STAR WARS: FREEDOM'S Price Episode Eleven
DESCRIPTION: Evverd and Garreth are on Corellia, Taryn and Lando are on Tattooine, and the events of ROTJ grow nearer.
NOTICE: STAR WARS, stahr warz, n. 1) A motion picture belonging to Lucasfilm, Ltd. All fan fiction stories, like this one, are subject to that copyright, and must be not for sale, as this is not. 2) A strategic defense platform. SEE ALSO: EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI, PREQUELS.
"Long time, Taryn. Been a real long time."
Should've been longer, Taryn Clancee thought at the Durosian bounty hunter who had met her at the door of Jabba the Hutt's Mos Eisley palace. "Hey, Xoroc. Have you met my friend?"
Xoroc Ango stared at the man in the primitive merc's helmet with his large, red eyes. "Don't I know you?"
"Not that I know of." The man, at least as far as Xoroc could see beneath the helmet, was a dark-skinned humanoid. But humans all looked alike to Xoroc. "My name is Tamtel Skreej. I'm a Torollian hunter. I've come here to hunt for the best."
"Ahhh..." said Xoroc cannily. "You seek employment with the Hutt."
"If he'll have me," said Tamtel.
Xoroc sized him up for a moment. "You're gonna love the entrance exam," he said, and left.
The man beneath the mask leaned over to whisper in Taryn's ear. "Entrance exam? I don't like the sound of that."
"It'll be all right," she told him. "You're pretty tough, right, Calrissian?"
Lando Calrissian, disguised to enter Jabba's Palace, sighed. "When I have to be. I prefer to use my brain rather than my brawn."
"You'll handle it," said Taryn. "Come on."
Their turn came, and Taryn stepped in front of the sluglike gangster known as Jabba the Hutt. Jabba's really been hitting the snack drawer in the last few years, Taryn thought. When she'd last seen him, a couple years ago, the Hutt crime lord had still been lean enough to move under his own power. Now, having gone through a Hutt "growth spurt," there was slim chance of that.
"Taryn Clancee," he said, "Wonderful to see you, child. Why have you stayed away so long?"
A tall woman with sandy-blonde hair, Taryn had spent several years as a spice smuggler for the Hutt. Jabba pretended to like her, at least, though it certainly wasn't mutual.
"Maybe because you failed me the last time, Jabba. I asked for information on one little Imperial conscript, and you screwed it up."
"My apologies," the Hutt boomed, "For that, I'll give you a ten-percent the next time. We have you come?"
"I've acquired a ship, Jabba. A YT-1700 freighter. Real beauty. She's already rigged for smuggling, and I've got a few special modifications in mind. It'll take me a few months to get her up to specs, but when she is, I wonder if you'd be interested..."
Jabba's red eyes bulged from their sockets. Disgusting as he was, the Hutt was not stupid. Taryn had been one of his best smugglers in the old days, and he'd been after her to return to the trade for years.
Then the eyes narrowed. "How much?"
"Jabba, you insult me. Talking about money right off. Just for that, I might consider the offer from Durga..."
"Durga!" Jabba howled, and smashed a nearby droid hard enough to topple the poor thing. The audience chamber became quiet. "Durga is a fool and a fraud! While he struggles picking up the scattered pieces of Black Sun, I..."
"Jabba, Jabba, calm down." Taryn held up her hands in a conciliatory gesture. "It was just an offer. I know who the most powerful Hutt is. But... there is one thing you could do... to secure my services..."
"Name it," said the Hutt with an expansive gesture that almost flattened Salacious Crumb, his court jester.
Taryn nodded to Lando, and he stepped forward. "You could hire my pal here. His name is Tamtel Skreej, and he is an excellent hunter of the Torollian tribe. I know you've been looking for bodyguards..."
Jabba frowned. Hopefully, he'd already read the reports on Tamtel's notorious exploits that she and Lando had been planting. "He's not very intimidating."
"Oh, no?" said Taryn, "Watch this." She held a sabacc card-chip high in the air, so everyone could inspect it and see that it was whole. "Tamtel, do your stuff."
She tossed the chip in the air. Lando's blaster was in his hand in a moment. A shot fired at the chip at it fell.
Taryn trotted over and recovered the chip. She held it up, to show that it now had a hole directly through the center. "Impressed?"
Jabba looked from her to the "Torollian" a few times, and Taryn waited expectantly. I hope he didn't see me palm that first card-chip, she thought...
The Hutt laughed, a booming, raucous sound. "Wonderful! Wonderful! Skreej, you're hired! Assuming you pass the entrance exam."
"Entrance exam?" said Lando, "What..."
Jabba touched a button near his pedestal, and Lando fell through a trapdoor in the room's center. He screamed all the way down, and landed with a thud.
"This was NOT part of the deal!" Lando called.
For a moment, Taryn was afraid that Jabba would loose the rancor on him, but instead the Hutt touched a different switch. Taryn watched through the grating as three of Jabba's piglike Gammorrean guards came running into the battle ring, force pikes at the ready.
"Whoa! WHOA!" Lando called, "There's been a serious mistake somewhere!"
Taryn frowned up at Jabba. "Three Gammorreans? Last I heard, the entrance exam only included ONE Gammorrean."
Jabba shrugged. "They're expendable..."
Lando Calrissian glanced up, shooting Taryn the most evil look she'd ever gotten in her life. Then he turned his attention to the three guards, who were already advancing on him...
The glittering lights of Treasure Ship Row blinked all around Mykel Garreth, and he breathed the spicy evening air with satisfaction. This was the kind of thing he didn't do enough. Actually walk on the planets he was defending, see the sights. Enjoy himself.
Beside him, Colonel Rik Evverd was grinning like a Wookiee child on Life Day. Garreth smiled at him. "Happy to be home, Mister Evverd?"
"I haven't been here since I was sixteen," said Evverd, "That was the night before I left Corellia, and I was trying to get into a little trouble... Damn, I wish Kerri was here."
Evverd's wife, Kerri, was the captain of a Rebel frigate with a broken hyperdrive. She'd stayed behind to supervise repairs.
Garreth turned to the third member of their party, a short woman with dark skin and even darker tied-back hair named Sedra Covell. "Which way now?"
"Bel Iblis' contact said the same place I met Irenez last time... that would be a warehouse on the Fifth Strip."
Rik Evverd was taller than Covell with skin just slightly lighter, though still chocolate in tone. He wore a battered jacket with rank patch removed. "There are about a thousand warehouses on the Fifth Strip. And they all look alike."
"Don't worry," said Covell, though she didn't sound certain, "I have an excellent memory."
"Hey, buddy - want to try your luck?" A diminutive Chadra Fan merchant stood behind a glittering holo-plink booth. Garreth was about to shake his head no, but Evverd's face lit up.
"I used to be pretty good at this," he said, "I'll give it a shot." He placed a coin down at the table and surveyed the booth. It contained a dozen sections, indicated by different flashing lights, each with a slightly different gravity field or repulsor strength. The object was to throw a small disk so it would skate past the various pulls and pushes into the zero-grav field at the back of the display, where it would float up and touch a sensor than lit to read "WINNER" in Corellian.
he Chadra Fan slapped three palm-sized disks on the booth's countertop. Evverd picked up the first, snapped his wrist, and sent it caroming off a wall deflector - right into a 4G environment, where it fell and was crushed into sand.
"Oh! LOSER!" said the Chadra-Fan, "Be careful, buddy - I can't afford to have too many of those crushed."
Evverd grunted, and threw the second. It faired somewhat better, plinking up in a repulsor column, then floating down in a 0.5G sector, then being yanked towards another deflector, before a powerful repulsor-sector sent it shooting skyward, to fall who-knew-where.
"Oooh! LOOK OUT BELOW!" The Chadra Fan was having great fun. "I guess humans really do have terrible hand-eye coordination! One more chance!"
Evverd's eyes narrowed - he was clearly taking this game far more seriously than the entire Rebellion against the Empire. He flicked off a lightning-fast shot that plinked off three deflectors, past two repulsors and four grav-fields, and landed soundly in the middle of the null-grav area. It began to float upwards...
And suddenly shifted over half a meter, falling into a 2G environment with a thud.
"Oh! Loser! Better luck next time!"
"Better luck..." The infuriated colonel grabbed the Chadra Fan by the collar. "It was right there! How do you explain that, buddy?"
The Chadra Fan chittered nervously. "Err... sudden gust of wind?"
"Sudden gust, nothing! You got a micro-tractor beam back there! I want my money back!" To emphasize his point, Evverd lifted the Chadra Fan clear off his feet.
The alien laughed nervously. "Sorry. All sales final."
"I'll show you final, you little twerp!"
Garreth groaned. "Mister Evverd, let it go."
"Let it GO? The runt cheated me!"
Evverd's last word was obscured by a roar, as a huge, brown and black Wookiee charged around a corner, heading for the Corellian.
"This is my friend, Chuunmaar," said the Chadra Fan, only a little smugly, "Perhaps you'd like to explain to him how you were cheated."
Evverd dropped the little alien like he was diseased and backed off as the irate Wookiee charged. The huge alien, however, had a full head of steam, and tripped into the booth, flying through the gravity fields until he reached the null-grav area. He floated up, his shaggy head touching the sensor plate. The "WINNER" light engaged.
A voice from the side laughed. "I'd say that entitles Evverd to a prize, wouldn't you, Brak?"
The fuzzy little Chadra-Fan groaned. "Yeah, I guess so. Pick whatever you want." He ran to his control bank, attempting to free the Wookiee.
Garreth glanced at the man who had spoken. A medium-sized man with ice-blue eyes and a goatee, he had a piratical air about him, and spoke in cultures tones. Garreth didn't recognize him.
Evverd, quite obviously, did. "Karrde? What's an old spacedog like you doing in this port?"
Karrde stepped forward. "Growing rich off the income from ships you helped me buy. Greetings, Evverd. Or should I say, Colonel Evverd?"
Evverd glanced down, confirmed that his rank patch was indeed gone, and frowned at the other. Information on Rebel officers was not supposed to be public knowledge.
"How'd you... forget it. I don't wanna know."
"Indeed you don't," Karrde agreed. "So why don't you pick your prize, and we'll have a little chat?"
Evverd grabbed something from the prize box, then hurried off before Brak could get the Wookiee down. Soon the four of them were cruising Treasure Ship Row.
"Myke, why don't you go on ahead?" said Evverd, "I can talk to Karrde..."
"And then skip the rest of the mission, thus avoiding your father." Admiral Mykel Garreth smiled. Captain Rasir Evverd was a member of Garm Bel Iblis' private force here on Corellia. He and his son were not on the best of terms.
"Go," said Garreth finally, "Get out! At least we won't have any more Wookiees charging after us. Go on!"
Evverd nodded to his commanding officer. He and Karrde went off in the other direction.
Garreth looked to Covell. "Which way to Strip Five?"
"So what's up, Karrde?" Evverd asked. "What's your business this time?"
"Evverd, I'm hurt. Can't a man just chat with an old friend?"
Rik Evverd groaned as they walked. "Not when one of the men is you, Karrde. It's always about business. Now, what is it?"
Karrde scratched at his goatee. "Actually, this is good news for you. I realize that we're all settled up from that Kashyyyk incident..." Karrde referred to a time, two years ago, when the Corellian had borrowed his ship for a dangerous mission into Imperial space. In return, Karrde had pocketed a sizable sum of cash, which he'd used to start his smuggling fleet. "...but the deal worked out so well for me that I feel rather indebted to you."
Evverd grunted. "That's nice. One of your ships already helped me out at Bespin."
"That'll be Torve," said the smuggler, "He can be a soft touch. Still, I wanted to give you first crack at this..." He held up a datadot. Evverd peered at it, saw no special significance.
"What is it?"
Karrde smiled. "It's the Imperial slave ship schedule for the next three months. Every slave held by the Empire who is scheduled to be transferred during that time is in here. You'll know who, when, and where. Might be an excellent recruiting tool."
Evverd nodded, eyes brightening with excitement. Half of the Alliance's alien personnel had been limited from the ranks of slaves.
"Yeah," he said casually, "We might be interested... at the right price."
Karrde laughed. "Not much of a sabacc player, are you? The eyes give you away."
Evverd's lip twitched. "I'm a good sabacc player. Not everyone's as observant as you."
"Their loss, obviously."
The Corellian shifted his gaze at the other man, who had palmed the datadot as though it were nothing and now walked, staring at nothing in particular. Karrde was good - Evverd had to admit that. "How much?"
"Since we're old friends, and I'm in your debt... let's say half its fair value."
"That's a dirty trick," said Evverd, "Stuff like that has no list price. You'll give it to me at half value, but it's YOU setting the value."
"Of course," said Karrde with a chuckle, "Were you under the impression I was running a charity?"
Evverd groaned. "I'm about to get scalped, aren't I?"
"Don't take it so hard, Colonel... I could ask you to pay my full price."
Karrde considered that. "Infinity."
"Great. What's half of infinity?"
The information broker favored Evverd with as sincere a smile as he ever showed. "A lot."
The red-haired dancer performed her act with an expression approaching disgust, and Taryn didn't blame her. Dancers of Jabba the Hutt had a notoriously high mortality rate. Still... there was something about this woman that said that even Jabba would be wise not to mess with her.
Lando seemed to appreciate the show. "Not bad."
"Get your eyes back in your head, Calrissian. You're lucky to be alive."
The gambler favored his broken right arm, as Taryn tried to apply the bacta press at their corner table. "I thought you'd be busy complimenting me on my grace and style."
Taryn groaned. "Finding a way to open the rancor cage may have been clever, but shooting the Gammorreans while they were running away..."
Lando shrugged. "It's a better fate than the rancor would have given them."
Taryn eyed him critically. "You're just lucky Jabba enjoyed the show. He usually leaves people down there to get eaten."
"I have nothing, if not style," said Lando with a flourish.
Taryn's eyes were on the dancer. She was trying to think of what she was reminded of... "You recognize her at all?"
Lando shrugged. "No. Why?"
"No reason. She just seems...out of place here. Like a lady that means business. Not one of Jabba's dancers."
"I wouldn't..." Lando trailed off. The atmosphere around them had just gotten fifteen degrees cooler, and they both looked up to see a figure in blue-and-gray armor.
"Hello, Clancee," said Boba Fett.
"Hey, Fett. Kill any good innocents lately?"
Fett ignored the remark. "Skreej. Quite a show."
Taryn winced, but when Lando spoke, it was with a surprisingly different voice - much more nasal than usual. Unrecognizable as Lando Calrissian's.
"Thank you," he said, "Jabba seemed to..."
"Some would call it cowardly, shooting fleeing men in the back."
"The odds were three-to-one," Lando protested, "I had to do something."
"I would have thought a Torollian hunter would prefer dying with honor to such a display... incidentally, what IS a Torollian hunter?"
"A hunter," Lando said patiently, "From the planet Torol."
"I've never heard of that place," said Fett, "And I've been everywhere."
"We're way out in the Unknown Regions," said Lando.
Fett cocked his head, fabled helmet staring them down. "And yet you speak Basic so beautifully."
"It's a talent of mine," said the fake mercenary. "I pick up languages quickly. Would you like to hear my Sullustan?"
"Unnecessary," said Fett after a moment, "I also have been hired as Jabba's bodyguard."
"Really? Then I guess we'll be co-workers."
Fett leaned close, his breathing filtered through his Mandalorian mask. "You remind me someone I don't like. Watch out for friendly fire."
With that, the bounty hunter straightened, turned, and started to move off. "Oh, and Clancee... tell your friend Evverd I'm still going to kill him."
"Got it," said Taryn. She watched as Fett moved away.
When he was well out of earshot, Lando hissed. "He is going to be trouble."
Taryn scowled at her colleague. "I told you we should have picked a warrior race that actually existed!"
Lando watched the hunter's back. There was little, if any, love lost between the two. "Let him try to prove that Torol doesn't exist. You can't prove a negative."
"No," said Taryn after a moment, "But you can kill a positive."
"I don't know what that means," said Lando, "But it gives me a really bad feeling..."
Garreth and Covell were met in the warehouse by one of Bel Iblis' aides, and led from there through a secret entrance to the underground headquarters of the Corellian resistance. It was there, as he was shepherded into a run-down but serviceable meeting chamber, that Garreth encountered the legendary and regal General and Senator from Corellia, Garm Bel Iblis.
And yet his eyes were not held by the general, but by two very unexpected persons with the general.
The first was a Bothan with creamy fur and violet eyes, whom Garreth recognized as the powerful and influential Bothan resistance leader, Borsk Fey'lya.
The second was Garreth's own daughter.
Trina Garreth, a compactly-built young woman of twenty-seven, combined long, dark hair of the same color her father's had been with the sparkling green eyes of her mother. Garreth had known she was working as an aide to the Bothans - in fact, she had been influential in bringing Fey'lya's faction into the Alliance a few years back. But he hadn't expected her to be here.
In fact, though their relations had improved dramatically in the last few years, to the point where she actually called once in a while, he hadn't rally expected to see her in person at all. At least, not for some time.
Fey'lya's fur rippled, a Bothan expression that Garreth found exceedingly smug. "What a happy family reunion. We expected Mon Mothma to send you, Admiral, which is why I thought it best to bring your daughter. In the hopes of reconciling..."
Garreth had no use for Bothan smarm. "You brought my daughter in the hopes of manipulating me. Into what, I'm not certain, but I'm sure you're going to tell me, so let's get started."
Bel Iblis spoke. His tone indicated that he didn't like Fey'lya much either. "Very well, Admiral. First let me say how pleased I was when you joined the Alliance. I always thought you were too honorable for the Imperial Fleet."
"Thank you, Senator." The words had the ring of sincerity, and praise from one such as Garm Bel Iblis was not to be overlooked. Still, he couldn't keep the bite out of his tone. "I'd like to say I was pleased when you joined the Alliance... except, of course, that you didn't join. You defected."
"My reasons for splitting from the main Rebel Alliance are my own, Admiral." Bel Iblis' tone was unruffled and firm. "What's important is that we are all of the same side here."
"Well put, General," said Fey'lya with another ripple.
Bel Iblis shot him a glance. "Forgive me, Fey'lya, but when you agree with me, I'm seized by the sudden urge to change my position."
Fey'lya glowered at him. "You would be nothing without my aid."
"My gratitude for past services is one of the reasons I'm helping you now," said Bel Iblis, "But kindly let me speak for myself."
Garreth caught something smoldering in his daughter's eyes, and suddenly realized that the room's dislike for Fey'lya was not unanimous. He decided to change the subject. "The topic of discussion was supposed to be your reunification with the Alliance."
Bel Iblis sighed. "I'm afraid not, Admiral. My reasons for leaving remain."
Sedra Covell sounded as unhappy as Garreth felt. "But you agreed to a meeting!"
"For the purpose of getting you here," said the Corellian. "You see, Admiral...we have a problem."
"That's right," said the general. "Tell him, Fey'lya."
The Bothan was still petulant. "I recall your saying you could speak for yourself."
"I can do MY talking. This one's yours. Tell him."
The Bothan suddenly seemed to find the tabletop fascinating, and Garreth knew the coming news would be very bad. When at last he looked up, Fey'lya's anger was gone, replaced by something almost...sincere. "You are no doubt aware, Admiral, of the secret communique intercepted by Bothan spies quite recently?"
Garreth was indeed. Many Bothans had died engaging the freighter SUPROSA during the whole Black Sun incident involving Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. Their technicians were still working on the encrypt, but what they had so far suggested that the Empire was secretly building a new Death Star - more powerful than the last. The information was not common knowledge yet, but it was a topic of some concern with the Alliance High Command.
"Yes," said Garreth, "Your people's finest hour."
"Perhaps," said Fey'lya, "And perhaps not."
The admiral frowned, but it was Sedra Covell who spoke. "Meaning what?"
"Meaning that we want your word that you will share nothing you hear at this table with anyone," said Trina Garreth, "That includes Mon Mothma herself."
"I can't promise that," said Garreth. "I'm no cloak-and-dagger operative. I'll report to my superiors what they need to know."
"Of course you will, captain," said Fey'lya, "And your lovely daughter was mistaken, of course, about your keeping silent to Mon Mothma."
Trina's surprised glance said that she didn't think she was mistaken at all, but the Bothan continued, "We would merely ask that this information be kept in the strictest possible confidence."
"And that my involvement be kept out of it totally," said Bel Iblis.
Garreth hesitated. "Perhaps I should know what we're discussing before I make any promises."
"A wise man, indeed," said Fey'lya. "I will be blunt: It has come to our attention that certain aspects of our captured information may not be worthy of the highest confidence level."
"Translation," said Covell wryly, "You might have risked your lives for garbage."
"Correct," said Fey'lya, though he showed irritation. "I am not at liberty to say how I know, but there is a slight chance that the data we Bothans obtained was compromised. The Empire may be aware that we stole it."
"I see," said Garreth. "What do want me to do?"
"What we're proposing, Dad - Admiral, is simple. We want to send a small insertion team back into Imperial space to verify that what the Emperor knows that we know."
The senior Garreth frowned. "Can you replay that?"
Ever-helpful, Covell said, "They want to make sure they haven't been duped. And they want to keep it quiet, so the Bothans don't look like bunglers to the rest of the Alliance."
"You have the authority to authorize such a mission," said Trina, "We're trying to make sure we don't walk into an Imperial trap."
Garreth looked to Bel Iblis. "General?"
The Corellian shrugged. "All I know is what I just heard. In fact, I'm not even here. I died at Anchoron, remember?"
Garreth made a little grunting sound. "Right. Fey'lya?"
"It is as she said it. The Alliance is even now making plans to assemble, perhaps at Sullust. At that assembly, we will decide what to do about the new Death Star. If we have not confirmed the veracity of this information by then, it could be disastrous."
"That's a short deadline," said Garreth. "What if your team can't find out anything, one way or another, by then?"
"Then I advise you to go with what you have," said Bel Iblis quietly, "Your Alliance won't get two shots at that Death Star."
"Help from a dead guy," said Covell, "Yeah, we need this..."
Garreth help up a hand. Despite his dislike for Fey'lya, this was serious. "I'll brief Mon Mothma. We'll see what we can do. But if that information is compromised, you'll look like a fool, Fey'lya."
"Not if we keep it quiet," said the Bothan, "Which is exactly what I propose we do."
A LAMBA-class shuttle floated into the docking bay of the Emperor Palpatine's monstrous skyhook, a satellite in orbit of the Imperial Center. As its ramp descended, hundreds of white-armored stormtroopers snapped to attention. Striding down the middle of their two rows to greet the shuttle was a tall human in a Grand Admiral's uniform.
He had a lined face, a perpetual scowl, and a droid eye. He was old, having served as the Emperor's right hand in the earliest days of the New Order. At one time, he had held favor even above the Grand Moff Tarkin's.
Perhaps even Lord Vader had not enjoyed such influence at the time.
Now he was semi-retired, stationed near Coruscant so that the Emperor could take advantage of his skills without risking him on field duty he was no longer capable of, but his men still trembled as he walked past.
He was Screed, Senior Grand Admiral of the Imperial Fleet, and he was a legend.
He was tall, about the same height as the cloaked figure that descended from the ramp. Despite the aura of power that proceeded from the man, Screed showed no fear. In fact his voice held annoyance at having to display such respect for one so young.
"Lord Parrak, your presence honors us." He fell into step beside the young man. "I am told you've made an impression on the Emperor."
The young man's manner was arrogant, but to Screed it seemed like mostly bluster - to cover fear, perhaps? "Impressions don't concern me, Admiral. Results do. In the cargo hold you'll find the means to crush one of the last Jedi."
"What have you got in there?" Screed asked, "A Death Star?" He was old enough to get away with some dry sarcasm, and call it character.
"No. Just two Twi'lek dancers."
Screed frowned. "Slave girls? You said this was a military operation, Lord Parrak."
"So it is," said the cloaked young man as they departed the hangar. "The bait is here on the Emperor's Skyhook. The line extends as far as Corellia."
Screed's droid eye whirred, as though he could re-focus the words into sensible order. "I don't follow, my lord."
"You will," said the much younger man, "In time, everything will become clear..."
Continued in Episode 12
R. John Burke