"A member of my family unwittingly hastened the destruction of the Republic. I do not intend to make a similar mistake. I would prefer that we maintain at least the pretence of legitimacy. I will continue to oppose the dissolution of the Imperial Senate, and if necessary, I will do so alone."
- Senator Pooja Naberrie, "Transcripts of Imperial Senate Session 914-62A" (classified)

"It's hard work, you know. Being the hero."
- Jonos Rell, I Am Captain Fantastik: The Extraordinary Man Behind the Groundbreaking Holodrama, Imperial Board of Culture

The Circle
Chapter Seven

Whatever Hal might have thought about Sasha Darklighter, he couldn't fault her work ethic. He'd been ready to leave the girl in the cockpit, but she'd insisted on following him around and had eventually convinced him to let her do some minor repairs herself - mostly by means of looking over his shoulder and rattling off different ways to fry various vital components.

"I live right by the Dune Sea," she said when he finally caved and pointed her towards a different part of the ship. "As if I don't know what a hydrospanner is."

Hal fought the urge to roll his eyes at her. "Like Ben?"

Sasha just laughed and disappeared down the corridor. Her answer was obvious. When it came to machines, no one was quite like Ben.

The problem was that Hal was starting to think she was right. Ben was tackling the Icarus's engines with the confidence and expertise of a trained engineer - and now that he was in his element, the previously quiet settler boy was suddenly a lot more willing to make demands. Melody had been sent off an errand to buy much-needed supplies, Sasha and Hal and Artoo had all been sent scurrying to different parts of the freighter while Ben rattled off detailed instructions over a comlink, and even Han had been politely ordered to tinker with the power settings a few times. He knew exactly what he was doing, even though he was working with a freighter that dated back to the Clone Wars and had been more or less obsolete long before he was born.

If that wasn't the Force at work, Hal didn't know what was.

He stopped trying to fix the atmospheric seals around the emergency hatch and frowned up at the Icarus's unlikely passenger, who was animatedly explaining something to bubbly Miri Iessos. By all appearances Ben was oblivious to the way Miri seemed a half-second away from latching onto him and announcing their wedding date, which suggested that he was ten kinds of oblivious to his surroundings in general. Yes, there was a lightsaber clipped awkwardly to his belt, but Hal had spent his first few years with Leia Organa's would-be Jedi, and something about the way Ben carried himself told Hal that he had absolutely no idea how to wield that kind of weapon. He was undoubtedly using the Force - no one, no matter how brilliant, could possess his instinctive understanding of machines without it - but he didn't seem to be consciously aware of what he was doing. He certainly wasn't the source of that frighteningly powerful presence Hal had felt on Tatooine.

He was starting to suspect that Ben was exactly what he appeared to be - an Outer Rim settler from the middle of nowhere who just happened to have a particularly strong connection to the Force and a very unfortunate name. He had no clue what he'd stumbled into the middle of.

Ben finally seemed to notice Hal's gaze. He blinked down at him curiously for a moment, temporarily distracted from whatever miracle he was pulling off with the engines. "Did you need something?"

You're going to get us all killed.

The thought didn't surprise Hal half as much as it should have.

"Just wanted to know how long before we can take off," he said out loud.

Miri was the one who answered, although not before wrinkling her nose in the general direction of the engines. "A couple hours, maybe?"

"It'll go faster if Melody comes back with the right parts," Ben added, "but this ship is a little old, so I don't know how much luck she'll have."

Hal sighed. That hadn't been the answer he wanted to hear. "Just hurry it up. The sooner we get off this rock, the better."

He needn't have bothered. Ben didn't even wait for him to finish his sentence before he went back to work.

On the bright side, the Icarus might actually get a competent mechanic out of this mess. Assuming they survived.

Hal stomped back up the ramp and into the freighter, feeling the Force press down on him like it was determined to suffocate him.

Who was he kidding? He knew what this kind of foreboding meant.

They were all going to die.

"If you do that again," Gavin said through gritted teeth, "I'll kill you."

Padreic grinned at him.

"Slowly. Painfully."

"You're just jealous that I'm a better driver."

Gavin glanced over his shoulder at the Mos Espa inhabitants who had just finished diving for cover. He doubted any of them would agree, just like he doubted that Padreic gave a damn what they - or Gavin - thought of his piloting.

"Oh, yes," he said flatly. "You're fantastic."

The "that" in question had been a turn down a narrow alley that had practically tilted the Darklighter family's landspeeder on its side, followed by a twisting passage through a street bazaar. Gavin was still seeing his fairly eventful life flash before his eyes - and yes, he'd spent a lot of his youth racing through Beggar's Canyon, and maybe he'd wanted to be a fighter pilot before he'd met Olivea, but that was different. That was flying.

This was just insanity.


The odd-jobs-man's smirk wasn't reassuring in the slightest. He took another corner in much the same manner, somehow avoiding a fiery crash with a fuel carrier in the process, and started down the winding streets that would eventually take them out of Mos Espa's old slave quarters and into the most ancient part of the spaceport. Olivea's aunt Liza lived somewhere in that maze, terrorizing her landlord, her neighbors, and random passers-by alike with her own particular brand of paranoia. Aside from necessary visits and the inevitable unpleasant encounter at his wedding, Gavin had tried to avoid her as much as possible.

That wasn't an option anymore. Gavin was an escaped prisoner, and he couldn't endanger his own aunts and uncles and cousins by turning to them for assistance.

Not when Liza already had experience with this sort of thing.

Padreic stopped the landspeeder beside a small, squat shop that sold something unidentifiable in green earthenware jars. A metal staircase bolted precariously to one side of the building led up to the apartment on the top floor, where a sign announced that trespassers would be shot, pushed off the roof, run over with a sandcrawler, and then shot again for good measure.

Gavin paid the warning about as much mind as he always did - which was to say none at all - and banged hard on the door.

A moment later he was nose to barrel with a blaster pistol, but he didn't pay that much mind either. He'd had years to get used to his lone in-law.

"Liza," he said as patiently as he could. "It's me."

There was a disbelieving snort, but the blaster lowered enough to point at his stomach instead of his head. Liza Newsuns resembled her niece enough that it was easy to imagine what Olivea might have looked like in a few decades: blond hair bleached by the suns and slowly going white with age, a weathered and browned face, and confident grip on her weapon. Despite the heat, she was wearing any number of shawls and scarves draped around her bony shoulders. Gavin knew for a fact that there were at least a couple more weapons hidden somewhere in their folds, along with vibroblades and possibly a concussion grenade.

"What're you doing here?" she asked, finally making the blaster disappear somewhere on her person. "No one's shipped you off to Kessel yet?"

"No," Gavin said with what he felt was a superhuman amount of patience, "and I'd like to keep it that way. Can we please come in?"

Liza glanced over his shoulder at Padreic, who smiled and bowed slightly, and then looked back at Gavin with irritation written all over her face. "All right," she muttered, stepping away from the door just enough to let him squeeze inside. "But don't expect me to hide you when the Imps come looking for you."

The interior of Liza's apartment was decorated with more cloth - quilts, spreads, drapes, heavy curtains hung across the one window to block out the sunlight. Every surface was covered with tacky figurines of various Core tourist attractions, mass-produced sculptures of frolicking bantha cubs, and old Clone War propaganda holos of impossibly chubby-cheeked little children and brave-looking soldiers. It was only when one really examined the layout of the single room that other things became apparent. The holoproj on the table, for example, may have been playing a brassy centuries-old Corellian tune, but it was also in good repair and was far more state-of-the-art than anything else Liza owned. The overstuffed furniture had been arranged in such a way as to provide barriers in the event of a siege, and most of the ever-present quilts were made of energy-absorbing fabric. There were no doubt weapons concealed in every nook and cranny. Even the window was just large enough to serve as an escape hatch.

It was, in short, a living space ideally suited to a former member of the Rebellion's intelligence network.

Liza glared at Gavin until he sat and then slammed a tray full of mugs down hard enough to slosh cold bean tea onto the tablecloth. "I could ask you how you got yourself out of Imp custody," she said as she settled herself opposite him, "but I think I can guess."

She was staring right at Padreic as she spoke. The odd-jobs-man simply smiled again and claimed his mug before returning to his corner of the room, where he seemed content to hover like a particularly enigmatic guard.

"I might have helped," he admitted.

"You can't leave well enough alone, more like. As if your help has ever done us any good." Liza grabbed her own mug and frowned at Gavin. "What happened to my niece?"

Gavin grimaced. He wasn't sure he was ready to talk about this. "She wouldn't let the Imps in our house. Blocked the doorway."

"Stubborn girl," Liza muttered. "What about you? Why are you still here?"

He met her eyes levelly. "Because Olivea got to the doorway first."

"And it never occurred to the pair of you to take the landspeeder and go?"

Gavin shook his head. "One of the vaporators wasn't working. Ben took the landspeeder to go fix it."

"Hmph." Liza slurped her tea, shoulders hunched. "Always comes back to that boy, doesn't it."

"Olivea wouldn't have wanted him captured."

"She was too attached to him. You, too. You were both idiots, you know that?" Liza put her cup down and leaned forward like an Imp interrogator, age-spotted hands resting on her knees. "I told you he was just going to bring trouble, but the two of you were so determined. And your sister! I told you not to tell her anything, but no, no one listens to an old woman!"

Gavin clenched his hands into fists. Somehow, he managed to keep most of the anger out of his voice. "She deserved to know."

"Then why wouldn't that stupid girl at least change his name?"

"That stupid girl was my little sister," Gavin said very quietly. "She was Ben's mother, and she decided he was going to keep the name his father gave him. Olivea and I respected her wishes. Please do the same."

Liza stared down at her lap and went uncharacteristically silent. The lines on her face were sharper and more defined than they had been the last time Gavin had seen her and her shoulders were hunched just a little more - from age or grief, he didn't pretend to know.

"What happened to Sasha?" she asked at last.

"She's with Ben," Padreic said mildly.

"And that will keep her safe, will it?"

"The Empire knows her face now. Nothing is going to keep her completely safe."

Liza turned in her seat just enough to look at him. "As if she was ever completely safe before - not with that boy."

Something in Padreic's expression changed ever so slightly. "This isn't Ben's fault."

"No," Liza snapped. "It's yours. All of this is your fault, and nothing you do will ever make up for that."

Padreic went very still. Gavin did too, for different reasons. Like Liza, and like Olivea and Rasca and all the other people privy to this particular secret, he had always been aware of whom the odd-jobs-man used to be, and he had some idea of what he was still capable of. It wasn't that he disagreed with Liza - he just wished she hadn't been quite so blunt.

But Padreic only dropped his gaze to his mug, as if he were looking for the right kind of answer in it. When he raised his head again, there was a faint and completely humorless smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"No," he agreed. "It won't."

"Whatever you're planning to do with that boy," Liza said, voice deceptively soft, "it won't work. You're just going to ruin a lot more lives."

The smile disappeared. Now Padreic just looked lost and much, much older than he ought to, and he gave both Liza and Gavin a look that could almost be described as pleading.

"I need to know I can save someone," he said, and then settled into morose, contemplative silence.

Ben was elbow-deep in assorted circuitry when Miri latched onto his arm and tugged. "Let's go exploring."

He stared at her.

"In the storage bays," she clarified quickly. "Wouldn't this go a little faster if you had the right parts?"

"Um." Ben glanced back down at the engines, which were still unusable even after all the jury-rigging he'd done, and admitted that maybe she had a point. "Doesn't the stuff in the storage bays belong to other people?"

"No one's touched half that stuff since before I was born. I don't think anyone remembers what's back there anymore." Miri sat back on her heels. There was a stubbornness behind her cheerful smile that he was sure he hadn't seen before. She also didn't seem inclined to let go of him.

"Okay," he said reluctantly, "but only for a little bit. If we don't find something right away, we come right back."

"Deal." Miri all but dragged him toward the ladder propped against the engines. "Come on."

Ben followed at a more sedate pace. She really was right - especially since he doubted Melody was going to find any of the parts he needed - but he didn't like leaving Sasha behind, even for a few minutes.

On the other hand, if he didn't get the engines fixed, he'd have much bigger problems to worry about. He thought of the strange message and of what had happened to Aunt Olivea, and those few horrible moments he'd spent hiding under the family landspeeder while the Imps passed overhead.

If there was a chance Miri's spare parts could help - even if it was technically stealing - he had to check.

That didn't change the fact that the docking bay suddenly felt freezing cold.

Melody wasn't finding the supplies Ben had asked her to look for.

Actually, Melody wasn't finding anything.

The handful of stores and stalls that weren't completely abandoned were full of empty shelves and a handful of skittish, wary employees and customers. Almost everyone she saw ducked out of sight the second she laid eyes on them. The few who seemed belligerent quickly found somewhere else to be when Melody rested her hand on one of her holsters, but there weren't many people even willing to look her in the eye. The entire colony felt hollow and muted. The only sounds were faint hushed conversations and the wind howling outside, between the rows of identical prefab buildings. The noise that was supposed to be there - the ever-present thrum of the gigantic mining machines that loomed over the horizon like manmade mountains, so deep and constant that it should have made the ground rumble beneath her boots - was completely absent.

For Melody, who had spent her earliest years on a colony much like this one, it was worse than disconcerting. It was like hearing the last painful gasps of a dying world.

She wanted off this planet right the hell now.

The siren started so suddenly that she had one of her blasters half out of its holster before she realized what she was doing. No one else seemed to notice her actions - not when the few other people in the shops dropped whatever they had been doing and scattered. Melody took advantage of the panic to corner an elderly clerk before he could lock her out of his small market, and when he ducked behind the counter, she just reached over it and snagged him by his collar, dragging him up so she could look him in the eye.

"What the fragging hell is that?" she snapped.

The clerk squirmed in her grip. "Proximity alarm!" he yelped. "Imps! Let me go!"

Melody shoved him away. By the time he'd regained his balance, she was already long gone from his shop. She pushed past the last few stragglers and sprinted toward the hangar bay as fast as she could, switching on her comlink as she ran.

"Hal! We've got company!"

"I know, I know! Get back here!"

Hal switched off his own comlink to thwart any eavesdroppers and pressed one hand over an ear, trying to hear himself think. Like Han and Sasha and even Artoo, he'd hurried outside the Icarus as soon as the siren had gone off. The hangar bay was more crowded than he'd ever seen it and was generally in a state of absolute pandemonium. There were people running in ten different directions, people snatching up equipment and trying to hide it, people carrying weapons without any real indication that they knew how to use them - nothing good, in other words.

There was also no sign whatsoever of Ben.

"Mel's on her way back," he said to Han, who was watching the chaos with an absolutely unreadable expression. "Ben said we had another couple hours on the engines, but maybe we can - "

"Don't bother," Han said tightly. "It's Rage."

He'd known that, of course, but hearing it said out loud didn't make it any better.

"What do you mean it's Rage?" Sasha asked anxiously. "We have to find Ben and get out of here, right?"

Han patted her lightly on the shoulder and walked up the ramp, pausing long enough only to make shooing motions at Artoo. The little droid waited until he disappeared into the Icarus before beeping unhappily and rolling slowly away from the ship.

Sasha turned huge, frighteningly young eyes on Hal.

"Right?" she repeated, uncertainty creeping into her voice. "We're leaving, right?"

Hal scrubbed his face. "The engines aren't fixed, kid. There's Imps right on top of us. They know we're here. You tell me how we're supposed to leave."

"Then - then we have to find somewhere to hide and - "

"Are you fragging deaf? Didn't I just say they know we're here? Someone gave us away!"

He knew it wasn't fair to yell at her like that. She was just a kid - and yes, he'd already had who knew how many close calls with the Empire by the time he was her age, but Sasha wasn't Force-sensitive and her father hadn't been a would-be Jedi with a messiah complex. Even so, he couldn't help it. He'd spent his whole life dodging Imps, and to be caught like this, because of Han's favors and a pair of settlers -

"Where's Ben?" Sasha asked. She was trying so hard not to look scared that it almost seemed like she was standing at attention, squared shoulders and all. "I thought he was fixing the engines."

"Why would I know?" Hal muttered. "He ran off if he has any sense."

"He wouldn't have left me behind."

"You sure about that?" he asked, only to hate himself for it when she glared at him, clearly appalled at the very idea. "All right, all right. Sorry. He's not here, that's all that matters, and if you've got any sense you'll tell the Imps he was never on board in the first place."

"We're just gonna surrender?"

"I know how Han thinks." He frowned after Artoo in time to see the little droid vanish around a corner, just as the last few Ludlii miners finished grabbing equipment and disappearing from view. "No point getting more people killed than we have to."

He thought he could hear the whine of an approaching shuttle, or maybe that was just his own imagination.

Deep in the winding, poorly-lit maze of old shipping crates, storage containers, and rusting piles of obsolete spare parts, an argument was happening.

Or at least half an argument was happening, because Ben figured that an argument required two people to happen. Miri was trying to argue, sure. She was telling him they had to stay put, didn't he hear the siren, she knew back ways out of the storage bays and it'd take the Imps ages to search here and wasn't he listening? She was also holding onto his wrist with both hands, but that wasn't helping any more than her talking was, because Ben had the stocky build a Dune Sea settler who'd spent his whole life doing a lot of heavy lifting. When he had to be, he was strong. Since Miri didn't seem inclined to let go, he was towing her along.

He also wasn't responding to her. He wasn't saying or thinking anything at all, besides inner recriminations for leaving Sasha and the Icarus, until finally he stopped and rounded on Miri so fast that she slammed into him.

"It doesn't matter how big this place is if the Imps can hear us," he whispered as patiently as he could.

Miri didn't stop talking, but she did look embarrassed and lower her voice. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, and she really did seem to mean it. "I'm serious, though. You can't go back. They'll just catch you."

"Then I guess they catch me," Ben said, even though as soon as the words left his mouth, he thought they sounded like the kind of stupid things one heard people say in those bad holodramas Sasha loved. The problem, he was realizing, was that just because they were silly didn't mean they weren't also true. "My cousin's there. So're the people who helped me. I need to go back."

"But - " Miri began.

Ben tried to look confident and reassuring, although considering his heart was hammering against his ribs and he felt like he was about to throw up from sheer terror, he doubted he was doing a very good job. "You should probably go. The Imps will look here soon and I don't want you to get in trouble." He tried to smile. "Thanks for all the help and stuff. It was really nice of you."

That apparently wasn't the right thing to say, because Miri looked like she was about to burst into tears. He was so bad at this.

He was debating gently shaking her off and trying to find his own way out of the storage bays - no doubt getting himself hopelessly lost in the process - when she made a little whimpering noise and started pulling on his wrist again, this time in the opposite direction as before.

"This way," she whispered. "It's not just hiding behind a bunch of crates, I swear. You believe me, right?"

Ben nodded.

She started crying for real.

He was so, so bad at this.

He was also very glad that he'd agreed to follow Miri. She pulled him on a winding, tangled path through the storage bay, ducking behind boxes and squeezing between great looming piles of rusted machinery, until they wound up standing in front of a ladder. Miri put a finger to her lips and pointed up. The two of them climbed for what Ben was sure had to be three or four stories, until they emerged inside something that might have been a flight control tower, back when the big hangar bay had actually seen enough traffic to warrant one. Now it was just one more place to dump old junk - unused chairs, simple construction tools like hammers, even something that looked like an old flight helmet. In any other circumstances, Ben would have felt bad for whoever was in charge of hauling all that stuff up there in the first place.

As it was, he'd found something a little more interesting.

"No one will be able to find us here," Miri was saying, but Ben wasn't listening. He pushed past her and hurried over to the tower's controls. They didn't look like anything he'd seen before, but machines were machines. They weren't like people, who were messy and strange and did odd things for no reason. There was always a certain logic to them, in the way the circuits were laid out and even in the way the programs all locked together, and even the most eccentric ones were easy to understand if one just knew where to look -

The controls flickered to life.

Miri leaned over his shoulder. "How did you - what are you doing?"

"I don't know," Ben said honestly. A moment later something clicked into place. "I think I can control the hangar bay doors from here. If I can keep them closed, maybe that'll give everyone time to hide."

"You can do that? I thought you just fix ships!"

"Landspeeders and vaporators, mostly."

Miri gaped at him. "The only reason we can hide up here is because no one uses this place anymore. If you start controlling the doors remotely - "

" - then they'll be able to find me," Ben finished. "I told you, it's okay if they catch me." She was still leaning over him, so he nodded to the far corner of the tower with all the abandoned tools. "Could you stand over there for a second? I need to be able to reach everything."

She bit her lip and stepped back, and Ben went back to trying to focus on the controls. They were very, very different from anything he'd ever used before, but he needed them to work, he needed to understand them - and now, suddenly, they were making perfect sense to him. He was very distantly aware of the fact that this meant something, and that when he had the time to think about it he probably wasn't going to like it, but that didn't matter right now. All that mattered was keeping the doors closed long enough to buy time - and that, at least, he could do.

Something blurred past him and smashed into the controls, destroying them in a shower of sparks and circuits and broken metal.

For a moment Ben could only stare down at the mess, stunned. Then, almost unwillingly, he turned to look at Miri.

She clutched the hammer like it was a lifeline, staring right at him and shaking her head from side to side.

"I'm trying to save you," she choked out around a sob. "I'm trying so hard to save you. Why can't you just stop?"

Something seemed to drop out from under Ben's feet, like he was in freefall and hadn't quite realized it yet.

"I'm sorry," Miri whispered. "I'm really, really sorry."

Ben tried to push his jumbled thoughts together into something like words. She wasn't making any sense. None of this was making any sense. "What - why did you - ?"

Miri looked up at him pleadingly.

"Because I'm the one who told the Imps you were here," she said.

The shuttle turned out to be a troop transports and a pair of small escort ships. They took their time about landing, apparently confident that their prey wasn't going anywhere. By the time the transport had disgorged stormtroopers into the hangar bay, Han and Hal had already wiped the ship's logs and navicomputer database, and Sasha had been enlisted to yank out the memory core and smash it to pieces with the nearest blunt instrument. The Icarus would never going to fly again - but given what was about to happen to its crew, that was far from Han's biggest concern.

All three of them exited the ship their hands up, Han in the front and Sasha kept between him and Hal to protect her as much as possible. Stormtroopers surrounded them and cuffed them instantly, but they weren't what interested him. It was the woman standing at the foot of the ramp that got his full attention.

"Captain Solo," she said, nodding politely. "I'm Lieutenant Archimedes. It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I wish it were under better circumstances."

Han wasn't in the mood to bother with formalities. "Your boss too busy to come here himself?"

"Lord Rage looks forward to speaking with you and your crew." Lieutenant Archimedes glanced briefly at Hal and Sasha. "All of your crew, Captain Solo."

"Don't know what you're talking about."

"Our intelligence is quite thorough. Your gunner appears to be absent, and you seem to have misplaced your astromech droid as well."

Behind him, Han could almost feel Sasha tense up. She had noticed the same thing he had, then - the person Archimedes had left out.

She didn't know Ben had been on board.

He kept his face carefully blank and tried to will Sasha to do the same. Don't blow it, kid. Don't blow it -

By some miracle, Archimedes misread his expression. She nodded to one of the stormtrooper captains flanking her. "Please search his ship. Be sure to check for smuggling compartments," she added with a glance in Han's direction, as if they were sharing a joke between friends. Han had the sudden urge to punch her in the face.

Sasha didn't say a word.

"While they're conducting their search," Archimedes continued, "allow me to personally escort you back to the Retaliator. Lord Rage is anxiously awaiting your arrival."

Han glanced back at Hal, whose blank expression was spoiled by the way all the blood had drained out of his face, and at Sasha, who just looked terrified.

He hoped Melody knew to look for Artoo - and he hoped Ben, wherever he was, had the sense not to try anything stupid.

The only sound in the control tower was Miri's ragged breathing.

Ben tried to ignore the cold pit in his gut, the way sheer fury seemed to suddenly cloud his vision, and desperately struggled to think. If this had been one of Sasha's holodramas, he would have known what to do. He would have known not to trust Miri in the first place, because she wouldn't have been kind and cheerful and helpful almost to a fault, and she wouldn't look much same now as she had when he'd first met her just a few hours ago - the same pretty red-headed girl with engine grease on her face, but not smiling anymore.

"Why?" he asked at last.

His voice sounded like he'd really been screaming, instead of just feeling like he wanted to.

"It was for Ludlii." Miri's voice was soft, but her words came faster and faster, as if she didn't know how to stop. "The bounty. It - it was so much money and we need it so badly here and my dad works so hard and I've got my little brothers to worry about, and I recognized your ship from the bounty notice when it was landing and I thought you'd all be Rebels, but then I met you and - " She finally broke off and looked back down at the hammer, as if surprised realize that she was still carrying it. It hit the floor with an echoing crash.

Ben clutched at the broken control panel. He was suddenly terrified of what he would do if he didn't find something to hold on to. "But you're trying to hide me."

"Because you're a regular person," Miri said wretchedly. "I told them you weren't on the ship. I said there was only one passenger. The Imps wouldn't have come if it was just the crew and I thought they wouldn't hurt a kid like your cousin - "

"The Imps killed her mother!"

Miri flinched.

Ben gripped the edge of the control panel with both hands, hard enough that the metal almost cut through his palms, and tried to get a grip on himself. He couldn't change what Miri had done. Sasha was counting on him, and if he didn't keep his head clear, he wasn't going to be able to help her or anyone else.

He glanced at the control tower's windows. They were almost completely blocked by junk and opaque with decades of grime. It would take too long to clean them. "Is there a place were we can see most of the hangar bay?" he asked.

Miri nodded slowly. "Yeah, but it'll be a lot harder to hide there. I don't think we should - "

"I'll go find it myself, then."

"No. No, I'll show you." Miri took a few steps toward the ladder, then stopped and looked back. "You understand, right? Why I did it? Wouldn't you do the same thing to save your home?"

Ben ignored her. He didn't dare answer.

He was too afraid he'd say "Yes."