“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”
The burly man strode casually along one of Anchorhead’s dusty streets, accompanied by two children. The golden protocol droid followed closely behind, filling their ears with incessant chatter.
“I really do not see why Miss Padme had left me behind and taken Artoo,” the droid complained. “As a protocol droid, I have knowledge of over six million forms of communication in my programming. Surely, I could have serve as interpreter for Miss Pad . . .”
“Not now, Threepio!” Luke barked. “Now is not the time for you to be complaining about being left behind. Mother has made her decision.”
The protocol droid sounded affronted by his young charge’s outburst. “Well really, Master Luke! I did not realize . . .”
“One other thing, Threepio,” Owen added, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be bandying Miss Padme’s name out loud. There might be Imperial ears listening.”
“Yes, Master Owen.”
The group finally reached a poundstone store that sold power converters at the street’s south end. Uncle Owen turned to Luke and Leia. “I want you two to wait here. Threepio and I will be right back.”
“You need me, Master Owen?” the droid asked.
With a sigh, the moisture farmer replied, “Yes, Threepio. I need you to translate the binary language for the moisture vaporators.” He nodded at Luke and Leia. “And you two, stay close.” Then he and Threepio entered the shop.
The twins settled on a small bench outside of the shop. Nearly ten minutes passed before Leia heaved a loud sigh. “I’m bored,” she muttered darkly. “I thought that Anchorhead would be more exciting than this.”
Luke rolled his eyes. His sister could be quite a grouch at times. “Then you should have stayed at the farm.”
“And spend hours in the company of two women barely able to conduct a conversation with each other?” Leia snorted. “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Another three minutes passed. Leia opened her mouth for another complaint, but Luke spotted a familiar figure. “Hey! It’s Biggs!” Then he cried out, “Biggs!” A dark-haired boy around the twins’ ages stared at them. A smile lit up this thin face, before he waved. Luke waved back and stood up.
“Luke, where are you going?” Leia demanded. “Uncle Owen told us to stay here.” The fair-haired boy ignored his sister and rushed toward his best friend. “Luke!”
The two boys met in the middle of the street and slapped each other on the backs. “Hey Luke!” Biggs Darklighter greeted. “What are you doing here on Tatooine? Your family usually don’t visit until another two months from now.” Biggs happened to be the son of a wealthy land magnate . . . and Luke’s best friend for the past six years.
Luke shrugged. “Leia and I are staying with our uncle, while Mother is on a business trip. Are you with your father?”
Biggs pointed at the Weary Traveler Tavern. “He’s in there, getting a drink. I saw you and Leia. Where’s your uncle?”
“Buying a new moisture vaporator,” Luke answered.
Biggs nodded. “Maybe your uncle can allow you to visit our home before you leave. Dad just bought me a new skyhopper. A suborbital T-12 model.” A wide grin appeared on his face. “The wings’ span are this wide, and . . .” As he threw out his arms, his left hand knocked against a burlap sack held by a passing pedestrian. Bottles of liquor fell out of the sack and crashed upon the ground. Luke detected the strong odor of alcohol.
Tall, burly and grizzled, the pedestrian cast an intimidating glare at the Biggs. “Clumsy brat!” he growled. “Look at what you’ve done! I had paid a good amount of wupiupi for those bottles of ale.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” a slightly frightened Biggs pleaded. “It was an accident.”
The man retorted, “Sorry doesn’t mean anything! I’m out of 200 wupiupi and some good Spiced Ale!” He grabbed Biggs by the latter’s tunic. “It’s gonna take more than an apology to make up for my loss, boy!”
Luke decided to help Biggs escape the man’s grip. “Hey! Let go of my friend! He said that he was sorry!” Then Luke tried to pry the man’s fingers from Biggs’ tunic. His efforts ended in vain, when the man shoved Luke aside with a free hand. The eleven year-old’s rump landed on the ground.
“Luke!” Leia rushed forward and helped her brother to his feet. She then rounded furiously on the man. “You bully! I suppose you consider yourself brave for picking on boys half your age!”
Sensing the man’s growing ire, Luke grabbed his sister’s shoulders and drew her back. “No! Leia! Don’t!” he hissed.
But Leia’s temper had passed the point of no return. “Why don’t you let our friend go? What can you possibly achieve by bullying a twelve year-old boy?”
With Biggs still in his grip, the man leaned down and sneered at Leia. “Mighty fine words coming out of the mouth of a little girl. Your friend just cost me 200 wupiupi. One way or the other, I’m getting payback!”
“By bullying a child?”
“Is there a problem?” another masculine voice asked. The three children and the pedestrian stared at the robed figure that had materialized before them. Luke immediately recognized the mysterious man who had joined Mother, Uncle Bail and another man at Mos Eisley. “You seemed to have that young man in a rather tight grip, Mister . . .?”
The man snarled, “The name is Oswald Rankin and this matter is none of your concern!”
“What has the boy done to you?”
Looking slightly annoyed, Rankin retorted, “He had cost me two hundred wupiupi, when he broke my bottles of very expensive Corellian Spiced Ale!”
The robed stranger smiled. “Really? And did the boy break your bottles of ale on . . . purpose?”
“Look here, old man! I suggest that you leave now! Like I said, this is none of your concern.”
Luke glanced up at the robed man’s face and noticed that his blue eyes glittered mysteriously. “This boy has not harmed you in any way.”
Rankin stared hard at the robed stranger. It seemed to Luke as if the former had suddenly become mesmerized, as he released Biggs. “You’re right,” Rankin murmured. “The boy did not harm me.”
The robed stranger murmured, “He did not mean to break your bottles.”
With a nod, Rankin added, “Yes, you’re right. He did not mean to break them.”
“Perhaps it is best that the ale is gone,” the stranger added. “You do not need to consume all that alcohol.”
His eyes still glazed, Rankin said, “No . . . I don’t.”
“You will forget this incident and go home.”
Rankin frowned momentarily. Then he said to the stranger, “What incident?” He stared at the three children. “What’s going on?”
“It is nothing, sir,” the stranger answered with a smile. “You seemed a bit out of sorts. We were all trying to assist you.”
“Well, I’m fine.” Rankin regarded the others with confusion. “Um . . . thanks. Excuse me.” He nodded curtly and walked away.
Luke and his two companions stared at the robed stranger. “How did you do that?” he demanded. “How did you manipulate his thoughts like that?”
The robed man merely smiled in a mysterious fashion. “I’m afraid that your Mr. Rankin might be an easily suggestive person.” He regarded the three children with concern. “And you . . . are you three unharmed? Has he . . .?”
“I’m fine,” Biggs replied. “Other than he nearly scared me senseless.”
Luke added, “No harm . . . except for my pride and backside.” He thrust out his hand to the stranger. “Thanks for your help. I’m Luke Sk . . . uh, Organa, by the way. And this is my sister, Leia and my friend, Biggs Darklighter.”
The man shook Luke’s hand. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“And exactly who are you?” Leia demanded. “You look familiar.”
The man’s smile widened. “My name is Ben. Ben Kenobi.”
WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL
Once the Alberforce penetrated Ord Mantell’s thick outer cometary cloud, it made its way toward the planet’s glittering capital, Worlport. A heavy sheet of rain greeted the starship’s passengers and crew as it finally settled upon one of the spaceport’s landing platforms.
The starship rolled into an empty hangar and came to a halt. Several minutes later, Padme and R2-D2 followed Bail, Captain Sen and their Jedi protector down the Alberforce’s boarding ramp. “I need to report my arrival to the portmaster,” Voranda declared. “I will meet all you at the hotel, later.” She hesitated. “What names will you be using to check in? In case I need to contact you.”
Bail replied, “I will be using the name, Tam Avner. As for Senator Amidala, she will . . .”
“My name will be Rhiannon,” Padme added. “Rhiannon Chir.”
Voranda nodded. “Good. I will check with you, later tonight.” She walked away from the others.
Bail led the others outside of the hangar. Then he hailed a shuttle taxi to convey them to the Hotel Grand. Dominated by skyscrapers and red-domed topped buildings, Worlport’s skyline reminded Padme of a heady mixture of Coruscant and Naboo’s capital, Theed. To her surprise, Master Olin expressed a similar opinion, out loud.
“I must say that this is a very lovely city,” he commented, while glancing out of a shuttle window. “I cannot tell whether it reminds me of Coruscant or Theed.”
Padme stared at the former Jedi. “You’ve been to Naboo?”
“Yes, Milady.” Unease briefly shadowed his eyes. “Nine years ago, to be exact.”
“Around the time of Queen Apaliana’s death,” Padme murmured quietly. “And the death of my grandmother.”
The former Jedi remained silent, while Bail continued, “It is hard to believe that this place is now a smuggler’s haven. Especially since it was originally settled by Corellian farmers.”
“A Jedi master named Pablo-Jill had managed to bring peace to this planet about fourteen or fifteen years ago. Just before the Clone Wars.”
“You must be very proud.” The words came out more sardonic than Padme had originally intended. Master Olin stiffened, while Bail focused his attention to the view beyond his window.
Padme glanced out of the window beside her and spotted the words – HOTEL GRAND – in bright lights that illuminated through the heavy rain and gray skies. The shuttle soon descended upon one of the hotel’s landing platforms. Upon reaching the hotel lobby, Bail and Padme checked into their rooms under their aliases. Bail managed to acquire a suite with adjoining bedrooms for himself and Master Olin. Padme acquired a room next door to theirs. The trio and R2-D2 then set out for the hotel’s turbolifts. Upon entering one, they encountered none other than the senator from Chandrila, Mon Mothma. She was a tall, slender woman woman with red hair and intense blue eyes.
“I see that you’ve all finally made it,” the Chadrilian senator greeted.
Bail asked, “Are we the last to arrive?”
“No. One other is still missing.” Mon shot an uneasy glance at Olin. “Who is your friend?”
Bail made the introductions. “This is our protector, Master Ferus Olin. He is a former Jedi.”
Mon continued to eye the younger man uneasily. “Really?” Then her gaze narrowed. “Have you ever been on Coruscant? In recent years, I mean.”
“I’m afraid that it has been quite a while, Milady,” Olin calmly answered.
The turbolift arrived on the hotel’s tenth floor. All of the occupants stepped out. “Your room is on this floor?” Padme asked.
The Chandrilian senator smiled. “I have ensured that all of us have rooms on this floor. The conference room is located here, as well.” After shooting another curious glance at Olin, Mon added, “Well, I should prepare for supper.”
“Who hasn’t arrived, yet?” Bail asked.
“Zoebeida,” Mon replied. “She has yet to arrive.” Padme realized that Mon had referred to Zoebeida Dalhma of Maldare.
They came upon Padme’s room. “Well, here we are,” she announced. “When will the first meeting . . .?”
“A dinner for us has been scheduled to begin in about five hours,” Mon replied. “Just down the corridor, in the Jewel Room. I will see you then.”
Padme nodded. “I only hope that Zoebeida arrives in time, as well.” She and R2 entered her room. As the door shut behind her, Padme heaved a sigh. Between the upcoming Alliance meetings, having a former Jedi in her midst and being separated from her children, the next two days might prove to be strenuous.
Owen and CP-30 stepped out of the junk shop and noticed something very alarming – Luke and Leia seemed to be missing. Contrary to his instructions, they had left the bench in front of the shop.
“Oh Master Owen!” Threepio wailed. “Something terrible must have happened to them!”
The moisture farmer rolled his eyes. Threepio could be ridiculously melodramatic at times. Like now. On the other hand, there was a possibility that the twins might be in danger.
Owen glanced to his left and saw both Leia, Luke and Biggs Darklighter rush toward him. A man in a hooded robe accompanied them. Alarm bells rang in Owen’s mind, when the man threw back his hood. Obi-Wan Kenobi beamed at him. Owen realized that Padme would have his hide if she knew that her children had met the former Jedi Master.
Luke reached the moisture farmer first. “Uncle Owen, guess who we ran into? Mother and Uncle Bail’s friend from Mos Eisley, Mister Ken . . . uh . . .”
The former Jedi paused before the moisture farmer. “Kenobi. Ben Kenobi. Good day to you, Master Lars.” He held out his hand.
Owen reluctantly grabbed Kenobi’s hand and shook it. “Good day.” He frowned at the twins. “What did I tell you two about not wandering off?”
Leia calmly explained, “We saw Biggs and left the bench to say hello. Only we had trouble with this common . . . thug, who bullied Biggs for accidentally breaking his liquor bottles. Fortunately, Mister Kenobi,” she nodded at the former Jedi Master, “came to our rescue. I think we should repay Mister Kenobi’s assistance with an invitation to dinner. He does not live that far from the farm. In the Jundland Wasteland.”
The moisture farmer found himself unable to respond. If Kenobi had been someone else, he would have accepted Leia’s suggestion. But this was Anakin’s former Jedi master. Owen knew that Padme would disapprove of her children having any contact with the man. “Well, I . . .” he began.
Kenobi spoke up. “Thank you, Miss Organa. But I’m afraid that I might have to decline your kind invitation. I have . . . uh, pressing matters, tonight.”
“What about tomorrow night?” Leia demanded.
Both Owen and Kenobi stared at each other and blinked. How could they explain the truth to the twins without revealing the tumultuous history of their parents? Owen said, “I don’t think . . .”
“You have pressing matters tomorrow night, as well, Mr. Kenobi?” Luke asked. “You sure have a lot of business, lately.”
Kenobi heaved a sigh. At that moment, Owen knew that he and Beru would have a dinner guest, tomorrow evening. “I suppose I could join you for supper, tomorrow,” Kenobi finally said, much to Owen’s consternation. He turned to the farmer. “If that is fine with you?”
Owen realized that he had been trapped by Leia’s sense of courtesy and Kenobi’s eagerness to become acquainted with the twins. He sighed. “I’m sure that . . . Beru would not mind preparing for a guest tomorrow night.”
The children and Kenobi became all smiles and excited chatter. Owen hoped and prayed that Padme would never learn of this encounter with the former Jedi Master. But he suspected that his hopes would prove to be futile in the end.
END OF CHAPTER SIX
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