Upon Stellan's return two days prior, the repairs for the desalination plant weren't entirely complete. All they had to do now, however, was attach the sluice gates—something that would be accomplished as soon as the tow craft were available, a week or two at most. The people of Eiram might still have water rationing in place, but the rations were generous, and after several weeks of hardship the planet was ready to celebrate.
Stellan said as much to Maru, who replied, "Right. It's the perfect time for everybody. But it doesn't hurt that this is when the chancellor happened to be free."
"Such is the state of politics," Stellan said.
In truth, it was good of Chancellor Soh to have made the time to attend, even holographically. The flickering images next to him on the dais saw her sitting comfortably in an informal chair, her enormous targons lying on either side of her, dozing in the contentment of beasts. Stellan's eyes met Lina Soh's, briefly—each sharply conscious of the memories of the Republic Fair. The image of Stellan lifting her unconscious body from the rubble had already become iconic: both of the evil of the Nihil, and of the resilience of the Republic. Thus the two of them were in a strange way bound together in the public eye; in the same way, Stellan had become 'the' Jedi, the symbol of the Order.
"If we're a constellation," Elzar Mann had said, before leaving for his retreat, "the Council has made you the polestar." Stellan would've liked to disagree, but he couldn't.
Stellan wasn't sure how he felt about that. So he was guiltily relieved that the chancellor hadn't attended in person. Otherwise there would've been pressure to come up with some new iconic image, somehow.
From the Jedi Council, his fellow members Masters Adampo and Poof watched via their own holograms as well. Cam droids hovered amid the streamers and balloons, capturing the event for people from Kennerla to Coruscant. No matter how distant this part of the frontier might be from the Galactic Core, the people of Eiram could know themselves to be truly as much a part of the Republic as any other world.
"They've needed this," Stellan murmured as he looked out at the revelry of the crowd.
Maru surprised him by answering, "We've needed this."
And that was the truth of it. Stellan's keen gaze picked out white-and-gold-clad figures among the festival-goers: Bell Zettifar and Indeera Stokes, sipping bright-orange ram'bucha from their cups; Nib Assek helping OrbaLin to make his way toward the dancers, the better to watch their performance; and Burryaga, playing with some of the tinier children. Being a Jedi was a sacred duty—but the light demanded more than obedience and sacrifice. Sometimes a Jedi had to be open to the simple, pure experience of joy. Today they all had that chance.
"A fine thing to see, isn't it?" Regasa Elarec Yovet of the Togruta was there in person, standing near the flickering image of Chancellor Soh.
It was the chancellor who answered, though Stellan entirely agreed: "It is, Your Majesty. And it's about time."
* * *
"It is almost time, my lord," said Thaya Ferr.
Marchion Ro gave his underling the slightest nod as he stared into the depths of the holographic star chart. His preselected targets glowed red among the whiter stars, and he studied each one in turn.
These were ordinary worlds. Large and prosperous enough to be of note at least to neighboring systems, not so large as to have strong planetary defenses or to draw undue attention. He walked through the holographic chart, imagining the suns and planets pushing apart to let him pass.
The worlds he had chosen had two things in common: First, they all had good communications systems that would allow them to reach officials on Coruscant within minutes.
Second, they were all very, very far from Starlight Beacon. He smiled his bloodless smile. "Begin."
* * *
Aleen: a planet neither particularly obscure nor noteworthy. Although Aleen had been racked by wars in its distant past, it was now a place where nothing of significance had happened in a very long time—even by its own inhabitants' reckoning—and nothing of significance was anticipated for perhaps an even longer time to come. The legends of the wars were enough to make every soul on Aleen satisfied with an uneventful life.
Yeksom: one of the longest-standing Republic member worlds on the Outer Rim, one that had suffered terrible groundquakes in recent years. The Republic was helping the planet rebuild, but it was a protracted, painstaking process. Its people remained guarded, uncertain, sad-eyed; everyone had lost someone in the quakes, and grief veiled the world's gray sky.
Japeal: a planet on the frontier, newly bustling, with no fewer than three small space stations in various stages of construction. Its temperate climate and plentiful water practically invited settlers to find a place they might call their own. Dozens of species set up storefronts and eateries; engineers mapped bridges and roads; families put finishing touches on brand-new, prefab homes.
Tais Brabbo: Anyone on Tais Brabbo who wasn't up to no good had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Rumor had it the Hutts had considered moving some operations onto Tais Brabbo but decided against it—the place was too corrupt even for them. It was a good place to get lost, and on any given day it housed millions of souls who wanted nothing more than to remain out of sight of any authorities more powerful than the ineffectual local marshals.
On each of these very different planets, under four different shades of sky, millions of very different individuals were going about tasks as divergent as spinning muunyak wool or taking bounty pucks when they each heard the exact same sound: the thudding hum of spacecraft engines descending.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.
Monday, May 30th, we begin the book Stan Lee's The Devil's Quintet: The Armageddon Code: A Thriller by Stan Lee, Jay Bonansinga.