Korora spun on the stool to face Mara. “Daddy said he wasn’t going to let them put him back in the box!”
“He’s not going to the box.” Mara swung her legs out of the bed. The astromech rolled to the main door and hurled Binary expletives at it before spinning in a circle with a worried moan. “They’re taking him to his sister.” Pain blossomed in Mara’s abdomen. She pulled on the Force to suppress the pain and ignored the ache that emerged in her head. The mission was here and now, and the Force better get her body in line with the plan. The cramp faded away. There were so many previous missions this Force technique would have been useful on; she needed to tell Luke he was a good teacher as soon as she saw him again.
If, Byss’ despair whispered back at her.
She gritted her teeth. I don’t fail. She opened her eyes to see Korora looking worriedly at her. Back to not worrying the child. “Where’s your bantha? We don’t want to leave it.”
The little girl slid off the stool and headed to her cot. Artoo’s moan broke into an alarmed squeal as he retreated into the room. She couldn’t blame the droid because two human men, a Wookiee, and two Noghri didn’t stop charging into the room until she stood. They all had ysalamiri frames strapped to their backs; the ones Chin had designed as most comfortable for the little lizards and bipeds.
Solo had a lopsided smile when he stopped as his hazel eyes took in the layout. “I’d just like to point out that when the New Republic arrested you, Jade, you rated a suite with multiple rooms.”
“Really, Solo?” Karrde unwound a belt with a blaster pistol already in the holster from his shoulder. “Thought you’d appreciate this.”
Mara gave him a gentle smile as she fastened the belt around her waist, making sure it was snug over her abdomen’s bulge but not too tight. “Thanks, you’re still my favorite boss. But I’m afraid the ship is a loss.” She stepped back to remain out of the ysalamiri’s bubble of non-Force-access.
“Ships are expendable; people are not.”
Chewbacca tilted his head and called out softly as he saw Korora peek over the edge of the bed. She noticed the attention on her and ducked again.
“It’s all right,” Mara coaxed. “These are Mommy and Daddy’s friends. They’re here to help. You don’t have to be afraid.” Korora peeked again, then dashed around the bed to seize Mara’s leg. “Everyone, this is Korora.”
“Mommy.” Karrde raised an eloquent eyebrow.
“Daddy?” Solo’s smirk deepened.
“Watch it, Uncle Han,” Mara said, ignoring how the stuffed bantha shoved against her legs.
One of the Noghri, the more familiar of the two, gestured for silence with a sharp hiss. He and his partner turned to the door, turning everyone else’s focus to it as well. It slid open and the Noghri had Solusar yanked inside and his neck locked in an arm before he could yelp. Mara winced; she remembered just how effective that choke hold was.
Solo leaned closer to her. “Hyon?” He asked softly in Olys Corellisi.
She responded in the same language. “Via buliono-Ehin-leg ai nov formo re elshari.” " At least now, they wouldn’t waste time looking for him. She had planned to since she more or less promised Luke to save him.
Solusar craned his head back to take the pressure off his windpipe. “I came to tell you security is in an uproar over an attack on the ground.”
“Lando and the Rogues got those droids working then,” Han said.
“Now would be a good time to escape.” Solusar finished and sighed. “Which you have clearly started already.”
Mara spoke briskly, hoping that Solusar would ignore the child clinging to her leg. “Time to choose a side, Kam Solusar. Save the galaxy from a new Sith Empire or—”
The man jolted against the grip that the Noghri had on him, trying to stand upright but quickly gave up. “We need the Jedi artifacts to rebuild the order. I can get them.”
She remembered how Luke spoke of the missing knowledge before and how he looked and felt when he couldn’t touch what Solusar had called holocrons. For Luke’s sake, they couldn’t leave those artifacts here. “Okay, Solo, you, Chewbacca and one of the Noghri go with him and get as much as you can carry out. I’ll rig this place to blow taking all the clones with it. Karrde, take Korora back to the ship.”
Korora squeezed her leg tighter. “No, Mommy, stay with you, please.”
Mara gently prised Korora loose and knelt down in front of her. “We all have a job to do to get out of here. You need to go with Captain Karrde and make sure the ship is ready for us to leave as soon as we all get on board. It’ll be okay.”
“You’re going to get Daddy.”
“Knowing your Daddy, that’s probably where I’ll end up.” Mara scooped her up and kissed her cheek before handing her over to Karrde, who took her gingerly. “Be good and listen to Captain Karrde. The go bags are in the closet behind you.”
Karrde frowned as he grabbed the duffel bags with his free hand. “Mara, you don’t look like you’re up for a prolonged conflict.”
“I won’t take long.” Her tone sounded flippant, but she met Karrde’s gaze seriously. “Sidious, Palpatine has clones of himself here. They all must be destroyed or this—” she waved a hand to indicate all of Byss— “starts all over again.”
“Take Ekhrikhor with you,” Solo said.
The familiar Noghri was one of the group that had followed them to Wayland. She didn’t want to insult the Noghri pride or their mission to eradicate the government that subjugated them or alarm Karrde and Solo by mentioning the Force users guarding the clones. Not to mention she worked best alone. “It’s just blowing up clones and that’ll start a chain reaction obliterating the Citadel. Protecting Korora is more important.” She looked at Ekhrikhor holding Solusar. “The Emperor Reborn is a clone of Palpatine, and he would enslave her like he did us. And Skywalker claims her as a daughter, if your people have the same concept?”
He dipped his head. “We do. She will be guarded same as the children of the Mal'ary'ush. Akh’laht, go with Han clan Solo.” He let Solusar go to take one of the bags from Karrde, then led the way out the door. Korora didn’t say anything as she stared back over Karrde’s shoulder.
Mara told the pang in her chest that no matter what happened, the galaxy would end up safer for Korora tomorrow. She spun to Artoo. “I need Luke’s lightsaber so cough it up.” Artoo rudely told her no in Binary. “I don’t know why he didn’t take it, but I swear I’ll give it back to him as soon as the clones are destroyed.” Artoo moaned but slid open a blue panel in his dome top and raised the lightsaber hilt so she could grasp it.
“You’ve been armed this whole time?” Solusar gaped at her. “And you didn’t fight your way free before now?”
She hung the lightsaber against her left hip. “Luke probably has some Jedi aphorism that makes it pretty, but basically you don’t attack without as much recon as you can do before. Now go get those Jedi artifacts, and I’d appreciate it if you get my lightsaber back.” Han only shook his head as he, Chewbacca, and Akh’laht followed Solusar into the corridor.
A cramp tried to rip through her uterus. She closed her eyes and called on the Force again. She didn’t need the distraction, and Luke most definitely didn’t need the distraction. She opened her eyes again when her body felt stable and headed out the door. The sentry droid was a smoking hunk of metal. The headache throb eased as she moved away from the prison room. Artoo rolled behind her as she headed to the turbolifts. “You should probably get to the Falcon.”
He trilled at her. She recognized ‘Luke’ but none of the rest of the Binary. He had told the droid to stay with her. “Fine, whatever. Keep up or get left behind.” He rolled into the waiting turbolift with her.