Chapter 55

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Ben strode slowly to the flight deck, a bittersweet mixture of elation and sadness swirling in his chest. He had delivered this speech too many times, to the point where he felt like a marionette pulled into its place by formality. Those same strings tugged at him now, and with a gentle squeeze on her hand, he directed Lucinda Skywalker onto the flight deck with the two Skywalker boys.

The two boys spun around to meet them, smiles on their faces.

"Mom," Anakin said excitedly. "We made it. We're free, safe." At this point, he must have noticed the tears on Lucinda's face. "Wait, what's wrong? Where's dad?"

Lucinda was in no condition to speak, and she grabbed her two boys, sobbing.

Ben gave Lucinda a moment, and then began. "The rear shield generators overloaded and overheated, and we were forced to rapidly vent atmosphere to put the fire out. Your father was standing close to the fire when it began, and his evo-suit caught fire. The decompression put out the fire, but the suit could no longer hold pressure. Lucinda got help as soon as she could."

This was the hard part, the words he didn't want to say. "We're doing everything we can. He's been badly hurt. It's hard to say the extent of it until he returns to consciousness."

"So what are his chances?" Owen said gravely. Ben sensed Owen had no tolerance for sugar-coated optimism, but there were other family members' feelings to consider.

"We do not know yet but he is in the capable hands of Sergeant Ayalla," Ben replied. "Please go see him. We have repressurized the cargo bay, and Ayalla has a temporary medical station there."

The boys exchanged a glance, while their mother sobbed into them. For a long while they held there, supporting each other. Ben was about to excuse himself, when Anakin told Owen, "Stay here and take care of Mom. I'm going to go check on Dad."

"Okay," Owen assented. "Come get us when you're ready."

"Anakin," Daniah said, "before you go. On behalf of myself and everyone aboard the Halcyon, thank you. Thank you for saving our lives. Thank you for saving my ship."

Anakin nodded, unable to offer more. Ben did not know how the family members would handle their ordeal, culminating in their father's injuries and possible loss. And it was normal to feel hate and anger at this stage. Still, Ben could not shake his final image of Anakin leaving the flight deck with his hands in fists, his jaw clenched, and a hard look in his eyes.



Anakin reached the railing overlooking the Halcyon's cargo bay and stopped. He couldn't hurry. He needed time to keep calm, to just let his heart beat, to focus on air moving in and out. Like a Jedi meditation.

Now that the Halcyon had entered hyperspace, many had taken off evo-suits and taken to grooming themselves. The soldiers had served the former hostages food, and many were consuming it, reenergizing body and soul.

He felt a chaos of emotions in the room: the elation of soldiers and smiling SKYE employees, the displacement of those who lost loved ones. He felt the relief of freedom, and the sting of doubt that they could ever truly escape what transpired today.

But mostly, he felt an overwhelming uncertainty about the future. What of their jobs and incomes? What of family members still stuck on Rodia, and what of assets and possessions left behind? Just what were they going to do with themselves? What did the future hold for them?

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