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The Empire regrets that it was forced to take extreme action against the rebellious world of Alderaan.
The words, broken and static-filled, coming across the holonet in Governor Tarkin's clipped, arrogant voice. He'd been gone for three years now -- only a matter of days after making that announcement -- but still, Ivva Japui heard those words, playing in the back of her mind in a constant feedback loop.
The Empire regrets...
She'd been on Chandrilla at the time, at boarding school. Celebrating a successful mathematics exam. And then, the news, the holos, her whole family at home. There was no question of anyone being "all right." They'd all been working extra hours to put her through school, and no one was traveling off-world.
...forced to take extreme action...
She'd returned to her dormitory, curled into a ball at the corner of her bed, and stayed there, almost non-stop, for five days and six nights. The counselors had eventually talked her out of the room, gotten her eating again, and, finally, put her back into classes. Friends had unobtrusively begun inviting her home with them on holidays. She did not feel that her life had been miraculously restored to her, or that she'd "adjusted," as the counselors put it, but she had achieved some new kind of normalcy. She planned to join the Rebellion, but they didn't exactly have recruiting booths at the career fairs, and the strained shape of her life made her too tired to track them down.
Later. She would join them later.
The Empire regrets...
"Hey!" A hand waved in front of her face, and her friend Faidrah Kei slumped down into the chair across from her. They were on holiday, at Fai's house in Cloud City on Bespin. Her parents owned an interest in a gas mine ("Just, for heaven's sake, don't mention the Mining Guild," Fai had warned her, with an exaggerated roll of her eyes), and they lived very comfortably in the upper echelons of the outpost. Ivva felt positively spoiled here. "You're zoning out again, Iv."
Ivva reached into the top level of comfortable lies -- Faidrah wasn't a close friend, so she didn't get the truly convoluted stories -- and said, "Just worrying about my paper for Mid-Rim Lit."
"I had that last year. Talk about an identity crisis and the deep symbolism of the river. There's always a river. You'll ace it easy. Now, you're on holiday. And we're going out for rishasa."
"It's a specialty here. Rice from Chandrilla -- "
"We just left Chandrilla!"
" -- stewed in Corellian tiri-spice, samli milk, and -- this is the best part -- Anoat jevrish leaves."
"In other words, the galaxy in a bowl."
Faidrah smiled pleasantly. "Welcome to Cloud City, where everything shows up eventually."
Ivva allowed herself to be led out of the house, into the sumptuous corridors of the city. Beyond the plexisteel windows, she could see the sunlight playing gracefully over the clouds. It was as alien a sight as she could imagine, and she knew that it was objectively beautiful, but when she thought of beauty, all she could see was the outline of the hills behind her parents' house, reflecting pure and clean in the waters of Lake Melara.
forced to take extreme action...
Fai stopped suddenly at the mouth of a corridor, and looked over her shoulder with a grin. She wiggled her eyebrows. "Baron Calrissian is out there," she said, pretending to fan herself with her hand. "Mmm... Prettiest sight in this outpost, if I do say so myself."
As she had said so herself, many times, Ivva was a bit curious. She leaned to one side, and looked around her friend.
The Baron was walking in the midst of a group, at the far end of the corridor, coming from the landing docks. Ivva had to admit, he cut a fine figure his extravagantly made cloaks and shimmering shirt. His face was aristocratic, but a bit --
Her heart stopped.
Calrissian was walking beside another man -- Ivva supposed he was handsome, too, if one had a fancy for the type -- talking about supply problems and administrative issues. Behind them was something that was either a man or a robot. Then...
Surely, she was wrong.
Except she wasn't.
Princess Leia Organa herself. Ivva's smile felt wide enough to crack her face in half. She'd known Princess Leia had survived -- rumors did make their way around -- but sightings were rare. She knew it made no sense, but in her heart, as long as Princess Leia was alive and free, so was Alderaan, somewhere. A boy at school had once begun to say, "Well, you wouldn't be in this trouble if she hadn't turned traitor -- " but Ivva hadn't let him finish the thought. She'd lit into him hard enough to get suspended for three days.
The Princess was swept around a corner and out of sight, but Ivva played the scene in her mind over again. White jacket, pants, hair up in a crown of braids. A Wookiee behind her, and a clattering droid. Sweeping through the clouds, free and beautiful as the depths of Melara.
"Cute, isn't he?" Faidrah said, turning away. "I guess that's all there is to see." She tugged on Ivva's sleeve. "Come on. The restaurant's this way."
Ivva went to the restaurant, and enjoyed the rishasa (it was, in point of fact, delicious), and talked about how good-looking the Baron was, and speculated on who the strangers might be. Ivva did not share her guess; she didn't think Faidrah was any friend of the Empire, but didn't think she had a particular desire to harbor its enemies, either.
After the restaurant, Faidrah insisted on a trip to the zoological gardens. Her mother was a major patron, and had stocked it with many animals from the Keis' home world of Cerete. The animals of the galaxy were Faidrah's special interest, and she shared it generously. Ivva's heart was light enough for once to really engage herself with learning something.
They went back to Faidrah's home in time for the servants to bring out the evening meal. Her parents were already at the table, speaking quietly.
"... I still say something's wrong," Tinera Kei was saying when they came in. "I'm telling you, the curator is cracking down on any loose talk. And he won't tell me why, which makes me suspicious."
Her husband -- a burly man with a red beard, whose name was either Karim or Corlis -- just grunted. "You oughtta watch what you say anyway. You never know who's listening."
They noticed Ivva and Faidrah. "Come in girls," Tinera said. "You're late."
Ivva wanted to know about whatever the curator had said, but it wasn't her place, and Faidrah drew the conversation to matters of school and science. Her father was more than happy to oblige, and Tinera didn't press the issue. By the time the meal was over, Ivva had forgotten about something being wrong. Her mind had wandered during the conversation. She wondered if she would see the Princess again, or if the Princess would be interested in meeting other survivors. Ivva knew of five from various schools on Chandrilla. She thought maybe she could start putting together a list...
Oh, someone had probably already done that, and just forgotten to check on the people young enough to be under the sightlines. There was old Garlien, of course, who was paying her tuition, but he might have gone unnoticed, too. They were all hill people, and the city people had sometimes forgotten them when they were all living on Alderaan together.
She wandered through the evening with the Keis, not really paying attention to them, daydreaming about going to see the princess, and making a list of those she was already calling the Forgotten Ones. It was common knowledge that the Princess was in the rebellion. Maybe she would even teach Ivva how to join it...
She didn't really mark the division between daydreams and night dreams, and when Fai awakened her an hour before dawn, she was surprised to discover that she'd slept at all.
"Come on. Sunrise is the absolute top here," Fai whispered.
Ivva followed her out of the house, around a long, winding staircase, and into an atrium. She was following without paying much attention, and almost walked into Faidrah at the foot of another staircase.
"Fai, what -- " She looked up. Faidrah was standing stock still, but Ivva barely noticed her. Standing at the foot of the stairs was an Imperial stormtrooper, blaster at the ready.
"This area is restricted," he said.
"Since when?" Faidrah blurted out.
Ivva pulled on her sleeve. A cold hand was wrapped around her heart, but somehow, it made her calm. "Let's go, Fai. It's restricted. You heard the man."
"But -- "
She led the way out, surprised that she remembered the way, and circled back under the atrium two levels down. Faidrah was still looking over her shoulder. "That was a -- "
"I know who it was. We have to get to the Princess. Please. You must know some other way in there."
It wasn't a given -- she didn't know Faidrah all that well -- but it turned out to be a good guess. Fai finally seemed to warm to the idea, and dropped three levels to a miners' tavern. It was closed this early in the morning, though a few of last night's patrons were still sprawled in the corridor. "Come on," she said. "No one thinks about this one."
For what seemed hours, they crawled across catwalks that spanned the operations center, and finally came up near the restaurant where they'd eaten yesterday.
It was deadly silent, empty... then, the unmistakable clatter of plastic on metal. A group of stormtroopers, pushing something ahead of them. Then...
Ivva bit her lip, trying not to gasp.
The princess was in the grip of an Imperial guard. She looked tired and hurt and...
Guns firing, and the Princess suddenly broke away and screamed, "Luke, don't! It's a trap!"
The guard dragged her away.
Ivva was three steps into the corridor before Fai caught her, clamping her hand over a mouth that might have cost her life. "Shut up, and come back," Faidrah said, pulling her back into a hiding place. From the corner of her eye, Ivva saw a young man slip down the corridor after the Princess. Perhaps he could save her. Ivva... Ivva wasn't in an army. She didn't even carry a weapon.
She looked down, ashamed. She should have been able to fight for the last symbol of her home, yet she'd stood, and done nothing but survive, just like the first time.
She broke away from Faidrah, and dove into a darkened corridor that looked like it ran parallel to the absurdly long route they'd taken.
We should have gone through that guard, we would have gotten here sooner...
For awhile, she heard Fai following her, but she refused to turn, and after awhile, became lost in the twists and turns. Faidrah had been left behind many corridors ago.
A crackle of static, and Ivva's innards twisted. She expected to hear Tarkin's voice
The Empire regrets...
But instead, it was another voice, the voice she'd heard only at a distance. Baron Calrissian. "The Empire has taken control of the city... I advise all citizens -- "
Ivva stopped running, and leaned against the wall. Somehow, she'd kept her bearing, and found herself near the circumference of the level. Nearby, a door to a landing platform opened, and people started to crowd out onto it. She followed them.
The Empire has taken control...
The world was being stolen right out from under her. Again! How many times would it take? How many nightmares? How much blood spilled? How many lives destroyed?
The Empire regrets...
Ivva Japui thought that perhaps it was time to take some extreme action of her own.
As it turned out, the Rebellion wasn't all that hard to find.