STAR WARS: By FREEDOM'S Light Episode Three
DESRIPTION: Black Sun takes exception to the search for Kerri.
NOTICE: Let's see... This story is based on characters and situations created by George Lucas, check. It is totally non-profit, check. Anyone who sells this story will be drawn and quartered, check. That's everything, I guess...
"Kerri?" Evverd repeated, resting his hand lightly on the glowing oval they'd found at the base of the Imperial Palace. It felt solid, like a forcefield but without the crackling electricity.
Kerri Lynden, quite possibly the last Jedi Knight, floated in the middle of the cocoon shape as though held up by an unseen power; her long, dark hair fluttered, though Evverd couldn't imagine what was moving it.
She was dressed as she had been when he'd last seen her, that day in the FREEDOM's docking bay, in her same simple almost-uniform tunic, utility belt, and pants. The only difference was the empty loop on her belt where she had been carrying a lightsaber. The lightsaber was with Marta Janzen now, or at least that was the name given to Evverd by the slender woman with the long, red-gold hair who had apparently defeated Kerri.
Three months, he thought. Can she still be alive in there after three months?
Next to him, their guide, the Shistavenian wolfman Lak Sivrak, growled. "What is that, Evverd? She appears as though in stasis..."
"She does," said Evverd, "but there's no equipment around to have put her there."
The third member of their rescue party, a gangly young Alderaan survivor named Jev Parrak, stood transfixed with the others. Jev had seen this in his mind, or so he claimed. He had led them to Kerri.
He said, "It's incredible..."
"How do we get her out?" said Evverd.
Jev chuckled, self-consciously. "Don't look at me. I don't even know how I knew she was here."
"The power of the Force," Evverd said, still watching the cocoon, "Has to be..."
"The Force!" Sivrak said disdainfully, "A fantasy imagined by a bunch of old wizards. I don't know she got in there, but I guarantee you, my friend, there is a logical explanation."
Evverd smirked at the wolfman. "Name one."
"Perhaps a... a magnetic polarization field."
"Uh-huh," said Evverd, "Do you even know what that is?"
Sivrak looked down. "No."
"There's one way to find out how she got in there," said Jev.
Evverd nodded. "Ask her. I say we do it."
It was Sivrak's turn to smirk. "Do what?"
"Crack the thing open," said Evverd, a wiry, dark-skinned Corellian, "Get her out."
Evverd frowned down at the glowing oval. "I'll think of something..."
"Hurry, Rik," the wolfman said, "Those mutants are easily startled, but they'll be back soon enough."
Sivrak referred to the grayish, deformed, half-animal creatures, remnants of whatever humans had lived on Coruscant's surface in eons past, that had surrounded Kerri when they arrived. Sivrak had scattered them, but he was correct in noting that they would return.
Evverd looked down at Kerri's face. So peaceful, he thought, like in a coffin. He pushed the thought away. She had to be all right. Therefore, she would be. His luck had never failed him yet.
But they still had to get her out. Evverd drew his blaster. "Stand back."
"No!" said Jev, "You can't just blast through it. Don't you feel it?"
"Feel what?" the Corellian asked with a frown.
"The energy," said Jev, drawing closer to the ovoid shape, "The power... this is the stuff that binds the galaxy together."
"Right," said Sivrak, "Forget about gravity and physics and things we can understand. The galaxy is bound by hocus-pocus."
"It's not a joke, Sivrak!" Evverd's eyebrow's arched. The Shistavenian was a rough customer, and his people were known for hair-trigger tempers. For Jev to stand up to the wolfman with such intensity...
But Jev hardly seemed aware of what he was doing. Eyes partially closed, he moved forward to lay both hands on the oval. Inhaling long, deep breaths, he began to mutter to himself.
The field surrounding Kerri began to shimmer.
Sivrak stepped backwards. "What's he DOING?"
Evverd shrugged. "Using the Force, I guess..."
The field began to hum, just at the edge of Evverd's auditory range. Sivrak winced and covered his ears; Shistavenian hearing was far more acute. It flickered in and out, shrinking in on itself.
Jev moved his hands over the field, lowering it, and Kerri, to the ground. His eyes were still closed.
With a harsh sizzle like the sound of Kerri's lightsaber igniting, the field winked out, and Kerri Lynden lay on the ground before them. Her chest moved up and down rhythmically, putting Evverd's worst fears to rest.
Jev stepped back, drained and disoriented. "What'd I do?"
Evverd took his eyes off Kerri long enough to glare at his young protegee. "You don't know?"
"Come on, what'd I do?"
Kerri's eyes blinked, and she stirred. She yawned and stretched as though awakening from a long nap. Then, abruptly, she seemed to realize that the ground she was laying on was foul smelling and dirty, and she jumped to her feet.
"Rik?" she asked, surprised, "Jev? What happened?"
Now Evverd was really concerned. "You don't know, either?"
She shook her head, "The last thing I remember, I was dueling with Mara Jade - that's Janzen's real name - and I released my hold on the roof..."
"You WHAT?" said Evverd, moving forward to grab her by the arms, "What would make you do a stupid thing like that?"
"The same thing that brought me here," said Jev.
Kerri blinked, turning her gaze on him. "YOU found me?"
"Yeah," said Jev, "Funny, too. I saw where you were in a dream - but it wasn't just a dream, you know?"
"I think I do," said Kerri, "I've had visions like that..." She reached into her pocket, and pulled out the jagged alien crystal whose power in the Force shielded her from the Jedi hunters, "I hadn't thought it before, but this crystal might be two-way blind, at east to some degree. And that one night on the FREEDOM, it did seem that you had latent Force skills. I didn't think they were very strong, or the Emperor would have found you by now... I may have to try probing you without the crystal, to see how strong you are..."
"Well, you can't test that theory now," said Evverd, pointing up and the massive structure towering over them much higher than they could see, especially in the almost pitch dark, "Palpatine's right in there. You lose the crystal, we'd have ten squads of stormtroopers down here."
Sivrak shook his head. "I told you, they won't come down here. Nobody does, except our rebels."
"For a Jedi," Evverd said, "They'd make an exception."
Kerri rubbed at her eyes, really taking in her surrounds for the first time. "We're still on Coruscant. This is the base of the Palace?" At Sivrak's affirmative grunt, she continued, "How long?"
"Over three months," said Evverd, "We thought we'd lost you."
Kerri instinctively reached down to her belt. "My lightsaber... Jade must have it..."
"You can build a new one," Evverd said, "Right now, let's get outta here..."
Sivrak sniffed the air, wrinkled his predator's nose. "He's right. But I don't smell the mutants approaching..."
"You can't smell anything good over the stench," said Evverd, "Go on, you and Jev. We'll catch up in a second."
Jev frowned. "We shouldn't split up."
Sivrak grabbed his arm, growled menacingly, and led him away. He's a good wolf to have around, Evverd thought.
Kerri was looking at him, and he looked away. It was time to address some old business - something Evverd had been dreading since beginning this trip. Though he considered himself to be dashing, Evverd knew he was really terrible at things like this.
His cleared his throat. "Do you remember... um, what I said...the last time we spoke?"
Kerri's eyes widened in surprise. "No. The Jedi trance must have scrambled my short-term memory!"
"You're kidding!" said Evverd, trying to hide his relief.
"Yes," she said, her eyes sparkling with amusement, "I am."
"Oh," said Evverd. He added with a groan, "I'm in big trouble, aren't I?"
A voice behind him said, "You have no idea, Commander."
Evverd and Kerri both turned to see a blonde woman, human in appearance, standing with a contingent of oddly familiar-looking troops. Not stormtroopers, but the weapons they carried were just as deadly. They held Jev and Sivrak, the Wolfman snarling and clawing and generally making life miserable for those who tried to detain him. Only the force-binders on his wrists kept him from slashing several throats.
The blonde woman said, "Put your blaster down, Commander, or these two will regret it."
"Sure." Evverd dropped his weapon and kicked it aside. "No need to get touchy."
"It's going to get touchier, I'm afraid." The woman fixed him with a glare that was strangely wrong, almost too cold to be genuine. "You have an appointment with Black Sun."
"We have returned, my prince."
Xizor, Dark Prince of the Black Sun crime syndicate, stood from behind his desk. His black topknot fell across scaled green skin at the low back of his luxuriant robes. "You have succeeded?"
Were she as human as she looked, the replicant droid Guri would have been offended. "Of course."
"Then bring them in," said Xizor, "I have things to discuss with them."
"There is an added bonus, my prince." Guri hesitated, in a rare moment of confusion. "Though I cannot say exactly when or how, another member of Mykel Garreth's crew has joined with the Rebel officers. I studied their dossiers prior to this mission, and I believe that the new arrival is a woman named Kerri Lynden, who is Garreth's first officer."
"Indeed?" said Xizor, "That is either very fortunate or entirely too convenient."
"My thoughts exactly," said Guri, "But I have detected no trickery so far."
"But you will remain alert?" An unnecessary question. Like Xizor himself, Guri was always alert; she could hardly be anything else.
"Of course," said Guri. At Xizor's nod, she left the office.
She returned with four prisoners. One of them, a Shistavenian wolfman, was known to him as Lak Sivrak, a great tracker currently wanted by the Empire. The other three were all members of Garreth's crew. Xizor had also looked into Black Sun's extensive records while Guri had been gone, and he was able to positively identify two of them.
The male was Rik Evverd, a dark-skinned Corellian who now sported a mustache that was not in Black Sun's most recent holo. In addition to his participation in the Battle of Yavin three months past, Evverd was also wanted for a score of other crimes against the Empire in a rather colorful career as a star pilot and scoundrel.
His most interesting achievement, however, was not generally know to the Empire. Xizor's nearly unmatched intelligence sources said that this Corellian had been at the helm of Garreth's frigate, the FREEDOM, when it had engaged the Imperial Star Destroyer RESILENT over a year ago. The FREEDOM had emerged relatively unscathed; the RESILENT had not.
Xizor resolved to keep an eye on this one. A man who could eliminate Star Destroyer with a mere NEBULON frigate would be a dangerous enemy, indeed.
The woman was worth keeping an eye on for other reasons. A medium-sized human of indeterminate planetary origin, Kerri Lynden was quite lovely, with her dark hair and large brown eyes set against a tanned, high-cheekboned face.
She was indeed the FREEDOM's first officer. His spies also claimed that she had been involved in a number of questionable incidents in her career, suggesting she was more powerful than she appeared, but they had been unable to draw any conclusions. She had a history with Evverd; they'd apparently been working together long before they had joined the Alliance.
The young human male was unfamiliar to Xizor, which meant either that he was new to the galactic scene, or relatively unimportant. Likely it was both, though the Falleen prince detected several physical cues marking him as being from Alderaan. An interesting bit of information, what with so few of them surviving, but hardly very useful.
He settled back in his chair and said, "Welcome. I am Xizor, Prince of Black Sun."
Sivrak snarled and strained his force-cuffs. "If you intend to kill us, do it now. Don't toy with us like a vornskr with its prey."
"You misunderstand me," said Xizor, "I have nothing at all against the four of you. Instead, my quarrel is with Captain Garreth."
"Who's that?" said Evverd.
"Please, my young friend. Do not insult me. I know who you are. I know you serve the Rebel Alliance aboard a frigate with Captain Mykel Garreth, an old acquaintance of mine."
"Funny, he never mentioned you."
"He would not," said Xizor, "You see, the captain owes me a debt. All who owe something to Black Sun pay eventually."
"So what're we?" said Evverd, "Bait?"
Xizor laughed. "You think in small terms, my friend. Nothing so indelicate. You will not die." Xizor jabbed a finger at Sivrak. "Only he will."
Sivrak snarled and lunged at the Dark Prince. Guri was on top of him and beating him to the ground before any of the humans in the room could blink.
"That's not wise," Xizor told the wolfman. "Guri is very fond of me. She gets upset when my safety is threatened."
"I'll kill you," said Sivrak, "And her."
"The attempt would be amusing, if nothing else," said Guri. She pulled the Shistavenian roughly to his feet.
"Why Sivrak?" asked the young Alderaanian.
"If I were to threaten you directly, Garreth would mount his own rescue, and probably get himself killed."
"Isn't that what you want?"
"It is," Xizor explained, "But I want the Emperor's favor more. Garreth was a favorite of his, and His Majesty is not pleased with the captain's defection. A living Mykel Garreth, delivered to the Emperor for... disposal... would be worth more to me than his death."
Xizor already had it arranged, actually. His own contacts would approach Garreth with news of Sivrak's death. Garreth would infer the rest, and Xizor's people would offer to take the rebel to Black Sun. He would go, and they would betray Garreth to Xizor. Who would hand him to the Emperor.
"You three will be taken to a detention cell," said Xizor, "When Garreth is ours, you will be free to go."
"We're going to escape," said Kerri, "Do not underestimate our power."
"You have no power at the moment, my dear." Xizor looked from her to Guri, and allowed himself to show his smile, instead of merely feeling it.
"As for the escape attempt... I look forward to it."
"You're certainly calm about this!" said Jev Parrak from his place on the upper bunk.
"Relax, kid." They'd been placed on the detention level of Xizor's formidable palace. "Xizor doesn't have any idea who he's got there. But my calculations, we should be rescued within the next half-hour."
The door hissed open. "You're early..."
But it was not Kerri Lynden in the doorway. It was the woman known as Guri. Her tunic's pocket had a slight bulge, and Evverd thought he recognized the distinctive shape of Kerris' crystal, which had been confiscated with the rest of their gear.
"Come with me," she said.
Kerri lay there on the bunk, as pale as a Twi'lek and deadly still. Evverd watched her on the monitor, and his heart sank. He thought, some kind of delayed reaction to whatever was in that gold cocoon?
"She has been like this for an hour," said Kerri, "If you wish to save her life, you will cooperate."
"What can I do?" Evverd asked.
"Her metabolic functions are nearly gone. It seems as though she has experienced a sudden trauma, or perhaps ingested a severe depressant. Does she have any history of such attacks?"
"None," said Evverd with a shrug, "If I didn't know better, I'd say she was faking it to get you to open the door."
"That's impossible," said Guri, "Our medical readings are confirmed. She is comatose."
Evverd turned away, to hide the look on his face. "Well, that's it, then."
Guri grabbed hold of his arm. "Were you issued a suicide mechanism for your mission?"
The pilot shook his head. "The Alliance doesn't work that way."
"An allergic reaction, then?"
"To what?" Evverd snorted, "Durasteel? You've got her in a detention cell. There's nothing to be allergic to."
"She was fed," said Guri, "The menu was..."
"Doesn't matter," he told her, "Kerri has no allergies that severe. My advice to you is to get her a Onebee droid."
"One has been and gone."
Evverd looked away again. "In that case, I'll miss her. It's been a good run."
"My orders say that she is to live," said Guri, "I will not simply..."
He stared her in those strange ears. "There's one... no, never mind."
"What is it?"
"Well..." the Corellian hesitated, "The freighter we came here on wasn't very clean, and our last planet was Ghormen. We might have picked up a krrarrat or two. Their bite can cause a delayed reaction like this."
"Had she displayed any symptoms?" asked Guri.
"None," said Evverd, "But you can't really tell with krrarrats. You have to look for the bite wound."
Guri nodded. Another jailer might have hesitated, but she'd already displayed her ability to put Sivrak down with ease, so she probably thought Kerri wasn't much of a threat.
"It's just a longshot," he said, "I wouldn't even worry about it."
"Stay here," she said, and nodded to a nearby sentry, who trained his blaster rifle on Evverd.
The cell door opened, and Guri moved in towards the bunk. She got four steps before an invisible hand picked her up and flung her across the detention block, into the far wall.
The sentry, alarmed, turned his blaster rifle on the cell, where Kerri still hadn't moved. Evverd was on him in a second. He took the rifle and smashed the sentry over the head.
The other man fell to the floor, and lay still.
Guri was on her feet now. She moved in towards Evverd, who snapped off three quick shots with his new rifle. The shots hit Guri, but did not seem to damage her. Instead, the area they connected with melted with an ugly frying sound, as though it was plasteel instead of flesh. Guri grabbed the wrist that held the weapon and yanked. Evverd screamed as the bone snapped in two.
What IS she? he wondered.
He didn't have time for anything else before a metal grate ripped itself from the wall, flew across the room, and lodged itself into Guri's neck.
She staggered backwards, sparks and sizzling sounds coming from the wound. Guri collapsed backwards, against the control console.
Evverd ran to the console himself, checking its database. "About damn time..."
Kerri Lynden picked herself off the cell's cot and joined him in the detention area. "Sorry. It takes a lot of energy to break a Jedi trance. I was still a little sluggish."
Evverd held his wrist close to him, winced at the jolts of pain it sent him. "You owe me big."
"I don't know," she said as she took over the computer controls from him, "The way you were talking to Guri, it didn't sound like you much cared whether I lived or not..."
"I had to play it cool," he said. The proper readout came up on the screen: Sivrak was in cell VD-21, awaiting execution. "She wouldn't have gone in there if she thought I wanted her to."
"And then there's the way you acted in the lower levels..."
The Corellian grunted. "Partners for ten years, and she picks now to start listening to me. We should blow this dump."
"I'm ready to leave myself," she said. She reached down to pluck the crystal from Guri, and started off towards VD-21.
"Actually," he said as he ran after her, "I meant we should blow it UP. But leaving's good too..."
The sentries they met tended to be rather weak-minded, and Kerri proved her skills hadn't lost anything during her hiatus. None of them even saw the two humans as they sprung first Sivrak, then Jev.
"You should be careful with that stuff," said Evverd, "The Emperor thinks you're dead now, and we should keep it that way."
"On the other hand," said Kerri, "If I hadn't used the Force on them, the Emperor probably would be correct by now."
"Good point," he admitted as they headed off towards the hangar bay.
Evverd counted seven pilots hanging around Xizor's hangar bay when they arrived. They hid behind a stack of fuel bins.
"I can't confuse them all," said Kerri.
"Then we'll do it the old fashioned way," said Evverd. He pointed to Sivrak, then at one on the guards. The Shistavenian rumbled with delight.
"What about us?" said Jev, "Which one should we take?"
"Kid," said Evverd, "We got Sivrak on our side. Even I'm just going as backup..."
He followed the master tracker as he picked his way through the typically cluttered docking bay, looking for the best angle of attack. Finally, they paused, a few meters away from a knot of three pilots where they stood talking amongst themselves. They crouched behind an airspeeder.
Evverd nodded to the wolfman. "If you need help..."
What happened next was hard for Evverd to track, it happened so fast. The wolfman leapt over the airspeeder onto the back of one of the pilots. That one was no sooner down then Sivrak had slashed one of the others, who fell backwards, bleeding. The Shistavenian actually bit the third pilot, sinking his teeth into the man's gun arm.
The other pilots drew their weapons, aiming for the intruder. Evverd took down two with his borrowed blaster rifle, and another one fell backwards, propelled by an unseen Force. The pilot grinned to himself. Kerri's doing just fine without her lightsaber, he thought...
The seventh pilot had almost made it to the door, and the intercom system, when Jev Parrak toppled a stack of cargo containers over. They buried the last pilot.
Just like that, the bay was secure.
"I could have had the others," said Sivrak.
"I'm sure, pal. But you gotta leave some fun for the rest of us."
Sivrak laughed, tongue darting out to lick the blood off his formidable incisors.
Jev Parrak stared at him, dumbfounded. "I, um... I kinda thought those were just for decoration."
"Relax," said Sivrak, "I'm going to eat you."
"But you're going to eat SOMEONE," the young man from Alderaan protested, "That's just as bad..."
"Let's get outta here," said Evverd, and they piled into a pair of modified Skipray blastboats.
"Mav Leader, I have incoming!" said Jev Parrak's voice from the other blastboat.
"Of course you do," said Evverd, "Did you think this was gonna be easy?"
"And cut the Mav Leader stuff. That's only when we're in the good ships. In these pieces of Sithborn junk, I'm just Rik. Got it?" Evverd winced as he spoke. His Wrist hurt like anything, but he couldn't afford to let It slow him, not now.
"Okay," said Jev, "Um, RIK...I think we're gonna die."
Kerri leaned forward from her seat behind him and frowned at the scopes. "There's over two dozen fighters there..."
"And they can outrun us," said Evverd, "Get on the rear cannon!"
Kerri was already firing, and she was a good shot, but it wasn't going to make a difference. It would come down to whether they could make the jump to lightspeed in time.
Evverd checked his readouts, and offhand, he'd have guessed the answer was "no."
Xizor's attack fighters soared in, quickly stripping the shields off Evverd's clunky blastboat. One of the good things about blastboats was their thick hull, but in this case, it seemed unlikely to save him.
Evverd dropped straight down, then pulled into a roll, then looped around and turned the blastboat on its side. He knew Jev was probably performing similar manuevers.
None of them would do any good, he knew, unless they somehow bought themselves an extra thirty seconds.
And suddenly the attack fighters had stopped.
"What's going on?" asked Kerri.
Evverd checked the sensors. "I don't believe it - those bogies are being hit hard. By TIE fighters..."
"Lord Vader, what is the meaning of this? My craft are in pursuit of Rebel spies who have stolen my personal property! The Emperor will..."
"The Emperor has his own plans for those particular Rebels, Prince Xizor." Vader's booming, filtered voice contained not even a hint of the annoyance he felt when dealing with the Falleen. "You are not to interfere."
"You enjoy doing this, don't you?" Xizor's reptillian eyes were cold and angry, as they always were when addressing Vader.
"My only enjoyment is serving the Empire," Vader said. "Those who stand in my way," and he glanced out his skyhook in orbit of Coruscant to see his TIE fighters ripping Xizor's attack fleet into ribbons, "will be destroyed."
Vader cut off the comm. The Emperor would back him, he knew. Xizor was just a worm. Vader shared the power of the Force with his Emperor, something the Falleen with all his treachery could never match.
Still, he'd taken a risk telling Xizor it was the Emperor's will. In point of fact, the Emperor was making one of his occasional tours of the Fortress Mountain on Wayland. Vader, and Vader alone, had felt the power of the Force in that Rebel prisoner.
And Vader alone would reap the benefits of her skills.
First her, he decided, and then the X-Wing pilot.
Then my son.
They were in hyperspace, as safe as it was possible to be when traveling at a thousand times the space of light in a state where an asteroid the size of your fist casts enough of a gravitic shadow to decompress your hull.
"You know what bugs me?" said Evverd, "You're younger than me now."
Kerri frowned at him as she leaned over the seat. "What?"
"You were two months older than me when you went to Corsucant, but unless I miss my guess you didn't age in that trance. Now you're younger than me."
"I guess that's true," Kerri said, and laughed, "I'll visit you in the home."
Her voice turned serious. "I really will have to see about Jev. He may have more power than I imagined. I might have to give him a piece of my crystal, to protect him."
"Yeah, about that," said Evverd, "You used the Force while Guri had the crystal today. Is that a problem?"
"It might be," she admitted, and shuddered. "My vacation from the Emperor might only be temporary."
Evverd turned back to his controls. "It'll be all right."
"Rik..." she hesitated, "Would you rather forget what you said before I left for Coruscant? We can do that."
"No," said Evverd, "I can't."
"Well, then," she said, and leaned over to kiss him, "It's good to be back."
The Corellian groaned. "I mean it, though. Next time you go off on some crazy Jedi thing, I ain't comin' after you..."
Continued in Episode 4
R. John Burke