A/N: I should *never* try to post anything as a WIP! I always go back and add things and switch around the order, and it messes everything up. So I stopped posting this story until I could finish the whole thing. It's done now, except for final stages of tweaking, and will be posted over the next week or two. Thank you to everyone who read it and commented on it before! It's been a while, so you may want to go ahead and reread from the beginning, especially since some stuff got changed. I do apologize for the earlier mess. I've learned my lesson. Never again will I post something until it's FINISHED!

And now, on with the show....

Chapter One

With a frustrated sigh, Leia threw down her pencil. "What does algebra have to do with saving the galaxy?"

She and her best friend Winter lay on their stomachs on the floor of Leia's room, books and paper spread out before them. They had been studying all afternoon, and Leia was getting pretty tired of it.

Brushing a lock of white hair out of her eyes, Winter considered Leia's question while gnawing on the end of her pencil. "Well, if you flunk algebra, you might get held back a grade, and then the galaxy would have to wait an extra year for you to save it."

"Oh, shut up, Winter. As if my father has set some kind age limit." She sat up, planting her hands on her hips and assuming a stern expression. "'Now, Leia. No saving the galaxy until you're at least eighteen.'"

Winter was unimpressed. "I think he would be more likely to say, 'Now, Leia. Quit stalling and finish your homework.'"

Leia scowled at her friend's overbearing sense of responsibility. Worse, she was probably right. "So, what problem are you on?"

"I'm on number fifteen."

Leia bit her lip. She was only on number eleven. "I'd be done already if I had a super brain like yours."

Winter gazed up at her with calm, ice blue eyes. "Photographic memory is of no help when it comes to algebra equations."

Leia shrugged and returned to her homework, lying back down and propping herself up on her elbows. It wasn't fair that Winter was so much better than she was at everything. She was smart and remembered everything she ever saw or heard perfectly. Adults adored her because she was meticulous and responsible. Worse, she was tall and beautiful. The awkwardness of adolescence seemed to have bypassed Winter entirely. Leia had known her all her life, and Winter just magically went from being a sweet, pretty little girl to a sweet, beautiful young woman overnight. She looked and behaved exactly the way a princess should. Except she wasn't a princess.

Leia was.

Leia, who was short and dumpy, with a stubby nose and baby fat still plumping her cheeks. Both girls were twelve, but Winter looked fifteen, while Leia looked eight. Leia lacked grace and elegance. She was stubborn and had an inate defiance that increasingly irked her father.

All that, and she was bad at algebra, too.

But despite their differences, Leia and Winter were best friends. They were a study of contrasts. One short, the other tall. One brown, the other white. One defiant, the other obedient. One a leader, and the other, fortunately, a follower.

Leia's lip curled in self-satisfaction as she hunched over her homework. Winter's one flaw -- or depending on your point of view, her one redeeming quality -- was the fact that she would always do whatever Leia asked. So ten minutes later when Leia had managed to complete only three equations and she suggested they take a break, Winter acquiesced.

Then again, by that time Winter had finished the assignment.

"Just ten minutes," Leia promised her. "Let's watch holovision." She hopped up onto the couch and grabbed the controller. Winter obligingly settled down next to her as Leia turned the viewer on and proceeded to flip through the channels at light speed. She knew Winter would catch something good.

Sure enough, within moments Winter called out, "Stop. Go back. 'CorSec: Special Division' is on."

Leia rolled her eyes, though she flipped the channel back. "You just like that show because Darik Hanan is cute."

Winter answered with a cool shrug. "What's wrong with that?"

They watched the program for a couple of minutes, then Leia casually said, "Papa and I are going to Shadowcliff this weekend. Do you want to come?"

"I'd love to!" Winter exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me earlier? I love Shadowcliff!" Then she paused, her mind working to process this boon of fortune. "Wait a minute. We have a test on First Day. Your father wouldn't take you to Shadowcliff when we've got a test coming up."

"It's a special occasion," was Leia's innocent reply.

Anyone else would have been fooled by the act, but Winter knew her too well. Her eyes narrowing in suspicion, she asked, "What special occasion?"

Leia brushed at an imaginary speck of dust on her skirt as she casually explained, "We will be entertaining the Imperial Governor and his family."

"No!" Winter shrieked. "No way, Leia! I am *not* going to spend a weekend with the governor!"

Dropping her act, Leia clutched at Winter's arm, begging, "You have to come, Win! I'll die if I have to spend the whole weekend with those Imperial toads! You have to come and save my life!"

"So you can live to save the galaxy? Sorry, Leia. There are many things I'm willing to do to serve the cause, but not that. Besides, my parents would never let me go on a test weekend."

"You can tell them you'll be studying with me."

Winter crossed her arms over her chest. "No."

Leia rested her head on the other girl's shoulder, batting her eyelashes up at her. "Please? I'll do anything you ask. Anything at all."

Winter hesitated. "Anything?"

"Anything."

"Well.... I'll ask my folks, though I can't make any guarantees. But you have to promise me one thing."

"What's that?"

Winter made a face. "We will *not* go fishing."

Leia hesitated. That was her favorite part of going to Shadowcliff. But she would give up fishing if it meant having bearable company on a weekend doomed to be spent with Imperials. For that matter, she would even promise to study all weekend. At least then she'd have an excuse to avoid the guests. "All right," she announced. "Really, Winter, you've just saved my life. The galaxy will thank you for it someday."

"I certainly hope so," Winter muttered.

Leia happily turned back to the holoviewer, but "CorSec: Special Division" had ended. She started flipping through channels again. "Really, Winter, you are the best. You have no idea how much this --"

She screeched to a halt, her thumb releasing the channel button at the sight of her father on the viewer.

"-- lament this terrible loss of life," he was saying in what appeared to be a press conference. The image cut to a reporter who said, "The assault on the capital city of Cyrene was conducted by a new class of ship called a Star Destroyer. The Empire claims the aerial assault was a punitive measure directed against dangerous insurrectionists, but some are calling it an act of brutality." The image cut once more to a ruined city, buildings crumbling, smoke and fire shrouding the devastation.

"What happened?" Winter murmured.

"I don't know," Leia said. And even on Alderaan, she knew the newsfeed was unlikely to tell the true story. Leia, however, knew exactly where she could go to learn the truth. "Come on," she said, jumping to her feet and scrambling from the room. "Let's find out."

Leia, where are you going?" Winter called as they ran down the hall. She might be taller than Leia, but she was nowhere near as fast. She worried too much about mussing her hair. "Are you going to comm your father? I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"No, I've got a better one," Leia shouted over her shoulder. She thundered down the stairs, sliding across the floor in her stocking feet in a definitely un-princess-like manner. Behind her, Winter followed at a less-than-breakneck speed. While Leia thought nothing of running around even in a nice dress, Winter was always too concerned about her tidy appearance to want to rush too fast.

Winter called out, "Where are you --?" She stopped short when Leia dashed into her father's study. "No! You can't!" she cried.

Leia seated herself at the desk and started the computer, then glanced back to see Winter standing in the doorway, staring in horror. "Leia, that's your father's terminal!"

Leia shot her a pained expression as the computer hummed to life. "Of course it is. Why do you think I'm using it?"

"But you're not allowed!"

"Oh, stop worrying. Thanks to you, I know how to get around all Papa's security checks." She blew her friend a kiss.

"If I'd known that was why you wanted me to read all those computer manuals, I would never have done it."

"Calm down," Leia counseled, her fingers rapidly tapping the keys. "I've been doing this for ages. He doesn't know, and there's no way anyone will find out. I always erase every trace that I was ever on."

Curiosity won over prudence, and Winter slowly approached the desk, placing a hand on the back of Leia's chair as she eyed the screen. "What are you doing?"

"Logging on to the StealthNet."

"Leia!" Winter squeaked. "That's dangerous! You need a secure link--"

"Of course. Why do you think I use Papa's computer?"

"But -- are you sure? If the link isn't secure, you could be incriminating your father. He could get arrested --."

With a gruff wave of her hand, Leia dismissed, "Don't be ridiculous." But it did give for a moment's pause. She couldn't bear it if she endangered her father in any way. But the fear quickly passed. She had been doing this for months. She knew her father's computer had a secure link, and anyway he did plenty of dangerous things on his own. Leia doubted her use of the computer would make him any more likely to be arrested than he already was. After all, Bail Organa was one of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance. He committed three acts of high treason before noonmeal every day.

So naturally he had a secure link to the StealthNet, the Alliance's underground network. This was where Leia could turn when she wanted to learn the latest and most accurate information about what the Empire was up to -- and wanted to learn it in more detail than her father was likely to give.

"Here we go," Leia said, as information began to scroll across the screen.

"The capital city was completely destroyed!" Winter read. "Millions killed." A picture appeared on the screen showing the carnage, dead bodies littering the streets, and Winter gasped, turning rapidly away. "I can't bear it," she whimpered, covering her face with her hands, her shoulders hunched. With her photographic memory, she would never forget the horrible image.

Leia twisted in her chair and lay a sympathetic hand on the girl's shoulder, even as her eyes stayed fixed on the screen, watching the images scroll by. "You're better off not looking, Win," she said, scarcely able to bear the images herself. But at least she would be able to forget them. Someday.

"It says the new Star Destroyers were designed for this kind of orbital attack," she reported. "Cyrene was chosen because the planetary government refused to pay taxes in protest of the Empire's racism against non-humans." Leia's brow wrinkled in concern. "Did you know there is a tax resisters movement on Alderaan? They keep submitting bills to the Assembly, but they're always defeated. Papa doesn't support the movement. He says it's too dangerous."

Her face still turned away from the screen, Winter said, "It looks like he's right."

Her father's caution often irked Leia, but she had to concede that in this case she was glad for it. She shuddered at the thought of beautiful Aldera destroyed, its white buildings charred and blackened by laser fire. She shook herself, trying to clear her mind of that image as she returned to reading, "The Alliance estimates that over two million people were killed, including Cyrene's entire government. The sector's governor will be assuming control."

Winter asked, "Cyrene is in our sector, isn't it?"

"Yes," Leia nodded grimly. "Which means my father's guest is a murderer. I won't blame you if you want to cancel the weekend."

Winter turned around and wrapped her arms around Leia, keeping her eyes averted from the screen. "I'll come for sure. There's no way I'll leave you to face that horrible man alone."

Leia raised a hand to clasp Winter's. "Thanks, Win," she said.

Alone. She wouldn't be alone with Governor Naraud anyway. She'd be with her father. But what help would he be? As Viceroy and First Chair of Alderaan, Bail Organa was expected to show his loyalty to the Empire, even while he secretly worked to overthrow it. He walked a delicate line, presenting a proper image to deflect suspicion, while maintaining close Imperial ties in order to gather crucial information for the Alliance. Leia knew her father was just as mortified as she was to be entertaining the Imperial Governor, but it was his duty to do so.

Unfortunately, that meant he expected Leia to act the part as well -- to be courteous and polite, and not accuse their guest of genocide over dinner. Bail Organa could pull it off. Leia wasn't sure that she could.

But she wanted to. More accurately, she wanted to assume a more active role in supporting the Alliance. Her father expected it someday, even trained her to that eventual end, as when he assigned her private homework correcting the propaganda in her Imperial history textbooks. But how did that really help the Alliance? Leia was ready to start real training, to learn espionage and encryption, organizing cells of resisters and establishing networks. But her father thought she was too young.

She stared at the screen, at the images of the destruction on Cyrene, her lips pressed into a thin line of determination. Children her age had not been too young to die. If she could be killed by an orbital bombardment, then she ought to have the right to fight to prevent such threats.

If only her father would listen.