Vanessa centered herself on the floor and closed her eyes. Insulated from the beeping of the cockpit and whirring of the engine room, her Gunstar quarters were cozy. Far from the high ceilings and sweeping decor of her Coruscant bedroom, the ship wrapped tightly around her. Pipes, vents, and unpainted metal composed the cocoon, offset by the occasional stuffed toy or colorful curtain. Yet the child loved every moment in the room: Time there meant time flying toward adventure. The room was her second favorite only to the cockpit, whenever her mother would briefly permit her inside.
Sucking in a calming breath, the child steadied herself and set to work. Between the metal and curtain surroundings of the ship, she assembled another wall in her mind�s eye. Metal, colored blocks, even favored toys collected and rose high. No sooner had the wall completed did Vanessa feel a sudden chill. Though the wall blocked her sight, she felt two glittering eyes glaring from the wall�s shuttered side. They bore into her.
�You can�t come in,� she told the eyes. She could feel pacing on the other end of the wall.
�I�d like to,� the eyes told her. �I�d really like to. I�d like a good look at you, little girl.�
�No,� she said firmly. She could still feel the pacing. It felt like four feet, an impatient tail swishing, eyes gleaming as they caught moments of light.
�Why do you hide from me? Is that what brave girls do?�
�I�m brave,� the child bristled at the accusation. A few blocks tumbled from the top of her wall. Vanessa felt the glittering eyes glance upward, the tug of lips pulling into a grin.
�Show me,� it told her.
Biting her lip, Vanessa felt fear creep upon her. The duel between the child and assailant played out in silence, with nothing to observe other than a little girl sitting cross-legged in the dark on a metal floor. In the mind, a shuddering wall stood between the child and a vorn tiger, the beast flexing its forelegs in anticipation of a pounce.
�You�re not allowed in,� she told it, her hands clenching.
�You let family in,� the beast said plainly, almost chiding. �I�m family. I know you. I know you very well. Why don�t you let me in?�
�You�re not — � Vanessa started, then stopped. The tiger�s eyes met hers through the wall and changed. Gold bled into brown. Fur peeled away to dark skin. Eyebrows, lips, nose, and chin shifted from feline to familiar. Only the grin remained.
Fear snatched complete hold of the child. More blocks tumbled from the wall. �You� you look like — �
�Family,� the assailant completed the sentence for her, and stepped forward to touch the quaking wall. �I look like family. Now, don�t you see? We�re very much related. You, your mother, and I. Why don�t you let me in?�
Vanessa couldn�t steady her breath. Tears streamed down her cheeks. The child shook, her concentration wavering. As the wall buckled, the assailant grinned and took another step forward, ready to cross the threshold. They grinned in victory.
Arms open wide and beaming a perverse pride: �Thatta girl. See? You are brave. Now, let�s take a good look at — �
Words cut short as a new wall sprung up. The assailant was tossed backward, flung away as if by a torrential wind. They disappeared from sight but the impact reverberated through the mindscape where they and the child fought. Incensed, the assailant jumped to their feet and screamed. An identical lash of Force released from them, crashing against the wall like a white wave against stone.
�LET ME IN!� They screamed. Wave upon wave broke upon the fresh wall that absorbed every blow. The storm raged, showing no sign of abating.
In the physical world, grouped close on the metal floor where at first only a child sat, Jacqueline held Vanessa in her arms and Halonan sat cross-legged beside them, eyes closed in concentration.