Features an exclusive author interview-plus an excerpt from Steven Barnes' new full-length Star Wars novel, The Cestus DeceptionWHAT LIES BENEATHDispatched as a Republic envoy to the Outer Rim planet Ord Cestus-in a bid to halt the sale of potentially deadly "bio-droids" to the Confederacy-Obi-Wan Kenobi finds himself enlisted in a mission more desperate, and dangerous, than diplomatic. The once self-contained world has long since been co-opted by unscrupulous offworlders, whose plunder of a vital natural resource has enabled the rise of a powerful corporation that controls the economy. Ord Cestus's native population, the X'Ting, are now mere second-class citizens in their own society.
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December 31, 1999
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Excerpt from The Hive: Star Wars (Short Story) by Steven Barnes
G'Mai Duris, Regent of the planet Ord Cestus, formally folded the fingers of her primary and secondary hands. She was an X'Ting, of segmented, oval, dull gold body and gentle manner, one of the insectoids who had once ruled this planet. Before the coming of Cestus Cybernetics, X'Ting hives had thronged this world, but now the soulless industrial giant not only dominated the planet but also threatened the safety of the Republic itself.
Obi-Wan Kenobi watched as Duris prepared to address the hive council, the last humble remnant of X'Ting power. Like the offworlder capital of ChikatLik, some hundreds of meters above their heads, the council room was nestled in a natural lava bubble. The walls of the egg-shaped, fifteen-meter-high chamber had been glazed burnt sienna, but most of that original color was covered with handwoven tapestries. Three doorways, each guarded by two members of the X'Ting warrior clans, led out of the room -- one to the surface, the others to deeper, less traveled places within the hive.
The twelve councilors seated at the curved stone table were a mix of relatively youthful X'Ting, their carapaces still brilliant, and elders showing gray and white splotches amid their bristling thoracic hair. Their vestigial wings fluttered in distress. From time to time their primary or secondary hands would smooth their ivory ceremonial robes. Every red or green faceted eye studied her carefully; every auditory antenna was tuned to her words.
Duris hunched her thorax and cleared her throat, perhaps gathering her thoughts. She was almost as tall as Obi-Wan, and her broad, segmented, pale gold shell and swollen egg sac gave her considerable gravitas.
At this moment, G'Mai Duris needed every bit of it.
"My peers and elders," she said. "My dear friend Master Kenobi has told me an astonishing thing. For centuries we have known that our ancestors were cheated out of their land -- land purchased with worthless baubles we believed were legal tender.
"For years we had no means of redress, save to accept whatever sops Cestus Cybernetics threw our way. But that has changed." Her eyes gleamed like cut emeralds. "Master Kenobi brought with him one of Coruscant's finest barristers, a Vippit who knows their laws well. And according to the central authority, if we should choose to press our suit, we can destroy Cestus Cybernetics. If we own the land beneath their factories, we can charge them whatever we wish for land usage, possibly even take the facilities themselves."
"What?" exclaimed Kosta, the council's eldest member. All X'Ting cycled between the male and female genders every three years, and Kosta was currently female. Although too old for egg bearing, her sac was still swollen to impressive size. She looked shocked. "Is this true?"
"You would do nothing except destroy the planet!" Caiza Quill sputtered. Only minutes earlier Duris had deposed him as head of the council. His rage and surrender pheromones still spiced the air. "Destroy Cestus Cybernetics, and you destroy our economy!"