Gray / STAR WARS BLOODLINE
“When we look back upon the war against the Empire—upon the billions of lives lost—sometimes it seems as though nothing could ever have been worth the terrible price we paid. But when we think of those people who perished in the conflict, let us remember that they died for justice. For liberty. For the extraordinary peace we now enjoy.” Senator Tai-Lin Garr held out his arms, taking in the entire celebration on Hosnian Prime: the brilliant sunshine, the aquamarine sky, the countless citizens of a thousand different species gathered together beneath the colorful flags of their worlds. The beauty and promise of the New Republic seemed to be laid before them all. “This is what we fought for.”
Everyone applauded. Many cheered.
Senator Leia Organa clapped along with the rest and thought, Too bad it’s falling apart.
To the majority of the observers, most of them among the enormous number of citizens who had traveled to Hosnian Prime for the dedication ceremony and concert, the many senators clustered in the stands would appear to be a sign of solidarity and strength. Planets from the Core Worlds to the Outer Rim were represented; humans wore the cloaks, robes, and ceremonial gear of countless different cultures as they watched the ceremony alongside species from the Aqualish to the Ithorian, from the large-eyed Mon Calamari to the small, woolly Ashaftan, in what looked like perfect unity. Leia’s sharper eyes traced the invisible line between the two halves of the gathering: Centrist senators on one side, Populist senators like herself on the other. The physical gap couldn’t have been measured, but the philosophical one widened every day. Soon that gap would broaden into a crevasse, one deep enough to reveal how fragile the peace really was.
Stop it. Leia forced herself to think positively. Rationally. Galactic politics has always had its parties, factions, divisions. It always will. Not every ideological conflict leads to a complete governmental breakdown.
But the unease that stirred just beneath the glossy surface of this ceremony reminded her of the final days of the Imperial Senate. Polite words cloaking implied threats, a near-complete lack of trust among worlds: The mood felt all too familiar.
Then again, the Imperial Senate actually made decisions once in a while. See? History isn’t repeating itself after all, she thought sourly.
Leia took pleasure in exactly one aspect of this gathering: the new statue they had come together to dedicate. The seventy-meter-high statue had been carved of Jelucani fogstone, which sparkled transparent as diamond in bright light, then turned a pale, opaque gray-green in darkness. As Tai-Lin finished his speech to applause, a cloud passed in front of the sun. The fogstone’s glittering dimmed to reveal the fine detail on the statue of Bail Organa, portrayed in his robes of the office of viceroy of Alderaan and with a hand outstretched toward all peoples, in classic hagiographic form. Yet his face had been as accurately and lovingly carved as the most intimate portrait. Maybe the different senators and planets could agree on little any longer, but at least her father’s legacy endured.
Tai-Lin nodded to Leia as his pod hovered back into place; for ceremonial functions, such pods were allowed, though their use in the Senate was now considered “overly hierarchical.” His nod served as both an acknowledgment that her turn had come and genuine encouragement. She gave him a quick smile before she pressed the controls that would bring her pod forward from the stands and focus the amplifier droids on her voice. A warm breeze fluttered the dark-blue folds of her cape and gown as Leia stood before the gathering.
“I stand before you not only as a senator, but also as Bail Organa’s daughter.” Leia’s voice rang out, clear and strong, revealing none of the doubts that had haunted her day. “And yet everything I have done in my career as a senator has been rooted in the valuable lessons he taught me about courage. About strength. About leadership.”
Leadership was something the Senate badly needed at present. Mon Mothma had remained hugely influential even after her term as chancellor . . . more so than Leia had realized before Mon Mothma’s illness. Without someone able to bridge philosophical gaps and create consensus, the political process they’d forged for the New Republic was showing its weaknesses.
She continued speaking smoothly as the flags flapped in the strong breeze. “He stood as viceroy of Alderaan at the beginning of a dark time for our entire galaxy.” A hush fell over the crowd at the mention of her dead planet’s name. Leia pretended not to notice. Her pod hovered so high above the ground that the hundred thousand people from a thousand species and worlds, vibrant in their individual skins, scales, and furs, were indistinct to her now—a mass of color and noise, hard to connect with. But Leia tried. “He helped Mon Mothma create the Rebel Alliance, even while still fighting valiantly to preserve what little integrity and authority the Imperial Senate had left. I have no doubt that he would have continued the battle alongside our rebel soldiers if he had not so cruelly been taken from us in the destruction of my homeworld.”
She continued, “It was my privilege to know him as both a leader and a father. As proud as I am to think of his courageous stand against Palpatine’s tyranny, I also smile every time I remember how he used to get down on the floor to play blocks with his little girl.” Fond laughter rippled through the audience.
Good. She’d woken the crowd, won them over. Time for Leia to say the words her listeners wouldn’t want to hear.
“He taught me so much about politics, leadership, and war, but above all he taught me that no price is too great to pay for our ideals. Bail Organa was willing to die if that meant the Empire would fall. He believed in the New Republic we have been able to create, and in the promise of fair, equal government for everyone under the law.” Applause welled up, and Leia paused to let it subside before continuing, “He believed in unity, and he knew that unity came at the cost of compromise. Mon Mothma, one of his earliest and most enduring allies, shared those convictions and let them guide her leadership of the Senate. She wanted the worlds of the New Republic to find balance, and to always seek the middle ground where we can work together for a better tomorrow.”
This won more applause, but the sound was muted now. Populists and Centrists agreed on only one point these days: Compromise was for the weak.
Leia looked at the statue and imagined herself speaking directly to Bail Organa as she concluded. “My father gave us one legacy more precious than any other—a galactic peace. All of us here today have inherited the responsibility to preserve that peace from this day forward. Only by doing so can we truly honor and remember him.”
Applause and cheers welled up, deafeningly loud, in a display of enthusiasm greater than any Leia had seen in a long time. Had people actually heard her message? Did they understand how fragile peace had become? Would they now urge their senators to overcome their endless petty bickering and finally give the galaxy the leadership it deserved?
Then she heard the high, silvery sound of X-wing fighters overhead. The military air show had begun. That was why the crowds were cheering. They hadn’t heard her last words at all.
That was . . . a disappointment. But not a surprise.
As the X-wings split into a dramatic new formation, Leia sighed and hit the control that would levitate her pod back into the senatorial stands. If nobody was listening, she might as well enjoy the show.
“You’re such a pessimist, Leia,” Senator Varish Vicly insisted after the ceremony, as various leaders milled around the base of the glittering statue of Bail Organa. Like all Lonerans, Varish had long, silky fur the color of gold and a quartet of thin, extended limbs that allowed her to walk on two feet or all fours with equal ease. Now she ambled along on only two, the better to keep waving and shaking hands. “Of course people cheered for the air show! X-wing maneuvers are more exciting than the best speech ever made.”
Leia tucked a stray lock of hair back into her one long braid. “I just wish we could get people to listen.”
“Look at it this way.” Varish’s golden fur fluttered in the breeze, and her long, narrow face split in a wide smile for someone waving in the distance. “People love the X-wing pilots because they think of them as the great fighters of the Rebellion. See? People haven’t forgotten the war. It’s just that it was all so very long ago.”
“I suppose it was.” Leia remembered sitting in the Senate as a fourteen-year-old junior legislator and feeling sure she was the youngest person among all those thousands; these days, she sometimes felt like the oldest. The war had taken a toll on her generation, culling so many who would otherwise have gone on to lead. Among the crowds and the Senate itself were many who hadn’t even been born when the Battle of Endor was fought.
Leia ought to have felt that her obsolescence stood as a badge of honor. The populace couldn’t have become so complacent without decades of relative peace, which had been given to them by the New Republic. But she couldn’t relax. Couldn’t stop worrying. That was what happened when someone grew up on the run, under siege, always expecting capture or death at any moment. Paranoia became the only way of seeing the world, unable to ever be fully set aside.
“Come, now. If you don’t cheer up before dinner, I’ll seat you next to Count Jogurner, see if I won’t . . . oh, Feleen, over here!” Varish squeezed Leia’s arm once before darting into the crowd to greet yet another of her political friends.
Leia shook her head in fond resignation. Behind her seemingly frivolous interests, Varish Vicly was a person of integrity, as staunch a Populist as Leia herself, and one of the very few senators it was actually fun to spend time with. (Unlike, for instance, Count Jogurner, who meant well but could not converse at length on any subject other than Cheedoan whiskeys.) But she wasn’t a good audience for Leia’s darker fears.
Nobody wants to hear about the war any longer, Leia told herself. No one wants to be afraid of more chaos and turmoil. Isn’t this what I fought for—so they wouldn’t have to be afraid?
She scanned the crowd, picking out friend and enemy alike. Tai-Lin Garr, conspicuous in his trademark scarlet cloak, listened gravely to a group of spectators who had apparently come all the way from Tai-Lin’s home planet of Gatalenta. His thick black hair was pulled back into a topknot; his dark eyes were thoughtful, even solemn, in a way that did not conflict with the gentle smile on his face. Nearby stood a cluster of Centrist senators fawning over one of their movement’s rising stars, a young politician from Riosa named Ransolm Casterfo. Certainly Casterfo cut a dashing figure. He was tall, handsome, charismatic, and only thirty-two years old—an age that had once sounded mature to Leia, and now seemed impossibly young. Too young to have fought in the war, or to have any substance whatsoever, but apparently the Centrists chose their new figureheads by asking themselves who would look best in their propaganda. Leia’s mood brightened when, in the far distance, she spied Admiral Ackbar. He’d made the voyage all the way to Hosnian Prime for the ceremony, though he was now in his eighties—but of course he wouldn’t have let anything keep him from honoring Bail Organa. Leia began pushing through the throng toward him, hoping for a chance to catch up with someone else who remembered the old days.
“Princess Leia?” The melodious voice calling Leia’s name would have sounded alluring to most people. Only Leia’s diplomatic training allowed her to keep from cringing. “Princess Leia, if I could have a word?”
Leia managed to put on a convincing smile before she turned. “Lady Carise. What can I do for you?”
Lady Carise Sindian, senator from the Centrist world Arkanis, was of the same generation as Ransolm Casterfo but came across as even younger. Perhaps that impression of immaturity came from Lady Carise’s priorities, rather than her lovely face. Her long silvery robes were embroidered with jewels, displaying her world’s wealth and power, in a contrast with Leia’s simpler and more elegant blue. Lady Carise began, “We must discuss the governorship of Birren. As you know, Lord Mellowyn has passed away—”
“Of course. I was sorry to hear of it.” Lord Mellowyn had been a distant kinsman to Bail Organa. Over the years, Leia had made a few trips to visit him, since Mellowyn had been one of the few people who still remembered her father and had called him friend.
(When she thought of her father, she thought only of Bail Organa. He had been her father in spirit, and surely that was more important than anything else.)
“Well, the governorship passes down through the elder bloodlines—” Lady Carise began, her dark-brown eyes alight at the thought of royal titles. Virtually no one took the concept of hereditary nobility seriously any longer, not even the other members of the Elder Houses. However, Lady Carise seemed unable to imagine any greater honor. “But as Lord Mellowyn had no children, the title has now passed to you.”
Leia covered her mouth as if in surprise. Really she hoped to conceal her dismay. One of the few things she remembered about Birren was that their rituals invariably lasted for several weeks. Birren was a small, sleepy Inner Rim world that might provide an excellent vacation spot . . . but a frustrating exile for a senator with important work to do. “The title is purely ceremonial now, isn’t it? I can’t imagine that the people of Birren are in any hurry to replace a figurehead governor.”
“But the title!” Lady Carise’s eyes widened. Maybe unconsciously, she shook her head—tsk, tsk. “How can we deny the people the certainty, the reassurance, of knowing that this ancient tradition is being upheld?”
“I’ll task my staff with looking into this immediately.” This was Leia’s stock escape for official conversations she wanted to end; it sounded official but promised nothing. Lady Carise smiled and nodded as she turned away, satisfied for now.
The X-wings streaked overhead again. Although the air show had ended, the pilots were still showing off, enjoying themselves. For now they required no greater purpose, no sacred duty, only the sheer exhilaration of flight.
How long has it been since I was that carefree? Leia thought. Was I ever?
The brief window between the ceremony and Varish’s dinner for the Populist senators gave Leia no chance to relax. Instead, she needed to meet with her staff. Fortunately, there she could at least count on rational conversation.
“What a marvelous celebration!” C-3PO shuffled through the broad oval of Leia’s state office. Afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows, gilding the white-on-white furnishings; the droid’s golden metal plating shone as though he were new. “Such an illustrious gathering. I daresay everyone in attendance will share the memory with their grandchildren someday.”
“Never imagined this,” Han had murmured, sitting up in their bed late at night, Ben’s tiny head resting in the crook of his father’s arm. “Having a kid. Even wanting a kid. But now he’s here, and—”
“And you’re a dad.” Leia had leaned closer, unable to resist the chance to tease her husband. “Just think, hotshot. Someday you might even be a granddad.”
Han’s chuckle had warmed her. “Speak for yourself, sweetheart. Me, I ain’t ever getting that old.”
Leia snapped out of her reverie, back into the here and now. “I apologize, Greer. It’s been a long day. You were saying?”
Greer Sonnel, Leia’s assistant, continued as smoothly as if her boss had not just spent several seconds lost in thought. “You’ve been invited to the reception for Senator Bevicard on Coruscant, which I said you would consider. Shall I refuse immediately or tomorrow?”
“Give it until tomorrow.” It didn’t do to become too predictable.
Greer nodded, her fingers dexterously working on her datapad. Her thick, blue-black hair had been tucked into a simple bun, and the coarsely woven shawl she wore over her bodysuit came from her rugged homeworld of Pamarthe. Greer preferred the plain and practical, always; Leia knew she was finding her transition to work in the Senate difficult, probably because there was so much formality and even more nonsense. However, Greer had always risen to a challenge, and she had sharpened her diplomatic skills in the past several months. “Shall I refuse with ordinary politeness or extra courtesy?”
“Extra, I think. Honesty deserves courtesy. Bevicard’s a snake, but he doesn’t lie about what he is.” Leia shook her head ruefully. “That’s about as much as you can expect from a Centrist these days.”
“But—” Korr Sella—Sondiv’s daughter and the office intern, only sixteen years old—caught herself and shrank back. “Excuse me, Princess Leia. I spoke out of turn.”
“You’ll find I’m not a stickler for protocol, Korrie.” From the corner of her eye, Leia saw C-3PO swiveling his torso toward her, no doubt appalled to think of anyone, anywhere, ignoring protocol. “What is it you were going to say?”
At first the girl looked so stricken that Leia feared she’d put her in an awkward position. Before she could withdraw her question, however, Korrie found her courage. “I was going to say, shouldn’t you accept the invitation? To help build friendships and consensus between Centrists and Populists?”
“In an ideal galaxy, yes. Unfortunately, that’s not the galaxy we live in.” Leia sounded so jaded she even disgusted herself. More gently, she said, “The invitation was symbolic, not genuine. If I actually accepted, Bevicard would be mortified.”
Korrie nodded, but her expression remained uneasy. “Are the two parties really that far apart?”
Leia leaned back in her chair, rubbing her sore neck. If only Varish weren’t hosting a banquet tonight, so she could let down her hair. “I’m afraid they really are.”
“Oh.” Korrie bowed her head, but not before Leia caught a glimpse of the girl’s confusion and dismay.
I was that young, once. I believed so strongly in the power of government to accomplish anything. Leia had joined the Imperial Senate at fourteen; she hadn’t completely given up on the rule of law in the Empire until the moment she saw Alderaan die in front of her eyes. How I miss that feeling—the sense that justice would always win in the end.
“I’ve prepared a statement on the dedication for us to send to the planetary news services. You can take a look and let me know what edits you’d like, if any.” Greer tapped her datapad, sending the document to Leia. There was no need. Leia knew exactly what it would say, just as she knew the precise, subtle shades of spin the Centrist senators would put on their own statements. “That more or less wraps up our business for this afternoon, Princess Leia. You have another hour before Senator Vicly’s banquet. What would you like to do next?”
Leia realized the answer only moments before it came out of her mouth. “I want to quit.”
Korrie frowned. Greer paused before she said, “I beg your pardon, ma’am? You want to quit—having this meeting, or—”
“I want to leave the Senate. To leave government completely.” An exhilarating, unfamiliar sensation blossomed within Leia. Maybe this was what freedom felt like. “I want to quit.”
Copyright © 2017 by Claudia Gray. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.