Hidden Resistance base, D’Qar
The life of a Resistance spy was all about excitement—or at least it was supposed to be. As Vi Moradi stood outside the office of General Leia Organa, she was anxious to see what her next assignment would be. She was getting that old restless feeling and needed something to do, something real. On Major Kalonia’s orders, she’d spent the past several weeks recuperating from her last mission, and she was itching for activity beyond debriefing pilots and gathering intel from their droids on enemy firepower and fighting prowess. They knew the First Order was out there and supposedly unbeatable; did they really need to keep reaffirming that through numbers? Vi liked being an underdog, but she didn’t necessarily want to know the odds.
“Come in, Magpie.”
Vi smiled at the way Leia always used one of her call signs and stepped inside the makeshift office, taking a seat on an old red crate. “Good to see you, General.”
Every time Vi was in the presence of General Organa, once Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, it felt a little like going home. Leia had a calm, steady presence, motherly but tough as nails, and no matter how dire things got, the older woman had a way of looking at each member of the Resistance as if they were the hero that could turn the tide against their enemy, the dreaded First Order that had risen from the Empire’s ashes. Leia returned Vi’s smile, her eyes twinkling.
“I have a mission for you,” Leia said, her attention flicking from various holos to Vi and back. Leia’s mouth fell into a familiar grim line, which told Vi she wasn’t necessarily going to like her assignment. That was fine—she didn’t particularly like how her last mission had gone, either. It wasn’t her job to like it.
“As you know, we’re massively outgunned. We don’t know what the First Order is planning, but it’s something big. Some kind of attack. I’m leaving immediately for Takodana to collect some valuable intel, so I wanted to meet with you personally and underline how very important your work will be.”
“If you brought me in just to tell me it’s important, it sounds like it might not be that important. I’m ready to work, General. Major Kalonia signed off. I’m back in top form.”
Leia’s gaze was unwavering. “I wouldn’t blame you if you just disappeared, after what happened to you on the Absolution. You were captured by the enemy, Vi. Tortured. Beaten. Shocked. Injured. I’ve read your med charts and your reports. Downplay it all you like, but an experience like that changes people. I should know.”
Vi shook her head. “But I’m still me. So put me on a Star Destroyer and let me—”
“No.” Leia cut her off, almost apologetic, and Vi’s mouth snapped shut. “This assignment might sound like a vacation, but I assure you, it’s of vast strategic importance. If you’re ready.”
Vi shifted on the crate, her back aching. Leia was right—she’d taken a beating on her last assignment, and although most of her wounds had healed, her body wasn’t getting any younger. Leia had sent her to a forgotten planet called Parnassos to gather intel on the First Order’s Captain Phasma, which was challenging enough. But on her way home, Vi had been captured by a different First Order officer, Captain Cardinal.
Instead of interrogating her through official channels or turning her over to Kylo Ren or General Hux, Cardinal had secretly taken her to a dank chamber in the ship’s lower levels and tortured her for the information she’d collected on his rival in the First Order, Captain Phasma. In the end, Vi had managed to manipulate him into letting her go, and Cardinal had gone out to face Phasma in combat. Vi made it out of the enemy ship and back to the fleet, and for the last few weeks she’d struggled to process all that had happened to her and heal in body and mind. But despite what she’d told Kalonia and now Leia, was she really ready to go back to work?
Well, was anyone ever ready to move on from trauma?
It would never leave her, but she couldn’t stay still any longer. It wasn’t in her nature.
“I’m ready,” she told Leia, putting the full force of conviction in her words.
“Good.” Leia’s smile returned. “Should the First Order succeed in their attack, or should they find us here on D’Qar, we need two things most of all: allies and places to hide. So I’m looking for suggestions on a place so out of the way that the First Order would never even think of it, a place where we could set up camp and put down roots. Specifically, we need an inhabited planet with an active port and resources, but not anything big, not anything the First Order would find advantageous.”
“Not Jakku or Tatooine,” Vi thought out loud. “Not Pantora. Nowhere in the Core or Mid Rim, or any place where we’ve had a base before. Definitely not Parnassos.”
“Definitely not. Think, Magpie.”
Vi raised an eyebrow; Leia was not in a patient mood. “Batuu, maybe? I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never been there. It’s out on the edge of Wild Space. The main settlement is called Black Spire Outpost. It’s rough. Primitive. Seedy. Exciting. Smugglers consider it a good place to hide or hop a ship that can’t be tracked.”
At that, the general nodded. “I knew I could count on you. Batuu is perfect.” She chuckled. “Han told me all about it.”
Leaning forward, Vi gave her a suspicious look. “That can’t be the only reason you called me in here—just to ask me a question. You have strategists for that.”
“But I don’t need strategists.” Leia likewise leaned forward. “I need you, Magpie. I trust you. And what I need you to do is go to Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, establish an outpost for the Resistance, and collect as much support as possible among the locals and visitors. We need bodies. We need friends. We need skills. We need ships and food and fuel. We need eyes and ears on the ground. We need a place we can go if everything falls apart, a place so far off the map that the First Order has forgotten it even exists. To them, Batuu will seem strategically useless. But to us, it’s another spark of hope. I need you to cultivate that spark, to keep the fire burning.”
Vi leaned back, letting her head fall to the side. “So why do I feel like you’re promoting me out of harm’s way? Protecting me? Maybe even coddling me?” She held Leia’s gaze, never an easy task. “Use me, General. I have skills no one else has. I’m your best spy. So why are you sending me to what’s basically nowhere?”
“Because nowhere is what might save us. You’re not the only valuable person being sent out to nowhere.” Leia gave her a significant look, blew out a sigh, and took on an air of urgency, as if Vi had already been excused. “That’s your assignment. Take it or leave it. I’m needed on Takodana immediately. They’re holding the ship for me, and I’m out of time to convince you. The great thing about the Resistance is that you always retain free will. I hope you’ll trust me when I tell you that your work on Batuu is part of a larger plan. So do you trust me, Magpie?”
The general’s eyebrows went up, her graying hair in a perfect crown. Yes, Vi did trust her. And Vi wasn’t going to walk away, even though she knew it was always an option.
“I trust you, General,” she finally said.
Leia nodded. “Good. Dismissed. Report to the hangar tomorrow morning. Lieutenant Connix will provide further details and a manifest of your cargo. You’ll be assigned a droid to help with the heavy lifting and logistics. We’re giving you the materials, and we need you to scout the ideal site, connect with the local population, recruit new bodies to join the cause, and establish communications so we can discuss next steps.”
Vi stood. “I’ll do my best, General.”
The smile she gave Leia was resigned. Yes, she would do her duty. In this case, Vi didn’t think she would like it, but she was a soldier, and she would do whatever it took to resist the First Order and keep the galaxy safe.
But as Vi headed for the door, the general said, “Oh, and Magpie? One more thing.”
Vi couldn’t help chuckling as she turned around. “Of course. There’s always one more thing, isn’t there?”
Leia stood, looking grim and regal and certain. Vi steeled herself for what she knew would be unwelcome news.
“I’m assigning you a partner for this mission, and again I need you to trust me.”
Vi leaned against the door and crossed her arms. “Uh-oh. That doesn’t bode well. You know I prefer to work alone. And if it was somebody I liked, you would’ve led with that.”
“Perceptive as ever.” Leia rolled her eyes as if to suggest Vi had caught her out. “Before you head for Batuu, I need you to make a quick stop on Cerea to pick up someone. Archex.”
The general’s gaze went dark, serious. “The man you knew as Captain Cardinal has chosen to return to his childhood name.”
Archex was Cardinal.
Copyright © 2019 by Delilah S. Dawson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.