Copy and paste the below script into your own website or blog to embed this book.
New York Times bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole presents a stirring new tale set in the Star Wars® universe: the dramatic story of a heroic X-wing pilot on the razor's edge between the Force--and the dark side.
Corran Horn has distinguished himself as one of the best and brightest of Rogue Squadron's elite fighting force. Then his wife, Mirax, vanishes on a covert mission for the New Republic, and Corran vows to find her. To do so, he knows he must develop the latent Force powers inherited from his grandfather, a legendary Jedi hero. He joins Luke Skywalker's famed Jedi academy to begin training, only to quit in frustration at Skywalker's methods. Now Corran is on his own. Using his Corellian undercover experience, he must infiltrate, sabotage, and destroy a ruthless organization in order to find his wife. But to succeed, Corran will have to come to terms with his Jedi heritage--and make a terrible choice: surrender to the dark side...or die.
None of us liked waiting in ambush, primarily because we couldn't be wholly certain we weren't the ones being set up for a hot-vape. The Invids--the pirate crews working with the ex-Imperial Star Destroyer Invidious--had so far eluded the best efforts of the New Republic to engage them. They seemed to know where we would be, when we would get there, and in what force, then planned their raids appropriately. As a result we spent a lot of time doing battle-damage assessments on their efforts, and they really pushed to give us plenty of BDA work.
Rogue Squadron had gone to ground to wait on several of the larger asteroids in the K'vath system. This location put us in close proximity to K'vath 5's primary moon, Alakatha. We powered down our engines and had our sensors in passive mode only to avoid detection by the folks we wanted to trap. According to our mission briefing, New Republic Intelligence had gotten a tip they considered reliable that at least part of Leonia Tavira's pirate fleet would be hitting a luxury liner coming out of the resort coast on Alakatha's northern continent. Mirax and I had actually honeymooned there three years ago, before Thrawn turned the New Republic inside-out, so I had fond memories of the place and could well remember the wealth dripping in jewels and precious metals from the throats and hands of the New Republic's elite.
I glanced at my X-wing's chronometer. "The Glitterstar is still on schedule?"
Whistler, nestled behind my cockpit, hooted with just a hint of derision in his voice.
"Yes, I know I told you to let me know if there was a change and, no, I didn't think it had slipped your circuits." I forced my gloved hands open, then rotated my wrists to get rid of some of the tension. "I'm just anxious."
He blatted a quick comment at me.
"Hey, just because patience is a virtue, that doesn't make impatience a vice." I sighed and turned the latter half of it into a piece of a Jedi breathing exercise Luke Skywalker had urged upon me when trying to recruit me as a Jedi. Breathing in through my nose to a count of four, I held the breath for a seven count, then exhaled in eight beats. With each breath I let more tension flow out of me. I sought the clarity of mind I'd need for the coming battle--if the Invids materialized--but it eluded me with the ease the Invids had shown in escaping the New Republic.
Things kept seeming to happen fast. Mirax and I married fast, and while I did not at all regret having done so, events conspired to make our married life extremely difficult. Grand Admiral Thrawn and his antics ruined our first anniversary, and rescuing Jan Dodonna and the others who had once been imprisoned with me on the Lusankya had called me away during the second. And then the reborn Emperor's assault on Coruscant dropped a Star Destroyer on what had been our home. Neither of us were there at the time, which was standard operating procedure far too often.
In fact, the only benefit of being assigned to go after the Invids was that their leader, ex-Moff Leonia Tavira, seemed to have a taste for a life of leisure. When her Invidious vanished between raids, we usually had a week of down time before having to worry about another attack. Mirax and I put this free time to good use, rebuilding our home and our relationship, but with that came some consequences that I saw as incredibly disruptive--on the scale of Thrawn disruptive.
Mirax decided she wanted children.
I have nothing against kids--as long as they go home with their parents at the end of the day. Expressing this opinion in those terms to Mirax was not the smartest thing I had ever done and, in fact, proved to be one of the more painful ones. The hurt and pain in her eyes haunted me for a long time. Deep down, I knew there would be no dissuading her, and I wasn't even sure, in the end, I wanted to.
I did try, however, and employed most of the standard arguments to do so. The "this is an unsettled time in the galaxy" ploy lost out to the fact that our parents had faced a similar choice and we'd turned out pretty well. The "uncertainty of my job" argument wilted beneath the logic of my life insurance and then withered away when Mirax gave me a glimpse at the accounts files--the real ones--for her import/export business. She pointed out that she could easily support the three or four of us and I'd not have to work a single second, outside of caring for the children. And, she noted, that carrying a child for nine full months meant she would already have 3.11 years of forty-hour weeks of child-care logged and that I would owe her.
Over and above all that, she said I'd make a great father. She noted that my father had done a great job with me. Having learned from him the skills of being a father, she just knew I'd be wonderful with kids. In using that argument, she turned the love and respect I had for my father around on me. She made it seem as if I was dishonoring his memory by not bringing children into the world. It was a most persuasive argument, as she knew it would be, and hammered me pretty hard.
In retrospect, I should have given up at the start and saved the two of us a great deal of grief. She makes her living--a very good living, it turns out--convincing all sorts of folks that junk no one else wants is absolutely vital to them. While she engaged me in logical discussions--focusing my defenses on that avenue of attack--she slipped past my guard on a purely emotional level. Little comments about what kind of child our genetic lottery would produce got me investing brainsweat in solving that puzzle. That went straight to the detective training in me--the training that wouldn't let me drop a case until I had an answer.
Which, in this case, meant a child.
She also managed to flick on the HoloNet monitors when some event featuring news about Leia Organa Solo's three-year-old twins was being shown. The children were frighteningly cute and their very existence had been blamed for a baby-binge in the New Republic. I knew Mirax was not so shallow as to be wanting a child out of envy or to be trendy, but she did note that she was Leia's age, and that it was a good time to have a child or two.
And that cuteness factor really can get under your skin. The New Republic media avoided showing the twins drooling and dripping the way children do, and they really maximized the appealing things about the toddlers. It got so that when I did remember dreams, they were of me cradling a sleeping child in my arms. Oddly enough, I stopped thinking of those dreams as nightmares pretty quickly and did my best to preserve them in my mind.
Realizing I was lost, I began to bargain for time. Mirax flat refused to accept fixed time dates, mainly because I was thinking in years, so I made things conditional. I told her once the Invids were taken care of, we'd make a final decision. She accepted my decision a bit better than I expected, which started preying on me, and making me feel guilty. I would have thought that was a tactic she'd decided to use, but she thought guilt was a hammer and she's definitely a vibroblade fan.
I exhaled slowly again. "Whistler, remind me when we get home, Mirax and I need to make a decision on this baby thing, now, not later. Tavira's not going to dictate my life."
Whistler's happy high staccato sailed down into a low warning tone.
I glanced at my primary monitor. The Glitterstar had lifted from Alakatha and another ship had appeared in-system. Whistler identified it as a modified bulk cruiser known as the Booty Full. Unlike the liner's sleek design, the cruiser was studded with warty protrusions that quickly detached themselves and began to run in on the liner.
I keyed my comm. "Rogue Lead, three flight has contact. One cruiser and eighteen uglies heading in on the Glitterstar."
Tycho's voice came back cool and calm. "I copy, Nine. Engage the fighters with two flight. One has the cruiser."
I flicked over to three flight's tactical channel. "Light them up, Rogues, we have the fighters."
I started the engines, then shunted power to the repulsorlift coils. The X-wing rose like a ghost from a grave and came about to point its nose toward the liner. As Ooryl's X-wing pulled up on my left and my other two pilots, Vurrulf and Ghufran, arrived on the right, I punched the throttle full forward and launched myself into the fight.
A smile blossomed on my face. Any sapient creature making a claim to sanity would find hurtling along in a fragile craft of metal and ferro-ceramics to be stupid or suicidal. Pushing that same craft into battle merely compounded the situation, and I knew it. By the same token, very few experiences in life can compare to flying in combat--or engaging any enemy in a fight--because doing that is the one point where civilization demands us to harness our animal nature and employ it against a most dangerous prey. Without being physically and mentally and even mechanically at my best, I would die and my friends might even die with me.
But I had no intention of letting that happen.
With a flick of my thumb I switched from lasers over to proton torpedoes and allowed for single fire. I selected an initial target and eased the crosshairs on my heads-up display onto its outline. Whistler beeped steadily as he worked for a target lock, then the box surrounding the fighter went red and his tone became a constant.
I hit the trigger and launched my first proton torpedo. It streaked away hot and pinkish-white, trailed by others lancing out from my flight. While employing proton torpedoes against fighters is seen as overkill by some pilots, within Rogue Squadron using such a tactic was always seen as an expedient way of lowering the odds against us--odds that were usually longer than a Hutt and decidedly more ugly.
Michael A. Stackpole is the New York Times bestselling author of many titles in the Star Wars universe, including many of the Star WarsX-Wing novels and the New Jedi Order: Dark Tide novels Onslaught and Ruin. When not chained to a desk madly fighting deadlines, he plays indoor soccer, rides a mountain bike, and reads, but not all at the same time. Stackpole lives in Arizona with Liz Danforth and a small pack of Cardigan Welsh corgis.