Friday, December 27, 2013
"The Corellian Connection" [PG-13] - Chapter 4
"THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION"
OUTSIDE ALDERA, ALDERAAN
Padme stepped out onto the villa's terrace and found Raymus Antilles pacing back and forth near the balustrade. "Captain Antilles," she greeted politely. "How kind of you to visit."
The captain ceased his pacing and faced Padme with a grim expression. "I'm afraid this isn't a social visit, Milady. Alderaan's intelligence has just received news that that an Imperial emissary will be arriving here, pretty soon. It seems that someone had traced Solipo Yeb's message to this planet."
A sense of alarm filled Padme. "Oh no! Bail! Has His Highness been arrested?"
"Thankfully no," Antilles replied. "He managed to leave Alderaan before the Empire's arrival."
Padme frowned. "You mean that this emissary is here?"
"He will be. Soon." With a sigh, Antilles continued, "Her Majesty and I believe that this emissary might search for the holoprojector that had received Senator Yeb's message." Unease crept into his eyes.
Padme asked, "Is there something else?"
Antilles inhaled sharply. "We've also learned that the emissary is someone with the title of 'Darth'. Possibly a Sith Lord."
A gasp left Padme's mouth. She stared at Antilles with anxious eyes. "But that's not possible! According to Bail and Master Kenobi, Anakin had turned away . . ."
"Yes, Milady, but we don't know if Skywalker had returned to the emperor or not." The captain paused. "Right now, we need to get you and children away from here. I have a shuttle waiting nearby to take you away from the palace grounds. I suggest that you pack your belongings quickly."
Padme replied, "I already have. Bail had suggested that I pack. In case of an emergency."
At that moment, a shadow appeared in the sky above. Both Padme and Antilles glanced and noticed a rectangular-shaped space vehicle. An Imperial shuttle. Padme murmured, "He's here."
"Room Eleven," Anakin murmured to himself, as he walked along the second floor corridor of the Selonia Hotel. The hotel was named after another planet that made up the Corellian Sector. The clean and stark interior reminded Anakin of a modest home for a respectable family. Large jars filled with flowers and other plants dotted the length of the corridor. He finally came upon his destination - Room Eleven. The pilot rang the announciator.
Seconds later, a female voice crackled from the small audio box next to the door. "Yes? Who is it?"
"Captain Set Horus," Anakin replied. "We met last night."
The door slid open, revealing Thalia Kor. Her shoulders sagged with relief. "Oh, thank goodness! Captain Horus, I'm glad that you could finally make it. Come in, please."
Once Anakin had stepped inside the modest room, he was surprised to find a human male with skin tone similar to his new client's. He knew that Miss Kor had a brother. But he had no idea that this sibling would turn out to be the missing senator from Andalia. "Senator Yeb?" he exclaimed, before he could stop himself.
The senator and his sister exchanged uneasy glances. "You know who I am?" the former demanded.
Anakin shrugged his shoulders. "Of course. Your face has been plastered consistently on the HoloNet News Service, since your escape from Andalia."
"I didn't think of that," Yeb murmured, wearing an anxious expression.
An impatient Thalia Kor (or Yeb) quickly dismissed the matter. "Never mind that. Captain Horus, can you get us both to Averam? No questions asked?"
Nodding, Anakin replied, "Sure. I only hope that the Empire hasn't traced you to here on Corellia." He saw the troubled expression on Senator Yeb's face. "Is there something wrong, Senator?"
Solipo Yeb hesitated. "Well . . . upon my arrival here, I had contacted . . . a friend to send me some much needed funds. We had also made arrangements to meet on Averam."
"And you think there might be a chance that your message had been detected by the Empire," Anakin concluded. He sighed. "I understand. I don't mean to sound mercenary, Senator, but how much are you willing to pay for passage?"
The Andalian senator immediately replied, "Three thousand Imperial credits." Anakin's eyes widened in shock. Apparently, the senator's friend had provided him with ample funds.
With an amicable smile on his face, Anakin replied, "Well then . . . you have a deal. Meet me inside the Javian Hawk's hangar." He glanced at the Andalian woman. "Your sister should know where to find it. I'll be ready to leave within two hours. Senator . . . Milady." He bowed politely and left the hotel room.
ALDERA PALACE, ALDERAAN
Darth Rasche and his entourage stood inside Aldera Palace's vast and impressive foyer. Just beyond, a large staircase curved upward to the floor above. Although Rasche was familiar with the plans for the new Imperial Palace, he could not help but be impressed by this palace's elegant style and sense of history. Not that he really cared. After all, he had a job to perform.
An royal aide dressed in a long blue robe approached the Sith Lord. "May I help you, sir?"
"I am Darth Rasche," Rasche announced. "I am here to see Her Majesty Queen Breha and His Highness Prince Bail Organa, on behalf of His Imperial Highness, the Emperor Palpatine."
The aide nervously replied, "Her Majest is . . ."
"Her Majesty is here," a female's husky voice finished. The voice's owner descended the staircase's remaining steps and approached the newcomers. Dressed in a simple, elegant tangerine gown with bell-shaped sleeves, Breha Antilles-Organa looked every inch an Alderaanian queen. Even her hair, styled in two round buns pinned on each side of her head, added to the regal presence. The aide immediately bowed. To prove that he was not a rude vulgarian, Darth Rasche did the same. "We are Queen Breha of Alderaan," she continued. "May we ask who you are, sir? And what are you doing here with Imperial troops?"
Again, the Sith Lord bowed. "I am Darth Rasche, Your Majesty. I am the personal emissary of the Emperor. He believes that someone here on Alderaan had received a holographic message from Solipo Yeb on Corellia. And since your husband happened to be one of Senator Yeb's former colleagues, naturally our search will start here."
The queen's countenance formed a stony mask. "We must protest this intrusion, Lord Rasche. His Highness has been a loyal supporter of the Emperor since the latter was the Supreme Chancellor. Despite his initial misgivings, he also supported the war against the Separatists . . . even against the wishes of some of our more pacifist citizens. This is outrageous!"
"Nevertheless, Your Majesty, I must perform my duty and search the palace. You may file an official protest to the Imperial Senate, if you wish." Rasche paused, as he glanced around the foyer. When the Queen had first appeared, something seemed amiss. Now, he knew why. "Pardon me, Your Majesty, but where is your husband? Where is His Highness, Prince Bail?"
The Queen's dark eyes flickered momentarily before she assumed a haughty air. "His Highness is not here. He has left . . . on a business trip."
Allowing his eyes to penetrate the monarch's Rasche said in a silky voice, "A business trip? To Corellia, by any chance?"
Contempt poured out of Queen Breha's eyes. "Of course not! He went to Duro with a member of Alderaan's Trade Association to discuss our import contract regarding Alderaanian wine."
"Do you expect me to believe you?" Rasche coolly shot back.
"I beg your pardon?" The queen's voice radiated ice. "Do you doubt our word?"
A retort hung on Rasche's lips. But a growing sense that the Queen had no suspicions of any connection between her husband and Solipo Yeb, other than the Senate, gnawed in his mind. He also suspected that insulting Alderaan's queen might backfire against the Empire. Especially since he has yet to find any proof linking Bail Organa with Yeb. Rasche took a deep breath and bowed to the Queen. "Pardon me, Your Majesty. I would never doubt anything you say."
Queen Breha lifted her chin in a haughty manner. "You are forgiven."
Rasche felt a slight surge of anger at what he viewed as royal arrogance. Then he turned to the clone squad and barked, "Search every room for a holoprojector, and make sure that each one has been checked for any recent transmissions!" The troopers then split into smaller groups and commenced upon the search.
Meanwhile, Rasche became aware of Queen Breha's intense scrutiny. "Pardon me, Lord . . . Rasche," she began, "but your face looks familiar to us." She paused. "Were you a veteran of the recent war against the Separatists?"
The young Sith Lord's eyes flicked. "Yes . . . Your Majesty."
The Queen frowned. "Were you a former Jedi Knight, by any chance? Aside from the clone troopers, the only other humans engaged in combat were . . ."
Longing to avoid memories of his previous life, Rasche curtly interrupted. "There were other humans that fought against Dooku and Grievious." Queen Breha's eyes bored into his. He added quietly, "Your Majesty."
Rasche decided to change the subject. "By the way, I had noticed a charming villa near the palace's lagoon. Who lives there, if I may ask?"
A touch of fear flicked in the Queen's eyes. Much to Rasche's surprise. Interesting.
"My husband's cousin lives there," Queen Breha finally replied. "Cousin Yane Organa-Rivaaj. Well . . . she and her children used to live there. Until recently. She is a war widow."
Rasche asked, "Why did she leave?"
A pause followed before Queen Breha answered, "Painful memories. It was not the same fol . . . following her husband's death. He was killed during the Separatists' assault upon our homeworld."
Rasche nodded politely, already bored by the tragic story. Several minutes later, three clone troopers appeared from the palace's east wing. One of them reported, "We found a holoprojector each in both the Queen and Prince Organa's private offices. Neither had recently received a message from Corellia."
"You searched our private rooms?" Queen Breha demanded angrily.
Ignoring the furious monarch, Rasche ordered the two troopers to search the villa near the palace's lagoon. "If you find the holoprojector, inform me as soon as possible." Once the troopers left, Rasche turned to face Queen Breha. To his satisfaction, the fear he had earlier spotted in her eyes, had returned.
"I had killed more than one person. Hundreds of them, as a matter of fact. Including children."
Captain Horus' words replayed over and over, inside Han's mind. Nor could he forget the pilot's eyes when those words spilled of his mouth. Hard. Intense. Scary and yet, a little sad. Recalling the blond-haired pilot, Han felt relieved that the man had rejected him. On the other hand, a swell of pity touched Han whenever he thought about Captain Horus' underlying sadness. What exactly had Horus done to make him so frightening and yet, sad at the same time?
Han shivered. Then he returned his attention to his drink. After leaving the Torvian Blue Hotel, the eleven year-old had made his way toward the city's spaceport in the hopes of finding passage off Corellia. Unfortunately, most ships seemed to be arriving in Coronet, instead of leaving. An old Republic cruiser had departed for Mos Espa on Tatooine. Han would have been a passenger, if the pilot had not demanded more credits than he possessed. Now, he found himself sitting in a open-air café, drinking Java Juice and waiting for the next starship to depart.
A familiar figure appeared at the spaceport's entrance. It was Set Horus. Han watched the young pilot stride into one of the hangars. Then a woman dressed in dark blue pants, a white blouse and a tan short jacket appeared at the spaceport's entrance. Han immediately recognized her aqualine features and long, dark-brown braid. It was Yenohla Jen, one of Corellia's top pilots. He had learned from the portmaster that she would be departing for Coruscant within an hour or two. And unlike the Republic cruiser's pilot, Captain Jen would not overcharge him.
After finishing his drink, Han paid two credits and slid out of his chair. He grabbed his burlap sack and started across the street. The eleven year-old had not taken five steps when a strong hand grabbed him by the back of his collar. Han screamed for help, as he struggled to escape his captor. Typically, no one bothered to rescue him. Not even a CorSec officer.
"Calm down, kid," his captor growled. "Shrike wants to speak to you." In other words - he was deep in bantha fodder.
Shrike’s thug, a blond-haired human male with narrow blue eyes, shoved him into an enclosed speeder, where he found another waiting for them. Within minutes, both men delivered him to Shrike’s villa, near the edge of town. One of the thugs dragged the eleven year-old inside the villa and delivered him to the courtyard, where the gangster awaited them. The latter’s grim expression did not seem to bode well for Han. “Well, well,” Shrike said in a low, menacing voice. “Hanging around the spaceport like some local scum, Solo? Weren’t you supposed to be doing something else? Like collecting the credits that you owe me?”
Han stared at his boss in angry silence. Only he felt anger at himself, for being stupid enough to be caught off guard by Shrike’s thugs.
“Well? Aren’t you going to say something?” Shrike demanded. His eyes fell upon Han’s burlap sack. “Where did you get that?” He snatched the sack from Han’s grip. At that moment, the Wookie cook appeared in the courtyard. She took one look at Han and gasped. “That’s right, Dewlanna,” Shrike continued with a sneer. “Solo is back. I can only assume that you helped him escape by giving him this.” He held up the burlap sack. Then he peered inside. “Let’s see. Food and and a credit chip. Interesting.”
Dewlanna growled, “He would have starved if I had not given him something.”
“Really?” Shrike glared at her. “You should have told me that he had left, in the first place.”
For Dewlanna’s sake, Han spoke up. “You leave Dewlanna out of this!” he cried angrily. “It’s not her fault!”
“No, it’s not,” Shrike coolly replied. “It’s yours. You made the choice to run away. But Dewlanna . . . well, she did make the choice to help you. And now, both of you must be punished.”
At that moment, an adolescent, green-skinned Twi’lek entered the courtyard. It was Alema Passik, one of Shrike’s slaves and his personal companion. She called out the gangster’s name. “Shrike! You have an incoming message on your holoprojector! The one you are waiting for.”
A sigh left Shrike’s mouth. He seemed to have forgotten about Han, as he diverted his attention to Alema. “I’m waiting for a lot of messages. Who is it?” he demanded, as he started toward the archway that led to the villa’s interiors.
Shrike was not the only one who became distracted by Alema’s appearance. The gangster’s two thugs had released their grip on Han’s arms. The eleven year-old decided to take advantage of a fortuitous opportunity. Using great force, Han stomped on the blond-haired thug’s foot. The man cried out in pain. Then the eleven year-old Corellian kicked the other thug’s shin and made a run for the courtyard’s gate.
A loud roar filled Han’s ears, when he reached the gate. She glanced over his shoulder and saw Dewlanna knock the second thug to the ground. The blond thug pulled out a blaster, but Dewlanna knocked him out before he could fire. Then she roared, “Run Han! Get out of here! Get out . . .”
Blaster fire from Shrike’s side weapon interrupted the Wookie’s cries. Struck directly into the chest, Dewlanna slowly sank to the ground. Han cried out, “Nooo!” Then he saw an armed Shrike rush toward him. Before Han could open the gate, the fallen Wookie grabbed one of Shrike’s ankles and jerked him to the ground. Han needed no further argument. He opened the gate and finally made good his escape.
Commander Jaffe approached the Agamemnon’s senior officer. “We’re now approaching Corellia, Captain Hardy. We should be in orbit above the planet within fifteen minutes.”
“Good,” Captain Hardy replied. “Contact the head of the Corellian Security Force. Inform him that I will meet him at the CorSec office on Coronet. And Have Lieutenant Rhue and his platoon meet me in the shuttle bay. I am going to the surface. I’m leaving you in command of the Agamemnon.”
The executive officer nodded. “As you wish, Captain.” He turned to a subordinate. “Contact Lieutenant Rhue and tell him to form his platoon, inside the hangar bay.”
Satisfied that his orders would be carried out, Captain Hardy left the bridge in order to prepare for his trip to Corellia’s surface.
END OF CHAPTER FOUR