With the lights of Coruscant scintillating below him like a second starfield, Han piloted his speeder up through the criss-crossing levels of traffic. Taking every opportunity, no matter how dangerous, he ziz-zagged past other, safer drivers – always on the cusp of a collision, but never quite touching any of the other speeders. His hands seemed to be glued to the controls, his eyes never wavering from the reinforced viewscreen in front of him.
Acclerating up into the midlevel traffic lanes, much more congested than both the lower and higher ones, Han’s deft movements kept him accelerating at a frenetic pace. At each vertical exchange, he sent his speeder into a dizzying vertical spin, adding just enough power to his repulsorlifts to jump to the next level in front of everyone else. He couldn’t help the grin that creased his face as a Gungan in a taxi honked at him.
He only relaxed when he reached the upper-tier. It was much rarer to encounter other speeders up here – this was an area reserved for private skycars and limousines, vehicles verified as having diplomatic credentials. Winding round the vast pinnacles of the diplomatic sector, he eventually piloted the speeder down to the docking platform on the 53rd level of the Corellian Embassy building.
Reaching back, he retrieved his briefcase and a recording unit he had kept hidden in his jacket during the meet-and-greet. Climbing out, he walked across the platform, past the handful of other diplomatic vehicles that were parked there, to the elevator pod that jutted from the roof. Once inside, he pressed his palm to the identification plate and waited for the pod’s security systems to scan him from head to toe. Recognising him, the pod immediately began to descend down to his office.
It was a short trip, only five floors down. When the doors opened, he found his secretary, Ly’ana, waiting for him. A shapely Twi’lek, she had been his personal assistant back on Corellia and had followed him to Coruscant when his father assigned him to the diplomatic corps. Though she now ran a staff of five other embassy assistants, she had insisted on retaining her place as his personal secretary.
She sighed as he stepped out of the elevator. “Today of all days, you’d think you’d have made an effort. Look at you!”
He looked down at his clothes. "What? What’s wrong with the way I look?"
"Where do I start? Your jacket isn't pressed, your shirt looks like you rolled around in it and don't even get me started on your hair."
He ran a hand through his hair, grinning. "Relax Ly’. It's all part of the game."
She rolled her eyes, muttering something under her breath. Turning back to her desk, she grabbed a handful of pads and brandished them at him.
"On top of
the thirteen message from yesterday, I have three messages marked urgent from Grand Moff Tarkin's office, which arrived a moment after you stepped out the door, a diplomatic invitation from the Hutt embassy, a message from..."
"No time," he said, waving the messages away.
She stopped and glared at him. He held up his hands.
"I’m not just trying to get out of dealing with them Ly’. I need to talk to my father, now."
Favouring him with another glare, Ly'ana threw the pads down on the desk. "Fine. I'll just have that many more messages for you tomorrow."
He sidled up behind her, letting his hands rest on her shoulders. "Come on Ly. Don't be mad. I swear, I'll deal with all of these pads before tomorrow."
She groaned as he began to massage her shoulders. "Don’t try that with me, Han Solo.” He could tell it was working though and he carried on. She closed her eyes. “I swear, one of these days I'm going to... Alright, alright. I'll get you your father."
He gave her shoulders one last squeeze, then let his hands drop away. "Thanks, Ly, you're the best."
"Yeah, yeah, tell me something I don't know," she muttered as he walked into his office.
He had decorated the room himself, the furniture and artwork on the walls testaments to his fine taste and his large bank account. His father always said that it never hurt to show the other guy you had more to lose than he did. And a large blaster to defend it with. A huge wall to wall window afforded him a view over the cityscape canyons of the diplomatic sector. His large desk sat in front of the window on a plush red and purple carpet. While sat behind his desk, he could turn and see out towards the Hutt embassy or into the Corporate Sector representative’s penthouse on the top floor of a nearby tower.
Han wandered over to a door on the other side of the room, into a small living area he had set up for those rare nights when he decided to actually work late. He took off his shirt and jacket, throwing them in the chute that would take them down to the lower level cleaning centre, then ran some water over his face and hair. When he walked back out, wearing a clean, well-pressed shirt and with his hair slicked back, he looked like a new man. A prince
, he thought with a smile.
Jonash Solo had taught his boy a lot about diplomacy and handling expectations. One of his most important lessons had been how to confound those expectations. Make them expect the least from you, boy, and you’ll be able to surprise them at every turn.
Though a lot of his father’s lessons had gone over Han’s head, that one he had taken to heart. So when he had been sent to Coruscant, he had begun to cultivate his image. As far as Tarkin and most of the other embassies were concerned, Han Solo was a scruffy, carefree diletante, a spoiled prince playing at diplomat, so frightened of his father’s shadow that he could never hope to step out of it. Tarkin’ll be in for quite a shock tomorrow at the negotiation table. I hope.
Walking over to his desk, he sat down and called up the embedded comm screen. Typing in his personal code and submitting to a second scan, he waited for his father's face to appear. And waited.
When after a few minutes nothing had happened, he stood up with a sigh and walked back to the outer office. Ly was pressing buttons on her own screen, a frown on her face.
"What's taking so long?"
"I don't know,” she said through gritted teeth. “I can't complete the connection. It's as if the relay isn’t there anymore."
"Have you tried routing it through another relay?"
"No, I’m new here," she snapped. "Of course I have. Five different ones in fact. I just can't get through."
“What about Selonia?”
“No. And before you ask, I’ve already tried to get through to Drall, Tralus and Talus as well. I can’t get through to any of them.”
"What the hell..."
He stepped round the desk behind her. A complicated lattice scrolled across her screen. Her fingertips darted from one line to another, keying in codes as requests popped up in other sections, then drawing more connections between flashing dots. As he watched, another set of green lines went dark red.
"Fyr'shu," she cursed, slapping the console.
"Try reaching Sacorra. Or Froz" he said, mentioning another two systems in the sector.
Her fingers danced across the screen, placing connections in an attempt to reach the planet's comm net. As Han had feared, the green lines soon turned red.
Ly turned to him. "I don't get it. I can't see any reason why this isn't getting through."
"Hey, it's probably just a downed relay sat somewhere,” he said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Don't worry about it. Still, just in case, try and get me someone at the Imperial Communication Ministry."
Ly nodded and turned back to her screen. He could feel how tense her shoulders were beneath his hand. He squeezed and smiled at her, hoping to calm her down. She looked up at him, then smiled back, but it was little more than a twitch of her lips. Han knew that all of her family had fled to the Corellia system during the Rise. It was as much home to her as it was to him.
He left her to make the call and returned to his office. He stood there for a moment, looking out the window as the setting sun ignited the gas emissions of thousands of speeders into a symphony of reds and oranges, yellows and purples. Lights flickered on in the buildings around. Han wondered whether any of the beings in those offices were having the same problems as he was. A thousand fears and rationalisations ran through his head. A downed relay. An electrical storm. A mechanical fault here on Coruscant or on Corellia. A thousand different things. Then why do I feel like someone is dancing on my grave?
When Ly finally informed him that she had someone from the ministry on the line, he forced his shoulders back, running a hand through his hair. Ok, time to act the prince.
He sat down, keyed in his code again, and waited for the screen to clear. When it did, he found himself staring at a long-nosed human male in a close-cut military uniform. The man stared at Han with barely disguised disdain.
"Yes. And you are?"
"Captain Gar Noral. What can I do for you, sir?"
"I was hoping to talk to someone from the Ministry actually..."
"The Ministry has been absorbed, sir. The military now runs all imperial communication centres."
Han started. "When did this happen?"
"This morning. Now if you'd like to explain…"
"I would like to know why I can't reach anyone on my homeworld."
"Which sector?” Noral added a belated, “Sir."
"The Corellian Sector!"
Noral shook his head. "No, sir, I will need the official Imperial designation if you wish me to make a search."
She had obviously been listening in because less than a heartbeat later her face appeared round the door. "You yelped, my Prince?”
He glared at her. Now is not the time.
"Get me the military designation for the home sector."
"Sector 131.42,” she said without missing a beat.
Han turned back to the screen. "Did you catch that?"
The man was already keying something into the screen beside him. A few moments passed and then he nodded. "Here we are. Yes, that sector is undergoing routine maintenance to their comm relays." He looked at Han. "I'm afraid all communications will be down for at least three days."
"Three days! There must be something you can do."
"Unfortunately, no. I will, of course, make sure to inform you as soon as the communication net has been restored. However, as I said, we have only just recently absorbed the communications ministry and we have a lot of work to do. So, if you don't mind..."
Han debated whether to press the point, but quickly decided there was no point. I may need this pompous ass to help me later on.
He nodded. "Of course. I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you. I’m sure you must all be very busy."
"Thank you," Noral said, his expression softening a little. “I’m sure that everything will be back in order very quickly.”
“Thank you. Have a nice evening.”
“And to you, Prince Solo.”
Without another word, the man signed off, leaving Han to wonder what the hell was going on. A communications black out in the Unclaimed Territories, the same day that the Imperial military takes over the Communications Ministry. And the day before some of the most important negotiations in galactic history were about to start… He sat back.
Ly’ana stepped fully into the room. "What do you think?"
"I think the timing of this stinks like a Hutt's rear end. I also think there isn't much we can do about it from here."
"But what if something has happened back on Corellia?"
"The system is well defended. The Empire doesn't have anything to match Centrepoint Station. Besides, I'm sure the Emperor won't want to do anything to risk these negotiations."
"You willing to bet on that?"
All Han wanted to do was make some wisecrack about Corellians and gambling. Never tell a Corellian the odds, he'll always find a way to beat them
, as his father often said. He could tell that Ly was expecting him to do exactly the same.
The problem was, he couldn't bring himself to say it. Instead, he forced a smile.
"You're just going to have to trust me."
He could see on her face that that wasn't what she wanted to hear. Her smile was as false and forced as his own.
"What now?" she asked after a moment.
"Now, we get on with business. Get me those padds. I guess I have some calls to make. Oh, and get me everything we have on the talks planned for tomorrow. Tarkin won’t know what hit him."
She nodded and stepped out. The fact that she didn't make any kind of quip about his sudden ‘zeal’ told him more about her state of mind than anything else could have.
He turned and looked out the window. He could see shadows moving behind the blinds of the Corporate Sector offices. He watched them for a moment, trying to still his thoughts. He tried to make sense of his own frame of mind. By the time Ly’ana got back with the files, he had come to only one conclusion.
For the first time he could remember, Han was well and truly terrified.