29 years before ANH


October 2000


The Force is strong in 12 year old Anakin Skywalker, so strong that the Jedi Council, despite misgivings, entrusted the young Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi with the mission of training him to become a Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan--like his slain master, Qui-Gon--believes Anakin may be the chosen one, the Jedi destined to bring balance to the force. But first Obi-Wan must help his undisciplined, idealistic apprentice, who still bears the scars of slavery, find his own balance...Dispatched to the mysterious planet of Zonama Sekot, source of the fastest ships in the galaxy, Obi-Wan and Anakin are swept up in a swirl of deadly intrigue and betrayal. For there are others who covet the power such superfast ships could bring. Raith Sienar, a brilliant but unscrupulous weapons and ship designer, has the brains to decipher the Zonama Sekot ship design. Commander Wilhuff Tarkin has at his disposal the forces of the mighty Trade Federation with which to extract the secret. Together, they make a formidable foe, one a small and undeveloped planet can hardly hope to stand against...But as Tarkin's fleet strikes with all its brutal power, Obi-Wan and Anakin sense a disturbance in the Force unlike any they have enountered before. It seems there are more secrets on Zonama Sekot than meet the eye...The search for those secrets will threaten the bond between Obi-Wan and Anakin--and bring the troubled young apprentice face to face with his deepest fears--and his darkest destiny…


Inside the trasparisteel-walled design room, closed to all but Sienar and his special guests, Tarkin sat in a comfortable chair of inflatable plastic, one of Sienar's design. Next to him a large dark gray holographic table hummed faintly. Sienar dropped black security curtains all around the lighted center. The men were absorbed by an eerie silence.

Tarkin tried to speak, but no sound could be heard. Sienar handed him a small, nut-sized silver vocoder connected by a flexible wire to a beautifully machined plasteel mouthpiece. He showed Tarkin how to insert the button into his ear and allow the moth piece to float just in front of his lips.

Now they could hear each other.

"I do small favors for certain people," Tarkin said. "I once balanced these favors between opposing sides. Lately, my efforts have become a bit more lopsided. Balance is no longer necessary."

Sienar stood before his old friend and listened intently. His tall, cleanly muscled body seemed to reject repose.

"Some of these people have an appreciation for fingers--not tentacles, my friend, not palps, but human fingers--reaching into a great many stellar soup bowls, testing the temperature to see if they are ready for the eating."

"Why the concern that they be human?"

"Humans are the future, Raith."

"Some of my best designers are not even remotely human."

"Yes, and we employ nonhumans wherever they are useful, for now. But mark my words, Raith. Humans are the future."

Raith noted the tension in Tarkin's voice. "So marked."

"Now listen closely. I'm going to tell you a tale of intrigue, wonderfully ornate, yet at its heart very simple. It involves a kind of spacecraft rare and little-seen, very expensive, of unknown manufacture, supposedly a toy for the wealthy. It may ultimately lead to a lost planet covered by a peculiar kind of forest, very mysterious. And it may soon involve the Jedi."

Sienar smiled in delight. "I adore stories about the Jedi. I'm quite the fan, you know."

"I myself am intrigued by them," Tarkin said with a smile. "One of my assignments--I will not tell you who does the assigning and how much they pay--is to keep track of all the Jedi on Coruscant. Keep track of them--and discourage any increase in their power."

Sienar lifted an eyebrow. "The Jedi support the senate, Tarkin."

Tarkin dismissed this with a wave. "There is a youngster among the Jedi with a curiosity for droids and all sorts of machinery, a junk collector, though with some talent, I understand. I have placed a small, very expensive, very broken droid in the way of this youngster, and he has taken it into the Jedi Temple and made it mobile again, as I suspected he would . And it has been listening to some curious private conferences."

Sienar listened with growing interest, but also growing puzzlement. The Jedi had not once, in his lifetime of designing and constructing fine ships and machines, ever shown an interest in contracting for spacecraft. They had always seemed content to hitch rides. As far as Sienar was concerned, for all their gallantry and discipline, the Jedi were technological ignoramuses--but for their lightsabers, of course. Yes, those were of interest...

"Please pay attention, Raith." Tarkin jerked him out of his reverie. "I'm getting to the good part."

Half an hour later, Sienar replaced the security vocoders in their box and lifted the curtains. He was pale, and his hands shook slightly. He tried to hide his anger.

Tarkin's moving in on what could have been mine!

But he quelled his chagrin. The secret was out. The rules had changed.

Absently, and to create a distraction from his reaction to Tarkin's story, he switched on the hologram display, and millions of tiny curves and lines assembled in the air over the dark gray table. They formed a slowly rotating sphere with a wide slice removed from the side. Two smaller spheres appeared above and below the poles, linked by thick necks bristling with spiky details.

With a contentedly prim expression, Tarkin turned to the hologram. His thin, cruel lips pressed tightly together, revealing thousands of years of aristocratic breeding. He bent over to examine the scale bars, and his eyebrow lifted.

Sienar was pleased by his reaction.

"Impossibly huge," Tarkin commented dryly. "A schoolboy fancy?"

"Not at all," Sienar said. "Quite doable, though expensive."

"You've piqued my curiosity," Tarkin said. "What is it?"

"One of my show projects, to impress those few contractors with a taste for the grandiose," Sienar said. "Tarkin, why have these...people...chosen me?"

"You haven't forgotten you're human?"

"That couldn't be their main criteria."

"You'd be surprised, Raith. But no, likely at this stage it is no crucial. It's your position and your intelligence. It's your engineering expertise, far greater than my own, though, dear friend, I do exceed you in military skills. And, of course, I do have some influence. Stick with me, and you'll go places. Fascinating places."

Tarkin could not take his eyes off the slowly rotating sphere, with its massive core-powered turbolaser now revealed. "Ah." He smiled. " Always a weapon. Have you shown this to anybody?"

Sienar shook his head sadly. He could see the enticement was working. "The Trade Federation knows precisely what it needs and shows no interest in anything else. A deplorable lack of imagination."

"Explain it to me."

"It's a dream, but an achievable dream, given certain advances in hypermatter technology. An implosion core with a plasma about a kilometer in diameter could power an artificial construct the size of a small moon. A couple of large ice asteroids for fuel...common enough still in the outer fringe systems..."

"A small crew could police an entire system with one vessel," Tarkin mused.

"Well, not so small a crew, but one vessel, certainly." Sienar walked around the display and made large, vaguely designing sweeps of his hands. "I'm considering removing the extraneous spheres, sticking with one large ball, ninety or a hundred kilometers in diameter. A more wieldy design for transport."

Tarkin smiled proudly. "I knew I picked the right man for this job, Raith." He admired the design with brows tightly knit. "What a sense of scale! What unutterable power!"

"I'm not sure I have any free time, " Sienar said with a frown.

"Despite my lack of connections, I still manage to keep very busy."

Tarkin waved his hand dismissively. "Forget these shadows of a past life and focus on the future. What a future it will be, Raith, if you satisfy the right people!"