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Poisoned by centuries of technological excess, the planet Duro is an unlivable hell, long abandoned by its own inhabitants, who dwell above their polluted world in orbital habitats. But there is no place else to channel the flood of refugees fleeing the murderous ...
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Poisoned by centuries of technological excess, the planet Duro is an unlivable hell, long abandoned by its own inhabitants, who dwell above their polluted world in orbital habitats. But there is no place else to channel the flood of refugees fleeing the murderous Yuuzhan Vong. So a deal is struck: In exchange for a new home, the refugees will work to restore the planet to health, under the watchful eye of Leia Organa Solo.
Joined through the Force even before they were born, he and Jaina had
always been able to tell when the other was hurt or afraid. But for him
to sense her over the distances that lay between them now, she must've
been terribly— The pain winked off. "Jaina!" he whispered, appalled.
He stretched out toward her, trying to find her again. Barely aware of
fuzzy shapes clustering around him and a Ryn voice hooting for a medical
droid, he felt as if he were shrinking—falling backwards into vacuum. He
tried focusing deep inside and outside himself, to grab on to the Force
and punch out—or slip into a healing trance. Could he take Jaina with
him, if he did? Uncle Luke had taught him a dozen focusing techniques,
back at the academy, and since then.
A voice seemed to echo in his mind, but it wasn't Jaina's. It was deep,
male—vaguely like his uncle's.
Making an effort, Jacen imagined his uncle's face, trying to focus on
that echo. An enormous white vortex seemed to spin around him. It
pulled at him, drawing him toward its dazzling center.
What was going on?
Then he saw his uncle, robed in pure white, half turned away. Luke
Skywalker held his shimmering lightsaber in a diagonal stance, hands at
hit level, pointed high.
Jaina! Jacen shouted the words in his mind. Uncle Luke, Jaina's been
Then he saw what held his uncle's attention. In the dim distance, but
clearly in focus, a second form straightened and darkened. Tall,
humanoid, powerfully built, it had a face and chest covered with sinuous
scars and tattoos. Itships and legs were encased in rust-brown armor.
Claws protruded from its heels and knuckles, and an ebony cloak flowed
from its shoulders. The alien held a coal-black, snake-headed amphistaff
across its body, mirroring the angle of Luke's lightsaber, pitting
poisonous darkness against verdant light.
Utterly confused, Jacen stretched out through the Force. First he sensed
the figure in white as a respected uncle—then abruptly as a powerful
depth, blazing in the Force like a star gone nova. But across this
slowly spinning disk, where Jacen's inner vision pre-sented a Yuuzhan
Vong warrior, his Force sense picked up nothing at all. Through the
Force, all Yuuzhan Vong did seem utterly life-less, like the technology
The alien swung its amphistaff. The Jedi Master's lightsaber blazed,
swept down, and blocked the swing, brightening until it washed out
almost everything else in this vision. The Yuuzhan Vong's amphistaff
seemed darker than any absence of light, a dark-ness that seemed alive
but promised death.
The broad, spinning disk on which they both stood finally slowed. It
focused into billions of stars. Jacen picked out the familiar map of
Luke dropped into a fighting stance, poised near the galaxy's center,
the Deep Core. He raised his lightsaber and held it high, near his right
shoulder, pointing inward. From three points of darkness, beyond the
Rim, tattooed assailants advanced.
More of them? Jacen realized this was a vision, not a battle unfolding
in front of him, with little to do with his twin sister.
Or maybe everything to do with her! Did these new invaders symbolize
other invasion forces, more worldships—besides the ones that were
already beating back everything the New Republic could throw at them?
Reaching out to Jaina, maybe he had tapped the Force itself—or maybe it
broke through to him.
The galaxy seemed to teeter, poised between light and darkness. Luke
stood close to the center, counterweighing the dark invaders.
But as their numbers increased, the balance tipped.
Uncle Luke, Jacen shouted. What should I do?
Luke turned away from the advancing Yuuzhan Vong. Looking to Jacen with
somber intensity, he tossed his lightsaber. It flew in a low, humming
arc, trailing pale green sparks onto the galactic plane.
Eyeing the advancing horde, Jacen felt another enemy try to seize him:
anger, from deep in his heart. Fear and fury focused his strength. If he
could, he would utterly destroy the Yuuzhan Vong and all they stood for!
He opened a hand, stretched out his arm . . .
The Jedi weapon sailed past him. As anger released him, fear took a
tighter hold. Jacen flailed, leapt, tried stretching out with the Force.
Luke's lightsaber sailed on, shrinking and dimming with distance.
Now the galaxy tipped more quickly. A dark, deadly tempest gathered
around the alien warriors. Disarmed, Luke stretched out both hands.
First he, then his enemies, swelled to impossible sizes.
Instead of human and alien figures, now Jacen saw light and dark-ness as
entirely separate forces. Even the light terrified him in its grandeur
and majesty. The galaxy seemed poised to plunge toward evil, but Jacen
couldn't help staring at the fearful light, spellbound, burning his
A Jedi knows no fear . . . He'd heard that a thousand times, but this
sensation was no cowardly urge to run. This was awe, it was reverence—a
passionate longing to draw nearer. To serve the light and transmit its
But compared to the forces battling around him, he was only a tiny
point. Helpless and unarmed, besides—because of one moment's dark anger.
Had that misstep doomed him? Not just him, but the galaxy?
A voice like Luke's, but deeper, shook the heavens. Jacen, it boomed.
The horizon tilted farther. Jacen lunged forward, determined to lend his
small weight to Luke's side, to the light.
He misstepped. He flailed for Luke's hand, but missed again. And again,
his weight fell slightly—by centimeters—toward the dark enemies.
Luke seized his hand and held tightly. Hang on, Jacen! The slope
steepened under their feet. Stars extinguished. The Yuuzhan Vong
warriors scrambled forward. Whole star clusters winked out, a dark
cascade under clawed enemy feet.
Plainly, the strength of a hundred-odd Jedi couldn't keep the galaxy
from falling to this menace. One misstep—at one critical moment, by one
pivotal person—could doom everyone they'd sworn to protect. No military
force could stop this invasion, because it was a spiritual battle. And
if one pivotal person fell to the dark side—or even used the ravishing,
terrifying power of light in a wrong way—then this time, everything they
knew might slide into stifling darkness.
Is that it? he cried toward the infinite distance.
Again, Jacen perceived the words in a voice that was utterly familiar
but too deep to be Luke's. Stand firm, Jacen.
One of the Yuuzhan Vong leapt toward him. Jacen gasped and flung out
Posted December 10, 2002
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