STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Four
DESRIPTION: This part wraps up the "Introduction" story for Captain Mykel Garreth and crew, and sends them off into their next, somewhat ill-advised mission. Read parts 1-3 first.
NOTICE: I don't own these characters and situations. Star Wars and everything associated with it is Copyright LucasFilm. This story is not for sale or profit. I just have a great deal of spare time.
"They won't remember anything," said Commander Kerri Lynden, and sat back down at the fire Garreth had built. "They'll just wake up tomorrow in the middle of the Pardron forest, and have no idea why they're on this world."
Garreth chuckled. He'd made the fire out of branches and twigs Lynden had cut - with a lightsaber. "Handy trick, that."
"I don't use it lightly," his first officer said, somewhat reproving, "But it's essential that no one knows I am a Jedi."
Mykel Garreth, a short man with dark hair worn long, had served thirty years in the Imperial fleet. He was in his first month with the Rebel Alliance, and this was not at all how he'd planned to spend it.
"And you truly a Jedi?"
The question hung in the moist night air, and for a moment he didn't think Lynden would reply.
She looked up. "Yes, I am."
"But you're so young," he said, "You must have been only a child when the Jedi were hunted down."
"I was. A child, but already trained in the way of the Force. My mother was a great Jedi Knight. Vader killed her personally. He didn't know she had a daughter."
Garreth frowned. "I thought Jedi could sense each other."
"They can, to some degree. But this--" she fingered the crystal around her neck, "Shields me. It's an artifact of some sort. Mom never knew what it was. But it seems to... I don't know how to explain... It seems to fold the Force around me, disguising my influence on it. Like the ysalamiri of Myrkr, only it doesn't block my access to the Force. It just helps me to hide."
"You've been hiding from Vader and the Emperor for..."
Lynden smiled weakly. "Most of my life. Fortunately, I don't look much like my mother, and the name Lynden is an alias. So unless I attempt some really dramatric Force use, something that overpowers the crystal, I'm pretty safe."
Garreth nodded. "I take it what you did to the bounty hunters doesn't qualify."
Kerri was amused, though there had been absolutely nothing funny at the time. "That was nothing. A few simple tricks."
"Simple tricks?" The Corellian bounty hunter Dengar and three associates had come to the FREEDOM, hoping to kidnap Imperial defector Mykel Garreth for the price the Empire would pay. Lynden had gotten in the middle of the situation, and quickly and easily dispatched four rather rough Hunters.
Not bad for "simple tricks."
Lynden sighed. "Vader doesn't understand the Force. He thinks its only use is the stunts you can perform - to intimidate and frighen and amass power."
Garreth had to admit, having faced the Dark Lord himself, that Vader was an expert at intimidation. Lynden went on, "But the Force isn't like that. It's about knowing the universe, and understanding your place in it. A Jedi is at peace, even when the world around them is chaos."
She smiled, a bit sadly. "I suppose that sounds a bit silly to you."
"Not at all," he assured her.
"And now that you know my secret," said Kerri Lynden, "I need to know if it's safe with you."
The captain frowned. "If it wasn't, you'd merely pluck it from my mind, wouldn't you?"
"No!" she insisted, "I wouldn't do that. What I did to the bounty hunters is a last resort. If you betrayed me, I'd simply run away."
"Is that how you met Rik Evverd?" Garreth asked, naming the commander of his ship's X-Wing fighter group, who as far as he could tell was Lynden's closest friend.
"It is," she said, "Rik knows - that's why he snapped at you when you asked about our past. He was a trader in the Corellian sector, and he saved my life. I saved his, too, and after a while we just started looking out for each other. We both hated the Empire, so we ended up with the Rebel Alliance." Her eyes narrowed, and the olive-skinned woman with the long, dark hair suddenly seemed many times older than her thirty-some years. "And what about you?"
"You never told the whole story of why you joined the Alliance," said Lynden, "One story deserves another."
Garreth blew out a breath, trying to remember when it had all started. "My children hate me, do you know that? I don't even know where they are. For all I know, they're on some ship just like the freedom, serving the Alliance. Maybe they're bounty hunters like Dengar, or farmers like the people here. They... knew how terribly wrong I was. I didn't see it for years. I served the Emperor for so long, I barely noticed when my assignments changed from sensible to evil. I was used to duty. You do that, you get... caught up in what you're doing, and if you do it long enough, you no longer see whether it's right or wrong. It's just the way things are."
Kerri looked on in sympathy, and Garreth said, "Before I knew it, the Emperor was a dictator, and I was a useless old fossil."
"You're not so old," said Kerri, "And you're far from useless."
"You say that now. But five years ago - actually, six months ago - I would have turned you in. Without a second thought, because you were Jedi, and the Emperor said that Jedi were a threat. We would have been enemies."
Lynden said, "And the order to raze Ord Pardron opened your eyes?"
"That was part of it," he said, "Part of it happened on vacation."
He looked upwards, at the stars. They didn't make him dizzy from here, the way they did when he was in their midst. "I went on vacation, on leave, to some lovely world - I don't even remember which one. I've seen so many. And I saw the stormtroopers from the Imperial garrison. To me, the stormtroopers had always represented order, stability, the best of the Empire. But I suddenly realized that wasn't was the people saw. They loathed the stormtroopers, and feared them... and it suddenly hit me that they also loathed and feared me."
"That was at a time," he continued after a pause, "When I was a very powerful man. I could have sentenced any one of those people to death, on a whim, and the stormtroopers would have carried it out, because of duty. The same way I followed the Emperor."
He hesitated, realized he'd gone on too long, finished, "I realized that no one should have that kind of power. Your secret is safe, Commander. I couldn't betray you if I wanted to. I've got too much blood on my hands as it is."
Kerri smiled, and there was a great deal of sympathy in her dark eyes. "And you have to make amends."
"Or try to," he said.
"There is no try." She fixed him with a surprisingly powerful stare. "You're a good man, Mykel, and you have to put the past behind you. You have chosen to make a difference, and you will. Regrets will only cloud your thinking."
Garreth looked away, suddenly uncomfortable. "Is the beacon working?"
Kerri shrugged. "Intermittantly. I wouldn't worry, though. Working or not, Rik will find us."
"I know Rik Evverd," she said, "He'll find us. I really believe he'd take out a Star Destroyer if it stood in his way."
Garreth laughed. "Can you picture that - our little frigate against a Star Destroyer? It would be cut to pieces inside a minute."
Kerri only smiled cryptically. "Size doesn't matter. Don't underestimate Evverd. He's almost as good as he thinks he is."
"Perhaps," said Garreth, "But against a Star Destroyer? I commanded one once, and let me tell you, if Rik Evverd took one on with the FREEDOM, he'd be a dead man..."
Evverd slumped into his bunk. He'd been dead tired almost from the moment they'd blown up the Star Destroyer that had interrupted their search efforts.
He'd done it. He'd won, and saved Kerri. And he had lost one of his best pilots in the process.
Nothing new. He'd lost a lot of pilots, some he was closer to than Trayce, but it hammered him every time.
He was the best. The best pilot, the best wing commander, the best Rebel. That was the cornerstone of his whole philosophy. No matter what the odds, he would always win.
As a consequence, every failure became personal. Trayce had died not because he'd flown too close to the exploding Star Destroyer, but because Rik Evverd hadn't been quick enough, or smart enough, to save him.
Evverd knew that was a logically flawed argument, but he figured if you wanted a logical argument, you should ask a droid. A human had to trust his gut.
His gut said he'd screwed up big, and Trayce had paid for it.
The comm bleeped. He slapped at it angrily. "Yeah?"
"I think we've got them, Commander," said the voice of Lieutenant Sedra Covell, "I've got intermittent distortions and some kind of mettalic mass in the southern forests. I'm sending an evac shuttle now."
"I'm on it," said Evverd, and hopped to his feet.
"I think the evac team can handle it, sir."
"Yeah," he said, "But I can't handle waiting. Hold the shuttle for me."
Covell hesitated, but said, "You got it, Commander. Good luck."
"It'd be a change," said Evvered, and cut off the comm.
A Lieutenant with short, red hair paced in her quarters. She'd just gotten off-shift. She addressed the small, UltraQuiet holosender in one corner, once again frustrated that the possibility of a nearby Jedi precluded her from making this communication with the Force. "But it was so PERFECT! First the bounty hunter, then the Star Destroyer! Either one of them would have sent Kerri Lynden directly to you! Instead, we have to wait!"
"Calm yourself, Mara," said the cloaked figure in the holo. "Her escape only means that she is strong, as we have speculated."
"That and her Corellian friend is a lunatic," Mara Jade - Marta Janzen to the FREEDOM's crew - thought of the dashing dark-skinned man who had somehow destroyed an Imperial Star Destroyer with a NEBULON-class frigate.
"It is unimportant," said the soothing, aged voice, "You are certain, then, that this woman is a Jedi?"
Mara wanted to say, of course! It was the only way to explain her easy escape! But the truth was that Lynden had nothing to do with the Star Destroyer thing, and almost anything could have happened on the bounty hunter's ship to make it crash. And she still hadn't sensed that Lynden was a Jedi. At this range, it should have been child's play - which meant that either Lynden was powerful in the extreme, or the whole thing was a monstrous fluke, and the Force disturbances she and the Emperor had noted came from something else entirely.
She sighed. "No, I'm not certain."
The yellow eyes seemed to glow, and looked unhappy as the holo said, "Be certain, my Hand. Find the Jedi and bring her, or him, before me."
"The Jedi will join you or die," Mara said confidently.
"Excellent. Then there is no cause for concern."
"What about our other project?" Mara said suddenly, knowing that the encrypt on this holo sender was as secure as any in the Empire - if the Rebels could even detect it, which they couldn't. "What about the Death Star project?"
"It proceeds," the Emperor said, "But that is not your concern, either. Bring me the Jedi, Emperor's Hand. That is your only goal..."
"Understood," said Mara, and cut the comm. It was time, the thought suddenly, to take a more agressive approach with the problem of Kerri Lynden...
The last evac shuttle had arrived, the Ord Pardron settlers were safely aboard, and the Empire still hadn't come looking for their missing ship. A good day, all in all, Garreth thought. Though he'd never get entirely clean after sleeping half the night on the dirt floor of Ord Pardron's forest.
The shuttle had come down quite suddenly, with Evverd himself piloting. The man had been cocky as usual, but there was something haunted about his eyes that Garreth found interesting. Perhaps there was more to the Corellian than there seemed to be, which would also explain his association with a Jedi Knight. And even Garreth could not pretend to be unimpressed upon hearing that Evverd had brought down a Star Destroyer.
The RESILENT, he found out later, under Marcos Dawsey. A pompous windbag if ever there was one. Garreth smiled at the image of the swaggering Corellian star pilot undermining that pompous twerp.
Garreth smiled, and a holo of Mon Mothma smiled back.
"Excellent work, Captain. By all means, this pilot must get a commendation. The destruction of the RESILENT is our most significant military acheivement yet. Admiral Drayson may even wish to transfer him to our flagship."
"He won't go," Garreth said, confident that Evverd would remain on whatever ship Kerri Lynden served on, end of story.
"And what about yourself?" asked Mon Mothma, "Surely you must realize that a NEBULON frigate is a dismal command for a man of your talents."
Garreth shrugged. "I had to prove my loyalty, certainly."
"And I believe the bounty hunter attack proves it. At least to those of us who already knew you to be a man of honor."
Actually, it could still have been an Imperial setup, but since Garreth himself knew he was honest, he merely nodded.
"One of or newest ships, a Calamarian Crusiser, is in need of a captain. It's not a Star Destroyer, but it is powerful, and vital to our cause. I believe you could do a great deal of good there, Mykel."
Garreth laughed. Three days ago, he would have jumped at the chance. Though not as powerful, a Mon Cal Star Cruiser was in many ways a better ship than a Star Destroyer, more versatile and very durable. But now, with a Jedi first officer, a Senior Chief in the Calamarian Okel who had asked specifically to serve under him, and a crew that had gone toe-to-toe with the RESILENT and come out on top...
"With respect, Mon Mothma, I believe I'm doing some good here."
Mon Mothma smiled. "I thought you might say something like that. In that case, you will take your passengers to the planet Alderaan. We have... powerful friends there who will grant them asylum. And then we have a very special mission for you..."
Garreth listened with great interest, and when she was done, Garreth knew he had defected just in time. The Emperor had apparently tired of petty crimes against sentient life, and had moved on to grander territory.
He wanted, and soon would have, the power to destroy entire planets...
"Ow!" said Evverd as Kerri Lynden smacked him, rather hard, on the back of the head.
"Don't ever risk innocent lives for me again, Rik. I mean that!"
"I know," he said honestly, and sat down on his bunk. Kerri took the room's only chair. "But you can't do that Jedi martyr thing with me. Face it: you're important. I wasn't gonna let you die." So Trayce had to die instead, an angry voice in his head said.
He winced with enough genuine pain that Kerri backed off. "Well... I do appreciate it."
"Yeah, well, I figure the Rebellion needs me. And since you're the only one who knows when I'm being a jerk and can smack me for it..." he chuckled, since she had just done literally that, "I figure you better stick around awhile."
Kerri narrowed her eyes. "I don't know whether to kiss you or kick your butt for having delusions of grandeur."
He smiled. "I have that effect on people."
"I had to use my powers on the ship," she said, "Garreth knows."
"I know," he told her, "I figured from the way he looked at you. Kinda sideways, like he expected you to disappear into thin air at any second."
"That will pass," Kerri said, "I trust him. You're wrong, though."
"About the way he looked at you?"
"About your being a jerk," she said. "You are, sometimes, but you don't need me to tell you when."
Evverd rolled his eyes, knowing what was coming. "So now you're gonna tell me how Trayce's death wasn't my fault, and I really did great with the Star Destroyer thing."
"It wasn't your fault," she said, and her tone lightened, "The Star Destroyer thing, though, that was just stupid."
He shrugged self-consciously. "Yeah, well, you know me... hey, Kerri, do me a favor?"
"Next time you're gonna do the Jedi hero thing and make me save your tail, give me some advance warning. I am getting much too old for this..."
One month after he first heard about the mysterious Imperial project, two months after he first joined the Alliance, Mykel Garreth found himself in a dark alley near the Core Worlds, with only his ship's engineer Gaaraanzi - who was posing as his slave - and the dubious help of Lando Calrissian, a gambler and all-around scoundrel who had helped him defect from the Empire.
Lando, as usual, was worried about his own neck. "I just hope you realize what a risk I'm taking, setting up this meeting. Black Sun doesn't meet with just anybody. Usually I like to keep well clear of their business."
"But you'll make an exception for me?"
"And for the payment you promised me," Lando reminded him.
"I paid you for the last time!"
"Almost a month late," Lando grumbled, "Why, if I hadn't won that sabacc tournament, I'd have been down to my last..."
"Ah, but you did win, Lando, because you're the best. That's why I need your help."
The gambler sighed. "Yeah, that and a few hundred credits will buy me a nice tombstone."
Garreth looked around, getting nervous. For a month they'd been trying to hunt up info on the mysterious project that their contacts had been hinting at. All they knew was that it was big, it could possibly destroy planets, and it was coming soon.
As that wasn't enough to mount a proper defense, they still needed more information. And information, in this part of the galaxy, meant Black Sun.
"Calrissian?" A voice from the edge of the ally hissed.
"Yes." At Lando's pronouncement, an insectoid Verpine alien edged his way into the ally.
"This is the one who wishes the aid of Black Sun?"
"I am," Garreth told the Verpine, "You speak for Prince Xizor?"
The Verpine made a clicking sound with his pincers. "I serve Green, one of the Black Sun Vigos. I speak for all Black Sun interests in this matter."
Garreth snorted disdainfully, and turned his back. "Not important enough, I'm afraid. The people I represent wish to speak directly to one of the Vigos - or if possible, to Prince Xizor himself."
Lando Calrissian almost had a heart attack, and even Gaar seemed stunned. Lando said hurriedly, "Now wait a minute, Garreth! Don't you realize I'm on the line here! You can't disappoint Black Sun?"
"And deal with this simpering lackey?" Garreth said, putting all the arrogance of the Imperial fleet into his tone, "Please. Come back when you have someone important lined up."
The Verpine hissed, "Calrissian..."
Lando stammered, "Garreth!"
Mykel Garreth walked away. After a moment, the insectoid scurried forward to stop him. "Who are you, that you can afford to waste Black Sun's time?"
Garreth turned. Though he had to look up - and up - to catch the alien's eyes, he said with total confidence, "I'm a man who represents a lot of money and power, and I have no time for the likes of you."
The Verpine looked doubtful. "I may be able to set up a meeting with Green..."
Garreth nodded. "It's a start." Now to play my best card, he thought. He had special permission to use the name, since Black Sun's vast spy network probably knew anyway. "I'll tell Senator Mon Mothma that she was too unimportant for a direct meeting with Xizor."
The Verpine was definitely worried. "Please... my authority is limited... I cannot disturb the Dark Prince..."
"You see, Lando?" Garreth said, "He admits he's not important enough for our purposes. You'll get no pay, of course."
By this time, Lando knew the game, and played along quite nicely. "Now wait a minute, Garreth! It's not my fault that this guy claimed to be a big shot! I thought he was a man of influence!"
Garreth kept his tone and expression disdainful. "Yes, well, you were wrong, weren't you?"
"Oh, come on! Give me another chance! I'll find you someone with authority!"
Garreth was walking away again. "You'd better. The Alliance cannot tolerate such ineptitude."
"Wait!" said the Verpine, "Wait."
Garreth turned expectantly. The alien stammered, "I had no idea you represented such influential clients. I shall bring the matter to Green's attention. If he approves, you may at least get an appointment with Guri."
The Verpine nodded like an idiot, a human gesture it had picked up somewhere, "Prince Xizor's most trusted aide. I'm certain she will be able to accomodate you."
Finally showing a hint of approval, Garreth nodded. "See to it, then." He turned and walked away, Lando and Gaar trailing behind.
"That was brilliant!" Lando said, back aboard his ship, "I have seen some bluffs in my day, but that one..."
Gaaraanzi rumbled, and his translator unit said, "Most impressive."
"It had just better work," said Garreth, "If we don't find out what this Imperial project is and how to defend against it, this war could be over before it's begun."
"Don't worry, old buddy," said Lando, "I've got a good feeling about this one. Your people are going to do just fine."
Garreth arched an eyebrow. "But you still won't join us?"
"Come on, Garreth," said Lando, "I've told you before. All the riches of the Imperial treasury couldn't make me take that kind of risk."
"It's not about money, Lando."
"Well, then," said Lando Calrissian, "If something ever comes along that's more important to me than money, I'll join. Until then, back off."
Gaar changed the subject. "Honored Captain, do you truly think this..." the translator fizzled as Gaar said a Wookiee word that had no direct translation, "this Black Sun Prince will help us find the answer?"
Garreth leaned back in his copilot's seat, trying not to look at the stars. "He'd better, Gaar. Or we're in a lot of trouble..."
The TIE fighter soared past Evverd's modified assault shuttle, and he angled in behind it, getting off a shot that just barely grazed one solar panel. The TIE veered off, but would doubtlessly be back in a minute.
Evverd had that long to deal with the other three.
"Tell me again," Kerri asked from the co-pilot's station, "Why I ever agree to fly with you?"
"Because," Evverd said as one of his concussion missiles melted a TIE into slag, any other pilot this side of Han Solo would have been fried ten minutes ago!"
"Two incoming from above!"
Evverd had been around Kerri Lynden long enough to know that one did not question her Force insights. He jammed the control stick to port, narrowly evading twin beams of green light.
"We're just not maneuverable enough in this crate!" Evverd said, "In my X-Wing I could hold out indefinitely, but this shuttle is going to be pulverized in another minute!"
"Coming up on the nebula," Kerri said, and Evverd could see that they were indeed quite close to the spaceborne light show, and their only chance to hide.
He and Kerri had been on detached duty for about two weeks, looking for clues to the Empire's new superweapon here in Sluis Sector. They had just snuck out of an Imperial Ubiqtorate - after coming up empty, of course - and had soon learned that their clean getaway hadn't been quite so clean.
Evverd pulled the shuttle into a roll, and a TIE fighter shot past. He rolled back to blast it, but the tiny starfighter was just too quick.
"Forget about fighting!" Kerri said, "Just get us into the nebula!"
"Will you let me do this?" Evverd hissed. She was right, though. Going after the TIE's would only get them killed. He poured all available energy into engines and shields, and made a run for the nebula.
They made it inside just as the TIE's were starting to peck away at their shields. Both Rebels breathed sighs of relief as, with a few quick maneuvers inside the concealing dust, they lost their opposition.
"You see?" Evverd said, turning to look at Kerri, "I know what I'm doing."
Evverd turned back to see some sort of energy pocket, previously hidden by the nebula, was right in their path. He tried to go evasive, but it was far too late. They passed through the energy, came out the other side unharmed...
And Kerri screamed.
"What is it?" Evverd said, "It didn't do anything..."
And suddenly he realized that the strange energy formation had indeed done something.
He could see the minds of the fighter pilots, even at this distance, he could FEEL their effect on the life around them. He could hear Kerri's thoughts.
Evverd almost collapsed, so great was his shock.
Kerri took the controls, though she was still weak. "We've got to go back. Find that energy cloud again... I don't know how this could happen..."
And as she tried to turn, the TIE fighters roared out of the dust clouds, right on their tail, firing hard.
The shuttle was hit. Something sparked, burning Evverd's face.
Instinctively angry, he growled, made a sweeping motion with his hand...
And on the viewscreen, the TIE fighters were swept away, hurled backwards into space with a mere thought.
But Kerri was already searching the sensors frantically. "It... it can't be! It's gone!"
"That energy cloud?" Evverd asked, still dazed.
Kerri Lynden slumped back in her chair, as weak and dejected as Evverd had seen her. He felt waves of despair eminate off her.
Before he could process the new feelings, she said, "Somehow, you got my Force ability. In fact, it's been magnified, since I never could have done that so easily. And without that cloud, I don't have a clue how to change it."
Evverd frowned. "Well, come on. We've gotta switch back. I have no use for this Force mumbo jumbo."
"Don't say that!" Lynden hissed. Trembling, she reached back and took the crystal from around her neck. "If this can't be changed, you may have to learn to use it. You'll need this."
Evverd took the crystal, possibilities swarming through his mind. Somehow, Kerri's Force powers had been magnified when they switched to him. He was as powerful as any Jedi ever born. He could feel it.
With this power he could wipe out the Empire, kill Vader, bring whole star systems back to freedom..."
"And most importantly," Kerri said, her skin pale and her voice soft, "You must beware the Dark Side..."
Continued in Episode 5
R. John Burke