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Star wars rogue planet, p.1
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       Star Wars: Rogue Planet, p.1

           Greg Bear
 
Star Wars: Rogue Planet


  Three years after the events of

  The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker

  and Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi

  encounter a mysterious world …

  A Del Rey® Book

  Published by The Random House Publishing Group

  Copyright © 2000 by Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™

  Excerpt from Star Wars: Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter copyright ©

  2001 by Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™

  All Rights Reserved.

  Used Under Authorization.

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Del Rey Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

  www.starwars.com

  www.delreybooks.com

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 00-111160

  eISBN: 978-0-307-79568-7

  v3.1

  For Jack, and Ed, and

  Doc Smith,

  for Isaac,

  and for George—

  Masters of adventure

  A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY.…

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  About the Author

  Also by this Author

  Introduction to the Star Wars Expanded Universe

  Excerpt from Star Wars: The Clone Wars

  Introduction to the Old Republic Era

  Introduction to the Rise of the Empire Era

  Introduction to the Rebellion Era

  Introduction to the New Republic Era

  Introduction to the New Jedi Order Era

  Introduction to the Legacy Era

  Star Wars Novels Timeline

  Anakin Skywalker stood in a long, single-file line in an abandoned maintenance tunnel leading to the Wicko district garbage pit. With an impatient sigh, he hoisted his flimsy and tightly folded race wings by their leather harness and propped the broad rudder on the strap of his flight sandal. Then he leaned the wings against the wall of the tunnel and, tongue between his lips, applied the small glowing blade of a pocket welder, like a tiny lightsaber, to a crack in the left lateral brace. Repairs finished, he waggled the rotator experimentally. Smooth, though old.

  Just the week before, he had bought the wings from a former champion with a broken back. Anakin had worked his wonders in record time, so he could fly now in the very competition where the champion had ended his career.

  Anakin enjoyed the wrenching twist and bone-popping jerk of the race wings in flight. He savored the speed and the extreme difficulty as some savor the beauty of the night sky, difficult enough to see on Coruscant, with its eternal planet-spanning city-glow. He craved the competition and even felt a thrill at the nervous stink of the contestants, scum and riffraff all.

  But above all, he loved winning.

  The garbage pit race was illegal, of course. The authorities on Coruscant tried to maintain the image of a staid and respectable metropolitan planet, capital of the Republic, center of law and civilization for tens of thousands of stellar systems. The truth was far otherwise, if one knew where to look, and Anakin instinctively knew where to look.

  He had, after all, been born and raised on Tatooine.

  Though he loved the Jedi training, stuffing himself into such tight philosophical garments was not easy. Anakin had suspected from the very beginning that on a world where a thousand species and races met to palaver, there would be places of great fun.

  The tunnel master in charge of the race was a Naplousean, little more than a tangle of stringlike tissues with three legs and a knotted nubbin of glittering wet eyes. “First flight is away,” it hissed as it walked in quick, graceful twirls down the narrow, smooth-walled tunnel. The Naplousean spoke Basic, except when it was angry, and then it simply smelled bad. “Wings! Up!” it ordered.

  Anakin hefted his wings over one shoulder with a professionally timed series of grunts, one-two-three, slipped his arms through the straps, and cinched the harness he had cut down to fit the frame of a twelve-year-old human boy.

  The Naplousean examined each of the contestants with many critical eyes. When it came to Anakin, it slipped a thin, dry ribbon of tissue between his ribs and the straps and tugged with a strength that nearly pulled the boy over.

  “Who you?” the tunnel master coughed.

  “Anakin Skywalker,” the boy said. He never lied, and he never worried about being punished.

  “You way bold,” the tunnel master observed. “What mother and father say, we bring back dead boy?”

  “They’ll raise another,” Anakin answered, hoping to sound tough and capable, but not really caring what opinion the tunnel master held so long as it let him race.

  “I know racers,” the Naplousean said, its knot of eyes fighting each other for a better view. “You no racer!”

  Anakin kept a respectful silence and focused on the circle of murky blue light ahead, growing larger as the line shortened.

  “Ha!” the Naplousean barked, though it was impossible for its kind to actually laugh. It twirled back down the line, poking, tugging, and issuing more pronouncements of doom, all the while followed by an adoring little swarm of cam droids.

  A small, tight voice spoke behind Anakin. “You’ve raced here before.”

  Anakin had been aware of the Blood Carver in line behind him for some time. There were only a few hundred on all of Coruscant, and they had joined the Republic less than a century before. They were an impressive-looking people: slender, graceful, with long three-jointed limbs, small heads mounted on a high, thick neck, and iridescent gold skin.

  “Twice,” Anakin said. “And you?”

  “Twice,” the Blood Carver said amiably, then blinked and looked up. Across the Blood Carver
s narrow face, his nose spread into two fleshy flaps like a split shield, half hiding his wide, lipless mouth. The ornately tattooed nose flaps functioned both as a sensor of smell and a very sensitive ear, supplemented by two small pits behind his small, onyx-black eyes. “The tunnel master is correct. You are too young.” He spoke perfect Basic, as if he had been brought up in the best schools on Coruscant.

  Anakin smiled and tried to shrug. The weight of the race wings made this gesture moot.

  “You will probably die down there,” the Blood Carver added, eyes aloof.

  “Thanks for the support,” Anakin said, his face coloring. He did not mind a professional opinion, such as that registered by the tunnel master, but he hated being ragged, and he especially hated an opponent trying to psych him out.

  Fear, hatred, anger … The old trio Anakin fought every day of his life, though he revealed his deepest emotions to only one man: Obi-Wan Kenobi, his master in the Jedi Temple.

  The Blood Carver stooped slightly on his three-jointed legs. “You smell like a slave,” he said softly, for Anakin’s ears alone.

  It was all Anakin could do to keep from throwing off his wings and going for the Blood Carver’s long throat. He swallowed his emotions down into a private cold place and stored them with the other dark things left over from Tatooine. The Blood Carver was on target with his insult, which stiffened Anakin’s anger and made it harder to control himself. Both he and his mother, Shmi, had been slaves to the supercilious junk dealer, Watto. When the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn had won him from Watto, they had had to leave Shmi behind … something Anakin thought about every day of his life.

  “You four next!” the tunnel master hissed, breezing by with its midsection whirled out like ribbons on a child’s spinner.

  Mace Windu strode down a narrow side hall in the main dormitory of the Jedi Temple, lost in thought, his arms tucked into his long sleeves, and was nearly bowled over by a trim young Jedi who dashed from a doorway. Mace stepped aside deftly, just in time, but stuck out an elbow and deliberately clipped the younger Jedi, who spun about.

  “Pardon me, Master,” Obi-Wan Kenobi apologized, bowing quickly. “Clumsy of me.”

  “No harm,” Mace Windu said. “Though you should have known I was here.”

  “Yes. The elbow. A correction. I’m appreciative.” Obi-Wan was, in fact, embarrassed, but there was no time to explain things.

  “In a hurry?”

  “A great hurry,” Obi-Wan said.

  “The chosen one is not in his quarters?” Mace’s tone carried both respect and irony, a combination at which he was particularly adept.

  “I know where he’s gone, Master Windu. I found his tools, his workbench.”

  “Not just building droids we don’t need?”

  “No, Master,” Obi-Wan said.

  “About the boy—” Mace Windu began.

  “Master, when there is time.”

  “Of course,” Mace said. “Find him. Then we shall speak … and I want him there to listen.”

  “Of course, Master!” Obi-Wan did not disguise his haste. Few could hide concern or intent from Mace Windu.

  Mace smiled. “He will bring you wisdom!” he called out as Obi-Wan ran down the hall toward the turbolift and the Temple’s sky transport exit.

  Obi-Wan was not in the least irritated by the jibe. He quite agreed. Wisdom, or insanity. It was ridiculous for a Jedi to always be chasing after a troublesome Padawan. But Anakin was no ordinary Padawan. He had been bequeathed to Obi-Wan by Obi-Wan’s own beloved Master, Qui-Gon Jinn.

  Yoda had put the situation to Obi-Wan with some style a few months back, as they squatted over a glowing charcoal fire and cooked shoo bread and wurr in his small, low-ceilinged quarters. Yoda had been about to leave Coruscant on business that did not concern Obi-Wan. He had ended a long, contemplative silence by saying, “A very interesting problem you face, and so we all face, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

  Obi-Wan, ever the polite one, had tilted his head as if he were not acquainted with any particular problem.

  “The chosen one Qui-Gon gave to us all, not proven, full of fear, and yours to save. And if you do not save him …”

  Yoda had said nothing more to Obi-Wan about Anakin thereafter. His words echoed in Obi-Wan’s thoughts as he took an express taxi to the outskirts of the Senate District. Travel time—mere minutes, with wrenching twists and turns through hundreds of slower, cheaper lanes and levels of traffic.

  Obi-Wan was concerned it would not be nearly fast enough.

  The pit spread before Anakin as he stepped out on the apron below the tunnel. The three other contestants in this flight jostled for a view. The Blood Carver was particularly rough with Anakin, who had hoped to save all his energy for the flight.

  What’s eating him? the boy wondered.

  The pit was two kilometers wide and three deep from the top of the last accelerator shield to the dark bottom. This old maintenance tunnel overlooked the second accelerator shield. Squinting up, Anakin saw the bottom of the first shield, a huge concave roof cut through with an orderly pattern of hundreds of holes, like an overturned colander in Shmi’s kitchen on Tatooine. Each hole in this colander, however, was ten meters wide. Hundreds of shafts of sunlight dropped from the ports to pierce the gloom, acting like sundials to tell the time in the open world, high above the tunnel. It was well past meridian.

  There were over five thousand such garbage pits on Coruscant. The city-planet produced a trillion tons of garbage every hour. Waste that was too dangerous to recycle—fusion shields, worn-out hyperdrive cores, and a thousand other by-products of a rich and highly advanced world—was delivered to the district pit. Here, the waste was sealed into canisters, and the canisters were conveyed along magnetic rails to a huge circular gun carriage below the lowest shield. Every five seconds, a volley of canisters was propelled from the gun by chemical charges. The shields then guided the trajectory of the canisters through their holes, gave them an extra tractor-field boost, and sent them into tightly controlled orbits around Coruscant.

  Hour after hour, garbage ships in orbit collected the canisters and transported them to outlying moons for storage. Some of the most dangerous loads were actually shot off into the large, dim yellow sun, where they would vanish like dust motes cast into a volcano.

  It was a precise and necessary operation, carried out like clockwork day after day, year after year.

  Perhaps a century before, someone had thought of turning the pits into an illegal sport center, where aspiring young toughs from Coruscant’s rougher neighborhoods, deep below the glittering upper city, could prove their mettle. The sport had become surprisingly popular in the pirate entertainment channels that fed into elite apartments, high in the star-scrubbing towers that rose everywhere on the capital world. Enough money was generated that some pit officials could be persuaded to turn a blind eye, so long as the contestants were the only ones at risk.

  A garbage canister, hurled through the accelerator shields, could easily swat a dozen racers aside without damage to itself. The last shield would supply it with the corrective boost necessary to compensate for a few small lives.

  Anakin watched the flickering jump light on the tunnel ceiling with focused concentration, lips tight, eyes wide, a little dew of sweat on his cheeks. The tunnel was hot. He could hear the roar of canisters, see their silver specks shoot through the shield ports to the next higher level, leaving behind blue streaks of ionized air.

  The pit atmosphere smelled like a bad shop generator, thick with ozone and the burnt-rubber odor of gun discharge.

  The tunnel master twirled up to the exit to encourage the next team.

  “Glory and destiny!” the Naplousean enthused, and slapped Anakin across the brace between his wings. Anakin stayed focused, trying to sense where the currents would be at this level, where the little vortices of lift and plunge would accumulate as they formed and rotated between the shields. Ozone would always be in highest concentration in the areas where the winds w
ould be strongest and most dangerous. And for every volley of canisters, following a prearranged formation through the shields, another volley would soon follow, taking a precisely determined series of alternate routes.

  Easy. Like flying between a storm of steel raindrops.

  Anakin’s fellow racers took their places in the tunnel’s exit, jockeying for the best position on the apron. The Blood Carver gave Anakin a jab with his jet-tipped right wing. Anakin pushed it aside and kept his focus.

  The Naplousean tunnel master lifted its ribbon-limb, the tip curling and uncurling in anticipation.

  The Blood Carver stood to Anakin’s left and closed his eyes to slits. His nostril flaps pulsed and flared, filled with tiny sensory cavities, sweeping the air for clues.

  The Naplousean made a thick whickering noise—its way of cursing—and ordered the contestants to hold. A flying maintenance droid was making a sweep of this level. From where they waited, the droid appeared as a flyspeck, a tiny dot buzzing its way around the wide gray circumference of the pit, issuing little musical tones between the roar and swoosh of canisters.

  Managers could be bribed, but droids could not. They would have to wait until this one dropped to the level below.

  Another volley of canisters shot through the shields with an ear-stunning bellow. Blue ion trails curled like phantom serpents between the concave lower shield and the convex upper shield.

  “Longer for you to live,” the Blood Carver whispered to Anakin. “Little human boy who smells like a slave.”

  Obi-Wan, against all his personal inclinations, had made it his duty to know the ins and outs of anything having to do with illegal racing, anywhere within a hundred kilometers of the Jedi Temple. Anakin Skywalker, his charge, his responsibility, was one of the best Padawans in the Temple—easily fulfilling the promise sensed by Qui-Gon Jinn—but as if to compensate for this promise, to bring a kind of balance to the boy’s lopsided brace of abilities, Anakin had an equal brace of faults.

  His quest for speed and victory was easily the most aggravating and dangerous. Qui-Gon Jinn had perhaps encouraged this in the boy by allowing him to race for his own freedom, three years before, on Tatooine.

  But Qui-Gon could not justify his actions now.

  How Obi-Wan missed the unpredictable liveliness of his Master! Qui-Gon had spurred him to great effort by what appeared at first to be whimsical japes and always turned out to be profound readings of their situation.

 
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