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Other titles in the Star Wars: The New Jedi Order series:

The Unifying Force (Star Wars: The New Jedi Order)

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The Unifying Force (Star Wars: The New Jedi Order) Cover

 

 

Excerpt

“Cakhmaim’s getting to be a pretty good shot,” Han said over the sound of the reciprocating quad laser cannon. “Remind me to up his pay—or at least promote him.”

Leia glanced at him from the copilot’s chair. “From bodyguard to

what—butler?”

Han pictured the Noghri in formal attire, setting meals in front of

Han and Leia in the Falcon’s forward cabin. His upper lip curled in

delight, and he laughed shortly. “Maybe we should see how he does

with the rest of these skips.”

The YT-1300 was just coming out of her long turn, with Selvaris’s

double suns off to starboard and an active volcano dominating the forward

view. Below, green-capped, sheer-sided islands reached up into

the planet’s deep blue sky, and the aquamarine sea seemed to go on

forever. Two coralskippers were still glued to the Falcon’s tail, chopping

at it and holding position through all the insane turns and evasions,

but so far the deflector shields were holding.

His large hands gripped on the control yoke, Han glanced at the

console’s locator display, where only one bezel was pulsing.

“Where’d the other swoop go?”

“We lost it,” Leia said.

Han leaned toward the viewport to survey the undulating sea.

“How could we lose—”

“No, I mean it’s gone. One of the coralskippers took it out.”

Han’s eyes blazed. “Why, that—which one of ’em?”

Before Leia could answer, two plasma missiles streaked past the

cockpit, bright as meteors and barely missing the starboard mandible.

“Does it matter?”

Han shook his head. “Where’s the other swoop?”

Leia studied the locator display, then called up a map from the

terrain sensor, which showed everything from the mouth of the

estuary clear to the volcano. Her left forefinger tapped the screen.

“Far side of that island.”

“Any skips after it?”

A loud explosion buffeted the Falcon from behind.

“We seem to be the popular target,” Leia said. “Just the way you

like it.”

Han narrowed his eyes. “You bet I do.”

Determined to lure their pair of pursuers away from the swoop, he

threw the freighter into a sudden ascent. When they had climbed

halfway to the stars, he dropped the ship into a stomach-churning

corkscrew. Pulling out sharply, he twisted the ship through a looping

rollover, emerging from the combo headed in the opposite direction,

with the two coralskippers in front of him.

He grinned at Leia. “Now who’s in charge?”

She blew out her breath. “Was there ever any doubt?”

Han focused his attention on the two enemy craft. Over the long

years, Yuuzhan Vong pilots faced with impossible odds had surrendered

some of the suicidal resolve they had displayed during the early

days of the war. Maybe word had come down from Supreme Overlord

Shimrra or someone that discretion really was the better part of valor.

Whatever the case, the pilots of the two skips Han was stalkling apparently

saw some advantage to fleeing rather than reengaging the ship

their plasma missiles had failed to bring down. But Han wasn’t content

to send them home with their tails tucked between their legs—

especially not after they had killed an unarmed swoop pilot he had

come halfway across the galaxy to rescue.

“Cakhmaim, listen up,” he said into his headset mike. “I’ll fire the

belly gun from here. We’ll put ’em in the Money Lane and be done

with them.”

Money Lane was Han’s term for the area where the quad lasers’

firing fields overlapped. In emergency situations, both cannons could

be fired from the cockpit, but the present situation didn’t call for that.

What’s more, Han wanted to give Cakhmaim the chance to hone his

firing technique. All Han and Leia had to do was help line up the

shots.

From the way the coralskippers reacted to the Falcon’s sudden

turnabout, Han could almost believe that the enemy pilots had been

eavesdropping on his communication with the Noghri. The first

skip—the more battered of the pair, showing charred blotches and

deep pockmarks—poured on all speed, separating from his wingmate

at a sharp angle. Smaller and faster, and seemingly helmed by a better

pilot, the second skip shed velocity in an attempt to trick the Falcon

into coming across his vector.

That was the skip that had taken out the swoop, Han decided,

sentencing the pilot to be the first to feel the Falcon’s wrath.

Leia guessed as much, and immediately plotted an intercept

course.

Exposed, the skip pilot went evasive, moving into the gunsights

and out again, but with mounting panic as the Falcon settled calmly

into kill position. The dorsal laser cannon was programmed to fire

three-beam bursts that, all these years later, still had the ability to

outwit the dovin basals of the older, perhaps more dim-witted coralskippers.

While the enemy craft was quick to deploy a gravitic anomaly

that engulfed the first and second beams, the third got through,

blowing a huge chunk of yorik coral from the vessel’s fantail. Han

tweaked the yoke to place the skip in the Money Lane, and his left

hand tightened on the trigger of the belly gun’s remote firing mechanism.

Sustained bursts from the twin cannons whittled the skip to

half its size; then it blew, throwing pieces of coral wreckage in every

direction.

“That’s for the swoop pilot,” Han said soberly. He turned his

attention to the second skip, which, desperate to avoid a similar fate,

was jinking and juking all over the sky.

Zipping through the showering remains of the first kill, the Falcon

quickened up and pounced on the wildly maneuvering skip from

above. The targeting reticle went red, and a target-lock tone filled the

cockpit. Again the quad lasers rallied, catching the vessel with burst

after burst until it disappeared in a nimbus of coral dust and whitehot

gas.

Han and Leia hooted. “Nice shooting, Cakhmaim!” he said into

the headset. “Score two more for the good guys.”

Leia watched him for a moment. “Happy now?”

Instead of replying, Han pushed the yoke away from him, dropping

the Falcon to within meters of the surging waves. “Where’s the

swoop?” he asked finally.

Leia was ready with the answer. “Come around sixty degrees, and

it should be right in front of us.”

Han adjusted course, and the swoop came into view, streaking

over the surface, bearing two seriously dissimilar riders. In pursuit,

and just visible beneath the surface, moved an enormous olive-drab

triangle, trailing what appeared to be a lengthy tail.

Han’s jaw dropped.

“What is that thing?” Leia said.

“Threepio, get in here!” Han yelled, without taking his eyes from

the creature.

C-3PO staggered into the cockpit, clamping his hands on the

high-backed navigator’s chair to keep from being thrown off balance,

as had too often happened.

Han raised his right hand to the viewport and pointed. “What is

that?” he asked, enunciating every word.

“Oh, my,” the droid began. “I believe that what we’re looking at

is a kind of boat creature. The Yuuzhan Vong term for it is vangaak,

which derives from the verb ‘to submerge.’ Although in this case the

verb has been modified to suggest—”

“Skip the language lesson and just tell me how to kill it!”

“Well, I would suggest targeting the flat dome, clearly visible on

its dorsal surface.”

“A head shot.”

“Precisely. A head shot.”

“Han,” Leia interrupted. “Four more coralskippers headed our

way.”

Han manipulated levers on the console, and the Falcon accelerated.

“We gotta work fast. Threepio, tell Meewalh to activate the

manual release for the landing ramp. I’ll be there in a flash.”

Leia watched him undo the clasps of the crash webbing. “I take it

you’re not planning to land.”

He kissed her on the cheek as he stood up. “Not if I can help it.”

The swoop fought to maintain an altitude of eight meters, but

that was enough to keep it from the snapping jaws of the Yuuzhan

Vong vangaak that had almost snagged it on surfacing.

Thorsh might have opted to head inland if the Yuuzhan Vong

search parties and their snarling beasts hadn’t reached the marshy

shore. Worse, four specks in the northern sky were almost certainly

coralskippers, soaring in to reinforce the pair the YT-1300 was chasing.

Instead, the Jenet had the swoop aimed for deeper water, out

toward the volcano, where the waves mounded to a height of ten

meters.

Thorsh and his rider could feel the sting of the saline spray on

their scratched and bruised faces and hands. Behind them, the vangaak

was rapidly closing the gap, but if it had weapons other than tor-

pedo analogs it wasn’t bringing them to bear. An unsettling vociferation

from the Bith broke Thorsh’s concentration.

“The vangaak’s gone! It submerged!”

Thorsh didn’t know whether to worry or celebrate. The vangaak

put a quick end to his indecision. Breaching the surface in front of the

swoop, the dull olive triangle spiked straight up out of the waves,

venting seawater from blowholes on its dorsal side, and opening its

tooth-filled mouth.

Thorsh demanded all he could from the swoop, climbing at

maximum boost, but there was no escaping the reach of the creature.

He heard a surprised scream, then felt his flight jacket rip away.

Lightened, the swoop ascended at greater speed, only to stall. Thorsh

threw a distraught glance over his shoulder. The Bith was pinned

between the vangaak’s teeth, mouth wide in a silent scream, black eyes

dull, Thorsh’s jacket still clutched in his dexterous hands. But there

wasn’t time for despair or anger. The repulsorlift came back to life,

and Thorsh veered away, even as he was falling.

A roar battered his eardrums, and suddenly the YT-1300 was practically

alongside him, skimming the waves not fifty meters away. The

quartet of coralskippers began firing from extreme range, their plasma

projectiles cutting scalding trails through the whitecapped crests.

The old freighter’s landing ramp was lowered from the starboard

docking arm. It was clear what the ship’s pilots had in mind. They

were expecting him to come alongside and hurl himself onto the

narrow incline. But Thorsh faltered. He knew the limitations of the

swoop, and—more important—his own. With the coralskippers approaching

and the vangaak submerged who-knew-where beneath the

waves, it was unlikely that he could even reach the freighter in time.

Additionally—and despite what were obviously military-grade de-

flector shields—the freighter was being forced to make slight vertical

and horizontal adjustments, which only decreased Thorsh’s chances of

clambering aboard.

His grimace disappeared, and in its place came a look of sharp

attentiveness.

As sole bearer of the secret intelligence contained in the holo-

wafer, he had to give it his best try. Tightening his grip, he banked for

the sanctuary of the matte-black ship.

Crouched at the top of the extended ramp, Han peered down at

the rushing water not twenty meters below. Wind and salt spray

howled through the opening, blowing his hair every which way and

making it difficult for him to keep his eyes open.

“Captain Solo,” C-3PO said from the ring corridor. “Princess

Leia wishes you to know that the swoop is approaching. Apparently

the pilot feels confident that he can complete the transfer to Millennium

Falcon without suffering too much internal damage or . . . perishing

in the attempt.”

Han threw the droid a wide-eyed look. “Perishing?”

“Certainly the odds are against him. If he were piloting a speeder

bike, perhaps. But swoops are notorious for going out of control at

the slightest provocation!”

Han nodded grimly. A former swoop racer, he knew that C-3PO

was right. Taking in the situation now, he wondered if even he could

make the jump.

“I’m going to the bottom!” he shouted.

C-3PO canted his golden head. “Sir?”

Han made a downward motion. “The bottom of the ramp.”

“Sir, I have a bad feeling . . .”

The wind drowned out the rest of the droid’s words. Han crabbed

down to the base of the ramp, where he could hear the Falcon’s belly

turret slicing through the agitated peaks of the waves. A distinctive

throbbing sound captured his attention. The swoop was beginning to

angle for the ramp. The pilot—a Jenet, of all species—took his right

hand off the handgrips just long enough to signal Han with a wave.

Considering that even that slight movement sent the swoop into a

wobble, there was simply no way the Jenet would be able to let go

completely—especially not with the Falcon adding to the turbulence

of the sea itself.

Han reconsidered, then swung around to C-3PO.

“Threepio, tell Leia we’re going with Plan B!”

The droid raised his hands to his head in distress. “Captain Solo,

just the sound of that makes me worry!”

Han raised his forefinger. “Just tell Leia, Threepio. She’ll

understand.”

“Plan B?”

“That was precisely my reaction,” C-3PO said in an agitated

voice. “But does anyone ever listen to my concerns?”

“Don’t worry, Threepio, I’m sure Han knows what he’s doing.”

“That is hardly a comforting thought, Princess.”

Leia swung back to the console and allowed her eyes to roam over

the instruments. Plan B, she mused. What can Han have in mind? She

placed him squarely in her thoughts, then smiled in sudden revelation.

Of course . . .

Her hands slid switches while she studied the displays. Then she

sat away from the console in contemplation. Yes, she decided at last,

she supposed it could be done—though it would mean relying largely

on the attitude and braking thrusters, and hoping that they didn’t stall

or fail.

She looked over her shoulder at C-3PO, who had evidently followed

her every move and manipulation.

“Tell Han I’ve got everything worked out.”

“Oh, dear,” the droid said, turning and exiting the cockpit. “Oh,

dear.”

The four coralskippers were closing fast, lobbing plasma missiles

into the blustery stretch of water between the swoop and the freighter.

Thorsh dipped his head instinctively as one fireball plunged into the

waves not ten meters away. The ferocity of the impact geysered superheated

water high into the air, and sent the swoop into a sustained

wobble.

The freighter held to its course regardless, its top gunner keeping

the coralskippers at bay with bursts of laserfire. A human male was

crouched at the base of the landing ramp, his left arm wrapped around

one of the telescoping hydraulic struts, and the fingers of his right

hand making a gesture that on some worlds implied craziness on the

part of its recipient. Just now, the twirling gesture meant something

else entirely—though craziness was still a large part of it.

Thorsh swallowed hard, just thinking about what the pilots were

about to attempt.

The human waved and scurried back up the ramp.

Decelerating slightly, Thorsh fell in behind the freighter, giving it

wide berth. Above the strained throbbing of the swoop’s repulsorlift,

he heard the sudden reverberation of the YT-1300’s retro- and attitude

thrusters.

Then, scarcely surrendering momentum, the freighter began to

rotate ninety degrees to starboard, bringing the boarding ramp almost

directly in front of the tottering swoop.

“Take the jump!” Han said, mostly to himself. “Now!”

He was back in the pilot’s chair, his hands tight on the control

yoke, while Leia feathered the thrusters, cheating the Falcon through

its quarter turn. Flying sideways, Han could see the coralskippers that

had a second earlier been “behind” the ship, as well as the swoop,

which was flying just off the blunt tip of the starboard docking arm.

Hoping to minimize the chances of the pilot’s overshooting his mark

and smashing headlong into the bulkhead at the top of the ramp, Han

adjusted the Falcon’s forward speed to match that of the swoop.

“He’s accelerating!” Leia said.

“Threepio! Meewalh!” Han yelled over his right shoulder. “Our

guest’s coming aboard!” Glancing out the right side of the viewport,

he saw the Jenet leap the swoop toward the ramp—the Falcon’s

narrow but open mouth.

“Now!” he told Leia.

Deftly she fed power to the attitude thrusters, allowing the ship to

complete a full clockwise rotation, even as a series of crashing sounds

were echoing their way into the cockpit from the ring corridor.

Han winced and scrunched his shoulders with each clang! and

crash!, mentally assessing the damage, but keeping his fingers crossed

that the Jenet pilot was faring better than the interior of the docking

arm.

No sooner did the ramp telltale on the console flash red—

indicating that docking arm had sealed tight—than Han yanked back

on the control yoke, and the Falcon clawed its way into Selvaris’s open

sky, dodging volleys of molten fire from pursuing coralskippers. The

quad laser replied with packets of cohesive light, brilliant green even

against the backdrop of the heaving sea.

“Captain Solo, he’s alive!” C-3PO called with dramatic relief.

“We’re all alive!”

Exhaling slowly, Han sank back into the seat, but without lifting

his hands from the yoke. The coralskippers were already lagging behind

when the Falcon rocketed over the summit of the volcano,

straight through dense clouds of gritty smoke, climbing rapidly on a

column of blue energy. The ship was halfway to starlight when the

shaken Jenet appeared at the cockpit hatchway, one bare arm drapped

over Meewalh’s shoulders, the other around C-3PO’s.

“You must have a hard head,” Han said.

Grinning faintly, Leia looked at her husband. “He’s not the only

one.”

Han glanced at her in false chagrin, then nodded his chin to the

female Noghri. “Take our guest to the forward cabin and provide him

with whatever he needs.”

“I’ll get the medpac,” Leia said, leaving her chair. She set her

headset on the console and looked at Han again. “Well, you did it.”

“We,” Han amended. Casually, he stretched out his arms. “You

know, you’re never too old for this sort of thing.”

“You haven’t outgrown it, that’s for sure.”

He studied her. “What, you have?”

She placed her right hand on his cheek. “You’re a danger to yourself

and everyone around you. But I do love you, Han.”

He smiled broadly as Leia hurried from the cockpit.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780345428523
Subtitle:
Choices of One (Star Wars)
Author:
Luceno, James
Publisher:
LucasBooks
Location:
New York
Subject:
Science fiction
Subject:
Life on other planets
Subject:
Science Fiction - Star Wars
Subject:
Star Wars fiction
Subject:
Science / General
Subject:
Science / Space Opera
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Series:
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order
Series Volume:
108-102
Publication Date:
20031104
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
544
Dimensions:
24 cm. +

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The Unifying Force (Star Wars: The New Jedi Order) Used Hardcover
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Product details 544 pages Del Rey Books - English 9780345428523 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , The Yuuzhan Vong are poised to conquer the galaxy and Luke, Mara, and Jacen are missing in unknown space in this climactic final novel in the 19-book New Jedi Order series.
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