STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Six
DESRIPTION: Another mini-adventure winds down, but not easily, as Garreth faces down Prince Xixor and Rik Evverd tries to save Kerri.
NOTICE: "Star Wars" belongs to George Lucas and LucasFilm. Therefore this story is not mine to sell. Therefore I have not done so. Therefore I am really tired of these disclaimers.
"Sir, we have Imperial assault shuttles on fast approach!"
"WHAT?" Prince Xizor, ruler of the Black Sun crime syndicate, turned a glare on the Sensor Chief of his skyhook. Beside him, his guest, Captain Mykel Garreth of the Rebel Alliance, tensed. If the Empire discovered Garreth and his three officers on board Xizor's skyhook, they were all dead several times over.
"We're getting a comm transmition," said the nervous sensor chief.
"Let me talk to them," said Xizor. He motioned Garreth out of viewing range of the holo-transmitter. "I assure you, this is merely a small mix-up."
"It had better be," said the Wookiee Gaaraanzi, by means of the translator device he wore on his metal bandolier. Herc Derriks, another Rebel operative, scratched the Wookiee's furry chest in an effort to keep him calm.
The hologram they received was of an Imperial Army officer with a lean, angular face. "I am Captain Vrace of the Imperial Army. You will allow your skyhook to be boarded and searched."
Xizor assumed his most diplomatic air. "There must be some mistake, Captain. I am a legitimate man of business."
Vrace snorted. "Really? We have reports from reputable sources that you are harboring Rebel spies aboard your skyhook, Prince Xizor."
Xizor, being a reptilian Falleen, was not inclined towards emotional behavior. Nevertheless, his chameleon-like skin turned fuschia with rage. "Who? Who would send such a report?"
"I'm not at liberty to give out such information. But you will allow your skyhook to be searched."
"Really?" said Xizor, smiling and calm once again. "Captain Vrace, I believe I can clear all of this up if I may speak to you on my private comm line."
"I have no interest in your explanations, Prince Xizor," said the Imperial captain, "My orders say to search this skyhook, and I will do so."
Xizor's skin tone darkened again. "Indeed. Have you discussed this course of action with the Emperor, captain?"
Vrace hesitated. "Er... no."
"Then I suggest you do so. His Excellency will be most displeased."
Fear showed on the Imperial officer's face, and Garreth felt a moment of real sympathy. He'd been in the Imperial fleet for thirty years, and angering the Emperor (or Lord Vader) was every officer's worst nightmare.
Vrace decided to brazen it out. "I will not concern the Imperial Palace with a simple search mission. Will you allow us to board?"
Xizor sized up the hologram for a moment. Finally, he hissed and said, "Captain, verify this security code: 8-8-9 Blue 5-1-2 Ithor Caamas 1-1-0."
Garreth's gut twisted. That followed the same pattern as his own Personal Security Code, issued by the Emperor himself to his top operatives. If Xizor had one...
"I think we're in trouble," he muttered, and Gaar agreed.
Marta Janzen, a red-haired woman who served as the FREEDOM's navigator, muttered, "I suggest we leave now."
"Not a bad idea," Garreth said.
"Somebody want to tell me the problem?" asked Derriks.
On the holo, Vrace gasped. "Prince Xizor, I apologize. I had no idea..."
"Spare me the apologies, Captain. If you're fortunate, the Emperor will only have your job." The Falleen paused, said, "More likely you'll die for this."
On the tactical sensors, the Imperial assault shuttles turned around and headed back for the surface of Coruscant at top speed.
Xizor turned. "Friends, I apologize for the interruption. Shall we return to business?"
Garreth's blaster was already in his hand. "I've a better idea. We're going to say goodbye."
All of his people were armed now, and Xizor's own people on the skyhook bridge were aiming their weapons.
Xizor laughed. "You mean the code... that's merely a small bit of intelligence my people obtained..."
"Don't waste your breath, Prince," Garreth said, "Those codes are unique, issued only to those the Emperor trusts most. You couldn't have one unless Black Sun served the Empire."
"Perhaps we do serve the Empire on occasion," said Xizor, "But that does not make us enemies to the Alliance. A fine profit can be made, playing both ends against the middle."
"No," said Garreth, shaking his head. He and his people were backing towards the waiting lift. "You have lied to us from the beginning."
"I'm sorry you feel that way," said Xizor, "Guri?"
Before Garreth could even breathe, the beautiful blonde woman with the strange mannerisms shot in from the side. With four blows she had disarmed all four Rebels.
Garreth massaged his aching hand. One second he'd had a weapon, the next it was gone. NOBODY should be able to move that fast. And yet, Xizor's aide had done so effortlessly.
"Take them to the detention level," Xizor told the woman. "We will at least have gifts for the Emperor."
"Understood," said Guri.
"I'll kill you..." said Marta Janzen.
Xizor ignored her. "Alas, Captain Garreth, it seems that you have chosen your allies poorly."
"I'll take mine over yours any day," Garreth said, casting a glance at the superhuman woman who had so easily foiled them.
"And that would be your loss. Guri..."
A few bodyguards accompanied Guri in bringing them to the prison cells, but Garreth was fairly certain that their presence was unnecessary.
Rik Evverd sat cross-legged on the floor. He'd never learned Jedi meditation techniques, but his Force skills were sizable - or had been for the last two weeks, anyway. Ever since he and his Jedi friend Kerri Lynden had flown into that strange enrgy cloud...
Kerri just kept getting worse. She slept nearly all the time now, and looked so impossibly fragile that Evverd was afraid to touch her. The cloud had sapped Kerri of her Jedi powers, and somehow the transference continued to sap her of her life, making Evverd even more powerful and driving Kerri close to death.
He had tried to use his new Force skills to heal her, but there was nothing physically wrong with her. She was just dying.
On top of all that, Kerri wasn't speaking to him. She'd been saying for days that he should learn about the Force, be prepared to defend the Jedi tradition if she should die, but Evverd could not bring himself to do that. Accepting the situation would also be accepting the fact that Kerri was dying. Accepting that he could do nothing for her.
Rik Evverd would never accept that. Could never accept it. There was always something he could do. He'd never lost before, and now was not the time to start.
So he stretched out, with all his newfound power, through the still-unfamiliar energies of the Force. Hoping to find the energy formation that had started this. Hoping to find some knowledge, some insight, that would tell him how to reverse the process. How to make Kerri well and himself normal again.
Evverd fingered the crystal Kerri had given him, the one that had shielded her in the Force, and protected her from Vader and the Emperor. He didn't want to think that soon, it might be all he had of her.
"Help me," he whispered, "Someone... something... help her. Please."
But he received only silence, and the steady, unmistakeable pulse of life in the Force. Evverd touchered part of that life, felt it flicker...
And leapt to his feet. He was already moving toward the door of their lodging on the jungle world of Jorrien II when a small, metal form squealed for help from the doorway.
"It's okay, Bo," he said, patting R2-B0's battered dome as he passed the droid in the entryway, "It's going to be okay..."
He found Kerri on the bed, lying uncomfortably still. After a moment, he saw her chest rise and fall, saw that there was still life in her, but he could feel it slipping away by the moment...
"NO!" he cried, reaching out again in the Force, desperately trying to help her. Once again, there was nothing to help. No illness to heal.
The outcry woke Kerri. "What's... what's the matter?"
He knelt down by the bedside and took her hand. "I want you to listen good, kid, 'cause I'll only say this once. I don't give a damn about the Force, or the energy cloud, or anything else. All I'm gonna tell you is this: You can't die on me!"
Kerri laughed, but it ended in a coughing fit. "Wasn't exactly my top choice either."
"STOP IT! Stop accepting it! You've got to kick in the Corellian overdrive and start to fight, you understand me? We've got an Empire to beat, remember? I can't do it without you!"
He hesitated, searched for words, finished, "I can't do anything without you."
"You admit that you need help?" she said, trying hard to keep the mood light. "Can I get that on permanent record? 'Rik Evverd admits he's not the only person in the Rebellion?'"
Evverd laughed, despite himself. "I'm not that bad, am I?"
Kerri smiled. "No... you're not. Sometimes you're all right. Rik... just remember to follow the Light Side." She stopped, gasped a bit, said, "If you start down the dark path, it will dominate your life forever."
Evverd hissed. "Kerri, please... I'm not going to debate..."
But she was already asleep. Judging from the thready pulse and the way she kept fluctuating in the Force, Evverd seriously doubted she would ever wake up.
Trying not to feel anything, he put her hand down and went back outside. He refused to cry, that was one thing. He hadn't cried since he was about five years old, so he certainly wouldn't start now.
He would get even. It was all he could think of to do. And he had to do something.
Like so many of the bad things in life, Evverd blamed this mess on the Empire. It was their TIE fighters, chasing them away from the Ubiqtorate base, that had forced them into that energy cloud. It was their secret weapon that had sent Rik and Kerri to Sluis sector in the first place.
They would be the first to pay.
Evverd reached out through the Force, found the nearby Ubiqtorate base. It was quite close in galactic terms, only a star system or two away. A working hyperdrive would get there within hours.
There was a large rock nearby, one that had nearly the same dimensions, relatively speaking, as the domer-shaped Ubiqtorate. Evverd focused on it, pictured it as the Ubiqtorate, used it to channel his agression and grief.
Brought his fist down on the rock. Again. And again.
Two star systems away, the officers of the Imperial base were hammered by unknown shock waves. Their deflectors were powerless against them. They couldn't find any source for the strange disturbances. The shock waves kept coming, getting stronger.
Evverd kept going, reaching into the Force, dimly aware that he was channeling energies as great as any Jedi had ever used in history, if not greater.
He hammered the rock. Pounded it. Took out all his anger on the unthinking slab of rock.
At the Ubiqtorate base, walls began to buckle. Computer systems sparked. The personnel began a mad race to evacuate, to escape their unknown assailant.
Still, Evverd pounded. His hands were bloody now, and he knew he'd broken at least a few bones, but the pain felt good. He used it, channeled it into more anger. Smashed both hands together into the slick stone.
Millions of light-years distant in the physical world, but still connected in the Force, an Imperial Ubiqtorate base, the pride of Imperial Intelligence, an impenetrable fortress as far as the Alliance armed forces were concerned...
Collapsed into rubble.
Evverd slumped down onto the rock, only dimly aware that the job was done, that those responsible had paid. He gasped for breath, exhausted...
And felt Kerri in the Force, still slipping away.
Evverd's mangled hands collapsed into fists. He realized suddenly that it wasn't enough for one base to pay. The entire Empire, all their forces, had to be destroyed. He searched in the Force for a new target.
There. Almost a million minds, all connected in slavish servitude to the Empire, all working on...
On the Empire's secret project. He was too tired to bring it into focus. But he didn't have to. It was there. The power to destroy a world with one volley from its main weapon. The ultimate evil.
It could be destroyed. He was tired, but he also had nearly infinite access to the Force now. He could do it, he could smash it into nothing as he had smashed the Ubiqtorate. Hundreds of worlds would be saved.
Kerri's voice rang in his head. Once you start down the dark path...
He closed it out. He was no Jedi fool. He didn't have to walk their arbitrary line. This was for the greater good. It would be a terrible cost at first, but it would save lives in the end.
He just had to reach a little deeper into the Force. Just use a little more power.
The forces have to cancel out, Kerri had said of their strange transformation. The extra life-energy has to come from somewhere...
And he knew suddenly that if he destroyed the Imperial weapon, if he reached into the Force that little extra bit, Kerri would die.
She'll die anyway now, a voice in his head said. Isn't it better to avenge her? Isn't it better to kill these monsters?
Once you start down the dark path, Kerri's voice said...
Take your revenge, his mind argued. Kill the Emperor. Kill Vader. You can do it, you're the best...
A Jedi never acts out of anger...
He ran back into their lodgings, to Kerri's bedside.
"Stop it!" he called, to the voices, to Kerri, to the galaxy in general, "Stop it! I can't do this! I have no training! I'm not a Jedi!"
He reached into his newfound power, gathered it all together, and tried desperately to fling it out of his mind. "Take it BACK!"
Evverd's fingertips and hands glowed, and suddenly the air between himself and Kerri lit up with a firestorm of electricity. Golden lightning filled the air, powerful currents hummed. The lightning reached out, shot into Kerri, arced around and over and through her. The energy poured out between them. From off the the side somewhere, R2-B0 tweedled and bleeped in amazement.
And then, suddenly, the power was gone. A few more tendrils flickered around Kerri, and then the air was still. Evverd collapsed to the floor. Dimly, he realized he reeked of ozone.
He looked down at his swollen, battered hands, expecting to be able to add "charred" to the list. Only they weren't charred. They weren't even swollen or battered. They were totally healed. Everywhere the golden lightning had touched was as good as new. Evverd gasped for breath.
And on the bed, so did Kerri Lynden. She sat straight up, suddenly aware, her eyes wide. After a second, those same eyes filled with tears.
"I can feel it," she said in wonder, "I can feel the Force again."
At that same moment, Rik Evverd realized that he could not feel the Force any more. He'd never been so glad to lose anything in his entire life.
That was ALL I had to do? he wondered. Just give it BACK? Wish somebody'd mentioned that last week.
Only dimly aware of his surroundings, he reached back and pulled off the crystal. "This is yours," he said, and gave it back to Kerri.
"I don't know how you did it," she said, "But thank you. What happened? What did you do?"
Evverd groaned. "Oh, nothing... By the way, you remember that Imperial base that used to be about two systems over?"
Kerri frowned. "USED to be?"
But Evverd was already unconscious.
Garreth and Janzen had been put in one detention cell, Gaar and Derriks in another. Garreth was content to sit on the bunk, observing, trying to find a way out.
Janzen was taking a more active approach, stalking back and forth through the cell like a caged vornskr.
"I'll KILL him," she hissed, "I'll cut his eyes out with a vibroblade..."
"Relax, Marta," said Garreth, "We'll get out of this."
"We will, huh?" Her expression and tone reeked of sarcasm, "We will be taken to Coruscant, and the Emperor himself will cook you with his Force lightning."
Garreth frowned. "Force lightning?"
Janzen looked chagrined, then said, "It's an old Dark Side power. Read a book sometime, huh?"
"I think I'm offended."
Marta stopped, glared at the door. "And all because of that treasonous, midget dewback out there! He's ruined everything! I'll..."
And suddenly Marta Janzen stopped, gasped, and slumped against the wall. Her eyes became distant, and she said, "She's done it..."
"Done what?" Garreth got up and offered a hand to steady the red-haired woman, said, "Marta, what is it?"
"It's..." Janzen shook her head, scowled, "It's nothing. A headache. I'm fine, thanks."
Garreth frowned. "Who is she and what has she done?"
"Oh..." Janzen said, "Uh, Guri. That inhuman aide of Xizor's. If it weren't for her, we could break out of here easily."
"Agreed," he said, "But the moment we step outside, she'll break our skulls."
"Not if we shut her down."
"Shut her..." Garreth sat carefully back on the bunk. "Down? Shut her down? You've lost me, I'm afraid."
Janzen looked at him like he was an idiot. "Don't you see? She's a droid!"
"Yes!" Janzen said, beginning to pace once again, "It all fits. The dead eyes, the physical perfection, the ability to take down four of us before we could blink. Gaar said she smelled wrong. Think about why that could be. She is a highly modified, flawlessly constructed, and very powerful human replicant droid."
Garreth nodded, the wheels turning very quickly now. "It seems logical. But is that possible? I've never heard of anyone building a droid so sophisticated..."
"It can be done," Janzen said, "My... uncle used to work for Seinar Systems. They were working on a design like that once, but they could never pull it off."
"And you think someone did?" Garreth said.
"I do." Janzen nodded. "And if she's a droid, that means she has strengths that a human doesn't have. But she also has weaknesses."
"Like an 'off' switch?" Garreth said with a chuckle.
Totally serious, Janzen said, "An off switch. Susceptibility to certain electromagnetic fields. Possibly we could catch her in a program conflict, force her logical circuits into a loop..."
"All fine ideas," Garreth said, "Anything specific?"
Janzen nodded at the blast door that kept them from the outside world. "First we have to get this door open..."
Marta Janzen was better than he'd expected her to be. Inside fifteen minutes, she had the door hotwired.
"Listen, when we get out here, your job will be to hold off the guards long enough for me to knock out the metal monster. I'll try to free the others, but if something goes wrong you'll have to go it alone..."
"Got it," Garreth said, then added ironically, "Captain."
"You have a problem with my running this show?"
"Not at all," he said, "I like an officer with initiative."
Janzen nodded. "All right, then. Can the chatter and let's get it done."
Garreth nodded, positioned himself by the door. Janzen touched two wires together, and the blast door sprung open.
Two guards came running in immediately, of course, blaster rifles at the ready. Garreth sprung at them, and put one down with a punch to the kidneys while Marta Janzen, displaying remarkable agility, kicked the one in the face.
Soon the two were armed.
"Now," said Janzen, "To sound the alarms and bring Guri."
Garreth frowned. "Perhaps we should just try to sneak out."
"No," said Janzen, "We'll meet up with her at some point before we leave. If we do it now, she can be dealt with."
Garreth shrugged. "You're the brains..."
Janzen freed the other two Rebels, then set to work fiddling with the computer system. As soon as she did so, the alarm system blared.
"Get behind me!" Garreth called, "Get behind me!"
Soon the door hissed open, and the detention area was crawling with guards. Garreth and Gaaraanzi did their best to cover Marta Janzen with their liberated blaster rifles (Fortunately Xizor's henchmen were even worse shots than the average Imperial stormtrooper) while Herc Derriks just dodged the criss-crossing blaster fire and tried not to get killed.
After a few moments, two of the guards snuck in close. Derriks hit one with some kind of chopping motion, then felled the man with a boot to the stomach and took his rifle. The other guard had the misfortune of getting too close to an angry Wookiee, and Gaar introduced him rather violently to the hard metal cell wall.
The room with filled with smoke and ozone before long, with several guards downed and only Derriks slightly wounded for Garreth's team. Only three guards remained, in fact, when suddenly Guri stormed into the room. An expert shot, she fried poor Derriks on the spot, and moved in too quickly for any lifeform Garreth had ever known. She had Gaar by the throat before either Rebel could get off a shot, and was about to snap the Wookiee's neck, when in a moment her eyes went dead, and her arms fell limp at her sides.
Garreth breathed a sigh of relief. Gaar howled. Suddenly afraid to hit their commander, who was in the line of fire, Xizor's troops hesitated. All were quickly cut down.
"What did you do?" Garreth asked.
"I sliced the main computer," Janzen said, "And rigged it to run a diagnostic through what I figured her main processor frequency would be. She can't move until she's done a thorough check of every system on the skyhook."
Garreth frowned. "How long will that take?"
"About five minutes, so I suggest we move now."
Garreth didn't have to be asked twice. Taking only a moment to close poor Derriks' eyes, he led the way out into the corridor.
They met the guards again, just outside the skyhook's hangar bay. Green and red laser beams scorched the filtered air.
Janzen jerked her hand into the hangar. "I'll hold them off! Go steal something!"
Gaar roared enthusiatically. In a moment, he and the captain were gone. That made it easier for the woman who called herself Marta Janzen. She tapped the vast reserves of power she possessed as the Emperor's Hand, and sowed confusion in the minds of the guards. They went down like nerfs in a slaughterhouse.
She nodded in satisfaction, and turned to go.
Prince Xizor stormed around the corridor. Even unarmed, he was a dangerous adversary, and she watched him carefully.
"Yes, Your Almighty Princeness?"
Xizor's color had turned brick red in fury. "Why would you do this? You have killed my guards, sabotaged my property... poor Guri's central processor is so flummoxed that I'll have to have her re-tuned! And then I'll have to have the programmer killed, so her true nature can be concealed... You've caused a terrible mess for me. We're supposed to be on the same side!"
Marta Janzen/Mara Jade kept her blaster trained on him. "Had Garreth been captured, and only I returned unharmed, it would have damaged my cover and compromised my mission. I couldn't allow that."
"I am the Dark Prince of Black Sun! You have no right to..."
Mara laughed in his face. "Get over yourself, Your Worshipfulness. Never forget that in the vast scheme of things, you are inconsequential to the Empire."
She had never seen Xizor totally lose control again. "We will see what the Emperor has to say about that! You are nothing but an errand girl!"
He moved in, arm rearing back for a disabling punch. Mara simply gestured, and the crime lord fell to his knees, gasping.
"As Lord Vader might say, your lack of faith is disturbing."
Xizor gasped. "You are no better than Vader, you..."
"I am the Emperor's Hand. I will serve the Emperor, and those who get in my way will be destroyed. Remember that."
Mara released him, and ran into the hangar while he scuttled away.
Gaar was just initializing the systems on their "borrowed" freighter when Marta Janzen hurled herself up the ramp. "Get us out of here, now!"
Garreth nodded, and the Wookiee punched in the accelerators. Xizor's fighters made some attempt at pursuit, but the battle was brief and never really in doubt.
Garreth leaned back and blew out a sigh of relief. "That was fast, Marta. How'd you take the guards down so quickly?"
"Oh, I have a few tricks up my sleeve," Marta said, and smiled.
The stars became starlines and FREEDOM was off, on its way to fight the Imperial advance in the Corellian sector. Two months had passed since Mykel Garreth had arrived to take command of the ship. He had returned from his encounter with Black Sun over a week ago - with no useful information, unfortunately. They would have shipped out immediately, but Garreth asked for and received permission to wait for his first officer and X-Wing squadron leader to return from their mission to Sluis sector. They had, almost two weeks late and with no good explanation, but were curiously unwilling to answer questions about the incident, saying only that they "ran into a little trouble."
Mara Jade thought she knew what that trouble was. "You felt it?" she said to the stealth holosender in her quarters, "The blast of Force energy, emanating from the same area where Lynden was assigned?"
"Indeed I did," said the cloaked figure, "It would seem that our Jedi has revealed herself. And destroyed one of our Ubiqtorate bases in the process."
"And now she's mine," said Mara Jade.
"Are you certain you can handle the task?" asked the image, its yellow eyes watching her, "I have received rather negative reports about your progress... from Prince Xizor..."
"He's a pompous windbag," Mara said bluntly.
"He is," the Emperor agreed, "But he is also a powerful ally, for the time being. Do not anger him again."
Mara looked down. "As you wish. I just thought he should learn his place."
At that, the Emperor laughed, a dead and hollow sound that filled the room, "It was probably for the best at that. He will think twice before challenging my will again. And now, what of Lynden?"
"I'll deliver her to you," Mara said, smiling, "In fact, I have a plan. I'll need a little help."
"What do you require?"
"First, I need to contact that ship thief, Niles Ferrier..." Mara told her master of her plan, and the Emperor's features stretched into a grotesque smile.
He gave her his approval, and promised her the aid of Niles Ferrier.
"I'll never forget that," Evverd said, "Feeling the Dark Side...Knowing I could destroy a million lives if I wanted to..."
"And walking away," Kerri reminded him, "You did well, Rik. General Kenobi himself would have been proud."
Rik Evverd sipped at his coffeine in the subdued light of Kerri's quarters. Watching the starlines ouyt the viewport, he said, "I think I was selfish."
"Selfish? In what way?"
He sighed. "I did the same thing I did at Ord Pardron, when Trayce died because I had to take on a Star Destroyer."
"That wasn't your fault either..."
"Let me finish," Evverd said, rubbing at tired eyes with one chocolate-colored hand, "I stepped away from the Dark Side, yes...but I also lost a chance to destroy that thing out there. Millions are going to die because of that, or even billions."
"If that is their destiny," Kerri said, "But you must trust me when I tell you that no good ever same from serving the Dark Side."
But Evverd knew the dark side hadn't been his only worry. He had known that Kerri would die if he used the dark side in that way. Clearing his throat, he said, "The simple fact is that I wanted you to live more than I wanted to win the war."
"I know," Kerri said, "If it helps, I'd have done the same for you."
"But it's wrong!" he said, "I should have done it! I should have blown that thing out of space! I held off because I wanted you to live."
"It's not an either-or situation," she said, "I admit I'm not objective, but the way I see it you can't concern yourself with what might possibly happen a year down the road. You can't play like you're a deity."
She leaned forward, holding his eyes. "You're human, and you did what was right at the time by letting go of your anger. I'll always be grateful."
"I don't know," Evverd said, "It seems to me like the line between this light side and dark side of yours is awfully thin."
"It is," she agreed, and kissed him on the cheek. "Trust your feelings, Rik Evverd. You'll know the light side from the dark. You're no longer a Jedi, but the Force will always be with you..."
Continued in Episode 7
R. John Burke