The tall gates swung open and suddenly Galen was standing along- side the carriage, bracketed by two prison guards, looking much thinner than she allowed herself to admit and wearing a beard as long as a bib. The guards, however, made no effort to restrain him when he shuffled to her, embracing her and Jyn for a long moment.
“I’ve dreamed of this moment,” he said, stepping back to take them in. His eyes went to Jyn. “Let me hold her.”
Lyra passed Jyn to him. Carefully he peeled away the swaddling that masked her face and smiled more broadly than Lyra had ever seen him smile. Jyn stirred in his arms, and Lyra said: “She remembers you, Galen.”
“She’s beautiful,” he said, inspecting her face. “Her eyes have changed color.”
Lyra nodded. “They’re sort of flecked.”
“Stardust,” Galen said. “That’s what’s in her eyes.”
“Galen, what’s happening?” Lyra risked asking. “Why have we been brought here. They’re not going to—”
“I haven’t been told anything. They took me out of my cell before dawn.”
“The same with us. I’m worried.”
“Don’t be.” He showed her his grimy hands. “See? No restraints. And no one has brandished a weapon at me all morning.”
Lyra didn’t find much relief in it. “Could they be sending us somewhere else? Is there a worse prison?”
Before he could reply, one of the guards ordered Galen up into the carriage.
He did as instructed, and the drivers snapped their whips over the heads of the lead taqwas, which set off at a brisk pace. The carriage’s wooden wheels bounded over bumps and ruts, and Lyra inadvertently bit down on her tongue. When Tambolor had disappeared from view, Galen raised himself up on the bench seat to take a look around.
“We’re heading for the spaceport.”
Lyra’s eyes widened. “You don’t think—”
“I don’t want to jinx anything by thinking.”
Lyra held her breath as the circular landing zone came into view below them, only to have her hopes dashed. Fifty or more Separatist battle droids stood in formation at the edge of the field, commanded by a male Koorivar sporting a tall cranial horn and a richly cloaked uniform. The lackluster drop ship that had delivered them sat off to one side.
Galen looked stricken. “I guess Phara changed her mind about handing me over to Count Dooku.”
Lyra fought back tears. From one prison to another. Would the Separatists use her and Jyn to coerce and ultimately break Galen, forcing him to join the war?
Opposite the battle droids were several taqwa riders, including Chieftain Gruppe, dressed in her signature brown uniform and wearing an earflapped cap tugged down over her braided hair. When the carriage had drawn to a halt and Galen and Lyra had climbed down, Gruppe dismounted and approached.
“I’m almost sorry to see you go,” she told them.
“Not as sorry as I am,” Galen said with a mix of anger and disappointment. “What happened to the charges being overturned and our being allowed to leave?”
Gruppe grinned. “You misunderstand, my friend.”
As if on cue, a starship appeared high overhead and began a very controlled descent toward the landing zone. Trained to take down surveillance drones and small craft, a dozen sky-kings followed it down.
The Koorivar uttered a barely audible command and the battle droids brought their rifles to port arms.
Galen squinted at the emblem emblazoned on the light freighter’s underbelly. “Zerpen!”
Lyra put the edge of her hand to her brow and followed his gaze. “Since when does Zerpen fly anything that ragged?”
Galen ignored the question. “I knew they wouldn’t forget us.”
Lyra gave her head a shake, as if to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. She hugged Jyn closer as the Zerpen vessel settled on its trio of landing gear, blasting everyone with grit. The boarding ramp lowered and a sole figure in a white environment suit similarly emblazoned with the company logo descended to the pad. Lyra felt her jaw drop, and when she turned to Galen she saw that he, too, was agape.
“Orson Krennic?” she whispered.
He nodded, seemingly incapable of speaking or looking away.
“We need to play this by ear,” Galen managed.
The Koorivar commander and Chieftain Gruppe met Krennic halfway, and the three of them stood regarding one another for a long moment.
Krennic looked around with purpose before speaking. “Which of you is in charge?”
Gruppe answered him in Basic. “Marshal Phara has granted me authority to settle this matter.”
“And you?” Krennic said to the Koorivar.
“I’m here to make certain you honor the terms of the exchange.”
Krennic sniffed with clear purpose and took a few steps back toward the boarding ramp. “Please deboard our guests,” he called up into the ship.
Lyra watched closely as a muscular human appeared, similarly attired in Zerpen garb, followed by a pair of distressed-looking four-armed humanoids wearing elaborate breath masks and envirosuits, and a Dressellian whose big eyes darted every which way while he and the human escorted the humanoids to where Gruppe and the Koorivar were standing.
The Separatist commander appraised the humanoids. “Identify yourselves.”
“I am Dr. Nan Pakota,” the taller of the masked aliens said. “This is my colleague, Urshe Torr.”
Gruppe turned to Krennic. “I need further confirmation.”
Krennic opened his jacket and pulled out a datapad, calling Gruppe’s attention to something on the display screen. “Satisfied?”
Gruppe nodded and the Koorivar followed suit.
Krennic handed the datapad to the chieftain. “Yours to keep.”
Gruppe dropped the datapad into one of her coat pockets and motioned to where Galen and Lyra were standing. “I don’t suppose there’s any need to introduce you.”
Krennic grinned and sauntered over to them. Reaching for Galen’s hand, he said: “Dr. Erso, I’m so relieved to find you in good health.” He turned to Lyra while he was still pumping Galen’s hand. “And Mrs. Erso, and—oh, my, is this the child?”
Lyra had her mouth open to respond but nothing emerged.
“May I have a peek?”
She removed the wrappings that covered Jyn’s face.
“Precious! She looks just like you!”
Businesslike once more, Krennic returned to Gruppe and the Koorivar. “Speaking for Zerpen Industries, I must say that this has been a regrettable incident—as was the Republic’s abduction of two Separatist researchers. But we are glad to have been in a position to broker their release, as well as that of Dr. Erso and his family, who should never have been subjected to so much as harsh words, let alone imprisonment.”
Gruppe shrugged. “War gives rise to all manner of irascible behavior.” She glanced at Galen. “Personally I can add that it has been a privilege getting to know Galen Erso, and I hope that he and Lyra will find it in their hearts to forgive our inhospitality.”
“I’m working on it,” Galen said.
“Remember that Jyn is a Valltii citizen,” Gruppe said.
Krennic’s eyes narrowed in distaste, and he swung to the Dressellian. “Ready the ship, Captain. The sooner we’re off this wretched world, the better.” Glancing at Galen, he gestured offhandedly to the boarding ramp. “Dr. Erso, if you and your wife would be so kind as to hurry aboard.”
“I hope that your journeys are fruitful,” Chieftain Gruppe called out as Galen and Lyra were climbing into the ship.
Once inside, Krennic whirled Galen into an embrace. “How wonderful to see you after all this time!”
“Orson, I don’t under—”
“Not now,” Krennic interrupted, stepping back but continuing to grip Galen’s biceps. “I’ll explain everything in due course, but right now there are more important matters to attend to.”
Everyone moved into the main cabin, where three other humans with close-cropped hair were seated at various duty stations. All eyes were on them as Galen and Lyra strapped into one of the acceleration couches. Lyra cradled Jyn close.
“Contact Commander Prakas as soon as we lift off,” Krennic told the comm tech as he was strapping in. “Tell him to give us just enough time to get up the well.”
The freighter lifted off and rocketed into Vallt’s pale sky. Galen turned his attention to the cabin’s starboard-side viewport as stars began to reveal themselves.
“Brace yourselves for evasive action,” Krennic warned.
Galen twisted slightly in the direction of the viewport. A sudden shift in the starfield was followed by a brief glimpse of a Separatist warship bristling with weapons; then the darkening sky came alive with crisscrossing hyphens of laserfire.
“Ha! So much for honoring the terms of the exchange!” Krennic shouted.
Lyra pressed Jyn more tightly to her chest as the freighter was jolted by fire. A flash of nova-bright light filled the viewport and the freighter rolled over onto its port side, its belly peppered with debris.
“Hold tight!” Krennic shouted above the sound of Jyn’s crying. “There may be other enemy ships in the area.”
Clamping his arm around Lyra’s shoulder, Galen cut his eyes to the viewport once more and glimpsed a dagger-shaped Republic cruiser appearing out of hyperspace. Simultaneously, a voice issued from a comm station speaker.
“Lieutenant Commander, we’re in position.”
Krennic swiveled toward the console. “Right on schedule, Prakas! There were droids and a Settie
-class drop ship on the surface, though it might be in the air by now. When you’re done with them, target the Keep.”
“Orson, no!” Lyra said in an anguished voice. “It’s done. It’s over with!”
“Not quite,” Krennic said without looking at her. His gaze favored Galen. “A strike will give the pro-Republic legions an opportunity to reclaim power. What’s more, we promised Zerpen that they’d get their ignition facility back.”
“They’re harmless, Orson,” Galen said, “Separatists or no.”
Krennic’s look was patronizing. “Perhaps. But we’re at war, and they’re on the wrong side.”
Copyright © 2016 by Lucasfilm Ltd.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.