Chapter XVI – The Hutt Hut
Late into the night, Khian pored over the complicated security plans and building schematics. He made a mental note to change Senator Amidala’s route to the podium again, just to shake things up.
Following her around was exactly as complicated as he thought it would have been. Her schedule was practically non-stop meetings in different buildings with different people across Coruscant. Every one of those meeting places had to be screened, the droids carefully searched for tampering or sabotage, and every one of the participants of the meetings painstakingly scanned, and in some cases, frisked.
Khian rather enjoyed the last part. The annoyed look on some bureaucrat’s face as he searched their personal droid or themselves yet again always made him smile. He noticed how it didn’t take too much to upset a diplomat or military official. Something as simple as running their digital tablets through an x-ray scanner could make them easily agitated and he was happy to oblige.
To date, he had found two different sets of explosives in his searches. One was hidden in the Senator’s transport on the way to a meeting with a military tribunal. Another was literally built into the table’s wood grain at a conference with three Galactic Senators. Even Khian was impressed at the creativity of these attempts on her life. He had tried some ingenious ways to kill people before, but explosives built in the grain of the wood? He had to try that himself some time.
Ever since he had won the job, Khian’s impression of the senator had changed. She was hardly the dainty, delicate figure that some female senators were. She was beyond beautiful, but her dedication to her job was also beyond admirable. She was determined to do everything she could to bring the truth into the light. Considering that her cause was against a monstrous cloning facility, Khian was as supportive as he could be.
After all, clones could be taking jobs away from good, honest killers.
A door closed behind him and he leaped out of his chair. His vibroblade, Alanna, flashed into his right hand and his blaster was at the ready in his left hand. He eyes locked on his target.
“Whoa, truce!” Padme yelled, her hands high in the air.
Khian allowed his muscles to relax and he put the blaster on the table. “You are way too stealthy to be a senator. It must be the slippers,” he laughed out loud.
“Yeah, I got these at the Lethal Politicians Emporium. Their motto is ‘We’ll talk you to death.’” Padme laughed along with him.
“What are you still doing up? After the marathon you had today, I would’ve thought you’d be all tuckered out,” Khian said, sliding Alanna back into the spring-loaded mechanism in his sleeve.
“I know. Meetings with representatives from Eriadu, Sullust, Telos, and Riflor all in one day! It’s draining, but necessary to get all the pieces to come together. If my theory is true, if what Illiana sent me is true, then the Outer Rim has a lot of explaining to do,” she said.
Padme sat down on the couch that was between them and closed her eyes for a moment. “You’ve been invaluable to me, Khian. Besides keeping me alive, you’re the only constant in the ever-changing world of politics. It’s incredibly soothing to have an anchor there for me,”
He sat down beside her. “Well it is an honor to weigh down such a beautiful boat,” he was staring at her now, he couldn’t help it. “I don’t know how you do it sometimes. You can say exactly the right thing at the right time and know when to say nothing at all.”
“Senator Bolet told me that silence can be louder than a pitched battle. Don’t sell yourself short, Khian. You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing, and doing it very well,” Padme’s eyes met his.
Silence filled the room as they looked at each other. Her eyes held the same fire they held in a debate with a Regent and they were just as mesmerizing as the flames. Her mouth grew into a smile and as his eyes locked on it.
Her eyes darted to where he kept Alanna and Khian fidgeted uneasily.
“You need your rest, senator. Your next press spectacle is approaching and I have no doubt that your constituents are dying to hear from you,” he stood up and went back to his table.
“Who was she?” Padme asked abruptly and Khian winced.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” he lied.
“Every time I smile, every time you look at me, every time we’re alone, you get close and then distance yourself. It’s clear to me that there was someone who was special to you once. Who was she?” She asked again.
“It’s not in my job description to indulge your every curiosity, senator. It’s time for you to rest now,” Khian said.
“Are you handling me?” Padme asked with a smirk on her face.
“I would never handle a senator…at least not while I’m on the clock,” Khian answered and he tore his eyes away from her and focused back on his security layout.
Padme conceded this round. “I feel like I’m back on Alderaan. My fellow congressional representatives are stonewalling me at every turn. Each meeting I hold reveals only a few answers, but more questions pop up after I leave,” she rubbed her temples.
“Maybe you’re taking the wrong approach. You’ve tried all the legitimate sources of information. Perhaps you tried something a little less dainty,” Khian grinned and Padme raised an eyebrow.
Anakin and Obi-Wan entered a large, square room. Three platforms spanned the length of this room, each one five meters higher than the last. There were gaps in-between the platforms as wide as two men, making it difficult to reach them. On the wall next to the one and only door were eight metallic objects that Anakin had seen before.
On the wall before him, were lightsabers.
“Master, what are we doing here?” Anakin asked. His heart gave a leap as Obi-Wan removed one of the lightsabers from the rack on the wall and ignited it. A green blade erupted and hummed in the air as Obi-Wan waved it around, testing its balance.
“Master Fisto showed you how it feels to be struck with a stunsaber. These are for training only, but I recall how Master Yoda once showed me how a blow to the head could be quite…uncomfortable,” Obi-Wan said.
Anakin selected a stunsaber from the rack and pulled it away from the wall. As he held his first weapon in his hands, he marveled at its construction. He had never been this close to one before and found it to be amazingly light, yet durable. He pressed a red button and a blue blade lit up before him. Anakin also waved his around, testing its balance and reach. He spun the blade around him a few times until he felt comfortable enough to face his master. Anakin gripped the blade in both hands and waited with tense muscles.
Obi-Wan smiled at him and motioned for Anakin to attack. Anakin accepted the challenge and swung right at Kenobi’s head. With incredible ease, he deflected Anakin’s blow and, half a heartbeat later, hit Anakin in his opposite arm.
Pain shot through Anakin’s lower arm and he quickly backed away. Obi-Wan also backed away, but kept his blade raised defensively.
“Going for someone’s head on the first swing is too obvious. Your legs told me where you were going to swing before you even moved your blade. Try again, but remember control, focus, and discipline. Don’t just swing wildly…” but Anakin was already on the move.
He moved right, and then hacked at Obi-Wan’s left side. Kenobi blocked it, but had to move back to do so. Anakin advanced and wildly chopped again and again and each time Obi-Wan had to retreat further and further. Anakin sensed victory was at hand as Obi-Wan reached the end of the platform and darkness threatened him from beyond the edge. Anakin feinted and attacked again, but when his blade was supposed to finally strike home, Obi-Wan was no longer there.
He had flipped himself up and over Anakin and now stood behind him. Anakin’s mouth was wide open, but not for long as Obi-Wan lashed out with his stunsaber again and caught Anakin in the middle of his back. The blow caused Anakin to drop to one knee and the wind almost rushed out of him.
“Better,” Obi-Wan judged. “You’re using the art of deception, but the Force will always be superior. You have to stop relying on your senses, Anakin. The physical sensation is just one you can experience. The Force can guide you if you let go of the fear and the doubt. Use the Force, feel it flow through you, let the Force become one with you and your understanding of it will enable you to do incredible things. And stop gripping the stunsaber so tightly. I promise it won’t fall out of your hand anytime soon.”
Obi-Wan prepared himself as Anakin slowly got to his feet and spun the stunsaber a few more times to get his feeling and rhythm back. He brought the blade up, but hesitated. Before he began his attack, Anakin closed his eyes and stretched out with the Force. Patiently, he waited until he could focus the Force within him, just as instructed. His senses heightened, Anakin could feel the very air around them alive with energy. He felt himself calm down, his emotions dulled, and a feeling of peace focused his mind. Anakin opened his eyes and attacked again.
Blows rained down upon Obi-Wan Kenobi from all sides now. He retreated hard and fast, deflecting and parrying swing after swing. Anakin’s face did not break into a grin. He did not focus on the joy of the moment. He simply focused his determination and continued the attack, trying to find a weakness. His attacks were faster than ever before, his blade blurring with speed as he felt the Force guide his actions.
Then Obi-Wan counter-attacked.
Anakin nearly stumbled and fell over as Obi-Wan switched from defense to offense in the blink of an eye. Instantly, Anakin was desperate to fend off another blow that would leave his body stinging.
“Don’t lose your focus! Keep your emotions in check and don’t let fear take you!” Obi-Wan yelled to him and continued his advance, but he could not land another blow on Anakin.
Anakin’s focus suppressed his emotions and the fear melted away from him. Suddenly, he could see everything so clearly. Obi-Wan’s attack was simple, slow, and ineffective. Anakin’s blade began to move faster to ward off the blows and everything was sharper in his mind’s eye. Allowing the Force to guide him, Anakin switched back to the offense and in a flurry of swings, hit Obi-Wan once on his off arm.
Anakin stopped the attack, stunned at what he had accomplished. Kenobi seemed unfazed by the blow, but jumped onto the next platform. He stood five meters above Anakin and smiled down at him.
“If you want more, you’ll have to come up here to get it,” he taunted.
Anakin was dumbfounded. Levitating a chair was one thing, but levitating yourself? He paced back and forth for a moment, and then decided to just let it all go. He had saved Padme’s life, he survived an attack from Republic Commandos, and he had been accepted by the Jedi Council. If he was going to be the single greatest Jedi Knight in all of recorded history, then it was going to begin right here.
Before attempting to throw his body up an incredible height, Anakin thought it would be wise if he turned the stunsaber off. He walked up to the edge of the platform, looked up at Obi-Wan, and closed his eyes. As he reached out with the Force, Anakin felt that sense of focus return and he calmed himself. He concentrated on his own body and the Force that surrounded him. Anakin took a deep breath and leaped into the air.
He almost made it.
“Khian, are you sure this is safe?” Padme asked with a hint of alarm in her voice. Khian had brought her down to a sub-level of the City of Spires that from her lofty balcony overlooking the city, she never knew existed.
Padme could see the advantage of conducting less-than-legitimate activities down in the depths of the city. The sun was constantly blocked by the starscrapers that towered above them and the artificial illumination was somewhat lacking. As they passed a pair of rough looking Twi’leks carrying a large bag that was moaning in agony, Padme moved a little closer to her protector.
“Of course this place isn’t safe. I wouldn’t bring my mother down here if you put a blaster to my head,” Khian said. Seeing the shocked expression on Padme’s face, he corrected himself. “But I’m sure times have changed since the last time I was walking down on this level,” Padme pulled the hood of her cloak a little tighter as Khian led them to their destination.
The Hutt Hut had to be the smallest and darkest excuse for a bar on Coruscant. This seemed to be the ideal place to get away from it all, especially if “it” was the local authorities. Khian moved in front of her, but never moved more than an arm’s reach away as they naviagated around the bar.
A squat and brooding Rodian pulled on Padme’s arm, stopping her from moving on.
“We rarely get such a lovely creature like you down here,” the Rodian smacked his lips, his lisp very audible as he spoke Basic to her. “Why don’t you have a drink with me and my friends?”
“I think the lady has other plans,” Khian had reappeared at her side in an instant, one hand on her arm.
“No one asked you. Back off before my blaster tells your eulogy for you,” the Rodian hissed at him, patting a large pistol at his side.
Khian’s vibroblade, Alanna, flashed out from his sleeve and was pressed lightly against the Rodian’s throat. “You should stop thinking about eulogies unless you want to write your own.”
The Rodian locked eyes with Khian for just a moment and then turned back to his drink, muttering to himself. Padme breathed a sigh of relief, but Khian quickly kept her on the move. They continued going through the bar until they came to a booth in the corner. The padding was ripped in numerous places and she could see several scorch marks from leftover exchanges of blaster fire. There was a holo-sign on the table that said “Reserved”.
Khian sat down, pulling Padme down to the table with him and turning off the holo-sign.
“Don’t make a move, don’t speak, don’t start a petition, don’t offer an amendment, and don’t do anything to draw attention to us. You’re in my world now and I think you’ve seen how much fun you can have without your precious Jedi around. Just sit back and enjoy the local fare that your humble constituents have to offer,” Khian said as a small service droid approached.
“My friend and I will try menu number forty-two,” Khian told the droid.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the menu only goes up to forty-one items,” the droid replied.
“Please tell the chef that we’ll take two number forty-two’s,” Khian repeated.
“Very good, sir,” the droid replied and shuffled off through a door to a back room.
Padme checked the menu options again and looked skeptically at Khian.
Before he could reply, a tall Kel-Dorian walked out of the back room the droid had gone into and quickly sat down next to them. The Kel-Dorian had a nasty scar that ran along his entire jawline and looked very badly stitched. The bright white eyes glinted with anger. No one said a word for a moment, and then he reached over the table and punched Khian in the jaw.
Khian’s head shook violently with the force of the blow, but he did not fall over. “Is this the man who traded scars with me to seal a pact with the Kaleesh all those years ago?”
“Traded scars?” Padme asked and looked at Khian. He fingered the scar that ran above and below his left eye and, while still looking at her, quickly punched their host twice before she could flinch.
The Kel-Dorian’s head hit the back of the booth and his hardened expression melted into a smile. “My judgment has been wrong before, though,” he rubbed his jaw slowly.
“It’s been a long time, Korro. I would enjoy sitting here telling you what a pompous, money-grubbing, slow-on-the-draw loser you are, but I’m not here to reminisce about the good times,” Khian said.
“The good times? Do you mean that shell game involving the thermal detonator? Are you talking about the three meter tall Whipid prostitute on Coronet City?” Korro roared with laughter.
Padme raised an eyebrow and Khian shifted in his seat.
“We’re not here so you can embarrass me. This young lady has a few questions and I expect you to at least pretend you have some manners,” Khian said.
“You must mean that Senator Padme Amidala needs information and you’re showing off to her. I never thought I’d see you running around with a skirt again after what happened Ord Mantell.” Korro let out a hearty laugh at seeing Padme’s expression. “Don’t be so surprised Senator, I still have my finger on the pulse of Coruscant. Now what brings you to my humble establishment?” Korro asked.
“You’re on,” Khian said with a wave of his hand.
“Esteemed sir,” she began as she pulled her hood back, “the clones that I discovered seem to be just the tip of the iceberg. It is my sworn duty to seek out the truth and I believe that my investigation is close to uncovering that truth,” Korro immediately shook his head.
“Does she always enjoy hearing herself speak?” he mused.
“Hear her out, Korro. I listened to her and I think you should too,” Khian said and gave Padme a look of encouragement.
Korro shrugged and sat back as Padme continued. “Sir, the Republic needs help. I need to discuss the source of these clones with you. Now, my exhaustive research has led me to believe that the clones may inhabit as many as four worlds including Alderaan. I beseech you…” But Korro stopped her with a wave of his hand.
“Is she serious?” Korro asked Khian. “Listen little girl, I am not an ‘esteemed sir’ nor can you ‘beseech’ me for much of anything, at least not in public. I am not running for re-election and my love for Coruscant stops at my bar and making sure the place doesn’t get busted up more than once a night. Now, what else have you got?”
Padme’s face fell in desperation. Here was someone she couldn’t communicate with. He was crude, boorish, and didn’t care about her struggle at all. How do you get through to such a person? With a final shrug of his shoulders, Korro started to get up.
With quick movements, Khian jumped from his seat, twisted one of Korro’s arms behind his back, and slammed him face first into the table. Korro tried to struggle, but Khian’s grip was too strong.
“You were always clumsy, my old friend. Now you’ve gone and slipped on the floor and landed very awkwardly,” Khian half yelled to the patrons of the bar who turned to look at the disturbance.
Then his voice lowered, “Now listen to me. We go way back, but you know I will not hesitate to crack your neck and take my chances with your pathetic excuse for a lookout sitting three tables over. You know, I know, and I bet he knows that she and I will walk out of here while the two of you will be med-evaced to the nearest medical quadrant,” Khian growled.
“You have your finger on the pulse of Coruscant? Why don’t you practice a little customer service and tell us what we want to know before I become even more agitated?” Khian relaxed his grip and they both sat back down at the table.
“I’m sure diplomacy is fabulous, but not everyone understands bureaucrat-speak,” Khian winked at Padme.
Korro rubbed his eye where it had hit the table. “Well, the pulse hasn’t said very much lately. But what it has been talking about has been pretty interesting. I would say the information that comes my way has been downright shocking. One could say that what comes my way has…” Korro droned on until Padme had heard enough. She recognized stall tactics when she heard them.
Khian began to slide a few credit chips across the table. Before he got more than halfway, Padme placed her hand on his to stop him.
“I’m an elected official, I don’t sink so low as to bribe the owner of a bar,” Padme said without removing her hand.
“Ah, a lover’s quarrel. If you don’t feel like paying me for my services then we aren’t speaking the same language,” Korro said and crossed his arms.
“Then let me speak in a language you can clearly understand. If this cloning abomination is as widespread as I think it is, then the Republic could fall into chaos. Let me be very clear, I may not have a lot of clout as a Planetary Senator, but I do have friends and if I think for a split second that you’re holding out on me, I will have the Republic Ministry for Health and Sanitation down here every single day and put such a stranglehold on your business that you won’t be able to serve Jawa Juice to school children,” Padme’s steely gaze was fixed on Korro.
They locked eyes for a moment, then Korro’s expression softened. “Fine, but are you two going to plan the wedding while I talk?” Korro glanced down and Padme realized that her hand was still on Khian’s. They exchanged glances and quickly separated, but Padme couldn’t help but blush.
“Why don’t we head somewhere more private? I have an office in the back that’s a little more secure than a booth,” he suggested.
With Korro leading the way, the three pushed their way through the crowd and through the double doors back into the kitchen. Padme had to watch her step as they worked their way through the narrow area with small droids scurrying around her knees. They stopped at a steel door that led to a small room with meager furniture.
“Okay, can we talk now?” Padme asked.
“Not until we get to my office,” Korro replied.
“But this…” Padme began.
“This is the office I show your precious RMHS,” Korro smiled. He reached over to a panel on the wall that controlled the lighting, sound, and other environmental factors in the bar. He turned the knob labeled “Smoke Screen” to eleven and then sat down in his chair. After a few seconds, there was an audible click and the back wall of his office slid open to reveal Korro’s true occupation.
They stepped into a room that would have easily held two of The Hutt Hut, and Padme gasped in shock. She looked around and saw jars and containers of all shapes and sizes on shelves running the entire length of the room. The contents of the jars were hidden behind opaque paper.
“You’re a glitterstim dealer?” she asked in horror.
“What? This?” Korro asked looking around the room as if for the first time. “Yeah, glitterstim is one of my various enterprises. I’m just waiting for the price to go back up before selling it. I also traffick in cybernetic limbs, slicer tools, anything to make me a few credits,” Korro explained as the door closed and sealed behind them.
Padme hesistated. Dealing with someone who was the owner of a seedy bar filled with the scum of the galaxy was one thing. Dealing with someone who sold illegal spice, cyborg spare parts, and who knows what else was crossing a line.
“It’s either you talk to him or we may never know the truth. This is the ultimate shortcut to your diplomatic ways that could take years to learn what he has to say in a few minutes. Bend just a little on this one, Padme. This could break things wide open,” Khian whispered.
“I don’t enjoy a comfortable lifestyle running that dive. I traffick in anything that will make me a tidy profit, including information you require. Now, it just so happens that I stumbled upon a few Spaarti Cylinders not too long after Khian and I left Bilbringi. I was approached by a buyer about three years ago who wanted to take these relics off of my hands and so I sold all him all 120,000,” Korro looked quite proud of himself.
“120,000?” Padme and Khian said together. “Where in the stars did you get such a collection?” Khian asked.
“I’ve never been the one to kiss and tell,” Korro replied. “I didn’t even have to offer my usual ten percent discount after my twenty percent mark-up. The man paid with Republic credits and offered a handsome bonus if I could deliver them to their destinations on time,” the grin on Korro’s face widened.
“And who was this generous benefactor who paid you?” Khian asked.
“I’m so proud that I’ll give you that for free,” Korro said. “Tethys Aran contacted me personally to close the deal. Can you imagine? THE Tethys Aran!”
“Korro, please tell me you kept records of where those cylinders were going,” Khian said.
“Do you really think that if I sell technology that has been banned for over sixty years, I would keep a database of their destinations? Next you’ll want serial numbers, the combination to my safe, and my shoe size!” Korro said in a sarcastic tone.
Padme slammed her fist against a wall and several of the jars wobbled. “I know that this atrocity has spread beyond my star system and infected several others. Now I want the names of the systems Tethys Aran sent those cylinders to!” Padme said.
“All one hundred and twelve of them?” Korro asked.
Padme Amidala waited patiently outside Senator Palpatine’s office. The digital tablet she was clutching in her hand shook slightly as she began to pace back and forth in the richly anointed hallway. Khian sat on a couch, his hands folded behind his head.
Felic sat at his desk a few feet away, eyeing his briefcase.
“Padme, enough already. We arrived early for a reason, remember? Expecting a Galactic Senator to be on time is like expecting a Jedi to crack a joke,” he closed his eyes and leaned back.
Felic’s hands molded into fists at the insult.
“My whole life has been building to this moment. Senator Palpatine will read this report and know the full devastation that has been brought upon every citizen in the Republic,” Padme said.
“Why is it that every time a politician opens her mouth, they have to make a grand speech?” Khian chided.
Padme glared at him, but before she could come up with a response or find something to throw at him, the door opened. Senator Palpatine emerged from his office laughing with four other men.
“Ah good, Senator Amidala, I must apologize; it’s never good to keep a lady waiting. Senator, I believe you already met Supreme Chancellor Valorum, but this is Grand Judge Vixt of the Supreme Court, Vice Marshal Namoth of the Republic Navy, and Tarvis Incom, CEO of the INCOM Corporation,” Palpatine gestured to the four men he had been laughing with.
“Senator, I’ve heard wonderful things about you from my friend,” Chancellor Valorum looked down at her with kind eyes, like a doting grandfather. Behind them, Felic shook his head in disgust.
“We must spend some time together. There is a Galactic Election coming up and I think we will see more of you in the future,” the Chancellor continued.
Felic nearly dropped his briefcase at the notion.
Padme blushed as she shook his hand. “Actually sir, if you have just a few extra moments, I believe that you too should hear what I have discovered. What I’ve learned could have incredible repercussions.”
“Oh?” He asked and thought for a moment before walking back into Palpatine’s office. “I believe I can spare a little time to hear something that may alter the fundamentals of the Republic,” he smiled at her as he winked at Palpatine.
The other dignitaries said their goodbyes and headed to the turbolift as Palpatine walked back into his office and motioned for them to follow. Supreme Chancellor Valorum sat down across from the Galactic Senator as Padme and Khian followed.
Senator Palpatine motioned to the chairs in front of his large obsidian desk. Felic helped everyone to their seats and put Padme as far from Senator Palpatine as possible.
“Your message said it was quite urgent that you meet with me. I trust you have some good news?” Palpatine sat down while Felic opened up his briefcase. His eyes lingered on the blaster pistol before he pulled out a pad of paper and began taking notes.
Khian instinctively looked around the room, making sure it was secure while Padme told them everything Korro had revealed. She relayed every shocking detail, every stunning revelation while her audience remained silent and attentive. She made sure to leave out a few of the more colorful details regarding Korro’s various occupations. It was the Chancellor who spoke first when she had finished.
“So you’re quite sure about the validity of your source? For such outlandish accusations, he has to be an ironclad source,” he said.
“The information couldn’t have been from a better source if it had come from your own mother,” Khian said, slightly offended.
The Chancellor and Padme shot Khian a warning look. “Be that as it may. You are saying you want to go before the assembled Senate and accuse one hundred and twelve star systems of cloning on the word of a bar owner. Did he also tell you who arranged this? Where the funding is coming from? Are Outer Rim systems planning a war against us? Which systems? When? Is this a splinter group or are actual Heads of State planning a civil war? Senator Palpatine, you understand that the people of the Republic will not accept this at face value,” he looked at the Galactic Senator who had remained silent.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Padme interrupted. “But I am only one person. I was lucky enough to get this far.”
“And yet you have come quite far on your own,” Palpatine said. “You have brought us the beginnings of a possible insurrection.”
“Senator Palpatine, are you saying this investigation could lead to rebellion? I knew there would be further protests like the ones we’ve already seen, but outright violence? A civil war?” Padme asked.
“Senator, if over one hundred star systems are cloning soldiers, I think a rebellion is already beyond the planning stages. I promise you, we will do everything we can to avoid violence and keep peace in the Republic. If we let diplomacy run its course, I think the Republic will survive,” Palpatine said.
Why not go to the Galactic Senate now and expose what we already know?” Padme asked.
“I believe Senator Palpatine would agree with me in saying that we are not prepared for that,” Chancellor Valorum said.
“You are correct, Chancellor. The word of this nefarious character is not enough to go to the Senate,” Palpatine pressed his fingertips together in thought.
Padme rose and began to pace up and down the room. “Chancellor, Senator, it has been made very clear that this is more than just one world’s squabbles. There is no doubt in my mind that we are looking at something will threaten to tear the Republic apart unless we move to stop it here and now. We must act!”
“Very well, because you insist on not listening to the Supreme Chancellor, I will arrange an audience with the Senate immediately. Of course, you brought documentation to back up Korro’s claims? I’m sure the Senate will ask to see the information he gave you that includes timetables, record books, logistical logs, strategic and tactical plans along with financial transactions for all one hundred and twelve star systems detailing the number of cloned troops, starships, attack tanks, and battle-cruisers we will be dealing with?” Palpatine asked.
“Well no, not exactly,” Padme conceded.
“Then you want to accuse one hundred and twelve members of the Galactic Republic of high treason with nothing to back it up! This is the height of absurdity,” Valorum was on his feet now, placing his hands on his desk and leaning forward.
Felic was beaming at the Chancellor.
“Then we must find the answers. We must search out the truth, no matter what!” Padme placed her hands on the desk and stared at the Chancellor.
Supreme Chancellor Valorum smiled, but did not blink or move. In a heartbeat, she knew that she had been maneuvered exactly where the Chancellor wanted her to go.
“So you’re saying we need an emissary to go to the Outer Rim and seek out the truth, ‘no matter what’,” the Chancellor backed away from the table and turned to stare out his window.
“Senator Amidala, you are hereby charged with this critical task. You will go to the Outer Rim and further your investigation and see just how damaging the truth might be to the peace and security of the Galactic Republic,” he said.
“Who, me?” Padme sputtered as Khian put his face in his hands.
Felic’s eyes lit up at this opportunity. He began writing out her itinerary.
“Who better to go to the Outer Rim to determine the nature of the threat you are telling us exists?” Senator Palpatine said.
“Please be very careful when you go, Senator. I fear these attacks against you may increase when you leave the safety of the City of Spires. You will become a very important voice against any world producing a clone army,” he warned.
“I’ve got her covered, Senator. She couldn’t be in better hands if she had a battalion of wookies watching her day and night,” Khian said.
“Excellent. I’m glad to see she’s in such capable hands,” Palpatine said.
“I have all the faith in the world in Khian, but if I’m going to be part of this task force, perhaps some added security should be in order? I think I should send a request to the Jedi Order and ask that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker join my security detail,” Padme said and Palpatine’s face fell.
“Senator, you hired this man at your own request. You admitted that he is doing an outstanding job, why ask for more? The Jedi will only get in your way,” Palpatine protested.
“I don’t believe that’s true, sir. Khian has convinced me that the threats against me are credible enough to warrant the added protection. Also, Obi-Wan and Anakin know more about this than any other bodyguard I could bring on. Many hands make for light work,” Padme seemed determined.
“Very well, senator. I endorse any steps you will take to ensure your safety,” Palpatine surrendered.
“Senator Palpatine, Chancellor Valorum, where am I supposed to begin? There are one hundred and twenty seven Galactic Sectors in the Outer Rim. That comes to nearly sixteen hundred star systems!” Padme said.
“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to investigate?” Palpatine asked.
“They must be moved.”
“I don’t understand. My team is making tremendous progress now that we have this material I acquired. The reports I’ve been sending should show you how the embryos are progressing since you dispatched our latest batch of clones,” Major Issic responded.
“Your team has provided seventy-two trillion DNA strands of a more superior quality. Yet the number of successful clones stands in the single digits. I have received reports showing a disgraceful success/failure ratio,” Darth Maul replied.
Major Issic shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “My Lord, we’ve made strides over the past few weeks that have led us in amazing new directions. I really do believe we’re close to a breakthrough that will lead to mass production.”
“They must be moved.”
“My Lord, this identity, this installation, it all cost me a fortune. Some of my inheritance went toward this. I was hoping to get more out of my investment,” Major Issic protested.
Darth Maul’s eyes turned cold. His stare penetrated from the viewscreen across the room into Major Issic.
“Money? You are concerned about money? You have strayed too far if material needs are your motivation. Perhaps you are not as worthy as I first believed,” Darth Maul said.
“I apologize, my Lord. We are just so close to achieving our goals. Once my team completes this project, then I’ll finally…”
“If they complete the project. My patience is wearing thin, Ethan. Move the team to Cerea. The end is near and I need the team there to complete the implication to the Outer Rim. They must be moved,” Darth Maul repeated before ending the transmission.
“They will be moved,” Major Issic affirmed.
A total of eight shuttles and two larger transports descended from the large freighter were now cast in a red glow from the nearby dwarf star. Like seeds being blown from a flower, they soared away from the craft and breached the planet’s atmosphere.
“Ground control to Shuttle One. We have you on our scanners now, continue your approach on the designated flight path. Welcome back to Cerea, Lord Aelion,” the loudspeaker crackled.
“Lord Aelion?” Doctor Billicks raised an raised eyebrow.
“Not now, Billicks. I got you a facility that completely surpasses anything this team has ever had, just as you requested,” Major Issic said.
“Well that would be a pleasant change from the junk you’ve been giving us,” Doctor Billicks needled.
Major Issic ignored the comment. He decided that a better use of his time and effort would be on landing the craft on a planet that had no landing beacons, no guidance assistance, or nothing to help their heads-up display as they decelerated to a crawl of only nine hundred kph.
From behind him, Major Issic heard “oohs” and “aahs” as the shuttles lined up to land in their new facility. He banked slightly to give them a better view of their new home.
The shuttle practically hummed with excitement when they saw the metallic lined opening built into the mountain. The gaping maw was perfectly round and had a landing ramp that extended out to welcome the shuttles and transports. To see this shiny beacon of technology surrounded by the lush forest and sheer cliffs of the mountain made for an incredible contradiction.
“Hold on to something. This landing can be rather difficult,” the Major double checked his safety harness.
“If the landing is anything like your…” Doctor Billicks was jolted out of his seat.
Major Issic brought the shuttle to with only a few feet of the ground. His hand shoved the accelerator back and the shuttle slowed from nine hundred kph to only fifty kph in a handful of seconds.
The shuttle picked its nose up slightly as it breached the entrance and the shuttle came to a complete stop. Every light, every instrument, even the engines shut off instantly. The shuttle dropped to the floor with a thud.
“What the hell was that?” Doctor Billicks asked, looking up from the floor.
“We had to install a powerful dampening field that lines the mountain’s shape. It blocks ninety-eight percent of all power emanations so this facility stays hidden from all but the most determined of scans. It also has the side effect of temporarily neutralizing all electronics that enter it,” Major Issic unstrapped himself from the shuttle.
“That’s grand,” Doctor Billicks mumbled, rubbing his neck.
A group of crewmen began unloading the shuttles. The sixty-four scientists stepped out and stretched. Major Issic put a hand on Doctor Billick’s shoulder.
“Doctor, before you get settled in, I want to discuss a special project with you.”