Note: I know that Disney has determined that the Extended Universe is now non-canon but to most of us Star Wars fans who have spent the past 20+ years reading and collecting the novels of said EU, they will forever be canon.
Spectre of the Past #1
Hugo Award-winning author Timothy Zahn makes his triumphant return to the Star Wars(r) universe in this first of an epic new two-volume series in which the New Republic must face its most dangerous enemy yet--a dead Imperial warlord.
The Empire stands at the brink of total collapse. But they have saved their most heinous plan for last. First a plot is hatched that could destroy the New Republic in a bloodbath of genocide and civil war. Then comes the shocking news that Grand Admiral Thrawn--the most cunning and ruthless warlord in history--has apparently returned from the dead to lead the Empire to a long-prophesied victory. Facing incredible odds, Han and Leia begin a desperate race against time to prevent the New Republic from unraveling in the face of two inexplicable threats--one from within and one from without. Meanwhile, Luke teams up with Mara Jade, using the Force to track down a mysterious pirate ship with a crew of clones. Yet, perhaps most dangerous of all, are those who lurk in the shadows, orchestrating a dark plan that will turn the New Republic and the Empire into their playthings.
Vision of the Future #2
Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo are thrust into the middle of an impending civil war - and discover the shocking truth behind the rumored resurrection of the dead Admiral Thrawn. For a beleaguered Empire, desperate times call for desperate measures. Sowing discord among the fragile coalition of The New Republic, remnants of the once powerful Empire make one last play for victory. Having implicated the Bothans in the genocide of the Caamasi, they now plan an attack on Han and Leia that is also to be blamed on the Bothans. If they are successful, the New Republic will be torn asunder. To prevent inevitable disaster, Luke, Leia, Han, and their friends must prove the Bothans innocent and reveal the Empire's treachery. But time is running out.
Spectre of the Past
Slowly, silently, its lights a faint glitter of life amid the darkness, the Imperial Star Destroyer Chimaera glided through space.
Empty space. Oppressively dark space. Long, lonely light-years from the nearest of the tiny islands that were the star systems of the galaxy, drifting at the edge of the boundary between the Outer Rim worlds and the vast regions of territory known as Unknown Space. At the very edge of the Empire.
Or rather, at the edge of the pitiful scraps of what had once been the Empire.
Standing beside one of the Chimaera's side viewports, Admiral Pellaeon, Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet, gazed out at the emptiness, the weight of all too many years pressing heavily across his shoulders. Too many years, too many battles, too many defeats.
Perhaps the Chimaera's bridge crew was feeling the weight, too. Certainly the sounds of activity going on behind him seemed more muted than usual today. But perhaps it was merely the effect of being out here, so far from anywhere at all.
No, of course that had to be it. The men of the Chimaerawere the finest the Fleet had to offer. They were Imperial officers and crewers, and Imperials didn't give up. Ever.
There was a tentative footstep at his side. "Admiral?" Captain Ardiff said quietly. "We're ready to begin, sir."
For a moment Pellaeon's mind flashed back ten years, to another very similar moment. Then, it had been Pellaeon and Grand Admiral Thrawn who'd been here on the Chimaera's bridge, watching the final test of the prototype cloaking shield Thrawn had recovered from among the Emperor's trophies inside Mount Tantiss. Pellaeon could remember the excitement he'd felt then, despite his misgivings about the insane Jedi clone Joruus C'baoth, as he watched Thrawn single-handedly breathing new life and vigor back into the Empire.
But Mount Tantiss was gone, destroyed by agents of the New Republic and C'baoth's own madness and treason. And Grand Admiral Thrawn was dead.
And the Empire was dying.
With an effort, Pellaeon shook the shadows of the past away. He was an Imperial officer, and Imperials didn't give up. "Thank you," he said to Ardiff. "At your convenience, Captain."
"Yes, sir." Ardiff half turned, gestured to the fighter coordinator in the portside crew pit. "Signal the attack," he ordered.
The officer acknowledged and gestured in turn to one of his crewers. Pellaeon turned his attention back to the viewport--
Just in time to see eight SoroSuub Preybird-class starfighters in tight formation roar in from behind them. Cutting tight to the Chimaera's command superstructure, they passed over the forward ridgeline, raking it with low-power blaster fire, then split smoothly out in eight different directions. Corkscrewing out and forward, they kept up their fire until they were out of the Star Destroyer's primary attack zone. Then, curving smoothly around, they swung around and regrouped.
"Admiral?" Ardiff prompted.
"Let's give them one more pass, Captain," Pellaeon said. "The more flight data the Predictor has to work with, the better it should function." He caught the eye of one of the crew pit officers. "Damage report?"
"Minor damage to the forward ridgeline, sir," the officer reported. "One sensor array knocked out, leaving five turbolasers without ranging data."
"Acknowledged." All theoretical damage, of course, calculated under the assumption that the Preybirds were using full-power capital-ship turbolasers. Pellaeon had always loved war games when he was younger; had relished the chance to play with technique and tactics without the risks of true combat. Somewhere in all those years, the excitement had faded away. "Helm, bring us around twenty degrees to starboard," he ordered. "Starboard turbolasers will lay down dispersion fire as they make their next pass."
The Preybirds were back in tight formation now, once again approaching their target. The Chimaera's turbolasers opened up as they came, their low-level fire splattering across the Preybirds' overlapping deflector shields. For a few seconds the opponents traded fire; then, the Preybirds broke formation again, splitting apart like the fingertips of an opening hand. Twisting over and under the Chimaera, they shot past, scrambling for the safety of distance.
"Damage report?" Pellaeon called.
"Three starboard turbolaser batteries knocked out," the officer called back. "We've also lost one tractor beam projector and two ion cannon."
"One attacker appears to have lost its deflector shields, and two others are reading diminished turbolaser capability."
"Hardly counts as damage," Ardiff murmured. "Of course, the situation here isn't exactly fair. Ships that small and maneuverable would never have the kind of shields or firepower we're crediting them with."
"If you want fairness, organize a shockball tournament," Pellaeon said acidly. "Don't look for it in warfare."
Ardiff's cheek twitched. "I'm sorry, sir."
Pellaeon sighed. The finest the Imperial Fleet had to offer..." Stand by the cloaking shield, Captain," he ordered, watching the faint drive glows as the Preybirds regrouped again in the distance. "Activate on my command."
There was a sudden flare of drive glow, partially eclipsed by the Preybirds themselves, as the enemy kicked into high acceleration. "Here they come," Pellaeon said, watching as the single glowing dot rapidly resolved itself into eight close-formation ships. "Lock Predictor into fire control. Stand by cloaking shield."
"Predictor and cloaking shield standing by," Ardiff confirmed.
Pellaeon nodded, his full attention on the Preybirds. Nearly to the point where they'd broken formation last time... "Cloaking shield: now."
And with a brief flicker of bridge lighting, the stars and incoming Preybirds vanished as the cloaking shield plunged the Chimaerainto total darkness.
"Cloaking shield activated and stabilized," Ardiff said.
"Helm, come around portside: thirty degrees by eight," Pellaeon ordered. "Ahead acceleration point one. Turbolasers: fire."
"Acknowledged," an officer called. "Turbolasers are firing."
Pellaeon took a step closer to the viewport and looked down along the Chimaera's sides. The faint blasts of low-level fire were visible, lancing a short distance out from the Star Destroyer and then disappearing as they penetrated the spherical edge of the Star Destroyer's cloaking shield. Blinded by the very device that was now shielding it from its opponents' view, the Chimaerawas firing wildly in an attempt to destroy those opponents.
Or perhaps not quite so wildly. If the Predictor worked as well as its designers hoped, perhaps the Empire still had a chance in this war.
It was a long time before the Chimaera's turbolasers finally ceased fire. Far too long. "Is that it?" he asked Ardiff.
"Yes, sir," the other said. "Five hundred shots, as preprogrammed."
Pellaeon nodded. "Deactivate cloaking shield. Let's see how well we did."
There was another flicker from the lights, and the stars were back. Mentally crossing his fingers, Pellaeon peered out the viewport.
For a moment there was nothing. Then, from starboard, he spotted the approaching drive glows. Seven of them.
"Signal from Adversary Commander, Admiral," the comm officer called. "Target Three reports receiving a disabling hit and has gone dormant; all other targets have sustained only minimal damage. Requesting orders."
Pellaeon grimaced. One. Out of eight targets, the Chimaerahad been able to hit exactly one. And that great feat had required five hundred shots to achieve.
So that was that. The wonderful Computerized Combat Predictor, touted by its creators and sponsors as the best approach to practical use of the cloaking shield, had been put to the test. And to be fair, it had probably done better than simple random shooting.
But it hadn't done enough better. Not nearly enough.
"Inform Adversary Commander that the exercise is over," Pellaeon told the comm officer. "Target Three may reactivate its systems; all ships are to return to the Chimaera. I want their reports filed within the next two hours."
"I'm sure they'll be able to improve it, Admiral," Ardiff said at Pellaeon's side. "This was just the first field test. Surely they'll be able to improve it."
"How?" Pellaeon retorted. "Train the Predictor to be omniscient? Or simply teach it how to read our enemies' minds?"
"You only gave it two passes to study the targets' flight patterns," Ardiff reminded him. "With more data, it could have better anticipated their movements."
Pellaeon snorted gently. "It's a nice theory, Captain, and under certain controlled situations it might even work. But combat is hardly a controlled situation. There are far too many variables and unknowns, especially considering the hundreds of alien species and combat styles we have to contend with. I knew from the beginning that this Predictor idea was probably futile. But it had to be tried."
"Well, then, we just have to go back to mark zero," Ardiff said. "Come up with something else. There have to be practical uses for this cloaking shield device."
"Of course there are," Pellaeon agreed heavily. "Grand Admiral Thrawn devised three of them himself. But there's no one left in the Empire with his military genius."
He sighed. "No, Captain. It's over. It's all over. And we've lost."
For a long moment the low murmur of background conversation was the only sound on the bridge. "You can't mean that, Admiral," Ardiff said at last. "And if I may say so, sir, this is not the sort of thing the Supreme Commander of Imperial forces should be talking about."
"Why not?" Pellaeon countered. "It's obvious to everyone else."
"It most certainly is not, sir," Ardiff said stiffly. "We still hold eight sectors--over a thousand inhabited systems. We have the Fleet, nearly two hundred Star Destroyers strong. We're still very much a force to be reckoned with."
Vision of the Future
The Imperial Star Destroyer Chimaera slid through the black of space, its only companion the silent gas giant world of Pesitiin far below.
Admiral Pellaeon was standing at the forward viewport, gazing out at the dead planet, when Captain Ardiff arrived on the bridge. "Report from Major Harch, Admiral," he said briskly. "All damage from that pirate attack has been repaired. Your ship is back to full fighting readiness."
"Thank you, Captain," Pellaeon said, carefully hiding a smile. In the thirty hours since the failed attack on the Chimaera, Ardiff had gone from believing it to be a raid by New Republic General Garm Bel Iblis, to suspicions that it had been engineered by dissident Imperial elements, to similar suspicions involving similarly dissident Rebels, and was now apparently convinced that a pirate gang was responsible.
Of course, in all fairness, Ardiff had had the past thirty hours to cogitate on his theories. The techs' preliminary report on the debris from that destroyed Kaloth battlecruiser had certainly influenced his thinking, too. "Anything new from the patrols?" Pellaeon asked.
"Just more negatives, sir," Ardiff said. "Still no indications of activity anywhere in the system. Oh, and the sensor-stealthed assault shuttle you sent on the attackers' escape vector also just checked in. Still no trace."
Pellaeon nodded. As expected, really--anyone who could afford to buy and fly a battlecruiser usually knew a few tricks about hiding it. "It was worth a try," he told Ardiff. "Have them try one more system; we can transmit that far without relays. If they haven't picked up the trail by then, order them back."
"Yes, sir," Ardiff murmured.
Even without looking, Pellaeon could sense Ardiff's hesitation. "A question, Captain?" he prompted.
"It's this communications blackout, sir," Ardiff said. "I don't like being so completely out of contact this way. It's like being blind and deaf; and frankly, it makes me nervous."
"I don't much like it myself," Pellaeon conceded. "But the only ways to make contact with the outside universe are to either transmit to an Imperial relay station or punch our way onto the HoloNet; and the minute we do either, everyone from Coruscant to Bastion will know we're here. If that happens, we'll have more than the occasional pirate gang lining up to take potshots at us."
And, he added silently, it would be the end of any chance for a quiet meeting between him and Bel Iblis. Assuming the general was indeed willing to talk.
"I understand all that, Admiral," Ardiff said. "But has it occurred to you that yesterday's attack might not have been an isolated incident against an isolated Imperial ship?"
Pellaeon cocked an eyebrow. "Are you suggesting it might have been part of a coordinated attack against the Empire?"
"Why not?" Ardiff said. "I'm willing to concede at this point that it probably wasn't the New Republic who hired them. But why couldn't the pirates have set it up on their own? The Empire has always come down hard on pirate gangs. Maybe a group of them got together and decided the time was right for revenge."
Pellaeon stroked his lip thoughtfully. On the surface, it was a ridiculous suggestion--even on its deathbed the Empire was far stronger than any possible aggregate of pirate gangs could hope to defeat. But that didn't mean they wouldn't be foolish enough to try. "That still leaves the question of how they knew we were here," he pointed out.
"We still don't know what happened to Colonel Vermel," Ardiff reminded him. "Maybe it was this pirate coalition who snatched him. He could have told them about Pesitiin."
"Not willingly," Pellaeon said darkly. "If they did what it would take to make him talk, I'll decorate Bastion's moon with their hides."
"Yes, sir," Ardiff said. "But that brings us back to the question of how long we're going to stay here."
Pellaeon looked out the viewport at the stars. Yes, that was indeed the question. How long should they wait here in the middle of nowhere in the hope that this slow attrition of the Empire could be stopped? That they could end this war with the New Republic with a shred of territory and dignity still intact?
That they could finally have peace?
"Two weeks," he said. "We'll give Bel Iblis another two weeks to respond to our offer."
"Even though the message may not have reached him?"
"The message reached him," Pellaeon said firmly. "Vermel is a highly resourceful, highly competent officer. Whatever happened to him, I have no doubt he completed his mission first."
"Yes, sir," Ardiff said, his tone making it clear that he didn't share Pellaeon's confidence. "And if Bel Iblis doesn't come within that time frame?"
Pellaeon pursed his lips. "We'll decide then."
Ardiff hesitated, then took half a step closer to his superior. "You really believe this is our best hope, sir, don't you," he said quietly.
Pellaeon shook his head. "No, Captain," he murmured. "I believe it's our only hope."
The wedge of approaching Sienar IPV/4 patrol ships broke in perfect formation to both sides, and the Imperial Star Destroyer Relentless glided smoothly between the re-forming clusters toward its designated orbital position. "Very impressive," Moff Disra growled to the slim man beside him, hearing his heart pounding in his ears as he gazed across the bridge at the green-blue world framed in the forward viewport. "I trust you didn't haul me all the way out here just to watch the Kroctarian home defense force's maneuvers."
"Patience, Your Excellency," Major Grodin Tierce said quietly at his side. "I told you we had a surprise for you."
Disra felt his lip twist. Yes, that's what Tierce had said. And that was all Tierce had said. And as for Flim--
Disra shifted his gaze to the Admiral's chair, feeling his lip twist a little more. Their tame con man was sitting there, bold as bricbrass in his blue-skin makeup and glowing red eye surface inserts and his white Grand Admiral's uniform. The absolute laser-trimmed image of Grand Admiral Thrawn, a masquerade solidly believed by every Imperial aboard the Relentless from Captain Dorja on down.
Trouble was, there weren't any Imperials on the planet below them. Far from it. Kroctar, merchant center and capital of Shataum sector, was deep in New Republic territory, with every bit as much military firepower as one would expect such a world to have. There was no guarantee that any of them would be impressed by Flim's eyes and uniform and acting ability.
And if they weren't, this cozy little triumvirate Disra had formed was about to blow up in their faces. Flim might look like Thrawn, but he had all the tactical genius of a garbage-pit parasite. Tierce, a former stormtrooper and Royal Guardsman under Emperor Palpatine, was the military brains of their little group; and if Captain Dorja saw an allegedly lowly major rush over to the allegedly brilliant Grand Admiral to give him advice, this whole illusion would explode into soap scum. Whatever bluff Tierce was running here, it had better work.
"Transmission from the surface, Admiral," the comm officer called from the portside crew pit. "It's Lord Superior Bosmihi, chief of the Unified Factions."
"On speaker, Lieutenant," Thrawn said. "Lord Superior Bosmihi, this is Grand Admiral Thrawn. I received your message. What may I do for you?"
Disra frowned at Tierce. "They called us?" he muttered.
Tierce nodded, a small but satisfied smile playing around his lips. "Shh," he said. "Listen."
"We offer you greeting, Grand Admiral Thrawn," a nasally alien voice boomed over the comm, "and we congratulate you most heartily on your triumphal return."
"Thank you," Thrawn said smoothly. "As I recall, you were somewhat less enthusiastic at our last meeting."
Disra threw Tierce a sharp look. "During his sweep through this sector ten years ago," Tierce murmured. "Don't worry, he knows all about it."
The alien gave a blubbering laugh. "Ah, yes--you remember most clearly," he admitted cheerfully. "At that time the fear of Imperial power and the lure of promised freedoms still held sway over us."
"Such lies held sway over many," Thrawn agreed. "Does your choice of words imply the Kroctari have come to a new understanding?"
There was a disgusting, wheezy-sounding noise from the comm. "We have seen the crumbling of the promise," the Lord Superior said regretfully. "There is no longer any order emanating from Coruscant; no focused goals, no clear structures, no discipline. A thousand different alien species tug the galaxy in a thousand different directions."
"Inevitably," Thrawn said. "That was why Emperor Palpatine first inaugurated the New Order. It was an attempt to reverse the collapse you now see coming."
"Yet we were also warned not to trust Imperial promises," Bosmihi hedged. "The history of the Empire is one of brutal subjugation of nonhuman species."
"You speak of the rule of Palpatine," Thrawn said. "The Empire has freed itself from his self-destructive anti-alien bias."
"Your presence in a place of command is some evidence of that," Bosmihi said cautiously. "Still, others still say the bias exists."
"Others still lie about the Empire in many ways," Thrawn countered. "But there's no need for you to take my word for it. Speak to any of the fifteen alien species currently living under Imperial rule, beings who cherish the protection and stability we offer."
"Yes--protection." The Lord Superior seemed to pounce on the word. "The Empire is said to be weak; yet I perceive that you still have great strength. What guarantee of safety do you offer your member systems?"
"The best guarantee in the galaxy," Thrawn said; and even Disra felt a shiver run through him at the veiled power and menace that was suddenly in the con man's voice. "My personal promise of vengeance should anyone dare attack you."
There was a noise that sounded midway between a swallow and a burp. "I see," Bosmihi said soberly. "I understand that this is rather sudden, and for this I apologize; but on behalf of the Unified Factions of the Kroctari people, I would like to petition you for readmission into the Empire."
Disra looked at Tierce, feeling his jaw drop a few millimeters. "Readmission?" he hissed.
Tierce smiled back. "Surprise, Your Excellency."
"On behalf of the Empire, I accept your petition," Thrawn said. "You no doubt have a delegation standing ready to discuss the details?"
"You understand my people well, Grand Admiral Thrawn," the Lord Superior said wryly. "Yes, my delegation does indeed await your pleasure."
"Then you may signal them to approach," Thrawn told him. "As it happens, Imperial Moff Disra is currently aboard the Relentless. As he is a specialist in political matters, he will handle the negotiations."
"We will be honored to meet with him," Bosmihi said. "Though I doubt his presence there is in any way the coincidence you imply. Thank you, Grand Admiral Thrawn; and until the meeting."
"Until the meeting, Lord Superior Bosmihi," Thrawn said.
He gestured to the crew pit. "Transmission ended, Admiral," the comm officer confirmed.
"Thank you," Thrawn said, rising almost leisurely from his command chair. "Signal TIE interceptors to stand ready for escort duty. They're to meet the Lord Superior's shuttle as soon as it clears atmosphere, flying in full honor formation. Captain Dorja, I'd like you to meet the shuttle personally and escort the delegation to Conference Room 68. Moff Disra will await you there."
"Understood, Admiral," Dorja said. He strode from the bridge, throwing Disra a tightly satisfied smile as he passed, and stepped into a waiting turbolift in the aft bridge. "You might have said something," Disra muttered to Tierce as the turbolift door closed behind the captain.
The Guardsman shrugged, a microscopic movement of the shoulders. "I wasn't absolutely sure this was what they wanted when they called," he said, gesturing Disra through the aft doors toward another turbolift. "But it seemed like a good guess. Kroctar has several potentially dangerous neighbors, and Intelligence reports the Unified Factions have become extremely disillusioned by Coruscant's inability to decide how tight a restraining bolt they want to keep on intersystem fighting."
They reached the turbolift and stepped into a waiting car. "Kroctar's the first," Tierce continued as the doors closed and they began to move. "But it won't be the last. We already have transmissions from twenty other systems whose governments would like Grand Admiral Thrawn to drop in for a chat."
Disra snorted. "All they're trying to do is shake up their enemies."
"Probably," Tierce agreed. "But what do we care why they want to rejoin? The point is that they do, and it's going to send shock waves from here to Coruscant."
"Until Coruscant decides to take action."
"What action can they take?" Tierce countered. "Their own charter specifically allows member systems to withdraw anytime they choose."
There was a beep from the turbolift comlink. "Moff Disra?"
"There's a transmission coming in for you, Your Excellency, under a private encryption designated Usk-51."
Disra felt his stomach try to cramp. Of all the stupid, brainless--"Thank you," he said as calmly as he could manage. "Have it transferred to Conference Room 68, and make sure it's not monitored."
"Yes, Your Excellency."
Tierce was frowning at him. "That's not--?"
"It certainly is," Disra bit out. The turbolift doors opened--"Come on. And stay out of sight."
Two minutes later they were in the conference room with the door privacy-sealed behind them. Activating the comm display set into the center of the table, Disra pulled the proper encryption datacard from his collection and slid it into the slot. He keyed for reception--
"It's about time," Captain Zothip spat, his eyes flashing, his bushy blond beard bristling with anger. "Don't you think I've got better things to do than--?"
"What!" Disra barked. Zothip's head jerked back, his own tirade breaking off midway in sudden confusion. "Do . . . you . . . think . . . you're . . . doing?" Disra continued into the silence, biting out each word like the crack of a rotten snapstick. "How dare you take such an insane risk?"
"Never mind your precious image," Zothip growled, some of his insolence starting to come back. "If consorting with pirates is suddenly an embarrassment for you--"
"Embarrassment is not the issue here," Disra said icily. "I'm thinking about our two necks, and whether we get to keep them. Or hadn't you noticed how many relays there are in this transmission?"
"No kidding," Zothip said with a sniff. "And here I thought it was just your wonderful Imperial comm equipment kicking ions again. So where are you, out at your vacation home counting your money?"
"Hardly," Disra said. "I'm aboard an Imperial Star Destroyer."
It's been a few years since I read this duology but I absolutely loved it. Not only is it written by, quite possibly in my opinion the best author of the Star Wars Extended Universe, Timothy Zahn but it features my second favorite character of the SW EU: Mara Jade. I had been cheering and hoping for the romantic coupling of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade from the first time she was introduced in Zahn's Heir to the Empire, and I was finally awarded when they declared their love during the heat of battle, of course because anything less would not have been fitting for Skywalker and Jade. Throw in all the wonders that we come to love within the SW EU and you have perfect reading material.
On a side note, I said Mara Jade is my second favorite character in the SW EU, well considering the name of my blog, it's pretty obvious who my favorite character is: Padme Amidala. Just thought I'd throw that out there.
Timothy Zahn attended Michigan State University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in physics in 1973. He then moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and achieved an M.S. degree in physics in 1975. While he was pursuing a doctorate in physics, his adviser became ill and died. Zahn never completed the doctorate. In 1975 he had begun writing science fiction as a hobby, and he became a professional writer. He and his wife Anna live in Bandon, Oregon. They have a son, Corwin Zahn.
Spectre of the Past
Vision of the Future