The Krytos TrapMichael A. Stackpole
The Krytos Trap
By Michael A. Stackpole
X-wing - Book 3
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
To the memory of
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, Timothy Zahn, Kathy Tyers, Bill Smith, Bill Slavicsek, Peter Schweighofer, Michael Kogge, and Dave Wolverton for the material they created and the advice they offered;
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 (human male from Sullust)
LIEUTENANT CORRAN HORN (human male from Corellia)
LIEUTENANT PASH CRACKEN (human male from Contruum)
OORYL QRYGG (Gand male from Gand)
NAWARA VEN (Twi’lek male from Ryloth)
RHYSATI YNR (human female from Bespin)
ERISI DLARIT (human female from Thyferra)
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)
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)
GENERAL AIREN CRACKEN (human male from Contruum)
IELLA WESSIRI (human female from Corellia)
WINTER (human female from Alderaan)
CITIZENS ON CORUSCANT
FLIRY VORRU (human male from Corellia)
DIRIC WESSIRI (human male from Corellia)
BORSK FEY’LYA (Bothan male from Bothawui)
HALLA ETTYK (human female from Alderaan)
QLAERN HIRF (Vratix from Thy ferra)
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)
KIRTAN LOOR, INTELLIGENCE AGENT (human male from Churba)
GENERAL EVIR DERRICOTE (human male from Kalla)
Commander Wedge Antilles would have preferred the ceremony to be private. Rogue Squadron had come to mourn the passing of one of its own on the week anniversary of his death. Wedge wanted the gathering to be small and intimate, with Corran Horn’s friends all being able to share remembrances of him, but that was not possible. Corran’s death had come during the liberation of Coruscant. That made him a hero from a company of heroes, and while a small memorial might have been what Corran himself would have wanted, it was not heroic enough for a figure of his posthumous stature.
Even though Wedge had known things would not go quite the way he wanted, he had not anticipated how out of control they would get when he requested permission to hold the ceremony. He had expected a number of dignitaries would come to the pseudogranite barrow that marked where Corran had died when a building collapsed on top of him. He even anticipated people lining the balconies and walkways of nearby towers. At the very worst he imagined people might gawk from the beds of hovertrucks.
His imagination paled beside that exercised by the bureaucrats who organized the memorial service. They took a ceremony based on heartfelt grief and made it into the focal point of mourning for the entire New Republic. Corran Horn was a hero—this they proclaimed loudly—but he was also a victim. As such he represented all the victims of the Empire. It didn’t matter to them that Corran would have rejected being labeled a victim. He had been transformed into a symbol—a symbol the New Republic needed badly.
Rogue Squadron likewise underwent iconization. The unit’s pilots had always worn orange flightsuits in the past, or, as supplies became harder and harder to find, whatever had been handy. Corran’s flightsuit had been green, black, and grey, since he’d brought it with him from the Corellian Security Force. In homage to him, that color scheme was used to create new uniforms for the squadron: evergreen overall, with dark grey flank panels, black sleeves, leg stripes, and trim. On the left sleeve and breast rode the Rogue Squadron crest. It had also appeared on the evergreen hawkbilled caps designed by a Kuati, but Wedge had vetoed their addition to the uniform.
The makeup of the Squadron had also been adjusted. Asyr Sei’lar, a Bothan pilot, and Inyri Forge, the sister of a dead squadron member, had both been added to the squadron. Wedge would have gladly welcomed them, and they had been crucial to the success of the mission to liberate Coruscant, but they had been pressed upon him for political reasons. Likewise, Portha, a Trandoshan, had been made a member of the squadron despite his inability to fly. He was attached to the unit as part of a previously nonexistent security detail. Each of them was appointed by bureaucrats as a reward to various constituencies in the New Republic, and Wedge hated their objectification.
The ceremony grew out of all proportion until special grandstands had to be grafted to the nearby buildings and color-coded for the various levels of access people were to be accorded. Holocams had been stationed at various positions so the ceremony could be recorded and replayed on countless worlds. Despite the very real fears about contracting the highly contagious Krytos virus, the stands were packed to overflowing.
He looked up from his position on the reviewing stand and out at Rogue Squadron. His people were bearing up well despite the bright sunlight and unseasonably warm weather. The recent rains had raised the general level of humidity until clothing clung and the very air lay like a smothering blanket over everyone. The thick air seemed to deaden sounds and suppress emotions, and Wedge was tempted to allow himself to imagine that Coruscant somehow also mourned Corran’s passing.
In addition to the members of Rogue Squadron, Corran’s other friends stood on the platform nearest the barrow. Iella Wessiri, a slender, brown-haired woman who had been Corran’s CorSec partner, stood next to Mirax Terrik. Despite being the daughter of a notorious Corellian smuggler, Mirax had managed to become friends with Corran. Mirax, who had known Wedge since they had both been kids, had tearfully confided in him that she and Corran had planned to celebrate the liberation of Coruscant together. He could see she’d fallen hard for Corran, and the lifeless expression on her face made his heart ache.
The only one who is missing is Ty
cho. Wedge frowned. Captain Tycho Celchu was a long-standing member of Rogue Squadron who had served as the squadron’s executive officer. He’d surreptitiously joined the mission to Coruscant at Wedge’s request and had been instrumental in bringing the planet’s defenses down. His action was the latest in a string of heroic missions Tycho had carried off during his Rebel career.
Unfortunately, Alliance Intelligence had developed evidence that indicated Tycho was working for the Empire. They blamed him directly not only for Corran’s death, but for the death of Bror Jace, another Rogue Squadron pilot who had died early on in the Coruscant campaign. Wedge had not been fully apprised of what the evidence was that they had against Tycho, but he did not doubt the man’s innocence for a second. Still, his innocence might mean nothing in the long run.
In spite of the liberation, Coruscant was not a pleasant or stable world. A hideous epidemic—the Krytos virus—was ravaging the non-human population of the planet. It had struck at the non-humans in the Rebellion and was hard enough on some species that even coming down to the planet was an act of extreme bravery. Bacta, as usual, could cure the virus, but the Rebellion’s entire store of bacta was insufficient to cure everyone. This resulted in panic, and resentment against humans for their apparent immunity to the disease.
The memorial service had become an important event because Coruscant’s population needed something to unite them and to get their minds off their suffering, even if only for a moment. The fact that Rogue Squadron had humans and non-humans working together in it showed the strength of unity that had allowed the Rebellion to prevail. Non-humans coming together along with dignitaries from various other worlds to mourn a dead human acknowledged the debt the Rebels owed humans. Speakers devoted themselves to exhorting their fellows to labor together in building a future that would justify the sacrifices made by Corran and others. Their words raised things to a philosophical or metaphysical level meant to soothe away the anxieties and worries of the citizens.
Those were noble messages, to be certain, but Wedge felt they were not the right messages for Corran. He tugged on the sleeves of his uniform jacket as a Bothan protocol subaltern waved him forward. Wedge stepped up to the podium and wanted to lean heavily upon it. Years of fighting and saying good-bye to friends and comrades weighed him down—but he refused to give in to fatigue. He let his pride in the squadron and his friendship with Corran keep him upright.
He looked around at the crowd, then focused on the mound of pseudogranite rubble before him. “Corran Horn does not rest easy in that grave.” Wedge paused for a moment, and then another, letting the silence remind everyone of the true purpose of the ceremony. “Corran Horn was never at ease except when he was fighting. He does not rest easy now because there is much fighting yet to be done. We have taken Coruscant, but anyone who assumes that means the Empire is dead is as mistaken as Grand Moff Tarkin was in his belief that Alderaan’s destruction would somehow cripple the Rebellion.”
Wedge brought his head up. “Corran Horn was not a man who gave up, no matter what the odds. More than once he took upon himself the responsibility of dealing with a threat to the squadron and to the Rebellion. Heedless of his own safety, he engaged overwhelming forces and by sheer dint of will and spirit and courage he won through. Even here, on Coruscant, he flew alone into the heart of a storm that was ravaging a planet and risked his life so this world would be free. He did not fail, because he would not let himself fail.
“Each of us who knew him has, in our hearts, dozens and dozens of examples of his bravery or his concern for others, or his ability to see where he was wrong and correct himself. He was not a perfect man, but he was a man who sought to be the best he could be. And while he took pride in being very good, he didn’t waste energy in displays of rampant egotism. He just picked out new goals and drove himself forward toward them.”
Wedge slowly nodded toward the rubble pile. “Corran is now gone. The burdens he bore have been laid down. The responsibilities he shouldered have been abandoned. The example he set is no more. His loss is tragic, but the greater tragedy would be letting him be remembered as a faceless hero mouldering in this cairn. He was a fighter, as all of us should be. The things he took upon himself might be enough to crush down any one person, but we all can accept a portion of that responsibility and bear it together. Others have talked about building a future that would honor Corran and the others who have died fighting the Empire, but the fact is that there’s fighting yet to be done before the building can begin.
“We have to fight the impatience with the pace of change that makes us look nostalgically on the days of the Empire. Yes, there might have been a bit more food available. Yes, power outages might have been fewer. Yes, you might have been insulated from the misery of others—but at what cost? The security you thought you had froze into an icy lump of fear in your gut whenever you saw stormtroopers walking in your direction. With the liberation of Coruscant that fear can melt, but if you forget it once existed and decide things were not so bad under the Emperor, you’ll be well on your way to inviting it back.”
He opened his hands to take in all those assembled at the monument. “You must do what Corran did: fight anything and everything that would give the Empire comfort or security or a chance to reassert itself. If you trade vigilance for complacency, freedom for security, a future without fear for comfort; you will be responsible for shaping the galaxy once again into a place that demands people like Corran fight, always fight and, eventually, fall victim to evil.
“The choice, ultimately, devolves to you. Corran Horn will not rest easy in his grave until there is no more fighting to be done. He has done everything he could to fight the Empire; now it is up to you to continue his fight. If he is ever to know peace, it will only be when we all know peace. And that is a goal every one of us knows is well worth fighting for.”
Wedge stepped back from the podium and steeled himself against the polite applause. Deep down he would have hoped his words had been inspiring, but those gathered around the memorial were dignitaries and officials from worlds throughout the New Republic. They were politicians whose goal was to help shape the future others of their number spoke about. They wanted stability and order as a foundation for their constructions. His words, reminding everyone that fights were yet to be waged, undercut their efforts. They had to applaud because of the situation and who he was, but Wedge had no doubt most of them thought him a politically naive warrior best suited to being a hero who was feted and used in holograph opportunities to support this program or that.
He could only hope that others listening to what he had to say would take his message to heart. The politicians required stability, and the way they acquired stability was to ignore instability or patch it over with some quick fix. The citizens of the New Republic would find their politicians as distant as the Imperial politicians before them. With their new-won freedom, the people would be able to let their leaders know what they thought, and might be tempted to protest if things did not move swiftly enough in the direction the people wanted.
A rebellion against the Rebellion would result in anarchy or a return of the Empire. Either would be disaster. Fighting for progress and against reactionary forces was the only way to guarantee the New Republic would get a chance to flourish. Wedge dearly wanted that to happen and hoped the politicians would look past their efforts to gather power to themselves long enough to take steps to provide real stability and a real future.
Over at the grave site an honor guard raised the squadron flag, then backed away and saluted. That signaled an end to the ceremony, and the visitors began to drift away. A cream-furred Bothan with violet eyes crossed to where Wedge stood and nodded almost graciously. “You were quite eloquent, Commander Antilles.” Borsk Fey’lya waved a hand toward the departing masses. “I have no doubt quite a few hearts were stirred by your words.”
Wedge raised an eyebrow. “But not yours, Councilor Fey’lya?”
The Bothan snoted a clipped laugh. “
If I were so easily swayed, I could be convinced to back all sorts of nonsense.”
“Like the trial of Tycho Celchu?”
Fey’lya’s fur rippled and rose at the back of his neck. “No, I might be convinced that such a trial was not necessary.” He smoothed the fur back down with his right hand. “Admiral Ackbar has not convinced you to abandon your petition to the Provisional Council about this matter?”
“No.” Wedge folded his arms across his chest. “I would have thought by now you would have engineered a vote to deny me the chance to address the council.”
“Summarily dismiss a petition by the man who liberated Coruscant?” The Bothan’s violet eyes narrowed. “You’re moving into a realm of warfare at which I am a master, Commander. I would have thought you wise enough to see that. Your petition will fail. It must fail, so it shall. Captain Celchu will be tried for murder and treason.”
“Even though he is innocent?”
“A fact to be determined by a military court, surely.” Fey’lya gave Wedge a cold smile. “A suggestion, Commander.”
“Don’t waste your eloquence on the Provisional Council. Save it. Hoard it.” The Bothan’s teeth flashed in a feral grin. “Use it on the tribunal that tries Captain Celchu. You’ll not gain his freedom, of course—no one is that eloquent; but perhaps you will win him some modicum of mercy when it comes time for sentence to be passed.”
High up in a tower suite, up above the surface of Imperial Center, Kirtan Loor allowed himself a smile. At the tower’s pinnacle, the only companions were hawk-bats safe in their shadowed roosts and Special Intelligence operatives who were menacing despite their lack of stormtrooper armor or bulk. He felt alone and aloof, but those sensations came naturally with his sense of superiority. At the top of the world, he had been given all he could see to command and dominate.