The starliner swung into orbit around the planet Coruscant, and beyond the observation bubble appeared the glittering expanse of a billion golden lights. Through a thousand centuries of strife, those lights had continued to shine. Nothing had dimmed their brilliance— not the Rakatan enslavement, not the tyranny of the Empire, not the chaos of civil war. And they continued to shine now, in this new age of creeping shadow, when enemy impostors ruled the Galactic Alliance and Sith Lords slept in the Jedi Temple itself. But all those gleaming lights made Jaina Solo wonder whether Coruscant’s trillion residents actually cared who won the coming war—whether it mattered that they were living under Sith rule, so long as those billion lights continued to shine.
The answer came to her almost instantly, in the form of a dark tinge in the Force that could only mean Sith. Jaina shifted her gaze to the interior of the starliner, where a teeming mass of passengers hung floating in their transit harnesses, tethered to the walls of the EconoClass hold. Floating down the central access aisle was a Coruscanti Immigration inspector, his zero-g motility pack emitting small hisses as he twirled in slow-motion cartwheels, demanding identichips and ten- credit “expediting fees.” Behind him followed a pair of Bothan escorts, their snouts wrinkling in disdain each time their superior solicited another bribe.
Jaina would have liked to believe the inspector was merely a greedy Sith Saber trying to line his pockets, but she knew better. Vestara Khai, newly defected from the Lost Tribe of Sith, had warned the assault teams to take nothing for granted. In her briefings, Vestara had emphasized that the Sith were not stupid. After insinuating themselves in the Galactic Alliance Senate, they would have moved quickly to take control of the Coruscanti Immigration Service and other key bureaucracies. They would expect the Jedi to be coming, and they would be on the lookout for infiltrators—and petty extortion was an ideal cover for someone trying to identify enemy agents.
The inspector stopped near a pair of human siblings in their late twenties. Both were slender and good-looking, with wary eyes and small expressive mouths. The sister’s hair was reddish brown, the brother’s merely brown. Their fierce loyalty to each other showed in the way they remained shoulder-to-shoulder when they turned to face the immigration team.
The inspector oriented himself to the same attitude as the siblings— head-down relative to Jaina—and studied the pair without speaking or reaching for their travel documents. The unexpected change of routine sent a cold ripple through Jaina, but she quickly let out a calming breath and forced herself to relax. Allowing her alarm to permeate the Force would only confirm to the inspector that he had found some- thing worth investigating.
The siblings, Jedi Knights Valin and Jysella Horn, continued to hold their documents, doing a good job of looking like ordinary passengers who were a little bit nervous. The inspector narrowed his eyes and waited, giving them a chance to betray themselves by doing some- thing foolish. Jaina would probably never learn exactly what had caught the Sith’s attention, but she did know that it pointed to the one weakness of the Jedi Masters’ attack plan. These Sith were both careful and capable, and they outnumbered the Jedi ten to one.
Finally, the inspector said, “Documents.”
Valin and Jysella extended their hands, each holding a small packet containing a fare receipt, a forged identichip, and the expediting fee. The inspector took Jysella’s packet, then slid her chip into a handheld reader and compared it with the point of origin listed on the fare receipt.
“You were born on Kalla Seven?” the inspector asked. “That’s right,” Jysella lied. “My brother and I both.”
The inspector glanced at Valin, then asked him, “Is this a family trip?”
Valin shook his head. “No, my sister and I are traveling alone.”
“Is that so?” The questions were the mundane sort that customs officers all over the galaxy used to probe for story discrepancies. But the real test would be taking place on another level, Jaina knew, with the inspector searching their Force auras for the sour hint of a lie. “Then you’ve come to visit family?”
“No,” Jysella replied confidently. Like every Jedi on the assault
force, she had spent weeks perfecting her ability to lie without betraying herself in the Force. “We’re tourists.”
“I see.” The inspector glanced at her fare receipt again, then spoke to Valin in a casual voice. “Four thousand credits is a lot of money to visit a few monuments and museums. You should have used the HoloNet instead.”
“And spend our lives stuck in lower management?” Valin retorted. “I think not.”
“If you haven’t been to Coruscant,” Jysella added, “you go nowhere
“UHI?” the inspector asked.
“Unlimited Horizons Incorporated,” she explained, managing to sound just astonished enough to imply that she thought everyone knew what the acronym stood for. “You know—the UHI that controls most of the pallodenite reserves in the Corporate Sector?”
“Ah . . . that UHI.” The inspector had clearly been put off balance by the tactic—just as Vestara had predicted. The Lost Tribe’s greatest weakness lay in their inexperience with the greater galaxy. Vestara had said that the quickest way to put a Lost Tribe impostor on the defensive would be to play on that ignorance. “There are so many.” When the inspector pocketed the bribe and returned Jysella’s documents, Jaina finally began to breathe easier. She turned her gaze back to the observation bubble and saw that the Plain Lady was crossing the terminator line into Coruscant’s daylight side. It would not be long now, she knew, before she was on the surface, fighting to save her homeworld . . . again.
Bazel Warv was “Jade Masher,” a celebrated Ramoan float wrestler. Seff Hellin was his human manager, and Vaala Razelle was Seff ’s Arcona assistant. The three had just arrived from a series of grudge matches in the Bothan system, and they were passing through the Galactic Center Spaceport on their way to a championship match at the Iblis Globe. All Bazel had to do was remember all that—and believe it. Belief was the key to defeating a Force-user’s ability to detect lies. As long as Bazel truly felt like Jade Masher—the newest, greatest rising star in the Pan-Galactic Float Wrestling Syndicate—he would have no trouble fooling Coruscant’s new immigration inspectors. His friend Yaqeel Saav’etu had assured him of that.
Bazel glanced across the sea of heads that were in Arrival Lobby
757 and found Yaqeel three lines over. She was already at her inspection station, standing alongside another Bothan Jedi, Yantahar Bwua’tu. Wearing the ash-gray tabards of businessbeings, the two Jedi Knights were at the front of a long line of passengers waiting to be formally admitted onto a planet that had once greeted visitors with open arms. So far, the Coruscanti populace seemed willing to believe that these new precautions were due to an influx of spice lords, and Bazel was glad. There was no need for the citizens of Coruscant to get hurt—not when the Jedi were coming to save them.
But first the Jedi had to get past the inspection stations, and that part of the plan wasn’t going well for Yaqeel and Yantahar. Their Duros immigration inspector had been joined by his captain, a narrow-eyed blond whom Bazel judged to be fairly beautiful for a human. She was firing questions at the Bothans faster than they could answer. Meanwhile, a squad of body-armored Galactic Alliance Security guards were standing ready at a nearby security post. Clearly, something was wrong.
Bazel cocked an ear in Yaqeel’s direction, consciously tuning out the general din of the lobby and opening himself to the Force. A cool haze of fear permeated the line a few meters behind him, but he had been sensing that off and on since debarking the starliner. There did not seem to be anything menacing in the aura, so he ignored it and focused on the conversation between his friends and the blond immigration captain. His thick hide began to prickle with the bitter margin of a dark side Force aura. Suddenly he understood why his Bothan friends were having trouble.
Ignoring the growing press of the crowd behind him, Bazel ex- tended his Force awareness toward the security post. To his relief, he felt only the weak auras of non-Force-sensitive guards. The immigration captain was the only Sith in the area—probably just a Saber, as- signed to keep watch on the arrival lobby.
“. . . all the way to Coruscant to place an order you could have filled anywhere in the galaxy?” the impostor-captain was asking. “United Hydrologic Institute is hardly the only Tibanna gas supplier in the Mid Rim.”
“But it is the only one with access to Hutt space,” Yantahar replied in his gravelly Bothan voice. “And since Nar Kagga will be the closest inhabited system to our operation, naturally we want to be certain of our supply chain.”
“And your operation will be . . . what, exactly?” the blond impostor asked.
“A trade secret, I’m afraid.” Yaqeel glanced around the inspection
station, then added, “There are spies everywhere, Captain. I’m sure you understand.”
The Sith’s reply grew inaudible when Bazel’s human “manager...