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The Approaching Storm (Star Wars)
by Alan Dean Foster
Del Ray, 2002


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Excerpt from The Approaching Storm (Star Wars)

“It seems to me that mine is becoming a very important planet, Honorable Shu Mai.”

The president of the Commerce Guild smiled thinly. “Small keys can unlock very big doors, Senator Mousul.”

As they conversed, the dignified quartet strode slowly through the galaxy. Not the actual galaxy, of course, but an immense, intricately delineated, fully three-dimensional representation. It filled the entire private chamber. Stars glowed all around them, enveloping the strollers in a haze of soft, multihued refulgence. By reaching out and touching a planetary system, a visitor could summon forth a detailed, encyclopedic description of that system and its individual worlds: everything from species and population to minute characteristics of flora and fauna, economic statistics, and future prospects.

One of the strollers was a blue-skinned Twi’lek female who was quiet and contemplative of aspect. Her companion was a very important and readily recognizable Corellian industrialist. The president of the Commerce Guild was short and slender, greenish of skin, with the typical coiffure for females of the Gossam species: a rising, upswept tailing. The fourth member of the group, trailing elaborate robes woven from the most exotic materials to be found on his homeworld, was the Senator from the world called Ansion. Despite his high standing, he looked nervous, like someone afraid of being watched. As for the Twi’lek and the Corellian, they were clearly master and supplicant—though the second was a very powerful supplicant indeed.

The president of the Commerce Guild halted. With a single, expansive gesture she encompassed shimmering pinpoints of light representing a thousand worlds and more. Amazing, she thought, how trillions of sentient beings and entire civilizations could be reduced to mere specks hovering in a single room. If only the reality were as easy to organize and manage as was this efficient, luminous depiction.

Given time and the assistance of carefully nurtured alliances, she reflected confidently, it would be.

“Your forgiveness, noble lady,” the Corellian murmured, “but my associates and I also do not configure the importance of this world called Ansion.”

Shu Mai clapped her hands softly. “Excellent!”

Among her three companions, confusion readily crossed species lines. “You find it satisfying that we do not see this place’s significance?” the female Twi’lek asked.

“Absolutely.” A tolerant grin creased the Gossam’s face. “If you do not see it, then neither will our enemies. Pay attention, and I will do more than make it evident—I will make it visible.”

Turning, she reached into the pulsing panoply of worlds and suns to pass the tips of the fingers of her right hand through a small but centrally located star. With words and gestures, she proceeded to manipulate the system she had singled out.

In response to her actions, a trio of laser-bright blue lines appeared, linking the first system to three others. “The Malarian Alliance. On the face of it, one of hundreds of such casual alliances.” Her slim, deft fingers moved again. Yellow lines appeared, tying the first star to six additional systems. “Keitumite Mutual Military Treaty. Never invoked, but still in force.” Her smile widened. She was enjoying herself. “Now, observe this.” Her hands proceeded to play with the surrounding galographics like a musician strumming an expensive quintolium.

When at last Shu Mai finished, her three companions eyed her triumphant handiwork in silence. The four visitors were enclosed by a web of lines, straight and uncompromising: blue, yellow, gold, crimson—all the colors of the spectrum. Perhaps even, some dared to think, the colors of an empire.

And at the nexus of this web of intensely bright, unwavering lines that represented outstanding treaties and alliances, pacts and planetary partnerships, lay a single, suddenly far less insignifi- cant world.

Ansion.

With a wave of one hand and a dismissive word from Shu Mai’s lips, the elaborate network faded. It would not do to have someone not privy to the machinations of the group walk in unannounced and see what was being discussed. Awkward questions might ensue.

“Who would have suspected that a world such as this could lie at the center of so many interlocking treaties?” The blue-skinned female was suitably impressed.

“Precisely the point.” Shu Mai inclined her head slightly in the female’s direction. “There are other worlds that occupy comparable positions of strategic importance; worlds more heavily populated, thoroughly industrialized, and frequently mentioned as important players when the current unsettled state of affairs within the Republic is being discussed. In contrast, no one thinks to bring up Ansion. That is the beauty of it.” Steepling her fingers, she glanced significantly at Senator Mousul.

“If we can get the Ansionians to commit to pulling out of the Republic, no one will really care. But because of their alliances, their withdrawal should be enough to sway their already vacillating partners in both the Malarian Alliance and the Keitumite Treaty to follow. You saw how many other systems are tied, in turn, to both of those pacts. The effect will be as of an avalanche; starting small, growing fast, and accelerating of its own accord. By the time the Senate knows what has hit it, forty systems or more will have withdrawn from the Republic, and we will be well on our way to solidifying the kind of changes we wish to see come about.”

Mousul’s fingers clenched tighter and tighter until whiteness showed beneath the skin. “That will be the spark that we need to propose the passage of extraordinary measures to cope with the emergency.”

The Corellian industrialist was all but dancing with excitement. “It’s wonderfully cunning, this plan you’ve devised! I know that the interests I represent will agree to send a force to Ansion immediately, to compel the inhabitants to withdraw from the Republic.” For an instant, Senator Mousul looked alarmed.

“Which is exactly what we do not want them to do,” Shu Mai countered sternly. “As I seem to recall, the Trade Federation already tried something similar elsewhere. The results were, shall we say, somewhat less than triumphant.”

“Yes, well.” The Corellian coughed uncomfortably into one hand. “There were unforeseen complications.”

“That continue to resonate to this day.” Shu Mai was unrelenting in her tone. “Don’t you see? The beauty of this plan is the seeming insignificance of its linchpin. Send a fleet, or even a few ships, to Ansion, and you will immediately attract the attention of those forces that continue to frustrate us. Obviously, that is the last thing we wish. We want the Ansionian withdrawal to appear wholly natural, the result of internal decisions reached in the absence of external influences.” She smiled benignly at Mousul.

“Will it be?” the Twi’lek asked pointedly.

Shu Mai eyed her approvingly. She would be useful, she knew. As would the others she had involved—if they could keep their wits about them.

It was Senator Mousul’s turn to respond. “Like so many peoples, the Ansionians are divided as to whether they should remain within the Republic or step outside the corruption and sleaze that permeate it. Rest assured that there are among its citizens those who are sympathetic to our cause. I have taken care and expended considerable political capital to ensure that these elements are appropriately encouraged.”

“How long?” the deceptively soft-voiced Twi’lek wanted to know.

“Before Ansion decides?” The Senator looked thoughtful. “Assuming the internal divisions continue to widen, I would expect a formal vote on whether to withdraw from the Republic within half a standard year.”

The president of the Commerce Guild nodded approvingly. “At which point we can look on with satisfaction as those who have been traditionally allied to Ansion follow suit, and those allied to the allies fall in turn. Surely, as children all of you played with blocks? There is invariably one key block near the bottom that, if removed, will cause the entire structure to collapse.

“Ansion is that key. Remove that one block, and the rest of these systems will crumble.” Her thoughts, as well as her gaze, seemed to focus on something outside the range of vision of her associates. “On the ruins of the old, decrepit Republic those of us with foresight will build a new political structure, perfect and gleaming. One without any weak links, free of the moralistic waste that encumbers and slows the appropriate development of a truly advanced society.”

“And who will lead this new society?” The female Twi’lek’s voice was tinged with just a touch of cynicism. “You?”

Shu Mai shrugged modestly. “My interests lie with the Commerce Guild. Who can say? That is something yet to be determined, is it not? The cause must succeed before leaders can be chosen. While I admit I would not turn down such a nomination, I believe there are others who are more qualified. Let us begin with small things.”

“Like this Ansion.” Having recovered from the previous mild reproach, the Corellian’s enthusiasm had returned full strength. “What a pleasure it would be, what a wonderment, to at last be able to conduct business unencumbered by mountains of superfluous rules, regulations, and restrictions! Those I represent would be forever grateful.”

“Yes, you would at last have the chance to secure the restrictive monopolies you so devoutly seek,” Shu Mai observed dryly. “Don’t worry. In return for your political and financial support, you and those you represent will receive everything they deserve.”

The industrialist was not intimidated. “And of course,” he added shrewdly, “this new political arrangement will open all manner of opportunities to the Commerce Guild.”

Copyright 2002 by Alan Dean Foster Excerpted from The Approaching Storm (Star Wars) by Alan Dean Foster. Copyright © 2002 by Alan Dean Foster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.









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