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Star Wars - X-Wing - Krytos Trap, Page 2

Michael A. Stackpole

  "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?"

  "Is he?"

  "He is."

  "A fact to be determined by a military court, surely."

  Fey'lya gave Wedge a cold smile. "A suggestion, Com-



  "Don't waste your eloquence on the Provisional Coun-

  cil. 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 nat-

  urally with his sense of superiority. At the top of the world,

  he had been given all he could see to command and domi-


  And destroy.

  Ysanne Isard had given him the job of creating and lead-

  ing a Palpatine Counter-insurgency Front. He knew she did

  not expect grand success from him. He had been given ample

  resources to make himself a nuisance. He could disrupt the

  functioning of the New Republic. He could slow their take-

  over of Coruscant and hamper their ability to master the

  mechanisms of galactic administration. A bother, minor but

  vexatious, is what Ysanne lsard had intended he become.

  Kittan Loor knew he had to become more. Years before,

  when he started working as an Imperial liaison officer with

  the Corellian Security Force on CoreIlia, he never would

  have dreamed of finding himself rising so far and playing so

  deadly a game. Even so, he had always been ambitious, and

  supremely confident in himself and his abilities. His chief

  asset was his memory, which allowed him to recall a pleth-

  ora of facts, no matter how obscure. Once he had seen or

  read or heard something he could draw it from his memory,

  and this ability gave him a gross advantage over the crimi-

  nals and bureaucrats with whom he dealt.

  His reliance on his memory had also hobbled him. His

  prodigious feats of recall so overawed his enemies that they

  would naturally assume he had processed the information he

  possessed and had drawn the logical conclusions from it.

  Since they assumed he already knew what only they knew,

  they would tell him what he had not bothered to figure out

  for himself. They made it unnecessary for him to truly think,

  and that skill had begun to atrophy in him.

  Ysanne Isard, when she summoned him to Imperial Cen-

  ter, had made it abundantly clear that learning to think and

  not to assume was the key to his continued existence. Her

  supervision made up in severity what it lacked in duration,

  putting him through a grueling regimen that rehabilitated his

  cognitive abilities. By the time she fled Imperial Center, Isard

  had clearly been confident in his ability to annoy and con-

  found the Rebels.

  More importantly, Kirtan Loor had become certain that

  he could do all she wanted and yet more.

  From his vantage point he looked down on the distant

  blob of dignitaries and mourners gathered at the memorial

  for Corran Horn. While he despised them all for their poli-

  tics, he joined them in mourning Horn's loss. Corran Horn

  had been Loor's nemesis. They had hated each other on

  CoreIlia, and Loor had spent a year and a half trying to hunt

  Corran down after he fled from CoreIlia. The hunt had

  ended when Ysanne Isard brought Loor to Imperial Center,

  but he had anticipated a renewal of his private little war with

  Horn when given the assignment to remain on Coruscant.

  Of course, Corran's demise hardly made a dent in the

  legion of enemies Loor had on Imperial Center. Foremost

  among them was Gen eral Airen Cracken, the director of Alli-

  ance Intelligence. Cracken's network of spies and operatives

  had ultimately made the conquest of the Imperial capital pos-

  sible, and his security precautions had given Imperial

  counterintelligence agents fits for years. Cracken---or Kra-

  ken, as some of Loor's people had taken to calling the

  Rebel--would be a difficult foe with whom to grapple.

  Loor knew he had some other enemies who would pur-

  sue him as part of a personal vendetta. The whole of Rogue

  Squadron, from Antilles to the new recruits, would gladly

  hunt him down and kill him--including the spy in their

  midst since Loor presented a security risk for the spy. Even if

  they could not connect him with Corran's death directly, the

  mere fact that Corran hated him would be a burden they'd

  gladly accept and a debt they would attempt to discharge.

  Iella Wessiri was the last of the CorSec personnel Loor

  had hunted, and her presence on Imperial Center gave him

  pause. She had never been as relentless as Corran Horn in

  her pursuit of criminals, but that had always seemed to Loor

  to be because she was more thorough than Horn. Whereas

  Corran might muscle his way through an investigation, Iella

  picked up on small clues and accomplished with lan what

  Corran did with brute strength. In the shadow game in

  which Loor was engaged, this meant she was a foe he might

  not see coming, and that made her the most dangerous of all.

  Loor backed away from the window and looked at the

  holographic representation of the figures below as they

  strode across his holotable. The ceremony had been broad-

  cast planetwide, and would be rebroadcast at various worlds

  throughout the galaxy. He watched Borsk Fey'lya and

  Wedge Antilles as they met in close conversation, then split

  apart and wandered away. Everyone appeared more like toys

  to him than they did real people. He found it easy to imagine

  himself a titanic--no, Imperial--presence who had deigned

  to be distracted by the actions of bugs.

  He picked up the remote device from the table and

  flicked it on. A couple of small lights flashed on the black

  rectangle in his left palm, then a red button in the center of it

  glowed almost benignly. His thumb hovered over it for a

  second. He smiled, but killed the impulse to stab h
is thumb

  down and gently returned the device to the table.

  A year before he would have punch6d that button, deto-

  nating the explosives his people had secreted around the me-

  morial. With one casual caress he could have unleashed fire

  and pain, wiping out a cadre of traitorous planetary officials

  and eliminating Rogue Squadron. He knew, given a chance,

  any of the SI operatives under his command would have

  triggered the nergon 14 charges--as would the majority of

  the military command staff still serving the Empire.

  Loor did not. lsard had pointed out on numerous occa-

  sions that before the Empire could be reestablished, the Re-

  bellion had to die. She had pointed out that the Emperor's

  obsession with destroying the Jedi Knights had caused him to

  regard the rest of the Rebellion as a lesser threat, yet it had

  outlived the Jedi and the Emperor. Only by destroying the

  Rebellion would it be possible to reassert the Empire's au-

  thority over the galaxy. Destroying the Rebellion required

  methods more subtle than exploding grandstands and plan-

  ets, accomplishing with a vibroblade what could not be done

  with a Death Star.

  Rogue Squadron could not be allowed to die, because

  they were required for the public spectacle of Tycho Celchu's

  trial. General Cracken had uncovered ample evidence that

  pointed toward Celchu's guilt, and Loor had delighted in

  clearing the way for Cracken's investigators to find yet more

  of it. The evidence would be condemning, yet so obviously

  questionable that the members of Rogue Squadron--all of

  whom had indicated a belief in Tycho's innocence at one

  level or another--would decry it as false. That would in-

  crease the tension between the conquerors of Imperial Center

  and the politicians who slunk in after the pilots had risked

  their lives to secure the world. If the heroes of the Rebellion

  could doubt and resent the government of the New Republic,

  how would the citizenry build confidence in their leaders?

  The Krytos virus further complicated things. Created by

  an Imperial scientist under Loor's supervision, it killed non-

  humans in a most hideous manner. Roughly three weeks af-

  ter infection, the victims entered the final, lethal stage of the

  disease. Over the course of a week the virus multiplied very

  rapidly, exploding cell after cell in their bodies. Their flesh

  weakened, sagged, and split open while the victims bled from

  every pore and orifice. The resulting liquid was highly infec-

  tious, and though bacta could hold the disease at bay or, in

  sufficient quantities, cure it, the Rebellion did not have access

  to enough bacta to treat all the cases on Coruscant.

  The price of bacta had shot up and supplies dwindled.

  People hoarded bacta and rumors about the disease having

  spread to the human population caused waves of panic. Al-

  ready a number of worlds had ordered ships from Imperial

  Center quarantined so the disease would not spread, further

  disrupting the New Republic's weak economy and eroding

  its authority. It did no good for human bureaucrats to try to

  explain the precautions they had taken for dealing with the

  disease since they were immune, and that immunity built up

  resentment between the human and non-human populations

  within the New Republic.

  Loor allowed himself a small laugh. He had taken the

  precaution of putting away a supply of bacta, which he was

  selling off in small lots. As a result of this action, anxious

  Rebels were supplying the financing for an organization bent

  on the destruction of the New Republic. The irony of it all

  was sufficient to dull the omnipresent fear of discovery and


  There was no question in his mind that to be captured

  was to be killed, yet he did not let that prospect daunt him.

  Being able to turn the Rebels' tactics back on them struck

  him as justice. He would be returning to them the fear and

  frustration Imperials everywhere had known during the Re-

  bellion. He would strike from hiding, hitting at targets cho-

  sen randomly. His vengeance would be loosely focused

  because that meant no one could feel safe from his touch.

  He knew his efforts would be denounced as crude ter-

  rorism, but he intended there to be nothing crude about his

  efforts. Today he would destroy the grandstands around the

  memorial. They would be nearly empty, and all those who

  had left the stands would breath a sigh of relief that they had

  not been blown up minutes or hours earlier; but everyone

  would have to consider congregating in a public place to be

  dangerous in the future. And if he hit a bacta treatment and

  distribution center tomorrow, people would also have to

  weigh obtaining protection from the virus against the possi-

  bility of being blown to bits.

  By choosing targets of minimal military value he could

  stir up the populace to demand the military do something. If

  the public's ire focused on one official or another, he could

  target that person, giving the public some power. He would

  let their displeasure choose his victims, just as his choices

  would give direction to their fear. Theirs would be a virulent

  and symbiotic relationship. He would be nightmare and ben-

  efactor, they would be victims and supporters. He would

  become a faceless evil they sought to direct while fearing any

  attention they drew to themselves.

  Having once been on the side attempting to stop an anti-

  government force, he could well appreciate the difficulties

  the New Republic would have in dealing with him. The fact

  that the Rebellion had never resorted to outright terrorism

  did not concern him. Their goal had been to build a new

  government; his was merely to destroy what they had cre-

  ated. He wanted things to degenerate into an anarchy that

  would prompt an outcry for leadership and authority. When

  that call went out, his mission would be accomplished and

  the Empire would return.

  He again took up the remote control and returned to the

  window. Down at the memorial he could see small pinpricks

  of color that marked passersby on their way to and from

  other places. He glanced at the holograms striding across his

  holotable and saw that none of the people were of conse-

  quence. He followed the course of one woman, allowing her

  to clear the blast radius, then pressed the button.

  A staccato series of explosions went off sequentially

  around the memorial. To the south the grandstands teetered

  forward and started to somersault their way into the depths

  of Imperial Center. A half-dozen people who had been seated

  on them fell like colorful confetti. One actually grabbed the

  edge of the platform next to the barrow and hauled himself

  up to safety, but a subsequent blast tossed him back into the

  pit from which he had narrowly escaped.

  Other explosions twisted metal and shattered transpari-

  steel windows in the surroundi
ng buildings. Grandstands

  clung to the sides of buildings like mutilated metal insects

  with bleeding, moaning people clutched in their limbs. Dust

  and smoke cleared to show the central ferrocrete ring around

  the memorial had been nibbled away, with a huge chunk of it

  dangling perilously by a reinforcement bar or two.

  Loor finally felt the blast's shockwave send a tremor

  through his tower. The hawk-bats flapped black wings to

  steady themselves, then dropped away from their perches.

  Wings snapped open, sending the creatures soaring into a

  slow spiral that would take them down to the blast site. Loor

  knew enough of them to know the hawk-bats would first

  look to see if the holes in the buildings revealed previously

  hidde n granite slugs, but when deprived of their favorite

  prey, they would settle for the gobbets of flesh left behind by

  the victims.

  "Good hunting," he wished them, "eat your fill. Before I

  am done there will be more, much more for you to consume.

  I shall let you feast on my enemies, and together, here on a

  world they call their own, we shall both thrive."


  It seemed to Wedge that the mood of the Provisional Council

  was as dark as the room in which they met and as sour as the

  scent of bacta in the air. The dimly lit chamber had once

  been part of the Senatorial apartments Mon Mothma had

  called home before the Rebellion and her role in it forced her

  to go underground. It had been redecorated in garish reds

  and purples by Imperial agents, with green and gold trim on

  everything, but the paucity of light quelled the riot of color.

  A desire to hide signs of Imperial occupation of the

  apartments was not the reason for keeping the room dim.

  Sian Tevv, the Sullustan member of the Provisional Council,

  had been exposed to the Krytos virus. While there was no

  evidence he had contracted the disease, he had undergone

  preventative bacta therapy and had some residual sensitivity

  to bright light. The Council made a concession to him by

  lowering the light, and another to the non-human members

  of the Council by circulating a light bacta mist through the

  air to prevent possible contagion. This increased humidity