Sample text for Dark journey / Elaine Cunningham.

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Counter Chapter Two

Anakin is dead. Jacen is gone.

These thoughts resounded through Jaina Solo's benumbed senses, echoing through an inner
silence as profound as that of the watchful stars.

These thoughts drowned out the sounds of battle, and
the frantic, running commentary of the seven young Jedi
who struggled to fly the stolen Yuuzhan Vong ship. Like
her companions, Jaina was battered and filthy from days
of captivity, and from a battle that had lasted too long
and cost too much.

Only eight Jedi had fought their way out of the world-ship
and onto this smaller ship, bringing with them the
body of their young leader. The survivors had taken the
Yuuzhan Vong frigate analog quickly, with astonishing
ease. Jaina had a dim recollection of searing anger and
killing light, of her friend Zekk pushing her away from
the pilot's seat and into the Yuuzhan Vong equivalent of
a gunner's chair. She perched there now on the edge of
the too-large seat, firing missiles of molten rock at the
coralskippers pursuing the Jedi and their stolen ship.

Jaina watched with a strange sense of detachment as
the alien ship released plasma at her command, as the
death of coralskippers and their Yuuzhan Vong pilots
was painted in brief, brilliant splashes against the dark
canvas of space. All of this was a fever dream, nothing
more, and Jaina was merely a character caught in her
own nightmare.

Jacen is gone.

It didn't seem possible. It wasn't possible. Jacen was
alive. He had to be. How could she be alive if Jacen
was not? Her twin brother had been a part of her, and
she of him, since before their birth. What they were could
not be separated from what they were to each other.

Her thoughts tumbled like an X-wing in an out-of-control
spiral. Jaina's pilot instincts kicked in, and she
eased herself out of the spin.

Reaching out through the Force, she strained beyond
the boundaries of her power and training as she sought
her brother. Where Jacen had been was only blackness,
as unfathomable as space. She went deep within, frantically
seeking the place within her that had always been
Jacen's. That, too, was veiled.

Jacen was gone. Jaina did not feel bereft, but sundered.
A burst of plasma flared toward the stolen ship. Jaina
responded with one of her own. It streamed toward the
incoming plasma bolt like a vengeful comet. The two
missiles met in a tidal wave.

Zekk threw himself to one side, straining the umbilicals
on the pilot's gloves in his attempt to pull the ship
aside from the killing spray.

Fortunately for the Jedi, their Yuuzhan Vong pursuers
were also forced to turn aside. This bought them a moment
of relative peace--no immediate danger, no obvious

Jaina twisted in her seat until she could see the world-ship
where Anakin had fallen, where Jacen had been
abandoned. It seemed odd, and somehow wrong, that
such a terrible place could be reduced to a small lump of
black coral.

"We'll be back, Jacen," she promised. "You hold on,
and we'll come for you."

I'll come for you, she added silently. She would go
after Jacen alone, if it came down to that, as Anakin had
gone to Yavin 4 to rescue Tahiri.

Now Anakin was dead, and a battered and heart-broken
Tahiri watched over his body. The small blond
girl blazed in the Force like a nova--Jaina couldn't help
but feel her anguish. The severed bond was different
from that shared by twins, but perhaps no less intense.

The realization hit her like a thud bug. Anakin and
Tahiri. How strange--and yet it felt right and perfect.

Tears filled Jaina's eyes, refracting an incoming streak
of molten gold into lethal rainbows. In the pilot's seat,
Zekk muttered a curse and wrenched the frigate's nose
up and hard to port. The alien ship rose in a sharp, gut-
wrenching arc. Plasma scorched along the frigate's underside,
sheering off the irregular coral nodules with a
shrill, ululating screech.

Jaina jerked her left hand from its living glove and
fisted away her tears through the cognition hood that
covered her face. Meanwhile the fingers of her right hand
slid and circled as she deftly brought her target into
focus. She jammed her left hand back into the glove and
squeezed it into a fist, releasing a burst of plasma at the
attacking coralskipper--an instant before it launched a
second plasma.

Jaina's missile struck the Yuuzhan Vong ship in that minuscule
interval between shielding and attack. Shards of
black coral exploded from its hull, and the snout heated
to an ominous red as molten rock washed over it. Cracks
fissured through the Yuuzhan Vong pilot's viewport.

Again Jaina fired, and again, timing the attacks with
skill honed through two long years and too many missions.
The coralskipper's projected gravity well swallowed
the first missile; the second proved to be too much
for the severely compromised hull. The ship broke apart,
spilling its life out into the emptiness of space.

"I know that feeling," Jaina muttered.

A small, strong hand settled on her shoulder. She felt
Tenel Ka's solid presence through the Force--there, but
profoundly different. A moment passed before Jaina
realized why: her friend's emotions, usually as straight-forward
and unambiguous as a drawn blaster, had been
carefully shielded.

"We are doing the right thing for Jacen," Tenel Ka said
stoutly. "Because they have only one twin, they will harm
neither. We suspected as much, but now we have proof.
They are not trying to destroy this ship."

"Couldn't prove it by me," Zekk muttered as he jinked
sharply to avoid another plasma blast.

"Fact," the warrior woman said bluntly. "Zekk, for
two years you've flown cargo ships--a true contribution,
but poor training for this escape."

"Yeah? Here's another fact: I haven't gotten us killed

"And here are several more," Tenel Ka retorted.
"Jaina was in Rogue Squadron. She had access to New
Republic intelligence on enemy ships. She has survived
more dogfights than anyone here. If we are to survive,
you must let her fly."

Zekk started to protest, but another barrage cut him
off. He zigzagged wildly to avoid incoming fire and then
put the ship into a tumbling evasive dive. The force
threw Tenel Ka into the seat behind the pilot. She muttered
something in her native language as she struggled
into the restraining loops.

Jaina braced her feet against the irregular coral floor
and steeled herself for the punishing buildup of g-force.
She expected her cognition hood to bulge out like the
jowls of a Dagobian swamp lizard, but it remained comfortably
in place. She filed the data away for future use.
In any New Republic ship, this maneuver would have
been punishing; apparently, the internal gravity of a Yuuzhan
Vong ship was far more complex and adaptable.

Even so, for several moments speech was impossible.
Jaina quickly ran through the list of survivors as she
considered Tenel Ka's words. Nine Jedi remained, just one
more than half of their original strike force. Tahiri was
only fifteen, and no pilot. She had been terribly wounded
in body and spirit, and Tekli, the Chadra-Fan healer, was
busy attending her. The reptilian Tesar, the sole survivor
of the Barabel hatchmates, was working the shielding
station in the stern. Lowbacca was needed everywhere,
and since their escape he'd been dashing about patching
the living ship's wounds. When his efforts fell short, he'd
alternately cajoled and threatened the ship in Wookiee
terms so vivid that Em Teedee, the lost translator droid,
would have been hard-pressed to come up with genteel

That left Tenel Ka, Alema Rar, and Ganner Rhysode.
Jaina quickly dismissed Tenel Ka. Yuuzhan Yong ships
were not designed with one-armed pilots in mind. Forget
Alema. The Twi'lek female was emotionally fragile--
Jaina could feel her teetering on the edge of mindless,
vengeful frenzy. Put Alema in the pilot's seat, and she'd
likely plot a suicidal plunge directly at the worldship's
dovin basal. Ganner was a powerful Jedi, an impressive-
looking man whose role in this mission had been to serve
as decoy for the real leader--Anakin. Ganner had his
points, but he wasn't enough of a pilot to get them out
of this.

Tenel Ka was right, Jaina concluded. Anakin had died
saving the Jedi from the deadly voxyn. He'd left his last
mission in Jacen's hands, not hers, but she was the one
left to see it through. The Jedi--at least the Jedi on this
ship--were now her responsibility.

A small voice nudged into Jaina's consciousness,
barely audible over the screaming dive and the thrum
and groan of the abused ship. In some dim corner of her
mind huddled a small figure, weeping in anguish and
indecision. Jaina slammed the door and silenced her
broken heart.

"I need Ganner to take over for me," she said as soon
as she could speak.

A look of concern crossed Tenel Ka's face, but she
shrugged off her restraints and rose. In moments she re-
turned with the older Jedi.

"Someone has to take my place at gunner," Jaina explained.
She stood up without removing either the gloves
or hood. "No time for a learning curve--better work
with me until you get the feel of it. The seat's big enough
for both of us."

After a brief hesitation, Ganner slipped into the chair.
Jaina quickly settled into his lap.

He chuckled and linked his hands around her waist.
"This could get to be a habit."

"Hold that thought," Jaina told him as she sighted
down an incoming skip. "It'll keep your hands busy."

A surge of annoyance came from Zekk, but Jaina
understood Ganner's flirtation for what it was. Ganner
was big, jet-black-haired, and so absurdly handsome that
he reminded Jaina of the old holovids of Prince Isolder.
The scar across one cheek only served to heighten the
overall effect. When Ganner turned on the charm, his
pheromone count probably rivaled a Falleen's, but Jaina
knew a shield when she saw one. Not long ago, Jacen had
disguised his thoughtful nature with labored jokes. Perhaps
it was best to leave Ganner's defenses safely intact.

"Put your hands in the gloves and rest your fingers on
mine," she directed.

As Ganner wriggled his hands into the flexible gloves,
Jaina reached out for him through the Force. She lacked
Jacen's empathy, but could convey images to Ganner
using her own force talent.

As she aimed and fired, she formed mental pictures of
what she saw--the battle as viewed through the greatly
expanded vision granted by the cognition hood, the
blurry concentric circles that made up the targeting device.
Through the Force she felt the grim intensity of
Ganner's concentration, sensed a mind and will as focused
as a laser. Soon his fingers began moving with hers
in a precise duet. When she thought him ready, she slid
her hands free, then tugged off the hood as she eased out
of his lap. She pulled the hood down over Ganner's head.

The Jedi jolted as he made direct connection with the
ship. He quickly collected himself and sent plasma
hurtling to meet an incoming ball. The two missiles col-
lided,sending molten rock splashing into space like festival

Ganner's crow of triumph was swallowed by the ship's
groan and shudder. Several bits of molten stone had
splashed the frigate despite its shielding singularity and
Zekk's attempts at evasion.

"Tenel Ka is right," Jaina said. "Let me have her, Zekk."

The pilot shook his hooded head and put the ship into
a rising turn. "Forget it. You're in no condition for this."

She planted her fists on her hips. "Yeah? Everyone
here could use a few days in a bacta tank, you included."

"That's not what I meant. No one could be expected
to fly after losing . . . after what happened down there,"
he concluded lamely.

Silence hung between them, heavy with loss and pain
and raw, too-vivid memories.

Then Jaina caught a glimpse of the memory that most
disturbed Zekk--an image of a small, disheveled young
woman in tattered jumpsuit, hurling lightning at a Yuuzhan
Vong warrior. A moment passed before Jaina
recognized the furious, vengeful, bloodstained face as
her own.

Suddenly she knew the truth of her old friend's concern.
Zekk, who had trained at the Shadow Academy and experienced
the dark side firsthand, was as wary of it as Jacen
had been. In taking the pilot's chair, Zekk hadn't been
considering her loss, her state of mind. He simply didn't
trust her.

Jaina braced herself for the pain of this new betrayal,
but none came. Perhaps losing Jacen had pushed her to
some place beyond pain.

She brought to mind an image of the molten lightning
that had come so instinctively to her call. She imbued it
with so much power that the air nearly hummed with energy,
and the metallic scent of a thunderstorm seemed to
lurk on the edge of sensory perception. She projected this
image to her old friend as forcefully as she could.

"Get out of the seat, Zekk," she said in cool, controlled
tones. "I don't want to fry the controls."

He hesitated for only a moment, then he ripped off the
hood and rose. His green eyes met hers, filled with such a
turmoil of sorrow and concern that Jaina slammed shut
the Force connection between them. She knew that
expression--she'd seen it in her mother's eyes many times
during the terrible months that followed Chewbacca's
death, when her father had been lost in grief and guilt.

No time for this now.

Jaina slid into the pilot's seat and let herself join with
the ship. Her fingers moved deftly over the organic console,
confirming the sensory impulses that flowed to her
through the hood. Yes, this was the hyperdrive analog.
Here was the forward shield. The navigation center remained
a mystery to her, but during their captivity Low-bacca
had tinkered a bit with one of the worldship's
neural centers. The young Wookiee had a history of taking
on impossible challenges, and this task lay right
along his plotted coordinates.

Suddenly the shriek of warning sensors seared through
Jaina's mind. A chorus of wordless voices came at her
from all over the ship.

The details of their situation engulfed her in a single
swift flood. Several plasma bolts streamed toward them,
converging on the underside of the ship--so far, the favored
target. Coralskippers had moved into position aft
and above, and others were closing in from below and
on either side. Another ship came straight on, still at a
distance but closing fast.

No matter what she did, they could not evade the disabling

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Star Wars fiction, Science fiction, American