THE REPUBLIC EXECUTIVE BUILDING, CORUSCANT
Chancellor Kyong Greylark sat in her spacious chambers. She was facing away from her vast desk, looking out over the skyline. It was near twilight, and the sun’s golden light reflected against the spires and domes of shining silver, making them appear gilded.
It was a time of day that usually brought her a sense of peace and calm. But much as she tried to relax, her hands still gripped the edges of her chair as if she were on her ship, the Aurora Sun, crashing. A shiver ran down her spine, and the headdress of jadeite—a family heirloom—made a twinkling sound.
A door opened to her chambers.
“Chancellor Greylark,” her aide said. “A message is incoming—”
“News about Jedha?” Kyong said.
Kyong silenced her with an upraised hand. It was the one time today she could have peace. Or at least seek it out, even if it would not come when she beckoned.
“I told you I wanted no interruptions unless it was about the peace accords,” Kyong said.
“But . . . it’s Chancellor Mollo, on Eiram. It’s about your son.”
Kyong turned around in her chair, mouth in a fixed line, and nodded. This time, the carved jadeite drops dangling in parallel arches over her head made no noise. She pressed a button on her desk, and a holoimage of Chancellor Mollo appeared.
“Chancellor Greylark,” he said in his baritone voice. The Quarren was situated in a room far less grand than hers. His chancellor’s robes were dun-colored and edged in silver, and his facial tentacles swayed with expectation. “I trust you are well?”
“I am fine, Chancellor Mollo. Thank you.” She allowed a small nod, but that was all. A smile would say that she was inappropriately well considering her only child was incarcerated and the Greylark family was an embarrassment to the whole Republic. A frown would mean that she was not handling the political fallout well. A chancellor with a murderous son? The truth was unfathomable, yet there it was. “How is everything faring on Eiram?”
“Not perfect, but well. There is a slight incident happening on the shared moon, Eirie. I only just heard about it. Something about a downed transport ship that needs repairs. Oh, and the plans for the rebuilding of the Erasmus Capital City are under way. Communications between Queen Adrialla and Monarch A’lbaran are ongoing. Stiff and uncomfortable, but happening, thanks to the newly wedded heirs. Xiri and Phan-tu are keeping the tensions down.”
“As always,” Kyong said with a slight bow, “I am grateful that you are doing so much outreach in the Outer Rim.”
“And I, grateful that you tolerate the hunk of metal that is Coruscant, and the endless political complexities there. Any news about Jedha?” Mollo asked. “Our incoming messages from there suddenly stopped a little while ago. It’s concerning.”
“We await confirmation of the signing of the peace accords,” Kyong said. “Any moment now.”
Mollo nodded. “Good. It is a shame that our security wouldn’t allow our attendance. Nevertheless, I look forward to celebrating here with both the queen and the Monarch in due time.” He paused, tentacles twitching. “There is something else. I wanted to speak to you. About Axel. There’s been a proposal passed about by several different members in our advisory committees regarding his incarceration.”
Kyong’s eyebrows twitched. She had heard of no such discussion regarding Axel. The sentencing had been done swiftly after his capture in Eiram and he had arrived weeks ago at the prison on distant Pipyyr, somewhere near Bakura, but within the Outer Rim. When she imagined him in a cell, she would stop breathing for several seconds, so she had fixed the problem by trying desperately to not think of him at all.
Mollo went on. “You haven’t heard of it, because I specifically asked for commentary without your input, so as to gather unbiased opinions.” Mollo’s holoimage leaned in. “They have proposed lessening Axel’s sentence and transferring him to a low-security facility where he can be rehabilitated.”
“What?” Kyong was shocked out of her usual stiff and formal self.
“We all recognize the mistakes that Axel made. But he had done some good. He’d saved Phan-tu Zenn from assassins. He helped expose and destroy the vials of poison—”
“By devastating the Eirami capital,” Kyong retorted. “He killed that prisoner. Lied to everyone and covered up his actions. He killed an innocent E’roni father. What’s worse is he’s only part of a bigger picture, and we still don’t fully understand the depth of that design. These were no small mistakes of a foolish young person, and we both know it.”
Mollo shook his head. “I find it odd that I am the one defending your son, and you are the one reluctant to give him a second chance.”
“You are incorrect. I do want him to have a second chance. But wrongs must be paid for, even if he is my only child.” Kyong leaned back in her chair. The sun had now set past the skyline, and a lavender-blue darkness began to spread. Kyong turned toward the window for a moment to calm her breathing. The less Mollo could see of her expression, the better. Her distress was becoming difficult to hide.
“The committees came to the conclusion that if, and only if, both of us agreed to his rehabilitation and release to a low-security situation, they would make it happen.”
“Both of us?” Kyong repeated.
Mollo’s tentacles waved, then were still. His voice softened as he spoke. “I think he should be given a second chance. My answer is yes. What say you, Kyong?”
It wasn’t often that Mollo used her first name, and it wasn’t lost on her. Kyong tented her fingers. She thought of Axel as a tiny infant. His shining dark eyes and the tuft of dark hair on his head. The purplish birthmark across his low back that would disappear as he grew into toddlerhood. The pure innocence that was in that first smile, so many years ago. She hadn’t seen that smile since his father died. They both carried that loss like a never-healing wound.
“My answer is . . .” Her voice hitched in her throat, and she began again. “My answer is no.”
Mollo’s tentacles waved more vigorously. “How can you—Kyong—I thought . . .”
Chancellor Greylark’s aide suddenly burst into her chambers, and both chancellors turned toward the disruption.
“Chancellor Greylark. Chancellor Mollo. I’m so sorry to interrupt!” The Twi’lek aide bowed quickly, her eyes wide and her hands trembling. “Jedha. The peace talks on Jedha have failed! The ambassador from E’ronoh is dead, and the ambassador from Eiram is being accused of treason. There was—”
A holo appeared next to Chancellor Mollo’s image, from one of Kyong’s high-ranking representatives near Jedha. “Chancellor! I apologize for the intrusion—there’s been a riot on Jedha. The permanent cease-fire agreement has not been signed—”
An aide interrupted at Mollo’s side, voice flustered and rushed. “Chancellor Mollo! We have urgent news. Both parties from Eiram and E’ronoh have fled Jedha. There are casualties—”
The cacophony of news overtook their conversation as more aides streamed in and urgent calls began piling up. The two chancellors took in what information they could before they quieted their respective rooms and were briefly again alone, both stunned into silence for several moments.
Orlen Mollo closed his eyes tightly, as if he’d swallowed a bitter medicine. His hand covered his forehead. “No. After everything we’ve done. After the wedding.”
Casualties. Treason. A broken cease-fire. It sounded horrible, but Kyong knew from experience that the details to come would be infinitely worse. They always were.
“What will we do? Kyong?” Mollo said, shaking his head.
Kyong Greylark stood, the thought of Axel now pushed aside in her mind. There was work to be done, and this was far more comfortable for her than to think of the transgressions of her family. Sometimes war was infinitely more comfortable than peace.
She spoke to the aide with a sharp voice that made even Chancellor Mollo wince. “Alert the Jedi Council.”
Copyright © 2023 by Lydia Kang. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.