“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE” [PG-13] – Chapter Nine

 

“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”

CHAPTER NINE

WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL

Anakin glanced out of the window of his hotel room and watched the rain beat upon the windowpane. Apparently the rain had failed to cease, despite a new day. He wondered if it would ever stop before his departure from Ord Mantell. Twenty-five years ago, he would have rejoiced at such weather after dealing with Tatooine’s hot and dry climate. But he had not set foot upon Tatooine in eleven years. And advancing age and experience has taught him to appreciate . . . variety. 

A quick glance at the chronometer informed Anakin that it was now eight minutes past seven in the morning. The hotel’s restaurants should have opened by now. Familiar with Ord Mantell, Anakin knew of a quaint café located eighty centimeters east of the Hotel Grand. Like The Burning Musk in Corellia’s capital, the Blue Jewel Café provided abundant meals at a low cost. The small restaurant happened to be a favorite of both Anakin and Han’s.

After an early morning shower and a change of clothes, Anakin left his bedroom and made his way into the suite’s living room. Normally, he and Han would not have checked into such an expensive room. But Senator Dahlma had wanted them nearby and was generous enough to pay for half of the suite’s rates.

The living room remained semi-dark, despite the glimmer of light from the rain-stained windows. Loud snores drifted from inside the suite’s other bedroom. Anakin allowed himself a brief smile. His young Corellian partner remained asleep. As he inched toward the door, Anakin nearly stumbled across a pair of long legs stretched across the floor. The former Jedi Knight closed his eyes to sense the presence of the legs’ owner. Chewbacca.

Anakin finally made it to the door and stepped out of the suite and into the corridor. He glanced to his right and spotted a petite, dark-haired female with her back facing him. For a moment, Anakin believed her to be Igraine Colbert. Until he recalled that the Maldarian woman and her employer resided in the suite to his left. Anakin frowned at the woman’s back. A tingling sensation raised the hair on the back of his neck. Why did she look . . .?

A loud thump from inside the suite interrupted his thoughts. Anakin turned away from the woman and opened the suite’s door. “. . . careful with those legs, you big furball!” Han’s voice boomed. “I nearly broke my neck!” A loud roar followed.

Anakin heaved a long-suffering sigh. Apparently, Han and Chewbacca had finally awaken. And it also looked as if the addition of the Wookie to their crew promised to make their lives a lot more interesting. Anakin re-entered the suite, as he prepared to act as mediator between the Corellian and Chewbacca.

——–

The loud thump from behind startled Padme as she prepared to lock her hotel room. A man’s voice cried out, “. . . careful with those legs, you big furball!” A roar or a fearsome growl followed.

Padme frowned. That last voice sounded like it belonged to a Wookie. She had not laid eyes upon one since her years as a Galactic senator. Senator Yarua of Kashyyyk had been one of the Galactic Senate’s more distinguished members. She whirled around and spotted a tall man clad in dark clothes enter one of the rooms along the corridor. A tingling sensation pricked the back of her neck. The man had a familiar air about him – his height, his stance and the color of his ha . . .

“Ready for breakfast, I see!” a familiar voice boomed. Padme glanced over her shoulder and found Bail and Master Olin striding toward her. The Alderaanian prince frowned. “Is there something wrong, Milady? You seem . . . perturbed.”

Padme allowed herself a brief smile. “Good morning, gentlemen.”

Bail returned her greeting. “Good morning. Is there something wrong? Just a minute ago, you had this odd expression on your face.”

Padme glanced at the former Jedi padawan and noticed the dazed expression on his face. “You mean, like Master Olin?”

“Ye . . .” Bail paused, as he stared at Olin. “Ferus, is there a problem?”

With the slight frown still stamped on his face, the former Jedi answered, “I don’t know. I had sensed something. Someone. A presence I have not felt in . . . years.”

“You too?” The two men directed their gaze at Padme. She added. “I felt a similar sensation.”

Bail released a gust of breath. “Well, this is very odd. Why don’t we all discuss this during breakfast, downstairs?”

Padme wanted to investigate the man she had briefly spotted a few minutes ago. But she decided that Bail’s idea seemed the best course of action. Knocking on some stranger’s door to learn whether she knew him seemed out of place for someone of her character. She gave Bail a warm smile. “Breakfast, it is.”

Nearly twelve minutes later, the trio found themselves sitting at a table in one of the hotel’s restaurants on the ground floor. Master Olin glanced uneasily around the dining room. “Are you sure that it is wise to have breakfast in such a . . . public place, Your Highness?”

“Don’t worry Ferus,” Bail replied with a reassuring smile. “This restaurant has just opened and there is barely a soul, here. Besides, it has been eleven years since Senator Amidala has been seen in public. She is not dressed to attract attention. I doubt that anyone, aside from a Jedi, would recognize her. Especially in a haven for smugglers like Ord Mantell.”

The former Jedi nodded. “And what about you, Your Highness? You’re still a highly visible public figure.”

Amusement glittered in Bail’s dark eyes. “I must say that you are vigilant, Ferus. I have picked the right man for the job. Don’t worry. I have a cover story . . . in case someone does recognize me.”

Olin responded with a wan smile. But it seemed clear to Padme that he was not appeased by Bail’s assurances. A waitress appeared at their table and asked for their order. Once the waitress left, Padme spotted Zoebeida Dahlma and another woman entering the restaurant. The Maldarian senator acknowledged Padme and Bail with a polite smile and continued on to another table.

Bail’s gaze remained fixed on the Maldarian women. “Padme, do you have any Maldarian ancestry, by any chance?”

“Not that I know of,” Padme replied. “Why?”

“You and Zoebeida Dahlma’s aide strongly resemble each other. Perhaps she has Nabooan ancestry.”

Padme glanced at Dahlma’s aide. The young woman seemed to possess her height, coloring and full mouth. But Padme saw a difference. “You really think so? Her eyes are different. Green. And they’re smaller. In fact, she reminds me of Queen Apailana.”

Bail shook his head. “Poor Apailana. When I had learned of her death, I thought it was a shame that she had died so young. How old was she?”

A small ball of guilt wormed its way into Padme’s chest. “She had been twelve when she had succeeded Jamilla as Naboo’s queen.” She sighed. “I’ve always regretted convincing Apailana to call for an election in order to force Jamilla from the throne.”

“Why did you do it?” Bail asked.

“I began to suspect Jamilla of developing sympathies toward the Separatists.” Padme allowed herself a slight, bitter smile. “I thought she would lead Naboo against the Republic. Little did I know that I would harbor similar sympathies within a year. And poor Apailana would end up being assassinated by the Empire at such a young age.”

A frowning Bail shook his head. “Exactly how did you learn that the Empire had killed her? I thought only a few of us knew, considering the official word was that she had been assassinated by terrorists.”

“Someone . . . a close acquaintance had informed me.” Inwardly, Padme recalled learning the news from her family during a secret trip to Naboo. “My grandmother had died around the same time.”

To Padme’s surprise, Master Olin added, “I was there. When Queen Apailana had been killed. His Highness is aware of this.”

Bail nodded. “Ferus was with a group of Jedi fugitives, at the time. Their presence attracted the attention of Lord Rasche.”

“The Emperor’s apprentice had killed her?” Padme demanded.

Olin shook his head. “No, it was a sharpshooter. A member of the 501st Legion under Rom . . . Lord Rasche’s command.” The former Jedi revealed how the Imperials had captured him on Coruscant, during an attempt to seek another Jedi fugitive. “I had met someone named Inquisitor Malorum, who was interested in you, Senator Amidala. He believed that you had given birth to a child before your death. A friend helped me escaped and we learned that Malorum was on his way to Naboo to question your family. I suspect . . .” He paused, wearing a grave expression. “I suspect that Malorum was responsible for your grandmother’s death.”

Padme felt her heart twist. Once again, her actions ended up having a negative impact upon someone close to her. This time . . . her grandmother. Her family had revealed that an inquisitor had been responsible for Ryoo Thule’s death. But she had no idea that her marriage to Anakin and her children’s existence was responsible.

According to Olin, the Empire became aware of the Jedi presence on Naboo. “We befriended a Gungan pilot, who introduced us to his leader, a Boss . . .”

“Boss Nass.” Padme nodded. “Yes, he is an old friend of mine.”

Olin continued, “Boss Nass and I decided to acquire Queen Apailana’s help in getting rid of Malorum and the Imperial presence on the planet.” His face grew tight, as he looked away. “Although I did managed to kill Malorum, the Empire managed to defeat us. They killed the Queen and the Jedi with her. We left Naboo, after that.”

Bail heaved a mournful sigh. “Poor Apailana. I’m surprised that the Emperor did not place a strong military presence on Naboo.”

Padme quietly said, “According to my contact, the new queen Kylantha had decided to openly accept the Imperial explanation that a terrorist group had killed Apailana. I can only assume that she did not want to deal with a heavy Imperial occupation.” She turned to Olin. “What happened to you, once you left Naboo?”

The former Jedi stiffly replied, “Nothing much. I simply continued my activities against the Empire. Until I . . . parted ways from my friends.” A gust of breath left his mouth. “Will you please excuse me? I am not feeling hungry at the moment.” Olin bowed at the two friends. “Your Highness, Milady.” And he walked away.

Padme’s eyes remained fixed upon the former padawan’s retreating figure. “Something is bothering him. And it has nothing to do with Naboo.”

“Perhaps it is that familiar presence he had earlier spoke of,” Bail suggested.

“Perhaps.” Padme took a sip of water. “But there is also the matter of Mon. Remember? She claimed to have seen Master Olin on Coruscant.” Padme paused. “Recently, I might add.”

Bail’s dark eyes bored into Padme’s. “Are you suggesting that Ferus Olin might be an Imperial spy?”

The incredulous expression on Bail’s face led Padme to wonder if she had been mistaken. Until she recalled Master Olin’s uncomfortable expression when Mon Mothma had questioned him about Coruscant . . . and his reluctance to discuss his life following his experiences on Naboo. “I realize the man is a former Jedi, Bail,” she continued, “but my gut feeling tells me that he has something to hide.”

A sigh left Bail’s mouth. “Padme, Master Olin has lived on Alderaan for almost four years. And ever since Lord Rasche’s unexpected appearance, ten years ago, we have kept a close surveillance on any outbound communication between Alderaan and other systems. It was Cousin Raymus who had suggested that Ferus accompany me on this trip.”

In other words, Ferus Olin could not have recent contact with Coruscant . . . or be an Imperial agent. Padme felt slightly embarrassed. “Oh dear,” she murmured. “My mistake.”

“I understand. You’re simply being careful.”

Padme added, “Or perhaps eleven years as a fugitive has made me . . . paranoid.” She glanced to her left and spotted their waitress. “Oh look. Our breakfast has arrived.” On that note, the two friends ceased their discussion of their Jedi protector and began to discuss another topic.

———

MALAG, MALDORE

Mako Spince descended the Alastian Star’s ramp, as his new client entered the hangar. “Here she is!” he declared. “The Alastian Star. One of the fastest ships in the galaxy.” Then he stared pointedly at the other man. “And you’re fifteen minutes late.”

Looking slightly pinched, Chattal Rahm responded in a tight voice, “I had no choice. The Imperials are still in the city and I believe they are searching for me. The sooner we leave the bet . . .” A slight thump interrupted his last words. The Maldarian frowned. “What as that sound?” He stared at Mako. “Didn’t you hear it?”

A perturbed Mako sharply replied, “Yeah I did. And I think you better board the ship. Now!”

Rahm had not taken two steps toward the Alastian Star before a squad of Imperial stormtroopers materialized from behind columns of crates, stacked near the wall. The Maldarian whipped out a blaster pistol and began to fire. Mako followed suit. At least two troopers caught the blasts of their weapons before a third trooper shot Rahm squarely in the chest. The Maldarian fell to the ground with a cry on his lips.

Mako shot a horrified look at his fallen client and rushed toward the Alastian Star’s ramp. He overheard a voice from behind cry out, “Stun him!” Before the Corellian could reach the boarding ramp, he felt a blast of hot energy strike him in the back. A grunt escaped his lips before everything went black.

END OF CHAPTER NINE

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