to the surface of the planet. The twin suns had set, letting the day's heat begin to bleed off into space. The chill creeping into the desert likewise began to gnaw at him. It found a willing ally in the sorrow sloshing around in Corran's guts.

"Excuse me, Lieutenant Horn, I don't want to intrude."

Corran looked back and saw Jula Darklighter silhouetted against the glow from the pit mansion. "No intrusion, sir. I came from a small family, so this is rather overwhelming."

"I came from a big family, and it's overwhelming." Jula glanced down at the ground and toed an alkali crust into dust. "I wanted to say thank you for taking care of my son out there."

Corran smiled, but shook his head. "Gavin takes care of himself out there."

"He said you had confidence in him and that you got another pilot to stop picking on him. He didn't say it that way, mind you, but he's not hard to read."

Corran laughed lightly. "No, your boyyoung man does tend to digitize and broadcast his emotions. The situation he refers to, though, was one where another pilot, Bror Jace, and I were having a bit of a conflict, and Gavin just happened to find himself in the middle. I'm glad he took heart in my having confidence in him, because I did and do believe in him and his skills, but he needs no protection. You raised a man of whom you can be proud."

Jula smiled and nodded, then looked Corran straight in the eyes. "He's almost ended up like Biggs, hasn't he?"

"We've all almost ended up like Biggs, sir. The Empire may be in retreat, but there are plenty of folks still willing to fight for them." Corran raised a hand to his breastbone and unconsciously stroked the Jedi medallion he wore. "Gavin has been wounded and did almost die, but the fact is that he was too tough to die. As a pilot,

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