She didn’t know where any of those relatives were right now. Most of them hadn’t even lived in Theed, so her parents hadn’t had any news about them whatsoever, and while her grandmother had lived nearby, they hadn’t seen or heard anything of her in between when the Federation had marched into Theed and when the two of them had made their escape.
She wished she was taking the sledger to her father. Having it closed up while transporting through the Roosted Rocks and underground and into the valley made the job easier, but they still didn’t really know how they were going to come back with it carrying anything as big as a human being. This sort of technology might not have been her father’s specialty, but she’d seen him be innovative with it during some of their trips to other worlds where his wares were far more in demand than they’d been here on Naboo. He might have even had ideas for making the bacta tank work faster; she was aware than even if they got Mart Yolierre to the tank as fast as possible, he still might go beyond saving while waiting for it to become fully operational.
They had one scare, when they emerged from the underground rooms and into the canyon, when they heard buzzing, but it ultimately turned out to be the speeder reacting to the change in air pressure and especially temperature. “These bikes are going,” lamented Vollenna. When they came out of the tunnel, they found waiting for them a man Yané recognized from the makeshift medical center, although she didn’t know his name. “Is Mart Yolierre still alive?” she asked.
“When I left him,” the man shrugged. “You carrying anything besides the big cart?”
“I’ll take the power cells, and see Major Watté,” said Vollenna. “Our strategy team should have a scheme ready by now; they’ll meet you in the hospital.”
She met her mother there, who led her over to where Yolierre lay all too still. “He’s still alive,” she said, “but he’s gone non-responsive. Tell those strategists when they get here this man’s life is in their hands. Either you take him with you now, or he dies.”
His eyes were open. Yané wondered if she should close them; there were as sightless as a dead man’s. He was completely limp. The only indication of his still being alive was a faint rising and falling of his chest.
This wasn’t the time to talk with her mother, unfortunately; it seemed the group had been up to something that had left a bunch of them injured, and she was already gone back to deal with them. Yané was left to sit there, half watching her, half watching Yolierre, waiting, trying to summon words to persuade them to try to save this man.
Vollenna came back with Rosti Borreno, who apparently was speaking for all four. He carried with him two big bags. “I’ll be taking you back to Piyoeré,” he said. “If you insist on taking this man with us, we’ll fit him and these bags on this sledger as best we can, although that means we won’t be able to fold it up, which means we’re going to have to go back to Piyoeré by a different and more dangerous route, one someone ought to travel on anyway, for reasons you’ll know if you need to, but those reasons didn’t give you any need to be on it.”
“I have a different reason, then,” said Yané. “I owe this man my life.”
“So I’ve been told,” he said. “Very well. He needs to be moved out fast.”
Yané’s mother did break away from her other work to help with that, getting him put on a primitive stretcher, and after a glance back at her other patients, she said, “I’ll come with you to the sledger.”
So Yané got to hold hands with her mother as they rushed across the valley, and as the Borreno and another man loaded the vehicle up, after one last examination of Yolierre she hugged her daughter, and said, “Try to come back to me alive. Your father told me he would, and I told him I would, and I’ll try to come back to you alive as well.”
“I’ll try, I promise,” said Yané, and let go of her mother only when she literally couldn’t hold onto her any longer.
She kept herself from crying as they exited the valley, but it was an effort.
“Both to increase our chances of preserving our passenger and getting to our destination alive ourselves we will be going as fast as this device will go,” said Borreno. “Hold on to me as tight as you can. I have heard you are a good shot.”
"Very good,” said Yané. “Although I do admit, while I have some training on shooting from a moving vehicle, I can’t promise I can hit anything if we’re going too fast.”
“Another risk we’ll have to take. I’m starting the acceleration now.”
It went fast. Yané didn’t think it was fifteen seconds later that they were hurtling out of the tunnel and down the rocks so rapidly they were nothing more than a blur. She shook her head; there was no way anyone could hit anything when they were going this fast, until it was something going at a similar speed. She supposed she might not need to hit anything else, though.
They didn’t take the turn that would have led them back underground, though. Instead Borreno kept flying until something green appeared in the distance. “I’m going to take us into the Tuunga Swamp area,” he explained. “It has some of the thickest vegetation on Naboo; if anyone’s tracking us, it’ll be hard for them to keep doing so.”
He had to reduce speed as they approached, the streaks that had been flying passed them slowed down and started to take more form, making Yané more aware of how they’d left the mountains behind them. The last few seconds before the entered the swamp were scary; after such a length of time just about flying, around them the still air felt much thinner, and Yané felt very exposed, while ahead of them, the trees, which she thought might have been on the short side, nonetheless looked tall and menacing, great dark green things with too little space between them; she had to keep herself from yelling that they were going to crash.
But they didn’t crash; they shot between the trees-but not perfectly. Now as they flew they were continually being hit, by branches, by bushes, by fronds, by things Yané couldn’t hope to identify before they were far behind them. All of them felt wet and heavy, none of them felt too soft, and some of them were sharp against skin; soon she had more than one cut. She maneuvered her shooting arm between their bodies; that at least would remained undamaged.
She had seriously hoped no one could shoot at them in here, but ten minutes into it, two blaster bolts flew past, at least nowhere near them; whoever was shooting probably lacked the ability to aim. In an instant Yané had her arm pulled back out-and then it did get scraped at but she didn’t think her skin was pierced-and her pistol in her hand. Even though she had nothing to shoot at.
“We’re going to have to stay in here longer,” hissed Borreno. “Unless you can somehow take out whatever shot at us.” Yané said nothing; there wasn’t much response to that. Fretting about that possibly dooming the man with them would probably only get him mad.
Five minutes later a bolt flew at them; again so wide the shooter probably hadn’t been able to aim, but that would change if they kept coming at them. Borreno tried his best to turn, but his ability to do so in what was now practically a thicket was limited. “It’s no good,” he said. “By the time we see who’s shooting it’ll probably be too late.”
But now Yané could hear a slight whirring sound, not exactly like the common battledroids, but it sounded like they were designed by the same people and ran on similar motors. She recalled what her father had said about them. “Trade Federation tech is always louder when it’s bigger.” He’d only ever used their motors for his tiniest pistols. She closed her eyes; she wouldn’t get a chance to use them anyway. She listened, and then said, “Slow down just a mite.”
“Trust me, do it!” Thankfully he did, and the whir was loud enough now. Yané shoved out the sounds of the swamp, the ones that hadn’t even quite registered, and the slowing down of the speeder allowed her to listen over the sounds it was making too. She zeroed in, pointed her pistol, thought please, and fired.
There was the sound of a small explosion; vegetation near them shook, but they’d been just far enough away not to even feel the heat from the blast. She opened her eyes to see Borreno tapping something on the speeder’s tiny display. “Think that was one of their two-legged hulk-things,” he said. “Probably what shot as us earlier. If you still want to detour, though…”
“I don’t. Especially not if they might have more things in this swamp.”
“That definitely worries me,” he agreed. “But it probably wouldn’t be the best idea to take that on by ourselves. Let’s get out of here. Impressive shooting, by the way. And detection of your target. I wouldn’t have thought a non-militia handmaiden could’ve pulled off that bit.” That was another remark Yané chose not to respond to.
Within the next hour they were pulling into Piyoeré. Glose came out to meet them with two more villagers, holding what looked like a makeshift medical bag. When pointed to the sledger, he climbed on, his two companions following him, handing the bag to one of them, and began giving out orders. There was nothing more she could do for him now, Yané reminded herself, and she carefully leaned over the sides to take hold of and lift out the two bags without disturbing them. They certainly were heavy, but she did it, as Borreno turned to Saché, who had followed closely on Glose’s heels.
“So,” Saché asked him, “What’s the plan?”
“We’re going to split those who aren’t joining the fight into three groups. They’ll all be taken to safe locations by different routes; we have those planned out, and I am carrying them with me in datachits, but we like to reveal them only to those who need to know them, you understand. I understand you have a handmaiden from the Catalin family; we would like her to lead one of them. Possibly Briné Salmune should accompany on the groups as well, as a medic. A couple of your militia men we also want to see involved in this.
The rest of you we think should split into two groups. You two,” he gestured to Saché and Yané both, “would lead them, unless you yourselves think appointing an alternate leader to one of the groups is a better idea. One of them would be small, possibly composed only of handmaidens and militia men from your original group. That would be the immediately active group, the ones we’d send in to destroy small targets and gather information and those sorts of things. The other group would contain those who want to fight but are currently untrained, those you judge would do the best job of training them, and some similar people from our own group. That group would travel into the mountains and to the caves within them, and there will begin training.”
“For what?” Saché asked, and Yané very much wanted to know that herself.
He looked uncomfortable as he said, “We’re not entirely certain yet. You have to understand, we’re thinking long-term. If the Republic refuses to help us, then we’re not going to take our planet back just by blowing up a few buildings and shooting whatever battle droids come to us. We’re going to need an army.”
These prospects Yané hadn’t given any thought to; she’d stubbornly told herself that the Queen only needed to get to Coruscant and she would bring back reinforcements, and they only needed to hold out until then. But from the grim face Borreno was wearing, she suspected he put no reliance on the Republic.
She thought of that possibility, and of her being the leader of a group in the mountains preparing to do things none of them ever imagined they’d do. Things their culture and way of life were dead set against. Not even being sure of if or when they’d do them, desperately hoping they wouldn’t have to.
Panic seized her, made her feel as if her boots had planted themselves in the ground and the rest of her body was seizing up, everything melding to each other and leaving her unable to move. She couldn’t do that, she thought. How could anyone ask that of her? It was only supposed to be extreme circumstances under which she would even take command of her fellow handmaidens, and none of those of them who had been left here in Naboo had really been prepared to lead anything that much bigger. Saché could lead the smaller group, sure, since she’d already been leading both them and the militia men, but Yané wasn’t sure she could do either smaller or larger group, and larger seemed much less likely, and when combined with what they’d be doing…
“…not meant for that kind of long-term fighting.” She’d missed some of what Saché was saying, but it sounded like she too could see that they couldn’t do what this man wanted. “Those of us who trained for the militia, of course, are another matter, but Yané and I aren’t among those.”
“That’s as may be,” said Borreno, “but you know already that doesn’t matter anymore. Not now, when Naboo’s circumstances are so extreme. I know what the Handmaidens are supposed to be, you know. My mother served a Senator as one for ten years. I know you’ve already done plenty you are trained to do, yes; I know you are meant to look like nothing and be everything, was how my mother described it, but blowing up a building? That’s not something Handmaidens merely hope they’ll never have to do. That’s something they never think they will do. This is just another one of those.”
“Blowing up things is easy.” Yané heard her voice come out unexpectedly, was relieved she could keep it steady.
“That it is.” He had a wry grin. “You’ve done the easy stuff now. Time to be brave, smart, daring Handmaidens, and rise to meet the greatest challenge any Handmaidens have ever faced.”
Yané got his point. She understood he was right. But she was still struggling to think past I can't.
But Saché’s looked thoughtful as she said, “We should have a militia member as your second in command. Perhaps Coté. I suspect that will be the location she is most likely to be able to use her particular abilities again.”
That made sense, Yané supposed, since it was where people were least likely to die around her and block them out again. The thought of Coté by her side that way, too, was reassuring. “That would help,” she sad, and she felt as well as sounded steadier.
Thankfully she didn’t need to, though; she saw in the faces of her fellow handmaidens that they were ready and hardly needed to be told anything. The militia men were fine, of course. This was what they had trained for.
When the suggestions for where some of them in particular would go, Lané and Briné quickly agreed with the suggestions for them. Coté looked hesitant. Next to her, Ardré said, “That would be a new use to put your powers to.”
“Which is what we all are doing, in a way,” Saché added.
There was something about Coté’s expression, though, that made her think there was more to this than just that kind of anxiety. Something that reminded Saché too much of how she herself still so often felt, even when she wasn’t outright panicking.
Part of her wanted to ask what was wrong, what was freaking Coté out. But she honestly wasn’t sure if they even had time to talk about it. She had the feeling it’d be a long conversation, if she was right.
Then Yané said, “We’ll do it together, Coté. You won’t be alone. None of us are ever alone, remember. Not as long as any of the rest of us are alive.” Those were words they’d spoken to each other back in the training camp. They hadn’t needed to repeat them during this while they’d all been together, and they might not now either, if none of them were separated from all of the others.
But they all watched Coté take a deep breath, and say, “You need my help, Yané? I’ll be there.”
“For the rest of us, then,” said Saché. “Latt, I assume you’ll want to go with one of the refugee groups.” He nodded eagerly.
“Do we have a volunteer for the third group?” asked Borreno.
The other militia men looked between themselves. “You none of you want to stay away from the fight, don’t you?” said Rorerrie. “Of course you don’t, I know. But remember, what we trained for was the protection of the people of Naboo.”
They looked at each other again, and then Kladi Hock said, “I’ll do it, then.”
“Also,” Rorerrie added after another moment, “the rest of us should split ourselves between the two groups. If we are to be training an army, you’ll need people who have been in a proper one.”
“I would like that,” said Kitpat Arthi. “Also…” He hesitated, then said, “Sir, if I may make a suggestion?”
“I think you should join the second group as well. Your leadership will be needed there.” He looked nervously as him and Yané both. Saché was pretty sure the latter would make no protest, and the former gave no sign on his face of how he felt about the suggestion.
Saché took a moment to consider it. There was the worry, of course, that he would take over and become the one in charge rather than Yané, something Yané was vulnerable to with her lack of confidence. But she wouldn’t be alone; there’d be Coté, also probably Vatié was a good idea, now that she thought on it maybe even one of Losté and Ené, though probably not both. And she probably could use his help, if it was offered with the understanding that she was the one in charge, especially if this army got large enough that it became difficult for any one leader to handle without some deputies.
“I concur with that,” she said at last, and Rorerrie just nodded, still betraying no reaction. That made her uneasy, but the decision was made, and she thought it the right one. “So you two, also Vatié,” Vatié too nodded, she too might have thought herself suited for this, “and Ené, Losté, would either of you rather join the group.”
The two women looked at each other; Saché was aware they wouldn’t be happy about being separated from each other. But then Ené said, “I will,” and Losté nodded her agreement.
“Let me talk with my men alone?” Rorerrie asked. “Let us talk freely with each other about who goes where?”
She didn’t like it much, especially when they’d done their splitting up right in front of the men, but the men were all looking uncomfortably at the handmaidens, and the decisions they made were ones they probably should make on their own; they knew each other, after all. “Come on, then,” she said. “We should go around and talk to everyone.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Saché told him. “We have a lot of people here who might find use for them. But they may need your other skills.” He listened as she explained the new plans, and finished, “Even if you’re unlikely to produce any actual weapons, I think you should go with the army training group. Keep you out of the line of fire, but where we can easily reach you, and you can easily get anything useful to us.”
The boy looked down, and she, guessing why, said, “It’s not running away. Not really. Remember, my young man, you’re still only ten.”
“Only three years younger than you, right?”
“There’s a massive difference between me and you, Kells Schrulek.”
“Is there?” he asked. “Was your city bombed? Are you scared about what might have happened to your family?”
“I come from Theed,” said Saché, and then, softly, “and I have no family left.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, looking up, and thankfully not looking as upset as she’d feared, more rueful. “But, well, I can’t really do all this stuff if there are people firing at me, can I?”
“Exactly,” she said, and found herself smiling, just a little. “Would you like to come talk with Yané?”
“Let me just get something shut down here,” he said, and she ultimately had to wait nearly ten minutes while he went to the other side of the basement and struggled with something that didn’t seem to want to turn off. Finally, with an exasperated sigh, he pulled a wire loose.
“I hope that’s not something we needed,” she couldn’t help but say as the thing finally stopped humming.
“Doubt it, m’am,” he said. “Lead on.”
Yané was already talking to people. They found her with a young couple that she introduced as Motto and Phelpaé Verderrie, who Saché recognized as having been among those they had evacuated from Julika. “Recruits for your army?” Saché asked her, and Yané’s lips barely twitched to hear it called that as she confirmed that they were. “I’ve brought another.”
She left Schulek with the three of them and went on, back to where the militia men had spent the entire time talking. When she came in, they all stood up. “Decided yet?” she asked.
“Mostly,” said Rorerrie. “As we said earlier, Kladi Hock, along with Yules Latt, will be available to lead refugee groups, and I and Kitpat Arthi will work with the army, as well Jan Kloiterrie. The rest of us will join the attack group.”
That made sense, taking the older two men for the army. “Very well, then,” she said. “Borreno has recommended we empty this place as much as possible tonight; that’s what will probably be safest at this point; we certainly can’t stay here much longer anyway. He’s trying to work out times; he warned me there’s a chance the fighters might have to stay, but we’re determined to get all three refugee groups out. Stay here, and I’ll bring him back and the other handmaidens so we can hear the latest of what he has to say.”
“May I go instead, m’am?” asked Latt.
She knew why, and for a moment she hesitated, but then she said, “You may, but please go quickly.” Even with the admonishment, she knew there’d be moments he’d linger to exchange words with people, and he wouldn’t find anyone nearly as fast as she would, but hopefully it would keep his delays within reason.
When he was gone, Drosos Merine stepped forward. “May I ask, m’am, if you know what they’ll be having us do?”
“You may,” said Saché, “although there won’t be a need. I’ll tell you as soon as I know myself. Right now I’m afraid I don’t at all.” She noticed the expressions of some of the men as she said this, but at least none of them looked surprised. If they’d gauged her at all, they knew she’d never be one from fancy plotting and keeping objectives from people out of a thought they should keep information on a need-to-know basis. She hoped that wouldn’t cause any problems.
“Saché?” Losté poked her head in, followed immediately by Ené. “Those going into the three refugee groups are currently getting arranged into those groups. Borreno wants all of us there, to receive updates in news as they happen.”
In front of everybody, which wasn’t ideal, but Saché wasn’t going to argue with him about it. “Very well,” she said. “Maybe he’ll even tell us what we’re going to do.”
Saché had lost track of time, but afternoon was either arrived or close to it. It was a humid day, the kind that would make them feel the fact that none of them had properly bathed since the morning of the invasion, though they’d all quickly splashed themselves with sink water at points here in Piyoeré. That would be worse for those going into swamps.
Coming to the main square where everyone was gathered was the first chance she had to get an idea of who had chosen to fight and who had chosen to flee. It didn’t look at first glance like very many people would be left for the army. That wasn’t surprising, she reminded herself. The Naboo had never liked fighting, were still only learning to do it, and even wrapping their heads around the notion that they could would be too much for most of them. Besides, it might work out better for Yané if she didn’t have to handle too large a group.
Borreno came over when he saw her. “We’ve nearly gotten the refugee groups settled,” he said to her,” and she could see that, as the people in the square were largely split up into three masses. “It’s about the numbers we expected, which makes things a little easier. When he finds us, I’d like you to tell Yules Latt that the first group out wants him to lead them.” He gestured to the group in question. Saché noticed it included Kya and her baby.
“I want to lead the last group,” said Lané.
“I think it would be best, then,” said Borreno, “if Briné went with the second. They’ll be going through a route I understand you know, miss. It’ll also be slightly bigger than the others, so perhaps Hock should accompany them as well.” Both people concerned nodded their agreement.
“The second group being bigger,” Saché noted, “they should go at the darkest time of the night. That’s about half an hour after midnight, right?” That was when she believed both moons would be down.
“A bit later; we’ll depart when Rori is on the horizon. The army will depart tomorrow night; meanwhile I’ll try to get in touch with as much of the rest of the resistance as possible, see if there are others you can meet up with as well as where it would be most prudent to meet up with them. Your small fighting squad will be the last people to leave here; send the army off in the evening hours before departing yourselves in the early morning hours. By then we may even have your first destination for you.”