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Tales from the New Republic: Star Wars Legends Mass Market Paperback – December 1, 1999
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
by Timothy Zahn
Senator Bel Iblis?”
Garm Bel Iblis looked up from his datapad, frowning with the subtle tension of prespeech jitters. The man standing in the doorway was the assistant director at the Treitamma Political Center, charged with the responsibility of smoothing any obstacles that might impede the firm step and stalwart tread of an exalted member of the Imperial Senate.
Or so the gentleman had gravely explained upon Bel Iblis’s arrival this afternoon. Clearly the Anchoron reputation for flowery speech and genteel decorum had found a focal point here at the Treitamma.
Which was going to make the bluntness of his speech tonight all the more shocking. The dark truth about Emperor Palpatine and his secret agenda for his newly established Empire …
He shook his head briefly in annoyance. Assistant Director Graskt was still waiting patiently, and here he was letting his mind drift. It showed just how seriously this speech—and the situation it represented—had taken over his every waking thought. “Yes, AsDir Graskt, what is it?” he asked.
“A gentleman from your staff has just arrived from Coruscant,” Graskt said, stepping forward and holding out a datacard. “He asked me to deliver this to you right away.”
“Thank you,” Bel Iblis said, the hairs on the back of his neck tingling as he reached across the desk and took the datacard. Sena would never send a package to him without making sure the courier had his private comlink frequency. The fact that there had been no calls concerning any such arrivals …
He slid the datacard into his datapad. There was nothing on it but a single line: “Meet me at the northeast exit. Urgent. Aach.”
“Will there be a return message, Senator?” Graskt asked.
“No, that’s all right,” Bel Iblis said, long experience in the political arena enabling him to keep the sudden tension out of his voice and face. Aach was the code name of a special messenger from Bail Organa, a messenger the Alderaanian viceroy used only for top-level Rebel Alliance business.
“Would you like to speak with the gentleman?” Graskt persisted. “I asked him to wait at the main entrance.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Bel Iblis said. The last thing he could afford was for the two of them to be seen in public together. Besides, Aach had undoubtedly slipped away by now for their more private meeting. “I’ll have plenty of time to see him after my speech.”
“Then the message does not in fact bespeak a crisis?” Graskt asked.
Bel Iblis felt the skin around his eyes crinkle as his eyes narrowed slightly. For someone who had struck him as having taken a double helping of the traditional Anchoroni politeness, Graskt was suddenly being uncharacteristically nosy.
Unless Aach had overplayed his hand in order to make sure the datacard was delivered. But that didn’t seem likely. Could Graskt be a spy for Palpatine, here to keep an eye on him?
He felt a flash of annoyance. No—that was absurd. The man was probably just trying to be helpful. “To middle-level staffers, all news bulletins mean a crisis must be happening somewhere,” he improvised, giving Graskt an easy smile. “It’s important enough, but hardly a crisis. Certainly not worth delaying my speech for.” He looked at his chrono. “Which reminds me, I’m due on stage in fifteen minutes, and I still have to change.”
“I’ll leave you to your preparations, then,” Graskt said. “Good evening, sir.” He bowed deeply and backed out of the room.
Bel Iblis gave him a fifty-count and then followed.
The Treitamma’s northeast exit was off the group of backstage rooms to the left of the main stage, about as far away from the bustling main entrance as it was possible to get. Bel Iblis eased noiselessly down the stairway, alert for the various staffers hurrying around making final preparations for the evening’s round of speeches, and slipped outside.
A landspeeder was parked in the service alleyway behind the Treitamma, gray and muted in the dim evening light. Standing on the far side of the vehicle, pressed into what little shadow there was trying to watch all directions at once, was Aach.
Bel Iblis crossed the alleyway toward him, trying to suppress a grimace and not entirely succeeding. This cloak-and-blade mentality was going to be the end of them yet. “Not being too obvious, are we?” he suggested tartly as he rounded the front of the landspeeder and stopped, facing the other.
“Your preparation room seemed a bit too public for a meeting,” Aach countered, his voice as calm as his face. “Would you rather I showed up at your hotel room after the speech? That could have proved a bit awkward.”
Bel Iblis felt his lip twitch. Awkward, unfortunately, was hardly the word for it. His wife Arrianya, a daughter of the old Core World families, had an unreserved and totally unwavering faith in Palpatine and his Empire, a faith that had first astonished, then baffled, then finally frustrated him. The clash of their differing political views had cast a chill over their marriage the past few months, and had dropped their two children into the middle of what was all too often a verbal war zone.
The speech he was about to make out there on the Treitamma stage was going to upset Arrianya enough as it was. All he needed was for a shadowy messenger from Bail to show up in the middle of the inevitable argument afterward. “What’s the message?” he growled.
In the dim light he saw Aach’s mouth twitch. “Sorry, Senator. I didn’t mean—”
“I know you didn’t,” Bel Iblis said. “What’s the message?”
Aach looked around the area again. “There’s been a breakthrough,” he said, lowering his voice to something barely above a whisper. “We’ve located Tarkin’s project.”
Bel Iblis felt his throat go suddenly dry. “Where is it?”
“I don’t know,” Aach said. “All I know is that a courier will be in the Continuum Void tapcafe in the city of Xakrea on Darkknell in three days with some inside information about it. Bail wants you to send your most trusted aide to rendezvous with him and pick up his datapack.”
Courier. Bel Iblis glanced around, a bad taste in his mouth. A three would get you the sabacc pot that this so-called “courier” was in fact the thief who’d stolen the datapack in the first place. A minor military figure, most likely, either a trooper or perhaps a clerk attached to the project.
And two would get you the sabacc pot that his actions hadn’t been motivated by anything as selfless as love of the Republic. “And how much am I supposed to pay him?”
Aach hesitated, just noticeably. “Bail basically said to give him whatever he wants. Look, we need this information—”
“Yes, yes, I understand,” Bel Iblis cut him off. “If we can’t get honest patriotism, we’ll settle for honest greed.”
“That’ll change,” Aach promised, a quiet fire simmering in his voice. “As soon as Palpatine’s agenda finally becomes clear, we’ll have the whole Republic flocking to our side.”
“I’d settle for the top five percent of the Imperial Academy,” Bel Iblis said sourly. Now was not the time for brooding about Palpatine’s maddening talent for pulling the cloak over people’s eyes. “Fine. I’ll get one of my people on it as soon as I finish my—”
And with a brilliant flash, the Treitamma Political Center blew up.
Bel Iblis was lying on the ground when he fumbled his way back to consciousness, pressed up against the wall of the building across the alleyway on one side with what was left of the landspeeder looming over him on the other. Behind the landspeeder a ragged section of wall where the Treitamma had been was burning furiously, bathing the whole area with an unreal-looking blaze of yellow light and pouring black smoke into the sky.
Bel Iblis blinked, shifting his eyes upward. Aach was kneeling over him, a gash in the side of his face streaming blood. “Come on, Senator, we’ve got to get you out of here,” he said urgently, tugging on his arm. “Can you stand?”
“I think so,” Bel Iblis said, gathering his feet beneath him. He looked over at the burning building again as Aach helped him to his feet—
And abruptly the haze blanketing his mind seemed to flash-burn away. “Arrianya!” he gasped. “Aach—my wife and children—”
“They’re gone, Senator,” Aach said, his voice suddenly vicious. “And you’re going to be next if we don’t get you out of here right away.”
“Leave me alone!” Bel Iblis snarled, trying to push Aach’s hand away and staggering as his trembling legs nearly collapsed again beneath him. “I’ve got to get to them. Let me alone.”
“No,” Aach bit back, tightening his grip on Bel Iblis’s arm. “Don’t you see? You’re the only one they were trying to kill in there. You.”
Bel Iblis stared at the blazing building, a jolt of fresh pain and emptiness and anger twisting together and cutting into him. No. No—it couldn’t be. Destroy a whole building—kill dozens or even hundreds of people—just to get at him? It was insane.
“Looks like they used a thermal detonator,” Aach said, half leading, half pulling Bel Iblis down the alleyway away from the wrecked landspeeder. “Shaped to bring down the Treitamma without demolishing the whole neighborhood. Most likely planted somewhere near your preparation room.”
And Arrianya and the children had been in the private refreshment center chatting with the chief director. Only two rooms away …
They had reached the end of the alleyway by now. Around the corner of the demolished building, over by the sides and front, Bel Iblis could see a crowd had already gathered, their features unreadable through the smoke and heat-shimmered air. Their screams and shouts, barely audible over the roar of the flames, were like a stab of pain in his heart.
- Item Weight : 7.4 ounces
- Mass Market Paperback : 432 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0553578829
- ISBN-10 : 9780553578829
- Publisher : Del Rey; Reprint Edition (December 1, 1999)
- Product Dimensions : 4.24 x 1 x 6.86 inches
- ASIN : 0553578820
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #835,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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