Am I going to make it in time? This rickety old ship wasn't going nearly fast enough, but it refused to go any faster.

It was a weird feeling, not knowing what you were racing to intercept. All I knew was that someone on Paneau was about to be blindsighted by an attack aimed at something, or someone, valuable.

With one hand on my lightsaber's hilt that hung from my belt, I tapped my foot as I sat on the edge of my seat, scanning the viewport nervously. The nav computer was about to pull the ship out of hyperspace, depositing me onto Paneau's doorstep after a long, anxious trip from Ambria. I had been investigating a string of cargo heists over the busy planet, but I had to leave quickly. An informant I had befriended there told me that the pirates I had been hunting to arrest for the heists had left for Paneau abruptly. They were reportedly after a valuable item that had been rumored to have been taken there, though according to the informant, no one seemed to know what it was. If the pirates were going to completely drop their operation on Ambria and concentrate on Paneau alone, I wasn't the only one who was going to have my hands full. I'd have to enlist help from the one person I both longed and dreaded to see: Paneau's Head of Security, Koril Rys'tihn.

It had been nearly two weeks since I had left him, refusing his marriage proposal before taking the Ambria assignment. It was the hardest thing I had done in my life, but I had convinced myself well that I had done the right thing. We were destined for nothing but problems, I reasoned, especially since our careers wouldn't allow us to be together much, if at all. He had been appointed Head of Security over a month ago, a huge responsibility under the new teenage king, Verojec Banarecc, and he needed to focus on protecting his vulnerable planet, not on me, or our son...

I rubbed my stomach anxiously. The little life inside me was still quite small, but I could feel his life force grow stronger each day. It both excited and terrified me to think of myself raising a child... Would I be a good mom? Should I return to Hoth to have the child with my parents at my side? When should I tell Koril? He had a right to know, but would his family's tradition of turning the first child of a new generation into a secret, nonexistent person apply to our child? How could I knowingly give up someone I already loved so much and condemn him to a lonely, solitary life as a Rys'tihn Ghost Heir? How had his family done that for centuries? It seemed so cold and heartless to arbitrarily designate a child created by two people in love to such a dark, disconnected existence. Though I had gotten to know Deilia Rys'tihn, Koril's twin sister and younger Ghost Heir, fairly well and worked with her enough to know she was a good, decent person, I still wouldn't wish that life on anyone. Wasn't there some other, less drastic way to secure royal heirs as the centuries wore on?

With a brief beep from the nav computer, my ship lurched, forcing me forward as it slowed out of hyperspace. My fingers flew over the controls as I navigated into a descent through Paneau's atmosphere. How many, many times I had made the same trip and marveled at the planet's beauty and serenity from above...

Another quick beep and the comm panel lit up. The face of a young, uniformed man filled the screen.

"Dalon Main Spaceport," he said cordially. "Transmit identification, please."

I nodded and did so, doing my best to suppress my surprise at the formality. They had really reined in the security forces already, and they needed to. I just hadn't expected such a quick turnaround.

The officer read a screen off to his side where I couldn't see, but when he looked back, he smiled warmly.

"Identification accepted. Welcome back to Paneau, Miss Lyran. I'm Captain Aurin Jax. Shall I inform King Verojec of your arrival?"

"No, thank you," I answered swiftly, righting the ship as it broke through into the highest clouds over the main continent. The sky's dazzling blue at midday still made me sigh at the sight, and a few bright red birds flying just below me distracted me briefly from the task at hand. "I have other business to tend to."

"Very well, m'lady. Please let us know if we can assist you in any way. The Royal Navy is at your service, as always."


"Thank you, Captain, but I hope I won't be needing --"

A sudden large explosion rocked my ship, knocking me forward onto the controls. Immediately I glanced at the sensor readout and was surprised to see three small fighters close behind me. Where had they come from?

Another quick glance at the console as I tugged restraints over my shoulders, and I realized my comm had been knocked out. My shields had been up when I entered the atmosphere, but that first blow felt as though nothing had lessened its impact. Had the shields been drained and I hadn't noticed? I couldn't see my pursuers, and I fought to maintain control of the craft as another explosion tore through the ship, breaching the hull in the back. I heard the engines quiet as they lost power, and I could no longer steer. Everything was happening so fast -- quickly losing altitude, a lush, green forest filled the viewport, the ship skimmed the tall trees, then nosedived violently into the dense underbrush, coming to a sudden, vertical stop at the forest floor.

Still strapped to my seat, I felt myself falling in and out of consciousness. The cockpit remained dark, but I could see light filtering in from the hole in the back end, lighting up the console. Something wet dripped off the front of my face, and just as I moved to wipe it away, the viewport in front of me shattered suddenly and fell in pieces. I saw silhouettes of several people gathering outside the ship, but my throbbing head forced me to close my eyes, and feeling lightheaded, I finally gave into unconsciousness.