"CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE"
WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL
The still figure inside the hotel bedroom sat in front of his bed, cross-legged. Several yards to his left, fresh air from the open balcony breezed into the room and ruffled his hair. The figure barely noticed, for he was deep into meditation.
Anakin had usually tried to refrain from meditating or using his Force abilities in regions of space close to the Core World and Corsucant. In case the Emperor or Darth Rasche sensed his presence. But he badly needed this meditation session. Especially after the emotional turmoil of last night.
Encountering Ferus Olin had been bad enough. The chilly reunion brought back memories of his years with the Jedi Order. Years that he did not regard with any true happiness, if he must be honest. But the real turmoil came from his feelings regarding Senator Dahlma’s aide, Igraine Colbert. Upon their return to the hotel last night, Anakin and Igraine had kissed for the last time. The kiss made him realize that he might truly be falling in love for the second time in his life. And this feeling happened to be something that Anakin truly feared. Emotional attachment – especially of the romantic variety – might result in the re-emergence of Darth Vader.
Slowly, Anakin breathed in and out, as he attempted to distance himself from his physical surroundings and open up to the Force. In and out, he continued to breathe. Anakin allowed his mind to quiet until he could no longer sense his presence inside the bedroom. Instead, he became dimly aware of the Force. The life energy soon engulfed him and filled him with light and truth. Anakin became so caught up in his meditation that he felt as if he had embarked upon a journey into another realm. One where . . .
The strong presence struck the former Jedi with great force. It happened to be a presence he had not felt in years. And it certainly did not belong to Ferus Olin. Anakin’s eyes flew open. Had he just . . . sensed the presence of his former colleague, Romulus Wort? Here on Ord Mantell?
The comlink on the night table crackled. “Anakin?” The voice belonged to Han. “Are you there? Wake up, buddy! I’ve got some bad news.”
Anakin rose to his feet and snatched the comlinkk from the table. “Yeah, Han. It’s me. You said something about bad news?”
“The Empire is here. I had spotted at least three Imperial shuttles landing somewhere in the city.”
In other words, Romulus aka Darth Rasche had arrived on Ord Mantell. Fighting back a sense of dread, Anakin replied, “I think I have even worse news. Lord Rasche might be here. I had sensed him. Why don’t you find Chewbacca and get the Hawk ready. I’ll summon Senator Dahlma.”
Han said in a hesitant voice, “Uh . . . Chewie is with me. Right now.”
Which meant that the Wookie had overheard Han use his real name. Not good, Anakin thought. “Oh. Well . . . okay.” He sighed. “I’ll meet you two at the hangar as soon as possible.” He hesitated. “Anakin out.”
The moment he switched off his comlink, Anakin set about donning his boots and jacket. Then he gathered his and Han’s belongings and stuffed them into the two traveling bags. Anakin finally left the suite and made his way to the one occupied by the two Maldarian women.
“Set?” A slightly disheveled Igraine stood in the suite’s doorway. She tugged at her pale rose dressing gown. “What’s wrong? Why are you carrying your traveling bags?”
Without waiting for an invitation, Anakin entered the senator’s suite. “You and Senator Dahlma need to get dressed and packed, Igraine. We have a problem.”
Senator Dahlma entered the suite’s living room. “What is going on?” she demanded. Like Igraine, she wore a dressing gown. Her gaze focused upon the two travel bags that hung from Anakin’s shoulders. “Why are you packed?”
Calmly, Anakin revealed Han’s news about the arrival of Imperial troops. The faces of both women paled, as he dumped the duffle bags on the floor. “Senator, I need you and Igraine to get dressed and pack your bags as quickly as possible. Nothing elaborate. I will go downstairs and check us out. And I will need your credit chip.”
Alarm flickered in Senator Dahlma’s dark eyes. “Wait a minute. This is rather sud . . .”
“Please Senator! This is not the time to argue! I need your credit chip. Now!”
Very reluctantly, the senator walked back to her bedroom. She returned to the doorway and handed Anakin her credit chip. “Igraine and I shall be ready. Hopefully, before you return.”
Anakin stared at the senator. He could sense her reluctance . . . and suspicion. “Don’t worry Senator,” he added sardonically. “If I had wanted to betray you, I would have left without saying a word.” He flashed a reassuring smile at Igraine, turned away from the two women and quickly made his way along the corridor.
Padme reached for her glass of Jawa juice and took a sip. Longing for some peace and quiet before the morning session, she had decided to eat her morning meal in the privacy of her suite. She reached for the remote to switch on the room’s holovid screen. Only nothing happened.
“R-2?” The astromech droid beeped several times. Padme added, “Could you do something about this holovid? I want to watch the news.”
More beeps followed before the droid rolled toward the holovid screen. Padme continued to eat her breakfast, as she watched R-2 insert his interface arm into the suite’s monitor/control panel. Seconds passed before a masculine voice reverberated throughout the suite’s main room:
”This is the Imperial shuttle, Rancon, conveying Lord Rasche to Worlport. We request permission to land on the first available landing pad.”
Another voice hesitated before it replied, ”Permission granted. Welcome to Worlport.”
R-2 beeped several times, as his interface arm rotated the circular panel once more. Finally, an image appeared on the holvid screen. Padme ignored it. She felt too stunned by the audio message she had just overheard. Palpatine’s apprentice . . . here on Ord Mantell? Had the Sith finally managed to track her down? Or were they after someone else? One of her Rebel colleagues? Although Padme did not know the answers to her questions, she realized that the time to leave Ord Mantell had arrived. But first, she need to contact Bail and Voranda.
“I want patrols to search every hotel for Senator Dahlma and her aide, Igraine Colbert,” Lord Rasche barked at his two company commanders. “And arrest anyone who has been seen in their company.” The Sith Lord and the two Imperial officers stood inside the Imperial liaison’s office in Worlport. Although the Empire did not harbor a strong presence in this particular system, it had managed to create a liaison office in Ord Mantell’s capital city.
The two officers nodded. “Yes, my Lord.” And they quickly left the office.
Rasche turned to the Imperial liaison, Kalen Tom. “Have there been any reports of large gatherings at any of the hotels, or other public buildings in the past two days?”
Looking slightly apologetic, the tall and swarthy man replied, “My Lord, Ord Mantell is a haven for smugglers and such. The citizens here do not . . . keep records of such meetings. At least not on a regular basis. The most extensive record you would find are the guests at the hotels and the starships that arrive at the spaceports of all the major cities and resorts. And even their records are not completely concise.”
As much as he hated to admit it, Rasche realized that the liaison officer had spoken the truth. Upon his arrival in Worlport, he had learned that no Corellian starship named the Javian Hawk had been reported to the port master. Either Mako Spince had lied, or the ship’s pilot had reported its arrival under a false name.
Loud voices interrupted the Sith Lord’s thoughts. He glanced to his right and saw two stormtroopers drag a blond woman into the office. “Let go of me!” the woman cried, as she struggled to free herself. “I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“What is this?” Rasche demanded.
One of the stormtroopers answered, “This woman was found with several grenades, Lord Rasche. Concussion grenades.” He released his grip on the woman and held out a duffel bag. The trooper opened the bag and spilled the contents on Tom’s desk.
“Interesting,” the Sith Lord murmured. He shifted his gaze to the blond woman. “It seems we have a terrorist on our hands. Where did you find her?”
The stormtrooper replied, “At the city’s spaceport.”
Slowly, Rasche approached the restrained woman. “Who are you? Where is your identification? And what exactly were you planning to do with those grenades?”
The woman glared. “Nothing! It’s . . . personal. They have nothing to do with you.”
Deep blue eyes widened in fear. “It’s . . . uh . . . nothing. Just personal,” the woman insisted. Rasche took a menacing step toward her. She quailed in fear. “All right! If you must know, I wanted revenge. I . . .” A heavy sigh left her mouth. “I had a . . . a little brush with the law, yesterday. Me and my friends.” The woman revealed an attempted mugging that resulted in the deaths of her colleagues at the hands of a spacer.
“So you were telling the truth about getting revenge,” Rasche replied sardonically. “I would say that your friends got what they had deserved.” He then ordered the stormtroopers to escort the woman to the local authorities. As one of the troopers grabbed the woman’s arm, the Sith Lord added, “One last question – have you seen this woman?” He held out a small holographic projector and clicked it on. A holographic image of Senator Dahlma appeared.
The woman answered morosely, “No, I haven’t.”
Rasche bit back his disappointment. “What about this woman? Have you seen her?” The projector now displayed Igraine Colbert’s image. To his surprise, the woman’s eyes glimmered with recognition. But she remained silent. It did not matter. Rasche knew the truth. “You have seen her,” he insisted. “I can sense it.”
“I . . .” The woman hesitated. “Well . . . yeah. She’s the . . . she’s the woman we . . . I mean, my friends tried to . . . mug her. Some spacer came to her rescue.” She paused before adding, “I think they had known each other. In fact, I think she was a passenger of his.”
“And how did you come to this conclusion?”
The woman’s face turned pink. “Because I had spotted them last night. And I followed them.”
Realizing that the woman may have spoken of the pilot hired by Senator Dahlma, Rasche continued his interrogation. “Followed them . . . to where?”
A crafty expression appeared on the woman’s face. “I’ll tell you . . . for a favor.”
Rasche coldly retorted, “The only favor you will receive from me is your life. Now where did Miss Colbert and this pilot go?”
Fear widened the woman’s eyes even further. “To the spaceport,” she finally answered. “The spacer’s ship is located inside a hangar on Volange Street. It’s a Corellian freighter.”
Triumphant, Rasche turned to Kalen Tom. “A Corellian freighter had been seen leaving Maldare, two days ago.”
The stormtrooper holding the woman interrupted. “Lord Rasche, what about the prisoner?”
Rasche coolly gazed at the trembling woman. “Turn her over to the authorities. If her information proves to be correct, I will order her release.” The stormtroopers dragged the woman out of the office.
“You will finally have Senator Dahlma, my Lord,” Tom declared. “Too bad the prisoner did not know which hotel the senator was staying.”
A triumphant smile touched Rasche’s lips. “Don’t worry. As soon as this pilot returns to his ship, I’ll arrest him. And he will lead me to the good senator.”
END OF CHAPTER FIFTEEN