"Starlight: Shadows Remain" is a short story written by Justina Ireland as part of the Star Wars: The High Republic publishing initiative. It is the final chapter in Phase 1 of The High Republic. The first part was published in Star Wars Insider 207 on December 14, 2021, while the second was published in Star Wars Insider 208 on January 25, 2022.
Ghal Tarpfen is dreaming. She dreams of her homeworld, Mon Cala, and when she was dismissed from the Mon Calamari Guard by King Shenrick, her former lover. She wakes up, uncertain about why she dreamt of the incident again, the dream having recurred over a dozen times in the past year. Ghal encounters her colleague, Administrator Velko Jahen, with whom things have been tense after a recent incident with Velko's former lover Vane Sarpo. Velko mentions that the cameras in corridor sixteen have gone out, which is concerning, as the Vice President of Dalna, Hackrack Bep, prepares to arrive at Starlight Beacon. Ghal decides to put Bep in quarters near those that Senator Ghirra Starros is staying in during her visit to the space station, before heading off to rest. The Mon Calamari's attempt at sleep is, however, interrupted yet again by the dream. Summoned by Velko to the security tower, Ghal is told a message has just come in for her, coded to her ID. Reviewing it alone, Ghal is disturbed to see a Nihil who orders her to deactivate the security cameras in corridors sixteen, twenty-three, and eighty-four during the station's next night cycle.
Realizing that the blackmail attempt has been set up for months through seemingly random holomessages connected to her past, Ghal deduces that the Nihil know about her past relationship with Shenrick. Although Ghal's past is a footnote to the Republic, the news would outrage Mon Cala purists and ruin both Shenrick and, more importantly to Ghal, her family. Not only that, but the message's encryption is absolutely genuine, meaning that the marauders have high-ranking people within the Republic on their side. Concerned because corridor sixteen's cameras, near Senator Starros' suite, were already malfunctioning, Ghal tasks a droid with specifically monitoring that area, deciding to check it out herself after informing Velko of her plans, although not the message. Arriving and searching the area, Ghal finds a suspiciously open door and, beyond it, an unconscious Theelin male. A stranger takes her by surprise, stating in Mon Calamari that Ghal should have just done what she was told, before an unseen assailant strikes the security chief down. Before blacking out, Ghal recognizes the dark-skinned human woman who spoke to her as Ghirra Starros.
Onboard Starlight Beacon, Velko Jahen prepares for a meeting with Controller Rodor Keen regarding Ghal Tarpfen's three-day disappearance. She is loath to believe it, but the evidence suggests that Ghal is a traitor. Vice President Bep, who came to the Beacon with Padawan Imri Cantaros asking for help about suspected Nihil activity, was attacked in his suite, but he lacks memory of the assault and the security cameras were wiped by someone using Ghal's security number. Velko doesn't want to believe it because it makes no sense, but as the appointed time for the meeting draws closer, she can't will the evidence into looking less incriminating no matter how she tries.
Elsewhere, Ghal wakes up locked in restraints in the galley of a strange starship. The dryness of her skin tells her she's been out for at least a day, and as she wonders if she was subjected to knockout gas, she realizes that Ghirra must have had an accomplice. Evaluating her surroundings while fighting rising panic, Ghal deduces she must be on a newer ship, and reminds herself she needs to conserve her strength in order to find out what's going on. That she's still alive is good, because it means the Nihil think they can use her and gives her a fighting chance. Before long, an Aqualish pirate arrives, finding it good that Ghal is awake. When Ghal asks where she is, the pirate states that they're in No-Space, and that she'll be kept alive for as long as she's needed because the Senator has use for her. Noting that the pirate has the fob for her restraints, Ghal asks for water, stating truthfully that her skin is quite dry but pretending to be weaker than she actually is. Sneering, the Aqualish grabs a spritzer from a cabinet, and Ghal quickly kicks at her with her unrestrained feet, taking her out, before tapping at the fob with one foot until her restraints open. Securing the unconscious pirate in the restraints, Ghal finds that she is quite thirsty and uses the galley's food unit to get herself a drink and some water to pour on herself, mistrusting the spritzer. She then sets out to explore the ship.
On Starlight, Velko passes Marshal Avar Kriss when she arrives at Rodor's office, the woman favouring her with a nod. However, she's surprised to find Jedi Master Estala Maru also meeting with the controller, and Rodor explains that Maru is there for the same reason she is. Maru notes with concern that Ghal is not on Starlight Beacon. Velko says that it looks like she's fled, and Maru responds that someone was extorting her, asking Velko if she had any idea. Velko says she did not, pointing out that they've all been stretched to their limits with the Nihil situation and that's why she didn't notice anything, privately believing she couldn't have helped. Maru says that from what he saw, the extortion seemed to be mostly benign, but Ghal was getting multiple messages from the same exchange, and he's still attempting to deduce their origin. Rodor speculates that Ghal may have gone after the people trying to extort her, but Velko confirms that there's no footage of her leaving Starlight. Bringing up Ghal's competence, Rodor hopes that they can help her wherever she's found herself.
Exploring the ship, Ghal finds that it is mostly empty. Only when she reaches the cockpit does she find a Chagrian woman flying it, who detects Ghal as she tries to sneak up on her. The woman says that Ghal is supposed to be in the galley, but after pinning her opponent, Ghal identifies her as Jeni Wataro, aide to Senator Izzet Noor. Wataro clarifies that she only works for herself, and, on occasion, the Eye of the Nihil. An alert sounds, and Wataro gloats that they're about to encounter another ship and that where they are, it won't be anyone from the Republic. Choking Wataro unconscious, Ghal checks that she's still breathing before removing her from the cockpit and locking the door. Not being a skilled pilot anyways, and having not flown in years, Ghal cannot understand the controls, a matter not helped by them being labelled in an unfamiliar language that is not Galactic Basic.
Ghal's hope fades, as she has no idea how to fly the ship back to Starlight. She tries the control yoke, but quickly discovers that its settings are locked, and a further fumbling with the controls does nothing. Sinking into her seat, Ghal feels a sense of defeat that she last had when she was discarded by Shenrick, before seeing three approaching ships, and realizes they are likely to open fire soon. The communications unit beeps as the new ships attempt to communicate, and Ghal believes that the Nihil have in this instance won. Taking a deep breath, Ghal figures that she has to do something to warn the Republic about the traitors in its midst. How many others besides Starros and Wataro could be working with the Nihil? Opening a comm channel, Ghal selects a swathe of frequencies, most of them Starlight ones as well as some Mon Cal ones. As far out as she is, she knows she'll be lucky if anyone hears. She decides to send a simple voice message: "My name is Ghal Tarpfen, Head of Security for Starlight Beacon. I have been kidnapped by the Nihil, and by the time you hear this message I will most likely be dead."
Ghal goes on to state that the Galactic Senate has been compromised, identifying Starros and Wataro and warning that there may be other spies. She repeats her full message several times, before putting it on a loop as the Nihil ships begin to fire. Others begin to pound on the cockpit door, and Wataro tries to order Ghal to unlock the escape shuttles. Ghal honestly responds that she doesn't know how, and Wataro pleads to be let in so she can answer the challenge question, accusing her of condemning them to death. Shouting back, Ghal states that she had family on Valo who probably begged for someone to save them as well. As the pounding stops, Ghal leans back into her chair and sings to herself a lullaby that her mother sang to her as a small fry. A better death than she could have hoped for.
Velko is awoken in the middle of her sleep shift, quickly discovering someone is pinging her door. Opening it, she finds Imri Cantaros, who tells her that Maru had tried calling her over the comms, but she obviously hadn't heard, as there's something he wants her to listen to. Velko asks him to give her a moment, before hurriedly donning her uniform and following him to the command hub. Maru tells her he has news, and plays an audio message from a comms unit: "Ghal Tarpfen…kidnapped…Nihil…Senate is compromised…there might be other spies…the Republic…" As the remains of Ghal's message begin to repeat, most of it being static, Velko asks where the rest is and what might be missing. Maru says he's not sure as this is all they've been able to recover, adding that he's reaching out to other security units to see if they received anything similar but he wanted to let Velko know first. Nodding, Velko realizes that Ghal has to be dead, and must have been far away from Republic control when she sent her last message, making every effort to send the warning as her final act. She asks Maru to send a copy of the message to her personal queue, and he agrees, offering sympathy to her loss.
Velko wanders the station, winding up on an observation deck to ponder Ghal's words, especially about Nihil spies in the Senate and Republic. She wonders how Ghal found out and if that's why she went missing. Velko ponders what she learned from Ghal in the time they knew each other, thinking that she learned quite a lot and that she was a strong ally. Velko Jahen knows that the Nihil were involved in what happened to Ghal Tarpfen, and vows to find out who was behind her abduction, wanting to ensure that justice is delivered. More than that, Velko vows to guide Starlight Beacon through any future hardships. She owes Ghal that much.
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Notes and references
- The Star Wars Book dates the launch of the Starlight Beacon, which is depicted as part of the events of The High Republic: Light of the Jedi, to 232 years before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, which corresponds to 232 BBY according to Star Wars: Galactic Atlas. In The High Republic: A Test of Courage, which takes place concurrently to Light of the Jedi, Vernestra Rwoh is sixteen years old. In The High Republic: Mission to Disaster, Vernestra states that she is almost eighteen years old, indicating that Mission to Disaster is set about two years later, around 230 BBY. "Starlight: Shadows Remain" is set partially concurrently to Mission to Disaster, so the same dating information applies.