Read an Excerpt
Jacen Solo stood with his father outside the mud-block refugee hut they were sharing on Duro. Jacen’s brown coveralls had accumulated a layer of grit and dust, and his wavy, dark-brown hair fell over his ears, not quite long enough to pull back in a tail. Under a translucent gray dome, tension wrapped around him like a Zharan glass-snake—invisible, but so palpable through the Force that he could almost feel its coils constrict.
Something was about to happen. He could feel it coming when he listened through the Force. Something vital, but . . .
A Ryn female—velvet-furred with a spiked mane, her tail and forearm bristles graying with age—stood talking to Jacen’s dad, Han Solo.
“Those are our caravan ships,” she bellowed, waving her hands. “Ours.” She snorted, and the breath whonked through four holes in her chitinous beak.
Han swung around, narrowly missing Jacen with his left arm. “And right at this moment, we can’t afford to take them offworld to run systems checks. You’ve been in a restricted area, Mezza.”
Splashes of red-orange fur highlighted Mezza’s soft taupe coat. Her blue tail tip trembled, a gesture Jacen had learned to interpret as impatience.
“Of course we’ve been in the ship lot,” she snapped. “There’s never been a security fence Ryn couldn’t get inside, and those are our caravan ships. Ours.” She tapped her threadbare vest, which covered an ample chest. “And don’t tell me to trust you, Captain. We do. It’s SELCORE we don’t trust. SELCORE, and the people up there.” She waved her arm skyward.
Han’s mouth twitched, and seventeen-year-old Jacen could almost feel him trying not to laugh. Jacen’s dad could sympathize with refugees making unofficial reconnaissances, especially on board their own ships. But Han was in charge, now. Instead of showing his amusement, he was supposed to enforce SELCORE regulations—publicly, at least, for the sake of a few juvenile offenders. He and Mezza would undoubtedly settle the real issues later, in private.
So Han plunged back into the argument.
Jacen watched the show, trying to pick up one more piece of the puzzle he felt in every cell of his being. Trained as a Jedi and unusually perceptive, he could tell that the Force was about to move. To shift.
This time, he didn’t dare miss the clues.
His right cheekbone twinged. He touched it self-consciously, then swept his hair back from his face. It needed cutting, but no one here cared what he looked like. His legs were still growing, his shoulders broadening. He felt like an awkward hybrid of trained Jedi and barely grown boy.
He leaned against his hut’s outer wall and stared out over his new home. The dome had been engineered by SELCORE, the New Republic Senate Select Committee for Refugees, to hold a thousand settlers. Naturally, twelve hundred had been squeezed in. Besides these outcast Ryn, there were several hundred desperate humans, delicate Vors, Vuvrians with their enormous round heads—and one young Hutt.
And the relentless Yuuzhan Vong kept sweeping across the galaxy, destroying whole worlds, enslaving or sacrificing planetary populations. Lush Ithor, lawless Ord Mantell, and Obroa-skai with its fabulous libraries—all had fallen to the merciless invaders. Hutt space and the Mid Rim worlds along the Corellian Run were under attack. If the Yuuzhan Vong could be stopped, the New Republic hadn’t figured out how.
Han Solo stood with his left hand on his hip, arguing with Mezza, who led the larger of two Ryn clan remnants, but keeping one eye on the transgressors, a group of youths about Jacen’s age, with fading juvenile stripes on their cheeks. The Ryn clans occupied one of Settlement Thirty-two’s three wedge-shaped arrays of blue-roofed huts. The synthplas dome arched overhead, as gray as the polluted mists that swirled outside.
Jacen had been blessed—or cursed—with a sensitivity that he once hid behind labored jokes, and he did find it easy to see both sides of almost any argument. Part of his job here was to help his dad negotiate. Han tended to cut to solutions, instead of listening to both parties’ points of view. Han had chased the Ryn over half the New Republic, trying to gather his new friend Droma’s invasion-scattered clanmates. As world after world closed its doors to refugees, the Ryn had been beggared, duped, and betrayed. They’d taken terrible losses. They needed a sponsor.
So a reluctant Han Solo registered with the burgeoning Select Committee for Refugees. “Just long enough to settle them someplace.” That was how he explained it to Jacen, anyway.
Jacen had fled here from Coruscant. Two months ago, the New Republic had called him and his brother Anakin to Centerpoint Station, the massive hyperspace repulsor and gravity lens in the Corellian system. There’d been hope that Anakin, who had activated Centerpoint once before, could enable it again. Military advisers had hoped to lure the Yuuzhan Vong into attacking Corellia, and they meant to use Centerpoint as an interdiction field, to trap the enemy inside Corellian space—and then wipe them out. Even Uncle Luke hoped the station might be used only in its shielding capacity, not as a weapon.
The New Republic might never recover from the catastrophe that followed.
Jacen could see stress in his dad’s lined face and his labored stride, and in the gray growing into his hair. Even after all these years of hobnobbing with bureaucrats and tolerating his wife’s protocol droid, patience clearly wasn’t his strong suit.
Standing on the beaten-dust lane outside the Solos’ hut, Mezza’s opposing clan leader twisted his own tail between strong hands. The fur on Romany’s forearms, and the tip of his tail, stood out like bleached bristles.
“So your clan,” Han said, pointing at Romany, “thinks your clan”—pointing now at Mezza—“is likely to hijack our transport ships and strand everybody else here on Duro? Is that it?”
Someone at the back of Romany’s group shouted, “I wouldn’t put it past them, Solo.”
Another Ryn stepped forward. “We were better off in the Corporate Sector, dancing for credits and telling fortunes. At least there we had our own ships. We could hide our children from poisoned air. And even more poisonous . . . words.”
Han stuck his hands into his dusty coverall pockets and caught Jacen’s glance. Jacen could almost look him in the eye, nowadays.
“Any suggestions?” Han muttered.
“They’re just venting their frustrations now,” Jacen observed.
He glanced up. The gray synthplas dome over their heads had been imported in accordion folds and unfurled over three arched metal struts. The refugees were reinforcing it with webs of native rock fiber, roughly half the colony working double shifts to strengthen the dome and their prefab huts. The other half labored outside, at a pit-mine “reservoir” and water purification site assigned by SELCORE.
Abruptly Han flung up an arm and shouted, “Hey!”
Jacen spun around in time to see one young male Ryn somersault out of Romany’s group and crouch for fisticuffs. Two from Mezza’s group body-blocked him with surprising grace. Within seconds, Han was wading into an out-and-out melee that looked too graceful to actually endanger anyone. Ryn were natural gymnasts. They swung their opponents by their bristled tails, hooting through their beaks like a flock of astromech droids. They almost seemed to be dancing, playing, releasing their tensions. Jacen opened his mouth to say, Don’t stop them. They need to cut loose.
At that moment, he collapsed, his chest flashing with fire as if he’d been torn open. His legs burned so fiercely he could almost feel hot shrapnel. The pain blasted down his legs, then into his ears.
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. “No!”
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 hip level, point high.
Jaina! Jacen shouted the words in his mind. Uncle Luke, Jaina’s been hurt!
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. Its hips 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.