Ben stood watching an old Bothan limp back and forth across the grimy floor of the undercity industrial hangar. The Bothan was addressing three brigades of elite space marines--a few faces among them ones that Petra had been looking for, not that Ben coud pick them out among the thousands--explaining why he had asked them to volunteer for a mission to overthrow the Galactic Alliance’s current Chief of State, Roki Kem. Their shoulder patches represented units from a hundred different vessels stationed near Coruscant, and they all had at least two things in common: they had all served aboard a ship personally commanded by Admiral Nek Bwua’tu, and when he had commed to ask them to help him save the Galactic Alliance, they had all answered with an unwavering yes.
“… the enemy has retreated into the Jedi Temple with seventy-five percent of its forces.” The admiral’s words seemed to reverberate from every corner of the hangar as a small mike in his tunic collar relayed his voice to a network of speakers spaced throughout the formation. “This withdrawal is certainly a trap, designed to lure our Jedi friends into an ambush against a superior Sith force …”
Luke turned to another Bothan standing at his side, Admiral Bwua’tu’s dapper uncle, Eramuth. “To tell the truth, Counselor, I’m not sure why you waited for the Jedi to return,” he said quietly. “Club Bwua’tu seems to have the war well in hand without us.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t figured that out by now, Master Skywalker,” Eramuth replied, maintaining a straight face. “We needed the cannon fodder.”
“Cannon fodder?” Luke echoed, almost taking the old Bothan seriously. “You couldn’t have hired Mandalorians?”
The Bothan shook his gray-furred head. “Of course,” he said. “But they didn’t manage very well the last time they tried to storm the Temple.”
“I see,” Luke said. “It’s nice to know you have more faith in the Jedi Order.”
“There’s that.” A crooked smile snaked along Eramuth’s muzzle, then he added, “And you do work for free.”
Luke activated the mike on his own collar and stepped to the admiral’s side. “First, I want to thank you all for volunteering for this mission. As Admiral Bwua’tu has explained, it’s not just the Jedi Temple we are liberating. The Lost Tribe of the Sith has infiltrated every level of the Galactic Alliance government, and our victory today will prevent them from achieving their goal of dominion over the entire galaxy. Your objective is to draw the Sith forces to the Temple’s outer shell. Once you have succeeded, I will be able to deactivate the Temple shields and open the blast doors from a central location. When that occurs, Admiral Bwua’tu expects the Sith to stand their ground and continue fighting. Assuming he’s correct, the Jedi will launch a series of attacks from the Temple interior, driving the enemy out onto the Temple exterior, where they will be exposed to fire from your assault carriers’ heavy weapons.”
Sensing a tide of uncertainty rising inside the minds of the veteran soldiers, Luke opened his palm and motioned for patience, acknowledging their questions before the first one could be asked. “If they don’t do as the admiral anticipates—”
Ben watched as a hand was raised among the crowd. Luke turned to him. “Yes?”
“How certain are you that you’ll be able to bring the shields down and open those blast doors?” a familiar voice that Ben couldn't quite place asked.
“Not as certain as I’d like to be,” Luke admitted. “But if the first attempt fails, we’ll keep trying.”
“Until?” The voice didn't sound especially pleased by this plan.
Luke grew somber. “Until we can’t anymore,” he said. “And if that happens, there’ll be a baradium strike.”
“After I call off the Temple assault, of course,” Bwua’tu clarified. “If I order a withdrawal, waste no time before obeying. We won’t be giving the enemy time to escape, so the missiles will be on the way as I speak.” The hangar reverberated with the crump of thousands of boot heels cracking together, and Bwua’tu nodded in satisfaction.
“Good.” The admiral turned to Luke, then said, “I think we’re ready to assign the liaisons.”
Luke began assigning Jedi Knights to the various batallions, skipping over Bazel Warv. Ben noticed immediately how Bazel's ears slumped in disappointment, and he moved closer to see what was going on, not realizing that Vestara was following him as well.
“Did I do something wrong, Master Skywalker?” Bazel asked in his gravelly voice. “I just want to—”
“You did nothing wrong.” Luke reached up and placed a hand on one of Bazel’s huge biceps. “But I’ve received a message from the Solos. They’re on their way here to see you. They need you to do something for Amelia."
“It must have something to do with the secret.”
Ben's heart rose into his throat. “Amelia’s secret?” he saw his father ask. “How did you find—”
“The other secret, Master Skywalker!” Bazel interrupted, shaking his big head from side to side. “Not her name!”
Luke looked as stunned as Ben felt. Bazel’s voice grew soft and he stared past Ben, straight at Vestara. “Master Skywalker, I can’t tell you right now.”
Ben watched the appraising look on Vestara's face and realized she'd heard everything. He was going to have to watch her very
carefully. If she took the information of who Amelia--Allana--was back to the Sith who seemed downright obsessed with the idea of a prophesized Jedi Queen...
No. Ben'd had far too many relatives die young. If it came down to a choice between Allana and Vestara, there was no choice at all.( But first a call from Ender! )( It's a Troy Denning book. Cue the battle sequence! Warning for gross injuries of people you know. )