Lilliya woke with a start. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she peered out towards the window. It was daylight, but she couldn’t tell what time. She glanced at the chrono that stood by her dresser and saw that it was past noon. She slept the whole night away and then some.
And then she noticed the pounding. She couldn’t tell if that was her head or the door. She realized, now, that the brisk knocking was what had woken her up in the first place.
“Coming,” she groaned, knowing quite well that no one would hear her, and she rolled out of bed, rewrapping the disheveled dressing gown around her slim body, and dragged herself to the door. She caught a glimpse of herself in one of the mirrors and groaned again. Her hair had matted on one side her of head where the bandage was. There was still little clots of dried blood knotted on that side too. Her eyes were puffy from crying and her face was sickly pale. She was in desperate need of a shower.
This time a bell chimed inside the apartment. Whoever was trying to reach her, needed her badly, she surmised.
Finally, Lilliya made it to the door and opened it.
Leia stood on the other side dressed in a dark purple gown laced with gold.
“Good afternoon,” Leia said, though her expression didn’t reflect anything positive at all.
So it wasn’t a dream, Lilliya thought. “Find something?” she said.
“Actually, I came to tell you we lost contact with the investigation team,” Leia said, her voice hardened with stress. “The last time we heard from them was late last night. Their transmission said something about an alien spear, or weapon of some sort, on the Raider base ruins. Then nothing.”
“Humph,” Lilliya sighed, leaning against the door frame.
“Do you have any ideas?” Leia said, impatience seeping through her tone.
“I can only think that maybe—just maybe they were attacked by the same battleship,” Lilliya answered, though she hoped that wasn’t the case.
“Yes, but I keep wondering how you were able to get by without getting shot down as well,” Leia said.
Lilliya stared at Leia curiously, her brow furrowing. She was beginning to wonder if Leia thought she had anything to do with this.
“I found a way to activate the cloaking device on the shuttle,” Lilliya explained. It really was that simple.
“That’s interesting because the science team can’t even make a dent in the shuttle, much less get inside of it,” Leia said, cocking her head to the side to peer at Lilliya with a very critical eye.
Lilliya stared back, a little unnerved by Leia’s barely hidden hostility. Only then did Lilliya notice the same intimidating guard droids lurking a few ways down the hall.
“I’m not sure what to say,” Lilliya said slowly, trying to not get herself in trouble. “I was able to get inside with the medallions I found in the pocket of one the aliens that attacked me on Endor. They were taken away from me by the guards that met me on the docking bay when I landed.”
“Lilliya, I’m going to need you to come with me,” Leia said. “Please get dressed as quickly as you can.”
Lilliya frowned in concern, but did as she was told. She took a sonic shower, then donned a simple black jumpsuit and knee-high boots she found inside the closet full of clothes. She let her hair air-dry which resulted in a curly mass of gold waves, and her crystal necklace glittered brightly against the black. She was out and ready to go in fifteen minutes.
Leia had already left the corridor and the GP droids stayed to greet Lilliya at the front door. Their red eyes stared at her silently, which added to the eeriness. Lilliya stepped out of her apartment and followed them to the science center. It took them about half an hour of riding lift tubes and shuttles before arriving at GP’s science center, which was located far below the palace grounds.
Lilliya and the droids walked down a skinny corridor with low ceilings, giving a very claustrophobic illusion. The only light given was from simple florescent white lights nestled in the corners of the metal flooring. After a few minutes, they finally entered a large cave-like room where the alien shuttle lay surrounded by many scientists of different species, all donning white jumpsuits with glowing yellow piping.
Leia stood alone on a tiny walkway that led to the elevated platform the shuttle rested on, her purple gown billowing off the bridge’s edges. Leia turned to see Lilliya making her way over to the bridge, frustration clouding her already irritated thoughts as she still wasn’t able to sense Lilliya’s arrival. Leia was unsuccessful in hiding her disappointment.
“Thank you for joining us,” Leia called before Lilliya was able to reach the bridge, her voice echoing off the walls of the large metal room.
Lilliya stepped onto the bridge and was taken aback by the drop of the floor beneath her. She decided to keep her focus ahead of her and not below her.
“As you can see, the scientists are unable to activate the opening to the shuttle,” Leia said, once Lilliya reached her. The two women stood side by side on the bridge watching the scientists work around the shuttle like a swarm of insects. One of the scientists, tall, skinny and green-skinned, a species Lilliya didn’t recognize, walked over to the two women, the medallions in hand.
“When I was on Endor, I was able to kill one of the aliens that approached me,” Lilliya said. “I used its thumb and pressed it against one of the medallions. It not only disengaged the cloaking device, but opened up an entrance to the ship.”
“Give Lilliya the medallions,” Leia ordered once the scientist had reached them. The scientist looked willing enough to hand over the tiny items to someone else this time.
Leia turned to watch Lilliya has she balanced the two medallions in either hand. Lilliya pressed her thumb on one of the medallions, like she had the day before when she was inside the ship, and immediately the shuttle hummed and an entrance shot forward, shocking nearly all the scientists that were in the way.
Leia cocked an eyebrow in curiosity, then quickly became suspicious. “You see, those scientists had tried everything to open up some sort of entrance,” Leia said, her voice very quiet and controlled. “They even pressed their own fingers to those medallions with no response from the ship. I find it curious that you were able to open it up with one try.”
Lilliya didn’t say anything. She glanced from Leia’s critical stare and back to the ship, its entrance yawning open for everyone to see. Lilliya was just as confused as to why the medallions responded so easily to her. She had no explanation to give and was afraid to suggest anything; she could already tell she was walking on thin ice.
The two women watched as the scientists tentatively made their way inside the shuttle with their scanning instruments out and ready to use. The tall, green-skinned scientist pulled out a thin white scanning pad and held it out silent in front of Lilliya.
Lilliya’s brow furrowed in confusion and looked at Leia for an explanation.
Leia shrugged. “We anticipated the ship responding to you seeing as you were able to fly it,” she said. “The science team would like a copy of your thumb print in case they run into anymore situations like this.”
Lilliya hesitated, but it didn’t seem like she had much of a choice. She decided she’d better cooperate considering the heavy speculation she was under. She pressed her thumb to the pad and a blue light flashed beneath it. Once that was done, the scientist returned to the others and they continued their research.
Leia turned back around and began walking towards the cave’s exit. Lilliya followed closely behind.
“I’m surprised your personal aide didn’t greet me earlier,” Lilliya said.
“Mazy was apart of the investigation team sent to Endor,” Leia answered.
Lilliya nodded in understanding. That might have been why Leia was in such a sour mood, and Lilliya wouldn’t blame Leia if she thought Lilliya was the cause of all this.
The two made their way down the claustrophobic corridor and headed for the lift.
“I have a full day with my family arriving and the YVA banquet to prepare for,” Leia said as she stepped into the tube, turning around to face Lilliya and giving a hint that Lilliya was to not follow her inside. “You are welcome to attend, if you like. There will be military officials and diplomats from all over. It might be good for you to meet some of them and see what your options are career-wise. I will keep you informed if anything changes in the Endor system.” With that, Leia disappeared behind the rotating lift door and another one opened, empty.
Lilliya couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that she was not in the best of situations. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt so alone. And then she forgot the GP droids standing directly behind her, waiting for her to enter the tube.
“Guess it’s just the five of us, right, guys?” Lilliya muttered half-heartedly, in an attempt to lighten the situation. Maybe the droids could actually talk back.
But they didn’t, as they stared back at her with their cold red eyes, one of them pointing to the lift tube as if that was a hint.
Lilliya slumped in defeat and shuffled forward into the tube, the droids always close behind.
“She’s not giving in,” Captain Jorn said, as he made his way down the star-studded, circular hallway. Admiral Maurel’s private quarters were just a little ways down, but the only entrance was the small tube of-a-hallway made of thick glass that allowed the sensation of walking in space. Jorn could never figure out if this was an intimidation tactic on Maurel’s part, or if he was simply obsessed with being surrounded by billions of stars. “The serum doesn’t seem to be working on her,” Jorn continued when he knew he could see Maurel’s sinewy figure at the end of the hall.
Maurel remained silent even when Captain Jorn was only a few feet away. The tall, silver-haired man, with the brilliantly young face chiseled into perfect beauty stared out one of the large view panes, his sapphire eyes slightly glazed over. They didn’t seem to be watching anything and barely noticed Jorn’s arrival—except for the scar in Maurel’s left eye. That black-as-space, diamond-shaped scar always seemed to be aware on its own, always watching, absorbing…the scar glittered in Captain Jorn’s direction and he quickly looked away. Jorn never liked making eye contact with Maurel because of this.
“She’s a surprisingly strong one, for her species,” Maurel finally said, his voice soft and soothing. “Up the dosage.”
“If we give her anymore, her brain will reject it. It will shut down,” Jorn said, noticing how much his voice carried in the large chamber. There was no other sound, no air flow coming from the ducts, no gentle hum reverberating from the ship’s mechanical insides. The Diamond Denominator was already a shockingly silent ship, but Jorn marveled at how Maurel’s quarters were the quietest of them all. It was a dead silence. All Jorn could hear was his own breathing; Maurel never seemed to breathe.
“Up the dosage, but do it slowly,” Maurel spoke so quietly that if it weren’t for the echo bouncing off the walls of the massive room, Jorn would have had to strain to listen. “Her mind will reject it, but not until we get all the information we need. There has to be a very good reason as to why the President would send her own personal aide out to investigate an insignificant incident like this. The Galactic Raiders were not on the Alliance’s high-priority list.”
“Yes, but the escaped shuttle, the one we didn’t destroy…” Jorn muttered. There were plenty of reasons as to why that particular situation irritated him. Why allow an escapee warn the most powerful military force in the galaxy that they were being invaded? But what most irritated Jorn was that he was in the dark, running a battleship full of clones and enslaved humans.
“So she’s made contact with the President,” Maurel said, smiling grimly.
“Which means she’s on Coruscant,” Captain Jorn said. “Should we send a team out to capture her?”
Maurel was silent for a moment. Then, “No. Penetrating Coruscant’s security defenses would draw too much attention to us. She won’t stay there for long. Once she leaves the system, we’ll then make our strike.” Maurel turned to face Captain Jorn completely, making Jorn automatically step backward. “Continue your interrogation. Draw as much information out of the girl that you can. Then get rid of her.”
“One more thing,” Maurel said, as he lifted a black metal box into view. It seemed to be a safe of some sort. “This was going to be sent to Coruscant, to the Galactic Palace. Be sure that it gets there.”
Captain Jorn saluted, took the box, turned, and briskly walked back down the starry corridor, all the while feeling pity for the young personal aide and what was to come of her.
Lilliya jumped down from an air duct high above the ceiling and quietly landed into a crouch onto the soft red carpeting. As soon as the GP guard droids had taken her back to her apartment and stayed outside the entrance, Lilliya figured she was under house arrest. After exploring her apartment for an hour, she was able to disengage the hidden security cameras and climb into one of the air ducts to escape her apartment unnoticed. She had a little trouble finding a way into the hallways, but it didn’t take her long. Lilliya wasn’t going to spend the rest of her day being watched and followed by those nightmarish droids.
She didn’t know how long it would take for them to figure out she’d disconnected the cameras in her room, she assumed not too long, so she wasted no time giving herself a personal tour of the Senate Apartments free of the lurking droids. Lilliya dashed down the hallways, turning sharp corners, passing other luxurious living quarters, common areas, spa rooms—this made her pause for a second as she looked with envy at the beautiful women and men, rich Bureaucrats she presumed, going in and out of the spa seeming refreshed and relaxed. Lilliya wondered if her temporary stay at the Senate Apartments would allow her a visit to the spa. Probably not.
She then saw a group of kids, Lilliya guessed about eight to ten years old, disappear behind some cloudy-white glass doors, laughing, shouting, and running to play. As the doors slid silently behind them, Lilliya caught a glimpse of greenery and maybe some wildlife. She decided to follow the kids. She remembered a rumor that GP station had the most beautiful gardens filled with plant life from all over the galaxy including some original organic life grown during the Yuuzhan Vong occupation. Lilliya had always wanted to see this garden and she had a feeling this was the entrance.
Looking cautiously around the large window-filled room, sunlight streaming in from all sides, and once she determined the GP droids still hadn’t noticed she’d gone, Lilliya skipped over to the white glass doors and stepped through.
She was right. Lilliya stepped inside a massive dome-shaped room made out of reflective glass, which in turn, made the room’s size double in appearance. She could see Coruscant’s blue sky coming through the glass and reflecting back in an odd way. It made the ceiling appear bluer than it already was. Inside resided plant life collected from nearly every planet within the galaxy and all organized by color and shape. There were reds, deep greens, bright blues, oranges, vibrant pinks and purples, and some, Lilliya was certain, colors that even the human eyes couldn’t register. The smells surprisingly worked in harmony together considering they were all drastically different species growing up in very different worlds. Who ever was the gardener had their work cut out for them, Lilliya surmised.
She continued slowly down a stone pathway with a canopy of red-gold and green vines curling above her, allowing herself to breathe in the peaceful atmosphere. She could visit this place many times, Lilliya thought, during her stay there. She could find privacy and peace, try to relax and clear her head. Forget about the past couple of days and find away to move forward. The depression, she knew, was well contained and buried beneath more important matters that needed to be addressed. Lilliya was afraid of facing the black hole that seemed to be growing deeper, no matter how much she pushed it back. She couldn’t allow herself to think about it, not yet. Not when there were so many other things to worry about.
Children’s laughter startled her out of her reverie, but she was thankful for it. The sound was positive and reminded her of happier times when she was a child.
Her father always told her that she was a special kid, much more vibrant and full of life, than the others. She was a fast learner and matured quickly. Her physical appearance also grew at a faster rate than was considered normal for a human being. At two, she was as tall as a five year old and spoke Basic as fluent as an eight year old. At five, she towered above all her other classmates at about four feet. Lilliya’s father had to remove her from public school because of the harassment Lilliya received for her looks. She remembered being picked on by the other humans because of the strange, color-shifting diamond scar that was embedded in her left eye. She also remembered being attacked by the school bully, a powerful child who claimed he could use the Force. The boy had grabbed her crystal necklace because Lilliya told him he couldn’t borrow it, and he ripped it off her neck. Lilliya had suddenly gone into a panic attack as soon as the necklace was in the hands of the boy. She rationalized later that her panic must have been because of her emotional attachment to the item that was found with her when her mother and father found her abandoned inside an escape pod.
In any case, the boy was punished and removed from school. A week later, her father decided to take her out as well, not wanting to risk another strange incident like that again. Lilliya’s father home-schooled her for the rest of her youth and then trained her to become a pilot. As a child growing up in the House of Tentle, always at her father’s side, a blue and green-eyed girl with gold hair by day and silver hair by night, she was the happiest child she thought existed. Though her own appearance unnerved her, making her the most unique-looking human being, her father helped her accept and appreciate her looks. He said she was the “most beautiful girl in the entire galaxy.” That helped somewhat. Nonetheless, she revered her childhood years as her best years so far.
And the way things were looking for her now, they were probably going to be the only best memories she would have.
Lilliya rounded a corner, passing by an odd looking marble statue with glittering jewel eyes. She stopped and looked down at it. It was a frightening little creature standing on two very long legs, slender arms outstretched and clawing, a wide mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, and a long whip-like tail. It looked more like something out of a nightmare. It didn’t seem to fit in with all the other colorful beauty, luscious green foliage.
Then she recognized a voice not too far away. Lilliya’s heart rate jumped up a notch, and she leaned past a gray stone pillar to confirm the voice.
Leia stood a few meters away, still dressed in her elegant, purple gown, laughing and embracing a man in black.
Lilliya decided it was best to move on before Leia noticed she was without her GP escort.
“Luke!” Leia cried, lifting up on her toes to wrap her arms around her brother’s neck. “You have no idea how glad I am to see you.”
“I could sense your hysteria all the way from Ossus,” Luke Skywalker smiled, holding his sister tightly in his embrace. He hadn’t seen his twin sister in what felt like many months. Luke’s workload on Ossus had kept him quite busy to the point of not being able to see his family members in the flesh. Only through holo-transmissions was he able to keep in touch. “Is it the banquet that has you bothered, or something else entirely?” He meant his comment to be taken lightly.
Leia hesitated for only a second, but that was enough for Luke to understand something was very wrong.
“Let’s not talk about it now,” Leia finally said, loosening her grip on her brother. “There will be plenty of time to clue you in. Right now, I want to talk about you, the JedI Order, that sort of thing. Oh! And you have no idea how anxious Han is to see you. He’s been talking about you nonstop and all the things you two will be doing once you get here.”
Luke grimaced only slightly. He knew what Han had in mind: cantina hopping. “Doesn’t he feel old yet?” Luke said.
“Not even close,” Leia smiled brightly. “There’s nothing that can bring him down. At least that’s one of us…”
Luke stayed silent for a moment, wrapping his arm around his sister’s shoulder. They walked down one of the many stone pathways that wound like a maze through the gardens.
“How are you feeling?” Luke finally asked.
“I’m fine,” Leia quickly answered. “Being President isn’t really the easiest of jobs. I sometimes wish I could go back and change it all, continue planet jumping with Han, just the two of us and the Falcon. But we all know where that would lead.”
“Some major crisis would occur back at the capitol,” Luke said. “And you would have to fly back to talk some sense into most of the crazy politicians who want your job.”
“I hope you know that I only took this job back to protect you and the JedI,” Leia said, nudging Luke in the ribs with her elbow. “If it weren’t for me, you all would be marked as fugitives and hunted down. So, technically, it’s your fault I’m back on the throne.”
“Yes, and I will be forever grateful to you for that,” Luke smiled wistfully. A brief memory of the late Jacen Solo and his strike against the galaxy years ago flashed through his mind. If it weren’t for Jacen and his unexplained turn to the dark side, which resulted in the murder of Luke’s own wife, Mara Jade Skywalker, the JedI wouldn’t be so feared and hated by most of the galaxy’s inhabitants. His sister was the sole supporter of the JedI Order and she was able to keep the government at bay when concerning the JedI’s future.
But Leia had lost two sons in just a decade, her only surviving child being Jaina Solo. There was speculation on that being the only reason she was voted back in office, but Leia didn’t care if it was sympathy that got her in. After losing both her sons, she needed something to distract her, and being President was plenty distracting.
“How is Jaina?” Luke asked, almost as though he read her mind.
“Doing well,” Leia answered, though it was hard to say when she barely saw her own daughter nowadays. “She’s very busy flying around the galaxy with her TwinSuns Squadron. She’s just like her father. Jaina will be here in about an hour, actually. She will join us for dinner before the banquet.”
Luke nodded, but didn’t say anything. His mind was working hard to not think about his own estranged son and the distance that had occurred between them. Ben Skywalker and Luke Skywalker rarely speak to each other, one reason being that Ben lives on Coruscant, attending GP Flight Academy, and another being that Ben had renounced using the Force for reasons unknown to Luke, or anyone. Ben had also expressed his disapproval of the JedI Order, an argument turned-fight between Luke and Ben. Since then, the two hadn’t spoken to each other. But, everyday, Luke thought of his son and wished he knew what to do to make it right.
“He’s fine too,” Leia said, also reading her brother’s mind. “Ben’s very busy up there.” Leia glanced up at the shiny blue ceiling, referring to the Academy’s flight training in Coruscant’s space. “He has dinner with me and Han once in a while, so that’s a good thing.”
“I’m hoping to convince him to come to Ossus with me this time,” Luke said quietly, though he knew his wish seemed feeble.
Leia grimaced. She knew Ben hated Ossus and wouldn’t go anywhere near it. She had a bad feeling another fight would break out and ruin their small family reunion.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Leia said. “I know you want him to open up to the Force, but he rejects it so passionately. It hurts him, to use the Force. I’ve seen it in his eyes.”
Ben was an infant during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion and had felt many deaths through the Force. As a child, he also felt his mother’s death and his cousin/mentor’s death through the Force. Because of this, he had been traumatized and learned to block out most of the Force senses. Ben also blamed the Force for the demise of Jacen.
“He can’t hide away from it forever,” Luke said, his voice growing more frustrated. “Ben is incredibly strong in the Force. If he isn’t trained…” Luke let his voice trail off. He would have said, “if he wasn’t trained, then Ben might have no control over it, which can result in him turning to the dark side…like Jacen.” But Luke couldn’t bring himself to mention Jacen’s name. He vowed to never speak Jacen’s name around Leia or Han. Especially Leia.
Just then, Luke felt an odd tremor in the Force. It was brilliant, strong, and bright as a supernova. And in that instant, it was gone, lasting barely a second.
Leia had noticed immediately, as soon as Luke froze in place. She tugged on his arm to get his attention.
“What is it, Luke?” she said.
“Did you feel that?” he said, his voice barely a whisper.
Leia was silent. She retraced her thoughts, but came up empty. She felt only the wildlife and plant life within the dome…some kids, a few tourists…
Suddenly, something beeped at her side. She lifted her wrist and activated the comlink that was wrapped there.
“Yes?” she said into mic.
“The commander, Lilliya Tentle, is missing,” a deep voice resounded from the com. “We assume she had deactivated the security cameras in her room. They aren’t responding to our commands. The GP droids have entered her room and found it empty.”
Leia gritted her teeth. She wished Mazy was here to deal with these situations. Luke looked down at her in curiosity.
“Have the cameras search for her life-signatures throughout the palace,” Leia ordered. “She couldn’t have gotten too far and I have a feeling she isn’t planning an escape. Still, I don’t feel comfortable allowing her to roam the palace unattended. Have the GP droids trace her signature as well and make sure they bring her back to her room.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the voice reverberated, then the comlink clicked silent.
“What was that?” Luke asked, a little taken aback that there was someone on the loose, someone Leia hadn’t mentioned and obviously thought was important enough to be held in house arrest.
“This was the thing I didn’t want to talk about,” Leia grumbled. “Well, you might as well hear it. We lost one of our military outposts on Endor, the Galactic Raiders. Something had attacked and destroyed the base completely, or so we were told. A young commander named Lilliya Tentle had supposedly escaped and warned us of a battleship of alien design that had attacked them. I sent an investigation team out there, but then we lost contact with them.”
Luke nodded grimly. The idea of a new enemy was sickening. The last thing they needed was another war on their hands.
Leia’s expression was contorted in aggravation, and there was something else, Luke noted. “There’s more,” he said, encouraging her to continue.
“Yes,” Leia said abruptly, her dark eyes flashing up to look into Luke’s crystal blue ones. “The girl—Lilliya Tentle—she…she doesn’t exist in the Force. I thought maybe she was Yuuzhan Vong, an imposter, but security scans confirm her identity as Lilliya Tentle. Only that—the Lilliya Tentle, commander of the Galactic Raiders is reported as human on her medical charts. This girl…is not.”
Luke remained silent for a moment, trying to absorb all this new information. He was surprised he didn’t read it before. Leia must be getting more skilled at hiding her thoughts from him.
“You sure there wasn’t a mistake made by the MD droid?” Luke finally said.
“No,” Leia said. “I saw the DNA scans myself. They are very similar, but there is one part of it that is drastically different.”
“Wait until you see her, though,” Leia said, her tone taking on more of a positive meaning. “She definitely catches your eye. Yes!—you must meet her!” Leia’s enthusiasm surprising Luke, even.
“If you meet her,” she continued, “maybe you could figure her out better than I could. She’s an enigma and I don’t trust her. But you could investigate her, probe her mind, see what you can find. Maybe take her to Ossus—”
“Wait a minute, Leia,” Luke interjected. “We don’t know who or what this girl is. I am not prepared to bring her to the JedI Temple where she could possibly be a danger to the students there.”
“Understandable,” Leia nodded in agreement, though she was so certain her idea was flawless. “But just meet her. I’ll make sure she attends the banquet and then, then you can figure her out for yourself.”