Read Halt's Peril Online

Authors: John Flanagan

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Fantasy & Magic, #General

Halt's Peril

BOOK: Halt's Peril
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Star Wars

The New Jedi Order

The Apprentice

by Elaine Cunningham

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Jaina Solo adjusted the restraints on the copilot chair and leaned forward, eager for her first glimpse of Gallinore. The small Hapan freighter glided smoothly out of hyperspace, and star lines compressed into brilliant points of light - - a heautiful sight, but one that could have marked nearly any destination. Then the ship banked sharply to starboard, and a soft green haze bloomed against the darkness of space.

Mist clung to the deeply forested planet, and the slanting rays of the rising sun lent the humid atmosphere a luminous, verdant glow.

Lowbacca let out a low, poignant moan that mingled appreciation and longing.

"It does look a bit like Kashyyk," Jaina agreed, naming the Wookiees home world.

She glanced back at her companions. Lowbacca had always been thin by Wookiee standards, but their recent captivity had left him positively gaunt, and his ginger-hued fur was dull and patchy. Tenel Ka was thinner, too, and her dark green flight suit clung to her too-slender form. Her long reddish hair was carefully plaited in the many-braided fashion of a Dathomiri warrior, but with one difference: Shed swept her hair over to one side to hide the raw patch left when a Yuuzhan Vong inquisitor had yanked out one of her braids. Jaina quickly averted her eyes from this reminder of their shared ordeal. Her own scars were of a different sort.

Her gaze shifted to the man in the pilot seat. Kyp Durron could add about a dozen years to her eighteen. The long, careless waves of brown hair were threaded with silver, and faint lines collected at the corners of his green eyes - - lines that suggested easy smiles and shared laughter. Kyp had the sort of face that inspired camaraderie and confidence, and probably would have even without the added charisma of his formidable Jedi powers. One thing was certain: People followed Kyp.

Jaina intended to figure out why.

The mists of Gallinore swirled up to receive their ship. Jaina shifted impatiently in her seat. Her fingers itched for the feel of the controls, and she briskly scrubbed one hand against the leg of her flight suit as if that could erase the urge to take over. Kyp was a Jedi Master, however, and - - more importantly - - a Master whod asked Jaina to be his apprentice.

For Jaina, sitting in the copilots chair was one way of taking this notion for a test flight.

Part of her wanted to reject his offer out of hand. Kyp Durron had been a dubious figure before the war started, before he'd undertaken his rogue crusade against the Yuuzhan Vong invaders. His forays were highly controversial, and his passionate advocacy of aggressive tactics brought discord to every Jedi gathering, whether he attended or not.

But at some level, Jaina sensed that she and Kyp were already flying on the same vector.

She couldn't argue against either his philosophy or his methods.

She just wasnt sure she wanted to hand over the controls.

Kyp peered at the unbroken expanse of green rushing up toward their ship.

"The navicomputer confirms our landing coordinates, but I don't see anything down there that looks like a city."

Tenel Ka glanced up from the datapad she'd been studying throughout most of the trip.

Dimitor is difficult to see from above. The city is constructed mostly of green marble and all the streets are lined with tall trees.

Even the landing docks are paved with multicolored stone, making them indistinguishable from meadowland until you are almost upon them."

"Makes you wonder what they've got to hide," Kyp observed, slinging a quick, pointed glance at Jaina.

"Gallinore is a lawful world, closely affiliated with the government of Hapes," Tenel Ka returned gravely. Her gaze shifted to Jaina. "I'm more concerned about our purposes than theirs. We are landing shortly. Shouldn't you tell us why we've come?"

Jaina conceded with a nod. "Let me see your lightsaber."

The warrior woman frowned in puzzlement, but she removed the weapon from her belt and handed it over.

Jaina turned the unusual lightsaber over in her hand, running her thumb over the strange carvings Tenel Ka had meticulously etched into the yellowed ivory handle. A rancor's tooth," she observed. With a flick of her thumb she unleashed a stream of brilliant, turquoise light - - a strangely iridescent hue, one that, on close inspection, held dancing motes in every color of the visible spectrum,

"You used rainbow gems for the focusing crystals, right? From Gallinore?"

"Fact," Tenel Ka confirmed.

"These 'gems' are actually living creature, yet you were able to use them in a Jedi lightsaber - - just as Anakin attuned the Yuuzhan Vong's lambent crystals to his. I've read that the rainbow gems, like many of the unique life forms on this world, were bio engineered."

Understanding dawned on the warrior woman's face. "This similarity leads you to hope the scientists of Gallinore can help you understand the Trickster, " she concluded, naming the living ship that Jaina and Zekk had stolen from a Yuuzhan Vong worldship.

"Thats the plan." Jaina switched off her friend's Jedi weapon and handed it back.

They fell silent as Kyp made voice contact with the dock officials.

He passed along the authorization codes and deftly maneuvered the ship down through layers of clouds. The three younger Jedi rose immediately, leaving him to power down the controls.

The ramp unfolded, and Jaina walked down and gazed around the docks with interest.

She could see why this place was nearly invisible from above.

A stiff breeze stirred the thick, landbound clouds that filled the open docks and clung to the trees in the city beyond. Tall, swaying branches moved in and out of sight like timid forest animals. The docking bays were teaming with pilots, mechanics, and dock officials, all clad in flight suits fashioned from mottled shades of green. They, too, seemed to move in and out of the mists in random patterns. Some odd optical quirk made their movements appear nearly identical to that of the swaying foliage.

Even so, workers immediately converged on any newly landed ship, using stout little hover sleds to maneuver it into a docking bay covered by a tall, camouflaged canopy. It was hard to believe that Gallinore's sun could burn off the sheltering morning clouds before reaching its zenith. Jaina squinted up at the brightest patch of fog, noting the sun's position with dismay. She'd have to work fast.

"The customs building," Tenel Ka said, nodding toward a low, green structure. 'City offi-cials will be expecting us there." She set her shoulders back, in the manner of a warrior preparing to do battle, and set off at a brisk pace.

A fleeting grin touched Jainas lips as she imagined the 'diplomatic meeting' that would follow. Tenel Ka was a princess of Hapes, the dominate world in the Hapes Cluster, but she was here as a warrior to exhort others to prepare for the coming conflict. At Jaina's suggestion, all of the visiting Jedi except Lowbacca were dressed in green flight suits identical to those worn by the Gallinorians. She'd suggested this as a means of honoring local custom, of creating an impression of unity.

Tenel Ka had been pleased with this notion, and she did-nt ask if Jaina had had other reasons for wanting to blend in.

Kyp came down the ramp and checked the hatch leading into the cargo hold. Tenel Ka glanced over at the older Jedi. Although the expression on her face did not change or her pace alter, disapproval rolled off her in waves.

Jaina stepped into the Dathomiri warriors path and faced her down. "All right, let's have it."

Tenel Ka stopped and regarded Jaina with a cool, gray-eyed stare.

"I understand your desire to learn from Gallinore's scientists. But why is Kyp Durron with us? Surely you're not considering his offer of apprenticeship."

"Maybe I should. Kyp is an exceptionally powerful Jedi." Jaina pausea for a brief, humorless smile. "He'd have to be. The only reason hes still alive is that people who mattered believed that his talent overbalanced his past crimes."

Tenel Ka lifted one red-gold brow. "It is not like you to be cynical."

"Practical," Jaina corrected. "Kyp Durron knows things I don't. I could learn from him."

"Fact. Thats what concerns me."

Jaina blew out a frustrated sigh and put down her best card - - an endorsement powerful enough to clinch arguments and bring conversations to a dead stop. "Master Luke trusts him."

"Do you?' Tenel Ka shot back. "Can you. after what he did at Sernpiaal?"

The blunt reminder hit Jaina like a punch to the gut. Not long ago, Kyp had used the Force to convince Jaina that enemy shipyards hidden among the fragments of the dead world Sernpidal were building super weapons. Kyp had manipulated her, using the Solo name and Jainas personal reputation as a Rogue Squadron pilot to convince New Republic forces to join ui the attack. That deception still stung, as did the knowledge that Rogue Squadron, largely at her instigation, had attacked a civilian target.

She tried to dismiss all this with an impatient shrug. "The mission was a success. The destruction of the Vong's new worldship strengthened the Republic position."

"Perhaps," Tenel Ka allowed. "Yet I wonder if your willingness to attack Sernpidal had as much to do with vengeance as tactics."

A Wookiee howl of protest preempted Jaina's retort. Lowbacca stepped up to Jaina's side, his long arms folded over his chest and his black eyes narrowed. He whuffed out a few curt, indignant phrases. Some of the nuances of the Wookiee language might have escaped Tenel Ka, but his meaning was clear enough to bring a faint flush to her cheeks.

She inclined her head. "I apologize, my friend. I meant no disrespect to your uncle Chewbacca's honor, or to the life debt you assumed in his name. His sacrifice on Sernpidal would indeed be diminished by vengeance." The look she sent at Jaina was pointed, but not as sharp as it might otherwise have been.

Kyp strode over to the trio. His gaze slid over them, lingering on Lowbaccas defensive stance. "What did I miss?"

"We're just getting ready to split up," Jaina said, mindful of the possible double meaning her words held-- and certain that Kyp would pick up on the nuance. "Tenel Ka has some sort of diplomatic meeting to attend, and Lowie and I will go to the research center."

"I see. I'll stay with the ship and keep an eye on things."

"That should not be necessary," Tenel Ka observed. "Dimitor is a lawful city."

"All the more reason I should stay here," Kyp said in a dry tone. A glint entered his eyes and he turned his most charming smile on Tenel Ka.

"Or perhaps I misunderstood. Were you inviting me to join you?"

The warriors eyes widened, and for a moment her formidable composure faltered.

Before she could formulate a suitably tactful refusal, Kyp sent her a mocking wink and then strode off toward their ship.

Jaina lifted a hand to her lips to conceal a smirk. Of course the Jedi Master had sensed the discord between the two young women, and he'd enacted this small, teasing vengeance on Jaina's behalf. His support amused and warmed her, even though she recognized the manipulation that prompted it. For whatever reason, Kyp wanted to take over her training.

She intended to see just how far he'd go to meet this particular objective.

She waited until Tenel Ka left with a pair of city officials, then she turned grateful eyes to her genuine supporter. Lowbacca acted as a buffer between Jaina and her other friends.

Tenel Ka was not the only young Jedi who followed Jaina but did not entirely trust her. No one questioned the Wookiee's integrity, however, and his continued support of Jaina helped mitigate their concerns.

"I don't know what I'd do without you," she said sincerely.

Lowbacca's brief, disgruntled response brought a grin to Jaina's face. "If EmTeecee was still around, he'd probably translate that as

'Master Lowbacca respectfully suggests that without his intervention, you might inadvertently enter targeting coordinates that focus your weapons upon vital portions of your own anatomy. 111 bet you really miss that little droid."

The Wookiee let out an unmistakably derisive chuff.

Jaina tucked her arm through his.

"Me either," she agreed.

Jaina and Lowbacca wove through the mist-laden maze of green marble buildings to the sprawling research district. A letter from Ta'a Chume, Tenel Kas grandmother and the former Queen Mother of Hapes, earned them full cooperation and unquestioned access to the facility. Within moments, Lowbacca was seated before a terminal, his furry digits flying as he sifted through computerized records of the Gallinore research, searching for anything that might provide a link between a technology that he and Jaina could understand, and the secrets of the Trickster, their stolen Vong ship.

But apparently even Ta'a Chumes influence was not enough to grant them unsupervised access to this information. A dark-haired young woman wearing a technician's white tunic and a perpetually worried expression stayed nearby to "help" them. Jaina waited until the tech's comlink beeped, then bent over and rested her chin on the Wookiees shoulders.

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