Wednesday, January 2, 2008
"The Corellian Connection" [PG-13] - Chapter 1
"THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION"
18BBY - OUTSIDE ALDERA, ALDERAAN
The mid-afternoon sun beamed from behind the large white clouds in the sky and into several windows of a sprawling, two-story villa situated near a wide lagoon. Beyond three of those windows, two dark-haired women watched a pair of infants play with their respective toys inside a large playpen.
"I know I have said this once, but I'll say it again," the older woman declared affectionately. "They are absolutely darling!" Queen Breha Antilles-Organa of Alderaan glanced around the room. "And this nursery is quite lovely. Padme, my dear, you've managed to make quite a home, here. Haven't you?"
Padme Nabierre Amidala-Skywalker, former senator and queen of Naboo, regarded her children with a wistful smile. "I've tried to make this place as comfortable as I can." She heaved a light sigh. "I'm beginning to wonder if we'll end up staying here for good. It has been nine months since our arrival and I still have not found a permanent home for us."
Had nine months really passed since she had experienced so much emotional upheaval in her life? Since the galaxy had transformed from a republic into an empire? Padme sighed. Living on Alderaan seemed to have isolated her worldview from the galaxy at large to a modest island villa near a lagoon. The villa's isolation reminded her of one near a lake on Naboo. Varykino. She has tried not to remember those brief days with Anakin when she had been so happy. Tried and failed. Two months ago, she had dreamed of that idyllic period . . . and woke with tears in her eyes.
"Is there something wrong, Padme?" Queen Breha asked. Padme realized that the older woman was staring at her.
Smiling, the former senator replied quietly, "It's nothing. Just remembering old times."
The queen's countenance sobered quickly. "I understand perfectly. Nothing has been the same for a very long time. Since before the Empire . . . when the war had begun." She sighed. "Did you know that Bail had been against the formation of that clone army?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," Padme replied with a wry smile. "I had also been against it. Unfortunately, circumstances had prevented me from leading a vote against it in the Senate."
Nodding, Queen Breha added, "Now I remember. The entire situation regarding the clone army and the war had been so difficult for Bail. Many of his colleagues had derided him for resisting the idea of a war against the Separatists. And once he began to serve the Republic's army, many here on Alderaan had criticized him for his . . . non-pacifist stand. Even when General Grievous and his army had threatened the planet."
"Poor Bail," Padme murmured. "I remember how he had felt."
The queen continued, "Which is why he so fervently longed for the war to end. Yet, once it did . . . well, you know what happened."
The two women fell silent. Only the twins' gurgles echoed throughout the nursery. Then dark-haired Leia dropped the stuffed doll from her chubby hands and snatched the toy starfighter from her brother's. The fair-haired Luke promptly howled in protest.
"Leia!" Padme admonished her daughter. "That's not nice." She leaned into the playpen and removed the star fighter from Leia's grasp. The latter followed her brother's example and began to wail. Padme handed the toy back to Luke, whose own cries had subsided into a few happy gurgles. Then Padme picked up another one of Luke's toys and gave it to Leia. Satisfied with the new acquisition, the infant girl's tears immediately ceased.
Breha chuckled quietly. "It seems that young Leia can be quite a handful."
Padme heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Yes, she can. On the other hand, she is rather reserved, like Luke. But she can be haughty and a little temperamental." Wistfully, she added, "Like her father."
Smiling, Queen Breha said, "And I assume that Master Luke is a perfect gentleman."
"Yes, he is," Padme said, regarding her son fondly. "But he can be impatient. Something that he has inherited from both parents."
The queen shook her head in disbelief. "You consider yourself impatient?"
"Trust me, Your Majesty. I have quite a history of impatience that will make you think twice about me." Padme glanced out of the window. She saw a small shuttle descend upon the villa's sprawling lawn. "Someone else from the palace has arrived."
Several minutes later, C3-P0 entered the nursery. In his usual obsequious manner, he announced, "Pardon me Mistress Padme, Your Majesty, but His Highness Prince Organa has arrived. He is in the east drawing-room."
After Padme had summoned the twins' nurse to look after them, she and Queen Breha followed the protocol droid along one of the villa's wide corridors, until they reached the east drawing-room. Inside, they found Prince Bail Organa staring pensively out of a window. He spun around to face the two women with a vague smile. "Breha, Padme. Pardon me for interrupting your afternoon with the children, but I have just received some dire news."
"What is it?" Padme asked anxiously.
The tall senator inhaled sharply. "I've just received news that the Empire has recently annexed Andalia into direct Imperial control."
"What?" Padme cried out. "But that doesn't make any sense! Andalia was never part of the Separatist Confederacy!" Then a horrifying thought occurred to her. "Has this anything to do with the fact that Solipo Yeb had signed the Petition of 2000?" She spoke of a document that had been drafted near the end of the Clone Wars by a group of senators and other political officials (the "Delegation of 2000"), addressed to the then Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. The Petition stated that since the war's end was nearing, Palpatine should give up the emergency powers he had assumed since the end of the Separatist Crisis. Padme had personally delivered the petition to Palpatine - something she did not regret, despite all that has happened.
Shaking his head, Bail replied, "No, it seems that a fugitive Jedi Knight had been discovered on Andalia. A native Andalian. Her name was Anjuli Nab."
Padme's skin crawled at Bail's use of the word 'was'. "You mean, she's dead?"
Bail's face tightened. "Apparently Master Nab was killed by a Sith Lord." He paused dramatically. "A young man who had introduced himself with the title of 'Darth'. I did not catch his entire name."
Padme did not want to believe it. She did not want to believe that Anakin had resumed his position as Palpatine's apprentice. When Bail had revealed his actions on Mustafar - walking away from the duel with Obi-Wan and leaving behind his lightsaber - she had felt a glimmer of satisfaction. Of course, she felt disappointed that Anakin deemed it necessary to stay away from. But at least he had not resumed serving Palpatine's tyranny. Now, she began to wonder if she had been wrong.
Disbelief shone in Queen Breha's dark eyes. "You mean to say that the Emperor has taken over an entire planet, due to the presence of one Jedi fugitive?" she cried.
The possibility also appalled Padme . . . but for reasons other than Andalia's fate. "Bail," she added, "if the Emperor ever learns that the children and I are here on Alderaan, it could mean . . ."
The prince/senator quickly reassured the two women. "First of all, I suspect that the Emperor had his eyes on Andalia for quite some time, thanks to the Andalians' protests against Imperial treatment of the former Separatist worlds. Discovering a Jedi Knight on the planet merely gave him an excuse to invade. Apparently, the Andalians should have followed your advice, Padme, by keeping quiet. As for you and the children . . . it has been nine months since your arrival here on Alderaan. Surely, the Emperor would have detected all of you by now."
However, Padme refused to be placated. She never had any intention of remaining on Alderaan for so long. The royal couple's warmth and the comfort of the villa had made her forgetful. Learning of Andalia's fate made Padme more determined to find a permanent home for her family. "I realize that Bail," she finally said, "but I don't think we should take advantage of your hospitality any longer. I feel that it's time for us to consider a new home."
Bail seemed to understand. However, the Queen seemed saddened by the thought. Padme understood. The childless Breha had grown very fond of the twins. She and Bail had been named their godparents. Padme promised herself that once she finds a new home, she would ensure that Alderaan's queen would have many chances to be with the children.
The Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious of the Sith, sat inside the office he had occupied for the past fourteen years. Not long after the ascension of the Empire, he had commissioned architects to reconstruct the old Presidential Palace into a new Imperial Palace. A palace that would contain formal gardens, a grander office and a new throne room. Unfortunately, the reconstruction had not finished and he remained stuck using the old Chancellor's Office.
In his hand was a data pad that contained the official report regarding the Andalian invasion. Palpatine allowed himself a satisfied smile. Everything had proceeded as planned. The galaxy was deprived of one less Jedi Knight. The Andalians were no longer in a position to continue their treasonous protests against his Imperial policies. The Empire had acquired new territory directly under his control. Most importantly, the invasion should give a message to other systems that the Empire would not tolerate any dissent against its policies or the new Emperor.
Sly Moore's voice crackled over the office comlink. "Pardon me, Your Highness, but Lord Rasche has arrived."
"Send him in," Palpatine ordered.
Over a minute passed before his new apprentice of the past nine months strode into his office. The young man paused before the Emperor's desk and bowed. "Lord Sidious."
"Ah! Lord Rasche," the Sith Lord greeted cheerfully. "Congratulations, my friend, on a job well done. Andalia is now directly under Imperial control, the dissidents there are no longer a threat and you have rid the Empire of one less Jedi." He paused and noticed the slightly pleased expression on Rasche's face. Then he heaved a dramatic sigh. "Pity that Senator Yeb had managed to escape."
The dark-haired man frowned and stiffened slightly. "Yes, my Master," he replied tersely. "And I had conveyed such thoughts to Lieutenant Necros. Just before his death."
Impudent young man, Sidious thought. Darth Rasche possessed a beguiling mixture of competence, brashness and impatience that had made him so ripe for corruption. Now, all Sidious needed to do was hone that mixture into a warrior and leader that would guarantee the Sith's presence in the galaxy, forever.
Another sigh left Palpatine's mouth. "So much for Lieutenant Necros. I really need to integrate more regular officers into both the Imperial Army and Navy. Speaking of which, as soon as the matter regarding the remaining Jedi is satisfactorily completed, I want you to serve some time under Grand Moff Tarkin and take part in the super weapon project."
"I don't understand," Lord Rasche exclaimed. "Why not give me overall command of all forces? I'm a veteran of the Clone War. And I had commanded a regiment just before the war ended."
Palpatine curbed his annoyance. "Yes, my young friend. I am well aware of your military experience. However, Lord Tarkin happens to have more. You could do well to learn under his tutelage. I want to ensure that you will be prepared to take over all forces when the time is right."
"When the time is right?" Rasche heaved an impatient sigh. "Fine. What about Skywalker? He remains at large. I would prefer searching for him than serving under . . . Lord Tarkin. I had hoped that Anjuli Nab would know of his whereabouts."
Frowning, Palpatine asked, "Why would she know?"
"Because she was one of the few knights in the Order, who had managed to befriend him," Rasche replied in an impatient voice. "She was among the few who believed in that 'Chosen One' nonsense. Unfortunately . . . she didn't know where he was."
"Not surprising, since the surviving Jedi are scattered throughout the galaxy," Palpatine said dismissively. "As for the traitorous Skywalker . . . do not be so eager to seek him. He will cross our paths, one day. I have foreseen it. By then, you shall be ready to face him."
Rasche protested, "I'm ready to face him, now!"
"No, you are not!" Palpatine shot back in a steely voice. "You are strong with the Force, my Lord Rasche, and you have great potential. But you are not ready to face Skywalker! In time, you will . . ."
"In time?" Rasche snorted with derision. "I'm ready to face him now, Master! In the past nine months, I have faced . . ."
Palpatine swiftly shot to his feet. Using the Force, he grabbed his lightsaber, leapt over his desk, and began to attack his apprentice. The latter managed to grab his weapon in time to parry the Sith master's attack. For several minutes, master and apprentice engaged in a fierce lightsaber battle inside office. The battle almost reminded Palpatine of his duel against the late Jedi Master Mace Windu. Like Windu, Rasche managed to surprise him with powerfully Force-enhanced skills and an aggressive style. Only, Rasche had yet to reach Windu's level of power and skill. Which the Sith Lord proceeded to prove. After noticing that his apprentice's swings had grown increasingly wide, Palpatine immediately took advantage of one wide arc and disarmed his younger opponent by burning the latter's right wrist with the tip of his lightsaber. Rasche cried out in pain and dropped his weapon.
The Sith Lord aimed the tip of his lightsaber at his apprentice. "I will only say this one more time, my Lord Rasche," he said in an icy voice. "You are not ready to face Skywalker. Not yet. When you have fully learned to utilize the power of the Dark Side, then you will be. You must learn to be patient."
Breathing heavily, Lord Rasche glared at the older man. Then he humbly dropped to one knee and murmured, "Yes, my Master."
"And one last thing," Palpatine added, "in another six months, you will served under Grand Moff Tarkin and assist him in the weapon project. Despite your military experience during the Clone War, you need to learn command at a higher level. One day, you will assume command of all my military forces."
"Yes Master," Rasche replied in a more contrite tone. He hesitated before picking up his lightsaber. "Is there anything else?"
Feeling more benign, Palpatine nodded. "Yes. Continue the search for Solipo Yeb. He must be made an example to the entire Senate. The Empire will not tolerate dissension within its borders." He took a deep breath. "That will be all, my young friend."
The apprentice bowed respectfully and strode out of the office. For the second time, Palpatine allowed himself a satisfied smile. Yes, he had been right to turn young Rasche, those nine months ago. Impatience aside, his new apprentice seemed to be turning out to be more than he had originally hoped for.
The spirals of Corellia's capital loomed before Anakin Skywalker's gaze, as he guided his decade-old Corellian freigher, the Javian Hawk, into the city's airspace. Finally, Coronet's spaceport appeared and he landed the ship upon one of the landing platform.
Anakin leaned back into his seat and sighed. This last trip had been a particularly difficult one for him. A Corellian merchant hired him to pick up and deliver a shipment of Carsunum, an illegal spice mined on Sevarcos II. The merchant, who had hired him nearly a week ago, claimed to be an agent for the Healer's Guild. But Anakin suspected otherwise. Orlan Renar never struck him as the charitable type or someone willing to assist a public service organization like the Healing Guild. However, Anakin did not care. All that mattered to him was the job. Not for the sake of money, but as a means to keep him occupied.
After switching off the engine, Anakin climbed out of the pilot's seat. He made his way toward the cargo hold and checked on the goods. Everything seemed to be intact. He closed the cargo hold's hatch and punched in a code. Then he slid several crates of Andoan wine over the hold. With the Carsunum aboard, he needed a shipment of legal goods to deceive any of the spaceport's custom inspector.
The Javian Hawk's boarding ramp lowered to the ground. Anakin disembarked and found a uniformed customs officer met at the end of the ramp. "Anything to declare?" the officer demanded.
Anakin heaved a sigh. "Just a shipment of Andoan wine," he replied.
The customs officer gave a sharp nod. "Let's take a look." The former Jedi Knight-turned-smuggler led the officer back aboard the Hawk. He held his breath, while the man searched through every crate. By the time the inspection ended, nearly a half hour had passed. "Everything seemed to be in order. The import charge will be 100 credits."
"You can charge it to Orlan Remar of Remar Mercantile," Anakin replied. "Limited."
The officer recorded the name and gave Anakin another sharp nod. "Thank you, and good day."
Relieved that the Carsunum spice had not been discovered, Anakin left the ship for the second time. It seemed odd that a former Jedi Knight and Sith apprentice would end up as a minor freight pilot and smuggler. Anyone would consider his new role as a step down for Anakin. His former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, certainly would. But then Obi-Wan believed that he had already taken that step when he became Darth Sidious' apprentice.
Money had not been Anakin's motivation for becoming a pilot and smuggler. Oh sure, he needed money to survive in the galaxy - for food, shelter and transportation. But his main factor for his present position came from a deep desire to keep himself occupied and forget the mistakes and heartache from the previous year. Flying his freighter from one end of the galaxy to the other and occasionally dodging the Imperial authorities gave him that outlet.
Anakin strode out of the hangar and merged into Coronet's bustling streets. Although he did a lot of business with many of Corellia's merchants, he did not live on the planet. The housing situation was too expensive and Anakin had invested most of his earning into the Javian Hawk's maintenance. The Hawk happened to be the very ship he had flown for his first job - smuggling Kabalian refugees from Tatooine to a planet in the Lamaro System called Lamaremm. Kabal had originally been a part of the Separatist Confederacy. Once the Clone War had ended, the new Emperor set about annexing those systems that were a part of the Separatist movement, enslaving many of their races. The refugees that Anakin met on Tatooine had managed to escape from their homeworld just hours before the arrival of an Imperial ship.
Following his first job, Anakin had ended up helping his employer, a Serenno businessman named Kiram Raynor, smuggle Separatist refugees for a period of four months. After hauling eighteen refugees from Dallik to the Almania Sector, Anakin's employment with Raynor finally ended. He used the credits he had earned and purchased Raynor's ship - the Hawk - for a low price. The young pilot found a permanent home on the smuggler's moon of Nar Shaddaa and refurbished his new freighter before resuming his newfound career.
The late afternoon sun barely hovered over the Corellian capital's skyline. Anakin did his best to avoid the colorful crowd that he weaved through. He kept a sharp eye out for the hotel he usually stayed at whenever he was on Corellia, the Torvian Blue Hotel. His eyes immediately spotted the twenty-story, L-shaped building. And he also became aware of a pair of eyes following him. Eyes that did not belong to an adult.
Anakin took a deep breath and focused upon his surroundings. Corellia had the good fortune to possess temperate weather, spectacular terrain and a prosperous economy thanks to its shipwrights. Unfortunately, Corellia also possessed a lawless reputation for breeding pirates, smugglers and other criminal activities. Anakin suspected that he may have attracted the attention of one such criminal - a pickpocket.
Before he could become the victim of a street crime, Anakin finally reached the Torvian Blue Hotel. Ignoring the stares of well-dressed patrons - including appreciative ones from females - he made his way toward the front desk, where an attractive young woman with blond hair greeted him with a bright smile. "Welcome back to Corellia, Captain Horus."
Anakin returned her smile. "Thank you, Radha. Um . . . I'll have my usual room."
Radha typed in some information into her computer terminal. Then she handed Anakin a code key - a rectangular-shaped piece of blue plastic. "Room 415, as usual." Anakin thanked the young woman and headed toward one of the lobby's turbolifts.
Once inside his room, Anakin dumped his duffel bag onto the bed. He stripped away his clothes and took a shower. After he finished, he switched on the holo monitor and listened to the HoloNet news, while he donned fresh clothes. According to a newscaster, Corellia had lost a prominent senator named Garm Bel Iblis. Apparently, Separatist fugitives on Anchoron killed Senator Iblis and his family. The senator's name struck a familiar chord within Anakin. He recalled that Iblis had been an opponent of the Clone War and a political rival of Palpatine's for years. Anakin wondered if the Separatists really had killed the Corellian senator. Or had the perpetrators been Imperial agents?
After donning his dark blue jacket, he heard a shattering news report. The Empire, according to the newscaster, had just annexed the planet of Andalia for harboring a fugitive Jedi Knight. The reporter also revealed that the Andalian senator, Solipo Yeb, had escaped Imperial authorities and is now considered to be a fugitive. But what really shook Anakin to the core was the name of the Jedi Knight killed by an Imperial agent - one Anjuli Nab, a native of Andalia.
Stunned by the news, Anakin unconsciously sat down on his bed. Anjuli dead? Despite the number of Jedi that had been decimated by his hands and by Sidious' Order 66, Anakin never considered that his old friend, Anjuli, would end up dead. She had been one of the few within the Jedi Order who did not view him as a Jedi savior, an outsider or a freak of nature. Ten years older than him, Anjuli had treated the Tatooine native as a friend and a highly regarded colleague. Unlike Obi-Wan and other Jedi, she had not demanded that he engaged in ideal behavior. Anakin could only take small comfort that he had not been directly responsible for her death. Then again, he felt quite certain that his brief spell as a Sith apprentice had led to her doom. Anakin took a deep breath. Then he turned off the holo monitor, as he wiped away the few tears that streamed down his cheeks. Unable to deal with his memories in isolation, he left the room.
The hotel could boast of at least three excellent restaurants. But Anakin preferred some of Coronet's less prominent eateries, namely the local cafes and diners, over the hotel's highly-priced restaurants. Upon reaching the lobby, he curtly greeted Radha and made arrangement for a message to be sent to Orlan Remar's home.
Slightly disoriented over the news of Anjuli's death, Anakin left the hotel and merged back into Coronet's busy streets. He barely noticed the other pedestrians that surrounded him. All he could think about was Anjuli and his own guilty over his contribution to her death. Finally, a burly man in an expensive tunic bumped against Anakin's shoulder. The former Jedi Knight snapped out of his deep funk - just in time to spot a small hand reaching for his jacket pocket. Anakin quickly snatched the hand and gave it a twist. The hand's owner cried out in pain, as Anakin glared into a pair of fearful brown eyes.
END OF CHAPTER ONE