The fireball is the first thing she sees when the elevator doors pull apart with a screechy shudder. A twisted vision of a golden sunset, it glows on the horizon, unbearably bright, magnetic, inescapable. She stands and stares, her body and mind frozen. This is it. She never gave much thought to how exactly she would die, having spent her life surviving… then again, all things considered, this may not be the worst option. It’s bound to be quick. Maybe it won’t be too painful. If only –
She tears her eyes away from the deadly beauty to stare at Cassian. Surely he knows they are doomed; they both saw the black column of smoke rising from the landing pad where Rogue One had been, their only escape route. At best they can make it to the beach, steal a few seconds of peace from approaching death before facing it together.
The urgency in his voice makes her obey; he still has to lean on her, dragging his injured leg at an awkward angle, but the direction they are going in is his decision – not forward to the beach that she is drawn to, but sideways across the cavernous hall.
It takes her squinting eyes a few seconds to discern any shapes outside after the ride downward in the dark elevator, but halfway into their trudge across the concrete floor, she sees it.
A Lambda-class shuttle sitting on a landing pad, just outside the side entrance, its formation lights flashing, landing ramp gaping open.
Trust an intelligence officer to notice what she, in her hurry to get the transmission going, had missed from the top of the tower.
It must have got there right after they did. It must be Krennick’s, she realizes belatedly; he must have come here looking for the comm trail after her father admitted his noble deception. Of course. She was too busy avoiding the shots, and too focused on reaching the transmitter dish, to have given it a moment’s thought. She is lucky Cassian had the presence of mind to have kept an eye on things in between getting busted up.
She stops and turns when she no longer feels the weight of his arm on her shoulder.
“Cassian, come on!”
He is crouched on the floor, hand gripping his injured knee. His face is ashen, his eyes wide and unseeing, brimming with pain.
“You go on, Jyn. I’m slowing you down. When you get to the bridge, hit the launch sequence –“
Her voice is so shrill and desperate that it spurs him into motion. He gets back on his feet, though he immediately has to steady himself against her side, and she half leads, half drags him the remaining hundred meters to the shuttle ramp.
“I’m not leaving without you,” she exhales, by now unnecessarily, as her hand hits the ramp release, pulling it up. Cassian does not bother to get up, sliding down the rising ramp to the floor inside the shuttle.
Before he can muster the strength to respond, she pulls the blaster out of his belt holster, thumbs off the safety and dashes forward to the bridge, praying to the Force that she does not run into the crosshairs of a squad of armoured troopers.
The shuttle looks eerily empty. When she has reached the bridge without seeing a single human or droid, she doubles back.
Cassian, still sitting on the floor where she left him, hardly registers her arrival; his eyes are still unfocussed, his forehead filmed with sweat, his breath ragged. She knows that the most effective way to get him to move is to bark orders at him, but cannot bring herself to do it. Well, at least one thing is certain, and oddly reassuring: whether they make it off Scarif or not, their fates in these moments are fused together.
“Come on,” she entreats him a third time, much softer than before. “Let’s get this thing off the ground before the blast wave hits.” It works; he scrambles up to his knees and hurtles forward, right hand grabbing blindly at the bulkheads as he makes his way to the bridge. He clearly avoids using his left arm.
By the time she catches up with him there, slumped in the pilot’s seat, and drops into the co-pilot’s seat by his side, they are already up. It looks like Cassian is a competent enough pilot to fly on reflexes no matter what state he is in; and it looks like he has flown a Lambda before, seeing how his hands skim over the controls with practiced efficiency. He still favours his left arm, and she sees the reason when she glimpses his shirt sleeve burned through by a blaster bolt; but apparently he does his best to ignore it.
They are at the edge of the atmosphere when she takes a sideways look out the illuminator on the co-pilot’s side in time to see the macabre blossom reach the archive tower; for an instant, the grey spike flashes a blinding white before dissolving into the spreading fireball. A few seconds too late, and they would have been dead.
“Strap yourself in.”
Cassian’s voice may have grown shaky, but his flying is still smooth and confident. She turns back toward him as her hands reach for the harness, but her gaze is transfixed mid-way by the spectacle before her; instead of the black void of space, she is looking at the carnage of a battle. A huge Nebulon frigate cruiser torn in half; the mangled carcasses of two colossal Star Destroyers hanging in orbit, stuck together like a bizarre rotating sculpture; the broken circle of the shield gate, huge chunks of it ripped out, floating away; the remains of several X-wings, a couple of Y-wings, and what looks like swarms of charred TIE fighters slowly spinning about, their pilots dead or dying. A Corellian corvette streaking off into the distance, the one still-intact Destroyer powering up its ion engines chasing after it, a lumbering Rancor in pursuit of a tiny fire-lizard.
And looming above all this, the ghostly globe of the Death Star, drawing the remaining Imperial fighters to it like a swarm of deadly insects seeking refuge in their nest.
She barely had time to follow Cassian’s command when he veers away from the carnage, bearing sharply on a vector that puts them at a maximum distance from the Imperials as quickly as possible. But she does not need to point out what he surely knows; they cannot outrun pursuit. The moment anyone notices and hails them, they are finished.
She snaps out of her worry to glance back at him. He looks a lot worse for wear, but still in control.
“Ever had to calculate a hyperspace jump?”
There is no reason why she should have, but she still feels painfully inadequate. “No.”
If Cassian is disappointed, he does not show it; his gaze is fixed on the display panel as his long fingers tap the input keys. “Hold this,” he points to a lever on her side of the control panel a few seconds later. “On my word, pull it forward.”
She does not doubt his decision for an instant, but curiosity prompts her to speak up.
“What are we doing?”
“Reverting to the input coordinates of the last known entry vector,” he mutters. Hearing no acknowledgement from her, he explains, still watching the readout, “Going into hyperspace back to wherever this shuttle came from.”
He answers her question before she has had a chance to ask it. “Whatever that place is, the jump will most likely bring us into high orbit. I’ll have a few minutes to calculate a jump from there before we’re noticed, but if we hang around here we’re dead for sure.”
“You said it,” she mutters back, seeing the first red beams of turbolaser fire flash past them.
“Ready?” Cassian calls to her. She hazards another glance at him, and her throat tightens with a burning ache; she cannot figure out for the life of her how he is still holding together, leave alone flying.
“Ready,” she answers, as steadily as she can.
“Three… two… one… pull.”
The pinprick stars lengthen into brilliant lines before these, too, meld together into the familiar mottled blue.
And then, just as she breathes a shuddering sigh of relief, a new voice speaks up out of nowhere; an unfamiliar slow monotone, artificial and unsettling… but the words are thrilling despite themselves.
“You know, this may turn out to be a really short jump.”