Added July 31, 1999
Category: Science Fiction/Star Wars
Author: R.John Burke


In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Sixteen

DESCRIPTION: The wrap-up for the whole darn thing.

NOTICE: Star Wars characters and situations herein are Copyright Lucasfilm. this is just fan fiction, not in any way for sale.

The OUTRIDER did a flyby, verifying that the hulk of metal and slag now in orbit had indeed once been the Star Destroyer RETRIBUTION. Locked in a decaying orbit of a planet that would likely disappear again soon, it would become a relic, adrift in space for scavs and salvage teams to deal with.

Dash Rendar shook his head. "I still don't get it, pal. How'd you blow the whole Star Destroyer?"

"I set the engines for scatter-detonation, plus I loaded all her concussion missiles right next to the engine core, so she'd make a nice, loud bang." Rik Evverd, a wiry Corellian man not yet forty, looked insufferably pleased with himself. Actually, he had that look often.

"I dunno," said Rendar. "If it was me, I'd have just outrun the TIE's."

"There wasn't time," Evverd said. "If we'd come a second later, the kid was toast."

"He knows it, too," Jev said, coming forward into the cockpit. "Thank you, Rik. I've already said it to Kerri, but..."

"Hey," said Evverd, "I know I'm destined to spend the rest of my life saving Jedi from themselves."

"Still..." Dash sighed sympathetically. "Losing your ship..."

"It's no big deal," Evverd said. "I never could find a copilot for her anyway. I figure I'll go back to X-Wings. For those, I've already got the best droid copilot in the galaxy."

R2-B0 bleeped happily from where he stood behind Evverd's chair, tottering from foot to foot.

Jev laughed. "He can't wait, I think."

"Me neither," Evverd confessed. "I've missed you, pal."

Bo hooted like a nerf puppy, then rolled forward to allow Evverd to pat his dome.

Dash Rendar still looked unhappy. "Poor Welden. He advanced me ten thousand credits on his job in return for half of my cut. He'll get half of nothing."

"No, he won't," Jev said, "Dash, we took out Bronn. The Mon Calamari have a bounty on him, remember? A big one. You'll both make a nice profit on this run, probably enough to fix Welden's ship."

Evverd stood from the controls. "Listen, I haven't had a chance to really sit down with my family in ages. Why don't you take over, kid?"

Jev slid into the copilot's seat. As Evverd left, he tossed over his shoulder, "Anytime you need a last- second rescue, you know who to call."

The door slid shut, and Dash Rendar yawned, a massive, exhausted exhalation of breath. "So, what's next on your schedule, kid?"

"Actually, I've been thinking about that. I'm returning to Tra'Donta. Kum Didi and his people have a lot of work ahead of them. It's as good a place as any to start my career as a Jedi."

"Good," Dash grinned. "I knew you'd make it, kid."

"Sure you did," Jev said, deadpan. "They... could use star pilots, too..."

Dash quirked an eyebrow. "What's it pay?"

"It pays in a feeling of self-worth and cosmic happiness."

The redheaded smuggler raised his hand, about to make a dismissive gesture. Then he dropped the hand, and sighed. "We'll talk about it..."

Several hours after it had begun, the Battle of Bilbringi was in the history books. Thanks to unexpected help from a group of smugglers led by Talon Karrde's people, the Republic had won the day, as an Imperial trap had quickly turned into a Republic route.

Mykel Garreth found himself uninterested by the events of the battle, instead reading over and over a simple text message he'd received on his personal comm.

It was from Rukh, clan Bakh'vir, and it consisted of three words: THRAWN IS DEAD.

Garreth had no doubt that the Noghri warrior was dead too, hunted down by Imperial security, but he'd died a good death. He'd volunteered for a suicide mission to stop the betrayer of his people. The Noghri were a part of the New Republic now. Gilad Pellaeon and his forces were running scared, and Garreth suspected the tide would turn quickly without Thrawn's genius. And still he came back to those three words.

And wondered what he'd become in the past months.

The door slid open, revealing Okel, Sedra Covell, and Gaar. "Yes? What is it?"

"Admiral..." Covell stepped forward. "Kris Narr pulled this off the FREEDOM's wall, and, well...we all agreed that you should have it."

Garreth accepted a polished metal plaque from her, engraved with Basic script. He read again the words he knew well:

-- Bail Organa

He smiled. "This means a great deal. Thank you."

Gaar rumbled. "We fought well today. Your crippling of the DEATH'S HEAD doubtlessly saved lives..."

The admiral almost laughed. These people ought to be joining the rest of the fleet in celebration, and here they were, trying to make him feel better.

"Scat, all of you!" he said, pulling himself to some semblance of attention. "I mean it, go enjoy yourselves. Orders."

Sedra Covell frowned. "I... don't feel much like it. I just got word. My father died on Wayland... apparently that Dark Jedi bent his mind..."

Garreth closed his eyes briefly. He knew that Sedra and her father were not close--how could they be, on opposite sides of the war?--but still... "If there's anything I can do..."

"You've done it, sir." She extended her hand. "I still remember meeting the great Captain Garreth when I was a little girl. I never told you, but I could see that serving the Empire hurt you. The things you did, you didn't enjoy. You inspired me to join the Rebellion, sir. And since then...well, it's been an experience. My father is gone, and I'm sorry about that. But my family is here."

Garreth stood and, instead of accepting the hand, surprised Sedra Covell greatly by hugging her. "Go, Captain. Try to have fun. I mean it."

"Sir, I understand that Captain Lumas is up for promotion. I was wondering if the GUARDIAN needs a new captain?"

Garreth smiled thinly. "We'll talk about it."

He reached forward to scratch Gaar's chest. The Wookiee hooted appreciatively, and allowed Sedra to lead him out into the corridor, towards the ongoing party.

Only Okel remained. "Your Knights all returned. Albeit without their steed..."

The admiral smoothed his gray hair, and laughed. Then his expression sobered. "Thrawn is dead."

"I gathered as much. Are you glad?"

"I..." Mykel Garreth sat back down, and for the first time in his life, put his feet up on his desk. "I don't know. It was stupid of me, allowing him to get under my skin. I made it personal. I thought I could outwit him, and allowed myself to get drawn into the Bilbringi trap. He attacked the FREEDOM because of me." Garreth sighed. "I've made a mess of the whole thing."

"I do not think so," Okel said. "We did win at Bilbringi. Few lives were lost on the FREEDOM. On balance, you saved more lives than you lost."

"Then why do I feel like everything that's happened is my fault?"

"Because you're a good man," Okel said, "And the best Admiral in the fleet--and I say that knowing that my fellow Calamarians would be scandalized. You will find balance again, Mykel."

Garreth stared at the pad containing news of Thrawn's death, and cleared it. "You think so?"

"Yes." His large eyes held humor. "Perhaps if you return to that Ukian farm..."

"Oh, no, Chief." Garreth stood, and straightened his dress uniform. "You're not getting rid of me that easily."

The scarred Calamarian actually looked surprised. "You are not retiring again?"

Garreth crossed to the wall, found a place for the FREEDOM's plaque, and hung it. He studied it intently for a moment, then nodded to himself and moved away. "Not just yet, Chief. I'll retire when I'm old."

He joined Okel near the doorway. "You will tell me when I'm old, won't you?"

"You will be the first to know," said Okel, and they left the office together.

"Very impressive," said the blonde man with the black- gloved hand. Kerri still had to smile at the way Amber looked at Luke Skywalker. But then, Amber hadn't known him when he was still an impressionable kid from Tattooine like herself. "You are clearly talented in the Force."

"Thank you, Jedi Skywalker."

The blond man grinned. "Just call me Luke. You know, I'm thinking of setting up an Academy for people like you. Would you be interested in becoming a Jedi?"

Amber's cheeks turned red. She glanced over at the tall, bearded man she'd entered with. "I think I'm already becoming a Jedi. I've got a good teacher."

Jev returned her glance, and that exchanged look made Kerri wonder if there was a reason they'd chosen to stay together beyond mutual respect.

The moment passed, and Luke said, "I guess I can't convince you to stay, either?"

Jev shrugged. "The P'w'eck need me. A Jedi does go where he's needed, doesn't he?"

"He does," Luke said with a nod. He extended his gloved hand for Jev to shake. "Take care of yourself, Jev. Don't steal any lightsabers..."

Jev laughed at the private joke, then crossed to Kerri. "You taught me how to be a Knight," he said. "I don't really expect your full forgiveness, but.."

Kerri hugged Jev, and kissed him on the forehead. "Keep in touch, fellow Jedi."

Jev grinned like a kid - which in many ways, he still was. He linked hands with Amber, and together they left the Imperial Palace, heading for the OUTRIDER, and Ssi-ruuvi space.

Luke steepled his hands in front of his face. "Was there something more, Kerri?"

"Yes. I understand you'll be tutoring Mara Jade?"

"That's right," Luke said. "She wants to become a Jedi, and renounce the Dark Side."

"Would you give her a message for me? Tell her I said thank you for the skyhook. She'll understand."

The young Jedi Knight frowned. "You could tell her yourself... if you were to help me train her."

Kerri shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not ready to train Jedi, Luke. Maybe you are. Maybe it falls to you to re-establish the Order. And that's for the best. I want you to know... I really am glad you're doing this work. Some of the things I said to you before were said out of fear."

"And fear is from the Dark Side," Luke finished.

"Right," Kerri said, and stuck out her hand. "Good luck, Luke. If you need me, you'll know where to call. I'll try to help however I can."

"I hate to lose you." Luke said, shaking her hand, "But thanks. And now you return to Tragis?"

"That's right," Kerri said. The door from the Palace conference room hissed open, and Rik Evverd appeared in the doorway, carrying their son.

"Hey, sweetheart, come on. Solo's holding the FALCON for us."

"We're lucky," Kerri said, "That Tragis is en route to Chewbacca's mission on Honoghr. Courier service in the MILLENIUM FALCON...what more could we ask?"

"Chewie said he'd teach me to steer," Mat said, and both his parents laughed.

"Hey, kid, when it's time for you to fly a starship, you'll learn from the best." Evverd kissed his son, and looked again at Kerri. "Coming?"

She linked her arm with his, and nodded. "Let's go home."

The End

R.John Burke

© 1998-1999 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann