Senator Ben Solo settled into his seat at the Galaxies Opera House, smoothing his silk tunic and half-cape. He glanced at his surroundings, listening to the ebb and flow of the Force.
It had been a hard week. The quarterly recess was approaching, which meant that there was the usual scramble to iron out and push through legislation. There had been hours of deliberations in the Senate chambers, and hours of meetings outside of it, building coalitions and consensus. He’d had his hands full with a proposal for his own subcommittee to fund more health research that considered the needs of multiple species of sentient beings. Then his mother had hinted that his opinion would carry weight with a different subcommittee, working on economic and environmental relief for former mining colonies in the Outer Rim. Somehow, after multiple late nights working on them, both proposals had been finished today and would be deliberated on after the recess, so he expected a bit of a break. That is, after tonight’s event.
He saw his fellow Senators in their boxes, arrayed around the theatre’s top levels. Their box curtains were open, framing them as they talked in small groups in their opulent finery. They were strutting around, making so sure they were seen, one could be forgiven for assuming they were in fact the evening’s performers. One box stood out though — about a third of the way around the same level of the theatre as Ben's box. The curtains were almost entirely closed, and the interior was dark.
The lights flickered twice, indicating that the performance was about to begin, and then they went out completely a minute later. The opera began with a scene of undercover Jedi and soldiers in a boisterous undercity cantina. It was a historical drama about the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith that ended with the Sith being driven out of Coruscant and the founding of the Galactic Republic. Performing it here in Coruscant, with the New Republic capital and Senate having moved here recently, and having a special performance for Senators, was all a bit on the nose for Ben’s taste.
But the New Republic needed its stories. There was a reason why this tale of a peaceful democracy hard won resonated, even now, thirty-five years after the signing of the Concordance. Drawing on the legends of the distant past meant less pressure and attention on the living legends of the most recent war — less attention on Ben's parents and uncle and therefore less attention on him, so it was all for the better.
Coruscant was its own center of gravity. The New Republic had intended to move the capital periodically to stay away from the former capital of the Old Republic and Galactic Empire, and yet here they were. Ben half expected that in another few years, when the vote for a new location would recur, the majority would vote to stay here. It was a prime central location, the source and destination of hyperspace routes, steeped in history and culture and teeming with everything a sentient being might want.
There was something else, too. Ben wondered how many of his colleagues sensed something strange here. Coruscant held a vergence in the Force, under the former Jedi temple Palpatine turned into his palace. His uncle renovated it to become a Jedi Temple once more. The Opera House was close enough to the Temple and the vergence was powerful enough that Ben could sense its presence here, a thrumming energy running through his Force senses.
During a scene change, Ben realized that he sensed something else alongside the vergence. As a lone Sith apprentice sang onstage, a single oddly familiar Force signature, soft and dark and diffuse as smoke, brushed his consciousness, then disappeared as soon as he tried to pin it down.
He looked around. He could have sworn it was coming from the box with the half-drawn curtains. He thought he saw a dark shape between them, but then the lights changed for the next scene and he couldn't tell.
Ben wanted to walk near that section of the balcony during the intermission, or see if he could see someone return to it. But between using the 'fresher and being greeted by his colleagues, by the time he made it to the hallway outside the box a resplendently uniformed usher was politely suggesting he might want to find his seat. The next act was starting.
After the opera, there was a formal reception for the Senators. The Opera House's managers were in attendance, as well as some of the performers. His mother had warned him just how much of this job was being able to make small talk and greet people in appropriate ways at events like this one. Picking up a glass of Chandrilan red wine and surveying the crowd felt like the beginning of drilling a saber form.
All Senators were indeed used to a routine of polite socialization in crowds. Not all Senators were the son of two heroes of the Galactic Civil War, and nephew and former Jedi trainee of a third. Wherever he went, people paid attention to him. It was tiring, but tonight he was glad for it when the Opera’s two managers, Mr. Andrei and Mx. Firmynn, sought him out early in the reception.
He complimented the opera genuinely. He might have found the theme to be a bit self-serving, but the performances were genuinely good, and he enjoyed the set design. The managers beamed at the praise.
"I couldn't help but notice," Ben said then, "that one of the boxes appeared to be empty. Did someone have to cancel unexpectedly?" The performance had been sold out, or very close to it.
Andrei’s eyes flicked to Firmynn for a second. Their expressions stayed pleasant, but Ben could sense genuine fear radiating from them in the Force.
"Ah. Yes. Box Five is kept empty by request of the Opera Ghost," said Andrei. His tone was matter-of-fact, but his nervousness was apparent through the Force.
"The Opera — Ghost?" asked Ben. He prided himself on his ability to stay poised and keep a neutral expression when necessary, but he was certain he looked startled for a moment.
"Yes," said Firmynn. "A human woman dressed all in black, in a mourning style from a century or so ago. She wanders the corridors of the Galaxies Opera House."
"You've seen her?" asked Ben.
"Well, no," said Andrei, shaking his head. Firmynn shook their head as well, looking a bit sheepish, like Ben might be judging them. "Many of our performers have, and the previous manager as well. I have received notes from her, though."
"Notes from a ghost," said Ben, curious. The only ghosts he had known were Force Ghosts, who were able to affect the material world. So maybe a ghost who left notes wasn't too surprising.
"Yes, she hand writes them," said Firmynn. Ben had taken up calligraphy while a teenager, and continued to find it a source of calm and enjoyment. He had never heard of anyone else who wrote by hand.
"What does she write about?"
Andrei looked around nervously, and both he and Firmynn leaned closer to Ben. "Feedback on the performances. She's had some sharp comments for the singers and musicians. She sings herself - some of the cast have heard her backstage.” Andrei’s eyes darted around again and he lowered his voice even further. “And she insists that Box Five be kept empty for her. The one time the previous manager didn't, some sets collapsed and injured a few of the cast, and the patrons seated in Box Five left after they felt a choking sensation when they attempted to return to their seats after intermission," said Andrei.
"Has anyone seen her enter the balcony?" asked Ben. His reputation really did seem helpful tonight - he doubted that the managers would have told too many of his colleagues these details if they had asked.
"Well, the ushers must see her enter and leave, but they're often very confused afterwards. They must be terrified. She frightens many of those who work here," said Firmynn. It was clear that both Andrei and Firmynn were among those she frightened.
Ben remembered the mysterious Force signature he had sensed briefly. The collapsing sets could have been caused by the Force, as could the choking sensation the patrons had experienced. The confused ushers sounded like they had experienced a Force mind trick.
"Is there anything special about that particular box?" Ben asked.
"It was Palpatine's, when he was Chancellor," said Firmynn.
Ben tried not to shudder, remembering the harm Palpatine caused his family. The Force signature he sensed in the box hadn't inspired revulsion, though. "Well, I don't want to keep you from the rest of the guests here," he said. "Thank you for telling me about this. I am interested in seeing those notes."
"Oh, of course," said Andrei. "Contact us through the Holonet, and we can meet with you and show you the notes. It would be our absolute honor to give you a tour of this Opera House as well, if you are interested."
"I certainly am. Thank you both so much."
That night, in his luxurious apartment in a beautiful Coruscanti neighborhood , he dreamt of her again.
Growing up, he'd been haunted by a dark presence, a voice in his mind, both while asleep and awake. His mother and Luke had taken it seriously, recognizing it as a manifestation of the Dark Side of the Force. They had helped protect him from it, then taught him to notice it and drive it away himself. By the time he was an adult, the voice vanished, never to bother him again.
Then, years later, he began to dream of another presence - her - tenuous, shadowy, and utterly lonely. She was very different from the presence who tormented him when he was younger. In his dreams, sometimes he almost saw her face, or felt her hand. He tried to comfort her however he could through the Force, but she always disappeared.
This time, she was close. So close. He could hear her singing in the dream, and saw a woman draped in black facing away from him. He woke up with the melody in his mind, and he could still sense her presence. With a burst of clarity he recognized it was the same as the Force signature in Box Five.
True to their word, Andrei and Firmynn responded quickly when he reached out. They were available to give him a tour the next day, and showed him the notes the Ghost left them.
Her handwriting was beautiful. Ben ran his hand down the page and imagined what her hand would look like. The paper was faintly perfumed, like a faded bouquet left on a table covered in yellowed lace. The woman from his dreams touched these notes - he was certain of it. She might pretend to be a ghost, but her Force signature was that of a living being.
A living being intensely in tune with the Dark Side of the Force. It should have scared him, but instead it made her that much more appealing. Who was she, and why would she waste her power on an opera house?
And why was he so intrigued, so determined to find this person he had felt a connection to? Maybe it was because he too knew what it was to be lonely. He had his family’s support, but there were still times when their legacy was heavy, and very few of the other people around him understood. There were plenty of people who saw him as a legend or a means to an end, not a person. Somehow, he knew that the mysterious woman in his dreams knew that feeling well, and that meant he wanted to find her if he could.
He said goodbye to Andrei and Firmynn, but instead of leaving, he quietly made his way back into the Opera House’s grand hallways. He was trained well enough to use the Force to enhance his senses, and he watched and listened and reached out with his feelings, trying to sense the familiar Force signature again.
He found himself in the hallway that wrapped around the Opera House on the mezzanine level, with the entrances to the boxes. The opposite side of the hallway was paneled in mirrors that reflected the gilded light fixtures. Even at partial illumination, as they were now, the effect was dazzling.
He felt a chill as he passed by one of the mirrors. In the real world or the Force, he couldn't tell, but then it didn't matter, because he could smell her perfume again.
Slowly, like something from out of a dream, the mirror swung open.The space behind it was dark, and she was there, as he'd somehow been expecting. She wore a long black dress, intricately layered with ruffles and lace. A translucent black veil hung over her face. Her face — her face was covered by a mask, smooth and white like a skull or an old porcelain doll. He couldn't see her eyes, only deep black ovals with a sense of presence and alertness behind them.
Her Force signature was the intensely familiar presence he was expecting. "It — it is you," he whispered. And he suddenly knew her name, although she'd never told him. "Rey," he breathed.
"Ben," she said. Her voice was slightly modulated by the mask.
Whatever Force thread connected them grew stronger and more solid.
"Don't be afraid — I feel it too," she said, and held out a hand gloved in black silk.
He had a bad feeling about this, but there was only one thing he wanted to do at that moment. He took her hand, and she pulled him into the space behind the mirror.