STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Ten
DESRIPTION: Mara Jade tries to turn Kerri, while Evverd hunts for Niles Ferrier, and deals with a terror more frightening than all the minions of the Dark Side - his father. We're 6 months before "A New Hope" now, and accelerating rapidly.
NOTICE: Oh, come on. You didn't really think I invented "Star Wars," did you? This story, like anything else dealing with that franchise, belongs to George Lucas. Thanks to him, I spend all my spare time writing stories like this one, which by the way is not for sale.
I'd forgetten how bad Nar Shaddaa smells, Evverd reflected as he found a seat at the bar. Aliens from Twi'lek to Wookiee, Rodian to Chadra-Fan, Duros to Aqualish filled the cantina, all intent on their own private businesses and entertainments.
Evverd was no different. A wiry, dark-skinned Corellian in a faded brown krayt-skin jacket, he ordered a drink while he waited for his contact to show up.
Rik Evverd served the Rebel Alliance as an X-Wing pilot, leader of his own squadron. Were that fact know to the unsavory patrons of the bar, half of them would have opened up him with blasters for the price on his head. The other half would have placed bets on which Hunter would make the kill. Such was the life of a Rebel.
At the moment, Rik Evverd was not immediately concerned with the Rebel Alliance. Evverd was searching for a ship thief named Niles Ferrier, as he had been for the past two months.
In the hopes of getting a reward from the Rebel Alliance, Ferrier had fingered Marta Janzen, the navigator of Evverd's ship FREEDOM, for treason. Somehow he'd planted evidence implicating not only her, but Evverd's best friend, Commander Kerri Lynden.
It was all rather complicated, and Evverd only wanted to find Niles Ferrier, beat a confession out of him, and clear Kerri's name. Unfortunately, when that ship thief went underground, he went deep. In two months' time, Evverd had been unable to dig him up.
If this new lead doesn't pan out, Evverd thought, I don't know what I'm gonna do.
In truth, he knew what he would do - he would look for another lead. He would no give up easily, both because he refused to fail Kerri and because he was in no hurry to return to the FREEDOM.
FREEDOM was at Umgul now, having fled Imperial reprisals after her delaying action against the Super Star Destroyer EXECUTOR. Rik Evverd's father Rasir was with them.
Rasir Evverd represented the Corellian part of the Rebel Alliance, a part that wanted Janzen's head (and by extension, Kerri's) for what they considered acts of treason and sabotage in the Corellian system. If this matter wasn't cleared up quickly, it could split the Corellians from the main Rebel Alliance, weakening both groups beyond repair.
And Rik Evverd knew his father wasn't helping. Rasir Evverd was not the most reasonable of men under any circumstances.
Rik Evverd turned just fractionally to see a pale human with orange-red hair and watery blue eyes pull up the chair next to him. "Hi, Dash. How you been?"
Dash Rendar shrugged. "Not great. Not lousy. Still alive. Any other questions?"
"Yeah. What've you got for me?"
Rendar, a smuggler who claimed his star pilot skills to rival Evverd's - and even Han Solo's, if you can believe that - said, "Nothing at all, really. I don't even know why you wanted to talk to me."
"I was at Smuggler's Run last week," Evverd told him. "Ana Blue said you'd seen Niles Ferrier recently."
"She told you about that?" Rendar's expression became fierce. "Do you know that slimy son of a Bantha tried to steal the OUTRIDER?"
Ouch, thought Evverd. You did not mess with a smuggler's ship, especially not Dash Rendar's favorite souped-up Corellian freighter.
"And he's still alive?"
Rendar snorted. "Not my fault. I did my best to fry him. The Sithspawn got away."
"Where'd he go?"
"How would I know that?" said Rendar, "Look, I'm telling you, he tried to lift my ship, I chased him off, and I haven't seen him since."
Evverd sighed. Another solid lead, shot to space dust. "And this was, what, two weeks ago?"
"Uh huh," Rendar nodded, "Right here on Nar Shaddaa."
Evverd drained his drink, slapped down some credits, and stood up. "Any idea where he went?"
"No, but I bet he skipped planet. I sort of threatened to dismember him if he stayed."
"Yeah, well, thanks again, pal," Evverd grumbled, "If you hear anything about Ferrier, let me know."
"Sure." Dash Rendar caught hold of his sleeve as he turned to leave. "Rik... why are you looking for Ferrier? You planning to steal a ship?"
"No," said Evverd, "But I might be planning a homicide. Fly casual, Dash..."
"How can you stand this doing nothing?" Marta Janzen asked, pacing around their shared apartment in the safehouse on Abregado. The safehouse usually shielded Rebel sympathizers from the Empire, but the caretaker was an old friend, and was now protecting Kerri and Marta from the angry Corellian Rebels.
The words of the Jedi Code echoed in Kerri's mind: For the Jedi, there is no emotion. There is peace. Aloud, she said, "Just patient, I guess."
"Patient?" said Janzen, "We've been framed! Betrayed! Doesn't that make you angry?"
"Not really," said Kerri. Around a bite of juicy ketran-fruit, she said, "Ferrier must have had his reasons. We'll find out what they were, and he will be dealt with. Really, Marta, you must learn to control your anger."
"But we should at least be doing something!" she said, "I for one don't want Mr. Corellian Hotshot out there fighting my battles while I sit around!"
"When it is time to act," said Kerri, "We will act. For now, its not safe for us. Both the Alliance and the Empire are after us now. The best thing we can do is try to figure out Ferrier's motive."
"We know his motive! He's scum! He wanted money!"
"From the Alliance?" said Kerri, "He'd have made more selling us to the Empire. And why go to such elaborate lengths to set us up? He didn't even know us."
Marta sat down on the couch, frustrated. "So maybe he's working for Thrawn."
"But why us? Why frame two members of a small ship's bridge crew. It just doesn't total!"
The other woman shrugged. "Thrawn is smart. Maybe he meant to do exactly what he did: Destabilize the Alliance."
"He would have had to know something about us to do that. That implies that there IS a spy, somewhere."
"Don't bet on it, sister," said the navigator with a rough chuckle. "Thrawn can invent strategies from stardust. His strength is understanding his opponent's minds."
A strange thought hit Kerri: Marta WAS innocent, wasn't she? Cautiously, Kerri asked, "How do you know so much about Thrawn?"
"His strategy interested me, so I asked the captain about him. They used to be friends."
"I know," said Kerri. "Anyway, just think of this as a vacation. If I know Rik, he'll have us cleared in no time."
"It's been two months!" said Marta, "And the Alliance isn't the only organization in the galaxy."
Kerri frowned. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying, there are a lot of people fighting the Empire. Mercs, planetary militia... we could leave the Alliance."
"The Alliance is our last, best hope against the Emperor," said Kerri Lynden, fingers stroking the alien crystal around her neck that shielded her influence on the Force.
"But its not the only hope." Janzen paused, "We could even... go to the Empire."
"I don't mean really," said Janzen, "I mean, we're both pretty smart. We could act as spies, or double agents, or something. Anything's better than just sitting around."
The young Jedi stared at her friend. She'd never particularly liked Marta, but she'd never distrusted her before. "It would be worse than useless until the Alliance trusts us again."
"They'll never trust us," said Marta, "Face it, Kerri. We are on our own. If there's anything I've learned in this galaxy, it's that you can only trust yourself."
Kerri peered at her colleague. "That's a terrible attitude."
"Maybe," said Marta, "What's that?"
She pointed at the crystal Kerri wore around her neck. A bit thrown by the sudden aside, Kerri said, "Nothing. An old memento."
"Rik Evverd give it to you?"
Kerri didn't know whether Marta Janzen was jumping to conclusions or just fishing for information, but in any case it didn't seem too dangerous to tell part of the truth.
"No," she said, "My parents."
Marta looked at her with some sympathy. "They're gone now?"
The green eyes bored into Kerri, making her strangely uncomfortable. "My parents are gone, too. It's tough without family."
"It is," Kerri agreed, and looked around for a way to change the subject.
"May I see it? The crystal?"
Kerri cleared her throat. "I was thinking of making some kind of stew for dinner... unless you'd prefer leftovers..."
Janzen nodded knowingly. "It's important to you, huh? Don't want to take it off. I understand."
"We could always have some of the rations we brought along from the FREEDOM, though they're not very good."
Marta Janzen said, "You're a Jedi, aren't you?"
Kerri fell into a coughing fit. "What? That's, um... that's ridiculous. The Jedi are dead."
"No offense meant," said Marta, "It's just, I've noticed things about you. You're always calm, you seem to get into and out of impossible situations. You never talk about your past. And I still can't figure out that EXECUTOR standoff - unless someone influenced Thrawn's helmsman, made him go to lightspeed inside the gravity well."
Kerri shrugged it off. "Oh, come on - is that really what you thought? That I was a Jedi Knight? Let me explain the matter to you, Marta: Any Jedi who still lived would not be in the middle of a war. She or he would bury themselves on the tiniest, most insignificant dirtball of planet they could find, and hope for Palpatine to die."
"You're right," said Marta, "It's silly. I apologize."
"No offense taken. I'm flattered."
"Still," Janzen said, and she got up from the couch, "If I were a Jedi, I wouldn't be sitting here on Abregado. I'd be out finding whoever framed me." The green eyes flashed. "And then I'd make him pay."
"She's still gone, Captain Evverd," said Captain Mykel Garreth of the frigate FREEDOM. He knew who was in the office with him without having to look up, but at length he did so anyway, "As she was yesterday. And last week. And last month."
"Thanks to you," said Evverd.
Garreth shrugged. "Accidents happen."
"Oh, come on. Both suspects AND the prime witness escaping? You let them go."
Garreth lanced the father of his ship's squadron leader with a glare. We didn't let the WITNESS go, he thought. "That's a serious accusation, Captain."
"And not one I take lightly. But it's been clear from the beginning that you're set on defending these women."
Garreth, a short man with thinning black hair worn long in back, was dwarfed by the other man's bulk, but unintimidated. After all, he'd stood toe-to-toe with Lord Vader. "I stand for the truth, sir."
"Or your version of it."
Garreth held the stare for a moment, then flicked his gaze back down to his datawork. "I see why your son is so fond of you."
Rasir Evverd's nostrils flared. "Don't bring my son into this."
"You certainly haven't been willing to." In truth, Garreth didn't care at all about Evverd's family squabbles, but it was a useful method of putting the other man on the defensive.
"You know nothing about the situation!"
"Perhaps not," said Garreth, "But I know this: I was you once. Too stubborn to see the truth that was in front of my nose. It cost me the chance to see my grandchildren grow up. Don't let it do the same thing to you."
Rasir Evverd still looked angry, but something in his eyes said that Garreth had hit the target.
Good, thought Garreth, now storm out of the office...
"I'm not interested in discussing this," said Evverd, and walked out.
Garreth breathed a sigh of relief. He tried not to dwell upon the thought that his words, however much they'd been staged for effect, had been accurate.
Rik Evverd's X-Wing set down, and R2-B0 tweedled.
"Yeah," Evverd agreed, "You go get a lube job. I got something to do before we head back out."
Evverd popped the hatch and vaulted over his fighter's nose to the FREEDOM's deck. His bootheels clanged against the metal, and Evverd jogged through the bustling, greasy hangar bay to the fighter on the far end.
"How's he doing, Brynn?"
Brynn Avers looked up from the guts of a dissected hyperdrive. "Fine, as a pilot. Hopeless as a mechanic."
"I was always terrible at this kind of thing," said young Jev Parrak, the rawboned Alderaanian who had recently been designated Mav Four. After his successful mission to Tralus a few months ago, Jev had applied for, and been granted, a transfer from FREEDOM's helm to her X-Wing squadron.
"You'll get the hang of it," said Evverd, "You fly on the simulator this morning?"
"Aw, c'mon, boss. I don't need the simulator. You said yourself, I'm a good pilot!"
"You're gonna be a DEAD pilot," said Evverd, "Fly the simulator, kid, or leave my squadron."
"But what good is it?" said the younger man, "I mean, it's not the same as real flying! I'd rather just fly extra patrols for practice."
Evverd laughed. "You think I'm trusting you with a real X-Wing until you're up on your simulator hours?"
"Isn't that a little harsh?" said Avers, "I promised to show the kid a Durosian Spiral later."
"Show him on the simulator," said Evverd. When the other man started to object, he cut him off. "Look, the Alliance doesn't have enough X-Wings to waste. I won't be responsible for some TIE jockey slagging your butt. Fly the simulator, or you're out."
Evverd looked from Jev to Avers. He grunted. "Kids..."
Evverd turned to find the source of the deep voice that had cut through the hangar's noise. He groaned.
Avers took in the heavyset man with the shaved head striding towards them. "If you want, I could really need help with this repair job..."
Evverd hesitated, sorely tempted. But he said, "No. This has been a long time in coming."
He motioned to his father, and the bigger man followed him to the corridor outside the bay, where the sounds of repair work and droids were not so overpowering.
"What is it?"
"Have you found Ferrier yet?" his father asked.
Evverd snorted. "You think I'd tell you if I did? Who told you I was looking, anyway?"
Rasir Evverd frowned. "It's obvious. I'm not as dumb as you seem to think."
"I never said you were dumb," Evverd correected him, "Unreasonable, hard-headed, unthinking, and a pain in the motivator, maybe..."
"I am serious, Rik." His father hesitated. "I was worried about you. I haven't heard from you in so long..."
"Yeah, but when we do talk, it's quality time."
"Stop it!" said Rasir, "You always do this! You never give a straight answer! How am I supposed to know what the problem is if you won't talk to me?"
"I tried talking for about twenty years, dad. I finally gave it up."
Rasir sighed. "Why do you want to help these spies?"
His son grunted. "What's it to you?"
"Because I want to know!" The older Evverd had always lacked a way with words. Frustrated, he said, "I want to know why these people matter to you. Why you're willing to put their good over the good of the Alliance."
"The good of the Alliance," said Rik, "Has nothing to do with turning over my friend."
"You're sure she's not a spy, aren't you?" The other man's eyes were honestly puzzled. "Why?"
"I've known Kerri for ten years, dad. Practically since I first left Corellia. She's saved my life! I believe in her."
"How is it that I never heard about this woman, if she's so important to you?"
From back in the hangar, Bo tweedled, his tone indicating something important. Evverd turned to go. "Because you just never much cared, Dad."
His father caught his arm. "That is not fair! I loved my family!"
"That's why Mom divorced you, huh?"
Rasir grabbed both his arms, and for a moment the younger man feared his father might actually strike him. But Rasir took a deep breath and backed off.
"You don't remember those times," he said, "There was so much to do - Palpatine had assumed power, the Jedi were being killed. I had my hands full just trying to preserve what was left! Maybe you did get shortchanged in the bargain, but that was never my intention."
Evverd's eyes shifted from his father to the docking bay, suddenly uncomfortable. "I gotta go..."
He was almost through the door, when Rasir said, "I hope you find Niles Ferrier." When Evverd nodded, his father said, "For what it's worth, I really hope your friend is innocent."
"She is," Evverd said without a doubt.
Rasir shrugged. "Look... just... let me know if I can expect grandchildren, all right?"
Evverd sighed. "It's not like that."
"You'd know better than I," his father admitted, "But still... I can't imagine going to this much trouble for anyone."
Evverd patted his father on the shoulder, aside from Rasir's grabbing him before their first physical contact in literally years. "Maybe that's your problem, Dad."
He entered the hangar, and didn't look back.
R2-B0 had assigned the job of rechecking the X-Wing's memory logs to a relatively low priorityupon their return. When he finally had a moment, after conducting minor repairs, he checked them, and found that a new message had just arrive.
It was from Dash Rendar.
He'd done some checking, and an old friend had told him that Niles Ferrier was on Bespin.
Evverd was in space within ten minutes.
Kerri Lynden sat bolt upright in her bed. "Rik!"
She must have called the name loudly, because Marta Janzen was at her door in a moment.
"What's the problem?"
"I..." Kerri hesitated, trying to sort through the vision she'd had. She remembered only the ending. Rik Evverd lying beaten on the floor somewhere while Ferrier stood over him, laughing. Part of her hoped it had been only a nightmare.
But she knew it wasn't. "I have to go."
"Go? Go where? What happened to 'It's not safe?'"
"Things have changed," said Kerri. She was up and dressed in a moment. "I've... suddenly realized that I can't abandon my duty. You should stay here."
But Janzen was blocking the door. "You are a Jedi, aren't you?"
Kerri cursed to herself in as many languages as she could remember while half-asleep. There seemed little point in denying it further. She grabbed her lightsaber from its place under her pillow and showed it to Marta.
"There! You're right, you see? Happy? Good! Let's go!"
Marta Janzen let her past the door, and Kerri was already halfway to their flitter when she called, "Wait! Where are we going?"
Kerri took a deep breath. "A city in the clouds..."
"No, I don't have a landing permit," Evverd said to the annoyingly close twin-pod cloud car on his right wing. "What I do have are proton torpedoes and a mean streak. Do you really want to do this now?"
The cloud car veered off.
He'll be back, Evverd thought, with friends. But this shouldn't take long...
Ferrier reached his bridge, and looked around. Totally empty. That's strange, he thought. Two of his people were supposed to be aboard ship at all times.
"Dacy? Larok?" Ferrier walked to the pilot's chair. "Buncha lazy, nerf-headed laser brains..."
"Hey, the Niles Ferrier autobiography." The pilot's seat swiveled to reveal a familiar Rebel in a brown jacket. "Can I write that down?"
Ferrier took in the blaster pistol held on him, muttered, "Oh, hey, look, Commander... I'm sorry if I forgot to say goodbye..."
"Who hired you?" said Evverd, standing up.
Beside him, Ferrier caught a flicker of movement. His wraith, blending in with the shadows, about to make a move. Knew I kept him around for some reason, the ship thief thought.
"Come on, Ferrier! Who hired you? Why'd you frame Kerri?"
Ferrier laughed. "You gonna shoot me, Commander? Huh? Where's your Rebel self-rightousness?"
"I'm about two seconds away from blasting a hole in your guts, Ferrier..."
The thief nodded easily, just trying to stall. "Well, you know, I'd like to help you, but they'd probably kill me..."
"They?" asked Evverd. The wraith was right beside him now, and the idiot still hadn't seen it.
"So I guess that leaves one thing to do," he went on, seeing the wraith tense. "Kill YOU!"
Ferrier threw himself to one side, avoiding Evverd's stun bolt, while the wraith slammed into the thin Corellian from the side.
Despite his size disadvantage, Evverd was a fierce fighter. He kicked the wraith off him, and slammed its head into the bulkhead. The wraith grabbed his right arm and twisted with alien strength.
Something popped in his shoulder, and Evverd cried out but recovered quickly, slamming his left fist into the wraith's stomach.
Ferrier knew his wraith would likely have won out in the end, but he wanted a piece of the fun, too. He moved in and smashed Evverd in the nose, tossing the other's head back.
Owed you that one, punk, thought the ship thief. Before Evverd could recover, he had the Corellian by throat.
And suddenly the lights went out on the bridge.
"What?" said Ferrier, and relaxed his grip slightly in his surprise. Evverd broke the grip and kneed him in the stomach, then twisted his arm behind him and slammed him into the wall.
Evverd started to run, but the wraith was too quick for him. From his knew vantage point on the floor, Ferrier saw the alien tackle Evverd, driving him to the floor. A clawed hand reached back, preparing to slash the Corellian's throat.
An arc of light slashed through it, and the wraith suddenly had no hand at all.
The lights came back up. That woman, the first officer from the ship, stood before Ferrier holding a lightsaber.
"Get away from him," she said, and the maimed wraith agreed wholeheartedly, retreating to the back of the bridge.
The Jedi - if she was one - held the tip of the lightsaber to Ferrier's throat. "A confession, please. Now."
Behind her, Marta Janzen, who had contacted Ferrier under the name Jade, pointed to herself and shook her head.
Knowing better than to anger the mysterious red-haired woman, Ferrier said, "Thrawn hired me. To screw up the Alliance. My wraith planted all the evidence. That's the truth, I swear!"
"I hope so," said Kerri. "Get out."
"What? This is my ship!"
She nodded towards Evverd, who was slowly getting to his feet. "Consider it damages. Good bye."
Ferrier hesitated, but she brought the saber's tip another centimeter closer do his throat, and the ship thief decided on the better part of valor. He gestured at the wraith, who joined him at the door.
When he was out of saber-range, Ferrier said, "You're gonna pay for this! Nobody steals my ship on me. You got that?" He nodded at the wraith, "And now I gotta spring for a robotic hand. You owe me big, you stupid Corellian."
Rik Evverd, in the pilot's chair now, said after a cough, "What're you blaming me for? She sliced him!"
"And she could dice him," Janzen said from the co-pilot's seat, "Unless you leave now."
Ferrier left, cursing the Empire, the Alliance, Evverd and the Jedi and Mara Jade, his wraith, and life in general the whole time.
"That's two X-Wings I've lost now," said Evverd later, remembering the ship he'd left behind on the Cloud City landing platform. "You know, I had everything under control."
Kerri laughed. "Sure you did, hotshot."
"Nice trick, having your droid turn off the lights," said Janzen. "Recording the dialogue was smart, too. You think the Corellians will believe his confession?"
Evverd grimaced. "I can talk to their rep about it. I think he'll be reasonable."
"That would be a first for an Evverd, wouldn't it?" Kerri said, "Oh, by the way, you owe me one."
Rik Evverd sighed. "I do, at that. I take it she knows?" He indicated Marta Janzen.
"She knows," Kerri said, "And has been sworn to secrecy."
Evverd grunted. "Some secret. She knows, Garreth knows, even Ferrier knows... whole Empire'll know where you are before long."
"I can handle it," said Kerri, "I doubt Ferrier understands the importance of what he's seen. And I trust the other people who know about me."
Though she spoke with conviction, Evverd caught her sidelong glance at Marta Janzen, and wondered if it had been Kerri's choice to include this new element in their little secrecy pact.
With a dislocated shoulder hurting his piloting, he surrendered the controls to Kerri and went aft to catch a nap. One problem at a time, he thought wearily...
"You have failed!" said the aged voice emanating from the darkened cloak in Mara's mind.
"Not failed," said Mara, "Just delayed. I had no idea her resolve was so strong. I spent the entire month working on her fears and her anger. It did nothing, except make her suspect me."
"I see," said the Emperor, "Then by all means you must take care that she ceases to suspect you."
"How?" Mara Jade asked.
"You will do nothing for the present," said the Emperor. "I believe we may have approached this matter incorrectly. I have been meditating, and I have foreseen a pattern I did not suspect. Given time, she will come to you."
Mara tried very hard to keep any disrepectful thoughts out of her mind. "That's impossible. She doesn't even trust me."
"Nevertheless, I have forseen it. She will come to you of her own will, and you will bring her before me. It is her destiny."
Mara sighed mentally. "I can't wait to be off this assignment."
"Patience, my Hand. There is ample time remaining. You will remain on that ship, with the Jedi, until further notice. She will come when the time is right."
"I want to believe that," said Mara, "I also think you should let me eliminate the Corellian. His interferance has caused trouble more than once."
The glowing eyes burned into her mind. "You may operate at your discretion. But take care that you do not fail me again..."
Continued in Episode 11
R. John Burke