Authors: Greg Bear
Three years after the events of
The Phantom Menace
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. & ™
Star Wars: Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter
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.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 00-111160
For Jack, and Ed, and
and for George—
Masters of adventure
A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY.…
nakin 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
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
,” 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.”