“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”
The petite Igraine Colbert entered Senator Dahlma’s suite with data pad in hand. She found her employer in the middle of packing a valise. “The last transport to Ord Montell had left twelve hours ago,” she reported. “And another is not scheduled for departure until another two days. I’m sorry, Milady.”
Zoebeida Dahlma heaved a sigh. “Wonderful. I suppose I might as well hire private transportation to the planet.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Igraine continued. The senator stared at her. “Don’t forget . . . you had informed the Grand Vizer of your intent to return home to Maldore. Perhaps you should find transport for there and then hire a pilot to take you to Ord Mantell. That way, you will not have to worry about Imperial spies.”
Shaking her head, Senator Dahlma commented, “I would have never thought of that. I knew there was a reason I had made you my aide. Good thinking, Igraine.”
The compliment sent a shaft of warmth throughout the young Maldarian’s body. For the umpteenth time in her life, she privately thanked her uncle for arranging her to become Zoebeida Dahlma’s aide. Harboring political ambitions for years, Igraine gave up the prospects of becoming Vin Roudet’s wife when the position of Senator Dahlma’s aide became available. A shared interest in the galaxy’s political situation and a distrust of the Empire and the Emperor had drawn the two women into a close friendship.
“Shall I book passage for you to Maldore?” Igraine asked.
The older woman nodded. “As soon as possible. I want to leave by tonight. And you need to pack, as well. You’re coming with me.”
The news took Igraine by surprise. The senator had rarely allowed her to experience or learn about the former’s activities against the Empire. “Yes, Milady,” she replied breathlessly. “Right away.” And she left he senator’s chamber, thrilled by the prospect of a little adventure.
MOS EISLEY, TATOOINE
“Stop pouting, Leia!” Padme ordered her daughter. “It’s unbecoming for a young lady, such as yourself.”
The eleven year-old girl retorted, “What did you expect, Mother? I’m going to be stuck here on Tatooine for nearly a week.”
The Skywalker party had just arrived at Tatooine’s largest city, Mos Eisley. Upon their arrival, Padme had booked her family into two rooms at a local inn. Luke accepted their arrival with his usual stoicism. Leia, on the other hand, raised a fuss.
“If you continue to maintain that attitude, young lady, you will end up insulting both Owen and Beru,” Padme lectured. “They were kind enough to allow you to stay at their farm, while I’m gone. I suggest that you show some gratitude.”
Leia muttered a comment under her breath before she murmured, “Yes, Mother.”
“Personally, I do not blame Miss Leia,” C3-P0 added in his usual direful manner. “I do not care to be here, either.”
Padme sighed. “Threepio, if this is about my decision to take Artoo with me and leave you here . . .”
“Oh no, Milady!” the droid protested. “I perfectly understand why you need Artoo to join you. He would be most helpful.”
Suspicion nibbled at the back of Padme’s mind. “Thank you, Threepio,” she said cautiously.
“As for me,” the golden droid continued, “I will simply endure staying on the Lars’ farm in my usual efficient manner. I have done it before, when Miss Shmi had married Master Cliegg and I will do so, again. After all, we droids are made to suffer.”
Padme slowly turned to stare at the protocol droid. Made to suffer? Since when did droids learn to utilize the guilt trip against their owners? “Threepio, if there will be a problem . . .”
“Oh no, Milady! Please! Just ignore me.”
Rolling her eyes, Padme decided it would be best to accept the droid’s advice. She turned away from Threepio and the children and headed toward one of the windows. On the street below, two men draped in hoods, strode toward the inn’s entrance. Padme immediately recognized the taller man. Bail Organa. His broad shoulders and walk seemed unmistakable. However, Padme wondered about the identity of Bail’s companion.
“Magda, look after the children,” Padme said to the nursemaid. “I will be downstairs, if you need me.” After grabbing her cloak, she rushed out of the room.
Seconds later, Padme reached the inn’s lobby and found Bail and his companion speaking to the innkeeper. “Her name is Yane Rivaaj,” Bail declared. “She has either checked in today, or yesterday. With two children and . . .”
“I had checked in, yesterday,” Padme announced. The two men whirled around in surprise. Before Bail could open his mouth, Padme greeted him with open arms. “Dear cousin! You’ve finally made it.”
With an understanding nod, Bail enveloped Padme into a bear hug. “Cousin Yane. I wondered if I would have to wait for you. How are you?”
“Perfectly well,” a smiling Padme replied. She turned to the innkeeper. “Is there a place where we can talk privately?” The innkeeper led all three to an unoccupied loggia filled with tables and chairs. It overlooked the wide street, beyond. Once seated, Padme said to the Alderaanian, “Bail, why don’t you introduce me to your friend?”
The other man threw back his hood, revealing a handsome and aristocratic face with a long, aquiline nose, light-brown hair and beard, and pale blue eyes. His thin lips formed a slight smile. “My name is Ferus Olin. I’m Senator Organa’s body . . .” His smile disappeared, as his eyes widened in surprise. “Good heavens! You look like . . . aren’t you Senator Padme Amidala? Of Naboo? You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Mister O . . .” Padme frowned. “Wait a minute. Did you say . . . Ferus Olin? You name sounds very familiar.”
Mister Olin blushed, while Bail explained, “Mister Olin used to be a Jedi. He had been apprenticed . . .”
“Of course!” Padme exclaimed. “No wonder I have heard of your name, before! From . . .” She paused. No need for her to connect Anakin to herself. “I mean . . . uh . . .”
The former Jedi regarded her with curious eyes. “Pardon me, Milady, but from whom?”
Padme took a deep breath. “Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I have . . . had . . . several dealings with him, over the years. I first met him when he was still padawan to Master Qui-Gon Jinn and I was Queen of Naboo. During the crisis with the Trade Federation.”
Bail added, “And do not forget Master Siri Taschi. Ferus used to be her apprentice, before he left the Order.”
“Oh yes,” Padme added softly. “I remember Master Taschi.” Memories of the fair-haired Jedi Knight that had saved her life, rushed back to her. “Her death was a tragedy to us all.”
Ferus Olin nodded. “At least she is now with the Force. At peace.”
Bail continued, “Ferus used to be part of a resistance cell on Acherin. Unfortunately . . .” His voice faded away, as he shot a look of pity at the former padawan.
“Unfortunately, the cell has dissolved and most of them are dead,” Ferus added gravely. “Killed by the Empire. I am one of two or three survivors.”
Padme murmured, “I’m so sorry.”
Once more, Bail explained, “Ferus had eventually made his way to Alderaan and joined the other Jedi refugees on the planet. Captain Antilles became aware of his presence and recommended that he act as my bodyguard on this trip. I thought that we both could use Master Olin’s services.”
Padme stared at the two men. “Do you really feel that we will need a bodyguard?” she asked.
A fourth figure appeared by Padme’s side. He threw back his hood. “It would not hurt to have one, Milady,” Obi-Wan Kenobi replied.
The commission to smuggle glitterstim to Maldore seemed to be obstacle-free. Both the Javian Hawk and the Alastian Star – Mako Spince’s ship – had arrived on Kessel with no problems. The three smugglers collected their cargo of stim. Mako paid off Sekka Verdu’s contact and both ships departed for Maldore.
“So far, so good,” Han commented inside the Hawk’s cockpit.
Anakin retorted, “Don’t say that!”
“Don’t say what?”
“Don’t be so . . . optimistic about this trip.” Anakin paused. “It makes you sound so complacent. And that’s not a good thing.”
Han heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Okay, okay. Geez!”
Silence fell between the two men. Then Han ruined it by adding, “But you’ve got to admit that we’ve been in the Velm System for over twelve hours and . . .”
A faint beep caused both men to glance at the ship’s console. Anakin’s stomach turned, when he interpreted the light’s meaning – the presence of a nearby Imperial warship. “That’s just great,” he muttered. “The Imperials.”
“We can outrun them!” Han insisted.
Anakin sardonically replied, “Sure we can. And they’ll report the whole incident and track us down to Maldore.”
Han sighed. “Then what . . .?” The Hawk shuddered momentarily. “I think we’ve just been caught in a tractor beam.”
Mako’s voice boomed from the Hawk’s comlink system. “Uh guys, looks like we’ve got visitors. Looks like an Imperial cruiser. Hang on. I’ll talk to them.”
The suggestion did not ease Anakin’s anxieties. “Wait a minute, Mako. Maybe I should do it. I’m familiar . . .”
“Don’t worry,” the older Corellian exclaimed. “I’m an old Academy man. Trust me. I know how to deal with these guys.”
However, Anakin did not feel ready to put his life in Mako’s hands. “Look Mako, I really think I should . . .”
Unfortunately, another interrupted before the former Jedi could finish. “This is Captain Skafte of the Dreadnought. Prepare to be boarded.”
Han shot a worried look at Anakin. “What do we do?”
Anakin sighed. “Just like the man said – prepare to be boarded. And hope that Spince knows exactly what he’s doing.” The two men sat in helpless silence, as the Imperial cruiser tractor both the Javian Hawk and the Alastian Star.
MOS EISLEY, TATOOINE
Padme stared at the former Jedi Master in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”
Obi-Wan gathered his robes and sat down next to Ferus Olin. “I was here in Mos Eisley, purchasing parts for my power calibrator, when I . . . sensed Ferus’ presence. However, I had no idea that you would be here.” He coolly directed his gaze at Padme. “I’m surprised to find you here on Tatooine, Milady. Why are you here?”
After a brief hesitation, Padme replied, “Bail and I are on our way to an important conference. I’m here to deliver the children to Owen and Beru. I felt that it would be safer for them here on Tatooine than alone . . . with Madga.”
“I see.” Obi-Wan replied with a nod. Padme allowed herself a closer inspection of the former Jedi and noticed that the last decade had not been kind to him. The lines on his face seemed to have deepened. Whereas his hair only had a few strands of gray the last time she saw him, now it possessed only a few strands of ginger. His blue eyes no longer twinkled. They seemed to have acquired a permanent melancholy air. At age 49 or 50, Obi-Wan looked older than his former master did, twenty-four years ago. And Padme recalled Anakin telling her that Qui-Gon Jinn had been at least 60 years old around the time of his death. Despite their current estrangement, the former senator felt a swell of pity toward Obi-Wan.
The former Jedi Master asked, “What is so important about this conference, anyway?”
Bail allowed himself a dramatic pause before he answered, “Hopefully, the consolidation of an organized alliance against the Empire. Senator Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis and I believe that it is time . . .”
“Senator Iblis is still alive?” Master Olin interrupted, looked shocked. “I thought he and his family had been killed on Anchoron, ten years ago.”
“Garm had managed to escape,” Bail explained. “He became a fugitive and eventually contacted Senator Mothma and myself. It was he who suggested this conference in the first place. Thanks to Padme, Solipo Yeb and a few others, we have managed to contact many individual resistance cells.”
Again, Obi-Wan said, “I see.” He turned to his former Jedi colleague. “Ferus, are you taking part in this conference? As a representative of the Nixor resistance cell?”
A touch of sadness crept into the younger Jedi’s eyes. “No, I’m acting as bodyguard for Senator Organa . . . and Senator Amidala. The resistance cell on Nixor . . .” He paused as his expression became emotionless. “Actually, I have no idea what happened to the cell. I haven’t been a part of it for several years.”
Obi-Wan seemed surprised by the news. “Is it possible that they are all dead? What about Roan and Trevor?”
Olin sighed. “As far as I know, they’re both alive. I think. I’m not certain, for I have not heard from them in several years. We . . . went our separate ways.”
Frowning, Obi-Wan shook his head. “What do mean . . . you went your separate ways?”
The younger Jedi’s face now resembled a mask. “Like I said, we went our separate ways. I ended up on Alderaan, where I met Senator Organa.”
The discussion between the two Jedi left Padme thinking about Anakin. Determined not to wallow in her own loneliness, she brusquely interrupted. “I do not mean to be rude, but I believe it is time that we leave for the Lars Homestead. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
The three men quietly agreed. Then Obi-Wan asked if he could join them on the brief journey to the edge of the Jundland Wastes. “You could take me as far as Anchorhead. I had left my speeder there, which will convey me . . . home.” He grimaced, as he said the last word. Padme recalled that Obi-Wan had converted some cave hovel in the Jundland Wastes, into his home.
“I’m sure that would be no problem,” Bail replied. “Right Padme?”
She noticed the unease in her former colleague’s eyes. “Of course not,” Padme murmured politely. Privately, she wondered why the Alderaanian prince had pleaded for her permission. Especially since the ship probably belonged to him. She stood up and the three men did the same. “Excuse me, gentlemen. I need to make preparations for the trip.” She turned to Bail. “What time do you plan to leave?”
Bail replied, “Hopefully less than three hours from now.”
“I shall be ready by then.”
Exactly three hours later, Padme and her family followed Bail to one of the private hangars at Mos Eisley’s spaceport. To her surprise, Bail’s personal starship was not parked inside. Instead, she found the starship of none other than Voranda Sen – the woman who had flown her family from Alderaan to Tatooine, ten years ago. The two women greeted each other happily before Sen’s ship, the Alberforce, departed Mos Eisley for the Tatooine desert.
END OF CHAPTER THREE