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

At Heart A Jedi

STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Twelf

DESRIPTION: While Okel has his own problems on the planet surface, Kerri has her long-awaited confrontation with Mara Jade.

NOTICE: It would be scurrilous, nefarious, disreputable and a bunch of other bad things to sell a Star Wars story, since as we all know, Star Wars is a copyright of Lucasfilm Limited. So I just wrote this as a fan story. I cannot wait to be done with these NOTICES.

"My name is Sheg Riidi," said the Kaaran with the blaster held on Mykel Garreth, "And I am not an evil man. I'm doing this as a last resort. They've taken all I have, Captain. To be an Associate is to be a slave. We're fighting for the same thing you are: Freedom from our oppressors."

Garreth could not argue with that any more than he could argue with the obvious pain in the man's eyes. Nor could he give the standard "violence doesn't solve anything" speech since he himself was a member of an armed rebellion. So he fell back on the only truth he had.

"I'm not your enemy, son."

The young man's sweaty brown hair hung limp over small, black eyes. His gun hand was slightly unsteady. "You may not intend to be," he said, gesturing at the body of Ambassador Shoor'ka where it lay on the floor. "But you wish to ally with them."

"To save my own people," Garreth said, "We need their help against the Empire, I can't deny that. Eskaar's involvement will save lives."

"All lives but ours," the young man said bitterly.

"Look, son," said Garreth, trying to defeat his anger, "I hate to be callous about it, but your problems are not my fault. You saw my reaction to Shoor'ka's attitude. I don't like the situation here. But Eskaar's social dysfunction is not my business. Defeating the Empire is. I would take the help of a Hutt if I thought it would bring victory to the Alliance."

The young man snorted. "I'm disappointed in you, Captain. I thought the Alliance was different. I thought you Rebels believed in something."

Don't we? thought Garreth. Isn't that whyn I defected to the Alliance, all those months ago? Because I thought the Rebels might live up to the ideals the Empire had failed? Because the New Order was doing things like this?

Isn't that why I joined the Rebellion? And now, here, less than a year later, I'm supporting the slavers!

"I am a tactician," Garreth admitted, "Not a diplomat. All I know is that the Alliance needs help. If you want to debate moral issues, you should talk to Mon Mothma or Bail Organa."

"We can't," said the terribly thin woman with the greying hair who worked with Sheg. She'd introduced herself as Kai'a Remmik. "We can't even raise your ship. The Emforcers have set up signal dampers around this building."

"They don't want us to signal your ship," Sheg said, "Because they're afraid of what will happen when the Alliance knows the truth."

"They're you're not helping yourself," said Lieutenant Sedra Covell, who had come down with Garreth. "Let us go back to our ship, tell Mon Mothma what's going on here. If you don't want them to treat you like terrorists, stop acting like it!"

"Tell me, Captain," said Sheg, "You're an honest man, I can tell. What will happen if you go to Mon Mothma?"

Garreth sighed and clenched his fists tightly together in front of him. "Not a lot. She may decide not to go through with the Kaaran alliance, but then again she may see it as I do - we have no choice. In either case, the Rebellion cannot spare the resources to help your people. Either way, you're on your own."

"It's a no-win situation," said Kai'a with a soft moan, "So the best we can do is die here, as martyrs. An example for the other Associates."

Garreth wanted to say something, wanted to argue, but the truth was that the Associates were doing nothing that he himself wasn't doing. He'd sound like a blatant hypocrite the moment he opened his mouth.

So he sat there, with Covell, in the middle of a room steadily being filled with other hostages from the Kaaran Council Building.

And waited.

Okel stood at the ramp of his shuttle, just out of range of the sensor dampeners, ready to move. He looked at the all-too-young faces of Tairn and Weeilka.

"You do not have to do this," he said, "At best this will result in summary court-martial. At worst, in death."

"I won't throw in with stinking slavers," said Weeilka. A Twi'lek, he'd seen both his sisters taken by Jabba's slavers, as Okel had seen his own family, and himself, captured by the Empire.

Tairn had no personal stake in the matter, so she blushed self-consciously. "The captain of the guard yelled at me. I don't like her."

Okel hedged. "Good enough. You have your assignments?"

The two young security personnel replied with crisp assurance that belied the fear on their faces. Okel was their chief, and he'd trained them well.

Suddenly Weeilka's head-tails tensed. "Do you hear something?"

Calamarian hearing was not galaxy-reknowned, but Okel definitely felt the thin vibrations in the air. In a moment, another shuttle from the FREEDOM had landed beside the first.

The ramp hissed open, and Commander Rik Evverd hopped out, trailed by the Wookiee Gaaraanzi.

"Kerri sent us," Evverd said, "Your comlink is off."

"I know," said Okel quietly. "Do not try to stop me."

"Stop you? I don't even know what you're doing."

Okel's scarred face betrayed disgust, though he doubted the humans could read it. "The situation on this planet is not what we were told. They keep slaves. The so-named terrorist attack is merely rebels like ourselves who wish to be free."

Gaar howled in anger, but Evverd held up two hands to calm them.

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" Evverd's skin was dark in color by human standards, and he wore a krayt-skin jacket over a wiry, medium-sized frame. "I don't like slavers either, guys, but come on! You can't risk the whole Kaaran alliance thing 'cause you don't agree with their way of life! You also can't risk killing the captain and Sedra, which is what you're doing if you start a light-fight here!"

Okel's large eyes swivelled. "Suddenly you are the voice of reason?"

Rik Evverd, a brash Corellian fighter pilot who had been known to perform some unorthodox stunts in his time, was embarrassed enough that even a Calamarian could read his face.

"Like I keep telling Kerri," he said, "I'm getting old."

"No. The truth is, you have no stake in this. Were your family in the custody of slavers, your attitude would be entirely different."

Evverd set his jaw. "But it's not, and I outrank the hell out of all of you. Get your tails back in the shuttle. That's an order."

"It is not right," said Okel.

"No. It's not. That's the galaxy, my friend. Move it."

The Wookiee advanced on him. Though the translator on his bandolier, he said, "You would defend slavers?"

"I'm defending Covell and Garreth. They're old buddies of mine, and you're about to get 'em killed."

"I believe we can do this quietly," said Okel, "If we have a man of your skill helping us..."

Evverd laughed. "Oh, no. Don't even go there. Do not make this a challenge, all right? I ain't that crazy!"

Okel turned away sadly. "Perhaps you are right. I believe this assignment is beyond your ability."

Gaar nodded. "Corellians speak loudly, but they have no teeth to bite with."

And Evverd sighed. "I want you to know I see through this, all the way."

Okel was actually a little surprised. "You will not help us?"

The Corellian hesitated, said, "No, I'm gonna help you. I just know what you were doing, that's all."

His comlink buzzed, and Kerri Lynden's voice came through. "Rik? How's it going down there?"

"Oh - same as always," he said, and shut off the comm. "What's the plan?"

The first signal jammer was guarded by a single sentry, standing under a small archway. He never even saw the two large, hairy paws hanging over him until they had grabbed him by the head and slammed him into the rock. Two bolts from a bowcaster took out the signal jammer. Gaaraanzi roared and slid down from the archyway. It was made of smooth stone, but it presented little challenge to a Wookiee's climbing claws. He could not maul an enemy with them since their use in combat was dishonorable, but he reflected that they could still be quite a timesaver...

The sentry guarding the second jammer stood a few meters away from a polished marble fountain in front of the Council building. Tradition said it was good luck to toss a coin into the fountain.

The sentry was therefore very surprised when the fountain threw a coin back out. She frowned at the event, certain she had seen wrong, but after a moment another metal disk plinked onto the permacrete walkway.

Weapon drawn, she edged over to investigate.

A pair of salmon-colored arms pulled her under the water. For a moment the fountain displayed splashing and bubbles that were not caused by the trickle of water that was cycled through its spout. Then the water was still.

The third sentry stood watch near the Commerce building that adjoined the Council. She yawned in boredom...

Until a stun bolt passed under her chin. The sentry turned to the corner of one the building, weapon tracking for a shot. She never even saw the second stun blast that hit her in the back. Both Tairn and Weeilka looked around their respective corners, and nodded to each other. They proceeded to deactivate the third jammer.

Rik Evverd just snuck up on his sentry and whacked him over the head with a blaster butt. It lacked flair, he realized, but he'd never been one to waste precious time dealing with amateurs.

One of the Associates looked up at Kai'a in surprise. "The signal jamming has stopped!"

"Raise the FREEDOM, quickly!" she said.

"We're already getting a signal," said the other slave, "From the Rebel landing shuttle!"

The images of a dark-skinned human, a golden-brown Wookiee, and a Calamarian appeared. Mykel Garreth stared in shock.

"I am called Okel," said the Calamarian, "I represent the Rebel Alliance. The Alliance, in turn, represents freedom. It is therefore our order that the hostages will not be released until every Associate in this city who is able has boarded our shuttle, for transit to the destination of their choice. If this is not done, the Kaaran people will be considered enemies of the Alliance. Our forces stand ready to incinerate military targets. It is your choice."

Sheg was also watched the display in shock. "Now, him I like."

Garreth just stared.

Sedra Covell muttered, "How did I get mixed up with these people?"

The Kaaran security chief led her people to the Rebel assault shuttle, where it stood alone on the landing pad. Their telemetry said the message had eminated from the cockpit.

They stormed the chamber, weapons drawn and set to kill.

They found only a recording device, playing in a loop.

Garreth was still trying to figure out what kind of lunatic game Evverd was playing this time, when one of the Associate sentries came rushing in, drew Sheg and Kai'a off to one side, and spoke to them in quiet tones. His frantic arm gestures, however, belied the cool voice.

"Now what are they doing?" Garreth muttered.

Sheg came back and gestured for Garreth and Sedra to get up. "Clever, your warriors. Part of me wishes they'd been serious about starting a war with the government. But we'll take what we can get."

"What have you gotten?" Sedra asked, voice indicating she dreaded the reply.

Sheg did not answer, only led them up the stairs to the council building's second story. They entered the largest briefing room...

A room which had only three walls. The fourth had been shot out by laser blasts from the waiting Rebel shuttle. Rik Evverd stood at the open ramp.

"Get on board, everybody," he said, "And remember we're a little rushed."

Garreth looked to Sheg, who gave his permission. Soon not just he and Covell, but also nearly fifty of the Associates were crammed into the shuttle's hold - Apparently it had taken that many to pacify the Council building.

Evverd and Gaar began to pilot the shuttle away from the building. A comm light blinked.

"I'll take it," said Garreth.

The angry face of a Kaaran administrator popped onto the screen. "Captain Garreth, this is an outrage! You will return our property at once, or Eskaar will be at war with your Rebel Alliance!"

"It's not my fault," he told the Kaaran.

"I don't care whose fault it is! Fix it now! You have thirty seconds before we release fighters!"

Evverd muted the comm. He looked at Garreth. "If you order me to turn them in, sir, I will." Gaar roared at that, but Evverd stared him down. "It's your call."

And Mykel Garreth, former Imperial captain, looked from the faces off his officers to those of the refugees, and knew that if the principles of the Rebel Alliance were to mean anything, they would have to be defended in individual cases - even inconvenient ones.

He gestured to Evverd to restore the comm. He said, "Just remember - we declared war first."

He nodded to Evverd. "Well, punch it, man!"

"Don't worry," said Evverd as they accelerated, somewhat unsteadily with all the excess weight. "We just have to make it out of the atmosphere."

Before Garreth could ask what the pilot meant, half a dozen Kaaran Bladeships were on them. Unable to perform his usual evasive actions due to the class and weight of the shuttle, Evverd simply locked the shields on full and drove for the upper atmosphere.

The shuttle hammered and shook, but kept going. Garreth watched their shield readings decline: Eighty percent, fifty, thirty, ten...

And suddenly the shuttle burst into open space, and the six Bladeships were met by eleven X-Wings from Maverick Squadron. The battle was furious, but over very quickly.

Sedra Covell hissed softly. "How did you ever get Kerri Lynden to agree to fighter backup?"

Evverd squirmed in his pilot's chair. "Well, she didn't actually know what it was for... specifically."

"But she trusted you," Garreth finished, "Tell me, Commander, do you think she'll ever do so again?"

The Corellian shrugged. "Probably. But that doesn't mean I'll ever hear the end of it..."

The comm blinked off, and Garreth swivelled slowly in his seat. Adjusting the light level in his office to be ominously dark, his touched his intercom button.

"Send them in, Commander."

Okel and Gaar entered the office sheepishly, like kids caught playing hooky from school. Rik Evverd swaggered in and plopped his feat up on the desk (Though Garreth guessed the overt display of disdain was Evverd's way of covering up his own nervousness).

Garreth stood, removed Evverd boots from his desk, and shoved them back to the floor.

"Well, gentlemen. The Empire is on the march again in Corellian sector. We've lost any advantage we once had, Rebel troops are dying by the day, and I've just had my head handed to me by Mon Mothma. Do you want to tell me why I shouldn't drop you all off on the nearest uninhabitable planet?"

"They were slavers," said Gaar, as though that explained it all.

"Seemed like the right thing to do at the time," said Rik Evverd, looking away.

"I have no defense to offer," said Okel.

"All right. Commander, Gaar, you're both confined to quarters for the rest of your lives, or until Mon Mothma is speaking to me again. Dismissed."

The two nodded and left the office. Okel started to follow, but Garreth motioned for him to stay.

The door slid shut, and Garreth's dark eyes held the huge, alien ones for a full minute.

"Evverd is a lunatic," said Garreth, "And Gaar has that Wookiee berserker rage as an explanation. But you - I trusted you. You went against everything I said, you acted in a manner you had to know I'd disapprove of, and you started a situation that's going to cost the Alliance a lot of good lives. Haven't you any response for that?"

Okel hung his head, a low gurgling his only reply. Somehow the scars on his domed head showed up all the more clearly in the low light.

Garreth sighed deeply, and motioned for him to leave.

Okel started to, but hesitated. He looked up. "I would remind the captain that I did nothing for those people that he did not do for a young Mon Calamari some years ago."

Garreth looked at the earnest alien face, and could not help but smile. "Sheg and Kai'a are returning to the planet. They want to set up some sort of system, whereby we provide a means of escape for any Associates who wish to leave, in return for their serving a year's tour with the Alliance. I don't know if Mon Mothma will approve the plan, but... when she's not so angry, I think there's a chance."

Okel nodded gravely. "Then perhaps some good will come of this."

"It already has, Chief." Garreth sat back down, knowing he would regret this course of action with every new casualty report, but also knowing that his next words were true. "Our fledgling Alliance, our new Republic, has had its ideals tested. And we have passed the test. This Alliance is not the New Order, making grand promises of change but only out for themselves. Our people have the courage of thier convictions. I'd like to thank you for helping me to discover that about the Alliance... and about myself."

Okel made a gesture that seemed like a Calamarian smile. "But I am still confined to quarters?"

"Forever, Chief," he repeated. "Dismissed."

"These are surveillance photos taken on Nar Shaddaa, and on Sullust. As you can see..." and the face of General Carlist Rieekan was replaced by images of two out-of-focus holoshots taht revealed general shapes and colors but no detail, "They are quite blurry. They are all we have of the Imperial agent we've been calling Arson."

Kerri Lynden frowned at the images. They fit the general size and dimensions of Marta Janzen, the FREEDOM's navigator, whom she had asked Rieekan to check into. The red-gold hair was long instead of short, but that was easily explained.

"Why Arson?" she asked.

"Everything she touches blows up. Not literally, but it does seem that way." Rieekan frowned. "Could this be the woman who is on the FREEDOM?"

"Hard to say," she admitted, "It could be. I'm not sure."

"If I were you, Commander," he said, "I'd be sure. This woman is the best the Empire has."

"I'll study them," said Kerri, "And let you know."

"And I will let you know if we find anything else." The General reached for the comm switch. "Force be with you, Commander."

The comm cut off, and Kerri thought, you don't know how right you are. Kerri Lynden was a Jedi Knight. The last, so far as she knew. She'd been hiding from Vader and his Emperor for years, and never had her secret been exposed so easily as it had been by Janzen.

Kerri didn't trust the other woman, especially not after her best friend Rik Evverd had almost been killed by Imperial sabotage.

The photos didn't reveal much one way or another. But deep down Kerri knew she would not find the answers she sought in a surveillance photo. There was only one way to learn the fundamental truth about Marta Janzen.

And she would try it tonight.

At 2300 hours, ship's time, Kerri Lynden sat in the command chair of the FREEDOM's bridge. She had dismissed the skeleton night shift, and sat on the bridge alone.

Except for the night shift, nobody knew she was here. She hadn't even told Evverd, since he would have tried to stop her.

Kerri knew she had to face this alone.

She rubbed the crystal she wore for courage. She'd been given the crystal by her mother, the great Jedi Knight Kaelin Joth. It shielded her in the Force.

But that was not its true value to Kerri. She treasured it mostly because it was all she had of a kind and couragous woman that Lord Vader had taken from this sphere all too soon.

Kerri reached out through the Force, the talent which was the other thing her mother had passed on to her. She touched every mind on the ship, lightly, extending her senses through the Force, stretching out with her feelings.

Through that tenuous connection, she sent an image. Kerri had always been rather talented in the alter-mind aspect of the Force, and now she sent out a simple message. RED ALERT, she thought, REPORT TO THE BRIDGE IMMEDIATELY.

She projected with that thought the sound of sirens and images of bustle, and a sense of urgency. She did not broadcast it, but only let it exist there, connected to the life on the FREEDOM, low-level enough that only one strong in the Force would receive it.

She settled back to see who would reply.

Sirens blared in the corridors, a dozen crewers scurrying back and forth to their appointed stations. What could be wrong now? thought the woman the crew knew as Marta Janzen.

Her true name was Mara Jade, and she was the Emperor's Hand. She was on the FREEDOM to locate and turn Kerri Lynden, who she had learned was one of the few remaining Jedi Knights who still hid from the Emperor.

Once she's gone, Mara knew, only a few old fossils and untrained kids will stand in the Emperor's way.

The lift doors opened onto the bridge.

The bridge was dark.

Mara blinked her eyes, and realized suddenly that the corridors had been empty, too. The noise she heard in her mind. How could I have been so weak? she thought.

"Don't blame yourself," said a female voice. The command chair turned to reveal an olive-skinned woman with high cheekbones, deep brown eyes, and waves of dark hair. "My Force skills are only moderate, but Alter Mind is something I do very well. Perhaps I have a Corellian in the family tree somewhere. I understand that was their strength..."

Mara hissed. "You tricked me."

"And you decieved me," said Kerri. She stood, "Deceived me, attempted to turn me to the Dark Side, and oh yes - tried to kill my truest friend. Can you tell that I am displeased?"

Lightsaber, Mara thought, definitely need a lightsaber right about now...

"Who sent you?" asked Kerri, hands still not moving for her own blade. "Vader?"

"Sort of," Mara said numbly. Actually she had been sent by the Emperor himself - she and Lord Vader had never really gotten along - but it was hardly the time for details. "How did you know?"

"That's not important, Marta. Is that your name?"

"Close," said the red-haired woman, "But like you say, It's not important. Are you planning to kill me?"

Kerri's eyes shone. "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. I was hoping you'd join me."

"Join YOU?" Mara said, "Are you out of your mind?"

"Not to my knowledge," said Kerri, "I feel the good in you, Marta Janzen. Your master has not driven it from you, he's only buried it. In time, you will come to the Light."

Mara laughed. Another self-important lecture from the Do-Gooder School of Force Use. "There is no light side. I don't even think there's a dark. The Force is just energy, like a blaster bolt. You're a fool if you don't use it to the fullest."

"Interesting philosophy," said Kerri, "Is it Vader's?"

"It's mine," said Mara. "And you should know that I am prepared to use it."

"You're power does not exceed mine," Kerri said flatly. "In fact, while you have great potential, at this moment I am better centered in the Force. I know that, so do you. You can't win."

"I'm full of surprises," said Mara. With that, she reached deep into the Force, beyond her own power to that reserve of nearly unlimited strength that her role as Emperor's Hand gave her access to. Drawing from her master's strength, she used one of his favorite techniques. Bolts of blue lgihtning shot from her hands towards the command chair.

But the Jedi was quick. Muscles enhanced by the Force, she leapt down from the upper level into one of the crewer pits, than up again, somersaulting over and behind Mara. Mara heard the snap-hiss of a lightsaber blade.

She turned and fired another volley of energy. Kerri's ruby blade caught and deflected it.

"Impressive," said Kerri, "Very much so. This is an advanced technique. Where did you learn it so quickly?"

"The same place you can learn it," said Mara, momentarily ceasing her attack, "The place you can learn everything you ever wanted about the Force. The place where you can have whatever power, whatever it is you want in life."

Kerri's eyes narrowed. "You serve the Emperor."

"Very good," said Mara, "He is the only Jedi Master in this galaxy. Whatever pitiful skills you've been taught, he will exceed. You can join us. Rule the galaxy with us."

"And become another Vader?" Anger seeped into Kerri's tone. "A murderer who lives to serve the Emperor's every whim? No thank you."

"Kerri..." Mara hesitated, "I don't dislike you. I respect you. You're very strong. But you're wasting your gift. The Emperor only wants to show you the true way."

"I will never turn to the Dark Side," Kerri said, "I am a Jedi Knight. We might be a dying breed, but as long as there is one of us in the galaxy, there is hope. There will always be hope."

"Hope comes with order," said Mara, "Not anarchy. You don't belong with these traitors."

"You justify it very well," said Kerri, "But I feel the conflict. You can't quite justify some of the things you've done, can you? You feel guilt over your actions."

Mara gritted her teeth, angry now. "You have no right to analyze me!"

"And you have no right to turn your back on the light inside you."

"Stop it!" Mara hissed, and released another bolt of lightning. Kerri caught it with ease.

"You know the Emperor is evil. In your heart, you know you cannot serve the Dark Side forever. Join me, Marta. Together we can bring freedom back to the galaxy. The Jedi can rise again."

"The Jedi!" said Mara, "Weak and stupid old wizards! They didn't understand anything, and neither do you! If I can't turn you, then I'll destroy you!"

With that, Marta launched a devastating volley of Force lightning, then another and another, digging deep into her connection with the Emperor. Kerri caught the blasts at first, but then missed part of one and fell to her knees. Mara fired again.

Kerri rolled forward and swept her blade at Mara's legs. The Emperor's hand lept over it and backwards, landing near the lift door. Kerri followed her, saber held ready.

To Mara's shock the lift door snapped open. She turned to behold a bleary-eyed, pajama-clad Jev Parrak, the young Alderaanian who had once served beside her at the helm station.

"Somebody call an alert?" he murmured. After a second, his eyes widened as he took in the situation, blinked and cursed. Lunging past her for the wall intercom, he yelped, "Emergency on the Bridge!"

Mara knew that it was over. Even if she could defeat Kerri, which was beginning to look like an even proposition, she could never do it and then get off the ship before security arrived.

She slid into the turbolit and tossed Kerri Lynden a salute. "Another time," she said, panting with exertion.

The door slid closed, and Kerri shut off her lightsaber, which Jev Parrak was now staring at with wide eyes at.

"Commander, what..."

"You're having a very strange dream," said Kerri. "Go to your quarters, and go back to sleep. None of this is real. You won't even remember it in the morning."

"None... of this... is real," Jev said in the dazed voice typical of Alter Mind victims. In a moment, the lift returned. Jev hopped on it and was gone.

Kerri assessed the situation. That Jev had responded to her call probably meant that he had some latent Force skill, but since she'd never felt anything from him before it likely wasn't very strong.

If we ever get out of this war, she thought, I might consider training him, but for now it's best if any Force ability he has goes unused. Too dangerous to be a Jedi these days...

Kerri touched the intercom. "Security, this is the bridge. Sorry about the false alarm." She had considered telling them about Janzen, but Kerri had no doubt that Marta would escape. If the guards tried to apprehend her, they would only get hurt.

Kerri also considered taking on the other woman herself, but she wanted a good, long time to consider what her next move should be before she rushed into another fight with Janzen.

She'd tell the captain and Rik in the morning, and go on from there.

Kerri replaced her lightsaber in her belt. The Emperor still could not detect her from a distance, thanks to the crystal. She was still relatively safe.

For the moment. If she was sure of one thing, it was that Marta Janzen would be back...

Continued in Episode 13

R. John Burke

© 1998-1999 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann