STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Two
DESRIPTION: The second part of a series, in which Imperial defector Mykel Garreth meets his new crew and takes on his first mission. I recommend reading Part One first.
NOTICE: These characters and situations belong to Lucasfilm. I don't own them, and this is a totally not-for-sale-or-profit kinda thing. Just having some fun.
The shuttle's ion engines swelled, and Mykel Garreth was on his way. In the distance, he could just make out the vague blaster-shape of a NEBULON-B frigate. HIS frigate.
In truth, Garreth had been a bit disappointed to receive this command. He, former Imperial Captain Mykel Garreth, had once commanded a Star Destroyer, with the power to raze a planet into rubble, if he chose. This ship was designed to take on starfighters. His old CARIDA would have melted it to slag.
Of course, he reminded himself, things like razing planets and melting enemies into slag were the reasons he'd left the Empire. And in retrospect, Admiral Drayson's decision made perfect sense. As far as the Alliance knew, Garreth was nothing more than an Imperial plant who could sign all their death warrents. Though Mon Mothma herself had vouched for Garreth's integrity, they still wanted to try him out on some non-crucial assignment first.
Eminently logical, appropriately cautious - and highly annoying. Garreth knew he wasn't deceiving his new allies. He only wished they had a telepath or a Jedi or something who could tell that to Drayson.
Garreth sighed as he saw the name emblazoned upon the NEBULON's hull: FREEDOM. He was indeed free. On a very small ship, but free.
Short, stocky, his slightly receding black hair grown long again after years in an Imperial Navy crewcut, Mykel Garreth had once been the pride of the Imperial fleet. Bold, innovative, and courageous, he had served the Emperor well for almost thirty years. No orders were too difficult. he'd given up his family, his honor, his very life to the Fleet, to the dream of a glorious New Order.
And been repaid with corruption, treachery, and above all, bloodshed. He'd carried out terrible orders in his day, but that last order, to decimate the simple farmers of Ord Pardron for a few minor acts of "rebellion..."
That had been the end. It had taken that much to truly convince Garreth that the ideals he'd lived for did not exist in the Empire. The so-called "New Order" had mutated into a monstrous altar upon which whole planets were sacrificed to the Emperor's greed...
Or some other such literary-sounding metaphor. Garreth only knew that he was sick of it. He'd had his fill and gotten out. He'd defected tot he Rebel Alliance with the help of his friend Lando Calrissian.
And now, today, he assumed his first command.
"Bring us in slowly," he said to his pilot, "I want to get a good look."
In truth, Garreth didn't know if the Alliance would prove any better than the Empire. In the Fleet, they'd always thought of the Rebels simply as annoying and vicious rabble.
Was that true? Or would they live up to their lofty ideals?
At the moment, Garreth didn't know and didn't care. They were fighting the Empire, and that was enough for him.
The shuttle made its approach, and Garreth got the first really good look at his ship. It wasn't THAT small, actually, and its design was good. Not the classic dagger-shape of a Star Destroyer or the eye-pleasing ovoid of a Mon Cal Star Cruiser, but versatile and powerful for a low-mass capitol ship.
Where'd the Rebels get this kind of hardware, anyway? he wondered. Perhaps there are more sympathizers out in the galaxy than I'd thought...
Accostomed as he was to Imperial pomp and circumstance, Garreth had expected some kind of reception in the docking bay. For that matter, he'd expected a docking bay, not merely a cluttered and greasy accumulation of used starships and their assorted parts.
As for the crewers, well, if they knew they were getting a new captain today, they certainly didn't seem to care very much.
After a moment, Garreth identified the man who seemed to be in charge, a medium-sized man with skin a shade darker than Lando Calrissian's, wearing a grease-coated brown jacket and jeans of Corellian cut. He was sitting on the wing of an aged X-Wing snubfighter, hunched over its innards, and holding a heated conversation with an astromech droid.
"No... no, Bo. Now listen to me. I want the cannons rigged for dual fire!"
The battered R2 unit complained.
"I don't care if single fire is more versatile. I can always switch over... are you gonna do this, or should I do it myself?"
The R2 complained in its binary language, but turned its arc welder on the insides of the fighter.
"Excuse me?" called Garreth over the hangar's din, "Are you in charge here?"
The man looked up. His features, like his dress, was distinctly Corellian. "Close enough. What's the problem, Pop?"
"First of all," said Garreth, "I'm not old enough to be your father. Secondly, I am your new captain."
The Corellian eyed him skeptically. "You Garreth?"
"That's right. Who are you?"
The other man hopped off the wing of his fighter, wiped a greasy hand on his pants, and offered it to Garreth. "Commander Rik Evverd, Maverick Squadron. I'm your fighter escort."
"Just one squadron?" said Garreth, "I thought a NEBULON could carry two."
"You know, you're right. I'll just run down to the Used Spaceship lot and pick up another dozen starfighters. Look around you, Pop. We're a little shorthanded." He spread his hands wide, a brilliant gleam of teeth splitting his face. "Besides, I fly well enough for two squadrons."
Garreth grimaced. "Planning to take on the whole Empire by yourself, are you?"
Evverd snorted. "'Course not. Eleven of the best damn pilots in the Rebellion fly with me. Some of them are here..." he pointed out people in the docking bay. "That's Avers, and Quaid... the Rodian is Rysso Nyb... Well, you'll get to know 'em."
Garreth surveyed the motley group. "Is any of them available to show me the way to the bridge?"
Evverd shrugged, and directed a sour glance at his droid. "If Bo will do what I told him to do, I got a minute."
The droid tweedled, offended.
Garreth said, "Bo?"
"R2-B0," said Evverd, "He's tempermental, but a whiz with an arc welder." He gestured toward a turbolift. "This way, Po...er, Captain."
The rest of the ship was no better than the docking bay, and Garreth found himself organizing a mental list of changes, all the things that could be done with greater efficiency and less mess... and would be done, once he got the feel of this whole Rebellion business.
The doors snapped open onto the bridge, which was far too cluttered and loud for an Imperial ship, but was an oasis of order compared to the rest of the FREEDOM.
Evverd called out, "Hey, Kerri!"
The command chair swiveled around, and a striking olive-kinned woman with waves of long, dark hair looked in their direction. Evverd waved her over, and she came, peering down into the crewer stations as she went, supervising their operation.
She reached them, her eyes surveying Evverd with warmth and Garreth with a sort of wary calm. "What is it?"
Evverd jerked a thumb at his shorter companion. "This is the guy Drayson was sending over."
Kerri looked at him. He couldn't identify her homeworld, but she was definitely human. Both she and Evverd appeared to be in their early or mid-thirties. She didn't wear a uniform, either, only a standard shipboard jumpsuit and some kind of crystal necklace. "You're Mykel Garreth?"
"That's right," he said, "And you're Commander Lynden."
"The same." Garreth had been told that a woman named Lynden would be hiss first officer, which was the extent of his knowledge of ship's personnel. The Rebels didn't keep personnel files. Too dangerous.
Kerri Lynden said, "I understand you just came from the Empire?"
"Defected," Garreth said.
"Over the slaughter at Ord Pardron?"
He frowned. In the Imperial Navy, people didn't address personal questions to their superiors. Not at first meeting, anyway. But when on Kashyyyk... "That's right. What about yourself?"
Lynden's eyes darkened, a flash of apprehension in them. "What about me?"
Garreth shrugged. "Why are you with the Rebels?"
Lynden started to reply, but it was Rik Evverd who spoke. "Haven't you figured out that this is a bad place to ask a lot of stupid questions?"
Garreth turned on the other man. In the Empire, such insubordination would have been unthinkable, and could possibly have resulted in dismissal or even death.
"What was that?"
Evverd looked on him with badly-controlled disdain. "We're all outlaws here, Pop. You don't want to hear everybody's story, trust me."
His tone almost implied that Lynden was dangerous in some way, but she certainly didn't seem so. Just on instinct, Garreth would have said she was the calmest and sanest person in the place.
Accordingly, Lynden said, "Rik, it's okay." She smiled at the captain. "You'll have to forgive him, sir. He was raised by Gammoreans. Isn't that right, Rik?"
Evverd grumbled, but remained silent as she said, "I don't have a story, actually. I just think the Empire is wrong."
"An idealist," said Garreth with an arched eyebrow.
"Nothing wrong with that. Come on - I'll show you around." She brought him to the various bridge stations, Evverd trailing behind almost protectively.
"This is Jev Parrak, our helm officer," Lynden indicated a very young man who looked Alderaanian, "Marta Janzen, navigatation and communications..."
Garreth frowned at the young lieutenant with the short, red-gold hair. "Have we met, Lieutenant?"
"Never, sir," said the young woman, and Garreth immediately thought, of course not. Where would I have met this young rebel?
Commander Lynden went on with the tour, nodding towards a massive golden-brown furred Wookiee. "Gaaraanzi. We call him Gaar. Engineering and propulsion."
The Wookiee growled a skeptical greeting. Garreth hadn't seen a Wookiee out of captivity. He could almost hear his instructor at the Academy. They're animals, the man had said. No intellect at all, save a sort of affinity for gadgets. Show them no weakness, or they'll rip you apart.
Garreth shook off the memory. Slavery was another little matter he disagreed with the Emperor about. "Er... hello." He addressed Lynden. "Not to be a bigot, Commander, but I don't speak Wookiee. How can I have him for a bridge officer? In battle, there's no time for translation."
The Wookiee rumbled, apparently somewhat offended, and touched a button on the complicated metallic bandolier he wore.
A second later, deep, computer-processed tones said, "Is that better, Honored Captain?"
Garreth stared, astonished. "How?"
"Gaar spent years on the Fringe, avoiding Imperial slavers," the commander explained, "Somewhere along the line, he realized he'd do better if he could talk to humans, so he rigged up this translator. It doesn't always work too well, and it goes through power packs quickly, so he only uses it when needed. In the long run, you're probably better off learning Wookiee. But this will do for now."
Garreth nodded. "Very useful. I haven't known many of your kind, sir."
Gaaraanzi rumbled again, and the translator said, "The captain speaks an untruth. He has seen many Wookiees, I think, in chains. Is it not so?"
The ex-Imperial shifted uncomfortably. "Yes."
The Wookiee hooted somewhat louder, and Lynden stepped between them, her expression saying she feared some kind of confrontation. Garreth forced himself not to step back.
The translator gurgled, said, "It amuses you, to see my honor-brothers and sisters treated so?"
"No," Garreth said honestly, "It's the kind of thing I mean to put a stop to."
The Wookiee's large blue eyes watched him for a moment. Then the giant alien tossed back its head in a laugh, and Garreth was almost knocked off his feat as a giant paw slammed into his back.
"This captain has courage. He spoke the truth, though he feared me. I can respect his honor."
Evverd leaned in close and muttered helpfully, "That means he doesn't have to pull your arms off."
Garreth glared at the other man, nodded to the Wookiee, and continued his tour.
Lynden said, "Sedra Covell, weapons."
A pretty young woman with tied-back hair and skin close to Evverd's color, Sedra Covell half-scowled at him.
Suddenly, Garreth realized why. "I know your father."
"Major Covell of the Imperial Army," she said, "We're not on the best of terms."
Garreth was still half-stunned. "Why, I remember when you weren't as tall as a Jawa. I used to read you bedtime stories..."
"My father likes you," she said, making it an accusation, "He once called you the Emperor's most loyal servant."
Garreth frowned. "Conditions change, Lieutenant."
"I really hope they have," she said, then proceeded to ignore him.
Lynden led him onwards, saying, "It will take the crew a while to trust you."
"In the Empire," Garreth said without meaning to, "A crew is expected to win the approval of its captain, not vice-versa." Some voice in his head said, but isn't that also the kind of thing you wanted to get away from?
Lynden echoed his thoughts. "That system works - if the only people you care about are those on top of the heap."
Evvered chuckled at that, and even Garreth had to admit that she had a point.
"That's the last station," said Lynden.
"Not too late to turn around and go home," Evvered added.
Kerri went on, apparently practiced at ignoring such banter. "You still have to meet our Chief of the Boat, but he's..."
"Right here," said a gurgling, aquatic voice from behind. A familiar voice.
Garreth turned, knowing who he'd meet before he saw the alien. "Okel?"
The salmon color and pop-eyes of the Mon Calamari were unmistakable, of ocurse, but it was the criss-crossing of scars on the Calamarian's moist skin that Garreth remembered. Usually in his nightmares.
Okel swiveled those eyes to watch his new captain. "It will be a pleasure to serve you again, sir."
Evvered asked, "You two have met?"
Mykel Garreth stood slack-jawed in the middle of his bridge, eyes fixed on something only he could see. "Okel was... a gift from the Emperor... after a particularly successful campaign. He escaped."
Calamarian gestures didn't translate well, but Garreth thought the former slave was smiling. "Do you think I believe that? No Star Destroyer has security that poor. You let me go."
Garreth had, in fact, done exactly that, though he hadn't intended it to be so obvious. Okel had gotten away in Garreth personal shuttle. Which was okay, because the captain was a terrible pilot anyway.
He said, "I wouldn't go that far."
Okel wasn't buying. In a way, that was good - if Okel spread the story around, it would improve Garreth's image with the crew. But Garreth had no desire to exploit the long-past incident.
The Calamarian seemed to understand. "As you say, Captain. But you should know, Commander Lynden, that I was offered the chance to serve on our flagship cruiser. I chose to serve under Captain Garreth. This crew is... fortunate."
Kerri Lynded looked from one to the other, and almost - but not quite - smiled. "You may be right, Chief. We'll find out soon enough."
Garreth's new office, like the rest of the ship, was cluttered with assorted junk and not really up to his standards, but he forced himself not to clean it. I have to adjust some time, he thought.
The office had no view - a plus in Garreth's book. One of the reasons he was a bad pilot was that the infinite void of space tended to make him nauseous (Zero-gee training at the Academy had been a LOT of fun...). He sat, reading and re-reading the message from Mon Mothma, knowing he should probably destroy the secret comm but lacking the strength. So he just slumped forward, head in his hands, wondering if anything in his life had meant anything.
The comm buzzed, and Garreth forced himself to look alert. "Come in."
Rik Evverd stood there, clean now but still wearing his scruffy jacket. He remained in the doorway. "You wanted to see me?"
"That's right. Come in," Evverd hesitated, and Garreth waved him into the dim office. "All the way, Commander."
Evverd complied, but did not take the offered seat. "What?"
"I've just received our first orders," said the captain, "We'll be flying to Ord Pardron, to assist the survivors of the recent Imperial... demonstration." The word left a sour taste in Garreth's mouth, and he looked away.
"How bad?" asked Evverd, cocky attitude diminished.
Garreth smiled weakly. "Let's just say the duty won't be pleasant. We're going in with evac shuttles, but the Empire is sure to expect us. I'm putting your pilots on permanent watch, eight hour shifts. This is going to turn into a scuffle, Commander. Protect those shuttles."
"Count on it," said Evverd, "That all?"
"Just understand." Garreth leaned forward for emphasis. "I don't care if we're hit by ten Star Destroyers who are turning this ship into rubble. Stay on the shuttles, at all costs. Understood?"
The pilot nodded. "We can do that."
"You will do that. Dismissed."
Evverd started to leave, then turned back. "Hey... it's not your fault."
"I don't believe I asked you."
But the Corellian went on, "I read the report. You did everything you could to save the Pardrons."
Wasn't bloody enough, was it? Garreth thought. "You're dismissed, Commander."
"You know," said Evvered, "Kerri would say that this kind of thing is determined by the Force, and there's nothing you can do about it, so you shouldn't worry."
Garreth looked up at him. "You believe in the Force?"
"No," the other admitted, "You?"
The captain shrugged, muttered, "Simple tricks and nonsense. Kerri Lynden believes in it?"
Evverd's eyes were wary. "Not too much. She just likes to talk."
"That's odd," said Mykel Garreth, "She doesn't strike me as that sort."
"Well, Kerri's a surprising person."
"You know her well, then?" Garreth asked.
"Yeah," said the pilot, "We go way back, me and Kerri."
Garreth filed that away, though it wasn't much of a surprise. "She doesn't look Corellian."
"I didn't say he grew up together," Evverd said, a bit too harshly, "We just go way back."
"How did you meet?"
This time Evverd scowled, and his captain said, "Sorry." He guessed, "Personal?"
"Not really. Just not your business."
Garreth squinted hard at the other man. "You're not much for discipline, are you, Commander?"
The pilot took a step forward. "You are not in the Imperial fleet any more, sir." Sarcasm dripped from that last word, and he said, "You'd better learn to just worry about yourself and leave everybody else alone."
"Ah," said Garreth, standing up, "You're right. I'm not in the Empire any more. For example, were I on a Star Destroyer..."
His fist swung around and caught Evverd in the mouth. Rik Evverd was bigger and younger, of course, but he was also totally unprepared, and the punch floored him.
"...I never could have done that."
Evverd rubbed at his bleeding lip, then bounced back to his feet with the ease of one who had taken harder hits than that in his time. For a second, Garreth thought there'd be a free-for-all in his office on the first day, but the other man didn't move towards him.
"Nice punch," said Evverd, "If you want to finish it, maybe we could meet in the rec hall. Box for a few seconds."
"That's how long it would take me to put you away." The pilot's tone was light, but his eyes said he was not joking at all.
And, Garreth thought, he's probably right. Keeping his tone cold, he said, "You don't have to talk to me, but I am your captain, and you will act like it. Clear?"
Evverd stood there a moment, annoyance battling grudging respect in his eyes. "Yes, sir," he said, with some sarcasm, but not as much as before. He went for the door.
Garreth said, "Mister Evverd...No hard feelings?"
Evverd shrugged, his cocky persona back in place. "We'll see."
He left the room, and Garreth sat back in his chair, only a little ashamed of how good that punch had felt.
"You HIT the captain?" Kerri Lynden dabbed at Evverd's cut lip experimentally with a damp cloth.
"No," Evverd explained patiently, "The captain hit me. Be careful!" he said as another dab stung him.
Kerri rolled her eyes. "You do have a way with people. I'm surprised you didn't put him through the bulkhead."
"I wanted to," her friend said, "But he was feeling pretty bad about Ord Pardron, so I cut him a break."
Kerri's eyebrow's arched. "Going soft."
"Or just getting old." He shrugged. She swabbed at the cut again, and Evverd pushed her hand away. "Stop it. This was all your fault anyway, you know."
She laughed. "ME? I was on the other side of the ship."
"He asked about you again. He wanted to know how we met."
Kerri's hand went reflexively to the crystal she wore around her neck. "Nothing sinister about that. You should have told him."
Evverd sighed. "I just thought it was a bad starlane to open up."
"Probably," Kerri agreed, "Garreth seems all right, though. I don't think he'll make trouble."
"Maybe not," said Evverd, looking around cautiously though he knew they were alone in Kerri's quarters. "But we can't do this forever."
He let out a long sigh. "Sooner or later, someone's going to find out that you're Jedi."
Kerri Lynden's grip on the crystal intensified. It was her only protection, a gift from her late mother, who'd picked it up on some alien world. It worked a little like the ysalamiri of Myrkr, only instead of blocking the Force, it merely shielded her effect on it. A "cloaking device" for a poorly trained, only moderately powerful, but very much alive Jedi Knight.
She said, "Then it had better be later, Rik. Much, much later..."
In her quarters on another deck of the FREEDOM, a lieutenant ran a hand through bristly, red-gold hair that she'd cut short only days ago. She reached out and activated a comm device, a special UltraQuiet holo sender that would register on the ship's sensors as mere background radiation.
She had other methods of making a communication like this, methods that required no equipment, only her own unique skills. But those methods were not entirely secure until she knew whom she was dealing with.
"I'm in," she said, "I'm investigating the ripples we've felt in the Force. I've located a likely target."
"And?" Two glowing eyes stared back at her from the hood of a night-colored cloak.
"I can't explain it... she SHOULD be a Jedi. I feel like she is one. But when I sense for her in the Force, I get nothing."
"Interesting. Can you explain this insight?"
The lieutenant hesitated. "She may be very powerful indeed... able to conceal herself from me."
"Do you believe that such a one could conceal herself from me, as well?"
"Of course not," said the woman, only a touch of fear, quickly hidden, displaying itself in her posture, "But it's the only explanation I have."
The yellow eyes narrowed. "Then continue with your task. Find the source of the disturbance."
"I will," said the woman, then hesitated. "Garreth is here."
"I know. You are to make no effort to hinder the others. Especially not Garreth."
The woman frowned. "He could be a powerful enemy."
"It is of no consequence. Everything is proceeding as I have forseen. Your only concern is to find the disturbance. If this woman proves to be a Jedi, bring her before me, or kill her."
The yellow eyes bored into her. "Do not fail me, Mara Jade..."
Continued in Episode 3
R. John Burke