- "The choices of one shape the futures of all."
- ―Jedi saying
Choices of One is a novel by Timothy Zahn, released on July 19, 2011. It is set three months after Allegiance, and takes place before the events in Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back. Its first working title was Choices; this was changed to Hand of Judgment and then to the current title. The hardcover edition contains a preview of Riptide, while the paperback also contains a preview of Scoundrels. The paperback version was released on June 26, 2012. Choices of One took Zahn three months to write.
The fate of the Rebellion rests on Luke Skywalker's next move.
But have the rebels entered a safe harbor or a death trap?
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Timothy Zahn comes a brand-new Star Wars adventure, set in the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and featuring the young Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, and the beloved Mara Jade.
Eight months after the Battle of Yavin, the Rebellion is in desperate need of a new base. So when Governor Ferrouz of Candoras sector proposes an alliance, offering the Rebels sanctuary in return for protection against the alien warlord Nuso Esva, Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie are sent to evaluate the deal.
Mara Jade, the Emperor's Hand, is also heading for Candoras, along with the five renegade stormtroopers known as the Hand of Judgment. Their mission: to punish Ferrouz's treason and smash the Rebels for good.
But in this treacherous game of betrayals within betrayals, a wild card is waiting to be played.
8 months after the Battle of Yavin: Close to the Empire's border with the Unknown Regions, the Imperial Star Destroyer Chimaera takes on an illustrious passenger, Lord Odo, a member of the Imperial Court on a confidential mission for the Emperor. Commander Gilad Pellaeon, the Chimaera's third bridge officer, is immediately suspicious: Lord Odo is masked at all times, his clothing is tagged with false bio-markers that deliberately obscure the ship's sensors as to his true species, and his "entourage" consists only of his shuttle pilot, Sorro. The Chimera's captain, Calo Drusan, says they have little choice but to accept Imperial Center's orders, but Pellaeon privately resolves to unravel the mystery.
On an unnamed planet, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia assist a Rebel commando team in a successful information raid on a mining operations center, hoping to identify an isolated system to locate the Alliance's next base (having been forced to evacuate the Yavin system after its discovery by the Empire). After the raid, Han complains to General Rieekan that he wasn't told about the true purpose of the mission until afterwards. Rieekan counters that Han was told as much as he needed to know, and if he wants greater responsibility, that will mean accepting an officer's commission - an awkward proposition, since Han still hasn't yet formalized his loyalty to the Alliance.
Rieekan invites Han and Luke to sit in on Leia's meeting with Vestin Axlon, a former regional governor on Alderaan, who confides that Bidor Ferrouz, the Imperial Governor of Candoras sector in the Outer Rim, is offering the Alliance a base in his sector's capital, the Poln system. A quick survey by Alliance analysts has confirmed that it is an ideal location, with enough activity to disguise any Alliance communications and movements in or out, a large set of unused caverns on the outer moons, and enough distance from the Core Worlds to give them advance warning of any approaching Imperial attack - so ideal, Rieekan remarks, that Ferrouz's offer is either "a great opportunity or an extremely obvious trap." As to Ferrouz's reasons, Axlon explains that he fears an imminent invasion by Nuso Esva, an alien warlord in the Unknown Regions who has been growing more and more aggressive, but Ferrouz's appeals to Imperial Center for reinforcement have been ignored. Axlon has already volunteered to meet with Governor Ferrouz and finalize the deal, and Rieekan asks Han and Chewbacca to convey him to Poln Major in the Falcon.
In private, Axlon asks Luke to come along on the mission, though separate from and unknown to Han and Chewie. Luke protests that he is attached to the Alliance's Starfighter Command, but Axlon insists that he needs someone with Luke's burgeoning Jedi abilities to help verify Governor Ferrouz's offer. Luke reluctantly agrees.
Elsewhere, Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand, completes her latest mission for her master, executing a corrupt Imperial judge. She reports to the Emperor via the Force, and he gives her next assignment: investigating Governor Ferrouz's suspected treason. Reviewing the data on the Poln system, Mara sees how defensible it is, despite Candoras Sector's limited resources, and reasons that she is going to need help, though she dislikes co-opting other Imperial personnel, especially personnel she has not worked with before. Smiling grimly, she realizes that she knows exactly the right men for the job...
Three months after deserting from the Star Destroyer Reprisal, the Hand of Judgment - former Imperial Stormtroopers Daric LaRone, Saberan Marcross, Joak Quiller, Taxtro Grave, and Korlo Brightwater - have visited a lot of planets and helped a lot of oppressed and needy people, but their resources of arms and money are starting to run out. LaRone, their unofficial leader, grimly accepts that they have enough left to manage one last vigilante mission, maybe two, before they have to find somewhere to settle down and hide. He decides to take the Hand to Pickerin. However, as soon as they step off the ramp, they are incapacitated by a stun gas grenade. They regain consciousness in binders, being gloated over by Bok Yost, the "victor" of a rigged election on Elegasso who guessed that the Hand was on its way and created the situation on Pickerin to lure them there. Yost's gloating is cut short when Mara appears, dispatches Yost's private mercenaries, and "suggests" that he step down and hold another election - an honest one this time. After Yost flees, Mara frees the Hand, takes them back to their ship and tasks them with her latest mission. LaRone and the others are aware that they have little chance of refusing, but, remembering their exposure of Barshnis Choard on Shelkonwa, realize that the mission to Poln Major is a chance to make their last mission a significant one for the people of the Empire.
In another part of the Outer Rim, Emperor Palpatine is reviewing the plans for his latest project with Senior Captain Thrawn, who suggests several measures to make the site of the project's shield generator impregnable. Slyly, Palpatine says doing so would defeat the whole purpose of the trap he is laying for the Rebel Alliance. Turning the discussion to other matters, Thrawn warns that Nuso Esva's growing aggression indicates a planned incursion into Imperial space, and he needs at least six more Star Destroyers to effectively deal with him. Palpatine says the Fleet doesn't have that many to spare, but if the rumors that Esva is courting the Alliance are true, then Lord Vader may be willing to lend the services of his task force, since his sole occupation is hunting the Rebels down. Thrawn's companion, Jorj Car'das, who is piloting their shuttle, privately does not wish to be anywhere near a possible confrontation between Thrawn and Vader.
On the approach to Poln Major (and much to Axlon's consternation), Han quickly spots Luke's Z-95 Headhunter shadowing the Falcon, and the three meet up at the spaceport. While Axlon drags Luke to his first meeting with Governor Ferrouz, Han and Chewbacca decide to pose as prospectors and investigate some of Poln Minor's abandoned mines, to see if they will make a suitable base for the Alliance (or if the whole offer is just a carefully laid trap). To his surprise, they meet up with Leia, and Colonel Airen Cracken, who are leading an advance survey team sent secretly to Poln Minor for the same purpose. To their mutual surprise, one of the side caverns yields a cache of weapons, equipment and vehicles that will keep them armed and supplied for months, if not years.
Luke accompanies Axlon to his first meeting with Governor Ferrouz, where his limited Jedi senses do not sense any overt deception from the man, but only the expected tension, with a strange undercurrent of betrayal - though of whom by who is unclear to him. Axlon, after asking for Luke's impression, takes this in stride. Luke is further surprised when Axlon says he will be meeting with the governor in his own office the next day, and he would like Luke to watch the palace from the street - especially since there are rumors that an Imperial Agent has been sent to deal with the Governor, and the Agent carries a lightsaber.
Mara and the Hand of Judgment land on the planet and likewise reconnoiter the palace. While doing so, LaRone is drawn into a dispute over supposedly faulty merchandise between two bickering alien groups, and manages to diffuse the tension by exposing the complainant as a fraud. The grateful merchant introduces himself as Vaantaar, a Troukree. LaRone admits that he has not heard of that species, and Vaantaar confides that they inhabit a planet in the Unknown Regions - he and his fellows are refugees, since their world was conquered and their people enslaved by Nuso Esva. He insists on giving one of his knives as a gift to the Hand - the blade, though alien in origin, is of superb quality, and Brightwater cannot resist it.
Under Lord Odo's direction, the Chimaera stops in orbit over Poln Major, and Lord Odo confirms that the incoming transports are, in fact, Rebel Alliance ships. But Pellaeon is surprised when Drusan says they have strict orders not to interfere yet, instead they depart on a prearranged course into the Unknown Regions. Unknown to anyone aboard the Chimaera, Thrawn and Car'das are shadowing its movements, aboard Car'das's small, customized freighter, the Lost Reef.
Spooked by the sudden appearance and just-as-sudden departure of the Star Destroyer, Leia and Cracken ask Han to head to one of Poln Minor's spaceport hangouts and see if any smugglers there can apprise them of the readiness state and armaments of Poln Major's limited system defenses (an undermanned and under-equipped Golan I orbital defense platform and the Sarissa, an equally undermanned Dreadnaught-class heavy cruiser) - in case the rebel transports have to make a hasty escape from the system after all. After some grousing, Han agrees. In a tapcaf, he is approached by an old acquaintance who recognizes him and says someone on the planet is recruiting techs to calibrate and install Caldorf VII interceptor missiles on small, heavy starfighter-class ships. Han is alarmed, knowing that someone in the system is intending to use those missiles for something other than giving them to the Rebellion. Trying to stall for time, he says he needs to call in his partner, and is even more alarmed when Leia appears, pretending to be an expert missile tech. The two of them take an extended ride on a speeder bus to a cavern where a group of mercenaries are outfitting the ships. Leia guesses that, despite the length of the ride, they are actually not far from the cavern where the Rebel team is working.
With little difficulty, the Hand of Judgment manages to insert themselves into the rotating stormtrooper contingents at the palace, and slip Mara in as a street criminal awaiting interrogation. In a private suite reserved for the interrogators, she examines the governor's records and is disheartened to find irrefutable proof of his treason - that not only has he communicated directly with the Rebel leadership, but a large group of Rebels are on the planet at the moment, at the governor's invitation. Mara grimly resolves to do her duty the next day.
Mara enters the Governor's office on Axlon's heels, pretending to be his assistant for the Palace staff, then ejects Axlon from the room. When she confronts Ferrouz, his reaction surprises her: he offers no defense for his actions, he only asks that she rescue his wife and daughter after she has executed him. She asks him to explain, and Ferrouz tells her that Nuso Esva's agents kidnapped his family three weeks ago, and blackmailed him into making overtures to the Alliance - though Ferrouz doesn't know if Esva is actually working with the Rebels, or has some other scheme in mind. Sensing that Ferrouz is telling the truth, Mara tells him to continue with the scheme, while she tracks down his family.
When she emerges from the office, Axlon appears taken aback that Ferrouz is still alive. Before he can go inside, all hell breaks loose: a squad of armed mercenaries storm the office suite, forcing Mara to evacuate Ferrouz and Axlon out through the Governor's private escape tunnel. At the same time, outside the Palace, another mercenary posing as an agitator yells to the crowd outside the gates that Ferrouz is dead - and before Luke can react, seizes the lightsaber from his belt, ignites and holds it aloft, and names Luke as the Rebel "hero" who has killed the Governor. Luke grabs back his lightsaber and escapes with the help of Brightwater, who was keeping an eye on the mob, but the damage is done.
Mara takes a shortcut through the sewer tunnels under the Palace and emerge in the basement of the Whistling Wind tapcafe, where she rendezvous with the Hand of Judgment. Though told that the deal with Ferrouz was a set-up, Axlon refuses to abandon him, and Mara grudgingly agrees to allow him and the other Rebels a few hours to escape the system, accepting that they have been duped as much as Ferrouz and are not complicit in the kidnappings. She tells the Hand to keep Ferrouz and Axlon safe from other would-be assassins, while she returns to the Palace to identify the traitor inside the Palace who must have assisted in the abductions.
When LaRone makes contact with Brightwater, Axlon insists on speaking with Luke and ordering him to their location to help defend the Governor. Luke, despite hearing from Chewbacca that Han and Leia have disappeared, feels he has no choice but to obey.
After Axlon shuts off the comlink, Marcross asks a question: how did the agitators know that the Governor was supposed to have been killed by a lightsaber? More to the point, how did they know exactly when the "assassination" was supposed to have happened? Without warning, Axlon draws a small hold-out blaster and shoots Grave, Marcross, and Quiller, though not fatally, forcing LaRone to lower his weapon. Axlon says he is still a peaceable man, like any Alderaanian, so he won't kill any of them unless they force him to - excepting Governor Ferrouz, whose death is crucial to the whole plot.
LaRone tries to distract Axlon from the others by asking what that plot is. Axlon says it is simple: Nuso Esva is arranging a trap over Poln Major for his arch-nemesis, Senior Captain Thrawn; once Thrawn has been defeated, with Axlon and the Alliance's help, Esva will bring his considerable fleet (not to mention his military genius) onto the side of the Rebels. The fact that Thrawn was the "real power" behind Grand Moff Tarkin's decision to destroy Alderaan only makes Axlon that much more proud to have helped Esva destroy him. LaRone and the Hand scoff that Tarkin didn't take orders from anyone except Palpatine, and Axlon has been lied to. Axlon counters that, as a show of good faith, Esva has already forced Ferrouz to transfer a large portion of the sector's military supplies to the caverns, for the Alliance's use.
This talking has distracted Axlon just long enough for Brightwater to toss his Troukree knife to Quiller, who, though wounded, is able to ambush Axlon and kill him. Although the tapcaf is hardly defensible, LaRone knows that with three wounded comrades, they cannot make their way to anyplace safer for the time being.
Since Grave needs immediate access to a bacta tank, LaRone has the bright idea of comlinking Chewbacca at the spaceport and asking him to convey the smaller model from the Hand's ship to the tapcaf (a feat of strength only a Wookiee can accomplish on his own). LaRone also conveys the grim news about Axlon's treachery to Luke, and (via Chewbacca) to Cracken and the rest of the Rebel team.
With Axlon exposed, the mercenaries outfitting the missile ships try to ambush Han and Leia, who just manage to steal the speeder bus, escape the caverns, and rendezvous with a squadron of X-Wings sent by Cracken to retrieve them.
Mara re-infiltrates the Governor's Palace and interrogates Major Pakrie, a security officer who confesses to helping Esva kidnap the Governor's family, but swears he doesn't know where they are now. In disgust, Mara knocks him unconscious, then ascends to the administration offices and confers with Ferrouz's deputy, General Ularno, who she confirms to be an honest man. Uncertainly, he asks whether he is required to issue Directive 417, a recent imperative from Imperial Center that a sector-wide distress call be broadcast to any Imperial forces, in the event a Governor is assassinated by the Rebellion. Mara hedges, telling him to issue the call, but with the proviso that Ferrouz is injured, but not dead.
Under Lord Odo's direction, the Chimaera arrives at the site of a battle between Senior Captain Thrawn's forces (under the command of Captain Parck) and Nuso Esva's Eastern Fleet. Lord Odo orders them to disengage and jump to the Poln system, but Captain Parck refuses, since Thrawn's forces are subject to a different chain of command. In the midst of this debate, the distress call from Poln Major arrives, and Parck concedes that he has no choice but to obey Directive 417. Lord Odo orders the Chimaera to return to the Poln system immediately, to ensure that they can timely assist Parck's forces.
A second, more careful examination of the Governor's underground safe room makes Mara realize that the Governor's family were being held there, and have recently been moved via another secret tunnel, which she follows to the mercenaries' hideout. Luke, conscious of his duty to help rescue innocent people, catches sight of the one of the mercenaries, Stelikag and follows him to the same location.
Knowing that they need backup, LaRone has Brightwater fetch Vaantaar and his Troukree confederates, who are honored to assist any victims of Nuso Esva. Quiller gives the aliens a crash course in stormtrooper weaponry and tactics, but their wait is cut short when Governor Ferrouz, determined to reduce the forces holding his family for Mara's benefit, makes a call for aid to Major Pakrie, knowing it will draw the mercenaries into an attack on the tapcafe.
Han and Leia confer with Cracken. Now that they know they have been duped, they need to exit the system immediately, but Cracken admits that they have been delayed by the loading of the military hardware - doubtless that was Nuso Esva's intention in giving it to them. Once they are ready to lift off, there is every chance that their transports will be intercepted and destroyed, either by Esva's missile ships, or the Imperial defenses in orbit. With a little ingenuity, Leia manages to deduce the location of the cavern where the missile ships are being prepared, which will give Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron a chance to destroy them with their newly-acquired T-47 airspeeders. That only leaves the Imperial space station and Dreadnaught, and Han comes up with an idea: he can board the Golan, using Axlon's Imperial pass from Ferrouz, and posing as an ISB officer. Hopefully, this will confuse the station's crew long enough for Han and Chewie to get the drop on them - since the Golan is severely undermanned, Han and Chewie will only have to overpower about 300 Imperial crewers, instead of over a thousand. To Leia's astonishment, Cracken approves the scheme.
The Hand of Judgment and their Troukree allies succeed in fighting off the first assault on the tapcafe, drawing in a second, this one launched by Esva's own elite troops. This attack is also beaten off, but at the cost of one of the Troukree's lives, who sacrifices himself to shield LaRone from blaster fire.
When the Chimaera arrives in the Poln system, Lord Odo does not answer the ship's intercom, and Captain Drusan irritably sends Pellaeon to fetch him. While Pellaeon is riding the turbolift, the ship is rocked by internal explosions and most of the crew is disabled by hidden gas bombs. Pellaeon grabs a breath mask from the lift's emergency kit and staggers back to the bridge, where he finds most of the crew unconscious and Captain Drusan dying, shot at close range by a blaster bolt. Pellaeon is shocked to hear Drusan admit that he knew "Lord Odo" was a fraud, but endorsed his presence aboard the Chimaera because Odo - in reality Nuso Esva himself - promised him a crushing victory over the Rebel Alliance that would secure his promotion to Admiral.
Thrawn makes contact from aboard the Lost Reef, and tells Pellaeon there isn't a moment to lose. Under Thrawn's direction, Pellaeon stalks "Lord Odo" down his pre-arranged escape route and stabs him in the neck with a syringe from the bridge medpac, injecting a fatal air embolism. But then he removes "Odo's" mask and sees Sorro, who dies smiling, knowing that his family (being held hostage by Esva) can no longer be used as insurance for his obedience.
Pellaeon returns to the bridge as Nuso Esva's voice hails over the ship's intercom, mockingly asking him, and Thrawn, if they really thought it would be so easy to capture him. Pellaeon reports that the Chimaera's sensors have detected Esva's shuttle escaping, but they have a more immediate problem: the helm controls have been destroyed, and the Star Destroyer is locked on a collision course with the Golan defense platform. Parck's forces are too far away to help, and are fully engaged with a force of Esva's Firekiln-class heavy cruisers. Esva informs Thrawn that he has presented him with an impossible choice: he will have to order either the station, or the Star Destroyer, to open fire on the other, to prevent both being destroyed. Either way, Thrawn will be irredeemably disgraced, and his career and reputation ruined.
Han and Chewbacca have bluffed their way aboard the Golan, just in time to see the Chimaera locked on its collision course. Han orders the baffled crew members to load the station's tubes with all the proton torpedoes they can - they do not have enough ordnance to destroy the Chimaera, but the force of the launches might be enough to rotate the Golan partially out of the way.
Thrawn, as usual, comes up with another solution: using the Chimaera's tractor beams, Car'das pilots the Lost Reef as a tugboat - though small, it has just enough engine power to nudge the Chimaera off course and avoid the collision. Esva tells Thrawn that they haven't beaten him, he's prepared for all eventualities. He signals the missile ships to launch, emerging behind the Chimaera's field of fire.
Han, aboard the Golan, makes a decision that surprises even himself: helping the Imperials is counterintuitive, but it is not hard for him to see that Esva is the real villain of this particular episode of the war. He sends an emergency signal to Cracken, telling him to pull Wedge and the other attackers out of the cavern, then orders the crew to launch their newly-loaded torpedoes at the emerging missile ships, destroying them before they can clear the atmosphere.
Furious, Esva signals again and the remainder of his Eastern Fleet jumps into the system, outnumbering and outgunning the Imperial Star Destroyers by at least six to one. This is what Thrawn has been waiting for: he issues his own signal, and Lord Vader's Death Squadron - six battle-hardened Star Destroyers, led by the Super Star Destroyer Executor, arrive. In the ensuing space battle, Esva's Eastern Fleet is broken and routed.
Mara and Luke, from opposite sides of the cavern, take advantage of the distraction provided by the Hand of Judgment to attack the mercenaries and rescue the Governor's family. Though aware of each other's presence, the two only see each other from a distance, neither knowing that they will meet again nine years later. Mara, exercising her authority as Emperor's Hand, clears Ferrouz of the treason charges against him.
In Governor Ferrouz' palace, Vader angrily confronts Thrawn, insisting that Thrawn promised to deliver the Rebellion's leadership to him in exchange for Vader's assistance in defeating Nuso Esva. Thrawn calmly responds that Vader was not specific about who he wanted captured, and Thrawn has the next best thing: Ferrouz's technicians have catalogued the military hardware that the Rebels took away with them, from which Thrawn has deduced that their base will be relocated to a world that is both isolated and intensely cold. There are only a handful of such worlds in the galaxy, and Vader should have no trouble tracking them down. Grudgingly satisfied, Vader departs.
Aside, Thrawn thanks Car'das for his help, and says he is now free to seek out the possible cure for his illness - but if he feels like it, he might visit Wroona, where Sorro's family is being held hostage, and try to rescue them. Thrawn himself must return to the Unknown Regions immediately, to continue the pursuit of Esva, who has at least two more fleets of equal size to the one that was just destroyed.
Mara returns to the Hand's Suwantek freighter, but finds no trace of them, and no clue where they might have gone. This gives her a pang, but she is interrupted by a telepathic message from her master, with her next assignment. She prepares to return to Imperial Center, privately debating whether to return the Suwantek to the ISB, or keep it for her own use, and hoping against reason that she will see LaRone and the others again someday.
Vaantaar and the Troukree have spirited the Hand of Judgment off Poln Major and aboard the Star Destroyer Admonitor, as Thrawn resumes command. Thrawn says he is aware of their desertion from the Empire, but instead of punishing them, he offers them a new position within his nascent empire. The Troukree, and many other victims of Esva's tyranny, proudly serve Thrawn's empire as soldiers, but Thrawn believes they can become even better, given the right training masters. LaRone and the Hand have demonstrated not only their excellent combat skills, but also their integrity, their loyalty to their comrades, and their ability to accept fighting alongside non-humans - the last quality being somewhat lacking among the Admonitor's current stormtrooper contingent. Realizing that they are being offered a home, a purpose, and a worthy cause to serve, LaRone and the others accept. Grave proposes that they name their new unit the 501st, since "they're supposed to be the best."
After the Rebels have successfully evacuated the Poln system, Han presents himself to General Rieekan, who says Han's quick thinking on Poln Major tremendously impressed Cracken, and has confirmed what Rieekan already knew: that Han is a born leader, and definitely has a great future with the Rebellion, if he decides to join up. With the feeling of having been maneuvered into a corner, Han agrees to accept a commission in the Rebel Alliance as a Lieutenant.
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