STAR WARS: By FREEDOM'S Light Episode Eleven
DESRIPTION: Rik Evverd goes a bit ballistic due to his new impairment. And there's still Darth Vader to deal with.
NOTICE: Star Wars and just about every little thing connected with it belongs to Lucasfilm. I'm just writing a non-profit fan story. Do not sell this in any way, or Darth Vader will come to your home, and he will be disturbed by your lack of faith.
"Boy, you really got lucky, huh, junior?" asked Brynn Avers, acting commander of Maverick Squadron. Her short brown hair stuck out rebelliously from the edges of her flight helmet. "Kicked out of the squadron just last week, and already in as an emergency replacement."
Jev Parrak, a tall but rail-thin young man from the now-dead planet Alderaan, did not meet her eyes. "I never wanted Rik to be hurt."
"Really?" asked Avers. They were in the pilot's lounge, waiting for the green light to fly in support of the Jerjiador evacuation. "Even after he decked you last week?"
"I don't hold it against him," said Jev, "Kerri's made him distrust me."
"Why would she do a thing like that?" Avers was puzzled. She'd known this young man for over a year - had flown his wing on his very first mission - and she had to admit he was acting strangely lately. But the nature of the disagreement between him and the former Squadron Commander, Rik Evverd, still eluded her. Perhaps because they had a tendency to dodge questions about it.
Avers realized rather abruptly that she had thought of Rik as the "former" squadron commander. She squeezed her hands into fists, not ready to accept that as the truth.
Evverd, a brash, dark-skinned Corellian, was the best pilot Avers had ever known and a good friend. Last week, just before coming to Jerjiador, Evverd had risked his life to save two survivors of the Imperial raid on the Rebel outpost on Cetheron. He had succeeded, but in the process been exposed to a corrosive Imperial nerve toxin.
He was all right for the most part, but had lost the delicate nerve control required to pilot a fighter.
The Onebee droids will think of something, she told herself. He'll be back soon. Much as Avers had always wanted to command her own squadron, this was not the way she had planned to do it. Stepping on a friend to get where she wanted to go was not her style.
Besides, Evverd's skill and leadership had kept Avers and a lot of others alive when they should have been dead. The squadron needed him.
The red light blinked, and a voice said, "All pilots, to their stations."
Avers nodded to Jev, who was already halfway to the door. It was time to perform another evacuation, one of many the Alliance had been forced into since Darth Vader and his Star Destroyer fleet had begun their little rampage in Calaron sector.
Something's got to break our way soon, Avers thought, or this won't be much of a rebellion at all...
Evverd waited until he heard the sound of pilots rushing to their stations, then keyed open the door and entered the pilot's lounge. He wasn't even supposed to be out of bed yet, but he cared very little for what medical droids thought. His hands had healed all they were going to, and it was time to learn the truth.
Steeling himself for the worst, Evverd keyed on the simulator.
"My Lord, we have engaged Rebel ships in the Jerjiador system."
"I am aware of that, Admiral Ozzel." Darth Vader did not even turn to face the admiral who had invaded his private meditation chamber. The machinery had just finished reconnecting his bio-support mask, the mask that was now infamous throughout the galaxy.
Vader cared nothing for fame, though he did make use of the fear it inspired. "Do not fail me again, as you did at Skor."
"My Lord," said Ozzel, "With respect, the Skor operation was a success. We chased the Rebels out."
"We failed to capture a single Rebel transport. We destroyed less than a fifth of their fighters. We lost an Imperial Star Destroyer. All despite having a vastly superior force at our disposal." Vader turned dispassionate black visual sensors on the terrified officer. "That is failure, Admiral."
"At least we have another system under Imperial control."
Vader despised excuses, and even more he despised attempts to make one's failures look better. "I do not want one more system under Imperial control, Admiral. I want all systems under our control. If you cannot achieve that goal, I will find someone who can."
"Yes, My Lord," said Ozzel, stiff with fear.
An idiot, thought Vader. To the core. "Leave me, Admiral."
"Yes, My Lord, but... there was something else..."
"Take care not to try my patience, Admiral." Vader paused a moment, debating how far beneath him it would really be to crush this insect just for the pleasure of watching him squirm. He decided to control himself for the moment. "What is it?"
"There is a communication from... a rather surly bounty hunter."
"Boba Fett?" Vader had been waiting for word from that particular bounty hunter for over two months.
"Er, yes, My Lord," said Ozzel, "I believe that was his name."
"You believe?" Vader marveled at the man's stupidity. "There is only one Boba Fett. If you had spoken to him, you'd know who he was."
"It was him, My Lord," said Ozzel, "He awaits your convenience."
"I will speak to him now, on my private system."
"Er... yes, My Lord." Ozzel looked annoyed, perhaps because Vader routinely kept him waiting for upwards of half an hour. He probably felt he deserved better treatment than a mere bounty hunter. "What of the battle?"
"You may conduct the battle as you see fit," said Vader, "Taking care not to displease me."
"Of course, My Lord," said Ozzel. He spun on his heel and strode out.
Vader made his way to the personal holosender in his chamber. Only the Emperor himself had access to Vader's encryption codes. The comm was nearly the safest in the galaxy.
The battered Mandalorian helmet of the man who called himself Boba Fett appeared in a small hologram. "Lord Vader."
"You have kept me waiting for a very long time, bounty hunter. I trust you have something useful to report."
Fett nodded. In his businesslike manner and total disregard for sentiment, Fett reminded Vader much of himself. "I have located the targets. I believe I can bring them to you within the month."
"You would be wise to do exactly that," said Vader. "I am not a patient man, bounty hunter, and I grow weary of your lack of progress."
"I'll deliver them, My Lord," said the bounty hunter, and then added with a touch of bitterness, "No charge."
Vader's implacable black mask revealed no hint of the evil smile that played on his disfigured lips. Fett had conspired with the Prince of Black Sun, a Falleen named Xizor, to carry out a bounty on Vader himself. Vader had made it clear to him exactly how foolhardy that plan was. None stood against the Dark Side, and lived.
"Excellent," said Vader, "And I will consider your debt paid at that time."
Fett's helmet was as inscrutable as Vader's, of course, but the definite impression was of a sneer. "Generous of you."
"Indeed," said Vader, "Report to me again when you have them."
He reached out and turned off the comm. It was a complex plan, and one with no shortage of potential problems. Nevertheless, Vader felt confident in Fett's ability, and in his own planning.
The targets Fett sought would bring Vader the Rebel traitor, Mykel Garreth. Garreth, in turn, would bring Vader to the mysterious Jedi he had felt among Garreth's crew.
All of them together would bring Vader to his son.
Avers turned fifteen degrees to port, dogging a TIE-Advanced that kept switching course in desperate, erratic fashion. After a long chase, she clipped one solar panel, sending the fighter careening off into space. After a moment, the damage being more extensive than it had first seemed, the TIE exploded.
Avers checked her scopes, nodding to herself as she saw what she'd been afraid she'd see. Half of their transports disabled or destroyed, others being hemmed in by the Imperial capitol ships, at least ten of their fourty-eight X-Wing, Y-Wing, and A-Wing fighters already gone. The planet Jerjiador safely in the hands of the Empire.
Why do I get the feeling, she thought, that we wouldn't be having this disaster if Evverd were here?
It was silly on one level, she knew. Rik Evverd, for all his skill, was just one man. The Empire, stung by their incomplete victory at Skor, had hit swiftly and hard. One more fighter pilot would have changed little.
And yet Evverd, like many Corellians, seemed to have a knack for beating the worst odds. His destruction of a Star Destroyer at Skor (The second he'd blown during his tenure on the FREEDOM) had changed the odds and probably saved Rebel lives. A similar feat here would have been a big help.
The bottom line, Avers guessed, was that she'd never know what might have been. She only knew what was real, and the reality of the moment was an Imperial landslide.
She found a new target, a TIE fighter harassing one of their transports, and zeroed in on it. She aced it, but not before it had badly scored the transport's drive section, slowing the ship down and probably thwarting its escape.
Damn, thought Avers. Isn't anything going to go right?
"All ships, this is Narra." Commander Narra of Renegade Squadron was the overall leader for their starfighter force. "We've lost. All transports are ither escaped, destroyed, or under tractor beam. Prepare for the jump to lightspeed."
"We can't just leave them!" said Avers, thinking of the transport she'd just missed saving. "Maybe we can hit the Imperial tractor beams!"
"With what? Slingshots?" Narra's voice was weary. He was a good man, as unused to abandoning comrades as she was. "Our fighters are nearly out of proton torpedoes. We don't have enough to make a dent in a Star Destroyer. And the EXECUTOR is moving in."
Avers checked her scopes. Surely enough, there it was: The giant black wedge of a Super Star Destroyer, moving forward from its enclosure position to go on the offensive against the already haggard Rebel forces.
Avers sighed. "Maverick Squadron, prepare for the jump to lightspeed." To Narra, she said, "I've got a bad feeling that this is only the beginning."
"Don't we all," said the veteran pilot.
The ship had gone to lightspeed, and after a long and exasperating search, Kerri Lynden found Evverd in the pilot's lounge. He sat at the table, nursing a drink of some kind, looking at the stars.
"You're not supposed to be up," she said.
He did not reply for a long time. Just as she was about to repeat herself, he said, "I can't do it anymore."
Her gut reaction was to ask, you can't be in the medbay? But she knew it wasn't about that. "How many sims did you fly?"
"Fourteen," he said, "Fourteen embarrassing simulations. I got the worst scores of my life - the worst scores of anyone's life. I'd know what I wanted to do, but my hands would shake and my fingers wouldn't go where I told them, and I just couldn't do it."
He was remarkably calm, under the circumstances. Kerri's heart ached for him. "Onebee told you it would be like that."
"I know," he said, staring into his drink, "I had to see it."
She sat across from him at the table. "You think getting drunk will help?"
Evverd pointed at the cup. "Non-alcoholic. I don't drink when I'm upset, you know that. Always figured you'd have to be pretty weak to need a chemical to get through your troubles. I've never been weak before."
Kerri took his hand. "How does it feel?"
He snorted. "Lousy."
"I could have told you that," Kerri said, "When I was facing the Emperor, under those sickly, yellow eyes, knowing he could destroy me - or as a child, watching Vader cut down my mother - I know all about feeling helpless. You can't torture yourself about it."
He sighed. "Stop, okay?"
"Stop... being sympathetic. Stop feeling sorry for me. Stop being HERE." He pulled his hand away and stood up.
"Where else would I be?" she said, "I love you."
Dimly, Kerri realized that she'd never technically said that before. Rik had said it, and she'd certainly given the impression that she felt the same, but that was different from saying it aloud.
Their relationship wasn't exactly moving forward at lightspeed.
"At the moment, you do," he said, and crossed to the viewport.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"You remember when we met, Kerri? You were hiding from the Empire and I was some kind of pathetic third mate's ensign's lackey on that freighter?"
"Of course," she said.
Kerri frowned, disconcerted by the change of subject. "You saved my life. When the Empire came, you hid me."
She hesitated, Jedi memory techniques bringing the moments back as clear as if they'd occurred an hour ago. "I don't recall much of anything happening before that. We exchanged a few words..."
"A very few," Evverd agreed.
"...but we weren't exactly hitting it off. What does this have to do with anything?"
"I was twenty-one," Evverd recalled, "I'd been in space since I was sixteen, and I was going nowhere. And when you came, I couldn't even talk to you. I was a loser."
"You were not a loser," Kerri said, "You saved my life."
"Exactly. I saved your life, and it all came together. I realized I couldn't wait around for others to save my tail, I had to take action. I became a hero."
Kerri chuckled. "Well, as long as it hasn't gone to your head."
"Do you know how many lives I've saved, Kerri?"
She shrugged. "Not offhand. A lot."
"A lot," he said, "Two hundred and twelve, in ten years. That's just individuals, not counting the crews of ships I've saved with my flying. Your name is in there fifty-seven times. In eleven years, since we met."
"You actually keep count?" Kerri said with a bit of disbelief.
"Careful count. It's what I live for. It keeps me going in this damn war. The best feeling in the galaxy, knowing someone is alive who wouldn't be if not for you. I live to be a hero."
Keri understood, and stood to join him. "And now, you feel like you can't be one anymore."
"I know I can't," he said, "Oh, sure, I get lucky sometimes, like anyone. But the one thing I'm really good at, the thing I was the best at - and I mean the BEST - was flying. You know, I never admitted this, but I secretly thought I was better than Solo."
"You were," Kerri said with a smile, "But that's a biased opinion."
"Well, now it's gone." He said, "I'm not the best at anything, I'm not a hero - I'm that twenty-one year old loser again."
"And do you really think I'm so shallow," she asked, taking his hand again, "That I'll feel differently about you if you can't save lives?"
"I'LL feel different about me!" he said, pulling away again. He held up his hands, still criss-crossed with burns and synth marks. They shook violently, and he clenched them into fists. "Look at this! Look at my hands! I can't even stop them from shaking! I can't hold a blaster, I couldn't win a fight - I can't do any of the things that made me who I was!"
"Wars don't make one great," Kerri quoted an old Jedi proverb. "Neither does being a good pilot, or any of those other things. Rik Evverd is a good man, and that is where his worth lies."
"Rik Evverd is gone," he said, scarred hands pressed against the viewport, "And I don't know who the hell is here in his place..."
"Rik?" The medbay was darkened, and Jev couldn't see who was on the beds. Even the Onebee was shut down, though it's alert system would wake it immediately if a patient's readings changed.
Jev walked in, still sweaty and dressed in his flight suit. "Rik, I wanted to apologize. I never meant..."
"He's not here," said the human male in one bed, his voice a hoarse whisper. He chuckled. "He snuck out. His command codes got him past the droid."
"Sounds like him," Jev conceded. This man was one of the Rebels Evverd had saved on Cetheron, dressed now in medical robes, with a bacta drip running into his arm. "Are you comfortable? Is there anything I can?"
The man looked up at him, hazel eyes oddly bright in the near-complete darkness. "You're Jedi, aren't you?"
Jev took a step back. "That's silly! How could I..."
"Oh, never fear, never fear," said the man, his breath coming in ragged gasps. "I aspired to that order once. Even studied under a Master, before the dark times. Before the Empire."
"I've never had a master," Jev said, this man's calm gaze putting him strangely at ease, "I know another Jedi, but she won't train me."
"She is probably wise," said the man, "Our kind are not safe in this galaxy. At least she's helping you to hide."
Jev's hand went automatically to the sliver of alien crystal that Kerri had given him. She'd claimed it would shield his effect on the Force.
"Maybe not so well," he muttered, "You felt me..."
"I felt nothing of the kind," said the man with a slight cough. "I felt the crystal. I have one like it, though not of the same type. They... sing when they're together."
Now that Jev concentrated, he could indeed feel the crystal in his hands humming with new power, vibrating as though drawn to the man on the bed.
The man held up a golden disk from around his neck. "They tried to take this from me, but I wouldn't allow it. Embedded in the medallion is a piece of crystal. Purplish in color, were there light to see it. Its powers are different, but it comes from the same source.
Jev frowned. His crystal was clear as ice. And if the power was different... "Then how does it hide you?"
"It doesn't. It doesn't." The man paused, seemingly needing to rest, "My skills are exceedingly minor. I'm not worth Vader's time. I could be, though. That's why I have this."
"What is it?"
The man paused. "Have you ever heard of the kaiburr crystal?"
"Yes," said Jev, "I've been studying up on Jedi lore in the last few months, what I could find. The crystal is said to magnify the Force, to make the Jedi who holds it powerful beyond imagination." (AUTHOR'S NOTE: See the excellent book, SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE, by Alan Dean Foster)
"This crystal is cut from similar stone," said the stocky man. Jev could make out nothing but his general shape in the darkness. "As is yours."
"They come from the same planet?"
"No, no, no," the man stopped, gasped, and continued, "I believe they come from the same origin. Splinters of them, in the form of asteroids, fell to planets throughout the galaxy. The place where they came from..." his breath labored, and he said, "Is at the edge of the galaxy, beyond the Corporate Sector, beyond the Unknown Regions. It is a place many Jedi, including myself, dreamed of finding. And failed."
He stopped for a long moment, catching his breath. Jev noticed that his life signs were down, and wondered why the Onebee hadn't woken up. But he was too transfixed by the story to think anything but, the Onebee would wake if something was wrong...
"Perhaps it will never be found," the man said slowly, "In any case, I found this shard years ago."
"What does it do?" Jev asked.
"It is a force lens, my son. It..." he gagged slightly.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine, fine," the Jedi waved him off, "It will magnify and focus the Force on one target. Like being granted one wish in the old legend. I have tried to focus it on its home world, but that secret was gone. Lost in the past so distant that not even its own could find it. I had thought, when the war was over, I'd use it find a Master and become a true Jedi." He coughed and groaned. "But that seems silly now, a fantasy, and far too late."
He unwrapped the medallion from around his neck and offered it to Jev. After a moment's hesitation, the younger man stepped forward and took it.
"For me?" said Jev.
"Yes and no," the man gasped, voice getting weaker. "I'd ask you to use it for me."
"Why don't you use it?"
The Jedi laughed, and it ended in a coughing fit. "I shall not be here, I'm afraid."
"I'll call the Onebee--"
"No interference!" said the Jedi, more loudly, "My time is done, and that is as it should be. I would make a request of you."
"I..." the Jedi paused for a long moment. "I heard that the man who rescued me was gravely injured."
"Not gravely," said Jev, "But there's some nerve damage."
"Then I'd ask you... take this medallion to him... let the healing energies of the Force flow through you... It binds us together, all that lives... or has lived." The man's eyes closed, and Jev thought he was gone. But in a moment, they opened again. "Take it to my benefactor. Use it to heal him. That is my only gift... my reward for a noble sacrifice."
The man's voice trailed off, but returned to say, "May the Force be with you, brother. Remember... follow the light side... always...
Jev was about to get the Onebee, no matter what the old Jedi said, but suddenly the man seemed to be fading away.
By the time Jev reached the Onebee's alcove, the bed was empty.
Lights and klaxons came in all at once. Life glowed in the medical droid's eyes, and it scurried over at full speed to respond to its emergency call.
It turned on Jev. "Where is the patient?"
"He's...gone..." said Jev, holding the medallion tightly in one hand.
The medical droid made a little sound like an electronic squeal. "This is most irregular..."
Jev had answered a few questions for security, but Chief Okel had no reason to hold the young officer, and no real suspicion that Jev had done away with the missing patient, so he released Jev to his quarters.
With the medallion, which Jev had hidden before security had showed up.
Jev held the medallion in his hands. The easy path, he knew, would be to follow the old Jedi's request. Give the crystal to Evverd, use it to heal his friend. Despite their argument, he liked Evverd a great deal, and owed the man. Jev wanted him to be healed.
And yet... Evverd was only one man. His life was not even in danger. It was only a little nerve damage, after all. Rik would need some adjusting, but he'd be fine.
And when Jev thought of all the goo he could do with that crystal. Use it to wipe out Vader, or the Emperor, or perhaps get them together and use it on them both. End this war, and save millions of lives.
It was something Jev would have to give a great deal of thought to.
His door buzzed, and Jev said, "Yes?"
Jev hid the medallion under his pillow and opened the door. "What can I do for you, Commander?"
"I felt a disturbance in the Force. Is everything all right?"
"I'm fine," said Jev, "You felt the death of a Jedi. Well, almost a Jedi. The man Rik saved was some kind of failed Apprentice."
"Really?" Kerri said, "But I had the strangest feeling..." Kerri's hand went to the alien crystal she wore around her neck. She stroked it for a moment, eyes closed in concentration.
Before Jev could react, she had reached the bed and taken the medallion. "What is this?"
"Something belonging to the old man," said Jev, "An heirloom. He wanted me to have it."
"Um..." Jev knew she would disapprove of his plan. Her feelings for Evverd would blind her to what had to be done."He felt I was Jedi. Not everyone thinks I'm untrainable."
Kerri held the medallion close. "This is a Jedi artifact of great power."
"Is it?" said Jev, and reached out to snatch it away from her. "Well, good. It's mine."
"Why do you want it so badly?" Kerri asked, eyes dark with suspicion.
"Well, if I give it to you, you might decide I'm unworthy of it." Jev tried to sway the argument to the familiar path of his Jedi abilities, hoping to distract her.
Kerri was not easily swayed. "I think there's more than that?"
"Your feelings betray you," Kerri said, concentrating again. "I feel your guilt and worry. You think you're about to betray a friend."
"Evverd." Her eyes snapped back to him, full of anger now. "That thing can heal Rik, and you don't want to do it."
"It's not that," he protested, "I want to. But there are so many other things..."
"Like destroying the Empire," said Kerri dryly.
"For a start!" Jev stepped back, trying to put as much distance between her and the medallion as he could. "We could end this war!"
"And get revenge," said Kerri, "No Jedi would choose death over life, Jev. You're listening to the dark side again."
"I'm not!" He protested, "I'm talking about saving lives! We got our tails kicked in today - that doesn't have to happen again! Without its leaders, the Empire would fall apart!"
"And you're willing to sacrifice a friend?" Kerri said, somewhat shocked. "For what YOU believe is the proper course?"
"Rik will be fine," said Jev, "It's just a little..."
"Nerve damage, I know." Kerri looked down. "You don't understand Rik Evverd. This will kill him. It's not right for you to let him suffer when you can heal him!"
"You're letting your emotions cloud your judgment," he said.
"So are you! Honestly, Jev, it is time for you to let go of your anger! Anyone would want revenge after Alderaan, but this is an obsession, and it's destroying you!"
Jev hesitated. "I have to do this..."
"You don't," she said, and her hand fell on her lightsaber. "Give me the medallion, Jev. Or I will take it."
"A Jedi acts for knowledge and defense," he parroted at her, "Never for attack."
"You know what?" she said angrily, "Even a Jedi gets fed up with beating her head against a wall. Choose right now, Jev. Light side or dark."
"Whose to say which is which?" said Jev. "The medallion is mine."
Kerri drew her lightsaber and lit its deep orange blade. "Don't make me do this."
From the corridor, a dozen alert klaxons blared. "All hands, report to battlestations! We have been jumped by the Empire at our rendezvous point! This is not a drill! All pilots to your stations!"
Kerri's saber hissed off. "We'll settle this later," she told Jev, "But we will settle it."
"Count on it," he told her, and hurried off towards the hangar bay.
Jev reached the hangar to find it bustling with pilots and crews from Maverick and Rascal squadron, both of which were stationed on the FREEDOM. But the X-Wing he searched for was nowhere to be found.
"Deck officer!" he called to a towheaded woman about his own age, "I'm Lieutenant Parrak, Maverick Three. Where's my fighter?"
"That fighter is accounted for," said the deck officer, "It's already launched."
"On whose authority?"
The deck officer frowned. "The man who took it out, of course. Commander Evverd."
The ship rumbled under Jev's feet as some TIE pilot scored a close hit.
"He wouldn't..." said Jev.
Unfortunately, he knew all too well that the other man would.
Continued in Episode 12
R. John Burke