The official Star Wars website has featured a new excerpt from the upcoming novel, Star Wars: Crosscurrent. Their three page excerpt is from the second chapter of the book, and can be found here.  Or read below.
January 26th marks the scheduled  release of Star Wars: Crosscurrent, a new paperback Star Wars novel written by Paul S. Kemp.  The novel will be the first major time travel tale to hit SWEU, with a story that starts during the Sith Era, and continues through into the Legacy Era.  The New Jedi Order instituted by Luke Skywalker has seen it’s fair share of wars, and Jedi Knights have been tempered in the Yuuzhan Vong war.  Now witness Jaden Korr as he heads face to face with the Ancient Sith!

Below is an excerpt from Chapter Two.

And don’t forget the excerpts from Chapter One below the new excerpt.  Both can be found here, the first released was on Random House’s official site. Then author Paul Kemp’s, blog for an additional excerpt.

Star Wars: Crosscurrent Chapter 2 Excerpt:

The Past: 5,000 Years Before the Battle of Yavin

Relin and Drev sat in pensive silence as their Infiltrator streaked through the churning blue tunnel of hyperspace. They watched their instrumentation intently, hoping for the telltale beep denoting detection of the hyperspace beacon secreted aboard Harbinger. Lingering silence would mean they’d lost Saes.

“Scanners functioning normally,” Drev said. After a sidelong glance at Relin, he began to hum, a free-form, lively tune from his homeworld.

“Must you?” Relin asked, smiling despite himself as he adjusted the instrumentation.

“Yes,” said Drev, also smiling, but without looking up from his instruments. “I must.”

Relin admired his Padawan’s ability to find joy in everything he did, though Relin thought — and taught — that it was more important to maintain emotional evenness. Extremes of emotion could lead to the dark side.

Still, he wondered sometimes if Drev was the only one doing the learning in their relationship. It seemed Relin smiled only when in Drev’s presence. Saes’s betrayal had cut the mirth out of him as skillfully as a surgeon.

Drev tapped the scanner screen with a thick finger.”Come out, come out, whither you hide.”

Presently, the scanner picked up a faint signal. Relin and Drev exhaled as one and leaned forward in their seats.

Drev chuckled and put a finger on the scanner screen. “There. They did it.”

Relin let the navicomp digest the scanner’s input and cross-referenced the coordinates. “The Phaegon system.”

Without waiting for instruction, Drev pulled up the onboard computer’s information on the system.

“There’s nothing there,” Drev said, eyeing the readout.

“What is he doing?”

“Still looking, maybe,” Relin said, and took the controls. “We will know soon enough.”

The signal grew in strength as the Infiltrator hurtled through hyperspace.

“He’s deep in-system,” Relin said. “We emerge ten light-seconds out.”

Drev nodded and input the commands into the navicomp.

“The system has four planets, each with multiple moons. An asteroid belt divides the third from the fourth.”

“Use it as cover until we understand what Saes is doing.”

“Deactivating the hyperdrive in five, four . . .”

“Activating signature scrambler and baffles,” Relin said. At the same moment, he used the Force to mask his and Drev’s Force signatures, lest Saes perceive their arrival.

“. . . two, one,” Drev said, and deactivated the hyperdrive.

The blue tunnel of hyperspace gave way to the black void of stars, planets, and asteroids.

Instantly a wave of dark side energy, raw and jagged, saturated the ship. Unready for the assault, Relin lost his breath, turned dizzy. Drev groaned, lurched back in his seat as if struck, then vomited down the front of his robes.

“Where is that coming from?” Relin said between gritted teeth.

Drev shook his head, still heaving. He reached for the scanner console.

“Leave it,” Relin said, and adjusted the scanners himself.

They showed nothing nearby but the spinning chaos of the asteroid belt, and Phaegon III and its many moons.

Relin took a moment to clear his head, then drew on the Force to shield them from the ambient dark side energy.

With his defenses in place, he felt the energy as only a soft, unpleasant pressure in his mind, incessant raindrops thumping against his skull, but it no longer affected his senses.

“All right?” he asked Drev.

Drev cleared his throat, eyed his flight suit and robes in embarrassment. “I am all right. Apologies, Master.”

Relin waved away the apology. He had been unprepared, too.

“My meal tasted better the first time,” Drev said, smiling, his cheeks bright red.

“Smelled better, too,” Relin said, chuckling as he pored over the scanner’s output.

“So, it’s vomit that looses your sense of humor,” Drev said. He stripped off his robe, balled it up, and retook his seat. He took a gulp of a flavored protein drink in a plastic pouch, swished it around his mouth. “I will keep that in mind. Maybe scatological humor will amuse you also?”

Relin only half smiled. His mind was on their situation.

What had they stumbled onto? He had never before experienced such a wash of pure dark side energy. Whatever Saes had been searching for, he must have found it in the Phaegon system. Drev must have sensed his seriousness.

“What do you make of it?” Drev asked. “A dark side weapon? A Sith artifact maybe?”

Relin shook his head. The energy was not intense, simply widespread. “We will soon know.”

He engaged the ion drive and started to take them into the asteroid belt, but thought better of it. He took his hands from the controls.

“Take us in, Drev,” he said.

He felt his Padawan’s eyes on him. “Into the belt?”

Relin nodded. The Infiltrator’s sensor scrambler and the churn of the asteroid belt would foil any Sith scanners.

“Are you certain, Master?”

“Still your mind,” he said to his Padawan. “Feel the Force, trust it.”

Drev was one of the best raw pilots in the Order. With time and training in the use of the Force, he would become one of the Jedi’s finest.

“Take us in,” Relin repeated. Drev stared out of the cockpit, at the ocean of whirling rocks. He paused for a long, calming breath, then took the controls and piloted the Infiltrator into the asteroid belt.

He accelerated without hesitation and the ship darted through the field of slowly spinning rock, diving, ascending, rolling. Pitted stones flashed on the viewscreen for a moment, vanished as Drev cruised under them, over them, around them. One of the Infiltrator’s wings caught an oblong asteroid and the ship lurched, started to spin.

“Master — ”

“Calm, Drev,” Relin said, and his Padawan zagged out of the way of another asteroid as he righted the starfighter.

“Well done, Padawan,” Relin said. “Well done.”

A smile split Drev’s face as he continued through the belt.

Relin monitored the sensors. “There is an asteroid on the edge of the belt, more than ten kilometers in diameter, in a very slow spin.”

“I see it.”

“Set us down there but stay powered up. Let us see what we see.”

Drev maneuvered them over the asteroid and set down the Infiltrator. Phaegon III loomed large in their viewscreen against a backdrop of stars.

Drev was still smiling. Relin chose to ignore his Padawan’s emotional high.

“Give me a heads-up display and magnify.”

A HUD appeared off center in the cockpit window. Drev input a few commands and magnified the image.

Plumes of smoke spiraled from the charred surface of one of Phaegon III’s small moons. Saes’s dreadnought and its sister ship hung like carrion birds in low orbit over the moon’s corpse. A steady stream of transports moved between the moon’s surface and the belly-slung landing bays of the two Sith ships.

Drev lost his smile as he worked the scanners. “That is not — how can — ? Master, that moon should be covered in vegetation.” He looked up from his scan. “And life.”

Relin felt his Padawan’s anger over the destruction. He knew where anger led. The young man moved from joy to rage as if his emotions were on a pendulum.

“Stay focused on our task, Drev. The scope of the matter cannot affect your thinking. Do not let anger cloud your mind.”

Drev stared at him as if he were something appalling he’d found on the bottom of his boot. “The matter? It is not a mere matter. They incinerated an entire moon! It is an atrocity.”

Relin nodded. “The word fits. But you are a Jedi. Master your emotions. Especially now. Especially now, Padawan.”

Drev stared at him a moment longer before turning back to the scanners. When he spoke, his voice was stiff. “There are hundreds of mining droids on the moon.”

More to himself than Drev, Relin said, “Saes incinerated the crust, then loosed the mining droids.” He focused his Force sense on the transports and their cargo. Though he had been ready, the dark side backlash elicited a gasp and set him backward in his chair.

“It is the cargo.”

“The cargo? What did he pull out of that moon?” Relin shook his head as he took the controls. “I do not know. An ore of some kind, something attuned to the dark side.” Relin knew of such things. “Whatever it is, it is powerful. Maybe powerful enough to determine the outcome of the assault on Kirrek. That’s what Saes has been searching for, and that is why Sadow delayed his assault. We cannot allow it to get out of the system.”

“You have a plan, I trust,” Drev said, not so much a question as an assertion.

“We take those dreadnoughts out of the sky. Or at least keep them here.”

Drev licked his lips, no doubt pondering the relative sizes of the Infiltrator and the dreadnoughts, not unlike the relative difference between a bloodfly and a rancor. “How?”

Relin lifted the Infiltrator off the asteroid and flew it into open space. “I’m going aboard. Saes and I should get reacquainted.”

He expected at least a chuckle from his Padawan, but Drev did not so much as smile. He stared out the viewscreen at the dead moon, at the Sith ships, his lips fixed in a hard line.

Relin put a hand on his Padawan’s shoulder and unharnessed himself from his seat.

“You have the controls. The scrambler and baffles will not keep us invisible for long. I just need a little time.”

Drev nodded as the Infiltrator sped toward the dreadnoughts. “You will have it. You’ll try to board a transport?”

“That is what I am thinking,” Relin answered as he moved to the cramped rear compartment of the Infiltrator. Rapidly he peeled off his robes and donned a vac-ready flexsuit, formulating the details of a plan as he went.

The ryon shell of the suit, lined with a flexible, titanium mesh as fine as hair, felt like a second skin. He checked the oxygen supply and the batteries and found them both full. He slipped the power pack harness over his shoulders, around his abdomen, and clipped it in place. The power umbilical fed into the suit’s abdominal jack with a satisfying click, and the suit hummed to life. The energy running through the mesh hardened the suit slightly and caused Relin’s skin to tingle. He put the hinged helmet in place over his head and an electromagnetic seal fixed it to the neck ring, rendering the zipper and power jack airtight.

The suit ran a diagnostic, and Relin watched the results in the helmet’s HUD. His breathing sounded loud in the drum of the transparisteel and plastic helmet. He activated the comlink.

“Testing.”

“Clear,” said Drev, his voice like a concert inside the helmet.

The diagnostic came back clean.

“Suit is live and sealed,” Relin said.

“We remain unnoticed,” Drev said, his tone sharp, serious. “For now.”

While Relin had been trying to encourage seriousness in his Padawan for months, at the moment he regretted the turn of Drev’s mood. He missed his Padawan’s mirth in the face of danger. To craft Drev into a Jedi, it seemed that Relin would have to turn him into something other than Drev.

“How close?” Relin said. He slipped a dozen mag-grenades and a variety of other equipment into one of the suit’s ample thigh pockets, then strapped a blaster pistol to his belt, beside his lightsaber and its power pack.

“Twenty thousand kilometers and closing fast,” Drev said. A hitch in his voice told Relin something was wrong. “That moon. Master, it’s a ruin.”

“I know,” Relin said. “That is what Sith do. They destroy. They take. That is all the dark side can offer. Now focus, Padawan. Match vectors with the nearest transport returning to Harbinger, but only for a moment. I will board it, and that will get me into one of the dreadnought’s landing bays.” He considered the grenades in his pockets. “From there, I’ll see what I can do.”

For a time, Drev said nothing, then, “Are you sure this is the way, Master? If you succeed, that takes care of only one of the dreadnoughts.”

“That we may not accomplish everything is no reason to do nothing. We cannot let that cargo get to Kirrek. Or at least not all of it. We stop what we can here, doing whatever we must. If I destroy or disable the first ship, we’ll figure out a way to do the same to the other.”

“Understood.”

“Entering the air lock,” Relin said. He opened the interior air lock door, stepped inside, and closed it behind him. He disengaged the safety and pressed the button to open the exterior door. A red light flashed for three seconds to indicate the pending evacuation. Relin held the safety bar as the hatch slid open and the air rushed out into space.

“Coming up on the transport now, Master.”

Relin moved to the open hatch as Drev eased the Infiltrator over the transport and matched its course and speed as best he could. The awkward transport was a flying storage crate, a gray wedge of a hold with a transparisteel bubble cockpit tacked on to its underside. Like all Sith ships, it still managed to look like a flying blade.

Dark side energy leaked from its cargo hold in palpable waves, making Relin temporarily dizzy.

“Master?”

They would be spotted in moments. He had to move.

“Have you ever gone angling, Drev?” Relin asked.

“Angling?”

“Fishing. You know.”

“No, Master. I have not.”

Relin tried to smile, failed. At that moment, he would have paid a thousand credits to hear Drev’s laugh. “Neither have I.”

“May the Force be with you, Master.”

Relin picked a spot on the spine of the transport, closed his eyes, felt the Force. His mastery of the telekinetic use of the Force was not advanced enough to pull a moving ship to him, but that was not what he intended to do.

“A scanner has picked up our ship,” Drev said, tension in his voice.

“Our usual encrypted channel, Drev. And minimal chatter.”

“Yes, Master. And . . . don’t miss,” Drev said, and chuckled.

Smiling, Relin reached out with the Force, took mental hold of the Sith transport, and leapt out of the Infiltrator into open space.

“I am clear,” he said, and Drev peeled off.

* * *

The Present: 41.5 Years After the Battle of Yavin

The screams from outside Jaden’s window turned to laughter as an open-top speeder streaked past. He heard music booming from the speeder’s speakers. The sounds faded as it flew away.

It took a moment for him to understand what had occurred.

Adolescents, he realized. Probably on a late-night thrill ride. Mo< “Stang,” he whispered, but he did not deactivate his lightsaber. Its hum filled the room, a comforting sound. The images from the vision remained sharp in his mind.

The whir of R6’s servos announced the droid’s entrance into the room. Seeing Jaden standing in his nightclothes with his lightsaber burning, R6 cut short his beeped greeting to whistle a concerned question. Jaden did not fully understand droidspeak, but he usually got the gist of R6’s communications. Or perhaps he assumed R6 said or asked whatever Jaden wished him to say or ask.

“I guess that makes you my confessor,” he said to the astromech. “Congratulations.”

R6 beeped the question again, and Jaden smiled.

“Nothing. A bad joke. And I am fine. I had an . . . unusual dream.”

But Jaden knew it had not been a dream. It had been a Force vision.

R6 hummed understanding and whistled out the first stanza of a lullaby.

Jaden smiled at the droid, though his mind was still on the vision. He had never before had one so vivid.

What had it meant?

Dead Jedi and Sith resurrected, an icy moon in the Unknown Regions, a rain of evil, and the repeated cry for help. He could not make sense of what he had seen, so he tried to recall what he had felt — the uncomfortably familiar touch of the dark side, his increasingly attenuated connection to the light side, and, bridging the two, his Master’s words: the Force is a tool, neither light nor dark.

“How can that be? A tool? Nothing more than that?”

R6 beeped confusion.

Jaden waved a hand distractedly. “It cannot be,” he said, answering his own question. The Force had been Jaden’s moral compass for decades. Reducing it to a tool, mere potential, left him . . . rudderless. He looked at his hand, the hand from which he had discharged Force lightning.

“There be dragons,” he muttered, deactivating his lightsaber.

R6 whirred a question.

“I am trying to discern the vision’s meaning, but I am . . . uncertain.”

He had been uncertain since the Battle of Centerpoint Station, though he had been struggling with doubt before that. His certainty had been one of the unrecorded casualties of the battle. He had . . . done things he regretted. The Corellians had simply wanted their independence. In hindsight, Jaden saw the whole affair as a political matter unworthy of Jedi involvement. He had killed over politics. The Jedi Order had killed over politics.

Where did that leave them as an Order? How were they different from the Sith? Hadn’t they used the light side to engage in morally questionable acts? And where did that leave Jaden? He felt soiled by his participation in the battle.

“Once, we were guardians of the galaxy,” he said to R6, and the droid stayed wisely silent.

Now the Jedi seemed guardians of particular politicians. What principles did they stand for anymore?

The Force is only a tool.

He shook his head as he pulled on his robes. The Force had to be more than that. Otherwise he had lived a lie for decades. His lightsaber was a tool. The Force was . . . something more. It had to be.

He feared the Jedi had come to think that because they used the light side of the Force, everything they did must therefore be good. Jaden saw that thinking as flawed, even dangerous.

Since the battle for Centerpoint, he had isolated himself from the Order, from Valin, from Kyle. He felt purposeless and unwelcome. He thought his doubt must be plain to them all. He knew he would be transparent to the Masters. He had no one with whom he could share his thoughts.

“No one but you,” he said to R6.

His blaster and the small, one-handed hilt of his second lightsaber lay on his side table. He strapped on a holster, put the blaster to bed in it, and hooked his secondary saber to the clip at the small of his back. He did not know why he kept the old lightsaber, holding it close to him like a good-luck charm. He supposed its blade was the purple tether that connected him to a simpler past. He had crafted the blade when the Force had been nothing to him but a word. He had possessed no wisdom, yet he had utilized the Force to build a blade.

Didn’t that mean that Kyle was right, that the Force was simply a tool, free-floating energy for anyone to use, no different from a loaded blaster? He shied away from the notion, because if it were true, then the light and dark side meant nothing in terms of moral and immoral, good and evil.

“I do not accept that,” he said to R6. “I cannot.”

Help us. Help us. The voice from his vision echoed in his head, reminded him of who and what he was. He had stood on a frozen, dark moon in the Unknown Regions, communed with dead Jedi while evil had rained down, and someone had called to him for help. He would help. He must. Moral clarity lived in aid to others. He grabbed it like a lifeline.

What you seek can be found in the black hole on Fhost.

The words were nonsense. There was no black hole on Fhost or anywhere near it. But he had to learn what the words meant, because that would allow him to find what he sought.

“Arsix, link with the HoloNet.”

The droid whistled acquiescence, extended a wireless antenna, and connected.

“Call up mapped or partially mapped sectors in the Unknown Regions,” Jaden said.

R6’s projector showed three-dimensional images of various sectors in the air between the droid and Jaden. There were only a few. The information was woefully thin.

“Search for any charted system with a gas giant that appears blue to the human eye, ringed, with at least one frozen moon whose atmosphere would support a human.”

R6’s processors whirred through the information he pulled from the HoloNet. Holographic planets appeared and disappeared so quickly in the space between them that Jaden soon felt dizzy. In a quarter hour, R6 had shuffled through a catalog of thousands of planets. None squared with Jaden’s vision. Jaden was unsurprised. Most of the Unknown Regions were unmapped on Galactic Alliance star charts. The Chiss were out there. The remnants of the Yuuzhan Vong were out there. Who knew what else he would find in those uncharted systems?

“An answer, perhaps,” he said. But first he had to form the question, first he had to articulate what he sought. He felt the thin edge of a blade under his feet, felt himself wobbling on it. He was off balance.

R6 beeped a query.

The Force had sent Jaden a vision, this he knew. He would follow it.

“Show me Fhost, Arsix.”

The images of various systems in the Unknown Regions blinked out, gave way to a magnified image of a dusty world, one half in its sun’s light, one half in darkness. He stared at the line separating the two hemispheres.

It looked as thin as thread, as thin as the edge of a blade.

“Info on Fhost,” he said, and R6 scrolled a readout of the planet in the air before Jaden’s eyes. What little information existed was more than three decades old and came from an Imperial survey team.

Fhost was the only world in the system occupied by sentients, though none was native, and its itinerant population wouldn’t have filled a sports stadium on Coruscant.

Its largest population center, Farpoint, had been built on the ruins of a crashed starship of unknown origin. Jaden imagined the place to be a haven for adventurers, criminals, and other undesirables who preferred to live at the edge of known space, all of them crowded into ad hoc shelters built on the bones of a derelict ship.

But Fhost was his only lead. If he credited the Force vision at all — and how could he not? — he would have to follow it to his answer.

“Get the Z-Ninety-five ready and prepare a course to Fhost,” he said to the droid. He paused, then added, “And do not file a flight plan with the Order.”

R6 beeped a mildly alarmed tone.

“Do as I ask, Arsix.”

The droid whirred agreement and wheeled out of the room.

Whatever the vision wished to teach him, it would teach to him. He did not want other Jedi involved, did not even want the Order to know where he’d gone.

This was to be his lesson, and his alone. He would find what he sought, get his question answered for himself.

* * *

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Darkness plagued Jaden, the lightless ink of a singularity. He was falling, falling forever. His stomach crawled up his throat, crowding out whatever scream he might have uttered.

He still felt the Force around him, within him, but only thickly, only attenuated, as if his sensitivity were numbed.

He hit unseen ground with a grunt and fell to all fours. Snow crunched under his palms and boots. Gusts of freezing wind rifled his robes to stab at his skin. Ice borne by the wind peppered his face and rimed his beard. He still could see nothing in the pitch. He stood, shaky, shaking, freezing.

“Where is this place?” he called. The darkness was so deep he could not see his frozen breath. His voice sounded small in the void. “R-6?”

No response.

“R-6?”

Odd, he thought, that the first thing he called for in an uncertain situation was his droid rather than a fellow Jedi.

He reached for the familiar heft of his primary lightsaber, found its belt clip empty. He reached around to the small of his back for his secondary saber – the crude but effective weapon he had built as a boy on Coruscant without any training in the Force – and found it gone, too. His blaster was not in his thigh holster. No glowrod in his pocket.

He was cold, alone, unequipped, blind in the darkness.

What had happened? He remembered nothing.

Drawing his robes tightly about him to ward off the wind, he focused his hearing, but heard nothing over the wind except the gong of his heartbeat in his ears. With difficulty, he reached out with his Force Sense through the fog of his benighted sensitivity, tried to feel the world around him indirectly. Through the dull operation of his expanded consciousness he sensed something….

There were others there with him, out in the darkness.

Several others.

He sharpened his concentration and the tang of the Dark Side teased his perception – Sith.

But not quite Sith, not entirely, the Dark Side adulterated.

He tried to ignore the familiar caress of the Dark Side’s touch. He knew the line between the Light and Dark was as narrow as a vibroblade’s edge. His Master, Kyle Katarn, had taught him as much. Every Jedi walked that edge. Some understood the precipice under their feet, and some did not. And it was the latter who so often fell. But it was the former who so often suffered. Jaden often wished he had remained in ignorance, had stayed the boy on Coruscant for whom the Force had been magic.

Summoned from the past, his Master’s words bounced around his brain: The Force is a tool, Jaden. Sometimes a weapon, sometimes a salve. Dark Side, Light Side, these are distinctions of insignificant difference. Do not fall into the trap of classification. Sentience curses us with a desire to categorize and draw lines, to fear that after this be dragons. But that is illusion. After this is not dragons but more knowledge, deeper understanding. Be at peace with that.

But Jaden never had been at peace with that. He feared he never would. Worse, he feared he never should.

“Show yourselves,” he called into the darkness, and the howling wind was a mouth that devoured his words. He knew the Sith would have sensed his presence, the same as he had sensed theirs.

They were all around him, closing fast. He felt vulnerable, with nothing at his back, unable to see. He sank into the Force and denied his fear.

Finding his calm, he stood in a half-crouch, eyes closed, mind focused, his entire body a coiled spring. Even without his saber, a Dark Side user would find him a formidable foe.

“Jaden,” whispered a voice in his ear, a voice he’d heard before only on vidscreen surveillance.

He spun, whirled, the power of the Force gathered in his hands for a telekinetic blast, and saw…only darkness.

Lumiya.

It had been Lumiya’s voice. Hadn’t it? But Lumiya was long dead.

A hand clutched at his robe.

“Jaden,” said another voice, Lassin’s voice.

He used the Force to augment a backward leap, flipping in mid-air, and landed on his feet three meters behind Lassin, a fellow Jedi Knight who should have been dead, who had died soon after the Ragnos crisis. Lassin’s voice unmoored him from his calm and force lightning, blue and baleful, came unbidden and crackled on his fingertips.…

He saw nothing.

The hairs on Jaden’s neck rose. He stared at his hand, the blue discharge of his fingertips. With an effort of will, he quelled it.

“Jaden Korr,” said a voice to his left, Master Solusar’s voice, but Jaden felt not the comforting presence of another Light Side user, only the ominous energy of the Dark Side.

He spun, but saw only darkness.

“What you seek can be found in the black hole on Fhost, Jaden,” said Mara Jade Skywalker, and still Jaden saw nothing, no one.

Mara Jade was dead.

“Who are you?” he called, and the wind answered with ice and screams. “Where am I?”

He reached out again with his Force sense, trying to locate Lumiya, Lassin, Solusar, and Skywaler, but found them gone.

Again, he was alone in the darkness. He was always alone in darkness.

It registered with him then. He was dreaming. The Force was speaking to him. He should have realized it sooner.

The revelation stilled the world. The wind fell silent and the air cleared of ice.

Jaden stood ready, tense.

A distant, sourceless cry sounded, repeated itself, the rhythm regular, the tone mechanical. It could have been coming from the other side of the planet.

“Help us. Help us. Help us. Help us….”

He turned a circle, fists clenched. “Where are you?”

The darkness around him diminished. Pinpoints of light formed in the black vault over him. Stars. He scanned the sky, searching for something familiar. There. He recognized only enough to place the sky somewhere in the Unknown Regions. The dim blue glow of a distant gas giant burned in the black of the sky, its light peeking diffidently through the swirl. Thick rings composed of large and small particles of ice and rock belted the gas giant.

He was on one of the gas giant’s moons.

His eyes adjusted more fully to the dimness and he saw that he stood on a desolate, wind-wracked plain of ice that extended as far as he could see. Snowdrifts as tall as buildings gave the terrain the appearance of a storm-wracked ocean frozen in time. Cracks veined the ice, the circulatory system of a stalled world. Chasms dotted the surface here and there like hungry mouths. Glaciers groaned in the distance, the rumbles of an angry world. He saw no sign of Lumiya or Lassin or any of the others he had sensed. He saw no sign of life anywhere.

His breath formed clouds before his face. His left fist clenched and unclenched reflexively over the void in his palm where his lightsaber should have been.

Without warning, the sky exploded above him with a thunderous boom. A cloud of fire tore through the atmosphere, smearing the sky in smoke and flame. The shriek of stressed metal rolled over Jaden. Ice cracked and groaned on the surface.

Jaden squinted up at the sky, still lit with the afterglow of the destruction, and watched a rain of glowing particulates fall, shower the moon in a hypnotic pattern of falling sparks.

His Force Sense perceived them for what they were – the Dark Side reified. He disengaged his perception too slowly and the impact of so much evil hit him like a punch in the face. He vomited down the front of his robes, fell to the frozen ground, and balled up on the surface of the moon as the full weight of the Dark Side coated him in its essence.

There was nowhere to hide, no shelter, it fell all around him, on him, saturated him….

He woke, sweating and lightheaded, to the sound of speeder and swoop traffic outside his Coruscant apartment. The thump of his heartbeat rattled the bars of his ribcage. In his mind’s eye, he still saw the shower of falling sparks, the rain of evil. He cleared his throat, and the sensors in the room, detecting his wakefulness, turned on dim room lights.

“R-6?” he said.

No response. He sat up, alarmed.

“R-6?”

The sound of shouts and screams outside his window caused him to leap from his bed. With a minor exercise of will, he pulled his primary lightsaber to his hand from the side table near his bed and activated it. The green blade pierced the dimness of his room.

* * * * *

And the excerpt from Chapter One

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EXCERPT

Chapter One



The Past: 5,000 years before the Battle of Yavin

The crust of Phaegon III’s largest moon burned, buckled, and crumbled under the onslaught. Sixty-four specially equipped cruisers—little more than planetary-bombardment weapons systems with a bit of starship wrapped around them—flew in a suborbital, longitudinal formation. The sleek silver cruisers, their underbellies aglow in reflected destruction, struck Saes as unexpectedly beautiful. How strange that they could unleash annihilation in such warm, glorious colors.

Plasma beams shrieked from the bow of each cruiser and slammed into the arboreal surface of the moon, shimmering green umbilicals that wrote words of ruin across the surface and saturated the world in fire and pain. Dust and a swirl of thick black smoke churned in the atmosphere as the cruisers methodically vaporized large swaths of the moon’s surface.

The bright light and black smoke of destruction filled Harbinger’s viewscreen, drowning out the orange light of the system’s star. Except for the occasional beep of a droid or a murmured word, the bridge crew sat in silence, their eyes fixed alternately on their instruments and the viewscreen. Background chatter on the many comm channels droned over the various speakers, a serene counterpoint to the chaos of the moon’s death. Saes’s keen olfactory sense caught a whiff of his human crew’s sweat, spiced with the tang of adrenaline.

Watching the cruisers work, watching the moon die, Saes was reminded of the daelfruits he’d enjoyed in his youth. He had spent many afternoons under the sun of his homeworld, peeling away the daelfruit’s coarse, brown rind to get at the core of sweet, pale flesh.

Now he was peeling not a fruit but an entire moon.

The flesh under the rind of the moon’s crust—the Lignan they were mining—would ensure a Sith victory in the battle for Kirrek and improve Saes’s place in the Sith hierarchy. He would not challenge Shar Dakhon immediately, of course. He was still too new to the Sith Order for that. But he would not wait overlong.

Evil roots in unbridled ambition, Relin had told him once.

Saes smiled. What a fool his onetime Master had been. Naga Sadow rewarded ambition.

“Status?” he queried his science droid, 8K6.

The fires in the viewscreen danced on the anthropomorphic droid’s reflective silver surface as it turned from its instrument console to address him.

“Thirty-seven percent of the moon’s crust is destroyed.”

Wirelessly connected to the console’s readout, the droid did not need to glance back for an update on the information as the cruisers continued their work.

“Thirty-eight percent. Thirty-nine.”

Saes nodded, turned his attention back to the viewscreen. The droid fell silent.

Despite Harbinger’s distance from the surface, the Force carried back to Saes the terror of the pre-sentient primates that populated the moon’s surface. Saes imagined the small creatures fleeing through the trees, screeching, relentlessly pursued by, and inevitably consumed in, fire. They numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Their fear caressed his mind, as faint, fleeting, and pleasing as morning fog.

His fellow Sith on Harbinger and Omen would be feeling the same thing as the genocide progressed to its inexorable conclusion. Perhaps even the Massassi aboard each ship would, in their dim way, perceive the ripples in the Force.

Long ago, when Saes had been a Jedi, before he had come to understand the dark side, such wholesale destruction of life might have struck him as wrong. He knew better now. There was no absolute right and wrong. There was only power. And those who wielded it defined right and wrong for themselves. That realization was the freedom offered by the dark side and the reason the Jedi would fall, first at Kirrek, then at Coruscant, then all over the galaxy.

“Temperature in the wake?” he asked.

The science droid consulted the sensor data on its compscreen. “Within the tolerance of the harvester droids.”

Saes watched the cruisers slide through the atmosphere and light the moon on fire. He turned in his command chair to face his second in command, Los Dor. Dor’s mottled, deep red skin looked nearly black in the dim light of the bridge. His yellow eyes mirrored the moon’s fires. He never seemed to look up into Saes’s eyes, instead focusing his gaze on the twin horns that jutted from the sides of Saes’s jaw.

Saes knew Dor was as much a spy for Naga Sadow as he was an ostensible aide to himself. Among other things, Dor was there to ensure that Saes returned the Lignan—all of the Lignan—to Sadow’s forces at Primus Goluud.

The tentacles on Dor’s face quivered, and the cartilaginous ridges over his eyes rose in a question.

“Give the order to launch the harvester droids, Colonel,” Saes said to him. “Harbinger’s and Omen’s.”

“Yes, Captain,” Dor responded. He turned to his console and transmitted the order to both ships.

The honorific Captain still struck Saes’s hearing oddly. He was accustomed to leading hunting parties as a First, not ships as a Captain.

In moments hundreds of cylindrical pods streaked out of Harbinger’s launching bay, and hundreds more flew from her sister ship, Omen, all of them streaking across the viewscreen. They hit the atmosphere and spat lines of fire as they descended. The sight reminded Saes of a pyrotechnic display.

“Harvester droids away,” 8K6 intoned.

“Stay with the droids and magnify,” Saes said.

“Copy,” answered Dor, and nodded at the young human helmsman who controlled the viewscreen.

The harvester droids’ trajectories placed them tens of kilometers behind the destruction wrought by the mining cruisers. Most of them were lost to sight in the smoke, but the helmsman kept the viewscreen’s perspective on a dozen or so that descended through a clear spot in the sky.

“Attrition among the droids upon entry is negligible,” said 8K6. “Point zero three percent.”

The helmsman further magnified the viewscreen again, then again.

Five kilos above the surface, the droids arrested their descent with thrusters, unfolded into their insectoid forms, and gently dropped to the charred, superheated surface. Anti-grav servos and platform pads on their six legs allowed them to walk on the smoking ruin without harm.

“Give me a view from one of the droids.”

“Copy, sir,” said Dor.

The helm worked his console, and half the viewscreen changed to a perspective of a droid’s-eye view of the moon. A murmur ran through the bridge crew, an exhalation of awe. Even 8K6 looked up from the instrumentation.

The voice of Captain Korsin, commander of Harbinger’s sister ship, Omen, broke through the comm chatter and boomed over the bridge speakers.

“That is a sight.”

“It is,” Saes answered.

Smoke rose in wisps from the exposed subcrust. The heat of the plasma beams had turned the charred surface as hard and brittle as glass. Thick cracks and chasms lined the subcrust, veins through which only smoke and ash flowed. Waves of heat rose from the surface, distorting visibility and giving the moon an otherworldly, dream-like feel.

Hundreds of harvester droids dotted the surface, metal flies clinging to the moon’s seared corpse. Walking in their awkward, insectoid manner, they arranged themselves into orderly rows, their high-pitched droidspeak mere chatter in the background.

“Sensors activating,” intoned 8K6.

As one, long metal proboscises extended from each of the droids’ faces. They ambled along in the wake of the destruction, waving their proboscises over the surface like dowsing rods, fishing the subsurface for the telltale molecular signature of Lignan.

Thinking of the Lignan, Saes licked his lips, tasted a faint flavor of phosphorous. He had handled a small Lignan crystal years before and still remembered the charge he had felt while holding it. His connection with that crystal had been the first sign of his affinity for the dark side.

The unusual molecular structure of Lignan attuned it to the dark side and enhanced a Sith’s power when using the Force. The Sith had not been able to locate any significant deposits of the crystals in recent decades—until now, until just before the battle for Kirrek. And it was Saes who had done it.

A few standard months ago, Naga Sadow had charged Saes with locating some deposits of the rare crystal for use in the war. It was a test, Saes knew. And Los Dor, his ostensible aide, was grading him. The Force had given Saes his answer, had brought him eventually, and at the last possible moment before the conflict began, to Phaegon III. The Force had used him as a tool to ensure Sith victory.

The realization warmed him. His scaled skin creaked as he adjusted his weight in his chair.

He would harvest enough Lignan from Phaegon III’s moon to equip almost every Sith Lord and Massassi warrior preparing for the assault on Kirrek. If he’d had more time, he could have mined the moon in a more methodical, less destructive fashion. But he did not have time, and Sadow would not tolerate delay.

So Saes had created his own right and wrong, and the primates and other life-forms on Phaegon III’s moon had died for it.

He tapped his forefinger on his lightsaber hilt—its curved form reminiscent of a claw—impatient to see the results of the droids’ sensor scans. He leaned forward in his chair when an excited beep announced the first discovery of a Lignan signature. Another joined it. Another. He shared a look with Dor and could not tell from the fix of Dor’s mouth, partially masked as it was by a beard of tentacles, if his colonel was pleased or displeased.

“There it is, Saes,” said Korsin from Omen. “We’ve done it.”

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