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EXTENDED EXCERPT

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) by Charles Soule
Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) by Charles Soule

The Force is with the galaxy. It is the time of the High Republic: a peaceful union of like-minded worlds where all voices are heard, and governance is achieved through consensus, not coercion or fear. It is an era of ambition, of culture, of inclusion, of Great Works. Visionary Chancellor Lina Soh leads the Republic from the elegant city-world of Coruscant, located near the bright center of the Galactic Core.

But beyond the Core and its many peaceful Colonies, there is the Rim—Inner, Mid, and finally, at the border of what is known: the Outer Rim. These worlds are filled with opportunity for those brave enough to travel the few well-mapped hyperspace lanes leading to them, though there is danger as well. The Outer Rim is a haven for anyone seeking to escape the laws of the Republic, and is filled with predators of every type.

Chancellor Soh has pledged to bring the Outer Rim worlds into the embrace of the Republic through ambitious outreach programs such as the Starlight Beacon. But until it is brought online, order and justice are maintained on the galactic frontier by Jedi Knights, guardians of peace who have mastered incredible abilities stemming from a mysterious energy field known as the Force. The Jedi work closely with the Republic, and have agreed to establish outposts in the Outer Rim to help any who might require aid. The Jedi of the frontier can be the only resource for people with nowhere else to turn. Though the outposts operate independently and without direct assistance from the great Jedi Temple on Coruscant, they act as an effective deterrent to those who would do evil in the dark. Few can stand against the Knights of the Jedi Order. But there are always those who will try. . .

PART 1 - The Great Disaster

CHAPTER ONE

HYPERSPACE. THE LEGACY RUN.
3 hours to impact.

All is well.

Captain Hedda Casset reviewed the readouts and displays built into her command chair for the second time. She always went over them at least twice. She had more than four decades of flying behind her, and figured the double check was a large part of the reason she’d survived all that time. The second look confirmed everything she’d seen in the first.

“All is well,” she said, out loud this time, announcing it to her bridge crew. “Time for my rounds. Lieutenant Bowman, you have the bridge.”

“Acknowledged, Captain,” her first officer replied, standing from his own seat in preparation to occupy hers until she returned from her evening constitutional.

Not every long-haul freighter captain ran their ship like a military vessel. Hedda had seen starships with stained floors and leaking pipes and cracks in their cockpit viewports, lapses that speared her to her very soul. But Hedda Casset began her career as a fighter pilot with the Malastare–­Sullust Joint Task Force, keeping order in their little sector on the border of the Mid Rim. She’d started out flying an Incom Z-­24, the single-­seat fighter everyone just called a Buzzbug. Mostly security missions, hunting down pirates and the like. Eventually, though, she rose to command a heavy cruiser, one of the largest vessels in the fleet. A good career, doing good work.

She’d left Mallust JTF with distinction and moved on to a job captaining merchant vessels for the Byrne Guild—­her version of a relaxed retirement. But thirty-­plus years in the military meant order and discipline weren’t just in her blood—­they were her blood. So every ship she flew now was run like it was about to fight a decisive battle against a Hutt armada, even if it was just carrying a load of ogrut hides from world A to world B. This ship, the Legacy Run, was no exception.

Hedda stood, accepting and returning Lieutenant Jary Bowman’s snapped salute. She stretched, feeling the bones of her spine crackle and crunch. Too many years on patrol in tiny cockpits, too many ­high-­g maneuvers—­sometimes in combat, sometimes just because it made her feel alive.

The real problem, though, she thought, tucking a stray strand of gray hair behind one ear, is too many years.

She left the bridge, departing the precise machine of her command deck and walking along a compact corridor into the larger, more chaotic world of the Legacy Run. The ship was a Kaniff Yards Class A modular freight transport, more than twice as old as Hedda herself. That put the craft a bit past her ideal operational life, but well within safe parameters if she was well maintained and regularly serviced—­which she was. Her captain saw to that.

The Run was a mixed-­use ship, rated for both cargo and passengers—­hence “modular” in its designation. Most of the vessel’s structure was taken up by a single gigantic compartment, shaped like a long, triangular prism, with engineering aft, the bridge fore, and the rest of the space allotted for cargo. Hollow boom arms protruded from the central “spine” at regular intervals, to which additional smaller modules could be attached. The ship could hold up to 144 of these, each customizable, to handle every kind of cargo the galaxy had to offer.

Hedda liked that the ship could haul just about anything. It meant you never knew what you were going to get, what weird challenges you might face from one job to the next. She had flown the ship once when half the cargo space in the primary compartment was reconfigured into a huge water tank, to carry a gigantic saberfish from the storm seas on Tibrin to the private aquarium of a countess on Abregado-­rae. Hedda and her crew had gotten the beast there safely—­not an easy gig. Even harder, though, was getting the creature back to Tibrin three cycles later, when the blasted thing got sick because the countess’s people had no idea how to take care of it. She gave the woman credit, though—­she paid full freight to send the saberfish home. A lot of people, nobles especially, would have just let it die.

This particular trip, in comparison, was as simple as they came. The Legacy Run’s cargo sections were about 80 percent filled with settlers heading to the Outer Rim from overpopulated Core and Colony worlds, seeking new lives, new opportunities, new skies. She could relate to that. Hedda Casset had been restless all her life. She had a feeling she’d die that way, too, looking out a viewport, hoping her eyes would land on something she’d never seen before.

Because this was a transport run, most of the ship’s modules were basic passenger configurations, with open seating that converted into beds that were, in theory, comfortable enough to sleep in. Sanitary facilities, storage, a few holoscreens, small galleys, and that was it. For settlers willing to pay for the increased comfort and convenience, some had droid-­operated auto-­canteens and private sleeping compartments, but not many. These people were frugal. If they’d had credits to begin with, they probably wouldn’t be heading to the Outer Rim to scrape out a future. The dark edge of the galaxy was a place of challenges both exciting and deadly. More deadly than exciting, in truth.

Even the road to get out here is tricky, Hedda thought, her gaze drawn by the swirl of hyperspace outside the large porthole she happened to be passing. She snapped her eyes away, knowing she could end up standing there for twenty minutes if she let herself get sucked in. You couldn’t trust hyperspace. It was useful, sure, it got you from here to there, it was the key to the expansion of the Republic out from the Core, but no one really understood it. If your Navidroid miscalculated the coordinates, even a little, you could end up off the marked route, the main road through whatever hyperspace actually was, and then you’d be on a dark path leading to who knew where. It happened even in the well-­traveled hyperlanes near the galactic center, and out here, where the prospectors had barely mapped out any routes . . . ​well, you had to watch yourself.

She put her concerns out of her mind and continued on her way. The truth was, the Legacy Run was currently speeding along the best-­traveled, best-­known route to the Outer Rim worlds. Ships moved through this hyperlane constantly, in both directions. Nothing to worry about.

But then, more than nine thousand souls aboard this ship were depending on Captain Hedda Casset to get them safely to their destination. She worried. It was her job.

Hedda exited the corridor and entered the central hull, emerging in a large, circular space, an open spot necessitated by the ship’s structure that had been repurposed as a sort of unofficial common area. A group of children kicked a ball around as adults stood and chatted nearby; all just enjoying a little break from the cramped confines of the modules where they spent most of their time. The space wasn’t fancy, just a bare junction spot where several short corridors met—­but it was clean. The ship employed—­at its captain’s insistence—­an automated maintenance crew that kept its interiors neat and sanitary. One of the custodial droids was spidering its way along a wall at that very moment, performing one of the endless tasks required on a ship the size of the Run.

She took a moment to take stock of this group—­twenty people or so, all ages, from a number of worlds. Humans, of course, but also a few four-­armed, fur-­covered Ardennians, a family of Givin with their distinctive triangular eyes, and even a Lannik with its pinched face, topknot, and huge, pointed ears protruding from the side of its head—­you didn’t see many of those around. But no matter their planet of origin, they were all just ordinary beings, biding time until their new lives could begin.

One of the kids looked up.

“Captain Casset!” the boy said, a human, olive-­skinned with red hair. She knew him.

“Hello, Serj,” Hedda said. “What’s the good word? Everything all right here?”

The other children stopped their game and clustered around her.

“Could use some new holos,” Serj said. “We’ve watched everything in the system.”

“All we got is all we got,” Hedda replied. “And stop trying to slice into the archive to see the age-­restricted titles. You think I don’t know? This is my ship. I know everything that happens on the Legacy Run.”

She leaned forward.

“Everything.”

Serj blushed and looked toward his friends, who had also, suddenly, found very interesting things to look at on the absolutely uninteresting floor, ceiling, and walls of the chamber.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, straightening. “I get it. This is a pretty boring ride. You won’t believe me, but in not too long, when your parents have you plowing fields or building fences or fighting off rancors, you’ll be dreaming of the time you spent on this ship. Just relax and enjoy.”

Serj rolled his eyes and returned to whatever improvised ball game he and the other kids had devised.

Hedda grinned and moved through the room, nodding and chatting as she went. People. Probably some good, some bad, but for the next few days, her people. She loved these runs. No matter what eventually happened in the lives of these folks, they were heading to the Rim to make their dreams come true. She was part of that, and it made her feel good.

Chancellor Soh’s Republic wasn’t perfect—­no government was or ever could be—­but it was a system that gave people room to dream. No, even better. It encouraged dreams, big and small. The Republic had its flaws, but really, things could be a hell of a lot worse.

Hedda’s rounds took over an hour—­she made her way through the passenger compartments, but also checked on a shipment of supercooled liquid Tibanna to make sure the volatile stuff was properly locked down (it was), inspected the engines (all good), investigated the status of repairs to the ship’s environmental recirculation systems (in progress and proceeding nicely), and made sure fuel reserves were still more than adequate for the rest of the journey with a comfortable margin besides (they were).

The Legacy Run was exactly as she wanted it to be. A tiny, well-­maintained world in the wilderness, a warm bubble of safety holding back the void. She couldn’t vouch for what was waiting for these settlers once they dispersed into the Outer Rim, but she would make sure they got there safe and sound to find out.

Hedda returned to the bridge, where Lieutenant Bowman all but leapt to his feet the moment he saw her enter.

“Captain on the bridge,” he said, and the other officers sat up straighter.

“Thank you, Jary,” Hedda said as her second stepped aside and returned to his post.

Hedda settled into her command chair, automatically checking the displays, scanning for anything out of the ordinary.

All is well, she thought.

KTANG. KTANG. KTANG. KTANG. An alarm, loud and insistent. The bridge lighting flipped into its emergency configuration—­bathing everything in red. Through the front viewport, the swirls of hyperspace looked off, somehow. Maybe it was the emergency lighting, but they had a . . . ​reddish tinge. They looked . . . ​sickly.

Hedda felt her pulse quicken. Her mind snapped into combat mode without thinking.

“Report!” she barked out, her eyes whipping along her own set of screens to find the source of the alarm.

“Alarm generated by the navicomp, Captain,” called out her navigator, Cadet Kalwar, a young Quermian. “There’s something in the hyperlane. Dead ahead. Big. Impact in ten seconds.”

The cadet’s voice held steady, and Hedda was proud of him. He probably wasn’t that much older than Serj.

She knew this situation was impossible. The hyperlanes were empty. That was the whole point. She couldn’t rattle off all the science involved, but she did know that lightspeed collisions in established lanes simply could not happen. It was “mathematically absurd,” to hear the engineers talk about it.

Hedda had been flying in deep space long enough to know that impossible things happened all the time, every damn day. She also knew that ten seconds was no time at all at speeds like the Legacy Run was traveling.

You can’t trust hyperspace, she thought.

Hedda Casset tapped two buttons on her command console.

“Brace yourselves,” she said, her voice calm. “I’m taking control.”

Two piloting sticks snapped up out from the armrests of her captain’s chair, and Hedda grasped them, one in each hand.

She spared the time for one breath, and then she flew.

The Legacy Run was not an Incom Z-­24 Buzzbug, or even one of the new Republic Longbeams. It had been in service for well over a century. It was a freighter at the end of—­if not beyond—­its operational life span, loaded to capacity, with engines designed for slow, gradual acceleration and deceleration, and docking with spaceports and orbital loading facilities. It maneuvered like a moon.

The Legacy Run was no warship. Not even close. But Hedda flew it like one.

She saw the obstacle in their path with her fighter pilot’s eye and instincts, saw it advancing at incredible velocity, large enough that both her ship and whatever the thing was would be disintegrated into atoms, just dust drifting forever through the hyperlanes. There was no time to avoid it. The ship could not make the turn. There was no room, and there was no time.

But Captain Hedda Casset was at the helm, and she would not fail her ship.

The tiniest tweak of the left control stick, and a larger rotation of the right, and the Legacy Run moved. More than it wanted to, but not less than its captain believed it could. The huge freighter slipped past the obstacle in their path, the thing shooting by their hull so close Hedda was sure she felt it ruffle her hair despite the many layers of metal and shielding between them.

But they were alive. No impact. The ship was alive.

Turbulence, and Hedda fought it, feeling her way through the jagged bumps and ripples, closing her eyes, not needing to see to fly. The ship groaned, its frame complaining.

“You can do it, old gal,” she said, out loud. “We’re a couple of cranky old ladies and that’s for sure, but we’ve both got a lot of life to live. I’ve taken damn good care of you, and you know it. I won’t let you down if you won’t let me down.”

Hedda did not fail her ship.

It failed her.

The groan of overstressed metal became a scream. The vibrations of the ship’s passage through space took on a new timbre Hedda had felt too many times before. It was the feeling of a ship that had moved beyond its limits, whether from taking too much damage in a firefight or, as here, just being asked to perform a maneuver that was more than it could give.

The Legacy Run was tearing itself apart. At most, it had seconds left.

Hedda opened her eyes. She released the control sticks and tapped out commands on her console, activating the bulkhead shielding that separated each cargo module in the instance of a disaster, thinking that perhaps it might give some of the people aboard a chance. She thought about Serj and his friends, playing in the common area, and how emergency doors had just slammed down at the entrance to each passenger module, possibly trapping them in a zone that was about to become vacuum. She hoped the children had gone to their families when the alarms sounded.

She didn’t know.

She just didn’t know.

Hedda locked eyes with her first officer, who was staring at her, knowing what was about to happen. He saluted.

“Captain,” Lieutenant Bowman said, “it’s been an—­”

The bridge ripped open.

Hedda Casset died, not knowing if she had saved anyone at all.

CHAPTER TWO

THE OUTER RIM. HETZAL SYSTEM.
2.5 hours to impact.

Scantech (third-­class) Merven Getter was ready. Ready to clock out for the day, ready to get the shuttle back to the inner system, ready to hit the cantina a few streets away from the spaceport on the Rooted Moon where Sella worked tending bar, ready to see if today was the day he might find the courage to ask her out. She was Twi’lek, and he was Mirialan, but what difference did that make? We are all the Republic. Chancellor Soh’s big slogan—­but people believed it. Actually, Merven thought he did, too. Attitudes were evolving. The possibilities were endless.

And maybe, one of those possibilities revolved around a scantech (third-­class) staffed on a monitoring station far out on the ecliptic of the Hetzal system, itself pretty blasted far out on the Rim, sadly distant from the bright lights and interesting worlds of the Republic Core. Perhaps that scantech (third-­class), who spent his days staring at holoscreens, logging starship traffic in and out of the system, could actually catch the eye of the lovely scarlet-­skinned woman who served him up a mug of the local ale, three or four nights a week. Sella usually stayed around to chat with him for a while, circling back as other customers drifted in and out of her little tavern. She seemed to find his stories about life on the far edge of the system inexplicably interesting.

Merven didn’t get why she was so fascinated. Sometimes ships showed up in-­system, popping in from hyperspace and appearing on his screens, and other times ships left . . . ​at which point their little icons disappeared from his screens. Nothing interesting ever happened—­flight plans were logged ahead of time, so he usually knew what was coming or going. Merven was responsible for making sure those flight plans were followed, and not much else. On the off chance something unusual occurred, his job was just to notify people significantly more important than he was.

Scantech (third-­class) Merven Getter spent his days watching people go places. He, in contrast, stayed still.

But maybe not today. He thought about Sella. He thought about her smile, the way she decorated her lekku with those intricate lacings she told him she designed herself, the way she stopped whatever she was doing to pour him his mug of ale the moment he walked in, without him even having to ask for it.

Yeah. He was going to ask her to dinner. Tonight. He’d been saving up, and he knew a place not too far from the cantina. Not so far from his place, either, but that was getting ahead of himself.

He just had to get through his blasted shift.

Merven glanced over at his colleague, Scantech (second-­class) Vel Carann. He wanted to ask her if he could check out a little early that day, take the shuttle back to the Rooted Moon. She was reading something on a datapad, her eyes rapt. Probably one of the Jedi romances she was always obsessed with. Merven didn’t get it. He’d read a few—­they were all set at outposts on the far Republic frontiers, full of unrequited love and longing glances . . . ​the only action was the lightsaber battles that were clearly a substitute for what the characters really wanted to do. Vel wasn’t supposed to be reading personal material on company time, but if he called her out on it, she’d just tap the screen and switch it to a technical manual and insist she wasn’t doing anything wrong. The trouble was, she was second-­class, and he was third-­class, which meant that as long as he did his job, she thought she didn’t have to do hers.

Nah. Not even worth asking for an early sign-­off time. Not from Vel. He could get through the rest of his shift. Not long now, and—­

Something appeared on one of his screens.

“Huh,” Merven said.

That was odd. Nothing was scheduled to enter the system for another twenty minutes or so.

Something else appeared. A number of somethings. Ten.

“What the—­?” Merven said.

“Problem, Getter?” Vel asked, not glancing up from her screen.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Got a bunch of unscheduled entries to the system, and they’re not decelerating.”

“Wait . . . ​what?” Vel said, setting down her datascreen and finally looking at her own monitors. “Oh, that is odd.”

More icons popped up on Merven’s screens, too many to count at a glance.

“Is this . . . ​do you think it’s . . . ​asteroids, maybe?” Vel said, her voice unsteady.

“At that velocity? From hyperspace? I dunno. Run an analysis,” Merven said. “See if you can figure out what they are.”

Silence from Vel’s station.

Merven glanced up.

“I . . . ​don’t know how,” she said. “After the latest upgrade, I never bothered to learn the systems. You seemed to have it all under control, and I’m really here to supervise, you know, and—­”

“Fine,” he said, utterly unsurprised. “Can you track trajectories, at least? That subroutine’s been the same for like two years.”

“Yeah,” Vel said. “I can do that.”

Merven turned back to his screens and started typing commands across his keypads.

There were now forty-­two anomalies in-­system, all moving at a velocity near lightspeed. Incredibly fast, in other words, much quicker than safety regulations allowed. If they were in fact ships, whoever was piloting them was in for a massive fine. But Merven didn’t think they were ships. They were too small, for one thing, and didn’t have drive signatures.

Asteroids, maybe? Space rocks, somehow thrown into the system? Some kind of weird space storm, or a comet swarm? It couldn’t be an attack, that much he knew. The Republic was at peace, and looked like it was going to stay that way. Everyone was happy, living their lives. The Republic worked.

Besides, the Hetzal system didn’t have anything worth attacking. It was just an ordinary set of planets, the primeworld and its two inhabited moons—­the Fruited and the Rooted—­with a deep focus on agricultural production. It had some gas giants and frozen balls of rock, but really it was just a lot of farmers and all the things they grew. Merven knew it was important, that Hetzal exported food all over the Outer Rim, and some of its output even found its way to the inner systems. There was that bacta stuff he’d been reading about, too, some kind of miracle replacement for juvan they were trying to grow on the primeworld, supposed to revolutionize medicine if they could ever figure out how to farm it in volume . . . ​but still, it was all just plants. It was hard to get excited about plants.

As far as he was concerned, Hetzal’s biggest claim to fame was that it was the homeworld of a famous gill-­singer named Illoria Daze, who could vibrate her vocal apparatus in such a way as to sing melodies in six-­part harmony. That, in combination with a uniquely appealing wit and rags-­to-­riches backstory, had made her famous across the Republic. But Illoria wasn’t even here. She lived on Alderaan now, with the fancy people.

Hetzal had nothing of any real value. None of this made sense.

Another rash of objects appeared on his screens, so many now that it was overloading his computer’s ability to track them. He zoomed out the resolution, shifting to a system-­wide view, making a clearer picture. Merven could see that the things, whatever they might be, were not restricting themselves to entering the system from the safety of the hyperspace access zone. They were popping up everywhere, and some were getting awfully close to—­

“Oh no,” Vel said.

“I see it, too,” Merven said. He didn’t even have to run a trajectory analysis.

The anomalies were headed sunward, and many of them were on intercept courses with the inhabited worlds and their orbital stations. The things weren’t slowing down, either. Not at all. At near-­lightspeed, it didn’t matter whether they were asteroids, or ships, or frothy bubbles of fizz-­candy. Whatever they hit would just . . . ​go.

As he watched, one of the objects smashed through an uncrewed communications satellite. Both the anomaly and the satellite vanished from his screen, and the galaxy got itself a little more space dust.

Hetzal Prime was big enough that it could endure a few impacts like that and survive as a planetary body. Even the two inhabited moons might be able to take a couple of hits. But anything living on them . . .

Sella was on the Rooted Moon right now.

“We have to get out of here,” he said. “We’re right in the target zone, and more of these things are appearing every second. We have to get to the shuttle.”

“I agree,” Vel said, some semblance of command returning to her voice. “But we need to send a system-­wide alert first. We have to.”

Merven closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again.

“You’re right. Of course.”

“The computer needs authorization codes from both of us to activate the system-­wide alarm,” Vel said. “We’ll do it on my signal.”

She tapped a few commands on her keypad. Merven did the same, then waited for her nod. She gave it, and he typed in his code.

A soft, chiming alarm rang through the operations deck as the message went out. Merven knew that a similar sound was now being heard across the Hetzal system, from the cockpits of garbage scows all the way to the minister’s palace on the primeworld. Forty billion people just looked up in fear. One of them was a lovely scarlet-­skinned Twi’lek probably wondering whether her favorite Mirialan was going to come by the tavern that evening.

Merven stood up.

“We’ve done our job. Shuttle time. We can send a message explaining what’s happening on the way.”

Vel nodded and levered herself up out of her seat.

“Yeah. Let’s get out of—­”

One of the objects leapt out of hyperspace, so near, and moving so fast, that in astronomical terms it was on them the moment it appeared.

A gout of flame, and the anomaly vanished, along with the monitoring station, its two scantechs, and all their goals, fears, skills, hopes, and dreams; the kinetic energy of the object atomizing everything it touched in less than an instant.

Excerpted from Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) by Charles Soule. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

CHAPTER THREE

AGUIRRE CITY, HETZAL PRIME.
2 hours to impact.

“Is this real?” Minister Ecka asked as the chimes rang through his office—­consistent, insistent, impossible to ignore. Which, he supposed, was the point.

“Seems so,” Counselor Daan answered, tucking a curl of hair behind his ear. “The alert originated from a monitoring station at the far edge of the system. It came in at the highest priority level, and it hit system-­wide. Every computer linked to the main processing core is sounding the same alarm.”

“But what’s causing it?” the minister asked. “There was no message attached?”

“No,” Daan replied. “We’ve repeatedly asked for clarification, but there’s been no response. We believe . . . ​the monitoring station was destroyed.”

Minister Ecka thought for a moment. He rotated his chair away from his advisers, the old wood creaking a little beneath his weight. He looked out through the broad picture window that made up the wall behind his desk. As far as he could see: the golden fields of Hetzal, all the way to the horizon. The world—­the whole system, really—­believed in using every bit of available space to grow, create, to cultivate. Buildings were roofed with cropland, rivers and lakes were used to grow helpful algae and waterweeds, towers were terraced, with fruit vines spilling from their sides. Harvester droids floated among them, plucking ripe fruits—­whatever was in season. Right now, that would be honey­fruit, kingberries, and ice melons. In a month, it would be something else. On Hetzal, something was always in season.

He loved this view. The most peaceful in the galaxy, he believed. Everything just so. Productive and correct.

Now, with the alarm chimes ringing in his ears, it didn’t look like that anymore. Now it all just looked . . . ​fragile.

“Something’s happening out there,” another adviser said, a Devaronian woman named Zaffa.

Ecka had known her for a long time, and this was the first time he’d ever heard her sound worried. She was staring down at a datascreen, frowning.

“A mining rig out in midsystem just went down,” Zaffa said. “The satellite network’s starting to show holes, too. It’s like something’s taking out our facilities, one by one.”

“And we still don’t have any images? This is madness,” Ecka declared.

He pointed at his security chief, a portly middle-­aged human.

“Borta, why don’t your people know what’s happening?”

Borta frowned. “Minister, respectfully, you know why. Your recent cuts have reduced Hetzal’s security division to a tenth of its former size. We’re working on it, but we can’t bring much to bear.”

“Is it some sort of natural anomaly? It can’t be . . . ​we’re not under attack, are we?”

“At this point, we don’t know. What’s happening is consistent with some sort of enemy infiltration, but we’re not seeing drive signatures, and the locations being hit are pretty random. We do still have some orbital defense platforms out there, and they’re all intact. If it’s an attack, they should be targeting our ability to strike back, but they’re not.”

The chimes sounded again, and Ecka spun his chair and pointed at Counselor Daan, who cringed back.

“Will you turn off that blasted alarm? I can’t think!”

Daan pulled himself up, standing a little straighter, and tapped a control on his datascreen. The chimes, blessedly, ceased.

Another adviser spoke up—­a slim young man with red hair and extremely pale skin, Keven Tarr. The Ministry of Technology had sent him over. Ecka didn’t have much use for tech that wasn’t related to agricultural yields. In his heart, he was still a farmer—­but he knew Tarr was supposed to be very smart. Probably wouldn’t be long until the boy moved on, found himself a job in some more sophisticated part of the galaxy. It was the way of things on a world like Hetzal. Not everyone stayed.

“I think I can show you what’s going on, Minister,” Tarr said.

The man had long fingers for a human, and they danced over his datapad.

“Let me give the data to the droid—­it can project the information so we can all see.”

He tapped a few last commands, then unreeled a connection wire from his datapad and plugged it into the access port on the squat, hexagonal comms droid waiting in the corner of the room. It rolled forward, its single green eye lighting up as it moved.

From that eye, the machine projected an image on the large white wall in the minister’s office reserved for the purpose. Normally, presentations on the vidwall would be concerned with crop yields or pest eradication programs. Now, though, it displayed the entire Hetzal system, all its worlds and stations and satellites and platforms and vessels.

And something else.

To Minister Ecka, it looked like a field overrun with a swarm of all-­consuming insects. Hundreds of tiny lights moved through his system at what had to be tremendous speed, all in the same direction: sunward. More particularly, planetward. Toward Hetzal Prime and the moons Fruited and Rooted not so far away, not to mention all those stations, satellites, platforms, vessels . . . ​many of which had people on them.

“What are they?” he asked.

“Unknown,” Tarr responded. “I got this image by linking together signals from the surviving satellites and monitoring stations, but they’re going down quickly, and we’re losing sensor capacity as they do. Whatever these anomalies are, they’re moving at near-­lightspeed, and it’s very difficult to track them. And, of course, whenever they hit something, it’s . . .”

“Not good,” General Borta finished for him.

“Apocalyptic, I was going to say,” Tarr said. “I’m tracking a good number on impact paths with the primeworld.”

“Is there nothing to be done?” Ecka said, looking at Borta. “Can we . . . ​shoot them down?”

Borta gave him a helpless look. “Once, maybe, we’d have had a chance. At least some. But system defense hasn’t been a priority here for . . . ​a long time.”

The accusation hung in the air, but Ecka did not indulge it. He had made decisions that seemed correct at the time, with the best information he had. They were at peace! Everywhere was at peace. Why waste money that could help people in other ways? In any case, no looking back. It was time for another decision. The best he could make.

He did not hesitate. When the crops were burning, you couldn’t hesitate. As bad as things might be, the longer you waited, the worse they tended to get.

“Give the evacuation order. System-­wide. Then send a message to Coruscant. Let them know what’s happening. They won’t be able to get anyone here in time, but at least they’ll know.”

Counselor Zaffa looked at him, her eyes hooded.

“I don’t know if we can actually implement that order effectively, Minister,” she said. “We don’t have enough ships here for planetary evacuations, and if these things are really moving close to lightspeed, there isn’t much time until—­”

“I understand, Counselor Zaffa,” Ecka said, his voice steady now. “But even if the order saves just one person, then one person will be saved.”

Zaffa nodded, and tapped her datascreen.

“It’s done,” she said. “System-­wide evac in progress.”

The group watched the projection on the wall, fritzes of static lancing through it now. Tarr’s makeshift network was losing capacity as more satellites met fiery ends, but the message was still clear. It was like a massive gun had been fired at the Hetzal system, and there was nothing they could do to save themselves.

“You should probably all try to find yourselves a way offworld,” Ecka said. “I imagine the starships we do have will be very full quite quickly.”

No one moved.

“What will you do, Minister?” Counselor Daan asked.

Ecka turned back to his window, looking out at the fields, golden to the horizon. It was all so peaceful. Impossible to believe anything bad could ever happen here.

“I think I’ll stay,” he said. “Broadcast to the people, maybe, try to keep folks calm. Someone has to look after the harvest.”

Across Hetzal Prime and the broad expanses of its two inhabited moons, the message of Minister Ecka traveled rapidly, appearing on datapads and holoscreens, broadcast across all communication channels, saying, in essence: Nowhere is safe. Get as far away as you can.

Explanation was limited, which caused speculation. What was happening? Some kind of accident? What disaster could be so huge in scope that an entire system needed to be evacuated?

Some people ignored the warning. False alarms had happened before, and sometimes slicers pulled pranks or showed off by breaking into emergency alert computer systems. True, nothing had ever happened on this scale, but really, that made it easier to dismiss the whole thing. After all, the entire system in danger? It just wasn’t possible.

Those people stayed in their homes, at their workplaces. They turned off their screens and got back to their lives, because it was better than the alternative. And if they glanced to the skies from time to time, and saw starships heading up and out . . . ​well, they told themselves the people in those ships were fools, easily spooked.

Others, elsewhere, froze. They wanted to find safety but had no idea how. Not everyone had access to a way offworld. In fact, most did not. Hetzal was a system of farmers, people who lived close to the land. If they traveled anywhere else in the Republic, it was for a special occasion, a once-­in-­a-­lifetime experience. Now, being told to find a way to space on a moment’s notice . . . ​how? How could they possibly do such a thing?

But some people in Hetzal did have starships, or lived in the cities where space travel was more common. They found their children, gathered their treasures, and raced to the spaceports, hoping they would be the first to arrive, the first to book passage. They, inevitably, were not. They were greeted by crowds, queues, ticket prices spiking to unattainable levels for all but the wealthiest, thanks to unscrupulous opportunists. Tension rose. Fights broke out, and while Hetzal did have a security force to calm these squabbles, these officers also eyed the skies and wondered if they would spend their last moments alive trying to help other people to safety. A noble end, if so . . . ​but a desirable one? The security officers were people, too, with families of their own.

Order began to break down.

On the Rooted Moon, a kind trader decided to open the doors of the starship he used to transport the exceedingly fresh produce of the moon to the voracious worlds of the Outer Rim. He offered space to all who could possibly fit, and though his pilot told him the vessel was old, and the engines were a bit past their prime, the trader did not care. This was a moment for magnanimity and hope, and by the light he would save as many as he could.

The ship, holding 582 people, including the trader and his own family, managed to take off from its landing pad, once the pilot pushed its engines to maximum. It just needed to escape the moon’s gravity well. Once they were in space, everything would get easier. They could get away, to safety.

The vessel achieved most of a kilometer before the overtaxed engines exploded. The fireball rained down over those left behind, and they were not sure whether they were lucky or not, considering they still had no idea what was coming for them. Minister Ecka’s message did not say.

A variant on that message was sent out from Hetzal to any other systems or ships that might hear it: We are in desperate trouble. Send aid if you can.

It was picked up by receivers in the other worlds of the Outer Rim—­Ab Dalis, Mon Cala, Eriadu, and many more, spreading outward via the Republic’s relay system, and then inward to the planets of the Mid and Inner Rims, the Colonies region, and even the shining Core. Virtually everyone who heard it wanted to do something to help—­but what? It was clear that whatever was happening in Hetzal would be over well before they could arrive.

But ships were sent anyway—­mostly medical aid vessels, in the hope they might be able to offer treatment to injured citizens of Hetzal.

If any survived.

“Get to your nearest offworld transport facility,” Minister Ecka said to a cam droid recording his words and image and broadcasting them across the system. “We will send ships to pick up people who don’t have other ways to leave the planet. It might take time, but stay calm and peaceful. You have my word, we will come for you. We are all of the same crop. Hearty stock. We will survive this the way we have survived harsh winters and dry summers, by pulling together.

“We are all Hetzal. We are all the Republic,” he said.

He raised a hand, and the cam droid ceased transmitting. This was the fourth message he had sent since the emergency began, and he hoped his communications were doing some good. Reports suggested they were not—­riots were beginning at spaceports on all three inhabited worlds—­but what else could he do? He broadcast his messages from his office in Aguirre City, demonstrating that he had not abandoned his people even though he surely could. A show of solidarity. Not much, but something.

Around him, the rest of his staff coordinated their own attempts to assist in whatever way they could. General Borta worked with his meager security fleet to both keep order and ferry people offplanet. With the help of Counselor Daan, they had organized a number of the huge crop freighters currently in transit to act as relay points, ordering them to dump their cargo and clear all space for incoming refugees. Each could hold tens of thousands of people. Not comfortably, of course, but this was not a situation where comfort mattered.

Smaller ships were ferrying Hetzalians up to the cargo vessels, off-­loading their people then rushing back to pick up more. It was an imperfect system, but it was what they had been able to arrange on no notice. There was no plan for something like this.

Minister Ecka blamed himself for that—­but how could he have known? This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was impossible, whatever it was. He was just a farmer, after all, and—­

No, he thought, suddenly ashamed of himself. He was Minister Zeffren Ecka, leader of the whole blasted system. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t have anticipated this disaster—­it was happening, and he needed to do everything he could.

As he considered that thought, he looked over at Keven Tarr, who had never stopped running his little network, trying to keep information flowing. The young man was now working with three separate datapads and a number of comms droids projecting various displays on the walls, pulling in as much data as he could about the scope of the disaster that continued to wreak havoc in the system. He still had no real answers, other than to continually confirm that Hetzal was being savaged by whatever was afflicting the system. Satellites, arrays, stations . . . ​smashed apart by the storm of death that had come calling. It was like the seasonal chewfly swarms that used to plague the Fruited Moon until they had been genetically modified out of existence.

If the swarm came, there was nothing you could do. You hunkered down, survived, and sowed your fields again once it was all done.

Ecka watched as Keven Tarr wiped sweat from his eyes, then looked back at his main datapad, the one he had propped up on the little side table he was using as a desk.

Tarr’s eyes widened, and his fingers froze, hovering over the screen.

“Minister,” he said. “I’m . . . ​I’m getting a signal.”

“What signal?” Ecka said.

“I’ll just . . . ​I’ll just put it through,” Tarr said, and there was an odd note in his voice, of surprise, or just something unexpected.

Words crackled into the air, one of the technician’s comms droids broadcasting the message out into Minister Ecka’s office. A woman’s voice. Just a few words, but they brought with them, yes . . . ​the one thing most needed at that moment.

“This is Jedi Master Avar Kriss. Help is on the way.”

That one thing.

Hope.

CHAPTER FOUR

REPUBLIC EMISSARY-­CLASS CRUISER
THIRD HORIZON.
90 minutes to impact.

A vessel appeared in the Hetzal system, leaping out of hyperspace and rapidly slowing as it returned to conventional speeds. It was deeply sunward, and the gravity wells it needed to navigate would rip a lesser ship apart, or even this one, if its bridge crew did not represent the best the Republic had to offer.

The ship was the Third Horizon, and it was beautiful. The ship’s surfaces rippled along its frame like waves on a silver sea, tapering to a point, with towers and crenellations along its length, like a fortress laid on its side, all wings and spires and spirals. It spoke of ambition. It spoke of optimism. It spoke of a thing made beautiful because it could be, with little consideration given to cost or effort.

The Third Horizon was a work of art, symbolic of the great Republic of worlds it represented.

Smaller vessels began rolling off berths on the ship’s hull, peeling away like flower petals in a breeze, darting specks of silver and gold. These were the craft of the Jedi Order, their Vectors. As the Jedi and Republic worked as one, so did the great ship and its Jedi contingent. Larger ships exited the Third Horizon’s hangars as well, the Republic’s workhorses: Longbeams. Versatile vessels, each able to perform duties in combat, search and rescue, transport, and anything else their crews might require.

The Vectors were configured as single-­ or dual-­passenger craft, for not all Jedi traveled alone. Some brought their Padawans with them, so they might learn what lessons their Masters had to teach. The Longbeams could be flown by as few as three crew, but could comfortably carry up to twenty-­four—­soldiers, diplomats, medics, techs—­whatever was needed.

The smaller vessels spun out into the system, accelerating away from the Third Horizon with purpose. Each with a destination, each with a goal. Each with lives to save.

On the bridge of the Third Horizon, a woman, human, stood alone. Activity churned all around her, in the arched spaces and alcoves of the bridge, as officers and navigators and specialists began to coordinate the effort to save the Hetzal system from destruction. The woman’s name: Avar Kriss, and for most of her three decades or so, a member of the Jedi Order. As a child, she came to the great Temple on Coruscant, that school and embassy and monastery and reminder of the Force connecting every living thing. She was a youngling first, and as her studies advanced, a Padawan, then a Jedi Knight, and finally . . .

. . . a Master.

This operation was hers. An admiral named Kronara was in command of the Third Horizon—­itself part of the small peacekeeping fleet maintained by the Republic Defense Coalition—­but he had ceded control of the effort to save Hetzal to the Jedi. There was no conflict or discussion about the decision. The Republic had its strengths, and the Jedi had theirs, and each used them to support and benefit the other.

Avar Kriss studied the Hetzal system, projected on the flat silver display wall in the bridge by a purpose-­built comms droid hovering before it. The images were a composite gathered from in-­system sources as well as the Third Horizon’s sensors. In green, the worlds, ships, space stations, and satellites of Hetzal. Her own assets—­the Vectors, Longbeams, and the Third Horizon itself—­were blue. The bits of hot death moving through the system at incredible speed, source and nature as yet unknown, were red. As she watched, new scarlet motes appeared on the display. Whatever was happening here, it was not yet over.

The Jedi reached to her shoulder, where a long white cape was secured by a golden buckle made in the shape of her Order’s symbol—

­a living sunrise. This was ceremonial clothing, appropriate for the joint Jedi–­Republic conclave the Third Horizon had attended at the just now completed, galaxy-­changing space station called Starlight Beacon. Now, though, considering the task at hand, the ornamental garments were a distraction. Avar tapped the buckle and the cape released. It slipped to the ground in a puddle of fabric, revealing a simpler white tunic beneath, ornamented in gold. At her hip, in a white sheath, a metal cylinder, a single piece of sleek silver-­white electrum, like the handle of a tool without the tool itself. Along its length, a spiraling incised line of bright-­green seastone, serving as both grip and ornament, running up to a crossguard at one end. A weapon, with which she was skilled—­but she would not need it today. The Jedi’s lightsabers would not save Hetzal. It would be the Jedi themselves.

Avar sank to the ground, settling herself, legs crossed. Her shoulder-­length yellow hair, seemingly on its own, moved back and away from her face. It folded itself into a complex knot, a mandala, the creation of which was itself an aid to focus. She closed her eyes.

The Jedi Master slowed her breathing, reaching out to the Force that surrounded her, suffused her. Slowly, she rose, ceasing once she floated a meter above the deck.

Around the bridge, the crew of the Third Horizon took notice. They nodded, or smiled faintly, or simply felt hope bloom, before returning to their urgent tasks.

Avar Kriss did not notice. There was only the Force, and what it told her, and what she must do.

She began.

Excerpted from Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) by Charles Soule. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

CHAPTER FIVE
HETZAL PRIME. IN ORBIT.
80 minutes to impact.

Bell Zettifar felt the first licks of atmosphere touch the craft. Their Vector didn’t have a name, not officially—­all the ships were basically the same, and in theory interchangeable among their Jedi operators—­but he and his master always used the same one, with the scoring along the wings from an ion storm they’d once flown through. The pattern looked like little starbursts, and so Bell—­only in his mind, never spoken aloud—­called their ship the Nova.

The Vectors were as minimally designed as a starship could be. Little shielding, almost no weaponry, very little computer assistance. Their capabilities were defined by their pilots. The Jedi were the shielding, the weaponry, the minds that calculated what the vessel could achieve and where it could go. Vectors were small, nimble. A fleet of them together was a sight to behold, the Jedi inside coordinating their movements via the Force, achieving a level of precision no droid or ordinary pilot could match.

They looked like a flock of birds, or perhaps fallen leaves swirling in a gust of wind, all drawn in the same direction, linked together by some invisible connection . . . ​some Force. Bell had seen an exhibition on Coruscant once, as part of the Temple’s outreach programs. Three hundred Vectors moving together, gold and silver darts shining in the sun above Senate Plaza. They split apart and wove into braids and whipped past one another at incredible, impossible speed. The most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. People called it a Drift. A Drift of Vectors.

But now the Nova was flying alone, with just two Jedi aboard. Him, Jedi apprentice Bell Zettifar, and up ahead in the pilot’s seat, his master, Loden Greatstorm. The Jedi contingent aboard the Third Horizon had split up, Vectors heading to locations all over the system. There were too many tasks to be accomplished, and too little time.

Their destination was the largest inhabited planetary body, Hetzal Prime. Their assignment, vague but crucial: help.

Bell glanced out the viewport to see the curve of the world below—­green and gold and blue. A beautiful place, at least from this height. Down on the surface, he suspected things might be different. Drive signatures from starships could be seen all the way to the horizon, a mass exodus of vessels heading offworld. The Nova and a few other Vectors and Republic Longbeams he could see here and there were the only ships heading inward to the planet.

“Entering the upper atmosphere, Bell,” Loden said, not turning. “You ready?”

“You know I love this part, Master,” Bell said.

Greatstorm chuckled. The ship dived, or fell, it was hard to tell the difference. A roar filtered in from outside as space transitioned to atmosphere. The precision-­manufactured leading edges of the Vector’s wings sliced the air as finely as any blade, but even they encountered some resistance.

The Nova tore its way through the highest levels of Hetzal Prime’s atmosphere—­no, not tore. Loden Greatstorm was too fine a pilot for that. Some Jedi used their Vectors that way, but not him. He wove the craft, sliding through the air currents, riding them down, letting the ship become just another part of the interplay of gravity and wind above the planet’s surface. The ship wanted to fall, and Greatstorm let it. It was exhilarating, deadly, unsurvivable, and the Vector was designed to transmit every last vibration and shimmy to the Jedi inside, so they could let the Force guide them to the best response. Bell clenched his hands into fists. His face stretched into a grin.

“Spectacular,” he said, without thinking. His master laughed.

“Nothing to it, Bell,” Loden said. “I just pointed us at the planet. Gravity’s handling the rest.”

A long, gliding curve, smooth like the bend of a river, and then the Nova straightened out, now close enough to the planet’s surface that Bell could make out buildings, vehicles, and other smaller features below. It looked so peaceful. No indication of the disaster-­in-­progress in the system. Nothing but the increasing number of ships launching from the surface.

“Where should we put down?” Bell said. “Did Master Kriss tell you?”

“It was left to our discretion,” Greatstorm replied, glancing to one side, his profile dark, craggy, mountainlike, his Twi’lek lekku sweeping back from his skull. His eyes tracked the drive trails from the ongoing planetary evacuation. “We help any way we can.”

“But it’s a whole planet. How will we know where to . . .”

“You tell me, kid,” Loden said. “Find me somewhere to go.”

“Training?” Bell asked.

“Training.”

Loden Greatstorm’s philosophy as a teacher was very simple: If Bell was theoretically capable of something, even if Loden could do it ten times as fast and a hundred times more skillfully, then Bell would end up doing that thing, not Loden. “If I do everything, no one learns anything,” his master was fond of saying.

Loden didn’t have to do everything, but Bell would have been fine if, occasionally, he did something. Being the apprentice to the great Greatstorm was an endless gauntlet of impossible tasks. He had been training at the Jedi Temple for fifteen of his eighteen years, and it had never been easy, but being Loden’s Padawan was on an entirely different level. Every day, without exception, pushed him to his limits. Any personal time Bell ever got was spent desperately collapsing into the deepest sleep of his life until it all began again. But . . . ​he was learning. He was better now than he was even six months ago, at everything.

Bell knew what his master wanted him to do. Another impossible task—­but he was a Jedi, or getting there, and through the Force all things were possible.

He closed his eyes and opened his spirit, and there it was, the small light within him that never stopped burning. Always at least a candle flame, and sometimes, if he concentrated, it could surge up into a blaze. A few times, he’d felt as bright as the sun, so much light pouring through him he was afraid he might go blind. Honestly, though, it didn’t matter. From spark to inferno—­any connection to the Force chased away the shadows.

Bell delved into the light within himself, feeling for the connection points to other life, other repositories of the Force on the planet below. Very near to him, he felt a source of great power and energy. It was currently banked, like coals in a fire, but enormous reservoirs of strength were clearly available if needed. This was his master, Loden. Bell pushed on past him. He was looking for something else.

There. Like a long-­distance holo coming into focus when the signal finally gained enough strength, the Force web connecting the minds and spirits of Hetzal Prime’s billions snapped into Bell’s mind. It wasn’t an entirely clear picture; more like impressions, a map of emotional zones, not so different from the patchwork of cropland flashing along far below the Nova.

Mostly, what he sensed was panic and fear—­emotions the Jedi worked very hard to purge from themselves. According to the teachings, a true Jedi’s only contact with fear was supposed to be sensing it in other beings; a common enough experience. Bell had felt those reflected emotions many times, but always alongside love and hope and surprise and many shades of joy; the spectrum of feelings inherent in all beings.

Well, usually. On Hetzal Prime, at this moment, it pretty much was just panic and fear.

Bell wasn’t surprised. He’d heard the evacuation order: “System-­scale disaster in progress. All beings are immediately ordered to depart the Hetzal system by any available means, and remain at a minimum safe distance.” No explanation, no warning, and the math had to be obvious to everyone. Billions of people, and clearly not enough starships to evacuate all of them. Who wouldn’t panic?

On a world seething with that sort of negative energy, it was hard to think of what two Jedi would be able to accomplish. But Loden Greatstorm had set Bell a task, and so he continued to reach out, seeking a place they could help.

Something . . . ​a knot of tension, coiled, dense . . . ​a conflict, a question, a feeling of things not being as they should, a sense of injustice.

Bell opened his eyes.

“East,” he said.

If there was injustice out there, well . . . ​they would bring justice. The Jedi were justice.

The Nova banked, accelerating smoothly under Loden’s control. Bell’s master did let him fly occasionally—­the ship could be controlled from either seat—­but the Vectors required almost as much skill to handle as a lightsaber. Under the circumstances, Bell was happy to let Loden take the lead.

Instead he served as navigator, using his still-­strong connection to the Force to guide their Vector toward the area of intense conflict he had sensed, calling out directions to Loden, fine-­tuning the ship’s path.

“We should be directly above it,” Bell said. “Whatever it is.”

“I see it,” Loden said, his voice clipped, tight. Ordinarily, his words carried a smile, even when delivering a brutal critique of Bell’s Jedi scholarship. Not now. Whatever Bell was sensing, he knew Master Greatstorm could feel it, too, and probably on a more intense level. Down on the surface, just below where the Vector circled, people were going to die. Maybe already had.

Loden banked the ship again as he flew in a tight circle, giving them both a clear look at the ground through the transparisteel of the Nova’s cockpit bubble.

A hundred meters below was a compound of some kind, walled. Large, but not enormous—­probably the home of a wealthy individual or family rather than a government facility. A huge crush of people surrounded the walls, focused around the gates. A single glance gave Bell the reason.

Docked inside the compound was a large starship. It looked like a pleasure yacht, big enough to comfortably hold twenty or thirty passengers plus crew. And if the passengers didn’t care about comfort, the yacht could probably cram in ten times that many people. The ship had to be visible from ground level—­its hull protruded above the compound walls, and the people crowding the gates clearly thought it was their only way offworld.

Armed guards posted on the walls at all sides seemed to feel differently. As Bell watched, a blaster bolt shot into the air from near the gate—­a warning shot, thankfully, but it was clear that the time for warnings was rapidly coming to an end. The tension in the crowd was mounting, and you didn’t need to be a Jedi to tell.

“Why aren’t they letting the people in?” Bell asked. “That ship could get plenty of them to safety.”

“Let’s find out,” Loden said.

He flipped a toggle switch on his control panel. The cockpit bubble slid smoothly back, vanishing into the Nova’s hull. Loden turned back, smiling, the wind whipping past them both, sending Loden’s lekku and Bell’s dreadlocks streaming out from their heads.

“See you down there,” he said. “Remember. Gravity does most of the work.”

Then he jumped out.

CHAPTER SIX
HETZAL SYSTEM. REPUBLIC LONGBEAM AURORA IX.
75 minutes to impact.

 “You sure about this, Captain?” Petty Officer Innamin said, pointing at his screen, which displayed the rough path of one of the hyperspace anomalies as it sped toward the center of the system. “We need to shoot this thing down before it kills someone. Maybe a lot of someones. The problem is that our targeting computers can’t calculate the trajectory. The anomaly’s moving too fast. At best, I’d say we’d have a one-in-three chance of hitting the target.”

Captain Bright shook his head, his tentacles rustling against his shoulders. He knew he should probably reprimand Innamin for questioning his orders. The kid did it all the time—­he was young for a human, little more than two decades old, and as a rule thought he knew better. Bright usually let him get away with it. Life was too short, and the ships they flew were, on balance, too small to bring unnecessary tension into the mix. A thoughtful question from time to time wasn’t exactly insubordination.

One in three, he thought. He didn’t know exactly what he’d expected. Just . . . ​better than one-­in-­three odds that they could actually accomplish their mission.

The Longbeam, call sign Aurora IX, was state-­of-­the-­art, a brand-­new design from the Republic shipyards on Hosnian Prime. It wasn’t a warship per se, but it was no pushover, either. The vessel had distributed processors that could handle multiple target firing solutions and prepare a spread of blasterfire, missiles, and defensive countermeasures in a single salvo. Not too hard on the eyes, either. Bright thought it looked like one of the hammerfish he used to hunt back home on Glee Anselm—­a thick, blunt skull tapering into a single elegant, sinuous tailfin. It was a tough, beautiful beast, no doubt about it. On the other hand, their target, one of the mysterious objects racing through the Hetzal system, was moving at a velocity near lightspeed. It had whipped out of hyperspace like a red-­hot pellet fired from a slugthrower. The Aurora IX might be state-­of-­the-­art, but that didn’t mean the ship could work miracles.

Miracles were for the Jedi.

And they were, apparently, otherwise occupied at the moment.

“Fire six missiles,” Bright ordered.

Innamin hesitated.

“That’s our full complement, sir. Are you sure—­”

Bright nodded. He gestured at Innamin’s cockpit display. A red threat indicator—­the projectile—­on a collision path with a larger green disk, representing a solar collection station equidistant from all three of the Hetzal system’s suns. The thing was still some distance away but moving closer with every moment.

“The anomaly is headed straight for that solar array. The data we got from Hetzal Prime says the station has seven crew aboard. We can’t get there in time to evacuate before it gets hit, but our missiles can. If we have a one-­in-­three chance at shooting the object down, then sending six doubles our chances. Still not perfect odds, but—­”

The final member of his crew, Ensign Peeples, buzzed his proboscis as if he was about to speak, but Bright waved him off, continuing without stopping.

“Yes, Peeples, I know that math is off. I’m mostly worried about a different equation: If we fire six missiles, we might save seven people. Let’s see what we can do.”

The Aurora IX’s targeting systems chugged along, not seeming quite so state-­of-­the-­art now as the deadly red dot crept closer to people trapped on a solar farm with no way to escape. The Longbeam zoomed toward the array at its own top speed, narrowing the distance its weapons had to travel, sort of an interesting problem of trajectory and acceleration and physics, something that awakened Bright’s own three-­dimensional instincts built on much of a life lived underwater. He shook his head again, rustling the cloud of thick green tentacles that emerged from the back of his skull, angry at himself for getting distracted when people out there were praying for their lives.

The missiles fired, six quick whmphs transmitted through the ship’s hull, and the Aurora IX was down to lasers only. The weapons shot away, leaving thin trails of smoke behind to mark their path. They were out of visual range in an instant, accelerating to their max velocity in seconds.

“Missiles away,” Innamin said.

Now it was up to that fancy distributed processor, and whether it had successfully transmitted effective firing solutions to the missiles. Maybe all six would hit. It wasn’t impossible.

The deck crew looked as one at the display screen tracking the six missiles, the fast-­moving anomaly, their own ship, and the solar array that was rapidly becoming the collision point for all nine objects.

The first of the missiles blinked out on the screen. Nothing else changed.

“Missile one is a miss,” Innamin said, unnecessarily.

Two more missiles vanished. Bright held up a hand before Innamin could speak again.

“We can all see, Petty Officer,” he said.

Two more misses. Leaving one. All else remained unchanged.

The last missile vanished from the display, nowhere near the incoming anomaly. A communal sigh of despair washed across the bridge.

“Blasters?” Bright asked, knowing the answer.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Ensign Peeples said, his voice a high-­pitched, reedy whine. “Even the best gunner in the universe couldn’t make that shot, and I would guess I’m barely in the top ten.”

Bright sighed. Peeples’s species had a radically unique understanding of humor—­not the jokes themselves, which were often decent enough, but the appropriate moment to deploy them.

“Thank you, Ensign,” Bright said.

The solar array was now visible in the viewscreen—­a large, spindly structure, like one of the feather corals back in Bright’s homesea. Hundreds of long arms arranged in a spiral spinning out from a central sphere in which the crew lived and worked. Each of those arms fitted with collection eyes along its length, blinking and rotating slowly as they drank in the light of the three suns that gave Hetzal Prime and its satellite worlds their uniquely long growing seasons. The array fed the sunlight back to the cropworlds, storing and beaming it down through proprietary technology that was the pride of the system.

The array was beautiful. Bright had never seen anything quite like it. It looked grown—­and maybe it was. Supposedly every crop in the galaxy could grow somewhere on the worlds of Hetzal. Perhaps that extended to space stations.

Then, a bright streak, too fast to process even with eyes as capable as Bright’s large, dark orbs, designed by evolution to pick out details in the lightless depths of the seas of Glee Anselm. In an instant the solar array was destroyed. One moment it was intact, performing its function. The next, it was ablaze, half the collection arms shattered, drifting slowly away into space.

The central sphere remained, though flames washed across its outer hull, the muted dance of fire in zero gravity. As Bright watched, the array’s exterior lighting blinked, flickered, and went out.

Bright put a hand to his forehead. He blinked, too. Once, slowly.

Then he turned to his crew.

“We don’t know for sure that the people aboard that station are dead,” he said, looking at his crew’s solemn faces.

“I would like to try to attempt a rescue, but that”—­here he pointed out the viewscreen at the wrecked, burning array, getting larger as the Aurora IX approached—­“could collapse at any moment. Or explode. Or implode. I don’t know. The point is, if we’re docked when it goes, we’re dead, too.”

Bright tapped one of his tentacles with a fingertip.

“I’m Nautolan, a fact of which I’m sure you’re both aware. Green skin, big black eyes, what else would I be? What you might not know is that these tentacles of mine let me pick up pheromones from other beings, which I translate into an understanding of their emotional states. That’s how I know you two . . . ​are terrified.”

Peeples opened his mouth, then, somehow, miraculously, thought better of making a joke and closed it again.

“I get that you’re scared,” Bright went on, “but we have a duty. I know it, and you both know it, too. We need to do this.”

Innamin and Peeples looked at each other, then back at their captain.

“We’re all the Republic, right?” Innamin said.

Bright nodded. He smiled, showing his teeth.

“Indeed we are, Petty Officer.”

He pointed at Peeples.

“Ensign, take us in.”

Excerpted from Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) by Charles Soule. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

CHAPTER SEVEN

HETZAL SYSTEM. ABOVE THE FRUITED MOON.
70 minutes to impact.

Three Jedi Vectors and a Republic Longbeam whipped through space, slingshotting around the orange-­and-­green sphere that was the Fruited Moon of Hetzal, legendary throughout the galaxy for its bounty. Four billion people resided there, farming and growing and living their lives. All would be dead in less than thirty minutes if the four Jedi and two Republic officers could not destroy or somehow divert the object headed directly for the moon.

The anomaly was on the larger side, bigger than the Longbeam, and on a collision course with the moon’s primary landmass. Due to its velocity, a significant portion of the moon’s outer layer would be instantly vaporized on impact, surging into the atmosphere. Then would come the heat, the flames, scouring the surface clean of all life, plant and animal and sentient alike.

That’s assuming the whole blasted moon doesn’t just shatter when the anomaly hits, Te’Ami thought as she banked her ship smoothly, following a precise curve with the other two Vectors piloted by her Jedi colleagues, performing the maneuver as much through her connection to the Force as her hands on the control sticks.

Total destruction of the Fruited Moon wasn’t impossible. The amount of energy transferred upon the object’s impact would fall like a hammerblow on the little planetoid. Worlds seemed unbreakable when you were standing on them, but Te’Ami had seen things in her day . . . ​the galaxy didn’t care what you thought couldn’t be broken. It would break things just to show you it could.

The little fleet was moving at incredible velocity, headed directly for the anomaly. Master Kriss back on the Third Horizon had designated this as a high-­priority mission, which Te’Ami understood. Four billion people—­a high priority indeed.

She could feel Avar at the back of her mind—­not in words, more of a sense of the woman’s presence. Master Kriss had a skill set rare among the Jedi: She could detect the natural bonds between Force-­users and strengthen them, use them as almost a sort of communications network. It was inexact, best for transmitting sensations, locations, but it was still a useful ability, particularly in a scenario when a hundred Jedi were all trying to save a system at once.

Not just useful, though. It was comforting. She was not alone. None of them were. Fail or succeed, the Jedi were in this together.

But we will not fail, Te’Ami thought. She reached out a long, green finger and flipped one of the finely wrought switches on her console. Her comm toggled open.

“Republic Longbeam, it’s time. I need you to transfer your weapons systems to my control,” she said.

“Acknowledged,” came the reply from the Longbeam, spoken by its pilot, Joss Adren. His wife, Pikka, was in the copilot’s seat. Te’Ami didn’t know them personally—­only that they weren’t part of the Third Horizon’s crew, and had volunteered their help immediately when the cruiser dropped into the system and the scale of the disaster became clear. Admiral Kronara assigned them a Longbeam—­better to put another ship out there to help instead of leaving it sitting idle in its hangar. The little bit of non-­task-­oriented chatter on the way out to the Fruited Moon had suggested Joss and Pikka were contractors of some kind—­workers on the Starlight Beacon hitching a ride back to the Core now that their job was done.

They seemed like good people. Te’Ami hoped they were skilled as well. This would not be easy.

An amber light flashed on Te’Ami’s display, then went steady.

“Weapons are under your control,” Joss said.

“Thank you,” she said, then flipped another few switches before quickly moving her hands back to the sticks. Vectors could be tricky craft—­the fluid responsiveness of the controls meant they could accomplish incredible maneuvers, but only if significant focus could be maintained.

“All right, my friends,” she said. “Are we ready?”

The replies came in across the Jedi-­only channel.

The low voice of Mikkel Sutmani rumbled from her speakers, immediately translated into Basic via the onboard systems. “Good to go,” he said. Mikkel. The steadiest Ithorian she had ever met. He never said much, but the job always got done.

“We’re ready as well,” said Nib Assek, the third and final Jedi Knight in their little squadron. Her Padawan, Burryaga Agaburry, didn’t say anything. No surprise there. He was a young Wookiee, and spoke only Shyriiwook, though he understood Basic. Nib spoke his language well—­she had learned it specifically to take him on as her apprentice. It wasn’t easy for a human throat to re-­create the warbling growls and whines that composed Wookiee speech, but she had made the effort. Te’Ami and Mikkel, though, could not understand a word Burryaga said.

Regardless, if Nib Assek said she and her Padawan were ready, they were.

“Reach out,” Te’Ami said. “We’ll do it together. As one.”

She stretched out her senses through the Force, seeking the deadly meteor—­or whatever it was, the scans remained inconclusive—­hurtling through space toward them. There. She could feel it, distorting gravity along its path. She considered, thinking about where the object had been, where it was, where it would be.

More specifically, where it would be when the full power of the weapons systems on the Vectors and the Longbeam hit it all at once.

This shot could not be calculated using computers. It had to be done by feel, with the Force, by all the Jedi at once in a single moment.

“I have the target,” she said. “Are we good?”

No answer from the other Jedi, but she didn’t need one. She could feel their assent through the link Master Kriss maintained back on the surface of Hetzal Prime. It was faster than speaking, more effective.

“Let us become spears,” she said, speaking a ritual phrase from her own people, the Duros.

Not wanting to take her hands off her control sticks at such a crucial moment, Te’Ami spared a tendril of the Force and used it to lift her lightsaber from its holster on her belt. Its hilt was dark cerakote with a heavily tarnished copper crosspiece. The blade, when lit, shone blue. The thing was scratched and gouged with use, and had an unsightly blob of solder up near the business end where she’d welded one of the components back on when it fell off. If there was an uglier lightsaber in the Order, she hadn’t seen it.

But it turned on when she wanted it to, and the kyber crystal that powered it remained as pure and resonant as the day she found it on Ilum so long ago.

Could Te’Ami have refreshed the blade, if she wanted to? Absolutely. Many Jedi changed their hilts regularly, whether due to adjustments to fighting techniques, technological innovations, or even, on occasion, just . . . ​style. Aesthetics. Fashion, you could call it.

Te’Ami had no interest in any of that. Her lightsaber, ugly as it was, served as a perfect reflection of the great truth of the Force: no matter what a person was on the outside . . .

. . . inside, everyone was made of light.

The lightsaber moved through the cramped cockpit. It placed itself against a metal plate on the Vector’s control panel with a soft, very satisfying click, staying in place via a tiny, localized force field. A low hum vibrated through the ship’s hull as its weapons systems activated. A new set of displays and dials went live, glowing with the bright blue of her saber blade. Weapons on a Vector could only be operated with a lightsaber key, a way to ensure they were not used by non-­Jedi, and that every time they were used, it was a well-­considered action.

An additional advantage—­the ship’s laser could be scaled up or down via a toggle on the control sticks. Not every shot had to kill. They could disable, warn . . . ​every option was available to them. In this case, though, the settings would be at maximum. They needed to disintegrate the hyperspace anomaly, turn it into vapor, and that would require all three Vectors at full power plus everything the Longbeam had. One huge blast.

It would work. It had to work. Four billion defenseless beings on the Fruited Moon hung in the balance.

Te’Ami reached out again, checking her colleagues’ readiness. There was something . . . ​from the thread leading to Nib Assek’s ship. Fear . . . ​almost . . . ​panic.

“Nib, I’m sensing—­” she began, and the reply came before she could finish.

“I know, Te’Ami,” came Nib’s voice. Calm, but perhaps a bit embarrassed. “It’s Burryaga. He’s having a hard time locking down his emotions. I think it’s the stress of what we’re doing. All the lives at stake.”

“It’s all right, little one,” came Mikkel’s gravelly tones, translated across the comm. “You are but a Padawan, and we are asking a great deal of you. Te’Ami, can we free him from the burden of helping us calculate the shot?”

“Yes,” Te’Ami said. “There is no shame in this, Burry. Only an opportunity to learn.”

Te’Ami reached out with the Force, gently curving the connection away from Nib Assek’s Padawan. The Wookiee was silent. She could still feel the roil of emotions from him. Well, no shame, as she had said. Every Jedi found their own path, and some took longer than others.

“Let’s go,” Nib said, perhaps trying to make up for the delay caused by her student. “We’re running out of time.”

“Agreed,” Te’Ami said.

She moved her thumbs up on her control sticks, first rolling them along the toggle wheel to tell the weapons system to fire at full power. Then she settled her hands on the triggers.

The object, speeding toward the moon. Where it had been. Where it was. Where it would be.

The other Jedi were ready. They would fire the moment she did, as would the linked systems in Joss and Pikka’s Longbeam, every blast heading to precisely the same location in space.

Four billion people. It was time. Te’Ami tightened her grip on the triggers.

A squeal from the comm system, loud and insistent. A scream, or a yell—­forceful, almost panicked. It startled Te’Ami, and if she were not a Jedi Knight, she might have inadvertently fired her weapons. But she was indeed a Jedi Knight, and did not fire.

It took Te’Ami a moment to understand what she was hearing—­not a scream, but words. In Shyriiwook. Burryaga, saying something she could not understand. Loud, insistent, desperate. His emotions strong again through the Force, that same mixture of fear edging on panic.

“Burryaga, I’m sorry, I don’t understand Shyriiwook. Are you all right? We’re running out of time. We have to fire.”

“No,” Nib Assek said, her voice sharp, insistent. In the background, the whines and growls of Burryaga’s voice, coming over her comm. “We can’t attack.”

“What are you talking about?” Mikkel said. “We don’t have a choice.”

“Burryaga is explaining it to me. The emotions we were getting from him—­they weren’t his. He was sensing them. He had to tune in a bit, overcome his own fear before he could understand.”

“Please, Nib, just tell us what he means,” Te’Ami said.

A long, whistling, mournful bit of Shyriiwook, and then a pause.

“The object,” Nib said. “The one we have to destroy, to save the moon. It’s not just an object. It’s debris, part of a ship.

Te’Ami let her hands fall from the control sticks.

“It’s full of people,” Nib finished. “And they’re alive.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

AGUIRRE CITY, HETZAL PRIME.
65 minutes to impact.

The Force sang to Jedi Master Avar Kriss, a choir that was the entirety of the Hetzal system, life and death in constant, contrapuntal motion. It was a song she knew well—­she heard it all the time, everywhere she went. Here, the melody of the Force was off, a discordant jangle of death and fear and confusion. People were dying, or felt the dread of their imminent demise.

Threaded through that song—­the Jedi, and the brave personnel of the Republic, and the heroic citizens of Hetzal itself, using the resources they had to try to save the people of these worlds.

The Third Horizon had landed not far from the Ministerial Residence in Aguirre City, the capital of Hetzal Prime. The Republic was coordinating its efforts with the Hetzalian government to try to stem the tide of the disaster—­ensuring the evacuation proceeded in as orderly a fashion as possible, tracking the incoming projectiles, helping as they could.

Avar Kriss was still on the ship’s bridge, still serving as the point of connection for the Jedi in the system, letting them sense one another’s presence and location and emotional states. Sometimes words or images came through unbidden, but only rarely. It was all just a song, and Avar sang and was sung to.

Still, she was able to gather a great deal of information from what it told her. She knew that fifty-­three Jedi Vectors were currently active in the Hetzal system. She knew which Jedi were working on the planet—­for example, at that moment, Bell Zettifar, Loden Greatstorm’s promising Padawan, was approaching the surface of Hetzal Prime at extraordinary speed.

Elzar Mann, her oldest, closest friend in the Order, was in a Vector of his own, flying a single-­person version of the ship near one of the system’s three suns. He was almost always alone. Avar was one of only two Jedi he worked with regularly—­it was just her and Stellan Gios. This was mostly because Elzar was . . . ​unreliable wasn’t exactly the right word. He was a tinkerer, if that term could apply to Jedi techniques. He never liked to use the Force the same way twice.

Elzar’s instincts were good, and he didn’t try anything too unusual when the stakes were high. Usually, his experiments in Force techniques did expand the Order’s understanding, and occasionally he accomplished incredible things.

But sometimes he failed, and sometimes he failed spectacularly. Again, never when lives were on the line, but even that bit of uncertainty, coupled with Elzar Mann’s general unwillingness to take the time to explain whatever he was trying to do . . . ​well, some in the Order found him frustrating to deal with. Avar believed that might explain his continued status as a Jedi Knight rather than a Master. She knew that bothered Elzar. He thought it was unfair. He didn’t care about other Jedi’s paths through the Force—­why should they concern themselves with his? He just wanted to follow his road where it led.

Avar didn’t understand Elzar’s explorations any more than most of the Jedi, but the key to their relationship was that she never asked him to explain. Anything, ever. That arrangement had powered their friendship since their days as younglings together in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. That, and she just liked him. He was funny, and clever, and they had come up together through the Order, Stellan and Elzar and her, the three of them inseparable through all their years of training. 

She pulled her mind away from Elzar Mann, listening to the Force. She sensed Jedi on the system’s worlds, Jedi in Vectors, and still more on stations or satellites or ships, all around the system, helping wherever they could, usually in conjunction with the twenty-­eight Republic Longbeams deployed by the Third Horizon.

The chain of connection through the Force even told her that others of her Order were on their way, doing their best to respond to Minister Ecka’s original distress call despite being so far from Hetzal. Closest was Master Jora Malli, future commander of the Jedi quarter on the just completed Starlight Beacon, along with her second-­in-­command, the imposing Trandoshan Master Sskeer. Stellan Gios was powering in from his Temple outpost on Hynestia as if summoned by her thoughts of him a few moments before, whipping through hyperspace in a borrowed starship. And more besides.

Avar sent out a note of welcome, and called to every other Jedi she could reach, near Hetzal or not. Distance was nothing to the Force. Who knew how they might help?

So far, the death toll from the disaster was low, barely above the baseline churn of life and death constantly at work in any large group of beings. She was worried that could change at any moment—­they didn’t have a good understanding of what was happening here. Nothing about it felt natural. She had never heard of anything like this—
­a huge spread of projectiles appearing in a system, popping out of hyperspace with no notice.

She could not imagine what would have happened here if the Third Horizon was not in transit nearby after a refueling stop, or if their inspection tour of the Starlight Beacon wasn’t interminably delayed by the project’s overseer, an officious Bith named Shai Tennem. She had insisted on showing her Jedi and Republic visitors every last obscure element of Starlight Beacon’s construction, pushing back their scheduled departure and irritating Admiral Kronara immensely. But if they had left on time, the Third Horizon would have been deep into hyperspace when Minister Ecka’s evacuation order went out, too far to get to Hetzal in any reasonable amount of time.

If not for an overzealous Bith administrator, Hetzal would be dealing with this apocalypse on its own.

The song of the Force.

Between what it told Avar directly and the chatter she heard around her from the Third Horizon’s deck officers, she was able to maintain an up-­to-­date picture of the disaster, in all its moments large and small.

Above Hetzal Prime, a Republic technician completed repairs to an evacuation ship that had lost power on its way offplanet, so it could continue on its way to safety.

Near the second-­largest gas giant, two Vectors fired their weapons, and a fragment was incinerated.

A Longbeam pushed past its limits as it raced to reach a damaged station at the system’s outer edge. Its engines failed, catastrophically. Avar gasped a little at the cold, dark sensation.

And above the Fruited Moon, one very clear impression, as close to a message as could be sent through the Force under these circumstances—­
a sense from a Jedi Knight named Te’Ami that their understanding of what was happening here was utterly, tragically incomplete.

“No,” Avar said, disturbed at the urgency of what Te’Ami was trying to pass along. Her emotions roiled, and the song of the Force shimmered in her mind, becoming quieter, less distinct.

Focus, she told herself. You are needed.

Avar Kriss calmed her emotions and listened. Now, thanks to Te’Ami, she knew what to look for. She called the other Jedi’s face to her mind—­green skin, high domed skull, large red eyes—­and it took her almost no time to find what Te’Ami had tried to show her. In fact, now that she was looking, it was obvious. Avar spread her awareness through the system, pushing herself to the limit.

I can’t miss one, she thought. Not a single one.

She opened her eyes and unfolded her legs, setting her feet once again upon the Third Horizon’s deck. Bridge officers looked at her, surprised—­she had not spoken or moved in some time.

Admiral Kronara was speaking to Chancellor Lina Soh, who had called in via a high-­priority relay from Coruscant. Her delicate, sweeping features were displayed on one of the bridge’s commwalls. She looked fragile—­which she absolutely was not. Kronara, in contrast, had a face that looked like a hammer would break against it. He looked hard—­which he absolutely was. He wore the uniform of the Republic Defense Coalition, light gray with blue accents, the cap tucked under his arm in respect for the chancellor’s office.

The resolution on the display was low, with sharp lines of static crossing Lina Soh’s face every few seconds—­but that was to be expected. Coruscant was very far away.

“Thank the light your ship was close enough to Hetzal to respond, Admiral,” Chancellor Soh was saying. “We sent out aid ships as soon as we could, but even receiving the distress signal from Hetzal took time. You know how choppy the comm relays are from the Outer Rim.”

“I do, Chancellor,” Kronara responded. “We appreciate anything you can do. We’re making progress here, but there will definitely be a large number of wounded, and I am sure a variety of essential systems will need repair. I’ll relay word to Minister Ecka that you’re sending assistance. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

“Of course, Admiral. We are all the Republic.”

Avar walked across the deck, passing Kronara as he ended the transmission to Coruscant. He glanced over at her, curious, as she stopped before the display screen showing the status of the disaster mitigation effort—­all the ships, people, Jedi, Republic, locals. Red, green, blue, worlds, lives, hope, despair.

She tapped certain of the red anomalies on the screen with her fingertip. As she did, they were highlighted, each surrounded with a white circle. When she was done, about ten of the projectiles were indicated.

Avar moved back from the display, then turned to look at the bridge crew. They were confused, but polite, waiting for her to explain what she had done.

“I hate to say this, my friends,” she said, “but this just got a lot harder. We have a new objective.”

Admiral Kronara’s weathered features twisted into a scowl. Avar did not take it personally.

“Does it replace the existing mission parameters?” he said.

“That would be nice,” she said. “But no. We still have to do everything we came here to do—­keep the fragments from destroying Hetzal—­but now there’s something else.”

She gestured at the display, with its highlighted red dots, racing sunward.

“The anomalies I have indicated here contain living beings. This is no longer just about saving the worlds of this system.”

Realization dawned on Kronara’s face. His scowl deepened.

“So it’s a rescue mission, on top of everything else.”

“That’s right, Admiral,” Avar said.

A chorus of dismayed voices rose up as the officers realized that all their progress thus far was just the preamble to a much greater effort.

“How is that possible?”

“How many people? Who are they?”

“Are they ships? Is this an invasion?”

Admiral Kronara held up a hand, and the voices stopped.

“Master Kriss, if you say some of these things have people aboard, then they do. But how do you propose we mount a rescue? These objects are moving at incredible velocities. Our targeting systems can barely hit them as it is, and now we have to . . . ​dock with them?”

Avar nodded.

“I don’t know how we’ll do this. Not yet. I’m hoping one of you might have an idea. But I will say that every one of those lives is as important as any life on this world or any other. We must begin by believing it is possible to save everyone. If the will of the Force is otherwise, so be it, but I will not accept the idea of abandoning them without trying.”

She moved her hand in a broad circle, encompassing the entire display board.

“This is all you have to work with—­what we brought with us. Every Hetzalian ship is occupied with the evacuation effort, so all we’ve got are the Vectors and the Jedi flying them, plus the Longbeams and their crews. Find a way. I know you can. I’ll send word to the Jedi. The Force might have an answer for us.”

The bridge officers looked at one another, then scrambled into motion with a new surge of activity, as they began to plan ten utterly impossible rescue missions.

Avar Kriss closed her eyes. She stepped up into the air. The Force sang to her, telling her of peril and bravery and sacrifice, of Jedi fulfilling their vows, acting as guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy.

The song of the Force.

Excerpted from Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) by Charles Soule. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic)

Charles Soule

Long before the First Order, before the Empire, before even The Phantom Menace. . . Jedi lit the way for the galaxy in The High Republic

It is a golden age. Intrepid hyperspace scouts expand the reach of the Repubic to the furthest stars, worlds flourish under the benevolent leadership of the Senate, and peace reigns, enforced by the wisdom and strength of the renowned order of Force users known as the Jedi. With the Jedi at the height of their power, the free citizens of the galaxy are confident in their ability to weather any storm But the even brightest light can cast a shadow, and some storms defy any preparation.

When a shocking catastrophe in hyperspace tears a ship to pieces, the flurry of shrapnel emerging from the disaster threatens an entire system. No sooner does the call for help go out than the Jedi race to the scene. The scope of the emergence, however, is enough to push even Jedi to their limit. As the sky breaks open and destruction rains down upon the peaceful alliance they helped to build, the Jedi must trust in the Force to see them through a day in which a single mistake could cost billions of lives.

Even as the Jedi battle valiantly against calamity, something truly deadly grows beyond the boundary of the Republic. The hyperspace disaster is far more sinister than the Jedi could ever suspect. A threat hides in the darkness, far from the light of the age, and harbors a secret that could strike fear into even a Jedi’s heart.

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