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Dawn of a New Threat

Chapter 6

"Ambassador, we have entered the system and will be landing on Falor I soon."

"Thank you, Captain," Leia answered succintly, nodding in Captain Teo's direction. She hadn't been much for words the last few days, too preoccupied with her thoughts about the meeting ahead with the Falorians.

She wasn't even sure exactly what had her so worried. She had been on countless missions such as these in her distinguished career, enough for her not to be so anxious about this particular one. Certainly there was nothing on the surface of it all to arouse such apprehension in her. Parsis had warned her that she had to be careful, but such precaution was standard in these diplomatic missions.

And yet, something in her, a strong intuition honed by years of training in the ways of the Force, whispered to her... Danger? Conflict? Something was imminent, and tied to Falor somehow, but she couldn't quite put a finger on the vague perception that she was sensing.

She continued to stare out of the observation window before which she had stood for the last few hours, unable to tear herself away from the sight of the bright blue planet they were fast approaching. No one had dared to disturb her as she stood there in silence, except to give her brief updates about the ship's course. They had all sensed that she needed her time to be alone with her thoughts.

But Sarkakh was concerned. The tiny, gray-skinned Noghri had been Leia's bodyguard for several years now, and she knew her well enough to know when Leia was troubled. "You have not said much in the last few days, your highness," she whispered in her low, raspy voice.

When Leia didn't answer, Sarkakh moved closer to stand beside her. She waited in silence for her to meet her gaze. "Is everything all right, your highness?" she said again quietly, concerned for her mistress, but not wanting to intrude.

Leia finally turned to the Noghri and offered her a weak smile. "Yes, I am... I'm... I'm sorry I've been so withdrawn since we left Coruscant, Sarkakh," she sighed, clasping her hands behind her, her long ceremonial braids swaying slightly as she exhaled. "I don't mean to alarm anybody, but there's been a lot on my mind the last few days."

Sarkakh nodded in understanding. She looked out the observation window where Leia's attention had been fixed. The ambassador had been staring at Falor I for the last few hours now, transfixed by the sight of it. Sarkakh watched her mistress further, observing the look of quiet distress on her that somehow added a few years to her normally youthful face. "You are... apprehensive about this mission, your highness?" she asked her.

Leia nodded without taking her eyes off the large planet before her. "There's something... Something I'm sensing about this..." She sighed again, letting her shoulders drop, trying to release the tension she had unwittingly been carrying. "I just want everything to go well here," she said softly, as she smoothed the wrinkles out of the sleeves of her lilac dress. "Situations like this are always touchy, and there's a chance that saying or doing the wrong thing can spark something big. I've got to make sure that doesn't happen."

"I don't understand," Sarkakh said, "this is only a meeting to discuss their petition, is it not? Is the Republic... Are you... in danger?"

"I wish I could answer that," Leia replied. "But I honestly don't know."

"Has the counsilor's ship arrived yet, Governor?"

"Not yet sir," came the reply from Milton's flickering holovid image. "But they will be arriving shortly. We just received a transmission from them informing us that they will land in about 30 minutes."

"Good, good," Sorbin nodded in approval. "I am looking forward to meeting with the ambassador. Inform me as soon as they arrive, Governor. That is all."

Milton bowed in reverence before his image disappeared on the holovid. Sorbin smiled to himself as he thought of the upcoming meeting with the New Republic delegate.

Yes, he was indeed relishing the opportunity to meet the renown Leia Organa Solo in person. To prepare for their meeting, he made sure to find out more about the former Chief of State of the New Republic. And much about her fascinated him greatly. She was certainly no lightweight to be easily manipulated. He had been told that she was an exceptionally bright and gifted diplomat, one who was very much committed to the ideals of the still young government. Raised a princess, she was accustomed to the high-brow life, but nonetheless spurned a quiet life on Alderaan to follow in her father's footsteps, rising to political glory at a young age.

He had heard of her then, the sixteen year old phenom who was surprisingly commanding and persuasive in the Imperial Senate. No one at the time could believe the presence and passion she showed at such a young age. No doubt it was this fire in her that led her to her double life as a leader in the Rebel Alliance, thus arousing the ire of the Empire, who regarded her as a dangerous traitor.

He leaned back in his chair and interlaced his fingers, thinking of the upcoming discussions. He was not really nervous; he had much confidence that she would agree with him that permitting Falor would be a wise strategic move for the Republic, expanding their sphere of influence into this part of the galaxy. But he was more than prepared to use whatever means necessary to convince her and the Republic should they show any hesitancy in the matter.

"A Jedi Knight," he said outloud, his thoughts once again returning to Solo. So many legends about the famed Jedi had existed for centuries. They were known for being powerful and wise, but he was not afraid. He laughed. Governor Milton may have been intimidated by the Jedi, but he was not. They were only human, after all. Even the mighty Jedi once fell from their pedestal and became nearly extinct as a result. They may have been reborn again thanks to Solo's brother, but he refused to believe they were invincible. No, Solo's Jedi knighthood did not frighten him in the least.

"Minister, the Republic ambassador has arrived."

"Thank you, Governor. I'll be out to greet her momentarily," Sorbin replied with a sly grin.

He was ready to face her.

"It's a pleasure to meet you finally, Minister Sorbin. I'm honored that you've received us as guests here," Leia said as she shook Sorbin's hand, careful to sound humble and respectful.

"The pleasure is all mine, Ambassador Solo," he replied back, making sure to offer a welcoming smile to make her feel comfortable. "I'm glad you accepted our invitation to meet with us personally regarding the matter of our joining the Republic. This has been a most distressing matter to us for the last twenty months, and I am anxious to get this resolved as soon as possible." He deliberately emphasized the last sentence to stress the urgency of the situation. Slowly, he released her hand, but did not let his eyes leave hers. "Beyond that, your highness," he said, satisfied with himself for remembering to flatter her with her royal title, "I do hope you will enjoy your brief stay here."

He's certainly smooth, Leia thought to herself, surprised to hear him call her by her Alderaanian title. He knows what he's doing... She smiled, acknowledging the gesture. "Yes, I know I will. Your world is beautiful, from the little I have seen. It even reminds me a bit of my home world of Alderaan."

"Well, thank you, that is very gracious of you to say so, Madame Solo," Sorbin said, feigning surprise. Leia nearly laughed, but managed to contain herself. The false humility was a bit overdone. "Perhaps when we have a free moment, you would enjoy a tour of the surrounding area."

"I would like that very much," she responded, continuing to watch him and Milton, trying to get a sense of what kind of men she was dealing with here.

Milton was clearly the more reserved of the two. Unlike Sorbin, he made no effort to be gracious towards her, merely civil. He did not smile at her, but neither did he frown. She could sense his hostility towards her, and even a slight hint of fear, though he made a conscious effort to disguise his emotions for the sake of being diplomatic.

He had the look of a military man, his hair closely cropped, his stance straight and tall, and unmoving. His face was humorless and he wore a blank expression.

By contrast, Sorbin appeared much more relaxed and affable. He had a distinguished air about him. He was dignified -- even handsome -- with graying hair and vibrant violet eyes that could charm anyone.

And yet, she didn't really sense any warmth or sincerity in him, though it was obvious he intended to put her at ease. His overtures had not gone unnoticed by Leia in the least. Parsis' words of warning echoed in her head. He had cautioned her not to underestimate Sorbin, and now she could see why. He had a charisma that was almost dangerous.

"You are not accompanied by a protocol droid, Madame Ambassador?"

"No, not on this mission. I didn't feel it was necessary. I do hope, however, that you don't mind... The Republic insisted that I travel with some bodyguards," Leia told him, gesturing towards her Noghri companions. "This of course, doesn't reflect any misgivings about our meeting here, I assure you. It's merely protocol."

Sorbin nodded. "Yes, of course, I understand perfectly, Ambassador. Naturally, they are welcome in the meeting with us." He extended his hand towards the large double doors in front of them. "Well, if you'll please follow me and Governor Milton to the boardroom, we can get started on our discussions. They have been long overdue, wouldn't you agree?" He smiled for extra measure. Leia noted the gesture but remained cool.

As Sorbin expected, she was excellent at remaining composed. She'll be a tough one to convince, he admitted to himself, but I'm not worried. Inwardly he smiled.

I'll get my way sooner or later...

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