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Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Novel

By
Published by Del Rey on 2016-11-15
Hardcover: $28.99
FICTION / Action and Adventure, FICTION / Science Fiction


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Lauded Star Wars author James Luceno returns to pen an intense tale of ambition and betrayal that sets the stage for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

War is tearing the galaxy apart. For years the Republic and the Separatists have battled across the stars, each building more and more deadly technology in an attempt to win the war. As a member of Chancellor Palpatine’s top secret Death Star project, Orson Krennic is determined to develop a superweapon before their enemies can. And an old friend of Krennic’s, the brilliant scientist Galen Erso, could be the key.

Galen’s energy-focused research has captured the attention of both Krennic and his foes, making the scientist a crucial pawn in the galactic conflict. But after Krennic rescues Galen, his wife, Lyra, and their young daughter, Jyn, from Separatist kidnappers, the Erso family is deeply in Krennic’s debt. Krennic then offers Galen an extraordinary opportunity: to continue his scientific studies with every resource put utterly at his disposal. While Galen and Lyra believe that his energy research will be used purely in altruistic ways, Krennic has other plans that will finally make the Death Star a reality. Trapped in their benefactor’s tightening grasp, the Ersos must untangle Krennic’s web of deception to save themselves and the galaxy itself.
(Hardcover, 2016-11-15)
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ASIN: 0345511492
ISBN: 9780345511492
EAN: 9780345511492

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by james luceno the robotech series (As Jack McKinney, with Brian Daley) the black hole travel agency series (As Jack McKinney, with Brian Daley) the young indiana jones chronicles The Mata Hari Affair star wars Cloak of Deception Darth Maul: Saboteur (eBook) The New Jedi Order? Agents of Chaos I: Hero's Trial The New Jedi Order? Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse The New Jedi Order: The Unifying Force Labyrinth of Evil Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader Millennium Falcon Darth Plagueis Tarkin standalone novels Head Hunters A Fearful Symmetry Illegal Alien The Big Empty Kaduna Memories The Shadow The Mask of Zorro Rio Passion Rainchaser Rock Bottom Hunt for the Maya LookingGlass: The Adventures of 3Sky and Flint

catalyst a rogue one novel

catalyst a rogue one novel james luceno d DEL REY NEW YORK

Star Wars: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright ? 2016 by Lucasfilm Ltd. & ? or ? where indicated. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Del Rey and the House colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. ISBN 978- 0- 345- 51149- 2 Ebook ISBN 978- 1- 101- 96701- 0 Printed in the United States of America on acidfree paper randomhousebooks.com 2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1 First Edition Book design by Elizabeth A. D. Eno Death Star illustrations by Chris Reiff and Chris Trevas Written in partnership with Leland Chee, Pablo Hidalgo, Matt Martin, and Rayne Roberts of the Lucasfilm Story Group. With special thanks to Gareth Edwards and the screenwriters and producers of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

For Udi Saly and Liz Conover, 'bonfire hearts.' May the Force be with you infinitely.

long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.' .' .' .

catalyst a rogue one novel

For years, the Clone Wars have raged across the galaxy. Countless worlds have been ensnared in the conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Separatist army led by the devious Sith Lord Count Dooku. While rumors spread that the Separatists are nearing completion of a superweapon, fear grips the Republic. In response, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine has tasked a secret team of researchers with perfecting a battle station for the Republic: the Death Star.

part one life during wartime

pressure 'What if? .' .' .' It was as much as Galen Erso got out before falling silent and pacing away from the alphanumeric data field that hovered above the holoprojector. Galen's fragment of a question also seemed to hang in the air, and his fellow researchers in the control room stopped what they were doing to regard him in palpable expectation. One of them, Nurboo, broke the pregnant silence. 'You've a new idea, Galen? Should we delay the test'? Galen either didn't hear him or didn't care to. He stood motionless for a moment, his gaze unfocused, then resumed his determined pacing, mumbling numbers and calculations to himself. A second Valltii gave his large and hirsute head a doleful shake. 'It's no good, we've lost him.' From across the room, Tambo's gravelly voice shushed him. 'Can't you see he's thinking''

james luceno Galen's pose certainly said as much. His head was lowered, eyes and lips narrowed, and his thick arms were folded across his chest, as if clutching something to himself. The new idea, perhaps. Standing just over 1.8 meters tall, he was broad-'shouldered and well developed, despite having spent most of his thirty-'odd standard years in earnest rumination and reflection, often scribbling the results of all that thinking on whatever was handy. His hair was uncombed, falling around his face in heavy strands in a way that made him dashing in sunlight, dangerous in the dark. Lyra finally pushed herself out of her chair and ambled over to him. 'What if? .' .' .' she said in a patient, leading way. Everyone in the control room took it as a good sign when the thumb and forefinger of Galen's left hand went briefly to the corners of his mouth, stretching the skin. 'We're getting there,' Lyra said. She loved it when Galen went so deep that he essentially disappeared from the world, going where few could follow, to his own private hyperspace. A few centimeters shorter than him, she had a high forehead and layered auburn hair that just reached her shoulders. Arching brows and a slightly downturned mouth gave her a somewhat somber look, though she was anything but. She and Galen had wed on Coruscant almost five years earlier, and she was every bit her husband's equal in appeal, with the physique of a natural athlete, honed by a lifetime of exploration on dozens of remote worlds. Bundled up in a coarse sweater and baggy trousers, Lyra affected a colorful earflapped cap made of local yarn, and she wore it well. The only humans among the research group, they were a long way from the Core, and even farther from the conflict that had recently erupted between the Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the so-'called Separatists. The six stout Valltii they had lived and worked with for the past four standard months had large round faces and mouths made for chewing meat. Beneath lustrous growths of facial hair, their skin was as blue as the glacial ice that covered half the planet. Galen and Lyra conversed with them in a pidgin of Galactic Basic and the indigenous language, which

catalyst: a rogue one novel 9 was guttural and filled with lengthy words that were confounding to humans. With an ear for mimicry, Lyra did better with the language than Galen did. She was on the verge of goading him again when he blinked as if remembering who or where he was, and his attention returned to the data field. She smiled lightly. He was back. Reviewing the lengthy differential equations top to bottom, Galen stepped closer to the field, as if there were something to be discerned behind it or along its faintly oscillating edges. 'Assis,' he said finally, addressing the droid on the far side of the holoprojector. 'Yes, Dr. Erso.' 'Line four. Change the coefficient to five and recalculate.' The TDK-'160 research-'assistant, a reconfigurable droid that just then was standing on two slender alloy legs, complied and sent the results to the holotable. Everyone kept their attention on the field while the quotient groups, coefficients, and derivatives began to shift. The control room was designed to house technology rather than living beings. Lined with humming machines, it lacked windows and was always colder than it had any right being. Heat was pumped in through ducts high overhead, but the room's real warmth came from its having acquired a lived-'in look through long months of research and experimentation. No one minded the unpacked crates stacked in the corners, the empty food containers piled on Nurboo's worktable, or the litter of backup data storage devices. As cluttered and claustrophobic as it was, it was more hospitable than just about anywhere outside. Thick walls broken by sliding entryways kept out the worst of the cold. A rear doorway accessed a ramp leading to a labyrinth of corridors that connected disparate parts of the facility, a few of them wide enough to accommodate compact utility speeders. Elsewhere were banks of computers and analyzers, plotting boards, comm stations, even a rudimentary HoloNet transceiver for extraplanetary communications.

10 james luceno It wasn't Lyra's kind of place at all, but she had formed fast friendships with Galen's colleagues, and Vallt was home for now. Most of the ignition facility lay far below them, where gases were compelled to mingle and intense heat was generated. There, too, was the superheated ion-'plasma reactor and the superconducting coils that cooled it, along with the hydrothermal autoclaves in which enormous crystals were synthetically grown. The fusion plant itself could power Vallt's entire northern continent, and one day it might, but that wasn't its present purpose. The goal was to generate outbursts of raw power that could be harvested, stored in capacitors, and doled out sustainably to worlds in need. The place hadn't come cheap even in prewar credits, and Zerpen Industries, headquartered in an autonomous system in the Outer Rim, was still awaiting a return on its investment. 'The equation won't resolve,' Nurboo said when the data field began flashing as if beside itself in confusion. Galen addressed the droid once more. 'Assis, go back.' The original integrals and summation symbols returned to the field, and Galen studied them for a long moment. 'Is that a smile'? Tambo asked. 'Lyra, is he smiling'? Instead of retasking Assis, Galen leaned into the field and began to wave his arms in the air like an orchestra conductor or magician, altering the calculation. When the field had transformed and stabilized, everyone gathered around the holotable to scrutinize the results. 'That's a fine number,' one of the Valltii said. 'An elegant solution,' another pronounced. 'Shall we conduct the test now'? The six of them scattered to their workstations and instruments, exchanging comments and suggestions as they went about their responsibilities with renewed enthusiasm. 'The boule is in place,' Easel reported, referring to the synthetic crystal. Galen fixed his gaze on the central display screen. Nurboo cleared his throat. 'Test sequence initiated.' Illumination in the control room dimmed briefly as deep below them immense pressure was brought to bear on a massive crystal that

catalyst: a rogue one novel 11 had been grown only two months earlier. The synthetic gem had been modeled on an actual kyber, which Zerpen had gone to great lengths and cost to acquire. Relatively rare, the so-'called living crystals were almost exclusively the property of the Jedi, who seemed to regard the kyber as sacrosanct. Finger-'sized ones powered their lightsabers, and larger ones were rumored to adorn the ornate fa'ades of their isolated temples. 'Results show a piezoelectric effect of point-'three above previous,' Nurboo said. The researchers watched Galen, who was shaking his head back and forth. 'No'? Tambo said. 'We should be seeing a much larger increase.' Galen firmed his lips and scowled at no one in particular, wrestling with what might have gone wrong. 'The unit cell stacking in the synthetic isn't stable enough. We'll have to run a spectrographic autopsy and begin again. The entire batch of boules might be flawed.' It was nothing they hadn't been through countless times, but disappointment hung in the cool air regardless. Galen returned to his thinking pose. 'We could try applying more pressure,' Easel suggested in the gentlest way. 'Perhaps return the crystal to the vapor chamber and introduce a new dopant.' Galen glanced around him, dubious and distracted. He had his mouth open to reply when a short chime issued from the control room comm station. 'Main gate,' one of the Valltii said. Lyra rolled her chair over to the comm suite and watched the monitor. A meter of fresh snow had fallen during the night, and the air still swirled with flurries. The subsurface heaters that usually kept the principal access road clear had malfunctioned, so snow was piled high in windblown drifts from the gate all the way to the facility entrance. Where Lyra expected to see a taqwa-'hauled supply sled waiting, the monitor showed a dilapidated military troop carrier. The word taqwa translated as 'snow-'strider,' although the approximation provided no hint of the quadrupeds? innate ferocity.

12 james luceno 'The troop carrier hails from the Keep,' Nurboo said from over her shoulder. 'Iron Gauntlet Legion,' Easel added. 'The camouflage eddies are distinctive.' Uncertainty furrowed Lyra's brow. The sight of the military vehicle filled her with sudden misgiving. 'What would soldiers want at this hour'? 'Another request to provide power for their base'? Nurboo tried to make light of the situation. 'And here I was hoping for a food delivery.' Galen joined them at the comm suite. 'Whatever the reason, we'll be our usual courteous and accommodating selves.' 'If we must,' Tambo said. Lyra blew out her breath in resignation. 'I'll see to it.' She had just begun to rise when Nurboo nimbly placed himself in her path. 'You'll do nothing of the sort. You've been spending entirely too much time on your feet.' A second Valltii agreed. 'You haven't been resting enough.' Her eyes darted back and forth between them, a tolerant smile tugging at her lips. 'Keep your lab coats on, boys, I'm only going down to let them in.' 'One of us will go in your place,' Nurboo insisted. 'All of a sudden I'm more delicate than one of your ice figurines'? 'And more precious.' Lyra's smile broadened. 'That's sweet of you to say, Nurboo, but I already have a mother. Fortunately, she's about twenty parsecs from here, and the last thing I'm going to do is let all of you start falling over yourselves to keep me a prisoner''? A second chime from the comm suite interrupted her. The main gate attendant's face appeared on the central screen. 'What do the soldiers want, Rooni'? Lyra asked toward the mike. Rooni said something she couldn't make out, so she swung back to Nurboo and the others. 'Will all of you stop your clucking! It's like a henhouse in here.' When they fell silent, she turned back to the mike. 'Say again, Rooni.'

catalyst: a rogue one novel 13 'King Chai is dead,' the Valltii said. 'Phara now rules the Keep.' 'Marshal Phara lacked the military support to overthrow King Chai,' Nurboo said, his expression worried. 'There must be some mistake.' 'Unless she received support from the Separatists,' Tambo said. 'The Separatists'? Nurboo tried to make sense of it. 'Why would Count Dooku want to wade into Vallt's internal affairs'? No one spoke for a moment, then Easel looked from Nurboo and Tambo to Galen. 'For Galen,' Easel said. 'The Separatists want his research. Phara must have promised to deliver him into their custody.' Nurboo's eyes widened, and his whiskers stood on end. 'It's the only explanation,' he told Galen. 'Count Dooku wants that big brain of yours.' Galen made his lips a thin line. Close to Lyra's ear, he said: 'The war has caught up with us.' Lyra felt the truth of it in her chest. The safe bubble they thought they had created was bursting. For the first time in as long as she could remember she was frightened, not so much for herself or Galen, but for the future she had imagined. 'Is it true, Rooni'? she said toward the microphone. 'Are the soldiers here for Galen'? Rooni's big bushy head returned a slow nod. 'Marshal Phara has appropriated all extraplanetary concerns. The facility is today the property of Vallt.' 'Zerpen will have something to say about that,' Galen said. 'Perhaps,' Rooni allowed. 'But you and Lyra need to leave immediately and let Zerpen Industries deal with Phara.' 'You must heed Rooni's advice,' Nurboo said. 'Phara wouldn't have dispatched a troop carrier unless she means business.' Galen regarded the Valltii for a moment, then shook his head. 'Leave here how, exactly'? 'The tunnels,' Easel said. 'If you go now, you'll have time enough to reach your ship and launch.' Galen gazed around the room in clear dismay, refusing to give ground. All the months of research just to make a start. How could

14 james luceno Phara take this away from him? Didn't she realize what Vallt and so many other worlds stood to lose by interrupting his work? Nurboo drew himself up. 'Galen! The two of you are wasting precious time.' Galen nodded with reluctance and turned to the droid. 'Assis, you're coming with us.' 'I expected no less, Dr. Erso,' the droid replied. Nurboo stepped forward to urge the three of them toward the control room's tunnel access ramp. 'Hurry! Trust that we'll do our best to delay the soldiers.' Lyra smirked good-'naturedly. 'With what, your data styluses? That's almost worth waiting around to see.' Nurboo's blue face fell. 'We're as able-'bodied as the soldiers, Lyra.' Galen grew serious. 'Don't give them any reason to mistreat you. Remember, it's me they want, not you.' 'The troop carrier has cleared the gate,' Easel said from the comm suite. Lyra began to hurry though the control room, hugging everyone goodbye. 'Not that I'm going to miss the smell of fried circuitry and stale food,' she said when she got to Nurboo. 'Promise you'll comm us,' he said. 'We expect to see many, many holoimages.' 'We'll get this sorted out,' Galen said, trying to sound optimistic. 'You're not through with us yet.' 'Yes, yes,' Nurboo said, all but pushing him through the door. 'But let's save this discussion for when you're safely on the far side of Vallt's pathetic excuse for a moon.' A compact speeder bobbed at the base of the ramp. The air was much colder, and the din of the underground machinery echoed from the stone walls. The principal tunnel ran from the facility all the way to the starship hangar, with dozens of branches leading to remote outbuildings and subsidiary power stations. Assis's legs telescoped and it stepped adroitly into the speeder's

catalyst: a rogue one novel 15 forward socket. When Galen and Lyra had clambered into the rear bench seat, the droid contracted and wedded itself to the controls. 'All speed, Assis,' Galen said, 'we've a ship to catch.' Assis's head rotated toward him. 'Then hang on, Doctor.' The skimmer shot forward, pinning Galen and Lyra against the cushioned seatback, semicircular illumination arrays lighting portions of the tunnel as the speeder advanced. But they hadn't reached the first fork when the droid brought the vehicle to an abrupt stop. 'What is it, Assis'? Lyra asked. The droid's head rotated. 'There is movement ahead, in both the main tunnel and the power station fork. More than twenty Valltii. All of them on foot.' Galen wasn't surprised. 'They're onto us,' he said quietly. He glanced around him, focusing on a hatchway in the tunnel wall. 'Assis, where are we exactly'? The droid responded immediately. 'Beneath the south station equipment room.' Galen turned to Lyra, holding her gaze. 'We need to go the rest of the way on the surface.' Lyra's brows went up. 'You're kidding, right? We won't make half a kilometer in that snow.' Galen clamped his hand on the TDK droid's sloping shoulder. 'Assis is going to take us.' Assis actually stirred. 'I fear that I'll only slow you down, Dr. Erso.' Lyra nodded in sudden understanding. 'The twin-'tread module.' Galen gave her hand an affectionate squeeze. 'Let's hope that everything's where we left it.' Abandoning the speeder, the three of them raced for the hatchway. The hatch opened on a short flight of metal stairs that ended in the south station equipment room. Lyra knew precisely where to find the coats, gloves, boots with toe bindings, and long wooden skis. While she tossed clothing to Galen, versatile Assis contracted its limbs and lowered itself atop a pair of continuous tracks adapted for snow travel. Buttoned into a long coat with a fur-'lined hood, Galen affixed ropes to projections on the droid's now boxy body.

16 james luceno Lyra raised the door, and the cold walloped them into a brief silence. A blast of wind-'driven flurries cycloned around the three of them. 'We'll take it slowly,' Galen said while he clipped his boots to the skis. Lyra shot him a look. 'Not you, too. Who tore whose knee on that Chandrila downhill'? He looked momentarily chastised. 'Excuse me for showing concern.' She gave a final tug to one of her gloves and clomped over to him. Linking her arms around his neck, she pulled him close and kissed him firmly on the lips. 'You can show as much concern as you want.' She eased back, then added, 'Just another adventure, right'? 'More of an experiment.' She kissed him again. 'I love you.' Lyra pulled the hat down onto her head and cinched the collar of the jacket. Assis moved out into the fresh snow on its treads, the ropes grew taut, and all at once the trio was tearing across the rolling treeless terrain toward the docking bay four kilometers away. Despite the late hour Vallt's primary was a mournful blur moored low on the horizon, its customary location at that time of year in the northern latitudes. The surface snow had melted slightly, and they skied just outside the deep double-'track left by Assis's module. The lights of the facility had just disappeared behind them when the first projectile rounds sizzled past. Galen glanced over his shoulder in time to see two groups of Valltii riders converging behind them in close pursuit. A slight shift in the breeze carried the sound of the taqwas? hoofed feet thundering through the snow. 'Assis, we have to beat them to the hangar!' Galen shouted. 'Easy for you to say, Doctor, when it's me they're shooting at!' Galen grimaced. It was true: With his big brain suddenly up for grabs, Galen Erso was too valuable to harm. The droid accelerated, Galen and Lyra bent low on their skis behind, the pace and the cold air sending tears streaming down their cheeks. The Valltii riders continued to fire their antique rifles even as

catalyst: a rogue one novel 17 they began to fall farther and farther behind. By the time the docking bay came into view Galen, Lyra, and Assis were out of range, but their pursuers were whipping their snow-'striders with abandon in an effort to catch up. Encouraged, Assis called all it could from the tread module, and in moments the hangar dome was looming before them, Zerpen's sinuous logo emblazoned on the curved side. In the wan light, Galen scanned the final stretch of snow. 'No sign of prints or tracks,' he said. 'We're going to make it.' Short of the dome, Lyra let go of the rope and hurtled for the main hatch, bringing herself to an expert stop at the exterior control panel. By the time Galen slid to a less elegant standstill, the hatch was up and the interior of the hangar was illuminating. Their small, sleek spacecraft sat silently under spotlights. Unclipping from the skis, they plodded through a thigh-'high drift that had formed in front of the hatch. 'Prep the ship,' Galen told Lyra in a rush. 'I'll get the dome opened.' 'Watch out for falling snow.' 'And me, Dr. Erso'? Assis asked, the tug ropes still dangling from its torso. 'What would you have me do'? Galen glanced briefly at the approaching riders. 'Remain here and secure the entry behind us.' He crouched somewhat to address the droid directly. 'You have your instructions if this doesn't work.' 'I will execute your orders, Dr. Erso.' Galen and Lyra hurried inside''he for the dome controls, she for the ship. Hitting the switch that opened the roof, Galen raced to join Lyra, but neither of them had advanced more than a few meters when a rope net as heavy as a trio of taqwas and just as coarse dropped from somewhere overhead, propelling them into each other and trapping them underneath. 'I'm guessing you didn't figure this into your calculations,' Lyra said, struggling to rise to her knees. Galen tried to extricate his right arm from the leaden mesh, escape and safety just out of reach. Anger raged in him. The Valltii had en-

18 james luceno gineered the net to fall as soon as the roof retracted. How could he have failed to foresee such a crude trap? Or had he deliberately led them into it? 'Looks like we made a bad call.' 'Back on Coruscant, you mean.' Assis was reconfiguring itself to lend a literal hand when the sound of galloping animals and guttural voices infiltrated the dome. In short order, eight shaggy big-'footed taqwas exhaling breath clouds paraded through the hatch and began to pick their way carefully around the deployed net. Bearing the brand of Marshal Phara on their rumps, they had long necks, sharp teeth, and doleful eyes. The riders were thickset males dressed in boiled-leather ? long coats and hide boots, the cheeks above their thick beards polished by Vallt's blizzards to a cerulean sheen. One of them dismounted from a wooden saddle and doffed a wool cap as he approached Galen. 'Thank you for not disappointing us, Dr. Erso,' he said in the indigenous tongue. Galen gave up on freeing his arm and allowed himself to sag to the hangar's cold hard floor. 'Good job covering your tracks.' The black-'eyed rider went down on one knee in front of him. Small blood-'red beads were braided into his iced whiskers, and he smelled of smoke and rancid butter tea. 'We strung the net two days ago. Last night's snowfall favored our plans. But don't feel too bad, you would never have reached here by way of the tunnels, either.' 'So we learned.' 'I am an innocent party to all this!' Assis said from just inside the hatch, back to bipedal mode and displaying two short arms. 'I was pressed into service and had no choice but to follow orders!' Without standing, the rider turned to his cohorts. 'Muzzle that droid.' Two riders dismounted to carry out the command. Galen heard the sound of a restraining bolt being hammered into the droid's torso. 'Lyra's the innocent party,' he snapped. 'Get her out from beneath this thing.' The same riders who had silenced Assis lifted a corner of the weighty mesh and helped Lyra to her feet, but made no move to free Galen.

catalyst: a rogue one novel 19 'You are under arrest by order of Marshal Phara,' the lead rider told him. 'On what charge, exactly'? 'Espionage. Among others.' Galen looked him in the eye. 'Two weeks ago you and I sipped tea together, and now you're arresting me.' 'Things change, Dr. Erso. My orders were to capture you. Marshal Phara will decide your guilt or innocence.' He stood and faced one of the mounted soldiers. 'Ride to the facility and send the troop carrier to deliver Dr. Erso to Tambolor prison.'

isolation Two guards in bristly jackets and bulky fur caps led Galen from the stone-'walled cell into a room with plaster walls and a high arched ceiling. Sapwood crackled in the mouth of a large fireplace, and oily smoke from torches set in wall sconces lazed in the air. Behind a large scarred desk sat a sturdy woman wearing a belted brown uniform. Her hair was parted in the middle, slicked down with what might have been lard, and fell in two precise braids linked and entwined with colored yarn. Argent rings adorned her fat blue fingers, and her nose was pierced by a small blood-'red stud. Her eyes were a shiny black, enlivened by the wad of stimulant berries she had packed in one glossy cheek. She motioned him to the rickety chair that faced the desk. Galen extended his free hands to her. 'Are you certain you don't want to shackle me'? Her grin revealed large dark-'stained teeth. 'I don't think you can

22 james luceno do much harm in here, Dr. Erso,' she said in the local tongue. 'Unless of course the Republic implanted you with some sort of secret weapon.' He lowered himself onto the chair. They had kept him on ice for two local weeks, though he had been permitted a brief visit with Nurboo. His friend had promised to try to convey a handwritten message to Lyra, wherever she was being held. 'You have some odd notions regarding the Republic's capability.' She spread her hands in a kind of shrug. 'The tragedy of living on the Outer Rim, Doctor.' She paused, then said: 'I am Chieftain Gruppe. Have you been comfortable? Is there anything you need'? Galen rubbed the growth that covered his cheeks and chin. 'A razor. A hot bath. An extra blanket.' 'I'll see to it that you receive them.' She turned to one side to spit a stream of black fluid into a pot on the floor. 'I thought Vallt had laws against false arrest, Chieftain.' 'New constitution,' Gruppe said in an offhand way. 'Essentially we're free to do just about anything we wish''anytime, anywhere, and to anyone.' 'I'm certain you'll be a wealthy landowner before you know it.' 'An ancillary benefit, to be sure.' Galen gazed up at the leaky ceiling and water-'stained walls. 'You could patch those leaks with a bit of permacrete.' She turned slightly in the chair to follow his gaze. 'No one informed me that you are a stone setter in addition to being an energy researcher, Doctor.' Galen gave vent to his anger. 'Where is Lyra, Chieftain? What have you done with her'? She smiled tightly. 'In safekeeping. Resting comfortably.' 'When will I be allowed to see her'? Gruppe leaned back in the chair. 'That depends entirely on you.' His expression hardened. 'Perhaps you don't understand''? 'I understand completely, Doctor. How many of your months remain before the child is due'? 'Approximately two''unless you've placed her in danger.' She waved in dismissal. 'The child is yours''

catalyst: a rogue one novel 23 'Of course the child is mine.' 'I ask only because it is my understanding that the human women of Coruscant no longer carry or deliver their own progeny''that they hire others to do that for them.' 'Not on the Coruscant I know.' 'You're not one who dwells in the clouds then'? 'Lyra and I have a small apartment on the campus of one of the universities.' Gruppe considered this. 'An individual of your standing'? 'I demand to be with Lyra for the birth, Chieftain,' he said with force. 'And you will be, Doctor. We're not barbarians, after all.' She gazed at him for a long moment. 'We've met, you know. Three months back at the ball King Chai threw when he welcomed Zerpen to Vallt.' 'You'll excuse me if I choose not to remember.' Her brows knitted. She turned to loose another stream of liquid into the pot and wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her drab uniform.''I'm sure you must feel like one of the rodents you use in your experiments''? 'I don't use animals in my research.' 'Be that as it may, you've no need to remain here. The length of your confinement is completely in your hands. You could walk out of here today and return to the company of your wife.' Galen smiled without mirth. 'And all I need to do is confess to being a spy for the Republic and agree to swear my allegiance to the Separatists.' He shook his head. 'I'm sorry, Chieftain, but I'm merely a researcher in the employ of Zerpen Industries. I don't work for the Republic, and I'm certainly not about to work for Count Dooku.' 'Science doesn't take sides, is that it'? 'Well put.' 'With galactic affairs as they are, there's little profit to being neutral, Doctor.' Galen tilted his head to regard her frankly. 'I can only wonder what Count Dooku offered Vallt's new leadership. Perhaps he promised to tug this world a bit closer to your star.' Gruppe's shoulders heaved. 'Trade, respect, fair representation in

24 james luceno the Confederacy. All that we weren't receiving as a member world of the Republic.' 'It's all bluster, Chieftain. Like the winds here. You'd be better off going about your business without aligning yourselves with either side. Take that to Marshal Phara.' 'To what end, Doctor? To continue lives of leaky roofs, cold beds, and rancid tea? Perhaps you think we don't yearn for the things readily available to the Core and Mid Rim worlds. Or is it that you prefer to keep Vallt primitive and secluded? A museum exhibit for Coruscant's elite tourists.' 'And if the Separatists lose this war? What happens to Vallt then'? 'For a man who claims not to take sides you seem to have a fixation on winners and losers.' 'I don't care one way or the other. But you're mistaken to believe that Vallt will profit when this war has run its course.' He paused, then said: 'How do you think Zerpen will respond when they learn that you've seized their facility? They've invested a lot of time and credits in Vallt.' 'We anticipate that they will be eager to renegotiate the terms of the original contract.' 'And I'm expected to be a bargaining chip in this renegotiation.' 'Something to that effect, yes.' She fell briefly silent, then said: 'What can you tell me about the Republic military'? 'Not a blessed thing, thankfully.' 'Where did the clone army originate'? Galen stared at her and laughed. 'Who do you take me for'? 'How long have Chancellor Palpatine and the Jedi Order been planning this war'? 'You're wasting your time, Chieftain. You'll have to ask them.' Gruppe leaned over to spit, then inserted a large purple berry into the cud in her cheek. 'By all accounts your research has been very productive.' 'We're making progress.' 'In energy enrichment.' 'Thanks to Vallt's abundance of natural resources and what was King Chai's generosity, yes.'

catalyst: a rogue one novel 25 'I'm told that you are actually growing crystals.' 'Yes,' Galen replied. 'It's a complicated process, but if we can succeed in growing crystals that yield results, we may be able to supply inexpensive power to developing worlds.' 'Like Vallt.' 'Like Vallt.' 'Isn't it true, though, that energy can be employed in many ways? In the same way it can provide illumination for a city, it can be used to power weapons of mass destruction.' 'If I thought that Zerpen was engaging in weapons research, I wouldn't be working with them.' 'Truly'? She mulled it over. 'You have many friends here who say that we should simply banish you or turn you over to your superiors at Zerpen. But in fact, Doctor, you're too valuable to be returned; especially now, in light of these accusations of espionage. You might be inclined to rescind your neutrality and lend your notable talents to the Republic. You see the dilemma in which we find ourselves.' 'Obviously I've failed to make myself understood, Chieftain.' 'Perhaps. But time is hardly a precious commodity on Vallt, so we don't mind wasting it, as you so colorfully put it. Time enough for an inquest, followed by a trial before the Tribunal. And all the while away from your wife. I can certainly appreciate your position, but I would have thought you would want a better life for your child.' She paused to blow out her breath. 'Well, Marshal Phara is taking the matter under advisement. Should your innocence be established you will of course be permitted to leave Vallt.' Galen shook his head in elaborate disappointment. 'There's a test we run at the ignition facility. We subject certain crystals to intense pressure in order to entice them to produce a kind of electrical current. Conversely, those same crystals can be made to shrink in size when excited by an external current. I'm trying to determine which of the tests I'm being subjected to just now.' Gruppe's eyes clouded over; then she smiled with what struck Galen as genuine warmth. 'You're an odd sort of being, Dr. Erso.' 'You're not the first to make that observation, Chieftain.' 'You seem to take pride in being stubborn.'

26 james luceno 'I only know one way to be.' Gruppe took a deep breath. 'It must be difficult to live with.' He tried to read her. 'Having principles'? 'No.' She tapped the side of her head, clearly indicating Galen's. 'All that deep thinking.' Lyra's hands were shaking as she unfolded the letter Nurboo had delivered. Handwritten on parchment of the sort the Valltii used, the message filled both sides of the stiff sheet. The wide margins on one side were crammed with drawings of faces and figures, interspersed with fragments of equations, as if Galen was multitasking''one part of him writing to her while another part sought to solve some calculation spinning through his head. She had to turn the sheet ninety degrees each way and upside down to decipher some of the jottings. The reverse side was covered top-'to-'bottom and edge-'to-'edge with Galen's near-'microscopic scrawl. His handwriting was almost as indecipherable as his theories about crystals and their potential to provide inexpensive power, but years of transcribing Galen's personal notes had allowed her to interpret both. The letter began: I have learned''from Chieftain Gruppe, who has interrogated me on three separate occasions so far''that you are, in her words, 'in safekeeping? in the northern wing of the Keep. As luck would have it, I can see a bit of that architectural monstrosity from the small crazed window in my room''my cell, really''though I have to perch myself precariously on a three-'legged stool I set upon the hard slab of my sleeping platform, and what with the pale winter light I'm left staring directly into the smudge of Vallt's distant primary. Even so I try to imagine the room you inhabit and hope that you have reason from time to time to peer across the city at Tambolor, your gaze alighting on my candlelit cubicle.

catalyst: a rogue one novel 27 In fact she hadn't done that because she hadn't known where he was being kept. But now that she did she eased herself out of the plush chair at the foot of the broad bed and moved slowly to the bay window, one hand supporting her ever-'expanding belly. Wiping frost from the bubbled glass, she peered out across the courtyard and across the blockish hand-'built city beyond. Central to the courtyard sat an enormous statue of a taqwa rider dressed in cape and helmet, with a war club raised in his right hand. High above, a dozen broad-? winged fliers were wheeling in the monochrome sky. In the city, a few Valltii could be glimpsed going about their business: a scattering of beast-'drawn sleds maneuvering through the city's maze of frost-? heaved lanes. The imposing prison sat on a tableland far to the east and resembled the Keep in many ways, as it had served as the palace in a bygone era. Lights flickered in some of Tambolor's lower-'story windows, but the upper stories, all the way to the exaggerated roof'? too steep even for snow to accumulate for very long''loomed black as night. Which level, which cell? she wondered. Why hadn't Galen provided her with an appointed time to look, so that he could wave a candle in his window and she would know where he was and that he was all right? She lowered herself onto the soft cushion of the bay's window seat and as she did the baby stirred and either kicked or elbowed her, which made her smile and wish all the more that Galen was with her so she could press his hand against her abdomen to feel the life within. One of her handmaidens was a midwife, and she was excited by the prospect of witnessing and assisting in a human birth. Giddy as children and loyal to Phara only when the marshal's henchmen were within earshot, the handmaidens were as eager to meet Galen as Lyra was to hug him to her. Lifting the message into the meager light, she continued reading. As prison cells go mine isn't too bad. It's remarkable what the Valltii can do with stone, and this room, this entire building really, is about as impressive an example of worked stone as I've seen anywhere on-? or offworld. The

28 james luceno walls are a meter thick, the high ceiling a flawless geometry of ovoid arches, the massive columns left raw and unadorned, as if to call attention to the skill of the masons who raised them. The corridors are filled with the incessant sound of hand chisels at work. There are, of course, the bars that seal me inside, the dim light, the odors, and the daytime chutes of snowmelt running down the walls from the sloping roof. When the temperature plunges at night I can almost ice-'skate across the tiled floor. I have, though, discovered some interesting patterns and faces in the growths of algae and moss, even in the arrangement of the unhewn stones, some of which I include here for your amusement. Plus I have been running all make and manner of calculations in my head. The strict routine of toilet breaks and meals of starchy root crops is allowing me to make a lot of headway. But enough about me and my predicament. Chieftain Gruppe has also assured me that you are being treated well, but how can I know for sure? Nurboo, when he visited to collect this missive, said that he hadn't been able to ascertain anything about your living conditions or, more important, the state of your health. Your remark about that downhill trip on Chandrila stirred many recollections of that expedition, and how crucial your knowledge of the wilderness was to our survival. Can you recall the interior of that cave as lucidly as I can''the stalactites, the drip water, the extraordinary view over the glacier? We have had some times, haven't we; some amazing experiences. Adventures! And just as we've always managed to get out of tight spots, we'll get out of this one. We just need to hold out and trust. Once more she raised her eyes from the sheet as memories tugged her from the present. It was so like Galen to go off on tangents. In his usual fashion, he was deliberately misremembering. He'd had as

catalyst: a rogue one novel 29 much to do with ensuring their survival as she had. Even with a torn knee he had stoked the fire, helped prepare their meals, melt snow for cooking. He was forever underselling himself, downplaying his innate strength and power. She recalled the first time she'd set eyes on him on Espinar, thinking: If this guy was any more magnetic, pieces of metal would fly across the room and start sticking to him? .' .' .'? She went back to reading. I take full responsibility for this imbroglio''unlike Chandrila, which really wasn't my fault. (I will also lay the blame on those cheap bindings.) You were reluctant to come to Vallt and in retrospect I should have listened to you. It was only a matter of time before Vallt aligned itself with the Separatists, and I should have seen that coming. Well, perhaps I did and simply refused to acknowledge it. For the research, of course, and''you have to admit''we have forged some lasting friendships these past months. Then there is the crystal research itself, and the discoveries the team has made. We're onto something big with this last batch of kyber synthetics; I can feel it. There's no telling at this point what the limits are: power enough to supply enriched and renewable energy for entire continents, certainly. Perhaps for entire worlds. I do ache to get back to the facility to continue the work. Research is the only thing I'm good at, and I'm determined to provide for you and our child. I lament that that seems a long shot just now. But enough about me again! What I really ache to do is hold you, and I will do whatever I must to be with you when you deliver our child. Chieftain Gruppe has said over and over that I hold the key to our freedom. It is contingent merely on my agreeing to work for the Separatists rather than for Zerpen. All these false charges of espionage will be dropped, and we can go back to living as we were just weeks ago. And this is where I have to ask you: Should I simply accept their

30 james luceno terms? I will do it''for your sake, for the sake of our unborn daughter. You need only say the word. Take solace in the fact that my mind remains free''to dwell on you from afar. Until we are together once more. All my love. She frowned as she set the letter down alongside her on the cushion. He knew full well that she would never tell him to act against his principles. But where it might strike some as a kind of ploy'? a shifting of the responsibility for his decision onto her to keep himself from being held accountable''she understood that he meant every word of it. She picked the sheet up to reread, her eyes brimming with tears by the time she reached the end. As painful as it was to read, the letter had been the first she had received from him in years and she cherished it. Assis came to with a start. Its optical sensors registered that a Valltii soldier with long and bejeweled mustachios had removed the restraining bolt a different soldier had installed? .' .' .''27 local days, 18 divisions, and 6.23 fragments earlier. It was still just inside the entrance of the domed docking bay in which Dr. Erso and Lyra had been netted. A Zerpen spacecraft rested on a sheen of ice that had formed since their capture. Several soldiers were circling the craft at the moment, their breathing forming small clouds in the frigid air. One was clearly aware of the sounds of Assis's restart and self-'diagnostic, but was paying it no mind. Assis's alloy extremities were rendered slightly brittle by the cold. Its relays and conductors were slow to warm. As per Dr. Erso's programmed commands, the TDK-'160's sensors reached out in search of devices with which it could communicate. It found the spacecraft's hypercomm transceiver and entered into a jaunty dialogue with it. While the two machines spoke, Assis's intelligence ran through various scenarios regarding its fate once the Valltii determined that it

catalyst: a rogue one novel 31 had executed Dr. Erso's task. One scenario had it undergoing a full memory wipe and rebuild; another, a full dismantle and recycling; a third, commendation by those it served and to whom it belonged. A relationship with the craft's hyperspace communications suite established, Assis relayed audio and visual data regarding Dr. Erso's arrest and the commandeering of the research facility by soldiers loyal to Vallt's new government, which the transceiver in turn relayed to the appropriate parties in a burst broadcast. All of this occurred in the blink of an eye.

secret weapons On a world as populous as Coruscant where the guest list for an invitation-'only event could run to the tens of thousands, the mixed-? species gathering of 150 beings taking place in the Strategic Planning Amphitheater at the summit of the Republic Center for Military Operations raised the definition of exclusive to new heights. Not a standard year earlier, before the start of the war and the Republic's still-'astonishing acquisition of a Grand Army of clone soldiers, the very notion of a Strategic Advisory Cell would have been viewed as just another ruse by members of the Senate to fatten themselves on the rich drippings of the bloated Republic coffers. Now, in light of intelligence regarding the state of the Separatist war machine, the committee was seen''certainly by the assembled insiders''as crucial to Republic efforts to counter and defeat the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Lieutenant Commander Orson Krennic, the person largely re-

34 james luceno sponsible for remodeling and expanding the building, was seated halfway between the amphitheater's rounded stage and the tiered balconies reserved for a few select senators and representatives of the industrial cartels that had remained loyal to the Republic: Corellian Engineering, Kuat Drive Yards, Rendili StarDrive, and the like. Just turned thirty, Krennic was of average height, with bright-'blue eyes, narrow lips, and wavy light-'brown hair. Recently transferred from the Corps of Engineers to the cell's Special Weapons Group, he wore the same white tunic affected by some members of the intelligence and security services. Seating in the room hadn't been assigned by rank, species, or order of importance, but Krennic was determined to move himself closer to the wings of the stage where Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's right-? hand man, Mas Amedda, sat with several of his gaudily attired key advisers in front of a curved windowwall that looked out on the southern sprawl of Coruscant's Senate District. In the months since the weekly briefings had begun, Krennic had managed to advance ten rows toward his goal, and was confident of reaching it by the first anniversary of the Battle of Geonosis. The room contained as many uniforms as not. Seated to Krennic's left was the chief of naval intelligence and to his right the director of COMPOR''the Commission for the Protection of the Republic. Elsewhere were high-'ranking members of the military, structural engineers, starship designers, and theoretical and experimental physicists. Many of them were near-? or nonhuman''a handful of the latter immersed in tanks of liquid or wearing transpirators that supplied the atmospheric gases native to their homeworlds. Krennic knew some of the scientists as associates on the War Production Board, others merely by reputation. As the room began to quiet, he leaned slightly to one side to gaze between two ruddy, small-'horned heads at the thin-'limbed alien scientist who was speaking from the front row. 'Vice Chancellor Amedda and esteemed colleagues, I am pleased to announce that phase one of the project has been completed.' A male Parwan, Dr. Gubacher was a specialist in artificial intelli-

catalyst: a rogue one novel 35 gence who worked closely with the Jedi in designing surveillance and espionage droids. Pressed to the apparent voice box of Gubacher's dome-'shaped head was a device that rendered his sibilant utterings in fluent Basic. 'If you'll direct your attention to the holoprojector? .' .' .' Most did; others enabled small devices built into the armrests of many of the chairs that replicated the 3-? D data issuing from the massive center stage unit. Personal comlinks were not permitted in the amphitheater, and even the projectors were quarantined from the HoloNet. A gleaming metallic ring hung above the stage, motionless against a backdrop of stars. Gubacher raised himself on tentacle legs to regard the ring for a moment, then twirled to face the control booth in the amphitheater's uppermost tier. 'Please provide the alternative view.' He waited for the ring to become vertical in the field. 'Ah, that's better. Now please expand the field so that the ring can be viewed in context.' As the ring diminished in size, warships, construction vessels, asteroids, and the starlit rim of a desolate-'looking planet began to appear in the field. Gubacher gestured to the ring. 'One hundred and twenty kilometers from pole to pole. In itself, an incredible achievement.' Applause erupted in the amphitheater, and even Mas Amedda proffered a gratified smile. Having spent time at the construction site, Krennic felt that the holovid didn't do justice to the work in progress above the planet Geonosis. But the holo would have to suffice, since few members in the amphitheater had been allowed to visit the project. The wedge-'shaped Venator-'class Star Destroyers on view, as well as many others scattered through the Geonosian system, were there to deny entry to any unauthorized visitors. 'What you see is the product of countless hours of construction work undertaken by machines,' Gubacher continued, 'most of which are newly designed, and some of which are controlled by sentient operators stationed in our orbital command habitats, as can be seen''he indicated three bright specks in the holofield'''here, here,

36 james luceno and here.' Turning to the control booth, he said: 'Please project aspect two.' Murmurings and their analogs in a variety of languages issued from the audience while the field disappeared. In its place resolved a panorama of the red planet's asteroid belt, replete with construction vessels of all classifications''miners, transports, tenders, tugs'? coming and going like a swarm of vespids building a nest. 'Our quarry, if you will,' the Parwan said, 'supplying us with metals, organic materials, even supplies of water. Similarly viable asteroids have been towed and tractor-'beamed to the site from throughout the field, and in some instances from fields surrounding the star system's gas giants.' The holovid shifted again to display a view of massive orbital platforms, busy with ship traffic. 'Once the ores are mined,' Gubacher went on, 'they are hauled to foundries in synchronous orbit for the production of durasteel and other structural metals. By cannibalizing the battle droid factories Baktoid Armor built on the surface, we were able to have the foundries up and running soon after the start of asteroid mining.' Once more he signaled the control booth. 'Please project the original schematic.' A sphere with a massive northern hemisphere concavity appeared above the holoprojector. 'Our goal,' Gubacher said, 'the mobile battle station.' It was Supreme Chancellor Palpatine himself who had presented the schematic to the Strategic Advisory Cell at the second briefing. But in fact the battle station wasn't a product of Republic research and development; it had originated with the Separatists. The captive Geonosian leader, Poggle the Lesser, maintained that Count Dooku had provided Poggle's hive with the basic plans, and that the Geonosians had merely refined them. To the best of Poggle's knowledge, the Separatists had no project of their own in the works. However, most cell members had refused to take the Geonosian at his word. Intelligence had high confidence that Dooku's forces, in league with various corporations allied to the Confederacy, were in the process of

catalyst: a rogue one novel 37 constructing a battle station somewhere in the galaxy, and an extensive search was under way to locate and destroy that secret site. Krennic considered the evidence specious, but rejecting the possibility out of hand would have jeopardized Republic funding for the project, regardless of the authority that had been ceded to Palpatine by the Emergency Powers Act. If the battle station was as potentially potent as scientists had determined it to be, then it was vital that the Republic get theirs built first. There were lingering questions as to how the original schematic had fallen into Republic hands, though most accepted that the plans had been found during or shortly after the second Battle of Geonosis'? not however by the Jedi, who were neither represented on the committee nor aware of the project. Even Gubacher had been required to sign the Official Secrets Act and was going to have to keep his slit-? mouth shut when dealing with members of the Order. 'With our prime meridian now complete,' the alien scientist was saying, 'we can proceed with the fabrication of a temporary equator, along with a series of latitudinal bands to rough in the sphere. As these bands are secured from pole to equator, construction of the hull will commence, along with the partitioning of individual interior sections. These cabinspaces will be clad, sealed, and pressured in order to permit the use of sentient laborers in addition to droids.' 'Where will this sentient labor force come from'? someone down front asked. Gubacher pirouetted toward the voice. 'Various options are being explored.' 'I've seen workforce estimates ranging in the millions,' the same person said. An alien seated a few rows in front of Krennic spoke before Gubacher could respond. 'The cell subcommittee is considering providing the Kaminoans with a template to grow a labor force of clones adapted for deep-'space work.' Before anyone else could jump in, all two meters of Mas Amedda rose to his feet, banging his figure-'headed staff on the floor in a call for silence. 'I want to caution everyone present not to get ahead of

38 james luceno themselves. An adequate supply of workers will be found when the need arises.' Krennic focused his gaze on the splendidly robed Chagrian vice chancellor, who had his pink-'rimmed eyes narrowed and his large head angled so that his two impaling horns were pointed straight at the audience. He steeples his fingers when he has doubts about what is being presented. His dangling lethorns quiver when he is engaged. His forked tongue darts out when he equivocates? .' .' .'? Gubacher called for holoimages of a Trade Federation starship to be displayed alongside the schematic. Republic engineers had postulated that the battle station had been inspired by the central control orb of the decades-'old Lucrehulk-'class transport. 'Imagine, if you will, the twin arms of the Lucrehulk as the eventual equator of our battle station. Save that ours will be a kind of trench in which will be housed docking and hangar bays, tractor beam generators, projectors and emitter towers, turbolaser emplacements and mooring platforms for ships of the fleet. Shield projectors and communications arrays will be distributed all across the armored surface, analogous to colonies. This will allow us to devote the entire interior space''except for a habitable crust several kilometers thick comprising command centers, armories, maintenance blocks, and such''to the fusion reactor, the hyperdrive and sublight engines, and of course the weapon itself.' Krennic watched Amedda, whose long-'taloned fingers caressed his chin as he began to circle the projected images, which were more than twice his substantial height. 'What is the status of the weapon'? the Chagrian asked. Gubacher swiveled to someone seated nearby and motioned with his willowy upper limbs. 'Professor Sahali, perhaps you should speak to that.' Lead scientist of the Special Weapons Group, the man who stood to tackle the question was nearly as wide as he was tall, and sported a floppy hat and a pair of goggle-'like glasses. 'As regards the weapon,' he began in a thick Outer Rim accent, 'even the schematic is vague. We suspect, however, that the Geono-

catalyst: a rogue one novel 39 sians envisioned making some use of the focusing dish to house a weapon capable of evaporating planetary atmospheres, or perhaps disrupting planetary cores.' 'Does such a weapon exist'? Amedda asked, stopping to look down at Sahali. 'Is it even within our scope to create one'? 'Since the very inception of the Republic there has been no need for such research,' Sahali made clear, 'let alone funding. That said, following the Naboo Crisis of just eleven years ago, Republic Special Weapons Group developed plans for an automated battlemoon asteroid.' 'I believe there were also plans for a torpedo siege platform,' someone said. Sahali acknowledged the remark with a curt nod. 'Needless to say, Vice Chancellor, neither of the projects made it past the design stage.' 'I should think that those were mere toys compared with this,' Amedda said, gesturing to the battle station schematic. 'Quite so,' Sahali said. 'The weapon will prove to be our greatest challenge,' Gubacher said. 'The hypermatter reactor, the drives, all the rest, are merely elaborations of the armaments our finest engineering firms have been able to provide to Star Destroyers and other vessels. But the weapon? .' .' .''the weapon won't merely be a larger version of the turbolaser. It will be something that has yet to be seen.' Amedda turned to him. 'How long will it take to develop this? .' .' .'? marvel of technology? I need an estimate.' Gubacher's dome of a head rolled in uncertainty. 'Very difficult to say. Many of the greatest minds in the Republic are working on it. Nevertheless, the weapon will require something truly novel in the realm of energy enhancement. A breakthrough of, dare I say, galactic proportions.' Krennic sat back in confident repose, convinced that fate had supplied the means for him to move to the front row. 'Let's not stand on ceremony, Lieutenant Commander,' Mas Amedda said, welcoming Krennic at long last into his spacious office in the Senate Dome. 'Please be seated.'

40 james luceno Krennic assessed the room and took the best seat. 'Thank you, Vice Chancellor.' 'I apologize that I've not been able to meet with you sooner.' Krennic replied with a dismissive flick of his hand. 'I know you've been busy. The war and all? .' .' .' He'll steeple his claws. Amedda steepled his long fingers and appraised Krennic from across the expanse of alloy desk. 'My aides tell me that your visit has something to do with the project.' Krennic fed him a beaming smile. 'Everything to do with the project.' 'Which component''precisely'? 'The weapon.' The Chagrian's bulbous lethorns didn't disappoint; they quivered, which suggested engagement. 'Well, then, I'm very sorry I couldn't meet with you sooner.' Krennic had never spent personal time with the vice chancellor. They had been in many a room together, and Krennic had observed him out and about, at the opera before the war and in the Senate Building and elsewhere on numerous occasions. Krennic's invitation'? in effect his orders'? to join the Strategic Advisory Cell had originated with Amedda, though Krennic doubted that the Chagrian had any memory, or perhaps even any knowledge, of that. Ever since he had been transferred from the Corp of Engineers and required to swear to innumerable security oaths, Krennic's life had been transformed. He naturally assumed that his personal comlink was tapped; that his close friends, remaining family members, and past and present lovers had been interviewed; that his every search on the HoloNet was monitored and evaluated. Though he wore a white tunic, publicly he was still a member of the Corps of Engineers; only his associates in the cell were aware of his duties as coordinator of the Special Weapons Group. The new assignment had also required a return to school to suffer through intensive courses on the weapons Rothana, Kuat, and others had built for the Kaminoans to equip the Grand Army, and on the weapons Baktoid, Hoersch-'

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