Authors: Michael Reaves
Most of the Jedi had been destroyed. Some of the few who mattered the most, however, had not. Some had escaped, among them Yoda. This was disturbing. Old as the green little imp with the querulous voice was, he could still be a threat.
More important, though, was the knowledge that Vader’s nemesis still lived. He would have felt it through the Force if the old man had died, of that he was certain. And this was a good thing, a very good thing indeed. Because someday, somehow, Obi-Wan Kenobi would pay for what he had done to Anakin Skywalker, and it would be Darth Vader who collected the toll. He would strike down Kenobi as he had so many of his fellow Jedi, be they Masters, Knights, or Padawans. Eventually the inevitable would become reality, and the Jedi would be no more.
That thought was worth another painful smile behind the ebon mask.
GRAND MOFF’S SUITE, LQ FLAGSHIP
ir, there has been … an incident.”
Seated behind his desk next to the panorama of his viewport, which occupied most of the wall to his right, Tarkin stared at the captain. “An incident?”
“Yes, sir. An explosion in the oxygen supply tanker arriving from the planet. It was just off the northeastern quadrisphere’s Main Dock when it happened.”
“How much damage?”
“Uncertain, sir. There is still a lot of debris flying about. The tanker was destroyed. Fortunately, most of the crew were only droids. A few navy beings and officers—”
“Don’t address trivial matters, Captain. How much damage to the
“So far, what we know for sure is that the dock portal and bay took the brunt of the explosion. Our security teams can only guess at—”
“Then do so.”
The captain looked uneasy. Officers had been sent to the front for lesser offenses than delivering bad news, and he knew it. No doubt this was why the admiral in charge of security had not come to deliver the report himself.
“Sir, both the portal and dock are demolished. The bay is a mass of twisted girders and ruptured plates. Easier to tear it apart and start from scratch than to repair them.”
Tarkin would have spoken aloud the curse that rose
from his throat had he been alone. But of course, a mere captain could not be privy to such utterances from a Grand Moff. He simply said, “I see.”
“Emergency construction teams have arrived and are doing an assessment,” the captain continued. “A full report will be tendered as soon as possible.”
Tarkin nodded. Outwardly, he was calm, collected. His voice was cool and even as he said, “I want the cause determined, Captain. Without delay.” A millimeter below the surface, however, he was seething with rage. How
anyone damage a single bolt, or rivet, or weld of his station!
“Of course, sir,” the officer replied.
“If it was a failure due to someone’s error, I want to know. If it was sabotage, I will have the entire life history—or histories—of whoever caused it, and the name of the senior officer who slipped up and allowed it to happen.”
“You are dismissed, Captain.”
“Sir!” The captain saluted, turned, and departed, a lot quicker on his feet than when he’d arrived.
Tarkin stood and stared through the viewport at the infinite blackness, shot with points of light. So cold and empty out there. Well, before too long it would be fuller, by an infinitesimal degree, with the frozen and contorted body, or bodies, of whoever was responsible for this outrage. Retribution would be swift and certain. That was the only way there would be even a remote possibility of making other would-be saboteurs think twice about imitating such a heinous act.
At times like this, he wished Daala were here. Clever, beautiful, and utterly ruthless when the situation demanded it, she could be most diverting—a great relief for a man such as himself, beset on all sides as he was with weighty problems. But the only female admiral in the Imperial Navy was still stationed at the Maw with her four
Destroyers, protecting the hidden base where the battle station’s plans and weaponry were in ongoing development.
Abruptly, Tarkin made a decision. He waved his hand over the comm on his desk.
“Sir?” came the immediate query from his aide.
“Is my ship prepared?”
“Of course, sir.” The aide’s tone was polite, but with just a bit of surprise to indicate what an unnecessary question it was.
“Meet me at the flight deck.”
“Yes, sir.” Cautiously: “Might one ask where we are going?”
“To inspect the damage to the battle station from the explosion. I want to see it for myself.”
Tarkin stood, feeling a glow of fierce satisfaction. He had not always been a desk-bound commander. He had spent plenty of time in the field. Now and again it served the rank and file to know that he was still capable of getting his hands dirty—or bloody, depending on the situation.
“Look to the forward viewport, sir,” the pilot said.
Tarkin, who had been poring over a schematic hologram of the station that showed where the damage was, turned and stared through the port at the real thing.
It was indeed a mess. It appeared as if a giant hand had smashed the dock, then petulantly ripped sections of it loose and flung those into space. Debris of all sizes and shapes whirled and tumbled aimlessly, not having had time yet to settle into any sort of orbit.
Tarkin’s expression was pinched tight in anger, but his voice was level as he said, “Bring her around and let’s have a closer look.”
“Sir.” A pause. “There’s a lot of debris, sir.”
“I can see that. I suggest you avoid running into it.”
The pilot swallowed drily. “Yes, sir.”
As the pilot began to swing the small cruiser into a wide turn, Tarkin’s aide approached.
“The forensic investigation team has a preliminary report, sir.”
“Really? This soon?”
“You did indicate a desire for alacrity, sir.”
“Indeed.” Tarkin offered the colonel a small, tight smile. “Hold off on the flyby,” he instructed the pilot. “I’ll take the report here.”
“Sir.” The pilot was visibly relieved at this.
A moment later, the holoprojector lit over the command console at which Tarkin stood, displaying a one-third-sized image of a security force major standing at attention.
“Sir,” the major said, giving a military bow.
Tarkin made an impatient gesture. “What do we have, Major?”
The major reached off-image to touch a control, and a second holoimage blossomed next to him. It was that of an Imperial gas tanker. As Tarkin watched, the images grew larger and translucent as the point of view zoomed closer. A flashing red dot appeared toward the rear of the ship, and the POV zoomed in closer still to reveal the interior of the vessel.
“From the dispersal pattern of the ship’s interior and hull, which we backtracked by computer reconstruction, the source of the explosion was here—” The officer pointed into the hologram, only his hand and pointing finger becoming visible in the blown-up image before Tarkin’s eyes. “—in the aft cargo hold. The precise location was plus or minus a meter of the pressure valve complex on the starboard tank array.”
“Given the size of the tanks and the pressure—the oxygen is liquefied, of course—and the estimated explosive potential and expansion, we have calculated that a leak and subsequent accidental ignition of expanding gas in an enclosed compartment is highly unlikely to have produced the level of damage recorded.”
Tarkin nodded, almost to himself. “Sabotage, then,” he said. “A bomb.”
“We believe so, sir.” The image zoomed back out to encompass the major again. “We have not yet recovered parts of the device itself, but we will.”
Tarkin gritted his teeth, feeling his jaw muscles bunch. He made an effort to relax, giving the major another of his tight smiles. “Congratulate your team on their efforts thus far, Major. I am pleased with your efficiency.”
“Thank you, sir.” The man smiled.
“But don’t pat yourselves on the backs too much just yet. I want to know what kind of bomb it was, who made it, who planted it—everything.”
The major stiffened again. “Yes, sir. We will report as soon as we have new information.”
“You’re already late with it,” Tarkin said. “Dismissed.”
The holo blinked off, and Tarkin stared into the blank space that was left, as if looking for answers. Sabotage was, of course, to be expected. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, and it almost certainly would not be the last. A project this size, no matter how tight the security, was impossible to keep entirely hidden. An astute observer could gather a number of disparate facts from far-flung sources—shipping manifests, troop movements, vessel deployments, and the like—and from those, if he had even the cleverness of a sunstroked Gungan, deduce some general ideas. He might not know exactly what, or precisely where, but he could figure out that something big was being constructed. And with sufficient resources, time, and
cunning, this being, and others like him, could discover a trail that led back to this system and this station.
There were shrewd beings among the Rebels; Tarkin had no doubt of that. And there were, more than likely, Rebels among the human detritus down on the prison planet. Perhaps even traitors among the Imperial Navy or troops.
A very tight lid was being kept on this project. Communications had been, and continued to be, squeezed tighter than a durasteel fist. But
had blown up that cargo ship, and had not done so just because they were bored and had nothing better to do.
Such travesties could not be abided. Nor would they be.
INTERIOR OFFICE ANNEX, ASSEMBLY HALL, CONSTRUCTION SITE BETA-NINE, DEATH STAR
e had a name—Benits Stinex, and anybody who knew anything about architecture recognized it. Stinex? Oh, sure, the designer. The one who still gets written up regularly in
. The one whose price was always more than one could imagine, let alone afford. Among themselves, the staff doing the interiors referred to him as “the Old Man.” Old he was, too—Teela guessed his age at three, maybe four times her own, and she was nearing twenty-five standard years. Human, with more wrinkles than hyperspace, the chief architect was; the head of interior design and construction, and still mentally as sharp as a vibroblade.
He waved at the holo, which glimmered blue and white over the projector in front of them, depicting the schematics for the finished assembly hall. “What do you think, Kaarz?”
Standing next to him in the recently pressurized but still-cold office annex, Teela knew she was once again being tested. Every time she was around the Old Man, he did that. She’d heard that it took awhile for him to trust you—but once he did you were golden in his eyes. It seemed that everybody worth the salt in their bodies who worked for him wanted him to feel that way.
And why shouldn’t they? A missive of recommendation
from Stinex, even just a line or two, was worth just about any conceivable torture one could imagine and endure. It was a ticket for the hyperlane that could lead to wealth, fame, and the most desirable thing of all:
The freedom to design what one wished, to give free rein to one’s artistic expression, to create something that might truly outlast the ages, that might—
Teela realized that the Old Man was waiting patiently for an answer to his question. She shrugged. “It’s standard Imperial design; works enough to serve.”
The Old Man gave her a slow, disappointed look.
“But,” she continued, “if you want it to work
, then the egress and exit portals need to be relocated.” She pulled the finger-sized electronic scribe from her belt, thumbed the eraser stud, and waved it at the drawing. “Here, here, and here,” she continued, “and possibly there, as well.” The portals vanished as she gestured, replaced by skeletal wall lines. Quickly she sketched in new doors. “Reposition these portals, skew the walkways, like so, the flow-through improves at least twenty-five percent, like the presentation says. Doesn’t cost any more.”