Sample text for Abyss / Troy Denning.

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_In the Jade Shadow’s forward canopy hung twin_black holes, their perfect darkness surrounded by fiery_whorls of accretion gas. Because the Shadow was_approaching at an angle, the two holes had the oblong_appearance of a pair of fire- rimmed eyes–and Ben_Skywalker was half tempted to believe that’s what they_were. He had begun to feel like he was being watched_the instant he and his father had entered the Maw_cluster, and the deeper they advanced, the stronger the_sensation grew. Now, at the very heart of the concentration_of black holes, the feeling was a constant chill_at the base of his skull._

_“I sense it, too,” his father said. He was sitting_behind Ben in the copilot’s seat, up on the primary_flight deck. “We’re not alone in here.”_

_No longer surprised that the Grand Master of the_Jedi Order always seemed to know his thoughts, Ben_glanced at an activation reticle in the front of the cockpit._A small section of canopy opaqued into a mirror,_and he saw his father’s reflection staring out the side of_the canopy. Luke Skywalker looked more alone and_pensive than Ben ever remembered seeing him–_thoughtful, but not sad or frightened, as though he_were merely trying to understand what had brought_him to such a dark and isolated place, banished from_an Order he had founded, and exiled from a society he_had spent his life fighting to defend.__

Trying not to dwell on the injustice of the situation,_Ben said, “So maybe we’re closing in. Not that I’m all_that eager to meet a bunch of beings called the Mind_Drinkers.”_

_His father thought for a moment, then said, “Well,_I am.”_

_He didn’t elaborate, and he didn’t need to. Ben and_his father were on a mission to retrace Jacen Solo’s fiveyear_odyssey of Force exploration. At their last stop,_they had learned from an Aing- Tii monk that Jacen had_been bound for the Maw when he departed the Kathol_Rift. Since one purpose of their journey was to determine_whether Jacen had been nudged toward the dark_side by something on his voyage, it only made sense_that Luke would want to investigate a mysterious_Maw- dwelling group known as the Mind Drinkers._

_What impressed Ben, however, was how calm his_father seemed about it all. Ben was privately terrified of_falling victim to the same darkness that had claimed his_cousin. Yet his father seemed eager to step into its depth_and strike a flame. And why shouldn’t he be? After_everything that Luke Skywalker had suffered and_achieved in his lifetime, there was no power in the_galaxy that could draw him into darkness. It was a_strength that both awed Ben and inspired him, one that_he wondered if he would ever find himself._

_Luke’s eyes shifted toward the mirrored canopy section,_and he caught Ben’s gaze. “Is this what bothered you_when you were at Shelter?” He was referring to a time_that was ancient history to Ben–the last part of the war_with the Yuuzhan Vong, when the Jedi had been forced to_hide their young at a secret base deep inside the Maw._“Did you feel like someone was watching you?”_

_ “How should I know?” Ben asked, suddenly_uneasy–and unsure why. By all accounts, he had been_an unruly, withdrawn toddler while he was at Shelter,_and he recalled being afraid of the Force for years afterward._But he had no clear memories of Shelter itself, or_what it had felt like to be there. “I was two.”__

“You did have feelings when you were two,” his_father said mildly. “You did have a mind.”__

Ben sighed, knowing what his father wanted, then_said, “You’d better take the ship.”__

“I have the ship,” Luke confirmed, reaching for the_copilot’s yoke. “Just close your eyes. Let the Force carry_your thoughts back to Shelter.”_

_“I know how to meditate.” Almost instantly, Ben felt_bad for grumbling and added, “But thanks for the_advice.”__

“Don’t mention it,” Luke said in a good- natured_way. “That’s what fathers do–offer unwanted advice.”_

_Ben closed his eyes and began to breathe slowly and_deliberately. Each time he inhaled, he drew the Force_into himself, and each time he exhaled, he sent it flowing_throughout his body. He had no conscious memories_of Shelter that were his own, so he envisioned a holograph_of the facility that he had seen in the Jedi Archives._The image showed a handful of habitation modules_clinging to the surface of an asteroid fragment, their_domes clustered around the looming cylinder of a power_core. In his mind’s eye, Ben descended into the gaudy_yellow docking bay at the edge of the facility . . . and_then he was two years old again, a frightened little boy_holding a stranger’s hand as his parents departed in the_Jade Shadow._

_An unwarranted sense of relief welled up inside Ben_as he grew lost in a time when life had seemed so much_easier. The last fourteen years began to feel like a long,_terrible nightmare. Jacen’s fall to the dark side had_never happened, Ben had not been molded into an adolescent_assassin, and his mother had not died fighting_Jacen. All those sad memories were still just bad_dreams, the unhappy imaginings of a frightened young_mind._

_Then the Shadow slipped through the containment_field and ignited her engines. In the blink of an eye she_dwindled from a trio of blue ion circles into a pinpoint_of light to nothing at all, and suddenly Ben was alone_in the darkest place in the galaxy, one child among_dozens entrusted to a small group of worried adults_who–despite their cheerful voices and reassuring presences–_had very clammy palms and scary, anxious eyes.__

Two- year- old Ben reached toward the Shadow with_his free hand and his heart, and he sensed his mother_and father reaching back. Though he was too young to_know he was being touched through the Force, he_stopped being afraid . . . until a dark tentacle of need_began to slither up into the aching tear of his abandonment._He thought for an instant that he was just sad_about being left behind, but the tentacle grew as real as_his breath, and he began to sense in it an alien loneliness_as desperate and profound as his own. It wanted_to draw him close and keep him safe, to take the place_of his parents and never let him be alone again._

_Terrified and confused, young Ben pulled away,_simultaneously drawing in on himself and yanking his_hand from the grasp of the silver- haired lady who was_holding it.__

Then suddenly he was back in the cockpit of the Jade_Shadow, staring into the fire- rimmed voids ahead._Scattered around their perimeter were the smaller_whorls of half a dozen more distant rings, their fiery_light burning bright and steady against the starless_murk of the deep Maw._

_“Well?” his father asked. “Anything feel familiar?”__

Ben swallowed. He wasn’t sure why, but he found_himself wanting to withdraw from the Force all over_again. “Are we sure we need to find these guys?”__

Luke raised a brow. “So it is familiar.”__

“Maybe.” Ben couldn’t say whether the two feelings_were related, and at the moment he didn’t care. There_was something hungry in the Maw, something that_would still be there waiting for him. “I mean, the Aing-_Tii call them Mind Drinkers. That can’t be good.”__

“Ben, you’re changing the subject.” Luke’s tone was_more interested than disapproving, as though Ben’s_behavior were only one part of a much larger puzzle._“Is there something you don’t want to talk about?”__

“I wish.” Ben told his father about the dark tentacle_that had reached out to him after the Shadow departed_Shelter so many years ago. “I guess what we’re feeling_now might be related. There was definitely_some . . . thing keeping tabs on me at Shelter.”__

Luke considered this for a moment, then shook his_head. “You were pretty attached to your mother._Maybe you were just feeling abandoned and made up a_‘friend’ to take her place.”__

“A tentacle friend?”_

_“You said it was a dark tentacle,” Luke continued_thoughtfully, “and guilt is a dark emotion. Maybe you_were feeling guilty about replacing us with an imaginary_friend.”__

“And maybe you don’t want to believe the tentacle_was real because it would mean you left your two- yearold_son someplace really dangerous,” Ben countered._He caught his father’s eye in the mirrored section again.__

“I hope you’re not going to try to psychoanalyze this_away, because there’s a big hole in your theory.”__

Luke frowned. “And that would be?”_

_“I was two,” Ben reminded him. “And by all accounts,_I didn’t feel guilty about anything at that age.”_

_Luke grinned. “Good point, but I still don’t think we_should worry too much about this tentacle monster of_yours.”_

_“It’s not my tentacle monster,” Ben retorted, miffed_at having his concerns mocked. “You’re the one who_made me dredge it up.”_

_Luke’s expression hardened into admonishment._

_“But you’re the one who’s still afraid of it.”__

The observation struck home. Whether or not the_dark presence he remembered was real, he had emerged_from Shelter wary of abandonment and frightened of_the Force. And it had been those fears that had allowed_Jacen to lead him into darkness._

Ben sighed. “Right. Whatever this thing is, I’ve got to_face it.” After a moment, he asked, “So how do we find_these Mind Drinkers?”_

_“ ‘The Path of True Enlightenment runs through the_Chasm of Perfect Darkness.’ ” Luke was quoting_Tadar’Ro, the Aing- Tii monk who had told them that_Jacen had left the Kathol Rift to search out the Mind_Drinkers. “ ‘The way is narrow and treacherous, but if_you can follow it, you will find what you seek.’ ”_

_Ben swung his gaze toward the black holes ahead. The_brilliant whorls of their accretion disks were burning_hottest and brightest along their inner rims, where a mixture_of in- falling gas and dust was being compressed to_unimaginable densities as it vanished into the sharpedged_darkness of twin event horizons.__

“Wait. Tadar’Ro said perfect darkness, right?” Ben_started to have a bad feeling about the monk’s instructions._“Like, beyond an event horizon?”_

_“Actually, it’s probably very bright on the way down_a black hole,” Luke pointed out. “Just because gravity_is too strong for light to escape doesn’t mean it can’t_exist, and there’s all that gas compressing and glowing_as it’s sucked deeper and deeper.”_

_“Yeah, but you’re dead,” Ben said, “and everything_is dark when you’re dead. Still, I see what you mean. I_doubt Tadar’Ro expects us to fly down a black hole.”__

“No, not down one.”_

_There was just enough anxiety in Luke’s voice to_make Ben glance into the mirrored section again. His_father was frowning out at the two black holes, staring_into the fiery cloud between them and looking just_worried enough to twist Ben’s stomach into a cold_knot._

_“Between them?” Ben could see what his father was_thinking, and it didn’t make him happy. In any system_of two large bodies, there were five areas where the_centrifugal and gravitational forces would neutralize_each other and hold a smaller body–such as a satellite_or asteroid–in perpetual equilibrium. Of those five_locations, only one was directly between the two bodies._“You mean Stable Zone One?”_

_Luke nodded. “The Chasm of Perfect Darkness is an_ancient Ashla parable referring to the twin perils of ego_and ignorance,” he explained. “The Tythonians spoke_of it as a deep dark canyon flanked by high, evercrumbling_cliffs.”__

“So life is the chasm, darkness is falling all around,”_Ben said, taking an educated guess as to the parable’s_meaning, “and the only way to stay in the light is to go_down the middle.”_

_Luke smiled. “You’ve got a real feeling for mystic_guidance.” He lifted his hands away from the yoke._“You have the ship, son.”_

_“Me? Now?” Ben considered pointing out that his_father was by far the better pilot–but that wasn’t the_issue, of course. If Ben was going to face his fears, he_needed to handle the flying himself. He swallowed_hard, squared his shoulders, then confirmed, “I have_the ship.”_

_Ben deactivated the mirror panel and accelerated_toward the black holes. As the Shadow drew closer,_their dark orbs rapidly began to swell and drift toward_opposite sides of the cockpit, until all that could be seen_of them were tall slivers of darkness hanging along the_rear edges of the canopy. Ahead lay a fiery confluence_of superheated gas, swirling in from two different directions_and so bright it hurt Ben’s eyes even through the_Shadow’s blast- tinting._

_He checked the primary display and found only_bright static; the navigation sensors were awash in electromagnetic_blast from compressing gas. The Shadow’s_internal sensors were working just fine, however, and_they showed the ship’s hull temperature rising rapidly_as they penetrated the cloud. It wouldn’t take long for_that to become dangerous, Ben knew. Soon the fierce_heat inside the accretion disk would start fouling guidance_systems and control relays. Eventually, it would_compromise hull integrity._

_“Dad, how about doing something with those sensor_filters?” Ben asked. “My navigational readings are_snow.”_

_“Adjusting the filters won’t change anything,” Luke_said calmly. “We’re flying between a pair of black holes,_remember?”__

Ben exhaled in exasperation, then cursed under his_breath and continued to stare out into the fiery ribbons_ahead. At best, he could make out a confluence zone_where the two accretion disks were brushing against_each other, and the painful brilliance made it difficult to_tell even that much.__

“How am I supposed to navigate?” Ben complained._

“I can’t see anything.”_

_Luke remained silent._

_Ben felt the hint of disapproval in his father’s Force_aura and experienced a flash of rebellion. He let out a_cleansing breath, allowing the feeling to run its course_and depart on a cushion of stale air, then saw how he_had been blinded by his anxiety over the navigation_difficulties._

_“Oh . . . right,” Ben said, feeling more than a little_foolish. “Trust the Force.”_

_“No worries,” Luke said, sounding amused. “The_first time I tried something this crazy, I had to be_reminded, too.”_

_“Well, at least I have an excuse.” Ben took the navigation_sensors offline so the static wouldn’t interfere_with his concentration. “It’s hard to focus with your_dad looking over your shoulder.”__

Luke’s crash webbing clicked open. “In that case,_maybe I should get some–”__

“Who are you kidding?” Ben shoved the yoke over,_flipping the Shadow into a tight barrel roll. “You just_want to bite your nails in private.”__

“The thought hadn’t crossed my mind,” Luke said,_dropping back into his seat. “Until now, ungrateful offspring.”__

Ben laughed, then leveled out and checked the hull_temperature. It was climbing even faster than he had_feared. He closed his eyes and–hoping the gas was not_so thick that friction would aggravate the problem–_shoved the throttles forward.__

It did not take long before Ben began to sense a calm_place a little to port. He adjusted course and extended_his Force awareness in that direction, then started to_feel a strange, nebulous presence that reminded him of_something he could not quite place–of something dark_and diffuse, spread across a great distance.__

Ben opened his eyes again. “Dad, do you feel–”_“Yes, like the Killiks,” Luke said. “We might be dealing_with a hive- mind.”_

_A cold shudder was already racing down Ben’s spine._


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Skywalker, Luke (Fictitious character) -- Fiction.
Solo, Han (Fictitious character) -- Fiction.
Leia, Princess (Fictitious character) -- Fiction.
Space warfare -- Fiction.