"THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION"
LARS HOMESTEAD, TATOOINE
The Alberforce slowly descended upon the flat, Tatooine desert before it wheeled to a stop. Ahead, two familiar people emerged from a dome-shaped abode that served as the moisture farm's centerpiece. The starship's captain heaved a sigh of relief. "We're here. Finally. Tatooine." Voranda Sen glanced at the two people approaching the ship. "Who are they?" she asked.
Captain Sen's companion smiled cryptically. "My in-laws," Padme explained. "I haven't seen them in over four years." The tragic circumstances surrounding her last visit rushed to the forefront of her thoughts.
"In-laws?" Captain Sen's brows rose questioningly.
Padme nodded. "An . . . my husband's step-brother and sister-in-law. At least I think they are now married. The last time I saw them, Owen and Beru were still engaged. Excuse me. I'll just have a talk with them." She unfastened her seat strap and left the cockpit.
As she strode down the boarding ramp, the Tatooine couple came forth to greet the hooded Padme. "How do you do?" Owen Lars greeted uneasily. "My name is Owen . . ."
". . . Lars," Padme finished. She threw back her cape's hood, eliciting gasps from the young couple. "And Beru Whitesun. Or is it Lars now?"
Beru exclaimed softly, "Padme? Padme Amidala? But we thought you were dead."
An embarrassed chuckle escaped from Padme's mouth. "Yes . . . um, I'm sorry that you didn't know the truth. It seemed that circumstances had turned me into a fugitive from the Empire. So much so that I had to make arrangement to fake my death. Actually . . . the Jedi helped me make those arrangements." She paused, wondering how the couple would receive her next words. "The reason I'm here is that . . . well, I'm asking for sanctuary." She paused, as she noticed the wedding rings that the couple wore. "Oh my! You did get married. Congratulations!"
"It happened not long after we last saw you and Anakin," Owen murmured. He nodded at Padme's right hand. "I see that you also have a wedding ring. You're married?"
Padme allowed herself a wistful smile. "Yes."
A long pause followed before realization dawned in the couple's eyes. "Anakin?" Owen shook his head in disbelief. "You and Anakin got married? But he's . . . I mean, he was a Jedi. How was that . . .?"
"Anakin and I had married just over a week after we last saw you," Padme quietly explained. "On Naboo. Our marriage had remained a secret, until the last days of the war. When all of our troubles began."
Beru shook her head in confusion. "I don't understand. You mean to say that you're hiding from the Empire, because you're the wife of a Jedi Knight?"
Padme sighed. "No . . . it's a lot more complicated than that. I . . ." Using her personal comlink, she summoned the others from the Alberforce. Within minutes, Voranda Sen, Madga, and the droids disembarked from the starship. Madga carried Leia, while Captain Sen carried Luke.
Both Owen and Beru gaped at the two toddlers. "You have . . . children!" Owen exclaimed.
Nodding, Padme replied, "Twins. Luke and Leia. They're Ani's children." She sighed. "Now you know why I'm hiding from the Empire. And why I'm asking for sanctuary." She regarded the couple with pleading eyes. "Could you help me?"
After the Javian Hawk finally arrived at the Averam Spaceport, Anakin turned to Han. "Let's check on our passengers, shall we?"
An unusually sober Han nodded. "Sure," he muttered. The young boy made his way out of the cockpit. To Anakin's surprise, he detected a great deal of moodiness from the young Corellian.
Both Anakin and Han found the Yebs gathering their belongings in the ship's passenger section. "Thank you, Captain . . . Horus for a most interesting trip," Senator Yeb commented. "I believe that my sister and I owe you a fee in the amount of . . ."
"Three thousand Imperial credits," Thalia Yeb finished. She handed a credit chip over to Anakin. "This for you, Master Skywalker."
"It's now Captain Horus, Miss Yeb. Please remember that."
A tart smile curved the Andalian woman's lips. "I suppose I'll have to. Although it would be hard for me to do so, whenever I think of this trip. Thank you for your help, Master Jedi." She shook Anakin's hand. Then she turned to Han. "And you too, Master Solo." Then she picked up her valise and headed toward the boarding ramp.
Senator Yeb hesitated. "Mind if I speak with you for a moment . . . Captain?"
"As a matter of fact, I want to speak with you, Senator." Anakin nodded at the Corellian boy. "It's about Han."
Anakin continued, "I wonder if you can find a home or place for him to stay. I don't believe it would be safe for him to return to Corellia. Someone is . . . searching for him. Someone unpleasant."
The senator shot back, "Are you referring to that gangster that young Mr. Solo had mentioned?"
"Yes I am."
Yeb's eyes rested thoughtfully upon the boy. "I would be more than willing to help, Master Skywalker," he said. "But how can I be sure that young Master Solo will not run away?"
"Excuse me?" Anakin frowned.
A sigh rose from the senator's throat. "Let's be frank, shall we . . . Captain? The boy obviously wants to stay with you. Even if I do find a permanent home for him, I suspect that he will find a way to run away, in order to find you. Why don't you simply allow him to remain with you?"
"A secondhand space freighter is no place to raise a boy," Anakin retorted. "Especially one flown by a renegade Jedi Knight, who was once a Sith apprentice. Don't get me wrong. I like Han. In fact, I like him a lot more than I should. But I'm not the proper person to raise him."
Senator Yeb grabbed hold of Anakin's arm and guided him away from Han. "Look, Master Jedi, I realize that you have done a lot to feel ashamed for." Anakin's face grew hot with shame. The senator continued, "I'm not trying to make excuses for your actions. But you are not the only one who has contributed to the Republic's destruction. I'm responsible, as well. Along with members of the entire Galactic Senate, the Jedi Council and many others throughout the galaxy. We had all stood by and allowed Palpatine to assume absolute power without any opposition. I had not been there when you had led the purge against the Jedi Order. But you were not in the Senate, when we handed over the galaxy to Palpatine on a silver plate. To this day, I feel deeply ashamed for joining in the applause when the Chancellor had declared himself emperor. Master Solo is obviously aware of your checkered past. And I suspect that he has committed acts that he might be ashamed of." The former senator's dark eyes grew intense. "I've been given a new chance at life. I plan to devote myself to forming a resistance against the Emperor. You also have a chance . . . starting with that young boy. Why not take it?"
Anakin stared at Senator Yeb for several seconds. Then his eyes focused upon a sullen Han. He sighed. "I'm only 23 years old, Senator," he murmured. "I'm too young to be the guardian of a boy some 12 to 15 years my junior." Another sigh left his mouth. "All right. I'll let him stay with me."
"Are you sure?" the senator asked uneasily.
With a nod, Anakin replied, "Yes. Like I had said, I like Han very much. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was his age. I just didn't want him to face a possible situation in which he might end up being hurt by me."
"Well . . ." Senator Yeb hesitated. "I guess the matter is closed." He thrust out his hand. "Good-bye, Master Jedi. And good luck. Hopefully, we might encounter each other, one day."
Anakin shook the senator's hand. "Thank you. And good luck to you, Senator."
Senator Yeb faced a wary Han. "Well young man, good luck to you in the future. And I want to thank you for assisting both my sister and me."
Han's eyes grew wide with disbelief. "I'm not coming with you?"
"I believe the answer is no, Master Solo." The senator's mouth stretched into a wide grin. "It seems that Master Skywalker plans to provide a home for you. So, good day. And good-bye." He nodded at the young boy and marched down the boarding ramp.
The Corellian boy stared at the two Andalians' retreating figures. He frowned at Anakin. "So, what happens next?" he demanded.
For one odd moment, Anakin found himself remembering that day on Naboo, when he learned of Qui-Gon Jinn's death and that Obi-Wan would become his Jedi master. He shook his head and explained, "First, I need to purchase supplies and repair the Hawk's hull. The Empire might still be searching for it and the two ships that had left Corellia around the same time we did. I don't want to give them a chance to find any proof of our encounter with the Agamemnon. Once we leave, it's back to Nar Shaddaa for us."
"Us?" Hope glimmered in Han's brown eyes. "So, you're not sending . . .?"
Anakin grinned, as he ruffled the Corellian boy's thick hair. "Looks like you're stuck with me, kid." Han responded with his own grin. "C'mon, let's get those supplies." The young man and the boy marched down the freighter's boarding ramp, together.
Inside one of Averam's more exclusive restaurants, Bail finished the last of his lunch. He pushed aside his plate and sighed. Two days had passed since his arrival on Averam. And Solipo Yeb has yet to arrive on the planet. Bail found himself wondering if the former Andalian senator remained stranded on Corellia.
The Alderaanian prince took a deep breath. 'Calm down Bail,' he told himself. 'Calm down.' Perhaps the journey from Corellia to Averam had turned out to be longer than expected. Satisfied with this answer, Bail paid for his meal and rose from his chair. Two Alderaanian bodyguards, seated at another table, rose from their seats and followed him out of the restaurant.
Twenty minutes later, Bail and his companions arrived at their hotel. Upon entering the lobby, the prince strode toward the desk clerk. "Do you have any messages for me?" he asked. "Aurelis Blum."
The clerk's face lit up with excitement. "Oh yes! Master Blum! Um . . ." The round-faced man check his desk. "Yes, you have a Mistress Thalia Kor and her brother have arrived. They're waiting for you, inside the hotel's parlor."
Solipo! At last! Bail thanked the clerk and turned on his heels. With his guards not far behind him, he quickly marched toward the hotel's elegant drawing-room. There, he found both Solipo and Thalia Yeb, slightly covered in dust. Relief flooded his body, as he greeted the pair. "Solipo! I'm so glad that you've finally made it!" He shook his former colleague's hand. Then he turned to the other man's sister and bowed. "Milady. I am happy to see that you have arrived safely. Both of you. Shall we retire to my suite?"
Nearly twenty minutes later, the trio sat inside the large drawing room of Bail's suite. Despite their slightly exhausted state, the Yebs found the energy to discuss their past adventures. Then Solipo delivered a bomb. "I know that I had promised not to say anything, but you will not believe who had had brought us here," he added. "Thalia had immediately recognized him."
Bail regarded his former colleague with curiosity. "He must be someone very important."
"I don't know about that," Thalia said. "But he was an important hero from the Clone War."
The back of Bail's neck tingled, as he frowned at the Yebs. "War hero? Was he a . . .?"
"Jedi Knight!" Solipo finished triumphantly. "The Hero of No Fear himself! Anakin Skywalker! Imagine my surprise when Thalia recognized him."
The Alderaanian stared at the pair in shock. "Anakin Skywalker? He's al . . . he was your pilot?"
"That he was," Thalia declared. "I had recognized him from the HoloNet News reports, during the war." She took a sip of her Vine Spider Tea, before shaking her head in disbelief. "You should have seen the way he had handled his starship, Your Highness. It was amazing!"
Bail murmured, "I can imagine. Uh, where is he now?"
Solipo shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea. Several hours had passed since our arrival. And Master Skywalker had informed us that he did not plan to remain here, very long." He paused at stared at the older man. "Why are you interested in his whereabouts? Do you hope to involve him into the resistance? That is . . . if we ever form one."
Padme and the two surviving Jedi Masters flashed in Bail's mind. "Perhaps. Who knows? As for this Sith Lord you had seen on Andalia . . . what was his name, again?"
"Darth Rasche," Solipo replied. "Anjuli Nab had mentioned his former name, but I don't remember it."
Thalia sighed. "You have such a bad memory, Solipo."
Bail leaned back into his chair. "Darth Rasche," he murmured. The very Sith Lord that had recently paid a visit to Alderaan. Bail wondered what was the real name of the Emperor's new apprentice.
As Palpatine's eyes scanned a data pad that featured a report from the Imperial Fleet commander in the Rayter Sector, Sly Moore's voice crackled from his office's communication system. "Pardon me, Your Highness," she announced. "You have a message from Grand Moff Tarkin in the Kashyyyk System."
'Ah yes,' the Imperial leader thought privately. He tossed aside the report and switched on his personal holoemitter. The military leader's holographic figure appeared before him. "Lord Tarkin," Palpatine greeted coolly. "I hope you have some good news for me."
Tarkin reported, “Kashyyyk has been successfully annexed, Your Highness. The Wookies are now prisoners of the Empire. At least two-hundred thousand of them were captured.” He paused dramatically. “Including one of the leaders, Tarfful. They will be sent to containment camps on the Wawaatt Archipelago. Soon, they will join the Geonosians to work on the super weapon project.”
Pleased by the news, Palpatine beamed happily. “Excellent work, my lord. And please convey my pleasure to Lord Rasche for a job well done.” He hesitated, as a thought came to him. “Speaking of my apprentice, how was his performance.”
“Oh, did well, Your Highness. He had ordered an orbital bombardment of Kashyyyk that caused considerable damage.”
“Hmmm.” Palpatine nodded. “And the other Imperial Fleet commanders? What do they think of him?”
Tarkin paused. “To be frank, Your Highness, many are . . . surprised that one so young has been placed in a high position within the Imperial forces.”
“Has anyone recognized him?”
“No, Your Highness,” Tarkin replied. “But then . . . Lord Rasche did not receive much publicity during the Clone War. If hardly at all.”
On the whole, Palpatine felt pleased by the Grand Moff’s report. He considered Rasche’s willingness to order an orbital bombardment of an entire planet very impressive. “That will be all, Lord Tarkin. And congratulations for a job well done.”
“Thank you, Your Highness.” Tarkin bowed before his image disappeared.
Palpatine leaned back into his chair and closed his eyes. He sighed. Then he instructed Sly Moore to contact Darth Rasche, aboard the Exactor. Minutes passed before his apprentice’s image illuminated above the holoemitter. Darth Rasche kneeled. “What is thy bidding, Master?”
“Lord Rasche, I have just received Grand Moff Tarkin’s report on the situation at Kashyyyk,” Palpatine announced. “I would like to hear your account of the battle.”
Rasche paused before he said, “The Empire now has complete control of the Kashyyyk System, Master. At least two hundred thousand prisoners have been taken. Which should make Lord Tarkin very happy.”
“And the Jedi?” Palpatine asked.
“I encountered six of them,” Rasche added distastefully. “All former padawans, except for one. Three are dead, two were wounded and one . . . unfortunately escaped. The last three managed to escape from the planet.”
Palpatine dismissed Rasche’s last words. He was more interested in the three dead Jedi. “You said that three were killed. All of them were former padawan learners?”
Rasche replied, “Only two of them were. The third was Jedi Master Roan Shryne.” He paused. “I was finally able to catch up to him . . . after his escape from Murkhana.”
The news took Palpatine by surprise. “You had managed to kill . . . Master Shryne? A Jedi Master?”
“Impressive,” Palpatine declared. “Very impressive. The Force seems to grow stronger within you, Lord Rasche.”
Rasche preened slightly before he added, “About the Jedi who managed to escape from . . .”
Palpatine dismissed them as insignificant. “Mere padawan learners. Without the Jedi Order, they will never become anything more. Do not worry. They will eventually be found.”
Rasche bowed. “Yes, Master. About Solipo Yeb, has he . . .?”
The Sith Lord’s enthusiasm dimmed slightly. “He has escaped from Corellia, and is still at large. Also, the warship assigned to track him has also disappeared. The Agamemnon. I want you to head for Corellia and trace Yeb’s whereabouts.”
“Yes, my master. Senator Yeb and the Agamemnon shall be found.” Rasche bowed one last time before Palpatine switched off the holoemitter.
Feeling a slight sense of elation, the Sith Lord leaned back into his chair. Within a week, the Empire has managed to assume control over Andalia and Kashyyy, acquire thousands of Wookie slaves for the Great Weapon project and witness the deaths of a powerful Jedi Master and a Jedi Knight - all due to his newest apprentice. Palpatine’s initial regret at losing Anakin Skywalker as his apprentice now barely existed.