Star Wars Episode I: Awakening
His boots echoed down the hallway as he counted the number of doors until he arrived at his destination. The satchel that hung loosely from his shoulder bumped into his side in rhythm with his precise pace and stride. Courtesy dictates that he press the door chime before entering.
Today was not a day for courtesy.
The door opened to reveal a baby-faced enlisted man who couldn’t have been out of the Republic Institute for Military Excellence more than a few months. He was sitting at a desk tapping his fingers in rhythm to music that was playing from a speaker.
“Whatcha need?” the young man asked without looking up.
“I need your next of kin’s location so I can ship them your remains,” the officer replied.
The color drained from the enlisted man’s face before he shot to his feet.
“I’m sorry, Major, we had no idea you were coming down to this facility until…” the Able Crewman blubbered.
“Do you not understand the term ‘change of command? Perhaps some field experience in the Outer Rim would suit you better, AC…?” the major asked.
The Able Crewman’s face went white. “AC Retera, sir,” the young man gulped as he allowed the Major to enter.
“Place your thumbprint here to signify that I arrived and began the inspection of my facility before you tell your former commanding officer that his day is about to get very ugly,” the Major said.
AC Retara shakily placed his thumb on the receipt tablet and half-walked, half-staggered out of the reception area.
The major didn’t have to wait very long before he heard a series of shouts from the office the AC walked through. A short time later, a short, balding, overweight man stumbled out of his office. He smoothed his uniform several times before offering his hand to his visitor.
“Captain Antias, commanding officer. What is this all about?” he asked.
“Are you people really this far behind the times? I thought that General Embry’s orders carried a little more weight down here,” the major said without taking the offered hand.
“General Embry? Dalson Embry gave this order? He didn’t mention anything like this to me,” Captain Antias looked thoughtfully at his communicator.
“Fine. You can call General Embry while he’s giving testimony before the Armed Forces Committee on Coruscant. I’m sure the nine senators wouldn’t mind waiting while you discuss orders, already signed by him, that I hold in my hand. I’ll gladly watch you destroy your career right now or you can get packed,” the major folded his arms across his chest and waited.
“But Major, I’m the commanding officer here. I need…”
“Correction. You were the commanding officer here. As of 0815 local time, I am assuming command of this installation. You are being re-assigned to some desk more befitting on man of your..talents. You have ten minutes to clear your office out before I order Republic Security to help you pack.” The major looked around the reception area before turning back to the blubbering captain.
“Nine minutes, thirty seconds,” the new commanding officer said.
The captain scurried away and a cacophony of sounds poured out of his office.
“I need your name for the record, sir,” AC Retera said.
“Relian Issic, Major, Commanding Officer of Republic Scientific and Genetic Research Facility Zero-Zero-One.”
One hour later, three of the finest minds in the Republic were seated opposite Major Issic’s desk.
“You understand the project?” Major Issic asked.
“Yes we do. However, what you’re proposing is…” a short and furry Drall geneticist said.
“Remarkable? Breathtaking? Groundbreaking?” Major Issic finished.
“Impossible,” the Drall corrected.
The Major’s face fell. His sky blue eyes grew very hard as he fixed a piercing gaze upon them all in turn.
“That word does not exist in my facility,” he said coldly.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have enough…” a dark skinned human scientist said.
“Enough what? Name your limits and I will exceed them,” the Major picked up a digital tablet and waited.
The three scientists looked at each other for a few moments. Then the furry Drall began to speak.
“We could discuss the limits of cloning for weeks. First, you must understand the very basics of what we’re working with. Your typical DNA base pair is about a billionth of a meter in length. We need extraordinarily sensitive equipment just to view and extract the strands. Also keep in mind that your typical genome has three billion base pairs. Since most sentient species in the Republic are diploid organisms, that means one genome now has six billion base pairs of DNA. Stretching out the DNA in just one cell would be longer than this table,” he said.
“How enlightening. How many cells do you require? Dozens? Hundreds?” Major Issic drummed his fingers on the table.
The three scientists chuckled.
“One body, depending on the species, has anywhere between ten and eighteen trillion cells in it. The cells are not the issue. That’s like asking an engineer how many pieces of durasteel are required to build one star cruiser,” the Drall said.
“Then what is the issue?” Major Issic asked.
“We need Oro Thalia,” he said.
“Who is that?” the Major asked as he typed the name into the tablet.
“The greatest expert on telomeres in the galaxy. We can’t do anything without her here. That Kaminoan knows more about telomeres than…” but he was cut off again.
“Yes, yes, suffice to say she’s brilliant. What else? Let me be perfectly clear, you need but name what you need to get this project moving and it will be provided,” Major Issic said.
The three scientists all smiled at the thought of what might be.
Chapter I – The Skywalker Boys
The first of the twin suns crept over the horizon just as it had done each day prior to this one. The barren landscape began to heat, silently preparing itself for the day ahead. The rocks that were scattered along the ground welcomed the solar rays, baking contently in their fixed places, just as they had each morning over the millennia.
A single ray from the second sun crawled along the floor of the cramped room and began to slink its way up a bed that was too small for its owner. It climbed up the short bed post until it dragged across the face of a young man who was lying on his side. The sand-blasted face twitched several times, and a hand rose to cover the eye the ray was disturbing.
Anakin Skywalker rolled onto his back before yawning loudly. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes before looking at the window that allowed the invading light to attack his peaceful slumber.
“Another glorious day for the Skywalker Boys,” he mumbled before running a hand through his shaggy head of sandy colored hair.
The nickname “Skywalker Boys” was horribly inaccurate. Anakin was the only Skywalker that lived in this dilapidated shelter. Owen Lars wasn’t related to Anakin, but the two were so inseparable that they stopped trying to quash the nickname the public had given them.
“Cmon Owen, rise and shine. Greet the new day and whatever,” Anakin yawned again. He looked only a few feet away to see that the other bed was empty.
“Really? You’re really going to do this again?” Anakin stood up and stretched before getting out of bed and looking for his lost friend.
He stumbled out into the garage as he pulled his shirt over his head.
“How did I know that if you’re not sleeping or eating, you’ve got your head shoved into a gasket or a power coupling or whatever else is falling off of her,” Anakin grinned at the prone figure under the wing of his racing starfighter.
“If you flew with any sense instead of by the seat of your pants, I wouldn’t have to shove my head into a gasket,” Owen Lars said without coming out from under the wing.
“You fell asleep under the Volo again, didn’t you?” Anakin asked, crouching down and sticking his head under the wing of his racer.
“Wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last,” Owen said as he tightened a bolt.
“Owen man, you have got to get yourself a girl,” Anakin said.
Owen emerged from under the wing with oil smudges dotting his pale complexion. He hopped to his feet and stretched his back by twisting it several times before looking down at his friend.
Owen Lars had been Anakin’s best friend since they literally ran into each other on the streets of Anchorhead. Anakin had gotten into a “minor disagreement” with five or six members of the local Republic Military Garrison. While demonstrating how quickly he could run from armed soldiers, Owen’s body shop provided a perfect hiding place and sheltered him until the soldiers from the “Flying 14th” had given up the chase.
He hadn’t so much as provided the hiding place as Anakin had run into the shop Owen was working in. Anakin ducked behind the counter and pleaded with Owen not to turn him in. Owen was feeling generous that day. That generosity paid off.
Owen had always had a clear focus of what needed to be done. Working with mechanics was so simple and so straight-forward that everything else in life seemed equally simple. Anakin brought all problems to Owen and his mind worked it out like it was a clogged fuel line and came up with the solution.
“That should improve engine efficiency by another three or four percent. Your thrust ratio should give you a better kick off the start line,” Owen smiled proudly.
“I bet Beru would give you a better kick off the start line,” Anakin grinned at him.
“Beru Whitesun? Your groupie, your tag-a-long? I’m stunned she’s not here now desperately trying to find some excuse to hang around,” Owen huffed before heading to the kitchen.
“The definition of groupie is someone who can’t leave you alone and thinks the suns rise and set because you say so. She says about two words to me and then spends the rest of her time staring at you,” Anakin said as he followed Owen into the kitchen.
In a hovel as small as theirs, the kitchen also doubled as the living room. Anakin liked to
think that it also doubled as their dining room, study, library, guest house and solarium.
Being on Tatooine meant that every room was a sun room. Anakin picked through the meager remains in their pantry. “What’s the deal? I thought you bought some new ration packs? I’m eight hours from the biggest race of the year and I get to start off the day with this?” Anakin held up a bag that fit easily in the palm of his hand.
“I meant to bring that up with you,” Owen said as he sat down on a crate at their small table.
“You are looking at two guys who are one race away from the Promised Land,” Owen said with a wide grin on his face.
“The what?” Anakin asked as he also sat on a crate that appeared to be one crack away from shattering.
“I’ve been saving my half of our winnings from the last few tournaments. Add that in with the earnings from my job as a mechanic out at the Mos Eisley spaceport plus the scrimping and saving we’ve done. We are very close to changing our lives forever,” Owen said.
“I’ve been talking with Damiano Ressik. He’s willing to sell us his moisture farm. I think that, with a little hard work, we can really make it take off. All it takes is one more win and that farm is ours,” he continued.
The crate groaned loudly in protest as Anakin leaned forward. “A moisture farm?”
“The last couple of tournament wins put us in prime position. If you win the Tatooine Classic today, we’re over the top with a couple thousand to spare,” Owen was beaming now. Anakin was sure if he had a tail, it would be wagging.
“A farm,” Anakin said again, his voice trailing off.
“Well? Say something,” Owen said.
Anakin stood up and looked out a small window to the sun-scorched street outside.
“What do you want me to say?” Anakin asked flatly. “Do you know anything about farming? I don’t,” he said.
“It’s only the fastest growing profession on Tatooine. Exports are rising at an incredible rate and we can get in almost on the ground floor. If we get the farm and cut back on our expenses for a while, we can expand the vaporators and watch things really take off!”
“In ten or twenty years,” Anakin muttered. “Don’t you want something more than pulling a few drops of water out of the air?”
“What else is there?” Owen asked.
“I don’t know, something,” Anakin replied. “There’s got to be more to this life than just sitting on a rust colored planet in the middle of nowhere where nothing is destined to happen. How are we going to see the galaxy sitting on our butts watching condensation take place?”
“Anakin, you keep going on and on about this wonderful galaxy. What’s so fabulous out there that you can’t find here? What’s so incredible about that unknown life you could have on any one of a hundred thousand worlds that would blow away a tangible future on Tatooine?” Owen asked.
“I don’t know, Owen, but something!” Anakin blurted out.
“Something. Yeah, that works. I have a concrete plan here with a real future and you have ‘something’,” Owen said with a smirk.
“I just feel like there’s more to life than being a water sucker,” Anakin said as he walked over to his prize racer.
“What’s really got your blaster in a knot?” Owen asked as he walked over to join his friend.
“You never asked me about this! You made all these plans, all these goals, and you never asked me what I wanted,” Anakin said with disgust.
“Well we can’t stay here forever,” Owen said looking at the missing piece of their ceiling.
“Anakin, you did something when you took a Cloudhopper for a joyride to impress a gaggle of girls. You did something when you fell through the glass ceiling of the race dealer when you were peeking at the newest whatever it was that the Kuat Drive Yards was selling. Don’t forget you did something when you broke your bed last week. When you do something to get what you want, it ends in trouble,” Owen said.
“Maybe what I want isn’t on Tatooine,” Anakin said almost in a whisper.
Loading a five ton starfighter and maneuvering it into the loading bay at the Tatooine Race Yards was complicated enough. Doing it while nearly another dozen racers are also moving in their multi-ton starfighters required tremendous concentration. Owen found that trying to get the Volo into position while dodging everyone else and having to deal with Beru Whitesun was nearly impossible.
“Beru, now really isn’t the best time,” Owen said.
“Oh c’mon, you always say that. Don’t you think that XK-12 is really something else? I read up about it and they say it has the tightest turn of any atmospheric craft ever!” She tried very hard to get his attention.
“The XK series has never been anything more than a flying brick…” Owen was interrupted by a fast moving magnetic crane flying over his head.
“Beru, I really mean that now is not the best time. Do me a favor and go find Anakin and let him know that we’re almost ready to start his pre-flight sequence,” Owen said.
“But I didn’t get to tell you the best part,” Beru pouted.
“I think it’s really cute how you’ve studied every technical manual you could lay your hands on, but I don’t need to hear any more about the XK series,” Owen said.
“No, you don’t understand,” Beru insisted.
“He never does, Beru. Unless it has something to do with a gam-shaft or a power coupling, he’ll never understand,” Anakin said as he walked up.
“Fabulous timing,” Owen said as the Volo was unloaded into its prep area. “Are you done registering?”
“I just finished giving my thumb scan on the twentieth form,” Anakin said as he rolled his eyes. “We’re ready to fly.”
“You might fly, but Aiya Rios soars,” Beru said.
“I’m sorry, what?” Owen asked and looked down at her.
“Oh now you want to listen to me?” Beru asked. “Now my opinion is important? Well maybe I’m too important for you and I’ll take my opinion and go elsewhere,” Beru said with a flip of her dark hair.
Anakin threw Owen a scornful look.
“Okay, I’m sorry Beru. I would really like to hear whatever tidbit you have,” Owen said in a monotone voice.
Beru brightened up immediately.
“I overheard these two guys talking about some Delta thing that this girl named Aiya Rios is flying. They said she’s an off-worlder from Corellia and the ship she’s flying is some sort of prototype or something,” Beru eagerly said.
Owen and Anakin exchanged a glance.
“Owen, that roof I fell through? That ship I was looking at from the KDY? That was the Delta-7 Aethersprite. If she brought it here…”
“Then we’re in bigger trouble than I thought,” Owen finished.
Chapter II – Diplomacy
“Young lady, I don’t think you have the first idea of what you’re talking about. This bill has already been delayed far too long and your childish reasoning will not stop it from passing at this time.”
Ayers Durane, Chairman for the Committee on Military Affairs for the planet of Alderaan was growing very weary of hearing Planetary Senator Amidala’s arguments. This was supposed to be a simple bill that would fly through the Committee with the same token resistance given to all the other bills like this one. If she was looking to make a splash as the youngest Planetary Senator to throw a hissy fit, she was well on her way.
“Chairman Durane, I am sure that the Republic has excellent reasons for wanting to expand the size of the Alderaan garrison for a fifth time in the past two years. I’m sure they are anxious to explain to us exactly why they need all this space when not one company of soldiers has been added in thirty years. But the citizens that I represent and even Galactic Senator Palpatine…” the Chairman cut her off with a wave of his hand.
Ayers Durane picked up a small tablet and examined it for a moment. “I see that Senator Palpatine has made his wishes clear in the Galactic Senate on Coruscant.”
He put the tablet down and rubbed his eyes wearily. “This is not Coruscant. This bill is a merely giving the garrison an additional 1.2 million square feet and I see no reason to involve Coruscant in what is clearly an Alderaanian matter. I think we should now move on to other business,” Durane’s voice was rising with his temper.
“Senator Palpatine and I have spoken on several occasions and I assure you we will not let this egregious desecration stand. In the meantime, it is true that he is on Coruscant but I,” she added proudly, “I am here. I do hereby move that an investigation be launched immediately and an Investigatory Sub-Committee be established to determine the nature of this and all previous expansions.”
Amidala finally sat down and began silently praying for courage. This was her last ditch effort to stall the bill in the Committee.
“Such a motion will not be tolerated!” Chairman Durane was on his feet now. “It is outrageous to question the Republic Armed Forces. I refuse to permit such a…” but a voice coming from the floor stopped him.
“I’m sorry Chairman, but any motion made by a senator must be addressed,” Senator Bail Organna said, rising from his chair. He quietly added, “I do hereby second the motion,” and he threw a smirk of satisfaction toward Senator Amidala.
“Very well,” the Chairman growled before slowly sitting down.
“All supporting the motion say ‘aye’,” every senator but Amidala and Durane rose and said “Aye”. The Chairman desperately looked from face to face for any possibility to dismiss this girl and her ridiculuous motion. “All opposed say ‘nay’.”
A thunderous silence filled the room.
“That was some impressive maneuvering, Planetary Senator,” Galactic Senator Palpatine’s holo-image looked pleased. “The Chairman and I go back to my first term and he is not an easy man to out-fox. You have bought our cause much needed time.”
“This motion is more than a stall tactic, sir. There’s simply no need for a garrison housing a few hundred troops to demand more of the Shining Star of the Republic. I wish Senator Bolet were here. I’m sure he would know what else I should be doing to stop this,” Amidala looked out the window that the pristine sky.
In life, Senator Arden Bolet was a rare titan in Alderaan politics. His father was a senator, as was his father before him and his father before was the first Regent to inhabit the Orbital Mansion. His family name was as legendary as the Organna Royal Family.
But it was Arden who shone brighter than any of his family while he was in office. He introduced staggering reforms that helped transform Alderaan into the clean and beautiful paradise that the people now enjoyed and made the planet an ideal destination for families across the galaxy. It was he who first sparked the movement toward a military free Alderaan.
Padme Amidala had been all but adopted by the aging senator and she learned about politics from the master as his Chief of Staff. When he was tragically killed in an accident at his home, the entire sector of space mourned his loss, but none took it harder than she did. She had lost a mentor, a father figure, and the only true friend she had. Now, she was alone.
“Now now, you can only win when you’re looking three moves ahead, not three moves back. See what else you can do to raise public awareness against the garrison and I’ll continue my efforts here on Coruscant. If you need anything from me, anything at all, please contact Felic, my assistant, and he’ll give you any help you need,” Palpatine ended the transmission.
Padme leaned back into her chair. Moments where she could sit and relax were becoming few and far between. She thought she knew what “busy” was when she was the youngest Chief of Staff in Alderaan’s history. Now, as a senator, her schedule went from busy to nearly impossible.
A drawback to being the youngest person to reach this level was that she was forced into situations where she had to stare down Magistrates, Senators, and even Regents she had grown up hearing stories about. Every one of them had written her off as an “upstart”, someone who was only there out of luck or charity and filling the shoes of a giant. But they had all learned that her sharp tongue and keen wit ensured she was able to play with the big boys.
“Senator, Mr. Derttick from Alderaan Today wants to have a word, on the record, about your investigation,” her aide buzzed in. The constant interruptions were no help to the loneliness that tormented her.
It seemed that she was destined to be alone. It was odd how her success in the political world brought her never-ending attention from the media and constant interviews across the planet. But at the end of the day, regardless of how many contacts she made, how much networking she did, she ended each and every day alone in her quarters staring out her window to the snow-capped mountains beyond.
Padme heaved a sigh. “Please remind him that I have twenty-six hours just like everyone else. Express my apologies and ask if I can contact him tomorrow after I meet with the garrison’s commander.”
Padme looked up at the gates that towered above her while she waited for the security detail to finish the sweep of her vehicle. The garrison walls were white, gleaming, and spotless, much like the architecture of the rest of the city that she admired. But unlike the rest of the city, she learned to loathe the ion cannons, the constant, never-ending watch the security cameras held on the populace, massive gun emplacements, reinforced gates, and the armed soldiers that were behind the walls.
As her transport sped down the tree lined avenue toward the Bolet Administration Building, she recalled how when she first stepped into her office she had dreamed of having this meeting. If she could convince the Garrison Commander, even a little, that the expansion was not necessary for so small an army, it would pay for itself ten-fold in political capital and publicity.
When she exited her transport, she was stunned to see twelve Republic Soldiers, in two columns of six, waiting to receive her. They all stood at attention in immaculate gray uniforms as she walked past them. She never expected such a large escort for just one meeting.
“Welcome to Republic Garrison Three-Two-Eight, Planetary Senator Amidala. We are here to escort you to the general’s office,” an enlisted man that waited for her by the building’s doors had to be over two meters tall, but did not move or even look at her as he spoke.
“All of you are needed to escort one bureaucrat?” Amidala asked.
“I just do as I’m told, ma’am,” the soldier gave half of an arrogant smirk.
“Wipe that smile off your face soldier, unless the idea of keeping a general waiting amuses you,” Amidala turned to face the doors and began walking.
The soldiers formed columns on each side of her as the marched into the building. The noise that twelve pairs of boots made marching in time down the stone corridor was impressive. She was more impressed with the intimidation tactic that was being used against her.
“Senator Amidala, it’s a pleasure to have you here at last. When I had heard of the death of Senator Bolet last year, I was crushed. He was a tremendous friend and ally who shall be missed for generations,” the Garrison Commander gave her a warm smile and motioned for her to sit down, but there were warning bells in Padme’s mind. The tall, bald man had a gleam in his dark eyes that showed a trace of malevolence. People had been underestimating her since Day One and clearly this off-worlder would be no different.
“General Tarkin, thank you for seeing me. I have admired your career and how quickly you’ve been able to maneuver through the trenches of military bureaucracy. All twelve of the soldiers you sent to escort me were most courteous. The moments where I felt like I was under arrest were brief,” Senator Amidala smoothed her dark blue skirt beneath her and sat down.
“I understand you’re concerned over our presence here,” Tarkin ignored her remark.
“Let me assure you that our presence is simply to observe the population and ensure that the peace is enforced. We will never undertake offensive actions while I am Garrison Commander,” Tarkin showed his practiced smile.
Padme looked around at the numerous awards and letters of commendations on the wall. She had to tread carefully with this man. He was an outsider, but a decorated and successful outsider who knew the language of politics.
“General Tarkin, I am greatly relieved by your statement. However, it sounds exactly like the words of your predecessor, and the one before him, and the one before him. The people of Alderaan have never been concerned with ‘offensive’ actions. We simply don’t understand why one of the smallest garrisons in the Republic needs yet another expansion. The few regiments under your command hardly justifies one-fourth of the space you have and now you are asking for more. We are a peaceful planet that has never caused the Republic any grief. We…” Tarkin cut her off.
“Take care with how you use the word ‘we’, Senator. There are many on this planet that are grateful for our presence. They believe that it is simply because of our presence here that peace has been able to be maintained on this planet as long as it has. If we packed up our Enforcement Squads and left, the planet would certainly fall into chaos and all that Senator Bolet dreamed about would lie in ashes,” he rose from his chair.
“The needs of the Armed Forces of the Republic are complex and there are many activities that require us to use as much space as is necessary to maintain peace, order, and justice throughout the galaxy. I doubt that a young lady like you would understand such military matters.”
And there it was. Within ten minutes, he had dismissed her. Padme decided that the time for niceties had passed.
“General Tarkin, this is hardly the untamed Outer Rim! This installation has grown to an immense base five times its former size and not one Republic soldier has been added. What reasons were we given for this sudden and massive seizure of private property? None. When we protested, we were ignored. When we asked for an explanation, we were dismissed. Now there is a growing movement to remove the garrison permanently from our planet. The people are looking to me to spearhead this movement and I have gladly accepted. The people…” but Tarkin cut her off again.
General Tarkin’s eyes grew cold as he fixed a steely gaze upon Padme that made her feel very small. “You mean that your ‘peace loving’ people of Alderaan are starting a movement? Really Senator, you’ve been leading these people for all of four minutes and you know them so well? This garrison has been here for generations and I’d be willing to bet that there are far more people that are grateful for the Republic than revolutionaries like you. Choose your next words carefully, Junior Senator. The Republic does not look kindly upon treason from children.”
Padme responded by rising from her seat. “Listen Tarkin, regardless of my age, I am a Planetary Senator and I do represent a growing segment of the public who are sick of people the Republic sends to bully us around and insist this is for our own good. I don’t appreciate closed-mindedness nor do I appreciate someone who thinks that the more weapons, troops, and war machines that are on a peaceful planet the better. This is not your playground nor is it your stepping stone to becoming a Moff, this is my home. If you don’t heed the words of the people, you’ll be made such a fool that no one in the Republic will let you command a company of cooks,” Amidala was shaking slightly with rage.
It took a few, silent moments for her to realize what she had just said.
Although she had risen and leaned toward him, Tarkin had not moved at all. He sat motionless in his chair with his fingertips pressed together.
General Tarkin’s benevolence melted from him in a matter of seconds.
“Use caution, Padme. The Republic takes all threats against it seriously while I do not take moronic comments seriously. I am not a Jedi Master, but I assure you that my resolve is just as strong. I will cooperate with this investigation you’ve proposed as much as the law will allow.”
A small smile appeared. “However, if there as many people as you claim who are opposed to our presence, we need to make sure the safety and peace is not disrupted by such…agitators. Perhaps I shall begin by increasing our surveillance of the people you represent. After all, tactful negotiations like these can only proceed so far.” He picked up a digital tablet and turned his chair away from Padme.
The meeting was over. Senator Amidala seriously thought about whirling his chair around and continuing their “tactful negotiations”, but took a deep breath to calm herself. There was nothing further to be gained here. She stepped around her chair and left his office, the guards waiting to escort her back to her transport.
“Show’s over, boys,” Amidala told the smirking guards. “Thankfully it takes twelve of the Republic’s Finest to make sure that a girl can’t get herself into trouble.”
After Senator Amidala had left his office, General Tarkin sat and thought for a moment. He had known generals who were brilliant tacticians, tremendous strategists, and could inspire troops to follow them into any slaughter. He was present at battles where the carnage was unimaginable and watched old friends commit themselves to battles with a fierceness rarely seen.
Tarkin enjoyed combat of a different sort. His arena was the political arena. His idea of a lopsided victory was one where he trounced his opponent with a subtle point of logic in a debate and watched them stand before him and attempt to stammer out a pathetic rebuke.
This girl was apparently nothing special and Tarkin couldn’t quite understand what Bolet saw in her. She was too young and inexperienced to be an effective Planetary Senator. However, there was fire in her and a passion that could rouse the mob if needed. Given ideal conditions, she could turn public opinion toward her.
Tarkin stood and began pacing in his office. He passed by pictures of him shaking hands with every mover and shaker in the Republic. His career included networking with Senator Palpatine, Chancellor Valorum, even the Jedi Master Mace Windu. You couldn’t have too many allies in a fight and this was a fight that needed to stay quiet until they were ready. If this girl began to bring too much attention to Alderaan too soon, his position would become untenable.
“General, Galactic Senator Palpatine is calling,” His aide buzzed in. The man was nothing if not punctual.
“Report, General,” the senator commanded.
“You were right; Amidala will be perfect for our purposes. She’s a hot one which should serve us well. I have to wonder if having her expose us at this time is wise. Our expansions have served our needs in rebuilding the Republic’s military, is now the time to have it revealed?” Tarkin asked.
“She is exactly what I need at the time I need it. A self-righteous attitude matched with a ‘cause’ she thinks is worth fighting for. We have done much to help restore the military to its proper glory. When I deem it the proper time, I will allow her to expose our installation and when she does, she will set of a chain of events she will no longer be able to control,” Palpatine said. “The new equipment should help speed up production prior to this child’s great triumph, I want it installed immediately.”
“The equipment is being installed even as we speak by our best technicians and should be operational within twenty six hours. I have no doubt that when Amidala learns of this, her protests will be heard ringing through the halls of the Galactic Senate itself,” Tarkin allowed himself a small smile as Palpatine terminated the transmission. The self-righteous ones are always terribly predictable.
Chapter III – Competition
Obi-Wan Kenobi stared out at the barren landscape that lay beyond the bridge of his ship. This was, by far, the most desolate planet that he had ever laid eyes on. Staring out at the endless desert gave him a feeling of nervousness and uncertainty. He closed his eyes, meditated for a minute, and allowed his mind to clear.
“Master, I sometimes wonder if the Jedi Council sent you here as a punishment, not as an assignment,” he walked over to stand beside his mentor for the past five years. Qui-Gon Jinn continued to read a report from Coruscant as if he hadn’t heard his former student.
“What I mean is that you should be sitting on the Council by this time. You’ve trained more Jedi Knights than any four Masters. You have solved more disputes, settled more squabbles, and stopped more skirmishes from turning into full-blown, interstellar wars than any other Jedi in recent memory,” he continued.
“In the past five years, I’ve seen you do things that I only heard about in the Holocrons. There are Jedi who think they know what to do, but you don’t have to think. You’ve shown me the difference between classroom Force and real world Force. So as a reward for seeing me through the Jedi Trials and preventing the assassination of the Regent of the Corellian system not once, but twice, they send you…to Tatooine?”
“There is a reason the Council does what it does, my young Pada…Jedi Kenobi,” Qui-Gon Jinn grinned at the faux pas. “I have a job to do here and if it seems minor to you, keep in mind that…”
“Nothing is ever as it seems, yes Master I understand,” Obi-Wan finished for him.
“Quite right. It’s nice to know that you did listen to at least a little of what I had to say during our years together,” he moved toward the ramp as Obi-Wan walked with him.
“Well Master, it was rather difficult to listen to your pearls of wisdom when I was being thrown around by a Gundark, shot at by assassins, struggling to figure out which artifact held the explosive in it before we were obliterated, and trying to devise a means of getting the Wookies and the Aqualish to sit down at the same conference table without them trying to rip each other limb from limb,” Obi-Wan laughed.
“And you did it all in fine fashion while bringing great credit upon yourself and the Jedi Order. Clearly you handled it all nicely since you are still, more or less, intact. In the meantime, this dispute between the Hutts and the Dantooine Merchant Clan deserves as much attention and effort as preventing an interplanetary war. I will complete this task with diligence just as you will complete your first task as a Knight of the Republic.”
Silence fell upon them both. Obi-Wan was searching for the right way he might say farewell to his master, but his mind was failing him.
“You’ve been absorbed in that report for some time now. Is it anything I should be concerned with?” Obi-Wan asked, changing the subject.
“Republic Intelligence is concerned with an increase in communications traffic between heads of state in the Outer Rim,” his master answered.
“Why would that concern the RI?” Obi-Wan asked.
“All the messages are heavily encrypted,” Qui-Gon replied with a frown.
“I don’t suppose they’re planning Chancellor Valorum’s surprise birthday party?” Obi-Wan joked.
“The Hutt representatives are nearly here. I shall miss your sense of humor, my young friend. Open yourself to the Force and you will open yourself to limitless possibilities,” Qui-Gon shook Obi-Wan’s hand firmly.
Qui-Gon began to walk down the ramp to the planet to greet a speeder that had just pulled up. Two large, pig-like Gamorreans were seated in the back and a skinny Twi’lek was in the driver’s seat. None of them were armed.
“I am Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. I am here to settle the dispute your master has with the honorable merchant clans from Dantooine. You honor me by approaching peacefully and with no weapons,” Qui-Gon bowed to the Twi’lek.
“Killing a Jedi Master benefits no one, at this time. You will make these Dantoonine cantina rats see reason, or our employees will,” the Twi’lek responded. The two Gamorreans’s lack of something to smash with their fists was clearly making them restless.
Qui-Gon glanced over at Obi-Wan and said “At least the warmth on this planet is not limited to their hospitality,”
As Obi-Wan stifled a laugh, Qui-Gon turned back to the Twi’lek. “Very well, let’s proceed with the conference. Tell your master that I am ready to begin at his earliest convenience,” Before he could go, Obi-Wan put a hand on his mentor’s shoulder.
“Master, don’t forget about the race later today. Aiya would be crushed if you missed her bring home another championship banner,” Obi-Wan reminded.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Qui-Gon Jinn grinned back at him.
“I’m telling you, they brought this racer all the way from Corellia specifically for this race,” Beru said for the fifth time.
“And I’m telling you it doesn’t matter,” Owen muttered from under his port stabilizer. “Stop worrying and hand me the polarizer.”
Ever since Anakin became a champion starfighter racer, he had heard tales like this before. Beru had told them stories about a droid pilot from Arkania able to out-think him, a four armed pilot from Taanab able to out-reflex him, and a pilot from Mon Calamari that they brought out of retirement specifically to beat him. There were stories floating around to fill the entire hangar bay as he and another two dozen pilots worked to ready their ships.
“They say that on Ord Mantell, she did this one move that faked out five other racers and he shot down seven targets at the same time,” Beru tried to imitate the move by waving her hands around.
“No doubt she did this all this while she was blindfolded and steering with her feet,” Anakin chuckled to himself as he leaned against the wing.
“Owen, are you almost done here? I’d like to get the pre-flight checklist done sometime before the race is over.” Anakin knocked on the wing to get Owen’s attention.
“Just about,” Owen answered. “I really think that I can add another two or three percent to your…”
Anakin interrupted him, “What’s that? You said you want Beru to show you the Wonder Racer?”
Beru’s eyes lit up and she giggled softly.
Owen swung himself out from under the wing and glared at Anakin. “Fine, but you get the sunrise shift when we buy the farm.”
Anakin laughed out loud as Beru hooked her arm around Owen’s and they walked down the hangar bay to view the other starfighters. Anakin had just begun to climb the ladder when someone tapped him on the back.
“Geez Beru, I’ll hear the story about the great windbag from Corellia some other time. I still have a bit of work left to do to get this bucket up in the air,” he said.
“I’ve been called far worse, but at least I don’t refer to my ship as a ‘bucket’,” a light voice said.
Anakin gulped before stepping off the ladder and turning around. Standing before him was a beautiful woman who wasn’t much taller than he was, but her presence seemed to fill the hangar bay. She stuck out a hand and flashed a tremendous smile at him.
“I…I’m sorry,” Anakin stammered as he shook the soft hand. “I didn’t mean what I said, it’s just Beru has a habit of, well never mind. I’m Anakin Skywalker,” he introduced himself.
“I know who you are. My name is Aiya Rios and let me assure you that only half of the rumors about me are true. I didn’t come to Tatooine specifically to race you. I just came here to win. I’m the pilot of the transport that arrived this morning. My passengers are here on business and it is just lucky for me that Tatooine is holding a race at the same time,.”
Aiya Rios seemed very light-hearted and jovial, a far cry from the brash, aggressive, hostile racer he was used to facing. Her practiced smile was dazzling. Her dark skin was smooth and almost seemed polished. Aiya’s hair was a little lighter than her skin, but she was tall, lean, and had a look in her eyes that shone with a brilliance that warned him that she was no ordinary racer. She had smudges on her face as well as numerous ones on her hands that Anakin knew would only have come from personally working on a ship.
“Well I’m just glad I have someone worth racing.” Anakin ran a hand through his sandy mess of hair. “It’s always a pleasure to go against someone from a real planet instead of the local yokels.”
“So this is the famous Volo?” Aiya asked. “It’s all anyone can talk about since I landed.”
“Famous? I haven’t the funding to race it outside of the system so I doubt anyone on any planet worth a damn has heard of her,” Anakin scoffed.
She brushed against Anakin as she leaned in to look more closely at his pride and joy. “This looks oddly like a Z-95 Headhunter, but I’ve never seen modifications like this before. Did you completely re-work your starboard power coupling?” She asked.
Anakin blushed. “Well I have had to make a few ‘corrections’ to the original design. The Volo will climb faster, turn harder, and go much faster than any other Headhunter in this section of the galaxy,” Anakin said with quite a bit of pride.
“With what you’ve done here, I bet it screams when it dives. Have you broken 5k in the atmosphere?” She asked, her hair inches from his face as she traced a random figure on the wing of the Volo with her finger.
“If I’m in a dive I sure can, but the beauty of this ship is her acceleration. I can go from a dead stop to two thousand kph in just…” Anakin stopped in mid-sentence. Her smile continued to be innocent, but something was hiding behind that smile. “Oh, you’re good, you’re very good.”
Aiya’s lavender eyes flashed at him. “The games begin even before the race has begun, Anakin,” she said.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Anakin said warily. “And your ship is the fabled and legendary Delta-7 down there?” He asked, looking around the bay. He didn’t need to look far as a small crowd, that included Owen and Beru, was gathered around a sleek looking vessel.
Aiya waved her hand gracefully toward the growing crowd. “The Delta-7 Aethersprite prototype fresh out of the Kuat Systems Engineering shipyards on Corellia. Two months ago I conducted her shakedown and this will be her maiden voyage. Well, voyage isn’t exactly the right word to describe a ship with the new SX-25 twin engines,” she said thoughtfully, but Anakin hardly heard her.
“You really brought the Delta-7 to this worthless rock?” Anakin asked, his mouth hanging slightly open.
“The passengers I mentioned were two Jedi. Since this particular type of starfighter will be made exclusively for the Jedi Order, they wanted to take one along to see it in action,” she looked very smug.
“You brought two real Jedi to this worthless rock?” Anakin asked, his mouth hanging a little more open. Before now, he had thought the Jedi were as real as the mythical Delta-7. There hadn’t been a Jedi on Tatooine since the Dark Jedi Revan arrived some three thousand years before Anchorhead was re-founded.
Aiya’s eyes sparkled as she spoke. “I don’t know any fake Jedi,” and she laughed to herself. A bell sounded two times over the intercom, signaling they had two hours before the race. “I need to finish prepping my ship, thanks for the conversation. It was very…illuminating,” she smiled warmly before turning around and walking back toward her ship.
Anakin watched her go and let out a low whistle before another voice startled him.
“Are you whistling at the girl or the ship?” Owen asked him as he came back from the tour with Beru.
“Both, I think.” Anakin said before turning back to his ship. He forced himself to focus on climbing into his cockpit and not on the fear that crept into the pit of his stomach.
Having Aiya Rios around became a welcome relief to Anakin. He worked through his onboard checklists by himself for the first time in weeks. The usual throng of people that would push and shove to get close to him now surrounded the Delta-7 Aethersprite. Many “armchair pilots” were pointing to the fuselage, the engine, the cockpit, any piece of the ship they considered to be significant. At some point, they all pointed to a series of strange markings on her tail that were arranged in a series of rows, but were unfamiliar to Anakin.
“You would think they hadn’t seen a new ship before,” Anakin said in a huff as he powered up the navigation computer.
He glanced over at Aiya and saw that she was speaking to two men in brown robes. He couldn’t see their faces, but something in his gut told him that they were the Jedi she spoke of earlier. He punched the controls to make his Heads-Up Display light up in front of him. All of the indications for weapons, targeting, navigation, steering, hull integrity, and life support lit up on his HUD.
Anakin patiently waited for the loading crane to get him into position. The two men in brown robes shook hands with Aiya before leaving, deep in conversation. She shook her hair behind her before putting on her helmet and closing the canopy. Anakin wasn’t sure, but it looked like she gave him a slight wink before sealing herself in.
He breathed a huge sigh of relief as the loading crane magnetically sealed itself to the Volo. He truly enjoyed the build up to the race itself. The two inner magnets clamped to his fuselage and a moment later the outer two magnets sealed to his wings. The ship was lifted into the air with a burst of cheers from the locals who saw him rise high above them.
Anakin knew that the betting would be furious prior to this race. Although gambling was the planetary pastime on Tatooine, it always seemed to reach a fever pitch whenever an impressive off-worlder came. Tourists would come from across the sector and occasionally across the Republic to see the natives with their “backward ways” get beat by someone more “cultured and sophisticated”. The locals would then rebel by flocking from across the planet to root against the invaders and cheer on the hometown hero.
By the time the loading crane had him set into position alongside the other eleven craft that would be racing, Anakin was mentally prepared for his last race. In his last seven victories, he had become bored, complacent, and weary of blowing past his competition. Today, there would be none of that.
He was ready for the biggest challenge of his life. He planned to do something he hadn’t ever before. Anakin wanted to win the Trellius Accuracy Trophy, the Dowager Queen Crowd Appeal Award as well as the Tatooine Cup of Speed sponsored by the Desilijic clan of the Hutts. If he could sweep those trophies, he would also put enough credits into his pocket to leave Tattooine behind forever.
As the clock ticked down to the thirty minute mark, the announcer’s voice blared out over the loudspeakers. “Ladies, Gentlemen, and Others! My name is Ulith Rekaba and I am thrilled to bring you the play-by-play of the 74th Annual Tatooine Cup!”
The crowd cheered, but Anakin tried to tune them all out. He completed the last few steps on his onboard checklist when his HUD flashed at him. There was a message that had been transmitted to him.
I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to be so deceptive. I really am interested in hearing more about your ship. You must be quite a pilot to push a Z-95 model to such extremes. I will truly enjoy defeating such an accomplished flyer like you. I can’t wait to add you to my tail. –Aiya
Anakin felt the grin slowly fall from his face as realization dawned on him. He looked over at the Delta-7 to see that the strange markings on her tail section were decals. The markings represented champions of different worlds that she had defeated. He swallowed slowly as he counted thirty-nine different planetary emblems. This was no lady, this was a predator; and now she had the fastest ship ever.
Ulith’s words brought him back to reality. “Today we have a match un-paralled in the history of the Tatooine Cup! Twelve racers will push their vessels beyond all reasonable limits. From Bimmisaari, the Desilijic are proud to bring you, the only member of the extended royal clan to leave the system, Quellis!” A fur clad man rose waved from his cockpit at the camera that zoomed around his ship. “From the legendary planet of Telos IV, growing up in the craters left by the ravages of the Jedi Civil War, Heth Leos!” The crowd roared again.
Anakin’s mind wandered away from Ulith’s over-hype, and he checked his gloves and helmet for the tenth time. He didn’t bother responding to her taunt this time; he had larger ambitions than showing up yet another snobbish off-worlder. He was jolted back to Ulith’s voice as it rose to an incredible pitch.
“Today, the magnificent Desilijic Hutts are proud to announce that they have brought to Tatooine a racer of unbelievable status. This woman is perhaps the most famous flyer to ever grace a landing bay. Her beauty is matched by her ruthlessness, her thirty-nine victories are consecutive!” Ulith paused as the cheering crowd threatened to drown him out. “Ladies, Gentlemen, and high rollers from across the quadrant, I give you…” he licked his lips in anticipation. “…from Corellia, flying a Delta-7 Aethersprite prototype, the pride of the Kuat Shipyards, AIYA RIOS!”
Even in his sealed cockpit, Anakin almost had to cover his ears. This time, there were actually two different roars. He could look into the stands and see that there was almost a dividing line. One half of the spectators were cheering with extreme passion, the other half were actually jeering. Anakin realized that the half that was less than pleased must have been the locals who did not approve of Ulith’s delight and enthusiasm.
He glanced over at Aiya again, but all he saw were cameras swarming all around her ship. Ulith waited for the crowd’s intensity to slacken before speaking again.
“Finally, we have a racer whose skill is matched only by his incredible daring. You were thrilled when he became the first local to win the Tatooine Cup in forty years. You were in shock when he became the only racer in history to win three in a row.” Ulith was clearly milking this for all it was worth. The crowd was buzzing in the stands, the volume growing louder with every word.
“You were in awe when, in his fifth race, he was able to save a stranded pilot from falling into the atmosphere before the lifeboats could get to him and still bring home the victory!” He paused once again as the crowd began chanting something. It was too low for Anakin to hear, but it was clearly intensifying.
“Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen. This flyer’s skills are un-deniable, his reflexes are un-measureable, and his courage is un-doubtable.” Ulith’s voice had to get louder with every word so he could be heard clearly over the crowd. Anakin realized what the crowd was chanting. They were chanting his name over and over again.
“Pull out your wallets and tug on those heartstrings…” the crowd rose as one now, the sound of their roars hitting his cockpit like a tidal wave. “…for the Boy with Bravado, the Ace of Anchorhead, the Titan of Tatooine, I give you Anakin…Skywalker!”
The Three Dimensional Imagers flew from Aiya’s ship to his in half a heartbeat. Like a swarm of angry Zethas, the TDI’s buzzed around his cockpit and he brought out his best smile as his face flashed up to the fourteen large screens as well as the thousands of personal imagers the people obtained that the Hutts charged a nominal fee for. His head swam as he felt the adoration from the crowd course through him.
Finally, the cameras peeled away. The crowd’s roar resumed a dull buzz as a series of bells sounded.
“Ten minutes left, let’s see what they’ve given me,” Anakin said as he focused on his navcomputer. An image was quickly uploaded onto the screen that finally revealed the map and target locations for today’s race. He let out a low whistle.
He zoomed in on several sections of the map and the various checkpoints he would need to pass through. “Over the Dune Sea will give me an edge in speed. Twisting through Beggar’s Canyon at eight hundred kph should be fun, and then we climb into orbit and go through the shooting range,” he muttered to himself.
From personal experience he knew that several of the other flyers would fall behind trying to get through Beggar’s Canyon. Others would quickly lose sight of Anakin as he would blow past them on the Dune Sea.
“But what about Aiya…” Anakin wondered to himself. He had flown against many of these flyers before, but she and her ship were the X factors.
The bells sounded again, signaling the two minute warning and Anakin scanned the map one last time. Finally, he adjusted his helmet, gloves, and safety harness one more time before waiting for the final countdown to the start of his last race. He stole one last glance over at Aiya Rios to see her totally focused in on the task at hand.
“Stupid!” he said to himself. “Keep your eyes on the prize, Anakin.”
A series of lights appeared on his HUD, a red one flashing at him. He activated his engines and felt them roar to life. Anakin gripped his controls just as he had done so many times before. He felt comfortable, at home, at ease here in his cockpit without any of Tatooine’s distractions weighing him down. Owen’s moisture farm wasn’t here, Anakin’s meaningless existence, and his lack of a future wasn’t here. He would miss racing when he left, but there was no turning back now. Anakin’s time on Tatooine was over.
The light stopped flashing and moved quickly from left to right. Once they went to the green light, Anakin pressed his accelerator forward and his craft shot forward along with all the others. Anakin’s final race, and his race for freedom, had begun.