STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Fourteen
DESRIPTION: While the Alliance, and Jev, deal with the destruction of Alderaan, Kerri goes before the Emperor.
NOTICE: Star Wars belongs to George Lucas, and Lucasfilm, not me. If Star Wars belonged to me, I'd have a lot more money than I do. One of the reason I have no money is because I can't sell stories like this one (because it belongs to Lucasfilm - see above). Got all that? (PS--material from the original Star Wars was written by George Lucas.)
"I still don't see why our mission had to be postponed!" Mykel Garreth said to the man on the screen, "It seems to me that we need the Death Star plans more than ever now that we know what's happened to Alderaan."
"We know that, yes," said General Dodonna, "We also know that the Empire has Leia Organa, and the destruction of Alderaan indicates that they are trying to coerce her into revealing the location of our base. It also seems likely that they will succeed eventually, which means we have to get off Yavin Four. All ships in this area must be diverted to help in the evacuation."
"A lot of good that's going to do us," said Garreth, "If that Death Star is on the loose."
Dodonna arched an eyebrow. "The Rebellion must survive another day, Captain. Then we will worry about the Death Star."
"But my ship is only a NEBULON frigate!" he protested, "Our lifting capacity won't make much difference!"
"No," Dodonna agreed, "But your fighters will. They are small enough to evade that superlaser. Therefore they may be our only practical means of defense. Get back here, Captain. That's an order."
Garreth cut off the holoimager and sighed deeply. Slumped forward over his desk, head in hands, Garreth knew he'd come a long way down from the man who had once been one of the Emperor's personal favorites.
And that, he realized, was the problem. Dodonna and Drayson were fighting a defensive war. They thought about survival first and foremost, because they didn't understand the Emperor.
Garreth did. Weakness was something the Emperor loved to exploit. What was more, counting on him to be reasonable and cease destroying planets was like depending on a Jawa's warrior courage. Either the Rebellion went on the offensive now or they might as well pack it in. Palpatine would obliterate any planet that even smelled like it had Rebel tendencies. The Emperor was not a man to have a toy he didn't use.
Damn, thought Garreth. All because Yavin base needs... our fighters...
He tapped the intercom. "Garreth to hangar bay."
"Avers here, captain," came the voice of Brynn Avers, one of the pilots from Maverick Squadron.
"Lieutenant, prep all X-Wings for launch. Your people are returning to Yavin Four."
Avers hesitated. "Er... just us, sir?"
"No, sir," she said, "I'll get right on it."
Garreth drummed his fingers on his desk. Going deep into Imperial space without their fighter escort was about as dangerous as it got, but they had no choice.
The Empire had hit them with the big guns - literally. It was time to hit back.
"Kid?" Rik Evverd hit the recognition plate on Jev Parrak's door for the third time.
"I'd rather be alone," said Jev's voice, the first reply he'd made.
"I know you would," said Evverd, "But you shouldn't be. You don't have to talk to me. Just let me in."
After a long pause, the door slid open. Jev's room was dark, and his sat on the single bunk covered in blankets, looking for all the world like a small child. He'd sucked it up for Evverd's sake, but the pilot could see that he'd been crying.
His grief was only beginning, Evverd knew. Jev Parrak was from Alderaan. He'd lost a world.
The door slid shut behind him. "The other Alderaan survivors are gathering in the rec hall, kind of a mutual-support thing. Wouldn't hurt you to go."
Jev snorted. "They going to bring the planet back?"
"Kid - Jev. Listen to me. I know it's rough on you, but moping in your quarters isn't gonna help."
"What would you know about it?" Jev asked, trying to sound angry but lacking the strength, "Did Corellia blow up while I wasn't looking?"
Evverd sat down on a chair, pulled it up towards the bunk. "For me it did. Don't get me wrong, I ain't trying to compare what you're going through to my problems - your trouble is pretty unique - but I sort of know what you're going through."
Evverd shrugged. "My parents divorced when I was a kid. My mother went off somewhere to, uh, find herself or something. Wish she'd have told me she was looking - I knew where she was the whole time. Anyway, my father and I never got along. I ended up alone when I was younger than you. I haven't been to Corellia since I was about seventeen. It's not much of a match for your trouble, like I said, but--" he cleared his throat. Evverd hated touchy-feely stuff. He'd never even really spoken to Kerri about this. He said finally, "I know what it's like to be alone."
"That's just great," said Jev bitterly, "The house I grew up in is orbiting Alderaan's star as individual molecules - including all the people who lived in it - and you're comparing that to an unhappy childhood."
"Look..." Evverd's temper flared, but he cooled it off immediately, "I don't know what it's like for you, okay? This has never really happened before. Even on Caamas, it wasn't the same. Nobody even blew up a world! All I know is that you can't let them beat you!"
"Them?" Jev said.
"Them. The Empire, the Death Star, the whole galaxy. It's always you against everybody else, kid, that's the way the galaxy is. Now, I admit it, they decked you pretty hard. Are you gonna lay there and bleed to death, or are you gonna get up and make them pay?"
Jev smiled, just slightly. "Now that sounds like Rik Evverd. For a minute I thought they'd replaced you with somebody nice."
"I don't do nice," Evverd deadpanned, "So are you gonna deal with it, or what?"
"I'd like to strangle the Emperor with my bare hands," said Jev.
"If you can get to him, I'll hold him down for you, kid. But I think you better start with something a little easier."
The Alderaanian sighed and kicked off the covers. "Like what?"
"Like going to the rec hall. Talking to the others. See if you can help them out. You've got plenty of time for revenge. Right now you gotta get your head straight."
"It'll never get any better," said Jev, "They blew up my whole world - my parents, my brother. Practically everyone I ever knew. How do you recover from that?"
"You never do," Evverd told him, "But you gotta try. You ain't quitting on me, kid - there's about a hundred TIE fighters out there with your name on 'em. I'm not picking up your slack."
Jev rose unsteadily to his feet. "Yeah, well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to go to the wardroom - for a few minutes."
He walked towards the door, moving like an old man, every step seeming to weaken him further. Evverd wanted to find the man who'd pulled the trigger on Alderaan and feed him a thermal detonator - this boy would never be idealistic and naive again.
"Jev," he said, "I wish I knew what to tell you."
Jev shrugged. "There's nothing to say, is there? Thanks for trying, boss."
And he left.
"There's a disturbance in the Force," Kerri Lynden, the first officer of the frigate FREEDOM, said to her captain.
"Another one? They can't have used the Death Star again so quickly!"
"This isn't the Death Star," Kerri took a deep breath, trying hard to explain, "It feels... personal. There is pain being caused to someone... but I feel like it's meant for me."
"That's an interesting theory, Commander," said Garreth slowly, "But how..."
The intercom bleep, and Weapons Officer Sedra Covell's voice said, "Captain, there's an incoming transmission - from Marta Janzen!"
Garreth sat up a little straighter. Janzen was the FREEDOM's former navigator. She had turned out to be an Imperial spy, and what was more a Jedi spy, attempting to turn Kerri Lynden, a Jedi in hiding, to the Dark Side. Kerri had chased her off in a brief confrontation, but the Jedi kept saying that Janzen would be back. And now, it seemed, that prediction had been fulfilled.
"Put it in here," said Garreth.
A holoimager flashed on, and Marta Janzen appeared, a slender woman whose red-gold hair had lengthened considerably in the three months since Garreth had seen it.
"Commander Lynden," she said, "And Captain Garreth. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
And suddenly, seeing the longer hair, a stray memory clicked in Garreth's mind. He could have strangled himself for his stupidity. "I know where I remembered you from. The whole time you were on FREEDOM, I kept trying to remember. I've seen you at the Emperor's court. In the background."
"Very good," said Janzen, "And no, it wasn't your fault. I was blocking your memory. I apologize, but you know what they say about desperate times..."
"What do you want?" asked Kerri.
Mara's green eyes stared at her. "You. The Emperor wants you, and you will go to him of your own will."
Kerri grunted, though her face said she believed the statement. "Why would I do that?"
"Because if you don't," Janzen said, and the view switched to a holo of a small, barely M-Class planet - Ryloth, Garreth thought, though he wasn't certain - "If you don't, I'll kill them."
Kerri's expression froze, and Janzen said, "Yes, you've felt it, haven't you? Their anger and fear. So far only a very few have died. That can change quickly."
"Can you do this, Marta?" asked the Jedi, "Can you hurt people who never offended you? You're not that evil."
"It's the will of the Emperor," said Janzen as she appeared on the holo again, and clearly that explained everything as far as she was concerned.
"What about your will? What about following your true destiny? Have you given any thought at all to what I said the last time?"
Janzen's face changed, for just a second, and she said, "You don't understand. I am the Emperor's Hand. He... owns me. It's too late for me, Kerri."
"It doesn't have to be."
But the flash of vulnerability was gone. "You will come to Ryloth, in a shuttle, alone. From there, you will be taken to the Emperor. You will leave immediately, or they will be killed. One city a day will be razed, until you arrive. Starting now." She turned her gaze off the holoemitter, and said, "Fire."
The holo's view changed again, and Garreth saw a barrage of turbolaser bolts lancing towards the surface. Kerri winced, reacting to screams that only she could hear.
I'm glad I'm not a Jedi, thought the captain.
To Janzen, he said, "You're mistaken if you think I'll allow a member of my crew to just walk into your hands."
Janzen laughed at him. "You have nothing to say about it. You weren't even important enough for me to bother with. You're just a coward, Garreth, and weak."
"We'll see how weak I am," Garreth said, "When I personally lead the fight to take Coruscant away from your precious Empire."
"If that's your destiny," said Janzen, but her smirk said she didn't believe the prediction for a second. "What's your decision, Jedi?"
"There is no death," Kerri quoted to herself softly, "There is the Force..."
"Is that a yes?"
Lynden sighed. "Yes, I am coming. But if I feel even one more Twi'lek die before I get there, the deal is off."
"Done," said Janzen, "You can trust me on that."
"I did trust you," said Kerri sadly, "And that was my mistake, obviously..."
Rik Evverd studied his stabilizer pack, and cursed softly in three languages. Garreth might have at least consulted me, he thought, before ordering us all back to Yavin. Now I've gotta rush to get this modification finished, it's gonna fall off during a firefight and take the whole damn wing with it, and some Imperial hotshot is gonna fry my tail.
He sighed. I love my work...
"Rik," said a voice from behind.
He turned to see Kerri Lynden standing behind him in the hangar bay. She was carrying her lightsaber - and a bag.
"What's goin' on?"
Kerri looked away. Her tan complexion and dark hair were highlighted by the dim, overhead lights.
"You're what?" said Evverd, "But I can't go now. My people are needed at Yavin. I've gotta get this overhaul done quick--"
"I'm going alone, Rik," she said, and Rik Evverd suspected there was a lot more going on than he was being told.
"Where are you going?"
"I..." Kerri sighed, "It's better if I don't tell you. You'd only want to stop me."
Evverd hissed. "Janzen's back."
Kerri smiled. "Your insight serves you well. I just wanted to say good-bye, and thank you for everything. If I can come back, I will."
"You mean you might not be able to? Are we talking death here?"
The Jedi shifted on her feet. "It's a possibility."
"Then I'm going with you!" Kerri started to object, but he cut her off. "You ain't going out to risk your life without me!"
"It's my destiny," she said, "Yours lies along a different path."
"Come on, Kerri," he said, and put down the hydrospanner he had gripped with white knuckles in one hand. "We've been partners for ten years. This is it, it's just... over?"
"I'm sorry," she said, and started to leave.
"Kerri!" He trailed after her. "Now, wait a minute, Kerri!"
She turned, and Evverd realized that once again he really had no idea what to say. So he improvised. "You know what the problem is? The problem is me. Yeah, you feel safe flying off to do this crazy Jedi stuff, 'cause you know if you screw it up, I'll always be there to chase after you and save your neck! Well, no good this time, sweetheart. You can go, but if you get yourself in trouble, I ain't coming after you! I have had it!"
"I understand," she said, and nodded. "Is that all?"
"Yeah," he said after a moment. "I guess that's it."
Kerri smiled at him, and turned around again.
Evverd let her get three steps, and blurted out, "I love you!"
The Jedi Knight turned very slowly, walked back to him. Evverd felt the blood rising to his cheeks. He'd never admitted that before, not even to himself.
"No kidding," she said, and kissed him.
Kerri stepped back, said, "If I can return, I will. I promise."
Evverd wanted to say something, but for once in his life he was totally without words. He watched her board a shuttle, heard its ion drive engage.
Startled, Evverd turned to see Jev Parrak running towards him amidst the chaos of the hangar bay.
Evverd blushed further. Oh, man, he thought, nobody saw that, did they?
He heard the roar of a shuttle's engine. Instead of turning around to watch it, he focused on the problem at hand. "What's up, kid?"
"I hear you're heading out, for Yavin. To defend the base."
"That's right," said Evverd, "As soon as possible."
"I want to come."
"What?" Evverd had just sort of assumed that Jev would be gone from the squadron for the forseeable future. "You sure that's smart, Junior? You're pretty shook up still."
"I want to do this," said Jev Parrak, blue eyes intense. "I have to. I want to make them pay."
Evverd opened his mouth to deny his permission, knowing what a really lousy idea it was. But then he thought what he would do if it was his world, his whole family who'd been killed. Even though they weren't close, Evverd knew nothing in the galaxy would stop him from hitting back.
He stalled a bit. "Has the Onebee droid given you a clean psyche profile?"
Jev snorted, and Evverd saw the answer in his face. "Doctors. What do they know?"
Blast it all anyway, though Evverd. "Nothing, in my experience. Suit up, kid. You can give me a hand with this stabilizer..."
Half a galaxy away, another game of persuasion was taking place.
"She's rich," said a young blonde man.
The older, dark-haired Corellian perked up with interest. "Rich?"
"Rich, powerful... if you were to rescue her, the reward would be..."
"What?" said the Corellian, certain he'd trapped his new friend.
"Well, more wealth than you can imagine!" The kid wasn't real good at con games. On the other hand, Han Solo was bored, and the kid's central point was good.
"I dunno," he said, "I can imagine quite a bit."
The kid - Luke - leaned in close. "You'll get it."
Han Solo sighed deeply. "Awright, kid. But you'd better be right about this."
Why do I have the feeling, Solo wondered, that I'm going to regret this for as long as I live?
The X-Wings zoomed out ahead of their mother ship, and a moment later vanished into the physics-bending alter-reality known as hyperspace. Mykel Garreth leaned back in his command chair. Janzen defected, Evverd's gone, Kerri's gone, Jev Parrak is out of action for the foreseeable future... Who among my command crew is left?
"There they go," Sedra Covell, his acting Executive Officer, said. They were a bit shorthanded, so she remained at Weapons instead of going to the upper level where the command crew sat.
"Will you explain something?" asked Okel, his Calamarian Chief of the Boat.
"Of course, chief."
The large eyes swiveled. "Will not Commander Evverd have a difficult time explaining why he has returned without us?"
Garreth smiled, a little viciously. "I hope so. Let him try to talk his way out of one of MY messes, for a change."
Garreth gestured to Harkin at Nav/Comm. "Set course for the planet Carida. The Academy is there, along with many top-secret Imperial installations. If a copy of the plans exists anywhere, it'll be there."
"It will also be difficult in the extreme to access," Okel pointed out.
Garreth nodded. For once, he watched the stars in front of him, and they did not make him dizzy. "That's why it's never dull..."
"This is some rescue!" Leia Organa announced as laser bolts crisscrossed the detention bay. "You came in here, didn't you have a plan for getting out?"
Solo jerked a thumb at Luke. "He's the brains, sweetheart!"
"Well, I didn't..."
Leia grabbed the farmboy's laser pistol and shot a hole in a nearby wall grate.
"What are you doing?" Solo demanded.
"Somebody has to save our skins," she said as one blast came a little too close, "Into the garbage chute, flyboy..."
The shuttle popped out of hyperspace nearly on top of the Star Destroyer AVENGER, but Kerri wasn't concerned. She knew exactly when to pull back on the levers. Everything was playing out before her as though scripted, as though she didn't control her own actions.
Perhaps this really is destiny at work, Kerri thought, or maybe Rik's right and I'm just losing my mind...
Kerri had wanted to leave her crystal with Rik, so the Emperor would not get his hands on it. But it occurred to her that being a "dead spot" in the Force would be useful should she need to escape, and she didn't figure she could afford to turn down any advantages.
She docked with the EXECUTOR, and extended the ramp.
Marta Janzen - if that was her name - was waiting.
"I'm a bit surprised you came," Janzen said, "Part of me figured the Jedi were all bluster and no guts."
Kerri walked down the ramp and held out her lightsaber for Janzen to take. "I'm glad I haven't disappointed you. Will you truly take me to your master?"
"I will," Janzen said, "And I've never been so glad to get rid of anyone in my life." Janzen took the lightsaber, studied it, then hooked it to her belt. "You have been a real problem for me, Kerri. I never came so close to failing before."
"I'm sorry if it's been hard on you," Kerri said, "But our destiny is still intertwined. You and I will face each other, one on one, and this matter will be decided. I have foreseen it."
Janzen inclined her head slightly. "Then I'm sorry for you. If we ever scuffle again, you're going to die."
Kerri just nodded. "That may well be true..."
"We've lost the lateral controls!"
In the quad gunner's port of his legendary starship, the MILLENIUM FALCON, Han Solo winced. "Don't worry, she'll hold together."
The FALCON shuddered with another hit, and something sparked near Han. "You hear me, baby? Hold together!"
A TIE Fighter swooped into targeting range, and Solo fired off several bursts, but the starfighter was too quick. From somewhere behind him, he was dimly aware that Luke was doing the same thing. I don't know how we're gonna get out of this one, Solo thought.
Just then, a TIE strayed too close, remained in his crosshairs for a millisecond too long. Solo squeezed the trigger, and the fighter disintegrated into dust. Solo whooped with joy.
A minute later, another explosion came from Luke's side of the ship. "Got him! I got him!"
"Great, kid!" Solo said enncouragingly, then added, "Don't get cocky..."
Inwardly, though, Solo thought, we're actually gonna make it. Wonder what kind of reward you get these days for saving a Princess...
Wedge looked up in surprise to see a familiar dark-skinned fellow Corellian he hadn't expected to see for some time.
"Well, don't look so happy to see me," said the other, and vaulted over the side of his X-Wing. "Understand you folks are having a little party. Thought I'd join in."
Red Leader, who had been conversing with Wedge, looked up. "The FREEDOM has returned already?"
"FREEDOM? What do you mean, FREEDOM? It's just us."
"But where's Garreth?" said Red Leader, "Wasn't he supposed to come back with you?"
"Not that he told me..."
Another Rebel officer, Commander Willard, joined them from the side. "Ah. Maverick Squadron has returned. Excellent. Would you ask Captain Garreth to see General Dodonna at his first opportunity."
"Sure," said Evverd slowly, "When I see him, I'll tell him."
Willard nodded and walked away.
Wedge said, "How are you going to explain..."
"I'm hoping they'll be too busy to ask," said the other star pilot, "If they do, I'll think of something..."
At that moment, another roar of ion engines sounded, and an aged YT-1300 Corellian freighter soared into the bay.
"Now who's this?" said Red Leader, "No smuggler drops are expected today..."
"That ain't just any smuggler," said Evverd, eyes fixed on the ship, "That's Han Solo..."
But Solo was only half the surprise. Wedge suspected that the young woman he brought with him was enough to make Dodonna forget all about the FREEDOM...
Something shorted out belowdecks, and Garreth jerked forward in his seat as the FREEDOM, quite unexpectedly, popped out of hyperspace.
"Our hyperdrive is totally destroyed," rumbled the Wookiee Gaar from the Engineering station.
"But it checked out fine yesterday!"
The bridge holoprojector flashed, and suddenly a giant-sized hologram appeared, yellow eyes staring out from a pitch-dark cloak.
"Hello, Mykel. I foresaw that you would betray me, I'm afraid. I'm afraid you were carrying a computer virus in your personal files, designed to cut out your hyperdrive at the appropriate time. On your sensors, you will see a fleet of Star Destroyers. They will take you into into custody, and return you to me."
The Emperor's face stretched into a smile. "In a sense, you have been the perfect double-agent for the past year, believing your own loyalty totally, for you were loyal to the Rebels. But you were also learning their secrets, secrets that you will soon report to me."
The hood bowed slightly, but soon the eyes came back up. Seeming to stare right through into Garreth's brain, the Emperor said, "And after that, you will die. This is the penalty for defying you master, Captain. I look forward to seeing you again. For now, farewell."
The image blinked off, and Garreth turned to Sedra. "Any ships on sensors?"
Sedra looked up, chocolate-toned skin gone pale. "Six of them, sir. Star Destroyers, They're surrounding us."
Gaar rumbled, low in his throat. Okel gurgled. Sedra just stared at her readings.
Garreth said, "My. We are in trouble, then, aren't we?"
Doors hissed aside, and Janzen led the way into a darkened chamber. She bowed low. "We have come, my master."
On a pedestal at the far end of the room, an ornate throne swiveled around. Flanked by his ruby-clad Imperial Guard, the Emperor of the galaxy glowered down at Kerri.
"So you have. You have done well, my Hand."
"Thank you," said Mara, and proceeded to join him at the throne.
The Emperor beckoned Kerri forwards. "And this is the little Jedi who has evaded me for so long. Quite clever of you, Jedi, to hide your influence on the Force."
He motioned, and one of the guards came forward, ripping the crystal from her neck. The red-armored trooper marched back to the throne and gave it to his Emperor. The aged wizard examined it, then slowly extended a shaking hand, offering the crystal to Janzen.
"A gift for you, my Hand. Used appropriately, it should allow you to seek out any remaining Jedi with no fear of detection."
Janzen took the gift, and smiled. "It is a pleasure only to serve you, my master."
"Isn't it?" the Emepror reflected lazily. He beckoned again. "Come forth, child. Do not fear me. I am your new Master."
"You're mistaken," Kerri said, "Lord Vader killed my master, and my mother. Kaelin Joth?"
"Ah, yes," he said, yellow eyes narrowed to slits, "Quite a powerful Jedi, that one. We were not aware she had a daughter."
"Life is full of surprises," Kerri said flatly.
The Emperor leaned forward. "You will learn to respect me in time, my young apprentice. You will serve me as Lord Vader serves me, and together we shall bring order to the galaxy."
"Let's get this other with," said Kerri, "I won't turn. Kill me, or let me go. But don't delude yourself."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" said the Emperor, "A quick solution, an easy escape, even into death. But no, my young apprentice. My plans for you are far grander. You will see the power of the Dark Side. And whether you believe it or not, you will fall."
The Emperor held up Kerri's lightsaber, which Marta Janzen had given him. "This weapon, the mark of the once-great Jedi. You will no longer need it. I will show you power such as you cannot possibly imagine..."
And somewhere, beneath her Jedi calm and her rigorous training and her adherance to the Code, Kerri Lynden was very much afraid.
Rebel pilots assembled in the briefing room of Yavin Four, all in X-Wing gear, all wearing brave looks, and all scared beyond imagination.
Jan Dodonna pointed to a technical display. "It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor core."
Beside Evverd, Brynn Avers tensed. "Looks like a pretty impossible shot," she whispered.
"I can hit it," said Jev from his other side, "I can hit anything today..."
"Whoa, calm down, Junior," Evverd said, "Listen to the briefing."
"A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station. Only a precise hit will set up a chain reaction."
"Okay, so we can still do this," Evverd whispers. "Remember, lasers travel in straight line, so a blaster bolt..."
"The shaft is ray-shielded, so you'll have to use proton torpedoes."
Avers groaned. "NOW it's impossible."
Wedge Antilles echoed her sentiment. "That's impossible, even for a computer."
The young blonde next to Wedge said, "It's not impossible. I used to bulls-eyes wamp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters."
Jan Dodonna flicked off his display, and surveyed the assembled Rebel warriors. "Then man your ships! And may the Force be with you!"
Evverd thought, we're gonna need it...
Continued in Episode 15
R. John Burke