Read Death Star Online

Authors: Michael Reaves

Death Star (3 page)

Incredible to think about. And if he kept racking up missions like the one just completed, there was a very good chance that he would be assigned as unit commander on board the new station.

He led his squad back to the equatorial launching bay. Looking at the awe-inspiring base, he felt a surge of pride in the Empire, and a feeling of gratitude at being a part of the Tarkin Doctrine’s glorious mission. There was no official appellation or designation, other than
battle station
, that he knew of for the Grand Moff’s vision, but there was a name for it that everybody he knew, officers and enlisted alike, used.

They called it the Death Star.

2

LQ FLAGSHIP
HAVELON
, IN GEOSYNCHRONOUS ORBIT ABOVE PLANET DESPAYRE

W
ilhuff Tarkin—now Grand Moff Tarkin, with that exalted promotion being due to this very project—stood before the deck-to-ceiling transparisteel viewport on the observation deck, looked out at his creation, and found it good.

He was building a world.

True, as worlds went, what was taking form three hundred kilometers from his flagship would not be quite as imposing as Imperial Center, say, or Alderaan. But when finished, it would be larger than two of the satellites of his own planet Eriadu, and it would be home to well over a million beings.

More to the point, it would hold countless worlds under its—
his
—thrall.

It had been nearly three decades since Raith Sienar had first made Tarkin privy to the concept of the “battle station planetoid,” and it had taken almost a decade to get the idea through the snarls of red tape and bring the Geonosians on board to improve and implement the designs. The project had been known by various code names—such as
the Great Weapon
—and the original plans had been much improved by the Geonosian leader Poggle the Lesser. But it had taken years for the concept to be stewarded through the tortuous maze of government bureaucracy before construction
was finally ordered to begin. There were still flaws in the original plans, but many of them had been addressed during the building of the proof-of-concept prototype in the Maw Installation, and others were being corrected as they were uncovered. The greatest minds in the galaxy had been recruited or drafted to lend their expertise to the building of this ultimate weapon. The brilliant Dr. Ohran Keldor, the mad weapons master Umak Leth, the young but nevertheless laser-sharp Omwati prodigy Qwi Xux, the Twi’lek administrator Tol Sivron—they, and many, many others of like stripe, had been investigated and approved by Tarkin himself. All were as good as the Empire could provide, willing or unwilling.

In addition, he had conscripted a veritable army of enslaved Wookiees, plus tens of thousands of convicts from the steaming jungles of the prison planet Despayre, and a plethora of construction droids, the latter the largest such collection of automata ever assembled. All of them, organic and artificial, now worked around the chrono, with but one goal in mind: the culmination of his vision.

The project code-named Death Star.

Tarkin pursed his lips slightly. There was a taint of melodrama to the name that he didn’t care for, but no matter. The words, along with the reality of the battle station itself, would amply convey its terrifying purpose.

The Horuz system had been scavenged for raw material; asteroids and comets were being harvested from both the inner and outer belts and broken into components of oxygen, hydrogen, iron, nickel, and other elements; enormous bulk transports, ore haulers, tankers, and cargo craft had been gutted and reconfigured as orbiting laboratories, factories, and housing, all filled with workers producing fiber optics, electronics, and thousands of other technological instruments and construction materials. After nearly two decades of frustration, of false starts, union disputes, administrative procedure, and political maneuvering, the construction
of the Empire’s doomsday device was at last irrevocably under way.

Certainly there had been problems. Tarkin had been surprised and annoyed to find that Raith Sienar’s original designs—the very same ones he himself had presented to Palpatine, and which the Emperor had rejected more than ten years earlier—had been the basis for the plans Palpatine had finally given him to implement. Well, perhaps it wasn’t so surprising, given the vagaries of war and politics. Nothing that went into the Empire’s vaults was ever completely lost, although sometimes things were mislaid. And concepts rejected when they came from someone else often looked better when rethought as one’s own. Even the Emperor, it seemed, was not immune to that particular hubris.

After a prototype design had been built and refined in the heart of the swarm of black holes known as the Maw cluster, Tarkin and Bevel Lemelisk, the head of design, had had the Death Star project moved several times to avoid possible Rebel sabotage attempts, ultimately relocating it to the Horuz system for added security. Of course, on a project this huge, there was little hope that it could be kept secret forever—but knowing that it existed, even knowing where it was being built, was not the same as being able to do anything about it. Admiral Daala, commanding four
Imperial
-class Star Destroyers and countless smaller attack craft, kept constant vigilance from her station within the Maw; any unauthorized ships that entered the region would not leave to carry tales elsewhere.

Tarkin stared at the incomplete spheroid, floating serenely in the void, eerily backlit by the solar glow reflected from Despayre. It wasn’t even a complete skeleton yet. When done, however, the battle station would be 160 kilometers in diameter. There would be twenty-four zones, twelve in each hemisphere. Every zone, called a sprawl, would have its own food replicators, hangar bays, hydroponics, detention blocks, medical centers, armories, command centers,
and every other facility needed to provide service for any mission deemed necessary. In an emergency, auxiliary command centers located in each sprawl provided full weapons and maneuverability control, for a redundancy depth of twice a dozen. When fully operational, the battle station would be the most powerful force in the galaxy, by far.

And it was Tarkin’s to command.

As the commander of such a vessel, he would, perforce, be the most powerful man in the galaxy. The thought had certainly occurred to him that not even the Emperor could stand before him, did he choose to challenge Palpatine’s rule. Then again, Tarkin knew the Emperor. If their positions were reversed, he knew that there was no possible way he would sanction anyone having such power—not without some kind of fail-safe. Was a destruct device already built into the station somewhere, with the red button safely installed in Palpatine’s chambers? Was some equivalent of Order 66 known only to certain onboard officers and troops? Or was it something even more devious? Tarkin was certain the Emperor had some kind of insurance against any theoretical rebellion. Not that the Grand Moff intended such a course; he wasn’t a foolish or suicidal man.

Aside from the fearsome, world-destroying “superlaser” itself—which was based upon the Hammertong Project and used a power source secretly taken by the 501st Stormtrooper Legion on Mygeeto during the Clone Wars—the station would mount a complement of craft, both space and ground, equal to a large planetside base: four capital ships, a hundred TIE/In starfighters, plus assault shuttles, blastboats, drop ships, support craft, and land vehicles, all ultimately totaling in the tens of thousands. It would have an operational crew numbering more than a quarter million, including nearly sixty thousand gunners alone. The vessel could easily transport more than half a million fully outfitted troops, and the support staff—pilots, crew, and
other workers—would be half that number. The logistics of it all were staggering. Oh, it would be a fearsome monster indeed. But a monster tamed and under Tarkin’s control; a monster sheathed in quadanium steel plating, invulnerable and impervious.

Well,
almost
invulnerable. Lemelisk had disappointed him in that instance. The greatest challenge in designing the battle station, he had said, was not creating a beam cannon big enough to destroy a planet, nor was it building a moon-sized station that would be driven by a Class Three hyperdrive. The greatest challenge was powering both of them. There must be trade-offs, he had said. In order to mount a weapon of mundicidal means, shielding capabilities would have to be downgraded to a rudimentary level. Power, Bevel had said, was not infinite, even on a station this size, fueled by the largest hypermatter reactor ever built. However, given the surface-to-vacuum defenses, the number of fighters, turbo-laser batteries, charged-particle blasters, magnetic railguns, proton torpedo banks, ion cannons, and a host of other protective devices, no naval ship of any size would be even a remote threat. A fleet of
Imperial
-class Star Destroyers—even a fleet of
Super
-class Star Destroyers, should such a thing ever exist—would offer no real danger to the battle station once it was fully operational. Given all that, a shield system that was less than perfect at times wasn’t such a high price to pay for the ability to vaporize a planet.

Once the station was fully online, then the Tarkin Doctrine—officially recognized by the Empire and named as such—would hold sway throughout the known worlds. The Tarkin Doctrine was as simple as it was effective; fear would keep the galaxy in line. Once the power of this “Death Star” had been demonstrated, its very existence would be enough to maintain peace. The Rebel Alliance wouldn’t dare risk facing it. An insurgent who would gladly accept his own death in the cause would quail at the
thought of his entire homeworld being turned to incandescent plasma.

Tarkin turned away from the viewport. Already there had been sabotage and setbacks, and more would occur; it was inevitable on a project this size. Slaves had tried to escape, droids had malfunctioned, and men who should have known better had thought to gain personal power through political machinations. In addition to these annoyances, Darth Vader, the Emperor’s pet, was wont to show up unannounced now and again to lay his heavy hand upon the whole process. Vader, unfortunately, was beyond Tarkin’s command, even though, as the first of the new Grand Moffs, he was a man whose whim was law in the entire Outer Rim Territories. It was true that Vader’s own manner of function was essentially the same philosophy as the Tarkin Doctrine, albeit on a smaller scale; still, it was … disquieting … to see the man cause an admiral or a general across the room fall over with a mere gesture as if shot. Vader called it the Force, that mystical power that had supposedly been unique to the Jedi and the Sith. Tarkin had seen him knock blaster bolts from the air with his lightsaber—or even, at times, with naught but his black gauntlets—with no more effort than swatting flitterflies. Vader was something of a conundrum: the Jedi were extinct, so it was said, as were the Sith, and yet the man in black possessed one of the signature weapons favored by both groups, along with the skill to use it. Puzzling. Tarkin had heard it said that Vader was more machine than man underneath that armor. He knew that the cyborg droid General Grievous had been able to wield four lightsabers at once, so perhaps it was not so surprising after all that Vader was adept with one. No one could say for sure, of course, since no one, except possibly the Emperor himself, knew the identity of the face behind the black helmet’s visor.

Tarkin, however, had his own theory about the Dark
Lord’s former life, based on information he’d gleaned from privileged files and conversations, as well as from public records. He’d heard about the supposed death of Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi war hero, on Mustafar, and knew that no body had been found. Of course, it might easily have disappeared in one of the white-hot lava rivers … but was it really just a coincidence that Darth Vader, encased in a life-support suit and demonstrating a mastery of the Force supposedly only attained by the most powerful of Jedi, had become the Emperor’s new favorite immediately after Skywalker left the scene?

Tarkin shrugged. Whoever or whatever Vader was, or had become, he was not without great personal power, and it was well known that he had the Emperor’s trust. But that didn’t matter. All that mattered to Tarkin was that the construction of the battle station was proceeding apace. Should Vader or anyone else attempt to obstruct this, they would be dealt with, summarily and completely. His ultimate dream
must
be realized. Nothing else was important, compared with that.

Nothing.

3

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