STAR WARS: By FREEDOM'S Light Episode Twelf
DESRIPTION: Jev faces a choice, and towards the end my very favorite character from the books (a somewhat quirky choice, but it's true) makes an appearance.
NOTICE: Star Wars belongs to George Lucas and Lucasfilm. This story is a purely unsold, non-profit, no-infringement meant, fan-fiction, please-don't-sue-me piece of work.
In its droid slot, a purple and gray astromech unit bleeped and cursed and questioned its owner's sanity as the X-Wing fighter soared into battle.
R2-B0 had made similar comments many times before, usually just before being proved wrong by the human element.
This time the little tower was right. What am I doing here? Commander Rik Evverd of the Rebel Alliance asked himself.
Dying, his mind answered.
And that was the truth of it. Deprived of his motor skills and piloting ability by Imperial nerve toxin on Cetheron, Evverd could not even handle a starfighter's control stick. He was going to die, probably before the real fighting had even begun.
Evverd recognized there was probably a large element of insanity in that, but he had past caring. He was a pilot. If he could no longer fight the Empire in life, then he was going to fight them with his death.
There were no other options, for him. If he didn't do this, he'd have a choice of retiring, and leaving everything he loved, or accepting a desk job. While Evverd was a capable strategist, he knew that most of his "tactics" were nothing more than last-hope desperation. Without the pumping adrenaline and sharpened senses of the moment, without the challenge of defeating death, he was nothing special as a leader. He was capable, but so were a hundred others in the Alliance.
Evverd led by example, always had. And he would do so at least once more.
"Okay, pal," he said, "Pick out a Star Destroyer and hit the accelerator."
Bo, who was controlling the actual flight of the starfighter, beeping in agreement. Evverd's only real regret was that the droid would go up with him. He'd planned to go without an astromech, but Bo had argued that Evverd needed a pilot, and that anyway his next owner would probably start giving him memory wipes and system upgrades and turn him into just a regular old DROID again. All this considered, Bo preferred to stay with his master.
The Corellian pilot decided that, if at all possible, he'd pop the droid hatch before impact, giving Bo at least some sort of chance at survival.
Bo had rigged the proton torpedoes to fire at the press of a button. Instead of trusting to his maimed and unreliable fingers, Evverd would merely have to pound on the proper key to send out a full spread that would blind the Star Destroyer's sensors, and hopefully open up the particle shielding long enough for him to crash into the bridge tower.
Scratch one Star Destroyer, he thought with something between a grin and a sneer, and one Corellian. His people had a history of suicide tactics in pursuit of victory, from the Halcyon line of Jedi Knights who had traditionally protected their comrade's retreats to the borderline-insane pilots who had loyally crashed into seagoing ships during wars early in Corellia's history to the starfighter pilots who had driven into the exhausts of Selonian and Drallish capital ships in the days before the Corellian system's three indigenous species had come to peaceful terms.
A blaze of glory is the only way to go, Evverd knew. Any good scoundrel would agree.
The TIE fighters streaked in, spitting green light from their laser cannons. To either side, Evverd saw a fellow Rebel go up in flames (Neither from his own Maverick Squadron, thank the Force). Bo flipped and dodged the fighter like an electronic version of his master, keeping them from destruction. They plowed through the cloud of TIEs at full throttle, another trick once favored by Evverd himself.
Bo bleeped and screamed, informing his owner that the forward screens were at 45% and four TIEs had flipped around in pursuit.
"Mav Three," said the voice of Brynn Avers, acting leader of his squadron, "You have broken formation. Please advise!"
Evverd chuckled. She thought Jev Parrak, the young Alderaanian who owned this particular fighter, was on her wing. Wiping sweat from his chocolate-toned forehead, Evverd said, "Hey, Avers, do me a favor and keep these guys off me for a minute."
"Rik! You're back so soon? I thought--"
"Watch out for my squadron," he said, "You're the best now."
He cut off communications and streaked forward. He wasn't sure whether Avers understood what he was planning, but she did fall in behind him, picking off two of the pursuing fighters. Bo continued to dodge the other two.
They were getting close to one particular white-painted wedge. "Which Destroyer is that?"
Bo bleeped an answer: ISS AVENGER, Captain R. Needa, commanding. It was the ship that had bombarded the planet Ryloth last year.
"Good as any," said the pilot, "Think Jade's still on board?"
That particular private joke went right over the head of the little R2 unit, who obediently began a search of all known AVENGER personnel for the name "Jade."
"Stow it," he said, "No time. I'm gonna pop your hatch when we're on-target. Good luck, buddy."
The R2 unit protested, but Evverd didn't much care what he wanted. As the AVENGER's turbolasers stared to pummel them, Evverd pounded a shaking fist on the Droid Release lever.
With a little electronic squeal, Bo was ejected from his droid slot and left to freefloat in space.
I can just hear him griping, Evverd thought. He was now on a collision course with AVENGER, streaking in for her shield tower. Now if she just doesn't blast me hard enough to knock me off-course...
The command tower was huge in his viewport, obscuring everything else. Evverd's fist came down again, and all six of his proton torpedoes lanced out to impact against AVENGER's shields. Evverd closed his eyes against a brilliant flare of white light. He checked his scopes...
The shields were still up! They must had been set double-front, Evverd thought. Oh, well, I knew the risks. Maybe I'll at least dent her shields so Avers can finish her.
Only meters away now. He could actually see the startled faces of AVENGER's bridge crew.
Time seemed to stop. Evverd felt frozen, his face still gathered into a scream. In the AVENGER's viewport, a junior officer pointed out the viewport, arm stuck in the same position for what felt like hours.
Am I dead already? Evverd wondered. I thought I'd at least get to see the explosion first...
At length, he did see a light. Coming from inside his own cockpit. His hands, balled into fists atop his control board, were glowing with a brilliant light somewhere between golden and pure white. Evverd was so startled that he actually cried out...
"...AAAAHHHHHH!" His fighter moved forward again. Hands moving on instinct alone reached out for his control stick and flipped the fighter on its side, skimming by the Star Destroyer's shields close enough to scrape paint off the X-Wing's hull. A TIE fighter that had been dogging him, hoping to stop him from weakening its mothership's shields, smashed into those same shields at full speed.
Evverd brought his fighter into a wide arc, returning to the battle before he knew what he was doing. He glanced down at his hands, flicked the fighter to autopilot long enough to pull off one glove...
His hands were normal. No more synthskin, no more criss-crossing of scars. No more shaking.
It was as though he'd never been exposed to the toxin.
Evverd laughed. It was actually the second time his hands Had been healed by an unknown power (the other had been in the Sluis sector, about two years ago). Evverd had never been So pleased with a repeat performance.
"Mav Two to Mav Leader," said Avers, automatically slipping into their old designations, "What the hell do you call that maneuver?"
"I'm... thinking of calling it the Miracle at Calaron." Evverd broke into a long, almost hysterical laugh.
"I guess I missed something," said Avers.
"Don't miss again. We've got a lot of TIEs to clean up." Evverd forced himself to return his full concentration to business. There'd be time enough to worry about what had happened later...
He said, "Oh, and would you comm the FREEDOM? Tell them to lock tractor beams onto an R2 unit, floating at... 015 mark 311."
"A floating R2 unit?"
Jev Parrak looked at the medallion in his hands, golden finish around a purple gemstone. Or what had been a purple gemstone. Now it was melted and ugly, totally beyond repair. Useless.
Jev tossed the medallion down, consumed by anger. He felt the power of the Force bubbling inside him, channeled it to the useless trinket at his feet. Jev held out his hand and squeezed.
As he contracted his fingers, the golden metal bubbled and steamed. It hissed like nerf steaks on a grill. By the time Jev had made a fist, the medallion was reduced to a solid lump of discolored, liquid metal, rapidly cooling into an indecipherable lump.
Jev felt some of his anger leave him with the action, but it wasn't enough. He'd had it in his hands, and lost it! He could have used the Force lens in that medallion to kill Vader, to destroy the entire Empire! Instead he'd been weak, and wasted it to bail out that Corellian fool, for reasons that were no longer clear to him.
Jev screamed in the empty pilot's lounge, and small arcs of blue lightning sizzled out in a corona around his body. He couldn't believe his own foolishness.
Someone was going to pay. The evil ones who had destroyed his home on Alderaan were going to be destroyed. And Jev vowed to himself that the next time he had such an opportunity, he would not be weak.
The Rebel task force had regained hyperspace, weakened but far from destroyed by the Imperial ambush. En route to their backup rendezvous coordinates, ships which had launched fighters stopped in the middle of empty space, private rendezvous to allow their X-Wings and other hyperspace-capable craft to return to their carriers for the larger jump.
Evverd brought his ship to a slow landing. In only a week, he'd forgotten how good that felt, returning home after a successful mission.
He triggered the hatch release, and typically did not wait for the techs to help him out of his fighter. He simply leapt to the floor.
A purple and gray R2 droid was waiting for him. It was scored with carbon in several places from close laser hits, and even had what looked like thruster burn residue. Apparently some TIE or Rebel fighter had gotten a bit too close.
Bo scolded him, spitting out a stream of unintelligible binary syllables.
"Yes, I know that was really stupid," said Evverd, picking up the intent if not the exact wording. "Yes, I know you could been killed. I'm sorry I'm you think I'm a moron."
The droid paused, beeping to itself thoughtfully. Then it squealed an addendum.
"And I'll spring for an oil bath."
The R2 unit, seemingly contended, rolled forward and lowered its dome for Evverd to pet, like a pitten. How cute, thought the Corellian.
Until it zapped his leg with an arc welder.
Evverd staggered backwards, limping and cursing. Around him, his pilots and those of Alyssa Quaid's Rascal Squadron had broken into open laughter.
"You rusting little piece of junk!" Evverd hissed, feeling heat rise to his cheeks. "I ought to strangle you..." Then he realized that he now had hands that were capable of strangling, and decided to let it go.
"Forget it," he said, rubbing his throbbing thigh. "I'd be pretty burned, myself..."
Then something slammed into him from behind, knocking him into the squat little R2 unit. Bo was never exactly well-balanced at the best of times, and they crashed to the ground in a heap.
Evverd twisted around, extracting his limbs from their tangle with the droid, and looked up to see Jev Parrak, dressed in a flight suit he'd never had to use, striding forward into the hangar.
"Look, I'm sorry about your ship..."
"I don't care about the ship," said Jev, "You are the most selfish, unthinking, annoying being I've ever met! I could have killed Vader, if not for you!"
Evverd's eyes widened. He'd naturally assumed, when he'd been healed, that his local Jedi Knight and part-time romantic interest, Kerri Lynden, had found a way to heal him with the Force. Evverd had forgotten that she was not the only member of FREEDOM's crew possessed of Jedi talent.
"All right, clear the bay!" Evverd called to the other pilots, "Right now!"
A few pilots thought to ask questions, but the look on the Corellian's face cut them off. In a minute, the hangar was empty save for Evverd, Jev, and Bo.
"YOU saved me?" said Evverd, climbing to his feet. "I... don't know what to say."
He'd just regained his balance when Jev pushed him down again. Without touching him. His skills are growing too quickly, Evverd thought. Kerri always says it's dangerous to overuse the Force...
Jev glowered down at him. "I was going to use that medallion to defeat the Empire. Vader was right THERE, at the battle! I could destroyed the EXECUTOR! You had to screw everything up!"
"What medallion? What are you talking about?"
"He's talking about this," Kerri's voice said from behind. She entered the hangar, holding the handle of her lightsaber in one hand, and a disfigured lump of metal in the other. "You always go one step too far, Jev. When you healed Rik, I was so proud of you... I thought you'd finally released your hatred. If you'd asked me to train you at that moment, I would have agreed. Instead, you do something like this."
"I don't need your training," said Jev, "If it means putting the wellfare of reckless fools like him ahead of what I know is right."
His anger had turned to a sort of self-absorbed pouting, though, and as Evverd hauled himself again to his feet he saw Kerri return her lightsaber to its place on her belt.
"I'll grant you that Rik's actions were incredibly stupid..." She fixed the Corellian with a glare, "And we will be talking about that later... but healing him was still the right thing to do. You rejected the dark side."
"I was stupid," said Jev, staring at the deck. "I saw my destiny, and I blinked." He looked up. "That's why the Dark Side is stronger. You Jedi make up a bunch of stupid, random rules that sound good but have no use in the real world. You can't follow through. The Dark Side at least knows what it's doing. Imagine if Vader had experienced second thoughts right before blowing up Alderaan. We wouldn't be having this conversation. I think the only way to beat Vader and the Emperor is to use their methods. Turn their own strength against them."
"That is dangerous thinking," said Kerri in her best Jedi Instructor tone. "The Dark Side is not more powerful. Just more seductive. Quicker..."
"Yes, quicker," Jev agreed, "And we're running out of time. I think the Dark Side is more powerful than you know. I'm not even very good at it yet, and I managed, just with anger, to form these incredible sparks of energy..."
Kerri took a step backwards, eyes suddenly wary. "You actually created Force lightning? Oh, that is just such a bad sign..."
"I can't control it yet," said Jev, "But I will. I'm going to kill Vader, and next time nothing is going to stop me."
He pushed past Kerri, heading for the lift door.
"Kid!" said Evverd, "I dunno what you're griping about, but I do owe you one."
"You do," Jev said, "And it's going to take a lot of payment."
The door hissed open, and Jev left.
Kerri stared after him. "I don't know to do, Rik. I can't stop him from using his power, I'm not ready to fight him over it, and training him now would be more dangerous than ever."
Evverd groaned, getting to his feet and helping Bo back into a vertical position. "Other Jedi have turned to the Dark Side. How were they saved?"
"Nine times out of ten, they weren't." Kerri paused for a long moment. "Oh, and by the way, remind me to kill you later."
"Your Highness, I'm afraid it's not a very good idea." Mykel Garreth glanced around his office before focusing his attention on the young woman on the video screen. After disciplining himself for months on end, he had finally given in and allowed himself to clean the cramped and poorly-lighted space. A preference for order over chaos was one of the things he'd retained from thirty years in the Imperial fleet. Caution was another.
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Mykel." Princess Leia Organa, formerly of Alderaan, had certainly changed in the fifteen years since he'd been a friend of her late father, but she'd had that stubborn streak as long as he'd known her. "I've heard very good things about Maverick Squadron. I'm sure they can get by without Jev for a few weeks."
Garreth cleared his throat. "Actually, that is not the issue. With one brief exception at Jerjiador, Lieutenant Parrak has been off the flight roster for over a month."
Leia frowned. "Then what's the problem?"
The star captain sighed. Leia had struck up a friendship with Jev Parrak during the evacuation from Yavin, when they'd both been involved in the destruction of the Death Star there. Both refugees from the same catastrophe, they had formed the sort of lasting bond that occurred between people with little else to cling to. Leia thought it nothing more than a nice gesture to ask for Jev's presence on the scouting mission for the New Alderaan colony.
It might have been, except for the presence of Luke Skywalker on that same mission. For reasons rather too complex to get into, Garreth thought it best not to let Jev get too close to the young Flight Commander.
Unfortunately, Garreth was not at liberty to explain the situation - he'd been sworn to secrecy by a Jedi.
So he lied. "It's just that his absence would leave us short-handed on the bridge again. We were just starting to settle into a routine."
"We won't disrupt your routine too much, Captain." Leia was miffed by what she probably saw as a very petty and arbitrary decision.
Garreth sighed. One more chip to call in. "Leia, as an old friend, I am asking you to trust me. Jev is not ready for this mission. It would be... bad all around, I believe."
Leia frowned. "What aren't you telling me?"
"It's rather personal. I merely think..." Garreth frowned as the door slid open. "I'm busy at the moment."
"I think you'll have time to speak to me," said Jev Parrak. He crossed to Garreth's desk without permission and looked down at the screen. "Hello, Leia."
"Jev," said Leia with a nod. "It's good to see you."
"And you. Leia, I'd be pleased to go with you to New Alderaan."
"I don't think that's a very good idea," said Garreth.
"Captain, please. I'm not doing anything useful here. A change will do me good. Sir, this New Alderaan thing... I think I need it. I really do."
For a moment, Jev looked so much like his old self that Garreth actually considered it. He hoped that was himself talking, not some Jedi mind trick. Seeing what was left of his people begin their healing process could really be the best thing in the galaxy for this boy.
An idea struck him, and he smiled. "Your Highness, what if I were to trade you one young pilot for another?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Garreth shrugged. "Luke Skywalker isn't doing anything vital with you. If you could send him along, I'd only be without a helmsman for a few days. I think that could be arranged."
Leia considered, and said, "I don't think Luke will mind. He enjoyed his stay on the FREEDOM."
"Splendid. I hope you'll ask him and get back to me. Until then."
Leia nodded and signed off. Garreth glanced up to see Jev staring at him with large, watery blue eyes.
"Why do you want to keep me away from Skywalker?"
Does he know? Garreth wondered, or was it or a guess? Or - even worse - did he read my thoughts? The captain said, "That's your imagination, son. Why don't you go get ready for your trip?"
Jev nodded and walked out.
"How long since you've been to Kessel?" Taryn Clancee asked the man in the pilot's seat of their stolen LAMBDA-class shuttle. They had stolen the shuttle from the Empire at Tattooine, and in the intervening months had upgraded it with weaponry, better engines and shields, and a reinforced passenger compartment, which now hauled cargo. It reminded Clancee of the last ship she'd smuggled spice on.
Rik Evverd smiled. "Never been there, actually. I know just enough about Moruth Doole to hate his guts, and I've never had much use for spice."
"Really? You've never run the stuff?" That surprised Taryn; from what she'd heard, Evverd's mercenary past was similar to her own.
"Ugh," he said, "Can't stand the thought. Makin' everybody telepathic so they can stare into your brain... no, thank you."
Taryn grimaced as she studied her controls. "I can relate. Did your pal Lynden tell you about my experience on Tattooine?"
Evverd made a small sound in the back of his throat. "Kerri's not really speaking to me at the moment..."
"Doesn't surprise me." The grapevine said their argument was over Evverd's near-suicide at Jerjiador. Opinion was running about four-to-one in favor of the commander, but Taryn understood Evverd's actions. She'd have done the same thing, and intended to go much the same way. Blaze of glory, she thought, not for the first time. Only way to go. "Frankly, I don't know what you ever saw in her."
Evverd coughed, and changed the subject. "I heard about Tattooine. You really think Jev was screwing up your memory?"
"I think so," said Taryn, "Most likely cause is probably glitterstim spice. But if it was, it was a damn illegal use of it."
"Well..." Evverd's eyes were wary for reasons Taryn could not fathom, "The kid's raw. This war is tough on him, and after Alderaan..."
"That's a bad excuse for what amounts to mental rape!"
"I wasn't defending him," said the Corellian. The proximity indicator bleeped, and he said, "Coming up on Kessel. Five... four... three..."
The stars snapped back from starlines as Evverd pulled the hyperdrive lever. Ahead of them loomed the barren, uneven rock of Kessel.
Worst planet in the galaxy, Taryn thought. If it wasn't so rich in spice, nobody'd look twice at it, except maybe to blow it out of space...
Working silently, she and Evverd brought their shuttle through the non-existant atmosphere and landed on the barren rock of Kessel.
"Got your blaster?" Evverd asked, checking his own weapon.
"Never leave without it," said Taryn. As per their agreement with one of the Empire's lackeys, a myopic Rybet named Moruth Doole, they would put down on the plains of Kessel itself, instead of the oxygenated dome of the Imperial Correctional Facility. Doole was a slippery enough character - pun not intended - that neither Evverd nor Taryn wanted to know what he'd do if he got them in his grasp. They would have to don E-suits to go outside.
They checked the scopes, which showed the agreed-upon number of people outside.
"Got the cash?" said Evverd.
"I'm not twelve. You don't have to check my work."
Taryn picked up a case of credits from the deck, and followed him out the ramp.
Skynxnex, Doole's scarecrow-like lieutenant, met them outside with three thugs and two Rebels in force cuffs.
"Let's make this quick," said the alien's high-pitched, grating voice, "Do you know how much trouble we'll be in if the Empire finds out we're releasing Rebel prisoners?"
"Use the credit slips to dry your tears, Skynxnex." Taryn opened the case of money and placed it on the ground between the two groups. "Let's see Greth and Dorian."
"Certainly," said the alien. He gestured for the guards to bring two Rebel prisoners forward while he leaned down to take the credits.
When he had them, he nodded. The guards turned their weapons on the prisoners.
"Fire," said Skynxnex.
Evverd cursed loudly in Corellian.
The Rebels struggled as blaster rifles turned on them.
"Step away," said a quiet voice.
One of the thugs, indistinguishable from the others in his E-suit, had worked his way behind Skynxnex, and wedged his blaster into the aliens' back.
"You..." said Skynxnex. "How did you even get here?"
"I found my conversation with your boss somewhat uninspiring," said the man. His voice was cultured, intellectual, but laced with dry humor. "Moruth's not much of a conversationalist. So I snuck out."
"Doole will kill you for this..."
"Not if he wishes to keep my group's business." He nodded at thugs. "Drop your weapons and uncuff the rebels. Rebels, head for your ship, taking the money with you. Wait for me in orbit." When nothing took place, he snapped, "Move!"
Within a minute, Taryn and Evverd, with their two compatriots, were safely beyond Kessel's atmosphere.
"Maybe we should take off," said Evverd. "There's no guarantee this guy's on our side. He might be an Imperial agent, looking to blow us away."
Taryn laughed. "You didn't recognize the voice, did you? Of course not, you've been respectable too long." She set in a hyperspace course, just in case of trouble, but wasn't too concerned. Their unexpected hero might indeed skin them, but at the bargaining table, not with a blaster.
"You did recognize him?"
"Sure," said Taryn, "That was Talon Karrde. An honorable smuggler with a lust for money and the best information sources in the galaxy."
Evverd grunted. "Sounds like my kind of scoundrel."
"You'll find out in a moment. His ship is on approach."
Garreth's personal comm interrupted him from the middle of a very good book. Putting the datapad down, he keyed in the proper frequency.
A black mask he hadn't seen in almost two years peered back at him.
"Greetings, Captain Garreth."
Garreth swallowed hard. "What is this, some kind of joke?"
Unfortunately, Lord Vader was not known for his sense of humor. "I warned you once not to fail me, Captain. Now you will pay the price for your disloyalty."
"Anytime you think you can beat me," said Garreth, hoping he would not persuade Vader to choke the life from him, "Just bring your Star Destroyer into the system."
"This contest will not be fought with machines," said Vader in that booming, electronically enhanced voice. "I have a simpler test for you."
"If you think I'll jump through hoops at your discretion..."
Vader said, "There is only one question, Captain, and only one possible answer. You will turn yourself in."
Garreth did a double take. "Your mind tricks will have to be more effective than that, Lord Vader."
The Dark Lord inclined his head. "This is no mind trick. You will turn yourself in..."
The view shifted. "Or I will execute them."
The view showed Imperial stormtroopers holding blaster rifles on two people Garreth had never expected to see again.
His son and daughter.
"Come to the Imperial base on Balmorra. Come alone. Do not disappoint me, Captain.
The dark eyes of Vader's mask bored into him. "You have ten days."
The comm cut off, and Garreth, pale as death, touched his ships' intercom.
"Commander Lynden to the wardroom at once." He sighed, feeling sick. "We have a problem."
Continued in Episode 13
R. John Burke