Chapter 49

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Ben ushered the hostages forward, as the Halcyon landed hard at the LZ. Air cycles swarmed around the Halcyon, some shielding the ship from incoming fire, while other cycles attempted to ram the autori air support. He took in the surrounding destruction: smoking office buildings, obliterated patches of courtyard where mines went off, the wreckage of an RX-9 Droid, and fallen miners.

He swelled with an odd mixture of pride and horror. Trajan and he effectively did what the Jedi Council and the Republic failed to do. And felt wrong. He lost good soldiers, and took no joy in the slaughter of miners or in hurting innocent autori. Even so, would inaction have been any better? People are alive because of what you've done today, Ben. Hold to that.

The discord inside contrasted with the relief he sensed from liberated hostages. Under Krul's thumb, they'd been powerless, friendless, and destined for mockery, followed by death. Now free, they were still scared, but the darkness upon their minds had given way to light.

From none did Ben witness such magnetic warmth as from the Skywalkers. The parents and boys hugged each other firmly, neither willing to let go. It was as if they needed constant affirmation that they were indeed free and together, a reality they didn't believe possible.

With the force, Ben caught images, glimpses of hope -- the older Skywalker boy thought of telling stories and jokes around the dinner table. The smell of his father's baked bread. The younger boy, the former Jedi initiate Anakin, thought of his mother playing a burasol and a late night game of Sabacc.

What repercussions did this ordeal have on the family? After the dust settled, would the Skywalkers abandon Rodia, or would a fearless, undeterred Lucinda and Jerod rebuild what was broken? Both seemed plausible. What would I choose if put in such a situation? Could I be so... forgiving? Ben didn't know.

"Everyone in a single file line!" Sergeant Fett ordered, as the ramp of the Halcyon descended. The group of roughly thirty hostages complied eagerly. Entering the Halcyon meant safety, and they were hungry for it. "Move! Move! Move! Hang right to the cargo bay."

Ben followed behind the group, making sure all got aboard. Trudging up the ramp, he reached out to grab on to the rail, when he realized that wouldn't work well. No thumb.

The hand hurt like hell. He should get meds from Ayalla, after Kharn received the serious medical attention he needed. The soldier would pull through. Probably. Tapping a wall button, the ramp closed behind.

"We're all aboard, Captain," Ben spoke into his comm link. "Take us out of here when you're ready." He wiped sweat off his forehead before switching channels to Til'trius. "Lieutenant, status report."

"Working on it, Commander. I couldn't start too early on the weather shields without attracting the notice. And then you destroyed the security center."

I don't need excuses. "So what's the ETA for completion? We need those shields down now."

"I should only need a few more minutes."

He ran his hand through his hair. Daniah might have to get fancy. "Then I'll let you get to it."

"Sir, my mother... the riots are approaching my condo. Commodore Tarkin's promised an escort, but I have doubts that--"

"Focus on those shields, Lieutenant. Do not go after her; do not even think of her until we're off planet. Then I'll make sure someone heads her way. Understood?"

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