Read an Excerpt
“We have to turn around,” Norra says. “Plot another course—”
“Whoa, whoa, no,” Owerto says, half laughing. He looks up at her—one half of his dark face burned underneath a mottled carpet of scars, scars he claims to have earned with a different story each time he tells it: lava, wampa, blaster fire, got blitzed on Corellian rum and fell down on a hot camping stove. “Miss Susser—”
“Now that I’m home, I’m going by my married name again. Wexley.”
“Norra. You paid me to get you onto the surface of that planet.” He points out the window. There: home. Or was, once. The planet Akiva. Clouds swirling in lazy spirals over the jungles and mountains. Above it: Two Star Destroyers hang there like swords above the surface. “More important, you ain’t the only cargo I’m bringing in. I’m finishing this job.”
“They told us to turn around. This is a blockade—”
“And smugglers like me are very good at getting around those.”
“We need to get back to the Alliance—” She corrects herself. That’s old thinking. “The New Republic. They need to know.”
A third Star Destroyer suddenly cuts through space, appearing in line with the others.
“You got family down there?”
She offers a stiff nod. “That’s why I’m here.” That’s why I’m home.
“This was always a risk. The Empire’s been here on Akiva for years. Not like this, but . . . they’re here, and we’re gonna have to deal with it.” He leans in and says: “You know why I call this ship the Moth?”
“You ever try to catch a moth? Cup your hands, chase after it, catch it? White moth, brown moth, any moth at all? You can’t do it. They always get away. Herky-jerky up-and-down left-and-right. Like a puppet dancing on somebody’s strings. That’s me. That’s this ship.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“I don’t like it, either, but life is full of unlikable things. You wanna see your family again? Then we’re doing this. Now’s the time, too. Looks like they’re just getting set up. Might could be more on the way.”
A half-mad gleam in his one good eye. His other: an implacable red lens framed in an ill-fitting O-ring bolted to the scarred skin. He grins, then: crooked teeth stretched wide. He actually likes this.
Smugglers, she thinks.
Well, she paid for the ticket. Time to take the ride.
The long black table gleams with light shining up from it—a holo-graphic schematic of the Vigilance’s docking bay and surrounding environs. It incorporates a fresh droid scan and shows damage to two of the TIE fighters, not to mention the bodies of the stormtroopers— those left there as a reminder to others what can happen when you tussle with rebels.
The pilot of the Starhopper? Most definitely a rebel. Now the question: Was this an attack? Did he know they were here? Or is this some confluence of events, some crass coincidence that led to this intersection?
That, a problem for later. The problem now is figuring out just where he went. Because as she thought, the ship contained no body.
Best she can figure, he rigged the proton torpedoes to blow. Before they did, however, he . . . what? She taps a button, goes back to the Starhopper schematic she pulled off the Imperial databases. There. A stern-side door. Small, but enough to load small parcels of cargo in and out.
Her new pilot friend ducked out the back. Would’ve been a considerable jump. Jedi? No. Couldn’t be. Only one of those out there—and zero chance the rebels would send their golden boy, Skywalker.
Back to the bay schematic—
She spins it. Highlights the access ducts.
That’s it. She pulls her comm. “Tothwin. Our pilot is in the ducts. I’ll bet all my credits you’ll find an open vent—”
“We have a problem.”
The problem is that you interrupted me, she thinks but does not say. “What is it?”
“We have a blockade-runner.”
“Could be. Looks like a bog-standard smuggler, though. Flying a small Corellian freighter—an, ahh, let’s see, an MK-4.”
“Dispatch the TIEs. Let them deal with it.”
“Of course, Admiral.”
Everything feels like it’s in slow motion. Norra sits, frozen in the navigator’s chair next to Owerto Naiucho, the scar-faced smuggler—flashes of light on his face, green light from the incoming lasers, orange light blooming from a TIE fighter meeting its untimely end. Outside, ahead of them, a swarm of TIEs like a cloud of insects—the horrible scream as they pass, vibrating the chair beneath her and the console gripped in her white-knuckled hands. In the moments when she blinks, she doesn’t see darkness. She sees another battle unfolding—
“It’s a trap!” comes Ackbar’s voice over the comm. The dread feeling as Imperial TIEs descend upon them like redjacket wasps from a rock- struck nest. The dark of space lighting up with a crackling beam of viridian light—that coming from the half-constructed Death Star, just one more shovelful of dirt on the Alliance’s grave as one of their own capital ships is gone, erased in a pulse of light, lightning, and fire—
The freighter dives toward the planet’s surface. Turning like a screw. The ship shuddering as laserfire scores its side. The shields won’t hold forever. Owerto’s yelling at her: “You need to handle the guns! Norra! The guns.” But she can’t get up out of that chair. Her bloodless hands won’t even leave the console. Her mouth is dry. Her underarms wet. Her heart is beating like a pulsar star before it goes dark.
“We want you to fly with us,” Captain Antilles says. She objects, of course—she’s been working for the rebels for years now, since before the destruction of the first Death Star, but as a freighter pilot. Carrying message droids, or smuggling weapons, or just shuttling people from planet to planet and base to base. “And that doesn’t change the kind of pilot you are,” he says. “You outran a Star Destroyer. You forced two TIE interceptors to crash into each other. You’ve always been a great pilot. And we need you now for when General Solo gets those shield generators down.” He asks her again: Is she in? Will she fly with the red and the gold? Yes. She says yes. Because of course she does—how could she say otherwise?
Everything, gone dizzy. Lights inside the cabin flashing. A rain of sparks from somewhere behind their chairs. Here in the Moth, everything feels balanced on the head of a pin. Through the glass, the planet. The clouds, coming closer. TIE fighters punching holes through them, vapor swirling behind them. She stands up, hands shaking.
Inside the bowels of the beast. Pipes and hissing steam. Skeletal beams and bundles of cord and conduit. The guts of the resurrected Death Star. The shields are down. This is their one chance. But the TIE fighters are everywhere. Coming up behind them, hawks nipping at their tail feathers. She knows where this goes: It means she’s going to die. But that’s how things get done. Gold Leader comms in—Lando’s voice in her ear, and his Sullustan copilot’s just behind it. They tell her what to do. And again she thinks: This is it, this is how I die. She accelerates her fighter. The heat signature of the core goes left. She pulls her Y-wing right—and a handful of the TIEs break off and follow her deeper. Away from the Millennium Falcon. Away from the X-wings. Laserfire frying her engines. Popping the top off her astromech. Smoke filling the cabin. The smell of ozone—
“I’m not a gunner,” she says. “I’m a pilot.”
Then she pulls Owerto out of his pilot’s chair. He protests, but she gives him a look—a look she’s practiced, a look where her face hardens like cooling steel, the look of a raptor before it takes your eyes. The smuggler gives a barely perceptible nod, and it’s good that he does. Because as soon as she’s down in the chair and grabbing the stick and throttle, she sees a pair of TIE fighters coming up fast from the front—
Her teeth clamp down so hard she thinks her jaw might break. Lasers like demon fire score the sky ahead, coming right for them.
She pulls back on the stick. The Moth ceases its dive toward the planet’s surface—the lasers just miss, passing under the hind end of the freighter, continuing on—
They take out two of the TIE fighters that had been following close behind. And even as she continues hauling back on the stick, her stomach and heart trading places, the blood roaring in her ears, she loopty-loops the ship just in time to see the remaining two TIEs clip each other. Vertical wing panels smashing together, prying apart— each of the short-range Imperial fighters suddenly spinning away, pirouetting wildly through space like a pair of Republic Day firecracker pinwheels.
“We got more incoming!” Owerto hollers from somewhere behind her—and then she hears the gears of the Moth’s twin cannons grinding as the turret spins into place and begins barking fire.
Clouds whip past.
The ship bangs and judders as it kicks a hole in the atmosphere.
This is my home, she thinks. Or was. She grew up on Akiva. More important, Norra then was like Norra now: She doesn’t much care for people. She went off on her own a lot. Explored the wilds outside the capital city of Myrra—the old temples, the cave systems, the rivers, the canyons.
She knows those places. Every switchback, every bend, every nook and cranny. Again she thinks, This is my home, and with that mantra set to repeat, she stills her shaking hands and banks hard to starboard, corkscrewing the ship as laserfire blasts past.
The planet’s surface comes up fast. Too fast, but she tells herself that she knows what she’s doing. Down there, the rise of lush hills and slick-faced cliffs give way to the Canyon of Akar—a winding serpentine valley, and it’s there she takes the Moth. Into the rain-forested channel. Drizzle speckling her view, streaking away. The wings of the freighter clip branches, tearing up a flurry of leaves as she jukes left and jerks right, making the Moth one helluva hard target to hit.
Laserfire sears the canopy ahead.
Then: a bank of fog.
She pushes down on the stick, takes the freighter even lower. Here, the canyon is tighter. Trees stretching out like selfish hands, thrust up from rocky outcroppings. Norra deliberately clips these—again on the left, then on the right. The Moth’s turrets belt out cannon fire and suddenly a TIE comes tumbling end-over-end like a flung boulder— she has to bank the ship hard to dodge it. It smashes into a tree. A belching fireball.
The freighter shudders.
More sparks. The cabin goes dark. Owerto: “We’ve lost the turrets!”
Norra thinks: We don’t need them.
Because she knows what’s coming. One of the oldest temple complexes—abandoned, an artifact of architecture from a time long, long ago, when the Ahia-Ko people dwelled here still. But before that: a cascading waterfall, a silver churn of water leaping over a cliff ’s edge. A cliff they call the Witch’s Finger for the way it looks like a bent and accusing digit. There’s a space underneath that bridge of stone, a narrow channel. Too narrow, she thinks. But maybe not. Especially not with the turret gone. Too late to do differently now—
She turns the freighter to its side—
Ahead, the gap under the rock. Waterfall on one side. Jagged cliff face on the other. Norra stills her breathing. Opens her eyes wide.
That mantra comes one last time, spoken aloud:
“This is my home.”
The freighter passes through the channel.
It shakes like an old drunk—what’s left of the turret shears off. Clangs away, spinning into the waterfall spray—
But they’re out. Clean. Alive.
On the console, two blinking red blips.
TIE fighters. Behind them.
Wait for it.
Wait . . . for it . . .
The air claps with a pair of explosions.
The two blips flicker and are gone.
Owerto hoots and claps his hands. “We’re clear!”
Damn right we are.
She turns the freighter and sets a course for the outskirts of Myrra.