“THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION”
The young boy had first spotted his mark leaving one of the spaceport’s hangars, earlier this afternoon. Han Solo usually avoided robbing pilots, but he was desperate today. His “benefactor”, one Garris Shrike, had insisted that the eleven year-old collect at least 1,000 credits by the end of the day. Five hundred credits more than his usual quota. Apparently, Shrike had not forgiven him for breaking a favorite landspeeder. For the umpteenth time, Han found himself wishing he could go back to being a beggar. It seemed to be an easier way to rob the public.
The target’s tall and lean frame had made it easy for Han to follow him through Coronet’s crowded streets. But when the man paused before the Golden Flame restaurant, the young boy gained a closer look at his mark. Despite his youth, the man possessed a hard-edged aura and eyes that scanned the crowd like a hunter. An odd feeling came to Han that he had ceased to be the hunter and became the hunted. The young boy decided to find another target and leave the pilot alone.
Over an hour had passed and Han found himself unable to find another mark. Then he spotted the pilot again – leaving the Torvian Blue Hotel. Only this time, the man looked despondent. Distracted. Han saw a perfect opportunity to pick the man’s pocket. He made the attempt . . . and failed.
“Ow!” the young Corellian cried out in pain, as the man twisted his hand. “That hurts! Lemme go!”
The pilot retorted, “Let go of my credit chip and I will.” He gave Han’s wrist a twist. The boy finally released the small credit into the pilot’s other hand. “Thank you.”
Before Han could recover from his humiliation, a uniformed security officer from the Corellian Security Force (CorSec) appeared before the pair. “What’s going on, here?” He frowned at the young boy. “Solo! Were you . . .?” Then he glanced at the pilot. “Is this boy giving you any trouble, sir?”
Intense, blue eyes stared at Han. The pilot answered, “No, everything’s fine.” Han nearly sagged with relief. “The boy was simply giving me some directions to Kembel Avenue.”
Suspicion remained fixed in the CorSec officer’s eyes. “If you say so, Mister.” He glared at Han. “However, I would suggest that you be careful around this boy, sir. Solo . . .” He nodded sharply at Han. “. . . belongs to a gang of thieves and pickpockets, operated by a notorious gangster.”
“Really?” The pilot smiled politely at the security officer. “Mr. Solo seemed very helpful to me. If he and his . . . associates are as dangerous as you claim, why aren’t they in a detention cell?”
The CorSec officer shot another glare at Han. “We haven’t been able to catch any of them in the act. Yet.”
“I see. Meanwhile,” the pilot placed himself between Han and the officer, “thank you for your assistance. And don’t worry. Everything is fine.”
A cross between a polite smile and a grimace touched the CorSec officer’s lips. “If you insist . . . sir. Excuse me.” Once more, he glared at Han and walked away.
Astonished that the pilot had not turned him in, the eleven year-old stared at his benefactor. “Why didn’t you tell him the truth?”
“What for?” the pilot asked. “You gave me my money back.” He smiled sardonically at Han. “Nice meeting you . . .?”
“Han. Han Solo.” The eleven year-old immediately clamped his mouth shut. Now why did he give the pilot his real name?
A genuine smile curved the man’s lips. “I’m . . .” He sighed heavily. “I’m Set Horus. It was nice meeting you . . . Han.” The smile disappeared. “Good day.” He turned away.
Han watched the man’s tall frame merge into the crowd. For some inexplicable reason, he felt an urge to follow the man. Despite catching him at attempted theft, Set Horus had shown more compassion toward him in the past five minutes than anyone else ever had – aside from Dewlanna. Once the pilot’s figure disappeared, Han heaved a sigh. Time to return to Shrike. He dreaded how the gangster would react to him being 500 credits short.
Laughter filled one of the Aldera Royal Palace’s smaller dining rooms. Inside, Her Majesty Queen Breha and His Highness Prince Bail Organa shared their day’s experiences with each other during supper. Bail had just related a humorous meeting he had experienced with a regional councilman, who wanted to discuss Aldera’s growing problems with the pleasure industry developing in the Spacer Quarter – a section of the city that accommodated the needs of off-worlders and refugees.
“Honestly Breha,” Bail concluded between chuckles, “I’m beginning to wonder if the man ever had intimate relations. Despite being the father of four children.”
Breha’s smile curved wider. “Considering what I have heard about Lahrus Vornac, you might be right.”
At that moment, Raymus Antilles, one of Bail’s aides and Breha’s cousin, strode into the dining room. He bowed before the royal couple. “Pardon me for the interruption, Your Majesty, but . . .” He took a deep breath. “His Highness has just received a message. An encrypted message from his private holo projector.”
The couple exchanged long-suffering glances. Then Bail heaved a sigh and stood up. “Pardon me, Breha. I’ll be back.” He bowed to his wife and strode out of the dining room, with Raymus close at his heels. The pair made their way to Bail’s private study. Raymus bowed at the older man and walked away. Bail entered the study and headed straight for his holo projector. He used it for private and unofficial messages. The flashing red light at the projector’s base indicated that someone awaited his response.
Bail pressed a button. The surprising image of Solipo Yeb materialized. “Bail!” the Andalian senator cried in relief. “Thank goodness! I’m finally able to contact you.”
“Solipo, where are?” Bail demanded.
The now former senator glanced around uneasily. “Corellia. My sister and I are in Coronet. We need to reach Averam. I have . . . property there. ”
“Surely, you can hire a pilot to take you there,” Bail said.
The other man sighed. “Unfortunately, I cannot afford the fees these Corellians are demanding for passage. They’re scavengers, all of them. When I left Andalia, I was forced to leave behind most of my assets.” He sighed. “I was in a hurry.”
After a few seconds of contemplation, Bail said, “I suppose I could lend you a sufficient amount of credits for you to hire a pilot. But I suggest that you do not stay there, Solipo. It is still part of the Core World, and too close to Coruscant.”
“Where can I go?”
Bail shook his head. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m trying to find a place for a close . . . relative of mine. I’ll meet you in Averam and we can discuss the matter.”
“I don’t know if that is a good idea, Bail.”
A sigh left the Alderaanian’s mouth. “It’s either that or you remain on Corellia in false security.”
A long pause followed before Solipo gave his consent. “I will await for the funds. And I will see you on Averam within a few days. If all goes well. Until later, my friend.”
Bail heaved one last heartfelt sigh. He had the oddest feeling that his conversation with Solipo Yeb might result in dire consequences for a good number of people.
Anakin swallowed the last of his Corellian ale and placed his glass on the table. The Burning Musk did not possess a reputation for fine dining. The café, located in the city’s Blue Sector, merely served dishes for the average citizen who only required a hearty meal at low prices. And yet, Anakin considered it the best restaurant in all of Coronet. Even exclusive restaurants like those inside the Torvian Blue Hotel, could not match the Burning Musk’s superb cooking, as far as he was concerned. In his opinion, the only other restaurant that could match the Musk in quality was Dexter Jettster’s diner on Coruscant.
After he pushed his plate aside, Anakin signaled his waitress. A red-haired woman appeared by his table and smiled. “Will there be anything else, Captain Horus? A dessert, perhaps?”
“Another time,” Anakin replied politely. “I would like the bill, please.”
“Here you go.” The waitress handed over a data pad. It listed his order and the price – fifteen credits.
Anakin slipped his credit chip into the data pad. He included a tip for the waitress. “Thank you, Freya.”
“My pleasure.” The redhead’s smile broadened, as she practically cooed the words. Anakin ignored the obvious attempt at flirtation and politely returned Freya’s smile. Then he left the restaurant.
As he weaved his way through the crowded Treasure Ship Row, a large bazaar located just inside Blue Sector, Anakin became aware of two men following him. Upon emerging from the bazaar, he paused before a tailor’s stand and glanced at the window’s reflection. Just as he had thought . . . Orlan Remar’s thugs.
Anakin whirled upon the men, taking them by surprise. “May I assume that your employer is looking for me?” he asked in a sarcastic tone.
One of the thugs, a tall blond man with pale green eyes and pockmarked skin stared at Anakin in his most intimidating manner . . . affecting Anakin not one bit. “Mr. Remar had left you a message to meet him at the hangar. Two hours ago.”
“I didn’t receive the message,” Anakin coolly replied. “I was busy. Eating.”
The blond man took a step toward Anakin. “I hope you’re not trying to cheat Mr. Remar of his cargo.”
Anakin regarded the thug with cold eyes. The man stepped back. “Say that again?” he murmured in a menacing voice.
The thug shivered. “I . . .”
“Mr. Remar is waiting for you,” the shorter thug added. “In the hangar.”
A sigh left Anakin’s mouth. “Let’s go.” He continued walking along the street. The two men followed. Anakin had considered using a speeder taxi to reach the spaceport. But he took a perverse pleasure in testing the two men’s physical endurance. By the time they reached the spaceport, Remar’s thugs were panting from exertion.
They found a tall, red-haired man in his early forties, impatiently pacing back and forth in front of the Javian Hawk. A deep green robe covered his expensive outfit. Orlan Remar regarded Anakin with sharp, greenish-blue eyes. “Captain Horus,” he greeted in a soft voice, “I see that you’ve finally arrived.”
Anakin approached his client with a raised eyebrow. “Finally? I’ve been here since this afternoon, Mr. Remar.”
“And yet . . . I didn’t receive a message that you had arrived.”
Coolly, Anakin shot back, “You should have. Unless the hotel had been remiss in attending to its duty. How did you find out that I was here?”
A pause followed before Remar heaved an exasperated sigh. “I had received a bill . . . from the Customs Office. I had also left a message at your usual hotel, instructing you to meet me here over an hour ago.”
“I never received the message,” Anakin retorted. “Now that we’ve learned about the hotel’s inability to pass on messages, I suggest that we tend to business.”
Again, Remar sighed. “Fine. I believe I owe you four thousand credits.”
Anakin glared at the older man. “You owe me five thousand. That was the price we had agreed upon.”
“Let’s just say that I’m deducting a thousand for the inconvenience. I do not like to be kept waiting, Captain Horus.”
Anakin took a step forward. “It’s either five thousand or I leave and take your precious cargo elsewhere. I’m sure there are others interested in Carsunum.”
The merchant stiffened slightly. Then he turned to his men. “Boys, I think that the good captain needs to learn a little lesson on how business transactions are conducted.”
Remar’s two thugs regarded Anakin in a menacing manner. For several seconds, the former Jedi felt a deep desire to kill the pair, along with Remar. He no longer possessed a lightsaber, but there were other ways to kill them. All he had to do was squeeze Remar’s . . . He took a deep breath. This would not do. He did not want to return to that young Sith Lord he had discarded back on Mustafar. Anakin directed a fierce gaze at the merchant. “I suggest that you call off your thugs, Remar,” he hissed. “Even if they shoot me down, they won’t be fast enough to save your life.”
The Corellian’s eyes widened in fear. Anakin sensed the man’s heartbeat increase rapidly. Seconds passed before a nervous chuckle escaped Remar’s lips. “Really, Captain! Such melodrama is unnecessary. Of course I will pay the fee we had agreed upon. Five thousand credits.” He inhaled sharply. “Your credit chip, please.”
Anakin handed over his credit chip to the merchant. Who inserted it into a data pad and handed it back to the pilot. “Thank you.” Anakin inserted his chip into his own data pad to verify the payment. Sure enough, his account had increased by five thousand credits. He boarded the Javian Hawk and unlocked the ship’s cargo hold. Then he returned to the top of the ramp. “It’s all yours.”
While Remar’s men began to unload the Carsunum, Anakin stood near the cargo hold and watched them. “Hey,” the blond man said, “aren’t you going to help?”
“What for? I did all the hard work between here and Servacos II.”
The two men grumbled and continued their task. Once they had loaded the entire cargo into Remar’s land shuttle, Anakin joined them and Remar at the bottom of the boarding ramp. “Okay, that’s it,” he said. “Our business is over.” He stared directly at Remar. “Good night. Unless there is something else you need.”
“I doubt it,” the merchant retorted. He and the other two men boarded the shuttle and sped away.
Once alone, Anakin secured the Javian Hawk and left the hangar. He had only walked less than a block away from the spaceport, when he sensed another presence. One that seemed both scared and desperate. Anakin turned into the nearest alley and paused. He waited for a few seconds, until that same presence approached the alley. Then he reached out and grabbed an arm. He dragged the robed body attached to the arm, deep into the alley. Anakin jerked the robe’s hood and found himself staring into the face of a woman with light-brown skin, high cheekbones and dark eyes. For some reason, the woman reminded him of Anjuli Nab. “Who are you and why are you following me?” he growled.
“I . . . I need a pilot,” the woman replied nervously. “I need a pilot to convey me and my brother from here.”
Anakin glanced around. “Where is your brother?”
“Back at our hotel room,” the woman replied nervously. “He . . . he doesn’t know that I’m here. He’s asleep.” Then she began to ramble. “Listen, I would have approached you in better circumstances, but I need to get my brother off of this planet as soon as possible. We now have the resources to pay for passage and I had spotted you heading for the spaceport. I was desperate and took a chance.”
Maintaining a grip on the woman’s arm, Anakin demanded, “Why do you need to leave so soon?”
A sigh left the woman’s mouth. “My brother . . . He’s wanted by the Empire. He’s exhausted and I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to find another pilot after tonight.”
“Okay,” Anakin said with a nod. “I might consider the job.”
Relief flooded the woman’s dark eyes. “Oh thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“I said I might consider the job,” Anakin insisted in a hard voice. “After I meet your brother and we discuss . . . certain terms. I’ll follow you back to your room.” He released the woman.
She hesitated. “Look, I know that I said that time was of the essence, but my brother . . . well, he’s fast asleep. The past week has been very busy for him and for the first time, he has been able to get some sleep. Could you meet us at our hotel room, tomorrow morning? We’re at the Selonia Hotel. Ask for Thalia Kor.” She turned away.
“Wait a minute!” Anakin cried, as he grabbed her arm. “You don’t even know my name.”
Miss Kor smiled briefly. “Of course I do. I overheard what that man called you – Captain Horus, I believe?”
“Set Horus,” Anakin added. “I . . .”
With a firm nod, Miss Kor said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Captain. Good night.” She freed herself from Anakin’s grip and disappeared into the night.
Anakin chuckled lightly to himself and shook his head in disbelief. It seemed that his meeting with his last client had led to another meeting with a new one. He wondered if meeting Thalia Kor and her brother would prove to be just as dangerous as smuggling Carsunum spice out of Sevarcos II.
The glittering lights of Coruscant twinkled outside of the Emperor’s private gymnasium. The two men inside the room barely noticed. They were busily engaged in an intense lightsaber duel.
Clutching his weapon, Darth Rasche exerted as much energy as he possibly could to overcome his Sith master. Despite his use of the Shien Form, he seemed incapable of defeating his opponent. Lord Sidious managed to parry every thrust he made. Rasche then decided to change tactics and express an exhaustion he did not fee. Sidious took that moment to execute a 180-degree turn and strike the Sith apprentice in the mid-section. Before the older man could strike, Rasche dropped to one knee and blocked the strike. Then he took advantage of his master’s surprise and knocked the latter’s lightsaber to the floor. Rasche proceeded to attack the unarmed man, but Sidious snatched up his weapon, using the Force, and parried Rasche’s attack just in time.
“Good!” the Sith Lord declared enthusiastically. “Excellent! Very clever of you to lure me into attacking you, Lord Rasche. May I assume that you have used similar tactics to defeat your recent opponent?” He smiled broadly, causing his deformed countenance to look even more hideous. When Rasche failed to disarm his weapon, Sidious added in a more sinister tone, “I suggest that you disarm your weapon, my Lord Rasche. Before you live to regret it.”
A hot flush crept into Rasche’s cheeks, as he switched off his lightsaber blade. “If you must know, I had used such a tactic to defeat Anjuli Nab. Nor do I see why I should have disarmed my weapon. I was simply tapping into my anger . . . as you have instructed me, time and again.”
“Your problem, my young apprentice, is that you allow your anger to get the best of you!” Sidious snapped. He turned away. “Yes, anger is the best way to tap into the Force. But it should be used as a tool. A weapon. A weapon kept in control by you. However, I have no need for you to indulge in your anger like some petulant and temperamental child. You were in danger of doing just that, Lord Rasche. Pray that it does not happen, again.”
The Sith Lord’s words burned into Rasche’s psyche. He wanted to re-activate his lightsaber and cut down his master. Let the old fool know that he had learned to use the Dark Side . . . and was ready to face Skywalker. But his earlier refusal to disarm his weapon had alerted Sidious. Rasche could sense the older man’s wariness. His anger barely under control, the young apprentice grumbled, “Will that be all, my Master?”
“Yes, you may be excused.” Sidious strode toward a single chair, where his robe laid.
Before he reached the double doors, a thought came to Rasche. He paused and whirled around. “I have one question, Master. When you talked of using anger as a weapon . . . is that what you had done with me? Used my anger to kill Jaren Tagge, last year?”
Sidious turned to give Rasche a subtle smile. “I see that you’re now beginning to finally understand, Lord Rasche. I commend you. Yes, I did exploit your anger. Senator Tagge had tried to take advantage of the newly formed Empire, through his family corporation. I needed your help to keep his family in check.”
His anger threatening to reassert itself, Rasche growled, “So, is that all I am to you? Merely a weapon and nothing else?”
“Yes . . . and no,” the Emperor murmured. “On one hand, you are a weapon, Lord Rasche. I will not deny it. After all, I needed a powerful apprentice to help me maintain order throughout the Empire. But you are also more than just a tool to me. You’re a comrade-in-arms. Together, we can bring about a new world. Ensure that the Sith will last for more than just a mere millennia.” The Sith Lord paused, while Rasche continued to regard him with a stony expression. Then he added with subtle malice, “May I remind you, my young apprentice, that you also regard me as a mere tool? After all, do you not require my help and the Empire’s resources to hunt down Skywalker? To exact vengeance upon him?”
Rasche stiffened. “Touche, Master. You have made your point. Now, if you will excuse me?” Again, he started toward the double doors. As it slid open, he nearly bumped into his master’s Umbrian aid, Sly Moore.
The Umbrian woman stopped short and bowed at Rasche before bowing even lower at the Emperor. “Pardon me, Your Highness.”
“Do you have news for me?” Palpatine demanded.
Sly Moore replied, “Actually . . .” She turned to Rasche. “. . . I have news for Lord Rasche. It is from Inquisitor Malorum.” She handed a data pad to the Sith apprentice.
Rasche scanned the pad. “Interesting,” he commented. “Apparently, over two weeks ago, Senator Solipo Yeb’s sister had booked passage aboard a space freighter bound for Corellia. And nearly an hour ago, the Inquisitorium had intercepted an encrypted message from Corellia . . .” He paused dramatically. “. . . to Alderaan.”
“Alderaan?” Palpatine frowned. “Bail Organa? That’s impossible. He has been one of my most loyal supporters.”
Rasche continued, “But he and Yeb were close colleagues in the Senate, Master. And there is the matter of Senator Organa’s presence at the Jedi Temple, last year. If Senator Yeb has reached his sister on Corellia, it is possible that he would contact Prince Organa.”
The Emperor took a deep breath. Rasche sensed that the older man seemed disturbed by the possibility that Organa might be a possible traitor. “Then you shall go to Alderaan, Lord Rasche. Question Organa about the message. And if you learn that he might be involved with Senator Yeb’s escape, then Alderaan shall share Andalia’s fate.”
“What about Yeb?” Rasche demanded. “Shall I search for him on Corellia?”
With a wave of his hand, Palpatine dismissed the idea. “No. Searching for some former senator amongst that piratical den on Corellia should not concern you. As my right hand, it is more befitting that you deal with Alderaan.”
Rasche bowed respectfully. “Yes, my Master.”
END OF CHAPTER TWO