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

To Challenge Black Sun

STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Five

DESRIPTION: About ten months before the Battle of Yavin, Garreth and crew go to Black Sun for info on the Imperial superweapon, while Rik and Kerri deal with a serious problem of their own. Read parts 1-4 first.

NOTICE: Star Wars and everthing related to it (like this story) is Copyright Lucasfilm. This is a simple, non-profit work of fan fiction. If you try to sell it, I know a Wookiee who'll happily rip your arms out of their sockets.

The little R2 droid leaned over on its wheels, bleeping with concern at the sleeping form of a dark-haired woman.

"She's okay, Bo," said Rik Evverd, his lean form already soaked with sweat from the oppressive morning heat of Jorrien II. Under his breath, he added, "I think..."

Almost on cue, Kerri Lynden stirred, her brown eyes flickering open. Normally her skin was a rich olive tone, but she was desperately pale now. She'd been this way for almost a day now, since the incident on the shuttle.

Evverd feared for her, but he kept his tone light. "Well, good morning."

Lynden blinked again. "What happened?"

"You passed out on the shuttle," he said, "I found the nearest planet that didn't have stormtroopers strolling down every street, and got us lodging. I don't think we can head back 'till we have this figured out."

Kerri's eyes snapped wide, and he felt the instinctive terror as she realized once again that she could no longer touch the Force.

"We'll find a way to change back," Evverd said, "I promise."

They'd been on a reconnaissence mission in Sluis sector, and had evaded the pursuing TIE fighters by ducking into a nebula. There, they'd run into a strange sort of energy formation.

Passing through it had turned Kerri Lynden, as far as she knew the last Jedi Knight, normal. And given her friend and pilot Jedi powers beyond his wildest dreams.

"Rik," she said slowly, "We may have to consider the possibility that it's impossible to change back. The cloud is gone..."

"We'll find it," he said, "Or we'll find another way."

"Or maybe we won't!" she said. She was sitting up now, but her head was in her hands. "Maybe I'll be like this forever!"

"Don't say that," Evverd told her, and came over to sit by her bed, "Y'know, this hasn't been a great thrill for me, either." He gritted his teeth. "I HEAR the thoughts of every blasted person in this dirtball town. I move my hand, and things go flying! I just want to be a pilot again!"

Able to focus on someone else's problem for a moment, Kerri looked a little more herself. "The voices - that just needs training. You haven't learned to block it out yet. As for the rest - I don't know. There's still something wrong. You shouldn't be this powerful. My Jedi skills were never more than average. Well, maybe slightly above, but you - you seem to be halfway to Jedi Master without even any instruction."

Evverd shrugged, his grin splitting chocolate skin with a bright flash of teeth. "Just gifted, I guess."

"No, just unnatural. You must have noticed how weak I've been ever since we switched."

Evverd had been trying very hard not to think of that. "Yeah, but that's just a natural reaction to being normal all of the sudden. You'll get used to it."

Kerri clenched her fists, said, "This isn't normal, Rik! This is more like an illness!" She frowned, shook her head to clear it, said, "Sorry. I didn't mean to snap. I'm used to tapping the Force for calm. Without it, I'm just a little jumpy."

"It's okay," he said, "So what do you think it is?"

Kerri drew in a long breath with effort, then blew it out. "Well, my best idea is this: Picture the Force as the energy field it really is. Think of Force-users as having a positive charge with regard to that energy, and non-Jedi as having a negative charge. By that logic, you and I cancelled each other out. Somehow, the energy of that cloud may have... reversed our polarities, making you positive and me negative."

Trying very hard not to see where this was going, Evverd said, "But I'm more powerful that you were. Wouldn't the charges still have to cancel out?"

Kerri sighed, and lay back down. "Yes. Something has to happen to bring the charge back to zero."

Evverd felt something inside himself tear. "I thought you said the Force was created by life."

"It is," Kerri said, already half asleep again, "The extra life energy would have to come from somewhere..."

Then she was asleep, breathing in short rasps. Though her features hadn't changed, Evverd suddenly thought she looked very old.

I'm killing her, he thought, and I have no idea how to stop...

Black Sun, thought Captain Mykel Garreth, must be quite efficient in its way. He and Lando had only met with their agent just over a week ago, a fairly low-ranking Verpine in the service of one of the Black Sun underlords, or Vigos.

And now, not even ten days after that first meeting, he was about to meet Prince Xizor's right-hand woman, in the name of Mon Mothma and the Rebel Alliance.

Very efficient, indeed.

The only problem was, Guri, the Black Sun rep, refused to set up a neutral-site meeting. Garreth had been forced to come to Coruscant itself.

The Imperial Center and the most populous planet in the galaxy, not to mention the planet of Garreth's birth, Coruscant was nothing less than a monstrous city, covering nearly the entire planet. There were no forests or oceans left anymore. No wilderness at all. Only buildings built on buildings built on buildings, going back through several millenia of construction.

It was roughly organized according to status, as well. The rich and powerful lived on top, where you could still the sky. The middle classes lived somewhat lower, and might glimpse sun once or twice in a good week.

What lived on the lowest levels wasn't even human.

Fortunately, they didn't have to meet Guri on the lowest levels. Glancing around at the scum and villainy around him, lit by a sort of pervasive, eerily glowing moss, Garreth decided they were quite far down enough as it was.

Lando, naturally, had not stuck around for the really dangerous part; he wasn't being paid enough. Instead, Garreth was accompanied by Gaaraanzi, his Wookiee chief engineer, Marta Janzen, a lithe red-haired woman who usually held the navigation post of his NEBULON-class starship, FREEDOM, and another man, a broad-shouldered human with a shaggy beard named Derriks. He didn't know Derriks very well, only that Chief Okel had chosen the man specifically for this covert mission.

Both Derriks and Janzen had certainly acquitted themselves well during the riskiest part of this mission, that of getting safely past Imperial security. All of them were Rebels, after all, and Garreth in particular was well-known here. Bounty hunters had already come after him once, for the Imperial price on his head.

But Derriks and Janzen had been totally confident, and done all the talking quite professionally and easily.

It made Garreth wonder. While Derriks was totally unfamiliar to him, Marta Janzen was eerily so. He knew he'd seen her somewhere before joining the Alliance, and the thought wouldn't die, no matter how hard he tried to put it to rest. Where had she been trained in covert operations, anyway? Kerri Lynden, his first officer, had never mentioned the navigator having such skills.

All questions for another time. Right now, it was important to make a good impression on the Black Sun representative, and find out about the secret Imperial project that kept popping up in their Intelligence reports.

"Captain Garreth?"

Garreth just managed not to cry out, he was so startled by the voice behind him. Swiveling quickly along with the rest of his team, he saw Guri for the first time.

She was blonde, athletic, undeniably beautiful - in fact, impossibly perfect in every way. And how did she sneak up on us all? Garreth wondered.

No bodyguards accompanied her, though she wore a blaster pistol. Her eyes focused on Garreth, and he saw no trace of emotion or interest in them. Eyes not quite dead, but wrong somehow...

"Where is the Senator?" she asked.

Garreth cleared his throat. "You weren't under the impression that Mon Mothma would be meeting with you in person, were you? Surely you must know that's far too dangerous."

"Yet you wished to speak personally with Prince Xizor."

"And I was denied that request," Garreth reminded her, "Which leaves us here - a trusted agent of Mon Mothma's meeting with a trusted agent of Xizor's. Seems fair to me."

Guri seemed a bit displeased, but nodded towards a corridor. "Follow me, please."

She led them into one of the shadier taverns in the underworld plaza, and from there into a back room. Garreth had fully expected the back room to be as bad as the rest of the cantina, but it was spotlessly clean and equipped with a bank of computer terminals.

Guri worked the computer controls, and Garreth saw that she was sweeping for bugs. After a moment, she tapped a switch, and a low hum began in the background.

"We are now totally secure," Guri said. "State your business."

Secure, Garreth thought, except for the listening devices that Black Sun undoubtedly has in place. But at least the Empire had no hidden ears lying about.

"The Alliance is willing to pay generously for any information you may have on a new Imperial weapon."

Garreth sat down at the table in the room's center, but Guri chose to remain standing. "What sort of weapon?"

"That's just the point," Garreth said, "We don't know. We've heard it's more powerful than anything they've thrown against us in the past. But we can't seem to learn more than that."

Guri stared at him for a moment, and Garreth found those blue eyes most unpleasant. "Interesting that Mykel Garreth should be looking for such information."

Garreth ignored the remark. "Do you have such information?"

"It is possible," Guri said after a moment. The words suggested that she'd been considering the question, but her expression hadn't changed. "I will have to consult with our sources, as well as with Prince Xizor. I must warn you that, even should the information exist, it may not be for sale."

"We'll pay whatever price Xizor asks."

Guri just stared. "I'm sure you will." And she left the room.

Derriks whistled. "Some cool customer, huh?"

Gaaraanzi growled softly, and his translator unit said, "I am... uneasy. She smells wrong."

"Wrong? How?"

"I cannot explain it," Gaar said through the translator, "It is subtle. Perhaps only a trained hunter would notice."

"Or you're imagining things," Janzen said dryly.

Gaar snarled at her. "I do not have an active imagination."

"It's okay, Gaar," said the captain, "She spooks me, too."

"I wonder how long she plans to leave us here," said Derriks.

"Hardly matters," Garreth said, "She calls the shots here. She wants us to wait, we'll wait."

Guri returned in less than half an hour. She said only that Prince Xizor wished to speak to them personally, and Garreth, though he was bothered by the whole setup, had not been inclined to pass up such luck.

An hour after meeting Guri for the first time, they were brought to Xizor's palace.

Prince Xizor, underworld leader of Black Sun, the galaxy's most powerful crime boss, lived in the most impressive structure Garreth had ever seen, short of the Imperial palace. The room they were left waiting in was five times larger than the FREEDOM's bridge, and it took up only a fraction of a single floor.

Nor was the room's size its only impressive feature. Priceless artwork adorned the walls, treasures that Garreth recognized as priceless to a dozen cultures were left about as mere knick-knacks. Xizor obviously had impeccable - and expensive - tastes.

"Will you get a load of this?" said Derriks.

Garreth nodded. "Apparently crime pays."

Janzen snorted. "All I see is a lot of useless junk. This whole palace is a waste."

Though he was surprised at the distaste in her voice, Garreth had to admit his navigator had a point. He'd been a rich man himself, once, had been to the Imperial palace itself many times. And still he had never seen such extravagence.

Not that it was unpleasant. In fact, the setup was rather eye-pleasing. Flawlessly decorated, tasteful despite the uncountable wealth present, the room was perfect.

It was like Guri, in fact. A bit too perfect.

"This room was meant to impress people," Garreth muttered.

"And I trust that it has," said a strong, male voice from above. Standing over them, descending from a staircase as though falling from the heavens, was Prince Xizor.

Xizor's race, the Falleen, were reptilian, and his features did possess a vague snakelike aura. He was hairless, save for a topknot and ponytail on his skull, and though he wore extravagent robes, Garreth got the impression that he was quite muscular and athletic.

Intimidating, perhaps, but Garreth was not impressed. Once you'd faced Lord Vader, anybody else was just an amateur.

"Captain Garreth," he said pleasantly, "I've heard so much about you."

Garreth stood and bowed formally. "And I you, Prince Xizor."

The Falleen inclined his head, the picture of modesty. "You flatter me, sir. I am but a simple businessman."

You're a simple businessman like Vader is a parlor magician, Garreth thought. "As you say, Prince."

"And now I understand that your Rebel Alliance would make use of my services," he said, "I must tell you, I am pleased. I have thought for some time that it would benefit Black Sun to establish closer ties with the Alliance."

"Yet you serve the Emperor," Janzen said, and her captain winced at the indelicate statement.

"You're mistaken, my young friend. Black Sun is completely neutral in this unfortunate conflict." He inclined his head toward Garreth. "Though just between ourselves, there are many among my people who have no love for the Empire at all."

"I can believe that," Garreth said. In a sense, that statement was no doubt true. But the implied meaning - Black Sun is on your side - could not have been less accurate.

"I will tell you what I will do, Captain. I have already asked Guri to begin inquiries with all our contacts about the information you desire. I am sure she will come up with something. As a favor to the Alliance, and in the hopes of better relations between our groups, I will give you whatever information she turns up at a quarter of its fair market value."

Garreth didn't know what to make of that. "Most generous, my Prince."

"I think so."

"What's fair?" asked Janzen, tone implying that she didn't buy a word he was saying.

Xizor shrugged. "That cannot be determined until we know what information we are dealing with. But I am certain that we can come to an equitable arrangement."

Janzen snorted. "I bet."

Xizor's color changed slightly, a Falleen display of emotion. It quickly muted itself again. "I see that you do not trust me. Perhaps I can explain the matter to you while your comrades dine with Guri."

The alert klaxons blared in Garreth's head. "I think we'd prefer to stick together, my Prince."

"My chef has prepared a most delectable meal," Xizor said, managing to be gracious while still conveying the impression that Garreth's wishes meant nothing, "It will take some time to gather the information."

"Then Marta can dine as well," he said.

Xizor laughed. "You think I wish to harm her? Captain Garreth, I am wounded by your distrust."

"If that is how you feel, I'm sorry," said Garreth, "But my people stick together."

"Captain, it's allright," said Janzen, "I have a few questions I'd like answered."

"And I shall do my best to lay your concerns to rest," said Xizor. At Garreth's frown, he said, "Trust me, Captain. I am a man of honor."

And that was that. There was no way to turn Xizor down now without insulting the Dark Prince. And since Marta Janzen was willing to stay, he inclined his head. "In that case, we'd be happy to join Guri at dinner." To Janzen, he whispered, "Be polite."

She nodded, and Xizor's guards led the other Rebels out of the room.

The door slid shut behind them, and Xizor arched an eyebrow at his guest. "I am pleased to see you again, Emperor's Hand. Though surprised."

Marta Janzen, whose true name was Mara Jade, shrugged. "Guri recognized me?"

"I'm afraid so," Xizor said, "Her memory is flawless, like everything else about her."

Mara Jade sneered. "Your attachment to that synthdroid is really sick, you know that?"

"Guri is the perfect assistant," he said, "Supremely competent, and totally loyal to her master. Unlike Mykel Garreth..."

"He's a coward and a traitor," said Jade, "But for the moment, he is useful."

"He's your target, then?" Xizor guessed, "I trust you'll find some appropriately gruesome demise for him, as a warning to all those who would betray the Empire?"

"He's not my target," Jade said, "Not that's it's any concern of yours. You just make sure you don't give me away."

Xizor made an expansive gesture. "I am, as ever, totally loyal to the Emperor. And his appointed Hand."

Mara Jade laughed out loud. "Xizor, you are the slimiest thing I've ever seen that wasn't a Hutt."

Xizor was annoyed, but even he did not wish to anger the Emperor's personal top-level operative. "Of course, I never intended to give them any true information on the Death Star... though it really would be profitable..."

"Do what you think best," said Mara Jade, "Just so you remember that total loyalty to the Emperor."

"Always, my dear," said the crime lord, "Shall we go to dinner?"

"Any progress?" asked Kerri's voice from behind.

"You shouldn't be up," Evverd said, "I let you come back to the nebula with me on the condition that you didn't exert yourself."

"I'm feeling better," Kerri said, which was a lie. Though the initial fatigue had worn off after the first few days, leaving Kerri able to move about, her condition continued to worsen. Evverd couldn't even look at her, all thin and pale like that. It scared the hell out of him.

She sat down heavily in the pilot's seat. "Rik, you've been running scans of this nebula for a week. The cloud isn't coming back."

"That's not necessarily true," Evverd said as he ran a calibration, "It could be on a cycle. You know, leave and come back every few days."

"Or it could reappear every twenty thousand years," Kerri reminded him.

"We can't give up!" he said, "How can you be so calm?"

"Jedi training," she said, "Which is something you should have a little of, just in case."

"NO!" he said, "No 'just in case.' Besides, I am learning a few things. Watch."

He raised his hand, and a data pad floated through the air across the cabin. As it settled into Evverd palm, he said, "See? I've got some fine control now, instead of just reactions."

"There's more to the Force than floating pads and mindgames."

"I know that," he said, checking the readings again. Still nothing. "I don't plan to be a Jedi long enough to care."

"Oh," she said, "In that case, forgive me."

"Forgive you? Why--"

A jolt of electricity charred the back of his jacket, and Evverd cursed. He lept and spun at the same time, to see his own R2 unit, R2-B0, brandishing an arc welder.

"Bo, what do you think you're doing?"

"It's my fault," said Kerri, "We don't have a remote to practice with, so I improvised." She tossed him her lightsaber. "Defend yourself."

"A droid can't attack a human!" Evverd protested in spite of the evidence to the contrary."

"He's not firing lethal bursts," she said, "And I did a little reprogramming. You remember I used to be good with technical work."

The R2 unit advanced towards him, and Evverd backed off. His friend said, "His arc welder is overpowered now. It'll shoot sparks, so you'd better turn that on and catch them."

Bo shot another crackling electric tendril, and Evverd was forced to ignite the blade. The ruby-colored sword caught the bolt, and sparks shrieked and sizzled as they chased each other around the blade.

"Good!" said Kerri, "You anticipated that very well. Now, stretch out with your feelings."

The astromech unit fired again, and it singed Evverd's shoulder as he just missed it with the lightsaber. "Now cut that out, you burned-out little garbage can! Whose droid are you?"

Bo responded to the effect that he belonged to Rik Evverd, but he liked Kerri better.

Another spark shot out, and Evverd swept the blade downwards, blocking it.

"I'm warning you, Kerri! Make him stop!"

"Control your anger," she said, "Concentrate on feeling the flow of the Force."

Evverd cursed, and brought the blade down in a sweeping cut that sliced the droid's arc welder clean off. The little astromech screeched and wheeled backwards as fast as it could go.

"Rik!" Kerri tried to rise to her feet, but seemed to lack the strength. "That was uncalled for!"

"I warned him to stop!" Evverd said, "He's lucky I only cut the welder off!"

"A Jedi does not act from anger!"

Evverd flung the lightsaber away and tossed up his hands. "I'm NOT a Jedi! I got your powers through some cosmic fluke! Listen carefully, Ker: I'm not a hero. I'm a Corellian pirate, and I'm gonna act like it, with a lightsaber or without one."

Kerri no longer looked angry, but disappointment burned in her tired eyes. "If you continue to think like that, you will fall to the Dark Side."

Evverd was about to reply, but the proximity alarm cut him off. Evverd vaulted into the pilot's seat, and cursed. "I knew we were hanging around here too long. TIE fighters, on an intercept course!"

"Can you lose them?"

"And let them chase us away from the cloud?" Rik Evverd grinned. "I got a better idea."

He closed his eyes, found the minds of the TIE pilots. One by one, he entered their consciousness and changed their perceptions the way he'd seen Kerri do a few times. Even with no training, it was child's play for a Jedi of his power.

He caused them all to find the switch that said, "Jettison Fuel," and push it.

The TIE fighters stuttered and died, continuing on course by inertia alone.

Evverd looked up. "Nice trick, huh?"

"Impressive." Kerri Lynden looked shaken. "Are you sure you can control the energies you're tapping into?"

"No," he said, "But it's better than letting them toast us. Problem is, that was just one patrol. Their buddies'll come looking for them."

"Then maybe it's time to abandon our search for the cloud," Kerri suggested.

"What's with you?" Evverd demanded, "Do you want to die?"

Jedi training or none, Kerri was more susceptable to anger without her access to the Force. She hit the shuttle's console with her fist. Evverd was dismayed to note that he barely heard the thud it it made - she was really getting weak.

"I don't want to die," Kerri said, "But I don't think I have much longer. Do you understand that?"

"No," Evverd said, "No, you're wrong..."

"Rik," she said, very plainly, "I am dying. This may be my only chance to train another Jedi to take my place. If I die before you receive any training you will continue to use the Force in this erratic, unfocused manner, and Vader or Palpatine will find you. You will be converted or killed."

She took a deep breath, shuddered as she let it back out. "And then all is lost..."

The sleek form of Prince Xizor's personal ship, the VIRAGO, docked, the hatch hissed open, and Mykel Garreth got his first look at Xizor's famed Skyhook.

The Skyhook was a personal space station, one of the largest orbital facilities near Coruscant, as Xizor's palace was one of the largest ground structures. Xizor was apparently determined that he, personally, would have the best of everything.

People like that frightened Mykel Garreth no end.

"Ah, Guri, there you are," said Xizor, who had sent his aide to the skyhook ahead of them some hours ago. "Have you completed your investigation?"

"I have, my Prince."

"And?" the Falleen asked.

Guri averted her eyes, an almost shameful gesture. "I regret that so much time was wasted on a useless errand."

Gaar growled. Garreth said, "Useless?"

"The Imperial project you spoke of has been scrapped," said Guri, "The Empire was attempting to develop a battlestation with a superlaser that could destroy planets, but the design was unstable. Though the initial tests were encouraging, the prototype superlaser they built self-destructed upon its first use."

"Well," said Garreth, "I that case, I thank you for your efforts. How much do we owe you?"

"No charge, of course," Xizor waived away the offer. He smiled widely. "It appears, Captain, that you have nothing at all to worry about."

Mykel Garreth thought, then why do I have such a bad feeling about this?

Continued in Episode 6

R. John Burke

© 1998-1999 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann