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Razor's Edge

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Razor's Edge

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Author: Martha Wells
Publisher: Del Rey, 2013
Series: Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion: Book 1

1. Razor's Edge
2. Honor Among Thieves

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Galactic Empire
Space Opera
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Times are desperate for the Rebel Alliance. Harassment by the Empire and a shortage of vital supplies are hindering completion of a new secret base on the ice planet Hoth. So when Mid Rim merchants offer much-needed materials for sale, Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo lead an Alliance delegation to negotiate a deal.

But when treachery forces the rebel ship to flee into territory controlled by pirates, Leia makes a shocking discovery: the fierce marauders come from Leia's homeworld of Alderaan, recently destroyed by the Death Star. These refugees have turned to pillaging and plundering to survive-and they are in debt to a pirate armada, which will gladly ransom the princess to the vengeful Empire... if they find out her true identity.

Struggling with intense feelings of guilt, loyalty, and betrayal, Leia is determined to help her wayward kinspeople, even as Imperial forces are closing in on her own crippled ship. Trapped between lethal cutthroats and brutal oppressors, Leia and Han, along with Luke, Chewbacca, and a battle-ready crew, must defy death-or embrace it--to keep the rebellion alive.


Chapter One

Leia Organa had a bad feeling about this.

"At least their timing is spot-on," she said, watching the transmission download on the comm screen. She and General Willard were on the Gamble's small bridge, where Captain Denlan and Lieutenant Esrai occupied the pilot's and copilot's seats. They had just exited hyperspace, the starfield steadying in the viewport as the ship slowed to sublight speed.

Captain Denlan said, "If we'd been a little later taking off, or if our hyperdrive hadn't been tuned just right, we would have missed it."

"Well, we didn't," Leia said, more sharply than she had intended. If only the Rebel Alliance could have afforded to equip all its ships with the comm equipment necessary to receive hyperwave transmissions, this vulnerable moment could have been avoided. Still, so far the mission had gone as planned. There was no reason she should be on edge like this . . . but she was. At least, she told herself, they wouldn't have to wait around for long.

"I'm just glad fleet command got the time conversion right," Esrai said, her hands making quick adjustments to the control board. "That would have been embarrassing."

"Embarrassing is one word for it," General Willard commented. He was standing next to Leia's comm station, his attention on the percentage-complete bar on the download screen. He was a tall, spare human with short graying hair, and Leia knew him well enough to see that he was uneasy as well. "Princess?"

"We have it." Leia turned her chair around to face the computer console and checked the log to make certain the entire message had been recorded. It had. Now they just needed to decode the transmitted coordinates and program the jump to the meeting where they were to negotiate the purchase of raw materials for the construction of Echo Base, the new secret headquarters of the Rebel Alliance.

With the base so near to completion, the last couple of months hadn't been easy. So many things had gone wrong, and the Alliance was dangerously short on resources. Leia would allow herself to breathe a little easier only when this mission was over and the materials secured.

"We're done here," she said. "Captain-"

"Wait." Esrai's voice was sharp. "I've got a sensor contact. It's pretty far out but-"

So much for breathing easier. Every nerve in Leia's body told her something had just gone terribly wrong. They were in the Mid Rim, at the farthest edge of an uninhabited system called Eschaton. With nothing more than a scatter of cold barren planets and one glowing ball of a striped blue gas giant, the system should have drawn little to no traffic; there was no reason for any other ships to be here. She snapped, "Take us into hyperspace-now!"

She started to turn her seat forward. Then something hit her from behind and slammed her into the console. The safety straps ground painfully into her chest. Her ears rang and her eyes watered; heat washed against her neck. A heartbeat later she realized it had been a blast impact.

She twisted around to see Denlan and Esrai slumped over their consoles. The controls sparked with stray energy, the metal blackened with the force of the blast, and smoke streamed into the air. Leia fumbled for the straps with numb fingers, opened the buckles, and pushed to her feet. She took a step forward and fell to her knees. She landed next to General Willard, who had been thrown into the base of the comp-console.

She said his name aloud but couldn't hear her own voice. Her ears still rang with the ship's alarm klaxons, strangely distant. The general's face was bloody and his eyes were closed, but as she put her hand on his chest she felt him breathe. She gasped in relief, then grabbed her chair and pulled herself upright again.

Through the viewport, all she saw was a wheeling starfield; the ship was in an uncontrolled tumble. Every readout on the bridge was either redlined, blinking in an emergency setting, or blank. She stumbled to the pilot's seat and gripped Denlan's shoulder. She started to pull him up off the sparking console and then froze, her stomach twisting. The control panel directly in front of him had exploded and blown a hole in his chest. Gritting her teeth, she let him go and turned to Esrai, who was slumped over sideways. Leia felt for a pulse at the lieutenant's throat, and her hand came away slick with blood. Dreading what she would see, she lifted Esrai's hair aside. There was shrapnel embedded in her temple. Esrai's dark eyes were open but fixed, dead.

Leia squeezed her own eyes shut, willing her stomach not to turn. Then the deck thumped and shuddered under her, and she grabbed the back of the copilot's seat. They were still taking fire. She looked for the sensor screen to get some idea of where their attacker was.

One of her ears popped, and the din of klaxons grew louder. But one alarm was close at hand and particularly insistent. It came from one of the few functioning readouts on the command panel and showed a rapidly dropping percentage. bridge containment shield failing, Leia read, and her gaze went to the viewport. There was a deep, ragged crack in the lower quarter.

Leia swore and lunged across the bridge. She hit the release on the hatch and leaned down to grab Willard. The only reason she wasn't breathing vacuum right now was that the containment shield had automatically covered the port when it detected the breach; she didn't know how long until it failed, but the alarm suggested that could happen at any moment.

She pulled Willard into a sitting position and then realized the hatch wasn't open. She stood and hit the release again. No response.

"Oh, you have to be joking," Leia snarled, and popped open the plate for the manual release. The containment-shield warning screamed in her ears as she pulled the lever for the manual override. She felt the hatch's locking mechanism click, but it still didn't slide open. She dug her fingers between the seals, braced a boot against the comp-console, and put all her strength into dragging the doors open.

Slowly the hatch moved until she had just enough clearance to force her shoulders through. From the increasingly frantic shrieks of the containment alarm, she didn't have time for any more. She leaned down, clutched the back of the general's jacket, and started to pull his unconscious body through the opening.

Right at the point where she thought she was going to get both of them stuck and they were going to not only die, but die in an extremely undignified position, she heard boot steps pound toward her from the corridor.

"Here!" Leia yelled, her voice sounding harsh and desperate to her own ears.

A crew member appeared in the compartment door, took in the situation, and lunged forward. She grabbed General Willard under the arms and threw her weight backward. Leia lifted his legs and squeezed through and out of the bridge, then pointed toward the compartment blast door. "Hurry, the hatch won't seal, no time-"

She knew her words were coming out incoherent, but the woman understood her. Together they dragged the general across the compartment and out into the corridor. As soon as they were clear, Leia dropped his legs and flung herself on the door control to hit the emergency seal. It slid shut just as the containment alarm shrieked one last time, then abruptly went silent. Leia felt a rumble and a thump through the metal as the bridge's port gave way.

Breathing hard, the woman asked, "The captain and Esrai are dead?" She was a tall human, with dark brown skin and braided dark hair pulled tightly back. She would have been lovely except for the haggard worry in her expression. Her nose was bleeding and the skin around her eyes was bruised, as if she'd had a face-first encounter with a console or a bulkhead.

Leia nodded. "When the first blast hit." The deck rumbled under her feet, a vibration from a near-miss blast impact. They needed to get the ship away. There was a comm panel near the hatch, and she pushed the all-ship alert. "Han Solo! Han, can you hear me?"

At first the only reply was the rumble of the firefight. Then another comm answered. She heard yelling in the background and a voice said, "He's operating the guns with Barani, Your Highness. Are you all right? The bulkhead doors to the upper deck are down, we can't get to you-"

That was all Leia needed, the pilot most experienced at this sort of desperate situation locked out of the control deck. "The bridge is depressurized," she said. "I'm going to engage auxiliary control and take the ship into hyperspace. Just try to hold them off a little longer." She had no idea who "they" even were, though it was safe to assume it was an Imperial ship. She didn't want to admit over the open comm that she hadn't even gotten a glimpse of their attacker yet.

"Yes, Your Highness," the voice said, and Leia heard him yell, "She said to keep shooting!" before the comm switched into standby.

"We need to get to auxiliary control." Leia hesitated, looking down at Willard's inert body; he was breathing, and there was nothing she could do for him until the ship was out of danger. She started down the corridor, the other woman following. Leia wanted to run, but the deck rolled underfoot, a sign that the grav controls were beginning to fail.

She looked at her companion. "You-" The woman wasn't wearing any insignia; because of the mission, no one aboard was wearing anything that might ident...

Copyright © 2013 by Martha Wells


Razor's Edge

- Carl V.


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