"THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION"
CREVASSE CITY, ALDERAAN
Padme's eyes widened at the sight of the bustling metropolis, perched atop a stark canyon wall. The city's location seemed a sharp contrast to the lush island that served as Aldera's location. "What is this place called, again?" she asked.
Captain Antilles answered, "Crevasse City. We're here to meet a pilot who can take you where you want to go."
"You're not coming?"
With a sigh, the good captain explained that he needs to return to Alderaan's capital. "The Imperials might still be on the planet. And my presence has missed, long enough." He landed the shuttle on an obscure landing pad, next to the city's outskirts. On the pad stood a small, Corellian-designed space skiff. "There's the ship."
The shuttle landed on the pad. At the same time, the skiff's boarding ramp lowered. A red-haired woman dressed simply in a freighter pilot's outfit - dark-blue jacket, white blouse, tight blue trousers and knee-high boots - descended the ramp. Both Padme and Antilles left the shuttle. "Raymus Antilles," the woman greeted with a smile. "You finally made it. I was beginning to worry."
"Sorry," Captain Antilles replied breathlessly. "We had to make sure that we weren't being followed by the Imperials. They are crawling all over the palace and Aldera."
The woman shrugged. "They're here, as well. We might have to wait for them to leave. I don't want to attract any attention." She turned to Padme. "Captain Voranda Sen at your service, Milady. This is my ship, the Alberforce. I will be happy to take you to the destination of your choice."
Antilles explained, "Captain Sen is very reliable, Milady. She has helped many refugees from the Clone War settle here on Alderaan. Voranda, this is . . ." He paused.
Captain Sen smiled knowingly. "I believe I recognize the former senator from Naboo. Pleased to finally meet you, Senator Amidala." Padme inhaled sharply, as the female captain added, "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me. Whatever it may be."
"Thank you," Padme said with a shy smile. "I guess my party should board your ship." She turned to the Queen's cousin. "Captain Antilles, could you help me and my droids unload my belongings?" The royal officer and the skiff's captain helped Padme and the droids unload her trunks and place them on board the Alberforce. By the time the droids, the twin and Madga were settled aboard the starship, Padme rejoined Captain Antilles on the landing pad. "Thank you, Captain. I don't know what I would have done without your help."
Antilles' rock-like jaw twitched momentarily. "It was my pleasure, Milady. And I am quite certain that you would have made your escape without my help."
Again, Padme smiled. "Thank you, Captain. And please convey my gratitude to Her Majesty. Since we did not have time to talk before I left, I will try to contact her within a week."
With a bow, Captain Antilles replied, "I will be sure to tell her, Milady. Have a safe journey." He boarded his shuttle and flew away.
Captain Sen turned to Padme. "You might as well board, Milady. Who knows how long we'll have to wait before we depart."
As the two women walked toward the skiff, Padme's curiosity got the best of her. "Pardon me for asking, Captain, but are you a native of Alderaan?"
"My mother was Alderaanian," the red-haired pilot replied. "But my father originally came from Abregado-rae. I spent most of my childhood there, until my father died when I was sixteen. Then my mother and I moved here." The two women paused at the bottom of the boarding ramp. "I must admit that I'm rather curious as to why you would fake your death and avoid the Imperials."
Padme hesitated. Discretion had been the hallmark of her life, ever since she became involved in politics. And maintaining a secret marriage with Anakin had only increased her tendency toward discretion. Realizing that it would unwise to reveal her children's connection to the Jedi, Padme lied. "You've heard of the Petition of the 2000, haven't you?" she asked the captain.
Captain Sen shook her head. "I'm sorry, but that doesn't sound familiar."
With a sigh, Padme explained that several senators had formed a petition demanding that the then Chancellor Palpatine give up the extra powers and the office of the Chancellor at the end of the Clone War. "Unfortunately, the whole Jedi Purge began and the Chancellor declared himself emperor. Many senators who had signed the petition recanted and removed their names from the petition." She paused. "I didn't. In fact . . . a pair of Jedi Knights and Prince Organa helped fake my death and arranged for my family to escape retribution from the Emperor."
Nodding, Captain Sen continued, "Now, I understand. When the Imperials showed up on Alderaan . . ."
"Both Bail . . . I mean, Prince Organa and I decided it would be best if my family and I leave," Padme finished.
Pity crept into the captain's turquoise eyes. "I'm so sorry."
"That's okay," Padme replied quietly. "I could have removed my name from the petition, but I chose not to. I've made my choice." May all deities in existence forgive her for the lie.
At that moment, two ominous shapes appeared in the skies above Crevasse City. Padme immediately recognized the small, triangular-shaped shuttles that belonged to the Imperial Fleet. "It looks as if the Imperials did not find what they were looking for," Captain Sen commented.
Padme frowned at the other woman. "Why do you say that?"
The red-haired woman said, "Those shuttles are obviously returning to their ships. And there aren't more in the atmosphere." She sighed. "Time to go, Senator."
The two women climbed aboard the skiff. When it finally lifted from the landing pad, fifteen minutes later, Padme heaved a sigh of relief.
An impatient Kirtan Loor slammed a fist on the desk in front of him. "How could we have missed them so easily?" he cried. "Where could they have gone?"
"Obviously to the city's spaceport," Captain Hardy suggested. He found Loor's dramatics a little tiresome. "It would not be difficult for Solipo and Thalia Yeb to find passage aboard any starship leaving Corellia."
CorSec Officer Bastra suggested, "Or they could have caught a shuttle to another city here on Corellia."
"What about the space stations above this planet?" Hardy suggested.
Both Loor and Bastra shook their heads. "The planet's shipyards are located there," Bastra said. "I believe your best bet is to check the spaceport. In fact, I already have several officers doing just that." He broke off, as another CorSec officer entered the office. "Yes, Veritas?"
The assistant informed the three men that a couple matching Solipo and Thalia Yeb's descriptions had been seen near the spaceport. "According to Officer Gropos, three starships have departed recently," she added. "The Eureka had departed with four passengers - political lobbyists on their way to Coruscant; the Javian Hawk with only its pilot; and the Tawhid, which is carrying a shipment of Corellian brandy and whisky bound for Wroona. The Tawhid had departed a little over a half hour ago."
Captain Hardy stood up and placed his cap on his head. "This requires my attention. I will find each starship and search for Senator Yeb."
"How will you find them?" Bastra demanded. "The last ship had departed thirty minutes ago."
The Imperial officer allowed himself a thin, cold smile. "The Agamemnon is one of the new warships to join the Fleet. Which means that it possesses the new hyperdrive technology. I should be able to catch up with all three ships with no problems."
Bail Organa glanced out of the window of his hotel room. Although the view beyond project an elegant and sophisticated metropolis located near a winding river, his mind harbored on matters other than the view. Namely the whereabouts of one Solipo Yeb.
Two days had passed since the former Andalian senator contacted him. Upon his arrival on Averam, Bail had expected to be reunited with his former colleague. Unfortunately, Solipo had not arrived. Either the Andalian and his sister had failed to leave Corellia, on route to Averam, or were now prisoners of the Empire. Bail found it difficult to accept the last possibility. If Solipo had been captured, the news would have been broadcasted on the HoloNet News by now.
A faint beep interrupted Bail's thoughts. It came from his mini holoprojector from within his pockets. Bail removed it and switched it on. A warm smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, as his wife's holographic image appeared before him.
"Bail," Breha began, "I thought you should know that an Imperial ship carrying an emissary from the Emperor has paid a visit to Alderaan." The senator's heart nearly lurched at the news. "They had detected Solipo Yeb's signal from Corellia," she continued. "Fortunately, I had your private holoprojector destroyed before they could find it. Both Padme and myself had also decided it would be best if she and the children leave Alderaan permanently. I suspect they are on their way to the Lars' farm on Tatooine. I am sure that you would be relieved to learn that the Imperial ship has also left, along with the new emissary." Breha paused. "Speaking of the latter, I suspect that this new emissary might be the Emperor's new apprentice. He called himself Darth Rasche. I'm confused, for I could have sworn that you and Padme had told me that his name was Darth Vader. Please hurry home, my love. I miss you very much." The transmission ended.
Darth Rasche? Bail frowned. Who was Darth Rasche? Did the Emperor acquire a new Sith apprentice? Then Bail recalled Padme once informing both him and Breha that the Sith usually consisted of two - a master and an apprentice. Although more than one Sith Force user has served the Emperor in the past - including a renegade named Asjiy Ventress who ended up being defeated by young Skywalker - only two have used the Sith title of Darth. Has Darth Sidious aka the Emperor changed the rule? Or has Anakin Skywalker truly abandoned the Sith?
Bail realized that he might one day learn the truth. Then again, perhaps not. He decided that once his business with Solipo Yebs has finished, he would travel to Tatooine and reveal the identity of Palpatine's new apprentice to Padme and Kenobi. His former colleague deserved to know that she may have been right about her husband, after all.
With the Javian Hawk safely out of Corellian space, Anakin put it on auto pilot. He left the cockpit to check up on his new passengers, situated in another part of the ship reserved for passengers. "Is everything okay?" he asked his Andalian guests. Brother and sister nodded. "Good. Just to let you know, we should arrive on Averam, tomorrow."
Senator Yeb asked, "Don't you have another crewman aboard this ship?"
A sardonic smile touched Anakin's lips. "As you can see, the Javian Hawk is not that big and I can handle her, alone. But she's big enough for a crew of three or four." His smile disappeared. "How long has it been since you two have eaten?"
"Too long," Thalia Yeb replied quickly. "Not since our morning meal, nine hours ago."
Nodding, Anakin said, "I've managed to purchase some supplies on Corellia, before our departure. Lunch . . . or supper should be ready within a half hour." He left his two passengers and headed toward the ship's galley. As he opened one of the storage bins, Anakin heard a thump from inside another one. He closed his eyes and inhaled. Oh yes, he had a stowaway aboard the Hawk. Someone very familiar. Anakin opened the bin in question and peered inside. A pair of brown eyes that belonged to a young face radiated guilt as they stared at Anakin. "What are you doing here?" he demanded angrily.
Han Solo stood up and climbed out of the bin with Anakin's help. "I needed a ride." He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone that nearly caused the former Jedi to smile.
Anakin's lips twitched momentarily before he gave the young stowaway a grim stare. "Is your idea of 'a ride' is to stow away without my permission?"
The young Corellian's face turned pale. Then the words poured out of his mouth in an emotional outburst. "Look I'm sorry, but I was desperate! I tried to run away from Shrike earlier, but he managed to catch me. And I had to run away again. Only Dewlanna helped me, this time. But Shrike . . . he . . ." Tears began to form in young Solo's eyes, taking Anakin by surprise. Between gasps, the boy continued, "Shrike, he . . . he . . . he killed . . . killed Dewlanna!" His tears now flowed freely.
At that moment, a voice cried out, "What in the name of the Republic is going on, here?" Senator Yeb and his sister entered the galley. The former's eyes rested upon the silently sobbing Han. "Who is this?"
"My name is Han Solo," the boy declared in a defiant, yet still tearful voice. He wiped the tears from his eyes. "Who are you?"
Thalia Yeb regarded Han with kindly eyes. "Was there a reason why you had to get away from Corellia, young Master Solo? To the point of stowing aboard this starship?"
Han sniffed. "I'm running away." His eyes blinked furiously. "From . . . someone. What's it to you?"
Regarding the boy with suspicious eyes, Senator Yeb demanded, "Is he telling the truth? For all we know, he could be an agent of the Empire, hired to keep an eye out for us."
"Solipo!" his sister cried in outrage.
Anakin rolled his eyes, annoyed by the senator's paranoia. "He's telling the truth, Senator. Believe me. You have nothing to fear from . . . Han."
Yeb glared at Anakin. "And how do you know? What are you? A Jedi or something?"
Thalia's voice rang loud and clear. "Actually . . . he is." Everyone stared at her. "Captain Horus is the former Jedi Knight, Anakin Skywalker. 'The Hero With No Fear'?"
END OF CHAPTER SIX