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Betrayal: Star Wars: Legacy of the Force #01by Aaron Allston
“He doesnt exist.” With those words, spoken without any conscious thought or effort on his part, Luke Skywalker sat upright in bed and looked around at the dimly illuminated chamber.
There wasnt much to see. Members of the Jedi order, even Masters such as Luke, didnt accumulate much personal property. Within view were chairs situated in front of unlit computer screens; a wall rack holding plasteel staves and other practice weapons; a table littered with personal effects such as datapads, notes scrawled on scraps of flimsi, datachips holding reports from various Jedi Masters, and a crude and not at all accurate sandglass statuette in Lukes image sent to him by a child from Tatooine. Inset into the stone-veneer walls were drawers holding his and Maras limited selection of clothes. Their lightsabers were behind Luke, resting on a shelf on the headboard of their bed.
His wife, Mara Jade Skywalker, had more personal items and equipment, of course. Disguises, weapons, communications gear, falsified documents. A former spy, she had never given up the trappings of that trade, but those items werent here. Luke wasnt sure where she kept them. She didnt bother him with such details.
Beside him, she stirred, and he glanced down at her. Her red hair, kept a medium length this season, was an unruly mess, but there was no sleepiness in her eyes when they opened. In brighter light, he knew, those eyes were an amazing green. “Who doesnt exist?” she asked.
“I dont know. An enemy.”
“You dreamed about him?”
He nodded. “Ive had the dream a couple of times before. Its not just a dream. Its coming to me through currents in the Force. Hes all wrapped up in shadows—a dark hooded cloak, but more than that, shadows of light and . . .” Luke shook his head, struggling for the correct word. “And ignorance. And denial. And he brings great pain to the galaxy . . . and to me.”
“Well, if he brings pain to the galaxy, youre obviously going to feel it.”
“No, to me personally, in addition to his other evil.” Luke sighed and lay down again. “Its too vague. And when Im awake, when I try to peer into the future to find him, I cant.”
“Because he doesnt exist.”
“Thats what the dream tells me.” Luke hissed in aggravation.
“Could it be Raynar?”
Luke considered. Raynar Thul, former Jedi Knight, presumed dead during the Yuuzhan Vong war, had been discovered a few years earlier—horribly burned during the war, mentally transformed in the years since through his involvement with the insectoid Killik race. That transformation had been a malevolent one, and the Jedi order had had to deal with him. Now he languished in a well-protected cell deep within the Jedi Temple, undergoing treatment for his mental and physical afflictions.
Treatment. Treatment meant change; perhaps, in changing, Raynar was becoming something new, and Lukes presentment pointed toward the being Raynar would someday become.
Luke shook his head and pushed the possibility away. “In this vision, I dont sense Raynars alienness. Mentally, emotionally, whoever it is remains human, or near human. Theres even the possiblity that its my father.”
“No. Before he was Darth Vader. Or just when he was becoming Vader.” Lukes gaze lost focus as he tried to recapture the dream. “What little of his face I can see reminds me of the features of Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi. But his eyes . . . as I watch, they turn a molten gold or orange, transforming from Force-use and anger . . .”
“I have an idea.”
“Lets wait until he shows up, then crush him.”
Luke smiled. “All right.” He closed his eyes and his breathing slowed, an effort to return to sleep.
Within a minute the rhythm of his breathing became that of natural sleep.
But Mara lay awake, her attention on the ceiling—beyond it, through dozens of floor levels of the Jedi enclave to the skies of Coruscant above—and searched for any hint, any flicker of what it was that was causing her husband worry.
She found no sign of it. And she, too, slept.
The gleaming pearl-gray turbolift doors slid open sideways, and warm air bearing an aroma that advertised death and destruction washed over Jacen Solo, his cousin Ben Skywalker, and their guide.
Jacen took a deep breath and held it. The odors of this subterranean factory were not the smells of corrupted flesh or gangrenous wounds—smells Jacen was familiar with—but those of labor and industry. The great chamber before them had been a missile manufacturing center for decades, and no amount of rigorous cleaning would ever be quite able to eliminate the odors of sweat, machine lubricant, newly fabricated composite materials, solid fuel propellants, and high explosives that filled the air.
Jacen expelled the breath and stepped out of the turbolift, then walked the handful of steps up to the rail overlooking the chamber. He walked rapidly so that his Jedi cloak would billow a little as he strode, so that his boot heels would ring on the metal flooring of this observation catwalk, and so his apprentice and guide would be left behind for a moment. This was a performance for his guide and all the other representatives of the Dammant Killers company. Jacen knew he was carrying off his role quite well; the company officials hed been dealing with remained properly intimidated. But he didnt know whether to attribute his success to his bearing and manner, his lean, brooding, and handsome looks, or his name—for on this world of Adumar, with its history of fascination with pilots, the name of Jacens father, Han Solo, went a very long way.
His guide, a slender, balding man named Testan ke Harran, moved up to the rail to Jacens right. Contrasting with the dull grays and blues that were common on this factorys walls and its workers uniforms, Testan was a riot of color—his tunic, with its nearly knee-length hem and its flowing sleeves, was the precise orange of X-wing fighter pilot uniforms, though decorated with purple crisscross lines breaking it down into a flickering expanse of small diamond shapes, and his trousers, belt, and scarf were a gleaming gold.
Testan stroked his lustrous black beard, the gesture a failed attempt to conceal the mans nervousness. Jacen felt, rather than saw, Ben move up on the other side of Testan.
“You can see,” Testan said, “ar workars enjoy very fan conditions.”
Ben cleared his throat. “He says their workers enjoy very fine conditions.”
Jacen nodded absently. He understood Testans words, and it had taken him little time to learn and understand the Adumari accent, but this was another act, a ploy to keep the Adumari off-balance. He leaned forward to give the manufacturing floor below his full attention.
The room was large enough to act as a hangar and maintenance bay for four full squadrons of X-wing snubfighters. Tall duracrete partitions divided the space into eight lanes, each of which enclosed an assembly line; materials entered through small portals in the wall to the left, rolled along on luminous white conveyor belts, and eventually exited through portals on the far right. Laborers in gray jumpsuits flanked the belts and worked on the materials as they passed.
On the nearest belt, immediately below Jacen, the materials being worked on appeared to be compact visual sensor assemblies. The conveyor belt brought in eight such units and stopped. Moving quickly, the laborers plugged small cables into the units and turned to look into monitors, which showed black-and-white images of jumpsuited waists and worker hands. The workers turned the units this way and that, confirming that the sensors were properly calibrated.
One monitor never lit up with a view from the sensor. The worker on that unit unplugged it and set it on a table running parallel to the conveyor belt. A moment later, the other workers on this section unplugged their sensor units and the conveyor belt jerked into motion again, carrying the remaining seven units to the next station.
One lane over, the conveyor belt remained in constant motion, carrying sensor unit housings along. The workers on that belt, fewer in number than the sensor testers, reached out occasionally to turn a housing, to look inside, to examine the exterior for cracks or warping. Some workers, distributed at intervals along the line, rapped each housing with a small rubber-headed hammer. Jacen assumed they were listening for a musical tone he could not possibly hear at this distance over the roar of noise from the floor.
Another lane away from him, the workers were clad not in jumpsuits but in full-coverage hazardous materials suits of a lighter and more reflective gray than the usual worker outfit. Their conveyor belt carried white plates bearing irregular balls the size of a human head but a nearly luminous green. The belt stopped as each set of eight such balls entered the lane, giving the workers time to plunge needle-like sensors into each ball. They, too, checked monitors for a few seconds before withdrawing the needles to allow the balls to continue on. Jacen knew that poisonous green—it was the color of the high explosive Adumari manufacturers used to fabricate the concussion missiles they exported.
While Jacen made his initial survey, Ben kept their guide occupied. “Do you wax your beard?” he asked.
“I do not.”
“It just seems very shiny. Do you oil it?”
Testans voice was a little more irritated in tone. “I do not oil it. I condition it. And I brush it.”
“Do you brush it with butter?”
Jacen finally looked to the right, past Testan and at his cousin. Ben was thirteen standard years of age, not tall but well muscled, with a fine-featured freckled face under a mass of flame-red hair. Ben turned, his face impassive, to look at Jacen, then said, “The Jedi Knight acknowledges that this factory seems to meet the minimum, the absolute minimum, required safety and comfort standards of a Galactic Alliance military contractor.”
Jacen nodded. The nod meant Good improvisation. He was exerting no Force skill to communicate words to Ben; Bens role was to pretend to act as his mentors translator, when his actual function was to convince the locals that adult Jedi were even more aloof and mysterious than they had thought.
“No, no, no.” Testan drew a sleeve over his brow, dabbing away a little perspiration. “We are wall above minimam standards. Those duracrete barriars? They will vent any explosive farce upward, saving the majority of workars in case of calamity. Workar shifts are only two-fifths the day in length, unlike the old days.”
Ben repeated Testans words, and Jacen shrugged.
Ben imitated his motion. The gesture caused his own Jedi robe to gape open, revealing the lightsaber hanging from his belt.
Testan glanced at it, then looked back at Jacen, clearly worried. “Your apprentice—” Unsure, he looked to Ben again. “You are very young, are you not, to be wearing such a weapon?”
Ben gave him a blank look. “Its a practice lightsaber.”
“Ah.” Testan nodded as though he understood.
And there it was. Perhaps it was just the thought of a thirteen-year-old with a deadly cutting implement at hand, but Testans defenses slipped enough that the worry began to pour through.
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