NJO - Book 6
26 years after ANH
Poisoned by centuries of technological excess, the planet Duro is an unlivable hell, long abandoned by its own inhabitants, who dwell above their polluted world in orbital habitats. But there is no place else to channel the flood of refugees fleeing the murderous Yuuzhan Vong. So a deal is struck: In exchange for a new home, the refugees will work to restore the planet to health, under the watchful eye of Leia Organa Solo. As tempers begin to flare between the Duros and the New Republic, and between groups of refugees, Han Solo, his son Jacen, and the Ryn called Droma arrive to keep the peace. They are unaware that Leia is on Duro ... and that Luke, Mara, and Anakin are on their way, searching for a missing Jedi apprentice. And none realize that the Yuuzhan Vong have chosen this embattled planet as the next target in their brutal coreward thrust. The unrest only strengthens Jacen Solo's growing belief that a true Jedi should not fight but should lead others to peace through a deeper understanding of the Force. Now, as the fragile stability on Duro threatens to collapse into violence, Jacen Solo must face his greatest dilemma: At what point does the use of power become aggression? Whatever he decides, his next step could tip the galaxy's destiny toward the light or toward darkness--with the life of someone he loves hanging in the balance. . . .
Joined through the Force even before they were born, he and Jaina had always been able to tell when the other was hurt or afraid. But for him to sense her over the distances that lay between them now, she must've been terribly--
The pain winked off.
"Jaina!" he whispered, apalled. "No!"
He stretched out toward her, trying to find her again. Barely away of fuzzy shapes clustering around him, and a Ryn voice hooting for a medical droid, he felt as if he were shrinking--falling backwards into vacuum. He tried focusing deep inside and outside himself, to grab on to the Force and punch out--or slip into a healing trance. Could he take Jaina with him, if he did? Uncle Luke had taught him a dozen focusing techniques, back at the academy, and since then.
A voice seemed to echo in his mind, but it wasn't Jaina's. It was deep, male--vaguely like his uncle's.
Making an effort, Jacen imagined his uncle's face, trying to focus on that echo. An enormous white vortex seemed to spin around him. It pulled at him, drawing him toward its dazzling center.
What was going on?
Then he saw his uncle, robed in pure white, half turned away. Luke Skywalker held his shimmering lightsaber in a diagonal stance, hands at hip level, point high.
Jaina! Jacen shouted the words in his mind. Uncle Luke, Jaina's been hurt!
Then he saw what held his uncle's attention. In the dim distance, but clearly in focus, a second form straightened and darkened. Tall, humanoid, powerfully built, it had a face and chest covered with sinuous scars and tatoos above the waist. Its hips and legs were encased in rust-brown armor. Claws protruded from its heels and knuckles, and an ebony cloak flowed from its shoulders. The alien held a coal-black, snake-headed amphistaff across its body, mirroring the angle of Luke's lightsaber, pitting poisonous darkness against verdant light.
Utterly confused, Jacen stretched out through the Force. First he sensed the figure in white as a respected uncle--then abruptly as a powerful depth, blazing in the Force like a star gone nova. But across this slowly spinning disk, where Jacen's inner vision presented a Yuuzhan Vong warrior, his Force sense picked up nothing at all. Through the Force, all Yuuzhan Vong did seem utterly lifeless, like the technology they vilified.
The alien swung its amphistaff. The Jedi Master's lightsaber blazed, swept down, and blocked the swing, brightening until it washed out almost everything else in this vision. The Yuuzhan Vong's amphistaff seemed darker than any absence of light, a darkness that seemed alive but promised death.
The broad, spinning disk on which they both stood finally slowed. It focused into billions of stars. Jacen picked out the familiar map of known space.
Luke dropped into a fighting stance, poised near the galaxy's center, the Deep Core. He raised his lightsaber and held it high, near his right shoulder, pointing inward. From three points of darkness, beyond the Rim, tatooed assailants advanced.
More of them? Jacen realized this was a vision, not a battle unfolding in front of him, with little to do with his twin sister.
Or maybe everything to do with her! Did these new invaders symbolize other invasion forces, more worldships--besides the ones that were already beating back everything the New Republic could throw at them? Reaching out to Jaina, maybe he had trapped the Force itself--or maybe it broke through to him.
The galaxy seemed to teeter, poised between the light and darkness. Luke stood close to the center, counterweighing the dark invaders.
But as their numbers increased, the balance tipped.
Uncle Luke, Jacen shouted. What should I do?
Luke turned away from the advancing Yuuzhan Vong. Looking to Jacen with somber intensity, he tossed his lightsaber. It flew in a low, humming arc, trailing pale green sparks onto the galactic plane.
Eyeing the advancing horde, Jacen felt another enemy try to seize him: anger, from deep in his heart. Fear and fury focused his strength. If he could, he was utterly destroy the Yuuzhan Vong and all they stood for! He opened a hand, outstreched his arm . . .
The Jedi weapon sailed past him. As anger released him, fear took a tighter hold. Jacen flailed, leapt, tried stretching out with the Force. Luke's lightsaber sailed on, shrinking and dimming with distance.
Now the galaxy tipped more quickly. A dark, deadly tempest gathered around the Yuuzhan Vong warriors. Disarmed, Luke stretched out both hands. First he, then his enemies, swelled to impossible sizes. Instead of human and alien figures, now Jacen saw light and darkness as entirely separate forces. Even the light terrified him in its grandeur and majesty. The galaxy seemed poised to plunge toward evil, but Jacen couldn't help staring at the fearful light, spellbound, burning his retinas.
A Jedi knows no fear . . . He's heard that a thousand times, but this sensation was no cowardly urge to run. This was awe, it was reverence--a passionate longing to draw nearer. To serve the light and transmit its grandeur.
But compared to the forces battling around him, he was only a tiny point. Helpless and unarmed, besides--because of one moment's dark anger. Had that misstep doomed him? Not just him, but the galaxy?
A voice like Luke's, but deeper, shook the heavens. Jacen, it boomed. Stand firm.
The horizon tilted farther. Jacen lunged forward, determined to lend his small weight to Luke's side, to the light.
He misstepped. He flailed for Luke's hand, but missed again. And again, his weight fell slightly--by centimeters--toward the dark enemies.
Luke siezed his hand and held tightly. Hang on, Jacen! The slope steepened under their feet. Stars extinguished. The Yuuzhan Vong warriors scrambled forward. Whole star clusters winked out, a dark cascade under clawed enemy feet.
Plainly, the strength of a hundred-odd Jedi couldn't keep the galaxy from falling to this menace. One misstep--at one critical moment, by one pivotal person--could doom everyone they'd sworn to protect. No military force could stop this invasion, because it was a spiritual battle. And if one pivotal person fell to the dark side--or even used the ravishing, terrifying power of light in the wrong way--then this time, everything they knew might slide into stifling darkness.
Is that it? he cried toward the infinite distance.
Again, Jacen perceived the words in a voice that was utterly familiar but too deep to be Luke's. Stand firm, Jacen.
One of the Yuuzhan Vong leapt toward him. Jacen gasped and flung out both arms--