you like the Princess?"

"I just met her before you landed. She seemed nice. She can talk to her brother without comms."

"I bet that comes in handy." He leaned back to look at Mommy. Jedi Skywalker had left and the main door was shut, but Mommy hadn't moved far from it. "Do you need anything special for tonight, Mara?"

Mommy straightened off the wall covered in carved wood. "Do you need me in the meeting with you?"

"No, I do not. But you and Skywalker made plans for later."

"What?" Lucinda demanded.

"I can buy my own clothes and Luke knows I don't have the wardrobe right now for anything fancy." She plucked her black tunic sleeve that Lucinda just realized was rolled to not cover her hands. Then Mommy pointed down the hallway alongside the kitchen. "You take the room on the left. It's—"

Luci hit the limit of her capacity for unfairness. "You're not going to the opera with me to be with him!"

Captain Karrde ended his shopping session and got up from the console's seat. "Deliveries are coming; I'll be getting ready for the meeting." He disappeared around the end of the eating counter.

Mommy sat down on the couch and signaled for Lucinda to approach, so Lucinda did slowly. But Mommy didn't yell or make an angry face. She took both Luci's hands in her own. "What's wrong? I thought you liked Jedi Skywalker."

"I do like him." And she did. He hadn't fussed about her fighting. "But he's been with you the whole time and you promised something fun and you like the opera but there were too many choices and Artoo couldn't help narrow them."

Mommy pulled her into a hug. "I haven't forgotten what I promised. I'm surprised you picked an opera, but we will do that soon. But this with Jedi Skywalker? It's business, for your future."

Lucinda pulled back. "My future? Are you making another contract?"

"Probably nothing that formal." Mommy ran her hand over Lucinda's braided hair. Doncella Retrac had helped her make the loops this morning. "There's nothing to worry about the contract with Captain Karrde. It just stipulates to keep you safe and what happens if I die on the job."

"Mommy!" Lucinda jerked back.

"I'm being careful. I don't want to die on the job." She kissed Lucinda's forehead. "Okay?"

"You better be very careful." Lucinda pulled the datacard necklace out from under her tunic, slipped it over her head, and put it on Mommy.

Mommy tucked it under the black tunic. "As careful as I can be. Now tell me all about your adventures here."

Mara set the bedroom viewscreen to a view of the Manarai Mountains from the Imperial Palace. She was finally back here, with her daughter. She had spent so much of Lucinda's life making sure they never ended up on Coruscant; it was a little disconcerting being in the place where her life had essentially begun and to know they were both safe from her life not ending here. She turned from the fabricated view to double check her outfit in the mirror above the bureau. In her defense, the odds-makers of the galaxy never put anything down on the Rebellion winning against the superior numbers of the Empire.

This clean, white tunic fit and had sleeves loose and long enough for her forearm holster. She hadn't bothered putting the holster on without a blaster for it. She figured she could get a replacement in the Imperial Palace, but she didn't want to get Luke in trouble after everything he had done for them.

The smile curled her lips, but no one was here to see it. She turned to the bed and picked up the borrowed black tunic, and remembered just a few hours before how he had touched her arm and had stopped her when the others entered their guest quarters. He had looked so serious as he had asked. "Did I overstep?"

"No, it's fine." She met his seriousness with a smile. "I should have told Karrde, but it's better this way. If those two lose their jobs, it's not because I asked for it."

His hand stroked down her forearm until he reached her hand, and he paused then to hold it. "The last thing I want is to make things more difficult for you and Lucinda."

"You haven't." Mara squeezed his fingers. "And that's the last thing I want to do to you, as well."

"Good intentions all around." His sunny smile broke through his serious expression. "I have to get ready for the Inner Council. Dinner tonight, just the two of us?"


Luke's arm stretched out as he refused to let her go while he stepped back until he had to. Their hands finally unlatched and Mara had stepped back to let the main door slide close. She had leaned against the Fijisi wood wall and let that delicate, childhood scent re-associate itself with how she felt about Luke now.

She shook herself from the memory. This garment will get returned to Luke once it was cleaned. She put it in the worn clothing receptacle and frowned at her reflection. She added a black vest, fastened around her torso and smoothed down to her black trousers. Well, now she looked Corellian, which was fine. Let them guess where she was from.

The main door opened. "Mara?" Karrde called out. "Where is your mother?"

"In the back," Lucinda answered as Mara walked up the hallway.

He had moved to the console by the time she reached the main room, and one look at his face was all she needed. "Luci, we must talk business. Take your lessons to the bedroom and shut the door."

"Yes, ma'am." She gathered her datapad and datacards and left without argument.

Mara waited until she saw the door slide shut before she moved closer to Karrde. "What's gone wrong?"

"I'm not entirely sure." He stopped typing and pulled a datacard from the console's copy slot. "That Bothan on the Council put up a surprising amount of resistance to our offer. He basically forced Mon Mothma to hold off on any serious retrieval mission until the location's been checked out. He's getting a ship set up now for a morning flight."

Mara frowned. "A double-cross?"

"Possibly, but I can't see any point to it." Karrde shook his head as he encoded another datacard. "Thrawn already has Hoffner. He'll get to the fleet soon enough. No, I think it's more likely Fey'lya's playing internal politics here, perhaps connected to his campaign against Admiral Ackbar. But I'd rather not take any chances."

"I've heard stories about internal Bothan politics."

"I need you to leave tonight for the Trogan system." He handed her the datacard. "Best guess is that's where Aves will have holed up. Make contact and tell him I want everything we have that can both fly and fight to rendezvous with me at the Katana fleet as soon as possible." He grimaced. "My apologies for ruining your evening plans."

She took the datacard as her heart sank. "I may have trouble persuading Aves to trust me."

"I don't think so," Karrde said. "The Imperials will have reinstated the hunt for our group by now. That alone should convince him I've escaped. There's also a special recognition code on that datacard that he'll know, a code the Grand Admiral couldn't possibly extracted from me this quickly."

"I hope he doesn't have a higher opinion of Imperial interrogation methods than you do." Mara slid the datacard into her belt pouch. "Anything else?"

"No—yes," he corrected himself. "Tell Ghent I'd like him to come to Coruscant instead of going to the Katana fleet. I'll meet him here after all this is over."

"Ghent? Why?"

"I want to see what an expert slicer can do with that suspicious lump in Ackbar's bank account. Skywalker mentioned a theory that the break-in and deposit happened simultaneously, but he said that so far no one's be able to prove it. I'm betting Ghent can do so."

Did she want to know when they had spoken of that? It didn't matter. "I thought this involvement in New Republic politics was supposed to be a one-shot deal."

"It is," Karrde assured her. "I don't want to leave an ambitious Bothan at my back when we leave."

"Point," she conceded with a twist to her lips. It wasn't judicious with how the Bothans viewed politics. "You have a ship for me to use?"

The main door to their quarters chimed. "I will in a minute." Karrde circled around the dining table and opened the door.

Minister Organa Solo dressed in a pale blue robe with a wide gold collar stepped inside. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes," Karrde waved at Mara. "I need Mara to go on an errand for me. She'll need a fast, long-range ship."

Organa Solo's brown eyes swept towards Mara. "I can get her one. Will a reconnaissance Y-wing do, Mara?"

"I can fly one," Mara answered.

"I'll comm the spaceport and make arrangements." She looked back at Karrde. "Anything else?"

"Yes," Karrde said. "I want to know if you can throw together a tech team and get it into space tonight."

"Councilor Fey'lya's already sending a team," she reminded him.

"I know that. I want yours to get there first."

She studied him a moment. "How big a team do you want?"

"Nothing too elaborate," Karrde said. "A small transport or freighter, perhaps a starfighter squadron if you can find one that doesn't mind risking official wrath. The point is to keep Fey'lya's presumably handpicked crew from being the only ones there. Can you do it?"

"I think so," she answered. "Fey'lya has built up a lot of support in the military, but there are enough people who would rather have Admiral Ackbar back in charge."

"Here are the coordinates." Karrde handed her the second datacard. "The sooner you can get the team moving, the better."

"It'll be gone in two hours," Organa Solo promised.

"I also need a good nanny service on Coruscant," Mara interjected. Karrde turned to her. "You are not taking Lucinda to the Katana fleet, no matter how historical it is." The Force pressed heavily whenever she considered the lost fleet. No, her daughter wasn't going within clicks of it.

"Oh, we'd be glad to watch her again." Organa Solo offered.

"I don't want to impose."

"It's no imposition." Organa Solo insisted, and Mara wondered just how much Luke had told his sister about them. "And it would be better for her to be with people she knows."

"That's true. Thank you. Let me get her." The Force warmed with this decision. She headed back to the bedroom she had picked for her and Luci, the one with a straight shot to the main door. "Bad news, Luci-love. Captain Karrde needs me to run an errand. Minister Organa Solo offered for you to stay with her until I get back."

Lucinda gathered her datapad and lesson datacards off the desk while she stood up with a frown. "I can't stay with Captain Karrde? I'll be good."

"He's going to the Katana fleet tomorrow." Mara opened the wardrobe and began repacking Lucinda's bag. "Do you not want to go to the Organa Solo's?"

"I'll go. I just have a bad feeling."

Mara looked at her daughter as she set Lucinda's duffel on the bed. But Lucinda's frown wasn't her disappointed pout. "About what?"

"About you leaving." Luci's grip on her datapad tightened. "I know it's your job, but be careful. Stay away from Wadewarn and Lachton."

"They won't get the drop on me." She tucked a flight suit into her duffel bag to change into once she reached the base. She draped its strap over her shoulder before unclasping the datacard necklace around her neck and clasping it around Lucinda's. "Let's stow those." She moved the lesson datacards into Lucinda's bag while Luci put her datapad into her belt pouch. "I want you to be good, mind your manners, and keep alert." Mara reminded her.

The datacard necklace was tucked under Lucinda's tunic when she hugged Mara's chest. "I will, Mommy."

Hugs and kisses exchanged and bags in hand, they returned to the main room and a perplexed Karrde brandishing a credit chip. Organa Solo looked amused.

Karrde turned to Mara. "He—Skywalker paid the transportation fee."

Mara contained her snort because of course Luke had. What was surprising was him not gifting the whole discussed ransom to the group. "He didn't ask me if we still considered it outstanding."

Karrde turned back to Organa Solo. "Do you have any laws about not taking advantage of him?"

"I haven't had to draft any. Come on, Mara, Lucinda, let's get Mara a ship."

The promised Y-Wing and its astromech were waiting once they reached Spaceport Control for the Imperial Palace. Unfortunately, there was an over an hour long wait in the takeoff queue. So she hugged Lucinda one more time, thanked Organa Solo for her help, shooed them away, and checked over the entire ship before pulling out her personal comm. Luke answered so quickly, she felt guilty over putting comming him off for so long. "I have to cancel tonight," she said.

"And I thought it would be me canceling first. Leia just sent me a text comm asking for a favor."

"Karrde has an errand for me off-planet." Her free hand tugged on the hem of her black vest. Should she tell him the truth on an open comm channel in the heart of the Imperial Palace? All her training screamed that was courting information leakage. Delta Source was still getting information out of the Palace to Thrawn, and she wouldn't be here to protect her daughter. No, she couldn't tell him, not until they were together in person and alone. "He apologized for ruining my plans," she said instead.

"That's only polite for making you work right now. How soon do you have to leave?"

"I'm waiting for my takeoff slot now."


She wanted to make him feel better about this setback. "Well, you absolutely confounded him by paying the transportation fee. Count that as a win."

Luke chuckled. "Did he expect me to get a reputation of not paying my debts? Oh, does he need help with Lucinda? Or is she going with you?"

"Your sister volunteered to keep her again. Karrde feels bad about the attack and would probably take her pet shopping behind my back if left alone with her."

"That reminds me, I owe her a pittin."

"No pet shopping with you either." Luke chuckled at her snap. "If you want to be helpful," she started.

"What do you need?"

"Check on Lucinda if you can. She had a bad feeling about me leaving. She warned me about Wadewarn and Lachton, so she might just be keyed up over that. But you could figure out if it is not."

"Okay, I will. How do you feel about leaving?"

"Resigned disappointment."

She heard his inhale over the comm. "We'll go dining as soon as you get back, no matter what time. Wake me up or join me."

"You just want me to break into your bedroom." She felt his blush through the comm.

"I do now," he exclaimed. "I have to go. May the Force be with you, Mara."

"And with you, Luke." She closed the comm and headed to the cockpit. The sooner they dealt the Katana fleet with, the sooner she could get her personal life straight.

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