It was only to be expected, she supposed, for a week-old resistance movement. From what the second-in-command, a man who looked in his twenties named Avon Verderrie, said as he led them across the valley, this group seemed to be one of the bigger ones currently in operation, but they couldn’t be sure even of that, because so far they had only met in person with one group besides Saché and her people.
“We’ve got a secret radio network,” he explained to her, Yané, and Ardré. Found a low frequency the Federation’s equipment is too cheap to find and jam. I suppose they might eventually find a way to block it, but for now, we are in contact with eight other groups, scattered all across Naboo.”
“Have you told the rest of them about us yet?” Yané asked.
“Not yet,” he said. We try to restrict how many times per day we use the radios, to try to decrease the chances of the Federation discovering the signal. Once you and Major Watté have finished talking we’ll send a message to the group closest to us, and they’ll pass it around at intervals. We’ll probably provide you with a radio, too, especially if your group chooses to remain apart from ours, and try to fit you into our signaling schedule. We’ll also give you the general locations of the groups; some of them are more mobile than others.”
As they walked, they were all taking looks around, but Yané most of all. She had managed only the briefest exchange with her mother, before she’d gone off with Yolierre, during which she learned her father was with one of the other groups, but Saché thought she was holding on to hope that she might see someone else she knew.
Major Jass Watté was much, much older, with grey hair and the body of a man who had spent his entire life in shape, although he was still only an inch or so taller than Saché. His hand when he shook Saché’s reminded her uncomfortably of her father’s, and she couldn’t hide that entirely, though thankfully he misinterpreted her reaction and said to her, “I understand this has been a trying day for you, and you must find it startling to learn this resistance movement has formed without your even knowing of it, but you are nonetheless welcome here.” His tone was actually a little condescending; Saché might have disliked it had there been room in her for such a reaction then.
“What exactly have you been doing?” she asked. “I know you don’t know everything the other groups have been doing, but can you give me some idea of how much damage you’ve caused the Federation and where?”
“Our groups have different purposes,” he said. “We, like you, have been focused on rescuing and gathering those who have escaped the roundups and have been hiding in the cities, and also in the mountains and similar. There are even some areas of the planet where the Federation hasn’t thought to look for people; there have been hardy and generous inhabitants there who have offered us all the aid they can give with them. Then there are the smaller groups, which have gone more on the aggressive, either doing raids or sabotage on where the Federation has set up base. Your father, Miss Yané, is with one of those. We have heard daring stories indeed; one of them apparently blew up the Theed museum, even.”
“Actually,” Saché told him, amused, “that was us.”
“It was?” He looked truly shocked, and it only faded a little as she quickly summed up a general account of their activities, though his sentiments on offering them condolences when he heard about Moré seemed genuine enough. “We have not had any specific purpose delegated to us,” she said. “And the various talents of the nine of us left on Naboo are such that we would not all suit one purpose either.”
“Are you suggesting your group be split up, then?” he asked. “Those of you who are suited to helping the stranded could come join us, and the rest of you, and your militia men, could form a fighting squad.”
That had not been what Saché had been suggesting, and she knew it was idea that would make all of them a little unhappy. But it wasn’t a bad one. It would probably allow them to accomplish more than they would if there was only one group of them. It would also allow them to work in tandem with this resistance movement without too much clash-she wasn’t even sure whose authority over the four handmaidens in the militia took precedence, hers or Major Watté’s, though she thought it was probably his, and keeping the two of them separate might allow them to avoid the issue.
But Yané focused on another issue, “But what about everyone from Julika? How are we supposed to get them all here?”
“That is something a group of my people are currently working on,” Major Watté told her. “They might not even necessarily come to us; we might send guides back with you to take them somewhere else. There might temporarily be three groups until that task is done.”
“You’re talking as if we’re definitely splitting up,” said Yané. “Are we, Saché?”
From the way Major Watté was looking at her, it was clear he would only respect her if she proved able to make the decision either immediately or very soon after. It made Saché want to panic. This wasn’t like when Rorriere had challenged her authority; she was too aware that this was a man she absolutely should respect as a superior. That brought the thoughts to her head of inadequacy, of weakness, that she’d kept shut away for so long and had been dislodged by that ride through the tunnel.
Ironically, it was Rorriere who rescued her, buying her time and getting her out of her head with a, “I think among my own men there might also be a split. Certainly Private Latt will want to stay with the evacuees; they are from his own city, Major. A couple of the others too, perhaps.”
“He, at least, should,” said Saché. “But we cannot all, so yes, we are splitting up. How much is another question…”
But that seemed to satisfy Major Watté, who said, “You have time to sort out the full linings of it; I do not think you should attempt to return to Piyoeré tonight, at least not when it will be full darkness soon, and the STAP ships still might be able to detect you even in the darkness; we still don’t know what they’re equipped with. The return party can be assembled and depart early tomorrow morning, by which time we should also have a plan in place for what will be done with the people you’ve gathered there.”
This was not a delay Saché entirely liked, but he was still speaking like the decision was made already, and she suspected to contradict him now would be taken as a full challenge to his authority which she did not want to make. So instead she said, “I do have one more question, sir. Do you know if anyone you have here happens to possess a J-liner?”
All of that seemed to be more than enough for Saché. After they had all been fed some rations, and she was provided with a thick length of cloth and a relatively flat stretch of ground after that meeting, she was happy to lie herself down and sleep after what had obviously been the hardest day for her yet. Ardré and Rorierre followed her example.
But Yané, wrapping her own blanket around herself against the cold, went searching for her mother, anxious to get the chance to really talk with her, and also to learn the condition of the man who had put his life on the line to protect her, since she knew her mother, who had worked for a few years as a nurse when her father’s business had been struggling, would probably be among those taking care of him. It took her a little longer to find them than she would’ve liked; there were so many people in the valley word of their arrival was still traveling to some of them, word of Yolierre was taking longer to reach everyone, and one person even looked at her in confusion when she repeated his and her mother’s names to him.
But there was an area deep in the valley where a makeshift hospital had been set up, and she eventually got there, and there she found her mother too, who had fallen asleep next to her daughter’s preserver. They’d managed to pull together a proper medical staff, Yané thought, or at least a lot of volunteers who were quick studies. As she walked between the men and women leaning over the patients and taking readings, changing bandages, and in one case even doing what looked like some sort of surgery on someone’s upper arm, she felt a little bit of envy for these people, who could help when people were hurt. Not for the first time that night, she wondered how the others would react if she asked to stay here. This was not where her skillset put her, she knew, but it was where she badly wanted to be.
Her mother’s sleep was light; she woke when Yané sat down next to her. She rolled over, propped herself up on one arm, and said, “It’s past your bedtime.”
“My bed isn’t available,” shrugged Yané. “It’s probably been destroyed by the Trade Federation by now. Or their minions are sleeping in it.”
“Neimoidians in your bed,” said her mother, and the implications of that sent them both into tired giggles. “How long would your sheets need to be washed?”
It would probably set a bad example to burn them, Yané thought. But if any of those Trade Federation goons actually had slept in her bed, she knew she’d want to.
She didn’t want to think about it, but now she couldn’t help it. She just bet Nute Gunray had set himself up in the Queen’s chamber, maybe let some right-hand being have the side bunk that could roll out of the wall if the Queen wished to invite anyone else to sleep in there with her. His guards were probably sleeping in the handmaidens’ normal bunks. She thought of the holo of her parents she kept by hers. There was no practical reason for any of the Neimodians to touch it, but they might destroy it out of malice.
“How are you?” her mother asked, and if only there was an easy answer to that. There just didn’t seem to be a word, or even a collection of ones such as tired and scared and angry and frustrated, to do her current state justice. She just sighed, way too much like she’d had when she’d been seven and mad about not getting her own way.
Thankfully her mother forgave that, and opened up her arms. Yané slid into them, and momentarily felt the urge to cry, but she wasn’t even up to that, really. “What have you and pa been doing?” she asked.
“I don’t know everything your pa’s been doing, Yané,” she said. “All I know is what Major Watté probably told you already. He did send a message back on the radio at one point. I wasn’t allowed to listen to most of it, which I understand contained information they want to be kept to the people who have proper use for it, but he did tell me to hold on and hang in there at the end of it, and they let me listen to that. I’m sure when he hears that we’re in contact with you, if he sends a message again he say something like that for you too.
As for me, I’ve been helping out as I can. Mostly here, of course, but I’m also getting good at carrying things and running about. We’ve mostly been traveling about the mountains, those of us escorting refugees to safety going further afield, although I haven’t been assigned to do that yet; for that they want people who are comfortable out here in the country. But what about you? What have you been doing? Are you allowed to tell me?”
“I don’t know,” said Yané, “but I will anyway.” So she gave her mother a general account of the last few days, finding it was easier to tell the tale when she was too tired to react to it emotionally. Well, except for Moré’s death, she didn’t think she would ever not feel devastated about that, or able to talk about all she had felt then. Besides, it felt so good, then, when her mother hugged her, and even when the rush of jagged pain that came back, as raw and as bad as it had been from the start, it felt more like something she could bear.
“I had a nightmare last night,” she confessed when she was done. “We were running down the plains, and getting ourselves picked off one by one, and there were more of us left over, but we all knew eventually there wouldn’t be, we’d all be killed, and it wouldn’t matter then how far we’d run, because it wouldn’t have any impact on anything. And the bodies kept hitting me as they fell, and wanting to knock me down…I thought of it all, you know, when Yolierre…”
At the mention of her patient’s name, her mother looked over the single screen she had giving data on him, and said, “Mart Yolierre here is currently stable. We think his chances would even be good, if we could only get him to some sort of medical facility, or at least into a proper bacta tank. Though as it is…”
“Did anyone tell you,” and here Yané dropped her voice, since she might have decided to tell her mother everything, but she didn’t want anyone else overhearing this right now, “we have a working bacta tank in Piyoeré?”
“No,” she said, “but I haven’t been listening to much of the talk around me at all. But I would say they ought to then get Yolierre to Piyoeré if they can. We can even help supply bacta for the tank if necessary…I think his chances could be greatly improved even if he wasn’t fully immersed.”
“That’s not my decision to make,” she sighed.
“I will tell my fellow medics about this, though,” her mother decided. “I wouldn’t be the only one advocating for it, and the other militia men will view him as an ideal priority patient. But it really will be very difficult to get him there, won’t it? Traveling there as he traveled here could kill him before you arrived.”
“Is there anything we can do there?” Yané asked, and then felt her eagerness grow as she said, “Tell me everything.” Tell me everything you know about everything. She had never thought much about her mother having been a nurse, especially when she’d long quit by the time Yané was old enough to remember anything. But now the handmaidens needed all the medical help they could get, and Yané was still wishing she could be the one to provide it, but at least she could provide information.
So she listened closing, she and her mother rising to their knees so she could get a proper look at Yolierre’s wounds. This, thought Yané, was one part of being a medic she would not like, having to scrutinize injuries this brutal. But she forced herself to look, and to concentrate, and to listen to what her mother was saying even when there were sentences where she could only understand every other word. Whatever I can do to save this man’s life because he saved mine ran through her head more than once.
“Although,” said Julierrie, “it would be a good thing to figure out a way to transport large loads between Piyoeré if we can. I’ve been thinking about those mechanisms Schrulek told them about, and I think the resistance could at least make use of the firework generator, though it seems none of you know how big the device is, do you?”
“I’ve gotten a glimpse of them so far,” said Saché; Schrulek had shown her where he had stashed them, though he had clearly not been looking to having to show his hiding place to more people. “The generator is the biggest, unfortunately, about this tall and this wide,” she held her hands out from her knees to her chin, and then a little less distance out, "and I don’t think anyone can even carry it by hand without help. His heating device, on the other hand, anyone coming back here from Piyoeré could easily carry in their hand.”
“Ours would not be the place to take the former to anyway,” said Major Watté, “and it would be best if it could be taken directly to those who would use it. Perhaps…” He considered. “Right now the sooner you get back to Piyoeré and we start moving the civilians out, the better. Olié and another militia fighter will take you back. Meanwhile, I’ll try to contact any nearby groups, see if they’re willing to make the run. Some of them might have gotten better things to transport Yolierre on. Maybe one of them can take Schrulek’s devices as well.”
“I really hope the villagers have decided they want to move out,” Saché whispered to her fellow two handmaidens as they went to deliver the news to Yané’s mother.
“If told there’s a specific safe place surely they won’t object to going there,” said Ardré.
They found her injecting something into a young man who couldn’t have been older than sixteen, in civilian clothes. When she saw the, this time her greeting was, “I’m afraid we’re getting some diseases in the camp. So far nobody’s life has been in serious danger due to it, but I fear that’s only a matter of time.” When she heard Watté’s decision, she shook her head. “The truth is, if he’s not in bacta within three hours, four at most, even if he lives, he’ll almost certainly suffer from permanent health issues. Aside from viciously scarred skin, the kind it would be very expensive for him to mend, he’s got some damage to his internal organs, and delayed bacta might keep them functional, but he’d still at least be permanently in physical pain.
Because of me Yané did not say, but Saché could practically hear it anyway in her reaction. They watched as she hung over Yolierre; it was hard to tell if he was simply asleep or outright comatose. Her mother put her finger to her lips, and her daughter obediently remained silent. Nor did she touch him. Instead her held her hand an inch over his face, one surprisingly not hit that badly by the blast, with no more than some burn marks on his jaw, and stayed there, apparently lost in thought. They ended up letting her until Olié joined them along with a young woman he introduced as Pamé Vollenna.
Thankfully the trip back was devoid of any attacks, either from the Federation or from Saché’s own mind. This time, under Oliés direction, they spent an extended period of time hiding in the Roosted Rocks, during part of which he went off to get an update from his commander out of their earshot, which none of the other four liked him doing at all. “If it has anything to do with…” Yané started, and then shook her head. “I’ll want to know, and why shouldn’t I know?”
“Do they think the Federation might try to take us alive?” Saché wondered. “Do they think it lightly?”
“More likely they’re doing this just in case it happens,” said Rorriere. “Sensible enough, really. Easy precaution to take.”
“Unless he gets shot down there and we’re too far away to save him,” Yané muttered, a remark which Saché thought Rorriere bristled at that a little, especially when he didn’t talk after that.
Eventually, Olié came back and they completed the journey, running their way back through the maze of rocks before coming out to the grass and racing their way back to the city, though it was harder than it should’ve been. Even with having slept plenty the previous night, more than she did most nights, in fact, and even when she’d been prepared by her handmaiden training to do constant and vigorous work, Saché was already feeling exhausted just from the trip to the Rocks.
At one point when they were nearly there her ankles felt so heavy she thought if she hit a soft part of the ground she might sink into it. But somehow, not only did she completely the journey without stumbling, finally arrive to a halt in from of Coté, Lané, Latt, Schrulek, and a crowd of people coming out to greet them, but she found the weird “I am the leader, you must follow me” face she’d become aware she had, and was now more aware than usual she was wearing.
“So,” said Coté. “We will be cremating Tollo Mothemi at high noon; we’ve set up a tiny structure just south of the city, where there are a couple of odd other structures, of which at least one has been on fire from most of the past week; that will do for a cover, but meanwhile, I’m afraid we’ve had to set limits on who gets the attend the funeral; if too many do we will be seen. And I’ve afraid we’ve since had another death, and this one…a civilian woman named Kadé Merorit.”
“It’s my fault,” said Schrulek, looking very subdued. “There was a cable I wanted, it was caught in a house that was damaged, and she tried to pull it out when we thought the power was off. It wasn’t, and she was electrocuted. They’re doing a quick burial of her right now the cemetery, where her family has a plot.”
“Could’ve happened at any time with anyone,” said Saché, feeling her heart go out to the boy. “Meanwhile, I want a meeting with you, and with all the handmaidens and militia men.”
When the basics of their discussion and agreement with Major Watté had been told, the handmaidens all looked unhappy, while the men looked mostly neutral, but at first no one said anything. Then Latt said, “There are more people here who want to fight than to run. Honestly, probably more than we can easily find a function for.”
“Still,” said Lané, “for at least some of them, that’s because they don’t truly believe there is anywhere safe to run to where they could stay. If a plausible safe place was presented to them, they’d change their minds.”
“Start getting the numbers together of all those who have indicated they aren’t up to fighting,” said Saché. “We can at least get word back of how many people we know for sure will have to be taken to safety.”
“We can manage that number being increased a bit,” said Vollenna. “We have already.”
“And for the other part of this,” said Saché. She started making eye contact with each of her fellow handmaidens as she spoke. “I know it is not an easy decision. I know that after all the months we spent together in training and these past four days, especially thinking we lost Ardré in Theed, and then truly losing Moré, it’s going against all our instincts to make our strength in numbers. But if we look at the situation objectively, the truth is we all have our different skills, and the way this fight is setting itself up, those different skills are going to be needed in different places. We’ll be strongest if we divide ourselves up between the different groups. I’m pretty sure were the Queen here, or were Sabé here, they would know that and say it to us.”
“They would,” said Briné softly. “Although Sabé would hate it just as much as us.”
“Is there a clear idea yet of where everyone would go?” asked Vatié.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” said Saché, “but I think some decisions are obvious. I think most of our militia members would join some of the smaller fighting groups. I don’t know how much they would be kept together or separated; I do fear that decision might not be left entirely up to us. Briné as a medic I fear would have even less say in where she goes; she’d go where they need her. On the other hand, if any of you have some familiarity with any parts of Naboo the separate groups need to navigate, you may even be pulled away for that.”
“Speaking of which,” said Vollenna, “are any of you familiar with the region of Hoshu-Lianorm?”
Everybody looked at Briné. “That was where I was born and grew up,” she said. “Is that where the refugees are being taken?”
“Temporarily,” said Vollenna. “Although we believe that if the Federation threatens their cities, the Gunguns will flee to the surface and may also gather there. They view that land as sacred, so we’re not sure how they would react to us being there are all. And right now, obviously, we want to avoid any conflict with them. However, that is one of the hardest places on the planet for the Federation to get at. There is not only the heavy swampgrounds, with the vegetation at the thickest it can get in many places, but the terrain itself is very rough, and in such ways that it is difficult for their battle droids to get anywhere at all, plus the humidity damages just about everything they use.”
“Do you wish to be involved in that, then, Briné?” asked Saché. There was a chance, she supposed, that she might actually oppose making use of grounds sacred to another race, despite the situation being what it was.
But she nodded, and said, “Yes. I can definitely be of the most use there.”
This was it, Saché thought. The official start of their group being broken up. She could tell when she darted her eyes around that everyone felt it.
“Before we assign everyone,” said Olié, “I think perhaps we should see what is in the box you were talking about earlier. The one that required the J-liner to open.”
“Do you want me to go do that now?” asked Ené. “It would only take me a few minutes.”
“There’ll be a lot of people here who’ll want to see that,” said Hock. “More than it’ll be easy for us to keep out. Any discussions that followed that might not be that private, unless we come back here.”
“We will worry about that once the box is open,” decided Olié. “For now, lead the way.” He nodded at Saché, which she was grateful for, since with that command he had really just taken charge of everyone.
Saché stepped forward to join Ené as the latter stood up, and they took in the contents. “What’s in it?” called someone from the crowd.
Saché wasn’t sure how to answer. There were a couple of things in there which were recognizable enough: a tiny blaster, what looked like a computer bank, and a drawstring bag. But most of the box’s space was taken up by a large grey thing, one which glowed with two deep blue globes attached to one end, and vibrated to the touch. She looked at Ené, who shook her head. She looked over at Yané, and beckoned. The younger handmaiden stepped forward, look at the device, and said, “I saw one of those once, while traveling with my father. It was when we were taking a trip to Corellia, and the passenger next to us was carrying it in a mostly transparent but very solid container. The passenger was from a very big burly species, so he didn’t have a problem lifting it. Unfortunately I still have no idea what it does, but I got the impression from the way he handled it that it is very, very dangerous to touch those two globes when they are any color other than their current blue. In fact,” and she leaned down and examined the bottom, “yeah, it’s fastened into the side of the box, and there’s probably something built into the side to help keep it stable-the one I saw was similarly attached to a section of the container that was opaque metal, and kind of looked like it had some sort of extremely thin computer built into it.”
“I don’t recognize it either,” said Olié, “but we may be able to find someone to identify it. If we can get it to them. That won’t be easy to do. It’s too big to easily be carried on the speeders.”
“We’ve got a thing here called a sledger,” said Schrulek. “Mostly use it in the winter; as you might have noticed, we’re near the Lake District here, close enough that we get a lot of snow, and we plow it and gather it on the sledger. It can carry a lot of weight. But it can’t move very fast. Unless I could try to rig something on it…what’s in the bag? Power cells?”
Yané picked the bag up-it didn’t seem to be that heavy-and carefully opened it, then nodded. “Power cells. Spec-sized. These are the ones typically used for blasters, though they can be used for other things too. I might even be able to help you use them for things. Probably not this sledger, though; I don't even know if they'd work on it.”
"I think they might," said Schrulek.
“Will you come back with us, then?” asked Vollenna. “Most of those cells should probably be taken back.”
Yané looked at Saché. Saché just nodded.
“Good,” said Olié. “I suggest, in fact, that you and Vollenna go back alone, and I stay here until we have chosen exactly who will go where.”
“Agreed, then,” said Saché, and then, remembering Yolierre’s plight, she added, “but I would like it if she came back here as soon as could be managed. Preferably even before the cremation is done. And the more she brings back with her, the better.”
“Give me ten minutes with those before you go,” Schrulek then pleaded. “I know that sledger. I might just be able to get it to move faster. Think of how useful it would be. I swear, I really think I could do it.”
“Yes,” said Yané urgently. “If it's possible. We want that as fast as possible.”
Olié did not looked pleased, but he nodded, and said, “Ten minutes, then.”