13 ABY; 5651 VY
“Ladies, gentlemen, and distinguished citizens, it is my honor to commence the New Year.”
Queen Tikva smiled from her position on the brightly illuminated stand. “For millennia, Verakhat has been a cornerstone of independence, of self-sufficiency, of freedom,” she says, surveying the physical crowds of thousands—and, no doubt, the billions watching her planetwide. “No truer has this rung than with the harvest, where countless of hardworking individuals, having put forth insurmountable amounts of hard work, have reaped the sweet benefits.” She pauses. “We know the Force wishes to provide for us, and yet, to see us provide for ourselves. Thus,” she continues, cradling the toddler prince in her arms, “it has sowed us the seeds necessary to feed us, and waited for us to cultivate them ourselves, to become the masters of our own nourishment. And look at all the grandeur that has sprung forth from our hands!
“Thus, without further ado—”
She stopped. Though the clear evening seemed otherwise normal, Tikva couldn’t shake the feeling off that something was off.
Puzzled, Aria glanced over at her. “Tikva?”
Tikva closed her eyes. “It’s nothing,” she whispered to her wife, not confident in her words. “It’s probably nothing.”
And that’s when all hell broke loose.
Her guards were sharp, having spotted the ships before her; immediately, they grabbed the royal couple’s arms, dragging them away from the stage as hundreds of white-armored soldiers poured out of the transports, firing onto the crowd.
But wasn’t the Empire supposed to be…?
“What’s going on?” she shouted, holding young Moishe even closer to her chest. “Why are they here?”
No answer. Perhaps her guards were too nervous to spill the truth, or, more likely, they were just as in the dark as she was.
In the rush, Moishe had begun wailing out of fright. Tikva gently shushed him. “You’ll be fine,” she whispered, placing a hesitant kiss to his curly head as they kept running away from the scene. “Just fine, I promise.”
Tikva found herself halted by Lyra, the youngest member of the guard. “It’s too dangerous for you to stick together. They might be looking for the entire Royal family.” She extended her arms. “Leave the prince to me.”
Tikva drew him closer. “Absolutely not—”
A blaster fired off only meters away.
She sighed, steeling her jaw. “Alright,” she said, hesitantly handing Moishe over to Lyra. “But, please, make sure he’s safe.”
“I promise His Highness will be safe with me,” said Lyra, already turning and running in the opposite direction.
Another blaster shot. Realizing how close the danger was, the queens kept following the guards to the guarded transports, heavily armored and tinted. “And you are not to leave until the prince returns,” Aria was telling the driver. “Not until he returns, understood?”
The minutes passed in the backseat. Tikva was holding on to her wife’s hand, squeezing it tightly.
A dark look crossed the captain’s face as he tried to tune his earpiece. “Your Majesty,” he said, “We’ve lost connection with Miss Deyarin.”
Tikva sank back into her seat, shivering violently. “No,” she whispered, as Aria kept holding onto her. “No, no, that can’t be, that can’t—”
That couldn’t be, not when she promised that—
“No,” she said once more in a shaking voice, tears rolling down her face as she struggled to keep her composure.
Aria was less hesitant, openly embracing her wife as she sobbed onto her shoulder. Still shocked, Tikva dimly held her back, looking ahead.
“He’s got to be alive,” she whispered, as Aria continued to sob. “Darling, I promise, he’s still alive.”
37 ABY; 5675 VY
“So, what’s this planet called again?” asked Finn, peering at the star chart Poe had spread on the table.
“Verakhat,” said Poe, pronouncing the rough name flawlessly. “Constitutional monarchy in the Outer Rim, independent for the most part.”
“For the most part?” Finn raised an eyebrow.
“Well, they’ve had a few scuffles with the Empire back in the day, and there was a massive First Order attack on them around twenty-five years ago, but they’ve mostly remained under the radar.” He gestured again to the projection of the planet in front of them. “The one problem is that they’ve also been independent from the Republic, and that’s not really ideal in the future we envision.”
“Because who knows what shadowy organizations might be secretly developing there, right?”
“Well, yes,” said Poe, “though even if it’s completely trustworthy, we’d still prefer them not to stay isolated. A divided galaxy can never grow strong, after all.”
“At the very least, it would be cool if they supported the Republic,” added Rose, “but, you know, even better if they actually joined us.” She rubbed her temples. “Force knows there’s already been too much political chaos.”
“Tell me about it,” said Finn. “So, the gist is, we’re sending envoys to talk them into cooperation with us to prevent any hidden politics, right?”
“Precisely.” Poe looked back up at the spinning blue projection of Verakhat and its two moons. “Force willing, this’ll work, and the Republic will gain a powerful ally.”
“Who are we sending as envoys, anyways?” asked Rose.
Poe grinned. “The three former Resistance officers currently talking about it.”
“No way.” Rose’s eyes widened. “You mean—we’re doing this?”
“We’re doing this.” Poe gently wrapped his arm around Finn. “Just like old times, buddy. The three of us on our way to stop evil together.”
“Only this time, without the threat of the First Order,” said Finn, leaning into Poe.
Finn couldn’t say he wasn’t nervous about the prospect—first impressions were always a bit nerve-wracking for him, after all. Still, the thought of the three of them going on a mission that was strictly diplomatic in nature did fill him with a sense of hope. Even after the official end of the war and the fall of the Order the year prior, there were still rogue battalions and splinter groups they had to deal with, and the newly-repaired Republic was still wracked with ongoing tensions.
Rose folded her arms. “When do we leave?”
“As soon as we get clearance from the chancellor,” said Poe. Finn couldn’t help but chuckle—hearing Poe call their own General a chancellor still seemed foreign to him. “She just needs our pilot to arrange approval to land on the planet, and then she’ll give us the ok.”
Finn couldn’t help but gaze in awe at the spinning projection in front of them. Even with the standard blue filter, Verakhat still looked majestic, with its thin, wide rings and two moons slowly orbiting around it. He could easily see how this planet could be such a powerful kingdom, unwilling to submit to any governing body.
Still, he hoped that they’d earn some amount of cooperation from the royal couple, and any other minister/president/what-have-you representing the government. Poe was right—the history of this galaxy had been chaotic enough. Frankly, it was about time for a little bit of peace and quiet.
Poe’s datapad beeped. Upon examining it, he nodded and turned to the others. “We’ve just got clearance from the government—we’re leaving tomorrow morning.”
Rose pursed her lips. “Bit early, isn’t it?”
“Hey, never look a gift tauntaun in the mouth.” Poe let go of Finn, and started to walk away from the briefing table. “Think we’ve got enough time tonight to pack and take a quick sonic before we head off.” He scowled. “With someone else flying the freighter.”
Finn leaned back against Poe as they walked off. “Sounds good.”
The flight to Verakhat was a long one.
The three of them passed the time playing a few rounds of Sabacc and refreshing themselves on the politics of the planet they were about to land on. “So, they’ve got a queen and a president,” said Finn, scrolling through his datapad. “President Deyarin is a total isolationist, but the queen and her wife seem to be more open about making an alliance with the Republic—at least, in the past ten years or so.”
“That’ll definitely help us out,” said Rose, taking another bite of her ration bar (again, it was a long flight). “You got faces of them?”
“Yeah,” said Finn, setting it down and projecting the portrait of the royal couple. The three crowded around the datapad to see them.
Poe cracked a small grin. “It’s kinda funny, buddy. They look a hell of a lot like you.”
“Really?” Finn squinted his eyes, trying to make out the similarities between the queens and him. “I mean, I guess.”
Their pilot comes walking out of the cockpit. “We’re almost there,” she says. “You guys might wanna come see it.”
Setting aside the royal portrait, the three of them made their way to the front, where the viewport still only showed the rushing blue of hyperspace. With a flourish, their young pilot pulled them out, and they came face first with Verakhat.
“Oh,” whispered Finn, eyes wide.
Because the planet was a lot lovelier than what the dim projection from yesterday had let on. Beyond the blue glow of holograms, Verakhat was a marble of vibrant orange sands and deep blue oceans. Delicate golden rings snaked around the planet, while two bright white moons lazily circled in orbit. It was beautiful.
It was almost comforting.
As they got closer to their destination, the abstract surface gave way to sleek cities with proud, tall buildings, flowing with gentle evening traffic. At that signal, Finn knew they sadly had to exit the cockpit in preparation for their landing at the spaceport.
“And if that’s just the surface,” said Poe, pulling his suitcase from the overhead compartment, “imagine what the kriffing palace is like.”
The ship landed (with Poe complaining about the jerkiness the entire way). The hatch opened, where they were greeted by a blast of warm, evening air. Finn tugged uncomfortably at the collar of his shirt—and he was used to lugging around several pounds of heavy armor on his body in the sweltering heat of Jakku. He couldn’t imagine how the other two were putting up—and then he saw Poe looking straight ahead, and remembered that he was, in fact, from the warm and humid Yavin. Such weak heat was probably nothing that he couldn’t handle.
They stepped outside, and were greeted to a wide stretch of tarmac underneath a blue sky—as well as two women, one white and one with warm copper skin, who were in far more elaborate clothes than their own, making Finn feel a bit self-conscious. It took him quite a bit to avoid tugging his shirt collar again.
“Good evening, Republic envoys,” said the tall white one, sticking out a hand in greeting. Finn recognized her as the president; she was dressed in sharply contrasting black and white, her headscarf pulled into a neat bun at the base of her skull. The only coloration came from the dark blue sash, held together with a silver medallion bearing the coat of arms—a six-pointed star with an engraving of the planet and its two moons within it. “President Lyra Deyarin.”
“Commander Finn,” he said, taking her hand; she had an unnaturally firm grip. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Commander,” said Deyarin, red lips curling up into a smirk upon her pointed face. “And may I be introduced to your charming colleagues?”
Finn (thankfully) let go. “Absolutely. Admiral Poe Dameron, Captain Rose Tico—” he gestured to them with his arm as he spoke “—Madame President.”
“Please, enough with this formality,” she said, walking over to shake their hands. “Call me Lyra.”
Poe greeted Lyra with a warm smile. Rose, though, seemed to have more of a grimace as she shook her hand, and frankly, Finn couldn’t blame her.
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” she said. Her voice had a firm, icy quality that Finn recognized from only a few other people—namely, Captain Phasma, or General/Chancellor Organa on a bad day. “Now, I believe we should head off—”
“Wait,” said Finn, looking at the woman on the president’s side. “We haven’t, er, had the pleasure of meeting your companion.”
Lyra paused. “That is true,” she said. “Sorry, this is Zora Gilean, the Secretary of State.”
“Welcome to Verakhat,” said Zora in a warm voice, holding out the hand not holding onto her cane with a quick bow of her head. She had a strong face, Finn noted as he shook her hand, and her headscarf was multicolored and hung in an intricate braid behind her. Her loose purple jacket was held together with a twisted belt and accented by a necklace made up almost entirely of silver bands.
“Thank you, Madame Secretary,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”
“As am I,” she said, going through the motions with the rest of the party.
“Well, now that we’ve been introduced, shall we be off?” said Lyra, black skirt fluttering behind her as she turned on her heel. “Oh, and don’t you worry about that, Captain,” she continued, noticing Rose struggling with her heavy suitcase. “Your luggage shall be delivered directly to the hotel suite.”
She clapped her hands. Instantly, a sleek trolley came rolling towards them, seemingly running on its own. Poe whistled as they gratefully stacked their suitcases onto it.
“It will be safe in our hands.”
“But perhaps you should declare anything that we might wish to know about,” said Zora, hobbling over to stand at the base of the trolley. “Just so there’s no needless alarm.”
“Three blasters and a lightsaber shouldn’t cause any harm, right?” said Rose, rubbing her shoulders.
“Duly noted,” she said, typing something into the trolley, which beeped. “Thank you very much.”
The trolley rolled in front of them as they made their way from the tarmac to the terminal itself into a sleek, wide corridor with metal walls and security guards posted at spacious intervals. From there, their luggage was taken to a separate hallway by a group of neatly-dressed workers, while they passed through a rather quick round of security (“no need for excessive time with these scanners,” said Zora proudly). Lyra made no effort to hold a lengthy conversation with them, but Zora was more eager.
“You mentioned a lightsaber,” she said as they kept walking. “I thought the formal Jedi Order was all but extinct.”
We might as well be, thought Finn to himself.
Rose’s answer was a tiny bit politer. “They are, technically, but the Order’s in the process of being reformed.” She pointed to Finn. “This one’s a leading member.”
“You are?” she asked, in a warm tone of voice. Finn nodded. “Oh, how lovely.” She smiled. “I wish you the best of fortune in your efforts, Commander.”
Eventually, the group made their way through a series of sliding doors, leading to a wide hallway seemingly made up entirely of glass windows. A fountain cheerfully burbled in the center, surrounded by clippings of flowers.
“Welcome to Dayera,” said Zora, as groups of people passed by, some of them pausing to stare at the party. “It’s straight to the palace from here.”
Finn nodded. It was a bit difficult to pay attention when the windows beckoned them to look at the clear sky and the landscape of Verakhat.
Rose was the first to break. “Oh, Finn, look at it!” she squealed, grabbing his hand and pointing to the windows. “It’s so pretty!”
He honestly had to agree. Just like what they saw outside, Verakhat was indeed a desert—but rather than the harsh, dry heat of Jakku, it was full of life. The orange sand had numerous plants growing up from it—both landscaped flowers blooming in vivid colors along with tall wild grasses and palm trees with reddish bark. A flock of mottled birds with fiery crests were flying between their wide, green leaves, as a few clouds lazily drifted across the darkening sky.
It truly was beautiful. And yet…
“This all feels so familiar,” said Finn, furrowing his brows.
“What do you mean?” asked Rose, as Poe chuckled and said, “Still can’t shake off Jakku, huh?”
“It’s not that.” He turned bac to the windows, where a few birds were now pecking at the clay. “I just… I somehow feel like I’ve been here before.”
Behind him, Lyra tensed up.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said, with a wave of her hand. “Our ride is right outside, so we really must be off.”
“Right.” Still, he couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that his presence might have been a disturbance.
True to the president’s words, a sleek silver shuttle was waiting outside for the five of them: a stark contrast against the stone and clay of the columns around it, and certainly a lot cooler inside than the warm desert heat.
“Blessed air conditioning,” Poe gasped as he lay his head against the seat. “God, it’s toasty outside.”
“Wimp,” said Rose, rolling her eyes. “Aren’t you the guy who grew up on a tropical—”
Finn tapped Poe’s shoulder. “Guys, I hate to interrupt, but—” He gestured outside. “—you both are missing some incredible views.”
He smirked as he heard Poe’s “Kriff” as he peered outside the window.
While they had gotten glimpses of it within the terminal, their view truly revealed the planet to be a blend of old and new in a manner Finn hardly thought possible before. The ancient stone buildings were encompassed by, and frequently incorporated into, sleek silver skyscrapers which shone in bright colors against the warm sunset. There were narrow alleyways full of fruit vendors, just steps away from the sleek hovertrain stations; flashy advertisements were being projected right next to ancient temples; he could have sworn there was a young rebel spray-painting a Republic Starbird onto the side of a white stone wall adorned with silver six-pointed stars. It was as if the modernity of Coruscant met with the antiquity of Yavin in the most perfect way possible.
Rose’s eyes widened. “I never knew you could have both.”
“We here in Verakhat have always prided ourselves on not letting ourselves be defined solely by the past or the future,” said Zora airily, as the transport moved on and Lyra continued to stay silent. “It’s always about looking in every direction equally: up and down, north and south, east and west.”
“Is that what all those stars mean?” asked Rose, her face practically glued to the windows.
“Precisely, Captain Tico.” She leaned back in her seat. “We believe the Force is all about balance, and the delicate balance between tradition and progress is no less important to us.”
The shuttle slowed to a stop.
“We’re here,” said Lyra as the doors slid open. “Welcome to Ir Drisha.”
Poe really was right, Finn thought as he gaped at the scene in front of him, Poe squeezing his hand. Even the lovely cities had nothing on the palace.
The golden structure itself was only about a few stories high, but the sheer size of all the grounds made up for it, with sprawling walkways surrounded by a manicured garden, bunches of palm trees bearing fruit, and even two small ponds symmetrically arranged in front of the grand, tiled entrance. All around, crowds of people were walking through the trees—too many to be considered an exclusive group.
“Force,” he whispered. “And people are just allowed to come here as they please?”
Zora chuckled. “Indeed, Commander. The royal gardens are public property, and may be enjoyed by all who wish.”
“How lovely,” he said with a sigh. Mentally, he made a note to himself to take a vacation here sometime.
After a brisk walk, they arrived at the front doors, which were behind a tiled courtyard with elaborately carved pillars supporting wide, sweeping arches decorated with ornate geometric patterns. From the two visible towers hung square flags, with the same crest as was on Lyra’s sash: a ringed circle with the classic six-pointed star with Verakhat and its moons in the center. The doors themselves were flanked by two guards in identical brown tunics, violet sashes, and black capes. As soon as the group approached, they crossed their copper electrostaffs with an electric crackle.
“State your business with the Crown,” said the guard on the right, the low sun shining on her shaved head.
Lyra stepped forward. “These individuals are with the secretary and I,” she said, in a collected, commanding sort of voice. “They are to meet with Their Majesties on diplomatic terms on behalf of the Republic.”
She looked back. “Poe Dameron, Rose Tico, and… Finn,” she said after a moment’s hesitation.
The guard was silent, regarding them—no, regarding Finn with a stiflingly neutral expression.
Then, she and her partner uncrossed their staffs. “You may enter,” she declared, as they pulled the heavy doors open.
“Proceed,” said Lyra, walking forward as the group followed her into the grand entrance hall.
Immediately, a neatly-dressed porter approached them. “President Deyarin, Secretary Gilean. Are these the Republic envoys accompanying you?”
He smiled. “Fantastic. Their Majesties shall expect you in their dining hall.” He turned on his heels. “Follow me.”
The footsteps they made echoed across the stone hall, joined by the clack of Zora’s cane. Finn wondered about that; the secretary seemed a bit young to need such aids, although she did struggle to keep up with the rest of them. Dimly, he wondered if something must have happened here years ago—perhaps it was a war injury of some sort.
Eventually, they reached the dining room. The same porter opened the door, let them in, and then shut it behind them, gesturing to the table already set for them. “Make yourselves comfortable,” he said. “The queens should be here soon.”
The plates at the elegant table had little place cards marking the positions of everyone. As expected, the queens were at the head of the table, with the president sitting to the right of them, and someone by the name of Princess Naami to their left.
“That’s the princess, right?” asked Rose, searching for her place.
“Exactly,” said Zora, taking her place beside Lyra. “As the crown princess, Her Highness is expected to attend political sessions to fully understand the nuances of leadership. You are to sit next to me, by the way.”
That left Finn on the left of the princess, and Poe next to him. With almost everyone seated, all that was left was for the queens to make their entrance.
There was a knock at the door. Finn’s heart jumped.
“Distinguished guests,” said the porter, opening the door with a flourish of his arm, “may I present Their Majesties, Queen Tikva and Queen Consort Aria Altion.”
In walked two of the most regal women Finn had ever seen. The royal couple held themselves proudly, with a simple yet elegant wardrobe; the queen was in a bright yellow robe over an ornate golden gown, her headscarf fanning over head like the sun, while her consort had an embroidered blue overdress above a slender white dress, with her hair pinned back in an elegant bun. Something fond stirred in Finn’s chest as he regarded them.
“Good evening,” said Queen Tikva, her voice every bit as smooth and refined as her appearance.
And then she looked at Finn.
At the sight of him, her face fell as her eyebrows furrowed in anger—or perhaps it was concentration?
“Your Majesty?” he asked cautiously. “Is everything alright?”
“It’s just that… oh.” Immediately, she recoiled. “I-Moishe?” she screamed.
“Oh stars, Moishe—” She reached for her wife. “Oh Force, it is you!”
“I told you!” she said, embracing her wife, who was staring at Finn with a misty-eyed expression. “I told you he would come back to us, Aria, I knew it!”
“Wait, what—” Finn wrinkled his brows. “Your Majesties, is something—”
“Forgive my wife,” said Aria, walking over in a short elegant stride to look at Finn. “She’s just so happy to… well, I should explain.” She bit her lip, glancing at the place card. “Commander, have you ever given any thought to the life you had before the Order?”
“What do you mean?”
“Because I know all too well,” she whispered. “Before they took you away, your name was Moishe Altion. Yes,” she continued, cradling Finn’s face in her hands as his eyes widened, “you are the prince of this planet.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “Welcome home, my son,” she choked out, before embracing him.