The ARC-170 starfighter raced through the dark recesses of the Derra VI system. Inside the cockpit, Romulus fiddled with the ship’s communication in a vain attempt to contact the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
The clonetroopers on Dallik had taken possession of his and Wo-Chen’s Jedi fighters. This action forced Romulus to steal one of the ARC-170 fighters that belonged to a squad of clone pilots. Once he had cleared the Dallik system, Romulus picked up a signal from the Jedi Temple ordering all knights to convene on Coruscant. Unfortunately, the signal went dead somewhere between Koorivia and Bestine, the following day. Romulus had spent the last sixteen hours trying to pick up the signal, again.
For the first time in nearly forty-eight hours, he allowed his mind to replay the clone troopers’ attack upon the Jedi commanders. What had happened? Who had given the clones order to kill both Wo-Chen and himself? Had other Jedi Knights in the field been targeted as well?
Romulus could only think of one person with the power to order the deaths of Jedi Knights – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Both he and Wo-Chen had occasionally discussed the growing estrangement between the Order and the Republic’s leader. One contention had been the fact that the Chancellor had managed to stay in office beyond his term. Wo-Chen once revealed that Master Ki-Mundi-Adi had spoken of an alleged connection between someone in Palpatine’s inner circle and a Sith Lord named Sidious. If the Jedi were being targeted by clone troopers, Romulus surmised that the connection to the Sith Lord had to be Palpatine.
For a brief second, Romulus closed his eyes and sighed. He hoped that enough Jedi Knights had survived and gathered at the Temple to form some kind of defense against Palpatine and the clone troopers. Then his thoughts fell upon one knight in particular. Anakin Skywalker was known to be a close friend of the Chancellor’s. Had the Chosen One been attacked by clone troopers, as well? Or has his friendship with Palpatine given him immunity? Romulus realized that the answer could only be found in Coruscant.
A young Alderaanian officer approached Senator Bail Organa and whispered a message in his ear. “Thank you, Raymus,” the older man replied, before dismissing his cousin-in-law.
Alderaan’s senator and prince consort rose from his chair inside the Tantive IV’s main cabin and left. He departed from his starship and made his way to the moon’s main post. The senator asked one of the exobiologists for Master Yoda’s location. Several minutes passed before he found Jedi Master Yoda inside the post’s observation dome – meditating.
“Pardon me, Master Yoda,” Bail said, interrupting the diminutive Jedi. “Master Kenobi has made contact. He is on his way.” The latter grunted slightly and nodded.
Nearly an hour later, a silver Nabooan skiff descended upon the post’s main landing platform. Bail inhaled sharply at the sight of Master Kenobi carrying Senator Amidala’s unconscious body down the ship’s ramp. “What happened to her?” the Alderaanian senator demanded.
“Anakin had attacked her,” Kenobi grimly replied. “Using the Force.” Aware of the friendship between his colleague and the young Jedi Knight, Kenobi’s news took Bail by surprise. Even more surprising was the obvious fact that Padme Amidala was pregnant.
Yoda also noticed Senator Amidala’s bulky form. “Hmmmm. Expecting a child, the senator is.”
Kenobi added, “Anakin is the father.”
“Is?” One of Master Yoda’s brows rose questioningly.
A sigh left the younger Jedi’s mouth. “I’m afraid that I have failed, Master Yoda. Anakin . . . or Lord Vader still lives. He has escaped.”
“Then failed the both of us have.” Bail knew that Yoda spoke of his failed attempt to kill the new emperor.
While a pair of medical technicians led the small party toward a medical facility, Bail’s mind reeled over the past recent events that left the Republic in tatters. It all seemed a blur. He found it hard to believe that two attempts on Palpatine’s life, the Jedi Order’s destruction, the end of the war, Palpatine’s declaration as the galaxy’s new emperor, and his assistance of two fugitive Jedi Knights had all occurred within the last few days. And now it seems he and these last two Jedi will have to deal with an unexpected pregnancy. Bail shook his head in disbelief. He had harbored misgivings about the Clone War when it first started. But he had no idea that it would eventually lead to the end of the Republic.
The small party entered the medical facility. The technicians placed Padme on a bed inside one of the operating theaters. A groan escaped from her mouth. The two men and Yoda exchanged grim looks. It appeared that the Nabooan ship’s arrival had occurred at a fortuitous time. Not long after she had been situated, Senator Amidala went into labor.
The Imperial shuttle slowly descended into Mustafar’s fiery system. Not long after it landed on solid ground, a squad of clone troopers escorted the wizened, cloaked figure down the shuttle’s ramp.
Former Supreme Chancellor-now Emperor Palpatine sharply ordered the troopers to search near the lava banks for his new apprentice. Just recently, he had received a premonition that Lord Vader’s life might be in danger.
While the troopers followed his order, Palpatine closed his eyes and inhaled. He saw visions of Lord Vader’s confrontation with Senator Amidala and that Jedi scum, Kenobi. He also saw Vader strangle the senator and engage in a lightsaber duel with the Jedi Master. Back on Coruscant, he had foreseen his apprentice struggling to escape the burning lava after being dismembered by Kenobi. But now . . . He took another deep breath. All he saw was the past. For some reason, he could not sense Lord Vader’s present state or whereabouts. He could not even sense a heartbeat or sound. It seemed as if the Force had blocked his new apprentice from his senses.
Several minutes passed. When the clone detail failed to report any sign of Vader, Palpatine joined them near the lava bank. “Report!” he sharply ordered the squad’s leader.
“Lord Vader is nowhere to be found, Your Highness,” the squad leader reported. “We’ve searched all along the riverbank.”
Palpatine snapped back, “Nonsense! He was here. I had sensed him.” The squad leader remained silent. Once more, the Sith Lord used the Force in an effort to find his missing apprentice. And once again, he failed. Frustration threatened to overwhelm him, until an image of a dark-haired, young man walking through the ruins of the Jedi Temple appeared before him.
“Call off the search,” the new emperor barked. “We will return to Coruscant.”
The squad leader nodded. “Yes, Your Highness.” He summoned the other clone troopers.
Darth Sidious breathed in and out, as he led his troops back to the shuttle. He regretted losing a powerful and valuable apprentice in Vader. But the Force had shown him a suitable replacement. Hopefully, an apprentice powerful enough to stand by his side, yet malleable enough not to become a wild card – like a certain fair-haired Jedi Knight.
A low moan escaped from Padme’s mouth. She felt the baby ease slowly from her body. Her baby. Hers and Anakin’s child. Padme realized that she should feel overjoyed at the idea of becoming a mother. But the feeling refused to come forth. How could she feel any joy? Especially since it had all gone wrong.
“Push,” she heard the medical droid said. Padme released a series of short breaths, as she followed the droid’s order. She could barely sense Obi-Wan’s presence inside the operating theater. Then it finally came. The warm flesh eased further out of her body.
Where had it all gone wrong? Was she being punished for wanting too much? For marrying a Jedi Knight in secret? For marrying him in the first place? Perhaps, if she had followed her original instincts and kept her distance, Anakin’s loyalty would not have been divided between her and the Jedi Order.
Padme felt pain jolt throughout her body. She winced. Then Obi-Wan grabbed hold of her hand. “Don’t give up, Padme,” he gently whispered.
Finally, the baby arrived. Faint cries filled the operating theater. “It’s a boy,” the medical droid announced.
The moment the droid announced the baby’s gender, a name popped into Padme’s mind. “Luke . . .” she whispered. With great difficulty, she struggled to touch the infant’s forehead. She and Anakin were the parents of an infant boy named Luke. If only he were . . .
Another twinge of pain shot through her body. She felt the second child before the medical technician could announce it to the others. She had been carrying twins! Again, the droid ordered her to relax. Between the pain, the humidity that surrounded her and the infant struggling to enter this world, Padme found herself barely hanging on.
Her mind raced back to that day, thirteen years ago, when her presence in the Galactic Senate had spelled the end of Finis Valorum’s rule as the Supreme Chancellor. At first, Padme had felt proud of her “no confidence” nomination against the former chancellor. The situation between Naboo and the Trade Federation led her to consider Valorum as an ineffective leader. But his successor proved to be a bigger mistake for the Republic. The latter no longer existed and had become an Empire due to her foolish naivety. Was she being punished for allowing someone like Palpatine a chance to . . .?
The second baby arrived. Finally. The medical droid announced that it was a girl. Another name popped into Padme’s head. “Leia.”
“You have twins, Padme,” Obi-Wan said. She felt her surroundings slowly fade before her eyes. Obi-Wan continued, “Padme? They need you. Hang on.”
Hang on? How could she? “I can’t,” Padme whispered.
She closed her eyes . . . and heard his voice. She heard Anakin. “You need to be strong, Padme. For you and the baby’s future. But don’t forget . . . I will always love you. Forever.”
A gasp left Padme’s mouth before she could stop herself. While one of her hands grabbed hold of the japor snippet that hung around her neck, the other one took hold of Obi-Wan’s hand. “Save your energy,” the Jedi Knight gently added.
Padme opened her mouth to speak. “Obi-Wan,” she whispered, “there . . .” She paused, as she struggled to remain conscious. “There . . . is good . . . in him. I know there is . . .” Her eyelids grew heavy. Her energy continued to drain from her body. She had to tell him! “There is . . . still . . .” And everything faded to black.
Stunned by Padme’s sudden laspe, Obi-Wan regarded her with anxious eyes. “Is she . . .? he began.
The medical droid checked the instruments. “The patient is unconscious. She should recover after sufficient rest.”
Relief sagged Obi-Wan’s shoulders. He glanced at Master Yoda and Senator Organa and saw that they shared his feelings. He joined them outside the operating theater. “That was close.”
“No doubt,” Senator Organa replied, shooting a quick glance at his unconscious colleague. “However, I had no idea that she was with child. Is it true that Master Skywalker is the father of her twins?”
Both Obi-Wan and Master Yoda exchanged uneasy looks. “The father, Young Master Skywalker is,” Yoda replied with a nod. “Or as he is now known – Lord Vader. Consumed him, the Dark Side has.”
Obi-Wan shifted from one foot to the other. He realized with discomfort that he had yet to disclose what really happened on Mustafar. “I’m not quite so sure, Master Yoda.”
The older Jedi Master and the Alderaanian senator regarded Obi-Wan with curious yes. He continued, “Something happened on Mustafar. Something . . . unexpected. Before he left, Anakin left this behind.” He removed his former apprentice’s lightsaber from his robe and displayed it before the other two’s astonished eyes.
Inside his starfighter’s cockpit, Anakin leaned back into his seat and heaved a sigh. Within a space of two or three days, he had managed to ruin his life and the lives of those close to him. And because of this, he now found himself stuck in the middle of the Sluis Sector with no real place to go.
Anakin checked the Jedi fighter’s star charts. So far, the closest star system seemed to be Melida/Daan. Over twenty-five years ago, the planet had been the site of a bloody civil war between its two main inhabitants – the Melida and the Daan. He recalled that Obi-Wan had briefly left the Jedi Order to assist a group called the Young in ending the civil war. Eventually, both groups reunited and have managed to rebuild the planet from the war’s ravages.
A stopover in Zehara, Melinda/Daan’s capital, would provide fuel for the starfighter and a brief respite for him. But Anakin had no plans to remain behind. He decided it would be best to head for one of the systems in the far reaches of the Outer Rim. There was Naboo, but Anakin immediately dismissed it. The planet harbored too many memories of his relationship with Padme. And he suspected that the Chancellor – now the Emperor – might assume he would settle there.
He might also consider Tatooine to be out of the question. At least as a permanent residence. Palpatine knew about his familiarity with the planet. And to be honest, it also held as many disturbing memories as Naboo. But since it rarely registered on the Senate’s radar, Anakin decided he could spare a few weeks on his childhood planet. Just to raise enough credits to set up a permanent home, elsewhere.
Anakin contemplated spending some time on the Lars’ moisture farm. Perhaps he could find a job in nearby Mos Eisley or Anchorhead. On second thought . . . perhaps not. The Lars homestead held very painful memories for him. And he has harbored a lot to last a lifetime. His old hometown, Mos Espa, would have to suffice. Hopefully, his former owner could use his help.
Having made his decision, Anakin allowed himself a brief sigh of relief. He continued to guide his starfighter through space and toward the Melida/Daan system.
While Padme remained unconscious, Master Yoda decided it would be wise for all of them to leave Polis Massa. Senator Organa offered the two Jedi Masters passage aboard his star cruiser, the Tantive IV. “After I deliver Senator Amidala and her children to Naboo,” the senator said, “my captain will be more than happy to deliver you both to your destinations.”
“Use my lifepod, I will,” Master Yoda said. “To my new home, it will take me.”
Senator Organa turned to the younger knight. “Master Kenobi?”
The younger man smiled politely. “Thank you, Senator, but I hope to use Padme’s skiff to take me to the Outer Rim. If she will permit me. If not, I may take up your offer.”
“The Outer Rim?” Yoda regarded Obi-Wan with curious eyes. “Within you, I sense a purpose, Obi-Wan. What draws you to the Outer Rim? Your former apprentice’s lightsaber, does it concern?”
A sigh left Obi-Wan’s mouth. “My feelings tell me that Anakin has not returned to the Emperor. I had sensed remorse from him back on Mustafar. Guilt. Possibly shame. And he did leave his lightsaber behind. Not the actions of one who plans to continue to serve the Sith.”
“Hmmmm . . . certain are you, about Lord Vader?”
Obi-Wan hesitated. “Actually . . . no. That is why I want to make a few inquiries into his present whereabouts. I have an idea of where he may have gone.”
Doubt crept into Master Yoda’s eyes. “Find him, if you must. But do not forget – forever the Dark Side might control his destiny. Now that he has embraced it.”
“You don’t believe that Anakin may have turned away from the Dark Side?”
A long pause followed before Yoda finally answered. “The answer, you should soon discover.”
END OF CHAPTER TWO