Book Publishing News
by Timothy Zahn
Del Rey, 2004
The Imperial Star Destroyer moved silently through the
blackness of space, its lights dimmed, its huge sublight engines
blazing with the urgency of its mission.
The man standing on
the command walkway could feel the rumble of those engines through
his boots as he listened to the muttered conversation from the crew
pits below him. The conversation sounded worried, too, as worried as
he himself felt.
Though for entirely different reasons. For
him, this was a personal matter, the frustration of a professional
dealing with fallible beings and the capriciousness of a universe
that refused to always live up to one’s preconceived notions as to
what was fitting and proper. An error had been made, possibly a very
serious error. And as with all errors, there would likely be
unpleasant consequences riding in its wake.
starboard crew pit came a muffled curse, and he stifled a grimace.
None of that mattered to the Star Destroyer’s crew. Their worries
stemmed solely from their performance, and whether they would be
facing a pat on the back or a boot in the rear at journey’s
Or possibly they were merely worried about the sublight
engines blowing up. On this ship, one never knew.
his attention downward, his gaze leaving the grandeur of the
starscape and coming to rest on the bow of the Star Destroyer
stretching out more than a kilometer in front of him. He could
remember the days when the mere sight of one of these ships would
send shivers up the spines of the bravest of fighters and the most
arrogant of smugglers.
But those days were gone, hopefully
forever. The Empire had been rehabilitated, though of course many
within the New Republic still refused to believe that. Under Supreme
Commander Pellaeon’s firm guidance, the Empire had signed a treaty
with the New Republic, and was no longer any more threatening than
the Bothans or the Corporate Sector or anyone else.
unwillingly, he smiled as he gazed along the Star Destroyer’s long
prow. Of course, even in the old days of the Empire, this particular
ship would probably have inspired more bewilderment than
It was, after all, hard to take a bright red Star
Destroyer very seriously.
From behind him, audible even over
the rumble of the engines, came the sound of clumping boots. “Okay,
Karrde,” Booster Terrik grunted as he came to a halt at his side.
“The comm’s finally fixed. You can transmit whenever you
“Thank you,” Talon Karrde said, turning back toward
the crew pits and trying hard not to blame Booster for the state his
equipment was in. An Imperial Star Destroyer was a huge amount of
ship to take care of, and Booster never had nearly enough personnel
to do the job right. “H’sishi?” he called. “Go.”
Chieftain,] the Togorian called back from the comm board, her fur
fluffing slightly as her clawed fingers touched the keys.
[Transmission complete. Shall I begin alerting the rest of the
“Yes,” Karrde said. “Thank you.”
nodded and returned her attention to the board.
Karrde knew, he’d done all he could for the moment. Turning again to
face the stars, he folded his arms across his chest and tried hard
to cultivate his patience. “It’ll be all right,” Booster murmured
from beside him. “We’ll be around this star in half an hour and be
able to jump to lightspeed. We can be in the Domgrin system in two
standard days, tops.”
“Assuming the hyperdrive doesn’t break
down again.” Karrde waved a hand. “Sorry. I’m just—you
“Sure,” Booster said. “But relax, all right?
This is Luke and Mara we’re talking about, not some fresh-hatched
Neimoidian grubs. Whatever’s going on, they’re not going to be
“Maybe,” Karrde said. “Though even Jedi
can be surprised.” He shook his head. “But that’s not the point, is
it? The point is that I messed up. I don’t like it when that
Booster shrugged his massive shoulders. “Like any
of the rest of us do?” he asked pointedly. “You have to face the
facts, Karrde, and Fact Number One is that you simply can’t know
everyone who works for you anymore.”
Karrde glared out at the
mockingly cheerful red ship stretched out in front of him. But
Booster was right. This whole thing had gotten completely out of
He’d started out modestly enough, merely offering to
provide timely information to the leaders of the New Republic and
Empire so that both sides could be assured that the other wasn’t
plotting against them. And for the first couple of years everything
had gone just fine.
The trouble had come when the various
planetary and sector governments within the New Republic had woken
up to the benefits of this handy service and decided they wanted
aboard, too. After the near civil war that had broken out over the
Caamas Document, Karrde hadn’t really felt like turning them down,
and with permission from his clients on Coruscant and Bastion he’d
gone ahead and expanded his operations.
Which naturally meant
expanding his personnel as well. In retrospect, he supposed, it had
only been a matter of time before something like this happened. He
just wished it hadn’t happened to Luke and Mara. “Maybe not,” he
told Booster. “But even if I can’t handle everything personally,
it’s still my responsibility.”
“Ah,” Booster said knowingly.
“So it’s your pride that’s hurt, is it?”
Karrde eyed his old
friend. “Tell me, Booster. Has anyone ever told you you’re truly
irritating when you try to be sympathetic?”
subject’s come up once or twice,” Booster said, grinning. He slapped
Karrde’s back. “Come on. Let’s go down to the Transis Corridor and
I’ll buy you a drink.”
“Assuming the drink dispensers are
working today,” Karrde murmured as they headed back along the
“Well, yeah,” Booster conceded. “Always
assuming that.” ...
As cantinas went, Mara Jade Skywalker
thought as she sipped her drink, this was definitely one of the
strangest she’d ever been in.
Part of that might simply have
been due to the locale. Here in the Outer Rim, culture and style
weren’t exactly up to the standards of Coruscant and the rest of the
Core Worlds. That might explain the gaudy wall hangings juxtaposed
with ancient plumbing woven around modern drink dispensers, all of
it set against a background decor consisting mainly of polished
droid parts dating back to before the Clone Wars.
As for the
unbreakable mugs and the heavy, stone-topped table she was seated
at, the smoothed-over blaster scars in the walls and ceiling were
more than enough explanation. When the patrons dived under the
tables in the middle of a firefight, they would want those tables to
afford them some protection. And they wouldn’t want to find
themselves sitting on bits of broken crockery, either.
was no rationale at all, of course, for the very loud, very off-key
A brush of air touched her shoulder, and a heavyset
man appeared from behind her, pushing his way through the milling
crowd. “Sorry,” he huffed as he circled the table and landed his
bulk back in the seat across from her. “Business, business,
business. Never lets up for a minute.”
“I suppose not,” Mara
agreed. He didn’t fool her for a second; even without Force
sensitivity she would have spotted the furtiveness hidden behind the
noise and bustle. Jerf Huxley, master smuggler and minor terror of
the Outer Rim, was up to something unpleasant.
question was how unpleasant he was planning for that something to
“Yeah, it’s crazy out here,” Huxley went on, taking a
noisy swallow of the drink he’d left behind when he hurried off on
the mysterious errand that had taken him away from their table. “
’Course, you know all that. Or at least you used to.” He eyed her
over the rim of his mug. “What’s so funny?”
Mara said, not bothering to erase the smile that had caught the
other’s attention. “I was just thinking about what a trusting person
“What do you mean?” he asked,
“Your drink,” Mara said, gesturing to his mug. “You
go away and leave it alone with me, and then you just come back and
toss it down without even wondering if I’ve put something in
Huxley’s lips puckered, and through the Force Mara
caught a hint of his chagrin. He hadn’t worried about his drink, of
course, because he’d had her under close surveillance the whole time
he was gone. He also hadn’t intended for her to know that. “All
right, fine,” he said, banging the mug back onto the table. “Enough
with the games. Let’s hear it. Why are you here?”
With a man
like this, Mara knew, there was no point in glaze- coating it. “I’m
here on behalf of Talon Karrde,” she said. “He wanted me to thank
you for your assistance and that of your organization over the past
ten years, and to inform you that your services will no longer be
Huxley’s face didn’t even twitch. Clearly, he’d
already suspected this was coming. “Starting when?” he
“Starting now,” Mara said. “Thanks for the drink, and
I’ll be on my way.”
“Not so fast,” Huxley said, lifting a
Mara froze halfway to her feet. Behind Huxley, blasters
had abruptly appeared in the hands of three of the men who had
hitherto been minding their own business at the bar. Blasters that
were, not surprisingly, pointed at her. “Sit down,” he ordered.
Carefully, Mara eased back into her chair. “Was there something
else?” she asked mildly.
Huxley gestured again, more
emphatically this time, and the off-key background music shut off.
As did all conversation. “So that’s it, is it?” Huxley demanded
quietly. In the sudden silence, even a soft voice seemed to ring
against the battered walls. “Karrde’s going to toss us aside, just
“I presume you read the news,” Mara said, keeping
her voice calm. All around her, she could sense the single-minded
animosity of the crowd. Huxley had apparently stocked the place with
his friends and associates. “Karrde’s getting out of the smuggling
business. Has been, for the past three years. He doesn’t need your
“Yeah, he doesn’t need,” Huxley said with
a sniff. “What about what we need?”
“I don’t know,” Mara
said. “What do you need?”
“Maybe you don’t remember what it’s
like in the Outer Rim, Jade,” Huxley said, leaning over the table
toward her. “But out here, you don’t split things three ways against
the ends. You work for one group, period, or you don’t work at all.
We burned our skyarches behind us years ago when we started working
for Karrde. If he pulls out, what are we supposed to do?”
expect you’ll have to make new arrangements,” Mara said. “Look, you
had to have known this was coming. Karrde’s made no secret of the
direction he’s been taking.”
“Yeah, right,” Huxley said
contemptuously. “Like anyone believed he’d really go
He drew himself up. “So you want to know what we
need? Fine. What we need is something to tide us over until we can
get back in the business with someone else.”
So there it was:
a simple and straightforward pocket-shake. Nothing subtle from this
bunch. “How much?” she asked.
“Five hundred thousand.” His
lip twisted slightly. “In cash credits.”
Mara kept her face
expressionless. She’d come here prepared for something like this,
but that number was way beyond reason. “And where exactly do you
expect me to get this little tide-me-over?” she asked. “I don’t
carry that much spending money on me.”
“Don’t get cute,”
Huxley growled. “You know as well as I do that Karrde’s got a sector
clearinghouse over on Gonmore. They’ll have all the credits there we
He dug into a pocket and produced a hold-out blaster.
“You’re going to call and tell them to bring it to us,” he said,
leveling the weapon at her face across the table. “Half a million.
“Really.” Casually, keeping her hands visible, Mara
turned her head to look behind her. Most of the cantina’s
nonsmuggler patrons had already made a quiet exit, she noted, or
else had gathered into groups on either side of the confrontation,
staying well out of the potential lines of fire. Of more immediate
concern was the group of about twenty humans and aliens who had
spread themselves out in a semicircle directly behind her, all of
them with weapons trained on her back.
All of them also
showing varying degrees of wariness, she noted with a certain
malicious amusement. Her reputation had apparently preceded her.
“You throw an interesting party, Huxley,” she said, turning back to
face the smuggler chief. “But you don’t really think you’re equipped
to deal with a Jedi, do you?”
Huxley smiled. A very evil
smile. A surprisingly evil smile, actually, given the circumstances.
“Matter of fact, yeah, I do.” He raised his voice.
Excerpted from Survivor's Quest by Timothy Zahn .
Copyright © 2004 by Timothy Zahn. All rights reserved.
Posted with permission of the publisher.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without
permission in writing from the publisher.