STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Eleven
DESRIPTION: 3 months before "A New Hope," Garreth and Covell are in a hostage situation, while Kerri begins to look into the woman she knows as Marta Janzen...
NOTICE: Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas. Not for sale or profit. 100% fat-free. Some assembly required.
The TIE fighter shot past overhead, and Evverd brought his own X-Wing fighter up to follow it. Twin blaster bolts lanced out, catching the TIE between its hull and right solar panel. The panel snapped off, and the rest of the TIE careened into space before detonating against one of its brethren. Both fighters collapsed into debris.
"Nice shot, Mav Leader," said the voice of Jev Parrak, his young wingman.
"I meant to do that," said Evverd, wondering if even the kid was gullible enough to believe him.
"Sure you did," came the dry response. It was worth a shot, thought Evverd. "Oh, uh - Mav Leader, you've picked up a tail."
Evverd checked his sensors. "You too, Four. Remember the simulator last week?"
"I'm on it," said Jev, and Evverd could picture his enthusiastic Grin. Youth, thought the squadron leader...
As the TIE fighters opened up on them, Evverd and Jev flew into side-by-side formation and began to criss-cross back and forth, a flight pattern Evverd thought of as "threading the needle." Instead of trying to follow the frantic switches, the TIE's simply held position, targeting whichever ship was on their side at the moment.
They drove towards a nearby Corellian gunship, continuing to zig-zag back and forth. As they neared it's hull, they peeled off, each going in a different direction around the ship. One of the TIE's followed in each direction.
Evverd circled arond the ship to port, came up around the other side of the small capital ship, and saw Jev approaching from the other direction. They zoomed towards each other, like a game of "squawker," in which the first ship to veer off loses.
At the last instant, Jev angled down, and Evverd lit up the pursuing TIE fighter as it tried to copy the manuever. After a moment, his sensor board became clear as Jev Parrak continued his downward motion into a loop, came up behind Evverd, and blasted the other TIE fighter.
The star pilot breathed a sigh of relief. "That's two more down." He looked around himself at the starfield, blinked, and touched the comm. "FREEDOM, am I missing something, or are we winning out here?"
"Confirmed, Maverick Leader," said the voice of Captain Mykel Garreth. "Ever since Bel Iblis went back on the move and the EXECUTOR went in for repairs, the Imperial fleet has been spread very thin in this sector."
Evverd laughed. The X-Wings and Y-Wings on his scopes actually outnumbered the TIE fighters, and most of those that remained were scurrying to their ships in preparation for a hyperspace jump.
"I tell you, FREEDOM, I could get used to this."
"Don't get too used to it," said Garreth, "It won't continue much longer. The better we do, the more the Emperor will be tempted to make an example in Corellian sector."
Evverd's proximity alarms squealed, and he said, "Hang on, FREEDOM. I got business to finish..."
A TIE fighter of unusual design was streaking in towards him. The fighter had curved wings, and registered as being shielded and hyperdrive-capable.
One of those new TIE-Advanced we've heard about, Evverd thought. Always wanted to scuffle with one of those...
"Mav Squadron, hang back," he said, "This one's mine."
Evverd kicked the X-Wing ninety degrees to starboard, then dived at a forty-five degree angle, forcing the TIE-Advanced to overshoot him. Evverd tried to repeat his earlier manuever of falling in behind the TIE.
And suddenly his X-Wing's motivator shorted out, sending blue sparks skittering around his control board.
"What the hell?" Evverd frantically tried to lock in the auxiliary power, but the board was dark. "Bo, see what you can do with this!"
In his socket, R2-B0 was going ballistic. He twittered and bleeped and cursed in binary, and tried desperately to restore his master's fighter to operation.
The TIE-Advanced circled around for another pass. Evverd checked his scopes, and saw that Jev and the other pilots were moving in to help him, but had been too slow.
What HAPPENED? he wondered. Annoyed more than angry, he reached for the ejection loop.
Bo reported that he'd restored manuevering thrusters and partial shields, but that futher repairs would be impossible.
And Evverd had an idea. He switched the shields to full front, brought the ship to a stop, and waited for the TIE-Advanced to make its pass.
"Rik, what are you doing?" the voice of his friend, Commander Kerri Lynden of the FREEDOM, demanded. "Eject!"
"It's okay," said Evverd, "I can hold it..."
"Get out of there!"
The TIE barrelled in, its green laserlight streaked out. Evverd's shields failed. The TIE pilot, however, had thought the shields would be gone by now, and had miscalculated the time he would need to fry the X-Wing. He pulled up for another run, coming within two meters of the X-Wing fighter as he did so.
Evverd jerked the manuevering thrusters, and his S-foils snapped around, colliding with the TIE's starboard solar panel. They exploded, and the TIE-Advanced spun off into space, out of control.
Evverd's fighter was now missing a wing as well, but they were mostly good for manuevering. With his X-Wing stopped, it had little effect.
R2-B0 burbled in relief.
"Yeah," he said, "Me, too. That's three fighters I've lost in the last six months. What's goin' on around here?"
Mara Jade pictured herself stalking back and forth, though the conversation was happening in her mind. "I have had it with that Corellian! The man won't die!"
The Emperor's yellow eyes narrowed. "You first broached the subject of eliminating him three months ago, my Hand. Why have you done nothing before now?"
Mara sighed. "I couldn't just kill him. That would have made Lynden suspicious. I had to wait until he was in a starfighter combat big enough that a malfunction wouldn't be noticed. Things have been dull in Corellian sector lately."
"That will change," said the Emperor, "The Death Star project nears completion. When it is finished, the Rebels on Corellia and throughout the galaxy will be destroyed."
"You're going to make an example out of Corellia?" Mara frowned. She didn't like that at all. She believed in doing what was necessary, sure, but to blow up an entire world with that superlaser...
"Not Corellia itself," said the Emperor, "It's shipyards and commerce are too valuable. But one of the neighboring alien worlds. Selonia, I think. Or Drall. That should be sufficient to convince our old friend Senator Bel Iblis of our resolve."
Mara pictured herself with shoulders slumped. She felt very tired. "I still think you don't need to actually use the Death Star. The threat is sufficient."
"No," said the Emperor, "It will be used judiciously on a few keys targets first, to spread fear. Calamari, the Corellian system... Alderaan..."
"Alderaan?" Mara said, "But that's a planet of peaceful idiots! They're no threat no you!"
"Do not underestimate Viceroy Organa, my young apprentice." The Emperor's yellow eyes seemed to glow from under his hood, even in the dreamlike vision. "He could be a powerful enemy. And then there is the daughter..."
"Princess Leia?" Mara snorted. "She's barely more than a child!" In truth, Mara herself was about the same age, but she'd been the Emperor's Hand for so long that she felt much older.
"That child will attempt to challenge my Empire." The aged voice rose in anger, "I have foreseen it. And you do know what happens to those who challenge my power?"
Mara nodded, remembering all too well about a dozen examples of such foolish individuals. "They die..."
"I didn't think we'd ever actually get to Eskaar," said Garreth. Mon Mothma had first brought up the subject of the planet Eskaar almost five months ago, before those ugly incidents with Thrawn's blockade and the false treason charge against Kerri.
Now, with the Imperial threat in Corellian sector finally lessening, they were getting their first chance to actually meet with the Kaars.
Eskaar was a powerful and influential world of humanoids who had no love for the Empire but had never formally joined the Alliance.
Their ties had grown closer, though, in the past few months, to the point where Kaaran Bladeships, the sleek, dagger-shaped fighters that reminded Garreth of brightly-painted miniature Star Destroyers, had fought alongside Rebel X-Wings and Y-Wings in several recent skirmishes.
The Kaars themselves still hedged, however, and it was Garreth's job to bring them off the sidelines and into the Alliance.
He himself had never been to Eskaar, so he turned to his first officer for information. "What do we know about these people?"
"Not a lot," said Kerri, "They're reasonable, dignified, and usually pretty unemotional. They're also rich."
"How rich?" said Rik Evverd, the mention of money piquing his curiosity.
"Rich enough that they've been able to buy non-interference from the Empire. They do have a caste system, but all reports say that its not too strict."
"What else?" said Garreth, hoping for some edge he could use to get their attention.
"Well, they build a nice starfighter." Kerri shrugged. "Our information is limited. They're willing enough to expand out into the galaxy, but they like to keep people off their home planet."
"We're getting a signal from the planet," said red-headed Marta Janzen from the Nav/Comm pit. "Recorded. They're asking us to send down a delegation to them."
"I don't like it," said Evverd. "Didn't Kerri just say they don't want visitors?"
"Times are changing, Mister Evverd." Kerri had been right about one thing: What they knew about the Kaars suggested them to be reasonable and honorable. Garreth doubted there was cause for alarm. "Commander Lynden, Chief Okel, will you join me, please?" He got up from the command chair.
Kerri said, "Captain, if its allright, I have some things to tend to aboard ship. I'd like to stay."
Garreth shrugged. He would have liked Kerri's secret Jedi insights along, but he trusted his own diplomatic skills. "All right. Lieutenant Covell?"
The weapons officer, Sedra Covell, groaned. "Why am I always the second string on missions like this?"
"I just keep drawing your name out of the hat, I'm afraid." To the Calamarian security chief, Okel, Garreth said, "Have a few of your people join us. Just in case."
Eskaar turned out to be a rather pleasant little planet, all light blue sky and golden vegetation. Their shuttle followed the Kaaran beacon down to an ornately constructed fortress-like building in the middle of the main city.
It was nearly as big as the Imperial palace, Garreth realized, though its atmosphere was totally different.
The archetecture was gentle, sloping, built mostly with spehrical or at least rounded shapes. Far from the forboding aura of the palace, this place was welcoming and friendly. At least in appearance.
"Design looks almost Calamarian," Covell said.
Okel nodded sagely, rightfully taking that as a complement to his people's artistic skills. "Most impressive."
They put down on the landing pad, and Okel's two security personell took up guard positions at the ramp. Through the hatch, Garreth could see a welcoming party already being arranged.
In the lead was a tall man, overweight with a ruddy sort of complexion. On second glance, though, all the Kaars seemed to have that same reddish look, so Garreth put it down to some minor variation on standard human stock.
The ramp hissed open. The overweight man stepped forward, hand outstretched in greeting. "Welcome. I am Ambassador Shoor'ka. Who do I address?"
Garreth shook the hand, realizing as he did so that Shoor'ka was even taller than he'd looked. Garreth was rather height-disadvantaged, and his eyes were barely level with the other's chin.
"Mykel Garreth," he said, "Captain with the Rebel Alliance. These are Lieutenant Covell and Chief Okel, two of my most trusted aides."
To Garreth's surprise, Shoor'ka did not even acknowledge them, nor did he introduce the two people - one male, one female - who accompanied him.
He merely gestured towards the large building. "Come. We have many things to discuss."
Garreth exchanged a glance with Okel, who made some Calamarian gesture that Garreth could not decipher, though from its context, puzzlement seemed likely.
In her quarters on the FREEDOM, Kerri frowned at the holosender. What was taking so long? she wondered at the Alliance symbol stuck on the screen.
As a Jedi Knight, Kerri was as patient as they came, but this particular converstaion was of great interest to her.
At length, the Rebel symbol blinked off, to be replaced by the face of General Carlist Rieekan of Alderaan Defense.
"I have checked with all my sources, Commander," said Rieekan, the lines around his tired eyes deepening, "I cannot find any specific information about a Marta Janzen at all."
Kerri's heart leapt. "Does that mean she's lying about her identity?"
"Not necessarily," said Rieekan, shaking his head, "Our files are sketchy, even in Rebel Intelligence, and for good reason. If the Empire found a list of Alliance members, it would be a death warrant. More likely the FREEDOM is simply her first major posting, and we have no dossier on her yet."
"She doesn't act inexperienced," said Kerri.
Rieekan shrugged. "There are a number of places she could have gained experience besides the Alliance. She could have been a smuggler or a bounty hunter..."
"...Or an Imperial spy."
The general's eyes widened. "Do you actually believe that?"
Kerri Lynden sighed. Janzen was a strange customer, it was true, and Kerri had been getting a bad feeling from her for months now, but did she actually believe that Janzen was a spy?
"I don't know," she said.
"I'll continue checking," said Rieekan.
Kerri nodded. "I appreciate that." She had protected her true Jedi nature for a long time. Janzen had been the first person to find out about it without Kerri meaning to give it away. In fact, she'd been very curious about the subject, hinting around it for the full two months they'd spent together on Abregado.
Kerri wanted to make sure her trust wasn't misplaced.
Rieekan seemed to notice that. "Don't worry, Commander. If there's anything out of the ordinary about this woman, we'll find it."
Rik Evverd hustled into the hangar bay, ignoring the clanking and shouting and whirring that went with standard maintenance on decrepit Rebel fighters.
"This better be good," he said, "I was about to beat Gaar at holo-chess for the first time."
"Oh, it's good, boss," said Lieutenant Brynn Avers, his second-in-command with Maverick Squadron. "Tell him, Bo."
R2-B0 twittered a streak, manipulator arm gesturing wildly in almost human motions.
"Whoa, whoa," he said, "Slow down, guy. I ain't a protocol droid."
Bo extended his third leg and rolled over to a computer panel. Words translated from binary scrolled onto the screen.
We have recovered the wreckage of our last X-Wing fighter. I have performed a thorough diagnostic on the motivator.
"So what?" said Evverd.
I calcuate a 58.971 percent probability that the damage was inflicted deliberately.
"Somebody sabotaged my ship?" Evverd could barely believe his ears. "NOBODY sabotages MY ship!"
"It's true, boss," said Avers, "I checked it out myself. It's a good job - professional workmanship. I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't been looking for it, but it's there."
This is beyond what could be predicted by any reasonable probability model, said Bo, What could it mean?
"I'll tell you what it means," Evverd said, "It means I owe Niles Ferrier an apology. We do have a spy on board."
That is not certain, Bo said, The damage could have been inflicted at many intervals. Still, there is a 45.017 percent chance that you are correct.
"Any ideas?" said Avers.
"One," said Evverd.
I calculate a high probabilty that the result of this course of action will be unpleasant, said Bo. In sum, I have a bad feeling about this.
"Let's stop beating the shrubbery, Ambassador," said Garreth, tired after two hours hours of diplomatic back-and-forth. "Are you prepared to support the Alliance or not?"
"We are, Captain," Shoor'ka told him, leaning over the bargaining table, "Provided we have certain... assurances."
Garreth nodded, eager to make some progress and return to his ship. "What assurances?"
"We need to be certain that the quality of Kaaran life will not suffer from any merger with the Alliance."
Sedra Covell frowned. "Why would it suffer?"
Shoor'ka shot her an annoyed grimace. "I do wish you'd exercise some control over your associates, Captain."
Abruptly, Garreth realized that neither of the Kaarans who sat with Shoor'ka had said much the whole two hours. In fact, Shoor'ka had done all of the substantial negotiating.
"I value the opinions of my officers," said Garreth.
"And I do not appreciate being questioned by an underling."
The ex-Imperial captain laughed, his dark hair flopping backwards as he threw back his head. "Come now, Ambassador. Surely your people must provide some insight to you."
"We are his Associates," said the man with a grimace.
Shoor'ka turned on him. "And you are not permitted to speak out of turn!" With that, he lashed out and struck the man hard across the face. Instead of getting angry, though, the man just hung his head and wiped at the droplets of blood under nose.
"This is a MINOR caste system?" said Covell.
"Our Associates are a valued part of Kaaran existence. They farm our food, build our reknowned starfighters, handle our menial tasks, and leave the upper classes with time to devote to more important matters."
Okel growled, low in his throat. "They are slaves," he gurgled.
Shoor'ka said, "Captain, unless you can order your Associates to behave with some proper decorum, this meeting is over."
"The meeting should be over now!" Okel protested. He'd been a slave all his life. Had only escaped because the Emperor had given him to Garreth, and Garreth had let him go. While Okel shared the Calamarian trait of peaceful reserve in most things, slavery was something he had no stomach for, and with good reason.
"Chief, calm yourself," said Garreth.
"I will not calm myself! This scum is no better than Palpatine! We cannot allow..."
"Chief, go cool off!" When Okel hesitated, Garreth added, "Right NOW!"
The Calamarian's grugling sound increased, as though he had something stuck in his throat. Large eyes swivelling, flippers curled into something approximating fists, he stormed out of the conference room.
Shoor'ka nodded approvingly. "Perhaps I misjudged you, Captain. You handled him well."
Garreth jabbed a finger at the fat man, no longer caring for diplomacy. "Just to be clear, Ambassador, I don't care for your approval, I don't care for your planet, and I don't much care for you."
"And you do not have to," said Shoor'ka, expression only a bit dampened, "For us to come to an understanding. Eskaar stands ready to aid the Alliance. All we require from you is the promise that we will be permitted to keep our way of life."
Garreth scowled at him. "Way of life..." It was slavery! It was they very thing they were rebelling against! How could he accept the aid of a people who were against everything the Alliance stood for?
And yet, the Empire was powerful, and Kaaran aid could be vital. How could he turn down whatever help they offer - sacrifice a chance at victory in favor of high-handed morality?
Garreth sighed. This deal, he thought, is getting worse all the time...
Evverd paused in the corridor, just in front of the junior officer's crew decks. As usual, he was jumping into something he probably wasn't prepared for. Most of the time, that made his adrenaline rush. Today he felt inexplicably afraid...
I'm afraid of nothing, he thought. Clutching his blaster tight, he stepped forward.
"There you are!"
Evverd cried out and jumped a meter into the air. In the process, he swiveled and saw Kerri behind him.
"Don't do that!"
Kerri said, "Don't do THIS, Rik. It's too soon."
"How do you even know what I'm..." then, remembering that his friend was a Jedi Knight, after all, he said, "Sorry. Dumb question."
"No. Fair question. Dumb course of action. Did you learn nothing from Niles Ferrier?"
"Yeah," said Evverd, "I learned not to pick on someone who works with a tame shadow."
"I'm serious, Rik," she said, "Your recklessness will get you killed."
"No," he said, jabbing a finger down the hallway, "Marta Janzen is gonna get me killed! Did you hear my X-Wing was sabotaged? She wanted me dead!"
Kerri started to object, but then sighed. "It wouldn't surprise me."
Evverd caught the look in her eyes, smiled. "You suspect her too?"
"It occurred to me that while some of Ferrier's treason evidence was planted, he didn't really have time to plant all of it. And the fact that he singled me out to be framed did indicate a spy on board ship. And... Janzen spent a lot of time during that two months subtly trying to get me angry."
Evverd frowned. "Angry? At who?"
"Ferrier," Kerri said with a shrug, "The Alliance. The Empire. I don't think it mattered. And then when she started pressing for information about my Jedi skills..." The Jedi hesitated. "Rik, I don't know who or what she is, but it worries me. There is definitely more here than we know. I've already checked with General Rieekan."
"He find anything?"
"Not really," she said, "But he didn't prove Marta's loyalty, either. There's something wrong here. I can feel it."
Evverd hefted the blaster, glad to have backup. "Then let's go finish this."
"No!" Kerri said, "No. For one thing, we should wait until Rieekan gets back to me. For another... when the time comes to confront her, it will be my responsibility, and mine alone."
"But she tried to..." Evverd groaned, "Don't tell me. A Jedi thing?"
Kerri smiled sympathetically. "I'm afraid so."
"You think she can use the Force?"
"I..." the pretty dark-haired woman hesitated, "I don't know. I don't know the answer yet."
"Figure it out fast," Evverd said with a sigh.
Behind them, the lift doors hissed open.
"Problem?" said Marta Janzen, eyes focused on the blaster in Rik Evverd's hand.
She's supposed to be in her quarters, Evverd thought. I checked to see if she was in her quarters!
"No problem," said Kerri, "Rik was just showing me the blaster. He thinks it's not getting 100 percent charge." Kerri snatched the weapon and slid it into her tunic. "I'll check it out."
She got onto the lift, and Evverd followed her. He had only a moment before the lift doors closed to catch Janzen's supicious glance.
"Captain, I am waiting for your answer. Will the Alliance support our right to maintain the status quo in our society?"
Garreth hesitated. Though he had done diplomatic missions and would again, he was neither an expert nor a mind reader. He didn't know what Mon Mothma would say. This was not the kind of problem the Alliance was prepared to deal with yet.
The only thing he knew for certain was that if he turned down Kaaran support, if they joined the Empire, then the good situation in Corellian Sector would degenerate into another Imperial landslide.
Garreth was not prepared to deal with that, so he went against his better judgement. "I can promise you that the Alliance won't interfere... for the time being."
"WHAT?" said the woman next to Shoor'ka.
"In that case," Shoor'ka said, pleasantly enough though his exprssion said he would deal with her outburst soon enough, "I'm sure we can work something out."
And suddenly a blaster pistol was stuck into the folds of the big man's neck.
"You won't live long enough," said the male slave, suddenly not at all submissive.
The female was armed too, now. Her weapon pointed at Garreth and Covell. "We didn't wish to involve you in this, Captain. But we cannot allow the Rebel Alliance to support our government."
Shge gestured, and a half-dozen other people wearing ragged dress and dirty faces that reminded Garreth of some of the Rebel cells he'd seen stormed into the room.
All were armed.
"An example must be made," said the man. He fired his weapon at point-blank range. Shoor'ka gagged and collapsed.
The male slave leaned over, voice and eyes tinged with desperation borne of long suffering. "Now, Captain Garreth, you must understand that we are serious."
"Hostages? What are you talking about?" Okel and his troops had been inside the shuttle when they'd seen a long column of Kaaran soldiers tromping towards the huge building with blaster rifles and riot gear.
The captain of the guard, tall and heavyset like Shoor'ka but with a long blonde ponytail hanging down the back of her uniform, frowned at the Calamarian with some annoyance. "What didn't you understand? A group of terrorists has taken over the Council building. The loyal citizens still inside are now trapped."
One of Okel's people, a young woman named Tairn, said, "Does that include Captain Garreth?
The captain of the guard shot her an annoyed glance. "Of course." She turned to Okel. "If you want to end this situation, I suggest you contact your ship and get us some backup. Possibly even heavy artillery." She groaned softly. "These terrorists are rough."
"I'll see what I can do," Okel said, and led his people back into the shuttle.
"I'll contact FREEDOM," said Tairn.
"Don't," Okel stopped her with an unraised flipper. "Escalating the armed presence here will not improve matters."
His other crewer, a Twi'lek named Korb Weeilka, said, "But we have to do something."
Okel nodded. "We do."
But, he thought, if the terrorists are who I believe them to be, I may be forced to do something you don't suspect. I will not help slavers...
Kerri Lynden arrived on the bridge just in time to hear Lieutenant Harkin say over the intercom, "Commander to the... Oh. Never mind."
"What is it?" she asked.
"Apparently a dishonorable situation has begun on the planet below," said the Wookiee Gaaraanzi through his translator, "A group of terrorists have taken hostages in the main city - including Captain Garreth and Lieutenant Covell."
"What are their demands?" Kerri asked.
"I do not know," said Gaar, "They are trying to send a message, but not to the Kaars. To this ship. The government has set up signal jammers."
"That's crazy," said Evverd, "Why would the government stop them from negotiating?"
"Possibly," said Gaar, "Because the government is not interested in negotiating."
"If they storm the place, Garreth is a sitting nerf."
"What's Okel doing?" Kerri asked, remembering that his name had not been among the hostages.
"I do not know," said Gaar, "His comlink is off."
Kerri stared at the planet in the viewport, beautiful with its blues and golds and swirls of white clouds.
"What's going on down there?" she wondered.
Continued in Episode 12
R. John Burke