"Daluba," C-3PO went on. "And of course, there was Icknya--"
Leia started to turn to the droid, hoping to politely but firmly shut him up, but Jaina's cry stopped her abruptly and swung her back to face the screen.
"Incoming ships!" Jaina announced, her voice full of surprise. The telltale blips had appeared on her sensor viewer as if from nowhere.
"Four of them," Mara confirmed. Even as she spoke, the warning buzzers began to go off. "From Osarian." She turned her curious expression up to Leia. "They know who we are?"
Leia nodded. "And they know why I've come."
"Then they should know to leave us alone," Jaina reasoned.
Leia nodded again, but understood better. She had come to the system not to meet with the Osarians--not at first, at least--but with their principal rival, Nom Anor, the cult figure stirring up trouble on Rhommamool. "Tell them to back off," she instructed Mara.
"Politely?" Mara asked, smiling, and with that dangerous twinkle in her eyes.
"New Republic shuttle," a halting voice crackled over the comm. "This is Captain Grappa of Osarian First-Force."
With a flick of a switch, Mara put an image of the captain on the viewscreen, and Leia sighed as the green skin, spiny head ridge, and tapirlike snout came into view.
"Wonderful," she remarked sarcastically.
"The Osarians have hired Rodians?" Jaina asked.
"Nothing like a few mercenaries to quiet things down," Leia replied dryly.
"Oh, dear me," C-3PO remarked, and he shuffled aside nervously.
"You come with us," Grappa insisted, his multifaceted eyes sparkling eagerly. "To Osa-Prime."
"Seems the Osarians want to talk with you first," Mara said.
"They're afraid that my meeting with Nom Anor will only heighten his stature, both among the Rhommamoolians and throughout the sector," Leia reasoned, a notion not without credence, and one that she had debated endlessly before making the decision to come here.
"Whatever the reason, they're closing fast," Mara replied. Both she and Jaina looked to Leia for instructions, for while the Jade Sabre was Mara's ship, this was Leia's mission.
"Princess Leia?" an obviously alarmed C-3PO asked.
Leia sat down in the chair behind Mara, intently studying the screen, which Jaina had switched back to a normal space view. The four approaching fighters were clearly visible.
"Lose them," she said determinedly, a request that neither of the pilots needed to hear twice. Indeed, Mara had been eager to put the shuttle, with its powerful twin engines and state-of-the-art maneuvering systems, through a real test.
Green eyes sparkling, smile wide, Mara reached for the controls, but then retracted her hands and put them on her lap. "You heard her, Jaina," she said.
Jaina's mouth dropped open; so did Leia's.
"You mean it?" Jaina asked.
Mara's only reply was an almost bored expression, along with a slight yawn, as if this whole thing was no big deal, and certainly nothing that Jaina couldn't easily handle.
"Yes!" Jaina whispered, clenching her fists, wearing a smile nearly wide enough to take in her ears. She rubbed her hands together, then reached out to the right, rolling her fingers over the floating-ball control of the inertial compensator. "Strap in," she ordered, and she dialed it down to 95 percent, as fighter pilots often did so that they could gain a tactile feel to the movements of their ships. Reading the g's, Jaina had heard it called, and she always preferred flying that way, where fast turns and mighty acceleration could push her back in her seat.
"Not too much," Leia said with concern.
But her daughter was in her element now, Leia knew, and she'd push the shuttle to its limits. Leia felt the lean as Jaina veered right, angling away from the approaching ships.
Excerpted from Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime by R.A. Salvatore. Copyright© 1999 by R.A. Salvatore. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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