"Madame Ambassador, thank you for agreeing to come to this briefing this morning."
"Yes, of course, Admiral Petevish," Leia replied, careful to disguise the fatigue she felt. "I'm anxious to learn what your spies have uncovered on Falor."
She looked haggard to Petevish, her youthful face pale and slightly gaunt, her brown eyes lacking their usual fire and intensity. No doubt she carried the weight of the Falor situation on her shoulders, especially in the absence of the injured Chief of State, and the burden was starting to take its toll on her.
"In light of what we've been able to learn from the spies, I thought it best to involve the General Soola," he continued somewhat ominously, gesturing to the man seated to his left.
She nodded towards her former Secretary of Defense. Matters must have taken a turn for the worse if he was now involved, she thought. Unconsciously, she gripped the armrests of her chair in response to the growing tension in her. "I'm glad you're here, General," she told Soola, giving him a weak smile, a gesture he returned, as he sensed her uneasiness. "Now Admiral," she addressed Petevish once again, pushing her anxiety to the back of her mind, "What is this new information you're referring to?"
Petevish's hesitation only made Leia's apprehension stronger. He looked at her for a moment before he began. "Madame Solo, this information that the spies have relayed to us... I'm afraid it's quite disturbing to say the least."
Leia didn't stir, silently fighting to keep composed even at his unsettling words. She sensed trepidation in his eyes, and she could tell from the difficulty he had telling her their findings that whatever it was they discovered was troubling him.
"We know with certainty now that Falor did send those droids to target President Parsis and your brother," he managed, eyeing her carefully to watch her reaction, "It was a deliberate attempt to eliminate the Chief of State and the leader of the Jedi Knights."
Leia nodded, as Petevish paused to let his words sink in. "When their attempt failed, however, they began plotting further."
"What are you saying, Admiral?" she said, her voice barely louder than a whisper, "Are they planning more assassinations? Is that why they've sent the Nightsisters to kill the Jedi?" Her voice trembled slightly.
"Madame Solo, our spies have been able to uncover a complicated new plan by the Falorians... The Nightsisters are only a small part of there scheme. Their grand plan... is a coup of the Republic." He stopped right there, watching her eyes widen in shock.
He gestured towards Soola, who cleared his throat. Leia turned to face him, noting the apprehension that clouded his ebony face. In all the years she had known him, she knew that few things could concern him quite like this, and she braced herself for what he was about to tell her.
"Ambassador," he began, struggling to keep his voice even in order to avoid alarming her any further, though he knew she could sense the tension in him. She knew him too well, and moreover, her Jedi instincts were too sharp to hide anything from her. "We've learned that Falor has allied themselves with several systems, about twelve or thirteen of them, most of which do not belong to the Republic."
"Please go on," she urged him, as she now began putting the pieces together in her mind.
"It seems Prime Minister Sorbin has managed to instigate them into revolt. He knew that Falor would have little chance of being a threat to Coruscant if they acted alone, so he recruited other systems to help him in their insurrection." He sighed, clenching his hands into tight fists.
Leia leaned back on her chair, her eyes fixed at a distant point ahead. "Are we sure about all of this?" she asked after some silence, looking back at them once again. "I presume this would have been top secret information... How were the spies able to learn so much?"
"There have been some leaks, Madame Solo," Petevish answered her, "Our spies have been able to make contact with some top level government officials in Falor, and they have confirmed this."
"That could be a false leak, Admiral!" Leia responded immediately, sitting up in her seat once again. "How can we trust that?"
"We considered that too," Soola interjected, acknowledging her misgivings, "And we dispatched several Intelligence officers to some of the systems said to be involved so we could gather more evidence of treason."
"What did you find?" she asked him, urging him to continue.
"Yesterday, we received a distress signal from Hodee," Soola said, lighting up a small holopad he brought, and the image of a small humanoid appeared.
"We are under attack, you must send military aid, quickly! You must help us!" the Hodeen pleaded.
"What is he talking about?" Leia said, looking to Soola for an explanation, "Who's attacking them?"
"They were claiming to be under attack by Falor," Soola told her.
"'Claiming'? What do you mean? This was a ruse?"
Soola nodded, acknowledging her bewilderment. "I was preparing to respond to their plea, until Admiral Petevish informed me that our spies on Hodee had warned us not to send any aid, under any circumstances."
He saw the comprehension in Leia's eyes, as he paused. Silently she nodded, as if she knew what he were going to say next. "It's a trap?" she said slowly, understanding everything now.
"Yes, it seems it is," Soola confirmed her suspicions, "Our men detected the entire Falorian fleet on Hoddee. And not just the Falorians, but the other systems allegedly involved as well. This was meant to be an ambush, Madame Solo, pure and simple. We send part of our armada out there to respond to the distress signal, and they attack us, then head for Coruscant while we are vulnerable."
Leia was silent for a moment, still trying to come to terms with the revelations. "What do you recommend, General," she finally managed, somewhat weakly.
Soola paused. He was not sure how she would react to what he was about to propose, but he knew it was the only way. "I admit that this will be risky," he began, "However, I believe that at this point, surprise is our best weapon. They are expecting us to send only part of our fleet, Ambassador, that is why they are so confident that with their combined forces, they can defeat us and then head for Coruscant to attack us. But if we dispatched our entire armada... We would be able to defeat them right then and there."
"But we'd leave the capital completely vulnerable!" she cried out automatically, unable to fathom the difficult choice that they were being forced to make.
"Yes, that is the risk," Soola admitted, understanding her concern. "But I truly believe this is the best chance we have of destroying this new insurrection before they have a chance to recruit more systems. We must prevent disaster now, Ambassador, or this could grow into an even larger threat."
Leia closed her eyes and summoned the Force in a desperate attempt to center herself. This was in her hands now. With Parsis incapacitated, she knew that she would be the one to make the crucial decisions for the moment. But her instincts told her Soola was right. It would be risky, no doubt, but they needed to strike now, while Falor was still unaware of how much they knew.
"All right, General," she finally said
reluctantly, "I authorize you to go ahead
with this strategy." She interlaced her
fingers as she looked both men straight
in the eyes, the determination evident in
her face. "We better pray that everything
goes according to plan."
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