STAR WARS: By FREEDOM'S Light Episode One
DESRIPTION: Everybody involved ends up on Balmorra for a meeting with Darth Vader, about ten months after the Battle of Yavin.
NOTICE: Star Wars is a copyright of LucasFilm Limited. This story is for entertainment only, is not for sale, and no infringement is intended.
The landing pad was empty, another bad sign, as Mykel Garreth eased his Y-Wing fighter in for a landing. The starfighter settled to the ground.
Garreth heard a scraping noise. He rolled his eyes. Landing gear, idiot! he thought.
Garreth was not a trained pilot. In fact, the ride in to Balmorra had been the worst experience of his life. He'd nearly been sick several times. He was sick NOW, actually, but he held it back. With some difficulty, he settled the ship down on its landing gear, unfastened the hatch, and basically rolled over the side of his cockpit onto the ground.
Pain rippled through the knee he landed on, but he shook it off. There'd be time enough to feel pain later. And far too much pain to feel.
Clawing his way to his feet, Garreth drew a blaster pistol from his combat gear. The armor and weaponry was a precaution, and would be effective against stormtroopers. It would not be effective against Vader.
I have no choice, Garreth reminded himself.
At the other end of the landing pad, a door hissed open. A shape from Garreth's nightmares strode through, a figure in black, trailed by a cloak of the same color, in bio-support armor. His face was hidden by a rebreather mask, and he wore a lightsaber at his hip.
He was immediately followed by another infamous man in armor, blue and gray this time, with a green cape. While Garreth had not seen Vader in almost two years, he had seen Boba Fett all too recently. The bounty hunter trailed silently at Vader's feet like a pet.
The red sky of a Balmorran evening, rolling clouds crackling with electricity and thunder, reflected off their polished armor, backlighting them with a sort of eerie glow against the droid production facilities.
A dozen stormtroopers followed them out the door, but really, they were just for effect. These two needed no help.
Vader extended a hand, and Garreth's blaster flew several meters to slap into it. The Sith Lord idly tossed the weapon aside.
"You did not think your weapon would be effective against me?" Vader boomed.
Garreth kept his tone even. "I thought of coming in waving a white flag, but the symbolism was all wrong."
"But you have been defeated," Vader said.
"By a coward," the captain hissed, not really caring what Vader chose to do to him. "Who, for all his talk, is so frightened that he feels the need to hide behind the innocent!"
That last word was choked off as Vader's hand tightened into a fist, and Garreth's windpipe closed off. "Where is the Jedi?"
As he'd done one before, Garreth refuses to gasp or claw at his throat. He bit out, "You'll not frighten me with your sorcery, Vader. If you intend to kill me, then do so."
Vader hesitated, and the arm dropped. "Not yet. Take him."
The stormtroopers came forward and secured him with force cuffs, then led him towards the Balmorran processing facility.
Garreth nodded to Fett as he walked past. The bounty hunter just stared back with that implacable Mandalorian mask hiding his expression.
Kerri brought the Y-Wing in on the other side of the planet, its full sensor-stealth mode enabled. She brought it down over Balmorra's aquamarine oceans, cruising low to help avoid detection.
A few times, Kerri's sensor package detected a sensor lock despite all her precaution, but Kerri successfully reached out with her Jedi skills, convincing the mind within the sensor station that it had detected nothing but a minor glitch.
As long as she had her force-blind crystal, Vader could not feel her approach. But Kerri was not so arrogant as to think this would be easy. She was likely proceeding to her death. With luck, she'd free Garreth and his captive son and daughter beforehand.
With a great deal of luck, she might even take Vader with her.
Her scopes pinged, indicating that the Balmorran processing plant was just ahead. Kerri set the Y-Wing's guidance system for auto, and closed her eyes in a last moment of meditation.
May the Force be with me, she thought. I'm going to need it...
They did not lead Garreth to a prison cell, as he had expected. Instead, they led him past the droid processing lines, into the bowels of the factory.
Balmorra was the "droid capital of Sesswanna sector" and had also developed the AT-ST scout walker for the Emperor's ground campaigns. As he wandered past the lines, Garreth saw more than a few parts - struts, motivators, armor - that would belong to one of the "chicken walkers" in time. Other parts were heads, circuit boards, torsos, and limbs for a thousand variety of droids, from the R2, R5, and 3P0 units being used by the Alliance to the spider-shapes of Imperial probe droids.
None of it surprised him. Garreth had toured this place Before, as a distinguished captain in the Imperial Navy. If the models of droids being manufactured had changed in the time he'd been gone, the feel of the place remained.
There was something sinister, like walking through a graveyard. No life existed in this place, only bits and pieces to be assembled as the Emperor saw fit.
Garreth suspected Palpatine wished the entire galaxy was like that, interchangeable parts to exist only at his command.
If he was going to die here, then he would die. But he would do so proving to the Empire what the men and women of the Alliance had that they did not.
Even bound as he was in force cuffs, Garreth would die a free man.
Vader led the way wordlessly into a lift, which they rode until it opened onto a catwalk overlooking a huge chamber, probably a loading bay. It was tall enough to fit entire AT-AT Imperial Walkers, plus the loader shuttles that would take completed ones up to a Star Destroyer. None of the beast-like AT-AT's were present, however.
One scout walker was present, standing against the wall, periodically shifting on its hydraulics with the familiar clanking sound of Imperial heavy armor. Its head-mounted laser turrets were pointed at the ground.
At two bound shapes being held there by Imperial troops.
"Trina! Lorne!" Garreth cried out, his anger at the Empire momentarily displaced by the sight of two beings had not seen in over five Standard years.
A stormtrooper pulled back his rifle butt, preparing to silence the prisoner, but Vader motioned him back.
"I grant you one minute, Captain Garreth," said the Dark Lord, "Speak to them. Know that they are unharmed. Then return here."
Vader waved his hand, and the force cuffs dropped from Garreth's wrist. He nodded to the Sith Lord, not sure whether to be grateful or suspicious. Then he hurried down the ladder to the floor below.
Trina and Lorne had been allowed to turn around, to greet the shape that descended from the ladder. Garreth paused at its base to look them over.
Trina was twenty-five, and had grown into a lovely young woman like her mother, albeit with long, dark hair reminiscent of Garreth's own. She was also short and compactly built, another thing she got from her father. Lorne was twenty-two, taller than either one of them, with bristly brown hair that resembled his mother's cut short. He looked like his father only around the eyes, where Mykel Garreth's brown color had taken precedence over his mother's emerald green. Both looked healthy, though they wore prison jumpsuits.
"What are you doing here?" Trina asked. She'd always been the rebellious one, though Garreth had come to realize that she'd been right about many of her 'liberal' views on the Emperor's tyranny. "Have you come to gloat?"
"No," he said, "As a matter of fact, I'm here to rescue you."
"Of course," she said, "You're the Emperor's golden boy. You could get whatever you wanted, even from Vader."
"It's not like that," he said, "I joined the Alliance two years ago."
Trina's eyes flashed. "Why should we believe you?"
"If you were paying attention," Garreth whispered, trying desperately to avoid falling into that Academy Lecturer mode that his children hated so much, "You'd notice that I'm here in commando fatigues, not dress uniform, that I'm unarmed, and that I was led in here by a stormtrooper guard."
If Trina Garreth had gotten the adventurous streak that had led her father to the Academy, her brother had received the quiet, calculating nature that had put Garreth at the top of his class.
"He's right," said Lorne, "Besides, didn't you see the way Vader was acting before? We're bait."
Trina snorted. "Does it really matter, now?"
"It might," said Garreth, "I'm going to do whatever I can to get you out of here, I promise you that. For what it's worth, I want you to know you were right about me all along. The Emperor was using me, and I was too blind to see it."
"Well, you've got that right, at least."
He took a deep breath. "I... I do love you both, you know. I always have."
"We knew that," said Lorne, with a pointed glance at his sister. "Both of us."
Trina looked downwards, and did not answer.
"Well..." Garreth took a deep breath. "I'd love to find out how your lives have been going in the last five years, but I'm scheduled to be brutally asphyxiated in about... eight seconds. May the Force be with you."
He turned around and walked back towards the ramp.
He turned to see Trina straining at her force cuffs. "We... I love you."
Garreth stepped back and hugged her for the first time in years, ignoring the stormtroopers. "That's good to hear. Be ready to move when things start to happen."
He hugged his son as well, who whispered, "You have a plan?"
"Er... yes, let's call it a plan." It was more like a desperation move, the last-ditch effort of a lost cause. But why be a pessimist?
"Captain Garreth," said Vader's deep voice.
"Coming!" he said, and returned to the ladder.
Kerri brought the Y-Wing in past abandoned defenses, and set it on the pad next to Garreth's. Taking a deep breath, she popped the hatch, and climbed the hull to open the gunner's hatch. On the seat, where the Y-Wing's second occupant would sit, was a proton torpedo. It was really too heavy for one human to cart through the Balmorran base.
Fortunately, Kerri didn't have to lift it. It was a risk, but if done properly it should both achieve their goal and attract Vader.
She reached out with the Force and levitated the torpedo casing, making it follow behind her like a mynock chasing an ion trail as she dismounted the hull and set off for the main building.
"And now that I have upheld my end of the bargain," said Vader, "You will uphold yours: Where is the Rebel named Luke Skywalker?"
"I really don't know," said Garreth. It wasn't much of a lie. Luke had been on New Alderaan last he'd heard, but that could have changed several times since Garreth had left for Balmorra.
"I know he is attached to your task force," said Vader, "It is pointless to resist. If I have to, I will rip the information from your mind."
Garreth smiled slightly. "Counting on my overestimating the Force, were you? You couldn't rip the Death Star plans from Leia Organa's mind, and I believe my will to be as strong as hers."
Vader glowered down at him. "Perhaps I should test that assumption."
"Our original deal was me for my children," Garreth reminded him, "I'm here. Let them go."
"I am altering the deal." Vader was silent a moment, allowing his steady, mechanized breathing to intimidate the captain. Then he said, "Where is Luke Skywalker?"
Garreth changed the subject. "Why is Fett here? What has he to do with this?"
"I will ask the questions," Vader boomed.
"I'm afraid I have a one-track mind. Perhaps if you satisfy my curiosity, I'll be able to concentrate better."
Vader did not look happy, but he nodded to Fett.
The bounty hunter said, "I located your children for Lord Vader."
"Ah." Garreth kept his tone joking, but his eyes were cold. "I was wondering who to kill for this."
Boba Fett shrugged. "Everyone dies."
"You are wasting my time, Captain." Vader raised his hand, and Garreth was prepared to resume choking, but the Dark Lord held it in place. "If I drop my hand, the walker will open fire on your son and daughter."
"Would you really do that? You mentioned being a father yourself."
Vader's filtered breathing was getting on his nerves. "And I would kill my own son, for the good of the Empire."
"You know, I believe you would." Garreth frowned. "But you must know that if you drop that hand, you lose any chance of my cooperation."
"I do not need your cooperation," said Vader, "You are a bonus, Captain, nothing more. I still have the Jedi."
Garreth froze. Vader had also mentioned that as they were incoming. But even if he knew about Kerri, he couldn't know where she was.
He said, "Why do you persist in the ridiculous belief that I have a Jedi with me? You, Lord Vader, are the last of that religion."
"My arm grows weary," Vader boomed, "Where is Skywalker?"
"New Alderaan," Garreth told him.
"And where is New Alderaan?"
"I don't know," the captain lied, "It's classified. Only those operatives directly involved know its location."
Vader was about to reply, but suddenly cocked his head. He made a slashing motion, and the walker settled back from targeting position. His arm dropped.
"The Jedi is here..."
Garreth didn't know how Vader could sense Kerri, since the alien crystal she wore prevented her detection, but he wasn't taking chances. "There you go again with a Jedi. Wouldn't you rather concentrate on me? With the proper persuasion, I might recall a few things about New Alderaan."
But Vader was halfway out the door. "Take them to the security area. I will deal with this myself..."
Kerri placed the proton torpedo carefully onto the main assembly conveyer. From here squares of metal were brought into a super-hot furnace, where they would be tempered and made into droid casings or armor. The proton torpedo was at the end of a long line, disguised in a metal box so it looked like all the others, but it was set to detonate at a high temperature. When it reached the furnace, the Imperial troops here would have more to worry about than three prisoners. Kerri wished she could detonate it immediately, but she had to be certain there'd be time for her visitor to arrive.
Kerri smiled to herself. Reaching out with the Force, she flipped a switch to light the furnace. It would take a few minutes to power up.
In the meantime, she had Vader to prepare for. Kerri had purposely used the Force for trivial things since arriving on Balmorra. Though Vader could not sense HER, he could sense ripples in the Force. If she created enough of a disturbance...
Kerri reached down to her belt, detached her lightsaber, and lit it.
An X-Wing snubfighter burned past the Balmorran seas at full throttle, blasting the Imperial sensor posts in its way. Its pilot felt the Force cycling through him, and smiled.
Jev Parrak, a survivor of the dead planet Alderaan, knew that he was more powerful than he'd ever been, more so than the others imagined. And now, armed with the blue lightsaber that had belonged to Luke Skywalker, and before him to a great Jedi Knight...
The murderer who had destroyed Alderaan would not have a chance.
Hyperspace compressed down to the pinpricks of stars against space, and in the pilot's chair of his borrowed freighter, the UWANA BUYER, Rik Evverd grunted with surprise.
No defenses. An important world like Balmorra should have been virtually a fortress. A voice in his head sang, It's a trap...
Kerri must have known that, he thought. Not that it would have stopped her.
He set course for the central processing facility, the most likely target. There must be some kind of law, he decided, that says Corellians have to spend half their time chasing after Jedi...
The furnace was powered up, and Kerri threw another switch. With a grinding moan, the assembly line started forward.
"Your fine control is impressive," said a booming voice, "Such a small switch from that distance..." the voice trailed off, and above Kerri a darkened shape appeared on the upper level overhang. It stepped to the edge, and then over the edge, floating to the ground as though powered by repulsors.
Or the power of the Force, Kerri thought. She brought her orange blade into en garde position. "Hello, Lord Vader. I've been waiting for this meeting for some time."
"Indeed?" said Vader, and lit his own, ruby-colored blade. "I have only known of your existence for a short while. How is it you hide yourself?"
"Not important," Kerri said, stepping forward, "What's important is that only one of us will be leaving here alive."
"Your reckless nature will be your undoing," said Vader, bringing his saber up. "But it does show a predisposition for the Dark Side..."
Actually, Kerri thought, I'm not being reckless at all. I'm just hoping you'll concentrate on me instead of Garreth.
She said, "I doubt you'd remember, but you killed my mother. Kaelin Joth."
"I do remember," Vader said, "Her skills were also impressive. Most impressive. It was an honor to kill her."
"If that's a compliment, you really need to work on your people skills."
Vader took another step. They were only a few meters apart. "I do not wish to kill you. I would rather help you to develop your power. You could be as strong as your mother, in time."
"Not through the Dark Side," Kerri said, "And I should warn you, the Emperor's already tried to turn me."
"The Emperor is a foolish old man," said Vader with surprising contempt, "He will be dealt with, in time. When I have found the other that I seek..."
"Luke Skywalker," Kerri said, not as a question.
"You do know about him."
"Yes," she admitted, "If you love your son, you'll stay away from him. Your influence can only destroy him."
"If that is his destiny," Vader said. Closer still, now. "As for love...it is one of the things you will learn to reject in favor of the Dark Side."
"While you're dreaming," Kerri said, "Why don't you just wish Skywalker to you?"
"There is no need," said Vader, "When you are defeated, you will lead me to Skywalker."
"But first I must be defeated," Kerri said, waving her saber threateningly.
Vader seemed almost to sigh. "As you wish."
His red blade snapped out, quicker than Kerri had anticipated, and she blocked the blow. He tried to slide under her guard, but she batted the saber aside.
"Not a bad start," she said.
"Before this day is done, you will feel the full power of the Dark Side."
"Can't wait," said Kerri, and took the offensive this time. Vader batted aside several blows, then sliced low with a cut that would have taken her feet off. Kerri leapt over him, somersaulting in the air to land behind the Dark Lord. He spun, showing more agility than she would have thought possible for a man of his bulk.
Kerri's lip twisted as her mother's words rang in her head: Size does not matter when the Force is your ally.
And it was certainly Vader's ally. They exchanged a few more blows, sabers crackling. Kerri was holding her own, but in the end, she knew she was outclassed.
I don't know how I'm going to get out of this one, she thought...
Jev strode into the complex, heedless of the stormtroopers who tried to halt his progress. They fell backwards, choking under the power of the Force.
He stopped, reaching out for Vader.
There. A disturbance in the Force, in the conveyor room. Almost as though Vader was fighting...
Good, thought Jev. If he's busy with Kerri, he won't even see me until I'm cutting him to shreds. He lit Anakin Skywalker's blade and followed the disturbance.
Evverd was able to enter the base real quiet-like, thanks to the convenient fact that all the stormtroopers were dead, sprawled on the floor clutching their throats.
Kerri never would have done this, he knew. Did Vader have a tantrum, and murder everybody?
Neither of those was really possible. The truth, the one he did not want to face, was that Jev had been the pilot of that X-Wing on the landing pad.
And whether his motivation, Evverd's young friend had clearly begun using the Dark Side liberally.
I got a bad feeling about this, he thought, blaster grasped firmly in his hand. He chuckled.
Fools rush in, he thought, where Jedi fear to tread...
A scraping sound came from somewhere in front of him. Evverd flattened against the wall, blaster pointing down the darkened corridor. he heard nothing else.
Exhaling a held breath, he started off slowly down the corridor.
The attack came then, and from behind. Something dropped down from above, clattering to the floor behind him. Evverd swung his blaster around. A gloved hand collapsed on his wrist, cutting off the circulation. Evverd's left hand lashed out in a punch...
And exploded with pain as it connected with a hard, metal helmet. The Corellian cursed at the top of his lungs.
"Silence!" As Evverd's eyes adjusted, he saw a figure in Mandalorian combat armor standing before him. His stomach leapt into his throat. Of all the mean barves I could have met up with in a dark corridor...
"You're Evverd, aren't you? The X-Wing pilot who out-flew me at Pollis."
"Yeah," he said through stiff lips, "You're pretty good, for bounty hunting scum."
"And you're pretty good for a chaotic Rebel."
Evverd laughed. "So let's get this over with. Who's gonna die?"
Fett released his arm. "Neither of us."
The bounty hunter's mask revealed nothing. "I have a contract on Vader from Prince Xizor, but I'm not stupid enough to tangle with him directly."
"You're going to help me?" Evverd asked.
"I'm going to get you to your friends and help you blow this place. If Vader dies, I get the bounty. If he doesn't, we never spoke. Agreed?"
"Agreed," said Evverd with a laugh. Never thought I'd be partners with Boba Fett, he thought...
Fett's voice was tinged with disgust. "I can't believe I'm dealing with a Rebel."
Evverd patted him on the back. "Come on!"
As he led the way down the corridor, Fett said quietly, "Never touch me again."
Vader's blade came in high, and Kerri ducked. The saber cut through electronic components with a shower of sparks, and Kerri rolled away from the wall, and came up with saber ready.
"You are quite powerful," said Vader, "But you cannot defeat me."
"Let's find out," she said, and dove to the attack again, pressing Vader against the wall. She heard something skittering on the assembly line, and risked a glance back...
The proton torpedo was fine, but one of the solid metal weights flew off the assembly line, connecting with her right shoulder.
Kerri cried out and fell backwards. Vader brought his saber down in a slashing cut...
And it bounced backwards, and inch above her throat. "The Light Side has its uses too, Lord Vader."
"Most impressive," said Vader, "But you cannot maintain it indefinitely..."
Another chunk of metal flew into her self-made shield, then another. Kerri held her breath each time, but Vader did not take the torpedo. Unfortunately, all of Kerri's energy was required to maintain the shield. Vader advanced on her.
A weight got through her shield, knocking away her saber...
"You are beaten," Vader hissed, "Choose now: Will you join me, or share your mother's fate?"
Kerri sighed. She glanced at the assembly line, saw the torpedo only a few moments from detonation, and knew she'd done well enough.
"I am a Jedi," she told him, "Like my mother."
"So be it." Vader lifted his saber.
Vader's mask snapped upwards, along with Kerri's gaze, to see Jev Parrak, standing on the overhang, wielding a blue lightsaber. Kerri took the opportunity to roll away once more, calling her own lightsaber back.
Before she could challenge Vader, Jev leapt down from the overhang, slashing wildly with the blue saber. Vader blocked the blow with ease, and advanced on the youth...
The proton torpedo slid into the furnace...
Vader's sword slashed down at the young Alderaanian. Jev dodged, but the blow nicked his hand, burning him and knocking the lightsaber away. Kerri charged in to help...
The furnace exploded, its light blinding Kerri to the happenings across the room, its force throwing her across the room, into a hard wall.
Her head connected hard, and the world around her became blackness.
"So after I graduated from the Calamarian Institute, I assisted with the setup of a hydroponics lab on Tattooine."
"We were at Tattooine," said Garreth to his son, "A few months ago! I must have just missed you. What about you, Trina? Where have you been?"
Trina Garreth groaned. "Stuck in a security cell with my estranged father and loudmouthed brother."
"Everything's under control," Garreth said, "And even if it's not, I'd like a chance to speak to you before I die. What have you been doing?"
"I joined the planetary resistance on Bothawui, Dad. I'm an aide to Borsk Fey'lya, the leader of the pro-Alliance faction."
"Not at all," she said, "We've been trying to join up with the Alliance for a while now. Never thought I'd be the one to make contact. Never thought I'd be the one to take after you, either."
He brushed back a strand of her dark hair. "I'm proud of you. Both of you. Very much so."
Trina chuckled wryly. "I'll have them put that on the tombstone."
"We're not dead. Not yet."
Lorne's head snapped up. "Do you hear something?"
The blast door snapped open, and two rifle shots blazed inwards, catching the two guards squarely across the chest. A dark-skinned man in a flight suit ran in.
"Evverd!" Garreth said, "I don't... get us out of here!"
He favored Garreth with a sarcastic grin. "I dunno, I thought I'd just blast through the defenses and leave."
The security field turned off. Trina was first through it, surveying the dead bodies of the guards. "Nice shooting."
"I didn't shoot 'em," said Evverd, jerking a thumb towards the doors. "He did."
Trina took in the silent form of Boba Fett standing sentry, and her mouth dropped several centimeters.
"Moving along..." said Lorne, and guided her out the door. Garreth approached Fett.
"If Vader finds out," said Garreth, "He'll kill you."
"As I said, everyone dies. Hurry."
Evverd looked up. "Where's Kerri?"
An explosion rocked the building, forcing Garreth to grab onto the wall for support. "That give you a hint?"
Evverd hurdled past them both, heading down the corridor. "Come on!"
Kerri awoke in the passenger area of an unfamiliar freighter. Her head felt like a Star Destroyer had used it for target practice. "Oooh..."
"Look who's up," said a familiar voice, and in a moment Kerri saw Rik Evverd standing over her.
"A ship I borrowed," said Evverd, "Garreth and his kids are in the Y-Wings. The X-Wing we had leave..."
"What about Jev?" she asked, trying to sit up.
"You've got a concussion," said Evverd, gently pushing her back down. "Stay still 'till we find a Onebee."
The Corellian fidgeted. "We couldn't find him."
Kerri cursed softly. "Any idea at all what happened to him?"
"None," said Evverd, "But we found this buried in the wreckage. He extended his hand, and produced the hilt of a Jedi lightsaber. Kerri checked her belt, but found that her own was securely fastened. She forced blurry eyes to focus.
"That belongs to Luke Skywalker."
"Yeah," said Evverd, "Apparently, the kid borrowed it."
She sighed. "We've lost him. It's my fault..."
"It's nobody's fault," said Evverd, sitting down next to her. "We lost Jev long before he came to Balmorra."
Kerri's head was spinning so badly that she couldn't even think about it at the moment. She mumbled, "How many is that?"
"How many what?"
"That I owe you. How many times have you saved my life?"
"Fifty-nine," Evverd said with a low chuckle.
She sighed. "And how often have I saved you?"
"Thirty-seven. Not bad, but you're still in the minor leagues."
Kerri laughed a bit. "Not when you consider that half of those times, I wouldn't have been in danger if not for you."
"Yeah," he admitted, "We're a pretty good team."
"I love you," she said.
"No kidding. Evverd kissed her forehead, then returned to the pilot's seat. "Get some rest. We'll be with the Fleet in an hour."
In the bowels of the Super Star Destroyer EXECUTOR, Darth Vader charged through corridors like a stormcloud. The ship's crew did all they could to stay out of his way, knowing that if they did not, he would PUT them out of his way, so foul was his mood.
The door he wanted hissed open before him, to reveal a gangly young man on a prison bunk, cursing and struggling with Force binders.
"Your resistance is useless," Vader told him, "It will only sap your strength."
Jev Parrak looked up, and spat at him. It landed on Vader's polished boots. "If you think I'll bow before the Emperor..."
"Your destiny does not lie with the Emperor," said Vader, "But with me. With your help, I will find my son, and together we will bring order to the galaxy.
Jev cursed at him again, looking like a caged animal. "I'll never join you! You destroyed Alderaan!"
"Tarkin destroyed Alderaan," Vader said, deep voice conciliatory, "I spoke against the plan, but he was a stubborn man."
"You're a Jedi! You could have done something!"
"Tarkin's will was strong," said Vader, "And I could not kill him for fear of the Emperor. But with your fully trained power at my side, no one need fear the Emperor again. Not even the survivors of Alderaan."
Jev growled low in his throat. "You're lying! I'll never believe you!"
Vader's mechanical breathing rasped. "We shall see."
He strode out, and the blast doors closed behind him.
(The sage continues in the next series, "Star Wars: FREEDOM'S Price," coming soon.)
R. John Burke