The Bacta WarMichael A. Stackpole
The Bacta War
By Michael A. Stackpole
X-wing - Book 4
01 - Rogue Squadron
02 - Wedge’s Gamble
03 - The Krytos Trap
04 - The Bacta War
05 - Wraith Squadron
06 - Iron Fist
07 - Solo Command
08 - Isard’s Revenge
09 - Starfighters of Adumar
The original Wedge Antilles.
The author would like to thank the following people for their various contributions to this book:
Janna Silverstein, Tom Dupree, and Ricia Mainhardt for getting me into this mess.
Sue Rostoni and Lucy Autrey Wilson for letting me get away with all they have in this universe.
Kevin J. Anderson, Kathy Tyers, Bill Smith, Bill Slavicsek, Peter Schweighofer, Michael Kogge, and Dave Wolverton for the material they created and the advice they offered.
Timothy Zahn for being a wonderful co-conspirator and vetting chapters so quickly.
Paul Youll for the stunning covers on the books.
Lawrence Holland and Edward Kilham for the X-wing and TIE Fighter computer games.
Chris Taylor for pointing out to me which ship Tycho was flying in Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi and Gail Mihara for pointing out controversies I might want to avoid.
My parents; my sister, Kerin; my brother, Patrick; and his wife, Joy, for their encouragement (and endless efforts to face my other books out on bookstore shelves).
Dennis L. McKiernan, Jennifer Roberson, and especially Elizabeth T. Danforth for listening to bits of this story as it was being written and enduring such abuse with smiles and a supportive manner.
COMMANDER WEDGE ANTILLES (human male from Corellia)
CAPTAIN TYCHO CELCHU (human male from Alderaan)
CAPTAIN ARIL NUNB (Sullustan female from Sullust)
LIEUTENANT CORRAN HORN (human male from Corellia)
OORYL QRYGG (Gand male from Gand)
NAWARA VEN (Twi’lek male from Ryloth)
RHYSATI YNR (human female from Bespin)
GAVIN DARKLIGHTER (human male from Tatooine)
RIV SHIEL (Shistavanen male from Uvena III)
ASYR SEI’LAR (Bothan female from Bothawui)
INYRI FORGE (human female from Kessel)
IELLA WESSIRI (human female from Corellia)
WINTER (human female from Alderaan)
ELSCOL LORO (human female from Cilpar)
ZRAII (Verpine male from Roche G42)
M-3PO (Emtrey; protocol and regulations droid)
WHISTLER (Corran’s R2 astromech)
MYNOCK (Wedge’s R5 astromech)
ADMIRAL ACKBAR (Mon Calamari male from Mon Calamari)
CAPTAIN PASH CRACKEN (human male from Contruum)
GENERAL AIREN CRACKEN (human male from Contruum)
CREW OF THE PULSAR SKATE
MIRAX TERRIK (human female from Corellia)
LIAT TSAYV (Sullustan male from Sullust)
YSANNE ISARD, DIRECTOR OF IMPERIAL INTELLIGENCE (human female from Coruscant)
FLIRY VORRU (human male from Corellia)
ERISI DLARIT (human female from Thyferra)
Somehow the dead of night amplified the lightsaber’s hiss, allowing it to fill the room. The blade’s silvery light frosted the furniture and gave birth to impenetrable shadows. The blade drifted back and forth, prompting the shadows to waver and shift as if fleeing from the light.
Much as criminals would flee from the light.
Corran Horn stared at the blade, finding the argent energy shaft neither harsh nor painful to his eyes. He lazily wove the blade through joined infinity loops, then, with the flick of his right wrist, snapped it up into a guard that protected him from forehead to waist. Relic of a bygone era, it still can conjure up images and feelings.
He hit the black button under his thumb twice, and the blade died, again plunging the room into darkness. The lightsaber did conjure up images and feelings in him, but Corran doubted they were at all the images and feelings commonly felt by most others on Coruscant. To everyone, including Corran, Luke Skywalker was a hero and was welcomed as heir to the Jedi tradition. His efforts at rebuilding the Jedi order were roundly applauded, and no one, save those who dreaded the return of law and order to the galaxy, wished Luke anything but the greatest success in his heroic quest.
As do I. Corran frowned. Still, my decision has been made.
He’d felt it the greatest of honors to be asked by Luke Skywalker to leave Rogue Squadron and train to become a Jedi. Skywalker had told him that his grandfather Nejaa Halcyon had been a Jedi Master who had been slain in the Clone Wars. The lightsaber Corran had discovered in the Galactic Museum had belonged to Nejaa and had been presented to Corran as his rightful inheritance. Mine is the heritage of a Jedi Knight.
But that was a heritage he had only heard of from Skywalker. He did not doubt the Jedi was telling the truth, but it was not the whole truth. At least not the whole of the truth with which I grew up.
Throughout his life Corran Horn had come to believe his grandfather was Rostek Horn, a valued and highly placed member of the Corellian Security Force. His father, Hal Horn, likewise was with CorSec. When it came time for Corran to choose a career, there was really no choice at all. He continued the Horn tradition of serving CorSec. His grandfather had always admitted to having known a Jedi who died in the Clone Wars, but that acquaintance had been given no more weight than having once met Imperial Moff Fliry Vorru or having visited Imperial Center, as Coruscant had been known under the Empire’s rule.
Corran found it no great surprise that Rostek Horn and his father had downplayed their ties to Nejaa Halcyon. Halcyon had died in the Clone Wars; and Rostek had comforted, grown close with, and married Halcyon’s widow. He also adopted Halcyon’s son, Valin, who grew up as Hal Horn. When the Emperor began his extermination of the Jedi order, Rostek had used his position at CorSec to destroy all traces of the Halcyon family, insulating his wife and adopted son from investigation by Imperial authorities.
Since exhibiting any interest in the Jedi Knights could invite scrutiny and my family would be very vulnerable if its secret were discovered, I probably heard less about the Jedi Knights than most other kids my age. If not for various holodramas that painted the Jedi Knights as villains and later reminiscences by his grandfather about the Clone Wars, Corran would have known little or nothing about the Jedi. Like most other children, he found them vaguely romantic and all too much sinister, but they were distant and remote while what his father and grandfather did was immediate and exciting.
He raised a hand and pressed it to the golden Jedi medallion he wore around his neck. It had been a keepsake his father had carried and Corran inherited after his father’s death. Corran had taken it as a lucky charm of sorts, never realizing his father had kept it because it bore the image of his own father, Nejaa Halcyon. Wearing it had been my father’s way of honoring his father and defying the Empire. Likewise, I wore it to honor him, not realizing I was doing more through that act.
Skywalker’s explanation to him of what his relationship to Nejaa Halcyon was opened new vistas and opportunities for him. In joining CorSec he had chosen to dedicate his life to a mission that paralleled the Jedi mission: making the galaxy safe for others. As Luke had explained, by becoming a Jedi, Corran could do what he had always done but on a larger scale. That idea, that opportunity, was seductive, an
d clearly all of his squadron-mates had expected him to jump at it.
Corran smiled. I thought Councilor Borsk Fey’lya was going to die when I turned down the offer. In many ways I wish he had.
He shook his head, realizing that thought was unworthy of himself and really wasted on Borsk Fey’lya. Corran was certain that, on some level, the Bothan Councilor believed he—not Corran—was right and his actions were vital to sustain the New Republic. Re-creating the Jedi order would help provide a cohesive force to bind the Republic together and to drape it in the nostalgic mantle of the Old Republic. Just as having various members of nation-states placed in Rogue Squadron had helped pull the Republic together, having a Corellian become a new Jedi might influence the Diktat into treating the New Republic in a more hospitable manner.
Skywalker had asked him to, and Fey’lya had assumed he would, join the Jedi order, but that was because neither of them knew of or realized that his personal obligations and promises exerted more influence with him than any galactic cause. While Corran realized that doing the greatest good for the greatest number was probably better for everyone in the long run, he had short-term debts he wanted to repay, and time was of the essence in doing so.
The remnants of the Empire had captured, tortured, and imprisoned him at Lusankya, which he later came to realize was really a Super Star Destroyer buried beneath the surface of Coruscant. He had escaped from there—a feat never before successfully accomplished—but had gotten away only with the aid of other prisoners. He had vowed to them that he would return and liberate them, and he fully intended to keep his promise. The fact that they were imprisoned in the belly of the SSD that now orbited Thyferra made that task more difficult, but long odds against success had never stopped him before. I’m a Corellian. What use have I for odds?
His desire to save them had increased with a chance discovery that embarrassed him mightily when he made it. In Lusankya the Rebel prisoners had been led by an older man who simply called himself Jan. Since his escape, Corran had caught a holovision broadcast of a documentary on the heroes of the Rebel Alliance. First and foremost among them had been the general who led the defense of Yavin 4 and planned the destruction of the first Death Star, Jan Dodonna. The documentary said he’d been slain during the evacuation of Yavin 4, but Corran had no doubt Dodonna had been a prisoner on Lusankya. If I hadn’t thought him dead, I might have recognized him, too. How stupid of me.
Dodonna’s celebrity had nothing to do with Corran’s desire to save him. Jan, like Urlor Sette and others, had helped him escape. They had risked their lives to give him a chance to get away. Leaving such brave people captives of someone like Ysanne Isard not only failed to reward their courage but repaid them by leaving them in severe jeopardy of death or worse—conversion into a covert Imperial agent under Isard’s direction.
Corran started, then turned and smiled at the black-haired, dark-eyed woman standing in the bedroom doorway. “I guess not, Mirax. I’m sorry I woke you.”
“You didn’t wake me. Your absence awakened me.” She wore a dark blue robe, belted at the waist with a pale yellow sash. Mirax raised a hand to hide a yawn then pointed at the silver cylinder in his right hand. “Regretting your decision?”
“Which one? Refusing to join the Jedi Knights or”—he smiled—“or hooking up with you?”
She raised an eyebrow. “I was thinking of the Jedi decision. If you have reservations about the other decision, I can relearn how to sleep alone.”
He laughed, and she joined him. “I regret neither. Your father and my father may have been mortal enemies, but I can’t imagine having a better friend than you.”
Mirax shrugged. “All you men who’ve just gotten out of prison say that.”
Corran frowned for a moment. “I imagine you’re right, but how you came by that information, I don’t want to know.”
Mirax blinked her eyes. “You know, I don’t think I want to know that, either.”
Corran laughed, then crossed the room and enfolded her in a warm hug. “After my escape, Tycho expressed his regrets concerning your death to me. He told me how Warlord Zsinj had ambushed a convoy at Alderaan and destroyed it, including your Pulsar Skate. Everything inside of me just collapsed. Losing you just ripped the emotional skeleton out of me.”
“Now you know how I felt when I thought you’d been slain here on Coruscant.” She kissed his left ear, then settled her chin on his shoulder. “I hadn’t realized how much you had become part of my life until you were gone. The hole the Lusankya created blasting her way out of Coruscant was nothing compared to the void I had inside. It wasn’t a question of wanting to die, but of knowing my insides were dead and wondering when the rest of me would catch up.”
“I had it luckier than you. When he got the chance, General Cracken pulled me aside and told me how you’d gone on a covert mission to Borleias to deliver ryll kor, bacta, and a Vratix verachen. Zsinj’s ambush conveniently covered your disappearance so the Thyferrans didn’t know what you were setting up on Borleias with their bacta.”
“Yeah, they would not have liked it if it were known we were using the Alderaan Biotics facility there to make rylca and, eventually, enough bacta to dent their monopoly.” Mirax shivered. “I would have preferred the original plan working, because as much as I didn’t look forward to being reviled and hunted down for stealing bacta from the convoy, I would have rather endured that than having all those other people killed.”
“Nothing you could do about that.”
“Nor was there anything you could do about your fellow prisoners being whisked away by Isard when she escaped in the Lusankya.” Mirax backed up a half-step and held Corran at arm’s-length. “You do realize that, don’t you?”
“Realize, yes. Accept, no. Tolerate, no way.” Corran narrowed his green eyes, but the hint of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “You know, if you keep hanging around with me, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble.”
“Trouble?” Mirax batted her brown eyes. “Whatever do you mean, Lieutenant Horn?”
“Well, I precipitated the mass resignation of the New Republic’s most celebrated fighter squadron and vowed that we’d liberate Thyferra from Ysanne Isard’s clutches. So far, toward that end, we have a squadron’s worth of pilots, my X-wing, and if you’re really in this with us, your freighter.”
Mirax smiled. “Versus three Imperial Star Destroyers and a Super Star Destroyer, not to mention any sort of Thyferran military forces that might oppose us.”
Corran nodded. “Right.”
Mirax’s grin broadened. “Okay, so get to the trouble part.”
“Mirax, be serious.”
“I am. You forget, dear heart, that it was an X-wing and a freighter that lit up the first Death Star.”
“This is a little bit different.”
“Not really.” She reached out and tapped his forehead with a finger. “You and I, Wedge and Tycho, and everyone else knows what it takes to defeat the Empire. It’s not a matter of equipment, but of having the heart to use that equipment. The Empire was broken because, for the good of the galaxy, it had to be broken. The Rebels were given no choice, and because of that, they pushed themselves further than the Imperials did. We know we can win and that we must win, and Isard’s people know nothing of the kind.”
“That’s all well and good, Mirax, and I agree, but this is a massive undertaking. The sheer amount of equipment we’ll need to pull this off is staggering.”
“Agreed. I don’t think this will be easy, but it can be done.”
“I know.” Corran massaged his eyes with his left hand. “Too many variables and not enough data available to begin to assign them values.”
“And three hours before dawn isn’t the time you should be wrestling with such things. As bright as you might be, Corran Horn, this is not an hour when you do your best work.”
aised an eyebrow. “I seem to recall you singing a different tune last evening about this time.”
“At that time you weren’t concerned with Ysanne Isard, you were concerned with me.”
“Ah, and that makes the difference?”
“From my perspective, you bet.” She took the lightsaber from his hand and set it atop his dresser. “And I think, if you’re willing to work with me, I can share that perspective with you.”
He kissed her on the tip of the nose. “It would be my pleasure.”
“That, Lieutenant Horn, is just half the objective here.”
“Forgive me.” Following her toward the bed, he stepped over the silken puddle her robe made on the floor. “You know, I just got out of prison.”
“For that I won’t forgive you but perhaps”—she smiled up at him—“I will make some allowance for good behavior.”
Wedge Antilles felt decidedly uncomfortable out of uniform. Actually, I feel uncomfortable out of the service. During the covert mission to Coruscant, he’d not been in hailing distance of an Alliance uniform, and he’d even worn Imperial uniforms a couple of times, but that had not bothered him. He’d spent most of his adult life as part of the Rebel Alliance and now he had chosen to leave it.
There was no doubt in his mind that the decision to leave was the right one to make. He fully understood why the New Republic couldn’t attack Thyferra and bring Ysanne Isard to justice. Since she was installed as the Chief of State through an internal revolution—as opposed to an invasion—her holding office was not a case of Imperial aggression, but of self-determination. If the New Republic rejected that idea in this one case, plenty of other nation-states would think long and hard before joining the New Republic or would consider leaving.