Authors: Michael Reaves
“Truly, truly, you have been mistreated,” he said. “So unfair.”
Balahteez nodded. “I have, indeed I have.”
“Sad. There is no justice.” Ratua judged that they were at the point where he could now ask, “So, any news?”
“As it happens, my leafy friend, yes. I have it on dependable authority that the EngSat Complex and Dybersyne Engineering Systems have begun production on the largest focusing magnet ever built—the gauss equivalent of a small iron moon’s field, so they say.”
“Well, that’s, uh … interesting,” Ratua said. “Probably the most exciting thing this year at the Interstellar Conference of Dull and Boring Science Twits.”
“My apologies for any inadvertent rudeness, my young sprout, but you know naught about which you jest.” Balahteez glanced up at the ceiling but was clearly intending that his gaze pierce the roof and extend into space.
“Yon construction, upon which so many of our fellows have been conscripted to menial labor, along with thousands and thousands of slaves, droids, and private contractors, not to mention army, navy, and Imperial engineers, is the destination for this colossal apparatus.”
“Well, let me enlighten you. Beams of coherent particles, such as electrons, positrons, and the like, as well as amplified photon emissions, are often focused with large magnetic rings. Let us postulate that one could, in this fashion, generate a weaponized beam with enough force to blow a large asteroid apart with a single blast.”
“Is there such a thing?”
“In theory, yes, though it requires a power source so large as to be impractical to perambulate, even on a Star Destroyer. But,” Balahteez continued, raising one phalange in emphasis, “aboard something the size of, say, a moon, one could easily install and house such a mechanism.”
“You’re saying the battle station they’re building up there is going to be that large?”
“Oh, my, yes. Easily. But this is not the point. The magnetic ring being built by Dybersyne is much, much larger than would be needed to focus such a beam, even a beam of such astonishing power.”
Ratua frowned. “You’ve lost me.”
The smuggler smiled. “Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the battle station under construction is large enough to hold, oh, six or eight such weapons, as well as a hypermatter reactor that could power a small planet. And that it is possible to focus all of this energy into a single beam—by the largest and most powerful magnetic ring ever made.” He looked expectantly at Ratua.
“Milking mopak,” Ratua said softly.
“Indeed, indeed. I see you comprehend at last. Not so dull and boring after all, eh?”
Ratua shook his head. That was for sure. If the Empire could make something like that work, there wouldn’t be any place a Rebel force could hide—the superweapon could, with a single blast, destroy whole continents. Maybe even whole planets. Just knowing such a thing existed, it seemed, would be enough to keep the peace. You certainly wouldn’t want to see it coming into
system with malign intent …
Ratua was not the political type. He’d never cared much who was in charge, since he lived on the fringes anyhow, and now that he was condemned to spend the rest of his life on this dreadful planet, it mattered even less. If the Rebels somehow won out against the Empire—a thing that seemed beyond possibility, especially given this latest news—they wouldn’t be likely to offer him amnesty for his crimes any more than the Empire had. Sure, there were some political prisoners here who might be freed, but thieves and smugglers and murderers wouldn’t be going anywhere no matter who won the war. Even those who had truly been unjustly convicted, as he and Balahteez had been, couldn’t expect commutation. No, he was doomed, it seemed, to rot here on Despayre for the remainder of his days.
If he could somehow manage to secure a spot on that
station, he could be reasonably certain of two things: one, it wouldn’t be hanging around the Horuz system very long after it was operational, and two, it would be one of the safest places in all the galaxy. All things considered,
would be a much better place to be than
Unfortunately, Ratua had no particular talents that would make an Imperial recruiter want to choose him for station-side duty. Probably the Empire had little need of a scrounger on such a vessel. Still, when you considered it, on a station the size of a planetoid, a single being could easily escape official notice. Once there, he could fade into the shadows and, with a bit of luck, become effectively invisible. There had to be literally millions of places to hide up there.
The problem was,
might as well mean the other side of the galaxy, as long as he was down here. Still, it might not be an insurmountable problem …
“Let me get you a mug of tea,” Ratua said, “and we can continue our talk.”
efreshed from his time in the hyperbaric chamber, Darth Vader once more contemplated his unique fate. He had become accustomed to what he was, for the most part. It was hard, after all these years, to even visualize the face of Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight. But that was as it should be. Skywalker was dead. He’d been killed on the bank of one of the lava rivers of Mustafar, and the Sith Lord Darth Vader had risen from his ashes.
He became once again aware of his breathing, and the demand-respirator sped up as he let the dark side take him, let it envelop him in anger and hatred. The power of the Force flowed into him, filling him, fueling his rage. It was, as always, his choice: he could absorb the dark energy, keep it pent within him, a no-longer-quite-human capacitor that could discharge it anytime, directing it toward anyone or anything. Or he could let it flow through him now, be not the vessel but the conduit, and thereby find momentary surcease from the fury that was always so much a part of him.
He decided on the latter.
He left his lightsaber clipped to his belt. Ordinarily he would have used it to practice on the dueling droids that had been specially designed and constructed to test his mettle. Programmed with the knowledge and skills of a dozen different martial artists, and armed with deadly cutting or
impact weapons, they were formidable opponents indeed, and had been an integral part of Sith training since time immemorial. But not everything was about the lightsaber. There were other attributes, other weapons in his arsenal, that needed exercising as well.
Vader inhaled, holding the dry and slightly bitter air for as long as his scarred lungs could manage it. When he allowed the breath to be drawn from him by the respirator, he thrust his right hand toward a nearby mirror.
The aluminized densecris shattered into a thousand pieces, struck by the dark side as if by a metal fist.
Vader was aware of the “unbreakable” substance splintering and falling, tinkling onto the floor, myriad reflections sparkling in the light as they seemed to move in slow motion. At the same time, the Force alerted him to the presence of someone in the doorway behind him.
“Yes?” he said, without turning to look. He knew who it was by the greasy feel of the man’s thoughts. Had he been unable to sense those, the mere fact that the intruder had come here to interrupt his exercises would have been enough to reveal his identity. No one else would dare.
“My lord,” said Admiral Motti. “Grand Moff Tarkin requests a word with you.”
Vader turned, surprised. Why would Tarkin seek an audience now? Yes, the man knew he was on the way to the construction site, but it was bad protocol to break comm silence.
Whatever the ostensible reason, it was a certainty that a hidden agenda lay behind it. Tarkin’s deviousness could flummox a roomful of Neimoidian barristers, Vader reflected. Fortunately, the Force was a most useful tool against such intrigue.
Without a word, Vader swept past the admiral and headed for the privacy of his quarters. Motti’s mind was not weak, but the emotions roiling beneath the calm exterior made his thoughts easy enough to sense: could he have
struck Vader dead in that moment, he would have. The man’s mind was a cauldron of seething anger, of hatred and envy, most of which was directed toward Vader. A pity Motti had no connection to the Force, the Dark Lord mused. He could have proved most useful.
“Lord Vader,” the holo of Tarkin said. The greeting and the slight bow with it were stiff and formal. The image was full-sized, if a bit transparent and fuzzy, occupying the holoplate in Vader’s anteroom as if the governor were standing before him.
Vader studied the simulacrum. Whatever the issue was that had prompted Tarkin to call, it wasn’t a small one. The man’s face was even more dour and saturnine than usual.
“Grand Moff Tarkin,” Vader said. He made no effort to disguise an edge of contempt for the title. The military did love its pecking order.
Tarkin wasn’t a man to dally with pleasantries; he got straight to the point. “There has been an explosion on the battle station—sabotage. Significant damage.”
“We have determined several suspects in its cause.”
“Our medical teams have not yet received the first supply shipment of mind-probes.”
Vader nodded. “I see. You wish me to examine these suspects.”
“Yes. If there are any preparations you need to make, speed is of the essence. It is paramount that we determine who caused this incident, and why, and deal with it forcefully.”
“I need no preparations. My ship will arrive in a few hours. I shall speak to the prisoners as soon as I board your vessel. Have them ready. I will determine who among them are responsible.”
Tarkin gave him another crisp military nod. “We look forward to your visit, Lord Vader.”
Vader gestured for the comm unit to disconnect without responding.
, he thought.
I’m sure you do
This was most interesting news. If the Rebel Alliance was responsible—and who else could it be?—this action certainly gave the lie to the official image of the dissidents as disorganized rabble posing no real threat. Vader felt a small ember of satisfaction glow within him. He had known for some time that the malcontents were growing both in organization and in power. They had staged guerrilla raids on space stations and supply depots, had managed to obtain military matériel and warcraft from sympathetic industrial and shipyard designers, and had allied themselves with many alien species, playing upon the latters’ resentment at being reduced to inferior status in the eyes of the New Order. They were more than just a motley collection of wild-eyed idealists; they now numbered among their ranks former Imperial strategists, programmers, and technicians, and their network of spies was growing more intricate daily. They were scum, true enough, but enough scum could clog any system, even one as complex and pristine as the Empire.
They had to be dealt with, and they would be. This Death Star of Tarkin’s could be effective to a degree, but one need not use a proton torpedo to swat a fire gnat.
Vader turned and left his chambers. The dark side would tell him who the miscreants were—tell him, and deal with them as well.
THE SOFT HEART CANTINA, SOUTHERN UNDERGROUND, GRID 19, IMPERIAL CITY
emah Roothes frowned at the delivery droid. Local weather systems were acting up, and the air was hot, too moist, and cloying, not to mention smelling of lube and a hint of rotting garbage drifting through from the alley behind her cantina. She had been up late and arisen early, she already felt lousy, and she certainly didn’t need this latest piece of bad news.
“Excuse me? I don’t think I heard you correctly. Please repeat that.”
The droid, a standard loader/unloader utility model, said again, “Your liquor shipment has been delayed. Our dispatcher tenders apologies for the mistake.”
“And what are my customers supposed to drink in the meanwhile? Water?”
The droid’s basic intelligence was sufficient for making liquor deliveries; it wasn’t up to sarcasm. “Water is drinkable by all sentient carbon-based beings.”