Last year, Del Rey’s excellent Star Wars novel series gave us a tale of damaged pilots amid the formation of the New Republic in Alphabet Squadron, a spiritual successor to the X-Wing books of the old Expanded Universe. Now, io9's got an exclusive look at the second book in the trilogy—where we’ll really get to know Alphabet’s mysterious remnant foes.
io9 is excited to reveal the very first look at the final cover for Alphabet Squadron: Shadow Fall, the second in Alexander Freed’s planned trilogy telling the story of the titular ragtag squadron of pilots brought together by New Republic Intelligence who, operating under General Hera Syndulla, go after the Imperial Navy’s 204th fighter wing: Shadow Wing, pilot Yrica Quell’s former unit.
Take a look at Shadow Fall’s cover, highlighting music-loving bomber pilot Chass na Chadic below, making its debut here on io9!
Shadow Fall will indeed catch us up on what General Syndulla and her unruly pilots in Alphabet Squadron are up to in their quest to stamp out the Imperial Remnant. But as the title implies, we’ll also be diving even deeper into the machinations of what Shadow Wing themselves are like. Now lead by Major Soran Keize—Yrica’s former mentor when she was part of the 204th—we’ll not just see their plans to go after the New Republic’s fledgling starfighter forces, but how what’s left of one of the Empire’s most elite fighter divisions is coping in a galaxy where their Empire has exploded right before their eyes.
Turns out, as you’ll see in our exclusive excerpt from Shadow Fall below, for some of the pilots the answer is “not well at all.”
Soran Keize descended a ladder on his way from the bridge and hesitated to drop his booted foot to the plating below. For an instant, he considered taking an alternative path to the wardroom; then he dismissed the notion as cowardice and proceeded along his path, soon reaching a four-way intersection near the center of the deck.
Standing in the center of the intersection, oriented ninety degrees from Soran, was a humanoid figure cloaked in red leather and fabric. A plate of black glass served as its face, and it possessed a stillness which made obvious that it was either statue or machine. Periodically, Soran knew, the figure would turn to face one of the other halls—like an antique timekeeping device cycling through the hours, or a primitive compass pointing to some place of galactic importance.
The intersection around the figure was decorated—anointed, Soran thought—with a hodgepodge of objects. Tucked into the space between piping and the corridor walls were rank plaques and officers’ caps and bottles of contraband liquor. From a cable hung a line of medals and ribbons that swayed in reply to the thrumming of the Aerie’s hyperdrive. On the walls themselves, writing etched by utility knives and laser torches filled whole panels—names of the dead from the 204th and elsewhere.
It was as much a memorial to the Empire and its fallen as it was a shrine to the entity at its center—the red-cloaked Messenger who had come to Shadow Wing after the Emperor’s death. The Messenger had spoken only once, so far as Soran knew, ordering the commencement of Operation Cinder before falling silent. Since then, it had remained with the unit, following Grandmother to Pandem Nai and escaping where she had not.
It had been in the same intersection aboard the Aerie when Soran had arrived. Its presence troubled him—it was a machine with outsized influence, using the name and voice of a dead Emperor who had strangled the galaxy as much as nurtured it—but the reactions of the Aerie’s company disturbed him more. The shrine grew daily. Pilots bowed their heads and fell silent as they passed. Soran had considered proposing it be moved to a cargo bay, but he feared that would only create dismay and distrust.
He met the faceless gaze of the machine as he passed. It said nothing.
That Shadow Wing needed purpose was undebatable. He could save his people if they would let him—he could teach them to survive on the fringes of the galaxy, away from the war they’d already lost—but they’d committed to the delusions of vengeance and patriotic fervor. They wished to fight a war, and so he would find a war for them to fight.
He simply wasn’t certain if this was the right one.
He paused as he heard a voice whisper, “Help us.”
Behind him, kneeling before the Messenger was a young man Soran recognized as Kandende—the pilot who’d disrupted the welcoming party for the Edict’s crew.
“Help us, Emperor Palpatine,” Kandende said. “Guide us to something more.”
Soran observed as Kandende withdrew a straight razor from his pocket, opened it, and pressed the blade into his palm. Blood the color of the Messenger’s robes welled up, and Kandende took one of the droid’s hands in both of his own, clasping the leather glove until red ran down Kandende’s wrist; until red dripped onto the Aerie’s deck; until Kandende’s pained expression broke and he pulled away, stanching the wound with the sleeve of his uniform.
The droid had not reacted and did not react now. Kandende turned away, stumbling down the corridor.
Soran recalled the first time he’d seen the Messenger. The machine had arrived aboard the Pursuer via shuttle—Soran still didn’t know the shuttle’s origins—and sought out Colonel Nuress. It had tested her blood with a needle that had erupted from its palm.
He thought of anthropological studies of primitive peoples exposed to galactic technology—cults that formed around moisture vaporators, believing that worship was necessary to activate the devices. He wondered if Kandende was the first pilot to entreat the Messenger so; the man’s actions had possessed a ritualistic formality.
Soran decided it no longer mattered whether the war with General Syndulla’s forces was the right war for the 204th. It was far better than the alternative.
Excerpt from Star Wars: Shadow Fall—An Alphabet Squadron Novel by Alexander Freed, reprinted by permission. Copyright Del Rey.
Star Wars: Shadow Fall—An Alphabet Squadron Novel hits shelves June 23, 2020.
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