Chief of State's reception suite, Senate Building, Coruscant, ten days after the raid on Centerpoint Station.
The worst thing about being thirteen years old was that one moment you were expected to be an adult, and the next everyone treated you like a child again.
Ben Skywalker – thirteen and confused about what was expected of him – sat trying to be patient in the reception of Chief Cal Omas's offices in the Senate building, taking his lead from his cousin Jacen Solo. It was the kind of office designed to make you feel like you didn't matter: a whole apartment could have slipped into the space between the outer doors and the wall of Omas's personal office. Ben almost expected to see tangled balls of misura vine rolling across the spotless pale blue carpet, driven by a distant wind. He couldn't see the point of all that empty space.
But the Senate building had been occupied and changed out of all recognition by the Yuuzhan Vong, Jacen said. Architects, designers and an army of construction droids had taken years to wipe away all traces of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion and restore the building to the way it had been. Ben tried to listen in the Force for the echoes of the aliens and their weird living technology, and thought he heard unrecognizable sounds. He shuddered and tried to occupy himself with the holozines stacked on the low greelwood table.
The 'zines were all very dull current affairs weeklies and political analysis, and one of them displayed an image of Jacen. Ben picked it up and activated it, smiling at the next image of a rotating Centerpoint Station, which didn't look quite so good in real life since he had helped sabotage it.It's good to feel part of something important.
The holoreport featured clips of Corellian news of the raid on Centerpoint, but it didn't mention Ben, and he wasn't sure if that upset him or not. Some recognition would have been nice; but the Corellian sources that were quoted were pretty rude about Jacen, calling him a traitor and a terrorist. The reporter's voice seemed to fill the room even though the volume was set to minimum and the carpet and tapestries on the walls muffled the sound.
The report wasn’t very kind about Uncle Han, either. A middle-aged man Ben didn’t recognize was telling the reporter what he thought. “So he calls himself a Corellian. But forget that bloodstripe on his uniform pants – it might as well be a big yellow streak down his back, because Han Solo is just a Galactic Alliance puppet. He’s betrayed Corellia by sitting on his backside doing whatever his Alliance buddies tell him to. And his son’s just the same.”
Jacen seemed embarrassed. Maybe he was more upset for his dad. Ben would have been.
"You should use an ear-piece to listen to those privately," said Jacen.
"But you're famous." Ben offered him the holozine. "Want to see?"
Jacen raised one eyebrow and seemed more worried about his meeting with Chief Omas. "Fine, but I could do without Thrackan Sal-Solo using me to humiliate my father in front of Corellia. You realize he gave all this information to the media, don't you?"
"Yeah, of course I do. But if we're not ashamed of it, why does it matter? We did the right thing for the Galactic Alliance. Centerpoint Station was a threat to everyone."
Jacen turned his head very slowly with that half-smile that Ben had learned meant he was impressed. "But a lot of worlds are taking Corellia's side now. So do you think those stories do any harm or not?"
Ben could always spot a test now. He knew he had to say what he believed: there was no point trying to be too clever. He wanted to learn from Jacen so badly that it burned him up. "Some worlds will always go against the Alliance anyway. So we might as well let the people on our side know we're taking action. Makes them feel safer."
Jacen nodded approvingly and Ben felt a little Force touch somewhere in his mind as if Jacen were patting him on the head. "That's very perceptive. I think you're right."
"Everyone will know you're
doing your best to stop a war, anyway." Ben put the holozine back on the table and glanced at the rest of the titles. "There seem to be more pictures of you than anyone."
Jacen's smile faded for a moment and he glanced towards the doors of Omas's office, looking as if he was willing the head of the Galactic Alliance to finish his meeting and come out. Ben began to pick up what had caught Jacen's attention: there was a definite sense of conflict, of people arguing, and it was almost as clear as hearing it if you knew how to listen in the Force. Ben did now. Jacen was a good teacher.
Ben concentrated on Jacen's face. He looked a lot older lately. Sometimes he looked almost as old as Dad. "What's happening?"
"Heavyweight politics," said Jacen, barely audible.
He put his fingers almost to his lips, a very discreet gesture; it wasn't obvious to anyone else – anyone else
in this case being only the aide at the desk outside Omas's grand double doors – but Ben took the hint. Be quiet.
He was suddenly worried about letting Jacen down. Chief Omas wasn't a stranger; the man knew his father, and Ben had been brought to meet him at a state celebration -- pretty much all Ben remembered of that affair was feeling very small in a sea of tall people having conversations he didn't understand. But Ben wanted to be seen as Jacen's apprentice, not as Luke Skywalker's son, the heir to the dynasty
as one of the guests had called him. It was hard being the son of two Jedi Masters who everyone referred to as "legends". Ben had lost count of the times he had felt invisible.
"Chief Omas won't keep you, Jedi Solo," said the aide, tilting her head slightly towards the closed doors of Omas's office itself. "He's with Admiral Niathal at the moment."I'm invisible again,
He composed himself and sat down with his hands folded in his lap, a mirror of Jacen's own posture. He tried to count the number of different species of animal depicted on the huge tapestry that covered part of the wall opposite. What he had first thought was just a mass of random color was actually thousands of overlapping images of every animal he could imagine from across the galaxy – across the whole Galactic Alliance.
Eventually the doors parted and Niathal strode out, radiating annoyance. Chief Omas appeared in the doorway behind her and forced a smile. "Ah, Jacen," he said. "I'm sorry to keep you. Won't you come in? And Ben. I'm glad you could make it, too."
Niathal glanced at Jacen as if she didn't recognize him. He acknowledged her with a slight bow of his head.
"Admiral," he smiled. "A pleasure to see you."
Niathal turned a little more to the side, the equivalent of a very frank stare for a Mon Calamari, a species with side-set eyes, and scrutinized both of them. "You did a very fine job at Centerpoint Station, sir. And you, young man."My name's Ben.
But he had learned a little diplomacy now. "Thank you, ma'am."
Omas beckoned Jacen forward and Ben followed meekly. Omas did not
make the tired comment that Ben had grown since he'd last seen him, nor did he look past him when he was talking to Jacen. The Chief met his eyes. It was both unsettling and exciting to be treated as an adult; Ben concentrated hard on what was being said.
Omas sat behind his desk rather than in the chair opposite them, as if he were taking cover. "So what brings you here, Jacen?"
"I have a proposal."
"Crippling Centerpoint Station only bought us time with Corellia. We might have a few months at most before it's operational again, and then we're back where we began but with a much more aggrieved Corellia that's gathering more support."
"Is this an extrapolation from what you see in the Force, Jacen?"
"No, it's just obvious to the point of inevitability."
Ben felt Omas teeter on the edge of reacting. It was as if the two men were having an argument without any of sign of it in their words or their voices.
"Go on," said Omas.
"Now is the only time we'll have for pre-emptive action, before any real opposition to the Galactic Alliance has chance to organize. Corellia, Commenor and Chasin need complete dissuasion, very public
dissuasion to make a point to other governments about the need for unity – and a complete neutralization of their capacity to fight a war. The destruction of their shipyards."
Ben was glad Jacen had said destruction.
It was the first clue he'd had of what dissuasion actually meant.
"This," said Omas slowly, "is not unlike another conversation I've just had."
The way he said conversation
made it clear what he'd been arguing about with Niathal. So she wanted to take action, exactly as Jacen did. "We've slapped Corellia and made a martyr to a cause," said Jacen. "An armed
martyr to an armed
"But Corellia has seen what we're made of, and that'll make them think twice."
"And we've now seen what they're
made of," said Jacen. "And I have thought twice. If you give me command of a battle group, I can destroy the main shipyards and put an end to this now. If Corellia can be brought to heel, it sends the message that no single planet is bigger than the Alliance."
"You're asking me to declare war, Jacen, and that's something I'd never get Senate backing to do. And I know where the Jedi Council stands on this."
"War's coming anyway. If you draw a weapon on a Corellian, you'd better be pre...