“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”
OUTSIDE ALDERA, ALDERAAN
Padme had just finished her breakfast, when CP-30 entered the dining room. “Pardon me, Milady, but you have a visitor. Prince Organa.”
“Where is he, Threepio?” Padme asked.
The protocol droid revealed that her visitor awaited her in the east drawing-room. Padme heaved a sigh and stood up. She followed Threepio in the said room, where she found an anxious Bail Organa pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. “Bail,” the former senator greeted. “What are you doing here?”
“I just came to say good-bye,” Bail replied. “I’m leaving for Averam.” He went on to explain about a message he had received from a distressed Solipo Yeb. “I’ve already sent extra funds to Corellia. Solipo had planned to remain on Averam, but I advised him to head elsewhere.”
Padme frowned. “Like where?”
With a shake of his head, Bail sighed. “I don’t know. We’ll discuss the matter when we meet.”
Bail’s comments reminded Padme of her present situation as the Alderaan Royal Family’s guest. “Speaking of a permanent home,” she added, “I think we need to consider finding a new home for the twins and myself.”
“Yes, I had thought the same,” Bail said. “As a matter of fact, this situation with Solipo worries me for another reason. Thanks to the Emperor’s new intelligence network . . .”
Padme commented with distaste, “The Inquisitorius. I’ve heard of it.”
“Yes, well there is a chance that Solipo’s message from Corellia may have been detected,” Bail continued. Padme grew alarmed. “Which means that I think you should prepare yourself for the possibility of an immediate escape. Just in case.”
Padme nodded. “I understand.” She gave her former colleague a reassuring smile. “Safe journey, Bail. May the Force be with you.”
Bail returned her smile. “Thank you, Padme. I’ll be sure to visit you upon my return.” He bowed and left the room.
Once alone, Padme heaved a long-suffering sigh. Threepio, she decided, might not like this new development. Come to think of it, she did not care for it, either. But as Bail had pointed out . . . one should be prepared. She then left the drawing room and went in search of the protocol droid.
“Give him his breakfast, Dewlanna.”
Han sat quietly at the table in the middle of the kitchen, inside the three-story villa. Opposite him sat his “benefactor”, Garris Shrike. The stocky, black-haired man regarded the eleven year-old with pale blue eyes, while the female Wookie quietly set a plate of food in front of the boy.
Shrike’s stocky face leaned forward. “I’m allowing you to eat this morning, Solo. You’ll need your strength to collect the 2,000 credits that you owe me.”
Two thousand? Han frowned, as he protested, “I thought you wanted me to collect one thou . . .”
“It’s now two thousand!” Shrike interrupted in a hard voice. A thin smile curved his lips. “Since you’re not used to collecting such a large sum, you’ll have two days to do the job. If you fail . . .” His smile disappeared. “. . . more punishment will follow.”
Rubbing the bruise under his left eye, Han had a pretty good idea what more entail. “I understand,” he murmured.
“Good.” The smile returned, as Shrike stood up. “Now, eat up. Enjoy your meal. The Trader’s Luck will be leaving Corellia by the end of the week.” He left the dining room.
The eleven year-old grabbed his fork and began to eat his Corellian potatoes. “Not so fast,” Dewlanna growled. “You have not eaten in quite a while. You’ll hurt your stomach if you don’t slow down.”
Very few humans, let alone other species within the galaxy, understood Shyriiwook, the Wookies’ language. Han counted himself among those very few who did. Not only had Dewlanna taught him Shyriiwook, she had ensured that he acquired a decent education and health care – matters that Shrike had deliberately ignored. Han did as he was ordered and ate his potatoes at a slower pace. “I can’t stay here any longer, Dewlanna,” he said between bites. “I have to get out of here. Either Shrike is gonna kill me some day, or I’m gonna get him.”
A growling Dewlanna retorted, “Don’t talk such nonsense, Han! Where would you go?”
Good question, Han thought. Where would he go? Nearly three years ago, Dewlanna had informed him about his family background. It seemed Han was part of the famous House of Solo – a family that had once ruled Corellia a long time ago. That knowledge had led Han to run away from Shrike and track down his long lost Aunt Tiion Solo and her son, Thrackan Sal-Solo. Unfortunately, Aunt Tiion proved to be mad and Cousin Thrackan, a violent bully. The latter eventually betrayed Han and sold him back to Shrike.
Who could offer him refuge from Shrike? Memories of the tall, dark-blond pilot flashed in Han’s mind. The pilot’s intense blue eyes, scar and hardened expression gave him an intimidating aura. Yet, Captain Horus had not ratted out Han to the CorSec officer, after Han tried to pick his pocket. Given the eleven year-old’s experiences aboard Shrike’s own ship, the Trader’s Luck, Han figured that he would feel right at home as the pilot’s companion. Deep down, he knew that his chances of receiving help from Captain Horus seemed pretty slim. But he had to make the attempt. After last night, he could not bear staying here any longer.
Han ate the last of his potatoes and drank the rest of his Bribb juice. “Finished,” he declared, as he wiped his mouth. “Gotta go.” He stood up and began to walk away.
“Where are you going?” Dewlanna demanded. She regarded the boy with shrewd eyes.
Through the side of his mouth, Han muttered, “Going to work, of course.”
Dewlanna continued to stare at him. “What about your plans to leave Shrike? Do you still plan to go through with it?”
“Maybe,” Han replied. “But not today. I gotta go.”
“Wait a minute.” She opened the pantry and removed a burlap sack from within. “Here.” The Wookie tossed the bag at Han, who neatly caught it. “There is some food for today and a credit chip that will last you for two weeks.” Sadness crept into her large and expressive eyes. “Ever since last night, I suspected you would try to leave. You’re right, of course. It’s time for you to leave.”
“Dewlanna . . .”
The Wookie walked over to Han and affectionately ruffled his hair. “Good-bye, my scruffy one. Take care.” With a slight yelp, she turned away and left the kitchen.
Han stared at the Wookie’s disappearing form. A lump formed in his throat, as he walked from the kitchen into the villa’s courtyard. He paused before the courtyard’s gate and stared at the house for what he hoped to be the last. Then he opened the gate and left.
THE ALDERAAN SYSTEM
The Imperial Destroyer, the Exactor, hovered in orbit over the serene-looking planet of Alderran. Darth Rasche and two squads of clone troopers entered the ship’s hangar bay and marched toward the largest shuttle. The destroyer’s second-in-command, Commander Mellon, accompanied them.
“The squad and I will meet with Queen Breha and Prince Bail on Alderaan, and search for the holoproject used to receive Senator Yeb’s message,” the Sith apprentice announced. “Once we have discovered it and retrieved the message, I will arrest both the queen and her husband, and then give the signal for you to send troops to the planet’s surface.”
Captain Mellon asked, “What if the signal from Corellia never reached the Aldera Palace? What if it had reached somewhere else on the planet?”
Squelching a desire to strike the annoying officer, Rasche retorted, “Then I will search every inch of the planet until I learn who had received that signal.”
“But what if . . .?”
Rasche silenced the officer with a deadly glare. “You have your orders, Captain!” he snarled.
Mellon recoiled slightly. “Yes, my Lord.”
“Let’s go,” Rasche ordered the two squads. The Sith Lord and the two squads boarded the shuttle. Minutes later, it hovered over the hangar’s floor before it zoomed into deep space and toward Alderaan’s surface.
ALDERA PALACE, ALDERAAN
Queen Breha sat on a stone bench, situated on her favorite balcony. The latter overlooked the royal woods and the planet’s capital in the far distance. She glanced up from the data pad in her hands and saw her cousin, Raymus Antilles, approach the balcony. “Cousin Raymus!” she greeted warmly. “I thought you and Bail had left on the Tantive IV.”
“His Highness did not leave on the Tantive IV, Your Majesty,” Raymus replied with a bow. “He thought it would be prudent to leave on a less conspicuous ship. And he asked me to remain behind.” A slight unease crept into his eyes. “Also, I have some dire news, Cousin.”
Breha sighed. She should have realized that this was not a friendly visit. Raymus usually paid such visits in the evening. “Is there a problem?”
“A major one, I’m afraid.” Raymus paused dramatically. “I have just received word from one of His Highness’ contacts on Coruscant that the Empire will be sending an emissary to Alderaan.”
Alarmed by the news, Breha rose to her feet. “Oh no! Padme and the children! The Emperor has finally learned that they’re alive!”
Raymus shook his head. “No, Your Majesty. This has nothing to do with Senator Amidala. According to Prince Bail’s contact, the Inquisitorum has detected the message from Senator Yeb on Corellia. Apparently, they’re aware that he is there.”
Which meant that Emperor Palpatine suspected Bail of being in contact with the former Andalian senator and a traitor to the Empire. “Have you contacted His Highness?”
“I’m afraid not, Your Majesty,” Raymus replied anxiously. “The planet’s communications have been jammed. I was only able to receive most of the message from His Highness’s contact before it happened.” He paused and inhaled sharply. “However, the contact did reveal that the Emperor’s emissary has the title of a Sith Lord.”
A Sith Lord? An uneasy thought came to Queen Breha. Both she and Raymus were among the few that knew that both the Emperor and Padme’s Jedi husband were Sith Lords. She asked Raymus for the full name of the Imperial emissary. Her cousin did not know, since the planet’s communication systems had jammed before he could find out. “However, I must add, Your Majesty, that if Alderaan’s communications are jammed, it is suffice to believe that this emissary has arrived.”
“We need to warn Padme,” Breha insisted. “And some of our other refugees.”
Raymus nodded. “I have sent a group of our most trusted men to warn the others. And I will warn Senator Amidala, as soon as possible.” He paused before adding, “One last thing, Your Majesty – if the Imperials show up any minute, I think it would be best to either hide or destroy Prince Bail’s private holoprojector. If you know what I mean.”
The queen quickly replied, “I understand perfectly. Leave that matter to me.”
“Any messages?” Anakin asked the hotel’s desk clerk.
The clerk, a nervous-looking man with very pale skin and protruding gray eyes, replied, “No, Captain Horus. However . . .” He glanced behind Anakin’s right shoulder. “. . . you have a visitor. He would not give me his name.”
Anakin’s gaze followed the clerk’s. Expecting to find Thalia Kor and her brother, he was surprised to see the young street thief that he had met, yesterday in the hotel lobby’s sitting area. The boy had acquired a nasty bruise on the left side of his face. “Well, well,” Anakin muttered. “Look who’s here.”
“Captain?” the clerk began. “Do you wish for me to have the boy escorted out of the hotel?”
“No. I’ll speak with him. Thank you.” Anakin walked over to the sitting area, where the boy sat in a plush blue chair. The latter seemed overwhelmed by his surroundings. “Han Solo. Am I right? What are you doing here?” Anakin sat down in the empty chair to the boy’s right.
Clutching a burlap sack, young Solo answered, “I came to see you. I wanna join your crew.”
Anakin nearly burst into laughter. Until he remembered that he had been an accomplished pilot before the age of ten. Instead, he coughed slightly and asked, “Now, how did you know that I’m a pilot?”
“I saw you disembarking from a freighter at the spaceport, yesterday afternoon,” Han replied. “I figured that you were the ship’s pilot.”
“And you want to become a member of my crew?”
Annoyance flashed across the boy’s face. “Hey, I might not be a pilot . . . at least not yet. But I’ve traveled all over the galaxy on Shrike’s starship. So, I’m used to space travel.”
One of Anakin’s brows arched questioningly. “Shrike? Would that be the gentleman that the CorSec officer had spoke of, yesterday?” Han remained silent. “Did he give you that bruise?”
Han’s face paled visibly. “It’s not his fault. I didn’t bring in the . . . quota that he wanted, yesterday,” he muttered.
“I see.” Anakin began to realize that the boy yearned to escape from his criminal ‘benefactor’ and a life of thievery. He longed to help, but the former Jedi believed that Han would be better off without him, as well. “Sorry kid,” he finally murmured. “I think you need to find someone else to rescue you. I can’t be that person.” He began to rise from his chair.
A frown creased the boy’s forehead. “Why not? You think I’m too young to be a part of your crew?”
Anakin sighed. “I am the crew of the Hawk. And I don’t need another crewman. If you think that being with this Shrike character is bad, you just might find that I can be a lot worse. Trust me.”
“What did you do? Kill someone?”
A long pause followed. Not even the chatter from the hotel’s guests and employees could penetrate the silence that surrounded the pair. Anakin stared pointedly at Han. “No, I didn’t kill someone,” he said in a quiet voice. “I had killed more than one person. Hundreds of them, as a matter of fact. Including children.”
An uneasy smile tugged the corners of Han’s mouth. “You’re kidding, mister. Right? You’re just trying to scare me.”
Anakin leaned forward. “Do I look like I’m kidding?” he said in a menacing voice. Han’s mouth gaped open like a dead fish. “So kid, do you still want to be a part of my crew?”
Han gulped loudly. Then he quickly slid off the chair. Clutching his burlap bag, he murmured a quiet, “Excuse me” and quickly scuttled away.
“I guess the answer is no,” Anakin added. He heaved another sigh. Now that he had resolved that little dilemma, it was time to meet his new clients.
ABOVE SELONIA, CORELLIA SYSTEM
A young officer marched onto the bridge of the Imperial warship, the Agamemnon, and headed toward the ship’s commander. “A message from Grand Moff Tarkin, sir.”
The captain, a native of Metellos named Ulen Hardy, switched on the monitor near his chair. The thin, aristocratic face of a man in his forties, appeared on the monitor’s screen. Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. The Eriaduian had recently become one of the Imperial Fleet’s new flag officers and now commanded the star destroyer, the Executrix. “Your Excellency,” Hardy greeted in an obsequious manner reserved for those ranked higher than himself.
Tarkin merely raised his brows slightly. “Captain Hardy, I have an assignment for you. Senator Solipo Yeb has been traced to Coronet on Corellia. Go there, arrest both Senator Yeb and his sister, and bring them back to Coruscant at once.”
“As you wish, Your Excellency. Hardy out.” The captain switched off the monitor and turned to his executive officer. “Commander Jaffe, lay in a course for Corellia.”
Commander Jaffe nodded. “Yes sir.” Then he began to bark the captain’s order to the rest of the crew.
END OF CHAPTER THREE
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