“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”
OUTSIDE ALDERA, ALDERAAN
The evacuation of the villa near Aldera Palace continued in an orderly fashion. With the Imperial presence focused upon the palace, Padme and her companions managed to clear the villa of her belongings with great speed. They carted the items to Captain Antilles’ shuttle, parked underneath a nearby grove of trees.
The twins’ nursemaid, Madga finally walked out of the villa for the last time, carrying Luke and her belongings. Padme, who held a sleeping Leia in a baby sling, spotted her mini holoprojector and some data pads on a table. She fetched the objects and thrust them into her traveling bag. After checking on the sleeping Leia, Padme examined her bedroom of eight months for the last time and walked out. Just as she reached the villa’s front door, she saw Madga scuttle hurriedly toward the grove’s edge. Padme frowned. Why would Madga rush . . .?
Captain Antilles’ voice crackled on her comlink. She removed it from her cloak’s left pocket and answered. “Captain, is there a problem?”
“Clone troopers coming from the palace,” Antilles answered. “Just three kilometers from the east.”
Padme inhaled sharply. She glanced to her right and spotted three clone troopers marching toward the villa. Making a run for the grove and Captain Antilles’ shuttle seemed out of the question. Then she heard the clone troopers’ voices. Hoping and praying that Leia would not wake up, Padme quickly rushed into one of the villa’s small rooms.
Minutes passed. Then she heard the troopers enter the villa. She held her breath, as they conducted their search by opening and closing doors. As footsteps approached the small room Padme had chosen as her sanctuary, she desperately searched for a closet where she could hide. She glanced around. Apparently the room lacked a closet. But it did lead to the villa’s second-floor veranda.
Footsteps grew closer to the room. Clutching the baby sling that held Leia and her traveling bag, Padme quickly dashed out onto the verana. And just in time. She overheard voices inside the room.
“No one’s here,” a trooper announced.
Another one asked, “What about a holoprojector?”
“No sign of one.” The first trooper paused. “I’ll check the veranda.”
Panic filled Padme. Now, she really had no place to hide. She quickly rushed along the veranda, searching for an opened door. Fortunately, one appeared just short of the veranda’s south end. Padme ducked inside, just as she heard voices from the outside. The former senator allowed herself a quick sigh of relief. Then she glanced at her daughter. Leia’s eyes fluttered briefly before they snapped wide open. Padme hoped and prayed to nearly every deity she could think of – along with the Force – that Leia would not cry for food. Several seconds passed, as her infant daughter blinked several times and yawned. Then to Padme’s relief, Leia closed her eyes and fell back asleep. Again, Padme sighed.
Then an idea came to her. With the clone troopers searching the veranda, she saw an opportunity to escape from the villa. Padme rushed out of what used to be her dining room. Without a moment’s hesitation, Padme continued to rush toward the villa’s front door. She spotted Antilles, Madga and Threepio silently urging her to head toward the grove. Which she did as fast as her feet would allow. Once she reached the safety of her companions, Captain Antilles ordered, “Into the shuttle, everyone! We’re leaving now.”
“No!” Padme insisted. “Not yet.” Everyone stared at her, as if she had lost her mind. “The Imperial troopers are still searching the villa. If we leave now, we’ll be spotted.” And so . . . they waited.
Another fifteen minutes passed before the three clone troopers emerged from the villa. Padme overheard one of them said, “We might as well return. There’s no inside. Or a holoprojector.” He and the other two troopers proceeded along the path that led back to the palace.
Once the clone troopers disappeared, Padme, Captain Antilles and Madga all heaved sighs of relief. Threepio exclaimed, “Thank the Maker! They’re gone. When can we leave, Miss Padme?”
“I think it would be best to leave now,” Padme replied. “While we can.”
Magda frowned. “But why should we leave, Milady? The troopers are gone. They won’t be coming back.”
A sigh left Padme’s mouth. “I’m afraid that I’ve outstayed my welcome, Magda,” she gently replied. “It’s time for me to leave Alderaan.” She hesitated, dreading the response to her next words. “I’ll understand if you want to remain. After all, Alderaan is your home.”
To Padme’s surprise, the nursemaid said, “No, I’ll leave. I’ve become . . .” A sweet smile formed on her lips. “. . . very fond of you and the children. And Alderaan has nothing for me. Not anymore.”
The Nabooan woman planted a light kiss on the nursemaid’s cheek. “Thank you, Magda.”
“I believe that we should leave now, Milady.” Captain Antilles led Padme and the others to the shuttle. Once everyone was seated inside, it rose several feet from the ground and sped away. As it zoomed above the picturesque landscape, Padme realized with a pang that she would miss the months spent here on Alderaan.
Solipo Yeb packed the last of his belongings into his traveling valise. Then he glanced over his shoulder and saw his sister staring out of the window. “I’m ready, Thalia. Now, all we have to do is wait to hear from Captain Horus.” When his sister failed to answer, he joined her at the window. “Thalia?”
“I think we’re in trouble, Solipo,” Thalia declared ominously. “Look.”
Solipo glanced out of the window. The usual crowd of sentient beings filled the street below. But Solipo noticed something more disturbing – four human males heading toward the hotel. Two of them wore the uniforms of Corellia’s security force, the third wore civilian clothes and the last man turned out to be an Imperial officer. “Oh no!” he murmured. “I think we’ve been sold out.”
Thalia frowned. “By someone here at the hotel?”
Another candidate loomed in Solipo’s mind. “How about our intrepid Captain Horus? After all, he had recognized me.”
“I doubt it very much,” Thalia replied. She turned away from the window. “Let’s get out of here. Now.”
Grabbing his valise, Solipo retorted, “And go where? We can’t leave Corellia without Horus’ help. And our only alternative is to take a shuttle to another city.”
Brother and sister slipped out of their room. After making sure that the corridor was empty, they made their way to the nearest staircase and rushed downstairs. The pair spotted one of the hotel’s employees near the back door. Once he left, the Andalians slipped outside and quickly rushed down an alley.
“I can’t believe that we’re doing this,” Solipo bemoaned. “We didn’t even pay our bill. And as for Captain Horus . . .”
An annoyed sigh from his flamboyant sister, interrupted him. “For goodness sake, Solipo! He didn’t inform on us! Not Captain Horus.”
“And how do you know?”
The pair merged into a busy street. “Because Captain Horus has a very good reason to avoid the Imperials. Trust me.” Brother and sister continued on toward Coronet’s spaceport.
ALDERA PALACE, ALDERAAN
“Nothing or no one was found at the villa, my Lord,” the clone trooper reported to Darth Rasche. “It is empty.”
Breha heaved an inward sigh of relief. Padme and the children had evaded detection.
Darth Rasche nodded. “Wait for me near the shuttle.” He turned to the queen. “Well, Your Majesty, it seems you had spoken the truth.”
“Of course I had!” Breha retorted. “We do not understand why you would doubt our word.” She paused and added with less asperity, “By the way, when are you leaving?”
“You wish to be rid of our presence so soon?” Breha shot a dark look at the Sith Lord. Who quickly sobered. “If you must know, we’ll be leaving as soon as our search is completed.”
A frowning Breha demanded, “What do you mean? You’ve searched the entire palace and the villa near the lagoon.”
“But not Aldera or Crevasse City,” Rasche added. “The signal from Corellia had been received in this sector of the planet. We intend to learn who had received it.”
Breha heaved a frustrated sigh. So much for getting rid of the Imperials. “Has it ever occurred to you, my Lord, that the Corellian signal had been sent by someone other than Solipo Yeb?”
A long silence followed. Confusion whirled in the Sith Lord’s eyes momentarily, before Rasche glared at the monarch. Then he turned away. Four other clone troopers appeared in the foyer. “No sign of the holoprojector, my Lord,” one trooper announced.
Rasche’s jaw twitched, as he barked, “Fine! Return to the shuttle. I’ll . . .” The Sith Lord’s face turned pale, as he halted in mid-sentence. His dark eyes glazed over for a second, before a frown appeared on his face. He faced Breha. “Excuse me, Your Majesty. I have an emergency message to send.” Breha opened her mouth to respond, but Darth Rasche strode away before she could.
Darth Rasche strode out of the royal palace and halted before the wide staircase. He made his way toward the Imperial shuttle and entered. “Leave,” he barked at the pilot, inside the cockpit.
Once alone, the young Sith Lord sent a signal to Coruscant. Two minutes passed before the shuttle’s holoprojector lit up with his mentor’s image. “Lord Rasche,” Darth Sidious pronounced. “You have news for me?”
“No one within the royal palace had received the message from Corellia, Master,” Rasche reported. “Including Senator Organa. The holoprojector that had received the signal had not been inside Aldera Palace.” Rasche hesitated. “However, I have more important news. I have sensed a presence in the Force.”
Lord Sidious replied, “We both have, my young apprentice. On Kashyyyk.”
“Jedi on the Wookie homeworld?” Rasche paused. “It is possible that Skywalker might be . . .?”
The Sith Master continued, “Whether Skywalker is on Kashyyk or not, there is a Jedi presence on that planet. You will rendezvous with Grand Moff Tarkin in the Kashyyyk System and stamp out any Wookie resistance and hunt down the Jedi. As for the signal from Corellia, ignore it. This is a more urgent matter.”
“Hunt down the Jedi? Including Skywalker, if he is there?”
Lord Sidious’ already hideous face formed a grim mask. “Yes, Lord Rasche. Including him. Hunt them all down and kill them. Kill them all.”
“Good afternoon,” Coronet’s port master greeted Anakin. “Here to schedule a departure?”
Anakin smiled, at the other man. “Yes. I’m Captain Horus of the Javian Hawk.” He spotted the departure schedule on the port master’s desk. Using the Force, he knocked an object off the desk and the port master bent down to retrieve the object. At that moment, Anakin used the opportunity to check the schedule. He saw that two other Corellian freighters were scheduled to depart within the next hour. Perfect.
The port master sat up and shot an embarrassed smile at the former Jedi Knight. “Sorry about that. Um . . . about your departure?”
“I hope to leave between now and an hour from now,” Anakin replied. “If it’s possible.”
The other man glanced at the departure schedule. “Yes, well there is no problem there.” He entered the information in the data pad that contained the schedule. “The Javian Hawk. Okay. I’ve managed to fit you in between the Eureka and the Tawhid. Will that do?
Anakin nodded politely. “Yes, it will. Thank you.”
Smiling, the port master replied, “Glad to be of service. Have a safe journey, Captain.”
After leaving the port master’s office, Anakin headed back to the Javian Hawk’s hangar. He hoped that his Andalian passengers were ready to depart. The pilot contacted the pair through his comlink and ordered them to meet him inside the Hawk’s hangar within twenty minutes. “We should be there within ten minutes, Captain,” Thalia Yeb’s voice replied. “We had to leave a lot sooner than we had planned.”
In other words, brother and sister had encountered trouble. Great.
Captain Hardy and his three companions entered the Selonia Hotel’s modest lobby. They approached a neatly dressed desk clerk. “May I help you?” she asked in a prim voice.
The senior CorSec officer, a dark-haired human named Gil Bastra switched on a small holoprojector. It contained images of the Andalian senator and his sister. “Are these two guests at this hotel?” he asked.
The desk clerk shrugged her thin shoulders. “The man does not look familiar,” she began.
“How can he not look familiar?” Captain Hardy demanded. “He’s Senator Solipo Yeb of Andalia. He’s wanted for treason by the Empire. And his image has been posted on the Imperial Holovision for the past several days.”
“Imperial Holovision?” The clerk frowned. “I’ve never . . .”
Hardy sighed. “It used to be the old HoloNet News Service. It’s now called Imperial Holovision. This man’s face has been plastered all over the news recently. And you don’t recognize him?”
A supercilious smile touched the clerk’s lips. “I do not pay attention to politics.”
“Really?” A pale, dark-haired man with a thin, aristocratic face glared at the clerk. Kirtan Loor happened to be the Imperial liaison to CorSec and an agent for Imperial Intelligence. “I suppose you know nothing about the recent death of one of your senators, Garm Bel Iblis, at the hands of Separatist fugitives?”
The desk clerk stiffened slightly. “He was Corellian. Of course, I knew about him.”
“What about the woman?” Hardy asked, feeling slightly impatient. “Have you seen her?”
“Yes,” the clerk replied. “Her name is Thalia Kor and she’s a guest in Room Eleven. Second Floor.”
Bastra frowned. “She’s alone?”
The clerk checked the hotel’s records. “Not anymore. Her husband became an additional guest, three days ago. I was not on duty when he had arrived.”
Hardy felt a surge of triumph. The Emperor would be quite pleased upon learning of the capture of his new prize. “Take us to Room Eleven,” he barked at the clerk. He and his three companions followed the desk clerk toward the wide staircase.
The moment the Andalians arrived at the hangar, Anakin rounded on them. “Why did you leave before I could signal you?”
Solipo Yeb regarded the former Jedi with suspicious eyes. “Why did you want us to wait for your signal? So that the Imperials would take us by surprise at the hotel?”
Anakin frowned at the senator. “What?”
“The Imperials are here,” Thalia Yeb explained. “My brother and I had spotted an Imperial officer, along with two CorSec officers, approaching the hotel. And we’ve spotted Imperial clone troopers on the streets. We need to get out of here, fast.”
But Solipo Yeb refused to budge. “Wait a minute! Four hours after we met Captain Horus, we nearly encounter the Imperials. I want to know how . . .”
“Are you suggesting that I had turned you in to the Empire?” Anakin demanded, glaring at the Andalian male.
Miss Yeb sarcastically retorted, “My brother has no idea of what he is talking about, Captain. Meanwhile, may we please leave? Now?”
Senator Yeb protested, “But Thalia . . .” His sister marched toward the Javian Hawk’s ramp. He glanced uneasily at Anakin. “Never mind.”
Anakin made final checks on the Javian Hawk’s systems. He noticed that his hypodrive system needed repairs and reminded himself to see to it when they arrive on Averam. Then he boarded the starship and made his way to the cockpit. The Andalians stood behind him. “I suggest that you two strap yourselves in for the takeoff.”
“Why aren’t we leaving now?” Senator Yeb demanded.
Miss Yeb pleaded with her brother. “Solipo, please!”
Anakin retorted, “We’re not scheduled to depart until another ten minutes, Senator. This is not Tatooine, where I can simply take off anytime I want. Despite Corellia’s questionable reputation, the spaceport is operated in a tight and orderly manner. And I refuse to take off at a moment’s whim and attract unwanted attention. Now please . . . take your seat and strap in!”
Thankfully, the senator’s sister managed to convince the annoying man to sit down in one of the passengers’ seats. Anakin turned on the ship’s engines after receiving a signal to depart. He guided the Hawk toward one of the landing pads. Within three minutes, the freighter was airborne and zooming away from Corellia’s atmosphere.
END OF CHAPTER FIVE
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