Star Wars: Unexpected Consequences title image

Chapter Twenty-Five

Luke paused in his bedroom, looking up from his travel kit. He had everything he could need for an expedition, but felt a nagging sensation in the Force that he was forgetting something he needed. He scanned the room again. His gaze landed on the pendant from the swoop race resting on the desk against the far wall. He walked over and picked the krayt dragon head in profile made from white and silver enamel.

The nagging sensation soothed away. He frowned, not seeing a use for this, but slipped it over his head and tucked under his tunic. He closed his bag and headed out of his quarters.

Chewbacca and the droids were waiting in the greater hallway with the rest of the personal luggage. The Wookiee took the bag from Luke. "{They should be here now. I'll be back after loading the Falcon.}"

"I'll go bring them up." Luke waited until they had left and the new door slid down again before opening the secret passageway and heading down the nearest secret turbolift. He unsealed the secret entrance Palace Security had sealed. A mass of ten Jawas milled into the secret passage with him.

"Kher'ary'ush?" the Noghri in the lead asked. "Son of Vader?"

"That's me, Luke Skywalker." He held out his hand like he had on Honoghr. He was sniffed and passed muster. "I will take you up to my sister."

They moved so silently behind him, if Luke didn't have the Force, he wouldn't realize they were there. Han and Leia were waiting for them in the main room of their new suite. Han's sabacc face strained to stay neutral as the Noghri dropped the hoods covering their gray-scaled heads.

"We greet you, Lady Vader," the leader said in a gravelly voice before dropping to the floor and spreading his arms out to his sides. The other nine did the same without crowding the narrow suite entryway. That display made Han's eye twitch, but the Noghri were all looking at the floor. The leader spoke down to the floor. "I am Cakhmaim, warrior of the clan Eikh'mir. I lead the honor guard of the Mal'ary'ush. To your service and protection we commit ourselves and our lives."

"You may rise," Leia said with a regal tone. Luke glanced at his sister and Han was looking at her too. Her stance reminded him of the Yavin medal ceremony. "As the Mal'ary'ush, I accept your service," she continued.

The Noghri silently got to their feet. "My lieutenant, Mobvekhar clan Hakh'khar," Cakhmaim said, indicating the Noghri to his right. "He will lead the second watch."

Leia gestured at Han. "My husband, Han Solo."

Cakhmaim faced Han. "We greet you. The Noghri honor the consort of the Lady Vader."

Luke winced internally as Han directed a startled look at Leia. His brother-in-law was prickly over that title, used by so many aristocrats of the Core to imply his marriage to Leia was beneath her.

"Thanks," Han growled. "Nice meeting you, too."

"And you, Khabarakh." Leia held out her hand to another of the Noghri. "It's good to see you again. I trust the Maitrakh of your family is well?"

"She is very well, my lady." The Noghri stepped forward from the group to take her hand. "She sends her greetings, as well as a renewed promise of her service."

Behind the Noghri, the door slid open and Chewbacca slipped inside. Han's face relaxed slightly as he looked up at him. "Any trouble?"

"{No. The droids are inside and instructed not to touch anything.}" Chewbacca's gaze searched the group of gray-skinned aliens until he found Khabarakh. He moved to that Noghri's side and rumbled a greeting. Khabarakh greeted him in turn.

"Which others will be under our protection, Lady Vader?" Cakhmaim asked.

"My Doncella, Winter Retrac, my twins, and Lucinda Jade. Thrawn tried to take her too in the same attack on us. Come; I'll show you." She turned to guide the Noghri to Winter and the twin's bassinet at the other end of the main room. Luke, Lucinda went to sleep in her room. Can you get her up?

I will. He looked up at Han as Cakhmaim and Mobvekhar followed Leia, and Chewbacca and Khabarakh headed out the suite door, probably to Chewbacca's suite across the hallway. Han soothed his face like he was playing sabacc. "You still don't like this, do you?" Luke asked.

"Not really, no." Han watched Chewbacca and Khabarakh leave. "But I don't seem to have a lot of choices."

Luke shrugged. "You and Chewie could stay here. Lando, Mara, and I could go to Wayland by ourselves."

"Or you could take the Noghri with you," Han suggested dryly. "At least out there, you wouldn't have to worry about anyone seeing them."

"No one will see us here," a gravelly voice mewed at Han's other side.

Han jerked, hand dropping to his blaster as he spun around. "You always sneak up on people like that?" He demanded to the Noghri standing there.

The Noghri bowed his head. "Forgive me, consort of the Lady Vader. I meant no offense."

"They're proficient hunters," Luke murmured at his brother-in-law.

"Yeah, I'd heard that." Han turned back to face Luke, exposing his indecision. "Look, Luke—"

"They're all right, Han. Really, they are. I'm going to get Lucinda now." Luke slipped into the bedroom hallway and opened the bedroom door on the left. "Lucinda?"

The little girl rolled up on the bed and rubbed her eyes. "Jedi Luke?"

"Yes, it's me. Come meet the Noghri before we have to go." He turned the lights up slightly to help her eyes adjust to the brightness in the main room.

She slid off the bed and combed through her loose hair with her fingers. "I can't go with you to see Mommy?"

"I'm sorry, Luci. We don't have time." He wished they did. Her whole spirit drooped with that answer. "Do you need the necklace?" One of the Noghri could go with them and collect that for her.

She shook her head. "No, Mommy gave that to me when she sent me with Princess Leia." She turned to a bedside table and pulled the datacard necklace out of its drawer. "I just always told her bye when she left Karrde's base to work."

"I hope you always get to tell her bye after we get back from this mission." He called her brush from the open 'fresher door with the Force and got her red-gold hair presentable while she put on the necklace and tucked it under her jumpsuit.

"Me too." Lucinda covered her mouth as she yawned.

He sent the brush back to the 'fresher and took her hand. "Come meet them and then head back to bed." She nodded as she yawned again.

They headed back out into the main room. The Noghri were still studying everything in the room and peering down at the twins in pairs. Chewbacca and Khabarakh had returned and stood close to Han, who was monitoring the examinations of the twins.

Lucinda stopped moving forward and pressed against Luke's leg as they reached the hallway corner with the kitchen counter. Cakhmaim spotted them and came forward. "Kher'ary'ush, is the other child under our protection?"

"Yes, this is Lucinda Jade." Luke coaxed her to in front of him. "Luci, this is Cakhmaim. He's in charge of the Noghri guards."

"Hello," she said as she held out her hand palm up like Leia had told her to. Good, she remembered that without prompting.

Cakhmaim bent and pressed Lucinda's palm to his snout. Luke rested his hands on Lucinda's shoulders to keep her from jumping away. The Noghri inhaled her scent deeply, then glanced up and bowed again as he let Lucinda's hand go. "We are honored to protect your firstdaughter, Kher'ary'ush, while you strike at the Empire."

The shock of everyone in the room slammed into Luke, merging with his own shock, like a whirlwind sucking up the loose sand to scour you with.

Winter's melodious voice rose over the shriek. "Firstdaughter? But that's what they called Jaina?"

Leia had said they count descent with numerals instead of layering greats to the relationship.

"Cakhmaim, are you sure?" Leia asked.

The Noghri murmured in their own language, impossible to comprehend. "Yes, Mal'ary'ush," Cakhmaim said in Basic, "I am sure."

The Force was thrumming along with the revelation. The bond he had felt grow with Lucinda over the month slotted into recognition and in its proper place like the one that had erupted at Cloud City. Oh Force, he was falling again without his feet leaving the floor.

"I do not understand what is wrong." Cakhmaim looked at all the humans.

Lando entered the suite, alerted that something was wrong by his own observational skills. "What's going on?"

"Shavit, she has Luke's eyes," Han said. "They ain't wrong."

Lucinda's blue eyes looked up at him, brimming with tears as her cleft chin wobbled.

"Mal'ary'ush? Why the deception?"

"We didn't know. Her mother didn't tell us," Leia answered in a dazed voice.

"Her father doesn't work for Karrde." Luke couldn't breathe through that blow. He had been right there, right there, and Mara had lied to him. With the kind of lie he hated the most, the truth seen through a piece of clear fulgurite distorting it just enough.

Lucinda twisted and bolted back down the hall.

"Move, Luke," the voice sounded like Uncle Owen's gruff tone, "she needs you."

"Luci!" He held her bedroom door open with the Force until he passed through it. She had thrown herself half on the bed, clutching the blanket in two fists. "Luci."

She whirled around, pulling most of the blanket off the bed, as righteous fury spilled even more tears. "I asked you and you LIED!" She breathed through another sob. "I asked you!"

"Luci." He took a shuddering breath to hold in his own tears. He dropped to sit cross-legged on the floor. "I didn't know. I would have told you if I had known."

"Would you?!" Her fists battered against the blanket wrapped around her legs. "I'm just a little kid. Why should I be told about grown-up things like leaving us before I was even here!"

"Because everyone lied to me about my father. My aunt and uncle told me he won his freedom, became a navigator on a freighter, and died in a space accident. That isn't what happened after he won his freedom at all. I wouldn't lie to anyone about that."

Lucinda's face twisted with her tears. "Why should I believe you? You left us to the bounty hunters and the stormtroopers!"

He flinched. "Yes, I did. Not out of malice, but I wasn't there when you and your mother needed me. I know that hurts."

"Why?" she wailed. "Why weren't you there? You didn't want me then, and now you do?"

Because I hurt your mother and she didn't trust me, so she ran the other way, he thought bitterly. But that fact didn't need to burden Lucinda when others were hurting her. "Is that what people who worked with your mother said? I wasn't with you because I didn't want you?" She nodded with head jerks. "I didn't know about you. I was fighting the Empire and looking for your mother. I didn't know."

Her lower lip trembled now that she wasn't screaming. "So Mommy lied to you too. And Mommy doesn't lie." She shook her head hard. "We don't have time for lies! The Empire wants to hurt us for the Force!"

"Yes, it does, but I will not let them have my daughter. I will not let them have you."

Lucinda stared at him, still heaving from her outbursts, then launched herself at him. Luke caught her and the blanket and cradled her to his chest. He wrapped her in love through the Force, keeping his pain as far from her as he could, and kissed her as she cried.

The tears finally eased. "Father." Her blotched face scrunched with displeasure. "Daddy?"

"Daddy is fine. And you have an aunt and an uncle and an entire squadron of fighter pilots who will give you a call sign."

She let out a watery laugh. "You all want me?"

"You are family. We want you. We love you."

"Do you want Mommy?" She pulled back to study his face.

Such a simple question, loaded with so much now. What was wrong with him that everyone he loved so dearly lied to him? Nine years spent pining after Mara; no, that want wasn't ever going to go away. "That's a long talk that me and Mara need to have."

"Because she lied." Lucinda looked away. "I'm mad at her. She's not supposed to lie to me or you."

He could agree with that sentiment, but it wasn't fair to Mara. Nor to the ghosts of Owen and Beru Lars he carried in his heart. "Your mother loves you very much, Lucinda. And the Empire, when you were just a baby, would very much want to have the daughter of Luke Skywalker. To say nothing of any Hutts in Clan Desilijic. Everything your mother has done was to keep you safe from those enemies."

"But she lied to you!"

"And we're going to have a long talk about that on the way to Wayland and back again. And figure out what's best for you now." He soothed a tendril of her red-gold hair behind her ear. "Don't worry about that."

She grabbed the datacard necklace under her jumpsuit and tugged its chain. "But you might not come back?"

"We are going to try our hardest to come back to you." He tucked his hand under his tunic and pulled the Outer Rim Krayts pendent off. He slipped it over her head. "We will both be back to get those back from you." He kissed her forehead.

She touched the enameled krayt dragon head before launching forward again and wrapped her arms tight around her neck. "You better!"

He called upon the Force and added a suggestion to his words. "We love you. Just shoot Imperials. Listen to Aunt Leia, Winter, and the Noghri. Sleep now and face tomorrow bravely." He kissed her head, catching her hair.

Lucinda's squeeze lessened as she yawned. She slumped against him, and Luke held her against his shoulder as he stood up. Her eyes stayed closed while he tucked her into the bed. He eased the pendent and necklace off before he pulled the blanket over her. The strange jewelry went back into the bedside table drawer so she would find them in the morning.

He got slammed with a surge of indignation in the bedroom hallway. The voices weren't loud, but they were insistent. So trying not to wake children and infants equaled the same frenzied whispering and low voices as trying to avoid capture from Imperial patrols. Good thing they already had practice at that.

Winter slipped out of Han and Leia's bedroom. "Luke, how is she?"

"Asleep now, hopefully she'll sleep through the rest of the night. She's pretty angry at Mara." He matched Winter's low tone.

"As angry as you are?"

He relaxed his fisted hands with a sigh. "I'm sure anger is in there somewhere, but it's more than just that. Take care of Lucinda."

"Of course, for her sake as well as yours."

They walked down the hallway together. Lando, leaning against the Fijisi covered wall, spotted them first. Concerned appraisal filled his features as he took in Luke. The first expression he remembered Lando ever giving him during their desperate run from Cloud City. Luke nodded in acknowledgment, and appreciation of his friend keeping his emotions in check. His family at the other end of the main room was doing a much worse job of that.

Han and Leia were in their fighting stance that everyone stationed at Echo Base would recognize Han's fury curving his spine over Leia's shorter frame but her stance steel and not budging as she glared up at him. But their expressions were different, along with their interior emotions. Leia's sympathy for Luke and Lucinda's pain was there, exposed on her face. But within was a steady analytical fear: twenty thousand clones every twenty days; twenty thousand every twenty days.

"Han, be reasonable," she said in a clear, but hushed voice. "We have to continue this mission."

"You want reasonable, sweetheart? We can't trust that schutta's intel if she was willing to lie about having Luke's kid." He reared back to cross his arms over his chest. His protectiveness was flaring, even if he was only expressing it as anger.

Luke felt his own protectiveness rise, undeterred by the ripping of his heart. He deserved what he got, after all. He crossed the room. "Don't call Mara that."

Han turned his obstinate expression and pointing a finger at Luke. "You are not going to defend her after what she did to you."

"I'm not defending her. But she is Lucinda's mother, so don't call her that."

"Fine. I will watch my language. Are we comming a medic up here for proof of paternity?"

Leia had an equally confused face as Luke did, but she spoke first. "What do we need proof of paternity for?"

"Legal's not going to accept the Noghri smell test as proof! No offense," Han added at the nearest Noghri watching the discussion.

Luke shook his head. And Han's pointing finger came back up. "No saying no on this, Luke. We've been watching you this whole past month with that little girl. Hell, since you met her on Myrkr."

"And let Delta Source find out that Luke Skywalker has a daughter so hurry on another kidnapping? Or just send all the clones they have produced straight to Coruscant?" Luke shook his head again. "We have to go to Wayland and put a stop to Thrawn's advantage before a new Clone War overwhelms the New Republic."

"It's another trap, Luke. It has to be. Why else not mention it at all?"

She needed to hurt me back; she was buying safety with her body because that is what always happens to us, and it was all too overwhelming painful, and despite what Leia said about never looking at the bigger picture, it was far easier to set aside the painful shards of his heart right now and do just that. "It's not a trap on Mara's part. She's not aligned with the Empire, hasn't been since Palpatine tried to kill her. And she had the perfect prize to get back in his good graces."

"Now's not the time for one of your there's good in 'em speeches, Luke." Han's sharp gaze fell on Luke's prosthetic right hand.

"Will you believe that she loves her daughter and doesn't want her engulfed in another Clone War?" Leia asked intently. "She's the only one who knows the way to Wayland."

"Convenient that," Han snapped before sighing. "Fine, mission on. But if there are no cloning cylinders and just a bunch of stormtroopers aiming rifles at us, you will hear my 'I told you so' all the way back here."

Luke nodded. "We'll meet you at the Falcon. Lando?"

"I'm ready." He straightened off the wall and headed to the main door.

Another Noghri peeled off from their group and bowed slightly at Luke. "Kher'ary'ush, I am Khojor clan Hakh'khar. I shall reseal the entrance after you leave."

"Thank you, Khojor." They headed out and into the secret passage through the door Luke had found earlier.

Lando waited until they headed down in the secret turbolift. "If you can't face her yet, I can get Jade instead."

Luke took a deep breath. "Thanks, but I can put the mission first. She can too."

Lando's eyebrow raised skeptically in answer to that.

Mara snapped awake without jerking and slid her hand to the spot under the mattress where she typically hid a blaster. Empty because they had confiscated her blaster. The noise had sounded like the start of an alarm from the G-2RD droid outside the suite that had suddenly cut off.

Anyone authorized to see her wouldn't set off the guard droid.

She slid out of the bed and let her eyes rove over the darkened bedroom. What did she have that could work as a potential weapon? Her hand landed on the datapad she had been reading before going to sleep. The master bedroom had a hallway around the corner to its door to the hallway to the other bedroom and foyer. She reached the corner at the same time the lock clicked open and the door slid open. She hurled the device at the dark figure silhouetted in the doorway.

The figure held up a hand, and the datapad skidded to a halt in midair. "It's all right, Mara," a familiar voice said quietly. "It's just me, Luke."

"You're back?" She stretched out with her mind to double check. It was Luke, but he had his essence wrapped up tighter than a body glove. He usually emoted more than that. Maybe the mission had gone badly. "Well, thank you for switching up the breaking into the bedroom fantasy. It might be a while before I can surprise you."

He turned the hallway light to its lowest setting and his face went stony when he saw her starting to pull her sleep tunic off. "I'm not here for that!"

Mara froze. That response was not Luke.

He sighed as he forced himself to relax. "I'm here to get you out. You've got to get dressed, get a travel bag together."

"I do, huh? Mind telling me where we're going?"

"We're going to Wayland." His tension returned as he frowned. "You told Leia you could find it."

Twenty thousand clones in twenty days—how was that possible?—was bound to send even Luke to the edge. "I can find it. Do I have time to see Lucinda?"

Even her rusty Force abilities felt the agitation her daughter's name quaked through him. He pulled everything behind a rigid mental shield. "She's asleep. We have to leave tonight before Delta Source finds out what we're up to."

"Luke, is she all right?" The way he was acting was suspicious.

He forced himself to relax again. "She knows what's going on. We got extra guards for Leia and the twins. Nothing will touch them. She was ready to come help blow up the facility, but she's still taking care of Ghent."

No matter how off he was acting, he wouldn't lie to her about Lucinda's well-being. "All right. I'll get dressed." She opened the walk-in closet that had deposited her clothing in.

"I'll wait outside." He stepped out the bedroom door before she could ask him to stay. She swept the area with the Force as she pulled on a jumpsuit. Luke had come alone. That's odd. She expected Colonel Bremen to be here to issue threats to put her on her best behavior. Maybe her tales of what she had done as the Emperor's Hand spooked him more than he had let on.

She stuffed everything in the duffel bag, including the dress. It might come in handy. She found Luke waiting in the foyer. They stepped out of the suite together. The G-2RD droid was a surprise. She had expected to find it scattered in pieces from the way its electronic shriek had stopped. Instead, it stood intact beside the door, quivering with mechanical rage or frustration.

"We put a retraining bolt on it," Luke answered her unspoken question.

She found the flat device attached to the droid's side. "I didn't think you could restrain a guard droid."

"It's not easy, but Han and Chewie knew a way to do it." Luke said as they headed deeper down the hallway, away from the turbolift lobby. He opened the hidden doorway into the secret passage. "They thought this would make the prison break a little less conspicuous."

Mara threw a startled glance at his profile as they followed the twisted passage to the secret turbolift in the corner. Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, hero of the Rebellion, pillar of law and justice… had just defied the entire New Republic establishment, from Mon Mothma on down, to get her out.

Was that why he was acting so strangely? That his personal sense of right and wrong had divided him from the side he had chosen? She didn't ask as they headed down.

They emerged on the Grand Corridor level of the Palace, but in the southwest section that had been converted to private hangars for ships and airspeeders to dock as well as passenger traffic to load and disembark. She had never needed to use this exit when she had departed the Palace before. The Emperor had sanctioned those missions. Either they were taking these lengths to avoid Delta Source or Luke had gone rogue.

A short, cloaked figure was waiting at the doorway into the hangar. "Kher'ary'ush," a gravelly voice mewed. "Your companion waits with the airspeeder."

Mara wanted to freeze, but Luke was continuing forward. "Thank you, Khojor," he said to the Noghri. He was having a friendly conversation with a Death Commando. "I would wish you happy hunting, but I hope no one comes after my family while we are gone."

"Indeed, Kher'ary'ush, worry not. They are all safe in our hands."

"May the Force be with you." The doorway slid open, and they were outside in the hangar bay, sliding into the open doors of the airspeeder docked right in front of the door.

Calrissian glanced back to make sure they were secure and took off without a word.

Mara twisted in the rear seat, but the doorway had vanished into the stonework. "Luke, you got Death Commandos to guard your sister and the children?"

"Their reputation precedes them?" He asked in a clipped tone, sounding a lot like his sister when she had to give a speech of some injustice back in the Imperial Senate days.

"There was a team or two in the Palace when I was growing up. They worshiped Vader, and then their assignment changed soon after the Emperor named me his Hand." She hadn't seen them since then.

Luke had that stony look on his face again. "Did you know the Empire poisoned their homeworld to coerce servitude for survival from them?"

"No." She shook her head. "But that makes sense of certain jokes I heard about them around the Palace. How the deadly little lizards were too stupid to know we tricked them." His profile shifted to furious, and she shook her head again. "I didn't know what they meant."

"Leia discovered the poisoning and exposed it, so they have transferred their loyalty to her. They gave me sanctuary on the strength of it. Lucinda and the others are safe."

Mara had nothing to say to that, and a heavy silence descended under the canopy of the airspeeder.

Calrissian brought the airspeeder down on what appeared to be an old private landing pad, hovering between buildings on the outskirts of the Palace District. The Millennium Falcon was already there, a nervous and impatient Chewbacca waiting for them at the open hatchway. The Wookiee gave a low growl as she passed. What? Was he upset about the scratches on the dorsal from escaping the Chimera?

"About time," Solo snapped as Mara followed Luke into the cockpit. They were barely aboard and he already had the freighter in the air. What the hell about this mission had them all this nervous? "Okay, Jade. Where do we go?"

"Set course for Obroa-skai. That was the last stop before Wayland on that trip. I should have the rest of it plotted out by the time we get there."

"You better." Solo reached around to key the nav computer. "Strap in—we'll be making the jump to lightspeed as soon as we're clear."

She slid into the passenger seat behind him as Luke sat in the other one. She scanned the nav computer set up, no surprises to it that she remembered from the last trip in this ship. "What kind of assault force are we taking?" she asked as she strapped in.

"You're looking at it," Solo grunted. "You, me, Luke, Lando, and Chewie."

"I see." Mara swallowed hard. The New Republic hadn't sanctioned this. The five of them against whatever defenses Thrawn would have set up to protect his most vital military base. "You sure we're not being unsporting about it?"

"We didn't have a lot more than this at Yavin," Solo said. "Or at Endor."

Endor, where Luke and Vader put an end to the Emperor. She glanced at Luke, but he focused on the instruments beside his seat. Still, lack of any numbers and official support could explain the mood everyone was in, except it didn't feel right in her gut.

Behind them, the cockpit door slid open and Chewbacca lumbered into the cockpit. "Everything all set back there?" Solo asked him.

The Wookiee rumbled something that sounded positive. "Good. Run a quick check on the alluvial dampers—they were sparking red a while back."

Another rumble, and the Wookiee slid into the copilot's seat and began going over the instruments.

"Okay, Chewie, get ready. Here we go…." Solo pulled back on the hyperdrive levers. The stars flared into the starlines and then morphed into the blue of hyperspace in the viewport.

No sense putting off her trick. It might help settle them all to have a fixed position in space for the end of the journey. She turned to the nav computer and pulled up a star chart for the Paonnid Sector. This skill she had used whenever presented with a choice of where to go next in the desperate days of running. She focused on the points of light in the star chart and the lines representing hyperspace lanes. She was floating between them and her memories. It was barely in the Outer Rim. The Emperor had laughed about that. She floated north, away from the Vaathkree Trade Corridor into the Ojoster Sector. There, a system on the edge where the Outer Rim, Expansion Region, and the Inner Rim all converged. She dove into the system to hover over a green and blue world. Yes, the jolt of recognition sung at her. She had seen this planet through the viewport of a Lambda shuttle. She marked it and pulled back.

Her body shuddered as she breathed deeply. A muscular hand latched onto her shoulder. She blinked down at it. Luke's hand helping to steady her, not digging into her flesh.

"Shavit," Solo muttered behind her. "Do you do that?"

"I have before, once or twice," Luke answered. "You back with us, Mara?"

She nodded, and he withdrew his touch like snatching his hand away. He didn't have to do that. Her eyes watered, but she ignored it. "There's Wayland. I don't think it has a dedicated hyperspace lane to it."

Solo leaned over her shoulder for a look at the coordinates on the star chart. "Came to you that quick?"

"I have had a lot of practice with the technique," she snapped back. What the hell was up with his attitude? This was what they wanted, the Emperor's storehouse with his cloning cylinders. She glanced over her other shoulder at Luke, but he was focusing on some other instrument panel. Her stomach twisted. All this situation needed was for her danger alert to tug on her hair.

Solo made a sarcastic hum and reached to the controls. "I'm sending the coordinates back to the main engineering console. Luke, get Artoo to interface with it and double check this route." He pressed a sequence of buttons.

"All right, Han." Without a word to Mara, Luke turned and left the cockpit.

What the? Luke had been more communicative when she had a blaster pointed in his face. Solo had turned back to the piloting controls, so she undid her seat restraints and followed Luke.

Calrissian sat at the dejarik table, scowling at his datapad. Luke glanced up at her arrival and then looked back down at the astromech, giving its dome a pat as it connected to the console. "Thanks, Artoo," he said. He turned away from her and started walking toward the corridor entrance across the main hold.

Her feet followed of their own accord. "Luke, we were supposed to talk when you got back?"

He froze at that, his entire body rigid as durasteel. Now you want to talk! Not at Myrkr or Jomark or the Chimera or Coru—He cut off his mental tirade as he turned his stone-carved face toward her. But his eyes were a turbulent ocean.

"Lucinda's yours," she blurted out. And like she had always feared, the icy anger on his face didn't crack.

"The Noghri already busted your Namana cream pie scam." Solo stopped behind her, giving the Wookiee enough room to enter the main hold too. Great, the whole scenario she wanted to avoid, everyone putting pressure on her and Luke now on this claustrophobic ship.

Luke's stony face broke. "Han, please—"

"No, I'm not staying out of this, Luke. Last time, you just lost a hand. You are not losing your kid because of a lying Imperial."

Mara clenched her fists but kept her arms down at her sides. "How many times do I have to tell you people I am not an Imperial? The Emperor tried to kill me to get Lucinda, but that doesn't seem to be good enough. Nor does shooting Imperials about to kill your ass!"

Solo's glared hardened. "You're not arguing about the lying part."

"And you're not anyone I need to atone myself to." She didn't put her back to the taller human nor the Wookiee, but focused on Luke's pained face. "I couldn't tell you before—"

"Because that would have ruined the whole scheme," Solo interrupted. "Ole Sheev-hole wasn't getting Luke any other way, so send you in to lie and seduce him that way! For that alone, Luke should take Lucinda."

"Seduce me?" Luke asked, confused.

But Mara was too furious to pay attention to that. "Take my daughter! You just try it, Solo! Bring all the publicity, all the legal ramifications of your precious New Republic. How well have they protected your precious babes? They didn't." Her voice hardened and grew colder. "What experience do you really have at running? Without a Wookiee protecting your back? Dodging stormtroopers, killing bounty hunters, feeding a growing child with no credits; three years' experience." She pointed to her chest. "Five years trying to claw out protection and normalcy for her in the aftermath of your war!"

Solo spluttered. "You raped Luke and took Lucinda from him!"

"I don't know what you read in the Emperor's Hands file, but I have raped no one! So you can stop saying that."

"She didn't, Han, I did."

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