STAR WARS: By FREEDOM'S Light Episode One
DESRIPTION: While Jev and Boba Fett plot against Vader, our Heroes must rescue Sedra and Luke Skywalker.
NOTICE: All Star Wars characters and situations belong to George Lucas and Lucasfilm. This is a totally not-for-sale-or-profit fan fiction kinda thing.
"He's planning to steal your ship, you know."
Captain Mykel Garreth of the Rebel fleet took a long sip of his drink. A short man with a lined face and long, graying black hair, he felt rather inadequate sitting just across from a tall, dashing young star pilot like Han Solo. They sat at the bar of a run-down Rodian tavern that had, so far as Garreth knew, no name to speak of. Recorded jizz music played in the background on a very low quality audio system.
Solo grinned. "Lando's been tryin' to get the FALCON back ever since the day I won her."
"Out of curiosity - did you cheat him?"
"'Course not," said the Corellian with a touch of wounded pride. "I won her fair and square. Lando just doesn't admit when he's wrong."
"He's serious, you know." Garreth thought of the look on Lando Calrissian's face when they'd had a bounty hunter shot off their back by Solo's Wookiee co-pilot. The Rebel captain had made an excuse to come speak with Solo, which Lando had readily agreed to - since his plan for regaining the FALCON depended on Garreth diverting the Corellian's attention.
Unfortunately for Lando, Garreth had no intention of sticking to the plan. Taking the FALCON was theft, no matter how Lando justified it, and Garreth was not a thief.
He said, "He really believes you cheated him out of the FALCON, you cheated him at Ylesia--"
"You're kidding," said Solo, "He's still not over that? I was sure he'd have forgotten all about that by now."
"He wants to get even," said Garreth, "I'd watch your back."
Solo peered at him. "How long have you known Lando Calrissian?"
"A few years," said Garreth with a shrug, "Why?"
"'Cause I've known him a lot longer. He's got a temper like a Hutt and he holds a grudge, but he'll always come through in the end."
"Wish I had your confidence," said Garreth, "Actually, at this very moment he's infiltrating Shug Ninx's hangar to plant a--"
"Computer virus?" said the Corellian with a laugh, "Yeah, Shug told me all about that. That's why I have Chewie keeping an eye on him. He ain't gonna touch the FALCON."
"Still..." said Garreth, "Do you know he actually bought a late-model freighter, hoping to convince you - indirectly - to swap the MILLENIUM FALCON for it?
Solo snorted. "Fat chance. But that's what I'm tellin' you, that's what you gotta understand. Even mad at me, Lando doesn't really want to skin me. He just wants to look me in the eye, and know that he got the best of me for once."
The Corellian took a long swig of whatever he was drinking and stood. "And that is never gonna happen. Anyway, thanks for the warning, Captain. Drinks are on me."
"Generous," said Garreth as he finished his own drink.
"You better get back to your shuttle," said the Corellian, "Chewie'll be... explaining things... to Lando about now, and he might just be mad enough to leave without you."
"Actually, that's another thing." Garreth stood as well and said, "If this trip to Nar Shaddaa has convinced me of anything, it's that there are bounty hunters everywhere. Lying low will just get me into more trouble. I understand your next stop is Tattooine?"
"That's right," said Solo, "Can I drop you someplace?"
"Tattooine," said Garreth. "My ship is there. I'm going to have to face this thing with Fett eventually. I might as well do it on my terms, on my ship, surrounded by friends."
The smuggler frowned. "You sure that's good idea? I got a price on my head myself, and I've always thought the best way to handle that was just to find a nice, safe port and hole up there."
"We're at war, Captain Solo," said Mykel Garreth, "There are no safe ports. Not anymore."
"We're doomed," moaned the shiny, silver protocol unit for the hundredth time, "I shall be disassembled into my component parts. Or perhaps immersed in the lava flows of Sirkorthis V..."
"Shut up!" Lieutenant Commander Sedra Covell, ranking officer for the Rebel espionage mission to Tattooine, had heard just about all she could take of that idiot droid and his whining voice. "Let me think for a minute."
Beside her, her partner, a young blonde Rebel named Luke Skywalker, stirred from a nap. "What?"
"Nothing," said Covell. "Honestly, you'd think they'd get tired of playing games and just shoot us!"
"They'll interrogate us first," said Luke, "They could be waiting for an interrogator droid."
Sedra snorted. "They should buy one from the Hutt and get it over with."
"Well, I for one find this entire situation intolerable!" the Fourpio unit paced back and forth in their "cell," a converted cargo storage area. It looked almost human as it said, "Oh, if only I'd obeyed my better judgment and immediately run the other way! This is all your fault!"
Sedra couldn't tell if he was addressing her or Luke, and she didn't care. "Shut up, or I'm going to disassemble you."
"I was perfectly content as an Imperial protocol droid, until you had to fill my head with delusions of grandeur. Now I'm doomed. We're all doomed."
"That's it!" Covell lunged towards the droid, fingers groping for an off switch. She was interrupted by an electronic twittering.
She turned to see a shiny, green R5 unit standing at the edge of a hastily erected Imperial forcefield. As nearly as Sedra could tell, it was the same R5 that had turned them, and it's counterpart, in to the stormtroopers as part of its counter-insurgency programming.
"I'm not even speaking to you," said Fourpio, turning its silvery nose up at the shorter droid.
Arfive warbled sadly.
"I know all about your programming," said Fourpio, "But you could at least left ME out of your report! They're the Rebels, I'm only a droid."
The green droid rocked back and forth on its wheeled legs, bleeping out its case.
"I know you had to download your entire - what was that?"
Arfive bleeped again.
"You have? Wonderful! Plug in, quickly!"
"What was that?" asked Sedra.
The silver droid was ecstatic. "He has successfully isolated his secondary function module!"
"Could you say that in Basic?" asked Luke.
"I think it means he's bypassed his main programming," Sedra Covell told her young friend.
"That is precisely what it means!" said the enthusiastic protocol droid, "He's going to shut down the forcefield! We're saved!"
"Then let's get moving," said Luke, dragging himself to his feet.
The R5 unit trundled forward towards the forcefield generator. He found an access port, and extended his communications jack to plug in. His cylindrical green dome whirred back and forth as the little droid sliced its programming.
Then the comm port sparked, sending a jolt of electricity up the little droid's information jack. The electric currents swirled around the robot's body for a moment.
Arfive screeched as something popped and sizzled and he was flung back against the far wall.
"Oh, my!" said Fourpio.
The R5 unit moaned and fell forwards, hitting the ground with a thud.
Luke sighed. "Back to the drawing board..."
"Okay, slow down. Slow down. Where are they?"
The huge, golden-brown Wookiee, Gaaraanzii, hooted and rumbled in his own tongue, one hand shaking and pounding his portable translator unit, which had become clogged with sand and picked the worst possible time to go on the fritz. Enraged, he tossed the thing against the wall.
He hollered at Taryn Clancee, slower this time but also louder.
"The Dune Sea? You're sure?"
"What's going on?" asked Jev Parrak, the young Alderaanian who rounded out their team here on Tattooine. Taryn glanced at him, once again with the odd feeling that she had forgotten something she was going to say to him.
Dismissing the feeling, she translated, "Covell and Skywalker have been captured. They found some kind of Imperial deflector array being built in the desert, and got themselves picked up by stormtroopers."
Jev's blue eyes widened. "We've got to go after them!"
"You're not going anywhere," said Taryn. For some strange reason, she didn't quite trust the kid. It was ridiculous, but Taryn Clancee had made a nice living as a smuggler by trusting her instincts. "You're going to signal our contacts in Mos Eisley, get word of this Imperial deflector to the Fleet. What did you say again, Gaar?"
The Wookiee howled and grumbled.
"Right. Tell them we're not sure, but it could be the prototype for a Death Star shield."
Jev stepped forward. "The Empire's building another?"
"I don't know," she said honestly, "But I'm going to find out. Come on, furball."
Gaar picked his translator up off the floor, fiddled with it for another moment, then grunted and headed for the door at Taryn's side.
"You should take me with you!" said Jev.
There was something wrong with him, Taryn thought. He's acting strange lately. I guess that's what happens when your whole world blows up - but I don't need to deal with it during a mission. "Not today, Junior."
The R5 unit was in the cell with them now, its surfaces scorched with carbon from its encounter with the field generator.
"If I could just get my lightsaber..." said Luke.
"If we could get any weapon," Covell said, "It'd be an improvement."
"I just wasn't cut out for this," Fourpio moaned, "I'm only an interpreter... Droids should never get involved in politics."
The door slid open, and a team of stormtroopers marched in, weapons held ready.
Their commander spoke. "Step away from the field barrier, hands over heads."
Sedra grudgingly complied, and Luke followed her lead. She said, "Where are we going?"
"The Star Destroyer DOMINANT has arrived in-system," said the stormtrooper. "This has been an interesting day. I was about to order your immediate execution when I learned how anxious Lord Vader has been to meet your friend."
"I have some things to discuss with Vader, too," Luke told him, eyes flashing with anger, "But I was hoping it wouldn't be so soon..."
"Be careful what you wish for," said the commander. At his signal, the forcefield disengaged, and four of the stormtroopers marched forward to shepherd the Rebels forward.
"What about the droids?" asked one trooper.
The commander thought about that. "Have them melted down."
The troopers began fastening them with restraints. The one binding Luke seemed to be having a bit of trouble, Sedra noted. After a moment, Luke pitched forward, whacking his jaw on the floor.
"Stop struggling, Rebel scum!" said the trooper, blaster held ready. "I'll get him."
The trooper bent over Luke and began to fidget with the Force cuffs.
"There," said the trooper, stepping back, "Take him!"
Two of the other stormtroopers moved forward to grab Luke's arms. There was a flash of blue light, and the troopers fell back.
Luke rolled to his feet, lightsaber in hand, and cut a diagonal line across another trooper. Two more went down to blaster fire.
Only the commander remained. He raised his weapon, but dropped it when Arfive zapped his leg with an arc welder. He dove after it, cursing...
And the stormtrooper who had bound Luke brought his blaster rifle down on the man's neck, dropping him limp to the deck.
The stormtrooper stepped back to admire his handiwork.
HER handiwork. The trooper removed its helmet, revealing sandy-blond hair and bright blue eyes.
"Clancee! But how..."
The ex-smuggler wrinkled her nose. "Boy, those things smell bad."
"Tell me about it," Luke agreed. "How noticeable do you think the battle damage on those other uniforms is?"
"On the ones you cauterized with the lightsaber? Not bad," said Covell. "You're not thinking..."
"Trust me," said Luke, "I'm an old hand at this."
Three stormtroopers made their way out into the blowing sands and scalding sun of a Tattooine morning. They led two droids, an R5 astromech and a 4P0 protocol unit.
They were stopped at the checkpoint. "I thought you were bringing Skywalker."
"Change of plans," said the trooper, "Commander wants to talk to the Rebel personally. He thinks these droids might be Rebel plants. We're taking them to the DOMINANT to have their processors scoped and their memories flushed.
"I'll have to clear it," said the sentry.
The three stormtroopers tensed, but then one of them took a deep breath. "You don't have to clear it."
"I... don't have to clear it," said the sentry, looking puzzled.
"Everything has checked out fine."
The sentry nodded to them. "Everything checks out fine."
The bored sentry waved his hand at them dismissively. "Well, what are you waiting for? Move along!"
They boarded a LAMBDA-class shuttle, which took off a moment later.
"Where to?" asked Luke, pulling off his helmet with a look of distaste.
"Mos Eisley Spaceport," said Taryn. She sat at the copilot's station, with Gaar working the controls. "We have to pick up the kid. The other kid, I mean."
"How'd you get us past those troops?" asked Covell, "I thought we'd have to shoot our way out."
"Just a trick I learned... from an old friend," Luke smiled slightly, "Never used it before. It's more tiring than I thought..."
"That's it!" Taryn announced. "That's what the little snot did to me! He messed with my mind!"
"Who did?" asked Covell, "Luke?"
"Not Luke! Jev! When we were on our way back from the Hutt's palace..."
"That's ridiculous," said Covell, "Why would Jev do a thing like that? And how?"
Taryn hissed softly. "How, I don't know yet. As for why... I think I knew something he didn't want me to know."
The ex-smuggler thought for a minute, then pounded the console in frustration. "I don't remember!"
"If you don't remember, how do you know he did anything?"
"I just know, that's all." Taryn was certain of it. She was on to something. THIS was what she kept trying to remember. "I think it had something to do with Boba Fett..."
Luke looked up. "The bounty hunter?"
"No, Boba Fett the fisherman. Of course, the bounty hunter!"
Covell said, "What could Jev have to do with Boba Fett?"
"I'm not sure," Taryn said after a moment, "I'll have to ask have. And then, depending on what he actually did to me, I may have to kill him..."
"Uh-oh," said Taryn a few minutes later, "We're in trouble. Stormtrooper brigade sitting on the landing pad. Guess who they're waiting for..."
Covell scanned the ground ahead of them. "Look, there's Jev, hiding behind that old freighter."
"I see him," said Taryn, "Gaar, bring us in as close as you can to him. You folks have to hold off the stormies until we can get him on board."
"I'm ready," said Luke.
"Let's do it," Covell agreed. Gaar added an enthusiastic roar to the mix.
Gaar brought the shuttle down, armored aft section facing the stormtroopers. They immediately spread out, attempting to surround the Imperial shuttle. Fortunately, Jev had chosen a hiding place up against one wall, so the troopers couldn't get a complete encirclement.
It'll be bad enough, though, Taryn knew. It will easily be bad enough.
A filtered voice said, "Open the hatch and come out with hands in the air."
Taryn searched the console. "Guns, guns, doesn't this thing have any guns?"
The Wookiee growled a reply, and she said, "I KNOW they didn't have firefights in mind when they built it. It's just a lousy design, that's all..."
"Rebels," the stormtrooper repeated, "Leave the shuttle immediately, or you will face the consequences."
She turned to Sedra and Luke, who were standing by the hatch release. "Crank it."
The ramp hissed open. Luke and Sedra walked down it, facing away from the stormtroopers, their hands on their heads. For about half a second, as they descended, their bodies were shielded from the Imperial troops by the shuttle's hull. In the second, they dropped to opposite sides of the ramp and pulled their commandeered blaster rifles.
The bay erupted into laser blasts, red bolts criss-crossing the spaceport. The stormtroopers were well-positioned and unusually accurate, but Sedra and Luke had good cover. A few stormtroopers went down, but nothing more.
Taryn keyed in Jev's comlink code. "MOVE it, kid! Right now!"
From behind a storage crate to the far left, Jev darted for their shuttle. He only got a few meters before the stormtroopers noticed him. A few turned off from the main attack to fire on the new arrival, but they paid the price for their inattentiveness as Luke and Sedra zeroed in on them.
A bolt pinged into the wall a centimeter from Jev's head, and he dropped to the hangar floor. He came up in a roll, firing a few wild shots to cover himself, and continued running for the shuttle.
In the cockpit, Taryn had her own problems. "Look at that!"
Gaar followed her gaze, and howled. The Imperial troops were busily setting a repeat blaster rifle. When it got up, they could easily cut down not only Luke and Sedra, but possibly the shuttle itself.
The Wookiee snarled a few words at her, and Taryn blinked in surprise. "What do you mean, you'll handle it?"
He was already lumbering out of the cockpit. "Hey, no, come back! Ahhh... everybody's crazy!"
Taryn followed Gaar to the ramp, and heard him growling at Skywalker.
"What'd he say?" Luke called.
"He wants your lightsaber!"
But the Wookiee had already snatched the weapon away. Retractable claws sharp enough to hang onto the shuttle's slightly pitted hull brought Gaar up to the roof in a second.
Taryn ran to the cockpit, to get a better look through the viewport window. She saw the Wookiee climbing easily over stacked crates and boxes, looking almost like he was home among Kashyyyk's trees. Concentrating on the hangar floor as they were, no stormtrooper even saw him.
That is, not until he leapt down from atop a stack of Crates to kill the two setting up the repeat blaster with the blue blade of Luke's lightsaber. He then divided the repeat blaster into three roughly equal-sized parts.
He was back on top of the crates and hurrying back to the shuttle before the Imps even realized what had happened.
In a moment, he'd swung back into the shuttle with a triumphant roar. He was followed immediately by Jev Parrak, who dove into the shuttle as though it was the last one before a nova - which for his purposes, it might as well have been. Luke and Sedra followed them up the ramp, getting off a few more blasts at the stormtrooper platoon as they went.
Sedra was in last, and slammed on the hatch close button. "Punch it!" she called.
Taryn was back in the pilot's seat. She extended the shuttle's wings and jabbed on the accelerator, ignoring the few rifle blasts that scored against the shuttle's shielded hull.
They shot into space, leaving Tattooine far behind.
"Can't I ever have a nice, casual departure from this planet?" Luke wondered aloud.
"Don't get cocky yet, kid," said Taryn, watching her scopes. "There's still the DOMINANT, and this shuttle isn't built for speed or power."
"That would never stop Han," said the farmboy.
Taryn glared at him. "Strap in and shut up, okay?"
"Oh, dear. Oh, DEAR," Fourpio fretted, "I'm quite certain this is not in my primary programming - or even in a backup module."
"And turn off that damn droid!"
Their shuttle blasted into the upper atmosphere at its maximum speed - which was to say, not very quickly at all. Taryn had visions of the thing being stripped to its infrastructure by TIE fighters in minutes, like a nerf by scissorfish.
"Your best shot is to stay around the planet's horizon from them," Covell pointed out.
"I know that! I don't need a backseat driver, okay?"
She soared out of the planet's atmosphere, blasted around its gravity well looked for the best departure trajectory...
And ran smack into the Star Destroyer DOMINANT, and all its lovely little TIE fighters.
"Whoa!" said Taryn, yanking back on the accelerator, "Looks like the bridge is out, boys and girls!"
She pulled the shuttle into a loop, but TIE fighters were already attacking.
"We can't outrun them," said Luke, ticking off points on his fingers, "We can't outmaneuver them, and we can't outfight them. I've gotta say, Han usually does much better than this."
"I'm starting to hate you really fast, kid. They're not gonna get me without a fight."
Luke frowned. "It's a fight you can't win. Ben would say that there are alternatives to fighting."
"Ummm..." the farmboy looked chagrined, "I can't think of any at them moment. But I'm sure there are some."
Then the TIE fighters were upon them, twin laser cannons blasting past the shuttle's marginal shields.
"Okay," said Taryn, "So maybe this was not a well thought-out plan!"
In the back, the little droid Arfive bleeped and warbled.
His counterpart, whom no one had bothered to turn off yet, said, "Excuse me, please, but my counterpart has a rather extreme suggestion..."
Commander Treig of the Imperial Navy brought his TIE fighter around for another pass. The shuttle was helpless and floundering. He lined it up in his sights...
And frowned at his readings. "Hold your fire. She's completely dead, even life support. We must have hit their reactor."
"Maybe," said Beta Five, one of his wingman, "But it could be a trick. "Or they could be playing dead. They're just outside the gravity well. If we leave them alone, they may go to lightspeed."
"How?" asked the commander, "It'll take five minutes to restart their engines. They have to be dead."
"You really think this'll work?" asked Taryn.
"There is a reasonable possibility," said the silver droid, "It is within Arfive's capacity to perform all restart procedures at a highly accelerated pace. We can be at lightspeed within fifteen point two seconds."
"So we have to let those TIEs get sixteen seconds away for this to work," said Taryn, "They're breaking off... we might just win this one..."
"If you betray us again," Covell said to the little droid, I'm gonna jettison you out the airlock."
The droid tweedled, and Fourpio said, "He has been swayed by the logic of your position."
"Glad to hear it."
"Beta Lead, this is the DOMINANT," came a voice through Treig's survival headset, "Better safe than sorry - destroy the shuttle."
"But Lord Vader wanted Skywalker alive," he protested.
"Lord Vader isn't here," said the voice, "And that shuttle's passengers are dead. We have to destroy it - or would you rather I tell Lord Vader that your squadron accidentally killed Skywalker?"
"No, sir," said Treig with an audible gulp.
"Very well, then. Destroy it. If anyone asks, the young Rebel died on the surface. In an unfortunate accident."
"Understood," said Treig, and keyed in a new course. "Beta Five, on my wing. We'll make this one clean pass."
"Copy, Beta Lead."
Taryn cursed viciously. "They're coming around! Only eleven seconds distant!"
"We're done for!" cried Fourpio.
"It was a good run," said Covell quietly, and Gaar agreed.
Only Luke Skywalker was not concerned. "I sense something. Something familiar..."
The two TIE fighters roared in on the viewport. They'd arrive in six seconds... five... four... three...
Multiple bursts of red laser fire poured into the wingleader, who burst into flames. Another shot clipped the wingman, who spun off-course and, eventually, into the hull of the DOMINANT.
A Corellian battle cry sounded in the speakers. "You owe me another one, Junior!"
Luke laughed. "You do have a sense of timing, Solo."
"Hey... it's me."
The MILLENIUM FALCON soared by over their shuttle, then spun around in an arc to face the oncoming TIE fighters. "Solo to shuttle - we'll hold 'em off, you guys better get to lightspeed."
"Copy that," said Taryn, and turned to face the droids. "Well? Do it!"
In a moment, her console lights began to blink back on, first red, then yellow, and finally green.
"Nice shooting, Solo," Taryn said as she reached for the hyperdrive lever.
"Don't thank me," said the Corellian, dodging TIE fighters on Taryn's scopes as though they were mere insects. "Thank my new gunner."
"Greetings, Lieutenant," said the familiar voice on the comm, "Did you have a pleasant trip?"
Gaar rumbled, and reached past her to pull the hyperdrive lever. The stars became starlines, and Taryn sighed deeply.
"Well, once again our insurance premiums are about to skyrocket."
"I wasn't worried," said Luke, "I'm getting kind of used to this..."
The comm came in on a high-level Imperial encrypt, and Boba Fett's sophisticated slicing computers took a full five minutes to remove the scrambling.
He flicked on the viewer. "What is..." An oppressive tightness filled his throat, a tightness that Fett knew for a fact was not attributable to fear.
Particularly not with that sculpted black mask on his comm screen. "Greetings, Bounty Hunter."
Boba Fett ratcheted up his suit's oxygen content, to keep himself from gasping. "Lord Vader."
"I understand you've been speaking to Prince Xizor."
"I have," Fett agreed, "He's posted a bounty on Mykel Garreth."
"That's not the contract I'm speaking of. Did you truly think you could hide such information from me?"
The tightness in Fett's throat intensified, and Fett thought, I'm going to die. There was no particular fear attached to the appraisal. It was more of a clinical diagnosis. Vader would execute him for such perceived disloyalty.
As if reading his thoughts - in fact, PROBABLY reading his thoughts - Vader said, "You've put me in a difficult position, bounty hunter. You are valuable to me, and yet I should destroy you."
"Everyone dies," said Fett, undisturbed by the possibility.
"You conspire with the Dark Prince against me," said Vader, "Plan to challenge the power of the Dark Side - Such a lack of faith. I find it most disturbing."
"I have no particular loyalty to you," Fett said calmly, "And nothing against you, either. It's business, Lord Vader. Nothing more. If you're going to kill me for that, do it. If you expect me to plead, you're wasting time."
Vader sized him up for a long moment, and Fett felt the tightness in his throat lessen. "I do not wish to kill you yet. But you are in my debt, Boba Fett, and I will have my payment."
Fett just kept from groaning. "I'm going to be working for free, aren't I?"
"Not for free," said Vader, "The payment will be your very life. Succeed in this mission, and I will overlook your lack of vision. Such is my forgiving nature."
Fett sighed. "What do you wish, Lord Vader?"
"The man that Xizor wants, Captain Garreth. He is mine to deal with, and you will no longer hunt him." "Understood," said Fett, somewhat surprised, "Is that all?"
"Hardly," said Vader, "There are two persons I will need to find in order to properly deal with the traitor. You will bring them to me, alive."
"As you wish," the bounty hunter agreed with a nod. "Who are they?"
Vader's mask betrayed no emotion, it's visual sensors tracking him without comment.
At length, Vader spoke. "Garreth's children..."
Continued in Episode 10
R. John Burke