By the time she left the briefing room, Leia was exhausted. She let the doors close behind her and then allowed herself a moment of self indulgence, resting her head against the matte white wall of the Tantive IV’s corridor. All she wanted was to get back to her room and take a nice, long shower. Even the thought of exploring Coruscant didn’t seem so appealing anymore. By the Force, mother, what have you gotten us into?
The briefing had been handled by Commander Madine, Captain Antilles’ XO. The short, moustached officer’s manner had been curt, and Leia could tell through the Force that he was no more happy to be here than she was. He had briefly explained what the Alliance Council and the leading Triad of Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and her mother hoped to get out of the negotiations – a strengthening of the defences along the Solo Line, the return of a handful of systems seized by the Empire in the regular border skirmishes of the last few decades, and an official Imperial apology for the massacre on Galatia. They would settle for the strengthening of the Line.
The problem, as Madine had laid it out, was that Alliance Intelligence had been unable to ascertain exactly what the Emperor was looking to gain. That put the whole negotiation on an uneven keel.
Madine had then spent the rest of the briefing informing the various commando leaders and pilots of their role – to stay alert, to be ready for anything, to keep a close eye on the Imperials and stay as near as possible to the Alliance delegation. Leia had been surprised when Madine named her as leader of the diplomatic protection detail. That reminds me
, she thought, I need to finish a rotation for the other pilots and commandos before I go to bed
Forcing back a deep sigh, she turned to go back to her quarters when a familiar voice called her name.
She turned and saw Lance hurrying towards her down the corridor. He had changed into more comfortable clothes, though he still wore an expensive coat and a clasp sporting the Alderaani crest. A couple of NCO’s turned their head to follow him, then quickly turned away when they saw Leia.
“Thank goodness!” he said. “I thought I’d never find you. I tried your quarters, then the flight deck, but no one could tell me where you were. If I hadn’t bumped into that wingman of yours…”
“Biggs told you where I was?”
“Yes! Come on, we need to talk.”
She turned away and started down the corridor. “We have nothing to talk about.”
Her fiancÚ pursued her down the corridor. When he reached her, he grabbed her arm and pulled her back around. “Please, Leia, you have to…”
Shaking off his arm angrily, Leia swung to face him. She took a step closer, her face inches away from his own, so close she could see his pupils dilate. Her master’s voice echoed in her ears. Mind your feelings, padawan. Seek out the calm centre of the Force.
She banished the voice, embracing her anger.
“Don’t tell me what I have to do, Lance. Besides, what exactly do you think we have to talk about? The fact that you didn’t tell me you were coming on this mission? The fact that you hid such an important diplomatic negotiation from me, knowing full well I had been assigned to the mission? Or the fact that you announced our engagement without even telling me?”
She had been jabbing him in the chest in perfect synchronisation with every question. He batted her hand away now, his face darkening. “What the hell was I supposed to do? You’ve been putting it off for months. I have responsabilities as well, Leia. Or have you forgotten?”
Refusing to back down, she glared at him. “You know why I have been putting it off. We agreed that we should wait until after the first three years of my Knighthood.”
“Is that all you care about?” They were both shouting now. Out of the corner of her eye, Leia saw a number of the Tantive’s crew stood at the end of the corridor, staring at them. She realised that she didn’t care. “Your blasted Jedi and their stupid rules? You know that it was their rules that pushed your father into…”
He stopped short, realising from the look on her face that he had crossed a line. Leia’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Don’t talk about my father. You don’t know anything.”
He sneered. “I know more than you think.”
She turned away before she hit him. “This conversation is over.”
“You can’t keep on running away, Leia. You can’t keep running.”
Fuming, she did exactly that, breaking into a run as she reached the end of the corridor, pushing through the crowd of crewmen and NCOs, not caring about her position as a flight commander or as a Jedi. Hurrying through the corridors of the Corvette, his words pursued her. What did he know? He didn’t know anything about her, about her family, and especially about her father. The truth was, no one knew much about Anakin Skywalker nor what had happened to him. Her mother refused to talk to Leia about it and she had never dared ask her master. Leia’s own search through the Jedi Archives had been just as fruitless. It was as if Anakin Skywalker had never existed. He might as well be dead.
So Lance could not possibly know anything. He just couldn’t.
Her angry thoughts carried her all the way to her quarters. Slamming her hand against the palm-reader to open the door, she almost broke it. Once she was inside, she threw her jacket across the room, just wishing it was heavier. She was about to throw herself into the nearest chair when the door buzzer sounded.
“What?!” she yelled.
Silence. Then a small voice. “Commander Skywalker?”
She had thought it was Lance, pursuing her to finish their fight. Realising how her voice must sound, she took a few deep breaths, closing her eyes and using a technique her master had taught her to calm her beating heart. Reaching deep inside, she felt for the calm waters of the Force, allowing her whole mind to embrace the field of energy that surrounded her. Once her mind was free of emotion, she allowed herself to answer.
“There is a communication coming in for you on a secure line. From the Little Temple.”
The Little Temple?
After the Jedi fled Coruscant during the Rise, they had taken refuge on a new world, its location known only to the Triad and the Jedi themselves. Even padawans were not given the coordinates, their passage to and from the new Jedi headquarters accomplished under the strict supervision of a Jedi Knight. Leia herself had only recently discovered the location. For everyone else, it was known only as the Little Temple.
She blinked. “Alright, put it through here.”
She heard the man scurry away, probably glad to get away from the mad Jedi Commander. Leia dismissed him from her mind. Hurrying over to the comm system on the desk, she sat down in the chair, steeling her thoughts. Moments later, a flashing light appeared on the monitor. She pressed the connect button and the revolving Alliance logo vanished, replaced by the dark-skinned face of Jedi Master Mace Windu.
Her former master.
“Good evening, Leia.”
She smiled warmly. “Master.”
He shook his head at her. “Leia, how many times do I have to tell you, you can call me Mace now.”
“Die hard. Yes, I know. Still, it has been four months since you succeeded in your Trials, I think it is about time you started acting like a Jedi Knight and not my padawan anymore.”
“Of course, Ma- Mace.”
He waited for a moment, then he smiled. “It is good to see you.”
“It is good to see you too.” Mace had left the Little Temple a week after she succeeded in the Trials. A border dispute had broken out on a planet on the Rim side of the Solo Line. Though he had requested Leia’s presence, the Council had decided it would be best that she remain behind to wait for an assignment on her own. The dispute had taken a few weeks to resolve and Mace had been on route back when she left with the Tantive.
“I’m sorry I didn’t have time to talk to you before you left, to explain why we were sending you and what we expect of you now that you are there.”
She straightened. “What you expect of me? You mean you knew?”
“Mind your feelings, Jedi Organa.” His stern tone made her blink. She realised suddenly that her own voice had taken on an angry note, one that she was having trouble controlling.
“Yes, Master.” He didn’t correct her this time.
“Yes, I knew that you had been assigned to the Coruscant mission. It was deemed necessary that a Jedi be sent, but we could not afford to risk anyone else at this time. No Master can set foot on Coruscant since the Fall. And none of the Council members felt we could trust anyone else on that Force-forsaken planet.”
“But… But why are we even here?” she burst out. “What is the point? Surely the Alliance doesn’t actually believe that Palpatine will give anything up?”
“I’m afraid you would have to ask your mother what the Alliance does or doesn’t believe, Leia,” Mace said with a wry half-smile. “However, that is not why the Council decided to send you on this mission.”
“The time when Jedi were used as diplomats and peace-keepers is over. We can not – we will not – attempt to broker a peace with an avowed Sith Lord. Their kind should have been extinct millenia ago. Our aim, our sole mission now, is to make sure that they do not spread their filthy ways out of their Empire and, eventually, to see all Sith back where they belong. In their graves.”
“We have received word in the past few months of a top secret project, spear-headed by the Emperor himself. All we have been able to glean is a key word, the name of the project. Tantiss.”
Leia wracked her brains to try and dredge up any mention of the word from her studies. After a few moments, she shook her head. “I’ve never heard that name.”
“Neither have any of the Council. We cannot find anything in the Archives. However from what we have been hearing it is a very important project for the Empire. Something involving the Sith. We believe that it may even relate to the Emperor’s apprentice.”
Leia shook her head again. “But the Emperor has hundreds, if not thousands, of Sith apprentices.”
“Not apprentices, Leia. Hands. Operatives trained in certain ways of the Force. Powerful in their own rights but nowhere near as powerful as a true Sith Lord would be. Palpatine is too afraid to ever share that power with anyone but his true apprentice. As far as we can tell, even the Zabrak devil who killed Master Qui-Gonn, and the rebel Count Dooku, were never more than operatives, despite what they may have been led to believe by Palpatine. Palpatine had his eye on someone else to be his apprentice. It seems he has finally found him. Or her.”
Leia thought back to the white-robed men who had accompanied the Imperial delegation. “What about the Sith priests?”
Mace waved a hand dismissively. “Nothing more than mouth-pieces for Sith propaganda. A few may have limited Force sensitivity, but nothing compared to even the weakest of our padawans. They are not the problem, Leia. Palpatine and his Hands are. Palpatine’s apprentice is.”
“A true Sith apprentice?”
“A new Sith Lord.”
Leia shivered. “What do you want me to do?”
“I – we – want you to do some digging while you are Coruscant. We want you to try and track down exactly what Project Tantiss is and what it means. We also want you to find out what link there is – if any – with Palpatine’s apprentice. And if you find him…”
Mace raised an eyebrow. “I will leave that decision up to you. But Leia…”
“Whatever you do, do not go after Palpatine. Master Yoda could not defeat him. Neither could I. Neither could…”
“My father.” Lance’s words came back to haunt her.
Mace seemed to sense her feelings. “Leia… Whatever you may have heard about your father, know this. He saved my life that night. If he hadn’t intervened when he did, I am sure that Palpatine would have killed me. Anakin… He had many faults. I was the first to criticise him for them. But in the end, when it counted, he did what the Force bid him to do. He stayed true to the Jedi code. And he saved my life.”
Leia didn’t know what to say to that. The silence dragged out between them until Mace broke through her thoughts. “Well, I’m sending you everything I have on the Tantiss Project. It isn’t much but it may give you a few ideas. I trust you’ll be… discreet?”
“Just like on Genabis.”
Mace sighed. “I was afraid you would say that. Be careful.”
“May the Force be with you, Jedi Skywalker.”
“And with you Master Windu.”
The screen went blank, then the Alliance logo appeared again and began to revolve. Leia sat there for a moment, thinking. A Sith apprentice? That could be disastrous for the war effort. Long term strategists within the Alliance had already begun projections as to what would happen when the Emperor died and all projections pointed to the fact that the Empire would fall apart, allowing the Alliance to reestablish the Republic within half a generation. With an heir, recognised by the Sith priests, and chosen by the Emperor himself… The war might last for another century. Or more.
She couldn’t let that happen. If it was the last thing she did, she would track down this apprentice and kill him. First, though, she needed information.
She called up the Tantive’s internal communications protocol. Selecting a name from the list, she waited for Biggs to pick up. He did so only after a couple of minutes, his hair a mess, his eyes bloodshot. He ran a hand over his cheek.
“Did I wake you?”
“Sorry about that. I just wondered whether you felt like taking a trip?”
He grinned, any trace of fatigue evaporating. “I thought you’d never ask.”
She smiled back. She had known Biggs would be up for it. “Meet me in a couple of hours, okay? And wear civvies, I don’t want anyone to know we’re Alliance.”
“You got it.” He signed off.
Two hours. That would just about give her time to read through the documents her master had sent her, have a quick shower and get changed. First of all, though, she needed to get something to eat. Closing down the communication’s screen, she headed for the door.