Added on May 01, 1999
Category: Science Fiction/Star Wars
Author: R. John Burke

Of Duty And Conscience

STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode One

DESRIPTION: The adventures of former Imperial captain Mykel Garreth, and the crew of his NEBULON-B frigate FREEDOM. This first story takes place one year before "A New Hope," and details Garreth's defection to the Alliance.

NOTICE: This story is based on characters and situations belonging to George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and a bunch of other people who would not let me sell this story even if I wanted to (Which I don't). It's just written for fun.

The air trembled around the assembled officers of the I.S.S. CARIDA, as a LAMBDA-class shuttle settled to the deck. Behind them was the vastness of space, held in check only by a docking bay forcefield. Should that field have gone out, everyone on the deck would have died from vaccuum exposure.

Garreth suspected that might actually be preferable to their current fate.

The CARIDA was his, an IMPERIAL-class Star Destroyer that Captain Mykel Garreth had commanded for nearly four years. Next to him, his first officer, Lt. Commander Gilad Pellaeon, shifted uncomfortably.

The CARIDA might belong to them, but the shuttle belonged to Lord Vader.

The ramp hissed downward, and Garreth stepped forward, stance parade-ground perfect from years of practice. An honor detail of the Emperor's Elite Guard stepped down first, their red uniforms standing out like blood among the sterile brightness of his own stormtrooper's uniforms.

Behind them, a swirl of pure terror in polished black bio-armor, strode Lord Darth Vader. He surveyed the gathering quickly, managing to convey a sort of cold arrogence even through his immobile rebreather mask.

The mask and suit, Garreth knew, were indications that this man was physically crippled, torn apart by some horrible battle in the long-gone past. Nobody knew for certain, but the rumor was that the great Darth Vader was physically helpless under the mask.

Not that it made him any less intimidating.

Garreth bowed at the waist. "My Lord. We are truly honored."

"Are you, Captain?" boomed the harsh bass voice of the rebreather mask, "I understand that you were surprised by the news of my visit."

Garreth surrendered about two heads worth of height to Vader, and had to crane his neck to reply. "Pleasantly, of course, My Lord."

Darth Vader surveyed him for a moment, the opaque eyes of the mask boring into him. "I doubt it."

Somewhere behind him, Pellaeon gagged. Naturally, Garreth thought, not with the help of Vader's well-known Force tricks. So far, so good.

With great effort, Garreth spoke without fear or indignation. "My Lord, I assure you, the entire crew has been most eager..."

"Spare me the obsequious prattle, Captain. I bring a new assignment from the Emperor himself."

Garreth nodded. His fears of the past few weeks had come to pass. "The Pardrons?"

Vader looked down at him with either annoyance or new respect. Truthfully, it was impossible to tell through the mask. "Yes. The Emperor has been most displeased with their reluctance to accept their place in the New Order."

Unbidden, the words came to Garreth's throat. "They're defending their homes, My Lord."

Vader glowered down at him, and Garreth knew that hadn't been very wise at all. "You doubt the will of the Emperor?"

"Of course not," he said quickly, "It's simply that using my Star Destroyer to lay waste to a rebellion of simple farmers is rather like crushing myrmins with a vibroaxe."

Garreth felt an oppressive tightness in his throat, and hoped fervently that his own nervousness had placed it there.

"Your opinions are irrelevant," said Vader, and he began walking away, down the gleaming row of stormtroopers, "So long as you carry out your orders."

Mykel Garreth remained rooted to the spot. The settlers on Ord Pardron were simply tired of oppressive Imperial tariffs and trade regulations that made their already hard life unbearable. They were no threat to the Empire. It was ego, pure and simple, that made the Emperor want to crush them.

Garreth had carried out a string of orders like this in recent months, as the Empire became ever more intolerant and oppressive in their quest to wipe out all resistance. He'd seen thousands, millions die because of nothing more than the Emperor's own Hutt-sized arrogance.

Mykel Garreth, decorated ten times for extreme valor, one of the Emperor's favorite commanders for his competence and intellect, had been responsible for more blood than he cared to remember. It had cost him his marriage, his family, and more than a few friends. And still he followed orders, as he had been trained to do.

Well, Force take it, there was a line somewhere. Garreth chose to draw it at Ord Pardron, and he would not cross over it.

Vader had reached the end of the row. Garreth ran to catch up.

"The Emperor is wrong," he said plainly, "Our Imperial Navy represents order, not barbarism. If those colonists are killed, it will be seen as an atrocity, and a hundred worlds will shift their loyalty to the Rebellion."

Vader turned on him. A black-gloved hand came up in a threating gesture, and this time the tightness in Mykel Garreth's throat was not at all natural.

"Perhaps you require a reminder of the high value the Empire places on loyalty."

Though his lungs burned for air, Garreth kept his face impassive. He would not surrender to this monster, not while he retained any strength at all. "I speak only in the interests of preserving the Empire, My Lord."

Vader cocked his head questioningly, almost like a tame nek. "Really? And where does your loyalty lie, Captain?"

"With the Emperor, of course, My Lord." Garreth fought his need for oxygen to a standstill.

Vader released him, and Garreth doggedly refused to gasp, though he did draw in a long breath.

"See that you do not lose sight of that, Captain Garreth."

"Never, My Lord." Mentally Garreth added, you festering pile of Hutt slime...

If Vader did not catch the thought, he did somehow pick up on the emotion behind it. "Perhaps the reminder was insufficient. Do not force me to destroy you, Captain."

Garreth was determined to bluff his way through. "You can't destroy me, actually."

Vader almost took a step backwards, so great was his shock. "Do you truly believe I could not crush you if I chose?"

Garreth shrugged, speaking quickly in defense of his sore and battered throat. "I realize that physically, you could destroy me. But you would have a problem." He kept all malice out of his tone, careful to show the Dark Lord no disrespect, simply stating the facts. "The Emperor likes me. If you destroyed me out of hand, based only on a vague feeling of disloyalty, he would be most displeased."

Vader's hand came halfway up, and Garreth was afraid he'd gone too far, that the Dark Lord would kill him anyway, just out of spite.

"Your life will depend on successful completion of this assignment," Vader said at length, "Do not fail me, Captain."

Garreth nodded, and Vader stalked away.

Pellaeon had followed the two commanders at a respectful distance. Now, with instinct borne of long association, he stepped forward to steady his captain, and guided him to the turbolift. Where the men could not see him collapse.

"You shouldn't have defied Lord Vader, Mykel."

Garreth looked up at his old friend - they'd served together for years - and mentally acknowleged the truth of that statement on one level while still doubting it on another.

He said, "Perhaps it's long past time someone defied him."

"Past time?" Pellaeon stared at him in honest puzzlement. Gilad was a good man in his way, but he was very much a Fleet man. Not inclinded to doubt orders. "He is the commander of the Imperial fleet. Not to mention that he could have killed you."

Mykel Garreth, a short man with a lined face whose once-long black hair had been cut to Fleet issue and begun to recede, looked Pellaeon in the eye. "This mission is wrong. You must see that."

"It's not your place to argue with the Emperor's will! This rabble must be taught a lesson. An example must be made. The Emperor knows that."

"Examples have been made," said Garreth, "On Caamas, on Vorsh, on Calamari. It hasn't slowed the pace of rebellion, it has increasee it!"

Pellaeon still frowned. "The Emperor knows what he's doing."

Garreth looked away. "That's what I'm afraid of..."

Later, in his quarters, Mykel Garreth studied his computer terminal in dismay. They'd hopped into lightspeed near Coruscant, come out for a quick resupply, and would leave for Ord Pardron in less than three hours.

They would leave without their captain.

The only question was, how could he defect? He could steal a shuttle, he supposed, but he'd much rather slip away quietly, and anyway he was a terrible pilot. Another way would be better, but they were in the middle of nowhere. Anoat system. Their resupply included a load of tibanna gas from Bespin.

Bespin, where they were holding that big sabacc tournament next week. The high rollers were arriving already.

"Lando," he said aloud.

Garreth had his own secure comm for receiving and sending special orders. The only other man on the ship who knew the encrypt code was Pellaeon. Vader could tap it if he chose, of course, but the odds that he was tapping it now, at this moment, seemed slim.

Garreth decided to chance it. He dialed in the correct code. After a moment, a bored-sounding clerk answered.

"Yes," the captain said, "I need to reach one of the players in the coming sabacc tournament... No, I don't know the room number... I'm trying to reach Lando Calrissian..."

The last resupply shuttle touched down, settling back on its repulsors, and was unloaded by a mixed contingent of stormtroopers and Navy crewers. When the last crate had been offloaded and the troops had left, the comm buzzed in the Docking Bay Controller's office. He was ordered to report to Briefing Room Four on the double.

While he was gone, the bay was temporarily unguarded. A cloaked form carrying only a small case darted to the shuttle's ramp.

"Lando?" asked Mykel Garreth cautiously.

The pilot's chair swiveled, revealing a dark-skinned man with a moustache, wearing a presumably borrowed uniform. He did not look happy.

"What took you so long?"

"I had to make sure the bay was empty," said Garreth. Lando Calrissian was a professional gambler and scoundrel Garreth had met at the gaming palaces of Rodia. Lando had been cleaning out the bank, and the locals had accused him of cheating. Garreth had used his influence to clear things up, and since then had kept in touch with the gambler. Besides being a lot of fun, Lando's "unofficial" connections could be useful when Supply and Procurement was running slow.

"Tell me again," Lando asked, "How much I'm getting paid for this stunt?"

"Enough to offset your losses, should you lose this sabacc tournament."

"I won't lose," Lando said with confidence, "They've been holding this event for years now, and the only time I ever really lost was the first time."

Garreth grunted as he ran a check on the shuttle's systems. "Is that when Han Solo won your starship?"

"STOLE my starship," Lando corrected him.

"You can tell me all about it in space," Garreth said, thinking to himself, for the hundredth time...

"Right. Where are we going?"

For the first time, Garreth announced aloud the plan he'd been making. "The nearest Rebel base. I plan to join the Rebel Alliance."

Lando looked at him for a moment, and finally laughed out loud. "YOU? Captain Mykel Garreth of the Imperial starfleet? A Rebel? Why?"

Because I'm an old warhorse whose only skill is commanding ships, he thought, and because I've come to hate the institution I have served for over thirty years.

Aloud, he said only, "Long story. And we really should be going. Thank you, by the way."

Lando shrugged. "Well, I do owe you one."

"How'd you get the shuttle?"

Lando Calrissian flashed his best, rogueish grin. "Do you really want to know?"

"You're right. Stupid question. Let's just get this bucket of bolts out of here before I'm missed."

"Don't worry about a thing. You are now flying with the hottest star pilot this side of the Galactic Core."

Garreth laughed. "Except for Han Solo..."

Lando grumbled and reached for the "retract ramp" button.

A voice from behind stopped him. "Hold."

Both their chairs swiveled around to see Gilad Pellaeon standing in the entryway, holding a blaster on them.

"I was afraid you'd try something like this, Mykel," he said, "That's why I monitored your comm unit."

Garreth grimaced. Should have expected that, he thought. Still, he wasn't necessarily dead yet. "I'm glad you're here, old friend. You should come with us. You're too honorable a man for this corruption."

Pellaeon wasn't listening, righteous indignation ablaze on his face. "You have betrayed your Emperor, your duty, and your crew. If that's what the Rebels consider honor, I want no part of it."

He took a step forward. Lando Calrissian stood. "You know, I can see that you two have business, so I'll just let myself out..."

Pellaeon waved the weapon at him. "Stay where you are. You'll both be executed when Lord Vader hears of this."

Relief flashed through Garreth's mind. Vader doesn't know yet! There's still a chance! "Why didn't you tell him, Gilad?"

"I'm really not sure," said Pellaeon, his voice faltering only slightly. "I had hoped I could talk you out of this foolishness."

Garreth shook his head sadly. "I've come too far. I won't kill those people on Ord Pardon."

"They'll die anyway," Pellaeon said, "If you don't carry out the order, then I will, or Vader will. You can't save them." He hesitated. "If you come with me now, Mykel, I'll forget we had this conversation."

That, Garreth realized, was as far beyond the scope of duty as Pellaeon would ever go. "I can't do that, Gilad. The question you have to ask yourself is this: Are you capable of killing me?"

The muzzle of Pellaeon's blaster twitched, just perceptably. "I am."

"I don't think so," Garreth pressed him, "Even if you merely stun me, Lord Vader will execute me. You said as much yourself. We've been friends for thirty years, Gilad." He took a deep breath. "You won't let that happen."

"It's my duty," Pellaeon said quietly. The muzzle of his blaster focused on Mykel Garreth. Pellaeon's finger tensed on the trigger.

Lando Calrissian took advantage of the Imperial's moment of hesitation to pull a hold-out blaster from somewhere. He put a stun bolt in Pellaeon's chest, and the older man collasped.

Garreth looked from the fallen body of one friend to the still-warm blaster in the hands of another.

He nodded to Lando. "Thank you again."

"I'll start the preflight. You can drag him out into the hangar, if you want."

Garreth did so - Avram's put on a little weight, he thought - and returned. Lando started to retract the hatch before he'd even gotten all the way inside.

Lando edged the throttle forward, and they floated towards the docking bay entrance. They hadn't even gotten there before a klaxon began buzzing outside.

Garreth cursed. "So much for a quiet getaway. I think we're in trouble."

"Don't worry. If you've disabled the tractor beams, we'll make it. I've already got a hyperspace course."

They shot out of the docking bay, a dozen of the CARIDA's escort TIE fighters opening up on them at once as they cleared it. Garreth and Lando hung tight to their consoles to keep from being tossed about the cabin like Jawas in a sandstorm.

"I was right," Garreth concluded, feeling sick, "We're in trouble."

Lando read a sensro screen and winced. "Shields are gone already."

"Get us out of here!"

"Hey, there's a thought," Lando said as he threw the shuttle into an evasive loop that churned Garreth's stomach, "I can see how you've risen through the ranks so quickly!"

Four of the TIE fighters were moving into position for a strafing run. Their shuttle had no weapons with which to return fire.

Lando's hand reached for the hyperdrive lever. By Garreth's calculations, it got there about one second before the green laserlight would have reduced them to their individual atoms.

But they were clear.

Lando let out a long sigh. "That was too close."

Garreth was inclined to agree. "Where'd you set course for?"

"Dantooine. There's an old rebel base there, or so I understand. They've been slowly phasing it out, but there should be somebody there who can tell you where to go to sign up."

Garreth nodded. "They won't accept me easily..."

"I just better get back in time for the start of that sabacc tournament," said Lando, changing the subject. "If I don't, you're going to owe me big."

"Err... yes, of course," said Garreth. He was almost sure he'd be able to withdraw some credits from his accounts before the Emperor had them liquidated.

"I don't like that tone," said Lando.

"Trust me," he replied, "Unless of course you'd care to join the Rebellion with me."

Lando thought that idea was great fun. "That will be the day, my friend. Can you picture me - me, Lando Calrissian - in the Rebel Alliance? Within a month they'd either shoot me or make me a general."

"Aiming high, are you?"

Lando shrugged. "I do everything big. But not this. No way. You understand, I have no love for the Empire, but the day I join up with a bunch of do-gooders out to save the galaxy, that is the day that Gamorreans fly and Hutts become philanthropists."

"Your choice," said Garreth amiably.

"Speaking of saving the galaxy, what about Ord Pardron? Your friend was right when he said the Empire is going to roast those people anyway."

"Maybe," said Garreth, eyes averted from the peculiar and nauseating light show of hyperspace, "But not with the CARIDA. When I turned off the tractor beams, I melted her targeting control systems. By the time they assign a new ship to do her job, the Rebels should be able to affect at least a partial evacuation."

Lando's lip twitched. "You hope."

"Military tactics are my business," he reminded the other man, "Do you just hope you'll do well at sabacc?"

"You have me there," Lando admitted. After a pause, he said, "What about Vader? He is a very bad enemy to make, my friend."

Garreth sighed, thinking about all the time, all the people he'd lost just to get to this stage in his life. No one was going to ruin it for him now, not even the Dark Lord of the Sith.

He said, "I'll think of something..."

Lando dropped him off on Dantooine and turned around immediately. He would have preferred to wait for Garreth to pay him, of course, but he trusted the other man, and anyway further delay might have cost him a spot in the sabacc tournament.

A full day's hike took Garreth through Dantooine's rather primative wilderness to what was left of the Rebel base. Garreth made it there around planetary dawn, and decided on the direct approach.

He surrendered to the first person he saw.

They threw him in the brig immediately, of course, but between his claim of being a high-ranking Imperial officer and his news of the impending slaughter on Ord Pardron, he got the attention of the base commander pretty quickly.

She strode into the brig, a medium-sized woman with short, golden hair, wearing a sort of makeshift uniform that was at least military-looking, if not up to Imperial standards.

"I'm Major Rorie," she said, "Who are you?" "Mykel Garreth. Captain, Imperial Navy." He added dryly, "Retired, so to speak."

He extended a hand to shake, but the major and her two armed bodyguards did not appear to be in a cordial mood.

"Do you have any proof of that?"

Garreth made a show of patting down his dirty and ripped Navy uniform. "What do you know? I seem to have left my Star Destroyer in my other suit."

"You think you're funny?" said Rorie, "You think this is a joke? You can just infiltrate a Rebel installation and start..."

"I didn't infiltrate anything. I defected."

"We're back to needing proof," she said.

Garreth quoted several minor bits of intelligence that he hoped would convince her, including the warning about Ord Pardron. After a time Rorie left him, promising to check into his claims.

She returned within the hour.

"Our sources within the Imperial Navy verify the story of a defected Imperial captain," she said, "As well as an impending hit on Ord Pardron."

"There you are," he said.

"No, we still have a problm. We're not sure the whole Ord Pardron stunt isn't a setup to verify your cover story."

Garreth groaned. The Imperial Fleet does have one advantage over the Rebels, he thought. It is refreshingly direct. He knew the cloak-and-dagger caution couldn't be helped, but that didn't make it any easier to take when there was work to be done.

"So that's it?" he said, "I'm just going to sit here until you're satisifed?"

"No," said Rorie, "Those problems I quoted you are real. A lot of us don't trust you, so believe me, if you miss a step you're going to get badly burned."

"But?" he said expectantly.

"But... It seems that an unknown source high in the Alliance has vouched for you. There's a courier en route to take you to our flagship." Rorie paused. "I think they're asking for trouble."

"Don't look so glum, Major," he told her, "After all, I'm still unarmed. If things get very bad, you can always shoot me, and claim I was attempting escape.

Rorie scowled at him, unflinching. "Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind."

She left the room, and Mykel Garreth began to wonder what in the depths of space he'd gotten himself into.

He was still wondering a week later, when an honor guard of Rebel troops led him into an office on a ship he hadn't been permitted to see from the outside. The corridors, however, appeared to be Calamarian in design. No surprise there - the Mon Calamari had always been a staunch supporter of the Rebels.

Doors slid aside, and sitting at the desk in the center of the office was a person Garreth had never expected to see again.

Senator Mon Mothma of Chandrila regarded him warily. She was every bit as dignified and radiant as he remembered from the last Imperial ball.

Except now she had a blaster pistol strapped to her robes, and several bodyguards around her.

"You look like Mykel Garreth," she said, "Tell me, what color was the dress I wore to the last Imperial ball?"

"It started out blue," he said immediately, "Though it was rather hard to tell once General Tagge spilled his drink on it."

She brightened, and Garreth began to relax. Mon Mothma and he didn't know each other terribly well, but she knew him well enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, and that was all he needed.

"I didn't expect to see you with the Rebels," he said. Mon Mothma's anti-Empire politics were well-known, but the idea that she was behind an armed rebellion...

"I'm taking a terrible risk, meeting you like this. Palpatine thinks I'm touring the refineries on Calamari. You'd best not be wasting my time, Captain." She paused. "Why are you here?"

He explained about Ord Pardron, and Vader, and his growing disenchantment with the New Order. He could see from her expression that it was a familiar story.

Finally Mon Mothma sat back, cool eyes measuring him. "You have a reputation, Captain. Some have called you a butcher."

"You know that's not true."

She arched an eyebrow. "You've carried out orders of this sort before. Why should Ord Pardron be any different?"

Garreth started to give a pat answer, then realized that he had none. He really didn't know why Ord Pardron was any different. It just was.

He cleared his throat and said rather weakly, "I'd simply reached my limit. Will your people reach the Pardrons in time?"

Mon Mothma winced. "Some of them. But we don't have the resources to commi to a full-scale evacuation. In large part, the Empire will have its way."

"No," he said, "Not any more. We're going to stop them. I am going to stop them."

"Why should we trust you?" asked the Chandrilan Senator.

He leaned forward over the desk, bracing himself against the cool metal. "All I ask is a chance, Mon Mothma. Give me a ship, any ship. I might be a bad human being, but I am a good captain." He bored into her blue eyes with his dark ones. "I won't fail you."

Mon Mothma studied him another moment. "No. I don't expect that you will. As for getting your chance against the Empire... don't worry, Captain. We'll keep you busy."

She extended a hand, and Garreth shook it. He had a chance now. A chance to make up for the past. Inside himself, the last little bit of Imperial captain died.

For whatever it was worth, his fate was now with the Alliance.

Continued in Episode 2

R. John Burke

© 1998-1999 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann