STAR WARS: By FREEDOM'S Light Episode One
DESRIPTION: This sequel to "The Freedom Adventures" picks up three months after the battle of Yavin, as a Rebel task force tries to establish a new base on the border world of Khuiumin.
NOTICE: I'm back. As always, characters and situations presented herein belong to George Lucas. You know what that means. Off With the Head of anyone who tries to sell it. This is just fan fiction.
The Star Destroyer RELENTLESS hovered off Coruscant, as though afraid to get too close and risk its master's wrath. After a moment, a winged LAMBDA-class shuttle descended from the Destroyer towards the planet below. RELENTLESS immediately moved off, its captain glad to be rid of a rather unpleasant passenger.
The shuttle settled to the landing pad atop the Imperial palace, its ramp hissing outwards and down. Darth Vader felt the morning breeze of Coruscant without really feeling it - for his black bio-armor allowed little true sensation.
He hesitated before proceeding into the palace; this place was thick with the power of the Force. A confrontation had taken place here, and not long ago. The Dark Side had battled the Light, and darkness had won out. The waves of dark energy invigorated Vader, though his stay here was bound to be unpleasant.
Vader walked to the edge of the rooftop, his stormtrooper guard remaining a respectful distance away. Mechanically enhanced eyes picked up slashes in the permacrete, chunks cut out of the rock-solid material.
Lightsaber cuts. Apparently much had occurred on Coruscant since he had been gone. Vader stretched out his senses from the rooftop, feeling the lingering remnants of a recent conflict. He got no solid sense of anything, and yet...
Darkness HAD won out, hadn't it? What had transpired here while Vader had been chasing the Rebels away from Yavin in the past three months?
The image of that day was still burned into Vader's memory. His sights locked onto a young X-Wing pilot, in the trenches of the awesome Death Star battlestation.
The Force is strong in this one, he had said.
Almost too strong, really. As though the pilot was drawing on the Force... and he had felt somehow familiar...
That cursed Corellian freighter had arrived before Vader could solve the puzzle. But even tumbling away from the Death Star, as he worked to restore helm control to a crippled fighter, Vader had sensed a surge in the Force.
The pilot who had destroyed the Death Star was strong in the Force. Quite strong, at that. Familiar, and strong in the Force. An interesting dilemma.
One he would have to solve another time.
Vader crossed the roof to the palace entrance. He would kneel before his master, and beg forgiveness for his failure at Yavin.
His temporary failure. He would succeed eventually.
A Skywalker would rise to become the foremost Jedi Master in the galaxy. Vader had foreseen it. There was nothing the Rebels or the present Emperor could do about that...
The Rebellion would be destroyed. The Empire would rule all of the known galaxy.
And in time, Vader would rule the Empire.
"Steady, Mav Leader, Khuiumin's gravitic pull is strong."
In the pilot's seat of a battered X-Wing fighter, Rik Evverd groaned. "I thought we'd come to an understanding about this, Captain. You don't tell me how to fly a fighter, I won't tell you how to bark out orders."
There was a slight pause. "I do not bark orders, Maverick Leader. I discuss in a rational manner."
"You discuss in a stubborn manner, Captain."
The voice of Captain Mykel Garreth, formerly of the Imperial fleet, currently commander of the Alliance frigate FREEDOM, sighed and said, "On occasion, perhaps."
"Anyway, don't worry," Evverd said, "This is not gonna be a problem."
Inwardly, though, he felt a tug of doubt - a tug that was becoming all too common these days. Since losing Kerri Lynden to the Empire and much of his squadron to the Death Star, Evverd had been second-guessing himself a lot.
Gotta stop doing that, Evverd told himself, then added wryly, at least I think I do...
The Alliance was trying to set up shop in a backwater star system called Khuiumin following their retreat from Yavin. The planet had been a pirate base until the beginning of the New Order, when the Empire had sent in VICTORY-class Star Destroyers to cleanse the place. But the same things that had made it a good pirate hideout... good strategic location, close proximity to obstacles like asteroid fields and nebula that would them hard to locate, several small outrider planets perfect for listening post, and an M-class planet that was very habitable, if a bit barren... all those elements still existed. Ackbar and Drayson were trusting that Imperial lightning wouldn't strike twice in the system.
He focused on the immediate problem, two drone cargo carriers that had gotten their slave circuits fritzed by solar flares from the star Khuiumin, and begun to spiral into the sun. Evverd and his young protegee, Jev Parrak, were attempting to recover them.
Jev had been having a rough time too, lately. He was from Alderaan, and for some strange reason he'd taken a real exception to the way the Empire had blown it up.
Evverd addressed his faithful R2 unit. "Get ready on the magnetic grappler, pal."
Of course, said R2-B0 on his X-Wing's screen, And how wise of you to realize that this shot will require a droid's precise calculations.
"Precise, nothing," said Evverd, "I'm letting you shoot 'cause I figure a blindfolded Jawa could hit that Hutt-sized drone."
Bo did not reply on the screen, but Evverd could almost hear the little electronic "blaat" he was getting.
"You ready, boss?" asked Jev.
"Hang loose, Mav Three," said Evverd, "I want to get in nice and tight. If we miss, we'll never pull the grapplers back in quickly enough."
"Right," said Jev, "Good luck with yours."
"Mine?" Evverd said with a chuckle, "Oh, no. We're both shooting at the same one. I ain't taking chances on bring dragged into that sun."
The star Khuiumen was bright in Evverd's view now, with only the computerized "safeties" on the transparisteel keeping the light level to an acceptable minimum.
Jev said, "But we'll lose one of the drones! The cargo-"
"Is not as important as lives or X-Wings," said Evverd. Stay on the one to port."
Jev sighed deeply. "We can get them both."
"I don't think we can. Who's running this squadron, anyway?"
Jev didn't reply, and Evverd steered in close to the drone. "Fire."
Bo launched the magnetic grappler, which secured itself against the drone's metal hull. Evverd imaged the thud, though he could not hear it. He arced his X-Wing around, so he could pull in forward instead of reverse.
His engines strained. "Kid, you gonna help me?"
"One second, Mav Leader."
Evverd's ion drive strained against the crushing pull of Khuiumin. He began to lose the battle. "JEV!"
"All right, all right, I'm coming!"
The kid had been waiting, hoping Evverd would be able to get the drone by himself, and they could do it his way. The wiry, dark-skinned Corellian squad leader felt a flash of annoyance, but focused on his objective.
"All right, now, we want to bring it out steady..."
"Mav Leader, I've lost my tow line!"
Evverd stared out his viewport, saw the dangling wire of Jev's tow line floating free, apparently having snapped under pressure.
He cursed. "Stinking piece of surplus junk..."
Garreth's voice came through his comm. "Mav Leader, I suggest you cut your towline. Get out of there."
"No way," said Evverd. "Give me a minute."
He frowned, deep in thought, scratching at his newly acquired growth of mustache. "Um... okay. Bo, I want you to transfer all power to forward shields."
The droid beeped a question.
"Because I'm telling you to! Just do it!"
The shields scaled up to full front, except for the low-level radiation screens that blocked Khuiumin's harmful rays.
Evverd nodded to himself and flipped his X-Wing into a loop, fighting his own mass to keep from plunging down into Yavin. He came up behind the drone and rammed it at full speed.
It bounced off his shields and jerked forward, moving a bit more out of range of Khuiumin's pull. Evverd throttled down to low and came up behind it again. His fighter nosed the frigate forward.
Bo bleeped in surprised.
"Of course it's working," said Evverd, "Every once in a while, you gotta get out and push."
Soon he'd pushed the drone out of the danger area, and FREEDOM edged forward to hit it with a tractor beam.
"What about the other one, Mav Leader?" said Jev. "It's not too far down. If you pull your towline in quick, you have a shot at it."
Evevrd wiped sweat from his brow, letting out a breath that had been held too long. "Forget it, kid. The other one's space debris. I'm through playing hero for today."
On the bridge of the FREEDOM, a new arrival named Lieutenant Taryn Clancee whistled softly from the Nav/Comm crewpit.
"I don't believe that."
"Neither do I," said Lieutenant Commander Sedra Covell, the FREEDOM's new first officer. Her chocolate-toned skin was about the same shade as Evverd's, and she wore her dark hair pulled back. "He turned completely yellow."
"Yellow?" Taryn was Covell's opposite number. Tall and sandy-blonde with pale blue eyes, she was relatively young, but had been from one end of the galaxy to the other, having done every job in the spacer trade a few times, at least the way she told it. "That was some pretty spectacular flying!"
"He let the other one go," said Engineer Gaaraanzi, a huge Wookiee with fur about the same color as Taryn's hair. His words were translated by a small device on his metallic bandolier, one of many useful trinkets he kept there.
"So what? Has it occurred to you that 95 percent of this galaxy's pilots would have lost BOTH?"
The chief of the boat, a scarred Calamarian named Okel, chimed in, "It is most unlike Commander Evverd to fail in his duties."
Taryn turned to her CO, practically pleading for a bit of reason. "Captain--"
"They're right, Lieutenant," said Mykel Garreth. He was a short man, in his fifties, with long dark hair that had just begun to gray. "And so are you. Most pilots would have lost both - but four or five months ago, Evverd would have had them both without breaking a sweat." He turned his eyes to the nearby star in the viewport. "He's become cautious."
"Perhaps I should speak to him," said the Wookiee. He and Evverd had a running holo-chess rivalry, but Garreth tended to doubt that the gruff Wookiee would provide much of a shoulder to cry on.
Not that Evverd would want one. "I'll talk to him," said Garreth.
Taryn narrowed her eyes. "How good did this guy used to be?"
"The best," Covell said.
In point of fact, Garreth thought, Han Solo was probably a little better, but the difference was marginal enough that no one bothered to contradict her.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Yes, Commander," said Garreth. "Come in."
Evverd walked into the captain's small and crowded office, allowing the door to shut behind him. "What's up?"
Garreth tidied up a stack of datapads on his desk, said, "Sit down, Commander."
The Corellian shrugged and did so.
"It has," Garreth cleared his throat, unsure of how to start. He and Evverd had gotten so they understood each other, but they'd never been exactly close. "It has come to my attention that your performance of your duty has altered in the past few months."
In the past, Evverd might have taken immediate offense, but he just sat there, rather listless. "Oh?"
"Yes. You've become prudent, efficient, totally loyal to the chain of command, unwilling to take stupid chances. You've become the perfect squadron commander."
"Thanks," said Evverd with another shrug.
"I don't want the perfect squadron commander," said the captain, "I want Rik Evverd. Where is he?"
The Corellian looked down at himself, dressed in his familiar krayt-skin borwn jacket and jeans. "Here, last I looked."
"Look harder, Commander. You've obviously got the wrong man."
Evverd chuckled. "What are you telling me, Myke?" In the past few months, Evverd had taken to calling Garreth by his first name, a habit which annoyed the captain, but not enough so he'd protest it. "I'm too good at my job?"
"I'm saying..." Garreth hesitated, unsure what he was saying. "You're not yourself. What happened to the reckless, Gammorean-headed Corellian space pirate? The one who used to assure me repeatedly that he would never lose?"
"He lost," said Evverd.
Garreth sighed. "If this is about Kerri..."
"It's not Kerri!" said the Corellian, "Not just Kerri. I lost a lot of people at the Death Star, Myke. Do you know how many pilots I have now who were with me when I boarded FREEDOM two years ago? Two. Avers and Davin Serlin. That's too many losses."
"Every squadron has a similar turnover ratio. This has been a bloody war."
Evverd hissed. "Not mine! People are not gonna die because of me! Because I couldn't protect them. I won't let that happen."
"It's going to happen," said Garreth, "Every commander faces that. I have. There's no way to prevent it. Do you really think if you were totally cautious, played the percentages at every turn, no one would ever die? Do you think Kerri would still be here?"
"If you don't like the way I run my squadron," Evverd interrupted him, "You can find somebody else to do it."
Garreth sighed. "That's not what I'm saying, Rik..."
"Really? Well, maybe you should try to express yourself better next time. See you around." Evverd got up to leave.
"You are letting your personal problems interfere with your duty, Commander. You're failing your shipmates, and that's not like you." Garreth hesitated. "I think you've lost your nerve."
"With respect, sir, I don't really care what you think."
The door opened, and Evverd marched through it without stopping.
There was something glowing, Jev thought, glowing brightly at the bottom of a murky pit. In his dream, Jev dove down towards the pit.
He strained his eyes, but couldn't see. In fact, his eyes only deceived him - the pit seemed bottomless. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He could picture the form he was looking for in his mind, a glowing oval filled with golden light. And within it...
Jev found his way by thought alone to the bottom of the pit. At the edges of his senses, he detected ugly, mutated things, crawling or skittering away from the presence of an intruder to their domain. In his mind, Jev saw inside the cocoon-like shape...
And woke up with a start. "Commander!"
He gasped for breath, for a moment unable to separate the dream from reality. He looked around, trying for his bearings.
Around him, Jev saw only the comforting stillness of his room. No deformed shapes crawled in the dark corners. No golden light emanating from anywhere.
He sucked in another breath. He was safe, in his quarters on the FREEDOM. And he knew what had to be done.
He hit his intercom switch, dialed up the correct number. "Parrak to the captain."
There was no reply, so he buzzed again. "Captain, it's Lieutenant Parrak."
"What?" a voice mumbled, "Lieutenant, uhhh... it's 0300. This had better be good."
"It's Commander Lynden, sir. She's alive." Jev hesitated, unable to determine how he knew that, but there was something else, as well. "I know where she is."
"Khuiumin? Are you certain?"
"Our probe droid data seems conclusive," said Darth Vader to his Emperor, turning away from the Onebee droid as it fit him with a new hand to replace the one the Emperor had taken. A small price, really, for such a dismal failure.
The Emperor's glowing eyes bored into him. "It seems unlikely that they would return to a location we already know about. Are you certain your feelings are clear, Lord Vader?"
"They are, my master," Vader's booming, synthesized voice proclaimed.
"Then you must go," said the Emperor. He appeared as a larger-than-life hologram in the medbay. The holo was set to wide field, and behind him, Vader could see the slender, red-haired form of Mara Jade. It was Jade, he had learned, who had defeated a young Jedi on the palace rooftop - quite an accomplishment. Vader decided the young Emperor's Hand might be worth keeping a better eye on in the future.
The Emperor continued, "Take your new flagship and go the Khuiumin system. If the Rebels are there..."
"I will crush them, my master."
"Good," said the aged voice, "See that you do. It would be most unwise of you to fail me again, Lord Vader."
"Understood," said Vader. All too well, he thought. "And what of the X-Wing pilot?"
"He is of no consequence," said the old Sith Master, "It seems unlikely that a Jedi of such skill could remain in hiding. I believe you are mistaken, my friend."
"I am not," said Vader, "The Force was strong in him. I realize now that I saw him on the Death Star, as well, though briefly. His age was correct..."
The Emperor gave a harsh chuckle. "Do you seriously think we would not have felt him sooner?"
"I am uncertain," said Vader, "Obi-Wan may have been able to perform some trick."
"Obi-Wan Kenobi is dead," said the Emperor, "And the one you seek does not exist. Remember where your duty lies, Lord Vader."
"Yes, my master."
"Go to Khuiumen." The yellow eyes seemed to stare through Vader's mask. "We shall this foolish Rebellion before it costs us further."
"As you wish," said Vader, and the comm turned off.
The Onebee droid made a final connection, and Vader's new prosthetic right hand flexed. He tested it, the synthetic muscles tightening and relaxing at his command.
Vader nodded to the Onebee droid, and turned to go.
The Emperor was mistaken, he knew. This X-Wing pilot was no mere Rebel. Though it seemed impossible, Vader had a suspicion that he knew who the boy was.
Vader had foreseen that a Skywalker would control the galaxy. One Skywalker, or another...
They assembled in the wardroom, more or less in their pajamas. Garreth and Jev were there, along with Evverd and Sedra Covell.
Had he known what direction the discussion would take, Garreth would not have called his first officer, since she had not known her predecessor's true nature as a Jedi Knight.
But then, neither had Jev, so Garreth was unprepared when he said, "Commander Lynden is on Coruscant. I've felt it."
"Felt it?" said Evverd, "What do you mean, felt it?"
Jev shook his head. "I can't explain how I know. I just know. She's on Coruscant, and she's alive, but in some kind of... hibernation."
Sedra Covell shook her head. "I don't believe this. You woke us all up because you had a nightmare about Kerri Lynden."
"It's not a nightmare!" said Jev, "It's real! I know it's real!"
"Prove it," said Covell. She was a good sort, Garreth knew, but a pessimist by nature. This news was beyond what she was prepared to accept.
"I can't," said Jev, "You only have my word. I wouldn't make this up."
Garreth looked into his large, sad eyes, and knew that was the truth. Jev was worried and confused and scared, but he was not lying.
Covell said, "It's impossible. You can't just know where a person is, by instinct."
"Yes, you can," said Evverd. "If you're a Jedi."
Covell looked from Evverd to his young friend like they were both insane. "You think this kid is a Jedi?"
Garreth looked to Evverd. As Kerri's closest friend, the captain figured it was his call. When the Corellian nodded, he said, "I don't know if Jev is a Jedi. But Kerri Lynden was."
"What?" said Covell, "That's crazy! I knew the woman for over a year! She never--"
"I knew her for over ten," said Evverd, "Believe me, she was a Jedi. She kept a low profile to hide from Vader and the Emperor. That's how I knew she was gone. Marta Janzen called me, and showed me her lightsaber."
Covell still stared at them. "You're not gonna tell me that our old navigator was a Jedi, too?"
Evverd squirmed a bit. "Actually, we never knew what Janzen was. Not really."
"Okay," said the first officer, "Even if I buy this, even if Kerri was a Jedi, this kid sure isn't!"
"He could be," said Evverd. "Kerri didn't go into detail, but I got the impression that he was involved in her confrontation with Janzen."
"I don't remember that," said Jev.
"You wouldn't," Evverd said with a smirk. The Jedi ability to deceive the 'weak-minded' was a part of their lore.
"So we're just going to rush off to the Imperial Center on a whim, put everybody in danger--"
"Not we," said Jev, "This is my crazy idea. I should go."
"I'll authorize that," said Garreth, "Are there... any volunteers to go with him?"
He said the words looking at Rik Evverd. In the past, he'd gone to amazing lengths for Kerri, to the degree that Garreth had begun to wonder if there wasn't something between them. At the very least, Rik Evverd was a totally loyal friend.
But to Garreth's shock, the Corellian said, "Don't look at me."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I've got half a dozen pilots to train," said Evverd, "And we're still scouting the surrounding systems. My people need me."
Jev, who had clearly also been expecting his mentor to go with him, said, "Avers can handle that."
"No way," said Evverd, "I have to be here."
Still a bit shocked, Garreth muttered, "Well, if you won't go, I will." He turned to Jev and nodded. "We leave in the morning, Lieutenant. Get some sleep."
They all stood. Evverd extended a hand. "Good luck, Captain. Bring her back."
"If we do," Garreth said, more than a little shocked at his callous attitude, "It won't be because of you, will it?"
Rik Evverd sat tinkering with his X-Wing in a hangar bay that was quiet, for once. Not even a droid stirred, except for Bo, and she sounds of hydrospanners and arc welders bounced off the metal and reflected back at him.
The little droid leaned forward like a nerf puppy, and warbled in concern.
Evverd patted the dorid's dome. "I'm allright, pal. I'm allright..."
"I thought I'd find you here."
Evverd turned to see their new navigator, still in uniform, at the hangar's lift door. "What are you doing up?"
"I'm the newbie, remember? I got stuck on night shift, and I ran into Jev Parrak. Kid isn't gonna sleep a wink. He had some pretty nasty things to say about you."
Evverd smiled, just slightly. "I can imagine."
"So what's your problem, anyway?" she plopped onto a stool next to him, bending over the ship's hyperdrive to inspect his work.
"Come on," said Taryn, "Look, I know your type. You think you're a tough guy. That's fine. I used to be like that myself. Still am, kind of."
"If you know so much about me," he said, "You know I'm not gonna pour my guts out to a stranger."
"Think of me as a fellow spacer," said Taryn. "Look, I don't know you very well, but the others do, and they're worried. They say you've been moping around for three months, ever since you lost this friend of yours. Now, what I can't figure out is why you'd pine away for months, and then not want to go rescue her. It just doesn't total."
"Who asked you?" said Evverd.
"Fine." Taryn spread her hands in a gesture of surrender, and started to get up. "You don't have to tell me. If Garreth doesn't bring your lady friend back, it's not gonna be my fault."
"It's just..." Taryn waited expectantly as he said, "Last time we talked, I said something really dumb, and I don't know if I can face her."
"I see," said Taryn, "What'd you? Have a fight?"
"Something like that," said the Corellian with a sigh.
Abruptly, Taryn slapped him on the back good-naturedly, and Evverd looked up in surprise.
"If that's all," she said, "Then you really are an idiot. Come on, if you've known each other so long, she must know how you really feel."
Evverd groaned. "That's what I'm afraid of."
Taryn sized him up for another minute. "You know what I think?"
"No, but I'm sure you're gonna tell me."
"I think," she went on, disregarding his sarcasm, "This isn't about your friend at all. At least not directly."
He chuckled. "Really? Why don't you tell me what it is about?"
"I think it's about the Death Star."
"The Death Star?" said Evverd.
"Yeah. The way I hear it, Han Solo beat you to the punch. You had a shot at it, but you turned it down because you knew it was the way to save your squadron. So you got an easier assignment, and lost half your squadron anyway. I think this is all an excuse, because you don't trust yourself anymore. This way, if your friend dies, it was Garreth's mission. It wasn't your fault."
"Stop analyzing me," said Evverd, too tired even to fight, "And go to sleep, okay?"
"Fine," said Taryn, and got up to go, "It's your funeral."
As she reached the lift, she added, "Except that it's not. It's hers."
Mykel Garreth arrived at the hangar bay at 0700, in Commando uniform for the first time in years. Jev Parrak was with him, clearly exhausted but eyes shining with anticipation. Garreth ran one last check on their weapons, and popped the hatch of their assault shuttle.
Rik Evverd stood in the entryway.
"There you are, kid," he said, "What were you, gonna keep me waiting all day?"
"Excuse me, Commander--"
"Myke. Buddy. Nice of you to see us off. Get on board, Junior."
Jev grinned, slapped his friend on the back, and went up the hatch. As he did so, he muttered, "Knew you weren't that big a jerk..."
"Nice. Start 'er up."
Garreth stared at his squadron leader for a moment. "You don't have to do this."
"Yes, I do. You belong with your ship, Captain. And this is my responsibility." The Corellian offered his hand.
Garreth shook it. "Fly casual, Mister Evverd."
"Always do." Evverd hopped back up the ramp, the spring suddenly back in his step.
I've never been so happy, Garreth thought as the shuttle floated up on its repulsors, turned, and cleared the hangar, to see the return of such an annoying man...
"Imperial probe droid," said Taryn Clancee, holding up a small piece of wreckage, "All the way. Khuiumin just became a real bad place to hang your hat."
Brynn Avers, Evverd's second with Mav Squadron, had shot down the spiderlike droid in the outer system. She'd called a picket ship out to get some debris, and the analysis left little room for doubt.
"Some general quarters," said Garreth, "Advise Major Derlin and his team to strip whatever they can off the shelters on the planet."
"We just got them up!" Sedra Covell said.
"Then get them back down!" Garreth snapped, "The Empire has found us. Force knows how long we have before they hit the base."
The starlines became stars again, and Darth Vader watched with cold satisfaction as his armada materialized back into realspace.
There'll be no one to stop us this time, Vader thought.
"My Lord," said Admiral Ozzel, the new commander of his fleet. The alien, Thrawn, had been returned to the Unknown Regions. "We are prepared. But I do wish you'd allowed me to come out of hyperspace closer to the system. The element of surprise..."
"They are cut off," said Vader, "Surrounded. We need no surprise to clean up this rabble."
"Yes, My Lord. But next time..."
"Next time, you will also obey my orders, or you will regret your lack of vision. Signal the TIE fighter crews to their ships."
Vader looked out at the where the brown orb of Khuiumin would soon be, and with it the Rebel fleet.
He said, "We have them..."
Continued in Episode 2
R. John Burke