STAR WARS: FREEDOM'S Price Episode Five
DESCRIPTION: This is a little flashback/tangent episode that serves little continuing purpose except to give some neglected characters something to do.
NOTICE: Star Wars is a copyright of Lucasfilm, Ltd. This story is not for sale, and is written purely for entertainment value. I should also point out that some of this story takes place right after the Clone Wars. While I've tried not to step on anything, it may be that the prequels will soon render this useless.
NOW (Shortly after "The Empire Strikes Back")
Some sort of musical instruments played as Garreth stepped down out of the shuttle, producing a sound like none Garreth had heard, at once regal and mournful, eluding description. Garreth could not tell if the music was produced by strings or brass or something more modern, but he did have other things on his mind.
Beside him, the Calamarian, Senior Chief Okel, stiffened a bit. "It has been a long time, Admiral."
Garreth sighed deeply. "Not long enough."
A young man in formal dress, tanned with black hair cut short, stepped forward. "Greetings. I am Councilor Taris. I've been sent to greet you."
The Admiral frowned. "You're a councilor? If you'll forgive me, you're... rather young."
"Most of us are young," he said, and led the way down the landing strip, past his ceremonial guard. "The older leaders tended to support the Empire. Of course, they are out of power now."
His voice hinted at a darker fate than simply being "out of power," but Garreth thought it best not to pursue the matter.
Garreth had to crane his neck upwards to meet the young councilor's eyes. He still hadn't gotten used to his admiral's dress uniform, and its crimson cape fluttered in the breeze, along with his own graying hair. "Are we to be taken immediately to the council chamber?"
"Later. First you will join us in the ceremony."
Okel anticipated his commander's objection. "I believe the admiral is fatigued from his journey. He may wish to rest first."
Taris looked them over with a disappointed gaze. "But you will make time to put in a brief appearance?"
Garreth cleared his throat. "Er... I don't that it's a good idea."
"Please, Admiral." The young man's tone was frightfully sincere. "The people will want to meet you. Our planet remembers its past."
The planet Latria, after years of struggle, had finally declared itself free of the Empire and loyal to the Rebellion. Mon Mothma had specifically ordered Admiral Mykel Garreth to negotiate the treaty with these people, due to the part he had played in their struggle. Okel had been here, too, though his part was not as widely known.
They passed a statue of Serian, the energetic rebel leader who had become Latria's first martyr in its quest for freedom. The statue was four times life-size, and its huge eyes seemed to follow Garreth as he walked.
Garreth's throat was dry as he said, "I also remember..."
TWENTY YEARS AGO
Captain Jayce Farel of the VICTORY-class Star Destroyer GUARDIAN focused ice-blue eyes on the tactical display. Though he was a short, unimposing man, he spoke with a deep voice that rang throughout his bridge.
"We're going to kill this rebel scum."
His First Officer was a reliable officer, a veteran of the Clone Wars, but a bit weak. Almost the same size as Farel, his hair was jet-black, his eyes small and dark. "Don't you think we should talk to them first?"
Farel shifted his icy stare onto his Exec, determined to toughen up this smart but softhearted young man so he'd be of use to the New Order someday. "What do you suggest I do, Mister Garreth? Send them a greeting card?"
Lieutenant Commander Mykel Garreth shifted uncomfortably. "Those are planetary defense forces, sir, not attack cruisers. They're no match for our Star Destroyer. Latria clearly does not see itself as part of the New Order yet."
"Senator Palpatine's orders are clear," Farel reminded him. "ALL systems are a part of the New Order, or they are in rebellion."
"With respect, sir, as far as I'm concerned, Palpatine can... well, he just can, sir."
Farel stared him down. "Those ships are resisting a duly authorized Imperial inspection. That makes them outlaws, which makes them MINE." He turned to the weapons station. "Open fire."
The weapons officer, a stocky man with a mustache named Pellaeon, didn't look any happier than his friend. But he opened fire without hesitation. "Direct hit. Latrian flagship is showing heavy damage."
From the chair beside Farel, a voice came, soft and sullen. "Did you enjoy that?"
"I enjoy doing my duty." Farel nodded to Pellaeon. "Fire again. Scare them or kill them, I don't care which."
Farel turned to the first officer's chair, where Mykel Garreth sat, impassive. He didn't bother to hide his disgust. "You're even more gutless then I thought."
Garreth's tone was even. "We have given them a taste of our weapons. Let's see if they'll be reasonable."
"Rebels are never reasonable."
The exec set his jaw. "Let's find out. Signal the lead ship."
Farel waved his hand, giving permission. He kept his eyes on Garreth, tone low so only the exec could hear. "Don't ever countermand me again."
"Don't give a stupid order again, and we'll see."
The captain's eyes flashed, and he was about to relieve Garreth of duty, when the comm officer reported, "No response on any channel."
Farel displayed his almost reptilian smile. "Rebel scum."
Garreth was frowning in thought. "Something's not right here."
"You're correct, Mister Garreth. Those ships are openly defying our authority, and that is not right at all. Helm, bring us in close. I want to cut them to pieces."
As their ion engines swelled, bringing the GUARDIAN in closer to Latria, Garreth focused on his commander. His gaze was more intense than Farel would have thought. "You're going to regret this. It's a trap."
Farel smiled. "What are they going to ambush us with, Commander? Rocks?"
"It's a trap," Garreth repeated quietly. "They want to lure us in. Were I you, I'd spend less time posturing, and more time figuring out why."
The captain flashed his intimidating smile. "You've just court-martialed yourself."
Garreth just returned the smile. "Only if I'm wrong."
The GUARDIAN moved in towards the planet, its turbolaser cannons spitting lethal energy. The Latrian ships swarmed, spread out, but did not scatter completely.
"Why aren't they moving?" Farel wondered. "They can't be that stupid." Insight flashed in his mind. "All engines, full reverse!"
"Too late," said Garreth. A moment later, the bridge around them shook.
Lieutenant Pellaeon looked up, almost panicked. "Sir, three Dreadnought-class Star Cruisers coming around the planet's gravity well. They are fully armed, and firing ion cannon!"
"Where'd they get that kind of armament?" Farel hissed. "All back full! Prepare for the jump to lightspeed!"
"We can't outrun them," Garreth muttered.
Farel swung on him, furious. "Do something useful, or get off my bridge!"
"You want useful?" Garreth smiled. He turned to Pellaeon. "Engage all tractor beams. Bring those smaller ships in. Position them around our shield generators."
Farel frowned. "That's going to draw a lot of power."
"We won't have to do it long."
The GUARDIAN's tractor-beam projectors reached out, pulling in the fighters and patrol ships to cover their hull like rings around a tiny planet.
"Remember to have the gunners targeting those ships," said Garreth, "Their lasers are weak, but if they fire torpedoes we'll only have a moment to detonate them before they cause damage."
After a moment, the comm officer looked up. "The lead Dreadnought is signaling."
"I'll handle this," said Farel. After a moment, a small hologram displayed a thin woman with auburn hair.
"I'm General Serian," she said, "We seem to have a stalemate here."
"You're wrong," said Farel, "Disarm your weapons and allow us to pass or I'll calibrate my tractor beams to crush those ships."
Serian frowned. "And then we'll kill you."
"Withdraw," Garreth hissed, "We can always come back with a larger fleet."
"I don't surrender to rabble."
Garreth pointed at the tactical viewer. "Three Dreadnoughts are more than a match for us. I've bought you some time. Use it."
Serian waited patiently on the hologram. Clearly she knew that the GUARDIAN's tractor beams were sucking away energy while the two men argued.
"Give me one minute," Garreth said, "To talk to her."
Farel scowled at him a moment, but finally nodded. The first officer stepped forward.
"General. We seem to have a problem."
"The problem is yours," Serian told him, "Our people are prepared to die for their freedom. When they're gone, I'll destroy you. Unless you withdraw."
Garreth stared into her eyes - blue, he thought, though it was hard to be sure through the tinted hologram. She was bluffing, and not bluffing. She would not throw away the lives of her people so easily - but she was prepared to lose them if there was no other way.
Garreth smiled. "That wouldn't be very smart."
The eyes - definitely blue - flashed. "Oh?"
"If you kill us, the New Order will have no choice but to make an example. They'll send dozens of Star Destroyers here, and burn your world to the ground. No one wants that."
Serian smiled, just perceptibly. "Not even your captain?"
"Well, all right, FEW people want that." He felt his captain's eyes burning into his back, but continued smoothly, "I believe we can negotiate a compromise."
"Latria will not give up its freedom."
Garreth winced, the unhappy truth coming to his lips. "No one is free, General. Not anymore. Palpatine rules the galaxy, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Okel caught him looking at the statue for a second too long. "Those were bad times."
"The worst," Garreth agreed. Eventually, his rationalization mode had kicked in, and convinced him that the Empire wasn't' so bad, that it really was the true successor to the Old Republic. He had served the Empire loyally for years after that. But those first years, when he had been young and idealistic and unable to reconcile himself with the horrific events happening around him... they had worn on him. In the end, his disillusionment had cost him his family and friends.
Not until he'd also lost his self-respect had he been a fit servant for the Emperor.
Palpatine was molding me, he thought, even then. Even in those early days, he saw something in me that could be made to serve him, if only my spirit could be crushed.
In his darker moments, Garreth sometimes wondered if the Emperor hadn't orchestrated Latria, at least in part, with precisely that purpose in mind.
Too low for their guide to hear, he whispered. "I wonder if they'd be so eager for my presence if they knew how it really happened."
Okel was quiet a moment. "It was not so bad as you thought."
Garreth chuckled without humor. "It was worse..."
NINETEEN YEARS AGO
Commander Mykel Garreth hesitated before entering the office of Latria's Imperial Supervisor. The title was "Supervisor" instead of "Governor," since under the treaty Garreth himself had negotiated, Latria was an Imperial protectorate, not officially part of the New Order. It was the largest concession Garreth had been able to make, and it was really nothing but words on a datapad. In reality, Palpatine owned this world as he did every other. It mattered little to one such as the Senator if his rule was in name or only in fact. The true power was his, and he was pleased.
He was particularly pleased with one young officer who had not only saved his ship from a Rebel ambush, but also brought a world into the New Order with no loss of life. For his actions, Garreth had received promotion to the rank of Commander, the captain's chair of the GUARDIAN despite his rank, the Imperial Star for distinguished service. He had also caught the eye of Palpatine, and was now firmly entrenched as one of the bright young stars of the Fleet. At the age of thirty-six, he already commanded his own ship, and was considered likely to make Admiral before he was fifty.
In spite of that, Garreth was not pleased with his work at Latria. He had promised Serian that her world would gain some measure of real freedom. It hadn't taken the intelligent woman long to see how hollow that promise was, and she'd soon fled back into open rebellion.
Serian and her rebels were officially the problem of the man who had summoned Garreth, but the commander had a feeling the matter was about to be dumped in his own lap.
The door slid open, and Supervisor Farel motioned him forward. "Come in, Garreth."
Garreth grunted and stepped inside, declining the offer to take a seat. There still was very little love lost between himself and his former CO.
Farel took his time with whatever datapad he was reading before looking up. "I understand you've put in for leave."
The Supervisor speared him with a look. "Any special reason?"
"I trust you have nothing to hide from me."
Garreth hated that smug grin. "Next week is my daughter's eighth birthday. I haven't been home in some time."
Farel sneered, just a bit. "How touching. Your Emperor expects your service, Commander."
"I have no Emperor, sir." Though many within the Fleet were already calling Palpatine "Emperor" and his regime the Empire, technically he was only President of the Senate. "Not yet."
"Your loyalty to the New Order comes first, Commander. If it doesn't, you're not fit to wear that uniform."
Garreth held back something bitter. "Yes, sir. With respect, sir, you could have turned down my request for leave over the comm."
"And I would have," said Farel, "But your... Emperor... sees fit to grant your request. On one condition."
Here it comes, Garreth thought. "What is that, sir?"
Farel turned that inhuman smile on him again. "Serian has been found. Our spies have located her base."
"That's good to know, sir. What does it have to do with me?"
The Supervisor looked him up and down. "You're going to take a squad of stormtroopers, and kill her."
Garreth almost choked. "No, sir!"
"And why not?" the balding man smiled broadly. He was looking for a way to discredit Garreth, and this was it. "Do you have a problem with fulfilling your duty?"
"Of course not." Garreth forced himself to keep his voice steady. "But I am a naval officer, not an assassin."
Farel looked down. "This is a military operation. You're a military commander. I see no problem."
You wouldn't, Garreth thought. "Still, sir, I..."
"One moment." Farel glanced off to the side, at the door that connected his office to his private suite. "Fish!"
A second later, a salmon-colored Mon Calamari scurried through the door. His bulbous head was crossed with scars, overlaid by still-healing wounds. He kept his large eyes downcast. "Yes, my lord?"
"Where's my dinner?"
"It is..." the Calamarian paused, and Garreth unsurprisingly heard hatred in that voice. "Being prepared."
"Hurry it up. And remember, I'm going to watch you taste it. I also know how to test for all the poisons that affect humans but not Mon Cal."
The slave's flippers clenched into approximations of fists. "I would not attempt to poison you, my lord."
Farel laughed. "You think I don't how you hate me? You think you can trick me?"
"No, my lord."
"No, my lord..." Farel parroted, eyes bright with sadistic pleasure, "I know what you think of me. You resent me, and do you know why?"
"I'm sure My Lord will tell me."
The Supervisor's grin faltered, but soon reappeared. "Because I'm better than you. That's why your people make so much trouble. You know you're animals compared to a human. You resent our superiority."
The Calamarian struggled with something that Garreth thought was rage, still not meeting Farel's eye. "Believe me, my lord, It would be impossible to resent your superiority."
It was the reply Farel had been looking for, but the Calamarian said it as an insult. His tone implied that he did not think Farel was superior to a space slug, much less a Mon Calamari.
Farel's ice-blue eyes flashed dangerously. "Look at me when I'm talking to you."
The salmon-colored alien kept his eyes riveted to the floor. "I would prefer not to."
"You would. Because you don't have the guts to look a human in the eye."
"As you say, My Lord."
The Imperial supervisor leaned back, nearly done with his game. "Go. If the meal is good, maybe I'll let you wallow in the swamp tonight. Some of the tadpoles out there show a distinct family resemblance."
The Calamarian made a gurgling sound, low in his throat, that Garreth could only associate with utter range. Wincing in sympathy, Garreth decided he'd best find something to distract his superior with before someone died.
"We were discussing my assignment," he reminded the other.
"In a minute." Farel stared down the alien. "What are you waiting for?"
The Calamarian spoke slowly, haltingly. "It is... unwise for me to prepare your meal at this time, my lord."
"And why is that?"
"Because," he gurgled, "If I leave now, I'll be forced to return with a pot of boiling water and drown you in it."
And that, Garreth knew, had been what the officer wanted all along: To provoke his slave into disobedience so that he could be disciplined. Farel clearly had it in for this particular Mon Cal.
More quickly than Garreth would have expected, Farel dug into his desk drawer and produced a force whip, which he ignited and, in one motion, lashed across the Mon Cal's head twice. Blackish streaks of blood appeared on his scarred countenance.
Farel's hand reached back for another strike, but never got there. He hissed in pain as a strong hand pinned his wrist, smashing it into the wall hard enough to bruise the bone itself. The force whip dropped and disengaged.
"I'm going to find Serian," Garreth announced, holding the other's blue eyes. "He'd best be unharmed when I return, or I'm going to feed that whip to you. Are we clear?"
Farel sneered. "You little..."
"You may recall that I have powerful friends," the commander told him. "Stay on my good side, if you're smart."
And he left the office.
"He just started whipping him!" Garreth paced around his quarters like a vornskr. "Farel's the animal, if you ask me!"
"I'll agree that men like Farel should not own slaves." Gilad Pellaeon, older than Garreth but still a Lieutenant by virtue of being cautious and non-intuitive, rubbed at his growth of mustache. "But you must admit that he is the exception, not the rule. Our programs on Calamari and Kashyyyk are designed to help the natives. Without us, they're little more than savages."
Garreth stared at him. "You can't believe that!"
"I believe what I'm told by the Emperor," Gilad said slowly, "Anything else is dangerous. Why are you here, Mykel? I thought you'd been sent to the planet."
Garreth looked around Pellaeon's well-ordered personal quarters on the GUARDIAN. "I have to work this out first."
"Work what out? Your experience with the supervisor was doubtlessly unpleasant, but it's over. He knows where you stand, he won't cross the line again, and now you have a job to do."
Garreth grabbed at thin air, as though it could provide him with the answers he sought. "I don't think I want to do it."
"What?" Pellaeon stood from his bunk, perhaps realizing that his friend's tangent was more serious than he'd thought. "Mykel, the Navy is based on order. Disobeying a direct order of that magnitude would end your career."
"I know." His thoughts since leaving Farel had revolved around exactly that. "I know. Still... Serian is a smart woman, and a good person, from what I've seen. She believes her people should be free, and what's wrong with that?"
"All terrorists use rhetoric of that sort," Pellaeon argued, "She is nothing more than scum, disrupting the social order. Have you forgotten everything you learned at the Academy?"
"I learned to serve a Republic," Garreth hissed, "I've become an enforcer for an Empire."
"Names and rulers change. Order remains."
Garreth looked away. He DID believe in order. Terrorists who went around advocating armed rebellion were almost always unstable fanatics, whose idea of freedom was doing whatever they damn well wanted. "Still... when I think that Serian is my enemy, and Farel my ally... that is a sobering thought, old friend."
"Farel may be a bore," said Pellaeon, "But at least he understands his duty."
"And I understand mine..." Garreth paused, then turned towards the door. "All too well."
"And now, I'd like to introduce a special guest." Taris beamed with pride as he indicated the gray-haired man behind him. "Admiral Mykel Garreth, who, as a young officer in the Republic Starfleet, worked with Serian herself to design the treaty that initially kept Latria free from Imperial oppression."
As the crowd cheered, Garreth leaned over to his Mon Calamari friend. "Revisionist history is a pain in the..."
"Patience, Admiral." Okel gave him the Calamari version of a smile. "Remember that in thirty years they'll look back on the Rebellion and think that the crew of the MILLENIUM FALCON, with a bit of help from Rogue Squadron, fought the war single-handedly."
"What's your point?" he muttered.
"The point is that these people need a symbol," Okel said, "Just as the Alliance does. As we have fixed on Skywalker and Organa, so have they fixed on the one man who remains from that time who did not stand for evil."
"I may not have stood for evil," Garreth argued, "But I sat still while it was taking place."
The Calamarian patted his shoulder. "You are too hard on yourself. No one person could have prevented anything that happened."
"No," Garreth agreed, "But he could have tried a little harder..."
The crowd was chanting for Garreth now, becoming raucous as enthusiasm swept them up in a patriotic fervor.
Taris came close, shouting to be heard. "I don't think they'll rest until you give a speech!"
Garreth groaned. "I'll regret this..."
At length, he stepped up to the podium, standing over the crowd. He held the amplifier disk to his lips. "Er... good morning."
The crowd cheered. Now I know what it feels like to be a jizz legend, he thought...
"I don't know quite what I'm doing up here today." He cleared his throat. Usually he was a good public speaker, but his guilty conscience nagged at him, preventing clarity of thought. "I suppose the one thing I can tell you that you'd all want to know is: What was General Serian like in person?"
He paused a moment, collecting those stray thoughts. "Let me tell you, she was everything you've made her out to be..."
NINETEEN YEARS AGO
The door slid open, and a stormtrooper scout - one of the elite shock troops commissioned by Senator Palpatine of late - escorted an auburn-haired woman in force cuffs.
"Here she is, Commander."
Garreth let his gaze linger on the scout. Privately, he thought that even the name "stormtrooper" was a very bad sign. He dismissed the man with a nod.
"General Serian. Thank you for giving yourself up."
"Your message didn't leave me much choice," she said, justifiably angry. "It was me or my entire resistance cell, wasn't it?"
"I did what I could," Garreth said quietly. "My superiors would have had me kill you, and burn your Rebel headquarters to the ground."
"Yes, I suppose you're just following orders."
Garreth couldn't decide if the venom in her tone was worth responding to, so he let it drop. "I wish this could have been handled differently."
She laughed, albeit bitterly. "That's two votes. We have a unanimous decision."
"Too bad there's not a quorum," said Garreth with a thin smile. "I'll be blunt: I've been ordered to kill you. I don't want to."
"Once again, we're in agreement."
He sighed. Now came the hard part. "What I propose is this: Disappear. It is within my power to fake your assassination. I will do that, if I have your word that you will leave this planet and never return. A shuttle stands ready to take you to whatever planet you choose."
She stared at him, and Garreth felt those blue eyes digging into his mind further than he would have liked. "You're not like the others, are you?"
Garreth frowned. "Others?"
"Palpatine. Farel. Darth Vader. You're a better man than them."
The commander cleared his throat. "I'm a loyal servant of the New Order."
"No. You were a loyal servant of the Republic. You've become an uneasy servant of the New Order."
"We were discussing you," he reminded her, "Not me."
"But I think this is central to the discussion. You don't like the Empire any better than I do."
He hissed softly. "I like reason and order. I don't like traitors."
"Treason only exists where there is a legitimate government in place."
"Palpatine was duly elected president of the Senate," Garreth said slowly. "I do not agree with all of his policies, but he is my president."
"That's not the limit of his ambitions."
"I know that," Garreth said quietly. "I am neither stupid nor naive, General. But the galaxy is chaos at the moment, and all I have to guide me is my duty. Make your choice."
Serian considered for a moment, and sighed. "I can't make it that easy for you."
"Easy? For me?"
"That's right," she said. "If I slip away, our resistance loses a leader. If I make you execute me, on live Holocast, in front of the entire planet, we gain a martyr. The people will unite against you."
Garreth wanted to pound his desk in frustration. "Let me clarify, General. You don't get to pick your fate. You're going to disappear one way or another. All you get to decide is whether you'd rather be alive or dead."
Serian scowled at him. "You can't do this."
"It is done. Make your choice."
She slumped back, looking defeated for the first time. "I should decide to die, just to spite you."
"If that is your choice."
"You know that I could easily double-cross you. Make my way back to Latria after I've disappeared, and resume the fight."
Garreth didn't blink. "If you do that, you sign my death warrant. I don't think you'll betray someone who's gone to such lengths to help you."
"I don't think you can kill me," she pressed, "I think, if I make you choose, you'll join us rather than fight us."
Garreth hefted a blaster pistol and very pointedly flicked the setting from stun to full. He pointed it at her heart. "I am capable of ending this right now."
"I have children, you know. Two sons."
"I have a son myself," Garreth said slowly, "I wouldn't want MY children to grow up without a mother."
She set her jaw. "They'd be brought to safety with me?"
"You have my word."
Serian frowned, and held his eyes with her one. "This isn't over. The fight continues. When I'm gone, someone will take my place. Maybe even someone better than me. The galaxy will be free. The Force demands it."
"If the Force existed," he told her, "Good people wouldn't be put in situations like this one."
"You're wrong. You'll believe one day. I think you'll join us."
"Anything can happen in the future," Garreth told her, and lowered the weapon. "You have a shuttle to catch."
Serian arrived at the shuttle to find a stormtrooper squad barring her path, weapons drawn.
"I don't understand," she said, "Commander Garreth has given me clearance to leave."
Then she saw the dead pilot lying by the shuttle's ramp.
"We don't take our orders from Garreth," said the lead trooper. He aimed and fired.
Continued in Episode 6
R. John Burke