Read an Excerpt
“COME TO COURSE TWO-SIX-NINE.
” Han, following his wife’s directions, banked the Falcon around and headed toward the government district. Leia, in the copilot’s seat, had her personal comlink to her ear.
The Falcon’s comm board was alive with Coruscant Security and traffic monitors warning Han to return to designated ship traffic lanes or be subject to arrest. He growled and switched the thing to silent mode. “They found him?”
“They found him. He’s in an X-wing with a hole in the cockpit.”
“Fifty—fifty chance. It was in the Senate Building, so it’s either a fully functional security vehicle or some Senator’s unarmed memoriesof- youth vehicle. I’m hoping for the second option.”
“Come to two-five-nine.”
“Nah.” Han put the Falcon into a dive. His stomach fluttered, and the sensor screen filled up with tiny objects getting larger–small- vehicle traffic at and below building-top level. Flashing down at terrifying and illegal speed, he twitched the controls right and left, nimbly dodging the much smaller civilian vehicles.
“Han, what do you think–”
Then he was fully among them, streams of traffic above as well as below. He pulled out of his dive two hundred meters below the average height of the buildings.
“This way, we’re off the major sensor boards. Only vehicles with line of sight on us will complain.”
“I understand that. I mean, why not turn to two-five-nine?”
“His course changes are just to jerk us around, to confuse us. I know where he’s going.”
“The spaceport, right at the edge of the government district. He stole a starfighter; that means he wants to make space. It’s damaged, so he can’t. He needs another one. Right?”
“When it comes to piloting and pilots, I’m all-knowing.”
Leia put an artificial sweetness into her voice. “I’ll never argue with you again.”
Han snorted and increased velocity. A Coruscant Security speeder following in his wake dropped back, left behind as though it were suddenly standing still.
Luke and Ben, in Ben’s nimble red airspeeder, received the transmission with Han’s guess about the spaceport.
Luke, at the controls, shook his head, not pleased. The spaceport, comparatively flat and built at a much lower altitude than the surrounding residential, business, and government zones, was not, as most supposed, actually situated at bedrock level. Below it were many levels of machinery, repair hangars, Empire-era emergency bunkers, spaceport employee facilities, and repair accesses.
If Han was right and Valin was headed that way, even if he was unsuccessful at stealing another spaceworthy vehicle he might escape into those subterranean regions, making it hard or impossible to find him before he detected his tracking device and destroyed it.
Their speeder emerged from the skytowers and was abruptly out over the flatter region surrounding the spaceport. It was mostly given over to speeder parking, though it had decorative elements, including tree-spotted grassy regions and a small artificial lake.
And sensor stations. Almost immediately, the speeder’s comm board began blaring with instructions for them to turn back, to stay away from restricted airspace.
“Tell them who we are.” Luke had to raise his voice to a shout to be heard.
“I bet it doesn’t work. Who’s on the news as a criminal suspect? You are.”
“Do it anyway.” Luke put the speeder into a holding pattern, keeping close to the ring of skytowers, not approaching the port itself. The authorities might well decide to shoot down a suspicious speeder– piloted by a suspected criminal or not–heading straight toward an invaluable government and civilian transportation resource. Sabotage and terror attacks had taken place as recently as the war, two years earlier.
Ben looked up from the comm board, startled. “We’re not the only ones.”
“What?” Luke scanned the airspace above the spaceport.
There were a lot of small vehicles there now, most of them airspeeders of one size or another. Some were bigger business vehicles, many with lettering and symbols on the sides.
From the utility compartment, Ben pulled out a pair of macro - binoculars and held them to his eyes. “That one’s a press vehicle. Turret-mounted holocam on top. That one–hey, that’s Jaina. The big green one–oh, kriff.”
“Language. What is it?”
“It has an oversized driver’s cab and that Skakoan is in it.”
Luke frowned. Suddenly everyone knew that Valin was coming here, including press and bounty hunters. That meant open comm channels were being monitored, and people with no business being here were up to date. Daala’s people had to be doing this.
Then he saw it, almost at ground level, an X-wing painted in classic First Galactic Civil War grays. Its running lights were off; it was illuminated only by the glows from parking area pole lights–it flew beneath the altitude of the lights themselves.
“Hold on.” Luke pushed his control yoke forward, sending the speeder into a precipitous dive.
Ben’s lips were drawn back in a grimace–perhaps because no teenager wants anyone else to endanger his vehicle recklessly, that being the teenager’s own prerogative–but said, “Falcon’s incoming.”
“Good.” Luke put the speeder on an intercept course, or a collision course if anything went wrong, and switched the autopilot on. He unlatched his seat restraints and slid toward Ben. “Take the controls.”
He was gratified to see his son’s eyes open wide, but Ben did as he was told; the boy unbuckled, slid under his father, grabbed the controls, disengaged the autopilot.
Luke stood up in the seat, drawing on the Force to keep him pinned in place despite the rush of wind threatening to tear him free.
He counted on Ben to know what to do, and his son did not let him down. Ben leveled off at the same altitude as the X-wing, completing his maneuver just meters behind the starfighter, and drew alongside that vehicle’s port side.
Luke sprang across the gap separating his seat from the cockpit. The wind threatened to whip him away, but a boost of Force energy carried him to the fuselage just as Valin Horn was realizing he had a pace vehicle. Luke landed astride the nose, facing astern, staring straight down into Valin’s startled features.
Valin yanked up on the X-wing’s armrests. The canopy was suddenly open, snapping backward, and gone, and Valin hurtled into the sky, his pilot’s chair propelled by a crude one-use rocket.
“Stang! He punched out.” Han pounded his steering yoke. Leia looked as aggravated as Han felt. “Can the cargo tractor beam–”
“Not strong enough. Can’t compensate for a fast-moving target.”
“We have to go after Valin, then.”
Han shook his head. “The ejection won’t have left enough controls for Luke to land the X-wing. He may be able to lift it or push it down with the Force . . . but land it with no controls? No. We have to help him.” He heeled over, diving toward the X-wing.
“He punched out.” Jaina reluctantly turned her attention from Luke, disappearing toward the spaceport on the uncontrolled X-wing, and returned it to Valin, still ascending in his ejection seat. She banked and headed toward the rogue Jedi.
In the passenger seat, Master Kyle Katarn, about Luke’s age, darkhaired and dark-bearded, stretched as if coming out of a nap. “You plan to maneuver underneath and catch him?”
Katarn pointed toward another speeder, a large, flatbed cargo hauler with figures standing in the cargo bed. This vehicle rose toward Valin’s position from a much nearer position. “So do they.”
Valin’s seat reached its maximum altitude and began dropping. Immediately the short-term repulsor within the seat activated, slowing his descent. He felt as though he’d taken a tremendous blow to the top of his head, doing no damage to it but compressing the spine beneath. Ejections were always like that–bad, but better than the alternative.
And he’d always relish the look on Not-Luke’s face when he’d ejected. It had been priceless.
A cargo hauler maneuvered itself toward his descent path. Grumbling, he got his lightsaber into one hand, grabbing his seat restraint buckle with the other.
As the hauler came underneath, instead of waiting for the seat to touch down, Valin unbuckled the restraints and flipped forward, landing on his feet moments before the seat landed.
In the cargo bed, three individuals waited–a Quarren with a vastly oversized weapon, a shining droid whose construction bore a slight resemblance to a human skeleton, and a tall blond woman whose black bantha-hide jacket was decorated with a vast number of claws and teeth in different sizes and colors, sewn in place; she carried a Wookiee bowcaster.
Valin smiled at them, but not in a friendly way. “Two maladjusted want-to-be bounty hunters and their dressed-up protocol droid.”
“Surrender,” the Quarren said. “It will hurt less.” He raised his preposterous weapon to his shoulder.
“Jump into a fire.” Valin all but ignored the two organic beings. He kept his attention on the droid–a YVH 1 combat droid, one of the most dangerous machines to be found anywhere.
Now even machines were giving him a bad feeling. And he could detect a life-form heading toward him from straight above–
He glanced upward to see a speeder car passing by overhead, and boot heels, flapping Jedi robes, and an illuminated lightsaber descending toward him at a normal falling rate.
In his lower peripheral vision, he saw the three bounty hunters glance up to spot the descending Jedi. Valin took the opportunity to act: he grabbed his abandoned ejection seat and leapt with it off the rear end of the cargo hauler.
Jaina landed in a crouch just where Valin had been standing. He was gone. She rose to glower at the bounty hunters. “Don’t bother.”
“We’re not here to harm you,” the YVH droid said, its tones utterly and confidently human.
Jaina stared at the thing, nonplussed. “Just what have you been programmed for?”
She felt a tickle in the Force, warning of imminent attack, and saw the Quarren’s finger tighten on the trigger. She jumped to one side as he fired.
It did her no good. The missile that emerged from the weapon immediately flared out into a haze that wrapped around her, clinging everywhere–it took her a fraction of a second to recognize it as a metal-mesh net trailing some sort of cylindrical package.
Then the first jolt of electrical pain hit her. Startled, suddenly separated from her Force powers, she sailed over the edge of the cargo hauler and dropped into empty space beyond.
Valin clung to the ejection seat and rode it down another twenty meters. The next vehicle to approach him held no ersatz Jedi, no imposters that he could see–it was a boxy blue speeder, the Galaxy 9 News logo painted on its side in yellow. It drew alongside, its pilot skillfully keeping pace with Valin’s rate of descent.
A dark-skinned woman leaned out the passenger-side window. “Jedi Horn! Is it true you’re on a destructive rampage?”
Valin leapt from his seat, slamming into the side of the speeder, holding on to the woman’s door to keep from falling. She drew back, startled, but he gave her a friendly smile. “Get me out of here, away from these people, and I’ll give you the greatest scoop you’ve ever had.”
The woman’s eyes widened. She turned to issue a brief command to her pilot, then turned back, all smiles. “Let me help you in . . .”
“I’ll hang on here, thanks.” The news speeder banked, sluggish, and headed toward the business district. “How did you know I was Valin Horn?”
“An arrest bulletin issued a little while ago by the office of the Chief of State . . .”
The Quarren watched, startled, as Jaina Solo vanished over the lip.
The woman in the black jacket clapped him on the back. “Nice move, fish-head. She’s not–”
Her words were cut off as an airspeeder, painted in a stylish silvergray, dived past the cargo hauler’s cab, missing it by less than a meter.
The hauler’s pilot reacted instinctively, veering to starboard and down. The sudden maneuver sharply tilted the cargo bed.
The Quarren staggered to his left and stumbled clean off the edge of the cargo hauler. The blond woman staggered, too, but dropped, rolled with an acrobat’s skill, and fetched up safely against the low rail at the side of the cargo bed.
The YVH droid didn’t budge.
Luke flipped into the cockpit and did an involuntary dance for a moment until both feet found nonsuperheated areas on the floor of the still-smoking compartment.
He glanced at the controls and grimaced. Every screen was out of commission. Experimentally, he waggled the yoke and found it unresponsive. This would be tricky, if not downright impossible.
He turned. There, in the circular slot behind the cockpit, rested a gray and red R2 astromech.
“Hey, there. Can you pilot this thing?”
The R2 tweetled, ending on a sorrowful note.
“Forget steering. Can you kill the thrusters but leave the repulsors running?”
The R2 offered a series of notes that sounded quizzical. Luke heard starfighter systems dip and rise in power, fluctuations that lasted a fraction of a second each, then the R2 tweetled an affirmative.
“Do so. Execute. Problem solved.” Luke turned to port. Ben was still there, a few meters away, pacing him with considerable skill.
Luke leapt back across, settling into the passenger seat. “Did you keep track of Valin?”
“Up thirty degrees, port twenty, three hundred meters.”
“Strap in and take us there.” Leia shook her head as she watched Luke abandon the X-wing. “I’m not sure how, but he thinks he has it solved.”
“Probably drafted the astromech. Took me a second to think of that myself.” Han did not look away from the silver-gray speeder, which had, moments earlier, matched the netted Jaina’s precipitous fall; then the pilot had gestured, drawing Jaina into the seat beside him with an exertion through the Force, and pulled out of his dive. Han glanced at his wife, who, watching Luke, hadn’t seen any of it.
He shook his head. Jaina must not even have been alarmed, since Leia had not even detected her brief emergency. He put the Falcon into a tight curve, aiming it toward the news speeder that now bore Valin away and the lumbering cargo hauler chasing it. “That YVH droid could be bad news. Want to take the belly lasers?”
“I do.” Leia was unstrapped and up in an instant, headed aft toward the laser turret access shaft.
Jaina, helpless, spasmed again as another electrical shock coursed through her. “Get this thing off me.”
“I’m driving here, and that’s Get this thing off me, please, Master Katarn.”
She offered a very Han Solo—ish growl in response.
Dropping almost to parked-speeder level, Kyle set his vessel in pursuit of Valin’s conveyance and the cargo hauler. The hauler now seemed to be towing something at the end of a cable. It took him a moment to recognize the Quarren. A cable stretched between his weapon and the tail of the hauler, and the Quarren held on to his weapon with both arms as if to save his life. As the hauler picked up speed, the Quarren was towed along behind at a more shallow angle.
Absently, barely looking, Kyle took his lightsaber from his belt, lit it, and lashed out against the metal cylinder attached to Jaina’s net where it lay bouncing on the back of the speeder. His blow sheared through the object without scarring the speeder’s paint beneath. “Better?”
“Actually, yes.” Jaina lay there a few more moments, then began struggling with the net. It had relaxed, no longer constricting or clinging to itself, and she was able to unwrap it within moments. “Electrical shocks.”
“Interfering with your control over the Force. Which turns you from a Jedi into a rather weak gymnast with a spasming problem.”
“That’s one way to put it.” The Galaxy 9 News speeder reached the edge of the business district before any of the vehicles pursuing it caught up. It shot through the cleft between skytowers that constituted the end of the spaceport zone and dropped toward lower traffic lanes.
The bounty hunter cargo hauler followed, descending at an angle not recommended for such a big, ungainly vehicle, still trailing the Quarren, who looked increasingly frantic. Then came Jaina and Kyle in their speeder, the Falcon, Luke and Ben, and finally a stream of speeders with Jedi, spaceport security, press, and more bounty hunters intermixed.
“Whoa.” Kyle put the speeder into a side-to-side evasive maneuver an instant before the YVH droid in the cargo hauler opened fire. Streams of blasterfire flashed beside his door, then just above Jaina’s head, then immediately under the fuselage.
A pulse of laserfire, four brilliant red streams converging so closely that they seemed to be one, crossed from above and behind the speeder to hit the YVH droid dead center in the chest. The droid was catapulted off its feet and smashed through the rear of the hauler’s control cab, disappearing completely.
Smoke poured out of the cab, and the hauler began to nose forward into a shallow dive.
Jaina craned her neck back to see the Falcon, pacing the speeder at a higher altitude. She waved at her mother, clearly visible in the underside turret. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Most mothers just pack a lunch.” Kyle put on a burst of speed, accelerating toward the news speeder. “You want to try another jump?”
“I guess.” Jaina checked her lightsaber, then clipped it to her belt.
Another speeder, black with arrow-tipped white stripes on the sides, open-topped, raced past Kyle’s. It was no civilian vehicle; the roar from its engines was similar to that of a Podracer. It was a twoseater, and the pilot was the bounty hunter who dressed as a Jedi. Beside her was a man Jaina had barely glimpsed at Luke’s arrest, a Rodian holding an unusually long blaster rifle, scoped, in his hands. As they roared past, the woman gave Kyle and Jaina a wave.
The striped racer dipped low and passed the news speeder moments later. Jaina saw the passenger turn, raise his weapon, and fire at the news vehicle.
It was not a destructive shot–it was surgical. Smoke began issuing from the news speeder. It wobbled, probably from a fright reflex on the part of the pilot. Moments later, viewports all over the vehicle opened, allowing smoke to pour out everywhere.
• * Luke took a moment to assess the vista before him. The news speeder was clearly doomed, so Valin would be abandoning it as soon as possible. “Take me over it, just to one side.”
Ben nodded and put on more speed. Crowding the edge of the traffic lane, he passed below the Falcon, then above Master Katarn and Jaina. Drawing near the news speeder, he maintained his higher altitude but sideslipped to port, putting Luke directly above the speeder’s roof.
Once again Luke looked down into the face of Valin Horn. He flipped over the side and landed at the rear of the speeder’s roof, stabilizing himself through the Force.
Valin flipped up to the roof. “Wish you’d taken longer with that X-wing.”
Luke gestured at the lightsaber Valin carried–not Valin’s own, it was a very simple cylinder of shining steel. “Did that belong to your nurse?”
“Yes.” Valin switched it on. “It’s not very stylish, but–”
“That’s enough.” Luke advanced, activating his own lightsaber. Valin raised his in a preliminary block. Luke struck, twitching his blade out of the most obvious line of attack, and the blade sheared the hilt of Valin’s weapon in two, not harming him.
Valin’s blade switched off as the weapon’s lower half dropped into the darkened urban chasm below. Valin took a step back, the last step he could afford before dropping off the front of the speeder, but Luke’s advance was near instantaneous. The Grand Master slammed the butt of his own weapon into Valin’s temple.
Valin Horn dropped like a slaughterhouse bantha. Luke caught his topcoat lapel, keeping him from following the lightsaber wreckage into the depths.