Added on May 01, 1999
Category: Science Fiction/Star Wars
Author: R. John Burke

Death Star Horizon

STAR WARS: The FREEDOM Adventures Episode Fifteen

DESRIPTION: Kid from Tattooine makes a lucky shot, and a bunch of other events that will determine the fate of a galaxy.

NOTICE: Star Wars is a copyright of Lucasfilm, and some scenes herein contain material written by George Lucas. I have not sold it, and it is not for sale.


"The lead Star Destroyer is transmitting," said Harkin from the Nav/Comm crewpit.

Captain Mykel Garreth, a short man with dark hair and eyes and a lined face, muttered to himself for a moment, then said, "Let's get it over with."

The face of an older Imperial Admiral popped up on the holosender. "Hello, Captain Garreth. Do you remember me?"

Garreth sighed. "Rog Altris."

"Very good. You will hold position and prepare to be boarded. Your crew will be taken into custody."

He nodded fractionally. Well, it could be worse, he thought. Altris was reather reasonable, as Imperial officers went. He'd conduct this operation professionally, without the sort of grudge that many officers carried against a traitor to the Empire.

"We'll make preparations. FREEDOM out." He cut the hologram off.

Sedra Covell looked up at him from Weapons. "So what are we really going to do?"

The captain laugehd without humor. "We prepare to be boarded."

"That's not the Mykel Garreth I know," said Chief Okel, beside him.

"Better to die with honor," said the translator device held by Gaaraanzii, their chief engineer, "Than be made slaves of the Empire."

He addressed them all at once. "What would you have me do? Against one Star Destroyer, with a squadron of X-Wings and a working hyperdrive, I'd try it. But against six, and without those things? No."

Every mouth on the bridge opened to contradict him, but Garreth said, "I will not forfeit the lives of my crew out of ego. Advise the crew to prepare for an Imperial boarding party."

"It's over."

"Well, take care of yourself, Han... I guess that's what you're best at."

The blonde man - Skywalker, Evverd thought he'd heard, moved away. Evverd stood at a respectful distance, waiting for Solo to complete his business. His flight suit was already starting to feel uncomfortable, and it would only get worse in the heat of battle.

Just before the kid was out of earshot, Solo mumbled, "Hey, Luke... May the Force be with you."

Evverd's eyebrows turned up, and he half-smirked. That was a big concession for Solo, a man who had always dismissed the Force as "simple tricks and nonsense."

Luke left, and Solo's Wookiee co-pilot growled at him.

"What're you lookin' at? I know what I'm doing..." He continued loading a speeder with boxes of some sort-his reward, Evverd guessed, for rescuing the Princess Leia.

Evverd approached him. "Solo?"

His fellow Corellian looked up. "That's me. We know each other?"

"Not personally," said Evverd, "But I'm a friend of a friend - Rik Evverd."

He extended his hand, and Solo shook it briefly.

"Evverd... yeah, Dash Rendar mentioned you a couple of times. I understand you took over bein' the hot pilot in Corellian Sector after I left. What can I do for you?"

"Well, I wanted to warn you, for one thing. I spoke to Lando Calrissian the other day. He's pretty sore."

Solo waived a hand. "You gotta understand Lando. He gets that way."

"You're really not sticking around?"

"I've have to be crazy," Solo said, lifting a particularly heavy box with a grunt.

Evverd chipped in, though with a Wookiee on his side Solo didn't really need any help. "That sounds like the description I've heard."

Solo slammed down a box. "Now, look. I've already got the kid, and this big hairball, on my back. I don't need you..."

"Sorry," said Evverd, "Just didn't figure the great Han Solo would scare so easy."

Solo took another moment to appraise the thin, dark-skinned Corellian. "You really think you're gonna survive this, don't you?"

"I never lose," said Evverd.

"Yeah, well, I do sometimes. That's why I need this cash, 'cause I lost to the Hutt. I ain't gonna lose my ship, or my neck. You got that?"

"Sure," said Evverd, and loaded the last of the boxes. "I'll be glad to take your share of the credit... and the reward..."

"Reward?"

"Sure! You know there's a reward, right? Come on - if you got all this just for saving one Rebel, think what they'll give for saving a planet full."

"You're in it for the money?" Solo said, "You ain't as dumb as you look."

"Well, it's okay," Evverd told him as he walked off, "If you're happy with your little payday, instead of taking a shot at two or three hundred thousand..."

"Two hundred thousand?" Solo said to his back, "You're bluffing."

Evverd turned, and grinned. "Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not. Either way, you won't be able to resist finding out. See you in space, Solo."

He walked away before the other could get out a word. He didn't know if Solo would stay or not, but it had been worth a try. They were about to face the biggest star battle in history, and a little of that famous Han Solo luck sure could come in handy...

"Yes, my young apprentice. I can feel your anger." The sickly yellow eyes focused on Kerri from on high. "You wish to strike me down."

"I admit it's a chance many Rebels would kill for," she said, "But no. I don't act out of aggression."

"That is your weakness," said the Emperor, "I can teach you how to use your anger. Harness it for nearly unlimited power..."

"I don't want power," Kerri said. "Your own taste for power has turned you into a monster. I have no desire to follow your path."

"In time, you will understand." The Emperor waved a hand, and images, like holograms, appeared before her in the throne room. "Behold. Your ship, your friends... all will be lost, I'm afraid."

The images showed the FREEDOM, hanging in space surrounded by Star Destroyers, Imperial troops running wild throught the corridors, shooting down anyone in their path.

Theyt switched to Yavin, and Kerri saw fighter after fighter shot down by Imperial TIE's...

She looked away. "This is not the future. The future is always in motion. These are mere possibilities. My friends will not be so easily defeated."

"Stretch out your feelings. You know it to be true... Observe..."

The image switched to one particular X-Wing, one with a familiar R2 unit in the droid socket.

"Blue Leader, you've picked up a tail!"

Rik Evverd's voice said, "I can hold him."

"Veer off, I'll cover for you!"

"No." The X-Wing dove closer to the Death Star. "No way am I missing my shot at that trench!"

"Look OUT..."

A bent-winged TIE-Advanced soared in from behind and fired. Evverd's X-Wing disintegrated.

Kerri heard his scream, and closed her eyes.

"Yes," said the Emperor's voice, "He will die with the others, at Lord Vader's hand. As your mother did..."

"NO!" Kerri reached out with the Force and called her lightsaber to her. With one Force-enhanced leap, she somersaulted to the Emperor's pedestal.

And fell backwards as soon as she landed, stomach screaming in pain from contact with something hard.

Kerri got to her feet, saw the woman she knew as Marta Janzen standing in front of her master.

Mara smiled. "You didn't say 'May I?'."

Kerri's saber had fallen from her grip. She pulled it back, and the saber's blade ignited. Kerri advanced, waving the saber in front of her. It shone a deep red. Almost the same color, Kerri thought suddenly, as Lord Vader's blade. Why hadn't I realized that before? she wondered.

Because I've never before used it as Vader uses his, she thought. I've never struck in anger.

And I never will.

Kerri let the blade disengage, and returned it to her belt. "This is mine," she said of the blade, "And I will use it as I choose. You will not determine my destiny."

"Indeed?" Said the Emperor, "What if I offered to cease the attack on Yavin? I'll call it off, right now, and spare your friends. All you must do is join me."

Kerri allowed herself to consider the idea for only a second before dismissing it. Her course was set. "No. The Death Star must be destroyed. There must never be another Alderaan."

The Emperor's expression became angry, but he quickly regained his composure. "As you wish.If you will not relinquish your dependance on the pitiful Jedi Code, then you will suffer the fate of the Jedi who have gone before you." He nodded to Janzen. "Kill her, my Hand."

Janzen took a step forward, but paused. "Wait. Perhaps we should send her to the prison level, my master. Give her a few hours to reconsider your offer. She could still be a powerful ally."

The Emperor's frail form shrugged beneath his cloak. "As you wish. Two hours, Jedi. Consider my offer carefully, for I will not be so generous a second time."

Janzen stepped down from the pedestal, and led Kerri away.

"Where are we?" Garreth asked as the Imperial troop ship closed in his viewer.

Covell checked the sensors. "Not far out from Calamari. We only got as far as Sluis Sector before they tagged us."

"Better luck next time," Garreth muttered, though he knew there would be no next time. "But that's close enough to Alliance space for... Let me speak to Altris."

The Imperial's image popped up on the hologram again. "What is it, Captain?"

"There is one other thing," said Garreth, "You are under orders to bring me. But we're close enough to Rebel-controlled sectors for an eventual rescue. Allow my crew to take to escape pods."

"Those are not my orders," said Atris. "You agreed to comply."

"I'm altering the deal," Garreth said, "You owe me, Altris. I saved your ship from pirates off New Cov. Do you remember that?"

"I do," said Altris, "But I have my orders."

"Do your orders say to bring us back in a box?" Garreth asked, "Let my crew escape - safely - or I will scuttle this ship and you'll get nothing."

He fixed the Imperial commander with a stare, letting Altris know the simple truth: He wasn't bluffing. Come on, damn you, be fair about it, he thought...

From the background, someone spoke. "Sir, I believe I know Captain Garreth well enough to tell you he is not joking."

Garreth recognized the voice. "Gilad?"

"I'm here, Mykel," said the voice, and the holo's view expanded to show Commander Gilad Pellaeon by his commander's side. Pellaeon had been his own first officer, on the Star Destroyer Carida, a year and a lifetime ago...

Altris stared another moment. "My orders put emphasis on bringing in Mykel Garreth... I suppose I have no choice. Any crew still on your ship when the troop shuttle gets there will be taken into custody."

Garreth nodded. "I understand. You won't shoot the escape pods, though?"

Altris hedged, but said, "You have my word. Do I have yours that you will remain on your bridge?"

"You do."

The Imperial nodded, and the hologram disappeared.

Garreth breathed a sigh of relief. He turned off the comm, and said to the intercom, "All crew, this is the Captain. We are about to be boarded. Get to the escape pods, that's an order."

Garreth turned the intercom off, and looked around ast his bridge crew. "Well, move it, people."

No one moved.

He looked around at the faces of Okel, Covell, Gaar, Harkin. A few others he barely knew. His allies, his crew. His friends.

"It's me they want," he said.

"With respect, sir," said Covell, "It's all of us or nothing."

Garreth opened his mouth to argue.

Okel cut him off. "Captain!"

On the forward viewport, Garreth saw the approaching troop transport, but now red fire was pouring into it from above. After another moment, it exploded.

A voice on audio-only comm said, "This is Admiral Ackbar of the Calamarian fleet. The Mon Calamari are now a free people. You are violating our space and assaulting one of our allies. You will cease your attack, or face the consequences."

Covell blinked at her display. "Sir, now reading ten Mon Calamari Star Cruisers surrounding the Star Destroyers! I didn't even know they HAD that kind of armament..."

Okel smiled, Calamari-style. "My people are very resourceful."

"It still might not be enough," said Covell, "Six Destroyers and ten Mon Cal cruisers is about an even match."

"Let me talk to Altris," Garreth said, "I think I can persuade him to be reasonable."

"What IS this pattern you're running?" said Evverd, dismayed at the battle plan he'd just received on his fighter's telemetry. His group was supposed to be first down the trench - with him in the lead, and Avers and Jev sitting on his tail like tame Banthas, doing nothing.

"The other two X-Wings are flying cover for the leader," said Dodonna."

"No!" said Evverd, "That might work in the sims, but it's too predictable for real life! Some TIE pilot is gonna ease onto their tails and blast the wingmen from behind, then close in on the leader! If you want to to be any good, you've got to have the wingmen flying OVER the trench, where they can give the leader some real cover! Or better still - let the leader go it alone! Have the wingmen actually engage the enemy!" Sometimes Evverd marvelled at the fact that he was the only sane humanoid left in the galaxy.

"The plan is sound," said Dodonna.

"I ain't running it."

Dodonna hesitated, then said, "Very well, Blue Leader. Gold Squadron will attck the trench. Your group will participate in the diversionary attacks on the other side of the Death Star."

Evverd winced. He loved being involved in the action. The thought of being a hemisphere away, nothing but a decoy, while others got HIS shot to blow the sucker...

But he was, above all, a squadron leader. His people came first.

"Fine," he said, "Don't blame me when some TIE ace gets on their tails and picks off your Y-Wings one by one."

He snapped off the comm angrily, and hit the Close Hatch button.

Your logic was surprisingly flawless, said R2-B0 on the X-Wing's display, Dodonna will no doubt regret his decision.

"What good will it do us?" Evverd asked. "Fools are gonna get themselves killed..."

"Hey, Mav... I mean, Blue Leader. This is Blue Four, set to go. I can't believe we drew first shot at the thing."

Evverd smiled at Jev, feeling guilty that his stubborn nature had cost the Alderaanian his chance at revenge.

"Cool your thrusters, kid," he said, "We've been bumped..."

They walked down a side corridor of the Imperial palace without a word. Kerri glanced over at Janzen, wondering what went on behind those green eyes to make her so loyal to someone so totally deranged.

And abruptly, Janzen's arm lashed out, catching one of the Imperial guards in the stomach. He doubled over. Marta ignited Kerri's lightsaber and slashed it through his companion's torso, then slashed sideways to kill the first guard.

Just like that, they were alone in the corridor.

"What are you DOING...?"

Janzen switched off the saber and offered Kerri its handle. Then she reachd into her pocket and produced Kerri's force-null crystal. "Take these and go. Roof's that way, there's a supply shuttle you can steal. Would you do me a favor and knock me out before you go? I need an excuse."

Kerri stared, dumbfounded. "You're letting me go?"

Janzen shifted, uncomfortably. "I like you. You remind me... of what I could have been. Go. Before I come to my senses."

"Come with me," said Kerri, stowing her lightsaber safely on her belt again, "You can still be a Jedi."

"No..." said Janzen, "I don't think so. I'm just not cut out to serve the light side. I've seen too much darkness. Besides... the Emperor is still my master."

"He doesn't have to be!"

"Yes," said Janzen, eyes at once angry and somehow sentimental, "He does."

Kerri nodded, and drew back her fist to comply with Mara's wish, when abruptly words rang through her head, echoing in the Force.

AND YOU HAVE FAILED YOUR MASTER, HAVEN'T YOU, MARA JADE?

Jade? Was that her name?

"No!" said Mara, "It's only - one Jedi cannot be a threat to you! I didn't think it would hurt!"

YOU ARE MISTAKEN. SO LONG AS EVEN ONE JEDI KNIGHT REMAINS ALIVE, THE EMPIRE IS IN DANGER. YOU MUST KILL HER.

Mara gritted her teeth, fighting the words. "I don't want to!"

KILL HER, the voice repeated more loudly, OR I WILL JUDGE YOU UNWORTHY TO BE MY HAND.

"No... please..."

KILL HER NOW!

Mara Jade reached down to her own belt and drew a lightsaber. She ignited it, a golden blade that shone like Coruscant's sun.

"I'm sorry."

She swept her blade through where Kerri Lynden should have been - and realized that there was nothing there, Mara blinked. Had she really killed Kerri? Had the Jedi just... faded away? Mara had heard of powerful Jedi doing that...

Alter Mind is something I'm very good at, Kerri had said once.

Mara cursed to herself, and ran towards the roof.

"Blue group, report in," said Evverd.

On his screen, twelve X-Wing fighters were shown in sillhouette. As each fighter spoke up, its outline filled with color.

"Blue Two, standing by," said Avers.

"Blue Three, standing by," said a Rodian voice.

"Blue Four," Jev Parrak said nervously, "Standing by."

Soon all twelve fighters had checked in. Evverd's group rounded the curve of the planet Yavin...

And saw the massive grey superstructure of the Death Star.

"Look at the SIZE of that thing..." said Wedge's voice. Wedge was with Red Group - HE got to be close to the action.

"That thing blew up Alderaan," Jev said, and Evverd couldn't tell if it was a statement, a question, or an accusation.

"We'll never take down something that size," said Avers, "This is completely insane."

Rik Evverd grinned. "This is IT."

"It?"

"The big challenge," he explained for Avers and Jev, "Whoever blows that thing has to be the best there is."

"You sound like you're looking forward to it," said Avers.

"I would be," he said, "If we were doing something besides flittering around their hull like mynocks."

He flicked he S-foils into position and accelerated to attack speed. Around him, his people did the same. "Allright, everybody, try to look busy. If we're gonna draw any of their fighters off the main group, we gotta look like we're a threat."

"How do we do that, boss?" Jev asked.

"I dunno... fly menacing."

Blue Group soared in towards the moon-sized shape of the Death Star.

Kerri had almost managed to hotwire the shuttle's ramp when Mara Jade caught up to her.

"Hello, Kerri," she said, "I'm sorry, but you'll go no further."

"A minute ago, you said you didn't want to kill me."

"I don't," said Mara. "But the Emperor wants me to. And I will never fail my Emperor. I was weak before, but that's over."

"You weren't weak," Kerri said, "You were strong. You have the strength to beat him, and break the grip of the Dark Side. The only question is, do you want to?"

Mara lifted her golden saber into an en garde position. "Defend yourself."

Kerri gauged her chances of finishing the job before Mara got to her, and knew there would never be time. She stood and ignited her own blade.

"I wish we didn't have to do this," said Kerri.

"Enough talking," Mara hissed, diving in with her saber, "Fight!"

Their blades crossed, hissing and spitting with angry sparks as each woman tried to gain an advantage. Kerri stepped backwards, and Mara's blade swept through empty air.

She's talented but raw, Kerri realized. The Emperor doesn't want to teach her enough to be a threat to him.

I could probably kill her, thought the Jedi.

Mara leapt forward and struck again. Kerri blocked the blow, but felt Mara's blade singe her hair as the Emperor's Hand suddenly changed her grip and poked at her with the saber's tip.

Kerri stumbled back. Or, then again...

Mara charged again, and again Kerri backed up, their blades mixing with the evening sunset atop the highest building in the known galaxy. Mara struck wildly and fiercely, again and again. Kerri was continually driven back.

Feeling herself pressed against the permacrete guard at the roof's edge, Kerri knew she'd best start fighting in earnest, or she would die.

She leapt over Jade flipping in the air to land facing her opponent, and suddenly Mara was trapped against the edge of the roof.

Kerri's blade sizzled forward, cutting off a lock of the other woman's long, red-gold hair. Mara got her saber up in time to bat aside a more devastating blow. Their blades crossed, sizzling again.

The Emperor's Hand came up with a knee to kick her opponent again in the stomach. Kerri doubled over, turned it into a sideways roll, and evaded Mara's saber as it slapped into permacrete. Kerri kicked out with her foot and caught Mara in her ankle.

Jade started to tumble backwards, towards the railing. She dropped her saber as she fought to keep her balance.

Kerri leapt up, reaching out to simultaneusly steady Mara and poise her own saber above her opponent's exposed throat.

Mara looked up at her with cold green eyes. "End it. Come on, don't keep me waiting!"

Kerri took a step backwards, blade still pointed at Mara's throat. "I'm not going to kill you. I'm a Jedi."

A voice in Kerri's mind laughed, and she could see that Mara heard it, too: Not just any laugh, an angry, hollow cackling.

THEN YOU HAVE SEALED YOUR FATE.

Abruptly, Kerri's blade spun out of her hands, and Mara's lightsaber flew back into hers.

But instead of the expected triumph, Mara looked angry. "You shouldn't have interfered! She beat me honestly! What kind of a victory is this?"

The voice only said, KILL HER, MARA JADE.

Mara struck. Kerri dodged, and dove towards her lightsaber where it sat in a corner. Her fingers found it, but it rolled away, to the other end of the rooftop.

The Emperor, Kerri thought. He's taunting me. Mara's blade came at her in an arcing, upwards sweep. Kerri was forced to vault up onto the side-guard to avoid it. She slid too far, towards the edge, and hung by her fingers from the guard.

Mara looked down at her, saber held ready. Kerri could see the conflict in her eyes. She didn't want to strike.

If she does, I die, Kerri thought. If she doesn't, the Emperor will kill her for her disobedience. And there may yet be a chance to teach this young adept a little something about the Jedi.

Kerri called her mother's image into her mind, knew that Kaelin would be proud.

She smiled at Mara, and released her grip on the permacrete.

And tumbled off the Palace rooftop.

"Blue Leader, I've got one on me!"

"Stay calm, Jev," Evverd circled up over a TIE Advanvced, then dove back towards the surface of the Death Star. Ignoring the flickers of turbolaser blasts from a nearby gun tower, he dove in towards the Death Star, its cold, metal surface rushing up at him. Below, he could see Jev, swivelling back and forth around the uneven surface, trying to dodge the specter of a pursuing TIE fighter.

TIE fighters, plural.

"Actually, kid, you got two on you. Hang on." Evverd pulled the trigger, and one of the TIE's exploded into falme. Behind him, Bo screached as the TIE Advanced rolled back onto his tail.

He concerntrated on the second TIE, trusting his fighter to hold together until he had a moment to spare.

He pulled the trigger again, and Jev was clear. "Twin Ion Engine, my eye. I think they hold those things together with space tape..."

The one behind him, perhaps taking exception, lip up Evverd's aft shield until it collapsed.

Close to the surface now, Evverd did a little swerve to stall his pursuer, then zeroed in on the nearest turbolaser tower. He soared right past it at full speed. He was quick enough to evade the fire...

The TIE Advanced was not.

Evverd hit his comm. "Blue Two, how's it goin' out there?"

"Rysso's gone, boss. Raulee, too."

The Corellian cursed to himself, and said, "How about the main attack?"

"Looking real bad. Gold group bought it, Red Leader bought it, now some kid is flying the trench."

"All right," said Evverd, "Pull up. If the kid can't do it, you, me, and Jev will take a shot. With a better formation."

"Got it," said Avers, "Better hurry - some TIE Advanced is really dogging the kid's tracks. He's already lost both wingmen..."

Evverd snorted. "I tried to warn 'em. Okay, turn to point..."

"Too late. Death Star is in range, looks like."

"We have to try," said Evverd, "How's the kid doing?"

"Bad," said Avers from her better vantage point. TIE has him locked in. I'd help, but I'm too far away... What the HELL?"

"YEEEE-HAAAA!"

Through his comm receiver, Evverd heard a familiar Corellian voice say, "You're all clear, kid! Now let's blow this thing and go home!"

SOLO?

"The kid's firing," said Avers, then, "It's a hit! I don't believe it! That's an impossible shot!"

"Pull up," said Evverd, "Blue Group, pull up! Let's get out of here!"

Blue Group peeled off from the Death Star at top speed, engines racing. A moment later, a flash of light shone at the edges of Evverd's cockpit.

Solo said, "Great shot, kid! That was one in a million!"

Through his receiver, the squadron leader heard Jev say, "How'd they DO that, anyway?"

"It's Solo, kid," Evverd told him, "I said it'd take the best to blow that Death Star - and I was right."

Solo and Skywalker got their medals, and in the raucous victory party that followed, Evverd found time to congratulate Solo. Solo accused Evverd of trying to con him with the talk of a reward, but Solo had known all along there was none.

Meanwhile, Jev Parrak sought out someone else. "Um, Your Highness?"

Princess Leia Organa, radiant in her white formal dress, turned to see the gangly young man who had approached her.

"Yes?"

"Lieutenant Parrak, ma'am. I'm... from Alderaan. I wanted you to know... how glad I am that you got out."

Leia smiled sadly, and Jev saw in her eyes that here was one person who really could understand his situation.

One who was going through it with him.

"So many didn't, though," Leia said.

"No," Jev agreed, "The important thing is that we never forget who did this. We gotta make the Empire pay."

"We will, Lieutenant," said Leia Organa, and her expression left no room no doubt, "This is only the beginning. The Empire will be destroyed."

In the middle of the night, Evverd comm bleeped. He cursed and flicked it on. There, in a non-holo visual transmission, was the woman he'd known as Marta Janzen.

"Hello, Commander," she said, "Don't even try to trace this, because you won't be able to. I have something to tell you."

Evverd grimaced. "You got a lot of guts calling here, lady..."

"Kerri is dead."

The words seemed to rip out most of Evverd's guts, so he instinctively denied them. "You're a liar."

"Yes," she agreed, "But I can't lie about this."

She held up Kerri's lightsaber, and flicked it on so that Evverd could see the ruby blade. Unable to feel anything but disbelief, Evverd just stared at the image.

"I wanted you to know. So you wouldn't always be wondering, and also because she died bravely. I didn't mean for this to happen."

Evverd's fist slammed down on the cutoff switch so hard that he broke it. He lay back in his bunk, too stunned to process the news or know what to believe, with only one thought chasing itself through his mind:

What am I going to do if she's really gone?

Mykel Garreth stared out the observation deck of the frigate FREEDOM, towed to safety at the Calamarian repair yards. When not in motion, he reflected, the stars could be quite pretty.

Altris had indeed been reasonable, agreeing that his orders had not included getting his task force shot out from under him. The Imperial fleet had withdrawn, leaving Garreth to wonder if that first tentative cease-fire could ever be repeated on a galactic scale.

At the very least, Admiral Ackbar and his new armada helped to even the odds.

"Captain?"

He turned to see Rik Evverd, dressed in his krayt-skin jacket and jeans, looking very much like he'd been when Garreth had last seen him. Except his eyes. They seemed distant, as though he weren't quite paying attention.

"Hello, Commander. I was just looking at the stars. Did you just get in from Yavin?"

"Yeah," said Evverd, "We're already starting the evacuation. The Imps'll be back, and they'll hit it hard."

Garreth nodded, and said, "I was sorry to hear about Kerri. I never should have let her go..."

Evverd shook his head. "Not your fault. Anyway, she's not dead. I'd know if she were."

"Er, Commander, I realize there is some precedent for Kerri sensing you in the Force," he hesitated, not really sure he wanted to burst the other man's bubble, "But the idea that you could sense her..."

"I'd know," Evverd repeated, and Garreth was not inclinded to doubt him.

"In that case, we'll find her," he said, "How's Jev?"

"About as well as can be expected," said Evverd, "In other words, he's pretty low. But he's struck up a friendship with that Princess, Leia Organa, and they seem to be helping each other."

"That's good," said Garreth, "I imagine he'll recover soon."

"Maybe," said Evverd, "What'd we win here, Captain? The Death Star is gone, but we've lost our biggest supporter in Bail Organa, a lot of good people... I don't know if we can win this one."

"Come now, Mister Evverd," said the captain, "You should know by now... we never lose."

Evverd chuckled, and they stood there for a time, watching the stars.

In the depths of Imperial city on Coruscant, one of the inhuman, mutated denizens scuttled forward to examine a new arrival. It was spherical, almost cocoon-shaped, and it glowed with its own golden, inner light.

The creature leaned over it, studying it in case it was edible or dangerous.

It was neither, but it contained within it the form of an olive-skinned woman. Her eyes were closed, and her dark hair seemed to stir, as if in an unseen breeze.

The creature growled to itself, puzzled, and scurried off in search of food.

Coming soon: STAR WARS: BY FREEDOM'S LIGHT (A sequel!)

R. John Burke


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