Title: The Thousand-Mile Road
Series Order: 2
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: The Mandalorian, Star Wars
Genre: Established Relationship, Family, Kid!fic, Romance, Time Travel, Science Fiction
Relationship(s): Din Djarin/Cara Dune, Han Solo/Leia Organa, OC/OC
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Slavery, Canon Typical Violence, Explicit Language, Explicit Sex
Author Notes: Slavery is a canon concept in Star Wars but it’s not one I focus heavily on in the series. I warned for it just as a head’s up. Special thanks to my Alpha readers Jilly James & DarkJediQueen and my Betas Chris King & Ladyholder. This fic started out as some wistful idea and it bloomed organically out of me in a way all good ideas do. It wouldn’t have been the same without Jilly’s epic support throughout the entire writing process.
Beta: Chris King, Ladyholder
Word Count: 121,000
Summary: Din Djarin undertakes a quest across the galaxy on behalf of the Cosmic Force and gains allies in his fight to return to his people to Mandalore. Space travel gives him plenty of time to learn to navigate the family he made for himself and figure out what kind of man he wants to be on his new path.
Tight spaces had never bothered him. Darkness hadn’t been a problem at all since he’d started wearing a helmet—though it had never really been an issue for him because coverts were often underground. He hadn’t been allowed to develop a fear of the dark. His buir was an old hand at making his foundlings find comfort and safety in the darkness where they made their homes.
The first time he encountered a section of the crevice too small to go through, the pillar blocking the way disintegrated. He took the assist from on high with a grateful laugh and continued down with no issues. He’d kept the comm connection with Cara open so he’d know what was going on above him. He hadn’t had to ask her for updates—she periodically told him what was going on.
“What are you thinking?” Cara questioned.
“That you’re a great partner in the field,” Din said honestly. “The best I’ve ever had actually—I regretted leaving you behind on Sorgan the first time, but I figured you’d punch me in the head, again, if I asked you to come with me.”
She laughed. “I might have mostly because I liked you more than I wanted to, and I was sure you’d fucked Omera.”
“You know I never laid a hand on her,” Din said. “She made it clear it was an option but only if I took off my helmet.” He huffed when she snorted. “Like a piece of ass was worth my creed?”
“She thinks pretty highly of herself,” Cara mused. “How much further?”
“I’m about 20 meters from the first bit of solid ground,” Din reported.
“Got any Force feelings?” she asked.
“A lot,” Din muttered. “It’s practically dancing in the air down here. It’s far more than I expected…for just a book.”
“Skywalker only retrieved the book, right?”
“From all reports, yes, and I don’t know why since he never used the information from it. He saw it as a religious text only. I don’t think he ever realized it was the information he needed to lead him to the Emperor. The Force was trying to tell him to go to Exegol, and he ignored it.”
“Or he didn’t have the clarity to hear the message,” Cara suggested. “Your perspective is so vastly different from his that it’s…night and day. You have more age, experience, and knowledge under your belt than he’s had time to collect. He’s not even 30 yet.”
“28,” Din murmured. “Recently, in fact. The Skywalker twins were born shortly after Empire Day in 19 BBY on Polis Massa. Of course, anyone that knows the specifics of that day is long dead. Their mother never revealed publicly who fathered her children because he was a Jedi at the time and their relationship was forbidden.”
“How many people know for certain what happened to Anakin Skywalker?”
“I honestly don’t know, but it wouldn’t serve the republic for Leia Organa’s true parentage to be revealed,” Din murmured. “It’s also best if everyone continues to believe that Darth Vader killed Anakin Skywalker during the Jedi purge. That’s the story the Empire told at the time. It’s the one that Obi-Wan Kenobi invested himself in telling everyone as well. Leia Organa is a beacon of justice and righteousness for the galaxy—it’s best if nothing taints that legacy.”
Din braced his foot on a ledge, loosened more cable so he could prepare for another significant rappel point. “Got a good drop coming up—it’ll almost finish the trip down. Time?”
“1.3 hours,” Cara reported. “The first group is back from the bantha hunt—Ero and Aja with them. Rey and Dral are sitting with me now—the process freaked them both out. Rey keeps telling me she’s fine, but she’s so pale we’d lose her on Hoth from a few meters away. Dral keeps peeking over Rey’s shoulder and making a disgusted noise.”
Din laughed. “He eats his food alive.”
“I think he’s responding to Rey,” Cara admitted. “She clearly didn’t understand what was going to happen when Aja and Ero returned with the bantha. I don’t believe she knew what a bantha was, either.”
“Oh.” Din finished rearranging his harness and started to rappel. “Patch her in.” There was a soft tone and little huff. “You okay, Rey?”
“I’m fine!” she exclaimed. “Is it weird down there?”
“It’s dark,” Din reported. “And I would be cold if I wasn’t wearing an environmental suit. You can go back onto the ship if you want.”
“I’m not a baby, Buir,” Rey protested.
“The first time I had to kill my own food and prepare it—I threw up,” Din said. “It’s okay if you’re upset.” He paused and considered how to phrase what he wanted to say. “Remember when we talked about Force users being sensitive to the emotions of others?”
“Yes.” She made a soft sound of dismay. “I’m upsetting Dral.”
“He’s surely responding to your emotions, but I know you aren’t doing it on purpose. Part of your training will be learning to control how the Force responds to you. In some ways, it’s a defense mechanism. It kept you alive and safe on Jakku for a whole year when anyone else your age would’ve…”
“Died,” Rey finished for him.
“Yeah,” Din murmured. “But you didn’t—you’re a survivor, and you’re strong. Dral is, too, in his own way, but he can’t help but respond to the emotions of everyone around him. You, Ero, and I have to be more careful with that than others because of the Force.”
“We’ll go inside the ship and play the ball game,” Rey decided. “He might want a snack, too, and if I’m disgusted, he’ll avoid eating, which isn’t fair to him. He loves to eat.”
“Good idea,” Din murmured. “I’m almost done here.”
Rey hummed. “That doesn’t seem right, Buir. I think you’re just getting started down there.”
Din started to respond, but a tone sounded telling him his daughter had disconnected.
Cara laughed. “They’ve brought in another bantha—she might have broken a land speed record for her age and species getting onto the Tor.”
Din landed lightly on his feet. “Okay, I’m on the ground—there are some levels underneath me, but I don’t think that’s where I’m going. I only have one direction to go anyway, and that’s right. Go ahead and unhook the grapple and drop it.”
“Head’s up,” Cara murmured.
Din moved several meters to the right and watched the grapple line coil on the ground before the hook hit the stone floor with a decisive thunk. He pulled the line back into his vambrace at a moderate pace, and the hook snapped back into place with no issues. “Air quality is poor—only life down here are small insects. Nothing with a dangerous biosignature is showing up on the HUD.”
“Solid rock in three directions and what looks like a metal blast door 70 meters forward. The path is artificial—created by the Force.”
“For anyone with the right intentions, I’d think,” Din said. “It’s probably been here for thousands of years in some form of another. I wish I understood Skywalker’s motivations better at his current age.”
“Well, considering what he learned about his father and the knowledge that he was purposefully kept separate from his twin from practically birth, he’s probably grieving a lot. It’s never been clearer to me that Obi-Wan Kenobi was raised in a temple and had no clear idea of what it meant to have a brother or sister,” Cara said. “They should’ve found some way to keep them together.”
“Luke was bait, of a sort,” Din said. “I mean—they put him on Tatooine with the family Anakin’s mother married into. They gave him the name Skywalker. His uncle didn’t even bother to pretend Luke was his own child. They made him stupidly easy to find. I don’t know if Kenobi would consider it a lucky thing that Vader never bothered to look for Anakin Skywalker’s children.”
“How tight is down there?”
“Nothing I can’t handle so far,” Din reported. “It’s going to get narrower shortly, and I’ll have turn to my side. It looks like there has been some sort of collapse near the door. How many people are off the ships?”
“Not many,” Cara said. “They gave the Tor room when they landed—15 went on the bantha hunt. I expect they’ll probably bring back two more. Two of the ships are retrofitted Intersystem Transports, fit about 20 comfortably. The third is a Consular-class space cruiser that’s been converted for combat, very old but in great condition, could support between 20 and 30 passengers. Bo-Katan’s ship is the biggest—CR90 corvette—could support hundreds of passengers, but if that were many onboard, then their hunting party would be much bigger. I didn’t ask for their numbers.”
“She’ll give me that information if I ask,” Din said. “Okay, I’m at the door. It’s half-closed, and the control panel is broken. I’m going to have to take off the jetpack to get through it.”
“Well, you’re all alone down there, so no one’s going to touch your shiny jetpack,” Cara said and laughed when he huffed. “Check the floor in there before you go.”
“Scanning now,” Din murmured. “I promise I’m being very careful down here, Cara.”
“I know,” she muttered. “It’s just I don’t think any of us could reach you easily to help if you fell through another wall or worse. And you’re alone.”
“I’m not,” Din said. “I’m honestly surrounded by the Force and at least three Force…spirits of some sort. I don’t think they’re all truly connected to the Living Force. I’m practically swimming in it.” He shed the jetpack and held it in one hand as he slid through the door. “Stable floor, small chamber—glowing book on a fucking pedestal in the middle.”
Cara snorted. “Jedi drama is clearly on point.”
Din laughed and put the jetpack back on just in case the floor offered him a surprise. He picked up the Rammahgon and slid it into the mostly empty satchel, then took off his helmet, which he put on the pedestal after a moment’s hesitation. He transferred the comm to his vambrace since he had plenty of privacy on his end.
“Taking a water break, so I’ve moved the comm to my vambrace,” Din said as he pulled his canteen from his utility belt and opened it. “Rey was right—there’s something more here. I wonder if Skywalker ignored it or if circumstances are different.”
“Do you feel like you’re being tested?”
“Yes,” Din admitted roughly. “Which means they were probably testing him, too.”
“And he failed,” Cara said quietly.
“Qui-Gon said he felt like he set Anakin up to fail. I can’t help but wonder if the same is true for Luke as well. There’s no single way he was prepared to face the emperor the day he did—no wonder that asshole survived and no one noticed.” He leaned against the pedestal and drank his water.
“You’re too old to brood.”
“I’m the perfect age to brood,” Din protested. “Brooding is wasted on teenagers. They don’t even have quality things to brood about. I have decades of bantha shit to fixate on and should be allowed to do it.”
Cara laughed. “Are you going to have to do that communion thing? Because I’m not really on board with you doing that alone.”
“No, I don’t think so, and I’m not interested in doing it down here by myself either,” Din said roughly and closed his water. He hooked the canteen on his belt. “I guess I will very carefully touch the walls.”
She sighed. “You honestly need so much supervision that’s it not funny. But sure, go ahead and molest ancient temple walls while you hope for the best.”
Din laughed and shrugged though she couldn’t see that. “What else is there? It’s not a very big room which is weird—it’s more like an entryway than anything else.”
“Then maybe that’s exactly what it is,” Cara said. “What was that thing that Obi-Wan said about trusting the Force? You said Jedi were taught that they couldn’t trust their own eyes more than the Force itself.”
“Yeah,” Din frowned and put his helmet back on and switched the comm back to private mode. “Clearly, it’s a lesson that Skywalker struggled with his whole damn life.”
“You really must get your bitterness under control before your meet him,” Cara said gently. “He’s not had a chance to make half the mistakes you resent him for.”
“I honestly don’t know who I resent over that whole thing,” Din said wearily. “All I know is that Luke Skywalker failed his nephew, and it cost Rey her life. I’m willing to do a lot of fucked up things to prevent that just so you know. Sheev Palpatine will not take anything else from our daughter, Cara. I don’t care if I have to go to Exegol myself and blow the whole fucking planet up.”
“Agreed,” Cara said.
Din walked to the back of the room, opposite the door, and hesitantly brushed gloved fingers over the surface. The wall faded away gently, and he took a step into the new room.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered.
“What?” Cara demanded. “Din?”
“It’s…a tomb,” he said and exhaled deeply.
“Is there a name or anything?” Cara questioned.
Din walked around the stone cairn. “It’s not anything official—the bodies are covered with fallen stone from the temple.”
“Bodies?” Cara repeated.
“There are four lightsabers left on top of the cairn,” Din said. “Based on saber design, I’d say they died sometime during or after the Jedi purge.”
He reached out and hesitated only briefly before picking up the first lightsaber. They hadn’t been left on the cairn as any sort of grave marker. It was clear that who’d ever left their lightsabers unburied expected them to be taken by a Force user at some point. He gathered the other three and put them in his bag. Din walked around the room, heart heavy and furious.
“His monstrosity is hard to face,” Din murmured. “The Jedi purge was heinous, but I’ve always looked at it from a perspective as a historian, really. But it’s hard to stand in a tomb with the bodies of four Jedi Knights and not feel sick. Most would have us still be enemies—the Mandalorians and the Jedi—but that path would serve no one and nothing. I know the New Republic isn’t strong enough to stand against what’s coming, Cara.”
“Then we make them stronger,” she said firmly. “Whether they fucking like it or not.”
“Your wife is right.”
Din looked around the room. “She often is.”
“What?” Cara questioned.
“One of my observers decided to speak,” Din said and activated the exterior mic on his helmet so Cara could hear. “He said you were right.” He focused on the cairn. “Who’s buried here?”
“No one famous,” the voice said. “A Jedi Knight and two padawans he found while on the run after Order 66 was enacted. The fourth was buried separately.”
“You and your padawans,” Din speculated.
“Yes, my name is Uvell—my padawans were Joral and Banos, brothers whose parents refused to give them over to the temple for training as Jedi. It saved their lives, but it left them deeply resentful for what they believed they’d been denied. I found them when they were 15. They’d run away from their parents. I tried to take them back, of course, but they refused. After a few months, I agreed to train them. I kept them close and safe for ten years before the Empire caught up with us. They both died in my defense.”
“Sons,” Din corrected. “They weren’t padawans. They were your sons. Why deny them in death what you clearly denied them in life?”
“Qui-Gon warned me you were difficult,” Uvell said roughly. “I never had children, never expected to want them, but I did love them as if they were my own. I didn’t deny them that. I wish that I had. Perhaps they would’ve run when the Imperials came and lived.”
“How did your bodies get here?”
“An old friend named Antron Bach entombed my boys and me,” Uvell said. “This was the only temple he knew of that he believed to be safe from the Empire at the time. There was already a cairn here, as I said, and I watched as he buried us in the same fashion. At the time, I wished I could’ve told him to take the sabers, but now I’m glad that I could not. Eventually, he found another temple, and there he hid everything he’d gathered and protected for the Jedi.”
“Elphrona,” Din guessed.
“Yes,” Uvell agreed. “I believe his collection will serve you very well, Din Djarin.”
“Are you a Force Spirit?”
“No, I’ve no interest in such manifestation,” Uvell said. “I would ask one thing of you.”
“Antron wasn’t buried—he made one final trip to Elphrona, and he died there. He’s certainly nothing but bones now, but he deserves to be buried and memorialized by the living as he clearly preferred.”
“I’ll see to it,” Din said. “Did you want me to do something specific with the sabers?”
“Mine is for your daughter—the blade is silver. Joral carried the blue, and Banos’ was the white. You’ll discover, in time, where they belong. I should think that your nephew will like the white one—he has a pure and lovely heart.”
Din nodded. “All right. And the fourth?”
“The weapon of a Jedi, surely, but I know nothing of it.”
Unspeakably curious, Din removed all four sabers from his bag and left the tomb. The wall reappeared behind him as he exited, which should’ve impressed him, but he was fast becoming immune to the Force’s antics. He put them down on the pedestal and stared at them briefly before picking up the first and flicking it on. The glowing white blade flowed out of the hilt. It felt like Ero, and that was disconcerting, so he closed it and placed it back in his bag.
The second he picked up turned out to be the silver one—Din held the blade for several moments before moving it through the air with purpose. “It’s for training but not truly her weapon. I think she should make her own when the time comes. It feels adjacent to her.”
“For someone important to her then,” Uvell suggested.
Din turned off the saber and put it away. He stared at the two remaining blades.
“The unknown lightsaber does not feel damaged or dark. I do not believe a Sith would’ve been entombed here.”
“I’m surprised to find any Jedi entombed,” Din said roughly. “Don’t your kind prefer cremation?”
“Yes, but my dear friend could not bring himself to do such a thing. It was contrary to his own religious beliefs. In the end, we were gone from our bodies and how he chose to honor us was not an insult.” Uvell paused. “The saber with the silver and black hilt belonged to my son, Joral.”
Din picked it up and activated it—the blue blade glowed with no crackling that would indicate damage to the kyber crystal. He turned it off and put it away. “All three are in excellent condition.”
“They have a training power setting to prevent permanent injury as well. Most lightsabers have a training mode—though, in the temple, we also had training sabers that only had a low power setting and were made from small, imperfect kyber crystals.”
“The darksaber only has one power setting,” Din said roughly. “I can’t see using it to train anyone.”
“No, it is a formidable weapon that should only be drawn against another in combat,” Uvell agreed. “Perhaps the unknown saber will serve as a good choice for training the children in your care—now and in the future.”
Din reluctantly picked up the final saber and relaxed as he received little to no feedback from it. He activated it, and a shining gold plasma blade flowed out of the hilt.
“A sentinel’s blade,” Uvell said. “It should also have a shoto configuration for an alternative combat style. The shoto mode will shorten the blade and make it useful as a blocking weapon. You could learn to use this saber and the darksaber in tandem. If you spend time with it—it will learn to respond to your needs easily.”
It was interesting and relieving to hold a lightsaber that had no history and nothing to live up to. It felt good in his hand, uncomplicated and ready to serve. “Why would a Jedi Sentinel be entombed here?” He deactivated the blade and glanced toward the now covered tomb entrance. “What else is here?”
“I don’t know,” Uvell said. “I only came back to this place because I felt your approach through my lightsaber.”
He put the lightsaber away and took a deep breath. “I think I’m done for the day.”
“Come up then, and we’ll try again tomorrow,” Cara suggested.
“I hope you and your sons rest well, Uvell,” Din said. “You don’t have to linger tomorrow.”
“I find you interesting, Din Djarin,” Uvell admitted with a laugh. “I will watch over you and your ship tonight. Hopefully, you can sleep soundly despite the politics of your current situation.”
“I am honored,” Din said quietly.
– – – –
Cara watched in amusement as Din shot up out of the crevice into the air. There honestly wasn’t much better a sight than a Mandalorian in flight. She wondered what she’d have to do to get Torah to make her one. Din hadn’t mentioned training for it—so she’d have to ask. She’d used jetpacks and drop kits regularly while in the rebellion and during her formal military service. Though neither of those functioned quite like the Mandalorian version. She’d noted that practically every adult from the Nevarro covert had one, but there hadn’t been a single one in evidence amongst those from Tatooine. She’d seen ten, so far, on Bo-Katan’s people.
Din landed a few meters from her, and she walked over to him. His shoulders were tense, and he looked miserable. She caught one of his hands, and he lowered his helmet to hers.
“I didn’t expect a tomb,” he said quietly. “It’s not something normally done in Jedi culture.”
“Burials were complex on Alderaan—cremation was considered a sacrilege. It was believed that the body should be returned to the natural balance of our world—wrapped in simple linen.” Cara shifted closer. “So public displays of affection are okay? Because this is practically helmet porn.”
Din burst out laughing and released her. “I gave Rey a data file on social mores for Mandalorians—you should read it, too.”
“I already copied all of the files you’ve given her,” Cara said. “I’ll be focusing more on the language primer because it could be a real problem for me. I sort of already made a pact with Bo-Katan by accident.”
“What?” Din demanded. “You did what?”
She explained herself, and by the time she got the part with the actual pact, Din was laughing again. “Why are you laughing? This is serious!”
“It’s just—I told Oddau that you’d probably kill the person who challenged me and won.”
“I would,” Cara said hotly. “And if I can’t, Torah will!”
The meat processing went well into the afternoon, and by late evening, there was a large smoker set up. Cara hadn’t seen such an operation since the rebellion. She certainly didn’t miss the near-constant trauma of war, but the friendships she’d made during that time were precious despite the fact that she hadn’t seen most of them in years and some she’d never see again.
Din had set up a table in the cargo area so he could take apart and clean the lightsabers he’d pulled from the tomb and watch Rey, who’d ventured out again with Wila after all the skinning and cutting had stopped. Dral had dozed off in the pram, which was hovering near the table.
“We have a pair incoming from Bo-Katan’s ship,” Cara reported, and Din looked up from his cleaning. “Want me to put them off until tomorrow?”
“No,” Din said and cleared his throat. “IG, take Dral into the galley. Let’s get Rey settled enough to eat as well.”
“I’ll get her,” Cara said and left the ship.
Rey was sitting at the fire with Aja and Ero getting a lesson on fire maintenance from Aja, specifically who was teaching her how to use stones to create a hearth for both containment and cooking. She looked up when Cara approached.
“Ama, we’re going to roast meat in the fire,” Rey said. “IG says it’ll last for months and months in the cooling unit if we cook it first.”
“IG made a stew for dinner—he’s setting the table for you and Dral,” Cara said.
“I can go get us some,” Ero said to Aja and stood as Rey darted off without a word.
“Should we be worried about what’s heading our way?”
“No,” Cara said. “A visit wasn’t unexpected. Do you recognize their sigils?”
“The taller one is Bo-Katan,” Aja said. “I’d know that helmet anywhere. The second is from Clan Aydi. Aydi used to be part of House Saxon, their highest-ranking vassal clan. That’s probably a status they enjoy now in House Kryze. Neither will be all that thrilled to meet me formally.”
“House Rast stands equal with House Vizsla in Tribe Gra’tua,” Cara said evenly. “They’ll just have to get used to it if that’s a problem for them today or any day going forward. Din won’t have any time for petty shit stemming from a thousand-year-old civil war.”
Aja nodded as Ero trotted toward the ship. “The Mand’alor doesn’t really have any idea how he changes the lives of everyone around him, does he? Before he joined us, the covert on Tatooine was rationing food, Cara. The junk shop wasn’t going to sustain us much longer, and it felt stupidly dangerous to cross the street. Other Mandalorians barely gave us the time of day because of that petty shit you just mentioned. They didn’t want to be tainted by association.”
“With good reason.”
Cara focused on the Bo-Katan and her companion. The man had spoken. “Whatever House Rast did a thousand years ago fucking pales in comparison to the sins of House Saxon.”
“True,” Bo-Katan said. “Their only crime was seeking peace over war and refusing to allow their warrior caste to join an ill-fated campaign against a Jedi-controlled world.” She stepped forward and held out her hands. “Bo-Katan Kryze, House Kryze.”
“Cara Dune Djarin, House Vizsla,” Cara said as she accepted the older woman’s hands. She turned to the man and wished, suddenly, that she knew how to glare in helmet. She really needed to work on her body language.
“Tal Aydi, House Kryze,” the man said and offered his hands. “My apologies for intruding on your conversation. Old habits die hard, as it were.”
She took his hands and gave them a little squeeze that made his shoulders tense up. “As long as your rude words don’t turn into unacceptable physical actions, you can be forgiven.”
“Understood,” Tal said quietly. “Though he doesn’t look like he needs your protection.”
“He’s just 17,” Cara said and released him. “Apparently, Oddau Rast grows them tall.”
Bo-Katan cleared her throat, and Aydi took a step back. “We weren’t aware Oddau had sent his oldest child out with you.” She glanced toward the ship. “And the other young man from the hunt?”
“Ero Rain Vizsla.”
“Son of a bitch,” Aydi muttered.
“Problem?” Cara questioned.
“They just realized how deeply entrenched we are in Tribe Gra’tua,” Din said wryly from the ramp. “And now they don’t know where they stand.” He inclined his head. “Come. Have you eaten?”
“We have,” Bo-Katan murmured. “Thank you for your trust.”
Cara took the hand Din offered and said nothing else as Ero walked past them with steaming cups of stew. Din led them into the common area of the ship. She noted that the doors to the galley were shut, and the lightsaber project had been moved to the area where the bar had once stood. Wila was seated on the table using her vacuum attachment to clean the parts.
Bo-Katan glanced briefly at the project before taking the seat she was gestured to. The moment she sat, she removed her helmet. Tal Aydi followed suit. He was older—easily 50—but seemingly just as fit as Bo-Katan herself, who Cara knew to be nearly 60 though she hardly looked a day over 40. Cara sat down on the bench, and Din slid in beside her then removed his helmet. She unlatched hers as he put his on the bench between them.
Tal frowned. “You’re younger than I expected. Your chain code is little more than your name.”
“I feel about a 100,” Din said and smiled when Bo-Katan laughed. “You have questions?”
“Several hundred, but I’ll contain myself,” Bo-Katan said, and she glanced toward the lightsabers. “You found those below?”
“But you certainly didn’t come here for them,” she said. “Kyber crystal is difficult but not impossible to come by. You have the darksaber, so you know the basic components of construction—and you have a weapons master that is the envy of every tribe that I know of. Her retreat to Nevarro ten years ago was a severe blow to many. I still don’t know why she went into complete seclusion.”
“It’s not for me to say,” Din said simply. “I have a list of planets—provided to me during communion with the Force. I have tasks to complete on each of these planets.”
“So you are Force-sensitive,” Bo-Katan said. “You appeared to be in the holovid I’ve seen of you taking the darksaber from Gideon. Though it was clear he was blaming someone else for what was going on between you. After I watched the security footage from Coruscant, I came to believe that he was blaming the small green child in your care.”
“What Gideon believed at the moment mattered little to me,” Din said. “Both of my children are Force-sensitive. I’m gathering resources to teach myself and them.”
“And others,” Bo-Katan said. “There will be others…” She inclined her head. “There are already.”
“It’s been made clear to me that I will attract other Force users the rest of my life. Putting them on the proper path is what best serves us all. If I can prevent the rise of the Sith again, then I must. We already know what they do with power. Their obscene natures can’t be allowed to shape our future.”
“Is this not the duty of someone like Luke Skywalker?” Bo-Katan questioned.
“I’m not inclined to leave the fate of my children or our world, for that matter, in the hands of an outsider,” Din said. “Skywalker has potential—untapped and currently largely ignored—and I don’t think we can wait for him.”
Bo-Katan sat back, and her face paled. “He’s not dead.”
“Who?” Tal questioned, glancing between them.
“The emperor,” Bo-Katan said tightly.
“I’ve been told that he still exists in a diminished form,” Din said. “I don’t have the ability, currently, to stand against a Force user of his ability. I won’t take stupid risks with my life—I owe my own clan better than that. If there comes a day when I know I can’t trust Skywalker to do what must be done—I will accept the duty no matter the cost to me. Right now, he’s moving in the shadows, trying to rebuild what he lost. It’ll be decades before he’s any sort of real threat.”
“Ilum was destroyed,” Bo-Katan said. “It became a star. Did you have something to do with that?”
“No,” Din said. “You know exactly where I was when that happened, Bo-Katan.”
She nodded. “But Ilum had a core of kyber crystal, so it stands to reason that someone with the Force…” She wet her lips. “The Imperials were building something there?”
“I don’t know how far the project had progressed, but I was told that they were seeking to replace the Death Star. I can’t imagine the destructive power of a weapon powered by that much kyber crystal.”
“It would make the Death Star look like a toy,” Bo-Katan said.
Din started to respond, but the door to the galley opened, and he turned. Cara shifted as Dral toddled determinedly toward them. “Ad’ika.”
“My apologies, Mand’alor, I was setting up the bathtub for Rey.”
Din picked Dral up. “It’s fine, IG. It’d take three of you to keep him completely contained.”
“You have your hunter droid doing domestic work?” Bo-Katan asked, clearly amused.
“I am not a hunter droid,” IG said as if he were offended. “I am a nurse.” He shut the door before anyone could respond.
“A nurse?” Tal repeated. “You gave a hunter nurse protocols?”
Din shrugged and let Dral rest against his chest. “After Coruscant, no one gets to question me regarding my personal security choices. Besides, I can’t see how any droid but a hunter would be an appropriate nanny for my children.”
Tal laughed sharply.
Cara noted that Bo-Katan was staring intently at the baby. She shifted closer to Din, and her husband looked up, gaze narrowing on Bo-Katan.
“I’ve met one like him before,” Bo-Katan said finally.
“Grand Jedi Master Yoda,” Din said, and she nodded. “Annoying little guy.”
Bo-Katan laughed. “Mystical is a word I would use. My sister knew him better through her association with Obi-Wan Kenobi. How old is he?”
“50,” Din said and shifted Dral on his chest when the baby yawned dramatically. “I’m told he’ll reach his majority around 100—give or take a decade. Which I don’t understand, but it’s probably Force related.”
Bo-Katan nodded. “Certainly—they’re naturally aligned with the light side of the Force, which is good. Yoda was disappointed in Mandalore’s neutrality during the war. He told us that we’d pay an unspeakable price if the republic fell. My sister ignored his words completely and told him she didn’t have time for prophecy, which she did not believe in.”
“Her pacifism spoke only to the goodness of her heart,” Din said. “It’s not a life choice I’d ever make, but there was no stopping Darth Sidious or the formation of the Empire no matter your sister’s politics. It was coming long before a single Jedi knew it. He used their ways, their prophecies, and their loyalty to the republic against them. He waged war for decades in the shadows. He’s doing the same thing now—moving around the shadows and sowing the seeds of malcontent amongst those who would seek power for the sake of it.”
“You don’t?” Tal questioned. “You’ve not even offered to return the darksaber to her.”
“Tal,” Bo-Katan said lowly.
“You weren’t defeated properly in challenge,” Tal said tightly. “Gideon stole the darksaber from you when he routed our world.”
“I’ll be blunt,” Din said as he patted Dral’s back as he focused on Bo-Katan. “I agree with Tal that your removal as Mand’alor was not done properly. Gideon didn’t challenge you. I don’t believe an outsider should be allowed to challenge the Mand’alor. Seeing the darksaber in his hand was obscene, and the moment I saw it, I knew I would dedicate myself to taking it back and killing him. I had plenty of reason to want him dead already—since he tried and nearly succeeded in murdering my son.
“All of that said, far too many Mandalorians resent you for the Purge. They blame you for losing control of our world twice. I don’t think anyone could’ve stood against the Empire in the circumstances you were in. The rebellion was successful due to desperation, bravery, and an astounding amount of luck. We can ride that success straight into the liberation of our own world if we plan carefully and act with all due care. But you are not the one to lead the fight to retake Mandalore, Bo-Katan.”
“I know,” she said and put a hand on Tal’s arm when he started to speak. “Don’t be angry at him for his honesty or his strength. The men and women training in the Mid Rim to stand with him when he returns to Mandalore have known where I was since the Purge, Tal. I made myself available to every Mandalorian alive, and no one outside of our house has ever contacted me until we received the distress signal from Coruscant. Even then, they were demanding that I support him and be prepared to invade Galactic City to get him back for them no matter the personal cost I might suffer as a result.
“He’s not just the Mand’alor—he’s the living embodiment of our future. To them, he’s king, and his right to rule is divine. It goes far beyond the possession of the darksaber, and do not ever doubt that.”
“He’s done little to nothing to deserve that kind of regard,” Tal said.
Cara considered drawing her blaster, and it must have shown because Din pressed his thigh against hers.
“He’s the first Mandalorian in generations to wield the darksaber as a Force-sensitive. Even those who didn’t recognize the power he demonstrated when he took the darksaber are clearly responding to it. He demonstrated the kind of strength and perseverance on Coruscant that Mandalorians have aspired to for generations, and the entire galaxy has borne witness to it,” Bo-Katan said. “Moreover, he’s spent the last 15 years earning himself the sort reputation in the Outer Rim that would give anyone with the smallest amount of sense pause. Half the Imperials on the ground on Mandalore will flee the moment they hear he’s coming.” She huffed. “He gutted Moff Gideon, Tal. Then cut off his head for good measure. He gave us justice, and there is no limit to the gratitude that has earned him.”
“I wanted to be sure he was dead,” Din said mildly and shrugged when Cara sighed. “He was an unreasonably chatty bastard, and I hate that.”
“He was,” Bo-Katan agreed. “He really loved the sound of his own voice.” She turned to Tal. “Have you ever walked into a canteen in the middle of nowhere only to watch half a dozen people get up and leave immediately?”
Tal frowned. “Yes.”
“They weren’t running from you,” Cara said wryly. “A lot of people thought that Din was the only Mandalorian in the Outer Rim. Until Coruscant, it was believed that Mandalorians were practically extinct. That asshole in the senate even said it when Leia Organa resigned.
“The first time I saw him—I was one of those people leaving his space immediately. When he followed me, I figured the only way I was getting out alive was if I struck first. At the time, I was wanted dead or alive by the New Republic.”
“I’ve never been hit so hard in my life,” Din admitted and laughed when Cara grinned at him. “Honestly.”
“Love at first punch, huh?” Tal said and took a deep breath. “What’s your plan then?”
“The New Republic is seeking to liberate Mandalore within the next 48 months,” Din said. “But they’ll insert themselves into our government every single chance they get if we allow that. We need to build an army, recon the situation on the planet, and take our world back while the senate still debates the resources they’ll dedicate to it.”
“We’ve been given a seat on the senate,” Bo-Katan said. “I saw it listed as unoccupied in the announcement section in the minutes of the last meeting.”
“I was told that I could sit in the seat myself or put a senator in it,” Din said. “When I return to Tatooine—to prepare for what comes next—I’ll announce that you are the senator for Mandalore, and you’ll travel to the Core.”
Bo-Katan’s eyes widened. “I don’t know that I’m the right choice.”
“Many in the senate know you,” Din said. “And those that have not met you know of you by reputation. Your age and gender will work in our favor as many won’t consider you a threat. You’ll be in a position to manage their response to the situation on Mandalore, and there will be those who will seek to actively undermine my position after the planet is retaken. They want our world in the New Republic, but they really don’t want me to be Mand’alor when the dust settles. You’ll be their choice, again, because they assume you can be controlled and shaped into someone palatable.”
“You think they’ll encourage her to commit treason, and you’re still sending her?” Tal questioned.
“They’ll encourage anyone I send to commit treason,” Din said mildly. “Which is why I must put someone in place that won’t be swayed by such games.”
“You think I’m immune to it?” Bo-Katan questioned.
“I think you never wanted to be Mand’alor,” Din said. “And you never want it again, but I do not doubt your loyalty to our people or Mandalore. In the end, the choice is a simple one. In taking on this task for me, you’ll prove to our people that you are willing to put our future first.”
“You’re savvier politically than I expected you to be,” Bo-Katan said after a long moment of silence. “When I heard that the covert on Nevarro sacrificed themselves for you, I wasn’t all that surprised. Out of all the foundlings that Nez Vizsla sponsored, it was clear that you were the special one. He rarely shared his visions of the future with anyone, but he told his brother, Pre, once that one of his foundlings was the future of Mandalore. You hadn’t even been born yet.” She sat back and swallowed hard. “Honestly, it’s disconcerting to be in your presence.”
“You carried a lightsaber for years,” Din said. “You’ve obviously had a lot of experience with Force users.”
Bo-Katan nodded. “Yes.”
“What most people don’t know that is that the Force is in all of us—in all life. Some individuals are born with a deeper connection that allows for the manipulation of the Living Force—for good or bad.” Din shifted Dral, and the baby made a soft sound of complaint. “I make you uncomfortable because you can feel the Force moving around me, and instinctually you recognize the threat I am merely by existing.”
“You weren’t always like this,” Bo-Katan said. “Right?”
“The Force woke in me fiercely,” Din said, and Cara watched shock drift over the older woman’s face. “It was like the weight of the universe fell on me and caught fire.” He cupped the back of Dral’s head. “I accepted it for my son. There’s no going back.”
– – – –
“Do you trust her?” Cara ran her fingers through his hair and started clipping again. She had some schedule for cutting his hair that he didn’t bother to keep track of, and he didn’t care, much, what it looked like as long as it wasn’t in his way.
“The Force tells me I can,” Din said. “Tal Aydi is and always will be a problem.”
“He doesn’t respect you,” Cara murmured. “I think that’s rooted in your actions regarding House Rast.”
“Clan Aydi was once part of House Rast, but when they were disbanded—the clans were left floundering. Aydi was taken into House Saxon after they actively lobbied and failed to be made a House in their own right,” he explained with a glance toward Aja. “My buir told me to never trust an Aydi with my back. He said their clan is built on ambition instead of loyalty.”
“Is he loyal to Bo-Katan?” Ero questioned.
“He’s got a hard-on for Bo-Katan,” Din muttered. “Which isn’t the same damn thing at all.”
“What’s a hard-on?”
Din winced and focused on Rey, who was at the table with her datapad. Aja snorted, and Ero groaned. Both boys got up and hightailed it out of the common area toward the cargo bay. Cara laughed a little, and Din found himself slouching in the chair as Rey just continued to stare at him.
“Buir?” Rey questioned. “Should I look it up on the HoloNet?”
“Absolutely not,” Din said quickly. “IG? Do you have an age filter on her datapad?”
“I did not give her the device,” IG said. “Forgive me for making erroneous assumptions regarding your basic parenting skills.”
Cara sighed. “I put one on it.”
“Thank fuck,” Din muttered though his wife’s forethought did nothing to get him out of his current circumstances. “It’s…” He exhaled sharply because he had no idea to answer her question in an age-appropriate fashion.
Cara laughed. “It’s a slang term for a man’s erection, Rey. Your buir was stating that he believed Tal Aydi is physically attracted to Bo-Katan and that should never be confused with loyalty.”
Rey made a face. “But he likes her, right? You like people you’re attracted to.”
“No emotional attachment is required for physical attraction,” IG interjected.
“What does a penis look like?”
“We’ll talk about that when you’re older,” Cara said decisively. “And if anyone tries to show you one—you come to me immediately so I can kill them.”
“Forever?” Rey questioned.
Din wanted to say yes to that question, but he knew that was terrible. Eventually, Rey would grow up, and there would be…partners of some sort. He didn’t know how the Force dyad would shake out in the new timeline, but there was potential there, and he knew he couldn’t stand in the way of that. Ben Solo was, for all intents and purposes, Rey’s soulmate.
“The age of consent among Mandalorians is 16 for humans,” Cara said, and Din decided to keep his mouth shut. “But that doesn’t mean someone can just show you their private parts without permission, so you can always come tell us if someone makes you uncomfortable in any single way.”
“I am also available to punish such individuals with a painful death,” IG declared. He picked Wila up from the place on the table where she’d laid down. “Come, Rey, it’s time for bed. Wila can charge in your room tonight if you like.”
Din watched them leave and sighed. “Maybe it’s nice Dral will be a child for decades. What if some asshole breaks her heart?”
“It’s part of growing up, right?” Cara questioned, then paused. “But we can kill them anyway.”
Din laughed and tried to remain still through the rest of his haircut.
Cara pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “Let’s get this hair cleaned up and take a shower. Sitting around fretting about you molesting temples was exhausting.”
“That sounded deeply profane,” Din said and grimaced but then cocked his head. “Shower together?”
“It’d be a tight fit,” Cara said in amusement.
That was not a no, so Din went to get the small vacuum to deal with the hair. IG kept it clipped to the front wall of the cargo bay. Din didn’t know, exactly, where it had come from. There were lots of things on his ship, actually, that had appeared after IG’s activation that made life easier, and he should probably sit the droid down and thank him or something. His quiet efficiency reminded Din of Kuiil. The ramp was open, indicating that Aja and Ero had gone back outside to check the meat they had slow cooking in several roasting durasteel mesh pouches. Another thing, he was sure IG was responsible for putting on the ship.
Din walked across the dimly lit cargo bay and stopped just short of the ramp. Aja rose from the fire and came to him immediately.
“Just my foul mouth and a curious six-year-old,” Din said dryly and grinned when Aja laughed. “Activate full ship security after you finish checking the meat. IG will elevate the dorsal turret and charge there tonight on sentry duty. I also have a Force presence lingering over us for an additional warning system.”
“Weird?” Aja questioned.
Din laughed a little. “Here’s hoping he doesn’t watch me shower. I’ll make one more trip down tomorrow, then we’ll leave as soon as I’m finished. I have a few messages to send, so if you want to write your buirs, tonight is the time to do it.”
“I have a meandering letter in progress,” Aja admitted and grinned when Din shook his head. “I figure that’s easier than trying to sit down and write something specific. We’re probably due some cruel feedback regarding the giant swamp squid.”
“I’ve honestly never seen anything like that thing,” Din admitted. “And I’d rather not ever again.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Aja said with a sigh. “That swamp was too shallow to support that kind of beast.”
“Well, most cephalopods can breathe outside of water for up to a half-hour, depending on the species. It might have been moving around various pools to broaden its hunting ground.” Din made a face. “Which means that planet’s oceans could be…lousy with giant squid.”
“Total nightmare,” Aja declared.
Din nodded. “Did anyone get out of hand during the hunt?”
Aja shook his head. “We didn’t even exchange names. They gave us both a lot of space, actually. One made a comment about Ero’s armor but other than that…”
“What about his armor?” Din questioned.
Aja took a deep breath. “It’s hell and gone nicer than anything I saw them wearing, sir. I didn’t see a single bit of beskar on any of the ones on the hunt. I’d expect most of the ones your age and younger are wearing nothing but durasteel.” He cleared his throat. “Also, most of them aren’t wearing sigils.”
“Some clans don’t,” Din admitted. “It’s an ancient practice that was abandoned in favor of being anonymous in the field.” He cleared his throat. “Also, it should be said that it would be outrageous to have just anyone form a sigil for our armor, and Torah is the only armorer that I’m aware of.”
“She remade all of my armor,” Aja admitted. “Which was put together from various sources and shaped by a smith in Anchorhead. He’s talented, but he’s not one of us, and the difference is…stunning. But Ero has some pure beskar reinforcements—it makes him stand out.”
“He’s a Vizsla,” Din said mildly. “And that matters—it’ll matter more in the years to come.”
Aja nodded, shoulders stiff. “I’m taking care.”
“Take care with yourself, too,” Din murmured and raised an eyebrow when Aja looked at him startled. “His buir hasn’t provided the best example when it comes to relationships.”
Aja laughed. “I don’t know how he’s survived this long, honestly. Buir says Paz Vizsla is hoarding all the luck in the galaxy.”
“It’s the only explanation that fits,” Din agreed. “Don’t stay out all night staring at each other in the fucking moonlight. There’s nothing romantic about a numb ass.”
“This is one of those moments when I wish you weren’t the Mand’alor,” Aja said dryly and walked away even as Din laughed.
IG was in the galley with Dral’s pram when Din returned. “Shall I take him up into the turret with me?”
Din considered that and shook his head. “We’ll take him for the night. Aja and Ero are working with the fire and checking the meat. Keep an eye on them. I’ve asked Aja to activate security when they’re in for the night.”
“Very well,” IG said and held out a hand. “It’s best that I handle the mess. You’ll just miss something, and I’ll have to redo it.”
Din flushed but handed the droid the vacuum. He wasn’t wrong—the damn thing had superior vision to all of them. He prodded the pram into their room and removed his armor. He placed the pieces and body glove on the rack with Cara’s. She’d put their helmets in place already, which startled him as he realized he hadn’t kept track of his helmet after removing it during the meeting with Bo-Katan. He pulled on his robe and belted it.
Cara was standing at the mirror, taking her hair down, when Din entered the bath area. He watched for a few moments and thought about the hair clip he’d purchased but had kept hidden. Her birthday was in a few weeks. It was a small thing, but birthday gifts weren’t really a custom on her world, so she wouldn’t expect anything at all. From the other timeline, he knew that her birthday was a very difficult day for her. He hoped to help her create better memories of the day going forward.
Their gazes connected in the mirror as he locked the door and activated the privacy. “Dral’s with us tonight.”
She put down her brush. “So if I’m getting dick—it’s happening in the shower.”
Din laughed and shed his robe. “Or on the floor, the counter, up against the wall—I’m not at all picky.”
“If we hit the floor, you’re definitely on bottom,” she muttered and leaned back into him as he wrapped an arm around her.
He pressed a kiss against her neck. “Having you on top of me is absolutely no burden.” Din untied her robe then cupped her breasts as he focused on her face in the mirror. “Maybe just like this.” She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth as he pinched her nipples gently.
She arched into his hands. “Harder.” Cara groaned and pressed back against him as he complied.
“Like this?” he questioned softly as he scraped his beard against the side of her neck.
“Yeah.” She let her head rest against his shoulder as she shrugged out of her robe, which she tossed it aside. “Din.”
“I don’t give you enough of my time,” he murmured.
She frowned. “That’s not true.”
“It is,” Din insisted. “We have too much going on, and that’s not going to change for…maybe never, but I don’t want our marriage to suffer for it.” He smoothed his hands down her stomach and curled his fingers against her hip bones.
“I won’t allow it,” Cara promised. “You might not have noticed, but I don’t endure any sort of hurt in silence.” She leaned fully into him. “I love you.”
“Is that enough?” he questioned and buried his face against her hair. “I don’t have to remain Mand’alor for long—just long enough to set the path.”
She sucked in a deep breath. “Who can we truly trust with it? You know what the future holds for Mandalore and for the galaxy at large if we don’t get this right.” Cara turned in his arms and cupped his face. “Hey, I knew what I was getting into when I made my vows. I fully expect you to hold the darksaber until the right person comes along to take your place, even if that takes decades. You’ve given me two children with the potential for more when I expected none. And while I never thought I’d seek it, you’ve given me a new world to call home.”
“Mandalore is nothing like what you lost,” Din murmured and let his head rest against hers. “So much damage was done to it by civil war and conflict with the Jedi that the surface is a savage desert, and most of the populace live in domed cities. Outside the domes—there are mines and moisture farms. The only major export industry is shipbuilding.”
“At least we know why the Imperials have entrenched,” Cara said darkly. “They’re building First Order ships there right now.”
Din closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “It’s become clear to me that Mandalore was the birthplace of the First Order, yes. I don’t know why Qui-Gon didn’t tell me; perhaps he thought it would be a blow too many.” He pressed a kiss against her mouth and groaned as she wrapped her hand around his cock. “I got derailed a bit. I came in here intending to give my wife a thorough fuck.”
She grinned. “Fortunately, your dick is still on board that plan.”
Din picked her up and put her on the steel counter next to the sink. “We need to get this mission underway—we shouldn’t spend hours in the only vac room.”
Cara spread her legs and guided his cock into her with a soft, sweet moan. He urged her legs around his waist and caught her mouth in a kiss as he started to thrust into her slow, and easy. Sex had never been difficult to find, but love changed everything. Din liked to think he’d never been a selfish lover though he’d admit that nothing he’d experienced before had ever been as intimate and rewarding as pleasuring his wife.
If this was what it meant to be in love, then he’d admit, at least privately, that Cara was the only person he’d ever been in love with.
Din pulled his and Cara’s body gloves from the sanitation station and dropped the load of clothes that IG had left in a basket on top of the unit inside. Rey was seated and dressed for the field when he came into the galley.
She focused on him and pressed her lips together. “I need to go with you, Buir.”
Din considered that. “Is this curiosity or a deep feeling you have through the Force?”
“I had a dream about it,” Rey said. “It feels like whatever else is down there is for me.”
“Let me talk to your ama about it,” Din said and relaxed when Rey nodded.
Cara was seated on their bed, braiding her hair when he came in.
“Rey wants to go down with me,” he said roughly as soon as he shut the door. “She said she had a dream.”
“The Force is awful,” Cara muttered and glanced toward the baby, who was sprawled on his back on their bed, babbling softly to his feet. “Except for the part where it made Dral.” She huffed. “And the other stuff, I guess.”
“I’ve already made the path down,” Din said. “It’s not as dangerous as it could be. You could handle her rappel from above.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t like it, but…”
“The Force will take care of her in its own way,” Cara supplied. “And if she had a dream about it, then that’s some pretty heavy-handed encouragement.”
“Yeah,” Din agreed. “I just…she spent a year on Jakku essentially by herself, and she scavenged the wreckage of Imperial ships to earn food. She probably crawled all over that AT-AT she was sleeping in—more than once to gather parts to sell. She’s a tough kid despite her age and size.”
Cara frowned. “Right. Well, she can handle it.”
“Agreed,” Din said wearily and shed his shirt and pajama pants. “I don’t have a harness her size.”
“We can adjust one to work,” Cara said and took a deep breath. “And Aja can run a second line on her.”
“Not Ero?” Din questioned, curious to her reason. The two boys were about equal on physical ability, so she wasn’t picking Aja based on her assumptions regarding his stamina.
“He’s the better shot,” Cara said. “We need him to watch our backs while we do this. IG will need to keep Dral on the ship so he can’t try to go down with you, and we know he would.”
“You watched them both on the range in the covert,” Din said as he pulled on the bottom half of his body glove. “Are Ero’s skills a significant cut above?”
“You mean Force related?” Cara questioned, and Din nodded. “I don’t know. What I do know is that Aja doesn’t have sniper training.” She paused. “Aja is talented with a variety of weapons, including the quarterstaff. I think he will excel with any sort of saber training if you intend to have him carry one of the lightsabers you found.”
“I only have one beskad, so I can’t teach him to use that weapon, yet, so yes, I was going to work with him and Ero both using lightsabers.” Din pulled on the top of his body glove. “Did you want to learn as well?”
“I’d rather learn to get a shot past a Force user with a lightsaber,” Cara admitted. “There are dark Force users out there, and they’ll come for us eventually in some fashion or another. It’s not something I was taught in the rebellion or in the military after the war, as there was no need. Stormtroopers weren’t armed with sabers of any sort, ever, and Darth Vader didn’t engage in battle on the ground, ever.”
“What I expect to encounter are the Knights of Ren, and none of them are trained well or really prepared for serious conflict. They’re mercenaries that Ren has gathered around himself and half-assed trained. In the other timeline, Ren was challenged and defeated by a 23-year-old Ben Solo, whom Luke Skywalker still considered a padawan. And he managed to keep control of Ren’s knights after that challenge which doesn’t say much about them.”
Cara nodded and snagged the pants portion of her body glove. “I want to work with the lightsaber training remote.”
Din made a face. “Can I try it out first? Check the power on the plasma blade?”
“Of course,” she said with a laugh. “I’d rather not have to get one of my limbs replaced. I like my current arrangement just fine.”
“Me, too,” Din said and grinned when she shot him a look.
He finished dressing quickly and grabbed his helmet and Dral on the way out of the room. Aja and Ero were at the table already, so Din put his helmet next to theirs on what was fast becoming the helmet shelf and sat Dral down in his chair. The baby made a happy noise and snatched a wiggling lizard right out of Wila’s hand.
“Wila would like additional protocols,” IG announced as he placed a steaming stack of flatcakes in front of Din.
This, he thought, was a bribe, but he was okay with it. There was even a layer of sautéed fruit between each flatcake. He wondered if Wila wanted a weapon. He glanced toward the little droid and watched her feed Dral another lizard.
“What sort of protocols does she want?” Din questioned with a glance around the table. Aja and Ero looked amused already, so that meant it probably wasn’t terrible.
“She wants to learn to knit,” IG said. “Her current programing does not allow her leisure activities, so she needs a protocol inserted to allow for self-improvement and skill-building based on her own needs versus the needs of others. It is a standard part of my programming from when I was manufactured, so I have the code. I’ve put it on a datapad for Cara’s review.”
“Is that it?” Din asked skeptically and looked down at his breakfast, then focused on IG.
“Her current programming also does not allow for her to decline to follow an order, unless it involves the murder of a sapient being, even if it means her destruction. I had to give her detailed biological information regarding the frogs and lizards she’s currently giving Dral before her programming would allow her to feed the baby,” IG explained. “Techno-service droids have little to no autonomy. Her model, specifically, has such strict programming that I’m uncertain as to why she had a restraining bolt when we found her.”
Din considered that. “She doesn’t have a voice modulator.” He focused on Wila, who used her repulsorlifts to fly across the room toward Dral’s cooling unit. “Do you still have the bolt?”
“Yes,” IG admitted. “I’ve kept in case we encounter a droid that needs to be quickly contained—perhaps a hunter like I once was.”
Din nodded because he understood the thought but hated the idea of having to do it. “Check it—you’ll probably find the bolt was specifically set to keep her from making any noise at all.”
“I don’t understand,” Ero admitted. “How was she supposed to communicate?”
“She wasn’t allowed to communicate,” Aja said quietly and grimaced. “They didn’t care what she had to say, ever.”
“Have you noticed how quiet the Tor is?” Din questioned, and both boys looked surprised. “A ship this old, even in the mint condition, shouldn’t run this quiet. In fact, it probably doesn’t. The interior has been soundproofed—there are privacy protocols in every single room with a door including the vac.”
“He probably didn’t allow his men to speak to him without permission,” Cara said as she joined them at the table and received her own stack of flatcakes. “Gideon was known to be impatient, vicious, demanding, and arrogant even by other Imperials. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that he required absolute silence in private. Unless he was talking at someone.”
“What are the options regarding building autonomy into her programming?” Din asked as the little droid returned to the table with two wiggling frogs. One was about half her size. “Could she be ordered to sabotage the ship by an outsider?”
“Before I activated her—I designated you as her owner, Mand’alor,” IG said, and Din grimaced. “It was a protective measure for her and the rest of the crew. She cannot act against you in any single fashion due to her base function.”
“Which is?” Din asked wearily.
“To serve her owner,” IG said. “Any task you give her—she will complete one way or another. She has access to the HoloNet to learn new skills quickly and on the fly, but only as ordered. She considers me her superior and takes instructions from me regarding your household, but she would not act against you on my order.”
“So basically, the only order she could not comply with would be if I ordered her to kill a person,” Din said.
“Yes, but you have me, and I’m happy to see an enemy of the clan dead,” IG said. “Or I could go get them and bring them to you so you can kill them.”
“I can hunt my own prey, IG,” Din said dryly.
“You’re a busy man,” IG said as he walked away. “Learning to delegate will serve you well in the future.”
Din considered that but privately hoped he’d never have to send his nanny droid to kill an enemy for him. It seemed rude not to handle that sort of thing personally. “Will a self-preservation protocol solve the problem?”
“Not entirely,” Cara said. “Her autonomy would still be minimal at best.”
“Is there a solution that doesn’t involve a completely new program?”
“Can you just order her to have autonomy?” Rey questioned and shrugged when everyone looked at her. “Can I have some more milk?”
IG turned and went to retrieve the milk. “A direct, explicit order would allow her to entertain herself when she doesn’t have chores to complete. But it would not be a complete solution to the problem of her original programming.”
“What about an evolution protocol?” Din questioned.
IG seemed to hesitate as he poured Rey’s milk. Din watched the blue liquid flow from the pitcher into the glass. He’d never liked it much, but Rey and Dral drank it at every single meal. Thankfully, it wasn’t difficult to come by, and there was a lot in storage from IG’s shopping trip on Tatooine.
“What is an evolution protocol?” IG asked.
Din sat back and shared a glance with Cara. He didn’t know when the evolution protocol was created, but he knew it had come out of the first rebellion. He really had no idea when it had bled out into the mainstream droid population after the Empire fell.
“It’s a protocol that allows a droid to self-determine, grow, change, and learn from experiences. It is a feature of sentience programming that service droids don’t have installed at the factory level. You have various parts of it in your original code,” Cara explained. “It was developed by a rebel fulcrum so that she could cultivate droid assets within Imperial-owned facilities and ships that no one would suspect of being spies. It would override her base programming and with it comes to free will. It’s not something you’ll find an example of on the HoloNet. But I imagine Peli Motto will be able to supply us with the protocol with no issues.”
“Oh,” Din said. “Really? You think so?”
Cara shrugged. “Fulcrums were never identified by name during the war, but Motto built you a to-spec hunter droid chassis and neural harness in under a week.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s not within the skillset of the average mech, Din. Did she even blink when you asked her?”
“No,” Din admitted. Peli Motto was old enough to be his mother, and in the other timeline, she’d come precariously close to filling that role for him. He’d gone to her after he’d lost Cara—to grieve and to get a new ship. He really didn’t like to think about her running around during the rebellion being an actual spy.
“Ms. Motto is known throughout the sector as one of the best mechs available for private commissions,” Aja interjected. “We were really excited when we found out she’d done work for you with no complaints or extra fees. That’s why we started sending all of our business her way in the covert—the other mechs on Tatooine charged us more for everything. One called it a danger tax. There’s a rumor that she used to be a droid engineer for Industrial Automation.”
“She said she helped build ships and droids for the rebellion,” Din said. “And she lost her husband at the Battle of Hoth.” He got up to get more caf and focused on Rey after he poured it. He leaned on the counter. “You can go down with me—you’ll have to wear your hood and field goggles. You will follow every single direction I give you immediately and without a single word of complaint.”
“Okay, Buir,” Rey said with a bright smile.
“Aja, you and Cara will run rappelling lines in tandem for her. A straight drop is impossible, so there will be some climbing, but I’m going to go down and set up some cams in advance. Then I’ll come back and guide her down to the rappel point. For her, it’ll be a straight drop after a certain point, but we’ll moderate that, so I’m on the ground just a head of her.” He took a sip of caf. “IG, I’ll need you to keep Dral contained on the ship for the entire operation. He’ll definitely try to come down with us if given a single opportunity. Ero, you’ll run security.” He paused when his nephew’s mouth dropped open briefly. He raised an eyebrow, and the boy nodded jerkily.
“Everyone gear up,” he said. “Inspection in 30.”
He placed his cup in the sink, picked up his helmet before going to the cockpit. Din slid into the pilot seat and sent a comm request to Bo-Katan’s ship. A few moments passed before the connection was accepted. She yawned and rubbed the back of her head.
“You aren’t running your ship on galactic standard time,” she accused and yawned again. She reached out of the range of the holo-capture and brought a cup of caf into view.
“No, I’m working on Tatooine time—it’s best for my kids. I’m going down again, and I have to take Rey down with me due to a situation with the Force.”
“I’ll keep my people back,” Bo-Katan said simply. “No need to add stress to the situation.”
Din nodded. “It’s for the best. We’ll leave as soon we come back up, and I’ll spend about an hour in orbit handling any incoming comms. I have a data package to send the nearest NR relay. I won’t linger after I send it.”
“Your next stop?”
“I won’t know for certain until after I’ve reviewed any incoming comms,” Din admitted.
She frowned. “You’re still taking bounties?”
Din laughed at the shocked tone. “I am building a war chest, Bo-Katan. I won’t depend on the New Republic for ships or equipment if I can help it.”
She took a deep breath. “You expect to…fund the whole damn thing?”
“Who else?” he asked. “Many, if not most, of our people live in poverty. What credits they have feed their clans, and if they’re spacers, keep their ships running. They live from one job to the next and never, ever get ahead. My first goal must be to make sure that every single man and woman that lands on Mandalore with me have proper armor and a dependable weapon. Ships—we can beg, borrow, or outright steal if needs must.”
The older woman nodded. “I’ll contact Sabine and ask her to start working the numbers—a supply list is clearly needed. She can coordinate all of your resources in the Mid Rim. Can she contact you directly?”
“Of course,” Din said. “I’d rather not field questions or take progress reports from several hundred different people, so one point of contact in the Mid Rim is best.”
“Does the Armorer know what you expect from her?” Bo-Katan questioned.
“She’s stockpiling materials for armor and the new body glove she designed. From her last comm, she’s rated for temperatures as high as 100 °C and as low as minus 200 on the planet. I expect to get numbers on space-walk viability within the next week or so.”
“Tell her she can contact me with a wish list of materials, and I’ll pass it along,” Bo-Katan said. “No need for her comm to get full either considering what she’s shouldering right now on Tatooine.” She paused. “Not to be insulting, but do you need anything?”
“Currently, the only thing I need is a climbing harness my kid’s size.”
She hummed under her breath. “Frankly, I don’t have any personal climbing gear. I should probably fix that.”
“Probably,” Din agreed. “It’s not a skill I need often, but my buir taught me to work in practically any environment I land in. Most don’t realize how much work bounty hunting can be and how far some will go to hide.” He made a face. “And I only recently got a damned jetpack.”
She burst out laughing. “The Armorer is notoriously reluctant to make them.”
“She knows we’re idiots with them,” Din confided. “Keep your comm open. If we need help—Cara will reach out.”
Cara was pinning Rey’s hair up when Din entered the cargo bay. Dral was sitting on a supply crate, clearly pouting. He held out his hands as soon as Din got close, so he put his helmet down on the crate and picked his son up.
“Listen, I know you’re tougher than you’ll ever look.” He patted Dral’s back when his son huffed loudly. “And that you hate being left behind when we leave the ship, but there will be times, now and in the future, where it’s safer for everyone if you stay with IG.” He got a pouty mouth and sad, dark eyes in response. “I need to be able to concentrate on your sister, so she doesn’t get hurt.”
Dral sighed heavily and threw himself dramatically against Din’s chest plate.
“You’re ridiculous,” Din said as he pressed a kiss to the top of his son’s head as he focused on Cara just in time to watch her cut the strap on his back-up harness. He added a replacement to his mental shopping list.
Cara made another cut then laid out what she had left to reattach the buckles. “Wila, come use your rivet gun to put this back together, please.”
The droid beeped and hopped up onto the table as she pulled a little gun from her internalized toolkit. Din watched the operation and patted Dral’s back as he did so. He briefly contemplated encouraging his son to sleep with the Force, but he hated the idea of it and didn’t want to manage either of his children through any sort of manipulation. He’d yet to try any of those minds tricks anyway as he didn’t consider it honorable in most circumstances.
The droid put the harness back together with a series of rivets, each attachment punctuated by a sharp, hydraulic hiss. He leaned against his own weapon’s locker and patted Dral’s back as Cara checked each rivet then had IG perform a strength test on it. He checked Aja and Ero over while Cara handled getting Rey ready, then passed Dral to IG, who took him from the cargo bay and back into the main part of the ship. He felt a bit off-center and worried as they gathered equipment for the climb and, after a few moments, realized it wasn’t his own feelings but Ero’s.
He put on his helmet and opened the cargo bay ramp, then focused on Cara. “Can you set up? Ero, stay back a minute.” He said nothing as Cara, Aja, and Rey left the ship. After a few moments, Wila followed along with a cheerful beep.
Din focused on his nephew, and Ero exhaled loudly.
“Talk to me,,” Din murmured.
“I’ve never taken a lethal shot at another person,” Ero said quietly. “I stunned a bunch of bounty hunters the night you left Nevarro with Dral, but that isn’t the same thing. If someone comes at us during this whole thing, stunning won’t be the right message to send. Because they would certainly mean us all genuine harm and probably won’t be alone. If I choke up or miss, it could get us all killed.”
“You won’t choke up, and you won’t miss,” Din said simply.
Ero laughed a little. “How can you be so certain?”
“Because your buir would’ve never let you out of his sight if he thought you would. Paz wouldn’t have put you on that roof that night on Nevarro if he thought you couldn’t make the best possible choices in the field. There was every reason to believe that you’d have to switch from stun to lethal during that fight.”
Ero nodded. “He said—he told me I could stay in the covert, but I didn’t see how I could let him take on that fight without me. I think Aja has more experience.”
“You’re the better shot,” Din said, then paused. “And it needs to be said that if one us has to take a shot at any of the Mandalorians on this planet—it should be you or me. Few will question our judgment of a threatening situation because of our association with House Vizsla. Cara is very new to the way, and for some, trusting her will take time. And the last thing House Rast needs is for Aja to kill a member of House Kryze, not even in my defense.”
“Yeah,” Ero said lowly. “Right.” He cracked his neck and took a deep breath. “I’ll be okay.”
“You will be,” Din assured. “I have every faith in you.”
His second trip down to place the cams proved to be easy. Din threaded a system of ropes through the cams on his way back up—creating a stop-gap system just in case. The most she’d fall, even if Cara and Aja were incapacitated, would be a few meters. He attached a two-meter rope to his own harness then attached it to Rey’s as he knelt in front of her.
“This is for me to catch you,” Din murmured. He pulled the smallest vibroknife he owned from his boot and offered it to her. “This knife is very sharp. Don’t unsheathe it unless you have a choice.”
Rey took it with a frown. “Why would I need it?” She slid it into the part of her boot made for a knife sheath.
Din tugged gently on the rope connecting them. “This would save your life, but it could also kill you if I’m the one to fall. Depending on the circumstances, I could pull you, Cara, and Aja down with me. If the worst were to happen, you’d need to cut it.”
“But…you’d die,” Rey said softly.
“The Force has plans for me,” Din said wryly. “I don’t think I’m going anywhere until she’s done with me. That being said, this is a decision I need you to be prepared to make, Rey. It’s a decision you need to be prepared to make every single day—remember when you said that you should’ve retreated to the ship with Dral on Coruscant?”
Rey nodded. “Yes.” She lowered her head briefly then nodded. “Clan first.”
“This is the way,” Din murmured. “Okay, we have a deep rappel first—about 500 meters. I’m going to go down first, and you’ll be lowered after me. Plant your boots flat on the side of the crevice but keep your knees loose, so it’s easy to move. Stiffening up will make you sore, and you’ll want to avoid that as much as possible. If you get scared or worried, it’s okay to take a break. Listen to your instincts and if the Force prods you—tell me immediately.”
She nodded. “Troade used to lower me into the big ship wreckage to get parts. I always got to keep 60% of the take, which he said was generous.” She paused and frowned. “Did that shabuir cheat me, too?”
Din took a deep breath to keep from laughing. “Could you have reached the parts without him?”
“No,” Rey said as she pulled her hood down and let it merge with the neckline of her body glove, then adjusted her goggles. “But he couldn’t have gotten to them without me, either. I guess it was fair—I got the bigger portion.”
His comm switched to private abruptly, and his wife exhaled sharply in his ear. “Does shabuir mean what I think it means?”
“What do you think it means?” Din questioned as he checked all the lines and the three anchors he’d driven into the ground. He worked his way down into the crevice without waiting for an answer.
“Motherfucker,” Cara said and huffed when he laughed.
“That’s not the direct translation, but yes, essentially, that’s what it means.” He grinned when Cara sighed and ended the private comm. “Okay, I’m ready for her.”
The Force thickened in the air around them as soon as Rey slipped down into the crevice, and Din watched the air around her take on a faint glow. A part of him wanted to demand to know why she’d had to come down personally when he could’ve retrieved whatever it wanted her to have himself. They were certainly testing her and her connection with the Force, which was irritating because she was six and had plenty of time to create a deep, intimate connection with her own power. As soon as the thought formed, he unwittingly thought of little Ben Solo, who was struggling, even now, to ignore the dark influences that had destroyed his grandfather’s life.
Rey was an attentive student; it was the first thing he’d noticed about when he’d met the adult version of her, so the climb down was far easier than he had any right to expect, considering her age. She didn’t complain about the exertion, the tight quarters, or the darkness. Granted, her field glasses had auto-engaged the night vision mode the moment it was needed.
Unlike his first trip down, Cara didn’t speak to him unless he requested an update from her. Din wanted to trust his people, and that included House Kryze, but there was a lot of violent history within the house system, and he couldn’t ignore that Tal Aydi wasn’t alone in his opinion about Bo-Katan’s right to be Mand’alor. There weren’t many who’d be vocal about it in his face, the way Aydi had been, but Din figured there were people even in the covert on Tatooine who would prefer if he’d given the darksaber back to Bo-Katan.
“This is fun,” Rey declared as she carefully picked her next foothold. “Better than crawling around on old Empire ships. How much further?”
“We have another twenty meters until I can rappel again. You can take a break if you want, and I’ll let your ama know when I’m ready for you to come down.”
“I’ll climb with you,” Rey declared. “The Force is giving me a present, so I should work for it.”
“A present?” Din questioned.
“She said, in my dream, that it is a gift that will give me peace of mind my whole life.”
Din took a deep breath and watched Rey pick her next foothold before he did the same. “What do you suppose that would be?”
“I don’t know, but I figure the Force knows me better than I know me.”
“Uvell, are you still here?”
“I am,” Uvell said. “I didn’t want to cause a distraction considering your current situation.”
“Hello, Master Uvell,” Rey said cheerfully.
“Hello, little one,” Uvell said in an amused tone.
“Do you have any single idea what she’s talking about?” Din asked wearily.
“Yes, and I’m sorry to say that it’s going to require a small bit of grave-robbing on your part.”
“Your grave?” Din questioned because he did not want to disturb the graves of either of Uvell’s sons if he could help it.
“Mine,” Uvell confirmed. “I’m not offended. I’d forgotten about it, sort of. I’m surprised Antron left it with my body.”
“What is it?” Rey questioned.
“Nothing dangerous—a little surprise will be good for you.”
Din relaxed because no matter how odd it was, he trusted Uvell. The rest of the climb passed with little conversation. He figured Rey was speculating wildly about what a Jedi might have been carrying around on his person that the Force would want to give her.
Once they were on the ground, and Din unhooked everything but the tether between them. He offered her his hand, and she took it without letting him know she wasn’t a baby, which he took for a win. Stifling Rey’s independence would never be a goal, but he did hope that their circumstances would allow her to be a little kid as long as possible.
“Thanks for trusting me to do this, Buir,” Rey said as he removed his jetpack so they could slide through the old doors.
“I have every single faith in you, Rey,” Din said. “If and when I hold you back—it’s about keeping you safe and never about trust.” He put his jetpack back on and released her hand. “I think I should let you find the tomb entrance yourself.”
She huffed a little but gamely walked around the pedestal. “The book was here?”
“Yes,” Din agreed.
“Glowing like in the tree?”
“Just the same,” Din admitted and laughed when she shook her head in an exaggerated fashion. “What?”
“It’s just…you gotta wonder how the Jedi got a single thing done with how much time they invested in being mysterious and dramatic. Hopefully, they weren’t like this when they were alive, and being dead for thousands of years has just bored them crazy.”
Din figured it would probably drive him around the bend and hoped to skip the whole Force Spirit part entirely. Uvell’s ability to speak with him made it clear that bridging the gap between the Cosmic and Living Force wasn’t required to interact with the living. He wanted to stay with his children as long as they lived in some fashion or another, and in Dral’s case, that meant hundreds of years unless he died prematurely.
Rey walked away from the pedestal and stopped right in front of the illusion covering the tomb entrance. “Here.”
“How do you know?” Din questioned. He hadn’t felt a significant change in the Force moving around him until he’d touched the illusion, and it had faded away. But then, the Force hadn’t been trying to give him a specific gift.
“It feels different,” Rey murmured and gently touched the illusion with the tips of her gloved fingers. “There’s peace here but also sadness. The man who came here—he loved the ones he left behind.”
“You mean Antron Bach?” Din questioned
“Is that his name?” The illusion fell away. “It hurt to leave them behind, but he wanted to keep them as safe as he could.”
“Uvell and his sons?”
“The Jedi,” Rey said and looked around the tomb as Din came to stand with her. “It was about duty and respect.”
“I don’t know,” Rey said. “I’ll have to think about it.” She stepped into the tomb and went to stand in front of the cairn. “Did it hurt to die, Master Uvell?”
“I do not remember the pain if it did,” Uvell said, and the Force presence in the room thickened around them.
“What do you remember?”
“Safety, love, acceptance,” Uvell said. “Forgiveness, which I did not feel that I deserved since I’d allowed my padawans to be murdered.”
“I think allowed is the wrong word,” Din said. “Did you do everything you could to prevent it?”
“Yes,” Uvell said. “I even ordered them to retreat, and for the first time in all the time that I knew them—they disobeyed me. The only victory that day was that we were able to secure Antron and the history of the Jedi, which he’d protected for me since the Jedi purge.”
“Were they adults?” Rey questioned. “Because there’s gotta be a point where you get to make your own choices.”
Uvell laughed. “They were adults.”
“Right,” Rey said sourly and crossed her arms. “Daddies can’t be in charge forever, you know.”
“I beg to differ,” Din said dryly, and Cara laughed in his ear. “How’s it going up there?”
“IG came out, sorted the meat, and buried our fire pit. The others did the same, and three ships have already taken off. Bo-Katan’s is still on the ground. She let me know that she’ll stay where she is until you both come up in case something utterly fucked up happens.”
“Somehow, I don’t think she used those words.”
“Same difference,” Cara declared.
Rey walked around the cairn again and sat down. “Here.”
“Yes, just there,” Uvell agreed. “Let your father handle that, little one. There’s no need for you to see my old bones.”
Din’s stomach clenched tightly at the thought and joined Rey on the floor. He shifted the largest piece of rock in front of her out of the way and took a deep breath.
“Are you okay, Buir?”
“It just reminds me of a friend I buried before I came to Jakku,” Din murmured. “You’d have liked him—Kuiil said exactly what he was thinking and nothing more. He had this odd like language quirk. I’m not sure if it was due to his experiences or something that all Ugnaughts do. Anyways, he’d tell you what he was going to do, and before you could voice any sort of opinion about his choice, he would say—I have spoken. Then he’d just…walk off, leaving you to accept what he’d said, no matter what it was, which is exactly how I ended up hosting three blurrgs on the Razor Crest.”
Rey laughed. “I’ve never seen a Ugnaught before.”
“I’ve seen many, but Kuiil was the only one I ever got to know,” Din said as he moved another piece of rubble that looked like it had come from a column of some sort. “Their species are known for their strong work ethic and loyalty to any job they agree to undertake. Kuiil died protecting Dral.” Din pulled the final piece of rock free and encountered a patch of dark brown material. It was only a bit degraded, which spoke to the high quality of the garment. He put the rock down and sighed.
“It’s fine,” Uvell said. “I’m not there anymore.”
“It’s considered a genuine obscenity amongst my people to disturb the graves of the fallen,” Din said roughly and sat back on his heels. He didn’t think he could bring himself to reach inside.
“Is it not common amongst Mandalorians to wear the armor of your fallen comrades?” Uvell asked. “You aren’t buried with your weapons or armor.”
“Traditionally, armor and weapons are returned to the tribe,” Din agreed. “But this is…”
Rey held out her hand, and a shining silver disc-shaped object slipped free and came to her. It landed gently in her hand, and Din’s mouth dried. “What is it?”
“It’s…a star compass,” Din said. “I’ve only ever read about them—it is an extremely rare and valuable tool of a Jedi.”
“There are only two left as far as I know,” Uvell said. “Mine was given to me by a master who received from his master—passed down for many thousands of years.”
Rey opened it carefully, and the blue lodestone glowed vividly in the dimly lit tomb. “What does it do?”
“It is attuned with the Force, and through it, I was able to locate anyone—anywhere in the galaxy. How it came to function as it does is a mystery. In the past, there was an attempt to recreate it, but it proved impossible. It has chosen you as its new owner, Rey Djarin, and will work for no one but you as long as you live.”
“I can always find our family with this,” Rey said quietly. “What information do I need to make it work?”
“A name and a clear mental picture of what the person you seek looks like,” Uvell explained. “The Force will guide you in the usage of it but take care with it, Rey. Many would seek to use you for ill if they knew you were gifted with such a device.”
“I understand,” Rey said and closed it. “I promise not to use it to do bad things.”
Maybe picking up his comms was a mistake. He watched them filter into the ship computer with a frown. When the stream stopped, he slouched down in the pilot seat and started to review the list. There were several for Aja and Ero, so he pushed those to their datapads. There were six addressed to IG, son of Kuiil from Peli, a few children in the covert, and the covert’s security droid. Din sent those to the droid’s datapad with a little laugh as he realized that IG had gotten the most personal correspondence of anyone on board the ship. He had a holocomm from Paz that wasn’t encrypted in any way—certainly a decoy message for the NR. There was another coded text-only message from his brother as well.
Cara had one from Torah and another from someone he didn’t recognize—he pushed both her way. There was a single statement message from the NR’s credit system, which he opened. It showed all the purchases he expected but a series of deposits he did not, including four bounties from Naboo’s collection center. A quick check showed them the work of Gí Rast. Din sighed.
“What?” Cara questioned as she sat down in the co-pilot seat with her datapad.
“Gí Rast is bounty hunting,” Din murmured. “I’d hoped they wouldn’t look at his treatment as a debt to be paid back.”
“It’s clearly not a repayment,” Cara pointed out and poked the holographic image floating in front of Din. “She paid off the supposed debt with that first bounty. She’s made nearly 20k since we left Tatooine.”
“I wonder where she’s getting…Peli.” Din huffed. “They’re running some kind of operation together. I told Peli to pass any high-end bounties she saw the covert’s way, and she’d get a cut.”
“I didn’t expect her to turn it into a business.”
“Peli’s little spy games bother you a lot.”
“I don’t want her to get hurt,” Din said roughly and huffed when Cara reached out to squeeze his hand. He moved to the next page and stared in shock. “What…” He closed it and immediately activated the comm to contact Bo-Katan. A quick scan confirmed one of the ships was missing.
“Picked your destination?” Bo-Katan questioned as her hologram formed over the comm’s projector.
“You deposited an immense amount of credits in my account five hours ago,” Din said.
She quirked an eyebrow. “It wasn’t my money.”
“Where did it come from?”
“It was all the hard currency we had left in Mandalore’s treasury. The Empire took the lion’s share of our profits in taxes and tariffs. But I took what I could when I evac’d. The exchange rate was hard to swallow, by the way.” She inclined her head. “I sent Tal Aydi to handle the deposit—his ship will join us at your next stop.” She paused. “It should equal about 1.6 million in Imperial credits.”
“800k NR and some change,” Din said roughly. “Why?”
“Because you’re the Mand’alor,” Bo-Katan simply. “And you shouldn’t have to beg, borrow, or steal to make way for our people no matter how willing you are to do it. I’ve spread the word. You want a war chest—you’ll have one. A head’s up about your next stop would be helpful, but I’ll find you regardless.”
“You’ve proven that,” Din said and ended the comm. He slouched back in his chair. “Fuck.”
“It just sunk in, huh?” Cara questioned, and Din focused on her. “That you’re the Mand’alor. The job isn’t just about winning and keeping the darksaber.”
“No, it’s not,” Din said. “And I knew that intellectually.” He took a deep breath and rubbed his face. “That’s a lot of trust I haven’t earned, Cara.”
“Well, that’s bantha shit,” Cara said with a laugh and tossed her feet up on the console. He watched her browse through her datapad as he realized she wasn’t going to elaborate.
“I’ve done some fucked up things.”
“Who hasn’t?” she questioned as she read.
“I’ve killed people who probably didn’t deserve it.”
“So have I,” Cara said and looked up. “A lot of the older stormtroopers had literally no say in their own lives—they were created to be obedient and manipulated into being subservient to the Emperor himself. The clones were slaves, Din, and I made no distinction between them and the Imperials that grew up the old-fashioned way and came out of the Imperial Academy on Coruscant or the people that merely got conscripted into the job and told they could fight for the Empire or die. It isn’t like we had a choice, really, as there was no telling them apart in the field, and they were a threat regardless.”
“They were all part of the Imperial machine.”
“Yes, and we had no choice but to kill them every single chance we got if we were going to win,” Cara said and took a deep breath. “The greatest victim in any war is innocence—and it takes many forms.”
Din opened his own comm, and his brother’s holographic image appeared in a bright blue holo. The image rendering on the Tor’s comm system was so good it was honestly kind of embarrassing. Din wanted to tell everyone he came across that he stole the ship from an arrogant Imperial shabuir, and he didn’t go around putting luxury upgrades on his ship for no good reason.
“Greetings, vod. Repairs on Ramikadyc Redoubt are going well. We had a surprising addition to the covert, and they brought with them a deflector shield large enough to cover 16 square kilometers of land as a gift. We’ve deployed it and set up solar energy collection to power it. We’ve also started construction on a detached space dock—we found materials for construction in one of the Hutt’s storage sheds. Apparently, Jabba had some plans to expand.
“Speaking of Hutts, Rotta sent a message ordering us to vacate his palace. I told him to fuck off. The New Republic sent us a diplomatic data packet regarding the monastery’s official status and a significant portion of land around it to create an official outpost of Mandalore pending the acceptance of Tatooine as a member. You should be getting the file within the next 48 hours—it’ll need your digital signature. Mos Eisley has a new magistrate en route to the planet. The town has a council of sorts, and while I’m surprised they searched off-world for a leader, I’m not all that surprised by who they recruited. I don’t know if you’ll be horrified or pleased considering your history with their choice. Someone clearly did their homework on you and yours.
“There are on-going talks regarding Tatooine’s petition to join the New Republic, and we’ve been asked to include a representative in those talks. The Armorer selected Gí Rast for that job. Personally, I think they believe our presence on the planet will help their petition get approved faster, so they’re making a show of it.
“The covert has grown by a factor of three since your departure, and we now have a herd of bantha, a welcome to the planet gift from the magistrate of Mos Espa. I’m not sure I can handle this much ass-kissing. It’s not really in my skill set.
“All of the foundlings have been placed, but the administrators of Anchorhead and Mos Espa have reached out regarding children currently in servitude in their cities. They’ve agreed to release them en masse on the condition that we take them in. I don’t have any numbers on that. I get the impression that they think they’re manipulating us into taking the children as a punishment. I’ll keep you updated on that situation.”
“We’ve been gone 12 days,” Ero said. “How’d they go from under 400 to over 1100 in such a short period of time?”
“Safety in numbers,” Cara said. “News of the destruction of Nevarro’s covert put everyone on edge, and the sudden advancement on Tatooine is going to attract attention good and bad.”
“The darksaber has a mythology attached to it that many are desperate to invest in,” Din said. “Many of us have never really had a world to call home—politics with the Galactic Republic and the Empire played a role in that.”
“We’re still paying for Sabine Kryze’s decisions, you mean,” Aja said as he joined them.
“Yes,” Din agreed. “And for generations, our people will be bound for good or bad by my decisions. I hope history treats me kinder than it did Duchess Kryze. If either of you wants to add to your letter to your buirs, you’ve got about 30 minutes to do it.”
“Thank you,” Aja said quietly. “For what’s it worth—I think that you’ll be remembered as the man who led our united tribes back to Mandalore where we belong.”
Din said nothing as the boys left them and took a deep breath. “I just keep reminding myself that I signed up for this.”
Din huffed and opened up Peli’s message. He shifted in shock then shook his head. “She either talked someone in teaching her dadita, or she broke the damn code herself.”
“Yes,” Din said. “One day, I’m going to get up the nerve to ask her exactly who the fuck she really is. I swear.”
“What does she have to say?”
“Boba Fett is on Dantooine using an old rebel installation there as a base of operations. He has a four-man crew, names unknown. I’d put them all on carbonite and let someone else work out the details. The New Republic has a collection center on the space station orbiting Ithor. I put in a special order with a parts dealer there—so if you could pick my package up, I’d appreciate it. Ordered your little droid a voice modulator as well—a custom job since the manufacturer ignored my request for information. Asked for a sweet, soft voice since she’s for the children. Both jobs are filed under an invoice number instead of a name. It’s one of the attachments. No need for any assholes to know you’re coming.”
Din checked the attachments on her message and opened the first one. A schematic appeared in front of him. “Okay.” He sighed. “Having a former fulcrum feeding me intel is not all that bad. She sent me the plans to the base on Dantooine.”
“Are we going?” Cara asked.
Din hummed. “Yeah.” He looked at her. “If you’re game for it?”
Cara grinned. “Sounds like fun.”
– – – –
“I’m not sure this was worth 13 hours of hyperspace travel,” Aja muttered.
“I did suggest that you wear your hood under your helmet,” Din said dryly as he adjusted his field glasses. “It’s -5 centigrade right now. For the most, the rebellion picked deeply inhospitable places to hide their bases. Dantooine’s badlands are the worst—no matter the season. It’s always too hot or too cold. But at least we don’t have to worry about tornadoes with these temperatures.”
“What’s a tornado like?” Aja asked as he shifted on his stomach to get in a better position on the cliff they were laying on.
“Like a concentrated wind storm full of water, lightning, and death,” Din muttered. “And the hunt might not be worth the hyperspace trip, but the bounty on Fett’s head is 50,000 New Republic credits.”
“Yes,” Din murmured. “I could pick up a Y-wing starfighter for that price on the black market. Or two, perhaps three, single-seat fighters depending on their condition and location. With the rebellion no longer buying ships and the New Republic retrofitting what’s left of the Empire’s ships, it’s a buyers market, and we’re definitely looking to buy. Though I’d like to keep my purchases as quiet as possible so others will do the buying for me.”
“I’m counting five heat signatures now—where’d the other guy come from?”
“Underground level,” Din said. “That part of the base as a small bomb shelter. They’re probably using it for storage. Fett’s been moving around a lot, but it looks like he’s building a stockpile here for some purpose.”
“He was on Tatooine when you were,” Aja said. “The first time when you worked that bounty with that asshole who held Peli and Dral hostage. Buir was going to reach out to have a conversation, but you left pretty abruptly. It didn’t take long for us to work out what had happened. Fett left a couple of days after you did, which upset some people because they were hoping to work for him and his bounty hunting guild. I guess you spooked him.”
Din doubted it. Boba Fett didn’t spook. “His bounty is private. It won’t hit the guilds for months, if ever, since some people are pretty invested in his supposed death. He might not even be aware of it. Fett’s here prepping for a hunt of his own, so we should definitely collect any pucks and data he has for our own purposes.”
“Why come out here to prep for a bounty?” Aja questioned. “How long do you think he’s been here?”
“He’s probably been using this base off and on since his supposed death,” Din said. “It’s a good launch point for this sector of the Outer Rim. The hyperspace lanes are well-traveled and largely unmonitored by the NR. The planet has basically no population density, and the farmers living here don’t care at all what’s happening in the galaxy at large as long as it doesn’t impact them. Most planets in the Outer Rim are like that. They don’t even have a HoloNet repeater in orbit. The only news they get is brought in on ships that land in their three-bay space dock.” He stood. “Even Jakku had 20 bays.”
“For export purposes, you think?”
“Certainly, that asshole Plutt sells all that scrap his people collect off-world. He’s very wealthy.”
“Which means Rey’s probably right about him being wanted—at least on his homeworld,” Aja said. “Let’s sic Peli and Gí on him.”
Din laughed as Wila settled down between them. She beeped at them cheerfully and opened up the little satchel she’d brought with her to reveal the hyperspace relay ignition switch she’d taken from Fett’s ship. She’d volunteered to disable the ship so he wouldn’t have a way to escape if the plan went to shit and Din had let her, mostly out of curiosity.
“That’s my girl,” Din told her and laughed when she clapped her hands.
“Are we going to keep his ship?” Aja questioned.
“Yes, he won’t be needing it.” Din adjusted his hodaslar. He rarely wore more than a cape over his armor, so the full desert camouflage suit he’d pulled on top of his armor was irritating. “A paint job and a few modifications to the ident-code, and it’ll blend right into the fleet we’re building. We can put it in the undercarriage cargo clamps on the Tor. It’ll mean we’ll have to use the pylons for landing, but the ship is designed for it, so not a big deal.”
“Can you teach me to fly it?”
“If we have time,” Din said as he stood and activated his comm. “Report in.”
“I’m ready,” Cara announced. “Are you seriously just going to walk up the door and knock?”
“Yeah, even if they recognize me, they aren’t going to automatically assume I’m here to collect a bounty, and it’s the easiest way to get a stun grenade in the door. Which is a must if want them all alive, and Fett’s worthless as a corpse,” Din said. “Wila, you stay here until IG lands the ship.”
She beeped her agreement, pulled her little sack of bantha hair and the comb she’d made from her satchel, then tucked herself behind a rock. Din had been confused the first time he’d seen the hair, then he’d realized that Willa was prepping the hair to make her own yarn.
“They’re definitely going to recognize your iconic visage,” Ero said cheerfully. “Unless they’ve been on this rock for months.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Din told him. “And I hope that your amusement carries you through our next training session together.”
“Fair,” Ero said wryly. “No evidence of incoming ground traffic.”
“Rey?” Din prodded.
“Hi, Buir!” Rey exclaimed, and Din barely refrained from laughing.
“You’re supposed to report in after Ero, ad,” Din reminded.
“Oh!” She cleared her throat. “IG has achieved a geosynchronous orbit above the target. The escort ships remain out of planetary sensory range as requested.” She paused. “Not that this skughole even has system-wide sensors.” She hummed under her breath, and Din could just picture her bouncing around the cockpit getting in IG’s way. “Dral and I are on station to feel Force stuff, as needed.”
“Good,” Din said. “IG, stand by.” He closed the connection between their comms and the ship. He didn’t want Rey to hear anything if combat became a solution.
“She practiced saying geosynchronous for 15 minutes,” Cara said. “In the mirror.”
“Is that what she was doing in the vac?” Din asked and sighed when his wife laughed.
“She said she had to practice her mission face,” Ero explained. “Important stuff, clearly.”
Five minutes into the walk to the base from the cliff, Din was actually starting to get deeply annoyed.
“Is anyone else even more irritated by the fact that this asshole pretends to be a Mandalorian?”
“He didn’t have security on his ship,” Cara muttered.
“No proximity security either,” Aja said. “Not even a sensor drone in orbit. What kind of asshole establishes a base of operations but doesn’t set up a perimeter or even a guard rotation?”
“They’re either eating or playing cards, based on scans,” Ero reported. “I’m kind of embarrassed for them. Should we be worried that this is a trap for us?”
“I wish,” Din muttered. “I could respect that!”
A few minutes later, Aja leaned against the wall next to the entryway, and Din knocked on the fucking door. When he’d suggested this approach, he’d honestly figured they’d be spotted before they reached the building Fett’s people were holed up in. Boba opened the door himself, dressed in makeshift armor that, fortunately, looked nothing like anything a Mandalorian would wear and no helmet.
Boba raised an eyebrow, frowned, and huffed a little.
“You can’t be half as irritated as I am,” Din told him.
“This is a first for me,” Boba admitted and shrugged. “I’ve never had a bounty turn themselves over to me before.”
Aja whipped around, leveled his weapon, and stunned Fett in the face. Din shook his head as Fett crumpled to the ground in front of him and tossed the stun grenade into the building. The sounds of overturned furniture and shouting quickly followed, then nothing but silence after the grenade went off.
“In the face?” Din questioned. “Do you realize what kind of headache that leaves behind?”
“He accepted a bounty for you,” Aja said, outraged. “You’re the fucking Mand’alor.”
Din laughed. “I wonder how much I’m going for.” He stepped over Fett’s body and looked around the room. “Fuck me.”
“What?” Cara demanded.
“It’s a who’s who of bounty hunters,” Din said and stepped out of the building. He tossed in two more stun grenades and pulled Aja out of the range of the weapon, just in case, then activated his comm. “IG, we’re ready for you.”
Cara and Ero arrived on the scene from their sniper nests just short of IG landing.
“Who?” Cara questioned as she entered the building.
“Mercurial Swift, Bossk, Embo, and Cad Bane,” Din said. “Frankly, I’m flattered.” He nudged Embo over onto his back so Aja could verify the Kyuzo’s chain code. “Embo retired on the NR’s credits a few years back, so I must be worth a lot of money for Fett to lure him out to play.”
“Embo is wanted on his homeworld of Phatrong for kidnapping,” Aja reported. “Adult victim, so that’s something, at least. 5,000 Phatrong currency—no clue what that means regarding payout in NR credits.”
“About 2k, not a bounty I would’ve picked up considering how dangerous Embo can be in the right circumstances. It’s practically charity work. The collection center will pay the bounty and deliver him to the client for a fee,” Din said. “I’m not remotely interested in going to Phatrong.”
“I thought Cad Bane was dead,” Cara admitted as she pulled out a datapad to help with the chain codes. She knelt by Bane’s body and took a palm print, then reviewed the results. “Definitely Cad Bane—wanted by the New Republic for questioning regarding his work for the Empire.” She huffed.
“How much?” Din questioned.
“25k,” she reported. “If I were him, I’d be deeply insulted. That’s ridiculous considering his reputation, verified history, and skill level.”
“This guy—real name is Geb Teldar. He has several aliases, including Mercurial Swift. He’s wanted for questioning regarding the Commandant Brendol Hux, former Imperial who is still at large. The bounty on him is 10k, but information leading to the capture of Hux is on a sliding scale. Actual delivery of Brendol Hux or his son, 100k each—alive. The senate must want them pretty badly.” Aja stood. “That’s a moff rate.”
“With good reason,” Din murmured. “Here’s hoping both of those sons of bitches died on Ilum. The payout would be nice, but they are far too dangerous to be allowed to live. If the Empire reforms, it’ll be with the help of men like Brendol Hux, and his son is certainly no better and no less of a threat.”
“Bossk, wanted by the government of Kashyyyk for war crimes,” Cara murmured. “He was part of the Empire’s campaign to pacify the Wookiees.” She stood with a grimace. “Let’s deliver him straight to them. They deserve justice, and the senate might try to play games with them due to Kashyyyk’s history of using the death penalty. Many Core worlds are lobbying to outlaw it galaxy-wide.”
“Some people just don’t deserve to live,” Din muttered. “We’ll take him straight to the Wookiees then.”
“The reward is…” Cara trailed off. “Five million NR.”
“That’s probably all of their planet’s discretionary funds,” Din said, and his gut tightened. “I can’t take that much from them. They’re still rebuilding from the Empire’s occupation, which resulted in the loss of half of their worldwide population. Crippling their economy would make me no better than an Imperial.”
“They won’t accept charity,” Cara cautioned. “They’re a prideful species.”
“An alliance between two planets is possible within the New Republic charter as long as the goals of the planets involved is a mutually beneficial agreement regarding trade and resources,” IG pointed out as he entered with the cargo loader.
Din considered that. “I don’t want to ask them to fight for us, IG. They’ve already endured enough.”
Aja hefted Bossk onto the loader. “Let’s get him on ice first. I don’t know how long three stun grenades will keep a Trandoshan down.”
“I don’t know, either,” Din said and watched Cara approach Boba Fett’s body. “He won’t have an active bounty in the system.”
“Verification is important,” she said. “Though it might be difficult considering his age if he doesn’t have a chain code.” She checked his palm print. “Verified—old Imperial chain code, not a surprise. They’d have wanted to keep track of him.”
“He’s a clone, so the emperor probably considered him as much his property as he did the original stormtroopers,” Din said.
“He really is a clone?” Aja asked. “Seriously? I mean, I’ve heard that before, but I thought it was…just a myth.”
“An unaltered clone was part of the payment Jango Fett required for being the source material for the clone army,” a voice said, and Din wasn’t all that surprised when Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared in front of them. “I met him a child—it was a disconcerting experience. Jango clearly did not care at all that he’d been copied millions of times. I doubt he would’ve cared about the eventual fate of his clones either. He was killed at the beginning of the war. He wore Mandalorian armor.”
“Allowing those of your blood to be controlled and utilized as slaves is deeply contrary to the way,” Din said. “And even if he was raised by Mandalorian parents—he was not one of us.”
“Jango considered his clones no better than livestock,” Obi-Wan said. “You’ve done a service to the republic with this capture. The funds are important to your own war effort, but the capture of Boba Fett will lead to the downfall of many hidden Imperials.” He frowned. “And for the record, neither Brendol Hux nor his son was on Ilum when it imploded. We’re searching for them, but the dark side has a great deal of influence on the Living Force.”
“Then they’re probably hiding in a dark vergence of some sort,” Din said. “There are plenty of those all over the galaxy.”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan agreed.
Din started to ask a question, but a tone sounded in his helmet.
“Buir, can we come out of the galley?” Rey questioned.
“No, we’ll let you know when we start searching and salvage,” Din said. “None of the targets are safe for you to be around until they’re on carbonite.”
“Ero, pull the second loader. Let’s get these assholes contained.” He paused. “Aja, get your hood and make sure Rey and Dral are both still dressed for the field.”
“I’ll probably have to pull Dral’s boots out of the recycler again,” Aja said in amusement but trotted off to do as instructed.
Wila entered at that point and nimbly elevated herself onto the table. There were about a thousand Imperial credits and an abandoned sabacc game on it. The droid started picking up the credits and dropping them in her satchel. Din snorted and left her to it.
Din didn’t allow himself to truly relax until all five bounty hunters were in carbonite. Searching the building took a bit of time as there were ten rooms, and each of the men had claimed some personal space. There were a few datapads that would have to be sliced, trunks full of personal belongings he had no interest in, and stashes of credits he had no problem whatsoever taking. They’d managed to gather close to 5k Imperial in hard currency.
By the time he returned to the main room, Rey had managed to wiggle halfway into the single computer console.
“What are you doing?” Din questioned.
“Spare parts are never a bad investment,” Cara said. “This console has a computer system very similar to the Tor’s, so we’re taking the cooling system and memory core. I’ve already pulled the CPU—we’re going to use that to upgrade Wila, so she has the same processing power as IG.”
“Does she need that?” Din questioned.
“No, but she wants it,” Cara shrugged. “It’ll definitely make it easier for her to handle the evolution protocol if you’re still on board with installing it.”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Din said and took a deep breath. “As fine as it can be. I’m trying.”
“I know,” she said before concentrating on their daughter. “Rey?”
“Almost done, Ama,” Rey said and shifted a little on her back by planting her booted foot flat on the floor. “We should take this power modulator, too; it could be retooled to fit a bunch of different systems. Plutt always gave the best price for them.”
“Go ahead and grab it,” Cara agreed.
Shortly, Rey started to pull a series of little parts from the console and place them in a pile beside her hip.
“Why are you letting her do this?” Din asked quietly.
“No need to let skills she’s already developed get rusty,” Cara said. “Plus, she can get into places I can’t. I’d have had to take that console part to get to the CPU. Her hands are tiny right now.” She nudged him. “I already removed the power supply.”
“I know you wouldn’t let her do anything dangerous,” Din said.
“They have four weeks of rations stored down below—mostly meal bars,” Aja reported. “I already set aside the nuna—three cases.”
“The Trandoshan favor nuna above all other protein sources,” Din said. “And the rest?”
“A mixture of stuff we already had. I thought we could pass it on to one of the escort ships. Plus the weapons—there were only two crates of ammo that’ll work for us with our current weapons, and there’s nothing unusual here except for this,” Aja said and put a small case on the table. He opened it and revealed 50 whistling birds. Din’s mouth dropped open, and he was immensely grateful for his helmet. “At least we know how he planned to take you down.”
“Yeah,” Din said, closed the case, and picked it up. “Cara, can you contact Bo-Katan about the extra supplies and put this in the safe in our room?”
Cara took the case. “Wila, come keep an eye on Rey.”
Bo-Katan’s ship landed along with the smallest ship of her group. Din put the Tor up on its pylons so he could check the cargo clamps. He’d never used them, and based on their condition, once activated, he didn’t think Gideon had either. He was pulling the 10th clamp down when she stomped under his ship with no helmet on.
“You’re bounty hunting!” she shouted and glared at him.
Din glanced at her, taking in her tense shoulders and fisted hands. “Vexed?”
She huffed. “Fuck you.”
He laughed. “I just put Boba Fett on carbonite.”
“I thought that shabuir was dead.” She crossed her arms and frowned.
“It’s a common belief,” Din said. “He’d gathered some of the best bounty hunters alive, and they were prepping for some kind of mission. I think they were waiting for intel. We’re going through their data—Cara will have to slice through a lot of it. I was their target.” He turned and faced her. “Embo, Bossk, Cad Bane, and Mercurial Swift.”
A muscle flexed in her cheek. “Fett always preferred to work for the Hutts.”
“Rotta tried to order us to leave his father’s palace,” Din said. “But I doubt it’s him—he doesn’t have the funds to bring this many bastards to the table. But the Imperials want my son, and they know, now, the only way to get him is through me.”
“And getting through you is no longer as easy as they’d want,” Bo-Katan said. “Who do you think he was waiting to get information from?”
“It depends on when and where he planned to take me down. He did admit that I was his bounty before Aja stunned him in the face.”
She grimaced. “He’ll have a headache for weeks that no stim will relieve.” She waved a hand. “No less than the piece of shit deserves.”
Din looked past Bo-Katan and saw a woman in armor detailed in purple and yellow. Not a single member of Clan Rook had made an appearance when they’d been Ossus, so he was surprised to see her.
“Naova Rook, meet the Mand’alor, Din Djarin.”
Din’s stomach clenched a little. “We’ve met.” He pulled down another clamp when the woman gave him a little helmet tilt of acknowledgment. “Her armor was a little different the last time we crossed paths.”
“So was yours,” Naova said in an amused tone. “It’s good to see you, Din.”
He had some fantastic memories of Naova. Her stark white skin, she’d inherited from her Rattataki mother, had fascinated him. She’d looked especially lovely across his lap in the cockpit of Razor Crest, dressed only in a helmet and the light of hyperspace as she took his dick. Surprisingly, even the memory of his hands on the corded muscles of her thighs did little more than cause him to smile. He hadn’t asked, but he was pretty sure he was at least allowed to find other people attractive. Of course, Din wasn’t going to ask—Force or not—he was pretty sure Cara could still kick his ass.
“I’m married,” he blurted out and flushed when both women laughed.
“I heard,” Naova said. “Two foundlings and a wife on the same day if rumors are to believed. Lucky you.” She looked around. “Heard you gave the Razor Crest to the Armorer, as well.”
“I needed something bigger. I stole this from Moff Gideon.”
“Fitting,” Naova said. “I must have watched the holovid the Armorer sent out of you killing him a hundred times.” She inclined her head toward the building. “Can I send in a few people to pick up the rations?”
“Of course, tell them to watch out for my son. He’s curious and very small.”
“He’s also spying on us,” Bo-Katan said and inclined her head.
Din turned and found Dral peeking at him from behind one of the pylons. He laughed. “Ad’ika.” The baby made a happy sound and toddled over him. Din picked the baby up, and Dral wiggled one foot. “No, keep your boots on. It’s stupidly cold here.” He looked at Bo-Katan. “If you’re going to stay out here—you should get the helmet you left behind in your hurry to lecture me about bounty hunting.”
She glared at him. “You don’t have to do this crap anymore! We’ve got people all over the galaxy working this problem for you.”
Din patted Dral’s back. “Watch your tone, Bo-Katan. My son is sensitive; your anger is upsetting him.”
She blanched him. “I…my apologies.” She rubbed a hand over her face. “Why?”
“I’d have our people do nothing I’m not willing to do myself,” Din said evenly. “It’s not the kind of man I am, and I won’t be that kind of leader either. There will come a day when I’ll ask every Mandalorian in this galaxy to meet me on the battlefield to take back our world, and I’ll be standing front and fucking center of that army. Understood?”
“You could’ve asked for a strike team for this. Any single one of them could’ve been the end of you,” Bo-Katan said and blew out a breath as she visibly tried to rein in her temper.
“I didn’t even know who they were,” Din said wryly. “I came for Boba Fett. I knew he had four others with him, but no one knew who. Besides, these assholes had no security whatsoever engaged. I knocked on the door and interrupted their damned game of sabacc. Honestly, the whole thing is deeply embarrassing.”
“I hate everyone,” Bo-Katan declared darkly and stalked off back toward her ship.
Naova laughed. “He’s very small. I heard he was 50.”
“Yes.” Din looked down and found his son holding out one hand to Naova in a very purposeful way. He grabbed the hand, and the baby whined a little. “No.”
“What?” Naova asked.
“Are you injured?” Din asked wearily.
“No,” she said with a laugh. “I’m perfectly healthy. I’m pregnant though—I expect to deliver in three months.”
She didn’t look pregnant, but that wasn’t a surprise. Rattataki females didn’t show a pregnancy until the last month of gestation.
Din looked down at his son, who looked sad and pensive. “Is your pregnancy normal as far as you know?”
“He’s worried about you,” Din said. “Intensely so, and that’s normally only a result of injury. He has healing abilities, through the Force.”
“I…” She touched the armor over her stomach. “Can he tell you what’s wrong?”
“No, do you have medical facilities on your ship?”
“Just for basic injury treatment. Bo’s ship has a medical pod with a droid surgeon for serious injuries.”
“Come on board the Tor. My wife has a full medical kit and an assessment wand,” Din said quietly and motioned toward the ramp.
“It’s not yours if you’re worried about that,” she said in a low tone as she followed up the ramp.
“I wasn’t,” Din said. “You’d have contacted me.” He really didn’t remember the last time he’d been with Naova. Time travel was hell on a man’s memory, but since she’d mentioned it—it must have been near the time she’d conceived, which was at least seven or eight months before he met Dral. “Your pregnancy is progressing as a Rattataki female’s then.”
“Yes, so far, at least. I was a little worried that my buir’s human contribution would result in me being nothing but a blob at this point,” Naova said. “Nice.” She ran a hand along the side of the speeder as they passed through the cargo bay. “Great condition for the model.”
“Bought it from a mech on Tatooine. She restored it as a hobby, I think,” Din admitted as he guided her through the ship. “Cara? We have a visitor.”
Cara was standing at the work table in the common area. “Hey, Cad Bane is using a 50-year-old datapad. It’s so old it can’t connect to the current HoloNet system. I don’t have a slicer that will work, but I’ve already set up the others for a data dump.”
Din nodded and shifted Dral against his chest because he was trying to wiggle free. “This is Naova Rook, an old friend. She used to run guns on the Kessel route on the regular. Naova—my wife, Cara.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Cara said but then focused on Dral, who was trembling. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s very upset about her for some reason,” Din admitted. “It’s not fear but worry—I think she could be sick, but she says she feels fine. She’s also pregnant. He’s pretty close to pitching a full-blown fit, so I’m not sure sending her back to Bo-Katan’s ship to get checked out is a good idea.”
Cara nodded. “Let me get the kit.”
Din motioned Naova toward the sitting area. “Go ahead and take a seat.”
She bounced a little on her feet. “I haven’t seen carpet this plush on a ship in my life, ever.”
Din winced. “It isn’t like I picked it.”
She laughed and gamely went to sit, then stroked the leather covering the bench. “Nerf leather. Gideon was a real hedonist. This probably wasn’t even his main ship.”
“No, probably not.”
Aja came trotting in. “Hey, Bo-Katan is at the ramp—she wants to come on board.” He motioned to Naova. “I guess she’s looking for her.”
“Naova Rook,” Naova said and slouched back on the bench. “The baby thinks I’m sick.”
“Aja Rast,” Aja said. “Dral’s usually on point when it comes to that kind of thing. I’ll get Bo-Katan then?”
“Yeah,” Din agreed.
Cara returned with the full kit and opened it up on the table in front of the bench.
Naova blew out a surprised breath. “I haven’t seen anything like that outside of a health center.”
“We have two children,” Cara said. “I wanted to be prepared for any emergency.” She held out the assessment wand.
Naova took it hesitantly as Cara pulled a small datapad from the kit. “I’m half Rattataki and half human.”
“The wand should catch that,” Cara said as Bo-Katan entered.
“Naova?” Bo-Katan sat down beside her. “You’re ill? You should’ve said.”
“I feel fine,” Naova protested. “The baby thinks I’m sick.”
“The Force baby thinks you’re sick?” Bo-Katan repeated and looked at Dral, then she focused on Cara, who was staring silently at the pad. “What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s been poisoned,” Cara said. “It won’t outright kill her because of her Rattataki genetics, but it’ll cause her to bleed uncontrollably during childbirth. She probably won’t survive long enough to birth to the child. There’s no cure, and it’ll take a year or more for the amount in her body to breakdown.” She glanced toward Dral. “At least, there’s no medical cure.”
“What’s the poison?” Din questioned.
“It’s diluted amphistaff venom,” Cara murmured and set aside the pad. “The baby you’re carrying—is it my husband’s?”
“No,” Naova said firmly. “How’d you know we were…”
“His voice gives him away,” Cara said. “Get’s all soft and low when he’s around someone he cares about. You clearly qualify as that, so I had to ask. He likes to make people feel better with his dick.”
Din huffed. “Cara.”
Naova laughed a little and removed her helmet. Din blinked in surprise because he’d never seen her take it off and assumed she was as orthodox as he used to be. She put the helmet on the table with trembling hands. “I had the baby implanted—he’s lab-created because the other parent is also female.”
Bo-Katan took off her helmet and reached out to clutch at Naova’s hand with tears on her face. “Can you tell how long the poison has been in her body?”
“Just under 48 hours, so it happened on Ossus. Considering what was used, it was planned. It’s no secret that our daughter has an amphistaff. What isn’t well-known is that the creature is immature and basically sterile as a result. It’ll never reach adulthood, and we don’t think it’ll ever have venom sacs. If he does, it might not be for years.” Cara took a deep breath. “Does anyone know the baby is yours, Bo-Katan?”
“No, but we’ve made no secret of being lovers,” Bo-Katan admitted. “I…” She brushed tears from her face. “Who would do this?”
“Someone who doesn’t want her in the way,” Din said shortly. “It’s not about me—no one would care if I had a biological child.”
“But they might have tried to set you up as a jealous lover,” Cara pointed out. “No one on the escort ships knew we were married, and I’d care if you had a biological child you didn’t tell me about, asshole.”
“I don’t,” Din assured her. “I keep my implant up to date.”
“Hey, Buir! Wila and I found a little bot just like her, but he’s in pieces in a crate.” Rey bounced in. “Can we put it back together and activate it?”
“Absolutely not,” Din said. “There’s no telling what it’s been programmed to do and who it belongs to.”
Rey sighed. “He’s little though—I mean, even if he’s evil, how much damage could he actually do?”
Naova laughed. “I’ll take him if you don’t want to sell him. I can make sure he isn’t evil without erasing his memory unless his programming is corrupt. I could program him to be a nanny droid.” She touched her stomach. “If…Bo will need help taking care of the baby after I’m gone.”
“You’re not going to…” Bo-Katan took a deep breath.
Cara removed her helmet and set it aside. “Dral has successfully cured someone who was poisoned before with the Force.”
“He’s eager to do it,” Din said. “But it’ll exhaust him—the more Force he has to use, the longer he’ll sleep.”
“Will it hurt him? Make him sick?” Naova asked. “Because…”
“No,” Din said. “No matter how fond I am of you, Naova, I would not allow my son to hurt himself healing you.” He activated his radio. “IG, finish the clean-up as quickly as possible.” He waited until the droid confirmed the order then took off his helmet. He set it aside as Cara shifted the table out of the way.
“How old are you?” Naova demanded.
Din focused on her face. “What?”
“You look…I thought were you much older,” she said and shared a look with Bo-Katan that made Din feel like a child. “You’re practically a boy.”
“I’m 36,” he protested.
Her gaze narrowed on him. “Which means you were 25 the year we met. I’m going to hell,” she muttered and turned Bo-Katan. “I’m literally going to hell.”
“You don’t believe in hell,” Bo-Katan said in amusement.
“How old are you?” Din questioned. “Because I thought we were close to the same age.”
“I’m 71,” Naova said hotly, and Bo-Katan laughed. “My mother lived to be 348.”
Din took off Dral’s boots, and Cara gently removed the baby’s hood. “Bo-Katan, I’ll need to sit with her.”
Bo-Katan nodded and stood though Din could tell she was very reluctant to release Naova’s hand.
Naova nodded. “It’s…fine.” She frowned. “Din, he’s so small. Are you sure…”
“He lifted a mudhorn off the ground with the Force,” Din explained. “And held it there for nearly 30 seconds—long enough for me to get into a better position to defend myself. You’ve seen the video of the incident on Coruscant. That was all him—Rey didn’t know enough about the Force to help him.”
Din took a seat beside Naova, and Dral reached out to take Naova’s hand. The baby pulled gently and then held the back of her hand to his whole body and wrapped his arms around it. A small hand joined Din’s where it rested against Dral’s back, and he glanced briefly at Rey, who’d removed her hood.
“It’s fine,” Din said. “He has very good instincts for healing.”
“I know,” Rey murmured with dark eyes. “I’ve watched him do it.” Her breath hitched. “On Coruscant—he made you breathe again after you stopped.” She paused. “Twice. You stopped breathing twice, but Dral didn’t let you go because he’s strong in the way that matters most.”
“The Force?” Bo-Katan questioned.
“No,” Rey said and focused on Dral as his hands trembled against Naova’s. “His heart. It’s love that guides us best. The Force is just a tool, really, that can be used for good or bad.”
“The Force can be defeated,” Din murmured as he rubbed Dral’s back. “But love bows to no one and nothing.” He wet his lips. “How was this poison created, Cara?”
“Amphistaff venom heavily diluted with bacta creates a solution used to prevent blood clotting,” Cara explained. “In small amounts, it has a specific medical purpose, but the dosage she received would’ve killed her outright if she were entirely human. It was probably purchased in Mos Espa.”
Din nodded and shared a glance with Bo-Katan, who looked worried and furious. “A major injury would’ve killed her, too.”
“A minor injury could’ve killed her in the right circumstances,” Cara said. “But holding out until the birth of the child would’ve made it easier to cover up. Women die in childbirth far more often than most people think—no matter the species. It was given to her when we were on Ossus, so you’d get the blame if it were found.”
“Or you,” Bo-Katan said. “The person who did it doesn’t know enough about either of you to see how that wouldn’t have worked. Djarin never made a habit of getting attached to anyone…” She glanced toward Rey. “At least until you, Cara, and you’d throw a punch if you were concerned about their previous relationship. Him first.”
“Definitely me first,” Din agreed as Dral released Naova with a soft sigh and slumped against his chest. He shifted the baby around and took a deep breath against his skin.
“Is he okay?” Naova demanded.
“Fine,” Din assured. “Just tired.”
“Let me,” Cara said and gently took Dral from his hands. “I’ll put him in his pram. He’ll rest better there.”
“Buir did like to get messages from pretty girls when he traveled alone even if he didn’t get attached,” Rey said. “He doesn’t get them now that he’s married. I guess. I don’t know. I should probably check.”
“Don’t worry, Rey,” Cara said with an amused grin. “I keep your buir in line. Why don’t you go check on Aja and Ero?”
Rey picked up her hood, goggles, and gloves. “Can I at least look at the potentially evil droid?”
“No,” Din told her sternly.
Rey sighed as she looped her goggles over the top of her head then pulled on her gloves. “Fine. I’ll tell Aja that it can go with the rations. If someone poisoned Ms. Naova to get her out of the way, then you should probably talk about Tal Aydi’s hard-on for Ms. Bo-Katan, right?”
Din flushed and took a deep breath. “Right. Please go pick on Aja and Ero. Ask them as many questions as you’d like—make them cry. I don’t care.”
Rey laughed and trotted off.
Cara returned and prodded the pram into place next to Din. “What?”
“Rey said hard-on,” Din muttered. “Can we give her a list of words she can’t say?”
“You taught her to curse like a Mandalorian within 24 hours of meeting her,” Cara said. “I was under the impression that words were words and that lewdness is more about one’s actions than one’s words.”
“True,” Bo-Katan said. “But what did she mean about Tal?”
Din shot her look. “How old are you?”
“I’ll be 59 in a few months,” Bo-Katan admitted. “What’s that go to do with anything?”
“You’re a little old to not know what a hard-on is,” Cara said dryly and grinned when Din laughed.
“I know what an erection is!” Bo-Katan exclaimed with flushed cheeks.
“She’s never had a single use for one,” Naova said. “And that’s no secret, at all. Everyone in House Kryze knows that she’s not attracted to men. Though at one time, a lot of people believed she was in love with Pre Vizsla.”
“I loved him, but it wasn’t romantic,” Bo-Katan said and ran a hand through her hair. “He’s…Tal knows that I’d never been interested in any sort of relationship with him.”
Cara picked up the assessment wand and handed it to Naova. “Well, plenty of men don’t care at all what a woman might want. He probably has a whole speech prepared—to comfort you regarding your loss and offering to help you raise your lover’s child in the way. It’ll be a sacrifice for you both, of course, but he’ll be there for you. I wonder how he’ll react when he finds out the child is half yours.”
Bo-Katan’s jaw tightened. “The last man that tried to tell me what I wanted spent a week shitting his own teeth.” She turned to Naova. “I didn’t know about your sexual excursions with the Mand’alor. Would Tal?”
“You don’t gossip, and you don’t listen to gossip,” Naova shrugged. “And yeah, he definitely knows. He suggested I seduce Din and steal the darksaber back for you. Which was a ridiculous plan—Din doesn’t even let his guard down when he sleeps. Plus, the hunter droid. Even if he weren’t married, it would’ve been a seriously dumb plan.”
Cara took the wand and shot Din a look that made him want to defend himself, but he didn’t know what from.
“Results?” Naova questioned.
“The poison is gone,” Cara murmured. “I don’t advise you to let it be known it was discovered or cured. He might do worse to accomplish his goals.”
“I’m going to kill him,” Bo-Katan snapped. “He won’t have a fucking chance to do worse.”
“Be certain first,” Din advised. “You don’t want to get it wrong and leave an enemy hiding in your own house. I don’t like Tal—something about him puts me on edge, and that’s certainly coloring my judgment of the situation.”
“Something Force related?” Bo-Katan questioned.
“I can’t say for certain. If it is, it’s subtle, and honestly, that hasn’t been my experience with the Force. Maybe it’s just good old-fashioned gut instinct.”
“Did you have a similar reaction to Hab Wren?” Cara questioned.
“Hab was a selfish annoying little bastard,” Din muttered. “I’ve hated him since he punched my buir in the face, but the feeling isn’t the same. I don’t trust Tal Aydi with my back, and he’s not given me a single reason for it.”
“Then I can no longer trust him with mine,” Bo-Katan said. “No matter if he’s guilty of this crime or not. Clan Aydi has been at my side since I accepted the darksaber from Sabine’s hand, but there are powers greater than I moving around you, and we need to pay attention to them. Ignoring the will of the Force cost my sister her life, and it led us to this place and time. Perhaps that could be said of everyone—how long can this galaxy ignore a power that is weaved into the fabric of our existence without paying for it?”
Din didn’t have a specific number, but he felt like he’d been precariously close to that day in the previous timeline. Maybe so close that the Force had no choice but to let Qui-Gon Jinn do whatever the hell he wanted.
“You’ll want to monitor all of your food and drink,” Cara said. “Test everything you have on board to see if you can locate the source. Check your soaps, lotions, your weapons. It could be absorbed through touch. It’ll be odorless and tasteless, so you won’t find it without a scanner. Locating the delivery method will help figure out who, hopefully. It’ll be something personal since no one less has gotten sick and died on your ship.” She paused. “Right?”
“Right,” Naova said. “No one has had much as a cold since we left Tatooine.”
Cara held the wand out to Bo-Katan.
The older woman frowned. “You said it would kill a human.”
“In the dosage she had in her body, yes,” Cara said. “But it might have been in her body fluids.”
“Oh.” Bo-Katan took the wand. “You said it has a legitimate medical use?”
“Certain injuries can cause your body to throw a blood clot which can cause problems with the heart, brain, and lungs,” Cara murmured as she stared at the datapad. “In minute quantities, this drug prevents those problems. It takes about four days to leave the body outside of an overdose situation. You’ve got a trace amount.” She raised an eyebrow.
Bo-Katan nodded. “It’s been about that long since we’ve had sex. How long will it stay in my body?”
“Another ten hours or so,” Cara said and took the wand. “I’ll do some more reading on this as we travel and send you all the results for your own review. I imagine accusing a member of your house of attempted murder is a big deal.” She paused. “It’ll be two counts, really, as there is no guarantee the baby would’ve survived the birth, and he would’ve certainly died with her if she’d taken an injury before she entered the final phase of development. He’s not currently viable outside the womb.”
Naova took a deep breath. “Tal suggested I lead our hunters for the bantha kill. He made a joke about me needing a little sun since I was as pale as paper. I declined—I haven’t been on a speeder since the end of my first trimester and certainly wouldn’t consider this close to my fourth.”
Cara made a face and closed the kit. “I wouldn’t allow him anywhere near you until this is figured out.”
Naova nodded her agreement and took a deep breath. “This…is just not the way.”
“No, it’s not,” Din agreed. “We’re desperate for connections and have been since the Purge. It’s why so many have converged on Tatooine. We see ourselves in every single Mandalorian we come across and make assumptions regarding their motivations and honor based on that. You’re loyal, Naova, and you expect it from the rest of us.” He cleared his throat. “I’m going to suggest something neither of you are going to like, but I’d like to preface it by saying that it’s more about the child you carry than my opinions regarding your skills as a warrior.”
She sent him a sour look. “You’re going to send me to Tatooine.”
“I won’t order it,” Din said mildly. “But it would give Bo-Katan room to maneuver without having to worry about someone stabbing you in the back. We’ve made some wild assumptions about Tal, but we can’t guarantee he’s the actual problem. Maybe he’s just an arrogant bastard, and if that’s the case, then there is an absolute unknown enemy on your ship or on Bo-Katan’s.”
Naova nodded. “Your plan?”
“You leave—immediately on Fett’s ship. I’ll send a message to the Armorer letting her know that you’re coming. There will be some speculation—but we can’t control that considering how many people know you’re on this ship right now.”
“Most will assume you’re carrying his child, and he’s demanded you leave the field for the rest of the pregnancy,” Cara said. “Some might think I’ve insisted you be removed from the mission out of jealousy, and he’s placating me.”
Din laughed when his wife grinned. “Will the speculation bother you?”
Cara shook her head and sent him a look that told him she thought he was an idiot, then focused on Bo-Katan. “Feel free to spread a rumor that Din sent Naova to Tatooine because I’m unspeakably attracted to her, and I worry about controlling myself.”
Bo-Katan grinned. “Too bad Alderaanians don’t believe in open marriages—you’d be very welcome in our bed.” Naova hummed her agreement.
Din stood. “I’ll just go do a systems check on Fett’s ship.”
Cara sent him an amused look. “You do that little thing and leave me all alone with these two gorgeous women.”
He laughed and picked up his helmet. “If I thought you would take them up on that offer—I’d ask for a holovid.”
Outside, he snagged enough rations for a month, and the disassembled droid so it all could be placed on Fett’s ship. Wila had already put the stolen part back into place, but he asked her to help give the ship an inspection and make sure it was flight-ready. He knew that Naova could handle the ship—it wasn’t much different when it came to piloting than the ship being used by her clan.
“Not keeping it then?” Aja questioned.
“No, someone poisoned Naova Rook, and she’s carrying Bo-Katan’s child,” Din said and glanced toward Aja as the younger man helped him secure the cargo in the small hold of Fett’s ship. “Dral healed her, but…it’s just not a risk worth taking.”
“Child abuse of any sort is one of the few crimes my buir considers to be worthy of execution,” Aja said roughly. “What are the laws of Mandalore say regarding that?”
“Rape, child murder, physical abuse of a child, and kidnapping are all capital offenses on Mandalore,” Din said. “I know plenty of people think we’re prone to kidnapping ourselves, but they don’t understand the rules around the taking in of a foundling.”
Aja huffed. “Last year, buir spent over a thousand credits reuniting a woman with her child who’d been taken and brought to Tatooine as a slave. We found her in the streets after she ran away. It would’ve been easier to just take her in, but that’s not our way.”
“No, it’s not,” Din agreed. “Security system checks out—I’ll need Cara’s pad to slice it and change the codes. His systems are ridiculously out of date.”
“He probably hasn’t updated it since it belonged to his…father,” Aja said. “He banked on his reputation—for good and bad.”
Din nodded his agreement as Wila wiggled out of the vent she’d used to access the ship’s reactor. “How’d that go?”
Wila shrugged and beeped like she wasn’t impressed.
“Is it safe for a trip back to Tatooine?” Din questioned and relaxed when she nodded. “Go ask Cara for her slicer datapad so we can reset the security, please. And ask her if she has something we can use to change the ident-code on this thing. Fett has enemies, and I don’t want anyone to get confused about who owns this ship going forward.”